pushed into a work event because I don’t have kids, tickling as team-building, 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. I’m being pushed into being a team event captain because I don’t have kids

Every year, my company participates in a charity event that includes building a quite complex sculpture out of cans. Last year, as I was a new employee, I got pretty much bullied into being team captain. Basically, it was the most miserable experience, and that’s coming from someone who LOVES taking charge of teams. I spent dozens and dozens of hours making 3D models of this sculpture, hours picking out the cans at the grocery store, and received NO offers of help no matter how often I brought up how stressful this was for me. We ended up winning a prize, but I still would overhear whispers in the office before and after the competition about complaints over if I was doing a good job, etc., which was such a blow. The whole situation was so stressful that I ended up getting shingles … at 24.

Now, the competition is coming up again. I’ve said time and time again I am absolutely not being team captain, but as the only person in the office without a child and who’s not studying for registration exams, I’m already getting bullied into doing this, regardless of me reiterating how stressful and negative the first experience was for me. The older employees are citing kids and the younger employees are citing their licensing exams. Since I have neither of those to use as my excuse as to why I don’t have the time to be captain, it’s already been joked that I’m captain again. How do I stand my ground, knowing by not being captain, I’m placing a HUGE burden on someone else?

You’re not the one placing a huge burden on someone else. Your company is, by choosing to run the project this way. You already put in your time last year; you have zero obligation to do it again this year. Since no one seems to care when you explain how stressful and negative the previous experience was and they only seem to respect outside obligations, I’d come up with an outside obligation that leaves you unable to take this on. You’re dealing with a family situation that’s taking up most of your outside-of-work time, or the vaguer “I have so many commitments in my personal life right now that it won’t be possible,” or so forth.

Also, don’t feel you have to debate this with everyone who brings it up. You don’t have to prove to each individual person that your reasons are good enough; you just need to stand your ground with your manager or whoever else is going to assign the responsibility. And to your manager, it’s perfectly reasonable to say, “I got shingles from doing this last year, so it’s not possible for me to do it again this year. Someone else needs to take a turn.” And if you get any pushback about not having kids, please say icily, “Obviously we can’t make work assignments based on parental status. I put in the work last year, and this year someone else needs to take a turn.”


2. My vacation request was denied, and I’m furious that my coworkers got to take time off then

In March, I submitted a vacation request for July 13-15. My manager denied the request, saying that it was during a “black out” period following our second quarter close. She explained that no one is allowed to take time off during any of the two weeks of a quarter close. I asked if I could appeal to her boss for an exception, with the assurance that I would be happy to work extra hours to clear my workload in advance of the days off. She still denied me, saying that she had to be fair to all of the accountants, reiterating that no one was allowed time off.

On July 15, a coworker pointed out to me that one accountant had been allowed to take 14th and 15th off, while another accountant had been allowed to take the 15th off. I was furious. I emailed my manager the above conversation and copied her two bosses. I said that it had been brought to my attention that two others had been granted vacation time when my request was denied and asked how this was fair. She did not respond to the email, but sent an instant message for me to stop by her office for “just a sec”; I responded that I was not in a constructive mood and I would prefer to wait. I stopped by her office about 4:50 (as I was leaving) but she had apparently already left for the day – computer off, lights out. Am I wrong to be so upset?

I can understand why you’re upset, but I think you were in the wrong to be so aggressive about it. Cc’ing her bosses was pretty out of line. This is really between the two of you, and you hadn’t even talked about it with her yet to discover if there was a reasonable explanation (more on that in a minute). Also, responding to her meeting request by saying that weren’t not in a constructive mood is not great; it’s essentially saying, “I’m having a tantrum.” These aren’t personal relationships; they’re business relationships, and you’re generally expected to pull it together and operate professionally when your boss wants to talk to you.

As for the situation itself: It’s possible that your coworkers were on FMLA leave or had some kind of emergency (granting leave for illness or a personal emergency are very different than granting vacation request during blackout periods). You don’t know yet, and you definitely don’t want to get this pissed off and then discover the person was out because of a death in the family or for crucial medical treatment.


3. We were told to tickle each other aggressively at a team-building event

I’m leaving my current workplace for a lot of reasons related to culture fit and disorganization, but I wanted to tell you about this misstep in hopes you’ll get a laugh out of it!

We had a team-building event recently, which was boring but otherwise unremarkable until it came time to take the group photo. At this point, either the teambuilding leader or someone from our own leadership yelled “tickle each other AGGRESSIVELY!” instead of cheese! For a moment, everything stopped while everyone (presumably) thought, “wait, what?!” and then I got tickled. Probably by the COO, who was directly behind me. I flail wildly when tickled because I hate it, so I ended up yelling “not okay” and trying not to hit anyone by accident until it stopped.

This is a mandatory fun culture, but you bet I’m bringing this up in my exit interview!

What?! Not only tickle each other (inappropriate and boundary-violating), but tickle each other aggressively? What the actual F?

Some people seriously don’t stop to think that there are different rules of behavior for work versus social situations, and this is one of them. (And really, even in social situations, tickling should be an opt-in activity, shouldn’t it?) (Furthermore, what percentage of people actually enjoy being tickled, even by those closest to them? I’m guessing it’s under 10%.) (Okay, I am going to move on from this, lest I explode in an incredible combustion of parentheses and horror.)


4. Did my employee abuse his access to confidential pay information?

I am an HR manager and I recently reviewed one of my HR staff members. He does his work well, although there is room for improvement. I gave him a raise, well above the average, and he countered with an even higher number. There was no way I was going to agree to that number. I wanted to tell him to pound sand, but I told him I had to think about it.

He admitted that the way he came to that number was because he wanted to be closer in pay to another person in the company, who is at his same level but in another department. I feel this is an abuse of the access that he has. I discussed it with my boss, and her feeling is that it’s not an abuse because he has the clearance to view pay information. I’m curious to know what your thoughts are.

On one hand, it’s true that when someone is entrusted with confidential pay information, you need to be able to trust them not to abuse that access to use confidential info to their own advantage. On the other hand, it’s not generally realistic to expect that knowledge not to enter into their thinking at all. Plus, if someone were to use that information to point out legitimate inequities, you don’t want to discourage that.

Assuming there’s a legitimate reason for why his pay is different than his coworker’s (like different market rates for their type of work, or different responsibilities or qualifications), just explain that to him. You might as well see it as an opportunity to provide transparency into something he’s clearly wondering about, which is better than having the disparity gnawing away at him without him having any context for it.


{ 198 comments… read them below }

  1. Lime green Pacer*

    #3 – Tickling is an activity that requires enthusiastic, continuous consent by all participants.

    That is all.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Haha I doubt the COO did it because he was unable to resist the pressure of the teambuilding leader’s authority – he probably just thought ‘yeah, sounds fun!’

        1. BatManDan*

          Actually, I DON’T doubt it. In my observation, peer pressure gets worse as people get older and have more at stake. (I’ve seen my dad laugh at jokes that I KNOW he found too close to home / offensive, just because his boss told the joke.) If the COO hired the leader, he may have already bought in to “this guy is the expert.”

          1. Meep*

            I am so glad I have always been defiant as a child, much to my grandmother’s chagrin. There is something about telling someone point blank that no matter how much they try to guilt trip you into doing something, it will only make me want to do it less. Then again, my dad’s side of the family is typically a bunch of bullies who cannot be pleased. /shrug

    1. Canadian anon for this*

      Yeah, this is absolutely a “enthusic yes first” situation. Like you never know what the other person has been through and I know myself and many others who have tickling as part of being abused. (I’m extremely ticklish and my no, don’t tickle me was usually ignored. And frequently used to upset me even as an adult. This was just a tiny part of the abuse and lack of respect for my boundaries and bodily autonomy.)

      1. Worldwalker*

        I would be very apologetic to the person I whammed with an elbow, but I’d wham them before I could even think about it. Thanks to middle/high-school bullying, I react before I can think to physical assault — and that’s what it is. I can just imagine what someone with PTSD might do. No how, no way, is this even in the same league as a good idea.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          You’re a better person than me, because my inclination is the same minus the impulse to apologize.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Likewise. Aggressive tickling would result in my wildly flailing hand – possibly in a fist – that somehow made contact with the tickler’s nose. Hard.

