intern avoids all networking, reprimanded for watching TV on a lunch break, and more

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

1. Our intern avoids all social/networking opportunities

We have a summer intern, “Ralph,” split between two department sections so he can get a variety of experience. Ralph is the most reserved person anyone’s ever worked with. He runs away from any kind of vaguely social or networking opportunity, and unfortunately on top of that his work is also not great.

My department invited him to our monthly Friday lunch so he could get to know us better, and the date, time, and location was sent to him two weeks ago. When we went to tell him the new restaurant location in person (since apparently our old choice closed permanently last week!) Ralph said that he had a massive task from the other department with a tight deadline and couldn’t make it. During that conversation he looked nothing short of relieved and happy. He’s also done this to the other section and to every single person who’s invited him to anything, saying that he’d “love to be there” and then pulling some urgent work reason he can’t at the last minute.

I don’t think Ralph’s made many connections at our company who he could ask for a letter of recommendation, both because of his work and because he acts like he doesn’t want to deal with anyone. His work has been critiqued and corrected and people have been honest with him about that, but I don’t think anyone’s said anything to him about the importance of personal connections in our business. Is that something one should even say to an intern?

If networking connections are important in your field, that’s definitely the kind of thing that it’s helpful to talk with an intern about, since it might not be obvious and interns are there to learn (and to make those connections, as well). That doesn’t mean Ralph needs to do social stuff if he finds it too unpleasant, but he deserves to know the trade-offs he’s making by declining to. So the conversation would be less “you need to do this” and more “it’s helpful in our field because of XYZ and not doing it can have repercussions like ABC” and from there it’s up to him.

That said, this doesn’t sound like the most pressing issue for Ralph since even if he were more comfortable building relationships, the quality of his work means he’d be unlikely to get great references from this internship. It would still be a kindness to tip him off, but it doesn’t sound like it should be the biggest area of focus.

2. We were reprimanded for watching TV on our lunch break

Our small startup-like company is very informal, some suits, some developers and IT guys in jeans and t-shirts, everyone on a first-name basis and half of us work from home at the moment anyway.

Today my friend and I were having our lunch (12–1 pm) in an empty boardroom, which people do from time to time (people also frequently drink beer there from 4 pm), and there’s a TV in that room. We put on the TV and watched a show for 40-odd minutes. There were no executives around, no clients, vendors, consultants or outside people of any kind. When we turned on the TV, we were the only people in the building. We had the volume low anyway, as the show required subtitles.

A couple of people coming back from their lunch walked past and saw us watching TV, and one of them reported us to a manager. Not for what we’d actually done though—when my friend got back to her desk she had a very stern message from her manager (working from home) saying that it had been reported that we were “watching movies in the office” for hours, when we should have been working. They even reported a specific number of hours and minutes, which was both untrue and impossible because of other meetings in that room earlier in the day.

What horrified me most was that the manager simply believed this surreal version of events. Rather than saying “someone’s saying you did X, what’s that about?” they simply repeated the accusation as a fact and said “this was very bad, never do that again.” They didn’t react any better to being told that it didn’t happen.

I think a manager should support their staff and get both sides of any story like that. I don’t want a full-on judge and jury, but I do think the manager should have given us the benefit of the doubt. What do you think?

Yes. The manager should have asked about it, not charged in thinking they already knew for sure what happened. Their approach should have been, “I heard X and wanted to find out more from you.”

If “they didn’t react any better to being told that it didn’t happen” means she didn’t believe your friend, that’s even more of a problem, and means you can’t trust this manager to be fair or impartial or to have good judgment in the future. (On the other hand, if the manager did believe your friend but still doesn’t want you watching TV at lunch because of the optics, that’s a different thing. It’s probably still unreasonable unless there’s context justifying it, but it’s not as bad as essentially accusing an employee of lying without any evidence for it.)

3. Employee wants me to order goth office supplies

I have a new employee who wants some rather goth office supplies. I personally feel this is not a reasonable request since everyone else is getting generic office supplies and I have personally foregone special equipment so we are not spending more money than we need to. I also feel like if I approve this request, then others will want special supplies also. Where does it end? Any suggestions?

I’m personally a fan of letting people order whatever office supplies they want, within reason, but if you have a reason not to (like budget or if it would be difficult to juggle individual orders for everyone), it’s okay to say, “We buy the same type of notebooks, pens, etc. for everyone. If you need an additional type of supply for your work, I can order that for you! But if it’s just a matter of preferring a different aesthetic, we wouldn’t typically special-order that but you could bring it in yourself if you’d like to.”

4. When can you ask about about benefits in an interview process?

I’m starting to apply for jobs again after working at the same place for about five years. When is the appropriate time during the interview process to ask about benefits if they don’t offer the information themselves? I mean essential benefits like healthcare and sick/vacation time, not perks. Is it during the first or second interview? After you have an offer? Is there a time when asking would seem presumptuous or pushy?

So, just like the the conventional wisdom used to be not to ask about salary in a first interview, the conventional wisdom also used to be that you shouldn’t ask about benefits during a first interview, because you’d seem too focused on compensation rather than the job itself. This was obviously ridiculous — the whole reason you are there is because you are interested in being compensated for your labor, and things like health insurance and time off are incredibly important factors in whether you’ll pursue a particular job or not. And yet, it used to really rub interviewers the wrong way.

This has changed, just as the conventions on talking about salary have changed. Employers generally prefer to save detailed discussions of benefits (like nitty-gritty details of particular medical plans) until later in the process, but in most fields it’s fine to ask general questions about benefits toward the end of the first interview.

5. Should I be paid for travel time?

Is it legal for companies to tell you to travel on your personal time (evenings and weekends) without compensation or additional time off?

If you’re exempt, yes, that’s legal. If you’re non-exempt, federal law requires you to be paid for any travel time that takes place during your regular work hours, even if it’s on a day you don’t normally work— but, somewhat strangely, travel time outside your regular hours doesn’t need to be paid (unless you perform work while traveling, like if you worked from that train — that would need to be paid). There’s an exception for travel to a one-day assignment in another location; in that situation, your travel time does need to be paid, minus any time you would have spent commuting to your regular work site.

However, some state laws require payment for travel time where federal law doesn’t, so it’s worth checking your state laws if you’re non-exempt.

{ 426 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A request: Please take letter-writer #1 at her word that networking and personal connections are indeed important in her field, and that Ralph seems to be actively avoiding them. Thank you.

  2. Addams*

    I’m so curious about what exactly counts as goth office supplies. A vampire stapler? Bat-shaped paperclips? Skull sticky notes? That employee sounds like a hoot!

        1. Ouija Laptop case*

          Wow, google to the rescue. Goth Office supplies. There are multiple websites.

            1. Lily*

              Ditto. Didn’t know it when I woke up this morning, but now my day is already complete.

          1. kittycontractor*

            Yeah, I’m going to need to get some black Posi-it’s. Not sure how I’ll use them, but I’m getting them.

            1. MeTwoToo*

              I used to have these. They sell silver ink pens for them. Super noticeable in a pastel office scheme!

              1. kittycontractor*

                One of my going away gifts from my last job was the Bic Marker Ultimate Creativity Kit (yes I did just look it up) and it has so many pretty sparkly markers!!

            2. LunaLena*

              White gel pens work too! I have a black paper sketchbook that I use with white gel pens, color pencils, and metallic pens.

          2. Lucy Skywalker*

            I typed in “goth o” and Google automatically suggested “goth office supplies” which leads me to believe that a lot of people read AAM today and are now curious!

          3. Umiel12*

            What Google identifies as being Goth Office Supplies and what OP identifies might be different. I want to know what OP is calling Goth Office Supplies.

          1. Lily*

            I did not know about Bat Conservation International. I am now a fan/supporter. Thank you for your service.

      1. Bats & Tatts Inc.*

        I need the LW to drop in with some links. What qualifies as “goth office supplies”? Did she ask for a Montblanc Rouge et Noir?

        1. nobadcats*

          And if you like goth fountain pens, Noodler’s Ink has some really great dark inks. I use Nightshade, it’s a mix of purplish black and brown.

          1. kittycontractor*

            Y’all need to stop giving me stuff to google at work! I got stuff to do!! ;-)

          2. SyFyGeek*

            I like pens with brown ink. It looks like dried blood. G2 makes a fine point refill called Caramel Ink. It fits my Dr. Grip, so I’m ergonomic and creepy. But I really want gothic office supplies.

            1. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

              i have to say i’m loving all the fellow goths in the comments today!

          3. Mianaai*

            As a quick heads up, the person who runs Noodler’s has taken a sharp turn into the Q world in the last few years and is starting to put antisemitic imagery on the bottle labels. I used to love Noodlers ink as well, particularly since waterproof fountain pen ink is hard to find otherwise, but I’ve ceased buying it at this point.

            1. JustaTech*

              Oh no! I used to buy their ink for my dad to use when grading papers.
              Thanks for the warning!

            2. A.N O'Nyme*

              I’m…not really surprised tbh. It’s a shame because I do like the ink (still have the 4.5oz bottle I got years ago) but…I don’t know, something about the guy makes me not surprised to hear this.

          4. harmonybat*

            Diamine Writer’s Blood is also pretty excellent (though extremely wet, for those who know fountain pen ink properties.

      1. Mockingbird*

        On my Google search for “goth office supplies” one of the results was a picture of some steampunk-style pens, and now I know what I want my new work aesthetic to be. There’s also a metal, steampunk desk organizer/letter collector that’s to die for!

        1. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

          I didn’t know I needed a new work aesthetic, but apparently I do!

        2. Clorinda*

          We are building a new house, and the house itself is very plain and neutral but we’re putting in some steampunk accents. You can kill an hour looking at steampunk light switches–the light switch in our main bedroom is going to be an “it’s ALIVE” Frankenstein switch. Others will have random gears and levers. A little steampunk really brightens a space, office or home!

    1. Spooncake*

      As a goth who loves stationery, things I personally own include skeleton-themed sticky notes, a pencil case with a skull on it, and a notebook that looks like a cover for the book Dracula. You can also get bat-shaped sticky notes, lots of notebooks that are witchy-themed, and of course the Halloween stickers etc that appear in October- those are usually meant for kiddos but it hasn’t stopped me yet!

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        Our shipper is also into that and I enjoy dropping by her office and seeing her computer background, etc. Her calendar is A Day of the Dead style.

      2. Paris Geller*

        I did not know I needed bat shaped sticky notes in my life until right now. I love bats! My personal style is much more colorful and bright than goth (I love a rainbow anything), but I’m gonna have to incorporate some happy goth office supplies into my life now.

    2. GythaOgden*

      There’s the Santoro brand. Quite expensive, and fits the goth aesthetic. I like them, but I wouldn’t take any into work; general supplies go missing too often and the good stuff even moreso.

    3. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I know, right? I never had a real goth phase, I was barely punk for a minute, but now I want some goth office supplies, whatever they are!

      1. English Rose*

        All these amazing goth stationery things we didn’t know we needed! This is why AAM is the best!

    4. An Australian In London*

      For 10+ years I have used black paper and various gel opaque pens (white, pink, baby blue, yellow, light green, bronze, silver) for my workplace writing pads when I have used pen and paper. (These days it’s mostly Remarkable 2 tablet instead, but I still have my black paper.)

      It’s been possible to buy black paper pads for a while now, but when I started I had to make them myself. I’d buy a ream of specialty black paper and get them spiral bound with black thick front and back pieces in 100-page lots.

      It frequently occasioned comment at clients, and once or twice concerns about how it would photocopy (answer: use the “invert” function and it comes out as black pen on white paper and doesn’t burn a ton of toner).

      I would never have expected a workplace to buy these for me, just as if I wanted a desk fan, or a different chair or keyboard for personal preference.

    5. Koalafied*

      I had the same burning curiosity. The first thing I imagined was black sticky pads with white-ink gel pens, which… Now I want.

    6. AnonInCanada*

      Apparently Amazon sells a big selection. I kind of like the skull pen(cil) holder. And yes, they sell black post-it notes there too. How do you write on them so you can see what you’re writing is another story…

    7. Metadata Janktress*

      As the local friendly goth kid on my team, I now know what I need to ask my admin to order for me.

    8. Allison*

      I’m wondering the same! Does she just mean black? Black with lace detail? Where do I get stuff like this?

      1. Princesss Sparklepony*

        I saw a dragon stapler. It was pretty cool but I think it would be uncomfortable if you had to do a lot of stapling. Very bumpy.

    9. Delta Delta*

      Also really curious about this. My first thought was black pens, but that seems uncontroversial.

    10. Anima*

      …Y’all are going shopping and then there’s me, actually goth since I’m 15 and *all* my office supplies are pastel! :D I have a penpal who sends me the cutest post-its, I mean pink pig post-its! Sunflowers! Rainbows! <3
      I guess opposites attract even regarding stationery. :D

    11. Petty Betty Crocker*

      I bought my glow-in-the-dark fish skeleton stapler from a small independent used book seller about 15 years ago. I also have a unicorn tape dispenser and other fun office supplies. The caveat is: I bought them all myself. I don’t expect a company to cater to my tastes, and I know that I want to take my supplies with me when I go (and that fish stapler sits on my desk now, 3 companies later, to the delight of every person who uses him).
      I also buy all of my special and novelty pens. Mechanics won’t steal fuzzy pens or glitter pens, even if they are “the good brand”.

    12. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

      YES i clicked to check comments in the hopes that there were specifics mentioned.

  3. Tiger Snake*

    #1 – hold on, are we sure that Ralph’s lying about not having time? Nothing in your post tells us that Ralph is lying about his work; just that he’s happy people are thinking of him even if he can’t come.

    If these are social events that he has to self-fund on an intern’s paygrade (like a lunch does) and he’s got work he’s been instructed to get on with – is the OP identifying the right issue in the first place?

    1. AcademiaNut*

      There’s two main possibilities
      – Ralph wants to go to these opportunities, but for every single one of them some last minute work thing pops up, or it costs money he can’t or doesn’t want to spend.
      – Ralph really doesn’t want to go to any quasi-social work function, and is happy to seize on any excuse.

      There are enough posters in this blog’s comments who regard any sort of work related quasi-social activity as a form of torture on par with waterboarding that the second is entirely possible. It is of course his choice if he decides he doesn’t want to to any of it, but given that he’s an intern, it’s important that he be told the purpose of these events and what sort of benefits it can have for his career, so he can make an informed decision.

      1. Anona*

        I’m one who considers it torture and didn’t do it. I’m making six figures and doing fine without all the social work things. He will find his way.

        1. Allonge*

          That’s great and he most likely will.

          All the same, the function of an internship is to learn about not just the content of the work, but office professional norms. I would not encourage any company to go ‘well, our interns don’t seem to understand how anything works here and they do a crappy job, but, they will find their way, so nothing for us to do’.

          1. Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein*


            I’m not a big networker either, and as Anona says it’s perfectly possible to do just fine in life with an absolute minimum or none at all — but it does make things harder, and as an intern he does deserve to be educated on what kind of a decision he’s making.

          2. Anonym*

            I’m reminded of a very respected managing director who once said, “I don’t do coffee [with people]. I build relationships by delivering.”

            It’s absolutely possible to have a great career without overtly social networking, but the quality of your work is really important. He deserves to know the full picture of what can help him succeed, and where the costs lie. Also, I’m not too worried that his current work quality is representative of what he’ll deliver across his whole career, given that he’s so young, but it may be a point worth making that THAT’s what people will most remember you by…

            1. EPLawyer*

              And just because someone else does really well without doing a common thing doesn’t mean everyone will.

              We all heard the story of the person who just walked into the SATs with no prep and aced it. But most people have to prep. Counting on being the outlier might not be work out. It’s an outlier for a reason.

              I have a friend who always believed hard work was enough to get you noticed at work. She never saw the point of the schmoozing. She once left a lunch with one of the PARTNERS of the law firm to go back to work when she was doing contract work. She figured it would show how dedicated she was. She was confused as to why she was not offered permanent work when one of the other contract attorneys, who in her opinion did not work as hard, was offered the position.

              Not everyone comes from the same background and knows instinctively that networking is important. They may come from a background like my friend where a solid work ethic was all you needed. Interns needs to be taught more than just how to use the copier.

              But others raise the point about money. OP you don’t say if the intern is expected to pay his own way to these things. I certainly hope not.

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                Huh. People prepped for SATs? I didn’t, got a 1370. This was 40 years ago, and public education was better then.

                But to the point, while I used to like a little (as in little amount) of workplace socializing, I’m just as glad it’s not a thing in my world now. I socialize over industry peer Slacks now. I still have contact with people who share a profession and interest, but I don’t have to drive or breathe their air.

                1. New Jack Karyn*

                  I didn’t prep either, and got a 1420. That was about 30 years ago. Public education is a lot better now than it was in the 80s.

                2. Not All That Bubbly*

                  “I socialize over industry peer Slacks now” – hi, that’s networking.

              2. Clobberin' Time*

                It’s funny how everyone is quick to agree that the one guy who got a fabulous job using a gimmick is an outlier, and that nobody should assume that buying a billboard ad / using purple resume paper / offering to work for free for a week works for everyone and should be copied. But the one guy who got a good job without networking is held up as proof positive that personal connections at work are unnecessary BS.

          3. Meep*

            I think the key is to focus on mentoring him in a work setting and keep inviting him, but don’t center the invite around him. I have a coworker who no one else really clicks with. He would much rather not be friendly with work people and I respect that. I still invite him to events even if he will never show, because maybe someday he will.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Yeah, you don’t want to be accused of “leaving him out”. It could be that he has a difficult home life, caring for a disabled family member, and can’t take time to socialise at happy hours, but then if for once he has someone staying with him who can replace him, but he’s not invited, that would really sting.
              (I could rarely attend stuff like that because of my kids, but once they were older it was possible.)

        2. MK*

          Maybe he will, maybe he won’t. Either way he should be making this knowing the consequences. Also, work socializing is more important in some fields than others.

        3. Casper Lives*

          Probably he will. But networking is important in OP’s field. It’s important for Ralph to know that, and decide if this is the field he wants to continue in.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, I came here to say that. Networking is a lot more important in some fields than in others.

        4. Smithy*

          There are employers and sectors where this is more true and less true, and for an intern getting insight on when and where that’s the case is really good to know.

          I don’t think it’s a hard rule, but fields and jobs where you work a lot cross team, you can very often benefit from building stronger personal relationships within your employer. You benefit less from structural hierarchy and authority of who tells who to do what, and therefore getting people to want or like working with you is more important.

          100% providing a strong work product, by deadlines can do a huge amount of this work. But not all work or requests have hard deadlines. And people get busy, and may decide your request can be done by the end of next month instead of next week. Or you get super busy and a request made of you isn’t a top priority. Having good personal relationships can help expedite a request or sooth over the reason a request is delayed. It can also help your relationship with your boss. If you can work through moderate personality conflicts cross-team, then you’re only elevating “difficult” relationship challenges.

          As someone in one of these jobs, there are certain relationships I expect junior staff to ultimately be able to cultivate and anticipate needing to cultivate. Hearing “I emailed them the deadline a month ago, the deadline is today and we don’t have the information” bothers me, because in our work – those are requests we should never expect to be honored that precisely. It’s a repeated challenge we face. I will coach junior staff through that, but part of that coaching is learning the professional necessity in building those relationships.

