my employer confiscated my favorite shirt, whose job is it to address burn-out, and more

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

1. My employer confiscated my favorite shirt

I work with disabled clients, and the other day one of them took a spill down the ramp and was bleeding. When I turned her onto her side, I took my button-down off to put under her head to keep it elevated and keep her from swallowing too much blood. Unfortunately, after she was taken to the hospital by EMTs, I put my shirt into a plastic bag to inspect/wash later. There was no visible blood on it, but I was of course going to wash it. I mentioned to a coworker that I was going to put my shirt in my car. My manager overheard and told me to give her the bag, and said she didn’t think she could give it back to me because there was probably a policy about it because of the blood. I pointed out that I wasn’t even sure if there was blood on it and that I was going to wash it, but I reluctantly handed it over, thinking it surely would be back with me in a matter of minutes but she didn’t give it back at the end of the day.

This is my favorite shirt. It has a lot of sentimental meaning to me and I made it clear that I loved it and would rather have the shirt than any potential reimbursement. I tried to joke and be a good sport while I was trying to get across that I love that shirt, but they didn’t seem to care. I feel so betrayed. Are they really allowed to just take my shirt? If it were any other job, I would be seriously considering quitting but I can’t afford to leave. I’m at a complete loss as to what to do.

Talk to your boss! It sounds like your organization might have a policy about disposing of materials that have come into contact with body fluids, but it doesn’t sound like your boss is even sure about that. Talk to her and don’t joke about it this time — that’s just opening the door to her misunderstanding what you’re trying to convey and how strongly you feel about it. Say something like, “That shirt has deep sentimental value to me, and it’s extremely important to me to get it back. If it were a different shirt, I wouldn’t be pushing this, but I don’t think I should lose an item that’s so important to me that didn’t even seem to have blood on it. What do I need to do to get it returned to me?” And assuming you didn’t sign something to the contrary, you could add, “I didn’t consent to have a personal possession taken from me and I do need it returned.” If she’s unsure of the policy or who should deal with this, ask her who would know and talk to that person.

I do think you need to prepare for the possibility that they may have already gotten rid of it. (I’m sorry!) But this will give you the best shot at recovering it.

2. Whose job is it to address burn-out?

I noticed recently that I’m experiencing the symptoms of burn -out. There are many different lists and articles out there but the first one Google gave me resonated a lot — especially the lists of symptoms and potential causes (most are applicable).

I raised this with my manager, including a few of what I thought the likely causes were, relevant to our department and my work. I intended it as feedback, to trigger for them some reflection of how he might reorganize our work, create improved processes, and generally try to support me. These are all issues that have been raised before, but which I don’t have much power to directly change.

Their response instead was to pitch it back to me, saying, “Let me know what you’re doing to address it, and let me know what specifically you need from me.” The tone was supportive, but seems to put all the work of figuring out how to address my burn-out on me. But I’m burned out! I don’t care enough to figure it out!

So generally speaking, when it comes to addressing employee burn-out, who has the primary responsibility? Employee, or manager?

In theory or in reality? In reality it’s nearly always the employee.

The response you got from your manager is about the response I’d expect. It’s pretty rare for a single employee’s concerns about burn-out to trigger much more than that, and especially not substantial changes to processes. Typically it takes multiple people raising the same concerns, and even then that’s often not enough and nothing happens until they lose multiple employees over it (and often not even then). Occasionally a single person might be able to get it done, if (a) they’re especially valued and the employer is deeply invested in not losing them and (b) the manager is skilled, reasonable, and has enough capital themselves to make the sorts of real changes that would help.

The response you got is about what you can realistically hope for — an invitation to come back with specific requests for changes that would help you.

For the record, that’s not always unreasonable. It can make sense to put the ball in your court to propose what you need, especially if no one else on the team is struggling (or known to be struggling, at least). That’s particularly true if your manager knows the workload itself isn’t likely to change, but that she might be able to make some adjustments if you tell her what you want. Yes, in an ideal world she’d suggest some options since you might not even know what’s on the table — but it’s not unfair for her to ask you to talk in specifics about what you need.

3. Paying for employees’ significant others to join them on business trips

Is it normal for employees’ significant others to be accommodated on business trips?

At a previous job, my manager complained to me that our boss didn’t want to pay for flight and hotel accommodations so she could bring her fiance on a business trip we were all attending, when he had paid for her now ex-husband on a past trip. At the time, I didn’t comment but did think it was odd that he’d done so in the first place. However, I was young and after leaving that job moved into a field where trips aren’t the norm, so haven’t had reason to encounter a situation like this since. Is it common for employees’ significant others, who do not have jobs in the company, to be accommodated on business trips?

Nope! Sometimes someone will bring a partner along (so they can hang out at night and the partner can sightsee in the area during the day or so forth), but generally the employee pays the partner’s expenses; the employer wouldn’t cover the additional expense.

In very rare situations, there might be a business reason for doing paying a partner’s expenses (for example, if the employee is breast-feeding and only agrees to travel if the baby can come, with the spouse to take care of the baby while they work) but it would be very much the exception to the rule.

4. Acknowledgement of a condolence gift

A coworker died last month. I did not attend the funeral service but sent a nice gift with a personal note to the family. Should I expect a thank-you from the family? I would at least like to know if they received the gift.

Assume they almost certainly got it, but since they’re grieving they might not be a state to deal with thank-you notes (but no doubt appreciated the thought).

{ 347 comments… read them below }

  1. RCB*

    My ex-husband worked at a job that required weekly travel but guaranteed to bring him home every weekend. If he was in the same place for two weeks in a row then the company would pay to fly me out for the weekend instead of flying him home since the costs were the same, so that’s another time when a company might pay for the travel of a significant other.

    1. Llama Llama*

      My company has a similar policy as well for long term travel. We have the choice of flying back for the weekend or flying our spouse/family member in.

      However, that was the end of it. They wouldn’t pay to fly/food for a +1 on a short term trip

    2. Malarkey01*

      Former organization also had a yearly retreat that was a combination working company conference and motivation reward for performers. Those got a spouse/partner invite as well and they were included in some of the dinners, non work events.

      1. Runner up*

        I worked for a company that did that something similar for a while. They stopped including partners/spouses after the first time I attended – I assume primarily to save money, but probably also because it didn’t seem to add all that much, since the employees were in meetings most of the day.

    3. Sloanicota*

      I was confused by the word “accommodations” here. If the cost to the company is no greater, I guess it wouldn’t be that strange if some minor accommodations might be agreed to for the benefit of the partner, like a same cost flight at a different time that works better for the partner, or changing the hotel room to one with bigger beds, maybe even switching the hotel for a more downtown one – if it’s the exact same cost, or very similar. I’ve also seen people be allowed to pay the difference themselves. But I’ve never seen the company pay for the partner’s flights or meals or whatever (they’re already subsidizing the hotel, after all!). But I’m in small nonprofit, I assume the rules could be different in some fancy corporate culture perhaps.

      1. Pat*

        The hotel being paid for by work is the appeal! I used to travel moderately for work, and for far away trips, I always brought my partner because we only had to pay for the flight (and food obvs).

        1. Clisby*

          Yes, the next time my husband visits his home office of Boston I think I might do that. We’d of course pay for my flight, and my meals, and I would not expect (or want) to accompany him on any work-related dinners, or anything like that. I’m pretty sure I can entertain myself in Boston.

    4. IrishGirl*

      my husband worked for a company that would pay to fly me to see him once a year on his ship and did that for the top 3 deck officers on the ship. I also was able to stay in his room for free so free flight to Europe and got to chill on his cruise ship with free food. But my company would not do the same. When they paid for me to go to Hawaii for my CPCU, I had to pay for him to fly but they paid the hotel and rental car for 2 days that we shared.

    5. mli25*

      A previous job did this. I used it once in 5 years. The company paid for my husband’s flight to Denver, instead of me flying home over Memorial Day weekend one year. We still paid for the hotel and food. I don’t remember what happened with the rental car, but I am pretty sure I paid for the non-working days (Sat, Sun, Mon) and they paid the rest.

    6. Garrett*

      Before he retired, my dad’s company used to fly him business class for trips but he could exchange it for 2 economy seats (and pay any difference) so my mom could go. It was nice for them because he got to go all over the world for a period and they got to see places they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to visit.

    7. Princess Sparklepony*

      My ex was posted to Russia for an extended time. The deal was that they would fly me out in business class. I can’t remember how frequently though. I know I went once for a week. He was there about 4 months. It would have been longer but one of his coworkers threatened his life. The guy was ex-KGB and my ex said, nope, I’m out of here. This was in the 1990s.

      The ex’s deal since he was doing them a favor going over was that his expenses were not to be questioned unless they were at a casino or a whorehouse. He didn’t mind the posting but it was a hardship in a lot of ways. And he didn’t want any nonsense over his expenses. He wasn’t a wild high living guy but he wasn’t going to be making ramen in his hotel room.

  2. Lizzianna*

    I’m curious about how a manager should respond to #2?

    As a manager, I don’t always know how to help my employees, because different things work for different people. I know what helps me when I’m burned out, but I also think that coming up with a list of things could seem patronizing.

    1. Turanga Leela*

      Sometimes the manager knows about options that the employees don’t, so you could think about starting there. So if it’s related to overwork: Is there some way to actually reduce workloads? (This sounds obvious, but I was at my job for a while before I realized we could contract out cases when there were too many.) Do the employees have your blessing to push back some deadlines or temporarily shelve some projects?

      If you’ve already been working on the issues that are causing burnout, you can tell the employee what your ideas are and how you’ve been trying to implement them. That’s encouraging–it tells the employee you’re on her side and that you’re aware of the problem–and it might help her think about what other changes would help her.

      And as the manager, you’re in a position to encourage your employees to use their leave and any other benefits they have. Depending on the culture in your workplace, employees might worry that they shouldn’t take too much leave, or should be seen working late, or lots of toxic stuff, and you can let them know that you don’t operate like that.

    2. Allonge*

      It’s easier for the manager to bring the subject back up again, so in a following (ideally next) one on one meeting you could refer to this and say you were thinking of this, you see X, Y or Z that might help, does any of it sound like a solution? Or is there anything they came up with?

      I appreciate that you don’t want to dictate terms, but as you see, OP at least is in the situation where they would like for the manager to take care of this. And a lot of the solutions, especially long term, would need to come from management in any case.

    3. Liv*

      I’ve been dealing with this as a manager at work. What I did was speak to my employee about what changes they’d like to see/think would help. If they were things that were in my control to change, I changed them. If they weren’t, I was upfront about that and we discussed together how we might mitigate some of the impact.

      For this particular employee, the cause of her burnout was pretty linked to a specific project, so I just moved her to a new project, and made sure that she was working on it in collaboration with someone else rather than being solely responsible, so she had some support. Then I just make sure that in our weekly 1:1s I check in gently about how she’s finding things and if there’s anything she needs from me.

      A few other things I do for my whole team to prevent burnout happening in the first place:

      – Tell them all to make sure they’re taking their full lunch break away from the desk and block it out in their calendar so no one puts in meetings. I also lead by example with this, so they see me declining meetings over lunch and being unavailable during my lunch period.

      – I put in a weekly ‘self-led well being time’ (we mostly work from home) where the team are explicitly told to step away from their laptops and do something non-work related to recharge, and again I tell them to be protective of this time and decline meetings.

      – Encourage them to make liberal use of ‘the manager card’ and push difficult stakeholders (which is one of the biggest challenges of our job) my way, and I always back them up to stakeholders (if I disagree with what their approach is, we handle that privately)

      – Regular and public recognition/positive feedback – a lot of our work goes unnoticed by the wider business, so I make sure to be very vocal about the team’s successes (and give them the credit, never take it for myself) in public channels, especially with more senior management.

      – Encourage them to use their Annual Leave (we’re in the UK so much more generous allowances than the US), and again lead by example here – I never log on during my annual leave so hopefully my team doesn’t feel like they need to.

      – I give them a lot of grace and flexibility with leave – e.g. don’t make them use AL for doctor’s appointments or whatever, give them as much leeway as I can get away with from HR in terms of WFH/vs in the office (technically we’re supposed to be 3 days in office, but I don’t enforce it), I don’t log their sick days in the system if they’re off for less than 2 days.

      1. RetailEscapee*

        You sound like my boss and I LOVE THEM. Thank you, what you’re doing is what makes people want to give their best.

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

          Yes, especially being that it’s not some group thing like yoga or something where you have to be on camera.

          We do something similar, but it’s once a month. Instead of weekly meeting, we can choose to come in an hour later, or do whatever helps us feel better. For some, that might be catching up on some paperwork that they didn’t have time for in the day, so they don’t have to take work home. Others meet and have breakfast together or get coffee. I like to go downtown to my favorite coffee shop and read.

        2. Young worker*

          Truly! We have an annoying teams status that changes to yellow immediately, and sometimes I could benefit from taking a walk and resting my eye strain but I worry about being idle for long. I wish it was explicitly encouraged to not worry about the teams icon looking idle and go for an afternoon walk!

          1. Cat Lady Esq.*

            I used to worry about this a lot but then I started using the DND function in teams (and encouraging my coworker allies to do the same). At least for our version of Teams, if you’re on DND, it never goes yellow or goes to anything else until you manually change it off DND. I would put a status like “Working drafting XYZ project – please email” and DND and then my work on that project would be to take a walk and think about it and rest my eyes. It’s been amazing. And I’ve noticed other folks are starting to do it too. It really does help with interruptions when I need focus and am still at my desk, too!

