should managers always “own the message,” personal info in the background of a coworker’s cat photos, and more

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

1. Should managers always “own the message”?

It is review time at our company. I’m no longer a manager, but was included on an email from our VP about “owning the message.” They don’t want managers saying, “I would have promoted you, but it was turned down at the VP level” or “We wanted to promote you, but our budget wouldn’t let us.” I worked at another company with a similar “own the message” philosophy. What do you think of that? As a manager, I found it hard to do, and there were times where I felt my manager was also dealing with those situations and didn’t truly “own the message.”

It depends so much on the situation. There are managers who take the easy way out by blaming management above them/budgets/other factors when in reality it was their decision (fully or partially) or at least they don’t disagree with the decision they’re conveying. It’s easier to say “management wouldn’t approve the promotion” than “I don’t think you’ve earned it.” That’s a problem; part of management is giving candid, forthright feedback, and it’s not okay to avoid that.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s true that the decision was out of the manager’s hands. That’s a lot trickier. Managers shouldn’t cultivate an us vs. them vibe with their teams vs. management, and they do need to be able to speak for management as a whole. But at the same time, employees deserve to know the truth — and if the truth is something like “your work isn’t being recognized at levels above me and that’s not likely to change,” they really deserve to know that so they can make good decisions for themselves. So I think the communication from your VP needs to be more nuanced.

2. Personal info in the background of a coworker’s cat photos

My company has a Slack channel where employees share cute pictures of their pets. One of our executive assistants hired earlier this year, “Shannon,” frequently shares photos of her three cats, who like to lie on her desk. Sometimes Shannon’s computer monitors are in the background of her cat photos and, with a little zoom-in, you can read everything on her screen. Since Shannon’s job is planning events for our leadership, I’ve been able to see the restaurants and hotels where our execs or board members will be going on what dates. In one case, I’ve clearly seen the personal address and phone number of one of our board members. Only folks in our company Slack can view this channel, and I don’t think anyone would do anything nefarious with this information, but if I were Shannon’s boss or one of our executives, I would not want info like that so public.

I’ve debated sending Shannon a kind email pointing this out, since she might simply not think about what’s in the background of her cat photos. But I don’t work directly with her or even know her well, and I’m afraid my message would seem nosy or rude since I don’t think this habit has caused any problems (yet). Should I say something, or should I “let sleeping cats lie” and let it go?

Say something! It shouldn’t be a big deal to kindly point it out. You could say, “I love seeing your cats! I wanted to mention that in some of the photos, if you zoom in you can see everything on your screen, which you probably don’t want for privacy reasons, especially when you’ve got board member contact info up!”

3. Hearing an ill coworker in the bathroom

I recently got promoted and have my own office. Yay! My new office shares a wall with one of our bathrooms. It’s usually not something I notice (other than occasional flushing) and I mostly tune it out, but twice in the last 24 hours I’ve heard someone become what sounds like violently ill in the bathroom. I can’t really ignore it and have to leave my office when this happens or I will also be ill. In addition to that, I’m worried about my coworker! I think I might know who it is; I’m at least confident about which department the coworker is from. I don’t know what to do now. Nothing? Will it just pass? Should I bring it up to the department manager? HR (seems like that would be too much)?

I’d only mention it in the context of asking for a white noise machine or something else to help mask sound so you can work. I too used to work right next to a bathroom and, believe me, white noise is the way to go.

Beyond that, though, anyone using the bathroom deserves to maintain the polite fiction that whatever they’re doing in there can’t be heard outside of the room. Whether someone is ill or pregnant or having a reaction to something, they deserve privacy around whatever’s going on.

4. Should I refuse to edit AI-generated content?

I’m a copywriter and editor. I’ve built up a great clientele over the years and developed a specialty in writing consumer-friendly content about complex topics in which accuracy is essential (think insurance or healthcare).

One of my long-time clients is also using another firm for content development. Fine with me; I don’t have time to write reams of long form pieces for them. However, this other firm uses AI to generate, or at least assist with creating, content. Invariably, it contains factual errors and bizarre language.

So the client asks me to review it, and I fix the copy. An original sentence might say “400,000 annual llama groomers commended this comb for its praiseworthy proficiency in knot management,” and I correct it to “4,000 llama groomers endorsed this detangling comb last year.”

Here’s the problem. A) I’m pretty sure this other agency charges far more than I do for this terrible work. B) I’m concerned that I’m unwittingly helping the AI-using firm to refine their process. C) I just hate AI on principle; not only is it destroying creative professions but I think the end result will be dystopian horror, as in the short story “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.”

But hey, that’s just me! My dilemma: In the future, should I refuse to do this type of work? Or hope that in pointing out its deficiencies, my clients will avoid AI content generation? Or just recognize that this is an inevitable industry change and adapt accordingly?

I wouldn’t want to edit AI copy either! It’s perfectly legitimate to decide that’s not a type of service you provide. But there’s also not one right answer; it’s a personal decision, depending what kinds of work you are and aren’t interested in doing.

If you do decide to stop doing it, you could simply say, “I wanted to let you know I’m no longer going to be available to edit AI-generated content; having done some of it now, I’ve realized it’s a very different type of writing and editing than I enjoy.” If you want, you could add, “I also think AI-generated content isn’t a great thing for users because of XYZ,” but that depends very much on your relationship with the client.

Caveat: any time you turn down work, you’re encouraging the client to build relationships with other writers. Over time it’s possible they’ll send them some of the work you do want, and you’ve got to be okay with that possibility.

5. Client appreciation gifts

There have been a few posts these last few weeks regarding employee gifts and, as a business owner, I agree that money and time off are by far the most universally requested. However, what about client appreciation gifts? We want to say thank-you to our clients at the end of the year but we’re stuck on what to do. No one wants a mouse pad, or another water bottle with our logo on it. By the end of December, we’ve had more cookies, candy, and sugar than we care to admit so we don’t want to add to the pile. What do you and the readers think about a gift card to a local restaurant group? It falls more in the “money” category and a dinner out feels like a nice thank-you, but something about it feels off when talking of client appreciation. Last year we sent Rocketbooks, which were very well received, but we’re having a hard time thinking of something new. We’ve done a few web searches and scoured the logo swag catalogs and are still coming up empty-handed. There’s a reason so many offices get boxes of chocolates and cookies at year-end, they may be less personable but so much easier!

Client appreciation gifts are tough. Money and time off aren’t options the way they are with employees, and it’s very hard to find something that everyone will like … which is how so many people end up back at food. Let’s throw this out to readers.

{ 566 comments… read them below }

    1. Susan*

      In the past, I’ve been really happy to have the easy out of telling a vendor that presents were against company policy. A nice card was plenty.

      1. Educator*

        Yeah, depending on LW#5’s industry, they may be sending gifts to clients who are not in the office full time, if at all. A card will not be consumed by whoever happens to be in that day and unknown to everyone else. If you have a marketing team with some video skills, a branded ecard with a personalized message for each client could be a classy way to include everyone.

        1. High Score!*

          O please no. That’s more than one wasteful card. Worse yet!
          Vendors are business associates.
          Gifts are for friends & family.
          We need to cancel gift culture.
          Printing crap that customers will just throw away is bad for the environment and annoys the customers.
          There is no right gift bc the process is impersonal.
          Email a coupon with seasons greetings bc electrons are free and don’t destroy the planet.

        2. Cmdrshpard*

          Personally I am a fan of nice metal pens with a cushion grip. The kind that you can refill but likely won’t. They can be printed with your name and office info.

          At my job we get those from vendors sometimes and I love them.

          I am bad at keeping track of pens, so losing a free pen does not seem like a big deal.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            Agree that’s a good option.

            Caveat: If you do that, make sure they are good usable pens. Some swag pens, even not cheap ones either don’t right well or are flimsy and in the hands of an inveterate pen clicker like me will fall apart pretty quickly.

            (Bonus points if the gift’s packaging includes info the the pen brand … the times I’ve gotten a good swag pen have been great, either for ink refills or for when I think “I’d like to order similar pens that I know are actually good for an upcoming event” but there’s no clue about what brand they are)

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Oh that gives me a thought. Give a good pen the 1st time you’re dealing with someone … and the next year give refills to that good pen.

            1. Cmdrshpard*

              That could work for people who can keep track of them. But for me personally I usually lose them, so getting a new batch once a year really helps.

              I’m talking about a good/medium quality pen like $2-3 range.

              I don’t want a really high quality one like $5+ because then I would be scared to use it and lose it.

          3. LlamaDuck*

            Yes! Also, I ‘ve always assumed client gifts are just part of marketing, and I have definitely been positively reminded of a business I used when writing with a branded pen.

      2. High Score!*

        Ugh, I hate receiving cards. Card sending might boost the printing industry but it’s so wasteful of resources. Paper is not eco friendly like everyone thinks. Send a nice email. Actually, I wish vendors would just realize that they are a business and not “family” & gifts are personal.
        If you must give a gift then send an email with a 5% discount off the next purchase.

        1. StillInStats*

          You might hate it, but a lot of our client companies are still run by people who like physical objects and printing everything out. A lot of them don’t like email, either. (I don’t like either one for holiday-greeting purposes, and wouldn’t be any more pleased with getting a “nice email” than I would be by getting a card. The only difference is that one goes in the recycling bin and the other goes in my trash folder.)

          Email’s fine for a lot of people, but it absolutely depends on your industry and the specific clients you’re trying to connect with.

        2. Sabina*

          Opposite: dislike email cards, like physical cards which I have recycled into craft projects. Different strokes, I guess. Also, a 5% discount seems a little cheap, unless clients routinely spend thousands of dollars. Better to just skip a gift altogether.

          1. Anonomite*

            Yeah, I hate e-cards. They feel impersonal and perfunctory. Granted, I make cards for friends and family as a hobby, so…*shrug*

      3. Ellie*

        We have the same policy, and it makes it so much easier.

        However, I had to comment on the OP’s dislike of cookies and chocolates – they’re the easiest thing to share! You can put the box in the lunch room with the thank you note, and brighten everyone’s day.

    2. Lurker*

      For #5…

      My company was on the client end of this situation. Pre-Covid we always received gourmet baked goods, which were a hit/highlight for our staff. During 2020/2021 the company made a donation to a charity in our name and sent us proof. It was something like a food pantry (something non-controversial). Honestly, personally, I was bummed to not get the baked goods, but on the other hand I did think it was a nice gesture to donate, especially to a charity that had increased needs during Covid.

      1. Lurker*

        To clarify — we weren’t asked or given a choice of charities, or even if we wanted them to give a donation. After the fact, they sent a note explaining their rationale. (And obviously their charitable contributions were likely tax deductible.)

        1. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

          Client gifts are (generally) tax deductible too so hopefully that cuts down on a cynical read of their choice.

      2. prof*

        If the company that employed me gave me a gift of making a donation in my name…I would roll my eyes pretty hard. Just saying…

        1. acmx*

          Lurker’s employer didn’t donate in their name; one of the vendor’s donated in Lurker’s employer’s name.

        2. Lurker*

          The donation wasn’t a gift for the employees of the donating company. The donation was a “gift” for the company’s client (where I worked). Most of the employees of the donating company may not have even known donations were made. And it wasn’t like the employees would have gotten the money — in previous years, the giving company spent money on baked goods.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            My company does this too.

            We send out an e-card to clients and include that the company is making a donation to a charity relevant to our industry (e.g., Girls Who Code, Year Up).

      3. Expiring Cat Memes*

        A company I worked for once gifted all their clients a book created by a children’s charity and sold as a fundraiser. It had beautiful photos and stories in it and at least a couple of clients wrote back to say how much they loved it. So the money went to a great cause and the clients still received a physical gift to enjoy.

        1. NYCdub*

          A small business I worked for sent the wreaths her daughter’s Girl Scout troup sold to most clients. She sent fruit baskets to clients she knew to be Jewish. People LOVED them, and knew the gifts were also supporting the Girl Scouts. But this was a very relationship-based business. Sending something closely associated with Christmas wouldn’t work for all.

        2. Please no*

          I self published a book and purchased copies for gifts. I offered additional copies to friends. Friends with children were thrilled. Friends without children were not interested. People who are not interested in the book are then tasked with the burden of donating it (hopefully) or disposing of it :(

      4. Artemesia*

        My husband’s office got lots of gift baskets and we also got a honey baked ham from one client delivered to our door and the occasional fruit basket. At the office, they would disassemble the fancy gift baskets and put them in the copy/break room and people on staff would select a few things to bring home. Small office with good manners so this worked out gracefully.

        It is hard to beat good food; obviously there are traps around religious and dietary issues, but that can be dealt with by having alternative choices like fruit instead of the ham or fruit or meat instead of baked goods.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Food is popular because it can be shared. For government workers/contactors, it’s one of the few things we can accept without necessarily worrying about a cost limit, especially if it’s shareable.

          1. to varying degrees*

            This is a good point. When I worked for government that was exactly the reason we always got food items, even if it was an expensive basket, since it was shareable (and they did truly share them) the total cost would be divide up amongst the number of staff. it always fell beneath the threshold. And it was always great to go into the breakroom to see what ever new treat had been thrown in there that day.

            1. Lost on the third floor*

              Rules vary between government organizations. My current is extremely restrictive and allows nothing at all from vendors.

          2. ThursdaysGeek*

            Plus, a lot of workers don’t have any access to the vendor gifts/cards unless it’s something like a food item that can be shared. I know vendors send gifts to co-workers they work with, but I don’t work with any vendors. So unless someone else shares it, I don’t even know about it.

            1. Hannah Lee*

              ^ this!

              Typically, gifts, cards are addressed to the main contact. Which is okay if maintaining a connection to just the main contact is the goal. But if you’ve got a team of people supporting your business as their client, sending a gift that can be shared by the team, including people who don’t get little freebies like that, can be nice.

        2. NewJobNewGal*

          I can’t get enough holiday food gifts. Cheese, cookies, smoked sausage, chocolate covered anything, fancy crackers, I’ll even take the flavored popcorn that I get sick of seeing but still eat. If a client sends something directly to me, I have the option of regifting it and I still appreciate it the same.

          1. nobadcats*

            NEVER underestimate the power of a Harry & David gift box. There’s something for everyone.

            My entire office would pounce on the H&D pears in a hot second.

          2. No Longer Looking*

            We also used to get the popcorn tins, but the Harry & David variety box always made me happier. We also had one vendor who sent us a big box of variously-flavored gourmet brownies individually wrapped (might have been from Fairytale Brownies?) that everyone looked forward to.

        3. Guin*

          Food is problematic because who knows who is physically in an office these days? If you send something perishable like fruit or cheese, it might rot until someone shows up to eat it. I would stay away from food.

          1. Dragon*

            Or if someone is home. When I took a class in making gift baskets, the instructor said to make sure someone would be there to receive a home delivery. She knew of someone who didn’t, and a tin of caviar went bad and stunk up the whole thing.

        4. Kara*

          We (regulated industry, not government) cannot accept cash or equivalents (including gift cards). Food baskets we can leave out for staff to enjoy are always good. We have one vendor who sends a basket at Thanksgiving, which is nice because we aren’t overloaded with food!

          1. Hannah Lee*

            pre-Thanksgiving gifts in the US seem like a great idea!
            Because whatever doesn’t get gobbled up in the office can likely be distributed for people to take to whatever gatherings they may have.

          2. Quinalla*

            Yes, I actually think sending at Thanksgiving is a great idea and you gift/card doesn’t get lost in the sea of gifts around the holidays. I think food basket/cookies/candy is the easiest thing or a pack of branded pens/post-its/small notepads – something consumable and shareable with a whole team of people. No one wants your 8th branded coffee mug :)

            Sometimes I’ve gotten a creative, industry specific gift that was very thoughtful, but you can’t think of something like that every year and that’s ok! I always like decent pens, notepads or post-its and while food can run into dietary/allergy issues, it’s still a pretty easy thing to do, though depending if folks are moreso working from home, may want to consider that.

        5. The Rural Juror*

          I used to love one vendor that sent us a honey baked ham and another who would send cheese from a local shop. I would gather those the week before Christmas, then make a cheese/ham/cracker platter as soon as it had all arrived. We were a small office, so luckily there was plenty to go around. That was always a good day in the break room :)

          Luckily, we also received lots of baked goods and a couple of other gifts that were vegetarian. I would always keep the cheese separate from the meat, too. We didn’t have anyone vegan there, so it worked out well that everyone got something.

          I will add, it’s important to know your audience. If you’re sending a gift to a large company, it’s probably not wise to choose the honey baked ham :/

        6. atalanta0jess*

          Yep, good food!! Non-perishable, and not candy/cookies is a nice option. Dried fruits, cheese or sausage, fancy crackers, fancy jams, fancy nuts, etc etc.

    3. Ginger Pet Lady*

      Client appreciation gifts don’t have to happen in December! It will probably be far more memorable and appreciated at another time of the year. Try sending them in July or March or September when they will be unexpected and make a bigger impact.

        1. Please no*

          Or just stick to the e-card. Food is great for some people. Other people have food allergies or are trying to knock off holiday weight at that time and get to watch everyone else enjoy the basket. At some offices I’ve worked at, the receptionist delivers the vendor goodies to highest earning employees who can afford all the goodies they want and everyone else gets to watch them enjoy the goodies.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        I like that idea. Part of the problem is that by late December, people often have more holiday food items than they need. The exact same food gift, delivered in March, would be much more useful and appreciated.

        1. Maglev to Crazytown*

          We received one in June/July that was Cajun and BBQ themed, in time for peak grilling season (a box of impressive quality seasonings and sauces). People nearly fought over those, they were that desired.

      2. nnn*

        I don’t know whether this would simplify or complicate things logistically, but what about the anniversary of the date they became your client?

        Or what about International [whatever field you work in] Day?

      3. Popcorn For Everyone*

        I love midyear appreciation.

        During the Before Times, every December our break room was always full of candy, pastries, popcorn tins (so many popcorn tins, enough popcorn tins for every employee to take one home it they wanted), and the like from our vendors.

        Our building management company (not exactly a vendor, but we give them plenty of money in exchange for office space) must have been aware of this, because in December, they would just send a card for the reception desk. But every summer, they’d do an appreciation gift for the office. A few of these gifts were a BBQ party, a catered lunch from a Hawaiian place in town, and an ice cream party (plus a freezer full of popsicles and other frozen treats to last a few weeks). The ice cream party happened a week after our A/C blew during a heat wave, so it was extra appreciated.

        So yah, some sort of midyear treat would be more memorable than another popcorn tin in December. (Even if the midyear treat is a popcorn tin in July :D )

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Side note: I am not fond of the popcorn that comes in tins, but as a baker I love them to package baked goods for gifts. So, that’s the part I want.

        2. lurkyloo*

          No reason why you couldn’t send a ‘Save the date for a BBQ/Food party in July’ type of card for the holidays?

      4. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        Great idea!
        One of our clients recently had a big anniversary (think 100 years) in spring. They sent a huge metal box (I think three pounds) of candy from a famous company from their hometown, directly to employees of ours they were working with. Some shared the bounty with their families, some with their coworkers. It was well received.

        Some other goodies I have received over the years that are still memorable one way:
        A small leather briefcase, good for a few Manila folders and even a 13″ notebook from my employer around 1995, just retired it as it developed damage
        A softshell workwear jacket from a client
        Various pens of all quality levels
        A mousepad from Amazon before they became a household name, circa 1997
        More hats, coffee cups and water bottles than I care for (but I tend to lose water bottles and hats, so some spares are nice)
        An all-expenses-paid week-long trip to a vendor on another continent (had to clear that with my grandboss for potential conflict of interest, would not fly today)
        Lots of dinner invitations and such
        A tool to safely cut your safety belt and break your car window in case of an accident, still in my car after 20 years – fortunately I never had to use it
        A Leatherman tool (brand name, not one of the cheap knock-offs that tend to break when you need them)
        Nice cards with heartfelt thank-you notes from the people I actually worked with! These have a lot of impact for me, more than any swag.

          1. Allison*

            A friend and I wound up crashing a company’s holiday party when we asked to use the bathroom at a favorite bar, and someone from the company gave us swag bags that had mini toolkits in them. I still have mine!

        1. Cohort 1*

          Amazon sent me a thank you insulated cup around 1996 when they just sold books. I still have it. You’d think it would be a collectable by now, but I can’t find any reference to it online. I don’t think I got the mouse pad though.

          1. aunttora*

            Heh, I have that too. They do show up on eBay occasionally but not worth the effort of selling.

          2. Jay (no, the other one)*

            I had a whole bunch of those – I started ordering a lot of books as soon as I discovered Amazon. They have all vanished by now. I loved them.

      5. OrdinaryJoe*

        That’s what I was coming on to say … skip December and go for a random month. In the past, my company has gotten brownies and cookies (individually wrapped in a tin) from one vendor on our ‘anniversary’ of starting working with them. It’s a great August treat :-)

      6. NewJobNewGal*

        Ooo, we had a vendor that would send us those giant gourmet caramel apples in October. I haven’t worked at that company in 5 years, but I still remember the vendor that sent that gift, so it certainly make an impression.

      7. Westsidestory*

        In the past I have sent thank you gifts at (US) Thanksgiving. There is a company that ships cookie boxes where the cookies have holiday-themed icing designs. Each cookie is individually wrapped (hi Covid) and it usually runs about $20 usd. These have been well received, and early enough to be noticed.

      8. Science KK*

        This! My dad is a small business owner so all the appreciation gifts are usually addressed to him. He only has 6 employees so even after they take their picks it all ends up at my parents house.

        Though my friends enjoy the years he gets a lot wine, it usually means they get a text saying which bottle do you want?

