my coworker spends his day on magic and politics

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. My coworker spends his day on magic and politics

I work in a small company with roughly 20 workers at our main office. There’s a gentlemen (and I use that term loosely) who has taken more than his fair share of liberties. He spends the majority of his days watching political satire videos, watching Rush Limbaugh, or watching videos on magic, his new hobby. He leaves copies of various magic and political documents on the office printers, which get mixed up in our printed documents. Three of us have to pick up his work in addition to our already busy schedules. In addition, we’ve document multiple abrasive emails where he offends and degrades our team. We’re all past the point of offended and angry and have brought this complaint to management numerous times. The gentlemen happens to be in his 70’s and we’ve been told he’s in a “protected class,” even though the president of the company can demonstrate insubordination from our coworker on numerous occasions and says he can’t do anything due to his advanced age.

Is this so? Other than leaving the company, what can we do? My colleagues and I work very well together, but the distraction and the extra work are at the point of walking out the door.

No, it’s not true. It’s true that it’s illegal to discriminate against people for being 40 or older, but that means that an employer can’t make adverse employment decisions (like firing him) because of someone’s age … but they can fire him because of performance, attitude, laziness, or any of the other issues in play here. Discrimination laws don’t say “you can’t fire people protected by these laws”; they just say that someone’s age/race/sex/religion/disability/etc. can’t be the reason for firing them.

So they could absolutely deal with this guy if they wanted to. They’re just choosing not to.

As for what you can do about it, your options are limited. At a minimum, you and your coworker should probably could agree as a group that you’re going to stop covering his work and let him deal with the consequences. You could also talk to your coworker directly and repeatedly and tell him to start pulling his weight and stop leaving magical documents on the printer. If you wanted to, you and your coworkers could complain enough that it becomes more of a pain for the company to continue not dealing with it. But really, you’re working for a company that doesn’t care that this guy is spending his day on magic and politics (what a combination!) and leaving you to pick up the slack.


2. I make delicious baked goods and my office knows it

I was a baker for 10 years before I started my current corporate job. I would bring cookies or cupcakes for my team members’ birthdays or other office events. It got around that I made very good baked goods and now I am constantly being asked to make things to bring to work. In the last few weeks, I have been asked to make cookies three times, cupcakes twice, and a peanut butter pie. While I know how to make all these things and can probably do it a little more efficiently than others based on my previous experience, it takes up my time and money. I don’t want to come off as a jerk or lie to people about why I can’t make something, but it is becoming a problem. To make matters worse, one of our new coworkers feels we should have parties for any reason — birthdays, anniversaries, because it’s Tuesday, etc. She just assumes I will bring some food for her parties. I don’t know how to tell everyone I have to scale back without causing problems. If you have any suggestions it would help.

You do not have to be the office baker just because you’re good at it! It’s 100% okay to set whatever boundaries you like here so that you’re only baking when you feel like doing it, if at all.

Some things you can say:

* “Oh, I only do it occasionally or it takes the joy out of it.”
* “I don’t have time to bake right now, but (store) has delicious cupcakes.”
* “It takes a lot of time and money so I only do it a few times a year.”
* “I do it sometimes for my team, but it takes a lot of time so I can’t do it office-wide.”
* “Oh, no thanks! I’m taking a break from baking.”

Some people in your shoes find it easier to stop bringing in baked goods entirely, finding that it’s easier to just say “I don’t bake much anymore” and leave it there. But if you’re willing to be reasonably assertive and use the sorts of lines above, you should find that you can continue doing it when you feel like it while shutting down the times you don’t want to. (But if that’s going to make you feel rude or uncomfortable, you’re probably better off stopping altogether.)


3. Should you say “I really want this job” at the end of an interview?

I read an article today that says that at the end of the interview you should say ‘I really want this job.” The article says that it shows sincerity, courage, and humility and is always received well. That strikes me as wrong. I would think that it might undermine your ability to negotiate if you get an offer. It also seems like if you are not a very strong candidate, it could look desperate or even entitled. What do you think?

To me, “I really want this job” doesn’t show sincerity, courage, or humility. It’s not the worst thing in the world to say, but it sounds a little pushy and sometimes premature. (I’d rather have the person go home and really reflect on the conversation before deciding they want the job, not make such a major decision when in many cases it’s barely been an hour since we met.) It also puts the interviewer on the spot a bit; it’s a little awkward to respond to that statement with, “I enjoyed talking with you and will be in touch soon,” especially when you know you’re probably not going to move the person forward.

So no, it’s definitely not always received well.

That said, I don’t think it looks desperate or entitled or that it undermines your ability to negotiate. It’s just kind of an awkward thing to say. (I don’t doubt, though, that there are some interviewers who like it.

There are lots of other ways to show enthusiasm that don’t come with those downsides. For example: “I’m even more interested in this role now that I’ve learned more about it, and I’m looking forward to any next steps.” Or “I’m really interested in what I’ve heard so far, and I think this position is right in line with what I’d like my next move to be.” Or “Thanks so much for talking with me. I’m really excited about this job and hope we’ll talk again soon.”


4. Buying alcohol on a break from work (to consume later)

I have a birthday party I have to leave for immediately after work, and so I thought I would go ahead and buy the alcohol I needed for it over my lunch break. I also (stupidly) happened to mention to the cashier where I worked, and it’s a place that definitely frowns on drinking while on duty and is concerned about the appearance of their employees. So my question is, do you think it was a big mistake to do that over my lunch?

Not at all. This isn’t drinking at work, or even drinking at lunch. You bought a perfectly legal product on your lunch break. It would be really strange — to the point of bizarre and outrageous — for anyone to have a problem with that.

Go forth and worry no more.


5. I was invited to interview but then told they’d hired an “exceptionally qualified” candidate before I could

I recently applied to an administrative assistant position online, and someone from their HR department emailed me on Monday and set up a phone interview with me for that Thursday. On Wednesday, I received this email: “I am sorry to do this, but I will need to cancel our phone interview scheduled for tomorrow. We have offered the position to an exceptionally qualified candidate and she has accepted. Thank you so much for your interest in Teapot Inc. We will keep your resume active for 6 months, but please also feel free to reach out to me should you see a position of interest on our careers site.”

Is it just me, or is using the phrase “exceptionally qualified” kind of demeaning to a job seeker? Should I respond and say I would have loved the opportunity to interview? Not respond at all?

It’s not demeaning to explain to you why they decided to short-circuit the interview process and hire someone before finishing talking to everyone they intended to talk to. I know it’s tempting to analyze every word employers choose to say to you in a hiring process, but this is just someone trying to explain a decision in a way that they hope will be understandable to you. They’re not saying “you suck.”

Respond and be gracious (which means you shouldn’t say you would have loved the opportunity to interview, which sounds a little too let down or even chastising). For example, you could say: “Thanks so much for letting me know. The job sounds great and I’m glad you were able to find the right person for it. I’d love to remain in touch and hope we might have an opportunity to connect in the future.”


{ 217 comments… read them below }

    1. CoveredinBees*

      Winner! Winner! Chicken dinner! Maybe all of his non-work printouts will disappear to turn into a rabbit.

  1. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    Interestingly his chosen politics and magic are one and the same.
    Les hope in the interim he left, either by retirement, or being fired.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Honestly that letter (and the age of the person doing nothing) made me think the immediate managers had been told by higher ups in the Org – just let him be – he’s old and quill probably retire soonish. The problem is until he retires he’s dumping his dead weight on the rest of the team.

  2. Lunarea*

    #4 It’s crazy that we’ve gotten to the point where people feel they must police themselves even while doing something totally legal.

    1. PollyQ*

      There’s definitely a back story here, although it’s hard to tell how much of the anxiety is coming from within LW and how much is being imposed by the employer. But this phrase: “I also (stupidly) happened to mention to the cashier where I worked” says A LOT.

        1. Quoth the Raven*

          Yeah, I understand why mentioning they worked for the school district might have given OP pause — I’ve worked in schools, and what I do while wearing the uniform and/or IDs could have actually gotten me fired, if it had been bad enough.

          That said, I still think OP was in the right, especially since it sounds like the cashier only knew of their affiliation with the school district through their own disclosure and not through an ID or uniform.

        2. Heidi*

          I feel like the OP is greatly overestimating the importance of this event in the life of the anonymous cashier. The OP didn’t mention that they got any side-eye or commentary. I doubt that it even registered with the cashier.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            Having been a cashier I would put money on them not even listening. You get so many people talking to you about random stuff that you eventually just tune them out until they ask a question

          2. doreen*

            That’s actually what makes me inclined to believe most of the anxiety is from within the OP . I can understand why the OP might be concerned about what would happen if the employer found based on experiences with either this or a previous employer – but being concerned that a random cashier is going to tell someone at the district about a midday alcohol purchase is another story.

