boss won’t leave me alone about her romantic problems, I’ve become the office seamstress, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. My manager won’t leave me alone about her romantic problems

My senior manager recently left her husband for another man. This new relationship is very unstable in that they split up on an almost weekly basis. I’ve known my manager for over 20 years, but she has only recently come to work in our team. When she and the new man split up, it is always his decision and she takes it really badly and it severely affects things at work. She will tell everyone about her problems and regularly posts about it on social media. She has called me at home in a state and I’ve spent hours with her trying to console her. But now I’m beginning to feel smothered by her, she won’t leave me alone outside of work, and me and my colleagues are literally carrying her at work and we get no thanks from her for it. I’m at the end of my tether.

Stop answering her calls outside of work. Or if you do answer and she wants to talk about her relationship problems, explain you’re unable to talk (you’re walking into a movie theater / just met a friend for dinner / entertaining guests / running out the door to meet your sister) and will see her the next day at work.

At work, if she tries to lay relationship talk on you, say this: “I know you’re going through a tough time, but since you’re my boss, I don’t feel right being a sounding board for this anymore. I’m sorry I can’t help. I hope you have people outside of work you can talk with.” And then if she continues to try it after that: “Sorry, I’ve got to finish up the X project — I hope things get better for you!” (Accompany that with appropriate body language like turning back to your computer and continuing to work.) And if it still continues: “Jane, I’m so sorry you’re having a tough time, but I’m not comfortable being your sounding board at work. Now that you’re my boss, I feel strongly that we need to have different boundaries in place. I know I didn’t say that earlier, but I’ve realized that I should have. I hope you understand.” And encourage your coworkers to set boundaries with her too.

Regarding carrying her at work — one option is simply to stop. By covering her work for her, you’re enabling her in not doing it herself. Step back from that and see if she steps up (and if she doesn’t, let her deal with the consequences of that).


2. I’ve become the office seamstress

I’m a marketing professional in a small-ish office (100 employees) and I’ve made a name for myself recently as the office seamstress. I’ve made quilts for a few of my colleagues who I’m friends with when they had babies, and they were well received and admired throughout the office.
I’m worried this unofficial role is getting a little out of hand. We recently had an event which had bandanas as swag, so I offered to make pillows out of the leftovers for the office, with the assumption that it would be relatively at my leisure. I received the go-ahead to expense the materials; I wouldn’t have made them if I’d had to pay out of pocket for the required resources. Recently, the HR person gave me an “If you can do it, it’d be great!” deadline for the pillows — two weeks away for +30 pillows — because there’s a company-wide meeting she’d like to show them off at, so it’s not really at my leisure anymore, it’s a project with a deadline. Also, I was recently I was speaking with our head of HR and office manager and it was suggested I become an official quilt-maker for baby gifts for pregnant office members, rather than the office manager simply sending a gift basket, and I would expense that, too, versus the quilts I put together previously, which were self-financed gifts to people I care about.

To be clear, I don’t mind this unofficial role. It gives me the resources to practice my quilting without actually having to invest any money (or storage space for finished projects!). My question is whether I should be billing for my time. I feel like making a quilt or pillows on a deadline moves the activity out of a goodness-of-my-heart project into, “maybe I should be charging more than just material costs” territory. I have, however, already shown willingness to do these things, so it feels weird to go back and insist they pay me extra for my time. How do I unblurr that line between unofficial crafter and seamstress on staff?

Hmmm, I think these are two separate things. For the “if you can do it, it’d be great!” deadline for the pillows, I would take your HR person at her word and reply, “Unfortunately I won’t be able to do it by then. I’m working on these as I have time, but two weeks wouldn’t be feasible.” If you get pushed about when you will have them done by, say, “Hmm, I’m not sure. It’s not the kind of work where I do it to deadline. In the future if I’m donating any of this work to the office, I’ll make sure that’s clear.” (And then make sure you do that in the future. If they’re paying for the materials, it’s not unreasonable that they’d want to know it’s going to happen within a certain time period, but you’re allowed to say at the start — before anything is expensed — that this isn’t deadline-driven work for you, and if they don’t like that, they can opt out at that point.)

As for becoming the official quilt-maker for baby gifts … honestly, I wouldn’t do it. It has too much potential for problems if you don’t feel like doing all of them (and when you’ve done them for some people but not for others) and there’s going to be more built-in time pressure on those. But if you do decide to do those, then yes, absolutely you can bill for your work; otherwise it would be a baby gift that’s mostly from you, rather than from your office. It would be perfectly reasonable to say something like, “If we were going to have an ongoing arrangement like that, I’d charge $X for time and materials. Does that work?”

But really, it’s okay to set boundaries here and say, “I really just do it for fun, so I’d prefer to keep it more ad hoc and just when I have the time and the inspiration.”


Read an update to this letter here.

