birthday drama, telling my boss before I accept a new job, and more

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

1. My new hire asked if I was mad because I didn’t wish him a happy birthday

My first-ever direct report started last Monday. On Sunday — day 6 of his employment — he informed me via IM that he would be leaving early the following day to celebrate his birthday. The rest of the department is working a lot of overtime because our team lead suddenly passed away last week (just a few days before my direct report started), so even though it was a Sunday I saw the message and responded within a few hours to say that would be fine.

On Monday, when my direct report was taking off early, I said I’d see him the next day and continued my project-centered conversation with our colleague, who was also present. A few minutes later, I got an instant message from my direct asking if he should return to the office and if I was mad at him, because I hadn’t wished him a happy birthday. I wasn’t mad, and told him so; I also felt that since he’d already left the office, he should go ahead and enjoy the birthday celebration. But now I’m wondering if I should have a deeper conversation with him about workplace norms and expectations. I do hope he had a happy birthday! But we’re all working extra hours right now, and I’m wondering how much more beyond leaving early (in the first week on the job) is warranted for a birthday. Typically on birthdays I observe people in our office either working as normal or taking PTO, but not drawing attention to the day. On the other hand, I can see it being a nice thing to do as a manager to keep track of my team’s birthdays.

I am new to managing others. This isn’t my employee’s first job, but it is an entry-level position, and he is only a few months into his post-college career. As his manager I feel a responsibility for setting him up for success in his working life. Do I let it go? Have a conversation? If you suggest I bring it up with him, how would you recommend going about it?

Yeah, that’s a bit … needy. It’s one thing for him to feel a little slighted that you didn’t wish him a happy birthday — not necessarily reasonable! you’re all super busy — but sure, understandable. But to message you asking if he should come back to the office and if you were mad … that’s definitely someone new to the work world!

It doesn’t warrant a lengthy conversation, but I do think you could/should ask him how his birthday was and then explain, “We don’t generally do anything for birthdays here and my not mentioning wasn’t personal. Some offices track them, some don’t. But I’m glad you had a good day!”

With some people, that kind of breezy explanation will be enough to nudge them into realizing they need to pay more attention to the work norms around them. For others, it won’t. If you continue to see slightly off behavior from him, at that point it would make sense to dig in more deeply. But for now I’d just matter-of-factly explain what the deal was with this and then see what happens next. (Pay a lot of attention though — it’s pretty normal for people right out of school to need a lot of guidance, and I’d assume there will be other stuff.)

Also, if you want him to ask for time off rather simply announce it, especially during busy periods or while he’s new, let him know that too. Don’t require that just for the principle of it — in general, you want to maximize the autonomy you give people, to the extent their work allows — but if it’s necessary in his job (or in your current context of his newness/the team’s workload), make sure he knows what the expectations are so he’s not unknowingly running afoul of them.

Read an update to this letter

2. My reference says I should tell my current boss before I accept a new offer

I’ve been working at the same company for seven years and have had four job changes within the same department during my time here. I’ve been doing my current role for just under two years. I like my job just fine, and my boss is really good to me. However, I’ve been craving a change in environment and am looking for a higher salary and something with more growth potential. I’ve reached the limit of what I can achieve at this company without going into management roles.

I recently interviewed at a different organization and completed the reference check stage, so it’s just a waiting game now. This job would be a step up in salary and growth potential. One of my references is my previous manager who still works in my current department. This manager advised me not to accept any offers until I have had a conversation with my boss first. For what it’s worth, I have shared with this manager that my current company most likely won’t be able to match the starting salary of the new company, based on what I learned during my interviews.

I am certain that I will not be accepting any counteroffers. My previous manager is aware of this, yet insists that I should have this conversation with my boss. This is a little baffling to me. What would be the merits of having that conversation, if not to talk about a counteroffer? Is it just something to do out of courtesy to my boss? I also want to note that I have a really good relationship with my boss, though she has a track record of being chilly to people during their notice period.

Yeah, that’s weird advice. If you’re sure you wouldn’t accept a counteroffer, there’s really no point in telling your boss “I have an offer that I plan to accept” and then a few days later “I have accepted the offer” and that’s not how people do it. I suspect your previous manager has some odd ideas about it being a professional courtesy — like that you shouldn’t blindside your boss with the news — but that’s really, really not the professional convention on resigning, for all the reasons here. Or who knows, maybe she does want your boss to have the chance to try to keep you, or maybe she knows of plans that are in the works already that she thinks could change your mind. Or the advice could be specific to this particular boss — you said she’s chilly when people leave, so maybe your previous boss is trying to ward that off.

Whatever the reason, you don’t need to do it. Go ahead and give your notice when you’re ready (i.e., once you’ve accepted the offer and everything is finalized) and then tell your previous manager, “I thought about your advice but I didn’t feel comfortable talking to Jane until I’d decided to definitely accept the offer, and I didn’t want her to think I was fishing for a counteroffer.”

3. My organization is inundating me with feedback surveys

I work for a medium-sized nonprofit and am very happy with my job, my team, and the organization. In the past few years, though, I’ve become increasingly inundated with requests from the org to fill out anonymous surveys about job satisfaction and feedback. We used to get maybe two or three of these a year, but now they seem constant! We get surveys about our satisfaction with our department, with a certain team, and with the organization at large. We get requests for feedback about coworkers, outside team members, contractors, managers, and directors. HR is now mandating everyone at the organization be interviewed about what makes us stay and what would make us want to leave. I’m filling out survey after survey every quarter now. I’m not even a manager!

Is seeking this amount of feedback normal in the industry now? I understand the value of wanting to hear from employees, but at this level it seems excessive and, frankly, needy on the part of the organization (a reaction I’m going to mention in the next survey, which just arrived in my inbox). Ironically, they may end up driving me away with this stuff.

That’s an unusual amount, and it’s a lot! It’s especially a lot of requests for feedback about other staff members, since those take a lot of time and emotional bandwidth to fill out thoughtfully. On the other stuff, I’m glad they’re asking for input — but I wonder about what results you see from it. Do you get the sense that staff feedback is taken seriously and shapes the organization’s practices in a meaningful way? I’d have a much higher tolerance for it if it does than if it doesn’t.

It’s a good idea to mention in upcoming surveys how it’s landing with you; if they value feedback as much as they appear to, that’s input they should hear.

4. My coworkers shout across the room at each other

I have two coworkers who shout across the office for answers. Never get up from their seat. Example: “Jane, did you order this part!?” Isn’t this considered rude? I don’t appreciate being shouted at and how do they know I am not on the phone with a client or in a current face-to-face conversation. I am the only one who gets up from my desk and talked directly to whoever I am speaking to. How do I address or ask for this to stop?

Yes, it’s generally considered rude, but if it’s the culture of your office, it’s likely not something you can stop. Some offices do have cultures like that.

But if it’s just those two coworkers and not the culture of the office more broadly: are they senior to you in the hierarchy there or peers/more junior? If they’re senior to you, it’s probably something you just need to live with. But otherwise, you can try saying, “Would you mind not shouting across the room? I can’t hear my own conversations when I’m on the phone with a client.”

{ 423 comments… read them below }

  1. Allisen*

    OP3 # There’s a 50/50 chance they are looking at them. I can’t say if they are taking them seriously though, based on your letter. At the hospital, where I work, they started doing surveys every 3 months, after 1/3 of the hospital worker’s combined , left. People are still leaving, because the higher ups are ignoring the main issue, and addressing smaller ones. The pattern seems familiar. Except requesting a meeting on what will inspire you to stay long term.

    1. NPO Queen*

      I had something similar at a previous job, but I was part of the team that went through surveys to see what could be fixed. Unfortunately the low hanging fruit is the easiest way to show you’re visibly listening. On my team, we were actually powerless to address the main issues because they dealt with upper management and budget cuts. We let management know the opinions of the staff, but after that it was out of our hands. I left that job soon after Finance found a massive budget deficit, I could see the writing on the wall.

      1. WS*

        It was similar in a previous job for me, too – they were definitely reading the surveys and fixing easy things, but the more major things were pretty much ignored because that would have required the higher-ups to actually do something. So we all learned to manage expectations on the surveys and the high turnover continued.

        1. John Smith*

          My organisation included the question “do you think anything will change as a result of this survey?”. Answer was a definite “no”, which made me wonder why the bloody hell was I filling it in. Like others have said, the were being read but little if anything done. Probably explained the low response rate – around 20% usually.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I think it’s an odd conviction of the information age: That gathering more data, especially quantifiable data, must lead to better outcomes because look at all that data you collected! If we have piles and piles of surveys in which people say they are leaving because the pay is below industry standard and there’s no room for promotion, then that pile of data is basically 99% of fixing the retention problem.

            1. Münchner Kindl*

              Which actually points at why it’s highly unlikely that surveys now arriving every quarter will be useful:
              It takes a lot of time to prepare the questions so that the data the survey produces is useful in the first place
              more time to compile the results in useful form and then make recommendations on what needs to effectivly change – not just low-hanging fruit, but the real core issues
              all of which must be done by a Senior Manager/ C-suite who has both the power to do real changes, and cares enough.

              So the first question would be: has one C-suite person been publically announced in OP’s company as in charge of making necessary changes? Or is it just HR sending stuff out and counting how many gave 1 out of 5 on question “are you satisfied” because some VP told them to?

            2. Butterfly Counter*

              This is what I was thinking.

              They’re doing the surveys to look to the employees like they’re working to change, but the only thing they’re doing is making people fill out surveys. It’s all for show.

        2. JustaTech*

          Yup, we just had a conversation about the results of a survey yesterday an our department head said “there is nothing I can do about anyone’s pay” when one of the top areas of concern was “fair compensation”. At least he was honest, I guess?

          (This was after the special facilitator we hired in explained that replacing mid-to-high level employees costs 4.5x the salary of the person who left.)

      2. Maggie*

        Sounds like “You said that you weren’t getting enough time for lunch, so we bought you pizza! Nothing else is going to change though.”

      3. Anonym*

        It’s a tough situation. My organization does a yearly survey and takes it very seriously – the “do you think this survey will result in meaningful change” is a major driver of follow up action, as leadership wants people to hear about the changes made in response to it and know they’ve been heard. On the other hand, only some of the feedback is going to see action; the biggest sore spot is compensation, and now return to office, but our comp strategy is set where it’s set (mid-market with emphasis on benefits), and our leadership is committed to their (crappy in my opinion) hybrid return to office policy. So there will be no change in the areas most meaningful to the most employees, and we’re left to take action on the smaller stuff and then broadcast it ad nauseam.

        All that to say, it’s hard to tell whether there’s a point to all the surveys OP is receiving, but there may well be changes happening in response to them that the organization is not effectively communicating. But either way, there are definitely way too many of them!!

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yeah I’d be tempted to just write one comment “please see previous survey”.

    2. Underrated Pear*

      I used to work in institutional research for a large university system. A big part of the office’s function was administering a number of large annual or biannual surveys and then using the data to inform departments about whatever it was they wanted to know about various populations of students. One of the biggest frustrations with this type of work was the fact that we were CONSTANTLY trying to get departments to stop sending out their own surveys all the time. Because (1) at least half the time, we had data that could answer their questions! They just had to ask us for it, and (2) unless they actually had an employee or team of employees dedicated to cleaning and analyzing survey data (which they didn’t, because again, that’s what our office was for), they simply collected more and more and never did anything with it. I know their intentions were good! But they could never seem to admit to themselves that they were never realistically going to be able to analyze and use it. And of course all the students suffered from “survey fatigue” as a result (although at least students are fairly easy to entice with incentives…).

      Anyway, the point is, I think it’s pretty common for organizations to get excited about the idea of “having data” and then forget about the rest of the process.

      1. English Rose*

        Reading letter #3 I did wonder whether all the surveys are being sent out by the same people. Similar to what Underrated Pear says, we went through a phase at our non-profit of different departments/focus groups taking it upon themselves to send out organisation-wide surveys on different topics. We had to pull everyone in so every survey was approved by the central leadership team before going out because staff were getting survey-fatigue.
        It doesn’t sound like this is the case from what LW#3 says about HR being involved, but might be worth checking.

        1. Miette*

          THIS. Two or three employee sat surveys per year seems excessive–combined with departmental ones? Who’s got the time to properly analyze any of it? OP you won’t be the only one to complain, but you must complain.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Our university (relations? advancement? whoever deals with alumni relations ) team called a big all-university meeting to tell the departments to quit wearing out the alumni with decentralized surveys. We had to sign departmental pledges that we did solemnly swear that we would use the central alumni database for queries instead of bombarding the alumni with them.

        3. OP3 here*

          “I did wonder whether all the surveys are being sent out by the same people.”

          They are not. We have a lot of people at different levels in different departments who love to collect data.

      2. JustaTech*

        Not to mention that writing a useful survey isn’t trivial. I took a whole class in grad school on survey design that covered things like what ranking systems to use for different types of questions, how the order of the questions impacts the results (ask about money last or people will just stop filling out the survey), and all of that is before you get to your analysis plan.

        I just helped with a 3 question survey and the editing went back and forth for a week.

    3. Laura*

      #3, About whether all those surveys are a new fashion or something:

      I work in a large company, and we get a 2-minute survey every two weeks. The questions repeat and seem to come from the same pool of questions, occasionally a new one appears. The explanation we were given is that this should catch changes in mood or developing issues quickly. (Also, it can be made into simple graphs for upper management to look at. Which makes it more likely they *will* look at it.)

      There can be ok reasons for surveys-all-the-time, as there can be ok reasons for long or detailed surveys, and both seem to go in and out of fashion, but doing both seems to me like the company is gathering a very large haystack in the hope that if it gets large enough they will find the needle they need.

      Plus, with some of the questions you mention, I would be quite worried about anonymity and general fairness (surveys about co-workers??) and the effect *that* has on the mood.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        Working for a small company, and having surveys that have comments, I knew that anonymity was a joke. I was the only person who could have that point of view. Consequently, I never said much.

          1. Late to the Party*

            Even in a large organization anonymity is a joke. I was once asked why I had not completed a survey and asked them how they knew.

            1. No Soup for You*

              I agree completely. Every survey I ever completed I answered that everything was rainbows and unicorns. There is no anonymity.

            2. Jack*

              When I do surveys, each employee gets a unique link and I can see whether someone has answered the survey or not, but I can’t see their individual answers. There are always ways to go around anonimity, but most platforms I’ve seen provide a way to check survey response separate from the actual survey answers. The only way I could bypass anonimity would be to madly refresh the software non-stop and note how the stats changed each time a checkmark appear beside a name.

              1. The Witch in the Woods*

                I recently answered an “anonymous” survey as part of our annual and useless training. I was logged in to the training module on my work computer which also has a personal log in. Of course it’s not anonymous. I have zero craps left to give though so I was pretty honest about my employer’s lack of awareness for cultural identities beyond white, Christian, and hetero.

            3. Reluctant Mezzo*

              Anonymity is little tweeting bird. Since we have to log into the survey from our actual work computer, nobody where I works believe they don’t know what our answers are.

              Goes off singing, ‘smile, smile, smile’.

        1. A Nonny Nonny*

          The anonymity is only as good as the person administering the survey and CEO. I’ve been the person behind the keyboard- I would tell colleagues that I wouldn’t try to guess, but there may be times that I could tell. I would give them pointers on how to make their comments more anonymous to me. I would set the survey collection standards to be as anonymous as possible (and I would happily show people what the buttons were so they could see for themselves). Then I would try to present aggregate findings and illustrate with quotes that could be from anyone.
          But when the CEO asked for all the quotes, there wasn’t much I could do. I could fend off my own boss, but not the CEO.

          1. somanyquestions*

            I used to be able to see what a number of colleagues did with their surveys, and I could see they were clearly not anonymous. When I pointed this out they seemed to have never noticed (and thought they could guess identity by the answers), but they just said they’d never use that so it was fine that their system was deceptive and flawed.

            I’d never trust a survey with anything I wouldn’t say to my whole org.

            1. Pugetkayak*

              Right! I’m honest, but its not anything I wouldnt say if directly asked about things.

          2. JustaTech*

            Yup. And even when there aren’t any comments to give you away if departments are small enough it can come down to “well one of these three people gave a bad score on X”.

            One time we had an all-company “pulse” survey where one team said “we’re really excited for new work!” which somehow was translated as “this entire department is not engaged” and the whole department was punished with reduced budget and constant negative comments from the high-ups.

            No one has ever been fully honest on a survey since then. Once bitten, forever shy.

      2. OP3 here*

        “Plus, with some of the questions you mention, I would be quite worried about anonymity and general fairness (surveys about co-workers??) and the effect *that* has on the mood.”

        This has absolutely been an issue to the point I tweak my writing style in my feedback as a disguise. That’s a sign of a healthy exercise, right?

        Alison is right about the amount of time and emotional bandwidth it takes to fill those out.

    4. Nanani*

      It sounds like they’re going to keep sending surveys until the data shows what they wanted to do anyway, as opposed to actually taking the real feedback and doing stuff based on it.

      1. Lydia*

        My organization just recently did a big survey across all employees. Having experienced this sort of morale check in before, I didn’t think much of it. I was pleasantly surprised to find an article on the Intranet listing what changes had been made, what were upcoming, and what were further out to accomplish. I work for local government, so that might have made the difference, but it’s nice when there’s proof someone is listening.

  2. Education Mike*

    OP#4: If you just want it to stop when they’re talking to you, don’t answer when they yell. This is the kind of behavior I tend to just tune out if I’m focused, so the person is forced to come talk to me. Or just play dumb and yell over and over “what… I can’t hear you… huh?… did you say ‘Plain did you recorder that fart?… can you come over here?”

    If it’s the general shouting… I got nothing but I’m sorry you’re dealing with that. It sounds so irritating!

    1. Frank*

      I work in an environment where one employee shouts regularly. She yells from across the room, from another room, and when she’s entering a room. She interrupts conversations all day long. She has no awareness of others and cannot read social cues. Yet she is the darling of the department and my boss is not bothered by her behavior. What I do to handle it is to ignore her until she is near me. I simply refuse to acknowledge that she is speaking to me. When she’s shouting or interrupting, I hold up my hand or first finger (think kindergarten teacher) and continue with what I’m doing until I am ready to answer her question.

      1. pancakes*

        The place I worked where people did this, the shouters were both partners in the firm and they would do it over the phone, although their offices were diagonally across a hall from one another! Ridiculously dysfunctional place.

        A classmate of mine worked there as well and told the rest of us that one time he and the male partner were on their way back from a hearing and he (my friend) took a seat on the (crowded) subway next to the partner, who immediately jumped up like a jack-in-the-box for some reason. He was a very awkward guy in many ways and yes, not to be trusted to read social cues. Being a partner, that was pretty much not his problem anymore, it was everyone else’s.

    2. anonymous73*

      It sounds as if she sits between 2 shouters, not that one of them is shouting at her. And even if they’re senior to her, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking them to stop. I used to frequently have to ask my manager to take it down a notch when I was on a call and she was cackling outside of my cube to another teammate.

    3. pancakes*

      Either of those would strike me as a bit obnoxious. The latter more than a bit. “Everyone else is yelling so I’ll yell too” isn’t going to make anything better, it’s just more boorishness.

    4. fhqwhgads*

      If someone were shouting across the room at me, I don’t think I’d ignore them until they came closer because I’d expect them to first try shouting even louder before giving up and coming closer. If what I want is less shouting, this is not the way to communicate that. Nothing wrong with asking them to come closer to talk, or slack you, or email you, but to please not shout across the room unless the shouting is something like “help, call 911”.

    5. Nanani*

      Does that work when they’re shouting at -each other- and not at you?
      Good plan if it does but I don’t see how it can affect behaviour directed at completely different people.

      1. Redwinemom*

        Perhaps you could suggest (to your boss or to the two colleagues) moving their desks next to each other.
        Also, is your desk the only desk between them? If so, you could swap with one of them to allow them to have their own conversations without you being literally in the middle of it.

        1. Not me*

          That sounds right, in my office we had people going from une desk to the other all the time, half the team was at other team members desks or shouting from one desk to the other. Finally a manager got mad, askes everyone to write what desks they visit most, or with ehome they need to talk more often too and made a new seat arrangement for everyone, the noise level at the office came down A LOT.