            Seriously, how do people not understand that tickling isn’t universally loved, or even liked? And when you touch ANYBODY aggressively, even in ‘fun’, you deserve an aggressive reaction.

            1. Rebelx*

              I suspect a lot of people see the reflex response of laughing, and assume laughter = this person is enjoying this. And maybe on top of that they either aren’t ticklish or find it mildly annoying at worst, so it just doesn’t occur to them that some people really dislike it.

              I personally absolutely HATE being tickled, but my body reacts by laughing. It’s just a reflex, not genuine laughter, but then people don’t believe I mean it when I say stop. Of course, that’s only when the other reflex of jabbing an elbow in the direction of the tickler doesn’t land… and I probably wouldn’t have the latter reflex at this point if people just took everyone at their word…

              1. SheLooksFamiliar*

                I know you’re right about the reflex of laughter but I’m not very charitable with people who tickle me – or anyone, for that matter – because they think it’s harmless. Touch me without my permission? You get what you get. You can imagine how ready I am to flail my fist when someone knows I hate being tickled, and they do it anyway.

                My BIL thinks laughter = enjoyment, and I repeatedly told him to never, ever tickle me again, that I hate it, etc. He thought it was funny to taunt me about being too sensitive or feint a tickle at me, hoping to get a reaction. He finally caught me, tickled me savagely, and my flailing fist broke his glasses. Last time he ever touched me, and I’m fine with that.

          2. goddessoftransitory*

            I mean, I’d apologize to any innocent bystander who got caught in the elbow cross fire, but not to the person who thought laying hands on me without warning was a terrific idea.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          I went to a university that was nicknamed “Rape State” while I was there. I didn’t get assaulted, but I developed a level of situational awareness and protective reflexes that I still have. A number of years ago I almost decked a manager who came up behind me while I was concentrating and startled me. I’ve managed to dial that back, but tickling me? Would get a flying elbow before I even had a chance to say something. Even my roomies and spouse know not to touch me without me seeing them coming.

      2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        I cringed so hard reading that for the exact same reasons you described.

        I just started a book called the Art of Giving and Receiving – the Wheel of Consent. By Betty Martin. Her website has tons of short free videos too if you don’t want to buy the book.

        Oh. My. Gosh. If you’ve ever had your boundaries violated, regardless of whether they were sexual or non, this is the absolute must read on exactly how to regain that thing you’ve lost of how to know what you want instead of what you’re willing to give or what you’ll tolerate. She focuses on non sexual touch exercises because if you start doing sexual touch things get intense and you can very easily lose that connection to what you want. I’ve been alternately listening and reading it, and have been having these major breakthroughs every day.

        Wow this sure became a pitch. Anyway; I hope you read it and get out of it what I am getting…which is reclaiming a part of myself I had not even realized I’d lost :)

      3. Observer*

        Yeah, this is absolutely a “enthusic yes first” situation.

        Yes, 1,000 times over!

        Like you never know what the other person has been through and I know myself and many others who have tickling as part of being abused.

        That’s terrible. And I am sorry that it ever happens. I really, really don’t understand it, and I hope that I never do.

        But in a very real way, it’s not really relevant. You don’t need a “reason” (or history) to not want to be tickled. Obviously if someone DOES have a reason or history, it makes it a lot worse. But this needs to be 100% ENTHUSIASTIC opt in only even if there is not a single person in the group with a history of abuse.

        I mean, if that’s what gets someone to back off, I’ll take it. But in my experience, people who need this kind of “justification” are also likely to try to rules lawyer a reason why the “justification” does not apply to THIS group.

      4. Reality.Bites*

        Not only that, I’ve never heard of someone enjoying being tickled other than as a sexual fetish! I’m sure they’re out there, but it’s WAY less common than, say, liking pineapple on pizza and there’s absolutely no need to include it on the menu at any work activity or function. Even with enthusiastic consent. Indeed, especially not with enthusiastic consent.

        1. Jackalope*

          I personally enjoy being tickled, as long as it’s from someone that understands that they need to stop when you say stop. I’ve also had friends who enjoyed it, and we would have brief tickle fights that were NOT related to being erotic. So we do exist. But even I would consider it a horrid idea at work. It’s a very personal thing to have someone tickle you and I wouldn’t feel comfortable having a random coworker touching me like that.

      5. Meep*

        I am sorry you went through that. I hate hugs for that reason too. My uncle, who has no respect for boundaries, would pick me up and squeeze me so hard that I ended up bruised as a child. A child crying and begging to be put down was met with laughter and harder squeezes. And of course, he taught his children that. So each hug with a new person is always “am I going to be incapacitated and hurt?”

        1. TomatoSoup*

          My uncle was like that too, mostly with verbal bullying but also pinching and tickling. If I objected, he’d ratchet it up. If I didn’t, he’d continue anyways. There was no winning until I started elbowing, them he stopped punches and tickles but the verbal stuff never ended and I haven’t spoken to him in ages.

    2. allathian*

      Yuck, the tickling would’ve sent me to hide in the bathroom for the session. I prefer my coworkers to stay at least at an arm’s length from me. (I make an exception for a coworker who’s a hugger, mainly because I used to have a crush on him and I still enjoy his hugs. But he respects people’s boundaries, always very explicitly asks if the other person wants to be hugged, and doesn’t hug anyone who doesn’t give their enthusiastic consent. He’s a former fairly high-level amateur soccer player, which is probably at least partly a reason why he’s happy to hug other men, too, if he can find someone who’s as comfortable with it as he is.) But tickling would thankfully be absolutely unthinkable in my organization’s culture.

      I hated tickling even as a kid, and I’m just glad that my parents respected my boundaries on that. I had a maternal uncle who used to tickle kids until they cried. The one time he tried that on me, in spite of both me and my parents saying I hated to be tickled, I bit his arm until I could taste his blood in my mouth. I was 5 at the time. He yelled at me and slapped me for that, but my parents held me close and told him in no uncertain terms that his behavior was out of line. I still remember it very clearly because my mom’s a very gentle and fairly retiring person, but she went totally lion mom at him.

      At the time we didn’t have a car, it was Christmas, and we had train tickets for the next day, or else I’m pretty certain that we would’ve left then and there. In my mom’s family going NC with a relative, especially 45 years ago, would’ve been a big deal, but I learned as an adult that my parents told my grandma that we wouldn’t visit for Christmas again if that uncle was invited. My mom’s the oldest of 9 siblings, so it was necessary to take turns anyway because my grandma couldn’t host 30+ people in her house, at least not in winter. In summer those who didn’t fit in the house could sleep in the old uninsulated timber outbuilding where the summer farmhands used to sleep when my mom was a kid. I don’t think I ever saw my uncle again, he died when I was 12 and he was in his early 40s.

      As far as abuse goes, the assault by tickling that I suffered at my uncle’s hands was pretty mild, especially because my parents defended me, but just the idea of anyone being tickled without consent fills me with the rage that I felt when he tickled me and I bit him.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Tickling a child or anyone until they cry is assault. I’m glad your parents defended you and kept you away from him. I’ve watched parents laugh as their kids get unwanted tickles from adults. I never let anyone tickle my kid and I’ve never tickled her, I hate it that much.

      2. Michelle Smith*

        It was still abuse, period. Doesn’t matter that other people may have experienced worse. I’m glad you stood up for yourself and I’m glad your parents had your back.

      3. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Wow, good on your mom. My uncle and younger cousins used to tickle me when they’d see me and they would stop when they realized that I HATED it, but would do it upon arrival the next time they saw me. Eventually they did realize that I wasn’t enjoying myself and did stop doing it entirely, thank goodness, but I don’t know if some other adult in the room told them to stop or if they just realized torturing me wasn’t nice. Either way, they’re lovely human beings and this was the only qualm I ever had with them.

    3. The Prettiest Curse*

      Back in my days as a drama student (25+ years ago), we were asked to do many group exercises involving getting into other people’s personal space that wouldn’t be considered okay today. And none of them ever involved tickling. WTF was this facilitator thinking?

      1. Splendid Colors*

        Theatre is different from most jobs because actors get into each other’s personal space in scenes, though.

    4. WillowSunstar*

      Well also, some people might have major skin conditions where tickling might actually cause pain or at least trigger a reaction (that isn’t funny). But companies forget that medical issues exist too.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      This, so much. I hate being tickled and generally do not wish to be touched by my coworkers. And I like my coworkers! They are good people with the appropriate boundaries to know not to tickle people at work, regardless of who says to do it.