3. My manager wants to keep trainees “hermetically sealed off” from other staff

I am one of about 20 designers for a very technical company and also one of the trainers for new designers. We have a lot of turnover, partly because the only jobs we offer are contract, and partly because training is so intense that only about one in four trainees make it. To try to increase the percentage of trainees that succeed, we’ve implemented a bunch of effective strategies. The latest, however, is concerning to me; my manager decreed the other day that in addition to the trainees only being allowed to direct questions to the trainer/designers (which sort of makes sense), they are also only allowed to have lunch with the trainer/designers, specifically, the person assigned as their trainer. Other designers and members of the team are not allowed to join the table. Usually most of us eat lunch together, so this is huge departure from the norm.

My manager said it was to keep trainees “hermetically sealed” (presumably from “contamination” from other designers, with something vague about so we wouldn’t have to un-train bad design habits picked up from lunchtime conversation).

I am really uncomfortable with this, but I can’t really put my finger on why, other than I think it’s just going to make the turnover worse (I’d certainly bail if I were a trainee presented with this and had other options). I am going to speak with my manager about this, but I wanted to see if I am off base in pushing back on this. Am I?

You’re uncomfortable with it because (a) it’s treating adults like children whose social relationships can be managed, and (b) in addition to making trainees feel infantilized, it’s going to make them feel like your company is hiding something.

You’re not off-base in pushing back.


Read an update to this letter here.

4. How much should I watch what I say around a coworker with financial worries?

I’m a “senior” in my team and earn a considerable amount more (30% more perhaps) than a mid-level colleague I work closely with. Our life situations are quite different: I am a few years older and single (and benefited from investments in the past), whereas the colleague has a young family and is the sole breadwinner, recently moved to a bigger house on account of family, and as such is stretched from paycheck to paycheck with little in the way of contingency funds. The colleague has spoken over the last few weeks and months about their financial worries and I have tried to be sympathetic and offer practical solutions where I see them.

As a result, I’m conscious of what I can discuss or mention in the office. We have a very informal and chatty environment, so any discussion is usually okay, except I feel uncomfortable mentioning the tablet I bought (we’re in the tech industry so are very geeky about gadgets, etc. – it isn’t just showing off) and even think twice about coming in with a new haircut / color, which as a result I have avoided doing for a while, as they seem too much like conspicuous consumption or a kick in the teeth.

I work with people of a similar job level to myself, who also geek out over tablets, etc. so potentially would have discussions with people other than this colleague. The latest thing in our work group is drones, for example.

How should I handle this? Should I just go about my usual business without worry (I don’t do extravagant things like buying yachts or whatever – they are normal purchases within the bounds of someone with a normal job!) or do I owe any kind of commentary/consideration to the colleague? Should I acknowledge the awkwardness to the colleague and how?

You’re way overthinking this! As long as you aren’t bragging about purchases to your colleague (and it definitely doesn’t sound like you are), you shouldn’t censor yourself. You definitely don’t need to avoid getting a haircut! A haircut is not conspicuous consumption. In fact, your colleague would probably be mortified to find out that you’re altering your behavior like this on their account.

Be kind, but be normal.


{ 90 comments… read them below }

  1. Lilo*

    The update to #4 is wild.

    As someone who trains people, albeit in a very different job, unless there’s something really unusual about the job, the fact that only 1 in 4 make it through training seems like a big red flag to me. They’re not selecting trainees appropriately or investing in them adequately. The absolute terribleness of the manager doesn’t help. That and the fact she was allowed her antics suggests some serious issues.

    I suspect there may be a weed out culture developed at that company. Some places are proud of burning through people believing those left are the best. But I don’t believe that at all you often drive away people who have talent and other options or just those who refuse to be hazed.

    I don’t think I could train if 3/4 were expected to fail out. That would be utterly mentally draining. So glad LW got out of there. I expect that place was full of bees and the crappy manager really caused LW to see it.

    1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      They’re some jobs where such training is expected, like highly competitive sports, armed forces, commercial aviation and some government agencies, but those are the exception rather than the norm. Designers are not in the list.

      1. Lilo*

        The OP showed up to the original chat and said they were looking for a very specific personality type. It just seems off to me.

        Burning through that many trainees is also basically setting money on fire, from a company perspective. In my job we try very hard to screen for matches and then will rotate a couple trainers through if someone is struggling (I’ve personally turned around 3 people who were struggling with other trainers but have also recognized when someone was a bad fit for me).

        But training someone who ends up failing out is mentally and emotionally exhausting as well.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Very specific personality type — willing to work long hours while being treated like crap. Having a manager who believes in retaliation. Even giving her the benefit of the doubt that Bob did sexually harass her that does not make it okay that she publicly detailed his reprimand.

          1. Totally Minnie*

            I think you’ve got it backward. The update says the manager had been accused of sexually harassing Bob. That makes all her other actions even more sinister. It looks as if she wanted to publicly reprimand him as payback, and she wanted to keep him away from the trainees so he couldn’t warn them about her.

            I’m so glad the OP got away from all that.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Also got the feeling that manager was punishing Bob for reporting her harassment, and wanting to seal off the trainees was about not wanting to let the trainees have a full view of the crap storm of a company they had joined.

