my employee wants a demotion

A reader writes:

My employee is a truly exceptional worker. Let’s say he’s a product builder, and about a year ago, he completed an advanced program in prototyping, which was great; we didn’t have a prototyper in the company, and it was a career path for him that offered some great possibilities. I went to bat for him, and got his job changed to builder/prototyper.

A couple days ago, he came to me and confessed that he hates prototyping and wants to go back to just building. Prototyping makes him miserable, and he feels that moving into it was a big misstep. There are a few problems with this: (1) We don’t have anyone on staff who prototypes. (2) Without a prototyper on staff, those responsibilities will fall to the designers, who are not good at it. (3) I went to bat for him, and (uggghhh) am afraid this is going to reflect poorly on me. What do I do?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Speaking up about a sexist conference organizer
  • My employee is making a big deal of her birthday
  • Letting a candidate know they missed their interview

{ 203 comments… read them below }

  1. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

    Re LW 2, there’s an extra layer of ick when the president put his arm around the women. It raises the question whether he is more than sexist, whether he engages in sexual harassment at the workplace.

    An inquiry, public or private, that in some way or other makes it to the Board of Directors, that specifically mentions that behavior, may help get it on their radar.

    1. Rain's Small Hands*

      Emailing the non-profit is very likely to at least not have this particular person MC the event next year. Especially if you have industry contacts that also attended who also noticed and might also email.

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I once got a vendor blacklisted for giving women non-consensual hugs. When someone is touching people of one gender in ways that they do not attempt to touch people of other genders, that’s clearly gender based harassment and it would be absolutely reasonable for OP to report it to the conference organizers.

      1. Tiger Snake*

        “He is the president of [Nonprofit]. In such a position, I expect my money and resources to be put to someone who knows how to be professional to everybody first and friendly second. His behaviour was distinctly not.”

    3. Sleeve+McQueen*

      Also, has it been interrogated why they are miserable? Maybe they have imposter syndrome and unrealistic expectations of how many of their prototypes should progress to market and feel they are failing when they aren’t. Maybe they thought they had more of the skills needed than they do and would benefit from training. Maybe there’s not enough work and an arrangement like X days in old role and Y days in new role.

    4. Luna*

      It would be good that any woman that he put his arm around would deliberately make a step away from him, to remain out of arm-reach and make it obvious that it’s not okay. I know this goes against the whole ‘don’t make a scene’ thought that a lot of people, but especially women (!), get raised with, but situations where something sexist is going on is the type of situation where you want to make a scene.

  2. Michelle Smith*

    The obvious answer to me seems to be to hire a prototyper. Why does it *have* to fall on the designers who aren’t good at it. You see a need for this, you know what it’s like now to have someone competent in that role. I think you now have a good business case for hiring someone for that prototyper role.

    1. Uranus Wars*

      This was my thought; post the position and let him go back to the old one. I see a good case for this!

      1. Annony*

        Sounds like his old role may not exist anymore. They might not have the budget for both his old role and a prototyper role. If they don’t have the budget for two people, just moving him back is tricky.

        1. Other Alice*

          That’s possible, but in that case they should consider that he might want to move on. His role has changed enough that he might (rightly) feel he doesn’t want to stay.

    2. River Home*

      I thought that too, and then I wondered whether there was a) budget for a dedicated prototyper and b) enough work for a dedicated prototyper.

      An alternate solution is asking the designers if any of them would like to get the training to take over the prototyping needs.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I’m betting it’s a smaller shop/company and not enough work/budget for a dedicated prototyper on staff.

        Honestly, you need to approach management and work out the best way to get your employee back to what they want to be doing. Keep them in the loop as well if it becomes a more involved process, so they know you are trying, but it’s just going as fast as you/they want. You don’t want to loose them because you are trying but they are unaware of that.

      2. Nina*

        recognizing that these are quite possibly made-up position descriptions, there are some jobs where it’s just a little step between them (a two-day certification course, f’rex) and some where it’s an entire bachelor’s degree and ideology shift.

      1. J!*

        This is my question! If they’re the only prototyper then there must not have been one before, unless they were replacing someone who left?

    3. Momma Bear*

      This happens more often than one might think. We had a really good Teapot Painter who got stuck being the Teapot Design Manager for a bit and made it clear that he did not want to really be the TDM. So in order to keep the really good Painter on staff, they filled the role with someone else and were able to retain the Painter’s expertise. Sometimes you can roll back easily and sometimes you can’t, but I think OP should just take it to management and say that the employee has come to realize that this role is a poor fit, would like to have his old role back, how do we handle this?

  3. ENFP in Texas*

    So you think your employee should be miserable because (in part) moving him to another role would reflect poorly on you?

    It’s not about you.

      1. Elizabeth Naismith*

        I also see no indication that this employee wanted the promotion, or asked the manager to go to bat for them.
        If that’s the case, it could be a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation right from the get-go. OP needs to consider the possibility that they seriously overstepped here. And in the future, be sure to check that employees want to be promoted to different tasks, and not just assume they would because it’s “a career path for him that offered some great possibilities.”
        Not everyone wants promotions. And even if they do want to move upward, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re okay with drastically changing their focus.
        OP needs to work on putting their own ideas of what success looks like aside, and communicating clearly with his employees about their career goals, not his goals for them.

    1. Melina*

      This is really unkind and I thought we were supposed to be kinder to people writing in. Yes, sometimes you do have to think about your own social capital. If you put yourself out there for an employee and it was the wrong choice, it does and can affect your standing. Employees are supposed to look out for #1 – that includes the OP.

      1. Ally McBeal*

        It wasn’t the “wrong choice,” though – OP doesn’t give any indicator of how their employee is performing in the new job, just that they’re miserable in the new job. This sort of thing does happen (I’m most familiar with scenarios involving people who move into people management roles and realize people management is not a good fit for them) and it really SHOULDN’T reflect poorly on the person’s manager when it’s an honest instance of “I thought this might work out but it isn’t.”

    2. Fikly*

      Of course it’s about them. They have to look after their career too.

      However, what reflects worse on them, an exceptional employee who is now miserable and quits, or an exceptional employee they manage who realizes new position is not the right fit, they help them get back into right position, but they have also now demonstrated having prototyper is valuable, and can make a business case for either someone else getting training or hiring someone.

      That’s how you show good management skills to upper levels.

      1. Education Mike*

        Agreed. The main issue is clearly that no one else knows how to prototype. This is a silly reaction to the very real issues raised in the letter.

    3. Ann Ominous*

      I didn’t see where the letter writer said or implied that. They wrote in asking how to mitigate all those things. If they thought the employee should be miserable for their own selfish gains, they wouldn’t have written in for advice at all.

      People are allowed to ask for help with their concerns, without external judgment from others – for being human. All of us hold feelings or beliefs that are not completely noble or selfless, and all of us deserve non-judgmental help with that if we want help. How are you supposed to grow if you have to hide all the ways you aren’t perfect?

      I would much prefer someone approach me for help with dealing with things, rather than just hiding them (and the behavior/situation often getting worse).

      And who knows but there may be an elegant solution that addresses all the concerns.

      1. Green Rabbit*

        Quote: “I went to bat for him, and (uggghhh) am afraid this is going to reflect poorly on me.”

        1. Laura*

          Yeah, they’re worried about it, but it doesn’t look like they think it should be the most important factor. I’d argue the “(uggghhh)” seems to be there to indicate that they feel uncomfortable even factoring that in, but that it’s something they want advice navigating nevertheless as part of the wider question of how to get the best outcome for the employee and business.

  4. RFlaum*

    There’s something weird going on with the formatting in that article — there are five occurrences of “-;” (dash followed by semicolon), which I assume is an error.

    1. AnonNewHire*

      Yes! I wasn’t sure if it was something Alison was aware of – since it seems to keep occurring, it seems like a misreading issue versus a typo.

