people are stealing the bathroom items I bought for shared use, how much mental health support should managers provide, and more

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

1. How much direct mental health support should managers provide?

You get a lot of questions about how employees can deal with managers who overstep the mark in the name of mental health, pushing employees to be vulnerable and share details about the mental health. I very much support your advice — that generally, it’s safest for employers to have really firm boundaries and to enforce them when management try and get too touchy-feely.

But it’s got me wondering if as manager maybe I lean too hard into that? I have very strong boundaries between my personal and professional life (I didn’t used to! but I’ve developed them!) and I maintain those boundaries as a manager and encourage my team to do the same.

Earlier today, we had a “mental health” session at work where our managing director shared his own mental health journey and diagnoses with the view of “encouraging people to be brave” and “help people feel comfortable bringing their whole selves at work.” While there was no explicit encouragement for others to do the same, it definitely made me feel a bit weird. I immediately sent a follow-up to my direct reports saying that of course I’m here to listen if they ever need it, but I’ll never ask anyone to share any personal details with me. I also reiterated that they can always use sick days for mental health (and that they don’t have to explicitly tell me that that’s what they’re doing), and pointed them in the direction of our employer resources, which includes free access to professional mental health services.

While of course I want to support my team, my approach if anyone came to me with mental health struggles would be to encourage them to take some time off, point them in the direction of employer resources, and let them know the process if they need any official accommodations. But now I’m wondering if I’m too cold and should be more of a sympathetic ear to my direct reports? How much should a manager do when it comes to mental health?

No, you are right and your managing director is overstepping. “Encouraging people to be brave” or to share their “mental health journey” can mean “encouraging people to make themselves vulnerable to discrimination” (particularly when their “whole selves” aren’t part of what’s mainstream in their office). Moreover, the workplace is not the right place to delve into trauma or be asked to listen to other people’s trauma — and that’s what “mental health journey” can mean.

Your approach to supporting your team with time off, resources, and accommodations is exactly right. Unless you are a trained therapist — and unless you are their trained therapist — it would be inappropriate for you to do more.

If your employer wants to make sure it’s supporting employees’ mental health, that’s great. They can offer strong mental health coverage as part of their insurance, be flexible with employees who need time off for therapy, talk openly about what types of accommodations are available to people who need them, and be thoughtful about workloads and how much stress employees are expected to take on. That’s what they’re uniquely positioned to do and it’s the most useful contribution they can make.

2. People are stealing the items I bought for shared use in our bathroom

I am a manager at a government agency. We have very specific purchasing rules, this applies later. I like to be comfortable at work — we are all here a long time every day! So I have been personally purchasing toiletries for the bathrooms (feminine hygiene products, lotion, air freshener, wrinkle release, dental floss picks, lint roller, etc.) that cannot be purchased using public funds. I intend these items to be used by colleagues. But without fail, these items just walk away in their entirety. I’ve replaced items often, but just this morning the nicer lotion is missing, the bottle of Febreeze is gone, and the new box of tampons is 100% empty.

I’ve never said anything to anyone about it because I feel petty. I’ve never shared that I’m providing these things because I hoped that it would just be a nice community thing. And I assumed that since we’re all government employees, most of us responsible for finance and purchasing, everyone knows those items are not being purchased by their employer. Is there an appropriate way to address this? Or do I just call it quits and chalk it up to a lesson learned?

Lesson learned, probably. If you were in a small office with only a few people using that bathroom, you could try explaining to people that you were buying those items personally and ask them to leave them in there … but at a government agency, I’m guessing there are a lot of people using that bathroom, not all of whom you know, and it’s likely a losing battle. It was kind of you to try!

3. Am I overdoing it with “thanks” emails?

I’m a few years into my career and still a bit confused about email etiquette when it comes to saying thank you. My job involves a lot of outreach to both coworkers and different organizations for quick bits of information, so I always send a brief “thank you” or “much appreciated” once I get the information I need for the sake of warmth and politeness. It feels wrong not to! When I get perfunctory thank-you emails to my inbox, however, I nearly always delete them right away without much of a second thought. Or in the case of the team I work with, it feels like I’m laying it on thick thanking them multiple times a day for things that are a part of their job that they do without a second thought. I can’t tell whether I’m coming off as friendly or simpering. Is it possible to overdo it with the thankfulness?

There’s no one right answer to this; different people handle it differently. I tend to think a quick “thanks” is useful not just to express appreciation but to confirm you got whatever the other person sent you. It’s closing the loop. And yes, the person on the other end is probably deleting it without much thought just like you are, but there’s still value in acknowleding “I’ve received this and am now set.”

That said, you’ve got to know your office culture — if it’s email-heavy and no one else is doing it, you might adjust accordingly.

4. Can you opt out of a retention interview?

A friend started a new job this week. She told me that during onboarding she learned about retention interviews. They are done by HR and are similar to exit interviews. I don’t know what the process is to select someone for an interview or how many people are interviewed each quarter.

I think this is (potentially) a great idea. But if you’re tagged for something like this, is it okay to opt out? Is it something that’s shared with your manager?

Info from retention interviews usually is shared with your manager because the point is to figure out what they need to do/keep doing/stop doing in order to keep you around, and your manager is usually — although not always — the best person to spearhead that.

Opting out is likely to raise the question of why. If you have an easily explainable reason like that you’re slammed with deadlines, that’s one thing. But otherwise it’s likely to make your manager wonder if you’re completely disengaged or demoralized, and it’s pretty likely they’ll ask you about it (and “I’m not willing to talk about things that would keep me here” is kind of a startling message, unless you’re able to point to a reason why — like “we’ve done these five times now and it never seems to affect anything”).

5. Should I design a thank-you PDF to send after my interviews?

In the past, you’ve given advice about what to write and how to send thank-you notes to a potential employer. What are your thoughts on creating a PDF thank-you card that can be sent to potential employers via email after an interview? The jobs I’m applying to include elements of graphic design and technical competency. I could see how sending a customized PDF thank-you card could be a great way to directly show off my skills to a future employer. However, I haven’t heard anyone do this before. I don’t know if that’s because this is a bad idea or because this is a new idea. Thoughts?

I wouldn’t recommend it. Post-interview notes are a business communication and, as such, should be sent as regular emails. (You also shouldn’t send a card through the mail for this purpose, even though you might do that in your non-work life.) These notes also aren’t really about thanking the interviewer at all; they’re about building on the conversation you had in the interview. A card just isn’t the right medium.

It’ll probably feel clearer if you stop thinking “thank-you note” and instead think “business follow-up.”

{ 563 comments… read them below }

  1. Mary*

    OP3, if your job uses the Microsoft Outlook suite then you’ll likely have access to reactions in the email. We “like” emails to say thanks and close the loop and it prevents additional emails.

    1. Dover*

      I had no idea this existed! It looks like it’s only the web version, though, and not the desktop version which most people I know use. Hopefully coming soon.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          I just noticed it last week and haven’t used it yet. So it’s there in my desktop version now, anyway.

    2. allathian*

      That would be so practical! We use Outlook, but it’s connected to a ticketing system (service providers see the info on tickets, internal customers use email, regardless of whether you’re providing service or being a customer in each particular case), so sadly that functionality won’t work for us because the ticketing system doesn’t understand the likes.

    3. bamcheeks*

      I do this, but it does still create an email notification in someone’s inbox — eg, if they already have 38 unread emails this will create a 39th– so I’m never sure if it’s that much of an improvement. I guess it at least makes it clear that it is just closing the loop and doesn’t require any more action or thought.

      1. Amy*

        The “like” function in Outlook doesn’t create an additional email. It’s similar to liking a text.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          It sounds similar to the teams function, where when a coworker posts a reaction to my message it gives me a notification, and I have to go look at it to clear the notification out.
          So outlook is probably making some sort of notification. I haven’t seen this in our Outlook, and I’m not sure it would be that useful because we use email for documenting.

          1. Jamjari*

            This is what it does for me in the desktop version – it means at least two clicks to remove it rather than one.

          2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            at least in our Teams install, you can turn off the notifications for reactions. (I did because my coworkers react a lot and I hate red dots on things :P )

            1. Miss Muffet*

              Thank you for this! I thought I had this set up but I didn’t have it set to “off”. This drives me crazy too.

            2. Mr. Shark*

              You can turn that off?? That’s great news. Now I have to figure out how to do it.

              I also hate the red dots on things, and the reactions showing up as separate from the chat is annoying and makes no sense to me.

          1. Amy*

            If you look at Microsoft’s description of the function, there’s no email.

            It’s a check in the notification bar, same as Teams.

            Sending an email that says “X person liked your email” seems pretty strange and cluttery.

            1. Sssssssssssssssssssssss*

              And I got exactly that! So and so liked your email, IN my email. And I was confused as I had no idea that was an option or how it’s done. I’m going to assume it was done from their phone and then I got the notification (since I refuse to put my work stuff on my personal phone). And then I promptly deleted it because I didn’t need to know she liked it.

              Teams gives you options on email notifications. If I don’t look at the messages in Teams after an hour, I will get an email notification. I can turn it off to none.

            2. mlem*

              Atlassian’s “Confluence” wiki sends emails for comment “likes”. At least one of my colleagues hates the extra email clutter that produces.

              1. Wintermute*

                Confluence’s email integration is notoriously spammy, it generates emails for every. little. thing. That said you can filter them easily enough, and I really like the fact we use it for our SOP and job documentation repository so no one can stealth change documentation on you, the WHOLE team knows when something’s been updated. Far superior to Sharepoint in that regard.

            3. Sssssssssssssssssssssss*

              And that’s exactly what I got! So and so liked your email. Like I need more notification emails. It was promptly deleted.

            4. bamcheeks*

              I get this:

              From: Microsoft Outlook Reactions
              Sent: 10 February 2023 01:24
              Subject: Reaction Daily Digest – Friday, February 10, 2023

              [Colleague] reacted to your message Thu 02/09/2023 14:42

              You can unsubscribe and presumably if you were getting multiple ones per day, you’d just get one email with all of them rather than one email per reaction. But it’s a new feature for us, so a) most people aren’t using it, so the chances that one email = one reaction are that much higher, and b) obviously I don’t know whether or not someone else has unsubscribed or knows how to do so.

              1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

                Can confirm that at my job’s configuration of desktop Outlook, all of the reactions from the previous day get sent to me in a single daily digest. Additionally, I then have to download images in that message to get any idea what the reactions actually are because they’re not described in text within that stupid email.

                So basically, a day later I know who thumbs up’d something I said, if I open that email and download images.

                I turned off Teams, though, so I’m not sure if that’s related to me not seeing the reactions in real time in actual Outlook. (I got tired of the activity dot turning yellow whenever I wasn’t wiggling my mouse often enough, and it was total garbage data for determining if I was actually at my desk due to how much of my workflow is not on the Windows box with Teams and Outlook on it but rather on a different computer running a different OS and/or on paper.)

        2. AnonInCanada*

          TIL about the like button, but it seems it may only work with certain emails received. I notice I can’t actually click on it and have Outlook react to it. Is there a trick I need to know?

          1. Wintermute*

            I believe it may be dependent on whether the email is internal or external, or at least from an O365 instance that is directly linked to yours. If it’s from an external domain it’s also possible their email system doesn’t support it or has the feature disabled.

        3. AJL*

          Unfortunately it does, at least if you have the desktop version. I am at an org where only a small percentage of us “super users” have the full octane desktop version of Microsoft Office; the rest of the org uses a “lite,” web-based version. After a recent upgrade I started getting swamped with emails from Microsoft – “So-and-so liked your email!” It was obnoxious and overwhelming to the point that I had to disable that feature. It might be okay if on the web version you’re just seeing a little thumbs up icon or something.

        4. MCMonkeyBean*

          FWIW, as someone with an android I do actually get a text when someone with an iphone “likes” a text. I’m curious how the outlook like feature presents if the email is from someone who doesn’t have that feature?

          1. Daisy-dog*

            Yes, I’m in a large group chat with people who have a variety of phones (I have Android). Half of us seem to have different reactions and Android can’t like photos. I get a separate text message if someone likes a photo or uses a reaction that I don’t have. I also get a notification when a reaction that I do have is used.

    4. Flower necklace*

      I was so glad when they added the ability to react to emails to the Outlook app, too. It makes it easier when I want to acknowledge an email and I’m away from my computer.

      1. High Score!*

        The Outlook I have with my employer does not have that option, so this won’t work for everyone. Rest assured though, we all see the thanks emails as an acknowledgement of receipt.

    5. a clockwork lemon*

      My company doesn’t have this function enabled and I’m so glad. I’m in a high-volume job working on a bunch of different stuff but with mostly the same people. Having that little “Thanks” attached to the end of each thread gives me a reference point to look for two weeks later when my boss wants a status update.

    6. WorkForYourPay*

      And I can’t wait until I can disable it. It does not present itself in a way that it can be used as documentation in the event of disciplinary action or lawsuit. It also gives no notice to someone that is using a third party client (like Apple Mail on iOS) to access their email, with the exception of possibly getting a daily summary.

  2. GingerApple*

    Heavens, back in my crazy days, in the 80s, we had a bathroom thief once, so I brought in industrial grade glue and affixed the bottle to the granite. We couldn’t get it off so when it ran off we just put another one. Management flipped their shizz when the women’s restroom had four, started yelling everyone out. I hated that place so I stuck a fifth one before i up and quit.

    1. MK*

      You damaged the surface, and if it was a rented office space, you probably stuck them with a bill to repair, or worse replace it. They may have been awful, but you were in the wrong here.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      I don’t think I understand the sequence of events. You glued the bottle of glue to the counter? or you glued the bottle of whatever people were stealing to the counter? If it were glued and unremovable how did it get taken again?

      1. Parrot*

        I think they meant they glued down the bottle that was being stolen, and when the bottle ran out (not ran off) they glued another one to the counter.

  3. pinetree*

    OP3, great question. What I try to do is flip it around—would I want an acknowledgment or thank you for the email I sent? Usually it’s better on the error on the side of politeness. Having said that, I’m sympathetic to how full email inboxes can quickly get, so sometimes I’ll say thank you through chat instead, or a passing thank you in person. Also, I now work somewhere where gobs of people are cc’ed on every email (mostly for good reason) so often I write a more formal thank you (e.g. “Thanks so much for sharing this information, this is very helpful context to keep in mind while my team does x”) that feels like it adds a bit of value to the conversation in some way or clearly closes the loop as Allison brought up.

    1. Pugetkayak*

      My boss has sent several large group emails to tell people to stop emailing them “thanks.” That is it their job and they assume the receiver is doing what they said. I think with email, “polite” is in the eye of the beholder. If I get instructions from anyone, I just go ahead and do it and get out of their way.
      As a manager I don’t MIND people saying thanks, but its unnecessary and sometimes I realize people have come back to me waiting on another email and I think “didnt I already tell you what to do?” They have done it and are double checking if its ok. No, just do it. I assume you did it.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I usually send a “done” email when something is completed. I think it helps to close the loop, since otherwise tasks can get lost in inbox purgatory.

    2. WellRed*

      Don’t thank people for a thank you. In social terms: someone sends a gift, you say thank you. You don’t then expect them to say thank you for the thank you. At least, that’s how I looked at it when I had the same question.

    3. Heidi*

      Logically, I know this doesn’t make any sense, but when I have a bunch of new emails in my inbox, I like having some of them be quick emails that I can just delete or file away with any response. If every single email in the box requires a detailed response or thorough reading, it feels discouraging. Getting an email that requires nothing from me is kind of nice, like it could have been a ton of work but wasn’t.

    4. Well...*

      IDK I like emails that have closed loops. Someone thanking me in chat feels like now I have more scattered information (Did they get that email? Oh yea they told me on Slack) and also it has a disembodied “thanks” in the chat that’s hard to reconstruct. Adding context to the chat-thank-you adds more reading time for everyone. I’d say a quick, “Great, thanks!” email reply is the most economical way to close the loop.

    5. Excel-sior*

      Personally, if it’s something i send out regularly (daily, weekly, monthly, whatever) then i wouldn’t expect a thank you. If it’s an ad-hoc request, or I’ve been asked to do something sooner or add something new to the usual, then i would expect some form of acknowledgement for the additional work I’ve put in.

    6. Daisy-dog*

      Here’s where I send a “Thanks” email:
      – Someone sent me something directly – response, requested information, etc. Even if others are on CC – I still send it to everyone, so no one thinks they have to take action or that it wasn’t fully completed. Especially if my boss or their boss was involved at any point.
      – Someone sends an email to the group with an update or special announcement. If we discussed this topic together previously, then I send them a direct email to thank them for the update.
      – If there was a long delay in between communications. So even when I might not normally send a reply, if it took them a long time to get back to me, I usually send “Thanks” and ask if they need more assistance.

      I do not confirm someone’s confirmation. For instance, I updated something and then someone else confirms that they do see the update (unless there’s been a longer conversation). I also don’t send anything if it’s a group email and I’m not directly involved.

    7. Little Beans*

      I only send a thank you email if a) I’m genuinely thankful! As in, I would not have known this information if you didn’t go out of your way to send it to me, or b) I use it as a confirmation of timing in specific cases where that seems necessary, like you’re sending this to me at the last minute and I’m confirming I still saw it on time.

      I had a co-worker once who would send thank-you emails WEEKS after the original email. That was a terrible use of thank you emails because not only was it unnecessary, it let me know that she wasn’t checking her email very often!!

      1. Daisy-dog*

        Ugh, yes the confirmation that you saw something in time. I have definitely lost a lot trust/respect for some past co-workers who thought they were “too busy” to confirm some things.

  4. Esme*

    Some people, for whatever reason, can’t leave “free” stuff. I don’t think it’s necessarily because they are greedy or want to hurt others. My mom was in charge of snacks at her office and a new employee cleaned out the basket every day. I’m sure there are other examples in the Ask A Manager archives.

    1. allathian*

      That’s true, some people can’t leave free stuff unless it’s nailed or glued down. But some people are also living off of free snacks at the office, there’s been at least one such case mentioned here.

      1. Siege*

        Can we just not? It’s good to be compassionate and to bear in mind that others’ circumstances are different, but it turns into this giant obstacle course where people define ever-less-likely reasons OP needs to bring in even more stuff, so that her unnamed, impoverished coworker has her choice of 17 kinds of tampons. OP isn’t seeking vengeance, she’s just saying “I tried to do a thing, it’s not working the way I want, is there another option?” She’s not setting traps to catch the person taking the items. She’s not leaping out from behind s stall door and screaming “J’accuse!” in a French accent.

        And I will also add we’ve had several stories of people who were adequately compensated choosing to steal so they didn’t have to spend their own money.

        1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

          Yeah, and anyway, the only things on #2’s list of stuff that are necessities are feminine hygiene products. I am quite sure her coworkers are not suffering at home because they can’t afford Febreeze! And even tampons aren’t as much a necessity as food is.

          1. High Score!*

            Might not be her co-workers. Do others use the bathrooms? Anyone coming in from other departments? Perhaps the cleaning crew enjoys the Febreeze?

        2. allathian*

          Agreed, sorry.

          It’s definitely annoying that people take more than they need of free stuff just because they can. I’m glad I don’t work with people like that!

          That said, I’m particularly happy to be working for the government in a country where our taxpayers in general acknowledge that government employees are people just like private sector employees, and that we deserve workplace perks, too. I’ve never had to participate in a potluck, because our office parties are paid for by the employer. We have free coffee and tea, etc.

          1. GythaOgden*

            Please don’t do this. It reeks of condescension and arrogance, and does you zero favours in the argument. FWIW, the UK public sector is somewhere in the middle (and we don’t stock hygiene products in the bathrooms; you bring your own), and I’m sure you’d find some states in Europe that aren’t the best appointed.

            You’re also going after the wrong people here as well. None of us have any purchasing power — I’m in facilities and not even my line manager does, still less my supervisor.

            There are plenty of places to make cracks at the US, but you made a tone-deaf comment and followed it up with another tone-deaf one, and really, it’s exhausting to read even as a European.

            1. Rainbow*

              I disagree to be honest… the comment was fine and provides interesting context for those who don’t know it.

              1. Bob*

                “I’m particularly happy to be working for the government in a country where our taxpayers in general acknowledge that government employees are people just like private sector employees” comes off as condescending. It’s also a really bizarre thing to be condescending about. Like, this is what makes you feel superior, really?

                1. uncivil servant*

                  I’m a Canadian public servant and while I think it’s kind of hilarious that I have to bring my own kleenex, I’ve see some ridiculous uses of public funds in some offices and I’d rather we upheld a high ethical standard. We’re decently compensated for our labour and we can afford our own coffee. Our union pays for our Christmas party and we have an employees’ association that puts on barbecues, etc. at minimal cost.

                2. abca*

                  I didn’t read the quoted comment as condescending, but as sympathy. Like “I’m glad I have this and people in the US should have this too because this is the right thing to do”. I find it difficult to understand words like “bizarre”, “condescending”, “feel superior” all in one sentence, just because someone says she’s glad to work in a good place?
                  I understand you will disagree with this read, because, yes, it was not literally said that way, but you are also reading condescension into it that I honestly don’t see at all.

              2. Federal Employee 019283*

                But it’s not accurate. I’m a federal employee and have had plenty of “free lunches” when the situation calls for it. This was just an opportunity to dump on the US and the commenter couldn’t resist. I’m not convinced they know what it’s like to work for the US federal government nor that they’re familiar with our procurement laws. I think this is one of those instances where they think they do because lots of foreigners think they know a whole lot about the US, but aren’t actually that informed on the nuance. It didn’t do anything but derail the conversation. LW said everything that needs to be said about why they were providing toiletries.

                1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

                  I work for the federal government and the only way for us to pay for that stuff is with the small amount of money that’s for discretionary use connected with bonuses and stuff like that. “Free” lunches are usually paid for by managers. We absolutely did not have anything but toilet paper in the bathrooms.

