new receptionist’s shopping habit, resigning while covering for my boss, and more

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

1. New receptionist has a shopping habit

Two months ago I hired a new receptionist, one of my few direct reports. She is young and this is her first office job. She has a good personality for a receptionist, and everyone likes her.

The problem is her shopping habits. She spends her breaks and her lunch hour shopping online and getting the items delivered to the office. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but she also spends those hours sending me links to things she wants to buy for the office.

In the past two weeks alone, she has sent me three links, asked me in person for five different (unnecessary) things, explained her desire to “spruce up” the place, and has had multiple packages of office supplies delivered to her at the office. Once, when I told her no to an item, because there were space issues, she went out and purchased it with her own money! My supervisor had to tell her to remove said item, as it was taking up space that needed to be left open for clients.

I am at my wit’s end! I know that she is doing this in an attempt to make the space better for everyone, but it has simply become too much. How do I explain to her that she needs to stop asking for so many unnecessary things without tamping down on her enthusiasm for the work?

Does the office need sprucing up and, if so, can you give her a small budget to do it? That way you wouldn’t be shutting down her enthusiasm entirely, but by giving her a budget of $X to use for the next 12 months, it’ll be clear there are limits that she needs to work within (and it’ll give you a built-in end to the shopping).

But if the office doesn’t need it or it’s not something you want to spend money on (which would be quite reasonable), be up-front about that: “I appreciate that you want to spruce up the office, but buying more things like X or Y aren’t in the budget for this year, and I don’t want you spending your own money on that. Going forward, we need to limit purchases to necessary supplies like ABC.” You’ll be doing her a favor by explaining this since otherwise she has no way of knowing that what she’s doing is a problem (especially if a lot of her requests have been approved).

Normally I might also ask you if she has enough to do, but it sounds like all the shopping is happening on her breaks.

Also, try to mentally separate the work part of this from the shopping she does for herself on breaks. It sounds like you might be lumping them together but they’re two separate things (and one is very much not your business, as long as there’s no problem with her getting her packages delivered to the office).

Read an update to this letter

2. Resigning while my boss is on parental leave

I started my current position one year ago, and we’re a very small team in a much larger company. The onboarding process was rough — I enjoyed the type of work in general, but immediately I started to feel overworked and under-supported. What I was hoping would be a positive step forward in my career instead felt like an erosion of my work-life balance. Further exacerbating this stress, my boss left on a six-month parental leave about three months ago, and I’m now filling in. I’m doing the work of two people with half the resources and one-tenth the institutional knowledge — and with no additional pay or benefits. I’m burned out.

My plan was to power through until my boss returns and re-evaluate how I feel about my job at the end of the year, but a recruiter just reached out with a promising job opportunity at a rival company. I jumped at the chance to discuss it further, as this would be a great opportunity regardless of the challenges in my current position. I understand that it’s still very early in the process and that I won’t necessarily get this job, but it got me thinking: If I were to exit my role in the middle of my boss’s leave, how could I do so gracefully? How should I give notice when my boss is gone, and I only meet with their supervisor once a month (and sometimes only virtually)? I would potentially be leaving in the middle of a lot of big projects — and while I realize sometimes there is no easy time to leave — how can I minimize the negative impact that my absence would have on my team that is already very understaffed and stretched thin?

You’d give notice to the person you’re reporting to in your boss’s absence (sounds like your boss’s boss) and since you don’t talk often, you’d ask to set up a call or meeting to do it. You can say that you know the timing isn’t ideal but the opportunity was too good to pass up and that you’ll do whatever you can to help with the transition (within reason — not things like extending your notice period or working awful hours during it).

Beyond that, there’s not a lot you can do, and that’s okay. People leave at inconvenient times — sometimes really inconvenient times — and that’s just part of doing business. Your team will figure it out.

Read an update to this letter

3. Employer wants to contractually forbid me from returning to my previous company

I am in negotiations for a position as a creative project manager, and the initial offer a was lowball given my experience and expertise. (Epecially after the two direct managers for the position called to say they wanted me for the job one step higher than the one I applied for.) I sent them a counteroffer, and within 30 minutes they emailed asking to talk via phone. I’ve been fairly accommodating as my current work schedule allows for a good bit of flexibility, but was unable to meet with them at the requested time and said as much. This is the second time they’ve sent such an email, asking for a video call within 30 minutes of the email being sent, and my initial phone interview was asked to turn into a Zoom interview after the call and interview had already begun.

The biggest red flag that jumps out at me is part of their non-compete clause. It says I am not allowed to return to my most recent (current) employer if I leave the company. It strikes me as strange and raises questions as to how many people have joined and left to go back to their old jobs. My current job is not remotely related to the work I would be doing for this employer, and quite frankly I’m a little concerned about their communication and this contract.

I asked them about it when we talked, and apparently so many people have left the company and gone back to their previous jobs that they felt the need to include it in the contract. Am I getting myself into trouble? Should I run fast and far away?

Yes. “Any chance you could talk in 30 minutes?” isn’t a big red flag as long as it’s clear they realize that may not work. But contractually forbidding you from returning to your previous employer is. If they want to stop people from doing that, they should be focused on figuring out why it’s happening — are they not describing the job well enough before hiring people? Is something hideously wrong with the office/culture/boss that sends people running back to wherever they came from? Trying to forbid it from happening won’t solve whatever’s driving it in the first place.

4. My manager is doing a “stay interview” with me

I just had a meeting with my manager, and they let me know that as part of our goal-setting and review process, she’ll be asking me some questions. It seems management wants to gather information to ensure employees are happy. I appreciate their thinking of this, but I’m not sure the execution has been planned appropriately. Here are the questions I’ll be asked:

What do I look forward to when I get to work?
What are some reasons I want to stay at this employer?
What prompted the last thought I had of leaving?
What is one thing they could do to make my experience better?

Good questions, yes, especially if some action is taken on the overall responses. Unfortunately, I’ll have to answer directly to my manager in our meeting, and they’ll pass information along to higher management.

Am I wrong to think this should be fully anonymized? What if I don’t express adequate enthusiasm for staying and what I look forward to? What if other answers make them think I’ve been looking for other work (I haven’t)? I think this leaves a lot open to biases and prejudices and that when the next round of layoffs comes, this could factor into it. Or should I keep a more open mind about this?

Yeah, this is a bad way to do it. It’s reasonable for your manager to ask you some of these questions (like what they could do to make your experience better) but for many people, the answer to “What prompted the last thought you had of leaving?” will be something related to your manager — and even if it’s not, it might not be information you feel comfortable sharing with your boss. By doing it this way, they’re lowering the chances of getting honest answers, which raises questions about whether they’re just going through the motions (versus using peoples input in meaningful ways that will benefit you). They’d be better off anonymizing it or having you to talk to someone who’s not your manager.

That said, since it’s happening, you might as well see if you can use it to your advantage. Are there things you’d like to see happen that you’d feel comfortable talking to your boss about (even if they’re not your absolute highest priorities)? Share things you feel safe sharing, and feel no obligation to share the rest.

{ 308 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia*

    #2. they didn’t support you; they were happy to dump 6 mos of extra work on you without giving you any extra pay or providing additional people to pick up some of your own job. Don’t hesitate a second doing what is good for you. They sure don’t care about what is good for you. Congratulations. Hope the new job is great.

    #1. This is almost certainly a pathology that will not be affected by a decorating budget or whatever.

    #3 Oh yeah, RUN like Godzilla is gaining on you. They have LOTS of people quitting and going back to their former employer and their response is not to figure out why they are driving people away but to write up a ridiculous contract.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      #3 – Godzilla is holding a giant red flag in her mouth and waving it at you to let you, specifically, know that working for these people would be a really horrible idea.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I find it fascinating that someone looked at this pattern (our new hires keep quitting and going back to their previous jobs), thought “How can we prevent this from happening?” and then had the giant leap of creativity “Sure, we *could* improve our culture, but that’s hard and boring; lets threaten to sue our employees!”

        Bold of them to explain to OP why that clause is in the contract. “We have high turnover” could be explained; “People decide this job is so bad that lots of them want to go back to their previous employer” can’t be.

    2. Heidi*

      I’m wondering how they would enforce this contract if someone did go back to their former employer. Would they sue the OP? How would they even find out that someone went back?

      1. A.P.*

        They could try enforcing it by sending a cease and desist letter to the former employer and hoping that fear of litigation prods them into firing the OP.

        But, non-compete agreements are restricted in most states and if the contract clause isn’t in accordance with local laws, the OP could then in turn around and sue them for interference.

        1. Aubergine*

          Yes. Something like that would not fly in CA. And since the previous employer is in an entirely different industry, calling it a non-compete would be a misnomer. I find it hard to believe that it would fly in any state. Regardless, I love the Godzilla references. The OP should run.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Yeah, was coming to say that in California that type of clause is unenforceable.

            But the whole thing of high boomerang turnover and trying to use a contract to brute force prevent it raises enough red flags to be a parade in Red Square.


        2. Antilles*

          I doubt the company would ever actually go to court over it. It’s more about making current employees *think* that returning to their old job is off the table than actually legally enforcing it – plus a dash of quiet intimidation of “you sure you want to test us on this?”.

          1. Anonym*

            It signals a concerning combination of malice/threat and ignorance of basic business practices. Both are bad signs. (Also the lowball on salary looks extra bad when combined with this.)

          2. AnonyNurse*

            Yea, my first hospital nursing job, they made me sign a contract saying that if I left after less than two years, I’d have to pay them back $5,000 for “training” me. I was a fully licensed RN; any training they did was the typical training you have to do for hiring new grad nurses who you don’t pay very much (I started nursing school in peak “huge demand for nurses” and graduated in “great recession, all the nurses who had retired went back to work and no one is hiring new grads but for pennies”).

            I knew at the time that this was bogus, and they couldn’t enforce it. When I quit after just a year because of atrocious safety concerns, my manager said “you’ll have to pay back the $5k” and I was like … sure. ok. Never head a peep about it from the company.

            Did hear from a lawyer not long after, asking me to join a class action for wage/labor violations. They settled. I got like $3,000 after just having been there a year. That place was a nightmare.

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          yeah a lot of non-compete clauses are thrown out by labour courts as being far too restrictive and impractical, to the point that people don’t have any solution but to move to a foreign country or change industry completely.

          1. Adrian*

            Yes. In the mid-1970s, Les McKeown of the Scottish pop band The Bay City Rollers spent 3 years in Japan after leaving the group. He was still bound by the Rollers’ obligation to their record company, and contractually Japan was the only place he could work until it expired.

        4. Phony Genius*

          I heard a radio show host once describe his non-compete clause, which he said is standard in the industry. He said he can’t work for a competitor for 90 days after leaving the station. However, the old station is required to pay him for that entire 90-day period, or it can’t be enforced. Sometimes, a station will waive the clause to avoid having to pay the person. All of this is part of their union contract.

          1. Cogger*

            This is common in some banking/finance fields in the US – often called “garden leave”. During garden leave, the ex-employee remains on the payroll for ~30-90 days and is prohibited from contacting old clients/accounts. It gives the old employer time to transition the ex-employee’s clients/accounts to a new person. After the leave expires, ex-employee can start at the new firm and try to poach their old clients.

            1. MK*

              And in the radio show case, it gives time to the station to change hosts and prevents confusion to the public that might think the show changed stations. After a few months, any listeners that tune in to the host’s new station are presumably their own fans, not fans of the show that belongs to their former employer.

              This is the legitimate purpose of non-competes: to prevent the employee from using their position in a company to exploit its resources. The reason most such clauses don’t stand up in court is because companies are trying to use them to basically punish employees for leaving.

              1. Wintermute*

                Precisely, There is a legitimate case for a non-compete clause, but that place tends to be situations like this where someone is a very public part of the company and their image is tied up with the brand identity, or, alternately, jobs where you by necessity have so much insider information about their future plans and course of action that even if you don’t intentionally use it against them, it’s impossible for it not to influence your subconscious decision making in the new role (e.g. a job like president of marketing, director of research and development, etc).

                It’s absolutely bonkers that fast food places try to enforce them now, it’s blatantly anticompetitive the ONLY purpose you’d put a non-compete on a cashier at a pizza joint is to prevent them from leaving if underpaid or mistreated.

      2. MK*

        Frankly, it’s probably a scare tactic more than anything else. Theoretically, they could sue the employee and possibly the new/old employer for damages (?), but it’s unlikely that a) it would stand up in court and b) it would be worth it financially, so they probably won’t. But it may well intimidate the employee into staying, and it might even scare the other employer off.

