I was kicked out of a work lunch because I couldn’t eat, attracting employees when we can’t pay more, and more

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

1. I was kicked out of a work lunch because there was nothing I could eat

This happened a few years ago, pre-Covid, but I would still appreciate your input on it. I was a part of the voluntary team that helped to plan, organize, and set up for events, celebrating things like holidays and the completion of major deadlines, which was run by someone from HR. At one point HR set up a lunch to show their appreciation for us. However, the planning for this was delegated to a non-HR member of the team, Daphne, who chose a barbecue restaurant. I am vegetarian and can find something to eat 99% of the time — but here the only vegetarian option was the coleslaw. I decided not to complain, and when Daphne emailed me to ask for my order, I politely responded explaining that I could not eat anything from the restaurant she chose, but not to worry about it. The day of, I decided to join the lunch for the social aspect; food was delivered and we got together to eat in a conference room. I had already eaten, so I just sat. The head of HR joined us, and on seeing that I was not eating, politely asked me to leave; I don’t remember the reason he gave. So I missed out completely.

Was the HR head right to ask me to leave? Should I have handled this differently, such as by pushing back immediately when I saw there was nothing I could eat at the restaurant, or holding off on eating my own food until the team lunch?

You were asked to leave an appreciation lunch because you weren’t eating? That’s so bizarre, and frankly rude, that I don’t know what to do with it.

You didn’t do anything wrong. If you’d wanted to, you could have asked earlier on if they could choose a restaurant that didn’t exclude the vegetarians of the group. Or you could have brought your own food to the lunch if you’d wanted to. But what you did was perfectly fine too. Not only should they have welcomed you rather than kicking you out, they should have offered to order you something from another restaurant once they realized you couldn’t eat (in fact, Daphne should have offered that as soon as she saw your earlier email).

2. How can we attract more employees when we can’t pay more?

I run a medical practice in the U.S. We’re a small clinic, with two locations and 12 employees when appropriately staffed (we are experiencing labor shortages just like everyone else).

In this time of employees demanding better pay, we’re struggling to attract candidates. We meet or exceed the median wage for the area, but I can’t really go above that. We only get paid per patient we see, and our rates are set by the insurance company and have barely changed in the last 16 years. The easiest way to make more money is to see more patients, but the only way to do that is to shorten treatment times further, which isn’t fair to my clinicians or the patients, and is even less attractive when discussing the job responsibilities.

We offer decent benefits (15 days PTO, 10 paid holidays, subsidized health insurance and dental insurance, free life insurance, free short-term and long-term disability insurance, a tuition reimbursement/student loan repayment program — we even started offering a sign-on bonus which I’ve had to claw back twice because people left for higher paying jobs) but can’t offer the other perks that the management books talk about like flextime and work from home, for obvious reasons (we are a type of medicine that is very hands-on, so we don’t have many telehealth appointments). We try to treat our employees well by buying lunch, surprising them with gift cards, handwritten thank-you notes, casual dress days, team building days (think escape rooms and dinner out) — things that fit into a small budget but still say “we appreciate you.”

It’s not that I don’t want to be able to offer more, but I need to more than double our size in order to do so. I’m willing to do that, and we were on our way pre-pandemic, but now I can’t attract enough candidates to get there, so I’m stuck in this terrible loop! (And it would still take some time, it wouldn’t happen overnight). So, how can we be more attractive without increasing our payroll?

The thing that immediately jumps out is that you’re offering very bare-bones time off — assuming your 15 days of PTO is combined vacation and sick leave, that’s the equivalent of two weeks of vacation and one week of sick leave, which is the absolute minimum considered acceptable for most professional jobs in the U.S. If you’re looking for low-hanging fruit, it’s definitely your PTO. I know offering more means people will be out more, which might sound like it will compound your staffing issues — but offering more would help you attract more people in the first place.

Beyond that, I’d talk to your staff about what they want (you might find that they don’t care about the escape rooms but would really like more back-up dealing with difficult patients, or who knows what) and their thoughts on what would attract more applicants. And if you haven’t already, make sure you look at what other options are available to your candidate pool in your area, and what those jobs are offering. But the PTO is the thing I’d tackle first.

3. I interviewed for a role that was open because someone died from Covid, and they still aren’t mandating masks

I wanted your thoughts on this job I interviewed for. The job was open because someone died of Covid, which the HR rep let me know. I was very grateful to have been reading your blog all along because when she didn’t tell me about the Covid safety procedures afterwards, I immediately asked.

Masks are not mandated. Vaccines were not mandated either. This role could be done from home but they are making people come in office.

I turned it down, but she kind of made it seem weird that I even brought up the Covid safety procedures. Did I do the right thing?

Yes. Any employer who acts like you’re odd for wanting to know their measures for keeping people safe in a deadly pandemic is not an employer you want to work for. And that’s before we even get into their apparent utter lack of safety precautions, despite having someone die.

4. My interviewer asked me what questions they should have asked me

I had a final-round interview recently, and things seemed to be going okay when, at around the 40-minute mark, I got a question I’ve never had before: “What questions haven’t we asked, that you think we should have?” I quipped that that seemed like a trick question, which was met with some light chuckles, but then a silent pause descended over us.

I wouldn’t say I’m an inexperienced interviewer, but in my surprise I had a hard time putting all the pieces together – what had/hadn’t they asked; what hadn’t I told them; what wouldn’t be a horrible question to answer; what would my answer be to the question I asked myself by proxy. I did my best to pull from hints in previous questions to go deeper on specific concerns/skill sets to the work, but I obviously didn’t wow anyone and the remainder of the interview had a “let’s get this over with” tone.

Afterward, I consulted the internet to see what others said about this question and didn’t really find much. Have I been living under a rock while everyone has been out there asking this back-handed question? Is this the new, mind-bending way to ask “Anything else you’d like to share with us”? How would you recommend formulating a graceful answer?

You’re over-thinking it! It’s generally just a way to ask if there’s anything else you want to share. Ideally you’d think about whether there’s anything else that would be useful to discuss about your qualifications, experience, or approach to your work — and then with any reasonable interviewer, you don’t need to formulate it as a question like you’re on Jeopardy or something but should just be able to say, “I saw the role involves sometimes dealing with frustrated clients, and I’d love to tell you about my approach to that” or so forth.

And I almost took this next part out of my answer because it won’t apply a lot of the time and also is a whole separate topic, but I’m leaving it in case people find it useful:

Alternately, if there’s a piece of the role that you’re not sure is that right fit for you, I might ask about that — for example, “I was curious about how much X expertise you need for your Y project — could we talk through how I’d approach that and make sure it’s in line with what you need?” (You might think you should never highlight potential weaknesses in an interview, but if you’re worried you might be ill-suited for part of a job, it’s far better to find that out at this stage, rather than after you start … and good employers will respond well to an honest conversation about your fit for the role, as long as you’re coming across with confidence and thoughtfulness.)

{ 781 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    For letter #2, a preemptive request to avoid comments about how you wouldn’t like the escape room, dinners, etc. For all we know, the LW’s staff might love it and I want to avoid derailing on work social events (a topic that can quickly take over otherwise).

    Similarly, comments about how much vacation time workers get in Europe aren’t going to be useful to the LW. (And we know!)

  2. Aphrodite*

    LW #3, your story immediately reminded me of an admin job post that’s been running on my local CraigsList for a while: “Front Desk/Reception – Customer Service and Tenant relations Leasing Agent to join our team. No Vaccine required . . . Working with people all day.”

    Scary! But I do give them credit for at least being upfront about their uncaring attitude toward Covid though I would never, ever deal with them as a potential employee or, if I still needed to rent, as a customer.

    1. JSPA*

      I’d read this as, “older people and people with pre-existing conditions, including any of many recognized disabilities, need not apply, unless desperate. We prefer employees who have few other options, a strong distrust of health and safety guidelines, and/or an ideological stance that renders them gleefully willing to work against their own best interests and those of others. (Political litmus test potentially also implied, details TBD).”

    2. Sharpiee*

      I just can’t believe that their employee DIED from Covid and they still won’t take any preventative measures against it. It’s like we’re in a horror movie that just won’t end. How many more people have to die. Will they finally wake up when they figure out that we’re almost to the point where ERs won’t be able to help them if they have any type of medical emergency at all???

      1. pancakes*

        I can easily believe that, but have a harder time getting a handle on why anyone should need reassurance that rejecting this was a good move for the sake of their own health and safety!

        1. Momma Bear*

          Sometimes something is just so Out There that you need a sanity check. Or maybe OP has someone saying, “Why did you turn down a job?”

          1. Dahlia*

            I’m unaware of a single benefits program that wouldn’t penalize OP for not taking the job, personally

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Oh it’s because ‘it’s not a danger to me – I’m young/healthy/I think the vaccine is more dangerous than the virus’ BS that has been going around for far too long now.

        I’ve even had people say to my face about friends of mine who’ve died ‘well, they probably had some underlying condition. That doesn’t mean I have to mask up/get vaccinated’ and then endure the hideously profane diatribe that comes back from me.

        1. quill*

          The only commonality in the CDC’s comorbidity data seems to be “had medical treatment at some point.” They even listed acne, which is 98% a cosmetic issue!

          1. Fugnuggets*

            >They even listed acne, which is 98% a cosmetic issue!

            It’s true that acne can be largely cosmetic, but acne *treatments* often involve steroids, which can have a significant down-regulating effect on the immune system. Now, this can be a GOOD thing when treating COVID (some very specific steroids are showing some definite promise there). But it’s also fairly well established that taking some classes of steroids can increase the odds of contracting COVID (and other infectious diseases) and in some cases worsen outcomes.

      3. LinuxSystemsGuy*

        I would have found it difficult not to simply ask the HR person, “You look like I’ve asked an odd question, but you just finished telling me that the last person in this job literally died of COVID. Why *wouldn’t* I ask about protective protocols?” I’m probably not taking the job anyway, it’s not like I can “screw up” the interview. Maybe it’ll at least clue them into think about it.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          Seriously. The audacity to act like the question is remotely weird when your employee just DIED.

      4. Don P.*

        “Oh, that person was 55 anyway. Probably would have dropped dead any day regardless.”

        I swear, younger people see any number 20 years greater than their own age and visualize Nosferatu.

        1. Anon4this*

          That’s an unhelpful generalization and stereotypical characterization of young people.

          My parents were ~40 when I was born, and despite being the age of most of my friends grandparents, none of my friends actually had any idea they were that old.

          1. Database Developer Dude*

            As opposed to the unhelpful generalization and stereotypical characterization of those of us in middle age (45-65) as one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel that’s OFTEN pushed in the workplace? Cry me a river.

      5. Artemesia*

        Well that person probably had a comorbidity so their life doesn’t matter. I an Old hear this every day — ‘oh it is just Old people, the obese, the diabetics, the asthmatics’. whose lives apparently don’t matter. And my favorite is the congresscritter who said ‘well most of these people have lived past their life expectancy already’ showing her ignorance of ‘life expectancy’. A person who is 80 has a life expectancy of at least another 10 years. My own at 78 calculated by an algorithm that includes various medical data is around 100. Life expectancy calculated at birth is not the same as that of people who have managed to make it into old age.

        1. Anon4this*

          No, they don’t think they’ve lived past their life expectancy, they think they’ve lived past their “usefulness” to a capitalism, and what with social security, Medicare, etc, are nothing but a drain on our society.

          It’s a hideous mindset and a baffling one, because what do we even pay taxes FOR if not to provide for a country’s citizens, build social safety nets, and build & upkeep infrastructure?

    3. AMW*

      #1 – my relatively small office had an employee with Celiac’s. Our management a few years back would NEVER seem to remember this and on the occasions when lunch was bought, there was hardly anything my coworker could eat. Even salads–the place we ordered from would put croutons in and spoil the whole pot! It was bad enough she could rarely partake in treats that other coworkers brought in, but to have management consistently overlook her dietary restrictions? Yikes!

      Luckily we got new management a while ago, and they always offer to order her meal from a different restaurant or to get a special gluten free meal at whatever place is catering.

      Frankly I think this is a bare minimum consideration for your employees. I agree that as soon as Daphne got your message, she should have offered you something else. There are plenty of other potential dietary considerations to take and it surprises me they didn’t start off by asking everyone about them to ensure they ordered from a good place. And I’m left wondering what exactly being “politely” told to leave sounds like. This is so phenomenally rude I can’t imagine a polite way to say it.

        1. Juneybug*

          This could have been me a few years ago at previous job. The manager would be so excited they brought in muffins for everyone but then suddenly remembered I could not eat them due to celiac disease. And I was his direct report (one out of three direct reports in a 10 person team). This was almost every week folks!!
          At first I would say it’s ok, people forget I have dietary restrictions; gluten free stuff is more expensive; etc. But after a few weeks of this, I would just give the muffins a dirty look (in front of the manager) and walk away.
          In the 2 1/2 years I worked there, the manager brought me gluten free muffins three times. They brought the other team members muffins around 100 times. One of the many reasons I left that job.

      1. Essess*

        I was walking past one of the conference rooms at my office one day as a ‘new employee orientation’ meeting was letting out for lunch. The company always supplies meals during these meetings. I overheard the admin as she handed a lunch to one of the attendees saying “Here is your gluten-free, nut-free, vegan, hal-al meal.” (I have the exact combination wrong, but it was something extremely wild to try to order correctly and had 3 or 4 specialty diet restrictions including some very obscure ones). I was amazed and impressed with that admin!

      2. DJ*

        And if unsure where to go ask the LW to nominate a restaurant that delivers to order from. If there’s a minimum spend for delivery Daphne or whoever could have made it up by ordering some communal nibbles or dishes

    4. gbca*

      And yet, people like my cousin are looking for exactly this because they’re being discriminated against at their current job for not being vaccinated (insert facepalm).

      1. Evan Þ*

        I’m glad that ads like this are there to help people like your cousin find the sort of jobs they want, and to help people who’d run away masked and screaming avoid wasting their time applying.

  3. jm*

    lw 1, this fellow vegetarian is cringing on your behalf. kicking you out of an appreciation lunch sounds so mortifying and wrong i can’t even deal. you deserved better!

    1. Aphrodite*

      I was once kicked out of a campus appreciation lunch after a required seminar for all classified staff. It took place in a small but pretty courtyard and there was tons of food. I was in line and as I got near to the front the HR person who had handled it all LOUDLY (enough for everyone in the long line to hear) that I couldn’t have any food. I was so humiliated that I turned without a word and left, climbing the stairs in tears. I still hate our HR even though that person years later transferred to another college.

      1. Iron Chef Boyardee*

        Did you at least get an explanation as to why you weren’t allowed to have any food?

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yeah, that’s weird. Maybe Aphrodite wasn’t part of the training but just wanted food and HR person wanted to make sure only the trained people got the food? It’s not clear. And if you did take part of the training, Aphrodite, what the heck is wrong with that HR person???

      2. Evergreen*

        Oh my gosh, that’s awful!!!

        Where I’m from this is a common “joke” (‘oh, nope, so and so, no food for you today!! Hahaha!‘) – I really hope purveyors of that type of humour see your comment and realise that type of thing isn’t funny for everyone.

        (My response to those jokes is now, like you, to turn silently and walk away.. often to shouts behind me of ‘hahaha, just kidding’)

    2. Anonys*

      My first thought was that the head of HR who asked OP to leave (who very well could be too high up to be aware of every person who was on the team that was being appreciated) saw that OP wasnt eating/ there wasn’t any food ordered for OP and assumed that OP was just hanging out and not actually part of the group the lunch was for. I would probably make the same assumption (though of course the HR should have asked to clarify!). Of course, we can’t know for sure and OP doesn’t remember the reason/wording given when being asked to leave but I think this is a possible explanation.

      As a meat eater, it is also baffling to me that someone would choose a restaurant without ANY veggie options. I can understand that someone wouldn’t have other food restrictions on the radar (vegan, gluten, etc), but being vegetarian (or simply wanting a veggie meal as a meat eater) is so common and as OP said 99% of restaurants do have vegetarian main courses.

      1. OP1*

        OP1 here: I don’t think that was it; I don’t remember exactly what was said, but I’m pretty sure he asked why I didn’t have food, then asked me to leave when I explained. But if I’m remembering wrong and that was it, it raises the question of why no one in the room spoke up.

        1. Clorinda*

          Their minds were probably boggled in the moment. Not many of us could snap back with an appropriate response to something so bizarre. I mean, it’s not like your not eating harmed anyone else!

          1. Love WFH*

            I’ve known meat-eaters to regard a vegetarian as attacking their choices, when the vegetarian simply asked if a restaurant had vegetarian options. Defensiveness/ projection.

            You know the joke, “How do you know if someone is vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you!” Well, there certainly are sanctimonious people who will lecture you, but if your socializing (or work event) includes food, how can they not mention it, unless they just bring their own food? The odds that the food ordered, of the home meal planned, is vegan are astronomically small.

            1. Salymander*

              Yes, maybe manager is super defensive about food choices. I have met people like this. My former neighbor invited me to eat barbecue when I walked by his house and he was grilling in the front yard. I politely declined, and he was actually mad about it. He made a few comments and called me names. Told me that all liberals suck.
              I’m not actually vegetarian. I only eat meat maybe once a month or so, and I totally could have eaten it then. I just didn’t want to share food with a huge jackass like that. Plus, I didn’t trust him to observe basic food safety. He kept his potato salad out in the sun and uncovered, so it was warm and full of flies. It was a miracle he didn’t poison everyone there.

              1. r*

                “I politely declined, and he was actually mad about it. He made a few comments and called me names. Told me that all liberals suck.”

                That’s worth laughing in his face.

              2. MissBaudelaire*

                Good Lord. That was so out of line of your neighbor. I had a friend who was vegetarian for medical purposes, not for ethical ones. If someone had called her names, I wouldn’t have been able to bite my tongue.

              3. Denver Gutierrez*

                How old was your neighbor-12? Responding with “Bla blah blah sucks” is such middle school behavior. The number of adults who act like children never ceases to amaze me.

            2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              I once was legit attacked for not being vegan, at a potluck lunch in a meetup group I was then active in. Avoided the person at subsequent gatherings. Finally at one event a couple of years later, the friends that I sat with, who didn’t know my history with the guy, invited him to sit with us. They asked him if he was vegetarian (my friends were; vegan, in fact). Imagine my surprise when he sheepishly said “I’m working on it.” This man, who I thought was the only militant vegan that I had ever met, wasn’t even close to being one himself. I guess some people just like the “and now there is chaos” option so much, they will go to any lengths to create it. TL;DR I agree that militant vegans are 5% edge cases and 95% urban legend.

              My friends that I mentioned above, once hosted an entire big-milestone birthday party where all the food was vegan. We came to the party and the food was just… veggies and veggie salads? lentil soups? all the things I love to eat at home and always have in my fridge/pantry? The food was great. My then-boyfriend was horrified by the absence of meat and dairy, and made me leave early to go get “real food”, which turned out to be pizza. But I loved the vegan spread! It was literally most of what I already eat at home, I just don’t call it vegan because I eat other foods too.

              * I was sitting at a table eating my humble spread of cheese, cold cuts, and crackers. He asked if he could sit next to me and I said sure. He sat down and immediately asked me, “Are you vegan?” (Weren’t my cheese and cold cuts a dead giveaway? We will never find out.) He then started a lengthy conversation with the rest of the table about the evils of omnivore eating. When he said “we are in a war, it’s humans against the animals”, I got up and took my cheese and cold cuts to another table.

              1. Artemesia*

                In my experience vegetarians are usually easy to live with and don’t preach but vegans are more likely to make a big fuss about what other people are eating. My BIL the vegan is not aggressive about it (I think thanks to the socialization by his vegetarian wife) but he is the type who will make a fuss about honey being in a dish someone has prepared thinking it was vegan not realizing that honey is banned.

                I can’t imagine someone ordering food for a group that doesn’t make provisions for vegetarian meals as needed and as for gluten issues — well these days this is not unusual and there are many places that will provide them. I arranged a conference for 400 people over 25 years ago and had no trouble making appropriate arrangements for vegetarians and other special diets.

              2. nineleaf*

                yeah, as a non-sanctimonious vegan*, it’s likely you’ve met *lots* of my people! But we weren’t being obnoxious about it so you didn’t notice!

                *I realize I just mentioned it, but it’s pertinent here! :)

            3. Not A Girl Boss*

              As a vegetarian who also has a lot of other complicated food restrictions, I actually have the opposite problem. Everyone is over the top about making sure that I can eat, and so worried about making sure that I feel included, that it actually makes me feel really uncomfortable. I don’t know why it is that everyone seems so darn DETERMINED to feed me and invested in my general food consumption choices.

              I try so hard to be vague about my food restrictions and reply to everything with a joking/smiled “Please don’t try to feed me, I basically just don’t eat food.” And when pressed “Mostly I just live on soylent and ice cubes” and other over the top ridiculous replies. As a lifelong vegetarian / medically complicated individual, there is no conversation I find more dull than the ins-and-outs of my dietary preferences/requirements, why am I that way, intense/gross details of my medical problems, the story about how they once tried being vegan for a week but literally couldn’t even, where I get my protein, don’t I know my diet is too restrictive, and what do I think of their food choices.

              I bring food to events to try to make it less awkward, because that way I’m still eating with them and not just staring (I feel like getting stared at while I ate by someone not-eating would make me feel very uncomfortable). But still, without fail, every single time A Huge Deal Is Made. There have been more than one company-wide emails about the importance of inclusive food options that are definitely pointed at me. People go to insane lengths to try to bring me food and then push it on me, and most of the time I feel terrible because I still can’t eat it. Or I do because *politeness*, and then get sick.

              I finally decided that basically, people just feel uncomfortable eating something ‘special’ in front of me while I don’t. Maybe its a politeness thing, maybe its about their own hang-ups about wanting to enjoy a ‘cheat meal’ but then feeling guilty for it. But really, they want me to fix their feelings for them by including myself more thoroughly. And I just have to keep reminding myself that its not my job to fix their feelings.

              1. Martha*

                My husband has a lot of complicated food stuff, and my solution to well-meaning folks is to pick something he *can* eat and either suggest or bring that. Seems to soothe the need to feed without getting complicated.

              2. Artemesia*

                you have nailed the way to handle complicated food issues — bring your own unless it is a family dinner party.

                my daughter had a dietary restriction due to a medical condition as a child — luckily she outgrew it in her teens but I didn’t want her to be excluded from birthday parties and such or miss out on school parties, so I just made sure to provide something fancy for those events in concert with the host or teacher. When we went out to eat I would order her a shrimp cocktail which is fancy and good and a treat which made the restrictions (she had to be on a super low fat diet) less onerous. You would not believe the number of total strangers who walk by the table and make a disparaging remark about this child and her dinner. Most of them were the theme: ‘what a spoiled brat to be demanding the fancy expensive appetizer.’ This to an 8 year old sitting there and not able to have the pizza or burger or whatever.

                1. Denver Gutierrez*

                  Ugh, why are people like that? It is none of their business what anyone else is eating and no one wants to hear their nasty opinions about it either.

              3. Homebody*

                I have celiac and definitely know this feeling. I often get invited to eat out at places that would make me very sick (ie, lotso cross contamination) both inside and outside work. Usually I’ll give them a heads-up that I’d be happy to join but can’t eat the food, and everything is fine until we get there and me not eating is suddenly A Big Deal.

                It’s so tiring, you know? I’m not Abstaining from Food At You, it doesn’t Mean Anything, there isn’t an Insurrection of Secret Food Morals happening. It just sucks when people take others food needs or choices and make it 100% about them. I totally commiserate with you.

                1. Philosophia*

                  Indeed, the number of contexts in which people take another person’s choices as being a judgment upon theirs is mind-boggling. No, I am not Living Happily Without a Television Set At You.

                2. Anonymous4*

                  Eating together — breaking bread as a group, sharing food — is one of the oldest human traditions. That’s so deeply engrained in the human psyche that it is distressing when someone in the group opts out. Of course the members of the group should know that X isn’t refusing food because of a whim, or because s/he doesn’t want to be part of the group, and the group members should adjust their expectations accordingly. But it can be hard to overcome the deep-rooted expectation that everyone would be eating together.

                3. Juneybug*

                  I tell the host, don’t worry about me, I will bring something safe for me to eat. Some are grateful but some are offended. It is so draining to defend/explain my autoimmune disease.

            4. quill*

              One of my college friends had that tick acquired meat allergy and got served a burger instead of a veggie burger at one of the campus food places. It was not a good night for her, but after I found the shift manager, a classmate, there was an impromptu lecture about food safety including actually reading the order in the student U.

            5. Dr. Tea Blender, PhD*

              Once, my uncle yelled at me for looking disappointed that there was no vegetarian option. This was a pizza dinner with absurd amount of pizzas (like, 1 large pizza for every person in attendance, it was that absurd). Like, you couldn’t get a single cheese pizza? Even meat eaters like that. And I wasn’t even complaining, I just looked sad about the fact that they knowingly ordered a ton of food, to the point that there would likely be waste, but deliberately didn’t get anything I could eat.

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Nowadays, when we order pizza, we order more veggie pizzas than anything else. The veggies are a minority of one (me) but the veggie pizza is loaded with all sorts of veg, and when the meat-eaters see it, they immediately want a slice. If everyone has just one slice, there’s none left for me, so now they share the pepperoni pizzas among themselves and there are enough veggie pizzas for everyone to have at least two slices, and at least half a pizza for me.

          2. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Even if I think of an appropriate way to ‘snap back’ to such a bizarre reaction, the power dynamic here would probably make me stay silent. I bet most of us here have seen higher-ups react badly when someone tries to explain themselves and the higher-up has already decided, ‘Don’t bother me with facts.’

            OP, I’m a carnivore and I am so irritated for you. The HR head was totally out of line, and the Daphnes of the world need a lesson in event planning.

          3. r*

            “Not many of us could snap back with an appropriate response to something so bizarre.”

            I could. Maybe not fully appropriate, but something decent. “X is part of the group so I’d hope she can stay.”

        2. Rain*

          If you didn’t speak up for yourself, why should anyone else? Why are you blaming others for not doing something you also didn’t do?

          1. Constance Lloyd*

            I read that as OP working through a spotty memory rather than complaining! “Well the response wasn’t Y, so the objection probably wasn’t X…” I would be shocked into silence if someone kicked me out for not eating because it’s too bizarre to counter with logic. But whether or not I was part of a group in the first place is a simple enough fact to correct, it seems much less likely to shock a whole room into silence.

          2. Andie Begins*

            The is kinda victim blamey, don’t you think? If the head of HR was indeed kicking out the OP because they didn’t recognize them as part of the group being appreciated, a bystander confirming that they did belong could have made a difference, and it’s not weird to wonder why coworkers* watched while someone who deserved to be there was kicked out and did nothing to intervene.

            *(if they were aware of the dismissal; I actually hope the head of HR had enough sense to discreetly pull OP aside to tell them to leave – or else, just what kind of fucken power trip was that asshole on?)

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

            Wow! That’s a bit confrontational. OP wasn’t expecting anyone to say anything on their behalf. They don’t remember exactly how it went down since it was years ago. They just are wondering. Chill out.

          4. Your local password resetter*

            That was very personal attack and completely unnecessary. Please don’t do that again.

          5. Shiara*

            What other people said. But also it’s okay for people on the spot and the subject of a direct confrontation to be disappointed and upset that no one spoke up for them. Everyone is a little put on the spot in sudden situations but it’s sometimes easier for a bystander to speak up than the target, and saying “unless the target complains there should be 0 expectation for anyone else to intervene” extrapolates badly.

          6. EPLawyer*

            In general — POWER. Sometimes the person doesn’t have the power to speak up or comes from a history of actually being punished for speaking up. The only one to change the situation is for those with the power to speak up to do so. Otherwise, those without power continue to be harmed.

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              Yes, EPLawyer absolutely hits the nail on the head here. We are all human beings and if we have power, we absolutely should speak up when someone without power is being harmed. Just stating what EPL said again, because it is so important.

          7. A Teacher*

            Just going to use the Carolyn Hax reply: “wow.”

            I’m sure it was embarrassing in the moment and the person wasn’t sure how to respond on the spot. Many of us have been there.

            Empathy goes a long way, the community on this blog shows it daily. Please be a good addition to our community.

        3. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

          OP1 I would have loved for you to have clapped back with a blank stare and a “You’d like me to leave the appreciation lunch that I earned by doing X? Sure, I’m assuming you have a substitute form of appreciation for me instead. What/when can I expect?” With that totally serious but slightly naïve look on your face. Make them verbally spell out to the whole room that they are punishing you for not wanting to eat BBQ. Unfortunately these kind of clap back ideas always come to us well after the events. I’m a meat eater but BBQ is my very least favorite food. And I’m not a big fan of most places coleslaw either. I’d have probably made the same choice you did. What kind of BBQ place doesn’t at least have fries or chips or something vegetable?!

          1. MissBaudelaire*

            I’m appalled at the choice of BBQ, actually. It feels so so limiting.

            It isn’t that hard to accommodate general vegetarians/have kosher meals/whatever. Do I understand why we can’t have a perfect list for every single person? Yeah, sure! Do I think it’s hard to try your best and at least offer some salads? Not even a little bit.

            1. Mannequin*

              I have never liked BBQ, even as a kid when I ate meat. To assume that something like that would be appropriate for everyone is just weird.

          2. Allison Wonderland*

            right, a good BBQ place at least has some other sides like mac ‘n cheese or potato salad!

            1. Lauren*

              My local BBQ place only has bacon mac n’cheese, loaded potato salad (i.e., bacon potato salad), and bacon baked beans, and they do not take kindly to requests to remove the bacon, because it’s all pre-prepped in vats. Not kidding in the least. The only vegetarian options are the blue cheese cole slaw and the french fries.

      2. Nikki*

        I’m a vegetarian in a city known for its BBQ and I can tell you that BBQ restaurants are the one holdout I’ve found in the restaurant industry’s efforts to be more veggie friendly. There are a couple BBQ restaurants that offer awesome veggie options, but 95% of them don’t. Since people here love their BBQ so much, it can be hard to be the one person requesting a different restaurant when everyone else is excited to eat at a meat heavy place so I usually handle it just like the LW did and no one has ever made an issue of it.

        1. BethDH*

          When we were choosing catering for our wedding, barbecue had by far the best cost-to-quality ratio in our area, and it was something that the area was known for that a lot of our traveling guests were really excited about. Most barbecue restaurants in my area had a “veggie plate” of some sort — usually a mix of their vegetarian friendly sides even ten years ago. I wonder a bit whether the HR person didn’t bother to ask whether OP could be accommodated somehow.

          1. DarthVelma*

            Yup. My favorite chain barbq place has THE BEST bbq baked beans. And I could happily make a meal out of the cornbread and hush puppies from most bbq places where I live now. I feel like the HR person here really dropped the ball on finding out what options this particular bbq place could have offered.

            1. Huttj*

              As a note, many BBQ baked beans are cooked with pork/bacon. I’m Jewish (so no pork/shellfish) and I’ve found many sides at some places to have semi-surprise ingredients.

              Bacon in the baked beans, ham in the green beans, etc.

              1. a tester, not a developer*

                That’s what I was thinking. Our favourite place calls it out clearly – we were pretty bummed when we discovered a vegetarian relative could maybe get some plain cornbread – if they were willing to make a tray – fries, and deep fried cauliflower. And it was definitely not a separate fryer for the fries and cauliflower, so that wouldn’t work if you were keeping kosher or halal.

                1. Daisy-dog*

                  Even cornbread is made with lard sometimes. I’m a vegetarian who accepts that I will only achieve this about 97% of the time. Hidden lard in cornbread & tortillas, chicken stock used to cook rice, etc. I do draw the line on beans with bacon or pork fat in them.

                  Sadly, at all the BBQ places in my area, fries are not usually offered. I hit the jackpot when they have baked potatoes (this is only a little sarcastic – it is one of my favorite foods).

              2. LizM*

                Yup. There is a bbq restaurant near our regional office that my coworkers love to eat at when we’re there for meetings. All of the sides have meat in them, including the beans and Mac n cheese. I usually have to order a salad and hope the waitress actually hears me when I ask them to take the bacon off (which they do about 75% of the time). I hate appearing as a high maintenance vegetarian, but this restaurant has so few options and is just not careful with special requests.

