my employee wants constant praise and support

A reader writes:

I’m struggling with how much of a cheerleader I need to be for my team. I am not a person who needs a lot of cheerleading myself. Give me my tasks, the tools I need to accomplish those tasks, and a “good job” when warranted – that’s all I need. However, one of my part-time assistants, “Margaret,” is quite a bit older than me and seems to require much more.

For the first year we worked together, she would let me know each month that it was her one-month, two-month, three-month, etc. anniversary. My response was always a sincere smile and compliment: “Yes, and look how much you’ve already picked up in such a short time!” or “Already? My goodness, time is flying by. It seems like you’ve always been part of the team.” At her one-year anniversary, she didn’t come right out and say it, but she hinted that she was disappointed that she hadn’t received flowers or that I hadn’t taken her to lunch.

When I review her proposals and give them back to her with my comments, she’s asked that I not use red pen, because it has such a negative connotation. Even though that was something that wouldn’t bother me, it was easy to switch to purple/blue. But each time she has a big project success, she wants to play music and have me join her in a “happy dance.” This is not my style; my style is to thank her warmly for her work and publicly acknowledge her success at our next staff meeting. Additionally, she’s given me several gifts out of the blue (small things), as a “thank you” for help I’ve given her. (After thanking her for the gifts, I’ve emphasized that gifts are really not necessary – it’s part of my job to help her grow into her position, and it’s something I enjoy doing.) It seems clear that she wishes that I’d do these things for her, too.

How much should a manager change their personal style to suit the emotional needs of the people they manage? Should I be making more an effort to respond to Margaret in kind, and if so, do I continue treating my other assistant as I normally would (she seems content)? Or do I continue as I have been, knowing that Margaret’s probably unhappy or dissatisfied with the environment here? I feel like part of this may be due to our age differences and the fact that I’m the only female director at our organization; I would be surprised if Margaret would have these expectations of our male managers, though I could be mistaken.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 157 comments… read them below }

  1. Angela Zeigler*

    A lunch on the 1-year anniversary, in a small team, wouldn’t be out of the ordinary at my workplace.

    A ‘happy dance’, on the other hand… Uhhh.

    1. Stephanie*

      My team did cupcakes or a treat for work anniversaries (very food centric culture but one that worked for us). The happy dance made me cringe.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        Reading this made me remember one boss who would always pick up something for me when he ran out to get a coffee or an ice cream or a snack. I was the only person in the ‘team’ so he didn’t need to do it for a bunch of people, but it always made me feel appreciated and like I was doing a good enough job that he would think of me. But yea, I’ve worked a lot of places with food centric cultures.

    2. Jennifer Juniper*

      “Happy dances” are only appropriate when working with small children. Otherwise, ew. Barf. Gross.

      1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        Yes—dances are for my elementary school teacher daughter and her kindergarteners. Even a group of 9-10 year olds would balk at a happy dance, TBH.

        I’m a person who likes public sometimes showy praise, and even I cringed reading that bit.

        1. just a random teacher*

          Yeah, at the middle/high school level, I used to do the dorkiest dances (or occasionally air guitar) I possibly could whenever a student’s phone went off (attempting to dance to the ringtone, but not attempting to do it *well*) while standing next to the student as a mild consequence for a student having a cell phone go off in class. (Usually, by school rules I was supposed to confiscate it and make a big deal about the whole thing, but I found using a really ridiculous dance routine for first offenses to be a pretty effective way of giving them a warning that caused everyone in the class to be good about putting their phones on silent for a while without turning it into a big power struggle. I’d stop dancing as soon as they managed to silence their phone.)

          A sincere “Happy Dance” would not have been well received.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Seconding that as my younger kid would definitely be the kid that joined in the dance to the ringtone. They dance or sing at the drop of a hat without an ounce of care – or shame. And honestly – I love their confidence and wish I shared it.

      2. Lyngend (Canada)*

        I don’t think there’s anything wrong with someone dancing to express their happiness.
        Should they expect others to join in? Absolutely not.
        But I honestly think we regulate emotions too much as a society.
        Like I fidget and honestly shake my hands when over stimulated with emotions. I had someone put their comfort over my mental health and tell me to stop doing so. I tried for month not to. Found it made my mental health issues worse. And as soon as I stopped preventing myself from doing so at home? The increased symptoms went back to prior levels.

        Also look up issues with toxic positively.

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          When I was in high school, I would fidget a little. Tap my pen on my palm. Swing my legs a little. Jiggle my leg. Stuff like that.

          This one girl always insisted on sitting next to me. And then complaining that I was fidgeting. Plenty of open seats. “Stop! Quit! That’s really annoying! Sit still!”

          I one day, politely, told her not to sit next to me. “You don’t like it if I squirm. You can sit a few seats down from me!” She was heartbroken and thought I was being mean or something.

          Why is it socially acceptable to demand the other people make themselves significantly less comfortable for you to be an inch more comfortable? I don’t get it.

          1. Mongrel*

            “Why is it socially acceptable to demand the other people make themselves significantly less comfortable for you to be an inch more comfortable? I don’t get it.”
            Same as why you never see articles for Extroverts saying they should quiet down and maybe stay in with a book and a mug of coco.

          2. pancakes*

            Endless fidgeting can be more than an inch of discomfort for those of us who don’t do it. The movement can be very distracting. It’s probably not of much consequence in elementary school and high school, but it can be a real problem to have a distraction like that within your field of vision during, say, two 6-hour days of a bar exam.