        A lot of companies do this to their customers: they have a policy that they don’t accept returns, when in the EU they are mostly legally obligated to accept them, they put up signs stating they aren’t liable for X and Z, when in my country that doesn’t actually affect their liability, etc. I am not sure if they are ignorant of the law (and in the case of multinationals, assume the law is the same as their country of origin) or if they correctly think that most consumers don’t know their rights and will accept it.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          It’s astonishing really how many contracts include illegal, and therefore invalid, clauses. It’s really common in rental agreements where I live, and sometimes employment contracts.

          Most people who are not lawyers do not know what is legal nor do they know where to look it up, and they assume if it’s written in the contract, it has to be valid! Or they know it’s probably not valid but it’s not worth the time to fight it.

          1. Asenath*

            When I was a student and renting places, most landlords who rented to students (we were very unpopular tenants) did not give their tenants a copy of the local Landlord Tenants Act – which was required by law, and which included all the legal rights and responsibilities of both parties. The best landlord I had during this period handed over a copy of the Act saying “Of course, since you’ve rented before, you already have a copy of this, but I’m obliged to give you one anyway.” I’d never seen a copy.

            Yeah, I’d check with a lawyer if I were going to sign a non-compete clause like that one, but in this case, I think I might just withdraw my application, particularly if they say they want to apply the clause to a job in an unrelated industry.

            1. Hannah Lee*

              That reminds me of the places that give you sheets to sign acknowledging that you are in receipt of XYZ documents but when you ask to actually see or get a copy of those documents they look at you like you’ve got 8 heads.
              It’s like, do you even read your own forms? And what are you trying to pull?

              (In most cases I suspect it’s a case of low paid front line workers being taught the process of “get the customer’s signature on these 3 forms for the file/checklist” with actually giving the customer the referenced documents not being a required step, but it’s still nonsensical)

              1. Anonym*

                So. Many. Medical offices do this! It drives me absolutely batty. I ran into one recently that gave them permission to send ALL my medical records to my employer (???). I did not sign it, and informed them of why: if for some reason they did that, it would open me up to serious risk of discrimination. And frankly, my employer is by and large competent enough to avoid creating that risk by asking for such things, but WTFFFFFFF.

                1. Agile Phalanges*

                  I’m guessing they frequently deal with workers comp claims (in which case I still don’t think they necessarily need to send medical info directly to the employer, but rather to the workers comp insurer), but they definitely shouldn’t have it be the automatic default, but rather an “initial here if this is a workers comp claim and you acknowledge that your records may be sent to the WC insurer and/or your employer” sort of thing.

                2. DJ Abbott*

                  I used to go to a lab that would try to make me sign I had seen my sample labeled before they even took the sample. I refused to sign until they had done it, and that always flummoxed them.
                  One day I mentioned this in passing at my doctors office, and they stopped using that lab.

              2. Happy to be Here*

                Notice of privacy practices, that’s my pet peeve. They always want you to sign that you have received the notice without giving it to you. I explain that as a federal contracting person, I sign nothing without reading it first, and that they shouldn’t either. Doesn’t make me popular, but I don’t care. Not signing just anything.

          2. Cat and dog fosterer*

            Animal rescues often have forms with parts that are completely unenforceable. The adoptions have mostly gone online due to covid so signatures are electronic. Some adopters don’t have much technical knowledge and worry about signing, and I respond that we’re only looking for some acknowledgement that the form was read. The form talks about basic care and what the rescue is committed to, so in part it also limits their ability to sue the rescue if the cat or dog gets sick (there are some difficult adopters). I think the form is useful for us because it is about info sharing, but the one for OP is very odd! Completely unenforceable.

            1. alienor*

              We adopted a pet from a rescue a while ago, and part of the form stated that they reserved the right to inspect our home and take her back at any point in the future. I don’t see how that could possibly be enforceable, even if the rescue had the staff to do random home inspections.

              1. Pisces*

                Agreed that this might be impractical to enforce, but responsible shelters and pet rescue do have a legitimate concern about irresponsible pet adopters.

              2. MigraineMonth*

                It might be legally enforceable, though I imagine it would only be used if the org had convincing evidence of animal abuse.

                The form I signed promised that I wasn’t going to sell my newly-adopted cat for medical research. A nice little dose of horror to temper the new-adopter high.

                1. Former Employee*

                  What an awful thought. What’s terrible is that some people probably do that sort of thing.

                  I hope you and your kitty are having fun.

              3. Curmudgeon in California*

                I’m sorry, but people can stay the f out of my home. The last thing I need is judgey mc judgeface judging whether my home is “pet safe” or “too cluttered” with Martha Stewart housekeeping and decor expectations. (My home is furnished in garage sale modern, and has the storage for my business in it.)

    3. AJoftheInternet*

      There’s a very small chance that actually the contract was written by someone who wasn’t very good at thinking through things and thought, “Most people will be coming here from within this industry. Since those are our competitors, we don’t want people getting hired here as SPIES!!! This clause will solve that silly old problem, la, la!”

      1. AcademiaNut*

        I’m thinking someone who wasn’t very good at thinking things through and thought “We keep hiring people for X and Y and after a short while they go back to their previous employer. This is a problem. Therefore, we will get them to sign a contract forbidding it.”

        Actual investigation would probably reveal that either 1) this is a field where going back and forth between employers is a common way to progress or 2) they are crap to work for and people are contacting their previous job begging to save them from the misery and hire them back.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Given they decided that legal threats were a reasonable solution to people leaving for better jobs, my money is on number 2.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        You are very generous and logical.
        “So many people run back to the previous employers.”
        followed by {full stop}
        They are acting like an abusive/manipulative partner, cutting off an escape route.
        They are hiring great people, with actual options – and that is a problem.
        “This job/manager/team sucks. It’s only been a week, my old job isn’t filled. I’ll give them a call.”
        their solution?
        “No! you can’t do that! You work for us now.”

        1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          It seems like that last line should be accompanied by them rubbing their hands together and cackling evilly. Bwahaha, your soul is mine.

      3. Observer*

        There’s a very small chance that actually the contract was written by someone who wasn’t very good at thinking through things and thought, “Most people will be coming here from within this industry. Since those are our competitors, we don’t want people getting hired here as SPIES!!!

        Well, yes that’s the typical excuse. But the company actually TOLD the OP that they are doing this because they keep on losing staff.

    4. EvilQueenRegina*

      If that many people are leaving to go back to their old employers, there’s obviously a reason for that and they should take a long look at themselves before putting in this daft contract.

      Have to echo the response elsewhere on this thread – how would they even enforce that, I’m having a hard time picturing anyone doing anything but laughing if asked to represent them in that case?

      1. doreen*

        Not only do I not see how they can enforce it, I can’t even see why they would want to restrict people from returning to their former employer but apparently not care if they quit and get a job at a third company.

        1. AsPerElaine*

          Possibly the assumption is that it’s easier to go back to the old employer than to find a new job? Also, they (apparently) feel they have legal standing to forbid the one, when even a very unreasonable employer would probably feel that they could not contractually obligate their employees to not leave for ANY job.

        2. Antilles*

          My guess is because the place is such a demon-spawned hellhole that people join and IMMEDIATELY realize that they want out. And since it’s only been a few days since you left your old company and your role is likely still open, there’s the easy escape route that people have been taking.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            That was my read as well. I’m betting most of the turnover is within the first 3 months, when the old job is probably still open. There’s no way that a workplace that thinks a legally-unenforceable contract is a legitimate way to address high turnover isn’t toxic in other ways as well.

    5. bamcheeks*

      #1. This is almost certainly a pathology that will not be affected by a decorating budget or whatever.

      I don’t know, it sounds more like a perfect case of “we’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas” to me. OP has reached their “wit’s end” without apparently having any conversation with their employee about it except for saying no to one item.

      I get that it can feel more complicated than that when you’re dealing with a real person and you’re worried that you’ll upset them and that will harm the relationship and so on, but I am always kind of surprised that people can get to the point of writing a letter and not read back over it and go, huh, I haven’t actually spoken to them directly about this yet, have I? I should probably try that first.

      1. PsychNurse*

        This was my thought too! The employee is young and may just be enthusiastic about decorating. Bring her into your office and explain that, while you love her ideas, you will not be buying any more items for the office this year. IF it continues then maybe it’s a pathology. But I wouldn’t jump to thinking that!

        1. Sleeve McQueen*

          Agree with this. My first job in my field was as an assistant, so was in charge of ordering stationery, kitchen supplies for the office and what I ordered would probably qualify as “going to town”. No one had bothered explaining to me how there are budgets and so on for that and I don’t just have carte blanche to order things that look cool, and my young self didn’t know any better.

      2. Snow Globe*

        I think that comment referred to the fact that the employee also spends her breaks doing a lot of personal shopping. So it might not be about redecorating, rather just a compulsion to shop, and a decorating budget won’t help that. But it could just be enthusiasm, and maybe she got a big pay raise with this job, so that’s why she’s doing so much personal shopping. Hard to tell from here.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          But it’s also a case of whatever’s going on with the employee personally (joy of shopping, compulsion, whatever) it’s on the employee to manage their behavior in such a way that it doesn’t impede their ability to do their job, disrupt their workplace.

          I agree that a direct conversation is overdue, a sit down where LW first reviews the job duties, responsibilities etc – because it’s possible being new to the workforce this person has misunderstood something like “responsible for the appearance of the reception area” to include decorating instead of keeping it clean and presentable – but then also LW’s expectations of the amount/% of time employee should be focused on sourcing supplies etc and reiterating the company’s purchasing and expense policies, including for this position that ANY purchasing or sourcing of stuff requires LW’s prior written approval.

          (And though it may not be an issue, and it may be a nice thing the company allows for employees, think about the impact of the employee using the company office for personal deliveries- if it’s multiple times a week the receiving staff is dealing with her QVC boxes, what isn’t getting done while they are doing that? At my company, stuff arriving with just someone’s name and the address often gets delivered to the wrong company in the building, which leads to phone calls to all the other companies “is this one of your people?” and someone traipsing around to redeliver it. It happens rarely, but during our end of year busy time, the shipping and receiving folks get annoyed having to stop shipping product in order to manage delivery of multiple folks’ personal gift shopping.)

          1. All Het Up About It*

            because it’s possible being new to the workforce this person has misunderstood something like “responsible for the appearance of the reception area” to include decorating instead of keeping it clean and presentable

            Oooooh. Such a good point I hadn’t thought about!

        2. Artemesia*

          This. She spends all her time shopping and now wants to fill the office with more of this crap. This is shouting, but not shouting ‘I love to decorate.’

      3. ecnaseener*

        Agreed, I don’t see anything in the letter to suggest “pathology.” This is a person who enjoys shopping — you can enjoy a thing without it being a compulsion or addiction or whatever. And she’s never been told not to shop for the office, so it’s quite a leap to assume she can’t or won’t stop once asked.

        1. Koalafied*

          Yes, jumping right to calling this pathology is a really extreme take not supported by anything in the letter.

        2. Sara without an H*

          It may just be a habit she’s picked up during the pandemic. I live in a large apartment complex. Back when more people were working from home, the postal service truck, the UPS truck, the Fedex truck, and the Amazon truck did twice-daily loops through the complex. Lots of people developed a shopping hobby.

          Since the receptionist seems to like decorating, the OP should just give her a small budget and some guidelines (“We need to keep x space cleared for clients”), and let her do it.

          1. Nobby Nobbs*

            It’s nice to get packages. Every time I order something online and it shows up on my doorstep or in my mailbox, I think “This feels great, I should do it more often!” Then I don’t, which might be the real pathology here…

            1. Hannah Lee*


              With me, I see a package my door and have no idea what it is. I may know I ordered ‘something’ but cannot for the life of me remember what until I look at the FROM label. A different kind of pathology – I’m labeling it overstressed year 3 of pandemic brain.

          2. doreen*

            And in addition to that, a lot of people have become accustomed to shopping online for things they used to shop for in person. The receptionist might not be doing anything different that someone who runs errands/shops in person on their lunch break. I used to do almost anything other than grocery shopping on my lunch break – it was just easier because of the location of my office.

        3. fhqwhgads*

          I donno. I know different people are different, but at work, it’s weird to me someone would assume “I should shop for the office” because she’s never been told not to, rather than only assuming she should shop for the office because she’s been told to.
          Also, she has been told not to do this. Seems like not clearly enough to cover all bases, but she bought a thing with her own money after being told not to buy it from budget. That goes beyond “if someone just says ‘stop buying things for the office’ she will”.