      9. Smithy*

        This is a brilliant idea – and makes me think to recent gifts I’ve given to large donors (I’m in nonprofit fundraising). They happen during visits to programs and are often tricky because obviously they’re not supposed to very costly but also program teams are so grateful for the visit and support they always want to give something.

        These visits happened quickly and was truly a matter of scrambling to find what was left around, but on both visit they were what I’d call “high quality office swag” – so nice notebooks, travel mugs, nice office supplies. Maybe it was just that those visits hadn’t happened in so long but also because they weren’t combined with other gift. So the bar to cross to be appreciated and memorable was truly on the floor.

        I still keep getting notes about the great notebook….

      10. Funny Cide*

        One year, we did cards at holidays but then saved the gift budget and sent luxury chocolates around Valentine’s with themed colors for our organization and had a joke in the card with them saying “[organization] loves you!” It was a small group that we knew would receive that well – obviously I’d be a little cautious about making any messaging too close to romance. Everyone really liked it since there’s definitely less of the gift/goodie overload by February, and bonus points that it was a small/local business.

      11. Not Jane*

        Yes! At my former company, we sent out gourmet cookies around Valentine’s Day. They definitely made a bigger impact because they weren’t lost in the pile of sweets/snacks that our clients got from other companies during December.

      12. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        While it doesn’t skirt the season entirely, one firm I worked for did its cards/gifts around Thanksgiving which felt really natural.

      13. OP #5*

        Love this idea! I know there are a host of reasons food can be problematic but it sounds like I’m not the only one who loves seeing random snacks in the breakroom. And seeing them NOT in December is a great idea.

        1. Carol the happy elf*

          My stepson’s entire office got a Valentine’s Day delivery of individual chocolate boxes, and mugs printed with either “Sildenafil” or “Tadalafil” on the side with each box of chocolates.
          The admin who had ordered them was a woman in her 60’s, and she thought they referenced “Lord of the Rings”.
          They don’t. Sildenafil is Viagra, and
          Tadalafil is Cialis.

          Much pearl-clutching and snickering ensued, the mugs were stolen from the recipients, and laughed over for months.

          The next gift was a huge fruit basket with no suggestive fruits.

    4. Violet*

      For client appreciation gifts, are there any nearby towns that offer gift cards that are redeemable in a wide variety of downtown shops? Our town does this, and it’s a great option.

    5. goducks*

      When vendors send gifts I honestly prefer food. If I’m not going to eat it, it is easy to pass on or just put out to share with coworker or when entertaining at home. I don’t want or need more stuff.
      But truly, the best appreciation a vendor can show me is to have a great staff and being generally easy to work with (and price competitive so they don’t kill my budget). I don’t need gifts.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        I honestly agree, for all gifts. I have all the material things I need. Consumable gifts (food, drinks, flowers, etc.) are the best because I don’t have to find somewhere to permanently store them.

      2. Please no*

        Thank you! This is all I want from vendors. Not gifts just good customer service. Even if your prices are a little higher. Keep your gifts, give me a good product and good customer service.

      3. Empress Matilda*

        I was coming here to say the same – I’d be just as happy with no gifts at all. I don’t need (or want!) swag of any kind, and the food baskets are nice but not really necessary. They’re not going to make or break my relationship with a vendor, you know?

        Also the cynical side of me sees “marketing” (and now “tax deduction,” after seeing Fergus’ comment above.) It doesn’t seem to be sincere appreciation, so much as another opportunity to get their logo in front of my eyes. I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but I agree that the best form of appreciation is good prices and reliable customer service.

    6. PleaseNo*

      #5 you don’t mention what your company does or what your clients like or your budget. Not knowing these, or suggestions are going to be pretty broad and may not be applicable- I think something related to one of these would be meaningful. Or think about what you’d like to get that you might use. But here are my two cents-
      *A mini screwdriver that looks like a pen with extra bits for the different head types instead of lead inside.
      *A storage basket woven with your company logo in it
      *Universal USB chargers with logo
      *Custom cutting boards
      *Art print, perhaps to be hung as a background for those remote meetings
      *Kitchen towel and hot pad set
      *Fancy candle with cool scene (mine is a neat garden scene with different colors)

      1. Please no*

        And… every year we fill a big box or two with this stuff and take it to the nearest donation center.

        1. Empress Matilda*

          First of all, I’m amused that “Please no” is disagreeing with “PleaseNo” – I assume you’re two different people!

          And second, I agree with the second “Please no.” The only one of those objects I’d be likely to use is a USB charger, and I already have a drawer full of them.

          1. NYCRedhead*

            There’s an amazing universal USB that has 3 different chargers on it. (I refer to it as an octopus charger). I got it at a street fair as a promotional giveaway and it is SO useful. I have tried to but one and it seems like they are only available in bulk.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              I got a similar thing in the olden days when each phone company used different chargers, and it was incredibly popular in the office. Fifteen years on, I still think of that supplier first when I need [niche service].

          2. Cmdrshpard*

            Going with the charger route, I think a good quality fast charging one or a battery pack/charger. Would be good.

          3. Hannah Lee*

            Hah!

            Also, My addled brain somehow saw
            *Universal USB chargers with logo
            *Custom cutting boards
            And smashed them together, leaving my thinking “why, how would put USB charger ports on cutting boards, wouldn’t that get messy and possibly dangerous?”

      2. sometimeswhy*

        I use my vendor-gifted tiny screwdriver with extra bits at least once a week!

        I’m a big fan of consumable gifts, tea, hot chocolate, cookies/crackers but here are things I have/have seen used, kept, rock/paper/scissored over:
        – playing cards. the backs were the vendor logo, the faces were their products grouped loosely together in the suits.
        – sticky note blocks with the side printed with their branding
        – mugs we put most of them in the break room and new folks/visitors use them for coffee/tea the rest are on people’s desks filled with pens, one is full of bolts right now next to the thing the bolts came out of
        – usb drives – one of our vendors has a mascot and some of theirs are shaped like the mascot, like a little toy. IT has to vet them so IT probably doesn’t love them but it’s cute.
        – notepads – i can always use another note pad and if i don’t want to look at the branding, i can put stickers over it
        – pens, not crappy ones – they don’t have to be luxury ones (though i did get one of those for a service anniversary recently and it’s the best thing my company has ever given me) but one that writes well, doesn’t clump and, if your industry requires, isn’t water soluble.
        – small magnetic 1y calendars, bonus if they have local celebrations noted on them (we have a lot of street fairs)

        1. ferrina*

          +1 for sticky note blocks. I can never have enough sticky notes. My mom’s company once did one that was on a mini-pallet with the logo on the side (they did distribution). That was a solid 4 inches of notepaper, and it took us a couple years to get through it, and I loved it the whole time. Just be sure you think about what your logo will look like as it dwindles.

          Any kind of notepad is a win for me. Bonus if you also send nice pens or interesting color of pens (purple pens are really popular in my house)

        2. sometimeswhy*

          I have come across a couple more:
          – other tools! – in addition to my tiny screwdriver, i have a branded ruler and a branded box cutter on my desk. in the larger workspace there are a bunch of specialized tools used on or with the equipment that are all branded.
          – if you’re in a specialized field the equivalent of one of those cooking measure conversion refrigerator magnets it could be tube/bolt/etc size chart or a quick reference related to the equipment’s preventative maintenance

        3. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          For office supply giveaway items, I really liked the little 3 color triangle highlighter that my dad got as vendor swag many years ago.

          My stepdad used to give out the donut-shaped portable tape dispensers at trade shows, and those can be pretty handy, too. I still keep one in my backpack (they’re refillable with regular tape, so if someone finds it useful they’ll keep it for years).

          Both of those are handy products for someone trying to keep office supplies in a backpack or briefcase situation due to travel rather than working at a regular desk all of the time, so it’s probably a know your industry thing.

    7. Raida*

      If it’s hard to think of a gift – a card, personalised, is nice.
      As is perhaps a voucher for something like a snack box they can get delivered to their office in the new year.
      Something staff can get some use out of like that, which is made up of fruit, nuts, trail mixes and won’t go off and can be modified to their liking.
      Same can be done for cheeseboards, fruit bowls, coffee beans if they have a machine in the office.
      Upside – they get a choice of both item and timing.
      Further upside – when they select and receive and use it, they think positively of your company. Extending the value of the gift from your perspective as a relationship building tool.

      If you have the budget and the intel – a bottle of alcohol they specifically like.
      If you have the budget – gourmet pastries, savoury.
      If you want to go branded – lens cleaning cloths.
      If you want to have some back and forth – contact them to find out if they support any charities, send them a best wishes card and note in it thanks for pointing you in the direction of that charity, you’ve made a donation this year to them. (not in the vendor’s name)

    8. niemandsrose*

      LW5: I always look forward to the year-end gift from the vendor who sends us gift sets of fancy tea! It’s delightful to enjoy during the coldest months of the year and it (obviously) stands out from all the cookies & candy! It lasts longer too!

      1. Michelle Smith*

        I’m not even a tea drinker and I’d appreciate this gift. Save a little for when I am under the weather and give the rest away to my tea-obsessed best friend. Win-win-win.

      2. The Rural Juror*

        One vendor used to send a $5 Starbucks gift card for everyone in our office (we were a small group). I think they sent the owner $25, but he usually handed it to me and told me to make a coffee run for all of us one day and put the overage on the company card (the Starbucks was really close by).

      3. Jane Austen II*

        Ooh! I like that! Gift prep/delivery as team building – much better than a ropes course!

    9. raincoaster*

      Several BIAs in my city and quaint, touristy towns nearby have offered gift cards to shops in their neighborhoods. That supports other local businesses and has been known to inspire field trips that people really enjoy. I got a card that was good at something like 15 different shops in one small town and had a terrific time visiting a place I never would have otherwise. Oh, and I got some collectible hand-made ornaments with the gift card.

      1. Artemesia*

        If you live in a place with a lot of small businesses and this is a possibility this really has a lot of power — good stuff and supporting local business.

      2. Goodies Galore*

        While I would absolutely love a gift like that, many companies (almost all that I’ve worked for) prohibit employees from accepting cash or cash equivalents, such as gift cards. These are not government jobs, just larger private employers. As a procurement professional, I end up receiving a lot of consumables. My favorite are the Harry and David-type fruit gifts.

    10. V*

      My company orders mugs with our company’s name/info and then we fill them with salt water taffy and deliver them! For the Clients that give us the most business, we do the mugs + make a gift basket that contains coffee/chocolates/tea/cocoa/candy, etc. I think a lot of our Clients think we hire a company to do this, but the truth is, my office manager has this crazy mad scientist excel sheet and is super meticulous about calculating the quantities we’ll need.

      We run around like nuts and buy up all the supplies we’ll need, and then a few weeks before the holidays, we gather in the office, have breakfast, and start our assembly line / basket making stations. (Ribbon station, heat gun station, quality control, etc etc.)

      We get a lot of positive feedback from our Clients – some have worked with us for years and they look forward to getting their basket/mugs. I’ll admit, I’ve seen a mousepad or two around the office from other companies, but I feel like the coffee mug thing is a solid investment. Most people drink coffee/tea and the design is innocuous enough that it isn’t obtrusive.

      1. dedicated1776*

        Oh man, that unlocked a memory. I worked at a consulting firm that did pancake mix and maple syrup as the annual client gift because the owner’s aunt and uncle had a maple syrup…grove? farm? back in Vermont (which made it extra personal). The note was kind of like, “Enjoy a pancake breakfast with your family this holiday season.” Anyway. One year I was in charge of putting all the gift bags together with the cards and coordinating for the bags to get delivered (either the directors taking them to their clients or getting a courier service). It was a blast.

      2. Iris Eyes*

        I kinda like that this doubles as a team building activity and lets everyone get in on the sending appreciation.

        1. Jane Austen II*

          Ooh! I like that! Gift prep/delivery as team building – much better than a ropes course!

    11. Aphrodite*

      For Secret Santas (and I think these would work well for client gifts also) I tend to the practical like rechargeable LED flashlights, insulated cooler/lunch bags, RFID protective holders for credit cards, a nice set of salt and pepper grinders for the office, or new airtight food storage containers if there is a shared office kitchen.

    12. michelenyc*

      Almost all of the vendors I work with are from Asia & Peru and a few domestic. I have to say that my overseas vendors really give the best, most thoughtful gifts. One of the things I will say I appreciate the most is that it’s nice to receive not covered with a company logo or name. I already get enough of that stuff from the company I work for. If your area is known for something interesting send that as a gift.
      * From China Reusable shopping bags – I have gotten some really cute ones. Pineapple Cake from a very fancy, well known bakery.
      * From Peru I have received a small stuffed Alpaca made from the wool, blankets made from alpaca wool, and my most favorite a ceramic lucky bull.
      * From Korea a beautiful compact mirror, a really cool keyring,

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          My first ChicoBag reusable was a branded gift, and it’s still going strong 15 years later. They are the kind you stuff into a smaller bag sewn on the interior and take up no space in a purse or car. We love them and have purchased them for multiple family members.

      1. Eater of Hotdish*

        Holy moly, I would name my first child after anyone who gave me a Peruvian alpaca blanket.

        (I’m not planning to have kids, but that’s how strongly I feel about the amazingness of this gift.)

        Signed,
        Always Cold, Especially in the Office

    13. Foley*

      Is it safe to say that you can’t send your own product? For the clients that produced things, those were really cool gifts (foodstuffs (food industry), really expensive blender, juicer, Bluetooth speaker, automobile voucher to buy the car at cost). I still use all of them and probably wouldn’t have spent $$$ on any of that stuff. I didn’t get either car, but others did.

    14. Ranon*

      The best was the engineering firm that brought our small office tamales every year. The several pounds of pre-cracked pecans was another good one.

      1. Resident Catholicville, USA*

        Last year, one of our vendors sent a big tin of nuts and boy howdy, they were delicious. (They were popcorn butter flavored and um, I might dream of them.)

        One of our vendors brings in pastries throughout the year and we put them out for the plant staff. It always goes over well. I worked at a company where the owner/sales person either sent out personalized gifts based on the client’s preferences and/or homemade gifts. Both went over well.

    15. Lily Potter*

      Get each employee a Yeti tumbler. They keep cold drinks cold as well as keeping hot drinks hot, so they’re useful for everyone. Just be sure to get actual Yetis, and not a $10 knockoff. If you can afford RocketBooks, you can afford to go brand name here.

      1. morethantired*

        Yes! I still have a Yeti from a vendor that gave me the tumbler as a gift 6 years ago. So useful and it’s not like even if you already have couple you wouldn’t want another.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Love these, but they have also been popular for years, and most people I work with have MANY of them. Even after giving some away to family members who would never buy themselves an upscale tumbler (and don’t mind the branding), we’re all set.

        My spouse has a no more beverage containers rule – mugs, tumblers, reusable straw cups – no more are allowed in the house until one we have has ended its useful life. I keep a couple at work, but we’re full up and many donation centers near us do not accept items with corporate branding.

    16. Lily Potter*

      Another idea – if your clients work in a single location, have breakfast or lunch brought in for them. Some catering companies will staff a meal, like someone to do made to order omelets or made to order gourmet sandwiches. Give the office a couple of weeks’ notice so people get the event on their calendars (not on a Friday!) and have a rep from your company on hand near the chow line to briefly shake hands and thank employees for the business. I’d appreciate a nice meal brought in way more than another random Harry & David basket or company branded doodad.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        I could actually go for something like this! I only ever deal with the client rep from our vendor, but I know there are a ton of people in the background supporting us. It would be nice to have – not lunch, but coffee and pastries, with all of them in our office one day.

    17. Maz*

      If you don’t want to give chocolates and cookies but would like to keep it simple, what about nice fruit baskets? You can do a mix of fresh and dried fruits if you want, maybe add some nuts as well. The company I used to work for gave those every year and they were very well received by the clients.

    18. Jam on Toast*

      I used to work in an advertising adjacent field. Among the more memorable client thank you gifts we received were a Fed-ex’d meal for the whole office from a Montreal deli and running shoes from a major athletic brand (everyone was asked their shoe size). We also received hotel gift cards good for x nights of stay

    19. Phryne*

      I don’t know if this kind of service exists where OP is, but here, it is customary* to give employees a Christmas box. Originally these would contain food, as a way for employers to give their labour force a nice Christmas dinner, but over the decades food had become cheaper and tastes have started to differ and people no longer wanted a box of random cheap foodstuffs. So now most companies now just give a gift.
      To ensure that this is something that everyone likes and not leads to a lot of wasted unwanted gifts, my employer (ca 6000 employees) uses a company that has a range of products and services. You get x number of points, and on a website you can choose gifts up to those points. A nice design vase or headphone might use them all up in one go, some glasses will use only 2 points and you can pick a wood cutting board as well. You can also choose a giftcard from some selected shops (including a big online warehouse so you can pick something practical you actually need, rather than a nice to have), and also each year three charities are chosen (from input by employees, often places they are involved with in some way) and you can opt for gifting the worth of your points to one of these. It is a great success, everyone can pick something they like or want, or give it to a charity and no wasted food or tat no one really wants.

      * and with customary I mean that a wild strike has been known to break out when it is withheld. As I know happened once at a relatives workplace when it was acquired by a foreign company who did not understand this weird waste of their money and tried to abolish the custom. :D

      1. Flying Fish*

        A former employer of mine used to give a large gift card to a local grocery store with the same idea of helping with the holiday entertaining! It was great!

    20. Metal Librarian*

      Are Book Tokens (a gift card you can spend in most bookshops, chain or independent) a thing in your country? They’re a popular choice of “generic gift” in the UK and usually have nice designs on them :)

      1. BethDH*

        Wow, I wish that existed in the US and I’m really hoping someone tells me I’m just out of touch, but I’ve never heard of that here.

      2. Jane Austen II*

        Wow! In Rumor Godden’s “In This House of Brede” (c 1970s) the nuns receive a book token “which we can always thankfully use” among the Chistmas gifts that come to the monastery. Now I finally know! (They are NOT a thing in the US. I had assumed a book token was a gift certificate good a one specific bookstorestore or bookstore chain.)

    21. NoSurprises*

      Gift cards to restairants assume people are going to them and also can’t easily be split among employees. Sending food to an office assumes people are in an office. So does mailing/having something delivered. Whatever you do, vet it first – surprises just don’t work in the current environment.

    22. Shirley B*

      Applicable only to certain industries: Commission a local artist to design and produce a custom limited run screen print of your office/flagship product/local landmark — signed, dated, nicely framed.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        Please no. In a remote workforce, please don’t give a gift that expected to decorate someone’s walls. Potentially expected to be seen in Zoom calls in the background forevermore.

    23. SarahKay*

      One vendor gave me a pen that had a tiny LED torch at the other end. It wasn’t very bright, but great for shining under desks if I dropped something, or otherwise adding a little extra light when needed. Mostly I use it as a torch rather than pen as it’s on the heavy side, but the weight is well-balanced enough that I do sometimes use the pen option too.
      I’m sure it helps that the vendor turned out to also be excellent, but I definitely think well of them every time I use it.

    24. Asenath*

      Initially I got a lovely little statuette (obviously locally-made from the style and materials) and food from a local store known for the excellent quality of their locally-made products. I’ve noticed recently that the local art works have vanished, but the delicious food remains in the gift package. Something high quality with a local connection seems to go down well.

    25. TreesRock*

      Two gifts that have worked well for me are specialty nuts or cheese. Yes, too much food around the holidays but at least these aren’t sweets and they will keep for weeks or months. But I like the idea of sending gifts another time of year, could even use a theme or play off a special day.

    26. LlamaLawyer*

      When I remember and plan it well enough, I like to send client gifts around Thanksgiving with a note that I am thankful for the business/relationship. Being at the beginning of the holiday season/year end stuff makes you stand out more.

      1. T. Boone Pickens*

        Same here, I’m usually trying to send my thank you cards/client gifts the first week or second week of December.

    27. Cat Tree*

      Honestly, I love getting food gifts! If you want to make it more interesting, is there some kind of food or flavor that your local area is known for? That can be interesting even for people who live in the area. I used to live near Philadelphia and vendors would often send a soft pretzel tray to my workplace, which was always a big hit. I visited Albuquerque, New Mexico where pine nuts are big, and got some really interesting pine nut candy.

      Food can be tricky because of dietary restrictions and personal tastes. But if you avoid alcohol and meats (or at least pork) I think you will appeal to as many recipients as you would with a non-food gift.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Same, especially if the food is easy to share with others. It is very common during the holiday season for their to be all sorts of gift basket and food items up for grabs in the kitchen, and they are nearly always all taken/consumed/appreciated. Things that are individually packaged are helpful to alleviate COVID/cold/flu concerns, too.

        I would much rather get something like this that is sharable than an individual gift.

    28. mreasy*

      We usually give something consumable and personal that lasts – like locally made craft chocolate or locally roasted coffee – plus something tastefully branded and useful, like a well-made (not $4 from 4imprint) reusable travel mug or water bottle, collapsible grocery bag, etc. We general send all our recipients a google form that populates a spreadsheet asking for their shipping info (and whether they drink, if that is part of the gifting plan).

    29. You Can't Pronounce It*

      Depending on your client locations and budget, I used to work for a company on the receiving end of a lunch provided. The vendor reserved a room at a local restaurant for several hours and all clients were able to come and go as their schedule allowed for a lunch.

      I’ve also received a lunch delivered in the office for everyone, which was well received. It doesn’t have to be a fancy lunch. One delivered a bunch of cheeseburgers and fries, and another did Subway sandwiches. Both were equally appreciated.

    30. KatEnigma*

      Needed or not, people like to receive food. But it doesn’t have to be sweets. We had a Realtor that sent out year end food gifts- cheese spreads and charcuterie one year, popcorn another. The thing about food at that time of year is that people are often hosting, so can get rid of the food without necessarily eating it themselves.