      2. Pat*

        if I disagree with what their approach is, we handle that privately

        I’ve been on the receiving end of this, and I felt incredibly supported by my boss! I had to be very assertive and non-compromising with someone, and I worried that I might have gone too far. My boss was there for the whole interaction and afterwards she said she would have backed up anything I suggested. That sort of thing can really boost one’s confidence!

      3. MigraineMonth*

        Being clear that you’re there to handle complicated situations is so important! The most frustrating part of my job is when there are the awkward inter-departmental politics. Fortunately my boss has been great about me punting issues their way when things get too sticky.

    4. Madame Arcati*

      At my workplace we have (optional) personalised well-being plans which employees, if (and to the extent that) they like, use to note down particular stressors, signs of stress/burnout and anything other info they want to, that they share only with their lone manager, to help with any prevention/cure.
      We as managers are also encouraged to model behaviours that could assist wellbeing – eg it’s easier to take proper breaks if you see your manager doing so.
      Also I think it’s important to be clear on expectations around things like urgency – so rather than simply giving a piece of work, on the one hand I might say, “I’m letting you know about this new project while it’s fresh in my mind from an grieving but it’s not urgent so have a look at the file on Monday and we’ll talk then” to avoid unnecessary worry, or on the other hand, “this is quite urgent – could you put aside that other project and set the ball rolling on this one please” thereby avoiding them feeling overwhelmed.

    5. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      I think the first thing to do is to listen to the employee and acknowledge how they are feeling. I don’t think the OP’s boss did much of that. Just having your boss validate you can make you feel better. And I think if you’re open and say “I’m not sure what all support we can offer you but lets look at this together. Bring any ideas to me, and I will see what I can do on my end.” or even “what does support from me and the company look like for you.” And of course if you have an EAP let the employee know how to access that.

    6. misquoted*

      My US workplace has “wellness weekends” as part of our holiday package — a 4-day weekend every quarter, during which we are encouraged to do whatever works for us to recharge. And because most of the company* is off on those days, we don’t come back on Tuesday to a pile of emails.
      *those in countries with different workweeks have a slightly different (but equal) wellness schedule, and ditto for those who have to cover phones or be on call.

    7. Ann*

      I would ask if the burnout is due to something that’s happening in the workplace. For example, is it the workload, the hours, difficult clients? It’s possible that the reason for the burnout is something the employee should address – for example, speaking up when they need training or can’t take on more work. It’s also possible that the reason is something management should address – if there’s too much work, maybe there’s a staffing problem.

    8. Earlk*

      I’d make a referral to occupational health so a professional could work out what accommodations they need.

    9. LinesInTheSand*

      I don’t know if the LW just didn’t talk about it, but I was surprised that there wasn’t more of a conversation between the employee and the manager to at least talk through it.

      I’ve been through burn out. I remember I’d have felt a lot better if my manager could lead me through a conversation exploring the situation I’m in. I remember I couldn’t string two thoughts together all by myself at that point.

      That said, burn out is serious stuff and sometimes what the employee really needs is just to take a prolonged step back. If the manager is identifying small fixes, that’s prolonging the situation rather than improving it.

    10. beanie gee*

      I think it’s a two-way conversation! Like a lot of commenters said, the manager doesn’t necessarily know what the root case of the burnout is. It could be workload, could be a hard client, could be lack of skills, could be just a terrible job fit. So I don’t think it’s necessarily the manager’s job to have a list of solutions, but I do think a good manager can help their employee navigate the cause so they can both find a solution together.

      I’m a success story on this front – Dealt with some big time burnout, manager asked what would keep me in my job/make me happier in my job and I asked for a 4 day work week and to not have to manage a project I hated and together we made that change. Almost a year later I’m so much happier.

      1. beanie gee*

        So on that note, I do agree that it’s also a bit up to the employee to think about what they want and then ask for it! The manager might not always be able to make it happen, but they might! And then even if the manager can’t do anything, the employee has at least made it clear what they want to see change. So many people quit otherwise good jobs because they don’t ask for something different.

  3. JJ*

    LW4, two thoughts:
    1. As Alison wrote, grieving people need time, sometimes a couple of months. Please be patient.
    2. I’m a little concerned by “I sent a nice gift.” Did you send flowers? (That’s pretty standard, and Miss Manners has shared a lot of insights into why we shouldn’t deviate from customs around grief.) If not, then you might have weirded them out a bit. If sending a gift is a cultural difference that I’m unaware of, apologies — just trying to help you not put a foot wrong in the future.

    1. LJ*

      Even wedding gifts might not get acknowledged for a couple of months (honeymoon, burn out from wedding planning, settling into life changes, etc etc). Definitely don’t expect anything from the family any time soon, especially if you aren’t in regular contact with them. They probably don’t have the headspace to think of Sam from Accounting right now.

      1. LJ*

        or maybe they sent a blanket message to the company as “thanks everyone from MegaCorp for their condolences” and no one passed it on to you directly? all sorts of possiblities

      2. Shanderson*

        Only popping in here to say that I’ve always loved Miss Manners take on how long a wedding gift thank you note should take as “approximately 20 minutes per gift if you keep the pen and paper with you when opening.” NOT applicable to funerals certainly, but it’s always stuck with me.

          1. Don't Be a Dork*

            I’m assuming that part of that time is dedicated to finding the correct address and addressing the envelope and finding a stamp. Otherwise it is a lot, particularly when you’re basically writing “Thank you for the lovely fish-slice. It’s just what we needed! Jack and I look forward to using it for many years to come. Love, Jill” (Obviously reverse the names if Jack is doing the writing.)

        1. Sunflower*

          And also that she always reminds couples that the groom, if any, should be sending half the TY notes! Not putting it all on the bride is a real time saver (and a more auspicious start to the marriage).

          1. JustaTech*

            That’s how my husband and I did it: he wrote all the notes to his family, I did my family and we split our friends. (We also went with a zombie-apocalypse theme for our friends, like “thank you for the candlesticks, they’ll be great for fending off the zombie hoard”.)

            The funny thing was several of his family members insisted that he could not have possibly written the thank you notes, because 1) that’s a woman’s job (gag) and 2) the handwriting was too nice.

          2. PotteryYarn*

            My husband failed at this (he wrote two of them for his classmates and then left them in his backpack for THREE YEARS) and so I bestowed upon him the honor of writing all the baby gift thank you notes…for four kids!

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Death and followup can be chaotic and traumatic. When Mom died, my sibling (executor of the will) said the funeral home helped with thank-yous-. I was so crushed that I somehow they wouldn’t even know about condolences sent directly to my house. Years later I realized, and by then it’s too late.

      1. Jill*

        I am reminded of the old “Brady Bunch” episode when the father had a business trip to Hawaii. The wife, all six kids and the housekeeper went with him.

        1. Fungible token*

          There were two episodes! The first one ended when greg went under surfing. Take any tiki!!!!

    3. Baby Yoda*

      Agree patience is needed. Only one time was I concerned about not hearing about a gift- but it was a basket of food that arrived in an Amazon box and I was concerned it would get put in a room for later and cause a problem. So I asked a relative (not immediate family) to make sure they opened it fairly soon. Otherwise I just would have waited.

    4. MountainAir*

      I have to be honest, I’m a believer in thank you notes, but it really feels like they shouldn’t be expected practice around bereavement. Thank you notes around wedding gifts, baby gifts, etc. – yes, it’s the right thing to do and it’s nice to acknowledge and show gratitude warmly. (Although it has also never annoyed me if I didn’t get one. If I wonder if something got there I might check in in a low stakes way, but usually I just assume people are overwhelmed/busy – especially when the recipients in question are new parents.) To me, those kinds of gifts are gestures of celebration and good will for an exciting new stage in someone’s life.

      But when you reach out to support someone during a time of loss, I really don’t think that gesture should come with the expectation that the recipient needs to do anything at all afterwards. Any form of support given during grief are meant to prop someone up at a time when just getting through the day can be immensely difficult. That is an entirely different dynamic, and it honestly would never occur to me to actually expect a thank you from someone I sent anything to while they were grieving. At most, maybe a blanket note sometime later thanking everyone for support, or a quick text? But seriously, I might even feel guilty getting a thank you note at a certain point, because the last thing I’d want to do was add a task to someone’s mental checklist at that time.

      1. BreakingDishes*

        My daughter died in 1995. I managed to send notes to those who gifted a check for a memorial park bench. I simply was not able to thank anyone else for plants, flowers, or being present. My husband died in November 2022. Grief is so overwhelming-writing notes is just not possible. Maybe Miss Manners can pull it off, but I can’t.

        1. BookMom*

          When my mother in law died I wrote all the thank you notes. I adored her but I wasn’t as incapacitated by grief as the direct family members. “On behalf of the entire Book family, thank you for…”. If I lost someone very close to me I would totally ask a friend or distant relative to help with thank you notes. That said, our culture is shifting away from TY notes and I wouldn’t be surprised or offended not to get one after a death.

      2. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        Yeah, I never expect thank you notes from grieving people, no matter what I’ve given. It’s just too much to ask when the entire point of a gift/casserole/etc. is to make things easier for them. If I’m worried they didn’t get what I sent, I’ll check with a less immediate family member, but otherwise, I don’t want to add anything else to their very full plate of Things To Do.

      3. Risha*

        I agree with not expecting thanks during a grieving period. The person just lost someone they really cared about (or else they would not be grieving). It’s a whirlwind of emotions and depending on who it was that died (parent, spouse), there could be a lot the survivor needs to handle on top of the grief. Sometimes, the grief consumes you.

        When I’ve provided support or given things to a grieving person, I never expected a thank you. I chose to help them from the goodness of my heart, because they were going through terrible sadness. And when my parents died, I may have forgotten to thank some people who gave me support/gifts. I hope they don’t view me differently or as being rude.

      4. Sara C*

        I fully agree. I am a big thank you note person but I don’t think it would even occur to me to write a personal thank you note for flowers or similar received after the death of a close family member. Of course if someone was dropping off food (or something else) directly I’d say thank you verbally, but I can’t imagine sitting down to write thank yous while grieving.

        I think the LW should let this go. If the gift arrived, trust that it was appreciated. If the gift did not in fact arrive, it’s not the end of the world, and surely it’s better not to ask them and force a grieving family to sort through items to confirm for your own peace of mind.

      5. Humble Schoolmarm*

        When my grandmother died, I was given a stack of blank thank you cards to send to people who gave me a sympathy card. I was flummoxed, why would you send a card to thank someone for… a card? A casserole or a donation or flowers I could understand because it required more time and expense on the givers part but not a card. I just didn’t do it. Here’s hoping I didn’t insult a bunch of kindly friends.

      6. Cascadia*

        Yes to this. My friend’s partner just died tragically and unexpectedly. She is so overwhelmed with everything, including caring for their very young child. But also, the gifts have been pouring in from all sides. Neighbors have brought over dinners, people have sent cookie boxes and flowers, there are door dash gift cards, and hand made gifts for the baby, and a gofundme with money for the funeral. There’s no way she is keeping track of all the stuff that is coming in, when she’s just trying to keep her head above water. Maybe for the gofundme she’ll get a list of all the donors, but all those random people that sent stuff, especially in the first week after it happened? I’m sure it’ll all be a blur and there’s no way any of those folks are getting thank you cards because she is not remembering who sent what, or what has even happened during that time.

    5. Not my real name*

      Flowers are lovely for sure, but the gifts I remember are the people who did practical things to make life easier. When my MIL passed, FIL’s neighbor brought a box of paper plates, napkins, plastic cutlery, paper towels, and even a package of TP. It was so immensely helpful with a houseful of family to not have to worry about dishes or running to the store for necessities.

      1. Jayem Griffin*

        THIS. When my mother died, my brothers were still fairly young. I’ll never forget my best friend’s mom showing up with a bag of paper plates, plastic cups and silverware, and my youngest brother’s favorite drink (due to dietary restrictions, it was a very specific type of a very specific brand). That was invaluable – none of us were thinking about dishes. I’m still tearing up thinking about it years later.

    6. MassMatt*

      I find it odd that someone would send “a nice gift” for a funeral, funerals are not a celebratory event where people open gifts, but maybe this is a thing in a specific culture.

      I still think it’s odd to expect people who are grieving to write thank you notes. The central point of helping people grieve is that the effort and support flow from the outside (people less and less affected by the loss) inward towards those most affected. It’s not a time to place obligations (for things like thank you notes or invitations) on those suffering loss.

      I don’t think LW should “be patient” about receiving a thank you note, they should not give gifts to people grieving and expect to receive one.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Where I came from, flowers (or donations to a charity in lieu of flowers) was customary. If you were in the family’s support network, you might organize with the rest of the group to deliver meals.

        My current friend group is more likely to send money (which still feels kind of weird) or giftcards for food delivery services.

    7. Amy Pemberton*

      I have never been on the receiving end but I have always been a little weirded out by the idea of “condolence gifts”. There are standards – flowers for the funeral, donations to charity in the deceased memory, a meal if that is requested – but beyond that it feels like we are treating tragedy like a celebratory event. Anyone have any insight into the practice? (FYI I am in the southern US.)

