my manager and coworker are secretly dating, boss will never give “exceeds expectations” because he has “high standards,” and more

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

1. My manager and coworker are divorcing their spouses and secretly dating

My coworker, Frank (who is above me in the chain of command, but only occasionally acts as my supervisor), just confided in me that he is dating my manager, Lauren (who is also HIS manager). We work closely together on a small team; I suspected they were having an affair for some time now, but hoped I was incorrect and never mentioned my suspicions to anyone.

Frank says they are both divorcing their spouses. I know my manager is applying for other roles in the company, but neither of them has informed HR about their relationship. They are worried that if they tell HR, Frank will be forced to move to another location, as it might be easier and quicker to find him a new role vs. finding one for Lauren. What, if anything, should I do? Their behavior already made me uncomfortable, but having it confirmed makes it even worse! We have an anonymous way to report things to HR, but they will probably guess I am who ratted them out. Should I just pretend I don’t know/keep their secret? I feel complicit now, and that’s making me feel really icky. I liked both of them and we get along just fine, but I’m really disappointed in their judgment. Especially with yearly reviews coming up soon — how is it ethical for Lauren to distribute a merit increase (or not) to Frank?

It’s an extremely serious ethical violation for Lauren to date someone she’s managing, and it’s a legal liability for your company. At a minimum, it will create the appearance of bias and favoritism once people learn about it (and they almost definitely will), and it can also mean Frank’s performance won’t be assessed appropriately, he won’t be given adequate feedback, and/or his accomplishments will be seen as suspect by everyone else, and it can open your company to charges of harassment down the road (“I wanted to end things but she implied it would affect things at work”).

Now, none of this is your problem to solve. If you want to do nothing, you can. But you’d be on very, very solid ground in letting HR know. This is a big deal and Frank and Lauren know it’s a big deal (that’s why they’re trying to conceal it), and it shouldn’t be your burden to carry around for them.

2. Boss will never award “exceeds expectations” because he has “high standards”

My previous boss said he never gives more than a “meets expectations” on performance reviews because he has really high standards, and a person would have to do a lot to exceed his expectations.

However, these ratings affect pay increases, so it seems like a penalty to be told, “You’re doing your job at a level that meets my very high expectations” but also, “You don’t deserve the highest raise I’m allowed to give you because you haven’t exceeded those high expectations.” What are your thoughts?

That is BS and not the way performance ratings are supposed to work. A company managing evaluations well will work to get all managers aligned around the same definitions of “meets expectations” and “exceeds expectations” and will clearly spell out what each of those categories looks like, so that managers and employees are all working from the same definitions, rather than each manager using their own subjective understandings. (Setting clear goals for each position makes this a lot easier, too.)

“I have really high expectations that no one can ever meet” shouldn’t be part of the discussion at all.

3. Should I include feedback from client surveys on my resume

I am in a client-facing role, and my current firm places a lot of importance in third party services that measure our net promoter score and client satisfaction. I tend to be kind of “meh” about the whole thing (I mean, our marketing team pays a lot for these services!), but in the last round of client satisfaction surveys, there was an option to provide feedback to individual professionals at the firm. I specifically received some very positive reviews in this last review cycle (for example, “Jane is always very helpful and meets the deadlines set internally.”). Can I include these reviews in my résumé? How would I present it? Also, as a point of respect, would I anonymize the companies who provided that feedback?

If some of the feedback is really impressive, yes, you could quote one or two examples — for example, “lauded by clients for ‘superb insights on some of our trickiest briefs.’” (Don’t name the client since they didn’t give permission for that.)

The big caveat: Anything you quote should be truly superlative, so don’t include the stuff like “always very helpful and meets deadlines” — that’s too close to “meets expectations” and doesn’t rise to the level of resume-worthy.

4. A question about tea

I think tea-making is an essential skill! I am pushing 40, have made tea for my team members higher and lower on the ladder all my life, and now I’m senior, continue to do the same every day without thinking about it. However, I am low-key irked when the occasional long-term colleague never offers to make me/anyone a cup, or if they don’t bother finding out HOW people take their tea/coffee (equally important). Or they make tea for visitors but apologize, saying they’re “bad” at making tea. Knowing how to make tea is not only good manners, but it’s an essential small team thing, and shows you care! It’s giving minutes of your time for Good Will.

Yes? No? Mountain over a tea-hill?

(I’m from the UK.)

I laughed at your ending parenthetical, because obviously.

For non-UK readers who don’t know about this, the UK has very specific rules of engagement for tea-drinking at work.

Unfortunately, though, I can’t answer this question because U.S. office culture has no equivalent to the UK’s tea-making expectations, not even with coffee. The American viewpoint on this is that while it’s lovely to offer to grab others a beverage when you’re getting one, there’s no obligation to do that, it’s not weird if you don’t, and you definitely don’t need to learn how to prepare a beverage you don’t drink yourself. In fact, many non-coffee drinkers here make a point of not learning to make good coffee so they’re not conscripted into coffee duty. (There are some exceptions to this, like if you’re an assistant who needs to get coffee for visitors.) But the American viewpoint is irrelevant, because that’s not the culture you’re in.

All of which is to say, I’m no help here but I’m sharing this anyway as a fascinating look into a different work culture.

{ 720 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I removed a bunch of comments below on how people take their tea or coffee; that’s not particularly useful and will quickly clutter up the thread, so I ask that you not. Thank you!

  2. Jmac*

    RE #2 I had a boss with the exact same policy. “I never give anyone a perfect score”. All that told me was to stop caring, if my hard work would never be rewarded anyway what’s the point?

    1. MishenNikara*

      THIS. When bosses pull this crap or any sort of goalpost moving or just it never being good enough it is guaranteed I will give my barest minimum

      1. WillowSunstar*

        That boss reminds me of my
        mother. But her “meets expectations” line was always impossible to reach, and she wasn’t as nice about it.

        1. Rex Libris*

          Seriously. If I got a B+ on a report card, my mother’s response, at best, would be “Maybe if you work hard, you can get an A next time.” It was not possible to be well behaved or conventional enough to earn “meets expectations”.

          I’m convinced that our mothers are where 99% of imposter syndrome comes from.

          1. Tiger Mother*

            There is nothing wrong with setting high standards and expecting “As” on report cards.

      2. Kettle of Fish*

        Re: goalpost moving, an old boss of mine didn’t give 5s to anyone for a requirement we all had because he “didn’t know what a performance level of 5 looked like.” This same boss would not give me a 5 in some areas but then when I asked what I could do to improve, he said “I don’t know.” We do self-assessments as part of the process and one year I gave myself 5s across the board to try to get him to provide an explanation if he downgraded me in any area. And he did. Same response. Utter BS. Hard to meet the goalpost when you don’t even know what it is. He’s retired now and now is probably wondering why I don’t accept his lunch invitations.

        1. Bluebonnet*

          Sounds similar to my current boss. No “exceeds expectations” rating, yet no feedback on improving. Hoping he will be my former boss soon )if an upcoming job interview I have is successful).

          1. PlainJane*

            Yup, I had a couple of bosses like that. “Oh, don’t be alarmed, I don’t give anyone more than average if they’re ‘just’ doing their jobs, I’m sure no one else does, either.”

        2. SMT*

          When I worked at a large theme park, I was told that it was policy to always give someone a ‘ needs improvement’ on their evaluation because “we all need to improve – no one’s perfect”.

      1. Jessica Fletcher*

        Same. My manager said he asked others and was told that no one can ever be marked “exceeds expectations.” Even though he consistently says I do, and there’s no way for me to improve because I’m already at the top. But I can’t get rewarded for it!! So I’ll finish my work that must get done, and then I’ll watch tv.

        He also told us that annual team raises can’t average more than 3%. Hand me the remote.

        It was the same at a previous blue collar job. My manager told me I was far and away the best employee, but she wasn’t allowed to give me the highest ratings. They weren’t allowed to score anyone higher than a certain percentage, so they could justify keeping raises lowwwww or nonexistent.

        She was at least honest about how unfair it was. At my current job, it seems like they baptize managers in the Kool-aid.

          1. Candi*

            Reminds me: I saw an article a few days ago, either BoredPanda or Newsweek, where the author snarkily countered “quiet quitting” with “quiet hiring”. They defined “quiet hiring” as when management dumps more and more work on workers without hiring extra help or wanting to pay overtime. And noted that it was likely to lead to “quiet applying.”

            1. ResuMAYDAY*

              That’s not what ‘quiet hiring’ is. Quiet hiring is favoritism and extra perks to those workers who you want to retain. Quiet firing is withholding perks from, and dumping extra work or grunt work on those employees who you don’t care to retain.
              None of these are new tactics; they just now have catchy, generation-appealing names.

              1. Wannessa*

                What Candi describes isn’t quiet firing either, because the goal is not to drive people out. The goal is to reset workload expectations so you can “extract more value” from workers without changing the workflow or deadlines. The high performers who management wants to retain tend to get the worst of it, and management is shocked and dismayed when those folks leave for greener pastures. I know what I’d call it (quiet exploitative bullshit) but I’m not sure what the catchy nomenclature for that scenario is.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        That letter could’ve been written by my former coworkers. One year, we were suddenly told that no one was going to get a “5” on our performance reviews, because that’s reserved for exceptionally high performance. Then a year after, “4” was suddenly off limits too? Pretty sure everyone checked out after that. We lost a lot of people in the past several years and I’m sure this was one of the factors.

        1. Lyudie*

          Yup, during Covid my company went from four levels to three. The highest was already known to be very difficult to get, and now it’s basically the very few rockstars at the top, a a handful on PIPs or about to get fired at the bottom, and everyone else lumped together in the middle. We can’t get raises or promotions or bonuses, we’re very rarely shown that we are valued by leadership, and now we can’t even get recognized for high performance? It’s demoralizing.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            It continually amazes me how much “treat ’em like dirt; we’ll make more money!” is enshrined at the heart of so many companies.

            Nobody sane would advocate leaving, say, a professional landscaper’s gardening tools outside in the rain to rust and expect greater and greater performances out of the shovels and hoes, but it’s considered normal to destroy morale in the workforce and then get all *shocked face* when productivity bottoms out and all the best employees go see ya!

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          The thing is, reserving 5 for exceptionally high performance is reasonable, but only if 4 means a good performer who will be rewarded, while 3 means an average performer eligible for a cost of living increase.

          Two problems can arise. One is when 5 is in reality unobtainable, making its theoretical existence irrelevant for practical purposes. The second is when a double standard is applied when it comes for salary increases. In this scenario, that 5 might be obtainable for the truly extraordinary, but the scale is treated like those customer surveys we rarely bother to fill out. When we do, we understand that 5 actually means the employee competently executed a routine transaction, and that anything lower will get the employee called onto the carpet. There is in fact no way to express the idea that the employee really did something exceptional. So in the employee annual review context, that truly exceptional employee who gets a 5 is rewarded for competently executing routine transactions. Those 4’s, much less 3’s? They should be grateful they are allowed to keep their jobs!

          The one time I felt an employee, in this case at my credit union, really did go above and beyond to help me, I wrote a letter to the home office. Not an email: an actual paper letter. I figured that this would be so astonishing as to be noted as more than that “routine transaction” 5. She was promoted not long afterwards. I like to imagine my letter had something to do with this, though the odds are not great.

          1. Lydia*

            Even if the letter didn’t directly lead to it, I bet it helped her bosses know they were making the right call. No matter what, you helped in a small way. :)

          2. Distracted Librarian*

            There’s also a third problem, when the average has to be, “3,” and you have a small unit with 1 or more exceptional employees and no bad ones. This happened to me, and I was told I could not give my super outstanding employee a “5” without giving other employees 1s or 2s to meet the average of, “3.” Oh, and an employee’s rating equaled the percentage of their raise for the year, so there were tangible consequences to this stupidity.

            I left within the year.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Oh wow, that really takes the cake. I thought what I described above, plus the several years that we had of “regardless of what y’all got on your reviews, we are going to give everyone the same COLA raise this year”, was bad, but this is mindblowing. I’d be so confused if I were a super outstanding employee and was given a 3 to maintain the average. Or, possibly worse, if I were doing adequate work and was suddenly given a 1 or 2, which I would with absolute certainty read as “oh sh.t, I’m about to be fired”.

          3. nobadcats*

            EVERY time that HR/My Boss received a hand-written letter from a client, it carried SO much weight and I still have all of them in my paper files. I call it my Vanity File.

            One client, when I was working as a Special Services account manager at [major large bank], a client sent me a gift for my service straightening out her mess of an account (lots of overseas travel and fraud). Seriously, if you were talking to me, your account was effed up and I was your Obi Wan. She sent a handwritten note, and a sterling silver Egyptian bangle bracelet. Because the cost of the bangle was under $25, I was able to keep it, and I still wear it to this day.

            Handwritten notes are the best. And I try to pay that forward myownself when dealing with CSRs. Not necessarily sending a piece of jewelry, but making sure that their service was duly noted.

        3. It's Sara not Sarah*

          I think I worked at the same company. No raise unless you got a 4 and our manager never gave anything higher than a 3.85.

        4. Merrie*

          At Exjob, I got a “2” in one of the three broad, vague categories we were assessed on and the rationale was that we were supposed to be picking up extra shifts to help the team. This was the first I’d heard of it, and there was no word on how many we should have hypothetically picked up to get a higher score, and my boss seemed annoyed that I kept trying to get him to answer that question as to what was expected. I had already decided to look for another job, but that pushed me over the edge into “no way in hell do I want to stay here”. The best part is thanks to that my overall score was 2.9, so I didn’t get “meets expectations” so whoops, no raise that year.

    2. T*

      I’ve seen this for school. “Thanks, prof. I’ll be sure to tell the scholarship people that. I’m sure it’ll help….”

      1. Hornswoggler*

        Yes… my prof made clear from day one that nobody should expect to get more than 7/10 for any essay or exercise, and that 7/10 was basically excellent. (This is in the UK 40 years ago.)

        I remember being amusedly cross when he decided to give one of my classmates 10/10 for a fellow student’s composition exercise on the grounds that it sounded like Michael Tippett, who was his hero. This came as a surprise even to the recipient of the perfect score, who’d avjieved this feat by chance. If only I’d known that’s what you had to do!

        1. Magenta*

          But in UK undergraduate courses 70% counts as a first, the highest honours award you can get, the pass mark is 40%. It is nice to get a really high mark, but it wouldn’t make much of a difference.
          1st – 70%+
          2:1 60-69%
          2:2 50-59%
          3rd 40-49%

          1. BethDH*

            Do you do grades on individual assignments? Because in the US, the reason I’d care about our equivalent (like a 95% vs 90%) would be because I didn’t get a high score on everything and it could make up for something I got a lower grade on.

            1. SarahKay*

              Yes, but (unless things have changed a lot recently) they don’t count in the same way – we don’t have the GPA system that you do in the US.
              In the UK you pass or fail on any given subject. Now if that subject is coursework-based you’d need to keep your average marks reasonable within that subject, but then 70% would be still be considered excellent and contribute to a subject pass-mark of 40%.

            2. Magenta*

              Depends on the course but for most humanities subjects there is one assessed essay and one exam per module. So there is only one assignment and one exam to make up the final score for that module, then you get the degree classification based on all the modules. GPA is not a thing here, someone with 70% would get the same degree as someone with 90%.

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

                To be fair in the US (mostly) no one cares about the GPA after college. There is saying “C’s get degrees” meaning it doesn’t matter if you get average grades (C) or top grades (As) you are passing and you are graduating

                1. MigraineMonth*

                  With the exception of grad school, that’s almost always true, though a good GPA can help one stand out for entry-level positions if you have no experience.

                  My first professional job, on the other hand, demanded a transcript not only for college and grad school, but also for high school. Which lead to odd situations such as requiring a high school transcript for receptionists and maintenance staff applicants who had graduated 40+ years ago.

                2. Who Am I*

                  “Cs get degrees.” Not in library school! In my masters program (10 years ago) Cs got you dropped. I think you could reapply the next term, but Ds got you dropped permanently.

            3. ceiswyn*

              At the university I’m currently attending part time, that sort of works in that there are four or five pieces of assessed coursework per course, and your marks on those contribute to the overall grade for the course (alongside a final bigger piece of work). But they only affect that course’s grade, and it’s the course *grades* that affect your final degree classification, not the specific *marks*. So unless the difference in one bit of coursework actually made the difference between two grades, *and* you were sufficiently borderline overall that that made a difference to your final classification, a minor difference in the mark you would get for an individual assignment is neither here nor there.

              And at my first university it would have made no difference at all; coursework was marked, but it didn’t contribute to the final course grade. Literally everything rested on the eight or nine exams you took at the very end of your degree.

          2. sophie hatter*

            Yeah, I did my undergrad in the US and grad school in the UK — and was basically told to add 20 points in my head to convert between grading scales (the same way I was busy mentally converting Celsius temps to Fahrenheit). The way my (also American expat) advisor explained it, an 80 was truly excellent graduate level work, a 90 (technically impossible in the uni’s online marking system) would have meant “publishable immediately” and 100 was “you could write the textbook”. (Actually, what she said was “Even [about to retire Professor who literally wrote the textbook on this subject], probably wouldn’t get 100”.)

            1. rusty*

              Yeah, I just finished my masters in the UK, averaged a hair over 70 and that was the boundary for a distinction. My highest marks were mid-70s. I wouldn’t say I was killing it but I’m basically happy with what I did. The people scoring significantly higher than me were impressive.

        2. allathian*

          When I went to France as an exchange student in college, their scale was 1-20. Anything below 11 was a failing grade. Yes, that’s right, they graded you on how badly you failed the exam. I got an 8 in one course that I really needed to pass because I was just getting sick during the exam. The professor wouldn’t let me retake it, but he put me through an impromptu oral exam right then and there in his office, which I scraped through well enough to get a passing grade, I think it was a 13.

          The best score anyone could realistically hope for was 17.

          1. Been There*

            This is Belgium as well. I think graduating cum laude is averaging 14/20.
            To pass anything you need to get at least 10/20.

        3. Boof*

          For reference, a lot of scholarships require maintaining a high GPA (B, or sometimes higher) – I’ve heard there are a few profs out there who think “C” = average and “grade on a curve” so that the class average is C; so if you’re in a great class you’re both competing against eachother and also kinda boned if you need high grades. Though if it’s just one class I suppose you can take the hit if everything else is high. This is why students try to talk to each other and figure out who to go for and who to dodge!

          1. Christmas Carol*

            Once upon a time, aka, during the 50s that was how it was. Then, in the US at least, a practice of awarding what was refered to as Gentlemen’s Bs evolved. During the Vietnam Era, it was common to try to keep young men in college with grades high enough to keep their student deferments to avoid the draft. Of course, we girls were rightly indignant that we were being held to a different standard, so our grades went up too. Thus began a spiral of ranpant grade inflation, that soon seeped down to high school, and continues until this day.

            1. Lady Catherine du Bourgh*

              That is really interesting – I had never heard about grade inflation being linked to Vietnam but that makes sense.

            2. Dust Bunny*

              My uncle’s profs at the Naval Academy made whatever his grade was the passing grade so he could stay on the lacrosse team. A bunch of dudes got some easy Cs thanks to him.

              (When I was in college a 69 was a high F.)

          2. Avril Ludgateaux*

            The curve policy (or, more likely, convention) at my alma mater was very different. Basically, the “curve” was pegged to the highest performing student. If the highest possible score was 100, but the highest performing student only got a 75, then the 75 became the “new 100” and all other grades rose accordingly. If everybody scored 100 then the professor was either exceptionally good or made their exam too easy, but that was on them to correct, not on students to be punished for.

            Anyway curves were mostly used in the engineering school where it was extremely common for the highest score on an exam to be 60, or less. At which point I really wonder what is the point of writing exams that nobody can naturally pass. I never encountered grades being lowered because people performed too well, anecdotally.

            1. The New Wanderer*

              Test writing is a skill. If there’s a question that no one ever answers correctly, then the professor should be obligated to figure out why. There was a recent comment about how in a similar situation where everyone failed an exam, the professor stated that he hadn’t taught the material well enough so the exam was invalid. There’s also the possibility that the question is very poorly written, or the expected answer doesn’t match what the question is interpreted to be asking.

              Assessing employee performance is a skill too – by just blanket stating that “no one gets top marks” the manager is conceding that they lack this skill. And they’ll inevitably get the performance that they incentivize (which is half-hearted and minimal).

              1. zuzu*

                When I was teaching legal research, I’d have occasional quiz questions where my students pushed back on the answers I’d provided. And sometimes they were right, so I gave everyone who chose the other option that could be right a point, or gave everyone a point if I really hosed it.

                My policy was to explain why someone got something right, explain what they got wrong, and if they could argue effectively why they should get it right, give them (and anyone else who answered the same way) the points and provide the explanation to the class. I’m human, designing tests is hard, and there are tons of ways to do legal research.

                My secret to not having to do much of a curve, if at all, was to assign ridiculous numbers of points to everything so I didn’t have to deal with fractional points or do a lot of math to figure out the difference between one student and another. I usually did assignment values in multiples of 1000 points.

              2. Burger Bob*

                I had one professor in college who didn’t curve test grades, but he did throw out bad questions. If the number of people who answered a given question correctly fell below a certain percentage, he would designate that as a bad question (either he wrote it poorly or he taught it poorly) and would remove it from the overall score. So if a 25 question test had 2 bad questions, it became a 23 question test, and the number of remaining questions you answered correctly were now worth a higher percentage of the overall score. I kind of liked that approach.

            2. sophie hatter*

              That was how we did AP science tests at my high school, because all the questions were compiled from old versions of the AP Test (which is also always curved, but obviously not going to be consistent if you’re pulling unit-relevant questions from different years’ exams).

              Bell curve grading REALLY never made sense to me. “Normal” is meant to be a statistical pattern, not a goal.

              1. linger*

                One of my former jobs was evaluating exam design. One measure I used was the item point-biserial correlation coefficient, which measures how much a candidate’s performance on one item predicts their success on the other test items. Items that failed to get a significant positive correlation were revised or replaced.
                Four caveats:
                1. Doing this across the whole test assumes that most of the items in the original exam are testing closely-related skills. If you’re trying to test a combination of distinct skills, you need to calculate the point-biserials separately within each set of items measuring one distinct skill.
                2. The correlation measure needs a critical mass of data to work properly — preferably at least 10 items, answered by at least 100 candidates.
                3. If your initial exam is really screwed up (with little underlying unity to what the items test) the correlation measure may not work at all.
                4. There is a predictable relationship between item difficulty and item point-biserial: items that are either too hard or too easy tend to have lower coefficients, because they do not separate most candidates, and so cannot provide much information about performance on other items.

          3. Candi*

            For FAFSA, you need a minimum C average each quarter. Ask me how I know; Fall 2020 was not a fun quarter for me.

            (I still maintain I had to retake Discrete Math because the Fall teacher was really good at subject matter, but awful at teaching. Me and most of my class retook DM in Winter quarter with a different teacher and jumped at least two grades.)

            My technical writing teacher said that the phone-it-in grade, do everything you’re supposed to was a B, and he rarely gave above that; A was an above and beyond grade you had to work to get.

            Unlike the managers mentioned here, he did give out that A when I earned it.

          4. Daisy*

            Ugg, back in the 80s I had an elderly college professor who graded on a traditional curve – for an advanced endocrinology class that you not only had to get an A in the (optional for graduation) lower level course but also get approval by the lower level professor. In a class of 35 a C was 93/100 for one of our tests, and it certainly wasn’t a “gimmie” test. I remember being incensed at the time and thought this was absolutely unfair to the students, especially the pair of ESL students (lots of essay questions and he did dock on grammar) but had no idea who to even speak to about it.

            1. Ophelia*

              Ugh, I hate this. I teach a graduate course where a lot of the students are working professionals who have come to the US – they are clearly strong writers (their thoughts are well-organized, they lay out arguments well), but they are also taking a course in a language not their own. I’ll flag instances where text is confusing, but I absolutely don’t grade for grammar, because it would seriously disadvantage students who otherwise are absolutely achieving the learning objectives of the course.

        4. bamcheeks*

          It’s actually a big change in marking in the last 20-30 years. External examiners will strongly recommend “using the full range of marks” now.

          1. Lexi Vipond*

            I suspect they don’t actually mark that way in their own institutions, though. And that the same people giving marks between 55 and 75 on our small courses (possibly perfectly fairly, according to the university’s marking scheme) go off as externals and tell other people to use the full range of marks. It just seems to be what external examiners say!

        5. Overit*

          My first semester at colleve I had a Phil 101 who hated everything I wrote and told me so in highly deragotory ways. I asked to read the papers of a classmate who got A grades. Ah…full of jargon and BS. Got it. Next paper I wrote was full off jargon and BS. Got an A and tons of compliments. And the knowledge prof was an idiot.

      2. Kelly*

        This happened at vet school for me. In one clinical rotation they announced only 3 people had ever gotten an A and they were ones who were at a level of clinical proficiency that they basically didn’t need any mentoring. Thanks for seriously impacting our ability to get an internship or residency, guys.

      3. Distracted Librarian*

        Yep. Had a professor who created insanely hard exams and insisted he graded on a modified curve rather than by straight percentage. I set the curve in that class with a 92% and still got only an A-. (Yeah, I know, I sound insufferable, but don’t use “grading on a curve” to excuse super hard tests, then not actually grade on a curve.)

    3. John Smith*

      I’ve had managers who have gone one step further and it goes like this: Manager joins team. Manager downgrades everyone in performance reviews (regardless of actual performance). Manager then gives everyone improved gradings some months later. Manager claims team has improved under their leadership. And yeah, I quit.

      1. File Herder*

        A new grand boss who came in on temporary promotion is doing this as part of showing that he deserves to be given a permanent post at that level. I know about it because the next level down were ordered to implement it, and one of them I was friends with vented to me in private on his way out of the door. I believe him, given some of the other things that the whisper network has had to say about incidents (and it has literally only just occurred to me while typing that something currently being done to me might have that as one of the reasons behind it).

        1. Boof*

          Can they report this to someone above the problem boss? Is there someone grandboss is beholden to?

          1. File Herder*

            Grand boss is chums with great grand boss. Friend had a few things to say to HR on the way out, but if he’s the only one with a route out and everyone else is scared of retaliation there’s little HR can do. With any luck this scheme will work and he’ll get his permanent position… in another department.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Not the whole team that I know of, but I had a manager put me on probation out of the blue one day, and then take me off it a few months later, claiming that I’d improved greatly under his leadership. I started looking, but before I was able to find anything, my boss was demoted, then transferred to another division, then let go. (And then let go from his next job, and the next, and the next.) Turned out he’d been in trouble for a while and I guess tried to use me as a distraction?

    4. LG*

      Yes, I had a boss who said if she gave me the top mark, I wouldn’t have anything to aspire to the next time. I still think that was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.

      1. Em*

        I bet knowing that you’re always gonna be below the top mark in order to have something to aspire to gave you lots to aspire to…. lol!!!!!!!!!!11

      2. BethDH*

        Which is ridiculous. In any minimum standard place, you’d still have to KEEP doing that, and in any decently run place, you’d have new goals to keep you working hard.
        I do believe that it’s not just about the raises for these managers, though, because you see lots of teachers with the same mindset (or at least you did when I was in primary ed)

      3. PTBNL*

        I had this too! I said “so you’re telling me I’ve received the highest mark I’ll ever get, and there’s no need to try any harder?” I got the top mark the next year.

      4. Tupac Coachella*

        At an old job I heard something similar-my boss told me I was performing well above expectations, but the company “discouraged” (ie., all but explicitly banned) supervisors from giving the highest ranking because we needed something to aspire to. The effect was the opposite. It was one of many signs at that job that how good you were at the work and what you contributed to the team wasn’t as relevant as a handful of largely arbitrary factors completely out of your control. I left an entire profession because of it. (Unfortunately the same 2 companies owned most of the facilities where one could do that type of work in my area, and the other company had many of the same red flags.)

      5. noncommittal pseudonym*

        I got this one as well, from the same boss who downgraded by evaluation for “caring too much about deadlines,” and “being too responsible.” OK, then. I’ll be irresponsible, I guess?

      6. Tangentwoman*

        Same idea from my boss many years ago, and it stuck with me: I had the same title as a number of other people in the department, and he gave me a “meets expectations,” arguing that he had extremely high expectations FOR ME. Not for that title, but for me specifically. So the person who chronically underperformed, for whom he had extremely low expectations, got the same rating as me. And it was especially enraging because those ratings were linked to bonuses and salary increases. (Luckily my boss changed my rating when I called him out on it, but I shouldn’t have had to do that!)

      7. There You Are*

        At the horrible job I took after graduation, I tried negotiating the salary because I had a couple of decades of solid professional experience but the hiring manager told me that if he brought me in at anything more than the minimum, then he wouldn’t be able to reward my good performance with raises.