          1. Koalafied*

            People early in their careers assume all sorts of weird things without having an underlying pathology, and it’s not some kind of crazy leap for a receptionist to get the mistaken idea that she has some responsibility for the reception area that extends to purchasing. This isn’t like she’s trying to repaint the entire office or order new chairs for the conference room – as far as LW has shared, she’s only been shopping for things that would go in her area. While that was probably never a responsibility the bosses intended their receptionist to have, there are undoubtedly places where it would be.

            It’s also not clear, but the letter even seems to imply that at least some of her purchase requests might have been approved – LW mentions receiving multiple links but indicates that “one time” they said no to a purchase for space reasons and she bought it anyway from her personal funds. Not sure if that means that every other time they said no and she didn’t buy it anyway, or that every other time they said yes, or a mixture of the two. I’d also be curious to hear if the LW told her that space was the reason he denied the purchase, because thinking that using her own money would solve that problem is indeed odd, and makes me wonder whether or not that was explained to her.

            But in general, it very much does not sound like this employee has been “told not to do this.”

            1. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

              I have approved two requests that she asked for, for actual work reasons. But I have denied far more than approved. Each time I deny them, I tell her why – lack of space, too expensive, the boss doesn’t like clutter, the items she wants aren’t approved for anyone in the office, etc.

              But as someone else did mention, I did specifically ask HOW to talk to her about this, not whether or not I should. I just needed some guidance, as I am the person with the most management experience in the office (including my own boss!).

            2. Lenora Rose*

              If reception duties include ordering office supplies, what constitutes an office supply can get weird or confusing. Even “if you can’t get it or something like it at Staples don’t get it” becomes muddy when the stores that used to specialize in stationary now seem to include huge swathes of things only borderline related to office life.

              1. Lenora Rose*

                In this case, someone with an intense personal shopping habit is badly misreading her limits, regardless. (If office supply requests are getting turned down at a much higher rate than approved that’s a sign in itself.)

              2. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

                She is not in charge of ordering supplies EXCEPT for toner for one specific printer.

            3. fhqwhgads*

              I’m not arguing the behavior is pathological. I’m saying it’s weird, and OP has ample reason to believe a simple “stop it” won’t work.

      4. Lily*

        “it sounds more like a perfect case of “we’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas” to me.”

      5. Mitzi Galus*

        I know, I kept thinking while reading that “USE YOUR WORDS!!!”. I doubt she’s a mind reader…

      6. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        Yeah, “pathology” is a huge stretch for me. What she’s doing isn’t pathological, at all. She’s young and likes shopping. The LW hasn’t even had a conversation with her about it yet. How the heck is she supposed to know what the norms there are if no one talks to her about it?

      7. MigraineMonth*

        Agreed. The jump from “she shops on her breaks and wants to buy things to make the office look nice” to “she is pathological” is an enormous one. It sounds like she’s really excited about her new job (and having spending money); she needs a conversation, not a diagnosis.

        Also, is having the packages delivered to the office actually disruptive? I used to have issues receiving packages because the apartment office would place all packages that arrived during the day in a storeroom that was locked at 5pm, well before I got home from work. It would have been really nice to be able to get the packages at work.

        1. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

          I don’t think she is “pathological,” and I did state that her getting packages delivered isn’t an issue. I do need to have a more in-depth conversation with her, which is why I wrote, and any advice is appreciated about HOW to go about it.

          1. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

            People aren’t pushing back on you on this – I think we mostly get what you asked and why! They’re pushing back on the person at the top of this comment thread, who DID describe her as pathological, and explaining why that person, not you, is being weird about this.

      8. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

        I see now that I neglected to mention in my email that I have spoken to her about this numerous times. Other than telling her no, I have explained to her the space issues and when we do and do not decorate the office. She has attempted to go over my head for approval for purchases, to which MY boss told her no, and then explained the issues.

        She is attempting to fill up a space that she sees as “empty,” but is a counter that our coworkers use to do paperwork, and they have told me and her that they are annoyed by all the extra stuff she is adding.

        1. Observer*

          OK, this changes things, a lot.

          I think you need to separate out what is important and what is not important.

          Important: She’s trying to go over your head. She keeps trying again, even though she has been told more than once to stop. She is ignoring your explanations and trying to impose her vision, which is a problem by itself. And she’s doing it despite not having the general experience and institutional knowledge to have a clue. Her behavior is generally negatively affecting others in the office and she is ignoring it.

          Not important: She shops on her lunch and breaks.

          Have one last conversation with her and lay out the problems. Do not even mention her shopping. It’s not important and creates a major red herring. Be CRYSTAL clear that it has to stop. This is not a discussion, this is you telling her how she needs to operate and her confirming that she understands and will abide by this.

          Then prepare to manage her out. If she continues to do this, follow whatever process you have for terminating an employee. It stinks, but if she can’t get this under control, you can’t keep her on.

          Make sure your boss is looped in.

          PS. Plan what you are going to say to her. You really, really don’t want to lead with inconsequentials and elide or totally leave out some really important stuff, as you seem to have done in your letter. Because the problem is NOT “her shopping habits”. It’s that she’s overstepping, not listening and making things difficult.

        2. Picky*

          I have worked with a pathological shopper and your letter did sound a lot like the person I knew. If one was good, five was obviously better, right? This was an office manager who went out and GOT A PURCHASING DIPLOMA in the belief that it would convince their boss to let them purchase whatever they wanted. The number of things that had to be given away to staff because they were in danger of becoming unusable. Eg. was supposed to buy two jugs of dish detergent for the office kitchen, bought a case (10 dozen jugs). Ink dries up–and can’t return them after a while for this very reason. Rubber bands lose their stretch. Etc. Then there were the cute office supplies. Please just get me some bulldog clips, I don’t need them to have flowers or inspirational messages on them!

    6. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Yep, #3 sounds very much like an employer of the philosophy “The beatings will continue until morale improves”….

    7. Observer*

      #1. This is almost certainly a pathology that will not be affected by a decorating budget or whatever.

      I don’t see any signs of pathology here.

      As others have noted, the attempts to improve the office sound like lack of experience on one side and reflexive push-back on the other without actually explaining anything to her.

      As for her personal shopping not only do I not see any reason why it would matter to the OP, nor is there any sign that her shopping is “pathological”.

      1. This Old House*

        It’s also possible that as a young person a few months into her first office job, the receptionist has some spending money now for the first time and is catching up on purchases she’d put off, or updating things now that she can afford to, and that even the personal shopping is not necessarily something that will last once the novelty wears off.

      2. Janeric*

        I think you’re right. I also think it’s likely that as she is early in her career and finding her feet, she’s trying to make herself useful while she gains skills — and that as she gets more responsibility/learns the culture she’ll do it less.

        (But also if I were her manager I’d look for parts of her job that she’s doing well and encourage her in those, and find places where she can take on added responsibility/team membership, because it sounds like she’s seeking one of those.)

    8. sagc*

      This is (literally) pathologizing “shopping at lunch and wanting to get something for the office”, which I believe is against the rules here. Or at least should be, since it’s gross and wholly unsupported.

    9. SereneScientist*

      Whoa, hang on re: #1, can we not automatically turn to pathologizing someone’s behavior when it has more to do with how it’s managed?

  2. Santiago*

    Honestly maybe your receptionist just wants more responsibility, in some way, people wanna feel in charge of their space or that they influence it some how, well, many do, and you receptionist might be looking for a way to do that. Get her cross trained on something that interests her and maybe it’ll redirect some of that energy. Cheers

    1. AcademiaNut*

      Given that she’s two months into her first office job, she should still be in the process of training and mastering her primary duties – cross training and extra responsibility will likely come later.

      I think it’s very likely that she loves to shop, loves to decorate, and wants to apply that love to her current job, but doesn’t have a good grasp of what is normal or appropriate for her position. Sit her down and have a chat, let her know what sort of office supplies/extras are appropriate to requisition (and at what frequency), what sort of stuff is appropriate to bring into the office herself, and, if necessary, the limits on having personal mail delivered to the office. See how she reacts, and go from there.

      1. Lilo*

        Yes, she’s barely started. She needs to learn to settle in this place before she tries to redo the office. I definitely wouldn’t give her a budget here because she’s already shown some boundary issues and hasn’t established a good track record yet.

      2. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

        This is a good idea, thank you. I’ve been in an office environment for so long, sometimes I forget that others don’t know what the norms are. Framing it that way, as a teaching moment for a younger person who is in her first real office job, is very likely the way I will go.
        She is not yet fully meeting her job duties (which is fine! as you said, she is still in training – not even at her 90 day mark yet), so cross training or giving her more duties isn’t an option yet. Also, due to the nature of the industry we are in, it is hard to just add more duties where there just simply isn’t that much work. She was warned about this in the interview!

    2. Admiral Thrawn Is Always Blue*

      I have a long career as receptionist and admin. Please give her a little room here. It’s usually an underpaid, underappreciated job. Let her feel like she is a real person, making a contribution, and being heard.

      1. tessa*

        Not permitting her to shop for the office automatically means she otherwise isn’t heard and isn’t treated like she’s a real person?

        Quite a leap.

        1. Santiago*

          Whew! That’s * not * what I said. I said “maybe she wants to buy things for the office because she’s looking for more ways to get invested in the business.”

          1. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

            To be fair, she is so new here and still not fully trained, I’m not sure her opinion matters to the larger picture of “what will the office look like.” In six months or a year, maybe, but not right out of the gate.

      2. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

        I’ve been an admin my entire career as well, and I started in the position this woman holds now, at this company. It is underpaid and does get pretty boring at times. I definitely understand her desire, but it is misdirected.

    3. Shirley Keeldar*

      Also, do take a hard look at the space—maybe it truly does need to be spruced up, and maybe someone coming in with fresh eyes is seeing things that you’re not noticing because you’re so accustomed. This just happened to me at a new job—I took at look at the space I was supposed to serve clients in and went “Oh heck no.” I didn’t ask them to spend more than $25 on new stuff, but that curtain DID need to be fixed and that carpet DID need to be cleaned and it was unreasonable to ask clients to spend good money to be in a place that didn’t look like we cared about it at all.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I think it’s really important to capture the insights brought by a fresh pair of eyes. You want people to point out that the emperor is naked, or that this form doesn’t need to be done in triplicate any more.

        Obviously there’s a balance; maybe the form still needs to be done in triplicate for reasons that aren’t immediately apparent to a new person, but it’s still valuable to double-check your assumptions.

        1. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

          It’s definitely an old office, but her “spruce up” is always vague. What she wants is more in the vein of a daily calendar with jokes on it, motivational phrases she can switch out, and fresh flowers every week. She has not once mentioned anything about the space that the actual clients frequent.

          1. Hosta*

            Oh, man, I’d love to have fresh flowers every week in my home, let alone my work place. A decent compromise might be a small, sturdy plant in a decorative pot, like the sort you can pick up at any grocery store. Tell her it has to stay in her area and it’s her responsibility. Give her like…twenty bucks to spend on it, and give her parameters: Pot can’t be more than 8 inches across or ten inches tall, there has to be a saucer beneath it, and if the plant has vines, they need to be neatly kept and cannot be allowed to grow up the wall (if a vine is supporting itself on a vertical surface, it’s because it’s grown *into* that surface), if it’s a vertical grower it can’t be more than 20 inches when mature, she’s the one who waters it, if it dies of overwatering it isn’t being replaced, and if the office is going to be closed for more than a week, it’s her job to figure out how it’ll be taken care of.

            Pothos is nice and comes in some really pretty varieties, and peperomia is so drought resistant it used to be called radiator plant, because you could literally keep it on your radiator. Snake plants might be literally immortal, but you do have to make sure it’s a short variety; my mother gave me one that was four inches tall, and now the leaves are three feet long and counting.

    4. Observer*

      Honestly maybe your receptionist just wants more responsibility, in some way

      That’s quite possible. I think it’s equally likely that the office really does need some upgrading.

    5. hamsterpants*

      This comment makes me think about the movie Office Space. When Peter checks out and starts doing a poor job of things, instead of correcting him his bosses decide that he must be too brilliant and creative for his assigned work and decide to give him a promotion.

  3. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

    For #1, that she bought something with her own money that there wasn’t actually room for after being told no tells me that she doesn’t have a good enough grasp of how the office functions to be encouraged in her redecorating plans right now even if a budget could be found. Otherwise, she’d likely buy other things that didn’t make actual sense for the overall office context since she hasn’t dialed it in yet.

    Sounds like someone who just hasn’t quite figured out office culture yet, which makes sense because she is new.