      1. RFlaum*

        Looking at the original letters in the archives, it seems that what’s happening is that every em dash gets turned into a “-;”. This is probably a software issue of some sort.

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      At first I thought it was a smirking emoji, and I was trying to figure out why in that context; then I realized it was likely a software glitch.

  5. The Prettiest Curse*

    #2 – Yes, please speak up about this! I coordinate similar events and people don’t realise that coordinators often don’t get to see much of what happens on the stage because we’re outside the hall troubleshooting whatever issue needs our attention. (I usually get second-hand reports on presentations from other staff, but they can’t see or hear everything either.)

    Anyone who did anything like this at one of my events would not be allowed back, regardless of whether or not they were a VIP. Please help the event organisers to send this arsehole into permanent conference exile.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Seconding the fact that the coordinators/organizers may not know what the jerk was up to, because they are so busy behind the scenes putting out fires so the attendees don’t experience hiccups. Just be matter of fact and let them know. Odds are they will add it to the list of things that went wrong for the event debrief, so they can do better next time.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Exactly, if we don’t know about it, we can’t fix it. Many large conferences now have codes of conduct for speakers and attendees to prevent this type of situation.

        And also, now that our conferene presentations are both streamed live and recorded (with the full knowledge of attendees), if we hear that Joe or Jane Bloggs said something inappropriate in a session, we can look at the recording to check what happened.

      2. English Rose*

        This. I once complained afterwards about a speaker at a diversity conference who made a really mean joke about an employee who had come out as bi. (Yes, a speaker at a diversity conference!) The person who hired this speaker had stepped away to deal with something else and was really grateful to get the feedback.

    2. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      Yes, it’s worth speaking up! Our top comms person (C-level) from my employer was the host of a regional conference that brought ~400 people together. He made a bunch of somewhat off colour jokes – nothing worth reporting, but annoying. Then, the last morning, the keynote speaker (a black woman) spoke so meaningfully about gender and racial equality. And then this old, white, British dude stood up afterwards, and to a room of mostly women, made a bunch of jokes about ‘not knowing when my kids’ birthdays are’ and ‘but men can’t learn how to change a diaper’. He just got up there and told us about how he weaponizes incompetence to avoid doing things he thinks are below him. It still makes my blood boil.

      Anyway, we complained, he was managed out of my org after over a decade, and it looks like no one has hired him since, so that’s validating.

    3. Ann Ominous*

      Seconding! You never know but this is the final report in a long paper trail – or the start of a paper trail! (Not that organizers need a ton of justification)

  6. 3DogNight*

    Birthday Letter–this is where social consequences will come into play. Unless, like Alison stated, there are other issues, leave it. Honestly, I don’t see an issue with people being super into their birthday, and it shouldn’t be some kind of secret. She’s not asking for gifts, she’s excited about her plans.
    I take time off for my birthday every year, and have since I entered the workforce 30 years ago (yikes!). And I tell people that’s why I’m taking time.

    1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      Agreed. Let people have their joy for their birthday, so long as it’s not imposing anything weird or a hassle on your team. As someone who regularly has off because her birthday sometimes falls on a holiday, I don’t usually have this issue, but I know people get REALLY excited about their birthdays. Also, you don’t know this person’s back story- it might be a big deal in their family OR it could never have been a big deal and now that she’s old enough to make it one herself, she is.

      1. Worldwalker*

        Yeah. It’s a personal thing. It’s wrong to expect people to follow your exact preferences and enjoy birthdays (or holidays, or retirement parties, or vacations, or weddings, or anything else) the same way you do. Some people make a big deal about their birthdays; some try to pretend they never happened. Some people go on trips to exotic destinations; some catch up on their yard work and binge-watch the Hallmark Channel.

        This brings to mind the letters we’ve seen about someone who denies time off for a worker because they want to use their PTO to do something that the manager doesn’t approve of, or even doesn’t think is fun. But that’s not any of their business. “An ye harm none, do as ye will” is a good rule of thumb for all sorts of things (the modern version being “you do you”) — including, most definitely, this one.

        1. ferrina*

          It’s wrong to expect people to follow your exact preferences and enjoy birthdays (or holidays, or retirement parties, or vacations, or weddings, or anything else) the same way you do.

          Yes! All this! Everyone’s got their own preferences, and sometimes those preferences vary over time (some years I don’t care about my birthday; some years I’ve had a hard time of it and just want to feel special).

        2. Hlao-roo*

          Yes, it brings to mind the “my boss won’t approve my time off for a video game competition” letter, where the boss seemed perfectly happy to approve the time off until the OP mentioned they were going to a video game competition. In the update, the OP was able use Alison’s advice to get the time off approved, and they later heard that the “boss’s son is a bit of a difficult/spoiled kid and apparently, it’s not uncommon for boss to complain that video games are ruining today’s youth and his son.”

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      it’s also possible it’s a “big number” birthday and the employee is extra excited this year. 21 & 30 are obvious, but for me it was 24 to be able to rent a car!

        1. So Tired*

          haha, mine was wasted at 3! I’m always a bit jealous of people with later birthdays who could do a proper golden birthday celebration.

    3. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I know people who celebrate all WEEK long or even all month. Like “it’s my birthday month” in a very entitled way. Be thankful she is just exclaiming that she is taking the day off for her birthday. And maybe she does this because in the past she’s had really bad birthdays or they weren’t celebrated so she is making up for it now that she is an adult.

    4. Rain's Small Hands*

      While it shouldn’t be a big deal to take the day off to celebrate (baring some sort of coverage issue), and people should be entitled to have as much fun on their birthdays as they want, I would say something if this is a constant string of “birthday, birthday, birthday” and not just “I’m off on Tuesday for my birthday.” Especially if the comments are judgy (everyone should get the day off for their birthday strikes me as unaware that not everyone WANTS to acknowledge their own birthdays). Similar to a bride who doesn’t let off the wedding chatter or someone with a vacation coming up that makes it the central point of every conversation – its on the “I’m making this all about me” end of office chatter than can become unprofessional really quickly. Especially if this is the case that this is a “stealth birthday” sort of office. If this is one of those offices where every birthday is celebrated by cake and balloons, then I wouldn’t say anything (and I’d look for a new job because that is SO not my office culture of preference.)

    5. allathian*

      Yes, birthdays are a big deal to some people, while others would prefer to ignore theirs completely. I celebrate mine, but don’t make a fuss about it. I’m just thankful that I live in a culture where it’s both acceptable and expected for the birthday celebrant to organize their own party. I’m a planner, and I *hate* surprises, even supposedly positive ones. I can well imagine just turning on my heel and walking out of a surprise party in my honor. Or if not that, at the very least I seriously doubt I’d be able to fake any happiness at the surprise.

      The person I’ve seen make the biggest fuss about their birthday as an adult was a coworker who was a former Jehovah’s Witness and who was never allowed to even acknowledge, never mind celebrate, their birthday growing up. But when they rebuilt their life, the biggest change they made, apart from building their contact network from scratch as their family and all of their friends and JW acquaintances shunned them, was to celebrate any holiday they possibly could, and especially their birthday. It was a joy to watch their enjoyment.

    6. londonedit*

      I agree. I know there are people who think it’s weird for adults to celebrate their birthday, but I happen to really enjoy mine and will totally use it as an excuse to get friends together for drinks/dinner. I’ve done a mixture of taking the day off and working depending on what I’m up to, but I had a big birthday last year and took a week off to celebrate – and I enjoyed it so much that I’m doing the same this year! Of course I don’t go around crowing about it, but if someone asks what I’m doing with my holiday then I absolutely will say that I’m taking the week off for my birthday. And the response I got from everyone last year was ‘Oh brilliant, lucky you, that sounds like a great thing to do’.