              3. Siege*

                Yep, my partner doesn’t eat pork, and it is a challenge at some restaurants to find something that doesn’t have pork in it. Pizza is also fraught but at least highly customizable so you can always get something, but the increase in bacon in places you didn’t expect it is annoying. (Also, I just hate bacon.)

                1. Princesss Sparklepony*

                  Siege – I like bacon but it’s really not the universal topping that some people think it is. Not everything is better with bacon. I tried a soup that had bacon thinking “ehh, why not?” Well, it was terrible. It had some weird taste that wasn’t bacon but wasn’t not bacon. And that’s not the only time that has happened. So I am going out on a limb here and saying bacon doesn’t make everything better. (Now I will duck from the pound slabs of bacon being thrown by the bacon lovers.)

                2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  I asked to have a pizza without the bacon once. In a place in Lyon, the self-styled capital of gastronomy. The waiter turned his nose up at me and snootily informed me that the chef had crafted all the pizzas, taking into account how each taste blended with the others, so removing one ingredient would ruin the entire experience. My friend just got up, saying, c’mon Rebel we’re outta here, all that gourmet BS was just because in fact they just get ready-made crap straight out of the freezer. (I love her!)

              4. Yorick*

                I was gonna say that too. I’d be very surprised if a good bbq place had baked beans with no meat in them (unless they were explicitly going for a vegetarian option)

              5. Salymander*

                The bbq place near our house is like that. Bacon or similar pork products in all the sides except coleslaw, which is not vegan slaw so that is not an option for many people either. The only thing to eat there would be the celery that comes with some of the spicier dishes. Yummmm. Filling.

              6. Cold Fish*

                BBQ is my company go-to for company lunches. The beans are vegetarian except for bacon they add at the end so we have to remember to order those without bacon but it’s 50/50 that they remember when delivering. Our office vegetarian knows this and is happy if they can eat but always brings something just in case. (Office manager always offers to run out and get something for them that they can eat but they don’t want to be a bother so refuse the offer). Not vegetarian but I love those lunches, a plate of coleslaw topped with baked beans and little extra bbq sauce, yum! One of my absolute favorite summer meals.

                On a side note, I really wish caterers would put a little more thought into providing vegetarian dishes. Small town, so not a lot of options around here for catering, but 80-90% of the time, the caterers solution is a plate of steamed veggies. How hard is it to make a cheese quesadilla, grilled cheese, black bean chili, rice pilaf, etc?

              7. Jack Russell Terrier*

                Yup – back in the early 2000 I spent a couple of weeks in Albany, GA. as a vegetarian Sides almost always had pork in them ‘for flavor’. I lived off pizza, salad and (excellent) fried veg. A lot of the locals were baffled how someone could *survive* on a vegetarian diet.

            2. Who Am I*

              I wouldn’t count on anything at a BBQ place to be vegetarian. Those beans are likely to have some form of pork fat in them, as are any other cooked vegetable, and possibly the corn bread. If they have pie, the crust may be made with lard. I’m guessing a green salad would be safe and probably yeast rolls if they have them. (I’m not vegetarian but i think about this any time I’m at a BBQ place or watch a food show featuring it.)

            3. Nikki*

              Yup, that’s the thing a lot of meat eaters don’t realize. Meat is used even in dishes that don’t appear to have meat, especially at BBQ joints. The baked beans, mac and cheese, cheesy corn, etc. are all cooked with bacon. The fries and onion rings are cooked in lard. I’m not surprised the only veggie thing on the menu was coleslaw cause that’s the case with many restaurants around here. People seem incredulous that a BBQ place wouldn’t offer more veggie options, but at least around here, the most famous places have been around for decades and haven’t changed their menu in that time and they get a line around the block every day. Why would they change their recipes or their menu when what they’re doing is already getting them all the traffic they want?

              1. Chashka*

                There’s “hidden meat” in so many dishes: chicken or beef broth, bacon bits, lard, etc. I have transitioned to making my Thanksgiving stuffing (made outside of the turkey) with vegetarian broth. One of my vegetarian daughter’s biggest pet peeves (I almost said beefs, ha ha) is that the salad entrees at many restaurants all contain meat, but it you request the dish without meat, you get no price reduction–although if you order a salad that doesn’t already contain meat and want to add meat, there’s an additional cost.

                So, no, you cannot count on a restaurant offering (not just BBQ places) to be meat-free.

                1. Agile Phalanges*

                  Yes! I was very pleased when a friend organized an outing to a fancy-ish restaurant, and their salads and pastas were priced without any meat, then had add-on options for additional charges. Usually fancy places are like you describe–smoked salmon salad for $20 that when you ask for no salmon, is now just lettuce and croutons, totally not worth $20. I highly appreciate restaurants that do it this way. And it’s not just vegetarians/vegans who benefit, but people who just don’t feel like meat that day, or want a less expensive version like chicken when normally it would come with crab, or whatever other reason.

                  My other peeve is places that clearly put a lot of planning into their meat dishes and then the vegetarian option (usually only one) is something lame like sauteed green beans. At least mix some grains and veggies together to make it a little more filling, but please put as much thought into the flavor profiles as you do for your meat-based dishes!

                2. Aitch Arr*

                  My mother is allergic to chicken and all seafood. You’d be surprised how many things have chicken broth or anchovies in them. A lot of times servers don’t even know that Caesar dressing for example has anchovies.

            4. r*

              “THE BEST bbq baked beans. And I could happily make a meal out of the cornbread and hush puppies ”

              Pork fat is a key part of a lot of this at a lot of places. Maybe not yours, but I would not assume bake beans or even cornbread at a BBQ place are vegan without checking.

              1. Artemesia*

                Baked beans are always made with pork at BBQ places and as to cornbread LOL. my biggest embarrassment as a host was serving my husband’s fabulous jalapena cornbread to a group that included many vegetarians — bacon is a prominent ingredient. We had a vegetarian and a chicken chili as the main course but just blanked on the cornbread recipe. I was just thankful that there were no Muslims or Kosher keeping Jews in the group so it was awful but not catastrophic.

            5. emmelemm*

              Yeah, unfortunately, especially at a BBQ place, most of the ‘veggie’ sides will be cooked with some kind of meat in them. Especially beans and greens (collard greens, etc.).

          2. Dust Bunny*

            Yeah, I’m also in a barbecue-centric area, although I’m in Texas where it’s more likely to be beef so the pork thing is less of an issue as long as something isn’t seasoned with bacon, and no self-respecting barbecue place doesn’t have:

            Baked potato with customizable toppings (so you don’t have to get bacon bits)
            Mac and cheese
            Corn (no bacon)
            Potato salad
            Salad [the cold vegetable kind. They’re known for their homemade ranch dressing]
            Some kind of fried vegetable (okra, usually)
            And my favorite one also has zucchini, grilled or fried

            So a) I would never choose a barbecue place for an office lunch, and b) I am not impressed by this barbecue joint.

            1. Gingerbread Gnome*

              I’m jealous, when I lived in (small town) TX the local BBQ shacks slapped down a loaf of Wonder Bread and the salad was iceberg lettuce (just lettuce, no tomato or other veggies). I would have loved a decent cornbread or any sides at all and I am not vegetarian. This was 20 years ago, I am so glad the style has changed since then.

              1. Artemesia*

                I did my career in a big southern city and BBQ was great and ubiquitous at celebratory business meals that were catered to a group. Typically it was the meat, corn, and a pile of wonderbread and some green beans cooked in pork and baked beans cooked with pork.

            2. Daisy-dog*

              Definitely not true. I worked in Fort Worth. The trendier BBQ places do offer robust sides, but the ones that are more likely to be used by companies when ordering (due to location or price) often have 2 of those.

              1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

                Most barbecue places I’ve been have a vegetarian meal made up of basically any three sides you want. The better ones will even specify in the description of that meal which sides are made vegetarian. That said I’ve most been to places in the Northeast or New Orleans, which both seems to have a higher than average number of vegetarians.

                1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

                  Adding after reading some other comments that the place we usually go to also makes a specific vegetarian version of beans so there’s a protein option.

                2. Daisy-dog*

                  I live in Texas and at so many events with BBQ, all I would be able to get is a small serving of potato salad & coleslaw (because I don’t actually like either), some pickles, and a slice of bread because I never felt comfortable not eating anything. We usually would have a bakery cake or cookie tray too. I would just eat more nutritious snacks throughout the day.

            3. abbynormal*

              We have a BBQ restaurant in the area that does an amazing BBQ tofu. We had them cater our baby shower, and ordered some for my vegetarian friends. It was such a hit even the meat eaters were choosing it over seconds of the pork (after the vegetarians had their fill, of course).

            4. bookworm*

              Even in this best case scenario, vegetarians trying to make a meal out of side dishes end up with a lot of quick-burning carbs and almost zero protein, setting you up for a sugar crash followed by being hungry again in like 2 hours. This was always my biggest pet peeve when I was a strict vegetarian– so often caterers would just remove the meat from whatever the “regular” meal was with no attempt to substitute or think about what would make a veggie meal satisfying

          3. anne of mean gables*

            This is something that I’d imagine is heavily, heavily dependent on geography. I’m no longer a vegetarian, but when I was (~15 years ago), I had very different experiences in the southwest/southeast vs. the mid-atlantic/new england.

        2. Snow Globe*

          There is a local barbecue chain near me that has one of the best salad bars around (or used to – I don’t know if they still do the salad bars in Covid times, I haven’t been there recently). We always figured it was because they wanted people to fill up on salad, rather than the all-you-can-eat ribs.

          1. Delta Delta*

            Same! I live near a BBQ place that is sort of locally legendary for its salad bar. They try new salad/side recipes with some frequency, and those end up on the salad bar. Sort of like a comic trying out a new 10 minutes at a comedy club before working it into their longer act.

        3. Anon Supervisor*

          I’ve found that they usually have some ala carte sides that you could order (mac and cheese, roasted veggie, or at least a side salad). I suppose if the bbq place had a limited menu, that might not be the case.

        4. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          Then 95% of those barbecue restaurants are missing out on attracting vegetarian / vegan customers! Shortsighted, to say the least. After all, even us omnivores appreciate and order good vegetable dishes, too, so they’d just increase the range of options for all of their diners.

          Re: LW1. What on earth was the HR person’s rationale for not allowing the LW to stay at the appreciation lunch?? They could have enjoyed a beverage, after all, or just the time to chat with their colleagues. The idea that they HAD to chow down on barbecued meat in order to be considered worthy of “appreciation” is bizarre, to say the least.

        5. Bee*

          This is also frustrating to me as a person who DOES eat meat because I don’t like a meal that is 100% meat! I would like some vegetables for contrast! I think they brighten up the flavors and make the meal more satisfying! But no, you go to a BBQ restaurant and that’s seen as a sign of weakness.

        6. emmelemm*

          I live in a city that is very, very vegan and veggie friendly. Almost *every* place, of various kinds of cuisines, will offer something that is vegetarian and something that can be made vegan if necessary. The only glaring exception: BBQ places. And around here, there really are a critical mass of vegetarians, so if BBQ places would only offer a little bit more in that regard, they’d get a lot of people like me who happily go with meat-eating friends to various restaurants as long as there’s something I would enjoy there.

        7. Artemesia*

          They don’t have to abandon BBQ, they just have to be willing to put in a few orders elsewhere to accommodate vegetarians those with other specialized dietary issues. Get Doordash or go pick it up themselves.

          1. Rivikah*

            Of course this doesn’t work for meals in actual restaurants — they usually frown on people bringing in outside food.

        8. Lauren*

          Two years ago, I carpooled to Chicago with coworkers to catch an international flight. They all knew I was vegetarian and gluten free, and they all decided to drive to a BBQ restaurant near O’Hare. I’d never been to a place where I couldn’t find at least one side dish to order and, while annoyed, didn’t think anything of it…until we got to the place, which had signs up that said “don’t like meat? don’t eat here” and “don’t like fried? don’t eat here.” There was not one thing on the menu I could have…even ALL their meat was breaded and fried. No veggie side dishes, except for fried green tomatoes. In freaking Chicago. Then we flew to a European country, where the person hired to meet us and take care of us on the trip forgot that I couldn’t have gluten, hadn’t told any of the tiny inn staff to buy and prepare gluten free food (…they served pasta, bread, and breaded chicken parm), and forbade any of us from leaving that little inn because of orientation that night and morning. I didn’t eat anything except a rice and carrot airplane dish and a protein bar for two days.

      3. Siege*

        I accidentally did that once, actually. In my defense, I was young chronologically and newer in my role, which did not include event planning. I extended an invite to a group of people my department considered important but my company did not, and just casually was all “let’s go to the steakhouse this city is known for!” And yes, there was a vegetarian, who made a meal of sides, and I learned A LOT about corporate hosting that day. (That was not my only mistake.) Doesn’t sound like this is the case here, but it can happen.

      4. sadnotbad*

        I was an election day volunteer in 2020 and a local BBQ restaurant donated lunch to all volunteers, but it was one of those places that puts meat in literally everything. It was a spontaneous donation (local business sent their BBQ truck around to all the neighborhood precincts near them) so I wasn’t mad about it, and I devoured all the bags of chips they sent. LOL.

      5. Very Social*

        That was my thought as well. As a vegan, I’ve been to many work meals where I could eat nothing, but I’ve never been asked to leave!

      6. nonprofit llama groomer*

        My daughter is in high school and plays sports. The basketball team mom organized dinners for the players on game nights and sent the list to me after a couple of games. I said that I’d be providing a vegetarian option, as my child is vegetarian, and asked if any other teammates had food allergies or preferences. She was SHOCKED that I asked and had no idea my daughter was a vegetarian, which means that all the meals provided up to then had meat in them. How do you NOT ask?

      1. ecnaseener*

        My guess is something like “oh, you already had your lunch break? well you should probably get back to work then” — still HELLA obnoxious, but it makes more sense to me than “you’re not allowed to sit here without eating.”

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          In an effort to create any sense of it, I wondered if it were something like that.

          Maybe everyone was expected to gulp down their food and get back to work ASAP? Not much of an appreciation lunch, and doesn’t excuse not having food for OP in the first place, but it at least makes some sort of sense.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I’ve been to appreciation lunches, and holiday lunches, where the lunch was “there’s food in the breakroom, go make yourself a plate and eat it at your desks while getting back to work.” But in this case, everyone was sitting around a table socializing? Makes no sense to me that OP was sent away. My mind is blown that it was the head of HR, of all people.

    3. NYWeasel*

      I was cringing too as a person with different dietary restrictions—I’ve had experiences where I was at a catered offsite, and the meeting organizer picked three cream-based non vegetarian dishes, so both you and I would have been stuck in the corner gnawing on the tiny dinner rolls and wilted lettuce leaf salad. If a manager had kicked us out of the room bc we weren’t eating that would have been an insult on top of the injury!

      And I’m like you that I usually try to figure out solutions on my own bc the other extreme is that the planners go out of their way to accommodate me but hit upon a food that I detest. So then I’m sitting there with say “Fennel Cauliflower Surprise” *AND* a super proud organizer wanting me to gush about how happy I am with my special dish. It’s sooo awkward, and then I feel guiltiest complaining!

      (No disrespect if you like fennel and/or cauliflower, but they’re both foods where I’d personally rather starve than try to eat them.)

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, my sister can’t eat gluten or dairy, and these things are a minefield! She frequently has to deal with well-meaning people who are really proud because ‘Look, we got this for you! It’s gluten-free!’ when it’s no good because it might be gluten-free but it’s made with milk and butter. And then they act all miffed when she says sorry, thank you for the thought, but she’s not able to eat it. If she was kicked out of an event every time she wasn’t able to eat anything on offer, she wouldn’t go to many events! There are so many situations where yes, there’s a vegan option so no dairy, but it involves couscous or vegan pastry or pasta, or where there’s a gluten-free option but the pastry’s made with butter or there’s cheese involved somewhere.

        1. Shiba Dad*

          I hear you. In addition to gluten and dairy, my wife is also allergic to soy and mushrooms. She also has issues digesting most nuts.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Man. Being dairy free AND nut free must be so hard! So many milk substitutes are nut based!

            1. Shiba Dad*

              Bright spot – Cashew milk is fine. Macadamia is fine as well. Almond and coconut, not so much.

              Bigger bright spot – she needs to avoid “normal” dairy, meaning dairy containing the A1 casein protein. That is most cow’s milk. She is fine with A2 casein dairy, which is found in goat/sheep’s milk and certain breeds of cows (Guernseys, I think.) We figured this out in the last year.

              I have issues with normal dairy as well, so I benefit too.

            2. Jack Russell Terrier*

              May I put in a plug of oat milk – best for the environment. Almond milk – uses a huge amount of CA water and just about all of the US bee population moves to CA to pollinate the almond trees … . I’m not saying, you shouldn’t enjoy your almond etc milk, just suggesting if you’re in a position to experiment … .

              1. lizard*

                I consider oat milk to be wildly overrated, but for nut-free and water-decreasing options, flax and hemp have both been great for me.

                1. nonprofit llama groomer*

                  My lactose intolerant daughter loves oat milk, as does my vegetarian daughter who is trying to eat less dairy. I told lactose intolerant kiddo I’d try to make her biscuits and sausage gravy with oat milk the next time she’s home, as it’s one of her favorite things she can’t eat anymore – lactaid pills don’t help enough to make it worth it. I found a recipe on a kosher recipe blog and some of the reviews were from non-kosher people who can’t eat dairy.

                2. nonprofit llama groomer*

                  Oops, that was supposed to be a response to Jack Russell Terrier, not you lizard.

                  I wasn’t trying to argue with your distaste for oat milk! I get it, everyone has their preferences.

            3. emchelle*

              Yeah, as someone who often seeks out plant-based alternatives *and* has a cashew allergy, it’s become a real minefield to figure out if that faux “cheese” at a restaurant or potluck is going to be safe to eat or not.

        2. Chashka*

          I have a friend who cannot eat gluten or dairy, and (in pre-COVID times), our restaurant choices with her were always Mexican restaurants, because she can order what is safe for her without much difficulty.

          1. Lauren*

            I’ve had a lot of issues with Mexican restaurants in my area having wheat flour mixed in with the corn tortilla chips and mixing up/substituting flour tortillas instead of corn tortillas. And pushing back on answering questions about gluten and/or not understanding the question. Last year, I called one of the restaurants in a major urban area to ask about gluten free options and the guy flat out said, “We don’t want you to eat here.” It’s a minefield; I stick to rice, refried beans plates, and margs, haha.

        3. JustaTech*

          The one time I ended up in charge of the menu for a work party (Olympics themed) I tried really, really hard to communicate to the caterer that we needed vegetarian dishes and dairy-free dishes. Unfortunately I did not manage to include “vegetarian, dairy-free” in the grouping so all the dairy-free things had meat, and all the vegetarian things had dairy (except the fruit and crackers).
          When I saw the spread I was mortified and felt completely awful that, once again, one of my coworkers wouldn’t be able to make a full meal of the offerings. I’m pretty sure he’d packed himself lunch anyway, but I still felt like a complete heel for promising food and then failing to deliver.

        4. Lauren*

          This reminds me of when a well-intentioned admin assistant bought Ezekiel grainless bread just for me and encouraged me to eat it, because “it didn’t have gluten.” She’d gone out of her way to buy it so I could participate in a special breakfast. It’s not gluten free. This flavor had barley right there in the ingredients, but she defensively argued that it was grainless and didn’t have wheat and so it was gluten free. I felt bad, but, on the other hand, I didn’t want to participate in the breakfast and would have preferred to work instead of spending 20 minutes consoling a coworker about my dietary restrictions.

      2. BethDH*

        One of my biggest anxieties when we return to more group eating, as someone who occasionally plans such things, is knowing that we won’t be able to do buffets for quite a while. It is so hard to take into account food needs and preferences when you’re selecting an entire meal as a set rather than just mix-and-match dishes.

      3. AnonEMoose*

        I don’t mind the cauliflower, but I really dislike fennel! I really think, if at all possible, it’s best to pick a place with vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options, and allow people to choose for themselves from a menu. That seems like it would cover most dietary restrictions/preferences. And if it’s more of a buffet type thing, make sure there’s at least vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free. I’m an unabashed omnivore, but I have no objections to eating vegetarian or even vegan, provided there’s no tofu/not too much soy involved. My digestive system does NOT like tofu.

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I feel for you. Fennel seems to be the new bacon. I’m finding it in everything in restaurants. I’m fortunate that I love it, but would be difficult for me if it was something I disliked.

      5. Nomayo*

        I have sensory related food issues and a couple of sensitivities. It makes catered lunches a challenge.

        I’ve worked at a couple of places that would mock me for even making a basic request (no dressing on my sandwich or salad) to the point that I would just bring my own lunch because I’d be gnawing on the Veggie tray with the vegetarians otherwise because all sandwiches were dressed and had meat.
        The place I work now is fantastic and if I remember to give enough of a heads up I can make a special request, but I always bring a backup lunch just in case. I’ve starved too many times.

        At one of the worst places, I asked if I could have some salad before they dressed it, and one of my coworkers stared at me as she poured the dressing all over it and said “no” when she was done. They also flat out refused to order a sandwich without mayo for me because it was an insult to the chef.

        The first time I ordered the sandwich from the restaurant it did not have mayo on it. The owner and chef was the spouse of the person who dressed the salad. They added mayo to the sandwich after hearing I didn’t like it.

        Hateful people.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      OP, this company has to get modern in their thinking because the times are changing rapidly. More and more people have dietary restrictions- some are by choice and some are medically based.

      It’s a change that our society has to get used to. I got into eating simpler foods decades ago because it improved my health greatly. Back in those days, my changes were not well received. At all. One person who is very, very well educated, said they did not understand what I meant when I said said I eat simple meats and plain veggies. I am really not clear on what is hard to understand. Another person scolded me and said it was rude not to eat the food in front of me. I guess it was all about her?

      Even in the short time between when this happened to you, OP, and now, I think you might find that more and more people are thinking about this stuff. They are beginning to realize that not everyone eats everything. On top of that, people should not have to explain what they are doing and why.

      Your story here has an added layer in that this was supposed to be an expression of employee appreciation. By asking you to leave, how could you possibly feel that you are appreciated? It’s ridiculous. I think (I hope) time will be kind to you on this one as we collectively should be moving away from these types of problems.

      1. Lora*

        Even when my grandparents hosted bridge parties in the 1960s and 1970s, they knew you were supposed to offer a pretty wide variety of foods and appetizers to be sure everyone would find something they liked. That was considered basic courtesy to your guests. My grandmother was a lousy cook, but generally there were a lot of veggie sides and things that didn’t have bacon or dairy in. Hosting parties pre-Covid, it is trivially easy to have a meat dish and a whole bunch of vegetarian and vegan sides for people to choose from. These do not have to involve Faux Meat, there’s about a zillion recipes for bean, pasta and veggie dishes. It’s seriously not difficult in any way whatsoever and does not single anyone out or leave anyone stuck with iceberg lettuce and a packet of vinaigrette and still hungry.

        The day an “event coordinator” forced a director of engineering to order pizza to the off site team-building event for himself and a few other vegetarians was quite memorable and definitely a career-limiting move for that “event coordinator”. She was demoted to make PowerPoint presentations for other people in the training group after that.

        1. Seconds*

          It’s unfortunately not trivially easy to set up a spread to feed *everyone*. I would not be able to eat anything at all from the spread you describe. I would sit and enjoy the companionship, but I could not eat. I am totally used to this situation but it makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

          I’ve taken to not explaining at all, and just saying that I won’t be eating. That minimizes the attempts to get me something that I won’t be able to eat anyway.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Right. Even when event coordinators plan for vegan and gluten free options, they rarely consider other reasons people may not be able to eat certain foods.

            My last job had catered lunch (mostly sandwiches/wraps) once a year on their staff recognition day. The last few years I worked for them I had to bring my own food to the event because, while they had planned a vegan option and a gluten free option, every dish was preprepared with some kind of heavily seasoned sauce (a different kind for each meal). I have IBS, so heavily seasoned food can case me a lot of discomfort. I suggested they have the sandwiches prepared plain and then have a sauce/condiment bar for the people who wanted those things, which would allow me and other people with similar digestive issues to have something we could eat, but that suggestion was shot down so I stuck with BYOPBJ.

            1. Observer*

              This is interesting. Because while you are right that it’s not always trivially easy, the example you provide actually shows the opposite. I mean how hard would it have been to do the sandwiches the way you asked?

              I’ll admit that it would probably not have worked for every edge case, but it would have helped SOOO many people.

            2. Anonymous Hippo*

              Sometimes it takes a higher up with dietary issues before this gets fixed. I’ve been trying to get wraps/sandwiches dry for ages at my job, and then the new CFO visited, and they made her sandwich plain. I was “oh, so we can get them that way” (yes I’m a bit of a smartass at work) and since then we’ve gotten them plain with condiments on the side. It’s stupid it took that, but I’m glad. And I don’t even have a health issue just a serious gag reflex from mustard.

            3. MissBaudelaire*

              The sauce/condiment bar would have made so much more sense. My husband hates overly seasoned things. He wouldn’t have been able to eat much if it came prepared that way. But if he could choose his own toppings, he could have easily made a plate.

          2. DataSci*

            That’s true, but the basics – vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free (not all at once, necessarily) should be covered for a large group. Some combinations or restrictions can’t be easily accommodated – I’m thinking of my niece, who is so severely allergic to wheat that she can only eat from a restaurant if it’s entirely gluten-free, because of the risk of cross-contamination – but that doesn’t mean that an effort shouldn’t be made for the majority of cases.

            1. Seconds*

              Yes, you’re right.
              Honestly, the main reason I commented (about it not being trivial) is that I have a fear that someone will find out I eat gluten-free, go to a lot of trouble to prepare me something gluten-free, and then discover that all their efforts don’t convince me to eat their food (because like your niece, I am extremely sensitive).
              For most people it works to provide options, and it doesn’t have to be that hard—I just hope that people won’t think that it’s “trivially easy” and then be disappointed with those of us who don’t eat anyway.
              Last Sunday I had to serve a totally gluten-free, nut-free, legume-free, green-veggie-free meal on a 6-8 hours’ notice, in a kitchen that uses lots of nuts and legumes, on a day when I had low energy because of a medical condition. I did it, but not easily, and not without accidentally contaminating some of the food.
              (No, sorry, New Acquaintance, you can’t have the apple cider because I realized only after I stuck a clean spoon into it that not all the peanut butter had come off of it in the dishwasher.)

          3. Filosofickle*

            Agreed, it’s not that easy. I used to throw a lot of parties and loved feeding people but at some point it was nearly impossible to meet the often conflicting needs of my friends. Very small groups I can still figure it out, but people’s dietary needs can be quite intricate and ever-evolving and it can be a lot of work for someone to explain to someone else what they can eat. Better to skip the food or eat out sometimes.

            1. JustaTech*

              Yeah, it was a fun challenge to come up with a vegetarian, gluten-free, non-onion, diabetic-friendly dinner menu for 6. And with a bigger group it might be easier to have enough variety for everyone (though I would segregate the gluten-free stuff as I worry about cross-contamination).

              But I also really, really appreciated it when my friend’s boyfriend who has dietary restrictions I’d never encountered before (a mint allergy I can work around easy, but the very specific protein limits scared the heck out of me) just brought his own food (and shared!).

              1. Anonymous4*

                A vegetarian, gluten-free, non-onion, diabetic-friendly dinner menu for 6 — you might start with a baked potato bar. With a lot of different kinds of toppings. That way everyone can fix their potato with what they like (and what they can eat).

                1. Paquita*

                  I know this is very late to this thread but baked potatoes are NOT diabetic friendly. The starch turns to sugar very quickly once eaten.

              2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                As a vegetarian in France, I have given up expecting anyone to feed me a well balanced and tasty meal, so I automatically cook up a fabulous dish (mostly vegan just in case there are any vegans too), and take it with me.

                Last time my partner persuaded me that his friend had remembered I was veggie and had cooked some vegetable dishes, (and frankly I didn’t have time to cook anything fabulous), I ended up eating rice and potato. So well-balanced! There wasn’t even a salad, so I was happy to eat my partner’s dessert – he discreetly swapped our plates once I’d finished mine because he is weird in that he doesn’t like chocolate.

        2. Anon Supervisor*

          My first job in Minneapolis was as a volunteer coordinator. One of my main duties was to plan an appreciation lunch. The hospital was located in a community with a large Jewish population (mix of reform and orthodox) so I learned very quickly that offering a vegetarian option was a good (enough) way to offer a meal to those volunteers who keep Kosher (although, yes, I know that veggie meals may not be strictly kosher because of the preparation method).

      2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        One person who is very, very well educated, said they did not understand what I meant when I said said I eat simple meats and plain veggies.

        I think simple was the culprit; the word can mean so many things to different people.

        Your story here has an added layer in that this was supposed to be an expression of employee appreciation. By asking you to leave, how could you possibly feel that you are appreciated?

        I agree; that part of the story is beyond nonsensical. Just a facepalm moment.

        1. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

          Yeah, I don’t know what “simple meats” means. If I were responsible for accommodating that preference, I would need to ask questions. And I’m not completely ignorant of health trends and dietary restrictions (voluntary or otherwise), though I suppose I’m not an expert, either.

        2. Elaine Benes*

          Yeah I also was a bit stumped by simple. And frankly “plain” veggies- do you mean raw? do you mean cooked with no butter or oil? do you mean no salt or seasonings? I don’t think your choice of phrase was as clear cut as you thought it was.

          1. DataSci*

            My best guess is that “simple” means “unprocessed and with minimal seasoning”, so steak or plain baked chicken would be OK but not bacon, sausage, or something with a sauce or cooked with something like mushrooms or other flavors. That’s a wild guess, and it’s certainly not obvious.

        3. Siege*

          My immediate thought was raw (the diet, not raw meat). I don’t know exactly what raw entails, and meat may not qualify in any case, but simple seems like the problem to me as well. (My second thought was plain dress, I’ve been reading about Mennonites lately.)

          1. pancakes*

            I have a friend who was a raw food personal chef for a while and the food is not simple at all! Neither are the dishes at raw food restaurants in my city. I think most have closed now. It was extremely labor-intensive, among other challenges. “Sweet Corn and Cashew Tamales with Chili Spiced Portabella
            Salsa verde, avocado, cashew coconut sour cream, raw cacao mole,” for example.

          2. Observer*

            It’s worth pointing out that, absent context even the term “plain dress” is not all that obvious. I do think that most people would have some idea of what’s involved. But Mennonites, as well as many other Plain dressing people, have certain norms that have nothing to do with what most people think when the hear the word “plain”. At minimum, you don’t need to follow all of those particular ways to follow “Plain Dress”. Which is not a criticism of the term. But to point out that even a term like that which seems so obvious and straightforward is not always so simple.

            At least when you are talking about something like “plain dress”, the term has enough of a history that someone with a bit of knowledge would be likely to at least understand that this not purely a matter of the dictionary definition. And, I’ve never encounter someone who engages in Plain Dress and also deals with the world outside their community, who doesn’t realize that the term does entirely convey all of the nuances of this way of dressing.

            1. Siege*

              I think, in fact, my point is that as a NON-EXPERT in either plain dress or raw food, “simple” conveys a connotation that I’m sure is inappropriate to the experts but is where my mind goes, so it’s worth considering how we talk as experts to non-experts, because language intended to simplify may not do that. It was an agreement with and iteration on what Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est was saying, not a discursion on what plain dress is, which impacts me not at all. I’m happy to hear that experts on both raw and plain dress disagree with my statement of my own experience.

      3. Observer*

        I got into eating simpler foods decades ago because it improved my health greatly. Back in those days, my changes were not well received. At all. One person who is very, very well educated, said they did not understand what I meant when I said said I eat simple meats and plain veggies. I am really not clear on what is hard to understand.

        I hate to say this but this, but I don’t think it’s surprising that your attitude was not well accepted. I don’t care what people do or don’t eat, and I always make an effort to accommodate whatever I can. But when you use a vague term to describe your food choices and then look down your nose at people who tell you that what you are saying is not clear, that’s legitimately annoying.

