my employee can’t afford team lunches

A reader writes:

I have a small team, two staff plus me, and we’re all make approximately the same (very good) salary. Occasionally we’ll do team lunches or social lunches. Because of the nature of our work (government), we don’t get reimbursed for these lunches. Depending on the occasion, I sometimes pick up the tab personally. However, one staff member makes a point of saying he cannot afford lunches. He won’t attend if someone else is not paying for the lunch.

Should I be picking up his portion of the check? This seems unfair to other staff members and myself. Or should I ask him to budget for the occasional team lunch? I’m not sure how I’d even start that conversation. Or should I just plan as usual and allow him to exclude himself? This is not a regular issue but it’s been stopping me from arranging team or group lunches. I would guess it comes up three to four times a year.

I’m probably being judgmental, but he smokes about a pack a day and can clearly afford that. Suggestions on how to deal with this is much appreciated.

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My employee is too rushed at early-morning meetings
  • My employee plays with her hair during meetings
  • Am I abusing a vendor’s free offerings?

{ 357 comments… read them below }

  1. teamlunch*

    “I can’t afford it” often means “I choose not to buy it.” As they say, you can afford anything, but not everything–meaning that we all prioritize buying certain things over other things that we value less.

    Your employee likely just does not want to come up with the $10-15 a team lunch would cost, because he has other priorities for his money. And he’s entitled to make that choice. But you don’t need to completely stop lunching out with employees because of one person’s choice, as long as there are some team events that he can participate in for free.

    1. MicroManagered*

      Yup. In fact, Alison often recommends “that’s not in my budget” as a way to decline kicking in money for office things (group gifts, etc.).

      1. anonymous73*

        Personally I prefer “No.” My finances are nobody’s business. Just because you asked doesn’t mean I have to give you money whether I can afford it or not.

        1. Anon Again*

          I like “no” better than “I can’t afford…but few free to buy for me…” I don’t think there is anything wrong with declining, but it’s a little annoying that he’s happy to freeload off his equally situated peers.

          1. Purple Cat*

            Just because people make a “similar salary” doesn’t make them “equally situated”. You have no idea his life circumstances. And it sounds like he goes when OP covers “the group” which makes the other coworkers freeloaders as well for those lunches. Or, you know, it’s just a boss treating her team.

            1. Jay*

              This right here! My coworkers and I make the same but our financial situations are way different. While they may make “good money”….as a single parent with 3 kids I don’t have it like them.

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                I hear you. I had a couple of years in my life in the mid-10s when, despite being middle-aged and with a senior-level salary, I could not afford to go out to eat. I just couldn’t. My family’s expenses were extremely high at the time and I was the only income earner. Yeah, I admit, I prioritized care of my terminally ill dog and my son’s college bills over eating out with friends and coworkers. It would’ve felt bizarre to me to even consider shifting my priorities the other way around. With that said, going back to OP’s situation, I would’ve been uncomfortable if my entire team stopped having lunches because of me not being able to join them.

              2. Anon4This*

                Yeah, I spent several years paying for special needs private school for my child who’s on the spectrum. It cost more than public university tuition. I was making good money but we had to pare back all of our expenses to get our kid out of an “excellent” public school that was really only excellent if you were a neurotypical overachiever and into a place that met their actual needs.

            2. LittleDoctor*

              Tea. I have some chronic (but highly stigmatized and therefore extremely private) health issues that just mean life is hugely more expensive for me and always will be, even in a country with socialized medical care–there are things I need that public healthcare doesn’t cover, and medicine is a real burden.

              1. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

                Or she could just make it part of the budget. Because, I’m sorry, why are these team lunches not being funded by the employer, if they insist on doing them? Tf.

                1. BubbleTea*

                  Because the US government doesn’t even pay for plastic cups for employees to use, lest they be accused of wasting tax dollars (they provide potable water because they’re legally required to).

                2. just a random teacher*

                  It’s one of those “cutting government waste” things where you basically aren’t ever allowed to have employer-paid nice things at work if you’re a government employee. I had better in-office perks working as a $10-an-hour temp for various for-profit companies than I do as a “professional”, salaried mid-career teacher.

                  For example, I’ve never worked at a school with free coffee. There’s always either a coffee club to buy into or everyone just brings their own from home. (I think at some schools the PTA or boosters will buy coffee for the teachers out of fundraising money, but I’ve never worked anyplace where we had parents who could afford to spend a lot of money on extras, either.) A lot of schools will also have a water club if they bring in bottled water jugs, but I’m lucky enough to work in a building with one of those drinking fountains with a bottle filler so we can just use tap water. We will get some minor “treat” (often a basket of apples) from the district for Teacher Appreciation Week, and sometimes a parent group or community group will also buy us a box of donuts, or rarely a training grant will come with money for food during the meetings funded by that grant. Some years I think our parent group has also used fundraising money to provide a lunch during Teacher Appreciation Week, but that was before the pandemic and it’s all kind of receding into the distance now.

                  Paid-for lunches are not a thing unless someone wants to spend their own money.

                  I would love for this to change, but it’s a politics thing, so it’ll only change if people start wanting to treat government employees as valuable parts of the community rather than a “waste of tax dollars” at every turn.

                3. Quickbeam*

                  I was a medical advisor to a state government for 12 years. I bought all my own office supplies. We were not allowed to accept anything or buy anything for others. It was super rigid…I wasn’t allowed to accept a bottle of water at a speaking event.

                4. AcademiaNut*

                  Yeah, I think it’s hard for people who work in fields where there are budgets to cover this sort of thing to really understand how it works in many government employers. I’ve encountered this in at least five countries, so it’s not just the US.

                  We don’t get free coffee, let alone other snacks and drinks. We travel economy, even if we’re 6’5″ or extra wide (some jobs let you save up air miles to upgrade, some explicitly prohibit it). My employer is legally prohibited from spending any budget on food for internal meetings (if we’re hosting a meeting with external people, there’s a small budget available for basic snacks). We don’t get any funds for attending meetings in the same town; if we travel to another town, we would get a per diem. Oh, and Uber Eats and the like don’t deliver to the door on a lot of university campuses and similar places, so if you order in food to eat while sitting in the meeting room, you have to walk to the campus entrance to pick it up.

                  The per diem is what it sounds like it is for the LW in some cases- they have visitors, the visitors may have a per diem, and being non local will be going out to eat, and it’s common for some of the local people to go out with them, which leads to a nice work-adjacent chat. That’s really common in my field, and is professionally quite useful.

                  I will also say that I definitely have encountered many people who aren’t at all interested in quasi-professional socializing, but *will* leap on anything that produces free food. They would only go out out if the meal were paid for, but not because of finances. (Shaking free food reflexes after 10 years as a broke student is really hard).

                5. Jora Malli*

                  I’m a government worker. We don’t even get filtered water, let alone lunch paid for by the workplace. Sometimes they let us have potlucks (not in the last couple of years, because they don’t want us all to be eating unmasked in the same room at the same time, but in the Before), and sometimes we’ll get together and decide to split the cost of a pizza or something, but our employer is paying for none of it.

                6. Happily “Retired” from shift work*

                  I worked in government for many years. When I was responsible for scheduling outside trainers it was common for speakers to include a clause in the contract that an appropriate light snack be provided for one or two breaks, depending on the class length. I would stop at Sam’s Club and pick up those mass quantity sweet roll packs or boxes of granola and fruit snacks. Popular speakers knew that was the only way we could provide snacks. County policy required they be appropriate to the time of day and healthy but at morning training they looked the other way at a sweet roll or donut per person and employees always preferred them. Government isn’t the nirvana that some people like to think, unless you are elected, and even then not quite the urban legends.

                7. Miller_admin*

                  They think by labeling “lunch” it they do not have to pay OT or wages for that time. I suspect that it might be what the manager wants,; but isn’t company policy.

                  Lot of times managers like working lunches s because they know everyone is free; and they do not have to take the time to work around the staff’s schedules.

          2. Sleepless KJ*

            Just because they’re making equal salaries doesn’t mean they’re equally situated. We have no idea what’s happening in his personal life. What if he’s supporting a child – or a parent with health issues? Maybe he’s got a mortgage or is saving up to buy a house and is militant about his spending? Just because he chooses to allot discretionary money for cigarettes doesn’t mean he’s not skipping the avocados. We are all entitled to our privacy – and our budgets.

            1. LittleDoctor*

              And TBH when it comes to addiction/physical dependence/substance use disorders, it’s barely a choice. Quitting smoking is a Herculean task that many people just genuinely are not capable of, especially when they’re such heavy smokers as this guy is.

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                That was my first thought. It took me years and multiple tries to quit. Some of the friends who’d been trying to quit with me, still haven’t, and I haven’t smoked a cigarette in 12 years – they are still trying. It really is incredibly hard.

              2. Gravatar*

                Agreed with the first part. Addicts will always find a way to feed their addiction before they feed their stomach.

                Second part is a myth and allows smokers to keep smoking because “it’s soooo hard to quit”. It’s actually easy to stop smoking. They just don’t want to.

                1. Ariaflame*

                  You mean ‘it was easy for you’. Nicotine is one of the harder drugs to kick. But like so many drugs it’s individual who has difficulty and who doesn’t.

                2. Ana*

                  LOL how clueless??

                  Cigarettes are addictive by design, I had a coworker who was a recovering heroin addict and he told me a million times that heroin was easier to kick than his Newports.

                3. Broadway Duchess*

                  Please rethink that second part. Not only is it incredibly offensive, it doesn’t even have the benefit of being even remotely accurate.

                4. sadnotbad*

                  I have a friend who said quitting cigarettes was harder than quitting heroin (I see another commentor has a similar story).

                5. LittleDoctor*

                  “Addicts” is a dehumanizing term to use. People have substance use disorders, they might have a physical dependence, they might have an addiction, but it’s offensive to call all people with a substance use disorder “addicts.”

                6. Reluctant Mezzo*

                  Not for my mother-in-law. She tried very hard several times. People do have different body chemistries.

                7. OldBag*


                  At one point in my life I was a heroin addict. Since I made it through withdrawal, I’ve never once wanted to try it again or had any “cravings”. I quit smoking almost 15 years ago and my mouth is watering right now just thinking of one. And I think cigarettes are absolutely revolting, can’t stand the smell, and the handful of times I’ve caved and tried a drag or two since I quit I have instantly felt nauseated and wondered why I ever like this. And yet, my mouth is watering, right now, because I’m thinking “mmm cigarettes…”

                  I suppose smoking is easy to quit in the literal sense– you just put it down and never do it again. But to say it’s a very strong physical compulsion is putting it mildly.

          3. anonymous73*

            I was referring to the comment above on pitching in on group gifts, not being a freeloader for lunch.

        2. Seashell*

          I would recommend saying “no” to a total stranger, but if someone I worked with was that blunt in response to a polite request, I would think they were rude. Even “Sorry, no” would be better.

          1. anonymous73*

            No is a complete sentence, especially when you’re being asked for money for a group gift. I have collected money for things in the past and it’s always through email so that others have the option to contribute if they want to without pressure. If you’re going to walk around and solicit money from people personally, and consider me rude for simply saying No, that’s on you, because to me the act of walking around and holding out your hand is rude to me. It adds a level of guilting someone into donating, whether intentional or not.

            1. Wisteria*

              No is a complete sentence

              …as long as you are not concerned with maintaining a good relationship with the person whom you are saying “No” to.

              1. Mami21*

                Exactly. People love this saying and I always wonder why they think this is going to be a socially acceptable response? If my boss asked me to join her for lunch, even at my expense, and I flatly replied ‘No.’ and just kept typing, I would fully expect to be called out on why I responded so rudely. It would really seem like she had annoyed me by asking or that I was in a terrible mood. Whereas ‘No, thanks, I’m good/brought my lunch/cutting back on buying lunches’ with a quick smile would be received completely differently.

              2. NotAnotherManager!*

                I think your interpretation here is overly literal. The point of “no” as a complete sentence is not that it’s the only word you utter or that you say it in a terse, blunt way, it’s that you do not have to explain yourself further or provide details on your no. Saying, “no, I can’t chip in this time” or “no, but thanks for inviting me” is fine – the point of no-as-a-complete-sentence is not giving the asker your reason for saying no so that they can’t argue with it or that you shouldn’t feel obligated to overexplain your position.

                1. OldBag*

                  You just said this phrase means you don’t have to explain yourself, then gave two examples where the no was explained. A flat straight no with zero explanation is almost never appropriate in the workplace. People need to stop with this line. It is appropriate only with boundary stomping social contacts with whom it is difficult to disassociate oneself entirely, and that is it.

                2. NotAnotherManager!*

                  Nope, either of those responses included an explanation. An explanation is a “because” or a reason for your response. “I can’t chip in” is a more specific reiteration of “no”. “Thanks for inviting me” is a softener to the rejection and basic social grease.

                  “I can’t chip in” includes no explanation of why – is it because I’m cheap or I have tons of expenses that don’t allow for it or I hate the person for whom the collection is being taken or what? It’s a solid no, and it doesn’t give the asker a foothold to attack my reason (because none’s being given).

        3. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I think saying it’s not in your budget, especially for a work thing, does flag that your workplace should be thinking about what they’re asking of people in terms of spending their own money.

          1. Sleepless KJ*

            I personally think if it’s a “team” anything, it’s up to the employer (or the manager) to foot the bill. If it’s just a social activity then no one should be shamed for not wanting to spend money on it. Why not order in for lunch and those that want to order food can, and those that don’t can brown bag it.

            1. Michelle Smith*

              I worked in government for 8 years. There were events that required substantial financial contribution. For example, the holiday party cost me $80 for an open bar (I’m not a big drinker) and buffet (I was vegetarian and have always been a picky eater). It literally was a huge source of resentment for me because I felt pressured to go and subsidize other people’s partying. It was mandatory my first two years and after that I never attended again, despite people hemming and hawing constantly around the holidays that I wasn’t participating.

              I fully agree that the employer should be paying, but it’s just not a thing at most government agencies. How do you explain to taxpayers that their money is being used to subsidize government workers socializing? That’s the kind of stuff that ends up in the news and resulting in officials being fired. Ordering in isn’t as “fun” but I definitely have attended in-office parties with my own food when I didn’t want to or couldn’t contribute financially to the spread. I think that’s a great compromise.

              1. allathian*

                To be fair, that’s not necessarily the case everywhere. I’m lucky enough to work for a government agency in Finland, and we get nice things. Admittedly the services we provide are partly financed by the fees we charge the public (70%), with the rest coming from the national budget. But even people who work in agencies that are fully budget-financed get nice things occasionally. We have one employer-provided team lunch per year, and our end of the year holiday party food is free, although we do pay for the drinks. We also get free coffee/tea at the office. Employees who feel valued by their employer do better work than those who don’t.

                But then, we’re used to paying fairly high taxes, and most people seem to think that we get good value for our taxes, I certainly do.

            2. Jenga*

              Just have everyone meet in a boardroom or other public space and everyone can bring their own lunch, whether from home or takeout from somewhere. I assume the priority is spending time together, not what is actually being eaten.

        4. MicroManagered*

          “No” is a perfectly fine answer. Just pointing out that sometimes people use “I can’t afford it” as a softer “No I don’t want to spend my money on your thing.”

      2. Danniella Bee*

        I agree! I think the manager should consider a potluck lunch where everyone that wants to participate brings a dish. The same employee may still opt out but it is a more inclusive team lunch when you are in a government worker situation where the company cannot pick up the tab.

        1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

          Bringing a pot luck dish can easily cost the same as eating out and not everyone cooks.