          3. Observer*

            That’s true. But only because she said this to the cashier, not someone else. Cashiers simply don’t have the bandwidth to pay that much attention to these inconsequentials. But other people? Unfortunately there are a surprising number of people who DO make an issue where it’s totally ridiculous.

        3. Observer*

          although it didn’t really answer the question of why the great concern, IMO.

          I guess you haven’t been paying attention to how heavily policed teachers are, and to a lesser degree anyone who works in a school, especially a public school.

          In fact, the OP explicitly says that they were worried that the cashier might trey to be “noble” and report or complain to the district about this terrible thing that the OP did.

          It is ridiculous, but the OP wasn’t being totally paranoid.

          1. Ground Control*

            Exactly! I thought OP was oddly paranoid until I saw they’re a teacher, and now it makes perfect sense. People love policing everything teachers do.

          2. conservationist*

            Exactly! I’m a teacher and I would never buy alcohol during a school day hours, or while wearing my school lanyard, etc. It’s entirely plausible to me that someone would tweet a photo calling out public school staff for buying alcohol (or even just not being in the school building) while getting paid by taxpayers. That kind of stuff happens a lot. Certain groups are really hyped on doing what they see as protecting taxpayer dollars. If I were the letter writer in this case, I’d ALSO be cursing myself for mentioning my workplace, in case someone in the store overheard, or the cashier cared.

    2. Anono-me*

      The question is “Where to store the booze between lunch and quitting time?” .

      Buying booze on your own time to enjoy on your own time ‘should’ never be a problem. However, something to keep in mind is that for some employers, bring booze (even stored in your trunk) onto company property can be grounds for discipline and/or dismissal. And in many places, bringing booze onto school grounds is a misdemeanor or maybe more.

      I hope that the party was wonderful.

      1. MK*

        That you can be disciplined for having a legal substance locked in the trunk of your car is bizarre frankly. I can understand a rule about not bringing it to the workplace, especially if it’s a school, but just because it’s technically on company premises?

        1. lost academic*

          I have clients where this is true. They do random checks and will check your car for things like drugs, alcohol and weapons when you come back from lunch. In this case it is on a massive construction site and past experience has shown they need to do this.

          1. OhNo*

            That is one of those policies that would never occur to me in a thousand years, but clearly there’s some kind of story behind it that makes people think it’s necessary.

            Honestly, things like this just make me very grateful for the places I’ve worked. As bad or odd as they were, at least those workplaces didn’t have cause to make a rule about checking employees’ cars for drugs when they come back from lunch.

          2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Surely past experience has shown that sometimes people might get drugs or alcohol from their car to consume on work premises in the afternoon. It may be easier to inspect car boots than to watch out for people skiving off for a quick drink, but the fact is that adults should be allowed to keep legal stuff in their car, and only the actual consumption of mind-altering substances should be banned.

        2. Antilles*

          It seems weird to me too.
          I’m guessing it’s only something they actually care about if either (1) something happened recently and burned them so this is an issue and/or (2) you talk about it, so it kind of forces their hand – e.g., you told your entire class you bought beer over lunch, so we kind of have to do something before we get into a bad game of telephone with some angry parents.

        3. Hillary*

          It’s pretty common at companies where someone being high/drunk at work could cause injury or death – every manufacturer I’ve worked at has the rule. Are there random searches? Not anymore. But I worked with people who remembered running to the bar for beers during their lunch break. Those same people remembered the last death in the plant, which was caused by someone being high at work.

          It takes radical action and very direct rules to change that kind of culture. Not on company property is a clear, enforceable rule.

      2. Chicanery*

        I worked at a school in the suburbs and had several coworkers who would park in a church lot a block or so away from the school so they could have alcohol/pocket knives/cigarettes etc. in their cars without worry.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Came to say this – at least one OldJob had a strict rule of no alcohol on premises. It came up every year at holiday time, because people would gift each other bottles of wine and then the giftee would worry about how to get the gift out of the office quickly without anyone noticing. That said, cars have been off limits everywhere I worked. Heck, at the risk of making my identity easy to guess, I worked with a middle manager who had a full-on bar in his trunk. Multiple kinds of liquor, multiple kinds of mixers, the mixing implements, a decent supply of small plastic cups. We do have open container laws, but to my knowledge they don’t apply to whatever’s in your trunk. I partook of The Bar once, during either a company party or a happy hour. Everyone knew about The Bar and the owner never was in any trouble for it that I know of.

        1. Artemesia*

          As a kid I remember doctor friends of the family who made a big deal about no open bottles in the car — they could lose their license. If they were carrying an open bottle of liquor or wine, it went in the trunk. Apparently that does not trigger the open container enforcement.

          1. Mannequin*

            It’s because it’s impossible for the driver to engage in drinking from a bottle locked in a completely separate compartment of the car.

      4. Kippy*

        I work at a law firm in a city know for it’s alcohol culture. Lawyers are known for being big drinkers, the holiday party is open bar, and we’ve even had the occasional team building activity involving daquiris or margaritas but I still feel rather awkward bringing alcohol I buy at the store during my lunch break back to the office. A bottle of wine doesn’t feel too out of bounds but a bottle of vodka or a case of wine seems a little more inappropriate. And that’s probably just me! I’m pretty sure no one else really notices or, if they do, doesn’t judge me for it. But there is that internal feeling that I’m doing something that’s not appropriate for the office.

        If I worked at a school – well, I can definitely see how bringing alcohol into the building, even sealed alcohol clearly meant for consumption at home, would feel like something I shouldn’t be doing. Teachers are definitely held to a different standard than employees at other places. I know teachers at the local elementary school in my neighborhood have been reminded that they can’t smoke or vape on school property. I’m sure bringing alcohol, especially alcohol purchased for a party, so multiple bottles of different types, would be side-eyed by administration.

        That said, unless the sales clerk is a Helen Lovejoy type, I’m sure she 1) didn’t care and 2) forgot about the situation five minutes later.

      5. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

        Some employers can be weird about things in cars – remember the person who was written up for having maxi pads in their car?

      1. Lulu*

        You underestimate the level of weird monitoring some jobs receive. I work in governmental we’ve had people complain when an employee traveling in a government vehicle stopped to use the bathroom at a gas station that included an attached casino (gas-gamble is extremely common here-and they have much nicer bathrooms), went through a fast food drive-through, or stopped pretty much anywhere not obviously government. Management shuts it down but it’s too the point we often choose to drive personal vehicles just so we can buy coffee in peace, at least for day trips.

        1. Velawciraptor*

          Yup. I’d rather be in my car than in the one with the “please snitch on me” bumper sticker. And I always worry what people are going to say when our investigators are out. Sometimes investigation in a criminal case means going somewhere that doesn’t look very government-y. That’s the job. But the entitlement people feel they have to monitor every breath a government employee takes is really something.

        2. Retired Prof*

          At the state university we were reminded by university counsel of the headline test – if what you did resulted in a headline, the university would not defend you in court if it came to that, and if a legislator came to the university President looking for a head, they would deliver yours.

        3. pancakes*

          Right, but the key phrase here is “some jobs.” For those of us who don’t work with manufacturing equipment, operate heavy machinery, aren’t teachers, etc., this is a non-issue.

      2. Anononon*

        I mean, lots of people in this thread are saying how they understand/share OP’s concerns. Just because this specific situation doesn’t apply to you, i don’t think it’s valid to knit pick the “we” language.

        1. pancakes*

          Whether this is a widespread cause for concern or only applies to people in particular lines of work isn’t a mere language issue.

    3. jo*

      I have worked for emoyers before where having alcohol in your car in the company parking lot is strcitly forbidden and punishable (US Def contractors). So it’s not unheard of for this to be a concern.

    4. PT*

      Nah, I’ve worked places where bringing alcohol in the building was a discipline-able offense, even if it was clearly unopened.

    1. IndustriousLabRat*

      I like to imagine that Magic Man fell into a time machine and reappeared in the past as Magic Legendary Bad Office Holiday Party Date Man…

      …but that prior to doing so, he was let go for underperformance and disruptive behavior. There’s definitely a hard line between ‘mildly odd but tolerable if he at least gets his work done’ and ‘this guy is way too advanced in his career to be excused for disregarding all sense of propriety surrounding workplace norms’.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Magic Legendary Bad Office Holiday Party Date Man is an apprentice to Magic Man in my fanfic

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I really want one. I hope his colleagues stopped covering for him and his utter uselessness was revealed to management, after which they summarily dismissed him. But I have no hope that that was the case. If so, I hope OP and their colleagues moved on to new positions at companies that noticed if someone wasn’t pulling their weight and did something about it.