          1. AcademiaNut*

            That’s a good point about cross-team work. In my field there are a lot of situations where you need the buy in of people who aren’t required to help you. If you want to do the best work, it’s a skill you need to learn, and being bad at it will impact your career, particularly if you want to move up to higher ranked positions.

            I’ve seen this be a problem for junior people who assume that having a great idea is sufficient, and people should spontaneously offer to work to realize it. When they don’t they get mad and think everyone else is crap, not realizing that they’ve missed steps 2, 3 and 4 that come between great idea and workable project with multiple people. And I’ve seen this be a problem with more senior people, who work just fine with their juniors who they can tell to do something, but run into difficulties when they have to work with peers who need to be asked.

            It varies a lot by field, and the OP says that their field is one where this is important. It’s better to find this out when you’re starting out in a field, so you can make an informed decision about the future, rather than getting 10 years in and not understanding why you’re not getting promotions or good projects.

            1. Smithy*

              Absolutely. I will never forget the first time I had the conversation with a junior staff member about the whole “I told them the deadline was this date – they replied then that they understood – I don’t get why they missed the deadline”. When I said that in our field, these deadlines were often a soft priority for those teams and we needed to nag teams/individuals until we learned they could be relied on to keep deadlines – she replied that she thought it was just me being annoying.

              Which hey… is….

              But it’s such a real part of our line of work, I don’t even notice it. Not dissimilar to doctor’s offices that send out multiple patient reminders. Obviously all this comes together around how well the style of a field suits your personality. Overall, teamwork and ambiguity do suit my personality so it works for me, and 100% does not work for others.

              1. allathian*

                Yup. And it wouldn’t suit me at all. I’d hate to work in an environment where I couldn’t rely on people to get me what I needed to do my job without constant reminders, never mind nagging.

                I provide internal services, so mostly I’m the one who responds to requests, but sometimes I need information from others to complete my tasks. I learned early that it’s necessary to build some padding into any tasks that have some margin for the deadline, to ensure that the ones that don’t have any get done on time. I’d far rather make people happy by delivering early rather than disappoint them by asking for more time, although that does happen sometimes, when an urgent request comes in with little or no warning. I also appreciate it when our customers inform us ahead of time about any urgent tasks coming up, although that falls flat if they fail to send them to us on time.

                All that said, while I generally don’t have the option of simply refusing to do a task, certainly not without involving my manager if someone wants me to do something that isn’t in my job description, if I have two tasks in my queue with the same priority, the person I have the better personal relationship with will get the higher priority.

        5. Observer*

          I’m one who considers it torture and didn’t do it. I’m making six figures and doing fine without all the social work things. He will find his way.

          It’s nice that it worked for you. It doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone. Especially if he doesn’t realize that there is an issue!

          Even leaving aside Alison’s very reasonable request that we take the OP at their word about the need for social contacts IN THEIR FIELD, the intern needs to know how this is being perceived. At the point he can make a choice – find some way to join, brush it off, not join but find some way to compensate or whatever else works for him. NOT telling him means that you get to decide for him how to handle the situation.

        6. lilsheba*

          THIS! I hate social work junk. I avoid it at all costs, and luckily now never have to worry about it again. I’ve done fine without it. As an introvert I just want to be left alone.

          1. allathian*

            Introversion and social anxiety no doubt have some overlap, but they aren’t the same thing and I wish people, including those who identify as introverts, would stop conflating them.

            I’m a social, chatty introvert. Most people who meet me for the first time wouldn’t flag me as particularly introverted, because I’ve learned to fake extroversion quite well. But I find socializing to be draining, so I make a deliberate choice whether or not to expend that people energy, where a more extroverted person wouldn’t need to.

        7. a clockwork lemon*

          I got job this year that was functionally a two-skip level promotion for me. It more than tripled my salary and rocketed me to working for one of the top companies in my industry in the whole world. I was hired on the strength of a social relationship with a quasi-mentor who pushed hard for me to be hired because he knew I’d be great at the job even though I don’t have any of the pedigree that this position generally requires.

          There’s “doing just fine” and there’s “doing great.” Often the strength of your professional network makes the difference. It’s an unkindness to the intern not to ensure he understands there can be costs to opting out of relationship-building with your colleagues.

      2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        It’s the money for me. He’s an intern (paid? unpaid?), which likely means he’s not making bank even if he is paid. Socializing costs money.

        Heck, there were times in my 30s and 40s where I opted out of drinks because I didn’t have the money for outings that week (or I did but would rather spend the time/$ with friends).

        1. Snow Globe*

          There are a lot of assumptions there. While some interns aren’t paid much, in some industries, like finance (where it is particularly important to network), they are paid very well. And there is no indication that the company isn’t paying for this; I used to run an intern program, and we paid for lunches for our interns all the time.

          Money could be a reason, but it’s not necessarily the issue.

          1. As per Elaine*

            Is it clear that the company is paying for these events (if they are)? Even if it’s all fully-paid, it’s possible that concern about money could still keep an intern away, if it’s not made explicit.

            (Not that I necessarily expect that’s what’s going on with Ralph, but the who-pays-for-what politics of an office can be very confusing, especially if you work for the sort of place where your boss is going to pay with company money, but doesn’t say so until the check comes — or worse, isn’t going to pay and doesn’t say so until the check comes.)

            1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

              Or if it’s not the concern of money maybe he has food restrictions that are complicated. I’m not sure from the letter but it sounds like many of these were centered around food (going to lunch). Is there something that could be done with out food? for some with eating disorders even eating in front of people or with people who are eating can cause a lot of problems.

          2. kathy*

            eh, I work in finance and I would strongly disagree that the interns are paid very well. Especially compared with more senior colleagues, who are the ones choosing the bars or networking venues. However, I would also say that it would be pretty rare to force the intern to buy his or her own drinks or food. But the intern might not realize that….

      3. Seeking second childhood*

        OP should also find out if it’s ‘doesn’t want” because the reasons might be addressable.
        Doesn’t have funds/time to do things outside work? Schedule it during work hours and company supplies food. (Remember that ANYONE can be tight budget, even a paid intern. For some the wardrobe was new. Some have a second job, or a night class.)
        Think about your socializing location–is there alcohol? Legions of reasons to change that. (Including drinking age.)
        If he’s carpooling or using a limited public transit system or doing a really long commute see first suggestion–have at least some on work time.
        All starts with a chat…it’s important, can we work with you to make these something you can attend?

      4. Trawna*

        Here’s a third possibility — Ralph isn’t reaching out for feedback in his work, and his work is suffering as a result, because every time he tries he gets pounced on about coming to the next Drinks! Lunch! Etc!

        I predict that what Ralph is mainly learning is that he will do just fine in a different company that’s a better culture fit for him.

        1. Anon all day*

          Holy assumptions, Batman. There is literally nothing in the letter to suggest this is happening.

          1. Not All That Bubbly*

            As was predicted upthread, there are a lot of commenters barfing their own social anxiety all over this letter.

      5. danmei kid*

        Ralph could also have allergies or dietary restrictions or some other physical issue that makes working lunches a challenge. Glad to see someone else also mentioning that interns needing to pay for lunches out may not be realistic. I have been that person ordering water and an appetizer and then being stuck paying $40 I didn’t have to spare because the table split the check and everyone else who made more $$ splurged. Or having to sheepishly ask the person sitting next to me to spot me cash because I didn’t have enough on me to cover the split and hadn’t expected to pay more than I had accrued with my own sparse meal.

        LW could always just … ask Ralph if there’s a type of networking or getting to know and connect with others that would work better for their specific needs if a large group lunch wouldn’t do. Don’t even need to do a deep dive into reasons because they’re not really LW’s business.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      My major question (and I hope OP can hop in the comments and clear this part up) is how are these networking events being funded and when are the scheduled for? It’s possible that the intern wants to join in and can’t afford the buy in cost.

      Or if they are office funded but outside normal office hours is it possible that the inter has another job that they have to rush off to so that they can pay their bills?

      Both of those were problems for me when I was completing my (unpaid) internship almost twenty years ago. However I was also blunt* enough to tell the people inviting me to things that I would have loved to join in, but unfortunately my budget just couldn’t stretch enough to cover that activity. To their credit, they got way better about coming up with networking activities for the interns that didn’t cost us any money, so it was a win win.

      *Rhe one good thing that came from having to be really blunt with a grandmother because a parent didn’t want to rock the boat.

      1. François Caron*

        That was the first thing that crossed my mind: is the internship paid? If it isn’t, not only can social events put a financial burden on the intern, the intern might not want to socialise with people from a company that considers internship work to have no value whatsoever.

        1. JD*

          Even if the internship is paid, social events can put a financial burden on the intern. My daughter who is in grad school is a fairly well paid intern but she lives in one of the most expensive cities in the country and her rent and other living expenses already well exceed her internship stipend. Luckily, her company pays for all official social/networking opportunites (casual drinks with co-workers after work and things like that don’t count) so it makes it more likely that interns and those in lower paid entry level positioins can partake if they want to.

    3. MK*

      I also wonder if Ralph struggling with his work is part of what makes him forgo the events, either because he doesn’t feel he has the time or because he is worried about being seen socializing at work when he is behind in his tasks.

      1. Marion Ravenwood*

        On your second point, I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere along the line Ralph has picked up the view that work is for work not socialising regardless of where you are in your tasks, and so feels that he can’t or shouldn’t make connections with people within the organisation. Especially as an intern who’s likely to be moving on soon. That’s not saying he shouldn’t, but that he might feel like it’s not worth it somehow, either because he thinks he won’t see these people again or because he’s concerned about it coming off inappropriately somehow. But then I think it’s OK for the OP to (gently) point out the benefits to him, and maybe see if there are any other barriers to him attending, such as cost.

      2. Waiting on the bus*

        That’s a good point. If Ralph is aware that his work isn’t up to par (whether he acknowledges it openly or not) he might feel like he can’t socialize because of optics. As in, he knows his work is poor but at least if he can showcase that he’s giving it his all and constantly doing urgent tasks for the other department, people will have a more favourable impression of him.

        Maybe that’s part of it as well.

        1. KRM*

          He may feel overwhelmed at what he’s gotten as a workload as well. He could have come in with an expectation but then since he’s split between departments, is he actually getting the workload of two interns in one (or just more than what one intern should be asked to do)? And he feels overwhelmed and like if he goes out to be social with group #1, group #2 will be upset that he didn’t finish their assignment for him. And because he’s an intern he feels uncomfortable about saying “hey whoa this is way too much for one person” and feels he should be able to do it, feels weird about falling behind, and then feels weird about talking to anyone socially because he’s overwhelmed. May be worth a check in about workload and his feelings about that, if you’re going to talk to him about social connection.

      3. Missy*

        Or even that he just realized that this type of work isn’t for him.

        I did an internship at the DOJ in the criminal law division and about three weeks in I realized “nope, I do not want to ever practice criminal law or be in a courtroom”. Luckily there are a lot of law jobs that involve not being in a courtroom, and I’m very happy in what I found, but I definitely avoided the networking stuff and took on the gruntwork instead of the bigger projects after that. Sometimes an internship is good for helping you realize that, actually, I don’t want to work in this particular field.

        1. Clobberin' Time*

          True, but it’s still not a great idea to ditch the networking. Even if you prefer a different field, those people are part of career and social networks which can connect you to fields you DO want to work in.

        2. Decima Dewey*

          My own scenario is that the internship is required by his school and his thought is, “Fine, I have to do the internship. But I don’t have to give it my all, and I’ll likely never see any of these people again.”

          I’m not endorsing his attitude FWIW.

    4. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      We’ve been asked to take OP at her word that Ralph seems to be actively avoiding the networking.

      That said, I think your framing is good in that OP should raise/check-in on the timing issue if she discusses it with Ralph.

      1. Gnome*

        Timing can be huge. I was part-time for a while and didn’t get paid for Mandatory Fun during work hours, because it’s not work (which is totally fair), but that meant I skipped most of went to the bare minimum so I could work more hours.

    5. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      You have a reasonable point about the lunch. But it gets pretty obvious when someone is shunning all social interaction. No chats in the hallway, etc. And as a ND person, my response to this letter was please, please tell interns this stuff. I figured it out over time but understanding it earlier would have been helpful.

    6. Dona Florinda*

      I agree with this. Back in my intern days, I couldn’t afford going out very often and even when it was on company’s dime, sometimes these events would clash with my other internship.
      Hell, just the other day I had to come up with an excuse for not going to happy hour because I don’t have the budget and it felt too personal to share.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        We had an intern refuse to go for lunch on his last day, I asked if he was short on funds and he admitted it, so I simply said the boss would be paying. The boss didn’t pay (jerk!), so we all chipped in to pay for the intern. I mean, we’re earning good money, we like to eat at good restaurants, the least we can do is pay for the intern who’s on one third of minimum wage.

    7. oranges*

      The money question caught my eye. We have a summer intern who basically ordered water and the cheapest thing on the menu during his welcome lunch. Only afterwards did he remark, “wait, I don’t have to pay for this??” Sweet (broke) summer child.

      I’m sure Ralph has a lot of reasons for not going, but you may need to clarify the money piece just in case that’s one of them.

    8. Nethwen*

      I wonder if Ralph is following some career advice without understanding where and how to apply it. It could even be a vague education, like stories from family about getting fired for socializing too much or someone getting promoted and they never take lunch. And without experience and education on nuance, he thinks he’s doing what’s required to be a fantastic employee and doesn’t realize that it’s not achieving his goal. I hope that whoever is managing him asks some version of, “I notice that you never go to social events. Can you tell me your reasoning behind that?” And then provide relevant education based on Ralph’s response.

    9. OP1*

      I didn’t say Ralph was lying and I don’t think he has been, but I think that he accepts tasks from other people, doesn’t say anything to them about being invited to lunches, and then at the last minute he “cancels” when asked. So it’s sort of like “Oh darn, I wish I could go but I have this big thing and I was given a deadline,” when I’m sure some of his bosses would have had him rearrange his schedule if they had been presented with all the available information.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        It’s possible that he doesn’t dare to go for a long lunch because he’s already aware that his work is not up to par and he needs to spend more time on it to try to get it right.

  4. It'll cost you to come*

    For 1, did he have to pay for lunch?
    I worked as a temp, and I wasn’t paid a lot. They quilted me into participating in potlucks and bringing stuff. One thing I made they really liked and every potluck, they wanted me to make it. That dish actually cost wise equaled two hours of work. I had to stop bringing it because I simply couldn’t afford it.

    1. Prefer my pets*

      That was my first thought too. I remember trying to scrape by on my summer salaries and paying for the cheapest item on the menu for a networking opportunity would have been my week’s or even pay period’s entire food budget. I was scraping by on ramen, dried beans, and whatever I could get from my rare food bank trips (they were only open during my work hours). Potlucks were just as bad because I had to front the money, though usually my coworkers would send me home with enough leftovers that I could make do.

      1. DJ*

        Then sometimes some twit who’s ordered a lot more wants to “split the bill” and all the other twits agree. And then if you speak up and say I only want to pay for what I’ve ordered you’re the one considered “mean”

    2. Mm*

      Yep, I’m surprised this wasn’t everyone’s first thought. Interns are often in a pretty crummy position financially and a lunch out can get very expensive quickly.

      1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        Definitely tell my first thought, and also a good thing for OP to think about regardless of whether it’s the reason Ralph is opting out. The experience should be reflective of the professional world they’re about to enter, but it shouldn’t be costing them money. I have a friend who went hundreds of dollars into her account overdraft to eat out with colleagues during her internship. Don’t do that to them.

        For the interns who are opting in, what’s the financial burden you’re asking them to shoulder in order to network? How much time per week outside of working hours are you asking of them (this includes lunch during the workday where they could need to squeeze in errands or homework because they’re working another job later)? If it is critical for job success, can there be specific low cost/no cost intern-focused networking/socializing on company time?

    3. bamcheeks*

      I’m assuming that was a typo for “guilted”, but picturing you being firmly sewn down into a potluck between layers of cotton batting.

    4. Bagpuss*

      Also even if he would not have to pay, has anyone told him?
      I remember when I started my first job out of university, I started just before christmas and the christmas meal happened 2 weeks after my start date. I had not yet had my first pay packet.

      The meal was within working hours (we went for lunch and it continued into the afternoon) so I didn’t feel I had any way to not go. I was really stressed as I had very limited work experince at that point and had only ever been to work events in previous jobs where eveyon paid for themselves. It would have been a huge releif had anyone explained to me that it was being paid for in full by the company.

      Becuase of this, I do try to be really clear if we organise social events (which can sometimes be “We will be paying for your meal and each member of staff will recieve x drinks tickets, if you want additional drinks you will have to pay for them” ) – we don’t routinely have interns but we have had people work shadowing a few times and I’ve tried to rememberto frame it as ‘I will take you out for lunch’ or ‘let me buy you coffee’ not ‘lets get lunch/coffee’ so that it is clear

      1. BethDH*

        And even more explicit is helpful. I remember having mentors offer to take me out for lunch or something and even when they used their wording I was really anxious about paying (I think I was maybe thinking about the equality of paying for dates here).
        I typically say “can I take you out to lunch? The company will cover the cost for us” or something similar. I don’t want them feeling anxious about me spending personal money, and I can remember feeling really anxious about that for things like, say, ordering a soda instead of just water.

      2. Koalafied*

        I was having the same thought – at my current company any official team lunch is paid by the manager on their company card, but I’m racking my brain and not sure I can recall that ever being disclosed up front to anyone new. I did have two managers in my first week who invited me to lunch 1:1 and made it clear they would be treating, so perhaps that set enough precedent for me that by the time we had a team lunch I didn’t expect to have to pay?

        Humans are forever so weird about money, the way people want to pretend it’s not important enough to mention when it’s SO important a lot of the time. Which of course is a luxury only available to people who have plenty of it. It creates this while unnecessary layer of shame for people who have to either ask for the information, or if they’re too shy/embarrassed to ask they have to opt out of whatever it is because they’re not sure about the cost and can’t afford to write a blank check by committing to something with an unknown cost.

      3. GythaOgden*

        Our social events during a working day are basically everyone bringing in nibbles or cake or whatever and pooling supplies. (One of the perks of being on reception is being invited to everyone’s smorgasbord.) I have only ever been out after work a couple of times, but of those times, one was a trip to the Harvester for a birthday where everyone was OK with paying for their own meal, and one was a Facilities do for those of us who’d been in-office over the pandemic. The latter was paid for by our department. It was optional, but I was the only one to go from our team and I doubt my two colleagues suffered from not going. It was nice to meet some of the team from other sites, and because it was October ’21, nice to finally get a meal out again after 18 months in lockdown.

        So IME the informal dinners are paid for by us and the specifically work-organised ones were paid for by the department.

        I’d like to think if someone was struggling with the cost of an informal meal out, I’d chip in for them. My sister did just that on my hen night for one of my friends whose husband was in denial about being unemployed and had wolfed his way through a hefty redundancy payment without anything else in sight. (He got better, largely because my husband and his mates dragged it out of him on hubby’s stag weekend and told him not to be such a wally, in the way that men do :-/.) I was comping another bridesmaid’s trip in exchange for her doing the bms’ dresses. Sort of ‘It feels a bit tacky asking for money’ on both sides, but having someone simply not come because they were struggling would definitely not be OK.

