will it hurt me to stay in a job where my boss doesn’t like me, cheating in the office bake-off, and more

I’m off today for family stuff. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. Will it hurt me to stay in a job where my managers don’t like me?

I’ve come to accept that my supervisors (my manager and VP) and I mutually dislike one another on a personal level. Part of it is a function of differing pesonalities and different approaches to project management. But part of it is an entrenched dysfunctional culture at my department and organization and how my supervisors have managed to operate within it for a combined 20 years in the organization and how I have been reacting to the culture in my two years.

Despite the personality clashes, the manager and VP pretty much leave me alone to do my work. As long as am productive, I am generally left me to my own devices. So in a lot of ways I’ve been able to thrive in my performance and results despite the dysfunction. But the formal reviews I’ve gotten have been tepid at best (despite a lot of raves and positive feedback from coworkers up and down the org ladder outside my department). Also, my supervisors don’t seem to put a lot of thought and care to making their performance reviews. I get the impression from their comments on my last review that they took all of 15 minutes each to gloss over what I wrote, scrawled some comments in a hurry and that was it. There is no opportunity given to program staff like me to put in a review about our superiors.

Will it be harmful for my career in the long run to stay in a comfortable but dysfunctional workplace, knowing my supervisors don’t like me on a personal level? I like my work, the hours are humane, the commute is pretty good, and the pay is above average. But the passive-aggressiveness, petty sarcastic remarks, demeaning tone that they talk to me in, and general lack of clear communication pretty much leave me demoralized on a regular basis. I’ve gone to EAP counseling, and I’ve sought your advice many times on specific incidents. I’ve been job-hunting also, but so far no luck in a year and a half of effort.

I am curious if you think I am doing more harm to my career and mental health by staying in a dysfunctional situation where my bosses just plain do not like me and the feeling is mutual. I can make the job work day to day, and in a lot of ways I have excelled. But I know I’ll never get official recognition or respect from them.

Ugh, sorry you’re dealing with this. Yes, I do think it’s harmful to stay in a job where your managers don’t like you. It might be low-grade harm, but it is harmful:

  • You’re less likely to get raises, promotions, good projects, training opportunities, and other benefits that often accompany a good relationship with managers.
  • You’ll forego the reputation-building that a manager who likes you can do for you — speaking well of you to others and introducing you to people who can become part of your network / help you professionally / hire you in the future.
  • You won’t get useful feedback to help you develop professionally. Your peers can give you positive feedback, but it usually takes an invested manager to show you where you could be doing things better or differently.
  • It can endanger your job. You can end up first on a layoffs list, or not get the benefit of the doubt in a he said/she said situation, and so forth.
  • And most of all, the situation will almost definitely impact your head in bad ways — eating away at your self-image, instilling in you a defeatist attitude in regard to praise and recognition, and generally making you feel miserable.

So keep actively looking at other jobs. Tolerate this place in the meantime, but try to get out.

Read an update to this letter here.


2. Cheating in the office bake-off competition

This is more lighthearted but I am bothered by it. We’re having a departmental baking competition. There are about 70 people in the department and at least 10 are entering. One of my colleagues, Candice, is very talented and clearly the person to beat. Another colleague, Stuart, has been saying that he’ll get his nephew to bake his entry as his nephew is a semi-professional cake decorator. Stuart has mentioned it openly to a couple of people now, who have both jokingly said that’s cheating, but he seems quite set on the idea. He’s filling in the entry form right now.

If he does enter with a cake he didn’t make, should I mention it to the organizer? Only if he wins? How do I tell the organizer without sounding weird and petty? I would prefer not to create a bad atmosphere and be dramatic, but this really isn’t fair for the people who make their own cakes!

Why not just mention it to the organizer now and let her decide how to deal with it? You could just say, “Hey, if you only want people to enter with cakes they baked themselves, you should let people know that. Stuart is talking about entering with a cake made by his nephew, who decorates cakes professionally.”

I wouldn’t wait to see if he wins before speaking up — that’s likely to cause much more drama. The easiest thing would be for the organizer to head this off now.


3. A coworker wants to take over my job (and may have thrown away my mug)

I’m the front desk person at our office. When I started, I joined a team of four other admins, plus our boss (who’s just the best). Flash forward half a year and two of the original admins have left. “Susan” was one of the new hires. Unfortunately, she’s not the kindest person. She just talks down to me like I’m very young (I’m 28, she’s a few years older). She slips in comments aimed at taking me down a peg. She tends to complain a lot. But worst of all, she has a habit of seeking validation when she’s speaking to you. She will repeat herself over, and over, and won’t end a conversation until you validate her in some way (agree with her point, give her a compliment, etc.). Still, I try to keep everything professional, light, and polite. And I understand why she feels she can talk down to me, I look very young, I’m a front desk person, and she’s a step up on the admin chain. It’s not nice, but it’s not a big deal. I get along great with everyone else in the office, and work is great otherwise.

Because of my degree and previous experience, I am our office’s creative project person. I make posters and pamphlets and all that fun stuff. When Susan started, she volunteered for the next creative project. She told us that she was the creative person at her last job. That was fine, but we found out Susan does not have the skills I do. Her results weren’t professional, and she didn’t take our boss’s suggestions or feedback well. So projects went back to being assigned to me.

Susan didn’t take it gracefully. She tried to get me to agree that her project was good and our boss was wrong, and also said I need to teach her how to use the creative programs. I was pretty evasive for that conversation. I didn’t say no, but I also didn’t put anything on the calendar. I don’t want to teach her to do the work I love doing when she clearly has it out for me, wants to replace me in that role, and doesn’t take instruction well. Is that unfair of me? Am I being too sensitive?

Also, this week I found my very distinctive-looking coffee mug in my trash can. It was a fluke I found it, because it was buried under papers and tissues. If I hadn’t gone looking for a Post-It note, it would have been thrown out overnight. I tried to recreate how it could have fallen in, but it does not seem possible it’s an accident. Since I’m on really good terms with everyone, I feel like Susan might have done it. I know I can’t tell anyone about that suspicion, and it’s such an odd, childish revenge that maybe I’m wrong. I’ve hidden the mug for now, and I’m sort of waiting to see if she asks me about it.

Nope, it’s not unfair of you not to want to teach Susan to do your work for you — in general, and especially given the way she treats you. If she asks you again to train you to use design programs, tell her that it took you a lot of practice to master them and it’s not something you can quickly teach to someone else. If she pushes, you could say, “I’d suggest doing a formal course if you’re interested.” (Not because that’s what it will necessarily take, but because you want to emphasize that you’re not going to be the person training her.)

I’d also talk to your boss and say something like, “Susan has been asking me to train her in how to use design programs so that she can do our design work. I’ve told her that it takes a lot of practice to master and there’s no way I can impart a degree in graphic design and a couple of years worth of experience to her. But I wanted to talk to you about it too, because I really enjoy doing our design work and would like to hold on to it. I get the sense that Susan would like to take it over, so I wanted to ask you if we can officially keep it as part of my job — and if so, if you can let her know that?”

As for the mug … I don’t think there’s much to be done there other than to take it as additional evidence that Susan is a jerk. If more things like that happen, at that point you’d need to talk to your boss, but for now I’d wait and see how this plays out.

Read an update to this letter here.


4. Is referring to an orgy in my cover letter going to hurt me?

I was applying to jobs in advertising and I put the following paragraph in my cover letter. I haven’t been contacted by a single agency and, after reviewing my cover letter, I am concerned that putting the word “orgy” in the letter might have been inappropriate:

“Although I enjoy my current role in sales, I am looking for a position that allows me to better utilize my problem solving skills and that both inspires and applauds creativity. (As you can imagine, bringing creativity to a financial software company is like bringing the Pope to an orgy… not so much appreciated by the operations manager or the software developer.) Having performed quite a bit of research on your agency, I feel that I could make a significant contribution as well as learn quite a bit from your organization and would like to explore whether there might be a position that would match a person with my experience and skill set.”

Do you think I may get a response, or have I ruined my chances? Should I call and speak to the hiring manager and apologize for the offensive language?

Yeah, it’s inappropriate. There are some people who wouldn’t care at all (and some who may even like it because they’ll think that it shows personality), but enough who would care that it’s not worth the risk. There are other ways to convey what you were trying to say there, even ones that could show personality without turning anyone off.

In general, avoid sexual and religious references in job applications. (And definitely avoid combining them!)