          I think Alison’s suggestion of having the team lunch in a conference room on-site where you can either order Thai (or whatever) on your own dime or brown bag your usual sandwich is the best one.

          1. Sauron*

            Yeah – as much as potlucks were fun when I was a new hire, I now have a chronic GI condition and food allergies. Potlucks are way more stressful than just being able to bring something I know is safe, and if it’s a brown bag I don’t have to explain to coworkers why I’m not eating what they brought.

          2. GammaGirl1908*

            Bringing a pot luck dish can easily cost the same as eating out
            That’s what cheap ass rolls are for.

          3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Second this. My workplace had brown bag lunches and they were very easy to adhere to.

          4. Pointy's in the North Tower*

            I use the same bathroom as many of coworkers, where they know their questionable hygiene habits are seen. There’s no way I’m eating anything they cook at home.

        2. L-squared*

          I mean, I’d rather just eat out personally. For time and effort (not to mention ingredients) it takes for me to make something, I’ll just pay $12 for lunch.

          I think everything doesn’t have to be inclusive.

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            I’ve been at the same place with the same folks for 25 years. we are friendly, even friends. We are also hella over going to lunch. Our relationships are built. We are good. Let us carry on.

    2. KHB*

      Yeah, “I can’t afford it” doesn’t have to mean “I literally don’t have this amount of money.” It can also mean “I have the money, but it’s earmarked for other things I want more than this.”

      Perhaps an option to throw out there might be to ask if the employee wants to suggest a different restaurant that fits his tastes and budget better. You’d have to make it clear that he’s still allowed to say no, and also that this doesn’t mean that he gets to hijack the team’s restaurant choice forever and ever. But if the restaurants you’ve been going to are on the expensive side, switching to someplace cheaper might just do the trick.

      1. quill*

        Yeah, or it may mean “I have the money but if I was going to spend it on something like this I’d do it on my own terms / to my own taste.”

      2. JSPA*

        Things you should not force someone to say in a work setting:
        “I pay several thousand dollars a month for off-label medical treatments not covered by our insurance.”
        “I pay a lot of child support.”
        “I racked up insane credit card debt.”
        “I put off student loan payments, and they all came due when I got this job.”
        “My spouse left me, and cleared out our shared bank accounts.”
        “to escape a dangerous domestic situation, I ended up paying two leases.”
        “I have a gambling problem.”
        “every time I try to quit, I destroy $300 worth of tobacco products, then end up smoking again.”

        Lives are messy. People who make good money can still push to the edge of what they can afford, and sometimes, beyond.

        1. LittleDoctor*

          Yes exactly. Like, I have a medical problem that means sufficient treatment costs literally thousands in a country with socialized medical care.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        He’s said no and that’s his answer. If you keep pushing this, OP, he will think his job/promotions/raises are hinged on paying for lunches.

        Very rarely do I eat in restaurants. My diet has so many limitations there is no point.

        What concerns me here is why OP is so determined that this guy has to buy these lunches. I don’t get that. Is there a meeting going on during the lunch that he has to attend? Then just let him bring his own food and go to the meeting.

        I hope OP takes a hard look at why it is so important that this guy conform. I find that very odd.

        1. Just Me*

          This is REALLY reaching. There’s nothing in this letter that indicates “so determined” or “so important” or that the boss wants the employee to “conform.” The boss is trying to give their the team a chance to socialize and doesn’t want one person to be left out, which they are right to be concerned about. That’s it.

      4. Irish Teacher*

        Yeah, I would guess that in this case, “I can’t afford it” means “I don’t earn enough to actually PAY to interact with my workmates.” Especially if this is semi-mandatory and seen as something he is expected to do, then he might well see it as paying to work and saying he can’t afford to be doing that doesn’t mean “I literally don’t have the money for lunch,” but rather “I can’t afford to be paying to do my job.”

    3. Lingret*

      You/we have no idea of his actual financial situation, regardless of knowing his salary. Maybe he could afford to buy the restaurant, maybe he’s scraping together gas money just to get to work.

      And plenty of places lunch cost more than $10-$15.

      And please don’t be the manager who goes out to lunch with employees and yet leaves someone behind.

      1. Bread Addict*

        Okay but saying dont be the manager who goes out and leaves someone behind…. whats the alternative? The boss picks up the tab every time from their own money? And do they only pick it up for the one person? You don’t know everybody else’s finances either. Or they all just don’t go?

        Team lunches occur at a lot of jobs. Not like every day but couple times a year maybe. They are a fairly normal work thing that allows people to go out together and socialise in a non-work atmosphere. Everywhere I have worked there was 1 december event the company paid for. Everything else was up to us to pay our own way. They were entirely optional.

        Why can’t they have that? So long as its expressly acknowledged that the employee is invited if they want to come. It would be one thing if this were $100 lobster plates and the person left behind was the most junior staff member.

        I mean the bring your own food idea is better. Could go picnic in the park. But so long as the rest of the team wants to occassionally go to a restaurant together they should be allowed if they want. Assuming they are organising it and not the boss. And its entirely optional.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          Yeah, it is a tricky one, but if he genuinely can’t afford it, then leaving him out on those grounds is problematic in the same way that organising events that are geared to one gender or whatever is. Low income may not be a protected group, but he is missing out on opportunities in the same way.

          Yeah, people should be allowed to go out for a meal if they want to, but if it is causing a problem for one employee, it might be a good idea to adapt it. Like you said, bring your own food is one option. Or go somewhere other than a sit down restaurant. Maybe a cafe, where you can just order a coffee or something or can get something more if you want. Or a pub where people often sit around chatting and whether you order anything or not is less obvious.

          Or just alternate. Like team goes to a restaurant two or three times a year, then goes walking together or has a games night once or twice a year and then brings lunch a couple of times. That way, people have different ways to socialise and if they are truly optional, everybody will probably miss some and anybody who wants to participate will have ways to.

      2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        Yeah, I can’t even buy a sandwich at a deli/cafe around here for less than 12, before taxes/tips/extras. Unless it’s chain fast food 15 is the bare minimum!

        1. quill*

          If I really try I can find chinese takeout for about $12 after tip and tax. It is not a large meal. It is, in fact, one carton with no sides or anything. $15 before tip and tax (and any charge for drinks or substitution etc) is pretty standard around here for a sit-down burger, fries optional.

          Eating out is expensive! Please find more ways to include the team members.

      3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Seems like a better way to do this is book a conference room as a “Team Lunch” and everyone can bring a lunch (including nothing if they want). A group lunch is had and it meets the budget of everyone

      4. yala*

        “And please don’t be the manager who goes out to lunch with employees and yet leaves someone behind.”

        Seconding this HARD. Like, even if you know/think he’ll say no, at least ask, because it’s very easy to make an employee feel isolated if they’re the only one in the department not doing a thing with the manager.

        Which is honestly a good reason to try and find a potentially free option (eating together in the break room where folks can bring their own, etc)

        1. umami*

          I would even suggest not making it a lunch thing at all. Have a team meeting after lunch (like late afternoon) and just offer some snacks, you can still conduct work/bond without anyone feeling awkward.

          1. Allonge*

            just offer some snacks

            From the magical free snack machine? Sorry but how is this better?

            1. umami*

              From the manager who says she makes a good salary. It’s not expensive or difficult to have a variety of snacks and bottled water on hand at the office for late afternoon meetings.

              1. Allonge*

                It’s also ‘not expensive’ to go for a lunch with your colleagues twice a year, and yet, there is someone who cannot afford that. This being a person who is paid ‘approximately the same (very good) salary’.

                1. Broadway Duchess*

                  I think part of the difference is that it seems to be important to OP as a manager to have these team lunches and for the employee, it is not. Of OP wants this as a means of team building, it might be better to provide a few snacks since it’s her desire driving this.

                2. umami*

                  The manager wants these meetings to happen, so the onus is on her to come up with a way that makes it work for everyone. It’s simply a suggested compromise that takes the whole lunch meal off the table and lets people spend their lunch hour and their money how they choose. The manager can only decide how she wants to spend her money, she cannot decide how her subordinates will spend theirs, so she might as well control what she can.

    4. Heck, darn, and other salty expressions*

      If this is just a social lunch, well employee doesn’t have to socialize on his lunch break if he doesn’t want to. If business is being conducted at this lunch, well then the cost of lunch should come out of the office budget. The employee is entitled to a lunch break whether they are hourly or salaried. Asking them to buy their own lunch for a work meeting isn’t cool. Not only do they have to give up their break time they have to pay for the privilege of doing so.

      1. Chris too*

        It’s government, though. As a government worker, we aren’t allowed to ask the taxpayers to pay for anything “extra.”

        No subsidized holiday parties for us! We pay for our own meal at the holiday party. We don’t get free coffee at work, we have to pay for it.

        1. GovSysadmin*

          Some of my friends literately didn’t believe me when I mentioned we had fundraisers throughout the year to subsidize our division holiday party. It’s just one of those tradeoffs you have in a government job.

          1. Despachito*

            I think it is absolutely right.

            It is the employer’s choice to have/not have the party/business lunches, and if the management chooses to have them they should cough up the money for that.

            Can’t you, as the employer, afford that? Easy solution – do NOT organize the party. To force people to finance something organized by, and benefitting, the employer, is extremely bad taste.

            I applaud the coworker for not budging. I do not think business lunches are a good idea if you cannot afford them (and in fact it is the company that cannot afford them rather than the employer).

            If you absolutely must eat during the meeting, the conference room and bring-your-own-food is the least bad of bad options. I’d not do the potluck either – why should I be bothered to prepare food for other people at someone’s beck and call?

            1. Colette*

              Some people enjoy the parties. In my experience, it’s not always the employer who organizes them – it can be a social committee, for example. As long as they’re truly optional, it’s not wrong to have them for the people who want them.

              1. Lizzianna*

                In my government office, the employees organize the holiday party. As the manager, I usually stay away from the planning and invitation to avoid any appareance of pressure (although I’ll usually contribute extra if they’re coming up short).

                I agree the company pay, but in my case, we can’t. And the employees still want to do the party, so I don’t think it’s fair to say this is entirely for the benefit of the employer.

              2. GovSysadmin*

                This is how it worked in my organization (at least, pre-COVID). The holiday party is organized by an employee committee, and it’s up to them to decide how many fundraisers to do, etc. The party itself is completely optional and there are a number of people who simply don’t go. I almost always go because I enjoy socializing with people, and it’s a chance to talk to folks I don’t normally work with on a regular basis.

                And on a purely selfish note, I have organized a few fundraisers over the years at the improv theater that I perform at and always make sure my team is playing the night of the fundraiser. Because what’s something that would likely make some folks’ head explode more than being forced to pay for your holiday party? Paying to go see your coworker’s improv show! :)

      2. STG*

        Also work in government. We buy everything from our own coffee to paper towels/tissues.

        Hell, I even bring in my own toilet paper so I don’t have the use the cheap sandpaper that they purchase.

      3. Michelle Smith*

        Other people have addressed your misconception about how government budgets work so I’m skipping that part. I do just want to gently remind you that it doesn’t really matter if business is being discussed at these lunches or not. There are gender imbalances in workplaces because of bonds that were forged over golf course and strip club trips that women were routinely excluded from. I’m not saying there is gender bias in this situation, but just reminding you that these are important opportunities for people to make connections, improve relationships, be mentored, and be thought of for important projects/promotions. It’s not just lunch even if it’s just lunch.

        1. Me ... Just Me*

          Let’s hope that the OP isn’t basing her work decisions on who attends lunch and is her “work-bestie”. Though, it does seem like she doesn’t particularly like this employee because he is a smoker — so I don’t know that she’s necessarily focusing on performance as an indicator of success (but I could be reading too much into that, I admit.)

          1. Irish Teacher*

            I doubt she is doing it deliberately, but…it’s hard to avoid it having SOME impact. To give an example that didn’t actually happen for different reasons, but as a resource teacher, I work pretty closely with our SENCO who makes out the resource timetable. He was looking for somebody to teach a particular class and I know, from a conversation I had with a work friend that this is a topic she is interested in teaching and was going to mention it to him. I didn’t because I wasn’t even sure if she has time on her timetable for resource next year and anyway, the conversation moved on, but if he had asked me for a suggestion, I would have probably mentioned it. There may be other people I’m not as friendly with who would also be interested, but I don’t know that.

            And this goes both ways, that same work friend is in charge of organising certain in-services and immediately told me about one she knew I would be interested in. It didn’t matter as places were unlimited and she posted it in the staffroom afterwards anyway, so it wasn’t like I was getting any preferencial treatment beyond being specifically informed about it when somebody else might not be told (because she didn’t know they had an interest) unless they checked the notice she put up.

            And neither of us reports to the other or is in authority over the other

        2. Irish Teacher*

          And income level imbalances are an issue too. They may not be the same thing as gender imbalances, but there are fields where there is an expectation that people come from higher-income backgrounds, which may affect the socialising that goes on and may reduce opportunites for people on lower incomes to make connections, be thought of, etc.

    5. umami*

      What’s weird here is, there’s only one other employee. So if it’s a team lunch, she should pay for both employees.

    6. PlainJane*

      Technically, it always means that, but the choice might be “I can go to the company lunch or pay my electric bill without having the check bounce.” I’d “choose” the electric company.

  2. Dust Bunny*

    1: Change to brown-bag. Then people can DoorDash something fancy if they want but otherwise it will look totally normal to just bring something from home.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Our team used to do that and I’d just bring my normal lunch. It worked really well because one of the admins had some serious financial burdens and wouldn’t have been able to join if there was a cost higher than her normal budget

    2. DJ Abbott*

      I was coming to say this too. We did this at my old job and it was fine.
      Especially in these times, it’s not cool to expect employees to spend money on work functions!

    3. GammaGirl1908*

      Also, with a brown bag, if Boss wants to provide a little something as an incentive or to make it feel a little special, like a tray of cookies or cupcakes or brownies or something, they still can.

  3. Office Sweater Lady*

    I agree with Alison’s advice about shifting team lunches to be in office and opt-in to delivery. I worked in a gov org where we could never be reimbursed for anything and we would have weekly lunches together in the office (bring your own lunch). Our boss would very occasionally take us all out on her own dime, but only on the rare occasion that someone was departing, like once a year. Once in a while, someone might bring in a baked good or chocolates for the weekly lunch, but this was rare and somewhat discouraged by my boss (I think she didn’t want people to feel obligated). Your employee may be trying to make a point here, not that he “can’t” really afford it, but that he doesn’t want to spend his money on a mandatory lunch with co-workers.

  4. BL73*

    I’ve never heard of mandatory team lunches that the employees have to pay for. That’s banana crackers. I like Alison’s suggestion. Why not try make them potluck or something if it has to be lunches for team building? And then work in other types of activities where the employees don’t have to pay.

    1. Green great dragon*

      [Waves from government] can’t be spending taxpayers money y’know. But the lunches aren’t mandatory, it’s just that the employee is missing out on the informal getting-to-know-each-other, which is bad for the whole team not just him.

        1. Green great dragon*

          Indeed! Teambuilding should be accessible to all *and* voluntary, but I do see why LW is writing in and would prefer him to attend. Alison’s advice was good.

      1. NervousNellie*

        Please consider that your employee may very well not view these informal get togethers as a benefit. I found them to be an excruciating experience, pretty much every time.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          Regardless of whether this particular employee wants to participate, these events should be accessible to all employees regardless of financial situation.