                2. One of the Locals*

                  It’s not accurate FOR YOU. Government is a million different things in the States. It’s different at the state and local level, and different depending on office. I had nice perks working in a state legislative office; there are absolutely no “free lunches” at local office I’m at now and we have ethics rules against that sort of thing. Honestly, I found this comment far more off-putting than the one you’re objecting to. It’d be awfully nice if our taxpayers thought it was okay to buy us donuts for our staff meetings.

            2. Bookwitch*

              This read as an extreme over reaction to someone sharing their context. They weren’t being condescending or suggesting anyone here had any power to change their political situation

              1. allathian*

                Yes this, thank you. Seems like some people are reading condescension into my replies even if I certainly didn’t intend to sound condescending. I’m sorry if I came across that way, I realize that intent doesn’t equal impact.

                For the record, I’ve never worked anywhere, whether in the public or the private sector, where the employer provided anything but the most basic soap and toilet paper (we’re lucky enough to get two-ply at least), and since March 2020, sanitizer and masks, until they lifted the mask mandate.

                No employer I’ve worked for has ever provided any menstrual hygiene products or moisturizer, etc. Now that I think about it, I’d probably feel slightly weirded out if my employer did provide such items because people have such varied preferences.

                That said, I’d also think it extremely odd if someone took it upon themselves to provide other employees with hygiene products that the employer wasn’t providing. The only example of this I’ve seen was when a coworker retired and didn’t want to take her huge can of hair spray back home with her, so she just put a label on it that said that anyone was welcome to use it and left it in one of our single-occupancy toilets.

                1. Amy*

                  Those types of menstrual products are usually meant for a time when you find yourself without one. Not that they are providing all the products you need while menstruating.

                  My office has a stock of pads and tampons. And I grab about 2-3 a year.

                2. Charlotte Lucas*

                  As part of equity initiatives, my state agency removed the charge for feminine hygiene products. So now we don’t have to find a quarter to pay for super cheap products when we’re caught out.

                  It’s nice to have those in power acknowledge that these are necessities, not luxury items. (We also get facial tissue & hand sanitizer for our desks.)

              1. working for a living*

                It probably would have been better if the response had not been written. I will only speak for myself, but as an American I am so tired of discussions on AAM where some replies go something like this – “Oh my, I am from “Enlightened Country” and this would never happen here! I am so sorry that you poor Americans have to put up with stuff like this!”
                allathian’s 3rd paragraph was not needed at all and didn’t improve the discussion. We (American’s) don’t need to be reminded all the time how bad we have it and how good everyone else has it.

                1. scandi*

                  They didn’t even mention a country though? Not the US, and not any other country either? I think you’re reading quite a lot into a comment that boils down to “I’m happy with my situation and aware that people elsewhere have it worse”, without specifying where the “elsewhere” is.

                2. High Score!*

                  There are good places to work here in America. Certainly not the majority, but if you are here in the US, don’t lose hope. When your employer doesn’t treat you right, send out resumes, and try another one. Call out employers that are unethical. LinkedIn is a great resource, find out from your peers where the good places to work are. Sad that it is that way. Maybe collectively we can make it better. It’s already better than it was decades ago when I started out, so let’s keep at it.

                3. They*

                  I’ve noticed Americans on this site getting more and more touchy about this and reading this tone into comments that don’t actually appear to have it. As a Canadian federal employee, we also don’t get anything but toilet paper and water provided by our employer and so I understood what Allathian actually meant.

                  Also, frankly, I would love to know less about America but your country’s cultural imperialism makes that impossible. Not that it’s the fault of everyday Americans, but it’s funny to have to hear so much about your country all the time and then have Americans be offended when people abroad have opinions about what they hear

                4. Lily Potter*

                  I don’t think that this particular comment warrants the reaction that Working for a Living had to it. However, I do understand the underlying frustration. I get frustrated when a topic has to do with health care or parental leave, and we have to wade through a million comments about how “In Australia, we do it this way”, “In the UK, we get this benefit”, and “In Outer Mongolia, we’ve got it better than you Americans”. Unless the original letter writer says that they’re from Australia, the UK, or Outer Mongolia, hearing about their laws just isn’t helpful to the vast majority of readers.

                5. High Score!*

                  @They, Americans are touchy bc we have little power to improve things although most of us do what we can. Our leaders spend zero time making it better for us, but have plenty of time to encourage division among the people so we fight about which party is best instead of demanding better from all elected officials. Not that it would matter I guess bc the only politicians we get to vote for are dinosaurs who should be in a nursing home.
                  Still, America is our home and every country has it’s problems but America is villainized.

                6. FurySaidToTheMouse*

                  I am an American and I think this is ridiculous. Yes, many other countries are more “enlightened.” I like reading about people’s experiences in more countries with more humane working environments- I see it as inspiration and proof that the American way is not the only way.

            3. Such as it is*

              I am really confused by this response. I read the comments you were responding to three times trying to figure out where the vehemence in your response came from!

              I really am not sure where you are reading the condescension or arrogance. I feel like you might be responding to your frustration at what you perceive as being an unhelpful pattern of comments, rather than this comment in particular?

              I feel that I read comments that offer empathy to the perpetrators of mischief very differently than some of the commentators here. I don’t see such comments as justification for the mischief or reasons why the behaviour is okay or even that the LW should be less upset about the situation. Nor do I read it as a suggestion that their behaviour be continued to be facilitated or not called out (or, in this case, as a suggestion for the LW continue to supply products).

              I think for some people (myself included), it can be helpful to consider that *bad* behaviour is not necessarily caused by people being intentionally selfish, mean or being intrinsically bad. For me at least, when I am the target of such behaviour, framing things this way makes it easier for me to not be bitter about people in general, and to not stay frustrated. This doesn’t and shouldn’t make the behaviour okay.

              My job essentially is working with people who have done the worst things. And despite this, most of these people aren’t bad or evil in the way most people would understand those ideas. People are incredibly complicated and they make poor and damaging choices for an incredible variety of reasons. That doesn’t diminish or mitigate their actions – however, it does allow me to feel more hopeful about the world.

              1. bamcheeks*

                I think for some people (myself included), it can be helpful to consider that *bad* behaviour is not necessarily caused by people being intentionally selfish, mean or being intrinsically bad. For me at least, when I am the target of such behaviour, framing things this way makes it easier for me to not be bitter about people in general, and to not stay frustrated. This doesn’t and shouldn’t make the behaviour okay.

                I completely agree with this, and thought the same thing reading a couple of the comments this morning. I am kind of surprised that it reads to some people as “you have no right to be upset about this thing!” because for me it’s a way of reframing that helps me move on from the anger and frustration and into a more proactive “so what am I going to do differently” frame of mind. But it’s useful information that not everyone experiences it that way!

                (That said, I don’t particularly think it applies in this case because whilst “period poverty” is definitely a thing, I don’t think “febreze poverty” is. ;-) )

              2. heeler*

                I see where you are coming from, but on this site in particular, such comments often seem to escalate into a bizarre competition of seeing who can come up with the most scenarios in which the person who appears to have done “bad behavior” has actually done nothing wrong and it is in fact the letter writer who has the problem.

            4. young worker*

              this doesn’t read as arrogant to me.. there are many things the U.S gets wrong, and after having a history of inserting ourselves in other countries’ affairs, I’m fine with hearing cross-cultural comparisons.

          2. MV120*

            I work in the same country as you do in the public sector and we don’t have free tea and coffee. We pay to participate to the christmas party and most celebrations are a potluck (except retirement).

          3. PsychNurse*

            Um, nobody in the US “has to participate in a potluck.” That line makes me discount everything else you’ve written. A potluck (which often take place at churches and homes, not just offices) is a fun way to bring a dish that you love and share it with those around you. It has cultural value. (To us. As Americans.) It is not something we are forced to do because our workplaces can’t buy sandwiches.

            1. abca*

              The topic of government employees not being able to do office parties without potlucks comes up quite frequently on this site. This is from a comment from a recent thread (search for “the thief and the hero”)

              “I work for a public agency. There are strict rules against us purchasing food/beverages for staff outside of very limited circumstance… I literally have to justify it on safety grounds to get approval. So if we want any kind of celebration with refreshments, employees have to be the ones providing it.”

            2. Ana Gram*

              Yes, exactly. I also work for the government (in the US) and we do occasional potlucks. If people don’t want to participate, they just don’t. Or they join and bring their own lunch if they don’t want to bring a dish. It’s not a mandatory thing, just a way to share dishes which we wouldn’t otherwise do. Now I’m thinking about my coworker’s Buffalo chicken dip…yum!

            3. Bob*

              Agreed. Deliberately misrepresenting silly little things like this make it really obvious when a commenter is just trying to get a reaction.

          4. Ellis Bell*

            I agree that government workers should be better looked after in general and I’m glad yours are…. In this case though it wouldn’t make much difference. The tampons and febreeze would still go walking before people have a chance to use them as intended. If anything, people are even more inclined to pinch from the employer than a colleague.

          5. The Person from the Resume*

            …. but, but, but … the stuff the LW brought in was not essentials I expect to get for free in a work or public bathroom. I mean, some sort of feminine hygiene product is necessary for menustrating people, but which product and brand are very personal choices.

            I expect a restroom to be clean, have toilet paper, soap, and towels. All the extras are things the LW wants for herself and it’s lovely she wanted to share, but they’re unnecessary workplace “perks” so much so that I wouldn’t consider them perks.

            1. Amy*

              Does LW use the word “perk?” I don’t think she does.

              There seems to be a shift happening where having some sanitary supplies is starting (in some places) to be seen as more of a sanitary staple, like tissue paper or a door you don’t need your hand to open.

              I’d never call tissue paper a perk but it’s nice to have when you need it. It spares all the “Does anyone have a spare tampon?” talk in a period emergency.

              It’s a shame it isn’t working out in her office however I’m glad to see them as more commonly available in many offices. But perk is the wrong word. Just looking at periods as a common function dealt with in the bathroom, the same as hand washing, sneezing and using TP.

        3. AcademiaNut*

          Ultimately, it doesn’t matter why the person is taking it.

          The LW is supplying the washroom with supplies, someone is stealing the supplies, and there isn’t really anything the LW can do to stop it. They are under no obligation to keep supplying an unknown person with an unlimited supply of hand lotion and Febreze on the off chance that someone is in dire need of a home supply.

        4. GythaOgden*

          Agreed. Many people who are insecure in these things know better than to just steal. It’s like the perennial ‘perhaps he was just peeing in public?’ ‘perhaps he’s just socially awkward/mentally ill?’ stuff that pervades this forum, where it’s the perpetrator of the offence and not the actual victim that gets the sympathy and empathy.

          Sometimes people are just bad and do bad things because they’re bad. And ultimately, they do need to find ways of coping with stuff that doesn’t involve other people suffering or having their generosity abused.

          I do what I can to keep the economic wheels turning because it turns out I have money at a time when others don’t. I donate to a number of different charities and moreover, try to keep money circulating because I did economics 101 back at uni and learnt that money being spent means money in everyone’s pockets, not just mine. I bring stuff into the office for myself and my colleague; I work in the public sector so yeah, procurement can be long and slow and not always produce the stuff I like to work with. If someone is struggling, like one of my best work friends who is on contract work and whose DBS/background check got held up for some weeks so she couldn’t get paid, I will at least offer help. I know my mum paid for our local vicarage internet and swore me to silence that she did that so as not to trumpet her generosity as part of an ego thing. I have standing donations to the hospice at which my husband died and support my friend who does marathon running for other cancer charities. As I said, I’m in the privileged position of having money when others don’t, and it’s on me to make that money circulate.

          What goes around comes around — being generous can make people generous with you. But there is a point where people can and will take advantage, and I’m not the pinata version of the golden goose!

          1. Matchsetpoint*

            Especially after the past few years, I definitely err on the side of, they are not being a good person. For the most part, humans are not good and are selfish creatures. It’s ok to assume that.

    2. CarlDean*

      I had an ex who would even take rolls of one ply toilet paper from public restrooms. She made well into the 6 figures as a family of one, and this was a decade ago.

      I broke it off bc I began to suspect she was just dating me bc I had cable.

      1. Pennyworth*

        I was once accused of stealing toilet paper , which was weird not only because of the dire quality of the office TP but because I actually worked in another building. Apparently a cleaner had seen someone who vaguely fitted my description taking some after hours, so when I dropped by to deliver some documents a couple of days later I was asked about it.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        Did she ever say why? I find this fascinating. I used to run with a pretty rich crowd and they were all like this. Immensely cheap and always making petty grabs. If I asked what the appeal was though, they could never explain.

        1. mlem*

          There’s a story that one of the ultra-rich made his guests use a pay phone, on the theory that every penny saved was literally a penny earned and that’s how his family got and stayed rich. At least that’s *a* philosophy for petty grabs, but it doesn’t sound like it was your friends’ philosophy ….

          1. UKDancer*

            That was Mr John Paul Getty in his house at Sutton place. He was renowned fir his excessive meanness

          2. Yeet the Rich*

            That was J. Paul Getty, the same guy who wouldn’t pay a ransom for his teenaged grandson, who was subsequently tortured before being freed, so yeah… a stellar example.

        2. Wintermute*

          I’ve seen it as well and I guess it’s just a mindset. Until you hit serious old money where you could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a day and never run out, you don’t get rich by spending a lot of money. A lot of self-made millionaires with that mindset are also small/medium business owners so are used to looking at everything from a “is this a wise use of the business’ resources?” perspective. That’s often the key difference between businesses that succeed and those that fail, after all, whether they’re able to control expenses and keep their margins up (especially restaurants and bars, but also construction to a large extent, and absolutely farming to a great extent).

          It doesn’t surprise me at all that someone whose desire to save money is strong enough to override their sense of awkwardness would also make extreme decisions in other, more substantial ways (go extreme lengths to avoid consumer debt or a car payment, extreme couponing and economizing their food and home budget, etc, work a second or third job, etc) and those more substantial decisions are the cornerstone of the “retire by 40” plans out there.

    3. The Prettiest Curse*

      Most offices I have worked in didn’t anything in the staff bathroom except toilet paper and air freshener. My current office has free period products in the public bathroom, which seem to stay fairly well stocked.

      At my last nonprofit job, the cleaning staff would stack the spare rolls of toilet paper in the bathroom because there wasn’t much storage and there were signs asking people not to take the toilet rolls – that did happen sometimes, but not often enough to be a huge issue. But if someone is taking the odd roll of toilet paper, I really don’t care.

    4. Jade Rabbit*

      Unfortunately I’ve met too many people who will take anything free, not because they want or need it but because they want to stop someone else from having it. If you want to see the character of a person, see how they react to free stuff.

      1. Pennyworth*

        I had a boss in the pre-PC days who would routinely take home boxes of pens and pencils, just because he could (we asked!) He would have needed to hand write an encyclopedia to use up the pens. On the other side of the ledger was the storeman in a government department who was hyper-vigilant about protecting the government from waste and unnecessary expense, to the extent of handing out pens and pencils one at a time and only if you brought the dead pen and pencil stub to swap for new ones. His thrifty ways probably covered his wage.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          But it also used up more labor hours for the staff, having to stop work to visit him and swap out single items so frequently. He could have allowed those who used them intensively 5 or 6 pens or pencils at once, but still only exchange used-up ones for new ones, and that would have been much more efficient! The one item at a time policy feels punitive.

    5. MK*

      Eh, what other reason is there for people who “can’t leave free stuff” other than greed? (Barring the exceptional case of someone in need taking necessities). I understand the impulse, I even indulge it myself occasionally with complimentary hotel toiletries, but it’s 100% a compulsion born of greed.

      1. londonedit*

        I don’t know, I think some people just have less of a natural impulse to think about the impact of their actions on others. I’m not sure it’s always coming from a selfish place, but the outcome is selfishness. The last time I shared a flat, it was just me and another woman sharing a two-bed place. I’d lived on my own before that, but she’d come from a shared house with four other people where most of the furniture, crockery, kitchen equipment etc had been provided by the landlord. In our flat, we each had our own plates/cups/saucepans etc that we’d brought to the property, and she ended up breaking quite a few of my things, because she still had the ‘it’s all shared stuff provided by someone else’ mentality from her old flat and she didn’t fully connect the dots and realise that those bowls she was chucking into the sink were actually *mine*. I can imagine it’s a similar scenario – people just see ‘free stuff in the office toilets’ and they don’t think about who might be providing that or where it might have come from.

        1. MK*

          Look, this lack of consideration might lead someone to, I don’t know, use all the wrinkle release in one go or take their coat through with the lint roller instead of just occasionally brush their jacket. But if someone is pocketing the lotion or the tampons to take home, that’s greed.

        2. Pugetkayak*

          “less of a natural impulse” As humans we all have “impulses.” If people don’t think about others, then it’s on them.

        3. Siege*

          So she was cool with inconveniencing others regardless of who bought the items? To me, what you’re describing is not what your former housemate was doing; she was demonstrating total and complete disregard for anyone not her, with no reasonable way to justify it by saying “oh, she thought the landlord had a dish tree so it’s hilarious she broke all my stuff because she was unable to make the logical step of ‘someone who is not me did actually pay for this’.”

      2. Asenath*

        Sometimes I think it’s part of the continuum between hoarding and normal storing stuff – if there is a continuum, maybe connected to anxiety over not having enough. Not quite greed, although I’m no psychiatrist or moral philosopher. It’s kind of like those people who can’t resist a good sale on pencils or toilet paper, even if they do have plenty at home.

        1. Asenath*

          And I meant to say, the cause of the behaviour doesn’t change the advice. If people are taking excessive amounts of Febreeze, OP doesn’t have to keep providing it. It (or something else bought with the money) could go elsewhere, where it might be needed.

      3. DataSci*

        Sometimes it’s past poverty. Having been in a survival situation leaves scars. Of course Febreze is never a survival issue, but people aren’t always rational, and a deep part of your brain telling you to stash away nuts for winter can be hard to turn off. My grandpa was a hoarder for reasons like this – having grown up during the Depression, he kept everything down to old newspapers because it might someday be needed.

        To be clear, I’m not saying this makes it okay. Just that it’s not as simple as greed.

      4. nona*

        Agreed it’s potentially past poverty (like food hoarding due to food insecurity).

        There’s also probably a pinch of the human inability to pass up a deal (or to prefer to think they are getting; see JC Penneys attempt to just lower prices and do away with sales).

        Its also a little bit the tragedy of the commons, where if there is no established ownership or duty of care, people are more likely to be careless with the property.

        Which is to say – there’s no one simple answer or reason for this behavior.

  5. New Mom*

    At my job we moved locations about five years ago. The new building had a “public” bathroom that about 3-4 businesses shared which required a key so it wasn’t open to the general public but also not just our office. It had toiletries, pads, tampons and tissues just like our old building had.
    A few months after we moved in I noticed that the supplies ran out and didn’t get restocked. I mentioned it to our Office Manager who acted as the liaison for any building related issues and her eyes went wide. She told me that those items were not provided by the building but belonged to the business next door and we weren’t supposed to be using them. Her reaction made me think that someone from that business had mentioned the “theft” to her and was mad about it. I had no idea I was stealing things until then! Whoops.

    1. allathian*

      Whoops indeed. But that’s just bad communication, it should’ve been specifically stated that the toiletries were for the employees of the business next door. Sounds like the OM didn’t do her job. Generally, if there are items available in a public bathroom, they’re for public use.

      1. ava*

        yea, and for what its worth i wouldnt think OP2 would be as upset if someone from outside the company *used* a pad or two occasionally. Its the outright stealing thats the issue

        But FWIW, if there were two or three companies sharing a restroom, you could put them in a labeled cabinet or box indicating the company name, though that wouldnt work as well for preventing the public from using them

        1. fhqwhgads*

          Yeah. It’s totally different if people are taking one at a time as needed and using it, even though they work for the “wrong” company and had no idea vs items get fully stocked Monday morning, sometime on Monday someone takes them ALL and walks out, by Tuesday there’s none for the target recipients – which is what it sounds like in the letter.
          First one’s an honest mistake caused by poor communication. Second one, that person knows what they’re doing.

    2. MK*

      Well, if the restroom is shared between more businesses, it wasn’t really correct to just put the supplies in it and…what, assume people would know who it was for? At the very least, they should have been labeled, at best kept in a separate labeled cabinet, ideally they should have kept them in their own office.

    3. Petty Betty*

      Oh no!

      When I worked at the last non-profit, I always brought in extra supplies for myself because I never knew when I’d need them (I started while pregnant with my 4th, but as I progressed through my career, I went through early perimenopause too!). The company started doing on-site classes and there was always at least one hygiene emergency. I was always the one prepared.
      Finally, the company decided that putting in a small 3-drawer kit in the ladies room with hygiene supplies was the right thing to do, with an assortment of odds and ends that might be needed.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        We have a drawer kit in our restroom as well. The top drawer is labeled “for public use” and has generic tampos and pads. That’s stocked by our office manager about once a month. The bottom 2 are meant for folks to bring in their own supplies, but there’s a note that whatever you bring in needs to be in some sort of toiletry bag with your name on it. Lots of folks have a little bag with deodorant, flossers, etc. It’s stayed pretty well organized so far!

    4. KMD*


      I did the exact same thing at my last job. It was mostly men, just a few women, so I started stocking our bathroom with soap, lotion, tissues, etc. The large lotions kept disappearing, so I tried a travel-sized instead, and magically, it stuck around, even though arguably it would have been easier to steal! I also brought in a little drawer system, labeled the top one with my name, and let other women in the area know if they wanted s drawer to just claim one. That’s when people realized I was buying things from my personal money, and the thieving ended, and most of the other women started bringing in things too. So, try circulating that news around, and I’ll bet the thieving stops. Much less guilt stealing from a faceless company than a person they know and see every day.

      But also, if you are willing to buy stuff for everyone to share, you also have to accept that sometimes people suck, and don’t share. And decide if you want to continue to fund that.

  6. RLC*

    OP2, does the public use the washroom, or is it for staff only? I worked for the government for 35 years and noticed that shared products we had in there (lotion, air fresheners, hair spray) never went missing when the public didn’t have access. In the areas of our offices open to the public, it was a free for all of clients helping themselves to anything they pleased. We had a huge bowl of wrapped sweets on the front counter-purchased by staff for staff and clients to nibble on-and certain clients would fill their jacket and trouser pockets every time they came in. Some even came in for the “free sweets” and left without a word.