        What exactly does “plain vegetables” mean? Only boiled? Only in season? Only local? Never mixed? Only raw? Never cooked in the same pot as meat or eggs?

        What are “simple meats”? Is rib-steak ok, as long as you skip the BBQ sauce? Does boiled chicken breast stop being “simple” if you make a salad out of it? Will you eat fried chicken vs boiled chicken?

        As I hope you realize, I could ask at least a dozen more questions about how to define you “simpler” foods. Casting aspersions on someone’s education because they aren’t reading your mind and intuiting YOUR definition of those words is hardly a good way to get people to be tolerant of your behavior.

        Another person scolded me and said it was rude not to eat the food in front of me. I guess it was all about her?

        She was undoubtedly rude. But that’s also an incredible leap. A lot of people have a lot of very strange ideas about food and all the issues around it. Jumping to the most disparaging – and in my experience not most likely – explanation of food related rudeness does nothing to make your case.

        Don’t get me wrong. This person WAS wrong and rude. I want to be clear about that.

        1. Anonymous Luddite*

          Thank you for this. Agreed. Phrases like “simpler” or “clean” drive me up the wall because they obviously are subject to so much individual interpretation as to be meaningless. We are not mind-readers.

          1. FridayFriyay*

            There’s also so much implicit distain about the “opposite” of whatever it is. The opposite of clean is dirty. Implying that most typical diets are dirty is rude. Just say what your specific dietary choice is without making comparisons and judgements about others.

        2. pancakes*

          I see the point you’re trying to make but a lot of this doesn’t make sense. I don’t know anyone who would use “simple” as a synonym for “local,” “seasonal,” “raw,” or “boiled,” and I live in a city chock full of very demanding eaters and am a dedicated farmers’ market shopper myself. The mostly likely meaning is minimally processed, no sauces. Baked or roasted chicken probably fits this description; mechanically-recovered fingers or nuggets would not. My own preferences aren’t this restricted but it seems pretty straightforward.

            1. pancakes*

              It’s not my restriction, so no, I can’t be sure, but as a former vegetarian and present omnivore, I also don’t understand why anyone would boil chicken rather than poach it unless they’re trying to be punitive! Or preparing food for a pet on a special diet.

          1. Simply the best*

            See and where I read the phrase simple meats, it wouldn’t occur to me you were referring to the preparation but to the type of meats you eat. Chicken and fish vs red meat and game.

            In other words, it’s not straightforward at all.

          2. Observer*

            I don’t know anyone who would use “simple” as a synonym for “local,” “seasonal,” “raw,” or “boiled,” and I live in a city chock full of very demanding eaters and am a dedicated farmers’ market shopper myself.

            In other words, sophisticated and educated eaters would not use it that way. If anyone might, well…

            I’m guessing that this is not what you actually meant, but that is exactly what you are communicating.

            I would also point out that your definitions are very far from universal. In fact, one of the most common usages I’ve heard for “plain” in the context of food actually has been “boiled” especially vs fried. Maybe also minimal or mild SEASONING, not just no sauces. But I’ve heard the others used as well.

            And even your definition leaves something to be desired in terms of specificity and clarity. In terms of general conversation, it certainly does give a better idea of what you would mean, but if I had to accommodate you I would certainly have questions.

            1. Essess*

              I would have considered ‘simple’ to be synonymous with local for the fruits and veggies. It would sound like items that would not require extensive storage and transportation and would be as simple as walking into a neighbor’s garden versus needing complicated logistics.

              1. pancakes*

                That wouldn’t occur to me. Our city farmers’ markets only allow food grown (or fished, etc.) within a 150-mile radius and that does not limit us to simple offerings! Setting up a stand with 40 different kinds of heirloom tomatoes, or 15 kinds of micro greens, or new breeds of squash developed in consultation with chefs, etc., isn’t particularly simple. I realize the same stuff probably isn’t on offer in, like, the heart of corn country, but that’s not because fresh produce is inherently simple.

            2. pancakes*

              It’s just a guess; I’m not certain of what Not So New Reader meant, but it seemed to me a better guess than boiling everything. I suspect a lot of this is regional. I can’t recall the last time I saw boiled (vs. poached or steamed, if something is meant to be plain) meat or vegetables.

        3. r*

          “I don’t think it’s surprising that your attitude was not well accepted [snip] when you use a vague term to describe your food choices and then look down your nose at people who tell you that what you are saying is not clear, that’s legitimately annoying.”


      4. Momma Bear*

        I also think that they need to expand their idea of “appreciation”. OP’s company failed to provide an appropriate lunch for OP, and did not appreciate OP at all. It is NOT that hard to ensure everyone has food they can eat.

    5. Splark*

      Yes, there are a million possible explanations for his behavior, but as a vegetarian, the first thing that leaps to mind is this weird covert hostility vegetarians encounter all the time. I never, ever get on a soapbox about not eating meat, or even mention it to anyone, but when non-vegetarians realize or notice, there is frequently a kind of subtle aggression that arises. All I can imagine is that some non-vegetarians feel like they’re being obliquely judged by vegetarians, or maybe they’ve been overtly judged in the past? My own family does this—I never mention my vegetarianism to them, ever, or make any requests about menu options whatsoever, but they still, after twenty years, make me refuse offered meat dishes, and make small needling remarks. They’re not jerks, either, they’re just somehow bothered by my not eating meat in way they can’t (or are unwilling to) articulate.

      1. pancakes*

        They do sound like jerks, actually! Needling you about not eating meat for twenty years is rude and contemptuous.

        1. Splark*

          Yes, it’s jerky behavior, but they’re not jerky people, they’re nice, kind people in general. But something bugs them about my vegetarianism. Other vegetarians I’ve discussed this with have a similar experience, my husband says he felt this way about vegetarians before he became one—that they were somehow judging him. It’s strange.

      2. Lauren*

        I very, very, very quietly ordered the Beyond burger at Red Robin and my meat loving FIL decided to loudly make a huge deal about NOT ORDERING A REAL SANDWICH and WHAT’S THAT LIKE TO NOT HAVE REAL FOOD and WHAT POINT ARE YOU TRYING TO MAKE?!?! If he hadn’t looked at that one spot on the menu and asked the server what a Beyond burger was, he’d never have been able to notice a difference between my food and his. I really, really don’t get it.

    6. nobadcats*

      As a non-vegetarian who has had many vegetarian co-irkers. I would always dash out to the food table to grab one of the THREE sandwiches or entrees for my friend who sat next to me. It never failed, every time we had lunch delivered, the admin would only order three dishes for vegetarians, and of course someone would be like, “Ah! A caprese sandwich, this looks tasty!” and my friend would end up having nothing to eat. Samesies with gluten-free dishes. “Oh, gluten-free, I wonder what that tastes like!” Like not the same, stay in your lane!!

      When I complained to the admin who ordered the lunches, she just shrugged and said, “Well, X needs to get out here on time.” WHAT?!

      Another reason I’m glad we’re permanently WFH now. I love my co-irkers, I hate having to try and guard their food.

  4. IQuitThatSummer*

    OldCo ordered lunch on summer Fridays for a social meal. They’d send out the menu a couple days before – first week was pizza, then sandwiches, etc… I have food allergies and didn’t want to be a bother, so on pizza day, I made sure to bring lunch, which I quietly dished onto one of the picnic plates and went about mingling with coworkers. THE HORROR. Apparently I offended HR by refusing their generous gesture of hospitality. A strongly worded memo (lots of caps lock) went out that afternoon, demanding all employees disclose their dietary preferences or allergies to HR immediately! (I did not.)

    1. Candi*

      Or how about they ask first, before ordering? And not have a fit if people with allergies decide to bring their own food anyway.

      Glad you left. Hope the new place is better.

      1. anonymous73*

        If you don’t have food allergies/dietary restrictions, or know someone close to you who has them so you’ve had to plan carefully, you may not think to ask. It’s up to those who have them to mention it. Although I will never understand those who get offended if you’re not eating because they chose something you don’t/can’t eat. If I realized I forgot to ask and nobody told me, I’d make a note for next time.

        1. TechWorker*

          That might apply if you’re hosting a dinner party, but if it’s a work event? No, you should remember to ask. There can’t be many areas where you can make it adulthood without realising that dietary restrictions exist.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Even a person hosting a dinner party socially should have the goal of providing a meal their guests can eat. My family is kind of a hodge podge of dietary restrictions, so our thanksgiving and Christmas dinners are composed of a multitude of dishes that people can mix and match to make a whole meal. It does require more planning and logistical concerns, but it’s possible to get people’s food limits in advance and work toward making something everyone can enjoy.

            1. Alexander Graham Yell*

              Yuuuuup. We’ve got a mix of lactose intolerance, peanut allergy, soy allergy, and people with diabetes so Thanksgiving is basically assigning out foods and saying, “Okay, this will have these ingredients (brand name included if needed). Any concerns there? Any adjustments needed before I go get supplies?” Slightly more work? Yes. But we’ve found a way to make sure everybody can eat their favourite parts of the meal and nobody is rushing to find a replacement.

              As for hosting meals at home…growing up we had friends with so many different kinds of restrictions that now I just ask “Are there any foods you don’t eat?” because I don’t really care why you don’t eat them, I just don’t want to serve you something you won’t eat.

              1. bookworm*

                yup, this is my experience too. I did a thanksgiving dinner this year for people with dairy, corn, and corn byproduct intolerances (ex: corn syrup, citric acid, dextrose, some MSG…). I did a lot of ingredient hunting, but managed to come up with a meal where everyone could eat nearly every dish (I did make 2 stuffings because all but the corn intolerant person love cornbread stuffing). This is a little different from a work event where restrictions are inevitably conflicting and having lots of different options that people can choose from is ideal, but I know I really appreciate when possible being able to eat what everyone else is and not feel singled out or limited to a small part of the main meal.

            2. DataSci*

              Yuup. My Thanksgiving dinner had a vegetarian, a gluten-free person (not at the level of needing to be scrupulous about food “prepared in a facility that also processes gluten”, i.e. my kitchen), someone with a nut allergy, and someone who needs to avoid cruciferous veggies and dark leafy greens. It was pretty simple to put together a menu where there was only one thing any given person couldn’t eat. (Well, two for the vegetarian if you count the gravy – I made separate dressing for her).

        2. Charlotte Lucas*

          Idk. I worked somewhere that had a lunch provided after their yearly all-employee meeting. When they first started doing it, they didn’t provide a way for people to even ask about dietary accommodations. They only started to when people complained & a lot of food ended up wasted because people didn’t take it.

          I think that it is up to the people arranging the food to make sure there’s a way to request dietary accommodations.

          1. MissBaudelaire*

            Flashbacks to when my last boss ordered my birthday cake, as per our tradition, and didn’t ask me what flavor I wanted. He bought a carrot cake, because that was the flavor his favorite employee wanted.

            Our maintenance guy went and bought me a slice of chocolate.

            1. Mannequin*

              I’m not much of a cake fan to begin with, but I despise carrot cake – it’s more like a moist bread like banana bread to me, and I don’t like that either.

        3. EmKay*

          Oh yikes, no. I organise snacks and meals for meetings all the time as an admin, and it is 100% my job to ask my guests about their dietary restrictions.

        4. Librarian of SHIELD*

          It’s not solely the person with the allergies/restrictions responsibility. Ideally, this would be a collaborative process that’s initiated by the people planning the meal. Start with “we are planning a staff appreciation meal and we want to be sure we make choices that allow all staff to participate. In addition to providing vegan and gluten free options, what other steps can we take to provide a safe meal for everyone?”

          And crucially, no matter how inclusive you think you’ve been during the planning process, there will be some people who don’t want to talk to you in depth about their dietary needs and would rather bring their own food. Be kind and accepting when that happens and welcome the employee to enjoy their meal alongside everyone else.

        5. JustaTech*

          This is true. I used to think that by now everyone knew about food allergies, but then I was on a flight about 10 years ago where they announced before boarding that it was a completely nut free flight, please eat your nuts now. The people next to me grumbled about it “oh come on, really?” So I said “Do you want to have to land in Montana so we can offload a corpse? People die of nut allergies in minutes.”
          They were flabbergasted. Had no idea. Were horrified. (Ate their darn nuts right that second.)

          So yeah, there are a still a lot of people learning about food restrictions.

      2. Beth*

        I had a co-worker who was terribly (and genuinely) gluten-sensitive. She always included this information when registering for conferences or workshops, and it never made a difference. The food offerings never accommodated her pre-stated restriction (or anyone else’s — I was glad to be an omnivore).

        She would try to eat before any event that allegedly included food, but that can’t be managed when it’s an all-day series of workshops.

        Bottom line: being asked only works if the asker actually uses the information. After a while, I started making formal complaints to the companies that were organizing these events — not on my behalf, but on hers, and the unknown others who had similar problems. I don’t know if it ever made a difference.

        1. JustaTech*

          I was at a conference years ago with a colleague with celiac. This conference didn’t provide lunch (you were supposed to just attach yourself to some incredibly senior Big Deal person at lunch time and follow them like a duckling, yeah right) so my coworker had a list of restaurants that said they were “celiac friendly”.

          So we go into PF Changs and when she said “I have celiac” the waiters immediately took everything off the table, wiped everything down, took away the soy sauce and brought her a bottle of tamari (in the original packaging) and gave her a new menu that they wiped down again before handing to her. Was some of it theater? Maybe. Did it show that management cared? Heck yes. Even though it was kind of out of our budget it was our go-to place for the rest of the conference.

            1. Lauren*

              I have Celiac and would have been mortified. Appreciative of the level of dedication in ensuring no cross-contamination for sure, but mortified to be spotlighted like that and mortified that my coworkers apparently couldn’t have soy sauce because of me. The worst part of Celiac isn’t going hungry sometimes; it’s having Celiac become An Event during group lunches and dinners.

      3. anne of mean gables*

        Yeah, that’s the thing. I’m related to someone with relatively severe Celiac disease, and it requires a real leap of faith to trust someone when they say “it’s gluten-free!” She’s been burned a lot. I feel pretty confident cooking for folks with restrictions, because I have the experience of cooking for my relative, but I also ALWAYS offer an out – I don’t want someone to feel obligated to put their life or comfort or morals in my hands! I completely understand how someone with a serious restriction would find it on the whole easier and less stressful to just eat before or bring their own food.

      4. KoiFeeder*

        Yeah, even if someone asked me my restrictions, my ability to eat certain foods is going to vary based on a lot of factors- I can’t promise that I’ll still be able to eat X, Y, or Z even a day later, and sending out the menu the day before is a really short span of time if you’re planning a work event. And my restrictions run the gamut from “I shouldn’t, but for a chocolate cake I will” to “I will die” and everything in between.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      People are so weird about food allergies. I have a rare food allergy and usually just don’t go to any work event that involves eating. If you go and don’t eat anything, ir bring your own food, you just get so many questions. I am SO over having to explain my allergy again and again.

      1. Moo*

        so much this – and the people who just don’t believe allergies are real. Well I want to know why someone wants to force me to eat something even if I was the case that I just didn’t like it. My hell is when you’re stuck at a work thing with no chance to go and sort yourself out. I recently did a 12 hour day with a 15 minute lunch break and could not eat the food provided. I’m especially awkward but they provided no option so even if someone was vegetarian they weren’t provided for. About half of us got no food that day.

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*

          I’m not sure which was the part that was more obnoxious here – that at OldJob, jerky safety manager didn’t believe in food allergies, or the face that safety manager ARGUED with me about the proper use of an epinephrine injector during company sponsored/required safety and first aid training. Spoiler alert: the information that was in the company curated program was at a minimum, wrong. You do not contact the safety manager first and discuss if its necessary to use the Epi-Pen, then call 911, then use an Epi-Pen. (I wound up contacting the corporate safety manager and worked with him to get it rectified before their bassackwards policy got someone killed.)

          Food was always provided but it was an eating-program with no real lunch break. Always, always, ALWAYS, the food was something to which I’m allergic. So no way to get lunch, I can’t eat what’s being served, and I’m subjected to the snark of this jerk because I’m being picky about food. ::eyeroll:: My coworkers didn’t let the comments go though, he usually wound up getting quite a bit thrown back at him, usually started with “what is wrong with you?”

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            Ugh, it’s terrible that your safety manager didn’t take your safety seriously. Fortunately, I have never needed to jab myself with an Epi-Pen (though I’ve come close a couple of time), but if I’m at work and need to do it, no way would I consult with someone who isn’t even a doctor first!

          2. MissBaudelaire*

            I gasped reading that. Someone could die with that mindset. Epi-Pen, 911, THEN safety manager.

            1. NotRealAnonForThis*

              I did as well in the moment, then uttered a very-not-quiet “WTF? Epi-Pen while calling for someone to call 911, THEN you make sure that 911 is called and you stay with the person to monitor for a rebound reaction, THEN and only then do you waste time by calling the d@mn safety manager. You don’t consult with the safety manager first. That goes against both FARE best practices and Mylan medication directions.”

            2. Global Cat Herder*

              My mom’s best friend died with her Epi-Pen in her hand, because by the time she got it out of her purse, she didn’t have time to use it. That’s how little time some people have. And this guy wanted multiple phone calls and discussion??

          3. Nesprin*

            Ack!!!! the procedure for any sort of emergency always 1) protect the people (evacuate/render 1st aid) 2) call 911 3) call internal safety people

          4. Don P.*

            I’m sure you’re right, and the corporate info was wrong, but I can put myself in the safety manager’s shoes: I have an official what-to-do document here. I have somebody who says it’s wrong. If I believe the objector, and somebody has a bad outcome later, I’ll be in a deposition explaining that I ignored the approved advice because “somebody” said it was wrong. I can see why you had to escalate to the next level up to get it corrected.

            1. NotRealAnonForThis*

              True, but given the nature of the error – if the objector can provide best-medical-practice procedures that are easily findable, including on the back of the packaging of the item in question…perhaps as the safety manager, you need to look into it instead of doubling down on “Procedure First and Only”?

              Given that their official how to document on use of employee Epi-injectors during and emergency was so…egregiously wrong, I certainly questioned many more of their official “what to do” documents.

              I honestly don’t know how that policy passed muster, other than they’d not had to deal with it in real life.

            2. pancakes*

              Why would it need to be a matter of belief at all, though? A safety director who doesn’t know how to find information about current best safety practices is in the wrong line of work.

          5. Cat Tree*

            That epi-pen story reminds me of my high school’s ridiculous drug policy. Absolutely all prescription medications had to be stored in the nurse’s office … including my rescue inhaler. I had to hide an inhaler in my backpack like it was some kind of recreational drug.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              Yup, that was my school’s policy too. I don’t remember what their stated reasoning was, but it was absolutely about control. As if a kid having an asthma attack is able to go to the nurse and ask for their inhaler when they can’t breathe.

            2. NotRealAnonForThis*

              At least in my state, Epi-Pens (and non name branded versions), rescue inhalers, and insulin emergency pens are all covered by “student may carry on their person per their own doctor/physician’s written order” via legislation. The district could attempt to enact a policy otherwise, but it wouldn’t get very far.

              We’re very familiar with the Epi Pens and Inhalers portions of it, so spouse was a little gobsmacked that we have to drop off any other meds at the office. Its a pretty infrequent occurrence so I understand the “Wait, what??” of it.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                That’s the law in my state too, but my school counted on parents and students either not knowing their legal rights, or not being willing to fight the school on them. I know they played similar games with other students’ IEP plans and such, and I’ve always wondered where else they cut corners or asserted control in that fashion. It’s never just one or two laws, after all.

      2. CreepyPaper*

        Years ago, a previous job I worked had a thing once where there were open bowls of peanuts – I am horrendously allergic and I saw co-workers stick their hands into the peanuts then touch the food that had previously been safe for me to eat. No thank you, not risking cross-contamination! I didn’t eat anything. Of course someone saw this and had to comment, so… I fibbed. I said I had a huge breakfast and wasn’t that hungry, so I stood in the corner with a cup of tea and made polite conversation.

        I did go to HR privately after, and they listened so I’m responsible for why nuts were banned at all events that involved shared food.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Cross contamination is absolutely the problem, and why I don’t eat (for example) hot food at hotel breakfasts. It doesn’t matter how careful the caterers are, if they let people serve themselves.

          Susan will use the same tongs for sausage and mushrooms so she doesn’t have to keep changing implements; Barry will use the toaster that’s meant to be reserved for gluten free products for his multigrain loaf because he doesn’t want to queue for the conveyor toaster; Diane will helpfully consolidate the cold cheese and meat plate on to one dish to save space.

          When I’ve had buffet events involving people with special diets, I label and lay out things accordingly, and I discreetly make sure they get to go first, while all the utensils are still totally clean and no lids have been removed.

        2. CupcakeCounter*

          I once walked into the conference room at work and saw that the HR/Employee relations team was setting up the annual employee lunch thing. It was a picnic theme so lots of red gingham table cloths, twine and mason jar decor, and HUGE bowl of unshelled peanuts around. I raised an eyebrow and said to the lead “Don’t we have a couple people allergic to peanuts here?” Their response was “oh those are just for decoration…none of the food has any kind of nut/peanuts.”
          Yeah…I told the 2 people I knew who had peanut allergies what was going on and they immediately called their managers to complain and I alerted my manager as well. All 3 managers descended on the conference room and made a big stink. The person I originally spoke to tried to complain about me tattling to the VP of HR and that didn’t go so well for them since apparently the VP of HR’s kid was deathly allergic to peanuts and as a child also reacted severely to being in the same room as them so really understood the risk.
          The planning committee got a severe talking to and were told to take ALL of the decorations down and out to the dumpster, the specialty cleaning crew were called in to decontaminate (and the cost charged to that team’s budget), and the luncheon was moved to the break room in shifts to grab food and take it back to the place of your choosing.
          I got side eye from that person until they left the company because “I ruined their party and chances for promotion”.
          Pretty sure a coworker having a severe allergic reaction and being carted away by ambulance would have ruined it more.
          I also found out that the other people on the team and mentioned to the lead multiple times that the peanuts (and hay bales!) were a bad idea due to allergies but were shut down.

      3. londonedit*

        Years ago I was out for lunch with my sister and she asked for a particular (large) salad but without croutons and with a balsamic dressing instead of a creamy one. Two women at the next table held a loud and pointed conversation about ‘young people these days and their ridiculous faddy diets, she’s not even overweight, a bit of bread won’t kill her’. Took all our restraint not to go over to them and explain in great detail what would happen to my sister’s digestive system if she did eat ‘a little bit of bread’. People need to stop policing other people’s diets.

        1. Salymander*

          Wow, that was obnoxious of those women to do that!

          My friend has dietary issues that are quite severe. Whenever she is confronted by someone like that, someone beyond obnoxious, she tells them in exact, excruciating detail and at great length all about what happens to her body when she eats certain foods, and what she has to do to deal with the symptoms. She knows that she shouldn’t have to do that, but she views it as a type of public service. Educating the jerks so that other people with similar troubles do not have to disclose info or placate people who should know better. My friend is a badass superhero disguised as a 50-something librarian.

          1. Critical Rolls*

            I am envisioning this as a musical number.
            “Why don’t I eat it? So glad you asked!”
            *leaps onto table as the drums kick in*
            “WELLL the intestine is a WONDER/But sometimes things go WRONG/
            If a gal eats what she OUGHTN’T/That’s why I sing this sooooonnnngggg!”

            1. Jacey*

              Me and my family of uncommon allergy/sensitivity havers, celiacs, and medically-necessary keto dieters would buy out the front row for this production every night.

        2. KoiFeeder*

          I’ve had similar happen to me. I’m not sure what a solution to jerks like that is- I carry around shooting earplugs because I’m autistic, and these sorts of people get very mad if they see you put earplugs in and continue eating. But asking them if they’re talking to you just makes them get verbally aggressive, or worse, feel entitled to come over to your table and browbeat you.

      4. Chashka*

        I have a friend in this boat. She is highly allergic (she could die!) and has learned that she just cannot trust food prepared by someone who does not know her and her allergies well, so she often brings her own food or eats before events. And some people just don’t get it.

      5. Jam Today*

        In the Before Times I used to periodically bake and bring treats into the office, and took up the habit of writing out the ingredient list and taping it to the table under the tray or plate where I had the treats, it just seemed like the kind thing to do. Being fussy about other people’s dietary restrictions seems like such a pointlessly negative waste of energy.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Right? I would do that too. I worked in a small place where two of our employees had gluten allergies, so it was important to label things. When I made pies a couple of times, I bought GF crust and made sure to tell people it was GF. One of them thanked me for making it GF because she often doesn’t get to eat pie when it’s available. Like, if it’s not hard to try to accommodate people’s food allergies/preferences, then why not just do it? And even if it is hard, you should just do it because we are human beings and we should take care of each other.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            I took treats into my youngest’s preschool when he left, which because I’m British meant a big tin of homemade scones, a jar of homemade strawberry jam, and a bought pot of clotted cream. Knowing that one person is celiac, I made sure to include a sealed pack of shop-bought gluten-free scones so she could take part.

            When I saw her later that week, she quietly admitted she hadn’t been able to have any, because her colleagues had contaminated the jam pot by using the same knife as to slice the scones. It simply hadn’t occurred to me that people wouldn’t use a spoon to dollop jam on scones (particularly since homemade jam tends to be runnier than shop bought) so I felt terrible.

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              Once I went out for Indian food with some friends, one of whom is also celiac. First thing I did was dip naan right in the food we were meant to share. I also felt terrible. Fortunately there were several dishes so she had other things she could eat, but I still feel terrible and that was over 10 years ago. She has likely forgotten it in light of all the other food issues she has likely encountered, but it’s amazing how long guilt lasts, isn’t it?

            2. CreepyPaper*

              People who don’t use a spoon for their jam make me twitch. Also people who use the SAME SPOON (or knife) for the jam then the cream make me doubly twitch. Cross contamination! No!

              Also, jam first.

            3. Lesseen*

              The fact that this is the default preschool treat in Britain is a wild. You’re supposed to MAKE JAM?

              1. Chashka*

                The contestants on The Great British Baking Show make jam all the time (well, maybe not all the time). I commented to a friend that, wow, they just all know how to MAKE JAM. Her response: it’s not that hard. Maybe so, but it never occurred to me to make homemade jam.

                Yes, I know these are baking contestants and they know a LOT about baking, but it still threw me a bit how they all seem to know this–as well as all other kinds of fabulous cooking/baking skills.

                1. L'étrangere*

                  Making jams is laughably easy. Toss fruit in pot, maybe some water, and sugar. Simmer low enough that it doesn’t burn is the only remotely tricky part. What makes it difficult is trying to process an entire harvest in one sitting. My grandmother used to attack 10kg of plums in huge pots, and do a whole jar boiling rigamarole on top of that. But making marmalade with a dozen lemons is a lark, especially if you use the dishwasher to sterilize the jars

                2. Global Cat Herder*

                  We ended up with way too much fruit around the holidays, and I was watching GBBS and they were making jam for like the third episode in a row. So I looked up how to do it (it’s more a “this is how/why this works” than a real recipe) and … made jam. It really was easy!

                3. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

                  As I understand it, making jam is easy. Making jam and then putting it up safely such that it will keep all winter on a pantry shelf without giving anyone botulism is hard – and important, but not if you’re planning to serve it all to the judges that very afternoon.

              2. Lesseen*

                Yes, I have one childhood memory of a berry farm and my mother trying to make freezer jam when I was very little. She and the neighbor lady eventually just gave up and had a beer. I guess no one told them there was an easy way, or maybe they were just bad at it. Lol

              3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                Ha ha, not totally standard, but home made cake is a very common gift and as we’re rural the jam isn’t a stretch. The Britishness was to explain why it was scones not cookies.

                (Also, scones have great bang for your buck so they’re very useful when you need to make LOTS of something. The only limiting factor is that they have to be very fresh, preferably still warm when delivered. If you can time them to come out of the oven twenty minutes before recess and get them to school immediately, you’re a hero.)

              4. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                Ha ha, not totally standard, but home made cake is a very common gift and as we’re rural the jam isn’t a stretch. The Britishness was to explain why it was scones not cookies.

                (Also, scones have great bang for your buck so they’re very useful when you need to make LOTS of something. The only limiting factor is that they have to be very fresh, preferably still warm when delivered. If you can time them to come out of the oven twenty minutes before recess and get them to school immediately, you’re a hero.)

        2. Momma Bear*

          Over the summer someone made treats and left an ingredient list on the table. I was both pleased to see the list and sad that I’d missed something that sounded good.

      6. Seconds*

        “I am SO over having to explain my allergy again and again.”

        One nice thing about pandemic isolation has been never having to explain my food needs to anyone. I’ve decided to try really hard never to talk about it again. “No thank you, I’ve already eaten.” (I have—maybe it was yesterday, but I have eaten!) “I’ll take care of myself—thank you so much.”

    3. Kim*

      In the state where I live , all restaurants have a message on their menus “if you have food allergies ,please tell your server”. At work, I have mentioned food allergies to event planners , or I have researched what is being served and evaluated what I should avoid. I have a true life threatening food allergy not “sensitivities”. My coworkers are aware of it, no one has an issue with it, and they immediately adjust without complaint. Not sure why you can’t make anyone aware of it ,if it’s a true allergy. HR doesn’t want anyone dying at work. True food allergies can kill you in less than a minute and they would be helpless to save you.

      1. londonedit*

        It’s the law in the UK for anywhere that sells food to inform people if they use one of a list of allergens (look up the awful story of the poor girl who died after eating a sandwich from Pret a Manger because she was allergic to sesame and the bread contained sesame with no warnings on the label), and for allergens to be listed on food labels. Just the other day I saw a staff member in Gail’s (a bakery chain) looking up the ingredients for something in their giant laminated book of allergens because someone had asked about something.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          I worked in food service one summer 20+ years ago and once a guy came up with his son and ordered him a sandwich and told me the myriad of things the kid was allergic to so I would be extra extra careful to make sure they did not touch the food at all (I can’t remember the whole list but I do remember eggs was one of them, so no mayo anywhere near the sandwich). Dad said the kid, and I quote, “Could die” if any of his allergens touched his lips. It completely freaked me out and I even followed the news closely to make sure there were no reports of a kid dying from food anaphylaxis. I remember being very glad the dad had said what he said, because I in no way wanted to be responsible for hurting or killing the child. This was in the days before food allergies were something more highly publicized and food establishments were more cautious in their food prep, so the fact that the guy was willing to buy his kid food anywhere still amazes me; if I had a kid with such food allergies, I’m not sure I would allow him to eat anything except in my home.

          TL;DR: I’m very glad restaurants are so much more cautious these days. Food allergies are no joke.

      2. Loulou*

        Yeah, it seems extremely reasonable for HR to ask about food allergies if they’re providing lunch, though I’ll take OP’s word for it that that the memo was phrased rudely. On the other hand, they should accept “I do have food allergies, but I prefer to accommodate them by bringing my own food” as a response and not make a big deal over it.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          And even without allergies, some people don’t like the food being provided or the restaurant it’s from.

          I love pizza, but I stopped eating it from one particular chain when I realized it made me incredibly sick every time the company got it from there.

          And as a vegetarian, I appreciate your dedication to getting veg food, but that will never overcome my visceral disgust of mushrooms or American-style potato salad.

      3. Jacey*

        While I agree with you that it would be in HR’s best interests to avoid allergy deaths, I’d also like to suggest that you stop thinking of food intolerances as a binary, with “true” (ie lethal) allergies that MATTER vs square-quoted sensitivities or other issues. I have a very bad onion sensitivity; I won’t die for eating onio , but I will be in genuine pain and distress for hours. I have a coworker who has a non-lethal but strong allergy to shellfish; he won’t die from eating shellfish, but he will be covered in painful, itchy, sometimes oozy hives for days. My sister is celiac; she won’t die from eating gluten, but she will be in pain, exhausted, and spending too much time in the bathroom. My friend is autistic and has strong food texture aversions; she won’t die if she experiences those textures, but she will be miserable because her brain reacts as if she is eating something lethal.
        Those experiences matter, too. As do the experiences of people with ideological or other non-medical food restrictions (eg vegans, those who keep kosher or halal, etc.).