  3. WS*

    Magic Man isn’t the problem, your management is the problem. I had a co-worker like this (though at least without the politics, he was into magic and UFOs) and the rest of us divided up our work duties more clearly, including him in the conversation to make sure he agreed, so that when he didn’t do his job (which he didn’t) and we didn’t pick up the slack (which we now didn’t) it was clear what was going on. It took all that to make it management’s problem. Before that, we would do his work as to not inconvenience customers, but when we “kindly” took the directly customer-related stuff off his plate it meant that how little he did was completely exposed because there was no immediate incentive for us to cover for him now.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Very often in life, it seems success depends on how to make the negative effects of some action fall on the person with the ability to actually change something.

      1. The OTHER Other*

        This! The usual response from good workers with a slacker or goof-off in their midst is to take on the work so the customers and overall department doesn’t suffer while they hope management takes care of the problem. Bad managers see no problem because the work still gets done. Stop doing the work of lazy coworkers and let their failure be visible and painful for the manager to endure.

        Unfortunately, really bad managers such as the one in the letter often respond by taking work away from bad workers and piling it onto good ones. This does nothing but reward the bad employee and punish the good one. Why be a good employee when the result is more of someone else’s work to do? Why stop being a bad one when your bad behavior means more time for you to watch Youtube videos all day?

    2. Generic Name*

      Right, when coworkers cover for a slacker, management doesn’t see that there’s a problem because the work isn’t getting done. They often don’t care that people are overworking themselves in the process. I recently saw a post on bored panda where a manager had several people quit and the bosses above him didn’t want to hire more people. The manager told his team to NOT pick up the slack, even though they offered to pull together as a team. Then it became his bosses problems when his team met and exceeded their individual goals but balls got dropped because of the reduced level of staff.

    3. Anononon*

      I think it’s okay to recognize that BOTH are problems, though the bigger concern is with management. Magic Man is still behaving in ways he shouldn’t, and just because he’s not being penalized for that, it doesn’t excuse it.

  4. rudster*

    I’ve done no. 4, popped out on lunch break to buy a bottle of booze needed for later. It was the only thing I was buying and I ran into a coworker. I had not reason to believe the co-worker would care or judge, but it definitely felt weird.

    1. TiredEmployee*

      I would have one of two assumptions if I ran into a coworker buying just a bottle of wine on their lunch break. A) “I bet they’re going to a dinner party tonight, how nice.” B) “Looks like someone’s getting a gift, I wonder who and what it’s for.”

      I’m sure I’d be wrong about those assumptions a lot of the time, but they’re both positive so I’m ok with that!

      1. rudster*

        In my case it was actually a bottle of burbon – my parents were throwing a barbeque later that evening and asked me to pick up a bottle for the aperitif table on my way because they were out.

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

      I worked with someone who did bring wine back to the office to drink (and was fired for that and other things – very sad). My only thought would still be ‘… I wonder if they’re cooking something nice with that tonight. I need to buy some oats later. Do I have enough fruit at home for breakfast?… ‘. and would doubtless forget it within an hour.

  5. Tali*

    I will never understand why it seems to be so common to ask, plead, demand, expect, etc. handmade items from coworkers.

    I understand and have a little patience for asking friends/family, as many people do bake or sew or knit or craft for their loved ones. I understand asking for advice from friends who are doctors, lawyers, computer wizards or have some other expertise and accidentally going overboard. I even understand telling a coworker that their baked goods/crafts are wonderful and hoping they bring it again, etc.

    But people who just demand homemade things? Especially from coworkers, acquaintances, strangers?? Who raised you to be so entitled??

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      I was a baker for years and my social invitations almost always included a please bring a Black Forest cake for 20 because your cakes are so good! They want my skills, not my company so depending on who issued the invitation I either showed up empty-handed or declined the invite.

      1. Not playing your game anymore*

        I can’t decide if this sort of thing is better or worse than the pleas “could you look at Mark’s computer while you are here?” or “my email is so wonky, why can’t I ever open an attachment?”

        As someone who crafts, I’ve found having a price list for commissions useful… and once I started replying to requests for tech support with offers to come back and spend some time one the issue at standard rates, those requests have died off as well. Now, with the pandemic, it’s not an issue anymore.

    2. Spooncake*

      I had a job where people did this, and at the time I felt like I had to do it if I didn’t want to be seen as a jerk. And then I brought in something different to my usual go-to bakes, and at the end of the day when I went to collect my tupperware, almost all of my cakes were in the bin, entirely uneaten (I say this to show that it wasn’t just a bad bake, they couldn’t have known about the taste). So after that, I didn’t do it any more, except for a very small group of people who always asked nicely and offered to pay for ingredients. People get used to the bakers bringing food and forget that this is their coworker with feelings and a life, I think.

      1. Green great dragon*

        That’s incredibly rude of your co-workers. If you don’t want to eat it, just leave it be.

      2. Denver Gutierrez*

        They just tossed them in the trash without even tasting them? How rude! I don’t blame you for not wanting to make them anything else. If you don’t want to eat it, just leave it there, don’t toss it!

    3. MK*

      it’s bizarre, frankly. I am a lawyer, and I often had relatives, friends, acquaintances, etc., ask for advice. Almost everyone was polite, asked permission before launching into their tale of woe, understood that I could only offer a general opinion, not actual legal services, thanked me profusely, and never brought it up again. And then there was one person, a remote acquaintance, who seemed to think I was her unpaid attorney.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I’ve been in corporate recruiting for years and lost count of how many times I got pulled aside at get-togethers so people I barely knew could ‘pick my brain’ about their job search. They thought I was a headhunter – ‘You find jobs for people, right?’ – and could or would not understand the difference. Some people kept me away from the party for over an hour, complaining bitterly about employers and recruiters, and expecting me to be their job search counselor. I started telling people I’d be glad to help them build a job search plan, review resumes, coach them on interviewing, etc., and threw out whatever ridiculous hourly rate I could think of. No one ever took me up on it.

        Family and close friends tended to ask politely and at least offer to take me to dinner while picking my brain. Those folks got a lot of my time, because they appreciated what I could do with them.

      2. Anononon*

        I hate when I get the “can I ask you legal question?” I practice in an extremely specific, focused field that people rarely ask me about, so when they ask me questions, any ideas I have are hardly any more valid than a lay person’s.

      3. Anon Supervisor*

        I have several friends who are vets and I’m very careful about asking for their opinion. Usually, it’s along the lines of “Do you think I should take Homer in or am I just being a nervous nelly?” I just want confirmation that yes, cats throw up occasionally and stop googling symptoms and scaring yourself.

      4. Denver Gutierrez*

        I work with animals, so get asked about things like behavior issues, medical issues a lot. Depending on the person or what they are asking, I will offer some advice. But some people think I can take the place of a vet visit and those people get shut down. I am not a vet and legally I can not diagnose anyone’s pets or tell them how to treat a health issue, etc. Even if I know what the issue is or how it is usually treated, I don’t tell them. I just say they need to go to the vet. And repeat as necessary. Even if I was a vet, I wouldn’t just tell them anything, especially without examining the animal.

        It is just mind-boggling how some people think they are entitled to your advice or services for free.

    4. UKDancer*

      Yes it’s weird. I’ve a friend who makes really good cloth face masks and I’ve had her make some custom ones for my uncle last Christmas reflecting an interest of his. The first thing I did was ask how much she charged for taking the work on. I would never ask her to do things for free, that’s just insulting. If something is worth having it’s worth paying for.

      I did have a work colleague about 5 years ago ask me if I’d do a dance lesson for her hen party. I am not a professional dancer and am a fairly rubbish teacher to be honest so I didn’t want to do it. I told her how much it would cost for professional indemnity insurance, time and studio hire and she looked at me and said “oh I thought you’d do it for a gift.” I’m like “no if you want a dancer you need to pay what that costs. I’m not doing it for free and undercutting people who do this for a living. You can either pay me what a professional charges or you can pay a professional.” She was not very happy with me after that.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I’m a very skilled embroidery person, which I do as a hobby in designing and sewing my own stuff, and people at work generally know this as I tend to use my lunch hour to sew.

      I’ve had one person that whole time come up and demand I do a whole load of stuff for a charity auction at work – the ‘you’re sewing anyway, may as well help a good cause’ statement was annoying.