  3. Eyes Kiwami*

    OP2, I’m a little concerned that your previous manager who advised you to talk to your current boss first is still working in your department. Their advice is not only out of step with professional norms, it’s not in your best interest. So the fact that your previous manager is the one giving you advice makes me nervous for you. Do they know something you don’t? Have they shared with people at your current employer that you’re looking to leave? They seem to have given you a good reference, but why advise you to advantage your current employer this way? The advice is bad but the source of the bad advice is also what troubles me.

    1. anonymous73*

      I was wondering the same thing. And the letter doesn’t say she actually received an offer. She says she made it to the reference stage and it’s a waiting game, but that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed that she’ll get an offer (likely yes). So that is even more reason NOT to say anything to her current manager.

    2. Meowsy*

      This is what I was wondering – that they’ve already told your manager and that’s what’s influencing their off-base advice.

    3. OP2*

      Thanks for your insight!

      I ended up asking my previous manager why she would give the advice that she did. She told me that once I have an offer, don’t accept it yet, but talk to my boss as if I had accepted an offer and see what she says.

      That just sounds like terrible, terrible advice…

      1. nom de plume*

        This… makes no sense. It seems that this person can’t understand – or won’t – that you’re definitely taking the offer, and that there’s no scenario in which a counter-offer would suit you. So the whole thing lands as prompting you to ask for approval or permission from your current boss, and just, no.

        Please don’t listen to this person and in future, if you can, use another reference!

  4. learnedthehardway*

    OP#2 – I disagree that this is necessarily bad advice. In general, yes, you shouldn’t pre-announce that you’re planning to leave your employer. However, given that this person is a manager in the same department and company, I am guessing that they are aware of something that they can’t disclose to you. My guess – they know the company has a career path for you, perhaps even a specific opportunity in mind for you – but they’re not allowed to say anything about it. The best they can do – while balancing their obligation to the company with their referee relationship with you – is to give you the advice that you should speak with your manager before you accept another offer.

    I’m assuming you feel the manager is trustworthy, etc. or you wouldn’t rely on them as a reference. You might ask them why they feel you should disclose your plans to your manager, seeing as it is such unusual advice. You could ask them if there was anything that you need to know. They’ll either say they can’t talk about it (which is a confirmation that there is some kind of career planning in the works), or they’ll say no there isn’t (in which case you can assume they have a weird idea of office norms about resigning from roles).

    It might be a good idea – before anything goes further with the role you’re looking at – to ask your manager where they see you going in the organization, and that you’re starting to get interested in some new challenges. I wouldn’t tell them you’re planning on leaving, but see if there are any real plans to promote you or put you into a new role.

    1. Despachito*

      But OP says they are positive they will not accept any counteroffer, therefore whatever opportunity they may have prepared for them would be pointless as it would not change their mind.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        Also, Boss can still share with LW that there were exciting plans for her; if they are juicy enough, LW could still burn the bridge with the new employer. It’s not ideal, but it could happen. But frankly, accepting counteroffers is generally not great, LW is thrilled with the new offer she has, and LW wants to move to her next step. LW is more than allowed to leave this job without hearing them out about reasons she should stay. There is no point in having a pre-acceptance conversation with her boss.

        There are a lot of people with weird ideas around “loyalty” to your company, or how much notice you should give, or how you should behave on your way out the door. But all LW really needs to do is give an appropriate amount of notice and behave well on her way out the door to fulfill her professional obligations to her current company and current boss.

        1. Smithy*

          The thing with workplace loyalty is a big one – and without knowing a whole lot more about the OP and this reference (who still works at this company and likely will still have to work with the OP’s current supervisor)….I think the likelihood of the reference trying to balance their own loyalties is a much bigger one.

          For one job hunt, I used someone as a reference who was still working at my current employer. It was an overall toxic place to work and I made the choice to not tell them where I was going. The person who I used as a reference (who had been a manager at one point) and my current manager were certainly hit with questions about whether anyone knew where I was going. And when I did update my LinkedIn, apparently it was a *big deal*. My reference took it all in stride and knew that place was a mess, but all to say….I can just see this reference giving this advice from the perspective of their own life in the office as opposed to what’s actually best for the OP.

          This isn’t to say the advice is coming with the intent to hurt the OP, rather that it’s advice that would support the reference and the reference doesn’t it view it as being harmful to the OP.

      2. Snow Globe*

        A counter offer is generally just more money. There could be a promotion in the works, which could feasibly change the OP’s mind.

        1. Wants Green Things*

          But OP stated that she *is* interested in a higher salary as well as more growth opportunities, neither of which she foresees at her current company. So it’s a moot point.

          1. Lydia*

            Yeah, having that conversation is something you might do if you knew there were plans happening to promote you. Since the OP has no indication that’s the case, I think she’s fine not letting her current boss know before she gives her notice. She doesn’t owe them anything.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      If this career plan or opportunity is only going to be revealed to the LW if they have an offer on the table, I see no reason that they should stay for it.
      There’s no benefit in secretly making a career plan for someone.

      1. Antilles*

        Yeah, I’m struggling to think of a reason why such a “secret career plan” scenario would ever make sense.

        If you’re planning on moving me up the ladder, why keep it secret? Shouldn’t I be in the process of being prepared for the role if it’s that soon? How come it has to be secret? Even if you can’t necessarily tell me the exact role (e.g., because someone on their way out already has said job), why not at least tell me in general?

        There’s also a lot of more cynical (but also totally fair!) questions raised by this last-second secret plan reveal too: How come I’m only finding out about this at the exact moment when I’m on the verge of walking out the door? Is this really something you were planning or is this a panicked reaction that you’ll resent me for later (as can happen with counter-offers)? Since you waited this long to tell me, what are the odds this actually does come through rather than being a vague “in the future” which may not arrive?

        1. tennisfan*

          In my industry, we have U.S.-based positions and “field”-based ones, e.g. international. The latter category are hard to come by if you’re a U.S. citizen. They’re not part of the usual career trajectory, per se, so they’re not something you’d usually be explicitly working towards. They tend to come up more as ad hoc opportunities. Such a role definitely involves a change in scenery or could offer what OP might be seeking. Maybe the reference knows of something like this in the works for the OP, and the direct manager has waited to say anything so far for a myriad of reasons.

          Realizing my example is highly specific and very likely not what is going on, I do think though there is a nonzero chance the reference is aware of a unique opportunity that could be possible for OP.

        2. My Useless 2 Cents*

          My last lateral move (very flat company, no real promotion opportunities) the owner of the of company was debating expanding the company to offer a service not previously available. However, he didn’t want anyone knowing until he actually planned on expanding. Several managers were talking about moving me into this new department for about a year before I even knew it was an option. I knew they were looking at moving me to do something different, I just didn’t know what. Got me away from most phone calls and I enjoy learning something new, so I was thrilled.

          So in some ways they did have me on a secret career plan. I was getting a couple flash backs while reading OP’s letter. Then again, they may just want an opportunity to talk OP into staying. However, if you have the option for better pay AND better growth opportunities, you are probably better off taking the job at new company. After about 5 years, the new job here is no longer as challenging and as I said above, the company is pretty flat so no promotion opportunities either.

        3. ferrina*

          I’ve had one scenario where “Secret Career Plan” made sense.
          An employee was hired to do Y, but really wanted to move her career toward X. The person who had hired her (previous manager) had even told her that she could do X as part of her job, but that quickly got taken away. When I inherited her, I tried to find opportunities for her to do X, but there was also a lot of politics around whether X was even needed at our company (it was, but I had an uphill battle proving the value). I was working hard to create a position in X, but it required a LOT of political maneuvering. I even had a secret 3-year plan to prove value and need, then advocate for the role being created. I couldn’t tell anyone because it would undermine my careful political maneuvering- and the Higher Ups that I was playing politics with would be furious if they discovered that a measly middle-management woman could play politics better than them (there was a lot of sexism, too).

          That said, when my employee said she was leaving, I was happy for her. She deserved to go somewhere where she would be respected for the work she did in X, not have to play silly political games.

          1. ferrina*

            Now that I think about it, I was put on a secret career plan once. It was only a couple months long. A key employee was leaving but hadn’t formally announced his resignation. I was secretly tapped to fill the role, and they wanted to expand the role into other work I enjoyed. They couldn’t say anything until 1) the person announced they were leaving and 2) the role description was approved by the various layers of management, and even after that, 3) they still had to do a formal open application and interview process. I didn’t find out that they had designed the role with me in mind until after I had already been in the role for a couple months.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Yes! The situation sounds more like “let your manager come up with a plan,” v “but manager has a plan.”
        Especially because of the timing. OP has been interviewing and suddenly there’s a great thing going on when s/he’s getting an offer?
        No word about growth and opportunities in the last six months?
        All about whipping up a counteroffer.

      3. pancakes*

        Yes. That’s not a good environment to work in, if the only way to advance is to seem to be on the verge of leaving. That’s an employer who promotes people out of desperation rather than in recognition of skill, talent, or as part of a broader strategy, etc. It’s reactive.

        I want to add, in response to learnedthehardway, that having to rely on a reference from someone doesn’t in itself signal trusting their judgment. It can just as easily be that their position was one in which they’re well-positioned to be a reference, and can be counted on to give a decent one.

        1. Koalafied*

          LW does say they’ve held 4 positions in 7 years in their company, and have now reached the limits of where they can go without moving into management at the company – although they don’t specifically call them promotions, it sounds to me like they *have* been given growth opportunities before now.

          I still don’t think it’s reasonable to be making plans for an employee’s career path without the employee being part of the planning, however, so I don’t think there’s any need to take the advice to talk to her boss before accepting the offer. But this doesn’t sound like a scenario where they were neglected and taken for granted until suddenly an offer was close to materializing – it seems as though they’ve been given opportunities at regular intervals all along the way.

          1. OP2*

            To give a few more details, I would say my third position and my current position have been promotions. The third position was a promotion in job title (but not salary), while my current position has been a promotion in both job title and salary.

            Within my current department, I’ve reached the my own limits in terms of job title hierarchy and pay band, because the next step up in either would mean managing people, which my boss knows I have no interest in!

      4. Kes*

        To be fair, I think it’s much more likely that there are plans they’re still putting into place that they are planning to reveal to OP as soon as they’re ready, than that they have plans but are waiting for her to leave to reveal them.
        Either that or reference thinks boss would come up with something if prompted by OP giving notice (although it would reasonable of OP to feel that’s too little too late). But either way OP isn’t obliged to let boss know any earlier than they are ready to.

      5. Cringing 24/7*

        Absolutely this. I have my own career plan that I’m usually fairly vocal about, and if my employer has a different one for me, that’s on them.

    3. Coffee Anonymous*

      Can I just say I love that I’m reading this on my birthday, which I took off from work?

      That said, I didn’t just announce that I was taking it off. I ran it by my team a month ago, not to ask permission, but to make sure there weren’t major events I might have overlooked, confirm my backup wasn’t also off today, etc. And I do think there’s enough variation from one workplace to another in how one schedules vacation time that just announcing you were leaving early in your first week might raise some eyebrows.

      1. pancakes*

        “Raise some eyebrows” would result in the request being denied, not a message from the manager saying it’s fine followed by very subtle (?) or telepathic (?) signals that they’re “mad” and the new hire needs to return to the office.

        1. Coffee Anonymous*

          Agreed. At the very least, the manager should have responded with a “OK, but for next time, requests need to be approved a week in advance/no time off in July/etc.”

    4. hbc*

      I agree with asking the reference what the logic is, but I wouldn’t accept anything like “I can’t talk about it” as a sign that there’s something good enough in the works to consider changing course. Because 1) “in the works” can have a timeline of years if it ever even works out and 2) who’s to say this nebulous plan is actually something OP wants? Everyone may have good intentions, but career planning for your employee without their input is a risky move.

      But OP should ask anyway, because it increases the chance of coming out of it without hard feelings. If reference can say, “There’s flexibility in the budget,” OP can say, “Oh, well, it’s not just about money but also growth, so a counteroffer would have to be unreasonably huge to make a difference.” Or “it’s courtesy” can be answered with “My understanding is that isn’t really standard, and since I’ll be presenting a done deal either way, it doesn’t seem like there’s any benefit to Manager.”

      1. OP2*

        Thank you for your thoughts!

        I ended up asking my previous manager why she gave that advice, and she said, “Don’t say that you’re planning on leaving. Just pretend that you accepted an offer (without signing anything yet) and see what she says. It’s just going to be a huge loss for us if you leave.”

        To me, it doesn’t sound like there’s anything happening behind-the-scenes that she can’t share with me…it’s just such a bizarre piece of advice!

        1. Eater of Hotdish (fka jitm)*

          Ugh, whatever kind of game previous manager is playing with you, I’m not a fan of it. “no seriously lie to your boss, I promise it’ll work out okay, absolutely nothing bad will happen when you say j/k I’m not leaving after all”

          Are those bees I hear buzzing in the background?

    5. Office Lobster DJ*

      I agree that it would be interesting to ask directly to get at what’s behind the advice, not that OP has to. My own speculation is the dynamics between old and new manager. With NewManager’s stated tendency toward chilliness around departures, I wonder if OldManager is dancing between keeping OP’s privacy and worrying about some blowback (of the “YOU KNEW ALL ALONG? Why didn’t you TELL me OP was thinking of leaving?” variety) landing on them.

      1. OP2*

        Honestly…I think you are on to something! Previous manager and I report to the same boss, and the work the three of us do is closely linked.

    6. OP2*

      Thank you for your insight!
      I took your advice and asked my previous manager why she felt I should disclose my plans to my boss, since I didn’t want my boss to think that I was fishing for a counteroffer. My previous manager said, “Don’t say that you’re planning on leaving. Just pretend that you accepted an offer (without signing anything yet) and see what she says. It’s just going to be a huge loss for us if you leave.”

      To me, that advice seems even more bizarre…

      1. Kit*

        … because it is in fact more bizarre. “Even though you will be leaving and there is nothing we can do to entice you to stay, you should lie about exactly when you’re prepared to leave so we can… freeze you out and make you leave earlier?” I’m not sure what other outcome would occur, aside from making an offer you won’t accept or just letting you leave when you planned to – so the only new avenue this opens up is one that is worse for you.

        I hope you and Office Lobster DJ are right that this is really about the interpersonal dynamics between OldManager and NewManager, but to be frank, you should never base your decision about when and how to quit primarily on what is least uncomfortable for your current coworkers. It can be a factor, but usually only insofar as you make sure that you offer a reasonable notice period for your industry, document where necessary, and try to close out or hand off in-process work. That’s the professional norm; your OldManager’s expectations are wayyyyyyy outside that and you can treat them accordingly.

    7. tamarack and fireweed*

      It would still be bad advice.

      If I knew that there are big plans in the works, the manager/reference could a) say with emphasis “I think you may be underestimating the development options that could still open up” and encourage the LW strongly to make a push for a big-picture discussion with their boss and b) encourage the boss, if appropriately, to talk with the LW about that big new direction that the boss and the manager/reference are privy to, of course without revealing what they know about potential other offers.

      As-is it sounds more like the manager/reference has a weird little shell game with information in mind. In any event, if you aren’t getting offers specifically with the goal to improve your negotiation leverage with your own org – which is a thing that’s done in some fields – then the professional norm is to apply, make a decision, and *then* inform your employer. Not to dither around.

  5. PollyQ*

    OP#1 — Brrrrr! That’s the kind of behavior that pushes my buttons so hard I’d have trouble being reasonable in the face of it. I definitely agree with Alison’s advice to take a breezy attitude about this. Anything more solicitous runs the risk of your employee believing that it’s your job to manage his emotions and anxiety, which I hope we all agree would be ridiculous.

    1. Mid*

      Eh, I get the employee’s side of things.

      He presumably already had made plans before starting the job, or is someone who birthdays are important to (and that’s 100% fine!), and likely heard some griping about the overtime everyone is working, and probably felt like he was getting mixed signals.

      When you’re new to work especially, it can be hard to figure out what the norms are. And honestly, if someone knew you were taking off for your birthday, it’s not unreasonable to expect acknowledgment of that. Like when my coworker is leaving for vacation, I usually say “have a nice trip!”

      So I get why that could feel slightly chilly, on top of likely hearing about everyone’s overtime, and being concerned that you’re being seen as flaky/whatever because you’re so new in your role.

      1. Two Chairs, One to Go*

        That makes a lot of sense. It seems like a stressful environment to come into, especially for a new employee. A light and breezy, “I hope you enjoyed your birthday dinner” could go a long way, along with the rest of Alison’s advice.

      2. Despachito*

        I understand why the employee could have hesitated whether it was OK to take a day off because they saw everyone was working their off. However, I think the standard way would be to ASK and not ANNOUNCE that they are taking their time off. And I find the mention of “being mad for not wishing him happy birthday” wildly unprofessional. And tone-deaf as they must have realized that everyone including OP were very busy and not in the mood for social niceties.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          The communication on both sides is less than smooth, and that’s why we have social niceties, to have quick and smooth responses to things. The first lack of smoothness is from the employee; I think you’re right that the employee should have asked rather than informed – it is the first week. But then, in OP’s shoes I would definitely have said either that it wasn’t great timing, or I would have been warmer. I would almost definitely have said “happy birthday” either then in the IM conversation, or as they were leaving early…. as a reflex. It’s not required in any way, but it is a very useful social lubricant of a phrase and requires no thought at all. I think his complaining about it not being said is ridiculous however! A bit like complaining someone didn’t say God bless when you sneeze. However I can definitely see them wondering if the OP really meant that taking off early was “fine”, because it’s not clear even in this letter that it was okay at all. She said he should enjoy his birthday “since he’d already left” which is a bit chilly and … confusing . If it were my boss I’d be trying to clarify if taking off early was okay too, although I’d have waited till the next day and said something more like: “I’m still learning what’s okay, and wondered did I make a misstep taking off early for my birthday; everyone was so busy yesterday and it felt off”.

          1. Allonge*

            I don’t get the sense that OP intentionally / consciously omitted saying happy birthday though. They were in the middle of a conversation on a busy day, the social nicety of good-bye came automatically- maybe the birthday was forgotten in all that.

            1. Ellis Bell*

              It’s not really a big criticism of the OP, more of a tweak. I think being caught up in actual work, and saying “see you Tuesday” is A-OK 99 per cent of the time. However if there’s someone brand new to the office, taking a minute to make some eye contact and just using a few well worn phrases of warmth will help them feel welcome and set the relationships up for the long term.

              1. Green great dragon*

                Yeh. I don’t think OP needs to actively track birthdays or anything, but ideally they would’ve dropped in a happy birthday somewhere along the line – maybe a ‘happy birthday for tomorrow’ when agreeing the time. But that’s really minor, and far too minor a thing to actually text your boss about.

                1. Expiring Cat Memes*

                  In all this analysis of OP’s actions, could we also just take a moment to appreciate that OP’S team lead JUST DIED and that’s why everyone is working overtime? Literally, suddenly passed away only a few days before this person started, and all this birthday drama is happening against that backdrop?

                  I think OP has handled the situation with an incredible amount of grace and self awareness, given the context. Much more than I would have personally been able to muster in the circumstances.

                2. Sloanicota*

                  It’s exactly the kind of minor thoughtlessness that I’m guilty of so often. I get in my head and forget things like “happy birthday” or “I hope your mom’s okay” (if they previously mentioned they were worried about their mom or something). I’m a woman, and the bar is very high for me to be tuned in and sensitive and thoughtful, but unfortunately I have a one-track mind sometimes and totally forget what other people have going on. People do resent it and I do fee bad. I still think the employee’s IM was too much though.

                3. Lydia*

                  @Expiring Cat Memes What drama? The new employee sounds like he’s unsure of things and possibly has some social anxiety. That’s it. The OP can easily fix it and start coaching him to understanding work norms. OP hasn’t indicated it’s a common thing for him to think she’s mad at him, and he asked one time in a follow up message because, hey! Young and socially anxious means you haven’t learned it’s probably you, not them, yet. This is all easy to deal with.

                4. Observer*

                  But that’s really minor, and far too minor a thing to actually text your boss about.

                  It *is* minor, but that can be hard for someone new to see.

