my boss shows up at parties she’s not invited to, I have to pick my own punishment, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. I don’t invite my boss to our work parties but she keeps showing up

My team likes to throw parties: once a month we have a sit-down lunch, once a quarter we have a big birthday celebration, and then big holidays. These are not mandatory and are funded by the people who attend. Our team is 20 people of a 60-80 person group (depending on season). My group lead is generally not invited to these. When she shows up, what is usually an hour of talking and leaving work behind turns into 20 minutes of her making thinly veiled comments while we shovel food into our mouths (if we come at all).

I organize these things by putting them on the team calendar and posting a sign-up, nothing more. If people want to invite others, it’s up to them. I honestly would rather just have the current team attend than having a reunion every month. But it seems any major holiday I get on someone’s shit list by “forgetting” them.

I’m of the opinion that one of the downsides of being a manager is that you’re separated from employees and don’t get to be “chummy” with them. But how do I say that to a manager that’s trying to pretend that the gulf between us doesn’t exist?

It’s true that managers can’t be friends with the people they manage, but it’s not typically true that that means they’re not invited to office celebrations that are occurring in the office, and frankly, she may assume she needs to show up at these in order to seem part of the team. In fact, typically managers would go to gatherings like this, if they’re in the office and during work hours.

So I don’t think you can really exclude her from these … unless there’s someone who has good rapport with her who can say, “Hey, the team wants to be able to have some get-togethers without management there — maybe just pop in briefly to the birthday and holiday celebrations but leave them to do the quarterly lunches on their own?”


2. I have to pick my own punishment

I was going to be 15 minutes late to work and another employee clocked me in on time. My boss was told and she told corporate. Corporate said I need to pick how I should be punished for having another employee clock me in. What should my punishment be?

What?! They want you to pick your own “punishment”? Who the hell is running things over there? Adults don’t need to be punished; rather, consequences for wrongdoing at work are generally along the lines of serious warning conversations; having the problem reflected in your performance evaluation, raises, references, and growth opportunities; being given less trust and flexibility; or being let go.

Honestly, falsifying a timecard should be a fireable offense — even for something like 15 minutes, because it goes to fundamental issues of trust and integrity — but I doubt you want to tell them to fire you.


3. Do I need to train students to answer the phone professionally?

I work at in a small academic institution, where we employ college students to do a lot of the “front-line” work for us. They sit at public desks, answer phones, and take care of a lot of day-to-day things. I am one of several people who supervises them and trains them on these operations.

I love our student workers and think many of them are more than competent and go above and beyond. So in designing their training, I did not think to include a large segment on answering the phone. We have talked to them before about a greeting, how to transfer calls, and basic things one might need showing. Have I assumed too much, or do I really need to tell people how to take messages accurately, or how to try and answer a question when someone asks for a person who isn’t in, or even to push the mute/hold button when you’re talking to me about the person who is still on the phone? I know people use the phone less (especially college students), but people call us for help with things all of the time, and even if we don’t know the answer, we try to get them to someone who does. We already train them on helping people face-to-face, so do I really need to do a separate training for how to do this same interaction on the phone?

Probably, yes! Phone usage has changed so much in recent years that some of this may be brand new to people (like taking a message, which they may never have had to do before if their family didn’t have a land line, which many people now don’t). And some of it is stuff that students needed training on even before our phone norms changed so much. Things like how to answer a question or that you should put the caller on mute before talking about them are things that your more conscientious/mature students may know, but some of them will need to be told. So, yes, I would say train them on all of it! And if you’re worried it’ll feel obvious or remedial to some of them, you can frame it at the start as, “Some of this may be obvious to you and some may not be. We’ve found that people bring different level of comfort with phone work, so I’m going to cover everything.”


4. Halloween Christmas card

The photo for our annual Christmas card is being taken on Halloween, prior to our office Halloween potluck, while people will be in costumes! (We are an medical software company, and our recipients include hospitals, clinicians, and universities.) Ugh. I feel that this is unprofessional, tacky, and weird — I don’t understand why we would use a clearly dated photo for our Christmas card. How, if at all, do I raise this concern to our higher-ups?

If you want to raise it, you can be direct about it: “I think it will look really out of place for the season if we send a Christmas card where people are obviously in Halloween costumes. What about taking the photo next week instead?”

But I wouldn’t worry terribly much about it if it does happen. It’ll be a weird Christmas card! That’s okay.


5. Confronting employees who violated the spirit of our office gift exchange

Every year, I coordinate either a white elephant or Secret Santa gift exchange for our small company. This year, we set a price range of “around $30” for those who wanted to participate.

A few of the gifts that were given this year were clearly not worth the provided price range. One of the gifts was a used item from the employee’s home (the recipient discovered this after the event ended). Do I (and if so, how) confront the employees who didn’t play in good spirit?

Don’t. These could be employees who wanted to participate but couldn’t afford to buy something for the set price range. If that’s the case, they’re likely to be humiliated and hurt if you talk to them about it. It’s of course possible that that’s not what happened and that these were just people greedily trying to get a gift without playing by the rules, but that’s not so imperative to address that it would be worth risking the first scenario.

This kind of thing just comes with the territory with office gift exchanges. Assume the most charitable explanation and let it go.


6. I’m afraid a mutual contact will tell my new job that I quit my last job without notice

About four years ago, I did something stupid that I am very ashamed of that is coming back to bite me. I had been working in a small nonprofit that for various reasons was not the right fit for me. Instead of resigning the respectful, professional way, I quit via email with no notice. I know, it was a horrible thing to do and I will never do something like that again! This organization is based out of a big city about an hour away from my town, so I didn’t think I’d run into anyone from there again and I thought it could remain a skeleton in my closet.

However, about a year ago, I started working for a large nonprofit in my town, and it turns out that the person who my old job had to hire to replace me (who now works in a different organization) sits on a committee with several of my colleagues from my new job and my boss! This committee is very actively involved in my department, planning community events and such. At a meeting several months ago, I unknowingly sat next to her and upon introducing ourselves, she (nicely) brought up that she knew who I was! Needless to say, I was mortified but tried to act as friendly and polite as possible. Since then, I have tried to avoid situations where I might see her but it isn’t always possible. The last time we were at the same place, I tried to stay occupied and engaged in conversation with other people to avoid interacting with her.

I really love my new job and organization and am making a good name for myself there. I had been a volunteer there for many years before starting as staff so they know me well and know I am committed to the cause. But I am terrified that this girl will say something to somebody and ruin my reputation. Can you please give me some advice for how to handle this situation both right now, and in the future if my colleagues and boss were potentially to find out? Do believe me when I say that I have changed and would not do this again!

It’s true that it’s possible that she’ll say something. But you’ve been working at your new job for a year now, and they have a lot of data from that year to judge you by. If you seem reliable and professional, that’s going to carry a lot more weight than a story about how you quit your last job. They’re also likely to think that there could be more to the story that they’re not hearing (like that there was a reasonable cause for leaving without notice, which your replacement wouldn’t necessarily have all the details on).

This is the kind of thing that can really bite you if it comes up during the hiring process, but is much less likely to be an issue once they already know you and you’ve established a good track record with them.


{ 386 comments… read them below }

  1. Emily*

    LW #5: Send an email explaining that they need to apologize or you’ll confront them or you’ll confront them by Wednesday of this week.

    1. Emily*

      In all seriousness though, I do think $30 is a little high of a price range. Also, if the exchange is sometimes white elephant, which usually means odd, less expensive gifts, and could very well mean “something that I have at home but don’t use”, I can see how some people may have been confused.

      1. ala*

        yea, $30 is much highr than I would expect. I would think 10-15 would be best for an office gift exchange. That said, if they clearly gave a dollar amount then I would think people would figure out that, yknow, its not meant to be regifted items you don’t want. Couldn’t hurt to clarify though, more information the better

          1. abc*

            We should be normalizing regifting unused items, handmade items, food, etc. LW hasn’t told us anything about the item that was given, but its possible it was something really nice that someone may have liked, just not the particular receiver.

        1. Amaranth*

          Isn’t white elephant usually silly or generally amusing/useless though? I agree $30 is high for that, but if people signed up they should go with the parameters. It makes me wonder how much pressure there is to participate.

      2. TeacherLady*

        This was my thought as well. White elephant usually means a joke/impractical gift, but also is getting used more and more often for regular gift exchanges. Needs to be clarified and drop the name to just call it a gift exchange. I’ve been in this position twice where I bought nice but fun/funny gifts because I wasn’t sure which type of exchange they meant, but then ended up with rusty stove drip pans and a Rolodex from the 80’s. Lowering the price could help too, just in case it’s a money issue like Allison suggested.

        1. AJoftheInternet*

          My husband brought a rubber band ball to his office’s “White Elephant” gift exchange…. only to discover that everyone else had brought actually nice presents. Please, people, just call it a gift exchange.

          1. Emily*

            AJoftheInternet: Yeah, I think workplaces are really setting up people to be dissapointed, angry, or embarrassed if they are not really clear about what the gift exchange is. For what it’s worth, both places I’ve worked have had white elephant gift exchanges, and your husband’s rubber band ball would have been a perfectly appropriate gift. What I like about white elephant gift exchanges (at least what I’ve understood them to be) is that they cost people little or no money, so it is easy for people to participate without having to be concerned about their budget.

            1. pancakes*

              Clarity is always good but those emotions are too big for the occasion. People who are angry or disappointed about not getting a nice gift from a work acquaintance have set themselves up to some degree. If they want thoughtful or generous gifts, the thing to do is make friends with thoughtful or generous people, not expect coworkers to step up.

              Being embarrassed about having misunderstood the nature of the exchange is more reasonable and hopefully minor and momentary, but being a bit embarrassed about bringing in a rusty pan or something else totally unusable is appropriate, I think. Not having the budget to participate is one thing, but deciding to participate anyhow and bringing something that belongs in a garbage bin is bound to not go over well.

              1. Cringing 24/7*

                This is so true! Work gift exchanges are social niceties, NOT emotionally meaningful events. If you’re embarrassed by what you brought because you misunderstood what the event was, that’s usually on the organizer for not clarifying (seriously, people need to stop saying White Elephant [i.e. amusing or impractical gifts] when they mean gift exchange).

          2. turquoisecow*

            The first year at my current company the boss told my team we were doing a gift exchange. I forget the exact term they used, if it was “secret Santa” or just “gift exchange.” One of my coworkers who was known by myself and the boss (we’d both worked with him at another company) to be a jokester asked if it was serious gifts or joke gifts. I was glad he clarified.

            (The answer was serious gifts, and everyone did get a good or at least correctly priced gift. But there was a funny story about how, the previous year, someone got the boss a joke gift, which was a framed photo of her boss. They all found it hilarious – and boss got a real gift in addition.)

        2. Simply the best*

          See and to me calling something a white elephant does not tell me anything about what kind of gifts there will be. All it tells me is the rules. A white elephant you bring a gift anybody could end up with, through either opening that gift or stealing, whereas in a gift exchange you bring a gift for a specific person. In either case, gift parameters still have to be set.

          1. Cj*

            What you consider to be a white elephant exchange it would call a yankee swap. White elephant to me is joke gifts, including used items.

            Sounds like rules should always be explained, as even here we have different understandings.

            1. Jaybee*

              I am curious – as someone who has never been involved in a white elephant exchange (I never even heard of them until I started reading AAM, to be honest, everyone I know does yankee swaps only)…what is the point?

              I understand fun/funny gifts in general. Like things that are actually funny. But surely you can’t expect everyone in the office to be a comedian, and from how people discuss white elephant exchanges, it sounds more like most people just end up bringing literal trash – either used items nobody would want, or stuff from the dollar store that nobody would want. Is that actually fun?

              1. B*

                That’s the intent. The version of the game I’ve played is that you are allowed to swap or “steal” another person’s gift, so the goal is to be left with the least objectionable gag gift or joke item.

                But these things are usually terrible for the exact reason you mentioned. Some of the people show up thinking it’s a conventional gift exchange and so they buy something fun or thoughtful. Some of the people show up with funny gifts or ‘gag’ gifts that are amusing. And then some people show up with literal trash, or forgot to bring something, or get offended when a ‘gag’ gift doesn’t fit their sense of humor.

                It’s a recipe for disaster, which is why I hate these things so much. Especially in a group of work acquaintances who may not agree on what is funny or appropriate. Way too many things that can go wrong.

              2. AceInPlainSight*

                I’ve done it with friends, and it is! People often try to find the weirdest thing they can- a pillowcase with Nicholas Cage’s face, a marching band uniform, a singing and dancing Santa statue- and a lot of the fun comes from opening the gifts and then trying to get rid of what you opened.

              3. Yorick*

                I did one where people brought used items that were thoughtful in some way. A necklace or scarf that several people in the office have commented on, a book you really liked, etc.

              4. Kella*

                It’s fun to publically reveal the silly things that people gifted, and when the context is ALL the presents are slightly useless, it’s fun to see what become the desireable gifts that people start stealing from one another. Like, I played this once and the most stolen gift was a pair of squishy balls that lit up.

            2. The OG Sleepless*

              I used to go to a church that held the best White Elephant gift exchange ever. There were eventually about 65 gifts involved. It was mostly gag gifts. There were a few items that were brought back year after year; multiple people took their turn with a resin paperweight. Occasionally a nice gift entered the mix, like the designer shower curtain I brought one year because it didn’t match the decor in my new house. There was the occasional problem; they had to make a rule about “no broken items” after one guy brought a dirty burned-out small engine of some kind. Most people understood that they might end up with something relatively nice or a Marvin the Martian spinning lollipop holder and it was all in good fun. But it’s easy to see how it could go sideways.

            3. SimplytheBest*

              I see, and I feel like I’ve always heard that white elephant, yankee swap, and dirty santa are all the same thing, just regional phrases.

              Which just goes to show, clarity is key when you’re planning one of these!

          2. Artemesia*

            a white elephant is by definition an awkward thing you don’t want to own i.e. your regifted terrible gift from your aunt is perfect. It just doesn’t describe a ‘nice gift’ exchange.

        3. Purple Cat*

          The only time I’ve done a “white elephant” exchange it was meant to be a re-gifted (or gently used) item, not necessarily a joke or impractical. But I’m pretty sure those expectations were clearly laid out.

          1. AcademiaNut*

            I think that’s the original meaning of White Elephant – something that you have, don’t need or want, but that someone else might have a use for. I’ve seen references in early 20th century literature using the term this way. To me, a Yankee swap, or Dirty Santa, involves a mix of good items and joke items, and items that are junk but in a funny way, and there’s a game where you can swipe other people’s gifts. Sometimes the gifts are wrapped until the game is over, other times you see what’s available. Secret santa involves buying gifts for a specific person, usually chosen at random.

            But there’s enough variation that if you’re doing this at work, you need to spell it out very clearly and explicitly.

            1. generic_username*

              But there’s enough variation that if you’re doing this at work, you need to spell it out very clearly and explicitly

              Totally agree. I normally ask – and I would never do a $30 gift exchange at work. That’s literally more than what I spend on anyone else in my life (and more than I expect them to spend on me – my family is all very clear about a $20-30 price range)

          2. Olivia Mansfield*

            That’s the kind of white elephant exchange I’m familiar with: gently used and still nice, but something you don’t want or need anymore that someone else might want.