        And? What’s the problem with that? If you bring me in at the top of the band for that position and pay me the higher rate for 2-5 years, I’m 100% fine with that in lieu of annual COLA pay bumps. More years of more money is… more money.

        I left that job the next year, as soon as I qualified for the yearly bonus (and it would be in my final paycheck).

        1. There You Are*

          Oh, and I forgot! The same manager told us new hires at annual review time that no new hire would ever be able to get anything more than “meets expectations” because, even a full year into the job, there was no way a new person could exceed what was expected of them in the role. Any role. Anywhere. New people can never exceed expectations.

          He didn’t have an explanation for the people who were promoted during their first year.

    5. MEH Squared*

      Exactly. Why bother trying your hardest when you’ll get the same results if you do, say, 70% of your max capacity? Way to demotivate your team, boss!

      1. I remain. . . Anatole*

        Yep. When I pointed out that I was making close to 10% less than the (admittedly more experienced) peers doing the same job, after three years, I was told that I had to be exceptional to be put forward for an equity adjustment. That’s. . . not what that is? So, I figured if I knock myself out and won’t be recognized – and the “exceptional” was explained as “unreachable,” then, I guess I’ll keep moseying along. I’ll never have more years of experience than people who entered the role before me.

    6. Little Beans*

      I once left a job because, in my one year review, my boss told me that I was exceeding her expectations but her policy was to never give that rating to people in their first year. There were some other reasons, but that was the last straw.

      1. LegoGirl*

        I didn’t leave over that, but was also told I couldn’t get too many 4s or 5s the first year because otherwise it would look like I was in too low level a job (breaking news, I was).

    7. irene adler*

      Exactly! My boss always awarded everyone the same % salary increase when it came to raises. Didn’t matter if one person spent all their time screwing around or another put in gobs of overtime. Everyone received the same.

      Clearly the boss does not want to evaluate their reports’ performance. Leaves nothing to motivate hard work. Perform likewise.

    8. Tiny clay insects*

      I once had a boss say I was getting “meets expectations” because he knew I’d do a good job, and indeed I did, so that was meeting his expectations. I’m still irritated about this.

      1. metadata minion*

        Would he also give “meets expectations” to someone he knew was foisted on his team because nobody else wanted them, and then that person was indeed a disaster?

      2. reg*

        argh. “meets expectations” means performing the standard requirements of the position, not living up to an individual boss’s preconceived notion of you. put these people on an island.

    9. Dana Lynne*

      I had this situation too. It didn’t make me stop caring about my students, but it made me put the bare minimum of effort into our incredibly cumbersome and poorly designed evaluation process. When we got a new boss I urged them to replace the evaluation paperwork with something that would actually measure what we really did instead of the pseudo-psycho BS that they were using. So far they haven’t. Sigh. At least the new boss will give top ratings to people. The old one never gave about a 3 on a scale of 1 to 5.

    10. Lexie*

      I had a boss that wouldn’t give a perfect score because there’s always room for improvement. However, the scale was set so that you didn’t need a perfect score to get the highest possible raise and he always made sure you received a score that would get you the highest possible raise. He had plenty of other flaws but at least he got that one right.

    11. The Original K.*

      Yep. “You’ve blown everything out of the water … which is what I’d expect from you, so you’ve met my expectations.” I have quotes on quotes from colleagues praising my work, people go out of their way to tell my boss how good a job I’ve done … meets expectations. Okay then!

      1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

        Our organization won’t allow “exceeds expectations” multiple years in a row, because exceeding the expectations one year means that the boss is supposed to raise their expectations. I got burned by it because I end up stomping out a lot of fires and cleaning up other people’s messes in ways that we can’t predict when creating my goals each year, but my boss can’t reward me for it in two subsequent years.

    12. becky s.*

      I worked for a social service agency that always advertised itself as ‘excellent’, but almost all employees got ‘meets expectations’ on their reviews. I regularly asked how the agency managed to be excellent with employees who only ‘meet expectations.’ Never got an answer.

    13. Pumpkin215*

      I had a boss that never gave out “exceeds expectations” because HE never personally got that score. (He also never earned that type of score from what I observed).

      He couldn’t have an employee look better than him and if he didn’t “exceed” then NO ONE did. I passed that conversations on to my director and he was horrified…but nothing was done.

      I no longer work there.

    14. Retail Not Retail*

      None of the hourly employees ever got the highest score since we were only allowed to get the 3% raise, so it didn’t matter. I thought in 2020 we should have gotten the highest score if applicable since nobody got any raises that year, why not throw us a free ego boost?

    15. fhqwhgads*

      Good HR won’t let bosses do this. The goals that affect reviews should be objective and measurable anyway. So if the goal was “do 200 x” or “do 80% y”, it’s pretty dang clear if it were met or exceeded. Then again, there’s probably also a range wherein one might literally “exceed” but it’s by so little it doesn’t bump you up a bracket.
      That said, it’s also true that most people, most of the time, should only get “meets”. I know a lot of people are annoyed by that or view it as a negative, but really, employers should set clear achievable expectations and if you’re doing a good job, you meet them. “Exceeds” is supposed to be uncommon. Either you’re really excelling and probably ought to be promoted, are a genuinely high performer (which exist! but a lot of people conflate “good job” with “excellent” and that’s where the objective measurable goals come in…) or you’re doing just fine.
      So there are two issues commonly in play with review stuff:
      1) bosses who say it’s impossible to exceed expectations – that’s not how this works, that’s not how any of this works
      2) employees who think “doing a good job” = “exceeds” and “doing a mediocre job” = “meets” – that’s also not how this works

      Not saying the LW is 2, but the misunderstanding of the categories is a problem on both the boss and employee sides in general, which often muddies things when 1 meets 2.

      1. Tau*

        Our HR set up a skills matrix with what people at a given level should be doing in a variety of areas. “Meets expectations” becomes something like “performs everything expected of level X as set down in [link]”, while “exceeds expectations” = “performs everything expected of level X and some things expected of level X+1 as set down in [link]”. It makes the whole thing a lot less woolly, and makes it clearer when you should expect to be bumped up a grade.

    16. ceiswyn*

      I had that attitude from various teachers and tutors.

      Can anyone explain why so many people seem to think that that is motivational? Because to me, it’s always said ‘I won’t reward you for trying, so don’t bother trying’.

      1. Lilovescake*

        While I was at school they introduced a new grading score where you got a letter grade for the quality of the work, and a number grade for how much effort the teacher decided you’d put in (1 for lots of effort, 5 for low effort).

        I think this was intended to encourage students but they never could explain why an A1 was actually better than an A2. If I can get an A without putting in the maximum amount of effort then good for me?! (I also imagine it feels pretty crappy to get a D1: “You did your best but still only produced D quality work, guess you’re just bad at science!”)

    17. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      The ingenuity with which misguided managers manage to come up with ways to lower employee morale and raise the chances of those now-embittered employees polishing up their resumes and leaving in droves is truly breathtaking!

    18. anon for this one*

      My current boss used to never give me perfect scores on anything because it would indicate that I should be promoted. For context, I work in a public sector job and am part of the union, so I can’t be promoted unless there is an opening in a higher classification that I’m qualified for. My boss has changed their perspective on this since COVID because I have been a rock star keeping our department afloat. So, I get the perfect scores now. They just don’t mean anything. I don’t understand why we even bother.

    19. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I’d want to ask HR if it is manager’s job to keep people from getting raises. He is clearly refusing to do so.
      A department that was under my same grandboss had a manager who used the annual review as an “airing of grievances” going so far to say that he is not here to cheer you on, but to tell you how to improve.
      He lasted two years. My company does not abide micro DICtatorships.

    20. Loredena*

      So much this! I had a manager who would tell me that I was doing so much better than my peers but he also expected so much more because “you’re brilliant “ and thus I never exceeded. So demoralizing

    21. MBK*

      This is as bad as those “anything less than a perfect score is failure” survey-type reviews that companies use to evaluate customer service.

    22. hampineapple*

      I left a job over this. My review was “meets expectations” across the board despite delivering an incredibly high-profile project on time and under budget and being told directly the results exceeded exec expectations. Was told the company “doesn’t really do ‘exceeds expectations'” and that night went home and started sending out my resume.

    23. MassMatt*

      I Worked at a company like this, the “we have high standards” was nonsense. The upper range of the review scale was all but unobtainable. One manager likened it to winning a Nobel prize! Seriously! Raises were called “merit increases” but failed even to keep up with COLA and were given almost across the board to all but the very worst employees. Really it was enforced mediocrity, and standout employees rarely stayed for long. Infuriating.

      The mindset became pervasive and there was a definite “crab bucket” mindset where people (usually new) who DID excel were undermined by coworkers.

      This manager probably thinks he promotes excellence all while the excellent either leave or cease to be motivated to be excellent.

      1. Common Taters on the Ax*

        This is sort of how my company operates, and it’s never really bothered me. 5s are pretty much out of reach, and 4s seem to be reserved for people who pull off something fairly remarkable, usually with a lot of extra hours. I think it might be hard for the young people fresh from school to adjust to, but I don’t think it really leads to general underperformance. It’s not just one or scattered managers; they do explain at every review cycle that the company hires and pays us with the expectation that we will be high performers and that the managers basically curve the ratings toward that expectation.

        The more time has gone on, the more this makes sense to me. We are all highly skilled, work hard, and produce work of high quality. It would be weird if almost everyone got “exceeds expectations,” kind of like “all the kids were above average” from Prairie Home Companion.

        It’s a different matter from the OP’s situation, where it sounds like individual managers are free to make that call, though. That would be very unfair.

    24. Countdown to Retirement*

      I can certify that having exceeds expectations out of reach means that organization gets less. My organization is even worse that some supervisors will give exceeds expectations as a given, others will never give it to anyone and some will never give it to certain people (basically your first impression is your forever impression). I got stuck with a revolving door of supervisors that either never give it or go off of my prior evaluations which were meets expectations.

      In 26 years, I have only gotten exceeds expectations once, when I got an organization wide award and was nominated for a state level award and even then, I had to argue for exceeds expectations.

      The only good side of being a governmental employee is that I can happily lower my performance to meets expectations without worrying about being fired. You give me meets; I give you meets.

    25. aunttora*

      Exactly. The year I got “meets expectations” and a 1% raise (after about five years of 1-2% raises in a time of crazy rising housing costs in the city my employer required us to live in), because it was some other department’s “turn” to use one of the few “exceeds” allowed our business unit (unofficially of course!), in a year I intentionally went waaaay above and beyond, was the year I stopped trying and became the meh employee I am to this date.

    26. Justme, The OG*

      I had a boss like that too, and our ratings on reviews was tied to how much our raises were. So I never maxed out my raise potential because of him. He also wanted to “promote me” to have people under me in the command chain but have all my previous responsibilities and no increase in pay. I left pretty soon after that.

    27. NotAnotherManager!*

      I was in a system where all the managers in a department had input on reviews, and one of the managers on the team was an “I don’t give A+s” type – drove me bonkers because he’d try to argue down the ratings that everyone else gave certain exceptional members of my team because “no one is THAT good”. The most frustrating part is that the high-performers on my team were having to row double-time because of slackers on his, so he was giving his low-performers the same rating that my folks were receiving. Thankfully, we got a new department head who put a stop to that absurdity AND to his team getting away with slacking.

      We now have a very clearly articulated rubric for performance ratings, and we also have a good HR person who follows up on department reviews that are either overly glowing or overly harsh prior to finalization.

    28. goddessoftransitory*

      THIS. I find this one of the most irksome and “tell me you’re an asshole without telling me you’re an asshole” behaviors in business/working. If your standards are so preciously high that no mere mortal can approach them, why bother having them???

    29. Sundari*

      I always received perfect scores on all of my evaluations throughout my time at my current company until a new manager came in. Everyone met expectations or needed improvement from her, even if their performance went well beyond. Note that evaluations were always performative anyways; there was no raise or incentive to do anything more than the basics.

    30. Edge Witch*

      I worked a service industry job with the exact same policy, so fortunately for me the $0.20 pay increase wouldn’t have made much difference. I decided to have a little fun in my annual review meeting, though. Please enjoy this recreation of my last annual review, just after my manager finished explaining that he never gives anyone 5 stars and then showed me my review with 4 stars across the board.

      Me: Oh, lovely! A perfect score. Thank you, I’m glad you appreciate my work.

      Him: (confused) No, I gave you 4 stars in all categories.

      Me: Yes, thank you.

      Him: (still confused) I don’t give anyone a ‘perfect score,’ because no matter what there will always be room for improvement.

      Me: (patiently) Yes, I understand. So because 5 stars is off-limits, what you functionally have is a 4 star grading system. And you gave me the highest possible score in all categories.

      Him: …

      Me: …

      Him: *cough* Right, so um, just sign there please.

    31. Festively Dressed Earl*

      I don’t know why bosses think making a good review nearly unattainable motivates people. Do they think all their employees are so awed and so desperate for approval that they’ll become superproducers? “Boss, I increased our revenue by 50%, spend 130% of every day in the office, and meet every deadline before you even give me the assignment! Validate me pleeeeasssseee!”

      1. Burger Bob*

        Well, and that’s the thing. Maybe there ARE some people who are that desperate for approval, but if you let them know that they will literally never get it no matter what they do, they’re going to despair and give up, which will lead to them NOT performing as high anymore and possibly leaving for a different workplace. That kind of reward may be motivating for some, but only if they can believe there’s a chance of obtaining it.

    32. AW*

      My employer, a large hospital system, apparently just didn’t believe in significant merit raises at all. My manager in particular found fault with everything and was impossible to please, although she never made excuses about fault-finding. It came to a head last summer when I hit the complete superfecta of Ask A Manager nastiness:

      * I completed a master’s degree and she didn’t want to give me the day off to go to graduation
      * Inflation was at 8% and I got a 1% annual pay raise, meaning my pay in real terms was going down 7%
      * No wait, they also stopped reimbursing insurance contributions for employees who were using their spouses’ health insurance, meaning the pay cut was 12%
      * I connected with the person who had my job previously and she told me the manager was a known nightmare and she had quit just to get away from her

      I quit with no backup plan and found a temp gig almost immediately paying about 40% more.

      At my current position my manager told me I was doing a great job and I nearly started crying.

      It’s taken me months to realize just how toxic that job was.

    33. raincoaster*

      I wonder if the grandbosses ever wonder why Boss’s department is so meh according to his own reviews.

    34. M*

      Same here. I’ve been in my field for 8 years, constantly getting feedback and improving my skills. Objective measures show that I’m one of the top 2 performers in my entire organization. But my supervisor/evaluator gives me 3s and 4s on a scale of 5. When I told her I was concerned about that, she said “well, nobody looks at those anyway.”

      I started job searching that weekend.

    35. eaemilia*

      My old boss was like this. She told me “there’s always room for improvement” in my last yearly review with her. This was after a year where my work load doubled, but I still met all the insane deadlines our new owners imposed on us and my performance was still exemplary. That was one of my breaking point. If after that, I was still expected to be striving for more when the company wasn’t giving me anything in return, why was I staying there?

    36. Allura Vysoren*

      This was company policy at my last job. My boss tried to give me the highest level on a couple of measurements and our VP literally made him LOWER MY SCORE. At the time I was working my ass off trying to keep our department afloat because I was one person on what was supposed to be a team of four and I was rocking at it.

      There are few things more demoralizing than “Your boss sees you’ve been working hard but no one is truly exceptional at this company so your performance review is average.”

  3. Aggretsuko*

    1. No way in hell would I be the one to reveal this, for fear it bites me on the ass. Obviously they will know who told. It seriously makes me wonder why the hell Frank even told OP, who was trying their damndest not to know this information. That was stupid of Frank and it almost makes me wonder if he did that to see if OP would leak.

    On a related note, it made the news at my org when the CEO’s daughter-in-law was somehow technically managing her husband/CEO’s son, for reasons that really didn’t make any sense at all since they worked in entirely different fields (he was some kind of scientist and she was in administration).

    2. My office will never ever say anything other than “meets expectations” so that nobody can ever get merit raises. You can only get higher than meets on any one ranking if they mark you as lower than that somewhere else so it all averages out. It’s completely sleazy and absolutely permitted and legal, apparently.

    (no clue on 3, skipping it)

    4. I am one of those non-coffee drinkers who absolutely refuses to learn how to make a “good” cup of coffee. I have zero interest in the swill, it smells and tastes awful, I get people drinking it for caffeine buzz but am really tired of hearing about how awesome it is. If I don’t drink it, nobody should make me make it for anyone, thanks. I wouldn’t know a “good” coffee from just drinking liquid ashes in a cup anyway :P

    1. A Becky*

      One of the lessons in manners I was taught by my parents was “you need to learn to drink bad tea with a smile”.

      I like it black and dislike even the slightest bit of milk, and used to opt out because my fellow Brits either didn’t remember between question and kettle or didn’t believe me. I would try to opt out of tea offerings therefore, and was firmly told that this is rude to do.

      “I make bad tea” is no excuse not to put in your share of work for the community, “YOU make bad tea” is no excuse for me not to drink it! (To give all you Americans an idea of how different the culture is on this one!)

      1. Buffy Rosenberg*

        I don’t agree! I’m not in a “community” with my colleagues and I don’t need an “excuse” not to be a tea expert, or to not drink a tea/coffee that someone else made if I don’t like it, or opt out of a tea round.

        I know some workplaces here do have this weird culture about it but I still find it kind of silly. And it isn’t every workplace. In my current workplace I really, really can’t imagine anyone saying it is rude to opt out of a tea round. It could even be seen as a bit immature.

        Thing that aren’t work related and don’t affect other people (in a meaningful way) shouldn’t ever be taken too seriously.

        1. Caz in a teacup*

          In the last 5 years my team has gone from being 100% British, to 30%. And while that represents our international workforce much better, the one issue is that my heart breaks a little every time I say, ‘Who wants a drink?’ and get a chorus of nos (or worse, baffled silence). Feels like a rejection every time

      2. triss merigold*

        This is so interesting! So what about people who don’t drink tea, period? Or don’t want it right this moment? Or can’t? For example, I’m so sensitive to caffeine I can’t even eat chocolate anymore. Strictly herbal tisanes for me. Is there a whole Thing they have to go through, is it common for people to treat them as rude?

        Not trying to pick on the UK, heaven knows the US has its share of “how dare you have medical issues at me” problems, just wondering about the specifics of this situation.

        1. Laura Petrie*

          It’s totally fine to completely opt out, or to decline on that specific occasion. It’s really not a big issue, although you may get asked a few times just to make sure you don’t want to join in

        2. Redactle*

          Where I’ve worked, at least, giving someone a herbal tea bag and asking them to make me a mug of that instead of ‘normal’ tea wouldn’t be an issue at all and it’s something I’ve done very often. One employer provided a selection of herbal tea bags alongside the other options. Ditto I’ve had colleagues request lemsips or hot water and squash while sick (back in the days where working through a horrible cold in the office while spreading germs was normal and expected) – IME the tea round is more of a ‘hot drinks from the kettle’ round, and I’ve even regularly made instant coffee up as part of a tea round (badly I’m sure as I don’t drink it).

          I don’t get the LW’s view at all though. If someone never accepts a cup of tea while offered, they shouldn’t then have to make tea for everyone else. It also seems very office dependent- I’ve worked in offices where everyone knew the exact shade of tea required for everyone else, and I’ve worked in offices where everyone catered for themselves and there was no tea round. In the industry I work in now you’re more likely to wander off to the kitchen with a colleague and both have a chat while making coffee out of the posh pod machine, than sticking with the traditional tea round.

        3. Dances with Flax*

          Re: declining a kindly proffered food / beverage – I find it very helpful to smile and say that I’m sure it’s delicious but I can’t have it because of “a lot of boring doctor’s orders”.

          It’s pretty hard for anyone to argue with THAT; what are they going to say, after all? “Oh, just ignore those doctor’s orders and make yourself sick just in order to please ME?” And characterizing the doctor’s orders as “boring” also makes it clear that I’m not up for discussing those orders because they’re just too dull to discuss.

        4. tamarack etc.*

          This is to me such an odd question. Just because A Becky was taught how to do X gracefully as a manners lesson it doesn’t follow that not engaging in X is rude. Manners after all are a set of tool in a large toolbox.

          1. Ellis Bell*

            This, really. I was taught to make good tea, and to be graceful if it was bad and that sometimes it’s just a nice social connection to just accept a cup of tea with Aunty Dee who famously makes bad tea. That doesn’t mean I’d raise a single eyebrow at someone opting out of the round. I’ve worked with loads of people who don’t like caffeine and it’s totally fine. It makes the milk stretch out longer.

      3. Construction Safety*

        #1. Yeah, after reading most of Clancy, I’m worried about a “false flag”, they’re telling three different people slightly different things & seeing which version makes it back, thus revealing the mole.

      4. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        I’m American and we just don’t have this custom with regard to coffee. If you want coffee, you buy or make your own. A lot of people don’t even drink it. It’s not traditionally offered whenever you visit someone, and plenty of people don’t own a coffee maker (and no, they don’t keep instant on hand either because actual coffee drinkers here wouldn’t touch instant coffee).

        It also isn’t expected in offices. There might be an expectation that there be a coffee maker, but the individual wanting some coffee would be the one to go make it, unless it is being served at a meeting or something. And there would be no pressure to drink it if it was served at a meeting. And I wouldn’t expect anyone to make me coffee, and I wouldn’t assume anyone expected it of me.

        That said, if someone offered it and I accepted, I would drink it and not complain if it is bad. But I probably wouldn’t even accept the offer, since I only drink it in the morning before work. And no one would find that strange.

        I honestly do not see why this commenter feels a need to refuse to learn. I can’t imagine anyone would expect them to learn. It’s just not an issue here most of the time!

      5. Sopranohannah*

        So, this is what I don’t quite get. One of the nice things about making yourself a cup of coffee, tea, small snack in the break room is getting away from your desk for a few minutes and taking a breather. If I’m bringing everyone a beverage aren’t, I robbing everyone of their micro break.

    2. DJ Abbott*

      IME telling secrets is about the teller’s need to unburden themselves, not the recipient’s need to know. Frank didn’t want to keep the secret and probably thought OP already knew. He wanted help carrying the secret, and that’s why he told. It was inconsiderate and thoughtless of him, and OP does not owe him anything.

      1. Smithy*

        Yeah, I think that a lot of time when coworkers act in ways that feel vindictive or sneaky, more often than it starts with motivations that are largely self-serving. Lots of people hate keeping secrets and find it to me more akin to lying by omission or denied an ability to “be themselves”.

        Now if you’re a queer person dating or unmarried and having a child with a committed heterosexual partner you will not be marrying, working in an environment where you have to keep that a secret could be fairly miserable and closeting. Being asked to keep quiet about dating your boss isn’t a social justice issue, but having a moment where you just don’t want to keep that part of your life a secret anymore – I see as often more internally driven than externally.

        No certainly more senior people have that personally impulsive moment than then will become vindictive towards colleagues out of fear of sharing their secret. But that’s a whole other mess…..

      2. Anon for this*

        Many years ago in an OldJob, a coworker pulled me aside to tell me a similar secret (neither of them managed each other, but one of the two was married so it would’ve gotten bad if it’d gotten out.) I spent years resenting CW for dumping their secret on me and making me the unwilling keeper of it. I didn’t want to know. I never told anyone, but also never forgot, as much as I wanted to.

        Unbeknownst to me, at the same time, the person who was dating CW also confided in someone at work. Several years later, this other confidante and I went on a date – we’d met at a nice bar and booked a hotel nearby so we wouldn’t have to drive, so drinks flowed freely, and after a few drinks, it came out. We started chatting about the old job and I said something like “CW told me a secret that I really didn’t want to know about” and my date said “Oh, you mean that they were screwing CW2? Yeah, CW2 told me.” All four of us had changed jobs by then, but I was still working with CW, and at least three of us were still working in the same industry. (I never told anyone else after that, but I don’t know if my then-date did or not.)

        Moral of the story, kids, keep your steamy secrets to yourselves if you don’t want them to get out. It’s a small world.

      3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        100%. They needed to tell.
        Because they wanted gauge how much their coworkers knew.
        Because they thought OP knew and wanted to gauge how sure OP was.
        Because they were so happy and had to tell someone.
        Because they were so stressed they had to tell someone.
        Whatever the reason, it was for their benefit to gift you this white elephant.
        I know it’s the biggest thing in your life right now and overwhelming, but it is their problem, not yours. Do the thing that is best for you and pass it on to HR.
        Why are you losing sleep over two adults being selfish jerks?
        (I know why, and I’d be freaking out too, so I’m sending you support to extricate yourself!)

        1. Obscure Relic*

          I’d be inclined to tell the secret-sharer in a matter-of-fact way that this is information I don’t need or want to know, that I don’t want to discuss it further, and that oh by the way, I will never lie for them. The end. But I am old and retired, so I’m not figuring in the possibility of retaliation.

        2. Paulina*

          Because he thought OP probably had figured it out, and you can’t ask someone to keep a secret that you didn’t tell them.

      4. Daisy*

        In the cases I know of, the cheaters told others as a way to feel better about themselves. They wanted others to tell them it was OK to step out on their partners (because “soulmates” or “LUV” or “spouse doesn’t understand me” or whatever). A neutral or silent reaction confirms their behavior is OK. They are making OP complicit in the work affair.
        Telling secrets about your personal life is absolutely NOT a good thing to do to coworkers. Personally, I think OP should let HR know, and also that OP is worried about retaliation (IMO the senior affair partner should be fired, or at least moved to a position where they don’t manage *anyone*. Not that I believe workplace romances are verboten, but because of the manager/report dynamic and they are deliberately keeping secrets.)

      5. Elizabeth West*

        This this this.
        Such a dump is best done outside the office, say with a good friend. Don’t tell your direct reports your personal secrets. We/they don’t want to know!

    3. Moonlight*

      So I actually enjoy the flavour of coffee but I think it’s one of those things where you either like it or you don’t. It’s kind like wine and beer. People told me for years that beer is an “acquired taste” and I’m just like (a) no, I’ve tried, it’s nasty and (b) it sort of feels like you’re telling me I have to drink a lot of beer and not like it before it gets good and that just seems weird, why would I subject myself to god only knows how many unpleasant drinks? Point is; while I genuinely enjoy coffee, I also think people being like “it’s good, why don’t you think it’s good, you should think it’s good” are obnoxious and weird haha. Things like coffee, beer, and wine are bitter (or other weird flavours) that I think are weird to assume everyone likes. Heck, I even know people who don’t like chocolate and I feel like sugary or sweet stuff is pretty “easy” or normal cause it’s mild, and, well, sugary lol

      1. Burger Bob*

        Same! I genuinely like the flavor of plain black coffee (it tastes much worse to me if sugar or milk or something is added). But beer? I want to like beer. I have tried many beers. Every one of them just tastes like carbonated bread, and I don’t like it. I believe that other people like it! I even kind of get why carbonated bread might in theory be appealing. But at this point, I have accepted that it is simply one taste that I will never acquire. I just don’t like it. And it IS pretty weird when people try to insist that everyone should like a given flavor. That’s just not how tastes work.

  4. Greenpat*

    Re #2 – boss never giving more than meets expectations. Anyone else have teachers or professors who did something similar “I never give As”? Why are you bragging that you are either a) a bad teacher who can’t instruct students well enough for them to earn an A or b) someone who takes pleasure in the power you have to harm a student’s GPA. While a GPA is not the same as a pay raise, in high school it can impact what universities you can get into and potential scholarships. In colleges it can impact grants, scholarships, and grad school acceptance. And you are bringing it down, why? Saying “you can’t get an A” might motivate some people to somehow prove they are the exception, but many will take you at your word and only do the minimum because they know there’s no point.

    1. Fikly*

      My public (in the US) high school’s English department proudly declared that they wouldn’t give Shakespeare an A. While also teaching us Shakespeare and telling us how great it was, come to think of it.

      While it was a public school, and not a magnet, it had an extremely strong reputation on academics and drew a certain type of parents (who could afford it) to the district. My class of 300ish students sent 25+ grads to ivys, as an example. The English department refusing to give anyone As was messing with GPAs, and I’m still not sure how they got away with it.

      1. Lexie*

        There was probably something in their contract about being able to use their discretion in grades.

      2. noncommittal pseudonym*

        As someone who once got a fair amount of pressure to pass a couple of football players who weren’t even trying, I have a small amount of respect for the fact that they’re standing firm. But, mostly, I’m irritated that they aren’t calibrating their expectations correctly. An “A” should mean that the top 10% of students of that age and stage of education get that grade.

      3. Cj*

        I’m really curious as to how more than 25 of your classmates were admitted to Ivy’s if they couldn’t get an A in English. Did they take advanced placement classes that they got A’s in so their GPA was still at least a 4.0?

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          Some Ivy’s admissions boards might be aware of this school’s reputation. They know that students from this school do well there even if they had a 3.85.