              And I definitely think a good part of the turnover was tied into how bad the manager was.

        2. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I read through OPs comments and I agree “personality type” feels off – and I don’t think it’s what they mean either. For example I’ve had people say we need to hire “bubbly” admin assistants – that’s not what we need. We need people with social skills and historically that has correlated with some bubbliness, but bubbliness isn’t what we need to screen for. It sounds like there’s probably something similar at play here where they need to dive in what actual qualification makes someone successful in that role and try to focus on that.

          1. TrixM*

            Yes, I used to work for an air traffic control organisation where 90% of the ATCs were highly hierarchical-leaning, authoritarian @rseh*le men. They said it’s because they needed people who could make quick decisions and get pilots to obey urgent orders.

            Then, about 20 or so years ago, they finally decided to research good ATCs. The quick decision times were crucial. As were the abilities to communicate clearly, remain calm under pressure, and think laterally. Yes, some ATC decisions must be made urgently. Most of the time, they aren’t – being able to think laterally allows them to plan ahead a bit and arrange traffic where a massive jet is catching up to a tiny Cessna on the same route, while a chopper is approaching from a completely different vector en route to an emergency. All while minimising transit time and fuel burn (more crucial for commercial jets) through the sector.

            The authoritarian @rseh*les turned out to be a consequence of the early days of air traffic control being run by the military nearly everywhere (it still is in some places). After WWII, civil aviation took off (so to speak), and general policy was hire ex- military ATCs – made sense, they already had the training. However, the culture and personality type they recruited for persisted many decades after most ATCs were no longer ex-military.

            Unsurprisingly, the number of women recruited after they changed their recruitment methods shot up, there were way less @rseh*les and they all worked in a much more collegial way, and the number of air traffic incidents has only continued to decline over time (mainly due to technology, but more recent ATCs are less resistant to new tech and methods, IF they are beneficial).

      2. Hound Dog (Nothing But)*

        Those jobs also have pretty rigorous screenings and clearly stated expectations upfront. People will still fail, of course, but a lot of effort is made to find the right candidate because of the amount of investment required.

        This job… is not that.

      3. Falling Diphthong*


        But yeah, designer does not seem like one of those roles, unless you design magic spells to trap Pokemon or something.

      4. LadyVet*

        Just want to clarify that most programs within the armed forces, at least in the U.S., aren’t set up expecting people to fail. If you get selected to go to special training, like airborne, the expectation is that you’re going to work as hard as you can to pass on your first go, because otherwise you’ll be recycled (have to retake the training), and if a unit is waiting on you to be assigned to them, or if your unit agreed to send you, then they’re missing a member of their team.

    2. Jackalope*

      Yeah, they have a number of possible fail points, maybe failing at all of them. Either they aren’t screening properly when hiring, or their training program is bad and they don’t actually know what people need to learn or how to teach it to them, or they aren’t offering an enticing enough combination of salary and benefits so new hires don’t stay any longer than they have to. I would encourage them to look at all of those areas because it sounds like they are failing in all three, but definitely somewhere. It’s a huge waste to go through the work hours of interviewing and hiring, and start training, pay benefits for however long the trainees are there, and so on, when you’re going to lose 3/4 of your new staff.

  2. bamcheeks*

    Yes, I read that and, you do WHAT.

    training process with that kind of attrition is wild, and it only works if there are very clear off-ramps and people who don’t “make it” have plenty of transferable skills and other options based on the amount of training they did complete, or there is a specific value to the activity itself. (Say: 30 young people joining a senior ballet class or football academy– only a few of them will “make it” to a professional level, but it’s designed to make sure those that don’t will still get plenty out of the process and be able to find satisfying work elsewhere.

    Who on earth is signing up for a 1 in 4 chance that there’ll be a job at the end? How long is this design training that you can’t tell at the beginning which ones are more likely to make it than not? Just bizarre!

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      Not just a 1 in 4 chance there’ll be a job…a 1 in 4 chance there’ll be a CONTRACT role.

    1. Well...*

      yes same! The mature side of me: this is a particularly tricky boundary application situation (we used to be able to do X but now I don’t want to, and you’re my boss!) so I like to hear how those go and get more models of how it can work out.

      The less mature side of me: It has big time potential to be a hot mess and I do like reading about the drama.

      1. Cait*

        Me too. Even if it’s the standard “I couldn’t take it anymore and now I’m in a better job and am much happier.” Those updates always feel a little disappointing because I want the culprit to face consequences instead of just continuing to torture their remaining coworkers/employees, but oh well.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          I’m also a little disappointed that so few updates feature someone getting their well-deserved comeuppance, but I like that there are so many updates setting good examples to readers/other letter-writers that yes, often the right answer is to leave your job!

      2. Observer*

        The truth is that it’s not REALLY about “we used to be able to do this and now we can’t”. Because the burden this supervisor is putting on all of the staff is ridiculous. And, to be honest, it sounds like a LOT to dump on a friend who doesn’t work in the same company.