    6. Not your typical admin*

      Yes! I hate, hate, hate being tickled. I don’t mind a quick poke in the side in fun from my kids or husband, but other than that no. I would have left the room.

    7. Beth*

      Another HATES TICKLING person here. Nonconsensual tickling is abuse. Full stop. I had one sister who decided that I “needed to learn not to be so ticklish”. I did not learn not to be ticklish. Instead . . .

      In my teens, I figured out that the best way to prevent tickling was to become incredibly violent when tickled, and to blame it on an ingrained response that I could not control. (I usually punched for the face, especially if the tickler wore glasses.)

      It’s remarkable how the tickling attacks stopped when it became something that promised physical damage to the tickler.

      1. Carmen*

        I wish I could’ve reacted to tickling in a response like you. When I was a kid my father LOVED to “tickle” us. It was not in a creepy way at all but he has large hands and he would poke me in my side and it really hurt. He kept thinking it would make me laugh and kept doing it even when I told him it hurt. I ended up teaching myself to become immune to tickling- I turned my face into a stone and since I didn’t react the tickler stopped doing it. Now I tell people that tickling just doesn’t work on me-which it doesn’t because instead of laughing I get internally furious. One reason I fell in love with my now-husband… he tickled me once when we were dating and I told him how much I hated it and why. He never did it again and when we had our son he told him not to tickle mommy.

  2. Artemesia*

    HR abusing knowledge is classic. It illustrates why companies don’t want people sharing compensation information — they want to screw over as many as they can. Or to be more genteel, pay as little as they can get away with.

    1. WellRed*

      I feel like these are two different things. HR abusing knowledge has nothing to do with whether employees discuss their salaries and vice versa. It’s hardly “classic.” No, I’m not in HR.

      1. Artemesia*

        I meant it as an analogy here — the issue is using information about other people’s salary to negotiate or set expectations. This person had the knowledge because he was in HR — the company doesn’t want people to use this knowledge or have this knowledge. the real issue is IMHO that HR person KNEW to negotiate whereas the company has tried to assure people dn’t have that knowledge. I thought the ‘misuse’ of HR knowledge missed the point and was not the real concern of the organization.

        I understand your distinction.

    1. JSPA*

      The fact that this could apply to LW1; boss of LW1; Boss of LW2; LW3; all coworkers of LW3; and arguably Alison, in responding to LW4 — and we’d find it appropriate in some of those cases, and problematic in others — demonstrates how this reductionist formulation fails, in any situation where you’re being paid to be communicative and easy to work with, not merely to be grammatically correct while producing a quantum of work.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      This is one of my favorite sentences and I particularly enjoy using it on my friend’s tween who loooooooves to debate and logic whenever her parents say no to something.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        And I actually enjoy using it on my dad, too, though I usually just stop at the first word. “Hey SGL, do [thing I don’t want to do].” “No.” It works quite effectively.

      2. Happy meal with extra happy*

        I’m not a huge fan of it because I feel like it’s brought out a lot here when it’s way too extreme a response for the situation. It’s good for relatives you can’t avoid or same-level coworkers where you’ve tried discussing the issue already. But, for example, people like to bring it up as the first line solution to an issue someone is having with their boss.

        1. Owls Lang Syne*

          Yes I feel like a lot of people mistake this advice for meaning that you should be blunt or terse when saying no, as if that’s the same as being firm. I think the point of it is much more that, you can decline most of these things graciously without your softer tone weakening your resolve or the extent to which you have family declined. Basically that you have total control over saying no and then not doing the thing. Even if you say “no thank you” or “ you’re so kind, but I’m afraid that won’t work for me”, or things of that nature. It’s up to you to just follow through on that and not do the thing you declined.

          We get a lot of letter writers who want to say no but they are worried that the other party will argue or will not think that their reasoning is good enough, which is when that advice is useful – explaining to them that it doesn’t matter if others don’t agree, for the most part no one is forcing you to renege on your No just by not accepting it. what I don’t think it advises is just saying a flat “no” instead of “no thanks” in situations where that could be rude, as though the no is harder than the no thanks. They’re both equally hard declines if you actually follow through.

          1. Hexagon*

            Yes, this! “No, I won’t be able to do that” comes across as perfectly polite, but it’s still a definitive response that gives no foothold for an argument. Sure, people might push back, but then the no-sayer has a sentence to repeat over and over in response.

            “Why not?”
            “Because I won’t be able do to that.”
            “You don’t have kids or studies! Everyone else is too busy!”
            “No, I won’t be able to do that.”
            “You have to or we’ll lose!”
            “No, I won’t be able to do that.”
            “You did such a great job last year!”
            “Thanks, but I won’t be able to do that this year.”

            It’s not rude, but it’s a brick wall. Even pushy people tend to give up fairly quickly. Hold the line – they’re rude to demand, but as Owls Lang Syne said, it’s your boundary to enforce. Obviously the situation changes it it’s a manager or someone with good reason to ask for an explanation, but in many cases, the unbending, cheerful “no” is a lifesaver.

          2. Artemesia*

            This. The point is not to shout ‘no’ with arms folded, but to not give ‘reasons.’ ‘I’m afraid that won’t be possible.’ ‘I won’t be able to do that.’ ‘That won’t work for us.’ BUT WHYyyyyyyy? ‘it just isn’t going to be possible.’

            In this case it is, ‘I did this last year, it is someone else’s turn; I won’t be able to do it.’ Then from then on ‘I am not able to do that this year.’ You can add ‘I have some personal obligations that will prevent me from doing this this year.’ so long as you don’t detail those.

            Time for the company to stop competing in this or to hire 3 teenagers to do it and be done with it.

  3. Middle Name Danger*

    The HR person also…could have spoken to this other employee about pay. It doesn’t have to be an abuse of power, the info could have been voluntarily offered.

    1. Janeric*

      I was thinking the same! In fact, comparing himself to someone outside HR and the use of a single data point probably supports this conclusion.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      My thought was it could have been something he happed across as a normal part of his duties and for what’s reason the number just stuck in his head.

  4. zaracat*

    #4 I think this is an abuse of access to pay information. If someone is legitimately pointing out an inequity, they’re going to be sharing that information so everyone gets to benefit … not just using it to advance their own case.

    1. Jackalope*

      I don’t know. It seems like since he came across this info as a sort of his HR duties, it would be an even worse abuse of power to share the information about someone else’s salary. I agree that employees should be transparent about their own salaries, and there’s something to be said for sharing the salaries of, say, everyone on a team, but sharing the salary of just one other person without their consent seems sketchy unless that person is a CEO or something.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Did OP even know if he got the info through his job?? Because we’re allowed to talk with co-workers about pay.

    3. Michelle Smith*

      I always find corporate perspectives on pay so interesting. I spent nearly a decade in government and anyone anywhere in the world can simply google my salary history for my entire employment, seeing how it changed from year to year. Keeping salary information like it’s super secret is just really bizarre to me. It perpetuates inequities.

      1. Carlie*

        Me too. I can’t imagine any reason for salaries to be secret other than “We pay unfairly and don’t want anyone to know it”.

        1. Rex Libris*

          That would, in fact, be the reason they do it. Or at best, they want the option to pay each candidate as little as they are willing to accept.

        2. Spencer Hastings*

          So, I can’t think of any reason for salary *bands* to be secret, but if I were to compare my actual salary with others at my level, any differences would be down to differences in our past performance reviews. Which is really not something I want to get into with someone who’s not involved in managing me. But maybe I’m not correctly envisioning what people mean when they advocate for individuals being “transparent” with their own peers about their salaries.

    4. Chria*

      Does it matter in your opinion whether the employee came across that info in the normal course of his work and just remembered it vs looking it up in order to have this conversation with his boss? In other words are you seeing this as an abuse of his *access* or thinking that any use of that *information* for a non-work reason would be wrong?

      In my mind I’m thinking that if his job was, say, payroll, he would see that info for a legitimate reason, and it would be strange to expect him to not notice or not factor that into feelings of his own pay.

    5. Nantia*

      But in this case, this employee is the one being paid unfairly so why do they need to advocate for someone else to make their request seem legit? And that’s assuming that they can even push to change the salaries of other employees even if they have found other discrepancies .