                  All things considered, I totally understand why the OP was “frazzled”, as he put it. But I also do understand why a new employee might react this way. Especially since it’s quite possible that someone with more experience in the workforce may have pointed out to him that while boss may have said “Fine” they may have meant “OK, FINE! ~~eyeroll~~” Rather and “Oh, yeah. Fine.”

              2. Allonge*

                Sure, but the advice is generally it’s a good idea to (so do make an effort to) remember and mention birthdays and similar occasions. By the way not just when you are a manager but in general. It cannot be never forget to mention this even if you are in the middle of five different things. Managers are human.

                At the same time, for the employee, asking for leave is best and once you got it, take it and leave others be – don’t ask them to to extra emotional labor for you in reassurances that it was ok in the end. But he is not writing in, so…

          2. Despachito*

            “I’m still learning what’s okay, and wondered did I make a misstep taking off early for my birthday; everyone was so busy yesterday and it felt off”.

            I would consider this appropriate.

            Whining that you did not wish me a happy birthday… not so much. It is all about wording.

            1. Quoth the Raven*

              I wonder if perhaps the employee was asking if OP was mad because they didn’t wish him a happy birthday not because it wasn’t said, but in the context where it wasn’t. Like it’s not so much the need of being wished a good day but rather reading it as a display of displeasure, less “I’m worried you’re angry because you failed to wish me a happy birthday” and more, “I’m worried you’re angry because you didn’t wish me a happy birthday when I already feel you’re upset by my leaving early as a whole,” if that makes sense?

              Like, I usually wouldn’t care about a colleague not saying good morning to me, but I would probably read it differently if I felt I had screwed up or that they were mad at me, even if I wouldn’t bring it up.

              1. Despachito*

                I think it possible that this was exactly the situation – OP WAS a bit pissed (for the employee leaving them in the lurch and just announcing – I would most certainly be, too), and that, besides the obvious rush, made them less likely to wish the employee a happy birthday.

                I can definitely imagine feeling that way (being caught unaware by the employee’s request and not knowing a better solution than OK it in the moment, but internally not feeling good about it), and that it will subconciously reflect in a more chilly interaction with that person.

                It is something I have been working on in private situations, because I find this a bit passive-aggressive, and very much prefer being honest, but I get it that it is not easy at all.

                1. Lilo*

                  I think I’d be annoyed if a new employee just announced they were leaving early without any lead time. In my job we have a LOT going on the first week. Like we had a new hire whose wife unexpectedly gave birth in the first week and of course we accommodated that, but a birthday? No.

                  The problem is LW needs to learn to say no, but the employee also needs to learn that, no, half days aren’t automatic for your birthday and you have to ask to leave early and learn the difference between “I have to leave early” and “I would like to leave early”.

                2. Sloanicota*

                  Right. The origin of this is that OP was not clear about their actual feelings: they do not want their employee to leave early in their first week when everybody is swamped. Now, I totally understand why OP didn’t say this directy, but I think the employee is picking up on the wishy-washyness of her saying one thing and feeling another, and that’s why they’re being insecure and needy. (They may also just stink). Better for OP to have said, “you’re new and we’re busy so I don’t usually prefer people to leave early unless it’s an emergency, but because it’s your birthday I’m going to allow it this one time, have a great day.” That might make OP feel calmer and thus the employee feel less weird.

              2. hbc*

                Yeah, I think he expressed it badly, but he read the room correctly. OP was not happy with him. It’s also pretty natural to remember to say “happy birthday” or “congrats to your daughter” or “have a nice vacation” when you’re leaving early and the person knows why.

                So maybe he was (mostly?) wrong to pick up that particular signal, but he was right overall, and that should be addressed.

              3. Student*

                I get the sense that the employee wants the manager to do more emotional labor on the employee’s behalf and is trying to hint to the manager OP that she didn’t celebrate his birthday sufficiently to soothe his ego. I’d keep a close eye on him to make sure he’s not expecting the OP to be his cheerleader and emotional support dog, instead of a manager.

                This strikes me as very off for interactions with a manager, and intended to elicit a reflexive “Oh I’m not mad, I’m sorry I neglected your birthday!” as if that takes precedence over the work OP was doing. It also very explicitly reverses the normal (in many workplaces) expectation that employees are supporting their boss with good work, rather than expecting the boss to support them with constant acknowledgement.

                1. Ellis Bell*

                  There’s definitely room to be wary of that. When OP speaks to him I think she needs to clarify if he was just worried about making an error in taking the time off, or if he seriously is put out about not getting a birthday greeting. If he indicates in any way that it’s the latter, she probably does need to coach him on the office not having a huge birthday culture, and on it not being a great thing to say to your boss generally. I think the main gist of his question was simply checking in on whether he should have stayed, but it was phrased just oddly enough to be concerned about his needing emotional labor.

          3. Anonys*

            Honestly, I can understand why the employee feels weird about the interaction with OP. OP does seem chilly and kind of in general pissed at the employee for leaving early when everyone is doing overtime and I guess the “you didnt wish me a happy birthday” was maybe just an easy thing for the employee to cling to as an example of something feeling off?

            Also, I can understand feeling a bit weird if someone doesn’t acknowledge your birthday when you are in the same physical space that day and literally announced to them it was your birthday the day before. I wouldn’t mention it because I dont want to come across needy but would find it weird.

            I am also hung up on the OP’s wording of: “I also felt that since he’d already left the office, he should go ahead and enjoy the birthday celebration” Why not “he should go ahead, since he had announced it previously and I had okayed it and you know its his birthday”? It really sounds like OP was NOT ok with the employee leaving early for their birthday, even though on the Sunday they had said it was fine. And I am sure that’s what the employee picked up on and led to the “neediness”. Sure, the employee should have asked rather than announced, but if it wasn’t ok, the OP as a manager should have made it clear what the expectations in the office are around flexibility.

            I mean, asking your manager if they are mad at you because they didnt wish you a happy birthday is obviously not a great move. But I can understand why the direct report felt uncomfortable in the situation and I think the OP has some things to work on here and those are more important since OP is in the manager role.

            1. Despachito*

              “It really sounds like OP was NOT ok with the employee leaving early for their birthday, even though on the Sunday they had said it was fine. And I am sure that’s what the employee picked up on and led to the “neediness”.

              Yes, it seems to me that it was exactly the case.

              Perhaps it would be helpful for the OP to formulate (at least now, retroactively) what they would have wanted to say to the employee to feel OK with it (and to be able to wish him a happy birthday sincerely). Because I think that if we say something we do not mean (because we do not know better at that moment), this is more inclined to transpire into our other interactions without us being actively aware of it.

              1. Student*

                It’s pretty weird, in my industry, to take a day off for any reason other than an emergency within your first few days of starting a new job. Taking a day off for your birthday, under those circumstances, would make people in my industry think you were probably a bad fit if that happened. Taking a day off for your birthday after you’ve been working there a while would be more acceptable. The employee is being weird and inconvenient, for a new employee. The OP approved the leave anyway, but I really don’t see why she’d need to be effusively happy about it; as long as she didn’t send him mixed signals about whether the leave was approved.

                1. Observer*

                  The OP approved the leave anyway, but I really don’t see why she’d need to be effusively happy about it; as long as she didn’t send him mixed signals about whether the leave was approved.

                  The problem is not that the OP was not “effusive”. But that the OP actually DID give him mixed messages. They said “OK” but it sounds like when the guy actually left the OP gave him a bit of a cold shoulder. They may not have meant it that way, but that is definitely how it would have read.

                2. JB (not in Houston)*

                  @observer how did she give him the cold shoulder? She didn’t ignore him? She just didn’t tell him happy birthday.

            2. GammaGirl1908*

              I am also hung up on the OP’s wording of: “I also felt that since he’d already left the office, he should go ahead and enjoy the birthday celebration”

              Agree. As opposed to what? What was the alternative to him enjoying his birthday celebration? If Employee had commented 10 minutes before he left, would LW have told him to stay and not leave early for his birthday? It was only not worth the bother since Employee had already left? There are some mixed signals here, considering that LW had already told Employee he could leave early. If there was a passive-aggressive “I know I told him it was fine, but it was a time when he should have read the room and figured out that it wasn’t fine,” happening there, then that is on LW for saying yes but expecting Employee to guess that she meant no.

              1. Allonge*

                I agree that OP did not handle this perfectly, but I totally see where they were coming from here.

                It’s busy. Really really busy. New person got his birthday half off, which is a pain and maybe OP regrets it but now this is what’s happening. Except New person is coming back via message and causing extra work still.

                So instead of that, he should be off enjoying his birthday. If he said something before leaving, it might make sense to ask him to stay after all, but right now OP has one extra thing to deal with.

                1. LW #1*

                  LW #1 here — this is exactly what made this situation stick in my mind enough to write about. I was totally fine with taking the time, but being so swamped with work I was very focused on getting things done and, in that rush, forgot to say happy birthday in the moment. Honestly, with him being so new, it wasn’t mission critical that he be there — but I was surprised to have to deal with an “are you mad?” after he’d already left, and that’s the issue I wanted help with. I thought the suggestion of addressing it but keeping it breezy was just-right for the level of seriousness of this whole thing. And definitely agree that it would have been better just to remember to say happy birthday in the moment!

            3. BatManDan*

              Personally, I’d be chilly to anyone that took off any amount of normal work hours for a birthday. I know other people view them differently, but if you want to celebrate ON your birthday, there are probably 12-16 hours that you’re not at work that day. If you feel you must have a larger / longer celebration, that’s what time off (weekends, in most jobs) is for. I’d be doubly chilly if the rest of the team was working overtime.

              1. BethDH*

                Why would it be any different than taking vacation any other time?
                It’s one thing to be sensitive to amount of notice and overtime (though I think lower level employees have only a small amount of responsibility for worrying about the workloads of other staff). But it sounds like you think they shouldn’t take vacation for a birthday ever?

                1. Cringing 24/7*

                  I don’t fully agree with BatManDan, but it’s different because you’re talking about taking vacation, and what OP’s employee did was give almost no lead time to *telling* someone they’re taking off early within their first week of a new job for a reason that (rightfully or not) can seem frivolous during a busy (and short-staffed, if I’m reading it right) time.

                  A right way to do that would be as an ask (since you have no social capital due to being new) OR to have mentioned that you have plans when accepting the job and would need off early for such-and-such date (not giving the reason). There’s nothing wrong, in general, with taking off to celebrate your birthday, but the way that this employee did it was apparently not in-line with what is considered professional in this office.

                2. Oryx*

                  Cringing 24/7, yes which is why it would be appopriate to address the behavior of tell v. ask of taking off time last minute during your first week.

                  But based on other comments, BatManDan has very strong feelings about people acknowledging their own birthdays in a way that seems really extremely negative.

              2. I should really pick a name*

                This is 100% an office culture thing.
                In some offices, it’s totally normal to leave early occasionally regardless of the reason.

              3. Oryx*

                “There are probably 12-16 hours that you’re not at work that day.”

                And people are sleeping for the majority of that time. On any given day I have maybe 6 free hours outside of work and in that time I need to deal with dinner, clean, errands, family stuff, etc.

                Based on your other comments you seem to take other people’s birthdays personally in a really weird way. It’s fine if birthdays aren’t your thing but nobody is celebrating their birthday AT you.

              4. Lance*

                But why judge them for precisely what they take time off for in the first place? People take time off for any number of reasons; just focus on whether it’s a good time (per work needs) for them to be off or not.

                1. Cringing 24/7*

                  I agree with this – and for this reason, I really feel like the employee messed up not just by telling rather than asking, but by giving a reason. I don’t think it’s wise to ask off for non-urgent reasons so early into being employed with a company, but to ask off for this specific reason reads to me as if the employee is very inexperienced in the professional world.

              5. WellRed*

                What do you care why someone wants some time off? Why is the fact if it being a birthday a problem for you?

              6. metadata minion*

                I understand why it would be irritating if everyone was working overtime and this was a crappy time to take time off at all, but if you have vacation time available, why do you care what reason people have for taking it? I’m not actually a big birthday-celebration person, but in the last few years I’ve started taking my birthday off just because it’s a convenient excuse and I tend to end up with extra vacation time at the end of the year.

              7. LilPinkSock*

                You’d be chilly to someone just because they chose to use PTO for their birthday? I had a boss like that…to the point where she threatened my job if I “even dared” (her words) to take just a half day. She said “we give you weekends and that’s enough for a supposed professional” when she tried to write me up.

                1. Sloanicota*

                  It’s this employees first week, so I think there’s a universe where OP could have reasonably said, “Happy birthday! I’m sorry, we’re all hands on deck right now and you just started so you don’t have any PTO so I’m going to need you to finish a full day at the office.”

                2. Observer*


                  I agree that it would have been reasonable for the OP to say “I’m sorry, but right now we can’t allow anything but emergency time off”.

                  And it might be a good idea for the OP to actually have a conversation about figuring out when is a reasonable time to take off and how to ask / announce that.

                  But I’d say that that is a separate issue from some unwritten blanket ban on taking time off to celebrate a birthday.

              8. anonagaintoday*

                I don’t think his reason for leaving early should matter. The manager either approves a request or doesn’t. The employee should have asked instead of announced. But it’s really not all that different than any employee saying I’m leaving early for my kid’s soccer game or my run club or my daughter’s dance recital. What if the employee had said, “I’m leaving early to celebrate my daughter’s birthday tonight.” Would that have been okay? We all have things that our important to us, and celebrating with friends may be what’s important in that employee’s life. If the employee is just entering the work force, then he’s likely at a life stage where friends are a big part of his personal life and fulfillment and a huge part of a personal support system. I don’t think managers should get in the habit of deciding what in someone’s personal life is worthy of approving or not. I personally probably wouldn’t leave early six days into a new job, but I wouldn’t be upset with someone who said they had an evening already scheduled before they started the new role – regardless of reason.

              9. Lydia*

                How very edgy of you.

                So over this “I’m a very mature work person” thing around birthdays. You do you, buddy, but that also means I’m going to do me and if that offends you for whatever reason, maybe spend some time with that and figure out why you care so much what I do.

                1. Migraine Month*

                  I never take birthdays off work, but I do wear a tiara to work that day. I’ve never worked in an office culture where it was a problem.

            4. Smithy*

              Yeah – this 100% strikes me as a case of a new employee and a new manager being a little unsure in how best to read to read the room and articulate themselves.

              I once had a manager who had a desk drawer full of $10 coffee gift cards to make sure she was just on top of everyone’s birthday and then another manager who started a few weeks before my birthday who gave me a bracelet that almost looked identical to one I wore to the office every day. Neither gesture was necessary or expected, but I in one case – she managed a lot of people and it made sure that everyone was equally acknowledged promptly. In the second, it showed an (almost alarming) attention to her only direct report early on. Absolutely not necessary or expected, but those niceties can just go a long was to smoothing over awkwardness.

              IM vs in person or video communication doesn’t allow for the same amount of warmth or tone. And if that’s the OP’s primary way of communicating with a new to the workforce direct report – there may be a lot more opportunity for nuance and intention to get missed. Which opens the door wide open for neediness and anxiety. Smiley face emoji’s, exclamation marks, phrases like happy birthday, have a nice weekend, etc – all of that can do a lot of heavy lifting to express “all is good”.

              And if it’s not, then it’s also a good idea to use your words.

            5. Mid*

              Yes, this is exactly what I was trying to say, but with much better wording. It sounds like OP was irritated and it came through to the new employee and they were asking if they made a misstep, using the birthday as an example/part of the whole. It’s harder to say “you seem pissed in general” than it is to say “you didn’t say happy birthday.”

            6. Amy*

              I can’t remember most of the time. It doesn’t matter if it is the day before. Unless they said to me right there and then, ‘it’s my birthday,’ I would probably have forgotten. The OP also clarified below she had already wished him happy birthday once and told him not to worry coming back in.

        2. allathian*

          Eh, I don’t know… What do you mean by social niceties here? Surely wishing a new coworker/report a happy birthday as they’re leaving for the day isn’t too much to ask? Although in this case, because the LW was talking to someone else just as the report was leaving, I can easily understand why that didn’t happen.

          There’s a lot going on here, though. The LW is a very new manager, whose first-ever report is a recent graduate and still learning professional norms, and on top of everything else, the department is working overtime because the team lead just died the week before and they’re scrambling to get everything done. If the rest of the department doesn’t have the same leeway to work a shorter day for a birthday as the LW granted the new hire, I can understand it if there’s some resentment.

          If people are working overtime, I assume they aren’t exempt. Did this report work a longer day to get their hours in before leaving early? Presumably leaving early would’ve been okay if the rest of the team hadn’t needed to work overtime.

          All that said, I think the LW needs to set clearer expectations for the future.

          1. Cate*

            Obviously there are caveats here for certain kinds of industries and what ‘urgent’ can mean in them – but I think the most glaring lack of niceties has come from the company leadership. A team leader dies and they make it so the team has to scramble? No compassionate leave or extended deadlines that they handle? I don’t think it’s the manager or the new hire who are the ones really in the wrong here, just muddling through a difficult circumstance that they’ll both learn from.

            1. AsPerElaine*

              Sometimes that’s just the reality of the work. It MIGHT be possible to push back deliverables or change the timelines on a big project, but sometimes the work is there and needs doing and doesn’t care that somebody just died.

              I was in a situation where a coworker died unexpectedly. We were all really shaken up about it, and we were told to take time if we needed it, and other departments were very understanding, but there was still work that needed to be done. Of course they started trying to fill the position, but hiring takes time, especially to replace a somewhat senior person. It was a busy time of year and also several people already had vacations planned; we were probably badly underwater by the time the new job was posted, even having de-prioritized everything nonessential.

            2. Observer*

              A team leader dies and they make it so the team has to scramble?

              Without knowing more, it could be that it really IS out of the hands of management.

              I don’t think it’s the manager or the new hire who are the ones really in the wrong here, just muddling through a difficult circumstance that they’ll both learn from.

              I think you have a very good point here. But I think it’s valuable for the OP to realize that – both on their end, but also about the new guy.

          2. Clisby*

            But, realistically, what can a new hire do to alleviate the workload when he’s been there only 6 days? If he could have been a big help only 6 days in, this must be pretty trivial work.

        3. Allonge*

          I totally agree on the ask thing – I never worked anywhere where it was not the thing to do even with ‘I absolutely must have the day off’ situations, to add at least ‘I hope that’s ok’.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, I agree. I’m in the EU, so I have more vacation than is typical in the US. This means that the workplace is set up to handle extended absences through cross-training. Technically my manager is allowed to tell me when I can and can’t take time off, in practice my close coworker who has the same job description and I talk about it, and when we’ve agreed, all our manager has to do is approve the time off. But when we take the odd day off at shortish notice, my coworker and I always say something like “I hope that’s OK?” We have lots of flexibility in our working hours, but we tend to say that even when one of us leaves early. We share a queue in our ticketing system, and keep an eye on it on alternate weeks, and especially on the weeks when it’s my turn, I always ask my coworker if it’s OK to leave early, and he does the same when it’s his turn. I can’t remember it ever not being OK…

          2. Riot Grrrl*

            I’m glad you said this. I am struggling slightly with one direct report about this. All other employees ask first and then announce at our general meetings “I’m taking Thursday off” after it’s been approved. One employee, on the other hand, simply announces his off days at the meetings as if it’s a done deal even though it’s usually the first I’m hearing of it. My theory is that he thinks that’s what everyone is doing since he obviously isn’t privy to conversations between me and other employees.

            Beyond that, he usually has a mildly martyr/challenging tone to his voice, like a slight undertone of “I work so hard and dammit I’m taking that day off whether you like it or not! Try and stop me!”

            The thing is he doesn’t take off very much time at all, and all his days off are more than well deserved. I just wish every announcement didn’t feel like he is gearing up for a fight.

            1. Sloanicota*

              I hope you speak up and tell him how to request time off in advance! Especially if that’s the office policy and is presumably spelled out somewhere! He may just honestly not realize that he’s out of the norm for how it’s done.

            2. Allonge*

              Oh, do tell him! It’s a pretty easy mistake to make in the culture you describe and if he is coming from ones where it’s just an announcement. To be honest, we have an electronic system for requesting leave and normally I would discuss with my boss before anyway. It’s not fair to you or him to be annoyed about tjis.

