employee showed up at kid’s birthday party, coworker keeps taking our snacks, and more

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

1. Employee showed up at boss’s kid’s birthday party

This is a low stakes question but my spouse has had ongoing hiring issues (the team has a “we’re a family” vibe) and the fact that he wasn’t bothered by this blew my mind.

Our kid’s birthday was earlier this month and, after much debate, we decided to have a party outdoors at a nearby park that weekend. My spouse is very friendly/chatty with his team and I’m sure talked about the party a fair amount at work. It ended up being much bigger than we originally anticipated and was a bit chaotic at times. We ended up with close to 50 people (I swear this is relevant!).

On Monday, one of his employees mentioned that she had stopped by the park on her lunch break (the office is open seven days a week) to say hi and drop off a gift. She joked that she had greeted him as he walked by and he had looked right past her, so he must’ve had his hands full wrangling both kids amongst that crowd. He casually told me this amusing story that evening. He thought it was funny that neither of us had noticed her and that it was odd/quirky of her to swing by.

I’m baffled. This is creepy and super weird, right?! Who shows up uninvited to their boss’s kid’s birthday? I was semi-horrified by this and told him how many ways this could become a big optics issue ex: other employees thinking she was invited and they weren’t, thinking that gifts to the boss are a good idea, feeling that the boundaries between work/personal life are unclear, thinking there is an inappropriate relationship (unsurprisingly his office is drama-filled).

I feel like the fact that this wasn’t a big concern for him is a red flag that his hiring and management style are problematic and he needs some coaching/wise words. I’ve been out of the workforce since the start of the pandemic so maybe things are different now and I’m just a grouchy, antisocial weirdo?

It’s definitely a little weird and boundary-crossing, but I don’t think it’s as outrageous as you do. It sounds like this was a big crowd in a public park and your husband had talked about it a bunch at work. It’s a bit much, but it’s also not like she showed up uninvited to a small gathering at your home. To me, in this specific context it reads more as sucking up than as creepy.

I’d be more concerned with the “we’re a family” stuff and all the drama — that’s more of an indictment of your husband’s management style than this incident is, although this incident may be a symptom of that larger issue.

But I’m not convinced you can/should do anything about it. In general, unless he’s seeking your advice about his management, I’d leave it alone. (I’m convinced that none of us know what our spouses are really like at work, and all sorts of weird surprises would await if we did.)

2. Coworker we don’t know keeps taking the snacks we bring in

Our team often has morning teas, either to bond or to celebrate someone. People often bring in home-baked goods, and all the snacks are paid for by individuals.

We have a recurring issue where someone from our company but who works for a different team and on a different floor comes and steals the food from our morning tea. He does it without saying anything, or pretends like he works with us. We often see him wandering around the kitchen around 11 am or 3 pm, presumably to suss out if there is food. I don’t really have an issue if he is eating a few leftovers, but sometimes he takes a piece of cake, etc. before everyone in the team has gotten a piece!

We are now moving back to doing communal morning teas, and I am wondering if we can say anything or stop him from eating our food. We don’t know his name or who his manager is.

Yes, speak up! The next time you see him taking food, say, “Oh, that’s for the X team — it’s not for the company.” Or: “Sorry if there’s been a misunderstanding — that’s not out to share, it’s for an event for our team.” You should probably add, “Please stop taking our team’s food without checking with us. We’ve been short what we need when you take it.”

It’s possible he really doesn’t know that anyone objects to what he’s doing. He might just figure that if it’s in the office, it’s up for grabs. So frame it in your head as a kindness to let him know, and a kindness to any other teams he might be doing it to as well.

(Or hell, let him join in but tell him he needs to contribute food every time and see what happens. Maybe you’ll get something delicious out of it.)

Read an update to this letter.

3. I got a job through my dad and they make promises to him they don’t follow up on

I’m a graphic designer, and because of COVID I lost my job and moved into doing design as a freelancer. My dad is a high-level executive at a large company (not design-related) and generously put me in touch with a design firm his company works with. After interviewing, they agreed to have me do some freelance work with them.

It’s been great, but I work in one state while the firm is in another so I’ve never met any of them in person. My dad has, and often meets them at conferences across the country. When they meet him, they talk me up about how great I am and they want to offer me a raise and full-time and blah blah blah. My dad, of course, shares this with me. But they have never reached out to me to tell me this or offer anything. I’m getting the feeling they just want to make my dad happy, as he has a lot of connections. I’ve reached out myself a few times in regards to what they tell my dad, but I get mostly silence or “it’s a busy time, we’ll do this soon” responses. I love the work, I just wish they would stop making promises to my dad that they obviously don’t plan on following through with, as it’s been almost a year since this has started. Any ideas how to deal with this?

Ignore anything you hear they’ve said through your dad, and only put weight on what they tell you directly. It sounds like they puff things up when they talk to your dad because they think it will benefit their relationship with him — which isn’t great but might be the price of getting work through his vendor.

Keep in mind, too, that they might be saying things that are more vague than your father is taking them as — like they think they’re saying “yes, she’s great, maybe we could even make her full-time at some point” (which doesn’t contain any real statement of intent, just conveys general positive feelings about you) and it’s getting relayed to you as “they plan to make you full-time.”

Regardless, if they want to change something about your employment, assume they’ll talk to you about it. Don’t chase them down re: statements you heard about through your dad. Or of course, you can ask directly for what you want, but without citing their conversations with him.

I’d also look at this as a temporary stop-gap measure while you’re actively looking for other work. There’s too much chance that their interest is tied to their relationship with your dad/their client, and that’s not a secure place for you to be. His company could stop hiring them, for one thing. But also, you want to be known by your clients as a great designer they love, not “Rupert’s daughter.”

4. Can I be picky about assisting coworkers?

The work I do is very technical and very cyclical. I’ll be swamped for eight weeks, then bored for four weeks. This is the nature of the work, and I’m paid the same whether I’m busy or not.

During my downtimes, I often help out another department with their backlog of work, which is much less technical than my regular work — just two steps up from data entry. As far as I know, none of my coworkers with my job function volunteer for this extra work even though they have similar downtime.

My problem is: this other department often saves their worst projects for me. The messy, ugly, not fun projects that I don’t really want to do. Can I offer to help, but not with these projects? How do I say “I don’t want these projects” without sounding like a pompous brat?

Assuming it’s not an expectation of your job that you’ll help the other department and that your boss would be fine with you not doing it at all, you should be able to say something like, “I’m up for helping with X or Y but not Z. Let me know if you’d like me to do any of that.” Or, “I’m not really up for doing more Z (or “Z really isn’t my thing”) but I can help with X if you’d like.” Or if you’re comfortable being very direct and the dynamics allow for it: “I’ve offered to help out when I have downtime, but it’s starting to seem like y’all are saving the messiest projects for me. That’s not what I’d intended when I made the offer, but I can help with stuff like X or Y.”

5. How to succeed without a job description

I made a very slight career move about a month ago, from a very large corporate organization into a relatively new form of business services which I’m very excited about. Historically, I’ve used that tried-and-true tactic of demonstrating my accomplishments against my current HR-sanctioned job description and the “next level” job description to get promoted. However, my new role has absolutely no job description or clear set competencies, nor do any of the other positions in the company. Everyone seems very supportive and people progress, but do you have any tips for positioning myself for future promotions or opportunities? I’m nervous that the lack of job description could lead to “either we like you or we don’t” promotion criteria.

Set goals for yourself! What would a successful next 12 months look like? What measures would tell you (and your manager) if you’re doing a good job or not? If you’re unsure, one way to get at it can be to think about what a mediocre job would look like, and then write goals that contrast with that. Once you have something written up, run it by your manager to make sure she agrees that’s the right plan for you to work against for the next year. (This doesn’t need to be a ton of goals! For a lot of jobs, three to five goals is the right number, and some of those might be maintenance goals to keep things running smoothly and on track as opposed to making big progress in five different areas.)

Keep doing this annually (or biannually or quarterly or whatever makes sense for your position) and then when you’re asking for a promotion or a raise, you’ll have objective measures of your progress.

I shed tears over the idea of a company where no one has a clear job description or goals.

{ 381 comments… read them below }

  1. Stitch*

    I do think LW1’s husband needs to make clear not to give gifts to his kid, as it’s not really distinguishable from giving him a gift and the whole “gifts can flow down, but not up” rule applies.

    1. CBB*

      Agreed. The impropriety of the gift lends a little weight to LW’s sense being unnerved.

      If she had just stopped by to say hi, it wouldn’t have been as big a deal. A public park is by definition open to everyone. That she went to drop off a gift (and didn’t even manage to say hi) is slightly odd.

      To LW’s credit, they did acknowledge that it’s low stakes. My reaction lands somewhere between the husband being amused and LW being semi-horrified.

      1. katkat*

        Okay, if it was me, here’s how it woild’ve been: the emplyee felt slight obligation to participate and/or get a gift. They arrive at the venue and second-guess themselves. They decide to drop the gift and leave the site. Now they don’t want to seem super creeper, youknow, just leaving random gifts for boss’ss kid, so they mention it as if it was not awkward… (yes, I am very bad at social cues and have social anxiety)

        All this aside, I think it would be kindness to the employee to thank her for the present, but tell her that in the future team members are not expected to visit boss’ family gatherings. And also explain this to the hole team.

        But I think it depends of your relationship if this is something you would suggest to your spouse.

        1. Daffy Duck*

          Yeah, I agree. If the husband/boss was talking the party up at work I wonder if the employee thought they were expected to show up and bring a gift. Considering OP says the company already has a “we are family” vibe and hubs talks about his personal life at work I wouldn’t immediately jump to “employee is creepy” but think this is a boss/management issue.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          I could totally see this happening (I could see slightly-younger me doing this, being mortified, and attempting a quick but not very successful discreet exit).

          But the husband also shouldn’t have shared so much about a family event that was held within lunch-hour distance of the job! That just muddies things by seeming like it might be set up so people could come. (And if the husband has also played into the “we’re like family!” bit then that makes it even less clear that it wasn’t supposed to include employees.)

          1. Felice*

            Right, employees might have gotten the idea that, if they were in the office that day, they should stop by. And after talking about it so much at work, the only way to undo this would be for the boss to say either (1) “don’t feel obliged to stop by” or (2) please don’t come. The first one makes it sound like it still might be a good idea for an employy to show up, and the second is rude. I think the answer is that the boss can mention things like this, but don’t talk a lot about them in the office.

          1. Quickbeam*

            Yes, me too. That could have been me. I’ve worked for managers who took notice of who attended family funerals, etc. If they had made a Big Thing out of the party, I can see feeling a sort of kind of obligation…then feeling odd when I was actually there. It’s why it is SO much better for people to keep their outside plans to themselves.

        3. Claire*

          Mmm, I disagree; typically you have to be invited to a party, you don’t just invite yourself when someone talks about an event they are hosting. I’m not sure how anyone would feel pressured to attend a party they weren’t invited to.

          1. OhNo*

            If it’s a younger or inexperienced employee, or an employee whose norms are a bit out of whack (which would not be surprising given the “we’re family!” dynamics noted by the LW), then I could certainly see them misinterpreting the cues. Just because it’s not a mistake you (or I, hopefully) would make doesn’t mean it’s impossible for someone with less awareness to make that mistake.

            1. LunaLena*

              I can easily see young clueless new-to-the-workplace me thinking that the boss talking about a party in a public place and maybe saying “stop by and have some cake if you’re in the area” means that I should definitely go. It took showing up at at least a couple of semi-public events and realizing I wasn’t really expected to come before I figured out that sometimes people just say things like that to be friendly but aren’t actually extending an invitation.

              1. Claire*

                But “stop by and have some cake” is an invitation. I don’t show up uninvited to my family’s events either, so I’m not convinced that the “we’re family” is really a factor here. Someone’s level of experience at work is irrelevant to the societal norm of how party invitations work, IMHO.

                1. LunaLena*

                  Yeah, that’s what I used to think too, but there’s definitely a regional and cultural difference. I’ve heard “drop in if you’re in the area” from people before, only for them to be surprised and taken aback when you actually take them up on it. I wish I could remember a specific example (I feel like I’ve encountered this more in the Midwest, but I’m not sure now), but I’ve definitely lived in places where people say it to be polite and friendly, but they don’t mean it and the recipients know not to seriously consider it. It’s sort of how many Americans will say “how are you doing today” and not actually expect a response beyond “good, thanks”, and are consequently surprised when people from other cultures take it as an invitation to tell them all about their day.

                2. Fae Kamen*

                  “ Someone’s level of experience at work is irrelevant to the societal norm of how party invitations work, IMHO.”

                  No… because this is a party invitation (or not) AT WORK in a work context within a work relationship. Social cues and dynamics in our lives don’t occupy separate silos. There’s not one switch for “party invitation” and one switch for “work.” They touch and bleed into each other and create new combinations that we have to navigate.

          2. A*

            We have no way of knowing what OP’s husband did or did not say to his team, nor how it was worded. I can definitely see how it could have been misinterpreted as an invite depending on how it was phrased. As a general rule, I don’t discuss events outside of work if my colleagues aren’t invited unless it is extremely obvious (i.e. a wedding or other event with RSVPs where no colleagues are being invited etc.).

          3. Gumby*

            OTOH, it’s also considered quite rude to talk about a party that the people to whom you are speaking are not invited to. And to do so extensively enough that both the time and location come up in conversation? I wouldn’t show up, but I can also see someone interpreting the many detailed mentions of the party as a de facto invitation. Otherwise boss is a boor.

      2. topcat*

        A lot of people like giving gifts to kids even where they’d never bother to give an adult a gift. There’s a kind elderly lady in my reading group who always sends my kid a gift for her birthday. Some people simply enjoy buying children’s things, or they may have a friend who makes cute kids toys/clothes and it’s a way to patronise their friend’s business if they don’t have a child in their own family.

    2. Bamcheeks*

      It kind of depends what it is? I appreciate the principle of “gifts shouldn’t flow upwards” but if it was like, a packet of bubble mix that cost less than a coffee I wouldn’t worry about it.

      1. Tuesday*

        That’s what I was thinking. If the gift was small and the park was close to the office, this doesn’t seem like a big deal to me.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes me neither. If it’s a smaller town and the park is easy to reach then it’s not abnormal to go. I don’t think a small gift for a child is out of the norm either. I mean if you bought something very expensive that would be weird but a bottle of bubbles or a ball or something cheap wouldn’t be worrying to me.

        2. Guacamole Bob*

          Yeah, it was much less boundary-stomping than I was expecting from the title of the letter. If the park is within whatever distance employees might usually travel during lunch to get food or run errands, that definitely pulls it more towards the “a little odd but probably well-intentioned and harmless” end of things. If the employee had to really go out of her way to get to the park, that’s a bit more on the “weird, what other boundary problems are happening at this office?” side.

          Same with the size of the gift. Also the age of the kid – baby and toddler parties often include more people that the adults know but who don’t know the kid. Showing up at a 10-year-old’s party when you don’t know the kid is weirder.

          1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            To me, it also might have to do with how “close” the employee feels to the kid. Does Dad talk about Jr. all the time? Are there lots of pictures? Has Dad taken Jr. to work before? It might create a false sense of intimacy where an employee – particularly a younger one who is unsure of themselves – would think that they needed to go because they know so much about the child.

        3. Nicotena*

          For some reason I was also very fixated on the question of how close the park is to the office. If the employee could easily stroll over on their lunch hour, I could almost see how she might feel it’d be weird *not* to swing by, since it was going on right there (and having that decided, a small gift wouldn’t twig me since there’s a cultural thing about ‘never showing up empty handed’ – again though, it would need to be like, a pack of bubbles, not an expensive toy). If the employee had to make a real effort to drive across town, somehow that feels weirder to me. Then again, I assume OP would have mentioned if the park in question was like, adjacent to the office.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            My boss held his son’s 4th birthday party at the park across the street from our office, which also happened to be a couple of blocks from the preschool. It was a Friday afternoon and the party took place right at after pick up time at the school, so parents grabbed the kids and headed straight over.

            There weren’t many of us in the office that afternoon, but it was really nice to be able to pop over and grab a slice of cake in the sunshine after the guests started leaving. We finished off the cake, then with our help the clean up was a breeze and took all of 5 minutes. After that, around 3:00, we all headed home. It was a situation with no obligation, but it felt mutually beneficial for the parents of the birthday boy who didn’t want extra cake to take home and the employees who wanted to start their weekend early.