          3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            I’m pretty sure that they have no idea that stopping yourself from jiggling would make you uncomfortable. They have no idea why you are jiggling.

            That said, seeing that you jiggle, the girl could have simply decided to sit somewhere else. Maybe she wanted to copy your answers or something like that?

      3. MusicWithRocksIn*

        I’m potty training my toddler now, and a dance party is a surprisingly good incentive for a toddler to do a #2. Although I am starting to wonder how long until I can cut the dance party out, because it is getting exhausting. I am hoping that by the time he has a job he doesn’t need a dance party to inspire him.

        1. Windchime*

          When my little niece was in the 2’s, she LOVED a good dance party. Every time the family got together, we would have to listen to Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” and dance together. It’s cute when a person is 2; not so much at work.

      4. Artemesia*

        my first thought was. — this is some very intensive parenting gone awry. Mommy always made a cake for every little triumph and happy danced (and that is fun in childhood at home) but she never outgrew it.

      5. JSPA*

        I love people who break into a little celebratory step, spontaneously–just as I enjoy when I’m walking behind someone on the street, and they unexpectedly break out in an aria. It’s the forced nature of it that I’d find a bit much.

        Cultural gatekeeping bothers me more than either of those things. How, exactly, does it ruin your stomach, for someone to overexpress glee? And if you’re just being hyperbolic about it…why the focused dislike, for someone else’s excess joy?

        1. RJ*

          I know it’s not for everyone, and I certainly wouldn’t expect my boss to bust into a dance just because I wanted to, but I love joy, and I love seeing others expressing it.

        2. Staja*

          Same – I’m the person who does a little dance of glee when a huge project is done…or when it’s Friday! I never expect anyone to join me, but I have no issues expressing myself as such.

    3. Cake or Death?*

      It seems like a 1-year anniversary celebration would be out of the ordinary for this company though…

      Personally, I wouldn’t bat an eye at someone announcing their 1-year anniversary…but the fact that Margaret has announced every anniversary since she’s been there makes this seem more like about someone who is just needy in general and not so much about workplace norms. I mean, I suppose Margret could have only spent time in workplaces that celebrate every everyone’s monthly work anniversaries, though that seems pretty unlikely.

      1. Cake or Death?*

        Also, I wonder if she is going to continue on announcing her monthly work anniversaries…? “it’s my 19th month anniversary today!” lol

      2. Gumby*

        The only reason I even noticed my 5-year anniversary in my current job is that my vacation-availability spreadsheet told me I should be accruing at a higher rate and I wasn’t. (Noticed about a month after the anniversary, told our payroll person, it was fixed the next pay period. I don’t compare the paycheck stub to the spreadsheet every pay period, but do spot check every once in a while. This was the first, and so far only, time it’s been off.)

    4. Lacey*

      In my company the manager just comes over and says, “Hey congrats on your X year anniversary!”
      Or, now that we’re remote, he says it in the group chat.

      At a previous (larger) company they did lunches for everyone who had started in the same month and we all got certificates with our number of years on it and there were pins for milestone years.

      But another company the celebrations varied wildly depending on who had hit a milestone – and it was infuriating.

      1. KateM*

        And I have never had anybody saying that to me. I don’t think I even ever remembered my work start dates.

      2. DecorativeCacti*

        At my last workplace we got a generic card signed by our manager (no message) and a $5 Starbucks gift card. I would have been less insulted with just an email. Or nothing, honestly.

      3. londonedit*

        I’ve never worked anywhere that made any sort of fuss about work anniversaries. People might note their own start date and, if they remember, say ‘Oh, wow! Can you believe I’ve been here three years today?!’ but I’ve never worked anywhere where you’d be taken to lunch or get a certificate or anything. One company did offer a month’s paid sabbatical after 10 years’ service but that was very out of the ordinary. Where I work now you get an extra day’s holiday after five years, but that’s it. My length of service is recorded on my profile on the HR system but I don’t think my boss has any idea of the precise date that I started on, beyond ‘It was sometime in early 2019, right?’

      4. Ace in the Hole*

        This is so variable by workplace! At my organization, we don’t celebrate or even acknowledge any work anniversaries. I’ve never had a manager congratulate me on X years/months of employment – and would find it strange if they did!

        The only time we celebrate someone’s length of service is a party when they retire. Otherwise, the seniority-based increases in pay and benefits are considered to be plenty of acknowledgement on their own. This is pretty standard in my field. On the other hand, some industries/workplaces seem to have much more focus on celebrating these types of milestones. If she’d recently come from an environment like that the lack of acknowledgement might seem frigid.

    5. it_guy*

      On my 5 year anniversary with an old company I got mini box of chocolates, and when I looked at the ‘good by date’, it was a year ago.


      1. Artemesia*

        I kept hoping for a good pen but never got one — one year it was a long narrow box and I perked up and it was a metal bookmark (the thing we all most want) embossed with the org logo. I think that was for the 10th. WE got pins every 5 years and for 25 years a chair. Mine is now in a storage unit because I don’t have room but can’t quite get rid of it.

        1. Jaid*

          Fed employee here. We used to get pins and/or plaques in a ceremony with others celebrating five/ten/OMG year anniversaries, complete with juice and cookies.

          Now they just mail plaques to us. I am pretty sad to have missed out on the pin, they looked pretty cute.

          Budget cuts, y’know.

    6. tangerineRose*

      I used to work with someone who did a “happy dance” by his desk when something went well, but it was quick, and he never asked anyone to join him.

    7. Medusa*

      I’ve never worked anywhere with work anniversaries, and that was fine for me. At my second-to-last workplace, we did birthdays and leaving dos, though.