        4. Anonymous pineapple*

          Maybe it’s regional. All the White Elephant exchanges I’ve done in the past 15 or so years have been real $10-$25 gifts purchased to appear to a general audience (gift cards, mugs, umbrellas, throw blankets, board games, lotion sets, popcorn makers, alcohol, etc etc). The “White Elephant” name just denoted the game rules where numbers are drawn and gifts can be stolen.

          1. Anonymous pineapple*

            And to clarify, the price limit was set differently for each group I played with, $10 for some games, $25 for others, and in between, not a wide range for one game.

        5. Nanani*

          I think the names mean different things to different people. With so much variation my region, from small-scale to international, you really can’t use a label like “white elephant” and expect everyone to have the same idea of what that means.

          If you don’t explain, you are setting up people for failure.
          Also 30$ is way too high for an office gift exchange of any nature.

      3. John Smith*

        I don’t spend that much on people I actually like! £5 is the traditional limit I’ve come across in the UK (around $7 I think). These things are intended to be fun and jokey, which $30 ain’t.

        1. UKDancer*

          Me too. When I’ve worked somewhere with a Secret Santa there’s been a £5 limit. 30$ is what I spend on my cousins and people I’m close to. It’s a lot of money to spend on colleagues.

      4. Cass*

        Does lw ever call it a white elephant? It looks like they called it a secret Santa, which is very different, and you are picking a gift for a specific person.

        1. xa*

          It’s in the very first line: “Every year, I coordinate either a white elephant or Secret Santa gift exchange for our small company”. And if it’s often a white elephant thing, then it’s not surprising some might be confused on what’s happening this year.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          “either a white elephant or Secret Santa gift exchange”
          We can’t tell if this means sometimes one/sometimes the other… or if LW has conflated the 2 terms & uses them interchangeably.
          Specifying the rules on an office invite should be the norm.

      5. Bagpuss*

        Yes, I am in the UK and ours is £10 (which I think is about $12) $30 sounds like a lot, and I suspect that with a lower guide and clear rules (e.g. making clear it is supposed to be a genuine gift, not a joke) they might do better.
        But also strongly agree that they can’t, and shouldn’t, police people about the the perceived value of the gift given.

      6. Falling Diphthong*

        I went to a white elephant exchange that was explicitly something you have at home but don’t use.

        1. Colette*

          In my first post-university job, that was the rule – which was hard for me because I didn’t have things I didn’t use; I’d just moved across the country and had very few things with me.

        2. Full anon for this one!*

          Even then, there’s a question of whether or not it should be a gag gift. I do a white elephant with a group of the same people every year, and the rules are that it’s something from home AND people often make it something funny/bizarre. Because of the longevity of the party (I’ve been invited for the past eight years, but it’s been going on for over a dozen), there’s always one or two gifts from prior years that keep showing up.

      7. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        I would 100% have assumed $30 was the upper limit in this context. The usual Christmas budget in my household is around $20-$25 per gift; spending more than that on an office gift exchange of any sort would just not even register as an expectation.

        1. Nanani*

          Good point – being an upper limit sounds like a common sense understanding, and “you spent too little” is a bad look regardless.

      8. Sloan Kittering*

        Yep, that would be my take if people aren’t honoring the $30 dollar price range: lower the price range for everybody. You’re getting feedback that employees don’t want to spend this much.

      9. Kristine*

        Exactly – in all places I’ve worked a “white elephant” give WAS something previously owned, and the weirder/funnier the better. Plus, perceptions of what is appropriate or “cheap” can be different. I facetiously gave someone a collection of old Christmas movies on videotape, and she was so thrilled she offered to buy them!

      10. Anonymous pineapple*

        $30 is high enough that you actually end up feeling disappointed at having “wasted” it if the gift you end up with is not to your liking. My husband and I would get invited to his friend’s holiday party a few years in a row. They did a White Elephant with a $25 per person limit. For us both to play would be $50 for our family. Which is a bit much even with non-gag gifts if they are just not to your taste and you can only regift or donate them. The nature of White Elephant games, where gifts are bought for no one in particular, means you are unlikely to get something that you really want or need (unlike a Secret Santa, where depending on who pulls your name and how well they know you, it can be a truly nice gift). Keep the White Elephants at $15ish.

      11. Meep*

        Yeeaaah… I have had people not be able to show up to my game night because they couldn’t swing $5 for a communal pizza (though I told them I would spot them if they didn’t have the funds). I know that says a lot about how poor the pay is at my company (for interns/contractors at least), but I also understand that most people* in my office are straight out of college and have student debt. So I always try to have covers like extra food at potlucks that anyone can claim so they don’t feel embarrassed.

        Then again, I am always the one who chooses to steal “the worst” (least enthusiastically perferred) gift at these sorts of functions so there is that.

        *actually it is everyone but me and my work wife. So 80% of the staff have student debt.

      12. JustAMillenial*

        We’re having a virtual white elephant this year, and were explicitly told that regifting is ok, so long as the item is in good condition. It’s decluttering and recycling!

  2. NYWeasel*

    Re: OP #5 – We had two people who took perverse delight in choosing gifts that were intentionally disappointing for Yankee Swap bc they thought it was hysterical when someone opened up something terrible. It wasn’t my call whether they could participate or not but it definitely was something that felt like it should have been addressed directly, as no one else found it funny, especially when they’d cheerfully take a decent gift provided by someone else.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, this is just mean-spirited and completely ruins the fun. Sure, when I’ve participated in gift exchanges, there’s always at least one person who brings a gag gift. But in my experience they’ve always been decent about it, and unless their present was met with genuine hilarious laughter (literally rolling on the floor once, the guy couldn’t stand up, partly because he’d been drinking and partly because he loved the gag gift), they always offered to exchange it for whatever they got.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        Reminds me of an elementary school Secret Santa. Small religious elementary school with a private board.

        The rules – something small in your giftee’s desk daily (think handful of Hershey’s kisses, small candy bar, a couple new pencils, or similar, and a $10 gift at the end at the class party where you’d reveal your identity. This was in the early 1990’s for value of $10. Comparison – I bought a small model car kit for my giftee, as I knew he loved to build them. I recall I received a desired cassette tape. Nothing over the top, just small and thoughtful was the game.)

        One fellow student in my class received NOTHING in her desk in the two week leadup. Not a thing.
        On the day of the party, her Secret Santa revealed his identity by gifting her an obvious piece of garbage Christmas ornament. It literally had food scraps stuck to it and was broken. The son of a wealthy local business owner and the private school board president. All because he wanted to show what a little bad@$$ he was. It explained much that his parents doubled down on his behavior as nothing wrong with it.

        Have run into this little clown a time or so when I’ve visited my hometown. He hasn’t improved any.

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          Oh my God, that is terrible. I am so heartbroken for that poor kid.

          I firmly believe that a lot of nasty people get their start in childhood because that behavior is tolerated and indulged. I hope that snot’s parents are proud of themselves.

          1. NotRealAnonForThis*

            “I hope that snot’s parents are proud of themselves.”

            They were fairly horrible humans, and saw no wrong with what he did. It explains a lot about him as an adult. And I’d put money on the fact that the parents’ parents were likely crap too. I’m usually a pretty charitable human as far as empathy goes, but that whole family is a bunch I’d wager that the world would’ve been better off without.

            And I too believe that a lot of nasty folks get their start because their behavior is tolerated and indulged. I think this was the event (the SS and that poor girl getting literal garbage) that caused a LOT of parents at our school to open their eyes as to what was tolerated so long as the offending student’s parents were wealthy/board members/big donors.

            1. SawbonzMD*

              What an awful story and what an awful family. Did things change once the other parents at the school heard about what the little s*** did?

        2. B*

          Yep. I had a similar experience when I was a child. I remember buying fun little things that I thought my classmate would genuinely enjoy. But the person who drew my name was the class troublemaker, and so I got either thoughtless junk or nothing at all. One day he literally handed me the crackers from his lunchbox.

          These things are a terrible idea. It’s just way too easy for someone to screw up and hurt someone’s feelings. I’ve been forced to do probably 5 or 6 of these over the years and NEVER seen one go off without a hitch. Invariably, someone gives something inappropriate, or thoughtless, or they forget and have to find something halfassed at the last minute.

          1. MissBaudelaire*

            We did one at ExJob one year. One time.

            It was a nightmare. Someone gave someone else literal trash. Someone got into my gift bag to steal a present for someone else. It was horrible. We never did it again.

            And that is exactly the reason I do NOT do it for my Girl Scout group. I provide the same type of present for everyone. They trade amongst themselves for different colors.

            1. Mannequin*

              “Someone got into my gift bag to steal a present for someone else.”


              WTF is *wrong* with people who do sh!t like that?!

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I think there is also a difference between gag gifts that are just junk or useless and gag gifts that have some thought put into them and are tied to the workplace. One place I worked had a fruitcake of undetermined origin which had been passed around for at least 10 years (longest tenured employee remembered it at her first holiday party, but it had been there prior to her). It had a name (Phillippe). Whoever won it built a shrine to Phillippe in their cube and proudly displayed it until the next year. Another place, an artistic co-worker took a pack of big post-its and wrote key annoying phrases out of manuscript reviews from the past year with illustrations, of course all signed “Reviewer 2”. Might have been cheap gag gifts, but dang the competition for that and Phillippe was intense.

        1. LunaLena*

          If Allison does a call for great work gift exchange stories again, I hope you submit this. The Phillippe Saga is amazing.

        2. Olivia Mansfield*

          Ha. I love the Phillippe exchange. Our office has a carved wooden finger (“The Finger”) that is in the gift exchange every year since I don’t know how long. Whoever gets The Finger proudly displays it in their office, similar to the Phillipe shrine. I got it the very first year I worked here, and I worked in the main office where all the departmental faculty would stop by. I started painting The Finger[nail] in seasonal colors and themes, and people would stop by and laugh about it.

        3. LizM*

          One year, someone made a coffee mug with a picture of our boss on it. That thing gets passed around every year, it’s been going for 7 or 8 years now. The boss whose picture it is isn’t even in the office anymore, so we call it a “memorial mug” (he’s still very much alive, just has moved on to other things).

    2. LifeBeforeCorona*

      My partner’s boss used to keep several good presents on hand for people who received obvious junk pile gifts. It really does sour the party when someone receives a used bath mat while the person next to them opens a lovely box of tea selections.

      1. WS*

        +1, my partner runs a small business and she does this too. Plus something gluten free and something nut free if needed.

        Another option is to lower the price tag – $10 is plenty for a little token gift and bad ones don’t stand out so much.

      2. Lacey*

        Yeah, I was running a Junior High Christmas party with a white elephant gift exchange. The gifts were meant to be $5 and each adult volunteer brought one as well so that if any kids couldn’t afford or forgot to bring one they would be covered.

        One kid’s older sister ended up coming along at the last minute and her mom just threw a bunch of trash (mostly used toothpaste, half a packet of tissues) in a gift bag.

        It was horrible for the poor kid trying not to look devastated that, that was their gift. Also awful for the giver in this instance, since she’d had no idea what was in the bag. The mom thought it was a great joke.

        Fortunately we were prepared so it didn’t ruin everything, but it was awfully awkward.

        1. Mr. Shark*

          Yeah, I get the complaint about the kid above who just did it out of spite, but sometimes kids don’t have a choice in the matter and their parents may not have money or time to get something, even simple. Or the child forgets to tell the parent, so it’s unintentional.

      3. Mannequin*

        My husband’s place of business started doing this after a few years where it was clear that 2-3 people were putting zero effort and bringing absolute trash for their gifts.

        Their gift limit was $15-20 and most people bought some kind of fancy holiday booze gift set or generic “man” gift (it’s a warehouse full of dudes) and everyone was fine with that.

        I don’t remember all the trash gifts that got circulated but one year my husband ended up with a hot rock massage kit. Kind of crappy but I have chronic pain so we think maybe we can at least get some use out of it.

        When I went to open it up & see what it was all about, the bottle of massage oil was missing and the stones had a greasy residue- IT HAD ALREADY BEEN USED :barf emoji:

        The stones were pretty so I put them in my exterior potted plants as decor and the rest of it went into the garbage can. And my husband was MAD. Everything he’d gotten before was at least new & worth the $15-20 so even if it wasn’t something we could personally put to use, we could hold on to it for regifting.

        The amount may not seem like much but at that time we were really struggling & could have put $15-20 to much better use.

    3. FYI*

      Why not just STOP doing office gift exchanges completely? They’re awful. Many, many people do not have extra money — especially not $30 — to spend on a random gift.

      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        I’ve posted about this before, but I want to share this again because it’s a great solution to the office gift exchange / Secret Santa kerfuffle:
        Several years ago, a wise colleague where I work suggested that, since all of us are lucky enough to have what we need, why not take whatever we’d have spent on a holiday gift exchange present and donate it to our local food bank? (No one was pressured to donate anything, of course.) We all loved the idea, gave what we could afford and received a lovely note from the food bank thanking us for our contributions. It became a tradition for us!

        1. Intermittent Introvert*

          One year we were asked to bring a new child’s book for a local family shelter. And then each shared, if they wanted, a personal, positive story about reading or being read to as a kid. It was brilliant and lovely.

      2. Lacey*

        This year my office just paid for everything. We still did the white elephant rules, but an office admin had gone out and bought a bunch of gifts at varying price points from $5-$30. It was way more fun, since we hadn’t had to spend our own money on it.

      3. Polly Gone*

        I feel the same way, even about family exchanges. It used to stress me out to the max that my partner’s family would do a ‘hilarious’ after-Christmas gag gift exchange. We were tapped out after Christmas, the gifts were often meant to insult the recipient, and it was just holiday crap we didn’t need to deal with and a waste of money.

    4. anonymous73*

      While those people are jerks, this type of thing is supposed to be a fun ACTIVITY. It’s not about the gift you receive, it’s about having fun with your co-workers. If you’re only in it to see what you can get out of it, you may not want to participate.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yeah but I do think the very popular white elephant / gift swapping thing is a bad call for most offices (the thing where you “steal” someone else’s gift). It’s just a weird way to create good holiday morale. We used to have a very senior person who was weirdly competitive and would finagle a way to go last and take the best gift, as there was usually one thing that was kind of out of the range of the others – usually a piece of tech like an ipod. One time he took it from a secretary right at the end of the game and she cried. Happy holidays, everyone!

        1. anonymous73*

          It can work with reasonable fun loving employees. In a situation like the LW described, I would eliminate it altogether.

          1. pancakes*

            Yeah. Knowing that someone in the group is weirdly competitive or whatnot is a great reason to just not bother with it!

      2. Jaybee*

        Sure, but it also feels crappy to be made the butt of someone else’s joke.

        It’s one thing if people complain about just not getting an item they wanted, or not liking a gift they received (that others would have enjoyed). Or even complaining about not receiving a gift due to an oversight. But opening a gift that someone put in deliberately to embarrass or upset whoever opened it is a level beyond that, it’s not just about not getting something out of it.