I would not call to apologize, however. That’s just going to compound the weirdness. At this point, what’s done is done. Just don’t do it again!

Also, as a side note, I’d avoid the type of negativity that you had in that sentence, aside from the orgy reference. Claiming that your last company didn’t appreciate your creativity — or worse, that a whole industry doesn’t — feels a little off and raises the question of whether you might be quick to feel unappreciated, slow to realize that there may have been other reasons it didn’t go over well there, etc. Those aren’t good things. Keep it positive.


5. How thankful should I be to my employer for doing something they’re obligated to do?

Just how thankful should I be to my employer?

It seems like my employer expects me to be a lot more thankful to him / the organization than I am. Here’s an example: last winter the furnace went out at my house. I live in employer-provided housing for the convenience of my employer (it’s normal in this industry), so it was my employer’s responsibility to replace the 25-year-old furnace. They did so promptly, and I was glad to have the heat back on!

A few days after the repair was completed, my employer put a copy of the bill in my box at the office with a “FYI” written at the top. Over the next few weeks, my boss brought up the cost of the repairs repeatedly. The unspoken but very clear expectation was that I should be exceedingly grateful that the organization chose to repair my furnace and to do so promptly. I seriously think my boss expected a handwritten thank-you note and a box of cookies.

I just … don’t feel that way! Of course I’m glad to live in a house with adequate heating, but my thankfulness for that is directed more towards God and the factors in my life that lead me to be employable than to my specific employer. I’m not surprised or overwhelmed with gratitude that my employer fulfilled his contractual obligation to provide me with livable housing, and it felt crass that he gave me a copy of the bill and repeatedly brought up the cost as if I owed him fawning adoration. Alison, am I off base here? Should I be more thankful to my employer, or is he the one being weird?

He’s being not just weird but fairly crass and rude as well. This would be like if your boss were constantly telling you that his profits were lower this year because he had to pay you your wages. To which you’d presumably be thinking, “No shit.”

Certainly a quick “hey, thanks for getting the furnace taken care of so quickly” makes sense to do, because that kind of thing is good for the relationship. But it doesn’t require you to install a plaque honoring your boss above the furnace or anything like that.


{ 212 comments… read them below }

      1. Kiwi*

        It makes me want to put random commemorative plaques up around my home. I’ve definitely worked with people who act like this is how they should be thanked for doing what they’re supposed to.

        1. Jay*

          We did that. My mother was a force of nature and one day she decided we absolutely had to have a print for our powder room. It’s amusing but not anything we would have chosen – it’s amusing in a somewhat odd way (it’s a picture of a man with the head of fish. She thought it was the right colors for the room). We said no, thank you. She ignored us, purchased the print, paid to have it framed, and it now hangs in our powder room – with a plaque underneath that says “on loan from the collection of Jay’s Mama.” Mom thought the plaque was hilarious.

          I do miss her.

          1. WFH with Cat*

            What a wonderful, funny memory to share! It sounds like your mother was both a handful and a marvelous person — with a sense of humor that you inherited.

          2. JustaTech*

            Oh wow, other’s people’s moms do that too? I thought it was just my mother in law!
            She didn’t give me a chance to see the print/painting before she bought it, it’s huge and it was supposed to hang in a place where visitors usually wouldn’t see it but I would have to look at it all the time. I hate the art style and the frame (the subject is fine; and friend described it as “dentist office”) so I put it in the guest room.
            Maybe if I made a plaque for it I could come to terms with it more.

            (I’d love a guy with a fish head!)

            1. Nanani*

              It’s your house right?
              You have this internet stranger’s permission to keep the print you dislike in a dark attic, or perhaps a donation bin.

    1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      If the company has a facilities department that makes signs, perhaps the OP could put in a work order…

    2. Invisible fish*

      Are you kidding??? I’d have to make a plaque commemorating the great furnace repair of ‘17, which expressly mentions the largesse of my beneficent overlord, and hang it prominently in the office!

      Of course, this may be why certain situations and job fields aren’t a good fit for me …. ;)

    3. Irish Teacher*

      I initially reread your comment as “a literal plague,” like that covid might make the employer realise there are more important issues than getting thanked for the bare minimum!

      1. Usagi*

        Haha! I did the same! This seems like the kind of employer that we’ve seen too often on AAM though, the ones that are like “you should be thankful you have a job!” while cutting everyone’s pay, hours, and benefits.

    4. A Good Egg*

      I would hang something that said “Many thanks to Teapots Inc. for faithfully following local landlord ordinances and keeping us warm.”

    5. Generic Name*

      I’m envisioning a plaque that says, “world’s okayest boss” presented as a Christmas gift.

      1. never mind who I am*

        I gave one to my girl boss.

        (And before you get out the pitchforks, she’s the one who introduced me to AAM and the phrase “girl boss,” and when I called her that she replied “yes, and you have two of them” and made a remark about the difficulty of working with elderly people.)

      2. quill*

        Cross stitch. “On [day] in 2022, Employer followed the law and continued to provide adequate heating.”

      3. JustaTech*

        Oh, now *that* would be a great Thursday question: worst/best gifts you gave a boss. (Separate from gifts *from* a boss.)

  1. voyager1*

    These two points in LW1 are probably the most important:

    It can endanger your job. You can end up first on a layoffs list, or not get the benefit of the doubt in a he said/she said situation, and so forth.

    And most of all, the situation will almost definitely impact your head in bad ways — eating away at your self-image, instilling in you a defeatist attitude in regard to praise and recognition, and generally making you feel miserable

    1. WellRed*

      What was so interesting to me after rereading update, OP had been looking for a new job almost immediately after starting this one, which was not in first letter. That’s always a sign that things are bad and it was significantly downplayed. So glad they got out.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, it sounds like they knew it was a bad situation right away but had been unsuccessful at getting out for so long that they were trying to convince themselves it would be okay to stay.

    2. Johanna Cabal*

      Point 4 in Alison’s list definitely happened to me when I “lost my luster” at one job. If upper management wants you fired but doesn’t want to go to the trouble or thinks you’ll sue if fired, a “layoff” can happen.

    3. Smithy*

      While those two p0ints are the most risky, I think they’re also reasons that do keep people at least motivated to seek new employment. The other issues, that can linger but never result in someone getting fired can potentially do greater damage.

      I used to work at large international nonprofit that from external measures (fundraising, growth in hiring) continues to do very well. The team I was on, no one is truly at risk of being fired, however it wasn’t really managed by the most professional people with the greatest industry insight. As a result you’d have people there for 5-10 years who were not well liked by their manager/manager’s manager. They’d still get promotions (slower than their peers) and occasionally very exciting projects (always on accident), but they weren’t getting mentored, they weren’t getting greater insight into the field or what the larger profession looked like. They had to learn about industry norms and practices heavily on their own which meant that their mid-term professional growth was been far slower than it should/could be.

      And they’re also in a situation where their resumes often do look great (over 5 years at a well performing large nonprofit with at least one promotion – that’s great!), but their confidence and ability to work independently is deeply uneven. And because their industry knowledge is so uneven, questions that are really normal in interviews they find baffling or confusing.

    4. RunningFromDysfunction*

      I would like to add that over time, one might also start to perceive the dysfunction as “normal” – which will likely become an issue in any future employment.

  2. Heidi*

    What is the prize for this baking contest that anyone would be willing to cheat? If I were Stuart’s nephew, I’d find this so obnoxious. Plus, there is no guarantee that the professionally-made baked goods will be better than the homemade ones.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Sometimes it’s about keeping another specific person from winning. I wouldn’t be surprised if Stuart dislikes Candice or sees her as a professional rival.

      2. Antilles*

        Absolutely. The prize for an office baking competition is going to be something very trivial, like a few bucks – or there might not be a prize period; it’s common enough for these sorts of office competitions to be purely for fun/pride.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          The winner’s picture on the intranet.

          In some companies bragging rights are very, very important.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        We used to do “dirty Santa” at my office for Christmas where you either choose to open a new gift or “steal” one that someone else opened, and things would get so heated sometimes! But the wild part was–the game had a $10 limit! The most stolen items were always like a $10 Starbucks gift card. And people would get so territorial over these $10 gifts. And I confess I nearly got drawn in that much a couple of times myself until I reminded myself “hey, if I really want this item… I can just go buy it myself for $10!!!”