      4. Chinookwind*

        I never understood this. I taught junior high and high school English but the province had a matrix that was used for marking essays for provincial exams (it even came with explanations for each level). It was so clear that I could give it to my grade 9 students and, with a bit of an explanation, they could mark each others essays and come up with a similar grade to what I would give.

        Now, using that same matrix, I do believe Shakespeare would never get an A due to his inconsistent spelling (you have to get your name right, dude!).

        At the same time, I do remember the pride one borderline failing student turned in an essay that scored 99% based on the matrix. (and only lost the point because of a few too many spelling mistakes). He let me keep it for my records because it was that darn good.

        1. Stuff*

          Is it fair to dock Shakespeare for spelling when he came from an era where there were no codified spellings, and you were expected to make it up yourself on the spot phonetically? Misspellings weren’t really a thing in his era.

          1. linger*

            Not to mention, plays in particular are written to be spoken, and audiences generally aren’t there to notice the spellings. Shakespeare gleefully and unapologetically mixed whatever dialect pronunciations would yield the highest pun rate; to the extent spelling codification existed (linked to the emerging London standard dialect), he ignored it. (Well, he did include a spelling-based joke in Twelfth Night, where he had Malvolio spell out the C-word.)

      5. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

        They wouldn’t give Shakespeare an A…at what???

        I’m guessing they weren’t having you all write full-length plays, since that’s a pretty rare assignment for high school, and those teachers never saw Shakespeare’s explicatory essay on The Great Gatsby. Did they mean on his sonnets??? That’s madness.

    2. Laura*

      I am still salty about my last high school exam 20 years ago. The censor – a college professor – refused to give me highest mark “because I didn’t teach him anything he didn’t already know.”

      I guess if a high school student ever did teach a college professor anything new that would be “exceeds expectations.”

    3. Well...*

      This is totally absurd and it does mess up people’s futures.

      And if their claim is that it doesn’t matter, then why do this? It reminds me of teachers being like, “it’s only 1-2 points, why do you care?” or in my PhD program, incorrectly saying, “at this level grades don’t matter so why argue?” Like if it doesn’t really matter, then just give me the points! But also it definitely matters, that’s just leveraging power dynamics to not have to do your job.

      This is also why I generally prefer to grade on a curve. I trust the statistical noise of students’ performance wayyy more than the systematic errors associated with any professor’s/teacher’s opinions of what threshold “objectively deserves” an A.

      1. Rosemary*

        If you are grading on a curve, does that mean you always give someone low marks, even if not warranted – if you are basing their performance on that of their peers? That doesn’t seem very fair either.

        1. A Simple Narwhal*

          As far as I’m aware, grading on a curve typically raises everyone’s grades. You find the highest mark and make that a 100, and raise everyone’s grades accordingly. So if the highest score was a 67, everyone’s score gets raised 33 points.

          1. Morning Flowers*

            This works well *if* the grader has the sense not to calibrate to an outlier — for example, when my high school Latin teacher found I was regularly scoring 20 points higher than the next highest score in my class, she realized she’d better curve to the next grade up rather than punish everyone for me being freakishly good at Latin.

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              I still feel a little sorry for the poor first-year French students who got caught up in the contest I had my junior year with the senior class salutatorian for the most points. We demolished the curve.

              But still proud that I won. (I knew his girlfriend, & she thought it was hilarious.)

            2. A Simple Narwhal*

              Oh 100%! I had a bunch of friends in college who took organic chemistry (a subject renowned for being insanely difficult, like getting 40% was considered a great score) and one of them was a semi-genius in the subject and routinely got 70s and absolutely ruined the curve.

            3. Well...*

              This is exactly why you use a Gaussian distribution, you don’t just divide by the highest score

            4. Lily*

              This. My few experiences with having been graded on a curve were not good.

              I was in a college math class, and there was some genius student there, who should not have been at that level, but the professor didn’t take that into account.
              Most of the students, me included, were demoralized and quit within a month.

            5. Cj*

              This happened in my university business law class many decades ago. I scored a 96 on an exam, and the next highest score was 84. The professor used 84 as the highest score for the curve.

              It really annoyed me, because why should I study hard enough to get a 96 if 84 would have still got me an A?

            6. Sopranohannah*

              I’m thankful my nursing school professors had the sense to do this. The diabetes test was notoriously difficult. I’ve had type 1 diabetes since I was 3. I had the only A. My professors wisely decided just to give everyone 10 points of extra credit.

          2. Well...*

            Nope, that’s not how I do it. I do it based on the shape of the distribution of grades, I don’t just change the numerator or shift it all up.

          3. Qwerty*

            Nope, the phrase comes from using a bell curve so that the top X% get A, Y% get B, etc. with the majority of scores clustering at C (hence why it used to translate to “average”). This method has fallen out of favor in schools as we’ve shifted towards A’s being achievable rather than a class rank. It is best used when you want to figure out who is ahead or behind the general level.

            Many teachers have shifted to the adjustment style method as a way of level setting for what the class understood vs was taught.

        2. Well...*

          No, it means you take a Gaussian-distributed curve and assign grades based on where the scores fall in the distribution. The top X% get A’s no matter what, next Y% get B’s, etc depending on what the standards are at your university (I wouldn’t deviate much from that because people know a university’s reputation and know what an A means in terms of how good you are relative to your peers). The bottom set get C’s, and then some people fail the class completely (that I would say can be avoided by setting a very low absolute bar).

          If you have a large enough population this is really the best way to guarantee fair grades. If one test is super hard and everyone does badly, it doesn’t hurt everyone’s grades. If a test is too easy, you don’t get the Gaussian distribution so you can’t curve… everyone just gets A’s.

    4. Dental floss rancher*

      I had a shop teacher in high school who marked everything out of 10 but wouldn’t give anyone higher than 9.5 because he only had 9.5 fingers courtesy of a band saw accident.

    5. Morning Flowers*

      I went to a very academically competitive but public high school, and our senior year a new teacher was moved to teach AP English. So she gets a group of kids who’ve (a) already taken the first of two AP English tests and (b) are in this class to qualify for the school to pay for them to take the second one. Even worse for her, (c) the junior year AP English teacher was the only good English teacher we’d *ever* had, single-handedly dismantling years of systematic training to not actually express opinions from all of us, and every last one of us, crazily college- and scholarship-minded, was now proficient in “timed writings,” good at making arguments, and ready to speak our minds.

      English AP essays were graded on a scale of 1-9. First “timed writing” poor Mrs. Senior Teacher hands back to us, most people have gotten 5-7. Someone raises their hand, asks why. Mrs. Senior Teacher explains that, well, she read up on AP grading, and the graders for the actual exam have to use an overall curve, so she put us on a curve too — there were Xty of us, so she could only hand out Y 9s, Z 8s, etc.

      Someone else immediately answered, “Okay, so if you give out 6 9s, those go to [Student1], [Student2], [Student3], [Student4], and the [MorningFlowers twins]. So no matter how well the rest of us do, we won’t *ever* get 9s. We aren’t on the state curve at this school and this isn’t fair to us.”

      And that was true, too, and the high school administration knew it — “summa cum laude” wasn’t “top X%,” but “did you make above a 4.0?” (And my year, that was fifty kids. The competition for the top 3 spots — that came with guaranteed state scholarships — was cutthroat. I had the sense to refuse to share my ranking with anyone, ever.)

      Now, Mrs. Senior Teacher listened to this, and changed her grading policies! But it also shouldn’t surprise anyone that this was the same teacher who somehow got me into a meeting with a school counselor who tried to slowly explain to me that I was going to fail in college for being a terrible combative person after I checked a dictionary and corrected her use of a verb (politely, I might add); or the same teacher where I determined the best way to get 9s on my essays was to outline the essay in my head, then change the order of paragraphs to make less sense; or the same teacher who assigned everyone a huge three-book-analysis project due the day of prom, which was *the same day as the end of the two-week AP test period,* and was surprised when she found out *everyone* was planning to use their once-per-class turn-it-in-late coupon on it; or the same teacher who at the end of the year said sit in a circle and let’s all go around saying which college we’re going to and how much scholarship money we got (I like to think the humiliated student admitting that she hadn’t gotten into the town’s university *despite already taking a class there* might have taught Mrs. Senior Teacher a lesson about tact; and if not that, the number of students politely declining to give scholarship money numbers was a master class in it).

      Moving from the “honors-English” students who proudly published articles in the student newspaper about their strategic “senioritis” to the unhealthily-driven, GPA-oriented AP students was a *rough* transition for Mrs. Senior Teacher! But, tbh, it wasn’t an excuse for a teacher with decades of experience making quite that many thoughtless mistakes.

  5. Cold and Tired*

    #2: this also reminds me how so many companies send customer feedback surveys asking you to rank your experience 1-10, and then penalize people for not getting 10s despite many customers sticking closer in the middle. I always try to give the top rating on those surveys since I learned that to try to balance out the mediocre but well meaning reviews unless there was an actual problem.

    #4: I’m an American who has spent years working on and off in the uk (I even am going to work in person there next week). And English tea culture (since I can only speak for England, not the rest of the Uk, based on experience) is a fascinating thing as a bystander, but I truly don’t understand it. I also don’t want anyone making my tea because my tastes do not at all match English tea tastes (I dislike black tea and I think putting milk in tea ruins it entirely, which is an extremely unenglish sentiment as the colleagues who took their tea as 90% milk/10% tea have assured me) so I’d be bothered if someone insisted on making my tea, but once again – American here haha.

    1. Pam Adams*

      I drink iced tea, and could never get it in the UK, when I did a study abroad some years back.

    2. Bea*

      Uk based (England/Wales border) we have a tea colour chart on the wall in the kitchen in my work place printed from the tea company’s twitter feed some years ago. There are debates about brand etc in a light hearted way. I will let people make me coffee but not tea… as someone who drinks black tea strong with a splash of milk I always check how people like their tea or coffee. Tea is a big deal, work coffee is instant from a jar (sadly)

      1. irquista*

        My (UK-based) work place also has one of those charts on the wall. I am a tea-drinker, and I have learned the way colleagues who are also tea-drinkers take their tea. And I honour their preferences, even when they are obviously wrong :)

        Some of my colleagues don’t drink tea (or hot drinks generally), so they don’t join in this activity. I don’t think that’s a problem. It certainly doesn’t irk me. We’re not really in a role where we have to make tea for visitors. But as a visitor to other offices, if someone tried and prefaced their tea-making with an apology for inexperience, I would be grateful they tried.

      2. alienor*

        The idea of trying to get the amount of milk in 10 different cups of tea exactly right makes me break into a cold sweat! I drink tea daily (Earl Grey) but the only thing I ever put in it is a squeeze of lemon if it’s available, so I wouldn’t even know where to begin with milk. I’m an uncivilized American, though.

    3. Scot Librarian*

      I’m in the UK (Scotland) and I’ve worked in schools and libraries. In none of those was it normal to make someone else a cuppa. I mean how would someone know how I like it? Sorry #4, I think your work is an outlier in the UK politeness stakes.

      At my current work (large public library) we have 2 kettles and if you are the first into the staffroom around break /lunch time, then you are expected to fill the kettle and boil it so your colleagues have hot water that just needs a quick flick to bring to the boil.

    4. Another Brit*

      Yeah tea making is a big thing although where I’ve worked you are always able to opt out if you don’t drink hot drinks (coffee drinkers still have to make tea). That being said if you go to the kitchen and only make tea for yourself? Massive no no. Also you have to make sure you’re making tea at least some of the time because everyone hates the person who drinks multiple cups of tea a day but only when you’ve offered to make it.

      Personally I quite like the system though because its a nice break during the day that everyone is very happy for you to take!

      1. Transplant to UK*

        YES – although when people are swamped I don’t begrudge them saying “the kettle’s full/boiled if anyone wants it”, as long as they’re usually one to make a round. We had a tiny riot when our old CEO refused to ever make a round of tea but always accepted one (also the dynamics of him being the only man in an office of women).

        I’ve also never had the experience others mentioned of people being fussy about tea, I find everyone is usually grateful someone else made it and they’ll give vague directions but take it as it comes!

      2. Mf*

        Honestly, this all seems like so much of pain that I’d probably just stop drinking hot beverages if I worked in a UK office.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          Me too!!!! How exhausting? If I got a cup of coffee in my office, I wouldn’t think of making coffee for anyone else! That’s the whole point of using a keurig! Make your own hot beverages, people!

          That said, I appreciate this thread, because if I ever do go work in the UK, I’m going to take a crash course on office tea etiquette and how to make tea properly just to be safe!

    5. Laura Petrie*

      I’ve worked in various offices across 3 different English cities. Here’s my experience:

      In bigger teams, people tend to brew up for their immediate office mates. Depending on where you sit, this might not be the colleagues you work most closely with. As you’re brewing for the same few people, you get to know preferences. It would be considered rude to make a drink for yourself without offering to others in your round, however it is acceptable to decline to join the round in the first place. My husband drinks one coffee a day then sticks to water. He’s weird by UK cultural norms he doesn’t join brew rounds at work. I drink multiple cups of tea per day so always join in.

      In some places I’ve worked, there is a list pinned near the kettle that says how people take their tea or coffee. Some places have also had a milk club, where there is a kitty and someone takes responsibility for buying milk. Other kitchens have had about 20 1 pint milk bottles in the fridge, each with someone’s name on the lid or label. One office I worked in had two levels of milk fund payments- one for milk for hot drinks only and another if you ate cereal at work.

      Some places provide basic tea and instant coffee. Others you buy it yourself and keep it in your desk drawer, or labelled in a kitchen cupboard if you’re really trusting.

      If/when the kettle breaks it’s a major incident and causes upset. A former colleague once decided he wanted to see a thermometer display 100C and put it in a boiling kettle. When it shattered and the kettle had to be thrown away, he was not popular and he bought biscuits by way of an apology.

      Hot water taps make terrible tea. People will often sneak in a kettle if a hot water tap has been fitted.

      As a visitor, unless I’m only planning to ask a quick question or to hand something over, I’d expect to be offered a brew.

      As a manager, I’ve always sat with colleagues of various levels and expect to be invited into the local brew round.

      I have worked in places with no brew round and find it unusual enough to comment on to friends

      1. Lead Balloon*

        In my previous job in a small business we did make tea for each other and I knew how colleagues took their tea. I’m not a drinker of ‘normal’ tea (camellia sinensis) but I can make tea with a teabag reasonably well.

        In my current job we mostly work from home and we’re a big team with very varied drink preferences – I don’t even see a lot of people making or drinking tea when we’re in the office. When we’ve been in I’ve never made a drink for anyone else and I don’t see a lot of people doing it for others either. We do sit and eat lunch together or go out for lunch sometimes so it’s not about being cold or unfriendly.

      2. Kate*

        Amazing! I’ve never worked in the UK, but have spent a lot of time in England visiting my husband’s family. I’ve always been fascinated by the whole “Shall I put the kettle on, then?” culture and tried to observe and replicate as much as possible. When my in-laws are visiting us in America, I try to make tea for everyone often and well.

        At my office, I usually stick to coffee because there is no kettle and I can deal with bad coffee but not bad tea. However, I have on more than one occasion witnessed an attorney fill a mug with hot tap water and then dunk a Lipton tea bag in. I’m sure he’s a nice person really, but I confess I have serious doubts about his judgment.

        (Tea must always be brewed by pouring the hot water over the tea leaves/tea bag. Dunking a tea bag in hot water is sacrilege and one of the things my English husband finds strangest about living in America.)

        1. Some words*

          And I was taught the water needed to be just below the boiling point for a proper brew. True or not?

          This tea and tea culture information is fascinating.

          1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

            For black tea that’s generally the received wisdom, though other types of tea (green, white, oolong, etc) will have different optimal steeping temperatures.

            But that’s American-style tea snobbery, not British-style.

          2. Kate*

            I think the ideal is to boil the water and then let it cool to the appropriate temperature, which varies based on the kind of tea. (Black tea, green tea, oolong, or white tea. All of which I have in my cupboard in loose form – I’m a bit of a tea nerd, although I confess to mostly just drinking my favorite Earl Grey from a teabag because as a working parent with a five-year-old and a new baby there is no time to mess about.) My Japanese professor and college advisor had studied tea culture for his PhD, and has Opinions about this. One semester I was the only one in my level, so class met in his office. Halfway through we would have a tea break. Generally green tea, and sometimes we’d do a second infusion of the leaves so we could discuss how the flavor changed. On one post-graduation visit, he took me to a tea shop that had opened in town. He’s a regular customer, but on his first visit he had to go to the kitchen to make sure they all knew exactly how to brew tea to his specifications.

            Typing this out, I realize that my current boss/long-term mentor has a very similar personality. I’ve known plenty of people in both my student and professional lives who couldn’t cope, but I seem to mesh well and have great relationships with both. I did not expect a tea discussion to lead to this personal epiphony!

        2. Michelle Smith*

          Kettles just aren’t common here, yeah and I don’t see the point in having a separate appliance just for morning tea. But this is good info to have in case I ever travel or interact with a British client!!

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Well, most UK tea drinkers will make rather more than one cup of tea each day, but we also use the kettle to heat water for other kitchen uses such as instant ramen, or ahead of cooking eg pasta on the stovetop, as it’s quicker and more efficient than bringing water to a boil on the stovetop from cold. My kettle must get used ten times a day.

        3. steliafidelis*

          Tea must always be brewed by pouring the hot water over the tea leaves/tea bag. Dunking a tea bag in hot water is sacrilege and one of the things my English husband finds strangest about living in America.

          Forgive my American ignorance, but what difference does it make?

          1. Zoe Karvounopsina*

            IME, the water cools too quickly for the tea to brew. And if you really are just dunking, that tea will be extremely weak.

          2. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

            Pouring the boiling water over the tea agitates the leaves more and kickstarts the extraction process for a deeper flavor. When you go the other way around, it never seems to get quite strong enough.

        4. Lyudie*

          That last part is super interesting, because I recently read the opposite, that pouring the water over the tea bag can scorch the tea and make it bitter. I think that was in an article from the Guardian.

          1. The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon*

            Wow. I’m surprised nobody burned the Guardian offices to the ground. While they were at it did they state the “correct” order to put jam and clotted cream on a scone?

        5. Bookmark*

          I’m from the US, but my mom spent time in England in the 70s, so I grew up with an electric kettle and vaguely British tea customs and never realized it wasn’t a standard thing in the US. I introduced my wife to them when we started dating, and I discovered that her family microwaves the water WITH THE TEABAG IN IT. She’s been so thoroughly converted that she bought a cheap kettle to bring to her workplace kitchen, and won the immediate goodwill of several sad tea drinkers who had been getting by with the not actually hot enough hot water dispenser (though they all still make their own tea and do not offer to make it for anyone else).

          1. She of Many Hats*

            I’m closing a satellite office and dispersing all the contents. All the programmers & IT engineers there were tea drinkers over coffee. I’m claiming the electric kettle for myself since my home office is mostly coffee drinkers who don’t understand the sacrilege and heresy of using a tea-drinker’s equipment.

      3. Bagpuss*

        Yes, agree with your first point, that it’s typically a small number of people who share a space or are in physically close rooms who will form a ’round’. However, it’s normally totally fine not to be part of the round but if you make a habit of accepting whenever others offer you a brew, but never offering to make it, that would be rude.

        Since normally you’d only be making tea for the same 2-3 people, it’s fairly common to get to know their preferences.

        A kettle breaking is an emergency (last time ours died, it was very disruptive as the local Argos had just closed and there wasn’t anywhere else within walking distance where we could buy a new one, so someone had to drive to Big Tescos to get one. We now have an emergency substitute kettle in the stationery cupboard so that next time, that can be called into service and a new back up purchased, to avoid the risk of being unable to make tea. (I once worked somewhere where we once spent about two days letting the people in the (unrelated) office next to ours come in with a tray in once every couple of hours to use the kettle, to make everyone tea, as their kettle broke and they didn’t have anyone in the office with authority to buy a new one, and they knew their managers wouldn’t reimburse it if they bought one themselves, because they had a very dysfunctional office.

        If you don’t know/ can’t remember how someone else likes their tea you ask. (but it would be rude for them to then criticise your tea making, unless they are close enough friends that it’s friendly easing enjoyed by you both)

        I’ve never worked anywhere (Private Sector) where the employer didn’t provide tea bags and milk. Where I am now, we have skim and semi-skim milk another branch has full fat and semi, it’s down to the preference of the people working there) . If someone wants something other than basic Yorkshire Tea bags then they would bring their own.

        Everyone has their own mg. You don’t use someone else’s mug.

        1. Laura Petrie*

          I worked in the public sector, hence the milk kitty. I realised after I posted I forgot to mention about taking turns. We never had a specific “no, it’s your turn next, I made the last one” but all participants were aware of taking their turn and it would be noted by everyone if someone always accepted a brew but never reciprocated. It would only be considered rude to not offer a brew to those in your tea group, not the office in general, which is what I meant but didn’t make clear.

          I have been both a kettle borrower and a kettle lender to nearby offices. Tea is important!

        2. Macrina*

          I’m American who went to grad school in England, and I remember being so tickled when I encountered an entire paragraph in our academic handbook that began “milk will be provided for graduates” and went on to detail in what type of bottle (glass), of what sorts (full fat and soya), and an elaborate system of what to do when the milk ran out (borrow from the professors’ designated milk fridge, but replace it with a new bottle when the new order arrives). It helped me learn quickly that tea and its accoutrements are at least as important as thesis requirements!

        3. RandomNameAllocated*

          I love and totally understand the concept of ‘the emergency substitute kettle’ but then I always have an emergency Christmas Pud at home in case of, well, emergencies!

        4. BubbleTea*

          When I worked in the office, we initially had a small enough team that one person would make drinks for everyone (occasionally I’d get my water bottle refilled as part of the process but I opted out of the hot drinks cycle and no one minded), but as we grew it became trickier so it was decreed that we should only make tea for the three or four people sat closest to us. Which led to hilarious charades as people whispered to each other about drinks and snuck out so as not to offend anyone (all entirely in jest).

          Our employer provided tea bags, instant coffee, milk, and biscuits.

      4. Erin*

        I lived & worked in London for a few years, and tea time is real! I kind of sat back and observed how things went before attempting to contribute. In the company I worked at, it was either one person making tea for their team (on my team there were 4 people who unofficially rotated for this duty) or someone would pipe up with “anyone fancy a cuppa?” And turn the kettle on, allowing for self-service to those who were interested.

        It was so much fun to learn about the rituals of tea time in the UK. The presence of cream, and the timing of said cream applied to the tea. And then the tasty little biscuits that one dips into the tea. Mmmmm.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Must be fresh milk, not UHT or the odd little pods of “non dairy creamer”

      5. WillowSunstar*

        My workplace has k-cup machines. Of course, it is in the US, but solves the issue of everyone wanting something different. Just bring in your own k-cups.

        1. Pippa K*

          Oh God. I see why you’d say this in theory, but …urggghk. I am both American and English, and I have British tea opinions but currently live in the US so I have encountered k-cup tea at work. It is basically a hate crime. It is worse than a microwaved cup of water with a Lipton bag in it.

          I like the simple low-stakes sociability of general (UK) office tea etiquette, but I also get why it doesn’t translate well to US settings. And of course every society should have its own way of doing things. That said, if I ever become high empress of America, we’re switching to 230 v electricity and everyone’s getting mandatory training on the wonders of the electric kettle.

          1. turquoisecow*

            Not British but my mom is a tea drinker and she’d agree with you there. She doesn’t like getting tea from coffee shops or keurig machines because the water is not usually hot enough. She says water for tea should be boiling, or near to it. Coffee water is not usually that hot.

            1. Tau*

              It has been a constant source of bewilderment to me how many coffee shops are capable of making the fanciest possible caramel cinnamon pumpkin spice iced frappumacchiato with whipped cream and sprinkles but cannot manage a simple cup of tea. Boiling water -> teabag? What is hard about this?? Why does your tea taste like nothing???

              (yeah, it’s the water temperature. maybe if I drop a kettle off on the doorstep like some sort of deranged tea addict cat…)

              1. DataSci*

                Places like that can’t make simple coffee, either. They expect people to have so much sugar and cream and flavor in their drink they can barely taste the actual beans. Black coffee from Starbucks is over roasted swill.

                1. hellohello*

                  Totally correct – most of the coffee places making the fancy sugary drinks actually make pretty bad coffee. On top of that you also brew (good) coffee at a lower temperature than black tea, which might be why places struggle to do both well.

          2. Jaid*

            I like my loose leaf/tea bag tea, but my 82-year-old Dad loves his K-cups. I’m not gonna begrudge him some Twinnings from the machine.

      6. ggg*

        I have a hot water tap in my home kitchen and my British MIL says it makes a fine cup of tea. The water comes out at 210 degrees which is just under boiling. Perhaps the office hot taps are not hot enough?

        I have learned not to accept every cup of tea offered when I visit the UK. My body is not used to it and I feel sick if I have more than about 5 cups.

    6. Charley*

      The Great British Tea Round is a fascinating window into the pillar of cultural life that is tea drinking. When I was office-based (in the UK) I was the weirdo who opted out, however, colleagues would interrupt my train of thought multiple times a day to offer me cups of tea. A potential answer for 4 would be those who need to focus to do their job and a half-hourly offer of tea (or expectation of making a round for nearby coworkers) is an unwelcome intrusion.

      1. English Rose*

        Yes, Brit here. I don’t drink any hot drinks at work but people still ask me if I want one. I loved the early Covid days (pre-lockdown) when everyone was told they should only make a drink for themselves to avoid potential contamination.
        It meant you didn’t have to wait for five minutes in the (tiny) kitchen while Fred brewed up six mugs for his team, you could just get your glass of water quickly.
        And for the record, I hate tea, it’s disgusting.

    7. Clara*

      90% milk is very southern and wouldn’t hold up as ‘proper’ tea in most parts of the country, JFYI.

    8. Lilith*

      I’m a British office worker, a non-tea-(and-coffee)-drinker, and an ex-receptionist who used to make many cups of tea for visitors.

      I’ve never participated in the tea round, and as far as I know no-ones ever thought anything of it? Some people would leave me out of it entirely (which I was fine with), and some would check with me every so often if I was *sure* I didn’t want tea this time (I always was sure! But it was nice of them to ask)

      1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

        This is making me think about the etiquette of socially-including the known non-tea-drinkers! After the tea has been offered on enough separate occasions, it can move to “oh, you don’t drink tea or coffee, do you – can I get you a water?” And sometimes I would accept the water as a way to be friendly even if I weren’t really thirsty and/or had a water bottle in my bag.

    9. UK person*

      Interesting on #4 – I’m from the UK as well and have never really encountered the type of pervasive office tea culture described here. In my experience most people drink coffee. If you’re making a cuppa, it’s nice to offer for people around, but not by any means obligatory, and it’s never been an important component of team culture for any teams I’ve worked on.

      1. PTBNL*

        In college I (American) did an internship in the UK; one of the first things they taught us was the tea culture. This was early 2000s.

        I tried so hard to get it right but I’m sure people smiled through some pretty bad cups of tea.

      2. London Calling*

        From the UK and in over 40 years I’ve worked in ONE place where tea rounds were expected and in fact demanded.

    10. Retail Not Retail*

      The one time I did a customer survey for walmart, it wouldn’t let me do 10s across the board!

    11. Meep*

      I always think England’s tea culture is absolutely insane. In then I remember it is probably akin to our American Football culture.

      1. Burger Bob*

        No, the football (soccer) culture is what’s akin to the American football culture. They have their own weird sports fanaticism.

    12. Aggretsuko*

      I hate being told I HAVE to give “five stars!” literally no matter what. I don’t fill out surveys much any more.

    13. Dust Bunny*

      I always give top ratings on customer surveys unless somebody really Fs up and doesn’t fix it. As long as whatever happened gets resolved I’m not going to help somebody get punished.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Also, I’m American. I do like black tea but I don’t want milk within a country mile of any of my teas, ever.

    14. morethantired*

      #2 I really appreciate when the person I’m dealing with tells me I’m going to receive a survey and that anything below a 10 is bad for them. I usually don’t do follow-up surveys unless I have real feedback but when I hear it’s one of those “all 10s or fail” places, I make sure to give them all 10s. What a toxic standard.

      1. Burger Bob*

        I work in a place that has customer surveys (ours are “bad” if they are 8 or below), so occasionally I fill one out at other places as a show of solidarity for the workers there. I give them all 10s, but what’s really fun is when the survey forces you to leave comments, and I don’t really have any, so I just leave them some entertaining nonsense. For instance, my local pizza place gets comments like “Pizza pizza pizza,” “Yay pizza!” and “Hooray for pizza!”

    15. WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot*

      I’m also an American who spends time working from our UK office. When I get tired of the tea debates, I’ll ask various people how they prepare their scones. (Scone/cream/jam or Scone/jam/cream). People have VERY strong opinions about this!