      Just no. I sew things I want to sew. I’ve sold a few pieces but I’m never doing it on demand.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Right? I’m a knitter and every now and then someone says I should create an Etsy shop and sell my stuff. I’m like, do you have any idea how long it takes to knit something and how much yarn costs? I’d be operating at a loss if I did that! Plus all the joy of knitting would disappear once I’m trying to do it for a job. No thank you. I’m also a part-time professional musician but I had to get a day job once I realized that teaching music (the way 99% of professionals make a living) was also taking all the joy out of playing music. Now I am happy to do music and get paid for it even though it’s not my bread and butter, because I’m playing what I want to play instead of every gig that comes my way and also suffering through listening to beginner violin students, which was sucking my soul dry.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          There are some people I’ll knit for for “free” (cost of materials, if that). There is nobody I would knit for for pay, because nobody would pay me enough to make it worthwhile.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Same, Red Reader! Once when I was fundraising as part of a marathon I was running, I knit and sold hats cheaply (mostly acrylic or cheap wool) and the proceeds went to the fundraiser. So I’d sell a hat for $10 and give $9 to the fundraiser. But that was totally fun because hats are fast and easy. I took requests (mostly for black and red hats b/c those were my running club colors). I probably made $50-$100 all told; I suppose I could actually make money selling hats since, again, they’re quick and easy, but it’s not the knitting that I would find soul sucking, it’s the selling. That part would be a pain so no thank you.

            1. Veryanon*

              Exactly! I love to crochet, and I enjoy making all kinds of things, especially baby blankets, but the thought of trying to organize my hobby enough to open an Etsy shop or something just would take the joy right out of it. Plus no one would ever pay what my projects are actually worth in terms of cost of materials and the time it took me to make the project, since everyone thinks “oh I could do this myself.”

              1. Anon Supervisor*

                “since everyone thinks “oh I could do this myself.””

                Oh man, I love when they trot out that old chestnut. I’ve been crocheting for 30 years and have suggested they start teaching themselves then (my grandmother started me off, then I quit smoking and I got really into it as a way to keep my hands busy, with the pandemic and the glut of YouTube videos, I’ve really developed my skills). You should see their faces…

                1. Anonymous Bosch*

                  I could never do it myself. Someone once tried to show me how to crochet. I have some kind of weird spatial relationship problem (not a vision problem) and no matter how many times she showed me the basic stitch I could not “see” what she was doing well enough to replicate it.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Yeah, I don’t fix people’s software issues for free either – outside of work that is. I got burnt out by people demanding I come over and fix their PC (usually running slow due to bloatware/malware) because ‘you do that as your job!’

          I don’t want to do it out of hours, I want to sew…

          1. Jam on Toast*

            Mending requests…even worse than the ‘sew/knit/make something requests’ are the ‘fix/hem/repair requests!! I only do mending for my immediate family The number of vaguely connected people who shamelessly demand my help with a ‘quick repair’ (which is never, ever, ever quick) rather than trek down to the dry cleaners or tailor shop in the mall and pay the $12 bucks is boggling.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Especially as repairs often seem to involve zips! I hardly ever sew anything with a zip for myself let alone replace one, which has to be the fiddliest thing ever.

          2. Retired Prof*

            I stopped asking retired IT husband for help with the printer once I finally understood the burning white hot rage any self-respecting IT person has for printers. Never mind, we only need one of us that pissed off with the printer.

          3. Anonymous Bosch*

            If you were a close friend I would probably ask you for help with my computer in return for something you’d like, such as a nice dinner at your favorite restaurant.

        3. Anon Supervisor*

          Not to mention the market for hand-knitted and crocheted items on Etsy is completely flooded due to the pandemic. The shop fees alone make it a cost loser.

      2. Olivia Mansfield*

        Like she thinks embroidery just comes spewing out of you with no effort on your part, so she may as well just harvest the results?! Jeez.

    6. Hobbling Up A Hill*

      They seriously underestimate how much time and effort (and money) even things you’ve been doing for years can take you and assume that because you do something as a hobby you must enjoy doing it and therefore a request is only asking you to do something fun so it doesn’t really count.

      Not realising that when people are doing their hobby for fun they are typically making things they themselves like while a request has a deadline and a recipient and may not be something they particularly like making so it’s not fun any more.

      Gifts are different.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        See the whole philosophy that you should identify a hobby you enjoy and then find out a way to do that all the time as your job, and you’ll “Never work a day in your life.”

        Actual fisherfolk, seamstresses, dancers, pastry chefs, etc always seem to feel they’re working at work.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Professional musician here. It’s definitely work. (Also, I would LOVE to play Brahms and Beethoven all the time but instead I get to play Sleigh Ride and Stars and Stripes Forever. When you’re being paid for what people want to hear, you don’t often get to play what you want to play. Thus, the concerts where I do get to play Brahms and Beethoven are all the more cherished.) (But still work; Brahms and Beethoven are HARD.)

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              Hahahaha, right? Most musicians, too. I still love it b/c I haven’t done it 30x/year like some people have, but maybe someday I’ll get sick of it. I’ve only done it a few times every few years.

              1. Clorinda*

                I still know the page numbers that the major “hard for me” moments are on in the edition we used (Tea! Page 32!) even though I haven’t actually played Nutcracker for seven or eight years. Ah, memories.

                1. Slow Gin Lizz*

                  Do you play piccolo or bassoon? The tea parts in that one sound tough. I play viola so the hardest movement is also the most boring, the Arabian one. It’s beautiful but it’s 60 measures in a row of the most-difficult-to-play (i.e. largest hand spread) octave and every violist in the world hates it. Obv written by a pianist, lol.

        2. Antilles*

          Also, if you’re doing a hobby as your career, there’s all sorts of time not related to the hobby you have to deal with – negotiating with suppliers, reviewing contracts, marketing, etc. And the more successful you are, the more that fraction changes from “time spent actually doing the hobby” to “time spent running a business while employees do the cooking / dancing / etc”.

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              Oh, and also the competition is fierce. For any major orchestra opening, there can be up to a thousand applicants, of which maybe 200 are invited to audition. From those 200, of course only ONE PERSON will get the job. And undoubtedly each and every one of the auditioners is eminently qualified for the position. I can only imagine that dance and drama have similar application/acceptance rates.

              1. Richard Hershberger*

                Hah! What I learned from watching Mozart in the Jungle is that major metropolitan orchestras let anyone walk in off the street to audition, but they keep the numbers down by not announcing the opening.

                1. Slow Gin Lizz*

                  I’ve not watched that show (I think it would be triggering and I’m only semi-joking) but that is definitely not the case. I’ve never applied for a major orchestra position but IIRC from the ads I’ve seen you have to submit a CV and a recording to be even considered. I’ve applied for smaller budget orchestras who’ve turned me away because they thought I didn’t have enough orchestra experience and I’m pretty experienced. I would probably be laughed at for sending an application in to a major orchestra.

                  And I’m fairly certain they announce openings in the union booklet or whatever it is, I just don’t pay any attention anymore because my audition days are pretty much behind me.

      2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        I’ve been known to tell people “This is what I do for fun. If I get paid for it, then it’s work. There are many people on Etsy who want to do exactly that.”

        Most people get the idea that I’m not going to make something for them at that point. The ones who don’t get told “I don’t make things to request without getting paid. You’re making a request. I’m not willing to make what you want. Go look on Etsy.”

        (I knit and crochet, and when we were in the office I would often work on projects during my lunch break.)

      3. Genny*

        They also think they’re the only ones asking. Making two dozens cookies for the work party next week may not be a huge deal (though you’re still not obligated to make them), but making those cookies plus the brownies, cupcakes, and fudge for 4-5 other office events (that you aren’t even invited to) all within the space of a week or two is a lot.

    7. anonymous73*

      True, but it’s partially on OP because she’s enabling them to take advantage of her by never saying no. I have been the office baker (when I worked in an office). I started baking things for my team’s birthdays because I hate grocery store cake and I love to bake. When we would have pot lucks or parties I would bring baked things. When I moved from a smaller team (where everyone would get their own birthday cake) to a much larger team, I let them know that I would bake a cake once a month to include the birthday people from that particular month. Yes it’s rude for these people to assume that OP will always bake if they ask, but it’s up to OP to create boundaries.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I suspect mission creep, where it went from something she was happy to do, to a little too often from a few too many people, to an onus. In little steps of expectation, each of them too small to really put up a fuss because is this request so different from Darryl asking for chocolate cupcakes last week?

        You had the advantage of a clear shift in the context to set out new boundaries, so people were much less likely to take it personally.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        No, she’s not enabling anything, any more than someone doing sewing at lunch and occasionally giving stuff as presents is enabling having that demanded of them.