    7. iliketoknit*

      I always take my birthday off too! Assuming I can swing it with my work obligations – I wouldn’t foist material extra work onto others for it, but it usually works out. I’m pretty sure I’ve also said, “No one should have to work on their birthday” before! (Though if you want to, that’s great too – no pressure either way). My birthday is near a national holiday so depending on how the days work out, I’ll often take an additional day to make it a long weekend. I don’t even do anything particularly special and I don’t actually make a big deal about the day (certainly not the week or month!). But I don’t have kids so I don’t need to take time off for their obligations, for various reasons we don’t travel much, and generally I take very little vacation time. My birthday is just a convenient occasion for me to use as an opportunity to take a little break or rest, in part b/c it rolls around every year and is easy to remember. Otherwise I’m likely to say, “I should take a long weekend and some point” and then months will pass and I realize I haven’t, rinse and repeat.

      It may make a difference that I’m a government employee who accrues leave by each pay period, we have “use or lose” where if I don’t use it in 3 years it goes away, and the culture here is that as long as you manage your workload and have leave banked, no one blinks an eye at you taking it and you never have to provide a reason, so that helps.

      (Re kids: not at all meaning to suggest that people with kids shouldn’t/can’t take off for their birthdays – they totally can! All I meant was that I tend to find my leave adding up and I know many of my co-workers with kids use theirs up way more quickly for kid-related things, so may not have the luxury of taking their birthday off. While I know a lot of that time goes to things like taking kids to doctors’ appointments or staying home with them if they’re sick, some of it goes to things like watching games or performances, which is fun time off that I don’t use leave for.)

    8. So Tired*

      I’d really like to know when and why society decided that any adult excited about their birthday is childish. I used to get really excited for my birthday as a kid, it was the one day that was all about me, and I reveled in that! But somewhere along the way I was conditioned into pretending like I don’t care to most people because as a (now) late-20s adult, being excited for my birthday means I’m apparently unprofessional.

      OP says the employee’s birthday has “come up more than once over the past week”–so, what, twice? Three times? It’s entirely reasonable for her to mention to two or three coworkers that she won’t be in on X day because she’s taking off for her birthday. Especially if it falls in the middle of the week, people are going to be more curious about taking a Wednesday off than a Monday or a Friday.

      Obviously if there are legitimate issues with this employees work you should address those with her, but even then the birthday thing shouldn’t factor into it! Just because you’re not one to make a fuss or draw attention to your birthday doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with an employee who chooses to set aside their birthday to celebrate themselves and do what they want to do!

  7. PleaseNo*

    RE #2: for the most impact, please 1- get a group together, and 2- have men speak up about this as well. It’s past time it’s only the women’s responsibility to call out sexism.
    As the Australian general once said, “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” And we need EVERYONE to say this isn’t acceptable.

    1. Decidedly Me*

      RE #1 – your employer is only exceptional if you allow them to be in a role that they can shine in and are happy in. Even if they are a great prototyper- if they aren’t happy, their work will suffer soon enough or they will leave entirely. Part of managing is ensuring you have the right people in the right positions. It really shouldn’t reflect poorly on you to move him back unless you didn’t think the original move was the right fit in the first place and did it anyways.

    2. Worldwalker*

      Absolutely. And I’m fairly sure there were a lot of men also uncomfortable about that, but they were afraid they’d be out of place speaking up when the women didn’t speak up. Get together.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Thanks for sharing that — I’ve found more context on wiki quote and it’s worth the web search. [“Address by the Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO at the United Nations International Women’s Day Conference (8 March 2013)]”

  8. Unrestricted Clause*

    I’ve had the experience of interviewers sending me the wrong information (including an interview with my current company’s CEO – luckily, it was rescheduled because the interviewer forgot to send me the original invite – I would have been MORTIFIED to miss it).

    I’d reword a little softer to give the candidate the benefit of a doubt: “Sorry that we didn’t connect for your interview on XX. If you had a reason not to show up, please let me know. Otherwise, we’ll consider your absence an indication that you’re no longer interested in X position, and will remove you from consideration.”

    1. Jessica*

      Yeah, this is the best idea. You might be sick of rude applicants ghosting you and feel like scolding them, but sure as you do, you’ll strike one where it either was your company’s fault or else the person had a really horrific emergency reason, and then you’ll be mortified.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I actually really like this wording, because unfortunately LIFE happens, and this gives everybody a chance to regroup and move forward if that is the case.

    3. EvilQueenRegina*

      I had to query an invitation once because the date didn’t correspond with the day. I can quite easily see someone missing an interview if the invite had a mistake like that.

    4. Alice*

      Yeah, you don’t have to keep them in the running, no matter how good the excuse might turn out to be. But be polite enough that, if it turns out that the candidate was t-boned by a drunk driver the night before the interview or something, you won’t feel rude/embarrassed in hindsight. What’s the downside? You might be “too polite” to someone who doesn’t deserve it?

      1. Worldwalker*

        There seems to be a way of thinking that would prefer to deny a deserving person something they’re entitled to (politeness, social services, charity, even a parking space … hereafter the Thing) in preference to mistakenly giving an undeserving person the Thing when they’re not entitled to it. The other school of thought accepts that some undeserving people will get the Thing as an inevitable cost of making sure the deserving ones do.

        In other words:

        Type 1:
        No undeserving person gets the Thing.
        Some deserving people do not get the Thing.

        Type 2:
        All deserving people get the Thing.
        Some undeserving people get the Thing.

        It seems to break down similarly to the question of whether innocent people should be punished to be sure of getting all the guilty ones.

        1. Ann Ominous*

          And that’s just the ‘ideal’ that people are looking for – in Type #1 Reality, some number of undeserving people will still always get The Thing. Even more reason to go with Type 2.

  9. Joielle*

    #2 reminded me of a lunch I once went to that was meant to celebrate the achievements of distinguished women in our field. The keynote speaker was the Executive Director of the nonprofit who organized the lunch, who was a white man. Which would have been bad enough, but then right before his speech we had to reorganize the room for some reason and people from one side of the room had to move to the other side, or something like that. The Exec Director explained this reorganization from the podium, and everyone got up to move, and he said “Thanks everyone! Wow, what an obedient crowd we have here.” DEAD SILENCE among the room full of distinguished women honorees. He tried to walk it back but it was one of the most awkward things I’ve ever witnessed.

    Just another example of how even the most accomplished women are regularly subjected to insidious sexism. Even on a very public stage. Even by people who should know better.

  10. Gargling Chowder*

    Ugh, birthdays. The only thing worse than smiling gamely at bunch of co-workers wishing you a happy one is having to write something on every card that’s passed around the office.

    I suspect there’s a research paper to be written about social class and birthdays. None of my adult friends who grew up solidly upper-middle do anything about them, such as taking the day of work, but friends who grew up lower-middle all seem to.

    1. NeedRain47*

      OMG, try writing something on a card that’s passed around every year for sixteen years for the same dang people! I eventually opted out of the card rotation at previous job.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Or really any set formula: “Congrats!” “Best wishes, ” etc. The key is don’t treat this like a creative writing exercise. It is a social conventions exercise, so conventional expressions are in order. See also: “I am sorry for your loss.” Memorize this for use whenever the need comes up. It saves everyone involved needless and unwelcome anxiety.

          1. Koalafied*

            100%. Unless we’re talking about your best friend or close sibling or something, this is very much a situation where it’s truly the thought that counts. Nobody expects the coworker they occasionally chat about the weather with before a meeting starts to come up with some original and meaningful prose. Just the act of signing the card is a nice gesture that says, “Fellow human, I recognize that something significant is happening to/for you, and I wish you well in a manner appropriate to the situation.”

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes I don’t think at length about the sentiments I put in cards (birthday / leaving / marriage etc) for most of my colleagues. They’re mostly people I feel well towards so I tend to say something broadly positive and conventional. I think that’s all you need to do.