        At the convention my friends and I go to regularly, we take it in turns to pay for dinner — one night I’ll pick up the tab, the next night it’s Greebo’s turn, then Ook’s, then Mr and Mrs Rincewind’s and so on. It’s usually easier than splitting the bill six ways and it also allows us to gift meals if necessary, like when my friend was just about able to come to the con itself but not come out to a classier restaurant one evening.

        To be frank, it would feel bad not to do that for someone who wanted to socialise but couldn’t afford to do so. What goes around comes around and I just wouldn’t feel right about someone not getting an opportunity to come out with us. I’d advise someone to pay it forward if that happens, but being kind can go a long way towards getting someone a more secure job and being able to assist the next generation of interns.

      4. Seashell*

        I had a boss who let us out of work on a Saturday (this was a professional office job, so having to work M-Sa sucked) to go to his kid’s birthday party. Similarly, I had no option to decline. This party probably had close to 100 guests (family/friends/work people) and was held at a place that usually does weddings. So I got out of work and got a wedding-style meal, but I had to bring a present and sit at a table with co-workers for a few hours.

        I left that job as soon as possible.

    5. OP1*

      Ralph would have had to pay for lunch, but when we go out our respective bills are rarely over $20, and could be less if you don’t order a drink. Ralph is also a paid intern. However, he’s also avoided things like the free catered lunches our company brought in, as well as free breakfast/socializing time.

      1. allathian*

        It does seem like he’s actively avoiding anything that’s not directly related to the job. Someone needs to tell him why networking is necessary in your field, and what the consequences will be if he opts out completely.

        Especially given that his work product is at best average and at worst below par, he may be in the wrong field.

      2. LF*

        Are these networking opportunities nearly all around food?

        I would like to offer another voice to consider whether food restrictions are an issue. I have multiple food restrictions that it gets so exhausting trying to get my needs respected/met.

        Like, I get I should be accommodated, but sometimes I just don’t have the bandwidth to
        1) debate whether these food intolerances are real,
        2) explain that good intentions don’t get around the all-or-nothing approach needed to avoid cross-contamination (just because a menu says something is gluten free DOES NOT mean it is!!!),
        3) explain in minute detail to the already overworked admin assistant every detail they need to cover to order safe food,
        4) interrogate the restaurant/caterer myself, and/or
        5) worry that, even if I navigate all of the above successfully, some tiny mistake means I’ll be enjoying migraines and diarrhea in a few days, so I need to prepare for that, too!

        I avoid nearly all work food events (99% are paid for by work) because it’s so much extra work for me*, and on top of the work, there’s a realistic chance I’ll still get sick (often bad enough I need to miss work).

        *I do think part of this is that I don’t live in a city with a decent enough food scene to find a reliably safe place to order from for a work event.

  5. Emily*

    Yes, I’m really trying to picture what “goth” office supplies are. Bat shaped paper clips sound super cute! If the budget is tight though, I think it’s reasonable to explain that.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I think it’s reasonable to have a policy that you can request specific office supplies for function, but not aesthetics. So you can ask for a blank notebook rather than lined for making notes in, or multi-coloured highlighters for marking up documents, or a type of pen that’s more ergonomic, but not Hello Kitty binders, or bat shaped paperclips.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This is along the lines of what my office did before they sent us all off to telework permanently- the office supplies are standard, but accessibility accommodations could be made. If you wanted something that was just different because of aesthetics, you were more than welcome to pay for (and lock up when not in use) your own personal supplies.

        Oh, and while one lead was handling the sign out of electronic equipment – the other was raiding the supply cabinet to see how many notepads and pens they could find to send home with us to use. I shouldn’t need to buy any notepads for five or six months….at least.

        1. UKDancer*

          My company does this. You can have broadly anything you need as a reasonable adjustment so special furniture, desks etc. If you want specific pens because they’re pretty, you’re out of luck. We can spend money on things people need but not aesthetics.

          1. JustaTech*

            I had a coworker who managed to get around our usual rule of “no special supplies for aesthetics” by specifically ordering pens during Breast Cancer Awareness month (October?) so that all the usually suppliers were carrying pink pens. She didn’t really care that the pens were pink per se, more that they were a different color so she could tell when people had been taking them.

            Surprisingly (not surprisingly) pink pens are far less likely to wander off than black or blue pens. When I noticed this I also took advantage of a breast cancer awareness special and ordered pink freezer gloves (for going into liquid nitrogen freezers), and shockingly they never wandered away!

            1. Nephron*

              A friend does this with tools. She never loses any of her work tools or supplies as all of them are lovely colors that construction workers are apparently nervous about owning.

      2. KRM*

        Yeah, I prefer a certain kind of notebook, and I love fun designs, so I buy my own scratch paper notebooks for work. Current one is jellyfish. But I would never ask work to order that for me–the most would be “Hey, could we get the post-it notes not in the accordion style as well” or “Can we get gridded paper pads as well as lined” but I also know others will like/use that style, so they wouldn’t be ordering them especially for me.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Gaaah! I loathe the accordion style post-its!

          Generally, if it’s a personal taste office supply, like my purple post-its, I buy them. Examples:
          * Standard black stapler – office buys. Purple stapler – I buy.
          * Standard black or blue stick pens – office buys. Uni-Ball Signo gel pens with purple ink – I buy.
          * Standard steno pad – office buys. Grid dot 8.5 x 5.5 spiral notebooks with hard or plastic covers – I buy.

          If a person has a theme or unique taste in office supplies, they pretty much need to buy their own in the majority of the corporate world, IME.

      3. Meow*

        Right, themed office supplies usually cost a premium, and probably aren’t available at like, Staples. (I did actually check just now after curiosity, lol) It’s one thing to ask for say, multicolor binder clips that might cost a dollar more than the black ones, and another to be like “Hey can you order me this $15 stationary set from Hot Topic?”

        1. relaxy*

          Where is the solidarity. Get her the $15 stationary set from Hot Topic. It’s not your money.

  6. Marion Ravenwood*

    On #3 – I have no advice other than agreeing with Alison, but I’m so glad that second link goes to what I hoped it did, and would love some more updates from that LW in future!

  7. Jessica Ganschen*

    Re: #3, I haven’t requested any special supplies myself, but now I’m deeply tempted to bring in my T-Rex shaped staple remover (the head pops off so you can actually maneuver it, of course).

    1. Raboot*

      Bringing in your own special supplies is very different than asking the office to order them, I say do it!

      1. GythaOgden*

        Yeah. I regularly buy my own stuff for the office just because it’s simpler than ordering through official channels and the quality of what I can buy relatively cheaply through Amazon is better. (Like, Zebra ballpoint pens, ten for £2.50, way better than anything else at that price point and I can order some for home use as well.) Plus we’re public sector (NHS admin) so I don’t mind helping out. A few notebooks and pens every so often is not a great hardship for me and if it keeps the wheels of the health service turning for one more day it’s worth it. I’ve got far, far more out of the health service than I’ve put in.

        However, I don’t think a company should be responsible for buying stuff over and above what others get. If someone wants nice stuff, they buy it for themselves. Budgets are finite, and if everyone wanted fancy stuff just for the aesthetic, it could end up quite expensive for the company. (I like that Santoro Gorjuss stuff myself, but I wouldn’t expect a company to buy it for me. I’m not sure I would be as happy to provide stuff for work if I was working in the private sector, but I might actually be getting decent stuff to begin with.)

      2. Antilles*

        Yeah, if you’re paying for it yourself, you’re fine to bring in whatever office supplies you want.
        The issue for #3 is just the potential when the office is trying to do it – the cost of buying unique stuff for everybody, the hassles of having to manage a bunch of separate orders rather than one quick online order, not being able to easily re-use things when an employee leaves or transfers, etc. But none of that applies when you’re bringing in your own stuff from home, so go right ahead and bring that T-Rex staple remover.

      3. Dragonfly7*

        I do this sometimes, too. I like a specific style and size of notebook, and the one available through our office supply vendor fell apart pretty quickly, so I provide my own.

    2. Seeking second childhood*

      I no longer bring to the office anything that I would be sad to lose. And I no longer bring more than I can carry out in one trip. (A long ago lay off changed me… it meant my cubicle was pretty easy to empty for pandemic lock down.)

      1. ND and awkward*

        I go one step further and actively use the office to declutter my home of office supplies. Husband is always accidentally bringing home pens from his work, I sneak five at a time into the stationary cupboard at mine.

      2. Lydia*

        Saaaaaaame. The week leading up to being sent home, I spent time cleaning out my office of anything extraneous, even though a long ago lay-off had also taught me to travel light. When I left that job for my new one, it was really easy for me to pack up everything in a couple of bags and walk out.

    3. LawLady*

      I’m a financing lawyer. I’ve spent most of my career at a very stuffy old fashioned law firm.

      And I mostly fill my fountain pens with glitter ink. People barely notice, but if they do, they find it fun.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Oh, cool! When I did a lot of writing, I’d use a fountain pen. But that was years ago. They didn’t have glitter ink easily available in the 80s…

    1. Not All That Bubbly*

      Networking is not about having a “bubbly, outgoing” personality being a “smooth talker” or about loving after-work happy hours. It’s not about being an extrovert. This is pernicious, ugly nonsense that harms introverts by convincing them that they inherently suck at networking, and so they just shouldn’t bother (or if they try, they should expect it to be a miserable, clumsy experience).

      Networking = building professional relationships. That’s it, that’s the whole definition. Is socializing one way to build professional relationships? It is. So are all kinds of ‘introvert-friendly’ things like sharing information on listserves, or attending professional development classes. So is building a strong relationship with a colleague through shared work on the clock.

      Why should it matter? Because we’re human beings (yes, even the introverts you’re condescending to and calling a protected class, WTF) and human beings are social creatures.

      1. Casper Lives*

        Nooo, you’ll turn into a pumpkin if you speak to a fellow human!

        I’m not sure why Sonya is arguing this strongly against the concept of networking. Aka having a lunch and getting to know your coworkers superficially as people. It’s normal in every job I’ve had. I’m not especially good at it, and I’m not neurotypical, but it’s important to connect socially with other people.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        To be fair, the example that OP gives is about going for a team lunch. I just re-read, and it’s not explicit, but on first read, I also got the impression that it’s aaaalllll about socializing in this case – I’m not sure those other things you mention are on the OP’s radar as valid networking (though they should be).

        Now, since Ralph’s work is not great, he’s probably not building much of a network on the clock either, which is indeed a problem. It is probably a kindness to Ralph to explain all of this to him. But if it *is* mainly about socializing, re-examining why that is may also be indicated.

      3. Ana Gram*

        Everyone belongs to multiple protected classes. Everyone has a race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc.

    2. Allonge*

      I have a zeroth question: what does networking mean? I know I have a view of people dressed up to the nines at a business party, sipping wine, but that is on the extreme end. It can mean talking to people sometimes at the water cooler.

      Ralph, it seems, does not build any connections with coworkers. That is dangerous in any job, anywhere, and has very little to do with being any kind of -vert.

      1. Mockingjay*

        I agree with Alison’s advice that the work needs to be addressed first. Ralph is overwhelmed by the work itself. Fix that and the networking will follow.

        I held jobs in college – a couple were summer programs that could be considered a sort of internship, but the work was very structured and task oriented: do this thing, record the resulting data on this sheet, file completed sheet. Repeat.

        Cue graduation and my first ‘real’ job. I had NO IDEA what to do. Everyone else seemed to magically find tasks and knew how to do them; they were older and smart and busy with exciting projects and I was intimidated to talk to them. I remember sitting in my cubicle wondering what the hell do I do? One day my boss handed me back a report and bluntly stated: “this wasn’t ready for me.” (I was a junior technical editor.) I screwed up my courage, walked into his office and said (near tears): “I need help.”

        Boss swung into action. He rounded up the entire team to help. Each one sat with me and briefed their project, explained the kind of documents their projects needed, what info had to be in there, how it had to be organized, and pointed me toward resources. Within 6 months I was successfully producing documents and traveling to my first conference.

        If the work isn’t addressed, Ralph will have no reason to network.

          1. Seven If You Count Bad John*

            Good on that boss, too. I’ve worked for people who would have decided “This isn’t working” and fired her.

        1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          I love this story, both your willingness to ask for help and your boss acting on it so decisively. (For context, I’ve managed at least six brand-new professionals over time.)

        2. Observer*

          If the work isn’t addressed, Ralph will have no reason to network.

          It can go in both directions, though. Notice that you were intimidated to ask for help. If you knew these people a little as more than “Highly Competent Magical Engineer” and “Scary Good Interface builder” etc. wouldn’t it have been easier to ask for the technical help you needed?

          1. Mockingjay*

            Sure, but. As a newbie to the working world, you know you need help, but likely don’t know what questions to ask to get that help. I’m an introvert and back then stepping out of the box was extremely scary. Thirty-five years later, I’m much more confident, but it didn’t happen overnight and I had quite a few missteps along the way.

            I also want to bring up Ralph’s duties: being split between two departments probably isn’t giving him the hands-on guidance that an intern needs. OP1 mentioned it’s to give Ralph variety of experiences, but that might be too much to absorb in a short timeframe. Consider assigning Ralph to one department or doing a rotation: two months in Dept. A; followed by a stint in Dept. B. It’s okay to adjust the program itself. He’s not an employee, he’s learning. Adjust conditions so he can.

      2. The Tin Man*

        For me networking is building any sort of professional relationship. I mostly do this by doing my best to do a good, conscientious job at my current position. I have built a decent network by having good, professional rapport with my current coworkers by being responsive, capable, and professional while occasionally having brief exchanges that acknowledge we are all human (e.g. asking how someone’s vacation was when they return). It is both good to have an in-company network and some of those people have also left for other positions, expanding my network to other companies.

        Doing a good job also has had me appointed to projects that introduce me to more people in our company, which further expands my network.

        I maintain the network with people I don’t interact with much by sharing info with them that I think would be useful. This can range from how I approach a tricky process they also have to just sharing a random Excel trick I learned if I know they are also an Excel nerd. This is less a calculated move and more of a “If I were them I would wish someone would share this info with me”

    3. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      I’m an extrovert, I’m the furthest thing from “bubbly” you could get, and I don’t drink—yet I can network. Who’d have thought it possible? There are quite a few traits you seem to have a venomous hatred for—smooth talking and schmoozing are bitter variations on good communicator and being inclusive/being about to talk to nearly anyone. Maybe unpack that, because introverts are also not “quiet.”

      From one white cis female to another, you can be an ally in ways that support and give voice to the protected classes that you are so excited to talk about. This post isn’t that.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        For your last paragraph and I say this gently with sincere curiosity – are we able to guess people’s identities here and is it a good idea if so?

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          We absolutely should not try to guess people’s identities here, but the person (Sonya) who created the top level comment here stated that she is a cis white female, which I’m guessing is why Jack Straw from Wichita mentioned that they one too.

          1. Ellis Bell*

            You’re right it was no guess, I was just taken aback that her identity was addressed. Possibly that is just my peeve though, I have wondered.

          2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

            What Prettiest Curse said. My peeve is when someone’s identity is addressed, too. Which is why I addressed the fact that Sonja felt it necessary to identify herself.

            When a white cis person centers themselves in a conversation that is not about them it’s bad, but when they refuse to listen to others with lived experience (as has happened in the comments), it makes things worse. I wish they’d stop making the rest of us look like a-holes.

        2. Sugaree*

          She volunteered in a later comment she was a white cis female. I assumed nothing because, you’re right, we shouldn’t be doing that. But when it’s offered as a badge, it’s fair game for commenting.

      2. GythaOgden*

        By listening to those people who actually do come under those groupings, you may find out that what we do want is help to overcome things like social/general anxiety etc. I’m as introverted as they come and need a lot of time to get over ‘social hangovers’; I’m also autistic and struggle with my stamina in general. I’m the poster child for what Sonya is complaining about but I’d like to tell her, very sincerely: stop this. It doesn’t help anyone integrate. It keeps marginalised people marginalised and dependent on allies. I absolutely accept it’s sincere, and there are times when social norms are oppressive. But at some point, we have to take responsibility for our own issues and do something to further our own causes. I may be biased, because my ‘identity’ is something I can overcome rather than being an intrinsic part of who I am. I’m not fulfilled by being a hermit with autism existing in a twilight zone of coping mechanisms and crutches. Just like I got surgery and physio for a broken ankle last year, I get therapy and work with others to carve out a place in society where I can function as a working adult and yet have a retreat when I need it. One of my anxieties was about mobile banking…and ultimately, to get both therapy and to get repairs to my house and garden, I had to brave using it. And when you do it once or twice, it gets easier. And now I can check things without thinking about it. And I’m happier now I can do that rather than trying to convince other people to let me pay by methods that aren’t as convenient for them.

        I got more help out of working a customer service position than I would out of a lifetime of an ally trying to shield me from it. Thanks…but no thanks.

        1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          Big introvert ND person here and I completely agree. Believing that being an outgoing schmoozer was what “networking” meant held me back. I avoided social events for a long time and gradually learned that I can do it in ways that make me comfy, or comfier. One on one talks in the context of work are easier for me than cocktail parties/happy hours, but even those I can go for 15 minutes. Even just showing your face at least helps negate the idea that a person is ANTI-social.
          I once did a screening interview with a law student who interviewed terribly. I’ve always regretted not telling him that I had had the same problem when I was a young person, and that he should go to his career office for help. I bet he (like me) had no idea HOW to interview.

        2. Koalafied*

          Yes, it’s good to review standard practices to make sure they’re not needlessly exclusionary of people with, to be prepared to make thoughtful accommodations for people who need them, and to be conscientious about giving people with different skillsets equal opportunities to be recognized and rewarded for their contributions. It is not good to swing so far in trying to “accommodate differences” that what you’re actually engaging in is less inclusive and more what has been called “the ‘soft’ bigotry of low expectations.”

      3. Anon today*

        Why are you identifying yourself as a cis female? It has nothing to do with the issue. The cis thing particularly annoys me. Either you’re a woman or you aren’t unless trans women aren’t really women. Is that the direction you’re going with this?

        Also to the people who put pronouns with their username. It’s stupid.

    4. EventPlannerGal*

      I’m not going to address the rest of your post because sigh, but on this point: “Lastly, ask yourself why it is not enough that Ralph shows up on time, presumably carries out his work diligently, and goes home on time?” – the OP specifically says that Ralph’s work is not good. I think this whole theme of “well my work is so great that it won’t matter if I never interact with anyone” is really common on this site, but I think that advice really does a disservice to the many readers/LWs who, realistically, are not in that position. There are some things that you can get away with if you’re amazing at your job, but a lot of people are just okay, especially at the start of their careers when they’re literally still learning how to do the job.

      1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        Good point.

        “well my work is so great that it won’t matter if I never interact with anyone”

        And to add on to what you have said, in my experience this statement is rarely true. In fact, I think when people avoid those interactions it facilitates unconscious incomptence, since they’re essentially avoiding/brushing off having to deal with other’s feedback or challeneges to their work.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Also, it’s not like humans in your role are divided into “incompetent but social” and “great at the job but don’t want to engage in any human interaction.” Quite possibly employers can hire someone with BOTH hard and soft skills.

          A recurring theme here is hiring for the people with soft skills because if they’re bright and teachable they can learn the hard skills. Like we’ll hire the person good at explaining their work to others and functioning in a group, and teach them Mathematica.