        1. Lauren*

          I miscarried because I was accidentally served a non-gluten plate of pasta instead of gluten free pasta, as a Celiac, at a restaurant I’d trusted for years. People don’t get it unless they have it and have experienced it.

    4. Irish girl*

      I had issues when i was pregnant. My company had events and always ordered sandwiches. No lunch meat for the pregnant women and I wasn’t going to break down the sandwich and go heat up the meat. I brought my own lunch the first time and after that people realized that they need to think about who is attending and what they can and cannot eat.

      1. PT*

        Statistically, this is an incorrect advisory re: pregnant women. This advisory is to prevent listeria infection, and lunch meat is almost NEVER implicated in recalls or infections by listeria. Meanwhile, raw fruits and vegetables, ice cream, peanut butter are consistently recalled for listeria contamination, and there is no pregnancy advisory against eating those foods.

        You can check the FDA’s recall website, but you’re infinitely more likely to get listeria from the toppings on a sandwich (lettuce, etc.) than you are the meat.

    5. Ben Marcus Consulting*

      Did you not disclose because they asked after the fact, or because you don’t think they should be asking at all?

      With my practices, I collect allergies, food aversions, dietary modes (vegan, vegetarian, etc), and dietary restrictions for all employees (and they can update at any time). This allows us to plan catering events that ensures everyone has something they can and want to eat. We also use this guide for surprises throughout the year.

    6. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Not a very smart HR! Unless eating these lunches was a legitimate job requirement and you requested ADA accommodations to allow you to do that part of your job, HR really does not have a right to demand knowledge of any medical conditions, including allergies.

      Then again, these are people who think using all caps in work emails is appropriate. And to address a complete non-issue like this!

    7. Essess*

      I would have returned the memo back to them stating that my medical information including allergies was private and confidential.

    8. Anonymous4*

      Apparently I offended HR by refusing their generous gesture of hospitality.

      I don’t know that they were necessarily offended — it could have been that they were horrified that they’d been so thick-headed as to not ask ahead of time, and had provided food that people couldn’t eat.

      As for the HR guy who booted OP out of the appreciation lunch — maybe he asked, “Why aren’t you eating?” and and thought her reply meant, “I’m not part of this group.”

      I tell you what, though — if it were me who was booted out of the lunch, it would be a very cold day before I ever did anything at that company that was not immediately job-related.

    9. nonprofit llama groomer*

      I have a coworker who is gluten free because of severe dietary issues just short of celiac. The night before our holiday potluck, I let him know I was planning to make cheesy broccoli rice so he knew he’d have something to eat. Someone else was bringing a meat dish that was gluten free. I was horrified when it didn’t turn out as good as I’d planned. He was still super appreciative and even tried to eat it. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either.

  5. lbj*

    I would sadly offer that 15 days PTO is a standard, not a bare minimum. (I’m a fairly highly paid developer, and every job I’ve ever had started with 2 weeks PTO, then gradually increased.)

        1. MusicWithRocksIn*

          I HATE the increased tenure thing. I work in an industry that tends to go though a bunch of layoffs every few years as a matter of course, and they still do the tenure thing. I would love to stay at a company for five or ten years and get up to three or four weeks vacation time – but my role is always one the first to be let go when pinching corners, and I’ve never been able to make it up to that bar for high vacation time. A role that actually offered a higher set of vacation time right off the bat (or after the first six months) would defiantly be more enticing than something that paid a little more or had a fancy campus.

          1. Sad face*

            Totally agree, paid leave is a health benefit, it shouldn’t vary by tenure. It would be like tenured employees being given better health insurance. Utter nonsense.

    1. Candi*

      Didn’t you negotiate to get vacation equal to what you were leaving behind? I’ve heard that discussed both here and on the Not Always Right comments.

      1. Simply the best*

        I hear that mentioned here all the time, but I’ve never worked somewhere where that would happen. Everywhere I’ve worked, vacation accrual is based on how long you have worked at that particular company.

        1. BubbleTea*

          But that isn’t because there’s a law mandating it. It’s a decision made by the company, just like salary and who to hire. You can negotiate it! The worst case scenario is they say no and retract the offer because you were so appallingly forward in asking, which means you’ve avoided working for a despotically unreasonable organisation.

          1. stefanielaine*

            Like Simply the Best, I’ve tried to negotiate for more PTO every time I’ve taken a new job (5-6 manager-to-director-level jobs, mostly in health care administration) and every single one has told me it’s technically impossible to give some people more PTO because PTO accrual is linked to tenure in their HR system. Maybe it’s just our specific industries but I’ve never had an employer even consider a negotiation on this point.

            1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

              This seems to be (slowly) changing. I work for a health care non-profit and was offered four weeks off the bat. My job code is “salaried (four weeks)” which makes me think the HR system has been rejiggered to get around the tenure thing. They simply created a class of employee that starts at four weeks. I can’t accrue more though, four weeks is the most they offer. That said sick time is separately accrued, I get three personal days, and three floating holidays, so I really can’t complain. It’s basically five weeks off a year, plus holidays *and* separate sick time.

          2. Wisteria*

            Yeah, and the company has decided to make that non-negotiable. Congrats if you have negotiated for more PTO, but for vast swaths of the population it’s not possible.

            1. Nonprofit Exec*

              OK? And for many it IS possible. That doesn’t mean it will work every time but it is useful for people to know it can be done at a lot of places. I have done it at my last 2 jobs and see all the comments on this page from people who have done it.

            2. Anonymous4*

              The benefits are predetermined for people who work in the public sector — teachers, social workers, police, state and gov’t workers, military, on and on and on. They get what they get, and as their tenure increases, so do their benefits. A 5-year employee gets X days off; a 20-year employee gets more. That’s how it works.

          3. Simply the best*

            I didn’t say it was a law. I was just responding to someone asking why someone else didn’t negotiate their vacation to be the same as what they left. And the answer to that is because many places don’t do that.

        2. Amy*

          I currently have 4 weeks vacation (yes, here in the US), there’s no way I’d leave and go back to 15 days PTO as a new employee elsewhere.

          Hard pass. But in many companies, this is negotiable even with new employees. A friend of mine is just starting a new company with 5 weeks. She said she wouldn’t take the job otherwise

          1. NotRealAnonForThis*

            Can confirm. I’d gotten to where I’d earned three weeks and was up for four the next calendar year at OldJob. Negotiated to start at four, not two (!) at NewJob. Would not take the position if I had to start over on vacation.

            1. Anon Supervisor*

              Yeah, I get 39 days of PTO and it would be really difficult to go down to 2 weeks. Although, if holidays were paid separately, it wouldn’t be a big deal to me, I guess (I don’t really travel that much).

            2. Anonnymouse*

              Agreed. I have 15 days of my choice, plus 6 days of paid sick time, plus the office shuts down for about a week at one point in the year. I like money, but that much vacation is hard to walk away from. Such a big quality of life difference.

        3. Beehoppy*

          It is based that way at every place I have worked, but I have twice negotiated to start at the second level rather than the first. And a colleague negotiated more PTO at a place of mutual employment before I realized that was a thing.

        4. Lacey*

          This is true, companies do have rules about it. My company has a schedule of how the vacation time increases – but one of my coworkers negotiated that she would start with substantially more than that.

        5. Curiouser and Curiouser*

          You’re talking about policy, though, not practice. I work at a fairly large company with an established vacation accrual program, but we regularly negotiate additional days off for people who ask. It’s one of the easiest things to offer, especially where there’s a strict salary limit.

        6. Anonymous Hippo*

          Me too, but turns out you can negotiate anyway. I didn’t when I was starting, but after a year I asked for an extra week and they gave it to me. The seniority accrual just builds on top of that ever your “base” is.

      2. Love WFH*

        I successfully negotiated for extra PTO once, but I’ve known other companies that won’t budge.

        I’ve had two jobs with 4 weeks of PTO, and one with “unlimited”. At the unlimited, I tracked my full days off to 4 weeks worth, and did quite a bit of “leave early” days. They also had “summer Fridays” where we usually left by noon. My last job where you started with 3 weeks of PTO also had 7 sick days.

        I did just accept a new job with 3 weeks of PTO, unhappy about it, but they do have a more than the usual number of holidays, are fully remote, and claim they’re going to 4-day weeks soon. We’ll see.

        1. JohannaCabal*

          Summer Fridays are nice, however, it’s best they be optional. Family member worked for a firm that did every other Friday off in the summers, however, they had to work late on the other days to make up that time, which caused childcare headaches for most of the staff but senior management refused to make it optional.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Ugh, that’s so dumb. If you are letting people out early one day, it’s not a perk if they have to make up the hours earlier in the week. Just give them the afternoon and let those four hours slide. I would even argue that you (the company) are not benefitting from those four hours because employees will spend them grumbling about being forced to work late when they’d rather just work 8/5 or worrying about childcare headaches. Four hours for a few weeks in the summer doesn’t cost the company that much and I could even make a case that efficiency will improve and you wouldn’t actually lose much or any productivity. Just give them those hours, jeez!!!

            (Fwiw I did work for an org that had summer Fridays and we did not have to make up the hours. It was wonderful.)

            1. MissBaudelaire*

              Yeah, ExJob for a brief time had early out Fridays–because they made some of us come in on Sundays to make up the difference. Those that didn’t have to work on Sundays loved it. Extra weekend! Those of us that did have to work on Sundays hated it. It still didn’t give us a real weekend.

          2. 2 Cents*

            Ha, at one company that did summer Fridays, you were supposed to make up the hours during that same week, but my boss thought that was ridiculous bc summer was our slowest time and we stayed later during our busy times. So she’s just let us go. Was always grateful for that but of common sense.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I had a job that did summer Fridays, on the condition that you’d work an extra hour Monday-Thursday. Never figured out how I felt about that. At least ours were optional.

      3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I respect Alison’s assertions that negotiating for more PTO is straightforward and mundane when taking a new job and would love to live in that world, but it has never been my experience. I might be able to get another $5M ($5,000) if I try and push it, or a title I prefer (for a month until they change it), etc, but getting another week of PTO may as well be asking for the moon and the stars on a silver platter–even in the current Job Seekers’ market.

        1. Parenthesis Dude*

          I’ve been successful the only time I had to try. Like everything, it depends on how high ranking you are.

          1. Anonymous4*

            It also depends on what sector you’re in. If you’re in the public sector, the question is not what do you want, it’s what are they allowed to offer. If you want another week of PTO, you’re applying in the wrong place.

            On the other hand, you usually do get a pension . . .

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        My current job started people with something like two personal and three sick days, and no PTO days. Then you got a week of PTO after you’ve been there six months. Then two weeks PTO, two personal, and three sick days after a year. I was poached, and was coming to work with everyone I knew, reporting to my old bosses, and I still didn’t feel that I had any recourse other than borrow vacation time from the following year. We were a startup that was a subsidiary of a larger company, that had this weird no-PTO policy. The rest of their benefits were outstanding, so I never got why not giving people any PTO at the start was a hill for them to die on. I did not feel that I would be able to negotiate that.

        On the bright side, a few years after I started working there, the company changed its policy to 15 days PTO, two personal, and three sick (iirc) right at the start; “to be marketable”, as they explained it. I’m guessing they were having too many candidates turning down job offers because of there being no PTO.

      5. Texan In Exile*

        I have been successful once and failed twice. The second time was my most recent job at a company that is seeing record profits (financial services) and has 500 open reqs for tech people.

        1. They want people to work on prem.
        2. We live in a city where the tech market is tapped out.
        3. They will not offer vacation to match experience level.

        The tech VPs know why they can’t recruit people, but the CEO is very old school and does not care.

    2. IQuitThatSummer*

      At the above-mentioned OldCo, my first dev job, we had 10 days PTO, including sick days; they accrued at .8 days a month, but you couldn’t roll them into the new year, so you technically only had that 10th day for 3 weeks. No WFH either, unless they called a snow day (so it was possible…) That was the only place I’ve ever worked where I didn’t have at least 17 days combined, even in entry level clerical jobs.

      I’d say 15 days is the bare minimum of basic human decency. (A bar that my dear OldCo could never hope to reach.)

    3. WomEngineer*

      Mine is 15 days PTO and 5 days sick leave. I believe this is above average compared to everyone, but it’s fairly normal in my industry. You can also “buy” a few extra days, but they have to be used that calendar year.

      1. Anonym*

        I believe I started with 3 weeks vacation PLUS 1 week unplanned/sick, which is 33% more than OP is offering. Anecdotes can’t tell us what’s standard (mine included). But regardless of national, local or industry norms, Alison is 100% spot on that PTO is the best lever OP can offer to attract and retain more people.

        I now have 22 days vacation after 5+ years with my org, and will not take a job with less than that (at least if not facing financial hardship). More would be a hot selling point. I would negotiate on it, and if they couldn’t meet it, it would be a very hard no. PTO is too important for mental health and wellbeing.

    4. Miss Bookworm*

      Definitely the US standard. I started with 16 days PTO, which increased by 1 per year and you could carry over 10 days (which I gather is not the norm) plus 10 paid holidays. We also, starting with our second year, were given 12 hours of personal time which equaled a day and a half. Now we’re under a policy which I believe starts employees at 20 days then after 5 years you bump up to 28 plus 1 floating holiday; they got rid of our personal time though. I was slotted directly into the 28 days, so I can’t remember the lower tiers.

      I’m currently job hunting (while employed so I can afford to be picky), and I would absolutely not leave my job (no matter how much I hate it) for less than 20 days of PTO. That’s already a significant decrease for me, from 28 to 20. The idea of going from 28 to 15 is not something I want to entertain. Hello burnout (to be clear, I’m burned out even with my 28 days so I can only imagine how much worse I’d be at 15 days PTO).

      1. Rinn*

        And people feel they can comment about it. “That’s terrible, I would die if I was allergic to “apples”, I love “apples”, I eat them daily”.
        That’s nice but I don’t eat them, they will kill me and I haven’t died from removing them from my diet…..and I’ve had this conversation a million times. Moving along.

      2. Gipsy Danger*

        Can someone explain what “10 paid holidays” is? Is that different from vacation time? I’m in Canada and very confused.

        1. i need a holiday*

          Bank holidays – thanksgiving, president’s day, 4th of july, christmas, etc. There are 10 that are standard in the US and most professional jobs give you those days off but don’t count them in the x days of PTO they give you.

          1. Gipsy Danger*

            So is it optional to give these? In Canada, these are called statutory holidays, and employers are required to give you either the day off with pay, or pay you at time and a half if you have to work it. They are so standard that no employer would think of including them in a benefits package – literally every worker gets these. If an employer tried to include these as part of my benefits package I’d be giving them the serious side-eye.

            1. Anonymous Hippo*

              It’s completely option in the U.S. And different companies do more or less of the holidays.

    5. Methuselah*

      *cries in retail/customer service/restaurant work*

      We get no PTO unless you’re a manager and you have to be full time and wait until a full year of being a full time manager. Then you get 5 days a year. No roll overs. No sick days.

      1. Perfectly Particular*

        Wow! At my last restaurant job (many years ago) everyone with more than a year experience got the equivalent of a week of PTO. You had to take it all at once, because they averaged out your weekly hours and that’s how much you were paid for. I don’t remember what the wage was though…. Obviously not $2.13, but maybe minimum wage? Many of us took the week off, and then picked up shifts at a different location, so we would get paid double that week.

      2. kittymommy*

        Same. I’ve have NEVER worked a retail or food service job that got PTO. Prior to my current job I’ve only ever worked one office job that offered it.

        Personally, having worked in medical offices, I would trade extras/higher pay for management and owner support with difficult patients. Obviously the pay can’t be outrageously low, but knowing that management has your back is invaluable. I stayed longer at a job (pharmacy tech, not great pay) than I normally would have because the head pharmacist did not let customers abuse us.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        My second veterinary assistant job had 5 days flat. And if you were sick you had to call around and find your own substitute, which was impossible because people were either in school and thus not available to work extra shifts or were already full-time but we weren’t allowed to accrue overtime so they couldn’t take extra shifts, either.

      4. justanobody*

        Wow, times have changed for the worse in retail. Maaaaany years ago I worked PT in a national clothing store while in high school and I got a week’s paid vacation after one year.

        1. A Feast of Fools*

          I worked at a big box home improvement store from 2006-2008 and got 80 hours of PTO (which, IIRC, included sick time) plus really good health insurance, including short-term disability which I needed to take advantage of for a month.

          I just looked it up and those benefits (and more!) are still offered.

    6. Liz*

      I agree; although my company starts at 10 days for lower level positions, 15 for slightly higher, and so on. you get an extra week every 5 years, although it caps at 5. I personally think everyone should start with 15 days, but what do I know? The good thing about it is we get it all up front, no accruing, and we can carry over. As much as you are entitled to, and the only caveat, is you have to use any carryover in the following year. But if you continually carry over 10 days, it just continues from year to year. I carried over that much from 2019 – 2020, and as I already got 5 weeks (for being here forever!), i carried over another 2 weeks into 2022.

      1. old admin*

        Right, the answer specified professional jobs.

        And 2 weeks vacation/a few days sick is considered the minimum acceptable to offer and many people will see it as stingy. Offering less than that would be considered horrible, which I imagine is why the response to the letter refers to it as the minimum and not the “great benefits” the OP thinks she offers.

    7. Mockingjay*

      Yep, 15 days PTO is what my company offers to start. It increases a little each year of employment. My company offers very good salaries and solid insurance benefits and attracts good staff, but PTO is a drawback.

    8. Leilah*

      Right? I am have been at numerous companies in my 11 year career, and only one offered 15 days. None offered more. The others offer five on the low end and ten on the average. I am a little baffled at 15 being perceived as bare minimum.

      1. old admin*

        Based on the comment below, I think people are misunderstanding. PTO = vacation and sick combined. So 2 weeks of vacation (yes, a bare minimum amount considered ok) and some sick days.

        1. Leilah*

          I was definitely talking about vacation and sick time combined. I’ve never seen higher than 15 days. 10 is standard, 5 is bad, in my experience.

          1. AnonBeret*

            Yikes – I help a lot of people in my industry (in the US) get jobs so I see my fair share of benefits across a huge range of companies and literally none of them offer any less than minimum 15 days PTO plus unlimited sick days, with the average being closer to 20 days PTO and unlimited sick time though (and a fair share actually offering unlimited PTO that actually involves a minimum number of days people have to take to ensure everyone is taking sufficient time off to avoid burnout).

            Apparently I’ve been living in an alternate universe, this is wild (and quite sad) to read.

            1. Chris*

              I feel like I’m in this alternate universe as well. I’m in the US, worked multiple different places, and ever since the 3 or 4th year into my career I’ve had 20 days vacation and 12 sick leave. In my first job, I had to accrue up through tenure, but after that, I’ve negotiated. It often seems like an easy request if a place can’t quite get to my salary requirements. As I hiring manager, I’m often surprised how few people try to negotiate more leave.

        2. A*

          Ya, my initial assumption was that it was separate but I agree that it is most likely combined. Given that OP made the effort to list ALL the benefits, including those that aren’t typically deciding factors, if sick time was a separate bucket I think they would have called it out.

          I hope OP will consider switching to 15 days PTO, and unlimited sick time. Not only because it’s becoming increasingly more common, but it’s especially important for health care workers dealing directly with patients and patient care. I typically only take 5-6 sick days a year, but I’m hesitant to consider employers that have a limit on sick time as you never know what might happen and with my luck if I only had 5 sick days that would be the year I get the flu twice or something like that. It gives peace of mind knowing that you won’t have to worry about that unless it is abused or extended time off is needed. To be clear, I’m referring to sick time as it applies not only to ‘sick days’ but also time off for medical appointments, vaccines, etc.

    9. prismo*

      Yeah I was also surprised to see Alison’s view that 15 days PTO is bare minimum, though if that also includes sick time, that’s a problem and is probably going to encourage people coming to work sick. My current job is 15 days PTO for the first five years, but we also get unlimited sick days, a handful (I forget the exact number) of “personal days,” and the whole company is closed from Christmas Eve through New Year’s, so that’s another paid week off.

      1. old admin*

        PTO = vacation and sick combined. That’s why she spelled out that’s the equivalent of 2 weeks vacation and 1 week sick. And 2 weeks vacation is indeed the bare minimum for professional jobs, not “great benefits.”

    10. Mr. Obstinate*

      Chiming in similarly: at my company (finance industry in a large US city) when I started a few years ago, total PTO (combined vacation and sick leave) was two weeks/10 days per year, and officially it never increased with seniority. (Some older/more senior employees would just take extra PTO under the table because there was no rigorous tracking, but those who followed the rules stayed at 10 days indefinitely.)

      People did complain about the fact that it stayed at 10 days regardless of seniority, but not so much about the fact that it started at 10 days, or that vacation and sick leave were lumped together. (People would just come to work sick and say that was the standard American thing to do.)

    11. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I dated someone for two years in the early 2010s, who worked in the academia, but at a school that did not have a publish or perish rule. That person had the strangest PTO schedule I’d ever seen. My understanding was that, during the school year, he couldn’t take off or call in sick at all. Never in my life, before or after, have I gotten sick with contagious airborne illnesses as often as in my two years dating that person. Apparently, whenever anyone at the school was sick, they’d just come in sick and give it to the rest of the school, to the point where being permanently sick with a cold was considered a natural part of life. (Really hope for their sake that this tradition went away in 2020!) We’d then spend a weekend together and he’d give the cold to me too. He had to be at work every day unless he was dead. But then this person’s school had an unreal amount of break time, and he was off work for most of that. Mid-May through mid-August for the summer, mid-December through mid-January for the winter, Thanksgiving break, sprint break, fall break(??? wth is a fall break) to the tune of five months total per year being off work. He attended conferences for some of that time, did research for like two weeks at the beginning of a summer break, but most of these five months was legitimate time off for him to use as he pleased. He was always upset with me for not being able to travel with him anytime he was on a school break. Very odd. I’m assuming this isn’t even typical for academia.

    12. LCH*

      i would argue that “standard” = bare minimum unless you are working somewhere that really sucks. i’ve definitely received less than this for PTO, but places like that are truly abysmal work places. if OP can’t offer more money, generous PTO is the way to stand out.

      i’d say OP also needs to look at their budget in regards to the extra perks. maybe offer end of year bonuses instead of random gift cards and office get-togethers since they can’t do on-going higher monetary compensation.

      1. LCH*

        the last place i worked with pretty good PTO was: 15 days vacation, 12 days sick, 2 days personal, standard US holidays plus two floating holidays. and vacation went up after 5 years. in total starting PTO for a FT professional position was 31 not counting regular holiday days. way over 15 days total.

    13. Momma Bear*

      I had a company only offer 2 – never to increase. I didn’t stay with them long. Most commonly I’ve been offered 3 weeks. If OP#2’s company has no option to increase PTO over time, they should look into it. They can also consider offering 1 week upfront because people have emergencies. We also often offer people the full amount if they are not junior employees – I know I can’t go higher, but I didn’t have to earn my way up. PTO and flexibility to use it (does no good if I’m never able to take it) are big plusses at my current job.

      I do agree with ask the employees – maybe someone wants a parking or transit subsidy. Maybe they want more flexible hours around core hours. Can you cover more of the insurance? Change the plan to something better? A lot of people really just want a good work-life balance. What does that look like for your employees? If they have to see patients in-house, can they do any billing or other paperwork from home?

    14. Sacred Ground*

      For service sector and blue-collar, low-wage workers in the US, any PTO at all other than sick days is not standard. I have been working at such jobs for nearly 40 years and only a handful of employers have ever offered anything more than one week of PTO after one year of time with the company and most have offered none at all.

    15. nonprofit llama groomer*

      Difference is that you are highly paid. I’m happily working for a nonprofit after making more money in other jobs because of the additional PTO. If I was trying to hire someone for median salary, the first thing I’d do is increase PTO.

  6. Candi*

    #2: I recommend asking your employees if they like the escape rooms, dinners, etc., since I’m assuming those are outside office hours.

    From past discussions here, some workers do like those -but others would rather be home with friends, family, pets, or just private time.

    Since you have two locations, I do recommend a meetup every month or two so everyone knows everyone.

    (I’ve heard about the insurance problem with both Medicaid and private insurance; one of my uncles is a retired doctor. My sympathies for having to deal with that.)

    1. WulfInTheForest*

      I’d also recommend for the OP to include some of those extracurricular benefits to be during business hours, or shake it up with a “routine” benefit like “every other week we buy the office lunch” maybe like a party platter sub sandwich tray or something. It helps employees when they know its a reliable thing so they can leave the brown bagged lunch at home or plan to not go out to eat that day.

      1. Anonymous4*

        The biweekly lunches would be a really nice touch. Not especially expensive, but a very pleasant thing. They might want to vary the food ordered so it’s not always cold cuts and rolls — have pizza sometimes, or a Chinese buffet, or a variety of salads, or whatever, depending on people’s dietary requirements.

    2. Momma Bear*

      I like the meeting of two offices now and then, but make it easy. I skipped a few events because I’d have to get to another building, deal with traffic and parking, etc. If you have it one place or the other, switch back and forth.

      If people have kids, after hours things can be hard – daycares aren’t always flexible and sitters can be $$$. We’ve started doing late afternoon activities – like a holiday lunch from 1-4, giving people time to get home for the kids. OP should ask if this is an issue at that office.

    3. L'étrangere*

      The concept of a ‘handwritten thank-you note’ being considered a perk absolutely boggles the mind. Employees are not your grandma, even if they were old enough

      1. SweetFancyPancakes*

        I think that was meant to show that they try to demonstrate their appreciation in a lot of different ways, including that one, not that it’s a perk. And lots of people do like getting handwritten, sincere thanks for their work.

    4. Nanani*

      Yes! And employee preferences can change over time.
      Just because Alice liked escape rooms when you first her doesn’t mean she still wants to do them every X interval, or that Jim still has time for the extracurricular outings he did as a new grad now that he has a toddler at home.

  7. Dark Macadamia*

    All I can think for #1 is that maybe he thought you weren’t supposed to be there, like all the stories we see where people show up for free food that’s intended for a specific group. But you weren’t taking the food so that still doesn’t make much sense!

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Yeah I wonder if the OP told this HR person that she was invited. What if she simply ate super fast before HR got there. Should she eat and leave immediately after?

    2. Pennyworth*

      That occurred to me to, especially if the head of HR didn’t know/recognize OP. It was still rude, and I would have been inclined to ask why I was being told to leave, either in the moment or afterwards.

    3. kittymommy*

      I was wondering this as well, especially with how there doesn’t seem to have been any discussion, he may have thought you crashed the lunch.

    4. Office Lobster DJ*

      I floated the theory upthread — in an effort to make any sense of it whatsoever — that maybe the expectations for the “appreciation” lunch were that people would grab food, eat quickly, and immediately return to work? Without knowing the nuance, maybe the HR rep just had a “You’ve eaten? BACK TO WORK THEN!” reaction. Not right, but better than making all the vegetarians leave the room.

  8. AcademiaNut*

    For #2 – PTO is even more of an issue right now. 15 days total PTO could easily be burned taking care of small children’s COVID exposure/symptom quarantine and testing requirements, without anyone even getting the illness, leaving no time for actual illness or vacation.

    Can you offer more PTO? Even partial salary during absences due to COVID could make a big difference. A fixed amount of vacation, but more sick leave? It’s been quite a while since team lunches and escape rooms were a sensible idea, and those are things that are nice perks once the important stuff is taken care of, but don’t make up for salary or time off.

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

      This!!! Quarantine guidelines right now are five days for vaccinated people in my area, so if someone in my family gets exposed or sick, I’d burn that PTO almost instantly. The situation in my office is so bad that some entire teams are out on sick leave or in emergency mode (high priority tickets only), and that’s with us working 100% remote. Such small PTO and minimum pay is not going to tempt anyone.

      1. Ruth*

        If you have a kid under 5 it’s still ten whole days because the FDA has shown zero urgency on a vaccine for young kids.

        1. Jam Today*

          This is a really unfair comment. Clinical trials on children is a medical-ethics minefield and they are right to do things carefully. They are trying to thread a needle with the thinnest eye in the world.

          1. Ruth*

            There is an effective vaccine from India that’s had data for quite some time but FDA has said we have “enough” vaccines. And Pfizer’s was effective for kids under 2 so they could have done an EUA for that one.

            1. SpaceySteph*

              I believe it was Pfizer’s choice not to seek EUA for the under 2 while they work through the issues with 2-5.

              Regardless this is nobody’s “fault.” We are extraordinarily lucky that the trials went as well as they did for 5+ and that we got those vaccines out so quickly; there’s an alternate reality here where even the adult vaccine failed its first trial and was delayed by several months. Its the nature of vaccine trials. Also, other countries do also need vaccines. If that vaccine from India is being used on vulnerable populations in India or elsewhere in the world, then its still a global net positive.

        2. amariyah*

          Hey, I just want to flag for you that this is not an FDA issue – the Pfizer trial for young kids failed because the doses weren’t effective enough in 2-5 year olds. You could blame Pfizer but honestly the vast majority of clinical trials end in failure for one reason or another. They are testing a third dose for those young kids right now to see if that will help and I’m sure Moderna isn’t too far behind either. I knows it’s super frustrating though, and I’m sorry the first trial wasn’t a slam dunk. It would have been incredible for so many people.

          1. FridayFriyay*

            The moderna trial was just delayed/extended due to the FDA requesting a larger sample size. I think it’s a bit unfair to act like those of us who are frustrated about this situation and living with the hell of unable-to-be-vaccinated very small children (many of whom are not even old enough to mask, and all of whom are not old enough to mask with all that much reliability, on average) don’t also know things about clinical trials and how they work. Plenty of people who work in the field and have high levels of knowledge about the ins and outs of clinical research are frustrated by the way this has been handled on multiple levels (everyone from Pfizer to the FDA to the CDC bears some responsibility.) It is not simply an unfortunate situation, there were decisions made that impacted the end result and for some of us it has real-world consequences (not least of which that everyone, including employers, has decided 5 days is the standard and completely forgotten about the caveats to the 5 day quarantine, including children who are not vaccine eligible) so all accommodations have evaporated basically overnight.

            1. amariyah*

              Ok, but was the increased sample size needed to confirm safety or efficacy? This is getting off topic but these decisions aren’t easy, hindsight is 20/20, and there’s a responsibility to be careful before approving drugs, ESPECIALLY in children. I’ll leave it there.

              1. FridayFriyay*

                A lot of experts do not seem to think so, especially given the VERY small overall sample size increase. In fact, it’s such a small increase in the grand scheme of the trial that it’s especially confusing and concerning that it will lead to a delay of additional months in the data (pushed back from January to March at the earliest.)

            2. OyHiOh*

              Just as a side note, I am incredibly thankful that my kids who had sensory issues as young children are grown up enough that most of their sensory stuff has integrated properly. Two of mine would not keep hats on their heads or socks on their toes when they were toddlers/pre schoolers. I’m positive they would not have been able to keep masks on either. Those two are pre teens now, who have lived through the family tragedy of a close family member dying of flu; they have morphed into militant mask wearing, handwashing, get all the vaccinations young people. In our house, COVID has been bad enough spread across multiple schools, although thankfully the district has managed to build a coherent, cohesive policy across all schools. Doing this with littles who can’t get shots yet and can’t/won’t keep a mask reliably over mouth and nose – I have so much sympathy for all the parents dealing with it!

      2. FridayFriyay*

        As a parent of an under 5 who can’t be vaccinated but lives in a state with an EXTREMELY high covid rate (we haven’t even hit Omicron peak yet) and where tests of any sort are virtually unavailable and experiencing massive delays in result time, I could easily use up 10-14 days JUST waiting for confirmation of negative covid results without any exposure. Daycare regulations in my state require exclusion for children experiencing ONE covid symptom, with return predicated on a negative PCR. PCR tests are booking nearly a week out to get a test (unless you’re able/willing to stand in line outside in the freezing cold for many hours with a small child – and that’s if you can even find a walk in clinic that will take kids under 3, since most don’t) and another 5-7 days to get results back. That is for ONE instance of ONE symptom of a huge list of potential symptoms. Employers are not providing the flexibility that one would need to deal with this situation but kids this young can’t just be left alone and feral to fend for themselves while their parents are at work.