      Having said that, one Realtor sends out magnetic calendars mid-August that have the schedule on them for the State professional and major university football teams. Our insurance agent also sends out those little calendars that prop up on cardboard that everyone used to send but now no one does. It’s useful to have a hard copy calendar still.

      And our current Realty group, in conjunction with their preferred Title group and closers, just holds events twice a year- one more adult, one family friendly. So over the summer they sponsored a movie outing (the latest Marvel movie) where they paid for the tickets and one popcorn and drink for everyone, plus they made up little bags with candy in it, plus branded keychain measuring tape, a credit card sized flashlight, and the ubiquitous hand sanitizer. The adult one this fall was at a local bar- appetizers and 2 drinks.

      1. Granger Chase*

        Seconding the little pop up calendars! One of our vendors sent us some last year that were made by a wildlife charity. All the funds went to the charity, and I got to look at a different cute woodland creature each month!

        Our logistics company also sends us the big vertical calendars that have four months on them at a time, which is helpful for our shipping & purchasing departments.

        1. Teapot Wrangler*

          Thirding. My final vendor who sent these has now given up and I am really missing having their (usually very attractive) desk calendar.

    31. A Pound of Obscure*

      If feasible, let the clients decide from a small number of options, such as in a Google poll or Microsoft Forms survey. For example: “We appreciate your business and would love to send a thank-you gift. Please let us know by [date] which of these options you or your staff would most enjoy.” (with two or three options, which could include a candy or wine basket, stainless steel water bottle, gift cards to a coffee chain, etc.) That way, if they really don’t want or need anything, they would just skip the survey.

    32. Hybrider*

      One of our vendors provided Branded desk calendars to us for several years and they were very popular. They were taken quicker then food.

      It helped that our company never provided calendars (except email calendars).

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yeah I was going to say, a branded or field-adjacent calendar is never the worst choice, and often there’s a page can be personalized like a card. The photos can be relevant to your field in some way (maybe not “blender of the month” but could be fancy cakes for a blender company), or pets, local landmarks, parks, whatever. Bonus, your client will be reminded of you every month, rather than only in a big pile of food over the holidays.

        1. Chief Bottle Washer*

          We used to do calendars with photos of our lovely local area. That stopped after the year we printed the wrong dates. Getting the dates right is kind of critical for a calendar.

      2. Antilles*

        There’s one equipment vendor in my field of engineering who gives all their clients big desk calendars – the ones where each page is a month and the individual “day” boxes are big enough to write in.
        The calendars always get snapped up quickly and half the staff will have them hanging on their walls / on the desk / whatever.
        It’s excellent marketing because they have their logo and contact information and etc prominently displayed on every page, so people get daily reminders that the company exists – and any time you’re thinking about renting some equipment, hey this vendor’s contact is right here…

    33. StillAnon*

      We did quality beach towels, throw blankets and Yeti mugs and they were all well received. Easy enough to regift if needed too.
      Starbucks cards were another one that went over well, same logic.

    34. Meghan R*

      My partners company did a weird gift card thing to a local grocery store. I say weird because it was like a certificate where they could only buy fruit, veg, or a turkey/ham, but not candy or other supplies. That said, it was still thoughtful, so maybe even a gift card to a local grocery store (especially nice given the rising price of groceries this year!).

    35. Intolerant/Allergic to food*

      As a person who has many intolerances to food, whether it be lactose, vegetables, tannins, etc. I am always down for a well intentioned gift card that is not food related. I could always use a cool mug, even pens.

      I remember my first year at my job, my supervisor gave me a gift card to panera bread and while she had no idea about me, there is nothing I could eat at panera bread that wouldn’t have me taking a sick day after I ate something. I appreciated the thoughtfulness and just left it as is, the following year, she gave us amazon gift cards.

    36. SometimesIComment*

      Hate to be an outlier here, but good gifts are not inclusive. People have allergies, food restrictions, religious diets. I hate when I get a gift of food or a restaurant gift card because I generally can’t use it.
      I’ll get behind the coffee/tea sampler as a good idea that is pretty, non-perishable, and reasonably inclusive. Fresh fruit is also pretty safe; most people even on restricted diets can have that.
      Otherwise, go with swag. If your baked goods end up in the trash, that’s somehow worse IMO than an extra mousepad of coffee mug.

      1. KatEnigma*

        You talk about not inclusive, and food restrictions, while you assume that everyone drinks coffee and tea?

        1. Em*

          I don’t drink coffee and rarely drink tea, but I do keep a selection of both for when I have folks over. I like being able to offer people their beverage of choice. I wouldn’t get personal USE out of a coffee or tea sampler pack, but I’d get pleasure from it.

          1. KatEnigma*

            And if I had a food allergy, I wouldn’t get personal use out of whatever it was they gave that I was allergic to, but at the end of the year, I host a lot of people and the food would get used that way, benefiting me in the end.

            1. Em*

              Sure, but coffee and tea tend to come in airtight packaging (so allergies not a worry) and “I don’t like this” isn’t the same level of need as “I have a religious taboo” or “this might cause medical problems.”

              1. No Perfect Gift*

                You realize that Mormons have a religious taboo against coffee and tea (and most that I know will not serve it to others any more than they’d consume it themselves), right?

    37. Bird Lady*

      I work for a museum. We usually print a card with an image from our collections and everyone signs it. Our vendors and our donors really love the exclusivity of the image. You can’t get the same card anywhere else!

    38. Rose*

      One year we were totally behind and didn’t get client gifts out. So we waited and sent Valentine’s Day gifts. In our industry this is appropriate, and they were not “romantic” gifts; we sent chocolates, hot sauce, and some other items made by small businesses in our “cool” city. Clients seemed to appreciate it – no one “needs” more chocolate/food in December, but it was a fun surprise to receive out of the blue a few months later.

    39. Anon-E-Mouse*

      Don’t give gift cards! I’ve worked in compliance and legal fields for a number of years and many company codes of conduct prohibit the receipt of cash or cash-like items such as gift cards, even for relatively small sums.

      1. higheredadmin*

        Yes! Gift cards are handled the same as cash, so if there is a restriction on receipt of cash (which is common) then we can’t receive gift cards either.

    40. WellRed*

      Is there anything special to your area? Hot sauce in Louisiana or maple syrup in Vermont? I’ve also enjoyed sets is salsas or mustard (stonewall kitchen) cause I’m not a big sweet eater though I loved the gift of individual different caramels. Also love the idea above of doing something at a different time of year. Make it your Thing. I know an Iowa company that did corn at harvest time.

    41. BatManDan*

      I’ll get a lot of pushback on this, since people are entrenched in their systems and beliefs, but there is a lot of research around this: food gifts aren’t nearly as effective as folks like to think, and the end of the year (when everyone ELSE is giving gifts) is a bad time to give a gift if you want to stand out in your customers’ minds. Also, anything with YOUR company logo on it isn’t a gift, and they know it . There is a great book by John Ruhlin, who has made a career on advising companies on the how/what/when to give gifts that matter, called “Giftology.” It’s worth reading if you are in a position to make or influence the decision about what sort of gifts (and when) your company gives.

    42. Q without U*

      The best giveaway I’ve ever gotten at a conference was luggage tags. They were customized for that conference with a distinctive graphic. The conference had under 2000 attendees, so the odds of someone else on any given flight having the same luggage tags is nil. It’s been years and I still use them every trip.

      1. Flying Fish*

        Oh that’s neat! Especially with a conference logo instead of a company.

        I work in healthcare, this would probably go over well!

    43. Ssssssssssssssssssss*

      I worked for a company where individuals could not accept gifts. A strict company policy. The dude who got a leather jacket was given a stern lecture.

      A gift of Lindt balls in a glass jar with a corporate logo for the entire team was okay.

      The vendor who gave us a very nice wine bottle set in a wooden box so that we could raffle it at the Xmas party was the best. If the vendor can donate to the Xmas party door prizes or charity auctions, you can get more creative and it might go to someone who really wants it (esp. if done by silent auction).

    44. NYWeasel*

      The one gift we all really appreciated was a vendor that sent us really nice notebooks/sketchbooks each year because even if you didn’t want it for yourself, it was something you could easily find a home for. But the other key thing was that they didn’t put their logo on the gift—the designs would be about creativity or inspiration—so it never felt like a cheap handout.

      1. NYWeasel*

        The lack of a logo really did more to advertise the vendor bc ppl would be like “Oh that’s a gorgeous notebook!” and we’d say “Yes, Smithco sent them to us!” and inevitably there would be a discussion around how it was a nice vendor gift and not what vendors usually sent.

    45. Employed Minion*

      A gift that is a representation of your region stands out more than something generic with the company logo. Bonus if its from a small company.

      We work with a vendor located in Lititz, Pa. Home of Wilbur Chocolates. They send a card with a pint container of wilbur buds every year. People go bonkers.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        Forget corporate gifts!

        I’m winding up with a whole bunch of browser windows open for stuff I want now:
        Rocketbooks, Leatherman Tools, Spice companies, and now Wilbur Chocolates LOL!

    46. Qwerty*

      Best client gift we received were large bags of Lindt dark chocolate truffles (the extra-dark ones with the black wrapper) They were given to people in management, but the result was these giant bags were put in the middle of the team space and rebranded as “for the team”. Plus they were delicious and I ate so many of them (once everyone else had their fill). It became fun for a while to bring a truffle with you when asking someone for help as a way of “tipping” them because we had so many.

      I like individually wrapped food. It makes it easy to share with other or to split up with a team. People can take their share home, regift, or eat immediately.

    47. Goldie*

      One of the nicest client appreciation gift I’ve ever gotten was a beautiful Christmas wreath. Perhaps that is something you could use?

      1. Maz*

        Not everyone celebrates Christmas. What if there staff members who are Jewish or Muslim or Sikh or another religion? Being in that situation myself, I appreciate the thoughtfulness of a Seasons Greetings card, but I would be very put off by being given a wreath.

      2. betsyohs*

        I love giving paper whites potted in pebbles in a glass vase/bowl as my generic gift to neighbors/teachers/etc. They would make the office beautiful for a little while, then can be composted without guilt. In my mind, a wreath is very Christmas, but paper whites just say winter, which feels more inclusive.

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          I think with this you really have to know your recipient. My mom would love the gift, and I give her plants all the time. I would not–I have a black thumb and can kill mint. Plus I have a cat that views many toxic things as edible. (Don’t get me wrong, I think they are beautiful, but in someone else’s house.)

      3. RLC*

        Last office I worked in, the building owner gifted each tenant office with a lovely seasonal plant for the holidays every year. No arguments over sharing a food gift or dietary concerns, and the plant did not have scented flowers. Plant was displayed on front desk and was invariably admired by staff and visitors. Owner and his wife delivered the plants in person and thanked us for being great tenants. In case anyone is wondering, the owner also maintained the building in great condition and was always responsive to our needs.

      1. Aitch Arr*

        A what now?

        Just looked on Am*zonia … so it monitors your water intake, plays music, and has dancing lights?

        What a world we live in.

    48. Generic+Name*

      I think the answer to “what do clients like” is very industry dependent and client dependent. I work in the environmental field and we have a lot of entry level/young field workers. One of our vendors gives the office a huge harry and David gift tower, and it’s always a hit. A good combo of sweet and savory treats, and I’ve eaten more than one lunch around the holidays that consisted solely of smoked salmon, cheese, crackers, and other goodies.

      1. NYWeasel*

        I love the H&D towers but have had bad luck the two years I was sent them bc the packages were put off to the side in the mailroom and by the time we got them, the fruit was going bad. With so many people working remote or hybrid remote it can be a challenge to get them the produce on time.

    49. Jessi*

      We send about 100 client gifts each year. We’re located in a rural area. Our goal is to support a locally made product and give a local business a boost with our order — we’ve done individual coffee packs, individually wrapped cookies, smaller bags of popcorn, cheese curds & buffalo jerky, lefse (a Norwegian soft bread) & cinnamon butter, and glass candles. We try to do things that can be distributed in an office, not necessary communal food. Our clients love the “buy local” angle and our neighboring businesses appreciate the large (for them) order.

    50. Ari*

      I’m seeing more and more companies just send a nice thank you/enjoy the holidays email. It’s cost-saving for them, gets the point across, and no one has to figure out what to do with another coffee mug/water bottle/keychain/etc. As an occasional recipient, I’m perfectly happy with the email myself.

    51. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

      As many people have said the biggest advantage to food is it doesn’t hang around. Mugs, Yeti tumblers, notebooks, and LED pens may be nice but there’s only so many a person needs. You don’t know if your clients have already bought themselves a Yeti tumbler, or got a nice mug as a gift from a friend, or got three fancy LED pens from three other vendors this year already.

    52. CeeKee*

      Really nice hand soap (like Aesop or Malin + Goetz). It’s useful and vaguely personal but not WEIRDLY personal, like body wash or something would be. If it’s a single-person client, the bottle can be just for them, but if it’s a small company, it’s something that can be used in the office. It’s not the best for scent-sensitive people, but if you happen to accidentally send it to someone in that category, it’s eminently re-giftable, so unlikely to go to waste.

    53. Emby*

      i know this is not generally applicable, but my financial planner’s team sends new year’s food presents to the clients, but to the ones they know are jewish, uses rosh hashana as the new year and sends honey, which we appreciate. (“we’re almost out of honey” “i know, but it’s almost rosh hashana–the financial planner honey is coming soon”). maybe find non-end-of-year times to send out something a little more specific, and cards in december?

    54. seahorsesarecute*

      This is different, because they aren’t delivering gifts to their clients, but there is a furniture store in my small town that is known for their customer appreciation gifts. Every year past customers get a letter to come in and get a bottle of wine (you can choose non alcoholic if you want) and then a couple of months later another letter to come in and get a block of cheese from the ‘good’ local dairy company. It’s great, and do I sometimes end up buying a new couch? Yup.

    55. DataQueen*

      we do items with a very very subtle company logo sewn into the visible tag, or something like that. this year we are doing aprons. We’ve done reusable silverware, canteens and thermoses, and knit beanie hats. I think a useful and organic looking item (responsible production is important these days) with a subtle company logo is perfect.

    56. Sunflower*

      The usual chocolates, cookies, chocolate covered pretzels, and popcorn are always good and can be shared with the staff.

      I also remember one client sending a box of individual bottles of olive oil. I think management either kept those for themselves or sent back due to the value since it wasn’t shared with those of us on the floor, but I thought that was a unique gift if within the value allowed.

    57. 867-5309*

      I think food is still a good option, especially if it’s the good stuff – Southern Baked Pie (the no ‘s’ on the end is important), crumbl cookies… You could send pizza for lunch one day…

    58. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      The notebooks (rocketbooks) hit a sweet spot.

      The great thing about food is that it’s consumable, as opposed to tchotchkes that just take up space and need to be thrown away at some point. And notebooks are kind of like food, in that they get used up – but they are also practical!

      I’d do some lateral thinking along those lines. Mini white boards that people can stick on their cube walls or refrigerators? Sticky notes in an unusual aspect ratio or size?

      1. OP #5*

        Oh, that’s a fun idea! I have a glass whiteboard type thing that sits on my desk, roughly 6in x 18in. It’s angled so it’s easy to write on and read and is great for quick notes. Funny enough I never even thought about it as an option until now!

    59. Lady A*

      Is there something niche your company provides? Can you send out small samples of said thing as a thank you gift?

    60. YouSoundLikeYourMother*

      Start with asking yourself – what would I want? will most people like it? Is it junk or useful or edible or re-giftable? I feel like things that fall into one or more of these categories are winners: small, local, useful, edible, disposable or regiftable. For general ideas, I am thinking:

      – candles, diffuses
      – food (even if you think people are cookied out :), what about popcorn, hot sauce, mulling spices, hot coco bombs, tea or coffee, local honey or maple syrup)
      – small plant like a succulent
      – small boardgame or deck of cards like phase 10 or similar
      – usb rechargable lighter (a bit odd, but in line with your Rocket book)

    61. Warrant Officer Georgiana Breakspear-Goldfinch*

      I love getting fruit baskets (whole fruit, like Harry & David pears, not the chocolate-dipped strawberry “bouquets”) or samplers of local honey or fancy salts. Fancy nuts, clearly labeled, have also been a hit with my coworkers.

    62. Iris Eyes*

      Whatever you decide, consider the remote work angle unless its completely inapplicable to your industry. Giving out employee addresses to vendors probably isn’t a great move but forwarding a bunch of packages all over the country could make your gift more of a burden.

    63. Interviewer*

      I’ve gotten appreciation gifts recently that are a twist on the fruit basket or box of chocolates – meal prep kits (without the monthly subscription). One was full of fresh fruits & veggies from a local farm. I used those to supplement my meals for the week and tried cooking a few new side dishes as well. The other one was from Lobstergram. It was a bit intimidating, but spouse & I did some googling to cook ourselves a really nice meal of lobster tails, shrimp and filet. Totally customizable offerings from both vendors, and very memorable.

      If you can find anyone who does charcuterie gifts – food, keepsake board and cheese knife – that’s a wildly popular thing in my office.

    64. Caryn*

      One year we all received lightweight fleece blankets from one of our vendors (branded with their company logo). I think they’re pretty inexpensive, and it’s actually so nice to have a cozy thing that you don’t really care about keeping nice — as an office blanket to put on your lap in the winter, leave in the car for emergencies, use as a picnic blanket, etc. I still use mine years later and I’m not at that company anymore!

    65. silly little public health worker*

      if there’s something useful and specific to your industry, that might be nice if you’re looking at, like, the token variety of gifts (i.e. water bottle or branded pen level). for example, i’ve worked with a pediatric practice, and we gave our durable ice packs and on-the-go first aid kits with our branding on them. parents LOVED them and it gave them something that had the office number on it that they were less likely to lose than, like, a business card or a magnet. it sounds like you’re in a very different space but perhaps you catch my general drift?

    66. Not Mindy*

      I recently had a fundraising garage sale and asked for donations. If there was a next time (there won’t be – ugh – never again) I would ask people not to donate branded mugs, water bottles, mouse pads, etc. Because there were a lot. Most of them looked brand new and they didn’t sell.
      I like the idea of consumables. I know, I know – they are not inclusive, but most everyone knows someone who will enjoy the tea/coffee/chocolate/honey/popcorn. But an e-card, or a hand signed printed card is more than enough.

    67. snarkfox*

      My financial planner gave out kitchen towels last year. Honestly feel like it was perfect. Cheap for them, practical for me.

    68. Rufus Bumblesplat*

      A local company sends out nice calendars each year. They were considering stopping them one year due to the cost, but after protest from their clients they decided to keep going, so it seems they’re very well received

      1. Maggie*

        Baker & Taylor, one of the major library book distributors, has a yearly Library Cats calendar. They know their audience! Employees from libraries all over the country send in photos of their cats, and then fight over the calendars when they come in. They also have “mascots” who are Scottish Fold cats named Baker & Taylor. (Who are not actually real cats, just stock photos.)

        1. RLC*

          The original mascots were real cats. This started back in the early 1980s when there were a pair of Scottish Fold cats named Baker and Taylor who lived at the Douglas County, Nevada (USA) public library. The publisher picked up on this for publicity and had various advertising items picturing the cats. I had a shopping bag and a poster with the original Baker and Taylor photo on it.

    69. Persephone Mulberry*

      I work in exporting/supply chain, and we have a couple vendors who send stacks of (heavily branded) wall calendars that show three months at a time. People wait with bated breath for them to show up every year, and fight over them if there aren’t enough to go around.

    70. Rain's Small Hands*

      I’m not a huge gift person, but something that is usable and easily lost or used up. I’m thinking charging cables and USB adapters and batteries for chargeable devices. Pens (but decent ones) and highlighters.

    71. Fernie*

      I was recently impressed when, for a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion lunch-and-learn, my company made a point of getting food catered from a local minority-owned restaurant. If your company also has DE&I goals, what about that same approach to client gifts – source something from a local, minority-owned business?

      1. OP #5*

        This is a great consideration! Add in the middle of the year time-table others have commented too and it becomes and extra win on all sides.

    72. Relentlessly Socratic*

      I think it’s important to keep in mind whether the workforce you’d be gifting is in-office or remote. Things a home-based worker probably doesn’t need includes: tchotchkies (don’t try to decorate a stranger’s home), wall art, yetanothermug, yetanotherinsulatedmug, thumb drives, gift cards to a local place (to the company) when the employee may live across the country. I live in a very tiny space, so I personally prefer consumables, but honestly, just a nice e-card is fine!

      More generally, depending on industry, gifts may not be allowable at all or must be under a specific dollar amount. Individuals working for branches of US federal, state, or local government may not be able to accept anything. Teachers working in the public school system for the state I live in can’t accept … it’s either anything over $25 USD or nothing at all (I can’t remember since I separated from state employment about a decade ago).

      It’s a challenge! As mentioned elsewhere in this thread, this is probably why we all get lots of popcorn.

    73. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      My favorite gift from my employer (outside of money or time off) was a lap blanket with our agency logo on it made out of really soft sweatshirt material. And I think most of my colleagues agreed! Mine is used to cover a portion of the leather couch so that my dog can sit up there and chew his chew bones, which can cause a mess, but I can pop the blanket in the washing machine and spare the couch!

      It was a pretty simple and straightforward gift, not electronics or anything like that, but it was definitely the most popular!

    74. learnedthehardway*

      If I were a business client, I would probably have concerns about the ethics / optics of accepting a gift from a customer – would my manager think I am giving preferential pricing to a client because they give me gifts, etc.

      You might want to roll your gift budget into something that is not an obvious gift – eg. volume discounts or even branded company swag

      1. Maggie*

        I worked for a municipal office, and we weren’t allowed to accept gifts worth more than $20. A few vendors got around it by sending small gifts to each person in the department, but it was a contractor we worked with daily. But usually the small box of chocolate would have to be divided up between the 20-30 people in the department.