        2. allathian*

          Yes, or even just signing your name. I’m happy to always have worked for a big enough team that there isn’t room for anything except your name on the card.

    2. Jessica*

      I would like to read that paper!
      Also, that makes me think of something Annette Lareau talked about in her fantastic book Unequal Childhoods: something like a kid having a part in a school play was a big deal to a working-class family, but less so for a middle-class family. Middle-class kids became blasé about their own activities because there were always so many things going on. Middle-class households revolve around a central calendar largely driven by organized activities for the kids; working-class households don’t, and planned events are rarer, so relatively mundane stuff like “it’s Friday night and we’re ordering pizza for dinner” was exciting for the working-class kids.
      Lareau also makes the point that teachers (and other adults) are more impressed by organized activities than by the informal play of working-class kids. You were in a recital, or your team won a game? Good for you. You hung out with your cousins, jumped rope, watched TV? So what.
      In that context, I can see how your birthday might hit differently. Like an upper-class person has been set up to accomplish things and distinguish themselves constantly in one way or another, but a lower-class person’s been leading an ordinary life where one day a year they’re special.

      1. Jay*

        I know that anecdote is not data and there are all exceptions and etc etc etc….I was raised upper-middle-class in a wealthy area and I still think my birthday is a big deal at 62. I never work on my birthday and I always tell people why. I love all the social media greetings. I love birthday parties and gifts and balloons and cards and people doing something special for me. I suspect my daughter who was also raised with wealth, albeit in a more economically diverse city, will be the same way. She sure is at 22.

      2. ferrina*

        Counterpoint: The person I know that makes the biggest deal of their birthday is upper class (though she’d claim upper middle class). She expects other people to recognize it and gets noticeably annoyed if you don’t acknowledge it the way she thinks you should. She’s also in her 60s.

        It does make sense that how your birthday was treated in childhood impacts how you approach it in adulthood. My birthday was next to another holiday which made for constant social awkwardness of people asking if they should celebrate my birthday or the other holiday. When I hit adulthood I immediately began to pretend my birthday didn’t exist to avoid the awkwardness. Decades later I’m beginning to think that it’s not bad if I celebrate myself once a year.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          It does make sense that how your birthday was treated in childhood impacts how you approach it in adulthood.

          I think you are very much correct about this. And it also depends on how much you like being the center of attention.

          I think you should definitely celebrate yourself once a year, ferrina, if only because the more years you have to celebrate the more important they become. :-)

          1. JustAnotherKate*

            Great point about being the center of attention. I loathe my birthday and haven’t celebrated it since I turned 21, although I’m happy to celebrate others’ birthdays if they want. I even had mine left off the office calendar so no one at work knows, and it’s delightful! And it’s 100% because I don’t like attention, and I certainly don’t like attention for getting older! (Folks, PLEASE think twice about buying a birthday card with a joke about the recipient being old; a lot are flat-out mean.)

            That said, for the OP it doesn’t sound like your coworker is being that over the top (we’ve seen worse here for sure), so unless this is obviously part of a pattern and other folks are noticing/commenting, I’d leave it.

            1. Irish Teacher*

              Ugh, those joke birthday cards should only be exchanged between people who share that sense of humour and for whom it IS a joke between them. If you don’t now the other person finds it funny, really not a good idea.

              1. Worldwalker*

                Is it just me, or is it getting harder and harder to find birthday cards that are not either mean or just a floral or abstract design? (or of course the ones for kids) I wish the people who put so much effort into writing “you’re getting old, heh heh heh” jokes could design good, funny, non-stupid, non-insulting cards.

                1. Dinwar*

                  The greeting card industry took a pretty significant hit when home printing took off. It took another huge hit with email. Now with social media, IMing/texting, Facetime, and the like, they’re really struggling. Why spend money on a card when five minutes and some open source/freeware software lets you make something better and send it out to everyone for free? My guess is they are focusing on their best sellers. Or gimmicks like the cards that play music.

                2. ferrina*

                  I don’t even get ‘official’ birthday cards. I get blank cards with a fun design on them (Trader Joe’s can be a good place) and write my own birthday message on it.
                  Picture of a bear going camping? “It’s unbearable how awesome you are. I camp believe it’s your birthday! May it be all you love and s’more!”

                3. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                  I bought my sister a Halloween card and crossed off the greeting to write Happy Birthday on it. It works for us bc we both found it funny, but I hate most birthday cards out there.

      3. turquoisecow*

        My father-in-law (who’s in his 70s) grew up very well off financially and he makes the biggest deal of anyone I know about his birthday. He starts asking about a month in advance what we should do about his birthday and if we don’t acknowledge it right away he’ll text something like “did you know it was my birthday today? I got lots of birthday wishes from x, y, and z.”

        I think it’s more about whether the person wants to be the center of attention or not. I grew up with kids all of about the same economic background and some wanted a big deal made for their birthday and some did not. My father-in-law tends to be fairly self-centered and likes to be the center of attention, but my husband, who had a very similar upbringing to his dad, absolutely hates it.

      4. Temperance*

        Can we not make weird generalizations like this? To start, plenty of poor kids do participate in sports and activities. Not the fancy rich-kid travel teams or private piano lessons, but they don’t just sit around watching TV, either. Lots of school sports are either very cheap or free to participate in. Same for community teams.

      5. biobotb*

        So you’re saying that middle class people are both more blase about organized activities, but also more impressed by them?

    3. Worldwalker*

      I wonder how the insane children’s birthday inflation ties into this, or will in the future?

      It’s not the lower middle class parents who are dropping $10k on a 4-year-old’s birthday party, after all. Are those kids going to grow up expecting birthdays to be like that, or horrified at birthdays being like that and going fishing instead? Or some of each?

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Having known some kids who’s parents pulled things like that, it’s all about the parents. The party isn’t really for the 4 year old, the party is for the parents to show off. The kid’s just a prop, and if they don’t show the desired emotional display they’ll even get punished for it. A lot of the times the parties were designed for who the parents wanted their kid to be, without any actual consideration for who their kid actually was and what their kid actually enjoyed.

        And, yes, those kids grew up and don’t want to do birthdays because they associate it with forced gratitude and merriment under threat of punishment.

      2. Tesuji*

        Yeah, there’s probably some cyclical things like that, where someone who wishes their birthday was more of a big deal inflicts that on their kid even if they don’t want it, who then grows up to not make a big deal for *their* kid’s birthdays, and so on.

        Like they say, you might end up doing just what your parents did or the exact opposite of what your parents did, but either way, you’re shaped by it.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yup, this, and I think it also stems back to how you feel about being the center of attention. So if you had parents who made a big deal out of your birthday and you loved that, naturally you’d keep that going as an adult. But it could equally be the case that your parents ignored your birthday and you were fine with it and kept your birthday secret, or you felt awful about that so you grew up and started throwing yourself big birthday parties.

          I’ll never forget reading the Great Gatsby in high school and when the narrator said something like, Oh, I just remembered that today is my birthday, I was like, Who forgets their own birthday? Well, my birthday is this Sunday and it only now hit me that my birthday is less than a week away. Lol. I guess I’m a Great Gatsby character now.

      1. Willis*

        Right?! Maybe that’s an option for the card. “Enjoy your day (assuming you grew up in the lower middle class and actually care about dumb stuff like that)!” Or, you could just go with “Happy Birthday,” if you don’t want to be so misanthropic about it.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          Yes, it escapes me why, “Happy birthday!” doesn’t immediately come to mind when faced with signing a birthday card.

          I have no other words…

          1. Tamerlane*

            Because ppl who recoil with anxiety when someone says “good morning” will be apoplectic at wishing someone a happy birthday.

    4. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Plenty of upper middle class people get very excited about their birthdays, and my relatives who were raised dirt poor do not care whatsoever about their birthdays. Sounds like you are generalizing based on the people you know when in fact the reasons people do or do not care about their birthdays are as different as the number of people who have birthdays.