            If the party had not been right across the street, in plain view from our office windows, it would have been a different story! Plus, none of us would have gone while they were still in the middle of the party. I think we showed up when the last car with guests was loading up.

        4. Rayray*

          I agree.

          Now I hate the “we’re a family” thing at work but I have worked at places before that we’re smaller and people had known each other for many years and it wouldn’t be unheard of to attend things like this. In fact, it absolutely happened because people were friends and close with one another. I don’t think this was a major faux pas. It might be weird in some workplaces but sounds like this was someone well-meaning who figured they could take part of lunch to drop by.

    3. Pennyworth*

      I was brought up not to talk about social events in front of people who weren’t invited to them. Perhaps a general comment like ”I’m going to be busy all weekend with my kid’s birthday celebrations” but LW1’s husband seems to have shared everything down to the location with his work ‘family’. The employee who arrived a gift might have assumed it was expected of her.

      1. Dr B Crusher*

        I mean, yes, me too, but for most people a child’s birthday party is obviously not a social event that all adults who know the parent, especially through work, would even imagine being invited to. I realise this varies by culture and social group, but I’d generally say that discussing, say, your kid’s birthday party or a family barbecue or a get-together with your school friends at work is not a faux pas the way discussing a night out to which you and your two best office buds are going to in front of the entire office would be. It may or may not be weird that she thought she was expected to attend, but unless the boss was saying very strange things, it’s pretty normal to mention, or even go into detail about, private family social events at work without work people thinking they’re invited.

        (Ok, yes, I think she was a bit weird to do it.)

        1. Dr B Crusher*

          I will add, it was a little bit weird but not at all stalky or alarming. Possibly not even sucking up. I could see my mother doing this, with a tiny gift like bubbles or something like someone else has mentioned, just because she likes kids and knows the parent and is nearby anyway. I think she’s a bit weird but fine, especially if it was a tiny thing. I don’t think either the boss or the employee was particularly in the wrong, from what’s described.

          1. topcat*

            Exactly. Some people just really enjoy giving gifts to children. Passionate readers often want to pass on a book they loved in childhood for example (a friend just randomly gave my child a copy of Anne of Green Gables). I think it’s nice.

            I also suspect this employee mistakenly thought it was the norm/an expectation in this company.

            I certainly don’t get any creepy vibes.

        2. allathian*

          Yeah, I’ve talked about my son’s birthday parties at work when we were talking about our plans for the weekend. It would have been weird if anyone from my office had thought the mere mention of a party was an invitation.

          That said, I can see that a party in a public park is a bit different from a party in your home.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              This. I think this could definitely have been interpreted as “employees can come by” or even “employees are expected to come by”, if you have that kind of boss.

            2. R*

              “Oh no, I only meant family in the sense of you have to do a lot of unpaid overtime and we’ll never promote you but you can’t complain about it, not in the sense that we can enjoy happy occasions together!”

            3. Office Lobster DJ*

              Sounds like the headcounts in general got away from them, growing to an unanticipated 50 people. To me, that reads like the invitations were more on the casual “Stop by the park from 2-4 if you’re free” side, rather than RSVPs and strict headcounts needed. In that case, I could see the employee picking up on a casual attitude.

          1. Roscoe*

            I mean, I think if you are talking about it in detail, and giving a date, time, and location its a bit different than just saying “I’m having birthday drinks with my friend this weekend”

            1. Rock Prof*

              I bet a lot of talk about it was around how to have a kid’s birthday party during covid. I could see some talk about options and worry for a week or two, then the husband eventually saying something like, ‘well, we’ve finally figured out that x, y, and z details will work.’

              1. UKDancer*

                Yes I mean we talked about the fact one of my staff was getting married. In the light of the Covid restrictions we chatted about where they were going for the wedding and the reception and what they were wearing so we heard a lot of the details. I mean we none of us assumed we were attending but it’s nice to talk about cheerful things like weddings and parties at work.

                1. londonedit*

                  And in that sort of situation, I can imagine that if there was a colleague of theirs who enjoyed giving gifts or doing random acts of kindness, they might have thought it would be nice to ring the hotel and ask if they could pay for a glass of champagne each for the bride and groom – something unobtrusive but thoughtful. I guess some people might also see that as creepy, but I’d like to think most people would respond with ‘Oh, Mary from the office has paid for these! That’s so nice of her!’ and I’d like to think most people would respond to this party situation in a similar way. ‘Mary from the office dropped off a little gift for Fergus, isn’t that sweet of her?’ rather than ‘OMG some woman from my husband’s office brought a gift to my child’s party’. It’s not as if the employee in this case tried to join in with the party – they just dropped by as the park was nearby and left the gift. And it’s not as if they were a stranger. Maybe they were going to say a quick hello, but saw the OP’s husband was busy and decided to just leave the gift and mention it later. That doesn’t scream ‘creepy’ to me.

              2. Guacamole Bob*

                Yeah, I can totally see this turning into chatting about covid logistics, which parks have picnic shelters, do you need to reserve them, when in the fall do they turn off the spray park, etc. Lots of people are planning outdoor events these days so it’s a pretty reasonable office chitchat topic, actually.

            2. Dr B Crusher*

              It is the sort of thing that could come up fairly naturally in conversation though. I wouldn’t think twice about talking about my kid’s part on Saturday at the trampoline place or whatever. Maaaaybe the time might be a stretch, but even then, if they’re talking about serving lunch or something one could assume the time.

            3. Olivia Mansfield*

              Right?! We’re a family, and here’s the date time and location of a birthday party that is in a public venue nearby. No wonder at least one person got the wires crossed.

        3. Rusty Shackelford*

          I agree. It is important not to discuss events around people who aren’t invited to them, but the natural exclusions to that rule are events those people wouldn’t be invited to anyway – a child’s birthday party, a family holiday gathering, a class reunion.

      2. JB*

        First of all, it’s a bit bizarre that you’ve carried this rule (which is for children) into your adult life. Adults don’t throw tantrums about not being invited to events, and it’s totally normal to discuss family events in every work environment I’ve ever been in. Kid-related stuff especially; a lot of parents love to hear what other parents are doing, IME. (I am not a parent myself but I also don’t mind hearing what fun things someone is doing for their kid’s party.)

        Second of all, a lot of commenters seem to be missing that this birthday party was not on a weekend, it was on a weekday, thus why the employee showed up on her lunch break. He probably told people about the party in the process of letting them know he’d be out of the office for part/all of the day, and where to reach him.

        1. Rayray*

          The letter specified stated it was on a weekend. Not trying to be pedantic, but don’t tel others they are missing details when it’s actually you that missed it.

        2. Daisy-dog*

          I think the phrasing makes it clear that it was a weekend. LW says the company is open 7 days/week and that the employee mentioned this to LW’s husband on Monday, but not the day of the party.

        3. Rusty Shackelford*

          First of all, it’s a bit bizarre that you’ve carried this rule (which is for children) into your adult life.

          Um, no, it’s for adults too. Polite adults, anyway.

            1. CmdrShepard*

              I would even argue that the rule is a little more strict, it is not “don’t talk about events in front of people not invited to it,” but rather “don’t talk about events in front of people that might realistically think an invite would be warranted.”

              So you can talk about your wedding to the stranger you just met at the park commenting on your engagement ring, or the friend of a friend you have never met. None of them would really expect to be invited.

              But talking about the wedding in front of a mid-tier acquaintance, who may or may not get invited depending on the number of Round 1 declines, should be avoided. Especially if there is another person there that is already invited. Or someone who you would have wanted to invite if money/space were not an issue, but due to money/space you know you can’t invite them.

              1. Roscoe*

                I agree.

                As an example, I’m having a birthday dinner in a couple of weeks. Recently I was out with a guy who is a drinking buddy. I like him, but I wouldn’t call him friends. If I was having a get together at my home or a bar where space was unlimited, I’d totally invite him. As the guest list is limited, I didn’t. I made sure to tell the other people who were around who were invited, not to discuss it around him. I’m sure he’d understand, but I still would’ve felt it was rude to discuss around him.

              2. Gray Lady*

                That seems like a great way to slice it. I think I have followed this “it’s okay to talk about it in front of people who would not have any expectation of being invited but not in front of anyone for whom it might be a realistic possibility” rule unconsciously until now without being aware of it.

        4. Nia*

          I’m with you the amount of people here who think just because they know when and where a party is happening that they were invited is disturbing. It is perfectly normal small talk to mention when and where you’re having a party for your kid or having your wedding reception. It’s not rude and its not an invitation. The rule is only there for kids so their feelings don’t get hurt.

          1. Hazel*

            I strongly disagree. Actually, in a work setting, I think it’s fine. But among friends/acquaintances, it’s rude to talk about an event in a group of people when some of them have been invited and other haven’t. It’s thoughtless. The “rule” exists to avoid unnecessarily making people (not just children) feel bad. Just talk about the event later with the group who has actually been invited.

            1. Dr B Crusher*

              Agree with this. If office pal is talking about going out for drinks after work with her knitting circle group, that’s cool and normal and I might ask her how her evening was the next day. If office pal is talking to office pal 2 about them going out for drinks after work together in front of me and office pal 3 and me and office pal 3 are not invited, that’s rude and kind of hurtful.

      3. Artemesia*

        It is extra icky for the BOSS to natter on endlessly about the details of their personal life. A clueless underling may have thought gifts were expected.

    4. Gadfly*

      I wonder if the employee was making avpoint of getting credit by bringing it up…

      Could be just awkwardness as some others have suggested. But I can also picture someone wanting to make sure the boss knows they gave a gift.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        I can also picture a situation where she put the gift on the table, then figured she should say something preemptively rather than have the boss say “Uh, Jane, did you sneak into my child’s party to give him a pack of bubbles, then flee into the night?”

    5. Jennifer*

      I think the husband just needs to set better boundaries. It’s fine to mention in casual conversation that you’re having a party for your kid that weekend. But if he mentions multiple times the location and time of his kid’s birthday party, and it’s in a public venue, plus the “family” stuff, it’s not surprising that someone thought it was okay to stop by. This employee turned out to be harmless, and maybe just trying to suck up, but it may not always be the case. I don’t blame the OP for being a bit creeped out. This person showed up to an event for her kid. I would have a conversation with my husband about dialing back the “we’re a family” talk.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        This is where I land too. The husband needs to pull back on the level of personal detail he’s sharing with his work team.

        I’m not super worried by this occurrence, it seems like a well intentioned person made a rather mild overstep and nobody was harmed. But if OP is uncomfortable with so much of her personal family business being shared with her husband’s work connections, that in itself is reason enough for her husband to make a change in his behavior.

    1. Baby Fish Mouth*

      +1! I would love a theoretical update where this dude was just so bored and lonely on his team and comes to love the teas and brings them great pastries

      1. Mental Lentil*

        And he’s a former pastry chef who didn’t like the hours and brings in the most amazing pastries he made himself!

        1. bamcheeks*

          OK, but then when they discover the blog where he’s been rating and reviewing all the home-baked goods he’s “sampled”, that’s going to be awkward.

        2. LunaLena*

          My first thought on Allison’s afterthought was “what if he’s a former or future Great British Bake-Off contestant and needs people to sample his food?”

  2. Recovering Snack Thief*

    In defense of the snack thief, I have myself been a snack thief. Pre-Covid, my department’s kitchen would often leave out leftover snacks from meetings, that were now up for grabs, often whole cakes that weren’t touched and the like. One time I got busted taking a lamington from a tray, and that one time of course the food just happened to be about to go into a meeting instead of it being leftovers. Soooo embarrassing! But at least now I know to not assume.
    Anyway, I guess my point is, give the thief the benefit of the doubt in case he is of the same impression.

    1. august*

      A better system to filter out the good intention versus the malicious snack thieves is to put a note on the snacks as applicable. A sticky note to say that “Snacks are for this and that purpose, please do not eat” versus “Grab one!” is a clear indicator of intention if they still get snacks.

      1. LW2*

        A sign is might be a good idea. I think we were concerned it would come across as aggressive, or it would accidentally dissuade people in our team from eating the food.

        1. Mm*

          You could soften the language by explaining the event “snacks for x team for our morning tea” – I think that makes it really clear this is a thing you all are participating in vs. corporate paid snacks you have claimed.

          But honestly I’ve been in a company where team snacks were common and a sign would have been sooo much better than the secondhand embarrassment I felt when new folks accidentally took snacks meant for another team. I’d do a sign and not worry about it.

          1. LW2*

            I think that’s a good point. A somewhat complicating factor that I didn’t include in the letter is that we share our kitchen with another team (not his!) so the difficulty in leaving a sign would be avoiding the appearance that we’re accusing that other team.

            1. New Bee*

              If you put “snacks for x team meeting; please don’t eat” then you haven’t accused anyone of anything. I think you’re overthinking it a bit (understandable, because it’s an odd situation!): you can solve your most charitable interpretation of the problem (that he just doesn’t know) without getting into the backstory of how many times he’s thieved before, your noticing that he pops by the kitchen looking for snacks, etc. And if he continues to take, you have a direct opening to say, “stop taking food that’s not yours.” (Really you could say that from jump but your comments indicate there’s some plausible confusion so it doesn’t hurt to start with labeling first.)

              1. Anonymoose*

                Maybe try “Snacks for x team meeting at 10am. Any leftovers will be available at 11am.” ? I likely wouldn’t include the leftovers comment but I’ve never dealt with anyone who stole food so openly!

                1. The Prettiest Curse*

                  I used to have to deal with large amounts of leftover food in my last job, and I would do this and/or send around an email saying that leftovers would be available after X time. It makes people take all the food that they are going to take and it also helps to prevent a fair bit of hovering.

                  An alternative is to put up a sign saying “Food is for attendees of X event” and then take away the sign when it’s available for everyone.

                2. The Rural Juror*

                  I worked for a short while in a customer-facing office of a county courthouse. Each month that had employees’ birthdays (which ended up being maybe 9 months out of the year between 15 employees) we would host a potluck breakfast to celebrate those birthdays. The “kitchen” on that floor of the courthouse was shared between several offices, so we would set the goodies out on a long counter at the back of our office away from the communal area.

                  We had a lot of people coming through that office who weren’t necessarily customers (lawyers, clerks from other offices, etc). I think we always did the last Friday of the month for these, so it got around that after 11am on that day the goodies were up for grabs. Every once in a while there might be one of our clerks in the courtroom for a while, so someone would put out a sign that would say, “Not up for grabs yet, Jane in courtroom.” It would be unfair for that clerk not to get any, especially if they were a birthday person!

            2. Amaranth*

              I think if its a general sign of ‘for x team morning tea’ then its not ‘y team is stealing this’ but gives everyone a cushion of deniability. It could be your team taking them early, the cleaning crew, team z, Bill from Accounting or whoever. Its pretty rare anyone will admit you might be talking about them.

            3. Twitchy Twitcher*

              A sign isn’t an accusation. You seem really afraid that people will interpret things negatively here. It’s just information. I mean, if it read “DON’T TOUCH! THIS MEANS YOU, KELLY” then sure, but just labelling it isn’t going to read as accusatory to anyone (unless they have a seriously guilty conscience, I suppose).

              You just need to be clear and direct.

            4. Hello, I'd like to report my boss*

              Maybe cover the food until leftovers are available and put a note on the cover ‘Snacks for team xxx’. Or put it in the fridge until you’re happy for other people to eat it.

              I’ve been an accidental food thief and it’s VERY embarrasing – I thought I’d cracked the code of getting snacks and I was breaking the unspoken ‘only for my team’ office rule. I brought in doughnuts once a week for a few weeks to assuage my guilt. Just say something/leave a note in case it’s an accident.

              1. Slow Gin Lizz*

                I was thinking that it might be a good idea to keep the food out of the kitchen until the event, as long as it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. But definitely put a sign on it. And being direct would help too; you could talk to him directly ahead of time about how the snacks are for your team’s event and not free-for-all, although if he is sneaking up onto a different floor to eat them he might not have enough shame for that to deter him.

            5. Pennyworth*

              Can’t you discuss it with the other team and explain the need for the sign? He’s probably taking their food too!

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                Fair point – if they do anything food related they may also have noticed things going missing and welcome the opportunity/ suggestions to stop any thefts from them.