      1. rae*

        It’s an old letter, but not being paid the same as others at your level isn’t always being paid unfairly. There are salary bands within titles for a reason. If they are discriminating that’s a problem, but I don’t think we have enough info to know.

        1. Question Marked*

          This is my thought. I actually know I am paid at the lowest amount possible for my title and role and that it is perfectly reasonable given the circumstances (both in my work load and when I was hired). But it wouldn’t actually help me to know that other people with my title in other departments (whose specific work and responsibilities I know nothing about) make significantly more than me.

          1. Question Marked*

            I mean, it wouldn’t help me to know which SPECIFIC other people with my title make more than me. As opposed to knowing those with my title earn 50k-90k.

  5. Jackalope*

    Okay, I personally love to participate in charity events (to a certain extent), and have regularly volunteered. That being said, in the first letter I would recommend to the LW if they were my friend that they should just… not, if they have any other options. Given that it’s something no one would help with, just tell the powers that be that it’s too much for one person and move on. Yes, it sucks that that means fewer donations for the charity and that’s something that matters, but this is clearly a project that’s too big for one person, and it sounds like the LW didn’t have enough clout to make other people join in.

    1. WellRed*

      Calling some team captain and then making them do all the work because, hey, there’s not actually a team is what struck me. That and it sounds like a stupid idea for charity.

    2. Llama Llama*

      My thoughts are that if I were forced to be the team captain my construction would be rather simple. My work has done these in the past and no planning was ever done. We took stock of the donations and made something out of. (At most we googled previous constructions for ideas).

    3. EPLawywer*

      OP needed to say that. Saying this is too stressful or affected me negatively doesn’t really convey no. It should. But it is still rather vague. It leaves people guessing whether they really don’t want to do it or are just venting about it.

      No, I will not do this. I have other committments. Or No, I will not do this. It is too much for one person.

    4. Slow Gin Lizz*

      That letter was completely bizarre to me. I am very curious what other bees exist in this company because this certainly can’t be the only one. I really want an update on this one. OP, I hope you’re out there to provide us one!

  6. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

    I love how the workplace for LW1 just assumed that she wanted to spend all her free time on work because she doesn’t have kids. I would simply not do it. Nope, not my problem, someone else can step in and do it, like Alison said. It doesn’t matter if they have kids or exams, it’s not LW1’s responsibility to always do everything. Figure it out, coworkers.

    1. Giant Kitty*

      I’d just keep giving these people a warm smile and a cheery “Nope!” when they tried to volunteer me. No justifications, no explanations, just a firm & unyielding No until it finally sunk in.

    2. Cat Tree*

      I don’t think everyone assumed she wanted to. It seems like a horrendous task and everyone else found an excuse so that they didn’t have to participate (having kids or studying for exams). This seems like a case where everyone knew LW would hate it, but it’s so miserable that they were willing to let it fall to anyone who isn’t them.

      1. Chria*

        OP clarified a bit in the original post that people thought getting a half day off work to build it would be fun but no one wanted to do the work to get it to that point (designing the structure, buying and transporting the cans, etc). So they were all looking for excuses to beg off doing the behind-the-scenes pre-work while still having a lot of opinions about how it was done (e.g. after not helping with the drafting process, wanting to make changes to the design that would take a lot of time/effort to include).

        1. RussianInTexas*

          I would absolutely look for any excuse to get out of such thing, regardless of how it affects others. Nope. I am not participating in any kind of can stacking.

    3. LCH*

      Instead of using free time, why not just use work time for it? If the company is making her, sounds like it’s a job requirement so….

      1. LCH*

        Also, it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be entered. Do not kill yourself for these things. If it’s bad, they should have picked someone else.

        1. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

          This. It’s a can sculpture for charity, and even OP’s award-winning best isn’t good enough. I’d take one afternoon–at work, in the office, on the clock–hot glue them together in the most basic shape, and call it a day.

          When I was in grad school, a student who was a bit older than me gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received: “They don’t see you sweating at home.” If you only spend 10 in-office minutes on something, people often think it only takes 10 minutes. Do your work loudly and demonstrably, in front of them, to get your credit. This is also why I think a lot of people spend more time talking about the work they do than actually doing it–if you don’t blow your own horn, it will never sound.

          1. Question Marked*

            Less weaponized incompetence, more “since you fail to realize what this task takes, I will make sure you fully appreciate the magnitude”…if nothing else it is ridiculous that LW was getting comments about the quality of the sculpture…if someone is doing a good enough job to receive an award completing a task no one wants to do, I would keep my lip well and truly buttoned and silently thank the heavens no one is looking to me to do said task.

    4. EPLawywer*

      Oh yeah. Oh you have no kids, you have a TON of free time.

      Just because someone doesn’t have kids does not mean they are sitting around watching tv and eating bonbons all the time.

      I got this a LOT when I was a Girl Scout Leader. One parent actually said it to my face, why don’t YOU lead the troop (that had trouble finding a leader and keeping a leader), you have time since you don’t have kids. I flat out looked her straight in the eye and said Why should I spend my time planning things for your kid when you won’t? We got a bunch of parents willing to be leaders very quickly after that.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        Super awesome response. They knew full well that childfree people have lives too, they just didn’t expect to get called out as mooching for free babysitting.

      2. eeek*

        …and even if you are childfree and spend your free time watching TV and eating bonbons, what right does your employer or coworker have to dictate how you spend your free time? Or that some ways of spending free time are more valuable than others, and that some people may be more imposed upon?

        Perhaps I still bear the scars of an argument with a coworker, who decided that their three-week trip to Europe (lovely! wonderful!) was inherently more important than any of the vacation time during that period that had been previously arranged by colleagues, who were “only going to spend a week camping” or “only driving up North to visit family” or “only taking a MH day…” Or years of working retail, where the rule was “E’s family lives in town/E doesn’t have kids/E is an atheist and doesn’t celebrate, so OF COURSE she’ll work the shit schedule every holiday, because she can’t possibly have plans as important and special as (anyone with kids plans) are…”

      3. TomatoSoup*

        Maybe OP does have oodles of free time outside of work, but that doesn’t make it free for the claiming. Demanding people’s time outside of work is not ok.

    5. Rex Libris*

      Seriously. If I wanted all my free time tied up with other people’s activities… I would have had kids. :-)

    6. New Mom*

      I had similar things happen when I was newer to the workforce and felt like I couldn’t push back too hard, but now that I’m older and have more confidence at work I just say no. Every once in a while I can still get guilted into stuff though!

  7. cncx*

    As someone with no kids who got shingles in April 2020 … I’ve been there. In my case I’ve said « no sorry it was my turn last year now its someone else’s turn »

    This works for vacation, extra tasks,etc.

    Also the skin on my face still isn’t right where I had the shingles, I still take nerve medicine, and I can’t spend time in the sun. Shingles is not a joke.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Much sympathy mate. My coworker got shingles in his optic nerves and dear goddess the pain he went through. He’s still got reduced vision in his left eye.

    2. allathian*

      Yeah, my SIL got shingles in her early 30s and she was really sick. She was unlucky enough to get postherpetic neuralgia in spite of being so young, and she was unable to work for about a month because of the pain. I had chickenpox as a kid, so I was at risk, and I got the shingles vaccine as soon as I was eligible. Reminds me that I have to schedule the booster. One shot costs about 200 euros, and I was sicker for a day after the first shot than I was at any time during my admittedly mild bout of Covid, but I still think that it’s worth it.

  8. Bilateralrope*

    For #1, last time it caused a documented injury. So I’d refuse on health and safety grounds. Request medical accomodation allowing you to avoid it. Go through the formal process for that if one exists.

    Along with the other objections.

    1. irene adler*


      That company should seriously rethink participating in the charity event if ‘strong-arming’ is the only way they can get employees to participate.

    2. Low Sparrow*

      Shingles isn’t an injury, it’s a disease. It can be caused by stress (although at 24, that’s almost certainly not the only factor compromising someone’s immune system), but you can’t realistically point to a particular project as the cause.

      A doctor could recommend a less stressful work environment or shorter hours in general, but they aren’t going to give you documentation to bring to HR saying your coworkers aren’t allowed to pressure you to volunteer for a charity event.