          1. cardigarden*

            Definitely one of the things I looked for in my last hire was if the person had the soft skills that could handle some of the trickier interpersonal aspects of the job. So long as they had the basics of chocolate teapot making, I can teach them the rest of the hard skills.

          2. Heather*

            A lot of “Very Online” spaces like to operate on the default assumption that someone can’t be good at both soft and hard skills. So if a friendly, extroverted person gets the job that probably means that someone with better technical skills didn’t get it. Because obviously the friendly extroverted person couldn’t possibly have hard skills as well.

      2. bamcheeks*

        Ralph’s also an intern. I mean, if Ralph was in a substantive job turning up and doing his work well and then going home, and OP was a manager saying, “but he’d build his career so much faster if he’d take part in the department socialising!”, everyone would be absolutely right to say, “he’s doing his job, maybe he’s not interested in socialising, leave him alone.” But an internship is a specific category of job where employers are allowed to pay less than the minimum wage because they are providing a developmental and training opportunity to support people build their careers. The whole point of it is that the company gets someone doing the work for cheap, and the intern gets a ton of learning opportunities. Letting him simply turn up and do his work without giving him opportunities to build a network, feedback on how he can build his career and key information about how the sector works might even mean the employer is failing in their duties to him.

        1. Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein*

          Absolutely this.

          Is networking 100% necessary? Not in most jobs! But it is a skill that people still ought to be given every opportunity to learn, and an internship is a great time to do it.

          The earliest actual networking advice or training I got was when I got laid off from my first full-time job at 30. I’m not a social person, I’m certainly not bubbly, and it doesn’t come naturally to me — hence why the advice and explicit opportunities to practice were valuable. I sure wish I’d gotten them at the start of my career rather than a decade into it.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I think your bolded point is really important–sometimes when you aren’t naturally good at X and don’t really enjoy Y, it nonetheless makes sense to persevere and practice those things because they are helpful for something that IS important. Even if it’s nowhere near as fun as practicing the things at which you are naturally talented. (I’ll go so far as to say that people who are really, really good at Z–even if it came naturally to them and fits their talents, there was probably a time when something about Z wasn’t coming easily and so they needed to persevere and practice through sheer willpower and it was boring/annoying/frustrating/etc.)

            I am not a good swimmer. But my college required that you either pass a swim test or take a swim class in your first semester, and so I got good enough at swimming to pass that swim test. Thus freeing up time for stuff I wanted to do more, and (the actual goal) learning to swim well enough to keep myself afloat for a short time if I fell in the water.

            1. AcademiaNut*

              Networking and introducing myself to strange people used to *terrify* me. I remember standing at a conference in a cold sweat working up the nerve to introduce myself to someone, as a grad student on the job market. With practice it got a lot easier. What also helped were seniors who looked after the more junior people at meetings and conferences – making sure they were invited to dinner plans, including them in conversations, introducing them to other people.

              I’m still an introvert, but after years of practice I’m comfortable with networking small talk, and I’m now one of the ones making sure the juniors are being taken care of.

        2. EPLawyer*

          THIS. He’s an intern. He needs to learn the generally accepted norms in his field, so he can decide for himself which ones he wants to follow. But if he doesn’t even know he can’t make an informed choice.

          I hate “networking events” with the fire of a thousand nuns. But you know what, in law school, I sucked it up and did them. Because it was the norm. Now that I am established, I don’t have to. so I don’t. But to just say “leave Ralph alone” is actually harmful to Ralph.

          1. Heather*

            This is such a good point!
            …and the fire of a thousand nuns sounds truly terrifying.

      3. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        TY for bringing this up. I had it on my mind, but like you said, there was just so much. Talk about “unpacking.”

      4. Antilles*

        100%. The blunt reality is this:
        -You can succeed if you’re mediocre at your job but are well-liked. You’re probably going to hit a wall at some point because competence does matter, but you’ll get by.
        -You can also succeed if you’re great at your job but not sociable. You’re probably going to get overlooked for some opportunities in favor of more social people, but you’ll get by.
        -But if you’re mediocre at your job *and* you’re also not sociable? That’s where you really struggle.

        It’s just the reality of working with human beings: Likeability is a relevant job skill.

    5. WillowSunstar*

      As an introvert who got bullied all through school until I graduated from college, I really did not want to deal with other people for years. It took me many years to get to the point where I no longer had extreme social anxiety. To this day, I still don’t like eating in public.

      A couple of things helped. 1: Finding friends who were also nerds when I was in college. 2. Joining Toastmasters. I would strongly advise if I could the company pay for interns being in Toastmasters at least their first year, and also encourage interns to join TM if the company pays for it. I wish I had known in my 20’s about TM.

      1. Clisby*

        And if college students don’t have access to Toastmasters, encourage them to take a university public speaking class. Both of my children (one introvert, one at least leaning toward extrovert) found this enormously helpful.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      Quiet introverts have lunch with other people all the time.

      Also coffee.

      Many of us aren’t wild about big gatherings of strangers, but given some impetus (important to partner, useful for job, we care about the person being honored) we gird our loins and walk right in, asking “so how do you know so-and-so?”

      Some introverts actually do enjoy those large gatherings, so long as they get a sufficient amount of down-time afterward to recharge.

      1. metadata minion*

        Yup, that last sentence is definitely me!

        I think it would be a kindness to Ralph to explain the purpose of these lunches. Maybe he is socially anxious/awkward, or just kind of overwhelmed by the internship and doesn’t want to do additional stuff that doesn’t seem work-related. If I’m feeling cranky or hermit-y, I will cheerfully turn down an actually-optional-social lunch since it’s an opportunity to do something fun that will not in fact be fun for me. But if the lunch is actually about networking/teambuilding/etc., I will put on my grownup pants and pretend to be sociable if I can possibly manage it, just like I do if I really don’t want to deal with the llama reports today.

        1. Anonym*

          Same. I’m introverted and I like getting to know people (preferably one at a time but can adapt), and I just need to go away and recharge afterward. And please stop making me to go to the stupid, stressful open office, Current Company! But enough of this “introvert = misanthrope” thing, please.

  8. Blue Moon*

    Excuse me, I’m going to need a link to those goth office supplies, thanks.

    Actually, if any commenters have recommendations for interesting/fun/cute office supplies, I’d love for you to share them! I recently opened my own private medical practice and would love something beyond the standard office supplies that I currently have.

    1. Aphrodite*

      There are bandaid (and other medical shaped sticky notes, which look real. And then there’s syringe pens and highlighters, bone pens, human skeleton mouse pad, and more. I found most of these ideas on Amazon but I am sure you can find them elsewhere too.

      1. Kal*

        Just be careful about using things like syringe pens or such around patients that could have phobias, since that would be a bad experience for the patient and likely make your job harder.

        But as a frequent patient, I have always felt a little sad that most medical offices are so sterile and bland, and you only ever see fun stuff (or colors that aren’t beige) in paediatricians offices or kids wards. Adult patients deserve to have some fun distraction too, and those kinds of things could also help humanise the staff (maybe it’ll even help a little with white coat syndrome?)

    2. Bats & Tatts Inc.*

      JetPens (dot com) has an “Office” section that’s packed with cute and useful stuff. Bookstores and fountain pen shops sometimes carry office-y stuff as well.

    3. Casper Lives*

      I want this as a Friday off topic section. I WFH, I need all the cute supplies! My company supplies are basic and cheap.

    4. AnonInCanada*

      A Google search for “goth office supplies” first result was Amazon and about 7 pages worth of them. From black Post-it notes to skull-shaped or coffin-shaped pen holders, if you want it, they got it.

    5. LawLady*

      I personally really like glitter highlighters. Just as functional as regular highlighters, but slightly more fun. Available at JetPens.

    6. LunaLena*

      Look up Japanese stationery, there are SO many cute and whimsical designs. Or really, just Asian stationery in general. I have a clicky pen that has a clear top that houses a cat, so that the cat bobs up and down when I click it.

      If you treat kids at all, also look into Japanese band-aids. I found some at a Japanese import store that were super cute – I have one box of cats, one box of ninjas, and one of cat ninjas.

    7. Curmudgeon in California*

      Ooooh, awesome idea! Especially if the moderation policy could be tweaked for that post to allow links.

      (Yes, I’m an office supply junkie. We literally have file drawers full of various office supplies at my house bought by my spouse and I over the 30 plus years we’ve been living together.)

  9. louvella*

    Is Ralph covid-cautious?

    I don’t do indoor dining for covid reasons and have absolutely made all kinds of excuses to get out of it for work purposes.

    1. COVID cautious*

      This is what I immediately jumped to. I don’t do indoor or outdoor dining right now; I too would look relieved if I had an excuse to skip office lunch! Other people might be relieved due to dietary restrictions (and as an intern, probably feel they don’t have the social capital to say “actually I can’t go to a place that cooks shellfish on premises/has peanuts sitting at the bar/isn’t kosher certified/etc.”) LW, do all networking events in your office involve eating or drinking? If so, it might be worth rethinking that.

      1. danmei kid*

        I thought of this too.

        I have airborne allergies to onion/garlic which makes dining out nearly impossible. What restaurant do you know that doesn’t have any onions/garlic in ANY food, steaming their treacherous compounds into the air while cooking or being served on someone else’s plate? If you can think of one please tell me bc I’d love to go out again someday.

        I am also avoiding indoor dining for related health reasons (vaxed/boosted/still at high risk and am also helping care for a high-risk elderly person at home).

        There are so many reasons why lunch meetings are looked forward to by some and dreaded by others. And it becomes a real hinderance having to decline again and again and again while also being allowed to keep my personal health information, personal.

        1. Jenny*

          Pretty sure Govinda’s (the buffet restaurants run by Hare Krishnas) doesn’t cook anything with either garlic or onions. The one in my city has delicious soups and a salad bar and is very affordable and tasty.

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

      I have a coworker I haven’t seen for the last two years. He works as usual, but has refused to attend all work meetups since lockdown ended.

    3. Colette*

      Yeah, me too. But I make an effort to interact with people outside of meals, and it’s possible that needs to be the message to Ralph.

    4. HigherEdAdminista*

      I didn’t even think of that, but it makes total sense. People who don’t care about being mask-off in large groups or eating in restaurants often invite me to things and then are confused when I say I don’t do that. It would make sense that Ralph might not be comfortable with this, but also might not be comfortable speaking up, since people who don’t think it is a big deal do tend to treat you differently then.

  10. Anona*

    Not everyone is social and this is a short internship not a permanent hire. He will find out soon enough if his introversion is a factor in his career. I think his lack of wanting to be involved in social events is being taken much too personally.

    1. Allonge*

      But it’s precisely because Ralph is an intern that OP has standing to offer advice. The question is not whether Ralph should be penalised, it’s how, as an intern, he seems to be missing a pretty big part of learning aobut the industry culture.

      1. BluntBunny*

        He may not want to work in the industry. If he doesn’t want to do that role or work at that company or location then it may be of no value to socialise. He will be able to put on his resume regardless.
        If there are other interns or younger people he may prefer to have lunch with them instead.

    2. JM60*

      I hate quasi-mandatory work socialization, but the OP would likely be doing Ralph a favor if they inform him of the importance of networking for that job (and how to network). Ralph should know what tradeoffs he’s making.

      That being said, Ralph might not get a reference from this internship anyways since he isn’t performing the work well.

      1. Antilles*

        I think the reference is a case of where Ralph’s refusal to be social is actively hurting his career.
        If he was social and a great guy who everybody liked, he’d probably come out of the internship with a decent reference. It wouldn’t be a glowing reference due to his shortcomings as a teapot designer, but it’d focus enough on his positives that it’d be decently usable.
        Right now, he’s either going to get no reference whatsoever or one a clearly negative one – “Ralph was kind of subpar and was also weirdly standoffish”.

        1. Smithy*

          Yeah – I went to a university program that starts students younger than traditional undergrad programs and they’ve recently started a mentoring program that’s very “career oriented”. Which isn’t a bad thought – young people prepared to advance academically may also be ready to advance professionally on a sooner timetable.

          However, I personally needed some time (and the economy at the time kind of forced the issue) to get more grounding on what I actually wanted professionally. I may have been ready for school at a younger age but not for a solitary career. As such, I’ve really been pushing this mentoring program to include some of “generalist” mentoring option. Essentially how to make the most of internships and other extra curricular or post-college opportunities that can bolster or not hurt a resume (or bank account) when you actually decide what you want to do.

          This is a great case of maybe Ralph realizing this might not be a long term fit and figuring out how to make it work enough and leave with some kind of reference. And it’s where those social engagements can help. If Ralph were writing, I’d actually say to go to a boss and say that reporting to two streams of work had been confusing and ask if it might be possible to just focus on one (that was going a little better, where you liked the people a little more) but also…socialize at least with one team.

      2. Cranky lady*

        “Quasi-mandatory” – A colleague recently shared how much they appreciate when social/networking events are clearly defined as mandatory or optional. This colleague is open about how they find social interactions challenging and it allows them to save their energy for the events that are truly necessary. Can the OP work with Ralph to determine which events should be prioritized rather than leaving him to figure it out? That seems like exactly the type of thing an intern should be guided through.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Thing is, someone who socialises and networks properly can get by even without producing stellar work. I’m not familiar enough with law firms, but in my industry, translation, if you’re not a good translator you can move into the project management side, or handle the technical problems for translators, preparing files for translation software etc. Good networkers mostly get on better in project management anyway because they have to talk with both clients and translators all the time.

        I had a crappy intern, I suggested they move her into Sales instead, she was clearly a person who thrived on making commission, she wanted big money, and she needed to be recognised as being good at her job.
        (She still sucked, she needed to sell shoes rather than translations, because she was far more interested in shoes – but I pointed her in the right direction)

    3. Bagpuss*

      But OP is seeking to help him, becuae he is an intern and jut starting his career and it is likely to be helpful to him to understand the norms and expectations.
      Its one thing for someone to make an informed decision aboutpursuing / not pursuing specifc avenues in their career and how they may progress it, it’s quite another if they are unaware of the norms and therfore are not following them and as a result missing oppotunities / creating a poor impression.

      OP, I think it would be a kindness to Ralph if you were to speak to him. Perhaps say that it’s noticable that he has not attended any of the social events and that that means that he is missing out n chances to get to know people in ways which might be professionally useful to him. You can specifcally say that it menaas that people are less likely to feel they know him or are able to write effective letters of recommedations, and that networking is importnat in your field and he is missing eraly oppotunities to start to buiuild a personal network .

      You could also explain that his always claiming to have last minute deadlines could make him look disorganised and again, that isn’t great.

      Since cost of these evets may be a factor it is orobably also worht addressing this. For instnace, if the company picks up the tab, say so. If it would be usual for a depat. head / manager to buy coffee for the interns, say so, if attending and just having a coffee or a soft drink, or attending and not buying a meal/ drink would be OK, say so. (or,if you feel you have the standing and you can afford to, offer to buy him a sandwich / coffee at the next lunch meeting)

      If the events are mostly outside office hours then gian, address this to mention that you knowpeople have out of work lives and committments but going to even some events is better than none.

      (Also, if all events are after work, consder whether it would be helpful to flag this to your manager to suggest t a few which aren’t)

    4. Colette*

      Presumably he wants to come out of the internship with connections or references, and networking will help with that. The OP would be doing him a favour to point it out.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        The reverse is also possible, with Ralph realizing this isn’t the place or field for him and putting his head down until it’s over and he can forget all about the experience.

        I do think OP would be doing a favor to point it out to Ralph. I’d leave it there, though. We don’t know what’s going on, and it’s ultimately Ralph’s choice. Maybe OP can make a one time offer, not tied to a specific event, to help navigate any roadblocks (e.g. “if you’d like to come but X is getting in the way, I’d be happy to talk to the manager of X so you don’t miss the opportunity, if you want”) but that would be way too much pressure to do in the moment.

        1. AnonInCanada*

          If that were the case, then it might be better for Ralph to just come out and say that to OP? If Ralph doesn’t think this line of work will suit him long-term, then why would he suffer by being there now?

          1. Office Lobster DJ*

            Speaking for myself, I stuck out a Summer Internship from Hell because it met a program requirement and also because leaving would have meant figuring out returning a stipend and finding alternate employment from scratch for, like, 4 and a half weeks. Miserable, but still the better choice.

            Not saying this is the case with Ralph, but as long as we’re floating possible explanations, it’s one. Ultimately, the reason doesn’t change my advice to OP.

        2. Colette*

          Sure, but he is presumably an adult who can use his words. The OP can let him know networking is important in their field; he can then change what he’s doing or not.

    5. Observer*

      I think his lack of wanting to be involved in social events is being taken much too personally.

      There is absolutely no indication that anyone is taking personally at all.

      He will find out soon enough if his introversion is a factor in his career.

      That’s a kind of irresponsible take, especially if Ralph is an unpaid or low paid intern. The POINT of these positions is to teach the about the norms of their chosen profession. So, someone should at least clue him in. Not “You Must Do This”. But information about the potential ramifications to his career. Then, he has the information he needs to actually make a decision and evaluate the outcomes of that decision, whatever it may be.

  11. WoodswomanWrites*

    #2 — What a horrible response from your friend’s manager. It’s bad enough to be reprimanded for something that didn’t happen before you even knew someone had reported it. Then on top of that to not be believed when you explain the details of how it didn’t happen… wow. I would be hard pressed to trust them after that.

    How I would respond from there would depend on the long-term impact. Would it be going into my performance review or affect a potential raise or promotion? I’m thinking I might revisit the issue with my manager something like a month later when it wasn’t such a hot button thing. And if they still responded the same way, it would permanently tank any respect I had for them.

    1. Casper Lives*

      It’s a weird situation in general. Does someone have a vendetta against them? Claiming someone is watching tv for hours with specific clock watching, when it’s all a lie, is an elaborate lie!

      I wouldn’t trust this manager to have my back in the future. She was quick to believe the friend was, like, committing time theft.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, there are really only two ways this situation makes any sense at all:
        1. Someone has it out for OP and her friend, happened to be one of the people randomly walking by, and took the opportunity.
        2. One of the people walking by is a malicious agent of chaos and destruction and immediately zeroed in on the fact that they had an opportunity to get someone in trouble.

        (As an aside, I’d be interested in knowing how OP’s manager reacted, if at all. Also, am I reading correctly that the manager this was reported to (“a manager”) and the friend’s manager aren’t the same person? So there are now potentially several people in management thinking OP and friend are just wasting their time all day?)

        I like Woodswoman’s suggestion to go back to talk about it again once some time has gone by, if possible even in an in-person conversation so that body language and tone can be inlcuded on both sides.

        1. Sue*

          My reaction was that some coworker is really hostile to OP and friend and that coworker has credibility with the manager. Could be just terrible manager taking an offhand comment and making it a serious issue but seems more likely a nasty coworker with malicious intent for whatever reason. Both are pretty alarming for OP and friend.

        2. kittycontractor*

          Yeah, #2 has some validity to it. To actively state that the LW and his friend were watching “for hours” that just rings as malicious to me. I don’t see how that can be taken as an error or just simply innocently mistaken, that just seems like a straight out lie. And not a very good one if it can be easily shown not to be true by the fact that a freaking meeting was taking place at the same time (Seriously if you’re going to lie, at least be good at. Or wildly entertaining.)