  3. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    For LW2 I was picturing Bob appearing at LW’s desk with his pants in hand asking for them to be hemmed on the spot. I’m a knitter and used to knit during my breaks. One day a co-worker asked me to make a very elaborate sweater that that beyond my skillset and was irate when I turned them down.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I do counted cross stitch during lunch, and am so glad that my co-workers don’t ask for special projects. (I’m starting year 4 on one (17 x 25 inches) and year 2 on my easier one)

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I do cross stitch at lunch too! One really funny moment occurred when one of the guys came over with a split in his shirt and asked me to fix it.

        I’m not trained in clothing repairs, tried to tell him that, even offered him a needle and thread so he could do it himself. Nope, had to be me.

        Reader, you can’t mend a white shirt with yellow cross stitch. Nobody asked me again.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Lol – I would have loved to see how your coworker handled the rest of the day.

          However, I’m always clear that my cross-stitching skills may transfer to a minor repair, but I don’t have the supplies to fix your stuff.

        2. Clobberin’ Time*

          The audacity of him DEMANDING that you sew up his clothes. He’s lucky you didn’t embroider a ride message over the rip.

        3. I+went+to+school+with+only+1+Jennifer*

          “visible mending” is a thing. But in that case, the cross-stitch should be magenta or something….

    2. Francie Foxglove*

      Oh brother; I’ve just remembered something. Back in the 1990s, I was reading an article about what are now called microaggressions, though the term hadn’t yet been coined. The idea was, people of color (that term *had* been coined) working in the corporate sector were constantly running into these reminders that their white co-workers/bosses, on some level, still see them as “other”. Like even if the POC outranks them/has a higher education level/has more experience/etc, they’re still seen through a lens: they might be dangerous, they’re domestic or caring or whatever.

      The anecdote that (obviously) stood out for me was this: WOC is in her corporate cubicle. White female co-worker returns from a lunchtime shopping expedition. “Look at these!” Holds up a pair of trousers. WOC is about to say “Oh, those’ll look great on you!” Co-worker: “Will you hem them for me?”

      I. Can’t. Even.

    3. Juicebox Hero*

      And non-crafters never seem to realize the cost of materials (“$28 a skein for that yarn? What do you mean you need 6 of them? Can’t you use this cheap stuff in big skeins instead?” Well, it’s the wrong weight, and it’s going to pill and stretch and look like garbage…) or the sheer amount of time that goes into making something. I know some seriously fast knitters who can churn out sweater after sweater, but the average is 6 months to a year depending on how complex the pattern is.

      This is why I (and a lot of people in my knitting group) refuse to make stuff for others, period.

      1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

        I managed to shrink my yarn horde last year but I’m still buying yarn when it’s on sale. Still, the cost to knit a 100% wool adult sweater can run past $100 and I’m not doing any knitting for free unless you are really special to me.

    4. Environmental Compliance*

      I used to knit at lunches! My Very Not Right ExBoss once asked me to knit a king size version of the baby blanket I was making in lightweight yarn (fingering). This was a beach themed blanket. She’d give me $50 for it – done next week?

      She was offended when I chuckled and said that wouldn’t even cover the cost of the yarn, even if I got the cheapest acrylic I could, and there’s no way I could knit it within a week. Also, I don’t take custom orders. (I absolutely do, but I’m picky in who I accept orders from.)

    5. MeepMeep123*

      I like knitting on an off-and-on basis (usually socks), and one of the rules I’ve always had is that I do NOT take requests. Not even from friends and family. That creates pressure and I don’t like feeling pressured. If I am feeling inspired and I want to knit something pretty, I will pick out a suitable recipient and knit it for them – but that’s it. That way, it’s a hobby and not an obligation.

  4. Panda*

    For #2, people vastly underestimate how much time a craft project takes. I sew and routinely turn down hints or outright asks to make projects got people. That bag I carry? It cost $75 in supplies (cork fabric plus hardware and other supplies) and took me 15 hours. And trust me, I’m too expensive for you to pay me for my time.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Company is taking the mick. If they want it done to a specified requirement and with a deadline this should be done in work time or as paid overtime. The other way to look at it is opportunity cost. You’re spending time working for free that could be spent making things to sell on (e.g.) Etsy. I understand that there’s a quid pro quo in that it does give the opportunity to practice quilting without having to pay out for materials, but I think it’s too middy like this. BTW a lot of companies have rules against doing “freelance” work for the company alongside your normal rule, because of situations like this.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      For serious. If you have to ask me if I’ll knit for you, you can’t afford the project.

      1. Kaiko*

        Absolutely. The only way people can afford my knitting is for me to love them enough that they get it for free.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Pretty much. The materials might cost me £50 but the time of months of work is going to be higher than a mortgage payment.

      3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        So much this. I have left a trail of pictures behind me out of love and friendship. But I don’t make cross stitch pictures for pay, my rates are north of what my mortgage payment is.