              2. OhNo*

                That might be a good opening, honestly. Just a “Hey, I’ve noticed X person around lately when we’re doing snacks. If he part of your team?” gives you enough of an opening to introduce the idea of using a sign in the future, and also makes them aware that someone is wandering around taking snacks. Heck, maybe they’ve been dealing with it too and would want to team up to keep this snack stealer out of your shared kitchen.

            6. Wry*

              Is the shared kitchen the only place where your team can store and/or consume these snacks? I ask just because in some offices, the kitchen tends to be where snacks are left out for everyone to have some. In my office, my team would do meetings/parties with food in a reserved conference room, and the food would only go into the kitchen once the event was over and the food was officially leftovers and up for grabs. If there’s a conference room or office you could use, that might help. And if the snack doesn’t need to be refrigerated, maybe the person who brought it in could keep it at their desk until it’s time to eat it. If it does need to go in the fridge, definitely label it!

            7. Yorick*

              If you put the sign on the snacks themselves, that will just look like good communication. If you were to put up a general sign that says please don’t eat our snacks, that would be weird and the other team might take it the wrong way.

          2. pancakes*

            The way this sort of thing has been handled in places I’ve worked — and I think it works well — is that the reception desk sends an email to everyone when there’s food up for grabs. No email, no grazing. Since the issue here is one particular guy who doesn’t have a handle on office food norms, I think talking to him would make a lot more sense than putting up a sign.

        2. august*

          “Snacks for X team only” is a straightforward but non agressive note I think and won’t dissuade your team to grab a snack. I don’t think it comes off as passive aggressive but something of that sort might help?

          And though a sign or note may help, if they do indeed keep taking the snacks even with that (as some people just feel entitled to things that aren’t theirs, which has happened in the past basing on the letters on this site), it may still be needed to talk to the snacker so better prepare for the talk anyway.

          I do hope it’s not a malicious and entitled snack thief but just a very hungry one so it won’t escalate to anything more.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            People who bring something should put their own names on the food — individuals are paying, not the boss.
            I really do suspect he just thinks it’s company-provided.

            1. LW2*

              I don’t think so. The company in general pays for morning tea very rarely. And it’s pretty clear that a cake in a tin has not been paid for by the company but brought by an individual.

              1. münchner kindl*

                No, it’s not “pretty clear”. Office culture varies a lot, as can be seen by various commentors in these threads. Some people love to share baked goods; some only do in rotation because of costs; some can’t afford to share costs.

                It’s only clear if you explain to people using clear direct words.

                But in a culture where passive-aggressive indirect speaking is “polite”, and speaking directly is “rude and akward”, a sign might be the only way.

                1. SarahKay*

                  I think it’s pretty clear that the company didn’t provide it.
                  Depending on ask vs guess, etc, it may not be clear if it’s available to everyone or just a specific team, but thinking that a home-made cake in a tin was paid for by the company would require more imagination than I have.

                2. Myrin*

                  What OP calls “pretty clear” is the idea “that a cake in a tin has not been paid for by the company but brought by an individual”, not the more nebulous “maybe this was made by members of team X for everyone to share”.

                  Unless you live somewhere where it’s customary to sell cakes in the same kind of tin any random person uses to bake them (and I’m from a region south of Munich and went to university there so if your username is literal, I daresay that’s probably not the case) or it’s normal for your company to pay employees to privately bake stuff for everyone, yes, it is indeed “pretty clear” that a cake in a tin was brought in by an individual, which is all OP is saying in this particular comment.

                3. Junior Assistant Peon*

                  Every place I’ve worked had different unspoken rules about communal food. This guy’s last job probably had a lot of company-provided snacks.

                4. Junior Assistant Peon*

                  “But in a culture where passive-aggressive indirect speaking is “polite”, and speaking directly is “rude and akward”, a sign might be the only way.”

                  I love this. Most AAM letter-writer situations could be resolved by speaking directly rather than hinting.

                5. Marzipants*

                  You’re talking about the difference between individualist and collectivist cultures, and it’s not correct to suggest that one is more valid.

                6. banoffee pie*

                  If OP is in UK, as I suspect from the phrase ‘morning tea’, a note could definitely be construed as rude. We’re not allowed to say anything directly here lol ;) It doesn’t matter so much if you don’t mind being rude to the snack thief, but I understand not wanting to be seen to accuse the other team sharing the kitchen.

              2. Run mad; don't faint*

                I think it’s clear that a cake in a tin is a homebaked treat. But it isn’t necessarily clear that the cake isn’t intended for general consumption. Labeling it would clear that up in case this person has worked in an office where treats left in the kitchen were for everyone.

                1. Morning reader*

                  Might be confusion over what “in a tin” means. What’s a tin? I’ve seen cookies in what I would call a tin but that’s for storage or presentation, not what they are baked in.
                  Now that I think about it, not sure I’ve ever seen homemade cake at work. We have good bakeries around here so the cake comes in a box.

                2. doreen*

                  That kind of depends on what kind of “tin” it is. Sure, a cake in a reusable metal pan is clearly home-baked – but if I am bringing a cake/tray of brownies/pie somewhere , the chances are good that I used an disposable aluminum pan and store-bought treats often come in that sort of pan.

                3. marvin the paranoid android*

                  I assumed that the tin was just a round storage tin for baked goods. Maybe these aren’t an American thing?

                4. banoffee pie*

                  Yeah I bet you’re right, it’s Australia. I thought it sounded a bit weird for the UK but knew it couldn’t be the US. Forgot about Australia, sorry Australians!

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          People say signs are passive aggressive, but as I read recently “passive aggressive” has now become nastycode for “polite instructions you want to ignore, usually expressed by a woman”. Unless the boss is prepared to pay someone to hang out all morning in the kitchen, how else do you protect your goodies from the snack thief?

          1. Boof*

            Yeah I’ve been a little puzzled how notes became “passive aggressive” but I think that is for when people leave sticky notes to address things they could handle with direct conversation, but don’t. In this case I think a note is a good idea if the snacker might come in when LW isn’t there – otherwise it is best to prepare to directly say something rather than just glare pointedly at the note or something XD

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes. Notes are not by definition passive aggressive. Some are and some are not. It depends on the content.

              1. Archaeopteryx*

                Yes, and a note like this for the cakes is more of a label than a note. It’s not like you’re writing a note saying “Chester, quit stealing our food!“ There’s a very good chance that he doesn’t know that that food is not up for grabs, if it’s left out on the counter in the office kitchen space with no label. Most offices I have been in if something is left out like that, someone brought it in for everyone. People won’t just know not to take something that’s left out in an office kitchen without a label.

                Obviously this is different than something like stealing someone’s lunch from the fridge. But in a lot of places putting treats out on the counter means that everyone should take some.

                1. Gray Lady*

                  Passive aggressive in this context would be a company wide email from an individual saying that there has been an ongoing problem with individuals thoughtlessly and rudely intruding on private in-team gatherings and helping themselves to the food, and it’s a real shame that people can’t behave more professionally.

                  A concisely worded sign indicating that the goodies are for an in-team function is not that.

            2. Rusty Shackelford*

              Yep. The website “passive aggressive notes” has, unfortunately, led many people to assume all notes are passive-aggressive.

              1. Splendid Colors*

                I got a lease violation for leaving an allegedly “passive aggressive” note on my neighbor’s door to say “Hey, you probably don’t know your dog cries when you’re not home…” because I worked a swing shift and was not home at a reasonable time to talk to her. (Her dog was crying when she was in class and I was trying to sleep, in fact.) Management said that “adults do not leave notes for other adults, they talk to them face-to-face.”

                Like, would anyone be happier if I were knocking on her door after midnight to talk about her dog? I doubt it. But that’s when I got home from the studio and she left while I was still sleeping.

            1. Boof*

              I think it’s accurate when used appropriately, but kinda like how gaslighting is starting to sometimes be invoked for “we disagree on a few details of what happened” it’s obnoxious when misapplied

              1. JB*

                Same. It always seems to me that people who are complaining about someone being ‘passive aggressive’ just dislike being told ‘no’ and found this was a form of ‘no’ they were allowed to be mad about.

                1. InsufficientlySubordinate*

                  Passive-aggressive is when someone washes the dishes without protesting but breaks several dishes on purpose because they don’t want to wash the dishes. They’re directing their aggression/anger at something other than the actual person. I tend to consider Malicious Compliance as a sub-set or adjacent to passive aggression but I may be mistaken.

              2. Rusty Shackelford*

                It’s when you refuse to be assertive about something you want (or don’t want) and instead try to make things happen in indirect ways. Examples:

                – You’re visiting your parents, and your mom insists you go to church with her on Sunday. You don’t want to. Instead of politely declining, you “oversleep” or “forget” to bring appropriate clothing.
                – You’re washing the dishes. Your wife didn’t hear the dog scratch at the door. Or maybe she did, and she’s ignoring it. Instead of asking her to let the dog in, you loudly say “Hold on, Sparky! Let me dry my hands off so I don’t drip dishwater all the way across the house! I’ll be there in a minute!” When she doesn’t immediately jump up and say “I’ve got it,” you sigh and make a big deal of drying your hands, then let the dog in with an apology for making him wait so long.

                What is isn’t:

                – Someone is using the expensive flavored creamer you keep in the fridge. You don’t know who. You put a note on it that says “This belongs to Jane, it wasn’t provided by Sucracorp. Please don’t use it.”

                1. Heather*

                  Excellent distinction! But in this case OP knows who the culprit is, so arguably writing a note is a passive-aggressive strategy to avoid having an uncomfortable conversation with him.

              3. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

                I think in this case, passive aggressive is being applied to the opposite thing. Leaving a note = directly addressing the issue (although speaking to him in the moment would be even less passive). Silently getting angry and not doing anything about it = passive and aggressive. But at least it’s a passive aggressive ATTITUDE, and not a passive aggressive ACTION.

                Any action can be passive aggressive, it’s just if you’re angry while doing it and refusing to confront the person. I used to passive aggressively do someone’s dishes. It was not effective at communicating to them that I wanted them to do their own dishes in a timely manner (or ever).

              4. Tiffany Aching's imaginary friend*

                That’s because it’s a term that came out of psychiatry (and had a specific definition that may still apply in that setting) and is now commonly used in regular speech, where definitions shift around all the time because most of us aren’t Humpty Dumpty.

          2. hamsterpants*

            Wow, thank you. I’ve noticed the same weird misuse of the term. Either people don’t know what “passive aggressive” means and think it’s a synonym for regular “passive,” or people want to make it as uncomfortable and difficult as possible for others to confront them and hate the idea of changing their behavior without an in-person fight.

          3. pancakes*

            I couldn’t agree more that that phrase is often misused, but there is a clear path forward to protecting the goodies in this situation, where the snack thief has been identified: Talk to him. As Alison suggested.

          4. Office Lobster DJ*

            “polite instructions you want to ignore, usually expressed by a woman”

            Well said! The term is so misused. I have an ex-coworker who was the type to blow up and blow over, and thanks to her was on my way to getting a “passive-aggressive” rep because I didn’t scream back. (Of course, one time I pushed back forcefully on something, and she said I was flipping out. It was not what you’d call a winnable situation.)

          5. Phoenix Wright*

            Couldn’t agree more. Writing a note that says “Please do not eat” isn’t passive-aggressive; in fact it’s the opposite. It’s direct, stating clearly the action that the writer wants to (not) be taken. Calling it “passive-aggressive” is the last resort of someone who has decided they want to steamroll over your request, by making you look like the one in the wrong.

        4. Cedarthea*

          I totally get that feeling of being rude, however I ran across a Brene Brown quote “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind” and it has changed how I feel about communicating.

          When you leave a note you are being clear, which gives everyone the information they need. When you don’t it could be unclear (or part of the hidden curriculum of your office that can be tough for new people, or neurodiverse people to parse) and really it is unkind. I would hate to find out something i thought was “fair game” was a source of resentment by a colleague, when if I had the info I would respect what was going on.

          There will always be jerks, but I fall firmly on the side of if you are being clear, then you are probably doing your best to be kind.

          1. Marzipants*

            Yes, this is a good example of why I am not a fan of Brene Brown (nor her siblings, Brebecca and Brobert). Facile, sophomoric catchphrases such as this give license to all kinds of bad behavior while ignoring larger cultural implications and nuance. She has also essentially issued a fiat against feeling guilt and shame, completely ignoring the mountains of evidence of the pro-social benefits of both.

        5. Olivia Mansfield*

          I’ve used signs like that and worded them more as a welcome to the team they’re intended for than as a “please do not eat” for others. Ex. “Welcome, X Department Team Meeting”, etc. Then people who aren’t part of that event know it’s not for them and don’t partake. If there were someone who didn’t pick up on it, I guess I’d have to have a word with them individually, but so far it’s worked for our team.

        6. Elizabeth West*

          It’s possible the snack-yoinker doesn’t realize the food is not meant for everyone, but either way, he shouldn’t just take it if he’s not contributing or it’s not his team event.

          At Exjob, one table in the break room on our floor was the designated Everybody Take Some table. If food ended up there, you could assume it was meant for anyone and everyone. Otherwise, people set up team potlucks in an empty cube near their area or had someone hovering so random snackers couldn’t indulge. This might not be practical at your workplace; in that case, a sign stating “Reserved for the Alpaca Team meeting” might be a good idea.

      2. Koalafied*

        At my office, there’s a designated place in the kitchen for leftovers and there are periodic reminders that if you see food anywhere else, it hasn’t been put up for grabs yet and please wait until it has been brought to the designated leftovers area before helping yourself. (It’s very common for catering to be laid out on a counter outside a meeting room where attendees will come outside to make their plates and then filter back into the meeting room, so even if the food looks half-gone, if it’s still on the counter instead of in the kitchen, that means the meeting is still going on and the attendees have priority until it’s over.

      3. Epsilon Delta*

        I agree with the note. In all the offices I’ve worked at, unattended food in the kitchen is for everyone. It actually surprises me that you don’t lose more of your food to other kitchen visitors, OP!

        Another thought – is there somewhere else to store the food until it’s time to eat it? Is there a spare cubicle near your team that can become the “snack cube”? (also a thing at one of my old offices) Or perhaps someone has extra space on their desk or in their office.

        Of course, if the note doesn’t work and there’s nowhere else to keep the food, then you probably need to actually talk to the guy.

        1. pbnj*

          That’s what I’ve observed too. Usually people will put food in a conference room or a cart outside a conference room and then move it to the kitchen when everyone’s gotten some and it’s fair game.

        2. MusicWithRocksIn*

          That’s what I was thinking. If you are waiting to eat the food all together, then keep it at someone’s desk until it’s time to eat. Leaving it sitting out in the kitchen just reads as ‘I brought treats for everyone! enjoy!’.

        3. pancakes*

          It isn’t “visitors” in general who are taking the letter writer’s team’s food – it’s one guy, who has been identified. There’s no good reason to avoid talking to him about it. Finding the idea of a moment of awkwardness unbearable isn’t a good reason.

        4. Dust Bunny*

          Yeah, where I am, food in the employee break area is fair game for all employees. Food in an open-to-the-public area is fair game for everyone. If you want to restrict it to your department, you put it in a place that only your department is likely to be, or you keep it under wraps until a scheduled department meeting in a specific location. (I’m in an academic library so anything that isn’t physically protected disappears–med students are basically pigeons.)

        5. Paulina*

          Thing is, this guy isn’t a normal user of this kitchen, or around for another purpose. There is another team that uses this kitchen, but there haven’t been any problems with any of them — they know who the food is for. It doesn’t make sense for the food-having team to have to hide the food elsewhere when everyone who would normally use that kitchen isn’t a problem. He also hadn’t told anyone else, so he knew he was sneaking around to get food.

          So far he’s got plausible deniability on his side, so adding a “for Team X” label would remove that. If he takes the food anyway, then they need to talk to him, and having had the food labeled will make a confrontation easier to have.

      4. Ama*

        Yeah, many years ago I worked for a grad school that had a communal coffee and snacks time in the morning (it was a newish school and cross-disciplinary so the dean felt it was a good way to build community), and staff would often prep the snacks plate the night before. One year, some of the postdocs figured out where we were leaving the prepped snacks and started helping themselves in the evening when they were staying late to work and the admin staff were already gone, which meant we were short in the morning (the dean was willing to budget for snacks but wasn’t willing to budget for a bunch of extras). We ended up putting a sign on the refrigerator where they were kept just explaining “please do not take snacks after hours, these are for tomorrow morning’s coffee” and that worked with about 98% of the people (which at least meant the plate wasn’t half empty the next morning).