      3. Hippo-nony-potomus*

        The person who is giving the terrible present while happily taking two pounds of fancy coffee is clearly thinking of getting the most out of the exchange while putting in as little as possible. I would say they are the main problem.

        1. Mannequin*

          Or a used hot rock massage kit, like my husband got one year. Rules were the same & never changed – a new item between $15-$20, so the person/s who brought crummy gifts every year knew what they were doing. (They never found out, but the person/s they suspected of doing it were jerks, not people suffering from economic insecurity.)

          Their workplace started providing small but nice + useful gifts for everyone so no one had to go home disappointed.

    5. Purple Cat*

      There’s a fine line between the “hilarious terrible gift that people end up fighting to keep” and simply “terrible”. We’ve had a fair amount of the former that I can’t remember, but I do clearly remember the year I ended up with a single votive candle from WalMart.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        Yeah, there are certain groups of people I would love to do white elephant with. Funny gags that we’d all enjoy. But there are lots of people who would just throw in something terrible but be the first to whinge if they didn’t get something good.

        I’m part of an online secret Santa group (that is ending this year). It used to be a lot of fun, and while we didn’t always get a present that we liked personally, we could see where it was thoughtful. But then people started joining in hopes that they’d get something awesome while giving trash. I remember getting a tiny broken container of bath salts and a handful of free tea samples for one swap. Why even bother?

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Hands down best work gift group was the one I mentioned below where the gifts had to be used or crafted. We had some seriously talented crafters, cooks, and thrifters. The years I worked there there wasn’t a single* gift I wouldn’t have been happy to have at the gift exchange.

          *Other than mine – they were nice but nowhere near as awesome as some of the others

          1. Jaybee*

            Oooh I’d love to do something like this.

            I’m thinking about doing a handcrafted gift for our upcoming office exchange (I’m making my own gift tags this year using block printing – I was thinking it would be easy to print maybe fifteen extra to throw into the exchange – they’re going to be an illustration of a crab wearing a santa hat with MERRY CRABMAS underneath) but I’m not sure how it would be received, or how to determine whether it falls into the value min/max…

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              I’d love them, so at least one internet stranger approves of CRABMAS.

              Personally I felt like it went great, but this group happened to consist of 100% crafters, thrifters, cooks, etc., so I have a feeling it ended up nicer than it would in many places. Even the stuff I got that I wouldn’t use (e.g. pottery flower pots since I don’t do plants) were nice enough to gift onwards.

        2. a tester, not a developer*

          I only did reddit Secret Santa once. I put a lot of thought into getting something nice for someone I didn’t have any common interests with. I ended up getting them a (I thought) really nice set of dice for D&D. They were not inexpensive either. Never heard a peep from the recipient other than that they had received the package. I know it’s childish, but it soured me on the whole thing.

    6. I edit everything*

      I have a gift exchange tonight that’s whatever you call “bring something from home you don’t really want anymore.” White elephant, yankee swap… Then we’ll apparently do the “trade around” bit before unwrapping anything.

      I’m dreading it. I’m glad we’re not spending money, but I really hate these things. No one gets anything they actually want, and it’s all excruciatingly embarrassing.

    7. Mauvaise Pomme*

      I wouldn’t call this perverse, just a major cultural disconnect. Growing up, this is what “white elephant” just WAS to me. It would involve a mix of nice but inexpensive gifts and trash gifts, with the trash gifts often wrapped beautifully to divert suspicion. Trying to strategize to not end up with a bad gift was part of the fun at a Christmas party, and everyone went in knowing what to expect and being on the same page. And because the nice gifts weren’t TOO nice, it didn’t feel mean spirited. No one was really missing out. It was just a silly game, with that “last man left standing” vibe of musical chairs.

      To me, throwing around terms like “white elephant” and “Yankee swap” that have massively differing cultural meaning without more context provided is bound to end in disaster. If I had been invited to a white elephant gift swap early in my career, it wouldn’t even occur to me that there might be different rules/expectations than the ones I’d been raised with, and I may very well have shown up with a half-used paper towel roll in a gorgeously wrapped package.

      1. Mauvaise Pomme*

        To summarize: in the part of the American south I grew up in, white elephant is a light-hearted party game, not a framework for a genuine gift exchange. That’s why it’s so important to explicitly define the rules going in when you do any kind of gift exchange in an office!

        People who bring bad gifts to a white elephant really may not be awful jerks! They may just be coming from a completely different cultural context about what’s happening.

        1. Lacey*

          When I was a kid it was something where you brought something from your own house that you didn’t want, but other people might. Not trash, but not a gift either.

          1. pancakes*

            I didn’t grow up with these, fwiw, and the idea that giving literal trash is lighthearted or fun doesn’t make any sense to me. Inexpensive gag gifts, yes, and I’ve participated in that sort of thing several times, but I don’t see the fun in wrapping up trash unless it’s unexpected and a genuine prank.

      2. Hippo-nony-potomus*

        I grew up with Yankee swaps, which are intended to be genuine gift exchanges. The white elephant thing is new to me.

        IMHO, the price is the real guideline. $5? Someone will bring a few candy bars and someone else will bring a used bathmat and a scratch ticket. Whatever. $30? Bring something nice or don’t play.

  3. Gelie Fish*

    #5 i would not use the term White Elephant, it lends itself to gag gifts. If they are still doing it for a gift exchange then they are just crappy people.

    1. Airy*

      Where I’m from (NZ) a “white elephant” is a fundraising sale of still-good second-hand things. I’ve never encountered a white elephant gift exchange but unless I was told otherwise I would assume it meant to give an item like that, not to buy something new.

      1. Siege*

        What I’ve found is that a lot of people call something a white elephant but the expectation is that you will buy a new gift, and actually giving a white elephant is frowned on. I think we don’t really have a good term for what the game has become, and Yankee Swap and Dirty Santa are different (as I understand it) and the names sound more troubling.

        1. turquoisecow*

          I’ve heard “Secret Santa” but in any case I think the rules need to be laid out clearly at the beginning. Is it a joke gift or a serious gift? Is the budget a maximum or a minimum? Is the giver going to remain a secret? Will there be stealing or swapping? Maybe even toss out some examples of good gifts. If someone asked me to participate in a Yankee Swap, I wouldn’t even know what that meant, so I’d ask, but some people might have assumptions that don’t line up with other assumptions.

          1. PollyQ*

            Yeah, it doesn’t really matter what you call it. The rules need to be clearly spelled out, so that no one has to guess or assume.

            1. Liz*

              Exactly. I attended a party recently with my BF, not work, but for a professional service organization he’s a member of. They did a “grab bag” gift swap, but the rules were spelled out clearly. Everyone picks a number, you choose in that order, if you touch something, its yours, and stealing is allowed. Prior to that, the dollar limit was given ($25) and per my BF, booze is VERY popular. so 90% of the gifts were alcohol. Only a handful were not, although they were still nice; a nice fleece blanket, and so on.

              But I agree; rules need to be clearly spelled out as there are many terms, and interpretations of Yankee swap, white elephant, secret santa, and so on. Just so everyone is on the same page, and no one ends up with a dud gift, when everyone else has something nice.

          2. Tali*

            My understanding of Secret Santa is that each person buys one gift (sometimes a series of gifts) for one designated person whose name they have pulled out of a hat randomly. Yankee Swap/White Elephant are when each person buys one gift for an unknown recipient, who will be decided during the game. It may be decided by music (like musical chairs, when the music stops), or each person picking a present to open, possibly getting a chance to swap their choice with a present someone else has already picked. The term “white elephant” also may hint to the kind of gift, ie something nice or luxurious but difficult or expensive to maintain.

            But everyone is so messy with these terms that it’s better to define the rules and expectations up front, just in case!

            1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

              This is fascinating, because I’m with you right up until you say “white elephant” means nice/luxurious but expensive. I’d normally say “white elephant” means something useless/unwanted, so work-appropriate gag gifts or regifted tchotchkes.

              1. Charlotte Lucas*

                I think of “white elephant” as unwanted thing in your home that someone else might want & people have a chance to swap to get. You buy something new for Secret Santa or a grab bag. (Unless it’s a White Elephant grab bag.)

                “Yankee Swap” isn’t a term where I live, & nobody I know would have any idea what it meant.

                1. Pounce de Leon*

                  My understanding of White Elephant: after Christmas, a group of friends would gather for a “white elephant” party in which they gave away the weirdest, most impractical, or simply unwanted gift they had received for Christmas.
                  It was called “white elephant” because in nature a white elephant in a herd of gray elephants would be odd and impractical.

              2. EPLawyer*

                That was actually the original meaning of “White Elephant.” the Rulers of India would give a gift of a White Elephant to someone they wanted to destroy. It’s a gift from the Ruler so you can’t just say no, or hand it off to someone. but damn, they are expensive to maintain. The person would go broke trying to maintain the “gift.”

                And that is your bit of useless trivia for the day.

                1. Wisteria*

                  It was Siam (current day Thailand) rather than India, and the historical evidence for this being an actual thing that Siamese kings did, as opposed to a thing that Victorians said that Siamese kings did, is scanty.

              3. Wisteria*

                I’m with you right up until you say “white elephant” means nice/luxurious but expensive. I’d normally say “white elephant” means something useless/unwanted

                It’s both, and it’s based on what are probably apocryphal stories of Asian rulers giving white elephants to people they dislike. White elephants are sacred in a number of Asian cultures, so it seems like a prestigious gift, but taking care of one is hella expensive.

              4. Tali*

                Yes, I can see how “something nice but a burden” kind of evens out to “something kinda crap” XD

            2. Clisby*

              Yes, I don’t think of a “white elephant” as being a gag gift, or a trashy gift – it’s something that’s more trouble than it’s worth to keep. It might, in fact, be expensive but be hard to maintain, or take up too much space, or be totally impractical.

          3. EPLawyer*

            Yep. Clearly the OP knew what was meant. And is now miffed someone else didn’t. Which way to ruin the holiday spirit by confronting someone because their gift didn’t live up to your standards.

            Also $30 is waaaaaay high for office gift exchange no matter what you call it. This is a fun little office thing, keep it low priced so people can have fun without worrying about expense.

            1. MissBaudelaire*

              If the limit was thirty bucks, I’d honestly rather do a name drawing to buy a nice present for one person in particular. That makes more sense than just a generic okay gift that anyone could get.

            2. Tuesday*

              And I think having the price range be so high leads to more resentment when people don’t think a gift is up to standards. If people only spent $10, they’re more likely to shrug it off, but after spending $30, they want something better in return. Really though, people who get worked up about what someone else brought for a gift exchange… ugh.

          4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            One place I worked explicitly said “used or crafted – no new items” which worked well for that group which was chock full of bakers, knitters, potters, metalworkers, etc..

        2. Person from the Resume*

          Secret Santa to me is very clearly a name pull where you buy multiple gifts for a specific person. The secret part is that in the week or so leading up to the final gift and reveal you are supposed to leave small, inexpensive gifts (perhaps candy or something) for them to find with the from marked as “your secret Santa” and then on the final day you exchange a more expensive gift and reveal who was everyone’s secret Santa. It’s good to spell out the expected overall cost of the gifts and perhaps how often you should leave little gifts.

          I find yankee swap and white elephant very much more unclear. I think I avoid participating in a work gift exchange one year early in my career because I wasn’t really clear on the rules and worried about messing it up. Very clear rules are helpful. I did not encounter a yankee swap or white elephant until adulthood in the workplace.

      2. Bagpuss*

        I’m in the UK and it has the same meaning here, so if you said it was a White Elephant swap I’d assume that you were actively encouraging gifting / re-gifting of things which were in good condition but not new / not to your personal taste.

        1. londonedit*

          Yep, definitely – white elephant to me is a stall at a bring-and-buy or jumble sale where people bring along household goods that are in decent condition but definitely not new. It’s the sort of ‘random collection of bits’ stall rather than being ‘clothes’ or ‘books’ or ‘cakes’ or whatever.

          In the UK I’ve only come across a straightforward Secret Santa gift exchange, where everyone pulls a name out of the hat and has a budget (usually no more than £10) to buy a gift for that person. Sometimes the gifts are fun and sometimes they’re something small but nice, but the idea is not to buy intentionally awful gifts and there’s no stealing or swapping gifts.

      3. Policy Wonk*

        White elephant to me also means something second-hand. Yankee swap is more commonly used when the intent it to buy something. But with time the two terms have become almost interchangeable. Agree that you should avoid the term white elephant to prevent this kind of confusion. And I also have often had to provide an extra gift for that person who got something that didn’t meet the spirit of the exchange.

        1. PostalMixup*

          I have never heard the term Yankee Swap before today. Maybe it’s regional? Every gift swap instance I’ve participated in has been called a White Elephant. They’ve had various rules, various dollar limits, but always the same name.

    2. Pennyworth*

      If I was involved in a white elephant I would find an elephant themed gift in the price range every single time. I hate Christmas shopping!

    3. anonymous73*

      It doesn’t matter what you call it, you just need to specify what should be brought to the gift exchange. If people are going to get bent out of shape because they didn’t receive what they thought to be a worthy gift, then just don’t participate. It really is that simple.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes. I think the main thing is just to be clear what the rules are and what you want people to bring. That’s the best way to make sure everyone is happy and knows what they’re doing.

  4. Heidi*

    I kinda like the Halloween Christmas card idea. It adds visual interest to what is normally a boring photo. Plus, I wouldn’t consider a photo that’s less than two months old “dated.” I think it’s pretty smart to take the photo at the last big office party before Christmas. You might not get as good a turnout otherwise.

    1. Willis*

      Yeah, it seems pretty innocuous assuming they all have office-appropriate costumes. It’s probably meant to show their lighthearted side. I have to think the number of recipients out there who would be turned off by this card for being dated or unprofessional but would appreciate one taken in business causal wear in early December is vanishingly slim. It seems like a silly thing to bring up.

      1. Pounce de Leon*

        That the company has a Halloween party with costumes in the first place tells me they are not ultra-formal. If the design of the card is right, it can come off as a lot of fun amid the snowflakes and reindeer.

      1. Mannequin*

        Exactly what I was going to say. NMBC is nearly 30 years old and it’s popularity is unabated*. I don’t see the problem here.

        *Check YouTube for the 2021 live NMBC event! It’s AMAZING! Danny Elfman is nearly 70(!) and his voice is better than when he first sang Jack. Billie Eilish sang Sally and moved me so deeply I sobbed like a baby.

        1. thatjillgirl*

          I think I just died a little when you said NMBC is nearly 30 years old. Where did my youth go? How can this be? Why is time???

  5. learnedthehardway*

    OP#6 – you’re borrowing trouble here, and you don’t need to. You’ve been working at your current organization for awhile, you’re well known now and surely have a good reputation for the work you are doing. Even if this person does mention that you quit without notice – well, so what? She wasn’t there when that happened. All she knows is what she heard from others, not what she personally experienced, so she’s not someone who can legitimately comment on whether you left without notice or not.

