compliments I don’t deserve, people keep giving me plants, and more

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

1. My colleagues keep complimenting me on a job poorly done

I recently had to present some of my work to a client, and they absolutely hated it. They were extremely passive aggressive and rolled their eyes when I tried to suggest solutions. I eventually just took notes on all the things they said I did wrong and told them I’d run some new ideas that implemented these changes by them next week. I didn’t take any of the feedback personally, just attentively drew their ideas out to help with the next iteration of the project. I was receptive to feedback, but I wasn’t super proactive because, frankly, they were pretty insulting of me and my intelligence on the call and I was a bit shocked.

A lot of my team was with me on the call. They jumped in and offered suggestions and helped assuage the client’s fears. They were all awesome!

Here’s the issue: My team keeps heaping praise on me for my in call performance, but I don’t deserve it. They say that some clients are harder than others and that I took their feedback so well. They call me a trooper and resilient and excellent, but … I messed up! That’s why we’re in this situation. I did a poor job on the presentation and the client is now doubting my competency and my company. Being able to take feedback is great, sure, but jeez! The level of compliments I’ve received is outrageous (~10 channel wide slack messages, 4 DMs, and ~15 minutes of our weekly company wide meeting were spent complimenting me). I messed up. Why am I getting all this praise?

I’m worried that because I’m the youngest on the team and a woman they feel like they need to coddle me to not hurt my feelings, but … my feelings aren’t hurt! I missed the mark, but I know how to fix it. It was tough feedback, but I don’t mind it. I don’t know how to get them to stop treating me like I’m made from glass after a hard call. Any advice?

If you’ve never seen this behavior from your colleagues before (or other signs of them patronizing you), I suspect it’s happening now because the client was such a jerk! If I were on a call where a client insulted my colleague’s intelligence and otherwise was an ass to them, I’d be horrified and would probably bend over backwards to try to counter that too. People are likely imagining how horrified they might feel in your shoes and trying to make sure you know you don’t need to worry.

But if it keeps happening, you could say, “Y’all, I appreciate the kudos, but I’m not made of glass! I can handle tough feedback from a client.”

2. My boss and coworkers keep giving me plants

This is a fairly low stakes question, but I don’t know what to do. About two years ago, my team (boss and coworkers) gave me an orchid when a family member died.

I can’t keep plants alive to save my life. I did everything I could, including watching YouTube tutorials about plant care, and it died a month in. Since then, I’ve been gifted five other plants (four pre-Covid) by various coworkers and my boss. After the first one died, I’ve made many jokes about how I’m like the kiss of death to plants, yet they continue.

Last week, I was given a cactus that is now also on its way to death. It doesn’t help that I’m in a cube with no access to direct sunlight.

Short of not accepting the plants, how can I get them to save the plants by not giving them to me?

Why is everyone giving you plants?! Is everyone in your office receiving so many or just you?

In a lot of cases you could solve it by cultivating a (humorous) reputation for being the grim reaper of plants. It sounds like you’ve tried that, but maybe you need to take it a step further — like a funny email to your team with a formal announcement that while you appreciate their efforts to build your plant-nurturing skills, you are admitting defeat and asking that they stop entrusting living things to your care.

If that doesn’t work … if other people in your office receive a ton of plants too and some of them seem to enjoy having them, you could ask if you can immediately transfer all future plants to them. Or you can put future plants in a common area and announce that you have created a community garden (perhaps in remembrance of all the plants sacrificed at your hands).

3. Getting files from an ex-employee

I work producing digital assets. Previously I had one other digital asset creator who worked with me. Doris has completed her contract and moved on.

Management has been chaotic and sporadic, with our boss, Dave, often throwing things at us that he’s deemed urgent to supersede everything else. This is why Doris spent her last week working on creating an (URGENT!) digital asset, rather than focusing on backing up files, making locations of documents clear, and working on a smooth handover.

This isn’t on Doris. Dave is now after some files that Doris might have. Unfortunately, Dave being Dave, needs them NOW.

What I’ve heard from Doris is that she knows that the files are needed, knows the urgency and will get them to us as soon as she can. They’re big files, and getting them over takes a while. It might also take up the hardware’s resources, making it difficult for her to do other things while the transfer is happening.

After Dave called her at strange times of night, Doris blocked his number. Dave is now asking me to keep pressing her for updates on the file transfer. I’m pushing back on this, reminding him that she no longer works for us, yet he keeps countering with the urgency and with questions about her character, implying that she’s deliberately avoiding us. She might be, but she no longer works for us. She might even be drunk in a field. Good for her — she no longer works for us.

This has picked up in frequency over the last few days, and I’m trying to push back where I can. Thankfully, my way out is in sight so for the most part I’m letting these stressors float past me, but I like Doris and I don’t want to be harassing her by proxy. What’s the best option here? I’m happy to tread water until I get out of this awful workplace and have set up contingencies to not be in the same position when I leave, so while I’m happy to maybe let a bridge break down with Dave, I’d rather not be made to burn one with Doris.

Tell Dave that Doris has made it clear that she’s aware of the urgency and will get you the files as soon as she can, but it won’t be immediate because the process takes a while and she has another job now. Say that if you continue to push, there’s a risk that it will make the process take longer or you might not even get the files at all. (Don’t imply Doris said that if she didn’t, just that any reasonable person has limits to how much pushiness they’re willing to tolerate.)

And definitely don’t keep bothering Doris. If Dave insists in a way you feel you can’t refuse, feel free to explain the situation to Doris and suggest she might need to block your number as well.

4. Employer said they don’t care about cost of living

I work for county government, and one of our routine employee news emails has a section where employees can ask HR questions. This was the questions/answer included in today’s email: “Dear Jane, we received our annual job family market adjustments in January, which is great, but I’m concerned these adjustments won’t enable me to keep up with the increasing cost of living. Signed, Concerned.”

The answer was: Dear Concerned, X County provides market adjustments to keep pace with the increases in the cost of hiring and paying employees, not the cost of living in a certain geographic area. Unlike Social Security or some pensions, which provide annual adjustments for the increasing cost of gas, food, housing, and other items, our market increases are primarily determined by the cost of employment. Few employers can afford to provide increases in line with the cost of living and trying to match these costs with market increases raises the risk of over or underpaying for our talent. If we pay less than market, we would not be able to hire the talent we need to provide high-quality services to the residents of X County, and it is not financially sustainable to consistently pay more than we need to.”

Admittedly, my job is high stress and today has been particularly bad, so I’m already feeling a little defeated, but am I wrong in thinking that that’s an objectively bad answer from an employee perspective? I know for a fact that my department has high turnover, and it the job postings I see for other departments are any indication, we’re not alone. I have a relevant degree and almost 15 years of semi-related experience, and I make roughly $2,000 a year too much to qualify for affordable housing. Many of my coworkers make even less – we spend all day helping our clients find resources, and then turn around and apply for the same ones ourselves.

Is there any point to responding to HR to let them know that this answer feels like a more politely worded “F you” to employees who are struggling to get by? Or am I better off spending my energy on looking for a new job where cost of living might actually be considered in salary calculations?

Yeah, that’s a crap answer. It basically says, “We don’t care that your buying power is less than it was a year ago, effectively giving you a pay cut. We’re only concerned with what it takes for us to hire new employees.” That may be true, but (a) it’s pretty odd that they didn’t realize how it would come across and (b) it sounds like they don’t realize that cost-of-living increases are in fact a pretty normal thing other employers do — not universally, but it’s not an outrageous luxury no one can pull off.

Whether or not there’s any point in pointing that out depends on your sense of your office culture and leadership, whether they’d care, and whether you’d be likely to get any blowback (and how much you’d care if you did). If you do raise it, I’d probably raise it to your agency’s leadership, not HR. But doing that and looking for a new job aren’t mutually exclusive!

5. Books on career exploration

As a regular reader of your site and someone who has embarked on career exploration in the past two years, I am curious as to your opinion on career books. Specifically, books that focus on heavy introspection and list-making, as if there should be a “click” once you’re done with mountains of exercises. Do you find any value in these books or do they tread dangerously toward self-help?

Some people find value in them! Some people don’t. It just depends on what resonates with you. There’s not really more to it than that, I don’t think! (But also, “trending toward self-help” isn’t an inherently bad thing; that’s another category that some people find helpful and some people don’t, and both viewpoints are fine.)

{ 434 comments… read them below }

  1. Insomniac*

    #1 – A doctor who was part of the “client team” asked me how many people in my position it takes to screw in a lightbulb at the beginning of a call. I did a mediocre-to-normal job presenting after that but I’ve heard of so many people jump to my defense behind my back. I not only got messages of praise and support but I heard many people in high positions on my company’s side and the client side complained straight to the client leadership. I agree with Alison – it is very likely that they are horrified how you were treated. And they also probably DO think you did a great job in handling the client. Good luck and I hope you can take this as “my team ha my back” and not as “I don’t deserve this”. It sounds like you’re surrounded by good people.

    1. Ann Onymous*

      I agree with this 100%. Regardless of whether or not the client’s negative feedback was warranted, they were out of line by delivering it in a way that was rude and insulting. Someone who kept their cool in that situation would definitely get praise in my office.

      1. Bamcakes*

        Yes exactly this! They’re not reacting to you to you “messing up” and getting negative feedback, they’re reacting to the client being rude, passive-aggressive, and so on. Part of it is probably reassurance because a lot of people *would* be upset or angry about feedback presented so rudely, but the other part is probably genuine admiration for how you handled that and that you talked a difficult and dismissive client back into satisfaction. That’s a real skill, and quite a few of your colleagues are probably genuinely impressed and possibly taking notes for their own development.

      2. LKW*

        Exactly – you don’t have ESP. You didn’t know that the client wouldn’t like what you presented. Keeping your cool, pivoting to information and feedback gathering, and then defining next steps was the winning move.

        You didn’t let the client have a tantrum and walk out.
        You didn’t insist that your way was the only way.
        You didn’t crumble and run away.

        It sounds like your coworkers function as a team and are supportive. Yay!

        1. Anonym*

          Yes! OP, you may have whiffed the initial presentation, but you handled the difficult aftermath with an aplomb that very few people could manage. You excelled at the hardest part! And your colleagues saw it and appreciate your excellence and are rightly upset with how you were treated. Everyone (on your side of the fence) is great.

          I would do the same if I were in your colleagues’ position, and not because I thought you were fragile, but because you were mistreated AND kicked ass. Amazing. Deserves recognition.

      3. Le Sigh*

        Right — handling your cool with surly clients or customers is a true skill that not everyone has! Some people might freeze, get upset, or leave the room — all of which is understandable, but in those situations, you need someone who can sooth the angry toddler in the room and get things back on track as much as possible. It sounds like OP at least placated them and got some useful info, which is great!

        And OP, for the record, clients can dislike the work you presented and even be frustrated or willing to fire your company without being nasty about it.

    2. Siege (The other one?)*

      I agree as well. This would be a totally normal thing to encounter in my company (which granted is customer service.) Even if you did mess up, being able to handle upset clients with efficiency and grace is a great skill to have, and I think praising you for it makes sense.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        There’s a client (okay we’re an internal IT dept so it’s actually another employee at another site) who is really, really difficult to deal with. He’s sufficiently high enough up that complaints against him just disappear.

        One of my staff did do a bit of a screwup on his machine, a really really minor issue that can be fixed in seconds and was. When she got on the phone to him I could hear it 4 banks of desks away – he was pissed off.

        She definitely got a compliment from me afterwards because throughout it all she was professional, calm and really wasn’t having any of it when he started flinging the insults.

        It sounds odd, working in IT, but the ability to keep calm and professional on a fraught call is actually a rare talent. Frankly I’m considering asking her to train other staff.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          It sounds odd, working in IT, but the ability to keep calm and professional on a fraught call is actually a rare talent. Frankly I’m considering asking her to train other staff.

          I can’t speak for your employee, but to the extent I can perform that way, it’s the result of having been in the line of fire a number of times and surviving it. Your best training might just be to praise her in public for it and make sure any consequences the unruly internal customer might try to bring to bear are thwarted. It’s easier to stay calm and collected when your career isn’t passing before your eyes.

          1. The OTHER other*

            Dealing with irate customers, whether internal or external, is indeed a skill, and should be a significant part of employee training! Those who cannot handle an angry caller that is yelling, unfocused, and lashing out will not be successful, and those that cannot let that last caller go and pick up the next one with a fresh mindset will not last long.

            It’s a shame that these skills aren’t treated as skills, rather just inherent qualities a new employee might or might not have, let’s throw them on the phone and see. Or if they are treated as skills, they aren’t valued very highly. Hence the high turnover in these jobs, making the skills rarer.

            1. Metadata minion*

              There is definitely an element of practice and acclimation, but that’s true of any skill and I agree that this is something you can absolutely train people for. You can also get some of that practice in role-playing during training.

          2. Texan In Exile*

            The guy in charge of the 24-hour customer service line at my old job, where engineers fielded calls about unplanned equipment stoppages (which could cost tens of thousands of dollars an hour), told me he had changed from hiring for technical ability to hiring for personality. That is, the ability to stay calm in the face of incredibly stressful circumstances.

          3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            She’s been giving tips to others about how she stays calm and just lets it wash over her :)

            Generally, since we’re internal, I prefer to just block angry or rude people from calling IT at all. Repeated rudeness means if your PC goes tits up then you’re gonna have to get someone else to speak to us.

            I’ve got no problems with staff transferring calls to me if a person is getting abusive, or they can just hang up on them, or whatever they like that isn’t returning the swearing/anger or telling the caller to eff off.

            We’re not first line tech support though (Helpdesk is actually based oop North) so usually by the time a call gets passed down to us the person has had time to cool off.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreeing with Sola – hoping that in addition to being high enough that complaints disappear “Mr Important” is also known enough that complaints he files aren’t taken as the gospel without investigating them first (and that most then are filed in the “circular file”).

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Oh he’s a known prat. I’m reliably informed that his requests to finance, HR etc take just as much priority as his ones to IT – I.e. as little as possible.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I’ve been thinking about this all morning, and I finally realized why. Because of exactly what others are saying. OP, even their praise/condolences isn’t about you personally – not about your skills, your emotional stability, your character or anything.
        They are just shocked by the client and sorry that you had to experience that.
        I think it’s more like, “sorry this happened to you.” not “sorry for you.”

    3. Moo*

      I think it might also be in reference to the difficulty of the situation. Like when you meet a client and they are extraordinarily rude and difficult, being calm and diplomatic is a great performance. It is easier (well at least I find it easier) to be visionary and creative etc with a receptive audience, than it is to salvage a relationship with a hostile audience.

      Also I know a lot of people who would escalate a conflict of the like that is described here and make it a whole lot worse. So… I think it probably was worthy of such praise!

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        This.

        Early in my career, if I ever encountered negative feedback or a difficult situation made harder by rude personalities in the room, my braid just went into “OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMG” mode for about 10 minutes while I plastered a smile on my face and made whatever noises I needed to make to move the conversation to a different topic. Ultimately, while it stopped conflict, it wasn’t helpful.

        Over the years and with practice, I’ve learned to just take it as feedback that I may or may not agree with and engage the disagreement rather than ignore it before moving on to something we can all agree on. It’s a hard-won skill for me and I still have the “OMG” first reaction.

        So I can DEFINITELY see myself heaping on praise to someone new to the job being able to deftly handle a situation that would have taken me years to handle at the same level.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          It helps a LOT when your team and/or boss has your back, like OP’s. I had to handle upset callers all the time at OldExjob, mostly designers and architects who were freaking out over something going on at the construction site, and they would sometimes take it out on me. More than once I had to say “I can’t help you if you yell at me; if it continues, I’ll have to end this call and we can talk when you’ve had time to cool off.” That usually calmed them down.

          I never had to hang up on anyone (other than scam callers) but if my bosses had not been okay with that, it would have made the job even more miserable.

    4. londonedit*

      I agree. Also, keep in mind that if you’d all been in an in-person meeting and a client had put you down and rolled their eyes and all the rest of it, you’d have all come out of the meeting and as soon as the client was out of the door people would have spent five minutes going ‘Oh my GOD, I can’t believe how rude they were! You did NOT deserve that! They didn’t even have the decency to thank you for your work! I mean, I know we get it wrong sometimes but really, that was SO RUDE, you did so well, I’d have flipped!’ etc etc etc. Everyone would have got it out of their systems and shaken their heads and gone back to work. But because it was a call, there wasn’t that group venting session afterwards and so people thought they’d better send a message to say they’ve got your back and the client was an idiot and you did really well handling it. Which means you feel like you’ve been bombarded by people sending you messages of praise. I’d definitely try to reframe it as ‘isn’t it great that my team has my back’ because I’m sure that’s what they were trying to convey. You might have messed up on the presentation, but you didn’t mess up on handling the client, and that’s what they’re praising you for, as well as generally trying to signal that they support you and you didn’t deserve the client’s rudeness.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        That’s a very good comparison. Also can I say that I’m always a fan of your comments in general :)

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Honestly this was my read as well – they know that you missed what the client wanted, but you stayed calm and immediately pivoted to next steps. But the client continued to act like a spoiled toddler. In person you all (when out of earshot of client) probably would have commented and run down the whole “well that was strange/unnecessary/just plain rude” it would be out of your systems, and moving on with a note about the client in a very hidden place in the file (so they don’t see it ever) about how they act when upset. Since your not in person it’s just taking longer to run down.

      3. LW #1 from this thread*

        This is a really great perspective! I recently switched fields (thanks to Alison’s help), so I didn’t think about how these meetings would be handled in a non-remote situation, but you’re absolutely right! I could definitely see people venting right after the meeting in person rather than messaging me after the fact, and I think a lot of what was expressed in their messages is in line with that over-the-top sort of venting about being on your team member’s side.