  2. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    I am a complete sucker for praise and appreciation, but I don’t want it for simply being at a job for a length of time, and I don’t expect gifts or lunches. You can make my day with a “You were right about that” or “Thanks, that report was really valuable.”

    I wonder if there’s an appropriate way to suggest that Margaret switch up her personal pursuits so she can get some of what she needs from her church choir / volunteer network / friends at the bowling alley?

    1. SometimesALurker*

      I love the idea that Margaret should be switching up something in her personal or hobby life to get more of what she needs, but I have no idea how a manager would be able to say this without overstepping.

    2. Gerry Keay*

      This isn’t really actionable advice, but I feel for Margaret. It would drive me up a wall to have her as a coworker, but clearly she’s seeking some sort of social connection she’s not getting elsewhere. It just makes me so sad that we’ve got a society that’s so fractured and alienated that for some people, coworkers are their main social connections. Hopefully she can find what she’s seeking elsewhere.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I feel this. In some ways, I’m Margaret’s opposite in many ways, and more like the OP. Give me what I need and let me get on with it. I do want to know that I did a good job – tell me what was done especially well, and a sincere “thank you” goes a long way. I’d be at serious risk of straining a muscle rolling my eyes at what I would see as Margaret’s neediness – needy behavior will have me running for the hills with my shoulders trying their best to crawl up into my ears. I get my social connections mostly outside of work, with a very few exceptions. As much as possible, I don’t want work drama mixing with social drama. I do feel bad for her, because as you said, she’s clearly seeking something she’s not getting at the moment. I don’t know how to address that, though.

    3. PB Bunny Watson*

      Though, to be fair, maybe being there a certain length of time serves as proof that she’s “good enough” to stay in the job. Some people think they will be fired over any little thing. While others think they are untouchable. If only we could all land somewhere in the middle.

      1. just a random teacher*

        In some jobs this is literally true, in that there’s a probationary period after which additional job protections set in. My union used to always have a yearly reception for the teachers who’d worked for the district long enough to be off probationary status (which takes several years).

        No one ever recognizes any of the other typical milestone years such as 1 year/5 years/10 years/etc. that I’ve noticed, but my 5 year would have been during total pandemic chaos time, so maybe we usually would?

  3. Fedpants*

    Three weeks into a new job, I learned that my boss was the one who started the 5 minute dance party after major accomplishments. We were known as the socially awkward group in general.

  4. WellRed*

    I’m not so sure Margaret is unhappy with the environment as much as she’s just needy in general and needs all the head pats and love. She’s unlikely to be happy anywhere in that case.

    1. Cake or Death?*

      Agreed, I feel like this is more of a particular personality trait in general and not just work related.

    2. Swishy Fins*

      This—she is needy and is looking to her boss to fill her cup, so to speak. I managed someone like this and it was exhausting.

  5. Ana Maus*

    I’m wondering if this might be behavior learned from working under a previous manager who didn’t care much about their employees.

    I also don’t think LW should be accepting those gifts, just to get away from the appearance of bribery. Chipping in with colleagues to buy a gift for a birthday or Boss’ Day is one thing. Random gifts are another.

    1. Pam Adams*

      I was thinking the same. As part of the conversation on expectations, Boss should clearly say- “gifts to me are inappropriate, and can’t continue.” Any future gifts need to be then handed back,

    2. Ace in the Hole*

      Depends on the size of the gifts, but I agree in general.

      I don’t think LW needs to refuse if these are REALLY small, insignificant gifts – like a packet of novelty sticky notes or a cute coaster. But if it’s at all frequent or the gifts cost more than a couple dollars total I agree, she needs to shut this down sooner rather than later.

  6. Falling Diphthong*

    This is one where I start off at the headline “I think one can adapt to that” and then we get into acknowledging the two month anniversary of starting employment and the you-and-me happy dance and I’m like “Nopety nope nope nope.”

    I think the challenge here is going to be to maintain boundaries that are firm but allow for some normal level of “You did a great job on this, well done.”

    1. Researcher*

      Yeah, this is tough. My perspective – this is a workplace relationship. At the workplace, we primarily communicate using words and perhaps some body language if we’re in person. If the manager’s words and body language are conveying that Margaret’s work is appropriately acknowledged and valued (which includes praise when deserved, high-fives, etc!), that should be enough. Maybe have more frequent performance reviews where you sit down and review successes in a systematic way.

      But the gift giving and anniversaries is blurring the boundary between workplace relationships and other types of personal interactions for me.

  7. LunaLena*

    About the red pen, there could also be a cultural component to it. In Korea, for example, you never write someone’s name in red ink – it’s basically wishing death on them. Red ink is generally used there to make corrections or grade tests, so there’s no stigma against red pens as a whole. But if your feedback includes something like “verify this with Wakeen” it could be disturbing to see that person’s name in red (even when you know that that’s just the way things are done) if you have cultural associations like that. I haven’t lived in Korea in almost 25 years now and it still bothers me a little when I see it.

    1. What's in a name?*

      In addition, if someone grew up with corrections in red ink, then seeing suggestions in red might come across as too stern.

          1. Beth*

            YES. I would say that it’s so easy that it would unreasonable to *refuse* unless there were a truly compelling reason to continue to use red — for example, if the document management system would start failing in the absence of red ink markings.

        1. Observer*

          Yes, it’s just ink. Which means that it really is not a big deal to change it to a different color. No?

          I mean if she were asking for unicorns, flowers and sparkles with the comments, that would be on thing. But I know a lot of otherwise reasonably adjusted people who find comments in red ink to be something that they intensely dislike.