    16. hellohello*

      Same here – as far as I can tell the English tea culture kind of just leads to everyone constantly drinking suboptimal tea, because it would be rude to make your own cup and rude to tell the person who made you a cup they didn’t get your milk and sugar preferences exactly right. It’s also, afaik, a strictly English thing, as the rest of Europe seems to have no problem letting people make their own tea to their personal specifications.

      1. Caz in a teacup*

        My taste in tea has been permanently altered by a colleague who always pointed out that he had made it nice and strong for me, ‘like I liked it’. Got used to it in the end, but still no idea if he was winding me up. Or trying to encourage me to do more tea rounds myself?

  6. nnn*

    If I were talking to the boss in #2, my question would be why the exceeds expectations option even exists if you can’t possibly get it?

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Not sure if that’s just a way of prompting discussion with the boss – but the answer to that is already known. The company has that option but his personal ‘policy’ (that other managers presumably don’t have) is not to make use of it.

      (I think I may have mentioned this experience here before) In a previous company, we had a similar scale and one of the teams was responsible for, say, painting teapots. Their target was to paint 100 teapots a day. Some of the team members just about met this target and their supervisor gave them a meets expectations. Some of them were routinely doing more like 120-130 teapots without sacrificing quality and she gave them exceeds expectations. This then got overturned by higher management on the grounds that the “expectation” is that they will continually exceed the target, so the 100 teapots people were bumped to “not meeting expectations” and the 120s to meets. Not meeting expectations then has its own implications in terms of performance discussions, potentially being on a “PIP track” etc. The 100 teapot target was attainable (most of the people achieved it while spending a significant part of the day wasting time) so probably the target should have been changed, but it wasn’t because people moaned that that would be unfair…

      1. ceiswyn*

        But you don’t. Because you’ve been told that you can’t get it, no matter how hard you strive.

    2. Antilles*

      I suspect the probable answers by the boss to your question would be something like this:

      40% chance he dismisses it offhandedly with vagueness like “something to strive for” or “aspirations” or etc.
      40% chance he clarifies that it’s possible to exceed his expectations, it just requires absolutely incredible performance.
      20% chance he’s offended by your question, considering it as a sign that you aren’t ambitious or driven enough.
      0% chance your question actually makes him think critically about his opinions, re-consider the meaning of “exceeds expectations”, and decide to do better going forwards.

    3. Charlotte Lucas*

      I worked in a division of a company that gave ratings on a bell curve. So one person got the highest rating, but most people were just average. (This was based more on office politics than actual productivity or competence.)

      Even better, they based ratings not on expectations of the role but of the individual. So many really amazing coworkers were told they met expectations because they were an exemplary employee who reliably did amazing work. And if someone who they had low expectations for exceeded those, they got a really good review.

      There’s a reason most of us don’t work there anymore.

  7. Luna Lovegood*

    The university I used to work for had an unofficial policy that almost no one could get exceeds expectations in their annual review. You basically had to have been there for decades or held a really high-profile role to get it. One manager actually tried to give me an exceeds expectations one year, and HR made him change it. Only those who scored high expectations got a merit raise, so this open secret caused a lot of morale issues.

    1. Pam Adams*

      My university system tried implementing a “merit ” bonus program that would have worked like this. The union pushed back, and now the money left after we give longevity and education bonuses is divided equally among the members.

    2. Well...*

      I raise you one: my university has a policy that applying for a promotion you know won’t get is actually mandatory lol.

      1. Well...*

        To add insult to injury: it’s mandatory for “EDI” reasons because women are less likely to put themselves forward for promotion. In a vacuum, that’s a good idea, but when that just means we all do extra work with zero probability of payoff, it doesn’t necessarily advance the cause and just makes everyone bitter. Classic EDI lip service with no $$ or job security to back it up.

    3. Unknown Number*

      I worked for a non-academic company that had a very similar policy, mostly because those ratings directly impacted bonuses. Lowly operations worker bees could only get the crumbs from the bonus pie so we could never exceed expectations lest some salesperson get an imperceptibly smaller slice.
      We had to do self-assessments every year and I never spent more than 5 minutes on mine as a result.

  8. ava*

    Why why why do people keep *telling their secrets to coworkers*?? Even if someone suspects, it wouldnt be their problem unless you MAKE it their problem. This reminds me of the pregnant lab assistant who was working around dangerous chemicals– if you know youre doing something that could get you in trouble, dont make a totally uninvolved coworker an unwilling participant in whatever it is! just let them have plausible deniability!

    1. AngelS.*

      Why, why, why??? Indeed! I’ve noticed that too at different work places. Is it a power play? I often wondered.

        1. Clovers*

          I agree, they feel guilty so they can confess without really confessing. Plus they hope the confidante will tell them it’s not so bad, that it’s understandable, or otherwise reflect back the things the cheater tells themselves to dampen their own cognitive dissonance.

        2. BatManDan*

          Not sure where to “nest” this comment, but I hope it makes sense here. My observation, over many decades, is that people pull other people into their (problematic) behavior because they are seeking validation for it. They are actually uncomfortable with their own choices, and need someone else to join them (or, in this case, know about it and not show obvious signs of disgust) so that they can feel a bit more “normal.” To give a visual that may help illuminate this: how often, at a work or social event, do people second-guess folks that aren’t drinking alcohol, and encourage them to “loosen up” or “just have one” or “but whyyyyyyyy aren’t you drinking?” Dude, if you’re fine with your own choices, why would it matter what I’m doing?

    2. Well...*

      I wonder if it’s adrenaline junkie behavior. The thrill of the secret affair and breaking the rules starts to wear off, especially if (and that’s a big if) they are actually moving towards leaving their spouses and getting together above-board. Now they aren’t getting adrenaline hits for cheating, so they need adrenaline hits for breaking the rules at work. If some people know about it and some people don’t, there’s more drama/angst associated with waiting for that person to tell the secret.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Ooh, this would make a lot of sense. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the next chapter is some sad trombone about how only one of the people was moving forward to a divorce.

        I think part of that adrenaline rush can convince you that what you are doing is endlessly fascinating and exciting to your admiring colleagues, rather than seamy and icky.

        1. Rosemary*

          I definitely think the “only one person moving forward with the divorce” scenario is more common than both getting divorced and living happily ever after. Or, in the case of my friend who is divorcing her cheating husband – affair partner is also divorcing, thinking she would be with friend’s husband…but he dumped her after the ink was dry on her divorce.

          1. Clovers*

            It never fails to amaze how people can think the person they’re cheating with is a viable long-term romantic prospect.

            1. starsaphire*

              Was it Dear Abby or Miss Manners who basically pointed out that all you do when you marry your affair partner is to create a job opening? It was ages ago, and I can’t remember.

              Also, totally outing myself as a lifelong advice column junkie, aren’t I? Oops…

              1. Lily*

                Then the dumpee is “Shocked! Shocked, I tell you!” that their affair partner is a slimy boyfriend or spouse.

            2. BatManDan*

              admittedly an outlier, but I’m kin-by-marriage to a guy who did, indeed, divorce the mother of his four children and married his (formerly married) affair partner the day the divorce was final. That was 40 years ago, and the kids still haven’t forgiven their dad. He’s 86, broke, and dying, and wondering why they won’t reconcile. Sad, and frustrating, because I’m having to pick up the pieces of his poor choices.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            So your theory is that most people are eager to hear all about their office-mates’ affairs with each other?

      2. Raging Iron Thunder*

        Yes. A lot of having an affair is the thrill of it, and from what I can tell, some sort of kink.

      3. Lily*

        I hadn’t thought of this, but I can 100% see it.
        “See? Our relationship is still exciting! We’re not fooling ourselves at all!”

    3. Bagpuss*

      Some people just overshare generally. I think.
      I think sometimes, especially for things such as this there’s also an element of making you complicit – then when they are found out they’ll do the ‘but no one minds / thinks anything of it, they all know and it’s not a problem.

      OP, I agree with Alison that if you are not a manager you don’t *have* to raise it, but equally you aren’t under any obligation to keep quiet and Frank should not have put you in that position.

      If it might affect you – for instance if Lauren has a limited budget for raises and gets to decide who in the department gets what, or if anything like bonuses or advancement opportunities are in her gift or dependent on her appraisals of the staff she manages I would be more inclined to raise it (even if it’s as an ‘innocent’ question such as whether someone else will be doing all of the appraisals this year, or just Frank’s

    4. Smithy*

      A lot of people really don’t like keeping secrets. Or find it fun to tell them.

      More often than not, it’s someone that can’t see beyond the end of their nose and consider what that might mean for the other person. Whether that person likes keeping secrets? How that person might feel about something like an affair or anything else potentially “reportable”?

    5. RagingADHD*

      Well, one possibility is that people who have affairs, particularly when they have affairs within their reporting structure that are ethically very problematic, and don’t disclose it so they can keep gaming the system, are enormous jerks who don’t care about other people or have any interest in doing the right thing.

      People like to gloat.

    6. ErinWV*

      Years ago, I had a secret office relationship. There was no power differential or vast age difference, we were just not supposed to be fraternizing outside the office. We “came out” when I quit the job to go back to school and my boss, who was super happy for us, asked why we hadn’t told her sooner, because she would not have minded and would have kept the secret. Plausible deniability is exactly why I didn’t tell her.

    7. Bibliothecarial*

      Probably the same impulse that makes patrons at the library desk tell me all about their rashes. Or, come to think of it, the library director that told me all about his dog’s diarrhea, his purchase of an extra large pack of TP, and then HIS – no, I won’t tell you. I think some people just don’t have a filter around their colleagues, especially the colleagues that are good listeners.

      1. Bluebonnet*

        At my old library job, a former supervisor told his co-workers about how his wife popped pimples on his back (ewwww!). As a result, the co-workers jokingly talked about having “TMI Tuesdays..”

    8. Ed*

      If I had to guess, it’s probably because human’s are social animals who talk to each other. Which, for the avoidance of doubt, is a good thing.

    9. Qwerty*

      If you suspect that someone knows your secret, you’re more likely to just tell the person plainly. The OP already had suspicions and instinctively wanted to report it. Telling the OP may have been Frank’s way of trying to let OP know that they were working on resolving the reporting structure before OP raised concerns to anyone.

      I’ve been in the opposite position where people wrongly thought I was involved with a manager or peer (woman in male dominated field). The way people act when they suspect something is SUPER obvious and starts making other people suspect something is going on.

    10. There You Are*

      I hate keeping secrets but only regarding my own secrets. I can easily lock away other people’s “please don’t tell so-and-so this,” but mine? Errrrggggggghhh. It’s like walking around with a pebble in my shoe. I can do it, but it’s difficult.

      Keeping my own secrets feels like lying and I hate lying because it ratchets up my anxiety.

      1. SJ (they/them)*

        I am exactly like this, I will take other people’s secrets to the grave but cannot keep my own to save my life. Even if I want to!! I just end up blurting it out, whatever it is. Le sigh.

  9. Aldabra*

    The office tea-making thing in the UK seems to be similar to going to the pub and everyone takes turns buying a round for everyone else. If I visited, I’d be the one who messes up the system and does for myself; I want neither multiple teas nor multiple alcoholic drinks. I’d make/buy one for myself, and frankly I wouldn’t want to make/buy ones for a bunch of other people either. Also, I don’t drink coffee and have no intention of ever learning how.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      It’s exactly like a pub round, and you’re quite right that the aim is to get a pretty much constant stream of caffeine without having to make tea repeatedly. It’s not worth doing if you only have one cup a day.

      1. Hornswoggler*

        I worked part-time in an office of about 8 people once where they literally had a cup of tea or coffee every hour. In those days I had one coffee mid-morning and one tea mid-afternoon. They thought I was very strange.

        In order to comply with office culture, I used occasionally to make a round of teas and coffees even when I didn’t want one myself.

        1. DogsInPJsAreMyFavorite*

          Wait, but that’s…. So much caffeine?! Like, 8 people drank 8 cups each every work day? Or like, amongst the 8 people, at least one person every hour would want a new tea themselves and then would offer it to the group?

          1. Hlao-roo*

            A cup of black tea has about half as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, so drinking 8 cups of tea a day is roughly equivalent to drinking 4 cups of coffee a day. Maybe a little on the high side, but I know plenty of people who regularly 3-5 cups of coffee per day so I wouldn’t consider 8 cups of tea “so much caffeine.”

            1. DogsInPJsAreMyFavorite*

              That actually makes a lot of sense, thank you! It didn’t really occur to me that tea would have less caffeine but it makes sense.

          2. ggg*

            I think my in-laws in the UK have a cup every 45 minutes or so. I can’t do it. I feel sick afterward.

          3. Ellis Bell*

            If you grow up in a house where the kettle is pretty much permanently on, this isn’t even slightly strange. It’s a lot easier to down tea, than coffee for some reason.

        2. London Calling*

          When I was working I used to used my tea drinking frequency as a boredom/busyness indicator. A lot of cups of tea? bored and fed up. a lot of half drunk and cold cups of tea? too damned busy to even take time to finish them.

      2. Thistle*

        I honestly don’t get why people think it’s so complicated or special. In any team there will be certain people who gradually and informally group together to take turns to get the hot drinks (and its almost always coffee, tea drinkers are much more rare). Some will ask everyone if they want a cup, some only ask the regulars. Shrug. Also, people share the rota but it’s not usually a set thing and they do it because it’s polite to offer to help. There are always some who offer more than others.

        Tea drinkers are really rare and in my experience and are pretty much always on a caffeine reduction kick. Its often a first in the morning drink, before the coffee starts. The idea that all us Brits drink tea all day is just out of date everywhere I’ve worked. I’m sure there are some old fashioned places where there might still be a tea trolley, but they’d be the exception.

        I’ve contracted a fair bit and I’ve only once ever come across one place where the admin was an old fashioned dragon and informed me on my first day that everyone took turns to make coffee (and you could see the embarrassment on the others faces). I shrugged and said I don’t drink either and so people would me taking a big risk asking me to make them. After realising I turned down coffee every time, I was quickly ignored.

    2. Varthema*

      You don’t mess up the pub round system if you just get one for yourself, you mess it up if you let other people buy you a round and then don’t stick around long enough to buy yours!

      And actually, for that reason here in Ireland people will opt out of doing rounds precisely because they only want to have the one.

    3. Bagpuss*

      You’d be fine. Making/buying your own doesn’t mess up the round, the only issue is if you routinely accept hen other are buying/ making but don’t ever buy/make in return.
      Rounds (pub) tend to work best when you have the same group on a regular basis-it’s efficient as fewer people go up to the bar and it evens out if you have the same group every week, even if the number of drinks is lower than the number of people in the round, on a specific evening

      1. Aldabra*

        Oh no, I wouldn’t sponge off of others, I’d just say sorry leave me out of the round, I’ll get my own. Unless I said I only wanted the one and they insisted it was their treat or something like that. But yeah I understand not mooching!

    4. Storm in a teacup*

      One of my old workplaces we stretched the tea round turns across a week – 5 of us in the team and everyone had a day a week they made tea in the morning and afternoon.
      It’s just common courtesy for you to make tea how your colleagues like it.

      1. WellRed*

        Can they not brew the tea and then colleagues fix it up However they like? (Serious q).

        1. A Becky*

          The point is the time and motion efficiency – one person gets up, makes the tea, brings it round. If you’re having to carry milk and sugar to desks, or people have to get up, that no longer works.

          That said, it’s not unheard of for the tea-maker to do a row of mugs, bags and hot water and you then fix & collect yours.

        2. Ellis Bell*

          I’ve had colleagues keep sugar packets in their desk, because that can be more efficient than the tea maker remembering the different amounts of sugar. When it comes to milk or strength though, it’s most efficient to leave it to the tea maker. Luckily the vast majority of people are fine with mid-beige tea and it’s usually easy to remember the one or two people who are “leave the bag in” or “baby tea for me”.

        3. Storm in a teacup*

          No because the bag has to steep for a certain amount of time so more efficient for one person to make them all. Also being bought a cuppa made by someone else is nice!

        4. Storm in a teacup*

          No because the bag has to steep for a certain amount of time so more efficient for one person to make them all. Also being bought a cuppa made by someone else is nice!
          Unless they’re heathens who make it in a microwave :p

    5. Well...*

      This drives me nuts because I feel like I always owe people money but I never know exactly how much. Why can’t we all just Venmo each other each time /sob

    6. Magenta*

      It is absolutely fine to opt out and only get one for yourself, as long as it is right from the start. But it is not fine to accept a drink from someone else and then try to opt out, that is rude and tight. It works the same for both tea and alcohol.

      1. merula*

        Ok that helps, I’m just confused about a comment above that said “That being said if you go to the kitchen and only make tea for yourself? Massive no no.”

        I drink maybe 3 cups of tea a week, when I’m feeling like it, and if opting out but still making myself a cup is rude, I don’t get how that works at all.

        1. Bébé chat*

          The solution is pretty easy : just offer to prapre tea for eveyone when you feel like drinking one yourself.

          1. Clovers*

            But that genuinely seems like a big hassle every time you want a drink? Sometimes (usually!) I feel like people will want a refill of their beverage without having to go talk to the whole team and make a big production out of it. Sometimes having the tea made for you doesn’t seem worth having to make it A Thing every time you want some for yourself.

            1. Ellis Bell*

              It’s nice if the occasional tea drinker makes a round for us caffeine guzzlers, but honestly I wouldn’t expect it from those who rarely partake. It’s only a sin if they owe you a drink, you’re gasping, busy and they’re gazing into thin air and taking all the time in the world to make one lonely cuppa. Then when you do finally get a chance to get up and put the kettle on, they want one too!

            2. Laura Petrie*

              It’s not a big deal. You stand up, announce you’re going to brew up, ask who wants one and go to the kitchen or kettle.

              Kettles boil much quicker in the UK than in the US and it really doesn’t take much longer to make 4 cups of tea than it would be to make one

  10. IT Relationship Manager*

    #2, at the top of our organization our CEO doesn’t believe that we could genuinely have a lot of top performers getting a 5/5 on their reviews. He thinks reviews should come as a bell curve. Even though we have had a lot of attrition, people are working the duties of several positions and got the organization to stay functional through a pandemic. No wonder the people left got good reviews! It’s weird to be upset that people were doing better than expected. If someone is doing awesome and you don’t want them to leave they should have a top mark!

    #4 I am American and I was once the youngest person (and the only female) in an office where I was required to make coffee even though I don’t drink any. I did manage to get out of it when they had critiques on the coffee choice and I told them I was never going to drink the stuff so they could just make their own. So this tea making ritual for others is fascinating and also I’d be terrible at it. If you were in the US you’d be left to your own devices! I don’t know the coffee or tea orders of my friends or co-workers haha. I think we all just do better making our own doctored beverages here.

    1. Zweisatz*

      (Re #2) That’s bonkers. Essentially the CEO is making sure to drive away or demotivate specifically those employees that have performed the best.

    2. ecnaseener*

      So basically the CEO is saying he doesn’t expect to attract and retain high performers?? Is that what he tells his recruiters and managers when it’s not performance review time, that the optimal workforce is a bell curve centered around just-ok?? Bananas.

    3. AngryOctopus*

      When my current company was new, they did the same ‘bell curve distribution’ for reviews. What this shakes out to in practice was that *someone* in the group apparently had to be low, even if everyone in the group did good work. The company very quickly learned that putting someone who did good work at the left of a bell curve just for the sake of having a bell curve meant that good people were going to leave. Now they don’t do reviews at all! Just goal setting and meeting with your manager to track progress through the year (and rewriting/resetting of goals whenever the project dictates).

    4. Scarlett*

      My first job out of uni (UK) I was the the only woman in the office and lied and said I didn’t drink tea because I didn’t want to somehow be the one responsible for all the rounds just because I was new and a girl.

      Lasted about three weeks until they learned I would very politely tell them to f**k off if they tried to treat me like an old timey secretary and I could join in the tea rounds with everyone else.

  11. IrishMN*

    I once had a manager who said that if someone is “exceeds expectations” in most categories it means they should be at a higher level in the company.

    That didn’t make sense to me…for example, what if the only place to move up to is management, but they don’t want to (or don’t have the skills/temperament for) management? They can still be great at their job and exceed the expectations for that role.

    I think it was an excuse to keep the ratings (and therefore merit increases) lower.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I think there is some truth to that, although can’t say if it was an excuse in your particular case. Consistently getting exceeds expectations on all areas often does mean that the job as it stands has been “outgrown” in some sense. If there wasn’t a path for advancement within the company it could also mean it’s time to see what opportunities exist elsewhere.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Except that many people do not have any interest in advancing to another position that requires a different set of skills and daily tasks. I’m at or very, very close to the top of the non-people manager roles in my field and have absolutely no interest in moving up. Sure, some people might get bored, but others like me want to reach that point so we can produce high quality work with less effort. I would rather spend my mental energy focused on things outside of work that bring me joy, tbh.

        1. Lily*

          “produce high quality work with less effort”
          This is exactly where I want to be. Management sounds like a never-ending bad dream to me.

    2. Irish Teacher.*

      Yeah, that works on the premise that the only difference between roles is how competent one has to be to do them whereas, in many jobs, they require different skills. In teaching, I would definitely say we should not be taking the best teachers out of the classroom and putting them in principal-typed roles which require very different skills. I think many of the best teachers would be unhappy in a role that requires little or no teaching.

      And if higher roles involve managing people, those are very different roles requiring very different skills, that a person who excels at say llama grooming or teapot making may either not be good at or might have no interest in.

      It also assumes that everybody wants a “higher role”. If somebody likes what they are doing and is good at it, I see no reason they’d want to move to a different role.

    3. amoeba*

      I think it would work that way in my company, at least on the “scientist track” where basically you keep doing the same job, just getting a more senior title and more pay as you go along. And of course higher performance expectations – so if you’re constantly exceeding at “associate scientist” level, then it’s probably time for you to get promoted to “scientist”, where the expectations are higher. As soon as you keep exceeding those, you should move to “senior scientist” and so on (there’s quite a few levels, so you don’t run out of levels until mid to late career – as far as I know, my company then still gives you exceeds expectations and the corresponding raises though, so pretty sure they’re not using it as an excuse, but really as a system to determine when people should be promoted!)

    4. Magenta*

      This is how it works at my company, someone with a high appraisal should be in line for a promotion, once they have the promotion it would be common for the score to drop while they grow into the role and when the scores start going up it is time to consider them for a promotion again.
      It inly works in some industries and some companies, but it is a good system when it works.

    5. Daisy*

      That manager made a false assumption. Just because someone rocks at one job doesn’t mean they will be good at everything.

      Especially in jobs where technical/scientific single producers will be moving into people management or charisma/people jobs need to move into detail-oriented tracking. It isn’t impossible that someone is excellent at both, but many folks excel in one area and really struggle in the other.

    6. Filosofickle*

      My company’s scale includes that kind of “ready for promotion” language at the top scoring levels. They’ve talked to me about it a couple of times but I have declined promotion and they were still willing to give me the highest score and a raise. I feel good that they want high performers to have a path up, but won’t force it. (However, at some point I expect my regular raises to slow because I’ll max out salary for this level)

    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      I agree with you. I have at least four great individual contributors who routinely exceed expectations and are quite happy to do an amazing job at what they do now with zero desire to manage (which would be the next step in the career progression). They’re a huge asset to the team and to our client base, and they are given high marks and corresponding merits/bonuses for knocking it out of the park on a regular basis. If I tried to promote any of them into a management position, they’d be quite miserable and would not be nearly as successful because it’s a different skill set. More importantly, they don’t WANT a management position and are quite content to be subject-matter experts and ICs.

    8. Burger Bob*

      Oof. That is some real Peter principle philosophy. It does not follow that someone performing well in one job will therefore be a good fit for the next step up. And if you’re intentionally promoting people until they reach a point where they can’t deliver peak performance, that’s kind of a recipe for the company as a whole never achieving peak performance. You *want* people at each level to be performing at the top of their game. Why would you ever look at that as a bad thing?

  12. Schmassion*

    For a moment I thought someone from my workplace had written in about colleagues that are in a chain of line management are dating on the DL. In our case, it’s even the highest manager in the directorate that’s dating a subordinate, making many people very uncomfortable. Both should know better and I’ve just been disappointed and lost a lot of respect, especially for other seniors who just seem to turn a blind eye.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Which is a whole other reason to not do it. People lose respect for those carrying on like that.

      I feel for OP. It is icky to know this. You can’t pretend you don’t know either, like you did when you just suspected it. It’s a hard call and you have to do what makes you comfortable. If you don’t feel like going to HR, vent to a friend (outside the company) and see if that takes away some of the ick.

  13. Brain the Brian*

    LW1: If HR finds out that you knew but didn’t tell them, they may — unreasonably and illegally, but still — retaliate against you. Tell them now through the confidential hotline; you’d much rather have a manager who probably won’t be in management much longer think poorly of you than HR.

    1. Despachito*

      I wouldn’t do that. The coworker sort of confided in OP, and although it is not good no harm is coming out of it so far, and they seem to be working on a change (Lauren applying for other positions). It would feel like snitching.

      I’d rather stay completely out of it. I do not think it is likely that HR finds out you knew (and I hate thinking of HR like some omnipresent big brother punishing you for not informing him), and in the unlikely case this happened, I’d deny remembering anything.

      1. Craig*

        I agree here. Lauren is taking active steps to resolve the issue, while she is doing that I would stay quiet.

        I would only go to HR if I witnessed, or was aware of, an occasion where Lauren clearly gave special treatment to Frank.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          If it would be easier to find Frank a different role in the company, and harder to find one for Lauren, why did they hit on the latter as the “active step”?

          1. fhqwhgads*

            My guess would be because she’s the one in the position of power and thus committed the worse ethical violation.

        2. EPLawyer*

          Or you know Lauren could have taken this step BEFORE getting serious with Frank to the point of divorcing her spouse. Lauren is only NOW taking active steps to resolve an issue OF HER OWN CREATION that has been going on for a bit.

          And just an aside — it is NOT snitching. This isn’t elementary school. This is something that could have SERIOUS impact on the company. Lauren is opening the company up to a lawsuit. There are other impacts this could have. Now this is not OP’s problem, it’s Lauren and Frank’s. If she wants to go HR that is entirely proper and it is NOT snitching. It is providing information that affects the company. If she chooses to keep quiet that is okay too but not because she doesn’t want to be a “snitch” but because she is protecting herself from blowback.

          1. Pink Candyfloss*

            You are 100% on the nose, EPLawyer. This is an ETHICS VIOLATION. People are looking at this like it’s gossip and it is NOT. Companies have policies against this for valid reasons and by not disclosing, everyone who knows about this including and beyond Lauren and Frank, are deliberately making a choice to engage in deception about violating a company’s policy.

          2. Daisy*

            I agree with EPLawyer. This is not “snitching” and OP doesn’t need to wait until she is directly impacted to tell HR. In fact, I would say waiting and only telling HR if major favoritism happens is much worse for OP.
            If Lauren gives Frank a big raise and OP a mediocre raise (or any other favoritism where Frank comes out with more) then it looks like OP is retaliating when she goes to HR. If OP goes to Lauren and asks why she doesn’t get the same raise as Frank it looks like blackmail. If OP does nothing she is supporting the relationship against company rules. Really, the only time OP can safely say something to HR is prior to any impacts this relationship may have on her worklife.

          3. Nonny anon works with dogs*

            Thank you for this comment. I complete agree… this is a situation that Frank and Lauren created.

      2. Your local password resetter*

        That doesn’t really matter though. They’re in a relationship while one is managing the other, and they’re keeping it a secret. That’s unacceptable, even if they pinky promise they’re going to change the situation at some point in the future.
        And the OP is already uncomfortable and has to work with these people, so there is only so much distancing they can do.

        The fact they’re both cheating on their spouses is just the cherry on top.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I’d rather stay completely out of it.
        The coworkers have decided that’s not acceptable for OP, and she needs to get out there on the plank with them.

        Schmoopies: “Just the two of us, plus everyone in the office we told, all of us together against the cold cruel world…”
        Officemates: “We did not volunteer for this garbage, and we are running away.”

        I don’t think “snitching” “tattling” “narcing” etc have any place as a complaint at work. If you don’t want anyone telling management what you’re really doing, either don’t break the rules, or carry out an effective cover-up that does not involve confiding in everyone else to help you with the cover-up.

        For example, all of the pot for raises going to the glory that is Frank for *cough cough* totally objective and logical reasons is a genuine issue for everyone working with these two. And if it would be easier to find Frank a different role in the company, why is he not the one applying for these other jobs? And why is that question on OP at all?

      4. Boof*

        It’s actually kind of gross coworker saddled LW with this. LW is under no obligation to hide their dirty laundry just because a coworker gave it to them.
        Ha, I’m reminded of a video game I played recently where a monk doing something bad confesses to a priest who had suspected so that suddenly the priest is bound by confidentiality and can’t report it. No idea how that would actually work in the church but yeah, if LW’s coworkers didn’t want it to get around they shoulda kept it more under wraps.