        3. Clobberin' Time*

          Or the manager has it out for the OP and/or her friend, and completely made up what was reported to them.

        4. TVWatcher*

          > I’d be interested in knowing how OP’s manager reacted

          They weren’t informed, or that’s what my friend was told. In fact there was a hint of “I won’t tell as long as this stops” as a sort of implied threat/suggestion that they were being lenient.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        I was wondering if there could be some kind of mistake on the person who reported it side. Like:

        Wakeen walks by the conference room at 9:50 and there is a product launch video playing (for a legit meeting, one the LW and friend are not in). Wakeen does not get a good look at the video or the attendees. At 12:35, Wakeen walks by the room again. This time, LW and friend are indeed watching “Betty en NY”. Wakeen thinks “still watching TV!!!” and, this time, actually takes a real look who is in the room. He mistakenly assumes these are the same people and the same show, is outraged, an reports them.

        Now, Wakeen is still waaaayyy out of line for making assumptions and tattling instead of asking first, but he’s not purposefully lying.

        1. Cat Tree*

          Yeah, I speculated something like that too. Or, there’s some other employee who is goofing off and watching TV often. The accuser had seen it several times but didn’t happen to notice who it was. So when they walked by this time and saw the friend, they assumed it was the same person and decided they had finally determined the culprit.

          Still handled it badly though.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            Oooh, or its someone who thinks he can hear the sound of the TV, but it’s really something/somewhere else? That would fit with the precise timestamps.

          2. Emmy Noether*

            Or (plot twist), LW’s friend IS actually the one goofing off regularly, unbeknownst to LW. This is just the first time LW was involved.

            (I’m just having fun speculating – LW, that’s probably not it!)

      3. starfox*

        Yeah… I don’t understand why someone would just… lie like that? Maybe they’re bitter because they feel like they’re doing more work than everyone else, and everyone is just “goofing off” so they just assumed they were watching tv all day, even if it was only for an hour?

        I often find myself as the “doing too much” coworker who then gets bitter at other people when they’re doing non-work stuff on company time (like my coworker whom I overhear having a bible study on the phone in her office REGULARLY), but I certainly don’t “tattle” about it!

    2. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

      The whole thing is so bizarre.

      Even if the accusation were true, how would anyone know how many hours and minutes the perpetrators were watching a movie? Any sane manager would have a Spockian eyebrow raise at this.

      Any half-decent manager (I know there are tons of indecent ones) would have a sense of whether a particular employee would be likely to do such a thing, whether they get their work done and are responsible.

      I think there are important details missing from this story, about the manager and the employee, about their work history, about the culture of the place, about persons who may have it out for others. This can’t be the only bizarre incident.

      1. WillowSunstar*

        There could be a hidden camera in the room for security but even then, that would prove OP right. Some bosses just don’t stick up for employees. I had a boss like that but was already looking for another job when it happened. My issue though was with another manager who decided to bully me on a day when there were few witnesses. Ironically, she got fired several months later after I left that job, so karma is a thing.

        OP might consider looking to get out of that department. Imagine if something more serious came up than watching TV at lunch.

    3. AnonInCanada*

      Yeah, that really sucks this manager just took whoever’s word for it. I wouldn’t trust that manager ever again either if I were put in that position. And the point of this was what?

      Is there any way OP and/or friend can go over this manager’s head if this becomes a performance issue down the road?

    4. Missy*

      I think the fact that the manager is remote probably is playing into things here. They don’t have eyes in the office and so might be more prone to believing what someone else is saying. Or they may feel that everyone is going to slack off if they aren’t there in person, and this is playing into that.

    5. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

      I agree on Issue #2. It is absolutely infuriating when someone takes someone else’s word for something, and doesn’t even allow the other person to be heard. Because the first person could be lying, could be mistaken, could be exaggerating, or could simply be looking for a way to get people in trouble. I would obtain a record of the meetings that occurred in that room and attach it to an email to the boss, saying to set the record straight, here is evidence that I did not do, and could not have done, what Snidely accused me of.

    6. Rachael*

      #2 – From my experience, the lower a person views your job the more your actions are scrutinized. When I worked in a bank operations department with 8 other people our manager was always getting “complaints” of us not working, socializing, eating…basically if we didn’t look busy the entire time we were on the clock someone reported it to our manager. It was always the people in other “higher status” jobs who felt that they needed to put us in our place. Our perk of eating at our desk was almost taken away because someone walked by while one of us was on our lunch and eating at her desk and (gasp) she wasn’t working. What these other departments didn’t know was that our department went in waves. We were usually so busy we couldn’t breathe, but sometimes we would have a lull and needed breaks. So, I’m wondering if the person passing considered themselves “so busy” and in an important person and saw people watching TV and was a jerk and “told on them”. Luckily, I had a boss who understood that the people complaining were jerks. I am so sorry that your boss bowed to the pressure of making sure people knew that he “keeps you in line”. Your boss acted more like your parent then your boss. You are an adult. I would bring it up to your boss that you watched TV on your lunch break, but now you understand that the TVs are off limits for recreational use for everyone and see their response. Are they off limits to EVERYONE or just your position?

  12. Dennis Feinstein*

    Given the number of people who have shared horror stories online about being invited to company lunches/dinners only to be stuck with a massive bill at the end, it’s quite possible that Ralph simply can’t afford it but is embarrassed to say so.
    Or perhaps he has food allergies & isn’t sure they’ll be accommodated.

    1. Other Alice*

      That was my first thought as well, especially on an intern’s salary it can be a burden to eat out. Or it could be the restaurant is a steak house and he’s vegetarian. Plenty of reasons why someone would not want to eat out.

    2. Terrysg*

      It could certainly be that way, but inr company either managers pay fóir a Students food, or everyone chips in for the students food. Either way, it would be good to discuss this with Ralph.

    3. Grits McGee*

      If that is the case, this would be a great opportunity for OP to mentor Ralph on navigating issues of food restrictions or budget issues.

      1. Maggie*

        I agree. Is having food allergies something they’re just going to hide forever? I guess that’s fine… but part of an internship is learning how to deal with people at work and you usually share food allergies. If he has very serious food allergies I would hope he’s told a couple people so they know where his epi pen is etc… similarly if he’s covid conscious or low on funds. Practicing asking if the lunch is comped in a professional way is something to learn. I’m sure it happens but having a monthly lunch where the company doesn’t pay seems really odd. People would riot at my job for that lol

        1. Smithy*

          I agree with this and if the issue is related to COVID, it sounds like this group is working in the office? I think it puts the OP in a place to at least offer some kind of 30 minute Zoom trivia or something.

          Going forward, I think it’s likely that teams will have the occasional remote or immunocompromised staff member, and holding onto a once a month 30 minute Zoom social or taking a team meeting with a light agenda and building in a longer chit chat period will make sense.

    4. Meow*

      I think the best thing OP can do is invite Ralph and offer to pay if there is an expense. When I started as an intern, my coworkers usually offered to foot the bill when we went out for lunch. As I went out with them more often, I paid for myself, but made it clear I wasn’t financially capable of participating in the “buy lunch for everyone” rotation their office culture had.

  13. Green great dragon*

    OP3, what special equipment have you forgone? Why? Please don’t undervalue yourself, your time or your health when deciding what you need.

    1. Jack Straw from Wich*

      Plus, no one likes a martyr who wasn’t asked to be one. If there aren’t budget restrictions in place, get yourself what you need. No one will fault you for it.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I think you’ve put your finger on what felt off about that letter–if there is no room in the budget that’s that, and so you just say no with no fretting. If you need special equipment to do your job better, don’t be a martyr out of some sense of saving the company by your financial prudence.

      Take warning from the LW who was attempting to save her company’s finances by things like taking all the heavy equipment on three bus rides and never eating any of the free pizza, and was frustrated that her coworkers refused to join her.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          Ask and you shall receive:

          “my coworkers won’t cut expenses, pop culture references in interviews, and more” posted January 25, 2019

          “update: my coworkers won’t cut expenses” posted December 4, 2019

      1. HigherEdAdminista*

        This felt off to me as well. There was a tone of… judgement, for the employee for requesting something when the LW is going without needed equipment. If the budget doesn’t allow for purchasing much, it’s perfectly fine to say so, but to just skip out on things you might need to work and get mad that others don’t want to follow that unspoken expectation.

    3. starfox*

      Ahhh yes, this is what I didn’t understand about the letter. It’s fine to say “no” to special supplies… because, yes, if I saw my coworker getting cute goth office supplies, I would then absolutely request adorable fox post-it notes, etc. for myself. It is probably true that everyone would then want the more expensive, cute stuff for themselves.

      but if LW is giving up things that make her job easier and better, not just cute aesthetic things, WHY? Order what you need!

  14. A Person*

    #1 – Is it possible the type of social opportunity being offered is an issue for some reason? The LW mentions a departmental lunch in a restaurant – I’ve known people who hate big group events in noisy environments like restaurants, because they have a hearing or sensory issue and can’t make out what anyone is saying. If all the invites Ralph is getting are “let’s all go to a busy restaurant/bar” perhaps you could try offering something different?

  15. AxP*

    One thing to keep in mind when asking about benefits in an interview is to make sure you direct your question to an appropriate person, usually someone in HR as opposed to the hiring manager. While the manager may be able to speak definitively on salary, they may not be cognizant off all the ins-and-outs of the company’s benefit package, so you can’t take what they say at face value. You’d be surprised at how many people don’t understand their firm’s healthcare options, 401k’s, etc.

    1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      +1 At my current job, the recruiter is who I asked about that. My hiring manager wasn’t even sure what the salary range was and just knew the pay band.

  16. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    #3–Ahhh, the Pen Police. I get it if it’s a budget thing, but that was no where in the letter. The OP says they’re not spending as much money as they once were, but I think it’s more that the orderer doesn’t like the “goth” aesthetic and/or dealing with special requests. OP, get yourself the special equipment you need to do your job unless you’ve been specifically told not to and stop using that as a way to evaluate people’s requests for pens.

    As a former teacher, I’m still confused when someone wants to order supplies for me, but I will ask for the things I want. At my last job, I converted the whole office to Pilot gel pens. No one died when we all used colorful pens. The End.

    1. Be Gneiss*

      Eh…I think it really depends. If there are a dozen people in the department, maybe not a big deal to order to each person’s preference. If LW is in charge of supplies for 50 people, I can see limiting special requests if it’s taking a lot of time.

      1. Snow Globe*

        It also depends on whether all those special requests are available from the same office supply company, or if OP would now have to order supplies from multiple places, which would also become unwieldy.

        When I want special supplies, like post-its with fun sayings on them, I always brought in my own.

      2. doreen*

        I also think it’s probably more difficult to order the correct amounts if you are ordering multiple types of pens, sticky notes and so on – it seems like everywhere I’ve worked, there’s always a ” we are out of yellow and blue and green highlighters but have twelve boxes of pink ones” situation , which is fine if you just need a highlighter but not so much if what you need is two different colors. I think over/underordering would be more of an issue if the office is 20 different types of pens rather than one.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, I think it makes sense honestly unless you’re a super small team to just order generic (but hopefully still good, don’t super cheap out and get the crappiest pens no one wants to use!) supplies for everyone and if anyone feels strongly about using specific items they can just buy them themselves. I usually end up buying my own pens just because I can be picky about them. When you’re supplying a whole office they need replacing fairly quickly but buying my own pens is not exactly a hardship as they last me quite a while when I’m the only one using them. And I didn’t know I cared about it but I recently got some pink-lined legal pads and now I will probably continue to buy those for myself as well because they make me mildly happy when I write on them lol.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      Some large companies have preferred supplier lists. This is the case at my current employer. If All Goth Office Supplies (I made that up) aren’t on the list, I’m not allowed to order anything from them and process payment through the finance system.

      However, my employer does allow you to purchase from other suppliers with your personal card and get reimbursed, if there’s a genuine business need and the item isn’t available through a preferred supplier. So that could be one work-around.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      It can also be a matter of economy of scale – where the bulk box of pens/notebooks is the same cost as the small pack of specialty supplies. It can get really expensive (relatively speaking) really quick if your constantly ordering the smaller specialty packs.

      Before my office sent us home there wasn’t really a budget for the specialty supplies without a specific reason (IE I need a few sharpies to be able to label XYZ that the normal pens don’t write on). But there was a budget for accessibility needs and business mandated specialty things.

    4. fhqwhgads*

      From the very very little I know about “goth office supplies”, it’s very likely they’re both more expensive than the standard stuff AND only available from vendors specific to that niche. So, if the company has say a corporate officedepot account or whatever, and the people in charge of office supplies can get anything from there, then it’s reasonable to decline to do a special order from gothofficesuppliesrus. If the goth stuff is available from the normal supplier, but cost 2x the plain pens or whatever, also reasonable to decline.
      However, if it’s both available from the normal vendor AND it’s like…a 2 cent difference in cost or some other negligible amount that won’t add up to something not-negligible over time, not reasonable to push back.
      LW not getting themselves their own things isn’t relevant to this person’s request. If LW knows their own wants would be frowned upon due to company culture and/or cost, then, yeah, they’re right to know they shouldn’t get that. But if they’re just assuming…time to ask for approval for their own thing and see what happens.

  17. Apples*

    #1: Sounds like the issue isn’t really that he’s not coming to these events, the issue is that he’s a bit dull and people don’t like him. He’s an intern so he’s probably pretty intimidated by you guys and not sure how to behave, especially if he’s the only intern. Maybe there are some alternative avenues you could explore that feel low-pressure to him, like him bringing in some desk decor to spark conversations, encouraging your coworkers to chat to him about non-work stuff, bringing in some donuts in the morning and encouraging the team to come chat round their desks rather than at a restaurant, stuff like that. Or just ignore the problem – you don’t want to rehire him anyway based on his work and he’ll grow into his own way of dealing with this over the course of his career.

    1. Myrin*

      These are really good alternative (and also just general!) suggestions but I honestly doubt even they would be effective in this case. Someone who “runs away from any kind of vaguely social or networking opportunity” and “acts like he doesn’t want to deal with anyone” probably isn’t going to be enticed by coworkers’ chatting about personal stuff or trading baked goods and stories in the office.

    2. Raboot*

      But it’s not just that they want him to be more social – they want him to learn that it will be helpful/required in the field going forward. It’s a kindness to say it even if he’s not going to be hired.

  18. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    OP#1, cost is a good thing to think about for all interns regardless of whether it’s the reason Ralph is opting out. The intern experience should be reflective of the professional world they’re about to enter, but it shouldn’t be costing them money beyond getting clothing that meets the dress code and transportation to/from the job. If networking is critical to their success, you should make it a required part of the role and be providing that opportunity during working hours for them.

    For the interns who are opting in, what’s the financial burden you’re asking them to shoulder in order to network? How much time per week outside of working hours are you asking of them? This includes lunch/breaks during the workday where they could need to squeeze in errands or homework because they’re working another job later. If it is critical for job success, can there be specific low cost/no cost intern-focused networking/socializing on company time?

    1. GythaOgden*

      Don’t think it’s a problem with aesthetic. I’d imagine that the stuff with fancy designs costs significantly more (like with the brand I’m thinking of, tens of pounds more for a product that looks like goth/anime but fulfils the same basic function as ordinary stationery) and the problem is more likely to be cost. In fact, it’s so likely I assume LW3 thought we’d understand the cost angle without having to be explicitly told.

      Pilot pens are definitely awesome, though. I used them when I drew comics, and always go back to them when I can.

    2. Maggie*

      It sounds like it’s one a month over lunch so during work hours. I guess I’m assuming the lunch is free because it seems unheard of that it wouldn’t be, but I’ve been wrong before haha.

  19. Al who is that Al*

    #3 – This is a major red flag to me, if a company is trying to save money on office supplies either 1) how bad a financial situation is your company in? or 2) Are they also monitoring bathroom breaks or checking employees mileage claims via Google maps? However you look at it, what sort of place tries to hamper individuality at the cost of a few dollars a month.
    As a manager what would you think if walked through the office and saw pink pens with fluffy bobbles, black pens with skull toppers and post-it notes every colour of the rainbow (Black post-its with silver ink look the dogs by the way). What a cheap way to promote employee well-being, sod the pot luck day. I want 4 different colours of ink for my notepad which is glittery or neon or has a cute kitten on it (or a dark vampiric kitten!)

    1. londonedit*

      I’ve never worked for a company that would custom-order whatever stationery supplies everyone wanted. It’s not a ‘red flag’ to me at all, it’s completely normal. Everywhere I’ve worked, the stationery cupboard has been stocked with all the standard stuff people would reasonably need, and while you can obviously request something extra if it’d be useful for your job (for example, as an editor, a broader range of highlighter pens or small post-it tabs for marking the edges of pages) you can’t just ask for stuff willy-nilly or ask the company to buy pink pens with bobbles on the end or whatever. I think it’s perfectly standard for the company to provide basic office supplies and if it’s a matter of personal choice/aesthetic then people can bring in their own stuff. I’ve often bought my own pens or whatever because I preferred them to the ones the company provided – but that was my own choice, I could easily have just used the company-provided ones.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        Yeah, when I was on regional newspapers I can just imagine the sort of reaction I would have gotten asking for special stationery. It would have been seen as wildly out of touch – an anecdote for years to come – and yeah, expensive. Oddly though you could get whatever contact book you wanted because it was yours, and a one off.

      2. Bagpuss*


        We will custom order where it is appropriate – for instance, I know we order a different type of pen for one employe as they have a specifc need (I think they have either athritits or rhemetism in their hands and need pens which are fatter and softer than the standard ones) – we don’t order them for everyone as they cost about 4 times wht the normal ones do, but they are a reasonable request.

        IF someone asked if they could have something a bit diffferent then if it made no difference price-wise or to our internal porcesesses you could probably have it, but if it was a want rantehr than a need then if our normal suppliers don’t stock bat-themed post its, or they do but they are times the price of the normal ones then we’re unlikely to see it as a reasonable business request and I don’t think that is something that could really be seen as a red flag.

        Daving money on stationery or supplies is not a bad thing unless it is taken to extremes – it’s part of good finacial management and it’;s surproisng how much ‘a few dollars’ can add up.

        I know that when we first had an office manafer one of the first things we had them do was a review of spending and the amount that they were able to save by just reviewing what we ordered and where from was impressive, even though broken down none of the individual amounts weren’t huge –

    2. Allonge*

      Having limits on what kind of office supplies a company orders does not hamper individuality, come on.

      I take the office boring blue pens when I need one and I bring in my own fancy/fluffy ones, bacause our office supply people don’t have time to coordinate pen design with 500+ staff. If office supplies are ordered with some level of indiviual method anyway, have at it, sure.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes my company has standard pens, notebooks etc ordered en masse because they don’t want to get each individual precisely what they would like. . I don’t have a problem with that. If someone has a business need for something more bespoke they can always ask.

        1. JustaTech*

          This is how my company has always been. We have an account with a major office supplies retailer and if you need something custom-ish you request it from that company, but everyday things like pens and notepads and tape are all in the stock room. I know that we get special pricing for ordering this way.

          Now, I have had to special request (very basic) pens a couple of times because we ran out of the pens we are required (by law!) to use (indelible blue or black ballpoint, nothing weird).