    1. Ed123*

      My guess is that Stu thinks he is being funny and it’a no big deal makes a good anecdote. Little to do with actually wanting to win.

      1. TootsNYC*

        This was my reaction as well.

        I had something like this happen!
        My boss mentioned she was going to the farmer’s market; did I want anything? “ooh, some Northern Spy apples, if they have them!”
        In the convo about why specifically the Northern Spy, I said they are the perfect pie apple, and I make a great pie.

        My number-two was in the convo too and said, “So do I!” I said, “You do not; you’re just chiming in.” He said, “Why, because I’m a guy, you think I don’t make pies? In fact, I bet I make a better pie than you!”

        So I said, “OK, put your money where your mouth is–we’ll have a pie bake-off.” We picked a date about 2 weeks out (beyond the crunch time).

        Leading up to it, he’d make all these comments about “when I buy–er, bake–my pie, I’m going to…” This was absolutely his kind of humor. So I would make that same kind of joke back to him.

        My roommate said she was sure he was going to buy it, and I defended him vigorously. That’s his sense of humor, of course he’s not going to buy his pie. Guys can make pies, and he’s just the kind of guy to actually be able to make some specialized kind of food even if he doesn’t do much other cooking.

        Comes the day, I bring in two pies I’d stayed up late baking (I always made 2 pies at a time, because the mess was the same, and the work of rolling crust and cutting up apples wasn’t much more). His pie is warm, and I say, “I should have baked mine in the morning, I didn’t think of that. That was smart of you. But it might have been hard to carry if it was still hot.”

        He comes to my office and says, “I thought you got the jokes, but everybody says you didn’t. I bought my pie from the Little Pie Company on the way to work this morning.”

        I was thunderstruck. I couldn’t figure out what to say. When I opened my mouth, out came, “You’re fired.” Fortunately he didn’t believe me!

        Anyway, I won.

      2. Blerpette*

        And this possibility means this is a rare time I disagree with the advice. The LW would be bugging the person putting on the thing for maybe no reason at all and in reality it has nothing to do with the LW (doesn’t sound like they’re competing) and is just annoyed it’s unfair. I totally get it would be unfair but also…who cares? Sticking my neck out in case something that doesn’t affect me and isn’t actually work related happens feels like a waste of energy and perhaps a cause of needless drama.

        1. ceiswyn*

          If it doesn’t matter, then why is there a competition?

          If there is a competition, then either the result matters or the process matters – eg by promoting team bonding. And if this guy cheats, it would sabotage either. If he’s just making poorly judged jokes, then that still applies, and HR can tell him to knock it off.

    2. Irish Teacher*

      Some people are just that invested in winning. We had a steps contest at work. People were grouped in teams and you sent in your steps at the end of each week and the team that got most combined won. It wasn’t even an individual thing. And apparently some people were giving their watch or whatever they used to count their steps to students when they sent them on an errand or when a student went to the bathroom or something, in order to increase their count. This was particularly bizarre as the whole thing was mostly on an honour system anyway. We weren’t usually asked for any evidence. They could probably just have given a higher number than they really did and have been believed. The whole thing was just for fun. And I feel it would undermine one’s authority with the students. (They apparently gave it away by asking another teacher, “Miss, do you want me to add to your steps like I did for Miss/Mr. Y?”)

        1. Antilles*

          It’s especially strange since the true “reward” of a steps contest is being in better physical shape, getting exercise, etc – cheating like this is winning the contest but losing the actual prize.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        We had people in our steps contest at work who were somehow racking up 80,000 steps average PER DAY over six weeks sustained. By comparison, my personal record is 25,000 steps in one day, and that was a day that I got up at 3am, walked a half marathon, and then spent the rest of the day walking around three Disney parks until 10pm, for a total of about 23 miles. So 80,000 steps a day, every day for six weeks, is … sketchy at best. They were all in the labs, so I was pretty sure they were throwing their Fitbits into a centrifuge or shake table or something :P And there were no individual prizes, the teams that had the highest step counts got to pick where the $1500 charity donation went to off a list of five options.

          1. Irish Teacher*

            Yup, I walk 40 minutes each way to work and home from work and…usually got around 12,000? Admittedly, my number was underestimated because I used my phone and I leave that in the staffroom at work, so my total would probably be around 15,000 if I was using a watch or something. But 80,000 daily? That sounds…improbable.

            1. londonedit*

              Yep…on a Saturday I’ll routinely get up to about 20,000 steps but that’s when I walk to parkrun, run the 5k, walk around the shops for a bit and then walk home. A while back I walked 25 miles in one day and that was 57,000 steps. Nowhere near 80,000!

              1. Miss Fisher*

                They fired people at my workplace for doing this because we get additional money on our paycheck for reaching a certain status and people were cheating. So they were let go for fraud or something like that.

            2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              Unless you are a livestock wrangler, hunter-gatherer, shepherd, or sherpa. And even they wouldn’t be doing it every day

        1. kiki*

          For some people, I think finding ways to game the system is part of the joy, especially if folks are gaming the system together. It’s really silly, but my past teams in software development have all been like this. Within the group, it fosters a lot of camaraderie, but everyone outside the group is just like, “why?”

          1. JustaTech*

            Now I wonder how many “steps” I would get when I hold a tube on the vortexer. I used to get “flights of stairs” because of the air pressure differences between two labs – I wasn’t trying to cheat, it just happened!

        2. ceiswyn*

          For me, 35,000 steps is a 15 mile hike.
          I did manage to rack up around 80,000 steps in a day once, but only because I was doing an ultramarathon. I normally get around 18,000-23,000 steps in a day due to doing a ridiculous amount of walking before work, at lunchtime, and after work. If a team with me on it lost out to some sedentary jokers who were blatantly cheating, my toys would be flung out of the pram so hard bystanders might get injured.

        3. Environmental Compliance*

          We had a team somehow get 1,000,000 steps every single week minimum. Five people in the team over 7 days – over 28k steps *every day for every person*. I would have understood more if these were maintenance staff – and therefore running around – but these were office staff that should have spent the majority of their day in a chair. And the sheer consistency was weird.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        In the absence of minions, you can put the step counter on an oscillating fan.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          My friends were a Neilsen household for TV ratings and you had to have this sensor move so it seemed like it was actually on a person so they put it on the dogs and cat. Always wondered what the analysts thought when the thing just ran in circles

      3. Straw Into Gold*

        No shade at all to anyone who racks up steps honestly, but I hope that the contest wasn’t structured so that those who DIDN’T report a huge number of steps, or who didn’t participate in it at all, were criticized or made to feel like spoilsports, lazybones, etc.

        As a senior with mobility limits, I hold my own professionally but would be unable to take part in a contest like that. Again, I’d have no problem with other people doing this – I just wouldn’t want to be looked down upon for having physical limits that make personal participation unfeasible.

        1. ceiswyn*

          Well yes, step count contests are massively ableist. Before my ankle surgery, it was not only impossible for me to get even 3,000 steps a day, but incredibly painful and damaging to even try.

        2. Irish Teacher*

          A fair number of people didn’t participate at all – maybe half the staff? They weren’t directly criticised but…the challenge dominated conversation in the staffroom to the point it got really irritating and I can imagine people feeling left out if they didn’t participate.

          And while nobody was openly criticised for doing “poorly,” there was a certain amount of “oh, x is great. She got x number of steps.”

          Some people got quite obsessed and to me, the most bothersome part was the way people put pressure on themselves more so than the pressure put on others. “X is getting an average of 10,000 steps a day and I’m only doing 5,000. I really need to up my game.” Most concerning to me was when somebody said they’d done really badly over the weekend because they’d been ill and would have to catch up over the week. I was just thinking “you were ILL. It’s a GAME. It’s not so important that you should be feeling guilty about getting sick.” I mean, the comments were lighthearted, but I was still rather uncomfortable with some of it.

          1. JustaTech*

            People can be so weirdly competitive about steps! When my mother-in-law first got a Fitbit she added my husband and I as “friends” so she could see our steps. At the time I was training for a half marathon, and I work in a lab (so more work-day walking than the average office job).
            She was so determined to “beat” me she was dragging her poor, elderly dog out for extra walks so she could get in more steps (and then it was somehow my fault when the dog got blisters on his paws from all the walking).
            I even said “I’m training for a half marathon! You just had your knee replaced! This isn’t a competition!” but she couldn’t let it go until she gave up the Fitbit.