        That’s not to say LW can’t keep it quiet if they want, but 100% no qualms if they report it to HR either given the circumstances.

      5. KatEnigma*

        LW didn’t ask to be “confided in” and I don’t know how you can confidently say no harm is coming from it.

        “Snitching” is a pretty immature word, to my mind. In most cases, this would actually qualify as hostile work environment/sexual harassment- the reason you can anonymously report it. It makes LW and even the people who only suspect it uncomfortable. Reporting sexual harassment is not snitching!

      6. Samwise*


        What is this, third grade? Or the mafia?

        While Lauren is purportedly looking for another job, she’s still dating a subordinate, which is wrong for all the reasons Alison already stated. (The guy is no innocent party here, but he’s the subordinate, so Lauren is more at fault from a work perspective,)

        OP can inform HR or not, but telling HR isn’t **snitching**.

        1. KatEnigma*

          And besides that, the “terrible consequence” they are trying to avoid isn’t demotion or firing, but that Frank will have to change locations!

          I can see people being against you getting someone fired (although, even then, they earned it!) but lengthening his commute isn’t a tragedy!

          1. Daisy*

            Yeah, and how long do you think it will take Lauren to find another job at the same location, with the same pay or a raise, where she and Frank get to work together, but she isn’t anywhere in his management structure? Because they sure aren’t willing to give up any perks to be together or they already would have. I think the likelihood of Lauren finding another job is about the same as both cheated-on spouses being happy about the divorce and giving them smooth, quick divorces.

      1. EPLawyer*

        If OP is the only one Frank told and Lauren didn’t tell anyone, its pretty easy to figure out who properly informed the company.

        1. steliafidelis*

          OP notes that they have suspected the affair; presumably someone else could figure it out.

          I would probably say something (and claim ignorance if Frank or Lisa asked me anything), but I don’t think OP has an obligation to do so.

          1. MCL*

            Yeah, I was thinking this too. They can’t be *too* subtle about it if OP has been suspecting an affair for some time. OP is probably not the only one with suspicions, and who knows – maybe others have likewise been burdened with this secret.

        2. nona*

          Can OP tell Frank that “you guys haven’t actually been that subtle about it” and that he should inform HR ASAP because OP likely isn’t the only one that suspects/knows? You know, especially if its true.

          Which gives a little cover to OP in case they decide to report…

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          I figure OP is one of dozens of people who noticed their weird vibe and suspected an affair.

          Though now I would not be at all surprised if the “feel that old thrill by telling someone” adrenaline hit has been carried out on a whole bunch of those coworkers.

          If HR finds out, OP could be in the boss’s cross-hairs regardless of OP being the source or not. People who are convinced they are masterfully disguising an affair are notorious for not wanting to hear about how everyone can see them.

      2. DJ Abbott*

        If LW is the only person they’ve told, though, it will be obvious who called the hotline.

        1. Daisy*

          People in affairs are rarely as discrete as they think they are. Especially if they are working together or meet up during work hours. Cow eyes over the lunch table? Standing inside of personal space? Both out of the office at the same time? Rumors are likely already circulating unless this is a 3-person office.

          1. DJ Abbott*

            Yes… I’ve been watching the TV show Younger and thinking in real life, everyone would know about their affair.

    2. WellRed*

      Why would HR retaliate? Aside from having no grounds to. It would create a system where no one ever feels comfortable bringing an issue like this to light.

    3. Snow Globe*

      I think it would be unlikely for HR to do anything against the LW, even if they knew the LW knew. The LW could honestly reply that they feared retaliation from their boss if they reported it.

  14. Freelance Anything*

    Vital information missing for #4

    – Does this colleague drink tea themselves?

    (Or is LW massively overestimating how much tea colleague drinks in a day?)

    If they don’t, they are absolutely not obliged to make anyone else tea. And are even within their rights to self-deprecatingly apologise for ‘bad’ tea in advance to Guests/Clients (even if the tea is not bad, this would be a normal thing to say).

    That being said, whenever someone *is* making tea for someone else, they should always ask how it’s taken. That is just polite.

    Caveat to that, though, is: they don’t have to memorize it. And if that’s what LW 4 means by ‘learn’ then they are expecting too much.

    Lots of office kitchens will have a whiteboard with everyone’s usual preferences on it, specifically so there is no burden to ‘learn’ an office worth of tea preferences.

    I’m from the UK (England specifically) and I’m definitely inclined to think LW 4 is making a mountain out of a tea hill.

    1. Pyjamas*

      @freelance: so the pref involve milk, sugar & how much? I thought it was strength of tea or type of leaves, loose leaf vs tea bags, water temp, etc.

      1. UKDancer*

        In offices it’s usually milk, sugar and how much. Never have I worked anywhere with loose leaf tea, ability to vary temperature etc. That’s a thing people do in their homes. Most offices that provide tea have 1 type of teabag and a kettle. So customisable features are milk and sugar.

        Or maybe i need to work nicer places.

        1. KateM*

          Wait. You are saying that people want other people to boil water and put their teabag in cups?? I was expecting brewing a full pot of tea from loose leaves for everyone!

          1. Clara*

            Oh my god, no. The only places you see that are where you’re having afternoon tea or all drinking communally. In an office it would purely be tea bag + hot water, milk and sugar. Preferences would be on if the bag should be left in, milk / no milk and how many teaspoons of sugar. Mind, the only time I’ve felt like it was expected to do a tea round was where I had older co-workers. In my last two jobs, I’ve mostly worked with people a bit younger who would prefer to just use the coffee machine or make their own.

          2. Amey*

            Yes! Literally, you put teabags in all the cups, pour boiling water over them, take teabags out, add milk and sugar as required based on preference, carry it back to the office on a tray. In my office, to be honest, usually two of us go to the do the tea round, then we can have a chat while we do it. Accompanying person is also often someone who wants something different from either standard tea (as above) or instant coffee which is basically prepared pretty much like to standard tea…

            I use loose leaf and a teapot at home, I’ve never seen that in the office and it would be much more faffy to manage.

          3. bamcheeks*

            This is what I always find funny about the “British tea-drinking culture” conversations. Everyone outside the UK assumes it’s this tremendously fussy and fancy “loose-leaves, warmed teapot, stew for precisely 3.5 minutes, china cups” type affair, and it IS tremendously fussy but it is very, very unfancy:

            – “you mashin” “you brewing” “fancy a brew” “anyone for a cuppa” “what you having?” depending on class and region
            – Ali has to have his Liverpool mug, the World’s Best Dad one is Harry’s, Laura always has that rainbow one, everyone else gets the branded ones we got from a local building supplies place we did business with, the IKEA ones or the chocolate branded ones that someone’s kid got for Easter one year
            – tannin stains on the inside of the mug are fine, tannin stains on the outside are gross
            – Yorkshire tea good, PG Tips or supermarket own-brand OK, Typhoo depressing, Lipton’s unspeakable
            – teabag in every cup
            – careful calculation about how much water to put in, bearing in mind you’ve got to take the teabag out, add milk, and carry three at a time
            – milk and teabag in the cup at the same time is gross, this is a respectable office, not a hungover student house
            – least grimy spoon
            – complicated calculations about what order you put the hot water in and what order you take out the tea bags and whether you mash the bag
            – drop of milk in each, they can always add more, except for Lucy because you know for sure she likes loads
            – two sugars for Gary, half a one for Ali, Holly, Luke and Mac, none at all for the rest
            – how many mugs can you carry in each hand, is three too many, bollocks you’ve slopped it, never mind, Gary won’t mind

            1. UShoe*

              One teaspoon for the whole lineup, unless someone’s having coffee then they need a private teaspoon so the tea isn’t tainted by association

            2. bamcheeks*

              Forgot to mention the box of Fancy Brand tea (Whittards, M&S) that someone got for Christmas one year and brought in, which everyone ignores because it’s not Proper Tea.

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                Sometimes that tea is bad, though!

                I do recall reading a British book recently where they tossed in a line about regular salt of the Earth working joe tea and fancy aristocrat tea and one was Earl Grey and one was English Breakfast, and in the US those are both packets that come in the same box. (I am currently drinking a loose leaf purple Kenyan tea, because I am a tea snob.)

            3. Falling Diphthong*

              Lipton’s unspeakable

              On a long ago trip to New Zealand and Australia, we were thrilled to find that the Tetley’s tea you got in train stations was actually adequate rather than horrible. We interpreted this as Tetley sending their worst tea to America, but perhaps it was also knowing how to brew tea.

              1. Burger Bob*

                Well if you’re trying to use Lipton’s for *hot* tea, sure! But Lipton’s is an okay choice for making a pitcher of *iced* tea, especially if you’re using it to make sweet tea a la the American South. Iced tea culture is a whole different beast from hot tea culture.

            4. WellRed*

              Well there was a comment or two yesterday about the horrors of using a microwave to make tea, so I also assumed it was more involved then pouring water over bag in cup. And now the secret is out and us Americans have shattered illusions.

              1. bamcheeks*

                See, that *is* unforgiveable. Has to be properly boiling water going onto a teabag. I and most other people will re-boil the kettle if it’s more than ~15 second after the click. It’s just rare to have it in a teapot and even rarer to have looseleaf!

                1. Cormorannt*

                  There are actual science reasons why microwaved water makes lousy tea. Microwaving it drives out all the tiny air bubbles and that affects the taste. That’s also why re-boiling the kettle without adding more water makes bad tea, although that effect is less pronounced. I learned that from an Irish food scientist.

                2. Peanut Hamper*

                  My kettle drops several degrees in the minute after the click, so yeah, it’s 15 seconds or re-boil!

                3. Kermit’s Bookkeepers*

                  THANK you. I’m also a “reboil the pot so that it clicks the MOMENT before pouring” person and it always makes me feel a bit fussy, but water temperature is KEY.

                4. KatEnigma*

                  Alton Brown did the “why microwaved water makes bad tea” in a Good Eats episode, as well.

                  Try convincing Americans of this, however… BUT 220v boils a kettle of water way faster than 110v does, so I can kind of understand it. (I know it should be twice as fast, but it seems even faster!)

              2. Ellis Bell*

                The microwave isn’t bad because it’s not fancy. It’s bad because it makes bad tea. Office tea is not fancy at all. Most “real” English cuppas are not fancy for that matter. Tannin stained mugs and sugar all over the tea tray, which is balanced on top of a mini fridge will not affect the brewing of the tea. A microwave however, will.

            5. No Longer Working*

              Does the UK not use artificial sweeteners? In the US we have 4 kinds in color-coded packets! Sticking to real sugar sure simplifies things.

              1. bamcheeks*

                Some people do, but I think they’re grim. And they were spectacularly horrible in black tea made in a coffee machine.

            6. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

              Nothing to add — just that I loved reading this and you’re a wonderful writer.

            7. Tau*

              This was the single greatest culture shock I had when I moved to the UK for uni. I come from a relative rarity, namely a tea-drinking household in Germany. What this means for my parents: multiple kinds of loose leaf tea from the local tea shop, rotated through the week; approximately four teapots in different sizes from local pottery shop to be selected based on how many tea-drinkers are present and how thirsty they are; matching teacups; tea stove with tealight for keeping teapot warm; fancy crystallized brown sugar for those who like it a bit sweet; etc. etc. That was how I grew up, and after hearing so much about everyone drinking tea in Britain I was expecting something similar.

              Please picture the following as one of my first experiences in the UK:
              Me: “Hey, flatmate! I’m making myself some tea, want some?”
              Her: “Ooh, sure!”
              Me: “Great! What kind? I’ve got black with orange, black with rose, assam, rooibos, lemongrass, mint…”
              Her: “…just …tea? Like. Just normal tea.”
              Us: *stares of mutual bewilderment*

              I also used to deeply confuse British B&B owners on holiday by my insistence on removing the teabag from the teapot after the tea had finished steeping :(

              1. bamcheeks*

                ahahah, yes, exactly! I’ve been on the opposite side of that several times: invited over to a German’s house/flat for tea, and I think it’s super casual but then I get there and there’s a teapot+tea light set in pride of place at the centre of the table and they’re dying to show me how many different rounds of fancy tea they’ve got. It’s absolutely delightful, but it’s extremely not British!

                1. bamcheeks*

                  (this is not in any way to disparage Germans or to suggest British tea culture is superior! I just think it’s funny the misconceptions we have about each other.)

                2. Tau*

                  XDD They probably think they’re giving you a little taste of home, and/or are attempting to check if their tea setup passes muster from the Extremely Cultured British Person From Tea Country.

                  I did develop a taste for Yorkshire and PG Tips while I was in the UK. Don’t tell my parents.

            8. Ellis Bell*

              This is every office tea tray I have ever encountered. Slops and stains and brownish tea spoon included. Concur on the acceptable brands of tea. You forgot to mention how someone always has a shaky sugar hand though, giving a nice snowfall effect on the tray. Oh, and the rather lumpy sugar jar too.

          4. LCH*

            Also how do you carry that many cups if it’s a large office? Dear god. It would take so much time to deliver like 12 cups of tea.

      2. Freelance Anything*

        Not in an office.

        There’s rarely the budget or inclination to get that specific at work. That level of stuff is for home.

        Tea, sugar, milk. Maybe if there’s a decaf option or a mint/green tea option you’d specify, but that’s gonna depend on your knowledge of the office supply.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        There’s a Standard Cuppa which most people are well versed in making. Big brand breakfast tea bags, rolling boil kettle, enough milk to make it the colour of a biscuit and sugar on request or on the side. This is what you would make for the plumber, and it’s actually what I would drink myself most of the time unless I’m in the mood for something fancy.

    2. Wolfie*

      Yes, good point about the self-deprecation – that’s a general social norm too!

      I handed someone a cup of instant coffee (I don’t drink it) the other day with the words “I’m sure this is probably awful” – we laughed about my clumsy / over the top declaration but if I’d been a bit less dramatic about it I think it’s quite common.

    3. Tau*

      I was about to suggest the solution my workplace used when I worked in the UK: spreadsheet of tea preferences and mug description, updated regularly by HR who collected this information in the onboarding paperwork. Nobody should need to memorize it!

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        At $BigLaw job I was in charge of the spreadsheet. It also had a note of which mug was whose – this is important because tea tastes different in different mugs it’s just science shut up yes it DOES.

        1. Storm in a teacup*

          Yes it does.
          MAny years ago when pharma companies were allowed to give corporate swag, at a conference one company gave out mugs branded with their drug logo AND printed either your name and tea (or coffee) preference! Those were the longest queues for any booth I’ve ever seen and those mugs were used by everyone in my department who’d been to the conference for years.

        2. bamcheeks*

          yeah, also, if it doesn’t hold a full 300ml WHAT IS THE POINT. Please don’t give me one of those crappy little barely-two-swallows mugs.

          1. Nina*

            Oh my god my work mug is literally a 600 mL lab beaker (in a crocheted cozy) that I had the glassblower add a handle to and engrave NOT A LAB BEAKER THIS IS FOR COFFEE on.

        3. DogsInPJsAreMyFavorite*

          I think honestly that’s the sweetest thing, I was thinking the whiteboard was a lot, but sounded useful. but a spreadsheet on mugs?! ..I mean, as a non British person it’s like, super intense, but if it’s a big enough part of your day to have a favorite mug, why not keep track of it?

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            So wait how do people use mugs otherwise? Do you just use … any vessel you find in the kitchen, regardless of handle shape, rim thickness and internal colour?! I am shooketh.

            1. Storm in a teacup*

              My first week at uni we didn’t have a tea strainer so we used a grater.

              But even as students we had mugs. What else are you going to use for sessioning before you go clubbing?

            2. DogsInPJsAreMyFavorite*

              So I’m from the US, so it’s more about coffee, and we just have like, 50 identical mugs for the office to use, and a very fancy coffee machine like a Keurig on steroids so the water temp is standardized. And at other offices you could bring in your own mug, but there’d be at least a handful of office mugs if you didn’t want to, just like, what I consider a typical coffee mug size/handle :)

      2. Buni*

        One place I worked years ago bought a load of those write-on-&-bake mugs. You put your name in big letters at the top or opposite the handle, then wrote your tea preference on one side and your coffee pref on the other (as newbies joined they got handed a mug to decorate pretty much on their first day..).

        When someone came to do a round you put your mug on the tray so either the tea or coffee side was facing front, and then the maker just had to read & comply.

    4. bamcheeks*

      I’ve never had a job with an “everyone makes everyone else tea” culture, but I will say that surely one of the key points of tea culture is that whether you like it more-milk-than-tea or the colour of espresso, you say, “oh lovely, thanks so much!” when someone has made you a cup of tea and drink it cheerfully.

      1. Scarlett*

        Then you leave it on the corner of your desk and feign surprise like ‘oh no I have forgotten my tea and it has gone cold. I’m gonna get another one, who wants?’

    5. Storm in a teacup*

      Fellow Brit and agree – this is a level above most people’s expectations.
      Personally I am fussy with my tea so prefer to make my own. Will happily grab a colleague a cup if we’re sitting together and I’m going for myself but don’t subscribe to the tea rounds that some offices do. The problem arises when someone asks me to make them a coffee. We have a machine with those round pod thingys (?nespresso???) and I don’t drink coffee and so have no idea how to use it. Sorry.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        The good thing about those pod machines is that they are almost impossible to do wrong. The hardest part is figuring out where to put the pod, and then you just press a button (it usually helpfully has a cup drawn on it). No measuring, or knowing quantities, or pouring, or tamping, etc. required. And the best part is, you’re not responsible for the quality of the coffee that comes out, because there is no way to influence it (except buying better pods).

        1. Storm in a teacup*

          Hmmm I will continue to plead ignorance of which slit the pod goes into

          And also refuse to learn how to make coffee!

      2. Ellen D*

        Very much how it worked in my office – central Government – we made our own tea, with occasional offers to desk buddies, but I never accepted. Sometimes, colleagues were keen on coffee and used a cafetier (not sure I’ve spelt that right) and better coffee, which was shared between a coffee group – the problem them was getting in washed up. I’ve never learnt how to make coffee – other than instant – as I don’t drink it. where I volunteer we do make tea or coffee for each other, but I always check how people like it – strong/weak, no milk/little milk/milky and then its at their risk.

  15. Wolfie*

    #4 – Mountain over a tea-hill I’m afraid. I’m British, just a bit older, and have never worked in a small team culture that had such high expectations of tea making. It’s always been make your own or maybe casually offer.

    I agree what you’re doing is polite and lovely, but I don’t agree that everyone shares expectations about reciprocating, and I suspect you wouldn’t get so irked if you stopped doing the work for those who don’t reciprocate.

    I did have one colleague who would unfailingly offer me a tea when he made his, but he refused to let me make him a cup! I often said no to his offer because it felt weird and one-sided despite the fact that we had a good and friendly relationship and he did reassure me many times he was just fussy about his tea.

    1. Wolfie*

      Although I agree it is very weird and impolite if you don’t ask how someone takes their tea / coffee when making. Really uncommon too.

      1. Martin Blackwood*

        See, if OP4 (or anyone else) has been making tea for their coworkers daily for years, well….id hope theyd learn their preferences after a while!
        But like, i dont think you can expect that of people making tea for everyone less often than…once a week consistantly? Idk. Like, once a month or less is just too much time between drinks to be 100% certain you remember right, and i think most people would rather be asked than get a wrong cup of tea.

        Ymmv. Im not british

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      In spite of being from the UK, I have largely escaped the horrors of the office tea round. I don’t remember having to make tea in any of my temp jobs, my first permanent job had a tea trolley, then I was in the US for years and now I’m back in the UK but work with a very international team where everyone sorts out their own drinks.

      I do agree that it’s polite to offer tea to visitors, but other than that I think people should take care of their own beverages. I think a lot of offices just get stuck in this weird British politeness spiral when it comes to tea and everyone feels too awkward to spaek up!

    3. Bagpuss*

      I agree that OPs expectations are over the top. It sounds as though their current office has a different culture around tea, so she is the outlier.
      I agree that asking someone how they like their tea if you are making it is normal.
      I would also comment that if she is a manager then that also affects things a bit. It used to be extremely common for there to be an expectation that junior staff made tea for the more senior, so you may also have people who intentionally avoid making it for their boss /manager because they don’t want to be perceived in that ‘office junior’ role.
      Where I work, it tends to be more a case of offering if someone else comes into the kitchen when you are boiling the kettle, or sometimes peers who share a room or work closely together will take it in turns.
      I have never worked anywhere where there was a regular tea round or spreadsheets!

    4. Bobina*

      As a UK based person, will also say mountain over tea-hill. When I worked in an office, while we occasionally did tea rounds, usually everyone just got their own because sometimes people wanted tea, sometimes coffee and we actually had some options for both teabags and (instant) coffee – so trying to keep track would quickly become too much.

      This was in a team of about 4-6 people. Any bigger and I would think tea rounds would definitely be too complicated.

      1. UShoe*

        Oh yes, I think the number of people on the “small team” is very relevant. If your team accepting a round to tea would generate more mugs than you can carry in one trip I don’t think you need to offer a round. Although in that case it might be a social nicety to do a “I need a tea, anyone want to join me” announcement.

        In my current office, despite there only being 4 of us there’s a fend for yourself culture because the tea and coffee facilities are down a flight of stairs. Logistics need to be taken into account.

        If it’s for a meeting or something though, no excuse, someone (or multiple someones) do a tea and coffee order with everyone’s preferences.

        1. EDI*

          I’m also UK-based (though I’m American!) and in my office it’s definitely more of a fend-for-yourself situation because we also have to contend with tea/coffee facilities being down a flight of stairs and through two doors you have to scan your pass to get into! It’s not as much of a faff as it sounds when you’re just getting a cuppa for yourself – but adding an extra turns it into a very precarious circus act, so there’s no expectation of tea rounds to save the juggling.

          If you do want to be polite, you just invite someone to come down and chat/make a cup with you. I suck at making black tea anyway (I am a coffee and herbal tea only person) so I definitely prefer that system.

          (We do have visitors come in sometimes and when I have to make tea for them, I am always terrified of messing it up!)

    5. Thegreatprevaricator*

      Also from uk, in my early 40s and agree this is a tea mountain. I am going to throw in a gender comment because in the past there has been both a gendered and hierarchy thing in some workplaces about who makes tea. Ie it’s often not the most senior person in the room who makes tea, and it is sometimes assumed that a woman is going to make the tea. Therefore you end up with expectations of senior female colleagues that are directly related to expectations of gender. I got told a great story of an older woman in a leadership position who strategically did not learn how to type, because when she started in the working world people would always assign her the job of taking minutes. So not knowing was her get out clause and maybe that’s the case here! Personally I can make tea but I don’t assign meaning to it beyond custom and courtesy. I think op4 is mistakenly applying their own motivations to other people’s behaviour – not everyone assigns the same importance to the gesture!

  16. Turanga Leela*

    I am delighted and fascinated by the British office tea thing! I’m an American and I drink tea every day at work, but it’s just by myself. I keep tea, mugs, and an electric kettle in my office.

    As I think about it, it feels kind of sad. People in other countries have pleasant social rituals, and here I am caffeinating solo at my desk.

    1. My Dear Wormwood*

      My father was a surveyor and trained many, many cadets, and says the absolute first thing he taught them was how to make tea, after an early one tried to make it by boiling the leaves in the kettle (dismay emoji here).

      Then they got taught how to billy tea over a fire when they were out in the field, which is pretty cool.

  17. John Smith*

    Re #4. As a young apprentice, my first job with a new organisation was to make tea for the management team. They were quite particular, to the point of having a colour chart of how their tea ahould look (amount of milk and length of teabag stewing). Off I went to the kitchen armed with everyone’s preferences, knowing I was going to make killer cuppas.

    On hearing a bubbling like noise and a click, I grabbed the kettle, made the teas and placed the tea tray with a big smile on the conference room desk. I got everyone’s order correct, not spilled a drop… job done.

    Then the spluttering and “eugh” started. My smile quickly turned to a grimace of horror as everyone’s tea was cold. I was mortified.

    It transpired that the boiling noise and click I heard wasn’t from the kettle, but a wall mounted water heater in close proximity. After I explained, people thankfully saw the funny side. I continued to make tea for the group, but they never let me live it down.

    1. My Dear Wormwood*

      Dad had to teach his cadets to make tea after one tried to boil the leaves in the kettle.

    2. Bridget the Elephant*

      We have a tea chart at one of the places where I work too. My problem is I work there too infrequently to know everyone’s names and match them to the chart (*facepalm*).

    3. Ellis Bell*

      How did you get it the right colour if the water was cold? That must have been some determined stirring!

  18. anonymous bureaucrat*

    #2 At my workplace, you’re straight up not allowed to get a 5/5 on any part of your performance review, and for a 4/5 your manager needs to provide written documentation as to why you deserved it. 3/5 is meets expectations and what to strive for. I don’t understand why 5/5 exists as an option in the system if no one is allowed to get it, as HR will actually ask your manager to go back and adjust the score, which happened to my boss in her first year as a manager, but fine. Then again, we’re local government with a union, so performance evals are both mandatory and absolutely meaningless. No one gets merit raises, but everyone gets their annual COLA adjustment regardless of performance (not the worst thing in the world). You can’t get a promotion on good performance–promotions generally have to be posted and competed with few exceptions, even if the plan had been to hire internal all along (I had to compete for a new job that was written specifically for me. I got it, but some poor outside candidate applied and passed the screener so higher-ups were required to interview them). Conversely, it’s nearly impossible to get fired on bad performance alone. You can get a 1/5 for years and not get fired; you pretty much need to commit a felony if you’re union to be ousted. Finally, all city employees get evaluated on the same criteria, regardless of position, so I, an office worker, am evaluated on the same criteria as a sanitation worker or a public school teacher. That doesn’t make sense for any of us. Local government is truly absurd sometimes.

  19. An American in Scotland*

    Please do the neanderthal a favour, pull them aside, and quietly offer advice on how to pull their socks up (or just loudly tut at them when they come back with a wrong order or without bringing something for the whole team)… Are there any other duties or courtesies that they are skipping out of by being “bad” at them? Best nip it in the bud, especially if so

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Loud tut?! Is there any need to escalate quite so violently so soon?

  20. Dark Macadamia*

    LW4, consider that the people apologizing for their bad tea are embarrassed because they know they’re bad at it but they’re *still doing the thing* to fulfill the polite social ritual. Being judgy about their inferior tea is ruder than them making an effort.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      The thing of it is, though, there really isn’t a lot of skill involved in putting a teabag in a mug, pouring boiling water over it, waiting five minutes, and then removing the teabag.

      About the only mistakes you can make here are not getting the water to boiling (absolutely essential for black tea; takes around five minutes in a proper kettle) and taking the tea bag out too soon or too late (you have a timer on your smart phone).

      It’s not really a complicated process, which I think is what the LW was talking about. I didn’t really get the feeling that they were being judgmental about others’ tea-making skills, as much as the fact that the daily tea round is a social phenomenon that is probably dying out.

      1. Buffy Rosenberg*

        You wouldn’t think there was a lot of skill involved, but people have such different ideas of what makes a good cup of tea, and so, so many view it as a “good” or “bad” cup, rather than “not how I would make it.”

        Also just generally never underestimate the extent to which something can seem simple or common sense but it genuinely isn’t to another person. The disproportionate reaction to different ways of making tea probably accounts for the seemingly disproportionate level of humility and apology that others have about their “tea making skills.”

      2. Nina*

        Have you ever met an American? because I have learned the hard way that even when you give some of them all the equipment and detailed instructions they still find brand new ways to eff it up that a non-American six-year-old wouldn’t make.
        Microwave the water? Leave the tea bag in so it looms up menacingly from the depths? Putting saccharin-based sweetener in it? Not boiling the water? using Lipton? god.

        I don’t even drink tea and I know how to make it properly.

  21. callie*

    An old office of mine went through a period where our receptionists/admins were all Mormon (we were not in an area with a particularly large Mormon population so it felt noteworthy). Some would offer to make coffee for visitors and just… get it Very Wrong. At least they tried! It got easier once we replaced an old drip machine with a Keurig.

    1. KatEnigma*

      They couldn’t read the instructions on the can? No one put instructions on the side of the machine? I don’t drink coffee either, but can make an acceptable pot (not great, not terrible) by just following instructions on the can.

  22. nnn*

    I would be interested in knowing how you can make tea badly. I can’t imagine how tea could go wrong, and I don’t know if that’s because I’m so good at making tea I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be bad at it, or because I’m so bad at making tea that I can’t imagine what it’s like to be good at it.

    1. Freelance Anything*

      Doesn’t brew for long enough or it gets stewed. Those are probably the easiest ways.