          But if I really wanted purple felt-tip pens I would just buy my own box rather than bother the person in charge of ordering office supplies.

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      I think calling it a red flag is a bit dramatic. These supplies don’t appear out of thin air; someone has to sit down and source everything and make sure they get to the right person when they arrive and re-order when they run out etc etc. If it’s a big company, it’s not unreasonable for them to conclude that having someone individually ordering everyone’s very favourite coloured post-it notes and gel pens isn’t the best use of time. (And there’s nothing stopping you from buying your own black post-its and silver pens!)

    4. Asenath*

      Everywhere I’ve worked provides standard office supplies for everyone. If there is some work-related reason you need something different – a special type or size of binder, for example – it can be requested and is rarely if ever questioned. If you just wanted something expressing your personal taste, no, it wouldn’t be provided, although of course you could bring in your own. I think that’s perfectly normal. Providing tools to do the job is part of what a company does – but they’re not, literally, in the business of providing all their workers with the ability to express their different personal tastes while on the job. I honestly don’t even see it as a way to promote well-being, probably because I’ve never tied my well-being to the type of pens I use.

    5. Mockingjay*

      I’ve been the one who ordered the supplies. Even with corporate discounts, an order of basic supplies is EXPENSIVE.

      The purpose of the supplies is to enable you to perform work tasks, not express yourself creatively (unless you are in marketing). Supplies are tools. Office supplies are business, not personal.

      [Me personally: I looove expensive pens (special ink colors, hand grips, weighted for balance) so I buy my own. But I can do – and have done – the job just fine with the blue gel pens from the stockroom.]

    6. Lemons*

      I don’t work in an office. I have an extremely strong sense of aesthetics as it relates to personal expression and well-being and my non-office job allows me free rein of that.
      If I did work in an office, this would not improve my morale at all. It would feel more like pandering: throw some faux-alternative or cutesy plastic tat at us and we’ll be mollified.
      If that is your version of adding personal sparkle, have at it, but bring it from home.

    7. Jennifer Strange*

      Not getting every employee office supplies customized to their wants =/= monitoring bathroom breaks. That’s such an astounding leap.

    8. MCMonkeyBean*

      This is such a stretch wow. Saving money on office supplies is pretty normal thing to do and not remotely an indication that a company is on death’s door or monitoring your bathroom habits. What a wild leap!!! OP may be taking it slightly too far if she is forgoing equipment she actually needs, but not letting every employee choose their own preferred pen is fairly standard.

      1. JustaTech*

        If a company has always supplied coffee, sugar and one non-dairy creamer and then suddenly stops supplying any of those things, yeah, *that* could be a red flag.

        If a company has always supplied coffee, sugar and one non-dairy creamer and says no, they’re not going to order 10 kinds of K-cups or oat milk or agave syrup, that’s perfectly reasonable. With common supplies you buy the most common thing that the most people are going to want to consume.

        (This was an issue once when one guy somehow got in charge of placing orders for the soda machine and we ended up with half the buttons on the machine being for diet vanilla Dr Pepper, which he loved and no one else drank. Then that guy left and it took *months* to get the soda machine re-set to the standard variety of drinks.)

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          Even with coffee, there can be exceptions. I once worked at a place that had a social fund to cover two rather nice staff dinners, going away presents, some snacks and k-cups. At the end of the year, we had to have a meeting because the k-cups they were buying cost over 1,300$ for the school year, which was a good chunk of the social committee budget. Everyone (sadly) agreed to bring their own k-cups. No one’s jobs were at stake and the school wasn’t in trouble, but the budget couldn’t be increased and no one wanted to scale down the end of the year party in exchange for unlimited mocha k-cups.

          1. GythaOgden*

            Yup. Look at it this way: a person or business who can manage money properly knows when and where to spend the cash. If the budget for stationery has to expand to cover 50 people’s different stationery style preferences, then it can’t be used on essential maintenance to the building, upgrading computing power, investing in a new admin assistant etc. It’s not like 50 different sets of stationery would break the bank, but being careful with what’s available at any one time means you can ensure a cushion if, say, there’s a cashflow crisis (common in small biz) or an unexpected bill. I’d imagine the OP is tasked with justifying purchases, but honestly, budgets are a thing and even if money is available, it may not be the wisest use of it.

            There’s a great Chris Rock sketch about being rich vs being wealthy. The gist is that rich people spend what they have until the money runs out. Wealthy people get wealthy by being careful, living well but not wasting money, and have money to pass on to their kids (Rock talked about how the wealthy conserve and build social and economic power through money being passed on through the generations rather than just treat it like it doesn’t matter). It’s not about being penny-pinching or even penny-wise, pound-foolish, but about making the money work for you and not being too frivolous with it.

    9. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      This is not a red flag at all. Try working for a public university. We had to get special permission to buy a tea kettle because we can’t have students paying for luxury items for employees ( our department is mostly funded by student fees and tuition).

      So I can see a non profit or something that is funded by donations not wanting to waste money on 5 different types of pens and 8 different types of notebooks just because some people like pilot pens, others want fountain pens, etc.

    10. Nope.*

      And I would find it a serious red flag if an employee couldn’t comprehend that ordering supplies for dozens, hundreds, possibly even thousands of employees is much cheaper and simpler when done in a standard, bulk manner.

      I have unique office supplies. I bought them myself, because my office already supplies what I need, and these are what I -want-.

    11. bluephone*

      LOL what. My only experience with ordering office supplies was for about 30 people across 2 labs and even I know what a cluster it would have been to have 30 different, specific preferences for stationery items (and I did actually have some leeway on what we could order via departmental and research grant funds). This is a very weird, very incorrect hill you’re dying on but go off, I guess.

      1. JustaTech*

        I had a lab manager refuse to order MidKnight gloves (the black nitrile gloves that are very popular with tattoo artists) because 1) we already had plenty of equally good gloves that fit everyone well and 2) she thought they were creepy.
        The second is a personal preference thing, but given that university ordering systems make the Byzantines look straightforward and simple, the first was really sufficient.

        1. MissCoco*

          We got an order of black gloves in our college of optometry last year, and at least 3 patients I was working with were mildly disturbed by them. Nothing a lighthearted joke couldn’t fix, but apparently it’s a bit of a thing to not like how they look!

    12. Spencer Hastings*

      I wouldn’t say they’re actively trying to hamper individuality — that sounds more like banning nonstandard office supplies altogether.

      Like many other people in these comments, I work at a place that provides generic office supplies, and if you want something different, you can bring that in yourself. It doesn’t just save money in terms of the cost of the supplies themselves (which I agree would usually not be the difference between a business folding or not), but also in terms of time. The person whose job it is to order the office supplies has many other duties, and if everyone has their special requests, that would just put extra work on them.

    13. anonymous73*

      That’s a reallllllly big stretch – red flag? Not even close. If it won’t affect the budget and won’t take OP a whole lot more time to order specialty supplies for everyone then I think they should do it. But there are several legitimate reasons this can’t be done and you saying it’s a MAJOR red flag is taking this to an extreme that it completely unfounded.

    14. Nancy*

      It is not a red flag for companies to not want to let every employee order their own special supplies. I have never worked anywhere that allowed this and when I was the one ordering supplies I never did it. What a pain that would be and yes, depending on where one works, spending extra does matter.

      As an employee, the type of supplies my coworkers use have no effect on my wellbeing.

    15. Observer*

      This is a major red flag to me, if a company is trying to save money on office supplies either 1) how bad a financial situation is your company in? or 2) Are they also monitoring bathroom breaks or checking employees mileage claims via Google maps? However you look at it, what sort of place tries to hamper individuality at the cost of a few dollars a month.

      This is totally not the case. As others have pointed out, there are good reasons for not getting people lots of custom supplies. For one thing, yes it can really add up. For another the added work can be significant.

      As a manager what would you think if walked through the office and saw pink pens with fluffy bobbles, black pens with skull toppers and post-it notes every colour of the rainbow (Black post-its with silver ink look the dogs by the way). What a cheap way to promote employee well-being,

      I would have to conclude that someone has too much time on their hands, necessary work is being left undone, someone has questionable budget skills, someone is skimping SOO hard on decent supplies that people feel like they need to bring in their own, or some combination thereof.

  20. Irish Teacher*

    I’m not sure this is helpful to LW1, but I’m wondering if Ralph is really in the right field for him. If it involves a lot of socialising and he is not the type of person who enjoys that or is good at it and the rest of his work isn’t brilliant either. If he loved everything else and was excellent at it, then the socialising might be just something he was willing to tolerate, as most people have SOME part of their jobs they don’t enjoy, but I’m not getting the sense from the first letter that the rest of the role is really something he’s excited about either.

    I think it would be a kindness to him to talk to him about how important socialising is in the role. Maybe as a sort of “one thing people often don’t realise about this field is that there is a LOT of networking involved. It’s something some people love and others feel really isn’t for them, so it’s something that people probably should factor in when deciding if they want to go into it permanently.” Then maybe give some examples of what kind and amount of socialising/networking/personal connections is expected, since it’s possible he’s hearing “there is a staff party once a year and we have to meet clients regularly” when he hears “networking” or “personal connections.” Something like “most people would spend x amount of time on this/would be spending a couple of hours a week/a month with colleagues outside the office/whatever the reality is.”

    Then it’s up to him whether he wants to improve in this area or rethink his career plans or whatever.

    I would add there’s another possibility and that is that the issue is more his work than socialising. I mean, if he is struggling, he might feel he can’t take the time off to socialise. You’ve mentioned that his work isn’t great so that in itself could be a reason why he has a massive task with a tight deadline. If he is making mistakes that need to be corrected and so on, the work might be taking him longer than it is meant to and he may not have time for anything else. So it may not be so much an issue of his not wanting to socialise as his not being up to speed with his tasks and not having time for anything else.

  21. RaginCajun*

    Does Ralph have the funds to go out with the team? If he wouldn’t have to pay, does he know that? Does Ralph feel comfortable going with y’all? I am a current student co-op for a large mining company. I have declined some invites because it’s hard to tell what off-work events I would be actually wanted at, and which ones I was invited to just because I was standing there and everyone else was invited.

    1. Allonge*

      Money is a genuine issue, or can be, but gently: the whole point of work social events should be that everyone is invited, and nobody is tragically missed if they don’t go.

      Don’t decline based on what you think they are thinking, that way lies madness.

        1. Allonge*

          No, not always. But if you are expecting a special, just for you, really we want you there and this is really serious, you will never go to one either.

  22. Gnome*

    Regarding #1…

    Do all the activities involve food and drink? Alcohol? I cannot participate in most work “fun” events due to dietary restrictions, and generally avoid them. I know a few folks who avoid them because they are now-sober and even a lunch out can be tough for them when folks start having a beer or whatever.

    Might be worth having a non-food involved thing… Or a bring-your-own kind of thing. We had a Ladies Lunch social group that would get together and eat our bag lunches in a conference room once a month (male dominated industry) and chat. I also know offices that do games over brown bag lunches, etc.

    I get my comment is more about inclusivity, but it could be the issue. And if you ask, he may not want to say “well, I’m allergic to soy and canola oil, which are impossible to avoid, and a recovering alcoholic, so I AM happy to avoid these events”

    1. Irish Teacher*

      Good point. I am an extremely picky eater. I don’t have any known medical issues (though I am pretty sure there is SOME sensory issue or intolerance or something going on, because I realised in my 30s that no, most people don’t start gagging when they eat something they dislike) and people have a tendency to see picky eating without any kind of known medical condition as a character flaw so I would be nervous about telling people in a new job when I was a student.

    2. Inkhorn*

      I’d be happily grabbing any excuse to get out of those sorts of events too. Even before covid I avoided pubs because I hate the smell of alcohol, and I try to avoid anything involving both food and other people because I’m acutely self-conscious about how little I eat. I’m always worried that this will be the time a colleague diagnoses me with an eating disorder or draws attention by commenting or otherwise makes things awkward.

      Naturally, every social event at CurrentJob – in and out of work – either involves food or takes place in a pub.

      (For the record: not an eating disorder, a legacy issue from a long-ago virus. Which I do not want to have to explain in the office.)

    3. Anon today*

      I don’t know if ladies only events are really legal here if your in the US so that may not help OP.

      1. Raboot*

        I mean Ralph isn’t a lady and their point was just about the brown bag… But of course it’s not illegal unless you’re imagining they’re scanning IDs at the door and turning away men.

      2. Gnome*

        That was an example of a “bring your own” thing that the staff decided to do on their own lunch break to network and socialize. It wasn’t an “event” (not company time, sponsored, etc.) just people choosing to eat together monthly. Conference rooms were used, as do many groups eating lunch together, so there was no legal issue (we ran it by legal first).

        But, again, just an example of something that might be more comfortable (a brown-bag type thing).

  23. Turingtested*

    LW #1: I’m polite and can make small talk but I’m absolutely blind to unspoken social rules. If I were Ralph, unless someone explicitly said to me “These outings are important for your career, and it’s important to have friends in the industry” I would assume I was wasting time by going to them, especially when behind at work.

    In my mid 30s, if I’m in a situation where I suspect there’s social nuance I’ve missed I’m confident enough to ask a coworker later. But not at 22.

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

    OP3, is your coworker Ebony Darkness Dementia Raven Way?

    1. ecnaseener*

      As if she’d be caught dead in an office!

      (I haven’t read the whole thing so I guess I don’t know for sure that she never gets an office job LOL)

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        Sadly the writer never finished it, so it’s possible at some point Ebony did get an office job (but only one where she can be “goffic” and doesn’t work with a bunch of posers).

  25. Butters*

    I’ve started making it a point to get benefits like health insurance spelled out to me after a pre-ACA employer straight up lied about offering insurance. They only vaguely said they offered health insurance and after I started and asked about signing up I was given an AFLAC pamphlet and told to call the rep about catastrophic insurance that didn’t cover anything routine or minor and costs hundreds a month. Basically cancer and hit by a bus insurance. I was livid when the office manager told me, “if it’s good enough for the owner it’s good enough for you.” He had real insurance through his wife.

    I had to get a COBRA policy from my old job that cost over $500/month. Unfortunately it was during the recession, I had a ridiculously wide non-compete and had just signed a year long lease. I had spent my savings moving and putting the deposit on my apartment and was completely trapped. It was downright awful.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Nothing pisses me off more than employers who lie like that. While my situation wasn’t as bad as yours, I took a job at a small company where they told me they didn’t offer insurance but would have plans in place by the end of the year. Didn’t happen. Luckily this was post-ACA so I was able to get insurance, but I paid quite a bit for it. I eventually found out the CEO decided he didn’t need to offer insurance because most of the people he hired were young enough to be on their parents’ plans and everyone else was married with a working spouse. I was the first person they hired who was over 26 and single. Later on we hired someone to work on my team who was 23– and both of her parents had died.

      For my next job, I asked about benefits at the second interview. I worked there for four years. The company wasn’t great but my health insurance was exceptional.

      1. Ali + Nino*

        Wow, that “strategy” of hiring mostly workers young enough to be on parents’ plans and those they assume have insurance through spouses is atrocious. At my last job i definitely noticed I was one of only three married American workers – others were either unmarried and without kids, or international worker so the company could save! Save! Save! By not having to offer them insurance. I get why a business owner would do this but for us Americans it really sucks.

      2. Tired of Working*

        I wouldn’t wait for the second interview to ask about health insurance. I always asked at the first interview, because I found out that a number of companies don’t offer any kind of health insurance. Moreover, the interviewers always claimed to be astonished that applicants were under the impression that companies offered health insurance.

        At one company, I was told that employees wouldn’t get health insurance until they worked there for one year. The interviewer said that TPTB were tired of people accepting jobs there and leaving after a few months, just to get COBRA.

        At another company, the interviewer told me coldly (after I asked) that IF they decided to hire me, they would tell me about their health insurance at that time.

        At yet another company, when I asked about health insurance, the interviewer snapped that it was discussed in their help wanted ad. I had saved all of the ads that I had applied to, and when I checked later on, I saw that none of them discussed what type of health insurance the company offered.

        At still another company, the interviewer told me that they did not provide health insurance. He did say, though, that if I got health insurance on my own, the company “might” pay for half of it.

        Red flags everywhere! Health insurance is too important to ignore or delay discussions thereof.

  26. Kate*

    So I am a die-hard introvert in a profession where networking is *more* than essential— it’s literally why the profession exists. How I wound up here and being good at it? No idea, but here I am!

    That said, it was not always smooth, and your intern may honestly just need an explicit explanation of how these types of jobs work. I don’t say that condescendingly — it’s not always obvious.

    Early in my career (not quite when dinosaurs roamed the earth), I took up a new job. I had had a job or two in this field before, so I thought I knew the broad brushstrokes, but I had no idea of the nitty-gritties.

    Immediately upon arriving in this new job, my boss said to me: “you need to get started on organizing your welcome reception”. Having come from a job where we were pinching pennies like crazy, I demurred: “no, no, that’s not necessary”. Honestly, I was embarrassed that someone would hold a reception *for me*.

    Same thing happens a few weeks later.

    And then again a few weeks later.

    Her: “okay, enough, where are you at with the reception? Guest list, venue, etc.?”
    Me: *Genuinely confused this time* “What do you mean, I already told you I don’t need a reception.”
    Her: “what are you talking about, you don’t need a reception?”
    Me: “well, why would I need one? I don’t need to eat little canapés and have it come out of our budget.”
    Her: *silence for a second, and then it clicks* “wait a second. How else to you think we are going to introduce you to hundreds of contacts in one go? How do you plan to do your job otherwise?”.
    Me: “I… honestly hadn’t thought of it that way…”

    Reader, I organized the &$@# reception, and she was right, it was a way easier and faster way to introduce myself to all the people I would need to know in one evening than however it is I thought I was going to do it…

    I am a manager of new employees in this field now, and I make a point to be very very very explicit about the “hidden curriculum” someone mentioned above. I also make sure we have work time set aside to practice this stuff, because as so many people have noted, it doesn’t necessarily come easily to everyone (including me!)

    1. Apples*

      Wow, this is a great story and definitely shows the importance of being explicit! As an antisocial programmer, the idea that there are jobs out there which need welcome receptions with hundreds of people is blowing my mind. You must have nerves of steel :)

    2. danmei kid*

      Fantastic story OP and thank you for the reminder that not everyone speaks the same language in business. Clarity and forthrightness are lacking in many offices. Glad you shared this.

    3. Very Social*

      Thanks for sharing this story–it’s really helpful! And I’m curious what kind of a job you work in where you need to organize your own welcome reception to meet hundreds of people in one evening… but I’m really glad to stay far, far away from that kind of job XD

    4. allathian*

      Thanks for sharing! I’m also fairly introverted, although less so than some who post here, but an event like the reception would be an absolute nightmare for me. I’m very bad with names, and I think I’d need business cards with photos to retain more than about half a dozen names…

  27. Coffee and muffins*

    #2 Did either of you send out an email or save a file before lunch to have proof that you were not in the breakroom for hours? Does the boardroom need to be checked out would an admin have the name of who was in there before lunch? I think you might need to get some type of confirmation for this. Its all very odd the saying you were in there for hours, and your boss not immediately being able to check your IM to see you were only gone less than 1 hour. My first thoughts when you said you were watching with subtitles was that you were watching something you wouldn’t want others to hear. It would look really odd to come back to the office from lunch and have two co-workers watching a movie with subtitles in the conference room. I can see the A-hole in my office jumping on that to get the boss to notice them more.