    3. Employed Minion*

      Stuart may not tell his nephew its for a contest. He may just ask him to make a cake for a party at work or something.

  3. Former SAT prep coach*

    I’m not put off by the use of the word orgy; I’m put off by bad analogies.

    [kitten : cat :: puppy : dog] — that’s how that works. It’s not [kitten : cat :: dog : puppy].

    So even if one buys into the argument that creativity/fun is unappreciated by the financial services/uptight/un-fun group (which I’m not sure I do), then it’s not

    creativity : financial services :: Pope : orgy

    creativity : financial services :: orgy member : Vatican

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      Yeah, it’s a weird analogy to use, which makes it stand out even more. The sentences containing that analogy could be removed and the letter really wouldn’t lose anything.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Yes, even without the analogy, it reads like a petulant adolescent: “no-one appreciates meeee, they’re all so BORING”, which is not a good look, as Alison pointed out.

          1. Lilo*

            Yes, LW is using their cover letter to complain about conflicts with their current bosses? No, just no. The metaphor isn’t even the worst part of that paragraph. There’s a lot of poor judgment in those sentences.

            1. Everything Bagel*

              Is it any wonder no one appreciates their “creativity” when they use references like popes and orgies in professional communications?! Good lord, what were they thinking and why didn’t they ask for input BEFORE submitting their resume?

          2. Jurassic Park Ranger*

            Yes! And honestly, I feel like a lot of the folks who complain about jobs not being “creative” enough actually mean they want a job where the projects are about “fun” things. There are a million different ways to apply creative thinking to a lot of jobs (especially a job in sales!) and the notion that a whole industry doesn’t allow for creativity says OP probably wants a “fun” job more than they want to be able to think creatively.

            And that’s fine, but it’s an important thing to be reflective on when job hunting.

            1. Lilo*

              Someone mentioned thr “ideas” guy.

              Being creative is more or less step 1 in a 10 step process. Having ideas is useless if you can’t develop those ideas.

              1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

                If having ideas was all it took, my 63 different story ideas might actually be written down somewhere

                1. Irish Teacher*

                  Yup, I just spent last night thinking, “I might start a story about this or hmmm, maybe that would be more interesting or actually I want to write about the other…”

              2. But what to call me?*

                I have a whole whiteboard of ideas! They’re good ideas! And yet somehow none of them have magically turned themselves into my completed dissertation.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        I agree. It’s a weird analogy, which makes it read to me as someone who is trying hard to be edgy/funny and falling flat. The forced edgyness is more offputting to me than the pope-at-orgy imagery, which I could find funny if it fit (but still wouldn’t put in a cover letter!).

      2. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

        Agree, the entire sentence is both superfluous, and a multi-layered bean dip of bad judgement and things you shouldn’t put into a cover letter.

    2. Wes*

      Not to mention, given the Catholic Church’s history of sexual abuse, my mind did not immediately leap to ‘Pope at orgy = uptight/un-fun’, but rather something MUCH more unpleasant.

      1. Humble Schoolmarm*

        Yes, my mind went to abuse and also to the Borgias and some rather infamous doings. My impression from the analogy was corruption, abuse of power and hypocrisy so not what the op was going for.

    3. Lilo*

      As Alison pointed out, there was just nothing good about that sentence. It was just too negative and contained that metaphor that was not appropriate.

      It’s not about offending your resume reviewer, it’s about writing something that makes me question your judgment. If I read that sentence in a cover letter my response wouldn’t be “I am offended and angry”, it would be “why, when trying to put their best foot forward would they choose that sentence”. And a cover letter you’ve sent out as standard? It should be incredibly polished.

      1. MsM*

        Right. I’m not going to be clutching my pearls over an orgy reference. I am going to worry that you don’t know when and with what audiences that is going to be a problem.

        It’s been a decade since the letter, though, so I hope the LW’s refined their skills and judgment and gone on to a successful, creatively fulfilling career.

        1. Lilo*

          Yes. I think the message for anyone reading this is “there’s a lot of bad cover letter advice out there”. A lot of the “gumption” type articles tell you to try to really stand out. I’ve read a lot of cover letters and at least, in my job, being standard is absolutely 100% fine. We hire a lot of standard. The really memorable and “creative” ones tend to be the awful ones. Well written doesn’t mean going totally off the script.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Too little and too much gumption can both hurt you, but only the latter makes you legendary.

        2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          I’d be worried that someone would be so busy trying to impress with the “edginess” and “creativity” of their work that they wouldn’t take feedback well. If you are selling retirement planning or mortgages, the last thing a customer wants is “edgy” and “creativity”

      2. Person from the Resume*

        I am offended on behalf of Catholics I know and love, but also there’s so much bad judgement at choosing this to be your first impression.

        1) You make fun of religion and are willing to chance offending religious people
        2) You think mentioning sex and orgies are okay for a cover letter and at work
        3) You think you’re very creative, but that you’re underappreciated. buy based on this letter your creativity tends toward the offensive and unprofessional, and it’s no surprise that your current employer does not appreciate it.

    4. Irish Teacher*

      I probably wouldn’t take much notice of it personally, but…I kind of feel for a job application, the reference to the Pope is probably even more harmful than the reference to an orgy. If the employer were a devout Catholic, there is a risk they might find it disrespectul. And Wes’s comment adds an extra dimension to it. I wouldn’t read it that way, but I can see how somebody might and…you really don’t want to put THAT image in your prospective employer’s mind.

      Plus it comes across as sort of…trying to be edgy? Both the analogy and the implication of being more creative than their coworkers. It wouldn’t be a huge deal, but I could see a prospective employer wondering if this were a candidate likely to be judgemental about/look down on either people in less creative roles and/or people who were very religious.

      Though it’s pretty obvious from the fact that they wrote in to Alison that they realised it wasn’t a good idea, so it was probably no more than an early career misstep.

      1. SweetestCin*

        My initial thought was “Okay, edgelord….” and it hasn’t improved much. There’s just no good reason to do this. Don’t do this.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Yes–forced edginess is a fiendish variation on forced quirkiness.

        Like MsM, I’m going to interpret that as you not knowing when to deploy references to religion or orgies.

        (Agree with Irish Teacher that this has probably become a minor anecdote of cluelessness from OP’s younger days.)

        1. quill*

          You know how Scalzi has a saying that’s “the failure mode of clever is asshole?”
          That’s also the failure mode of quirky…

      3. Smithy*

        Agree with all of this.

        So at one point in my professional life, I needed to get an annual letter from a priest stating that my nonprofit didn’t do anything against the teachings of the Catholic church so that we could continue receiving grants from a certain set of Catholic donors. Depending on *how* I tell this story, it can seem funny, quirky, or like dry administrative attention to detail. I have a similar story about being audited twice by one donor since they lost the materials the first time. But in writing, for the most part, it reads like administrative details or stating resume facts.

        I can imagine that when interviewing in person, this OP might have received positive reactions when verbally explaining the fit in a more professional but friendly or casual manner. And so was looking for a written way to capture that.

          1. Smithy*

            Ha – I mean technically speaking both are just ensuring administrative compliance with grants. So it really is in the story telling and knowing your audience.

            Will this interviewer know who the donor is who lost an entire audit and find it amusing, or at least how I handled the situation admirable? And with the priest letter, annually having to meet with your human rights lawyers to get agreed upon text and then going around town to find one priest willing to sign it….

            All to say, my empathy for this OP comes from having stories that can really build a lot of connection and understanding during an interview with like minded professionals. And in writing are dry in a short space.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      Yes! This part bugged me as well.

      The Pope is creativity. Financial services is an orgy. The new company is a Mass–probably not how the new company views itself, with or without any orgy-avoiding Popes in the mix.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      The Ballet of the Chestnuts is perhaps the most famous orgies in history. It was hosted by the Pope’s son, and had the Pope as a featured guest.

      So I don’t think OP2 is quite up to date on how Popes at orgies has worked historically.

        1. quill*

          I mean I may have been a terrible CCD student (too busy attempting to liberate the class pet – I love rats) but I would think I would have remembered something like that!

          1. AnonToday*

            According to Wikipedia, the source for the Ballet of the Chestnuts is highly unreliable (which didn’t stop the producers of Showtime’s series The Borgias from including the story). Probably why it wasn’t in your class!

      1. MsM*

        Oh, yeah, wasn’t thinking about the Borgias. Guess it’s a good thing LW wasn’t applying for any history positions.