    I’d suggest that the OP have her keep a list of all of her “for the office” suggestions, and try to carve out time to have a short, scheduled meeting with her every week or two (fading to less often over time) where she can present the “top three” list (or whatever number makes sense) of the ideas she’s had so far, and the OP can explain why those specific items do or don’t make sense, or if there are other specific factors or processes involved in that kind of purchase. (Did she know that there wasn’t room for the item because that open space was needed, or was she just told no? Learning to accept occasional nos is part of the world of work, but if you want her to pick up on how the office functions taking the time to explain why a given suggestion won’t work will help her filter her own suggestions in the future.) The running list and limited, scheduled meeting is both so she’ll be bothering the OP less often and so she’ll have some think time and incentives to second-guess and filter her suggestions rather than send all of them as they occur.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I will say – first you need to make sure the person will accept “No” as the answer. I once worked with a person who constantly want to spruce up our very small reception area. It had their desk and then three small but cushioned chairs, because that was all the fire inspectors would allow us to have there for safety reasons. The former and then replacement receptionists got it after being told once that fire code says this is what we are allowed for safety reasons. But the middle receptionist didn’t want to hear NO – even after being told what felt like 20,000 times (it was probably actually only 10 times) that you cannot change the reception area decorating due to safety concerns. So one holiday weekend, yup she let herself into the office and totally redecorated the reception area (remember she’d already been explicitly told not to do this), and what made it worse was the annual fire safety inspection was at 10 AM the first day back in the office.

      She got fired, and the blame for the office being shut down for two days (because that was how long it took us to get all her “sprucing up stuff” including all new furniture out of the area and find what she had done with the furniture that was there before). It was a giant mess.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        She’s probably still telling the story to anyone who will listen how she was fired for having good taste!

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I’m sure she is – she was only there for about four months if I remember correctly.

          She was unfortunately not one of a kind, I’ve met some of her clones in other jobs as well. They are the ones that really make me scratch my head.

      2. turquoisecow*

        Not about decorating, but I had a coworker who kept bringing up the same “issues” that weren’t really issues in every staff meeting. The bosses would explain why it wasn’t an issue and she would seem like she understood but then she’d bring it up again the next meeting. Eventually she stopped and was just kind of resentful that we weren’t fixing these things she saw as problems.

        And to be fair, some of them were problems, but they were beyond our control for various reasons, or people higher up the food chain wouldn’t let us fix them.

        If OP explains to the receptionist “yes, I know we could use a filing cabinet, but there isn’t a good space to put one,” and the receptionist either buys one anyway or keeps bringing it up over and over and over despite being told no, then that’s a problem that probably seeps into her work in other ways. And maybe that’s what happened here. But it sounds like OP was just “no, don’t buy a filing cabinet (or whatever)” and the receptionist thought “oh, we need a filing cabinet but it’s not in the budget, I’ll be the hero and buy one,” without understanding the reasoning (lack of space). Do you want an employee who mindlessly agrees? Then she might not be the right one for the job. But if she’d be fine once she had things explained, then explain.

          1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            See, that makes it a lot more concerning to me. She was told no, presumably your “why” included an explanation of their not being space for it, and then she went and did it anyway. That’s a big boundaries issue beyond just a shopping issue, since using her own money would not solve the reason she was told not to buy it.

      3. Hosta*

        Wow. You tell me to spruce up a work space and first I’m attacking it with heavy duty cleaners, then I’m getting a little plant and maybe, if I’m feeling incredibly wild and it’s in the budget, a little carpet for just that area or an updated lamp shade. I might even bring in a decorative pot from home, if I’m really daring. I can’t imagine having the chutzpah to get entire new pieces of furniture!

    2. WellRed*

      I think Alison’s answer was good but I wouldn’t otherwise encourage this by meeting regularly to discuss decorations. For one thing, how much more time will she spend online shopping if it’s for work? Presumably she was hired for other tasks.

  4. Goldie*

    Omg tell the receptionist to stop shopping and decorating. It’s distracting. She should focus on her job and not be shopping for the office on her off time.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        “… not be shopping for the office on her off time”

        If someone is working on the TPS reports on their off ie break time, they are working, not having a break, and technically the employer has to count that as time worked, not break time … even if the employee has been told not to work on the TPS report during their breaks. Employer can discipline the employee for not following instructions, but they can’t classify that time as break time. (And though it’s unlikely that will cause them to run afoul of their state’s required rest period laws if they are any, it could technically be a violation)

        Also if the receptionist is at her workstation or otherwise in the workplace in view or hearing of active workspace during breaks, yes, she can be told to stop behaving in ways that are a distraction to other employees.

        1. Observer*

          yes, she can be told to stop behaving in ways that are a distraction to other employees.

          Except that there is no reasonable way to claim that her shopping on line is distracting anyone. She’s sitting and he computer and doing her thing. The only way it would be “distracting” is if someone is looking over her shoulder.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            She’s sending links to potential purchases to other people. Can they ignore those IMs? Sure, but one still has to look at it to see if it’s actual work or not. Not the biggest distraction in the world, but it is distracting and doesn’t require looking over her shoulder.

        2. River Otter*

          That analogy only works if part of the receptionist job description is shopping for office items. It sounds like shopping for office items is not part of her work and is something that she is doing of her own initiative for fun. So there should not be a concern that she would have to be paid for the time she spent shopping.

        3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          The place where I currently work – you were explicitly asked to leave your workstation while on your break, so there was no confusion of whether or not you were on break. Now that we are all working from home – they don’t police it anymore.

    1. High Score!*

      Shopping on breaks is fine. I do it to relax sometimes although I don’t usually buy things just research and I never send links to coworkers. That’s the issue, she’s trying to involve others and constantly having things delivered to the office is a huge distraction.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        yeah, one or two things delivered to the office because they’re never at home during delivery hours, fine, but not all the time! You arrange for stuff to be delivered on your days off.
        I mean, big parcels heaped up in a corner will not help to make the place look better spruced up!

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        I once worked for someone who made us announce, in person, when we were leaving for lunch and when we came back. One day, I came back with a bandage on my arm. The boss asked about the bandage and, after I told her I had used 15 minutes of my lunch break to get a blood test at my doctor’s office, she issued a new decree stating that the lunch break was for eating and not running errands, and we were now to report where we went and what we ate during our post-lunch check-in. I forwarded that to our union rep who called me and asked “Is this real? Is she crazy?”

        Some people are just lunatics.

      2. tessa*

        And having personal purchased items delivered to the office? Insisting on buying something for the office even after being told not to hecause the item doesn’t fit well in the office?

        It’s not just about actual shopping.

        1. Observer*

          It’s not about the shopping at all. And given the OP’s additional information, I’d say that even more strongly.

          The OP needs to totally ignore the shopping, and focus on the actual problem(s).

        2. starfox*

          I live in a high-crime area, so a lot of people have packages delivered to the office so they don’t get stolen off the porch. I don’t think it’s a problem at all.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I think the problem here is that the OP needs to separate their annoyance with the receptionist and their penchant for decorating with their own productivity and focus, and how their insistence on this might affect others’ productivity and focus. They need to figure out what the receptionist what they can and cannot change, and who needs to approve any changes. Is the OP the office manager or facilities manager? In my company that’s who I would refer them to for these types of requests.

      Sure, it’s odd and annoying, but I think the OP is mostly thrown because this is unexpected behavior, and they don’t really know what is and what is not OK, so they should figure that out first. Rules need to be clear and predictable, and it’s not clear from the letter what the limits are supposed to be on the receptionists’ actions.

      1. tessa*

        Really? People have to be told to not have items they purchase delivered to their workplace?

        They have to be told to not ignore instructions about purchasing items for the office?


        1. Observer*

          People have to be told to not have items they purchase delivered to their workplace?

          Absolutely! Delivery to the office is extremely common.

          They have to be told to not ignore instructions about purchasing items for the office?

          What instructions did she ignore? The OP told her that she couldn’t purchase something using company funds, so she used her own funds. It doesn’t sound like any actually told her that the thing she wants is just not appropriate for the office altogether. So, GIVE THE INSTRUCTION. If she doesn’t pay attention, then you deal with that. Don’t expect people to read your mind and then punish them for that when they mess up.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Right. I got the impression that she asked, was told “it’s not in the budget,” but not any of the other reasons it wouldn’t be a good purchase for the office, and figured she’d do something nice and buy it herself.

            Sometimes people don’t know things, and the easiest way to fix that is by telling them with words. If the LW hasn’t tried that yet, then yeah, they should.

            1. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

              She asked, got told no because of space, and then did it anyway. I did explain thoroughly in that one instance the why of it. Then she bought it anyway…

              1. Koalafied*

                This is definitely a situation tailor-made for the “explain it to me” script! “When we spoke about the water dispenser you wanted the company to buy, I told you there wasn’t enough space for it, but you bought one anyway. What happened there?” And then listen to see what the heck she was thinking, since it will tell you what lesson she needs to learn from this.

                No matter what, she needs to be told that she doesn’t have standing to make the final decision on any office furnishings, regardless of whether it comes from the company coffers or her own, and that all decor and furnishings need your OK.

                Depending on the specific circumstances, she may also need to be told that if you explain a decision to her, that doesn’t mean the reasons you gave are problems that she needs to solve, and once she solves them you’ll change your mind – and that this applies to everything, not just purchasing requests. For instance, maybe she was looking at a larger version of whatever item and decided a smaller one would address your concern about the space. Or she thought that if she made space for it by rearranging other items then that would address your concern.

                She likely needs to be told what, if anything, she has standing to do in her role if she disagrees with your reasoning on a decision. Maybe you’re OK with her asking if you’d reconsider if she can find a solution that addresses your concerns. Maybe you just want her to accept your decisions without trying to change your mind – which especially with an entry-level position and especially with a person who has shown that she’s inclined to push back on every little thing – is a valid stance for you to have. Ideally you’d also be able to tell her there’s an exception for situations where she thinks you’re overlooking something that may harm the business – i.e. not just a matter of her personal preference – in which case you of course want her to speak up, but that as the manager you may still ultimately disagree with her assessment of whether the potential harm she sees warrants changing your decision. But if you sense that she might not have the maturity or discretion to understand the difference between something that poses a threat to the business and something she would just do differently if it were up to her, it may be smarter to just stick with the simpler message that No means No.

                1. OP - Shopping Receiptionist*

                  Thank you! What a good script to start with. I appreciate the thorough explanation and advice here.

        2. londonedit*

          Well, everywhere I’ve worked it’s been completely fine to have the odd package delivered to the office instead of your home, so if I started at a company where that wasn’t allowed then I’d hope someone would tell me. But no, people shouldn’t have to be told not to ignore instructions.

        3. Glomarization, Esq.*

          Our office personnel — lawyers and support staff both — get stuff delivered to the office all the time, WTF. This is how you get your stuff rather than having to chase down “sorry we missed you notes” on the front door.

          1. Dragon*

            Yes. And alcoholic beverages have to be signed for by a legal adult.

            One time my boss’s wife ordered some beer online, and had it shipped under her name but to our office because she worked at a hospital. She didn’t go by her husband’s name, and we were a huge office so our mailroom didn’t know who she was.

            The beer ended up aging an extra month before the mailroom and my boss finally connected the dots. Normally the mailroom sends an all-hands email when they receive something and can’t identify the addressee. We never figured out whether they missed sending the email that time, or they did send it and both boss and I missed it.

            I felt bad for the brewery, who probably swore up and down that the beer had been delivered. Which it had. :)

        4. Jack Straw from Wichita*

          Having things delivered to your workplace is super common. When I was a HS teacher I even did it then, which meant tracking it down after delivery in a building of 3000 students and 100 teachers.

          Literally every place I’ve worked for the past 20 years that has been a common practice—even before online shopping/ordering was an everyday thing. I remember peopel asking me about this new thing called Amazon and how it worked because I’d gotten a package. lol

          1. Koalafied*

            Yep, totally normal in the offices I’ve worked in as well. My current office is decently large – over 100 people spread across two floors – so there’s no personal package delivery service. When packages get delivered to reception, the receptionist sends a single email, to everyone who has a package addressed to them, that says only: “You have a package at the front desk.” Then it’s up to the employee to come retrieve it, and reception isn’t responsible for securing the package in the event the employee isn’t in that day or for some other reason can’t come get it right away, so there’s very little administrative burden associated with receiving the personal packages – no more than one email a day they have to send out. For a lot of staff, even having the package unsecured in reception is still preferable to having it unsecured on their porch or mailroom, or having to make a trip to a FedEx because the package needs an adult signature.

        5. Ana Gram*

          Yeah, having personal packages delivered to the office extremely normal. We specifically tell new employees not to since we’re local government and we can’t appear to be using government resources for personal enhancement but that’s certainly not the norm.