    1. Self-Appointed Bear Safety Trainer*

      When I worked in a university Dean’s office there was an elderly woman who lived in an apartment in the building next door to ours who would come by at least once a week with a new complaint: classroom lights were too bright at night, students were congregating on the sidewalk noisily early in the morning, that sort of thing… But raiding our candy supply was probably really the highest thing on her agenda.
      All the special university-logo-wrapped chocolates were disappearing into this woman’s purse, so the office manager moved those to a more controlled location and stocked the front counter with a bowl of cheap peppermints instead – but those would also vanished in one swoop. The office manager finally gave up and started using the front counter for shared office supplies – until the next visit of the old neighbor: caught in the act of stuffing our scissors in one coat pocket and tape dispenser in the other, the woman said “oh, I’ll take anything that’s free!”
      From then on the counter stayed empty, and visits from our neighbor quickly dropped by at least half.

    2. Jackalope*

      This was a thing I was wondering as well. If it’s a staff-only bathroom, I would recommend trying at least once to send out a general email asking people not to take the stuff in the bathroom except on an as-needed basis for use while in the office (not worded quite like that but you get the idea). Then try one more time and see if it’s better.

      1. CheeryO*

        Yeah, I don’t see the harm in trying once, especially if it’s a smaller office. The response seems to assume that it’s a giant office, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. There are government offices of all sizes.

      2. Jayne not Jane*

        That or some kind of sign (or signs) asking to people to please only take what they need. I have def seen signs like this before in restrooms.

        1. SpringIsForPlanting!*

          Yeah if you really want to make this work I would try signs at least once. (Polite, informative signs, not passive-aggressive signs. Passive-aggressive signs make people take things out of spite.) People may be assuming the stuff is for giveaway.

      3. Theosophina*

        In my government office there is always a spate of new lotions and cleansers appearing in the bathroom after holidays where those sorts of gifts might be common-because the recipient hated the smell or something. So, while some stick around for common use, it’s also considered ok to take if you like one. A general email might clear up any misconception in either direction.

  7. Flabbergasted*

    Emai thank you notes are optimal depending on where you apply. When I worked at a federal agency, it took a month or more for mail to get through the screening and delivery system and the screen process often damaged the letter. By the time we got them, we had decided whether to move forward with second interviews. Now I work remote and mail is not sent with any regularity. So my rec is to ask the interviewer on the way out or email and make but note in the email that you mailed too.

    1. Flabbergasted*

      Ugh, please ignore my comment. I just reread the question and totally misunderstood the card vs email distinction.

  8. Lily*

    Thank you sooooo much for your response to letter #1 – until recently I was managing a team where many people were experiencing mental health struggles, or similar life challenges. I felt like the team had a lot of expectations about my role as a manager including providing emotional support for such issues, partly due to a very ‘warm and fuzzy’ previous team manager. In contrast, my approach was similar to that described – a genuine ‘I’m sorry to hear about that and thank you for sharing’, a referral to our employee support services, and an indication that I was willing to discuss changes to work load and work patterns as needed. I probably made it too clear that I did not want details, and possibly could have been a little warmer, but I did firmly believe my approach was appropriate. As a new manager, I found myself questioning myself a lot, but was also just unable to take on the role of ‘trauma listener’ on a regular basis.

    1. English Rose*

      Yes, exactly this. Managers (and co-workers) are not trained mental health specialists and some issues can be made worse for both parties if they try to act like specialists.

    2. HR Friend*

      This is an important perspective. Very often, *employees* are the ones pushing for inappropriate levels of mental health assistance from their management and leadership. It’s a tough line to walk. On one hand, we want to be supportive & compassionate. On the other, you’re right, the relationship can quickly take a turn into therapist-patient land. I’ve been there, it’s exhausting, and doesn’t do anyone any good. What you’re describing doesn’t sound cold to me at all, just that your boundaries are firm and appropriate for work.

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Managers need permission to set these boundaries. I am pretty open, especially with younger employees or especially during times of general societal unrest where everyone is struggling, but I’m not a licensed therapist and I can’t carry everyone’s emotional baggage. Managers need to be available for work related problems they can advise on or give resources to. That might mean having the EAP number ready, discussing workflow, encouraging a mental health day – sure, that’s managing. But you don’t need to make yourself open to everyone as a counselor or understanding ear.

      Managers need to protect their mental health and emotional energy too.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I think that the whole “let’s all have an airing of grievances” is also a personality trait that not everyone will share. A lot of people may be uncomfortable with sharing, or hearing, or both. I think LW’s response is fine and more appropriate.

    4. EPLawyer*

      This is the correct approach. Treat it like a business issue – do you need workload adjusted, etc. You cannot and SHOULD NOT be the therapist. You aren’t trained as one, you don’t have the resources to unload what is loaded on you.

      1. Samwise*

        And even if you ARE trained as a therapist.

        Even if you are a manager who is also working as a therapist in that office.

        Managers are there to manage. If someone needs therapy, they need to find a therapist who will not have a work-related conflict of interest.

    5. Sara without an H*

      Hi, Lily, you have my sympathy. It sounds as though you had to retrain your team a little about what appropriate managerial support really was. But you did exactly the right thing.

      The main thing I think a manager needs to do is make sure direct reports know that it’s safe to bring up problems before they become crises. Then I would do what you did–make workload adjustments, if needed, and refer people to HR or appropriate support services, if the issues were personal, rather than work-related.

      But managers should never attempt to play therapist and trauma-dumping just adds to everybody’s stress levels.

  9. Anon for This*

    For routine thanks e-mails one request – PLEASE do not reply all. I appreciate the thanks when I send info, but I hate the performance piling on of thank you messages that are not necessary.

    1. Allonge*

      I was just going to say – only reply-all thanks if there is additional information provided in the (thanking) email (like: thanks, Nora, this makes it possible for us to proceed with hiring 40 clowns for the event. I started the ads).

      Thank you is nice when you specifically were provided with something. But no need to send a thank you for things that were sent for information and/or to a larger group.

      And for all that is holy do not go ‘You are welcome!’ or any other counter-follow-up. It really is ok for someone else to have sent the last message in a thread (why, yes, I have a colleague who seems to be allergic to un-answered emails).

      1. OP3*

        Haha no worries about the reply-all, that’s a pet peeve of mine too! But I’m definitely guilty of the “not a problem!” or “anytime!” in response to a thanks—will definitely reconsider that.

        1. Cascadia*

          Oh my, please don’t reply to a thank you email with another email acknowledging the thank you! It’s questionable at best to send a “thanks email” but to send a “youre welcome” email is just spam. In conversation with someone, or maybe in a chat – but it’s unnecessary and annoying in email form.

          1. OP3*

            The reply to the reply is almost entirely via chat, but I really appreciate the feedback that it’s probably not very welcome either way

    2. Somehow_I_Manage*

      My observation is this is generally generational, with the line being roughly around age 45+. The older side is especially thankful, and often feels strongly that it’s a matter of etiquette.

      My personal rule of thumb is that if someone sent me data, particularly someone external, I acknowledge it as received and thank them. Because it’s important to document that it didn’t get caught in a filter or lost. Otherwise, if there’s no clear need, I move on and spare their inbox.

    3. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      Aaarrrgh, this! I have one co-worker who treats every email he is on like it is directed at him personally and that he needs to reply-all to it in order to close the loop and share any thoughts he may have with the group.

      The entire group does not need to see your thank you to the announcement that optional training on alpaca grooming is available to all llama groomers, particularly if you have no intention in personally expanding to alpacas.

      1. raincoaster*

        Speaking of uninvited replies, you have the best username I’ve ever seen! Congratulations on dethroning Skippy The Klingon!

    4. Overeducated*

      The worst thing is when you send a thank you to just one person and don’t reply all, and then everyone else replies all, and you look like a mannerless jerk. (Actually, that’s not the worst thing, I hate it even more when responding to an announcement with congratulations and everyone else replies all. Seriously, I am happy for them too!)

  10. The Prettiest Curse*

    #5 – a PDF isn’t a great idea. Most people are unlikely to open it, especially if it’s not accompanied by any explanatory text in the email body. And some email systems may just filter it out as spam. Stick to a regular thank-you email.

    1. Artemesia*

      Many people loath e-cards and such (I am one of them — I don’t even open such cards from friends) and most professionals don’t like clicking on such things in messages. I cannot imagine an upside to having them but can imagine they annoy the fire out of some.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        That’s a really interesting take on eCards, I’m on the fence myself; would you mind expanding what you don’t like about them?

        1. Artemesia*

          Asking me to fetch the card etc just seems like a task. I know that is silly — a couple of clicks in a day full of clicking on a screen. So my dislike is not rational — I enjoy opening a card in the mail, but clicking on one and waiting for some stupid musical intro etc is just annoying. An email birthday greeting? Cool. Or a texted thanks? Great. But having to click on a couple links to get a banal card just annoys me for some reason. When they first started being sent, you sometimes had to take a step or two to get on the app and THAT really was annoying. So just me but I suspect I am not the only one.

        2. Willow Pillow*

          They’re a potential security risk, for one – “don’t open unexpected links or email attachments” is standard infosec advice. This doesn’t mean that “thank you” PDF or e-card is a threat, but it is a common enough to be associated with threats.

          They’re also inaccessible for anyone who needs a screen reader.

    2. SarahKay*

      That was my immediate thought, too. I view any attachment sent from outside my org with huge suspicion and unless there is clear explanatory text I would almost certainly not open it.

    3. Lavender*

      It also might seem (at least to the hiring manager) like a form letter that OP5 sends out to all interviewers, rather than a customized note specific to the job. They did say it was “customized,” but I’m not sure if that meant customized to OP5 as an applicant or customized individually for each specific job.

    4. Terrible as the Dawn*

      This was my first thought, too. Sorry, but there’s absolutely no chance of my opening an unexpected PDF attachment from an outside sender!

    5. BostonTransit*

      A healthy portion of my job is telling people to please for the love of God don’t use PDFs, so personally, if I received a PDF thank you card, it would not land well for me in the slightest.

  11. Ds*

    OP3, hey, so I wanted to chime in. I worked for years in costing service for government. When I got thank you emails, I treasured them forever. So few people bother saying thank you it makes a huge difference. Please keep sending them.

    1. TechWorker*

      I think you’re thinking of a different sort of thank you mail… I agree if a coworker goes above and beyond or has really helped you in some way it’s good to thank them, but that’s not really in the same category as a one word ‘thanks!’ mail that just acknowledges work done.

      1. allathian*

        I agree. That said, because we’ve occasionally had trouble with sending messages and files, I do enjoy getting an acknowledgment of receipt. That’s really all the thanks message is intended to convey in most cases.

      2. OP3*

        TechWorker is correct–I was mostly asking about the use of the brief “thank you!” email. I am however approaching the 6-month mark for my current job, so I’m planning to write thank-you notes to all the members of my small department for all the support they’ve given me as I’ve settled in. :)

      3. Somehow_I_Manage*

        “HR announcement to all staff. Timesheets are due on tuesday this week.”

        Jeff, reply-all: “Thanks”

        /Jeff is extra. Don’t be Jeff.

  12. I Thought of This on the Loorve*

    (#1) That Managing Director is just the type of un-self-aware person who can freely divulge his mental health status, and be vulnerable to the nth degree, because his employees (by virtue of being his subordinates) can say or do nothing in this regard to affect him negatively. They can’t challenge him or retaliate against him. They can’t fire him or rate his performance. About the only thing they can do with little to no risk is congratulate him on his “bravery.” It’s the ultimate performance.

    1. Toni*

      Our CEO did the same! As you say, it lacks self awareness, both about the power they hold but also the type of mental health issue you can be ‘vulnerable’ and ‘brave’ about. Ours talked about how he struggles with anxiety and low mood at times, and I’m not diminishing that, but would my ‘journey’, which involves psychosis, suicide attempts and involuntary hospitalisations land the same way? Seems unlikely. I’m proud to have overcome these things and feel it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but equally for me having that work boundary and not being defined by it is so important for me, plus there is a reality that it could still effect how you’re seen. Hence my shoulders always go up to my ears when people in power do this.

      1. abca*

        Yes, exactly. And now coworkers are all freely sharing their journeys with problems that are less stigmatized, and when you don’t share, you’re expected to not have any experience with anything, so you should be listening and be sympathetic to these “journeys” that others share, and that adds a big additional burden on people with more stigmatized mental health issues.

        1. Lavender*

          Yes, exactly. I don’t talk about mental health stuff with anyone who isn’t my therapist, my doctor, or an extremely close friend or family member, and as a result people don’t usually know the extent of my mental illnesses (or that I have any in the first place). On the rare occasions when I do talk about my experiences (usually in vague terms) it seems like I’m hijacking a conversation on a topic I couldn’t possibly know about. I’ve been accused of this before, but thankfully it was in a non-workplace setting.

    2. Em*

      Being out of touch often feels like a prerequisite to any leadership role. We have a new CIO who can’t stop talking about his rich people stuff in every meeting I’ve attended- a new boat bought with his sign on bonus, a second home, blahblahblah. Meanwhile, we fight bitterly to get 3% raise for inflation :)

      1. bamcheeks*

        yeah, and I wonder how much that is deliberate and structural. We had an online all-staff meeting to feed back the results of the “how is hybrid working going, what are the challenges, how are you feeling” type survey. One of the findings was that more senior staff were happier with it than more junior staff. I put a comment in the chat saying that this didn’t surprise me, and that I’d found remote working quite stressful when I was lower-paid and much easier when I could afford to splash out on things that made it more comfortable (thinking of things like a decent laptop bag, duplicates of my nice handcream so I could leave it in my bag, warm but lightweight cardigan instead of a big heavy one I kept in my desk drawer, padlock for a work locker, though I didn’t go into that much detail in the comment!) I meant it as a thoroughly constructive comment about some of the stuff that the employer couild choose spend money on if they wanted to make sure hybrid working was also working for lower-paid staff– obviously not buying everyone a cardi, but I still use the good laptop bag I got from a previous employer who was very serious about making working from home comfortable and easy– but I got told off for being divisive and fomenting class war!

        1. Em*

          *GASP*! you radical you!!! I clutched my pearls so hard, they broke! /s
          I was lucky in that I already had a great home setup because pc games are a hobby of mine, but I saw this in reverse- senior leadership pressuring us to return to office, claiming it’s the best. I wouldn’t mind if I could 1. arrive and leave whenever I wanted (in my own luxury auto rather than cramming into public transport at peak rush hour) 2. retreat to my own quiet, private office to get work done without having the constant chatter of teams calls/meetings around me in the open office (where there are far too few call rooms and most people don’t bother because moving your pc, mouse, headset, water, notebook etc to a windowless/airless hole in the wall for a 20 minute call is annoying), and 3. if my paycheck made the extra lost time well worth it.

        2. TheTimesTheyAreAChanging*

          That laptop bag didn’t have to be returned to your old employer when you left? That type of thing normally belongs to the employer; I’ve always had to return them.

          I’ve also noticed that in the last 4-5 years before the pandemic laptop bags became harder to get at all; employers had to order or scrounge for them instead of assuming everyone with a laptop will need one – I was told once that they assumed folks already had a preferred way to transport and didn’t want to force a company laptop bag on them. So perhaps that’s also part of why they’re not being supplied.

          1. bamcheeks*

            No. Electronic equipment had to be returned (laptop, ipad, mobile phone, deskphone, router, dock, peripherals), but office supplies, office furniture, and stationery were budgeted as consumables with the value written off as soon as they were purchased. I’m also still using my office chair and window blind from the same employer!

          2. Charlotte Lucas*

            I’ve had a branded one that clearly belonged to me. (We weren’t provided laptops at that job, so it was a staff gift.)

            Some places don’t want them back if they’ve seen heavy use.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        I think leadership roles can lead to being out of touch. Not for everybody, but if you are in a leadership role, people are less likely to criticise what you are doing for fear of retaliation and therefore, it becomes easy to assume you are doing everything right or that people don’t really judge and those who think they do are just worrying too much (as people are unwilling to express the judgements they have of you).

        1. Lora*

          If you’re very interested in this, Google “Bathsheba Syndrome”. It’s a thing. Senior leaders often do lose focus and let go of their ethics once they achieve success, often because they’re surrounded by yes-men who don’t tell them their ideas are bad.

          1. steliafidelis*

            That is definitely interesting, but I feel bad for poor Bathsheba to have it named after her when she didn’t do anything wrong!

        2. MigraineMonth*

          I’ve noticed this happen with artists, too. Their first couple of books/shows/albums/movies are amazing and they get really famous. As soon as they’re so successful that they no longer listen to their editor’s/producer’s/audience’s feedback, the quality of the work goes way down.

    3. Phryne*

      I understand your point, but I do not necessarily view it as negatively. We have often seen here questions about whether or not management has a leading role in being an example when it comes to using benefits. Like with taking pregnancy/parental leave, those in positions to do so could consider being open and public about it so those in positions of less power feel more free to use those benefits.
      No boss should press their workers to divulge things about their health, mental or physical, they do not want to, but a boss being open about their own mental health *because* they can afford to be is not just privilege, it is also setting a step towards normalising mental health issues as no different than other health issues.

      1. Pugetkayak*

        This is true. I can “get away” with things because of my position in my company, but they are things I hope everyone would eventually be ok doing. For example, I am outspoken when I think there have been wrongs in the company, I stick up for myself, and while I it’s easier for me because I have capital built up, I would hope that this changes the culture of work in my workplace where everyone can be outspoken.

      2. EPLawyer*

        Yes, kinda like gifts, this sharing should flow downwards. You don’t have to go into the detials, but letting your staff know you took a day off to recharge normalizes for THEM that it is okay to do so and there won’t be repercussions for doing so. Or saying, when I was going through a rough patch I was able to reorganize my workload to give me the space I needed, I can do the same for you if necessary. It lets people know they can ask for help without being required to disclose the entire journey.

      1. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

        THIS! I shouldn’t need to be “brave” at work. The risks of that nature should be borne by the company, not the workers.

      2. No Crying in Baseball*

        How do you do this though? We read here all the time about people from other-than-dominant backgrounds and lifestyles who are upset and concerned (rightfully so) that they can’t be their whole selves at work, or at least share the level of self they feel comfortable with. How do you normalize anything when we don’t talk about it? I recognize that I am a better co-worker and more able to relate to people when I know they like cats/have fun weekend plans/might be frustrated with something at home. Being brave seems like setting an example to show people are complicated and stereotypes Do Not Apply. To show that assumptions are often wrong. It’s human nature to try to fill in gaps when we don’t know. Gosh, THAT certainly happens in the comments all the time. Sometimes it’s helpful. (Sometimes it goes overboard.)

        1. Ellis Bell*

          It’s a good question. It really depends on what type of non dominant background you’re talking about, but generally people don’t want to feel forced, or outed at work about something that’s even dicey socially where your living is not even at risk. Mental health is just one of those things were disclosure is for those people who need to know, and who you have absolute trust in. You’d need to know someone more intimately than simply working with them for that level of trust. Of course if people want to disclose stuff and feel able to weather any consequences, fine, and it brilliant to respond positively to that and to protect that disclosure from discrimination. However it isn’t necessarily helpful to insist or pressure for it, so it should not be at all expected for the greater good of it being normalised. A person with a health issue has their own self to consider first and foremost and it’s not okay to make them feel they have anything to do with larger scale discrimination. It’s also worth asking whose good would an atmosphere of disclosure serve? Would it really make those most in need feel less pressed or taboo, or is it simply a source of education and information for those not most in need? Basically, don’t tell people to “be brave” about things that may affect their livelihoods, when you’re the owner of a company and are home free on that score. It’s not setting an example, it’s being tone deaf to your own privilege. But back to your original very valuable question: how to normalise and make a safer environment? Basically, make it clear that the company supports mental health through their own actions and policies, and by remaining true to them over time, whenever tested and never using ableist language etc. A company can certainly honour all that without putting an employee’s “bravery” to the test.

    4. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yeah, the ultimate performance AND he’s using his work team (subordinates!) as a support group, which is completely inappropriate.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Meant to add, it’s not great to just suddenly start talking about mental health in a situation where it’s not part of the agenda (support group, therapy, etc) because that could easily be quite triggering to some people. OP’s coworker was completely insensitive to this fact as well. The fact that it was at work makes it a million times worse that he was doing this.

    5. Generic Name*

      Yes, I’m really tired of cishet white male executives telling us to bring our “whole selves” to work. To me it’s obvious that it doesn’t even occur that there are traumas and other personal situations that people (often women/BIPOC) are dealing with and would just rather not bring to work. Let alone disclose information that makes is unsafe or more likely to be discriminated against.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        I can imagine me bringing my whole self to work and it’d be a disaster. I’m very abrasive and rude. I act totally different at work to not cause any trouble for people who are just trying to go to work. Or maybe I could bring being super disorganized and messy to work to cause even more problems? Or maybe I’m having some weird depression spiral? Like nobody asked all that!

    6. Verthandi*

      With you there! Oh no no no no no! A thousand times no!

      There are many things I would never want to share with coworkers. Work gets what I want to give it, and they have no need to know about the rest. This is a lesson I learned in high school the hard way. People can use (and have done) what you share against you.

    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yeah, I worked with that guy mid-career, and he sucked. Ours was c-suite and generally know to expect perfection (not praise for it, just expect it), and criticize for anything short of above-and-beyond. No one liked him, and even those who met his unrealistic standards avoided him at all costs.

      One year, he decides that the antidote to his being universally disliked is to turn our department-wide luncheon into a group therapy session where he shared his personal trauma of having been abandoned by his father, who left him and his mother and created a new family with his mistress. He then insisted each person go around the room and share a “deep, painful personal trauma”. Out of about 35 people, only one or two offered up something he thought was “appropriate to the exercise” – they included a coworker who’d lost his childhood friend to gun violence and someone who had escaped domestic violence. The rest of us were berated for not doing it right – how damaged were all of us that we didn’t want to share our lunch with a guy who criticized us publicly at every move, much less share something deep and intimate?