      2. JustaTech*

        And that wasn’t even during the papacy described to history as the “pornocracy”! (Yes, really. The Middle Ages and Renaissance were *wild*.)

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This is why it’s good to read history as an adult. School edits out the orgies.

    7. NYC Taxi*

      I work in advertising and am part of hiring committees depending on the role. After reading that cover letter I would have rolled my eyes and put your resume on the reject pile without even looking at it.

      Between griping about being underappreciated, using a hackneyed analogy that doesn’t even make sense in context and dragging religion into the festivities, you show poor judgment so I couldn’t trust you to be able to read a room to let you interact with clients or take on any client-facing work. Plus I’m looking for someone who can work well with coworkers and your complaints about your underappreciated creativity shows you’re going to be high maintenance and exhausting to work with. I’m not a bit surprised that you haven’t received any calls.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Yeah, the only thing that cover letter makes me interested in is the morbid curiosity of what this guy would say in a meeting with the CEO. Which is probably not a good thing!

    8. Laughing Shall I Dance*

      Rule of thumb: Mentioning “orgies” in a cover letter is only acceptable if you’re applying for a job in a sex dungeon.

    9. TinaTurner*

      My biggest criticism is that the “Pope / orgy” comment just isn’t FUNNY. Even if it were funny, you never know if the reader has a sense of humor. Be careful.

  4. Mystified*

    I am genuinely shocked that there was a point in time that someone thought making a religious and sexual reference in any context was the right thing to put in a cover letter, and it took a re-read to flag that it might be an issue. I can’t get my head around it! I found it very jarring to read and am not at all religious or bothered by banter the occasional odd story told at work or anything like that. I try really hard to allow people rope in resumes, cover letters etc. as we all have different backgrounds/privilege/could have been misled by crazy advisors or family, but I’m not sure that would make it across my desk.

    1. AnonyAnony*

      I mean, people still do think that even now! Glad OP refleted and wrote in to check. Hope they took Alison’s advice, and have gotten a great new job since then! However, for every OP we have, there are still thousands of similar ppl out there who never paused to question their own approach, and when challenged, defaults to “people can’t even take a joke nowadays!” Many people have work context. Maybe to colleagues who use these references, or their boss failed to provide the necessary coaching or feedback….or, it could just be that they don’t realize they aren’t actors in a Mad Men episode.

    2. Lilo*

      I am periodically part of the hiring committee at work. I once read this cover letter where the applicant repeatedly made a pun on her own name (she talked about how her mom had given her this nickname). And we rejected her because it just didn’t match the tone and level that we were hiring for. People may suggest things like that to stand out, but you want to stand out in a positive way. I’ve okayed plenty of people for interviews who had standard competent cover letters.

    3. Harper*

      Yeah, this is really weird and really out of step with any imaginable professional norm. Just wow.

    4. JustaTech*

      I had a coworker who was the queen of borderline inappropriate phrases (“asshat” was a favorite, complete with gesture), but even she managed to hold it together through the resume/cover letter/ interview!

  5. AnonyAnony*

    I mean, people still do think that even now! Glad OP refleted and wrote in to check. Hope they took Alison’s advice, and have gotten a great new job since then! However, for every OP we have, there are still thousands of similar ppl out there who never paused to question their own approach, and when challenged, defaults to “people can’t even take a joke nowadays!” Many people have a hard time gauging what they can get away with saying with their randy (non work) buddies at the bar, vs what they can say (even worse, put in writing!!) in a professional work context. Maybe they’ ve only been exposed to colleagues who use these references, or their boss failed to provide the necessary coaching or feedback….or, it could just be that they don’t realize they aren’t actors in a Mad Men episode.

  6. Mama Sarah*

    #4…ew. Bad analogy, icky humor, and clunky sentences? Cover letters can be conversational but that was too much (and said little about the candidate).

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I think it said a lot about the candidate, just not what she would want to convey to an employer…

    2. Generic Name*

      While it didn’t convey much directly, it said a lot about the candidates judgement and attitude. Poor judgement in thinking it’s okay to make that reference while also complaining about previous employers and poor attitude that they felt better than their previous companies/coworkers.

    3. cubone*

      The Pope joke is too risky for a cover letter, but like Alison, I was way more yiiiiiiiiikes about it basically saying “my current company doesn’t appreciate my creativity”. It’s so … blunt and would definitely make me pause as a hiring manager.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        That is where I land. The Pope joke isn’t offensive or funny, it is just this clunker hanging out in the middle of the page. The bigger concern is that the writer seems to believe they are an underappreciated creative genius stifled by the normies at their current job and that is a whole can of wanna-be rockstar attitude that I can just pass on

        1. Parakeet*

          Yep. I got the sense that the LW wanted their professional role to be “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” and the wannabe-edgy analogy is just a manifestation of that.

  7. Cohen*

    For the first point, yes you need to find a new job. It is evident that your team does not appreciate or value the work that you do. If you stay; it will impact your mental health negatively, especially when they start promoting people above you (that don’t work as hard, less experience etc..).

    I am currently in this situation and looking for new jobs. Unfortunately it is not that easy finding a ‘more suitable’ job at the moment.

    1. H*

      Best of luck to you. I can relate to LW#1 a lot! I am also wondering about the generational, racial divide here of the writer and management. I feel like this might play into how things are going esp lack of positive feedback despite great feedback from others.

  8. Green great dragon*

    I’m more put off than their claim that creativity is not appreciated in the financial software industry, especially in sales. If they’re in a call-centre, then sure, it may not be appreciated in the call centre. But I’d be wondering whether LW thinks their job is representative of the whole industry when it isn’t, or whether they have an extremely narrow definition of creativity, or whether they keep making suggestions that get knocked back and have convinced themselves it’s everyone else that’s unappreciative rather than trying to understand how to improve their ideas.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Also, it’s not an example of how they are creative. It’s just a conviction that they are creative but there’s nothing in their current work to utilize that.

    2. EPLawyer*

      If this is an example of their creativity, I can see how they aren’t really getting ahead at their current place.

      I hope OP learned there is a time and place.

    3. Justin*

      Some people think “creativity” is like visual flair or improv classes or whatever. Right? Doesn’t have to be like that.

  9. OP#2*

    Hi all, I wrote the bake-off ‘cheating’ letter five years ago! Time flies!

    I should make it clear that this was a very light-hearted competition with no prize, and the main aim was to have delicious cakes to eat.

    As it turned out, Stuart is the sort of person who likes to joke and bend the rules but is also completely open about it. It makes him quite easy to deal with as you know exactly what to expect. After I sent the letter, but before it was published, he happily told everyone, including the organiser, his plans to get his nephew to help with the cake. So I did nothing (yes, I also dislike updates where the letter writer did nothing, but it is what it is.)

    In case anyone gives a hoot:

    Things did not turn out as expected!

    Firstly, Stuart came in with a pretty tasty vanilla cake with icing that was simple, but with a ‘surprise centre’ that was filled with M&Ms. He ended up getting help from his nephew, but (sensibly) the nephew made Stuart do a lot of the work (Stuart mentioned how difficult the icing was to use!) so it wasn’t a big deal in the end. I think Stuart came fourth or fifth.

    Candice, the cake genius, made an amazing illusion cake that looked just like a couple of burgers, fries, and a milkshake. It LOOKED stunning, but unfortunately the taste was a bit weak and it was dry. Candice came second.

    The actual prize went to someone who made a delicious malted-milk and chocolate cake with Malteasers on the top. I can personally say it was a worthy winner!

    I think Stuart was just enjoying winding up Candice a little bit and I was also over thinking things. There you go!

    1. Timothy (TRiG)*

      Best (and perhaps only) “illusion” desert I’ve had was a fried breakfast. A proper Full Irish, with sausages, fried eggs, black and white pudding, rashers, all made of sweet stuff. It was excellent.

      I think I like Stuart’s sense of humour.

    2. WellRed*

      Love this update! Sounds like Stuart learned to how challenging nephew’s job is, and they also adhered to the spirit of things, and poor Candace overreached but a good time was had by all.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        And learned to appreciate the work of the other contestants. Way to go Stuart’s nephew for making him do the work!

    3. Other Alice*

      Oh my goodness, I had been wondering if there was ever any update! Thank you for giving us closure. And it looks like a good outcome overall (and tons of delicious cake).