    75. Miss Muffet*

      Won’t need work this year but maybe in future years you change your client appreciation month to like, May? Before everyone is taking all the vacations but far enough away from year-end that a basketful of treats might be a lovely thing since there won’t be 400 of them already being sent to the office. Maybe you can tag it to your org’s anniversary or something instead of Year End/Holidays.

    76. KTinDC*

      Ha, this reminds me of a story my dad and his siblings tell. My grandfather was a logistics manager for Seagrams for most of his career. Every Easter, he would be sent a ham…by every trucking company he worked with. He worked with a LOT of companies, and received a lot of hams. Even assuming that he distributed some to others (not a given; if there’s one thing Grandpa loved, it was saving a buck) it meant that my dad’s family ate basically nothing but ham for months after Easter every year. They’re still salty about it, some 50-60 years later.

      1. OP #5*

        Love this story! I picture a freezer full of hams that some child or grandchild tries to go through and toss the oldest ones but grandpa won’t allow it and family drama over who got the best/biggest ham of the year. But maybe that’s just my family?

      2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        One year my mother got smoked salmon from multiple vendors. A local fishing charter had run a special “go fishing and then have the fish smoked as gifts for your clients” promotion, I think, because it was definitely all fish they’d caught themselves rather than the usual gift packages. (Not sure if some of the clients had also been invited on the fishing trip – my mom didn’t enjoy ocean fishing much having done enough time on boats growing up so wouldn’t have gone.)

        We had a month or so of really delicious smoked salmon breakfasts that year.

    77. giftidea*

      Hits in our office (as a recipient of client gifts) are gourmet popcorn, boxes of steaks (Omaha steaks, for example), and wine. Obviously that won’t appeal to everyone, but the majority of people in our department love it.

    78. Teapot Wrangler*

      I like consumables as a client – chocolates, alcohol etc. Really nice notebooks and pens too. Or take them out for a meal – feels more personal that way.

      What I’ve not really rated is being sent a link to a website where you can choose your own (slightly sad) gift e.g. socks or a stress ball or similar random thing

      1. OP #5*

        We did choose your own snack boxes for an employee thank you and it was well received. The options were too far on the “untraditional” side for some folks but I think it all comes back down to personal preferences and nothing is universally liked (except maybe cash!).

    79. Hillary*

      Over the years, the only ones I’ve kept have been the nice cooler bags, really nice water bottles (yeti or equivalent), and the industry-themed toys or fun ornaments. One vendor does custom snowglobes every other year. Everything else gets redistributed.

      Good chocolate is traditional for a reason – many people like it and it’s easy to share. The first box of good chocolate we get usually goes to the AP department since no one sends them anything. Harry & David is another one that’s always popular, the fruit goes quickly in the break room, but you have to know they’re actually going to the office and there are more people there too.

      Other times of year, we have one vendor that sends king cake for mardi gras. Another one sends kringles pastries. The most popular (but I wouldn’t recommend) is the company that gives out Amish bacon every Christmas because the owner knows the farmer. The meat eaters love it but it’s painful for sales to deal with.

      1. OP #5*

        They are great! I love the colored pens too. Pilot Frixion makes some various options as do others on the internet/Amazon I’m sure. The markers don’t work as great, though, I don’t find the color to be strong enough to read.

    80. Maggie*

      A vendor sent my office a few bags of good ground coffee from a local cafe, as well as reusable Keurig cups to use with it. Supporting local businesses, free coffee and environmentally friendly solution to single-cup brewing all in one gift!

    81. Kyrielle*

      One option is to go back to food, but *not* “cookies, candy, and sugar”. Send a savory treat (meat and cheese basket?) or fruits (basic fruit, Harry & David style presentations, or something more like Edible Arrangements).

      They won’t be universally loved either, but at least they won’t be vanishing in an identical pile of even-my-sweet-tooth-is-tired.

    82. Regular Human Accountant*

      #5: One company I worked with sent Girl Scout cookies to all their clients during cookie season. It avoided the “what holiday do they celebrate” question, came at a time when no one else was sending gifts so they stood out, and nearly everyone loves Girl Scout cookies!

    83. Third or Nothing!*

      My old company used to receive tons of client appreciation gifts. It was usually sweets, but occasionally we would get savory stuff, and let me tell you that always was the first to disappear! Like Alison said, by the end of December most of us are tired of sweets, so the savory treats were a welcome sight.

      I remember getting live wreaths sometimes too, and most people enjoyed them because they smell so nice. I’m allergic though, and they always hung up the wreath right next to my desk. So I was not a fan.

    84. Ata*

      My partner’s realtor has sent him appreciation gifts over the year since he purchased his place, and they have varied from mildly useful to absolutely pointless.
      a) Monogrammed (with his initial, not a logo) door mat: good one, useful because we didn’t already have one
      b) Monogrammed (again for us) cutting/cheese board: we don’t use it, but theoretically it’s nice for entertaining
      c) Monogrammed coasters: Good quality, nice, not really used because we don’t need them
      d) A decorative metal paperweight-type thing that is shaped like “home” written in cursive: I hate this thing and don’t know why will still have it, but sometimes I joke about hitting an intruder in the head with it.
      e) The cheapest snack pack I’ve ever seen in my life: not worth the cost of shipping and packaging.

      Honestly, I could have gone without every single one of these, even though we use some of them. We are trying to have less clutter in our tiny place and I don’t want a business contact increasing the stuff we have. Everyone is going to have different tastes on what is useful, and if they think it’s useful they might already own it. Food, while maybe not a perfect solution, is a much better option as long as you pick out something decently nice. Maybe coffee and tea if you want to avoid sweets? Gift cards seem like a pretty complex option.

    85. Candy*

      This year my company is going with an annual membership to a local (tangentially industry-related) museum

    86. OP #5*

      Thank you so much for all the feedback, ideas, and suggestions. I’m reading through all of them and will try to comment best I can.

    87. Betsy S*

      When I worked in a small place, I loved getting cards for a high-end coffee chain. Got us a week of good coffee at the office. Next job had better coffee , but folks loved having donuts.

      A card lets you buy the treats after the holiday sugar rush has passed.

      To me the ideal is non-perishable, shareable food , with a mix of savory and sweet, that does not contain alcohol or pork. Chocolate and nuts are popular for a reason! Fruit is great if you know people are in the office and will get it in a timely manner. If there’s too much fruit people can always share and take home.

      (worst gift: prepared fruit bites on sticks. They are fun but have to be eaten within a few hours)

      1. Betsy S*

        (and having written that I’m now thinking about nut allergies, so maybe something without nuts could also be good)

    88. KN*

      I think this was mentioned in another comment section on this topic, but if you do end up coming back to food, SnackMagic’s build-your-own is a fun option that lets people pick treats to their taste, including some non-food ones. (I don’t work for them, just really enjoyed getting a box as part of a virtual conference.)

      Personally I’d rather have pretty much any consumable (even in the non-food sense, although I’m not sure what that could be–hand soap or something?) over something with a vendor’s logo that I felt obligated to keep!

    89. Just Courtney*

      Huge fan of gift cards for client gifts. Our realtor does ⭐bucks. Another local realty group does local coffee shop. A law firm I’m familiar with does Downtown Business Association gift cards (restaurants, retail, and attractions are all available in our downtown and this gift card can be used at any of them).

    90. Lisa Babs*

      After reading all of the letters my mind couldn’t help but go “OP #5 should get white noise machines and I hope OP #3 is one of his customers”. Which started as a joke in my mind. BUT if a vendor did send me/my office a white noise machine, I would definitely use it.

    91. Faith the twilight slayer*

      As an employee of clients and of gift givers, I just want to point out:

      Things like mugs or briefcases or nice jackets got gobbled up by executives. We, the workers, usually wound up with popcorn tins that had already been through executive hands, or stuff like branded pens (which, honestly: I own enough GD pens). The worst part was that all those gifts sat at reception long enough for us to see the cool things we wouldn’t be getting.

      One year we were mass emailed a list of everything that “the company” was sending to clients – multiple clients, at least 30. There were gift boxes and fruit boxes that were extravagant, over $100 each. $3000 given to clients. The 9 of us in the office were really looking forward to the company holiday party, thinking if they are spending that much on gifts, certainly employees would be getting something special. What we got was a potluck with the company willing to spend $50 max on a main dish. There were almost riots. Resentment hung around for months.

      What I am saying is, please think about what those client gifts cost, and maybe what that money could do for your employees instead. Giant corporations could care less if you send them candied apples.

    92. CLC*

      These are the reasons everyone gives at my company because you can’t argue with them. And managers really don’t have any power. The can recommend people for promotions, but then VPs negotiate over whose team gets more of the promotion budget. If performance is an issue it’s not on the table in the first place.

    93. Ariel*

      I’ve done tons of client gifts as an EA. If you and your clients live in the same locale than something from a small, local business is always a good idea (i.e. a restaurant, florist, stationary shop, book store, etc) because it shows you care about your nearby business owners and so often small businesses are overlooked for this type of thing. Another idea, for clients far and wide, is a personally curated gift basket with local products or products showcasing some of your new clients (i.e. a snack, a bottle of liquor or a case of beer, cool glassware, a fun puzzle). So many people just send wine or a notebook so I think something local or personal is always a good touch. Try to imagine the gifts you’ve received over the years in a business context and try to find something totally different than that. The aim is to be memorable without being annoying!

    94. CindiLouWho*

      I love the idea of a little new year gift box delivered after the December holidays. It could include a desk or wall calendar, a Moleskin-type journal/notebook, a nice pen and a few refills, a mechanical pencil with replacement lead, post-it notes and sticky tabs in different sizes, a pocket planner/calendar, paperclips in fun brand-related shapes or colors, etc. Something for everyone, works for remote or in-office, and everyone could swap and trade components if they wanted to. This is such a great thread!

    95. Anon-Always*

      Our office is big on philanthropy, and client gifts from our business/revenue division are always a product purchased from a non-profit that sell a high-quality product with in-house production, packaging, and shipping which gives their clients work experience and a paycheck. Think Women’s Bean Project that sells dried beans and cornbread mixes for soups/breads, Thistle Farms sells botanical self-care sets (also an Oprah Favorite), there’s a place in Bellevue WA that’s a non-profit that sells really good coffee. Those are just a few and we always mention that their gift also supported X cause.

    96. Miette*

      One of my long term vendors has taken to sourcing artisanal items from local producers–things like small jars of honey, baked goods, chocolates, teas, coffee–and sending them directly to our homes (thanks to Covid). Sometimes there’s a theme, sometimes not, but they are always thoughtfully put together, and I always love the idea of a small business getting both the purchases and the wider exposure.

      Another vendor does an annual charity event–think all staffers working to cleanup a park or at a food bank–and sends gifts related to the project as well as putting the donation in the recipients’ names. One year, their male staffers participated in a beard-growing challenge for charity, and sent out fake beards on sticks so we clients could pose with them and post photos of our support on social media. The person who sported the most “length” got to choose which charity received the donation that year. It was a lot of fun.

  1. GiraffeGirl*

    To LW #4, I agree with Alison. Your reasons for not wanting to do AI editing are all good ones. Especially the 3rd one. I too think that all this AI stuff is very likely to end in some sort of dystopian horror scenario. You can’t just ignore the warnings coming from great minds like Stephen Hawking. But I digress.

    1. Nobby Nobbs*

      Personally, I’m more worried about the dystopian outcomes we’re already seeing, like AIs magnifying and perpetuating the human biases they’re trained on or being used as tool in the same human bullshit we’ve been pulling all along without them than AM or Skynet or Lore, but that’s probably just pedantic hair-splitting when the end result is the same.

    2. High Score!*

      As a programmer/engineer, AI is terrifying. IDK Y humanity wants to destroy itself so badly. Despite the hype, it’s not that AI will be sentient – not as it is today anyway – but that it’s a poor copy of human effort and has power to do much damage.
      That said, if you don’t edit the crap then you’re giving the job to someone who will. Sooooo do it BUT raise your rates. If they’re getting more to spew the crap then you should get more to fix it.

      1. KHB*

        I’m a writer, and AI-written copy drives me to despair. It’s bad enough that employers and clients rarely understand that good writing about a complex topic takes time and is worth money (because you’re paying me not just to write, but to understand what the hell I’m writing about) – and now there are more and more of these gobbledygook articles that look like somebody threw a dictionary in a blender.

        I’d charge writer’s rates for editing AI-written copy: whatever it would cost to write a piece of that length totally from scratch. Because it sounds like that’s basically what you’re doing.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I think this is the best bet – charge a higher rate for AI created content. After all, it does sound that you are spending more time editing the AI created content, so a higher rate makes sense.

      2. snarkfox*

        ooh someone please write a dystopian horror novel or film where AI isn’t sentient but has replaced all jobs, even creative ones.

        1. Coder von Frankenstein*

          Roald Dahl, “The Great Electronic Grammisator.”

          Ever since I got a look at what large language models (the AI “writers”) can do, that story haunts me. We aren’t there yet, but it would only take one or two more major breakthroughs to reach that point.

      1. Student*

        It stands for artificial intelligence. In this use, they mean “machine learning” and not actually “artificial intelligence” in a technical sense, but many people outside the field use these words interchangeably. Machine learning refers to a field of algorithm development that, in a nutshell, tries to get computers to do well on predictive tasks that are normally very difficult to program.

        For example, think about the task of looking at a photo to determine whether it’s a picture of a bird or not. A typical toddler can do this well. An adult can do it very well. Some adults with a little extra knowledge about birds can also identify the type of bird in the photo and maybe identify its behaviors. You can fool the humans with really bad pictures of birds, but if the photo has reasonable quality it’s just not a hard task.

        For decades, it was considered near-impossible to program a computer to do this task. It’s very difficult to define a photo of a bird in mathematical terms, account for all the possible different angles of the photo, account for all the different styles of birds, etc.

        Then, machine learning was developed as new kind of algorithm. Instead of trying to fully define a bird mathematically, the idea is to teach the computer the same way we teach that toddler what a bird is. In this case, you do a lot of back-end work to create a pretend, empty digital “brain” (which is not in any way comparable to a human brain – probably more simple than a bug’s brain). Then you give the computer a lot of photos with different kinds of birds, and some photos without birds. This is called a learning data set, and you need to make sure this learning photo set is clearly and accurately labeled with which photos are birds and which are not birds. You can also label it with the types of birds, bird behavior, etc. if you want the software to learn that information, too.

        If you’ve done the job right, and the software pretend “brain” is well-designed, then you can start giving the software photos that are not labeled, ask it whether there is a bird in the photo, and then get a correct response. It’s a big deal for software writers because it means they can program software to do tasks that were once impossible.

        For writing, the basic idea is the same. You give the software lots of examples of writing, and a couple of pieces of information you want it to write about. The software will then try to imitate the writing style and grammar that it’s seen before, incorporating the bits of info you told it that you want. However, it’s a lot harder to give the software good, relevant examples of writing to learn from, so it’s usually not nearly as good at imitating writing as it is at identifying bird photos. Software also doesn’t really “understand” the writing, or the concept of telling the truth when you write. It may make strange word choices, depending on the writing that you used to teach it. When it’s been given two or more pieces of conflicting info, it’ll just pick one to use instead of trying to figure out which info is correct.

        All of this is complicated by the need to give the software a good, relevant training set. If you train it on information that isn’t relevant, info that is wrong or biased, or information that is not broad enough, the software will do badly. For example, if you only give the software pictures of robins and sparrows to learn from when you teach it about birds, it’ll probably struggle to identify a quail or an ostrich as a bird. If you teach it to identify photos of doctors, but almost all your training pictures of doctors are of older white men, then it won’t do well at identifying young people, women, or people of color as doctors. The software doesn’t know you’re supposed to look for a white lab coat and a stethoscope to find a doctor, only that it’s supposed to look for similar photos to the ones you provided. If you teach it to write from publicly available tweets, then all of its writing will look and feel like a tweet – it won’t know how to write paragraphs or essays or news articles.

        1. Kate*

          great explanation, only wanted to add that there’s often unintended consequences of unexamined bias in creating the reference set.

          E.g. Amazon, tried to use AI/ML to better select for resumes of (iirc) computer programming candidates who will be successful by feeding it the resumes of people who have been successful in the role to date. But when examining the results they realized that the computer was removing all resumes with a female name… because there were no successful women in the initial data set…

          other examples include using mugshots to train an AI on potential criminals, and ending up with it wrongly assuming that more POC will be criminal because they are over-represented already in arrests…

          By not examining the biases that go into the initial training set, and not determining what a complete population is, using these types of computer processes to determine employment, incarceration, etc. is concerning at best. Particularly since they will be sold by sales guys who don’t really understand the limitations to people who believe in what they’re sold.

        2. Aziraphale the Cat*

          Thank you for taking time to write out a very clear explanation of a complicated concept!

        3. Executive Whimsy*

          This explanation is really clear and informative, and I say that as a person who already “sort of“ understood what is meant by AI writing.

          Hopefully that means we can be sure you’re an actual human.

    3. Pied Piper*

      Nothing to add, really, but awesome shout out to one of my favorite writers, Harlan Ellison, LW4!!!!!

    4. snarkfox*

      Absolutely! As a writer, I find the idea of AI generated content horrifying! I totally understand why OP wouldn’t want to help out with something intending to replace writers. And I fervently hope AI never reaches the stage where it can replies human writers!

      1. Ava*

        If AI is able to fully replace the work of we’ve got much bigger problems on our hands. AI won’t be a complete replacement until or unless AI is capable of nuanced understanding of the physical world, creativity, synthesis of new ideas, and critical thinking, at which point they’re is probably much more to be concerned about than who is doing copyediting

        1. Boof*

          My theory is that AI is to content what photographs and various recording devices were to the visual arts a century or so ago (century and a half?). It’s just another tool, and when people use the tool inappropriately, it is VERY ANNOYING and sometimes misleading (accidentally or on purpose).
          Mostly right now it’s in this uncanny valley territory which on the one hand is close enough that it takes a moment to figure out something is off, but it’s usually not very satisfying to read, because it is indeed empty. Unless a lot of time is spent tweaking it in which case it’s just a glorified template.

          1. Boof*

            I also doubt it will steal our soul, or cause our demise, any more than photography or TV or video games have. Which I’m sure some would retort with “how do you know they didn’t” XD

            1. zaracat*

              In a sense though, photographing someone really does steal their soul … in an era where facial recognition is used to unlock devices or otherwise authenticate ID, taking a photo which is sufficiently detailed to falsify an identification is in effect stealing their identity/essence/soul. Same goes for ancient beliefs that stealing a lock of hair or knowing someone’s “true name” gives you power over them – now has a basis in reality because of modern tech including DNA profiling and digital data matching.

          2. Av*

            Yea that’s actually my view as well, psychically regarding art
            Like for sure some specific jobs will be very heavily affected by this, which is unfortunate and i understand why they’re frustrated, but by no means are we about to replace the concept of art.

  2. nnn*

    I propose a small scripting adjustment for #2: mention that you’re zooming in to get a better look at the cats, rather than leaving room for the interpretation that you’re stalking the cat photos looking for clues.

    Something like “When I zoomed in to get a better look at Mr. Mittens sticking out his tongue, I realized I could also read what’s on the screen!”

    1. Bayta Darrell*

      Yeah, that helps it look like you stumbled on it, not that you were snooping or scrutinizing the photo. Also, it may feel more natural to wait until it happens again vs. bringing it up out of the blue.

    2. Expiring Cat Memes*

      I think lying about it would make it even weirder. Cover lies are usually pretty transparent and more likely to make them come across as stalkerish.

      There’s nothing shameful that OP needs to cover up here, they happened to notice the info was legible and they’re letting their coworker know. That’s it.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        I think she should just say it’s legible behind the cat, without using the words “zooming in” at all. Just avoid even raising the specter of that.

        1. Myrin*

          Yeah, as someone from a long line of “I could’ve avoided this topic entirely if I’d just kept my stupid big mouth shut”-people I was also gonna suggest, as soon as I saw Alison’s script, to not mention the zooming in at all.

          1. Sloanicota*

            I admit, the fact that OP apparently opens and zooms in on multiple photos from this admin struck me as a bit off. I agree mention it, but definitely don’t give all these examples. The admin is probably thinking sending cat photos to an internal slack is fine because they’re going to glance briefly at the cat and move on with all their work.

            1. That One Person*

              People love animals, but people are also curious and not necessarily in a malicious way. I would zoom to better adore a pair of murder mittens or kitty face (blep or no blep), and would likely end up looking at the background as well. Not everyone’s conscious of that though and because I know I do it I tend to avoid getting my in-game chats in pictures of my kitty if I can help it – people can enjoy seeing my character without me having to explain whatever we were talking about potentially behind my little tigress.

                1. That One Person*

                  Absolutely! It’s great when a picture’s particularly detailed to the point you can see the fur clearly because then it feels almost like you can pet them. Might be biased with mine though.

            2. Everything Bagel*

              Please, there’s nothing strange about zooming in to look at a photo of a cat. Someone using a large monitor may not need to zoom in too much to see details anyway.

              1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

                I agree. I do it all the time. In fact, I often zoom in on the photos Alison posts of her cats on this site, just to get a better look at the details of their markings and such!

            3. Kevin Sours*

              Why? There is nothing especially weird with seeing a computer screen and thinking “I wonder if it’s legible”. Poking these things is how a lot of security holes get found. This isn’t rifling through somebody’s desk, it’s examining something shared freely. And worse people than the OP might very well do the same.