    1. ecnaseener*

      I didn’t get that sense about the subtitles – LW said the show itself needs subtitles, not that they opted for subtitles. I figure that means it’s in another language or poor sound quality.

      And I definitely don’t find it suspicious that someone would intentionally keep the volume low in an office where people are working. That’s just considerate.

      1. metadata minion*

        And plenty of people have minor hearing loss or other reasons they prefer subtitles even if they don’t need hearing assistance in regular office situations.

        1. JustaTech*

          One time a group of friends and I were watching a British murder mystery movie where everyone had such strong and varied English accents that we had to start over with subtitles on because we couldn’t understand 60% of the dialog.

          I’ve also noticed that some streaming systems default to subtitles on.

    2. Student*

      I watch everything with subtitles because I’m hearing-impaired. I’ve used subtitles on everything since I was 17.

      Please don’t assume people are using subtitles to try to be “sneaky” because they are a vital aide for a disability, and associating this disability aide with negative stereotypes is both damaging to the disabled like me, and untrue. Trust me, there is nothing sneaky about my hearing loss.

    3. Doctors Whom*

      I have some hearing loss AND watch a lot of shows in another language – that I can muddle through but can’t listen to fast enough (I can’t manage the verb conjugation in real time to save my life). I watch every.damn.thing with English subtitles, all the time, regardless of what it is or what language the audio is in.

    4. Unaccountably*

      But why would your first thought be “Watching something illicit” and not “watching a foreign-language show” or “watching with the volume low so as not to disturb other people working nearby”? That’s so odd.

      Also, now I need to know what’s on basic cable in the middle of the workday that LW2 and his colleague would think was shameful enough to hide. Game shows?

    5. TVWatcher*

      Hi, I’m the contributor of the “watching TV in the boardroom” story.

      There would be various things which could confirm where we were at other times, and there was an important client meeting in that same room earlier, clearly visible on a shared calendar, but my friend didn’t want to make any more trouble with her manager.

      The subtitles were because the show (not movie!) was in Spanish. One of us speaks Spanish but the other doesn’t. The show wasn’t sexual or particularly violent.

      1. Lizzo*

        I know your friend doesn’t want to “make trouble”, but are you able to talk to your own manager, OP? And point out the sheer madness of these claims? Something along the lines of stating what actually happened, then point out the wild claims from this other manager and provide proof that the wild claims have no basis in fact? Frame it very matter-of-factly: “I’m concerned about the apparent misinterpretation and want to ensure that we’re on the same page. If you have feedback about what actually happened, i.e. we shouldn’t be using the boardroom TV for anything, please let me know.”

        If you’re proactive, assuming your manager is reasonable, this is a good way to CYA in case your friend’s manager continues to be a jerk.

        For all you know, your friend’s manager may have other issues, and you raising awareness of this may help prevent that other manager from doing additional damage to staff.

  28. ecnaseener*

    It does seem like the networking issue is mostly a red herring for the mediocre quality of Ralph’s work. If he was doing great work, someone would be able and willing to give him a glowing reference. Of course it’d be better for him to make multiple connections who might have leads on jobs etc for him later, but if he just needs one reference, that’s going to be based on his work.

    1. Joielle*

      This. And, the reluctance to network may be related to the mediocre quality of the work. If my main interaction with coworkers was them telling me that I’m not that good at my job, I probably wouldn’t be that enthused about socializing with them (no matter how correct they were or how nice they were about it). Honestly, I’d probably be mortified and want to go home and pretend I didn’t exist until the next day.

      That’s not to say the coworkers shouldn’t correct Ralph’s work, or that they’re doing anything wrong! But you can imagine why he might not want to socialize in light of his mediocre work performance. And, like you said, networking is not going to make up for not being good at the job. (In most fields, anyways.)

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Exactly. It’s not just about networking, but it’s worth looking at the interplay between his general interactions at work and his performance. To dive deeper on this, someone who is naturally not all that social may not be as likely to do some of the other types of relationship management that allow someone to maintain some degree of goodwill in the face of struggling at their job. Similarly, some people (especially entry-level folks) have difficulty showing up in a way that helps their colleagues help them.

        As much as Ralph may have poor interactions because he’s mediocre at his job, he may be mediocre in part because his lack of rapport with others gets in the way of being coachable.

  29. calvin blick*

    #5 – the company my sister worked at insisted she use weekend time to travel as much as possible since they didn’t consider travel time to be “real work.” (Not surprisingly, they didn’t like work from home either so she was continually quarantining for office exposure, although she never did get covid). As Alison pointed out, that is legal, but it truly seems to me to be unethical. I don’t know how you can justify telling employees to give up their weekends on a regular basis. Obviously there are times where someone has to be at a far off location at 8 am sharp on a Monday, but generally the idea seems to be that any paid time not working on core tasks is unacceptable, no matter how unavoidable the reason.

    Of course, that company would also call employees into the office on Saturday even if there was not much to do in order to show the investors how hard everyone was working, so they clearly didn’t care about their workers.

    1. Purple Cat*

      When my company has leadership meetings, they start on Tuesdays so that the field team can use Monday’s to travel. Travelling for work IS work. Companies that expect you to take away from your family time AND not pay you for it, are trash.

    2. Sloanicota*

      Yep, one reason I don’t want a job with much travel any more is because the time and difficulty of actually getting to places is rarely valued the way it should be, as real work. I used to have to travel out on Sundays (so I could be present Monday morning for meetings) and then travel back during the evening hours, basically on my own time. Plus all sorts of misadventures (getting lost, hotel lost your reservation, flight delays etc etc) are also basically on you to resolve. My company certainly got the most value out of my position by offloading the transit on to me! I was not hourly, but it would be even more egregious if I was.

  30. Lacey*

    I think it’s super believable that Ralph the intern is 1. Lying about not having time 2. Actively avoiding networking situations.

    When I was just out of college I actively avoided work socializing. Even if it was the office ordering food for everyone and having a party in the breakroom. It was my nightmare.

    Part of it was that I worked with horrible people who made me dread every work day. I needed my lunches to regroup and be able to endure the next 4 horrible hours. Part of it was just that I was still learning about how to connect with people in the office.

    I didn’t learn it in time to salvage that job and probably my boss thought I left without learning it at all. But in the next job I did all the networking that was offered to me.

    It’s worth saying something to Ralph, but I wouldn’t expect to see a change before his internship is done.

    1. OP1*

      I don’t think that he’s lying per se, I think that he’s getting big assignments while knowing he has an invite, not telling the person giving them to him, and then he waits until the deadline to say “Oh darn, I can’t go since I have this big assignment,” which is technically true.

  31. Meghan*

    So, fun story, I’ve actually purchased “goth” office supplies– black sticky notes. I got so sick and tired of people coming to my desk to steak sticky notes, I purchased my own (on clearance at target) with a white gel pen.

    Amazing– my sticky notes stopped getting stolen.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      That’s great! I purchased myself an owl mouse for the exact same reason. Never stolen again.

    2. Kit*

      My mom got tired of coworkers walking away with pens, so she got an oversized Hello Kitty number.

      Curiously enough, men in banking are not interested in tucking that in their suit pocket and wandering off – it stopped.

      1. Raffles*

        A very good ol’ boy type I know makes a point of buying bright pink things for exactly this reason. He’s learned that people don’t walk off with your pens or your tools if they’re pink.

  32. Khatul Madame*

    Letter 2: If the TV-watchers had been men watching sports on their lunch break, would they still have been reported?

    1. I should really pick a name*

      We only know the gender of the LW’s friend and we don’t know what they were watching.

      1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        I feel like sports usually register as even more time wasting than movies.

        1. Phony Genius*

          Probably right. Same question, but what if they were watching news? Or a nature documentary?

          1. Lucy Skywalker*

            I think it depends on the field. For instance, someone I know works for a state representative, and part of his job is watching/reading the news so that he can inform the rep. of anything necessary.
            Likewise, if you work for a nature center, watching nature documentaries might be relevant to your job. However, if you work in data entry, watching CNN or the Discovery Channel during work hours could get you fired.
            So I say that they would only be reprimanded if the program they were watching was not relevant to their actual work.

            1. Governmint Condition*

              I know of an office where a TV had to be moved out of sight of higher-ups due to complaints. All it ever showed was the Weather Channel, and they had to have it on because they were an incident management center and had to know details about any impending storms. The only thing that went through the head of this manager was “TV bad”.

            2. TVWatcher*

              Hi, I’m the contributor of the TV story. The key thing for me is “work hours”. We absolutely did nothing in this story during “work hours” if you don’t count a lunch break as “work hours”.

      2. Polly Hedron*

        We do know that they weren’t both men and that it was a “show” that “required subtitles” (which doesn’t sound like sports), so Khatul Madame asked a reasonable question.

        1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

          True but I’m a huge fan of Spanish soccer game subtitles. Especially when a team scores and all you see on the screen is “Gooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal!!!!!”

    2. TVWatcher*

      Hi, I’m the contributor of the TV story.

      This office does actually have VR games headsets purchased by the company, so that’s part of the hypocrisy.

  33. tennisfan*

    OP1, does Ralph have a direct supervisor? I was a bit confused by the idea that “people” have been correcting him, and what might be prompting you to ask this question rather than discussing it with a supervisor. (Not to say that an intern can’t receive feedback from people that aren’t their supervisor). I’ve seen situations where interns are split between departments and report to multiple people, and nobody is directly in charge of developing a good sense of their overall workload and performance. A single specific supervisor, even if only directly managing one part of Ralph’s work, can assess whether in fact Ralph’s deadlines truly are prohibitive towards attending events like team lunches. They can develop a rapport with the intern and deliver the performance feedback, whether regarding quality of work or on the importance of networking, in a helpful, constructive way to the intern.

  34. Hiring Mgr*

    Ralph sounds incredibly shy/introverted, etc.. but I wonder if splitting him between two departments has also contributed by not really giving him a true “home” and so maybe he’s even less comfortable than if he were with one team the entire time.

    But overall yes i think you can definitely let him know what the deal is!

    1. Bunny Girl*

      Ooooh that’s a really good point. I’m sure it was necessary to have him between the two for business reasons (not enough work to justify two interns, etc) but if Ralph is shy/introverted/whatever it was probably really difficult for him to make connections with a large group of people instead of a small one. I don’t think that’s anyone’s fault but just something that happened. It actually might be helpful to Ralph to find this out as an intern. Maybe because of this experience, he will gravitate towards a smaller team/company in the future and find himself more at home there.

  35. Bunny Girl*

    Haha! I am Ralph. Luckily my work speaks for itself and I can turn on the charm when I need it but with one exception, I would rather juggle chainsaws in a high wind than go to an office socialization event. I literally scheduled a colonoscopy over one.

    I would definitely explain to him the value of networking in your field and leave it at that. He can make his own choices from there. Some people really don’t mind the trade off.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      For sure! One of my coworkers absolutely refuses to go to lunch with the rest of us but it doesn’t really matter bc everyone knows he’s completely brilliant at his job.

      1. Bunny Girl*

        Precisely. Being polite and being professional with your coworkers should absolutely be required. Being social should not. This might just be my preference but if I was say getting a reference regarding someone and they told me that they were very professional and did great work but they wouldn’t go to work happy hours I would find that such an odd criticism. Work already owns so many hours of your life why should you also sacrifice your off work hours? For plenty of people work is just a way to pay bills – not the end all be all to life.

        1. Observer*

          This is true but really depends on the filed. I do still agree that Ralph can make his own decisions. But it would be a kind and responsible thing to make sure that he KNOWS that he is actually making a decision here.

        2. Not All That Bubbly*

          So – that’s not really the point of networking. It’s about building professional relationships, which is what leads up to you getting that reference, or hearing about the job you need the reference for. It’s not someone saying that Intern is unqualified despite his work because he skipped happy hour. It’s things like, my friend Bunny Girl is looking to fill a position, what qualified people I know would be perfect for that? Or, on the other end of things, I’m looking for a new job, who do I know in the field I could reach out to and ask about open positions?

          I think the Geek Social Fallacies list really needs to add on the belief that people are either good at their jobs, or they are good at people-ing, but never both.

  36. Fluffy Fish*

    OP1 – while I absolutely believe you that networking is important in your field, I wonder about the extent you’re focused on that.

    As Alison pointed out – the actual work issue seems the bigger fish. I would expect someone to say his work isn’t up to par and on top of that, he doesn’t network. But your emphasis was the opposite. No judgement, I certainly don’t know your field, just food for thought.

    Perhaps as well, if you talk to him about networking in your field, you can share with him ways to connect with people IN the office. Ways to develop those warm collegial relationships. If he struggles with outside networking events for any of the reasons highlighted by others, this can still help him build relationships.

    1. GythaOgden*

      With these sorts of letters, my assumption would be that the work issue is an easy fix dealt with inside the workplace. The issue over networking is a harder one to advise about, so LW came to us to ask for advice.

      That is, easy problems are solved. Harder problems may seem to be superficial, but they’re harder to fix without dedicated advice.

  37. Anonforthis*

    I recently was approached about a job by a corporate recruiter working for her employer. Before deciding whether I wanted to pursue it, I asked the (to me) very reasonable question about what salary range they had in mind for the position, as well as what benefits were offered. The recruiter seemed very offended and basically said not to worry about what the job pays, as the comp was “competitive” (whatever that means). As Alison noted, compensation is incredibly important! It’s the number one reason why we all work! I did not end up moving forward with that job and the recruiter seemed really surprised when I told her I wasn’t interested.
    Don’t be coy about what you’re offering. If the pay is truly competitive, you should be comfortable communicating the range to candidates.

  38. Dr. Rebecca*

    Re: Ralph–I wonder if he’s in the process of deciding that your field isn’t for him. I mean, it’s great that *you* want him to network, and *you’re* worried about him getting letters of recommendation, but if Ralph would rather kick rocks than continue in your field…well, if I were Ralph, that’s how I’d show it non-verbally.

    1. Observer*

      You could be right. The problem here is that the OP has no way to know. So, as others have said, the thing to do is to have a conversation with Ralph, then let him make his own decision. Either he changes or he doesn’t. But at least the OP will know that he’s making an informed decision.

      1. Dr. Rebecca*

        Oh definitely, I’m just speculating on a different motive than the rest of the commenters.

  39. SwampWitch85*

    What do goth office supplies look like? I need to know for…uh…research purposes.

  40. Bookworm*

    OP1: Is there anyone who might seem close to or at least friendly with Ralph? I’m sympathetic to both sides: if the work isn’t good that’s not a good sign but he may be extremely shy or have another condition like social anxiety where he feels he’d rather run away than socialize. And what kind of events are these? Maybe he prefers something like one on one casual coffees? I assume that’s probably included in the type of networking events you have but perhaps might be a good for someone to take him aside and have a super casual coffee chat or something to talk to him about his work, the importance of networking to the field, etc.

    Good luck!

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      Your comment made me think of something.

      I wonder if OP and others need to take a step back overall and consider their expectations of an intern. If they expect the intern to be acting like an employee, they need to manage their expectations. Their work and grasp of office norms is just not going to be at that level.

  41. Purple Cat*

    I’m not sure why I’m getting a whiff of a martyr complex from LW3. What does “I have personally foregone special equipment” actually mean. If LW needs something, they should get it. We all have a duty to be financial stewards for our companies, but let’s not be draconian penny pinchers either so we can feel high and mighty about ourselves. If there’s no (or minimal) cost difference for black vs. pastel post-it notes. Let the Coworker have them. It’s such a small, small thing, that would probably give them great pleasure.

    LW2 – I’m angry on your behalf. I side-eye a little at someone using a boardroom to watch TV, but it sounds like it’s not out of line with your office culture. (Maybe it was more regular conference room, where I think of Boardroom as exponentially more formal). Regardless, it’s totally unacceptable for your manager to just accept these lies of someone else.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Re: LW3: Word. Unless the stuff this person wants is significantly more expensive than the usual office supplies, lighten the heck up and get yourself some fun pencils.

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      While I agree that the OP shouldn’t be forgoing things that are needed, I don’t think there is anything wrong with expecting someone to use the typical supplies. Yes, right now it’s only one person, but the issue is if you let Elvira have her goth-themed supplies then Cassie wants her unicorn-themed supplies and Jane wants her Star Wars-themed supplies and so on. I get not wanting to open that can of worms (especially if you’re in a non-profit where those sorts of things are completely under scrutiny).

  42. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    #1 I wonder if the intern is feeling overwhelmed and so doesn’t want to do social activities? Or maybe he just doesn’t understand that the social and networking are part of the internship and thinks it’s odd that everyone keeps asking him to lunch and wants to be his friend.

    Another thought is he may just be anxious. Especially if he’s been critiqued about his work and so he is more focused on getting things right than anything social. OP you say that “his work is also not great” and “His work has been critiqued and corrected and people have been honest with him about that, ” I wonder have you said anything nice about his work. Hei s an intern so he is there to learn and he is going to make mistakes. I really would like to know what level he is as an intern. Is he fresh out of college, then I would expect a higher level of work. Or is he a sophomore or junior and this is his first time in an office. Maybe think about anything positive you can give him. He may just need some encouragement and extra confidence. Who knows maybe he’s finding out that he doesn’t want to be in this field any more.

    #2 That really sucks and I’m hoping that maybe there was just some sort of miscommunication with the boss. I know sometimes we read more into email. I think the boss and your friend should sit down either face to face or over zoom and talk. If i was your friend I would certainly push back.

    #3 what exactly are goth office supplies? If it’s going to be something for her own personal use, such as a notebook with sculls on it or certain pencils, then I would say that she has to buy them herself and just keep them at her own desk. However, if she has any sort of public-facing role and the goth supplies would really be visible and unusual in a business sense I could see saying she can’t have those supplies (such as a portfolio with goth art on it that she takes to client meetings.)

  43. Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein*

    #1 – I would highly encourage you to speak with Ralph and encourage him to come, and if he were the one writing in I’d highly encourage him to go.

    Sure, office socializing sucks. I’m the classic introvert in that I would really rather be at home with a book than at any kind of office event — or, hell, I’d rather be in the office working than out at a team lunch. But I entered the working world without any idea of how to network and no education on why it was important, and that did bad things to the beginning of my career.

    Like it or lump it, networking is important. Not necessarily 100% a requirement, but it can make a big, big difference in someone’s career path. For most jobs, I’d put it somewhere on the same tier as “having a resume without glaring misspellings.” Can you get a job without it? Sure. Will you get the best job you could actually qualify for without it? Probably not.

    And the unfortunate irony is that the less naturally socializing comes to someone, the more important it is for them to get out there and deliberately take steps to build a network. How can your work speak for itself if no one knows who you are or what you do? And in this case, Ralph’s work isn’t speaking well for him, so he needs to make better impressions to counteract it.

    1. danmei kid*

      I would highly encourage exercising compassion and finding out why Ralph is avoiding these first before assuming a one size fits all approach.

      Are these get-togethers being paid for OOP by attendees? Is Ralph financially able to afford having lunch out or would this be a hardship plus an extra embarrassment in front of his workmates?