        It’s often drummed into us, especially if female, that saying outright that you won’t do something is rude. It’s a heckuva conditioning to break and I don’t blame anyone for falling victim to ‘feature creep’.

        1. anonymous73*

          Agree to disagree. She is 100% enabling them to take advantage by not setting boundaries with colleagues. And I’m really tired of the “it’s rude to say no” excuse. It’s 2021 not 1950. If something is making you unhappy, stand up for yourself.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        At one point I was taking my mango cheesecake in to the office, because my favourite colleagues all loved it. I was asked to make it for a particular occasion, and everyone was taken aback when I said no. The date for the occasion had been set a while back, but they only asked me a couple of days beforehand. I explained that I had to go to three different shops (one the other side of Paris) to get all the ingredients, and that it also needed to chill in the fridge for minimum 24hrs before being eaten. Not to mention that none of the ingredients were cheap except the Philly cheese.

    8. Dust Bunny*

      The number of people who assume that having me make it will be cheaper than buying a mass-produced one is really staggering. I can’t tell you how many people have suggested I sew retro dresses to sell and then are floored when I tell them I’d have to charge like $300 for a basic cotton dress to pay myself fairly. Why do they think I’d be cheaper than something mass-produced in an underpaid country? Never mind that they also think I should do this because my sewing is better quality. So . . . it’s better quality but you also think it would be cheaper? EXPLAIN PLEASE.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s better quality AND it’s cheaper AND YET somehow the nation is not awash with home tailoring operations pumping out most of our clothes.

        Bored Panda had a thread on this the other day. Someone had tried “I’ll make that dress myself and just charge a few dollars more than the cost of materials” and hoo boy thousands of hours later it turns out you go broke doing that, if your labor isn’t worth pennies.

        1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          Quite a number of years ago, I saw the suggestion that you should charge 3x the cost of materials for homemade items. I believe it was in the context of knitted/crocheted (and maybe sewn) items for craft fairs. Even then, when I made a much lower wage than I do now, when I did the math I figured that there was no way I was going to make enough money selling at that price to make it worth my while to do that, and it was highly unlikely that people would pay more for the same items (especially when other people were charging less than 3x materials).

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            I worked out that in order to truly recoup my time and expenses my largest pieces of embroidery would have to sell for thousands of pounds (one took me 9 months to finish) – and nobody was willing to pay that much. Best offer I got was ‘twice the cost of threads and fabric’ which would have been around £40 maximum.

      2. UKDancer*

        Yeah people forget that hand made clothes are really expensive. There was a reason most people in pre-sewing machine or even pre-industrial societies didn’t have very many outfits. I follow on Youtube a number of people who make historical and period outfits and corsets for example and their products are really expensive because of the materials and labour costs. It’s amazing the number of people who think they’d be willing just to knock them up a copy really cheaply.

        1. quill*

          Yep, even poorly made garments with recycled materials are beyond my skill level. I take in my own pants and do buttons / buttonholes, and that is IT.

        2. Botanist*

          I made my wedding dress. Nothing super elaborate, an empire waist with sheer taffeta over the bodice. Materials were under $300. I have no idea how many hours I spent on it but it was over 100. If I factored that in using my hourly wage at my job, that simple wedding dress would have been a few thousand. Definitely not going to be making wedding dresses for anyone else!

        3. Lucy Skywalker*

          Interesting. I remember my mother saying that she made her own clothes when she was in college to save money. I guess material must have been cheaper in the 1960’s.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Fabric may have been cheaper, in that a whole lot more people made their own clothes. But more importantly, clothes were a whole lot more expensive. You couldn’t get a T-shirt for five euros, it would have cost at least €30. The price of clothing has dipped to a ridiculously low level now in that you can buy clothes for the price of a meal.

        4. Retired Prof*

          When I was a teenager back in the Pleistocene, I made almost all my own clothes because a decent shirt cost about $25 and fabric was $3 /yard. A decent shirt now costs less than the fabric and notions to make it, so I mostly just sew for the house now (curtains, slip covers) because reupholstering with mill-ends is cheaper than a new couch.

      3. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Honestly, I am also floored that you would charge $300 for a custom handmade dress…I would expect $600, minumum!

        And I’m not joking.

      4. Karen from accounting*

        My personal theory on this (as a knitter and sewer, although this applies more to sewing) is that people:
        a) don’t understand that if you are making something for YOURSELF it might be cheaper than buying it, but that’s only because you don’t have to pay yourself for your own labour.
        b) I strongly suspect that people who don’t sew think of a sewing machine like a washing machine (which does almost all of the work for you), when in reality it’s more like an electric drill (a tool that helps you do manual labour faster). And that’s not even getting into all the fabric prep, pattern cutting etc!

        I also think that the rise of fast fashion has completely destroyed most people’s conception of clothes being valuable and made with skilled labour.

    9. Michelle Smith*

      As a lawyer, I can promise you, we hate being asked random legal advice just as strongly as you feel about the handmade items. Most of the time it’s not even my area of expertise and I’m expected to do free legal research in my spare time and give competent advice in an area of law I haven’t studied or thought about in a decade.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          And librarians. The number of times I’ve had research questions dumped on me in social situations…

          1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

            And anyone whose job is remotely related to computers gets asked “Can you fix my computer?” Even (sometimes especially) if your job has nothing to do with their problem.

            Unless you live with me or are related to me (or I really like you), I’m charging you. And I’m charging you double what I make per hour at my job, because you are asking me to do my job on a contract basis so I’m charging you contractor rates. Billed by the half hour, one hour minimum. Most people balked when I worked on a helpdesk and charged $30/hour. No one wants to pay what I’d charge these days (which is good, because I got off the helpdesk for a reason).

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              ‘Can you come see what’s wrong with my home PC?’ is so the bane of my existence. People even log calls with us IT for us to come look at their personal machines (one even brought the whole desktop into the office and tried to drop it off with us!).

              It’s like, yes that’s a 20 year career with me and I probably can fix it, but unlike with work machines there’s no recourse if I totally screw your PC up. So not gonna.

            2. darcy*

              the only people i’ll do IT support for is my mum and grandparents. it helps that they’ll accept “sorry i have no idea how to fix that” as an answer!

    10. Falling Diphthong*

      Humans are excellent at adapting to social norms. Sometimes that means you don’t question dropping everything to perform the obeisance to the Great Pomegranate at 1:20 every afternoon, and sometimes that means you don’t question that step 3 in planning any office party is “Tell Susan what sort of baked goods you fancy.”

    11. Environmental Compliance*

      I knit, and run a small Etsy shop with items (though I mostly design at this point).

      My absolute favorite bonkers request was from an old boss (who was otherwise unhinged) at a health department. She asked me to knit life size male….genitalia…., condoms, and STI symptoms. Except she definitely ran into my office *not* saying genitalia or any other medically-accurate terms. For free, because *work*. She also wanted me to knit an entire CA King size bedspread in *fingering weight* yarn. “it’d be like $20, right?” She was not pleased with the quote I gave her for that. ”

      Many people do not consider the amount of time, materials, or skills to make things.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        A CA King bedspread in fingering weight yarn???? Is she completely crazy?????? That sounds like absolute torture and of course would also take about a decade to make. (I’m a fast knitter but it would take me forever because it’d be soooooo booooooring……..)

        I’m curious what you gave her for a quote. :-D

        1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          So, for $20, if I found a really good deal, I could get maybe 1200 yards of fingering weight yarn. I’d be hard pressed to make a baby blanket out of that, much less anything larger.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Also I just realized I forgot to comment on the first part of your comment, the part about knitting genitalia, etc. Like, WUT???

      3. Anon Supervisor*

        I’m currently researching CA King sized crochet patters for DK yarn and it’s daunting. My eyes would fall out making something that big in fingering weight (if I didn’t pass away from extreme old age first).


      One solution would be for the baker to put together a menu with prices and share a copy with coworkers, but before they are asked to make the next cake.
      “My baked treats have been so well received, that I’ve decided to make it an occasional source of income. Here’s a list of my most requested items, along with the cost of materials and my labor. To be clear, I won’t always be available, but will do what I can when I’m able.
      Thank you all for your kind comments about my baking!”
      Keep a printed copies of the note and menu, hand them out every time they are asked to bake.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I see this sort of suggestion a lot when people are trying to get out of an expected volunteer role, and often these people would not be happy to keep doing all this stuff if they were just paid. Right now they’re equals doing a favor for other equals, and coming up with set rates moves them to work for hire.

      2. Quack Quack No*

        Yeah, but … there are things one does for money and things one does for love, and monetizing hobbies can suck the joy right out.