      1. wordswords*

        It’s not a thing I’ve really encountered or as much of a thing in my culture (also US, but different regions), so this is a guess. But my first thought was that the intent might be something like “here’s a little bit of joy and self-care and a reminder that people are thinking about you, to brighten this sad time,” rather than “yay, let’s celebrate your loss!”

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I know some people send money to defray the cost of the funeral/burial/time off work etc. Best to make sure it’s desired, though, since people are really weird about money.

        My friend’s group is too spread out geographically to deliver meals in person, so we’ve started pooling money to buy meal-delivery gift cards for adverse events (including sickness/injury).

    8. Olive*

      I’m thinking that if the family doesn’t know the OP personally, after enough time goes by for them to consider thank you notes, they might not have kept her address if it was only on the mailing package or even recognize where they’re supposed to know her from.

    9. Illyria*

      i would just like to address those questioning the “nice gift”
      When my grandpa passed away 2 years ago my mom received a wind chime from her employer as a sort of remembrance item instead of flowers. I’ve seen a similar item displayed at funerals or visitations I’ve been to and I believe it came from a florist. I also was at the visitation for someone my age who was a farmer and saw some things like nice toy/collectible tractors and the like which seemed to be meant possibly for his children/family to remember him by so it’s possible the “nice gift” was appropriate or comparable to sending flowers.

  4. Heidi*

    I once received a thank you note months later for a funeral gift. I kind of wish we could all give everyone a pass on funeral thank you notes, though. It’s tough to lose someone and also have to worry that people might be unhappy with you for not sending thank you notes.

      1. Petty Betty*

        Same. Deaths and births are automatic passes on “thank you” cards. Everyone is busy enough as it is.

        1. Anon for this one*

          This. Also serious illness. When I was having chemo I absolutely did not have the spoons for thank you cards for food.

      2. Oryx*

        My mom died about a month after my wedding. By then I think I only got through half our wedding thank you cards and just said f*ck it and hoped people would understand.

    1. Cheshire Cat*

      My dad passed away in the summer, several years ago. We asked people to contribute to an organization he’d been involved with, instead of sending flowers. (It is a local nonprofit that helps people in our community, so not controversial in any way.)

      Months later, late December or even January, I received a letter from the organization listing everyone who’d contributed in my father’s memory. One of those listed was the senior management group in the company I worked for at the time. I was so embarrassed that all the gifts had gone unacknowledged for so long. (Not that I was in a state to write anyone over the rest of the summer!)

      I started each thank you with “[Organization] just let me know about your generous gift…”. They are perennially understaffed & I mentioned that as well.

      1. JR*

        If it makes you feel better, the organization almost certainly thanked them as well, in a timely fashion.

      2. Numbat*

        if it’s any consolation, if i were a donor in that situation I’d consider the organisation’s confirmation/ thank you email adequate and not expect a response from the grieving family. I’m sorry for your loss.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Seconded; I know it’s been received, which is all I need to know. Particularly because when I’m donating in someone’s memory, it’s for that person.

    2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      I now write that I’m not expecting thanks, just to relive the grieving recipient of too much pressure.

      I once missed the memo about a colleague being widowed and sent condolences a full 8 months later. She replied with gratitude saying it’s amazing how people seemed to think it was over just because *they* had moved on.
      Time doesn’t work the same with grief!

      1. Thank you for that grace*

        My mother’s death sent me back into a depression and I fell flat on everything even noticing when other people lost family.

        We have to update our wills and believe me I’m having us both hire executors.

      2. Willow Pillow*

        “I now write that I’m not expecting thanks, just to relive the grieving recipient of too much pressure.”

        That’s a huge gift in itself. I have one parent recently deceased and I volunteered to settle the estate as my other parent is really struggling. I would honestly prefer no gift to one with expectations attached.

      1. LongTimeReader*

        I got notes like this after the birth of kids, especially with meal deliveries. Such a lovely thing to do!

        1. Nina*

          When I get involved on meal deliveries (after a birth, after a death…) I usually put the food in one of the stash of nice-ish vintage casserole dishes I got at a thrift store for like 50c each and cleaned up – that way I can write ‘no need to reply to this or return the dish’!

    3. umami*

      Yes, this. Assume it was received and don’t worry about acknowledgement. It’s not that important to get proof of your good deed when others are suffering from a loss like that.

    4. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I 100% agree with this. And that goes double for sending condolence gifts to the family of a colleague if the family doesn’t even know you. It’s one thing in this situation to hope for a quick thank you text or email from someone you know but if they’ve never had any contact with you before, I wouldn’t expect to hear from them. OP, if you are truly worried that they didn’t receive it, then maybe wait a few more weeks and reach out to them, but even that seems just a little bit tone deaf, IMO. I’d let it go if I were you.

    5. AnonAnon*

      Agreed! 3-4 months is a pretty typical timeline for receiving a note.

      OP4, I’m not sure if you’ve experienced a loss of an immediate family member, or have been the primary person to manage the deceased’s estate. But please consider this perspective: Dealing with grief is already exhausting, but the amount of paperwork that family need to deal with is straight-up overwhelming – filing claims with life-insurance, ensuring properties, bank and investment accounts are secure, canceling subscription accounts, in some cases filing for probate in court, etc, not to mention the financial stress of paying for the funeral. These things take a lot of time and attention to detail, and certainly take priority over sending thank-you notes. The deceased families have to deal with these ASAP, at the same time as grieving. I guarantee you the family are likely still under a great deal of stress, even a month out. They’re not just sitting around staring into space doing nothing and purposely neglecting your thank you note. Whether you really just want to know if they received the gift, or wanting a thank-you, I hope you can temper your expectations during the extremely difficult time for the families.

    6. Heather*

      I think “we” for the most part have! it would never occur to me to write or expect TY notes related to a bereavement, and I’ve never heard anyone talk of it at all. I honestly think LW is being completely tone deaf here. even if it was a joyous event, taking longer than a month to send a thank you note is perfectly acceptable.

  5. Turanga Leela*

    OP #3: The only situation where I’ve heard of businesses covering travel for spouses is when the employee is relocated far away for a significant period of time (like months or years). So for example, I knew someone who had to move from the US to Dubai for a couple of years for a project, and I think the company paid for his spouse to visit every few months.

    I’ve never heard of a company routinely paying for spouses to go on regular business trips.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this. A friend’s husband worked for a global telecoms company you’ve undoubtedly heard of, and he was sent to various countries to build or update their cellular network infrastructure. My friend always went as an accompanying spouse and the company paid for the international moves, because they recognized that their employee would be happier with their family there. His assignments were always at least 6 months but sometimes they were as long as 2 years. She preferred being a homemaker in the same country as her husband to working at home, although she was active in the expat communities wherever she went, and volunteered her time to causes she valued.

      1. DataSci*

        That’s not travel, that’s a straight up relocation. It’s totally standard for relocation costs to cover the entire family (though it sucks that your friend wasn’t able to get a visa allowing her to work and had to literally choose her job or her spouse!)

        1. cabbagepants*

          It’s super… whatever the opposite of “inclusive” is! I’m a woman married to a man and we both have careers we worked hard for. My former company wanted me to go on a 2-year assignment and said that while they couldn’t get work visas for spouses, “the wives” usually occupied themselves volunteering at their kids’ school. We had no kids. It wrote in huge, red letters that people like us were just not considered.

  6. Learned this the hard way*

    For #1, I think many of us say things in a jokey manner to soften what may come across as a demand, but in this case, I agree with Alison that being very direct that this isn’t any old shirt and that you really, really care about getting it back would be the better route here. If you’re softening it, your manager (who seems pretty apathetic already) doesn’t know that this is important to you, and she is going to do the easiest thing for her, which is throw it away.

    1. KEG*

      it really doesn’t matter that the shirt is sentimental. The manager is confiscating & disposing of the OP’s personal property. The manager needs to give back OP’s property or reimburse her for that item.

      1. River Park*

        Blood is a biohazard. In the workplace, they can’t just give the shirt back or even wash it and give it back. Even if there is no visible blood on the shirt, it would have been disposed of as if it were. OP isn’t getting that shirt back, and those scripts are laughable in their naivety. Given the biohazard aspect, OP might not even be able to be compensated.

        1. Spearmint*

          How exactly is blood a biohazard even after a piece of clothing is washed? Surely a wash with good detergent would kill any bacteria or viruses on the shirt.

          1. Observer*

            Well, blood is *Magic* and any pathogens somehow infect anything around it regardless of any sanitization or distance.

            It reminds me of all the people claiming that mother’s milk is a biohazard and should not be allowed in the same refrigerator as people’s food, even though the milk is in a *sealed* bottle.

            1. Observer*

              In case it’s not clear- my fist paragraph is meant sarcastically. I forgot to put in the /sarc tag.

              1. AJoftheInternet*

                I was coming here to comment maybe the manager HAS confused a soiled garment with a blood magic liability.

            2. louvella*

              I bet those people would love to hear about how when I worked in a daycare we would all test the temperature of pumped breast milk on our wrists!

              Would love to hear exactly what diseases can be transmitted through bloody clothing that’s been sitting in a bag for several days and is then washed with laundry sanitizer, or definitey through sharing a fridge with a bottle of breast milk.

        2. SopranoH*

          They don’t have to dispose of it unless they have some very odd, stringent policy. If that were the case hospitals would be buying frontline hospital staff scrubs every day. Unless an item is heavily soiled in blood, the it can be treated like any other dirty object.

        3. MassMatt*

          I know many people that work in hospitals, including nurses, surgeons, and surgical assistants. You realize that the scrubs people wear are washed and reused, right? Do you think hospitals are throwing out or incinerating clothes their staff wear every day?

          LW needs to stop making jokes and say very clearly “give me my shirt”. That it might or might not have gotten blood on it does not change the shirt’s ownership, and it should not sit in the manager’s possession (is this even how possible biohazards are supposed to be treated?) while they “check the policy”.

        4. Observer*

          Given the biohazard aspect, OP might not even be able to be compensated.

          Why? I get the rest of what you are saying. But the simple fact is that it *was* her personal property that was used in a way that she was not ok with. If she had been warned in advance that anything that might get blood on it would be confiscated and destroyed, and she still used her shirt that MIGHT be different. But like? She never signed up for this.

          1. I Have RBF*

            Yeah, no. It is not company property. It never was company property.

            If the company wanted to launder it with proper care for the “biohazard”, fine. But they do not have the right to dispose of a thing that was never theirs.

            It the company wants to be able to destroy clothing at a whim, then they need to provide the clothing to begin with.

        5. umami*

          Why couldn’t the OP be compensated? I’m surprised at the declarative nature of your comment, since it should not be beyond the pale to expect compensation for the damage of personal property at the workplace during the execution of work. Even the supervisor themselves could decide to compensate the employee.

        6. Lenora Rose*

          Sorry; I’ve gotten blood soaked clothes back from a hospital. There are circumstances where there might be additional concerns, but this manager overreacted as it is.

        7. Drusilla*

          I own a window-cleaning company. The lint-free rags we use to wipe the frame of the window with are used surgical towels; the blue ones.

          Out of a batch of 2500 rags, we’ll have several hundred that are still blood-stained.

          They’ve been washed, and the biohazard went down the drain with a lot of water and detergent.

        8. Willow Pillow*

          If OP is at risk of having their clothing confiscated without compensation, their employer should be paying for uniforms or providing a clothing allowance.

        9. JustaTech*

          Only if they actually have a BBP policy.

          And unless you work in a lab or healthcare or something else where blood outside people is a likely occurrence, it’s very unlikely that the company would have the ability to dispose of it as a biohazard.

          Mostly those rules are about making people wash their own lab coats.
          (Also, hospital laundry gets washed, not incinerated, right?)

        10. anon24*

          Respectfully, that isn’t how that works. I’m an EMT, used to work FT as an EMT. I got blood on my uniforms all the time. My laundry shelf always had bottles of peroxide next to the detergent because that’s the best way to get blood out of clothing. I had someone who was Hep C positive vomit blood on my jacket (thankfully it was waterproof and none got on me) and I just bagged it in a Biohazard bag for transport, took it home, washed it very thoroughly and appropriately and continued to wear it for the rest of my time at that job. It was safe to do so, the contaminates were gone.

          No one ever got their uniforms confiscated because of blood, although some people did cut their losses and just toss excessively bloody uniforms.

        11. Uldi*

          To quote a well-known meme: That’s not how any of this works. Unless OP is working in a CDC lab with ebola, there is nothing wrong with letting them take the shirt home to be washed.

          Honest question: Do you think hospitals dispose of scrubs and hospital gowns, linens and towels, just because there was blood on it? The paper/disposable gowns, yes. But cloth? Every hospital would be bankrupt with a few months from just buying replacements!

          LW#1 needs to state, firmly, they they expect their shirt to be returned.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      It’s a bit different with clothing, because the OP of this letter couldn’t have predicted what would happen – but unless logistical or financial reasons make it impossible, it’s usually a good idea to never take anything which has a lot of sentimental value into work, just because you lose control over it if it’s outside your home. Things can get damaged, lost, stolen (remember the letter about the caboose?) or taken away from you for weird policy reasons, like we saw with this letter. Unfortunately, your stuff is only as safe as the least trustworthy or most careless person at your workplace can keep it.