          3. My Useless 2 Cents*

            I find this to be a huge contradiction to the norm on this sight (In general terms, I’m not specifically targeting Allonge or anything). Typically it seems that comments focus on telling employers that you are taking time off and blast any employer who dares to reject a leave request for whatever reason. The social nicety of asking vrs telling is on par with the social nicety of wishing someone a happy birthday (when you know) or not as they are leaving for the day.

            Granted, in this situation, the timing is not optimal. But given that it was employee’s first week, plans were probably already made when the job was taken. Plus, given the unexpected tragedy of the team lead passing away, most of the work the coworkers were taking on are most likely things the employee has not been trained to deal with… so does it even make sense for new employee to work overtime?

            My last assumption, given the request, I’m thinking leaving early means 1/2 hour – 1 hour early, not the half/most day a lot of people are assuming (OP doesn’t say). In the grand scheme of things, does even an hour of missing work from someone in training really deserve this much contempt?

            1. Allonge*

              To be honest, a lot of comments on this site have a totally unreasonable expectations on how a healthy workplace functions. Possibly because people have zero experience with anything approaching it. So while I am happy to follow Alison’s advice in most things, the commentariat (myself included!) is a lot more of a hit and miss and definitely needs a grain of salt. Asking instead of telling/demanding is, as you say, a totally normal social nicety. Also just about anywhere a manager will have some say in approving leave, and… yes, in anything even approaching normal, you want to be on good terms with your boss.

        4. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          He didn’t take a day off, though, and it’s not actually clear that he took any time off. “Leaving early” might mean coming in at 8 and leaving at 5 when everyone is working OT. Or he’s exempt and it’s not PTO because he’s making it up another day.

          1. Shan*

            Yes, “leaving early” could well have been, say, 3:30 instead of 4:30/5, and while obviously it would have been better to ask instead of tell, that’s something that would be totally okay for a new employee to do at most workplaces in my industry.

        5. Observer*

          And I find the mention of “being mad for not wishing him happy birthday” wildly unprofessional. And tone-deaf as they must have realized that everyone including OP were very busy and not in the mood for social niceties.

          Maybe unprofessional, though I’m not convinced.

          But he most definitely DID read the room correctly – or at least not incorrectly or unreasonably.

          True, the OP is not “mad” at him. But the OP definitely did come off as being put off by the whole birthday thing. Even in the letter, it sounded that way, even though it looks like the OP clarified that a bit in the comments.

      3. Stunner266*

        Completely agree.

        I dont think new guy is asking for them to throw him a party, but it is very normal to say ‘happy birthday’ to someone if you know its their birthday.

        So even though it was a bit over the top for him to message and ask if he should come back to work, its equally weird that OP had 2 occasions to say a basic ‘happy birthday’, but didnt.

        1. Despachito*

          But it is necessary to read the room, too.

          OP is in a fix right now – a member of their team passed away and they are (understandably) struggling with the situation. Blaming them for not wishing a happy birthday in a situation when they are extremely busy is at least very tone deaf.

          1. allathian*

            That’s true. The situation’s a bit confusing, though, because the LW only has one report and has been a manager for the week since the report started. So I’m not sure how much influence the LW has on the department’s workload.

          2. Run mad; don't faint*

            I really don’t think the new guy felt they were owed a “happy birthday”. I get the sense they were reading the room, to some extent anyway, and suspected the LW wasn’t happy with them leaving. Not receiving a “happy birthday” was taken as more evidence of LW’s displeasure that the employee left.

            1. pancakes*

              In my experience, “Are you mad at me” out of the blue only ever comes from people who aren’t reading the room at all. It’s almost always closer to, “Never mind the room, let’s talk about me for a minute! I need reassurance.”

              1. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

                What Pancakes said. I had a coworker who would fret if someone who normally said Hi didn’t one day say Hi for various reasons (distracted, tired, forgot, focussed) and it would trigger a sudden burst of anxiety in that coworker and boom, there went her mood and her productivity. And she was not new to the workforce.

                It was exhausting. I would monitor this new hire for a while to see if that pattern repeats.

                1. Unaccountably*

                  Oh, god. You just reminded me of the LW with horrible anxiety who got so worked up because a co-worker didn’t say goodbye to her one day that she stole a pay stub, got the co-workers address, and showed up at her house.

              2. Sloanicota*

                Yeah “are you mad at me” is a tough way to start an adult conversation with your supervisor, so I’d say there’s plenty of blame for the employee here too (the rest of my comments are aimed more at what OP can do differently so I want to acknowledge this particular employee may in fact be needy and immature).

                1. Unaccountably*

                  This. I think the manager could have handled it a little differently, though I certainly think given the circumstances – i.e., her first ever report starting right after her team lead died suddenly – she can be forgiven for not having a polished and Miss Manners-approved response.

                  But the “Are you mad at me?” question would have put my back up. If you think I’m mad at you, come talk to me about it on the next business day like an adult. I have a low tolerance for workplace neediness under the best of circumstances, but particularly when everyone else is drowning in work, my report informed me they were taking time off for a non-emergency reason, and then they contacted me wanting me to stop what I was doing and manage their anxiety for them.

          3. tennisfan*

            The direct report only just started. It’s a hard enough situation to read the room as it is, but there’s now this extra factor of the team lead passing away. Even a more experienced person may have trouble getting a feel for what the expectations are for them under those circumstances.
            Those first couple weeks can be the most challenging as learn what your manager’s work style is like.

            If I were OP, I’d mention that time off is more of an ask than a tell situation, and leave it at that for now. I think direct report was nervous more than anything, and the intricacies of professional communication can take time to learn. OP can make it a focus of the report’s professional development plan.

        2. Asenath*

          I’d think it really odd for acquaintances – much less a new boss, who is not only an acquaintance, but a work supervisor – to wish me a happy birthday, but then, even if I’d requested (not announced) time off for my birthday, which I wouldn’t, I would not have said it was for my birthday. Personal time off is personal. I can see situations in which a boss or particularly a close co-worker might know its my birthday and say something, but I don’t think birthday greetings are usually default behaviour.I think the new worker needs to learn a bit more about the norms of the workplace, including the assumption that the presence or absence of birthday greetings means something important in this situation. The new worker hasn’t committed a grave workplace sin by any standards (unless it’s a very big thing there to request leave and not announce it), but needs to know that the birthday greeting issue isn’t serious. And offering to return when on approved leave is also not necessary.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Yeah but if you announced – not asked – that you were leaving early in your first week for “personal time off” that would also be extremely weird. It’s only because the employee may place great emphasis on their birthday as a once-a-year can’t-reschedule type day that OP felt obligated to try and accommodate them.

        3. Münchner Kindl*

          I’m a bit suprised that Allison didn’t point out how wide the spectrum is on how workplaces deal with birthdays – in some places, there’s a designated person collecting money to buy a card and small gift (less than 5 Euro per person), and the birthday person brings in cake for the team; in others, it’s a cake once a month for everybody who falls into it; one company gave a day off except for leapyears….

          So if new employee is used to at least a card as standard acknowledgement, and now doesn’t even get a verbal “Happy birthday” I can understand asking about the culture at this place.

          1. Koalafied*

            one company gave a day off except for leapyears….

            I have this fervent wish that one day Alison will get a follow-up from leap year birthday boss saying they’ve finally realized they were wrong and are embarrassed at the way they doubled down originally, but I’m sure not holding my breath waiting for it.

          2. Sloanicota*

            That’s a good point, it’s possible that the employee is remembering big all-office birthday celebrations at their past job and comparing that with the chilliness here. It’s not really OP’s fault though.

            1. Amy*

              I’ve never seen that in my life. Allison always warns people in this paper about workplaces where ‘everyone is family’…….

          3. LB*

            Yeah the PTO is one thing, and it’s not like the new guy was expecting a signed card or anything. But saying happy birthday in response to someone acknowledging out loud that today’s their birthday (as opposed to expecting it unprompted) is a pretty basic social courtesy.

            It’s like (a watered-down version of) if he mentioned he’d just gotten engaged, and boss said “ok” instead of “congratulations”. It’s pretty much a reflex for most people, so if they don’t say the normal thing, you understandably go, “Oh, is something wrong?”

            1. Malarkey01*

              This is where I fall on this. If someone mentions it’s their birthday (even a complete stranger dropped it into conversation) I’d respond “OH Happy Birthday, Hope you have a good day” and we’d smile and then move on.

              If I mentioned it was my birthday to my boss and they said “okay fine take the day” I would wonder why they were chilly. Not because I expect a big production but just because they skipped what I consider a normal social response.

              1. Shan*

                Yes, this is where I fall as well. It feels like an automatic response to me, so the absence of a “Happy Birthday” would definitely lead to me lying awake at night scrutinizing every interaction I’d had with you over and over again until I was convinced I’d be getting fired the next day.

                1. Allonge*

                  OP confirmed they wished NewGuy a happy birthday when it came up specifically and simply were too busy when he was actually leaving to recall that it was birthday-day. It happens!

                  I know what overthinking things is like but this IS a useful reminder that it’s not a good habit. Especially when analysing the actions of a practical stranger.

        4. LB*

          Yeah I think for most people, saying “happy birthday” when there’s conversation directly referencing the fact that it’s their birthday on that very day is so ingrained and normal that it feels off if they don’t, which may be what gave the new employee weird vibes. Like sure, there are occasions where it just naturally wouldn’t happen if the person wasn’t super busy, but it’s the kind of thing that even strangers would tend to say if it came up.

          I think the question is really two separate issues. Should the new guy have asked, rather than told, about the PTO? Yes and that’s a good norm to inform him of. Could he have phrased his question in a more mature-sounding way? Also yes. That all falls into the new to the workforce issue. But if OP really did intentionally avoid saying even a bland happy birthday as the new guy left, it’s pretty reasonable for him to be wondering why something seems wrong.

          1. I should really pick a name*

            The birthday was mentioned on the weekend, not on the day it happened.

            It looks like the OP didn’t say happy birthday because they were in the middle of a conversation and it wasn’t at the top of their mind.

            Even if it’s a reasonable thing to expect, “Why didn’t you wish me happy birthday?” is a very odd question in the workplace.

          2. Becca*

            You know, I wonder if he had worked out taking the half day with the old team lead and realized last minute that OP likely didn’t know about it and then just handled it awkwardly.

        5. Butterfly Counter*

          I don’t know about this. It might also be a difference in how people think about birthdays.

          Personally, I see birthday celebrations for children and those reaching milestones (whatever they may be). I know the new employee wasn’t asking for a celebration, but to his new coworkers, it’s not necessarily a day they want to mark for someone they don’t know well yet.

          Some people see every birthday as a day to be celebrated, whether it’s their own birthday or someone else’s and not remarking “Happy birthday!” on the day is rude. Others, like me, don’t see it as a big deal and so not remarking “Happy birthday!” on the day ISN’T rude or anything to be read into.

          Honestly, my thought reading the OP’s letter is that the new hire was an only child where every little thing was celebrated (not a bad thing!) and that not making him the center of attention means something is wrong.

          1. I should really pick a name*

            There’s no real need to create a narrative about the new hire’s upbringing.

          2. turquoisecow*

            That’s unnecessary. Plenty of adults like to have their birthdays acknowledged and it isn’t rude to say happy birthday to someone.

        6. Rain's Small Hands*

          Normal, yes….but as someone who didn’t grow up with firm and fast big birthday celebrations (my mother is calendar challenged, my father travelled and has a Christmas birthday – so he is a lifelong suffer of lack of birthday, and my sister and I have birthdays three weeks apart, so if you are within a month any direction on wishing someone in my family Happy Birthday – you are good – also gifts every few years once you get to your mid-teens – three, five – they don’t come every year, that’s like nuts :)), I always find it odd when workplaces track birthdays and do something about it. And, honestly, a little uncomfortable. I have learned that outside my family, I’m the odd one, and plenty of people think that taking their birthday off, having a party, going to dinner, getting presents, and having people wish them happy birthday is necessary. For me, a coworker wishing me happy birthday is “thanks” with an unstated undercurrent of “how did you know it was my birthday, I’d forgotten it was today, that’s really weird.” (Usually its because someone in the office thinks its appropriate to track such a thing and has dug through HR records to compile a calendar.)

          I’m not so socially unaware that when people make a big deal out of their birthdays I don’t smile and sincerely wish them a very happy birthday. But I can see that if a new hire said they were taking the rest of the day for their birthday I would not take the hint that I was supposed to say “Oh, Happy Birthday, get out of here and have a great one!” Even if I wasn’t swamped and dealing with the recent death of the team lead.

      4. LW1*

        LW #1 here! I should have mentioned that when I got the IM asking if he should come back, I said happy birthday along with don’t worry about coming back in, along with saying I’ve been a bit frazzled and it had slipped my mind (all true: I was focused on getting work done). I think Alison’s breezy approach makes a lot of sense here. Thanks for answering!

        1. Meowsy*

          Oh, commented before I saw this. Yeah, this should have been sufficient. I hope Alison’s script takes care of it!

        2. Yoyoyo*

          I wanted to say I’m sorry for the loss of your colleague. For me, a new employee announcing that they were taking time off for their birthday would be really annoying and I would probably need a moment to regulate my emotions before responding. It would be even worse if I were dealing with an unexpected death on the team. It might be worth having a conversation with your employee about the context in which they started and how that affects their onboarding (ie, “Unfortunately you joined us immediately following a tragedy on the team, so you might feel that everyone is really busy and maybe a little short in their communication; that’s because we are scrambling after the sudden death of so-and-so, so please don’t think it’s anything personal.”). You might even say that you were a bit taken aback by the request to leave early because typically people discuss already planned time off in the process of negotiating the offer.

          1. metadata minion*

            “You might even say that you were a bit taken aback by the request to leave early because typically people discuss already planned time off in the process of negotiating the offer.”

            That’s certainly true for taking multiple days off, but just leaving early on one day isn’t something I would expect anyone to have to negotiate.

            1. Mac*

              I think this is very industry- and role-specific. I’ve never ever worked a job where I felt like I could just tell my boss “see ya!” It’s always been an ask.

            2. Sloanicota*

              In their first week? When the whole rest of the team is working overtime? I think that depends on how early is early. If it’s just an hour one day I wouldn’t comment, but if it’s notable it’s still a bit irritating.

              1. Smithy*

                This also depends on the sector, but for some jobs the first week isn’t necessarily a time when a new hire would be fully trained and 100% able to support that level of overtime. I understand that the optics of leaving at a half day might seem irritating if everyone is working overtime, but if it’s more optics than actual work product for a new hire – then that’s worth interrogating.

                1. Yoyoyo*

                  I guess my thoughts are informed by my experience, which may not be the same in every field. Whenever I have onboarded a new person, I have created a schedule of trainings, orientations, and job shadowing for them for their first few weeks. If they tell me about something they need to leave early for in advance, that’s fine because I can just not schedule (or reschedule) what I would have put in for that time. If it’s spur of the moment, they might be missing something pretty important that will now need to be rescheduled.

              2. turquoisecow*

                Most of the jobs I’ve worked, me working overtime my first work probably wouldn’t have helped the workload – in fact it would have made it worse because my otherwise super busy coworkers would have had to also train me on what they were doing, and I wouldn’t have been very independent at all. I’ve been the existing coworker in that situation and honestly having the new person leave early would almost be a relief because I could get stuff done.

                This might be the sort of job where the new person could immediately jump in and start assembling widgets on the assembly line, I don’t know, but as a boss, the least skilled and least trained worker leaving early doesn’t seem a huge deal. (The letter doesn’t mention if it’s 4 hours early or 1 hour early – that also makes a difference.) As the new employee who doesn’t know how to do much, I would simultaneously feel like I ought to be working harder but also not feel like I knew how to do that. Is it better to leave a bit early because boss said that was okay and I’m not much help anyway, or is better for optics’ sake to sit there and basically pretend to be busy because everyone else is, knowing that I’m probably not making much difference?

        3. Smithy*

          Just want to add to this that depending how communication continues, that it might be worth considering that IM/chat only functions make it harder for the newer hire to learn as much or as quickly soft professional skills as you’d like. Personally, I am far quicker and picking things up when I can look at someone speaking than just listening to them or reading text.

          Obviously this may not be the exact issue at play and may really just be a combo of a new employee with a whirlwind first week – but if it feels like there are more miscommunications than you’d expect – something to consider.

          1. I should really pick a name*

            These were IM conversations because they were initiated by the direct report while they weren’t at the office.
            The first one was on a weekend, the second was after they had left the office.

        4. Mid*

          Oh this makes a lot of sense. I still wouldn’t be too worried about the new employee, he’s probably just feeling a bit weird about how the start of his work has gone. And one incident does not an emotional trainwreck who needs constant feelings managing make.

          1. Lydia*

            Seriously, this. OP can easily set some expectations and help the employee understand norms without it being an entire THING. This is exactly the kind of thing you’d explain in someone’s first week if it came up.

        5. Contracts Killer*

          LW #1, you mentioned that while the person is newer to the workforce, this isn’t his first job. I’m glad you’ll take a breezy approach rather than not addressing it at all. I’m glad you provided this extra information, I hope that gave him peace of mind. It could totally be an issue with this guy being clueless, but I also wonder if he had the bad luck of experiencing an initial bad boss/workplace and then started this new job having unrealistic expectations about how to behave or a how a boss would interact. Glad you’re giving him grace. :-)

      5. Meowsy*

        Yeah, I am decidedly NOT a birthday person, but for my staff that are, I make it a point to tell them happy birthday because it’s something that matters to them. No different than me acting genuinely interested in their pets or hobbies they want to talk about.

      6. Chas*

        This was my feeling too. My old boss wasn’t one to care about birthdays, and I’m not one to make a big deal of my own, so usually he usually didn’t know when it was my birthday (and vice-versa). But the one year I’d happened to mention it was coming up (he’d asked me to come in to work the next weekend and I’d had to tell him no because my birthday was that Friday and I was visiting my family for it) he organised a card and a box of chocolates for me. And while I hadn’t expected all that, it would have seemed odd to me if he didn’t at least say a casual ‘Happy birthday’ at some point during the day, seeing as I’d mentioned it to him so recently.

      7. Observer*

        When you’re new to work especially, it can be hard to figure out what the norms are. And honestly, if someone knew you were taking off for your birthday, it’s not unreasonable to expect acknowledgment of that. Like when my coworker is leaving for vacation, I usually say “have a nice trip!”

        Yeah. This struck me too. I mean, no one was asking you to “keep track of his birthday”. But he had just told you the day before and was essentially reminding him. Would it have been SO hard to say “enjoy” or “happy birthday.”

      8. Amy*

        If you want to leave early you book leave. You don’t just announce you are leaving early for your birthday. That is what it says in the letter so I don’t know why you are saying he arranged it in advance.

      9. Lynn Whitehat*

        If everyone is running around with their hair on fire, it’s very possible they haven’t trained the new guy yet. So he’s just standing around twiddling his thumbs. It does not seem *terrible* to me (in the sense of indicating long-term problems) that someone who is young and who is not able to contribute to handling the crisis might decide that they may as well go celebrate their birthday as planned.

        If the employee had written in for advice, I would say you need to ask to leave early, not inform your boss, especially when you are new. But as things stand, I think the LW should coach the guy about what the expectations are, but not assume that this is a bad sign that things aren’t going to work out.

      10. tamarack and fireweed*

        I also say “happy birthday”, “have a nice trip”, “congratulations”, “good luck catching a lot of salmon” or whatever is situationally appropriate. But some of the more insidious cases I’ve seen where tensions arise in a team out of mild personality differences came about when someone way overinterpreted someone’s neglect of these minor personal courtesies. (“X clearly hates me! They didn’t say “happy birthday” even though they knew I was leaving to celebrate my birthday, so my new co-workers thought I was slacking off! I can’t trust someone who spreads misinformation about me.” … slightly adapted from a recent experience with a volunteer board)

        This is a good situation in which to apply the old internet adage “be conservative in what you send and liberal in what you accept”, metaphorically speaking: Pay attention to your own courtesy, but don’t apply negative judgement to every instance where someone’s communication neglects such a gesture.