          1. Stormy Weather*

            But I know a lot of otherwise reasonably adjusted people who find comments in red ink to be something that they intensely dislike.

            I’m one of those. I was raised with the idea that anything less than perfection was unacceptable. When I saw red ink, knowing what my parents would say would stress me out to no end. I’ve had lots of therapy since, but I’d rather see another color.

            Besides, the office is not school.

              1. Artemesia*

                I used either green or gold (really brown) ink for the same reason. But mostly students don’t hate red ink — they hate to be corrected.

                1. After 33 years ...*

                  Yes, that can be an issue! I do have an old paper of mine that I can show them, covered with corrections from my supervisor.

          2. F.M.*

            My supervisor once noted, with a bit of an eyeroll, that I should try to do corrections on quizzes in something other than red ink, because some students find it very stressful. So… I do corrections on quizzes in other colors of ink. It’s perfectly simple, I kinda enjoy getting to break out the purple or green pens for once, and I’m all for reducing little bits of stress where I can for my students. Especially when it doesn’t require any extra work on my part!

            A lot of people have… ‘trauma’ might be too strong a word, but something stronger and deeper than ‘annoyance’ at a lot of things that happened in childhood connected to school. Which makes sense: childhood is a formative time, school is a big part of our waking hours then, and there’s all sorts of complicated social/mental pressure around so much of what happens there. If I can make feedback and corrections just a little bit more frictionless by changing a pen color so that it’s not reminding someone of a particularly harsh teacher or rough adolescent year, I’m all for it.

        2. NYC Taxi*

          So then it’s easy to grab a different color pen. I have negative connotations with red ink based on factors I won’t detail, and won’t write with one unless absolutely necessary. You never know what people’s reasons are for quirks like this and it costs you nothing to accommodate something low stakes like a pen color. But I do draw the line with the happy dance.

          1. SamYam*

            You never know what people’s reasons are for quirks like this and it costs you nothing to accommodate something low stakes like a pen color.


            Don’t make people’s lives pointlessly difficult just because you think something that is very simple and costs you nothing to change isn’t worthy of your time.

          2. Ace in the Hole*


            If we were talking about something difficult to change, that’s another story. For example, we use red markers for certain labels/notes because of safety protocol. Changing that would require jumping through a lot of hoops, finding alternate suppliers, re-writing operating procedures, and notifying regulatory agencies. THAT would be unreasonable.

            Grabbing a different color ballpoint for editing to accommodate a request shouldn’t be a problem. It’s no great burden on the editor.

        3. yala*

          I mean, I wouldn’t say unreasonable, exactly. I know it’s a thing they’ve started doing in some schools, and that they do in workplaces as well because red does come off as hostile. Not horrible, but just in a small way.

          I do think it’s a little weird to straight up ask for it, but not unreasonable.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            But then if teachers start using purple, then people won’t want purple in the office either…
            As Artemesia said, what people don’t like is being corrected, rather than the colour of the ink.

        4. Ashley*

          It maybe unreasonable but an easy change to keep an employee happy. To me this is a pick your battles and try and avoid red ink for her. (Though I would probably in group emails highlight major things in red to help teach red isn’t bad it is more notice me.

        5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Honestly is it unreasonable because of the color? Or because of of the reason the employee gave for wanting the change?

          I honestly wonder if we’d be spending time talking about changing ink color if the request was made because red ink is had for the employee to read instead of because she sees red and equates it to “you did all this wrong.” I suspect we would be falling over ourselves to suggest alternate colors in the hard to read vrs what we’re doing here with the “is this reasonable”debate.

          1. Zudz*

            She objects because red has “a negative connotation”. … Which is, in fact, the specific reason I would pick a red pen. If I’m editing something on paper, and things are wrong and require fixing, that’s what red ink is for. Red means bad. That’s why I used it to show where things were bad.

            It seems a bit like complaining that you don’t like red lights because everyone stops at them.

            I’m not saying I’d die on that hill. I can just take red out of my pen cup. But the objection does seem… to miss the point, to me.

            If someone said “I can’t read your comments because my eyes are bad. Can you mark in green?” … yeah, that’s different. It’s 100% reasonable to say “I have a physical issue that requires accommodation.” and unreasonable to object to red because convention dictates that it’s bad.

            I guess the caveat to this is if things are being marked that don’t actually require correction, or that are purely semantic suggestions. I have a hard time believing that’s what’s going on, but it’s technically a possibility.

        6. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Unreasonable feels like too strong a word. It’s not like she’s asking for drawings in the margins or puffy stickers or anything like that. Just, when you reach into the pen cup to write a correction, pick one that’s not red. It may be a request that some people find unnecessary, but that doesn’t make it unreasonable.

        7. tessa*

          The anti-red ink thing started in schools and caught on. I have the same impatience with it, because it just teaches students that the world orients itself to whichever demands we make. If red ink is that horrific, something else is happening. Because PT is right: it’s just ink.

      1. EmmaPoet*

        When I taught ESL, I used green ink, because red ink made my students nervous. Both of them had studied previously, and had bad experiences with teachers who’d laughed at their errors.

    2. Antilles*

      I don’t know about the cultural component, but my first company used red ink and had senior reviewers that were very detail oriented – so it was common parlance for reports to “come back bloody” due to the red ink all over the pages.

      1. Christina*

        I mean I have a coworker that has vision loss and red, pink and orange as well, are very hard for them to read. We all use blue or black for everything now to prevent these sort of issues.