      Incidentally, as someone who works events, I’ve also heard of enough theft, lost property and property damage over the years that I’d never take valuables (other than my phone and laptop, which are essential) or anything with sentimental value to a big event. I don’t wear any jewellery when I’m working an event for this reason, and I only have a cheap watch for timekeeping purposes. It’s so easy to put something down for a minute at an event and then lose track of it!

      1. KEG*

        Again, it’s not really about the sentimental value – the manager took the OP’s personal property and hasn’t given it or $ back.

        It could be a pair of toe shoes in the OP work bag that the client happened to throw up on & the OP bagged up; the manager/ employer took them and hasn’t returned them

        1. sparkles*

          Toe shoes are over $100 per pair, and are very difficult to break in. I’d losmy mind if my boss took mine. KEG, you accidentally hit the nail on the head!

          1. River Park*

            In the unlikely event that OP can be compensated, it will be depreciated value, not replacement value.

            1. Observer*

              You keep on saying that somehow workplaces “can’t” compensate people when there is the slightest possibility that a biohazard is involved. And that makes no sense.

              Why do you keep on saying this, with absolutely no backing?

            2. Nomic*

              The company can choose to or not. You act like Of Course the company won’t return the property, and Of Course they won’t act in good faith toward their employee.

              Why are you so sure of these things?

        2. The Prettiest Curse*

          In case I was unclear about this – the manager definitely shouldn’t have taken the OP’s personal property and should definitely give it back. But if it was the OP’s least favourite shirt instead of their favourite one that had sentimental value, it would be much less of an issue for them, other than the fact they would be out the cost of a shirt – which the employer should reimburse since it was damaged at work through no fault of their own.

        3. anne of mean gables*

          I think the relevant point here is that OP doesn’t want reimbursement – they want the actual shirt. It sounds like they suggested/intimated that to the boss, but didn’t really explicitly say it (and if I were the boss in that situation, I don’t know that I’d really be expecting my employee to have deep sentimental value to a shirt that had become contaminated – I’d fully expect they’d rather be reimbursed for a new shirt).

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Also learned the hard way about sentimental items at work. I came back from a vacation to find something broken on my desk that I’d thought safe on my desk against a wall. But when I came back it was on the floor in 2 pieces. “Someone probably used your phone.”

        (Still not sure how using a phone breaks a concrete garden gnome kind of thing — but gorilla glue & paint work wonders.)

      3. Punk*

        I actually think you can predict that a shirt that’s placed under a bleeding client’s head won’t be returned, and that no one would presume it was sentimental.

        1. Observer*


          Why would they have taken it in the first place? And why would they not return it once it’s cleaned? There is no crime scene here.

        2. Lenora Rose*

          This makes no sense to me. It’s not even hospital policy and they deal with a lot more biohazard in a lot more dangerous situations than any other business.

        3. I Have RBF*

          What? No. That’s not how this works, otherwise EMT, orderlies, nurses and doctors would be buying fresh clothes out of their own pocket on a nearly daily basis.

          Hospitals that provide uniforms wash them regularly to get blood and bodily fluids out of them. They don’t discard uniforms that are “contaminated with blood”, they wash them. The employee puts it into a biohazard hamper or bag, which is them washed by the hospital laundry.

          This jackwagon of a boss is ignorant and abusive of an employee who went above and beyond to help someone.

      4. Moodbling*

        sorry do you all
        lose your clothes??? at work?

        my clothes approximately always come back home with me.

      5. wounded, erratic stink bugs*

        I agree in theory that taking things with sentimental value to work is risky, but there are so many ways that an object can acquire sentimental value that I don’t think it’s practical as a hard and fast rule.
        Maybe a work shirt is sentimental because you were wearing it during your first really big presentation, or some other big success. Maybe you sew as a hobby and this was the first shirt you ever made that was well-constructed enough to wear to work. Maybe your former work bestie who took a job on the other side of the world used to have the same shirt, and joking that you were twinsies was how you had first connected. Maybe it’s the shirt you were wearing when you got to meet and be photographed with your professional hero. None of these things would make me think “retire that shirt from your workday rotation.”

      6. WillowSunstar*

        Agreed. I’ve seen people laid off from contract jobs and/or been laid off myself, and sometimes the security won’t let people go back for their stuff. They’ll of course let you take your purse but generally, there is always a chance that whatever you had at your desk is gone forever. I’ve learned the hard way to never bring anything I really care about to work.

    3. Black cat lady*

      Labs are weird: Many years ago a coworker dropped a small amount of P32 on new sneakers. The shoes were placed in a secure shielded bin for 6 months until they were clean. Lucky that P32 has short half life.

      1. Aquatic*

        “Labs are weird: Many years ago a coworker dropped a small amount of P32 on new sneakers. The shoes were placed in a secure shielded bin for 6 months until they were clean. Lucky that P32 has short half life”

        That’s not weird, that’s common sense safety

      2. JustaTech*

        Ha, I once asked our radiation safety person about when I would get my shoes back if I spilled tritium on them and he said “oh, never”. (Tritium is literally the least radioactive thing you can work with and still have to do radiation safety.)
        He seemed surprised that I would care about getting my shoes back so I gestured to the shoes I was wearing and said “These are brand new and $200, so now I know not to wear them anywhere near the Rad lab”.

    4. Felicia*

      I think this is the kind of situation where you just maintain a neutral demeanor – not being rude or combative – but still refuse to comply. A simple “No, it’s my favorite shirt and I’ll deal with it.” and maybe “The policy does not mean I have to turn over my personal property.” Say it like it is fact, not an argument.
      But now that the situation is passed, and you probably aren’t getting the shirt back, insist that a new one of equal value be reimbursed.

      1. WillowSunstar*

        Or at least look online for the same brand/color/etc. and ask for the amount of cash to get a replacement.

  7. Petty Betty*

    Burn out. Oof. It is so hard to get the support and the response you want. Because yes, realistically, you want your manager/company to do more to support you and carry you while you try to recover from a them-induced funk, but the truth is, they kicked you into that pit, they expect you to climb out of it yourself, and only ask for minimal help from them that may or may not be temporary.

    I have had burn out at a few jobs. It didn’t matter what I said or did or how I (re)prioritized workloads or if I took time off or had help or not, my job and workload wasn’t going to change for the better. This last time (May-June) I was also dealing with home/life/medical stresses as well and ended up having a full mental health breakdown and quit my job with nary a safety net in sight.
    Things are getting better, but sometimes you just need to completely overhaul your life for the refresh/restart you want.

    1. alas rainy again*

      Indeed ! Some companies take a leaf from the Shadok: “beating will continue until morale improve”. Burn out is often a consequence of bad management decisions and lack of care for employee’s mental health. Or the situation would have been prevented in the first place. There is folly in repeating the same thing and expecting different result. As long as it hurt only you, why would they change anything?

      1. misspiggy*

        I worked with a great boss who really cared about burnout and knew it was a risk in our profession. She did a lot to prevent burnout. Regular team and individual discussions about signs to look for, lots of help with reprioritising workload, and ideas to improve work/life balance. Plus lots of validation when our work was good.

        Within a year of her departure, most of us had left due to burnout and frustration. Amazing Boss had given us the gift of knowing what supportive management looked like in a high-stress situation, and expecting it. So we left quite quickly when it became clear that management support was no longer available.

        1. Anon for this*

          A few years ago, I started managing a team with a lot of stress and I would say a high risk of burnout. It took me about 3-4 months to grasp the scale of the problem, and to see that it was reflected in the wider team. Another few months to find allies at my level and above who recognised the problem and were committed to change. I did as much as I could to recognise my team’s stresses and needs, and communicate to managers what was causing the problems and what needed to change, and be transparent with my team about what we were doing.

          About eight months into it, one of the major instigators of stress (who’d left, to sighs of relief all around) came back into a more senior level, and one of my close allies immediately left.

          After that, I realised I pretty much felt that change wasn’t going to be possible, and started job-seeking myself. I felt that the best thing I could do for my team members at that point was be honest that I thought that they should assume things weren’t going to change, and make their own plans accordingly. One of them left a few weeks after I did, and I was *so* glad for him. I do think I helped him see that it *wasn’t normal* (or necessary) to live with that much stress, and to believe that he had a ton of skills and talent that another, less dysfunctional employer would be lucky to have. Which is not the kind of achievement I will ever talk about in interview but it’s definitely what I took away from it!

        2. Sloanicota*

          Interestingly, there’s almost some kind of counter-argument here, like if you’re too supportive, your employees can’t work for anyone other than you! If you want to set up a sustainable team even after your departure, you kind of have to help them manage the standard expectation (I work in a nonprofit where people really care about longterm program sustainability though, not ever job would have that attitude).

          1. Lenora Rose*

            This doesn’t seem to me to follow at all. Even if your next manager isn’t *as* supportive, it should still be possible to distinguish that from an actually toxic environment, and avoid toxicity while still being generally employable.

            1. Zweisatz*

              Yeah. A good manager teaches you a standard to expect. And hopefully also some tools to advocate for yourself.

    2. Cat Tree*

      I’m in this position now. I’m burned out and ready to move on (probably to transfer elsewhere in the company). But I’m too burned out to update my resume.

      1. Furret*

        I feel you. Please do start. Get a friend to help. 15min a day. Moving the inertia is the hardest bit. Then once you have a refresh, it gets easier to cut and pace. And do creative writing for cover letters.

        I was forced to refresh my cv due to a restructure 2 years ago. It was hard and I didn’t get the job I wanted. But I am building on the earlier work this year to apply for other positions. (I’m still not in my preferred job, but I’m also still applying around.)

      2. Cakeroll*

        I’m OP #2 – ultimately I think that’s what I’m going to do. It hasn’t been a full year at this job, but I think these issues are systemic and aren’t likely to change. Some I actively discussed in the interviews (but was given… overly optimistic answers), others I wish I had considered more fully than I did.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Ooh, yeah, if you’re burned out less than a year in I’d say start looking immediately.

          I managed to hang on to one high-prestige, high-stress job for an entire year, but at the end I was thinking of changing my career to dogwalker because I never wanted to see a [thing I am paid highly to work on] again in my life. I ended up quitting with nothing else lined up because I couldn’t imagine doing any type of job search on top of dragging myself to and from work.

      3. FearlessHilda*

        I was you 4 months ago. Seriously, take the time to do things that feed the soul for a couple of weeks/months if you can. You need to stay busy but do things that make you happy and give you meaning in life. Talk to friends, read, cook things you love, give some space to your mind and body!

        You may also need to see a therapist to talk about how you are feeling and deal with all the emotions. It’s been a tough few months for me after quitting a very toxic job and I finally feel human again. I’m slowly getting excited about what might come next since I’m changing careers and interviewing at different places; reminding myself to take baby steps!

  8. Ally*

    I don’t think we sent a single thank you note after my mother died. We were too busy grieving and trying to pick up the pieces of our lives. We considered it a few times, but it honestly was just too big a task, and grief inducing in its own way.

    To me, thank you notes are for gifts given in times of celebration.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      My sister did all the thank you notes after our mother died. She found it therapeutic, somehow. Personally, I would not have gotten around to it, and then I would have felt badly about not doing it. By the time I did do it, it would have been about a year later and I would have dreaded the entire process.

      1. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

        My mom found writing thank you notes therapeutic after her mother’s death. Her sisters told her that no one was expecting thank you notes, but it made her feel better. When my dad died, I wrote thank you notes for her as she wanted them done but I could see the idea of sitting down to write them was stressing her out so I offered and did them when she accepted.

    2. Quoth the Raven*

      My dad passed very suddenly and unexpectedly last May, and I still haven’t gotten around to replying to all the messages I got from people who are only in touch with me through social media. I want to, but it’s still too much for me, mentally, to do it. That said, I deeply appreciate everything everyone told me and it has helped tremendously.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Yeah, I very strongly feel that the point of supporting someone in bereavement is that it’s unidirectional: you send love, support, money, etc, and you don’t expect anything back. There were a couple of people when my mum died who made it clear they expected something back and to be honest it simply put them into the category of people I don’t trust.

        Assume that your gift reached its recipient and was a comfort, and put it out of your mind, LW.

        1. DataSci*

          Yeah. They’ll pay it forward and send food and condolences when someone else loses someone. Kindness isn’t transactional.

        2. Random Bystander*

          I think that’s a variation of thering theory where comfort/support goes to anyone on a closer circle than you, and anything else goes out from inner circles to outer (complaining, worrying about whether a girt was received, etc)

          My father died just 12 days ago (tomorrow we’re having the funeral) and I know my mom had started a list for ‘kindnesses shown’ (a food tray brought over, or the like–this is usually the sort of gift that people give, though I suppose some people will still send flowers even though my mom doesn’t really want flowers). I’d expect any donations in my father’s name will be acknowledged by the organization (and if nothing more, the receipt at the end of year that goes out for tax purposes). Whether something is given and just doesn’t get written down on the list, I don’t know–she’d also started lists for things to do “later” whenever later might be, and another list for questions/things needing done sooner, but all these lists are because your mind just doesn’t work right in grief (until my mom retired, she was a hospice chaplain, so she knows all this, but it doesn’t change the depth of her grief). My parents were high school sweethearts who had dated exclusively for three years before they married, and had been married 58 years.