        6. Wintermute*

          Every workplace I’ve ever had allowed deliveries, sometimes with a few restrictions (the one I work at now bars alcohol the others didn’t). You spend half or more of your waking hours at work and probably spend close to the entirety of “working hours” at work– if you need a delivery signed for or just don’t want to lose it to porch pirates, it’s best to have it sent to where you’ll actually be and most businesses recognize this

        7. starfox*

          I live in a high-crime area… It’s very common to have purchases delivered to the workplace so they don’t get stolen.

      2. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

        For clarity, I am in charge of purchasing and I am the office manager. I have a supervisor, but he pretty much lets me do my thing. I ask him about big things, but day-to-day I am in charge of. Also, he has also told the receptionist No to purchases.

    3. Glomarization, Esq.*

      The receptionist jobs I held before my law career included a lot of down time. I remember that very clearly. It would be unreasonable for me to tell my receptionist staff that they must sit at the desk and stare at the phone and the front door, doing nothing else, if they’ve finished the other tasks on their to-do list, the phone isn’t ringing, and the front door remains closed — and even more so when they’re on break. I won’t treat my support staff as robots or children.

      1. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

        If I could, I would tell her to read ebooks or whatever on her downtime. I get it, it is a pretty boring job at times. But unfortunately the higher ups care so much that they never browse the internet on the work computer that I have no real say there. On days I know I will be the highest ranking person in the office and it will be otherwise a very slow day, I tell them they can bring in something to do on their desk (sudoku, crosswords, a book, etc).

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          I know she is still new, so you may not have a sense of this yet or it may not be something your business needs, but if you think some of this might be restlessness/boredom and she isn’t trained up for anything else, you could set her to rearranging/organizing something. Could be organizing files (electronic or hard copy), clearing out the back of supply closets, getting the area by the copier organized, finding out what is in that back closet* etc.. Everywhere I have worked has something that would be great to get done, but no one ever has the time to do it. It could be a thing to keep her mind occupied on something other than the décor.

          *It was city health department records from 1890-1939 and old liquor bottles. The health department had moved the building in 1965, so someone must have stuck the old files in the room and when they left the building no one remembered that they existed. It was pretty cool and better than the jars of specimens we found in the old lab

  5. Goody*

    I don’t think that giving #1’s receptionist a budget for decor/supplies/whatever is going to do anything to curtail the issue. She’s already proven that she’s willing to fund her desires out of her own pocket, even when it’s for the office.

    While money may play a part in OP’s concerns, that’s really not the root of the issue here. The receptionist probably needs some mentoring regarding appropriate professional conduct, especially given that this is her first office job. Give her the tools to become successful, rather than stifling her.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      I agree that they need to re-direct her energy to something more useful. I almost wish they could send her to work for the family business with the sisters-in-law who kept wanting to redecorate the office (from earlier this week.)

    2. MK*

      On that note, I wonder if the desire to sprouce up the office comes from disappointment that it doesn’t match the unrealistic picture people get from the media about workplaces. I remember visiting the courthouse for the first time when I was in law school and getting a shock from how different it was compared to films.

      1. Dragon*

        Yes. The last time I was on jury duty in state court, the courtroom clerk’s desk was a classic paper tornado.

        Since then the court has gotten electronic filing, so hopefully things have improved.

          1. Dragon*

            Acknowledged. Now I remember that my local federal court was one of the last ones to get electronic filing. When they said they also wanted us to provide paper copies of filed documents, we all thought, “What for? You’ve got the electronic versions!”

            While electronic versions are needed, large documents with several exhibits can be especially hard to handle when the judge is reviewing them. Realistically, if court staff had to print these documents themselves they’d never get anything else done.

      2. Lexie*

        Media or maybe her frame of reference for receptionist duties comes from someone she knows personally and that person’s job happens to include ordering supplies and decor. So now this young woman has made some generalizations about the job maybe not understanding that while receptionists generally answer the phone and greet people they can have many additional duties that vary greatly from employer to employer.

        1. tessa*

          But her employer specifically told her not to purchase an item for the office yet she did so anyway.

          Not accepting “no” in a situation like this is odd. It seems to me most people, even those new to the workforce, would have accepted that the first time.

          1. Observer*

            But her employer specifically told her not to purchase an item for the office yet she did so anyway.

            That’s the thing. It doesn’t sound like that’s what happened. The OP told her no when she asked the office to get something, but it’s not clear that the OP explained WHY or that they made it clear that it wasn’t “we won’t pay for this” but that “this cannot be in the waiting area at all.”

            1. Storm in a teacup*

              To be fair I don’t think they expected to have to explain *why* they said no. In the vast majority of trivial cases like this you would expect the no to suffice and frankly OP should not have to explain the why every time they say no; although it’s a good trainable moment for the OP with her employee.
              This is more about the receptionist not getting the office norms and assuming the no was about money and not about it being no due to inappropriateness, simply because she didn’t view it as such.

            2. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

              In my letter I do explain that I told her no because there were space issues. I did explain what the space was used for and why we cannot put things there, and then the next day she came in with something she bought herself.

  6. Buffy fan*

    Atleast the receptionist is enthusiastic! It’s better to have someone who cares this much than not. I wonder if there’s something else she could file that energy into? I’m thinking like old filing, cleaning out a storage room, organizing past projects? There’s got to be something.

    1. Nodramalama*

      Is it though? She wasn’t hired as an interior decorator. I’d rather my receptionist focus on the job they were hired for, and not come up with projects to entertain them.

      1. Glomarization, Esq.*

        I mean, I wouldn’t send a receptionist to a back room, away from the front desk, on a project. But it’s 100% reasonable to give a receptionist some other task that the office needs done and the receptionist can complete at their desk.

      2. Grammar Penguin*

        Right, how is she supposed to do any of that or anything like that AND still be at the desk to answer phones and greet people? She has a job to do and needs to focus on doing it.

    2. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

      She isn’t yet fully meeting her own job duties, because she is still new. She is still in training, and she will be cross trained on other duties when she is fully trained. But she has missed deadlines because she is still learning, so she definitely has enough to do right now!

  7. nnn*

    One thing that might help for #1 might be to talk to the receptionist about how you do get things for the office.

    Under normal/ideal circumstances, how does the office go about acquiring the general categories of things she’s buying? Who decides? Who places the order? How is it budgeted for? What do employees do when they need or want these categories of things? What do employees do when they discover a new thing that the office doesn’t have yet but would be useful? What are the ground for approving or rejecting a purchase?

    That moves you away from “No, you’re bad and wrong!” to “Here are our existing processes and frameworks for the thing you’re trying to do.”

    1. PotsPansTeapots*

      I agree. There are a couple of different things that might be motivating her behavior, but ultimately it doesn’t matter too much. If she’s given clear processes, maybe a small budget, and idea of the office culture she’ll either:

      1. Adjust her buying to conform to your input and solve your problem
      2. Show a reluctance to change her buying, at which point you can escalate to an ultimatum if you need to
      3. Conform to your guidelines enough so it’s annoying, but maybe a problem you don’t mind living with.

  8. A.P.*

    “What prompted the last thought you had of leaving?”

    Uh, when I learned I’d have to come to this meeting and answer a bunch of B.S. questions.

    1. PotsPansTeapots*

      #1- Sounds like someone who might just need a talking to about office norms.

      #2- Whether intentionally or not, this job is using you and treating you poorly. Their failure to plan for your boss’ parental leave is not your problem. Good luck with the potential job!

      #4 sounds like something they’d do at my former job from h*ck. At that job, I would probably give a jokey answer about having a hard time getting up that morning and left it there, but that place was something else.

    2. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I would be very tempted to say this. And that management, not boss!, is making me concerned that the process was not anonymized.

      1. Aww, coffee, no*

        Well, I kind of do, but not in an actual Plan To Leave kind of way. I mean, I’m training someone new to the team, and it’s made me very aware that my own documentation on how to do things is woefully out of date. So currently I’m daily thinking something like ‘oh, I should also update how do do the origami-folding report’ with a sub-thought of ‘in case I’m hit by a bus, or win the lottery’.
        On the other hand the last time I can remember being really cheesed off and thinking of leaving was more than five years ago, so…

  9. Jen in OR*

    #4, you could answer “What prompted the last thought I had of leaving?” with something non job related. For example, if you have an aging or ailing relative that you might one day need to care for, you can say something along the lines of “My relative recently had a minor health scare/minor injury. Fortunately they’re going to be fine, but it got me thinking about what I would have to do if they ever need more care and yada yada yada.” There’s too much risk and almost no upside to giving an honest answer

    1. nnn*

      Building on this, a very useful answer to all manner of questions can often be something like “The pandemic really made me think critically about a lot of things in life.”

      1. Allonge*

        Nice! Similarly, I would be comfortable saying ‘don’t we all check out what is available on the job market from time to time? Especially with all the talk about resignations and such in the news’.

        1. The Original K.*

          As a version of this, I might mention that a recruiter had reached out to me and I decided to take the call to see what’s out there (this actually just happened, and I will be speaking with him). That kind of lets you off the hook – you weren’t actively looking but an opportunity presented itself.

        2. Shirley Keeldar*

          This is truly Machiavellian and I love it. “Oh I’m not looking….not really looking…but I COULD be looking! Got all these recruiters calling me, just can’t get rid of them, you know how it is….”

    2. Chas*

      I’d probably talk about someone asking me what I’d do if I won the lottery/ became a millionaire etc. I’m sure everyone fantasizes about not having to work anymore through lucky circumstances, but it wouldn’t be something management would actually have to worry about happening.

  10. SoupySales*

    Re: LW1, I wonder if the receptionist has a shopping addiction. No matter what is driving her purchasing habits, I don’t think it’s a good idea to give her any leeway in “sprucing up” the office. She can buy all she wants for herself on her own time, but I would stand firm on not allowing her to buy stuff for the office that you don’t need.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Yes, I disagreed with Alison on the “budget” idea. It seems like the current process is OP (or someone else) is the approver for all these purchases, it’s outside the remit of the receptionist to “self approve” these purchases which is essentially what she’s doing. She shouldn’t be rewarded for overstepping by being given more autonomy; she needs to be told no firmly!

      I wondered if she has a bit of an Instagram or similar habit. Now she has ‘her own’ office space to make instagrammable….

      1. Nodramalama*

        I also disagree with the idea of giving her a budget. Unless OP actually WANTS their receptionist to focus on redecorating the office, I’d just be telling her to please stop buying things for the office without being directed to.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          Alison did ask that, though. The idea for a budget is only if the OP wants the office to be redecorated:

          Does the office need sprucing up and, if so, can you give her a small budget to do it?

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Alison did say IF the office needs it. Some offices don’t have anyone who thinks about their waiting room until furniture actually breaks.
        So if (and only) if that’s OP’s situation it’s worth a mention.

    2. Allonge*

      Yes, my first instinct would be to tell her ‘please don’t buy stuff for the office and don’t ask me to approve additional decorations etc. because it’s not going to happen’.

      It’s good to explain how these things get bought, including how often redecoration happens, and also the distinction between getting e.g. a fluffy pen and furniture! But the main thing is this has to stop – I don’t get the feeling that OP’s offices need constant redecoration, which would be totally normal for a lot of offices.

    3. Office Gumby*

      Yeah, the consideration that she might have a shopping addiction could be a consideration. The *last* thing you’d want to do if this is the case, is give her another opportunity to shop.

    4. Lilo*

      My Dad’s a pediatrician and so decorating his office and buying toys/books/magazines is part of keeping up the reception area, but the practice absolutely has a procedure for doing it (even pre-COVID, the toys had to be sanitzable, places like Highlights like to give lots of magazines for the kids to take home, for instance). Of course, a LOT has changed post COVID and they took all the shared toys down.

    5. Observer*

      LW1, I wonder if the receptionist has a shopping addiction.

      That’s a wild leap, and terribly unhelpful.

      1. Boof*

        I think the part that is a red flag is she was clearly told no and went ahead and did it anyway – it’s possible it was just a weird misunderstanding but to be so new and yet completely go around what your boss said does start to raise questions about why she’s persisting / how problematic is this going to be

        1. Observer*

          Oh, there are red flags galore. But nothing to do with a shopping addiction.

          Even with the additional information – or rather ESPECIALLY with the added information that the OP gave up. I mean she’s asking for motivations quotes and jokes. That has nothing to do with shopping and everything to do with just not understanding office norms.

    6. Glomarization, Esq.*

      I think the letter can be discussed and responded to without pathologizing the receptionist’s conduct on the job, sheesh.