        Unfortunately you do always have those people who just blatantly disregard signs like that but I do think the majority will stop if you can offer a clear explanation that they are being saved for a specific purpose.

        That said, I will never forget the postdoc who took a cheese plate out of the fridge to snack on it (it was actually leftovers from an evening event so less of a problem), left it on the counter overnight so ants got into it and we had to toss it, and then had the nerve to complain to my boss that we had thrown out good food (because he went to take more cheese and found it in the trash).

    2. allathian*

      Yeah. Before the pandemic, some people on my team were always bringing in snacks. There was no list or anything, it’s just that they loved baking, and loved the excuse of bringing something in, sometimes for an event like a birthday, sometimes just because they wanted to do it.

      After the events, any leftovers were always up for grabs by anyone who walked by.

      It would be a kindness to tell the thief to stop taking the team’s food.

    3. Sue*

      This is a guy from another department that they don’t even know! He knows this food is not for him and he doesn’t care. They will have to be VERY DIRECT to get his attention.

      1. Rhydian*

        And Snack Thief appears at those times when there is a higher likelihood of food – very pre-mediated. No one ‘accidentally’ thinks any unattended food is theirs for the taking.

        LW2, has no one followed Snack Thief to see where they go post-thieving?

        1. Mm*

          Eh this person could also be assuming this team puts out leftovers and he has cleverly figured out when and hovers around that time. It could totally be intentional, but I figure you will know for sure if the one friendly warning doesn’t work so why not start there.

        2. LW2*

          Someone actually has followed him before to see if he actually did work on our floor! He went down the stairwell and stopped at another kitchen, lending credence to our theory that he is actively hunting for morning teas.

          1. Lizard*

            Wow, that is really blatant. Does he even actually work for your company, or could he be going from building to building hunting for morning teas, like a wedding crasher?

            1. LW2*

              Hahaha you need a swipe card to get into the building so if he doesn’t work for the company he has created a VERY elaborate scheme.

            2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Maybe his boss would be interested to learn that he has plenty of down time in the morning…

          2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Given that info – is it possible to have whoever sits along his path to just preemptively tell him no free snacks today – or some other phrase to let him know to not take food out of your kitchen (as it seems he’s outright hunting for food).

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Second thought – maybe do this in conjunction with moving the tea things to a different location for a while to train the mystery snacker into your team’s kitchen being the place where there is never anything for him. May require some planning with the other group that shares your floor/kitchen.

        3. dry erase aficionado*

          Or has no one said, “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met yet? I’m Dry Erase. I work on the chisel tip team.” He will logically introduce himself at that point and you can then say politely, “we have chisel tip team tea and treats every Tuesday and rotate bringing in snacks. Would you like to sign up for the rotation? (or leftovers might be available after X time as you prefer.)”

          1. LunaLena*

            Or even just “I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but those snacks are brought in for a specific team and are not for everyone. Sorry if there was a misunderstanding.”

            That’s what I would say, anyways. Although I’d love it if someone just stood up and bellowed across the office “PUT THOSE BACK, THIS IS NOT A GROCERY STORE” like that one story in the AAM archives, when someone at a company luncheon tried to sneak a whole bunch of bananas while the senior manager was giving a speech (search for “banana thefts, peppers for potlucks, and other weird office food stories” to read the full story).

      2. Koalafied*

        I agree that OP will need to be VERY DIRECT! But I would give him the benefit of the doubt that he doesn’t realize the food isn’t for him. It’s just such a common thing in offices for communal food to be put out for anyone who wants it that he could be both 100% intentionally/knowingly cruising for free food in all the kitchens in the building, and also not realize he’s taking food that’s not meant to be communal.

        Particularly when I was in graduate school, cruising for free food at events was a well-known and completely socially acceptable thing to do (seeing as how we were all living on $12,000/year stipends) – it wasn’t seen as uncouth or inappropriate as long as you didn’t ignore a sign indicating that it was meant for a group you weren’t part of. If there was no sign, it was considered perfectly reasonable to assume there were no restrictions on who could eat it. So he may not be cruising with the mindset of taking advantage but rather coming from a context where what he’s doing would be seen as unremarkable, expected behavior.

      3. Washi*

        Yeah, a note seems kind of like sending a group email when only one person is doing something wrong. Everyone else has gotten the memo and this guy seems like he would potentially ignore a note anyway.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I think in this case it’s slightly different in that they know “generally who” is taking their snacks, but not “specifically who” the thief is to address it through a directed just to him email. I think that it’s worth trying a note to see if it helps stop the food going missing.

    4. LW2*

      It could be a mistake, but the fact that he doesn’t work on our floor at all, and this has been going on for at least 6 months, suggests to me that it’s not a mistake.

      But alison is right, he may not know its an issue!

      1. The OTHER other*

        I’m curious whether any of you have ever said anything to him? If not, why not, even after 6 months? If so, why didn’t you mention it in the letter?

        Raising your eyebrows and giving each other looks or whispering about him after he leaves are not working strategies. Use your words.

        I worked in a large office that frequently had catered lunches for visitors or certain departments and unfortunately they had to be policed quite a bit because people would wander around, see food, and start helping themselves. It’s a strange attitude but it’s not uncommon. “Hey, we brought these in for us, please stop taking it. And WTH are you, anyway?” should work. If not, follow him until you can find out who he is and get his manager to follow up.

        1. LW2*

          It took us a while to figure out what exactly was happening to be honest. There was a period of time where we did joint morning teas with another team on the same floor, so I think at the beginning people assumed it was from that and he didn’t realise when it was a joint or not joint morning tea.

          It wasn’t until we started noticing that he was coming by our kitchen even when there wasn’t food available and then immediately leaving when he saw there wasn’t food that people started to figure it out.

          I believe someone has mentioned it indirectly to him before, but it didn’t seem to do anything.

          1. Amaranth*

            I’d try a sign and a direct conversation if you see him still grabbing something, and after that see if your manager or team leader can talk to the other manager. Its ridiculous to have to go to that level but…some people are ridiculous.

          2. Selwyn*

            “mentioned it indirectly to him before” – time to stop being indiorect and just say it.

            Next time he shows up, go over and introduce yourself (he’ll hopefully feel obliged to do the same, and now you have a name with which to track him down) and just say it. “Hey, just so you know, the food here is not up for grabs, it’s for X team/event so please don’t help yourself to it. We’ve had a problem before when thre hasn’t been enough left for the team. Thanks!” Delivered as if OF COURSE he understands and will stop, directly but politely.

            If he shows up to mooch food again after that, you can just say “Dude, we already told you, this food is for Team X/Event Y. Stop taking our stuff.” No smile, no softening it, just direct and firm.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              This – sounds like at first the problem wasn’t known, and it also sounds like indirect hints haven’t worked. Time to be politely and firmly direct that there is no free company provided food on this floor.

        2. münchner kindl*

          This just came up yesterday about indirect and direct culture (or ask vs. tell) and again those in favour of indirect point out how it’s “polite” and how direct people must always bow to the wishes of indirect and adapt, while indirect get to sulk if spoken to directly, get to complain and gossip about other people behind their backs while avoiding the “rudeness” of speaking directly to clear things up.

          I fail to see how it’s polite to sabotage colleagues by smearing them behind their backs about unwritten, unspoken rules they are supposed to mind-read; how to keep friends from improving themselves by lying to them instead of “offending” them by giving direct feedback – but it’s dominant culture.

          To me, it’s less about “politeness” and more about manipulating people; because I never see any attempt by people from indirect-speaking culture to try and figure out what might motiviate others – they go straight on to pass negative judgement on them; and then gossip about them behind their back.

          But of course I’m direct speaker, so don’t count.

          1. Len*

            I’m not sure who you’re mad at here or on whose behalf. Some people, and some office cultures, prefer or default to an indirect approach. I imagine that’s frustrating for you when it affects you personally; this one doesn’t.

          2. feral fairy*

            It seems like you are attributing a lot of maliciousness to LW2 that doesn’t seem blatant at all in the context of the letter. There’s no smear campaign going on- this team has events for themselves and they noticed their some of their food was missing. It took a while to figure out who the culprit was, and now that they know, they have been discussing ways to address the issue amongst themselves. LW2 wrote an anonymous letter to AAM asking for advice. What would be messed up is if LW2 tracked down this guy’s boss and reported him before ever trying to be direct, or if they contacted other teams in the company warning them about him. That hasn’t happened though!

            I definitely agree with not taking everyone’s actions in bad faith, but regardless of his motivations, it is pretty rude to go from floor to floor looking for food to take from other teams’ events. If anything, he is the one making assumptions and being indirect by presuming that the food in other offices’ fridges is for him. He could also just ask!

            I get where you’re coming from, but I don’t think that LW2 has done anything wrong and they wrote to AAM specifically seeking advice on how to proceed. I’m not sure that your implication that they’re manipulative and a gossip is warrant.

          3. Jackalope*

            This is a) a pretty uncharitable reading of the conversation, and b) not true in my general experience of this site, or this same conversation in any other corners of the Internet I’ve been in, for that matter. (Obviously YMMV on this one.) The commenters on this site tend to lean much more towards incredible bluntness and there’s not a lot of flex for those people who aren’t comfortable with that (although Alison recognizes that that’s a thing which is helpful).

            Both direct and indirect cultures can be healthy or unhealthy; it’s not just one or the other. An indirect culture can involve gossiping and backbiting, or it can involve everyone finding ways to tell the truth in kind ways that don’t shame someone I’m front of everyone else. A direct culture can involve everyone being super clear in their communication so that all involved have no doubts of what’s going on, or it can involve people bullying others and then justifying their cruel words behind, “I was just speaking my mind.”

            1. Marzipants*

              Well said. Also, re: gossip—the brain is wired to listen to and repeat gossip, it’s a bio-evolutionary advantage. The brain is also wired for social comparison, to pay more attention to negative feedback, and many other things that don’t necessarily serve us now but sure helped us survive for most of human history.

            2. James*

              “Both direct and indirect cultures can be healthy or unhealthy; it’s not just one or the other.”

              Another thing to consider: What you consider direct may be considered indirect by someone else. My wife and I had this problem for a long time. Growing up, if someone said “I’d rather not do X” it was understood to mean “I hate X and would rather have my hand caught in a meat grinder than do X but it wont’ actually kill me so I’ll do it”. Given my wife’s history “I’d rather not do X” was taken as “There’s some stuff I’d prefer, but I have no problem with X”. Took us a long time to work through. Some of my family still consider her incredibly rude–they go nuclear out the gate as far as our culture is concerned. On the other side of the coin, I’ve had conversations around her family that her family didn’t even realize were happening–a look, a tilt of the head, a shared reference slipped into the conversation, all have a lot of meaning for my family, while hers glosses over it and focuses on the specific words used.

              Similarly, if I go up to a driller and say “I’d have done this differently” they don’t take it as a reprimand, but as an opportunity to discuss the various options. In the office “I’d have done that differently” means “Fix this. Now.”

              Neither way is right or wrong–as long as everyone’s on the same page, whatever communication method you use is fine. But it does create frictions until those communications issues are resolved.

        3. Marzipants*

          Because for many, many, many people, directly confronting someone, especially about food, is extremely culturally and emotionally loaded in ways they may not even be able to articulate. It’s very easy to say, “Be direct” from afar. It’s actually quite difficult for many people to look someone in the eye and confront them, especially regarding food/sharing/perceived hospitality. Confrontation is not particularly hard for me, but I recognize that a) the reasons it is not hard for me aren’t particularly happy reasons and b) I am not necessarily the norm.

          1. londonedit*

            Also the OP says that it took them a while to realise what was going on, and unless they catch this guy in the act and have an opportunity to say ‘Oh, sorry – those cakes are for our team morning tea, would you mind not taking them in future?’ then it’s difficult to confront someone. Even then, many people would shy away from actually telling someone they couldn’t have a cake, because they’d worry about seeming petty or stingy or causing arguments over a silly piece of cake.

            1. fhqwhgads*

              Right. It sounds like they know who it is in the sense of them they’ve seen him doing it many times. They don’t know who it is in the sense of knowing what his name is or what department he works for or even what floor he works on. So the only way to tell him is catch him again and tell him right in the moment OR leave on the sign on the table indicating the purpose of the goods.

          2. Washi*

            Yeah it’s not a big mystery or conspiracy against direct people! There can be negative consequences for confronting someone like this, especially over food, which can be fraught but also feel a little petty. I can totally see why the OP is not sure how to address the behavior.

          3. pancakes*

            Of course, but several people here are making a leap from “it would feel really difficult for me to talk to someone about food in this situation” to “people who would find that difficult are excused from trying it and should communicate with signs instead.”

            1. Marzipants*

              What’s wrong with communicating with signs? Again, discounting the validity of collectivist cultural values. Maintaining harmony is as legitimate a cultural goal as “being direct”, and a micro-culture of an office may be more collectivist within a dominant individualistic culture. Defaulting to favoring individualistic cultural traits is evidence of bias.

              1. pancakes*

                It’s often ineffectual, for starters. One guy, who has been identified, is responsible for the problematic behavior the letter writer’s team has identified. He has not been receptive to hints, or indirect communication, about his behavior. Addressing everyone who happens to see the sign rather than the one guy it’s meant for would be rather silly, considering both how low-stakes the conversation needs to be (“Hi, I’m so-and-so, nice to meet you. I’m sorry if it hasn’t been clear but this food is for the such-and-such team.”) and how ineffectual a sign would likely be.

                1. Curious*

                  I really don’t see why a sign has to be either “indirect” or “confrontational.” A sign that says “snacks for Teapot Painting Team 2PM Meeting” is, to my mind, both perfectly clear and direct, but is not confrontational. Leaving those snacks in a closed container or covered by a piece of plastic-wrap would add to the clarity.
                  Now, if someone else takes any of those snacks before 2PM, we have a different problem — but then the offense is entirely clear, and can be addressed quite directly.

                2. Marzipants*

                  Yes, but confronting people is also often ineffectual, in that, for example, it may create long-term social disharmony or resentment.

                3. pancakes*

                  Marzipan, I don’t at all agree that “confronting people” in the sense of having a low-stakes conversation with a coworker about office food norms is often ineffectual, nor that it tends to create lasting resentment. I think you are really overstating the likelihood of the conversation Alison suggested having going badly wrong.

              2. marvin the paranoid android*

                I think it’s fine to communicate indirectly as long as it works, but when it doesn’t work, you’re better off trying to be direct rather than just getting frustrated.

            2. Jackalope*

              I guess I don’t see the communicating with signs option as not direct. The LW knows that at least one person is eating their snacks. LW’s team doesn’t know if there’s anyone else who is doing so, but it’s entirely possible. A sign saying, “LW’s team only,” is both direct and also an option that keeps them from having to do a stakeout in the break room to make sure this dude is the only one eating their snacks.

            3. Paulina*

              My perspective is that communicating with signs first makes a later confrontation easier to do. So it’s not “signs instead”, unless it turns out the sign works. Put a label on the food, and then if the guy takes any it’s a lot easier for whoever happens to spot him taking food to tell him not to, because they’re on firmer footing to do so. The situation is clearer with “maybe he doesn’t know” wiped out as a reason not to act.

              1. pancakes*

                It’s clear enough that he doesn’t know, and it’s unpleasant for everyone to work in an environment where food is labeled with signs, like in the Brady Bunch episode where one of the kids tapes off their side of a shared room. The fact that putting up signs feels easier for someone who is exceptionally conflict-avoidant doesn’t make it a sensible way to communicate.

                1. Jackalope*

                  The “unpleasant for everyone” is situation-dependent. For a tiny office, that may well be the case. Having worked in a large office with a few hundred employees before, at that point signs are the most effective because with the best will in the world, people can mistake what food is for (I’ve had times when we had 2 unit potlucks in one day, for example, and someone grabbed all of the veggie trays for their unit because they didn’t realize that one of them was for the other unit). In that situation, the best option was for everyone to label the food in the fridge (“Unit 12 potluck”, “training breakfast”, etc.) so that no one had to try and guess. Given that the LW’s company has multiple departments and employees on more than one floor, I’m guessing they are closer to that than the 10 employees scenario. So I would still argue that the signs would be the more direct communication here. The LW’s team may still need to talk to this person individually if he keeps on eating their food after the signs are up. But it also tells everyone ELSE in their company not to eat the snacks. Again, they’ve caught this person in the act, but that doesn’t mean he’s the only one who has mistakenly thought that the food is up for grabs.