      I will give it to HR, they heard about this from multiple people and immediately pulled him in to tell him how wildly inappropriate it was and could never happen again, apologized to the department, personally contacted the people who’d shared to offer them resources and make sure they knew were aware of how to access relevant benefits, and co-planned/sat in a rep at every single department lunch we had until he was ultimately let go.

  13. Ochre*

    One person at work stocks our break room bathroom with various supplies. She put up a QR code to a Venmo so you can contribute if you want to. I’m not sure how much she gets in contributions versus what she spends, but the sign is at least a reminder that the items aren’t appearing by magic. The Venmo account has its own name (not her name) so I guess it protects her anonymity as the provider a little bit (I assume she can see who has donated). OP, if it would be allowed, you could try something like this. People might be less likely to take more than they need if they know that it’s not just free stuff from work. If the stuff keeps disappearing wholesale, then you have to decide how much you’re willing to spend or let it fizzle.

    1. PsychNurse*

      That’s a cute idea. I would definitely donate— not all the time but I would probably send twenty bucks the first time I saw the code.

    2. Rainy Cumbria*

      That’s a really good idea! I came here to suggest putting a sign up to explain the situation. Adding a way people can contribute is even better.

  14. No Febreze Please*

    I would throw out a bottle of Febreze because the nauseating chemical triggers flares in my autoimmune disease which results in pain and can impact my ability to walk, let alone work. As more of us are increasingly affected by the damage to our bodies and environments, let’s aim for fragrance-free workplaces where we can.

    1. TechWorker*

      Just throwing it out doesn’t really have the desired effect of ensuring people stop using it and know why. (It’s also a bit wasteful imo, at least give the person who brought it in a chance to take it back home with them…)

            1. TechWorker*

              That’s like saying a reasonable response to seeing nuts at your coworkers desk is to just bin them (they’re poisonous!) rather than have a conversation and ask them not to bring them in… firstly it doesn’t solve the problem (the owners reaction is ‘who stole my stuff!?’) secondly it’s just not that nice..?

              1. Shiba Dad*

                firstly it doesn’t solve the problem (the owners reaction is ‘who stole my stuff!?’)

                To be fair, it is possible this is why the Febreze is disappearing. It isn’t stolen, it’s being thrown out.

                1. The Rafters*

                  You are exactly right. Some of us in our (Government) office provide items for the restroom or to clean the kitchen, but they are *always* unscented. Even so, some of those items will be tossed. We have signs up re: what is free for the taking and what is for office use only. You could try that. But please, please leave Febreze and other such items out of it. The scent can cause migraines or even possibly deadly asthmatic attacks in some people.

                2. Dona Florinda*

                  But since everything else is also being taken, we can safely assume that the Febreze is not the specific target.

                  Also, as other people said, you don’t just throw other people’s stuff out, you talk to them. I have terrible migraines from Febreze and I still wouldn’t just get rid of it, since whoever brought could just replace it. (And it’s not mine to simply dispose of it)

            2. Anon for this*

              That doesn’t mean you can throw other people’s things away. You can tell the people who own them about the problem and what action you want them to take.

            3. Lilas*

              Triggering a headache =/= poison. You can communicate your need to coworkers without resorting to histrionics.

        1. Raven*

          If it’s poisonous to you, the last thing you want to be doing is touching it (there is likely going to be some remnants on the nozzle and body).
          It’s not sensible, it’s rude and an unnecessary escalation if no attempt to ask for a scent-free workplace has been made.

        2. Antilles*

          No, it’s not the sensible thing to do because it doesn’t solve the problem. The person who bought the Febreeze isn’t going to assume it’s a scent allergy, they’re going to assume someone stole it and just replace it.
          The sensible thing to do is the same solution we tell five year olds: “Use your words”.

          1. Underemployed Erin*

            If it is a government office, there is a chance that is a considerably large place, and the person throwing out the Febreze does not know who is putting the Febreze there.

            There are a bunch of different people who are sensitive to a lot of scented stuff. These include asthmatics, migraine sufferers, and others. Going into the bathroom just to find yourself unable to breathe because someone decided it would be great to scent the place is awful.

            The people who think Febreze is great are not usually open to conversations about it.

            1. Totally Minnie*

              The flip side of this is that if it’s a government office, you know for sure they have an HR department. If someone is bringing in a product that’s making you sick, or if you need to request that your workplace be scent free, you could let HR know that and give them the job of figuring out who’s doing it and asking them to stop.

            2. Charlotte Lucas*

              Where I work there are cards in the bathrooms that are designated fragrance-free. You just don’t use scented products in those spaces. I assume that JR puts them out as an accommodation for people with sensitivities.

            3. Ellis Bell*

              I assumed that they wouldn’t know who the products came from, but how does this make it impossible to leave a note in the supplies basket for them to find? True, some people might not respect a request, but what’s the point in not even trying?

            4. Rinn*

              “The people who think Febreze is great are not usually open to conversations about it.”

              So true lol. Same with laundry fragrances. And that Lysol spray stuff–which I mean how can that be scientific at all?

        3. DataSci*

          But if you just throw it out it will be replaced! I’d explain WHY. (Firmly team “Febreze is worse than the odors it’s trying to cover up” here.)

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yes, whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to through them out, I think only one of the things on that list is something that would make the workplace more comfortable and pleasant for me! I don’t think that makes it OK to nick stuff but I do think it’s worth reflecting that what you think of as “treats to make this more comfortable” are not everyone’s cup of tea.

    3. The Other Dawn*

      Why would you throw away something a fellow employee spent her own money on rather than asking that person to remove it?

      1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

        Or simply ignoring it? Unless they are spraying it on you or your work space then why get involved? If your sensitivities are that severe then presumably you have discussed the matter with your manager and arranged for appropriate accommodations.

        1. Jamjari*

          Presumably people are spraying it on your workspace – or at least a space you need to use while at work. I for one have to use the bathroom at least once in a normal workday. Athough I agree if that’s why the febreeze is disappearing, it’s not a good solution because the OP doesn’t know why and is just buying more.

        2. Observer*

          Or simply ignoring it? Unless they are spraying it on you or your work space then why get involved?

          Because public bathrooms are a shared space. So, it it completely reasonable for someone who is sensitive to this stuff to ask that it not be sprayed there.

          1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

            My point is that nobody will know that the reason why it keeps disappearing is that it is a problem for someone if nobody actually pipes up and says that it’s a problem.

        3. Employed Minion*

          This assumes management actually makes accommodations. A friend of mine has allergies to scents (sometimes it even affects her ability to breathe). When she asked for accommodations in one work place, she was told they could not do anything because she was a contract worker.

          And generally, she is given a hard time whenever she asks for even most basic accommodations. People really seem think allergies, or the level of reaction, are a choice and can be controlled which is mind-boggling.

          1. I have RBF*

            I literally had to use a different bathroom in a different building because the people in the building I was in refused to take the electronic stink machine out of the bathroom, and I could not use it without doubling over coughing.

            Their “accommodation” was to require me to use a different bathroom in another building. I am also mobility impaired, so it meant it was twice as far from my desk to be able to go to the bathroom, and I can’t run, or even move fast. I hated that place. They apparently believed that their “right” to a perfumed bathroom was greater than my right to breathe.

        4. I have RBF*

          You realize that scented stuff lingers in the air, right? That a person spraying stuff at their desk in an open office is contaminating the air all around them, past their own desk? You can’t just “ignore it”. So even if they don’t spray it “… on you or your work space …” you still have to breathe it and it can cause an allergic reaction.

          Just like you don’t microwave fish in the office, you don’t spray air “freshener” in the office.

      2. Observer*

        Well, this particular poster seems to think (although I admit I could be misreading here) that no one should be using this stuff anyway so the deserve to lose their money.

      3. Wishing*

        “Why would you throw away something a fellow employee spent her own money on rather than asking that person to remove it?”

        Because some people just can’t stand the idea that the world doesn’t revolve around them and their allergies

        1. Employed Minion*

          Wow. This is a callous attitude considering some allergies can cause people to stop breathing. And, yes, it can be cause by things/chemicals sprayed in the air.

          A friend of mine is allergic to scents. She does everything in her power to avoid public bathrooms because of air fresheners and scented cleaning products.

          1. The Other Dawn*

            But the answer isn’t just throw people’s stuff away they bought themselves. It’s use your words and attempt to rectify the situation first.

            1. Employed Minion*

              I didn’t say throwing stuff away was the answer. I was responding to Wishing’s attitude in their second paragraph.

              Ideally, a person will speak up about this being an issue and it will be removed permanently. My friend does use her words. From her and other people I know with allergies: there is often an astoundingly aggressive response when people learn of their allergies. Or the complete lack of comprehension on the seriousness of the situation. This happens to the point they are factoring negative responses when they need to disclose their allergies.

              People keep saying ‘use your words’. This assumes a reasonable and accommodating response. If only that was the norm.

              If I tell someone I’m allergic to something, and they continue to expose me in a way that endangers my health or my life, I’m going to throw the $10 thing away.

              1. I have RBF*


                I have had people tell me, to my face “Oh, it’s not that bad” as I’m coughing trying to breathe, as if I was doing some kind of performance. I couldn’t say anything, because I was coughing. So I couldn’t “use my words” while they were watching me choke on the stuff.

                I get “irrationally” angry when it feels like people are trying to kill me. Silly me.

    4. Shiba Dad*

      My wife has this issue, which means I need to avoid scented stuff. It’s kind of amazing how much hair and clothing pick up scent.

      I have the top floor (one other office, a small conference room, restroom and a kitchenette) of a small office building to myself. The floor below has more offices, is mostly occupied and is scented from air fresheners.

      If air fresheners made their way to my floor I would tempted to throw them away. That said, I think it would be better to explain why my floor needs to remain unscented.

      OP is anonymous, so in this scenario I’m not sure how to best go about informing the supplier about this issue. Put a note on the bottle?

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Yeah, in a scenario like this I think the best way to go is to put a note on the bottle and/or talk to the office manager (if there is one) because the office manager can ask around to find out who is stocking the restroom with extra supplies or send out a notification to the entire office that Febreze (or any other offending scented product) is not allowed in the restrooms.

      2. Lady_Lessa*

        Or a note in the restroom, in a place and way that it can’t easily be discarded or ignored. I think that a polite ask would work very nicely.

      3. Phony Genius*

        Most government agencies have a health & safety officer. You can inform them, and they will pass the information along to those who need to be told.

    5. I think I should leave*

      Ok thank you I was looking for another hater!! I have seen this so much and I don’t get it! No one needs you to “brighten up” the clean, minimalist bathroom. I can’t claim any autoimmune triggers, but I find febreze (and scented lotion, for that matter) far, far worse than a bathroom that needs some airing out.

      I would never throw something away, though – though I might on your behalf – and actually I would never even use “free products” at a gov agency. I always figured this was provided through some sort of water fund equivalent by the like-minded people who decorate their offices for Valentine’s Day.

    6. mlem*

      I was actually wondering if someone might have thrown it away. Febreze is *awful*. I like to think I’d complain first, but I know people who would jump straight to throwing it away.

    7. Ellis Bell*

      I’m completely sympathetic to your wider message; Febreeze gives my partner debilitating migraines. I don’t see how not saying anything or just throwing it out would help, though because it can just be replaced. If you let the person know the problem they can accommodate you better. Also, in this case it’s not likely that the tampons were also causing scent sensitivity, so OPs diagnosis of theft still seems more likely.

    8. katkat*

      This is just bizarre! I Can see a lot of People agree with you, but still: thats just…. weird.

      Background noise makes me dizzy, loose focus and my head Hurt. I still dont walk around the office throwing away Speakers others bought.

      Im seriously going “wtf” in just throwing away stuff thats not mine.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        To be fair, it’s significantly easier to avoid spraying fragrance than it is to avoid making background noise. Totally with you on not just throwing stuff away though.

    9. Outofthepool*

      There are signs in every single bathroom at my work that say DO NOT USE SCENTED PRODUCTS in the restroom, because of allergies. I was relieved when those appeared, because every once in a while someone would spray some hideous air “freshener” that was just nauseating.

      1. Artemesia*

        I just bought a new car and made a big production about not spraying that new car scent into it. Riding in a friend’s new car recently gave me a splitting headache from that and I thought it was the outgassing from plastic in the car — but apparently those ‘new car’ smells are literally sprayed in. The dealer I bought from said that many dealers put air freshner type things under the floor mats and seats to give it that ‘new car smell.’ I am not unusually sensitive but those things really do me in. So I got a new car without ‘new car smell.’

        I will never understand why buildings were allowed to be constructed without good bathroom ventilation. Every public bathroom should have good bathroom fan/ventilation systems and most don’t. Even brand new buildings (and FWIW this is extra true in Europe) are without even slightly adequate ventilation. You understand it in a centuries old building or even one 100 years old — but even new modern buildings are being constructed without good bathroom ventilation.

    10. Jayne not Jane*

      If you have a fragerance free workplace maybe don’t throw it away, but ask someone in the building to please dispose of it (or return it to the person that bought it). But please don’t throw it away!

    11. Ex-prof*

      Febreze is horrible stuff.

      The day before the WHO declared the pandemic, I was at a public event and everyone was a bit jumpy because we all had doubts about the wisdom of attending… and then one of the organizers of the thing decided it would be a good idea to walk around spraying Febreze into the air.

      Still trying to sort out what she thought that would accomplish.

    12. Observer*

      would throw out a bottle of Febreze because the nauseating chemical triggers flares in my autoimmune disease which results in pain and can impact my ability to walk, let alone work.

      So? What gives you the right to throw it out before giving someone that chance to take it back?

      The issue here is not that you should have to smell that stuff. But that your issue does not give you the right to unilaterally destroy someone’s property without giving the person a chance to take other, appropriate action.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yeah I am astonished by the number of people who think it’s OK to throw someone else’s stuff away just because you don’t like it. I am sympathetic to people who react to scents but there are a zillion better ways to handle that.

        1. Siege*

          I’m astonished by the number of people who think that throwing away a bottle of Febreze is going to communicate their actual issue, and not leave the colleague who brought it thinking she works with thieves. (Because, apparently, she does, if it’s easier to repeatedly throw out a product than use your words.)

          1. Lilas*

            And when they did find out, that instantly shifts the conversation from “coworker was using scents and shouldn’t” to “throw-outer behaves like a weird tantrumy child”. Instant loss of credibility.

        2. Giant Kitty*

          I *am* someone who reacts to some scents/thinks artificial scents are disgusting and I wouldn’t even dream of throwing away something I hated that didn’t belong to me. It’s no less stealing/theft than taking it for personal use.

    13. I have RBF*

      At one job I would regularly throw out the bottle of artificial fragrance air “freshener”. When someone used it I would end up coughing and choking. It’s hard to make it to the toilet when you can’t breathe and have to go.

  15. Bearly Containing Myself*

    OP #5, I hire graphic designers and I absolutely would love to see a thank you card PDF you had designed if I were thinking of hiring you.

    1. Late, Not Lazy*

      I’m a graphic designer and even in that case, I don’t think it’s appropriate and not something we should encourage in designers at the beginning of their careers. If you already interviewed the person, then you already reviewed the candidates portfolio, and possibly even had them complete a spec exercise (though I hate those too). So this is really unnecessary.

      What would be appropriate would be to say in the follow up, “After our conversation, I realized that I hadn’t shared some examples from my portfolio that I think are relevant to this role. I’ve attached them as a pdf [or here is a direct link].” Only if it’s true of course.

  16. Knitting Cat Lady*


    I’m pretty open about my mental health and disabilities at work. Mostly because I just don’t give a fuck and don’t have the energy to censor myself.

    Some of it is that being autistic means i’m not always able to talk. Turning mind words into mouth words is complicated!

    I’ve been told that I’m so brave and that I’m an inspiration. Which really boils my piss.

    I struggle with daily life. A ton. Because the world at large is just so draining. The people telling me that i’m brave and inspirational make it so…

    1. lifebeforecorona*

      “The people telling me that I’m brave and inspirational” are being condescending. Those comments are usually followed by a virtual pat on the head and a bright “Good for you!” A quiet acknowledgement of your struggles and tangible support is welcome. Ask me how I know.

    2. Phryne*

      When I needed to take some significant time for my mental health a couple of years ago, I decided to be open about it so I could control the narrative. Otherwise there would be gossip anyway, only without my voice included.
      Quite a few people came up to me to share their own story, including one unexpected confession of a man who had been in the military and told me he too had been in a similar full-time therapy programme.
      And yes, some of my motivation was that I do not care if people think negatively about me because of it, was not looking for a stellar career and did just not have the energy to lie about it all the time. But all reactions I had were really nice and genuine, so that was an added bonus.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Me too. It’s definitely complicated! I am trying to memorize this phrase so I can pull it out for future use!

    3. Smithy*

      I think that unfortunately being open or closed off about health care or personal struggles becomes so black and white, that it negates how multifaceted an experience it is for a lot of people. For some people, being very quiet about mental health, fertility, or personal life is a lot harder and takes more work than being more open.

      And while that can certainly turn into problematic oversharing, for people who keep a tighter lid on their personal life at work – often that’s also easier. I just want to say that can have its own downsides. There are plenty of teams where there’s all this talk about using PTO/sick days/flex time to disconnect from work, take care of medical/home needs – but when you essentially never see that modeled by your boss. It can be hard to believe they mean it.

      In no way am I advocating for having work become a therapeutic environment, but I do think that managers can take a somewhat more open role around work-life balance. That could mean being a bit more honest/direct about a less emotionally loaded medical (dental work?) of family (sports practice?) issue and be open with staff with how they’re going to balance flex-time/PTO. Or that story from last week about the direct report with alcohol poisoning – not that managers need to share (or have) stories that extreme but to share how they’ve professionally balanced “sick day post March Madness” as professionally and humanly as possible.

      All to say, the extreme ends where always you get the worst case scenarios of trauma dumping or extremely impersonal. And I think the trap is to think of the other end of the spectrum as always its worst qualities.

    4. I have RBF*

      As a visibly disabled person, the “you’re so brave” and “you’re an inspiration” stuff makes me want to scream and yell.

      Yes, I have adapted to my disability. Some things are still very difficult, and I am not performing my work-arounds to be an “inspiration”, I’m doing what I need to do to live my life.

      The “inspration” people just need to STFU.

  17. raincoaster*

    If people are stealing toilet paper and tampons, it’s because they are poor. Perhaps better pay would solve this problem.

    Executives don’t steal these items, not because they are better people, but because they can easily afford the items and have an adequate supply at home. It’s things like this which lead people to ascribe to the working classes looser morals than to the upper and upper middle classes.

    Extra strident tonight because I’ve been reading history lately.

    1. doreen*

      It’s true that executives aren’t better or more moral people but it’s also true that it’s not only poor or underpaid people who steal . At my last job, there were a couple of well-paid employees who were caught taking toilet paper and garbage bags. Whatever their reasons were , it wasn’t that they were poor.

      1. UKDancer*

        Executives do steal things unfortunately for various reasons. When I worked in a castle which also was an events venue the worst larceny of small things (loo rolls, tea bags, even cutlery) occurred when we had executive awaydays and meetings. They would take anything not nailed down and take handfuls of Fox’s glacier mints at a time. These were people earning a significant salary in the main.

        We never had that issue with wedding groups or murder weekends but expensive company awaydays stole stuff every time.

        1. bamcheeks*

          I was making tea at my dad’s this weekend and he’s got a cupboard full of individually teabags that it looks like he’s brought home from hotels and conferences. WHY, Dad! You only ever drink Sainsbury’s own brand Assam anyway!

        2. Rainy Cumbria*

          Agreed. We don’t have washing up liquid in our work kitchen because people always steal it. It costs 50p, we’re in a relatively low cost of living area, working in a fairly well paid industry. There’s just no need.

        3. No Thanks in Advance*

          Please explain what a “murder weekend” is! My best guess is some kind of interactive murder mystery, but I’m not sure.

          1. UKDancer*

            It’s a murder mystery weekend. People came for the weekend to stay in the hotel near the castle and have dinners in the castle. A group of actors come in and run the event and some pretend to be other guests. There’s usually a scenario and the main characters are introduced (a lot of them are set in the 1920s and 1930s and are country house settings).

            There’s a murder the first night and the actors do little scenes during the weekend. People sleuth in groups and announce the culprit on the Sunday when all is revealed.

      2. raincoaster*

        That’s fair. I was on a rant yesterday because I was part of a group who got accused of stealing tp back in the Occupy days. Thanks to donations from various unions we had hot and cold running toilet paper, so Acme Diner, whoever stole your tp it wasn’t us.

    2. Madame X*

      In the situation I think it is more likely that the people in her office are greedy. She’s not supplying essential food items here. Why are they stealing Febreze? That’s not a necessity. Some people are just really bad at sharing, when something is offered for free. Unfortunately, the OP1 had a great idea, but the people that she works with are taking advantage of her generosity.

    3. Emmy Noether*

      Both personal experience and time spent on this site have taught me that that isn’t true: some executives and well-paid people absolutely do steal these kind of items, take more than their share of food, abuse perks, etc. And most poor people on the contrary respect these kinds of things and don’t abuse them, because they appreciate the full value and generosity of them.

      It’s too simple to ascribe this to poverty. It’s more to do with greed, and greed most definitely exists across all classes. The rich are just more likely to get away with it.

      1. lifebeforecorona*

        It’s greed and a sense of entitlement. Wealthy and attractive people tend to have things given to them on a more consistent basis than poorer people. It’s easy to assume that things that are available for everyone is meant for just them.

        1. run mad; don't faint*

          Yes, I agree. A sense of entitlement and obliviousness as to the origin of the supplies they take or what removing them might mean to others. Someone can think, “Oh I don’t have time to run to the store so I’ll just take these six or twelve rolls of toilet paper. We always have plenty. No one will care.” But all it takes is two or three people who think that way and suddenly the office is down 18-36 rolls. I can see something similar happening to the supplies the LW brings. “I’ll just keep this hand lotion or lint roller in my desk for whenever I need it. It will be easier than coming down here to get it.” or “I’ll just grab a large handful of these tampons because I’m almost out.”