              “The admin is probably thinking sending cat photos to an internal slack is fine because they’re going to glance briefly at the cat and move on with all their work”

              I’m sure that’s what they were thinking. And *that* *is* *the* *problem*.

              1. Elsajeni*

                If anything, it’s a courtesy to point it out! I know a lot of people who have posted a pet photo on Twitter, only to delete and re-post a censored version because a follower replied “so cute! but did you know you can read your phone number on his tag?” or something like that. With work info rather than personal info, I would maybe be a little extra-careful to make the tone helpful/sympathetic, since there’s some risk of it coming off as scolding them for carelessness — but I don’t think it’s at all weird to say “hey I noticed something private/personal/identifying in the background of this photo, did you mean to post that?”

            4. Ella Kate (UK)*

              Depending on the software, you can often open the image and its at the original size, where things are clearly legible.

              For example I had to tell a friend to pull her cat picture on Discord because if you opened it in a web browser (which is an option in the Discord desktop client) to see what kitty was holding, it was the original size from her phone camera and her paperwork under her cat was easily legible. I’m pretty sure she didn’t want everyone reading her personal information!

            1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

              I’m kind of tempted to cite the story of the Egyptian Midwives as an example of why lying at work isn’t always wrong, but a Bible story would take us too far afield.

        1. Ariaflame*

          Wow CharlieBrown, it must be really really hard to navigate life with such total honesty. Most of us use some prevarication just to get through without hurting people’s feelings over something that doesn’t matter.

          1. Raw Flour*

            Why do you feel that a too-broad statement deserves the level of vitriol in your sarcasm? I don’t think lying at work is always bad; unless it’s malicious, it *usually* isn’t bad. However, I understand why some folks’ sense of integrity extends to never lying at work.

      2. nnn*

        I didn’t think that would be a lie – I was thinking that must have been why OP was zooming in in the first place

        1. Expiring Cat Memes*

          Oh! The sincerity of this made me chuckle – I take for granted how feline-friendly the AAM commentariat is! :) Of course, if you’re with other cat lovers that’s obvious. But in other situations trying to explain it away like that might sound like you’re scrabbling for an excuse as to why you were examining the pictures so closely.

    3. Jaydee*

      I wouldn’t even mention zooming in. Just say you can tell there’s stuff open on her screen and that your friend [that’s me] who works with confidential information has gotten you really attuned to the risk of accidentally sharing something you shouldn’t in the background of a desk cat picture. So she might want to minimize windows or let her monitor lock or go to sleep before taking pictures.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        Yep – in fact, I did some security training that mentioned specifically that you should be aware of the background information you have in photos you post online, and also make sure there’s nothing confidential in your background when you are doing video calls. This was reinforced to me when someone was able to read a whiteboard behind me that I could have sworn was at such an angle as to make reading it impossible.

        Even if the OP wouldn’t mine that info, other people would.

    4. fhqwhgads*

      Or just leave the zoom bit out entirely and state that it’s visible. Depending on the resolution of the photo and how you’re opening it, that stuff might initially open huge and not need zooming anyway.

    5. Chaordic One*

      I work from home for a government agency and this kind of thing is a fireable offense. Even if they did it unintentionally, revealing personal identifiable information about either a co-worker or a client is a big deal. Even if nothing bad happens as a result of it, you should be upset about it and say something to the employee and her supervisors. Your co-worker needs to stop this immediately.

  3. Translator*

    I strongly encourage anyone who finds working with AI difficult or unpleasant to refuse to do so and, if refusing the job isn’t feasible for you, to charge them a premium for the extra bother.

    They might try to sneak it in if you charge a premium, so I’d include a clause in your agreement to the effect that you can’t guarantee quality if they give you AI generated text without informing you. (And then edit it as though you can trust it like human-produced text.)

    As a translator, I sometimes get requests to post-edit AI translation output, and it’s harder than translating the text myself! (Pro tip: it’s only helpful if you can’t read the source language – and, of course, any competent translator can read the source language). It’s like a game of Where’s Waldo with an unknown number of Waldos on the page and no answer key.

    Tools are there to serve us, not vice versa. And we really need to disrupt this unfortunate trend of using AI for everything even when it’s the wrong tool for the job. It’s like if your client insisted you use a Robertson screwdriver even though the task at hand is loosening a Phillips screw. Or unclogging a toilet. Or writing a poem.

    1. raincoaster*

      Exactly. Someone might use AI to generate a portrait of her family, but you can be plenty sure they won’t be hanging that above the fireplace. Have you SEEN those things?

      1. Riot Grrrl*

        You’ve seen the bad AI-generated art, of which there is an avalanche out there. But trust me, you’ve also already seen the good AI-generated art. You just didn’t know that’s what you were looking at.

    2. Cielingfritter*

      I’ve translated texts as well, but ’correcting’ an AI translation is usually double the work. So I’ve always stated ”proofreading machine translated texts is 3x the normal fee”. Depending on the language, but some pairings don’t do well at all with AI.

      And it is really sad as I would say proofread a menu for a free meal rather than see anyone making expensive signange and then be ridiculed. Just because you can google-translate doesn’t mean you necessarily should.

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

        I am not an editor or translator, but this was my thought as well. “Editing” an AI-generated text sounds a lot closer to “(re)writing it all yourself” than normal editing or translating.

      2. Ridger*

        I taught translation before I retired. One term a student turned in first drafts generated by a translation program her office was working on. The texts were op-eds written by elegant, high-level writers. The first drafts were absolutely incoherent to anyone who hadn’t read the original, and nearly so to anyone who had. I complained, by I wasn’t allowed to tell her this wasn’t my job. And it wasn’t a graded class, so I couldn’t even fail her (though to be fair she always took the offer of a third try).

        The translation algorithms used by Google Translate and whatever FB is currently using can’t handle Slavic languages at all.

    3. Oska*

      I used to work as a translator, and the influx of AI generated work has given me flashbacks to proofreading machine translated text.

      The basic steps to translating a sentence normally:
      1) Read source text sentence
      2) Formulate a translation in your head
      2b) Look up terminology if needed
      3) Write it down
      4) Read through it quickly to catch typos
      5) Re-read later in context of the full text to ensure that the text flow is good, polish as needed

      The steps to proofreading a machine translation:
      1) Read source text sentence (if you even get it)
      2) Read translation
      2b) Try to figure out what the heck it means if you don’t have the source text
      3) Consider if any parts of the machine translation is salvageable
      4) Change some words
      5) Change the order of some words
      6) Attempt to translate the bits that are completely wrong, if you can even tell what’s right (see 2b)
      7) Read the sentence and realise that it’s a terrible sentence
      8) Write a new translation from scratch (see steps 1-5 in the first part, or 2-5 if no source)
      9) Repeat until you cry (probably about 5 sentences in)

    4. inko*

      I’m also a translator and I refuse to take jobs that involve fixing AI translations. It’s more work than translating from scratch and clients expect to pay proofreading rates for it. Nope nope nope.

    5. allathian*

      I’m also a translator and I thank my lucky stars that I don’t have to work with machine translations or AI-generated text. At least not yet.

      1. Video killed the radio star*

        Also a translator (how many of us are there?) and I refuse to do MTPE (machine translation post editing, for those not in the know). Or I charge as much or more as I would for a normal translation. It’s just so much easier to translate a nice, well structured sentence from scratch than it is to fix whatever mess the AI has made…

        1. Sloanicota*

          Oh man, you’re really making me think here. Like many nonprofits, we want Spanish-language translations of our materials, and we have a Spanish-speaking staff person but that isn’t their main role, so my boss always mentions that we should run the text through google translate first and then ask this staff person to look it over, out of deference for his limited time. This conversation is really making me wonder if that’s just making more work for him. He may not want to bring it up so I’m going to check in.

          1. Pippa K*

            I’m not a translator, but I do sometimes need to translate things for various purposes, and at least in my experience Google Translate does a better job with Spanish than with, say, Arabic, for which it sometimes produces straight-up gibberish. It’s gotten better in recent years, but I still wouldn’t feed it a block of text and expect good results. (Although when I need just a word or two of Arabic text and don’t have an Arabic keyboard, I generate it in Google Translate, which is handy.)

          2. Observer*

            Like many nonprofits, we want Spanish-language translations of our materials, and we have a Spanish-speaking staff person but that isn’t their main role, so my boss always mentions that we should run the text through google translate first and then ask this staff person to look it over, out of deference for his limited time

            Find a polite way to tell your boss to stop wasting time and money. And also to stop putting your organization at risk by creating materials that make you look bad.

            Translation is a SKILL that is about more than just knowing two languages. Having some random person be your translator means that your translations are likely to be poorly done. This is especially true if the materials are about subjects that your staff person is not highly familiar with. eg Your staff person is your receptionist, and you have information sheets on accessing tax help in complicated situations.

    6. Jamjari*

      Charging a premium is what I’d suggest, and explain to the client why – the AI-generated text is so poor it takes longer to edit than it would to write it from scratch. Companies using this are doing it because they expect it to be cheaper.

      But, for what it’s worth, we’re all training the AI right now.

      1. Education Mike*

        THIS! And be very explicit about why. I’m dealing with this right now (not actually AI, that I know if, just my boss hired the words worst copy team.)

        I was very very clear that I’m going to be billing triple the hours (and not just eat the work as I’m sure they hoped) for a project because editing nonsense full of typos and inaccuracies is genuinely time consuming. Then suddenly the company who we absolutely could not fire was fired.

    7. I am Emily's failing memory*

      I’ve come across a phenomenon in the last couple of years of websites that I believe create content solely by running someone else’s content created through machine translator into another language, and then back into English.

      The way I’ve come across them is when they get pulled into the “suggested stories” that appear every time I open a blank Chrome tab on my phone, tailored to my interests. There was one site in particular I was suggested multiple times for video game industry news, and each time the story was filled with word salad that didn’t make any sense.

      Finally after a couple times of getting one of these weird nonsense articles, I noticed some tiny print at the bottom citing and linking to the “original source,” click through, and I could immediately see what had happened. Here was the original content written by a human that actually made sense, and the version I’d been reading had substituted a bunch of words and phrases for synonyms that completely changed – or more accurately, obliterated – the meaning of the sentence, and it was very obvious when comparing the two side by side.

      I assume the purpose is to change enough words into their synonyms and alters enough grammatical structure that… I don’t know, they think it’s not technically plagiarism, or think it avoids being flagged by a search engine as duplicating content that already exists?? Then they must SEO the hell out of the pages, because they fooled Google’s news robot into thinking their version of the story was the better option to suggest to me than the original.

      1. Mianaai*

        Yeah this is a huge problem when using Google for things like instructions for home electronics repair. Searches used to pull up forums or small sites with useful information, and now it’s just pages and pages of ai-generated nonsense plastered in ads. As a DIY enthusiast, it’s been an incredibly frustrating shift.

        1. Iris Eyes*

          You can still get decent results if you tell Google you want: “install new sink trap” website type:forum (or blog or whatever other type of website you are looking for)

    8. Also Anon*

      I came here to say basically this. Offer to do it, but have a different — much more expensive — fee structure for it. And have a contract clause about it. (Think about how much they’re likely paying the content developers for that AI work and charge accordingly. You’re not copyediting; you’re rewriting poorly written and factually incorrect text.)

      I also wonder (as someone not in this field at all)… does the client know they’re paying for / being given AI-generated content — apparently without substantial copyediting before it gets to the client? Rather than the philosophical problems (which are legit), help them see how crappy the product is.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        Also, have a clear explanation and examples to share for WHY your fee is higher for AI than for other work. Ie. because you end up doing the work that the AI is supposed to have done, but can’t.

    9. Metadata Janktress*

      I appreciate this comment. At my job, we use AI for original transcription and sometimes we need to get the transcripts translated. It’s good to keep this in mind for when we plan out that work.

    10. Education Mike*

      I came here to say this! Make sure the client knows you’re going to take much more time, charge much more money, and knows exactly why too. When they realize it’s not actually cheaper or more effective, AI is going to look a lot less appealing.

      If you just turn down the work they’ll likely look elsewhere but if they know why you’re turning it down there’s a better chance they either 1) wont look elsewhere because they’ll think someone else will charge them more for the same reason or 2) stop working w the AI company because they are told straight up how bad their product sucks.

      I would be really specific to with a few examples of inaccuracies that you have seen. When they find out that you’re fixing that kind of thing, they might be nervous to go to another editor in case they’re not as diligent as you are about fact checking.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I would seriously consider showing them prior work side by side to show them just how much work you have to do when it comes to editing the AI driven content when rolling out the new fee structure for editing work.

  4. raincoaster*

    I think #4 could say, “I’ve had to spend so much time re-writing the AI content that the new pricing structure for this will be $X.” And make X very expensive, more expensive than writing it from scratch yourself, because it’s certainly taking you more time to edit than it would have to write in the first place. The client is essentially asking you for two different services: editing, and translation of AI into English. They’re going to be at different price points.

    1. Knope Knope Knope.*

      I was going to suggest something similar. That seems like a rewrite which is a heavy edit. I might phrase it like this:

      “I’ve noticed the copy you’ve been sending over has needed significantly heavier editing and more rewriting lately, and I need to raise my rates going forward.” Depending on the relationship I might add any of the following “the time it takes to edit this content means I can take on fewer clients, so that’s why I need to raise rates” (makes the client reevaluate how efficient using AI is), “I could be wrong, but this copy reads like it was AI generated, and I’d be happy to stick with my original rates to edit that is presented to me in a more coherent state” basically also makes them think about the efficiency of AI without fishing for their business as a writer.

  5. Yahoo mama*

    Wait, why are you zooming in on coworkers’ photos? And reading things in the background? That’s pretty odd behavior . . .

      1. snarkfox*

        Sometimes you just need the cute kitty to fill the entire screen. Tiny paws! Whiskers! Itty bitty noses! and if you’re really really lucky… bleps!

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      Not necessarily. We use teams and sometimes my computer will give me the option of seeing a thumbnail size pic, then when I click on it will expand it over the whole monitor.

      1. Weekender*

        This. And my monitors are huge so I don’t even have to zoom to read things in the background. I know people that use big screen TVs as their computer monitors.

      2. just another bureaucrat*

        Yeah I’ve definitely blown-up things I don’t mean to blow up with this. Usually it’s that’s WAY more of that person’s face than I meant to see, but plenty of other things too. You’d thing I’d have gotten better at it but I’m still a pretty sloppy clicker so.

    2. Expiring Cat Memes*

      Maybe because the kind of information on screen was already obvious and OP knows that could be problematic if the detail were legible..? If they were doing it in the “odd behavior” way you’re implying, I doubt they’d have written this letter.

    3. Liisa*

      Maybe because they understand that accidentally sharing personal info in a photo is a thing that can happen, saw it potentially happening here, verified the hunch and wanted to warn the person? Because they’re, I don’t know, a conscientious person who’s looking out for other people?

    4. londonedit*

      I mean, if it’s a photo of a cat lounging in front of a laptop, like they frequently enjoy doing, then it’s really not a stretch to click on the photo to enlarge it (these cats need to be fully appreciated!) and then think ‘Ooh wow, you can totally read everything on the screen behind Fluffy’. I highly doubt the OP is intentionally zooming right in combing the photos for details – that’s the whole point, you can tell that the info is visible straight away, and you can read it with ‘only a little zoom-in’.

      1. Sloanicota*

        TBH, the level of detail about what exactly has been revealed in multiple photos suggest that’s exactly what OP has been doing, but I admit I’m a bit snoopy myself some times so I understand how it happened. Moving forward, OP should resolve to mention it once and then stop doing it.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Eh, maybe. But there will always be nosy people, OP might be one of them. I don’t think it’s a huge crime if it’s a freely shared teams photo.

      2. JustaTech*

        This makes sense to me: if there’s text I am going to read it, regardless of what it is, that’s just the way my brain works.
        I also had a coworker who would 100% “snoop” – zoom in out of personal curiosity (she also liked to look people up on things like Zillow too).

        Really, it doesn’t matter *why* people have noticed that the text is legible, what matters is that someone has noticed that the text *is* legible and therefore should be cropped/blurred, since it is sensitive/private.

    5. mreasy*

      Honestly I have done it to make sure nobody’s screen is readable as a lot of folks across our company, including interns, could see it, to let people know. Always blur the screen content!

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      Anyone who has watched Leverage is going to notice that they could zoom in on a photo of monitors or papers and see what’s on the screen. Like, right now, if I took a picture of Destructobot, AAM would be the background.

    7. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      I don’t know about y’all but I’m a curious cat. When I watch movies and TV, I’m always trying to peep what I call the “lorem ipsum” on props and in backgrounds. It’s usually entertaining and I like the “secret” info even if it is very rarely interesting. I end up doing the same thing on virtual calls. It’s just my nature! If there are words available I want to know what they say.

        1. Philmar*

          Yeah? Then don’t send it. You send me a pic, I get to look at it. And maybe I’m the nosiest person in the whole world. Maybe I want to exam the metadata!

        2. Roland*

          “It’s not your business” is such a weird take. OP isn’t taking covert photos of the coworker’s desk or driving past her house, OP is looking at looking at a photo that was freely shared!

        3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          True, and contacting someone to say “I wanted a closer look at your cute cat, and when I zoomed in I could read the text she was sitting next to. Having your screen visible could be a privacy violation, so please be careful” is appropriate. That’s true whether or not what’s on the screen is fine tipped pen aficionado’s business, because it may not be the next person’s business.

          A lot of security breaches happen because I think it’s reasonable to share something with my partner, who doesn’t realize it’s private and shares it with a friend…. If I stop you from showing me things that aren’t my business, there’s no risk that I’ll tell a third party.

        4. StillInStats*

          I mean, if you send someone a picture, it’s not really reasonable to say “It’s not your business” when they see something in that picture. If you don’t want people to see something, make sure it’s out of the frame in whatever photo you’re sending. If you don’t, it’s on you when they see it.

        5. Education Mike*

          This is such a wild take. Only share photos on your company slack of things that are everyone’s business.

          Tons of people will click a tiny thumbnail of a photo, and depending on your settings and monitor size, you could easily wind up with a life size photo, or close.

      1. Antilles*

        I do this with book spines. If your photo or Zoom camera or etc shows a bookshelf behind you, I am absolutely zooming in to check the titles of your books and see what you like to read.

    8. CharlieBrown*

      I think you’re assuming that people are being sneaky/suspicious/nefarious in some way. Automatically assuming that is the pretty odd behavior here.

      1. Sloanicota*

        It’s funny to combine your comment with fine tipped pen aficionado’s, above. I don’t know whether it’s fair to assign morality to the behavior, but it’s true that some people would be tempted to expand and zoom in on a photo to deliberately view the screen contents and get a thrill out it, while to others that’d be considered a bit intrusive and they’d wonder about the motivations when the original intent was clearly to share a lighthearted pet photo on a trusted internal slack.

        1. amoeba*

          I mean, as was mentioned above already, my reasoning would definitely be “Oh, she didn’t blur the screen, should I let her know that would probably be a good idea? Let me first verify that it’s actually readable – yup, as I thought – should tell her so this doesn’t get into the wrong hands!”

          Nothing nefarious there…

      2. Rex Libris*

        This. I’d likely zoom in on a shared picture if there’s a bookshelf in the background, for example, just because I’d be mildly curious whether we read the same stuff. I really don’t think of that as nefarious.

    9. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

      Because keeping sensitive info confidential is generally a thing expected of all employees: the old, “if you see something, say something.” I really hope you don’t work with confidential data.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I think that’s the context I’m missing here – yes, all data should be protected, but I’m picturing an admin of an org like mine who is not working on anything particularly high value unless these board members and EDs are a lot more and out of reach powerful than ours. I’d think it was a bit weird for staff to act like our Board Member’s home address or the agenda for an upcoming meeting (both of which would be saved on a central drive that employees could access) would be a huge deal, so OP seems a bit over the top to me. Now if this is the CIA I 100% agree. To be clear, I would still bring it up because next time it could be employee reviews or a resignation letter or something and the admin isn’t recognizing that some staff are doing this.

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          Sensitive and confidential data isn’t necessarily just the province of the CIA. I work in development at a university. It is extremely common for me to have names of current and prospective donors, along with stuff like their addresses or the amounts they have given visible on my screen. It’s common for people who are lower down in the hierarchy as well. If that info is visible to anyone who hasn’t signed a confidentiality agreement, it’s a data breach. If I take a picture of my cat in front of it and share that picture of Mr. Fluffypants on Facebook…that’s a problem.

          1. I am Emily's failing memory*

            Yeah, protecting PII (personally identifiable information) is a thing.

            I’m in the US and work at nonprofit in that exclusively works in the US, so we aren’t even technically bound by laws like GDPR or CCPA, and we still adhere about 99%* to them anyway, because 1) we don’t expect US nonprofits to be exempt from all privacy laws forever, so we wanted to get out ahead of it by getting as much into compliance as is feasible now, and 2) we know privacy is important to donors and our actions don’t need to be illegal to lose a donor’s trust and support.

            We have all kinds of strict internal policies around which staff can handle PII, who else on staff they can share it with and in what contexts, where it can be stored, how it can be transmitted, etc. Having PII up on your screen when taking a photo and sharing it publicly would absolutely be flagged as a concern even if any given specific instance doesn’t seem particularly sensitive. The whole point of having data security policies is that individuals aren’t making judgment calls about what is too sensitive and what isn’t – all PII is presumed sensitive, across the board, no exceptions.

            *The one thing we don’t do is following the GDPR requirement that prohibits working with vendors who store data on servers physically located in the US or other non-GDPR-compliant countries.

          2. Dana Whittaker*

            Former higher ed employee here. FERPA laws protects student data privacy and are taken very seriously (security filters on screens so even coworkers cannot see what you are working on, etc). Being able to zoom in and see that would be a serious breach.