                2. pancakes*

                  I’ve worked in tiny, medium, and big multinational offices, and I don’t/wouldn’t like seeing that sort of sign in any of them. As a last resort, sure, it’s worth a try, but it isn’t a last resort here – the letter writer has clarified in the comments that they’ve only had indirect communication with this guy. I don’t see a good reason to avoid talking to this guy directly, or to try to delay talking to him. I think it’s pretty telling that the arguments in favor of doing so are all over the map, from “that would be scary for conflict-avoidant people” to “that might not work” to “maybe there are other people taking food besides this guy.” These are silly reasons to put off what should be a brief and straightforward conversation.

          4. Dust Bunny*

            Avoiding doing it because it’s “loaded” is just passing the buck, though. You’re still hoping the problem will magically go away without you having to incur any discomfort, which usually means somebody else will have to incur discomfort for you. So either you want it stopped badly enough to do something about it or it’s more important to you to be comfortable than to have it stop, so pick one.

            I’m the one in my department who often gets stuck “confronting” stuff like this. It’s not that I like or even that I don’t mind confrontation: I don’t like it any more than anyone else does, I’m just apparently more willing to be uncomfortable for awhile to achieve a long-term fix. But it’s getting old and I’m about to start insisting other people pull their weight.

            1. Marzipants*

              If the only way to solve problems was by being explicitly confrontational and direct, I would literally be dead. This is—I’m sorry—a bigoted viewpoint that completely disregards the experience of a) cultures who comprise the plurality of the world’s population and b) the lived experience and history of basically every oppressed group ever.

              1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                You can be direct without being confrontational, and 90% of Alison’s advice is “be direct”. This is a workplace advice blog, in a work dynamic this is often what has to be done and Dust Bunny is absolutely right that the majority of that emotional labor tends to be concentrated around a small group of people whether they want that responsibility or not. It’s exhausting.

              2. pancakes*

                You’re over-egging this idea, and relying on some dodgy logic to do so. You’re not doing the oppressed groups of the world any favors – or anyone, really – by speaking of people as if we’re walking archetypes, or ambassadors for whichever cultural group you’d like to count us / them as. People from cultural backgrounds where indirect communication tends to be seen as more polite or more familiar and comfortable than direct communication do not need to be patronized to this extraordinary degree.

                1. Marzipants*

                  I think you might just be objecting to my directness. I’m not patronizing anyone. In the culture I grew up in, it was 100% necessary to be indirect. Cultures who value social harmony over individual expression tend to be indirect in communication as compared to more individualistic cultures—this is extremely basic sociology/ communication theory. The view I’m seeing expressed in some comments here is that indirect communication is less valid. That is not right, and it’s biased, and I’m not going to apologize for the fact that this is an important issue to me. It’s an important issue to a lot of people, and it’s frankly bizarre that you would assume that I am patronizing the groups to which I refer, rather than belonging to one or more of them.

                2. pancakes*

                  I don’t agree that trying to tie some very broad sociology 101 lesson plans to this letter is a form of being direct, and I think you’re misreading the comments here if you think people rejecting your broad generalizations (and/or the suggestions about posting a sign instead of talking to this guy) are thereby making a negative value judgment about indirect communication. I’m not asking you to apologize for any of this, and wouldn’t consider it meaningful if you chose to. That’s not a thing I’m interested in. My sense that your comments are patronizing is an observation, not an assumption. In other words, an opinion!

              3. Dust Bunny*

                I am never confrontational (or at least, I never start the confrontation; if somebody verbally charges me I’ll meet them but it’s definitely not my natural MO). I am direct. Polite, but direct.

                And whether or not it’s cultural doesn’t change the fact that you can deal with the offending behavior or you can be comfortable, but not both.

                1. Mannequin*

                  In my personal experience as a neuro-divergent person, it’s INDIRECT communication that requires one to have highly developed social skills, so that one can pick up on and correctly interpret the unspoken social rules of whatever culture or society one is interacting with.

                  Direct communication is MUCH easier for those of us who lack those social skills.

    5. MissB*

      Each floor of our building has a kitchen and our floor is well known for sharing leftover food or extra garden produce or whatever. There is a table in the kitchen where folks leave food that is up for grabs.

      One day, someone walked off with a watermelon. Uncut. It was going to be cut up for a meeting and the person that brought it left it on the table and stepped out of the kitchen for a minute.

      Emails flew all over the 10+ story building amongst all the programs but no one fessed up to taking an entire watermelon.

      1. mreasy*

        I have so many follow-up questions – like, where did this person hide the watermelon for the rest of the day? How did they avoid being seen bringing a full watermelon back to their desk?? Perhaps this is the work of a jewel thief who likes to set fun challenges for themself in the off time between heists.

          1. SarahKay*

            I *adore* watermelon. Back in the before-covid times we had some VPs visit our site and they got catered food including an impressive fruit platter which they barely touched. Once they were gone the remaining food was offered to the site at large but still no-one seemed interested in the watermelon. I’d had a couple of pieces when it first came out, and then got most of the rest when the kitchen staff were about to dispose of the leftovers; I was delighted!

            1. Koalafied*

              This is maybe strange, but to me it’s not so much an “indoor” food. I think of it as something cool and refreshing on a hot day, and if it was part of a pre-made plate I would eat it because I don’t dislike it…. but I generally only gravitate towards it by choice if I’m in an environment that’s at least 80(F)/27(C) degrees. At a barbecue or pool party or field day, I’m all about some watermelon though.

      2. Lily*

        To be honest, I can see how that could happen especially as you are known to share extra garden produce etc.
        I twice witnessed the aftermath of “oh no my jacket disappeared” drama in a place intended for free give away clothes. With a lack of a very clear “there is the free stuff and here is the place where the staff keeps their stuff” sign I totally see how it happened. Yet everyone was talking about evil thieves.

        1. Lily*

          Back to the watermelon, I can see someone going into the place known for not only leftovers but also the occasional “free me of my too many garden tomatos”, seeing a watermelon that was (in their minds) obviously brought by someone who had bought/grown to many watermelons and was now giving away one excess watermelon… And after you were the person who accidently Stole the Melon of the Lama Team I see how hiding in shame could be easier, especially if the melon was already consumed or at least cut up.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Yeah – that one sounds like somebody made a mistake and then felt too guilty to own up to it. After all it was produce in the kitchen known for “come take our extra produce.”

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Yep. Clearly tell that guy that the goodies are NOT paid for by the company!
      I expect (hope?) he’ll be mortified….If he doesn’t squirm, he’s a worm.

    7. James*

      In our office we had a system. There was a counter in the break room for “up for grabs” food–food left over from meetings, stuff you wanted to get rid of, Girl Scout cookies (with a basket for the money), pretty much anything you wanted to not have to eat yourself. Buying food for meetings was extremely common, and the folks buying the food always bought a surplus (gotta make sure you have lunch for tomorrow!), so getting rid of food was always a bit of an issue.

      Food going into a meeting was placed on a separate counter. In part, this was to avoid confusion; in part it was because the break room wasn’t near the conference room, so it just made sense to stage the food somewhere else. That’s not to say that the food waiting to go in didn’t get nibbled on, but that was only by folks of a certain rank, was considered the privilege of rank, and they kept it to a descent minimum.

      1. the cat's ass*

        food lying around at work can be fraught. We have a large table in the break room, and if there’s food on it, it’s fair game, enjoy. If it’s on the counter, no go. If there’s a potluck, we put a note on the door saying, “potluck at noon’ and everyone knows to leave the food alone till then.

    8. Ugh*

      Yeah, if it’s in our kitchen, it’s up for grabs. If it’s for something else, it doesn’t make it into the kitchen.

      1. Jennifer*

        I’ve never worked in an office where there was a note that said “free food” every time there were leftovers. Most of the time people just know there’s a section of the breakroom where food that was brought for everyone is set up. If it’s not for everyone, it’s up to the OP to correct people.

      2. Curious*

        I think that the lack of a sign is likely more ambiguous than that. For example, an unopened tray/package should be left alone, and the same for a whole cake. On the other hand, a half-eaten tray of sandwiches/veggies/fruit, particularly in the afternoon? Then, absent a sign, that seems fair game.

    9. LittleMarshmallow*

      We had “Stuffing-gate” at a thanksgiving potluck a few years ago at my office… people are weird about food… needless to say, we always make sure to grab a few extra bags of stuffing for the annual thanksgiving pot luck to avoid such future events.

  3. Wendy*

    LW4, make extra double sure your job doesn’t in any way involve you being obligated to help this other department – even if others at your level are blowing it off. Make sure you and your boss are on the same page, too. It would be lovely to say “sorry, I’m doing this as a mental break from my other duties and Z isn’t helping” but it opens you up to them complaining that you refuse to do work you feel is beneath you and that is a BAD look even if it’s true :-\ It could also open you up to some awkward situations if, say, technically you and your coworkers are supposed to help during downtime – the boss may turn a blind eye to your coworkers not doing their share, but once it becomes A Big Deal then you’ll be the one with egg on your face.

    (FWIW, you should absolutely be able to say no to work below your paygrade! It takes a lot of tact, though, because nobody wants to be told “I’m too good for this work so you have to do it” (even if it makes more sense from a business perspective) and a lot of bosses would rather just tell you to suck it up and do the extra work than have to confront angry subordinates.

    1. Mm*

      I’m also not convinced LW4 should be offering at all unless it’s part of her job. It sounds like she has a super busy period followed by a quiet period. I feel like a lot of people burn themselves out by feeling like they have to put 40 hours in even if the previous week was 60 hours. I’d consider taking a que from her coworkers and enjoying the slow period.

      1. Amaranth*

        True, thats a good point. Though Wendy also makes a great suggestion to find out if this is expected and never spelled out because OP was already participating. They mentioned “as far as they know” the other people with her job don’t pitch in, but it might help to talk to a couple and ask what they do with down time. (Avoiding the boss for the moment so it doesn’t become a formal part of everyone’s job). It might be that the rest of the department are doing training courses or professional development …or watching youtube.

        If they are relying on OP then their own employees are probably overloaded, and they could be pushing off a need for new hires or better prioritizing.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          yeah, it’s perfectly possible that others are doing stuff for other departments during their down time, just not talking about it because it’s not very exciting, and not putting in their full 40 hours either, just coasting along and putting in enough hours to feel like you’ve been productive – if the previous weeks involved 60 hrs, then 20 is probably appropriate.
          Although really, OP should be put on flexi-time. If she’s doing eight 60-hr weeks, she’s worked 160hrs overtime, so she should be allowed to take off four weeks in lieu of being paid overtime. That’s some serious time off, plenty of time to get stuck into a creative project, or travel or whatever.

      2. pbnj*

        Or try doing something lighter related to their job during the month and when other team asks you to do tasks you can honestly have something else to be working on that time and see what happens. Perhaps writing training materials or organizing your files. I do agree OP should consider dialing it back during the off months since they might burn out.

        1. Been There Seen That*

          Agree with pbnj. Maybe find your own tasks, training, desk cleaning to do in your slow time. Don’t offer up yourself to the other department. Focus on some tasks that will benefit you in your job and take a breather. You earned it!
          The other department might not notice the first cycle, but probably will the second. When and if you are approached use the ol’ Allison matter of fact voice and breezily say “I was organizing my llama files and updating the internal spec sheets for teapots”.
          I want to echo advice above about asking your boss, but I have had some doozies and don’t trust them too much anymore. Some bosses would certainly protect me from BS work, but only if I asked them. Other bosses have said “It’s all a priority!” – all 10 things – awesome.

      3. tamarack and fireweed*

        I agree. I do a fair amount of unscheduled extra work for other people’s benefit (and as a researcher, that’s quite normal), but I mostly keep it to sharing stuff I know how to do better, helping another team improve their tools for example, or showing them how to use a plotting library. I might occasionally offer to make a quick plot or map for someone. Or reformat some documents so that they become easier to deal with (preferably, show them how to do it, but sometimes just doing it is ok, too). Or I might pick up something that they don’t get around to doing, like updating a form or a web page.

        What I wouldn’t do is to take regular tasks of their shoulders in a pinch-hitter fashion.

    2. Viki*

      Adding to that, make sure your department doesn’t have an AHOD mentality when trying to refuse work that’s below your pay grade.

      It’s not a good look, if you’re refusing to do Z because Z is something someone lower down the chain does, and finding out your boss will do Z occasionally to help out.

      My senior manager definitely does grunt work that some of our interns/lower level employees do on big projects to help with big requests and to keep pulse with projects and would not look kindly to the leads refusing to do the same grunt work when asked.

      1. Venus*

        But the LW wouldn’t be refusing the same grunt work that everyone else does, they would be refusing to focus on the crappy projects that everyone else is avoiding.

        1. Washi*

          Right, it sounds like the OP is willing to do a similar mix of tasks to what the other department is doing. She’s less willing to become the receptacle for only the most annoying projects while everyone else, whose job this stuff actually is, gets to coast on easy projects.

          I think it might help the OP to be proactive about volunteering – like saying something like “I have a little extra bandwidth this week, I could take on 3 units of PleasantTask and 1 unit of UnpleasantTask.” So it’s really clear what she’s willing to do.

    3. Andy*

      Yet another aspect of tech work is that you have to refuse simple tasks and have to actively work to get more complicated tasks. Everyone has to do this, but I would argue that this maneuvering is especially important if there is any kind of bias against you.

      Because otherwise people will put you into “happily do simple tasks, doesn’t do ambitious tasks” block in their head. And then you will be giving only tasks ambitious people don’t want to do. And those ambitious people dont want to do them, because they are not rewarded in any shape and form. Meanwhile, the tasks that are rewarded go to other people.

      And this sounds like them offloading tasks they dont want to do themselves. Which is something that happens fairly often – insiders in team get to choose tasks, the tasks nobody wants go to outsiders.

      1. Paulina*

        From the other team’s perspective, though, it could make sense for the less ambitious projects to go to the “casual help”, while keeping more interesting and linked things in-house. They’re the ones entrusted with the work, and they’re the ones doing it full-time. OP drops in and out of being able to help. So I could see the tasks directed OP’s way being those that can be taken care of on that basis. However OP says that they’re getting the messy tasks, which might be the opposite of the type of work division that I’m trying to explain.

    4. Mockingjay*

      LW4, be careful about role perception. You are a technical subject matter expert. But other department views you as their “fixer.” Do you want to spend your career cleaning up other employees’ messes? Or do you want to be known for your outstanding work in complex X?

      Companies like fixers – very useful and cost effective! – and tend to keep them in place, rather than promoting or offering new opportunities. Other department will never hold their own people accountable if you keep coming to save the day.

      1. catcommander*

        Yeah, I worry there’s a danger of LW4 becoming the ‘expert’ on ugly data entry jobs and then one day suddenly owns them. All that has to happen is for the wrong person on the other team to get sick, retire, or quit.

      2. hamsterpants*

        Gosh yes. There was a woman at my old company who was the fixer. She was constantly given — and doing — work that was well below her level by more ambitious guys who were thrilled to have her do the grunt work while they worked on more prestigious things. She claimed to be happy to do it, and her boss did love her for it, but she also has been stagnant for 10+ years. As a bonus, I had to do the work to train all these guys that no, female =/= grunt work minion.

  4. Anti-snack thievery*

    Everytime I hear stories like the snack stealing non-colleague, I want to cringe – who would do such a thing? Very entitled, if you ask me! It’s almost as if this snack thief was never taught manners. Life-lessons are in short supply!

    Regarding how you deal with it, I’m not sure. It is a thorny issue! Carrying on to them won’t achieve much. However, neither will staying silent! Actively managing the situation is probably the best course of action. Really letting the culprit know why what they are doing is inappropriate will work best in the long term. Dealing with situations head on always beats letting problems simmer away unnoticed.

    1. Pennyworth*

      Some people just have an attitude that they are entitled to take whatever they can get away with. I worked with a manager once who used to take home boxes of office supplies and when we asked him why he basically said they were there for the taking so why not?

    2. James*

      It could be genuine confusion. If someone left a cake with a slice taken out of it on the counter in my office break room folks wouldn’t think twice about taking a slice–the norm is, food on that counter is up for grabs. If the person who put the cake there got offended I would be mortified, sure, but also very confused. It’s like getting a ticket for running a green light, or getting fired because of a glowing annual review–somehow communication has broken down.