        2. yala*

          If you’re the ONLY one in your department not participating *and* it involves the manager, then even if it’s not really a “benefit” exactly, not ever attending can seriously create/exacerbate problems. Socializing can be awkward, uncomfortable, or excruciating, but folks tend to extend the benefit of the doubt to people they have some kind of social interaction with when issues come up. Lunches and the like can be the grease that keeps friction down.

        3. pope suburban*

          Agreed. If it’s a lunch meeting, well, that’s one thing and I’ll go, though I don’t think that should be on my dime. But generally I prefer not to socialize with coworkers, and I really don’t like to use the small spot of down time I have during the day with my work face still on. Most of my coworkers have been decent people, but I like to keep work separate from the rest of my life and that tends to mean skipping events like this.

      2. Me ... Just Me*

        One would assume that in such a small team there’d already be opportunities to “get to know each other”. Personally, I would resent having to spend my lunch hour with my co-workers. I’m already spending 40+ hours a week with them; I don’t feel the need to socialize outside of the general office cooler type conversations. And, if I’m being required to work through lunch for these meetings, I’d expect that they’d at least pay for my meal.

        1. umami*

          Exactly. If this manager wants to team-build, she has to do it in a way that is inclusive and doesn’t impinge on others’ time and finances. Otherwise, she is not going to be getting the desired result.

      3. Em*

        Yes this is a uniquely government problem…if we have a free food event, it’s either a potluck or it’s because a manager or the union came out of their own pocket for it

      4. Observer*

        But the lunches aren’t mandatory

        Not officially.

        But the minute your boss tells you that “you have to start budgeting for this” it becomes mandatory. But JUST fuzzy enough that if something happens, someone is going to try to claim that they weren’t on the clock, or it wasn’t discriminatory or whatever. But this kind of thing does mean “mandatory” whether the word is used or not.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          “Boss, you don’t mind if I take this as a tax deduction, right?”

          I agree because the boss is speaking it is assumed to be mandatory even if not stated.

          I think it is ironic that OP is so determined to get this guy to cave. I have to wonder why.

    2. Heidi*

      It doesn’t sound like this is mandatory since the employee has been allowed to not come. But the OP seems more bothered by his non-attendance than I’d expect for a purely social event, so I’m wondering if these lunches do involve some sort of work activity that he should be taking part in. But that’s not a lunch, then; that’s a meeting where you’re allowed to eat.

    3. Clisby*

      It doesn’t sound like it’s mandatory, since the employee the LW mentions doesn’t attend unless someone else is paying.

      Also, what is a “social lunch” vs. a “team lunch”? My idea of a “social lunch” is that random work friends go out to lunch together, but that’s not any manager’s business.

      I don’t see the appeal of regular team lunches – maybe once a year is OK – but that’s another issue. My long-term employer used to sponsor brown-bag lunches, but these weren’t for particular teams; they were for someone who was a subject matter expert, or someone who was spearheading a new project, to talk about what they were doing. Anybody in the company who was interested could bring a lunch, listen, and ask questions. No pressure to attend.

    4. danmei kid*

      I agree with you BL73 – telling someone to pay for a mandatory work activity is already sus.

    5. JustEm*

      I would just point out that often potluck means money plus time spent cooking (or extra grocery trip even if store bought). Brown bag is way to go in this case, not potluck. I like cooking but would HATE mandatory quarterly potlucks

  5. Warrior Princess Xena*

    I agree with Allison – either go and don’t fuss about it or make these lunches in a format where he can also participate.

    I’m in a position similar to the employee. I have a good salary, but I’m also in a high COL area and the lion’s share goes to expenses like rent and groceries leaving me with very limited spending money. I wouldn’t be thrilled if I had to essentially pay my workplace for a team bonding activity unless it was something I would have been interested in anyways.

    1. Nanani*


      All having the same salary doesn’t mean much, everyone has different expenses and -importantly- those are none of your business.
      Maybe they’re penny-pinching to buy a house, maybe they have debt to raccoons, maybe they are putting a family member through school, maybe a lot of things.

      They get to prioritize whatever it is over work lunches.

  6. Dust Bunny*

    2: She’s actually not showing up before she absolutely has to. The settling-in you do when you get to work and the prep you do for meetings is part of, well, your job. My understanding has always been that if the meeting is at X:00, that means that you’re in your seat, ready to roll at 8:00, not that you’re just getting in with 30 seconds to spare and haven’t gathered your notes and your thoughts yet. This is how meetings get backed up indefinitely–the meetings before them weren’t on time. It’s unfair to your clients and a bad look for your employer.

    I suspect you’re going to get some suggestions to not schedule her for early meetings but if early meetings are something all of you do, I’d make it much more clear to her that her methods aren’t professional and she needs to figure out how to get there in time to be properly prepared. (I am not a morning person, either, but I’m also not ok with making people wait for me and I hate being unprepared, so I make it happen.)

    1. WetPigeon*

      I disagree 100% (for hourly). If your job starts at 8:00, your settling-in starts at 8. You turn your computer on at 8. If you are not getting paid for it, then it should not be an expectation–it’s as simple as that.

      It’s a bit different If you are salaried and the expectation for salaried employees is to start earlier, then make that clear. But if the job starts at 8:00, and the meeting starts at 8:00, then that’s up boss or the meeting scheduler to fix any problem.

      >This is how meetings get backed up indefinitely

      Meetings are backed up regardless of when they start and end because there is no timekeeper in the meeting. Humans are not so accurate in their meeting or event prep to plan a discussion that lasts exactly X amount of time.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        But if you have a meeting at 8:00, your job starts before 8:00. Or you do all that prep the afternoon before.

        1. Bread Addict*

          Only if you are salaried and that expectation has been set.

          If you are hourly its unfair (and in some places illegal) to schedule a meeting for the exact second they start work and expect they will have done pre-work prep in non-work time. Also prepping the afternoon before, you still have to access those notes and be settled to use them.

          I have attended a lot of meetings (internal only granted) where people show up on the minute it starts and pull up their notes. There is an expectation of small talk while everyone gets settled.

          1. Agile Phalanges*

            If you are hourly and have an 8:00 a.m. meeting that you’re expected to be ready for AT 8:00 and that means getting in at 7:45 in order to be in your seat ready for the meeting at 8:00, then it’s fine to have the expectation that the employee arrive at 7:45, but they also need to clock in at 7:45, and if that means they get off 15 minutes earlier that day or another day in the same work week, or get paid overtime, then that’s something the manager can state as the expectation. There’s room for even hourly people to be expected to change their schedule a bit, but you’re right that they need to be paid for it.

        2. Irish Teacher*

          It sounds to me like she is prepared as the LW is saying it doesn’t affect her work. It just sounds like the LW isn’t seeing her preparing and feels like it looks unprofessional to walk straight in. Perhaps she prepares at home or the evening beforehand. If she is going in to the meetings unprepared and making mistakes then that is definitely an issue, but from the letter, it doesn’t sound like that is the case. The LW said her meetings are unaffected by this, so doesn’t sound to me like she is unprepared.

          It sounds more like the situation in education where some teachers are in the school half an hour or an hour before school begins and others walk in just when the first class starts. It doesn’t meant the latter group are less well-prepared. They MAY be, but they may also be working for hours at home and some of those who arrive early and hang around the school for an hour after work may be just chatting with colleagues and may not be preparing at all. Schools differ with regards to expectations and in some, there is an unspoken expectation that you should be seen to be on the premises working outside school hours (I was once told in an interview that “we start at 5 to 9, but I’m sure you’d want to be in before that, wouldn’t you?” which was a clear indication of the expectation) whereas in others so long as you are prepared for class and do a good job, nobody gives two hoots whether your preparation is done at home or in school (schools in Ireland cannot require us to be on the premises when we are not being paid, but in some, it’s pretty clear that it is expected).

      2. Dust Bunny*

        One way or another, if you have a meeting at 8:00, your job is to be prepared for it. You can do that in whatever time you like, but you still owe it to your clients to do it.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            I don’t see anyone suggesting she not be paid for the time worked earlier, only that she needs to be scheduled to arrive earlier and actually do it. Just in general, if someone’s workday official starts at 8, they should not have meetings at 8. Those are contradictory. If it’s a requirement to have meetings at 8, the workday needs to start before 8. If the requirement is start no earlier than 8, then the earliest meeting time should be 8:15. The employer needs to pick one and make sure the expectation is clear.

      3. WellRed*

        In this case, it sounds like they are salaried but yes, if it’s hourly, I’ll start when the clock starts, thankyiuverymuch.

        1. Snow Globe*

          There is absolutely no indication that the employees don’t get paid for prep time. I’m really curious as to why there are assumptions that they aren’t getting paid for that time?

          1. Elsajeni*

            Yeah, this seems to be assuming a rigidity of hourly schedules that isn’t necessarily the case, especially in hourly office work (certainly my time punches were micromanaged when I was a big-box cashier, but now, in an hourly desk job, no one really cares whether I clock in at 8:00 on the dot). The OP says that it’s totally normal for people to arrive at 9 or leave at 3, so even if these folks are paid hourly, it clearly isn’t Super Strict, Work These Hours And Only These Hours scheduling — if your normal hours are 8 to 5 but you need to arrive at 7:50 to prep for a meeting, you can just… clock in at 7:50.

      4. LinuxSystemsGuy*

        But OP specifically says that it’s not affecting the meetings. So employee either doesn’t need to do prep or does it before arrival at the office. Everyone has a different work style, everyone can hold different amounts of stuff in their heads. OP specifically states she just doesn’t like to “watch the show” twice a week. And that… isn’t really employee’s problem?

        It sounds like employee is doing what they need to do to run the meetings effectively for themselves. There’s an argument that you could be a hardass and come down on them for the occasional “few minutes late”. Obviously a few minutes late is not on time, and while I think most people wouldn’t be bothered by an institutional type meeting starting at 8:03 instead of 8:00, it’s still true that on time is better.

        I can see a talking to about “you *need* to make sure you’re here in time to start the meeting at 8:00 sharp” , but I can’t see setting some sort of arbitrary standard for how many minutes early you need to arrive. Employee is getting there in time to correctly do their job.

        1. fleapot*

          Totally agree. The “watch this show” language makes me think that there’s a bit of unkindness and/or uptightness in the LW’s assessment. By their own admission, they have no reason to think it’s a substantive performance issue; it “bugs” them, which strikes me as a bit petty.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I disagree with this–some people do best prepping immediately before a meeting, and some people do best prepping at another time.

      Personally if I’m prepping in the five minutes before a meeting, that means that I probably opened these docs for the first time at 7:55; more normal for me would be to go through the stuff the day before, and then just before the meeting I am making myself some tea and then turn “on” to the subject of the meeting at 8:00, as I draw up the files and the notes I made yesterday.

      If people have to sit and wait while she wanders around trying to find the file, then read it for the first time, that would be a problem. Because it affects clients. But there ‘s no evidence she’s doing anything other than start work with a different pattern than OP would use.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Except this person is apparently not. If you can, go for it, but she’s blowing in unprepared while people are waiting for her so she’s not doing that.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          “Unprepared” to me reads as possibly “Not performing engagement by opening a folder and frowning at the papers therein in a serious and thoughtful manner before each meeting.”

          If she’s actually unprepared–if 8 am clients have to wait 20 minutes while she familiarizes herself with their details, while for 9:30 clients she’s already done that–then I agree this is an option. But doing your prep at a time earlier than the 10 minutes before the meeting is a perfectly normal thing for many people and roles. Even if it would make someone’s teeth itch because their own pattern is to review in those 10 minutes–someone using a different pattern can be just as effective.

          As a potential client, I really dislike any focus on the optics of appearing engaged over the practice of effectively understanding what I need and helping me. If you walk in at 8:01 and are well-prepared, that matters. If I have to keep re-explaining the problem, I don’t care how pulled together you looked at 7:59.

        2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          We don’t know that she’s unprepared! We only know that she’s sometimes getting there when the client has already been waiting a minute or two. That’s NOT great, but it doesn’t mean she’s not ready for the meeting.

          1. Bread Addict*

            This. We don’t know that she is unprepared.

            Also has anyone asked why she is rushed for 8am and not 9am? Maybe she has kids to drop off, car share, sharing a bathroom with flatmates, etc. Or her commute is worse for an early start.

            Some peoples method of prep is to set up the room and get into the right mind space and need that time. Others dont. And she might be someone who doesn’t because she preps in her own way.

            But before we decide her way is wrong or she isn’t a morning person. Maybe we should ask if there is a reason the later schedule is better for her anyway? I mean I dont think 2 minutes is an issue anyway. As a client I don’t think a 2 minute wait especially early morning is a big deal.

            1. Cobol*

              I was going to say this. 8 am it’s crazy early for work, and of you had kids it’s almost impossible. One a month, fine but annoying, any more than that it’s a no go for a lot of people.

              1. Joielle*

                Ha! I guess my team are early risers. Most of us are in the office by 7, including those with kids. I don’t think 8 am can be universally considered an unreasonably early hour – but if it doesn’t work for the specific employee here for whatever reason, then she and the boss need to work something out.

                1. Cobol*

                  There are plenty of jobs that have 8 am or earlier requirements, but that’s stated before hitting (or at least well-known in the industry). The earliest summer camp around here started at 7:30, and most from 8-9. In your office, my guess is the other parent handles drop off. Great if there’s an other parent. But I didn’t say universally doesn’t work, but that it’s a no go for a lot of people.

              2. starfox*

                I know it might sound absurd, but if I had to come into work at 8:00 on some random days while other days not getting there until 9:00, it would truly throw off my entire schedule. I typically wake up at 7:00, run with my dog, have breakfast, shower, and get to work by 9:00. If I had to move everything back an hour some random days, I’d have to go to bed an hour earlier, which would mean having to move all my afternoon plans/dinner back an hour earlier as well….

                Maybe I’m just too fixated on routine and too reliant on having at least 7 hours of sleep, but my days just need to start at the same time every day or else I’d be rushing at the last minute, too!

            2. Curmudgeon in California*

              In the area I live in, an 8 am start guarantees a variable commute time, and it can be hard to dial that in. When I had to start at 8 am, I got there between 7:30 and 8:10, or later, depending on how many wrecks there were between home and work.

              But no one liked meetings that started at 8 am on the dot. We all had 30 minute to 1.5 hour commutes, and those could go very wrong on any day.

            3. JustEm*

              Right, my daycare the earliest we can drop off is at 730 am. If my first patient is scheduled at 8am, I’m arriving maybe 5 mins early and barely logged in. If they are scheduled at 830 I’ll have been there 20 minutes early prepping for the day. Either way I’ve been up since 6 am – nothing to do with not being a morning person – just I’m not in control of the daycare schedule .

          2. Kal*

            I have to agree with others that 2 minutes really isn’t any sort of deal on a multiple hours long appointment. I often show up between 5-15 minutes (or sometimes even up to 30) before appointments, depending on the sort of appointment and how my transit to the appointment lines up. I don’t expect the other person to suddenly be ready just because I’m there so that I never have to wait, I just expect that they will be ready in the general ballpark of the agreed upon time. I’m not score keeping so tightly that I’d likely even notice a 2 minute difference unless the appointment is only booked to last 10 minutes total making that 2 minutes a major chunk of it.

            My main concerns with appointments is that I’m not waiting around for so long that I start worrying that they forgot about the appointment entirely and that we have enough time to discuss what is necessary. I don’t care if someone has gone into the meeting room early to straighten all the chairs and put little pens at all the spots someone will be sitting and put out some water bottles or whatever setup entails – I don’t mind following someone into the room and them literally turning the lights on for the day as we go in. In fact, having a minute or two to sit down and get jackets off or papers out and get settled in for the next few hours while the person I’m meeting with pulls out whatever pens/whatever is needed and offers water or such can be nice way to ease into the discussion – it offers a minute or two for small talk of the “how do you do, fellow human” sort.