      3. LinuxSystemsGuy*

        Specific to this, while LW says that work from home options aren’t extensive, a policy of “if you or your family have to quarantine for COVID, we’ll figure out something you can do from home so you get paid” might be worthwhile. Usually even for very customer facing roles there’s something you can come up with. Maybe a nurse could review some procedural documents or a receptionist could take over the more email side of things and free someone else to meet patients.

        Sure they’re probably not really working 40 hours a week, but they’re doing something useful and get paid without losing PTO/sick time.

        1. Momma Bear*

          Agreed. COVID and the ever-changing minefield of childcare and schools/busing in many places is really hard on parents but I think everyone should be fully supported in taking needed time off for COVID. You’re likely to be exposed in your line of work so support them when they get it.

    2. JohannaCabal*

      Or switch to dedicated vacation hours and separate sick leave? I worked at a place that did PTO and since no one wanted to lose precious vacation time, we all went into work sick. At one point I ended up with bronchitis that took me four weeks to shake off.

      1. Washi*

        Yes! I work in healthcare and it is so nuts to me that our sick and vacation PTO are lumped together, plus you are not allowed to work from home at all if you are sick (I see patients but could do some phone calls and charting from home if it were allowed). The combination of these policies highly incetivizes people to come in sick because otherwise they lose days and days of vacation time.

        1. JohannaCabal*

          And combined PTO has become so much more common. Fortunately, there wasn’t a global pandemic when I worked at the combined PTO place. But the place I worked at briefly before that wasn’t any better; employees had dedicated sick time and vacation in separate buckets, however, new staff weren’t allowed to use it for their first three months! One of the many reasons, I am sort of glad they fired me! That was during the swine flu epidemic too.

      2. Tired social worker*

        This. Not to mention that people who are chronically ill or just more prone to getting sick, even in non-Covid times, should have access to the same amount of actual vacation as someone unlikely to use their PTO for illness. Separate buckets for vacation and sick time help to accomplish that (as long as there are enough days in each bucket).

        1. Dino*

          Thank you for this. I’m disabled with chronic conditions that flare up. I can’t really work full-time without causing my health to decline, but I need health insurance so I have to work full-time. Current job has vacation and sick in the same bucket. I will never be able to take a vacation so long as I stay here.

        2. Anonnymouse*

          Mixed mileage on that one. I rarely have sick days left at the end of the year, and I’ve had years where I have taken enough days that even in Canada my employer could have fired me just for sick time (even with documentation). Being able to use vacation days to cover that time would have been a relief (and in fact they bent the rules to allow me to do so. But it was a pain.) Sometimes allowing the use of vacation days to cover sick is a net benefit for chronically ill people. I’ve since been able to manage less sick days, but having extra wiggle room in the form of vacation days was a relief.

          But either way, 15 days total is low and inadequate for most purposes. Most chronically ill people will easily use more than 5 sick days a year.

      3. Lacey*

        Absolutely. For the first time I work in a place where they’re separated and also, you can accrue sick time for like a decade before you hit the cap. So there’s little incentive to pretend to be sick to get to use the sick time up before the new year rolls over (I want to save it in case I have a big health issue down the road!) but on the other hand, if you need it you have plenty so you feel free to use it and you’re not endangering your vacation.

        1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          Isn’t it the best? At my one year anniversary in a few weeks I’ll have around 136 hours of sick time, after taking a couple of days last year. The idea that in a few years I could be seriously sick or injured and just… not come to work for a couple months of needed is staggering.

          1. Anonymous4*

            We also have the option of donating unused leave when we get to the end of the calendar year and still have some use-or-lose vacation days that are larger than the annual cap.

            It can be a little irksome to know that you had those perfectly good vacation days you couldn’t use because of the press of work, but it does make you feel pretty good when you know that you can donate them to that nice guy from that other department who’s having such a bad time after that bike wreck.

      4. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

        Yeah, in a previous job, there was that one super fun year when I didn’t get to take any actual time off because I got a concussion in January and had to spend a while lying in a dark room and not thinking too hard. Because that totally belongs in the same bucket as vacation…

        1. Momma Bear*

          I think a lot of companies fail to see how it’s important to separate sick leave and PTO. I’d love to be able to have just sick leave in case I ever have a significant illness. I can use PTO but again, that means no vacation if I get hit with something lingering. Time to get well is not the same as time to take a mental break.

      5. Smithy*

        The only place I’ve ever worked that did this was a hospital, and it was just immediately clear that people really only used sick days when they absolutely had to. Otherwise everything was just allergies and not getting enough sleep last night.

        I also wonder if one of the worries in giving more PTO (vs dividing vacation/sick days and a higher number of sick days) is about paying it out. But everywhere I’ve ever worked, sick days don’t get paid out when someone leaves. Occasionally will someone use a sick day because they want to start their vacation on a Friday instead of the next Monday and other such issues? Sure – but I think another way of viewing this a way of how you can be more flexible for staff without giving flex time.

        1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          My company actually has a system for that. Every year we get two weeks of sick time. Then we get three “personal days” that come out of sick time, but are effectively “mental health” days or “damn I need a day to recover from my vacation” days. Sick time rolls over (up to some ridiculous amount, like 1000 hours), but the personal days reset annually. So you can’t (or shouldn’t) do that kind of thing constantly, but it gives you a “legal” way to take a few cheat sick days.

      6. PT*

        I had a job that encouraged people to come to work sick and yada yada I was sick for something like 6/12 months that year. It was brutal.

    3. Shhh*

      My workplace separates vacation and sick leave – we don’t have a set amount of sick leave but if you have an illness that’s going to have you out for more than a few days at a time, you’re asked to provide a doctor’s note (COVID is a whole other thing). This is the first time I’ve worked somewhere that doesn’t make you take PTO when you’re sick or have a doctor’s appointment and it’s really nice.

      LW should really look at whether they can either do it that way or at least provide a separate bank of sick time.

    4. NicoleT*

      Or even explicitly separate out that sick time … and that you can use sick time to care for a family member.
      Allow folks to accrue sick time, and reset the “family” portion you allow each year.
      (FWIW, my org has a 12 sick day/year policy. 5 days of those can be used for “family sick time”, but in practice it’s more generous. My sick time accrues and has no carryover limit (so now I have what amounts to a month and half of sick days available). Our vacation/floating holiday PTO is in a separate bucket and does have a carryover limit (of twice what you accrue each year).)

  9. Double A*

    For the person trying to hire, you could get more creative. A lot of parents are looking for part time or less than full time work with benefits. Could you offer a job share? If you expanded hours to expand your business, could you run two 5 or 6 hour shifts? A 4 day week? Less dramatically, how about an actual 8 hour day, where lunch is not an unpaid half hour in the middle of the day that extends your work day? So you can actually arrive at 9 and leave at 5.

    It sounds like you have pretty standard hours, but think about if you could offer some less standard schedules that might appeal to people whose other responsibilities make the standard 9-5 difficult.

      1. Squidlet*

        Some people would prefer it. I used to work through my lunch so that I could leave an hour early.

        1. JohannaCabal*

          In many places, this might not be allowed legally, especially if staff are non-exempt. I had to manage a team of non-exempt staff once and I had to constantly explain that even if they wanted to work through lunch or their break, I couldn’t allow it.

      2. Anononon*

        Yeah, this is odd. A better possible option is that my job has a paid 30 minute lunch incorporated into an 8 hour day, meaning that hourly staff work 37.5 hours a week.

      3. doreen*

        An actual 8 hour day doesn’t have to involve no lunch break. It can involve either a paid lunch break or more likely an unpaid lunch break and a 35 or 37.5 hour work week. I have never had a job where I was expected to work 8 hours a day and therefore had a work schedule of 8:30-5 or 8-5 including time for an unpaid lunch break.

        1. londonedit*

          Yep, in the UK a 37.5-hour work week with an hour’s unpaid lunch is completely standard. Our normal hours are 9-5.30 with an hour for lunch.

        2. PT*

          I interviewed for a job (white collar, office) where the schedule included 2 unpaid 15 minute breaks and an unpaid lunch hour. The schedule was 8-5:30, 9.5 hours at work from start to finish.

      4. introverted af*

        I took that sentence as suggesting that they offer a paid lunch, so the shift is actually 9-5. My first job out of college had that and it was amazing.

      5. SpaceySteph*

        I can bring a sandwich and eat it in 2 mins, the other 28 mins are just wasted time. I’d rather leave half an hour earlier. (Granted I’m salaried now, but even when I wasn’t I thought a 30 min lunch break was a waste)

        So yes, I think some people would like this. It doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all approach, it could be an option offered (if legal in their location of course) that might attract some people to the job, especially people with kids if they could slot their 8 hours such that they were home when their kids got off the school bus or could make it to after school baseball games.

        The other benefit here is that many medical practices close for lunch. If they were able to stay open through lunchtime with employees who didn’t want the lunch break they could see that many more patients (and attract patients who have a lunch break and want to fit their care in during that break).

    1. Alex*

      my sister works for an outpatient medical office very much like the one described here, and the competition offers 2 separate 8 hour shifts (with some overlap so people can have real meal breaks). People jump at that chance, since the office she works for generally has 12-14 hour days with minimal breaks. Since they’re paid hourly (like most scribes & similar workers) the cost of 2 workers lies mostly in benefits. But the turnover in her office is crazy & burnout is real. Different time arrangements make a huge difference.

    2. English Rose*

      Yes, this is what I came to say, and patients would probably really appreciate non-standard consultation hours as well, so expanded/flexible hours could be a win/win.

    3. Nancy*

      Where I live benefits are usually not provided for part time employment. There are plenty of people who would love part time employment who don’t need the health benefits that go along with full time.

    4. RabbitRabbit*

      Depending on their location, waiving a break may not be legal, so LW should be careful with that.

    5. hbc*

      Yeah, any flexibility from normal shift hours would help. It doesn’t have to be “flex time” because you can’t plan around that, but it’s likely helpful to have someone in from 10-3 M-Th-F, for example.

      I would also consider offering and making clear that unpaid time off is okay when needed. A lot of potential candidates have kids in school who can’t be left alone when it switches to virtual for a couple of days, so not dinging them for that (but also not paying them for those days) is more of a benefit than you’d think.

    6. Annika Hansen*

      I think offering part-time work with benefits would be a great draw! I stayed at a job longer than I wanted because it was one of the few jobs in my area that was part-time and offered health insurance.

    7. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      On the same note, a lot of hospitals do 3/12 full time. Work 36 hours across three days a week, get four days a week off and get benefits. In other industries 9/9 is common. Work nine hours a day, get one day every other week off. The math isn’t perfect. You either need to schedule one eight hour day in the two weeks or eat an hour of OT, but it’s close enough to not matter much.

      Not everyone loves these kinds of alternate schedules, but they’re a nice option to offer, and people that love them often *love* them. I’d consider a small pay cut for four days off a week, and I don’t mind long hours on the days I do work. Between the Army and an early careers in restaurants, 12 hour shifts don’t bother me at all.

    8. Momma Bear*

      IMO if the feds can do job shares and “alternative work schedules” so can other companies. It’s worth considering if people are willing to be PT and share the position.

  10. Observer*

    #2- Some thoughts.

    You say that you are “aapropriately staffed”. Do you mean “the minimum required by regulation” or ACTUALLY reasonably staffed? If you think that they two are the same thing, think again. It amazes me how often we hear about facility / hospital administrators complaining about not being able to keep staff while at the same time there is tons of evidence that people want different schedules (it turns out that 12 hour shifts have some significant downsides), fewer overtime shifts and higher staff to patient ratios.

    Do your staff get the tools they need? The PPE, etc. And if they do, how easy is it to get what they need? Do they have to fight for everything? Jump through a million hoops? Beg? If they don’t have what they need, or the answer to any of my other questions is “Yes”, that’s a morale and retention killer right there. The best way to REALLY know is to talk to your staff – but make sure that they can trust you! (ie no one will be penalized for being honest and there is an actual chance that something will change.)

    What is management like? People will often stay in jobs that are not the highly paid, and even take those jobs if you’re in a good place to work. But if there are management issues, that’s going to drive people away. And word spreads so it also becomes harder to find new staff.

    Obviously Alison is right that you should ask staff what they would like. But these are some things to think about, in addition.

    1. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

      I’m confused- isn’t 15 days PTO 3 weeks of vacation, assuming one gets two days off? I’ve frequently had jobs with only 10 days PTO.

      1. cryptid*

        It sounds like combined sick and vacation, so it’s likely not any time not eaten up by covid currently.

      2. Jaybee*

        PTO can be used for both vacation and sick time, there isn’t a seperate sick leave bucket when using a PTO system. So 15 days PTO is not really equivalent to 15 days vacation time because most people will need to either use or at least reserve some of those days in case they get sick.

    2. Dan*

      This a thousand percent. If you keep burning out your staff and not providing them w/good schedules, support, streamlined functional documentation, then they’re going to burn out and leave. Don’t just look at the perks look at the day to day of the job. Do you listen to them?

    3. John Smith*

      A very good point on staffing. For our annual audit, my employer states we are adequately staffed. They did this when the department was 200 strong. They do it now that we have been cut down to 80 staff, but no corresponding decrease in work. My own team has gone from 12 to 5, with one of them moved to part time and another on long term sick. Yet we are adequately staffed. Either we were severely overstaffed to begin with or someone is telling porkies.

      I think Alison’s point about asking staff what they (don’t) want is a good one. An old employer of mine used to offer loads of perks but hardly anyone found them useful. Things like 20% off nappies (diapers) on a Tuesday from a local overpriced retailer or discounts at a dubious and ridiculously overpriced restaurant (ham salad: £18. Not even in London).

      On saying all of that, not everyone goes for a job for the salary. I would say if you’re offering an excellent work life balance, great support to staff etc people may go for that. But the PTO suggest otherwise.

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*

          Right? Plus I’m curious what British ham salad looks like…is it a green leaf salad with ham on it? Is it like a tuna salad where it might be served on bun? Is it a completely different option that I haven’t had enough coffee to dream up?

          1. londonedit*

            It’s really not a standard British food item (like…it’s not a thing you see on every menu!) I’m picturing some sliced ham with a side salad and maybe some chutney or something, a bit like a ploughman’s.

            1. SarahKay*

              It used to be a popular item back in the early eighties in the UK. Two slices of reformed ham, one tomato – halved or quartered, a few slices of cucumber, a few leaves of green lettuce (not radicchio or baby leaves or iceberg or anything like that, just lettuce leaves about the size of your palm), and a dollop of salad cream. Or maybe a spoonful of Branston chutney if you were lucky.
              Gosh, that just took me right back to my early teens. Food has improved immensely in restaurants here since then!

              1. Jack Russell Terrier*

                Oh my goodness – salads when I was a child back in the Seventies and Eighties – iceberg lettuce, a wedged tomato, some slices of cucumber, half a hard boiled egg, salad cream on the side (bit like miracle whip) and the really weird things …

                a sliced, bottled, vinegary beetroot, bleeding into everything
                mysteriously a spring onion, whole – artfully arranged …

                They were hideous. Thank goodness things have changed.

              2. wendelenn*

                Now I am laughing at “reformed ham”. I know it probably means “re-formed” as in chopped and pressed back into a hamlike form. But I am thinking it had an epiphany and has changed its ways!

          2. Clisby*

            Oh, I was picturing it as something like tuna salad, or salmon salad. Ground or finely chopped ham mixed with mayo, pickle relish, maybe celery.

        2. Delta Delta*

          I’m giggling, too! Only 15 days PTO, but unlimited discounts on ham salad! I’m going to laugh about this all day.

      1. WellRed*

        My company offers these weird perks like 10% off your pizza order. Even better, they are mainly local deals so for divisions in other states, they don’t apply anyway.

      2. Smithy*

        I do think that the point about perks is quite relevant.

        There was a job I had that had a gym in the building that would largely equate to what you’d expect from an average hotel/apartment building gym but with the inclusion of showers. Very barebones, but for some tenants of the building the gym was completely free so was understandably seen as a perk.

        The lease my employer had meant that we could pay to become members and that membership fee was really on par with what normal gym membership rates were. And this was just a very minimal gym in the basement of an office building. Had the fee been minimal, I would have happily paid for the convenience and seen it as a perk. But it truly ended up being a close but no cigar perk.

      3. MissBaudelaire*

        My previous job always said we were ‘adequately staffed’. Sure we were. If no one ever got sick, no one ever took a vacation, and the part timers had their schedule min-maxed so we would work 7 days a week without a crumb of overtime.

        They decided to take away a minimal second shift we had, basically forcing 12 hours of work out for 8 hours of pay. And that, I believe, was the beginning of the end there.

    4. KH_Tas*

      I read that line as ‘our appropriate staff count is 12, we have less than that now (hence hiring)’. That may be wrong though. Agree with everything else though, and also more options for longer term sick leave if needed.

      1. Observer*

        I hear that. My point, though, is “is your appropriate staff level ACTUALLY appropriate?” Like, is 12 what is required by law / regulation, but, really you should have 18? Just to pull numbers out of a hat.

    5. anonymous73*

      Good points but OP said they have 12 employees “when appropriately staffed” and that they are currently experiencing labor shortages.

        1. Observer*

          That’s not true. Because it’s quite possible that if they were looking at a better ratio, they would have a better chance at getting people to sign on and stay on. People will sometimes hang on when they know that management is actually working on a solution and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But if you know that even when things get “better” they are never going to be ok, it’s MUCH harder to keep people. Now, I don’t know if 12 is the right number or not. But if it’s really to low than people know that staffing is never going to reach a point where they are not going to be overworked and stretched thin.

    6. Jennifer*

      I think that’s a good point. My husband stayed at a job where he was underpaid because he really liked the people he worked with, management, and enjoyed the work. Plus there was a flexible schedule. But once the manager left, everyone realized how dysfunctional the company really was and how much they were shielded from it. It quickly became a miserable place to work. People will definitely stick around some place they are underpaid if the other perks outweigh that.

    7. Momma Bear*

      Yes. Management matters. If people start talking about management problems when asked for feedback, please look into that.

    8. Chickaletta*

      Hospital/clinical staffing is such a complicated issue, especially now, that there is no one solution. Simply asking if they get the tools they need, like PPE, isn’t a simple answer. As an EA to hospital execs, I could provide 20 months worth of data on this subject alone. But, at least at my company, I can assure you that we are fighting for our front line employees non-stop and will drop everything if we learn there is a need.

  11. Jopestus*

    #2 Team building days, especially if something like escape rooms, are a minus for the most. Not a plus. Doubly so, if the employees view not taking part of them as harmful to their career.

    Another: I am not an american, so is that amount of vacation meant to be good? Over here it is a month of vacation per year, minimum by the law if employed full time and sick days are always paid. If the sickness period extends, then the government/insurance funds kick in.

    1. Fikly*

      It’s not even vacation. It’s vacation and sick days. So if you have that many days sick – and you’re at higher risk of this happening because it’s health care – then you just don’t get vacation for the year. Which is why putting vacation and sick days in one bucket of PTO is a bad practice. There are other reasons too. It also penalizes anyone who gets sick more often for any reason.

      1. Tuckerman*

        Yup, and I wonder whether people actually use any vacation time because they’re holding onto PTO in case they need it for illness/quarantine. So they get to the end of the year and have 5 days left, but is it possible to use it? And are they able to enjoy it, because what are they able to plan for that time, knowing if they get sick they won’t have it. I think increasing sick time and putting it in a separate bucket.

      2. doreen*

        I’ve never had sick and vacation time in one bucket, and I’ve never wanted to have that for a number of reasons. But I really don’t understand the “if you are sick too often you won’t get vacation” reason. Not because I think it doesn’t happen , but because it does happen even with separate buckets. If someone gets say two weeks of sick time and three weeks of vacation each year and they have some illness or surgery that keeps them out for five weeks, if the timing allows for it they will probably be going without a vacation that year. Of course the more time off you have, the less likely it is for you to end up without a vacation – but there is someone at my job who hasn’t taken a vacation in close to 10 years ( maybe longer) even though she get 20 days of vacation , 5 personal days and 13 sick days every year – because she’s out due to illness for nearly all of those days and takes the remainder off a day here and a day there.

      1. High protein double cheeseburger*

        Alison also requested we not derail on the topic of how much PTO people in countries other than the US get. It’s gotten really exhausting to have the comments of every post about health insurance or PTO fill up with people bragging about how they get fully subsidized healthcare and 6,382 PTO days a year. We get it already.

        1. Mami21*

          I get that it gets repetitive but please consider that people from other countries are not always ‘bragging’ – we are just shocked by the sub-standard working conditions in the US, and want better for you.

          1. Anononon*

            This comment is literally the exact reason why Alison put her comment at the top. So condescending!

          2. MK*

            But these expressions of shock don’t help in any way to get better working conditions. I think I used to do it a lot ( I am trying not to any more but probably I slip), and you are right that it’s not bragging, usually it’s just people reacting to something they find unacceptable and contributing their own experience. But it’s not helpful, all it accomplishes is annoying and frustrating U.S. workers (which probably leads to uncharitable interpretations like “bragging”.

          3. Myrin*

            But what exactly does that accomplish?

            It’s like when a letter says “two thirds of people in my department do X and it’s a problem” and then there’s ten different comments going ” well, in MY company, we do opposite-of-X and it’s not a problem at all!”. If somewhere in that comment it says that they, too, used to have an X problem and here’s how they got to Not-X, fine, that’s helpful and actionable; but usually, that’s not the case, and just comes across like people wanting to hear themselves talk. The comment in question might be well written, sympathetic, and even an interesting read on its own, but I have to admit I generally find them annoying because they only manage to derail and aren’t helpful to the OP or other people in the comment section dealing with X.

            Same thing with the tired health insurance and vacation days commentary. I’m German so I, too, had Feelings about this when I first heard about these topics on here sometime in 2014, but I honestly don’t see why that needs to be voiced to a bunch of people who can’t change anything about it anyway and to whom I will only end up coming across like some condescending missionary.

        2. Minerva*

          It’s wildly different across industries in the US – not American but I work for a massive US company with heavy manufacturing unionization, all the Americans I interact with have 3 weeks plus 1 week shutdown to start, with another week at 2 years in. But I know other industries have basically 0 vacation time as the norm.

    2. Loulou*

      Alison specifically said the amount of vacation was “the bare minimum considered acceptable” here, not that it was good. The whole point of her answer was that increasing it would probably help OP.

  12. Elizabeth West*

    #2—I agree with Alison’s advice to ask the employees. Most people just want to earn a fair and living wage and have good working conditions with caring and supportive management. I bet if you did, you’d find they really don’t want extras like escape rooms if they could have better PTO.

    #3–Oh wow. Someone DIED? And they’re still not mandating anything?! This isn’t a red flag; it’s a screaming fire alarm.

    A few months ago, I had a phone interview with a company here that was so blasé about the pandemic I couldn’t believe it. “Oh, it hasn’t really been a problem for us.” No masks required, no vax. It was a front-office position and had to be onsite. I emailed her later and politely announced the departure of my candidacy on the Nope train to IDon’tThinkSoville.

    1. Chili pepper Attitude*

      I got a fancy new job (thanks AAM!) and I did not ask about COVID policies but the interviewer brought it up in a tone of, of course you want to know and we should tell you. And they did all the things. It was a green flag for sure.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Ha! Awesome.
        I’ve been seeing job posts that say “Company requires vaccination.” The state I’m looking in has a general advisory and a mandate on public transportation and in health care facilities, but the last time I checked, some smaller communities didn’t have a mandate. Even here, reasonable companies are doing the same thing. I just put those questions in my interview form because a lot of them are saying they want people back onsite at least part of the time.

    2. OP#3*

      Yes!!! I messaged her on Linkedin a few hours later. I asked one or two people who I wasn’t super close too about it, who I knew had verying stances on the thing, and they were all ike yeah that’s a fire alarm red flag so that made me feel better pulling the trigger. I also just got offered a full-time job yesterday so woohoo!!! Remote with benefits!

      1. kittymommy*

        You may have already considered this, but is the company in a state that allows mandates? I know Florida does not allow mandates, which I only know because I work in government. Many of my friends who work for private companies did not know this.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Missouri doesn’t either. We both have cult-member governors.
          And I suspect Ron DeSantis actually has or had the ‘rona; he disappeared for a while and then showed up at a press conference breathing like a steam engine. Unmasked, of course. The video was all over Twitter.

          Maybe a small phone call to whoever enforces these things…I’m just saying…

          1. Anonymous4*

            Yeah, I saw that. He was working hard to pull in oxygen and he was still badly out of breath. That was not reassuring.

        2. Huh*

          Employers can certainly mandate masks be worn in thir workspace in Florida, and many other things. They can’t mandate everyone gets vaccinated wtihout exception, but there are a lot of other spread-mitigation measures that can and should be implemented.

  13. ABK*

    Unpopular option: Did you look at your physician compensation? If it’s a small practice, has a lot of physician loyalty, and staffing issues are making their jobs harder, a 3-5% decrease in physician comp would go a long way for lower-paid staffers

    1. Well...*

      Yea I’m thinking you can get creative to a point, but if your business income can’t support the staffing it needs you are either going to have to 1) close 2) join up with a bigger practice or 3) rethink the salary distribution. Maybe the highest paid staff should make less and the people your business needs to survive should make more.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        More generally, if your business plan does not include paying employees enough to attract people to work for you, you don’t have a business plan. This point is seemingly lost in the “people don’t want to work nowadays!” laments.

      2. MK*

        If your highest paid people aren’t workers you need to survive, you don’t cut their pay, you eliminate the positions. And I am pretty sure a practice needs physicians to survive just as much as the lower paid staff. And if those physicians are employees, and not partners in the practice in some way, you are still underpaying your workers.

        1. Your local password resetter*

          You can cut salaries without cutting positions though.
          Not easily, but it is possible if you have good enough reasons to justify it.
          And better that your highest paid staff gets underpaid than your lowest paid staff.

          1. MK*

            Better, but you are still not paying appropriately. And in this case “highest paid” isn’t some CEO that gets paid an exorbitant salary to run the company, it’s the physicians whose services are the main moneymaker for the business. Asking them to take a paycut when they are in greater demand than ever is pretty tonedeaf in my opinion.

            1. Anon Supervisor*

              Depending on the specialty, physicians aren’t exactly raking in the dough you’d think they are. GP’s are generally compensated less than, say, a surgeon or cardiologist. The money is in the level of visit (more time) and number of procedures/tests performed by the clinician. US medical reimbursement is a fee-for-service model, so the more procedures you can tack onto the office visit, the more money you make.

            2. ABK*

              It depends on how the practice is structured. Those physicians might be practice owners, in which case, yeah, if they want a healthy organization through a hard time, they might have to take a pay cut. It doesn’t have to be permanent, but it is something that should be on the table. That’s generally a reality for all small business owners. And industry wide, it wouldn’t be a terrible thing for physician compensation to even out a bit with all the other healthcare workers required to make the industry work (again, unpopular opinion).

            3. EmKay*

              Can the physician keep their practice open without their support staff? If no, they’re up a creek with no paddle whether they like it or not.

              1. Anon Supervisor*

                Yeah, most physicians don’t want to deal with the admin side of their practice (I don’t blame them, it’s exhausting dealing with insurance and reimbursement). You can outsource some of it (and many do!), but you do need support staff to make your practice run smoothly.

                1. MK*

                  Most of the doctors in my country who are in private practice don’t actually have support staff, and the system runs pretty smoothly from my point of view as a patient. But perhaps it is different in the the U.S..

          2. Washi*

            At least in my area, there is a physician shortage as well as a nursing/aide shortage. Sure, if physicians are paid exorbitantly above market rate, cut their salaries, but based on what OP is saying, that seems unlikely. In my line of work, we are all hourly and at least get paid overtime, while physicians are salaried and are expected to work pretty long hours, particularly due to other shortages. I can’t imagine cutting the salary of someone in that position and expecting them to still stick around.

              1. Jim Bob*

                How does that help in the meantime? Doctor training is 4 years pre-med undergrad, 4 years med school, 3 years residency (or more for specialists). Even if schools and residency programs could increase capacity tomorrow, we would have a fresh new crop of doctors in 2033.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        So agree. OP, you can do as Alison suggests and increase the PTO but that is only going to work short term.
        The bottom line is you have a business model that is on a slippery slope. You can’t afford to pay people but you can’t be without the people in order to run your business.

        I hope you do as Alison suggests but I also hope you take a hard look at things to figure out a plan that will be sustainable.

        The only other thing I can suggest is to make very certain that everyone is treated decently. No workplace bullies and no toxic behaviors. People will sometimes stay with a job longer because of the culture of the place. This one can be really tricky because finding out what goes on when you are out of earshot is very difficult.

      4. Someone On-Line*

        This is why so much of healthcare is consolidating and why there are vast areas without adequate access to healthcare services. It’s not any individual clinics poor management (I mean, except when it is) but the really screwy reimbursement practices offered by insurance companies and the government.

        1. pancakes*

          That and the unwillingness of areas with poor services to consider any sort of nationalized healthcare. We have a friend who is a doctor himself and retired med school professor, and he recently moved out of the rural area he otherwise loved living in because his own health was becoming a little iffy and there were simply not enough services around for him to feel comfortable staying. It’s wild to me that people who know they can’t afford to move within range of good care believe they should simply accept a needlessly early death for themselves or their loved ones as a cost of maintaining their ideology. They will accept subsidized postal services and essential airline services, but not healthcare.

    2. Butters*

      That’s probably a great way to get your burned out physicians to run for the hills. I worked for a medical practice as a doctor where my boss refused to give me a raise because then he couldn’t give the support staff raises. I left after a few years for many reasons, but a very large part of it was the ability to make almost twice as much elsewhere without the other downsides of that place. If he actually CUT my salary I would have quit almost immediately.

      1. brushandfloss*

        Exactly. This isn’t and doctor vs clinician problem.
        You’re going to have to look at your insurance contracts and see if it’s worth staying in network. People wonder why most dental offices don’t accept Medicaid/ Medicare plans and we tell those plans don’t pay enough.

        1. kittymommy*

          This honestly might be the best in the longterm. I know a handful of physicians that have switched practices (either their own or to another) that does not accept insurance (some just Medicaid/care , some all insurance). Instead they have a sliding scale and payment plans for patients.

          1. Sue*

            Our Dr has switched to a monthly fee plan. Pick an option for payment amount ($70-$500+) to obtain different levels of service (like access to an MD). They still bill insurance, the monthly fee is on top of normal fees and the initial registration fee. I don’t know how many will go along with this new scheme but it will obviously weed out lower income patients. Taking full advantage of supply and demand, I guess.

        2. Anon Supervisor*

          Some clinics are too small to negotiate a good rate from insurance companies, that’s why the number of privately owned practices are either going out of business or being absorbed by large hospital systems. They just don’t have the market presence to get more money out of insurance companies. Also, if you’re in an area where there are only one or two insurance companies that provide coverage to the population, they hold all the cards (this is the case in rural states or cities where most of the population works at one or two major employers). The best way to make money is to have a payer mix that depends heavily on multiple commercial insurance companies (Blue Cross, Aetna, etc) that will subsidize the loss you take on patients with Medicare or Medicaid.

        3. AMT*

          This is what I had to do for my solo therapy practice. I wanted to be accessible for people who couldn’t pay out of pocket and didn’t have out-of-network benefits, but when insurance companies are paying in-network therapists less than a third of market rate, I’m not going to let them rip me off out of altruism.

    3. lost academic*

      I would also consider financing options to expand the business if you feel like you have a plan that will succeed given the necessary capital or operational increase. I do not know how that does, could or would work either in general or in your case but I think meeting with a corporate financial advisor, particularly one that works in this industry, would be beneficial. But essentially – if you are in a low scale holding pattern that’s not working well but you want to vault up to a different scale where you are confident you can stay, finding out how to get the financial support to get there is a very good idea. Walking up small step by small step is what is really hard and you don’t have the financial buffer to do it, apparently, so how can that problem be solved?