  8. Sara without an H*

    I remember this post. It can be a real challenge to manage someone temperamentally different from yourself. Yes, Margaret comes across as a bit excessive, but I think the OP is handling it pretty well. In her position, I’d probably make a point of lots of verbal acknowledgement, maybe with an occasional card expressing appreciation for work well done. Lunch on anniversaries would also be on the table (although if the OP goes that route, she needs to do it for everybody).

    1. Presea*

      Margaret could invest for those for herself! I’m someone who likes a lot of praise and incorporating little reward stickers and other small affirmations into my personal life has been helpful. But I have no idea how OP could suggest such a thing to Margaret.

      1. Missy*

        Yep. I give myself a sticker in my journal when I meet certain work goals. I have a bunch of stickers in my office. Co-workers will sometimes come by and ask for one if they are having a rough day. It isn’t necessarily bad to have that type of needy personality (I have one from a traumatic childhood) but Margaret needs to learn to give herself those things and to be her own cheerleader. Even if that means a dance party (which is easier if she has her own office to do that).

    2. starsaphire*

      I know this is an old letter, but if someone out there like Margaret needs this sort of feedback, they could benefit from a program like Habitify, where you can create your own goals and rewards and the program can give you positive feedback.

      I used it for a while myself, until my employer blocked it because it was “too much like a game.” (eyeroll)

    3. F.M.*

      Heh. Honestly, it’s not a bad idea, if Margaret likes that kind of thing. It’s not necessary, but I for one enjoy giving out sparkly stickers and things to people who appreciate it; people who find it ‘childish’, I carefully do not give sparkly stickers to. But I actually used little metallic gold stars on a calendar as part of a therapist-suggested habit-building process at one point, so. I have a lot of positive feelings about those silly little things.

      1. Artemesia*

        Who amongst has not started their to do list with two things they already did in order to have the satisfaction of crossing them off. But also how embarrassing to need those shiny stickers publicly.

  9. Purple Loves Snow*

    I am not sure how to say this without sounding totally salty (I am not 100% salty, just an average of 78% salty, lol).

    Margaret needs to read the culture of the office as it sounds like everything she is asking for is outside of their norms. None of her actions would fly in my workplace. My 5 year anniversary was recognized by a form letter with my name imposed onto it. It was left on my office chair after work hours so I found it the next morning. And it was received 16 months after my 5 year anniversary.

    I do agree that management needs to sometimes tailor their approach to individuals to meet their specific needs but as a worker, we also need to tailor our approach to the office culture. Work is not where we should be having our emotional needs met.

    1. Wisteria*

      True, but not actionable for OP. Margaret hasn’t read the room, or she read the room and didn’t like the message, so actionable advice is to spell out what Margaret can expect. That’s where scripts like, “I’m not a dancer, so I’ll leave you to it,” are very useful.

      1. Clisby*

        Nah, what’s the big deal about a 5-year anniversary? I get it if someone’s stayed for 15-20 years.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yeah I’ve stayed more than five years at two places at least and never got any acknowledgement.
          Nearest I ever got to any acknowledgement of my length of service was my boss complaining that he couldn’t afford to make me redundant due to all the severance pay I had accumulated.
          (I forced him to make me redundant)

      2. anonymous73*

        Not to me. I don’t need praise when I do my job. A sincere thank you, and maybe an acknowledgement to my manager if I help someone out with something that goes above and beyond. But show me you appreciate me by treating me like an adult, providing benefits and growth opportunities and help me when I really need it.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, same here. I do appreciate positive feedback (and *actionable* critical feedback), but there’s no need to make a show and dance about it. I have little patience for needy “friends”, and while I have no particular desire to be a manager, even as a coworker Margaret would be exhausting to deal with.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I like praise and appreciation. When the boss calls your colleague in to his office to complain that she’s not as productive as Rebel (shouting so loud you can hear even with the doors shut), but doesn’t say a word to you, it’s kind of demotivating.

    2. SamYam*

      I do agree that management needs to sometimes tailor their approach to individuals to meet their specific needs but as a worker, we also need to tailor our approach to the office culture. Work is not where we should be having our emotional needs met.

      Management needs to tailor their approach to individual, specific workers if they actually want to see productivity.

      Most office cultures are not fit for purpose (again, low productivity, etc) and need to be changed.

      We all spend a majority of our time at work. Our emotional needs very much need to be taken into account and adequately taken care of by any half-decent employer.

  10. Lirael*

    It’s funny. Nowhere I’ve ever worked has anyone taken anyone out for lunch on their workiversary. I would find it very bizarre tbh.

    1. urguncle*

      I like my boss enough but I can’t imagine enjoying a one on one lunch with my boss unless it was to talk about how I’m getting promoted.

  11. e271828*

    I cannot imagine Margaret making these demands of a male boss. She seems to think her manager is her playmate or school bestie. Specifically asking her if she had ever insisted a male boss do a dance with her or whatever might challenge the sexism in her inappropriate behavior (which is inappropriate for any boss). The red pen thing is… that seems like a really weird hangup to have as an older worker.

    I hope the LW stopped accepting gifts (!) and continued to recognize good work, but was not roped into Margaret’s vortex of neediness. Was there ever a follow-up? How did LW manage this large child?

    (I haven’t heard of this one-, two-, three-, n-month anniversary recognition since high school)

    1. Cookie Monster*

      I can’t, either. I’d be tempted to follow Alison’s advice but then also add, in a calm, pleasant way, “Out of curiosity, have you had male managers in the past?” And assuming she says yes, ask, “And did you ask them to dance with you?”