    4. to varying degrees*

      Okay so 1.) I want cake now and yes I blame you for that!! :-) :-)

      Two, your office (and Stuart) sound like fun and I’m glad everyone had a good time.

      But seriously dude, where’s my cake…….

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      An update comes in from the wilds!

      In case anyone gives a hoot:

      We give so many hoots. All the hoots.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Yes, my favorite thing about reprinting old letters is when the OPs appear in the comments with details and updates!

    6. Kittee*

      Any chance you have the recipe for the malted milk cake and could share? My mouth is watering!

    7. MicroManagered*

      This is the letter I give the biggest hoot about this morning! LOL It’s AAM gold.

      There is one thing that I am confused about (and want to be clear I’m EQUALLY light-hearted in asking this!! :)

      How was Stuart cheating? Was there a specific rule that you had to bake your entry yourself and could not have help?

      Your update made my day, OP2. :)

      1. londonedit*

        It’s just not really cricket, is it. Everyone else is taking the thing in the right spirit and making their own cakes, and Stuart is getting a professional (albeit his nephew) to do all the work for him. There might not be a specific ‘everyone has to make and decorate their own cake’ rule, but that’s obviously the intention of the bake-off, and it would just be a bit unsporting for Stuart to put a professionally decorated cake up against everyone else’s homemade efforts (not that they don’t also sound amazing!) One of those ‘well, we used to have a really fun bake-off but one guy started bringing in professional cakes and it ruined the fun for everyone else’ things.

        1. MicroManagered*

          Meh. It seems like a nonissue unless there was a prize involved. It wouldn’t occur to me that this was cheating, much less to tell on someone, in this situation.

          Turned out, Stuart was just messing with the real pro cake-baker. How silly would OP have looked tattling on him, over a cake contest for fun?

          Best not to get too worked up about such things, I say! :)

    8. Frog&Toad*

      Ah, great update! This whole thing reminded me of the canyousewthisforme Instagram where people think their friends and family will just sew things for them “it’s so easy” “it will only take a few minutes” “I’ll pay you $50”. Good job nephew getting uncle to do the work!

    9. Purple Penguin*

      That’s a great update! The story I had written in my head involved Stuart being forever introduced as “This is Stuart from Jane’s team, he makes amazing cakes!!” as a totally passive aggressive dig, but the whole thing fizzling to nothing is a much healthier outcome.

    10. Generic Name*

      I was really hoping for an update to this one! It sounds like a fun group of people to work with.

    11. Avril Ludgateaux*

      … Is this bake-off an annual thing and, if so, are we invited? I can make a pretty decent roulade (the sweet kind!).

    12. Daisy-dog*

      Stuart’s nephew is awesome! I love how he used this opportunity to get his uncle to try out baking. Happy it turned out fun.

      And now I must find a recipe for that malted-milk and chocolate cake.

      1. Nameless in Customer Service*

        Yeah, I also really appreciate that Stuart’s nephew made him do a lot of the work, and in an educational way to boot.

    13. Yvette*

      “ LOOKED stunning, but unfortunately the taste was a bit weak and it was dry.”
      I think what happens a lot of times with cakes like that is they take a good while to accomplish and the actual cake part is done so far in advance it ends up being almost stale by the time it is done.

    14. TootsNYC*

      elsewhere here I share the story of the pie bake-off I had with my number-two, who bought his pie.

      Stuart reminded me of my colleague, a lot. For my colleague, it was all a joke, and he thought I understood that he was going to guy his pie, and that it was just a great excuse for me to bake, and for there to be pies.

      1. JustaTech*

        The second year we had a chili cookoff, after I’d come in stone cold dead last but was still obligated to participate I seriously considered just bringing in canned chili (and clearly labeling it as such), but that was because I was mad about being required to participate in a cooking competition I knew I would lose. (I don’t do spicy food, so I’m never going to do well at a chili contest, and was only participating because everyone on the social committee “had” to.)

        I only considered it because I was being required to participate, not because I wanted to do better or win. (I ended up making a curry to make it clear I wasn’t part of the competition.)

    15. Hannah Lee*

      I’m glad everything turned out well … and deliciously!

      But I do have to mention that this:

      “I think Stuart was just enjoying winding up Candice a little bit … ”

      still leaves me super unimpressed with Stuart. Maybe I’ve run across a few too many wind-up artists, people who enjoy stirring things up, poking others for s**** and giggles in my work-life, but work can be stressful enough with actual, real stressors, without someone introducing more because they are grown adults who “enjoying winding up” other people.

      See also April Fools day pranksters.
      (My worst examples of these two are the AFD guy who messed with someone else’s desk chair because he thought it would be hi-larious for his co-worker to lose balance when they sat down … which was not good for their chronic hip/spine condition for which they’d spent *years* moving carefully, avoiding certain positions and sudden wrenching movements in order to prevent serious damage and minimize pain. And the Project Manager who summoned the entire team to an urgent meeting with two VPs who sponsored the project – he said it was to discuss serious issues and management disappointment with the project, leaving everyone thinking heads would roll, the project was being cancelled – and then when we were all assembled he laughed at how dire we all looked and said “JK! Our project won a company wide achievement award and you’re all getting kudos in your personnel files plus a bonus! Ha Ha! gotcha!” Never before has someone de-motivated and pissed off their entire team so effectively for a few yucks.”

      1. Observer*

        These folks sound like terrible managers and colleagues (and I’m wondering if they are decent people).

        But if the worst thing Stuart winds people up about is the cake competition that is not related to work, I’m not going to get too bent out of shape. Winding people up about serious things (including cake competitions if you job is related to food decorating, baking, etc.) is a different thing. Including the Project manager you described. That guy is a first class jerk.

  10. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

    I’ve worked two places where my boss didn’t like me. The first just straight up resented me for staying current with industry standards and being request by clients. He was a bit of a misogynist and a huge jerk. After he told me I couldn’t take off Mondays or Fridays ever again I put in a serious job search and ended up working for a narcissist who gave me panic attacks.

    The narcissist seemed to hate that he had to pay me (poorly), whined about paying taxes on our bonuses and would hold our paper checks hostage until after 8 pm on Fridays. That seemed to be a kink or something of his. You would be treated like a very naughty child if you dared to ask for it. He really seemed to hate me for some reason and made my life miserable no matter how hard I worked. I was depressed and felt absolutely trapped because my non-compete made it impossible to get a new job in my field without moving a couple counties away. I had no money to fight that in court because again, paid terribly. I completely understand where OP #1 was coming from and glad they got out. I eventually found a single job listing that was completely outside my comfort zone, but applied anyway and got the job. I actually love what I do, work half as many hours and get paid twice as much! My bosses are actually concerned about retaining me long term and want me to be happy!

    1. WellRed*

      I’m sure you know this now, but to anyone else in this situation remember, legal action often does not mean a court battle. Cheers to a good outcome.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Why would he care about paying taxes on bonuses? Don’t the taxes come out of what the employee gets??? (I could be mistaken, but…I don’t think I am?)

      Anyway, glad you have a much better job and boss now! Yay!

      1. Two Dog Night*

        Assuming it’s the US, he’d have to pay the employer’s share of FICA. Life is so hard.

        1. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

          He thought he was so very persecuted by the government. Also mad because he had to have an EPA inspection while doing a building expansion because there were wetlands behind the building. He grumbled it was his land and he could do whatever he wanted with it.

          This same guy threatened to take away our after hours emergency fees so clients wouldn’t be afraid to call and get us out of bed at 3 am. Actually his management style was basically spoiling the employees he liked (they didn’t have to show up on time despite being a position where that was very important) and using threats like working Saturdays on those he didn’t. He said I was stabbing him in the back when I quit with a month’s notice.

      2. Chapeau*

        If they’re in the US, half of Social Security and Medicare are paid by the employer. It’s the share that is also called the “self-employment tax,” because the self-employed have to pay the full 15%, instead of 7.5% by the employee and 7.5% by the employer.

    3. TootsNYC*

      everyone should remember–in the US, very very few noncompetes are enforceable.
      Your employer cannot trap you that way, without giving you something in return.

      And just as you don’t have money for a legal fight, your employer probably has no stomach for it either. And if he resents paying you, he may resent paying his lawyer.

      They have to initiate the proceedings, which means they have to decide to spend the money.

      If you have indicators that they WOULD bother to pursue you, it might be worth showing the noncompete clause to an employment lawyer, and getting a letter from the lawyer that assures the boss it would be a waste of time to sue. And if you’d qualify to countersue them for your legal costs, have the lawyer mention that as well.