          3. Decima Dewey*

            Libraries also handle sensitive information. In my library system, we were warned that a circulation system is a pretty thorough database of women and children. When staff call up a circulation record, the full name and address, telephone number, and preferred email are right there on the screen. We don’t show that record to non-staff, period. We have no way of knowing if the person asking about the record is an abuser or a non-custodial parent out to change that without going through the court system.

          1. drinking Mello Yello*

            Same! The whole “Noticing people are crapping out on protecting other people’s privacy is Weird, Creepy, and Intrusive” angle is just absolutely baffling to me.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          I have worked nearly my entire career in non-intelligence agency organizations where this sort of thing would be of significant concern. We do not share people’s PII, and many upcoming meeting agendas contain information that is not publicly available nor saved in a shared location.

          Worse, if someone decides to share an adorable cat photo outside the organization with all that PII hanging out and internal documents visible? That’s bad on several fronts.

    10. Observer*

      Wait, why are you zooming in on coworkers’ photos? And reading things in the background? That’s pretty odd behavior . . .

      Not necessarily. If you see a picture and something trips that “Did I just see x?” it’s normal to zoom in to check that. Once the OP saw that, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if this is a common problem.

    11. Esmeralda*

      No it’s not. Zoom in to see the cat better, see the screen.

      And frankly, when I see that sort of thing, I wonder, hmm, is that screen readable? I’m at a university, we take FERPA really seriously. I would zoom in to see if student info was visible.

      Even if the pic were on a completely internal system, it’s so easy to copy pix and then share the elsewhere. And not everyone on the internal system has a need to see that particular info. We have to have a reason, idle curiosity is expressly forbidden. For instance, I can see any student’s academic record, advising notes, progress reports, etc. If I go to see how the football quarterback is doing, I could be fired. And I should be.

      If I share info about a student, either intentionally or inadvertently, that’s very very bad. I could be fired for that, too.

    12. Snell*

      It didn’t have to start with zooming in on backgrounds. Perfectly reasonable to see an electronic screen in the background, knowing this is a work environment, and wonder if any business-related information was inadvertently shared.

  6. AcademiaNut*

    For the first letter – It is important for managers to own their own decisions. If you’ve decided that someone is not going to get a promotion because they wouldn’t do well in the position, or their performance doesn’t merit a performance raise, then blaming it on finances or higher ups is dodging the responsibility, and doesn’t give the employee the feedback they need.

    On the other hand, it shouldn’t mean that middle managers are expected to make up lies so that *their* managers don’t have to take responsibility for decisions. So if the employee performed well, but the upper management has said there is no money for raises, you shouldn’t have to lie and tell the employee that you’ve decided their performance doesn’t merit a performance raise.

    1. Lily Potter*

      This. I had a grandboss at a Fortune 50 company that would downgrade performance evaluations (think changing a 4 “exceeds expectations” to a 3 “meets expectations”) because he didn’t have enough money to give out raises based on submitted numbers. My boss took to bringing two paper copies of evaluations to our review meeting – the official one to be signed and processed, and a copy of the original as submitted by my boss to I wasn’t ever allowed to take a copy of the REAL review but I would get to see my boss’ actual opinions of my work. He wouldn’t do this with everyone on the team but the two of us had a high level of trust. He was supposed to pretend that the lower numbers were the real ones, which was a crappy position to force on a manager.

      1. Somehow_I_Manage*

        WHAT?! That one is upsetting. So sorry you had to deal with that.

        No matter how hard any company tries to quantify performance and merit increases, they are qualitative. And you need a manager to be your champion when circumstances make it difficult (e.g., lower corporate performance or needing advocate to promote you).

        Further evidence? How often does the money appear when someone receives another job offer?

      2. sometimeswhy*

        I was a boss in this situation. He had literally saved the company millions of dollars during the review period–the exact bs metric I was given for the only reason anyone should ever get high rating–and they didn’t want to recognize his performance and risk “having to promote him” because he hadn’t finished his degree (semester short for family care reasons, was working on it).

        We both resigned over it and the kicker was: I went first and they asked him to cover my position while they looked for a replacement and he declined.

      3. JustaTech*

        The overlords at my company require this as well (each division may only have so many people with each rating). For years the upper managers denied it, until something happened and they admitted that they had to reduce our scores to meet the bell curve.
        “Why didn’t you just tell us that? It’s a terrible reason but at least it’s a reason!”

        Them trying to “own the decision” made the rest of us think either they hated us (and were hypocritical with their praise) or they were utterly stupid and didn’t understand what we were doing.

    2. I Would Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I think also when it comes to broader company decisions, middle management might not always have the insight to really “own the message”.

      I distinctly remember our managers telling the team about a rollout and trying to get us psyched about it — but when asked questions they clearly didn’t know much about the plan at all. That really erodes confidence.

    3. Expiring Cat Memes*

      Agreed on owning their own decisions.

      How many articles and memes are there floating around in the vein of “people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers”? And they keep getting reposted because so many people share that sentiment. I’d stay longer in a so-so company if I had a good line manager who I liked, trusted and respected, than I would if it were the other way around. Your direct supervisor has more power over your day-to-day work life, so I think that relationship is far more important than the one with the company as a whole.

      Sure, as a manager you have to speak for upper management and communicate and enforce their decisions. But if you disagree with them or have a potential revolt on your hands, you’ve also got to weigh up how you communicate and enforce that against how to maintain the morale and respect of your team.

    4. Snow Globe*

      I think it can be very situational, and just because you disagree with a decision, that doesn’t mean you (as a manager) should openly push the blame to the higher-ups. For example, you recommend an employee for a promotion, but your boss states that the employee needs to improve in A and B before being promoted. If you can kind of see where the boss is coming from, then as a manager, you should present that to your employee as coming from you, because the employee *will* need to improve in those areas to get promoted. It’s not really helpful to the employee to hear that this decision was made by grandboss, rather than direct manager.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I agree, it’s not a blanket rule that a manager should always/never ascribe issues to higher-ups. It can definitely be frustrating for an employee to have a manager passing the buck if they don’t give you any tips for how you can pursue your goal – it’s demoralizing for sure when your manager gives the shrug emoji about decisions that affect your livelihood. But employees would also need to know that *in the overall context of the org* it doesn’t make sense to promote another Senior Whatever, no matter how good their work is, or that they need to get more face time with leadership to make their case, or whatever.

      2. Spencer Hastings*

        Hmm…admittedly I’m coming at this just from the employee side, since I don’t manage anyone, but it still seems to me like explaining the situation fully to the employee would make more sense. Otherwise they might be wondering what changed their manager’s mind — “Jane seemed to think I was ready for a promotion before, and now she doesn’t?” But if you explain to them that you were recommending that they be promoted on the basis of X and Y, but in the context of the entire department or whatever, they also need A and B, then it will seem more like “getting the full picture” than “sudden change of direction”.

        Of course, I’m making the assumption that you’ve talked with the employee beforehand about the possibility of promoting them. If not, then I guess they wouldn’t need to know who was in favor of what.

        1. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

          I think this is the best approach any time higher-ups make a decision that you (as a manager) don’t agree with: Explain to your report that you advocated for the outcome you wanted, but the business decision went a different way, and *provide the rationale*. “I know you wanted to see X happen; I did too, and I made the case to my manager for that. But ultimately she decided that Y was better for the group as a whole, because of Z.” (Assuming all of the above is true, of course.) It provides transparency into how management decisions get made, and it tells your reports that you are out there advocating for them.

      3. bamcheeks*

        I agree with this, and I think it’s nowhere near as binary as “own the decision as if you and senior management are As One” or “blame senior management”. Both of those are thoroughly disempowering for workers because they have no nuance or context.

        What I have found most empowering is understanding what space my manager has to act in, and what they are limited by, and that’s how I try to work with my direct reports. I think it’s important to know how and where your manager is advocating for you and what response they are getting. If all they are doing is parroting what them up there says, what’s the point of them?

        There’s also for me a big thing about not necessity agreeing with senior management’s conclusions, but believing they’ve come to it in good faith. “Senior management thinks we need to focus on the domestic market at the moment. I have say, I do think there’s a lot we could be doing in the international space and I am a bit disappointed we’re not going to be exploring that. But there are solid reasons for going with domestic over the next 2-3 year cycle, and that’s the decision we’re working with” is very different from, “they’re goddamn idiots who don’t recognise an opportunity when it’s staring them in the face.” Fortunately I’ve never had to act as a manager in scenario two: I would be looking for a new job in that situation because having to lie or dissemble for management wouldn’t work for me at all and would make me miserable.

        1. Smithy*

          I agree with this. I also think that the more honest and less binary managers are, the more they’re able to actually mentor their staff as opposed to just managing them.

          To your example on the domestic/international space. If you happen to be working on the international space and because of Sr. Management’s decision – there simply isn’t money for promotions. That’s only one part of the answer. But it’s not the entire picture. Because *if* Sr. Management did decide to focus on the international space and *if* money did allow for a step-up role, would the boss think the person in question would be ready for that position? And if the answer to that is no, then it really does harm the direct report to only hear the first part.

    5. Evacuating People Is Rough*

      Right now, my place of employment is in a bit of a crisis, and the response from the necessary environments has been a right mess. There’s no way I could with a straight face and any credibility try to play it off as them doing things right. Best I can do is give advice for those who need it and offer some solidarity.

    6. Database Developer Dude*

      They do this in the Army (both active and Reserve). As a subordinate leader, I’m expected to pass on decisions as if they were my own, and support them. It’s often used by more senior leaders as a way to get out of blowback for poor decisions.

    7. Kevin Sours*

      Your credibility and integrity are valuable assets that are hard earned. And ones that executives are all to frequently willing to make use of without regards to the consequences. The messages you endorse are a reflection on you that can stay with you beyond a current work position.

      I have a hard not adding “because I don’ t want to” after “managers need to own the message”

  7. TechWorker*

    I’m cynically surprised by Alison’s answer to #1 – in the scenario where an employee isn’t getting promoted because their work isn’t recognised above them; sure I can see that the best thing for that employee is their manager is honest. But the VP has the companies interests at heart more than an employee they don’t know… telling the employee is as good as saying ‘you should leave’ and whilst a good manager might do that I can’t imagine them doing it openly in most companies.

    1. Bit o' Brit*

      It’s not necessarily saying “you should leave”, it could easily be framed as guidance for what to do to get that promotion, e.g. “so if you see opportunities to make your work more visible I want you to take them”.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        This. I think it’s helpful for the employee to know how office politics are impacting them and their career trajectory – at a certain level “get your work noticed by senior management” really is the only way to take the next step forward. You can’t win the game if no one tells you that you’re playing.

        1. bicality*

          “You can’t win the game if no one tells you that you’re playing.”

          THIS! I have a reputation of being transparent with my direct reports whenever possible. It’s not to throw upper management or HR under the bust – I want them to know what I know so we can find solutions together.

            1. Jaydee*

              It’s already pretty crowded under the bust. There’s a stapler, 10 pencils, a paperback copy of “Arabian Nights,” a dog bowl, a remote control, and a hardback copy of “Wuthering Heights.”

      2. TechWorker*

        Maybe – though the exact example given was ‘your work isn’t being recognised at levels above me and that’s not likely to change’. If I hear that as an employee, I’m on the way out.

        (I don’t mean that senior leadership *shouldn’t* be on the hook for providing promotion guidance – but the whole point is a different of opinion – they *think* promotion requirements are fair/reasonable/correct for business, whereas middle leadership may think otherwise).

        1. bamcheeks*

          I wouldn’t agree that (effectively) telling an employee that they should leave is always going to be bad for the organisation. I’ve known a few situations where someone’s skills, interests or ambitions are at odds with what the company needs or wants, but they’re still performing well. I would much rather that person sought and found a more suitable opportunity than that they continued doing the job but were miserable or dissatisfied doing it. Maybe some organisations don’t care about that, but most of the ones I’ve worked for have.

          1. Smithy*

            I strongly agree with this.

            I think lots of employers will cling to employees who are good at their roles, but looking for more or different that simply isn’t within the employer’s scope. Classic case of an employer that needs a Sr. Accountant and a Jr. Accountant – and when that Jr. Accountant is so experienced to do more than the Jr. Accountant role but maybe not experienced enough to take the Sr. Accountant’s job if they leave?

            At some point, it’s only hurting the Jr. Accountant to not encourage them to leave if there’s no other growth opportunity. And very often people stuck in those roles where there’s no genuine opportunity for growth but they also know they’re performing their job duties at a very high level – they do get disgruntled/ frustrated/ unhappy. And how that appears in any given workplace is more often than not negative.

            1. Snagglepuss*

              I was in this situation recently in my last role. I got glowing reviews but there weren’t any senior roles available on my team, and my manager and senior manager weren’t providing me with the support or feedback I asked for to help me grow into a more senior role or receive better compensation. I only got some feedback on improving my communication skills, but without opportunities/coaching/feedback on how to improve it. I almost lost it at my annual review/compensation discussion; when I received a paltry salary increase for a stellar rating, I calmly expressed disappointment in rate increase amount. They proceeded to highlight weaker communication skills (but again, with no guidance on how to improve, treating it like almost like a vague cop out) and were then shocked that I asked to apply (and then move on) to another role in a different department.

              The new role kinda sucks, but the title and pay is a little better. Just waiting until the spring to get my corporate bonus then I’m getting out for better opportunities and a better manager.

              1. Smithy*

                Yeah, when you’re in a review situation like that – where the only area for feedback and improvement are around soft skills or skills adjacent to your work but not primary – and also not directly tied to concrete opportunities (i.e. communication or soft skills are listed as an issue but not tied to holding off on giving you management or project management duties) – then all it communicates is your manager is unclear.

                However, I’m in a sector where teams are often just not big and very often the “next step” that someone is ready for is a job that simply may not exist at that employer. All you ever achieve by keeping someone around when they’re ready to move into a job that you don’t have for them is to upset them and make them believe you’re a bad manager. Maybe you keep them for a year or two longer, but they’ll leave in a more and more sour place.

                Flip side is to coach them on what next possible good positions look like, truly don’t push them out – and maybe you keep them for another 6-12 months while they look for a great fit and then are likely to recommend you to other people in their network. Some jobs just have a shelf life of 2-5 years. And while you might wish you could keep everyone for the 5 years, if you see someone’s hit their ceiling after 2….you’re not helping anyone in the situation by clinging onto them.

                1. Kevin Sours*

                  And there are worse things than having the people who leave say “that’s a great place to work and get your career started” instead of “that place sucks and you’ll never get promoted”.

        2. Kevin Sours*

          The problem is that “your work isn’t being recognised and that’s not likely to change” is something the employee is going to figure out. The question is, when that happens, are you comfortable being on the list of people who weren’t doing the recognizing?

          Because that sends a message to the employee. It sends a message to their peers. And it has a direct impact on your relationship with the affected people. And the VP isn’t going give a rats ass about this blowing up in your face.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            I’ve dealt with a fair few executives that seem to have strongly have the notion that “if we don’t speak the truth nobody will know any different” like people in general lack any personal agency.

    2. FashionablyEvil*

      Yeah, I had a promotion for one of my staff members denied because we were under a new VP and the new VP had some unspoken expectations about what she wanted to see before we promoted to the next level (don’t get me started on how frustrating that compensation meeting was… “I’m recommending Jane for a strong merit increase, but not for promotion because of Reasons that are Not Specified in the promotion and performance guidelines, but exist in my head.” I nearly lost my shit.)

      Anyway, I was straight with the employee and told her new VP wanted to see X, Y, and Z and here’s what I was going to do and here’s what I needed her to do to make it all super visible, etc. She got the promotion the following year and I am VERY glad that our recent re-org has me reporting to a new VP.

    3. MurpMaureep*

      I see it less as telling an employee that they should leave as letting an employee know what the culture is around advancement and recognition so they can weigh that as they make career decisions. I work in an environment where promotion is very challenging for some departments, but there are a lot of other benefits that keep people around. Being above board on that can instill trust and help someone decide what’s right for them.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Exactly. The employee needs the information to make decisions about THEIR career. If upper management doesn’t like people leaving because they have no chance of advancement, then Upper Management needs to change. Good managers want to see their employees thrive. At the company preferably. But if that is not going to happen, it is not good management to keep stringing them along into believing it will. Because then the person will leave anyway.

    4. Somehow_I_Manage*

      I think it sets the stakes in a good way. If you’re a manager, you’re not going to want to have that conversation. So…you’re more likely to advocate for your staff to avoid it. I think that’s really healthy. If Mandy kicked butt this quarter, maybe you’ll advocate to promote her if salaries are locked. Maybe you’ll run it up the chain and request special treatment. And the Vice Presidents likely want to know if their decision is going to lose a high performer. Sometimes VPs DO have to make tough decisions that will lose staff. They are offering to be transparent about that.

      It’s especially helpful, because it will very quickly reveal the great managers from the bad.

    5. Rain's Small Hands*

      The whole thing strikes me as “the buck stops at the lowest level I can pass it to.” Managers SHOULD be transparent about the process for raises and promotions, including stating out loud what the budget increase was as a percentage and what the varying demands for that increase are (a few higher increases for merit, a few to get underpaid people closer to what they should be making, leaves very little for everyone).

  8. Jopestus*

    A sergeant we had in the military had a habit of saying “I received a direct order to tell you this(army speak for “this is BS”.) . And that was a direct order to you.”

    I dont see it working outside the army as a blanket rule though. It is a lot trickier.

    1. Scott*

      In my military experience we had an axiom of “Issue every order as if it were your own.” I think this is important in a military context (you can search for “The Damn Exec” to read a good example). However, in the case of promotions and such in an office, this can’t always work. Discussions of personnel actions are very different than direction on doing your job.

    2. nnn*

      Sometimes I’ve been able to pull off similar in a bureaucratic office environment. Things like “The company’s policy is…” “The intention behind that policy is…” Not owning it personally, but not actively disavowing it either – just stating facts.

      1. John*

        When I was field promoted to office manager I was coached about this. Initially I’d say things like “Per Bosslady, our new policy on X is Y.” and I had to train myself to skip the attribution and lead with “Effective immediately…”

  9. Warrior Princess Xena*

    For cat pictures – tell her stat. If she doesn’t know there’s potentially confidential info in there she could also be posting to Facebook or Instagram or even just to friends and family with the same pictures without realising the issue. You don’t even have to explain how you saw it – just “hey, I noticed that Bob and Lucinda’s schedule is pretty clearly visible in your picture of Boots – I’d maybe blur that out if I were you”. There’s a pretty good chance that there’s some sort of social media policy baked into your company code of conduct too, if you have one, and all the ones I’ve seen have “do not post private company information, period” included

    1. Haven’t picked a user name yet*

      I totally agree. That seems like the real risk here. These cute pictures are being shared outside of the slack channel.

    2. Observer*

      Yes, you need to tell her. Because, at minimum, she needs to know that she can’t post those pictures anywhere else.

  10. Luna*

    Regarding the potentially ill coworker, you could perhaps go up to them and ask if they are alright. You could mention you saw them heading to the bathroom frequently (in recent time). It won’t appear like you are monitoring or overall know what they did in the bathroom, but just a quick “You okay?” message. They can then easily brush it off (“My stomach’s been a little iffy lately”) or, if they feel comfortable about it, tell you (“I think the cheese I ate last night was a little off.”) and then move on.

    1. Expiring Cat Memes*

      Ooooh no, going up to them mentioning their frequent bathroom visits and asking if they’re alright is pretty intrusive and likely to be very embarrassing for them. And it would very much come across like OP has been monitoring them. Also, do you realllllly want them to feel comfortable talking to you about their stomach issues? The TMI bar here is low.

      1. E*

        +1 also if person is pregnant they may not be ready to disclose at work and would be really uncomfortable to know someone knew

        1. MusicWithRocksIn*

          Yup – I threw up at work a few times when I was still trying to keep my pregnancy under wraps, and man I was franticly worried someone heard me. Anyone checking on me would have freaked me out and brought on a ton of stress.

        2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          That is exactly where my mind went with this! I actually posted pretty much the same comment before I read yours!

    2. londonedit*

      Definitely do not do this! People have a right to privacy and a right to assume that their colleagues are not monitoring their bathroom use at work. There are any number of medical conditions that someone might not want to talk about, and frankly it’s really none of the OP’s business. It’s not nice to hear noises from the toilets while you’re trying to work, but the OP needs to focus on fixing things so she can’t hear those noises, not on trying to figure out who’s making them and what might be wrong with them.

    3. Allonge*

      I don’t see what this would achieve. It’s not like asking will help them get better.

      If someone is looking ill ‘in public’, of course it can be nice to ask if they are well (even then though, keep it low and infrequent) as a human connection thing but based on something overheard? Nah.

    4. Cordelia*

      Nooo, please don’t do this, OP. You don’t have anything helpful to offer, so you would just be asking to satisfy your own curiosity. Unless you think the person needs emergency medical attention that they are unable to call for themselves, you have to pretend that what happens in the bathroom is inaudible, and do whatever you can to muffle the noise.

    5. Cat Tree*

      So here’s the thing – what is LW going to do if the answer is “no”? She’s not a doctor and not in a position to help. Asking that question only serves to make LW feel better about herself for caring, at the expense of making someone else feel very uncomfortable.

    6. Ella Bee Bee*

      If you mention that you have seen them going to the bathroom quite a few times, I think that would very much come across as monitoring. I would be pretty mortified if one of my coworkers said this to me.

      1. It's anon time*

        Exactly this. I have OCD, mostly under control, but severe stress makes it flare it up. Toxic job is *very* stressful. I end up going to wash my hands at least hourly if I’m having a bad enough day full of office drama. It does *not* make me feel seen and loved when people ask why I’m washing my hands again. It makes me feel watched and judged, and like I’d better have a stable of lies and excuses ready because I know how poorly received mental health issues are in the general public. If I’m not having a major medical emergency that requires the paramedics *right now,* just leave me the eff alone and mind yer own, please!