    What is the worst that can happen here? She might say you left without notice to someone you know at work, who might bring that up to you. In which case, you say that you had a serious personal situation that forced you to leave suddenly. It was a difficult decision, but necessary in the circumstances. The situation is now resolved. What the actual reason was is nobody’s business but yours. All that matters is how you deal with the issue, IF it comes up.

    And even if she says something to someone, and they don’t say anything to you, well, I’m sure they will look at what they know of you before they conclude that you’re a flake.

    Whatever the situation was, I’m sure it WAS serious: it clearly upsets you that you did quit without notice, which implies strongly that you take your responsibilities seriously, so I’m sure the situation warranted your decision to leave suddenly.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I think it’s best to hint at it being a work situation that caused OP to leave, since she didn’t give notice. Or at least the personal situation was so bad she didn’t have a minute to even think of work.
      OP could also make a proactive statement ahead of time, starting with some kind of joke to the effect of “you know what I’ll do if you make me file the TPS reports all the time” but then clarifying that “actually, I know I flaked out of that job without even giving notice but I did have a good reason for doing so, it’s just not something I can talk about”

  6. Certaintroublemaker*

    For LW6, I wouldn’t be 100% sure the replacement hire knew the circumstances of them leaving. She didn’t start at small nonprofit until after LW was gone, which—due to the time it takes for posting and hiring—is almost always the case. Also, replacement hire has now also left small nonprofit. She may be entirely sympathetic to why one would want to leave there.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Exactly! It’s possible someone mentioned to her that her predecessor quit without notice, but it’s also very possible they never mentioned it.

    2. Meep*

      It also really depends on the circumstances. “I was young and dumb” is as valid as “It was a toxic work environment and I had a mental breakdown working there” or “I had a medical scare and they didn’t give me the proper considerations.” if they learned something from being young and dumb and quitting a job last minute.

  7. ENFP in Texas*

    LW#3 – YES. And please also teach them about tone of voice, and if they’re setting appointments to clearly confirm the date and time that they have you booked for.

    My mom was a corporate trainer for Fortune 500 companies, and one of her courses was on Communication and Phone Etiquette. You’d be surprised at how much people don’t know about professional phone manners.

    1. Loulou*

      It’s also not just about manners! Every phone is different and just because a person knows basic phone etiquette doesn’t mean they know how functions like muting or transferring calls works on your office’s phone. To me it would go without saying that you explain stuff about the phones just like you explain where supplies are kept, how to use the timekeeping system, etc.

      1. Wendy*

        This! I’ve ended up doing a lot of secretarial / front desk work over the years (mostly because I was young and female, even when my job description had nothing to do with answering phones) and it’s anxiety-inducing to try to put someone on hold with a phone system you haven’t mastered. I know there were at least a few times I hung up on people by mistake, or I thought I had muted but didn’t, or passed them to someone’s emergency cell instead of their office voicemail. It’s worth taking the time to write up some documentation so you’ll have it available for existing employees who want a refresher or want to look up some specific function, too!

      2. Emi*

        Yes, this! I worked a summer job as a receptionist and even though my parents had drilled me in phone manners as a child, I’d never used a phone with that many features before. (Apparently the initial stress really got into my psyche, because a year or two later I dreamed there was an emergency and I couldn’t figure out how to dial out for 911, lol.)

        1. Esmae*

          There’s also a huge difference between “Tell Mom to call Aunt Violet when she gets a chance” and taking down a complex business-related message for your boss. When I first started doing secretarial work, it was super stressful trying to get all the relevant info written down without asking the caller to repeat themselves so I wouldn’t forget something crucial when I was transferring the call. It becomes second nature after a while, but it’s definitely not at first!

      3. Betteauroan*

        OP should definitely do a full training on how they handle phone communication at that particular org. Every place is different. And kids these days do not have a lot of experience actually using a phone for its original intended purpose. I would not assume they don’t need the guidance.

    2. John Smith*

      I’m reminded of the UKs Directory Enquiries (what used to be a free telephone lookup to obtain people’s telephone numbers). It used to be answered “Directory Enquiries, which name please?” And that was it. Following it’s privatisation, the greeting turned into an unnecessary customer service smulch:

      “Good afternoon, my name is Godfrey. Thank you for calling [name of org], how can I help you today?”.

      I don’t care what your name is, nor the time of day and there’s only one service you actually provide (giving telephone numbers) so why ask?

      The point is that a greeting should be polite and short. Mine is usually “[name of organisation], John speaking” and that’s it. Some colleagues don’t bother with their name. We never get any complaints.

      Also, never, ever have a script that asks the caller for information (such as user name, membership number etc) before they’ve revealed the nature of the call. Nothing worse than answering 20 questions just to ask what the opening hours are!

      1. Green great dragon*

        Yes to your last para! And definitely don’t start asking for things like order number/customer number unless you can be absolutely certain everyone calling has these things and has been told these things and is not, for example, calling to say they haven’t got their order confirmation…

      2. Green great dragon*

        Yes to your last para! And definitely don’t start asking for things like order number/customer number unless you can be absolutely certain everyone calling has these things and has been told these things and is not, for example, calling to say they haven’t got their order confirmation…

      3. hbc*

        I know someone who used to answer the phone at their place of work with “Hello, you’ve reached [business], you’ve got questions, we’ve got answers, this is Fergus, how can I help you?” It’s amazing how fast he can say it even 30 years later, but it’s still too long if you just want to know what time they open on Sunday or whether they have stock of a particular weird battery.

        1. OyHiOh*

          My org’s name is either 16 syllables, or 1, depending on if you pronounce the acronym, or say all the words individually. I generally opt for “acronym office, this is Oy” because if I try to say the entire organization’s name, callers start trying to fill in with why they’re calling halfway through the greeting. With rare exceptions for wrong numbers, people calling us know who we are before I pick up the phone.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Yes, you do state the name of the org just to confirm they got the right number, but best to do it quickly. Mostly people are just listening to make sure it’s a real person they’re talking to, and waiting for their chance to speak, they don’t even pay attention to the name. (so that when it is a wrong number, it takes ages to work it out).

        2. Jaybee*

          A particularly unbalanced manager I worked with once tried to write her own script for us to answer the phone with. (This was an international bank, she came up with this bright idea for just this one branch.) It lasted a single day because it was so long people would just hang up in the middle of the greeting.

          1. Cheap Ass Rolex*

            Back when I briefly worked at Big Red Office Supply Store, they were in a phase where every week they would desperately tack on more advertising to our phone greeting. So the directive bloomed the greeting from:

            “Thank you for calling Paperclips, this is Name, how can I help you?”

            to eventually more like:

            “Thank you for calling your 14th Avenue Paperclips, where We Fix Computers; for the month of July all shredder warranties are 40% off, this is Name, how can I help you?” etc etc.

            We all refused to do it unless a manager was hanging around. It was ridiculous and got us cussed out every time.

        3. Esmae*

          “Thank you for calling Sam Goody, your home for Virgin Mobile! This is Esmae, how can I help you today?” They’ve been out of business long enough that I don’t feel bad using the name, lol. In a year of working there I don’t think anybody was ever calling to ask about the mobile phone plans.

      4. LQ*

        I always do a super long greeting when I’m interrupted in the middle of something to give myself a few seconds to get my brain into the right spot. I’ve had people launch into a really complex question immediately and if you just got me out of something wildly different it’s hard to change gears that fast. Slightly less likely in a call center, but I know someone who does call center work and uses a longer greeting to scan the customer’s account to figure out why they are likely calling so she’s prepared for the yellers.

      5. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I have a former colleague whose phone greeting is so long. “Thank you for calling (library) at (cross streets) in (city). What can I help you with today?” And every time she heard me answer with “(Library Name), this is Peggy,” she would try to convince me to give them more information up front. My thought is that if people want to know our cross streets or our open hours, they’ll ask and I’ll answer. If they don’t want to know those things, they’re just going to be super irritated having to listen to it before they can ask me their actual question.

        1. Sparkly Librarian*

          Not to mention, they aren’t going to process the cross-streets in a phone greeting even if that’s what they were calling for!

          The spiel we are regularly reminded to use sounds like this, and I feel ridiculous every time I say the whole thing. Callers laugh.

          “Thank you for calling City Public Library. This is the Main Library, Department. My name is Sparkly. How can I help you?”

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yes, most people don’t actually listen. They’re listening for clues as to whether it’s a robot or a person, and they’re waiting for a chance to ask their question. If their question is your opening hours, they then feel sheepish about saying “what time do you open” because they may realise they heard it, but weren’t listening.
          If you do listen carefully and don’t need any more info, what do you even say, “Oh OK thanks bye”? What kind of a conversation is that? Or does that even matter nowadays?

      6. Koalafied*

        I’ve worked at a few food places that take phone orders for delivery or pickup, and since 99% of the people calling were placing an order, in each place the standard greeting was, “Thanks for calling [location] Food Place, will this be pick-up or delivery?”

        Typically that’s the first option you have to select on the POS before you can enter an actual order. At one place we had caller ID that was automatically connected to the order taking system so we could just ask their name to confirm, at the others we had to ask for their phone number as the second step. And there’s no reason to expect that callers would know that we needed those two pieces of information, in that order, before anything else. So it’s really doing them a favor to jump right to asking what you need from them instead of asking a vague “how can I help?” and letting them guess the right way to convey their order.

        For the 1% of the time it was someone calling to follow up on an order or ask a question and thus they wanted neither pickup nor delivery, they were perfectly capable of saying, “Actually, I need -“

    3. Pescadero*

      ” You’d be surprised at how much people don’t know about professional phone manners.”

      As someone who works a lot with folks of college age… not really.

      I mean – I’ve got a 19 year old son, and we’ve never really had a landline phone at home his entire life.

      1. Mannequin*

        I grew up in the era of landlines, but my parents got an answering machine when I was 11 or 12 and forever after screened all their calls.

      2. Jay*

        My daughter is 21. We’ve always had a landline but we stopped answering it about 15 years ago. She would definitely need direct and clear instruction if she had a job that required her to answer the phone and take messages.

        I get a lot of messages from our call center and from coordinators in our office and boy howdy do I wish someone would train them to get 1) the name of the caller 2) the person they’re calling about (I’m a doc) and 3) THE NUMBER WHERE I CAN CALL THEM BACK.

    4. OftenOblivious*

      Yes, yes, yes, train them on the phone. I grew up in landline times, but I did front desk/admin work for a summer job and still needing some basic training, both appropriate scripts and how to use hold/transfer/etc. I still hung up on a couple of people accidentally.

      1. Susan Ivanova*

        I was an office aide in high school. I hung up on the superintendant of the school district once – he’d insisted that I transfer him, despite my attempt to tell him that I only knew how to take messages. Normally calls went through the switchboard so they wouldn’t need to be transferred from our phones.

    5. PT*

      I second the YES. I worked somewhere with a landline system and none of our younger folks knew how to dial 9 to get out of the building without specific training. We had to put a post-it with dialing directions on the phone itself, after a few incidents. (The incidents were either a: there was an accident requiring an ambulance and they tried to call 911 and could not get out of the building and had to call on their cell slowing down response time or b. someone tried to call not-911 and ended up calling 911 because they didn’t know how to dial, freaked out, and hung up, which of course scares dispatch and they send an unhappy cop.)

    6. Artemesia*

      I was on vacation when the provost called to talk to me (at the time I was an associate Dean and so working administratively in the summer; the intern who answered the phone said ‘oh I don’t know if she is around, I haven’t seen her come in and I haven’t seen her around this week.’ Thus firmly cementing in the new provost’s mind the idea that I was someone who rarely showed up for work and was unreliable and no one knew what I was doing. I WAS ON VACATION. I don’t think I ever got the stink of that off with him.

      Absolutely teach anyone answering the phone the rules of discretion in answering calls and appropriate scripts.

      1. Caraway*

        At a former job, I heard so many stories about the former receptionist, who didn’t seem to understand the concept of discretion at all. Apparently it was common for her to tell callers (external callers! Not even internal callers), “Oh, Joe’s in the bathroom again, I think he’s got something going on today because he’s been in there a lot!” Or “No, Sarah’s not in today, she had to take the dog to vet for his rabies shot,” or other things along those lines. Those are not things you need to share with people who really just want to know if Joe is available to speak with right now, or whether Sarah will be returning their call today.

    7. Sedna*

      Yup, hard second to all of this. Even if you are familiar with landlines, there’s a huge difference between the kitchen phone I grew up with and the multifunctional office handsets I use now in my office. I’m almost 40 and I still could not transfer someone if you paid me to do it. Also – again, even if you grew up with landlines, there’s a huge difference between handling calls from friends & family and handling calls on a work basis.

  8. Felis alwayshungryis*

    The best office gift exchange I had was one where it was stipulated that it had to be a tree decoration and no more than $10. Obviously this only works if you know everyone does Christmas with a Christmas tree, but otherwise it’s easy to find inexpensive tree decorations, or indeed make one, and it doesn’t clutter up your house all year. I still do them for Secret Santa.

    1. Vermont Green*

      You could just specify “seasonal decoration” which could allow for puffy paper snowmen, poinsettia garlands, and other non-religious items.

        1. Sherry*

          Yeah, I’d grin and bear it but this really sucks if you aren’t Christian. I don’t know why people can’t just give cheap but practical gifts: lip balm, lotion, socks, nails files, chocolates, mints, key chains, Covid card holders and just wrap them really nicely. It’s what we do for Hanukkah but maybe that’s also religious in a way?

      1. bureaucratte*

        Poinsettia garlands are Christmas decorations. I don’t decorate my home for winter or Chanukah beyond what my toddler does. This gift exchange would be great if you knew everyone celebrate Christmas, but otherwise it’d be pretty annoying/exclusionary. But stipulating SOMETHING might work. Travel-themed if the office does a lot of travel, a book, office decor/supplies, whatever

      2. Astor*

        Please don’t! If you’re someone who enjoys Christmas, it’s really hard to identify things that are associated with Christmas and not just winter. Poinsettias, garlands, robins, reindeer, north pole animals etc are all specifically used in Christmas imagery and aren’t neutral for many people. And there is essentially no way to do a “seasonal holiday” without it being “Christmas light”, because “season” does not mean “December”. I’ll grin and bear it because to do otherwise makes people (sometimes subconsciously) decide that I’m rude, and I’ll enjoy the pleasure you’re getting, but I really feel terrible when we behave as if a sanitized Christmas is somehow not Christmas.

        1. Liz T*

          “If you’re someone who enjoys Christmas, it’s really hard to identify things that are associated with Christmas and not just winter.”


          Years ago I saw Sweeney Todd on Broadway on Christmas Eve, and at the curtain call the cast decided they wanted to leave us with something more wholesome in honor of the holiday, so the lead actor broke out a guitar and introduced what he called a “non-denominational” song before singing…Silent Night.

          You know, the one about being round yon Virgin, Mother and Child. Holy infant so tender and mild. Super non-denominational, that one.

          It was clearly a spur-of-the-moment choice but it was pretty funny.

      3. Nanani*

        But people who don’t celebrate christmas won’t have a christmas tree to put ornaments on. This sounds well-meaning but missing the point of inclusivity around holidays.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Trees were decorated long by the pagans before the winter festivities were abducted by Christianity.
          I mean, I’m an atheist but I have a Christmas tree. There just aren’t any religious decorations, and we don’t have a Nativity scene either.