      1. TimesChange*

        Yes, we have a communal area where people leave food. Sometimes they include a “please eat” sign, but not always. Sometimes it’s from individuals, sometimes it’s from a company event. Usually if something is for a group of people, it is labeled with who it’s for if it’s sitting out (like, “for the mentor meeting”). In our case, if you set something out without a note, it might get eaten by random passer-bys. Not because anyone’s particularly greedy but because we don’t really have a hard and fast rule on notes/locations. But we have several teams that don’t work together intersecting.

        But some people are entitled. Some people are hungry and hit an “eat now” zombie mode (not an excuse, just a thing). Some people are oblivious.

        Whenever I get to thinking people can’t possibly be that oblivious, I think of my friend who has a blind spot to picking up her trash/dishes. Like when we’re at a cafe type restaurant where you bus your own table and when she leaves, she often leaves her empty cup. She is absolutely a kind person and generally conscientious and definitely not leaving things before because it’s beneath her to bus them. I think those empty items just blink out from her mind for some reason. Occasionally I’ve asked if something was hers (because I wasn’t sure if it should be tossed or she might want it) and she’ll be perfectly, “Oh yes, thank you” and takes/disposes.

        1. LittleMarshmallow*

          Our admin that plans our potluck events would always get a sacrificial bag of chips and guacamole for the inevitable pre-potluck grazing. My team is very food motivated… our managers know this… we joke about the sacrificial chips and dip.

      2. Charlotte Lucas*

        It sounds like there are separate breakrooms, though. My organization is set up like that, & it would be weird & rude to go into another area’s breakrooms & eat their food.

        Notes should help, but this guy sounds like he’s looking for free food.

        (And it isn’t always a misunderstanding. I’ve worked somewhere that a co-worker brought in a cheesecake for the evening shift. It was left in a closed container in the office fridge – clearly not food for the masses, & we didn’t run to company-supplied treats. When she opened it up, someone had cut themselves a piece out of the middle! After that, we would either leave stuff like that in our cars on cold days or wrap it in plastic bags & packing tape.)

      3. Paulina*

        It’s not his team’s kitchen, though. There are a lot of unwritten norms in communal kitchens, but they’re dependent on and known to the group in question, and he’s not part of it. He doesn’t know the food isn’t up for grabs, but he doesn’t know that it is either, because it’s not his environment.

      4. fhqwhgads*

        This is totally reasonable, but also the one hiccup is it’s not his office breakroom. It’s someone else’s break room. It sounds like this office is pretty divvied up by department/floor. So his team has its own kitchen/breakroom and he’s going to multiple (every?) floor and checking out alllllll the breakrooms. I can still see if he thinks it’s up for grabs for any employee, he’s not exactly being nefarious. But he is putting more effort into seeking out snacks than just “hey someone left this in my office’s breakroom”.

    3. Mockingjay*

      It’s really not a hard issue to deal with. A simple conversation: “hey, you probably didn’t know, but those snacks are for Team meeting only. If there are leftovers we’ll put them out with a sign and you can help yourself then.” Then follow-up with signs – mark untouched goods as reserved for the Team meeting. If you have extras, put them out with a sign – Help Yourself!

    4. Shark Whisperer*

      I’ve posted about this on here before, but I used to work in a department that encouraged other departments to come steal our snacks. I guess it wasn’t really stealing since we wanted to share. Our department has some budget for snacks and members of our department would bring stuff in so there was always plenty of food. We also were in a wired part of the building where you could have easily thought our offices was just a storage area. As a result, people never casually stopped by unless they needed something, but having casual conversations with other departments was really helpful to our department. Let’s say it was a llama grooming company and we were the soap purchasing department. Others would let us know if they needed more soap or if one of the soaps was really bad, but things like a customer didn’t like the smell of this one or this new soap doesn’t get stains out of white fur well didn’t usually get passed on formally. By luring others to our offices with the promise of food, we got the informal information we needed to do our jobs better.

      I mention this because it’s funny for me to imagine someone coming from my company to basically any other company and thinking “this department wants to share their snacks with me.”

  5. Nick Mastley*

    Never before have I heard such disrespectful behaviour before, regarding the snack thief. Gonna go out on a limb and say that this thief really hasn’t gotta a grasp if common decency. You can’t wait for them to learn such things, you might need to teach them! Up to you how you approach this, but something needs to be said.

    Never in my life would I think about stealing snack from another team, it just seems plain rude. Gonna go out and say it, it seems plain entitled. Let each to their own in the workplace, but there has to be some common manners. You really meet all types in workplaces like this. Down with this kind of entitled behaviour!

    1. WellRed*

      Are you new here? This doesn’t even scratch the surface of snack their bad behavior. Search the archives for fun ; )

      1. Expiring Cat Memes*

        Yeah wow. I’m trying to picture how vastly Nick Mastley’s mind will be blown when they find out about people who will get you fired if the food they steal from you is too spicy, who demand you cook for 2o of their friends during your interview, dump cups of their own urine into the kitchen sink during your lunch break, or demand you donate your liver to their brother (not snack related).

        And that’s without starting on the fish microwavers.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      This could just be confusion on the part of the snack thief. LW never says that any of this food is labeled.

      Try to calm down. If you get into this high a state of dudgeon over a few stolen cookies, you’ll probably have a heart attack when you read about the boss who would give their employee time off to attend their college graduation. Or the pee sink boss.

      1. Cake or Death?*

        He “confusedly” wanders into several different department kitchens to look for food? Taking food left out in his own departments’ kitchen could be considered a mistake. Actively going to other floors, into the kitchens of other departments and then walking off when he doesn’t see any food left out, isn’t something he’s doing because he’s confused. He’s going to other kitchens to take food without having any idea if it’s left out for anyone, and he’s never bothered to ask.

      1. banoffee pie*

        I used to do that. Then I realised I was putting up with too much crap from people who actually were malicious. Hopefully that’s not the case usually, but it can be. The wake-up call was when I almost got my ass kicked by someone who I thought was a friend. This snacking guy sounds very determined, even running round other floors looking for food. I think he must be either very entitled/selfish, or actually hungry, which I have a lot of sympathy for.

        1. Laura*

          I did think of the letter where someone lived off muffins in the breakroom, I think it was? And the very touching update.

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

    I think the real problem isn’t that the work is beneath her, but the other department are deliberately saving up the difficult, non-enjoyable tasks to offload on to her. (I got the sense that Z isn’t really a different type of thing than X and Y, but rather if it was data entry, the Z would be the forms with horrible handwriting, loads of extra sheets of paper as opposed to the neatly written ones with minimal information on them).

    If they are shirking their actual workload that’s something the boss of the other team needs to know about (probably via OPs boss). Particularly if there are any metrics associated with their job like “number of forms entered” in the data entry example (because horribly written ones with lots of extra sheets take much longer and are more difficult than ‘nice’ ones, which would reflect in the metrics). I realise the work isn’t data entry exactly, but sounds like something allied to it.

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

      Sorry, this was intended to be a reply to someone talking about the perception that OP sees the work as ‘beneath’ her and I failed to nest it properly.

      1. Stitching Away*

        There can be a real issue where people are unable to distinguish the difference between someone saying or believing some work is beneath them versus not a good use of their time. The two are extremely different.

        I mean, if an employer wants to pay someone, say, $50 an hour to do something that could be done by someone they’d pay $20 an hour to do, they are free to do that, but it’s a massive waste of resources.

    2. infopubs*

      Or possibly, Z is crappy work that is really low priority. If I worked in the other department, I would think it was really odd that someone was volunteering to do this work, and I wouldn’t count on them to do it next month/quarter. So I’d off load work onto them that doesn’t really matter if/when it gets done. Kind of like how interns can be assigned weird and meaningless work because that’s easier than actually relying on them to finish something vital to the work flow.

    3. Expiring Cat Memes*

      Lazy work-shirkers was the first thing that came to my mind too. (But maybe that’s just because I’m frustrated with picking up the slack for a couple on my team who’d rather spend an hour whinging about a job/client than the 10 minutes required to, you know, actually do the job.)

      It sounds like they’re saving all the shittiest work for LW because she’s never complained about it before and they therefore expect to continue getting away with it. If it were me, I’d either start dragging my feet on volunteering my help for them (can LW offer help elsewhere first?) or go with Alison’s direct option.

      I reckon a “Z’s not my thing” or “I can do X or Y but not Z” would elicit an “oh but you’re so GREAT at Z!” or “but we’ve always relied on your unique skills in handling Z!”. I vote for calling out the BS (with a heads up to LW’s manager).

      1. TimesChange*

        Or they’ve convinced themselves that maybe OP enjoys “the challenge” — oh, this is a gnarly one — OP is so good at straightening these out, let’s save it for her.

      2. AthenaC*

        Yep – I’m pretty cynical at this point in my career for the same reason. Seems like all the gnarly stuff that people whine about ends up on my plate when it’s due, like, TODAY and there’s no time left to teach / coach anyone else to do it. (Question: How do you think I got so good at this stuff? Because I just dove in and did it instead of whining.)

        For LW#4: Yes you should absolutely figure out how to get that department to do their own work, using whatever scripts are plausible in your circumstances: “Hmm … this looks like something your department is better positioned to handle.” Or “I do have capacity to help, and I’m happy to do so, but not enough capacity for this specific project.”

        If neither of those will work, happy to help think of some other ideas. Good luck!

    4. Colette*

      Or that’s the work that ends up at the bottom of their list (because it’s low priority, tedious, and difficult), so that’s what gets handed off.

    5. Daisy-dog*

      I worked in a data entry adjacent role. We were absolutely measured on how many items were “closed” in our scheduled shift. There were some certain items that us in the know could tell – maybe by the policy number or the category – would be difficult and time-consuming. We weren’t playing an intentional game of hot potato – I personally would avoid it until I had a few hours of the other things first. If someone else started working in that same queue at some point during the day, that item would be at the top.

  7. Lily*

    LW2: When I was in (U.S.) graduate school, it was understood that snacks were an unofficial part of our compensation, and frankly sometimes was the only way to get something to eat that wasn’t ramen. Your thief might have learned something similar and be having trouble learning new norms. Or they might have food insecurity issues. Or, you know, they may just have no manners. I realize that this can’t continue, but ….

    1. tamarack and fireweed*

      Roaming grad (and undergrad worker/intern) students are a thing. If there are any in the LW’s organization then food that appears to be out for grabs needs explicit labeling. In fact, when someone has leftover food it gets taken to the kitchens closest to the student offices and then a call is put out.

      In any event, this is clearly (to me) the right case for polite but clear instructions to the offender.

  8. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

    For Question 1, I’m unclear on how far the park was from the office, but if it was quite close by then I wouldn’t think much of this, TBH. I often take walks through a nearby park on my lunch break — if I knew a colleague I was friendly with was there, I might swing by and say hello.

    In fact, if someone had just spent several weeks talking about how they were going to be having a party in a park very near our workspace, I might feel socially obligated to make an effort to say hello.

    The gift is weirder.

    1. Laure*

      Honestly, I’m on the husband’s side on that one…a big party, in a public park, that the husband has talked about at work, sure, why not go and see, it sounds like fun! And there’s a kid involved, of course I’m going to bring a gift to the kid.
      It seems like a one-off, special circumstances thing to me nothing to worry about.

      1. I heart Paul Buchman*

        I agree. I wouldn’t think twice if someone I knew dropped in to a park party. The more the merrier (a pre covid philosophy that sounds odd now!).

        I think it is unusual to make such a big deal about this. Is there another reason you don’t like the employee?

      2. The Other Dawn*

        I agree. I don’t see anything creepy or nefarious about it. Lots of companies have teams who are friendly, especially if they’ve been working together a long time.

      3. BRR*

        I work in an office that genuinely likes each other. It has the vibe that people who say “we’re like a family” think they have (we’ve never said we’re like a family though). This wouldn’t be odd to me at all in my office. Certainly at other places I’ve worked this would be odd, but it’s possible this isn’t that strange.

        1. unpleased*

          I have a similar work dynamic, and the employee’s behavior would still be weird. We talk about upcoming events all the time, but I never feel compelled to attend anything I am not explicitly invited to, nor do I buy gifts for anyone’s kids unless it is a significant reason like celebrating the actual birth.

      4. Paperdill*

        Yup – I am absolutely on you side with this one. It’s not like it was in a private residence or that the colleague started eating all the dairy bread and lamingtons – they just stopped by, saw it was a bit crazy and decided not to involve themselves and left a gift cos they’re a sweet person who does that.

      5. EPLawyer*

        But it wasn’t just a party. It was his kid’s birthday party. It was not work related. It was a family event. You don’t just show up at places you aren’t invited. Even if its a public park. A party in a public park is still a planned event and the planners laid out how they wanted it to be. You don’t get to decide you are adding yourself to the party.

        1. Valancy Snaith*

          There’s a lot of room for different understandings of this. I have attended kids’ birthday parties where a good number of the guests were friends of the parents (because let’s face it, a kid party is boring unless you are also a kid), or “we know this family from church and they stopped by” or a neighbour stopped by to say hey and wish the kid a good day. Especially in this case, with 50+ attendees at a public park, it sounds a little chaotic, and there are many, many ways people celebrate that are not cut-and-dry “if you’re not on the list don’t come.” It’s not a black-tie wedding.

          1. londonedit*

            And it’s not as if this person did try to add themselves to the party – they just stopped by and dropped off a gift. It’s not like they ate a load of food or tried to join in with the party games or anything. They popped to a large event in a public park, dropped off a gift, and left. And then she mentioned to the OP’s husband that she’d dropped by, but he didn’t see her – which is quite normal, as otherwise they might have been wondering where the extra gift came from, or which Jane had left it, or whatever. I don’t see anything hugely unusual or overstepping in any of that.

            1. Despachito*

              “And it’s not as if this person did try to add themselves to the party – they just stopped by and dropped off a gift. ”

              I understand that she just stopped by, said hi, dropped off a gift, and left. I assume the gift was rather a token than something big, and if they are “like family”, it is not unlikely that the boss had brought the kid to the office before and she knew him/her.

              I’d say something along “Jane, little Fergus thanks you for the bubble blower, that was kind of you”, and next time be more careful what I divulge at work. Telling her off for coming would be unkind and creating much more drama than this deserves. Also the thought of her trying to ingratiate herself… in a normal sane environment, this would probably take much more than one measly toy.

          2. pancakes*

            Yeah, park parties are not that formal where I am, whether family-centric or not. The idea of having a park party, much of the time, is that it’s easy for people to drop by.

    2. Dahlia*

      I actually don’t think the gift is that weird. I keep a small stock of small gift items I got on sale for super cheap for giftgiving occasions, including kid stuff. Pulling a pack of crayons or something out of my closet wouldn’t mean any extra work or money for me.

  9. ResuMAYDAY*

    I’m so glad Alison pointed out that no one really knows their spouse at work. I’m wondering if the LW is really as creeped out by the employee as she says she is, or if she’s upset at her husband for creating a work environment where this would be possible in the first place. (Sorry LW – I hope that didn’t come out harsh. Not intended!)
    Clearly, people who are strangers to her (but not her husband) have inroads to her family that she isn’t comfortable with – completely understandable. I think that’s possibly the root of the problem here, having gone through something fairly similar with my husband years ago.
    LW, if this is the case, consider talking to your husband about clamping down on the personal talk at work where your kids are concerned. The problem here is your family-style husband, not a creeper employee.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I know what my partner is like at work because we met at work ;-)
      For the past 27 years he’s been working with a bunch of his Mid-Eastern compatriots and they have very close relationships with their clients, often staying late to have drinks together, even going skiing together! I don’t go, because I don’t like skiing and also because I don’t want to have to act the “gracious female partner” for a whole week. However many colleagues and clients have said to me that they love our children like their own, that they’d do anything to help us out. I’m not sure how much this is just cultural hyperbole combined with an emptied bottle of whisky and how much it is true, but either way, I find it totally over the top. Of course I haven’t forged such very strong bonds since I duck out of the skiing trips. I consider the friends we spend Christmas with as my go-to people when I need help, rather than my partner’s colleagues and clients. But any employee of theirs dropping off a present at a party in a park would get a heap of brownie points from her bosses. (They do also reward the most competent workers)

    2. None*

      I came here to say something similar. I’m wondering if LW is feeling like her husband needs to chill on personal talk/friendliness at work. Admittedly, I had to have a talk with my own husband, about 15 years ago, when he was a younger and less experienced manager. I really questioned his professionalism when he mentioned some of their conversations.