            As long as the person is able to competently handle the point of the meeting in the time it is scheduled, the rest really doesn’t matter much (and its clear that she is handling it fine, since the LW even says the meetings aren’t affected).

        3. Wisteria*

          What are you seeing that makes you say this? The LW says this person is at the reception desk at 8 to meet the client and that the meetings are unaffected.

          1. Saberise*

            That isn’t what was said “reception to be able to greet her client on time, and even then she’s sometimes a minute or two late” and “it doesn’t appear that her meetings are affected by her rushed entrance” So yes sometimes she’s not up there at 8 and it doesn’t appear to affect them but it may.

        4. KRM*

          It was specifically said that it doesn’t seem to affect the meeting. She probably preps with her last hour the night before, and comes in on time (yes, she is on time) and ready to roll. She’s meeting her clients at 8. I have a doctor like this–I see her come in like 2′ before my 7:30 appt, because *I* am absurdly early to things at all times. And she sees me on time and is perfectly prepared. So I don’t care when she gets there. Sounds like this woman is the same. Yes, she’s in 2′ before the meeting time. But again, zero indication that she’s then unprepared for the client. She’s just not a morning person, or has to rush kid dropoff, or a million other reasons that mean she doesn’t love the 8AM, but she still makes it.

        5. starfox*

          The letter doesn’t say that, at all, and in fact says the opposite, that the meetings are unaffected.

    3. MsM*

      If the company is scheduling meetings for the very beginning of the workday on a regular basis, then maybe the workday needs to be starting earlier. Otherwise, I think they need to accept the risk of people not being 100% on top of their game because you’re forcing them to choose between taking care of whatever they need to take care of before they come in, or getting in with time to spare but still not feeling “gathered” because you’ve made them rush all of that.

      1. umami*

        Right? I’m side-eyeing the fact that the business opens at 8 am, which means the workday starts at that time, but they also are scheduling meetings right at the time they open? No doubt many people will come in before 8 because they don’t want to be walking in at the same time as their clients, but it’s odd to expect everyone to do things the exact same way and say it’s a problem if they don’t do it your way. If the meetings are effective, the clients are happy, and this doesn’t impact you personally, why care?

    4. My Useless 2 Cents*

      As someone who is not a morning person, I schedule my morning to the absolute minimum. Get up, shower, dress, drive to work, that is it. I will often clock in at 7:58, 7:59 but I’m ready to work at 8:00 as I take the last few minutes of every day to set up my next work day. I’ve worked with people who got in 20-25 min before clocking in at 8 but somehow never ready to get to work until 8:15-8:20 as they always had to run and get their coffee from the breakroom after clocking in. As Alison indicates, just because they have a different working style doesn’t mean they aren’t doing their job.

      That said, if there is prep time required before the meeting that cannot be done earlier… then the employee should not be scheduled to start at X:00 while company is also scheduling a client meeting at X:00. If a meeting requires 15 minutes of prep than the first scheduled client meeting should be no earlier than X:15. That is on company, not employee.

      1. DataGirl*

        It is also possible that it has nothing to do with whether the person is a morning person, and more something about their schedule. Maybe they only have 1 car and have to drop their spouse off at work first. Maybe their daycare doesn’t open until 7:30 and it’s far enough away that even racing to work, they only get there 2 minutes before 8. I agree that if the day starts at 8, then don’t schedule meetings to start at 8.

        1. Rain's Small Hands*

          My husband just doesn’t schedule 8am meetings – that time is blocked on his calendar. He works from home, but sits down at his desk at 8am – and sometimes 8:05 or 8:10. So no 8am calls because sometimes he forgets he has them and takes too long ditzing over coffee. If that’s an option – just block that first hour (or half hour if thats possible) from her calendar, that’s probably the easiest solution.

    5. L'étrangere*

      Oh, more whining by morning people. It’s so unfortunate that a mere quirk of physiology gets so universally interpreted as moral superiority by its sufferers. The LW says it themselves: the employee is not a morning person, but their work doesn’t suffer even if they are compelled to be at work before any human being should be forced to be awake. So where is the actual work problem?
      Let me just point out that preparation does not need to happen right before a meeting. Some of us can retain a thought in our heads longer than 20mn, overnight even. Chances are the employee is working -way- after you collapse for the day, something you are no longer in any shape to notice (morning people usually lack any sort of stamina). To never be more than a minute or two late for an appointment is quite an accomplishment, and something I’d suspect the LW doesn’t always manage themselves, especially later in the day. Consider also that not all clients may be ready for aggressive chirpiness when they’ve been forced to accept an appointment at dawn. A softer approach may benefit the LW’s own clients, unless they’re only busy micromanaging other people’s schedules?

      1. ABCYaBye*

        I don’t think anyone who has commented is a whining morning person. If the individual who is the subject of the question isn’t a morning person, that’s fine. And honestly, I am with you in that their prep might be the day before. Is it imperative that they’re exactly like their coworkers and showing up 15 or more minutes in advance? Absolutely not. But… and this is a major BUT… if the meeting with the client starts at 8 and that’s the first meeting of the day, the person best not be a second late. Why? Because that client is there at the prescribed time and if starting the meeting late causes them to be late to their work, or their next appointment, or whatever, that’s inconsiderate. If this was simply the case of someone rolling in a minute or two late, and firing up their computer to start their day at 8:02, that’s not an issue. But it is an issue when their tardiness … even by a couple of minutes … affects someone else. Even more of an issue when it is affecting an outside client.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          “if the meeting with the client starts at 8 and that’s the first meeting of the day, the person best not be a second late. Why? Because that client is there at the prescribed time and if starting the meeting late causes them to be late to their work, or their next appointment, or whatever, that’s inconsiderate.”

          Does it? Are all your actions so perfectly timed that every hour-long meeting takes 60 minutes exactly and therefore any delay at all guarantees an equal delay at the end? What about a meeting that starts 5 minutes early because everyone is there but still runs 10 minutes late?

          1. ABCYaBye*

            Actions aren’t perfectly time, no. But if you have someone (the client) who has arranged their schedule so they can meet with you, you owe it to them to be on time. And you can especially do that with the first appointment of the day. You’re showing someone respect when you’re there on time for the meeting that you’ve scheduled with them (or your business has scheduled with/for them).

            You’re right that a meeting might run long. And that happens. And it inconveniences people, which is unfortunate. It is, as Spencer Hastings says below, the optics of this situation. If Mary is late in starting the first meeting of the day, it doesn’t show well with the clients.

            1. Rain's Small Hands*

              I don’t know about you, but I don’t expect any meeting to start precisely on time – not even at my attorney’s where I’m paying $200 an hour for his time. I arrive at my dentist on time, and usually wait. My doctors – and wait. I go to my bankers and usually wait a few minutes. If I have someone come buy to quote work on my house and I expect them at 1pm, they usually show up by 1:15. If I go for a job interview – I’m there fifteen minutes early and the hiring manager usually show up two minutes late. And sometimes they wait for me – I can be five minutes late getting to the vet if I can’t find the cat…..

              Mary doesn’t seem to be more than the two minutes it take to grab the file folder and dump her purse before heading out to the lobby. Five minutes for most appointments just isn’t a big deal.

              1. ABCYaBye*

                Everything you said is correct. It sucks when you’re sitting waiting on someone, though, especially when you’ve made arrangements to be somewhere at a particular time. The main idea of this, though, is that this doesn’t seem like a one-time deal and Mary may just need a nudge to be ready at the scheduled time.

              2. Allonge*

                As a person, I am usually not annoyed when a meeting starts a few minutes late. A company that wants to function well will not encourage its staff to be ‘whatever’ with timings. Two things can be true at the same time.

      2. Spencer Hastings*

        “Some of us can retain a thought in our heads longer than 20mn, overnight even.”

        So can I. And I’m the night-owliest night owl who ever night owled. But I also acknowledge that “early is on time, on time is late” can be valid in certain situations. In this particular case, Mary is meeting with clients, so the optics are potentially actually important.

      3. Hiring Mgr*

        ” Chances are the employee is working -way- after you collapse for the day, something you are no longer in any shape to notice (morning people usually lack any sort of stamina)”

        Not true at all – I consider myself a morning person and often work straight through ’til 4:45, so I don’t think your claim holds.

    6. Lenora Rose*

      It depends so much on the person. Some people have their thoughts gathered in commute, or did their prep the day before and can shift gears fast, and just need to set down their jacket and stroll in. Some people need half an hour of sorting and revisiting notes to feel up to speed. It also depends widely on how directly involved you are; these sound like client one-on-ones, where the dynamic can be very different, and where the temperament of the other person also matters.

      If you are the “Need to organize your thoughts/reread the file” type, then yes, you need to arrive early because prep time *is* work, but then you should also be clocking that time (And ALLOWED to clock that time). And not arranging meetings that start at your arrival time if avoidable. because I agree with WetPigeon that if your start time is 8:00, that should be when you start, but I also think that if you know that either you are about to deal with a fussy client who needs everything crisp, or you are yourself in need of a refresher, then your paid time should start at 7:30 or 7:45 when you sit down to prep.

    7. starfox*

      The letter doesn’t say that Mary is unprepared, though, just that the LW perceives it as unprofessional that Mary arrives 2 minutes before the meeting. It’s not unprofessional to arrive for a meeting right on time.

      1. Broadway Duchess*

        Right! And OP’s perception is not reality.

        When I worked in the office, I used to do the whole come in 15 minutes early, mostly because there’s a HUGE morning socializing thing in my office and I was trying to assimilate to it. I finally stopped because it was too much in the morning. I started chilling in my car listening to music or having a drink for that 15 minutes before I walked inside. It might have seemed like I was walking in unprepared, but I was totally focused and ready to go, having prepped the previous day and taking a few minutes for relaxation before I walked in the building.

        1. Broadway Duchess*

          Jeez! By having a drink, I meant an overpriced nonsense Starbucks concoction, not a cocktail!

  7. JMac*

    It’s none of your business what other people spend their money on. And it’s absolute BS to expect employees to pay for their own meal if it’s a working lunch. So the options are either just accept that this person won’t be able to participate, or figure out a way for the whole team’s lunches to be paid for

    1. Bernice Clifton*

      It’s government, so the organization isn’t allowed to pay for employee lunches. When I worked in government employees had to pay for coffee and the water cooler (by opt-in) because we were funded by tax $.

      1. CoveredinBees*

        I worked for a government agency that wouldn’t let us chip in to buy a cheap coffeemaker and coffee because “it might look bad to the public”. The coffee machine would be in our break room which was in a restricted section that members of the public weren’t allowed into. A colleague brought in a french press for herself and was told to keep it stashed away when not in use for the same reason. I’m not sure which came first, the ridiculous people or the ridiculous rules but we certainly had a lot of both.

        1. Brett*

          Yep, at old government job, we had to change the location of our team lunches because the restaurant we went to had a bar (think like Applebees, not TGI Fridays). This resulted in members of the public reporting us for drinking on the job, even though we were seated outside the bar area and drinking only soft drinks and lemonade.
          That makes me think that the ridiculous people are what lead to the ridiculous rules.

          1. RetailEscapee*

            I’m fascinated by what the supposed delineation between a Friday’s and an Applebees is

            1. Brett*

              Since I made the distinction… at least here TGI Fridays has the bar as the centerpiece and more generally drinking oriented with the menu featuring cocktails rather than featuring food (this might not be every TGI Fridays?). The booths surround the bar in a TFI Fridays. You can’t eat there without being near the bar.
              Applebees is more of a grill & bar restaurant, with food being more centered than drinks, but having a bar area that is in a separate part of the restaurant from the booths.

              Or briefly (at least for our area): people go to TGI Fridays to drink and maybe have some food. People go to Applebees to eat and maybe have a drink.

            2. NotRealAnonForThis*

              My entirely unscientific throw search terms in the Google machine and see what falls out shows Applebees being quite a bit cheaper, menu wise, as far as dollars go.

              My kids know what Applebees is because of a pop-country song.

              Other than that? No idea.

            3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              I’ve called both “a Ruby Tuesday, you know, the one at X exit” in the past. They are all one and the same to me. Curious to learn what the differences are!

        2. Governmint Condition*

          By the same logic*, taking a break in the break room, such as your lunch break, will also look bad to the public. In fact, taking lunch in any manner might look bad, whether or not the public can see you.

          * – Yes, I have encountered an office where this “logic” was the mentality of management.

          1. Not a mouse*

            I’ve seen something fairly recently, can’t remember if it was a letter or comment here or elsewhere, where govt employees were told not to eat lunch at their nice outdoor picnic table because members of the public drove by and then complained about wasting taxpayer money (though the employees were clocked out for lunch). Silly.

            1. no longer working*

              Speaking of taxpayers’ money – I was on line in the post office during the Christmas rush a few years ago. Someone commented to an employee how quiet it was without background music playing. The employee answered that due to budget cuts they had to cancel it. Wait a minute, I thought – Had my tax dollars been paying for Spotify (or some such service) for the USPS? Seemed to me there were options for music that cost nothing.

              1. LittleDoctor*

                Oh no, what a nightmare, tax dollars going to pay like $8 a month so people can have music at their workplace. Horrific abuse.

              2. Brett*

                If the public can hear it, it is definitely not free. It’s likely a pretty expensive licensed commercial service.

              3. Critical Rolls*

                Well, they could play the radio, but then someone will complain that the government is endorsing one station, or playing ads in a public building. They could stream from someone’s personal device, but that’s a licensing issue.

                Why is it so damn outrageous that postal workers, and customers, should enjoy a tiny bit of something that makes the day more pleasant? Don’t be that person.

              4. Clorinda*

                The only free option would be playing the radio, and then people have to listen to ads and things.
                Just because you and I as individuals can listen to any music we want on YouTube doesn’t mean that a business can broadcast it freely. I used to work as an orchestra librarian and we had to pay annual licensing fees to ASCAP and BMI; any business that plays music for the public has to pay for it somehow. I just googled it and saw a lot of ads for various services that will cover all copyright licensing for a single monthly or annual fee for a business.

              5. Cpc*

                Seems to me you didn’t look into this very hard! Those services only exist with ads; you’d be complaining about the ads. I can’t imagine working a holiday rush at a post office and being picked apart like this

        3. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

          Omfg the hidden coffee maker! Gotta be the silliest thing I’ve heard, since most places at least have ye Olde junky coffee maker for employees. Remind me never to work in government!

      2. Trawna*

        Because why support small local businesses by buying refreshments when there’s a military industrial complex to feed. /s

      3. Me ... Just Me*

        But, government, especially, isn’t going to tell their hourly employees to work through lunch, either. There are actual laws they’d be breaking if that was the expectation. So these “work lunches” need to be paid, and ideally wouldn’t be off-site in public areas, where work conversations can be overheard.

  8. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    If it’s a team meeting to discuss business, hold it during business hours. Especially if it’s government. I don’t like using my break time to do mandatory work, and I really don’t want to have to pay money to do it somewhere that I didn’t otherwise choose to eat. I like my coworkers, but my lunch time is MY lunch time.

    If you want to have a lunch break afterward where people can chat more casually, feel free to set that up, or bring donuts to an early meeting or whatever.

  9. WetPigeon*

    Sounds like a work function. Work should be covering it.
    If work isn’t covering it, you should either cancel it or remove all work from it (i.e., make it 100% optional with no expectation to attend. A regular, generic lunch).

    Whether he wants to or cannot afford to attend isn’t really relevant, to be frank.