        1. Malarkey01*

          Since you mentioned recently switching fields they could also be signaling that this behavior is wildly out of line with company/industry norms. When I came from corporate finance over to a softer industry I was used to a few “heated” meetings and client responses. When a client blew a very minor gasket at my new company I didn’t think twice about it, but everyone else’s reaction was holy crap that goes is out of line, good job, etc. Thats when I realized that my expectations were out of sync (and it was great to adjust to expecting people behave politely and professionally even when disappointed in a work product).

    5. Lacey*

      Agree. They’ve definitely just horrified by the client. I regularly get extra praise for dealing with difficult clients – even if they weren’t that much trouble for me.

    6. socks*

      Just adding to the chorus of people saying you handled a difficult situation well, and that’s what your coworkers seem to be praising you for! Even if you did a poor job on the initial presentation, the way you handled the client can still be praiseworthy. Unless your coworkers have a history of patronizing you, I’d just take the compliments at face value.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Exactly this. I think it might help to separate out different kinds of compliments a person might receive after making a proposal to a client. One type is complimenting the proposal itself, the other kind is complimenting the employee’s behavior and professionalism. It sounds like LW’s coworkers are complimenting them on their professionalism, but LW can’t quite distinguish that because they’re still hung up on the proposal.

        LW, your coworkers have your back, even when you mess up, and that is a rare and beautiful thing.

    7. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Yes.
      OP1’s coworkers are saying they did a good job – in the moment – of handling a prickly client. But OP1 is focused on how they did a bad job in preparing the material for the client.

      Both of those can be true!

      1. Mrs. Bond*

        I suspect that the work and the presentation weren’t actually wrong, and the OP is being too hard on herself there too. The client may have not explained their expectations well enough, or changed what their requirements were without telling you, or just personally didn’t like it, or personally doesn’t like anything, or is offended that their work was assigned to someone of your age and gender.

        Don’t be so hard on yourself! Ask your manager and your colleagues about whether your work was actually as bad as the client thinks it was.

        1. Zelda*

          I’ve been reading a lot of Clients From Hell recently, and a lot of people just don’t know what they want / are crap at explaining what they want / have totally unrealistic expectations. This is especially true in an artistic field– CFH is especially focussed on designers, marketers, web developers, etc.– but even perfectly reasonable people can disagree on aesthetics, plus plenty of people *aren’t* reasonable.

          So, without more information, ‘client was unhappy’ just Does Not Equal ‘LW messed up.’

          1. Not a cat*

            But at least now the OP knows what they don’t want. This is definitely a thing with some clients and is really valuable if you can keep calm.

    8. Sparkles McFadden*

      It would probably be more comfortable for you if your coworkers just moved along from this, but please know that the compliments are very likely genuine.

      Dealing with difficult people is more challenging than fixing a mistake. I understand that you are not happy with your own performance work-wise, but you took harsh feedback in stride, handled yourself professionally, and did the work that needed to be done without complaint. Not many people could do that with grace.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        “Dealing with difficult people is more challenging than fixing a mistake.”

        Yes, this. I know the OP is probably feeling they don’t deserve any compliments because the client din’t love the project, and getting so much praise may even feel like salt being rubbed in the wound. But it sounds like the OP did a phenomenal job taking feedback from an asshole client, which is hard to do! And that is praiseworthy. Another thing – it sound like the OP is part of a very supportive team, which is a wonderful thing.

    9. Anon For This One In Particular*

      Also, just because the client didn’t like your idea/proposal it doesn’t mean it was a bad idea!! Or that the work you did on it wasn’t good! I had a client who truly gave me nightmares with similar behavior and reassurances from colleagues went a long way to help me realize they really were terrible and I wasn’t just imagining it. (So many times they’d say “We want to meet about X, bring us new ideas” and then I’d get to the meeting and it’d be “WHY AREN’T YOU READY TO TALK ABOUT Y!!?! WHY ARE YOU EVEN HERE?!” or “Well, we don’t want that.. or that other option.. or that third option” “Okay, what did you have in mind?” “We don’t know! You’re supposed to tell us!!!”)

      1. Sleeve McQueen*

        This. Sometimes clients are terrible at telling you what they want, but then become very good at telling you in precise detail when they got something they didn’t want (usually because it doesn’t align with some internal document you don’t know about). It’s possible what was wrong for them would be perfect for someone else!

    10. Flower*

      Yes this. If it comes easily to you it might not seem like it, LW1, bbut responding to the client in a productive and level-headed way is a skill that lots of people don’t have and lots of other people worked hard to learn. Many of your coworkers may genuinely be admiring the way you handled the situation because they know they couldn’t do as well at that.

    11. Sleet Feet*

      Also handling a crap situation with grace and aplomb is a skill! OP you are getting compliments because you performed well while being verbally tore down in front of others. Lots of people may have argued, snapped back at the client, or any other problematic response. It sounds like you calmly and steadily shifted the focus from a personal attack on you to a critical look at the product/service. That’s praiseworthy.

      Also is there any chance you are deflecting the praise instead of just saying “thanks for the kind words”? If you haven’t acknowledged their praise they may double down to make sure you dont internalize the AH clients words. They clearly don’t agree with the clients take and probably don’t want you to feel like he was right either.

    12. Lenora Rose*

      I got to listen to a peer in a related department deal for 20 minutes with what was obviously a Covid denier demanding to be allowed access to something that Covid meant we could not allow. I took some of her calm repeated phrases as things I should apply should I be dealing with a contentious client. I was DEFINITELY impressed with her steadiness. I had to make a point of saying so, because he was so clearly a handful.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        Oooh. I know this might be off topic (and apologies if it is), but can you share some of the phrases? I wouldn’t mind having some in my arsenal for just in case!

        1. Lenora Rose*

          Mostly it was variants of “I can’t speak to that” or later (on the fifth or sixth repeat) “It is not within my job to comment on that.” I can’t find the darn paper where I wrote the pithier ones down (I switched desks and left them behind with some other handwritten notes by error, and it looks like the person on that desk now tossed them rather than ask if I wanted any of that stuff — which, fair enough), but it followed the Captain Awkward style of “Make it boring for them” rather than rising to their level.

    13. Atalanta0jess*

      AGREED. Taking criticism is hard, and it sounds like the OP handled it really gracefully. That *is* deserving of praise. It’s not like missing the mark on the first iteration means that the meeting wasn’t handled well. Moving forward, learning, maintaining the relationship with the client, and drawing out excellent feedback about how to nail it on the next go around? Those are skills. And they are worth praise. Especially when they are done in the face of jerkiness.

      I think the real problem here may be that the OP doesn’t recognize how rad they are.

    14. LW #1 from this thread*

      That’s rough! I’m sorry you had to deal with that. My experience was similar. I believe their comments were something like “tell me about your process for coming up with this, LW#1, do you just go to a dark room and let the muse come to you or did you actually have a process for this?” It was particularly egregious because I’d spent about 5-6 hours doing competitor research and an additional 10 putting the presentation together, so yeah, I had a process. And they were already privy to it based on the interview process I did with them to get information for this presentation. They also recommended a lot of remedial training for me. For instance, my company sold software to this client, and the client recommended I sit through the onboarding video for this software when I have several advanced certifications (and a master’s degree on the subject) to use it while they don’t. And at one point they asked me if I knew what one of the things I was presenting to them does, even though I create it for a living–that sort of thing. Looking forward to hearing what the client has to say about me in today’s meeting…not! Lol

      I’m definitely working on shifting to more of that perspective based on what Alison and the comments have been saying. Thanks!

      1. Willis*

        Um, it sounds like your co-workers are being super supportive cause you’re dealing with asshole clients. Clients aren’t gods…my bet is that your original work is good and the people you were presenting to know considerably less about the right way to to do whatever you’re doing than you do. Your co-workers probably see that clearly and it’s probably not the first time they’ve had clients dismiss the company’s well thought out ideas in favor of some vague notions they have. It’s the plot for tons of Mad Men episodes!

      2. laowai_gaijin*

        That’s incredibly insulting. I guarantee your colleagues are horrified on your behalf, and if you’d been in person, the minute the client got off the horn/left the room, your colleagues would’ve been talking all over each other about what a jerk the client was and how you did a great job keeping your cool. That last thing isn’t a small thing, either; getting insulted and not letting yourself get flustered is hard for all of us.

      3. CatLady*

        I would venture to say that your manager should be stepping in to remind the client that they have an obligation towards professionalism and if they do not meet that obligation then they will no longer be a client.

        Its perfectly acceptable to “fire” a customer. If I were your manager I would reach out to others who deal with this customer to find out if this is their normal or not. Frankly, this behavior is beyond the pale and if this is how they treated my people regularly I would be having stern words with the customer. If it isn’t their norm, then I would give them an opportunity to explain themselves and why they felt motivated to bully and demean you. Their answer would have to be VERY convincing for me to be anything other than stern with them.

      4. Blue Horizon*

        I’ve been in presentations like that before. Something is going on there, and it might not be about you. In fact, in my experience it usually isn’t.

        Some reasons why this could have happened, all of which I’ve experienced in the past:

        – One or several of the people on the call don’t agree that you should be doing the work (perhaps they wanted someone different, or wanted to do it themselves)
        – The approach you’ve been asked to take is one that one or more people on the call don’t agree with for some reason, or contains an assumption that they reject
        – You’ve inadvertently stumbled into a dysfunctional behavior, political situation, or hot button issue for the client that always triggers behavior like this, and you just happen to be on the receiving end of it
        – Some kind of prejudice is at work

        You get the idea. (And of course, you might have messed up, but based on the info you’ve provided, that would not be my first bet).

        I’d suggest looking for some additional context – perhaps a debrief with someone else who was on the call, or with the team (an account manager would be ideal, if you have one). Yes, customers are always right (within reason) but that doesn’t mean they are always fair, or that they can’t set you up to fail sometimes. The fact that they were unhappy with your work doesn’t mean that they would necessarily have been any happier if you’d done it differently, or that it would even have been possible to do so without powers of mind-reading.

        By all means listen to what the customer says and decide if you think it’s fair, but I also wouldn’t be too quick to believe their assessment of your performance over that of your employer and colleagues. If this happens to me I usually compare notes with others who were on the call to try and figure out what was going on, and come up with a strategy for dealing with it.

      5. Media Monkey*

        oof! as an agency person, your client sucks (and probably isn’t going to change). that’s just rude and sounds like the problem is a lot more with them than your work! I’m now the person who has to deal with those rude clients as either the team or the client escalates it to me, and i would probably reassure you in the same way as your colleagues did. I had an incident during lockdown on a Teams call where a senior person at the client end (but not the direct client) laid into a member of my team about the work that she had done, which met the brief and was perfectly well justified. Our actual client (who briefed us) stepped in before i could and cut it short, and she called my team member to apologise for her boss’s rudeness, and also called me to say she wasn’t unhappy with the work. The other agency on the call also checked in with me that my team member was ok. so i think when the rudeness is that execessive people probably go overboard to reassure people that it’s not their fault! i hope the next one is better OP!

      6. Paulina*

        My guess is that the client representatives have a problem with you being the one who’s doing the work; you’re female, young, and relatively junior. Since their behaviour marks them as assholes, none of what they say (with the possible exception of some factual content detail) can be taken seriously. They might very well have had a different reaction if your presentation had instead been given by one of your senior male colleagues. Sadly this phenomenon is still a real thing that happens. They may also excuse their behaviour to themselves as being some sort of “making sure she’s tough enough for this field”, which it sounds like you more than are, and they might have been more unprofessional because it was an online meeting.

        I agree with others that whoever’s in charge of setting up the relationship with this client needs to let them know that it’s completely inappropriate for their representatives to be so unprofessional and “haze” you. You don’t have any control over that though, and for all you know it’s been addressed behind the scenes. It sounds like you’re wowing your colleagues with how well you’re handling it, so you’ve got it covered.

    1. Retro*

      The “We didn’t want you to do this when we were paying for your time – how dare you not prioritize doing it for free?!” stuck out to me as well.

      1. anonymath*

        Agree, especially since it sounds like it ties up her equipment so she can’t do other (paying) work at the same time. I wouldn’t blame Doris if she just walked away, frankly.

    2. RagingADHD*

      Yup. If Dave wants to keep pressing this, it would be a constructive suggestion to speed up the process.

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

      I’m not sure of that — it was work for hire; she has to hand the work over. The business should 100% cover any costs — so they should set up an FTP or send her a removable hard disk etc. If SHE says, pay me MORE money or I won’t give you the work, that might get her in legal trouble.

      1. Former call centre worker*

        She deserves to be paid for the time she spends working on the transfer, not for the files themselves

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

          Not really. If she had a company laptop or cell phone, they wouldn’t pay her for her time to return it.

          1. Smithy*

            While legally, all of this may be true – if the ultimate desire is the fast transfer of files – then this is a reality where it’s hard to see carrots not working better than sticks. If I understand correctly, it sounds like this transfer may take a while both due to file size and that it prevents her from doing other work simultaneously.

            Whether she has another job or is using her time for other activities, this is asking her to carve out time that may prevent her from using her personal or new work computer from doing other activity. Now certainly there are “stick” options available to the employer to get the files back. But they’re not going to be the quickest. Offering to pay her for a few days to expedite file return however…..

    4. Software Engineer*

      The fastest was to get the files is going to be (if located in the same city) to actually go to her and copy onto a hard drive. It’s much faster than copying over the network. Offer to get together and buy her a nice lunch and let the files transfer while you’re eating. This makes it worth her time, schedules it so it actually gets done, and while you’re eating you can network and see if she has advice on getting out of there! Everyone wins

  2. Really*

    #4 – that’s called the cost of doing business raise. And realistically there is a limit to what any position pays.

    1. r a*

      There is, but I can tell you as a worker who is highly qualified for a high-demand government position, I turned it down when they told me the salary was significantly below the cost of living in our state.

      You need a fairly technical masters degree yet they were offering a salary that would qualify you for public assistance. And then they complain they can’t hire, and the department is very understaffed. It’s reasonable to be upset about this. I’ve worked in totally liveable government jobs before, so it’s not an impossible ask to be able to afford housing.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        This reminds me of a job listing I saw for a company that wanted someone with a PMP certification for $18 an hour (not a teeny tiny business; I checked). It was definitely not an assistant job, but you could tell they’d classified it that way to avoid paying any more than the bare minimum. I’m willing to bet their policy on COL raises was similar.

    2. Safely Retired*

      It seems to me that the surprising thing is how honestly they described the situation. No flowery nonsense, no bafflegab, they laid out the way it is.

      1. A long-time reader of AAM*

        I thought it was unusual that there was no COLA; I work for a county government and we get one almost every year. What we don’t get is merit or performance increases. And we don’t get an explanation for that, either.

        1. LabTechNoMore*

          This varies heavily by state and county. As a state government employee I was accustomed to receiving a paltry COL raise (well below even the yearly inflation rate) once every few years or so, as determined by a highly dysfunctional state legislator.

        2. H.C.*

          Also in County government, but our COLA raises are a bit more sporadic (I believe the policy is that COLA is triggered once COL is 5% or more than the last increase.)

      2. Mockingjay*

        It’s likely that the county agency is underfunded (no surprise) and that’s not going to change anytime soon.

        I sensed a LOT of frustration in that answer. It should have been phrased more diplomatically, but it was honest. They get enough funds to hire people, but not retain them as their career and lives progress.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          I don’t agree that it was honest because it sounds like they were trying to make it seem as though cost of living adjustments are not normal and that the employees are unreasonable for expecting one.

      3. kittymommy*

        Truthfully as someone who works in county government, I kind of appreciate the blunt honesty of it. Due to the constraints of local government there’s likely not a whole lot HR can actually do, if the budget isn’t increased (and taxes aren’t raised) then yeah, across the board increases aren’t going to happen. Instead of using a lot of double-speak they just gave them the honest facts.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Yet, somehow, someway, there’s always room for raises to the police.

          I work for the City Government once. In a fairly decent sized city. City Agency monitoring the police mind you. Police Contract came up for negotiations just as I was leaving. Now city employees had been told no COLA or only very minimal increases because “budget.” Guess who got THREE increases across the life of the 5 year contract? Yep, the police. The City basically went into negotiations saying “what do you want?” and then gave it to them. Their only nod to the fact the police got raises when other city employees did not? “Well you are going to have to work on your relationship with the other employees over this.” That’s IT.

          You BET it lead to resentment.

          If there is no money for raises, there is no money for raises for EVERYONE. Not a select department who already has a bigger budget and is better paid than most.

          1. kittymommy*

            Same with firefighters. It definitely creates A LOT of resentment, but cops and firefighters are heroes so it’s okay to screw over the office staff that makes sure they get paid. Thing is the citizens aren’t coming out and waving signs for their code enforcement guys or the people processing their utility payments.

            1. EPLawyer*

              Firefighters didn’t even get the preferential treatment cops got. Although firefighters jobs are arguably more dangerous. Their job is to literally going into burning buildings. Most cops their day to day is pretty boring. The cop who was detailed to sit at the power plant and make sure nobody stole it (post 9-11 this really was a detail) got the same huge raise as the guy who worked traffic enforcement.

              And its not like cops can STRIKE if they don’t get what they want in a contract. Most states have a no strike clause for essential workers.

              1. kittymommy*

                Oh they do where I’m at. Firefighters are probably more beloved than LEO’s and are probably paid more on average.

              2. Cdn Acct*

                They can essentially work to rule though. In my city it’s well known that police for a while (perhaps still?) said publicly that because they weren’t getting what they believed they deserved, they would enforce less, and through that period, the level of traffic tickets dropped sharply. Even now it’s known that most traffic violations are not policed. It’s bad. And my city pays cops really well.