    3. liquidus*

      “none of us know what our spouses are really like at work”

      I don’t know why, but this made think of the Jim Gaffigan joke:

      “You ever mix two different groups of friends? That can be stressful. You always feel like you have to prep ’em. You’re like, ‘These people over here, uh, they don’t think I drink. And don’t be thrown by my British accent.'”

    4. Mockingjay*

      I found out what my husband is like as a manager when we both worked remotely during COVID. Good lord, this man violated every office norm and personal boundaries that Alison recommends. Ya know what? His team functioned just fine. When he wanted to retire a few months ago, they begged him to stay on as a consultant. (Which he did.)

      Let it go, LW. It’s not really a problem and if it is, your husband can deal with it. That’s his job.

  10. Andy*

    LW #4 – Volunteer additional work like that often becomes expected/taken for grated of the person doing it rather then rewarded. It is unfair and odd, but it is fairly common dynamic. Unfortunately, helping others in downtime requires careful communication so that you dont end up punished.

    > How do I say “I don’t want these projects” without sounding like a pompous brat?

    Don’t say it pompously. “I am glad to be helping you, but I wont do anymore.” Also, good trick for downtimes in tech work is to use them to learn things or do things that improve your career. You can afford being picky here and you cant afford to stop learning. So, take advantage of some of that downtime and clock it to learning new things and reading. And volunteer to help only with things you have interest in helping with.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I think the sporadic trainings is a good way to train this other department out of offloading their least fun/biggest messes off onto you. Like a bunch of other comments have said though, I would clear all of it with your department manager (during one of those down periods first) so that you don’t get in trouble for not helping.
      Boss may also have some trainings for you to do as well (but not think you have bandwidth available because of helping other department).

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Also, good trick for downtimes in tech work is to use them to learn things or do things that improve your career. You can afford being picky here and you cant afford to stop learning.

      This is what I came here to say. I wish more workplaces would normalize the salary workers learning and working on gaining new/improving already existing skills on their downtime; as opposed to loading them with enough busywork to keep them at their desk and working on something, anything at all, to fill their 40 hours.

  11. June*

    An employee quickly dropping off a present in a public park at a party which Boss has been talking about for days does not alarm me.

    Boss should inform her that gifts were not expected.

    This is not a stalking type situation.

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a sucking up situation either. Some people just enjoy buying gifts for people and enjoy doing little ‘random acts of kindness’ – I can imagine the employee just thinking it would be a nice thing to do and not having any sort of ulterior motive.

      1. Roscoe*

        I find it quite sad that doing a random act of kindness is now looked upon as creepy. This wasn’t some stranger (at least to the husband). It was someone who he interacts with for 40 hours a week. She didn’t stop by their home, it was a public park. And then she came by quickly and left. But yeah, lets go clutching our pearls about it.

        1. banoffee pie*

          Yeah sometimes I consider doing things like this (well I probably wouldn’t have bothered bringing a gift in this exact scenario, but you know what I mean) but I never actually do it because it would be seen as creepy. Like they think my next step is doing a home invasion and kidnapping them all or something lol.
          I supppse it’s different it LW ever had got a creepy vibe from this colleauge of her husband’s. It’s hard to say from behind a screen, I don’t like discouraging people from looking out for themselves either.

          1. pancakes*

            Why would anyone think that unless they were at least a bit paranoid? And how is someone side-eyeing their partner’s coworker for dropping off a gift at a child’s birthday party looking out for themselves? Not having the party in a public park in the first place, ok, I can see how someone worried about the park for whatever reason would feel that is looking out. Fretting about it afterwards isn’t, though.

            1. banoffee pie*

              Oh yeah, I agree the gift drop-off was probably completely benign. It was just a tiny caveat in case the wife had ever had concerns about the co-worker. I think it’s more likely she’s a bit peeved about how close her husband is to his colleagues (sorry OP!).

        2. Jennifer*

          I just think people get nervous when their child is involved, and this is a person that the OP doesn’t know. Maybe overreacting a bit, but I get where they are coming from. It seems there may be more going on that wasn’t in the letter. I think the bottom line is there needs to be a conversation with the husband about boundaries.

            1. Jennifer*

              True, but I get why the OP thought it was strange for a person that was uninvited to show up at an event for her child. The fact that it was at a public park doesn’t make it a free for all for anyone and their mama to show up.

              1. pancakes*

                Sure, but a husband’s coworker isn’t “anyone and their mama.” They’re not a stranger, let alone a stranger who brought a guest.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            See, these hints of “she came to my child’s party” were what bothered me the most in the letter. That’s hinting at an even worse accusation than “people will think there’s an inappropriate relationship”.

            Like, no, coworker did not come to the party with the intent to kidnap all fifty children, ok? I’m with the commenters saying that boss had probably talked so much about the party and the time/location of it, that she thought he was wanting them to stop by and leave gifts. (My reaction to that would’ve been “lol no way in heck am I doing that”, but their workplace has this “we are a family” dynamics, so who even knows what that entails.)

            1. American Job Venter*

              Like, no, coworker did not come to the party with the intent to kidnap all fifty children, ok?

              That’s what you think, and then she pulls out her flute and her pied jacket…

              (I kid, I kid. I completely agree with you.)

        3. Despachito*

          “I find it quite sad that doing a random act of kindness is now looked upon as creepy. ”

          These were my thoughts, too.

      2. Gifts are bad.*

        Gifting attitudes vary massively and some people are extremely passionate about it. From non-gifters even to family, to everyone must receive a gift from me regardless of boundaries. Probably comes from childhood.

    2. Parties are fun*

      Agree. This is not bizarre to me at all. Especially is boss talks about his kids at work/shared stories etc.

    3. allathian*

      Yeah, I agree. I would feel differently if the employee had showed up at their home with a huge gift, but in a public park, with a small gift clearly intended for the kid, no biggie. Especially if the boss had been talking about the party for days.

      It wouldn’t occur to me to do this myself, but that’s mainly because I don’t particularly enjoy the company of children in general, in spite of being a parent myself. Obviously I love my son, and I do enjoy the company of my friends’ kids when I see them (before the pandemic we used to have coffee-and-snacks evenings at each others’ houses, usually with whole families present), but kids in general? Not really. My coworkers’ kids or grandkids? Not really. I’m also very happy that my son’s outgrown class birthday parties, organizing a party for 15 or so kids and hosting it used to leave me exhausted for days, even when my husband did at least half of the work.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        My thinking was that she lives next to that park, and may have misconstrued boss’s telling the team about the party in that park, as a subtle hint to stop by and, uh, pay her respects, for lack of a better term? Granted, this isn’t something I would do. But the letter seems to jump to some really sinister conclusions where I think there are none to be made. Inappropriate relationship? Great, now I’m having the visual in my head of Employee singing “Happy Birthday, dear Wakeen’s kid”, Marilyn Monroe-style, in the middle of a public park.

    4. Dark Macadamia*

      I can see her hearing a lot about the party and feeling obligated to drop by, like “oh I’m working that day but I should make an appearance.” Then she shows up and there’s no one else from work, her boss doesn’t even greet her, and she’s like “crap this was a mistake” and leaves. But she’d already put the gift on the table so now she feels weird that they’re going to find a gift from her without having actually seen her at the party, so she has to awkwardly tell the boss about it at work and treat it like a funny anecdote instead of an embarrassing mistake. And now LW thinks she’s a creep for misreading the situation in a workplace with a lot of blurred boundaries!

      1. banoffee pie*

        Yeah if that is the way it happened, I feel for her. She may even have thought the boss was hinting that colleagues should drop in to the party.

  12. Quidge*

    Most of the snack-thief comments so far are assuming entitlement, or at best extreme cheeky-git energy, but I can’t help thinking about that LW who was literally living off office cupcakes and leftovers because their budget was so tight.

    Especially with the extra detail in the comments about touring kitchens on different floors at high-likelihood-of-leftovers times.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      In which case Alison’s advice to assume they simply didn’t know, and to inform them kindly that the cupcakes are not up for grabs, still holds.
      Unless it’s an entry-level worker or intern, I doubt very much that it’s the case.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I will say that hunger can take lots of forms/shapes so while more than likely it’s just an entitlement issue, it probably is a kindness to remember that some people are still really struggling coming out of the never ending plague.

      1. banoffee pie*

        If he really needs the food I’d be inclined to let him have it (I mean let him eat it, not yell at him. That was unclear!). My morals about stealing would be gone within about two hours of feeling hungry to be honest.

    2. anonymous73*

      So if you’re struggling financially, it’s okay to take other people’s food at the office? I’m not in the “entitlement” camp – it could be a misunderstanding. At my last job anything left in the kitchen was leftover and up for grabs (although the person taking a slice of something that hadn’t been touched is not okay unless specified that it was up for grabs). But common decency has flown out the window here, and they should at least ask if it’s okay to eat the food and not just assume.

      1. banoffee pie*

        I didn’t say it was OK, I said I might do it ;) I never claimed to be a saint. To be honest I would probably just ask if I could have some of the food, if I was struggling that much. Can’t imagine the people I kn0w saying no.

    3. MsClaw*

      It also might just be unclear. For example, in my office if you put something on the kitchen counter it is assumed to be up for grabs, unless you put some sort of note on it. If Snacker is used to a similar environment, it could be innocent.

      My suggestion would be to keep snacks on your desk/in your office until time to use them. Or put some sort of index card near/on the snack platter that says ‘reserved for team x’ or something like that.

  13. Roscoe*

    #1 while this isn’t something I’d do, I also find your reaction a bit over the top. Stopping by a public place that he discussed at length isn’t exactly a creepy thing to do. She didn’t stalk him. Maybe she is just a nice person, maybe she is a kiss ass, maybe a combination of both. But if he wanted this event to be private, he wouldn’t have given everyone a date, time, and location of the event and continually discussed it.

    Also, maybe you should let your husband handle his own job without making a bunch of judgements about him needing coaching.

  14. Garlic Knot*

    LW5, I work in a country where it is the norm to hire a person for something specific and once they get past the initial stage have them do whatever they are told regardless of their official role. This is accompanied by comments like, “foreigners only want to do what’s on their job description!” Super hard to advocate for promotions, because “this was an order from the company, wasn’t it?” or “it’s not as if you gained a new skill, you already had it (even though it isn’t what we hired you for) or a bunch of other excuses. Either your manager is willing to sit down with you and do actual performance management, or good luck getting around that, you are on your own.

  15. Socially Awkward*

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Ask A Manager gets a letter from a new employee saying she thought her boss invited everyone to his kid’s birthday party, but he ignored her when she arrived. Now she’s embarrassed that she maybe misunderstood?

    1. Tuckerman*

      Right? If someone tells me the date, time, location, an event, that sounds like an invitation, especially in a public place.

      1. EPLawyer*

        But did they give the date, time and location or did they say “Oh man we finally settled the details of the party it was sooo hard to do. We decided to have it on the park on the Saturday after the kid’s birthday.” If the employee already knew the kid’s birthday from Boss having said before “Gotta get home early tonight, its kiddo’s birthday” she was able to piece together the details.

        1. banoffee pie*

          It would be nice to hear her side of it. Sounds like she felt a bit awkward because when the husband didn’t see her and seemed busy with the kids she just walked on by and didn’t even bother giving the gift. Maybe she realised it looked a bit suck-upy to be there and just left it alone?

        2. Tuckerman*

          Maybe? But would someone think, I have no clue what time the party is, but I’ll go buy a present, head over on my lunch break just in case it’s going on right now. I think it’s much more likely she knew the time, and that’s why she arrived with a present. But who knows. Stranger things have happened!

      2. Jennifer*

        Really? That seems odd to me. When I was planning my wedding I had just stated a new job and I’m sure I mentioned the date and location in casual conversation, but no one understood that as an invitation. It sounds like this office has big time boundary issues.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Well, a wedding is generally understood to be a formal-printed-invitations affair. A kid’s birthday party in a public park is much more likely to be something you’re invited to verbally.

          1. Jennifer*

            Very true, that was a bad example. But I’ve had many conversations about weekend plans where people mentioned the day and time of certain events or I did and no one thought it was an invitation unless someone specifically told the person they were inviting them. That’s very strange in my opinion. That shows the culture in this office is off and there need to be better boundaries.

        1. American Job Venter*

          I come from a “guess” family, so when I was young I might have thought the boss was hinting that we should come and bring a gift. I know better now but I can see it as plausible that someone could interpret the work conversations that way without being a potentially dangerous predator.

    2. cmcinnyc*

      It sounds like the husband’s office has boundaries issues (drama + “family” vibe always = boundary issues) so I am giving the woman a pass as well. This might have seemed normal to her? Or an expectation? I get why the LW is less than thrilled about it but it’s all on the husband and his workplace and LW just isn’t part of that. She can ask him to draw better boundaries around their kids, though–that is indeed her business.

  16. Policy Wonk*

    RE: the snack thief – where I work things left in the common kitchen are up for grabs. Unless you are bringing items that need to be refrigerated, don’t put food in the kitchen unless people can help themselves. (yes, it is hard to have a cake sitting on a bookshelf or in a cubicle, but at least you know it will be available for the party.) And label things in the refrigerator. As we’ve seen on this site, labels don’t always stop people, but it’s worth a try.

    1. WellRed*

      I agree. Even though a whole, covered cake us not something I’d think is up for grabs, keeping it in a non public area is a simple fix.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Same. When we were in the office, if there were food items sitting out on a table in the breakroom, unless they had a sign next to them saying that they are for the X group, or for the Y meeting, they were there for public consumption. Come to think of it, that’s been the case everywhere I’ve worked.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      But it sounds like everyone else in the the LW’s organization understands their own snack mores.

  17. :D*

    “I shed tears over a company that does not have clear job descriptions or goals” – … welcome to my area of government!

    1. Joan Clayton*

      Oh man, THIS!
      I started working for the government, based on the job description posted, I get here and I’m not doing ANYTHING in the description. I still love it, but I wish I could be doing the job I applied for.

  18. ecnaseener*

    LW3, if your dad is the type of person who tends to hear what he wants to hear, consider that the conversations could’ve even gone like this:

    “LW3 tells me things are going well. I hope that means you’ll be hiring them full time soon and pay them what they’re worth!”
    “Ahh, yes Mr. Dad, LW3 is doing great. I don’t know when we’ll have a full time opening, but–”
    “Great! Bye now. I’ll tell my kid to expect that raise.”

    Pomposity exaggerated for effect. Probably. :P

    1. Opaque_Chatterbug*

      I feel for LW3, b/c I’ve had this exact issue with my own dad. He’ll hear what he wants and then gets irritated with me/siblings (not his contacts) when I’m/we’re not brought on internal or something.

      Advice to LW3, if your dad is anything like mine and overly-nosey, aim to get a bit of professional distance over time. I side stepped and just started doing the same work I loved in an industry that Dad didn’t have contacts in.

      (I no longer take creative work almost purely because of my dad somehow getting involved and inadvertently sabotaging my contracts. I just stick to my CRM field now)

    2. Smithy*

      Right after undergrad, my career was kickstarted by what I call soft nepotism via my mother. Ultimately in evaluating the jobs I got or how I was viewed professionally, the line between my work and fluffing due to the relationship with my mother would always be blurred.

      In terms of building an early professional resume, I entirely understand that this was an early launch I likely could not have gotten otherwise. But it muddied certain waters and was not a clear professional trajectory. It was not in an industry nor was my mom such a VIP where riding her coattails was an option. Another lesson learned was that because I was not in the exact same field as a mom and as she was so much more senior, she was not good mentor nor networking contact. And by hearing from her about our shared industry, I was not building contacts or networks with peers or mid-senior professionals who would have known more relevant to my actual job and team.

      In no way does the OP need to beat themselves up for taking this kind of job or for thinking their dad might still have insight. But the gray and fuzzy spaces left by soft nepotism are why it’s so much better used as good way to begin or pad a resume, and then look for a way out at the soonest appropriate time.

    3. Formerly Ella Vader*

      Also, LW3, it’s not great that any messages about your work are going through your dad. Your best case scenario is that they’re happy with you, they share that with your dad before they share it with you, and they eventually follow through with offering you longer-term work – but that means that you’re in a situation where your bosses are in the habit of sharing private information about your career with your father. That’s inappropriate and it’s harder to change the longer it goes on.