          1. Don't Be a Dork*

            I am so sorry for your loss. Your mom has the right idea with the lists. When my mother died none of us were really very organized and it made things a lot more difficult than it had to be.

            There were some flowers I just couldn’t acknowledge because I had no idea who sent them. And some with names on the cards that none of us recognized.

            1. Random Bystander*

              As it happens, I had already scheduled next week off work. My mom was planning to go on a trip with her sisters (she has two sisters) and I was going to go up and spend the time Mom was away with Dad. (My father was starting to have memory issues, and my mom didn’t feel she could go without someone being with him.) So I’m keeping the time off as scheduled and not traveling. It was a very sudden thing with Dad–he had a massive brain bleed and the best the neurosurgeon could offer was a surgery that he *might* survive and if he did survive he’d have been on a vent and feeding tube for however long he lived after–and that was an outcome my parents both had decided wasn’t acceptable. I was able to get up there (200 miles) in time to be present while he was still alive and in the room when he passed away.

              Best part of working from home is that I don’t have to deal with anyone when I cry, so I don’t have to try not to.

              1. Willow Pillow*

                If you don’t already know this and it’s an option, have vacation time re-coded as bereavement. I was able to do that when my MIL passed years ago. I am so sorry for your loss.

                1. Random Bystander*

                  I got 24 hours of bereavement (it’s 3 days, but based on 8 hour days–I work 10s). I used up 20 already immediately after, and I’m taking today (the day before the funeral) off with the last 4 bereavement hours and 6 pto. I’ve got quite a bit of PTO built up right now, so I’m looking into starting to burn it before the year ends (we can only roll over 40 hours, so anything over 40 is lost).

                  I go from functioning perfectly fine to gutted and back … which means I’m pretty normal in the circumstances. I appreciate everyone’s sympathy here.

      2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Those who don’t understand are lucky to not have experienced grief, no apologies are needed

    3. Cat Tree*

      Honestly, I won’t be sending any thank you notes when my mom passes. If people are upset or offended then they can just not send a gift next time someone close to me dies. I would rather receive no gift at all than to receive something with a chore attached to it.

      1. rainyday*

        yes absolutely. Whenever I’ve sent a condolence note I’ve always made sure to say “no need to reply to this”. I don’t want to add to the list of things the grieving person has to manage. LW, you may be worried that the gift didn’t get there – find a way to live with your worry, that’s the kindest thing you can do now.

    4. Shiba Dad*

      I honestly don’t know if anyone sent thank you notes after my dad died. Thinking about it, I am not sure that I knew that this was a thing.

    5. sad tidings*

      My office sent me a thoughtful (non-flower) gift when a relative passed, and I mentioned receiving it to my supervisor and thanked them- trusting they’d pass along word as needed.

      I have seen people write notes, and have also seen people not write notes. I think it’s more a function of the recipient’s preferences and habits.

      Personally I would have felt strange writing a thank-you to everyone (knowing that while gifts are in spirit from everyone, in reality it is some smaller group that makes the choice and sends, so some people on the email would probably only find out via that email that my relative had died) but also wouldn’t have known entirely who to contact one-on-one.

  9. Kyle S.*

    Soon after we started dating, my now-wife was invited to speak at a conference in Istanbul. The organizers offered to pay for flights, lodging, a daylong cultural tour, and a dinner cruise on the Bosporus for all speakers *and* their partners. They were clearly keen to attract foreign speakers—in our case, from America.

    Even in the cash-flush environment of the 2010s, we immediately recognized the rarity of this opportunity. And I doubt I’d do it again; Ataturk Airport was bombed while the first leg of our flight was en route to Paris.

    1. MK*

      Eh, in my experience, with the possible exception of your own flight ticket, that’s pretty standard for conference speakers. Especially in the Mediterranean area, I have never known event organizers not to offer at least a dinner with a plus-1 and some sightseeing. It’s more their cultural idea of hospitality than that the were desperate to attract an American speaker.

      1. MK*

        That being said, a speaker at a conference, especially if they aren’t compensated or are only receiving a stipend, is a guest and some pampering is expected. A business trip where you go as an employee isn’t the same.

  10. Brain the Brian*

    I sent a thank-you note to HR acknowledging my company’s gift to my dad’s memorial fund at a charity, and the HR director hung it on the office bulletin board for all to see. Which was… nice, in a way, but also kind of weird. Like, a flyer saying “Come to the annual picnic!” right next to the card saying “Thank you for the company’s gift to my dad’s memorial fund.” And it stayed up for months.

  11. Freya*

    For #3, in Australia, an employer paying for an employee to bring a non-employee on a trip for non-work purposes may have fringe benefits consequences (fringe benefits are things that the tax office considers should probably be included as part of the employee’s remuneration, even though it wasn’t in their pay packet) and people and businesses should speak to their accountant or licenced tax professional to get advice before doing it.

  12. Jinni*

    LW 1 if they have a policy of discarding clothes which have…blood, bio matter, are a bio hazard, then they need to provide uniforms, or scrubs, or something. What if it happens again? Or weekly or even four times a year? That’s quite a sacrifice for an employee.

    1. Manfred Longshanks*

      Second this. What would have happened if OP’s shirt had become stained with blood *while they were wearing it* and they’d never taken it off, gone home and washed it? It seems likely that no-one would have asked you to take it off. Why is that a different situation than the one that occurred? The level of potential hazard is the same for both situations.

      That’s the angle I would take if they double down on this vague biohazard policy.

    2. Green great dragon*

      I don’t think it’s a good policy, but there’s no sign this happens regularly. A client fell, which could happen in any client-facing environment.

      1. ecnaseener*

        But these are disabled clients, per the first sentence. Presumably LW included that detail because it was relevant.

        1. Molly Millions*

          To be fair, that could encompass a wide variety of jobs that don’t involve providing hands-on care – social work, career counselling, assisting with paperwork, etc. (I assume LW would already be wearing a uniform if she worked in a medical setting).

          I don’t think it’s necessarily reasonable to expect employees to wear uniforms when their job is, say, helping disabled people file their taxes or coordinating activities at a community centre. That sort of thing could harm employee morale/retention, and might be off-putting for the people they serve (e.g. a client who has trauma from a hospital experience might feel uncomfortable being served by a case worker wearing scrubs).

    3. Nonanaon*

      This; when I was working in a lab, 9/10 wearing a lab coat over your street clothes was enough (RIP the black shirt I spilled bleach all over); that tenth time was when people were working with human tissue samples, including blood. ANY direct contact with human tissue was immediately “remove and discard all clothing, report to your supervisor that you have been exposed to a biohazard and we will take appropriate prophylaxis.” People who worked with human tissue wore scrubs, and often kept an extra set at their desk/in their office in case tissue came in unexpectedly. Scrubs got sent to the special lab cleaners and were NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE to be taken home.

      It’s likely apples to oranges with what LW1 is experiencing, but if the policy is to dispose of clothing with any biohazardous material on it (which is a perfectly reasonable policy) they should provide some sort of uniform. Even if it’s a low-risk situation (the fall was a one-in-a-million occurrence), an ounce of prevention and all that jazz.

      1. former exotic bodily fluid specialist*

        when I was a zookeeper and spent all day cleaning up animals’ bodily fluids, if a human guest vomited or something like that in the public area, we were not allowed to clean it up ourselves. we had to call housekeeping because they had the biohazard training. so I am not as skeptical as some of the commenters seem to me that there may actually be a policy about that.

      2. JustaTech*

        Huh, I used to work with human blood every week and my company’s never offered me scrubs or anything beyond my lab coat. (I used to keep a set of scrubs in my desk in case I had to work with bleach, but I brought those from home, and I can’t have them anymore because our open office doesn’t have enough storage space for spare clothes.)

    4. Anna Held*

      What I can’t get over is that there’s a policy…maybe. But even the manager doesn’t know. If it’s important enough that a shirt must be confiscated even if it’s only possible that there’s some blood — and that’s pretty visible — then the manager should know the policy! There should be blood-borne pathogens training! It sounds like they’re not in a medical field, though, so why steal the shirt?

      OP, this manager doesn’t sound great or responsive to your concerns. Even if you were too jokey, you tried to have a conversation and they just didn’t care, and didn’t look up the policy either. Why do I suspect you can’t afford to quit because the pay is low (it never hurts to brush up your resume and take a look at what’s out there!). I’m sorry about your shirt.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        Yeah, you don’t take someone’s personal belongings because there might be a policy. If you’re not sure and it’s that important you find out. It’s like steal first, ask questions later. What?

    5. Punk*

      It’s not a sacrifice because no one would assume that an employee would remove their own clothing during an emergency and place it under a bleeding client. I’m sorry that the LW lost her shirt but I frankly find her decision strange – the shirt can’t have provided much elevation anyway.

      1. Anon for this*

        No, but it would be both softer and warmer than having your head straight on concrete if you were feeling wobbly and lying still until medical help arrived. It’s also just *comforting*, which is not to be sniffed at.

        This is an oddly mechanistic tale.

      2. atalanta0jess*

        You find it strange that she would provide a bit of cushion to help make the client more comfortable?

        1. Punk*

          Yes I find it strange that a person would take off their favorite shirt and place it on the floor under someone who was bleeding. No one would assume you cared about that item.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            You may have never experienced it or heard about it before, but elevating someone’s head to prevent them choking on blood in this type of situation is not unusual. A person was having a medical emergency (that wound up being severe enough for a trip to the ER) and a bystander used a piece of their clothing to help minimize the danger to the person; in this case I think all you can assume is that the bystander cared more *in the moment* about the injured person than their shirt.

          2. Willow Pillow*

            I’ve taken standard first aid probably half a dozen times and the occasional need to improvise has always been brought up. I’ve had to use my own clothing as a first aider myself and I assure you that it’s possible to care for an item of clothing *and* an injured person.

          3. Dahlia*

            Really?? You would see another human being lying on the ground possibly choking on their own blood and go “Nah, I like this shirt too much to help them”. Really????

          4. Samwise*

            Really?? Someone in a moment of crisis does what’s needful for the injured person, and you’re thinking, they can’t have cared for it because they did what was right?

            I stopped in the middle of a busy intersection because right in front of me a motorcycle was hit by a car. I made sure he kept still and directed another bystander to call 911, then I directed traffic away from him. I guess that means I didn’t care about my own car since it was in the middle of traffic and I guess I didn’t care about my own safety because, ya know, there I was in the middle of the road. If someone smashed into my car, that’s on me.

            Seriously, OP is to be commended for not even stopping to think, gee, it’s my favorite shirt with sentimental value, I’ll just let my client lie with their head flat on the hard floor.

      3. Lenora Rose*

        If this was a genuine policy for any fluid or any chance, they’d also be requiring people to remove their actual clothing, per Nonanaon above, not just confiscating an item removed, so I’m very surprised you’re defending this.

        And removing a cardigan or other outer shell for a bit of comfort, when still wearing a shirt beneath, seems completely within the realm of normal human behaviour.

      4. Re Punk*

        We don’t know if there was a better option. Kudos to LW for thinking fast and taking action to help the client.

      5. I Have RBF*


        I find your reasoning strange, actually.

        It is a common thing to help provide padding and comfort to a person in an emergency. A shirt may not be much, but it beats concrete.

        It is not a strange decision on their part.

        It is a strange and abusive decision on her manager’s part

  13. Lights*

    Sending a “nice gift” (??) and expecting acknowledgment in the wake of someone’s grief seems very entitled.

    1. Yes.*

      Agreed. Is it about trying to do something nice for people who have suffered a painful loss — or getting an acknowledgment of a good deed? Not cool.

    2. Myrin*

      Good lord, OP just asked, which is what advice columns are for.
      (And the letter is literally four short-ish sentences. It’s not like she’s making a whole production over this.)

    3. Emmy Noether*

      I wouldn’t go quite so far, since thank-you notes seem to be a normal cultural expectation in the US, and LW seems to just have a natural confused reaction to a norm not being followed.

      I will say, however, that I would not appreciate a gift that came with expectations in a time of grief. There’s no gift so nice that it makes up for the extra mental load. Really, better to send nothing than to send an obligation.

      1. Anon for this*

        in on the UK and I’ve never sent or received a gift for a bereavement. If Id received one from a my loved-one’s coworker I’d think that really weird!
        And a thank you note would be the last thing on my mind!
        LW, if gifts for a loss are your cultural norm, then satisfy your self you did the right thing and expect nothing else.

        1. Anon for This*

          Where I am from in the U.S. gift in this sense usually means a donation to a charity selected by the family of the deceased. Death notices often say something like “in lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to [charity]”. When the LW refers to a nice gift, I assume it was a generous donation either to the charity or, if the LW isn’t familiar with the charity, funds sent directly to the family for funeral expenses or such a donation. It likely doesn’t mean they sent a vase or other physical object.

          As with many other commenters, we didn’t send thank yous until months after the funeral, but honestly it was helpful for closure – we went through the cards and read many nice messages. The thank you cards themselves were pre-printed by the funeral home which also helped – we just had to sign or in some cases jot a few lines.

          1. cosmicgorilla*

            For me (also US-based), a gift can mean a donation to charity, but it more often means food. Or flowers, but I personally wouldn’t refer to flowers as a gift. We don’t expect you to feed yourself or your guests during this period of grief, so it could mean anything from bringing over a casserole or cake to a gift basket with snacks to going to ordering several meals worth of food from a delivery service.