          I think it would be worthwhile to put a note up as others as suggested and see if that improves things. Sometimes you need to get people’s attention.

    4. Allonge*

      Which part of history have you been reading where rich people don’s steal?

      Also: OP works at a government agency – in my experience that means they have very little influence on what their team is paid.

      1. lifebeforecorona*

        All of the recent financial scandals in history weren’t being committed by the custodian. It was people who already had more money than they could hope to use.

      2. Salted caramel*

        Haha! I thought the same! It isn’t theft if you don’t get punished for it, so rich people never ”steal”. Only poor people suffer the consequencies. That’s at least the conslusion I got from the history books I had to read.

        But like several people commented already, the OP is under no obligation to keep providing non-essential items on the off-chance that someone’s hoarding them because they can’t afford it.

      3. raincoaster*

        Oh I didn’t say rich people don’t steal. Look at pension funds, ponzi schemes, crypto scams! Rich people are just less likely to be ACCUSED of stealing.

    5. MK*

      If the history you are reading tells you that people only steal because they are poor, try reading some psychology on the side, because you aren’t getting good information. That’s not how humans work, the impulses that drive us are complicated and obscure.

      Plenty of people who aren’t in need take low value items that are available to them, not even seeing it as stealing. No one is taking lotion, anti-wrinkle stuff and lint rollers because of poverty.

      1. Observer*

        If the history you are reading tells you that people only steal because they are poor, try reading some psychology on the side, because you aren’t getting good information.

        They don’t need a dose of psychology. They need a dose of accurate history!

        “Robber Barons” were a literal thing before it became the term for people who weren’t considered nobility but acted in a similar manner.

    6. LilPinkSock*

      My executive-level boss who routinely stole from the company and me would beg to differ. She’s not poor, just greedy.

      I also read history, which is lousy with examples of the wealthy stealing to get wealthier.

    7. I should really pick a name*

      You’re stating this quite definitively and I’m curious if you can provide anything to back up this assumption.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I don’t know if it’s the same in the US, but here, there are people who feel that taking from “the government” is some kind of act of rebellion. My grandmother used to tell me I should claim everything possible in benefits because “I wouldn’t leave it to (whoever happened to be taoiseach (prime minister) at the time)”. I tried to explain to her that the money was coming from the tax payer, not the taoiseach’s private income and it made no difference whatsoever to him what people claimed but as far as she was concerned, you should claim anything possible becasue the taoiseach was richer than we were.

        So if people believe the items are being provided by the government, they might feel that “I pay my taxes. I’m entitled to these” or “I’m getting back at ‘the man’ by taking these.”

        When I correct, I get a taxi to collect the exam papers and once had a taxi driver ask me if I was on expenses after I’d paid and then joke that if he’d known the government was paying, he’d have increased the bill a bit. He was joking and I’m sure he wouldn’t have, but it was a joke that played on the idea that it isn’t considered to be really stealing if it’s from the government.

        1. Asenath*

          I’ve heard about similar things – one that sometimes happens is that someone on social assistance will tell a sibling who isn’t that the sibling is a fool to work so hard to make ends meet when “the government” will pay them to stay home and even provide them with new appliances etc. Traditionally, most people didn’t want to accept “charity” (even from the government) although they were usually very generous in giving it. Early on, I worked as a bank teller for a temp agency, so I went all over the city I was living in then, working in different area, from flashy downtown banks to more shabby neighbourhood ones (this was before they closed so many of them in favour of bank machines). There was definitely a view among some people that stealing from a large corporation wasn’t really stealing. Aside from the fact that I disagreed with that, they weren’t always stealing from a corporation. Although most of my employers were quite reasonable about minor errors, and always encouraged tellers to refuse a transaction (or refer it to someone senior) if they didn’t understand it, the teller could be the one who had to pay back the stolen money. It didn’t happen to me, but the possibility sure made me aware that “the Corporation” was made up of people, some of whom might be harmed by fraud.

    8. Onward*

      “Poor people steal” is a bad take and feeds into stereotypes. There have actually been studies that have shown that the more money you have, the more likely you are to take more than your fair share from, for example, a candy bowl sitting at a reception counter.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        And that those at the lowest economic levels give the largest percentage of their income to charity. And are most likely to help a stranger in need.

    9. Pugetkayak*

      This is not true at all. Plenty of people steal because they like to steal. Plenty of rich people take things because they want to. People have compulsions to steal. It’s generally more likely that humans are…humans and do all kinds of wrong and terrible things.

    10. ecnaseener*

      I mean, we’ve had at least a couple letters on this site about well-paid executives stealing their employees’ lunch and stuff.

      More to the point – LW does not set people’s pay, so what are they supposed to do with this comment? Continue spending their own money to replace supplies until all the underpaid workers have had a turn to take them?

    11. The Rafters*

      They are not necessarily poor. Eons ago, I had a coworker who was not an executive, but had boatloads of (family) $. She often stole toilet paper and scrounge for loose change in desk drawers. We also had a CEO who regularly shop-lifted at the local shopping center. So yes, Executives DO steal.

    12. HannahS*

      “Only poor people steal” is not the enlightened take you seem to think it is. How can you say that while accusing other people of “ascribing looser morals” to the lower classes? You’ve literally said that only poor people steal.

      1. Well...*

        I think OP was trying to say that poor people are more motivated to steal, so it’s not a fair measuring stick. I disagree with the take, because I think the problem is much worse than that, but there is a layer of “stealing bread to feed my family isn’t a crime, letting a family starve to death when you have plenty of bread should be” that I’m on board with. It’s just not a fully-formed take.

        1. Observer*

          ut there is a layer of “stealing bread to feed my family isn’t a crime, letting a family starve to death when you have plenty of bread should be” that I’m on board with.

          Except that that is not what they actually said. And what they ACTUALLY said is that only poor people steal. Yes, supposedly they only steal because they “can’t afford” to pay for that which they are stealing, but they ARE stealing things that go way beyond bare necessities in this case.

          In other words, poor people will steal – even if it’s not something they actually absolutely NEED. But rich people will not steal stuff because they are happy with what they can afford. Which . . . And as others have noted, there is plenty of evidence that people with resources steal not only really high end stuff / amounts, but even things that look like / are basic necessities.

          That’s why people get so upset by comments like this. The OP is not depriving some impoverished family with their day’s only meal here, and acting as though she’s some sort of grinch for having an issue with the theft is gross. Blaming her for the supposed (and possibly fictitious) starvation wages that they have ascribed to the thief is even more gross.

          1. Well...*

            Yea I think we’re in violent agreement. OP makes a good point that a poor person stealing != a rich person stealing. Then OP loses me with the claim that only poor people steal. It’s a half-baked take (but I have hope it will result in a fully baked take as OP continues to learn, it seems like their heart is in the right place)

        2. HannahS*

          I agree that that’s the beginning of the thought, but extending that to say “If they stole, it means they must be poor” is incorrect, stigmatizing, and perpetuates the stereotype they’re accusing other people of holding.

          It’s like…when EDI goes wrong, and instead of saying “Here’s a nuanced understanding of the cultural norms in X group that might cause them to behave in Y way” people go “This person is from X group and therefore they believe Y.” Well-intentioned prejudice is still prejudice.

          Also, rich people steal. Wage theft, fraud, embezzelment–these are not crimes committed by people who steal diapers because they can’t afford them.

          1. Well...*

            Oh yea, I mentioned wage theft specifically down-thread. I see what you’re getting at now, I just feel bad for OP because they seem to be getting piled on for what was not a bad impulse. Reminds me of my early excursions into EDI which weren’t always on the mark.

    13. Jam Today*

      LOL no. Executives and other well-off people *routinely* thieve, because they believe the “deserve” it and therefore should be able to get away with it clean. This happens all the time, at a micro level (stealing people’s lunches is a really common example) and at a macro level (cheating on their taxes.)

      1. Artemesia*

        Early in my worklife, my very well paid boss helped himself to my pricey bitter lemon drinks — I could not keep them in the office refrigerator without him guzzling them. He knew they were mine. I was making almost nothing and he was making 6 figures.

    14. Wintermute*

      That just… is not accurate.

      Poor people are much more likely to be sensitive to the fact that if they get themselves fired for stealing supplies from the office they are going to be in a bad position, and less likely to think they have the capital to get away with it. Shame and poverty come hand-in-hand (especially in the US), shameless behavior is more likely to be the upper classes than the lower.

      Rich people steal things all the time, too, it’s not always a matter of need sometimes it really is just an issue of poor morals.

      Having grown up poor, and lived in some very poor communities, trust me, the LAST thing you’d do is risk drawing attention and risk being punished, it’s a very very delicate dance you learn interacting with the professional world and people that have more than you. Now there can be a last-ditch emergency situation, but in that case taking anything would be done with extreme circumspection and delicacy because again, you don’t want to draw attention to yourself, that would also explain a handful of tampons disappearing or a single roll of toilet paper, not what the LW is experiencing.

    15. Well...*

      Rich people steal a lot, it’s just not criminalized. Example: wage theft doesn’t result in prison time, but stealing money out of your cashier at work does!

      In this example I’d believe rich people would steal these things. They’d say it’s not stealing because it’s free. They absolutely would take advantage of the system and destroy it, they are 100% good at that kind of thing.

    16. Observer*

      If people are stealing toilet paper and tampons, it’s because they are poor. Perhaps better pay would solve this problem.

      That’s a statement that is provably false.

    17. kiki*

      Executives don’t steal these items
      Some of the wealthiest people I’ve met are 10000% the ones taking toilet paper rolls home from the office with them to save a buck.

      That’s not to say people don’t take things because they genuinely need them and could not afford them otherwise, just wanted to throw out there that it’s not always so straight forward.

    18. Artemesia*

      yeah no. Every place I have ever worked, it was highly paid people who were more likely to be petty thieves.

    19. Chikkka*

      Executives and other wealthy people steal absolutely all the time. It’s simply not accurate at all to say only poor people steal. Is this comment for real?

    20. oh, she's an ingénue*

      “ Rich people don’t steal, that’s a poor people thing,” I say, wokely.

      I think you might be drawing inaccurate conclusions from whatever historical accounts you’re reading.

      Also, your claim (I hope unintentionally) implies that if a company is experiencing toiletry theft, their poorest employees are likely to blame.


    21. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is not true at all. I worked for years in a BigLaw firm, and attorneys who were paid more money than the staff could ever dream of were some of the biggest culprits in taking communal items – paper towels, snacks, free lunches purchased for staff, etc. – you name it, they took it. I saw a corner-office partner dump the box of individually-wrapped saltines into his Gucci leather bag before driving off in his Mercedes on more than one occasion. It was fascinating to watch. On of our practice area heads had to speak with a mid-level associate (salary about $250K + five figure bonus) about not taking entire boxes of pens and the peanut butter out of the kitchens. Any time there was a communal lunch, who do you think was vulturine outside the door ahead of anyone on the staff? Partners.

      The idea that people only steal if they can’t afford to buy things for themselves is absurd. Bored, well-off kids steal just for fun, wealthy people don’t want to spend their hard-earned money when they can take things for free (and not even get their hands slapped), and, while you’re reading history, go read basically any white-collar, financial crime book.

  18. English Rose*

    #2 Nothing to do with the thievery, but thank you for the introduction to ‘wrinkle release’ which I had to google. Adding to my travel supplies.

    1. Phony Genius*

      I used this product once. I didn’t like the smell of it and the wrinkles were all retained. Of course, YMMV.

    2. 3DogNight*

      Wrinkle release is a freaking miracle! Just don’t try to iron with it. Trust me! LOL
      I love the stuff!

    3. Emi (not a bear expert)*

      50/50 white vinegar and water can do the trick too, although it needs some time to air out afterwards.

    4. Jam Today*

      Its a miracle substance. I will probably lose multiple organs to cancer or grow a tail but I don’t really care because its just the most amazing combination of chemicals. It doesn’t work on all fabrics, but it does work on cotton and cotton-poly blends for sure. Spray, smooth with your hands, and hang for a little while to let the wrinkles settle out, and off you go.

  19. JustSomeone*

    LW #2: before you just give up entirely, try a sign! “Please don’t remove these items. They are not proved by the organization; I buy them with my own money for everyone to use .”

    It may not fix the issue, but most people would be more considerate if they were aware of the circumstances. At least give them that chance.

    1. Rainbow*

      Came here to say this! Might not help especially if the public has access to the bathroom. But surely most coworkers would respect that. We have tampons/pads in our bathroom at work with a lovely note saying “please use one if you’re caught short, and donate to the box if you’re able to”. It’s always full!

      1. katkat*

        I came here to +1 JustSomeone, but I really like your example too Rainbow!

        I think part of giving things without anyone asking, or doing charity otherways, is that you can’t control the person/people reseaving what you give. I think it is kind to give them info on how you meant the items to be used. (It should be obvious, but it never is 100%). But apart from that, once you give you have To let go. And now that you see the outcome you have To decide, if you still want to do that.

    2. Emmy Noether*

      Yes, some people seem really oblivious to the fact that “free” things don’t just self-generate out of thin air (no, I don’t know what’s wrong with them either). Someone is paying for them, and that someone probably had an idea how they wanted them distributed. Stating that explicitly may get through to some of the oblivious people, or at least shame them into behaving.

    3. SarahKay*

      There’s also research that shows people are less likely to steal if there is a picture of a person, or even just a pair of eyes watching them – not sure if LW#2 could add their picture to the bottom of the sign? Or maybe that would be weird; not sure, but might be worth experimenting with.

      1. RagingADHD*

        The same or a similar experiment showed that a mirror had the same effect. Presumably there is already a mirror in the bathroom.

    4. JSPA*

      I’ve had luck with, “suggested donation 25¢” or “collection for replenishment, suggested donation 50¢-$2 a month” and a collection box–chained down and locked. But that was a closed (though fairly anonymous) workplace.

      If someone steals the box, or steals from the box, you know there’s no chance of making this work. If you get “sorry!” and “IOU” and a few bucks in the box, but some stuff still walks, you are at least spreading the cost.

      A lot of people will take things “from work” who will not take things from their coworkers.

      If there’s a certain time of day when you see more theft, i guess you could have a basket that travels back and forth to a locked desk drawer, but I’m not sure I’d want a bathroom basket to make trips outside the bathroom.

      If it’s mostly the air freshener and scented products that go, that could be someone with a smell sensitivity, who doesn’t know whom they need to ask, to make it Go Away, and sends a friend in to get rid of it. (I’ve held my breath to double-bag-and-tie-off scented feminine products that practically made me gag upon entering the bathroom, and replaced them with same brand, more than the same number, unscented, along with a note asking that scented products be kept in a tupperware.)

      1. Timothy (TRiG)*

        Agree that strongly scented stuff should be kept out of work spaces, though for me scents themselves are rarely much more than annoying: it’s the propellant on anything that sprays that really causes problems. Makes my eyes sting and water, and my tongue feel as if it’s coated in slime. Before I switched to working from home, a colleague would occasionally spray something in the main office if she thought there was a smell in the room, and I would complain that she should warn us before committing chemical warfare. Febreeze is terrible, terrible stuff.

      2. JustSomeone*

        “A lot of people will take things ‘from work’ who will not take things from their coworkers.”

        I realize I didn’t actually say this part, but I meant to. Your version is much more concise and elegant than mine would have been!

        I know a lot of otherwise-ethical folks who would be perfectly comfortable lifting some relatively inexpensive office supplies from work. (Bottle-of-Febreze level, not computer level.) But those same people would almost certainly not steal from an individual who bought that thing with their own money. If people don’t know it’s your paycheck rather than some vast organizational operating budget that’s responsible for the bathroom stuff, it doesn’t surprise me that it grows legs much more often.

    5. lifebeforecorona*

      I used to provide Costco size boxes of tissue paper in the office washroom. It would be empty in a week and we were less than 10 people. One of the women mentioned that she was using it as toilet paper and encouraged someone else to do the same. She knew that I was providing the extras from my own pocket. I switched to smaller generic boxes.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        I wonder if the savings in buying toilet paper would make up for the eventual plumbing bill cost… Even “flushable” hygiene wipes aren’t actually safely flushable.

        1. TechWorker*

          Tissues =/= wipes. Tissues generally are flushable, they’re just a lot more pricy than toilet paper!

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            Interesting. I’d been told even tissues were not flushable because they didn’t break down fast enough and could clog.

            1. iPuffyHeartSewers*

              @RabbitRabbit you are correct. They don’t break apart like toilet tissue does, and can bond with fats, oils and grease in sewer lines and cause huge problems.

            2. Some words*

              What you said, RabbitRabbit, I thought was common knowledge. Toilet tissue is meant to break down easily & can be handled by waste water treatment plants without trouble. Facial tissue is manufactured differently and from my understanding, does cause issues in plumbing and waste water treatment facilities.

            3. Observer*

              I’d been told even tissues were not flushable because they didn’t break down fast enough and could clog.

              I’ve heard this too, but it’s not true. It’s basically a product of a mind set that “regular” people are too stupid to understand differences. So instead of telling people what would be a problem, and what should work, we get these “rules”.

              Wipes? Even the “flushable” ones are a bad idea because they are DESIGNED not to break down so easily. Same for most paper towels. Tissues? By and large not.

            4. Clisby*

              That is correct. I doubt the occasional flush of a used tissue makes that much difference, but they definitely should not be used routinely as a substitute for toilet paper.

      2. Asenath*

        How bad was your office toilet paper? Oh, I realize that bad toilet paper doesn’t excuse using tissues instead, especially tissues donated by a co-worker (and that’s not considering the plumbing), but public or work toilets which provide the thinnest and least absorbent toilet paper I’ve ever seen, usually in dispensers that dispense very little at a time, are a pet peeve of mine.

        1. Phryne*

          I once saw an account about an educational institution somewhere who had constant expensive problems with their old plumbing in the toilets, they would clog non-stop, and it was turning into a major money-eater. So they turned to an expert to see what could be done to improve the situation. The outcome: buy more expensive toilet paper. They would buy the cheapest toilet paper available. One of the reasons it was cheap, was because it was not perforated into sheets, just one continuous roll. Because it was thin, people would use big wads of it, and because it was not perforated, it did not fall apart as quickly in the pipes, causing blockages as soon as a number of people used the can in a row.
          I their attempt to keep costs down with nasty cheap paper, they caused trouble with the plumbing that cost them many times more than buying a bit more expensive paper would have been.

          1. Wintermute*

            Educational institutions are the absolutely worst for “john wayne paper” (it’s rough, it’s tough, and it doesn’t take crap off anybody)

          2. Siege*

            That’s constantly true. There was a Kinko’s near me that cheaped out on getting the appropriate toilet – it’s been 20 years so all I remember is that the cost difference was $50 and I think the commercial quality toilet had some kind of valve to prevent back flow? So they enjoyed that savings for several years, right up to the point when unusually high rain levels flooded the sewer system and one of the exits the water took was out that toilet, flooding the business with more than 12” of sewage, because of course it happened overnight when the store was closed. Frankly, I was amazed they ever reopened it, given the cost of remediation, new (leased) machines, etc.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        I literally gasped when she told you you were paying for her toilet paper. How did you prevent yourself from saying something to her? Your reserve is an inspiration!

  20. Luna*

    LW2, your letter is basically an example of ‘This is why we can’t have nice things’ phenomenon. You did something out of being decent and wanting to share with other people, using your own money, and all you see is your stuff being stolen, so it cannot be shared. And now you will (most likely) not buy that stuff anymore, and people will complain about the stuff not being available anymore because it was convenient. But as Alison said, you tried, it’s clear that it won’t work out, brush your hands off of it and just use a small, personal stache you keep locked in your drawers.

  21. bamcheeks*

    I am relieved to discover that “wrinkle release” is a laundry item, not skincare. For a moment I thought LW was providing complimentary retinoids or something.

    1. londonedit*

      I also had no idea this was a thing. Apparently Lenor do one! I’ll have to look out for it next time I’m in the supermarket (though I have a handheld clothes steamer which I absolutely love). Would also quite like a wrinkle release for my face, to be fair…

    2. Onomatopoetic*

      I thought it was skin cream too, and thought that it was a bit much for an office… Never heard of it, but there are a lot stuff we don’t have where I live, laundry sheets and laundry beads, for example. (I dislike the concept of laundry beads on principle, because I really dislike scented detergent anyway and something to enhance the smell seems horrible to me. But I’m scent sensitive.)

  22. metadata minion*

    For #2, given that you went pretty far beyond what even non-government employers tend to provide for their bathrooms (not a criticism!), is it possible people thought someone had just gotten a gift basket or something that they didn’t want and the stuff really was free to take? I’d be very confused if I saw that much stuff in a shared bathroom.

    1. CheeryO*

      Good point. I’m so used to having no extras as a government employee that I would be pretty confused if a bunch of stuff appeared. I wouldn’t take it, but I think a note or an email to whoever uses the bathroom would probably go a long way.

    2. TX_Trucker*

      It’s common in our bathroom for folks to “donate” products that they didn’t like after opening.
      I see everything from nail polish (very common) to shampoo in our bathroom that’s up for grabs. Maybe that’s just our office culture – we are big on recycling and waste reduction. But in our office bathroom, I would assume stuff was free to take unless there was something to indicate otherwise.

    3. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Especially if it just showed up one day without warning, since LW mentions they didn’t let anyone know they were providing it. How are people supposed to know? That’s not an excuse for everyone obliterating the supply, but this seems like an unsurprising outcome to a random basket of goodies appearing.

  23. Anon for this*

    LW 2: We have had products in the women’s rest room since we invited a bunch of clients to a reception a few years ago. I don’t think they’re replenished (not even sure how much they’re used). When I got to the point where I didn’t need tampons anymore, I added the rest of my stash to the basket.
    System seemed to work fairly well.
    BUT one day a co-worker brought in a spare hair dryer thinking it would be good to have one in the rest room for rainy days. Within two hours it was gone. She sent an e-mail to all the women explaining that the hair dryer was supposed to be for general use. It was not returned.