    5. Lizcase*

      I grew up below the poverty line as one of six kids, in a blue collar family.
      We did get a birthday presents, but they were almost always practical (from parents) and craft(s) made by siblings. And there was always a cake (there were special birthday cake pans)

      The one thing that made the birthday extra special for me as a child was I didn’t have to do any chores, I could pick what was on TV, and I had a special plate to eat on.

      As an adult, I love to take my birthday off because I still have that lingering “I don’t have to do anything for this one day!” from childhood.

      1. ferrina*

        Oh man, this brings back memories! We always did box cake with a stupid amount of sprinkles and M&Ms to decorate. It always looked terrible, but decorating it was part of the birthday experience.

        It seems so small, but it made such a big impact.

        1. Andie Begins*

          we did box birthday cakes growing up (funfetti forever!) and a funny thing happened – my dad remarried when we were in high school and him and his new wife started ordering professional bakery cakes for birthdays for a few years. my sisters and I have been requesting for normal box cakes for birthdays for a couple years now – pro bakery cakes just seems like a lot of expense for a product that’s just as good as my dad’s boxed attempts!

        2. Here we go again*

          I do boxed cake for my sons birthday. He loves donuts so I made the cake in a Bundt pan and frosted it like a big donut. It made him so happy. Plus we get to make it together.

      2. Jenn*

        My mom always made me these sugar cutout cookies in the shape of pumpkins decorated with raisins and licorice whips (my birthday is in October) to bring in to school with me for my birthday. I don’t like being the center of attention, but I am in my 40s and still love to make them and bring them to work every year. It’s not a birthday without birthday cookies!

      3. londonedit*

        I suppose you’d call my upbringing upper-middle class (British, which is slightly different from the US) and birthdays were always a fairly big thing in my family. My mum has always been amazing at making and decorating cakes, and we could choose the theme or character that we wanted to have on our cake and she’d come up with an incredible design. Birthday parties were less extravagant in the 80s than they are now, but you’d have all your school friends over for a party with games and music and cake and the classic birthday tea of sandwiches and sausage rolls and crisps and whatnot. As an adult I generally try to take the day off for my birthday and I always organise some sort of drinks/dinner thing with my friends, and since a big birthday last year I’ve got quite into the idea of using it as an excuse to take a whole week off work.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yeah, I don’t love this comment, for the reasons I mentioned above. I don’t know if Chowder meant it to be mean spirited but it did come across that way to me.

        1. Be Gneiss*

          It’s the vibe of “only a lower-class person would enjoy birthday attention” which seems like the worst example of “don’t yuck my yum” I can think of…aside from maybe the office that banned laughing.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Yes, that’s exactly why. Again, perhaps it was just worded badly but it did come across as being pretty class-ist.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            *nods vigorously*

            For the problem of signing a card for someone you work with, I will say that my first name has worked really well for me. One could also do “Happy Birthday, -F” or “Congrats! -F” or “Have a good one! -F” without even breaking a sweat.

      2. turquoisecow*

        Because it is?

        Every time there’s a letter about someone wanting to celebrate a birthday, there’s at least one person in the comments complaining about how childish it is and how much of a pain it is to have to write “happy Birthday” on a card.

        People like different things.

      3. Turingtested*

        The most generous way I can take that comment is an an FYI if you grew up poor and want to hide it. But I definitely read it as, oh, those dumb poor people and their need for celebrations.

      4. Roland*

        I think it’s not accurate but it’s also not rude or mean-spirited or anything. The problem is generalizing anecdotal data, not noticing things about people you know.

        1. Dinwar*

          If not intended to be rude the comment is adjacent to a fairly rude statement (classism, which itself is unfortunately fairly adjacent to racism in many parts of the USA). Very little was stated to mitigate that unfortunate correlation.

          Then the thread descended into “And I also hate birthdays”, which is….not terribly useful or kind to the employee. The view seems to be that we ought to accept the “I hate birthdays” view as the default, or even that there’s something defective about the people who disagree (though to be fair, the comment I’m thinking of here is further downthread). Stating, or even implying, that someone is childish for enjoying something you dislike is pretty obviously rude. Even if Chowder didn’t intend their comment to be read that way, it’s a common enough theme that it’s not unreasonable for others to read the comment as supporting such views, especially given the unfortunate classist implications.

      5. Temperance*

        Because the subtext, even if I don’t necessarily think that the commenter meant this, is “sorry your life sucks so much that you think something as lame as a birthday is cool”.

      6. idontplaygames*

        Yeah, many of the comments on this are extremely off-putting (in addition to being a poor excuse for a reason to stereotype people).

      7. yala*

        Cuz it almost feels like it takes more effort to be this disgusted about birthdays than it takes to write “happy birthday” on a card being sent around.

      8. Frankly*

        It is. What a pretenrious, classist and possibly outright false take for something as innocuous as a birthday.

    6. Dinwar*

      I’ve worked with people ranging from mid-seven-figure income to so poor they’d need an extra $10k to reach poverty levels. I haven’t seen class play much of a role in excitement about birthdays. Especially culturally significant ones–16 for some Mexican/Latin American folks, 21 for folks in the USA, 30 and 40 for pretty much everyone, etc.

      I have seen some regional variation, and gender variation. A man turning 34 is less likely to take time off than a woman in the places I’ve lived, for example. That said, no one would think the man was odd for taking time off–it’s not super common, but it DOES happen. And men with birthdays during deer season in the South tend to take a week off, as much as an excuse to get into the woods as to celebrate their birthday.

      Oddly, birthdays are something the crew on my jobsite goes out of its way to celebrate. There are a few guys (no sexism intended, they just happen to be men) who find out everyone’s birthday, and make sure there’s a cake and a card and occasionally a small gift (usually a gag gift of some sort). Again, our income levels are pretty varied–staff range from senior management down to so new the ink hasn’t dried on their degrees yet–and we celebrate everyone’s birthday. I’ll grant that this may be because it’s an excuse to get the project to pay for free food.

        1. Koalafied*

          Growing up my closest 3 friends were all Latina or Jewish and teenaged me from a non-wealthy white protestant background was always a little salty about my culture not having any equivalent of a bat mitzvah or quincenera. There’s the whole “sweet 16” thing I suppose, but that always seemed a lot more class-dependent – only rich girls had big deal sweet 16 parties, and I was not from a rich family, but every Jewish and Latina girl got a mitzvah or quincenera without needing to have rich parents.

    7. Morningtied*

      Wait, are you saying that people that grew up with less money make a big deal about birthdays, and that’s a bad thing? I’m quite confounded by your take and your tone.

      My birthday is a complicated holiday for me. In fact, as an orphan, *most* holidays are complicated – but my status and challenge doesn’t preclude others from celebrating their own joy and excitement. Their joy brings me joy.

      As to pushed performatives, I’ve declined to sign cards for people whom I do not know well – perhaps in the future you can do the same.

    8. biobotb*

      The person who taught me that it’s totally allowed to take a vacation day on your birthday solely for the purpose of celebrating your birthday grew up upper middle class.

    9. Frankly*

      I really doubt this. The people I know who still throw huge birthday parties in adulthood grew up and still are in the upper middle class.

    10. iliketoknit*

      Thankfully my office doesn’t circulate birthday cards, but I grew up very upper-middle class and I take my birthday off every year. :) That said, I don’t actually do much, I just take the day off.

  11. Heidi*

    For Letter 4. I once had to ghost on an interview because of a medical emergency. Sometimes stuff happens. It might defuse any unintended harshness if you wrote something like, “I had us scheduled to interview you on X date. I hope that everything is okay. We’ve decided to move forward with other candidates for the position, etc.”

    1. Ex-Teacher*

      I had this recently from the employer side- We reached out to the candidate with an “are you okay?” message, the candidate responded with an explanation of several serious problems in their life.