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

          It could also be a gift for food. Like a gift card to a restaurant. Or maybe something special that would have meaning to the family. For example, someone could gift the family member a really nice flag box if the deceased was a veteran (or police, member of state, etc) and had a funeral where they draped the flag over the coffin

      2. Shynosaur*

        I’m a middle-aged woman in the US and have literally never heard of post-bereavement thank-you notes

        Reading this site always gives me the most insane anxiety that I’m constantly offending people because I didn’t fulfill an expectation I’ve never heard of anyone having (:

    4. Observer*

      Sending a “nice gift” (??) and expecting acknowledgment in the wake of someone’s grief seems very entitled.

      That’s an extremely weird take. I do agree that the OP shouldn’t expect a note, but having an unrealistic expectation is not “entitled”. And how do you get from “sending a nice gift” to entitled? Even if the gift was inappropriate – which you do not know! – it is *still* is not “entitled.”

      The OP sounds like a nice person who is trying to do the right thing. And when faced with an unexpected situation had the good sense to reach out and *ask* before doing anything more. Cut them some slack.

      If you are SOOOO convinced that only terrible and stupid people need to ask such questions, I suggest that you look at the mortification week posts. Most of those posts are from perfectly nice and reasonable people who once didn’t have the knowledge they now have.

  14. First wife midlife*

    My husband had burnout, anxiety, depression, you name it. couldn’t open. his work laptop but would sit and stare at it or pace around the house. I was afraid to leave him alone.

    Thanks to a friend who talked to me about her mental health recovery, I knew about outpatient mental health centers here in the US. Thankfully covered by our insurance. 9am – 3pm including lunch for 2-4 weeks or so, 2 sessions of group therapy a day, access to psychiatrists and professional counseling and psychologists.

    Of course this is instead of work, so I actually ended up on the phone with his boss of a small nonprofit, explaining that my husband was in the hospital and he would contact her about returning to work. She said something like, “but what’s wrong?!” I think I said something like ‘it’s not an injury or a disease’ and the boss said [this is the point of the story, about how poorly bosses respond to burnout and mental health situations] “WHAT?! we made him CRAZY?!”

    I said nothing for a long time. I let her break the silence. She started talking about the logistics.

    Bosses and companies that cause burnout simply aren’t going to handle your burnout well or even professionally or even kindly.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Thank you for this. I have been experiencing some of the same symptoms your husband was, and thanks to today’s post, I now realize that it is burnout.

      Ugh, I got out of my last job because of stress and burnout, and now it’s the same thing at this job. WTF?

      1. Daisy-dog*

        I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this! I have a fair amount of experience with burnout myself.

        1. Work sucks. It’s entirely possible you jumped from one overwhelming job to another even if there were signs that it was an improvement.
        2. It could be that you need a better “toolkit” to manage stress. Professional help could be the answer. Taking a LOA could also be part of that.
        3. I first heard this quote from someone who was using it in a highly patronizing way, but it does have some value when not told in that way: “Make sure you are running towards something, not running from something.” (For me, the absence of things that I disliked was not enough for me to recover without investigating what I need in a job.)

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          Thank you!

          Your third point is especially relevant to me. I took my current job to get away from my old job (which was many, many times worse than my current job).

          I like my boss, and I (mostly) like the work that we do, but this will always be the job that I used to get away from my old job. I have been thinking about this a lot lately.

          1. Daisy-dog*

            You may be able to stay there! You just need to recover, somehow. Reading the Nagoski sisters’ book, Burnout could help. Therapy could help – though I will warn you that when I was in the depths of my burnout, the first 2 therapists that I tried did not get it. The 3rd was amazing.

    2. Anon Amuse*

      Anon for this one… my therapist recommended this when I was experiencing really debilitating depression, anxiety, and burnout. His original suggestion was for inpatient treatment, of which I was truly afraid. I was initially set for 2 weeks of 6 hour treatment, much as you described, and then an additional 2 weeks on reassessment. Thankfully, I went through our HR department, but my director pretty much assumed my absence was for cancer.

    3. Totally Minnie*

      I changed fields last year because I realized that the things that were causing my burnout were unchangeable elements of that particular industry. But before that, I had a conversation with someone relatively high up in my organization about how I was experiencing burnout and I knew I wasn’t the only one because I had talked about it with other staff (I wouldn’t give them names). I said it felt like I was being asked to cross a bridge that hadn’t been built yet, so I was building the bridge as I crossed it, with my staff crossing behind me, but I didn’t have a blueprint for the bridge or appropriate building materials, so I was always worried that I was building the bridge wrong and that it would harm my staff, but that every time I asked upper management for help or advice or resources, they just said “you’re doing great, just cross the bridge!” The upper management person’s response? ”Why didn’t you just google how to do what you needed to do?” That was the moment I decided I couldn’t do this anymore.

      The way your manager responds to you telling them you’re burned out and you need help is important data for you to have when you make your decisions about what to do next. I don’t think OP is at the stage where they need to quit right away, but if recommend being really observant about how the manager and the company at large seem to be responding to requests for changes and accommodations.

      1. FearlessHilda*

        Your response gives me so much hope! I’m changing fields for exactly the same reason you have described! Your example of building a bridge from scratch and asking staff to follow resonated SO MUCH with me! A couple of us were doing the same thing and senior management was as unsupportive as can be! I quit that job a couple of months ago and am finally interviewing at different places and feeling myself again. Hoping I’m able to find something soon with much better work/life balance.

    4. Arts Akimbo*

      Now that was a masterful use of silence to counteract that boss’s unreasonable outburst. I hope your husband is doing better now.

    5. Petty Betty*

      You’re right. They won’t. In fact, they will rationalize how your *personal* life is really at fault at you’re just blaming the wrong thing (work) and you should really be compartmentalizing things better, blah blah blah.

      This is exactly why I didn’t tell my employer I had a mental health breakdown. I told my former supervisor ONLY because our kids are friends and because we are friends and because I can actually trust him not to discuss it with HR or my then-acting managers. He helped me work on a resignation letter that was vague enough to satisfy HR and wasn’t the full on rant that I wanted (because I was very much in emotional bouts of rage when I was able to do anything).

      Things have gotten a lot better for me, but I’m still working on it.

  15. Scully*

    Can anyone recommend books on managing burnout from a manager’s perspective? I am interesting in learning more about what approach good managers should be taking.

  16. bamcheeks*

    LW5, don’t send grieving people gifts if you expect a thank-you note or acknowledgment, and don’t know them well enough for that to be in person. It’s not a reasonable expectation when someone is grieving.

    Some people may find comfort in sending thank-you notes, but if you don’t know them well enough to go in person, you don’t know them well enough to know if that’s the case.

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah…I’ve never really heard of sending an actual physical gift after a death (here the norm is increasingly for charity donations in lieu of flowers), but at any rate I really wouldn’t expect an acknowledgement or thank you, certainly not in the immediate wake of the death/funeral. The point is for the person to know that you’re thinking of them at a very difficult time. Expecting them to send a thank-you note just puts more pressure on when they’re already trying to deal with grieving and all the other admin that comes with a death.

      1. DataSci*

        Food, either (traditionally) actual meals or nowadays often DoorDash gift certificates. Also good for people with newborns or serious illness. The best baby gift we got by far was when a friend from another city asked what our favorite restaurant was for delivery, and Thai food magically appeared at our door one night.

      2. Jo March*

        I had no idea this wasn’t common until my friend’s husband who wasn’t from this part of the US was so touched by our gift, but all the flower ships here carry things other than flowers to send to funerals.

    2. FashionablyEvil*

      I’m kind of surprised at the number of uncharitable reads of this letter. They sent a gift. They’d like to know if the family received it. The way they’d normally find that out is by receiving a thank you note. Is it normal for a family to send one in these circumstances? Answer: no. They might send one, but don’t expect one. That’s it.

      1. Cj*

        in my region (midwest), it is normal to send thank yous for this. that said, we sent them about 6 months after my FIL’s death because other things got in the way.

        I personally don’t care of it get a thank you when I send a card and memorial. I know grieving can paralyze you. I have usually forgotten I even sent it until I get a thank you.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Thank you cards can be a done thing where I am, but that’s with the lens that sometimes people are casting about in grief thinking “what am I even supposed to do now?” and writing the cards–along the lines “Dear Agnes, Thank you for your kind note with your memories of Charles at the birdwatchers’ hullabaloo…” is a thing with structure, where you can feel a sense of how the departed fit into people’s lives. That can be a helpful for mourning.

          If cards aren’t happening, that is also okay and a thing that happens.

          I am with Fashionably that it’s fine to ask, and the answer is no.

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

          Same. I remember helping send thank you’s after my grandparents died. It was several months later. It’s only been a month so they are still not only grieving but may still have a lot of other things to deal with (life insurance, will, estate, etc)

          Another thing OP, did you provide a return address with the note? Being that this was a coworker they might not know how to send a thank you back.

        3. Environmental Compliance*

          Also in the Midwest, and is not typical where I am from to send thank you cards following a funeral, whether that is flowers, a donation to the charity of choice, or dropped off food. Other sorts of gifts are not really done.

          Personally I think for thank you cards in general it’s much better to just not expect to get them for anything and have a pleasant surprise if you do get one back. If I was wanting to make sure a physical gift was received, I usually ask a family member/friend if they knew it ended up with the person, with the statement of “wanting to make sure it didn’t get lost in the mail” or something similar.

      2. umami*

        I get that they want to know if it was received, but I would want them to be a bit reasonable over the timeframe, and also to understand that sometimes you just have to assume it was received. Usually if you send a gift, you will have a delivery notice, so there isn’t a need for a formal acknowledgement from the receiver. Putting the onus on a grieving family to assuage your mild discomfort concerning whether a gift was received is a bit unkind.

    3. Pink Candyfloss*

      There’s a saying that sending someone a gift with the expectation of something in return (even simply a thank-you) is doing business, not performing a kindness.

  17. DannyG*

    When my wife died unexpectedly 9 years ago I kept the envelopes from cards & tags from gifts in a large envelope. After about a month I transcribed the information into a notebook then started to write thank you notes. Some days one was all I could handle, other days I could handle more. It took a month to finish. Be patient. And extend grace. It was therapeutic for me to write the thank you notes, for others it might be like walking on broken glass.

  18. Perspective*

    Health-care worker here and it’s very likely the policy forbids your manager to just hand you something that was blood-stained at the workplace. They might have been overly cautious in a situation that’s outside what’s covered by guidelines, but for a manager in that kind work that’s a feature, not a bug.

    Fully respect that losing something of sentimental value gets you down, but honestly this is a learning experience that you need to let go.

    1. Lesson?*

      Learning experience how? The employee wasn’t issued work clothes. If I’m wearing my own clothes I expect them to remain in my possession/retain ownership over them. The only lesson that could possibly be learned here is that it’s not safe to wear clothes to work – and that’s not a lesson you can act on unless you work at a nudist colony or have a co pany-provided uniform.

    2. I Have RBF*

      If it doesn’t belong to the company, and they have not provided uniforms or written, clear notice that they steal people’s property if they get blood on it, they need to give it back, period. Yes, the company may clean it, or insist it be cleaned according to a protocol, but they don’t get to confiscate a worker’s personal property.

      A vague policy that’s never been seen? Oh, hell no. That just doesn’t fly.

  19. Justin*

    My current job asks me about burnout regularly which I appreciate despite being more and more energized by the month and creating additional projects for myself. Whereas I didn’t actually have that much to do at my last job and still sort of fell apart, and they just got angry.

    The best way is to look ahead to try and prevent it. The second best way is to have a plan so if someone brings it up you can offer some options. The third best is what this boss did, and then there’s all the other companies that make it worse.

  20. Knope Knope Knope*

    OP2: As a a manager, I would be upset if one of my employees was suffering from burnout. My direct reports are good people and I genuinely care about them, though to be perfectly honest, I’ve also had direct reports that I did not particularly like as people.

    I’m either case, certain facts remain. I run a department. I have a budget, goals, a headcount, and boss of my own who expects me to deliver certain results with those things. Figuring out how to do that isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s very hard.

    So if the system I’ve created works to achieve what my boss expects of me and most of my team is reasonably happy and/or successful, but one employee is experiencing burnout, I don’t think it’s realistic a manager would overhaul workflows and systems etc. but if my employee had specific requests, I would certainly try to accommodate them. If your company has a EAP, that would also be a good place to turn for support.

    1. Dinwar*

      In my experience companies that have a lot of burnout have policies designed to prevent it, but lack enforcement. Managers are rated, as you say, by margin, and if they know they’re not going to get in trouble for violating a company policy in order to make a better margin, they’ll do it.

      There are a few ways for upper management/executives to address this. First, add worker well-being and policy compliance to how you evaluate managers. Someone who’s making 30% margin but burning through staff is not as good a manager as one that makes 15% margin but has loyal, happy staff. Second, do internal compliance audits, and follow up on any issues that come out of those audits. Make the consequences severe enough that managers would rather comply with the SOPs than risk failing an audit.

    2. C.*

      I hear you, but if one employee is experiencing work-related burnout, chances are good that others on the team are too. It’s rarely an isolated feeling.