    2. Expiring Cat Memes*

      I hear you PollyQ! I have a report who behaves like the one in this letter (so much so that I could see him doing _exactly_ this) and his emotional neediness drives me up the wall. Except in his case he’s been there longer than the furniture, so it’s not a matter of him being new to the workforce.

      I can see this one playing out exactly the way Mid already said. And 100% agree with OP taking a breezy attitude, and hopefully the new guy adapts quickly.

      It is also worth being aware of the possibility that (like my report) his immaturity might be steeped in something other than inexperience, because you don’t want to give him leeway there if it looks like becoming a pattern. So to that point I’d caution OP to be aware to assert your boundaries early, and look after your own mental health needs first. If you allow him to treat you as his pacifier as it’ll become a reinforcement of the behavior, which unfortunately is what my report’s former manager did and what he’s expecting from me. Believe me, trying to coach someone around basic appropriate professional behavior gets a lot harder the more years they have under their belt.

      1. Ellen*

        I, at 52, have worked in some amazingly toxic places. Think food service, fast food, support services for the mentally ill, and education. I ENTIRELY understand where the employee is coming from. I was recently told that I had to work the day of a fairly important funeral, only allowed to leave for the last two hours of my scheduled shift. They had ten days notice. People around me and direct supervisors were very upset that I left early, complete with loud comments about my poor work ethic. My work ethic is impeccable, for what it is worth. A younger person from my background might be deeply worried about taking time off for something like a birthday. Let them know it is ok, and when you are upset, you will let them know.

        1. BatManDan*

          Funerals are entirely not like birthdays. There is nothing similar about them, nor nothing similar about the way they should be treated in a workplace. That’s my opinion.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Yeah c’mon each human only gets one funeral, whereas you have a birthday every year! My problem with birthdays is that in a big enough group, it always feels like it’s *someone’s* birthday every frigging day of the year … how much celebrating do I really have to do?? (grumpy old man rant over).

            1. Koalafied*

              In my department our VP announces on our department chat when it’s someone’s birthday and a handful of people will comment a happy birthday, post silly gifs, or just leave a birthday-cake-emoji reaction on the VP’s announcement. We have around 25-30 in our department so it works out well because if I’m super busy and not keeping up with chat one day, enough other people will chime in for the birthday person to feel appreciated. I do always make a point to add a comment if it’s my own direct report, and I think other managers do the same, but beyond that I respond if I have a chance and don’t sweat it if I don’t.

              1. Sloanicota*

                I liked how my old office did it, they had a monthly birthday celebration and read off everybody’s names who was born in that month. So it wasn’t zero acknowledgement but it also wasn’t a ton of email GIF threads which would irk me.

                1. Koalafied*

                  A ton of email threads annoys me even when it’s work-related, lol. That’s why I appreciate that our VP does it over the group chat so it doesn’t clog anyone’s inbox up!

            2. tamarack and fireweed*

              At a certain age, or, depending, if you live in certain places, funerals you might go to are much more often than 1/year.

    3. Susie*

      We had an employee who thought things should come to a halt for her birthday. She would send reminder emails, organize birthday lunches, etc. She was very disappointed the first year when she came in and we had put the life-like mannequin *holding a happy birthday sign in her chair. She was expecting more.

      *The mannequin used to be part of a promotion/exhibit and became a mascots of sorts and we couldn’t bear to throw it away. It’s actually in pretty good condition, albeit a little dusty. It had those eyes that followed you when you moved, so I put a pair of dark sunglasses on him so it wouldn’t be so creepy.

      1. Amy*

        I have no idea why you went this far. I have never experienced this in my career. The only time happy birthday messages were shared is if someone was on Facebook (which shows your birthday) and they are on Facebook regularly (that rules me out).

      2. Unaccountably*

        I would have exploded with glee if I’d found the Birthday Mannequin sitting in my chair, and I don’t even celebrate my birthday.

    4. Sloanicota*

      This is exactly the kind of human stuff that I fail to deal with well, which is why I worry I will be a terrible manager. I don’t know how to be clear and direct enough without being hurtful. Most people do not leave early in their first week of work, especially when the office is swamped, so I’m already on the wrong foot here and not sure how to express that, and then you layer a bunch of hurt feelings / sensitivities / varying cultural norms around birthdays on top and it’s a big ole Nope Sandwich for me (I think adults making a big deal of their birthdays is silly … but I realize others feel differently and I’m not “right” nor is that something a manager needs to say). I also worry that because I wasn’t clear with this leaving early request I’m now going to have to be really firm with future absenteeism so he doesn’t think it’s cool to take off whenever he wants – urgh. Agonizing for me.

    5. Lucy P*

      When I first started working, it was in a satellite office where there were 7 of us in a long narrow room. No cubicles just desks laid out next to each other. When my birthday was approaching I (apparently) mentioned it a few times. When someone said, “Yes, we know,” I was horrified to realize what I had been doing. Worse, I felt really bad when they took me, and another person who shared a birthday around the same date, out to lunch. I wasn’t asking for a free meal, but in the end I felt like that was the impression I had given everyone.

  6. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

    OP#2 It’s possible your previous manager is trying to build a case for offering better salaries/benefits. My last job was a government office with such ridiculously low pay no one could afford to stay there. The managers and HR were exasperated and trying to build up a case for offering better wages department wide by asking us to share the details on the job offers we were all getting.

    1. Claire*

      But those details can be shared after OP accepts the new job. Telling their boss first wouldn’t matter.

  7. Expiring Cat Memes*

    On #1: Something I’ve always found baffling about those in the workplace who make a big fuss about birthdays and then seemingly take offense when others don’t want to participate or reciprocate, is that that’s usually seen as thoughtless or self-centered.

    Yet, not everyone celebrates birthdays, or wants to celebrate them with coworkers. And how many people are uncomfortable bringing focus to their age at work, or being the center of attention, or repeatedly navigating expectations around gifting, or budgeting for successive work lunches out..? Like, how is having those expectations of others any less thoughtless or self-centered?

    1. PollyQ*

      First, not expecting someone to do something for you will always be the “lower maintenance” option, and second, I think very few people in that second group have “expectations” that their colleagues will just know that they don’t want to deal with birthdays, but rather have preferences. It’s the taking offense that’s the real issue.

      1. Expiring Cat Memes*

        Yes, sorry it’s the taking offense part I struggle with! I just don’t think that ANY hard expectation about birthdays – whichever way – belong in the workplace.

    2. allathian*

      Fair points, but that doesn’t really help the LW. I get the feeling that all the report wanted was for his manager to wish him a happy birthday as he was leaving for the day. There’s nothing in the letter about celebrating it with coworkers.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        I agree with this. I feel like Employee intentionally mentioned that his birthday was coming up, and then was a little surprised that there wasn’t the most basic of acknowledgments, especially considering that he’s the new guy, and they’re all still getting to know each other. There didn’t need to be cake and party hats and balloons, but “Happy birthday, enjoy your afternoon off,” would have cost LW nothing.

        Employee probably needs to learn that birthdays are not a big deal to everybody (and especially not at work), but LW was a little stingy with acknowledging Employee’s life milestone.

        1. BatManDan*

          Considering he’s the new guy, he’d get the LEAST consideration about supposed “milestones” from me. (I guess if you’re really young, one may think that birthdays are milestones, and that EVERY one of them needs to be celebrated in a big way, but I hope that mellows with age.)

          1. Claire*

            Eh, no one mentioned a “celebration.” Saying “happy birthday” to someone you work with is a completely normal and unbelievably low-maintenance thing to do, to the point where it’s weird not to do it.

            1. Butterfly Counter*

              I mentioned this above and I think it’s what Cat Memes is getting at.

              If birthdays aren’t a thing you personally want acknowledged, not saying HBD isn’t rude or weird. On the other hand, if you do like acknowledgement for the day you’re born, not saying HBD does feel weird.

              I’m the former. Obviously, a lot of people fall into the latter category. And professionally, I don’t think that people in the former category are wrong even if it feels “nicer” for people in the latter category.

          2. Lydia*

            Look, we get it. You think birthdays are only for children up to the age of 12 and then get on with the drudgery of existence. However, you are you, and it would serve you well to not apply your expectations or, dare I say beliefs, on other people. Mind your own business about birthdays.

            1. Butterfly Counter*

              This seems unnecessarily confrontational.

              And wouldn’t minding one own’s business about birthdays mean that it would be best NOT to wish people happy birthday?

              1. Lydia*

                Read his other comment on this. He has said he would be chilly towards people if they wanted to take time off to celebrate their birthday. It’s a crap attitude. My point is if you don’t like to acknowledge your birthday, that is 100% fine. As soon as you start being a jerk to someone who does like it, you’ve lost it.

            2. Clisby*

              That goes both ways. If you’re a big birthday person, and want a fuss made over your birthday, and it doesn’t happen at work, and you feel wronged – mind your own business and keep quiet about it.

              1. Lydia*

                If your approach to people taking time off to celebrate their birthday is to treat them differently or be “chilly”, as stated by BatMan, then you’re a jerk. I don’t care what people do with their birthdays, but I’m certainly not going to stick my nose up in the air at them no matter what they decide to do.

            3. Willow Pillow*

              Wow, that’s harsh. There’s a huge gap between commenting with one’s opinion online, in a place intended for people to comment about their opinions, and “applying expectations on other people”. Perhaps you should take some of your own advice.

              1. Lydia*

                I’d be more concerned if BatMan hadn’t commented that anyone who wants to have their birthday acknowledged would by met with “chilliness” by him. If you think being rude to someone because they like having their birthday acknowledged is somehow less, then you might be a jerk.

                1. Willow Pillow*

                  “Personally, I’d be chilly to anyone that took off any amount of normal work hours for a birthday. I know other people view them differently, but if you want to celebrate ON your birthday, there are probably 12-16 hours that you’re not at work that day. If you feel you must have a larger / longer celebration, that’s what time off (weekends, in most jobs) is for. I’d be doubly chilly if the rest of the team was working overtime.”

                  If this is the comment you’re referring to, I did read it. It doesn’t mention acknowledging birthday’s, just taking time off. If you meant to refer to taking time off, I’m don’t agree with the “chilliness” either, but responding with straw men and ad hominem attacks is worse.

        2. Lilo*

          She let him have an afternoon off though in his very first week. That’s really well beyond the norm of workplace birthdays.

          1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

            It does not say that he took an afternoon off, it says he was “leaving early.” That might have meant 5 or even 6. I’ve had jobs where during busy times, leaving before 7 or 8 pm would have been leaving early. He may be exempt and making up any shortened time another day.

            1. Willow Pillow*

              It does say that he didn’t clear the time off before making plans and that he mentioned it with little notice his first week into a new job. Lots of jobs have the flexibility you mention, sure, but if there were no issues then LW wouldn’t have written in…

        3. Sunny*

          In addition to learning to be less needy about birthday wishes from colleagues, the employee seems a little clueless that someone has just died, and that between the emotional fallout + the workload fallout, the birthday of a brand new employee probably isn’t top-of-mind.

          1. to varying degrees*

            Seriously. I think it’s getting a little glossed over thtat while new guy may be felling a little slighted his new colleagues are inundated with work while processing the news that their team lead DIED. Recently. Maybe I’m a little harsh but if his lack of consideration for them rubs me the wrong way.

            1. Unaccountably*

              Yeah, I think that needs to not get glossed over, especially if co-workers went to the funeral. I’ve been to two work-related funerals in the last six months, and you know what? They suck. No one’s in a celebratory mood for a while. There was one in particular where, if a brand-new employee had complained to me that I didn’t wish them a happy birthday a couple of weeks afterward, I’d have had to have HR talk me down from firing them.

              Someone died. It doesn’t matter how birthdays are normally celebrated. The situation is not normal, and it won’t be entirely normal again for a while. If the employee is someone you really want working there, they’ll take that into account and not make their feelings their manager’s responsibility.

      2. Asenath*

        Also the employee seemed to think that the manger was sending some kind of message by NOT saying “Happy Birthday”, which sounds so weird to me.

        1. LW1*

          LW #1 here — yes, that’s exactly what confused me about this interaction. I wasn’t snubbing him (I was focused on work) and when he IMed me after leaving, I did, truthfully, say happy birthday and that it had slipped my mind. I appreciate Alison’s advice, I think the breezy approach sends the right message and treats this with the seriousness it warrants.

          1. Hiring Mgr*

            It also sounds like this is a HUGE transition time for you (new manager one week into it, brand new hire who’s a recent grad, AND a sudden death of a team member?!)

            Everyone involved should get a little grace here imo.

          2. TyphoidMary*

            My generous reading of this employee is that he’s been in other situations (classrooms, other jobs, social groups, family) where he’s had to anticipate people’s anger or displeasure through weird passive-aggressive signals, and so he may be calibrated more sensitively. I obviously can’t know for sure–maybe he’s just got a personality that wants a fair bit of reassurance–but it’s one context that makes his behavior make a little more sense!

            Either way, you’ll keep modeling healthy communication and good boundaries with him, and he’ll either recalibrate or he won’t! Best of luck!

            1. EPLawyer*

              I got a different vibe. that as someone somewhat new to the working world, he hasn’t figure out that office norms are different from social norms. His text is almost like he was sending it to a friend. Worrying the friend is mad because they are off celebrating without them.

              A little chat about office norms might be helpful. Your follow up explaining what is going on, might make him realize everything is not about him.

              BTW, good for you for accomodating the time off even if was announced not asked and everyone is working overtime. it probably would have been helpful to have him there but you decided to make it work. Don’t bend over backwards to make it work all the time (sometimes it won’t) but at least you won’t deny someone the right to take some time off to attend their college graduation.

            2. pancakes*

              I don’t think it’s quite accurate to describe someone who is responding to their own past more than the circumstances they’re in as “calibrated more sensitively.” Someone well-attuned wouldn’t conflate the two. What you describe is closer to “on edge” that “calibrated more sensitively.”

              1. windsofwinter*

                But he *did* read this situation correctly. His manager was upset about him leaving early, she just didn’t voice that. He was absolutely picking up on her nonverbal cues.

                1. pancakes*

                  I don’t agree that anyone was upset in a way that was directed at him. The letter writer has left several comments (as LW1) indicating that they did indeed say happy birthday, and the letter points out that someone higher up just died and everyone was scrambling to meet deadlines. If he read anything accurately, it was the fact that celebrating his birthday was not a top priority for his new coworkers. That’s not the same thing as them being upset with him.

                2. Willow Pillow*

                  That initial “I’m leaving early for my birthday tomorrow” message does not come off as reading the situation correctly to me. People were still scrambling at that point.

    3. FashionablyEvil*

      My old office did a “birthday of the month” celebration where they’d get one cake and everyone who had a birthday in whatever month (and who had opted in) was specifically invited and got to pick the cake flavor. It was fun— monthly cake and a chance to wish colleagues well.

      1. Random Bystander*

        Yeah, when we were in the office, we used to do that once a quarter. There was one person who was co-ordinator who would each month send out an email with a list of who had a birthday that month (and the specific day). Then there was the quarterly cake (always one of those split ones that are part chocolate, part white). So, low key–and I liked it well enough.

        When your birthday came around, some people might email you a happy birthday note–some, I think did it to everyone, because I’d get some from people I barely knew. There was nothing stopping someone from saying “it’s my birthday so I brought in cupcakes/cookies/whatever for everyone” or the like, and people who were actually friends might well do something more in their group, but the official office celebration was a group thing, rather than individual.

      2. Koalafied*

        This just reminded me of the Office episode where Dwight was in charge of birthday decorations for one party, and he printed and hung on the wall a banner with black ink, standard helvetica font, reading, “It is your birthday.”

        1. Gabby*

          I was thinking of the one where Jim decides to streamline by doing all the birthdays in one month, and everyone gets upset. There’s an Office ep for every moment!

    4. Nanani*

      Some people have main character syndrome, and an overlapping segment of people think that anyone who doesn’t operate exactly like they do is Bad.

  8. Ellis Bell*

    I know that the OP raised the issue of “drawing attention to” and celebrating birthday in response to the employees complaint, but I don’t really understand why. You can quickly say happy birthday, or reassure people that taking time off for a birthday is okay, without getting out the cake and streamers.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      I believe that this is context to show that birthday’s aren’t a big deal in this office, and they aren’t treating the new hire differently than they treat anyone else.

    2. Coffee and muffins*

      The OP commented in an above section that they wished the employee Happy Birthday when they told them they were taking part of the day off.

    3. fhqwhgads*

      I think there’s two different things. 1. The employee raised the not saying HB as the reason he thought the OP might be mad. 2. If not saying HB is actually an indicator of OP being upset in anyway/ if OP finds saying HB unreasonable.
      We know 1 happened because it describes what the employee thinks, or at least, said he was thinking.
      There’s nothing in the letter that indicates OP objects to saying HB in general, nor that their not saying was some pointed message. I don’t get the impression either is the case. OP isn’t saying that wishing an employee HB is some onerous task they wish to avoid entirely. They’re asking if it was reasonable that the employee jumped to the conclusion in 1. I think the answer to that is “not really”. Taken as a whole, the employee checking in if they’d misread the room made sense. But if, say, the entirety of the reason it felt off to the employee were “no one said happy birthday”, OP need not worry about that bit. That was not some pointed absence of well-wishes that needs to be modified.

  9. Katie*

    OP5 I think that is such an office dependant cultural thing. Granted I have only worked in two different office environments long term, but in one shouting across the room was totally normal and accepted, not considered rude at all. In the other it would have been seen as abhorrent. Alison’s advice is good on this, if the shouters are senior to you or have longer tenure, I can’t see there being much likelihood of the shouting culture changing, but you could have some luck if its a more junior thing..

  10. Green great dragon*

    For the first letter, I think it changes things a lot that the team lead suddenly passed away. Normally, yes, you should wish your report a happy birthday if he mentions it’s his birthday – though definitely not something a report should actually complain about if it’s missed. But here, I can understand OP and team are just trying to get through the work and the emotions. But on the other hand, new report may be finding the atmosphere pretty strange more broadly.

    If that’s the case, new employee is being extremely tone deaf, and it might be worth reminding him that yes, people might be coming across as less jolly right now, and it’s not about him.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I think this is where I land–when the people around you are off balance from the death of someone they knew well, for a long time, they won’t be jolly. They will be busy and distracted by the sudden extra pile of things to do. It’s not about you.

      Like, I could see a completely sympathetic anecdote from Newbie in a few years, how he started work right after someone unexpectedly died and the office was weird and sad and stressed, and the people who were supposed to train him were scrambling to cover the other work and he felt pretty lost in the shuffle. But recognize that none of that is about you.

    2. FashionablyEvil*

      Yeah, exactly this. Does the new employee know about the colleague’s death and how recent it was? I’d basically be inclined to cut everyone a lot of slack here with the understanding that it’s going to be a while before things feel “normal” again.

    3. SomebodyElse*

      I think it’s the opposite. He clearly read the room that his manager wasn’t happy with him which is why he asked if he should come back to work.

      I think the onus is on the manager in a situation like this. (Big caveat that I understand the OP is a new manager). Times like what the OP was going through is when I’ve had expend more energy than normal to support my team. From my perspective the OP’s team has just suffered a loss, they are behind and obviously distracted. The OP needs to step out of that mentally and look around to realize they have a new employee who is likely getting lost in the shuffle of all of the mayhem.

      No I don’t think the OP needs to fawn all over the new employee, plan a big party, etc. But they do need to focus on the new employee more than they typically would. It’s a big transition to go from being responsible for yourself in the work world to being responsible for employees. It’s downright exhausting at times. But sometimes the “Happy Birthday” needs to be prioritized.

      As to him leaving early when everyone else was working overtime, I think it’s a bit of red herring. How much help could a person really be on day 6… usually on day 6 people have found the bathroom and coffee maker and are still trying to get access to all the things they need. His leaving early most likely helped his coworkers who didn’t have time to work with him.

      For the OP: I think you need to be careful of not speaking up if something happens you don’t agree with. If you want your employees to ask for time off. Then you need to tell them that up front. Many managers don’t care if an employee tells vs. asks. But don’t get annoyed when your employee does something you don’t like but haven’t said anything about.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        But OP wasn’t upset. They’ve commented here (as LW1 and LW #1) saying truly they weren’t upset because exactly as you said, what can someone in their first week actually do when everyone’s swamped?