          2. Anon because this is really specific*

            I worked for a major metro police department for 8 years.
            I left because there never was a merit raise in those 8 years. That was 6 years ago. Still no merit raises.

            That’s 2008 through 2022 with no merit raises. The only increase in salary that happened while I was there was a 2% increase for all employees in 2013 to offset the 2% increase in social security that year.
            (And, in case you are wondering, the last cost of living adjustment was in 1986.)

            And even the contract you are pointing to…
            Three increases. In five years. Now that I work private sector, that would be seen an unconscionable cost cutting to skip two years like that. It is only because the rest of the city employees were conditioning to accept no raises that three raises in five years was actually seen as a reward.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              As a government employee who has been here through multiple recessions, three raises in five years is a whole lot nicer than two pay cuts in five years, which is what happened in my work unit while the police still got their raises as scheduled.

          3. Librarian of SHIELD*

            There also tends to be enough it the budget for the elected officials to vote themselves a pay increase when they want one…

          4. Lenora Rose*

            I keep seeing this sort of thing reported, in multiple locations, even in more than one country’s government office. Federal levels might be well paid (Although even there it heavily varies by department), but the more local, the more shoestring. And people are always on about how government jobs are “Cushy” and demanding more cuts without actually comparing the level of the pay.

            1. quill*

              Teachers and librarians see the cuts, if not first, then in the first wave. And we wonder why our schools are overcrowded and spreading a deadly disease… it’s because they’re funded at the whims of hyperlocal tax policies that think if anything, every time the cost of living goes up they should pay five percent less.

              1. Lenora Rose*

                I get the impression that in Canada teachers are paid better, but by no means top tier.

                People complain that the Superintendants of the school divisions here get paid up to 130k, which, yes, that is a GREAT income, but I pointed out, try and find a CEO in charge of 80 buildings and a staff of 5,400 who makes that LITTLE.

          5. Anon gov bureaucrat*

            I work for a local government and can confirm that there is ALWAYS room for COLA for police. Back during the 2008 recession they were cutting everyone’s pay except “essential safety workers” aka police and fire. I worked for the department that ran the regional sewage treatment facility and there were rumblings of a strike, only to be told sewage plant workers were “essential safety workers” so were not allowed to strike under the law. But somehow when it came to pay cuts they were not in that same category. My employer got to have it both ways. Back on topic: OP COLA’s are very common for govt workers where I am unless there is some major budget crisis and your employer’s response was terrible

            1. Anon gov bureaucrat*

              It’s worth adding that the cost of living adjustments are pretty standard because we have a strong union that negotiates them. Without the union we would get absolutely nothing extra from my employer

        2. Environmental Compliance*

          As someone who used to work in county gov’t… yeah, to all this. Salaries are salaries. I was told quite bluntly when I started that there were no real increases. There was a basic increase baked into the budget, but that was COL-ish, there was no “oh the market changed and here let’s redo” increase – except for every maybe 15-20 years when enough people complained that they got a company in to “assess”…. and maybe, maybe not, there’d be increases. And this was in a very flexible county gov’t. The county next door got literally nothing, because they could barely afford to have the people they had, let alone halfway decent vehicles for them. At least our office had stable AC/heat and no one complained when I got new highlighters.

          It could have been more diplomatic and understanding of the employee’s side, but I get the frustration through.

          1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

            I work for a state dept. A few years back there was a big push to move people to Unclassified as opposed to Classified so that they could do Merit Raises. Otherwise we only get raises when the legislature decides to give them. (Years and years between raises) Then the Pandemic happened and they recently announced that there would be no raises merit or otherwise this year. Despite record collections. And yet they are surprised that they have constantly open positions with very few qualified applications and the people who do get hired often leave for greener pastures quickly. Go figure.

        3. Gothic Bee*

          That’s a valid point. My workplace does the double-speak thing and every year they give us a “Cost of Living Bonus” which is just a year-end bonus that they spin as a COLA because, “Aren’t we so great, giving you a bonus instead of adding it to your salary where it would be spread out over the whole year and only amount to a few bucks extra a paycheck?” Of course they never say anything about the obvious fact that the bonus doesn’t increase yearly and doesn’t get added to our salary for the next year, so it is by nature, not related to cost of living at all.

        4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          ? If the reason is underfunding, which is of course at least part of the reason, wouldn’t it be more honest to say “sorry we’re underfunded so this is the best we can do” rather than weasel on about policies and basically saying “we need to hire, we don’t give a damn about you once you’re hired”

    3. Lady Blerd*

      So is paying people at market value and at a level that will allow you to attract and retain staff.

      1. Beth*

        So it’s “not financially sustainable to consistently pay more than we need to.” Well, it isn’t financially sustainable to continue working at a job that doesn’t pay you enough to live within reach of the job. And it isn’t sustainable, period, to pay so badly that you drive away your employees. Just ask all those former restaurant workers who have no interest in returning to their former terrible jobs.

    4. Meep*

      And then people like you wonder why their current employees look elsewhere for jobs that pay them a living wage and why they cannot hire anyone to replace the people who left.

    5. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah but the statement “few employers can afford to provide increases with the cost of living”, in my experience, is bullshit. Maybe in the industry the LW is in that’s true, but reading that sentence is what put the HR response into insulting territory for me. They’re not just being bluntly honest. They’re making major assumptions that their practice is the dominant practice, and I’m not so sure that’s true. Is it super common to not do COLAs on the reg? Sure. But it sounded like the HR person who replied was trying to make it seem like it’s a super tiny minority who actually do, and I don’t think that’s true either. If it had been more of a “this is the way it is here” statement, rather than implying “and you won’t find differently anywhere else so your expectations are out of whack, employees, deal with it” I’d be like, harsh but true. But they did imply that, and I think that’s nonsense.

  3. More Coffee Please*

    Laughing at the idea that the availability of employees who leave should immediately be thought of as “might even be drunk in a field.”

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes, I enjoyed that turn of phrase…and thought “if you’re going to get drunk, a field would be a nice place to do that.”

    2. lunchtime caller*

      Whenever I leave a job, or am not on the clock at a temp place (where only the agency has my info), or am on vacation etc. I always “joke” (not joking at all) that the people at work should pretend I’m dead. Do not even think of contacting me! I am deceased to you, move on!

      1. Retro*

        Pff. You’re never going to get anywhere with that attitude.
        Actual devoted employees at least leave an emergency ouija board, and back-up emergency séancing instructions.

        (is séance a verb?)

    3. Sleepless*

      My first boss was one of those old school “they should be grateful they HAVE a job” types, and he went a bit nuts whenever somebody quit. He would stomp around for days making up insane theories about why they were leaving (anything except “you’re a sucky boss who doesn’t allow ANY professional development so everybody good leaves as soon as they can), and imagining how badly they were messing up their lives: they were probably about to be homeless, they had a drug problem, their spouse was about to leave them, etc. I can only imagine what he said after I left.

    4. laowai_gaijin*

      I’m picturing Doris lying in a nice, grassy field among the dandelions, wine bottles strewn about as she revels in the freedom of not being in the office with Dave.

    5. Former Employee*

      Based on Dave’s desperation, it would appear that he thought Doris was outstanding in the field.

  4. Stitch*

    Something LW1 also needs to know is just because a client was upset doesn’t mean you messed up. Some people will get upset even if you give them exactly what you asked for. So given your colleagues’ reactions and the over the top nature of the clients’ reaction, it’s really possible you didn’t actually mess up.

    So it’s important to get a read from your boss or someone trusted on whether you actually did anything wrong in the presentation or it’s all the client being a jerk. “I understand Bob from ABC, Inc. Was out of line with his comments, but is there any way to avoid this in the future? How can I improve my presentations going forward?”

    1. drinking Mello Yello*

      “ Some people will get upset even if you give them exactly what you asked for.”

      Ngl, I immediately thought of that old blog “Reasons My Son Is Crying.”

      Picture: Crying 3 year old holding a hot dog
      Caption: “My son wanted a hot dog. I gave him the hot dog he asked for.”

      1. Stitch*

        As a mom to 2 year old who threw an epic tantrum yesterday because I took his shoe off wrong somehow, I feel this.

        But, it generally has been my experience at work that the people who verbally abuse you tend to be doing so to hide that they’re just wrong. In instances where I’ve made a genuine mistake I tend to get polite “Hey we did actually file that document you said was missing, please correct the file!” Emails.

        1. Elizabeth I*

          Your last paragraph is a really good point! People do seem to act out more when they’re defensive about something.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      Yes, I was reading #1 and thinking, is OP sure she really messed up as badly as she thinks she did? It does sound to me like she didn’t.

      1. BethDH*

        This would explain why they keep saying it too — if she’s deflecting praise with “I screwed up, I’ll do better next time, I’m okay with criticism” they might be worried that she is going to get the wrong lesson and change her process for other clients when this client is an outlier.
        They’re saying she handled this the right way and this just happens sometimes, and she’s responding with how she’s going to change and thinking they just think she can’t take criticism.

        1. JB*

          This is exactly what I was thinking.

          Maybe we’re missing some key factor here (since LW understandably didn’t provide a lot of detail on what their company does or what their presentation was for – so honestly I’m thinking about this from the perspective of a graphic designer who works with clients) but it sounds to me like they didn’t mess up at all.

          If humans were psychic, the whole process of presenting a solution for client feedback wouldn’t be necessary in the first place. The job is to present, take the client’s feedback on board (with grace if they’re an ass like it sounds like this guy was), and implement the changes. The job isn’t to get it exactly right on the first shot. That might happen occasionally, but occasionally you’re going to be really far off, too – because human comminication is fallible, and sometimes you’ll read a brief and just get a totally different understanding from what the client was trying to describe.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          yeah I get the impression that this might be one of those cases where the client has an idea but can’t explain what they want, so you make some creative decisions and they don’t like it because you didn’t guess what their idea was.
          Or you used a blue font and they hate blue but try to make out it’s a well-known rule in graphics that you don’t use it any more than you’d use Comic Sans.

    3. Lynca*

      I’m glad someone brought this up. I’ve dealt with people that have been rude/surly when I give proposals. Often there is more than one legitimate way to solve the problem I’m proposing ways to fix and it’s just that they didn’t like the solution I offered. Not because it’s wrong but because it’s different than what they wanted it to be.

      So I second getting an opinion from someone you trust at work on whether there was anything actually wrong with what you presented. Do the feedback comments actually fix anything or is this just pleasing someone exceedingly difficult who wants you to be a mind reader? Because based on the way your co-workers are responding, I expect you didn’t do nearly as bad a job as this client thinks.

      Also a corrolary: They’re probably not trying to coddle you with the responses. It can feel that way don’t get me wrong! But having dealt with similar (I work in a male dominated field and had this exact situation dialed up to 10 with actual direct anger) it can be a misguided attempt to show they support you. I’ve had to let people know that while I appreciate that they have my back, I don’t like to dwell on the rudeness because it doesn’t solve anything. I’m not going to waste the mental energy on the rude person and just work on getting things resolved.

      1. J.B.*

        Also that people who are rude and aggressive can really throw you off your game. My former bosses were like this and I would try to think through everything in advance of a presentation. I could never stop the aggression, only gradually learn tricks that reduced the frequency.

        I was d@mn good at that job too, and happy every day to be working in a better environment.

      2. nona*

        And when there are multiple options, some people don’t know they don’t like an option until they see it laid out for them. And the discussion about what they don’t like about it is more useful than having them imagine something out of whole cloth.

        Kind of like writing – you can’t edit a blank page. Better to get something on paper, so you can start editing it. Even if it’s all wrong, you at least have a place to start.

    4. Cj*

      The LW does say she messed up the presentation, but the rest of the letter sounds like it was really more a case of the client didn’t like the ideas she presented. Which happens, and to me is a different thing than actually messing up the presentation itself.

    5. Nanani*

      Yes, I thought similarly.
      Are these clients known jerks? Have they gone aggro on new employees before?
      I suspect OP1s colleagues are not coddling them at all, but sincerely remarking that they handled it better than the last person who got this treatment from the client.

    6. Orange You Glad*

      This is what I was thinking too. The client may have been rude for a number of reasons that had nothing to do with the LW. Encouraging/praising someone for putting together a professional presentation and remaining calm and professional in the face of hostile clients is a sign of supportive coworkers.

      LW really needs to think about whether the client’s feedback was specific to her or not. Was it just an issue of LW recommended A and the client wanted B? That’s what the letter sounds like. If they had been criticizing say her manner of speaking or that her presentation wasn’t polished, then I would take that as a reason to change course with how you present in the future. I agree that she should seek out specific feedback from her boss or a trusted experienced coworker.

      1. LW #1 from this thread*

        To offer a bit more clarity here, it was definitely a situation where I recommended A but they wanted something else. I don’t want to call it as clear-cut as A vs. B because it wasn’t like their feedback was like “Oh please change this to that,” it was vaguer. So their feedback was more like we dislike everything about this except this one word. And when asking follow-up questions to try to get clarity on what they wanted to be included instead, they were extremely vague about what they wanted the final product to look like. Ex from the call: I hate every word on the slide except “great,” but please don’t base your revision on the word “great,” and actually it would be better not to include it in the final product… I don’t have any additional words for you to base it off of, but I can send you an article on how to write a good presentation–it might help you.

        After talking a bit more to higher-ups who were sitting in on the call, their conclusion was that the client doesn’t really know what they want and are taking it out on us (mainly me, since I’m in charge of generating/presenting these ideas).

    7. LW #1 from this thread*

      I wrote to Alison about a day after the fact, so at that point I hadn’t had a chance to ask questions like this yet. I have had a chance now, so I wanted to offer a bit more info up!

      I talked with my direct manager and the project manager later that week to get feedback on the presentation, and they were both very impressed with my work overall. They said they couldn’t think of a better way to do it, and some clients are just trickier than others. They suggested creating a document and taking the client’s feedback over Slack/document comments rather than in call to collaborate with the client to get a better end result (and not completely derail the next meeting with their ranting). So that’s what I’m doing! Our next call with this client is actually later today, so I’m sure I’ll hear more then.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Please update us at some point on how working with this client pans out! And good luck

      2. Smithy*

        Good luck!

        When it comes to an external partner/client with more power not knowing what they want….it can just be tough. I once made an initial pitch, where the first feedback was “this is meh, give me more”. Based on their feedback and some subsequent follow-up, we engaged with even more partners to “give them more” and then made those pitches. At which point they decided they were actually really happy with the first pitch and these new pitches were far beyond their comfort level.

        Certainly all sorts of snark can be added here to describe the experience – but I think part of the reason why colleagues were initially praising you is because that kind of initial vague and negative response isn’t unusual. And honestly, doesn’t even mean that your first idea is totally dead. Where you do succeed in those moments is to keep those relationships as positive as possible and to not have someone walk away and say “don’t call us ever again”. Because as frustrating as not getting positive or constructive feedback is – having someone willing to still work with you is a win.

      3. Happy*

        I could be completely off-base here and if so please ignore me.

        But is it possible you could have some imposter syndrome going on?

        Maybe you DID do a great job dealing with a difficult client and that’s why everyone was complimenting you. That seems like the most likely explanation to me. Not that they think you’re overly fragile.

        Just because someone was unhappy with the work doesn’t mean the work was bad. And some people are much better than others at dealing with criticism and difficult situations, so maybe you just really impressed everyone.

  5. Black Horse Dancing*

    #4 This is really not uncommon with state or local governments–their budgets are all dependent on what taxes they raise. COLAs are rare. My county gave a 2% raise in July 2021, nothing the prior year. Politics also pays a huge part. The pubic screams when public servants get free cookies. There are no holiday parties, no bonuses, etc. (Now if you’re a politician, that’s not an issue. In the US, we hold the clerk recording our deed to much higher standards than US senators).

        1. pancakes*

          It is entirely possible to be honest without being carelessly antagonistic and without being ignorant – good communicators are.

          (By “ignorant” I mean, this person is indeed inaccurate, as Alison said, in speaking as of cost of living adjustments are a rare luxury).

        2. JB*

          The quoted response isn’t honesty. It’s chiding the employee for having the temerity to think their wage maybe should keep up with COL increases.

          An honest reply would be something like “unfortunately we don’t always have the budget to keep up with cost of living, so our annual raises are instead calculated to keep our wage rates as competitive as possible without exceeding the budget.”

          1. Yorick*

            Exactly. There are honest responses to this question that don’t make it sound like they hate their employees.

        3. Aquawoman*

          I have my doubts about honesty. Do they really pay market rates for their staff as they suggest they do? Also, this–“Few employers can afford to provide increases in line with the cost of living” is laughable. “No one should expect to be able to sustain themselves on their pay” is a ridiculous statement, and inflation in the private sector often applies to output as well as input (i.e. materials or labor cost more but that means that the org can charge more for their product or service).

        4. Starbuck*

          I dunno, the vibe I got from the response was less “we wish we could do this but are regrettably constrained by forces outside our control” and more, “we just don’t wanna, and how unreasonable for you to even ask!”

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        I was county gov’t. We fought to get a training funded for our contractors – they submitted the permits to us, and we were having issues getting them to follow code the first time rather than the third, and there were complaints we were taking too long. Maybe don’t submit your permit in crappily scanned crayon? (Not a joke…) So we went to the board and very narrowly got funding to do a training on how the permit process works, how to make things go faster on their end, and a “refresher” on the code itself. We brought in experts, even. We provided coffee, juice, water bottles, and an assortment of pastries as it started at 7:30A and went until 10:30A.

        I got *very grumpy* contractors telling me the *free donuts* were *not the kind they wanted*. FREE DONUTS. And then others complained that “mah tax dollars at work” because *coffee*. Including one guy that I know for a fact did not even live in that county. I legitimately went for a few minutes into an empty room I found and sat with my head against a wall.