  21. Turingtested*

    I’ve been thinking about LW #2 for awhile. It’s tough because often the manager doesn’t know what will help burnout but is the only one with the power to do anything. There are so many different causes of burnout inside and outside of work and different things help different people. For example, switching to a 6AM-2PM schedule for awhile would really help me with burn out but I suspect it would make many people worse.

    And sometimes people get burned out because it’s a bad fit and there’s nothing to be done but move on. Sometimes it’s a fleeting situation and a day off will fix it.

    I guess I think both manager and employee should offer solutions or be honest if there aren’t any.

    1. Be Gneiss*

      I agree! I think it has to be collaborative, because what the manager might think will help, might not be what the employee thinks will help.
      I once complained about burnout and my boss’s solution was to offer to take away a data-entry part of my job. But honestly, even though it took about an hour a day, it didn’t require much thinking, and it was sort of a comforting meditative routine, and it was the only thing I did that ever felt like it was caught up or complete or “done.”
      I wanted support in dealing with problem employees in other departments, and someone to back me up in enforcing policies, but she had offered the one thing and then pretty much said “I guess there’s nothing I can do to help you.”

    2. Daisy-dog*

      The key is to make it interactive. The manager usually knows things that the employee doesn’t. Whether some deadlines may actually be more flexible or that a new project is coming down the pipeline or just that the “core” hours/in-office days can be missed sometimes. The manager should not decide for the employee, but present some alternatives. Would you like to take a week vacation and move this deadline to September? Would you like to stop what you’re doing and move to new project? Or would you just like to have some flexibility? If none of these, let’s talk about it. If one of these works, let’s regroup in a few weeks to see how things are faring.

    3. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I haven’t been talking to my boss about my burnout because it’s more of a “bad fit” situation. Part of me wants to talk to her, because she definitely would want to know and maybe we could find ways to make it a better fit. But it’s risk to tip my hand. And I’m so grumpy at this point I’m not sure there’s any coming back from it.

    4. Humble Schoolmarm*

      Unfortunately, sometimes the manager doesn’t have enough power in the situation to do much. There’s a rather insidious idea in educational leadership right now that if things are going wrong in the classroom/for individual students, it comes back to the teacher and the answer is almost always more training or pd. When I’m burned out, the absolute worst thing I can hear is that I’m not good enough, or that I just need to try harder, so I just don’t talk about it with management.

  22. Furret*

    #2 Burnt Out. I’m disagreeing with Alison re reasonable to firstly ask employee how manager can help.

    Imo the First thing the manager can do is take away some of the mental workload – “let me handle the work causing you the most stress”. As mentioned, the employee is already overloaded mentally.

    Second thing is to have a discussion about how to prioritise the remaining work. Maybe some deadlines can be pushed back or the work isn’t that important or can be allocated to someone else or KPI expectations made more realistic.

    Thirdly is to see if the first stressful thing can now be put back into the employee’s re-prioritised list or whether it will tip the balance again.

    Redo from start until workload means the employee is a healthy functioning person and not a cog in a dysfunctional machine.

    This is assuming the employee meets all competencies of the job. Which means the manager will need to know what the employee’s job is – not just the job title.

    But yeh. Realistically the burn-out problem is pushed back onto employee to manage because they are a cog in a dysfunctional org.

    Sorry for your situation. I’ve been there three times and I still have PTSD.

    1. Knope Knope Knope*

      I definitely do not think it’s reasonable for the manager to say “let me handle the work that’s causing you the most stress.”

      As a manager, I have my own workload to manager. Part of that is hiring people to deliver what the team is responsible for, and cross-training the team so people can cover for one another during time off. It’s not me just dropping what I am doing to do my team’s job.

      Part of my job is understanding the needs of the team and advocating for sustainable ways to address it: more headcount, better tools, more freelance budget etc. This is part of what gets lost if I drop what I do to do my employees work.

      Also, I can’t do all my employees’ work as well as they can. At least for myself, my team has grown quite large. I have done some of what of my team does, but other parts I have never done or the hands-on elements of the job has changed so much because of technology, it makes much more sense for me to get the employees’ input on what is challenging and find solutions to address it.

      1. TiffIf*

        I definitely do not think it’s reasonable for the manager to say “let me handle the work that’s causing you the most stress.”

        Agreed! My boss literally can’t do my job – she doesn’t have access to all the tools I use and doesn’t know the product well enough to do what I do.

        I am part of a team where we each have the same role that we each perform for a different product.

        So, for example, if we were the documentation team – our boss provides the documentation format templates and manages the process for uploading/distributing new documentation, but we are SMEs for our specific product so we can produce highly technical documentation.

        My boss doesn’t have the knowledge to produce the technical documentation! And she isn’t supposed to – she doesn’t need to know all the technical information about all our products to do her job. But that also means that is not something she can take off my plate.

        Things she can do to assist:
        – resolve roadblocks with other teams so I have everything I need
        – standardize the process so everything is as streamlined as possible
        – keep templates up to date in an accessible place so all our documentation is in accordance with company design standards with all logos/colors/fonts etc set up
        – additional headcount
        – negotiate with other teams for additional assistance by SMEs if headcount is not an immediately available solution

        My boss has done all of these things (and more) for me when I was left alone in my role for 6 months. We finally got additional headcount in place and are doing better about not being overloaded.

      2. Furret*

        “Handle” doesn’t mean Do. It just means you Manage that workload.

        And if a lot of your team is escalating the work, perhaps it is indicative of Something.

        Need better training, improved processes, realignment on expected outcomes – things the overwhelmed employee cannot cope with right now.

  23. Melissa*

    Thank-you notes in general are such a hard area, because if we don’t get one, we really do worry that the gift wasn’t received! But there’s no way to say to someone, “So, did you get the gift I sent? Because you didn’t thank me”– without it sounding like you’re scolding them. I have sent many gifts over the years, usually birthday presents for children, and gotten few acknowledgements. I don’t mind it from an etiquette standpoint or anything, but I do understand that it is worrying when you think maybe the gift didn’t arrive. But especially when it is for the bereaved, I think you just have to trust that the gift was received and appreciated, and let your worries go.

  24. Delta Delta*

    #2 – I agree that the boss’s reaction feels expected – they may not know exactly what each employee needs. However, it also feels like adding one more thing to OP’s plate, and OP already feels like they have too much going on, so this feels unsatisfying.

    On the plus side, this feels like an invitation from management to propose some changes that might be helpful for OP and possibly for others, so it’s worth taking some time to think about what could help.

  25. Furret*

    #2 Burn out.

    Apologies if dup. AAM may’ve ate my first attempt.

    Imo some things a manager can do.

    0) let the employee know to do self-care/prioritise themselves, because the org cannot.

    1) let employee know to escalate the stress-inducing work to manager for a set period of time. This empowers the employee to identify the stressor. This also reduces their mental workload for step two.

    2) work with employee to make a realistic priority list of their remaining work. Which deadlines can push back, which work can be given to other staff, which work isn’t actually needed, etc. Give employee a chance to get their balance back.

    3) after the set period, find a way to put the first bit of work back into the employee’s workload.

    1. Furret*

      Btw – once word gets around about how reporting overwork is handled, then the other employees may be more upfront about their overwork.

      In my current team, lots of people do unpaid OT because of dedication to the cause. Which ends being bad for the longevity of the org (employee burn out and resentment and exiting of institutional knowledge bc no documentation) but looks good short term for the 2-3 year managers.

      So only a good manager will do anything about reports of burnout. A bad manager ends up depressing the team and nobody reports burnout bc it means they do even more work on top of current overwork.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I’d add a #4, fix any broken steps or windows (literal or figurative) that the supervisor can address.

    3. Parakeet*

      What if the manager can’t do the stress-inducing work? Plenty of managers aren’t suited for their reports’ jobs, don’t have expertise in the same areas.

      And won’t it just burn out other staff if extra work gets shunted onto them? Pushing back projects and reassessing what’s necessary, or what’s priority, makes sense to me. I’m less sure about this idea of dumping the burden for work that actually does need to get done in the near future, onto other people.

      1. MicroManagered*

        Or simply don’t have the time/bandwidth themselves to take on the work themselves, which is why they manage the people who do that work instead.

      2. Furret*

        The manager has a greater overview of the options to reorganise workload. Identifying non-essential work or revising KPIs are some of the things the overwhelmed employees has no bandwidth to comprehend.

  26. Ellen*

    My place has employee assistance program and they would help with the burnout situation. Might be something to look into. My guess is your health insurance probably covers mental health services. Don’t try to do it alone.

  27. Dido*

    I’ve never expected a thank you note for sending flowers to a funeral! The family has bigger things to worry about

    1. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

      I agree with that, but remember OP4 described it as “a nice gift,” not flowers.
      I was hospitalized with a serious illness, and received “nice gifts” that the giver would want to know had arrived intact: a fancy food delivery, a really expensive blanket, and a tea basket from a pricey brand. It took me a while to get thank-you notes together, but when I did the person who sent the tea basket let me know that he had worried the basket didn’t arrive, and the blanket person worried I’d want to return the blanket but couldn’t without her receipt.
      So, I don’t know, I can sympathize with the desire to get an acknowledgement. It just might take some time, and that’s okay too.

      1. Anna*

        Those logistical concerns still don’t warrant checking in with a bereaved person about a missing thank you card. They could have checked the tracking number or sent a gift receipt if they were worried about those things. If the question is “did you like/use the gift?” the answer is probably “it is absolutely incommensurate to the grief, but it was nice of you to think of me.”

        1. Observer*

          Those logistical concerns still don’t warrant checking in with a bereaved person about a missing thank you card.

          That’s true. But it’s not terrible of the OP to *ask* someone *who is not the recipient.*

          If the question is “did you like/use the gift?”

          Except that the OP was explicit about what their question is. All they want is to know that the gift showed up.

          OP, people have a point that in many cases, you can track a package. That’s a pretty good way to make sure that your gift actually showed up.

      2. bamcheeks*

        Honestly, these are very much the kind of gifts that you don’t send unless you’re seeing the person regularly and you know they’ll be appreciated, or you can send them and forget about them and don’t mind what happens to them. Gifts can be burdens, and I’d rather not receive a gift from anyone who isn’t giving it completely freely.

  28. Jade*

    I work in medicine. I’ve have blood on my scrubs or clothes countless times. I change, bag any street clothes and take them home to wash. In 25 years no one has taken my clothes away.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I just can’t imagine that. Where I am (United States) we have pretty strict protocols about blood-borne pathogens. I have never seen a situation where employees would be permitted to wear street clothes when dealing with the potential of body fluids, or have been allowed to take scrubs home when they are contaminated.

        1. Anna*

          Same here and I am in the US- when I go see my OB for regular office visits, she’s wearing a nice sweater and skirt or pants. She’ll obviously put on gloves when touching relevant body parts that might transmit fluids, and for surgeries she’ll wear scrubs, but for a regular gyno visit she’s in normal street clothes, and I guess there’s the off chance of an emergency or accidental body fluid situation, same as the OP (who was not doing surgery but just helping a patient on a ramp).

      1. JustaTech*

        I work in a lab and while I have rules about what I have to wear (close-toe shoes mostly) and I’m given lab coat/gloves/glasses, I’ve always worn my own clothes even though I work with blood.

        The only time I’ve had work-provided scrubs was when I was in manufacturing of biologics.

      2. just a random teacher*

        Also in the US, and school employees all have to go through blood-borne pathogen training when I work (I suspect it’s required by either insurance or state law, because it’s been consistent through multiple workplaces), and we certainly don’t all wear scrubs to work just in case today is the day that little Fergus gets a nosebleed or Jane skins her knee. There are a lot of jobs where you will sometimes encounter blood, but not often enough that it makes sense to wear scrubs.

      3. louvella*

        When I worked in a daycare I got blood on my clothing more than once. I took it home and treated the stain.

  29. Jade*

    Never ever expect a thank you note or acknowledgment of a gift sent for a funeral. Either give freely or don’t give. Death is the top most stressful thing for a family to go through. Some people are barely functioning.

    1. MicroManagered*

      I just went “ooooohhhhh” out loud. I didn’t know she wrote a book about burnout! (I think of her more as sex positivity.)

      Definitely checking that out immediately!

  30. Bookworm*

    #2: I am sorry and can relate. I had an old job where I tried to bring this up because the organization was increasingly creating conditions where I felt like I was under a lot of pressure (significant change in my work which led to projects being taken away, no official supervisor for several months by this convo, no indication of hiring again when my team that was working at like 25% of what its official capacity.) and this was also pretty much the response I got, that it was my responsibility to figure out the burn-out and the other parts I mentioned *handwave*

    I realize this is probably not quite your situation or what you were looking for, but you’re not alone and I am so sorry you’re going through that.

    1. Cakeroll*

      OP #2 here – I do appreciate hearing your story! It sounds similar to (though not exactly) my situation, and it helps to know from the commenters here that this isn’t just a me problem, but a common symptom which happens to all kinds of (otherwise high-performing) people.

  31. HonorBox*

    1: If the shirt can’t be returned to you per whatever policy you have, I’d inquire about your employer at least covering the cost of a replacement. While it doesn’t return your favorite shirt, I would hope that there is a way for you not to have to come out of your own pocket to cover the cost of getting a new shirt. If something happens and an employee loses out on personal property because policy demands it, they certainly should help you get something new.