  24. Luca*

    OP 2: A few years ago I discovered the issue of “period poverty.” For one thing, girls miss school during their periods because they can’t afford to buy sanitary products.

    A woman arrived at a homeless shelter, and the first question she asked was if they had any sanitary products.

    1. Chelsea*

      Won’t someone think of the government employees who are so poor they’re forced to use lint rollers as pads and drink Febreeze!

    2. Myrin*

      What does that have to do with OP’s situation? Are you suggesting she provide hygiene products (among several other things!) out of her own pocket endlessly in case someone happens to be unable to afford them?

      1. Michelle Smith*

        It sounds more like an explanation for why these items might be walking away from the public bathroom.

        1. Lavender*

          That was my understanding as well. If I donated sanitary products that ended up getting stolen, I’d feel better knowing that they likely ended up with someone who needed them rather than someone who was just being a jerk. That doesn’t obligate OP to keep buying them, but it might help them feel less resentful about the thefts.

    3. Lavender*

      It’s absurd to me that employers don’t provide them. I mean, if an employee forgets to bring supplies (or can’t afford to) and no one has extras, their options are to stay home, leave work in the middle of the day to go buy some, or bleed all over the furniture. Seems like it would be easier and more cost-effective for the employer to just keep some on hand.

      Scotland made menstrual products free under the National Health Service a few years ago and I’d love to see other countries follow suit.

      1. Wintermute*

        I know at least one person who always scopes out the restrooms when considering a financial deal or partnership. If a company doesn’t provide hygiene products it’s considered a pretty serious red flag– either the company is in dire financial straits, simply doesn’t care about its employees (and is liable to have all the issues that entails) or there’s something else going on.

        I wonder how many of their potential business partners realize that ultra-cheap toilet paper, no hygiene products or a poorly supplied breakroom cost them a multi-million dollar deal or caused them to go bankrupt rather than get bought out?

        1. Lavender*

          Absolutely. OP works for a government agency so I get that their employer isn’t able to change the policy, but it should be the standard for government organizations and private-sector employers.

      2. Well...*

        At my public university these were provided, I think by dipping into an EDI fund. Maybe something like that can get around the gov rules? In which case this comment could help motivate the use of such funds, helping LW and her work place.

      3. Seashell*

        As long as you have more than one female co-worker under age 50, the odds are high that someone is going to have something you can use. I always keep pads in my purse.

        As I told my newly-menstruating daughter, if the situation is really that desperate, stick a bunch of folded-up toilet paper in your underwear. It should tide you over for an hour or two.

        1. Lavender*

          Well, sure. But it’s not something somebody should have to deal with at work, especially in male-dominated fields where they might not have any coworkers who could lend them some supplies. And forgive me for the TMI but I bleed heavily enough that toilet paper does next to nothing to stop the bleeding.

    4. Dona Florinda*

      Period poverty is indeed a very serious problem (in my country, 1 in 5 girls have to miss school because of it), but I don’t think that applies here, since other stuff are disappearing too, like lint rollers.

      1. Well...*

        But it might be helpful for LW if they can use this point to lobby for reimbursement for some of these bathroom supplies.

        1. Siege*

          She works for the government. The whole point of this exercise is that government funding rules are so strict things OP is bringing in are not provided. She’s certainly not going to get reimbursed for them.

            1. Siege*

              Those are state regulated, not federal, even if they get federal funding (which I don’t believe they explicitly do in general but you could make an argument about land grant universities. And there are outliers like JOL, which is managed by Caltech but funded by NASA.) Federal regulations are really strict.

  25. Kiki is the Most*

    OP1: My previous manager had a similar approach to yours, and it was truly appreciated. We weren’t grilled over our sick/mental health days, we were encouraged to take them, we were directed to decent resources provided by our insurance, and it was nice to know that if we needed to, we could share. Perfect boundary setting with support in my opinion–kudos to you.

  26. Jenga*

    Could keep the personal hygiene items in your workspace and send an email to staff letting them know they’re available when needed.

    1. ecnaseener*

      That might be a little embarrassing – “hey LW, can I grab the Febreze? I just stank it up in there” :)

      1. Seashell*

        I thought Febreeze was for fabric odors.

        I dislike most air freshener smells and they often make me sneeze, so I would prefer that not be used in a public bathroom.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Lol you’re right, I skipped right over that and assumed it was the type of air freshener one usually needs in a bathroom.

          1. I have RBF*

            Most “air fresheners” are simply artificial masking scents that make the air full of volatile hydrocarbons that many people are allergic to. To say that people “need” these things is a bit of a farce, IMO.

  27. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

    Something I’ve been wondering about re managers being supportive of mental health: if the discussion is focused on job requirements like accepting feedback and asking questions, is it appropriate or boundary crossing to talk about pop psychological concepts like “growth mindset”? What about recommending Carol Dweck’s book if you have a direct report who’s so consistently terrified to admit they don’t know something that it’s affecting their work performance to the point where they’re being put on a PIP?

    1. steliafidelis*

      Usually I think it’s unnecessary (and possibly overstepping) to seek out the “reason” for a direct report’s behavior. The why is beside the point; you need to see a particular result, and X behavior isn’t going to yield that result. So you say, “I need to see these results from you, and since X is preventing that, I need you to stop doing X.” If you get into the weeds of why they do X, you a) are muddling the message and b) might get it wrong and so the advice is unhelpful anyway.

      1. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

        Hm. You put “reason” in quotes there, so I’m going to assume you didn’t mean just reason. I think there are reasons it’s obviously okay to ask about, like “Did the TPS reports not get filed on tine because the person was swamped with other work, or because they didn’t know where to start?” and reasons that obviously aren’t okay to get into, like how the reasons for problems originated in someone’s childhood, but I’m not entirely sure where the line falls when it comes to someone repeatedly stating that they’re afraid to ask questions.

        Thinking more about it, I also work in a culture where people, both managers and non-managers, frequently recommend reading to each other that contains pop psych advice on how to harness the brain to work more effectively, like about maximizing dopamine hits and reducing various types of cognitive load and conducting blameless post mortems and radical candor and such. So it feels entirely natural to me, when giving mentoring talks to first-years on “how to succeed in this field,” to talk about the importance of having a growth mindset at work. But bringing up the mindset book with someone who’s specifically struggling and about to be fired feels like a borderline case: neither obviously okay nor obviously not okay.

        1. steliafidelis*

          Hah, I don’t think I was thinking carefully about why I put quotes around it when I was writing the response, but let me try to pinpoint my thought process.

          It seems that we often search for a single source or cause of a behavior when it’s usually more complicated than that! Like in a movie or a tv show where we see a flashback to a particular event, but it’s usually not that simple in real life. So there’s often not a single “reason.”

          I agree that the line between work reasons vs. personal reasons and the line can be blurry! In your example of someone who says “I’m afraid to ask questions,” it could be a previous Bad Job, a coworker who responds to questions with hostility, an abusive home life, or any number of other things, some of which are work, some of which personal, and some of which sort of both!. But if you’ve already said to that person “You need to be able to ask these questions and get this information to do your job. What do you need to be able to do that?” and they said, “I have the tools I need, asking questions is difficult/scary for me,” then I don’t think you need to delve into why they find it anxiety-inducing because you’re their boss and you’re not in a position to sort out their mental health for them. (Obviously if they responded with asking for an accommodation, you should do that)

          All that being said, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to recommend a self-help book, especially if that’s a common thing in your office. I would find it really odd for a self-help/psych book to be a formal part of a PIP plan, though.

        2. Brekkers*

          Mmmm, I’m going to push back on this. A supervisor very recently brought up the concept of “growth mindset” as a possible explanation for why some mental health solutions that I’ve tried, which typically work for folks, haven’t worked for me. As in, “Maybe you need to have more of a growth mindset here.” It was well-meant but an inaccurate read of my own situation.

          Supervisors can’t crawl inside and inhabit their employees’ experiences; even when employees disclose mental health issues, you don’t know the whole story. Recommending pop psych can feel like “this one weird trick!” and minimize or misrepresent employees’ lived experiences, to those employees.

          Generally it’s best when supervisors stick to talking about observed workplace behavior and asking employees, not for a certain state of mind, but for particular, measurable work behaviors.

          1. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

            Yeah, I definitely don’t want to be the well-meaning and oblivious type who thinks they have one weird trick for everything.

            I try to go into these conversations explicitly assuming that I don’t know what the actual problem is (though I come with educated guesses), and I do a lot of asking questions and listening before proposing solutions. And when I propose solutions, I try to do it as a mutual brainstorming approach. Like when I observed that someone wasn’t giving the expected number of presentations, I first asked an open-ended question about what part of presenting was the obstacle, and then I asked more targeted questions like “How much of it is fear of public speaking? How much of it is difficulty picking a topic? How much is organizing the presentation?” Then I got into “Would starting with a smaller audience help? Would it help to collaborate on organizing the presentation? Would it help to read aloud from a document?” I’ve seen other coworkers as well as AAM commenters recommend Toastmasters for overcoming fear of public speaking. I could see myself mentioning it if the person said that was the part they struggled with.

            So I totally agree that having someone *tell* you that you need more growth mindset is a problem, but would you have found it an overstep if someone had tried to find out in a conversation if you felt that not knowing things reflected badly on you? And if you said yes, would it be an overstep for them to suggest reading material? Would you have found it an overstep if someone tried to find out if you were afraid of public speaking? And if you had said yes, would it be an overstep for them to suggest Toastmasters as a possible solution?

      2. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

        “I need to see these results from you, and since X is preventing that, I need you to stop doing X.”
        This just seems a bit robotic and uncaring. A good manager should find out whats causing X. If the problem is behavioral ( you sound angry and stressed when clients call in) find out that maybe the reason why is that she’s sounds that way is a defense mechanism because the client continues to harass and scream obscenities to her. Or if the employee is going over on their break times it would be a good reason to find out why, Like maybe they have a medical need that they need more time in the bathroom.

        1. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

          This I agree with: I always try to explore work-related reasons for things. If someone was afraid to ask a question, I would start by asking if they were having bad experiences when they did, because maybe there’s someone else I need to have a conversation with!

    2. bamcheeks*

      I don’t think it would be inappropriate, generally speaking– for me, that’s the same kind of thing as saying, “You aren’t successfully managing your time and meeting deadlines, so I’d like you to complete the Time Management and Project Management modules from the central T&D team or on LinkedIn Learning.” You’re definitely entitled to recommend training and resources to people you manage!

      For stuff that feels like it’s a bit more borderline on the business knowledge vs self-help/psychology stuff, it would probably come down to the area you’re in and how confident you are about your knowledge of these things. I work in skills and training, and it would be pretty normal for me to recommend something like the growth mindset model or even for colleagues at the same level to recommend it to each other, because we’re all working with these kind of models and resources all the time anyway, so it would be a case of, “I know you know what this is, maybe this is one of the places where it would be useful to reflect on how it might be useful for you?” In other settings where you don’t have that shared knowledge and basis for engaging with these kind of things, I guess it could feel like overstep, though.

      What I might prefer to do is direct them to a LinkedIn Learning resource or something, where it feels like it’s already been contextualised as professional development rather than personal mental health?

      1. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

        I like the LinkedIn Learning idea! Especially since we’re encouraged to do a lot of professional development there.

    3. GreenShoes*

      I think that falls under professional development. Which a manager should be doing. I’ve assigned professional development courses in things like organization, time management, public speaking, etc. All of these could have roots into mental health issues, but the aim isn’t to fix the employees MH issue, it’s to give them additional tools to address a development issue.

      I think the growth mindset type courses/books are perfectly acceptable as professional development.

    4. Thumbelina*

      I don’t think growth mindset or other crossovers from psychology into self-help are appropriate for professional development. The bridge between research and application tends to lead to misunderstanding of the research and misapplication-which has happened with mindset research!

      If you can tell that, say, your direct report is definitely terrified to admit that they don’t know something, you can name that problem and ask them to work on it without suggesting exactly *how* they work on it. “Blake, I’ve noticed a pattern where you didn’t know how to do something and you didn’t ask for help with it up front. If there is something you don’t know and can’t figure out on your own, I want you to tell me you don’t know how to do it. Asking for help is better than spinning your wheels to the point that you aren’t getting the work done.” Notice how that doesn’t label their emotions (“terror”) bc that’s not up to you, and you aren’t getting into any self-help territory.

  28. steliafidelis*

    LW 2–You could try keeping some of these items at your desk and let people know “hey, I keep a stash of lotion/pads/etc, if you ever want to borrow something just let me know!” That way you can still provide some nice things without worrying about them disappearing.

    1. DataSci*

      I can see this working for lotion, but asking for a tampon from someone you don’t know we’ll is going to be embarrassing. Back in grad school I was in a shared office that had five women and one man (we had individual cubes with doors). We kept a stash of tampons and ibuprofen in a filing cabinet right inside the door from the hall. Maybe there’s a “not right in the open, but not making people ask” solution available?

    2. run mad; don't faint*

      I think this could leave the LW open to being disturbed frequently while working for non-work related reasons. To me, the risk of disruptions would outweigh trying to do something nice for one’s coworkers.

  29. Michelle Smith*

    LW2: Just a suggestion – you don’t have to leave the things you bought in the bathroom! It might be annoying to do this every time, but you can keep a few items at your desk in a makeup bag (mini spray bottle of febreeze, some tampons, and a small soap pump, for example) and just bring it to and from the bathroom when you need to go. You can also let anyone you’re close to know that you have tampons and air freshener if they ever need either.

  30. FreeForAll*

    In my experience free bathroom supplies are supplied by the building, not the company. Sometimes it’s just period products, sometimes it’s a little more. I’ve always been told to put my name on anything I bring in (I have ezcema and need special soap) and that anything without a name is free for anyone to use or take, including take home if needed (they usually weren’t top of the line so most only used them for emergency). Even without taking stuff home, I’ve worked in places with enough bathroom traffic to use up a bottle or two of lotion a week – not sustainable for most indivoduals. Same for food in an office kitchen – if it doesn’t have a name on it anyone can take it (and many places encourage folks to take non-perishable stuff home with them, either for the trip home or for days they work at home). I’ve been actively encouraged to take snacks home several times, and I’m often a big consumer because often I end up eating in lieu of lunch unless there’s someplace to get lunch very close by (in the building or a really short walk). Nearly every job I’ve had since the 90s that had real office supplies encouraged people to take them home for work at home days. At this point, I’ve basically been trained to think any stuff I see in any of these situations that didn’t have a name on it or didn’t explicitly say for office use only was free to take some home with me. If that’s not your expectation, make that clear.

    1. Onward*

      So. Wait. You see a box of tampons or a bottle of lotion in a company bathroom and you think it’s fine to take it if there’s no sign telling you not to? I feel like it’s pretty obvious that there isn’t a bottle of wrinkle release and a lint roller there that is just free for the taking. They’re obviously there for communal use.

      1. Student*

        It’s quite possible that the building custodial staff are required by their contract to throw out any products in the bathroom that aren’t provided by the building.

        This is especially possible if they are still under pandemic-area cleaning rules, trying to eliminate places where COVID can live and spread – like shared hand lotion bottles, or just a bunch of products that are making it harder to quickly and thoroughly clean and disinfect the bathroom counters.

        1. Onward*

          How does that have anything to do with what FreeForAll commented? They didn’t say they were a custodian throwing things out because of COVID policies. They said they assume anything that isn’t nailed to the floor is free to take, so long as there’s nothing that says they’re not.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I imagine this is quite context dependant. I work in a school where the resources for the classroom aren’t adequately paid for, and like many teachers anything nice needed for a project is bought of pocket. If I can’t get glue sticks from the employer, I’m not going to mistake the toilet room’s tampons and deodorant, in a cute little nest box, as being government issue.

    3. RagingADHD*

      You see the difference, right?

      You were told by one employer, in very particular situations, that certain items in certain areas were “up for grabs.”

      Several employers encouraged people to take office supplies home *so they could work at home.*

      If this equates in your mind to being trained to assume every consumable item in a common area is your personal shopping spree, I would question the other training you have absorbed in life. That….is not a normal conclusion to draw at all.

    4. ED123*

      If you bring sepcial soap, you should write your name. But surely it’s because then others know not to use it? Not because otherwise they can just take it home?

    5. Emmy Noether*

      Keyword being take *some* home. Taking one or two pens home is fine. Taking the new box of 100 pens home is not. Same for tampons: taking two home because you just noticed you ran out and don’t have time to buy new ones until tomorrow is fine. Taking the whole box of 100 is not.

      That’s the way communal supplies work, lest they turn into a bottomless pit AND aren’t actually available when needed.

    6. Lavender*

      I’ve never encountered a business setting where it would be okay for people to take an entire box of snacks or a full-sized bottle of lotion home without asking first, though. It might be okay to take an extra donut or two home from the office kitchen, or leftovers from a potluck that no one else wanted. A whole bottle of Febreze that was meant to be shared, though, or a box of tampons in a shared bathroom? I definitely wouldn’t assume it was okay to take those home with me unless there were several full bottles/boxes that weren’t getting used (and even then, I’d ask first). Maaaaybe a few extra tampons if I was running low at home, but it seems like the issue here is that people are running off with the entire box.

  31. Suzanne Brown*

    For OP 2: You can always keep some products in your desk or office and tell folks they just need to ask if they need to use anything.

  32. CommanderBanana*

    DO NOT do the retention interview. My organization did retention interview 2 years ago, and we were assured they were 100% confidential. My director just brought up something I said in the retention interview 2 years ago last week.

    So glad I’m leaving this org. I’ve learned not to trust HR, EVER, when they say something is confidential

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Most places don’t say retention interviews are confidential. As Alison points out, that would defeat the purpose a bit.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I was told by the HR person conducting the interview that it was 100% confidential after being reluctant to answer a question.

        1. Lauren*

          If you are the only person in your department or if your language choices are unique – they manager can tell. HR doesn’t paraphrase – they will write down exact words. Plus demos are included such as gender. Are you the only woman on a department? Don’t forget titles – those are listed too.

          I love my manager, but good god – our processes suck. <— a bit of negging might work.

    2. Generic Name*

      I don’t know that I’d go this far. I would say don’t do the retention interview if you aren’t ok with your answers being shared, because of course they are going to be shared. Why else do them? Nothing will change if the people who can fix a problem can’t be told there’s a problem. A retention interview isn’t a confessional, it’s a business tool used by companies to reduce turnover. How the information is handled is heavily dependent on company culture. If the culture is toxic, the info won’t be handled well. If it’s reasonably functional, there’s a better chance the info will be put to good use. So I would say use caution.

    3. Observer*

      Your organization should not have promised confidentiality. And, really, the OP can’t refuse to do the interview.

      What they CAN, and probably SHOULD, do is be very cheerful and not provide a lot of information.

    4. Lauren*

      The only discussion is salary and benefits during a retention interview. “I will eventually quit because I want more” … vacation time or our deductible is psychotically high or because of money. These are the only topics that won’t piss off your manager and if everyone says it – poof, cost of living increases! Management will want to do something massive to call it all done. This is a great way to coordinate everyone getting something. If everyone talks about money and benefits.

  33. Spicy Tuna*

    Retention interview seems like a bad idea all around. If I had an issue with something at work, I would either deal with it, or find another job because a) people and corporate cultures don’t change; and b) I am conflict avoidant and would never have a difficult conversation with anyone for any reason unless it was 1,000% unavoidable.

    1. Somehow_I_Manage*

      It’s a two way street. Things could be going really well for you at work, and it’s helpful to track both the good and bad vibes. Think of it more of a thermostat- sure the answers will be cautious, but if you interview 20 people, regardless of how much they say, you’ll have a decent vibe check. Some staff will feel more engaged by having that small forum, which is good.

      But I 100% agree that if you have irreparable issues with the company, you are not obligated to try to fix them. It would be inappropriate and risky to air all of your grievances, just because you have the opportunity…And yet, when you do these interviews or surveys someone always throws caution to the wind! It’s a guarantee somebody is going to absolutely bodyslam the company. That’s not only a bad idea, but if you really feel the company needs to manifest that level of change to keep you…you probably shouldn’t be there anyway.

    2. Aitch Arr*

      We (the HRBPs) do a 90 day check in with new hires.

      First off, my caveat is always “this is a confidential conversation for the purpose of information gathering. However, if you report something to me that I have a duty to act on, such as a policy violation, I cannot guarantee confidentiality.”

      The questions are things like:
      “do you have the tools you need to do your job?”
      “do you have regular check-ins with your manager?”
      “what are some challenges or obstacles you have come up against during your first 90 days?”
      “what are some pleasant surprises you encountered during your first 90 days?”
      “have you gone to all of the new hire training sessions?”

      We then roll up the answers into themes and present those to senior managers.

      So while we wouldn’t say something like “Jane Smith, the new Llama Groomer on Bob Johnson’s team had a hard time getting answers about how to use the Grooming CRM”, we might say “one theme that emerged was that we should look at the onboarding / training curriculum for the Grooming CRM.”

    3. Aggretsuko*

      Totally agreed. I’ve certainly mentioned my problems with my organization over the years, and pretty much nothing can ever change or be fixed. What would be the point of a retention interview in which I say, “X policies need to be changed, money desperately needs to be found for Y, and I would really appreciate it if I could get a transfer out of service work so I can stop being a failure at it without having to get fired?” I would get blown off and ignored and told it can’t happen, like is already happening.

      People leave because there’s giant systemic problems that can’t be fixed and never will be fixed, so all you can do is leave. If you don’t want people to leave but you don’t/won’t/can’t fix those problems, or it’s just plain easier to find fresh meat, then guess what’s going to happen.

  34. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    #4 – asking to get out of a retention interview sounds like trying to skip an annual review – it would raise a whole lot of suspicions about you, none of them good.

    Now, if the interview rapidly devolves into personality nitpicking, or goading you to say something bad about your immediate boss, that’s your sign that it’s ok to evade & dissemble.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Right. You can definitely say little during a retention interview, but being breezy and nonchalant is going to get you through it with less hassle than refusing.

    2. Jamjari*

      Okay, wow. I read this as a question about an exit interview for some reason, and even then I was thinking ‘but what if my boss is part of the problem, what do I say’.