        (Today’s excuse: “Oh, yeah, apparently I can’t go an hour without getting ink on my hands!”)

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          Wow, I hope you do not have to use your excuses often! Absent some strange context where a meeting or hearing is being interrupted a lot, I doubt I would notice a coworker going to the bathroom every hour! And in one hearing, the respondent just advised everyone in advance that due to a medical issue, he needed frequent bathroom breaks. Absolutely no one asked any further questions … we all just agreed that he could just let us know when he needed to go and we would take a break. I don’t care if the reason is mental health or physical health or even made up. It’s a valid request and I do not need more info!

    7. RabbitRabbit*

      Noooooo do not do this. As Alison said, people deserve the polite fiction that no one hears you being ill/having digestive distress/etc. in the bathroom.

      I once had an office immediately across the hall from a women’s bathroom, and for a significant time period, I could definitely hear someone in there vomit about daily, and I minded my own business. Having someone confront you about whether you’re possibly pregnant or bulimic is not kind.

      1. Observer*

        Having someone confront you about whether you’re possibly pregnant or bulimic is not kind.

        Ooh! That reminds me of the letter from someone with a reasonably well controlled ED whose coworker confronted her about the issue and was trying to force her to “do something”.

        1. Rain's Small Hands*

          I had a second where I translated ED to Erectile Dysfunction and my mind was going nuts over “confronting” someone and expecting them to do something about it AT WORK. I mean, pregnancy and bulimia are bad enough, but “hey, Brad, some things about your bathroom habits have lead me to believe you can’t get it up….have you tried lingerie for you or your wife?”

          Eating Disorder…..

          My youngest vomits every morning and has for nine months. After nine months of doctors appointments – it MIGHT be their gall bladder….

      2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        As someone who suffers from IBS, I strongly believe in the importance of this polite fiction, especially at work!

      3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        ooohhh, and only after I posted my reply, I saw your mention of bulimia and that hadn’t even occurred to me. OP definitely doesn’t need to interfere there because without proper training about EDs, she’d likely trigger it and make it worse, even if she had the best intentions. I feel like so much of what I read about EDs is about how people unknowingly trigger EDs by being pushy or “trying to help,” because people are really judgy and overly observant of other people’s eating habits these days!

    8. Bast*

      I agree with Allison’s original assessment and would NOT want someone to mention they could hear me puking. While I am also someone who gets sick when I hear others being sick, I never bring it up.

      I had very bad morning sickness with my last child. Thankfully I was working from home at the time, but had I been in the office and someone asked, it would have made me quite uncomfortable. Due to multiple miscarriages while trying to conceive, I do not typically like to announce a pregnancy until I am out of the first trimester. Someone could easily have a condition they are not yet willing to disclose (pregnancy, medical, whatever) or maybe they just had bad sushi last night — but it can get very awkward very fast.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, being sick at work is bad enough but having someone coming to find you to tell you they heard you being sick and asking how you are? That would just add mortification to the general upset of it all.

      2. Ophelia*

        Agreed. I ended up disclosing a very early pregnancy that ended in miscarriage to a coworker because we were traveling together, and I needed to let him know that I wasn’t actually ill with something contagious when I kept needing to throw up/looked awful. (Thankfully he was great about it, but blurgh, don’t force this on people!)

    9. Workerbee*

      Bathrooms are the best place to do bathroom related things, which does include ridding oneself of things! And why would you want to intentionally make someone’s day worse by pointing out their already uncomfortable situation? They know what’s going on, they’re the ones doing it! They can’t stop it! It is not their fault the bathroom shares a wall with a non-bathroom area.

      You really need to think this advice through.

      1. I am Emily's failing memory*

        I have paurensis, which means I’m incapable of urinating in front of anyone, eventually if I have to go so badly that it’s causing me pain. I do okay with public bathrooms in most cases, because they’re usually busy enough that there’s ambient noise of sinks, dryers, toilets, etc and nobody is paying attention to what any one specific other person is doing, but I’ve long had a problem at my office with Silent Poopers – people who don’t want anyone to know they’re pooping, so they go into a stall and sit there waiting for the bathroom to be empty to do their business. When I’m the only other person in the bathroom this basically creates a standoff because it’s totally silent and whatever part of my subconscious controls my ability to pee knows that the silent pooper will be able to hear me peeing, so locks up the same way it would if they could see me. Many times I’ve had to eventually give up and leave without peeing and go to another floor to try another bathroom.

        If someone gave me any indication that any sound from the bathroom was audible enough to be noticed by the person in the adjacent office, I would probably never be able to use that bathroom for peeing ever again. I would go to another floor or if that wasn’t an option I’d leave the building to find a coffee shop, and if that wasn’t an option I’d probably resort to something very gross like peeing in a bottle in my office and surreptitiously carrying it to the toilet to empty, because I would literally be incapable of peeing in the bathroom anymore.

    10. MurpMaureep*

      Just the thought of someone noticing and commenting on ANY bathroom behavior is panic-inducing. It’s bad enough to be ill at work, but to have it brought up and had to talk about it? Beyond mortifying.

      Granted, my family of origin was way too involved in everyone’s digestion, so it is something I find especially invasive, but I can’t imagine anyone being happy about it.

    11. Bunny Girl*

      Please don’t do this. There are a number of reasons people could be getting ill and they might not want to share what’s going on. People have mentioned pregnancy. I myself have a multitude of stomach problems and yeah somethings I have to return something I ate. I don’t feel like having a conversation about it at work, I promise. You work with adults. Let them manage their ends.

    12. Dinwar*

      I’m going to buck the trend here and say I like this advice, mostly. Don’t mention anything about the bathroom–there’s really no way for that to not come off as creepy. Just ask if they’re doing okay, and let them know you’re available to help. I’ve found that just knowing there’s someone who cares is useful. Plus, I work in a field where we all need to look after one another. We’ve had two people nearly die from medical issues (as in, if we were an hour or so later they’d be gone), and that’s sort of colored our perception of medical issues.

      The important thing is to let them decide how much to tell you. If they don’t feel comfortable saying more than “Yeah, just an off day”, that’s up to them. You open the door, you don’t shove them through it.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        IF you’re going to do this, seek them out separate from your desk/office. Find them by the coffee maker, do a very casual “hey you okay you look a little off?”. But I still advise against it.

      2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        I dunno, you need some context other than what you heard in the bathroom to explain why you are asking, or they will be weirded out or suspect you overheard them in the bathroom. I mean, if the person looks pale or flushed and just unwell, you can ask and say that they look a bit pale or whatever. But if the person does not otherwise appear off, it’s best not to mention it. Especially since OP could be wrong about who it is and admits as much.

      3. nnn*

        If (in this case or others) you ever are considering asking someone if they’re doing okay and letting them know you’re available to help, first consider what, if anything, you could actually do to help.

        (Different situations need different help, different people bring different abilities to help to the table, and they don’t always align as often as we’d like)

    13. Emilia Bedelia*

      There are many many reasons why someone might be sick at work, ranging from trivially stupid to serious health problems, and none of them would be anyone else’s business.

      Here is my stupidest story of Reasons To Throw Up At Work:
      Some people cannot tolerate tea on an empty stomach – the tannins cause nausea if there is no fat or protein in the stomach to balance it out. I did not realize I was one of these people until the day I ran out of milk for my tea and didn’t eat breakfast… and had to run for the bathroom 20 minutes later to puke. Someone definitely heard me and had a very concerned and weirded out expression on their face, but I felt 100% better after so I was thankful they didn’t pursue it further.

      Trust that your colleague can deal with their own health issue – if it’s not a big deal, they don’t need your help. If it is a big deal, they also don’t need your help.

      1. bicality*

        High five, also cannot handle tea on an empty stomach. Have thrown up from vitamins as well. Got a lot of pregnant jokes those days (was in my early 20s in both situations).

        1. lilsheba*

          Interesting….I haven’t heard of the tea issue before…I guess I never drank it on an empty stomach. Anyway I would NEVER talk to anyone about anything they’re doing in the bathroom ever. That kind of thing is PRIVATE. I don’t like being asked about it and I certainly don’t want any oversharing. On that note I am extremely grateful I don’t have to deal with that anymore….I can’t stand hearing anyone be sick, I run far away when it happens.

      2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        I have this reaction to green tea in general, protein or not. It also makes me break out in hives (but I am ok with black tea … I guess the fermentation process removes the irritant? Also, I do feel ill, but not so excessively if I drink a lot of black tea). But back to my point, I discovered this reaction when I drank a bottle of green tea at work! I was so glad I was able to get to the bathroom and be alone in there when the initial symptoms hit!

    14. Observer*

      You could mention you saw them heading to the bathroom frequently (in recent time). It won’t appear like you are monitoring or overall know what they did in the bathroom

      Huh? Of course it’s going to look like that! And in fact, they DO have a good idea of what’s happening in the bathroom! That’s why they are asking about it.

      I get it – The OP is not TRYING to be the bathroom monitor, and I don’t think they even want that job. And I also get that they are coming from a good place. But I can’t image being person who is told, no matter how kindly, that someone “noticed” by bathroom habits to the extent that they felt the need to talk to me about it.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        I agree, it will totally look like OP is monitoring bathroom habits. And honestly, she has noticed this person puke twice in a day (presumably the same person), but that does not mean this individual has gone into the bathroom an excessive amount for the day! OP wouldn’t even know if that was a valid thing since that is not what she observed. And different people use the bathroom with different frequency anyhow. I completely agree with you here!

    15. Ripley*

      Please don’t do this. I have IBS, and when I’m having a flare I am both in extreme pain at times, and have to use the bathroom multiple times in a row. I try to be as quiet as possible, but sometimes I verbalize pain, in the form of low moans mostly. I don’t need someone to ask if I’m ok. I am an adult, I know when/how to access medical help if I need it, and I know how to manage when I have a flare. I would prefer it if people just pretend they don’t hear/notice anything, like we all do with all bathroom functions.

    16. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I would leave it alone. The coworker may be pregnant and dealing with morning sickness (which we all know is not really confined to mornings), but that person may not be ready to announce pregnancy. The coworker is an adult and can handle their own situation. Best for OP to get a white noise machine and respect coworker’s privacy in this case.

    17. Education Mike*

      Please, please, please do not do this. This is nothing but a way to satisfy your own curiosity. What on earth would be the point of finding out what the coworkers problem is? Are you going to treat their cancer/bulimia/IBS/food poisoning/whatever it is? Help them plan out their maternity leave? Are you the person this coworker would want to talk to if something was wrong? All this does is let someone know that you’re noticing their bathroom habits. It’s wildly invasive and unhelpful.

      Coworker could be otherwise fine and having a stomach issue. They could have a serious problem. Either way telling them that their coworkers, who they’re not sharing this information with, are noticing it is not ever going to be the thing that makes them feel better. Please don’t convince yourself this would be some kind of kindness.

      Like with the OP who suffers from acne, this is a case of “you don’t have to say something out loud just because you’re thinking about it.”

  11. Lirael*

    A) I’m pretty sure this other agency charges far more than I do for this terrible work. B) I’m concerned that I’m unwittingly helping the AI-using firm to refine their process.

    A): I would definitely increase your rates, then :)

    B): can you tell them that what you’re getting is contradictory and inaccurate?! Because if I was the client I’d want to know.

    I don’t work in this area though so I might be miles off-base :)

  12. SomePeopleCantWrite*

    Are you sure they’re using AI? Sadly, I’ve edited human-written content thst was so oddly constructed it could have passed for AI. Some people are just terrible writers; some of aren’t aware of this. If you’re going to explicitly say you’re not editing AI content be very certain the vontent you don’t want is actually generated by AI.

    1. LolaBugg*

      This made me chuckle. Part of my job is proofreading the content my department puts out and I have definitely seen some horribly written things… things that I wish I could blame on AI but sadly, we’re written but actual humans.

      1. LolaBugg*

        Also I hate when I out myself as a proofreader and then autocorrect does me dirty… that should say “were written by actual humans.”

        1. Stay-at-Homesteader*

          Honestly, I noticed that and just assumed it was autocorrect and giggled really hard (at the obnoxious technology, not at you!), so thank you for the morning laugh.

          Effing autocorrect, sometimes people are just trying to type the word “well” or “its!” (And yes, I just had to go back and correct autocorrect on both of those.)

          1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

            Re: “its”

            My phone keeps trying to put a T in front of that. XD Which is weird, since I can’t think of a single time I’ve needed to type *that* word when texting my mom something (99% of my phone usage. I am not particularly social.) My phone also tries to autocorrect other normal words to vulgar ones, so I’ve decided I just ended up with the Pixel that was programmed for chaos.

            1. Student*

              You should look at what you have enabled for autocorrect. Some phones have different options for how autocorrect works. It sure sounds like you’re using a publicly-sourced one that’s learning from everyone else’s texting. You can sometimes set it to only learn from your own texting, or just disable it if it’s doing more harm than good.

              What I hate is when it auto-corrects wrong, then I go fix it, and it immediately tries to do the same autocorrect that I just undid.

      2. Translator*

        I find after editing humans for some time, you develop an intuitive sense of where the text can be trusted and where it needs attention.

        The challenge with AI (at least with AI-generated translations) is when it introduces mistakes, they slip past your intuition. They “feel” right, but they’re the kinds of mistakes that a human would never make. So you have to scrutinize everything in detail, rather than only having to scrutinize the aspects that your extensive experience has taught you need attention, and can’t trust any single aspect of the text – not even aspects that proved trustworthy earlier in the text.

        If you’ve worked with human-produced texts for some time and then encounter a few known AI texts, you get a strong sense of “This is AI weird”. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any easier to edit.

        1. Another translator*

          This is spot on.

          The agency I work for does post-editing and although I am a bit reluctant, I accepted to give it a try. I must say that I have been surprised by the quality of the AI output. It is nowhere near an OK human translator, of course, but it’s leaps and bounds better than it was 5-10 years ago.

          BUT even so: 1) it doesn’t increase productivity by much, and 2) everything you said about post-editing machine translation vs revising a human translation is true. What AI does well is the fast and easy part of the job anyway. AI might be able to translate a simple sentence like “the cat is on the table” perfectly but typing it from scratch wouldn’t have taken me long anyway. Anything that’s complex in any way, it flubs completely and I still have to do all the same work of researching concepts and finding the best ways to express the author’s message. And that’s what’s time-consuming. Overall the gains, if any, are minimal.

          And even when the AI output requires minimal changes, it’s not necessarily faster. If the sentence is OK but I wouldn’t have used the passive voice and would have chosen a different adjective, I only have to flip the subject and object, tweak the verb, change the adjective but I could have typed it from scratch in the same amount of time. PEMT proponents really underestimate the time and energy the first takes.

          In the end, even if I’ve been surprised by the quality of the AI suggestions, I often just delete them and type my own, as if it were a translation project and I know my colleagues do the same (I’m paid salary so it doesn’t make a difference financially for me).

          1. Translator*

            What AI does well is the fast and easy part of the job anyway.

            Yes, this is it – AI does the easy part well, which is not the problem I need to solve because I also do the easy part well. AND it hides the difficult part so you have to find it before you can do the work.

            If I’m translating myself from scratch, the terms that I need to research or the phrases that seem like they might be hidden quotes remain in the source language until I have done my research – nice and conspicuous, so I know exactly what I still have to work on.

            With AI output, they sound exactly like the kind of complete, finalized translation that doesn’t need further attention, but an unknown (and, most often, sizeable) portion are incorrect.

            For the non-translators out there: imagine receiving a document where between 12% and 76% of the abbreviations are randomly generated, between 19% and 83% of the technical terms and legal boilerplate have been paraphrased by a non-expert, but between 67% and 91% of the bits in between are fine. And between 0 and 4 meaning-shifting errors have been inserted into the document. And you’re told “Just look it over real quick and make sure everything is fine. But, of course, if anything is not fine, you’ll be held responsible.”

        2. Bread Crimes*

          Yes! I’ve compared it to the way I could sometimes tell what someone’s native language was when I got an awkwardly composed email in English, back when I did customer service. My manager would call on me to help figure those out, because often I could figure out by what type of baffling constructions were coming up what language the person was coming from, and thus figure out what they meant–even if my language skills in the writer’s language weren’t enough that I would’ve been able to read the email if it had been written in that language instead of badly translated.

          These days, as a language instructor instead of a customer service rep, that comes up a lot less in emails… but I can tell when my students break out Google Translate on their homework assignments, because the AI makes very different errors than a struggling student does.

    2. WellRed*

      I’ve ocassionally received content that had me scratching my head over it’s structure and now I’m wondering…

    3. ThatGirl*

      As part of my job I sometimes edit case studies that were written in another language and poorly translated into English. I’ve joked that they read like they were run through google translate but now I wonder if it might be AI written.

  13. Yellow+Flotsam*

    LW1 – there’s always nuance, but if group decisions are made, and you’re part of the group, you shouldn’t be throwing your colleagues under a bus and blaming them.

    So if someone didn’t get promoted, you should be owning the team decision and providing the reasons the team didn’t support the promotion, even if you personally did.

    1. ecnaseener*

      But if the VP above the manager turns it down, as in the example, that’s not a group decision.

      1. Yellow+Flotsam*

        I still think you need to be careful about highlighting disagreement with reasonable (reasonable in the sense of is part of that persons job to take such action) decisions made by higher up.

        It’s really hard to be on the receiving end of a boss who is busy pointing out that they aren’t on the same page as the senior leaders.

        You can still own the message and represent the group that is those who decide promotion, even if it is one person who has ultimate say. You can be honest that you supported the promotion application (or whatever it is there) and thought they were competitive, but that they were unsuccessful and here’s why. You just don’t need to get in to – I don’t think those things are important, or I disagree unless you hostility think there’s something egregious going on.

    2. Allonge*

      In this case though, it would be even more important to provide the reasons why a promotion was not supported because that allows the person to learn and maybe make it happen. Or decide it will never happen.

      I think it would be reasonable for a manager to say they don’t necessarily agree with the overall decision and still have a frank discussion. But it’s important indeed not to imply that the other managers are totally unreasonable about this.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        But what if they are? When I was a section OIC in the Army Reserve, I tried pushing a promotion for one deserving soldier, and the senior civilian in the unit blocked it because this other guy had been there longer. The problem was the other guy looked like he was in his 87th trimester, couldn’t shoot to save his life, and didn’t do his job well at all. How can I justify something like that??

        1. Yellow+Flotsam*

          You have two options – focus on disagreeing with the decision, or provide clear feedback. In this case, that tenure was considered critical and factored in to why person was not promoted.

          You don’t have to say you agreed with the decision – but you also don’t have to proactively highlight that you disagreed with it.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            The default is that you agree with it unless you say otherwise. And if the decisions was manifestly stupid and you agree with it then you are stupid too. Providing “clear feedback” on an indefensible without mentioning that it wasn’t your call is a good way to lose your team. You don’t want to create an “us vs. them vibe” but if a particular decision is going to create it anyway you do have to pick your side.

  14. I don't mean to be rude, I'm just good at it.*

    One of my many adventures was a financial interest in a screen printing/embroidery company. I would look for winter closeouts in the spring and hide them in the storage area. Our best clients received some amazing embroidered jackets/hoodies or whatever I was able to get a deal on. We got away cheap and our customers were always blown away with our “generosity”.

  15. Llama Llama*

    I used to work relatively near the bathrooms in an open space environment. That in of itself was fine. Well, they decided to comply with ADA requirements they were going to take the doors to the bathroom off (not stalls!) so people with mobility issues could get in easier.

    We could hear waaaaaay too much after that. After many complaints, they added white noise machines…. It didn’t help. So they finally put the doors back on and added a button to open automatically.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, my office has two bathrooms that are back-t0-back, but one opens into the general work area and the other opens into the garage. They both, mercifully, have noisy exhaust fans that come on automatically when you turn on the light, but almost everyone uses the garage bathroom.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Fellow disabled person – also hate this but not surprised. Instead of just *gasp* asking what accommodations people need, places do awful things like this.

    2. EPLawyer*

      In what fresh hell did someone come up with this idea? buttons to automatically open doors have been around for a LONG time. Had the people who came up with the idea never gone through a door before? Almost all buildings have the button on them. Like WTF.

    3. lilsheba*

      ugh no doors? OH hell no. Push button door openers are the way to go. Although the non disabled people that insist on using them need to stop! They keep the doors open longer for obvious reasons and it takes away from my privacy when I’m in there. If you aren’t disabled then push or pull the door yourself.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        I don’t fully agree here. The doors with those installed are a lot heavier to push and I am often carrying a lot or pushing a cart. I will certainly not use it if I am not loaded down, but if I am, I will use it and just stay by the door area until I see them close to avoid unauthorized access if it is a door where such a precaution makes sense. In fact, my workplace even says this … not to use the buttons unless you are disabled and need it due to mobility issues or you are carrying a heavy load or pushing a cart!

        1. lilsheba*

          Ok well that makes sense, but one is typically NOT carrying a heavy load or pushing a cart into a bathroom. So one can pull or push open the door there.

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

      OMG it’s an office not a mall! You need to have the doors on the bathroom to drown out the noise. Did no one think to just put the button on in the first place?

      1. lilsheba*

        In one workplace they propped the door open on the bathroom, which is just as bad as taking it off. I kept closing it. They finally put a button in. I would rather struggle with the door than give up my privacy.

      2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Oh, I am sure they thought of it and then thought, but removing the doors will be cheaper.

        I doubt it is even all that expensive when it comes to accommodation costs, but I guarantee they did it to be cheap!