      Would you be able to talk to your dad about this and ask him to deflect, be vague, and not engage with their chat? “Oh, my daughter and I don’t talk about work stuff. I’m proud of all my kids.” or whatever. If he doesn’t see any need to distance himself like that because they aren’t saying anything specific or private, well, that’s useful for you to note. There was no “promise”; there was a vague polite handwave.

      Mind you, there could be a situation where a boss doesn’t want to say something to you directly but wants to get that info to you back-channel. Like, “right now we’re on a hiring freeze so we aren’t making offers to any of the short term people but if the freeze gets lifted she’d be the first choice”. It would be super unprofessional for him to tell that to your dad in order to get the message to you, and it would make you feel uncomfortable about moving the roundabout communication to a direct response which would probably be his intent. So you need to not put much weight on anything you hear that way.

      Anyway, I agree with AAM that it is okay to initiate a more direct conversation about how you’re doing, what else they’d like to see from you, and what the chances are for more work. It’s better to do this without acknowledging anything you heard from your father. Start modelling the information-firewall behaviour that they should be expecting from you even if they aren’t living up to it themselves.

  19. James*

    LW #4: This sort of thing is common in my line of work–you’re insanely busy for a few months, then have literally nothing to do. Unfortunately we’re paid based on billable hours, so during those slow periods we need to find work. And folks sometimes take advantage of that.

    On the one hand, I’ve always found data entry to be a nice change of pace. I put some music or a podcast on and spend eight hours (which feels like a half-day these days) doing work in a nice, air-conditioned building. I sometimes save up such work so I can give myself a break–it’s productive, it needs done, and for a day or two it’s fun.

    On the other hand, you do need to consider your career. It’s perfectly reasonable to turn down a job because it won’t do your career any good, especially if you have the chance to do something that will advance your career. And if it’s a separate department you’re even less obligated to help them out. You can if you want, but ultimately your loyalty (as far as the company is concerned) is to yourself first, your department second, anyone else a distant third.

    The other thing to consider is that these people expect you to help out, and are giving you the crappy work. That’s not right. I’ll offload work I don’t want to do, sure–but to MY team, where the expectation is that we all contribute (and frankly I’m testing the junior staff to see if they can take on more responsibility). You don’t do that to someone who’s lending a hand. It’s perfectly acceptable to say “You keep screwing me over, I’m done helping.”

  20. UpUpAndAway*

    Sigh on #5… I wish I had known this was a thing. Speaking from a job that doesn’t match either the job description (it’s 5 years old at this point and I’ve shed 50% of those responsibilities and gained about 75% more from someone who left) or the title. I’ve been asking for a job description update for 2 years now and for a title change/promotion for 4, yet here we are. Not to mention the yearly “merit” raises that haven’t even kept up with inflation. Ah, the joys of academic administration!
    Looking to leave now but when you’re overworked, have two young kids and are living through a pandemic, it’s hard to muster the energy…
    This does help light up the fire, though. There are better prospects out there so Ijust need to keep trying.

    1. Tiffany Aching's imaginary friend*

      What would happen if you wrote up the job description for your boss to approve? (Or even to edit: editing can be so much easier than creating.)

  21. Salad Daisy*

    #2 a few years ago I was working for a temp at a medium sized company. Think about 200 people. One day I went down to the break room to eat my lunch and noticed a number of open pizza boxes on a table with pizza still in them . There were a few people eating pizza nearby but it was obvious they had not eaten all that pizza. I asked one of them if the leftover pizza was for anyone to eat. They said no, it was just for the call center, picked up all the boxes, and threw them in the trash, pizza and all. I had never met this person or even seen them before. They were just being mean.

    Do you really want to be that person? Better to let them take the cookie. Maybe it’s the only food they get all day due to financial circumstances.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Wow, in my office, they would’ve become an office legend by the end of that day, and not in a good way! What we used to do was to have whoever was on the front desk that day, or the lunch organizer, send out an email to everyone in the building, “there is leftover pizza in the breakroom from the call center lunch, please help yourselves.”

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        What happens at my work, since frequently the free lunches have a lot of food left over, it is set out at the end of the day and we are encouraged to take it home.

        Left overs are stored in one of the refrigerators, and sometimes eaten the next day.

      2. ThatGirl*

        Yeah, that happens at my work after catered lunches are done – the admin or whoever sends out a “leftovers in the breakroom on 2!” email and then it’s for everyone.

    2. Cake or Death?*

      How would LW be that person? They aren’t throwing away perfectly good leftover food just to spite someone. YOU asked. This person isn’t even asking, he just wanders in every day searching for food, sometimes taking food before the team even gets any, leaving them short.
      You went to these people and asked and they responded rudely. This is not at all the same situation.

      1. Meep*

        What really gets me is Salad Daisy had their own lunch. While rude, it wasn’t their pizza to begin with so they lost nothing.

          1. American Job Venter*

            Throwing away perfectly good food simply in order to refuse to give it to someone else seems unnecessarily unkind as well as wasteful, though. It wasn’t as if someone else had dibs on it or anything.

            1. pancakes*

              It’s also really weird! Throwing away perfectly good pizza in an angry huff is very odd. It’s so odd that I don’t think it’s applicable to the letter writer’s situation, or to office food situations in general.

  22. Dark Macadamia*

    LW1 – honestly, the weirdest thing here is that you seem to have invited (accidentally?) way more people than you had planned, but you’re upset about one specific person that you *didn’t even realize was there at the time.* How many of those other 50 people (at a child’s party! that’s excessive to me even without a pandemic) weren’t on your original guest list? How many were intentionally invited vs just casually hearing about it in passing like the coworker did?

    1. bamcheeks*

      Actually not so hard with kids’ parties. I invited 20 kids to my daughter’s 5th birthday, expecting around 15-18 to show up, but then said it was OK for people to bring younger siblings and it turned into over 30 children. (There’s a 3+ year gap between my kids, so in my head “younger siblings” were barely-walking toddlers, but other people have smaller gaps and 3 and 4 year olds are fully fledged guests!)

      If you invite 20 kids to a party in the park and then most of their siblings and parents end up stopping by too– completely legit if it’s a public-place party!– it’s no difficulty at all to get to 50.

      1. Dark Macadamia*

        Sure, I’ve brought my kids to a couple of “whole class is invited” parties where they were young enough that parents attended too. I still, personally, think it’s really excessive for a child’s birthday lol. My point is that when you’re throwing a big party that kind of got away from you, it doesn’t make sense to be horrified/creeped out by one person who maybe misunderstood or overstepped but was pleasant and unobtrusive about it and probably felt very awkward.

  23. Sara without an H*

    Hi, LW#4 — You don’t mention in your letter whether you’ve talked with your manager about this. I think it’s high time! Does your manager want you doing this at all? If so, are there any conditions or expectations attached to doing work for other departments. I’m a little suspicious of the fact that none of your coworkers are volunteering to help out in other units. It would be good to find out why.

    But do get some clarity on these issues before you try to set boundaries with the other departments. You need to make sure that your own manager knows what you’re doing and has your back in doing it.

  24. QAPeon (formerly HelpDeskPeon)*

    #2 – in my office we have a table outside our kitchenette where “up for grabs” food is left, and we laugh because there’s one guy from another floor who just always seems to *know* when we’ve placed something there. I can see him being the snack thief in another environment. We have a small filing cabinet in another part of the floor where we put items just meant for our team and we haven’t had any problems with him helping himself to that food unless specifically invited. Maybe you can try that? We make the kitchenette table part of the new hire tour so that they’re aware of our custom right from the start, and know not to leave their lunch there unguarded.

  25. Sleet Feet*

    I worry for this community sometimes.

    Just. Say. Something. Kindly!

    For peet’s sake we had a nearly identical question last week. Don’t follow the LW to other floors! Don’t stage a guard to lie and say there are no snacks as the snacker approaches! Don’t hide the snacks! Don’t “say something indirectly” (whatever that means) and don’t hand wring to oblivion that a simple sticky note with – for the X team tea is going to set off everyone else who shares your floor.

    1. Sara*

      Being kind is the best!! We don’t know what others are going through. Maybe the poor guy is seriously hungry because of adverse home situation. Just never know.

  26. Sara*

    Regarding the snacky coworker – is there any possibility he is hungry because of an external/financial situation? This very thing happened at a job years ago and it stuck with me ever since. An employee was taking all of the snacks because he was literally starving and homeless – and no one knew because he hid it very well. Breaks my heart. :(

  27. Water Everywhere*

    Hi LW#5, welcome to my world! I’ve been in my job for 2.5 years now and management has yet to clearly define my role. They even popped me on the org chart as a supervisor without any direction as to my actual authority level. Still haven’t had a formal performance review either.

    I like Alison’s recommendation of setting your own goals but as you’re new to your role it may take some time to figure out the day-to-day responsibilities before you’re able to plan for the future. What I do is keep a running list of tasks that have become my responsibility & procedures that I’ve created to fill gaps; maybe this is a good starting point for you?

    1. Meep*

      I have been with my company for 3.5 years. I have written my job description at least 6 times (every 6 months) per their request and then they decide that it isn’t “all-encompassing” and scrap it. It is a bit problematic when people come to me for tips and help (which one manager who doesn’t manage dislikes) but it is also kind of nice to tell my supervisor what I want to work on and he just… lets me.

  28. Eclecticism is a Virtue*

    LW #1, here is what I mostly focused on:
    “My spouse is very friendly/chatty with his team and I’m sure talked about the party a fair amount at work.”

    Add to that the family vibe and your spouse is the boss and of course employees are going to show up at the party. And since it’s a child’s birthday party and presents are a normal part of (children’s) parties, there will be some gifts. It seems more of a fundamental cultural issue at the company than anything else.

    And why was your spouse saying where exactly the party was being held? That’s practically an unspoken invitation (although if there is only one park, or only one major park, that’s kind of moot). I have a boss who has kids and I could imagine in a context of “Any plans for the weekend?” he might mention it’s his kid’s birthday. And maybe he would mention it will be at a park. And maybe he would mention which day. (Something like “Saturday is Sally’s birthday, so we’ll have a party in a park.”) But I cannot fathom why he would say which park (my city does have a half dozen parks, to be fair) or what time it will be. I also cannot see him telling us this repeatedly. Coming from the boss, it adds pressure to be there. I wonder how much of this is just you and your spouse have very different styles / comfort levels for sharing at work, and you would be horrified to work at your spouse’s company given its culture.

    LW #4, I agree with Alison. Try that before the next round of requests. If they ignore it and ask for help on Z again, push back in the moment. If that doesn’t work, talk to your manager. Maybe your manager also doesn’t want you working on Z for their own reasons and will help with pushing back. Who knows, maybe your manager already told them Z is not okay (or Z is specifically okay, in which case you and your manager need to align on that).

    1. Simply the best*

      “What are you up to this weekend?”

      “Oh, it’s Tommy’s birthday this weekend so we’re having a party on Saturday.”

      “That sounds fun! I bet it was hard to plan with covid.”

      “Yeah, we’re doing it at Anderson Park to keep it safe. Though the weather is starting to predict rain. We’re doing a morning party, so hope it holds off until we finish up at noon!”

      Date, time, and location in a totally normal small talk conversation that is clearly not an invitation. ‍♀️

  29. Hiring Mgr*

    Given the way OP#1 describes the dynamic between her husband and the team, this doesn’t seem that weird to me.

    But I can see how since they haven’t been working for 18 months and more isolated maybe, it might seem more strange than usual

  30. Dwight Schrute*

    I don’t think going to the kids birthday party is weird at all. If my boss gave me enough information for me to be able to go- location; time; date; etc AND it was close enough that I could stop by on my lunch break, and a place where I could go for a stroll, I would totally go to. And if I was going I would of course take a gift, it would be weird not to. I think what actually needs to happen is LW needs to discuss this with their husband who sounds like he may be an over sharer.

    For the snack thief, I would also take food that’s left out in a break room because every place I’ve ever worked at has had a rule that food in the break room is up for grabs. I think the kindest option is to just label it as food for event for staff x and move on.

  31. Black Horse Dancing*

    I doubt if this will be seen as I am late but the birthday party kid gift–maybe it’s just a kind person. Honestly, people here act like everything is crazy. Just maybe, this person heard kid like dinos and boss mentioned the party in the park and employee thought it would be nice to give kid a dino gift or whatever.

    Break room–most offices I have been in have a rule that food in the break room is open to all. If not, tell this person.

  32. Deanna Troi*

    I got married in a National Park, which is located a couple of miles from my house. I’m sure I talked about it more than I should have in the office. After we got married and were taking pictures, I was surprised to see a woman with whom I worked sitting on a bench. She lived within walking distance to the spot where we got married. She told me she watched the ceremony, which at first I thought was weird, but then I realized lots of people were walking by and other people were sitting on other benches, just because they happened to be there. So she didn’t really do anything wrong. She did not bring a gift, nor did she follow us to the restaurant where we were having the reception.

    1. Despachito*


      If the ceremony is public, and you let people know the date and venue, and the venue is public such as a church or a park, I do not find anything outrageous if a couple of coworkers come to watch the ceremony, then wish you well and leave. I had a couple of coworkers come to my wedding like this, then they congratulated us and gave us a signed card and left. I did not consider it weird, I saw it as a nice gesture.

      1. banoffee pie*

        I think in the olden days you couldn’t actually stop people coming to the church to watch your wedding, in the UK anyway. I may have made that up after watching too many Jane Austen period dramas on TV though.

        1. Gray Lady*

          I was told by an acquaintance who is an Anglican priest just a few years ago that this is still the case. By law in England (not sure if it’s the whole UK, as the church/state situation is different in the different countries) a wedding in an Anglican church is a public event.

      2. Formerly Ella Vader*

        We did that! A co-worker was getting married, and his close friends at the office were invited. Two of us who were temporary in that office asked him if he would mind if we came to the church. He said that would be great! and he made a point of greeting us afterwards before we slipped away, even though they weren’t doing a full receiving line at the church.

        Interesting cultural note – this was the year when the Canadian public service was doing away with their longtime benefit of 5 extra vacation days when you get married, so several people in that office who had been cohabiting suddenly decided to have ceremonies so as not to miss out on the vacation week.

        1. Despachito*

          I think that the only problem would be if the passers-by tried to force themselves somehow to the reception, which I assume no sane person would do. Or perhaps if the bride and the groom felt somehow obligated to do this, which again I assume they wouldn’t.

          It is hard to imagine how someone could be offended if a coworker took their time to witness an important moment in their life, then wish them well and leave, with no other requirements or expectations.

  33. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    #4: I think you’d be in your rights to say “Gee, these gnarly projects take a lot of brain space and time. Since I’m doing this when I’m waiting for my regular things to come in, I’d much prefer to take more the brainless tasks off your plate so that if I have to drop the to-do list back on your plate they’re either Done or Not Done, for simplicity’s sake.”

    And I’ll echo a previous commenter about checking in with your manager about your down time and what they suggest you do with it. Generating goodwill with other departments is awesome, but if there are more useful things for your department, you might want to focus in on that.

    (Also, I have a thought about gender differences rattling in my head and wondering if there’s a dynamic about women doing caretaking of other employees vs men not doing those “extras”. It’s something to watch for regardless of your actual gender because I think that the strange truth is that the person who Does For Others is often less well politically regarded than the person who doesn’t. This isn’t really a part of the original question, but it’s in my head and thought it was a different sort of take on the issue.)

  34. Hosta*

    Re: the snack thief. I think living a note saying “Snacks for X team morale event at Y o’clock” is the way to go. If the snacks keep disappearing you can tell the snack thief to cut it out and he won’t be able to say “but I didn’t know.”

    I’ll also point out, that “don’t eat food that you don’t have permission to eat” can be one of those working world culture things that many people just don’t get taught. I know to most of us this seems so obvious, but I’ve run into this one before. It is one of those small office culture things that a number of people don’t ever get taught till they mess it up.

    As an example, when we were straight out of college, a friend of mine told me that the new job he worked at was great, they had stocked the fridge and freezer in the break room with food for lunches! Like frozen meals and yogurts!

    I tried to convince him that a job that was paying him only 50% of market rate for his skills and was VERY old school was not stocking the break room for his lunches, and that he was eating his co-workers food. He wouldn’t believe me. Absolutely would not. I never found out what happened, but I do know he struggled a bunch to keep a job for several years largely because there was a huge amount about office culture he just didn’t know.

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