      In the case of an exit interview, I definitely can’t see mentioning that and not burning any potential reference, so I’d probably dissemble a bit. In a retention interview? ‘Everything’s fine’.

    3. Trout 'Waver*

      I feel like conducting retention interviews requires a certain level of trust. But if that trust exists, the higher ups could just come and ask in a non-formal process.

      I’d be highly skeptical.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yep, this. If you don’t know what’s going on with your employees, it’s probably not because HR didn’t schedule a meeting. In cultures where people feel safe to talk about good and bad aspects of their jobs, they’ll share informally. If they don’t feel safe, this isn’t going to change that.

        1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

          I’m not sure I agree. There’s a difference between sharing things informally as they come up, and having a formal process to do a survey or level-set on things like benefits. The formal process is going to be more objective, because the only people who bring up, eg, the commuting benefit informally are the ones who have a problem with it. Are you going to listen to the 3 complainers vs the 97 people who are happy?

        2. Momma Bear*

          I agree. If you don’t regularly have one-on-ones or skip-level meetings or just an air of trust with your team, you’re not going to get the truth from a formal “retention” meeting.

  35. Jam Today*

    This is the first time I have heard of a retention interview, and my paranoia — which probably isn’t paranoia given the various leaders I’ve worked for in the past — is that formally expressing any discontent, no matter how much you try to spin it as “opportunity,” is going to be used as grist for the layoff mill because you get labeled “not a team player”.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Definitely a “know your culture” thing. In my experience places with great cultures don’t need retention interviews, but even if they do you should never share more than you’re comfortable with.

      1. Somehow_I_Manage*

        Not just know your culture, but know your value. If you don’t have the capital, don’t be foolish with feedback.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      I find it interesting that my giant organization is now trying to post things about trying to boost retention, albeit not “retention interviews.” It’s technically a Very Good Employer overall, which makes it extremely hard to leave, but the various offices within the organization may have issues that can only be solved by leaving.

      I got forced to tell the head of my office that I don’t like much about my job and have no path to career advancement here, which I wasn’t comfortable with saying but was really put on the spot about. That said, I think the managers that deal with me would be pleased as punch if I could leave since they keep making it clear that I am absolutely not want they want. I have been here longer than all of them and I don’t fit the new regime, as it were. I don’t think anyone would want to retain me or so much as lift a finger to make the job less hellish for me or try to find me a position I fit better.

  36. KToo*

    #2 – Confession time….. I’m the guilty party in my office for making the bathroom air fresheners go missing. For a little while someone – a co-worker – thought it would be a good idea to bring in and liberally use air fresheners. The issue? I am super sensitive to fragrances. I can mostly deal with most scents if they’re not right next to me and I’m not trapped in a small area, but using the bathroom isn’t optional and I just can’t hold my breath that long. So the very few times I’d see a new can brought in (I think 2ce, maaaaaaybe 3 times?) it would just find itself wrapped in paper towels and buried in the trash.

    I didn’t want to have to make a stink (unintentional pun) with HR and have scent policies made, so it seemed the easiest way to make a point. Since it only took 2 or 3 missing cans of spray to get the message across it seems to have worked. Not sorry.

    1. Lavender*

      If I spent my own money on air freshener for my workplace and later found out someone in the office had a fragrance sensitivity, I’d completely understand and would take the air freshener home with me so I could still get my money’s worth out of it. If they threw it in the trash without explaining why, I’d be really annoyed.

      1. Lavender*

        Addendum to my comment above: Leaving the air freshener outside the bathroom with a note explaining your fragrance sensitivity also would have been fine, I think. Just don’t throw someone else’s stuff away!

        1. Totally Minnie*

          I think this is the way to go if you don’t know who’s doing it and you don’t feel comfortable going to HR. In general, if you want something to stop happening, you have to make it known that you want the thing to stop happening. People aren’t mind readers, so they won’t just know that the air freshener went missing because it was making people sick. They’ll just think it ran out and they should buy a new one.

          1. Lavender*

            Yep, I’d assume it either ran out or someone stole it. I might not keep buying it in the second case, but I would start to worry that I worked with a thief.

            This situation is exactly why fragrance policies exist, and there’s no reason to feel like you’re a burden or annoying for requesting one. Even in the absence of an official policy, I’d still at least want to know if someone I worked with was sensitive to fragrances so I would know to avoid using/bringing in scented products going forward.

        2. Observer*

          Leaving the air freshener outside the bathroom with a note explaining your fragrance sensitivity also would have been fine, I think. Just don’t throw someone else’s stuff away!


      2. Student*

        The person with the scent sensitivity is also really annoyed that they have to
        (1) deal with breathing trouble while trying to pee
        (2) deal with an unpredictable, unknown person who may or may not take their scent sensitivity seriously – it’s great that YOU would, but that’s just not how the majority of people respond

        If this was a scented product on their desk, then you’d have a point. There’s less urgency and less of an inherently narcissistic expectation that everyone will happily endure their favored, chosen scent.

        But the bathroom is for peeing first, and I will ruthlessly eliminate anything that prevents me from using the bathroom for its intended purpose. The person with the scented air freshener gets to carry the emotional load of figuring out why their stuff went missing and thinking a bit harder about respecting a shared space, so I will chuck it in the trash without any remorse whatsoever.

        1. Lavender*

          I wouldn’t assume that the majority of people would respond negatively to someone telling them they have a fragrance sensitivity, but I’d imagine the majority of people *would* respond very negatively to someone throwing their stuff away. If the above commenter needed the air freshener gone immediately, they could leave it outside the bathroom, perhaps with a note. Since the air freshener is the sprayable kind, it won’t smell as long as nobody sprays it. No need to throw it away.

          I also wouldn’t say that bringing in a bottle of air freshener is inherently disrespectful of a shared space. The coworker probably didn’t know that anyone in the office was sensitive to smells and was doing it to be nice. And figuring out why the spray is missing isn’t really an “emotional load”–as mentioned above, the coworker very well might have assumed that it ran out, or that someone stole it.

          1. Not really my experience*

            I am one of the tedious people with a fragrance sensitivity, and in my experience people do *not* respond well to being told about this. I get migraines and asthma attacks from coworkers, and in my experience people take it very, very personally.

            1. Lavender*

              I’m sorry your coworkers treated you that way! I think if the above commenter had asked their coworker to stop using the air freshener or gone to HR and was *still* being met with pushback, it would be reasonable to throw things away at that point. But they said they didn’t even want to try talking to their coworker or HR, and I think throwing away someone else’s stuff is a pretty extreme first reaction.

        2. Observer*

          (2) deal with an unpredictable, unknown person who may or may not take their scent sensitivity seriously – it’s great that YOU would, but that’s just not how the majority of people respond

          It’s not true that that’s not how the majority of people respond.

          Regardless, it’s not ok to just go the route of destroying people’s property before trying some basic other means of fixing the issue.

          “I don’t want to talk to HR” is an excuse suitable for a pre-schooler, not a supposedly functional adult.

          1. Lavender*

            And I think it’s fair to say that most people, upon finding out their stuff was thrown away due to a coworker’s sensitivity, would be pretty annoyed that their coworker didn’t even *try* talking to them or HR about it.

        3. H3llifIknow*

          “I will ruthlessly eliminate anything that prevents me from using the bathroom for its intended purpose. The person with the scented air freshener gets to carry the emotional load of figuring out why their stuff went missing and thinking a bit harder about respecting a shared space”

          Wow. So the burden of respect is not on you? People are trying to do something they think is nice, maybe you enjoy going in right after someone has pooped and you think it smells fine. Others don’t so they try to mitigate that. If I go in immediately following a pooper, I will likely heave. But, I guess that isn’t a “scent” that bothers you, so it doesn’t count? It’s not like that scent sticks around for hours. If you have an issue with it, say “Hey I’m sensitive to that can you knock it off?” That is what grown ups do. You want people to cater to YOUR “sensitivity” while not being sensitive to the fact that THEY HAVE NO WAY OF KNOWING if you just keep stealing their stuff and throwing it away. Who raised you?

            1. H3llifIknow*

              True, but my point was that someone brought in spray to combat their own poop smell, and had no way to know that someone would prefer poop to “Pine Forest in Spring” or whatever. Communication is the correct response, not THROWING OTHER PEOPLE’S STUFF AWAY.

      3. Some words*

        Sensitivities to chemical fragrances is so common and is such common knowledge I’m actually baffled that people are still spraying them in shared workspaces. I’ve also thrown out a can of air perfume in a shared restroom. Most people in my office are *not* willing to stop using these products in shared spaces when asked (by HR, co-workers, company policy or management). I feel no guilt.

        The universal default really should be for people to keep the perfumed products at home.

        1. Lavender*

          I mean, I think it’s fair to say that scented products shouldn’t be brought into the office to begin with–but I also think that throwing someone else’s stuff in the trash seems a bit extreme for a first reaction. It doesn’t seem like KToo even tried going to
          HR or approaching their coworker about it.

        2. Ellis Bell*

          It’s really not commonly known at all. I raise it all the time with people because my partner has to avoid me if I’m scented, so I’m all: “please don’t spray that near me” or “can I bring my own products to the salon” and in the vast majority of cases, the person I’m speaking to says I’m the first person to ever raise the issue with them and it’s totally unknown phenomenon to them. My partner on the other hand never mentions it to anyone. He has a real loathing of being the person with a scent sensitivity that everyone has to accommodate and he’d rather avoid the area, change where he shops etc than speak up. If most people feel like he does (understandably) it’s no wonder people don’t know. He would be more inclined to speak up than throw away something though!

          1. Lavender*

            I’ve never worked in a place with a ban on fragrances. If it weren’t for reading letters and comments about it here, it probably wouldn’t have ever been on my radar as something to avoid. I’d absolutely stop using and bringing in scented products if asked, but I also don’t think it’s something everyone or even most people would know not to do. (Shoutout to AAM for bringing it to my attention, though, because now I know not to do it.)

        3. H3llifIknow*

          Was the can of “air perfume” actively being used while you were in there? Or was it the mere sight of it and the fact that it “might be used someday” all it took for you to decide it was okay for you to steal someone else’s stuff w/o giving them the option to take it home? You’re pretty proud of yourself for being a thief and a rude one, to boot!

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            “Most people in my office are *not* willing to stop using these products in shared spaces when asked (by HR, co-workers, company policy or management)”

            I think Some words has a good handle on how scents are used in their workplace.

    2. HannahS*

      Next time, I suggest summoning all of your courage and doing something like TALKING to your coworker and saying something like, “Hey, I’m really sensitive to fragrances and I can’t be around them in an enclosed space like a bathroom. Please take this bottle home.”

      Throwing someone’s stuff out without talking to them first isn’t ~subversive~ It’s just selfish.

    3. Jayne not Jane*

      Someone commented this above too. Please stop throwing things away! Not only does it contribute to waste and pollution (esp if the item is recyclable), but its so wasteful. I worked with someone that had a terrible fragrance allergy. HR instituted a no perfume/air freshener policy and all was well.

      1. Lavender*

        Yeah, even if it only took two or three tries to get their coworker to stop bringing it in, that’s still two or three wasted bottles of air freshener that someone spent their money on. If they’d said something when the first bottle showed up, zero bottles would have been wasted.

    4. Observer*

      I didn’t want to have to make a stink (unintentional pun) with HR and have scent policies made, so it seemed the easiest way to make a point. Since it only took 2 or 3 missing cans of spray to get the message across it seems to have worked. Not sorry.

      Wait, so you made someone waste the money on these fresheners because you weren’t comfortable using your words?

      What else do you expect people to read your mind about? How much cost and burden are you putting on people who somehow fail to read your mind?

      1. a clockwork lemon*

        It would never occur to me that someone was stealing bathroom air freshener–I’d just assume it was used up and would eventually be replaced by the person who was responsible for replacing those sorts of things. See also: toilet paper, hand soap, paper towels, the bathroom tampon stash.

      2. oh, she's an ingénue*

        Agree 100%, Observer. These comments are wild.

        Don’t throw away stuff that doesn’t belong to you?? Even if you don’t like it?? This isn’t hard.

    5. spcepickle*

      @KToo – You are getting lots of push back but I standing right beside you. Work bathroom =/= your home. If you want to spend money on air freshener do it AT HOME! If you bring something into the office and leave it in a public place it no longer belongs to you. If it is something that affects my health that something is leaving.

      I am also the person who every Friday throws away all the food left in the fridge so it does not get nasty. No email, no signs, just every Friday – people learn.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          It’s not hostility toward people with perfume sensitivity, it’s hostility toward people who think throwing away something someone spent money on is a better solution than simply saying “Hey, I’m sensitive to scents, could you take that home”. As stated above not only is it wrong to throw away something someone purchased (even if they shouldn’t have brought it in) but it doesn’t solve the problem because the person will likely just keep replacing it.

          1. Some words*

            I’ve observed people’s reactions to these types of requests. It’s not kind or considerate. It usually involves eye-rolls and impatient noises (and straight up cruel commentary) so no, some of us aren’t going to take that risk. In most cases it’s already office/company policy that the offenders are ignoring.

            Maybe the people in this thread are really unusually compassionate but cheerful accommodation isn’t something I’ve seen. It’s wrong to throw away a $4 can of air freshener? It’s wrong to knowingly cause physical distress to one’s co-workers.

            1. Lavender*

              If they’d already tried setting a no-fragrance policy and it was met with eye-rolls, I think at that point it would be fine to just throw the air freshener away. It doesn’t seem like that’s the case, though–they said they didn’t want to go to HR or talk to their coworker. If their coworker didn’t know it was a problem, then they weren’t knowingly causing distress.

              1. Myrin*

                Exactly. The comments in this thread are replying to the person who started this thread and what they told us about their particular situation, not some made-up scenario that simply has the same starting point as the top comment.

            2. Oxford Comma*

              I think it’s more about the act of discarding something without permission and without notifying the supplier/manager that there’s an issue with the product.

              You are assuming that the supplier/manager will conclude that the act of throwing out the air freshener must mean it’s an allergy, when there could be multiple reasons for it being missing.

              1. Lavender*

                Another commenter mentioned that cleaning staff sometimes throw things away if they get in the way while they’re cleaning, so the person providing the air freshener might think the cleaners threw it away and they just need to start keeping it at their desk instead of in the bathroom.

                Or maybe they’d assume that whoever threw it away doesn’t like that particular scent or product, but other fragrances are okay.

                Or they wouldn’t check to see if the bottle in the trash is full, and just assume it ran out–and that maybe they need to bring in more.

                Or they might not have seen it in the trash at all and think it was stolen. (Which would in turn make them less inclined to bring in stuff to share with the office, even things that weren’t causing scent issues.)

                Throwing it in the trash isn’t just a rude way to handle the situation, but it’s also not even guaranteed to get the problem solved effectively.

            3. Observer*

              In most cases it’s already office/company policy that the offenders are ignoring.

              Except that the poster here explicitly states that there is no policy! That they would rather destroy someone’s property than talk to HR who would then actually CREATE a policy!

              That’s the reason for the hostility. If there is a policy that people refuse to follow and HR refuses to enforce (or does so in a way that creates its own set of problems), then that is a totally different scenario than wheat this person is describing.

          1. Oxford Comma*

            But it doesn’t solve the problem. People will keep buying it unless they know why they shouldn’t. If indeed that is the situation for the OP.

          2. Lavender*

            Yes, but it shouldn’t be. I wouldn’t leave something a shared space if I was very worried about it getting stolen or thrown away, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay for people to do that.

          3. Momma Bear*

            Agreed. You may intend for it to be shared, but unless it’s a group agreement, then you’re just assuming everyone knows what you meant. They may also not know that it’s a personal purchase – for a long time I had no idea that the office manager was buying coffee pods out of his own money. It’s not always obvious.

            Leave out what you want to replace, replace it on your own time, and encourage others to share the load as appropriate. Otherwise, assume theft will happen. Anything I really want in the office I keep at my desk and take a little purse with me to the restroom.

          4. H3llifIknow*

            I would really hate to work wherever it is that YOU work if you think that’s normal and “common”!

        2. Myrin*

          There’s no hostility towards people with scent sensitivities as far as I can see – only pushback against people who throw away other people’s belongings (and without even trying to deal with it in a different way first, like, you know, actually talking to the person or, if you don’t know who it is, leaving anote) which doesn’t seem particularly radical or controversial to me.

          1. Lavender*

            Yes. If you tell your coworker that you have a fragrance sensitivity and they keep bringing scented products in (or make you feel like a burden for asking), then they are 100% the problem and I’d say it’s fine to throw stuff away at that point. But it shouldn’t be the first step.

            1. The Other Dawn*


              I can’t understand people who think it’s okay to just toss things people bought with their own money rather than just use their words.

      1. Glomarization, Esq.*

        If you bring something into the office and leave it in a public place it no longer belongs to you.

        Damn, so much for my coat, which I left on the coatrack by the front door this morning, and my car, which I parked in the company parking lot!

        1. Chestnut Mare*

          Exactly! Or if I forget my wallet or my phone in the office kitchen, I guess my coworker is entitled to it.

          If no one used their words and asked for their scent sensitivity to be accommodated, I would have no idea that was why the Febreeze kept disappearing. I’d just bring in purse-sized bottle with me.

          1. Lavender*

            I leave my phone and other personal items in common areas at work fairly often. It’s a locked building so it’s not like someone could just wander in off the street, and I don’t have an assigned desk or locker to put them in.

            We have a designated area for “community property” at work. People can leave stuff there that’s meant to be shared: snacks, hand sanitizer and lotion, tissues, and so on. Anything there is fair game, and by the same token, anything *not* left in that area is either someone’s private property or intended for a specific work-related purpose. We’re all adults and people understand what’s free to take and what isn’t.

      2. RagingADHD*

        How about, work bathroom does not equal your home, so don’t throw away things that don’t belong to you.

        It’s stealing. It isn’t justified because you have a condition. It isn’t justified because some other person was rude once when you asked.

        It’s stealing, and the pushback has nothing to do with scent sensitivities, and everything to do with saying you deliberately steal from your coworkers and don’t feel bad about it.

        FWIW, I loathe fragrances and air fresheners, and I have made suggestions / requests / complaints to HR and Facilities about them. It isn’t that hard.

        1. Lavender*

          And if this commenter works with the kind of people who would be resentful of a perfectly reasonable accommodation request, I don’t know what is making them think their coworkers would react *more* kindly to someone throwing away their stuff.

        2. Giant Kitty*

          Right? These people are trying to justify stealing from their coworkers and it’s just astounding.

        3. Siege*

          I have moderate scent sensitivity to the point I have to be careful with salon products and can’t use certain detergents/soaps/whatnot, and I am AGOG (and simultaneously unsurprised, gotta say) that we got to “I refuse to use my words or attempt basic problem solving and prefer to commit theft and expect mind-reading. I am correct in this view.” Agree that it’s not that hard to use my words.

    6. H3llifIknow*

      Is it a one person restroom or a multi stall? Because if it’s a single person, and they’re spraying, you aren’t in there with them and it would likely dissipate pretty soon. Was it just even SEEING it in there that bugged you? Or were they spraying while you were also in there? If so, then THAT was the time to say, “Oh hey, I can’t really do fragrances, can you please refrain while I’m in here?” Throwing someone else’s stuff away just seems so petty and immature. I get scent migraines from a few scents (musk, patchouli, sandalwood to name the biggest offenders), so I WANT to be sympathetic but…

      1. oh, she's an ingénue*

        Was it just even SEEING it in there that bugged you?

        I mean, given that this whole fragrance conversation is pointless because the thief took a bunch of stuff besides scented products so we KNOW we’re not talking about someone with a fragrance allergy, I’m starting to think just seeing the word “Febreeze” in the OP’s letter is what sent out the bat signal for lots of people to drop in and talk about their fragrance allergy. It feels super derailing at this point.

        1. Lavender*

          Yeah maybe one person in the office didn’t like the smell of Febreze and threw it out, but that wouldn’t explain the other missing items.

    7. Giant Kitty*

      I seriously don’t understand why you think engaging in repeated theft & destruction of your coworkers property was a better choice than using your words to rectify the situation like an adult.

      I’ve had lifelong allergies, serious enough that I’ve been hospitalized for them, I react to a number of artificially scented products, and I hate the way they smell anyway, so I sure AF don’t lack empathy for people with scent sensitivities. It’s just that I can’t possibly imagine using this as a reason to try and justify stealing from people I work with.

      1. Lavender*

        Yeah, that’s the part that gets me. I’ve heard enough stories about people being resentful of no-fragrance policies (or nut-free workplaces, smoking bans, etc.) to know that there’s a good possibility that their coworkers will push back. But I don’t see how throwing people’s stuff away before even trying to address the issue through the proper channels would make their coworkers somehow *less* resentful.

  37. Pol*

    Thank You emails can be a bit disruptive if the inbox is tied to a ticketing system, so I would refrain from sending them to IT for instance.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Usually with IT I find a need to close the loop. So it will be something like “I have access now, I’ll let you know if I run into trouble – thanks!”

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        Same here–otherwise I get an e-mail from IT asking if everything is okay so they can close out the ticket.

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      Yeah, we use a third-party for some tech stuff and they have a ticketing system where once they close the ticket if I respond it reopens it. Usually I’m the one to let them know the issue has been resolved (and thank them at the same time) but sometimes they go ahead and close the ticket on their own (letting me know if it needs to be reopened I can do so by responding t the email). The first couple of times it felt rude not to thank them, but now I forgo it since I don’t want to create more work by reopening it (I also worked part-time with them for a bit, so thankfully then know me fairly well and that I am always thankful for their help!)

  38. KatEnigma*

    LW5: An attached PDF from an outside email is really likely to get caught in the automatic workplace spam filters. Just practically speaking, it’s not a good idea.

  39. Veryanon*

    LW1: When the pandemic started, our facilities manager put giant containers of hand sanitizer all over the building. Any containers that were not secured in some way immediately grew legs and walked away. I’m not saying she shouldn’t have put out the hand sanitizer, but some people just can’t resist “free” things.
    On a side note, I’ve always felt that all public restrooms should have basic hygiene items like sanitary pads and tampons. You never know who might need one and might not have the money to buy them.