        When I was state gov’t, we had to be very careful where we parked our vehicle if we stopped for lunch. Because nearly every single time, the office would get a complaint that “my tax dollars at work, you are just at restaurants all day!!!1!”. At like, Subway.

        I had one guy call in when I was county to complain I had nothing better to do than drive down his road, something something get a job something something. I had driven down it twice. It was the only way to a big septic system going in that I needed to be there daily for as there were already some compliance issues.

        It’s amazing what people will complain about when it comes to gov’t employees – especially if it’s a more local office (county or city).

        1. LemonLime*

          Oh man, I could write a book on the strange and petty ways the public scrutinizes government workers. I work for the state gov. and was out of town on a state emergency program. I was gone 2 weeks and needed groceries and had to park in the very back of the parkinglot in the dark area at night to do my grocery shopping because God Forbid a state employee be seen shopping at 7 oclock at night because I’m just wasting tax dollars. (Not on duty or being paid at that point).
          I had a colleague reported because someone saw him just sitting in his state truck drinking coffee. At a gas station. While the pump was pumping gas.
          I used to deposit the money our office received daily at the bank. I can’t count how many people called about a state employee ‘banking’ in their state truck
          I’ve had all kinds of ‘government employees are paid too much’ ‘mah tax dollars’ ‘you guys are lazy and we shouldnt pay you’ comments. Listen I haven’t gotten a raise, COLA, nothing in 8 years. I’m actually making less money because everything else from rent to daycare have increased yearly.
          There’s alot of people who huff about state retirement- like when I retire I don’t deserve that money- umm that’s my money- literally it comes out of my paycheck and is invested by the STATE and I have no say as to how it is invested- but it literally comes out of my paycheck. But please keep saying how I don’t deserve retirement.

          1. Black Horse Dancing*

            Yes. Our pay is automatically deduced by more than 10% for retirement–off the gross. And that is everybody from clerks to finance director. No choice, no ability to claim as a credit on taxes, nothing.

        2. Brett*

          Yeah, a while ago I had a comment on, I think, a friday thread about team lunches when I worked for emergency management.
          Since we were required to wear logo’d polos to work, we would purposely avoid going to restaurants that featured bars (think TGIFridays) because inevitably someone would call in and accuse us of drinking on the job. Sure, we could easily disprove it by producing receipts from our meals, but it wasn’t worth the hassle that could be avoided just by avoiding those restaurants for team lunches.

        3. Gracely*

          A few years ago, my city was doing an extensive expansion to an overpass. People on the city’s FB were actually bitching about the workers sitting off to the side taking lunch breaks or water breaks. Like, because they weren’t spending literally every second on the overpass working, somehow that meant they were slacking off. Mind you, they were in the full summer sun, at 90+ temps.

          The shocking lack of empathy really boggled the mind.

          1. londonedit*

            In the last couple of years I’ve noticed signs popping up on the cordons around bits of roadworks saying something along the lines of ‘Even though we’re not here right now, we’re still working’ – I presume because the companies were fed up with people complaining about roadworks being in place with no one visibly digging up the road. Sigh.

        4. Librarian of SHIELD*

          At a past job, the microwave in our staff lunch room died. We had enough money in our budget to buy a new one, but city finance refused to approve the purchase. The reason we were given was that tax payers would flip out if they found out the library spent $30 on something that was only for employees and didn’t benefit the public.

          1. Paris Geller*

            The stories I’ve heard have made me incredibly grateful that all the libraries I’ve worked in have supplied a microwave, fridge, and tissues. My current library even has an ice machine AND a dishwasher, which feels like an incredible luxury!

            Now the plates, mugs, silverware — that’s on staff, but still miles better than some of the comments I’ve heard!

          2. FricketyFrack*

            Dude why do they act like a microwave is such a massive expense? At one of my previous (also government) jobs, we had 2 microwaves for several dozen staff and they were easily from the 90s, if not earlier. They routinely overheated at lunchtime and everyone knew they were a fire hazard. We moved to a much nicer building, and they said we would have to bring the same microwaves. Requests for slightly less flammable appliances never made it past the commissioner’s assistant.

            So I emailed the entire agency saying I was starting a collection to buy a couple of new ones because our old ones were unsafe, and if anyone would like to contribute, it would be great, but if not, I’d just take care of it (on a crappy admin salary). In a surprise to no one, that got the commissioner’s attention and he thanked me and said the agency would take care of it. His assistant didn’t like me much, but at least we didn’t burn down the new building making lunch.

        5. Chickaletta*

          Americans are a-holes when it comes to “their tax dollars”, and I have found that a vast majority of them (us: I’m American) have an inability/unwillingness to connect taxes to the services and things they provide in our lives. I am one of few people I’ve met in my life who doesn’t complain about paying taxes because I know that without them, we would be living in a freaking third-world country. Now, is the system perfect and free from corruption? Of course not, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

          1. Anon Supervisor*

            It’s amazing how many Americans crab about their tax dollars funding child welfare programs or a new microwave, but don’t bat an eye at the cost of funding a war for 20 years, where billions of dollars effectively disappeared.

        6. AnonPi*

          Oh hell we’ve had employees at the same company call and complain about each other for similar crap. Heaven forbid if the field crew go into town and buy fast food for lunch and use the restroom. These are the same people that will take a government vehicle and find an unseen place behind a building or off road to park and nap for an hour or two.

      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        Post-retirement, I took a civil service job with the local government. The were understandably strict with providing amenities. We were provided with a water cooler and that was it. One person brought in a Keurig machine and we’d all take turns buying the pods, milk, sugar etc. I cannot tell you how many times I had to answer the question “Did my tax dollars buy that fancy coffee machine!?!” The office staff chipped in to put up candy out in the public area for Halloween and people would nastily say “Who paid for this?” while eating the candy.

        There are just some people looking to be angry and local government employees are a convenient target.

        1. kittymommy*

          Yep! My building currently has a fridge that our previous county manager donated from his mom’s kitchen when she was renovating. Everything, from dish sponge to appliances, is purchased/provided by employees. For the most part it doesn’t bother me until citizens attending one of our public meetings wants me to make them coffee – yeah, no, I don’t make coffee for my bosses and they at least help contribute to the coffee fund.

        2. AKchic*

          When I worked in non-profit, I always bought candy for our admin office. We had a donor come in and try to lord her donor status (she didn’t give that much). She saw the candy (name brand, I shopped at Sam’s Club) and get all huffy about her donations supplying junk to the junkies. I raised an eyebrow, said I bought it myself and nobody asked her to have any. Oh, then it was all right, y’know and she reached for the jar. Nope. My personal candy, you can’t have it. Put a knot in her tail.

      3. AJ*

        It’s so common. One county I worked for would not allow purchasing of facial tissue (kleenex!) for staff, and staff were not supposed to use the tissue available for the public, because it was perceived to be a “personal luxury” that taxpayers were paying for.

        1. LemonLime*

          Oh I forgot about tissues!
          One of our labs actually buys tissues for a sample process- they’re literally the same tissues you get at the store. There’s open tissue boxes all around the lab. BUT don’t you dare use one if a sudden sneeze happens unexpectedly and you grab one. That is stealing. You will be reprimanded by your manager.
          You ever live dangerously by breaking the law and blowing your nose into a tissue while your colleagues look around fearfully and help you dispose of the evidence? No? You should try it some time. Thrilling.

      4. Hurricane Wakeen*

        State government here. We don’t buy kleenex for the office. In order to get filtered water, coffee, paper plates, and napkins in the break room, we all chip in to an annual fund managed by one of our admin staff. (Personally, I think the work time she spends budgeting, buying supplies, and hounding people for money is probably a bigger waste than the cost of basic amenities, but oh well.) It’s also common for citizens who see a state car somewhere they think it’s not supposed to be to call in and report “fraud.”

        I like public service, but sometimes the arbitrariness of things like that does get me down a bit. I was utterly shocked when I changed offices and my new office manager would buy pens that weren’t black or blue and sticky notes that weren’t insipid yellow.

        1. Fed Too*

          I worked local congressional services for a Senator and we could not fund Kleenex. You’d think it was minor but congressional services means people who need help will come into the local office to explain their problem and see what the Senators office can do- almost daily I had people in my office crying under stress trying to deal with really emotional issues like the foster care system, social security benefits, FEMA disaster relief, their children’s health insurance, etc. We all bought tissues out of our own money (and we weren’t making much) because telling a grieving person sobbing about losing her home to wipe her nose on her shirt sleeve seemed wrong.

        1. LW4*

          I’ve never worked anywhere it wasn’t provided, but I uh…keep a roll in my desk, yeah. Because what they do provide is the absolute cheapest single ply that shreds if you so much as look at it, and it’s either bring my own stuff, or use 5 times more of the county tp that feels like if tissue paper and sandpaper had a baby, and that baby straight up sucked.

    1. LW4*

      The thing is, I’ve spent my entire career in government, and I know that budgets and politics are tricky. I also know I chose a field that doesn’t pay all that well, and I’ve accepted that I’ll probably be firmly in the lower middle class at best. BUT I’ve also never worked for an agency that straight out said they don’t care what it costs to live here. Even during the last recession, we knew things like merit increases were off the table, but they still managed to give a tiny COL increase with communication that they knew it was hard and the goal was to reevaluate salary bands as soon as the budget allowed.

    2. LazyPublicServant*

      State employee and agree with all that is being said here. I understand the message could have been worded differently but COLAs are incredibly rare in State or county. Budgets are limited based on funding – funding is always being cut – and in State, the legislator is responsible for Statewide employee pay increases (could be couched as COLA but it’s a stretch). And our legislator is a dumpster fire, so there’s that.

  6. Long time caller... first time listener*

    Doris has files she created for the company on her computer. Dave sounds like a jack rear end, but he has a right to be upset that she’s not making it a priority to get them to the company that OWNS THE FILES. Why is everyone ignoring this critical fact. If she had a box of company files in her apartment, would the response be: “well, she can give them back to them when she feels like it?” No, of course not. At best, she’s being unreasonably unaccommodating, but this could very likely just be plain and simple theft. If she doesn’t return them soon, I’d have a lawyer write her a letter.

    1. TiredMama*

      It seems like OP and Doris had a plan for Doris to move files she created for the company over to the company but Dave made something else a priority during her last week and lost priority to her time.

    2. BuildMeUp*

      A lawyer?! Oh my gosh, no.

      Look, if she had paper files, it sounds like Dave would be doing the equivalent of demanding she take time off from her new job to drive the files to the office. That’s just unreasonable, especially when it’s Dave’s fault the transfer didn’t happen while Doris was still an employee.

      1. Green great dragon*

        Agree, and Dave is demanding she take time off to bring the files immediately because, in her last week, he told her to do something he thought urgent instead of bringing over the files as she’d planned.

      2. Mongrel*

        And there’s always the risk that Doris would do the other thing that ensures she hasn’t got the company files on her laptop.
        While it may have been her responsibility to backup and collate the documentation when she was their contractor Dave abrogated that duty with his scatterbrained prioritising.
        Just checking though, is Doris being offered her contractor rates for this job ? Digging the info up and, in effect, locking her out of her computer while it uploads seems like it should be.

    3. AcademiaNut*

      It sounds like Doris *is* getting the files to them, but the process simply takes a long time, and as she is no-longer working for them, she can’t afford to stop her current contract while fixing a mess that’s not her fault.

      (I work with large data volumes in a totally different context – needing a week or two retrieve and re-create a set of end products, and another week to transfer them over the internet can be an entirely reasonable situation, even with high speed internet).

      It’s also not clear that she didn’t hand them over – just that Dave can’t find them.

      1. RedinSC*

        I was wondering what that time frame might be. A week is a LONG TIME.

        I was thinking she just needed to set the transfer for over night, but that’s not going to work if it really is that a transfer could take days.

        Dave needs to pay for the time then, that it would take to transfer the files.

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

      Yeah this is similar to what I was thinking. Those files are company property and the longer Doris’ laissez faire attitude towards them goes on, the less likely you will ever get them back I think. (Would she accept “yeah, I’ll get around to it real soon now” when pay day comes around?)

      1. Kal*

        I’m pretty sure, though, that Doris’s new job isn’t going to just accept “I’m just going to use the time you’re paying me for to do some work for my old job instead of the work you need me to do” either

      2. Starbuck*

        From the letter:
        “Dave, often throwing things at us that he’s deemed urgent to supersede everything else. This is why Doris spent her last week working on creating an (URGENT!) digital asset, rather than focusing on backing up files, making locations of documents clear, and working on a smooth handover. This isn’t on Doris.”

        She is not being paid by Dave anymore! Of course it’s not urgent for Doris. He had the option to make this paid work, and chose another priority. It sounds like a complex, time consuming process so I don’t blame her for not rushing to do it, especially with how much it sounds like Dave sucks.

        Also, employers drag their feet on paying for contracted work (like with freelancers) all the dang time.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        (Would she accept “yeah, I’ll get around to it real soon now” when pay day comes around?)

        But it will never come around. Not from Dave.

    5. Amaranth*

      I’m really not clear if Doris is holding company files inappropriately at home or if Dave just wants the working files to make changes. The fact OP says Doris “might have” the files brings to mind when clients hope you have a copy of something they accidentally messed up or lost.

      1. Number Three/Cup of Tea*

        It’s basically a big stack of papers that haven’t been sorted, but might have what you’re looking for in there. The comparison to needing to put them in the back of a car and drive them over (in your own time) is apt.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          Yeah, I had been picturing intermediate files from a rendering process or something like that – much more than emailing an attachment, or syncing something with Dropbox.

          It sounds like Dave has no organizational or time management skills, and constantly operates in Emergency!! mode. Only now that Doris is not working for him any longer, she can choose to do thing in normal, reasonable time frame mode, and he can’t cope.

          1. foolofgrace*

            It could be a little bit of unconscious payback to Dave for his a-holeness during the time Doris worked there. It could be that her motivation is a bit low. Understandable, not judging.

          2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Going to bet that the files Doris has are copies of things Dave has but just can’t find because he’s so busy running around like the house is on fire all the time that nothing given to him is ever sorted or organized.

          3. AnonForThis*

            Yep. I work with a Dave. Dave has a tendency to let everything become a crisis unnecessarily. The work environment is constant crisis management. It doesn’t matter how much lead time, communication, preparation, etc., Dave’s subordinates provide. The behavior is incredibly demoralizing to those who work for him.

            If I were Doris, I would get Dave his files, but I would take my sweeeeeet time doing it. Dave no longer gets to define what is a crisis for Doris. If it causes an actual crisis for Dave, so be it. It’s entirely self-inflicted. Transfer of knowledge, documents, and assets is the purpose of the two weeks notice.

            Attn Employers: Ensuring that your employees don’t walk off with company IP is why you separate business equipment from personal equipment!

        2. Empress Matilda*

          In that case, I would just keep repeating to Dave that you’ve talked to Doris and she’ll get the files over asap. If he asks you to call her again – you don’t need to actually call her. Just come back to him a few minutes or an hour or whatever later, and tell him you left her a voice mail. Rinse, repeat.

          Normally I don’t advocate lying to your boss, of course! But if you’re confident that Doris has already transferred the final versions of the product (or the most recent draft), and everything else is basically a haystack that might or might not have a needle in it – you don’t need to keep bugging her about it. She knows Dave wants the files, she knows about the perceived urgency, and she’ll do what she can. That message won’t change, regardless of how many times you remind her. So I think you’re safe to let it go at this point.

          Good luck with your exit strategy!

          1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

            I don’t know if LW is a friend to Doris, but I like imagining Dave standing over LW so that they’ll make that call, and LW calling, Doris answering, and LW pretending to leave a voice message while Doris laughs and laughs on the other end of the line.

        3. Reluctant Manager*

          Maybe Doris should set an appropriate hourly consultant fee in exchange for prioritizing this over, say, sleeping.

    6. Allonge*

      Eh, no. If any of our staff still had large work files on their private devices* after leaving, we would send them an appropriate sized external hard drive and a return courier label if other means of file transfer would not work. If it was fine for Doris to work on their own equiment so far, well, this is the least problematic consequence.

      *Why is this not at least backed up on company servers? I know it’s convenient sometimes to work from your own hard drive (or downright impossible not to), but have a system for backup, companies!

    7. anonymath*

      We’ve had discussions about this before, though; the company should have paid her on company time to take care of their own d(*& property. If a trucking company dissolved (looking at you Celadon) leaving drivers stranded across all the states and even maybe Mexico, basically sending a text saying “sorry we’re over”, can you really blame the truckers who’ve stopped getting paid in the middle of the Salinas Valley or in Buttzville NJ for just… getting another job? Do they really need to drive thousands of miles on their own time, unpaid, without insurance, to get the truck back to the yard? If you owned a ballerina tutu company and you hired a seamstress to make you tutus from home and the week she was supposed to be packing and shipping them you made her make 600 Nutcracker soldier costumes instead, and now she’s not employed by you, do you think it’s right or even legal to make her pack and ship all the tutus on her own time and her own time?

      If you ordered from Wayfair some patio set or bunkbed and then cancelled the delivery, would you be in the right to go to the company and claim they now need to produce next-day delivery for free? You cancelled the delivery and got something else for that money!

      This company has crappy planning and crappy business practices and if they’re so poorly managed that they can’t get their own stuff delivered to them, they need to pay to do it. It’s a project cost overrun. This contractor should not have to pay her own time and her own dime to get their work done for them.

    8. Vanilla Bean*

      The company didn’t make it a priority when they owned both the files AND Doris’s time. In fact, they actively decided it was NOT a priority. Now, they still own the files; but they do not own Doris’s time or resources anymore. She’s not refusing to send them the files, but she’s choosing how to prioritize her time and resources and it’s her right to do that. How long is “reasonable” to take is not dictated by Dave’s urgency.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Especially since, reading between the lines of what Number Three/Cup of Tea is posting, Dave’s urgency settings are always set to “House on Fire” and change by the day.