    7. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

      Whether or not she has a shopping addiction isn’t important. She can buy whatever she wants for herself! But it is the ignoring my “no,” and the constant sending of links that is the problem.
      I agree that giving her room to “spruce up” is a bad idea. I didn’t mention in the letter, but the items she wants to buy are kind of “gag” items – she wanted a calendar of jokes and a set of motivational phrases that she wanted to change out each day. Nothing that is actually going to make the office better for clients, or even for employees necessarily.

      1. Boof*

        yeah it sounds like instead of giving her leeway to to indulge, right now she needs to learn how to clearly focus on her actual job and put this aside. Maybe if she does well and establishes herself as being able to turn this off, then allowing a small fun budget is ok.

  11. Nodramalama*

    #1 as someone who was a receptionist in high school and all through university I can’t imagine taking it upon myself to spruce up the office without being directed to do so by my boss. The most I ever did was order new stationary, again, as directed. I also think in some of my workplaces it was OK to have packages delivered to me personally, and some it wasn’t.

    It’s pretty weird she is spending her own money on office decor and I probably wouldn’t be giving her a budget unless it’s something you actually want her to do.

    1. Nodramalama*

      Also, to add, even if she’s sending you links on HER lunch break, you still have to deal with it in your work time.

    2. KateM*

      Spending her own money on office decor – isn’t it similar to people bringing a plant of picture or something like that for their own private offices for their own money, so she wouldn’t be doing anything pretty weird except that her office is not private but the reception room?

      1. Allonge*

        Offices / companies do use their reception area intentionally to project a certain image and a random receptionist would not be welcome to put extra decor there in a lot of places. There are fire / safety considerations, there is inventory etc.

        So yes, it’s different for the reception. Some small items that go on her desk would probably be fine – but even there, we have a lot of personal items on our desks on an office floor that would not fly at the reception.

      2. Not Australian*

        If it’s nothing bigger/more expensive than a plant or a picture or even a flower vase I don’t think this would be such a problem and people would generally probably appreciate it. If it rises to the level of – say – a new chair or a coffee-maker, the employer would have cause to complain since the implicit suggestion is that they either didn’t notice they needed one or were too mean to provide it. Plus I’m sure there is an inherent ‘standard’ to the office decor which has been decided on and maintained for a valid reason, even *if* that reason is indolence or disinterest.

        Also, a new member of staff ‘meddling’ in the way things are done tends not to go down well in any establishment and can often read as arrogance; it’s always best to keep one’s head down for a little while and then make the suggestion(s) cautiously. “Have you ever thought of doing/buying/moving [process/item]?” “I wonder if it would be a good idea to…?” etc. Not understanding this fundamental courtesy is a worrying sign, even for a person early in their career.

      3. Dark Macadamia*

        It sounds like she’s buying big stuff, though! There’s putting a succulent next to your coffee mug and then there’s installing a water feature in the hallway or whatever she wants to do lol

        1. KateM*

          And there’s putting a huge prickly succulent where customers were supposed to stand and wait. :D Maybe that’s what she did.
          I was thinking that maybe she, being new, doesn’t have a good idea of exactly what other people have written – decorating your pricate office is different from decorating reception desk.

      4. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

        I have told her that she is welcome to decorate her own desk as she sees fit, but there is a separate surface that she is trying to take over that we keep fairly clean and empty because clients and employees use it often for paperwork. That’s the issue. It’s the overstepping and trying to change common areas in ways that are not approved/not professional.

    3. Pippa K*

      I walked into the ladies’ room at work the other day and discovered that someone had decorated it with large baskets of fake flowers and some really bad wall art (glitter is involved). This was definitely someone deciding to do this on their own, with their own money or maybe several like-minded people going in on it together. I hate it a lot (it seems both ugly and unhygienic to me) but I realize it’s probably the result of someone(s) feeling like they’re invested in this place and wanting to put their stamp on it, in a way they likely think others will appreciate too – look, we made this drab space pretty for everyone! Plus, I’m pretty sure it’s low-level admin staff, who have the least control over work conditions and spend the most time here. So I’m ambivalent about whether people should always be told to knock this kind of thing off, or only if it actually does present a problem (fire hazard, accessibility, changing spaces deliberately designed for public image).

  12. Magenta Sky*

    “What prompted the last thought you had of leaving?”

    “Having to have this conversation.”

  13. Varthema*

    Oof, six months is way too long to just absorb someone else’s job! Long maternity leaves are normal here in Ireland (6 months minimum, many take the full year), and I think the benefit to them is that workplaces are less likely to dump the extra work on someone for that length of time, as is more typical with an 8-12 week leave. Temporary contracts for mat cover are common and seen as just part of doing business, and by the time the lengthy mat leave is over there’s often something else opening up for the temp, so win-win.

    1. London Lass*

      Absolutely. Expecting one recent hire to do the jobs of two people for six months – INCLUDING a level up from their own paygrade – is just unrealistic. This is a situation of the employer’s own making, particularly considering that the person OP is now reporting to is not easily accessible. If I was that manager I would have gone out of my way to make sure they have the support they need, because this is such an obvious risk. OP should not have any reservations about leaving.

        1. ferrina*

          Truth! Rough onboarding, no one giving guidance or support….A couple years ago I had joined a company that had no onboarding. My boss gave me no onboarding or guidance and went on 6-month parental leave within three weeks of my start date (I was not warned of this prior to starting). Mike was supposed to train me, but refused to show me anything because “it depends on the project, don’t worry, you’ll figure it out” (um, not if everyone refuses to tell me anything). He quit a week after my boss left.
          I technically had an interim boss, but she was also new and knew nothing about the company. Oh, and she liked to disregard my ideas and despised questions.
          I was burned out within 6 months. Between that and personal life events, I got MDD (depression). Took about 8 months, medication, a new role and a therapist to get me out of that. It was awful!

    2. Ganymede*

      This struck me too! How could the company not plan to cover a senior person’s absence properly? I’m in the UK and it is common to see year-long contracts offered on job sites to cover parental leave.

      Seems like the company wants to offer parental leave (or been seen to be the kind of company that has gReAt BeNeFiTs) but not actually have to pay the upfront financial price of keeping their company activity going at optimal levels. The price they are paying is going to be higher if they are dropping the load on their existing staff, ie OP, and driving them away.

    3. Katie*

      Oh companies are cheap. My coworker left on maternity leave at a time when new work was coming in that was expected to be 100% more work (she was specifically hired because of the new work) . Did they get a project person to help me? No. Was it more like 150% more because it was new and nothing goes smoothly right away. Did I freak out at month 2 of 4 and they pull someone from another team? Yes. They didn’t backfill that team that she was pulled from though. At least they were a team of 5.

    4. The Original K.*

      I used to work for a global company headquartered in the UK so the difference in maternity leaves was striking. When I told people that my UK colleagues took a year off, they’d always ask something like “and other people have to do their jobs for that long?!” “No, they hire someone.” Silence.

      I’ve done 3-month leave covers when I was contracting, but they’re much more rare than they should be.

    5. Pisces*

      Totally. It wasn’t a maternity leave, but a colleague I covered at PastJob had been out for six months and counting when I left.

      For me the issue was that in protecting my colleague’s privacy, the management initially made it sound like she was on vacation or at most, a short-term leave of absence. I also tried just powering through when it appeared it would be over fairly soon.

      PastEmployer wouldn’t have hired a temp because my department had become understaffed as it was. They were trying to rebuild, but they’d also done a restructuring which I could believe made the job unattractive to candidates.

      1. Lilo*

        I once covered for a boss who was seriously ill but didn’t want anyone to know. It was kind of awful because people kept asking me what was going on and I had to push them off. And then she died somewhat suddenly and people were upset I didn’t tell them she was dying (to be clear, our supervisor and her peer level managers knew, my peer level and the people we supervised). It was absolutely awful, I actually ended up switching jobs because I felt those above let me drown.

    6. Irish Teacher.*

      Yup, those are a great thing in teaching, especially in subjects which are really competitive like English, History, Geography, Business Studies. You often get a full year subbing, so even though it means you don’t get paid for the holidays, it’s still a long period of work and good for your CV.

      1. londonedit*

        Yep, in the UK publishing industry it’s very common for people to do maternity cover contracts of 6/9 months or a year – sometimes it leads to a permanent job, if the person decides not to come back from leave or if a similar job opens up at the right time, and some people make a whole career out of doing short-term contract work.

    7. What name did I use last time?*

      This is how it works in Canada too. You go on May leave, someone else gets hired (or promoted) to fill your spot for the 6-12 months you take.

      1. Boom! Tetris for Jeff!*

        I think it’s up to 18 months now! (you don’t get more money then if you took 12, but they’ll hold your spot at work for up to 18)

  14. PotsPansTeapots*

    #2- So, your job didn’t train you well enough, gave you too much, and then made you bear the brunt of your boss’ departure? It’s time to be looking even beyond your upcoming interview.

    1. Observer*

      I agree. If this comes through, great. But if not? Start looking. Because even once your boss comes back, you now know how much they will take advantage of you.

  15. No name today eh*

    On awkward notice timing … I once managed to give notice the day we found out one of my colleagues had passed away.

    I have since gotten a couple good references from that boss.

    Just wanted to give some hope. Life happens as it happens and business always manages to carry on.

    1. LT*

      I gave notice once on my boss’s last day before leaving for a 2+ week vacation. I had no idea she was even going to be out of the office. Oh well, she was the reason I was leaving, her fault for having 1 person do the jobs of 3.

    2. Come On Eileen*

      Life if lifey sometimes. At my last job I called in sick the very day I was supposed to start! I felt terrible doing so, but I felt terrible – had a horrible flu. I started the next week and ended up staying 10+ years. A good business can handle bad timing.

    3. babyjones*

      I gave notice three weeks before my terrible boss was going on a six month parental leave…and I was supposed to cover a significant amount of her duties. It wasn’t intentional, and she was a spiteful human being, so I didn’t feel guilty. I also gave five weeks of notice overall so that my coworkers didn’t drown, and it all worked out okay.

    1. Be the Change*

      I am really puzzled at all the snark on this question. Maybe the employer is not implementing this perfectly, but at least from what we know from the letter it seems like an honest attempt to meet needs and retain people.

      I’m also glad I work with people who are at least reasonably positive. But maybe that’s because we don’t have “bullshit” jobs, at least *we* don’t think we do even if that economist who coined the term would probably think we do.

      1. It's Bamboo O'Clock, Tick-Tock*

        The snark is in large part due to this:

        “Good questions, yes, especially if some action is taken on the overall responses. Unfortunately, I’ll have to answer directly to my manager in our meeting, and they’ll pass information along to higher management.”

        It’s hard to bring up issues with a bad manager to that manager!

  16. Other Alice*

    #2, don’t feel bad about leaving when it makes the most sense for you. This is a situation of their own making. I’m shocked they wouldn’t hire a temp to cover the leave period, it’s quite standard in places that have long parental leave policies. The best thing you can do is to leave as much documentation as possible and be available during your notice period to answer any questions they might have. Nothing else you can do.

  17. Lilo*

    For #1, I think I’d tell her not to have personal items delivered to the office. I have never had.a job where that kind of thing would be okay as a regular occurrence. Special purchases, sure, everyday thing, no.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      If it’s not a problem, why stop her?
      Having stuff delivered to the office is a good way to avoid porch theft. So long as it isn’t making a lot of extra work for the person who handles mail.

      1. Lilo*

        I mean but two months in, it is a problem. It takes up time and space. I’ve been a receptionist back in college and I never would have even considered this.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          The LW explicitly states that the receptionist buying stuff for herself isn’t a problem.

          This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but she also spends those hours sending me links to things she wants to buy for the office.

          This is one of those things that works in some offices, but not others. It’s not really a case where a blanket rule applies.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Buying stuff or online shopping on your off hours isn’t necessarily a problem, but this doesn’t mean that having it shipped to the office isn’t.

            We’ve had people have personal things delivered to the office, but one of the reasons that it wasn’t a problem was that it wasn’t a regular thing–it would have been a problem if it had become a regular thing.

            1. Esmeralda*

              The OP explicitly says, having personal packages delivered to the office is NOT the problem.

              The problem is the email links.
              The problem is ordering stuff for the office when told not to.

        2. ceiswyn*

          IS it a problem? OP doesn’t actually say it is.

          It may be, but it may not. Everywhere I’ve worked has been fine to have personal deliveries come to the office.

      2. Mockingjay*

        It can be a security rule. A lot of companies screen mail and packages.
        At one job, one woman had a side business re-selling cheap tchotchkes which she ordered online. She directed all the shipments to the office. Our industry follows federal import/export controls and all of sudden the warehouse was getting unknown shipments from China. She got shut down pretty quickly.