    1. Totally Minnie*

      It’s not even necessarily a poverty issue so much as a location issue. If I start my period a few days earlier than I expect to, I’m not necessarily going to have any menstrual supplies with me. An unexpected expenditure for a box of menstrual supplies isn’t going to break my budget, but it does mean I have to leave work to go to a store, and if it’s a busy day, that puts pressure on my team that doesn’t need to be there. Having supplies available in the restroom isn’t just a convenience to the menstruating person, it’s also a convenience to the coworkers who are relying on that person being around when their part of the work needs to be done.

      1. Roland*

        The box is there precisely so that you can take one in a situation like that, that’s not misuse that needs to be explained. The problem isn’t people using products, the problem is people taking them home.

        1. Totally Minnie*

          Right. I was responding specifically to Veryanon’s post above, not to the LW’s situation as a whole.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Am I the only one who always has pads in the inside pocket of her bag, because even if I don’t need them someone else might?

      1. Totally Minnie*

        I try to, but when I use or give away my emergency supplies, I don’t always remember to restock.

      2. RagingADHD*

        You aren’t the only one who *usually* has them.

        If you have never, ever, under any circumstances, not had your bag with you, or used more than usual, or given the last one away and been surprised yourself before you got home, then yes. I think you might be the only person with that particular brand of magic.

      3. H3llifIknow*

        Me too! I was so irregular as a teen, and I remember being caught without once and being so ashamed and embarrassed. My daughter also remembers when she didn’t have anything and begged some women in a restroom for a quarter for a machine (she was maybe at the mall, somewhere without change) and they snubbed her. Now, even though I no longer need those things, I always have one or 2 in my purse.

        Also, I like to put some in gallon ziplocs along with cleansing wipes, travel size deodorant, toothbrush, clean pair of socks, and chapstick and hand them out when I see women in need.

      4. Veryanon*

        I usually carry a few even though I don’t need them anymore, because I’ve been that young girl/woman who unexpectedly needed one.

  40. Lavender*

    #1 – In addition to all of the very good reasons mentioned above, therapists and other medical/mental health professionals are bound to very strict confidentiality regulations that most managers probably aren’t. Part of what makes a therapist’s office a safe space is that they legally *can’t* share anything you tell them in a session unless it falls under mandated reporting laws. Most managers don’t have that obligation.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      And may be ethically bound to share, depending on what you bring up.

      For instance if you tell me another manager is harassing you, I can’t just be your sounding board for that. I can give you practical advice, but I absolutely need to escalate or investigate that issue.

      1. Lavender*

        Yes, definitely. And even aside from ethical obligations, lots of managers just have really bad judgment about what’s okay to share. If I told my manager that I was pregnant or going through a divorce or experiencing financial trouble, I would *hope* that they wouldn’t share that information with my coworkers but there also wouldn’t be anything stopping them.

  41. ijustworkhere*

    When I worked at a government agency, we handled this situation by letting employees know that there was a stash of items like this in a particular file cabinet drawer that they could use. It really cut down on somebody taking all of something. I don’t know your situation, but in our case, the restrooms were used by members of the public as well as employees.

  42. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

    #2 When it comes to feminine hygiene products being supplied maybe as a group of people could push on this. I know you work in government but it is becoming more common, even in public service areasand government to include these in the bathrooms. Especially if the bathrooms are available for the public who may come for your services. Heck they could just put a machine in that charges a quarter if the issue is government funds.

    Assuming you are in the US are there any schools in your state that already do this? How about other areas of government?

    Otherwise, could you maybe start a pool where people just bring stuff and leave stuff? But Really tampons and pads should be looked at the same as toilet paper and paper towels in the bathroom.

    1. Student*

      There are laws about this, and they are not laws that have room for interpretation. There’s no room to push. You’re in a better position to push a change about this than the OP is; lobby your government to allow them to spend a bit of taxpayer money on perks for government employees.

      I assure you that, if the law ever gets changed, the absolute first perk to get funded will be coffee. Then, creamer and sugar for the coffee. After that, probably tea. Machines to dispense tampons are going to be a a ways down the line.

      1. Lavender*

        Yes, even if the vending machine offsets the cost of the tampons themselves, there’s still a question of how to pay for the vending machine itself and any related maintenance. Not to mention the endless questions about how the system is going to work. How much should each tampon cost? Who is responsible for refilling the machines and keeping inventory? Should the machine contain pads as well, and if so, which sizes? Should all employees be able to use the machine, or will you have to provide your own supplies if you’re over a certain income threshold? All of this has to be answered in writing and probably go through multiple review processes.

        I’ve worked in taxpayer-funded jobs before, and the amount of bureaucracy that goes into every single seemingly minor decision is truly mind-boggling.

      2. An Extremely Fresh Start*

        I mean, I also work for a state institution and after a few years of trying to get this to happen, last year it did: there are unrestrained tampons and pads in EVERY bathroom. This was partly sold as an equity issue, both in terms of there being some men who need menstrual projects and in terms of period poverty, but mostly I think they were like, well, it’s not illegal to buy other restroom consumables (TP, paper towels, soap, those seat cover things, etc) so why would this be different.

    2. Lavender*

      There’s probably not much they can do to push back on it if it’s government policy, unfortunately. The laws around these things are usually really specific and don’t allow for much wiggle room. (Even in schools, I think those laws only apply to students and not employees–although I could be wrong.) If a different government organization in OP’s area provides them, then the law is probably written to cover those types of organizations specifically.

      Suggesting that their coworkers pool their resources is a good idea, though. It doesn’t seem fair that OP should pay for these things for their entire office, even if it was their idea to do so.

      1. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

        What I’m wondering is if it really is policy or if OP thinks it is. MANY government buildings have tampons and pad machines. I’m thinking my local courthouse and other administrative buildings have them. I know a lot of public schools are starting to have them as well. Granted it might be different if there is no public access to these bathrooms. But I don’t see why someone couldn’t ask the facilities person about adding either a machine or just a basket with those items. It might be allowed but the person in charge of it never thought to include it.

        1. Lavender*

          OP said they work in purchasing and finances for their organization, so I’m guessing they know what is and isn’t covered.

          You’re right that it’s becoming increasingly common for government organizations to budget for this kind of thing, but it’s far from being the norm. I grew up in California where it’s not unusual to see sanitary products being provided to employees, but it’s pretty rare in more conservative parts of the country.

  43. Student*

    #2 Did you coordinate with your facility manager about any of this? Or did you just do it without talking to ANYONE about it? My sense is that the place where you messed up might actually be communication with the people who are responsible for the bathrooms.

    Let’s talk about how facilities like bathrooms work at most government buildings. Somewhere in your office, there’s a person in charge of coordinating facilities issues. It might be an entire division, it might be a single point of contact; depends on the office and building. If you noticed, for example, a leak in a sink, or a toilet not flushing correctly, or an area in urgent need of cleaning, this is the person you go to.

    This person is generally a middle manager or coordinator, not actually the person who cleans up. We’ll call them the government facility coordinator.

    This person is in charge of getting the issue fixed by talking to the right people (and also screening out spurious complaints). Depending on how your building works and who owns the actual building, this person needs to coordinate with several other people to get issues fixed. There’s often, but not always, a separate organization that owns the physical building space and especially common areas like bathrooms. If your office rents space, this is whomever you rent the space from. If the building is owned by a bigger or separate government office, then that’s who needs to be involved. If your government office shares the building with other offices, then this means talking with the other government facility coordinators for those offices. The building owner and the set of government facility coordinators all need to agree to any changes to the bathrooms.

    Then, there’s another layer – the government generally does not directly employ the custodial staff that actually take care of and fix the bathrooms. Usually, they are contractors. Usually, they are hired and managed by the building owner, whether that’s a government or private entity. If there’s a change to the bathroom, they need to be aware of how to handle it. The change also needs to not impact them too much. They have a job to do, too, and a contract that likely spells out exactly how they are supposed to handle personal care products that people leave in the bathroom. I highlight this because you brought in a pretty long list of personal care products, and my first concern would be that, unless the bathroom has appropriate storage areas already built-in, that is going to create a lot of clutter that will slow down the cleaning team, or prevent them from doing their job properly – which is to disinfect a bathroom. You might think that it should be fine for them to scoot your stuff around while cleaning. You might not realize that they are scheduled for a full work day of cleaning bathrooms and similar areas – one change in one bathroom might not be a huge time impact, but think of the time lost if they had to do that in dozens of bathrooms over the course of a day, to treat everyone fairly? Maybe your lotions are well-kept, but somebody else’s lotions in another bathroom get smeared all over the sink area and doorknobs, or leak out of old bottles, etc.

    So, the first place to go is your government facility coordinator. Talk to them about what you want to do. Ask for their help setting it up. They’ll talk to all the other people who are bathroom stakeholders that need to agree to the change, whomever they may be. They may just need to bring in a spare shelf to hold your stuff. They may explain to you that the tampons are fine, but the lotions violate some aspect of the custodial staff contract. They may advise you to keep your stuff in your office, or may set up a shelf outside the bathroom but nearby (within your office’s space, where your group has more control, instead of in the bathroom space where they have little control) for people to access the products. They may tell you that people stealing extra bathroom products is a problem they know about and can’t fix.

    But, talk to them! Listen closely to what they tell you, instead of trying to change up the bathrooms on your own.

    1. Lavender*

      Based on the phrasing of the letter, though, it sounds like only some of the stuff was missing. (I could be wrong, but since OP specified that the “nicer bottle of lotion” was missing, I assumed there was a less-nice bottle of lotion that was still there.) It seems unlikely that the custodial staff would only throw away some of the items that were in their way.

      I agree that it would be a good idea for OP to make sure the extra supplies aren’t getting in the way of the custodial staff, but they also mentioned that they work in finance and purchasing so they’re likely already aware of how the system works.

      1. Samwise*

        Not so nice lotion is in a dispenser on the wall.

        Nice lotion is in a bottle on the sink.

        Even if there’s a large-ish counter that has space for all the things away from the sink, the cleaners have to move it out of the way and put it back. They can’t not clean in that spot if they want to keep their job/contract.

        For example, my office at a large state university has a mailroom/kitchen. Our cleaner got in trouble with her supervisor because the counters were “untidy” with extra dishsoap bottles, hand soap bottles, sponges, clean utensils….all stuff that the employees had put out. The cleaner had to clean under all those things, and if they were “untidy” (drippy, for instance) the person getting in trouble was the cleaner. We moved everything to a shelf over the sink and to the cabinets. Because otherwise she was going to be *fired* for not doing her job.

        1. Lavender*

          There were other items OP mentioned bringing in that they didn’t include in their list of things that were stolen, though. (I’ve also never heard of a workplace bathroom including a wall-mounted dispenser of lotion, but I suppose it’s possible.)

          Again, I think it would be wise and courteous for OP to consider whether the stuff they’re bringing in is getting in the cleaners’ way, but I wouldn’t necessarily assume they’re the ones throwing it out.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Huh, I assumed the items were corralled in a basket; simply because whenever anyone has provided things like this in my experience, it’s usually done in a pretty organised, easy to move way like in a small tub that can be moved with one hand. It’s certainly true that if the items are scattered around one or two might get moved accidentally. I find it harder to imagine only one or two getting deliberately moved. Surely if one item is in the cleaner’s way, they all are?

  44. melbelle*

    Ugh re: manager #1. This is especially burdensome for people whose mental illnesses have resulted in truly anti-social behavior–everyone’s a mental health advocate until it comes to psychosis, or a manic episode, or not showering for two weeks.

  45. Gnomes*

    LW2, I think you should stop supplying these items for a bit and see if anyone comments about missing them. If you are not the manager who might get the comments, let the manager know your plans and ask to send any commenters your way. Then, to whomever comments “Yeah, I was providing those out of my own pocket because I liked having the bathroom feel welcoming and stocked with those ‘nice to haves’. But often enough someone takes the whole bottle of lotion or box of tampons, which is harder for me to foot the bill for. If a couple people wanted to go in on supplying stuff though, then it would be less of a hit when that happens. Would you be interested in going in on it with me? It cost around $x a month, so if you and I and one or two others share the cost it would be like $y a month.”
    You won’t change human nature, but if you widen the group of people helping you make it easier on yourself, and potentially spread the word that these things are not in fact being provided by your employer.

  46. TootsNYC*

    2. People are stealing the items I bought for shared use in our bathroom

    One way to split the difference is to establish a place for those things in your department’s office area (especially tampons) for people to come get them.

    Another option would be a combination-lock lock box to set under the sink, as out of sight as you can get it. (maybe a fridge locker w/ a combo lock, or a wall cabinet that’s lockable).

    Share the combo w/ your team. Of course, someone might steal the entire box, but maybe you can get permission to attach it to the wall. Not likely, I know.

  47. kiki*

    I assumed that since we’re all government employees, most of us responsible for finance and purchasing, everyone knows those items are not being purchased by their employer.

    I know it should probably be something that folks recognize and understand without being told, but I think free stuff can short-circuit the critical thought paths in folks’ brains. While coworkers should deduce that somebody is providing this out of pocket based on what they know about your institution, most people see something free and don’t really think about where it comes from. And a lot of people don’t really care about taking more than their share if it’s from their employer or a faceless corporation.

    If you’re feeling generous, a small sign near the items saying something like, “A fellow coworker is providing these from their personal funds, please don’t take more than you need” might help the issue. I do think folks will be less likely to walk off with things if they know a fellow coworker is providing them. Still, though, some people just really don’t care. I wouldn’t judge you at all for just stopping and choosing not to deal with all this.

    1. Somehow_I_Manage*

      “A fellow coworker is providing these from their personal funds.”

      Seeing it written bluntly like that just makes it more clear that this situation is typical of why you shouldn’t create or encourage office “charity” in the first place. It’s not unlike the person last week who would chip in extra for pizza and was annoyed when people took more than their share. Things get messy, resentment breeds free, and lawlessness runs rampant.

  48. Data Analyst*

    LW3 – I think it’s awesome that you send a quick thanks. It closes the loop, but also smoothes the way for follow-ups. One of my pet peeves is when I send someone some complex work product, and just hear nothing…I have no idea if they even saw it…until weeks down the road they pop back up to say now they want more info on such and such, or they’re wondering how I got these numbers, etc. I will always reply and help, but I am more enthusiastic to do so when I got a quick thanks for what I’ve already done.

  49. Sunflower*

    #2 I used to bring in hand soap and dish liquid when the company supply ran out and the next shipment sometimes take weeks to arrive due to poor planning. They keep “disappearing” too and that’s how I realized why the company provided giant bottles of dish liquid ran out so fast in the company kitchen. So after a few times, I just stopped and bring my own in travel size bottles to bring back and forth. It was kind of funny watching people wash dishes without soap for weeks and complaining but they never learned to bring their own.

    I don’t mind sharing with *everybody* but I didn’t buy them for *one* person. At the time, I brought supplies for less than a dollar from a certain big box store so it doesn’t matter how little things are worth. Things left out will get stolen.

  50. Dust Bunny*

    LW2: Stop supplying the whole office.

    I sometimes bring “treat” supplies but I know my coworkers won’t pocket them. If they did, I’d just start bringing my own (soap, whatever) to keep at my desk for my own use. It’s nice of you to want to do this but, yes, sometimes that one jerk ruins it for everyone.

  51. Dancing Otter*

    OP4 —
    I’ve only heard of retention interviews in the context of “Do we want to keep you?” rather than “What will it take to make you stay?”
    I would go into the interview prepared to sell myself. If it turns out to be the latter, no harm done.
    And I would absolutely not say anything critical of my boss for fear of retaliation, even if only subconscious. I MIGHT, depending on who’s conducting the interview, even hint at that. But most likely, I’d just say that everything’s wonderful, no complaints, can’t wait to get to work in the morning, carefully hiding any hint of sarcasm.
    It would probably be safe to say that getting paid market rate would be nice, if you’re not.

    1. H3llifIknow*

      My experience is very different. Our retention interviews are with those we consider “flight risks”. People who’ve complained, people we know are probably underpaid, people who have seriously in demand skills and could maybe negotiate better elsewhere. These interviews often end with them being offered a $5K or even $10K retention bonus if they agree to stay another year or 2. What you are referring to, we call “counseling” or “evaluation” regarding needed improvement.

  52. BellyButton*

    As part of talent and leadership development, I don’t do retention surveys/interviews. However, I do meet with employees to talk to them about their career goals and help them and their manager create development plans and discuss how I can help them reach their goals. It isn’t mandatory but it is an option that a lot of employees participate in and those who do participate benefit from additional education, training, coaching, and help in communicating and getting development from their manager.

  53. Delta Delta*

    #5 – Nooooo don’t create a “Thank You” pdf. That seems so impersonal and almost sort of jokey. A three sentence follow up email would do the trick and wouldn’t come across as a canned sentiment.

  54. H3llifIknow*

    I, too used to provide things to make our office environment more comfortable, since I also work for the govt. and hey, they’re stingy with taxpayer money! It also walked away, got abused, etc… so I stopped. Then people started complaining, “Where is the microwave popcorn?” “How come there are no tampons or lotion in the restroom?” etc… and I said, “I couldn’t afford to replace them when people were simply taking them home instead of using them here and leaving some for everyone.” Stunned silence and then a barrage of “You mean the OFFICE wasn’t buying that stuff?” I’d wager the OPs colleagues assume the office is providing that stuff (STILL not an excuse to steal, c’mon people!) but I bet if she stopped and then let them know it was her purchasing them, they’d change their approach. My colleagues started also buying things if they were at Costco and something caught their eye, etc… It made a big difference in morale. Occasionally something will still walk off but with not nearly the frequency.

  55. Sharkzle*

    #5 – agreed, don’t do the PDF. What I’ve done in the past is sent the thank you email, and then written a nice note in a handmade card immediately after the interview and dropped it in the mail. I’m a creative and love tactile things as do most of the people I interview with. There were two people who proudly displayed the card in their office which warmed my heart. I dunno, it brought me a little joy to know that someone was getting something in the mail that wasn’t a bill and it seemed like the people who got them were happy to receive them even if I didn’t get the job.

  56. WorkForYourPay*

    LW1: I had a direct report that was like this with his staff. Constantly putting up printouts with rainbows & unicorn esque quips on mental health, holding group sessions for people to talk about their struggles. Even holding group sessions for performance reviews.

    He did NOT like me, at all. What he saw as woke and progressive, everyone else saw as at least a waste of time and usually a few steps too far into breaking boundaries. But because that feedback came from me, I was just the mean boss that doesn’t know “what it is really like.”

    His resignation letter outlined how medicated he had to become just to deal with me telling him to NOT attempt therapy sessions with the staff.

    Note: We offer great health plans with great mental coverage. We also offer an EAP with 20 free sessions per year. The city also has a decent amount of free and no-cost services if you needed to take that route. All of these things were conveyed to him many times, still never sank in.

  57. There You Are*

    #1 – I am going through… some things… in my personal life right now that are taking a massive toll on my mental health.

    I gave my manager the Cliff’s Notes version (“I’m going through some stuff, I will be taking a higher-than-normal number of days and half-days off for doctor appts, and I may drop some balls because of everything that’s going on. Please let me know immediately if/when you see a dip in the quality or quantity of my work, and I promise to ask you for any accommodations other than flexibility in my work hours if/when I think that I need them.”)

    My manager told me that stress can definitely get in the way of healing, so if I want to talk to him about any of this, his door is always open. I thanked him for the offer, saying (kindly, and with a smile on my face), “I genuinely appreciate it but work boundaries exist for a reason. I plan on using the EAP to find a tele-therapist so I can unload on the right person. Besides, how awkward would it be for every single one of our conversations to include me crying?”

    He said, “OK, I respect that. But if you do want to talk, I’m sincere in my offer. If the worst thing someone can say about me is that I helped another person, then I’m fine with that.”

    Without AAM, I would have never known that drawing a boundary was the right thing to do. I would have plunged ahead, bawling my way through every future conversation with him and making a spectacle of myself without regard for how that could impact my career.

  58. Dawn*

    LW2: Please do consider that if people are stealing feminine hygiene products, it’s probably because they genuinely need them… and government salaries are notorious for not keeping up with the cost of living.

    That doesn’t mean that you should feel obligated to keep providing them, certainly, but it is worth considering taking a charitable view of those who may be up against the wall enough that they need to steal pads from the office bathroom.

  59. GreyjoyGardens*

    LW2 – I used to give Bath and Body Works hand soaps and lotions (you know, the ones you can buy 2 get one free, so you can buy a lot of soap and lotion for very cheap) – to my friend who has her own skincare studio, for the communal bathroom (her studio was in a strip mall). The lotions and soaps kept “walking away” here, too. And you know who the other tenants were? Lawyers and environmental consultants!

    It’s great that you mean well and want the bathroom facilities to be comfortable and well-stocked, but you might as well keep all the supplies in your desk drawer so you (or someone who specifically asks) can use them, instead of having them vanish. People can be so petty, stealing inexpensive lotions and so on, but that poisons the well for people who want to be nice. You have my sympathy.

  60. Hillary*

    OP#2 – I’ve done the same (also government with purchasing rules), but best thing I’ve seen for this was in a restroom in a similar agency. They had a cute little basket with a lid, labeled “needfuls – help yourself” with 2 tampons and pads (not the box), a mini lotion, a Tide stain pen, 1 floss stick, a very small plastic comb, a few sample sized things. No big things, no entire boxes, all intended for single use and take with you. I loved the thought for others.

  61. fluffy*

    OP2, you have my sympathy. For a while I worked at a large tech company and we didn’t have ice makers in our shared refrigerators, so I brought in some ice cube trays for my use and was fine with other people using them as well. Every single one of them got walked off with within days.

    So, I posted about it to the department mailing list, with just a polite, “Hey, I brought those ice cube trays in for peoples’ use, if whoever walked off with them could return them it would be greatly appreciated.” The responses I got were just things like “lol” and the like.

    I guess overpaid tech workers still want to get free stuff.

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