        People aren’t leaving that company – they are escaping from Dave to save themselves.

    9. JB*

      If these files were that important, Dave should have made sure to get all of them from Doris BEFORE her last day, instead of assigning her other work to do during that time. Or he should have literally any other option for Doris to get them the files vs. Tying up her computer and preventing her from working for what sounds like hours or even days.

      If this were a paperwork situation, and Dave pulled the same crap – yes, it would be on him to go to her house to collect the paperwork if he needs it ASAP! Not demand she takes time away from her new job to drive it over during business hours. If he wanted that, he should have given her time to do it when she was still working for him.

    10. NinaBee*

      totally agree. She’s holding onto files she doesn’t own, regardless of whether the last week was spend handover or not. She should say to them that she needs to charge extra time to send, and not do anything extra like write notes or documents, but taking a week to hand over files is unprofessional (regardless of the boss’ demands).

      1. AVP*

        But it looks like they aren’t offering her to pay her for this time, even $1. Does it change your response if there is no money available for her to do this, or if she knows that any invoice she sends will be ignored?

      2. Recruited Recruiter*

        I disagree with you. While the company may own the documents, unless they are paying her, they have no real ability to demand when she gets the documents to the company – especially because it ties up the equipment that she needs to do her new job. This is generally the kind of stuff that is done for pay during the last few days of work. Dave is explicitly demanding that Doris work for free when Dave wants her to work for free. It sounds like she is a very kind person for being willing to do this at all.

    11. Aquawoman*

      Dave did not make adequate provisions for transferring the documents during Doris’s tenure, so it’s Dave’s responsibility that they’re not available now. Doris can’t take forever, but there is nothing that requires her to drop every priority she has to do this immediately.

    12. fhqwhgads*

      Dave seems to want her to spend time on this transfer for free. Sure she owes him the files. He also owes her payment for time spent on it. He insisted she do something else with the time that was supposed to be for this. So now he needs to book more time.

    13. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’m not seeing it in the letter that Doris is not making it a priority. The files just take a long time to transfer over now that she’s no longer on the company network. And the one last week when she was still on the company network and could’ve transfered them faster, was squandered by Dave and the URGENT! unrelated assignment he gave her. If we are comparing it to a physical box, then a better analogy would be “several rooms filled with heavy boxes that would require hiring a team of movers to bring over.” It’s not something she can pop over to Dave at a moment’s notice. And at this point, honestly, she has a new job (since her contract with OP’s workplace has *expired*), which she cannot abandon because her old job needs the files ASAP and that task is taking up all her bandwidth. If she did, it’d be another letter in the making, from her new employer, along the lines of “our new contractor says she cannot do any work for us until she’s finished doing things for her old job. They do not pay her, we do. What recourse do we have?”

  7. nnn*

    The fanfiction part of my brain is halfway to constructing an unnecessarily complex system for #2 to regift every plant they receive to the person who gave them a previous plant, as a gushing token of gratitude for the previous plant/apology for killing the previous plant.

    Or: stay late at work every once in a while and rearrange ALL the plants in the office, so everything is on a different person’s desk. And somehow, in the shuffle of the late night plant moving gremlins, the number of plants on OP’s desk decreases each time.

      1. Clorinda*

        Wait until the plant is half dead, then return it to the giver. “I did TELL you I’m not good with plants, and I can’t have this on my conscience.”

    1. AJoftheInternet*

      I’m an admitted drama queen, but I’d stage a funeral for each successive plant that died on my desk. Send out announcements, have coworkers play pallbearers, make a procession through the office, give eulogies….

      What do you mean, that doesn’t sound like an efficient use of company time?

      1. Paris Geller*

        Not a good use, but I would be DELIGHTED if one of my coworkers decided to throw a funeral for their dead plant. Heck, I would attend on my lunch break.

    2. Bagpuss*

      A coworker of ours was death to plants, so we got her a little 3D paper cactus instead, which has now survived happily on her desk for about 3 years.

    3. Tiny Soprano*

      Or find the person in the office who is a plant person and gift the plants to them. I was plant lady once. Happily accepted any and all unwanted office plants. There’s always one.

      1. Mongrel*

        How much of a social hit would it be to just say “No thanks, I don’t enjoy killing plants. Find someone who’d appreciate it for longer” and leave it on the ‘gift’ giver.
        Passing them on to someone else just reinforces that you’ll accept plants

        1. Nannerdoodle - OP#2*

          It would be a big hit socially. I’ve tried to say that before, and you would have thought I said something along the lines of “I hate babies; they’re useless. Why does anyone have them?” to a new mom based on the offense level (I don’t think that about babies, just trying to show how crazy the plant thing is).
          I’ve also tried to put them in someone’s office with sunlight. The plant gets revived for a while, but it somehow always finds its way back to me.
          Plus, the people with offices are the folks who have the “garden office”, and generally don’t have space for the plants or are the people who gave me the thing in the first place.

          1. Morticia*

            When my mom worked in an office, people placed their plants on her desk when they were sick of them so they would die (I have the same “gift”. The last time I received a plant as a gift, I labelled it “Mr Bond” because I didn’t expect it to talk, I expected it to die. #SpoilerAlert it did.).

            Maybe put a sign on your desk saying “Plant Hospice” or “Terminal Ward”?

          2. quill*

            People who gift plants tend to either have a successful plant that needs to be trimmed or divided periodically (spider plants, pothos) or wander past it on their way out of the supermarket and think it looks lonely, before going home and realizing it literally does not fit anywhere.

          3. KateM*

            Can’t you tell the gifters that you just can’t keep them in your no-sunlight cube? Surely they’d understand it’s like keeping a pet so that they have no access to water.

            1. boop the first*

              My question throughout this discussion is: why is everyone talking like the plant is required to stay at work or…?

          4. linger*

            Confessions Of A Serial Plant Killer (Cynthia C. Naspinski)

            Oh, I wish that I had a green thumb.
            All my houseplants are looking quite glum.
            I never can tell
            Why they’re looking unwell
            Or just why so many succumb.

            Have I failed to give them enough water?
            Have I watered them more than I ought to?
            Are they getting too hot?
            Is this not the right spot?
            It’s like sending poor lambs to the slaughter.

            The hard, undeniable fact is
            Many succulents, ferns and a cactus,
            A begonia, a fig,
            Many palms, small and big,
            Have been victims of my malpractice.

            I confess I’m a serial killer.
            Many end up as mulch or land filler.
            I kill far more plants
            Than snails, thrips or ants
            Or an army of green caterpillar.

            Though houseplants are deemed beneficial,
            Should these ones die, it is official:
            I’ll waste no more dough
            Just to watch ‘em die slow.
            My next plants will be artificial!

      2. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        Yes, most offices have one. Or ask a nursing home, zoo, or daycare if they would like free plants. I have a friend who works for a zoo and a large majority of the plants in the rainforest were donations.

    4. pancakes*

      The answer to that one is good but there’s a part of the letter that makes me wonder –

      “Last week, I was given a cactus that is now also on its way to death. It doesn’t help that I’m in a cube with no access to direct sunlight.”

      Why is this person not taking the plants home rather than keeping them in an environment where they’re doomed? Of course they’re going to die if they’re not being kept in a suitable environment. Some plants thrive without much light, but cacti are not among them. Giving a coworker a plant does not imply that they must keep it at their desk forevermore.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Not everyone wants plants at home.

        OP2, remember that once given, the gift is yours to do with as you please. Feel free to discreetly dispose of unwanted plants. (Yes, I am a plant lover. No, I will not accept people’s unwanted plants. I have limited room in my house and my plants are carefully arranged to keep clear of wagging dog tails (which can sweep the coffee table clean).

        1. Paris Geller*

          ” the gift is yours to do with as you please. ”

          I know her style isn’t for everyone, but this was the best part of Marie Kondo’s book for me. Keep things that spark joy! If the gift doesn’t spark joy, you can get rid of it freely! I use to keep gifts FOREVER because I would feel so guilty getting rid of them and freeing myself of that notion was so liberating. Feel free to pass the plants along to a friend or family member or coworker. Honestly a lot of people love plants so you could probably leave the plants you get on a curb somewhere and someone will pick it up. If you’re on Facebook and you feel like doing it, you could also post the plants you’re given in a local swap/buy nothing/etc. type group. I do realize that is some work so you definitely don’t *have* to do that, but it’s another option.

          1. Happy Lurker*

            Family member gave me some kind of mantle piece candle thing and told me since my kids were older I could have nice things on my mantle instead of kids projects.
            The candle holder went in the trash within the month. The Legos remain, because Legos make me smile and need less dusting than glass.
            It is very liberating to get rid of junk the people foist off on you.

        2. Reba*

          Yes, I say treat them like a flower arrangement: enjoy for a week, they wilt, dispose of them.

          I say this as a plant lover myself. It’s fine!

        3. pancakes*

          Of course not everyone wants plants at home, but if someone who doesn’t is nonetheless given one, surely it makes more sense to give it to someone else or put it in a common area than it does to keep it somewhere where it will definitely die.

        4. Gothic Bee*

          This! Or maybe doesn’t have a home conducive to plant-keeping. My house is a dark cave, no central heating/air so the temperature tends to range a lot throughout the year, and I have a cat that is determined to eat any green thing I bring inside. Plants are doomed even before we get to the fact that I just suck at keeping plants alive, so OP2 has my sympathy.

      2. WellRed*

        Even without sunlight, it takes waaaaay longer than a week to kill a cactus. I suspect OP simply is not a plant person whether at home or work.

        1. Empress Matilda*

          I’m not the OP, but I am definitely terrible with plants! Lots of people like to give them as gifts rather than cut flowers, because they last longer…but that’s only true if you water them. ;) If you’re like me, you’ll stick it in a window and forget about it, then notice six weeks later that it has shrivelled up and died. Poor plants, they deserve better than me!

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            I used to look at plants and think “they need watering”, but I can’t be bothered to get up to do it, then I forget.

            At one point, a friend gave me a plant and told me its name (Fernande), the idea being that the name would humanise it and I would remember to water it. Fernande just happens to be a name of a girl in a French song, and the singer actually lists a whole lot of girls, so this started a trend, with people bringing me a whole jungle of plants and giving each one a name from the song.

            They still all died.

      3. JB*

        Many people don’t want or can’t keep plants at home. There’s no flat surface in my house right now that 1. Has good access to sunlight and 2. Is safe from the cats, who will happily knock over any plant they see so they can play in the dirt from the pot, and will try to eat most of the plants as well. I’m not going to rearrange my home to create such a plant-safe space if someone decides to gift me a plant.

        How about we just stop giving people living things as gifts unless we’re certain that particular person wants and can accomodate that living thing?

      4. Nannerdoodle - OP#2*

        These plants will not live at work or home. It would die no matter where I take it if it’s in my care. Plus, I have two dogs at home that would 100% get into any plants I bring and cause an even faster plant death.

        1. bubbleon*

          Can you lean on this more? “oh I’d take this home but Dodger and and Tito make it impossible for me to keep plants, and I have no sunlight at my desk!”

          That said, it sounds like you just work with Plant People who won’t get it no matter how many they send to their inevitable shriveled up death with you.

        2. GoldenHandcuffs*

          Just tell them you’re taking them home. And then give them away. They never have to know. I’ve done this several times with plants that have been gifted to me. It’s good all around. I usually give them away in my buy nothing group because there are a few plant folks in there that will gladly rescue them. Good luck!

      5. Sparkles McFadden*

        Not only do some people not want plants in the house, but maybe LW commutes and doesn’t want to ride home on the train with a fern on her lap during rush hour.

        Plants are really terrible gifts. If you like plants, you might not like the particular plant your were given, and if you don’t like tending to plants, it’s like someone said “Here’s the gift of work and responsibility for you!”

        1. Empress Matilda*

          Yes! I got a lovely one from work when my daughter was born, and I was like “yay, another thing that’s completely dependent on me to take care of it. Thanks, I think?”

        2. pancakes*

          Why would they have to take it home on the subway in this scenario rather than give it to someone else at work, or in the vicinity of work, or leave it in a common area at work? I suggested taking the plants home, yes, but I did not mean to imply that’s the only way to avoid killing them. 6 or 7 people who’ve replied nonetheless seem to have taken that for granted.

          1. pancakes*

            I suppose I should add, for the sake of clarity, that I’m also not trying to suggest plants make good gifts. My point is just that people who aren’t good with them have other options besides keeping them in unsuitable conditions and watching them die there!

            1. Mongrel*

              Because they’ve already got an unwanted gift, trying to re-home the plant in a way that won’t kick off the social drama llamas at work is relinquishing far too much headspace to them and feels like a milder version of an abuser trick “How dare you not like this gift! It cost a lot of money\I spent a lot of time picking it.”.
              “I don’t like this, don’t want it but can’t throw it away because it’ll offend someone. F*** it, on to floral death row it goes” is a perfectly fine attitude at that point as giving someone a gift that comes with an investment of time (even trying to find someone to give it to) is entirely on the gift giver.

          2. Gothic Bee*

            To be fair, a lot of people don’t want plants. I’ve tried giving away plants I’ve been gifted previously and had no takers at the time. Plus, I imagine giving it away at work is tricky because you might not want the gift giver to know you’re giving it away.

            1. pancakes*

              I think this must be very context-dependent. I live in a city of 8+ million people and have never had trouble finding someone to take an unwanted plant.

            2. MCMonkeyBean*

              Yeah, I do think it would be a bit awkward to receive a gift at work and then immediately try to give it away at work. Lots of people react differently to the idea of “returning” a gift. My dad is allllll about gift receipts and the ability to return a present if you don’t like it, and my mom like nearly cried one time when I suggested a dress she gifted me might be the wrong size and I might need to exchange it…

        3. Beth*

          “Plants are really terrible gifts”

          YES. And in some cases, the recipient might be allergic to the plant. Or it might be toxic for the recipient’s children or pets. Funny how the plant people never think of that.

        4. MCMonkeyBean*

          I agree, and I try to remember not to send flowers when people are going through a tough time for that reason. I send flowers to my mother and my MIL for mother’s day and birthdays and that’s mostly it. I have almost sent them a number of times when a friend has lost a loved one or had a baby but then I remember that I’d basically be sending them more responsibility when they are dealing with a lot!

          (Not to say everyone who sends flowers is a monster or anything, obviously those are very normal things to send! Someone left me flowers when my cat died and I really did appreciate the thought and feel loved which is of course the ultimate goal! I’ve just been trying to be more mindful recently of not gifting people something that kind of turns out to be a chore. I also probably think that way more than a lot of other people because like OP I am personally very bad at keeping plants alive…)

    5. This comment is awaiting moderation*

      Stolen from Facebook: “I do not have a black thumb. I have a gray thumb. I am a hospice worker helping plants on their way to Jesus.”

  8. The OTHER other*

    #3–Why does Doris still have these huge business files when she no longer works there?

    Also, your manager is acting like a real jerk. Instead of taking the hint at Doris blocking her number, he delegates the harassment to you? What’s next, he tells you to leave a note at a family gravesite? This is all due to his poor planning.

    1. allathian*

      His poor planning, and his plain jerk nature. Doris is well shot of him, and I don’t blame her for not putting a high priority on getting those files to him. That said, the files are company property and she needs to get them to Dave at some point fairly soon.

    2. Number Three/Cup of Tea*

      Because the time originally planned for developing a handover was bulldozed by an URGENT project. At this point, he’s asking for more work from her. I agree there’s an obligation to return the files, but that doesn’t account for an urgency, especially when everything in this job has been urgent.

      1. EPLawyer*

        If everything is urgent, then nothing is urgent.

        Who knows he might lost interest and next week something else is URGENT. So when the files do show up he is all “what are these for?”

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I’m also betting Dave has these files somewhere in his possession – but because everything is always an emergency with him nothing is ever filed or organized and he can’t find them while running around and yelling about not having X.

      2. Vanilla Bean*

        I had a manager who filled my two-week notice period before a transfer with an URGENT project, leaving me no time to document processes in writing (she told me she expected me to get it all done, I refused to work major overtime to do it). Because I only transferred and didn’t actually leave the company, she was able to negotiate to get me back on an urgent basis to train on processes or clean up messes several times. She also complained that my emailed responses to questions on how to do things were “too long and convoluted” and she was “just looking for a quick answer”. You asked me how to do a ten step multi-day process, lady. I haaaaaaaated that woman.

        1. Sleet Feet*

          Wow. I hate when people complaim about the answer being too hard. That happened to me a lot when I worked at a hospital.

          To me it’s a sign the asker is incompetent.

      3. the cat's ass*

        People who manage by crisis are the worst. When everything’s an emergency, NOTHING is an emergency.

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I think OP should tell Dave that Doris also blocked OP’s number, even if she didn’t. Not that I’m encouraging OP to lie, of course….

  9. Rich*

    OP#1, It’s possible you were doing good work and the client was still a jerk. If that’s the case, it’s reasonable that your colleagues would try to ‘correct the record’ with you.

    But maybe you did screw up (or otherwise do unacceptable work for other reasons — like poor expectations from the client, etc). That happens to EVERYONE doing client-facing work. The effusive support from your coworkers might be ‘there but for the grace of God’ motivated — they’ve been there too and want to give you a boost.

    Or, it might be entirely warranted. How you respond to a client to save the engagement after it goes south is a _really_big_deal_ in client-facing work. You might be underestimating how effectively you reset the situation. Saving a bad meeting/project that you caused doesn’t always _feel_ great, because you know it would be better if you hadn’t caused it. But having the ability to manage a client effectively to be able to make that save (because there will be times when things go wrong… it happens to everyone) is incredibly valuable, and usually a sign of a very mature team member.