        Back to advice for OP1: Have a chat about duties with the receptionist as suggested. If your company has a rule about not receiving personal packages, remind her and then move onto required tasks and job performance. Point out that reception provides the first impression of the company, so a critical part of her job is to reinforce company perceptions and brand, which might include leaving the decor as is. (My company is strict about what our receptionists have visible on their desks. The long reception desks have lots of hidden storage so staff have all their comforts. It’s not a sterile environment, but looks modern and professional.)

        1. Lilo*

          In my office all mail has to go through the mail office first for security purposes. A FedEx driver once tried to get me to accept a package directly and it was a huge mess.

      3. PhyllisB*

        In a lot of offices the receptionist is the one who takes in the packages, so this wouldn’t be a problem to take delivery of her own mail.

    2. The Original K.*

      It’s really common in my experience. It prevents porch/apartment building theft. Plus the OP says it’s not a problem. It’s definitely not a situation where it’s universally unacceptable to do this.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        Agreed – my job allows personal deliveries to the office for precisely this reason. The stipulation request is that you indicate the shipping address is a business so the delivery driver doesn’t show up on the weekend and just drop the package next to the door or in the bushes while the office is closed.

        1. Observer*

          Yes. We also ask people to let reception staff know when they are expecting a delivery and who it’s from to make it easier for them to handle the flow.

      2. Just Another Zebra*

        I work in a small-ish office, and this is very normal for us. Usually the recipient will send out an email that they’re expecting something from UPS or FedEx so we know to look for it. And during the holidays, most parents use a spare office to keep their gifts for their kids so they don’t see them. I guess it’s office dependent, but it’s not a big deal here.

    3. A Simple Narwhal*

      It depends, I’ve worked in offices where it was super common to have personal packages delivered to the office, especially when a lot of people were young and lived in situations where it wouldn’t be uncommon to have a package stolen from your porch/steps. Or if it was just a small office where mail got delivered to the front desk person and didn’t go through a mail room.

    4. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Getting packages at work has been a norm at every job I’ve ha for the past 20 years. I distinctly remember people asking me about this new thing called Amazon and how cool it was I got a book delivered to me at work.

    5. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

      It is common in my office for employees to have personal shipments sent to the office. She asked before she did it the first time, and I said it was fine. She keeps the boxes hidden under her desk until she is able to take them to her car (on break, lunch, or after work). The personal packages are not the issue.

  18. WellRed*

    While there are lots of different reasons I think of when I want to leave my job, if asked point blank, I would probably fall back on “low pay.” It’s true, they know it’s true and they could do something about it if they are that concerned. Even better if my answer leads to an awkward pause.

    1. mlem*

      This was my immediate reaction as well. Most companies know that salary is a lure, and I’d venture most companies know they could (and likely should!) be doing better. And it gives them an opening to spin “but look at all these non-pay benefits we offer!!!” if they want instead.

  19. Falling Diphthong*

    So many people have left the company and gone back to their previous jobs that they felt the need to include it in the contract.

    Really, Company #3? You skipped over “better explain the job” and “don’t be a terrible and disappointing place to work” and went straight to “if we ban them from working other places, then it will be hard for them to leave us?”

    At least they took that red flag and crocheted it into a fetching toque, which they display to all candidates reading the contract closely.

    1. EPLawyer*

      “At least they took that red flag and crocheted it into a fetching toque, which they display to all candidates reading the contract closely.”


    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      Yea, sometimes it’s a blessing when companies so readily wave their red flags rather than hide them until later.

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      And now I’m picturing the pages from Go Dog Go with the lady dog showing off her fancy hats.

  20. Michelle Smith*

    LW3: I am concerned that they’ve had a lot of turnover. If you’re otherwise still really interested in the position, I’d look up someone who recently worked there but returned to their previous company (or even a different one, see what you can drum up on LinkedIn) and ask them about it. It’s possible the company is a giant horror that you shouldn’t work for anyway. But it’s possible that the company isn’t trying to enforce this contract provision when people leave and that the new opportunity is worth moving forward with this company for the next couple of years to get a new experience under your belt. My last employer was a mess, but I knew the issues going into the job, because I did my due diligence, and it was still worth it to me to get out of the previous one and get the experience I needed to take my career in a different direction.

    It’s also possible that this contract provision is unenforceable even if they did want to try and hold people to it. It may be worth looking up how your state/country handles those provisions and doing a consult with an employment lawyer before you sign, if you want the job.

  21. Dust Bunny*

    apparently so many people have left the company and gone back to their previous jobs that they felt the need to include it in the contract.

    . . . yes, because this place is full of bees.

  22. Lilo*

    LW3, even if that non compete is unenforceable (I’d need a more info in your state and how it’s worded), this seems like a big red flag, if people are bailing back to old jobs to the extent they thought it was.a.good attempt to contract around it.

  23. High Score!*

    Attempting to #1 will likely make the problem worse. She’s a new employee and should be learning office norms and how to do her job.
    The best thing to do is to shut it down. Once she’s been there awhile and is successful at what she was hired for then offer to pay for some training for her as a Purchasing Agent if that is in your budget.

    1. High Score!*

      Sorry this was in response to another comment suggesting that the shipping receptionist be utilized to shop with specifications but got moved here.

  24. Lily Potter*

    LW4 – repeat after me – there’s no such thing as an anonymous survey. There’s almost always a way for the employer to match a survey response to an individual employee. Complete such exercises at your own peril.

    The only way one could potentially complete a truly anonymous survey would be to have employees type out responses, print a hard copy, and and return via US Mail. Even then, a boss may be able to figure it who’s completing the thing based on the responses and on writing style.

    1. High Score!*

      That was feedback that we have our employer. So they hired an independent company to do our surveys. The survey company divides and reports responses by question so they see a list of responses by question rather than looking at the while survey at once. So if 10% if respondants are unhappy, they can’t pair those with the other answers and figure it out
      STILL I diplomatically word my honest answers tersely to hide phrasing style choices.

    2. egp*

      LW4 here. Lily is absolutely correct, and I know that if an employer wants to spend the time and effort to match a response to a specific person, they’ll be able to do it. At least with some kind of anonymization, they’d have to do some work to do the matching. The way it was handled made it far too easy to flag people for what they said.

    3. Riot Grrrl*

      I worked in a small business at the beginning of the pandemic. They were trying to get a sense of employees’ feelings and needs around working from home, which was new at the time.

      The survey was administered via Survey Monkey with no names attached. A low-level assistant downloaded all responses and handed them off to another employee who received them as a bundle. That employee aggregated the responses by question but in unlabeled random order (so all responses to question 1 were put together but in a random order of responses; and then all responses to question 2 in a different random order of responses) Then that bundle was handed off to an outside consultant who rewrote all the responses as aggregate answers in the same writing style (e.g., “A majority enjoy this aspect; a minority dislike this other aspect”). All opinions were reported as being held by “a majority” or “a minority,” never as “everyone” or “one person”.

      That level of anonymization made it impossible to link a specific thought to a specific individual. You could still probably conclude something like, “The group that believes X most likely includes Stacy”. But that’s the kind of vague linkage you can make even without a survey.

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        I love that one of the steps was rewriting/aggregating! I feel like no matter how much masking is done, I work in a small enough organization that my particular writing style and viewpoints stand out far too much.

  25. Irish Teacher.*

    In relation to number 2, I just want to say that yesterday, one of our science teachers informed us she would be leaving as she was offered a deputy principal job elsewhere. This is INCREDIBLY inconvenient as last year, due to overstaffing, 3 teachers had to be redeployed (sent to other schools) and two of those who chose to go were science teachers and THEN ANOTHER science teacher got a non-teaching position within the school that will take all his time, so we only have two science teachers.

    The other science teacher was talking about what a hassle it is as she currently has to do all the department planning, during the changeover.

    But for all that, we are all pleased for the teacher in question. She is a lovely person and seems really excited about this so none of us would begrudge her the opportunity. It may not be the ideal time – we are essentially losing four-fifths of our science department – but that isn’t a reason for her to turn down an amazing opportunity.

    I know the situation isn’t the same but just to say people do leave for all kinds of reasons and sometimes it’s inconvenient but that’s not THAT big a deal. And most people understand and realise it’s nobody’s fault.

  26. BlueWolf*

    Re #4: my company did the same thing a while back, except it was someone from HR who talked to all of us. Honestly, it was just kind of vague questions trying to gauge how we were feeling I guess. I didn’t say much other than I’m reasonably happy. We’re fully remote and have good pay and benefits. I think the only thing I said that could be improved was communication from management, which they already recognized was an issue anyways.

    1. egp*

      I actually had this meeting earlier this week, and gave mostly bland but also true answers – I’m not looking around and there’s not much to complain about. At previous jobs, though, I would have had to be less than truthful in my answers so as to not raise a red flag.

  27. Doctors Whom*

    Well-executed stay interviews are a good tool in the “retention toolkit” but the question about “thinking about leaving” = not well executed.

    We incorporate conversations about the other questions in this list into regular continuous performance management conversations within our team and the practice is encouraged, but not required, by my top level employer. We focus on what you like/enjoy about the position & organization, and what would make you like it even more. That third question about “what made you think about leaving” really wrecks a well intentioned practice, IMO.

    There’s no formal data gathering on it when we do it and it’s not treated like some kind of survey. It’s recommended as a team level practice and managers are asked to use judgment about whether any ideas/questions might warrant passing along for consideration. (Right now we happen to get a lot of “I really want the cafeteria to re-open so that we can get food onsite.”) We also use our judgment about what is within our wingspan to implement/address/do more of at the team level – and if things are reasonable and we can do them equitably, we do them. It’s good to keep a finger on the pulse of what is important to our team members in the work environment.

    This helps me advocate for investing (cash, management capital, effort, whatever) in what my team members care about. But to make stay interviews useful and honest, you have to have built up a culture of trust. Crappy managers won’t get honest answers.

    1. londonedit*

      I agree. Generally I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the questions per se, but the one about ‘what prompted your last thought about leaving’ isn’t great. We have similar questions as part of our annual appraisal process – the whole thing is meant to be a conversation with your manager about the things you’re enjoying and are going well, and the things you feel you need more support with, and as part of that there are prompts to do with what you enjoy about working for the company, what could be done to improve things for employees, and about career progression. But there’s no ‘are you thinking of leaving’ or ‘what would make you consider leaving’ or ‘when did you last think about leaving’ or anything like that.

    2. El l*

      I think the biggest problem stems from structuring this as scripts or standard questions. Doesn’t help that there’s no responsibility taken by the manager for how this feedback gets used – including potentially against LW.

      Like you said, has to be an actual conversation, in the manager’s own voice and discretion, and carried out in trust. If you can’t have these conditions, it’ll cause more problems than it solves.

  28. Observer*

    #3 – A lot of people have mentioned that the clause about not going back to your old employer is probably not enforceable.

    I want to point out that not only is it still concerning, it makes it MORE concerning. Because it says that they either don’t know the law or they don’t CARE about the law while using intimidation as a retention tool. It honestly sounds like going to work for the the mafia who makes “and offer you can’t refuse.”

    Stay away.

  29. Erin*

    Stay Interviews….such an LOL for me. My previous company did a few rounds of them, and judging by how 3 of us left within the next 2 months after the last round that I participated in, I can assume that none of us gave real answers.

    This is the internal dialogue of everyone who has ever been the subordinate employee in these conversations:

    Q: Why do you continue work here?
    A: I want a paycheck
    Q: What can management do to support more/better?
    A: Action the feedback from all of the “anonymous” company surveys & pay us more.

  30. merida*

    #4 – OMG my former company did this too. Some questions were normal-sounding and easy to answer, such why I like working there, etc, but I hated the question of “Name three things that would make you consider leaving.” This came out of the blue and I’d been in the role for only a few months at the time, so I said I couldn’t think of anything. My boss was not pleased that I didn’t have an answer and followed up the next day. I panicked and eeked out something about wanting to feel needed in my role and if I felt my job became obsolete, I would leave. She pressed for more and more details and it was so uncomfortable, and not effective! Interrogating employees does not help them feel comfortable sharing real issues, if that was the goal.

    1. Grammar Penguin*

      “Name three things that would make you consider leaving.” One could have some fun with this.
      1. Winning the lottery.
      2. Becoming disabled.
      3. A mass shooting in the workplace.

  31. hamsterpants*

    In any job you need to master the basics first. This receptionist doesn’t seem to have mastered the basic workplace requirement of taking direction. She was told that there wasn’t room for something and bought it anyway. Giving her more freedom will just reinforce ignoring direction and doing what she likes rather than what she has been directed to do.