    4. Nanani*

      Yikes, I’m sorry you’re getting so much flak for -suggesting a look- from people offended at the mere idea that the compensation structure might be askew

      1. Well...*

        Yea I don’t get it. Every doctor I know works extremely reasonable hours and makes tons of money, but I’m not the industry so… For example my aunt is a dermatologist who works three days a week and makes at least a couple 100k/yr. If her practice was struggling she could definitely survive a pay cut (though if she could just make a more money elsewhere, she might jump ship, in which case maybe we just need more doctors.)

  14. Fikly*

    LW2, I strongly suggest reframing the way you’re thinking about this in, because it will likely lead to both resentment and not listening to your current employees, which is critical to retention and attracting new ones.

    Employees demanding better pay – employees deserve and do work to earn better pay. They are demanding it because things have reached a point where they have the ability to demand it.

    Median wage for the area – median often doesn’t mean anything, when very likely many or most companies in a given area are paying terribly. Instead think about what a living wage would be.

    Offering decent benefits. Would your current employees agree? Again, while your benefits may be better, in comparison, to companies that might be competing for the same labor pool in the area, that doesn’t mean they are decent.

    The things you are listing to try and say we appreciate you don’t pay bills or rent, and people are indeed fed up with being “appreciated,” especially when we have all seen how quick companies were to lay people off when the pandemic hit, and then turn around and hire other people back at lower wages.

    While this may not be the case for you, when someone is deciding whether or not to work for you, they are making that decision based on the limited amount of information available without actually working for you. Tangible concrete things make all the difference. Just like you have to make ends meet, so do they. Healthcare in the US is fundamentally broken, but as long as it’s a business, if you cannot afford to attract employees, you don’t get the employees.

    1. Auntie Work*

      This 1000%.

      “…but as long as it’s a business, if you cannot afford to attract employees, you don’t get the employees.” Maybe then it’s not a viable business model.

      Approach the insurance companies first before blaming potential employees for wanting to be pay enough to eat, have a roof over their heads, pay bills, etc. without taking on a second job. Employee appreciation is a given so don’t it out to be something ‘special’, but pay them decently or you’ll lose the ones you do have.

      1. Fikly*

        There is absolutely no way to get more money out of insurance companies. But what other ways can they earn money?

        This question is driving a lot of innovation in small medical practices right now (and over the last decade) as they all try to solve the problem of how to survive without being bought out by one of the massive conglomerates and – to their credit – provide quality care to their patients. Concierge practices are one answer, with an annual membership fee that allows them to drastically reduce patient base (often from a load of 3000+ to 500 for a typical primary doctor) while individual visits are still billed to insurance.

        Lots of other things are being tried too. If you are stuck in the mindset of “the only way I can earn money is via insurance payments” and you can’t increase those, then you are fundamentally limited in how much money you will have and thus can spend. When one factor cannot change, and others must, you have to get creative and look for what else you can do.

        Or else it really isn’t a viable business model. And for all small business is held up as the holy grail in the US, if it’s not viable, eventually most will fold. It can often take a long time, or a major event like a pandemic leading to a labor shortage, but here we all are.

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          Yeah, it may not be a viable business model, I’m sad to say. Solo and small medical practices are in decline, in part due to market pressures. Smaller practices don’t have the same bargaining power. Insurance and medicare/medicaid paying less, while malpractice insurance rates go up. Government and EMR requirements add more administrative work, which can be hard for small practices to manage.

        2. Joielle*

          My spouse has some complex medical issues and we’ve been looking into concierge medical services. We haven’t signed up yet but I think we will this year. It seems like a wildly-rich-person thing until you actually look at the numbers – it’s expensive, but not as bad as I thought. And the value added is incredible. Just the simple fact of not having to wade through phone menus is worth whatever it costs, tbh.

          Totally agreed that this kind of outside-the-box thinking about earnings is what the OP needs!

        3. Van Wilder*

          My husband used to be a chiropractor. The insurance payments are nothing. This is one of the reasons that chiropractors also sell supplements and massage chairs and you name it.

      1. Eliza*

        Also, what’s that the median wage *of*? Jobs with the same title? All healthcare jobs? All jobs in the area? In the healthcare field, even people with the same job title can do very different work at different locations, and their pay will vary accordingly. One thing OP needs to look is at what specific duties they’re actually asking of employees and how those compare to other jobs in the same pay range.

    2. Perfectly Particular*

      I just looked up my county, and median wage here is approx. $32/hour, for a suburban/rural Midwest area. If they are truly paying median, that seems like a generous wage for office staff.

      Are the people who work in your office specialized to medical, or could they work in any administrative type setting? If they have more options, then you have to figure out what will attract them both to medical work and to your office in particular. Flexible scheduling seems important. But talking to your staff and asking what do they like the best about working in the medical field, and about working for you, and what they would like to see more of should give you some insights of where to focus.

          1. pancakes*

            If that one figure doesn’t give an accurate depiction of what their employees and prospective employees can live on, focusing solely on that is pretty blinkered.

    3. Metadata minion*

      “The things you are listing to try and say we appreciate you don’t pay bills or rent, and people are indeed fed up with being “appreciated,” especially when we have all seen how quick companies were to lay people off when the pandemic hit, and then turn around and hire other people back at lower wages.”

      Exactly. I’m actually someone who loves most team-bonding activities and getting random t-shirts and whatnot, but all the lunches and escape rooms in the world won’t compensate for not being able to pay rent. Those sorts of appreciation activities are what would make me pick one company offering solid compensation over another that also offered solid compensation.

    4. tinybutfierce*

      Seconding all of this, especially the second to last paragraph. At my last awful job as manager of a small retail store, corporate took us out for dinner (after a full day of work) for both Thanksgiving and Christmas every year to “show their appreciation”; we would have appreciated being paid a living wage and having anything resembling decent benefits infinitely more.

  15. Lioness*

    #2 if people are leaving for better paying jobs, is that local? If it is, then your pay is becoming less competitive.

    I am a new grad nurse, and I get 26 PTO a year and it’ll increase the longer I stay.

    Are you offering any retention bonuses? I know you want to attract new staff but what’s being offered to current staff to make them one to stay because from what I’ve gather, they’ll see these pay increases and sign on bonuses but current staff get nil.

    1. Harper the Other One*

      Oh, your last point is something that never occurred to me but yes, if I were a dedicated and loyal employee seeing sign-on bonuses for new staff but no retention bonus for me, I’d get resentful very quickly.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      In our area a lot of nurses are leaving their permanent positions for temporary traveling nurse gigs. One of my friends makes $10k a week as a traveling nurse. She works two weeks on (14 days straight), then 2 weeks off. It’s hard for local hospitals and clinics to compete with that, especially since we’re in an area with lower cost of living and correspondingly lower market pay rates.

      1. Observer*

        They wouldn’t have to compete with that, though, if they treated their nursing staff better in many cases. The pay for visiting nurses is so high because there are some really significant downsides to that way of operating as well. Lots of nurses do not WANT to be traveling nurses. They simply want to work where they have a decent schedule that is reasonable and mostly predictable. Where taking off sick is not treated like being a wimp and / or not a team player. Where taking off sick one day is likely to get people looking at you with resentment because the official staffing level is not designed to allow for any absences and the place doesn’t have a rota of “substitutes”.

        But it’s not just schedules. Some doctors are impossible to work with / for, and they are allowed to get away with it. Nurses are often put in the position of being responsible for things they don’t have the power to control*. Staff are sometimes put in a position where they need to deal with impossible patients or families, and the administration doesn’t back them up. Or you get things like lack of PPE. This kind of stuff is very wearing.

        Traveling nurses get to walk away from all of the dysfunction much more easily.

        1. Observer*

          * I wanted to note something interesting. Atul Gawande has been on a mission, among other thigns, to make some fundamental changes in healthcare. One of his really big pushes is what he calls his “checklist manifesto” ie the use checklists that are used for all processes and procedures that are complex and need to coordinate a lot of moving pieces. (Google the term.) One of the things he says is that this generally works. But for it to work at its highest potential you need to also have a culture shift where a nurse can speak at any point and know that they WILL be listened to.

          For instance, he tells a story about how before one surgery, the nurse stopped everything to say “we don’t have enough frozen blood.” In many hospitals the surgeon would have felt free to move forward and “we’ll deal with that later.” Their policies didn’t allow that – the checklist required that the nurse certify that they have enough blood, and she said they didn’t so they got the blood before they started. Which turned out to have been a crucial decision as the patient had a major hemorrhage, and would probably not have survived long enough to get the blood up to the OR had it not been on hand. Those few minutes gave the team the chance to stop the bleeding.

      2. Tabby Baltimore*

        This number ($10k) reads to me as ten thousand a week. Per week. Ten thousand dollars for one week’s work. So she is paid $20,000 for two weeks of work. This isn’t a criticism, I’m just trying to make sure I’m reading that correctly.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          That’s how I’m reading it too. Ann O’Nemity says the friend works 7 days a week.
          If the nurse is working 8 hr shifts, that’s 8*7 = 56 hrs per week, at ~$178 per hour.
          If the nurse is working 12 hr shifts, that’s 12*7 = 84 hrs per week, at ~$119 per hour.

          I’ve heard travel nurses can make $100-$200 per hour, so that seems plausible to me.

        2. Chickaletta*

          You are correct, travel nurses can make that much in 2022.

          It is breaking health care in the US. All hospitals and clinics in the US pay that rate, because they’re competing nationally, not just locally anymore. They have no choice in order to staff their facilities, additionally, it creates resentment among their staff who have stayed on and are working at a fraction of this pay. But, a typcial health care system has up to 1/3 or even 1/2 of its workforce as nurses, it’s not sustainable.

          The health care system in the US is at a breaking point, and the rates that travel nurses are demanding is a significant contributor to that. They do need better schedules, but they can’t be given that when there’s a shortage. It’s a vicious cycle right now.

  16. Albow*

    Op 2, can you offer more time off? Family/carer’s leave, in addition to PTO.
    I’m Australian, and we get 2 weeks paid sick/carer’s leave AND 4 weeks holidays. At the very least, offer more paid sick/carer leave. Ask for evidence if you need – kid’s school is shut, a note saying that someone is covid isolating, etc. Right now, you WILL lose staff because of this.

    (what kind of country and workplace thinks 15 days for everything is appropriate? Jesus christ.)

    1. allathian*

      Agree with the parenthesis, but it’s not particularly helpful for the LW… I’m not in the US either.

      In this, I definitely agree with Alison, listen to your employees. I suspect that more PTO is a lot higher on their list than escape rooms.

      1. John Smith*

        #1. Not food, but I remember the leavers party for our high school were attendance was compulsory and ended up being a disco in the theatre hall. My headmaster asked me why I wasn’t dancing (can’t dance, shy etc) and told me to get up and dance 3 times. After the fourth refusal he grabbed me and kicked me out. I was apparently the first pupil ever to not dance.

        Daphne was just plain ignorant and the HR head a complete jerk as well. You did nothing wrong.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I’d say separate sick and vacation benefits, with unlimited sick time for care of self and family. In the time of COVID, in jobs where you are up close and personal with the public, this would be huge to me. Also, given the demographics of the staff I have seen at most dental clinics, I’d think home health and childcare vouchers or stipends that could be used at the employee’s discretion (i.e. for any relationship to person needing care for any type of care the employee deems need) would go far. These workers tend to be the demographic with responsibilities for elders, kids, and everyone in between, so flexible support for that might be attractive.

  17. CatBookMom*

    This is what choked me: The Head of HR asked you to leave because you weren’t eating?

    I can see the earlier problems, with non-vegan/vegetarian dishes. That happens. But then some BigWig asking you to leave because of seeing that you weren’t eating the foods provided? That’s beyond egregious.
    So very sorry this happened. I have some not-common foods I cannot eat, ones often in pre-ordered dishes – like bell peppers, which show up in so many foods, dishes. I’ve lived through picking out more than 50% of my ‘salad’ to leave only the lettuce and the not-bell-peppers. Most people didn’t comment, overtly.

    1. Simply the best*

      The only thing I can think of for #1 is that because they weren’t eating, maybe he misunderstood and thought they weren’t actually part of the lunch but had just like decided to stop in to chat. But that is doing an awful lot of reaching on my part!

      1. TechWorker*

        Right, like ‘are you on the list? No? You shouldn’t be here’ – or even worse checking the list for food themselves and assuming that’s everyone who’s meant to be at the social. Bizarre though.

    2. cpmq*

      I was wondering here what the head of HR would have done if LW’s dietary restrictions were kosher/halal/other restrictions relating to religion. Surely excluding an employee from a lunch on this basis would be religious discrimination. Given how important an ethical stance vegetarianism/veganism is for many people, it just seems ridiculous to me (as an atheist omnivore!) that an HR professional would think this acceptable.

      1. Observer*

        Interesting point. The situation struck me as so ridiculous, that it didn’t really strike me that there could me an added layer of “hello medical / religious accommodation”, but yikes. I wonder if HR was otherwise competent. Because that’s the kind of thing that competent HR SHOULD be thinking about.

    3. ecnaseener*

      I commented this above as well, but the only thing I can think of is that the HR head thought LW had already taken their lunch break earlier and shouldn’t get a double lunch break. (Which of course is dumb, let one person have one extra hour and ask them to make it up later if it really matters.)

  18. The Prettiest Curse*

    #3 – no, you were not wrong to ask. If having an employee die has not made them see the light re: mask/vaccine requirements, then nothing will. (To be entirely fair to people who don’t deserve it – the employee who died could have been exposed outside the workplace.)
    The recruiter doesn’t have an incentive to care about employee safety in the workplace, only their commission. Good recruiters will care about that, but this one clearly doesn’t.

    1. Cheers Norm*

      For many employers, the death of an employee is an inconvenience at most, certainly not important enough to change requirements. All safety laws have been written on the blood of employees – and employers still don’t care.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        I think the only way to make many companies seriously care about employee safety is enforcement and either prison sentences or fines that are a percentage of total company revenue. But the political system simply doesn’t have the will to make this happen, because people are too scared of losing their big corporate donations.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’m getting cynical about this. I think the biggest force for making companies follow scientific best practices for transmissible diseases safety… is going to be the insurance companies. Right about now the underwriters will be seeing real statistical proof that their profits will go down when vaccinations and masking and social distancing are ignored.
      Policies are predicated on specific safety concerns. (Just one example, if you use heavy equipment for metal fabrication, the insurance can require steel-toed shoes & safety glasses as a condition of coverage for health, life, long-term disability, etc.; and any violation means your rates go up.)

      1. Gingerbread Gnome*

        I agree with you, insurance companies will be the ones to make companies follow best practices for disease safety via their bottom line.
        I expect those resistant to vaccination won’t change their stance at this point. There was recently a covid death in one of my hobby groups, many were stunned and upset but none of the “vaccine-hesitant” got vaccinated.

      2. The Prettiest Curse*

        I have wondered if insurance requirements in the film and TV industries will eventually make unvaccinated actors unemployable because the insurance risk is too big. (I read that General Hospital fired an unvaccinated actor, and fired another for violating their Covid protocols.)
        Film and TV production is so hugely expensive that if someone causes a major outbreak and they have to shut down the whole production, that’s a huge insurance payout (which will eventually cause insurers to hike their premiums.) So I think that eventually the studios and production companies just won’t hire unvaccinated people.

  19. appreciate this*

    Enough with the performative events that employees have to plan for to receive their appreciation. Money, time off, flexibility in scheduling. I wouldn’t want trinkets nor a dinner party. Escape room?!? I don’t need warm “family” fuzzies . Say thank you and pay up.

    1. Scarlet2*

      Yeah, I actually generally had fun at work lunches and would probably enjoy an escape room (even though those activities might be a bit more difficult in covid times), but it really wouldn’t have any weight in the decision to work somewhere or not. If better pay and benefits is not an option, I agree with the commenters who said LW should ask their current employees what they would need or appreciate (maybe through an anonymous survey, to make sure they can speak candidly).

      1. HR Lady*

        But if they only have 12 employees, will it really be anonymous? We have 65 and can often tell who filled out “anonymous” surveys.

        1. SpaceySteph*

          If you’re doing user entry, it is almost always possible to link the writing to the person, because writing styles are distinct. I’ve managed a survey with 200 respondents and you still have a pretty good idea who wrote what.

          Multiple choice is the only way to really make it anonymous. With 12 people the pool is so small you’d still need 100% participation to preserve anonymity (because you probably know who are the people most likely to do a survey if not everyone does).

      2. Nanani*

        I’ve heard escape rooms are among the best options for doing stuff outside (though it HEAVILY depends where you are and what the waves are like) because you can go through with just your party, no strangers in your bubble like you might get at other types of venue.

    2. Don't be long-suffering*

      I would be happy to have the appreciation bucket much smaller to make the wages bucket bigger. When looking for work I hear the $$, then the bennies, everything else is background noise. Appreciation can be in treating me well. The thank you cards sound nice. Wages are what I need, please. If your currents seem disappointed with raises in lieu of appreciation, tell them your plan. We need to grow to twice this size, in perhaps this long. At that point we can add perks we all want, and another raise. Please update us, we might all learn something.

    3. traffic_spiral*

      Yeah. You wanna add an actual “perk?” One free “go f*ck yourself” a week, say-able to any customer/patient over 18, no other questions asked, full management support given. Other than that, pay me.

  20. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP3: there are sadly quite a few companies, and people, who’ve been through the last two years and gone ‘eh, it’s not serious, I don’t see why people should wear masks or vaccinate’. I hate them with a passion.

    There’s a lot of ‘oh but we’re all healthy so it’s not a danger to us’ wishful thinking around this (which isn’t true, the virus attacks all groups of people) and some of it is a heap of the ‘if we don’t look at it/take measures about it it’ll go away’ mindset.

    I know it’s not always malice, but I still hate them and really don’t blame you for not wanting anything to do with a company that negligent.

    1. Dont start*

      “hate them”, “hate them with a passion”. Wow… why dont you say how you really feel? smh You have no sense of reality “Keymaster of Gozer”..which says it all. (the Keymaster of Gozer was a loyal minion who obeys The Destructor). And, your opinion of people that you do not know, based on the opinion of more people that you do not know, only magnifies this fact.

  21. Batgirl*

    I can’t imagine deciding to take a job because they give me free life insurance. It’s not even on my list which is going to be more like: pay, time off, enjoyable work, good hours, location, good management, a flexible attitude and nice colleagues. Life insurance sounds like something that would only be a minor cost for me and a big cost for them to pay for everyone. It sounds like the OP wants a lot of boxes to tick, “we offer x,y,z as well as a,b,c” instead of concentrating on boiling it down to better basics. I will say that I’ve felt more appreciated in workplaces where my manager tells me what aspects of my work are appreciated, rather than “everybody gets lunch” even though it’s a nice thing to do.

    1. Peter*

      From a UK perspective, Life Insurance is one of the benefits that I expect from an employer.
      Take the example of an employee who dies in a car crash on the way to work, leaving a spouse and three young children. The difference between an email coming round asking for contributions via GoFundMe and knowing that the family are properly provided because of a company decision is massive.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Interesting. I am also in the UK and it’s not something I’ve ever expected or considered in looking at a job. I would expect it to be something people would ensure they have in place if they have dependents or otherwise think it’s necessary.

        I’d look at pay and want to be satisfied that it is enough that I can afford to pay my outgoings including things like insurance, but the fact that a company offered it would not be a significant factor.

        1. londonedit*

          Also UK and I’ve never worked for a company that offered life insurance. It’s also not something I’m bothered about, seeing as I don’t own anything except a car and I’m not planning to get married or have any children. Holiday isn’t something we need to worry about but pay and a decent pension scheme are important to me.

        2. UKDancer*

          Agreed. Life insurance is not something I’ve ever considered but I don’t have any children. I look at pay and rations and if there’s support / subsidisation for public transport costs (season ticket or bicycle loan) and number of days leave.

          I also look at where the office is and whether I can get there easily from my house without too many changes of tube line.

          1. londonedit*

            Oh god yes, I won’t do more than one change and I won’t go right across to the other side of town. Been there, done that, no thank you.

      2. Amy*

        I also expect basic life insurance from an employer. But to the extent that I hardly even notice it. It’s always been standard in all my packages. Like getting Labor Day off in an office job.

        I’d only notice if I didn’t have it.

    2. Svenjolly*

      I’ve been provided with life insurance at every full time job I’ve ever had in the US. It’s definitely something that I expect and want from my employer, but it’s so standard that I would not consider it a selling point of a particular job.

      1. Chlorite*

        Life insurance from an employer is often tied to wage rate, too…so it being free tells me that the employer likely both hasn’t had a claim and that the payout isn’t incredible.

        1. Amy*

          The basic package is often something like 3-5x your salary. It’s not always much but it’s clear what it is.

        2. Perfectly Particular*

          I’ve only worked at 2 companies, but both offered 1x salary for free, and option to buy *much* more without a medical exam and at a substantial discount. The 1x would at least cover funeral expenses and a lawyer for probate, but the discounted insurance allows me to provide protection for my family that I would not qualify for otherwise.

      2. Joielle*

        Same here! It’s basic life insurance – 1x salary – but that’s a bare minimum benefit in my opinion.

    3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Given the ages of most dental office staff I have seen, vouchers or stipends for child, home health, or elder care to be used on anyone the employee wants to and on whatever care they think is needed would probably be more valuable than life insurance

    4. rudster*

      You need your own life insurance! The company’s group life is likely to much less than you need (think 2x-3x annual salary vs. at least 10x), and you might not be insurable if/when you lose your job or leave for whatever reason. It’s also generally quite affordable to get on your own if you don’t have major health issues. Ideally you’d also have your own disability insurance, but that is much more expensive.

      1. doreen*

        Some people need their own life insurance- and other people don’t need any. Everybody has a different situation, and people who don’t need life insurance for whatever reason are not going to consider it a selling point except in the rare (or nonexistent) case when everything else is equal.

        1. Clisby*

          Right – life insurance only matters if your death is going to place someone else in financial distress, and you want to alleviate that. If you’re single with no spouse, no children, no elderly parents who depend on you – no need for it.

      2. Unfettered scientist*

        Aren’t people with major health issues the ones who could theoretically need insurance the most? I’m not a fan of “you need life insurance” or disability is even worse because they often carve out if you become disabled from a predicating condition. It’s like, yes, this is the highest likelihood reason I would be disabled. If you don’t cover that, what’s the point?

      3. Curiouser and Curiouser*

        But I also have no partner and 0 dependents. If you need life insurance, sure, but some of us don’t have the need and that’s ok too :)

        1. Joielle*

          I have no dependents and have a partner with a good job, so both of us have 1x salary for life insurance (which is free through our employers) and that seems like plenty. Either of us could live on just our own salary going forward so I don’t really see the need for more!

    5. Black Horse*

      I would have thought the same thing, BUT I have a friend who is an ER doc (in the US) who cares very much. In her words “if a job is expecting me to risk my life [from potentially catching COVID] the least they can do is make sure my kids are taken care of if I die”.

    6. OyHiOh*

      I have a decent nest egg thanks to US federal government requiring employees to pay into a life insurance policy – well, at least within the part of the Department my spouse worked in. My spouse paid around $20/mo for close to two decades (I never looked at what the employer contribution was) that paid out handsomely when he died. He was employed when he died, although the reason (illness) was not work-related and the insurance still paid out without any issues at all.

      Life insurance benefits are one of those things that seemed utterly useless to me when we got married but which I was tremendously thankful for having paid into all those years, when he died.

      1. Batgirl*

        Oh I think life insurance is a must, I’ve always had a policy. I’m just not sure that your employer can provide it cheaper than simply giving you the money in your salary for the policy of your choice. If they can do you a much better deal, then I get it.

  22. Maria*

    LW5: I hold a LOT of job interviews, and it’s a question I frequently use, if I have some time left over with the applicant. I can promise you that it’s never intended as a trick question, it’s meant exactly as Alison suggested – as an opportunity for the applicant to share something they find relevant, that they hadn’t gotten a chance to yet.

    (I usually phrase it something like: “Is there anything else you’d like to ask me? Or a question you would like me to ask you, something you haven’t had the chance to share yet?” It’s basically an open invitation to talk.)

    1. T2*

      Every question in an interview has a purpose. But very rarely is it a game of gotcha. I use this all the time because I want to make sure that I give the candidate time to ask questions.

      I am in tech. One of my favorite questions is IPhone or Android and why? I don’t really care, I just want to see how candidates can communicate the various strengths and weaknesses of their platform.

      1. darcy*

        I’d be deeply irritated if I was asked this question in an interview for a tech job and it would probably put me off accepting. I find the whole android/iphone debate deeply boring and use an android phone because that’s what I’ve always used, and have no interest in convincing anyone of the merits of it as a platform. I’d much rather be asked an opinion on programming languages or IDEs or something actually related to the job.

        1. Observer*

          For some tech jobs, that’s fine – and the question would not be useful. But in others?

          I have no interest in the religious-like debates about Apple vs Android. But in a technical sense, there are some real differences that can actually make a difference. And if I’m hiring into a position where someone is going to have input into purchasing decisions / equipment spec recommendations, I definitely don’t want someone who thinks that “that’s what I’ve always done and I can’t be bothered to find out anything else” is a good response.

          I’m no saying that “that’s what I’m used to” is not something to take into consideration. But in a position where you need to think about the technology in use that alone is not enough to be the deciding factor. I would be very leery of hiring someone who thought that way. Because it’s not just about iphone vs android. It’s what kind of computers do we give people? What do our servers look like? Do we use cloud vs on prem vs hybrid? etc. “This is what I’ve always done and the differences don’t matter” simply would not fly. At all.

          1. pancakes*

            It seems like this would still be a good question from your own example, though. If someone applying for a tech job where they’ll need to do more than simply complete the tasks assigned to them can’t or won’t say more than, “that’s the brand I’ve always bought,” you have a good reason to put their resume in the no pile.

        2. Critical Rolls*

          Android vs iphone is a low-stakes question that is intended to reveal something about how you assess and make decisions about technology, and has no right answer. Asking about more directly job-related things has much more potential for an accidental “gotcha,” if the candidate blithely tells the panel how their most-used products are garbage.

      2. DataSci*

        Ugh, I hate a gotcha question like that. I’m “in tech”, too, but not for apps or front-end stuff, so my preference there and why (do you prefer signing your life away to one major privacy-invading corporation or the other one?) has no bearing on how well I can do my job. I mean, if you’re hiring an app developer, sure. Generic “tech”? Nah.

        1. Critical Rolls*

          How is this a “gotcha” question? It seems to me that it is deliberately low stakes, no wrong answer, just looking for a little insight into how a candidate assesses technology. Unless someone on the panel is going to rip off a mask to reveal Tim Cook, there’s no gotcha involved.

        2. Observer*

          I disagree with you. Because how you make that decision probably reflects how you make these kinds of decisions. And if the privacy implications of the choice is one of the first things on your list, I’m going to make a bet that you are more likely to have a bit of a privacy lens in other areas. That’s useful to know. It’s also useful to know that you actually do have some sort of priority list rather than “never thought about it” or “it’s what I’ve always done”, and that your priorities include actual substantive issues rather than just smoke and mirrors.

      3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        My answer would be immediate, and brief: iPhone, because the iPhone 12 mini is the only smartphone on the market that fits my hand. (The second-generation iPhone SE is almost small enough)

        When there’s only one device on the market that I can use, it doesn’t matter whether I distrust Apple more than Google. It does matter that the less-expensive phones don’t work for many women, but resenting this instance of the pink tax doesn’t.allow me to buy something that’s less expensive but just as good.

    2. Snuck*

      I use similar particularly for candidates I feel I haven’t gotten all they wish to tell me, or that I want to hear more from because they are strong contenders. It’s a variation on “Is there anything we haven’t discussed yet” and “Is there anything else you want to tell us about yourself at this time?” And for the ones I feel are not being very open “Is there anything else about this role you feel you need more information on, or that you need to tell us about your ability to perform it?” (After explaining any expectations etc).

      A nice open ended way of saying “Tell me more, ask me more”

    3. Purple Cat*

      I think this question lands a lot better with the add of “something you haven’t had the chance to share yet”. It highlights the true purpose of the question and takes away the “gotcha” feeling.

      1. Jaybee*

        I have to agree. I’ve been asked this question before and I understood it as intended, but I can see how it would be confusing to other people; way more often I’m simply asked ‘was there anything else you wanted to mention that we haven’t asked about?’ which I think is much clearer.

        (I rarely have anything to add either way – I think only once I felt there was a major skill of mine that I thought might be relevant and hadn’t come up – so usually my answer is just ‘no, you’ve been very thorough!’)

        Also, LW, this question usually comes at the end along with other wrap-up questions. You mention it felt like they were just trying to get the interview over with – I don’t think you need to worry that you spoiled the interview, it was just the end of the interview anyway.

      2. comityoferrors*

        Totally agree. Alison’s Jeopardy comment is exactly what I imagined reading the question. I would be thrown for a loop trying to think of what to mention and then how to phrase that into a question to ask my interviewer to ask me. Knowing the additional context, it’s a good question! But it would have totally baffled and stressed me out if I’d heard it before reading it here.

      3. Kim S*

        I tend to agree, though I don’t think the “what else should I have asked you that I haven’t yet” is unreasonable, at least for anything above entry level. I’ve done tons of job interviews where they didn’t ask about something I was prepared to answer that would be a core competency for the job, and it seemed weird. It’s fine to say ‘I think you covered all the bases I would have!”

        I feel like it only feels like a “gotcha” because people approach interviews as performance pieces rather than conversations between people. And there’s all kinds of reasons that has come to be, but it’s unfortunate, because you rarely learn anything useful about how a person operates at work when they’re just trying to come up with the answer they think you want to hear.

    4. SweetFancyPancakes*

      I always use a variation of it as well; I usually ask if there’s anything we didn’t cover that they want to discuss.

  23. münchner kindl*

    #1 – LW didn’t do anything wrong: company via HR simply showed very blatantly that they don’t appreciate LW. At all. They don’t even bother enough to know the people they’re holding the “appreciation lunch” for (in case HR was mistaking OP).

    If somebody shows you who they are, believe them?

    1. EPLawyer*


      Oh hey, you can only be appreciated if you eat the food. Otherwise, back to work serf.

      I hope OP has left that job and found a better place to work.

  24. LDN Layabout*

    Healthcare staffing in the US right now (and everywhere, there’s a shortage everywhere) is a mess and unfortunately for LW2 and fortunately for healthcare workers, employees hold all the power in this situation right now.

    Unless they’re in a location such as California, or other areas with a good nursing union, median salary for staff is not a good salary when compared to travel contracts, some of which can be local (e.g. people who have to remain local can take them).

    Employers started employing more and more traveling staff because the economics work for the execs at the top. In their view, increasing staff salary means those are the new staff salaries going forward, throwing money at traveling staff is something that can be rolled back once the pandemic is over. That, staff shortages and Covid have led to a complete breakdown of the staffing model in healthcare.

    Also as a sector, employees are tired of small perks. It’s not that people don’t like them, it’s just that pay has been supressed for so long and the alternatives are so lucrative that they tend to have little impact (there’s a reason why pizza parties are a meme now and it’s not a complimentary one towards management). And in a lot of places, people can still get a decent amount of those perks AND the money.

    Talk to your employees, as Alison said, but it might just come down to money.

    1. Andie Begins*

      My stepmother is a nurse and around her, hospitals are desperately understaffed. If that’s the case where you are, OP, you’re not just going to be competing with other local small practices for employees, you’re also competing with nearby hospital systems with a lot more resources. It’s not my field so I don’t have any suggestions beyond “figure out what you can offer that they can’t, and lean all the way in”. Hospitals can pay for escape rooms and pizza parties, but you can probably accommodate flexibility in a way they can’t, so maybe the scheduling suggestions a few threads up would be useful.

    2. J.B.*

      Also that people in the field are utterly burned out and desperately looking for something, anything with fewer hours. Someone above had a comment about flexible shifts, and for office staff, part time, job sharing, whatever you can do.

      Childcare is very limited so anything to help with that too may benefit you.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I bet $100/month for use on care for any child in the employee’s life (e.g. own child, step child, grand child, nibling, cousin) would be eye catching for applicants

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            Good point! I guess I was thinking not everyone would ask for it every month, but let’s get real, everyone would want it every month

            1. Alice*

              Not everyone. The people without children in their lives (we are not that rare) would simply see the salary as $100 less than the competitors.