      1. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

        This guy is angry and petty enough to take it to court. Thankfully I really did want to leave that sector and most people leave within 5 years because of the toxicity and terrible grind of it for low pay compared to other areas. They can’t find new grads willing to do it anymore while it used to be very competitive.

    4. jasmine*

      I’d like to gently mention that narcissist is an ableist term against people with NPD. Having a mental illness or condition doesn’t make someone a bad person, and we can acknowledge that some people are really terrible without armchair diagnosing them.

      Not sure if you meant narcissist in the sense of “someone who has NPD” but the lines blur enough that I wanted to mention it.

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      Shoot. I meant to reply to OP#2 above. I was too busy thinking about cake to pay attention to how I was posting XD

  11. Emily*

    LW5: this is a terrific line: “my thankfulness for that is directed more towards God and the factors in my life that lead me to be employable than to my specific employer.”

  12. SweetestCin*

    And just noticed that this is due to family stuff. I do hope that everything is okay Alison and its just run of the mill stuff.

  13. lobsterbot*

    in #5, the employer is also a landlord. keeping a property in good repair and meeting housing codes, including heat in the winter, isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s the law. expecting excessive gratitude for doing what you’re supposed to be doing is crass.

    1. MsM*

      Yeah, my immediate reaction to the employer making a big deal out of the situation is, “So…you think making sure I don’t freeze to death qualifies as going above and beyond?”

    2. EPLawyer*

      Thank you boss for following the law.

      This is why employer supplied housing is not always a good idea.

    3. Antilles*

      That was my reaction too – the company is effectively your landlord; the fact they fixed an issue promptly is just part of being a landlord. Toss out a quick “thanks for that” as the normal social politeness, but that’s about all you need to do.

      1. Agnes*

        I can imagine if it took all night to locate a repairman and it was fixed very quickly and effectively it might be nice to acknowledge the work. It’s the requirement, but anyone with a house knows what a pain that is, and it’s probably not part of the boss’s regular work. It’s the law, but one can still acknowledge someone doing their job. The fixation on the cost and gratitude is just offensive. This is a business, after all.

    4. irene adler*

      Agree! This is a reasonable expense for a landlord. Sure, it sucks when a furnace needs replacing, but that’s no excuse for pestering the tenant about it.

      If things are going to become petty, I think I’d be posting my bills for all the expenses I incur in order to work: gasoline, car maintenance and repair, clothes, etc.

  14. The Person from the Resume*

    Wow! LW4 that is offensive and not because of the word “orgy” although I having a very hard time thinking of a situation where the word orgy belongs on a cover letter.

    Don’t make fun of anyone’s religion. As a former Catholic who is an atheist now because of science, I am offended by your sentence. I have family members who find great personal comfort in their Catholic faith and don’t use it hammer people who don’t follow their faith. They are good, kind people, and I don’t want them to encounter someone like you who makes a joke of their faith. If I were a hiring manager, your application would be trashed so fast. It’s too late for an apology. You had the awful judgement to think it was okay in the first place in your first impression so you can’t undo it.

    Also what others have said applies too. That paragraph screams “I’m awesome and creative and nobody appreciates me. Are you cool enough to appreciate me?” No, I’m professional enough to recognize you’d be a bad hire for multiple reasons.

    1. Linda*

      What exactly is offensive about that sentence? It’s just a joke about how the Pope being at an orgy would be out of place and not appreciated by the other attendees. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see how OP was making fun of the Pope, religion, or religious people.

      1. SweetFancyPancakes*

        I’m not Catholic, but I can see how it would be offensive to them. An outsider showing disrespect to a religious leader one holds in esteem could certainly cause offense. And making a joke about the Pope and orgies does smack of disrespect.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          Yup, I am Catholic and wouldn’t personally be offended. To me, it reads as “the Pope would obviously be committed to his vows and would therefore be a bizarre person to find at an orgy,” but…I could see somebody else reading it as “ha, ha, imagine the Pope at an orgy! Wouldn’t that be hilarious? It would really annoy Catholics to think of that!”

          I think it also depends on context to a degree. Living in a majority Catholic country, it wouldn’t bother me in the least, but I think if I saw this in Northern Ireland (where last month, there were bonfires with anti-Catholic slogans on them), I would feel differently and wonder “is this somebody anti-Catholic trying to sneak in a way of mocking Catholicism?”

          I generally feel it’s best not to make jokes about religion (or nationality or other things that are important to people) unless you know your audience because you really don’t know what they might have experienced in the past that they might be reading it in light of. And religion can be a touchy subject for a lot of people, especially if they are in an area where their religion is a minority one.

  15. Burned Phoenix*

    LW #1, and all those in similar positions, I want to add a layered point.

    Whether your manager doesn’t like you personally isn’t *exactly* the issue, just like with the general world you aren’t going to get along with everyone you work with–and sometimes those are people you work more closely with. It is in this case though that their crappy management let that effect their professional relationship with you–and really, because of how they handled it caused damage to the company because where others praised you, they all lost you. Still sucks–but a non-fabulous relationship isn’t always negative, it just makes professional growth more difficult if we’re not paying attention.

    1. H*

      I recently came to a workplace where my boss didn’t seem to like me and also seemed to love someone who had worked for her for 2-3 years but who lacked a lot of other experiences. Had a nickname for this person. Was pushing for a return to the office more in order to socialize and the favoritism was just astounding. LAYERS!

    2. Hannah Lee*

      I think it’s a combination of a particular manager not liking LW AND the way LW’s values, approach to work is at odds with the norms of the company.

      I worked in a situation like that for years. And it was fine for a while, as I was a bit insulated from the worst of it (it was a very misogynist, sports-bro-dude valuing … like the same kind of inexperienced guy getting hired over an over again because he went to a SR manager’s alma mater and played lacrosse/baseball/track and he was the “type” they favored, and then getting promoted because he was “one of us” … and also the top management team was nasty, and would make employees jump through hoops because they could, even for things that had zero business value and was just the manager exerting power) But eventually, the fact that I was unimpressed with their approach and didn’t operate like that was irritating to certain people. Even though I was always professional, and sociable and friendly, it was clear I wasn’t cut from the same cloth and wasn’t looking to be more like them at my core, so it became less likely I’d get good assignments or get promoted … they weren’t looking for diversity or balance; they were looking to work with people like them. (A non-me example … there was one director whose team was driving sales and profits, was doing a great job. A exec pulled him aside and told him “people have talked about promoting you to VP, but it’s not going to happen until you get rid of that old car” Director was proud of the fact that he’d kept the same honda for years and it still ran great, and he’d saved tons of money by not getting a new car. The exec basically gave director a list of 3 acceptable cars … if he wanted the promotion ASAP, he had to get one of those – new-not used. Otherwise, they’d view him as not fitting in and he’d never get promoted. )

      But in any case, working someplace that operates in a way that’s more aligned with my approach and values (like, don’t screw customers or vendors, don’t promote the dope based on who he knows, etc) is MUCH less stressful and better in the long run.

  16. Bookworm*

    I experienced a version of #1 not long ago. For awhile it was fine because they couldn’t complain about my performance (so it was petty stuff and I had people to advocate for me) but once the pandemic hit what had been simmering had finally boiled to the surface. Any allies or advocates who would have been in a position to do something about it had left and I later found out that my promotion might not have happened under different circumstances.

    I agree with what Alison said. I was disappointed to find that despite the fact I did have seniority at that point, I actually had less power/agency than before (this wasn’t personal or me being targeted but a genuine function of the pandemic plus poor management). And apparently things have continued to deteriorate where it’s a genuine matter of managers either not being trained as managers or the place is so in flux that they can’t give feedback because they don’t know the employee well enough to say.

    Obviously different people have different experiences but I’m glad to see the OP moved on. The misery wasn’t worth it.

    1. H*

      CAN TOTALLY RELATE HERE “but once the pandemic hit what had been simmering had finally boiled to the surface.” I worked in a health system and was the only one in my dept with clinical credentials and my boss without talking to me about it reassigned me back to a clinical bedside role during COVID…Basically told me I was being reassigned to COVID ground zero for 2 months and it was her choice. I made mental note and resigned 5 months later. I didn’t mind the work of being reassigned at all. I was still PRN at times but I couldn’t believe she just decided to reassign me during the surge and was like “have fun working in the ED” while the rest of my dept was working from home!