    3. Emmy Noether*

      I highly recommend the instagram account canyousewthisforme for stories like this, for fun and commiseration.

      People still think handmade is less expensive than store bought, but it’s not, at least not in the way people think. If one doesn’t count the time it takes, it may be, but even that is not a given. There’s no way I can beat fast fashion prices on materials alone. Maaaayyybe with thrifting/upcycling, but that takes a good piece of luck and extra time. Or else really yucky cheap plasticky polyester… but what’s even the point of that? Nice quality fabric for a dress or nice knitting wool for a sweater can go to the triple digits in price right quick.

      And then, there’s the much bigger issue of time. I wouldn’t work for sweatshop wages (no-one should have to work for sweatshop wages, but that’s another topic). Sewing for oneself becomes worth it again, pricing wise, if one considers it a custom-made, designer piece. But then, that effort I put in that thing, and all the time I spent building my skills… EXPENSIVE.

      There’s always that… “oh, but I enjoy making, my time doesn’t count” thought. Which is true when you are just making for yourself or your loved ones, on your own whim and inspiration and schedule, if you can abandon it if you don’t feel like it anymore. Once there’s a client, it’s different. It’s work. It can suck the fun right out, and that should be compensated.

      1. nona*

        +1 – the time that goes into the project itself, and all the time on projects before to build up skills/expertise.

    4. Clobberin’ Time*

      Crafts are lady hobbies, how could time spent on them be worth anything? If it took skill and valuable time a man would do it and we would call it a “maker”’project.

    5. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I thought that OP’s office was bananas for thinking she could sew 30 pillows in two weeks. That’s NUTS, who in their right mind thinks that??

      For materials, when people ask me if I can knit a thing for them I tell them I will if they pay for the yarn. I’m a compulsive knitter (I knit during work Zoom calls, while watching TV, in the car if someone else is driving, etc) so I’m always happy to have a fun project to do if I know it’s going to someone who will love it and the time it takes for me to make it is not an issue since I’m always knitting something, but I don’t always have the funds to afford the yarn for someone. That said, I have only had a couple of people take me up on that offer. A shame, though, because usually the thing they want me to knit is the same pattern as an item I’m wearing and I had a lot of fun making it and would love to knit another one. But whenever someone says I should start knitting them to sell I’m like, yeah, no one could possibly afford a sweater I knitted because the yarn itself is $100 and then I’d have to charge for my time too. No one would even want to pay that much for a sweater I knitted.

      1. Gracely*

        I mean, if she *just* sewed pillows and didn’t have to do her other job, she could probably do 30 pillows in two weeks, if we’re talking fairly simple pillows. 3 per day x 10 full work days is feasible for a skilled quilter. But we all know that’s not what OP’s office was expecting, and it probably wouldn’t be enjoyable for OP either.

        And so many people don’t realize how much good yarn costs. I had a friend who wanted me to knit her one of those blankets with the super-bulky-basically-roving-yarn that’s become popular in photos of cozy things, and I told her I would, but she’d need to buy me the huge needles and the yarn I’d need to make it. I haven’t heard a peep about me knitting that for her since. I’d love to make it for her, because it would be an interesting challenge knitting something that huge, but I can’t afford to make it for *myself*, so…

      2. Lexi Vipond*

        Yes, I knit while watching TV, reading a book, waiting for/on the bus, etc, so it’s not really taking up time, and if someone I knew casually asked if I could do something I might well say yes – it’s all entertainment for my fingers. I’ve also generally got leftover wool cluttering up the place that I’m glad to get rid of, for small things.
        But that’s still a bit different from being TOLD to do it!

    6. HannahS*

      Yes, exactly.

      I think, too, there’s a gendered devaluation of crafts traditionally done by women. People understand that a beautiful piece of handmade wood furniture (i.e. traditionally done by men) should cost several hundred dollars, but hand-making a garment doesn’t take less skill or time, and the materials don’t cost less. It’s that “Oh, but my grandmother did it; it’s cute, it’s sweet, it’s the province of old ladies.” Those ladies pumping out cable-knit and colour-work and quilts and prom dresses were very skilled.

  5. Anon for this*

    If anyone happens to need any additional excuses to not become the office seamstress (commenters in the original article were talking about making up a fake medical condition, but a determined coworker will be able to figure out it isn’t real), claim you have trigger finger and it’s interferring with your ability to do whatever it is.

    It’s a real medical condition, so no one can figure out you’re making it up, it’s intermittent, and getting it treated is a pain because first you need to show the doctor that you have it, and since it’s intermittent, that doesn’t always happen (I have wasted so much money on specialist visits only to have my hand lock up immediately after I get home and have to pry my scissors out). If you need to fake a medical condition to get out of sewing, that is the one to fake.

    1. Mockingjay*

      “Sorry, I don’t have the time do as much these days.”

      As for sewing a torn shirt: “Here’s a safety pin.” Or even better: “here, borrow my stapler.” (I’ve fixed many a falling hem that way.)