  10. Cait*

    You ARE being judgmental. As Alison says, it’s none of your business how this person spends his money and incredibly distasteful you think he should be obligated to attend work lunches that 1. aren’t economically inclusive and 2. have a quid pro quo in place. If you think he should be making an effort to join in (and NOT so he can pick up everyone’s tab) then find a way for these lunches to be inclusive (as Alison mentioned, brown bags in a common area, etc.) and stop making it the standard for someone to pay for everyone each time instead of everyone just covering themselves.

    1. I.T. Phone Home*

      stop making it the standard for someone to pay for everyone each time instead of everyone just covering themselves.

      “The standard” already is that everyone pays for themselves. The LW occasionally covers the whole tab, and when she does her other employee joins. When everyone pays for themselves, the employee doesn’t. The letter doesn’t say that anyone other than the boss has ever paid for or been asked to pay for anyone but themselves.

    2. Smoker's wife*

      The LW is totally being judgmental. My husband smokes. I can guarantee you that we are currently short on money and that in fact, actually, we can NOT afford his smokes. Your coworker probably might not be able to afford his smokes either! But nicotine is an addiction, and we’re/he’s currently too stressed by factors outside of his control to kick the habit, so we have to cut corners on other things. You know, like lunches.

      1. quill*

        Not to mention a possibility of higher cost medical care for smokers – government jobs are not known for being particularly competitive with the market in pay / benefits, so there may be a decent chunk more coming out of smoker employee’s paycheck for health insurance than there is coming out of boss’.

        1. LittleDoctor*

          AND people with disabilities and chronic medical problems are statistically significantly more likely to smoke. Schizophrenia spectrum disorders are considered the second most disabling condition in America, next only to Alzheimer’s disease, and smoking is incredibly common among patients with schizophrenia (70-80% of them smoke) because it often reduces symptoms somewhat (obviously at significant physical costs, which is why it isn’t generally recommended by doctors.) And that’s just one example of many conditions associated with a high rate of smoking. (And people with schizophrenia have to pay thousands a month to get the kind of intensive, multiple-appointments-a-week psychiatric treatment that tends to allow them to function best.)

          We have no idea what’s going on with this guy or his finances, or why he smokes, or if he could feasibly stop.

          1. quill*

            Yeah. Not to get too far into self-medication because ultimately the employee’s health is not OP’s business, but even if you know someone’s salary, you do not know their cost of living, and you do not know how they are able to manage the work of living.

        2. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

          Quill: if you and your hubby can manage it, something that has helped me money-wise is switching to vape pens. You can get the rechargeable ones that come with several little packets, which cost about the same as 2 packs of cigarettes; however, those packets last about 10 days or so each, depending on how much you use it.

          If that’s too much, the disposable ones run anywhere between $15 – $25, and have a range of 1,000 to 5,000 puffs (the higher end ones are also rechargeable until the vape juice is gone), and can last up to two weeks. I’ve also found it to have helped wean me away from cigarettes for the most part; I’m not quite done smoking yet, but I am starting to dislike the smell and taste of an actual cigarette that it takes a long while before I am willing to buy a pack. I can reasonably see myself coming off the pens in a year or less, as those are starting to annoy, though they smell and taste more pleasant.

  11. Not Today Josephine*

    Under no circumstances would I ever pay for a team lunch, a working lunch, etc. That’s work. It would be like asking employees to pay for their own chair, computer, pencils, etc. If I have to pay for my own lunch I am either going to eat alone or with friends, and neither your manager nor your coworkers are your friends.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      ” It would be like asking employees to pay for their own chair, computer, pencils, etc.”

      *sweats in nonprofit*

      1. quill*

        Teacher’s kid here and I’m laughing from the relateableness and also the “help me haul the extra 15 rolls of paper towel to our basement for the summer so they don’t get redistributed to the other classrooms, I bought more of them than we actually used.”

    2. Brett*

      “It would be like asking employees to pay for their own chair, computer, pencils, etc”

      Welcome to government. I had to pay for my own chair and office supplies and even some computer equipment in a few cases.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        Fed here. My agency provides the necessities, including pens and pads and post-its, but they are usually so cheap and low-grade that I often just buy my own. The underpowered little laptop they have given me is staggering under the weight of what I ask of it.

        The major splurge I’ve ever seen is when we were issued iPhone 8s to replace our iPhone 6s…in 2020, just as the iPhone 12 came out (so, clearly, Apple made my agency a sweet deal to help get rid of their stock of 8s).

        There is a reason “standard issue” and “builder grade” are not compliments.

    3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Welcome to the real world. In some places, I had to pay for my own pencils and pens, and writing tablets. And also in some places I even had to pay for my own computer manuals.

      Now, witness the shock when I left a company, and took my books with me!

      There was also one situation where a director, trying to convince me that all was well in spite of a neglected promotion -“how would you like to work for (the competitor) where you’d have to buy your own laptop?”

      I replied “I’d LOVE to be able to buy my own laptop and hook it up to the company network. The laptops you’ve issued to us are so underpowered, we can’t even run our company’s products , the ones we have to support, on them!” Her jaw dropped.

      I then followed up = “You’re too young to remember Perry Mason. Rule number one, that he had, is NEVER ask someone a question if you don’t know what the answer is gonna be!”

  12. anonymous73*

    I hope the OP got a reality check for #1. You don’t get to choose what other people spend their money on PERIOD. Just because you know how much money someone makes doesn’t mean you know the details of their financial situation. And maybe he doesn’t want to spend his money on going out to lunch. Regardless of the reason, it’s none of your business. It’s like when I’ve been solicited in the past for money towards a group gift. Even if I can afford it, I don’t have to donate just because you asked.

    1. umami*

      This really can’t be overstated. If someone says they can’t afford something, that is a final answer. If his budget doesn’t include eating lunch out, then it doesn’t include it, regardless of what his salary is or what other things you observe him spending his money on. OP should recognize that he’s not spending money on cigarettes INSTEAD of these team building lunches, he’s simply spending money on cigarettes, full stop. It’s pointless and presumptuous to try to ‘find’ money he could spend on this activity because you don’t manage his budget.

  13. CPegasus*

    I remember letter #2…. I would absolutely be this person because my sleep schedule skews late. Having to be in an hour earlier than normal is awful, and that’s without considering things like what time day care opens or the school bus arrives or whatever other early-morning routines are disrupted by early client meetings.

    If it were me, I’d be doing my prep work the night before specifically so that there was nothing to do the morning of but greet the client and get started. I wonder if this employee did the same, so that she ended up doing the same work as her peers, just not as visibly.

    1. Artemesia*

      I have never seen someone rush in last minute and do a client meeting where they didn’t look rushed and unwelcoming. When I was a teacher, we had to be in the building a half hour before class — that prevented traffic making people late and also going into class discombobulated and not quite organized.

      Expecting people to arrive 15 minutes before the first client appointment is very reasonable.

      1. CPegasus*

        Sure, I’m just saying “Arrived at the last minute” doesn’t have to mean “didn’t do any prep work”

      2. Purple Cat*

        There’s no real indication in the letter that the CLIENTS are seeing the LW be rushed. She could easily be taking that deep breath right before hitting reception and clients are none the wiser.
        It’s a disservice to apply the same standards one has when working with children to working with reasonable adults.

    2. DataGirl*

      I remember when my kids were little and before school care opened at 7:30. My office is 25 minutes away from our home/school- if I had to be there at 8 I’d probably be late sometimes too. It’s not always just about ‘being a morning person’.

      1. RetailEscapee*

        If start time is 8 meetings should not happen at 8. I get paid to be there at 8. I have structured my life around that expectation. Maybe I have kids to drop off, medications to take at set times, physical therapy til 730- because I don’t have to be at work until 8.
        Schedule meetings at 830 and skip all this drama. Jeeze Louise.

        1. Safely Retired*

          Exactly. Meetings that start at the moment the work day starts, especially with clients, are a mistake.

  14. Sunflower*

    Unless the employees are being paid for the lunch our, nobody has to participate. If they are being paid for the lunch break, the company needs to pay for lunch or tell the employees to bring their own. Nobody should be forced to spend their own money if they don’t want. I don’t care if he can afford smokes and you feel he “can” can afford lunch. That’s his time, money, and life.

  15. Sunflower*

    To clarify, “Unless the employees are being paid for the lunch hour, nobody has to participate. If they are being paid for the lunch break as a mandatory work/training function, the company needs to pay for lunch….”

  16. Retired federal worker*

    Yep, no money for lunch, coffee, snacks etc. when you are a GS employee. I agree that brown bag lunches are the way to go. Let people pack lunch at home or order GrubHub. And I’m going to be that whiney person – where are you going for lunch? What is the average cost? In the DC area cheapest out look for lunch cost (not fast food) is a sandwich and drink are at least $15-20. Then add in tax and tip. It does add up!

    Are you doing individual checks or one check and dividing it evenly? If everyone is about the same cost splitting the check is fair. If I’m eating salad and someone else ordered the seafood special, well then……….

  17. Admin Amber*

    STOP asking employees to meet at THEIR lunch hour and stop having them pay! Lunch is a time to take a break. Many empoyees appreciate that “me time” to rest and relax a bit.

    1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

      GOD yes, this! I work front desk reception and don’t get a break at all during my nine-hour shifts. My extremely introverted self would gladly sacrifice the overtime pay in favor of being able to disconnect and unwind from co-workers, the job, all of it for a while each day.

      I get the employer is not allowed to pay for lunch in this situation, so there’s already a good case to be made for, “Do we REALLY need to do these work lunches?” Surely there are better (and still optional) social work events that don’t require people to cough up cash or forego their breaks or time off. Though I’m guessing the reason WHY they’re lunches is because everyone is so afraid of the public finding out government employees dared to do a work event during…work.

      1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

        (Sad LOL) Literally three minutes after I posted this, a co-worker came down to invite me to a pool party at her house. I think it’s very kind of her and am grateful she thought of me, but oh my f***ing god, I have to deal with all these people at minimum five days a week, and sometimes more. Why would I want to hang out on my few days off?? And she holds these parties every single month. I haven’t thrown a party since 2006, and that was mostly out of obligation. I can’t fathom anyone needing this amount of contact with co-workers, even ones you like. When I leave this job, I am going to wish everyone well on my way out and mean it, and then never speak to them again unless we bump into each other at the grocery store, where I will anxiously hope for the awkward conversation to end ASAP.

        Why, yes, I do fully separate my personal live and my work life, and I don’t go to work to make friends. Why do you ask?

          1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

            *Introvert mental fistbump* I dream of a workplace populated entirely by people like us. No meetings that could be emails, no team-building events, no idle chatter when two people happen to find themselves in the break room at the same time, no gossipy judgment…. XD

    2. Anon all day*

      At the same time, many people enjoy group/team lunches. While I agree there are other concerns with the letter, I don’t think having a team lunch maybe once a quarter is such a bad thing.

      1. metadata minion*

        Yes! My team has one monthly — just bring-your-own, so luckily not the issue in the letter — and sometimes I go; sometimes I don’t. I like my coworkers and enjoy the chance to socialize with them, and it’s nice to have an automatic opportunity scheduled.

        I’m kind of curious whether I just have awesome coworkers or if this is one community where I actually fall more on the extroverted side of things, because I would normally describe myself as a grumpy little hermit but I seem to be an outlier in that I actually do enjoy talking to coworkers and playing stupid teambuilding games.

        1. Anon all day*

          For what it’s worth, I’m an introverted awkward turtle who also enjoys social events at work. I really enjoy stuff like teambuilding (gasp! lol) because it’s organized and rules-based socialization that’s such a balm to my most likely neurodivergent soul.

        2. allathian*

          We don’t have actual team lunches except during the training days we have twice a year. But if I’m at the office, and there are members of my team there, we’ll usually go to lunch together. I did the same thing occasionally before the pandemic, but now it seems like most of us like to see each other in person at least a few times a month.

      2. Riot Grrrl*

        I’m reading the various reactions with interest. I agree with the general consensus that the employee shouldn’t have to pay (issues of government work notwithstanding). But I’m less opposed to the overall idea of an occasional team lunch. Before the pandemic, we would have these a couple of times a year. They were paid for, but to my knowledge nobody ever considered the lunch itself to be an intrusion.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      I imagine there are some coworkers who like it, there always are, but I feel comfortable making a bet on there being more than one whose reaction is “Oh God, again?! Just let me have lunch my own way?!” I bet smoker guy is simply the bravest one, since OP clearly takes a pretty dim view of no shows, and doesn’t see this as truly optional. If it’s really important to the operations of the team, though, then remove the cost barrier and it’s at least a little less painful that way.

      1. Allonge*

        We are talking about having lunch with their coworkers 3-4 times a year. I am an introvert and I like having lunch alone but it’s not that much of an impact on life.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          So am I, and I agree with you somewhat! There are situations (low stress job, no strains on my energy outside of work) where 3-4 lunches a year would not be a noticeable drain at all on my introversion, but there are also situations where it would be. I don’t think there’s a known, catch all limit. In contrast to you, I actually do like to lunch with others far more than I like to eat alone, but I find organised events are more of a drain than casual, unarranged things. YMMV.

    4. So Many Pets*

      This. As a government employee my lunch wouldn’t be paid for, which is annoying but I knew that was the deal going in, asking employees to regularly give up their lunch hour for work meetings in addition to having to buy their own lunch? Just stop.

    5. DJ Abbott*

      God yes! I do reception and have an overbearing manager often in my face. It helps so much to sit in the break room by myself, doing personal things on my phone at lunch! I would be twice as stressed by the end of the day if I didn’t have that.

  18. IndoorKitty*

    1: I wonder if he’s just saying he can’t afford it because he doesn’t want to spend his lunch hour with his team? I despise work lunch things. My unpaid lunch hour is mine; I spend the rest of the day interacting with my team and I need a break from them. I don’t understand the urge to do social things at lunch or after work. But then, I’m an extreme introvert and really not a social person. I can put on a social face for the day but it’s EXHAUSTING.

      1. SocialAnxiety*

        Possibly it. Possibly it is financial.

        Its also possible he didnt feel comfortable saying “no” ouright so money was a good reason. When someone was paying he didn’t have a way out of it so attended.

        I am literally doing that friday. My work is paying for it, salaried so the time is paid anyway, and they know I have the capacity in my workload but would help out if I didnt to ensure my attendance. Cant really say no short of calling in sick without it affecting how people view me. Luckily its a 2x a year at most thing. But possible this person felt they had to go once the excuse of money was removed.

      2. quill*

        Or possibly he’s using the free food as a metric for “I’d like to do it sometimes but way less often than it’s being offered… I guess I’ll just go when it’s free and avoid questions.”

  19. Governmint Condition*

    On #4, we abused an online software subscription that we needed. Purchase requests take too long to process here, so while we waited for it to go through, we took advantage of their 30-day free trial. One of us subscribed, and lent out the password to everybody else. The next month, it was somebody else’s turn. We repeated this for about 4 months until the purchase went through, and we all had it.

    The one thing we had to do during the free trial was make sure nobody else was using it at the same time, which was only possible because this happened before work-from-home.

    1. GovSysadmin*

      I heard a story from a vendor rep years ago that one customer of his had requested a demo server (which they would do for 90 days) and then kept asking for an extension of the demo every 90 days for something like two years. It turns out that that group hadn’t gotten some funding they were hoping for, so they used that demo unit to run their production service until they finally did get the money a couple of years later. Apparently the vendor went along with it since they didn’t want to burn bridges with the larger organization that group was a part of.