      1. Bilateralrope*

        Less stress and shorter hours is exactly the accommodation I’m talking about. Specifically, cutting out the stressful hours spent on the can structure. That should be a narrow enough accommodation to count as reasonable.

      2. virago*

        Please Google “Canstruction” — which is the fundraiser that OP No. 1 has been steamrolled into planning — and you will see that it is absolutely plausible that one could develop shingles because one’s coworkers have pressured one into volunteering for a charity event. (I plagiarized this point from SansaStark.)

    3. sofar*

      The last time my company participated in the can-sculpture-for-charity event, the team leader (our office manager) broke her foot, when cans fell on it. And she got workers’ comp!

      Not saying this works for LW, but goes to show how stupid, time-wasting and dangerous this event is. Like, do a can drive! Raise funds! Send your workers to work a half-day shift at the food bank and get a picture of them in front of all the stacks of cans there!

      The can sculpture event was really popular in the tech company circles in my city (teams pulled all-nighters building these dumb sculptures), and I’m glad it appears that COVID has permanently killed it.

      1. TomatoSoup*

        I hope so. I wouldn’t be surprised if it started as a small thing (“hey, I’m going to stack all these donated cans in a shape because that’s fun for me!”) and snowballed into a ridiculous competition.

        My mom used to work with architecture firms who had an annual sandcastle competition. It started out as just a fun day on the beach with colleagues and got progressively more competitive and intense until people stopped wanting to participate.

  9. Liz*

    Reading Letter 1, I am really scratching my head at what this is supposed to achieve in terms of charity or team building. I work in the third sector, and we sometimes get groups of corporate volunteers coming in to help us out. They are paid by their own organisation for the day, and they come in, on a voluntary basis, to help out with little projects where we just need few more pairs of hands. They’ve painted walls, tidied up the gardens, but it’s all during work hours, and they are on the clock (the individuals donate their labour, the corporation donates the days wages for them to be there). I cannot see any benefit to anybody at all in having one person, in their own UNPAID free time, planning and building an enormous tin can sculpture. And one that requires 3D modelling?? This sounds like an enormous amount of pressure and effort for no reward or reason whatsoever. No wonder LW got sick after, this sounds like trying to complete an art degree final project on top of full time work.

    Am I missing something about this letter as to what this was supposed to achieve? Is this kind of thing in any way normal in anybody’s line of work? Because in top of the quite obnoxious expectation that LW take on the project simply because they don’t have kids, the whole project in and of itself seems a bit bizarre.

    1. WS*

      If you google “Canstruction” you’ll see the kind of competition this is and how elaborate the structures are.

      1. Liz*

        Oh wow, that really is something else! I’ve never seen anything like this before! I hadn’t twigged that the cans were actually full – I was picturing art work made out of empty tins. I also notice this is largely aimed at design companies, so that makes a lot more sense given the comment about 3D modelling. Thank you for sharing this – it helps to have this information as context.

      2. Asenath*

        Wow. I’ve only ever seen canned food collected for donation placed in a box at a central collection point. The process appears to result in the donation of a lot of food, but honestly, I don’t think I’d be participating. I cannot imagine trying to design or create one of those things.

          1. rayray*

            I’d just be content to let the cans pile up in a bin and not waste any time on a useless project. There are so many other things that anyone could spend their time doing.

          2. LifeBeforeCorona*

            My design would be cans lined up in rows by colour. I have no artistic ability. A pyramid is beyond me.

      3. I take tea*

        Thank you WS, I had no idea what this was. Looks cool, and like a ton of work. I hope OP managed to get out of it. It’s not always easy saying no.

      4. Lady_Lessa*

        Let me add my thank you as well.

        Loved looking at the pictures, but can’t imagine the time and effort to do such elaborate constructions.

        I hope that all of them were done on work time by volunteers.

      5. SansaStark*

        My husband was team captain of his company’s canstruction team for 2 years. I’m not sure our marriage would have survived a third. That statement is only 20% hyperbole. I can absolutely see how someone would come away from it with shingles. I hope the LW held firm and didn’t serve as captain again.

      6. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Wow, these are amazing!!!! I’m always impressed by what people can make out of…well, anything.

    2. Beth Jacobs*

      Yeah, exactly. My company organised a volunteer work day where we removed invasive plants at a national park and the point of these things is that they’re fun and easy. The park ranger told us exactly what to do and we did a couple of hours of easy work. With thirty people, that actually adds up to a significant impact, but it wasn’t a burden on any of us.

      1. Liz*

        That sounds like a great day! I love corporate volunteer days when they are done right. WS has shared a valuable insight into what kind of a project LW was describing, so it makes a lot more sense now, but I do think LW’s company did a number on them by expecting them to shoulder so much of the work in their free time. If this is a project/donation that represents the company, then the company should carve out some paid hours dedicated to the project and encourage participants to use that time for it, as they would any other project.

        1. run mad; don't faint*

          I agree. In the LW’s shoes I’d be tempted to get a large sheet of white paper and place one can of a particularly well known soup brand in the middle of it and nothing else. If asked, I would call it a tribute to Andy Warhol. Seriously though, those are incredibly elaborate sculptures and they should be an official project and not pawned off as extra work on the new or “less busy” employees to do in their spare time.

          1. Kora*

            OT but I wanted to express my appreciation for the Austen deep cut in your user name, it really brightened my day just now.

        2. rayray*

          My company gives us a generous amount of VTO hours and we used to have a weekly time to go to a center for homeless youth to cook and serve lunch with different teams or groups each week. I felt like it was a great way to serve and it also had that team-building element.

          I see that these canstruction things are meant to get more donations, but I know my local food bank can stretch monetary donations much further than donated food. They take anything they can get, but it’s actually better for them if you donate $50 cash than to buy $50 of cans of food just to make a sculpture out of it.

          1. Artemesia*

            This. If the company is buying the cans for the project the charitable impact is less than if they donated the money. And if the cans are being hot glued together what a mess for the charity or the company to disentangle them for use.

            1. Oh I know this one!!*

              The cans aren’t allowed to be glued or altered in any permanent way, and the companies that build them have to disassemble them for donation, removing any tape used. I work at a venue that hosts a Canstruction competition annually – it’s a really hard one on us, too.

    3. ecnaseener*

      I assume it was supposed to be a teambuilding activity, but of course that works better when everyone pitches in.

      1. AnonInCanada*

        But when the team is one person, who’s being “voluntold” to take on this project because she’s childless, is hardly teambuilding. As said upthread: No is a complete sentence.

          1. Question Marked*

            Maybe more flakes than jerks? I kind of assume the whole team was “voluntold” so they also had no time for this task and LW (as the newbie and team leader) just got stuck with all the work. My guess if you asked the rest of the team they likewise don’t have the bandwidth for this “morale booster”.

    4. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I think what it’s meant to accomplish for this company is the opportunity to promote themselves and get their name out there, at the cost of employees’ personal time (and health in the case of OP!) I wonder who led it before OP started there? I bet some of the people citing kids, licensure exams etc have been bitten by it in previous years. It’s time for the company to allow the planning for this to happen in work time since it’s clearly a work task, or else to withdraw from taking part in this charity drive in this form.

    5. work extra hours*

      I always found those canstruction things to be vaguely disrespectful: “We collected all this food for those in need, but we’re gonna play with it first.”

      1. rayray*

        I’d never even heard of this until today, and this is exactly my impression. Give money to your food banks, it will go so much further! Who cares if you build a sculpture of a disney character out of cans. Why not just collect money and then use your time to go work at the food bank?

    6. Ellis Bell*

      Some companies are just deeply entitled and self congratulatory about how wonderful it is to work for them. They don’t picture employees in their off time as having actual lives, but picture them sitting there daydreaming of Company, while gleefully pinching themselves. This type of company doesn’t let parents off scot free either, just so you know. The child free employees definitely get it worse, and it doesn’t surprise me that OP’s health was damaged, because this type of employer is enormously difficult to fend off and genuinely take umbridge when you don’t want to do glory work for free. Parent employees tend to mostly escape with scoldings involving being finger wagged at, and being told that they’re missing out on multiple opportunities to impress, or being told that they’re on a less ambitious development track since they decided to have kids without a stay at home partner. Parents literally can’t fall for this pressure though as there isn’t enough childcare in the world to satisfy the employer’s greed. If you pass on looking after your kid, social services are scarier than any boss.