    2. Gerry Keay*

      Yeah, I think LW erred in accepting any of the gifts at all. Totally understand feeling awkward in the moment, but I think shutting that down much harder much earlier might have really helped.

    3. SamYam*

      If she’s had male managers in the past, I’d say it didn’t go well at all. It might explain her being so thrilled with OP, who seems like a pretty good manager.

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

    I hope Margaret eventually calmed down since this is an older letter. The fact that she was ticking off month anniversaries at the job made it sound like she hadn’t either had a job in quite a long time, or maybe never. How long the normal employee tenure at the job also is key — if people routinely stay 2 years in the position, the months feel “bigger,” but if people typically stay 10 years, it’s wildly silly to tick off months, so a conversation about office norms would be a kindness after a time of letting her get settled in.

    1. SamYam*

      I’d put it down to bad former jobs with bad bosses and/or a major life event like a divorce, death etc.

  13. desk platypus*

    I’ve never been anywhere that celebrated work anniversaries unless it was a really big 20+ year anniversary. I’m sure Margaret also wants birthday recognition too, which isn’t out of the ordinary in many offices and more understandable. But if you have to start cycling through all your coworkers anniversaries, retirements, birthdays, etc. that’s a little too much celebrating. I’m reminded of Elaine from Seinfeld being sick of her coworkers always celebrating and ending up needing sugar fixes from all the cake.

    1. KateM*

      Haha. I went to work today and noticed my name was on a list on announcement board. But it was only to say that I had a birthday this month.

  14. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    A happy dance? Seriously.
    Sounds like Margaret is the type that needs external validation from everyone – probably in her personal life too.
    And while you have sympathy for someone like that you cannot tip toe (or tap dance in this case) around what may or may not upset her. It sounds like it takes very little to do so. And at some point we all need to realize that in some form or another our jobs are typically “thankless,” so to speak. I love my job but even mine is thankless from time to time. Until my work-aversary comes around when actually yes, they usually give me something in recognition, but I have to chuckle sometimes and call it a thank-you-for-staying present.

  15. Butterfly Counter*

    It sounds as though Margaret’s “love language” is gifts. People often send out the “love” (though we can substitute “appreciation” here for this example) in the language they’d prefer to get. It also sounds like she’s big into words of affirmation.

    I know the OP might be uncomfortable with giving gifts, but this could be a situation where a little could go a long way. Maybe not change your whole way of interacting, but maybe get a handful of Thank You cards where you spell out the appreciation you would normally just tell her in person. That way, she gets the gift AND the words of affirmation and would (hopefully?) feel happy and appreciated by her job. You also wouldn’t be too far out of your comfort zone.

  16. Observer*

    Margaret seems like a lot, and I hope, as others have commented, that she’s calmed down. And I agree that the OP should probably stop accepting gifts. In fact that was my second thought on this letter.

    My first thought was that this is not an issue that has anything to do with her age. In this kind of context it would most useful to simply ignore relative ages. The questions about age that are relevant are “Is Margaret a competent adult?” to which the answer is presumably yes. And “Is Margaret ACTING like a competent adult?” to which the answer is “Not entirely.” And that’s true regardless of who is older.

  17. Jed Mosby*

    Margaret sounds like an injured puppy rescued from the side of the road who is desperate for affection. What OP recounts makes me feel sorry for her. But there is no way in heck I’d do a happy dance with anyone I work with.

  18. Anon in AZ*

    I have an internal client that came in and demanded everyone not use red (not even for feedback, but to respond to comments), and went from zero to trying to get me fired for doing it. Apparently, there is research about how the brain reacts to red, but I couldn’t find any.
    My boss was understanding, and we both did a little eye roll and I simply don’t do it now.
    The client was micro-manage-y in other ways, and I’ve learned were probably manifestations of imposter syndrome, such as getting angry when I dared to question when content they have written doesn’t make sense (literally part of my job). I think they were afraid I’d reveal their shortcomings to the rest of the world. So instead, I built rapport by making the work shine and thus making them look good (for all their quirks, they do bring some things to the table).
    They have grown to trust me, and we work well together.
    I’ll add that I’m not naive enough to think they wouldn’t throw me under the bus to save their own skin, but I document any shenanigans, and my boss is hip to their MO.

  19. OhNoYouDidn't*

    Exhausting is the perfect description for this worker. Alison’s response was very generous.

  20. 30 Years in the Biz*

    Wonderful response from Alison as usual. I cringed too, just picturing a happy dance in the office- and in front of colleagues. I don’t believe it’s an age thing. I’ve been in the workforce for over thirty years. I’ve worked in retail, at a hospital, and in biotech. Big shows of appreciation or gifts weren’t a thing in these places. Big anniversaries like 5 and 10 years often included a small company gift and lunch. Sometimes a little something at Christmas. As a person in a part-time assistant role, Margaret may not be familiar with professional norms and she’s just a person in general who needs positive feedback in her life to feel okay.
    A personal story about recognition – In one of the first places I worked we received zero appreciation for the highly stressful work we performed that directly affected hospital patients. No little pizza lunches, not even a “Thank you, good work” from our difficult manager who definitely played favorites. This person was so despised that 4 people on day shift switched to PM shift to get away from her. Our whole department was put through an HR counseling session with this manager to see if the issues could be resolved. Nothing happened. So, my colleagues and I took the job of positive feedback upon ourselves. We purchased a pack of those shiny colored stars you can get at an office supply. When someone did something great within our team of 7 or 8, or supported another individual within our team especially well, we gave out stars which we affixed to the back of our badges so the boss couldn’t see. Our “secret star” program boosted moral. We also had a small voodoo doll in the same drawer as the stars. If we had a bad day we could go to the drawer, surreptitiously pull out the doll and jab it a few times. It was made of wooden swabs, gauze and paper tape. I wonder what happened to it when we all left.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I’m trying so hard not to laugh at the voodoo doll, because there was a rumor about one of the teams that my mom was on at the last hospital she worked at having one of those. Rumor had it that said doll also had the same distinctive features as one charge nurse that had a poor reputation for getting along with others on their shift.