    5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      That was one really messed up way to deal with mobility concerns! And a great way to make things hard on people with other disabilities and health conditions. Yikes!

  16. MurpMaureep*

    I’m just here to thank LW 4 for the Harlan Ellison shout out. Well and to agree that helping the machines refine their speech patterns could have unintended consequences!

  17. Random Bystander*

    For LW#3, I am very sympathetic. I have a strong sympathetic gag & nausea reaction when I hear someone else vomit, and it sounds like LW3 does, also. White noise may help, but leaving the office when it happens may be the only solution (but not as a means to try to identify who is having the issue). I wouldn’t try to identify the person, but whatever the person’s issue might be, it should be a transitory issue. If there’s any way to add some decor that has some noise-blocking properties, that might help, too.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Honestly, if white noise doesn’t fix it, OP needs to talk to their boss about how to fix the issue because it is affecting her physically. She does not need to talk to the coworker and certainly it is not the coworker’s responsibility to address OP’s issue.

  18. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    LW 3, I too share a wall with the bathroom in a building that started as a pre-fab bus depot so you can imagine how much insulation is protecting their privacy. You absolutely should not ever mention to anyone what you hear (or smell) going on in the bathroom.

    I can’t attest to the utility of white noise machines, but I find lo-fi instrumental music on my noise cancelling headphones is enough to protect me. If those aren’t options/effective, all you can do is remove yourself from the situation without saying why. Do keep in mind that anyone you talk to about it may also use that restroom and then have the uncomfortable knowledge that their privacy is an illusion.

    In a society where we are really weird about bathroom stuff and folk will give themselves bladder infections before letting someone hear them pee, the most compassionate thing you can do is maintain that illusion of privacy.

    (That being said, if you suspect this is an ED, you still should never mention it to them, but someone might consider the option of posting info in the restroom about the Employee Assistance Program if you have one. That’s just food for thought not like a definite solution.)

    1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

      That being said, if you suspect this is an ED

      That’s just food for thought not like a definite solution.

      I gotta confess, I simultaneously laughed/felt a little guilty for laughing at this!

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I think it took me 3 or 4 readings to settle on the right definition of ED.

        1. Bread Crimes*

          Presumably the noises would be very different if it were the other type!

          …one of the other types. The medical other type, anyway.

    2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Yeah, I feel bad for anyone who cannot let anyone hear them pee, because that sounds painful and probably worth talking to a doctor and/or therapist about (especially if they give themselves bladder infections)! But I think most people are weird about it with bowel movements and/or vomiting!

  19. Dust Bunny*

    I’m in some hobby FB groups where people often take pictures of items they’ve just received in the mail, and we’re always very quick to let them know that addresses, etc., are visible and that they need to edit those out and re-post the picture. Not in a judgy way, just, “Wait–I can see your home address! Quick, blot that out.”

  20. Dinwar*

    LW #1: That’s tricky. On the one hand, as a manager you are Them. You’re part of the management team, and thus what the team decides you are responsible for. Your first loyalty is to the company. On the other hand, you need to demonstrate loyalty to the team as well. Your team deserves to know, for example, that you went to bat for someone and that you were shot down.

    Not gonna lie, I’ve often said “I don’t agree with this, but I’m obliged to require it” when management made decisions I disagree with. We’re humans, and we have differing opinions on things. That’s normal, and I think any reasonably rational adult will recognize it as such. It’s also normal in a group setting for one’s opinions to be shot down on occasion–sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad.

    Ultimately if it’s not your decision, you have to enforce the rules. That means sometimes making people do things you don’t think are optimal. I think it’s okay to state that once, maybe twice, and after that it is what it is.

  21. Neon*

    The people actually making the decision are welcome to own their own message.

    If I’m just the person in the middle and can’t give Samir a raise he deserves because Lumbergh said “No raises this year” I’m sure not going to act like that policy was my idea.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      I do believe Alison addressed that issue by saying that it’s tricky because you need to let the employee have the truth so that they can decide if they have a future with this organization. I would really want that information as the employee.

      And like you, I wouldn’t be happy about having to own a message that wasn’t my own.

    2. Dinwar*

      I think it’s fair to tell your staff you disagree with such a decision, but at the end of the day one of the jobs of a manager is to take blame. Again, you’re the immediate face of Them. What They do, you get blamed for. In a healthy work environment this isn’t super common, but it does come up on occasion.

      1. GythaOgden*

        In other situations, like mine, with a supervisor in open revolt against the higher-ups when it comes to things that will actually help my professional development, it can be really frustrating to have someone blocking that kind of progress. The great-grand-boss came round the other day, and my supervisor and my colleague both gave her the stinkeye, but fortunately I was elsewhere at the time and hopefully gave her a good impression of my own professionalism. I don’t agree with at least some of what they’re doing, but at least she seemed receptive to my understanding of the situation and willing to work with me on some things rather than treating me as ‘just the receptionist, what could you possibly know about anything?’.

        It’s why I have booked a long weekend to finally get my CV up to date :(. Luckily I can’t quit without working a month’s notice (UK standard), otherwise I’d have already done that, but being between corporate on the one hand and stick in the muds on the other is just exhausting and demoralising.

  22. HannahS*

    LW2 I’ve sent a coworker a quick private message to say “Hey, not sure if it shows ok your screen, but on mine I can see [information]–just a heads up!”

    Very much not a big deal, and offers the polite fiction that they didn’t know it was visible (which is sometimes true, too.)

  23. I should be working*

    LW2, please speak with your co-worker about the visible screens a.s.a.p..

    For some companies it may be as Hannah said, “very much not a big deal”. On the other hand my employer is very clear that this is grounds for immediate termination due to the possible confidential nature of the information. And yes, I’ve seen people lose their job because of it.

  24. Hiring Mgr*

    “own the message” has its place, but in this case it just sounds like your VP trying to pass the buck

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      VP isn’t owning their own message here.

      There’s an art to disagreeing with a message without completely badmouthing the decision makers or creating that us vs them dynamic Alison mentions, and that’s a skill managers should master. But managers also need to have the trust of their direct reports and have some level of transparency in that relationship for it to work. They should not take all the heat if it means lying about their own motivations and perceptions.

  25. Sarah Wolfe*

    I think the trick with client gifts is not to send them in December! We send a small box of locally-made chocolates in the early days of Thanksgiving week, when people are kind of itching for days off/the holidays. Universal*raves*.

    There’s also an option to do something summery… I once saw a “just add tequila” bag with chips, salsa, and a bottle of margarita mix. (But personally I’d do fresh limes instead, and include cards with recipes for margaritas or limeade.) Basically the options are endless (and more appreciated/standout) if you just get out of December.

  26. The Person from the Resume*

    Someone needs to talk to Shannon about her lack of information security.

    I have always been taught not to take pictures of your work computer with work information on it. This is basic information security. I’m guessing Shannon never got that training. While what you see is on slack is internal, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s also posting these cute cat pictures to her public social media. She can still take these photos. What she can do is simply minimize all the apps to only show her desktop background.

    If you don’t want to talk to her. I’d either alert the person responsible for information/computer security about the issue or her boss and let them deal with it.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      Agreed. It’s never a good idea to take pictures at work, and often against the rules. If this company is in a regulated area (think FDA or similar) this could get the organization in a lot of trouble.

      If you are working from home, you’re still working, and the same security rules still apply. LW should say something, but Shannon’s manager should also be informed so that Shannon can get updated training about security.

    2. MurpMaureep*

      Agree completely. When I read the question I thought that not only should the LW mention something to Shannon, but it would also be a good opportunity to talk to their own manager/compliance officer/CIO about broader information security training and protocols (while not outing Shannon!).

      I work in healthcare IT and we naturally have a lot of training and requirements for protecting PHI as well as generally sensitive information. I also have adorable cats who like to visit me while I work and whose pictures I take and share. But I always make sure nothing – screens, notes, etc. – is visible

    3. Please Mark This Confidential and Leave It Lying Around*

      Agree entirely and as always, frustrated by people’s basic inability to just speak up already! Why is it so fraught to tell Shannon you can read her screen and it’s broadcasting confidential information? I know I missed a few etiquette lessons along the way, but on what planet is that rude or boundary-crossing to point out?

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        I mean, just look at the comment threads towards the top where people are saying that the LW is being creepy and bizarre for looking at the pictures that closely.

        (To be clear, I don’t think the LW is doing anything wrong and I think it would be fine for her to give Shannon a heads-up on this)

        1. MurpMaureep*

          I didn’t get those reactions at all. I feel like the LW is doing their due diligence in being on the lookout for unintentional disclosures of personal info in a professional setting. That’s not at all weird, it’s smart! It’s also something that gets covered in institutional security and compliance training in many industries.

          Maybe those who had the creepy/bizarre reaction haven’t worked in environments where information breaches are a big deal, but I’d ask them to imagine how they’d feel if a coworker had their home address, calendar, etc. in the background of a picture that was going out to others.

          Side note, I also boggle at real estate listings where family information is clearly visible and linked to an address. For example, a child’s room with a name spelled out on the wall and their toys all around. Not to get too Stranger Danger, but it doesn’t take a super villain to imagine what someone could do knowing that Jackson lives at 123 Prairie Lane, has a dog named Snuffles, and adores porcupines (fans of Dexter see where I’m going with this).

          1. metadata minion*

            The vast majority of child abuse/kidnappings is committed by someone the child knows well, usually a family member.

    4. LimeRoos*

      Hope this isn’t a double reply since my first one was nommed by the internet goblins.

      But this! I had a coworker in the first summer of the panini (love that phrase lol) that would take snaps of wherever they were working, since we were wfh and it was awesome, but a few had their computer up with patient information clearly visible and we’re in a HIPAA field. Since I had no idea how they’d react, I just reached out to our compliance department. They handled it really well, the coworker is still here and doing great (I don’t think they realized how visible it was), and now I’m more comfortable if I’m ever in that situation again. So that is a way to go as well, and hopefully your compliance/info sec dept is good and will just give a gentle reminder since it’s not like, PHI or anything.

    5. lilsheba*

      Yeah I agree. I never take photos of my work computer screen at home unless it’s JUST the background because I really don’t want to leak work info out there.

  27. Former Gifted Kid*

    I had a tricky time learning the nuances of “own the message” in my first manager position. It was at a nonprofit. The CEO made a big public decision about the direction of one of our programs. The people who actually worked in that program hated the decision and thought it was wrong. My department was basically customer service, so we were tasked with answering the many questions from the public about the decision. The higher-ups decided to give my department talking points. The talking points were clearly written by marketing without any input from the program staff. They were inane. I wish I could share them with you all without giving away exactly where I worked. There was one point especially that was just not any any person would actually talk to another person one-on-one when they were concerned about our issues, and especially not our main audience.

    Anywho, when it came time to share the talking points with my team, I had kinda planned on saying, “Here’s some bullshit from above me. You still have to read it, but use your best judgement when talking to clients. You don’t have to say this stuff.” Luckily, my amazing manager stopped me before I actually said that in the team meeting. She explained to me that she know that my team probably disagrees with The Decision, she did too, but it was happening. The best thing to do was not breed more resentment, but to help my team figure out how to translate marketing talking points into something they felt comfortable saying to clients. It was a much more productive meeting than if I had just thrown the CEO under the bus.

  28. Parenthesis Dude*

    LW1: As a non-manager, I try my best to work closely with my managers. But in general, if a manager tells me that a VP doesn’t think I’m good enough to get a promotion, I’m going to think that the manager agrees with the VP. At the very least, I’m going to think that my manager is largely irrelevant.

    The one exception is if I can trust my manager to be candid about these sort of things and tell me things that aren’t pleasant to hear. In other words, if they’re able to show me that they’ll “own the message”. So, I think I’m a fan of this philosophy.

  29. Observer*

    #4 – Editing AI generated content.

    I have some sympathy for your stance and even more for your situation. But I think that there is a fundamental issue with your approach to the decision. You write “Or hope that in pointing out its deficiencies, my clients will avoid AI content generation?” Unlike choice one and three, which are both perfectly reasonable choices, this simply fails to recognize reality. Your clients KNOW that there are issues with the quality! That’s why they are paying you to edit it!

    I wonder why they are paying for content that then needs this level of editing. But that’s presumably a decision that they are making with knowledge of what they are doing. I do think you could mention (ONCE) that you find that this stuff needs a lot more editing than other material you see and ask them why this works for them? Not in a challenging way, but in a genuinely curious way. It may give you some good insight on the one hand, and *IF* someone in the decision tree missed how much extra they are paying, it might cause them to look again. But I’d have to say that the latter is unlikely.

    1. Riot Grrrl*

      I wonder why they are paying for content that then needs this level of editing.

      Because it is cheaper to pay $5 for someone to generate the copy plus $50 to edit it than to pay $100 to generate the copy plus $20 to edit it.

      My company does the same thing with offshored human writers. It’s essentially the same thing. Our editing costs are higher, but that is way more than offset by the lower generation costs. It’s business survival in a very tough world.

      1. Observer*

        That makes sense. But the OP seems to think that the company is actually paying a lot more to generate the content. That’s why I wondered.

      2. Another translator*

        I don’t know if that’s the same for copy but in translation, the quality of a 50$ translation followed by a 40$ edit is lower than that of a 100$ translation followed by a 20$ edit. So yes, they have spent 30$ less but they also got a lower quality product.

        Back when I was freelancing, some clients seemed to think that if they ask me to revise a shoddy text, they’d get a final product that would be the same level of quality as if I had translated it. So they would have gotten my level of skills cheaper. Unfortunately for them, that’s not the case.

        I don’t know if that holds for copy though and of course, sometimes, the lower quality product might be enough and preferable for the price.

        1. Riot Grrrl*

          I agree with this. My company definitely falls into that last category. What we get back is not the genius quality level we would get with the $100 writing. However, what we generate is ephemeral material that will be out of date by the end of the month. It need not be Tolstoy. So for us it makes sense to do the offshoring and then gussy it up.

    2. Another translator*

      I can see why you would think that but my experience in a very similar field (translation) has been different and leads me to disagree that it “fails to recognize reality”.

      Yes, some clients are aware of and/or don’t care about the issues with the quality and have made a deliberate final decision to proceed that way anyway but others don’t realize how lacking the AI-produced content is and how much it costs them, and are willing to reconsider their decision. When you are a freelancer, it can be on you – and pay off – to educate your clients.

  30. Jennifer Strange*

    #3 reminds me of when I was in my first year of my first “real” job. My desk shared a wall with the nearby bathroom and I heard one of my teammates vomiting in the bathroom (I was the only one in the office). When she came back in I asked if she was okay (and then felt bad because I could tell she was embarrassed that I had heard). She said she was fine and I figured it was just something she ate. It wasn’t until a month later when she told us she was pregnant I put the pieces together.

  31. Actual Output from AI Text Generator*

    Please rethink your bias against AI text generators. Today’s AI text generators are better than any amateur author writing actual content on Wikipedia.

    Comic sans

    Avoid. Unless you have some unique way of expressing yourself, I don’t see the point.

    The above was created by an AI generator after I fed it information from letter #4.

    1. Student*

      My vote: this example is evidence in favor of LW #4’s position on AI-generated text, despite the AI text generator’s protestations.

    2. nnn*

      This is actually a perfect example of how AI-generated content is and is not useful.

      If you have literally zero clue what the thing (in this case, an argument in support of AI-generated text) looks like, it gives you a vague idea.

      But it doesn’t bring anything to the table that a human couldn’t also do with a bare minimum of knowledge and a bare minimum of labour, and it introduces some weird flukes that drastically hinder its credibility.

  32. kilo*

    Similar to some of the comments above, could you charge more for editing AI-generated text? Or dodge the AI issue completely and let your contact know that the text that this company is generating is below standard, and required input from you that goes above standard editing/proofing? This way, it’s not about what you will and won’t do, or AI, it’s about the quality of the product being produced at the other company? (not in the field at all, so apologies if my suggestions are impractical).

  33. kilo*

    LW5 – I volunteer with a group that gives me a local restaurant voucher every year, and I think it’s great. It does make me feel appreciated, and it something I use. Caveat: I live in a town of 1000 people with exactly 3 restaurants which are all equally good (or equally bad, depending on your mood), so there’s no risk of giving me a voucher for a place that is inconvenient, or that I would never go to. Someone else gives me a thanksgiving pie from a fancy bakery in the next town across. I get to choose which type of pie I want, and I can also gift it to someone else if I’m out of town / don’t want it. I like this too – although I gift it every year, as we’re typically not home.

    1. TRC*

      My former company also didn’t do end of year gifts. We stood out because we did pies during Thanksgiving week. Instead of a gift card going to one person, everyone in their offices has a chance to participate and enjoy the pies.

      We’re in construction so the project managers decided how many pies each client received. There was a general formula but in construction, a lot of people that we work with are on construction sites so they could order as many as they wanted. It was their responsibility to deliver them since it was about interacting with the clients.

      Let’s just say that bringing a pie or two out to a job site was wildly successful and people LOVED it. They are not the high level people in the clients office but the ones we interact with daily. The main offices also got some pies and everyone from admins to accounting to project managers to executives got to enjoy them. Admins don’t get a lot of direct thanks from their customers.

      One hurdle was that not all job sites had things like paper plates, forks, and napkins. Another was that the pies were delivered with each flavors of pie bagged together when we wanted to sent an assortment of flavors to they clients. We actually came in at 5 am to spend the morning sorting through the pies and bagging them for each location before the PMs started asking where their pies were. Plus we put together the plate/fork/napkins kits ourselves which took forever since we ordered a at least a couple hundred pies (the bakery rented a uhaul to deliver them since they could only be stacked so high). The receptionist and a couple other people spent a couple weeks doing the bags in their “spare” time. The plates had our logo on them. We even discussed getting custom pie boxes and bags to deliver them in. I left before they worked that out.

      A new lady with major even planning expertise joined the company. When we explained the process, she called the pie company to ask how much it would cost to have them sort the pies and make up the plate and utensil bags. It was a pretty minor cost to us and they were happy to do it. After that, all we had to do was sort them by PM and they just had to pick up their bags and go deliver them.

      There were already some people taking Thanksgiving week off entirely so not everyone got to enjoy the pies but there was a lot of word of mouth that they had received them.

      It was extremely popular and our gift didn’t get lost in the pile of other year end gifts. People talked about it, which is what you want your clients to do.

      Employees also got a pie or two.

      If you work with very small companies where it makes sense to only give a gift to a single person, a gift card might be a good idea. For medium to bigger clients, something that spreads the joy around and at an unexpected time of the year is great PR.

      We also did an electronic end of the year “card” that we blasted to every client email address we had . It was less than a minute and showed candid shots of employees of all sorts. The CEO or President did a voiceover that was highly customized to the year. Some years the economy was challenging and we acknowledged that but were uplifting about next year. We got a handful of people who asked to be removed from the list but most people either watched it or deleted. We also got a lot of comments about how great it was. This was about ten or so years ago so we were trailblazers in that.

      But yeah, my new office still receives a huge amount of paper cards, which is just weird. We hang them up on a wall and maybe some people glance at the exteriors but rarely look inside. Then we take them down and throw them all away.

  34. DivergentStitches*

    #5 – if they’re local, how about a gift certificate to a locally-owned restaurant with something written on there that it’s for a “lunch/dinner for the team” etc. In other words, show them it’s for everyone at their office to enjoy, not just for the person who gets the gift certificate?

  35. Observer*

    #3- Bathroom sounds.

    I understand that it’s uncomfortable to hear this kind of stuff. But please stop and think about what you just asked. I understand why you might want to say something to the person, although I TOTALLY agree with all the people who say you shouldn’t do that.

    But why on earth would you even think of bringing it to either their manager or HR? The only person who has any standing to bring someone’s illness to either of those people is the (possibly) ill person. No one else. Certainly not you. On the other hand, what exactly do you think you accomplish?

    Considering that you don’t even know for sure who it is, the idea of going to someone with this information is exponentially worse.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I was taken to task by upper management for not reporting someone vomiting once. It turned out she’d fallen on the way to work, hit her head quite badly, and had a concussion. Her parents read our HR head the riot act when she got home for not knowing what was going on and not seeking medical attention for her.

      I had no way of knowing it was a head injury versus a hangover or morning sickness or any other number of things that I could not imagine a coworker that I barely knew would have wanted to discuss with me. But, my boss and HR felt differently. It does feel sometimes with these sorts of things like you can’t win.

      1. WellRed*

        This is wrong on all levels but I’m genuinely curious: did you actually know she was vomiting or were they just looking to lay blame? I wouldn’t have known either and I’m guessing you had no way of knowing her other symptoms let alone they could signal a real problem.

    2. SofiaDeo*

      Vomiting is not a normal bathroom sound. It could be minor, but it could be serious. I personally would go knock and ask if they were OK. I am in healthcare, though, and we had call buttons in our bathrooms. It was not inconceivable that someone got ill so quickly they couldn’t ask for help. I probably would do it in an office as well. Normal bathroom sounds, I would ignore.

  36. Brains or Bust*

    As someone with pretty bad emetophobia, it was good exposure therapy reading horror stories about people getting sick at work. Happy Friday!

    1. IEanon*

      Same! I shared an office wall with a bathroom, and lived in lowkey panic every time someone went in for the first 18 months of my job. (Luckily very few sounds actually bled over.)

      Then the pandemic hit, and if I wasn’t working from home, I was the only one in the building. I think I’m one of the few people who can say that the covid lockdown actually improved my mental health.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        We are back in office (state agency, change of political party administration), and I came in a lot during the pandemic to get out of my apartment and because I wanted to take my dog to doggy daycare to play with other dogs. It is always really quiet in my department, whether we are in office or not. But one thing I really really miss is the fact that I could count on being alone in the bathroom when the majority of us were remote!