    2. Scot Librarian*

      Okay, 1) it’s too strong /weak (how long you leave the teabag in the mug /pot or how much /little you agitate the bag )
      2) it’s too milky /not milky enough (milk to water ratio)
      3) you don’t properly boil the kettle so the water isn’t fully at the boil
      4) sugar amounts (from zero to loads)

      I always make my own as I’m decaf and soya milk (thanks intolerances)

    3. Jackalope*

      I once came across a recipe for homemade chai in our local newspaper. Most of the recipe was pretty good, but it said that you should include 5 bags of black tea (for a quantity of water that did NOT need that many), and steep the tea bags for 10 minutes. 10 minutes is too long for just about any black tea. I have no idea what they were thinking. (I did… three tea bags, I think, steeped for 5 minutes, and I thought it turned out great.)

      1. i will do it anon*

        My (Indian) dad makes masala chai by steeping for… a lot longer than ten minutes! And grinding and adding spices and everything. He is very proud of his authentic chai (it is legitimately very good in my opinion) even if it is also very, very strong.

      2. Storm in a teacup*

        Indian chai is strong but it’ll depend on the type of tea too – Darjeeling you’ll want that much tea but assam that would be too much.
        You would then have on a rolling boil in a pan for 5-10mins with spices added at the beginning and milk halfway through (about 50:50 water to mil ratio).

        1. Nina*

          Oh interesting, I was taught to make chai by a Singaporean Indian lady (am not myself remotely related to any part of the subcontinent) and she was adamant about using all milk, no water, and keeping it just off a boil for about 15 minutes.

          It’s very very rich but amazing.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        I don’t even drink tea, and I know better than to do that – or to use Lipton!

    4. bamcheeks*

      Go to Germany and you’ll find out.

      (Admittedly starting with a Lipton’s tea bag is never going to end well.)

      1. Emmy Noether*

        Hah! I freely admit we have no tea culture (or coffee, either). What can I say. We have good beer? And pastries/cake/bread. Get something to eat with your disappointing tea, then don’t drink the tea, you’ll be happier.

        1. UKDancer*

          My mother does bring her own teabags from England when we go on holiday to Germany and Austria because she doesn’t think Liptons makes good tea (by which she means strong tea). So she gets a mug of hot water with her breakfast and adds her own.

          I think most of the staff in the Austrian hotel we frequent regularly view this with some amusement as an example of the weird English on their travels (judging from what I heard them say before they realised I could understand them – they hadn’t expected me to speak German).

          I don’t think the coffee in Germany is bad, I mean I wouldn’t travel there for it, but it’s no worse than anywhere else.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            I like coffee in Italy the most (and Italians tend to have a whole cultural Thing around it). Café and restaurant coffee in Germany does tend to be ok, there’s a strong Italian influence nowadays, fancy machines and all.

            But people at home and at work often just make really weak drip coffee (or set their machine to the weakest setting) from cheap preground beans with lots of sugar that they drink lukewarm, and I think that’s horrible. One also tends to get made fun of for being particular about it.

          2. Tau*

            For the record, I haven’t done a double-blind taste test or anything but if you need to buy tea in Germany IMO some of the German tea brands do semidecent black teas – Ostfriesentee by Teekanne is my go-to for making a lazy cuppa at home now that I’m back in Germany and Yorkshire is no longer an option. (Ostfriesen = from East Frisia, they have a reputation for drinking strong tea although I skip the cream and kluntjes part of the tradition.) Unfortunately, restaurants, cafes and bakeries tend to just have Lipton. It’s very sad.

          3. London Calling*

            Two Liptons in the mug when I used to visit my aunt in France. And plenty of mashing to get the required strength.

          4. Storm in a teacup*

            I also take my own teabags on holiday!
            Also whenever visiting family abroad (esp the US) they have a standing order for as much tea as I can pack for them – Yorkshire is the go to

        2. bamcheeks*

          Great beer, coffee the same as England, excellent cake*, we still talk about the Vegetarischer Teller at the Turkish snackbar on Gneisenaustrasse.

          The thing that found in Germany was people very excited to demonstrate that THEY could do Proper British Tea and then give me something EXTREMELY Not That. The worst was the office I worked in Saxony, where everything stopped at 4pm and they made tea in the coffee machine with artificial sweetener and no milk. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but I COULD NOT drink it, so I got very good at carrying a full mug back to the kitchen and making it look like it was empty.

          And I love that there’s a German Thing of making loose tea in a teapot that you put over a tealight, and Germans think it’s Very British, when it’s a thing I have never ever seen in Britain (until we got one to be deliberately German.)

          And there are lots of lovely herbal teas and tisanes in most Bioladen! It’s just when people try to do British-style tea that it doesn’t work.

          now I am missing Germany horribly.

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            Reading about Germans trying to do Proper English Tea was just delightful, thank you for this comment!

          2. UKDancer*

            I definitely have found I need to visit Germany or Austria at least once per year or I get withdrawal symptoms from lack of schnitzel and proper spaetzle and lovely cake. It’s one of my favourite places in the world.

            1. Emmy Noether*

              What I always missed most was Brezel and Maultaschen. Spätzle and cake I make at home, and Schnitzel are only really good in Austria (and this one Austrian restaurant I used to live nearby – amazing).

              1. metadata minion*

                Mmmmm, Brezeln :-)

                I *can* make those at home, but without a real bread oven, the crust is never quite right.

              2. Tau*

                tbh, one of the things I missed most about Germany when I was living in the UK were the frozen unbaked pretzels you can buy in the supermarket which you just pop into the oven and bake to the appropriate degree of brown-and-crusty-ness. Warm zero-effort pretzel straight out of the oven with a bit of butter? I could live on nothing else.

            2. Ferret*

              Reminds me of the bit in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (the novel) where the American businessman is getting annoyed because the Austrians keep stopping work for cake and coffee

        3. A Becky*

          Germany absolutely has a coffee culture! You absolutely must go with everyone else, get bad coffee, drink it as though it is not bad coffee while making small talk (pastry optional), return to work after 20 minutes.

          (I’m joking. Mostly. My former boss really liked a little cafe that did not know how to brew coffee without burning it.)

        4. Tau*

          I feel like Germany tends to extremes re: tea – either you get sad hot water with eau de Lipton, or the menu offers twelve different kinds of loose tea and custom branded teapots (I’ve seen this at some upscale cafes).

          But yeah, overall we’re more of a beer-and-Schorle country.

      2. KatEnigma*

        A friend of the family was 1st generation Brit in the US, and she always offered tea and then felt like she had to warn us that she was using Twinings and that it would be “strong”

        At the time, that was the only brand of proper tea you could easily get in the US (and only about 3 varieties- before Twinings started their US website) but happened to be my family’s preference as well.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      A line from Naomi Novik has stuck with me, about “horrible tea-stained hot water” (prepared by an American for a Welsh person on whom he had a crush). Her drinking this tea-stained hot water indicated to her that the crush did seem to go two ways.

      Keurig: Water isn’t hot enough, tea tastes horrid.
      Microwave: Water doesn’t get aerated, tea tastes flat.
      My spouse doesn’t take the tea bag out, which I find absolutely mystifying. Makes the tea bitter.

      1. Some words*

        I had a co-worker who would use 2 teabags and leave them in the cup. Okay, to each their own. But once she’d drunk half the cup of tea she’d top it off with coffee. Yup, coffee/tea blend. I tried not to know because it seemed disgusting and so very wrong.

      2. Kermit’s Bookkeepers*

        If I’m making black tea in a pot, leaves come out after 4 minutes. If I’m making black tea in a mug, bag stays in because I can’t be bothered/I think adding the milk brings the temperature down enough to slow the infusion so it doesn’t get too sour for me.

    6. Ellis Bell*

      I’m always aware that this can mean the person doesn’t drink tea (and should be let off from the round if possible). If you make tea for yourself you learn pretty quickly that you need to let the kettle finish and to stir it to a particular colour or else you’re drinking dishwater.

    7. Kyrielle*

      Steep it too long, too short, wrong temperature water (and depending on the type of tea or tisane, that temperature can vary), wrong amount of water vs. tea…I’m sure there’s other ways, but all of those are pretty straightforward.

      If you’re really tired you can also forget either the tea or the water entirely, but you should notice those before actually trying to drink the tea or give it to anyone. (Yes, I have in fact come back to grab my tea and found out I forgot one of those two. Yes, I was very tired and really needed my tea that morning!)

  23. LobsterPhone*

    In one of my first public library jobs I was informed that one of my tasks was to make the tea for the branch librarian and technician in their personal teapot, to their exact specifications (instructions posted in the kitchen) that no one but them was permitted to partake of and that it would be dumped out in the sink for me to remake if it didn’t meet their standards. I declined to participate and accidentally started a rebellion among the other library officers who hadn’t realised they were allowed to do that.

  24. Kira Nerys*

    As a tea drinker in the US, I find #4 very entertaining. But also because tea brewing knowledge isn’t common here, I wouldn’t trust most coworkers to brew me a cup. :D Too few people know about the importance of water temperature.

    Does this British tea round involve asking folks what kind of tea they want at that time? Or is there an expectation that you’re just going to let the kettle boil and make everyone a cup of some generic black tea?

    1. Freelance Anything*

      Tea round is asking if people want tea, if they take milk and if they take sugar.

      And then you’re at the mercy of the tea maker

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      You wander round saying, “Brew?” and probably collecting empty mugs from those who accept your offer.

      You fill the office kettle and turn it on. While it’s coming to the boil, you consult the chart on the wall (or, expert level, your memory) and put teabags or instant coffee granules in each mug. Kettle boils, and you fill all the mugs. Bit of stirring, add milk and/or sugar, then deliver to grateful colleagues, before sitting down again with a mug at Perfect Drinking Temperature (“PDT” is a known thing).

      This whole process takes maybe five to ten minutes and constitutes a very refreshing movement break and screen break. And then for the rest of the day other people bring you a brew.

      Some offices will also have a biscuit tin, so you might be snaffling a hobnob while you’re there.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I don’t know when I last worked in an office that had a kettle. Everyone’s switched to hot water taps / wall-mounted boilers now for safety.

        1. Bit o' Brit*

          Every place I’ve worked with had both, you need the kettle for when the hot water tap breaks every couple of months!

      2. Curious*

        Looking at all the comments about tea rituals: I have contrasting reactions. At one level, they seem quite charming — really.

        At another level, they seem like an excellent way to separate who is “one of us” — and who isn’t.

        1. Freelance Anything*

          The former is rare and is much more about an individual than the culture.

          I don’t drink tea, and I’ve never been shamed for not participating. And if I do get myself some water, I’m likewise not shamed for not offering to get drinks for others at the same time.

          (This includes silent shaming)

          Part of the culture is ‘being a good sport’. It’s supposed to be friendly. Anyone making it nasty shall be shunned!!

        2. Ellis Bell*

          Possibly? It could be if people are inclined to be like that. However I used to work with my non tea drinking best friend who didn’t have anything to do with the tea round at all and she was one of the most popular people in the office nevertheless.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      There is very much a standard cup of black tea in boiled water expectation. you can possibly ask for a herbal but most office kettles won’t have different temps and lots of people have never used them.

  25. Yowza*

    Color me rude because I will never take the time to memorize anyone’s coffee order except my so’s order.

  26. LlamaG*

    #4. Making tea badly in a tea round is to get out of the tea round.

    I, myself on occasions when I have been petty and extra British, have intentionally made teas wrong when I have been particularly annoyed at a Co worker or when I have wanted to remove myself from the tea round.

    When you get yourself a cup of tea, you have to get it for everyone else. That means you have to remember everyone’s tea order and it takes 20-30 mins to make each round, as you have to boil the kettle more than once, and allow the tea to brew for a few minutes, then once everyone’s is made, you have to distribute. Not to mention dealing with unusual requests, I often used to bring in a variety of teas and would take each one differently, but would have regular English breakfast as to not complicate any orders, and then have to wait until the next person was ready to make the next round etc.

    However if you say you don’t want to be a part of the tea round, you won’t be in the clique anymore and will be looked at like you’re crazy, or if you make 1 just for yourself, will be called out on it. So you have to resort to surreptitious methods to remove yourself.

    It is good manners to participate, however I think its ok to say no to being a part of the tea round, but you will be looked at as “not a team player” which I hate, so not remembering/doing it badly means no one will invite you to the tea round anymore, and it won’t say anything about your work ethic, just that you are not good at making hot beverages.

    1. Bit o' Brit*

      Not wanting to be in the tea round is how I ended up exclusively drinking water at work.

      1. chips and scraps*

        Same. It’s too much pressure. I drink instant coffee at home like it’s going out of fashion, but I drink water in the office, and I offer to fetch water for anyone who wants it. I can’t screw up a glass/bottle of water, and this way I’m still offering something (and people do sometimes take me up on it).

    2. Buffy Rosenberg*

      Honestly though if people acknowledge this dynamic in a tongue in cheek, ironic way, that’s fair.

      But if anyone *seriously* believes their colleague is not a team player and judges them in any real way for *wanting to make their own tea*, that is absolutely bananas.

      “Manners” about things that don’t actually harm anyone and are completely subjective/culture specific are infuriating. And can be very unfair on all sorts of people, whether they have different cultural reference points or they’re neurodivergent and don’t just get made up pointless rules of “manners”… anyone taking this type of thing seriously needs to get a bit of perspective.

  27. Cookies For Breakfast*

    I’m an immigrant in the UK, and tea round rules struck me as one of those unspoken things no one really tells you about, but may silently judge you for.

    When working in offices with a kitchen, I would offer the people in my cluster of desks out of politeness, because it cost me nothing to make them tea when I was already having one myself. It took years to realise I was actually abiding to what others considered etiquette and a basic expectation.

    That said, the way I make tea is probably not to everyone’s taste. I always take mine black; when adding milk for others, I have no clue how much, or whether that changes how long the bag stays in. If someone had said they didn’t like my tea, I’d have had a self-deprecating laugh about my non-Englishness, said sorry, and stopped making it for them to avoid more disappointments.

    Seen from the other side: I’m a coffee drinker with very specific preferences. I’ll drink one cup of what I consider “bad coffee” if brought to me out of courtesy, but remember not to ask that person again. No big deal, I can make my own next time without holding it against anyone.

    All this to say I don’t agree that making a “good” cup of tea is some kind of basic skill. To me this is about appreciating politeness when it happens, and otherwise, letting people off the hook. Not everyone is aware of the same standards around something like this, and it’s small enough that they shouldn’t be pressured to fall in line.

    (Bonus fun fact! In my country tea usually gets served with a spoon. I was once told by an English colleague to stop putting spoons in cups in the office, as it’s impolite. Truth? Exaggeration? Personal preference? I still wonder.)

      1. Liz*

        You do the necessary stirring, take the spoon out and leave it in the kitchen. Most workplaces don’t have cups and saucers any more unless they are quite posh or kind of archaic. Tea comes in mugs now.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        There aren’t going to be any saucers in the office, or in most people’s homes either. Standard issue mug is far more likely. They tend to only happen in cafes where you’re pouring your own tea, stirring in milk, adding your own sugar etc.

    1. Bagpuss*

      It’s a bit odd (I wouldn’t say rude) to leave a spoon in. Partly as if the tea is in a mug, there is nowhere to put the spoon when you drink and it will poke you in the eye if you drink with it in the mug.
      If you were serving tea using a cup and saucer then you would put the spoon on the saucer, the drinker can then stir the tea themselves if they want.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I am agog at the idea of an office kitchen with enough teaspoons to leave one in the cup. Usually there are three normal ones and one weird stained in and you have to plan removing teabags, adding sugar and stirring very carefully to get around them all in the right order without contaminating a non-sugar one with sugar.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes that thought occurred to me as well. Never worked anywhere with enough spoons to leave one in the cup.

        2. Bagpuss*

          Tea spoons migrate. You just have to keep replacing them. I buy a new set when we get down to about 6 .

          1. metadata minion*

            My workplace has quite a few spoons, but this is because I suspect multiple people have done what I did and bring in the weird singleton spoons from their own kitchen when we noticed the staff room was getting low, resulting in an inadvertent museum of Terrible Moments in Cutlery Design.

          1. Pippa K*

            This is wonderful and I’m now looking for a way to use it in a research methods assignment, so tyvm!

    2. Ama*

      While I acknowledge that most people don’t want the spoon left in their tea, I personally would be quite happy to have the spoon left in, so even that isn’t a hard and fast rule.

      I’m probably an outlier, but I mentioned it as I think a lot of people think their way of drinking tea is the ‘correct’ way, when in reality there are endless variations on people’s preference!

      1. fancy badger*

        Yeah, when I (Britishly) make myself hot drinks I leave the spoon in every time. I like putting my thumb on it when I drink. No idea why, just always have done. I don’t leave spoons in for other people because I know most think I’m a bit weird about it, but I’ve never heard it considered rude.

  28. Bookwitch*

    I am in the UK and I find the expectation that if I want tea I’m obliged to offer to make everyone else tea too honestly burdensome. I can handle one other person, but if we’re getting into a whole group with individual preferences, then I will just tell everyone that the kettle has boiled and let them handle that info.

    1. MakingMyOwnCoffee*

      I’m also in the UK and I feel exhausted just reading that rant. Yay for working from home and for a foreign company where people have more important things to think about.

      1. Clovers*

        And besides just making the tea, carrying a tray or multiple hot mugs (or alternately making like five trips) to distribute the teas seems like a lot. I’ve never waitressed so balancing perilous liquids isn’t within my skill set.

  29. CreepyPaper*

    #4, we all make our own tea in my office because we can be incredibly petty if someone gets it wrong. There’s never been a ‘tea round’ culture here and I guess that’s because we’re all simply too picky.

    I will, however, die on the hill that a good cup of tea is the same colour as a McVities Digestive and the colleague who tells me that it should be the same colour as a Rich Tea biscuit is Very Wrong.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Rich Tea? Why do they bother putting a teabag in – it would taste the same without. Tsk.

      1. London Calling*

        A manager at one ex-job used to literally dunk the teabag for 10 seconds and take it out. His drink was very beige hot water and milk and looked revolting. I, on the other hand, was taught aged 8 to make Merchant Navy Tea; the sort that’s the colour of a McVitie’s digestive. When asked for my tea preference it’s ‘Strong, white, no sugar’ and I’ve known people get very nervous when they put the mug in front of me and ask if it’s strong enough – I think they’re afraid I’ll whip out a colour chart to check.

  30. Taking the long way round*

    Everyone British will have their take on this!
    I’m with you, OP, on this.

    In my office we’d do rounds like in the pub, and we’d learn everyone’s preferences. That was easy though as we’re a relatively small team.
    In the larger offices, they usually had a rule that was making 4 cups in a round max, otherwise you’d be making tea all day.
    I like the second article that Alison linked, but in the first article it says not to offer anything other than tea or coffee (so no difference in milk e.g. or herbal tea – imo that’s a no no. Offering options is good etiquette.)

    The main sources of contention were people not paying into the pot for the replacement tea and milk etc, and the same people making the rounds over and over while others didn’t really take their turn, but benefitted from drink making anyway.

    It’s fascinating to hear about US culture about this important ritual! I didn’t realise making others a drink wasn’t really a ‘thing’.

    1. Kermit’s Bookkeepers*

      I think it US culture, making drinks for other people is seen as much more of an act of “service,” I.e. something only done by people lower on the ladder. It was something I was asked to do on occasion in temp reception positions, and even then it was only for guests or employees several levels above me.

      1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

        It’s for this reason that it can be perceived as an insult or especially a sexist act to expect someone to make your coffee for you if it’s not explicitly part of their job description.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        Yeah I’ve picked up on that from previous comments which is useful to know about the US. In the UK it’s seen more about pitching in and no one being too big for it. I think it’s fine if people don’t join in, but I would really look down on someone who expected to be served without reciprocating.

        1. Buffy Rosenberg*

          You would *look down* on them? Really?

          Surely if someone was otherwise a reasonable, friendly, decent person, you’d assume, I don’t know, maybe they accept an offer of tea in good faith and it occurs to them that they’ve signed up to some transactional tea club agreement?

          I mean, I generally refuse when I’m offered tea or coffee because I prefer to get my own, but I can absolutely see people not realising there’s a whole expectation attached to accepting the offer when it’s made.

          In fact I remember one former coworker being confused, frustrated, and even saddened by colleagues dropping weird hints/comments but also repeatedly offering to make them tea. I suggested it might be that they never offer to make it for others and they were genuinely surprised. They weren’t a jerk. It just had never occurred to them.

          If you don’t want to make everyone’s drinks, don’t offer to make everyone’s drinks.

          1. Ellis Bell*

            No… you’ve completely misunderstood! I take part in the round all the time but I also make drinks for one of office visitors or strangers to England . I’m happy to make people’s drinks, and I don’t have a score card. I was referring to the dynamic mentioned above where you’re told you’re one of the lowly people who make tea for high up people. That’s not tea culture, really.

      3. Retired Accountant*

        I think also that we’ve become Starbucks-ized and used to every drink request, no matter how ludicrous, being fulfilled. This does not translate well to tea/coffee rounds at work.

      4. Nina*

        This is so interesting! I’m in New Zealand and have had a few recent-transplant English managers – they were of the opinion that the manager’s job is to remove as many barriers as possible out of the way of the workers doing their jobs, and if that meant making a round of tea or going to the chippy with the company credit card when everyone had to work late, well, that was just part of their job. No idea if that makes them normal or weird by UK standards.

  31. bamcheeks*

    I think I’ve worked in a dozen or so offices over the years and I’ve never worked somewhere where tea round culture was a big thing. LW, I think you’re drastically overestimating how much this is a thing that “everyone” wants to participate in.

    1. Ama*

      I’ve worked in some offices where there’s a ‘make each other tea’ culture and it’s nice, but tbh, I’d be more annoyed by someone who expected me to make tea, than someone who never participated in the tea rotation.

      I do think if you’re regularly accepting tea (or coffee) from other people it’s a little rude not to reciprocate, but otherwise it’s fine to opt out.

      I would note that I have previously worked in cafés and pubs, so have made tea professionally, but I’ll still sometimes say I’m bad at making tea because frankly it’s hard to make a good cuppa with the supplies in an office kitchenette. But I can hardly say “Welcome to our office! The teabags are cheap and the kettle hasn’t been descaled for weeks!”

      1. bamcheeks*

        Tbh none of the pubs or cafes I worked in were really set up to make a decent cup of tea! Was never r convinced the hot tap was hot enough, they’d get left on the side too long before being taken out, and tbh I’d always rather have a mug of tea made in the mug than a cup poured from the pot.

        Never mind making tea in latte cups…

        1. bamcheeks*

          (actually I bet there’d be a really interesting research h piece in whether most people still think of “proper tea” as a cup poured fork a pot vs a mug of tea.)

  32. TechWorker*

    I am frankly astonished at how many U.K. people have this tea culture – maybe it’s more of a small office thing or an older-average-age office thing..? Or maybe less common in male dominated workplaces…? I’ve worked/interned at 6 different places and none of them had this. Where I work now most people seem to drink coffee but if you drink tea you get it yourself.

    (LW would also hate me, I drink neither tea nor coffee, nor does my partner, and when I offer tea in my house I do indeed apologise that I’m no good at making it and suggest my guest will get a better cup of they do it themselves :))

    Fwiw we *do* have pub round culture at after work drinks (which I have not really encountered in my social circles where people tend to either get their own or maybe buy a drink for one other person if it’s about to be reciprocated and/or you’re good friends). Here the etiquette is more making sure the older/better paid members of the company pay for more than their share of drinks, which seems fine to me.

    1. Storm in a teacup*

      What have not been mentioned is the adjacent uk biscuit culture –
      One of my old workplaces we had a biscuit fund and there was a lot of discussion one time whether someone should get bourbons or custard creams.
      Another place we had a cake rota for our weekly afternoon meeting. There were about 15-20 people in the meeting and some people bought stuff, some of us baked. Some people went all out and did a proper spread.

      1. Bit o' Brit*

        It is a contentious issue!
        There has been an only-semi-joking stink at my workplace about the company biscuit tin no longer being stocked post-lockdowns. Before that we had two biscuit tins, one specifically restricted to “Gingers or Jaffas”, because someone who left the company about ten years ago insisted that those couldn’t be kept in the same tin as custard creams, bourbons, hobnobs, or whatever other kind of biscuit was in stock. Every now and then the tin would have the chocolate Leibniz biscuits and about half the office would get very excited while the other half laughed at them.

        1. Storm in a teacup*

          Yeah I think custard creams can make ginger nuts go soft so I get that!
          We also lost our free biscuits and yoghurts post-pandemic and it’s very sad.
          I was working late earlier this week and all I could find was some fruit. I needed biscuits!
          Even Rich Tea would have done in a pinch

  33. Workplace romance*

    LW2, you mention you already suspected they were having an affair before it was explicitly said to you. Chances are, others have the same suspicions. It may be an option to report it anonymously to HR as someone having suspicions of an affair.

    They may still connect it to you, but also on average workplace romances tend to be a lot less subtle than the couple thinks.

      1. t-vex*

        Yes, OP id assuming they are the only one with this information but it seems very unlikely that neither party has confided in a single other person. That old thing about 2 people keeping a secret if one of them is dead.

    1. SpringIsForPlanting!*

      I personally would not feel bad about reporting this, in part because *they are already clearly letting it affect their behavior in the workplace.* If they were going to be professional about it, they would be, and you wouldn’t even know.

    2. Odditor*

      This was exactly the thought I had. LW, if Frank telling you was just a confirmation of your suspicions, odds are that other members of your team have it on their radar too.

      Watch out for hostility from them if they blame you for the report, but know that you are completely within your rights to deny it, and if things do escalate to that level then that honestly just further proves the point that they’re not able to handle their relationship in a professional way.

  34. Rainbow*

    I am from the UK, and I think offices here either have a policy where everyone makes everyone a cup of tea, or nobody does. I’m exceptionally glad I’ve always worked in the nobody does camp. I have no milk, no sugar, and the idea of messing up everybody else’s cups of barely-tinted milk fills me with anxiety!

    1. bamcheeks*

      Same here. Every time I’ve started a new job I’ve had a bit of, “oh no, hope it’s not a Tea For All place” but so far it hasn’t been!

    2. UKDancer*

      Same, I worked in one place that was “tea for all” but most places I’ve been aren’t now. Possibly because people are a bit fussier and bring their own. Just as well as I don’t drink vast quantities of tea during the work day.

  35. Solo tea maker*

    Sorry #4 as a fellow Brit I am probably your coworker :’) I hate tea-making etiquette, for some reason I just find it very anxiety-inducing to the point that I have been gasping for a cup and waited half an hour for the kitchen to empty so I don’t have to make chit chat in there. When I fancy a cup of tea I also don’t necessarily have 15 mins to survey the office, make and deliver all the various teas – I just need 2 mins to pop the bags in my cup, water and hot milk (we have Typhoo so no point in worrying about brewing, it’s so rubbish you just let it stew) and I get back to my work/off to a meeting. I like being able to do that without having to feel like someone is giving me evils for not offering to make the entire office tea. The job I’m in now is surprisingly one where everyone just makes their own drinks, there has never ever been an expectation of making tea for others. If we happen to be in the kitchen together we will chat (much less awkward about that now, but I still wouldn’t go out of my way to have a long natter) and if not, or if we don’t have time, we don’t. So please… stop with the expectation! Enjoy making tea for others and enjoy not expecting them to do the same. You will be happier without the random low level rage for something so minor.

    1. purpleprose*

      I’m British too and somewhat outside cultural norms as I actually can’t stand tea, but observing various office tea-making rituals over the years has always made me feel glad I don’t drink it, for all the reasons you cited!

    2. Clovers*

      And if someone is upset that their coworker made a cup for themselves without offering one, just make one yourself! It seems so odd to expect that you have to turn a refill for yourself into a chore on behalf of the whole office, like someone being mad you took a trip and didn’t bring them a souvenir.

  36. Miss 404*

    In a UK office here, and we don’t have a tea round – those who drink tea either make it themselves or bring the really fancy stuff in a flask (hello, me). It might be because we’re a larger office with a boiled-chilled-sparkling water tap but no kettle, illicit or otherwise.

  37. Stephanie*

    4# My paternal grandfather is English. My parents separated 20 years ago. My mother came to a family event last year and my grandfather REMEMBERED both her tea and coffee preferences. It is a big deal. That being said, it seems to be a bigger deal with the older generations. My time spent in the UK tells me that older people view it ritually and culturally, while younger people see it as polite but not absolutely necessary. I wouldn’t be offended if someone didn’t know what shade of tan I prefer my tea, but I’d be miffed if they went to make one and didn’t get me one too.

    1. bamcheeks*

      this is very sweet!

      Fifteen years down, and I have *just about* got my partner to understand that my dad ragging them on their inability to make strong enough tea is a sign of affection and welcome-to-the-family-ness.