              1. Scarlet2*

                Also, even if you have nephews, cousins, whataver, what financial benefit would it be for you if they’re not children you have to care for?

  25. Beth*

    LW2: The biggest thing here is going to be to figure out how to raise wages. I know you’ve told us that’s very difficult for you to make happen, and that this isn’t necessarily a change you can make right this instant. But as you’ve acknowledged, wages are currently rising notably. What was a median or slightly-above-median wage last year (or last time data for your area was collected by whatever sources you’re looking at) may well be under-market now. If people have the option to leave for a higher paying job, a lot of them will do so, and no amount of lunches or signing bonuses or other smaller perks are going to change that. Long-term, you really need to evaluate your budget and see how you can match the wage shift that’s currently going on. This isn’t going to go away.

    Short-term, while you’re figuring out how to adjust your budget, your best option is to really knock it out of the park with benefits. Offer significantly more PTO than the norm–15 days of PTO is pretty stingy, try 20 or 25–and staff enough that people can actually take all of it without feeling guilty for dumping extra work on their coworkers while they’re gone. See if you can offer better health insurance–a lower deductible, a higher level of coverage, or more fully subsidized insurance could all help with retention. You might not be able to offer work-from-home, but can you offer part time work, shorter shifts than your competitors, or other forms of flexibility? A parent who’s given the option to work a 9:30am-3pm shift and be off in time to pick the kids up from school might well stay just for that.

    Most of all, make sure your office is a really supportive place to work. Yes, lunches and shows of appreciation are nice, but no one likes casual dress day enough to give up a raise for it. What’s really going to count is whether you’re creating an environment that they really want to be in, every single day, not just on the days where you’re making a special effort. Have their back when a patient gets angry. Provide abundant and high quality PPE so they can feel safe while working with patients. Staff enough that they can take pee breaks and sit down for lunch, rather than being run off their feet all day. Ask them what’s stressful in their daily work, and ask if they have ideas on what could be done better, and take visible steps towards solving those problems and implementing those improvements. You know other places are paying better than you can–so your goal needs to be to make your environment so damn good that it’s worth taking a pay cut to work there.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      And think with an open mind about things that might be possible to do off-site. Speaking only from a 3-month temp job in a medical setting many years ago there was a ton of paperwork to be done after a patient left. Maybe you could get one Voip-enabled laptop for the office staff, and on rotation the ones who like WFH get to take 2 day’s paperwork home with the laptop, to work one day at home on data entry, file management, patient scheduling, ordering supplies, etc. You can even have the phones answered offsute if you set up the system. That’s just off the top of my head, obviously I don’t know how your office works. But you do, and maybe you can find another way to let people get off site occasionally, to reduce covid exposure if nothing else.

  26. Green great dragon*

    LW2 is the team building on company time? Assuming staff do enjoy them, in terms of attractiveness to new recruits stopping the escape rooms and using the time saved to increase PTO might be a free-to-you way to seem more attractive. You could pivot to eg providing lunch which doesn’t take much time out the work day.

  27. Bamcheeks*

    LW2, there’s two different things going on here— one is attracting staff, and the other is retaining staff. When people are looking at a job, it’s often the contractual stuff that matters: salary, benefits, working patterns etc— because that’s what you’ve got to go on. But once you’re in a job, it’s often things like good atmosphere, supportive management, flexible scheduling, feeling respected, good systems — not the paid for perks that you’re talking about, like free lunches and days out, but goddamn competent management, that makes people feel supported, respected, safe, trusted and able to do their jobs well.

    You can also think about your strategy for training and recruiting staff. Very broadly speaking, there are two reasons people stay with a company longer term: the first is ability to grow, and develop their career there. The second is that it’s good, comfortable, and makes the rest of their lives work better. People move between the two and are mostly a combination of the two, of course, but small businesses like yours often depend on the latter because they can’t offer the former. This is where things like part-time work, autonomy and trust really come in. If you can’t offer formal flexitime, are you the kind of place where someone with a regular school pickup could work 9:30-2pm? Can you support a someone who’s getting their degree through community college? What about someone who is semi-retired and sometimes has to leave early to take their wife to an appointment, but still wants to work 20 hours a week? These are the kind of people who often struggle in job searches, but if you can work with them and offer reliability, trust, autonomy and respect, you might find that’s a lot more attractive than free lunches and escape rooms.

  28. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP2: there’s generally a big disconnect between what the staff want and what management think they want. Ask the current staff what they’d like – is it more time off, more support for dealing with unruly patients, more PPE, a scheduling system they have some control over?

    If you have happier staff you’ll find word of mouth gets round and you’ll probably get more applications.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      From my experience in the field, maybe more manager support would be useful. I know of some offices where patients got to walk all over staff and the doctors wouldn’t necessarily let the staff say boo about it. Between the whole ‘customer is always right’ nonsense from retail plus the HCAHPS surveys, patients start getting treated like their stay should be like a hotel rather than a hospital/clinic.

      This includes one clinic office with a couple of ‘dirty old man’ patients who’d try to ‘accidentally’ brush against a female tech inappropriately. The solution was to have two techs in the room at once with these patients because they weren’t brave enough to do it under a watchful eye. Rather than, say, the doctor telling them to knock it the hell off or even having a ‘discussion’ like “I’m concerned that you may be developing Parkinson’s because my techs tell me you are having arm spasms during the exam; should I refer you to a specialist and you can sit on your hands during the exam?”

      And that’s not even including the pre-COVID levels of verbal abuse and physical/sexual violence against healthcare workers, which have only gotten worse since.

  29. Anallamadingdong*

    I worked for a company for 6 years that often had appreciation lunches and I would say about half of those lunches in that time did not include a vegetarian option for me. I blew if off most of the time but after years and they still couldn’t be bothered to remember, I started to feel like these were unappreciation lunches.
    But another thing I noticed is that some of the meat eaters were really offended by my vegetarianism, defensive to the point of anger almost. I was not one of those preachy people, I didn’t lecture or get offended when people ate meat in front of me. It was just my choice at that time. But some meat eaters really seem to feel attacked by the word vegetarian. It’s possible that is why LW was asked to leave the lunch.

    1. KH_Tas*

      I once overheard a conversation complaining about the fact that so many restaurants ‘no longer had menus like the old days, with meat and potatoes’ (heavy paraphrasing). Like even vegetarian options are a problem.

      1. Delta Delta*

        I’m guessing those same people were griping about how the world’s gone to pot now that girls can vote, too.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          It is frustrating when it’s your favorite dish that gets nixed in the menu revamp, but the villain is the restaurant’s management and/or suppliers, not the people who would eat the new dish.

    2. doreen*

      I recently had a conversation that made me think some meat-eaters are just plain dumb ( and I’m a meat-eater) . A coworker was retiring and a lunch was being planned for him. I knew he’s vegetarian, so I asked one of the planners if the planned menu was vegetarian. Someone else standing there asked “What are the rest of us going to eat”? Apparently, she thought a vegetarian menu had to include a lot of food containing tofu and didn’t consider that there are lots of other foods that simply don’t contain meat or meat products, like “doubles” which are basically sandwiches filled with curried chickpeas.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        It’s a really weird mental block some people have, usually the ones whose perceptions are meat = normal, vegetarian = abnormal. So in their head all vegetarian food is weird, because they don’t think of cheese pizza or pasta with marinara sauce as ‘vegetarian food’ because it’s not weird.

        (also now I want doubles. And roti)

        1. Nanani*

          That mental block is often mixed with a hearty dollop of xenophobia and racism. Ew Weird Food is a flag of definite crimson hue.

      2. Seconds*

        An amazing number of non vegetarians are insulted by the idea that they might eat a *single meal* that doesn’t include meat. Which boggles my mind, and I’m not a vegetarian.

        1. londonedit*

          Yeah, I’ve encountered those people before. And the ‘but what do you eat???’ ones – there really is a surprising number of people for whom ‘a meal’ equals ‘meat plus some vegetables and potatoes’ and they can’t imagine how you could possibly remove the meat from that while still having enough to eat. Which, of course, is not what the majority of vegetarians do – yes, it’s sometimes nice to have sausage and mash with veggie sausages instead of meat ones, but most of the time I’m eating stir-fries, veggie chilli, curries, risotto, pasta, pizza, whatever. There are so many different ways of constructing a meal that don’t involve ‘meat and two veg’.

        2. Delta Delta*

          Like they’ve never had a bowl of cereal. I mean, unless their cereal is, um, meat cereal, I guess.

        3. Bamcheeks*

          Our partnership dinner was vegetarian, and my brother claimed that his doctor said he had to have steak every day (joking, but also *eyeroll*) Fine, I said, have it lunchtime! But genuinely people are WEIRD about one single vegetarian meal!

  30. Zoeeeeeeeeeee*

    LW2 says that they offer “15 days PTO, 10 paid holidays” – what is the difference between PTO (I’m assuming this acronym is ‘paid time off’) and paid holidays?

    1. londonedit*

      I think either it means that the 10 days are actual holiday and the 15 days’ PTO are sick/holiday/use it for whatever you like days, or that the PTO is ‘use it whenever’ leave and the 10 paid holidays are public holidays – like in the UK where the legal minimum is 28 days but 8 of those can be the 8 public holidays during the year.

      1. Svenjolly*

        28 days total? Including holidays? That’s it?

        The way UK commenters talk about it, I assumed it was a lot more. In the US, we don’t generally count federal/state holidays in the our time off. OP1’s employer is offering a total of 25 days and some commenters act like that is outrageously low when it really isn’t that different.

        If I include holidays, I get a total of 40 days off a year. I didn’t realize I get even more that the people who are telling us how terrible we have it.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          28 is the minimum, for all full time employment. The majority of places offer more and sick leave is unconnected at all and a separate category.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes. I get 25 days annual leave now and 8 days public holidays. It’s above the minimum but other places give more. This does not include sickness absence which is not limited. By and large if you’re sick you’re sick and that doesn’t count against holiday allocation.

            I can buy more holiday if I want (I think up to a week more but it may be more than that). I’ve never needed to because 5 weeks of holiday is quite sufficient and I usually wind up carrying some over at the end of the year (especially given Covid means I’ve not taken as much lately).

            1. londonedit*

              Yep, I get 25 days plus the 8 public holidays (which I don’t even think of as part of my holiday allowance because I can’t choose to take them) and also 4 days over Christmas when the office is shut and we don’t have to take it as holiday. Remember as well that sick leave doesn’t come out of that – holiday is generally for actual leisure time and sick time/other absence is handled separately.

        2. Bagpuss*

          Statutory paid holiday is 5.6 weeks worth which works out to 28 days if you are full time . it’s *permissible* for this to include public holidays, of which we have 8 most years (there will be an extra one next year for the queen’s jubilee) but a lot of employers offer more.

          Where I work, people get 5 weeks (25 days) plus bank holidays, so 33 days total We normally also give a couple of extra days over Christmas, so normally our staff will get 35 days including the bank holidays.
          This is all holiday, paid sick leave is on top of that.
          Levels of sick pay vary hugely -unlike with holidays, there is no statutory entitlement to paid sick leave, (except that if you are off sick then after the first 3 days you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay which is paid by the employer but at a rate set by the government, currently just under £100 a week (people on long term sick would be entitled to apply for benefits to top this up))

          As an example, my sister works for the Local Authority within the education system. She is entitled to 3 months at full pay then 3 months at half pay , if she were to get sick. This is not uncommon in the public sector. In contrast, most private companies son’t have anything like that much – I think the highest I have ever had was 6 weeks – 3 at full pay and 3 at half pay)

          A lot of places have around 5-10 days although there is normally a discretion to give more – I can’t speak for other companies but we have done this where someone has a serious condition.

          1. londonedit*

            My company is great in that they’ll top up SSP to your regular salary for 12 weeks after a year’s service, and 15 weeks after two years. We don’t have a set number of sick days per year; it’s handled by your line manager unless there’s an issue that would escalate it to HR (so if someone’s taking a lot of sick time or needs to be signed off on medical grounds or whatever).

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            The difference is that in the UK those 28 days minimum will apply even to fast-food workers. In the US, it’s primarily office jobs that offerhave paid holidays, sick days, and vacation days. And even those restart at the bare minimum when you switch employers.

    2. Rin*

      A paid holiday would be something like the 4th of July. The office is closed but all the staff is paid. PTO is used when the office is open and you want time off.

    3. Amy*

      Paid holidays vary a bit by company but they are what one might also call bank or public holidays.
      For example, my office is closed (and all employees paid) this Monday for MLK Day and next month for President’s Day.

    4. Chili pepper Attitude*

      I’ve never thought of the public holidays as holiday time for me. 1. There are plenty of places, at least in the US, that are open during public holidays. 2. A random day off is nice I guess, but it does not do much for me. I’m looking for a long run of days off to go visit family far away or take a holiday with time off at at least one end to pack/unpack, prep, etc. 3. And everyone is trying to put their PTO before or after a paid holiday to extend their time off so it’s not that helpful.

      I look at the paid holidays as a measure of the employer, it’s 5 or 10 or 12 – like meh, it’s in line with “normal” for this area but then don’t give it another thought.

      1. Bagpuss*

        There are lots of places which are open here, but normally those working will get time off in lieu and/or extra pay.

  31. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Re: #4

    I’m reminded of Dan Rather’s “Big Interview” series, in which he talks with celebrities about anything and everything. He often ends his interviews with “What question haven’t I asked that you think I should have asked?” (His guests tend to appreciate his attempt at journalistic thoroughness, and a few have even offered and answered their own questions.)

  32. JM60*


    I wonder if the job was what ultimately got the previous employee killed. Employers should protect their employees, and you’re right to turn them down for failing to do so.

  33. Richard Hershberger*

    OP2: OK, per Alison’s request we aren’t discussing the merits of dinners and escape rooms. But how about those handwritten cards? “We’re not going to pay you well. Here’s a card.” I suppose some will consider it a thoughtful gesture. Others will consider it condescending or even insulting. I would consider it a non-issue one way or the other. Then there is casual dress days. This implies most days are non-casual. Also, that forcing people to dress up does not actually affect the business: It is just a thing you do. You might reconsider that.

    1. the cat's ass*

      My (mostly okay) office does casual days, and because i wear scrubs, it’s MORE work for me to dredge up clothes to wear that day. Do not appreciate.

    2. Scarlet2*

      The thank you cards would honestly rub me the wrong way. Gift cards could be good, but only as long as they are for shops that are easily accessible for everyone and sell items that can be interesting for all employees.

  34. Harper the Other One*

    OP2 – I think your first course of action needs to be a poll of your current employees where it’s clear that you are ACTUALLY listening to what they have to say. It might even be worth bringing in someone external to interview staff about it so that none of the staff feel like they have to look management in the face and say “yeah, you think you’re providing great benefits but really…”

    Staff on the ground will also often see creative solutions that don’t occur to you. I have a friend who’s a nurse in a doctor’s practice and one of the things they implemented (at staff suggestion) was providing the scrubs staff wore. The practice could get business/bulk order pricing, and not having to buy scrubs they wouldn’t wear elsewhere made a big difference to the employees. There may be something like that you can put in place that would be hugely appreciated!

  35. Mare*

    Hopefully this point has been made loud and clear but 15 days of PTO….that is very slim. PTO is vacation, personal, sick …all combined…and you think it’s generous? The job I have now started with 30 days PTO. The very first professional job I had in the late 90s started with 21 days of PTO. (please don’t count holidays as a benefit you are offering…there are very few places where you would actually be expected to work most of those days or be off work and not paid. It is disingenuous to present those days as a company perk.) Now, we have moved to unlimited….and guess what? Nobody takes more than they did previously but it’s there if it’s needed.
    Paid life insurance is the least of what I would expect a company to offer to its employees. It’s super cheap when purchased as a group and the premiums are a tax write off for the company. If you truly cannot pay higher wages you really need to beef up the benefits and PTO packages, and make them very compelling. Do you have an FSA? Dependent care FSA? Tuition reimbursement and student loan repayment are great but….most employees need wages and benefits that they can use now, not later.

    1. Chlorite*

      In direct service healthcare, it is common to work holidays. Think closer to big box retail hours than white collar office hours. But PTO that’s used on flexible dates/my terms is very different to me than having a handful of Mondays off.

      1. eastcoastkate*

        I know they said they couldn’t offer to pay more- but if they are open Holidays, she could offer a holiday pay differential? That wouldn’t be an overall pay increase, but would help those if they do have to work holidays- which a lot of medical practices are.

      2. Clisby*

        There are a lot of jobs where it’s common to work holidays. I worked for about 14 years in newspaper journalism. Oddly enough, people seemed to want their newspapers delivered every day, which meant there were always people working on holidays. Same for retail, food and beverage, health care, police/fire departments …

  36. Butters*

    The deal #2 is offering sounds better than what my job is offering for a new receptionist to do a physically easy, but emotionally difficult job. They pay the same as the gas stations around here, no health insurance unless you can pay $400/month, no other benefits and you get a WEEK of PTO after a YEAR. Shocking that applicants aren’t clamoring to get in.
    They get pretty upset if you mention the lack of benefits and PTO are deal breakers for most.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      “They get pretty upset if you mention the lack of benefits and PTO are deal breakers for most.”

      A classic “people don’t want to work nowadays!” response.

      1. Monte*

        I referred someone to them who would have been absolutely amazing at the job, but had to have health insurance. They declined. I think they’re just really in the hole with the owner’s pipe dream pet projects that haven’t gone anywhere in years, but have cost a couple hundred grand to start implementing. I get paid well, but even my vacation time is stingy.

  37. Bagpuss*

    I think there can also be perception issue. If staff generally feel that pay is low, then offering those things can be counter-productive, as it makes people feel that money is being spent on things which are unnecessary / frivolous rather than on paying better wages. (I realise that the costs are probably not of an amount that would make any noticeable difference to wages, but I don’t think that necessarily affects how people see and feel about this sort of thing.

    It may be helpful to ask staff their views.
    What benefits would they like to see, or would they see as being likely to help to recruit and retain staff? Are there other social / non-monetary benefits which they would like to see?

    OP2, I appreciate that you say that you can’t raise salaries – why not?
    Are you an owner of the business and it’s yourself and your partners you would need to convince in order to do that, or external shareholders / owners 9or are you an employer who hasn’t got that authority ?

    Either way, it may be that you need to look at the profit margins and perhaps highlight the costs involved with recruiting and training staff, to see if that money would be better spent on raising salaries to retain existing staff. It may be that you need to look at the pay distribution – do you need to cut or freeze pay for higher paid people in order to ensure that you can offer better pay to the lower paid staff?

    It’s also worth looking at whether there are other things that would make you more appealing to staff – different shift patterns, job shares, part time opportunities etc . And if you go down that route, ensuring that staff in those roles are getting benefits such as health insurance and time off.

    1. Chlorite*

      It seems like a useful exercise for OP2 would be taking the business income and using that to rough out how they’d launch a new business now! The length of time they state reimbursement rates haven’t changed correspond to a time of astronomical increases in housing and education/training costs, and that’s pre-pandemic! It’s quite possible that there’s significant restructuring that needs to be presented to the owners/partners/board to continue keeping the business viable. Given the current public policy trajectory in terms of the pandemic, it’s not likely that healthcare workers will be less tired or accepting of less pay in the near future.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      That’s a very good point. There’s been several jobs I’ve had where I’ve been told there’s no money for raises but then they go and have employee away-days for ‘morale’ and I’m thinking ‘you JUST said you didn’t have spare money!’

      The one company that did this right (in fact the one I returned to last year, even taking a lower pay than I’m actually worth) spoke to the staff, asked what we’d like that wasn’t more money and actually listened and implemented a lot of it. Stuff like not being hauled over the coals if you call in sick, flexible working and job shares, a relaxation of the strict dress code in some offices, an end to hotdesking…

    3. EPLawyer*

      THIS. We know intellectually that the cost of an escape room would probably add nothing to a paycheck. But EMOTiONALLY, we think, geez, they can’t afford to pay us more, but we got to go an escape room on our time off.

    4. Your friendly neighbourhood CPA*

      I would agree here. As a start, owner and upper management compensation would need to take a hit or be reduced in order to increase staff wages, which you have identified as an issue because people keep leaving for higher paying jobs. If you don’t have the room to pay more, you need to make room and that is off the back of the owner, and a failure to do that is a failure of ownership, leadership, and management.

      From there, you can look at things which makes the practice more efficient or are just dead weight items. As a business owner myself, my cash flow is such that I can’t afford staff right now and before I buy a hot new tool, I make sure that I need it and that I’m not already paying for it.

    5. Someone On-Line*

      If they are a healthcare company, it depends on how much they are reimbursed for services by insurance companies. If Insurance Company pays $100 for a physical exam, there isn’t any room for the clinic to raise employee wages without reducing costs somewhere else. This is why healthcare is consolidating in much of the U.S., because it’s more cost efficient (there is significant reduction in access though). It’s also why so many healthcare clinics (and dental clinics, mental health care clinics, etc) decline to take Medicaid or just have patients self-pay, because it’s the only way to bring more money in. This isn’t a LW#2 problem, necessarily – this is an overarching problem that is going to impact anyone who uses healthcare services.

  38. Curious*

    On #2, I’d never heard of an “escape room” as an employee benefit. My mind went to a safe room or panic room, and, if your business is that dangerous, yeah, that would be a good thing to have.

    1. ecnaseener*

      No, an escape room is in the “group bonding activity” category — it’s a venue where you get locked in a room and have to solve puzzles to figure out how to escape.

    2. rudster*

      I did it once with my wife and kids because a friend gave a gift certificate for Christmas. Some people seem to be really into them, but it definitely wasn’t my thing.

    3. Anononon*

      I did an escape room with my department once, and most, if not all, of us really enjoyed it.

      I also do like corny team bonding things, though, so yeah. :)

    4. Purple Cat*

      And if you’re a company that HAS to have a panic room on site, your wages better be well above “median”. :)

    5. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      My mind went to a safe room or panic room, and, if your business is that dangerous, yeah, that would be a good thing to have.

      I thought that’s what OP meant as well–escape as in escape from the public/clients. A break room that’s insulated or remote enough from the front lines that the employee can truly get away to mentally reset and decompress if needed.

      I’d chalk that up to stress. Medical establishments are always under scheduling pressure, and at least in the US, the public are not known for their patience and understanding.

  39. KellifromCanada*

    For LW#2, you’ve said you can’t offer better pay because your revenues are limited to what insurance companies pay for the services you offer. I wonder if there’s a way to expand the services into areas that pay better. For example, if you were a dermatologist you could offer more cosmetic treatments instead of just the basics, or an ophthalmologist could add laser eye surgery to the roster of services. Anything that would add revenue would allow you more money for salaries and benefits. Just a thought.

    But I’d definitely add at least a week, if not two, to the PTO plan.

    1. Spicy Tuna*

      I totally get your comment but that approach tends to backfire in a bad way for patients. I try to get a skin cancer check every year but it’s been increasingly hard to find a dermatologist willing to devote any time to non-cosmetic procedures. The one I have been going to for the last two years just went to full cosmetic at her practice and charges $550 cash pay for a skin cancer check. Also, my primary care provider has been doing more and more cosmetic procedures and I’ve noticed it’s been harder to book an appointment for routine care.

      1. brushandfloss*

        Because insurances pay very little or worse decreasing their compensation. Private office have to make hard decisions and one is dropping insurance and going fee-for-service.

      2. KellifromCanada*

        Spicy Tuna, I get your point, and I’ve seen the same here with an ophthalmologist. It must be hard to find a happy medium between generating enough revenue to pay your staff decently and keeping the bulk of your time free for actual medical care.

    2. OyHiOh*

      A major eye-care clinic here lost doctors, staff, and patients when they started offering purely cosmetic procedures (eyelid lifts) as a money making compliment to their medical care. Depending on a whole host of factors, offering expanded self pay services may back fire badly.

    3. Beeker*

      When it comes to insurance, you only get paid for what the patient’s policy covers. And in some cases, the more services you perform in a visit, the less they pay, it’s called bundling charges.

  40. Spicy Tuna*

    #1, I am also a vegetarian and I had the exact opposite happen to me years ago! I worked for a company where many of our vendors would send us a catered meal during the winter holidays. We would end up having 4 or 5 lunch spreads sent to the office during the month of December. I am a vegetarian because the I find the taste, texture and smell of meat revolting. Someone once got on an elevator with me with a bag from McDonald’s and I promptly vomited!

    I think it’s incredibly rude to yuck someone else’s yum, so I never say, “I can’t be around meat”. So at this particular job, I made up some excuse to cover the phones (that was not my job at all) so I wouldn’t have to be in the conference room with the food. I was promptly given a talking to by my boss.

    The calculus was a little different than OP1’s however because in this case, it was a gift from vendors and usually one or two people from the vendor came and ate with us. I ended up just sitting as far away from the food as possible.

    1. Spicy Tuna*

      Sometimes signing bonuses require the new hire to stay for a defined period of time. It costs time and money to hire and train a new employee, and if the OP is paying a signing bonus on top of that, OP loses out if the new hire takes the training to a competitor before that period of time has expired. Some companies that have tuition reimbursement also have a similar clause, to avoid paying for someone’s education and them having them take their new marketable skills to a different company that didn’t make the investment in them.

    2. Purple Cat*

      A lot of times employees have to stay for x amount of time or else they have to pay back their sign-on bonus.
      My company doesn’t pay it out until the time has elapsed so we don’t have to claw anything back – we just don’t pay. I think that’s a better approach.

      1. PayRaven*

        My company can’t do that because it’s functionally our relocation money. If you have separate relocation/bridge-from-school-to-job money, then sure.

    3. Hlao-roo*

      I got a sign-on bonus for my current job and it was clearly stated in the offer letter that the bonus had a claw-back period. I didn’t have any problem with it because, as Spicy Tuna points out, it takes time to train a new employee. I’ve been at my current company longer than the claw-back period but if I had left before then I would have had no hard feelings about repaying the bonus.

  41. Dust Bunny*

    OP2 Adding to the chorus that says to ask your employees what they want. I would hardcore not care about escape rooms and would resent that you’d spent money on them instead of on a small bonus or whatever, especially if it meant I had to do them after hours or on weekends.

  42. Evvie*

    For LW 2, this may seem like a small thing, but it’s not. If you can have casual days, why can’t you have every day be casual? Since they’re allowed on occasion, it clearly doesn’t affect patient care.

    As a frequent flier at several specialists, I actually prefer seeing comfy workers! And workers with piercings, tattoos, colorful hair, and decorated lanyards. Things that show they have personalities that are allowed to shine.

    I have worked at places with strict dress codes (including no sneakers!) and that factored into my decisions to leave because my job was physical and messy–which nearly every branch of medicine can be.

    You don’t need to allow sweatpants or anything if that goes beyond your comfort level (though some of the best nurses and medical assistants I’ve worked with were in sweats and hoodies!), but jeans and t-shirts? Go for it.

  43. Pandox*

    LW #2 – Have you considered moving to a 4 day work week with full time pay? That alone would attract a lot of people.

    1. ecnaseener*

      If that reduces the amount of procedures the clinic can perform, it doesn’t sound like it’ll work financially.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I think that pandox means that some people would work Monday -Thursday and others would work Tuesday through Friday. Instead of everyone working the same schedule Monday through Friday. So they would still be open the same amount of time and for the same days but just that the schedule would be broken up more.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Sure, but assuming they aren’t currently being super wasteful with staffing, reducing everyone’s hours 20% means they won’t have adequate staffing as much of the time.

      2. Em*

        A 4-day workweek doesn’t necessarily equate to less time working; 4 10-hour days is the same as 5 8-hour days, offers people more consecutive time away from the office AND if you’re open slightly longer then you have the clientele who need slightly different times than most places are open.

  44. Biscotti*

    #2Agree find out what your employees want. My sister is an medical assistant at a small office, she is widowed with 3 smaller kids. After 2 years of offices that not only didn’t pay well but had next to no perks she finally found a Urology office that works well for her situation. They offer 3 weeks PTO, and 2 weeks family sick leave. The doctors sees all the employees & kids without appointments for sinus infections, and lower level sicknesses so mom doesn’t have to take a day off and visit the pediatrician when they know what is wrong. They don’t make her take time off to pick up a sick kid at school. The break room is stocked by the office with free waters, sodas, prepackaged snacks, and fruits. On Mondays Lunch is delivered by a sandwich shop or local place. They also get gift cards around life events like to buy school supplies, fair tickets, Christmas they get good bonus’s, and gift cards for gas sporadically.

    Not that your doing this but it also helps if you don’t drive a vehicle to work that costs more than your employees could dream of . Especially when you tell them you cant pay them a salary that puts them much above the poverty level. At my sisters first office the head doctor told them they were not able to do raises (they were $2 above minimum wage), and the same day asked her to drop him off at the Lamborghini dealership to pick up his new car.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Re: your second paragraph. Yes, this would be very frustrating. But on the other hand, doctors make what doctors make. And if you are in an area where doctors make a ton of money, it means you have to pay your doctors a ton of money, or else you have no doctors and therefore no practice.

      1. Biscotti*

        Completely agree to a point if it had been a Benz. BMW, LandRover etc then yes it comes with the territory. But telling your staff your new car cost you close to half a million dollars on the day you say you can’t give out $0.50 raises doesn’t go over well.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Oh, wait. This doctor was the owner of the practice? So he’s the one deciding not to give raises, and to pay himself enough to buy a Lambo instead? Yeah, that’s different.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          I am probably not making my point very well. What I’m trying to say is, if you own a plastic surgery practice in Los Angeles, then you probably aren’t going to be able to hire good plastic surgeons unless you pay them a ton of money. That’s just how much things cost. But if you are self-employed, or owner/part owner of a practice, and you choose to pay yourself a ton of money rather than paying your staff well, then you suck.

      2. drpuma*

        This can cut a bunch of different ways. My SO has been an attorney for the past 20+ years and he still talks disdainfully about one of the first firms he worked at after law school. The year the associates were told finances were “too tight” for bonuses was the same year one of the partners went on and on about renovations to his beach house.
        Don’t underestimate the perceptiveness of the folks at the bottom of the ladder. Having a boss who acts like they’re more deserving than you is extremely de-motivating.

  45. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    Going to point out here that if you’re not able to immediately replace staff when they leave, and you’ve got steady turnover, you might as well offer folks more time off because you’re living with shortages on a regular basis anyway, and planning for coverage would be so much easier.

    Ask the staff to brainstorm what matters to them … AND LISTEN TO THEM.

    Job sharing and other flexibility of coverage might be great too … Having a 32 hour week or some such could be just the benefit that someone wants and might be willing to take the salary hit for because it might not be available elsewhere.

    1. brushandfloss*

      When you’re a clinician job sharing/ flexibility isn’t always an option. I work in a small office, I’m the only person that can do my job besides the doctor. Working less means patients less revenue.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        But if you have one person working 40 hours, and they’d like to work 32, and you can find another person who would prefer to work 32, you’ve got two happy people, lots of schedule overlap, and a lower expense than two 40-hour employees.

      2. Observer*

        I work in a small office, I’m the only person that can do my job besides the doctor. Working less means patients less revenue.

        That’s EXACTLY the kind of situation where job sharing an make sense. Instead of there being only one person who can do your job, there are two. Neither one works full time, but the practice gets full coverage. And it means that someone can actually take some time off because there is someone to hold the fort when you are off.

  46. Ocho*

    Letter #1 is so disturbing to me because it’s an example of people exercising power over others in the workplace just because they can. How often do people in power in workplaces do petty stuff like this just because they enjoy being able to control other people via the implied threat to take away their livelihoods? It’s gross, and it’s a dynamic that I hope is on its way out for good.