      4. Liz T*

        Aside from poinsettias in December being specifically about the baby Jesus…the whole concept of “seasonal decoration” is pretty Christmas-y.

    2. anonymous73*

      This! My friend has a party every year with a White Elephant and one year we were told to buy ornaments. A bunch of us ended up with ornaments we didn’t really like (I got one of our local NFL team’s biggest nemesis) and we sneakily added them to our friend’s tree before we left.

    3. generic_username*

      My favorite are cookie exchanges. You bring in a bunch of one type of cookie and then everyone goes through with a plate/Tupperware container and picks up one cookie from each offering. Most people home-bake their cookies, but store-bought is okay too. Not everything is good, but it’s super accessible and if something isn’t good, then you just don’t eat that one.

    4. Meep*

      We do Sockmas at my office. You spend less than $15 on a gift and another $5-10 on a pair of large fuzzy or soft funky socks. The gift must fit inside the socks. Then people pick based on the sock they like. Keeps it small, cheap, and affordable to the person’s budget. Plus it is really fun to see how creative people get!

  9. nnn*

    #3: Even before we get into whether students specifically use the phone less, there are a number of phone-related things that vary from employer to employer, and therefore you’d need to go over them even with experienced employees who are new to your specific workplace.

    For example, is there a specific script you want employees to use when you answer the phone, or at least specific information you want them to convey?

    How do they transfer a call on the specific phone they’ll be using? (Many phones are different – I once switched to a new desk in the same office, and it had a different phone where I couldn’t figure out how to transfer!)

    If someone calls and asks to speak to the manager, does the manager want them to put the caller through right away, or take a message, or try to solve the caller’s problem themselves? What does the manager want the employees to do if the caller insists on speaking to the manager and won’t leave a name or a message?

    When an employee takes a message, how do you want them to convey the message to the recipient? Email? Post-it note? Something else?

    Do you need to dial 9 for an outside line? What if you’re calling 911 – do you dial 911 or 9-911?

    There’s a fair amount of stuff like this that’s specific to your workplace and specific to the phone, so you may as well have a separate section on it, and add anything else you’ve noticed employees may need to learn.

    1. turquoisecow*

      My current office actually has you dial 7 for an outside line. Everywhere else I’ve worked it’s a 9. The first time I had to make an outside call (it happens very rarely) I was SO confused and ended up asking a coworker for help.

      1. Jaybee*

        Our office used to dial 9 – and then 1 if it’s out of area. We switched to 7 and then 1, because people were accidentally dialing 911 too often.

        1. AMinion*

          This. A few years ago, an email went out asking people to please not hang up if they accidentally call 911. My office still uses 9 to make outside calls.

          1. Esmae*

            Incoming calls all went to the receptionist at the office I used to work in, so any time someone accidentally called 911 and hung up, the callback would go to me. We had 40 employees spread over two floors, I was 100% guessing when I told the operator it was an accidental hang-up.

        2. Full anon for this one!*

          Years ago, my dad was at his work, and for some reason or whatever he was the only one in the building. They sold trade show displays, so they had a massive display room in the main part of the building, and then offices near the back. He was back there, and most of the rest of the office was dark/lights off, so it was pretty eerie, especially with all of the looming displays. All of a sudden at one point, he heard someone yelling if there was anyone in there. Apparently at some point he must have accidentally dialed 911 without even realizing it, so the cops showed up.

    2. me*

      I really like this! If your organization allows, why not create an official phone policy that you can train people on, including things that you mentioned, such as greetings, messages, and as someone earlier said, reading back key information such as appointment time? Also keeping a small “cheat sheet” by the phone might be helpful too, either with greetings, who to transfer what type of calls to, and important buttons.

      I also agree about needing to cover how to transfer a call – every office I’ve been in is different and this is always the thing I’ve messed up the most. One of my first professional jobs out of school (in 2012), we had training on almost everything in the office, including how to attach a document to an email in Outlook. A trainer literally came in to show my entire group (contract hires who started working at the same time), then watched while everyone attached a document to a test email. We also got a handout, which was standard for those training sessions. I asked if there was a handout about how to transfer a call, and the trainer said, “no, all phones are the same.” This is definitely not the case. The trainer was shocked later in the week when I couldn’t figure out how to transfer a call.

      Now when I train people, if answering phones and transferring calls are part of the job, I make a point not only to show people how to transfer lines but we practice so that everyone is familiar with the buttons. (Also covered in training – when someone has blanket permission to hang up on a caller! given when people are being creeps and/or abusive)

      1. UnionMaid*

        our policy on Domestic Abuse and Stalking includes the stipulation that you should never give out information about colleagues – e.g. “oh, she just popped out to the supermarket”, even to family members who phone in.

        Also, if there is an internal policy with regard to hate speech, training could include a reminder to staff that they can report anything abusive. If there is a pattern to incidents, sometimes there are actions the employer can take to try and mitigate.

      2. Nanani*

        My first office job had a laminated cheat sheet next to it, and not just for the phone next to the newest people.
        The expectation was that anyone might need to answer another team’s phones if, for instance, the whole team was already on another line or in a meeting or out at an outside event or whatever.
        Having the correct “This is (team name)…” script right there was always useful.

    3. Birch*

      YUP. This is not about students or etiquette or manners at all, this is a specific job task and everyone needs to be trained to do it. I’m 32 and if you put a landline in front of me I am not going to automatically know how to transfer a call using the internal extension or put in the extra number to route the call externally or whatever. Or read your mind as to how exactly you would like the style of my phone greeting! These things change from organization to organization, of course you would train someone on it the same way you’d train them where to find and how to use the copy machine with a swipe card or use a cash register or how to set the alarm or the company email signature style.

      1. PostalMixup*

        Yep. I’m 33, been at my job for nearly two years, and I have no idea how to work my desk phone. And I worked a job in college where one of my core responsibilities was answering the front desk phone!

        1. Esmae*

          A coworker of mine who’s 41 and generally very smart and tech-savvy can’t transfer calls from her desk phone to save her life. I, meanwhile, can transfer calls easily but can’t reliably pick up a call that’s on hold. It’s not as easy as it sounds!

        2. A*

          Same – I 100% ignore my desk phone / work landline. I just use my work cell when needed, but 99% of my calls come through Teams/Zoom/WeChat/previously Skype. I don’t even have the number listed on my business card nor do I recall what it is!

      2. Lady_Lessa*

        Because I don’t use my work phone that much, I still have trouble answering it. GRIN (and it’s been 3 years)

      3. PT*

        And some places have a “traditional” landline and some are VOIP now too, which introduces different functions.

    4. londonedit*

      Yeah, I think this is definitely less of an ‘OMG don’t young people even know how to use a phone anymore?’ and more ‘let’s help these people understand how we need them to do things’. Which, as you say, is the case whenever you join a new company. The phones are always different and it always takes time to get used to how it all works! Whenever I’ve had responsibility for answering external calls as part of my job (I started out on a reception desk, and I’ve also worked at a couple of really small companies where the phones would just ring and whoever was free would answer and transfer the call) I’ve absolutely been shown how to use the phone system and told how I should answer the phone (even if it was just ‘Good morning, [name of company]’ – with one employer the company was known both by its full two-word name and also by just one of those words as a shorthand, and the boss was very clear about reminding people that they should answer the phone with ‘Good morning, [full company name]’). These things aren’t necessarily intuitive to anyone, even if they’ve been working for decades, and if they’re going to be answering the phones and presenting an image of the company/organisation, then you need to make sure they’re properly trained.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        I work with someone who is significantly removed from student-aged who answers the landline by shouting “HELLO!” and nothing more. Yikes. Training really needs to happen on office phones across the board. Fax machine too, if you have one. (I have little faith that I can do anything other than pick up my direct line and check my VM, and as I use the fax machine roughly once a year? Oh. And I’m half a lifetime removed from being a college student.)

        1. generic_username*

          I worked with an older woman who did that too – just answered “Hello!” (thankfully not a shout). Another woman in my office would take the worst messages. She wouldn’t ask any questions and then would give really incomplete messages that left you asking “Did they say their name?” and “why were they calling?”

          Maybe they did it on purpose though, because I was the one who got stuck with the job of answering our phones and taking all messages since I did both in a professional and thorough way, lol.

      2. Annika Hansen*

        When moving offices a few years ago, I found a pamphlet that my university used to give out on phone etiquette. I started in the late 90s and that pamphlet predates me so this is definitely not a “kids these days” thing. It’s a skill that needs to be taught.

      3. Nanani*

        Well said!

        And like Alison said, a lot of people did not grow up taking messages for others. Either everyone had their own cell, or the landline was for grown-ups only, or parents preferred voice mail to counting on a child to remember a message, or a lot of things.

        If you want a thing done a certain way, tell people the way you want the thing. It’s not hard.

        1. Mannequin*

          I grew up in landline only times, but my parents got an answering machine when I was in 6th or 7th grade and screened all their calls after that.

          That was so long ago I can’t even remember if my parents had us answering the phone for them before that, lol, but we had a stay at home mom who didn’t leave us alone until we were both of high school age, so if we did it would just have been to say “hold on, let me get my mom”.

    5. Saraquill*

      My office gave me all of two minutes of phone training. Aside from “here’s a message pad, here’s how you hold, here’s how you transfer,” rules are fluid and contradictory.

      Examples include “It’s wrong to stay on hold indefinitely, but acceptable if we do it to others,” and “If a client speaks for longer than X seconds, talk at Saraquill because her silence annoys me.”

      Concrete, detailed rules along with written instructions sounds like a much better policy.

  10. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP5: the best secret Santa gift I got at work probably cost around £1.60. It was a bag of dried macaroni- which is by far my most favourite snack (straight out the bag – crunchy!). Believe me I loved that more than a load of bubble stuff or office toys.

    Don’t complain about cheaper gifts. The only times to actually chastise people about gifts in these events is if they are a) wildly inappropriate (don’t give a strap on to your coworker. I saw someone do that) or b) disgusting (emptying the contents of the kitchen bin into a box).

    1. Bagpuss*

      Yes – a cheaper gift may be because someone wants to participate and fit in, but doesn’t have the financial means to give something more expensive.

    2. anonymous73*

      This. If you’re going into these things for the sole purpose of getting a gift, don’t participate.

    3. ceiswyn*

      My Secret Santa one year bought me a packet of nice pears.

      I like pears. I was very happy.

      Everyone else in the office finally got a chance at the pears that came with the office fruit box. Happiness all round!

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I’d much rather have a few blood oranges than some bath salts :)

        (We are doing secret Santa here in the department next week and I’ve put that on my ‘things I like’ list :)

    4. M*

      Our boss at my old office put a candy box full of chewed gum in our White Elephant exchange one year… So, I agree with you on the gross gift thing. That year I received a silly stuffed monkey backpack, which I ended up donating but I’m sure a kid somewhere loved it! Cheap is fine, gross is not.

  11. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP3: I work in IT and we have for every new starter a run down on phones. Things like ‘it’s not going to be ringing all the time – we’re not helpdesk- but it will go and you need to answer it professionally. We don’t have a script but something like ‘(regional) IT department, (name) speaking’ is good’

    Also there’s the ‘dial 9 for outside line’ ‘won’t dial internationally so don’t try’ ‘here’s how to call the emergency services’ stuff.

  12. Loulou*

    I’ll admit to being baffled by #1. If the invite goes on the team calendar, presumably visible to the whole team, how is the team lead NOT invited? It’s not as though you’ve blocked out lunch with two coworkers on your own calendar and your boss sees it and invites herself along. Am I missing something?

    1. John Smith*

      We solve this problem simply by having our staff parties at times when our manager is away on holiday (a cause for celebration in itself as his absence causes outbreaks of morale). He probably wouldn’t attend anyway as he thinks he’s above us all but there have been times when he deigns to interact with his inferiors (a term he uses indirectly by referring to himself as our superior. Cue stifled smirking).

        1. John Smith*

          You should see the holiday scheduling. When the manager has booked a week off, there was a scramble from everyone booking a week’s leave either side of the boss’s so as to maximise time away from him. We’ve set a rota up now so we take it in turns. (People scheduled to WFH while he’s on leave actually come in to the office too). How he or HR haven’t twigged I don’t know.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        He would get along with the LW whose employee was upset that she wasn’t paid for a month and a half.
        And big ups for outbreaks of morale.

    2. BabaYaga*

      Considering that LW keeps on landing at people’s shit list, somehow I don’t think the problem is with people who are or aren’t invited.

      1. Bojo*

        I felt like I was back in high school after reading #1, the LW really seems to enjoy ostracising people.

      2. Cold Fish*

        I can’t get my mind around the size of these “exclusive” get togethers; LW mentions the typical invite is around 1/3 of the company (20 out of 60 employees)! Why wouldn’t the team manager be part of such a large gathering invite?

        Unless they are physically isolated in some way (like on a separate floor), I’m getting serious high school vibes too. The varsity sports teams throwing a big shindig the band kids aren’t invited to kind of thing. (Sure, the band kids can throw their own shindig but that’s not really the point.) “Yeah, Team X does a potluck before Christmas every year, but don’t bother bringing anything, Us accounting plebs aren’t part of the “cool crowd” and are never invited!”

      3. Cheap Ass Rolex*

        Yes, OP, people keep getting mad at you because your system for these invites is terrible! And a team lead doesn’t sound like a manager – a manager would likely be included, but a team lead definitely would. What they’re doing doesn’t make a ton of sense.

    3. anonymous73*

      Yeah that didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me either. If you want to get together and make sure manager isn’t present, go out after work.

    4. KayDeeAye*

      This was my thought too. It’s on the freakin’ office calendar. It’s labeled a work party/lunch/whatever. Why would one’s work boss not be invited to a work party? Honestly, this exclusion just seems petty and mean.

      If you don’t want the boss there, don’t call it a work party and don’t put it on a calendar that he or she has access to.

      1. Storm in a teacup*

        Yeah I was coming here to say something similar but then I re-read the email. It seems like the dos are for a 20-person team in a wider group and it’s the group manager who’s inviting themselves along to a team do and ex-members / those outside the team are complaining about being missed.
        Maybe agree with the rest of the team to keep it to current members only going forward and ask your immediate team’s manager to speak to her boss about drop ins if she has a relationship with them that enables this. I do agree that them attending for some of the holiday ones isn’t necessarily a bad thing and can be a good way to build rapport.

        1. Amaranth*

          LW says its the “group lead” though, and that she learns of it via the team calendar. That doesn’t sound like a company-wide manager or director dropping in, and then LW says everyone is welcome to invite whoever they want. Unless its their lead I guess.

    5. Public Sector Manager*

      Still baffled to this day by #1. I always thought that the first rule of having exclusive lunches where not everyone is invited is to do those things outside of work. Go to the Italian place around the corner during lunch or go to the burger joint across town after work.

      Nope! They are posting an exclusive lunch on the work server, using the conference room or break room at work, and then when their boss comes by the event, complain. It’s so so easy–don’t do these things in the office! Problem is solved permanently!