      Then we rescheduled, but the candidate no-showed the rescheduled interview as well, so I sent a message similar to Alison’s advice. We gave the candidate two shots and got nothing in response (including barely any communication), so at that point we had little choice but to remove them from consideration. Especially when we had a different candidate who was well-matched for the role giving us strong showings in their interviews.

  12. NeedRain47*

    Surely there’s some kind of feedback form for the conference where this can be noted?
    I attended one where a VIP type person mispronounced any name that wasn’t English sounding, which meant that the name of every person of color got butchered. It was shocking. IDK if the feedback ever made it to the person who needed it but at least it was out there.

    1. Worldwalker*

      Just a comment that there are a *lot* of names like that. I know when someone on the phone asking for my husband is a phone spammer or his dentist’s office because they butcher his last name (it’s Italian-derived) so badly. It’s not even names that aren’t English sounding — if the person’s own native language isn’t English, they can bork up English names, too, for the same reason: because they’re accustomed to different phonemes and patterns of pronunciation.

      The person doing the introductions should have a sheet listing all of the people they’ll be introducing — “Wakeen Smyth, Chief Teapot Designer at Teatech, winner of last year’s Innovative Teatime Award” — and that should also have the phonetic pronunciation of their name listed. “Wakeen” is of course a standard around here :), but is “Smyth” pronounced with a short “i” or a long one? Does it rhyme with “with” or “writhe”?

      1. OyHiOh*

        My last name is derived from a German word that denotes a family relationship (think sister or nephew). In English, it is four letters and absolutely unbelievably difficult to get correct, especially over the phone where sibilant consonants get confused with each other. Today’s iteration came with so many mis spellings that only the middle vowel was correct!

        I absolutely welcome the development of options to include a phonetic pronunciation of one’s name and I wish more people were just curious enough to hit up google before attempting to pronounce names in public!

      2. NeedRain47*

        The fact is, he *didn’t* mispronounce Smyth, he got all the white peoples’ names correct and no one else’s. The guy in the letter *could* have tried to put his arm around a variety of people, but he didn’t, he only did it to the women, and that’s why we’re talking about it.
        These were employees in the dude’s own company. He absolutely had time to figure out how to pronounce their names before speaking at a national conference.

        1. Worldwalker*

          His … own … company? That’s beyond ridiculous.

          I was assuming he got up on stage and was handed a list of names and had to go at them cold, so he only got the ones with familiar phonemes right. Dear Ghu….

          My name happens to be one of the ones people, for some incomprehensible reason, mispronounce frequently. (it’s the same as a well-known US military base) I could give paleness lessons to ghosts. The first two non-white people I happened to think of have the last names of Joyce and Patrick. If this guy were to get my name right and theirs wrong, there would certainly be something more than just unfamiliarity going on.

  13. Decidedly Me*

    RE #1 – your employer is only exceptional if you allow them to be in a role that they can shine in and are happy in. Even if they are a great prototyper- if they aren’t happy, their work will suffer soon enough or they will leave entirely. Part of managing is ensuring you have the right people in the right positions. It really shouldn’t reflect poorly on you to move him back unless you didn’t think the original move was the right fit in the first place and did it anyways.

  14. Fluffy Fish*

    Ah yes sexism.

    PLEASE speak out. Every time. Please. Especially if you are a man calling out your fellow men.

    So look – as a very tired woman – I would like to add this: you will almost always get pushback along the lines of “that’s not what I meant/said/intended/etc”.

    Don’t engage about intent/meaning and don’t explain why what they said is xyz. Because 99.9% of the time they absolutely know what they said, they’re just pulling the plausible deniability card.

    Instead – focus on impact. “Yes I hear your intent. I however am talking about the impact of what you said/did which is ……”

    1. Jay*

      This. Totally this. I no longer try to educate about impact vs intent. If I have the bandwith, I’ll say something empathic about their intent and then point out that if they don’t want to misunderstood again, they can make their behavior align with their intent.

    2. Worldwalker*

      I am so over “intent.”

      I use an analogy:

      “I recognize you didn’t intend to step on my foot. However, my foot still hurts — and you’re still standing on it!!!”

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        Yeah, I’ve had to give that speech to coworkers a couple of times. I don’t know if it got any of them to permanently change their way of thinking, but it got them to mind their speech around me. I’ll take the wins I can get.

        (Also, this applies equally well to other forms of discrimination, not just sexism. Intent never magically makes things OK, no matter what sort of bigotry you’re trying to excuse.)

      2. ferrina*

        Yeah, I had a family member who constantly didn’t “intend” anything. “I didn’t intend to be rude, so it’s really harsh that you’re mad that I walked away in the middle of our conversation” (actual thing that was said)

        The thing is…if that’s what you didn’t intend, wouldn’t you apologize profusely and change your action? If your impact isn’t matching your intent, then you change your action until impact matches intent. You don’t continue doing the same thing if you actually cared.

        1. Worldwalker*

          You’d think, wouldn’t you? But with some of those people you need the mental equivalent of steel-toed boots to protect you from their “unintentional” actions.

          I talk about the 4 R’s of forgiveness a lot:

          Recognition. Remorse. Restitution. Reform.

          Realize you’ve done something wrong. Feel bad about it. Make it right. Don’t do it again.

          These people don’t even get past #1. It’s not “wrong” because they didn’t mean it heh heh. They didn’t intend to crush your foot, so the broken bones aren’t important. It’s all about *their* feelings — the important thing is that *they* don’t feel bad about what they did. Not, say, that you had to have surgery to put your foot back together right.

          They don’t think they did anything wrong, so of course they don’t feel bad about it, there’s nothing to fix, and most important of all, they don’t see any need to change their future behavior. Your only recourse is steel-toed feelings.

    3. raincoaster*

      Exactly. Behaviourism is the way to go. Nobody can control another’s thoughts, but the problem is the actions. And we can impact those.

    4. ferrina*

      I like to weaponize “good intentions”

      “No, of course this isn’t what you meant! That’s why I wanted to let you know- I knew that you’d want to take action once you realized the impact.”

      Of course, I’m a woman, so usually I was dealing with men who didn’t think I had any standing to ever contradict them on anything (regardless of subject, expertise, etc….) I hate leaning on politics, but diplomatic statements like that were the any way I could be heard (now I work at a much better company, where my leadership take sexism seriously)

    5. Irish Teacher*

      I read something that resonated with me is that what shows what type of person you are isn’t so much the mistakes you make, as we all make them. It’s not even how serious the mistakes are because there are all kinds of things like the culture you grew up in, how well-educated you are, the family you grew up in, possibly various traumas, whether you are neurotypical or not, etc, that can influence what mistakes you are likely to make.

      What really shows what type of person you are is how you respond to your mistakes. If one is a decent person and somebody says “hey, what you said sounds sexist/homophobic/racist/ignores the experiences of disabled people or minorities,” then one will likely apologise and try to do better in future. If one is focused on oneself, one is more likely to make excuses and claim that wasn’t the intent. And if one is manipulative, the person might even try to make the person who’s been hurt feel as if they are in the wrong: “why are you so sensitive?” “you always overreact,” “you’re just looking to be offended,” etc.

  15. Sunflower*

    I can’t read the article but if the guy is not happy being a prototyper and “demoted” back to where he was happy, you will lose him to another company. Nothing worse than the dread of waking up to a job you hate and he will bail sooner or later.

    And as for your company not having another prototyper, think about the age old question “what will you do if he’s in an accident or wins the lottery?”

    1. Sunflower*

      Correction. Of course there *are* worse things in life but I was just trying to make a point in regards to employment.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        To be fair, it’s not like spending 8+ hours on something you hate isn’t high up there on the suck-o-meter.

    2. ScruffyInternHerder*

      They’re either going to figure out another prototyper, or they’re going to be hiring both someone who can handle that AND a builder.