      Does Ralph have a physical or mental health condition that makes this type of socializing over meals untenable? Multiple food allergies or restrictions? Special dietary needs? Anxiety or even neurodivergence which makes a group lunch much more challenging for Ralph than you currently understand? (Keeping in mind also Ralph is under no obligation to disclose personal health information to you)

      If these types of group networking aren’t appealing to Ralph for whatever reason: what WOULD work for them? Ask Ralph what they would prefer. It’s really quite simple to give Ralph some buy-in on how Ralph wants to spend their time in this role.

  44. RuralGirl*

    I spend the first 10 minutes of every phone screen discussing compensation. The last thing I want to do is waste my time, or a candidate’s time, because we didn’t discuss logistics. We cover location, hours, status, salary range (as well as how I might decide where to offer within the range), and overall benefits package with rough numbers. It never takes more than 10 minutes, people always appreciate it, and I’ve saved myself at least 5 phone screens in the last 60 days alone with folks who were convinced the job market would force me to offer twice the normal market rate. As both an employee and a boss, I never pretend money doesn’t matter. My boss, my boss’s boss, and all of my employees know that while I genuinely love my job, I would not continue doing it on a volunteer basis – I work to get paid, and so does everyone else.

    1. Dr. Rebecca*

      I think I love you. In a totally platonic ideal work related sort of way. The number of times I’ve had to pry compensation info out of employers with a metaphorical crow bar…

    2. Two Chairs, One to Go*

      Can you interview me? That’s amazing. Every recruiter should do that.

    1. Humble Schoolmarm*

      Well, that’s something I didn’t know existed or that I desperately needed before this very second!

  45. Observer*

    #3- This jumped out at me: I have personally foregone special equipment so we are not spending more money than we need to.

    Please do not expect everyone to “sacrifice” for the same of the company, just because you do. I’m not saying that you have to spend extra money just because someone has a particular esthetic sensibility. But this sounds like “I did without, so others should, too.” And that is NOT reasonable.

    Also, it’s not clear whether the special equipment to did not get was just something you would like or something that would be genuinely useful. If it’s the latter, please make sure that it REALLY makes sense to not get it. Sometimes not spending money is a false economy.

    That said, Alison’s response works if what she’s asking for is just a matter of what she likes the looks of.

    1. Delta Delta*

      It’s sort of not clear what the special equipment is that OP is measuring against the office supplies and if they’re at all equal. When I think “equipment” I think of things that are often naturally more expensive than office supplies would normally be. Are we talking the difference between a packet of pens and a microscope or a packet of pens and an ergonomic mousepad/wrist rest (idk how much those cost but that seems like “equipment” that probably doesn’t cost all that much; also, I’m currently using a sock as a wrist rest and it’s working better than I expected) It’s also not clear if there isn’t a little room in the budget to spend an extra few dollars on something special for someone from time to time, or if OP just doesn’t want to buy the supplies because they’re “goth.” Many questions. I hope we get an update.

  46. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    The government (state) department that I work for classified everyone who started working from home during the pandemic as “remote” workers. Once a month I have to drive into the office for a task that has to be done on site, the rest of the time I work from home. New hire staff are classified as “work from home”. They get paid for the time to travel to the office for training, etc. Even get a meal comp if they are there long enough. Because I am classified as “remote” I do not get paid for the drive time (roughly an hour each way) I have to take PTO to cover that time each month. Since I live in a rural area, if I’m going to travel to the city and have to use vacation time to get there then I’m gonna hit all the stores while I am there anyway. So instead of paying me for 2 hours of driving, I only end up working the few hours in the office and taking the rest of the day as vacation time. Yes, I did push back with HR and even involved my manager but unless the state changes the classifications HR will not budge. HR actually suggested that I just work 2 hours extra at the end of that day. I told them as I actually enjoyed a work/life balance there was no way I’d be working that late, after spending hours in the car, and not cooking dinner for my family until much later than usually. Fine. I’ll passively aggressively blow off work for most of a day once a month and knock out all my errands in one trip with vacation coverage.

  47. My Useless 2 Cents*

    A question for #1… are these get togethers always a group social event or is he avoiding one-on-one’s as well?

    As someone who suffers from social anxiety, I find group events to “get to know each other” be very stressful and not very useful as I would retreat to silent observation. A friendly “Hey Ralph, want to get a cup of coffee in the breakroom.” and a 10 minute chat from people might get him to open up a little better than a noisy table of strangers throwing questions at him (hmmm, I may be bringing a little too much my insecurities into this now.)

    1. CoveredinBees*

      You’re not the only one. A group hangout to get to know each other where it’s just “chat with whomever”
      is exhausting and I have even ended up with a reputation for being unfriendly because I’m not chatting with everyone.

      1. anti social socialite*

        Or in my case, if I was lucky enough to gain a friend at a job, we’d spend the entire work function talking to each other and no one else which probably defeats the purpose.

  48. Leandra*

    LW 4: Recruiter has a client, a major company, that only shares benefit info with candidates they make a formal offer to.

    I’ve thrown my hat in the ring because if their PTO in particular were lousy, someone would have outed them on Glassdoor. Their office is easy to get to, so if they interview me it’ll still be worth the experience.

  49. CoveredinBees*

    I would definitely sit down with the intern and explain how networking/socializing can make a difference in your work. He may have been given the same bad info I was: Keep your head down and do lots of tasks and you will be recognized for your work accordingly. Maybe he’ll decide to do it or just finish out his commitment and then look into areas of work/roles that don’t require networking.

  50. Larry the Cucumber*

    For #1, Could it be that he’s already decided he doesn’t want to work in the field and is only doing the internship for college credit/ he’s pressured into doing it through his parents or professors? He also may have something going on outside of work that is bringing down his work & making him not want to socialize more than he has to.

  51. Student*

    OP #5: AAM addressed your question about legality. I’m going to talk about norms, at least in my field (tech and government).

    You should also just talk to your manager about it, especially if travel is frequent and long, to make it clear to the manager what you can and cannot viably support in your job. If travel is frequent and long distance in your job, then not getting paid for it is probably not viable to you, even if it is technically legal. If this is a once-a year, short event, then it might make more sense in your industry to expect employees to eat the travel time occasionally. How reasonable this is also might factor into account whether this event is primarily to benefit you professionally, like a training event or conference, or whether you’re mainly there to represent the company, like going to a customer’s site to do repair works.

    I’m sure it varies by area and industry, but in my field, we get paid for all of our travel days. There are some conventions – if it takes 10+ hours to fly and then drive a particularly long distance, I’d probably get paid for only up to 8 hours in most jobs in my field, while a handful of jobs would let me charge for all of my travel time. We also get a per diem food reimbursement while on travel based on federal rates that vary by locality, but on travel days we get 75% of the full per diem food rate. The job is also paying for my airfare, my hotel, my transit fees, and if I drive, my rental car or personal vehicle expenses for the entire trip.

    If I’m traveling to a “local” worksite that is just a different place than my normal office, though, I usually don’t get paid for that travel unless it’s at least 50 miles away (in a straight line, not road traveled distance) from both my home and my normal office. Around here, that can mean up to a 2.5 hour drive in each direction that’s not compensated to get to and from a different, temporary worksite.

  52. Sunflower*

    #3 I used to love being the person who orders office supplies and I take special requests if the price is reasonable. Everything must be ordered from the catalog though and I don’t remember ours having fun stuff like goth, puppies, or unicorns, etc. Colorful pens and sticky notes, yes. But if we want goth themed supplies, we have to buy them ourselves from an outside source.

    #1 Am I crazy or was this letter (or similar) posted a just short while ago?

    1. danmei kid*

      Always a good question when talking about interns. Or Ralph has dietary restrictions or allergies or some other health condition that no one has bothered to check on.

  53. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and out fell out*

    I was told by my manager not to do e-crosswords at lunch time. But he was apologetic about it, citing both the optics and what a crappy desk spot I had (my back and the monitor facing a main corridor). And he didn’t take someone’s word for it that I was doing it for x hours and y minutes.

    1. Aerin*

      I cross-stitch as a way to help keep my hands busy, and I was told by management at one point to stop because it looked bad, and they didn’t want me distracted on calls. I countered that it was what prevented me from being distracted, and if they could tell by listening to my calls when I was sewing then I’d stop. It wasn’t brought up again, although my desk did get moved from its extremely high traffic location to one a little quieter (probably not entirely for that reason, although I don’t doubt it was a factor).

      Additionally, I tend to take my breaks at my desk so I can work on my personal computer, and there are times I’m in a special support role where there can be a lot of downtime. I’m always careful to lock my work computer when I’m fully on a break, and I made up a sign that says “The [special support role] is in!” to make it clear that I wasn’t just ducking work.

      And yet, it was only once we went fully remote that I was finally able to get a promotion. So yeah, it’s total BS, but optics are a thing.

      1. GythaOgden*

        I work on reception and tbh it doesn’t look good. Any craft etc also invites questions and acts as a distraction for others.

        During the pandemic I could get away with crafts on reception (as well as YouTube and sketching from Wikipedia photos) but there was a definite limit to it when people started coming back. Optics tread a fine line between BS and, yeah, honestly, not being what you’d expect to see in an office or making a mess. I do large projects with up to 30+ colours (I buy bulk lots of threads from Amazon and half the fun of a new project is sorting through the half a dozen boxes of threads I have and supplementing them if I don’t have the correct colours), and I guarantee that they would end up on the floor or looking like a rat’s nest. And that’s not good for anyone other than you, and you don’t matter so much as the work getting done.

        This is gonna sound harsh, and I completely empathise. Most days I just sit and read a site like AAM, NAR, TV Tropes or the back end of Wikipedia with all the admin drama on it, and that’s definitely tedious and a waste of my time and energy…but I’m paid to be a warm body in a seat who is available when people need her, and there are expectations that other people have that means I can’t do what I want to do in that time.

        Still, yes, I totally agree. In an ideal world few people would really care, and being in an office where everyone else is working from home is doing my head in, particularly when there are just enough people that it would ‘look bad’ to bring in my epic cross-stitch projects. I’m looking for a job where I can actually feel like I’m more productive — looking at hospital admin etc because that’s where the people are. (Just call me Ariel!) Buuut that’s not always possible and perhaps cultivating a more zen-like attitude would help with that.

  54. Rainy*

    I find the disapproving tone of the gothfice supply LW kind of hilarious. Like, our business is so serious it’s inappropriate to have office supplies that are cute, plus a little bit of guacamole Bob-style skinflint. Or that LW who was “saving money” for the company by using her own money for business expenses and mad at everyone else for being profligate by using their per diem.

  55. Missy*

    LW3: My only addition about goth office supplies is just to wonder if anyone in the office ever orders office supplies that are sports themed. If so, then the same rules should apply to goth or fandom office supplies (assuming that they are all about the same price point). I’ve worked in places where it would be perfectly normal to order pens or notepads with a college football team logo, but Star Wars or even butterflies would be unprofessional. But as long as the rules are truly the same for everyone then that is fine.

  56. Helen B*

    On #2 — way back in the beginning of my working career (late 90s) I was eating lunch at my desk and looking at the internet. My boss later that day told me that someone reported to him that I was on the internet for hours instead of working. When told it had only been during lunch, he hemmed and hawed and told me to not be on the internet even during lunch as someone might get the wrong impression.

    The “best” part was that his desk was next to mine and he would have known if I’d been on the internet for hours.

    1. Sunflower*

      We had this issue with “someone” thinking we were goofing off so we started putting a sign on our computers when we’re at lunch or break.
      Now we work from home and I don’t miss these liars and gossips one little bit.

    2. PeanutButter*

      I was reprimanded at my first “career job” by my manager for “taking a break” because I was reading…a manual for Excel and figuring out how to create master, protected spreadsheets (this was waaaaay back in the early ‘aughts and everyone at the company was just keeping local copies of everything and even as a total newbie I could see this heading for disaster when trying to coordinate international shipping logistics) which was an assignment SHE TOLD ME TO DO.


  57. doreen*

    # 5 The exception for the one-day assignment actually refers to a special one-day assignment in another city – so if my normal commute is 15 minutes to one office in NYC where I work 8:30-4:30 and my one day assignment is to another office in NYC which requires a 90 minute commute where I will also work 8:30-4:30 , I do not have to be paid for the extra commuting time. The way people got around this at my government agency employer was to find some reason to start at the office that was 15 minutes away ( picking up an agency vehicle or a file or meeting coworkers to carpool) because travel between locations after the workday has begun must always be compensated for non-exempt employees.

  58. anonymous73*

    #1 I would definitely address it as being an important part of your industry, and let him decide how to handle it moving forward. I don’t enjoy “forced fun” and am selectively social (especially with work stuff), but if I knew it was needed to get ahead in my industry I would want to know that. Make him aware and then let it be. If he chooses not to socialize and network, that’s on him.
    #3 Personally I’m picky about office supplies and buy things myself when needed, but if it doesn’t create more work for you to order something specific or cost significantly more, I see no issue in granting the request.
    #5 if you’re exempt it may not be illegal, but it’s an asshole move by the company. It’s the same to me as working overtime when things are busy, but also being able to skip out early or take a longer lunch every once in a while when things are slow. If I’m travelling for work, I should be allowed to travel during work hours and not be forced to make up any time for that travel.

  59. Echo*

    #4 – another great reason to ask about benefits in the first interview is that it may be the HR screen, i.e., the only interview with someone who can tell you about benefits! I mean, I know what my own benefits are, but am I 100% sure I remember what the PTO policy is for new employees? Nope…

  60. Startup Survivor*

    LW2: I am in a very similar situation. I have a pot-stirring coworker and a boss who believes that coworker without evidence. Likewise, my boss doubles down when presented with evidence that a claim was fabricated. (He can NEVER be wrong.) Here is what has made my life easier. First, put the pot-stirring coworker on a strict information diet. It hasn’t stopped all of the nonsense, but it reduced the quantity. Second, document everything. What you were told, how the boss responded, evidence that your boss was wrong. Everything. Get your coworker to do the same. This will happen again and it may end up in a performance review. If this does need to get escalated, it is easier for HR or your boss’s boss to believe multiple people with hard evidence. Third, leave. It can be in the same company and it can take some time, but you can’t be in a position where this person has power over you.

  61. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP#1 — I’m coming here late, so someone may already have raised this point. You say that, in addition to avoiding social contact as much as possible, “Ralph’s” work really isn’t that good, even making allowances for the fact that he’s an intern. Right now, it’s entirely possible that “Ralph” himself may be questioning whether your field is in fact a good fit for him.

    I think we always assume that, to be successful, an internship must end in the intern finding a permanent job in the industry. I submit that an internship can be just as successful if it alerts the intern to the fact that this kind of work is not a good match for him.

    So please, follow Alison’s advice and be candid with Ralph about the deficiencies of his work. But if your field really requires extensive networking, it would be a kindness to make sure he understands that the social contacts he’s been trying to avoid are necessary to success in the field. It may help him decide that your industry is not the place for him and get him looking at other options.

  62. River*

    #1. Lots of great advice for this one from others I am seeing! My two cents is that maybe Ralph is either socially awkward, might have an invisible mental thing going on like aspergers or something spectrumy, or is rather very introverted. Could you try easing him into social situations? I don’t know if that’s something you have the time and patience for. Maybe inviting him to a one on one lunch or a group of 3? Start small, let Ralph get to know others in bite sized increments and let him process and let him develop the relationships on his own accord. Pushing him to go to these events might be doing the opposite effect. Since he’s an intern, maybe going forward with future candidates, you want to really stress and make known the importance of networking and building relationships, considering you say it’s essential to your business to network.

    1. Madame X*

      It’s not helpful to try to diagnose the intern and it also does not address the core issue that LW1 is asking.

  63. anti social socialite*

    Not knowing when this letter was written but is it possible Ralph feels uncomfortable socializing in a maskless environment (such as at a restaurant)?

    I will freely admit to hating work events but I’m also wary of COVID still so any recent work events get an immediate nope from me because there ain’t no way in hell I want to catch COVID and put my at-risk household in danger over a work lunch.

  64. NotTheMama*

    Internships are for learning and making connections. And not all of that learning is about the actual work in your potential career path – some of it is learning about yourself, too.
    It could very well be that Ralph is discovering with this internship that he may want to think seriously about his career path. What Ralph needs right now, honestly, isn’t necessarily random chit chat over lunch (even if those connections are important). What he needs is a mentor that can coach him.
    So many companies either stick their interns with scut work or expect them to perform just like seasoned employees. I also see potential issues with making them do what sounds like floating between two departments – maybe he’s not being allowed to get comfortable with one department, but instead is bounced between the two. Care also needs to be given to the internship description and the offer letter. Point blank: So many times companies say the culture demands networking and regular lunches and such, but they forget that legally (and ethically) lunches and after work activity that is mandated by the company should be compensated. If you’re demanding that I fork over my lunch break or part of my evening or weekend, you need to pay me.
    Which brings me to my last point: When I was in college, I was broke as a joke. He could be ducking out because he is worried he can’t afford it. Make it clear that interns don’t pay for their meals; or that the company is covering the cost. I know I rarely ate out because it would blow two weeks of my good budget, easily, even if I ordered the cheapest thing.

  65. Must Have Caramel Macchiato to Function*

    Ahhhh #2… I’ve been there and it never gets better. I went from having a fairly hands-off manager to a manager who wanted me gone, so her method was to believe everything people accused me of. The one that sticks out was someone saying that I would go to the bathroom or closet to watch Netflix on my phone (we had an open office plan, so I would go to the closet or bathroom to take calls). When she pulled me into a meeting on it, I was able to immediately show her that I didn’t even have any streaming services on my phone. I was told not to do it again because “taking calls elsewhere was distracting and harming my reputation.”

    I was also pulled into a meeting for her to tell me that a new coworker found me rude. I had been there a year at that point with no interpersonal issues, and when I asked what it was that I did so I could correct it and apologize, she told me that there were no specific instances or ways. When I later reported that same coworker to HR for bullying/harassment (for different instances that I documented), I was told “Have you just tried getting along with her?” and received no documentation that I ever met with her. My manager then explicitly told me she would not talk to the coworker about the issue and instead moved me to a different office with a longer commute. These things continued until I left the company.

    So yeah, managers like that do not change.

  66. lazuli*

    Pronoun questions for Alison: I know you default to “she” when letter writers don’t specify gender or pronouns, but in #2, the writer uses “they” as the manager’s pronoun. I know that sometimes people do that to avoid specifying gender, but sometimes “they” is the pronoun the person uses. Would you ever leave “they” as the pronoun?

  67. PeanutButter*

    Re: Goth office supplies – my favorite lab collection service (the place you go with your doctor’s test order to get blood/other bodily fluids collected) had their reception area stocked entirely with vampire themed stuff. I figured every year someone must have gone and cleared out all of the clearance Halloween stuff to keep their office supplies stocked all year ’round. I loved it, but I also recognize I have a morbid sense of humor.

  68. Uh huh*

    #2 – I had a co-worker who went to my manager at the time and told her a pack of lies about me and the manager completely took her word for it and treated me like a child. I treated myself to a bottle of wine the day she retired. She died last summer. They say you’re never supposed to say bad things about the dead, only good. That manager is dead. Good.

  69. Mewtwo*

    #1: I feel like OP is focusing on the wrong thing here?? Noting the importance of networking to Ralph is a good idea, but isn’t the poor performance a much bigger issue???

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