      2. Smithy*

        This captures what I think happens to a lot of people who join very busy teams – and if you add something that emotional on top of being busy – it can actually be a really difficult time to join a team.

        Investing the time into some version of cheerleading what a new hire is doing right – and honestly, in week 1, that might just be listening, taking notes, and asking thoughtful questions – goes a long way. I mention this above, but I had a manager with a lot of direct reports who just had a desk drawer with gift cards to a local coffee shop. None of us were ever surprised by our birthday gift, but we were all equally acknowledged.

        And lastly – this idea of whether or not it’s right to take off a half day early into employment. The new hire probably would have been better off asking vs telling, but I also think for managers of new salaried staff….if you know they don’t have 8 hours of week during their first few weeks – giving them time off for their birthday or early dismissal on Friday is a good move. I do think when you’re new and especially junior – there can be a huge desire to think you can instantly help quickly. And that just isn’t always the case. Maybe we were junior staffers in a “butts in seats” dynamic but it really doesn’t always have to be that way.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I get the impression that he got home, and just mentioned to his mother that the boss didn’t wish him a happy birthday and he didn’t know if she was pissed that he was skiving off early, or what, and his mother said (as I would have said had this been my kid), what you just told her you were leaving even though you know they’re all slammed with work because of the colleague dying? you should go right back and pitch in and help them finish that work up, and celebrate later in the day! and he felt bad and thought he’d perhaps text just to see. But he couldn’t help making it all about him because he’s used to being spoiled rotten on his birthday, because he’s still just a kid.

    4. Sunny*

      And OP actually mentioned in other comments that they *did* wish the employee a happy birthday. To me, that adds up to a somewhat needy and clueless employee. A bunch of virtual strangers around you (b/c at that stage, your coworkers really are still strangers) just lost someone and you’re fretting they didn’t wish you a cheery enough happy birthday? And you messaged on a Sunday? Yikes.

      1. Shan*

        I think the LW wished him a Happy Birthday when they responded to the “are you mad” IM, not to the original one… in their comments, they said “I should have mentioned that when I got the IM asking if he should come back, I said happy birthday along with don’t worry about coming back in.” So, it wasn’t about not getting a “cheery enough” one.

  11. Retired (but not really)*

    I’m inclined to view the new hire’s concern as being “have I messed up by taking off for my birthday”. I say this as a people pleaser who overthinks things after the fact. Also as new to the workplace I would not have thought about it being a problem until afterwards either. I conjured up all sorts of other things as possibly being problematic though, like needing to ask permission to leave the office to go to the restroom.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I could easily picture an earlier pep talk along the lines “Don’t ask–tell! You deserve this!” followed by a post-departure slew of doubts and anti-pep talk.

    2. Lilo*

      The problem is he framed it as LW wronging him rather than questioning if he messed up.

      He just comes across as obtuse to me.

      1. Claire*

        Not really. He was asking if the lack of “happy birthday” was signaling something deeper.

          1. Mac*

            I am deeply anxious all the time about having possibly made a social blunder and made someone mad at me, so if you have some alternate suggestions for graceful, work-appropriate ways to convey the gist of “are you mad?”, I’d love to hear ’em!

            1. Hen in a Windstorm*

              My husband has anxiety. Facts, not feelings, should be your guide. You are worried they might be mad because of X. Don’t ask “are you mad”, ask, “Are you okay with how I handled X?” Whatever your brain is imagining you should be worried about is what you should say out loud.

              Try to see this from the other person’s view. It’s unpleasant to be told how you are feeling by someone else. You are projecting your stuff onto me, which invalidates my *actual* feelings.

              ALSO, “mad” is a pretty extreme emotion. Mildly annoyed is more likely if there is an emotion at all. But mostly, people with anxiety imagine a world of high emotion and high drama all around them, while other people are just not at that level. Facts, not feelings.

            2. pancakes*

              You should first ask yourself whether you have any particular reason(s) to believe the person is mad at you. If not, that’s probably a good sign your anxiety is trying to wrest control from the rational parts of your mind, yes? That you’re responding more to your own anxieties rather than anything you’ve actually observed? I find it exhausting when people ask this because they always seem to have skipped that step and instead gone straight to seeking assurance.

            3. Unaccountably*

              I don’t have any work-appropriate ways of communicating “Are you mad” because I don’t think there are any. What you’re asking is for them to reassure you and get rid of your anxiety – in effect, to handle your emotions for you. That is not what your co-workers are there to do, and it’s unfair to have that expectation of them. You can *feel* however anxious you feel, but it’s almost never going to be appropriate to look to your co-workers to make you stop feeling that way.

    3. Purple Penguin*

      I agree – I can imagine them saying they want to take off time, getting told “that’ll be ok I guess”, and then when they didn’t get any encouraging “go have a good time” words (like “happy birthday”) from the obviously busy team, wondering if they, as a young person unsure of the cultural difference between school and office, have misread workplace norms around taking time off. I doubt it’s around the lack of birthday fuss but more the begrudging attitude towards the hours off. (And I don’t say begrudging is out of place in this instance! Busy team and so soon after hire? You weren’t super enthusiastic about the early leave and it’s ok if they know that)

  12. Irish Teacher*

    I suspect the birthday one was less about his being upset you didn’t say happy birthday and more that he wasn’t sure if he’d overstepped by leaving early and thought, rightly or wrongly, that LW1 sounded “cold” on saying goodbye to him and took it as he had done something wrong by leaving early and just phrased it badly, meaning “you sounded annoyed. Did I do something wrong? Did you want me back?”

    When somebody is worried they’ve goofed, anything can sound like an expression of annoyance. I don’t think this is about the “happy birthday” at all, but more about the employer maybe sounding a bit distracted when saying goodbye and the employee taking that as a criticism of their leaving early.

    I also get the impression that maybe the LW WOULD have preferred the employee hadn’t left early and maybe the employee picked up on that and can’t quite articulate what gave them that impression and just thinks “you didn’t say ‘happy birthday;’ does that means I goofed?” sounds better than “you looked impatient when I left” or “I caught a tone in your voice that might indicate you were annoyed at me or might indicate you were just busy or under pressure and I want to know if it means you were annoyed and I shouldn’t have left early.”

    I definitely wouldn’t think this has anything to do with the employee wanting acknowledgment of his birthday. It sounds like he wanted to know was it really OK for him to leave early or was the LW just doing “fine, you can leave early, but you are really inconveniencing us and it’s your first week here and I’m already getting a bad impression of you,” which some people DO do.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      “fine, you can leave early, but you are really inconveniencing us and it’s your first week here and I’m already getting a bad impression of you,”

      Which, note, is on LW for being passive-aggressive and not saying something closer to, “That’s a rough day for you to leave early; we’ll be in the weeds and could really use another pair of hands. Any chance you could reschedule?” to start a different conversation. Whatever negotiations came after that might still have ended with Employee leaving early, but then it would have been with clearer air.

      1. BatManDan*

        Both of those are legitimate approaches. It would certainly leave a bad taste in my mouth – a new person taking off early (with our without an extra workload for the rest of us) for something as personal and flexible as a birthday dinner.

        1. sagc*

          You must really, really hate it when people take vacations; after all, a birthday is only once a year, but they could just do all their relaxing on the weekends and the 16 hours a day they’re not working!

          1. Lydia*

            Seriously. This whole thing is a weirdly aggressive take on how people approach a day that’s personal to them.

        2. Essess*

          “something as personal and flexible as a birthday dinner” is really not a fair assumption. Depending on the plans, the dinner might not have been flexible. Coordinating multiple people’s schedules, possible family travel to be in town, possibly a hard-to-get restaurant reservation could all be factors, on top of the fact that this person just started so this might have been planned for a long time already. It sounds as though the worker DID come in on their birthday, so just leaving a little early should not be a major issue for a single person a single time. The person is new and would have been just ramping up so it’s not likely they were a major player in any upcoming deadlines. They should have asked earlier but it’s possible that they didn’t know about a surprise visitor or plans for the birthday or forgot to think about alerting you ahead of time since they had been unemployed at the time of the plans.

          1. starfox*

            It may not have been flexible, and if it wasn’t, why on earth would you wait until the day before and text your boss on a weekend to announce it? There are so many ways to handle this… texting your boss on their day off to inform them that you will be leaving early is not a great way.

            1. Willow Pillow*

              This is it for me. If it was that inflexible, then he should have notified LW as soon as possible (first day, when negotiating the offer, etc.). If it was last-minute and inflexible, there should have been more explanation beyond “it’s my birthday” (e.g. “my partner booked it and it’s the only evening they could get off this week”).

              It’s not LW’s direct report taking time off for his birthday that’s the issue here, since they’ve commented they were genuinely okay with him taking the time off. It’s that he…

              1) Left early a week into a new job.
              2) Notified his boss about it the night before.
              3) Notified his boss of the time off, as opposed to requesting it.
              4) Did all this while everyone else was working OT after their team lead died.
              5) Expected a birthday greeting while LW was busy with work as he left.
              6) Asked if he should stay after all once he’d already left.
              7) Brought up LW not wishing him a happy birthday at the end of the day as a concern without seeming to consider any of the other factors.

              Some of these won’t be an issue at every workplace (#2 and 3 particularly), but it would have to be a pretty amazing birthday dinner to make up for rocking the boat at a new job.

        3. Lydia*

          Actually, the approach given by GammaGirl is super bad and not advisable at all. And it might behoove you not to make assumptions about people’s flexibility or ability to schedule outside of work. You don’t know what’s going on.

          1. Unaccountably*

            Why on earth is it bad? The manager in that example is giving information about the team’s workload and deadlines and *asking* if the dinner *can* be rescheduled, not making assumptions.

            Look, if it’s a bad time for a member of my team to take off, I’m going to tell them that. To do anything else is unfair to the rest of my team, who are going to have to take up the slack, and who all probably have things they’d rather be doing as well. I don’t have to know every detail of my report’s home life or outside-of-work schedule to know when I do need them to be at work; I don’t need to know anything at all about it. My job is to make sure my team’s work is covered and our deadlines met and sometimes that means all of us have to work when we’d rather leave early. I don’t want someone who doesn’t understand that working on my team, which is often swamped. They won’t pull their own weight.

          2. GammaGirl1908*

            I don’t see what’s wrong with it. You’re allowed to ask questions and point out your perspective. Like I said, starting a different conversation is the goal. It’s not assuming anything; it’s allowing both parties to share more of their perspective.

            LW seems annoyed that Employee assumed he could have time off. This suggestion allows for further discussion about the challenges both sides are having with the situation. That might lead to Employee bumping dinner back a couple of hours, or coming in earlier, or some other compromise that would have helped LW out at work. It is possible that Employee really didn’t get what an imposition his absence was (which, was it really? The brand new guy is probably the least helpful), so LW would have been able to let him know that with further conversation.

            Then, if the answer is something like, “I’m sorry, but this event can’t be moved; it was a challenge to schedule and people are coming in from out of town, including my 98-year-old grandfather. I know this is a rough time for the team, so I’m happy to make up the time another day,” then LW might have felt better about the resolution. It might still not be ideal, but they would know that Employee isn’t just bouncing out of work willy-nilly without understanding the stress it was causing.

            Either way, though, my suggestion is closer to the truth than what LW actually said. While Employee did not exactly cover himself in glory here, I have very little patience with people who tell you yes and then get annoyed and hold it against you when you don’t somehow guess that they meant no. That is a terrible managerial practice. Even if Employee still ended up taking the time off, he should not have been left to wonder whether taking his new boss’s yes at face value got him in trouble at his new job.

    2. Irish Teacher*

      Thinking about it some more, I’m wondering if there might be cultural issues at play here? Ask culture versus guess culture? Because looking from Ireland, saying “fine” to a request for time off and then replying with “see you tomorrow” with no elaboration and nothing like “enjoy your evening” would be so common a way of saying, “no, I don’t want you leaving early, it’s really inconvenient, but as a new manager, I don’t feel comfortable saying no, so I’ll just say it like that and hope you pick up on it and say something like ‘actually, I can hang on a bit longer,'” that it wouldn’t even occur to me to interpret the employee’s question as anything other than them asking the LW if they were doing that. If it weren’t for the heading, I honestly wouldn’t even have considered that this could be about the employee wanting their birthday acknowledged. I would have 100% read it as the employee being unsure whether the LW really meant it was OK to leave or meant “well, if you HAVE to, but it had better be REALLY important” and wanting to clarify.

      Perhaps it is different where the LW is and it is more common for people to make it clear when they are saying no, but could the employee be from a different background? Or just have a parent or somebody who had a habit of letting them guess like that, so they assume that is what the LW is doing?

      1. ecnaseener*

        Unfortunately I think managers don’t get the luxury of sticking to Guess Culture if they want to be good at their jobs. How many letters on this site alone are about managers who hint at what they want and find it doesn’t work at all?

        1. Sloanicota*

          True but this may be a good comment for OP to read about Ask Culture and think about adapting their management style if they tend to be more of a Guess Culture person. Or not!

        2. Slowpoke*

          I don’t think Irish Teacher is necessarily saying that the LW needs to be using guess culture to respond to their report—I took it more as “maybe this report was raised in guess culture or comes from a background where people often say one thing but mean another” and that could be influencing their read on the situation. In that case, maybe they just need help understanding that if you have a problem with their behavior, you will say something directly. Of course, it sounds a bit like LW DID have a problem with their behavior and didn’t express it at first, but that’s understandable with the whole stressful situation happening in the office. Everyone needs some grace here.

    3. brjeau*

      This was my impression as well. I can easily understand the process of thinking you did something normal and belatedly realizing maybe you messed up. The manager did tell him leaving was fine, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their frustration did come through in the in-person conversation. Given that the employee is new to the working world, it makes sense too that he wouldn’t necessarily know that “are you mad at me?” is not the professional way to ask about this (or if he was having a moment of retroactive anxiety, he just might not have thought through his phrasing more carefully). It’s a phrase that gets my hackles up, so I do understand the irritation! This strikes me as a good opportunity for guidance about norms.

      Of course it’s all complicated by the fact that the team lead just died, so I’m sure no one is on their A-game. I have a lot of sympathy for both the letter writer who’s trying to learn how to be a manager, and for the new grad who’s trying to figure out workplace norms and get onboard, in such a fraught environment.

  13. LifeBeforeCorona*

    OP1 The new employee needs a short talk about learning to read the room. A team leader just passed away, everyone is dealing with the fallout and working flat out. They announced they were leaving early and then had hurt feelings because their birthday was not acknowledged. I’m assuming they were aware of the sudden death and resulting shock and trauma from the other teams members who are now processing that while doing the extra work. Also, it’s a convention that you ask or check-in about leaving early for whatever reason during your first week rather than simply announcing it.

    1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      This is my feeling on this. In your first week you’re generally trying to make a good impression, and this is not it. I get that they are newer to working but learning that your birthday doesn’t matter is one of the harsh truths of adulthood. Very few people care, and in the midst of a crisis, people who are virtual strangers to you really don’t care. It’s not personal. I’d probably forget my children’s birthday if I was in this situation.

    2. Coffee and muffins*

      This is where I fall on this too. New to the workforce or not you have to have some self awareness that an office that has everyone working overtime, because of a death of an employee they are likely not going to be excited for the very new guy to leave early the day after the weekend.

      1. Lilo*

        I dunno when we had a manager die suddenly it was definitely something a new person would have been aware of. There was an all-hands email, we raised money for a charity she supported and sent a card to her family, and they shared funeral information with everyone. It was everywhere.

      2. Autumnheart*

        I don’t know how they could have avoided hearing about it. “Yeah, that’s Team Leader’s desk. Unfortunately he died last Friday.” I’m sure people would have been talking about it all over.

  14. Falling Diphthong*

    Survey anecdote: At my very first yoga class at the cancer support center (just before the pandemic got rolling) they announced a change in the funding, such that no longer would participants need to fill out pre-class and post-class surveys for every class, summarizing our experience in quantifiable form.

    So there was less data, but everyone was cheered. Almost like the regulars indicated what the class did for them via the medium of showing up.

    1. Tupac Coachella*

      I would straight up stop attending a class that had pre and post surveys *every class* almost immediately, even if I enjoyed it otherwise. A quick “how’s everyone doing” debrief or a comment box or even occasional surveys? Sure. But every time is too much, and it would make me anxious in about 60 different ways. Funders especially and assessment folks in general need to understand that surveys are not always the most appropriate way to gather relevant data.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        You attend yoga classes for various reasons, including being able to switch off and de-stress. If you have to assess whether it worked for you, asking yourself whether you had de-stressed enough is not going to help it work for you. I prefer to leave the yoga class in silence, holding all the goodness in. Like the minute I have to start communicating with others, the spell is broken. So I’d refuse flat out to do that.

  15. Turingtested*

    LW #1: I think this is on you for not being truthful and saying “I’m sorry, but if you leave early it will really inconvenience the team.” Likely the employee reacted that way because of the gap between your verbal and nonverbal communication. It’s really tough to be vulnerable at work, especially if you think your boss is angry at you, and I wouldn’t get hung up on the phrasing of his question. You’re upset with him, you haven’t been forthright in your interactions, so it’s not surprising he’s acting a little weird in turn.

    To be clear I don’t think either of you has seriously screwed up. More like you’re both mildly out of line and clashing a little as a result.

    Of course, he could be a terrible employee who doesn’t give a crap about the team and this is the first sign.

    1. Sunny*

      I disagree – he’s not being vulnerable, so much as needy. And very clueless about what’s going on with the people around the, which is that they just suddenly lost a colleague and are now dealing with the grief and emotions of that, plus scrambling on a huge workload. If anyone is vulnerable right now, I’d say it’s OP and everyone else on that team, and he needs to understand that he’s new and not necessarily the priority right now. He got to leave early for his birthday, and he should just be grateful for that.

  16. Lilo*

    Op1 – you just needed to tell him it wasn’t okay for him to leave early.

    I don’t think the employee behaved well here. Just announcing you’re taking a half day in your first week? Yeah, look if you have something important, okay maybe, but you absolutely raise it as soon as possible and you ask, you don’t announce. One of the harsh realities of being an adult is no one really cares about your birthday and you don’t automatically get it off or get to leave early.

    So point is, just learn to say no. It was okay to say no here.

    Personally I also think there are some red flags here and I seriously doubt this new hire is going to work out. He should be on his best behavior and he’s acting quite immaturely.

    1. Bast*

      How are there serious red flags? It’s quite common for people to have plans before starting a new job, and it’s always a bit nerve wracking to bring them up. We also do not know how much New Hire knew about the current work situation and the work load. It’s hard to be the “new guy” even though we all were at some point. He likely doesn’t realize quite how bad it is — at least, not as much as someone who has been there and seen the company before the lead passed.

      I agree with previous posters his later text likely isn’t about the happy birthday at all, but the frosty reception he received. If my boss acknowledged I could takeoff early (which he was told he could do) and then got chilly with me, I’d wonder and worry that they were annoyed about it… which LW was. I would rather the boss simply say that unfortunately at this time the work load is too heavy to accommodate the request.

      If the immaturity comment is in regards to it being his birthday he’s happy for, let people have their things. For some people, birthdays are a big deal. Others take off days to go to the beach or for black Friday or Halloween, which are no big deal to many others. We all need something to look forward to. It’s also worth pointing out that in some cultures birthdays (and in some, particular birthdays) ARE a big deal. They are big events with a lot of family, friends, and food. Just something to keep in mind.

      Again, I’m just not sure where this screams he won’t work out.

      1. Lilo*

        Announcing you’re taking time off (not asking) for a birthday, doing it on a Sunday (so not rapecting your boss’s time) and doing it the day before, and all in your first week? He had some serious workplace norms problems.

        If I was his friend, I’d be telling him he needs to be putting his best foot forward and none of that was okay.

      2. Lilo*

        He announced and didn’t ask. He did it on Sunday (you should really avoid texting your boss on a day off unless there’s a good reason to). He did it with no lead time. He framed it as “are you mad at me”. Those are all red.flag behaviors, especially for someone in their first week.

        If he was 16 in his first job, sure. But this is a college graduate with work history.

      3. starfox*

        If he made plans before starting the new job, then he had plenty of time to let them know rather than texting his boss on their day off announcing that you’re taking a half day. That’s not the way to handle that at all….