      1. Totally Minnie*

        Or duct tape! I showed up at a job interview once with the hem of my pants attached with duct tape (on the inside where it didn’t show). I caught my shoe in the hem getting in the car and didn’t have time to change, so I grabbed my emergency kit out of the trunk and did a “good enough for now” fix.

    2. just another Fed*

      I had surgery for trigger finger in September (2 fingers). The doctor should be able to diagnose it without it actually locking up in the office. I went to an orthopedic hand surgeon. He could feel the nodules that developed. I got cortisone shots last year (super painful!!) and when it came back I had surgery. So sorry that you have had a hard time with diagnosis and treatment.

  6. Fishsticks*

    Honestly, I feel LW4. I am in the colleague’s position – young kids, tons of expenses right now, we’ve had a series of things in our house go wrong over the year (our water heater exploded, the AC had to be fully replaced, etc) that cost a ton of money to deal with. Kids are EXPENSIVE. Meanwhile, my closest friend is single and travels nonstop just for fun just because she can, my coworkers are all older DINKs nearing retirement age who have tons of spending money because they’ve always had two incomes and no children and have been working for 30-35 years already.

    I had a coworker bring up that she felt bad always talking about her vacations, when I’m very much in the “all vacation means to me is driving my kids to see my mom and sister three times a year, I don’t have an actual vacation” bucket. And I told her not to worry, to share as much as she wants, because I am living vicariously through the people who can do these things. We made different life choices, and I traded those relaxing vacations for watching tiny people turn into bigger people, which is its own awesome time. But also, god, tell me about your visit to Tahiti, PLEASE, I want to hear what it’s like! Show me your new hair color, I’ve been daydreaming about spending money on my hair to become a redhead for years! Show me that new ring your husband got you for your 25th anniversary! I love seeing that stuff!

    LW was definitely overthinking it. People live different lives! That’s the entire point of there being multiple people existing at once.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I loved the consideration that OP was trying to show their coworker with less money, because far more often we hear about how do I address the coworker who won’t shut up about all the cool stuff I can’t have/do because of different choices. But still, they are overthinking this a bit.

    2. AnonPi*

      Yeah, I agree they were over thinking it waaayy too much. I’m also in a similar boat and pretty much live paycheck to paycheck, but I think most people are not going to get worked up over a coworker talking about how they enjoyed their trip or their new phone.

      The only time someone irritated me over the fact that they made more (a manager), was when me and another coworker were commiserating about money in some manner (I’ve forgotten what it was about to be honest), and said manager decided to join in and commiserate with us by talking about how they were *only* going to take 3-4 vacations that year instead of the usual 6-7.

      I get their perspective is valid to them. But comparing taking fewer vacations to people worrying about paying for things like car repairs, medical/vet bills, etc etc is a bit much.

  7. Nikkole82*

    omg when LW1 said ‘literally carrying her’ my mind somehow processed it as her crying so badly she couldn’t stand up and people were physically supporting her.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I don’t want to debate the figurative use of literal because that will be derailing, but this is an unfortunate side effect of being mid-language evolution. I’m actual not 100% sure what that sentence means.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s a tough time to know what ‘literally’ literally means, but the person you’re talking to might think it means ‘very.’

        A month or so back someone had an interesting aside on the history of words that mean “this is true” (verily, really, truly, and so on) and how ‘literally’ was going the way of all its predecessors, which did reconcile me to this being the natural life cycle of words that mean ‘really.’

        1. Gracely*

          Actual is starting to go through something similar/related. The number of times I’ve seen or heard “actual human” or “actual cat” etc. on something as a label where it’s obviously not an actual human has skyrocketed in recent years. It’s clearly a joke, but it makes me wonder if that’s how this sort of thing starts. Because I also remember when people used to use “literally” incorrectly on purpose as a joke.

  8. KN*

    I know this is an old letter, but the idea of anyone viewing a colleague’s haircut as “a kick in the teeth” is so bizarre that I wonder where the LW even got it! I get the concern about showing off tech, vacations, etc., but a haircut?? A *kick in the teeth*???

    Totally speculating, but I wonder if the LW had a history of someone in their life spinning innocuous things into perceived personal attacks, and their viewpoint got kind of warped as a result…

    1. Emmy Noether*

      I think this is likely. I once, as a teenager, had someone accuse me of bragging because I related an anecdote of when I was living overseas (the anecdote itself wasn’t braggy, just the fact I was living in [country], apparently). It stayed with me for *years* and made me self-conscious about what I told people. As a not very socially secure person, this kind of accusation can really mess with your head.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      OP did write “new haircut / color” in their letter. A professional hair cut and dye job can be pricey, and I can see that once someone is in the mindset of “I should downplay my spending on luxury items/experiences,” an expensive hair cut and dye job can feel like something that is (1) obviously expensive to other people and (2) impossible to hide the way a tablet can be left at home.