      1. AcademiaNut*


        They’re having an office party roughly every two weeks (monthy birthday + four quarters + big holidays), in the office, during office hours, using office space and are posting it on the office calendar. It’s an office party, and the group lead is generally invited to that. If they want a private event, go out to happy hour after work or have a party at someone’s home on the weekend, and keep the invitation private.

  13. Nooooo*

    I’m sorry, but I really disagree with Alison’s answer to LW2.

    “Falsifying” a time card for 15 minutes when you are dealing with this sort of management is obviously a survival mechanism (and may have been done by LW2’s coworker of their own accord, without LW2 even knowing about it).

    Also, I can only imagine the rampant wage theft an employer like this would go on with, considering their attitude. I am sure that this employer owes many, many hours of unpaid extra work to LW2, and the rest of the team.

    1. Nooooo*

      Sorry, I hit “Submit” too soon.

      It’s not a fireable offence without there being a hell of a lot of other problems in place (like claiming they were at work for a whole day when they actually weren’t there at all).

      1. ENFP in Texas*

        Falsifying a time card is illegal. And it is likely listed as a fireabke offense in the employment agreement that the employee signed. It has been at the companies where I’ve worked.

        The “pick your own punishment” thing is symptomatic of a dysfunctional workplace, but you don’t use that as justification for illegal behavior.

        1. Nooooo*

          Asking employees to stay back late without pay is also illegal. As is workplace bullying.

          And just because it is in a contract of employment, does not mean it is legal.

    2. John Smith*

      While it seems that the organisation is dysfunctional, we can’t say that they are owing hours to employees – that’s just speculation. Even if it were the case, the way to deal with that issue is not by stealing back the time but by following the organisation’s overtime or grievance procedure in the same way the employer should follow their disciplinary procedure which should never be asking employees to choose their own punishment (mine: being in the same room as my manager for 5 minutes).

      I’m intrigued as to whether the other employee clocked the LW in at their request or off their own back. In either case, that employee should also face some sanction. If it were the latter, it would be unfair for one person to be sanctioned for the actions of another, though LW could rightly be challenged for not owning up once it was known what had happened.

      A simple warning to never do this again and make the time up is really all that was required.

      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        I was wondering that, too; did the LW ask her colleague to punch the time card for her or did the colleague do it as a (misguided but well-intentioned) favor for the LW? If it’s the first case, then the LW clearly shares the blame, but if it’s the latter then it would be very wrong indeed to blame the LW at all.
        Bottom line, though – NOBODY should be falsifying time cards for anyone else! It IS likely to be discovered and the fallout for doing this is also likely to be worse than tardiness alone.

    3. Allonge*

      I disagree. Being 15 minutes late is not a fireable offence etc. Falsifying a time card is several magnitudes more of a problem.

      1. Alice*

        In some orgs, being late is a fireable offence (esp in retail I’ve seen a three warning system, and yes even for something like 10 minutes late). We really don’t have enough context here, but the fact that the coworkers thought to falsify the time cards rather than having OP be late makes me think there would have been some consequences for tardiness as well (if you were already on your 3rd strike you may think anything is better than being seen as late again, etc)

        1. ecnaseener*

          If being 15 mins late was enough to get the LW fired, they’d have been fired once the lateness was discovered regardless of the falsified time punch. Clearly that wasn’t the case.

          Would LOVE an update from LW2 if you’re out there – what did you say?? What ended up happening?

      2. Cat Tree*

        Right. The OP’s phrasing is super weird and distancing. “I was going to be late”. No, it sounds like OP *was* late but didn’t think it would count if she didn’t get caught. It’s not nearly as egregious as yesterday’s juice thief, but it is in the same vein as that. OP views the falsification very differently than most people do.

        (As a side note, someone reported it to the boss (possibly the coworker who clocked her in?) so it sounds like this isn’t normal behavior in this particular work culture.)

        1. Beany*

          Yeah, “I was going to be late” means they were making decisions before the actual duty time started, based on their current status (stuck in traffic, missed a bus, behind a big order at a Dunkin Donuts drive-through, whatever), and they obviously conversed with their coworker, who then clocked them in. Whether or not OP1 *requested* the clock-in, it was certainly done with their knowledge and consent.

      3. Littorally*


        Because you can say “It was only this once for fifteen minutes” but how can anyone know that’s true? “Some orgs commit wage theft” isn’t an answer to “this specific person at this specific org falsified a time card.”

        Obviously it does matter if the LW requested the falsification or if the coworker did it of their own accord (though, believing that would also be a matter of what each of them says and what each of their standing reputations are for truthfulness and reliability) but falsifying timecards is absolutely in the range of fireable offenses.

      4. pancakes*

        Yes. Calling it a survival mechanism doesn’t render it acceptable. The person’s motivations for doing it aren’t the point here. Falsifying a time card has been a fireable offense every place I’ve ever worked.

      5. Nooooo*

        People only tend to falsify timecards if their management is so ridiculously inflexible that flash flooding wherein people have been injured or killed is not enough of an “excuse” to be even a little bit late to work.

        There is no evidence that the OP asked their colleague to falsify their time card.

        And I would argue that 15 minutes is nothing in the grand scheme of things. Esoecially as, statistically, the employer is getting several extra, unpaid hours each week out of OP.

        1. pancakes*

          I don’t think that’s correct, no. One guy I worked with under very reasonable and flexible management was fired for falsifying his time cards to spend hours of his afternoons at yoga or going to midday movies while billing our client for his time.

    4. Duke Flapjack*

      I agree. The first thing that came to mind for me was “just how awful is this office that OP felt the need to clock in early rather than admit they’d be late?” As we all know in most *normal* offices Allison’s advice would be spot on (perhaps not go *straight* to firing, but time card fraud IS serious). However this office seems like there’s something unpleasant going on behind the scenes. If OP is still working there they should probably be looking for another job. I’m hoping that happened long ago.

      1. Wisteria*

        The first thing that came to mind for me was that OP and their coworker are both naive enough not to realize how much worse a falsified time card is than lateness, and the coworker picked (or maybe it was LW’s suggestion?) what they thought was a good solution to LW being late. You don’t have to work in a toxic environment to think that 15 min is nbd, just an environment where being late is obviously bad.

        1. PT*

          A lot of things like this often happen when the employees are some combination of young and used to working in informal work environments where this stuff is allowed/unmonitored. So you have to have that first performance coaching conversation where you say, “This is illegal. It is considered fraud and stealing. I know it might have been normal at your last job(s) but it is not OK here. It is a fireable offense. If it happens again you will be fired,” because their entire job history was at lax/informal/dysfunctional workplaces and they really just don’t know it’s not normal.

          Most people do self-correct when you have these conversations, especially if they’re younger.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yep. There is nothing in the letter to indicate wage theft or that any sort of “survival” need on the part of OP. It’s a very sparse letter with the bare bones facts, and it is a very long stretch from what’s written to this assumption. The choose-your-own-punishment part is the biggest red flag in the letter and that could be a sign of an inexperienced supervisor, some sort of touchy-feely philosophy towards discipline, or a swirling cesspool of dysfunction – we don’t know.

        I am far more bothered by the dishonesty of clocking someone in when they’re not there than lateness. I don’t know that I’d fire them over it, but I’d certainly keep a lot closer eye on them. Being late once is no big deal. Being habitually late is a problem. Being dishonest is an entirely different ball of wax. I also work in a field with ethical obligations, so lying is side-eyed pretty hard.

        1. GrooveBat*

          Persistent lateness is one issue to deal with. But if OP is paid hourly, having someone clock them in when they’re not there is outright theft and both OP and their co-worker could be fired for cause.

        2. Baxter*

          1. there is no evidence that the OP wanted their co-worker to clock them in early. It is quite possible the co-worker did this of their own accord.

          2. if a workplace is dysfunctional to the extent of “pick your own punishment”, I’d put money on there being other toxic traits present, like rampant wage theft.

          3. it sounds like the field you work in does not involve clocking in and clocking off (at least, not for you), so I’m not sure if you have much personal context to draw upon. Like just how little most employers care about ethical obligations, especially those they owe to their employees.

    5. hbc*

      So if they steal from the vending machines, is that also evidence that the company deserved it?

      I’ve run a couple of manufacturing facilities where absolutely no one is fired for being fifteen minutes late even a dozen times. The employees know that…you know, from having seen colleagues come in late and still be employed. Yet we still will have the odd person who tries to beat the system. Sometimes it’s PTSD from previous workplaces, but sometimes it’s not wanting to choose between losing 15 minutes pay or working 15 minutes later. And sometimes it’s because they have an adversarial view of employment, which becomes self-fulfilling because even the most generous employer will boot you for recruiting other employees to help you lie to them.

    6. Colette*

      There’s no evidence of any of this in the letter. And it’s fraud, which is definitely fireable, no matter why the OP did it.

      1. GrooveBat*

        It’s fraud on the part of OP and the person who clocked OP in. In many organizations, that’s a firing offense for both.

    7. Dust Bunny*

      My organization would not fire you for being late (unless it was chronic–some of our positions need coverage) but they would definitely fire you for falsifying a timecard. I learned recently that a former employee who was fired was fired because she clocked in on her phone when she was still on the bus. Her position was one of the coverage ones but (again, unless she were chronically late and this was the last straw; I don’t know the particulars on that) the lateness by itself would not have been a problem–everyone gets stuck in traffic once in awhile and my institution doesn’t bust knuckles over things like that. Her manager is a particularly nice guy, too, not one who would crack down for an occasional late arrival.

      We were told very clearly when we started using the timecard program never to clock in from phones, etc. Our managers can fix our timecards later if the Internet is down or whatever, so there is no legitimate reason to clock in or out from anywhere but institutional computers.

    8. Phony Genius*

      The thing about this letter is that it doesn’t say whether the co-worker who clocked in the writer did so with the writer’s permission, or though that they were just doing an unsolicited “favor”. If it’s the latter, the writer shouldn’t be punished at all. Even if it’s the former, I would imagine that there would be some consequence for the co-worker. (But not choose-your-own discipline.)

    9. Anon for This*

      Yeah, the letter isn’t clear on whether this was done with or without employee’s knowledge. Without context (was LW habitually late and this would have caused them to be fired? Or was this just coworker thinking LW needed the pay for those fifteen minutes?) there’s no way to know if this was done with their knowledge, and someone should not be punished for time card fraud committed by someone else.

    10. RagingADHD*

      Why the scare quotes around falsifying?

      There is no question that the time card was false. The LW didn’t have a correct timecard that was mistakenly accused of being false. It wasn’t a typo or an accidental change.

      It certainly happened. You just think it’s either not their fault, or not a big deal.

      1. Anon for This*

        I think the choice in wording is important. Some people may be taking “falsification” to imply that the LW was aware of and participating in the falsification, and we don’t know that that’s the case.

        1. doreen*

          It seems to me that it is. She doesn’t explicitly say she was aware of and participating in the clocking in – but “for having another employee clock me in” kind of implies she was at least aware of it. I would think that if the coworker did it entirely on their own, she would be upset enough about being held accountable for someone else’s action to have instead written something more like ” Corporate said I need to pick how I should be punished because my coworker decided to punch me in”

        2. RagingADHD*

          That’s not what the word means.

          Even if the coworker falsified the card without LW’s knowledge (which is not supported by the letter at all) it was in fact deliberately falsified by someone.

          If it was not at LW’s instigation, why on earth would they word the question this way? Why wouldn’t they say “my coworker did this on their own but I’m the one in trouble. How can I get my manager/corporate to understand that it wasn’t my doing?”

    11. generic_username*

      Lol, are you the LW? You have made so many leaps here….. Like, picking your own punishment is weird af for a workplace (there should be clearly laid out guidelines), but otherwise we have no info about the management or workplace

    12. Amaranth*

      I don’t think we really know anything about the management except they have a bizarre approach to conflict. Frankly, I think both should have been written up at the very least. The only way this is salvageable for LW, IMO, is if the employee who clocked in did it without notice, thinking it was helpful. Of course, then LW should have reported it, but I can see being hesitant in those circumstances, being the recipient of a ‘good deed’. I wonder if the ‘clocker’ received any consequences.

  14. Green great dragon*

    I think #6 is more likely to cause trouble for herself by her actions now – avoiding situations where she might meet her, avoiding speaking to her when she’s in the same room. OP – she was polite to you when she mentioned it! Be polite to her back, and don’t try to avoid her. Do you want to be ‘that nice acquaintance OP who left without notice once’ or ‘that person who keeps avoiding me and won’t even look at me and left without notice that time’?

      1. Bagpuss*

        Me too – there’s nothing to suggest that the new coworker was aware of, or thought badly of OP for having left without notice but if she is constantly given the cold shoulder that’s bound to affect her relationship with OP and potentially makes OP look bad if she isn’t interacting normally or professionally with her coworker.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I thought the same thing! Being squirrelly with her certainly isn’t going to improve her perception of OP.

    2. Critical Roll*

      This is one of those “picture the letter the other person would write” scenarios. “My colleague held a position at my previous employer before I got there. We are now both at the same company — and they’re being extremely weird, avoiding me and dodging eye contact.”

      LW 6 is being very dramatic about this. It’s very unlikely the colleague is spending any time thinking about you at all.

    3. Amaranth*

      LW6’s replacement might not even actually know how LW left, or just assumes there is more to the story than she was told.

  15. Scout Finch*

    Our white elephant exchange at BehemothWorldwidePaperProducts (2 jobs ago) rules: something in usable condition (could be a regift of any value or a new item under $20 ), could be stolen up to 3 times. Our group was about 15 people.

    One year, I brought 2 unopened rolls of wallpaper that were stolen the max 3 times. Another year, a (new, regift obviously) pair of women’s flannel pajamas (dogs & cats) were also stolen 3 times. The best part was seeing discards from one person become desired items for others. We learned a lot about each other. I got my Easy Button from a white elephant event.

    It’s fun when everyone plays by the rules & no one tries to be intentionally hurtful.

      1. Scout Finch*

        Agreed. Our rules were clear.

        The worst gift was a Richard Simmons Sweating to the oldies VHS tape – but it had a $20 bill attached. The receiver loved it.

        1. generic_username*

          omg, Sweating to the Oldies! I had the VHS for Sweating to the Oldies 3 when I was a kid/tween, and my friend and I would do it on repeat during our sleepovers. We loved it so much. I would have loved getting that gift even without the $20 bill

        2. A CAD Monkey*

          A coworker got a Richard Simmons DVD and bobblehead at our white elephant this year. It also had 3 or 4 airplane size bottles of booze.

        1. anonymous73*

          We see lots of stories on here about people throwing temper tantrums or pouting because they didn’t get the gift they wanted. So some people are more concerned about the gift they will receive than the fun game. If your sole purpose of participating in something like this is to get a good gift, then you shouldn’t participate.

    1. JelloStapler*

      I regifted a few wedding gifts that had no receipt and had obviously been regifted to us, and were not our style. Other people went nuts over them!