  16. raincoaster*

    I am SOOOOOO hoping that the pandemic pause on conferences will allow these sexist organizers to retire and make way for egalitarian organizers. I’ve about had it with men who insist “women don’t want to be speakers” while refusing all the women who have applied as speakers.

  17. The Silver Surfer*

    To be honest, the move to builder/prototyper sounds like the demotion.

    How much money was involved in the move from designer to
    builder/prototyper? Any?

    I don’t know what industry the LW is in, but in the software world product designers/architects are a significant step up the ladder from coders (the equivalent of builders/prototypers).

    “…it was a career path for him that offered some great possibilities.”

    What was the career path compared to his old position as a designer? Is this really a step up career path wise? Will he make more or less money on this new career path?

    • No pay increase
    • A less prestigious job title
    • An inferior career path to his previous job

    Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but in most industries being on the creative/design end is more prestigious than being on the “just build it the way some other guy tells you to” end.

    1. just passing through*

      I don’t see where it says he was ever a designer. It says he started as a builder and moved to builder/prototyper, and he now wants to return to being a builder.

      LW1 does say that if this employee stops prototyping, the designers will have to do it–and presumably they wouldn’t be thrilled by that, as you say.

      (Also worth bearing in mind that these titles may be not the exact titles but more or less comparable ones, for anonymity.)

    2. Persephone Mulberry*

      I think you are misreading it because the employee was never a designer. He was a builder; now he’s a builder AND a prototyper.

    3. Nina*

      that’s interesting, because from my industry the builder (technician, no formal qualifications) is the bottom of the tree and works from extremely detailed instructions from the designers (engineer, with engineering degree), with advice from the prototyper (usually a senior technician with an engineering diploma). The designers work mainly on computers, the prototyper (as the name implies) figures out how to make the designs the first time and helps write the instructions for the builders.

      We make physical hardware rather than software so that may be the difference.

    4. Parenthesis Dude*

      Firstly, the OP is using those job titles as examples of what the person does, not that they actually do them.

      But secondly, the worker went to school to get a certificate in prototyping. They wouldn’t have done that if prototyping was a demotion. Would you spend resources getting a degree in something that would hurt your career?

  18. Fluffy Fish*

    The birthday letter made me chuckle because I do take off every year on my birthday.

    Not because I’m celebrating.

    But because I absolutely despise being wished a happy birthday by people who don’t really care. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect my colleagues or boss to genuinely care about my birthday – by all means please pretend it doesn’t exist. But I hate fake forced small talk/social niceties and unfortunately my birthday falls on a holiday that isn’t religious and most people at least acknowledge. If it was a random Tuesday it likely wouldn’t be this way.

    So yes, let people do their thing and take off whatever days that make them happy. And if people find joy in things (or alternately in my case do not), try to respect that instead of imposing what you think is the right way to be.

    Obvious disclaimer of only applicable if it doesn’t interfere with work.

    1. Temperance*

      I take off my birthday so I can spend a workday sitting in my pool and reading/watching crap TV. It’s glorious.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        I’m solidly a renter at this point, but my life’s dream is to have a house where I can have a hot tub.

        When I do, you bet I will be not celebrating my birthday, by myself, in the hot tub with a beer :)

    2. Environmental Compliance*

      I not only took my birthday off but dodged telling most people when exactly my birthday is because they made a Big Deal about birthdays of others and I wanted nothing to do with that, and didn’t want to have to explain why I do not want a Big Deal made out of my birthday.

      I went for a trail ride and drank a beer and ate watermelon with my horse, then ate half a cake. It was a pretty good day.

  19. Elle*

    I am on record as being No Fun, but I have to admit it irks me when adults make a huge deal about their birthdays. Would I say something, as a manager? Not unless it was seriously disruptive.

    Would I privately roll my eyes? Yes.

    1. Dr. Rebecca*

      I find that if I can turn things I privately roll my eyes at into things I privately shrug my shoulders at, life is better for me and for everyone around me. Just a thought.

      1. allathian*

        Oh yes, this. Life is so much easier when you learn to ignore other people’s choices when they don’t directly affect you.

    2. Good+Enough+For+Government+Work*

      You do indeed sound like an absolute joy.

      I would never dream of making a fuss of someone who doesn’t want to celebrate their birthday, but by the same token: chill out about those of us who do.

    3. Dinwar*

      My view is that if it doesn’t affect me beyond hearing about it, or some sub-minimal social expectation (and let’s face it, writing “Happy Birthday!” is sub-minimal–takes less time than posting your objection to it), I don’t get to have an opinion. I don’t like or dislike it, I don’t judge people for it–I do not have an opinion, because my opinion is entirely irrelevant. I mean, ultimately what’s the point of making the effort to formulate an opinion on such things? The only answer I can come up with is ego, and I’ve got enough real reasons to be proud of myself that I don’t need to cut anyone down to do so.

      1. Worldwalker*


        It’s good we don’t all like the same things, or what a terrible shortage of haggis there would be.

    4. Fluffy Fish*

      Just a vote for trying to recognize that it’s okay not to like something but that it’s also okay for others TO like things.

      The older I get, the more I realize how uncool and unkind it is to crap on other peoples joy. I’ve had the wind sucked out of my sails because of eye rolls and facial expressions that aren’t as private as people think. It’s a horrible feeling.

      Let people like what they like. It isn’t hurting you. It isn’t making you like it too.

      1. Worldwalker*

        > Let people like what they like. It isn’t hurting you. It isn’t making you like it too.

        Quoted for truth.

        If someone’s choice of partner, or their diet, or their religion, or anything else about them, isn’t directly affecting you, *it’s not your circus.* No, someone who is, let’s say, gay, is not being gay *at* you; they’re just gay. They’re not being vegetarian *at* you, they’re not being Jewish *at* you, they’re not being anything else *at* you — they’re just being themselves.

        (if they *are* making a big deal about whatever that thing is and trying to enforce it on you … “I’m a vegan so you need to be too” … that’s another matter)

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Wordwalker, your closing is where I fall on the birthday debate. If you are just excited about your birthday and want to tell me everything about everything but are okay if I have a different idea – we are peachy keen. But if you are going on and on, and are also bashing me for having a different view and attempting to turn me into your clone, then we’re going to talk about allowing others “the dignity of their choices” so long as no one is being hurt/career impacts.

        2. iliketoknit*

          Yes! I would be really uncomfortable if people told me how to feel about celebrating my birthday, whether that was that I MUST take it off and live it up all day, or that I MUST NOT pay attention to my birthday and treat it like any other day to be a grown up. I take it off for my own reasons. Lots of people spend their time on other things that mean nothing to me. But that has no impact on me.

      2. UKDancer*

        Definitely. I don’t see the point of football, golf or camping, but I accept several of my colleagues do. I don’t have to like any of these things but it would be rude to dismiss them. People are entitled to like football even though I think it’s pointless. We should all encourage our colleagues to enjoy the thing that give them pleasure whether it’s celebrating their birthdays or going to watch the latest match and be happy for them that they’ve got something to make them happy.

    5. Mistowat*

      I’m probably also not very fun. I’m neutral on the concept of taking off for a birthday (take your days off for whatever reason you want) but there’s something about the comment about “no one should have to work on their birthday” that rubs me the wrong way. It’s likely no more than conversational filler, but it’s such a blanket statement and assumes everyone feels the same way about birthdays and time off.

      1. Dinwar*

        I don’t take it that way. Every culture needs certain defaults to make things smoother, and “Everyone should have their birthday off” sets a default for time off. If it’s a cultural expectation, it’s easier to get time off that day–or, more accurately, your boss needs a reason to refuse your PTO request. That said, cultural defaults are not cultural universals. Allowances have to be made for people (and I’m actually one of them) who want to work on their birthday.