    2. Minerva*

      I don’t think the employee behaved well, but unless the manager actually had a problem with him leaving (which does not seem to be the case here) why tell him it’s not OK to leave early?

      I mean there is definitely room for coaching/feedback here in the flavor of “Hey, I didn’t have a problem with you leaving early but it is more customary to ask rather than tell unless there is some sort of emergency”

      It sounds like there was a breakdown of communication and a missed opportunity for an establishment of norms, but I’m not seeing any big red flags.

      1. Koalafied*

        Yeah, I’m a bit surprised how many people are taking the read that his leaving easily was a huge inconvenience because of the overtime everyone else was pulling – but in my office, somebody in their first week is much more in the category of “extra burden” than “extra pair of hands.” They aren’t trained yet and training them requires going through work at a slower pace, so if there’s anything super urgent that needs to get done, you can’t use that work as an opportunity to train them because you need to be able to do it in 2 hours instead of 4. And instead of just being short-staffed you have more work that has been created in the form of needing to find something for New Guy to work on while everyone else is in crunch mode on a project he’s not equipped to contribute to. It would actually have been a relief to me if a new hire took an afternoon off in these circumstances – it would allow me to focus on the backlog without worrying about whether my new hire was sitting around twiddling his thumbs and wondering why he’s being ignored.

        1. LB*

          Yeah in your first week, you’re not producing useful output, you’re absorbing training. And some people are leaping to the idea that it was a half-day – I would definitely interpret it as an hour or two early so they could go to dinner or something.

        2. Lilo*

          In the first week, we have a big checklist of stuff that needs to get done. This would have been problematic at my workplace.

          1. Minerva*

            It is definitely workplace dependent. I guess your experience or current work environment may color how “appropriate” this feels.

            We just onboarded a new associate and even with training we barely had enough work to do in this 1st week, especially since IT was giving us a run around on access for some system for him and we just finished a project so we are a bit more of a chill mode. Coincidently his birthday was yesterday and we told him “happy birthday, go home an hour early”

            Now granted, that was a “nice gesture from mgmt” rather than him telling us, but at the same time he’s 22 and we’ve gathered he previously worked in “clock watcher” environment (like he was shocked he doesn’t have to put in a timesheet even though he was exempt) so we actually want him to know that he has flexibility with his time.

            But from OP1, I didn’t get that she really found the request to be terribly inappropriate, it was the weird “are you mad at me” response from the associate, which is strange in all environments.

        3. Shan*

          Yeah, that’s my experience, too. I know I wasn’t doing a full eight hours of meaningful solo work in the first week of any of my jobs (that weren’t coverage-based), let alone overtime.

  17. Sylvan*


    Do you and your coworkers have Teams, Slack, etc.?

    Interrupt at decent volume: “This is getting distracting. Please use Teams!”

  18. Emily*

    I agree it’s not great to announce a half day in the first week at a new job (unless this was some pre-planned event, in which case that should’ve been established when the start date was agreed on) but I also got the sense that OP probably gave off some fairly disapproving/irritated vibes a la “I’m. fine.” when the new hire left. OP spent enough time emphasizing certain details that make it obvious they weren’t ok with the request. OP should’ve made it clear from the jump. The transition from school to work can be a steep learning curve – just read some of the mortification week stories! – and that’s why it’s best to have a manager who’s super clear about expectations and make decisions they actually stand by rather than caving because a lot of people feel like telling an employee no is a confrontation. It would have been a great opportunity for the new hire to understand how their workplace functions, but now they’ve had it reinforced multiple times that announcing a short day with barely any notice is acceptable.

    1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      Normally yes, but given that they just had the team leader pass away, teaching the new hire workplace norms was likely the last thing on their mind. OP could have managed better, but it’s very understandable why they didn’t.

    2. WellRed*

      Not seeing in the letter where employee took a half day. I took it to be maybe an hour or two. And frankly, how helpful is someone a week into a job.

      1. metadata minion*

        Cosigning your last sentence! On the one hand, yeah, a brand-new person doesn’t have any social capital and most likely no PTO built up and so it’s awkward for them to take time off their very first week. On the other hand, unless this is the sort of job where you really hit the ground running, a brand-new person taking time off might actually free up time for the rest of the team because they don’t have to spend it training and telling the new guy where X is.

        1. kiki*

          Yes, I was also thinking that. I get that it’s not the best optically, but is this a job where the new kid really would have been helpful?

      2. Emily*

        right!! Especially an entry level job, where you’re usually left at your desk taking workplace safety quizzes and re-reading the same documentation for several weeks and trying to look busy and focused despite having nothing much to do, all the while feeling like a major inconvenience whenever you ask to learn something from your overworked colleagues… and on the flip side, whenever I’ve been tasked with training people I usually let them go early for the first week anyway, so I have time to actually get stuff done and they have time to decompress.

  19. I should really pick a name*

    Regardless of the birthday thing, in the future, I think it would be good to make sure that new hires are aware of the norms in your office.

    When your employee IM’d you on the weekend that he planned to leave early the next day, you could have let him know that while it’s okay this time, leaving early when everyone else is working overtime is discouraged. Also, once you were back in the office, you could describe your standards for leaving early (do they need permission, do they need to make up the time, do they need to give advance notice, etc…)

    People can usually recognize when you say something is fine, but you don’t actually think it’s fine.

    1. Avril Ludgateaux*

      People can usually recognize when you say something is fine, but you don’t actually think it’s fine.

      Which is precisely what happened here. I don’t think the criticism the Birthday Boy is getting is fully warranted. He recognized she was doing the “it’s fine (it’s not fine)” thing, and he tried to confirm if he was misreading. If OP1 didn’t want to approve the early departure, she should have been up front about it, instead of saying “it’s fine” but clearly having a not-so-subtle attitude about it, enough that the Birthday Boy picked up on it (even through text).

      1. Lilo*

        I’m more critical of him for how he handled the afternoon off request. But OP needed to handle that in the moment.

        1. Avril Ludgateaux*

          That’s fair, but he’s new and doesn’t know the office norms, as nobody has taken the time to explain them (this would have been a great opportunity to do so!). Maybe in his last role, it was not only acceptable but expected or even encouraged. I once worked at an employer that gave everybody their birthday off, even though they otherwise had a terrible time off policy (5 days per year, sick or vacation, only after your first year – and no holidays, ever, at least over the 6 months I was there). You can’t reasonably expect a person to intuit your office’s cultural norms in their first week – especially if you’re being indirect about them.

  20. Avril Ludgateaux*

    OP1: “I’m not bothered” (proceeds to explain why they’re bothered)

    I don’t think this is on the employee. This is on the manager. Be direct and up front. “Right now we are swamped and everybody is working overtime. We can’t really afford to have people leaving early unexpectedly, and you’ve only just started.”

    Personally my question is (always) “how much of what you do is actually so urgent that a person can’t take half a day off,” but that’s irrelevant. What’s relevant is that Birthday Boy made a direct request, was told it was fine, and now OP1 is grumbling because “it’s actually not fine.” And on top of it, Birthday Boy clearly read the situation quite correctly, because he clocked that OP1 was indeed bothered! It wasn’t “needy”; it wasn’t about the birthday wishes. It was about the fact that OP1 didn’t respond with a natural, reflexive statement when prompted and indeed she was mad about it.

    1. brjeau*

      Good point! “Are you mad at me?” really isn’t a great way to ask in a work context, but he actually did read the situation correctly (albeit a bit belatedly)

      1. kiki*

        Right. I understand how the exact phrasing and focus on the missed happy birthday comes across incorrectly for the workplace, but ultimately the new hire was (correctly) picking up on the fact he had erred somehow and trying to rectify it.

    2. Colette*

      I don’t see any of that in the letter. I think telling instead of asking was a misstep on the employee’s part, but that doesn’t mean the OP wasn’t OK with him taking that time (either because she wants to give her employees the time they need off or because he just started and wouldn’t be that useful).

      And I also don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the OP to remember a day later (when she’s swamped with work) that it’s his birthday. The world does not revolve around him. And demanding reassurance is off.

      1. Mac*

        I think that asking “are you mad?” could, yes, be interpreted as demanding reassurance, or it could be seeking actual feedback/guidance. This new hire sounds to me like he is conscientious, if awkward. He cleared his time off in advance, and checked in with his boss when something felt off.

      2. LW #1*

        As others have pointed out, being less than a week into the job meant that the new hire wasn’t as mission critical as others on the team. I was genuinely OK with him taking the time; the context about everyone working overtime due to our team lead’s passing was more for background on why I was so project-focused and why I saw the Sunday message at all. Later, I was a little annoyed with the message asking if I was mad — because that felt like additional work for me to manage. In response, I did say happy birthday, apologized for forgetting, and wrote in because I was wondering if I was in the wrong for forgetting or a bigger apology was warranted. I think Alison’s recommendation of keeping it breezy is perfect in this case.

        1. Minerva*

          Thank you, I was confused as to why so many people seemed to think that you weren’t really OK with him taking the time (to the point where I kept rereading) as I didn’t get that at all from your letter.

          Yeah the “are you mad at me” was strange, and maybe he did feel some guilt when everyone else was working so hard, but those insecurities aren’t yours to manage as long as you are forthright with saying what you mean.

    3. SomebodyElse*

      Agree with this, it was my take also. I mentioned it somewhere else, but the how much could new guy actually be contributing in a half day on day number 6?

      Again, this a new manager, so I think that’s relevant as well. All new managers tend to blunder their way through their first employee (I feel like companies should give hazard pay to first year manager employees! I’m sure mind deserved it from time to time). So it reads like some of the classic traps that NM’s fall into:
      1-Not being clear with expectations (the asking vs. informing for a day off by the employee)
      2-Trying to balance the doing stuff vs. managing needs
      3-Not being clear to the employee if they’ve done something wrong, but getting bothered by it
      4-Balancing the authority line – how much authority to project

    4. Millie Mayhem*

      Where are you getting that OP was upset? I didn’t get the impression that OP is bothered or mad about this… it’s kind of an odd situation and I get why OP wrote in asking for how best to handle.

      I’ve noticed your name in the comments section lately and you seem to jump to negative conclusions about OP’s pretty quickly if they are in management positions. I’m not sure why this is necessary… everyone who writes in is asking for help or advice, and we are all people who deserve a little bit of compassion and understanding.

      1. pancakes*

        A number of people seem to be getting that from somewhere, and I’d also like to know where.

      2. Avril Ludgateaux*

        The entire second paragraph is OP1 being upset:

        I wasn’t mad, and told him so; I also felt that since he’d already left the office, he should go ahead and enjoy the birthday celebration. But now I’m wondering if I should have a deeper conversation with him about workplace norms and expectations. I do hope he had a happy birthday! But we’re all working extra hours right now, and I’m wondering how much more beyond leaving early (in the first week on the job) is warranted for a birthday. Typically on birthdays I observe people in our office either working as normal or taking PTO, but not drawing attention to the day. On the other hand, I can see it being a nice thing to do as a manager to keep track of my team’s birthdays.

        And wow, I’m honored to have caught your attention! I’m sorry I cannot say the same.

        If we all deserve compassion and understanding, so do the people being complained about – i.e. the Birthday Boy in this scenario. And I don’t think a generally agreed-upon observation (as I’m far from the only person in this thread saying this) is lacking in compassion.

        A manager wrote in asking for management advice, and that advice has to take into account the context of specific behavior that is counter to the goal of “good management.” Having a discernible conflict between your words and your meaning, to the point your report recognizes and asks if they have misstepped, and then, instead of taking the chance to educate them on workplace norms and mores, you express consternation to a third party over their insecurity in the face of mixed messages… That rightly deserves criticism.

        1. Avril Ludgateaux*

          Jacked up the formatting – only the paragraph with bolded sentences should have been in the blockquote.

        2. Koalafied*

          It says right in the part you quoted that taking PTO is within the normal range of things some people do on their birthdays in the office, but that drawing attention to the birthday is not. That’s what the “workplace norms and expectations” part is hinging on, and why her question was, “how much more beyond [what I granted] is warranted?” and not, “is [what I granted] reasonable for an employee I manage to expect?”

          I read it as though LW’s gut instinct is to say hey, we don’t really make a fanfare out of birthdays here, but they’re second-guessing whether as a manager they should tell the employee that (which is going to carry a lot of weight, because they’re his boss) or if it’s possible they were the one out of line for not acknowledging the birthday and would be a better manager if they started doing it vs telling the employee not to expect it.

        3. Millie Mayhem*

          OP literally says “I wasn’t mad” at the very beginning of that sentence. I don’t see this as OP being upset at all and still don’t understand where you’re getting that. I think you’re reading a bit too much into something that isn’t there.

          I didn’t make any comments yesterday because I was pretty busy working, so that’s probably why you didn’t see my name anywhere! :) I did take some time to read through the comments during my break, and I noticed at least 1 of yours was removed by Alison for being adversarial towards the LW. Not sure if you caught that or not.

        4. pancakes*

          “I’m wondering” is not code for “I’m upset.” None of what you put in bold text reads as upset. The overarching tone and purpose of the paragraph you quoted is to ask, “am I on the right track here?” You also seem to be overlooking the comments from the LW with additional details.

    5. Nanani*


      They’re not bothered – by the thing that happened.

      They’re asking for management advice from a manager going forward, not harping on a thing that already happened, which is what beign bothered normally looks like.

  21. BigSigh*

    I was in an office years ago where my boss would shout for me from her office all day every day. I was not an assistant, it is worth noting. After she moved on, I started going to dinners with a few other office mates. I found out years later that they all hated that she did that, and her hollering haunted their dreams.

  22. A Yellow Plastic Duck*

    Shouting across the room?

    That’s what Slack is for.

    Does your company have an office messaging system?

  23. BirdsOutMyWindow*

    Re letter 1

    I think this issue could even happen with someone who has been in the workforce a long time as I’m kind of surprised that my own work experiences have been so different. Of 8 jobs I’ve held with different employers, 6 gave me a birthday card plus a gift or food for the office (donuts, gift card, flowers, etc) and only 2 didn’t acknowledge my birthday but they were remote jobs. Is it a regional thing? An industry thing? Some letter writers have potlucks!

    And I’ve had employers grant time off and then bring up later that they didn’t like it and I should have known to read them and come back to the office. Unreasonable, but some managers ARE difficult.

    1. FalsePositive*

      My office is a self-opt-in sort of office. If you want to celebrate your birthday, you bring in treats. When I had an officemate, sometimes we’d remember to celebrate for each other, but that’s about it. I know bringing in your own treats probably feels gross to some people, but I’ve come to appreciate it. Then you have control on whether your birthday is celebrated and you always know you’ll like the treats. Also my coworkers are generally comfortable in funds (tech field), so buying your own treats (vs the office springing for them) is generally affordable.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      I think it’s a company-by-company or even department-by-department thing. I worked in three different departments for one company, and they all celebrated/acknowledged birthdays differently:

      Dept 1: A monthly cake to celebrate everyone whose birthday was in that month
      Dept 2: An informal tradition (but not a requirement) of using the floating holiday on your birthday
      Dept 3: Birthday person brought in treats of their choice to share with the department on/near their birthday

  24. scurvycapn*

    Our workplace includes “Your personal birthday” on the list of company holidays. Unfortunately, we have a customer that has a knack for scheduling deployments (based on another vendor’s schedule) during my PTO/birthdays. I ended up working over my birthday weekend bookending my PTO because I figured it was easier to do it myself than get someone else up to speed.

    On a touchpoint call, the customer made a comment about what I would need to do Monday if the process was running long. I felt like a goober doing it, but I pulled a “Well, actually, my birthday is Saturday, and I typically take the week of my birthday off, so I will be on PTO next week. I will provide an email to coworker so that they can monitor the process if need be.”

    I’m in my early 40s and for the most part don’t give a whoop about birthdays, but being tied to my work cell/laptop on my birthday to watch for an email letting me know I can start work that will span two days is one thing I do care about!

    1. Cringing 24/7*

      On a personal note, I think what you did was fine (not that you need an internet stranger’s approval). If it makes you feel a bit gooberesque to say it’s for your birthday, I don’t think anything would be missed in just skipping that first part and just saying, “Oh, actually, I have some prescheduled PTO I’m taking next week that can’t be moved around, but here’s who you can contact while I’m out.”

  25. Cringing 24/7*

    I’m grateful for Alison’s last paragraph on OP1’s question, because my first reaction when hearing that a brand new employee *told* his supervisor/boss he was taking off early for a birthday celebration, I definitely cringed. Personally, I have no problem telling my employer I’ll be unavailable for medical reasons or doctor’s appointments, but if it’s for personal/fun reasons, a) I’m certainly not going to mention the reason, and b) (ESPECIALLY if it’s a busy time at work) it’s going to likely be an ask more than a tell. I understand that all workplaces are different, but I just super appreciate that Alison always emphasizes managing expectations.

  26. Madame X*

    LW1 responded above (to PollyQ’s comment), that they did say happy birthday to the employee during the IM chat. I think we should give the LW a bit of grace for how they handled the situation in the midst of a recent death. LW1 gave the employee time off (despite the bad timing) and wished them happy birthday.

    The employee needs to learn to read the room about how to request time off. The LW was clearly very stressed and probably distracted when the employee was leaving early that day, so i can totally see how it would have slipped their mind to wish them happy birthday (again!). I suspect that the LW’s annoyance with the employee’s less than stellar behavior may have shown, which is probably why he later asked if they “were mad at him”. The only thing that the LW could have done differently, is clearly state to the employee the office norms for taking time off (and they could still have that conversation with the employee if they have not already done so).

    1. Shan*

      I think the LW was saying they wished him a happy birthday when they responded to the “are you mad” IM after they’d left, not to the original one on the Sunday.

      1. Freelance Anything*

        Yes, I read it that way also. As the very last communication LW had with the employee was ‘Happy Birthday’

        So I still don’t blame the employee for feeling anxious about misreading something or doing something wrong as upto that point their birthday had been completely unacknowledged.

        Again it is understandable that it would slip LW1’s mind given the circumstances, but I don’t thing the employee was crazy or needy for checking in.

  27. Risha*

    LW1, it would be nice to speak to him about workplace norms especially if he’s very young/fresh out of school. Of course, that’s not a manager’s role, but it would be a great kindness on your part.

    When I was fresh out of college, I had no idea on what was normal in a professional job. Many young people who are fresh out of school worked for non-professional jobs where certain behaviors are accepted. Before becoming a nurse, I worked in fast food/supermarkets where you could act a certain way with your coworkers and managers. But once I got to the professional working world, no one told me that loudly announcing “hey guys, I’m out, see ya later!” or something similar isn’t appropriate. People just thought I was immature. And I was! I didn’t know these things weren’t cool outside of my prior work settings. I wish someone who had been in the work force for a long time would have pulled me aside and told me.

    So please do this man a favor and let him know what is and isn’t normal in your office. If he doesn’t take it well, or becomes overly defensive, then that’s on him and he must accept whatever consequences moving forward.

    1. Risha*

      I forgot to add….in the workplace you don’t really need to recognize people’s bdays. If your office does, that’s great. But don’t feel guilty or bad because you didn’t say happy bday to him. He’s an adult and can handle his employer treating that day like any other day. Most likely he has friends and family who wished him a happy bday so don’t be derailed by him sulking because you didn’t acknowledge his bday. Stick to talking to him about workplace norms but don’t apologize for not wishing him a happy bday, you’re his boss not his parent/friend/whatever.

    2. kiki*

      I actually think talking to direct reports about workplace norms *is* part of a manager’s role, especially when they hire employees early in their career. Having a lot of unsaid expectations that you hope people will pick up on is a recipe for issues and conflict. I feel like I’m constantly hearing managers acting surprised that their new-to-industry hires don’t know X or Y and “school should have taught them this.” And schools could pick up some extra slack, but it seems like managers don’t fully understand that their own field, company, and even department are unique. No school could prepare every student for the exact workplace they’ll be hired in. I’ve worked in places that *were* tremendously casual about taking an afternoon off for a birthday, even if it was busy. I’ve worked in places that you had to take PTO to run to the pharmacy for a half hour. Being frustrated at employees for not picking up on that in week one just isn’t feasible.