    13. calonkat*

      We’ve a co-worker here who is known for the quality of the cinnamon rolls they make.

      Only available to their team sometimes and when they are made for an office fundraiser, it’s a publicity point.

      The co-worker set good boundaries that it was THEIR choice to make the rolls, and they can say no if it’s not a good time.

    14. HotSauce*

      I used to bake for my coworkers all the time. I liked doing it and they enjoyed eating the goodies. Then we had a couple of parties where people absolutely decimated the buffet table before everyone had a chance to eat, including myself and I stopped participating altogether. I don’t know if these people were raised by wolves or what, but I got sick of spending $40 making elaborate cupcakes, bars or cakes and not getting a crumb.

      1. Denver Gutierrez*

        I’ve had coworkers like that and it is infuriating! What happened to “Take *one* portion and don’t go in for seconds until everyone else has had the opportunity to get some too”?

  6. Born to Rune*

    “Stop leaving magical documents on the printer” makes it sounds like the documents might turn you into a frog when you go and collect them.

        1. quill*

          You could always detonate whatever spell has infested the printer with one of the suits of armor that moves around when you’re not looking.

  7. Grumpy Old Sailor*

    LW #1, I second the suggestion that you stop carrying Magic Man. Do your work, let his pile up uncompleted. Eventually he’ll have to answer to the boss for why it’s not getting done. If, by some chance, the boss decides to make it somehow your fault (‘your’ meaning you and your co-workers) because you won’t carry Magic Man’s workload, that to me would be a very good indication that it’s time to jump ship, just as soon as you possibly can.

  8. Green Ruler*

    I’m sorry, but can I ask a dumb question? Why is the “solution” to problems in the workplace always presented as either a PIP or a firing? Have you tried just talking to them?

    Seriously, I’ve inherited a few direct reports over the years who were not dissimilar to the guy OP#1 refers to, and every time, all it took was one conversation (sometimes two, if the situation was more complicated or long-standing) to get them back on board. The vast majority of people do not actually want to sit around doing nothing and sucking at their job all day. There’s usually a delightful recipe of bad management and understandable resentment on the part of the “underperformer” involved.

    1. 653-CXK*

      There are some employees that will stop once you give them a stern talking to, but merely talking to them is not enough, especially when the situation is dire and needs intervention, e.g. if the person is constantly coming in late, or their reports are full of errors, or they frequently argue/ignore basic orders. Even the best (and sometimes multiple) “come to [insert deity here]” conversations need written backup.

      A PIP (when used correctly) tells the employee “Here are your deficiencies; here’s how we want them corrected; we’re giving you X days to be successful or else we’ll terminate your employment.” If they don’t fulfill the terms of the PIP, the only other solution is to dismiss them.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This is how PIP’s are used where I work as well. The thought is over an extended period of time your work has been deficient in these areas, we have talked about it, now it’s fix it or we can no longer keep you around. This is what you need to fix, the amount of time you have to fix it, and we have written it all down. Now where I work there is a part of the PIP that is the manager’s responsibility as well – generally in the form of training and support that the management can give to the employee who is on the PIP.

        But I also work at a place where PIPs can be survived, my opinion changes if your job uses PIPs to clue in an employee that it is time to move along and find a new job.

    2. Asenath*

      I think the assumption is that by the time the person gets THAT bad and THAT annoying, they’ve been spoken to already, probably more than once. But I also think that sometimes they haven’t, not really, because their bosses, going up the line, really don’t want to have that awkward conversation, so as long as the work gets done, they look the other way, ignoring both the problem employee and the increasingly irate co-workers who are putting up with him and having to do his work.

      That being said, in the most egregious case I know of, rumour had it that management really had spoken to the person, who threatened to sue. Then the decision appeared to be to let him continue to retirement, sidelining him to the kind of work where his behaviour (or rather, his lack of actually doing work) would do the least amount of harm. The same employer actually did reasonably well at easing out another problem employee when remediation and talking-to didn’t help. I will never know of course, but I do wonder if the rumours that the first one threatened to sue were true, or if there was some other reason he seemed impervious to advice or firing. It was a number of years earlier than the second case, so some of the higher management positions woud have been taken by new people.

    3. J.B.*

      I don’t read the response as mentioning a pip, more that a firing is possible within a protected class. We have no idea if management has done any talking tos although I have doubts. There is clearly not much colleagues can do about it.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I’m supposing that given how long this has gone on for, the fact the management say they can’t fire him or discipline him (‘because protected class’) and the really off the wall laziness of this guy I think words have been said – probably too gently if the management is that terrified of discrimination accusations.

      Someone who is knowingly skiving off work all day to do their personal interests is someone who’s very comfortable doing so – especially if they know that they can’t lose their job for it. Why would someone talking to them change it?

      My advice would be to just let him suffer his own failure. Don’t pick up his work, don’t fix his mistakes. Let him try to make that about age.

    5. FashionablyEvil*

      I actually think Alison’s go-to advice is “Have you had a clear and direct conversation about this with your co-worker/the employee?” because the answer so often is no.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yes, and often the OP just needs a script. They’re thinking “how do I say ‘you’re too lazy for words’ diplomatically?” And Alison will show them that it’s not the subjective perception that matters but the objective completion of tasks set and will provide a question like “Does a deadline like ‘paint all 20 teapots by Friday’ sound reasonable to you? Typical output for an experienced teapot painter is at least five a day”

    6. londonedit*

      In this case, the OP and their colleagues have brought the issues with this chap to the attention of their bosses several times, and the only response they get is ‘He’s in a protected class, we can’t do anything about him’. OP and their colleagues are having to pick up the slack because this guy is doing nothing, they’ve complained several times, and yet management are too scared to do anything about it because of some fear that they can’t discipline him because of his age. Alison’s response is pointing out that the management in this case is being totally useless because they *can* fire him if he’s not doing his job properly, no matter how old he is.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Yeah it’s patently ridiculous. I’m black, so I’m in a protected class. Never once has it been an immunity shield preventing me from being fired for cause…

        1. londonedit*

          And the thing is, everyone is in a protected class. I can’t be fired *because* I’m white, any more than I can be fired *because* I’m a woman or over 40 or whatever. But being a woman, for example, doesn’t protect me from being fired because I’m literally watching videos all day instead of doing my job.

      2. PT*

        I’ve absolutely worked places where they used the “protected class” as a reason they could not discipline or fire someone. “We can’t fire Fergus for juggling the llamas, he’s in a protected class!”

        But incidentally, when they wanted to get rid of someone they didn’t like- even if that person had done nothing wrong, or had only committed a minor infraction, like being late on a day of a famous massive citywide subway problem, or being unable to be on call 24/7 despite the fact they were not being paid to be on call 24/7- suddenly *that person’s* “protected class” didn’t matter so much.

    7. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Why is the “solution” to problems in the workplace always presented as either a PIP or a firing?

      Employees are disposable and fungible, and under normal circumstances easily replaceable.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          To be fair, it has to be that way; the alternative is that the business fails if an employee fails.

          The flip side is that it’s always a business decision how much rehabilitation a given employer-employee relationship merits.

      1. quill*

        Technically all humans are capable of becoming fungus, on the chemical level. (I know that’s not what Fungible means but…)

    8. Observer*

      Why is the “solution” to problems in the workplace always presented as either a PIP or a firing? Have you tried just talking to them?

      When have you stopped beating your wife?

      Which is to say that you’ve made your question essentially unanswerable because you’ve built in an incorrect assumption into the question. And, to be clear, you are demonstrably incorrect in saying that the solution is always presented in the form of “PIP or Fire.”

      If you look at what Allison’s typical advice is, you will see that in the vast majority of cases, the first thing she asks is if the person has had a conversation with the offender. And she often gives scripts, including good ones for escalating a situation if a person is not responding.

      In the case of the letter here, Allison is not jumping to firing. She’s just pointing out that they COULD even go that far if they needed to. Which means that they could certainly have a conversation (or three) with this guy.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        This. Straw man for sure. The logical progression in most cases, and the one that Alison generally recommends, is:

        1. Conversation, set expectations, make sure they are understood.
        2. If that fails, try again and be even clearer, make sure they know that the next step if things don’t improve is a PIP.
        3. If that fails, PIP, and make sure they understand that if they don’t meet the expectations set out in the PIP by the date specified, the next step is firing.
        4. If that fails, fire.

        1. londonedit*

          Exactly. And make sure you *are* clear when you’re speaking to the person – so often, people say ‘I’ve spoken to them about it’ but what they’ve said is ‘Hey, we really shouldn’t be watching videos on work time’, so Fergus hears ‘OK technically we shouldn’t do it but what the heck’, when they should be hearing ‘Fergus, you cannot watch videos on work time and if this carries on we will initiate a disciplinary process and your job may be at risk’.