  10. Confused*

    #1 is odd to me. OP isn’t communicating directly about the burden managing the project has become. Ideally everyone would be mind readers but that’s not the case. Throwing out complaints and hoping someone rescues you is not going to work.

    You have to be direct.

    1. Still*

      Oh come on.

      “I’ve said time and time again I am absolutely not being team captain […] I’m already getting bullied into doing this, regardless of me reiterating how stressful and negative the first experience was for me.”

      They’ve been communicating.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Communicating is a two-way street though. If you are trying to get your point across, you need to also make sure it is heard by the intended recipients. Seems like OP was trying to logic their way into the company accepting their “no” when in fact they should have just stopped at “no.”

      2. Jackalope*

        Yes, what Still said. I’m tired of people who set reasonable boundaries being told that it’s their fault that they are bulldozed over. The LW said multiple times that she’s not going to be the team captain again. It’s not that she hasn’t been communicating clearly, it’s that her employers don’t WANT to hear her no and so they are ignoring it. Obviously she now has to figure out (or had to figure out back when she wrote in) what to do next. But let’s not pretend that it was her fault for being unclear.

    2. ecnaseener*

      I agree with Still, it sounds like they were very clear whether or not they specifically said it was so stressful they got shingles.

      “Hoping someone rescues you” is also an odd way of framing this – LW hadn’t been assigned captain yet, so they didn’t need to be rescued, they were asking for advice how to refuse the assignment if they were picked.

    3. Hawkwind1980*

      If OP is female, then there is likely a lot of socialization to not be that direct, though. As much as the AAM community generally agrees that that particular double standard ought to die, reality is that a woman who is direct is often called pushy, or other, less-kind adjectives.

      Added to that, “I’ve got kids” isn’t really that much more direct than “It was miserable for me last time” as far as refusals go. It’s just that the former is unfortunately regarded as a better reason by a larger percentage of people.

    4. Generic Name*

      It’s so easy to say this. If you were raised female, being helpful and accommodating is conditioned into you so that it’s very difficult to be direct and just say no. And if you do overcome your discomfort at setting boundaries, sometimes people react badly. Case in point, during an annual review, my then boss told me I needed to be more confident and speak up in meetings more. So I did, and then I got talked to about talking too much in a meeting. Then I got told I wasn’t management material because I come off as “a little strident sometimes”. I do not miss my old boss, and my career has skyrocketed since she left, but I digress.

  11. Glen*

    Wanting to tell a subordinate to “pound sand” for … Asking to be paid the same as someone else on the same level as they are? Glad I don’t work for this person.

    1. BRR*

      That also jumped out at me. I’m wondering if the number was even high for the employee’s role or if it was just the raise percent (we know that some people don’t believe in raises over a percent).

      I’ve never understood the LW’s mentality. Yes it can sometimes signal an employee being out of touch, but otherwise it’s not the LW’s money. Even if you can’t give an employee a larger raise, why would you not want them to be paid more?

      1. L-squared*

        Right. Its not their money. Why are some managers so concerned with that. If you can’t do it, you can’t do it. But why be mad that they asked.

      2. NaoNao*

        Because some managers are given bonuses or metrics on staying in budget or managing a budget a certain way. I agree that “pound sand” because they’re asking for more money is…problematic. But managing a budget and keeping costs in line is a key part of being a manager, that’s not out of line.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yes. I’m budgeted a specific pool of money for raises and another for bonuses for my whole department. (My comp does not come out of this pool, so there is not a conflict of interest where giving my team more/less would affect my raise/bonus.) I’m not giving Mediocre Mike more money at the expense of Superstar Sam, and I’m also not going to ask my CFO for more money unless there is a market or pay disparity issue or a strong performer asking for more.

          My increase recommendations are also discrimination tested before they’re approved, and if I am recommending an out-of-scope increase for someone, I have to do a write-up justifying the overbudget expenditure. I don’t mind doing this – I had to last year to retain critical talent and every one of them were approved, but that recommendation went with metrics and performance assessment data, not, “hey, it’s your money not mine, so what do I care?”

          With regard to being “mad they asked” – I’m not mad, just tired. In all my years doing this, it is virtually never your strong performers coming and asking for additional increases. It’s nearly always mediocre performers mad because a strong performer is being paid more and even more incensed that you expect them to improve their performance before considering increasing their comp.

          I sympathize with “pound sand” as something you think in your own head because, man, have I heard some shit over the years… but I would *never* say to an employee.
          Someone told my head of HR last month that they felt it was unfair that the person in a parallel position to his who started three months behind them was being paid the same amount and then smugly told her that his generation talked about salary, like it was edgy and he’d caught her trying to lowball his comp.

    2. Chria*

      There was a lot of debate over this one in the original post and the OP weighed in a bit to clarify that the other employee really wasn’t at the same level… but also seemed to have issues with their employee (or at least that’s how it came across to me) and never clarified whether he had specifically accessed the pay information to justify his request or was using information *that he had come across in the normal course of his work*.

      That last bit was also debated pretty heavily in the comments, with people assuming “yes” or “no” and then drawing their own conclusions about the appropriateness of the employee’s behaviour. I fall on the side of assuming he came by the information legitimately and I think it’s unreasonable to expect someone to just ignore something they already know just because it happens to be about another employee’s salary. The way the OP wrote about their employee I felt like if he had really accessed the info unethically the OP would have said that instead of throwing out an ad populum “I spoke to many people I know and they all agree with me that his behaviour was an abuse of his position!” with no further clarification.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      People at the same title level but in different departments in my organization have different pay. This is tied directly to the market value of their work and their individual job performance.

      There are about 20 people in my organization with the same level title that I have. Some of them oversee a department of fewer than 5 people and have a narrow scope of responsibilities. I have more than 50 people and am responsible for three different core business functions. I would be livid if I found out someone with a much smaller scope of responsibility was paid as much as I am simply because they had the same level title.

      1. Alice*

        Sure, that makes sense, but why can’t OP4 just explain that to the direct report instead of feeling pissed off?
        I get that compensating people differently can be reasonable. I don’t get why managers so often seem afraid/uncomfortable explaining why there is a difference.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I’m not going to police OP’s feelings on the matter because I have absolutely felt exasperated at certain people who asked for a higher raise. It’s critical that those feeling never come across in the interactions with the employee, but I feel OP4 100% on the you’ve-GOT-to-be-kidding-me front.

          Personally, I’m not at all afraid or uncomfortable explaining how we make our comp decisions. I’ll talk about that in interviews because it’s not a secret – it’s market and performance; performance is measured on these specific dimensions; and here’s examples of what subpar, good, and great performance looks like on this dimension. What becomes uncomfortable is that there is a subset of those asking for raises who will not accept that their performance simply doesn’t measure up or that the five professionally-prepared, industry-specific market surveys from which we aggregate data are flat-out wrong. Bonus points if they bring it up every time they see you for the following year.

        2. Question Marked*

          I’m with you. I don’t understand the amount of high drama where a simple “your performance metrics are X and other Head Llama Groomers are at Y and are thus paid more” puts the issue to bed. If the employee knowing someone else is paid more is causing this much consternation I suspect it is because LW expected their employee to be so grateful to the LW for giving them a raise when LW didn’t believe they even deserved one in the first place. But compensation isn’t a gift, it’s predicated on performance and contribution to the organization. So why/how is the employee to divine that what is a supposed to be a valuation of their ability is actually the largess of their manager?

    4. Pinto*

      They said it was in a different department. The skill level and industry standard pay in that department could explain the difference. For example, an entry level HR specialist and an entry level attorney or accountant are likely to have drastically different pay scales

  12. Let me librarian that for you*

    LW 4 needs the past LW who got overzealous about their org’s charity can drive to the point they alienated team members (as long as they left the 50lb bags of oats at home)!

  13. Ginger*

    What an amazing teaching opportunity LW#4 missed. How about educating him on how salaries are determined. Unless you are in a position with very structured salary bands (say government, education, union, etc.) there are many things that can factor into why someone would have a much higher pay than you even “at the same level” – experience, performance, “market rate”, type of department you work in (e.g. one that brings in money vs. one that costs money), etc.