      1. 30 Years in the Biz*

        Love it! What is it about the hospital? Probably stress. Of all workplaces, employees there could be the most abrupt and rude. Patient health and safety trumps everything, but a quick thank you or please once in a while would have been nice and doesn’t take extra time. An ER nurse once rudely asked me what I was doing in the ER. I had on a lab coat with my name on it, was holding a glucose meter, and had a clipboard and pen with me. I was there to check the meters in the area. This happened once/month. She wasn’t a new nurse. What the heck??

  21. The Rural Juror*

    Personally, I’d have issue someone saying they don’t want me to use red ink. However, I think it is specific to the situation. For example, in my office, we use a color-coded system for edits and note taking. Red means the thing written or typed is a correction or action item. Blue is for awareness or items that have been completed. If someone doesn’t like red and requests we don’t use it, they’d be asking us to change a whole system that’s used office-wide. That would be a little unreasonable. If a direct report asked me to change it, that would signal to me that they either don’t understand the importance of the system or that they’re not very adaptive.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Can I ask in your system what sort of accommodations would be available in that system for someone who because of low vision, bad vision couldn’t read certain colors of ink? In this system I can get not changing for preferences, but what about an actual medical need for something different?

      1. SamYam*


        And I’m afraid that it sounds like you’re not very adaptive either, Rural Juror. People don’t tend to make these sort of requests on a random whim. There is usually something much deeper at play, like a medical condition or past bad experiences.

      2. The Rural Juror*

        This did come up one time, but from someone outside our organization. He let me know he had color blindness, but members of his team took communications and made them readable for him. I asked if he’d like us to do anything differently and he said no.

  22. Meep*

    This letter made me realize I am so insecure I simultaneously need an indication of praise and feel uncomfortable at mild praise. I blame my upbringing on this one. (Praise was rarely dolled out unless insincerely by my nasty, vindictive aunts and uncles.)

    Surprisingly, my boss found the right formula that works for both of us. You don’t have to give in to spontaneous dances, but also realize some people need a little more butt pats like an anniversary cookie.

  23. I can’t even*

    This employee sounds like someone with emotional needs for a 4-year old. I am sorry, but fair pay and verbal acknowledgment of one’s work should be enough for any employee. She can ask for stickers at home.

    1. anonymous73*

      This. If you need praise for every little thing you do, that’s a YOU problem not a management problem.

  24. Former HR Staffer*

    we’ve all seen this in HS relationships, ppl celebrating their 1 week dating anniversary, monthly anniversary, etc. they lack something in their life that they want to make up for, and perhaps putting in a formal 1, 3, 5, 10, 15, etc official “milestones” policy in effect might curb this a bit.

    at my co, we acknowledge them at quarterly meetings and we only throw cakes for retirements. we also use a service where we can send thanks and great job type ecards to eachother for free.

  25. Casual Librarian*

    I once attended a conference session about the 5 languages of work appreciation (very similar to the 5 love languages) about giving and receiving appreciation in the workplace and it completely changed how I interact with peers and my staff. Not for everybody, I know, but the framing was really helpful, and I found it much less cringy than the love languages.

    It seems that this worker’s “appreciation language” would be words of affirmation or receiving gifts, and it’s important to make sure making her feel appreciated in ways that she can receive it. When looking to your other assistant, you could ask them how they feel appreciated and how they want to be praised.

    1. anonymous73*

      That’s the problem…OP is showing her appreciation with words of affirmation but it doesn’t seem to be enough. And no the manager should not be providing her with gifts for doing her job.

  26. JessintheMitten*

    This sounds like a really good opportunity to engage in something like “Languages of Appreciation” with your team. Sounds like Margaret’s primary languages is tangible gifts and quality time and yours is words of appreciation. This could help alleviate some of the tension. But, this could also be a deeper symptom of Margaret suffering from imposter syndrome. Not necessarily your responsibility to fix that for her, but she clearly feels like she isn’t measuring up and that she’s a burden, so she wants extra assurances she’s doing a good job.

    1. SamYam*

      I’d put money on Margaret having had at least one absolute nightmare of an abusive boss in the past.

      1. Birch*

        I actually think the opposite! People with abusive bosses learn quickly to make themselves small and never ask for anything. They have a similar need for validation, but they don’t ask explicitly to be appreciated and validated, because that’s a good way to put a target on your back in an abusive situation.

        1. SamYam*

          Yes and no. Depends on the person.

          If they have had a mix of good and bad bosses, and if they then find themselves with a boss they think is “safe”, they may swing wildly in the other direction and openly seek praise and positive reinforcement.

          They can also just get sick to death of nothing but negative feedback from bad managers and go hard on seeking positive feedback.

          Bad managers have a hell of a lot to answer for.

        2. JustAnotherKate*

          Yes! After working for an absolute monster, I was happy with anyone who didn’t interrupt me in meetings to insult my body and looks, gaslight me (told me “people are LINING UP OUTSIDE MY DOOR to complain about you” when this literally never happened), or call me “Rain Man” in front of a client for remembering one number. (And on, and on.) No praise? No raise? No problem, and no way I was going to ask.