  16. Mami21*

    Letter 2 – tell them you have decided on the punishment of a week-long suspension with pay. Really sell it by referring to your decision as ‘voluntarily putting myself in the naughty corner.’ That seems to be on their wavelength.

    I mean, getting a co-worker to stamp you in isn’t a great move and definitely should be addressed by management, but ‘choose your own punishment’ is some kindergarten-level logic.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I was going to suggest writing “I will not have Louella do my timecard for me” 100 times.

      1. Anonym*

        I know there are other Louellae, but I had a vivid flash of seance-ing Louella Parsons to do the timecard and provide snarky critiques of management…

    2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      If the LW can successfully pull off getting a “punishment” of a week’s paid vacation then they should to into politics – they’ll have a brilliant career ahead of them!

    3. Generic Name*

      To be fair, “choose your own punishment” is how we handle some things with my teenager. He had been really rude and surly and disrespectful and he complained that he didn’t get to make decisions in our family, so I let him decide his consequence. He gave himself several extra chores to do. :)

      1. Nina*

        …yeah, but he’s your teenager, not your employee, and it’s ridiculous to pretend the scenarios are similar.

    4. Wisteria*

      I know you are being snarky, but one of the great studies in having employees be a part of their own disciplinary process was at, I believe, a Ford plant (or if my memory is playing tricks on me, it was some equally large US manufacturer), and one of the case studies did involve sending a guy home with pay. The idea was to give him a chance to reflect on how what he did, and while that does sound like a time out that you would give a 5 year old, it was effective! That was more to the entire process, but what you intended as a sarcastic response to a childish situation can actually be part of effective consequences for adults.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        If my employer suspended me for a week with pay, I simply wouldn’t return. The punishment would be my cleaning up the mess made of my work in my absence.

    5. generic_username*

      My mom told me to think of my own punishment when I was a teenager and get caught drinking alcohol, and my response was “The disappointment you feel and my guilt over it is punishment enough.” It worked, which shocked me at the time because I was kind of making fun of the do-your-own-punishment thing. In hindsight, I think my mom didn’t want to deal with it, but also it kind of worked – I didn’t drink again until I left for college because I was certain I wouldn’t get off with only a warning the next time, lol

  17. TeamPottyMouth*

    #5: I think the start of the problem is you’re calling your gift exchange a “White Elephant” exchange. That term means USED gifts, particularly USELESS or meaningless gifts. They are generally done for the laugh of it, not the value. If you want to have a serious exchange of gifts valued at a specific amount, call it a holiday gift or something generic. People who know what “White Elephant” means are not going to give valuable gifts.

    1. ecnaseener*

      I think this is a regional thing, but yeah that could definitely be the source of the confusion if you’ve always known Yankee Swap as the generic term and White Elephant as the joke-gift variety.

    2. Ro*

      Following up on this with the history I think it originates from Thailand (or definitely that region) “white elephants” were considered sacred and on discovery immediately became property of the King. Due to their supposed sacred nature you could not use them as working animals. Elephants are expensive to keep (and the white ones required more expensive food and housing than standard grey elephants). Gifting someone a “white elephant” was something the King did when he didn’t like someone as it was incredibly inconvenient and expensive but it was a sacred animal so no one could complain. The gifts ruined some courtiers financially.

      To me “white elphant” means used/gag gifts as the term denotes a burdensome present more trouble than it is worth and “secret santa” means proper presents.

  18. bamcheeks*

    My first office job was in 1998 and I absolutely got taught how to answer the phone, how to transfer and put on hold, and how to take a message! I don’t think these have ever been general knowledge. Maybe a few people had parents who made a really big deal of how you answered the home phone and wrote down messages, but even then you’d need to be shown how to use a particular organisation’s system worked and what the particular culture around greetings, hold, transfer and messages would be.

    1. Mastadon United*

      I agree. We learn these things mainly by imitation from our parents, so if we had parents with unprofessional phone manners, no phone, no parents, or any one of a dozen other factors, this would be something that needs to be spelled out. I’m right in the middle- grew up in the 90s- so I experienced both landline usage and the glorious to-days of mainly texting instead :p

      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        Mmm…even if your parents had excellent phone manners, a home phone is (and always has been) VERY different from a standard office phone. Just because you know how to answer a home phone pleasantly and politely does NOT mean that you automatically know how to put a caller on hold or mute or transfer a call to another department or individual!

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yep. I have excellent phone manners and am terrible at transferring calls and conferencing lines together. I needed training when I worked a receptionist job in college, and I’ve never been spectacular with corporate phone systems. We got a new system about five years ago that finally has intuitive buttons on the phone!

          1. PhyllisB*

            Hard agree. I spent over 20 years as a long distance operator, but when I worked as a receptionist I still had to be taught how to answer the way required, how to transfer, page, and put people on hold. Should definitely do a training.

    2. alienor*

      Same time frame for my first office job, and I also got taught how to use the basic functions like hold, transfer etc., and was given a little reference card from the phone’s manufacturer in case I forgot. Answering and taking messages wasn’t part of the training because we rarely received outside calls at our desks (the company’s main line was an 800 number and there was an operator) but I do remember being taught the approved greeting for retail jobs I had as a student.

      (On a side note, I only know that some people were taught a specific way to answer the telephone in their homes from watching old Brady Bunch reruns as a kid. I remember seeing the child characters answer “Brady residence, Bobby speaking” and thinking “Huh, that’s weird,” but assuming that someone, somewhere must do it, or they wouldn’t have put it in.)

      1. Shad*

        I was initially taught to answer with just “Brady residence”, but I also heard my parents answer differently enough that I learned it as a “that’s how kids answer” thing (I think it was meant as a privacy/safety thing, but I’m not sure. The only other specific answering instruction I got as a kid was definitely at least partly a safety thing – mom “can’t come to the phone right now” whether it’s because she’s occupied or because she’s not home).

    3. Gray Lady*

      Exactly. Even if you had a population of hires that could be expected to have “professional phone skills,” they’d still need to be taught the specific requirements of the office.

    4. Annie E. Mouse*

      Exactly. It’s not an age/time thing; it’s what you were taught. I was a kid when landlines were the only phones. I’ll never forget the first time I called a new friend I’d met in school and her mother answered the phone “What?” Professional phone etiquette was just not something that friend’s parents put much emphasis on.

      If you want employees to do things a certain way, teach them how to do it first. Assuming they know or will figure it out is just never a good starting point.

  19. AlwaysTired*

    Letter #5 is a submission on Reddit the AITA board yesterday from the recipient! There was a SS exchange with a $25 limit set. They gave clues what they wanted, everyone else got very nice and personable gifts. The person writing in got a king sized Kit Kat.

  20. Lynn Marie*

    Re #5 gift exchanges question: Why do a gift exchange and then complain about utterly predictable problem that inherently exists within the practice? File under “OMG, the sun rose in the east again”.

    1. Olivia Oil*

      Yep this.

      And Scrooge rant forthcoming: office gift exchanges are dumb. They are just an additional burden for employees (financial and time wise). $30 is way too high for a White Elephant. Isn’t the whole point those to be joke gifts? I’ve never been to one that was more than $10. But also, there are so many other ways to have fun that isn’t purposefully buying junk that the other person will have to get rid of later. And gift exchanges are Christmas, not “holiday” traditions so what are they doing in a work setting?

  21. Meg*

    #3. I suspect this will become a thing more and more. That said, assume people don’t know how to even work the phone! Last week I had to train a student on how to dial out of the university because her boss assumed she knew how!

    1. Workin' for the Weekend*

      I recently realized my children (who are in middle school) have no idea how to answer/talk on the phone. They’ve never had a landline and when people call either me or my husband, we know from the caller ID who it is and will pick up saying, “Hey So-and-So” or just ignore it if it’s not a number we know, so they’ve never heard us talk to a stranger. We’ve done plenty of video chats with people, but somehow that seems different? When the kids started staying home alone, we got a cell phone for the house, and the first few times I called them, they would just pick up and I would hear them breathing on the other end. So we went through the whole, “You have to pick up and say, ‘hello?'” It was a bit of a shocker for me that I had to teach this to them. I remember racing to answer the phone as a child, asking who was calling, taking messages… my kids have no clue this was a thing people used to do/still do at work!

      1. bamcheeks*

        My kids are a bit younger– if we still had a landline the elder one would juuuust be starting to be allowed to answer it. But when they play telephone games, they do an imitation of me answering the phone to an unknown number– a really sceptical, braced-for-a-cold-sales-call, “Hello, this is bamcheeks?” I don’t really understand why that’s their primary association with answering the phone but it’s fascinating!

    2. OftenOblivious*

      Our office phones had a dialing “outside” option and a dialing “inside/other work sites” option. You had to know if you were dialing someone’s short local number, someone’s internal long number or you wanted to go out to the “real” world.

      Over the pandemic, they ditched all of our phones and now we’re just on webex/slack.

  22. Mastadon United*

    Unrelated to content. I am a huge AAM nerd and a short time ago, Allison posted the times she would be posting her many updates each day this season. I just did a quick search and couldn’t find it. Can anyone direct me there, or tell me the times? Much love AAM fam.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      November 29th
      A heads-up about update season: for the next few weeks I’ll be posting at midnight, 11 am, 12:30 pm, 2 pm, 3:30 pm, and 5 pm (all times are Eastern)* … as a minimum. There will sometimes be additional posts at 10:30 am and random times throughout the afternoon as well!

    2. College Career Counselor*

      (with Friday being less predictable and some 10:30am and other random times sprinkled in)

      Source: the post-it on my monitor

  23. CeeKee*

    A company sending a staff-photo Christmas card, just as a general matter, already gives off a fairly casual vibe. The Halloween element doesn’t seem so outrageously “unprofessional,” in that context.

    1. Purple Cat*

      They should own it “Nightmare before Christmas” style, or put a message about Spreading Good Cheer all year long!

  24. Hiring Mgr*

    I haven’t worked at a job where i’ve had to clock in since the 80s so just curious, would a one time 15 minute punch in as described really be a firing offense?

    1. Starbuck*

      A lot of places have zero tolerance for timecard fraud – it’s stealing and lying, and if they catch you you’re done, because how can you be trusted after that?

      I like the suggestion someone posted above that it’s worth being lenient one time for a young worker or someone who’s only had very casual jobs before and may honestly not understand the significance. But otherwise yeah, you’re probably out the door because it’s a major integrity issue.

      It’s frustrating though because it’s not nearly so strict the other way around with wage theft, which is SO much more widespread and harmful and yet hardly ever gets prosecuted because there aren’t resources for enforcement and the balance of power is vastly in the employer’s/corporation’s favor. More money is stolen from employees by employers than any other form of theft in the US each year, and last time I check it’s not even close. So that’s why a lot of people are sympathetic to the LW I think, even though they definitely did something wrong.

    2. pancakes*

      Me either, but I don’t think the mechanism matters much. There’s a huge distinction you’re not making: the problem here isn’t that the person was 15 minutes late (which would be a big deal in some workplaces and unremarkable in others), but that someone else impersonated them for timekeeping purposes (which would be a big deal and fireable offense anywhere, in my experience).

    3. thatjillgirl*

      Intentionally being paid for time you did not work is indeed a fireable offense. It’s theft, plain and simple. You can do a small theft (an extra 15 minutes of pay) or a big one (an entire day of pay), but it’s all illegal regardless of the scale. If it’s your first offense, most places probably won’t immediately fire you over it, just revoke the pay and go through some other disciplinary action. But they *could* fire you if they wanted to and be perfectly justified in doing so.

  25. JelloStapler*

    LW5- take this as a hint that $30 is too high, or that not everyone likes the idea of a gift exchange.

    1. Workerbee*

      I was thinking that was a bit steep of a cap, especially added onto an already potentially expensive season.

    2. Lizzy May*

      $30 is the with tax cap for my extended family exchange and I love those people. That’s way too much for work.

    3. Lunch Ghost*

      I would hope that since it’s optional (“for those who wanted to participate”) people who weren’t interested or didn’t like the rules just wouldn’t participate. (Someone dropped out of my office’s this year when it was clarified that it’s “bring in a gift for a choose-and-steal-gifts game” rather than “bring in a gift for a specific person randomly assigned to you”. Which is fine.)

  26. The Lexus Lawyer*

    Interesting how nobody really commented on OP1 yet.

    I kinda see Alison’s point. If these are open invite parties on company time and grounds, I could see how a manager would feel obligated to stop by.

    The obvious solution is to change from being open invite to actually have an invite list (yes, I am aware OP mentioned some people feel left out) and more importantly, to be off company grounds and time if you want to avoid the manager thinking they should come.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      I still don’t get why they don’t think the manager should be invited.

      Not being “chummy” with your employees means avoiding having close relationships with them. Not abstaining from work social activities.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        LW1 clearly doesn’t like her manager. Perhaps for good reason, if the thinly veiled comments and rush to leave the parties ASAP if manager attends are really universal with her coworkers. OTOH in my experience, the boss should attend their team’s work parties so I think LW1’s has an unusually adversarial opinion of management.

        1. Starbuck*

          Honestly, maybe the manager even has a point that LW should not be organizing so many parties on company time? If I wanted to have a party and take an hour out of my regular work day to do it, I’d definitely need to discuss it with my boss and get their OK. So it’s extra weird to me that LW is not even doing that!

      2. Rando*

        LW 1 sounds like an angry teenager po’d that the nerds she didn’t invite keep showing up at her parties.

      3. WonkyStitch*

        The OP put the parties on the team calendar (I assume Sharepoint or Outlook or the like) where the team lead would have seen them. Of COURSE the TL would have thought he/she was invited or otherwise ok to come! Why wouldn’t he/she? I certainly would have.

    2. CoffeeIsMyFriend*

      yes, they need to be OFFSITE and OFF work time (or during lunch). Otherwise it seems perfectly reasonable for a manager to pop in.
      also this just seems like an awful lot of parties

    3. Beany*

      Well, there was one set of comments on OP1, started by LouLou, but it’s certainly been out-commented by the White Elephant gift exchange and the illicit timecard-stamping.

  27. Dwight Schrute*

    I’m so confused by letter 1. If I was a manager and saw sign up sheets and time blocked off on the team calendar I would absolutely assume I was invited and supposed to go to the lunch. I don’t think you can really have a work party during the workday at work and tell your boss they can’t come. If you want to socialize without your boss do it after work.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, this. I find it super weird that somebody would have an office party during work hours and want to exclude their own manager? Excluding other departments, sure, but not their manager.

      If you don’t want her to come, hold your gatherings after hours and offsite.

    2. UKDancer*

      Yes. As a manager I would assume if there was a sign up sheet and time allocated that I was invited to attend.

    3. Mauvaise Pomme*

      Agreed. This is a very odd situation where the letter writer is essentially expecting their boss to read their mind in a way that doesn’t feel reasonable. (Perhaps this is a BEC situation, where the letter writer hates their boss so much for a variety of reasons that everything she does seems offensive, whether it is or not?)

    4. Bernice Clifton*

      I feel like this LW knows the obvious solution is organizing something outside of work – but they don’t want to because it would be more complicated, more expensive, and probably not as well attended.

      It’s like she wants to bring her friends to her aunt’s pool but doesn’t want her annoying cousin swimming with them.