        That said, the level of concern should be limited to “Oh, okay, fair enough” and then everyone move on with their lives.

        1. Mistowat*

          That’s what I dislike about it — it comes across to me as an attempt to set a default for time off, but we don’t have that default for time off (neither in my workplace nor in my culture). But you make a good point that perhaps the LW is in a culture where that is a default, so perhaps that statement is less of a problem for them than it would be for me.

        2. Jackalope*

          I really like the idea that has been floated here before that people get one day off that can be their birthday but if that doesn’t work for some reason (they don’t want to take their birthday off, it falls on a holiday, Leap Year, whatever) they can pick an in lieu day. Letting everyone have their own personal holiday is a way to give people a special day off while not taxing the system, as well; unlike, say, Christmas Eve, most people won’t be fighting for March 24th off each year (or whatever).

      2. iliketoknit*

        “No one should have to work on their birthday” doesn’t assume anything. It’s not saying “no one should work on their birthday.” If you don’t want to work on your birthday, you shouldn’t have to. If you could care less about your birthday and want to work on that day, that’s fine too.

        1. iliketoknit*

          Replying to myself to add, I don’t think it sets a default for what people should do either way. It’s literally not a statement that everyone should take their birthday off.

  20. Dinwar*

    #3: Thinking about this a little sideways, how good is your company at actually honoring requests for time off? If the company has a history of conveniently “forgetting” someone asked for time off (or if the worker’s previous company did), the repeated statements that she’s taking time off may be a defense against that sort of behavior. It doesn’t take many times of someone coming up and saying “Yeah, I’m gonna need you to work next Tuesday” when you requested it off months ago before folks start to get the message, after all.

    I’m not saying that absolutely is what’s happening. In all likelihood this person has a close group of friends that always celebrates their birthdays together and gets super-excited about it. But it’s worth at least taking a glance at.

    Also a bit sideways: How do you handle sports talk? If someone is going to skip work to see a playoff game or a bowl game, how often do they talk about it (before and after)? The issue here is calibration. Some people (see posts in this comments section) don’t like celebrating birthdays and see even minor social interactions associated with them as burdensome. If you’re a manager, you don’t get to do that. You need to manage fairly, and part of that is dealing with your personal opinions in ways that don’t unduly suppress the opinions of your team. If you’re okay with someone talking about the big game on a regular basis, but get annoyed by birthday talk, it’s likely that you’re letting your personal biases come into play too much and need to re-evaluate how you handle birthdays.

    To be clear, the important thing isn’t sports here. It’s having something to compare your reaction to. Substitute “vacation” or “new pet” or whatever you want–the goal is to take something you consider normal, and compare this employee’s actions to those you’ve already accepted as acceptable. This provides a level of objectivity that’s really useful when managing other people.

  21. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    If I can I will take the day of my birthday off, but if not I’ll work it. I think for the next two years it falls during the week, so…we’ll see. That aside, I never go out of my way to somersault down the hall announcing my birthday. After losing friends barely into their forties, I appreciate each one more and more, but don’t get on the bullhorn to remind my coworkers. I have a close knit office and they all know when it is, and we’ve all worked together for so long that we genuinely enjoy a birthday get together. Now when I hit the big one (you decide which one that is), my boss and others popped up from hiding under a conference room table to yell surprise. THAT was more gift to me than anything because to get a CEO to do that, well… that’s pretty special. I still haven’t stopped laughing.

    If someone was announcing it like an arrival at DFW, I might just take it upon myself to say, “Yes… you’ve told us,” in an effort to try to tone it down if it was disrupting things. You have to “read the room” as they say and it sounds like OP’s coworker hasn’t opened up chapter 1 yet.

  22. Turingtested*

    The most generous way I can take that comment is an an FYI if you grew up poor and want to hide it. But I definitely read it as, oh, those dumb poor people and their need for celebrations.

  23. Dr. Rebecca*

    I generally work my birthday (I’m a teacher, we don’t really get days off…) but I totes bring in cupcakes for the break room. I don’t care if anyone else celebrates me, why would they, but *I’M* sure as hell celebrating me. Anyone doesn’t want to, that’s more cupcakes for me.

  24. MistOrMister*

    I guess we’ll never know, but when OP1 says they went to bat for the employee to get updated to Prototyper, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was something the employee had asked for. I kind of took it as OP saw this person did a good job and realized they needed a prototyper so pushed to get the position created and given to the guy. Granted, I could be very wrong with that assumption. It doesn’t change the advice any either way, but I think especially if the employee didn’t ask for the position if they come back later saying they hate it, steps should be taken to put them back where they want to be.

    1. Elizabeth Naismith*

      I had the same thought. Nowhere does LW say the employee wanted the promotion, or asked for it, or requested LW’s help making it happen. If LW just assumed the promotion would be welcome without honestly checking first (not “hey, I told Boss you did great on X task, and they should look at putting on that full time.” but rather “Hey, Boss and I were both really impressed by how you handled X. We could really use someone on that full time; is that something you’d be interested in?”) then this is a more serious problem with their management style, not just one unhappy employee.

  25. LilPinkSock*

    I once had my birthday fall on a Friday and requested a half-day off. My crappy boss said “absolutely not, grow the h*ll up” and threatened that any more “nonsense” requests would result in immediate termination and blacklisting from our entire field.

    So now I celebrate my day however I want. If I can take off, I do. If I have to work, I bring in cupcakes (which now I’m learning may be taken as an attempt to poison my colleagues?). Poo-poo to the naysayers, you won’t squash my enjoyment of my own birthday.

    1. allathian*

      Ugh, what a crappy boss indeed. Granted, he would probably have been laughed at if he’d fired you and attempted to blacklist you. Sure, he might’ve been able to fire you, but unless he had truly extraordinary influence in your field, most people would’ve judged him for his attempt to blacklist you. Reasonable people don’t do that except under extraordinary circumstances.

      How long did you stay at that job after this incident?

      1. LilPinkSock*

        That boss was a she–a genuine Mean Girl, all grown up. And yes, she does have enough influence in the field where she could have made it very difficult to find another position, if not outright destroy someone’s career with a well-placed lie. After that incident, I started casually looking, but stepped up the job search game after she told me my long, curly hair looked like a rats’ nest, “but it’s probably ok for people like you since secretaries and ethnics can get away with a less professional appearance”.

        When I left, I made it very clear that she was the reason.

  26. Raida*

    Talk through what he likes and doesn’t like about prototyping, task him with documenting the internal processes, ask if he’d be interested in transitioning back into builder by helping to onboard a new prototyper, and you go find (even a part time or online only or contracted) prototyper.

    And unless you don’t need a Builder – do what he’s requested. He’ll leave. Then you’ll have neither. That’s what he’s telling you.

    Also – if the Designers suck at prototypes, get them training in it, see if anyone has a knack for it but has too much of their time dedicated to designing. might be able to find someone in-house that can be trained up instead of a new external candidate.

    Your story is: We’ve always done prototyping work, poorly. We realised someone dedicated to it was a better way to go. What do I do about the current one not wanting the job?
    Clearly – you needed to approach prototyping differently a while ago. Now you need to document that need and use a business case for the resource – but hey! you’ve already done that with the builder/prototyper! that’s great news, you just need to find the right person to do the work

  27. Luna*

    It’s not your employee’s job to ensure that you have coverage for a task in your company, including the ability to do this prototyping. If you need one to function and the one you have right now prefers to take on a job that doesn’t involve it, you need to hire a new prototyper.

  28. Prototyper or not!*

    LW1, Because he has the title builder/prototyper, he can continue to build as well. However he ahs ad advanced prototyping training… Can he train other designers to do prototyping?? also, after he trains them, would he interested in staying as a prototype reviewer – if other designers bring their proto types to him..

    also you can ask him what aspect of prototyping he doesnt like..

    I believe these are some questions to ask, before you can make decisions

Comments are closed.