  47. ThatGuy*

    OP#2, I’m a psychologist and for years worked in private practices. I recently made a move to a large hospital system and doubled my pay. Here’s what I’d recommend based on my understanding of healthcare finances and structure:
    – The things people value are money and time. If you can’t give more money you need to give them more time back. That includes allowing people to work less than full time hours and to have complete flexibility in their schedule. Figure out the minimum hours you need someone to work to cover their overhead and let all employees work that number of hours in whatever schedule they choose. If someone with kids wants to work 8am to 1pm and then leave to take care of kids and do charting in the evening, let them do that. Let people work the weekends or evenings if they prefer that. Be really understanding and flexible with people who have childcare issues.
    – At a minimum, let employees do charting, and other admin tasks like calling patients, from home and whenever they want to. It’s ok to set a deadline of getting charting done by a certain day/time so you can do billing. But beyond that give flexibility.
    – Let people take as much unpaid time off as they want.
    – You need to increase pay for admin staff and keep full admin support. I’ve seen clinics where the admins left and the clinic owner decided that it wasn’t a priority since admins don’t generate insurance revenue. Then nurses and doctors are doing things like making copies, scheduling, and sending faxes, which is not a good use of their time, especially in a fee for service model. Inadequate admin support is a huge source of frustration and a major reason people quit. You have to find the extra money for that.
    – Consider whether people actually like the team building events outside of work. I’m thinking they may resent the extra demand on their time when they’re already underpaid.

    1. JohannaCabal*

      Your point about lack of admin support applies to so many other fields as well. One place I worked, I spent so much time on admin stuff it took away from my productivity. Unfortunately, I think admin positions will continue to be cut in the future across many industries, which is sad because I know so many administrative staff who are phenomenal at their jobs.

  48. Squishy*

    LW#4: This is actually a back pocket question I ask as an interviewee about the employer! When I’ve exhausted my thoughtful questions and I’m speaking with someone who I think might be inclined to be candid, I’ll often close with that. It has yielded good information about the role or the company 100% of the time.

  49. Purple Cat*

    OP2 raises such an interesting macro question.
    We have all of these smaller business that are struggling and “cannot/will not” pay employees more. Is it better for these companies to close/consolidate with other companies? Presumably with a higher revenue base, employees would be paid more, but overall there would probably be less employees. I think it’s an easy answer when it comes to fast food for example – my town could easily lose 5 of our Dunks and still have 5 left, so no drop off in service. Tougher when it’s a medical practice and too many practices closing has adverse effects on the community. But that’s no excuse for their employees to be not be paid a fair wage.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      especially if it’s in a rural area. So many of the small town doctor’s offices are closing because there isn’t staff available and they can’t get doctors to come live in the small rural towns, especially when cities can pay more.

      Heck, when I was in high school the town next to me only had a part-time doctor. The doctor’s office was in the nursing home and the doctor would only be there 2-3 times a week.

    2. doreen*

      The issue with consolidating medical practices is that it can also lead to a loss of patients and therefore a loss of revenue. My PCP had a private practice for many years and apparently got tired of running the business end of it. He joined a medical group – and lost a lot of patients, because the group didn’t initially participate in all of the insurances that he accepted when he was running the business himself. I stayed because I saw him infrequently enough that I could afford the self-pay fee – but lots of people switched.

    3. Salsa Verde*

      This is a great question that I think about all the time. We are getting to a point where lots of small business owners are going to have the issue that OP2 has, because costs in the US have risen but compensation has not, and the business owners are going to have to figure out whether they can continue in business or not. OP2 is in healthcare, but this is a big issue in restaurants too – server minimum wage is a joke, but many restaurants say they would not be able to stay in business if they paid more. The model is built on underpaying workers. Will we see a landscape where many small businesses will have to close because of this? And if so, will we see an overall loss of available jobs? And if so, where will that leave us as a country, since our social safety net is not the greatest?

  50. velomont*

    For letter 4 I would have found the wording confusing, to the extent that I certainly would over-think it and assume that there was something “deep” or complex that they were looking for.

  51. Generic Name*

    #2 in addition to increasing the amount of PTO, think about if you can improve the insurance coverage for workers. You mention “subsidized health insurance”, but you don’t mention how much it costs your employees each month. For example, my employer pays 100% of my monthly insurance premium. Yes, you read that right. That’s worth at least $3,000 annually. Also look at how good the coverage is. Meaning, are copay’s and deductibles high. You may be able to shop around and find a better group plan for a similar price.

    1. Paris Geller*

      I agree potentially funding more healthcare is a huge benefit if they can swing it. Along with that, you can see what other health related perks you can offer–if the health plan you offer your employees has an HSA or FSA, can you fund some of it? What about retirement matching? Can you offer an EAP with a set number of free counseling sessions? Even something like subsidizing gym memberships or vouchers for childcare–these things aren’t as great as more money in general, but anything that can improve quality of life can go a long way.

    2. Scandinavian Vacationer*

      Or as mentioned above, offer free (urgent) medical care to employees/dependents. “Work them in” the schedule, and the gratefulness factor will increase exponentially. Your practice may ask employees to choose another PCP as a medical home, but having an easy, convenient place for urgent care type issues would be a godsend for many.

  52. After 33 years ...*

    Re #2: I would be interested in hearing from people in situations where increasing salaries or providing additional time off are not options. Both of those are controlled by the contracts negotiated between unions and university, and individual heads / managers have no ability to change them. If you as manager cannot change those working conditions, what else can you do?

    1. Observer*

      I think that a lot of the things that have already been mentioned apply here as well. Give your staff as much flexibility as humanly possible. Look at whether the current schedules can be adjusted. Make sure that people have the tools they need. Have your staff’s back when dealing with unreasonable people or demands. Get rid of the “missing stairs” / have and enforce a “No A**hole” rule. I realize that dealing with difficult staff can be hard in academia / unionized workplace. But it generally CAN be done, though it takes more effort than in some other environments. And, if people know that you are making the effort, it really helps.

    2. Chickaletta*

      Honestly? Get involved in the political process to help influence those policies. Unions, well, good luck with them. But if it’s a state university you might get some leverage if you’re large enough to influence local politics. Although, I assume if you were you wouldn’t be asking this question.

      The real answer is that you won’t be able to change them. But, a market economy over time will *theoretically* self correct.

  53. Leishycat*

    I don’t want to be rude, but it seems rather out of touch to say that 15 days of PTO is bare bones. Most jobs in the US offer little to no PTO. I am in my mid-30s and only over the past few years have I worked in jobs that offered it. Before that it was either come in sick or take unpaid days. The lack of mandated paid time off is one of the major exacerbating factors in the continued spread of Covid.

    1. Former Retail Lifer*

      Agree! It’s standard for entry-level to mid-career-level jobs to pay 10 days to start, 15 if you’re lucky. I had to be at my current job for five years before I went from 10 to 15, and in five more years, I’ll be capped at our max PTO, which is 20 hours. I’d love more time off, but no one is offering it in any field that I could work in.

      1. old admin*

        Right, it’s the minimum to start at 10 days vacation (plus a few days sick, totaling 15 PTO), which is why the post says it’s considered the bare minimum in professional jobs that even offer PTO.

        Less than that is considered really bad.

        I think the post is accurate.

          1. Former Retail Lifer*

            I mean 10-15 days WITH sick time included in that total. I don’t have sick time now, but I’ve never been given more than 2-3 sick days at any employer I’ve ever had, and I’ve been in the full-time workforce since the 90s. Jobs normally give you 10 vacation days to start, 3 sick days, and 2 personal days (15 total) if you’re lucky.

    2. pancakes*

      I totally agree with your last sentence, but “bare bones” doesn’t mean “rare” or “unusual,” and “common” and “adequate” aren’t synonymous either. Also, this varies by industry and state.

    3. Beeker*

      Yeah, that holiday and sick are separate from PTO i was like “wow that’s great!” Almost every job I’ve had, PTO is what gets used any time you were out of the office on a weekday. If they were closed for Labor Day you wanted to get paid? PTO. Out sick for 3 days? PTO. Office caught on fire and closed for the day? PTO if you wanna get paid. They would lure employees with high PTO rates but then you learn that when you take out federal holidays you’re left with 2 weeks and can never get sick.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        I’ve never worked in a job where federal holidays were considered part of PTO. That seems very disingenuous to consider them so.

    4. PayRaven*

      I think bare bones “of acceptable” is the key here. What you’ve had to deal with (and the trends in the US as a whole) are UNACCEPTABLE, no matter how common they are.

  54. Craig Anderson*

    For #1, the only way I can make this make sense is if the HR person misunderstood the situation, and thought OP was an interloper to a social event they weren’t invited to (rather than one of the people whose contributions were being celebrated.)

  55. Camellia*

    “…buying lunch…gift cards…escape rooms…dinner out”

    My first thought is always, oh, so you can afford to buy those things but can’t afford to pay us more????? How about you quit buying those things, pay us more, and simply say, “Thanks for all your hard work!”.

    1. Meep*

      I work for a Startup so money isn’t necessarily flowing. Not that my Toxic Coworker doesn’t think anyone expecting to be a fair wage isn’t entitled despite insisting on more money for herself… Unfortunately, a $150 lunch once a week IS cheaper than even a $1/hr increase. There are 40 hours in a week and with 12 employees that adds up to $560 + tax the company has to pay. More if you have more employees or you have 401k matching.

      It is a weird place for small businesses to be in where the best thing they can do is try to subsidize some of the other employee living costs in ways that are not directly contributing to their paycheck.

    2. Simply the best*

      My office just did an appreciation day for our staff. There are 12 of us on the team. Our budget for this day was $1,500. I mean sure I guess they could have just used that to “pay us more”, but that comes out to basically $4 a paycheck, a basically negligible amount.

  56. I'm just here for the cats*

    #2 is tough. I’m sort of in a health related field but at a college university. Because we are a public school is pay is set as it relies on the student fees. We can’t just increase the amount without it going to the state congress and board of regents.

    If at all possible try to increase your PTO and any other benefits. As others have said look to where your employees are going and see if you can match or exceed their benefits. I would prefer to make less an hour if I had more vacation time (that I could actually use) and cheaper or better benefits.
    If there is anything that can be done at home to make things more flexible allow your employees to do that if they want. Look at how your schedule is set and see if there is any flexibility. Maybe some people would like to work a little less but still want benefits. Look to see what you CAN give them. And if at all possible see if you can increase the amount being paid.
    I think the best thing would be to survey the staff to see what they want.

  57. Meep*

    LW#2 – I have been contemplating how to get my employers to retain employees. So far their best method has been to string along our overpaid contractors with the promise of a job they have no intentions of delivering because ~cheap labor~ (which is often free or below minimum wage when it all pans out). So far I am no 4 of employees hired out of 9 employees ever hired and the longest-lasting employee by two years. It will be 5 years in May. With the exception of one other coworker and a former contractor that left last July, our employees and contractors all have a shelf life of about 18 months. It is PAINFUL.

    Small (cheap) perks that keep people happy and make them feel like they are appreciated – weekly lunches or a meal comp program (my husband’s work has been offering $20/person for 4 people since COVID started that can be spent on a meal – before they brought in catered lunch for everyone twice a week. I host Lunch N Learns every two weeks), making snacks available to gnaw on (can be healthy in this case – dark chocolate for a sweet tooth), free (GOOD!) coffee and tea options (we recently got a tea kettle. It is a hit), or even occasional extra mental health days every couple of months, company-sponsored game nights, small Holiday parties, bonuses.

    Honestly, if you cannot pay employees, spend the extra $300-500 a week to show you appreciate your employees and their sacrifices. It is MUCH cheaper than you realize.

    If you don’t want to open up your pocketbook for even that, though… You will keep hemorrhaging employees.

  58. El l*

    Yeah, thankfully it’s absolutely standard that there should be options for vegetarians, people with dietary restrictions, and so on.

    HR or not, if you’re the one ordering out for work (here, Daphne), you have to ask everyone involved if they need accommodations. Shouldn’t stop you from ordering barbecue, but you do need to ask and when answered be willing to find alternate options. That’s on her. That’s basic politeness these days – shouldn’t need special training for that.

    And then your head of HR squares the problem by asking you to leave? I can’t understand his logic – and that’s what I think your response should’ve been. “Leave? Why?”

  59. Former Retail Lifer*

    OP #1, I’m so annoyed for you. I’m one of only two vegans between multiple sites in my city, and no one ever planned for us when there was a meeting or gathering. Sometimes we could jump in and remind the person planning it that we existed, but sometimes things were planned at the last minute or by someone higher up that we couldn’t get in contact with in time. If the event was something I had to go to like a meeting, I’d buy my own food and submit the receipt for reimbursement. If it was a staff party, I’d eat ahead of time but definitely show up to partake in the free beer. NOT ONCE was I ever kicked out for not eating, and I usually received several apologies for not thinking of me (even though they always forgot about us again the next time). That’s just shameful.

  60. Knope Knope Knope*

    Not sure if LW 4 will see this since I am late to comments but FWIW, journalists are often taught to ask this question during interviews. Not as a “gotcha!” (even though no one trusts anymore, sigh) but because your interview subject is usually the authority on whatever topic you’re discussing and sometimes people will leave out important/interesting information if they aren’t asked about it specifically. It can end up being the best question during an interview for that reason. I always ask it at job interviews for the same reason and sometimes get great answers! But if an interviewee says “no, I think we covered everything” then I just think “great! we covered everything!”

  61. Former Retail Lifer*

    #2: Where are all these companies that everyone is talking about that are offering more than 15 days of PTO (3 weeks if you don’t count weekends)? They literally do not exist in my city, where 10-15 days is standard to start. If you have more than 15 days, you’ve got some seniority and you’ve earned more time off.

    1. CleverGirl*

      I belong to a union that negotiated 22 days of vacation time plus 19 sick days a year for us. Everyone gets that when they start, you don’t have to build up some level of seniority to quality. We need to bring back unions.

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

      Higher ed is another option for ridiculous amounts of time off…at least in my experience…however the pay is crap and higher ed is dysfunctional as hell. I’d trade my 8 weeks per year of sick, vacation and holiday time for more cash and spend the cash on something I can actually use.

      1. tech services staff*

        That’s interesting to me, because it’s hard for me to see myself moving out of higher ed BECAUSE the time off is so important to me (disability + chronic health issues). I guess ideally, it’d be nice if we could customize our benefits so that people who don’t need that time off could, I don’t know, convert them into “benefit points” that could be spent elsewhere… or, even more ideally, we’d still get the days off and our pay would increase as well.

        ………………. it’s nice to dream.

    3. Anonymous Luddite*

      Newer companies and also tech.
      My wife’s new job has 4 weeks (not counting sick time) to start. They started business in the 2010s.
      My current job started in the 1960s and we only get 4 weeks after 20 years.

  62. CleverGirl*

    LW #2: Can you consider raising your PTO and splitting it into sick and vacation time? If you are just giving 15 days of PTO that can be used for either, most people will probably use it all, and if you raise that to 30, people will still use it all. However, if you provide, say, 15 days of vacation plus 12 days sick time, many people won’t use all the sick time because they aren’t sick that much. So you can effectively raise the amount of total paid time off you are providing without every single employee using all of it. This also has the benefit of not punishing people with chronic illnesses who DO need that much sick time and end up not getting a vacation at all because they burned though all their PTO when they were sick.

    You can also try lowering your work week to 35 hours a week instead of 40, letting people leave early on Fridays, providing a paid lunch hour, etc. Lots of people value time off as much as they value money, so finding ways to give them more of that might help offset the fact that you can’t directly pay more.

  63. Elizabeth Bennett*

    LW #2, I work for a company that works with dentists. Being a client with my company is similar to being a member of Sam’s Club for dentists, where you get bulk rates on everything in the management of your practice – from credentialing to supplies to filing tax returns, while being in control of the decision making. If there is such an organization that services your industry, perhaps you’d be able to tap resources to help you out, if you’re interested in such an arrangement. Good luck.

  64. irene adler*

    For #2: “meet or exceed the median wage for the area”

    Median means middle. So the wage offered is greater than half of the wages offered for the area. And lesser than half of the wages offered for the area. That may be the problem. Other employers may well be offering the top end of the range as they know it is a highly competitive market these days.

    OP doesn’t indicate how much the wage exceeds median wage. Does this bring the wage anywhere close to the top end of the scale?

    How are other clinics able to pay the higher wages? Aren’t they compensated by insurance companies in similar manner as the OP’s clinic? If not, then maybe that is something that needs to be explored.

    1. FridayFriyay*

      It also may be that the data on median wages is outdated and doesn’t fully reflect current market conditions. Especially in health care, wages have shifted quite a bit in a very short period of time.

    2. Beeker*

      Insurance contracts vary widely and in some cases you can have doctors of the same specialty in the same practice getting paid different amounts by private insurers. While Medicare has a payment schedule based on location to adjust for COL and rural medicine subsidies, private insurers often contract with doctors individually. Also, many medical practices consolidate with larger health care systems so their operating costs are offset by other services offered by affiliated hospitals. The overhead of a private medical practice is enormous, and that’s before you get to the insurance they must carry.

  65. Someone On-Line*

    If they are a healthcare company, it depends on how much they are reimbursed for services by insurance companies. If Insurance Company pays $100 for a physical exam, there isn’t any room for the clinic to raise employee wages without reducing costs somewhere else. This is why healthcare is consolidating in much of the U.S., because it’s more cost efficient (there is significant reduction in access though). It’s also why so many healthcare clinics (and dental clinics, mental health care clinics, etc) decline to take Medicaid or just have patients self-pay, because it’s the only way to bring more money in. This isn’t a LW#2 problem, necessarily – this is an overarching problem that is going to impact anyone who uses healthcare services.

  66. LaDonna*

    #2 – I would never consider working for a company that offered 3 weeks of PTO including sick time (not sure if that’s how it is where you are, but just going off of what AMA wrote). Right now, I get 21 days PTO, unlimited sick time, and I can purchase additional PTO up to 5 days.

    I would only consider working for a company that offered 4 weeks PTO + unlimited sick time (and not being a D about what sick time is nor asking, i.e. needing a couple of days off bc of burnout, grieving, or just plain exhausted). I would also make sure that most people do actually take the 4 weeks, and aren’t so overworked that it’s impossible to take a vacation.

  67. Sharon*

    #2 – You need to look at this problem more broadly. The real question is: how you can make your business plan work given the current environment? Is there anywhere else expenses can be cut (office space, supplies)? Can you pursue alternative revenue streams? Is the problem that qualified staff cannot be found in your area at any price? Have you tried recruiting from out of area? Have you considered pursuing a merger or staff sharing arrangement with another small office?

  68. LegalEagle*

    My friend hosts podcast about Bruce Springsteen and ends every guest interview with “is there anything I haven’t asked you that I should have,” a question he added after he conducted a whole interview with a guy, stopped recording, and then the guy said “well that was fun. If we do this again, remind me to tell you about the time I got drunk with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band” which is absolutely the kind of story that the host would have loved to have heard on the podcast. I’d look at “what questions should we have asked you” in the same way, they’re just trying to get people to share impressive things that may not have come up in the interview!

  69. Verthandi*

    LW#1 For what it’s worth, I’d have done what you did (and have, when restaurants and menus were given in advance.)

    I don’t like cheese or garlic, and yet most of the time, when appreciation food is catered in, it’s pizza, the definitive cheese and garlic dish. Not for me. I usually discreetly don’t take any and move around a lot so nobody notices. I’m good at stealth non-partaking. Nobody’s ever asked me to leave, though.

    But when it’s sit-down, it gets tricky. Here’s an experience of mine:

    Outside trainer came in to do three days of training. 8 full hours, one hour for a catered lunch, breaks that were barely long enough to hit the restroom. No opportunity to sneak a quick snack. The nearest vending machine was in another building.

    Day 1: Lunch was pizza. I discreetly sat furthest from the food. Everyone focused on the conversation and their own plates.
    Day 2: Lunch was lasagna. More intrinsic cheese and garlic. Same strategy. Someone asked if I’d eaten. I said, no thank you, and conversation moved on.
    Day 3: Tacos. By this time I’d gone without lunch for two days, facing a third, had no opportunity to have even so much as a snack, and once again, it was cheese, garlic, and more cheese. But I sat down away from the food, prepared to keep up my end of conversations, and be polite. The trainer said, loudly, that I was not eating, and told me to go up and get a taco. I said, “No thank you.” He wouldn’t let it drop, and now everybody was telling me what was available (Yes, I know. Tacos. Not my thing. No thank you. I will be generous and assume that three days of having to spend every minute of lunch together caused us to run out of topics, so “What’s On Verthandi’s Plate” became a topic.

    Awkward, but I just sat there being a broken record of “No thank you” in response to anything involving food and my lack of consumption. If anyone was being awkward, it wasn’t me.

    1. irene adler*

      That sounds awful. Why do some people feel the need to call someone out -loudly-if said someone does not care for the menu being served? Leave people alone.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      Oddly, I’ve never thought of tacos as garlic-heavy. But this is definitely three spicy meals in a row!

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        When you like garlic (and I do), tacos don’t seem garlic heavy. When you don’t like/can’t handle it, it takes way less garlic (or whatever else; for me it’s mushrooms) to feel like a dish is garlic-heavy.

    3. Observer*

      Is there a reason you didn’t bring your own lunch on days 2 and 3? I realize that it should not have been necessary, but going without lunch is pretty difficult.

      1. Verthandi*

        I did bring something from home on Day 1, and then it sat in the fridge because there was no opportunity to get it. Like the vending machine, the fridge was in the other building. So instead I had a huge breakfast on Days 2 and 3. I’d been hoping for 15 minute breaks in addition to lunch, but we didn’t get more than 5 minutes, and the manager treated the lunch like a meeting, so we didn’t get a meaningful break.

    4. Betsy Devore, Girl Sleuth*

      Reminds me of something when I was a kid and my family belonged to a church that had Revival every summer. Revival, at least for us, was a morning-to-night gathering, with outdoor games and potluck picnic food, and in the evening, everyone goes into the tent or meeting hall to hear the guest preacher talk about Hell. And by food, I mean mostly heavy, greasy/sugary food, and a lot of it.

      Well, I’ve always been a moderate eater, so I would take like, one hot dog, one scoop of this, one slice of that, a sample of everything, and maybe seconds if I felt like it. I ended up as full as I needed to be, right? But one year…it started with an older girl asking why I “wasn’t eating”, and another girl, and then a younger boy, and then someone else’s mom grabbing me and asking “Are you feeling well? Everybody says you didn’t eat ANYTHING at the picnic!” Gah. Not being a glutton != not eating anything.

  70. RagingADHD*

    LW4, yeah you are way overthinking it. They were just giving you the floor.

    If you had a talking point hat you felt hadn’t been covered, you could talk about that. If not, it would be perfectly fine to turn it around and say “Well, there are a few more things I’d like to ask you…”

    Interviewers learn as much (if not more) about you by the process of talking with you as they do from the actual answers you give, because it gives them a taste of what it will be like working with you, how you communicate and organize your thoughts, etc.

  71. Just Me*

    LW2 – Another thing that comes to mind is that the area itself where you are operating might be an issue for some candidates. I once worked for an organization that was perfect in almost every way–great pay, great benefits, amazing team, etc.–but we really struggled to find candidates because it was a small town about an hour outside of a fashionable, major US city. Tons of candidates were doing the mental math of “Will I be able to commute from x city every day?” or “Will I have to live in this not-as-exciting town and just go to x city on the weekends?” If you’re in a similar situation, you may have to sell your candidates on the area as a whole–for us, we were located in the capital city of our state and could explain how much candidates would learn by working closely with policy makers. Emphasizing things like how it’s a highly rated place to raise a family or close to national parks might be helpful as well.

  72. Beeker*

    LW2- even if it meant hiring more individuals, would you consider offering part time work? The flexibility of being able to work only 3 or 4 days a week would be a huge draw, and PT workers may be willing to forgo the extra PTO used to attract FT workers.

    1. C in the Hood*

      I was thinking of this, plus flexibility with hours worked. If you have to have coverage at a certain time, you can shuffle people appropriately, based on when they want to work.

  73. No Dumb Blonde*

    LW #2 – in addition to the advice to look at your PTO and to ask your staff what they like/don’t like, consider looking at the actual positions you are trying to fill and the office setup. Maybe you think people are leaving for better-paying jobs when really they’re leaving because your office setup/business practices/use of technology are inefficient or that the workload is unbalanced. Ask them! Don’t assume you know. Sometimes people have a great idea you would never have thought of because you’re busy and it’s not on your radar. Maybe you could really operate with 11 staff rather than 12, and pay everyone 8 or 10% more.

    Also, I like that you give handwritten thank-you cards! I recently cleaned out a storage closet in my home and found a box of stuff from an old job. In it were several handwritten notes… A tangible memory of a thoughtful boss! Once on my birthday she arranged to have a fast-food restaurant make a version of an ice-cream treat that I used to get at the same fast-food outlet in the small town where I grew up. It wasn’t actually on the restaurant’s menu, but my small-town outlet used to offer it as a local favorite. She called the outlet in the larger town where we lived and asked them to make it special for me. This cost very little but was meaningful, because it showed she had paid attention to a small thing I had mentioned once.

  74. MapleHill*

    #2, 1st, I agree with Alison- ASK your employees! There may cheap or free things you haven’t considered that they’d like and they’d appreciate being able to weigh in.

    2nd, you mentioned you do “casual dress days”, so I’m curious what they typically wear? Usually scrubs are the norm in doctor’s office for nurses, though I guess doctors just wear business casual with a med coat. But if you’re doing business casual, why not allow casual dress every day? Now, in my mind, casual dress is jeans with a a nice top (not graphic tees or tanks), and work-appropriate shoes (anything but flip flops or super dirty/holey shoes), though I know healthcare often requires close-toed shoes. This is literally a FREE perk you can offer and as someone whose company went from business casual & jeans on Friday pre-pandemic, to temporarily jeans permitted in the office during pandemic, we all freaking love it! We talk about how nice it is to be able to wear jeans all the time and are all really hoping this becomes permanent (though our execs are all older traditional guys and still wear suits & the VPs all have to wear business casual still, so not sure it’s gonna happen). Some people don’t care or like to dress up, so you may not realize what big perk that can be, but we love jeans because they go with everything, it’s easier to pick an outfit in the morning. Dress pants can be super expensive, ill fitting, show panty lines, uncomfortable and just having to buy them is an extra cost.
    And you can easily set guidelines about what’s appropriate in casual dress before you offer it. I wouldn’t be phased at all seeing my doctors & nurses in jeans.

    Also, as many have mentioned, additional PTO would be an easy add. While I don’t think your current pto is outrageous (I’ve had less than that in previous jobs) ,it’s a huge perk to have more, even if you end up not being able to use it all. Just make sure if you do increase pto, you make it easy to use. My mom’s job -in healthcare -offers her tons of PTO, that she earns through OT, but makes it so difficult to take, and she ends up selling most of it back.

    Also, you mentioned doing teambuilding activities, dinners, etc and I think all that is nice (though some hate it), but maybe right now, you spend that money directly on employees & just focus on gift cards-maybe things like gas cards, (or Walmart that has gas/food/essentials),Amazon, food delivery services, grocery cards, etc. Things that people can really use and is basically a monetary replacement. Then, if things pick up later on, you can start up some teambuilding stuff.

  75. Anonymously Yours*

    OP 2: My employer has an *extremely* generous time off policy, with rollover of unused hours, a separate sick time pot, and paid holidays that mean a 3 day weekend at least once every few months (and I’m in the US!!!). I currently have MONTHS of paid time off available between my sick time and PTO. I’m generally out of the office…no more often than my coworkers who have less time accrued. I don’t have any issue with taking PTO, but I literally have more than I need. I can take vacations. I take pre-planned mental health days or time off to do fun things during slow times. When I’m sick (physically or having a mental health related sick day), I call in. And I still have the peace of mind that if I or a family member had an emergency and I needed extended time off, I’d be ok for a while.

    But I promise I’m not bragging or shaming, I recognize that our PTO policy is way more than most small businesses can reasonably offer. I said all that to say this: I agree with Alison that bumping up your PTO to higher than average for your area is a major way to attract and keep talent, and it may be a lower cost solution than you think. PTO (among other things) has been a really compelling reason why it would take a lot to pry me away from this job. My pay is only ok, but no one else is going to offer me this much flexibility with time off. It’s a very practical way that my employer shows that they care about looking out for me as a person. You might have people out of the office more often, but you might not; if your employees are generally happy, they probably won’t actually take that much more time off than they already are, but they’ll know it’s there if they need it. Increased retention may mean that you don’t feel the hit as much anyway, because a full staff of good employees can usually handle a few days of heavier than normal workload without having to bring an extra person in. Keeping good employees will likely save you a lot more money in the long run.

  76. Nick*

    LW#2 – Having a spouse who works at a medical clinic, I can tell you that watching and hearing about the docs buying their 16 yo kids brand new BMWs, buying their spouses brand new Escalades or Mercedes every other year, paying cash by the way, going on multi-week luxury vacations, living in 5000-6000 sq. ft. homes with full time cleaning staff and nannies, etc, etc, makes the “we don’t have enough money” story a little unbelievable.
    Not to mention my wife’s employer does not offer insurance, nor paid time off. I am led to believe by all her friends in the industry that this is common.
    Seems to me like the solution is to revisit the entire budget and make higher level changes that allow better pay and benefits. If the doctors are the owners, they will need to change. That is kind of the whole point of folks not taking crappy jobs with crappy benefits, to send a message to employers that the days of being taken advantage of need to end.
    I am sure you are stuck between a rock and a hard place here since you are likely given a budget to work with and that all the owners will give you, and that makes this an issue you cannot solve. Unless that changes, you will continue to struggle to hire.

    1. Hippo-nony-potomus*

      Nick, the LW is paying benefits and PTO. Why would you assume that s/he has not already done what you suggest, which is trimming his own salary in order to treat his workers well?

  77. midhart90*


    Ten years ago, 15 days PTO inclusive of sick leave would have been considered competitive, if not terribly remarkable. Nowadays, the de facto minimum (at least around here) is 15 days if sick leave is broken out separately, or 20 days if it is not. Anything less than that is likely to significantly hamper recruiting efforts and may be a complete dealbreaker to some candidates.

    Of course, in addition to offering sufficient PTO, you also have to let people actually use it. Don’t force people to plan their whole year in advance (this is even worse if seniority is a factor, as it all but guarantees that the same people will get the premium holiday weeks every year), don’t pass judgement on what people do on their time off, and above all, never rescind time that has already been approved.

    Keep in mind that many states require employers to pay out unused PTO when an employee leaves, so it’s in the best interest of not only the well-being of your employees but also thay of your budget to remove any unnecessary barriers to taking time off.

  78. Hippo-nony-potomus*

    LW2: outside of the PTO that Alison discussed, your benefits are really good, specifically, free life insurance and free STD/LTD. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard for employees to really understand the value of these things – most don’t need them, and most people don’t know how insanely expensive they can be on the open market.

    Talk to a friend about your benefits, including the free lunches and optional team-building exercises. Then show them the job postings and ask if the job posting accurately reflects the work environment. A lot of people are resigning because they are tired of being crapped on by employers; you sound like you really care about your employees, and people will respond positively to that.

    Consider broadening your reach. If you need people during the day, on-site, is there a way to re-tool one of the jobs to align with mother’s hours? Think 8:30 am to 3 pm. While it leaves you short-staffed in the late afternoons, you’re currently short-staffed all day. Likewise, would you consider a job share arrangement wherein two people work part time?

    Would you consider people on-ramping into the workforce after a long hiatus? People coming in from other fields? Does your job posting say those things?

  79. Project Problem Solver*

    LW #4, I use a version of that when interviewing folks: “What haven’t I asked that you hoped I would?” Not that they think I should have – they can’t reasonably speak to that. But as Alison mentions, it’s an opportunity to talk to why you applied specifically. There’s usually something that shows you in your best light that you’re hoping an interviewer will ask you. But when I’m interviewing you, I don’t know what that is! So rather than a simple “anything else you want to add” which, to me, comes off as “please don’t,” I ask for what you’d wished I’d asked you about. That’s all it likely is in this case, even though the wording seems odd to me too.

  80. Some Dude*

    I just want to lift up #2, because we are at a time when people are (rightfully) demanding to be paid more, and I think it is helpful to get the perspective from an employer about why this might not always be a possibility.

    1. Observer*

      Except we really haven’t gotten it. The OP leaves us with as many questions as answers about why they are having such a hard time finding and retaining staff. And even in terms of the finances, there are some questions.