        1. Olivia Oil*

          Also…unintelligent? Even if you don’t like your boss, it behooves you to pretend like you do if you don’t want to lose or compromise your job..

    5. LilyP*

      I feel like whether the boss can be uninvited is almost a red herring — the real issue is her making snippy comments and ruining the event! Why can’t the LW talk to her about whatever the “thinly veiled comments” are about? Either it’s work-related, like the boss thinks the parties are too frequent, and they need to get on the same page orrrrr it’s like fat shaming or something and someone should ask her nicely to cut it out.

  28. Emilia Bedelia*

    From a practical perspective, if the people you have hired to do a job are not doing it to your satisfaction… that means you need to train them. If you don’t want to train, you need to hire different people.

    1. Annoying Jedi Intern*

      Not a comment on the column, a comment on your handle, Emilia Bedelia:

      When I was young and read those stories, I thought Emilia Bedelia was just stupid (“look, I drew the curtains just like you said!” -holds up a sketch of curtains). Upon re-reading them with my nieces/nephews, I interpreted in a different way. The servant Emilia is purposely malingering and being passive aggressive as an action against classism and the 1%.

      1. Beany*

        But it’s clear from the text that Amelia really didn’t understand the instructions given to her. We see her confusion about the towels in the bathroom, for instance, and her decision about how to “change” them. There’s no hint of malice or passive aggression in her actions. Anyway, her incredible ability to wildly misinterpret instructions would — and did, briefly — leave her out of a job, and with no good reference.

        You could certainly argue that the *author* is trying to make a point about classism (bear in mind that the first book was published in 1963, decades before anyone started talking about “the 1%”), but the character is just trying to get by in a world of ambiguous English.

        Unless you’re the one supplying a modern interpretation of Amelia’s actions, which is a bit of a retcon. Why would she take a position as a housemaid at all if she was rebelling against classism and the 1%?

  29. Person from the Resume*

    LW#1, it sounds to me like you are inviting your manager to your parties!

    I organize these things by putting them on the team calendar and posting a sign-up, nothing more. If people want to invite others, it’s up to them.

    I’d think that your manager is part of your team so the invite on the calendar constitutes an invite to her as it does everyone else on team. Especially since you allow your team members to invite other people not on your team or no longer on your team so it’s not a restricted guest list at all.

    Also I agree with Alison. I really sounds like an office gathering and as such your manager should be invited. That what I expect. A team X meeting or party includes the team X manager to because they are the head of the team (but not the boss’s boss). If this party is just friends (even just work friends), then it should not be held in the office during office hours.

  30. Gray Lady*

    #5 — I have been burned by “white elephant” before — fortunately not in any setting that cost me more than embarrassment. When I was growing up (and I do believe this is the original meaning of the phrase) “white elephant” did in fact mean something from your home that might be of some small value to someone else but no longer to you. So I did in fact supply something of that description to an exchange, and it caused some embarrassment when I discovered that was not the intended meaning and my gift was quite tacky compared to the rest. Apparently the meaning has shifted to mean “something nice or clever and new, but not of great value”. It might be a good idea to drop the phrase “white elephant” from the description to avoid this in future in case there are those who are simply mistaken about the intent, but at the same time, gift suggestion values should *always* be considered upper limits, and the possibility that someone’s financial situation required that they stay well below the limit should be considered.

    1. Mauvaise Pomme*

      I’m so sorry that happened to you! There but for the grace of God go I, because where I was raised, white elephant explicitly included not just second-hand items, but intentionally awful gifts. I feel really lucky that I learned the different meanings of “white elephant” before I could embarrass myself at work by bringing something like a creepy old baby doll or something. (Even when I was as young as 9 or so, I was participating in this style of white elephant at church youth group Christmas parties and laughing with everyone else when I got stuck with someone’s smelly gym socks. I literally had NO IDEA that “white elephant” could mean something different to other people.)

      You say the meaning has shifted over time, but I don’t even think that’s true. I think the term has a million different SIMULTANEOUS meanings, depending on region, depending on personal context, etc., etc. That’s why it’s so important for a workplace to just explicitly define the rules and expectations of a gift exchange.

    2. Generic Name*

      You’re not alone. I recall the first time this post ran there was the exact same discussion where some people were like, “Well, a White Elephant exchange is OBVIOUSLY this set of rules” and other people were like, “in my area White Elephant rules are exactly the opposite set of rules”. So it’s no wonder so many of these exchanges go awry. I’m suddenly glad my office doesn’t hold a gift exchange.

  31. Jean*

    LW3 – It never hurts to train newbies how to talk on the phone, especially these days when younger people don’t have as much actual phone talk experience as previous generations. Even older/more seasoned people can sometimes use a refresher. Part of my job involves answering phone calls that come in to our general queue from the number listed on our website, and I’ve had some absolutely bizarre and jarring experiences with callers who just… have no idea how to have a business related phone conversation. It’s a skill. Take the opportunity to teach it when you can!

    1. OftenOblivious*

      I used to talk on the phone all the time…now I loath talking on the phone. I would absolutely need a refresher on phone manner and hold/transfer/etc.

  32. Workfromhome*

    #2 I think there needs to be more context. Its easy to be very balck and white and say even 15 minutes is timecard fraud and they should be fired.

    Id first ask “So if there is cleanup or other takes to do at end of shift does your boss tell you to stay clocked in or do they say “Oh you clock out at 5 it will only take 5 minutes” If the company is strict that they must pay you for every minute you work and never ask you to work “off the clock” then yes having someone clock you in 15 minutes early goes against “everything”.
    If its OK for the company to get you to stay 15 minutes off the clock then maybe this is just getting those 15 minutes back?
    If that’s the case my response would be”
    What punishment do I pick for clocking in 15 minutes early ? Just give me whatever punishment my manger gets for having me work 15 minutes after I’m clocked out. that seems fair. “

    1. Essess*

      If you are in the US, it’s not legal for the company to ask you to stay 15 minutes off the clock. The boss can’t legally tell you to clock out then do anything for ‘another 5 minutes’ afterwards.

        1. Starbuck*

          We know they definitely DO do it – wage theft is the biggest form of theft in the US by dollar value, and it’s not even close.

    2. Littorally*

      I see your point, but I don’t think that “the company is breaking the law therefore it’s open season to do whatever the hell I want” is the right answer.

      If your company is committing wage theft (in the US, at least), there is an appropriate way to handle it, and it is not reporting whatever hours you feel like.

  33. AthenaC*

    OP#2 – I wasn’t clear that the OP asked the other employee to clock in for her? If the other employee just did it because she thought she was doing OP a favor, that’s pretty crappy to punish OP.

    OP#4 – Pretty much all Christmas cards I get have out-of-season pictures. Most commonly fall, but some summer as well. I don’t think a Halloween card is THAT weird, but I agree it’s probably best to just take the picture the day after Halloween among all the fall colors (or among the snow if you happen to be far enough north).

  34. It's a Beautiful Day*

    I wanted to pull this line out because I was talking about this in therapy this week and it is great advice for so many situations –
    Assume the most charitable explanation

    Great advice!

  35. Eldritch Office Worker*

    My standard Christmas card is our Halloween costumes lol. My personal one though, my office doesn’t take pictures.

  36. Bernice Clifton*

    Especially at an institution like a university, make sure you have a list of other department phone numbers on hand, because if the numbers are similar people might call your department on accident.

    Also make sure they know where people should be referred. Ex, The caller did call Admissions on purpose, but when they explain why they are calling it turns out they can only be helped by Financial Aid or Student Services or something.

  37. I'm Just Here for the Cats*

    Wow! So I know these are old letters but I usually don’t have something to say to each one!
    #1. at first I thought that it was going to be the boss invites themselves to private events at the OP’s home. But if you’re having a party in the office it kinda goes without saying that the boss might at least want to pop in. I think the bigger problem is that the boss makes “thinly veiled comments”. I know its an old letter but I wonder what they are saying.
    #2 What I want to know is did the OP ask the other employee to clock them in or did they do it as a favor. If they asked then they both should be written up. If not, then the OP is not in the wrong because they did not ask to commit time clock fraud.
    #3. Having worked in call centers for over 5 years YES YOU NEED TO TRAIN PEOPLE HOW TO ANSWER THE PHONE!!! Phone etiquette is not a natural skill and you would be doing your students a disservice by not helping them out. For one thing office phones are so much different than a cell phone, or even a home landline, especially if its a multi line phone or a phone system that runs through the computer.
    #4. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem. No one really even pays attention to those types of cards anyways. If anything people will think “oh they had a fun Halloween party”
    #5 I think $30 for an office gift exchange is really high. Even my family doesn’t go beyond $20. Please don’t confront someone unless you know they did it out of malice (theirs a comment about giving someone literal garbage). You never know what someone’s finances are at the moment.
    #6. You’re over thinking this. You have established yourself as a competent person in your new roll. I don’t think they would take the word of someone who never actually worked with you. And why do you think this person would say something? Was the company the type where people would go to new jobs and say bad things about former employees? If anything I think that she would be the one looking bad because she’s bringing something up from 4 years ago.

  38. MicroManagered*

    LW1 I feel so bad for your team lead! You can’t exclude people from group events during the work day AT work!! A team lead (at least at my employer) isn’t even a “real” manager–they’re just point-person on ensuring the work gets done (so not performance goal management, can’t fire anyone, that kind of thing.)

  39. awesome3*

    I’d love an update to #2. And to hear what else was going on in that company, because a company that tells the employee to pick their own punishment feels like the tip of the iceberg.

  40. Bernice Clifton*

    “If people want to invite others, it’s up to them. . . . But it seems any major holiday I get on someone’s shit list by “forgetting” them.”

    1. If this is true, how do you know someone isn’t specifically inviting your boss? The way you describe how you organize and set up these lunches, I can see myself being more likely to mention it to my supervisor then a peer if I don’t work with that peer much or sit near them.

  41. Wisteria*


    I’m wondering who phrased it as “punishment.” Engaging employees in the disciplinary process has been shown to reduce repeat performance problems better than slapping them on the wrist and call it a day does. Now, I phrased it as “engaging employees in the disciplinary process,” but “having employees pick their own punishment” is a less nuanced but equally accurate descriptor. So I just wonder if the message from corporate got telephoned between the corporate person and the letter that was printed.

    The answer gets really hung up on the word “punishment,” but only spends one sentence on the timecard falsification portion. That’s a pretty big deal, and LW should face consequences for it. My answer would have been to counsel LW to ask for “punishment” in the form of retraining on the importance of accurate time keeping, with a reminder that only they (or maybe their manager?) can fill out their timecard and that they should never fill out anyone else’s timecard, on policies regarding start times and lateness, and on escalating disciplinary steps if the problem keeps happening.

    1. I'm Just Here for the Cats*

      I also wonder if there could be a language issue? Like maybe someone isn’t a native English speaker so they were trying to think of the word Consequences and used punishment instead

  42. YL*

    For #3.

    If there’s an expectation someone will do something a certain way, then it’s best to train that person on how you want things done. Even if it’s so small, it’s best to cover all your bases and not make assumptions.

    I once asked an intern to share a document with me on Google drive. This was many years ago and I think Google docs was just becoming more widespread. I thought she would share the doc using (what I thought) was the obvious way: click the share button and input my email. I thought Google docs was pretty straightforward. I was out of office and she emailed me to say she shared it. There was 20 minutes of back and forth because I didn’t have an email from Google about the doc, I couldn’t find it in my shared docs, and I asked her to reshare (thinking it was a Google error) and she insisted she already shared. It turns out she went to advanced settings and made the doc findable by anyone in the organization. That doesn’t do the same thing–I would need to know the name of the doc to find it. I had to tell her to share the doc the other way and I had to explain to her why she should only share docs with specified people and not the whole org. It was mind-boggling because the intern was only a year or two younger than me. I ended up putting “how to share Google docs” in my intern training routine because I didn’t want this happening again.

  43. RagingADHD*

    LW #3, the answer to your question “do I need to train?” should be extremely obvious from the results your current training program is producing.

    Are the students handling phone calls according to the office’s standard?

    If they are, then no. You don’t need to train them.

    If they are not, which is what your very exasperated and sarcastic tone implies, then yes. You need to train them.

    You don’t design training according to what you personally believe everyone should automatically know by a certain age. You train for the results you want, because even people who have skills won’t psychically know your expectations unless you state them clearly.

    And please, when you train students, lose the attitude. “Do I really have to???”

    Yes, you have to. They are there to learn, not to be made to feel stupid for not reading minds.

  44. Salad Daisy*

    #2 my punishment would be to not be allowed to attend weekly team meetings that are supposed to be an hour long but usually last 2 hours. Please don’t throw me into the briar patch, Brer Fox!

  45. fhqwhgads*

    My main question about #1 is: is the boss paying?
    Not inviting the boss is, as many others have said, weird. However, the letter says it’s funded by the people who attend. So if the boss is not contributing and then showing up – that’s not cool. But it’s separate from the issue of whether they are “invited” or not.

    1. Olivia Oil*

      If it’s in the office, it’s really weird to purposefully exclude people who are in the office – manager or not.

      I was inclined to take the LW’s side based on the title because I assumed they were getting together offsite. I think it’s perfectly fine for coworkers to selectively hangout with who they want physically *outside of work*. But you can’t be exclusive if it is in the office. The exception to this is department-funded gatherings – those will be exclusive to the department.

  46. Ellen*

    Dumb question- the letter writer that had someone clock her in early- was it ever established that she asked her coworker to do that for her? I had a coworker that would regularly “fix” in/out times. We were both managers in fast food. Our supervisor knew about it. Gave me a hard time for clocking in a minute late, and then a change in software made her aware of how many times others changed thier times, while I didnt.

  47. Aphrodite*

    I don’t know that I will ever forget this. At the time we had a VP of adult ed at our community college. For her job she attended a lot of community events / parties where she ended up receiving small token gifts. Over the year she kept them and then wrapped them for a end-of-term holiday party where she hosted a Secret Santa (with stealing).

    One young shy Hispanic woman who I knew worked only eleven months of the year and was paid around $30K–her finances were very tight for that reason–chose a gift that turned out to be a small, lovely, handpainted clock with grapes and leaves. You could see how totally and completely thrilled and touched she was by it. I was so happy for her. She’d hadn’t understood the game but she hit the jackpot as far as she was concerned.

    About five people later the dean’s turn came. She made six figures. She stole the clock, and this poor woman, who was thoroughly confused as others tried to explain what was happening, turned over the clock and chose something else. The game continued but I noticed she seemed a bit down. Several more people later, a woman who was a director (and had been there for about 35 years at that point so was highly looked up to) stole it a third time. The dean protested loudly and vehemently. The VP put a stop to that, declaring that the maximum had been reached.

    After it ended, I was outside and saw off in a hidden corner, the director and the first young woman; the director was talking to her and handed her the clock and gave her a hug. I nearly burst into tears at that kindness and later, when the director and I were both back on our own campus I went to her office and quietly told her what I had seen and how much it had meant to me. She told me it meant a lot to that young woman too. I will never forget that.

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