    1. Chria*

      The “pound sand” bit really struck me in the original post. It’s one thing to believe an employee is misguided or wrong about their pay analysis, but that response really seems more aggressive than is warranted and, at the very least, implies to me that the OP has a bigger issue with the employee that is influencing how they responded to his raise request. But then why would they offer a raise at all?

      It might be uncharitable but it brings to mind the OP who was upset that their employee was upset about her pay being late 3 times in a row. Excessive outrage when an employee asks for more money always gives me kind of a bad feeling.

      1. MillennialHR*

        I definitely agree and the immediate “he’s not going to get that” left me feeling…odd. Perhaps he had done a more comprehensive salary review on his own after seeing that information (I work in HR and you come across a lot of salary information very legitimately). Rather than jumping to a conclusion that your employee should “pound sand”, maybe a discussion about why the raise agreed upon would be a better starting point…or why the jobs were different and in different pay scales. It seems like this LW has a lot of animosity towards the employee and would rather lash out when the employee is just asking – there’s nothing wrong with asking for more money!

        I’m also concerned about the managers’ perspective of the employee “abusing his access”. It’s not written in the letter if he reports to someone within HR, but does the LW understand this persons’ job? In my org, everyone in HR has access to salary information (including for execs) because we need it to do our jobs. I can understand if he accessed it outside of the scope of his job, but have a conversation about confidentiality, not abusing access.

        1. Cmdrshprd*

          “I can understand if he accessed it outside of the scope of his job, but have a conversation about confidentiality, not abusing access.”

          But I think breaking confidentiality is an abuse of access. IMO just because you have the authorization/ability to access certain information, unless you directly need it for a specific task it is an abuse of access to look it up.

          I think the difference is between processing Todd’s annual raise and seeing Todd salary and realizing Todd is being paid more for the same level, and looking up Todd/other coworkers at the same level to do a salary survey when it is all for the raise request and there is not a legitimate work task that information is needed for.

          1. AnotherHRmeanie*

            I’m not understanding why we are perceiving any abuse of access? The employee likely caught a colleague’s pay while doing his regular tasks. We don’t have any reason to believe he intended to use the data for personal gain at the time, but he can’t unlearn information. We also have no reason to believe that the conversation left HR to be a confidentiality concern.

            If an employee stumbles upon a possible salary inequity while doing his tasks, even if it’s his own, should he never bring it up because that wasn’t data’s intended use? Should he just ignore the fact that his colleague makes more for all eternity because the only reason he will likely ever have learned that information is through legitimate work tasks?

            What if instead its a female/black employee and the colleague at the same level is white/male and is making more? Should she let a potential discrepancy continue without asking about it because that wasn’t what she was given the data for?

            He may not even consider this a salary inequity but the sentiment is the same; he feels there is a reason that he should be more closely compensated to that peer. How he came about the data is irrelevant. HR manager can easily resolve this by explaining pay philosophy/practices, but instead was looking for a reason to punish.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I agree with this. We explain to people in orientation how performance is assessed and how salary increases are determined. Any time someone comes to me and asks for more money or why they didn’t get the raise they expected, I can explain exactly how we arrived at the figure – it is a combination of market for their specific role and their own personal performance. I can also goal-set with them to identify things they could do to improve their increase for the next round. Even with this, we get numerous complaints, nearly always from people barely meeting expectations who’ve been told that they are barely meeting expectations and coached closely and regularly, that they are not being paid the same as their high-performing colleagues. Of course we pay the strong performers more!

      We also do proactive market adjustments – when the market shifts, we will always do an across-the-board pay increase, in particular if there would be a situation where we have new people who are being paid the same or more as experienced people. That shows up as a “market adjustment” in their annual pay increase documentation. The merit raise is listed separately. These are issued to anyone in the position, regardless of performance. I do not ever want to lose someone I spent months training because they found out the new person without that training was being paid more.

      1. Random Acts of Pedantry*

        Yes, LW seems far more preoccupied with how the employee got the information than with what the info might be telling them. If LW has not done their own in-depth market pay review recently, then their employee may well be underpaid for their position. If the only current research is what the employee brought, on what basis do you just toss it out? If you think it’s wrong, do your own research and show them how their salary was determined and why the discrepancy appears. This is also a training opportunity if their own incorrect research/assumptions are wrong. But if they’re not wrong? How do you know? LW doesn’t mention anything beyond that their last raise was “above average.”

        I guess one way to find out is to ignore it and wait for the employee to either leave for a higher-paying comparable job (showing they are in fact underpaid now) or search for a higher-paying comparable job and not find one (because their pay now is within the market range). You risk losing them but it’s a lot less effort than acknowledging the possibility that the employee is right and either double-checking their research or doing your own.

    3. Keeper of the books but not a librarian*

      Since this is coming up…..how DOES one determine a reasonable salary in, say asking for a pay increase or job offer negotiations at a private company where salaries are not public? I did a quick search and found that the salary for my job title in my geographic region is 20% less than the salary for what my actual job duties are, if that makes sense. There’s a lot more detail there, and I can expand upon this on the Friday thread, but my main question here is that there has to be more to determining fair compensation aside from “googling a report”? If I went to my boss and said that was my only source, I have a feeling that wouldn’t go over too well.

      1. NaoNao*

        Conventional advice is to focus on either your skills and experience if you’re relatively new in the position or negotiating an offer, or if you’re tenured, focus on the value you’ve brought to the company.

        For example, you focus on projects completed, money saving measures, money brought in, things like that.

        As far as coming up with a number, typically merit raises tend to stay under 5%, while jumping from title to title is more like 20% or so.

        1. Alice*

          Hah! In academia (staff), my annual raises are 2-3% and my promotions (of which I can achieve 5 in my career) are 5%.
          Before this I worked in the private sector, where one year I got a non-promotion 16% raise. Maybe it’s time to go back….

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I work in an industry that is poorly represented in publicly-available salary surveys. On top of that, my job is, if not unique, pretty close to it, because of the combined responsibilities within my specific organization.

        I tend to do a search for my job responsibilities to see what other titles come up, search for those, and aggregate. I also look at DOL data and USAJOBS, assuming they’re underpaid due to the government benefits/pension/quality of life. I also have some external recruiting contacts who are happy to chat with me about going rates.

  14. CLC*

    It’s a myth that only old people get shingles! It can happen to anyone with a weakened immune system, even kids. The more you know.

    1. drinking Mello Yello*

      I had a friend get shingles in high school. And the chickenpox vaccine was released a few years After all my friends and I had gotten chickenpox. :U

  15. LB33*

    Unrelated, but if you’re over 50 there’s a shingles vaccine – I just got one recently so thought i’d mention it

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      It’s ridiculous to me that you have to wait until you’re 50, though. I know about 10 ppl who got shingles in their 20s and 30s so I’m annoyed that I have to wait to get the vaccine. But I do know that since shingles is only “uncomfortable” (which is laughable; my understanding is that it’s excruciating) and not really life threatening, insurance companies don’t want to spend the money on it until it becomes more likely that you’ll get shingles.

      I have it penciled in my calendar for my 50th birthday to go get the vaccine.

      1. BL73*

        I had shingles at age 40, very painful. I was able to get the vaccine but had to pay OOP for it. It was affordable for me (if I recall, two shots at $250/shot) but may not be for everyone. Just wanted you to know in case you wanted to get it early.

      2. Qwerty*

        It’s because they don’t know how long the vaccine is effective for, so they are trying to maximize coverage so it doesn’t wear off by the time you are elderly. The different brands of shingles vaccines have different age thresholds. Adults with weakened immune systems do get the vaccine much earlier. I’m assuming in a decade or so there will be guidance on when a booster shot is needed. (unless the chicken pox vaccine that kids now get has some effect on shingles risk)

        Personally I’ve got my eye on the pnumonia vaccine (current cdc rec is 65yrs).

        1. Clisby*

          I thought you couldn’t get shingles unless you’d previously had chicken pox. Which now would trend toward older people, since the chickenpox vaccine has been around at least since my 26-year-old daughter.

          From the CDC:

          “People get shingles when the varicella zoster virus, which causes chickenpox, reactivates in their bodies after they have already had chickenpox.”

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            It’s a bit more complex than that but generally the CDC has it right (I did my postgraduate studies on herpesviruses).

            A lot of people, especially in the UK where the chickenpox vaccine is not standard, have likely caught the virus at an early age but if you get the initial infection at an older age then it can lead to shingles very rapidly after the initial infection simply because herpesviruses are exceptionally good at hiding from the immune system and reactivating whoever they feel like it.