    They may be genuinely – and rightly – impressed at how you handled the situation, even if you don’t see it.

    1. Willis*

      This 100%. Sometimes you’ll give clients what they want right off the bat, sometimes you won’t (whether because you mess up somehow, the client is being unreasonable, miscommunication, or just a need to refine things). But dealing with clients gracefully is ALWAYS an important skill in this kind of work. Especially so if the client is picky or an outright jerk. OP’s teammates are probably legitimately impressed with how she handled the situation…I feel like she’s not giving herself enough credit here and underestimating the importance and difficulty of managing client relationships.

    2. LilyP*

      Soooooo much this. Being able to react calmly and constructively to criticism + rudeness in a high-pressure situation and keep positive engagement throughout is not at all something that comes easily to most people. It may feel easy or obvious to you, but I think that just means they’re really lucky to have you in this role! That’s the kind of temperament stuff that is really hard to coach people on and also really valuable to high performers.

    3. Green great dragon*

      OP, are you sure you messed up? I wonder if you’re telling people you messed up and they’re trying to convince you you didn’t, your first attempt was good in light of the info you had even if it turned out it wasn’t what the client wanted.

      1. Bamcakes*

        Yes, that might well be part of what’s going on here– if you’re the most junior on the team (you say you’re the youngest, that may or may not correlate with most junior!), and you are assuming that “client is unhappy = I messed up”, they may legitimately be trying to correct your thinking. Sometimes the client is unhappy and it’s NOT because you messed up! It could be because they weren’t clear about the specs, or there was a miscommunication between the sales person in your team and the person producing the work, or the client has plain changed their mind since the original project was agreed because something has changed in their company or market. Producing something the client doesn’t like and having to re-work it is just part of the process sometimes.

        1. Bamcakes*

          (if you’re NOT the most junior, just the youngest– then it may still be the slightly patronising attitude that you’re fearing! But maybe then the message is that you’re coming across as a bit down on yourself for the, “I messed up” part and you need to project more pride in how you handled the client rather than treating it as the bare minimum of cleaning up after a failure?)

  10. BuildMeUp*

    #2 – It’s possible that by having plants in your office, people associate you with them and it’s just the first thing they think of when they want to give you a gift. Or maybe they feel bad the previous ones died and want to replace them? The cactus especially sounds like an attempt to give you one that won’t die!

    Other than refusing them… could you take whatever plants you have home or regift them, so they’re out of your office, and then maybe display a few tchochkes of a certain theme and see if people start giving you more llama figurines or whatever instead?

    1. seahawks*

      This was my thought. If you can’t get them to stop giving you plants, just snap a few pictures and put them up for free on your FB local sites. Plenty of people would love a free plant. :)

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      I thought the same thing. A lot of nursing homes & care facilities gladly accept donations of plants. But ask first.

    3. WellRed*

      My question is why are they giving plants at all and at such a frequent rate? My coworkers are great but they don’t constantly gift me with things.

      1. Brightwanderer*

        My guess is that it’s accidentally become self reinforcing – people are thinking “oh no OP’s plant died again! They must be so sad! I’ll get them a new one to make up for it”.

      2. Paris Geller*

        Eh I don’t find it that odd. My last workplace was like that–people liked gifting small things. Two of my coworkers were HUGE plant people and would bring it small plants or cuttings for anyone who wanted them. I think I got three plants from them within a year. It also wasn’t strange to come by from lunch to find a candy bar or apple on my desk (and everyone else’s). It was a small office, six full-time staff, and two of my coworkers in particular liked giving plants and chocolates.

      3. Nannerdoodle - OP#2*

        It doesn’t help that my birthday is 3 weeks before Christmas. So pre-Covid I was given one as a birthday gift, which had died with enough time before Christmas for them to think a replacement plant was the ideal gift.
        The other ones…I have no idea. It’s not like those came right after a previous plant died. My desk had been plant free for over a month at one point and then a plant showed up on my desk with a post it from coworker who said they thought i’d enjoy it. Other than leaving the skeletal remains of old plants at my desk as a warning to future gift givers, idk what to do.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          Actually, that sounds like a great idea. The skeletal remains of a small potted plant with a little skull and crossbones flag. Maybe they’ll finally get the idea…

          1. KateM*

            A hint that OP is so forgetful they don’t even clean out dead plants.

            This reminds me, BRB I have some dead plants to throw out…

    4. Nannerdoodle - OP#2*

      I don’t have an office; it’s a cube with not a ton of space (or sunlight). The only time I ever have plants are the short period where someone gifts me a plant to when it’s clearly dead (a few weeks at most). I usually clear out the dead plant fairly quickly because I don’t want another one.

      1. Clorinda*

        Can you put up a sign? A picture of a plant with the big red line across it–No Plant Zone? Because whatever hints you’ve been giving, your co-workers aren’t getting it, and they’re just throwing money away by foisting yet another plant on you.

      2. Dahlia*

        Okay slightly weird suggestion – maybe get a small faux plant? Like a little fake succulant? You can get them at the dollar store for cheap. 1, it won’t die. 2, maybe if people see a plant that you have they won’t try and get you a new one?

  11. Martin*

    #2 – may I suggest leaving one or two pots of dead plants on your desk as a plant graveyard, so you can look quizzically at people who keep giving you plants and say something “have you seen the plants on my desk? I cant keep anything alive, why would you give me more?”

    optional bonus: acquire dollar store mini gravestones this halloween to stick in the pot

    1. Pennyworth*

      The gravestone idea is genius. Otherwise I’d suggest asking who would like to foster any incoming plants before someone calls in Plant Protection Services. Another idea is for OP to fill all potential plant spaces with artificial plants. They look good, never die and satisfy those who feel that greenery is essential office decor.

    2. Mannequin*

      I was just coming here to sugges dollar store mini gravestones in the dead plants! Great minds think alike!

    3. Paris Geller*

      I kind of love this idea.

      OP, if you’re reading this and decide to do a plant graveyard, please share a picture with us here! Honestly if I saw that on a coworker’s desk that would make my day (and would definitely reinforce in my head that coworker is not the person to give plants to!)

    4. Nannerdoodle - OP#2*

      I may try the plant graveyard. I have a cube, so there’s not a ton of space to keep plants, and I may also start someone else’s idea of having a few little figurines or something to take up space, but I’ll definitely get the mini headstones in October if someone hasn’t disposed of Karen the (dying) Cactus by then.

  12. Winterbourne*

    Regarding #3 — I think they should send Doris a flash drive or external hard drive along with a postpaid Priority Mail mailer. Transferring the files to a drive and dropping them in a mailbox will likely be much less time-consuming, and simpler, for Doris than emailing or uploading them would be.

    1. Beth*

      If the files are sensitive, this might not be allowed; but if that happens, it’s time to “sneakernet” them. (Have an actual employee go fetch the drive in person — during work hours, with all travel expenses covered.)

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Tech security question: Isn’ transferring over the internet *less* secure than using a harddrive?

        Is it the risk of viruses and/or the drive being stolen that makes a hard drive option less secure?

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yeah, I think that is generally the more secure option. And if the files are so sensitive that wouldn’t be allowed then they wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) have been kept on a personal computer in the first place.

      1. Number Three/Cup of Tea*

        Nah, these are digital assets. I meant the stack of paperwork as a comparison/metaphor – which wasn’t clear.

  13. Emma*

    #2 – I would guess that people have got used to seeing a plant on your desk, so when it vanishes they think it would be nice to replace it.

    You might be able to break the cycle by getting a reasonably nice fake plant for your desk.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      As a frequent accidental plant-killer, I vote for the fake plant too. Bonus points if you manage to convince people that it’s real!
      I think people often get plants as a neutral office gift for people that they don’t know that well. But unless you know that the person to whom you’re giving the plant both wants it and will take care of it, go with a gift card or something else instead.
      And if you like to see plants around the office as part of the decor, but can’t be bothered to take care of one yourself, it’s not fair to “gift” that duty to someone else.

      1. I agree*

        Yup, gifting a plant to someone who one doesn’t know for a fact would love to have that particular plant is inconsiderate. Another plant-like gift I immensely dislike is a bunch of flowers thrust into the hands of a busy hostess who then must unwrap them, cut them, compost the waste, find a vase, fill it with water, and find a place for it — all while trying to handle dozens of other party details. Listen people: if you insist on giving a gift, make sure it doesn’t create any work for the people you’re giving it to!

  14. TROI*

    #2 – I would make the joke about the location or your cube and not that you are a plant killer. What plant could ever live with no light, even if you did everything else right? I have a crazy lady amount of plants and there are some death corners in my apartment where I need to either add a grow light or not have a plant. That might stick with people a bit better. Otherwise just treat your plant gift like a vase of flowers – pleasant greenery but not meant to last forever. Then yeet it to the trash can once it starts its inevitable decline and don’t feel bad about it.

    1. AnonInCanada*

      Or maybe mock up a “Wanted” sign like they have in post offices, with a picture of OP. “Wanted for murdering innocent plants. Subject is not armed with a green thumb and is dangerous to all flora! Do not approach with any greenery!”

  15. PollyQ*

    #2 — Ugh, plants. I wish people would stop thinking of them as a nice, all-purpose gift and save them for folks who actually like plants and are good with them. I’ve killed every plant I’ve ever owned, so the only feeling I have when I receive one as a gift is a premonition of doom, knowing that I’ll once again be responsible for the death of a living thing.

    1. All the words*

      My guideline is to not give someone a gift whose survival depends on the recipient. No surprise puppies, no plants, no beta fish, etc.

  16. gyrfalcon17*

    #5: 30 years ago, I found What Color Is Your Parachute to be immensely useful, and yes, then at least it was heavy on the introspection and list-making. This is why I loved it!

    I don’t know how it may have changed over the past 3 decades.

    1. Daisy*

      I found I Could Do Anything (If I Only Knew What It Was) a useful book on choosing a career path (also about 30 years old now, but I read it recently). Another was Think Big by Grace Lorcan.

      (The letter is weird. What kind of useful advice wouldn’t require introspection? Why wouldn’t career advice come under self-help, and why is that a bad thing? It seems like they just wanted AAM to agree ‘They’re all shit books, lol’, but I don’t get why.)

      1. anonymath*

        Some people really truly don’t do introspection well, or don’t get much out of it, or end up in a spiral of confusion and self-loathing rather than someplace good. I sympathize as someone who did not do “goals” well for a very long time. I was like, Why do I have to make up wanting things? What if I have the wrong goals? Do I have to pick respectable goals? But I don’t really care??? Is there something wrong with me???? And I’m not an underachiever, but for me in high school it was “I will enter the Science Olympiad ’cause it’s fun and we’ll see if I win something” rather than “I have a goal to win Science Olympiad” — because the first is fun and got me 1st in state in chemistry, and the second is soul-sucking and makes it not fun because then it’s work not fun and I just wanted to play with chemistry not work it was an extracurricular ok?

        So, feelings. Lots of feelings.

        While I love self-help, I did not find introspecting useful in picking a next career move. I found “small bets” helpful. Do a side project and present it at a conference. Get a short-term contracting job and see if I like this kind of work. Introspecting can tell you about yourself, but not about the work. I wanted to know about the work. Do I like programming for 8 hours a day? Well, start with programming 2 hours a day and see if I like that. Do I like presenting technical stuff to non-technical audiences? Presenting at a business event is one test. I can contrast it with my other experiment, presenting at the Python user’s group, and see how they feel different. Jobs are often different than you expect. You expect a chemistry prof to spend all day doing chemistry, but no, it’s grant applications, hiring a lab manager, meetings with grad students and postdocs, some committee on student-athlete governance… You expect a cupcake bakery owner to bake cupcakes, but no… So for me, experiments and “small bets” (volunteering in the field, doing side projects, getting side jobs) helped me understand the realities of jobs/careers I was looking at.

        The other slightly introspective thing I did was look at what I value — but then line it up against actual outcomes, rather than the mythology of outcomes. Just as a cupcake store owner doesn’t spend all day making cupcakes, it is not the case that a career in education (teaching) is a process of igniting young minds for only 6-7 hours a day and then having summers off. It’s actually a ton of work for little pay with a lot of pressure and sometimes abuse. By contrast, a job in tech at a big corporation is not necessarily a lot of hours, pressure, and abuse. In fact you can find yourself in a position of doing creative work with mentorship built in, with reasonable hours and the ability to pay for daycare *and* save for retirement, simultaneously! Amazing! The mythologies of these jobs blind you to the realities. Introspecting and making lists of my internal strengths does not even touch that conversation about the realities of work in the location and time one finds oneself in.

        1. LW5*

          Thank you Anonymath, that was enlightening and realistic. In retrospect, I should have left the sentence about self-help out, it does look like I was taking a cheap subtle shot at an entire genre which is unfair. I completely agree that we should challenge what we think with the actual reality.

    2. L in DC*

      As a middle-aged woman who is about to embark on a two year path to career change, I plan on reading both. I am most curious to see if I go down a path to a job I didn’t even know existed!

      1. Ally McBeal*

        I can’t find my other comment, but I also highly recommend Coach Yourself to a New Career by Talane Miedaner for folks who are looking for the introspective part. I needed that before I could think about the more concrete parts of what my new job/career might look like. For me, it was even about figuring out which industry I wanted to be in.

    3. Belle of the Midwest*

      Richard Bolles passed away about 5 years ago (blessed be his memory). “Parachute” is still revised every year, but a wonderful professor and career center director (who’s been both at UT-Austin and Vanderbilt) has taken up the revision work. Katharine Brooks is a whiz at combining the possibilities with the practical. I have heard her speak at a conference for career development professionals and she’s really good. I would recommend “Parachute” or at least following her on Twitter or Linked In to get a sense of her work.

    4. Jackalope*

      I found What Color Is Your Parachute? to be super helpful as well. It helped me think about all of the different possible factors to take into consideration when looking for work. For example, one of the things that I realized when going through is that what was most important to me was where I lived rather than what my job was. I found a couple of jobs that on paper looked perfect for me and my career progression at the time, but they would have required moving to another state and I wasn’t down with that. I ended up sort of falling into a career that I love, but it started in part by me applying for anything I was okay with in my area (which had a bad job market at the time) because I knew my top priority wasn’t the work itself.

      I also found that book’s system for sorting through multiple competing priorities to be helpful. (Anyone not familiar with this can look it up; I found it online later.) Sometimes you can look at a bunch of things that are important to you and know which one matters most, but if it’s a big thing like a new career or buying a house or something, it’s hard to sort through all of them. I found that being able to rank them made it easier when I was looking at something that met *most* of my criteria to sort through whether it was close enough or I should pass.

  17. Will's Mom*

    I can so relate to the plant letter. I have a black thumb. I’ve killed a philodendron (sp) that my grandmother and mother kept alive for years The dang plant even survived a tornado that destroyed our house and our dog peeing on it! It died within a year after it made its way to me. Thank goodness Mom divided it between me and my sister! I too used to be gifted plants often. I’d leave the dearly departed on my desk for all to see. It took a minute, but folks finally figured it out. In the same vein, I would beg my husband to just give me a bouquet of flowers rather than a live plant. His excuse was that cut flowers die but plants could last for years. It.only took 10 years for him to change his mind. Lol

    1. Redd*

      I finally convinced my husband to just give me craft supplies and can the flower idea completely. Flowers wither, plants die, but yarn? Yarn is *forever.*

      1. Constance Lloyd*

        Yes, fellow knitters! I can knit a floral print sweater and the only thing I’ll need to fear is the dryer or an errant kitty claw.

        That said, I’ve killed all of the “easy” plants suggested for beginners or possessors of black thumbs, yet somehow the more complicated fiddle leaf figs and orchids I’ve brought into my home have thrived. Maybe my problem is over nurturing rather than neglect?

          1. Paris Geller*

            As a plant killer who loves plants and is trying to reform: yes. I smother them with love and care.

      2. Nannerdoodle - OP#2*

        I would LOVE yarn. I crochet a lot (not at work), and I could use that gift. I’ve even made sweaters that I’ve worn to work!
        In my personal life, it took my Sister in Law 3 months to realize plants were a bad idea. The rest of my family knew from childhood that plants weren’t my thing.

        1. KateM*

          Then you know what you have to do – wear made-by-yourself scarves to office, hang from your lamp a bunch of amigurumis… heck, put a felted potted plant on your desk!

    2. A Person*

      My grandmother used to get hardy, non-fancy flowering plants from the nursery and then just not keep them alive. She treated them like cut flowers that lasted a little longer. (I took to bringing them home with me when they were about dead, and I still have some.)

  18. John Smith*

    #1 please don’t so hard on yourself. I’m in a similar boat with my manager who is the world’s most arrogant, pompous, stuck up, condescending arsehole I have ever met. Quite often he attacks me professionally, personally and has a go at my work, but guess what? There’s nothing wrong with me or my work. I know so because I get compliments from staff, peers and clients. My manager also never attacks other people (who do exactly the same as I do) – just me. It’s just my manager being an absolute bellend (yes I am looking for another job and no I’ve not reported it because senior managers are expert in defending the indefensible).

    So I hold my head high, and you should do so too. That your client wasn’t happy doesn’t make you a bad employee and it sounds to me that your colleagues think you handled the situation very well.

  19. RedinSC*

    LW3, can you just tell your boss, OK, I’ll call her and then don’t call her? LIke pick up the phone and pretend to call her?

    1. Need More Sunshine*

      I was thinking this too – or tell Dave that Doris has blocked you as well, even if that hasn’t actually happened.