    2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      I worked in the software industry fo the last 25 years of my career. At my second-last employer – all of our software licensing was “time bombed”, if it ran on a server or large system. Let’s say the license for a product ran out on July 20. On July 21, the customer would get a message “Call tech support at …” We COULD extend customers for a few days using an emergency (and finite) password set, and quite often we did but turned the customer over to sales. Most of the time the customer had renewed and extended their contracts but the password info hadn’t drifted down to their techies’ cubicles.

      We did have a “No Password List” of a small number of customers, who might call at odd hours of the night and say “pretty please”…. and who actually did that to keep the product running without paying for it.

      1. quill*

        So at worst job I was in charge, briefly, of finding new trial versions of antivirus software to rotate through…

        It’s no surprise that we got hacked twice while I was there and the laptop I was given was infected with viruses.

  20. kiki*

    Employees’ financial situations can be really different, even if everyone is making a similar, good salary as LW said. Someone might have a lot of student debt, someone may have gone through an expensive divorce, somebody might be helping support family members– the list goes on and on. Your employee may also be a super-saver trying to retire early or have a big life event coming up that they’re going to drop some dough on (like a wedding or big trip). As a lot of commenters have said, “I can’t afford it,” doesn’t necessarily mean “I will be broke if I buy one lunch,” it can mean that these lunches aren’t compatible with their budget. I would try suggesting a couple lunches where folks are responsible for bringing their own food to the office. It’s possible this employee may also just not be terribly social, so if he declines those, feel free to continue going out for lunch like before

    1. LittleDoctor*

      That he goes when it’s cost-accessible suggests to me that he does want to go.

  21. DataSci*

    For LW #1, we have no idea about his financial situation. Two people can make the same salary and be in a very different financial situation – maybe one has a spouse making good money and no kids, and the other is a single parent. Maybe one has significant medical expenses, or is saving for a down payment on a house. The snark about “well he can afford cigarettes” is misplaced – a notoriously addictive habit isn’t necessarily one someone can drop if they are in a tight spot financially, no matter how much they may want to.

    Show a little compassion, take your colleague at his word, and for the love of God don’t go into an infantilizing lecture on budgeting because you think team lunches should be a top priority. Either switch to brown-bag or let it go on as it has been.

    1. yala*

      Yeah, that “pack a day” comment really rubbed me the wrong way. Like, just about any sort of “I noticed he can afford to [thing for personal enjoyment] but not [Office Fun]” comment would’ve been out of line, but for something that’s actually addictive? I’m not sure what OP expects them to do?

      1. LittleDoctor*

        Literally! “Please stop having a physical dependence and very possibly a substance disorder that you were born with, it’s supes inconvenient to the team.”

  22. Adereterial*

    If I’m expected to be working whilst on my lunch you can be absolutely sure I’m getting paid for that time – one way or another. I’m either adding it to flexi or leaving early and getting the time back that way. I’ll pay for my own lunch if it’s more informal but generally they’re catered if they’re formal.

    I work in government – in the UK – and they will pay subsistence if needed. They also pay for water coolers (or zip taps), microwaves, toasters, fridges etc for staff even though we’re taxpayer funded because the cost is, frankly, minimal and it’s beyond absurd that US government employees have to pay for basic amenities or not have them at all.

    1. LittleDoctor*

      Yeah I work in a government-funded position in Canada and this shit I’m reading is truly wacked out. On another level. How is it legal to make government employees pay for WATER? We have a water cooler and multiple fridges and small appliances and like, occasional snacks because we’re a workplace. Truly do not understand how Americans are put through this.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I work for a government agency in Finland and I’m just as confuzzled every time this comes up.

  23. KayZee*

    Nobody hates smoking more than me, but if your employee prefers to spend his money on cigarettes instead of lunch, that’s his business.

    Also, maybe he just doesn’t want to have lunch with all of you. I love my team and in a work context I am outgoing and easily conversational. Bring us to a restaurant and I clam up. Staff lunches seem more like a punishment than anything to me.

    1. LittleDoctor*

      Also it might not even be a wants thing. A lot of people are not capable of quitting smoking because of other challenges, especially people born prone to substance use disorders.

  24. Purple Cat*

    LW2 – Key Points

    She’s otherwise a good worker, and it doesn’t appear that her meetings are affected by her rushed entrance, but it still bugs me to watch this show twice a week.

    If her meetings aren’t affected, then it’s NOT a problem. You just don’t like it. As Alison says, focus on outcomes. The *only* possible thing I would mention is if she’s actually starting the meetings late. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter if clients are already there waiting for her. When I have a first appointment of the day somewhere, I never expect them to take me early, I’m just hoping they’re not running late already.

    1. MEH Squared*

      I agree. She’s doing well in the meetings. She’s there for the meeting. She’s probably prepping the night before. If she’s starting the meetings on time and is doing fine during the meetings, then I don’t think what time she arrives matters as more than just optics. I concede that optics can be important, but it’s going to be hard to make it palatable to the employee if it’s solely for optics. Again, this is predicated on if she’s starting the meetings on time.

    2. Gyne*

      I think the LW’s issue is the perhaps slightly performative “look how rushed and frazzled I am” vibe the colleague gives off when she comes in for the 8 am meetings. Which I think I would also do an internal eye roll about. Ok, we get you prefer a 9 am start. You have an 8 am meeting today. We don’t need a melodramatic performance of you rushing in and throwing things around before you get to work. Just show up and get down to business.

      1. Dr Sarah*

        Whoa, can you dial back on the judgement? Everything the writer described sounds totally in line with normal behaviour from someone who’s just barely made it in before their first appointment is due to start; Mary’s in a hurry to get to the meeting before she actually *does* become late, so she walks fast, and she throws her coat down on her desk in passing because she doesn’t have a spare few seconds to put it down carefully/arrange it. Why the assumption that it’s ‘performative’ or ‘melodramatic’?

        I’m one of the people who has *frequently* been in this sort of situation due to ‘earliest time I can possibly make it with childcare constraints’ being neck and neck with ‘time I’m meant to be sitting down and starting’, and, yes, I probably did look visibly rushed and frazzled as I strode through the building to get to my room. You know why? Because I *was* rushed and frazzled! Because this is the kind of situation that leaves people feeling rushed and frazzled! Believe me, I would have found it superlatively annoying if someone had assumed that I must actually have time to do all this at a comfortable rate and was doing the last minute stuff to be ‘performative’ or ‘melodramatic’. No; believe me, I would have *loved* to have the spare minutes in my schedule to walk in at a relaxed rate and stop off at the kitchen to grab a coffee. But being rushed and frazzled was the constantly stressful morning situation I was stuck with, and there’s a good chance Mary’s in the same boat and does not need this judgement.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        Even if that is true, I think the best thing the LW could do is ignore it. If she IS playing the martyr, then telling her off plays into that and if she’s not, then the LW is telling her off for the LW’s own mistaken impression.

  25. CLC*

    On 8am starts: 8:00am is an extremely difficult meeting time for so many people. A lot of us just aren’t “morning people” in the sense that while we may plan ahead, wake up at the right time, etc, things just don’t go that smoothly for us. Lots of small things can wrong first thing in the morning like uncooperative young family members, spilled coffee requiring change of clothes, transportation issues, childcare delays, etc. I agree with Allison that this employee doesn’t seem to be doing anything wrong per se by being rushed in the morning—the clients are probably rushed too! I would suggest if possible limiting 8:00 meetings in general, to only if it’s the only time the client can do.
    On playing with hair: I wouldn’t say anything to this employee, unless *maybe* she is very young/new to the professional world and even then I would couch it extremely carefully as this is a very, very personal thing. I’m ADHD and my entire life I have twirled my hair for stimulation/soothing. I’ve known since I was a child that this is frowned upon, but that’s what my brain does. I’ve always been able to curtail it to a large degree at work, and since I started taking medication 15 years ago I don’t do it as much anyway. However, when I was pregnant a few years ago and I was off medication and all of my chemicals were in chaos, I accidentally twirled my hair *once* in a meeting. My boss’s boss later berated me for “touching my hair” and it was the most degrading, humiliating moment (it was a very small, internal meeting and I was not doing a formal presentation). I was a successful middle aged professional and I was being called out for something that would get me scolded in third grade, at a time when I was really struggling and very anxious about the effects of pregnancy on my work performance. And it really just wasn’t necessary at all. If this employee has had this habit for any length of time I’m sure she has been made aware of it, and as adult it’s her business if she still does it while knowing the risks of being perceived poorly. The thing is that looking at her split ends is probably something that allows her to pay greater focus to the discussion rather than the other way around. I also wonder if this would be perceived so badly if it were, say, a male employee fiddling with a button on the cuff of his shirt, and whether anyone would feel the need to inform him that it makes him appear distracted.

    1. Hands in Hair*

      I completely agree about the hair. While not formally diagnosed, I think I have a minor tendency for trichotillomania (pulling out hair) and my stressed (and sometimes boredom) response is for my hands to go to my hair. I can usually curb the worst of it by keeping my hair in a bun but if it’s down my hands just gravitate to it. I have fortunately never had anyone point it out to me in a professional setting but it would completely demoralize me if it was.

  26. SpaceySteph*

    Everyone in my office makes the same salary, but I’m the only one who has 3 kids in daycare which costs me about 120% of my mortgage. So, yeah, I’m packing a lunch.

    I get that smoking is often seen as a vice so some people feel they can judge that more than other expenditures, but the bottom line is nobody gets to tell anyone else how to spend their money. Someone could just as easily say “they have a big house/fancy car/vacation so clearly they have money for that.” That’s correct, because they prioritize money for that.

    1. Rain's Small Hands*

      And you never really know someone’s financial situation. I have a trust fund friend who tends to work low paid jobs – but has money. And there have been times in my life where my husband and I both worked well paid professional jobs – but were supporting his brother who was dying and his mother who was supporting his brother – as well as our own living expenses and saving for two kids to go to college. Don’t even start to guess who has money, who doesn’t, and how they spend it among your coworkers – it isn’t a good look and you’ll never have enough information to even guess why Sara can afford expensive vacations (her grandfather pays for them) and why Tom can’t seem to make ends meet (he’s paying off a bankruptcy from the number his ex did on him) on the same salary.

    2. LittleDoctor*

      And smoking in particular, it’s almost cruel to me to point that out as an example of something he could quit if he was broke. Maybe he couldn’t! A lot of people can’t.

  27. Fidgeter*

    I wonder if the hair fidgeting is a neurodiversity thing. Is the LW bothered because it’s not “normal” or because it’s genuinely disruptive? Frankly I would say the the other folks in the meeting should just deal. Possibly there is some other way for the employee to fidget, but her need to fidget should be supported.

    1. SG*

      I came here to say exactly this. #3 sounds like it could be a stim. If employee previously disclosed anything, could ask if alternative stim options could be used like LW or employer giving her a discreet and quiet fidget cube for under the table, but if this has never been disclosed, that would be inappropriate since the employee’s health is not anyone’s business.

    2. Shhhh*

      It could also be related to trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling).

      That letter could’ve easily been written by my past bosses. I have it under control now but for a long time picking at split ends and otherwise playing with my hair was connected to anxiety for me, so it would happen a lot at work.

    3. bad hair lyfe*

      I have trich, ADHD and am on the autism spectrum, and have exhibited behaviors similar to the person mentioned in that letter, and as such can confirm it is most likely an ND thing. In my own case, it’s a compulsive behavior/stim that can be extremely hard to control, and at various points in my life, having to actively expend energy telling myself to not touch/pull my hair actually made it harder to focus on whatever the task at hand was.

      I’ve gotten much better about it in recent years (found some new coping mechanisms, etc.) but that letter may as well have been written about me in a previous job, and I know that if my boss told me that lots of people had noticed that behavior and that they thought it was a major problem that needed to be fixed (regardless of whether it actually affected my work), I would’ve been absolutely humiliated, and would’ve seriously considered quitting that job.

      This is also larger issue with white american professional culture, but I really wish neurotypicals were less obsessed with policing people’s body language/body movements, and making assumptions about someone’s work performance or quality based on those judgements (this also applies to things like eye contact). I have a lot of issues with working fully remotely, but one thing I’ve enjoyed over the past two years is that I don’t have to worry as much about Performing “proper” professional body language/not visibly fidgeting/making sufficient eye contact/etc.

    4. Irish Teacher*

      One of my students once asked me why I was combing my hair with a whiteboard marker! I’d just been running a strand of hair through the thing on the cap – not sure what you call it. I hadn’t even noticed I was doing it until he asked about it. It didn’t matter, as I have a pretty good rapport with this class and have talked about my need to fidget with them on previous occasions, because a couple of the students in it have the same tendency one tended to do it inappropriately, playing with things that could break or were disruptive, so I showed him what I do and I also used myself as an example to take the heat off a kid who was being asked “why are you doing that?”

      So yeah, regardless of whether or not it’s a neurodiversity thing (I’ve been questioning for twenty years whether or not I’m somewhere on the autistic spectrum and have yet to come to an answer nor do I really think it matters), I think it very likely it’s an unconscious thing and if it’s not disrupting anything, I don’t see a problem.

    5. Monica*

      Since I’m not neurodiverse myself, I used to think that the fidgeting meant they weren’t paying attention, but eventually I learned that it’s the opposite: the fidgeting HELPS them pay attention, and they are participating fully while doing it. I’ve noticed during Covid that video meetings seem to be useful for folks who need to move while they’re thinking or listening — they can do that all they want at home without bothering someone sitting next to them. I’d definitely like to see movement — I hesitate to even call it fidgeting! — be more supported in professional contexts (and in schools!).

  28. Spicy Tuna*

    I don’t eat food prepared by other people, so I like Allison’s suggestion about having the lunch in the office so people can bring their own.

    Of course, I also have a strong aversion to socializing with co-workers, so I would probably try to get out of an in-office lunch as well, but sometimes those things are unavoidable and just part of work. They don’t call it work because it’s enjoyable!

  29. Joe4d*

    If the boss isnt buying AND I am not still on the clock, then piss off on your team lunch.

  30. Night Owl*

    I don’t like workplaces that allow meetings to start at the beginning of their office hours and run through the end of office hours. There should be a buffer of time for employees to settle in, organize their day, and get into work mode before they have to be in a meeting and also bring their day to a close at the end.

    This seems to happen at workplaces where at least one manager starts at 6 am even though business hours start at 8:30, because they have a long commute and want to avoid traffic. So they choose to start earlier and leave earlier, which makes them unavailable during the end of business hours. Or managers who work way past business hours are too keen to hold impromptu meetings at the end of the day or after business hours.

    What if something relevant comes up at 8:07, but the meeting already started? What if the client sent an email at 10pm but the employee won’t see it because the meeting and work day started at the same time? ***Early and late meetings encourage employees to break their work boundaries and work longer hours.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah, I genuinely don’t understand why they don’t simply set the first appointments at 8.15 or something. If a client has a really pressing need to be there at eight then I’d allow it, but couch that as a great favor: “Oh we’re usually just opening the building at 8, but we’ll squeeze you in as soon as possible”. It’s true that some people could easily get in earlier than 8, but anyone with any kind of hard hitch -public transport or a school run, is going to struggle. If people took the job with the understanding that the working day starts at eight that may be their earliest limit. It’s poor planning to a) tell employees the day starts at 8, b) schedule appointments at 8, and then c) get annoyed that both parties are there at the exact time they agreed to be there!

    2. Rain's Small Hands*

      In some jobs it can’t be helped – I used to work job with a worldwide team – I’d have meetings at 6am my time with the Europe team, commute into work, have a meeting around lunch for the U.S. staff, and then have a 10pm for Asia once my kids were asleep. But it was a great job – because I could waltz out of the office on those days at 2 or 3pm and no one really clocked my time (at any point) as long as I got the job done.