            So an older person or one with a comprised immune system can get shingles really fast after initial infection.

            Additionally we do not routinely scan for herpesviruses because they are so darn good at hiding. I can guarantee that most people reading this have at least one of the viruses in this family in their system.

      3. drinking Mello Yello*

        My rheumatologist just told me that the shingles vaccine was recently (in the past year-ish?) approved for people 18 and over in the US. So hopefully that’s accurate!

        Considering I got chickenpox a few years before the chickenpox vaccine was released but have a good decade and a half until I hit 50, I’m really hoping I can get shingles shotted up!

  16. Chria*

    I went through the comments of the original posts and I’m disappointed I didn’t see any comments from OP#2. It’s always interesting to see what assumptions commenters make that influence their responses, and especially finding out which assumptions were accurate or inaccurate. The original post was unfortunately dominated by responses to another short answer post (which also never got an update!), but I’m still really curious about what the reason for denying the vacation time was and whether the OP normally had a decent relationship with their boss or if this was the latest in a long string of indignities.

    The fact that OP#2 immediately chose the nuclear option (cc’ing their boss’s bosses) and their phrasing of “another employee pointed out to me how these 2 other people were allowed the time off that I was denied” have me going 50/50 on “wild overreaction from someone prone to them” vs “toxic workplace with lots of drama, sh#t-stirring, and unfair management. I’m wondering if OP was wound up by this other employee or if it was an innocuous comment that the other employee didn’t know would unleash such fury.

    1. to varying degrees*

      I read the LW’s responses in the comments and she really doubled down. I thought the whole thing seemed weird with random other managers just coming up to her to talk about the other employees leave and her never following up with a conversation with her own supervisor (she did apologize, though I am suspicious on it’s sincerity based on her comments).

      1. Chria*

        Oh, good to know! I couldn’t find the comments but to be honest the cheating coworker drama took up *so much* of my attention.

    2. Lauren Q*

      Actually, she did respond quite a bit, as Amy L, and she had a lot to say…she seemed quite defensive. She was saying that another manager came and told her out of the blue about the other people getting vacation days approved (which seems super unprofessional)…

      1. Meep*

        That is interesting. I am curious if the other manager was egging her on knowing it would ruffle her feathers and cause an over-reaction. Either to make her or her manager look bad. Or even if it was just her manager’s policy. Such a weird thing to gossip about.

    3. Observer*

      have me going 50/50 on “wild overreaction from someone prone to them” vs “toxic workplace with lots of drama, sh#t-stirring, and unfair management.

      Based on the OP’s comments on that post, I would say that both are true.

    4. Office Lobster DJ*

      I was also wondering what the environment was like in general, as well as whether the reason behind LW wanting the time off led to a bigger reaction. For example, not even being allowed to petition to get time off for their ailing grandmother’s 95th birthday, while someone else at the same level just decided they needed some beach time, asked and received.

  17. LCH*

    Also for #1, as team leader, delegate. If the 20 other people on the team don’t turn in their portion of it, oh well!

  18. A. Tiskit & A. Taskit LLC*

    LW1: Who’s in charge of determining who the “team captain” will be? You should address it with that person – politely but firmly – and bring up some of the problems you encountered last year. You weren’t actually the “captain” of a “team” – you were doing almost everything yourself and nobody else lifted a finger to help! That isn’t teamwork and that isn’t equitable.

    When you talk to that person, explain why last year was so stressful for you and suggest that everyone on the “team” be assigned specific tasks (by the way, DID you actually do that or did you assume that the “team members” would automatically volunteer to do what had to be done?) If everyone saw you doing everything last year, they may perceive being team captain as being more burdensome than it need be. By definition, a team is supposed to share the work.

    State that you did this last year and it’s someone else’s turn this year. But don’t think up excuses for not doing it yourself! Shameless exploiters on the lookout for loans, thankless work, dates or anything else that they want and that you don’t want to give them can ALWAYS think up a way around your excuse and talk you into a corner. Always!

  19. aebhel*

    That one about tickling has been HAUNTING me since it was first posted. Like. WHAT on earth would make anyone think that’s okay.

  20. Office Lobster DJ*

    Thinking in general terms here and teasing out a detail, rather than the context and specifics of letter #2: Any thoughts on how [LW#2] could have better responded to her boss’s request to chat when she was worked up?

    Sometimes you genuinely know that’s it better for everyone if you take a little time to cool off before engaging in a conversation. I would have probably held off on responding to the IM (if I could) until I was slightly calmer or feigned a busy day and said I’d swing by before I left….but I’m sure there are folks who would interpret that poorly, too.

    1. Observer*

      eigned a busy day and said I’d swing by before I left….but I’m sure there are folks who would interpret that poorly, too.

      It would still be miles better than the OP’s actual response.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        I would tend to agree, but I’ve also seen people insist anything but enthusiastic and immediate confrontation is passive aggressive and thus The Worst Thing You Could Do.

        Maybe the middle road is something like “I’d like to come to this with a fresh mind tomorrow. Can we talk then?”

    2. CharlieBrown*

      It seems to me that OP#2 mainly wanted to yell when what she needed to do was listen. Maybe if she had realized that and gone in with that attitude, it would have been okay.

      But with what others have written about OP’s comments in the original post, I wonder if they still have a job there.

    3. Critical Rolls*

      Wellll, in a perfect world you wouldn’t send an email with your grandbosses cc’d while you were in fight mode. Basically, OP initiated an exchange in anger so she set herself up for the problem.

      But under other circumstances, I’d try phrasing along the lines of “I’d like to get my thoughts in order before we discuss this” or “I’d like to wrap up a couple of things so I can give the conversation my complete focus.” I would phrase it as a request, and I’d try to get a time or window scheduled so my boss didn’t feel like I was trying to dodge the convo entirely.

    4. Question Marked*

      I think “No problem. There are a few things I am trying to finish up, so I can drop in as soon as I am at a stopping point. Or if it’s easier can we pencil in a moment to discuss later today or tomorrow?” would work. That leaves the boss with the option to say “it would be better if you came by now” or “sure, can you stop by at 4?” based on how urgent the boss felt the issue was.

  21. lilsheba*

    I hate hate hate team building events, I think they need to just stop. And forced charity events? Yeah those can go away too. My old job at a bank (the one dealing with all the lawsuits and fines) did this crap all the time and I hated every second of it. I am SO GLAD I don’t have to deal with this anymore at my current workplace. They treat us like adults instead of little kids having playtime in the classroom.

  22. thatoneoverthere*

    I think the entire thing from #1 needs evaluated. Why wasn’t there a whole team involved in this? If there was several people on a committee for this, it likely wouldn’t be as stressful.

    Also please don’t assume just because someone has kids they don’t want to help with extra tasks. This is my number one pet peeve as a Mom. People leave us out of stuff all the time, bc we have kids. Please let us make that decision.

    This goes for those without kids too. I never know what someone’s personal life looks like. They may have pets, loved one or something else to care for. Or simply don’t want to do something. That is OK!

    1. Curmudgeon in California*


      I don’t have kids. But I have roommates, family, and health issues. My time off work is mine, not to get taken up by some voluntold project that is stressful and a waste of time.

      If I had that kind of crap pulled on me I would be looking for an excuse to take FMLA, and find a new job.

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      I effing love this phrase! “an incredible combustion of parentheses and horror” is an early example of Alison at her best.

  23. RJ*

    OP#1, you have all of my sympathy for I have always hated that can project. Two of the firms I worked at were involved in it and while the objective is good, the project itself tended to bring out the worst in project leads. No one should assume you have ‘extra time’ to dedicate to a project like this just because you have no kids.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      There’s no “I” in “team” but there are two in “martini” so the quicker we wrap this up, the quicker we can get out of here and go relax.

  24. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    The making of assumptions about what an employee is able to do for volunteering made me think about how irritated I would get when I, as a public transportation user, was passed over for special assignments purely on that basis, rather than the supervisors ASKING if I was interested in going and/or was fully capable as an adult to figure out how to get to a different location in my own city.

  25. Jonquil*

    LW1: your company is making its staff participate in something that clearly NO-ONE wants to be involved in

    LW3: I would not try very hard to avoid hitting people by accident

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