  20. Uncle Waldo*

    #1 The way you handled the call was probably very impressive to your colleagues. At one point or another, we will all usually fall short of a boss or a client’s expectations. It doesn’t mean we have failed or that it was entirely our fault. At least not yet. It sounds like that was the case here.

    Handling a nasty client in a professional is a serious skill — and one not everyone has. Apart from that, it reflects well on you to look past the personal attacks and take the useful feedback to revise your work. Again, not everyone takes criticism well. How we respond to less-than-ideal situations speaks volumes.

    1. Bluesboy*

      Exactly! It seems to me that the OP is considering her overall work – the production and presentation of a solution that the client was unhappy with – while the colleagues are complimenting her specifically for, in OP’s words, her “in call performance”.

      Let’s assume OP is right, and the work was poor. That doesn’t mean she didn’t handle the call well. The client was passive aggressive, rude and OP handled it, without losing her temper, taking the feedback and promising to work on the project, as well as eliciting clearer guidelines as to what the client wants. That’s a well-handled call, and it’s perfectly reasonable that someone compliments her on it.

      And this is just assuming that the original work was sub-standard – not guaranteed, given that a nice client will tell you that you’ve done a good job, they just want to see xyz changes, while a nasty client will tell you that you’ve done a bad job and that the demand to see xyz changes – the work itself might not be as bad as she thinks!

  21. Zoe*

    #2, just regift the plants. There may be a local nursing home that would like them, or a food pantry. Just take them away from the office and regift. If anyone asks say you 1) have more light at home 2) killed the plants

        1. quill*

          Lol. My grandma’s nursing home kept finches in their visiting parlor, in a large cage filled with (I presume bird safe) plants. Never asked if they were rescues.

    1. JB*

      Do food pantries really take houseplants? What do they do, re-home them with people who are using their services?

  22. Tuesday*

    One of the many problems with ageism, sexism and other -isms is that it’s hard to know if people are behaving toward you the way they are because of your particular personal characteristics or for other reasons. In the case of LW1, I agree with others that your coworkers are probably just trying to boost your spirits and keep your confidence afloat after a meeting that they would have found really difficult themselves (sounds like anyone would have had a tough time with a client like that).

  23. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP2: one of my previous firms did this too, I wonder if there’s some corporate training going around that states you must give employees plants!

    I’d joke at first that I was a MICRObiologist not a MACRObiologist so couldn’t keep anything larger than a cell alive (btw don’t hand me your kids, I got no idea what you do with them either).

    Then it was ‘seriously mate, I’m not good with plants’ but got some speal about how plants are supposed to reduce depression. Not when you’re surrounded by dead ones no.

    Eventually I made a little sign for my desk ‘Plant death count’ with a post-it note number under it, and any plants left on my desk/given to me found their way to other desks, meeting rooms, my mother in law’s garden a few times.

    1. Cj*

      A few decades ago I received flowers from three, count ’em, three clients in one week. One was supposedly for doing such a good job helping them interview a new accountant. The other two were basically “for all the excellent work you do for us”.

      I’m a CPA. This is not normal. I came to the conclusion that there had been some business owner seminar held recently that recommended they do this.

      I also wondered if they would have sent them if I was male. My male co-workers didn’t receive any, but they just did tax returns, not on-going accounting and software support like I did, so there is at least some rational as to why I got them and they didn’t.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        A grateful caller with a particularly complex software issue that I fixed once sent me a huge bunch of flowers. I never told the guy that I had to get rid of them quick!

        Flowers, flower derived oils etc = migraine for me. I appreciated the gesture but, like you, was wondering if it was because I was female or because I really had performed a miracle on that bit of software.

    2. Julia*

      I think plants (and cut flowers) are considered a good gift because it’s not overly personal, isn’t booze, isn’t affected by food allergies and isn’t affected by religious restrictions.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Other allergies can be affected though! On the whole I’d prefer they just give me book tokens.

  24. Dark Macadamia*

    #1, I think if they were coddling or patronizing you they’d be reassuring you that the original work was good. It sounds like they are focusing on how you responded to the client, which you DID handle well, and not the work you did poorly (if that’s actually the case).

  25. Bamcakes*

    >>X County provides market adjustments to keep pace with the increases in the cost of hiring and paying employees, not the cost of living in a certain geographic area

    100% DO NOT understand how these are different things.

    1. TechWorker*

      They are different metrics but I would not expect them to be completely independent.

      As an example – imagine that role A is getting harder to hire for (the workforce is aging and I there’s a small number of newbies coming in), whereas role B is the opposite – everyone wants to do it and it’s easy to find someone competent enough to do the job. In that scenario the ‘market adjustment’ would mean that salaries for role A get bumped up, whereas salaries for role B do not. A solely ‘cost of living’ adjustment would bump up both roles equally.

      Of course if cost of living increases in an area such that you literally can’t hire people on the current wage (and/or your existing employees are starting to leave or consider leaving), that affects the ‘cost of hiring’ too (my company calls it ‘cost of labour’ I think). But if there’s still people willing to take those roles (say it’s an easy commute from a lower cost of living area) then the company wouldn’t necessarily bump salaries up.

      I would agree it’s not the most tactful response but I also don’t think it’s uncommon for companies to pay this way – saying they tie pay to what they need to get a good standard of employee (vs directly tying to cost of living) doesn’t seem unreasonable to me, even if it’s shitty to end up on the wrong end of that (for Eg being one of those people living in the high cost of living area and being undercut by people commuting from elsewhere).

      1. TechWorker*

        The other key thing if you look more cynically at it is that cost of living is something often calculated by some public statistics body whereas cost of labour is more nebulous (related to role) and harder for an individual to calculate. Even companies that publish pay bands will not necessarily publish exactly how the figure was calculated. This gives employers more freedom to avoid raises in cases where they don’t want to or can’t afford them, vs thing themselves into a cost of living raise structure where they have less flexibility.

        NB I do believe companies should pay a reasonable ‘minimum’ for people to have a good standard of living, but for Eg my company froze all raises for 18 months during covid to avoid redundancies and I’m kind of ok with that. At least in my office no-one is anywhere near the breadline.

      2. Bamcakes*

        That’s really interesting, thank you! I don’t think we have the same kind of range of CoL in the UK (there are obviously significant differences but the only formal mechanism is London weighting, so just London vs Everyone else. Pretty much all large companies and t he public sector would use the same scale nationally apart from that London adjustment.) And employers are presumably making the same calculations about which roles are easy/hard to hire for, but whilst I assume many will have internal structures for calculating those things I’ve never heard them discussed according to transparent criteria like that.

        1. Amey*

          This is true but I think it’s a problem in the UK. I’m in a high CoL area where wages are low (South West England), my job exists at a number of different organisations around the country with exactly the same salary bands but many of my contacts in Northern England are in areas where house prices are literally a third of what they are here. This idea that London is one thing and the rest of the country is all the same is pervasive and not true! (I don’t think you’re arguing that, just thought I’d add a bit more nuance.)

    2. Janet Pinkerton*

      The federal government has locality pay areas that are based on this reasoning—that it’s about the cost of labor, not about cost of living.

      The prototypical example of this is the locality pay in the Houston metro area. Houston receives a higher locality adjustment than DC, even though cost of living is much lower there. That’s because the idea is that labor is more expensive in Houston, at least in part because the oil industry is in Houston and pays so well.

      1. Fed-o*

        Oh ha! I replied before I saw your answer. Houston is my go-to example as well. When I was in DC it was maddening.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Maybe it’s a question of local versus overall pay, like our firm gives you more money (although not a useful amount imho) if you work in London but payrises across the company are a standard percentage based upon performance review results and what the unions have negotiated. So someone in Glasgow gets the same percentage as someone in Bristol or London or Cardiff etc.

      Having said all that, I still think the employer in the letter is being a total git.

      1. TechWorker*

        I think it’s more role specific vs local pay (as I rambled on about above ;)). Employers that use cost of living likely also take location into consideration (especially if international, but also within countries too).

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Ahh right. I think being in a heavily unionised industry does eff up my understanding sometimes. Thank you :)

      2. Bamcakes*

        I think what I’ve got from TechWorker’s answer is that cost of living and cost of hiring are more formal (and possibly transparent?) calculations in the US, whereas they’re more notional here in the UK? We obviously have London weighting and national inflationary indices, but we don’t have lower level regional calculations for cost of living.

        1. doreen*

          I’m not sure if it’s that they are more formal or transparent – or if it’s just that the size of the country and the size of the differences in cost of living/labor makes it seem more formal. It can be somewhat formal within the same employer , (where people working in location X get $Y as location pay ) but it can also be not formal or transparent at all – there’s no way to tell by looking if the reason a job pays twice as much in my state as another state is because the cost of living is higher in my state (everything costs more ) or because the cost of labor for a particular job is more * or if it’s the two factors working together.

          * I live and work in NYC. As a general rule, the support staff in NYC are not as skilled and do not perform as well as those in the rest of the state. It appears that the reason is that the jobs are considered high-paying in the rest of the state, but the best candidates can make far more in NYC than what state government pays.

        2. JB*

          Keep in mind the US is much, much larger than the UK.

          If you had two Londons, such that a company could have offices spread across them and in the suburban and rural areas in between as well, you’d probably expand ‘London weighting’ into something more like what we usually see in the US.

    4. JB*

      They’re saying ‘sure, the cost of living went up, but everyone offering comparable jobs is underpaying for them so we can afford to underpay too; you don’t have any better options.’

    5. Brett*

      Market adjustments only affect the pay for new hires and employees paid less than new hires. Market adjustment only change the bands, which, in government, normally only affect your starting pay unless your base pay drops below the bottom of the band. If you do drop below the bottom of the band, you are brought up to the bottom of the band plus some token amount like $0.05/hr or $10/year.

      COLAs affect the pay for current employees _and_ retirees on pensions. It actually changes the pay rate for people in midband (people above the band max don’t get COLAs). That’s why so many local governments stopped giving COLAs altogether in the 1970s-1980s, because they ended up having to dramatically increase existing pension payouts when inflation was high.

      1. TechWorker*

        I’m not sure this is totally universal (though may well be how it works where you are!) we have a concept of being in a ‘zone’ within the band and that indicates performance. So if you are a ‘zone 1’ high performing person then if they adjust the band due to ‘cost of labour’ they would still give that person a pay rise. It is much less transparent than ‘everyone is getting a 2% cost of living raise’ though.

    6. Fed-o*

      The federal government does this as well. The locality pay is based on the cost of labor in that market, not the cost of living. So a fed in Houston makes more than a fed in DC at the same grade/step, even those are not similar costs of living. I only ever got a COLA when stationed overseas, where, coincidentally, I did *not* receive locality pay.

      I understand why those in the private sector think the answer is BS, but at least at the federal government level: it’s correct and there’s not much anyone can do about it at any working or agency level. I suspect that’s true for a lot of government entities. And yes, it’s an absolute hindrance to hiring, particularly at the entry and mid-levels. The job security, benefits, and pension don’t mean much if you can’t afford housing.

  26. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP1 – it sounds like they aren’t comlimenting the presentation, which wasn’t good, but are complimenting the way you handled negative feedback and an upset client’s criticism.

    And on that point, yes, you deserve compliments!

    Mistakes happen.

    Dealing with the feedback professionally, not dodging or being defensive, taking it on board and assuring the client that their concerns will be addressed – and following up of course! – is an important skillset.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      This. You might also want to take a look at who is giving you all these compliments. Are they from different people each time, or are the same people doing it over and over again? If you’re getting fifteen compliments from two or three different people, that’s definitely too much! But if you’re getting fifteen compliments from fifteen different people, it’s likely that everyone just wants to compliment you.

      And also keep in mind that the effusive praise won’t go on forever – a lot of this is very likely “in the moment,” more or less, and it should die down after a week or so.

  27. Koala dreams*

    Plants:
    If joking doesn’t work, try more serious. It can also help to suggest alternatives (cut flowers/coffee/tea/plushies/whatever).

    1. Nannerdoodle - OP#2*

      So my cube decor has been fairly minimal thus far, due to space needs in the office causing me to be shuffled 4 times in 9 months. But I may bring in some little figurines from home to liven it up.
      I don’t drink coffee or tea, which is probably why the plants started in the first place.

  28. FashionablyEvil*

    #1–Handling difficult feedback with grace and aplomb is a real skill in client-facing work. Many people get flustered or defensive (understandably so), but being able to take notes of their criticism and figuring out what to do next while they’re being a total arse? Hard to do!

    #2–there’s a book called How Not to Kill Your Houseplant that I found very useful.

  29. Suddenly Seymour*

    #2- I was in your shoes at my last job. I ditched my plants in the office kitchen when I left to go on vacation once. They stayed there forever! Worked like a charm.

    1. Ailurophile*

      I did something similar at my old office. Someone had better light in her area than I did, and she liked caring for plants. If someone would give me a plant (rare, but it would happen), I’d leave it with her. I could see it every day to appreciate the thought but didn’t have to worry about keeping it alive. I’d tack the gift cards to my office bulletin board so that it didn’t seem like I was ungrateful. Honestly, though, I don’t think most people even remember! I know I don’t remember every token I’ve given someone.

  30. Ally McBeal*

    When I was a stay at home mom trying to figure out what I wanted to do to get back in the workforce, the main thing that helped me focus my soul-searching was a book called Coach Yourself to a New Career. I didn’t do the exercises religiously, but I did mull them all over, and it clarified for me what direction I wanted to go – I did sort of have that “click” when I was done. I started a business 6 years ago and it’s really taken off. I’ve recommended the book to several of my friends, and it’s funny how we each had different exercises from the book resonate with us.

    I also tried two other books in the same category which I didn’t find helpful at all. Some things work for you and some don’t. It doesn’t mean they don’t have value for others.

    1. L in DC*

      By the way, I take it you mean the one by Talanr Miender? There is one by Deborah Brown-Volkman as well but just wanted to be sure.

      1. Ally McBeal*

        Yes, Talane Mideaner. I thought it was as helpful as it could be, given it’s a book (and not a real person).

  31. ecnaseener*

    #4 is giving me serious Yzma vibes. “It is no concern of ours whether or not your family has food…”

  32. Falling Diphthong*

    OP2, I remember a detail from a novel in which the narrator had amassed a large collection of glass animals because years ago someone had sent her one as a hostess gift, and after that guests noticed the piece and thought “Aha! Narrator would like another piece for her collection.”

    Sometimes people just hit on a thing, and they are then exceedingly hard to derail because who wants to think of a new thing? While I love Alison’s community garden, I will also toss out some sort of magical spell and OP’s cubical functions like a cauldron.

    Alternatively, can you spell anything with the first letters of the plants? Is it the name of someone’s much-loathed ex?

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      Yes, that was “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee “Ted” Williams. It had to do with a southern belle, a gentleman caller, and a Zoo made out of glass (these were very common in Williams’ time)

    2. Sleepless*

      I worked with dairy cattle when I was young, and in the 80s-early 90s when cow patterns and country kitsch were big, people loved to give me cow-themed stuff. I loathe that sort of thing, but people were so pleased with themselves for thinking of a cute, perfect-for-me gift! It went on and on for about a decade.

    3. Who the eff is Hank?*

      Somehow this happened with me and cat things, especially black cat things because I have a black cat. But I don’t really like random cat home decor, t-shirts, office supplies, etc. I just like my cat. At least now I have a toddler who loves cat things to pawn all this stuff onto!

    4. Might Be Spam*

      People keep giving my son penguin themed items and he hasn’t liked penguins since he was 6. So he gives them to me and it’s fueling my hoarding tendencies. I have a hard time getting rid of things that once belonged to family members and he knows it.

  33. Paperdill*

    Ugh – plants! Something about being female and over thirty seems to shout to the world “Give me plants!” (And, yes, U don’t know the age or gender of OP…I’m more reflecting on my own experience).
    When I was pregnant with my first baby I had a bit of medical drama which was scary and took my from work for 4 weeks. On my return, still quite pregnant and about to face the major life changing event of becoming a mother, my colleagues presented me with a plant. I was SO grateful for the gesture….but it was very strange. And these were people who worked with new mums and babies for a living.
    The plant died before my baby could roll over.

  34. HJG*

    I actually think “I’m not made of glass!” doesn’t really come off the right way- it reads kind of exasperated/annoyed to me but YMMV. I’d just say “thanks!” and move on- this will stop on its own soon!

  35. Beth*

    LW #2: I also have a black thumb. I once received four plants on the same day as housewarming presents; the next time I had a housewarming party, I told all my friends that I had too many needless deaths on my conscience and begged them NOT TO GIVE ME ANY PLANTS.

    When I saw one of my friends come down the walk with a great big potted plant in her hand, I tried to hide my expression, but she took one look at my face and laughed and said “I dare you to kill this one.”

    It was a very high-quality, realistic fake.

    I still have it, and I haven’t killed it yet.

    1. Nannerdoodle - OP#2*

      All my friends joke about how I must be a contract plant killer or something based on my record. They gave me a fake plant once…and one of my dogs chewed it enough that it was no longer presentable. Oops.

      1. Beth*

        At least your dogs got some fun out of it! That sounds like a better outcome than any of the living plants.

        If you like, toss the things out in my name. Drop them into the trash saying “Here you go, Beth! It’s your fault now!” I can take it.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Oh yes, it’s amazing what some dogs will decide looks tasty and needs chewed.
        I was always amazed that Thumper (childhood Keshaund) survived chewing my dad’s vinyl copy of Sergeant Pepper’s by the Beatles.

  36. Beth*

    LW #4 – your employers are jerks and do not deserve to have employees. I hope you find a much better job ASAP.

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      County government. Raises are rare and COLAs are unheard of–it depends on the budget, taxes, etc. This is why many government employees roll their eyes when people complain about ‘only’ getting a 3% raise yearly.