    2. Vonlowe*

      Normally I’m worried about making tea to people’s preferences so I ask how many sugars and then bring the milk out to them so they can milk to their requirements

    3. Ellis Bell*

      She was his daughter in law, so it doesn’t really surprise me that he remembered!? I mean he equally could have forgotten after twenty years, but this is a member of his family not a colleague. Wow, I really am British.

  38. AlliterativeApple*

    #2 – I had a similar issue with an old boss. We had a programme of small spot bonuses – anyone could nominate anyone else for a small £50 giftcard reward to acknowledge good work. The nominations had to be approved by the nominee’s manager, but this was mostly to limit abuse of the scheme. The culture across most of the teams was the manager would generally default to approving the nominations.

    Not my boss however. She firmly believed these bonuses were only for actions which went a mile above and beyond the scope of your job. Whereas coworkers on other teams would get a bonus for handling a difficult customer well, or unknotting a tricky invoice problem, these kinds of things were no where near the standard my boss wanted to see to approve the bonus. In the 10 years my immediate coworker had been on her team, she’d seen one bonus approved.

    It all seemed to be coming to a head when the grandboss nominated everyone on a specific project (including all of us under my boss) for a bonus following the project being completed. My boss denied the nominations, and it was only when grandboss asked us what we’d done with them giftcard did we find out we’d even been nominated. We did get those bonuses eventually, and grandboss did say he’d work with boss to align expectations.. But grandboss left the organisation a few weeks later and nothing came of it. No more bonuses were ever approved by boss until she retired a year later.

    It was one of several reasons I left the company altogether.

    1. Camelid coordinator*

      Something similar happened in my office. I knew there was a pot of money for awards that wasn’t being tapped as much as it could be, and I wanted to put my employee up for one. At the time my reporting line had moved and I was reporting to a newer person (as opposed to my best boss ever). The new boss agreed with putting the employee up but didn’t want to go for the max amount (all of $500) as some kind of motivation. I ended up having to explain how $250 was an honor and recognition. The lousy new boss had terrible judgement in other ways and was fired a few months later (very dramatic and rare for higher education, especially my esteemed employer at the time), and I went back to reporting to awesome boss.

  39. A British academic*

    I have often wondered about my workplace tea approach, and have some questions that are a little different.
    I get through copious quantities of tea, permanently have a mug on the go when working, in a large insulated mug. It might be black, green, spice or herbal tea, depending on mood, but never with milk. I keep a kettle and box of different teas on the shelf by my desk. Anyone who visits my office for a meeting, staff or student, gets offered tea. They can pick from the selection and leave the bag in to taste.
    Q1) I have my big insulated mug (with grippy handle so I don’t drop it), plus a set of normal smaller china mugs for guests. Is it rude to be giving them a vessel half the size of the one I’m using?
    Q2) I don’t have my own milk, and am not going to bring in a pint on the offchance that a colleague it student might want some. Do I: Offer them tea with the caveat that it will be milkless? Offer them tea with the caveat that one of us will need to walk 5 mins to the admin office and beg a bit of their milk? Get some revolting dried milk to keep in my office (which surely is worse than having it black)?

    1. Bagpuss*

      You might be able to get some of the little long life milk pots like you get on trains?
      Other wise go with telling them that there’s no milk and where they may be able to get some.
      (personally, whether or not there is milk would affect my tea choice so I’d rather know before I pick – I normally drink ‘ordinary’ tea but would go for a herbal option of there is no milk)

      I don’t think it’s rude to have guest mugs even if they are smaller than your personal mug

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I think you’re fine since they must only be with you a short time. You’re offering what fits in with your own drink purposes, guest mugs can totally be littler. The milk is only five minutes away if they’re desperate for real tea, and it’s up to them at that point.

    3. Storm in a teacup*

      1) mug size differences are fine and no one will judge you for you large *ahem* mug

      2) offer tea with the caveat it’s milk less. The thought is most important and the fact you have so much choice is lovely
      3) next time you’re in a cafe or a train with those long life milk pods, take a few extra for your tea-guest-accroutement needs

    4. A British academic*

      Thank you for taking my low key concerns seriously!
      1) I don’t really think anyone thinks anything of my big mug, particularly as it’s pretty much permanently attached to me, including in meetings, lectures, etc. (I get very thirsty when speaking!) But I do think a lot about displays of power differential, especially when around sociologists :)
      2) Been (over) thinking phrasing after seeing someone’s expression literally rise as I say the word tea then immediately fall as I come to the no milk bit. But yes, will try to remember to pocket some of those long life pots next time I see them.
      I do think people appreciate the offer, and the brief tea ritual is a useful way to start a meeting for someone socially awkward as myself.

  40. 40ish*

    LW1: I don‘t really see an upside to telling anyone. This could get really messy if they realize you „ratted them out“. Hopefully Lauren will soon move to a different role. Sorry you are in this situation.

  41. Smurfette*

    I’ve worked for companies where you could get “exceeds expectations” but the difference it made to your bonus was insignificant. I felt that working overtime and putting in a huge effort wasn’t worth the 0.5% extra that they valued it at.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      This! Why do you want my performance to exceed your expectations, when my salary and bonus certainly don’t exceed mine?

  42. fluffoth*

    #4 enraged me to no end. Tea is that which fuels industry. Far too often I’ve seen catastrophic work blunders from unfocussed staff dithering about in a fugue state since no-one’s gone for the Rooibos. Whole meetings in HR have revolved around correct application of English Breakfast.

    If you are not so full of Lady Grey that your eyeballs are starting to float, you are a danger to yourself and others and need to attend the kettle immediately. You may show this comment to your manager, he will fully understand and endorse it. And his is PG Tips with milk and two sugars while your there.

    1. GrowthOpportunity*

      “If you are not so full of Lady Grey that your eyeballs are starting to float…” this is my dream state of being…

    2. KatEnigma*

      Lady Grey is a favorite of mine too- I love the bits of cornflower in it!

      But once I discovered English Afternoon Tea, I’ve never gone back. (I’m in the US. I had to wait for Twinings US to come into existence, to discover that loveliness well into my 30’s)

  43. Smurfette*

    When it comes to tea, I’m really fussy and would rather make my own. I’ve also never worked in a small enough office that it was feasible to make tea for my colleagues. Think of an open plan space with 50+ people. Then, what if I meet someone in the break room and want to chat? I can’t because people are waiting for their tea. Lastly, I think I still have mild PTSD from my waitering days (clumsy, forgetful, untrained 16yo with social anxiety – you get the idea).

  44. Mea*

    I’m English (mid 40s) and never got into drinking tea (or coffee). I very rarely make hot drinks for others, so when I do I always go ‘not a tea / coffee drink so sorry if bad’, as handing over. I do ask how people want me to make the stuff, because I never recall and also because people can change their preferences.

    No one in my circle has LW’s fixation with tea making, so no one cares about my not joining the ‘ritual’.

    Definitely making a mountain out of a tea hill!

  45. Melissa*

    This is a little confusing to me:

    Or they make tea for visitors but apologize, saying they’re “bad” at making tea

    At first glance. I thought the person was refusing to make tea because “they’re bad at it” which would be annoying. But they DO make the tea, but do a little self-deprecating thing after where they go “sorry it’s not good, I’m bad at it.” That doesn’t sound that bad! Maybe a little immature, because the recipient is obliged to go “No, no, it’s good,” but not that bad! Maybe another cultural thing I’m missing.

    1. Freelance Anything*

      It’s not bad.

      And self-deprecation is very British.

      I can understand it could be a problem if it’s part of a larger issue with a very vocal lack of confidence/neediness.

      But if it’s solely confined to tea-making, it sounds pretty normal

    2. Vonlowe*

      I think it probably is another aspect of the culture over here – I’ll just flat out give the milk separately so they can add it how they like it

    3. Burger Bob*

      The LW is mad because these people are “refusing” to learn how to make tea and are seemingly just resigned to being bad at it. LW thinks that even if you yourself don’t drink tea, making tea for others is such a normal and vital social practice that it’s just plain rude to not bother to learn.

      Personally I think LW is wrong. But I’m American.

  46. TimeTravelR*

    If the best you can get is Meets Expectations, then just start Meeting Expectations. And when Boss mentions it, explain exactly why you are no longer doing more than that.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      There was a glorious TikTok on this a few months back. Guy filmed himself while his boss asked why his performance went from being the best to average. He said she would only pay him for average work so that is the level he worked.

      He was about to quit and both of them had protested 6 months before when she was only allowed to give him “meets expectations” in his review per company policy. So this was not a surprise to her.

    2. Bluebonnet*

      TimeTravelR: Former overachiever here. I have adopted your strategy with my with my current boss for the last year. He is so absent that he hasn’t even noticed that my performance has devolved to “meets expectations” (or at least hasn’t cared enough to say anything). I am using my extra energy to apply to other jobs. Can’t leave this place soon enough!

  47. Morning reader*

    A question for British tea drinkers stemming from #4: do you use tea cups? Because, apparently, tea drinking was much more common in my family circle in the last century or two. There is evidence that they used to host something called “tea” that seems to involve many ladies in hats. I have a matched set of 24 teacups and saucers I’d be happy to send somewhere.
    The teacups are lovely but not useful for anything else, too small and delicate for my coffee habit. I should just donate them locally. But I find the idea of an office full of Brits sipping from these little matching cups simultaneously just adorable. It would be proper and fitting to return them to England. Does England need teacups?

    1. bamcheeks*

      There was a big fashion for cafes to use gorgeous gilt-edged 1950s china teacups and saucers about fifteen years ago, but that was a specific thing. Pretty much everyone drinks tea from mugs. Sorry!

    2. UKDancer*

      Tea comes in mugs usually especially at work. I don’t know any offices that have cups and saucers.

      You use a cup and saucer if you’re doing afternoon tea (tea, cakes, sandwiches and scones) when you’d also probably use a proper tea pot and loose leaf tea. But that’s an occasional thing. I have one friend who comes around for afternoon tea and sometimes I go to hers but it’s a fun thing to do as an activity. Sometimes we go to one hotel or other that does afternoon tea (especially if we can get a Groupon or a Wowcher afternoon tea deal) and that comes in cups and saucers.

      In the workplace though it’s not really a thing, nor is it something people do most of the time unless they’re either very posh or Hyacinth Bucket.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        It’s pronounced “boo-kay”!

        Oh, thank you for the Keeping Up Appearances reference. I dearly loved that show!

    3. Ferret*

      No, you wouldn’t normally drink from teacup unless you are at a special event or being especially fancy. Mugs for all

    4. Rowan*

      Lol no. Teacups are for formal occasions with your grandma. Everyone drinks from mugs 98% of the time. I can also assure you that our own second-hand shops are well-supplied with fancy teacups. Some people do crafts with them (candle holders, garden decorations, that kind of thing).

    5. Inspector Raquel Murillo*

      Usually we have our own mugs (either ones we’ve brought in from home or ones we’ve bought specifically for work), or in my place we have a general supply of paper cups what get used for meetings etc. which work as a back up in case of no mugs

    6. Storm in a teacup*

      These are too small for a proper cuppa tea
      But you should use them! Great as a dessert dish or for cute cocktails
      Or as a candle – I once did an aromatherapy soya candle making class using teacups. They turned out great.

  48. 2cents*

    LW #2 – I used to work in Performance Management until very recently. The best advice I can give you is to set strong, clear goals and get formal agreement on them with your manager. Those goals are his “expectations” – not some pie in the sky, unattainable vague concept.

    When performance reviews come, his assessment should be done over those goals: did you meet them, or did you exceed them – in both what you achieved, and how you achieved it? If that’s not how the conversation goes, you have grounds to push back.

  49. ecnaseener*

    I’m so glad my workplace’s performance evals aren’t tied to “expectations,” it seems ripe for problems. Not just the problem in the letter here, but also the way (bad) managers can go “oh you rated yourself based on the last expectations that were communicated to you? Well, I’ve raised my expectations since then without telling you.”

    Ours go exceptional / highly effective / proficient / inconsistent / needs improvement. So if the expectation is for everyone to be highly effective, meeting that expectation isn’t treated as middle-of-the-road.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      I mean, the wording is slightly different, but the concepts are exactly the same. I would say “proficient” is the same thing as “meets expectations.” Your performance evaluation options sound exactly the same as mine in that there are 5 levels you can hit and I guarantee your bosses are evaluating you against their expectations whether that is the formal wording or not, that’s just kind of the basic idea of evaluating someone.

  50. HRH Custard Cream*

    Full time Brit here!

    I really don’t like UK tea culture. I like to take care of my own drink/food situation in the office. I find engaging with Tea People swiftly becomes too transactional (“I made her a cup the other day and she never offered me one the next day!!!” etc. Ugh.). I also hate the idea of getting my drinks on someone else’s schedule.

    I’m also extremely boundaried about preparing food/drink for other people and vice-versa. Feels far too familiar and almost intimate. I can’t work out if this makes me less British, or infinitely British-er!!!

    1. Inspector Raquel Murillo*

      this plus your name makes you the most British thing ever. You have a point though, I think some people can read too much into it.

  51. FurySaidToTheMouse*

    As an American, my only contribution to the tea discourse is that I always find it funny in Call the Midwife when they offer someone a cup of tea and say “it’s well sugared.”

    1. bamcheeks*

      Tea with sugar, tea and a biscuit and tea and toast are all fully established ways of hydrating and getting someone’s blood sugar back up after any kind of physical or psychological shock. Like, if you donate blood you’re not supposed to leave until you’ve drank your tea and ate your biscuit. And one of the chief Villainous Things about Boris Johnson (before 2019) was that he ate his wife’s tea and toast after she’d given birth.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        I don’t know if I should be charmed at the idea of drinking tea after giving birth, or appalled at taking sustenance from a woman who has just given birth. Probably the latter. That is truly evil!

        1. bamcheeks*

          Honestly it’s so engrained that it’s never occurred to me before this conversation to wonder what other countries have?!

          1. Emmy Noether*

            I don’t know if there’s a standard thing to have. Some kind of hydration is probably adviseable (water? maybe juice? we get juice after donating blood), and we were told to bring “snacks”, nothing more specific. I had chocolate covered gingerbread, and it was GLORIOUS (forbidden up to then because of gestational diabetes).

          2. Burger Bob*

            After giving blood in the US, I believe they usually give you a cookie? Maybe some juice? (I’ve never given blood as I am a Small and am quite certain I would pass out if I donated any appreciable amount.) I don’t think there’s any specific Thing given after childbirth. Just…..whatever snacks and drinks you feel like/are on hand?

      2. Call Me Dr. Dork*

        I am eternally grateful to the person who served me well-sugared tea and shortbread after my colonoscopy (in the midwestern US, of all places). Neither were particularly good in an absolute sense – Lipton and Lorna Doones rather than Yorkshire Gold and Walkers – but in my sedated state they were absolutely the most delicious things ever. Perhaps my enthusiasm over that is why the doctor gave the results to my spouse instead of me….

    2. Ellis Bell*

      It’s what you’re supposed to do if someone is in shock. I’m not sure if it’s actually science, but it is a thing in Britain. If something Bad Enough has just happened, it’s fairly typical for the usual rule “how do you take your tea?” or even “do you want a cup of tea?” to be replaced with the emergency rule of: “Here is your tea. It’s well sugared.” Personally I have appreciated this at one or more times in my life as a sign of affection, even though I don’t usually take sugar.

      1. Nina*

        It’s also sufficiently a thing in New Zealand that asking for my family’s standard Emergency Shock Drink (we call it pearl tea, it’s basically a very milky, very sugary, very hot cup of tea with absolutely no involvement from a teabag whatsoever) in an actual emergency room where they’d offered me a cup of tea was met with horror (and compliance, but horror first).

  52. Chilipepper Attitude*

    We lived in the UK 30 years ago. Spouse worked, so partook of tea culture, I did not work so no tea culture (but I probably shocked ppl by not serving tea socially). In the US, we were familiar with cups of tea, not making teapots of tea. And our teabags have strings. Some brands in the UK did not. We still occasionally hear the story from his friend who got a mouthful of tea bag one day at work when my husband had made him a cuppa. My husband did not take the bag out so coworker could take it out when the tea reached correct flavor. Coworker could not imagine being handed a cup of tea with the tea bag still in it. He was, and still is, shocked.

  53. Love to WFH*

    As an American, we had coffee in the office and it wasn’t very good. We’d offer coffee to visitors, and they usually said No.

    Then I went on a business trip in Europe, one country per day, and was offered coffee at each company. I said “no thank you” at the first one, and our local distributor quickly said “yes, please” and I realized that I’d made a faux pas.

    In every office, it arrived in the conference room on a tray with a sugar bowl and jug of milk. In Switzerland, there were also little chocolates.

    In England, a tea lady came down the hall with a trolley and was mobbed by everyone. She handed me a mug with milk poured in first.

    1. GrowthOpportunity*

      Yeah — I feel like in the US, being offered coffee in the office is more like a politeness and they don’t really want you to say yes.

      I hope you enjoyed the lovely coffee spread on the rest of your business trip!!

  54. The Eye of Argon*

    I hope OP4 looks up the recent coffee (and tea) wars thread if they haven’t already. I remember plenty of tea culture discussion in that one, and lots of funny stories.

  55. Bookworm*

    I also don’t have anything to add, just that this was really fascinating to read and am curious to read other takes.

  56. Buffy Rosenberg*

    I’m in the UK and I don’t think “tea making is an important skill” unless you work in a cafe.

    Tea making is nothing to do with my job. In the pre-Covid days of everyone being in an office together, I’d usually offer to get other people teas/coffees when I get up to make one but usually people have preferred to get their own anyway.

    However I know some people feel as strongly as the LW so I always try to hold that in my mind.

    I think warning visitors in advance that they’re bad at making tea, and pre-emptively apologising isn’t so unreasonable, given how pernickity some people get about tea. It’s like “don’t take it personally if this isn’t how you like it.” Because some people will take it personally!

  57. L-squared*

    #1. This is a situation where ethically, you are in the clear to go to HR. Personally, its not something I’d do to 2 people I supposedly liked. If you feel you are being wronged in some way because of this, by all means bring it up. But if you aren’t, if it were me, I’d let it go. This is something that is great to protect the company, while possibly hurting the individuals. But what I’ve learned from posting comments on here, many people are far more protective of their company than I am.

  58. Kermit’s Bookkeepers*

    As an American raised in a slightly Anglophilic family of hot drink afficionadoes, the concept of “bad tea” has always baffled me — because to me it’s so easy to get right. Could be an indicator that my tea-making is, in fact, secretly terrible.

    I’ve always thought the best practices are to add JUST-boiled water to the mug with the bag in it/pot with leaves and an infuser in it (unless you’re the type of maverick/old-fashioned boss to go without an infuser), let it brew for at least three minutes, and then add milk depending on preference. If using a pot, there are regional/class differences as to whether you add the milk to the cup first or the tea first that can get pretty divisive, but it doesn’t make a functional difference to how the tea tastes. Sugar is also a highly divisive subject — I drink mine with or without depending on mood — and shouldn’t be assumed without asking the drinker.

    That’s it. How does one screw that up? Seriously, what is “bad tea” and how does it happen?

    1. UShoe*

      Some bad tea is predictable, some isn’t. Tea from a coffee shop or Starbucksalike is going to be bad, the hot water from those big fancy espresso machines does something horrible to it. Other ways to guarantee bad tea are using the in-room tea and coffee facilities in a hotel, using the wrong sort of milk (full fat, skimmed and UHT make tea that tastes wrong), using a stale teabag (left unwrapped in the back of the cupboard from last time you had a tea drinker in the house). If the water is scorching hot you can scald the tea, a bit too cold and it’ll be disappointingly thin (like finding 1-ply loo paper in the stall).

      There are, however, also mysterious bad teas. You make tea every day 8, 9, 10 times a day. You’re at home with your own teabags, your favourite mug, a fridge full of your preferred fresh milk. You boil the kettle and make a nice brew, wait a bit for it to achieve perfect drinking temperature, and it’s like dirty dishwater – what happened? It’s undrinkable. Down the drain it goes and the replacement tea is fine. This is the mystery of tea.

      1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

        This is AMAZING. Thanks for this!!! Anecdotally, I drink it both ways — milk first using a tea pot, and milk second if doing a mug (because there’s no other way to brew it correctly in a mug unless I want to pour everything into a second, clean mug?!). I *do* taste a difference, but I always thought it was in my head!

    2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      The commonest way to make bad tea in an office is to use water that isn’t hot enough.

      I had an office job where the coffee machine had a separate hot water tap. According to the display, the maximum temperature was 189 F, or 87 C, which already isn’t hot enough for proper tea. Every time someone dispensed water from the tap, the hot water tank was refilled with room-temperature water, and the next cup of water from the tap would be cooler, unless you waited around for the water tank to reheat. Some mornings I’d get to work and see the water temperature as low as 165 F (74 C).

  59. Hiring Mgr*

    If it were me on #1, I would stay out of it completely. No sense at all in getting involved in other people’s drama.

    1. Geek5508*

      True , but it is more than “other peoples’ drama”. It can have a direct impact on the office, for all the reasons Allison has listed

  60. GrowthOpportunity*

    My large employer is trying to sell us on the idea that receiving a ranking of “growth opportunity” is a good thing and not a bad rating (we have a couple of ratings for different categories) and everyone can and should have a growth opportunity labeled. Friends, if there are three rankings (exceeds, meets and growth opportunity), then there’s clearly a bad one, it doesn’t matter what you name it.

    1. NeedRain47*

      Oh dear. There’s value in identifying growth opportunities, but mandating a bad ranking on something is not that.

  61. Michelle Smith*

    For LW3 what about something like “consistently received positive reviews from clients in survey feedback”? Is there a reason not to include a line like that rather than detail the specific feedback if it’s all generally good but not extreme?

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Because “positive” is meh. If you are successful at your job, I would expect most of your feedback to be “generally good.”

      From Alison:

      The big caveat: Anything you quote should be truly superlative, so don’t include the stuff like “always very helpful and meets deadlines” — that’s too close to “meets expectations” and doesn’t rise to the level of resume-worthy.

      I wouldn’t consider “positive” to be “truly superlative”.

      The other side of the “consistently received positive reviews” coin is that you could also have been constantly receiving negative reviews as well, you’re just not mentioning them.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        The other side of the “consistently received positive reviews” coin is that you could also have been constantly receiving negative reviews as well, you’re just not mentioning them.

        This doesn’t make any sense because the word “consistently” would be there specifically to indicate their feedback was all positive.

  62. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

    Standards are supposed to be as close to objective as possible, not as subjective as possible! The expectations one is meeting or exceeding are the company’s expectations, not the individual manager’s. And it should be as clear as possible what will get a person a meets versus an exceeds.

    As others have pointed out, this boss’s approach will only de-motivate people.

  63. Inspector Raquel Murillo*

    UK person here commenting about LW4 – tea is such a huge part of office culture here and helps co-workers bond, however I think offering to make some is enough. Depending on the size of the office, I don’t think it’s fair to expect someone to remember how everyone takes their tea, small teams is a lot easier (I used to share an office with only one other team member and we had each others cuppas perfected). It may only be my workplace but I’ve noticed these breaks have slowed down the past 3 years, I wonder if that’s contributing to it across the country?

  64. Ann Perkins*

    OP 1- I was in a similar situation a couple years ago so I greatly sympathize. It’s incredibly inappropriate for them to be conducting the affair and to burden you with that.

    When I went through this, he was my boss but she was on the same level as me on the org chart, but reported to me in the regulatory chain of command (highly regulated industry). So I was expected to conduct her audits and reviews while knowing that she would complain about me to my boss if I did my job properly and had any findings on her (and she was a mess, customers complained about her, regulatory violations, etc).

    They did not disclose it to anyone, even once they got to the point of divorcing their spouses and moving in together, and because my role was ethics-related I ended up reporting it to his higher-ups. I was nervous but the company I worked for at the time did have a highly confidential ethics hotline and they took it seriously. It’s fair for you to weigh what you know of your company’s HR and how professional they will be about it. If it’s one of those things where everyone knows but nobody speaks about it openly, it won’t be as obvious that it was you who reported it, especially if your HR can phrase it as “we have heard these rumors – we need to know if it’s true” as they conduct their investigation. They have an interest here in moving them away from being in each other’s reporting chain of command, at a minimum.

    Honestly, I would keep your eyes open on job postings too, if you’re in a place to do so, in case things go south – whether because of inappropriate behavior on your manager’s part, or retailiation, or favoritism that doesn’t get squashed, etc. There’s all kinds of problems that can emerge from a situation like this and not a lot of legal protection, unfortunately, other than if it’s retaliation based.

    Best of luck to you and hopefully you come through this unscathed.

  65. Peanut Hamper*

    #1: Go to HR if you want. Who cares if Frank and Lauren figure out it was you? They made three mistakes: 1) having an affair, 2) not being discreet enough so that it was noticeable, and 3) telling you.

    And for what it’s worth, if Frank told you how many other people has he told? It sounds like Frank can’t keep a secret, so it may be that they couldn’t trace this back to you. And who knows who they have told in their personal lives outside of the company?

    Frank let this particular cat out of the bag. If you feel better doing a CYA thing, you should do it.

  66. NeedRain47*

    In the UK, is the workplace always providing the tea, milk, & sugar?
    I’m in the US and a lot of folks in my office drink tea. So if someone’s putting the kettle on they might yell “does anyone want hot water for tea?” so they can fill it all the way if people do, but we all have our own tea and whatnot and get up and pour from the kettle ourselves. (they also might not offer, and that’s perfectly fine.)

    1. GythaOgden*

      Not always, and certainly not in my current job in the public sector. I wouldn’t /expect/ a company to fund it for every day use, just like if I want a diet coke during the day I need to bring my own (because the vending machine hasn’t been filled since 2020). Obviously it varies, but I don’t think it’s terribly routine.

      However it’s generally understood to be a share and share alike situation. So I sub you some coffee and you let me use your milk and we’re pretty much even, and I can swap you some bottled water for a Pepsi Max. I just made someone who had been on the road most of the day a cup of tea because he needed something and was a lot busier than I was. I message my supervisor if I’m getting a delivery from Starbucks — again, to be polite; she never orders anything but it doesn’t feel right not doing it. A guy in the upstairs office brings me back a pretzel when he goes to the one place that sells them locally and I pay him back. We pool our chocolate and both contribute to the stash. And so on and so forth. Even though I don’t tend to drink coffee after I get in to work and don’t drink tea at all, my colleague still asks, and I ask her when I go to the kitchen for a diet coke.

      (I’m thinking of putting up a sign saying Don’t Feed The Receptionists, but we do it to ourselves more often than not!)

      I think with little things like this, it doesn’t pay to be too selfish about your own stash. It would be seen as bad form to be stingy with either time or money. I must admit, though, that this was impressed upon me at my first significant work experience placement (= internship but for secondary schoolers) that if I was going to the kitchen myself I should ask if anyone else wanted anything. We were a small office — working for an MP — but two or three cups of tea don’t take that much longer to make than one.

    2. Freelance Anything*

      I think it’s fairly typical to have Office Tea Supplies.

      Sometimes it’s an office expense, sometimes there’s a communal staff fund, it’ll vary

    3. Ellis Bell*

      I’ve never worked anywhere where the workplace provided it, but my experience is not typical (impoverished local newspapers and schools where not even the stationery is covered). In the newsroom we had a kitty, which includes a lot of nagging, in schools we are too divided up in classrooms to make any structure stick, so we buy our own stuff and try to be generous if we get a chance to brew up for a colleague. It’s not expected though.

    4. RB*

      I’ve never understood the “putting the kettle on” thing when it comes to workplaces. I’ve always worked somewhere where there was an electric coffeemaker but if you wanted tea you filled a mug with cold water and microwaved it or if the sink had one of those hot water spigots you used that. There was never a second coffee maker that was just for hot water or a stove where you could put a kettle on.

    5. Storm in a teacup*

      So in the NHS we never had tea or coffee provided but there were often free packets of biscuits around.
      Our break room had 2 kettles and a separate fridge for everyone to store their milk (god forbid you put anything else in there). The time we got a water cooler – the excitement! It was talked about for weeks! It was a selling point in interviews!
      Now in my corporate office we have multiple tea options but no kettles only a hot water tap which is pants as not hot enough and it tastes weird.

  67. Candi*

    #1: HR needs to know so they don’t get blindsided. That’s a metaphorical explosion waiting to go off, and such tend to go off at the worst possible times.

    #2: That is just so wrong. What’s the point of points on a scale you never use?

    #4. I have received many lectures from my Aussie friends on the importance of tea. It’s also apparently not as easy as asking someone to make you a cup while they’re up. Elegance is needed. /humor

    Linux joke: the command “at teatime” runs a scheduled task at 4 pm local time.