      I think that most people do not generally see their coworkers who have new haircuts/hair colors and think about how much the hairdresser cost, but it felt that way to the OP.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I pay so little attention to colleague’s haircuts that when I was planning to go to a recital that a musician colleague was giving last weekend, I had *no idea* what her hairstyle was despite knowing her for a decade or so. Some people are very attuned to these things (I’m guessing OP is one of those people) and other people pay little to no attention.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I think this may be the case. If you’ve been criticised a lot in the past (or while growing up) that anything you buy/do is insulting to others then that can leave some messed up thinking.

      One good thing about being middle aged is losing that ‘but what will others think of me?’ bit in my experience.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        This past year I finally grew into the IDGAF lifestyle and it is so much more peaceful here I wish I’d grown into it ages ago.

  9. cardigarden*

    Fiber artists: don’t undervalue yourselves if someone commissions you. Your time is valuable, and you should DEFINITELY be charging a hefty hourly rate if it’s your employer voluntelling you to do it.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yes. Any kind of crafter or hobbyist, really. Your employer almost certainly isn’t taking the time to learn how complicated or skilled what you do is, and if you can’t do it on company time you should be charging out the nose for sacrificing your personal time.

    2. OyHiOh*

      I just this week saw a local small business owner (makes a consumable thing, sells via social media and word of mouth) actually brag about pricing for materials only, not labor. Like, human! Have some value for yourself and the knowledge you’ve acquired to make this high end thing!!!

  10. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP4: It’s not bragging to live your own life.

    If I found out someone was denying themselves stuff because they thought it would make me feel bad I wouldn’t be happy about it.

    If I get married it’s not an attack against those who are single for example.

    Denying yourself things and experiences because you’re worried someone else may get offended because they can’t afford it can lead to a lot of resentment down the line.

    1. Sara without an H*

      True. And if somebody really does make a habit of taking offense at the way you live your very own life, nothing — and I mean NOTHING — will ever satisfy them. So it’s pointless to try.

      But I’d also bet lunch money that the colleague OP#4 was so worried about hasn’t noticed anything she’s done at all.

  11. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP1: A phrase I’ve used over and over again when people are trying to enlicit emotional labour off me is “I’m not the right audience for this”

    Important to get the tone right – factual like you’d say “there’s nitrogen in the air”.

  12. Purple Cat*

    LW4 – definitely don’t hold back on your everyday purchases or feel like you need to censor yourself. I would bite back the urge to “offer practical solutions where I see them”. This has the potential to be “Don’t eat avocado toast and you can pay off your student loans!” Perhaps not, but unless coworker is specifically asking for financial advice, please don’t speak up. Unless they’re about to engage in obviously financially disastrous activities.

    1. Observer*

      All of this.

      Unless you’re talking about something that is a lot of money AND not likely to be something the other person heard (eg you listen to financial news where you heard the thing and the coworker doesn’t or these is something your employer offers that is often not explained to employees), you probably should skip that.

      I know it’s well meant, but that kind of thing often comes off as FAR more offensive (or like a “kick in the teeth”) than living your life without preening.

  13. Not Leslie Knope*

    OP #4

    May I share a relevant anecdote from the other side?

    I work for a local government agency. I think most people know but as a reminder: public sector salaries are never on par with the private sector, and our particular agency pays even less than market rate for civil servants in this state (we are technically not part of the civil service system or any unions due to our funding situation, which is how they get away with it). Our office is public-facing and we naturally have to be cautious of the impression we give.

    I’ve never heard of a customer complaint, but people in this office are very eager to tear down colleagues over perceived displays of wealth or luxury.

    One friend started coming to work in a nice BMW, and people were not particularly subtle in their gossip about it, esp. in the “where did SHE get that money” vein. It turned out that her own car broke down, she could not afford to fix it, and her father had temporarily lent her his own car so she could get to and from work without having to pay for cabs or a rental. (The office is not public transportation accessible – it is a problem for our customers as well as staff.)

    Another recent example: there is woman in our broader organization who dresses well. Her choices are moderate and tasteful, not ostentatious in a sense of “couture logos everywhere”, but you can tell her, for instance, jacquard dress or intricately embroidered jacket are certainly not from Zara. And she’ll wear nice shoes, including Christian Louboutin. If you know your brands, you’ll recognize them immediately because even the most simple black pumps have a trademark vibrant red sole (although knockoffs certainly exist). One of my colleagues muttered about how this woman has no business “stomping around in her Louboutins,” that it is disrespectful to our service population and she should consider optics (okay, fair, suggestion of financial impropriety matters in public service), and also, where is she getting the money? I reminded her that this woman, before she came into her role here, had (and still maintains) a fairly successful business as a realtor in a very ritzy area of an already high COL state; commissions are certainly high there because property values are high.

    I completely understand feeling ways about inequality in the workplace because I agree. Not only are we are not paid enough for the work we do, we are not paid enough to survive unassisted in this region. But this is not because of our colleagues. People are extremely on edge about money and are happy to talk shit about any perception of “ill-gotten wealth”, but it is a futile exercise in impotent rage directing these hostilities to their coworkers and not the higher ups making our salary decisions. For reference, the (local government-level executive) makes, and this is public record, over $300,000 a year base salary. That’s more than a US Senator or the Chief Justice of the SCOTUS makes.