      But yeah, 8am meetings when you have an expected 8am start time are bad – especially if you have little control over your own schedule – because then it really does start to erase boundaries.

  31. Oliver*

    Could they mean “I cant afford these extra calories”, rather than “I cant afford this extra expense”? Even if you choose places where there are healthy options, there’s often a perception that restaurants use more fat/salt/les s healthy cooking techniques in order to make things taste better. (And it is frequently true, unless you specifically go to “health food” places)

    Ive heard folks use phrase to mean either, and some people are very strict about what they eat for any number of reasons

    1. UKgreen*

      This is an excellent point. Here in the uk we now have calorie counts on menus (by law) in lots of chain restaurants. The pub we usually go to for team lunches has NOTHING on the menu that’s less than 800 cals…

    2. Ana*

      Good point. I turn down expensed lunches 75% of the time because my bosses like to pig out and I have an ED I manage pretty well with extreme discipline. And I would NEVER tell them

  32. Cesira*

    #3- I’ve had comments like this before and learned that for people with anxiety or PTSD it’s a self-soothing technique. I tend to play with my hair, drape it across my nose and face and otherwise fuss with it. It helps to keep it short or pulled back, but it’s definitely an unconscious habit.

  33. Anony*

    People who haven’t worked in government or nonprofit sectors won’t understand the lunch one, but that’s the way it is! The best option is to find a way to get together that isn’t eating out for lunch. Coffee break with you bringing in some donuts (more affordable) or a brown bag lunch are probably the best options.

    1. BEC*

      I’ve only ever worked in government and in nonprofits, so the idea that companies DO expense these items is totally strange and wonderful to me.

      1. LittleDoctor*

        I work for the government but in Canada, so this all sounds insane to me, especially the stuff in the comments (a company making people pay for a coffee machine?? or for WATER??)

        1. Irish Teacher*

          Yup, in Ireland, it seems to be the opposite to the way people are talking or certainly, it was before the recession. I correct the State exams and…heck, we were told at the conference a couple of weeks ago that if we needed to buy a calculator to add up the marks (if doing it on our phones was annoying), expense it!

          Actually, at the start of the recession, they cut a load of the expenses for correcting, including cutting the cakes for our break at the conference. They literally put out a plate of penguin biscuits that year instead of the Danishes and doughnuts of previous years. I honestly think there were more complaints about the lack of cakes than there was about cutting the travel expenses!

    2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      Yeah, there’s a lot of judgement about this above, and while I agree you can’t ever know another employees financial situation, I empathize with the OP. They want to do something fun with their employees and the options as a government employee are *very* limited. (Thankfully long since not a problem for me) Having one guy who seems like he should be able to afford a $15 lunch once a a quarter throwing a wrench into basically the one kind of thing you can do for fun has to be frustrating.

      Absolutely this person has every right to say they can’t afford it, but it’s still frustrating that one (apparent) stick in the mud is ruining things for everyone else. The fact is though that it’s possible they *can’t* afford it. You just can’t know, and pressuring them isn’t fair either.

    3. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      Yup, exactly! I’m a government contractor in a pretty mixed, gov employees and gov contractors office. There are ethics rules because we don’t want to ‘give off the wrong impressions’ (yes, my pitiful above $XX amount of money will sway someone to chose my company over another for contracts). Plus as a contractor, if there are government sponsored parties, like we have a two hour social, that has to be made up at another time or it counts as vacation because we cannot bill the government for that….

      The government agency sponsors parties once a quarter so I can budget making up hours for that, and there are a few people who coordinate agency happy hours that are ‘come if you want.” It’s a lot easier because it’s just an email of ‘hey happy hour is at the bar section of TGI Fridays on Thursday starting at 4pm’ and if you want to go, you go, if you don’t you don’t. All we do is just make sure that everyone is aware that it is happening so that no one gets left out if they want in.

      I’d tell OP that they should host an inclusive thing once or twice a year, and just make the rest, ‘if you want to come’ and leave it at that.

    4. Elsajeni*

      Even going out for coffee together, if that’s doable, might be an alternative — cheaper for the OP when they pick up the tab, and if they sometimes don’t, it’s still cheaper than lunch, more acceptable for someone to tag along and chat but not order anything, and feels more like “a little break in the workday” than “taking over my non-work time”.

  34. Just Me*

    Question 1 – I used to be an AmeriCorps for a government office. We had mandatory fun after hours sometimes, but my budget was very tight and, as you say, the office couldn’t cover it (because the feds). I know your employee probably makes more than a volunteer stipend, but I personally don’t know how fair it is to expect employees to be somewhere and pay for things beyond the basics required for their job or to dictate how they choose to spend their money (does he have children? a parent he’s supporting? a hobby that is expensive but gets him through the day? is he saving up for a wedding?). My office eventually moved to a once-in-a-while office breakfast where people could bring whatever they wanted and meet, and that worked better.

  35. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    I think I’ve developed a new axiom: never spend your employee’s money for them. Team lunches where they have to pay? Contributions to a gift for a boss or another team member? Charitable donations where they contribute but the company gets the credit? All of these qualify. If you’re telling your employee how to spend the money you pay them for their work, you’re effectively reducing their compensation.

    1. Purple Cat*

      Pretty sound *life* advice, not just for the workplace. So many times people are quick to say “$x” isn’t a big deal, so then you ask them to give it to you, and all of a sudden they backtrack.

  36. mlem*

    LW2: It’s not enough your organization is making your colleague rush to be in an hour earlier than typical — you have to judge her for not managing to hide that from *you*? It’s not something she’s doing AT YOU.

  37. Dona Florinda*

    OP 4, you’re not abusing the company by using their free stuff. I write free content for a website and, just like Alison said, we do it because SOME people might be interested in buying our software after seeing a sample of our work, plus for other marketing strategies.

    Unless you using it is keeping other people from using it (say, if you ate all the cookie samples, which is clearly not the case here), there’s no reason to think you’re doing anything wrong. Also, I’m guessing there’s something wrong with their mailing system, since they’re still trying to reach you, but keep in mind that they could coming from a bot, not a real person.

    1. Katie from Scotland*

      I was coming to say this too! It’s almost certain that each resource you download triggers a whole bunch of automated follow up emails with information and sales pitches. Then a sales rep gets an automated task to call you, and unless they’re the same sales person you’ve had before they might not know your “No” was no forever, not just you saying you weren’t ready yet.
      They should be able to put a note on your file, but some systems don’t have an easy way to tag someone out of sales messaging and still include them in the useful free stuff. The follow up is just par for the course when you’re downloading free things online.

  38. PinkCandyfloss*

    Making a lunch meeting mandatory AND telling the workers they have to pay to eat? What year is this? What world do we live in? LW, this is not how business gets done.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      It doesn’t sound like the lunch meetings aren’t mandatory, and I do want to point out that the OP in this case doesn’t make the “pay for your own meal” rule.

      1. Observer*

        It doesn’t sound like the lunch meetings aren’t mandatory, and I do want to point out that the OP in this case doesn’t make the “pay for your own meal” rule.

        The letter writer absolutely was considering making the lunches mandatory – that is the only way to read “tell him to budget for them”.

        And, when you make something that costs money that you can’t provide mandatory, you are the one responsible for the fact that the person needs to pay for something that they wouldn’t otherwise have to pay for.

  39. Elizabeth*

    Re: The Hair Twirler – I’ve been known to do that. Or mess with my cuticles. Or shift in my seat 47 times. Why? Because doodling is unprofessional and fidget things are distracting and anything other than rapt attention with a vacuous semi-smile is seen as not engaged. I’m middle management and fairly successful, I shouldn’t have to defend my ability to listen to anyone nor disclose whatever my personal mental requirements are. I admit, this is a personal bugbear of mine.

    It’s very similar to the 8am meeting letter. Is she actually checked out? Which you should recognize pretty quickly through post-meeting discussion. Or maybe she’s managing a neurodivergent need while deeply focused on the conversation, which should also be very apparent in post-meeting discussions.

  40. WillowSunstar*

    I’m not sure when this letter was originally sent, but with rising inflation costs these days, it is definitely possible that someone can’t afford $10+ for lunch. I’m someone who has a car payment + student loans + credit card bills. My rent is being increased over $50 a month. I have prescriptions with a copay. I’m pretty sure my hourly wage is not going to keep up with it. Already doing things like cutting out Netflix, dumped regular cable several years ago, eating more plant based to save money, etc. But when you’re single and pay all your own bills, it’s entirely possible to not have lots of extra money and you may need that $10 lunch money for things like gasoline to get to work, rent payment, etc.

  41. supersleeper*

    I’ve worked for the government so I agree that providing lunch is probably not going to happen. If the employee truly can’t afford it, there are great tips in the comments.

    But maybe that’s just the employee’s polite way of saying they’d like to use their personal lunch time away from work. If I’m required to attend a working lunch, I am absolutely taking my lunch time before or after to do all of my normal lunch activities (errands, letting the dog out, etc.). I enjoy lunch with my colleagues, but that hasn’t always been the case. OP, can you let people know that they can take personal time before/after the working lunches, in case that’s the issue?

  42. Chaika*

    Re: #3, that kind of hair picking is actually a disorder that has a name (trichotillomania). It’s a compulsive behavior that’s really hard to stop. I’ve been dealing with this since I was a teen, and I’ve found that I need to either keep my hair from getting too long, or keep it up or braided to stop myself from obsessing over the ends.

    1. metadata minion*

      It absolutely could be that, or it could be ADHD fidgeting, or any number of other things.

    2. Wisteria*

      The LW doesn’t describe the employee pulling out the hair, just examining the ends. I don’t think we have enough information to ascribe any particular source to the behavior.

      We should keep in mind that some neurodivergences do have hair fiddling as a symptom, and that awareness should drive a script that is a little more sensitive to let the employee know that other people have noticed and that other people are having a certain perception of her.

  43. Irish Teacher*

    I’m not sure from the letter whether these team lunches are expected or if it’s more a case of a social activity that he wants to participate in but can’t afford. If it’s the former, then I think it’s not really fair to judge his spending. There is a difference between “I can’t afford to be paying to work” and “I can’t afford the lunch, period.” The cigarettes are presumably something he chooses to buy; if the lunch is not a matter of choice, then it’s sort of in a different category.

    If it’s a genuine choice, then it’s a bit different, though I still like Alison’s suggestion, because leaving him out for financial reasons seems like it could be problematic.

    With regard to number 3, I want to point out that playing with hair is one of these things that can be completely unconscious and it may be hard for a person to stop. I also have concerns about telling a person not to fidget basically in a meeting. Some people need to fidget in order to concentrate, others do it to deal with anxiety and in the latter case, I think having to avoid doing a particular action could add to the anxiety. Certainly, feeling I have to monitor my fidgets would make me less comfortable in a job (one of the things I love about my job, and there are many, is that I’ve been actively encouraged to borrow the fidgets from our autism class). When I was at school, I often had to hide my fidgeting and learnt how to do it unobtrusively, but it was always a relief to go into English or History, as my English and History teacher had no problem with me doing it (she knew full well I was paying attention anyway!). I think there is a problematic element to assuming somebody is not paying attention because they are fidgeting and while I know it is not something the LW can change single-handedly, I do think that as a society, we need to unlearn that idea.

  44. yllis*

    In a state higher ed place and Im already ticked off I pay to park here. Im not paying to do a work/lunch.

  45. L-squared*

    I think the suggestion to let people order in together and him go out is good, however, what if he would just rather not eat with these people. Not trying to say he is a bad guy, but like, if he doesn’t want to eat with the team, and no one is paying, are you going to force him to do so. Maybe the “can’t afford it” is a nice way to politely decline, however if you want to pay for him, he’ll suck it up and deal

    1. Trawna*

      Ya. Does he get his lunch hour back?

      I like people. My colleagues are great. But, I need my time, and I have friends and family. I don’t need to be team built : )

      1. L-squared*

        Exactly. I’m happy to eat with people I don’t necessarily care for on someone else’s dime. But if I have to bring my own lunch or something, I’m good.

  46. Fergus but Not*

    I was going offered a job at a company where I had to fly occasionally. They were only going to reimburse not enough for meals, and a lot of other cheapness. I wasn’t going to fly 1100 mi. and pay business expenses. I opted out of there and ghosted them.

  47. Red Tape Specialist*

    The comments on the lunch are interesting! In the before times, my government group (8-10 people, I’m the supervisor) would go out for lunch for each person’s birthday (pay for self and chip in to cover the birthday person’s lunch). No one was required to go, but it seemed like a normal, fun thing for the group. Maybe it is a culture thing that we have done for many years, but I never thought of it as a horrible burden (as some commenters indicate). One time we went out and had a working breakfast, that people paid for and I’m wondering if that was bad. My intent was to make a mandatory training into something fun.

    However, the LW says it is “two staff plus her”, so if one third of the group objects, why continue? Brown bag seems like a better option.

    1. Just Me*

      Yeah. I completely get that not everybody wants to or is able to go out to lunch, and there’s not an ideal situation that works for everyone in every situation. But going out to the occasional team lunch is a very very normal thing, and commenters are acting like the boss is a monster. And if this letter was about the boss NOT wanting to do lunches with her team, some commenters would paint her just as badly.

      1. What a way to make a living*

        I imagine the judgy comments about how he spends his money on cigarettes rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way. And that prompted a strong reaction.

        Two optional lunches a year with colleagues is fine. But lack of clarity about whether it is work/social then judging people for not going is the issue.

  48. A Pound of Obscure*

    I work in government, and in my state there would be no rule against paying for employees’ lunch as a team activity and being reimbursed, within reason. Sounds like this employee just doesn’t want to or doesn’t find these lunches worthwhile. I wouldn’t like it, either. If I’m paying for my own lunch, I’ll go where I want, and with whom I want – which is probably not with my supervisor and coworkers.

    1. Louis*

      The fact the your state government allows it doesn’t mean the person in letters works for one does–different states have different rules.

      The person in the letter could also work for the federal government, which has VERY strict rules about using official funds to pay for meal.

  49. chellie*

    Regarding lunch out: I’m scrolling through to see if anyone has weighed in on how (at least here, in the ones I frequent) government offices are often like the seventh level of hell. They typically house a lot of people in cubes, you can’t have a lunch meeting in a conference room, there’s probably a gross kitchen and even if you use it someone in another department will kick up a fuss about someone sitting at the table for too long. Potlucks may be a thing, but 100% you are not having one unless it’s a Big Department Do, possibly with assigned foods.
    Managers are often encouraged to “build teams” without any resources to do so or even any ability to do much managing. There are employees who object to everything that happens (in a big bureaucracy where something annoying is ALWAYS happening), apparently for the sake of being a pill, but more likely because they have forgotten that they once knew that the gold plated health insurance and other security comes without free lunch. I don’t know or care about his actual stuation, but my money’s on him finding that being unable to afford lunch is unarguable, an effective way to avoid socializing with colleagues, with the bonus of making his (likely younger and female) manager uncomfortable. I would just stop with team lunches and when you feel like it, ask your colleagues if they want to have (buy your own) lunch. Gift cards once a year are not necessary but can be a way to say thank you to team members in an environment where you need to have the appearance of being scrupulously, and impersonally, fair.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      When I’ve worked in the kind of dodgy office where the desks are held together by staples and the staff lounge is a water cooler in the corner with no cups, we’ve usually kicked back at our desks with a cup of tea and some biscuits and bonded over how shite the company is.