    2. Churpairs*

      “Once the pandemic hit what had been simmering had finally boiled to the surface”

      I think we could have an Ask the Readers for stories on what boiled to the surface during the pandemic ::eyes:: Pretty sure there are lots of us with STORIES ON STORIES

  17. H*

    OP/LW1…I could very much relate to this- “I’ve been able to thrive in my performance and results despite the dysfunction. But the formal reviews I’ve gotten have been tepid at best (despite a lot of raves and positive feedback from coworkers up and down the org ladder outside my department).” This has happened to me at 2 different positions and this is when you know it is time to go. What I find most unfortunate and sad in these situations is that you likely have great relationships with people in other depts, clients, etc and get a lot of great feedback from people who can’t do much for your career growth or give you a pay increase. The last 2 jobs I had were like this and I think it is because my supervisors were insecure. One of them I know didn’t like that I knew her boss from a prior role and her boss really liked me and would shout me out a lot. It just sucks because when you leave you get even more validation you are great at what you do from the people who were always cheering you on. How do these miserable people become managers?!?!

  18. Risha*

    LW4, I would interview them for sure! The orgy reference isn’t professional, but it’s hilarious and is similar to my sense of humor. But of course, that’s totally inappropriate to put in a cover letter for a job and I’m very happy this person asked about it. I’m guessing they may have been very young/inexperienced when they wrote it. When in doubt, ask someone who is more experienced to read over your resume and cover letter to check for errors or anything such as this orgy reference.

    1. Lilo*

      I mean would you really want someone on staff who didn’t understand professional language norms (and you had to worry about with clients) and who has butted heads with their previous boss and complained about said boss in their standard cover letter?

      I have a pretty dark sense of humor and grew up with an ex-Catholic dad who told a lot of dark Catholic jokes. But it’s not just about the honor, it’s the judgment displayed here.

      1. Churpairs*

        Yeah, I would agree with this. People are often surprised to find how dark my sense of humor is because I don’t let it out of the bag until I’ve read the room. It’s a professional requirement. Actually, a requirement of coexisting peacefully in society, but I digress.

      2. Observer*

        I mean would you really want someone on staff who didn’t understand professional language norms (and you had to worry about with clients) and who has butted heads with their previous boss and complained about said boss in their standard cover letter?

        Yeah, there are a number of red flags in this letter and this is one of them.

  19. Littorally*

    #4 – Okay, so, here’s the thing. There are certain qualities in a resume and cover letter that are more demonstrated in the doing than in the saying — things like attention to detail, good written communication, and so forth.

    If you’re positioning yourself as someone who approaches your work creatively, then I would read the cover letter looking for creativity in your self-expression — and “as welcome as the Pope at an orgy” would be the chief example of creativity I’d see. It’s not a good one. It tells me that your idea of what’s creative leans toward the pointlessly shocking. I’d presume that that’s why your previous industry found it so unwelcome, because boy is that mental image one I’d rather not have foisted on me at work!

  20. Miss Suzie*

    #1 I am glad to see I am not the only one whose manager disliked them. In my case, I found out that may manager had wanted to move a friend of theirs from another department to their team, and I was hired instead. When their friend left for another job elsewhere, things got even worse. Glad I got out of that place but I still have nightmares about it.

    1. Lilo*

      Are there people out there that haven’t experienced having a manager who hated them? Lucky people!

  21. Madame X*

    LW4 There are so many reasons why mentioning an orgy or the pope in a cover letter is a bad idea.
    1. It shows poor judgement. It’s not an appropriate time or audience to make this sort of joke.
    2. If the hiring manager is catholic they might find this sort of reference very offensive
    3. It sounds like the LW is trying too hard to be seen as “edgy” or cool. Forced edginess just ends up looking very cringe-y.
    4. The ill-conceived joke deployed by the LW is also a really good illustration of how some people try to force a rapport with a someone they do not know well by being overly familiar. This type of joke might be totally fine with your friends, but the LW is not friends with the hiring manager who read the cover letter. It feels like they are trying to shortcut their way from stranger to friend by telling a “shocking” joke without actually having developed a relationship with this person. (Obviously, it would still be inappropriate to express this joke in a work context even if they knew the hiring manager. This is just yet another reason why that line should be struck from the cover letter)

  22. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

    #5 there are in fact many examples here and elsewhere where a boss or business owner has expected the employee to be excessively thankful that they are paying employees their contractually and legally owed salary and benefits. As if employment was a benevolence bestowed upon the employee, and not a mutually beneficial business relationship.

  23. wickedtongue*

    #2 reminds me of a Halloween party for my SO’s graduate program years ago. One of the more obnoxious members of the department came with a made-up face (zombie, I think?), but no other costuming, and openly said that he had gotten it done by a friend who was a professional make-up artist. Although I was not a department member, I am an enthusiastic Halloween lover, and together with a member of the department, we came as characters from one of the biggest movies of the summer. We really went all out, and I ended up winning the costume contest. The other guy pitched a fit and drank part of the winnings (a candy/alcohol basket). It gave me great delight to beat such a sore loser for a costume contest I didn’t even know was happening.

  24. middlemgmt*

    With #1, agree with Alison, I experienced this with my previous grandboss. I wouldn’t say they didn’t like me… but they definitely had favorites, and I was not one of the favorites, so I did not get promoted. GB never said outright anything was wrong with my work. because there wasn’t. and my reviews from my boss were glowing and my boss was promoted. Another person at my level, hired directly by GB, was promoted in less than a year though I’d been at the company more than 10 with increasing responsibility, excellent relationships with the other depts. we collaborate with, and a much higher workload (i had already been promoted through a couple other roles under different Dept heads). but i was not promoted and there was no path for me until GB left. new GB is actually not as good as old GB in a lot of ways… i would say they are a people pleaser, not as good at decision-making/prioritizing projects/protecting the departments time, and new GB is not as good about making a point to recognize good work publicly. but… also new GB thinks my work is great. new GB thought I knocked it out of the park when subbing for my boss while on medical leave. New GB pushed for the promotion for me, a market adjustment raise following that, and i’ve received several bonuses… so i’m at least moving forward.

  25. MagicEyes*

    I have some experience with LW1’s situation. I stayed at a job with a volatile boss for a long time because it was good in many other ways–short commute, it’s doable with some health issues I have, the co-workers/environment/pay are good, and I like the work I’m doing. To make it work, I had to be very clear in my own mind about what I could do to make it better (mostly communicating very clearly), I had to have strong boundaries, and I had to know that it was her, not me. She left this job in 2021, and I’m still here. :-)

  26. Jenni*

    Re letter #4, that’s just incredibly poor judgement. I wouldn’t be interested in hiring or working with someone who puts that in a cover letter because it’s a neon red flag that the person doesn’t understand workplace norms.

    1. Observer*

      Yes, and it’s not just the use of the word orgy. The fact that the OP framed it that way is a clue that they don’t really get it.

      I’m glad the Alison called out the negativity. Because as problematic as that comparison is in general, the attitude is an even bigger problem. Both in terms of the general negativity. But also the apparent failure to understand that just because someone is not appreciative of your “creativity” it doesn’t mean that they are a fuddy-duddy stick in the mud. It may just mean that they care about things like safety.

      An Ops manager may like creative solutions to situations if they save money or effort, but not so much if they create safety issues, are against regulations or they cost a lot more money than Mr. Creative realizes. And that, by the way, holds true even in “creative” professions.

  27. the world is on fire*

    “And I understand why she feels she can talk down to me, I look very young, I’m a front desk person, and she’s a step up on the admin chain.”

    No, LW!! There is no reason someone should be okay speaking down to you.

  28. PurpleStar*

    #4 – I am dying over here. Gasping for breath through peals of laughter. I have startled my ancient dachshund with my exclamations of pure and utter joy. Yes, joy – this is the funniest thing I ever read in a cover letter. I recruit, hire and train new staff. I read a lot of cover letters and resumes. I wish I had gotten this. I would have redacted the identifying bits and hung it on my bulletin board.

  29. Heffalump*

    I’m waiting for a “my employee wasn’t respectful enough when her furnace went out” post.

  30. Fun in HR*

    Managers like those OP1 is having to tolerate need to be permanently removed from people management roles, decision-making roles, and roles where they are allowed to make recommendations that impact people’s work and their ability to make a living.

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