    1. londonedit*

      I wonder whether this is one of those situations where the OP thinks they’ve been clear, but the receptionist either hasn’t heard the message or hasn’t fully understood the message? We know the OP said no to one item because of space issues, and the receptionist bought it anyway – but how clear has the OP been? Have they actually sat her down and said ‘Look, we simply don’t have the budget or the space available for any office improvements, and I’m going to need you to stop sending me links to office items. You cannot buy things for the office, especially not with your own money. If I say no to something, like the giant monstera plant you bought last month, then I need you to respect that decision and not buy things regardless.’ Because if the OP has been relying on ‘we don’t have space for that’ or ‘we can’t afford to buy that right now’ or ‘you don’t need to send me these links’ then it’s possible the receptionist might be thinking ‘Oh but it’d look so nice! I’ll just buy it myself, if the company can’t afford it’ or ‘Oh but I’m sure once the giant monstera plant is here, Boss will love it!’ or ‘I know Boss says she doesn’t need any more links, but THIS chair is so lovely! I’ll send it just in case!’

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        Agreed! This feels a lot like the very common issue of OP1 thinking they’ve been clear, but has actually softened the message. Combined with someone new to the job and the workforce in general, I think a more direct conversation could clear this up.

        1. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

          I would love some suggestions on how to frame a more direct conversation. That’s what I’m looking for with this letter. I’m at a loss for how to go about such a conversation.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            From your comments, the heart of the matter is she isn’t following your instructions or workplace norms, so I would start there:

            “I have seen a pattern in your work that I would like to discuss. On X, Y, and Z times I told you that your purchase was refused, but you went to $GrandBoss or ordered it out of your own money. You need to stop doing that now. If I tell you something can’t be ordered, do not order it. That is our procurement policy (or process or system) and everyone who works here must follow it/work within it. Do you think you will be able to do that?”

            Note that this is direct but not attacking/accusing. You are laying out how she violated a policy, but not actually saying anything at all about her as a person. It still might sting some, but making mistakes always kind of does.

            Then see what she says and take it from there. If it looks like beginner ignorance and she didn’t realize that she was overstepping, then let it go. If it looks like going outside the process is a feature, not a bug for her, you might have to go down the “This is a verbal warning. Continue with this behavior and it will lead to termination” route. I’m hoping for the first option and please keep us posted!!

  32. Just Another Zebra*

    I find it interesting how many commenters are willing to cut all the slack in the world to someone who builds a blanket fort in their office, but then criticizes someone who shops on her lunch breaks and wants to spruce up her work area. Interesting.

    Since the OP mentions this person is in their first office job, I wonder if there is a fundamental misunderstanding of part of her role. I imagine “responsible for the appearance of the reception area” is part of her job description, and she’s taken that to mean decorating / sprucing, as opposed to keeping her desk organized and maybe watering a plant. OP should have a talk with her, say she appreciates her enthusiasm, but then explain the receptionist shouldn’t be doing X and Y because of Z.

    And OP? Maybe have a little bit more patience for someone so new.

    1. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Agreed, and it seems to me that there’s more an issue of a communication breakdown between the LW and the receptionist than an issue of the receptionist being insubordinate or unprofessional.

      Is there a detailed description of the jobs duties? Is there an employee handbook? Because, as JAZ suggests here, if all they’re going on is maybe what was written in the job posting, someone new to office work might reasonably and genuinely think that what this receptionist is doing is OK.

      1. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

        Yeah, there’s a lot of talk about pathological shopping and addiction, but that’s not the issue. I haven’t talked to her as directly as I would like to yet because I am at a loss for how to go about it. I am trying to give her grace while at the same time making sure she knows the rules, but going directly against a “no, and here is why” is an issue no matter how many jobs you’ve had in the past. I think your supervisor telling you no should be taken at face value. She’s had other jobs, just not an office job.
        She does have a detailed list of job duties, some of which she isn’t able to keep up with yet because she is still in the process of learning and they take a couple go-arounds to get into the groove of the schedules. But, I know that she is spending at least some of her working time thinking about decorations etc. and that is the issue.
        “Keeping the receptionist area presentable” is indeed one of her job duties, but it is clarified as “keeping pens sanitized, keeping chairs pushed in, straightening brochures…” and it goes on. I have never had someone think it included decorating before!

    2. Waiting on the bus*

      I didn’t have the sense that many commenters were willing to cut the pillow fort employee a lot of slack, to be honest. Most commenters seemed to think it was unprofessional and that the LW should make the employee stop.

      Shopping on her lunch break is no issue as far as I’m concerned. But the difference between pillow fort employee and the receptionist is that PFE (at least for the moment) has her own office, whereas the receptionist works in an area frequented by coworkers and clients. Such a public and client-facing area isn’t really her own to spruce up.

  33. Nancy*

    LW1: Who does the buying in the office? Is it the receptionist? If so, explain the process to her. Ask her what she thinks is needed in the office, so you understand why she is buying what she is buying. Basically, have a meeting and talk to her directly.

    Does she have enough to do? Maybe she is bored. I once worked as a receptionist and the phone would maybe ring 4-5 times a week. Occasionally someone would ask me to label a file folder, which took 2 minutes. Receptionists do have down time, but if the down time is much more than the actual work time, consider giving her more responsibility.

    1. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

      I do the purchasing in the office. I plan to speak with her more directly about what spaces she can and cannot change, and what types of things she should and should not ask for. The things she does ask for tend to be unprofessional. She started putting up a daily joke in the front office without asking – she got away with it for a week before the Big Boss ordered her to take it down.
      She is still in training and having trouble meeting her deadlines because of the nature of the work, which we are successfully working on together through further training. I think the shopping and decorating is a distraction because she finds the work boring, but it is still work that needs to be done.

  34. scurvycapn*

    Re: LW2
    *Insert da share z0ne just walk out image here*

    Re: LW4
    Q: What prompted the last thought you had of leaving?
    A: This interview.

  35. TeamPottyMouth*

    #3’s contract is a giant red flag–not only are they not doing anything to address the actual problem, but they’re telegraphing their management style. This is the type of management where if Jane kept taking multiple breaks beyond the policy limits, they’d institute an expensive time clock system that requires everyone to punch in and out of their breaks to prove they’re not abusing the system rather than addressing it with Jane.

  36. El l*

    OP2: Not being able to get a meeting for your notice is pretty par for this course.

    Doesn’t even sound like they considered the extra workload that’d happen because of the parental leave – a very foreseeable circumstance.

    Don’t feel guilty. Their failure to plan and staff correctly is not your emergency.

  37. El l*

    Yeah, think OP3 should not only reject the offer but tell them why.

    You can’t even really enforce most non-competes. If you take it to court, the burden of proof is on the employer to show it’s necessary to protect them from unfair competition. It’s even worse in this case, because leaving to a past employer – who isn’t even necessarily a competitor – can’t remotely work.

    Sounds to me like this place has a senior person with issues and has nobody who’ll tell them no. Even to obviously bad ideas.

  38. Xaraja*

    The last time I thought about leaving was about thinking I should probably move out of this bright red state with its focus on stripping my rights before they decide to criminalize birth control. But I’m not going to want to tell either of my middle age male bosses that. I have no idea if they would get it. (I realize BC is protected for now but it won’t be for long.)

  39. I should really pick a name*


    Maybe go with something along the lines of:
    “I asked you not to buy that item, and yet you did it anyway, can you explain to me why that happened”

    Sometimes, that can really drive home to them that what they did was an overstep. Also, it might get you some insight into her thought process which might help you frame the problem in a way that she’d understand it better.

    1. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

      This is the type of direct advice I was looking for. I appreciate you spelling it out this way.

  40. Observer*

    OP – Shopping Receptionist (#1)

    Thanks for all of the additional information you’ve provided. And for your gracious responses.

    As I said upthread, don’t even mention her shopping habit. It’s not relevant, and just going to add to the lack of clarity that already exists. I don’t think it’s all on you – she sounds like she’s not really listening, but that does mean that you need to be extra careful to be ultra clear.

    As for the rest, I think you are going to have to say something like:

    You can decorate your desk, but that is it You cannot change any other space. At all. If you see something that you think will make someone’s work easier you can make a suggestion. You CANNOT place orders, make purchase requests or even bring in your own things without prior permission.

    I don’t think that this is all you need to say to her, but I think that this is the kind of tack you need to take. I know that it sounds a bit like talking to a child, but it seems pretty clear that this is the level of obliviousness you are dealing with.

    1. OP - Shopping Receptionist*

      It does come off a little condescending on first read, but tone of voice and the rest of the conversation should keep it from coming off that way verbally. I think I will have to spell everything out directly and thoroughly, so there is no room for her to think, “well she didn’t say I couldn’t decorate XYZ…”
      Thank you!

      1. Observer*

        It does come off a little condescending on first read,

        That’s the trap that decent people who are newish to managing fall into. Of course you don’t want to be condescending! And I do hope that you can manage to spell it out without sounding that way. But in a situation like this, I think you need to take the risk, because it’s either that or you are going to wind up firing her. Because the behavior you describe REALLY has to stop.

        Lots of luck. Let us know how it works out.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Hi OP – I posted this above, but it might be buried. I took a slightly different approach and didn’t talk about decorating or shopping, rather that she didn’t follow procedure. I’ve copy/pasta-ed it here for ease of reference:

        “I have seen a pattern in your work that I would like to discuss. On X, Y, and Z times I told you that your purchase was refused, but you went to $GrandBoss or ordered it out of your own money. You need to stop doing that now. If I tell you something can’t be ordered, do not order it. That is our procurement policy (or process or system) and everyone who works here must follow it/work within it. Do you think you will be able to do that?”

        Note that this is direct but not attacking/accusing. You are laying out how she violated a policy, but not actually saying anything at all about her as a person. It still might sting some, but making mistakes always kind of does.

        Then see what she says and take it from there. If it looks like beginner ignorance and she didn’t realize that she was overstepping, then let it go. If it looks like going outside the process is a feature, not a bug for her, you might have to go down the “This is a verbal warning. Continue with this behavior and it will lead to termination” route. I’m hoping for the first option and please keep us posted!!

        1. OP-Shopping Receptionist*

          Thank you, This is a really good script to start with. I appreciate the clarity of language.

  41. GreenDoor*

    LW 4 Could you get around these awful questions but using the (lame but sometimes useful) strategy of turning a negative into a positive? For example “The last time I thought about leaving was when I got screamed at by four nasty customers in a row…but then I took HR’s online class on customer service and learned some really good strategies for dealing with irate people.”

    Something like that…just to give a non-answer that appears to be an actual answer?

  42. TG*

    I would do the receptionist a favor and sit her down and tell her that while her enthusiasm is great she needs to focus it on her job and whatever the priorities are for the office and in her role.
    I know for myself when I was young I had zero clue about proper corporate culture. She is creating a not great perception and wasting time on frivolous items.

  43. Yellow Flotsam*

    LW4 I completely agree that this interview would usually be better done by not your manager. However, there is also a good motivation for managers to be part of the conversation since they understand your work. It also matters whether they think people are in general happy, or if they know there is widespread dissatisfaction. Sometimes, it is also true that staff feel comfortable complaining to their direct manager, whom they work closely with, but wouldn’t want to say something official.

    I also think it makes more sense to focus on keeping good staff than understanding why they’ve already left. And really, there’s only 1 question here that’s iffy.

    What do I look forward to when I get to work?

    This is a reasonable question and one you should be able to answer unless you’re already on the way out. If you don’t have a work friendly answer here, then it’s a sign to you that you should probably start thinking of leaving. And then – lie in the interview.

    *What are some reasons I want to stay at this employer?*

    Again, if you can’t answer this honestly with a response that will go well with management, lie and say what they want to hear.

    *What prompted the last thought I had of leaving?*
    This one I’d say go with your gut on your manager & whether they’re likely to retaliate or support. If it is something they could (or did) fix it could be worth mentioning. If you don’t want to highlight that you are currently looking to leave, go with something like recruiters reaching out, or something your boss knows you were already unhappy about – and you can follow up with how that was resolved. Eg the teapot project had me working 60 hour weeks and travelling constantly and it was going on for too long, we really needed that extra person 2 months earlier. I hope we plan for extra support earlier in the future, because that sustained high workload did have me thinking I needed to look around.

    *What is one thing they could do to make my experience better?*
    This is a great question and worth putting some thought into. I’d say you either want a simple low hanging fruit that would genuinely improve things, or if it is something that would require a massive effort then acknowledge that when you raise it.

Comments are closed.