  50. Pearl*

    Ha. I was about to suggest the exact same thing to LW #1. Just have food delivered, and that one employee can either get in on it at his own expense or bring something from home.

    Regarding the woman focused on her hair: I used to have the exact same bad habit of searching for split ends, though I would never do it in a meeting. However, when I did that I was either doing it as a stress reliever OR to focus. So it may be a focusing tool for her. But that can be problematic if it’s distracting others.

  51. umami*

    Oof. If you are in a supervisory role and requiring junior staff to go to lunch meetings with you, you really should be picking up the tab. It’s only two staffers, and you do make more money (at what you state is a very good salary). You don’t have any insight into his budget to be able to say he can or can’t afford to eat out for these lunches, and it’s irrelevant because you really shouldn’t require them to meet over a meal.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this. The manager really should be paying out of their own pocket if it’s only two employees, and one of them opts out every time he has to pay for himself.

  52. TT*

    How about, “This is MY lunch hour, and unless you are paying me for it, you have NO say in what I do”

  53. Miller _ admin*

    Ref: My employee is too rushed at early-morning meetings
    A lot of employers are bad about requiring you to be ready and available at the 8 am opening; first appointment, etc. But do not want you clocking in until 8 am.. The time getting set up is work time; they are not giving the employee credit for. The individuals that have 8 am appointments, should be clocking in at 7:45 am or 7:30.

    When I worked at Dominion Bank (now Wells Fargo) in the 1990’s; we were required to be ready to go at 8:00 a.m. They didn’t count the time you came in; opened up the vault, the download the ATMs etc., night deposits. Set up your cash drawer, etc. You know; they shaved off 15 minutes per day off our pay checks. The pay sucked; but still. I should have been receiving 1 – 2 hours of OT per week; or have my schedule adjusted. Too late to do anything about it. It was dirty pool. The vault has to be opened up; a group of women (occasionally a man) would be lined up to get their cash drawer out & than set up.

    1. Observer*

      What they did was illegal. And it doesn’t sound like much has fundamentally changed there. The last set of scandals are much the same – squeezing money out of the lowest people in the hierarchy.

      1. Miller_admin*

        Yep. I suspect most banks work this way. I’ve seen other companies do things to save on the back of their employee. I went through hell and back at current job with a prior supervisor that lunch meetings that was setting up and being required to attend were OT. She tried to tell me that I didn’t have to attend the training; and they supplied lunch. I had asked to leave a at 4 on Friday to prevent going into OT. I got lunch so I shouldn’t get paid.

        1. Observer*

          Some are worse than others though. These guys have repeatedly done illegal stuff on the backs of the most vulnerable of the staff and customers.

  54. Twill*

    I just had to respond to this. Years ago when my kids were small and I was the only one working, I earned a decent salary. The same as many of my coworkers. A lot of them routinely went out to lunch everyday. I was lucky if I could maybe do one lunch on a payday every few months. I had a co-worker in same situation and we had a very cheap Chinese food restaurant in walking distance from work with
    $4.99 lunch special. We looked so forward to that!
    Every dime that I had went for rent and car payment and gas and groceries and utilities and everything else that makes up family life. Any ‘extra’ ( hahah) went for bookfairs and school supplies, and things of that ilk. I didn’t begrudge them going out to lunch, but there was no way I could afford it. I learned a valuable lesson in that though. I never have a problem saying the following words ‘Sorry, that’s not in my budget’ cheerfully, because I don’t feel sorry for myself so please don’t you, and firmly, because it is not up for debate.

  55. Pounce de Lion*

    Love the BYO lunch gathering idea, especially right now when many people prefer not to eat in restaurants for Covid prevention reasons.

  56. Calaghan Eugene*

    Ohmigosh I was Mary (when I was in formal employment) leave that poor child alone!

    Some of us, for very real reasons, are not early start people and we are trying to SURVIVE. It sounds like Mary is doing a pretty good job.

    For me it looked like:
    – preparing morning stuff the night before
    – scheduling as few morning meetings as possible
    – coaxing myself gently into morning stuff with the knowledge that I wouldn’t have to do a lot of mental/executive function/administrative labor when my brain was still HOURS away from being truly ready to come online. Knowing I was set up to just roll in, throw down the coat, get the keurig and begin speaking was what **got me the eff out of bed**
    – I’m extremely overstimulated for about 4-5 hours after waking up, and getting anywhere on time without distraction is a battle. Reducing housekeeping tasks along the way by prepping them in advance, or streamlining my processes all together, keeps me from completing dissociating/spacing out

    I don’t know if this is your Mary, but everyone I’ve *personally* met in my life who rolls in/can’t be on time/does things weird has some version of divergence going on. IF ITS WORKING, leave her alone. Demoralize this employee at your cost :(

  57. works with realtors*

    Is there any chance the hair inspector might be doing it unconsciously? I have derma-and-trichtotillamanias, and don’t even notice when I’m in a repetitive loop; and when it’s been called out, I get so stressed out that I enter a bigger, sometimes worse loop.

    Just a thought!

  58. PlainJane*

    Advice to OP: If there are only 3 of you and you’re going to do any work talk, if someone is having problems with the money, have a brown-bag lunch at the office. You may think, “Oh, our salary is fine,” while the other person has a pile of debts he’s paying off, plus trying to make rent alone, plus the rising cost of gas–the same salary can seem very different with different circumstances, and it’s not your business to police what the co-workers expenditures are.

    So if you want to go out socially for lunch and not talk work, that’s your business, but if work is going to be discussed, for heaven’s sake, brown-bag it. Just on general principle, a person shouldn’t have to pay to be at work.

    1. PlainJane*

      (Heh, I hadn’t gone to the link yet. I see Allison pretty much said the same. I feel smart now. :D)

  59. Beebee*

    I definitely wouldn’t want to pay for a team lunch that cost more than a coffee, even now. It’s an expense that can add up quickly and I usually like to save takeout for the weekend! I did find early on in my career it made it harder for me to connect with my co-workers because they’d all go out all the time and I could usually only go if it was paid for or was somewhere like a coffee shop where I truly could get something for under $10.

    That being said.. damn some of y’all are bitter about team lunches! I like to do them if I don’t have to pay for them.

  60. Raida*

    This is not a regular issue but it’s been stopping me from arranging team or group lunches. I would guess it comes up three to four times a year.

    Should I be picking up his portion of the check?

    Or should I ask him to budget for the occasional team lunch?
    Perhaps – maybe you discuss with him that you’re happy to give everyone x weeks of lead time to budget, but that’s not the same as telling him to budget for it or him successfully doing so.

    Or should I just plan as usual and allow him to exclude himself?
    Yes and No. Yes in that he can decide not to spend his personal money on the lunch, No in that you could do a potluck or even just “everyone bring in your own lunch we’re having a picnic” in recognition of the out of pocket expense of a lunch which is a budgetary strain for one of your staff.

    This is not a regular issue but it’s been stopping me from arranging team or group lunches.
    Well don’t just stop arranging lunches for the whole team because you don’t know how to handle one person – you said it is only occasional anyway!

    Just talk to the budget guy about a)do you want to attend? b)what is your budget? c)would a longer lead time help?
    then talk to the entire team about options of potluck, picnic, lead times, any preferences?

  61. IWishIHadAFancyUserName*

    I’ve been known to go to lunch with a colleague and not eat, even if it does produce the occasional side-eye.
    Also, if these are mandatory team lunches, I’m curious, are these on or off the clock.
    You require me to attend something on my own time and expect me to spend my own privately budgeted money to attend? Get outta here!!

  62. short'n'stout (she/her)*

    I was sitting in a meeting once behind someone who was fiddling with their hair, and it was REAlly distracting and a little gross. I’m also someone who gets really tense when someone is fidgeting in my line of sight, including in my peripheral vision. Perhaps the split ends hunter could sit at the back of the room.

  63. Karia*

    No, you can’t tell your employee to budget for work lunches, and yes, you are being judgemental. I’ve been in positions where I had no spare income for discretionary purchases. It was embarrassing, especially because people really struggle to understand the concept of poverty.

    Most people think you are spending money on other things, that you are choosing not to spend money on the thing they want you to do. People often really cannot grasp that some people have just enough (or not) for essentials, and that no, you really don’t have £10 for lunch.

    1. Nanani*

      The same salaries are not relevant. Dude has expenses that aren’t gonna match yours. Butt out of their budget!

  64. cncx*

    I had an extremely expensive six figure divorce and there were definitely times where even though my salary looked good on paper to my boss, i was throwing literally all i had at lawyers and my ex-husband’s taxes. 15 bucks for one lunch or 15 bucks for groceries for several days…there were some months where one lunch out meant instant ramen for a few days. I had a great salary, i had absolutely zero cash flow that i could not “budget” my way out of.

    Also the cigarettes comment- life is hard enough, maybe they make room in their budget for ciggies and not for work lunches that cant be expenses.

  65. Mal*

    For the hair playing one: Bring it up to the employee but inquisitively. I have ADHD and this sounds like a stim. If you know she is paying attention otherwise, and the only issue is her appearance of seeming checked out, then I would assure the people complaining that your employee is in fact listening and not everyone shows that same way, nor are they capable of it.

    My focus stim is doodling. It started in middle school and I still do it as a 33 year old adult. I doodle on all my disposable work stuff. I’ve had complaints about it at nearly every job I have, but my work was good enough that people defended me. At my most recent job, separate from me, one of our managers actually included space for doodling because it helps people focus and organize their thoughts.

    The idea of how one should look focused is very neurotypical and I’d encourage the letter writer and others to consider being more open-minded withini reason.

    1. Nanani*

      Well said!
      They don’t need to be formally diagnosed or aware that they are neurodivergent either. There’s no need for Formal Accommodation over something this harmless.

      Neurotypicals need to learn to deal.

      1. pancakes*

        Do you think it’s not possible (or simply shouldn’t matter) that for some of us, seeing the repetitive motion of someone visibly fidgeting in a meeting is distracting? It doesn’t bother me much if someone is, say, seated across the room, but I find it very distracting to be seated next to someone who is fidgeting in a meeting.

        1. Mal*

          But the issue here is how it looks unprofessional and not checked out. Doodling is harmless. If you know it’s distracting to sit next to someone who’s fidgeting, arrange yourself so you don’t sit next to a person who you know fidgets to focus.

          And while Nanani pointed out that the reasons shouldn’t have to be related to a diagnosable cause, it could just be a helpful way for a person to focus, think about if you would say this about someone who perhaps has a more visible disability that could be considered distracting, but you would never comment on for obvious reasons. Fidgeting is not always a bodily habit, for some it’s an extension of a disability they have.

        2. Irish Teacher*

          I definitely believe that some stims can be distracting for others, but…I’m not sure it should always be the person who is stimming who has to adapt. If they can’t concentrate without fidgeting and another person finds it difficult to concentrate while they are fidgeting…I don’t think it’s really fair for a boss to intervene and say, “stop doing what you need to in order to concentrate and instead focus on ensuring the person beside you can concentrate,” if that makes sense. I do think the person who finds it distracting has some responsibility themselves and it is a little unfair to expect the person fidgeting to both be responsible for finding a way to concentrate themself and for ensuring others can concentrate.

          I mean I do try to keep my fidgets as undistracting as possible. I’ll physically put anything noisy, etc out of reach, so I can’t pick them up without being aware of it (and that is another thing; I am often unaware I am doing it and hair…isn’t something you can put out of reach. I don’t even know how often I fidget with my hair and I can’t always stop fidgeting because it is fairly unconscious – if you want a funny story, one time when we were teens, my sister was looking for her sellotape and I was listening to her wondering where it was, blithely unaware that I was, at that point, tossing it against the door to have to roll back to me).

          I just feel there has to be compromise. Yeah, if somebody is visibly annoyed by my clicking a pen or something, I will put that pen out of reach and take another fidget, but…not fidgeting at all really isn’t an option because it’s something I do automatically. And trying NOT to can be a bad idea, because that’s when I pick up something I shouldn’t and start messing with it. I mean, something that could be breakable or that’s noisy or that belongs to somebody else.

          And sometimes, it feels like all the compromise is coming from the person who does fidget and that we are being held responsible not only for being able to concentrate outselves but also for others being able to concentrate.

          I don’t think I’d say it doesn’t matter because yeah, people who are distracted by fidgeting matter too and they have a genuine concern, but…I don’t think it should be the deciding issue and it doesn’t seem fair for a boss to say “your fidget is making it difficult for x to concentrate so stop fidgeting and put up with the fact it will be difficult for you to concentrate.”

  66. Eep*

    Oof the hair thing! I know I do that and it’s such a hard habit to break! Think I’m going to have to try harder.

  67. Testerbert*

    How is Mary getting into the office? Is she dependent on public transport which runs an odd schedule (say, only two trains an hour, one arriving 7.20am the other 7.50am)? Is the traffic *terrible* if she drives in for 8, but less bad if she plans for 9? Does she have childcare/other care commitments which means she *can’t* set off any earlier than she already is?

    Also: if you *want* your staff to be in 15 minutes ‘early’, you set their working hours to accommodate that time. Salary or hourly, it doesn’t matter. If you say “You start at 8”, you can’t be shocked by people arriving at 7.58.

  68. post pandemic priorities*

    not wanting to spend on lunches is more than fair, 1 that’s my unpaid relaxo time! 2 I’m on a flexi schedule now post pandemic, and and since I no longer get a monthly train ticket I am forking out almost 10$ to get to the office (obv still cheaper then monthly)! and I do it 2 times a week, if I buy lunch I’m suddenly spending 25$ each office day! returning from WFH has made these costs that I used to just build into my budget stand out more, with inflation I realized I’d have to cut the lunches down to monthly or I’ll just not have savings.

  69. Gal1658*

    OMG I do the hair thing too! It’s subconscious and I’m definitely not checked out. I’m going to try to be more aware of it and do my best to stop.

    1. Koalafied*

      I’m a compulsive hair puller, and though I can usually stop myself from pulling in front of other people, I cannot stop myself from touching my hair – typically grabbing sections of it and running my fingers down the length repeatedly – UNLESS it’s pulled back or under a hat. Even then I still will often find myself grabbing at the little baby hairs behind my ear and at the nape of my neck that are too short to be caught in the hair tie, but it makes a huge difference and I very rarely let my hair down at work specifically because I know I will fidget with it too much if I do. At most, when my hair is long I’ll do a half-up style where I can grab sections from the bottom half that’s down and do the fidgeting entirely below my shoulders in front of my body as opposed to having my hands up near my head, and I don’t look at my hands while I’m doing it, so it (hopefully) comes off more akin to pen-clicking or similar mindless repetitive motions that people engage in when they’re concentrating on something else, as opposed to my hair being what I’m concentrating on.

  70. ElleKay*

    2: Is this a salaried or hourly role? Because, if you’re only paying her from 8am then of course that’s when she comes in. If you’re going to ask her to come in 15 minutes early (to satisfy your expectations, rather than her needs) then she needs to be paid for those minutes

  71. ElleKay*

    “Or should I just plan as usual and allow him to exclude himself?”
    By all means: No.
    If your team is literally you + 2 people and one person opts out that means you’re having 1:1 lunches with the remaining person. If this were a large team and someone couldn’t make it the optics would be better (not great but better); this runs the risk of looking like the remaining person is getting preferential treatment and the ARE getting a lot more time with their boss.
    In case of raises or future promotions this could seriously come back to bite you

  72. Maz*

    Regarding the employee with the early morning meetings, is it not possible for her to prepare everything for the following morning before she leaves each day, so it’s ready for her?

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