  68. bookgoblin*

    I work in academia in Europe and no-one ever gets 5/5 on an annual review, because that means they have to be promoted. 4/5 is vanishingly rare, and just about everyone gets 3/5 (because expectations within academia are basically ‘write a bestseller, get a massive grant, change the field’, so it’s not really possible to exceed them; 3/5 is what you get if you meet all the annual goals you set with your manager). Frankly I kind of appreciate the expert level of trolling involved here: it’s quite funny to hire only people who are used to getting high grades and gold stars, and then give them 3/5 f0r the rest of their working career.

  69. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    #1 – This turned into a novel after I started typing it, but TL;DR my instinct would be to distance myself and stay out of it all, while looking for a transfer or another job. That’s the kind of thing that will poison the atmosphere and morale in the entire team, IME. Not your circus, not your monkeys.

    Long version – at my first two jobs I had in the US in the late 90s, I had a boss (yes, two jobs… He changed jobs and poached me, my first job was a dead-end one where we used obsolete tech, so I was happy to say yes to the offer) who started out as a mentor to me, then grew to be a work friend, then hanging out outside of work, then one day he started pushing for a romantic affair. We were both married. My marriage was in pretty bad shape (and eventually ended 10+ years later), but I still didn’t want to do what he proposed, and kept saying no. In our second job together, he hired a new person who was also trapped in a bad marriage, and she said yes. Our boss stayed friends with me, confided with me on the most intimate facets of their affair (his reenactment of her s*x face and sounds, that he did when he and I were out at lunch, will still haunt me when I’m in a nursing home with the rest of my life faded from my memory – really wish he hadn’t. No, before anybody asks, my ex-boss is not Meg Ryan). He also tried to use me as his coverup and bragged about it. (“nobody in the office knows I’m dating Fergusina, because they all think I’m dating you” oh dear lord. Also, years later, I talked to someone who’d been a teammate and, uh, everybody did know. People aren’t stupid.) He once gave me a promising project because he valued my work, then tried to yank the half-done project from me and give it to Fergusina, because she wanted it. (Changed his mind after I said I’d start looking if he did that.) I left for another job pretty quickly, one of the reasons being I was tired of the drama. Still stayed in touch with ex-boss for a bit, and six months after I left, he was calling me sobbing into the phone because Fergusina had left him for another man in the office (who was also married like the rest of us in this oddball story). It was weird and demoralizing and I do not miss any of it. I also went NC with this ex-boss many years ago. (Fergusina called me to let me know his wife had just died, I called him to give my condolences and he, after saying “I’m standing here phone in one hand, her ashes in the other”, suggested we “start seeing each other again because I now have more time” and it was the last straw.)

    1. KayDeeAye*

      I can understand why you wanted to just get the heck away (because oh, my God), but ex-boss realllllllly needed to be stopped. I hope someone else had the bandwidth and the standing to report him, and I hope some company somewhere had the wherewithal to punish him. So many boundaries and so much stomping all over them! I’m so glad you’re completely away from him now!

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I think he just stopped doing this stuff at work at one point. I found out years later that a friend of mine was now working for him. Pulled the friend aside the next time we met and told her. Her reaction: “oh wow, I thought he was just bad at his job, didn’t know he used to do this too – he doesn’t do it anymore”.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I probably wouldn’t go that route, but if OP does, FME, if you tell a coworker and ask them not to tell anyone, they’ll tell everyone, so that’d be the best way to ensure it gets to HR…

    2. Buffy Rosenberg*

      Zarniwoop, I’d worry that’s the worst of all worlds. You could still be facing whatever backlash for telling others, but you couldn’t claim you were being principled, it would just look like gossip.

  70. Avril Ludgateaux*

    I “knew” British tea culture was intense but I didn’t know HOW intense. To my immigrant American mind, if somebody doesn’t want to participate, they don’t have to, but they also don’t get to benefit. Like a lottery pool: you don’t have to pay in, but you don’t get to share the winnings if there are any.

    How do y’all feel about cold brew? Not iced tea, but cold brewed tea – ideally loose leaf, high quality tea steeped in a filtered pitcher overnight? I discovered it recently and it’s my absolutely favorite way to take straight, unadulterated tea now. Especially a crisp, fresh Earl Grey. Is this blasphemous?

    1. UK BA*

      Please don’t say this aloud in the UK. It may be classed as hate speech and could get you deported ;-)

      1. Berkeleyfarm*

        Oh my goodness, yes. (American here, and don’t say “iced tea” around most Brits.)

        I lived in England for a year and learned that the way I like tea and coffee are both very un-English.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      It’s probably a good idea for summer. If we ever get a summer in England, we’ll let you know. (In all seriousness though, “Tea” is a hot drink made from black tea and more likely to have milk in it than not; I’m looking at you Spain. All other drinks in the wider tea family, however delicious and carefully crafted cannot be referred to with just one syllable. These are drinks which require a fronted adjective in the UK, so as not to confuse them with proper tea. “Iced tea” is a drink, but it’s not “tea”, and the same thing goes for “green tea”, “chai tea” etc).

    3. Burger Bob*

      My general impression is that we Americans are the only ones who do iced tea as a regular beverage option. Everyone else pretty much sticks to hot tea, from what I’ve seen. I like hot tea just fine. In fact, I enjoy it quite a bit. But iced tea can really hit the spot on a hot summer day.

      1. UKDancer*

        I’ve often thought this was weather related. England is often cold and wet so people like hot tea to warm them up and make them feel good. Parts of the US are much warmer so people want a cold drink on a hot day.

        I guess if the UK had much warmer weather, we’d probably want colder drinks.

  71. urguncle*

    OP 2 is your boss Dutch/German? My Dutch coworkers are hardline “barely if ever give exceeds expectations.”

    1. Bluebonnet*

      I think people affected by the protestant work ethic tend to be like this too (this is prominent in the US Christian South).

  72. Marna Nightingale*

    LW1: Honestly, if Frank just kind of spontaneously told you he’s going to tell ten other people and swear them to secrecy too. If he hasn’t already.

    It’s okay to file this under “it will fall off on its own”.

    1. Pink Candyfloss*

      Yep, as soon as a secret is out to one person it becomes easier for the snowball to roll into an avalanche of telling people. Here’s hoping someone else takes the initiative and addresses this ethical violation ASAP.

      1. Marna Nightingale*

        That, and, there doesn’t seem to be any real reason Frank picked LW1 to confide in other than proximity. They work closely together, but it doesn’t sound like they’re personally close.

        So … he’s telling people. Many people. I bet Lauren will be just THRILLED with him …

        I’m going to go listen to Rumours on loop now…

  73. Anonymouse likes cheese*

    I almost could have written #1 except it’s the owner of the company – its causing me daily anxiety and I wish I didn’t have to know what I know. Allison’s reply though gives me hope that it’s not me that’s banana-pants for my reaction or response.

  74. Former Retail Manager*

    OP #1: Definitely don’t say anything to HR. There is really no upside for you. If it’s easier to move Frank, then it’s likely that’s what the company will do. That leaves you with a manager who knows that you ratted her out and that just won’t bode well for your evaluations or your career at this company. Even if she doesn’t retaliate against you, other people will likely find out about the entire debacle including the fact that it was you who spoke to HR and now you have others in the company who may not trust you. Is that logical or rational for others to distrust you? No, of course not, but I’ve seen it happen so many times. You end up being labeled as a snitch. I’d just leave it alone. In my experience, people who do these sorts of things tend to find themselves in hot water eventually, be it in connection with their relationship or for some other reason.

  75. Anonymous Koala*

    Allison/ readers in LW2’s position, what’s your advice to an employee whose boss won’t give them ‘exceeds expectations’, not because of company policy, but just because of their own beliefs? Does this rise to the level of HR or grandboss involvement, or is this more just “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change”? Has anyone successfully coached their report out of this behaviour?

  76. Pink Candyfloss*

    Frank has put LW in an awkward position because LW now has to consider the issue that if LW sees/feels Frank being favored in any way by the manager, LW has grounds to pursue that.

    Frank: keep your mouth shut, lort.

    LW: I totally understand not wanting to say anything but also wanting to say something. But let’s also hope if they are discovered, Frank doesn’t dime you out as having known, and you get no repercussions from not disclosing when you did find out.

    Our business practices/ethics training tells us that we are encouraged to disclose immediately when we learn about a violation of company policy like a supervisor being in an undisclosed relationship with a direct report, and if it is learned that we knew and did not disclose, that can be a problem for us. We have a very clear mandate on who to report to and when. In this case, Lauren’s manager or the BPO or HR. Disclosing to a manager above Lauren puts the ball in their court and takes it out of yours.

  77. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I think the part I don’t understand about tea rounds is… does the person who makes it have to bring all the tea back with them from the kitchen? Do they use a tray? Is there a cart? Does everyone just go get their own once they’ve been told it’s finished? You can’t really carry tea cups the same way you might pint glasses (or at least I can’t), so this part is still deeply mysterious to me.

    1. Marna Nightingale*

      That’s the part I’m captivated by as well. If old novels can be trusted, many UK firms used to have “tea ladies” who brought a whole cart around at 11, with snacks and everything.

      So I guess it grew out of that plus takeaway coffee and tea being — at least historically, not sure about now — much less of a thing there?

      I mean, now I think about it this way, taking turns going on the coffee shop run isn’t that unusual in Canada. And that usually entails dropping off at the desk.

      When I worked in a place with a kitchen I was generally happy to put a pot of coffee on, make a pot of tea, and tell people they were there, but hand-delivering wouldn’t occur to me in that context.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      We used to have a mini fridge in the centre of the office with a tray atop it, holding the kettle and mugs to help with the carrying so we could do eight cups really quickly. But if it’s logistically difficult, like the kitchen is far away, or there’s doors/stairs then you wouldn’t. Tea rounds have a way of shrinking to what’s manageable to carry, like in a team of eight there might be two tea rounds. It’s really common for offices to be just a step away from an open kitchenette area though. I honestly think some offices were designed with tea making in mind.

  78. onyxzinnia*

    OP 4 is giving me flashbacks to my very first job. As a young American grad student at UK company, I wanted to make a good impression on my more senior coworkers. I didn’t understand the rules of tea but I knew it was major part of the culture so I was too polite to say no every time someone got up to make a round of tea for the group. As a result, I ended up drinking 8 cups of black tea a day as a result and then wondered why my heart started racing at night.

  79. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

    I don’t understand why the coworker even told OP #1. Like that is the first rule of having an affair at with your boss, neither of you say anything. Like what was he expecting from you? This is just making it so weird.

    OP if you feel comfortable, and you don’t think there would be repercussions I think you need to talk to HR or your boss’s boss, or another manager at her level. If the company finds out (and they will) will people start thinking you were part of it, or trying to cover it up. I would also read your employee handbook because any company worth its weight is going to have some sort of policy against this.

    Good luck and update us!

  80. Unkempt Flatware*

    Listening to the Brits here talk about the Tea customs is like watching American men play pick up basketball. If only all aspects of life can be organized with such care and efficiency.

  81. El l*

    Your boss is trying to make you believe their self-interest is honor. Common thing at work – but it’s BS and you should treat it as the cynical excuse it is.

    (I wonder if their boss ever gives an “exceeds expectations” to them?)

  82. wendelenn*

    OK I can’t be the only one who started reading #4 looking for the usual AAM “chocolate teapot” metaphors and laughed to realize it was actually about REAL tea!

  83. PrettySticks*

    Regarding #2, I think Alison is absolutely right that a company should have definitions for what each level of a review means, but I feel like hardly any companies do this.

    My story (which I may have shared before) is that early in my career, I was working at a company with one office in NY and one in CA that had pretty much eliminated middle management, so it was all VPs and assistants. Except in my department, which worked with two events that traveled the country. Traveling Events VP was based in CA, while Event 1 Manager, Event 2 Manager, and the Traveling Events Assistant (me) were all based in NY. I was hired in October, and when reviews rolled around in March, I didn’t get one at all, and so I didn’t get a raise. I initially thought this was because I’d only been there a few months, but I later learned it was because (a) VPs were responsible for reviews, so my direct managers thought it was handled (or didn’t think to ask) and (b) my VP basically didn’t know I existed, since we had never met in person and barely interacted. The following year, HR or whoever was more on the ball and the VP actually traveled to the NY to give us reviews. I still thought this was dumb, since he’d never seen me work, but he said he’d solicited all the responses from the managers. We met, and almost ALL of the points of discussion went something like “You did a great job of arranging the materials for each event stop, and tracking everything in the database. But it would be better if you notified us every time you updated the database. Since that needs to improvement, I’m marking Needs Improvement.” He was taking it literally, not as a euphemism for “lowest you can score.” I still got a cost of living raise, but I would have received more with a better (or even accurate) review. So, after a year and a half, I got a 2% raise. I left that company a few months later.

  84. El l*

    All depends on how scared you are of retribution from either of them.

    If you are, keep quiet until asked a direct question – because you shouldn’t lie for them.

    If you aren’t, yeah, tell HR, this shouldn’t be happening.

  85. Odditor*

    I’m curious what options LW2 has to push back on this. Where do you start? Do you point out to your boss that this will affect your merit pay and it’s essentially a penalty to all people under his management? Do you go over his head to raise your concerns? Or is this just the kind of thing you have to decide if you want to live with?

  86. Leslie K.*

    Literally had a boss that told me he never gave the top rating in a review because “if you were that good you wouldn’t be working here”. I don’t think he knew the word demotivational.

  87. Bluebonnet*

    OP 2, I can relate. My supervisor rarely if ever gives me “exceeds expectations.” Most recently, he said he did not give it to me because he did not give it to any of my co-workers and would not want to appear to have favorites.

    I tend to be a sucker who overly cares cares for my place of employment and goes above and beyond. However, over the last years, I have emotionally backed off from my job and am using my pent-up energy to find a different one.

  88. Fungible token*

    I’m in the US and years ago did an internship at an antiques dealer in London. The office manager told me she was excited to have someone under her who would now make the tea for all of us, instead of her. After a few training sessions I was set free to make the tea. I made what she called “workman’s tea” and she then took back the responsibility.

  89. Payroll Lady*

    OP2 – Because of what I do, I have been told I can never get “exceeds expectations” on my base job as the expectation is perfection each and every pay. I had one boss though, that gave me exceeds on everything else to make up for it!

    OP4 – My grandmother was from England, and taught all her grands to make tea. (She passed away when we were all 12 and under) My one cousin hated doing it so he made (as grandma called it) “monkey diddle”. Needless to say – he never made tea again for grandma!!!!

  90. Miss Meets Expectations*

    OP2 – That is INFURIATING! At my last job, I was consistently a very high performer by all metrics. At my last review, my boss told me that I “met expectations” in most categories. His reasoning? I had performed so well in the previous 3 years, that was now the expectation for me.

    After one round of rage applying, I had a new job within 3 weeks. Congratulations dummy. You lost your highest performing employee because you’re an idiot.

  91. US tea drinker*

    Very much off topic but since the commentariat generally goes in for book reviews: post #4 made me think of the Jodi Taylor series “The Chronicles of Saint Mary’s” wherein tea etiquette plays a significant role. The joke is continued in the “Time Police” series where the two group’s inherent mismatch is typified by the Time Police being “coffee people”

  92. miss_chaos*

    Live in the UK and work in a creative industry. Our team is so addicted to Yorkshire tea that we should probably be sponsored by them. The fact that our office uses Tetley (absolutely gross) is a point of major contention for our hybrid schedule negotiation because if they want to bring us to the office they should at least provide us proper tea.

    I carry my own Yorkshire tea bags to work.

    1. KatEnigma*

      Tetley isn’t even good enough for Iced Tea and/or Americans! My husband will send it back at a restaurant and ask for just water, if given Tetley!

    1. Berkeleyfarm*

      There are a lot of layers to the tea-culture onion! I lived in the UK for a year and it baffles me as well.

      Mind you, I like my tea a particular way that is Not Very English so would probably not be asked twice to make it.

  93. RB*

    One thing I’ve always wondered about the whole British tea thing, especially when it comes to the office, is how much of this is loose tea vs tea bags? Because loose tea is more of a production and would take a lot more time, so if you’re doing this multiple times a day, that seems like it could really add up. Also, if you’re making tea for multiple people and they each take a different kind of tea, does everyone just a have a box of tea bags in the kitchen area with their name on it?

    1. Ellis Bell*

      Tea bags all the way, one of the major brands or supermarket boxes of black blended tea will do for everyone. No one at work is going to be the kind of princess who needs a specialist cup of tea, especially if it has a different brewing method, while they’re doing a spreadsheet on a deadline. You may as well ask for a Pina colada.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Typically the employer provides one type of teabags in large quantities. No loose leaf or teapots involved.

      If some bright spark tries to change the brand of teabags it will lead to far greater revolt than cutting salaries.

    3. London Calling*

      Teabags are the tea makers friend – I don’t think I’ve ever actually worked in a place where there was loose tea provided or anyone used them. Because then you need a teapot and a strainer and it’s just too much faffing around and washing up.

    4. Aphra*

      It tends to be just normal tea bags in the kitchen and in terms of how people take their tea (from ‘builders’ = very strong, to ‘gnats’ (short for gnat’s pee) = very weak, with/without milk/sugar/sweetener), you learn that as you get to know the team you work with. Those who want a specific type of tea (Lapsang Souchong, Earl Grey, herbal or fruit teas) tend to keep their tea bags in their own drawers and just ask for hot water on the ‘tea run’ so they can make their tea as they like it. In over 40 years working I’ve only once come across loose tea used regularly and that was for a very, very senior manager whose PA made tea/coffee for him and his visitors. They had their own kitchen, though, and she could be trusted not to dump used tea leaves or coffee grounds down the sink. (British offices and homes don’t generally have garbage disposal units in kitchen sinks so they would get blocked if that stuff was dumped down them) I have, though, had many colleagues who took their own coffee grounds to work and made a large cafetiere a couple of times a day, with some very cute little insulating jackets worn by the caretakers to keep the pot warm! I’ve done that myself when decent coffee wasn’t available at work and when the delicious smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting from across the office when cheap instant granules were all that was provided by management. Unfortunately, if you left your own tea bags or coffee in the kitchen, it’s pretty much guaranteed that someone will dip into them without asking – as they do with anything left unattended in a kitchen or fridge.

    5. DameB*

      I work for a British company and I’m an American tea drinker. (Twining red label English breakfast, four minutes, milk after it’s steeped, no sugar.)

      When I first took the job and was planning to visit, I spent hours brushing up on loose leaf etiquette and Darjeeling v Assam and the whole milk debate. I arrived fully armed with all that knowledge and was HORRIFIED to discover that they just fish a bag of Yorkshire Gold out of a container the size of my mom’s dog food bag, bung it into a mug, pour hot (not boiling!) water on it, stir for about five seconds, then fish it out. Using a COMMUNUAL SPOON.

    6. Burger Bob*

      It’s all tea bags! That’s what’s so funny to me. It’s treated as this Big Important social norm, but then they don’t even do the fancy version of it.

  94. jessilein*

    How does this tea thing work if you work in a big office? Pre-covid, I worked in an office of about 30 people in two long hallways, most with their own office or sometimes with two people sharing an office. Am I supposed to check with all 30 people to see what they want? Only my two direct reports, meaning I would have to get their orders and then walk down the long hallways to deliver them, skipping multiple people along the way? Or only the two people who have offices on either side of me??

    1. Ellis Bell*

      No, it would only be a small number of people in your immediate area. Offering drinks to an entire office floor is like getting a bar round in for the whole bar.

  95. MCMonkeyBean*

    My company has a really detailed file on what expectations for a role should look like which is nice, but then it’s pretty much cancelled out by the fact that I have learned they essentially grade on a curve and I should never expect to get anything other than a 3/5 “meets expectations.”

    I got a 4 my very first year because apparently as someone joining the team straight out of school they had really low expectations for me and I surpassed them by a lot. It’s been all 3s ever since. One year, I had a big role in a huge project with lots of visibility to upper management and frankly I knocked it out of the park. My review that year was a total rave, ending with essentially “this was your best year ever… but it was also a lot of other people’s best year ever and we are only allowed to give out so many 4s so here is another 3.”

    I ended up leaving shortly after that. Not exactly related, but that didn’t help. But at my next company–I found the same thing! Apparently it’s not uncommon. So after that I decided to just not care about my reviews anymore. I’m back at my first job now, and I just go about my day expecting ever year will result in a 3. It’s honestly been really freeing. I do my job and I do it well but I have let myself set much firmer boundaries on my work/home life because I know that it’s not worth it for me to go so far above and beyond when I know I’ll be getting another 3 either way. It’s not the best route since as you say it can impact actual finances (I don’t think my raise is impacted, but my bonus is) but overall I do recommend the “simply stop caring” method to anyone who would consider it.

    And I had my annual review last week–another rave review, and another 3. Just as I expected.

  96. Aphra*

    I once started a new job and really hit it off with a colleague who sat opposite me on our pod of four desks. After a few weeks, I realised that, while I always offered to make her a hot drink when I was going to make myself one, she never reciprocated. Others on our pod would also offer to make drinks for her, but again, she never reciprocated. I also realised that she never took any of us up on our offers, always just making her own. She was (and is) a great colleague and very easy to work with so I wasn’t bothered by this, just slightly nonplussed. Months later I was stuck on the world’s longest conference call and desperate for a cup of tea (I’m English!) so I asked her if she’d make me a cup when she made one for herself. Response, a flat ‘no’. I was quite surprised so later I privately asked her outright why she wouldn’t do me that small favour. She told me that her first job post-graduation had been as a statistician at a large tea importer. As the junior team member she was put on Tasting Room duties where her day consisted of boiling water to the correct temperature, making hundreds of tiny cups of tea, taking notes down for the Tasters, emptying the spitoons, washing up and starting the whole thing over again several times a day, every day. She did that for two years during a national economic slump until she found her next job, and made an oath to herself never to make tea for anyone at work ever again. We became good friends and visited each other’s homes often where, I’m happy to say, she was and is, a lovely host and makes a fantastic pot or cup of tea! She never did make me one at work though, and good for her!

  97. Dancing Otter*

    #1: Frank couldn’t even keep his own secret, so why should you?

    I like the suggestion to “innocently” ask Grand-Boss (?) who will be doing evaluations, since no one could possibly expect objective appraisals under the circumstances. But the anonymous report is, perhaps, a safer option.

    Presumably, the affair has been going on for a while, if they’re already at the divorce stage. So how long has Frank been getting preferential treatment?

  98. DameB*

    I am an American working for a British company — I only go over to the mother ship once a year or so (minus three years of Covid) and I was BEFUDDLED by the tea ritual at first. Why were these people asking me about tea constantly! I generally just do the “I’m a stupid gauche American” thing and I don’t THINK they are offended by the fact that I don’t bring everyone on the team tea. But there’s no way I can learn 15 tea orders in my one-week-a-year pilgrimage.

  99. PlainJane*

    “Exceeds expectations” is a very silly category anyway. (Makes me think of the Weasley twins saying that they exceeded anyone’s expectations by showing up. I mean, expectations will always shift based on, well, what experience has led you to expect from someone.) Something more… I don’t know, less based on a subjective thing like “expectations” would be better.

  100. Here for the Insurance*

    Haven’t read all the comments, but one thing that’s missing from those I’ve read about the dating coworkers: if OP is in management herself, she has an ethical obligation to report them.

  101. cat with thumbs (uk)*

    Re: tea culture. I just want to add that for me (non-tea drinker, autistic), I’m baffled/kinda scared about this ultimate social shibboleth. In case this is a useful comparison for anyone, when I first started working I did the same mental calculus about tea and whether I had to do makeup. The social pressures involved feel similar.

    1. Buffy Rosenberg*

      Cats with thumbs, I completely relate to your comment. You’re definitely not the only one. One of those things where people decide you’re “rude” because of a completely made up thing that you didn’t know about and nobody ever explains. And it harms nobody. And it often makes little logical sense. But nope you’re “rude”.

  102. Sarah*

    Pre-pandemic, we didn’t do tea rounds in my office (US), but if one of us filled the electric kettle, we’d say that there was hot water for tea.

  103. Mark*

    I admit I’m one of those that initially rarely gave “exceeds expectations” (back when we used that kind of review), because quite honestly, the people rarely exceeded my high expectations. However, I would freely tell people what would move them from “meets expectations” to “exceeds expectations”. Some didn’t care and were fine with the former. Most did, made adjustments in performance/productivity/organization/attitude/etc., and started receiving the latter.

    I’ve been told many times by people that I am the toughest boss they ever had. However, most of those same people have told me they are far better at their jobs, and have obtained positions they never thought possible, because of having to live up to my high standards.

    I know many are probably thinking we have a lot of turnover because of this. Quite the contrary, our turnover is usually only one person a year, and even then it’s almost always for a higher position than they had here.

  104. Emma in the UK*

    I’ve worked various admin jobs in the UK from entry level to a bit more senior/specialised, mostly in NHS or higher ed settings.

    My view is its definitely a useful skill to be good at tea making and getting on the tea culture bandwagon at any given office but not strictly strictly necessary… Depending on your role. There’s also a little gender bias as I think men face less social backlash for not making enough tea etc.

    As a general rule, if you make *any* hot drinks at work, you are often expected to be part of tea making culture (though I think it’s shifted a little bit since the pandemic and it’s not always as strong an expectation as it once was). However, if you literally do not make or have hot drinks at all, you can eternally opt out. But its kinda all or nothing.

  105. Trish*

    I had a boss who would rate me low on productivity because she “didn’t know what I did”. When she was the one asigning my work…

  106. Vio*

    The tea thing is really complicated by the fact that everyone takes their drinks differently. I can never remember how any of my co-workers take their tea or coffee or who prefers decaff, etc so I have to ask everyone each time. Fortunately I mostly work alone so it doesn’t come up too often, but I often need to find pen and paper if I’m making drinks. Most colleagues do offer me a drink when they’re getting one though if we have a meeting and it’s kind of reassuring that most of them can’t remember how I take my coffee either.

  107. RVMan*

    “No 5’s” can easily be the result of the structure of the incentive system at the company. Consider the following (a rather exaggerated version of the one I operated under as a very junior manager)
    Average raise across the division must be 3%
    Raises by score –
    5 – 6%, 4 – 4%, 3 -3%, 2 – 2% ,1- 0% (so across the company, every 5 must be offset by a 1, or 3 2’s in roughly the same salary bands. (The actual raises weren’t this big that year, but I made them this to make the math easy.))
    Anyone who receives a 1 is put on probation that is essentially a year-long PIP. A second 1 is a death sentence.

    So now, every Manager scores his people, hands them in to leadership, hands them up to VPs, who find that the average across the division is, say, 4. Push them back down, everyone has to lower scores. Some middle managers essentially institute quotas for first-line managers where each first line manager has to add up to exactly 3% raise, others (who know their second-level reports better and can see the quality difference between their teams) have VP’s who do that, but overall the division has that at the XVP level anyway. Anyone who gives a 5 has to either throw someone under the bus, end up with a team average below 3 (5+2+2+2)/4=2.75 or fight with their peer managers over what other team has to eat the below average rating. And woe betide the poor junior manager with one direct report like I had. Ours wasn’t quite this prescriptive – I think raise by rating was set after-the fact so there wasn’t the fixed ratios of 1s to 5s, but the raise math component and recalibration step was definitely there. I think the average had to be around 3.2 to make the math work out, so giving a 5 really bound you to giving multiple others 2s.

  108. Tea Drinker*

    American expat in the UK here. After about a year of living with my British partner, he finally told me that when I went to go make a tea for myself but didn’t offer to make him one, he always wondered if I was mad at him! From my perspective I didn’t want to bother him while he was working, and I figured if he wanted one he’d ask.

    Now I always ask if he wants one, haha ☺️

  109. GingerNP*

    Leadership or teachers being unwilling to give “exceeds expectations” can really eff up a future – concretely. I made the mistake of requesting one of my managers (who I knew thought my work was excellent and that I was highly capable) write a reference for the PA program I was applying to. Come to find out (after I had been rejected from the program) that he, as a matter of personal policy, doesn’t give “exceeds expectations” ratings because “there’s always room for improvement.” PA programs are notoriously competitive and difficult to get into – and it’s very easy for those programs to just toss any application that has evals that might be seen as equivocal, or less than stellar. Suffice to say – I did not ask him to be a reference for the next grad school application cycle.

  110. Not A Fish*

    I’m a British person living and working abroad. Oh my gosh, I can’t tell you all how often me offering to make tea for people in my office got me odd stares and confused answers. Some people would agree to a green/ herbal tea but no-one drinks black tea with milk like I do!

    When I arrived here I thought that as the most junior person in the office, making tea for my colleagues would be a polite and friendly thing to do. And that it would help me get to know them all. Well, the office kitchen didn’t even have a kettle and there were some sad green tea bags and nothing else to be found. I think that after four years my colleagues are used to me offering to make tea for them all, but I’m still the only person who drinks black tea.

    I now go to the British importers to get Tetley tea bags to drink at work.

  111. Jonquil*

    LW1: if you suspected the affair before you were told about it, it’s almost certain others have noticed too.

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