    9. Marthooh*

      Tell me you’ve never read Ask A Manager before without telling me you’ve never read Ask A Manager before.

      1. Birdy*

        The responses in this subthread are actually much more along the lines of “tell me that you have/haven’t been screwed over by a manager before without telling me that you have/haven’t been screwed over by a manager before”.

        While I don’t think it applies in OP1’s situation, I do agree with Green Ruler.

        I’m really sick of useless managers who are trigger-happy with PIPs or “Development Plans” or firings, who haven’t even attempted to have an actual conversation about whatever the hell they think is going on with the employee in question.

        Bonus points if whatever it is that has happened only occurred because the manager provided confusing, incomplete or otherwise incomprehensible instructions. Extra points if the employee is relatively new, and even more bonus points if the procedure that was meant to be followed was incomplete, outdated, unclear or non-existent.

  9. J.B.*

    Relevant to 3, I had a boss who was down on hiring someone who didn’t say I want the job! at the end of the interview. And on someone else who had temped because she sometimes wore jeans. Surprisingly enough it wasn’t a great place to work.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        “I DON’T want this job! Psych! I was just distracting you while my colleague infiltrated your mainframe.”

      2. Metadata minion*

        I mean, plenty of people do apply to jobs they’re not at all enthusiastic about because they need the money, but unless someone seems overtly cranky about the job I’m happy to exchange money for their reasonably competent and dedicated work.

    1. ContractsKiller*

      I had a boss who didn’t want to hire someone because “they clearly don’t want it enough” since they didn’t essentially grovel at his feet and beg for it. Not surprisingly, he was old school in several other terrible ways and the most awful boss I’ve ever had.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Ugh. Alison’s talked about this a lot over the years. It’s reasonable to want a candidate who expresses clear interest in what the role entails, where you can see how it fits their career goals, where they don’t seem like they’d be an immediate flight risk when something better comes along, etc. In many roles some degree of active enthusiasm is even a pretty normal expectation.

        But expecting specific wording as some kind of pass phrase, or thinking that groveling is a good sign in a candidate is gross.

        1. londonedit*

          And it goes hand-in-hand with ‘Why should we give people a pay rise? They should be doing this job for the love of it! They just don’t have enough passion! There are hundreds of other people who’d bite my hand off for a job if they quit!’

          1. Elenna*

            And then later: “Wait, they actually quit? I didn’t actually want them to quit! Wait, why is nobody accepting this job? What do you mean we have to double the pay and/or hire three people to get to market rate???”

    2. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      I think it sounds kind of silly to say “I want the job!” in so many words, but I do try to convey the idea. Something like “I’ve enjoyed the chance to learn more about your work, and I’d love to be part of it.”

  10. Anon for This*

    We had a guy like LW1’s magic man. Management tried to discipline him twice. Both times he hired a lawyer and filed a suit for age discrimination. Management was not willing to pay the costs of fighting the lawsuits and settled each time. So he is now untouchable and, much like LW1’s colleague, does nothing. At least with COVID we are teleworking so don’t have to see him wasting time or picking his documents up off the computer. Sigh.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Long time ago I had a coworker who barely ever showed up for work and when he did spent most of the day on the internet. Because he claimed to have a medical issue, was a POC and gay the managers were afraid to discipline him for fear of discrimination and he KNEW it.

      It took 2 years to get rid of him. By the end he was clocking in maybe a day’s work per month. It also took a new HR person coming in who was more ‘I don’t give a toss what group someone belongs to – if they can’t do the job they leave’

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I’ve seen people from all protected groups laid off or let go for low performance or for other, more serious issues. Only person I’ve worked with that it mysteriously took the company several years to get rid of was a middle-aged straight white Anglo guy. He was harassing coworkers and people would go to HR, and the HR would always say “He didn’t know he couldn’t” (do a thing that it is blatantly obvious no one should do in a workplace). His own boss wanted him out, and could not do anything, despite the boss having many years of service and considerable clout with the company. I was afraid to come in to work every day because of that man, and I was not even his primary target. Another woman was, and she really did not know what to do. While finally being escorted out, he got belligerent, the police were called, and we had security on campus for the next few days. I will never in my life know what made him so invincible. Did he have dirt on the higher-ups? He was not a good performer, either (which was what eventually made it possible for him to be fired). I would love to get to the bottom of that mystery someday.

      2. Quack Quack No*

        Ugh I want to slap him. So many people are going to judge POC and gay people unfairly because of his example, and while it’s their choice to use that illogic he did not have to contribute to it by being a wilfully terrible employee.

    2. B*

      Being unwilling to discipline an employee for threat of lawsuits is just plain cowardice. There is no way the cost of fighting the lawsuit outweighs the cost of paying his salary, or the other indirect costs that come along with a dead weight employee.

    3. Decima Dewey*

      He isn’t untouchable. Management wasn’t willing to make the effort to fight the cases. Or they didn’t prepare the documentation that would prove their side of the case.

  11. Shiba Dad*

    I agree that #1 should stop carrying Magic Politics Man. Let him succeed or fail by his own efforts. He can, in a manner of speaking, pick himself up by his bootstraps.

  12. EPLawyer*

    #5 – they were actually being nice to you. Rather than waste your time because they knew they already had the person they wanted, they let you know in advance. They COULD have interviewed you, then you just never heard from them again.

    By letting you know they hired someone exceptionally qualified, they were letting you know that you did nothing wrong but just this person walked in and was a unicorn — met all the qualifications and just wowed them. It was not a knock on you.

    1. anonymous73*

      This. It may be disappointing to have an interview cancelled, but I would much rather have that happen, then find out later that they wasted my time when they already knew who they were planning on hiring. My boss and I are interviewing for an open position on my team and it’s friggin exhausting. I am appreciative of the candidates who upon hearing more about the job, let us know that’s it not what they’re looking for and bow out gracefully, rather than waste our time.

    2. Koalafied*

      Yeah, I’m kind of curious about how the LW is interpreting the phrase “exceptionally qualified” or what other associations they have with the word “exceptional” that’s causing them to interpret “someone else was exceptional” as “you are unimpressive.” Kind of the whole point of “exceptional” is stressing how unusually qualified the candidate was compared to the entire rest of the candidate pool, and while it’s of course lovely to be the 1 unicorn in a sea of candidates, there’s nothing really concerning about being part of the sea, either…it’s where all but 1 person is!

      1. Imaginary Friend*

        “But maybe I’m exceptionally qualified, too!” I think that’s part of the knee-jerk, unexamined reaction.

  13. Going Up!*

    Head canon: Magic Man in LW#1 is the same person as the piano player in the Best Office Holiday Party Story of All Time.

  14. Smithy*

    #5 – While it’s completely understandable to be ego bruising to hear something like that and be put in a situation to infer that your resume does not make you exceptionally qualified – I think it may be helpful not to hear that feedback around how qualified the candidate is but rather how unique the situation is.

    Essentially, like having one or two good dates with someone and then being dumped because their ex who they’ve never gotten over returned. It’s more likely far less about you and your qualifications than a set of circumstances regarding how they know that person is qualified. An internal candidate or boomerang staff member who left on good terms often fit this situation.

    It will likely never make the situation feel amazing, but for jobs that don’t correspond to concrete certifications/accreditations hopefully it helps in rethinking the perspective.

  15. ContractsKiller*

    #3 Alison’s suggested wording was “I’m even more interested in this role now that I’ve learned more about it, and I’m looking forward to any next steps.” I must be paying attention because I think I said that nearly verbatim at the end of my interview. I’m working at that new job now and LOVING IT!

  16. Fluffy Kittens*

    #4 – If you work for a “Drug and alcohol free work place” you are not supposed to have alcohol on the premises (even if you are not going to drink it while at work). Keep your purchased alcohol in your car. (Some government agencies or companies that get federal money have this requirement.)

  17. GMD*

    For #4 I would check your company policy. Coming from consulting to a much more highly regulated industry I was shocked to learn in one of my onboarding trainings that we are not allowed to buy alcohol on our lunch break and leave it in our cars because no alcohol is allowed on company property, even the parking lot. So this question isn’t off-base for some highly regulated industries.

    1. calonkat*

      Agreed. I was surprised that Alison didn’t mention storing the alcohol and possible pitfalls depending on the workplace. To be honest, I’d probably have planned my route after work to include purchasing the alcohol rather than purchasing it on lunch and having to deal with storing it.