  27. I'm Just Here for the Cats*

    I will admit i did do a Happy dance in my chair the time that I FINNALY fixed the stupid thing in the stupid database that was being stupid for a whole week! It was so frustrating and very satisfying when I figured out how to do it. ( I have no technical background and IT was as stupid as the database.)

    1. I'm Just Here for the Cats*

      But I didn’t ask anyone else to join me, I was pretty much alone in the office and it only lasted for 5 seconds. The only thing I did is mention to my boss that I finally figured out what was wrong with X

  28. No Dumb Blonde*

    This brought back an uncomfortable memory! About 20 years ago I was hired to replace someone on a small government I.T. contract, where I would primarily work with one other team member in the same role. The departing employee stayed on for a few weeks to help train me, and told me privately that because the other team member was quite sensitive and melancholy, they had always given her extra praise and compliments, such as telling her how pretty her hair is. I was encouraged to do the same, because this coworker “needed it.” I nodded, but inside I was screaming, NO, I won’t be responsible for her self-esteem! I appreciated the heads-up about her sensitivity, though.

    1. anonymous73*

      Yeah, you should never have to walk on eggshells around your co-workers. There’s no way I would have done that. I don’t do fake sentiment and have absolutely no poker face.

    2. EmmaPoet*

      Yikes. That is a level of needy that I could not cope with. If I have to tell someone how pretty their hair is on the regular so they can function at work, then I would run screaming out of the building or at least decline to be their emotional support.

  29. AnotherSarah*

    It sounds like Margaret wants heaps of praise for things she’s supposed to be doing–meeting goals, etc. I don’t get it.

  30. Blue Eagle*

    There’s one thing about Margaret I can agree with, I am not a fan of red ink for comments. So I when I was promoted to manager I bought a package of green pens and used those to make comments/corrections on staff work. But – to each their own.

  31. Quaint Irene*

    I must admit “quite a bit older than me and seems to require much more” made me wonder about the actual dynamic! I’m not sure what the former has to do with latter–it’s seems like pointing out that Margaret is taller (or shorter, or likes popcorn more, or hates Oxford commas, or doesn’t know the sweater is cerulean instead of blue, or any other random trait) than the OP and requires more attention. However, by the end of the letter, I decided it sounds as though OP really is treating her kindly and professionally, and Margaret is just kind of needy or insecure.

  32. Anon29*

    I didn’t know my girl friend got a new job!

    For real, did this letter ever have an update? There are A LOT of similarities (even celebrating an anniversary every month) and I’d like to know what happened and what did/did not work with Margaret.

  33. OhBehave*

    Cue my eye roll at the pen color. I bet she was fun in school and got babied at every turn.

    I can’t imagine the advice changed but would like to know.

  34. WoodswomanWrites*

    The OP wonders if her assistant’s age is part of what’s going on. As someone in my 60s, I absolutely would abhor all that fussing over my work. A happy dance? No way. I’m fine with a periodic “thank you, this is helpful” in an email or conversation.

    Only one of my employers ever acknowledged my work anniversary personally. At places I’ve worked, they publicly acknowledged work anniversaries at staff meetings for people who were having an anniversary for milestones in five-year increments, and at another place at a monthly meeting, they listed everyone who was celebrating a work anniversary that month in the agenda.

    1. GMC*

      I don’t like the OP’s emphasis on age. Seems like a very weird set of assumptions or stereotyping going on here. It might be contributing to any insecurity Margaret is feeling.

  35. Antigen testing negative*

    I thought “who on earth says ‘year’ with ‘anniversary’ ?” (i.e. first-year anniversary). Reading the replies here it seems a lot of people do! LOL The word ‘anniversary’ has the prefix ‘anni’ for year (annus) in it.

    Guess folks also say PIN number! Oh, and ten-year birthday! Double LOL

    Cue the elitist/classist outrage. Seriously, if you only know one language, make at least a vague attempt to use it correctly. It’s kind of embarrassing not to, and that includes knowing it’s etc NOT ect.

  36. Anonymous for This*

    Alison nailed it – the word is “exhausting”.

    As for issues with red ink, all I could think of was the Hitchcock movie “Marnie”.

  37. Alyce*

    I think Alison gives excellent advice here.

    Do managers need to adjust their approach for different employees? Yes. (Although obviously not to the point of playing favourites.)

    Do managers need to ensure that their team gets positive feedback (as well as any negative or constructive feedback if and as required)? Oh, my goodness, yes.

    But by the sounds of it, OP, you’re doing a pretty good job. I don’t say this lightly, either: I’ve got a nightmare on my hands at the moment with an overly stressed manager who has tried to put a new starter on a PIP…about something that the new starter hasn’t even been trained in yet. (This is the same person who recently tried to put another new starter on a PIP based on a mistake that was only made because the manager gave the new starter the wrong information and instructions. God spare me.)

    The red pen thing sounds like it could be a possibly trigger point for past trauma, as does Margaret’s need for positive feedback and reinforcement. It might not be, but I’d err on the side of caution and just take those requests on face value and action them.

  38. C.*

    I agree with Alison’s feedback here, but I would also add that the manager may want to take an objective look at the surrounding company culture. Is praise generally hard to come by? Does your employer find ways to meaningfully recognize employee contributions and progress? If there’s a dearth of recognition across the board, I’m wondering if Margaret’s tendencies are getting exacerbated in this particular environment.

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