    To come around to my point, whether it is fair or not, struggling people will have reactions to what looks like conspicuous wealth, especially when they face it in their office every day. Avoiding haircuts is probably going too far, but I remember a time in my early tenure here when I was making about 40% less than I do now, that I myself could not afford a decent haircut (ended up losing a LOT of length to split end breakage – who knew?). And I wasn’t even a single mom.

    1. Observer*

      I think that even in an environment like yours, people do not have an *obligation* to keep their reasonable spending secret or not do reasonable things (like getting a nice cut and color) to sooth others. Of course, in such a dysfunctional environment someone might CHOOSE to do so, to avoid the backbiting or nasty comments.

      But, it does not sound like the OP is (was?) in that kind of environment. And as others noted, both here and elsewhere, in reasonable environments, this is not much of an issues. And even in dysfunctional environments, reasonable people don’t act that way.

      1. Not Leslie Knope*

        I don’t think anybody has an obligation to behave any which way, but I will say I have gotten wary of sharing anything that suggests I have money or am connected to money. I know many people are reasonable, but based on the sheer popularity of this blog and that there is no paucity of people writing in about unreasonable situations, I am starting to think most workplaces have at least a little dysfunction and a few shit-stirrers, and that can go far in igniting tensions. This is very much a YMMV scenario but I simply think it is generally better to err on the side of discretion, in so far as it does not interfere with work duties.

  14. Havin Monahan*

    Regarding #4, my first job out of college was a sales job with insane turnover…we’d hire about 45 people a year, but the number of workers with over six months tenure never got much higher than 15 or so. It would have been tough to hire for this job except that the manager would just bald-faced lie to applicants about how much money they could make and how achievable it was to make six figures a year or so in, while in real life most of the new hires made practically nothing.

    To keep the façade going a bit longer, the seasoned (ie, four months tenture) employees weren’t allowed to talk to us new hires. It was extremely strange showing up to my first grown-up job, politely saying hi to my new co-workers, and them muttering something and walking away. I never had a conversation with any of them (aside from the three assigned to train us) for at least six months. Of course, it didn’t end up mattering much because just as I was getting to know them, they all quit, and my boss reprimanded me for talking too much to people about to leave the organization and not being a “company man.”

  15. Stitch For Free? N Way!*

    LW2: I sew and no f&%^ing way would I do that amount of work (or anything that wasn’t purely for fun) without being compensated for my time as well as materials. Sewing is time-consuming and I’d build up a ton of resentment if I was doing so much for work that I didn’t get to make stuff for myself.

  16. 11th of May Flower*


    The new guy wants a hookup, not a wife, so of course he dumps her every time she starts to get serious.

  17. Clefairy*

    Sadly, I’ve had a boss like #1, and while Alison’s advice is correct, it’s not going to work. Once the boundaries are blurred with people like this, any attempt at unblurring WILL be seen as a personal attack. I found that the only solution was no longer working together (in my case, she was on the fence about a new job, so I heavily encouraged her to take it, and she did)

  18. Juicebox Hero*

    I know how to do basic sewing, hemming, mending etc. and I can make stuff from patterns. My coworkers, none of whom seem to know which end of a needle you thread, think I’m a wizard.

    One guy had a tear in the sleeve of his down jacket and I volunteered to mend it for him. It was a bit tricky because it was that shiny slippery nylon, but I managed to fix it so that the mend was inconspicuous and wasn’t going to come apart.

    On the strength of this, another coworker decided that I was just the person to alter a bridesmaid’s dress for her daughter instead of paying a seamstress! The daughter is very busty so the gown had to be ordered in a larger size to fit her bust and refitted basically everywhere else. I can’t see how it could be done without completely taking the whole thing apart, recutting it, and putting it all back together and hoping it still looked right.

    She refused to believe me that this “little” job was way out of my wheelhouse and tried everything she could to connive me into doing the job for free, but I stuck with “nope, that’s a job for a professional.” because it was and I ain’t.

    I did, however, save the day for another coworker who got a big split right in the butt of her dress one afternoon. She hid out in the restroom in her underwear while I snuck into an empty conference room and sewed up the seam, giggling like an idiot the whole time.

    1. anonymous 5*

      yeah, that’s the thing: I would actually be very happy to offer my sewing skills in emergencies like helping a colleague avoid indecent exposure (assuming someone had needle/thread handy) except that I’d then be really worried about word getting around that I’d relented on my standard-issue answer that I won’t be able to sew for people. Sigh.

  19. Quickbeam*

    #2….make sure you value your time adequately. In tiny steps, I became the office knitter and it went from a minor thing to a huge PIA. People would bring me bungled sweaters with “please fix” post-its. People would ask me to teach them how to knit on my lunch break. I had to stop knitting on my breaks (or go out to my car) otherwise it was non-stop interruptions. Don’t let it make you a crafting doormat.

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