  28. Just Me*

    LW 1: It’s common for workplaces to wish employees happy birthday and to have a cake or short celebration for them, but not all employees are comfortable with this, and other employees will feel entitled to this and then some. Unfortunately, you may need to prepare for people to be weird about their birthdays and office celebrations for the rest of your working career.

    I once worked at a company where everyone got a cake on their birthday, but one particular employee had requested two and a half weeks of vacation with his birthday falling squarely in the middle. The managers decided not to get a cake for him since he was already taking extensive PTO for his birthday. The employee threw. a. fit. and said it wasn’t fair that he wasn’t getting a cake for his birthday. Even though he wasn’t going to be in on his birthday. And he was, you know, a forty-something year old man. In the end, the manager caved and got him cupcakes the day before he went on PTO. (Employee was later fired for an unrelated matter.)

    1. Sloanicota*

      Ha if an employee pushed this with me I would have been tempted to get a cake on his birthday for everyone to enjoy … on the day of birthday when he wasn’t there. Sidenote, it’s sad that in our culture 2.5 weeks is considered so extensive as to be eyebrow raising :(

    2. Cringing 24/7*

      It’s not common in all industries. I’ve worked in places where absolutely no one’s birthday is celebrated, as well as industries where there were monthly birthday celebrations. OP seems to be surprised that his employee is centering their birthday, which would lead me to believe that it’s not common in OP’s workplace or possibly their industry.

      1. Lilo*

        I have never worked anywhere where people get more than a shoutout in the weekly newsletter or a verbal “oh it’s your birthday? Happy Birthday!”

  29. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    I have fond memories of working in a newsroom where everyone shouted across the room. But we were on tight deadlines and this was before Slack or Teams. (OK, it was even before email. I’m old.)

    1. Ellis Bell*

      All my newsrooms were shouty too. Post email but pre teams. It was just key to how they operated.

      1. pancakes*

        I have a feeling that if that letter writer worked in the type of environment where shouting is commonplace, or necessary to be heard in a noisy environment, they’d have mentioned it.

  30. ABCYaBye*

    I know OP1 commented in the thread, so I’m not saying this to address them and their situation specifically. Rather, I read a lot of comments from people who thought it was odd that someone would expect to be wished a happy birthday at their workplace. I think it is common courtesy to wish someone a happy birthday if you know it is their birthday. It is an important day for them. No one needs to expect gifts and a cake and a party from their workplace, but acknowledging a person who is in your orbit for 1/3 or more of your day, five days a week is the bare minimum in human interaction.

    1. Millie Mayhem*

      Agree that it’s nice to at least acknowledge a birthday… it’s a small gesture that doesn’t take much time or energy to do.

      On the flip side, I think it’s kind of weird (and a little out of touch?) that a brand new employee thought it was OK to take off early during a really busy time because it was his birthday. Personally I couldn’t imagine doing that at a new job, but I’ve also been in the workforce for a while. Maybe this is just a learning experience for both OP and their direct report!

    2. Jellyfish*

      Some people feel very strongly about birthdays, on a spectrum ranging from “biggest day of the year!” to “this is only for selfish children.”

      People also feel strongly about what professionalism and prioritizing looks like in the work place. One extreme expects absolute robotic dedication to a job with zero indication of an outside life, the other extreme is all about bringing their whole self to work, and most people are somewhere in the middle.

      Add that into a new person learning a new work culture, the rest of the office struggling with both a recent loss and extra business, and it’s an easy recipe for frustration and/or mildly hurt feelings. I don’t read malice or willful selfishness into anyone’s actions here, and I think the LW has indicated they’ll handle it well by being direct but not overly serious. There’s a minor conflict of values going on maybe, but nothing that can’t be easily resolved if everyone communicates reasonably.

    3. Nanani*

      Common for you doesnt mean universal everywhere though.
      Its a thing with a LOT of variation and there is no one correct way.

    4. Sunny*

      It’s a common courtesy, but asking your manager why they didn’t is out-of-touch and needy. It’s one of those things you notice — and are allowed to be bothered by — but don’t follow-up on. The only people at this stage in my life I would ever dream of calling out for that are my parents, husband and children. I just can’t imagine asking my boss why they didn’t wish me a happy birthday. Just cringing in embarrassment at the thought.

      And yes, you’re right about the time we spend with coworkers, but in this case, it’s a brand new employee, coming in right after a sudden death and the resulting workload and emotional fallout is something he should be a little more tuned into.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        It’s a common courtesy, but asking your manager why they didn’t is out-of-touch and needy.

        This is exactly how I feel about the situation.

    5. Unaccountably*

      You don’t actually know whether a birthday is an important day for someone or not. It’s not for a lot of people.

      The employee overstepped here. He’s allowed to feel how he feels about not getting birthday wishes. He’s also allowed to keep his feelings to himself instead of dumping them into his manager’s lap to handle on top of all her other workload.

  31. Emma*

    I have a small point of contention with the answer to OP 1. PTO isn’t a privilege or a favor that management is doing for me. It is a part of the agreed upon compensation. I don’t ask or beg to get what is owed to me as far as my compensation goes. As such, I don’t ask to use my PTO. I tell management when I will be using my PTO as a courtesy.

        1. Cringing 24/7*

          I 100% knew this would be the answer.

          You absolutely deserve to take all of your time off, but I just… it’s so aggressive to the point of feeling hostile.

          1. Millie Mayhem*

            Yeahhh I’m not a fan of this approach. It often doesn’t just affect the manager, but team members also have to deal with unexpected absences.

            Illness happens and things come up, and I get needing to use PTO if you’re sick or you can’t help it! That’s partially what it’s there for. But if you’re upset that your request was denied (for a perfectly legitimate reason, like not giving sufficient notice during a peak busy season) and call in anyway, that’s not great. :/

          2. Emma*

            Each industry is going to be somewhat different but I work as a nurse. Healthcare facilities tend to take very adversarial approach towards nursing staff despite being in the caring industry. If they’re short staffed for the last three and a half years that on them, not me. These CEO’s like to tell people to pull themselves up by their boot straps all the time. Fine, they can pull themselves up by their boot straps too. Hire more people, bring more to the table, increase compensation…etc. As far as I’m concerned the sword cuts both ways.

            1. Cringing 24/7*

              Oh, damn – you’re a nurse? I take back everything I said. Healthcare is an entirely different beast (kind of like how Alison has to say – “look, this is academia and it’s just too weird and abnormal”). I have multiple relatives who regale me with horror stories about scheduling, staffing, and abuses.

              1. Tupac Coachella*

                I agree that nursing/healthcare is a field where this kind of stance is more reasonable than others. I’m not one myself but I work with them directly in several capacities, and a lot of their jobs do. not. care. They will suck up a nurse’s every spare moment and some they didn’t have to spare. Saying “I’m taking PTO, figure it out” is a necessary approach, because if they “ask,” they’ll get told that it’s not a good time, because it’s never a good time. I think it’s part of the reason that nurses are some of the most direct people I know- it’s not just the patients who will treat them like robots if they allow it.

          3. Cringing 24/7*

            Sorry – I feel like the wording of this above comment seems rude after I’ve posted it. What I mean is – it sounds like potentially an employer has really screwed you over in the past and you developed a very hardline stance (and healthy boundary) on taking the PTO you’re owed (or you just had that boundary from the get-go, and it’s not as a reaction to a specific way you were treated), and my reaction to it is confusion because it wouldn’t fly at my workplace, but I need to acknowledge that if it works for you, it works for you.

            I just work at a place where they generally try to be flexible (but they aren’t very highly staffed), so there’s a bit of social nicety that comes into play where there is a decent amount of telling like “I’ll be out this week,” but there’s also the requirement that you not buy any tickets or anything because the employer can say, “that’s actually our busiest time, we would need you there for X and Y reasons.” It would also be a Big Deal at my employer if you had PTO declined and called in sick during that time anyway (my employer would be suspicious and absolutely ask for a doctor’s note).

    1. Cringing 24/7*

      That may be, but do you not also give some sort of lead time for it? OP’s employee didn’t. We don’t even know if they *had* PTO to be used 6 days into their work (which is a whole nother issue with the way US employers work, but it’s the framework we’re given). Like you, I think that PTO is absolutely a part of agreed-upon compensation, however, that doesn’t mean that a supervisor can’t come back and say, “This is actually the worst possible time to take PTO – is there any way to change it?” And maybe then some give and take could happen there. It’s possible your plans are unchangeable (or that you just don’t want to), but where OP1 may have erred was saying “Yes that’s fine” when he wanted to say “that’s not ideal, let’s talk about what the business needs, what flexibility you need, and see if there’s a way to balance those.”

      1. Cringing 24/7*

        Also, just now realizing that I may have been misgendering OP because I don’t know what pronouns they use. Truly sorry for my thoughtlessness!

      2. Emma*

        That’s a fair point. Six days in to a job is too soon to just start taking off. Also, if the employer acts in good faith to maintain good relationships with their employees then it would be reasonable to try and extend some grace and flexibility if possible. I just don’t like how many companies offer middling amounts of PTO then deny it because they are too busy or “short staffed”. Then you’re stuck loosing it or selling it for pennies on the dollar.

        1. Cringing 24/7*

          Totally valid – I definitely understand your point now. Like, I get that my employer is short-staffed, and I’ll try to have some wiggle room in giving some notice surrounding travel dates, but do they *really* want to burn me out by denying me PTO? I’m going to take it eventually because I’m sure as hell not letting it expire.

      3. Essess*

        If they are already working OT on their first week (assuming the new hire is also putting in the extra hours based on OPs story) and it looks like it will be continuing for a while due to an emergency unrelated to them, then they definitely should be allowed some comp/flexible time to leave early on a single day since they are already giving more of their time to the job than expected right away.

    2. Lilo*

      PTO is a benefit but of course you need to get time approved and you have to give reasonable notice. Lots of jobs need someone in them during business hours (for instance, I mentor people, if I’m out I have someone covering me to give mentees help).

      Just announcing you’re going to be out, particularly with very short notice, is not how it works.

      1. Millie Mayhem*

        +1. Employers don’t need to know the details of the PTO request, but they do need sufficient time to ensure there is adequate coverage.

      2. Emma*

        If they want a policy that says PTO needs to be submitted two weeks in advance, I get that. If I’m working for a place like that then if I submit it before the two week cutoff. It’s not a request even though companies frame it as “requesting time off”. I’m telling you what days I won’t be available as a professional courtesy.

    3. Koalafied*

      I think there’s a healthy middle ground between begging and announcing, where you can run the dates by your boss, ask if they see any problems with those dates, and if they do, have a constructive conversation that takes into account how flexible your need to have time off is and what exactly the problem would be with you being out.

      I’ve approved 99% of my direct report’s vacation requests without any strings, but she did once ask for an inconvenient time and I asked her if she needed that week in particular or if it was something where she’d been open to considering taking it a week or two later, when it would be easier to work around her absence. She was able to be flexible, but if she had said she needed that specific week, I would have worked with her to figure out something that would allow her to take the time off – like maybe needing her to be able to join one hour-long call on one day that week despite being off, or having her do some of her work due after the time off much further in advance than she normally would so that her colleagues would be able to ask her questions about it before she was gone, etc.

      We have a great working relationship based on mutual respect and trust, and I would be hugely disappointed if she suddenly adopted an adversarial attitude of announcing her vacation days and not caring if as her manager I had concerns about the timing, even going so far as to call out sick the week of the denied vacation, knowing that the only reason I denied it was because it would cause significant problems in our work that her coworkers were going to be burdened with fixing.

      1. Cringing 24/7*

        100% my thought process too. But having read now that Emma works in nursing, that (in her situation) throws mutual respect and trust out the window, since management is (in what I’ve been told) virtually always adversarial in denying PTO requests. But, as a general rule, I absolutely agree with your line of thinking.

    4. Meep*

      I tell my manager that I am taking PTO as well. However, in this case, I agree that the employee probably should’ve asked as it was their first week there and they seemed to have the presence of mind to know that they were leaving their coworkers hanging. At the very least, mention it when you were hired so people can plan around it.

      I am also under the impression that this employee might not have taken PTO and just dipped early since they were working overtime.

  32. MsClaw*

    I feel like AMA needs the equivalent of a ‘pinned tweet’ that says ‘No, you do not have to tell your current boss that you are looking for a new job. Even if they said you had to. Even if you agreed at the time. You do not, and almost certainly should not.’

    There have been multiple variations on that theme in the past couple of weeks. I admire Alisons’ ability considerately respond to these repeat questions.

    1. Bobasaur*

      I agree that we’ve had a lot of questions along the same lines…but Alison chooses which to answer!

      Also, I do think OP2’s question isn’t exactly asking about whether she has to tell her boss that she is looking for a new job (it sounds like she already knows that the amswer is no). She is asking for insight into why a reference (who seemingly has no stakes in this) would advise her to tell her new boss.

  33. Maggie*

    It sounds like Birthday Person in #1 might have worked in a place that made a big deal out of birthdays. At my last job, my department never made a big deal about birthdays. The birthday person might bring in a snack to share, or take some PTO, but that was it. Then we merged with a department that made a BIG DEAL out of birthdays. We’re talking balloons, streamers and cake. IT. WAS. EXHAUSTING. But I can see someone coming from the other direction, where they were expecting a dramatic celebration, and receiving a cool, “Oh, have a great day.” feeling slighted, especially if they hadn’t seen that it was the standard in the office.

  34. Meep*

    Some insight into OP1’s new employee – “kids these days” (as in Zoomers and some younger Millenials) are rather sensitive to how they are inconveniencing others while simultaneously trying to create a positive work-life balance. It leads to weird tone-deaf situations like this where the employee is more concerned about their manager liking them every second than they are about how they are inconveniencing said manager.

    I have had situations where I am left gobsmacked because an employee just sits there idle being unable to do their work, but never actually tell me that there is a problem that needs addressing. I find out about it when I ask for a status update days later (no mention during the daily stand-up, mind you.) Meanwhile, they care more about the snacks we have in the office and coming in after 9AM and think if we don’t have a certain snack I hate them.

    (BTW I am a Millenial as well. I was just raised by a very WASP-y New Yorker grandmother.)

    1. Migraine Month*

      I doubt this is a generational thing; I think it’s just being new to the workforce. I used to think that my boss was basically my college professor, as if their job was to help me learn and improve instead of, you know, produce valuable work for the company in exchange for pay.

      Starting at an office where a team lead just died and everyone is working overtime would make me nervous, and I’m not new to office work.

    2. pancakes*

      Your coworkers are not ambassadors for other people their age. Being the same age yourself doesn’t add weight to generalizations. Fwiw I would hope someone would say the same if I made sweeping generalizations about gen-x, my own age group!

  35. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

    #4: Should I take this to mean I wasn’t the unreasonable one when I used to grumble about a bus driver who would shout “Goodbye! Thank you for riding [Name] City bus! Have a nice day!” to the back of the bus at every person who exited? If 5 people exited, she would shout the entire thing 5 times as each person stepped out, and if people exited faster than she could keep up with, she’d just keep shouting it on loop until everyone was off. And she never missed a stop, not in the entire time I had that commute and she was one of the drivers.

    I obviously wasn’t on an important call with a client, so I was never sure if I was being unreasonable or she was, but no other driver I’ve encountered has felt the need to do that!

  36. Heffalump*

    I understand where OP#1 is coming from, but given that the employee is just out of college and new to the workforce, I’d be inclined to cut him a fair amount of slack. IMO the remark about the OP managing the employee’s feelings was pretty harsh. As Alison said in the post about the dress code interns, people new to the workforce often make mistakes.

    1. Freelance Anything*

      ^ agreed. Especially as it really sounds like that all the employee wanted was to be wished a Happy Birthday.

      I wonder if OP is maybe dealing with a lot of grief and stress, and misreading this situation?

  37. Who Said What?*

    #1 Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. I have this, and it explains what appears to be oversensitivity and “neediness” to others. The “should I come back to work” is what tips it into RSD territory.

    It’s typical to say, “Oh, happy birthday” when someone mentions it, but then again some folks are Jehovah Witnesses or something and don’t acknowledge birthdays. I also would not have taken my birthday off after just starting a new job. Haven’t worked on my birthday in years, including the one that just passed last week (HB to me!), so greetings or not are a non-issue. I don’t miss all of this workplace drama around birthdays, weddings, babies, holidays, whatever.

    OP, just tell employee they are wildly off-base and be mindful that they maybe prone to future misunderstandings. Good Luck.

    1. pancakes*

      You can’t diagnose this employee from a letter, and I’m pretty sure it’s against the site rules here to try to. Of course it’s possible you’re correct, but managers shouldn’t be trying to diagnose their employees either.

  38. WheresMyPen*

    Re #1: I think it could be interpreted as a bit rude that you didn’t say ‘happy birthday’ when your employee said it was his birthday, but not a big enough deal to think you were mad at him. You could have replied ‘that’s fine, hope you have a nice birthday’ or something, but it’s not obligatory

    1. DuskPunkZebra*

      I disagree. It’s SO normal to say something when someone mentions it’s their birthday/will be shortly/was recently that NOT saying something feels like purposely ignoring it, and is reasonably read as a slight or rejection.

      1. MHA*

        This is just one of those perspective things, I think, because I would like. never even notice another adult not wishing me a happy birthday just because I mentioned it. (And I’m not at all one of those “adults shouldn’t even care about their birthdays” grumps– I love my birthday! I totally spoil myself on my birthday and I always have a get-together with friends!) If I asked my boss about being off for my birthday and all they did was respond to the question without the ‘happy birthday’ nicety, I’d think that was totally appropriate. It’s not at all one of those almost-mandatory niceties like “please” and “thank you” where its absence = snub, in my mind, so without the context that it apparently IS like that for some people, I’d definitely read the employee’s reaction as needy, too.

  39. DuskPunkZebra*

    I feel like everyone is reading LW1’s letter and thinking the report is expecting celebration when he’s probably just expecting a very normal “happy birthday” when he mentioned it was his birthday he was taking off for. At no point in either exchange does LW1 mention wishing him a happy birthday, even when it would be exceedingly rote to say it, like when confirming that his leaving early would be okay. It’s SO normal, in fact, that to omit it feels purposeful and like a rejection.

    Not saying it as he was leaving and you were in the middle of another conversation isn’t necessarily bad on its own, but the fact that it was never said in a sequence of conversations where the birthday was explicitly mentioned feels like pointedly ignoring it. I’d think LW was mad at me, too.

    I don’t think he’s expecting anything more than very normal acknowledgment, and it doesn’t sound like he got even that.

    Now, with a whole team in mourning and shock, maybe that kind of thing slips minds, but it really sounds like everyone, including Alison, is reading this as expecting something big when LW didn’t even mention giving a passing social nicety.

  40. Freelance Anything*

    Your description of events didn’t sound like your report was expecting a big birthday fuss, I think they were thrown that you literally didn’t say ‘happy birthday’ at any point during the day.

    I understand that you’re at a very busy and stressful point, but it’s such a normal courtesy that I can understand feeling slightly thrown by the lack of it. Particularly as they will likely have a lot your standard anxiety, overthinking from being new to the work world.

    By all means, have a conversation about requesting time off rather than announcing. And having conversations like that in person. But it, to me, didn’t read as overly needy at all.

  41. PurpleStar*

    Letter #4 – I cringed when I read this – the OP would hate working on my hallway. We often just “yell” to each other out our open doorways or even through our closed doors. We randomly sing, sometimes we trade song lyrics or we all just join in. I play music in my office and forget how loud it is until I walk out of my office and walk down the hall and the music follows me. And not all of my music choices are, let’s say, office compatible. We have various toys and props that make noise as well.

    Offices have super thin walls so even when our doors are closed we sometimes message each other commenting on overheard conversations. Rude, I know – but hilarious when we are talking to ourselves. And I talk to myself often !

    We do respect each other and keep it quiet when one of us has a conference call or a Zoom training or meeting. Some of us have those horrific white noise machines outside their office’s door when sensitive meetings are being held. We know when to be quiet and professional.

    But, we are an utter nightmare sometimes and are known as the loud hallway. We startle others with random noises and, well, shouting and laughter. But lots of laughter. We enjoy our jobs and each other. We are the administrative team for the organization. We are not legion, but heading towards legend.

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