  37. Salad Daisy*

    #4 are you one of my coworkers? No COLA, no raises for 3 years. The company does not care. I think this is common among employers although the way they responded really does suck.

  38. JustA___*

    #2
    Dearest Coworkers,

    It is with great sadness that I write to inform you of the death of Planty #367. Planty was not with us for long, but in the short time he sat on my desk, I hope he was a leafy oasis amongst the cube desert of the office.
    In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to Planty’s favorite charity, the Botanical Garden. Also, please consider never ever giving me any more plants–in his memory.
    RIP Planty #367.

    1. Nannerdoodle - OP#2*

      Oh wow, I love it. Would it be weird to also print the plant Eulogy and tape it on my cube wall next to the whiteboard that counts plant deaths?

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Weird, but I’d love it. You’d risk encouraging plant gifts to keep the bit going though.

  39. NinaBee*

    #3 – Doris is kinda in the wrong here. I’m a freelancer (in London, so USA may be different) and we always have to hand over all files at the end of the project, not weirdly hold them ransom. If it is indeed some type of upload speed issue, or just transfer time, taking days+ to send something feels a little dodgy to me. The company still owns the files and they are right to ask for them, especially as someone else may need to pick up changes after Doris has left. The boss sounds pretty demanding in terms of everything needs to be last minute, but that’s the case sometimes at least in some industries (advertising, I’m looking at you!).. just because she’s physically not there doesn’t mean she shouldn’t give the files over and promptly.. they’re company property. I guess the LW knows whether Doris is reliable in general and she is indeed doing everything she can (how big are these files??) or whether it’s a brushoff because she doesn’t like how demanding the boss is being. If she can’t work and transfer at the same time, she should leave that to run overnight or during after hours. A little unprofessional IMO but each to their own.

    1. JB*

      Per the letter, neither LW nor Doris even know if Doris has these files. She has to take the time to find them first, IF she even has them.

      It sounds like Dave messed up the official copy of the file, or wants the original working file from an old project for some reason. I don’t know about you, but as a freelancer myself, generally once I send the agreed-upon files, that’s the end of my responsibility unless there’s some additional file custodianship written into the contract. I’m not on call to endlessly host and replace those files if the client misplaces or corrupts or otherwise loses them.

    2. I'm just here for the cats!*

      It doesn’t sound like Dorris is holding them for ransom. She’s not asking for money or anything (which she should IMO). She doesn’t know if she has them and they are big files so it might take awhile to transfer.

      In my opinion, this is why cloud storage is so important. If you have freelancers you can just have them save only to the cloud

  40. Sharpieees*

    I killed my co-workers African violet when she went on leave. I got her a replacement because I felt so bad. From then on, she wisely and quietly gave it to another co-worker to take care of when she gone lol. I am the plant world’s angel of death.

  41. Alice*

    #4 – I think that an organization which does not offer annual cost-of-living adjustments should say that during the hiring process. I like a lot about my current employer, but I felt like it was a bait and switch when I learned, 6 months after being hired, that the annual raises are competitive ones for performance, with no COLA, and a ceiling of 3.5% on anyone’s annual raise outside of “promotion years” (and btw in my role, you can only be promoted 4 times in a whole career).
    I was coming from a different industry where there were COLAs every year, and also significant raises (up to 20%) based on performance for people getting better at the same role. So this was a shock.

  42. Fake Guru Goals*

    #5 – I think OP was asking if the career help books are verging toward scammy self-help (as in MLM-approved, no real information self help). I think a lot of them do. I don’t really understand how they’re helpful to people lol. I overthink a lot, so maybe to people who haven’t thought about that stuff before?

    Alison, speaking of MLMs, there was a Legal Shield (which is an MLM/commercial cult) ad on your website.

    1. A Girl Named Fred*

      So they don’t work for you, which is fine, but based on Alison’s answer (and several other commenters above you!) they DO work for some people, which is also fine! I don’t think the fact that they don’t work for everyone means they’re automatically skewed toward being scammy. It just makes them exactly what they are – tools to be experimented with and see whether they can help someone.

      I’m a huge overthinker, and I’m going through one of these books right now. Is it revealing things I’ve never thought about before? Not so far, no. Is it helping me solidify and put into words vague notions that I’ve been considering for most of my life? Yup! And I’m okay enough with that outcome to keep going with it, whereas if I wasn’t getting traction I’d drop it or try another method. That’s the best part of tools – you use the ones that work for you, and get rid of the ones that don’t.

      1. Green tea*

        Some of the books, like some career counselors or career centers, give objectively bad advice. They don’t work for anyone. I think that’s what the OP was asking about.

        How trustworthy are these resources overall? How can a person tell the difference between a book that is helpful (for the people who are interested in this type of book) and a book that is harmful to everyone that reads it?

  43. Onetime Poster*

    LW! – One thing to remember is you *can* ace a presentation *and* the client still isn’t receptive or acts like a jerk. Sometimes, clients are just jerks. It could very well be that no matter whoever presented whatever and whenever, etc., that the client would’ve been the exact same. Keep that in mind as you reflect. I have dealt with my fair share of upstart clients where just keeping cool and making the best out of an uncomfortable (and perhaps insulting) situation is all you can do. Sounds like that might have been your experience, and for that—I too would commend you. Doesn’t mean there isn’t constructive feedback to get, but definitely don’t make it solely about how the client was that determines your success.

  44. Formica Dinette*

    “Cultivating a (humorous) reputation for being the grim reaper of plants”

    Thank you for making me laugh this early in the day!

  45. Brett*

    #4
    Seems to be some confusion around the way the HR posting narrows in on cost of living.
    In local government, retiree pensions are normally adjusted to cost of living once the retiree officially enters retirement. This means that if the employees get a cost of living adjustment, the retirees get a pension increase.

    To deal with this, many local governments simply abandoned the practice of cost of living adjustments altogether. Most did it in the late 70s-early 80s; the rest of the holdouts dropped COLAs in 2008.
    Any hint of adjusting employee pay based on cost of living could potentially bring a lawsuit from retirees who have seen their fixed pensions eaten up by inflation; so HR made it very clear that adjustments are based purely on changes in the labor market and not in cost of living (even though the two should, in theory, be linked)

    It also saves local government money, though because it means that existing employees only receive raises if they drop below the bottom pay band for the market. If they are already above the floor, their pay will not change for a market adjustment.

    1. LW4*

      Oh no wait for it though – this is the worst pension plan I’ve ever seen in my years in government, too. I’ve accepted the lower salaries that come with government work because the benefits are usually pretty solid, but here we pay into a pension plan that maxes out at 50% of our salary (I want to say that takes…40 years? Maybe 30? A long time, anyway) AND we also pay Social Security. So A) I’ve never really paid into Social Security before and won’t get anything from it so I basically light 6% of my paycheck on fire every month, and B) the amount county retirees would get from COLAs is significantly lower than other governments I’ve worked for who DO still offer those increases.

      Pretty much everyone is getting screwed, is what I’ve learned from this one email.

      1. Brett*

        I bet it maxes out at 41 years 8 months. That’s 0.1% per month of service credit, which has become increasingly more common for local government since 2008. It’s crazy to even set a cap with that low of service credit, but the cap is there just to financially force people to retire once they hit it.

  46. HannahS*

    OP2, I’m not sure if I’m missing something in other people’s responses, but if you don’t like having plantstake them home and throw them away. It’s not a live bunny rabbit (or heaven forbid, a turtle). If you have someone in your life who adores plants, sure, re-gift it. If you want to take the trouble of persuading others that they shouldn’t give you plants, you can say things to your closest work friend like “It was so thoughtful of Lucinda to buy me a plant but if it ever comes up can you please let people know that I am a plant killer and would much prefer a bag of gourmet coffee beans/a pair of novelty socks/a box of fancy chocolates?” but also, please take this as permission from a stranger on the internet that you can just smile politely, take it home, and get rid of it.

    1. Salad Daisy*

      Throw them away?!?!

      Please, give them to someone who will take care of them. They may not be bunnies or turtles but they are still, in a way, living things.

      I think I will go outside and talk to my plants now.

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

        I’m sure that if you put a post in Facebook marketplace for free plants or on Nextdoor you would find someone who would grab it up.

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

          Agreed, if you live near other humans, put it out on the curb with a FREE sign or outside an apartment door even. I live in an apartment building and put a box of succulent clippings out and they were gone before the end of the day. But really, if these are grocery store or big box store plants, don’t really worry about throwing them away either; they aren’t rare specimens that will reduce the biodiversity of the Earth if they are discarded. Maybe even discarding it would help limit invasive species from being introduced to places where they don’t belong.

          1. HannahS*

            Yeah, I agree. Like, sure, if you want to give them away, go for it, and there are a lot of suggestions about how to do that. But also, it’s not a catastrophic moral issue to throw a plant in the garbage.

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              And what even would be the difference between throwing it in the garbage right away, or doing so in a week after you’ve accidentally killed it? Literally no difference–the plant does not care one way or the other.

    2. HannahS*

      A plant doesn’t have feelings. It’s fine to anthropomorphize it, but the idea that the fact that someone gave you a thing that you don’t want and didn’t ask for requires you to do work and experience guilt is excessive. Yeah, trampling in someone’s garden or cutting down municipal trees without permission is bad behaviour, but deciding to toss an orchid instead of calling around to see if anyone you know wants it, or trying to take care of it for a few weeks before it inevitably dies is FINE. Sure, it’s alive, but so is sourdough. If someone gave you homemade yogurt and you don’t like yogurt, you have no obligation to lovingly nurture the colony of live, beneficial bacteria within. Tossing out an orchid or a potted cactus does not constitute a referendum on the environment on the value of plants.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, seriously. If the idea of someone throwing away a plant is that abhorrent to you then you definitely should not gift people plants (I mean, maybe you already don’t, but just saying). Don’t expect labor for what was supposed to be a gift. ESPECIALLY if the gift is given because someone just lost a family member or had a baby or is otherwise going through something that takes up a lot of their physical and/or mental energy.

  47. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    OP4 makes me remember a recent departamental meeting where the “guests” were top managers at HQ. Someone asked about their plans to reduce the massive bleed of employees since the pandemic started, and one of them said “isn’t COLA enough?”. I wonder when was the last time these guys checked the competition job ads…

  48. WFH with Cat*

    LW #1 – Some clients are difficult just because they can be. I had a new contact at a major client company ambush me in a face-to-face meeting on a long-term project. He savaged my work, denigrated me personally, complained about our agency and everything we were creating for his department, and put us thru weeks of demanding rewrites and revisions. (Yes, we kept the client and the project, and I continued as their lead copywriter.) But then, a couple of years later, that contact asked one of my agency’s partners to apologize to me for him. He told the partner that there had never been anything wrong with my work or the project, but he had chosen to attack me in order to gain more control over the project and “make his mark” in his new position. Umm … okay. Thanks.

    So, please, before you embrace the idea that you screwed up, or that your colleagues are coddling you, consider: The client might be gas-lighting you, have a hidden agenda, or just be abusive jerks —  and your colleagues might simply want you to know that you did nothing wrong.

  49. Shanderson*

    LW 1 – rolling their eyes and huffing?! That was not “harsh feedback” that was rudeness, and quite unacceptable between fellow professionals. Agreed you aren’t made of glass and you can let your colleagues know it hasn’t affected you poorly (as other people’s shameful rudeness shouldn’t) but I imagine they are piling on the reassurance because they thought the behaviour was appalling (as they should). Even an upset client is capable of telling you that your work isn’t what they had in mind and that serious revisions are needed without behaving like a teenager in a class they don’t like.

  50. I'm just here for the cats!*

    The plant thing is so odd because we just inherited a plant that was dying in another office! (because it had no windows). They thought we could help it because we have so many big windows in the offices. I can hardly put my arms around this pot it’s so big! But we have an empty office that it’s in for now and we will see how it goes.

  51. Nest*

    “She might even be drunk in a field. Good for her – she no longer works for us.”

    I choked on my sandwich when I read that. LOL!

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

    I’m a plant person and even I hate being gifted plants, because I invariably receive a plant that doesn’t really jive with my other plants (needs to be misted daily or sit in a pebble tray for instance, needs different sunlight, needs a different fertilizer or soil.) I have dozens of plants at home and office and I’ve got a schedule and resources to take care of them; an outlier is going to die even in my care. When I choose to get more plants, I always look at the care needs and only get ones that already fit.

    1. middle name danger*

      Same! I have a jungle of all fairly low maintenance leafy plants, and I’ll be given a flowering plant or a succulent that’s doomed from the beginning.

  53. Olive*

    Given that LW#2 said that rejecting the plants would cause a social problem, I’d be seriously tempted to let it spread through the office that receiving more plants is causing her to reexperience grief because it reminds her all over again of the family members death that the original plant was for.

    From her comments, it doesn’t sound like this is the case, but for someone to ignore her wishes after that, they’d have to be a serious glassbowl.

  54. agnes*

    Pay Doris to do the file transfer! She didn’t have time to do it before she left because she was producing other work for the company, not because she’s a slackard or was deliberately trying not to. Pay the lady!

  55. Macaroni Penguine*

    #2 Oh, I empathize so much OP. Like you, I have a black thumb and people keep giving me plants. It all started when I inherited an office that already had an orchid plant. Then from that point on, well meaning clients and coworkers kept inflicting plants upon me. This was despite my protestations and statements that I was actually the Grim reaper of Plants. But that darn orchid kept thriving despite my attention, so maybe I appeared to be a competent plant caretaker? Maybe people thought the plants were lonely? In most cases, there wasn’t a tactful way to refuse the gifted plants. Eventually the Plant Gifting stopped when I moved to an office without windows. The Plants in Care were adopted throughout the office by various co-workers. “As I’m moving to a space without sunlight, would you like to adopt this plant?” Effort was made to only approach known plant enthusiast co-workers with this question.

    1. NCKat*

      I was involuntarily retired this past year, and a week later, the VP of my functional area sent me an orchid. The card read “Best wishes for a happy retirement!” I cannot keep plants alive, so I gave it to my sister who loves plants. Funny thing is, it was a running joke at the office not to give live plants to NCKat the Plant Killer, and I got one anyway. I can laugh about it now, but it was not appreciated when I got the delivery from the florist.

  56. middle name danger*

    Sorry you’re dealing with this, plant LW. I was always taught not to give a gift that is a responsibility, like a plant or animal, or anything that needs to be maintained honestly. I hope they back off!

  57. Jennifer Juniper*

    #4 – I actually thought most companies were like this and only gave cost of living adjustments to people who were good performers.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      If you only give raises to good performers, then they’re merit raises, not COLA, even if the amount happens to align with COLA.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      By definition COLA should go to everyone, and merit raises go to good performers. My company does both and they spell out clearly which is which. Though our COLA are still often very small and at least one year was less than an increase in local taxes so still effectively a small paycut. Then the merit raises are determined using a matrix based on your annual review.

  58. DH*

    i once worked at a hospital in a scenic mountain location near a national park and ski resort. At a department meeting we were all told there would be no cost of living raise that year. Management felt that we employees should be grateful we had jobs that allowed us to live in such a scenic area (Yes, they actually said that). One of my co-workers commented that while she was glad to have her job, she couldn’t eat the scenery. Management had no answer for her.

  59. Raida*

    #1 How did you do a bad job? It sounds like you did a competent job, a competent presentation, and had a SH*TTY client.
    Which you dealt with.
    You have not offered any evidence that you actually fcked this up, only that you think it’s your fault this Client is a tool.
    Maybe you should specifically ask your colleagues who were in the call about the original presentation and their raw, honest feedback on it and THEN you can conclude you messed up or not?

  60. LGC*

    I’ll be honest: I really hope that the title for LW1 isn’t from her email. To answer questions she definitely did not ask (but that I have strong opinions about):

    1) The customer not liking something does not mean that you did the job badly, necessarily. You could have done the best work possible for customers with the same specifications…and one might love it and the other might hate it.
    2a) Objectively speaking, the customer sounds like a massive jerk…
    2b) …and in certain job cultures, it can be considered verboten to admit that. Many people still assume that the customer is always right, and while that norm is shifting somewhat it’s still present.

    So I suspect that at least some of it might actually be pointing out that the customer really did behave horribly and their own discomfort with that behavior. It’s not ideal – I’m not sure whether someone could have stood up in the moment to short-circuit their behavior – but it’s a way that people deal with things.

    Also…apologies for also being “patronizing,” but you are giving yourself way less credit than you deserve, LW1. A lot of people – men, women, NB folks – wouldn’t have handled this nearly as coolly and calmly as you did. You might have “created” the situation, but you didn’t escalate it and you’re not letting their bad behavior get to you personally for the most part. That’s pretty amazing, I think. And while sexism is still pervasive in our society, that doesn’t mean – and it shouldn’t mean – that people can’t acknowledge when someone handles an unfair situation really well.

    And even if you had truly done a terrible job – as in, this was objectively subpar work – it’s generally unreasonable for a customer to be passive-aggressive and belittling. This is less true if – say – you gave someone a bad tattoo (or something around that level), but in many fields the level of hostility this customer showed is uncalled for.

    (On the other hand…okay, yes, I was actually a bit patronizing, because I am really mad at this customer even though I don’t know them. I hope they wake up and step on a Lego. And I can understand the volume being overwhelming. But also, stop thinking you messed up and this is acceptable treatment when a project goes south.)

  61. Lynn Marie*

    Ugh. Plant presents. I was in my forties and worked with someone in her twenties. I got plants; she got roses. “We would have gotten you flowers, but thought you’d like a nice plant you can keep better.”
    Since throwing a tantrum at the sight of one more g-d plant is not advisable, I’d go with “This plant is so beautiful, it deserves to be taken home with me.” Then I’d take it home and trash it.

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