      1. Jen P*

        Agree. For many companies that work in safety sensitive industries (construction, oil and gas, chemicals and refining, manufacturing are some examples) you can’t have it on the premises even in a locked car. It might be inconvenient but I’d rather be inconvenienced than fired.

  18. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    There was a Magic Man (but without the magic – just politics) at one place where I worked. Yes he was in his 70s. It was election season 2008 and Magic Man lost his whole damn mind over it. He had a large binder at his desk full of newspaper clippings and printouts on why no one should vote for (candidate that eventually won). We were a swing state and both candidates came to our city. My younger son was 13 and I thought it would be a good educational experience to take him to both rallies. But none of us had been at a rally before, and one was at an indoor venue. I bumped into Magic Man in a hallway, and asked him how to attend a rally, what to bring, what not to bring, where to go, how to check in etc. Got an answer, said thank you, went to my desk, and he showed up two minutes later with his binder for me to borrow and read through (I politely declined). Anyway, point is, our Magic Man was a low performer, and was laid off. Being in one’s 70s should not make one able to get away with anything. It’s sad (and possibly a pink flag?) that OP’s company president believes otherwise.

  19. PieAdmin*

    Not that this is important, but I keep wondering if OP1 was talking about magic tricks or Magic the Gathering.

    1. The Dude Abides*

      Given that the man was in his 70s, I assume it was the former. I’ve been involved in the latter for ~20 years, and the only time I’ve seen someone of that age in my FLGS is this time of year wanting to buy things for a grandchild.

    2. Lauren*

      I’m almost certain it was the former, after re-reading it twice to figure out whether OP was referring to stage magic or magick. I don’t know a ton of people who practice some variety of witchcraft and also watch Rush Limbaugh, but the number is not zero.

    3. Metadata minion*

      My brain was going to slight-of-hand vs occultism, and either way it’s a kind of baffling mental image.

  20. Elsa*

    Never bake for work unless it is some sort of event where others are bringing in food too. I have seen too many young women who think they are being nice by baking for people’s birthdays or having a candy jar. It becomes an expectation and they are known for that and not their work. It’s not fair, it isn’t right but it is gendered in our society.

    1. Caramel*

      That is my advice to women. A friend works as a receptionist in a law firm. She was complaining the (male) lawyers expected everyone to bring in food weekly (their wives made it). I told her to never do it. Months later she is making flaffel for work and I told her to make it really bad and problem solved!

    2. UKDancer*

      This is one reason why I have cultivated a reputation of being bad at baking and claim I always make terrible cakes. I am technically not bad at it but I don’t enjoy it very much and have better ways to spend my time. So when we have a picnic or a potluck I always offer to get the drinks / napkins / plates etc.

  21. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    #3, this might be an outlier, but I suspect one of the reasons I got my previous job (which led directly to me getting my current job) was because I told the hiring manager “I really like what I’m hearing and would like to work here” and made honest to god googly eyes at the man (it was 15 years ago. I don’t do that now, promise.) Walked out of there and got a call from the recruiter 15 minutes later telling me I was now the top candidate. I typically do say it if I like what I am hearing* – an interview is a two-way street and I’ve seen candidates sit in theirs with dour faces, leaving everybody wondering if they want to work here at all. And, I’ve seen candidates being passed over in favor of another, because “they didn’t seem happy with what they heard, they are probably going to turn the offer down anyway”.

    * not that it’s gotten me any offers, mind you!

  22. Construction Safety*


    I wish I worked at a place where “leaving magical documents on the printer” was a thing. I’m picturing the NYC HQ building in “Fantastic Beasts”

    1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      “Amanda! Come and get your replication spell, the printer won’t stop printing until it’s picked up!”

  23. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Re: #4…

    My employer is a state-level public transit agency. Because so many employees have safety-sensitive roles, EVERY employee is bound by an absolute ban on the possession of alcohol while on the clock (even in a back office) or on agency property (whether on the clock or not). Violators can be fired on the spot.

  24. Sylvan*

    An example for people with #2’s problem: I had a coworker who was very, very good at baking. She told her immediate coworkers that she would bake once a year if nobody made requests, but otherwise, she wouldn’t bake. They told everyone behind her back — “You liked that pie last year? She’ll make it again if nobody asks for it!” Everyone really wanted food, so everyone stopped asking her and other people for food.

    Suddenly, we had food almost every week! We had an agreement to share food and not be annoying! And the original person baked about once a year.

  25. Bernice Clifton*

    #5 Saying another admin assistant is exceptionally qualified is not a put-down. I have been in various administrative roles and IME that often means that they have experience in the specific industry. Most organizations have admin assistants, IT, accountants, and you can train a sharp candidate what they need to know if they don’t have background in the industry. But if you’re a hiring manager hiring an admin assistant at, say, a bank, candidates who have experience in banking are probably going to have an edge over candidates who don’t.

  26. Recruited Recruiter*

    #5, This is not a put down in any way. Especially in the current labor market, there is not room to leave the “exceptionally qualified” candidate dangling. I did this two weeks ago. I interviewed a top notch candidate who had done their research, and knew our company’s business better than a few of our 10+ year employees. I had to tell two candidates, who would have otherwise been at the top of the hiring pool (based on paper), that I had filled the position with an extremely qualified candidate, and that I would keep their resumes on file, in case we had an opening before they completed their job search.

  27. Caramel*

    2: Dear women. Do not take baked goods or anything else into the office. No point working hard to achieve what you have and undoing all the good work by screaming in the office ‘hey treat me like a stereotypical woman’. If you feel you are being pressured make something horrendous and if someone comments look shocked and say ‘that is my signature dish’.

    1. Haha Lala*

      Making a blanket statement telling women not to do something can be just as problematic as the stereotypes you’re trying to fight. Feminism is about allowing each individual woman (and really all people) to make their own choices. Your choice and my choice may be different, but we get to decide for ourselves, not have a man/society/other person tell us what to do.

      The fact that I make super tasty cookies doesn’t counter act years of feminism, and it doesn’t make me any less good at my job. When I bring baked goods to the office, my coworkers are nothing but appreciative and respectful. I totally understand that some office don’t react that way, that some people don’t like baking or some wouldn’t want to bring in food to share — that’s fine too. Everyone gets to decide for themselves!

      Just like it shouldn’t be assumed that all women like to bake, women that do like to bake shouldn’t be treated any differently.

      1. Caramel*

        I never said anything about feminism, you just decided to bring it up. If you want a simple life follow my advice. It will save you writing into a problem page. If you don’t bake as much as you like, it has nothing to do with feminism

  28. wendelenn*

    #3 Now I have the opening song from “A Chorus Line” in my head. “I really need this job. . . ” Except they were (presumably) singing that to themselves instead of the casting director!

  29. Allison*

    #4, unless your workplace has a strict “no alcohol at all” policy, and you’d know if there was, you’re fine. This is, admittedly, something I would’ve stressed over in my younger years, that someone would spot a sealed bottle tucked under my desk and go “ooOOOh, having a drink at work are we?” (because in my experience, young professionals are assumed to be reckless and dumb unless you make a great effort to prove otherwise) but in my 30’s, as long as the bottle stays sealed and I’m discrete with it, keeping it in the bag and out of sight, I wouldn’t worry about it. If someone gives me a hard time, I’d very matter-of-factly (not defensively) explain that yeah, I picked it up on my lunch break, it’s for a party right after work, what’s the big deal?

  30. Imaginary Friend*

    I just want to know if Magic Man was reading about mystical fantasy secret-powers type magic, or illusion magic like what stage magicians do. (Neither one is acceptable of course, but it could go either way with how the letter is written.)

  31. Required Name*

    #2 I was in a similar situation a couple of years ago until my oven broke. It was the perfect reason to start saying “no” and then word got around and I stopped getting asked. A couple people asked when I would get a new oven and I just told them my landlord was awful and I didn’t know. It wasn’t a lot and it worked!

  32. TootsNYC*

    “exceptionally qualified candidate”–I actually would parse that wording carefully, but what I’d take away from it is far different from the letter writer’s take.

    I’d hear, “You are definitely qualified—you’re a good candidate, and it’s not a mistake that you applied or that we were going to interview you. But this person had something that almost no one else would have, and we didn’t want to waste your time. They edged you out, but it doesn’t say anything bad about you. In fact, the opposite: they are exceptionally qualified, so they will edge out even well-qualified candidates or very-well qualified candidates.

    I would also assume that they had a big applicant pool and had actually been doing some interviewing of people already.

    And I’d assume they meant it when they said I should apply if they had another job. (I know from my own experience that if I’ve had to bail on a candidate, I give them a closer look at their resume, and a greater opportunity to interview, on other openings because I feel bad.)

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