    3: I’ve heard of businesses allowing employees to bring a family member with them on a trip, but I’ve never heard of the cost for family members being absorbed by the business. While I’m sure there are rare cases, like the one Alison points out, or a business paying for a spouse’s travel for a recruiting visit, I think it is generally expected for an employee to cover the cost of the family member on their own.

  32. The Person from the Resume*

    LW2, your boss is a jerk. Upon rereading your letter:

    including a few of what I thought the likely causes were, relevant to our department and my work. I intended it as feedback, to trigger for them some reflection of how he might reorganize our work, create improved processes, and generally try to support me. These are all issues that have been raised before, but which I don’t have much power to directly change.

    I see that you did do all the legwork. It sounds like your boss doesn’t actually care that his management and the company have burned out their employee.

    You can try responding to him with slightly more explicitly with “I need you to {reorganize our work, create improved processes, and support me this way},” but it sounds like he doesn’t think it’s his job to deal with. It is. It is not always a boss’s job to help employee’s with their burnout, but in this case your burnout is linked to his/the company’s business choices and not personal ones you’re making so he should be working to fix them. Unfortunately since he doesn’t care, you probably need to care less, let some things drop, so that you have the energy to job hunt for something better because it doesn’t sound like your work will change.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Re-organizing process is something that a manager might not have the power to do. They also might not have control over how much work lands on a department. Should they have been more explicit about what can and can’t happen? yes. But it wasn’t wrong to not immediately re-organize entire processes because one employee suggested it.

      1. Cakeroll*

        OP #2 here – I definitely have empathy for my manager that the workload/expectations from senior leadership are probably outside his direct control, and are more systemic. But a few commenters have made the point of “change everything for one employee” and I wanted to share some more context: I’m one of two members of this team (not counting our manager), the most senior, and with a unique set of projects. So the processes involved really mostly affect me specifically. Think of it like you’re the only accountant at your company, and someone else decided that all bookkeeping should be done on Etch-a-Sketches because they like how they look, despite it making things harder for you.

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

      Keep in mind that the manager is a person too, and may also be experiencing burn out. Not knowing exactly what the OP said, the things could be stuff that the manager has no way to change, or not know what to do. I think the manager could have said that the understood and that they weren’t sure what could be done. But we don’t know that the manager doesnt’ care.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This. The places I’ve worked that were most likely to burn people out, our managers couldn’t fix what was wrong because it was systemic and they didn’t have that kind of clout, either.

      2. a clockwork lemon*

        Not only this, but if it’s only one employee having issues on a team of multiple people, reorganizing processes or changing workloads to accommodate one employee’s burnout runs the risk of creating burnout conditions elsewhere on the team.

    3. Aqaumarine*

      I don’t think it makes him a jerk. Asking for more information from the employee makes sense to me rather than to just jumping in and reorganizing things and making assumptions about what will help.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Seconding. I don’t think I’d want my boss deciding for me what I needed. Maybe it’s the workload, but maybe it’s that the amount of work is manageable but the type of work is tedious and thankless, or maybe the work is manageable but the constant interruptions from coworkers are driving me nuts, or something else.

    1. Nobby Nobbs*

      It’s a nice bandaid, but if you come back to the same problems it’s just kicking the can down the road a few months.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Unless they get worse in your absence; then you’ve traded a few days respite for a stronger burnout when you return.

        1. mango chiffon*

          This was my problem when I had horrible burnout last year. I got to a point where I lost my appetite from the stress, but taking days off filled me with more anxiety because I knew I would just get more work on my plate on top of everything else with upcoming deadlines. The best rest days for me where when the entire office was closed and no one was online to put more on my plate.

        2. Peanut Hamper*

          Yes, very much this. This was my last job.

          Boss: “Why don’t you take a week off?”

          Me: “You’re kidding, right?”

          Me: takes a week off, comes back to a horrible mess.

          Boss: “Why is everything a mess? What have you been doing?”

      2. Cakeroll*

        OP #2 here – you’re exactly right. I just came back from a week off, and it was coming back and realizing I had absolutely no pull to return (which I did at previous jobs – even if only to help out my colleagues) that clicked as “Oh. I’m burned out.” I know that more time off isn’t going to be the answer – either the way this work happens needs to become more sustainable, or I need to look for something else (which is hard, since I haven’t been at this job for a year yet).

    2. kiki*

      Honestly, for full-fledged burnout, a lot of folks need weeks off. And sometimes that isn’t even enough. I think time off is one thing managers should be sure to be proactive about offering for burnout if it’s on the table. A lot of employees may not know taking a few weeks of leave is a possibility even if it’s what they need. I think during my worst period of mental health, I knew deep down that I needed to just not work for 2-4 weeks to really get my stuff together, but I had no idea that was something I could do without quitting or finding a new job. Having a manager who said, “Hey, you’re really struggling. Did you know you can take an extended period of time off?” was a lifesaver.

    3. EasternPhoebe*

      This just isn’t sufficient. Unless the conditions at work that led to burnout change, the burnout will not stop. And frankly, if all you need is a few days off to feel better, then it’s not true burnout! (In that case, good!) Burnout usually takes weeks or months of recovery.

    4. Dinwar*

      That’s like saying “Best thing for worker injuries? Have an onsite nurse.” Sure, the onsite nurse can help physically put people back together–but you’re still left with a work environment where people are routinely getting injured, and clearly stating that you find such a situation to be acceptable. Saying “Just take some time off” is merely a polite way of saying “We’re going to burn you out, find a coping mechanism.”

      Further, as I recall recent studies have shown that it takes a couple of days to relax when you go on vacation. Everyone’s going to be different, but on average if you’re taking less than 3-4 days off it’s not going to matter. And if you’re actually burned out, rather than merely being temporarily overwhelmed, it’s going to take longer. Burnout is psychological trauma, and there is a healing process. Saying “Take a couple of days off, you’ll be fine!” is like telling someone with a broken leg “Just take it easy for two days, then get back to work.” You’re merely going to exacerbate the issue, because you’re using an organ that’s already experiencing trauma.

      The best thing for burnout is to address the root causes. Make sure you have enough staff not only for ideal times (when everyone’s there and working at top efficiency) but also situations that are normal but not ideal (people going on vacation, staff retiring or quitting, that sort of thing). Lean staffing is fragile staffing. Second, make sure you have clearly defined roles–not merely “this is what you do” but also “This is not your responsibility, don’t worry about that, this is X’s responsibility”. If you only say what IS the employee’s responsibility there’s a tendency for that responsibility to grow in an ad-hoc manner, which isn’t good for anyone.

  33. Melissa*

    I definitely feel for the boss in #2. If an employee came to me with a list of symptoms of burnout and said that she had all of them, my response would be: “Wow, I am so sorry. That sounds so rough. What do you want to do about it?” I would need specific requests!

    1. Shieldmaiden793*

      Might I recommend adding “What’s on your plate and how can I help with it?” As others have mentioned, a manager can sometimes help reprioritize or step in for the employees behalf, so I would think starting that conversation would be the first step. Without asking “tell me more?” the reply just sounds like “thoughts and prayers!”

      1. Furret*

        Yeah! This is exactly what needed to happen (and didn’t) in a team meeting when one of the high performers raised their workload concern.

        After eliciting more information, everyone realised the person simply had more work coming their way and no amount of re-prioritising will reduce it – overlapping cycles peaking at same-time.

    2. kiki*

      I 100% understand this, but I also think a common symptom of burnout is not seeing a path out of burnout. So having a couple jumping off places in your back pocket to suggest can be really helpful– time off, fewer responsibilities, a shifted schedule, etc.

    3. MicroManagered*

      Agreed. Like, as your manager, I can help you sort out which of your burnout trigger will or won’t change, to help you make decisions about how you will manage your burnout which may include looking for a new or different job.

      But I can’t manage your feelings for you. I can’t just take all the hard work off your plate and let you only do the easy work or the work you like. I can’t change the *nature* of your work if you’re just in the wrong job. I can’t make someone in another department do their job differently or become more computer literate. And I’m gonna look like an idiot myself if I try to go to bat for a 20% raise because you think that will make you feel better.

      And hell, if you’re burnt out, there’s a really good chance your manager is too!

      1. Furret*

        My manager is:
        1) better recompensed than me,
        2) not reporting to me.

        If I quit because of burnout then the work lands on them to manage anyway.

  34. Unfettered scientist*

    I really want an update to the shirt letter. I hope they got their shirt back, but I’m a bit afraid for them that the boss just tossed it without saying anything. Definitely ask for compensation though

    1. Nonanaon*

      Same; I really hope there was just a misunderstanding and the manager was checking policy for what to do if employee clothing comes into contact with a biohazard (could be disposal, could be nothing, could be “sent away to this specific cleaner”) but I don’t have high hopes.

    2. Satan's Panties*

      Yeah, I don’t get why it wasn’t a matter of “Take it home and don’t ever wear it to work again.” It was not a uniform shirt; the workplace is not responsible for it.

    3. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      This is what I came here to say: they owe you either YOUR shirt, or money to buy a new shirt. Don’t let them brush you off on this. And remember! It doesn’t matter as much to other people as it does to you, so it’s not on them to remember about this. Keep reminding them and if you don’t hear anything from your boss, take it to someone who works with money to ask how to get reimbursed.

  35. with all due respect*

    LW 4, what are your expectations here? Kudos for being nice to a family during a horrific time? Let it go. Let the family grieve.

  36. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    4. Acknowledgement of a condolence gift

    I lost my husband last year. Many people at my work took up a collection and sent flowers, and food/food delivery. It was incredibly nice, and of course much appreciated, but I was simply overwhelmed for awhile and it was difficult to speak of anything related to his death. I did convey my thanks to the managers and ask they relay that to everyone, but it wasn’t as personal as I would have liked. Just know that it was appreciated!

  37. Nancy*

    LW1: just say ‘hey, remember when you took my shirt because you weren’t sure of the policy? What is the policy? Can I have it back?” She didn’t do it to be mean, she wanted to make sure policies regarding bodily fluids was followed.

    LW4: some people send thank you notes months later. They are grieving, assume they got it.

    1. connie*

      That’s a great point about LW1. There’s no need to be confrontational in following up here in a situation where being in contact with bodily fluids is a possibility. I understand that the shirt is a big deal and I am sorry if it’s gone forever, but a bigger deal over the long term is making sure that policies and procedures are well understood so decisions can be made about what to wear and what to do in future situations. This may be a situation where LW did the best she could in an emergency and there just won’t be a satisfactory outcome other than that she was there to help someone who needed it.

  38. mythopoeia*

    LW #4, I imagine you want to know if the family received the gift, so you can follow up if something went wrong. But since that puts an expectation on the family during a very difficult time, another way you can do your recipients a kindness is to decide you’ll live with the uncertainty of not knowing and not ask them to resolve that uncertainty for you. That can be part of your gift to them.

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

      It’s only been a month so I would say to let it be for now. And since this was a coworker I would feel really odd that my family members coworker is calling asking if I got the gift.

    2. Office Lobster DJ*

      Well put!

      The kindest thing you can do, LW, is to let this go. If you were close enough to them that NOT receiving your personal condolences would be noticed and cause undue concern or confusion for them (and that’s a VERY high, potentially insurmountable, bar), I might see considering ways to discreetly follow up. Otherwise, you’ve done your part by sending your good wishes.

  39. Glazed Donut*

    LW1, I think any time you are working with a vulnerable population (children, individuals with disabilities, the elderly), there’s a chance you may have blood/bio on your clothes. I am sorry you didn’t get your shirt back (yet) – perhaps this is a good note to self to not take something with extreme sentimental value to work with you.
    Additionally, perhaps this is a good time to consider alternatives to the situation. If the person needed a support under her head, what else could have worked? If there’s not a clear system for that, could you help develop one?

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

      It sounds to me that this was unexpected. Like maybe they were outside someplace and did not have supplies that they would if they were at the persons home.

      I do agree that you shouldn’t wear something sentimental to work in this situation. But I do hope that the OP gets her shirt back and that maybe they can have a clear policy in the handbook for all employees.

  40. Lainey L. L-C*

    #2 Burnout: As someone upthread said, places that cause burnout aren’t going to do anything to fix them. My (former) niche industry caused me burnout so many times and any attempts to “help” – schedule change, project change, reduction in workload – were changed right back to where they were or in some cases, worse, due to constant staffing reduction. I had a breakdown and was doctor-ordered to take a week to reset and try a new medication, I had to go on medical leave, send all kinds of doctor letters, etc. for ONE WEEK when I had accrued 60+ sick days because we were never allowed to take them. After two decades of this, I left, feeling like my health was really suffering. I ended up in a different industry that could still use the same skills and burnout stopped. I am friends with who replaced me at old job and I didn’t know it would be possible, but it managed to get WORSE at old job and the new me there has said they totally understand why I was so burnt out, they are experiencing it.

    Get out as soon as you can, OP. It’s probably not fixable there.

    1. sam_i_am*

      places that cause burnout aren’t going to do anything to fix them

      Eh, I think that really depends. I’m burnt out at work and my boss is working on ways to help prevent my burnout actively. I definitely do need to be proactive in making sure our conversation continues, but I’m seeing changes be made. We’re working on making sure I’m not solo on projects anymore the way I have been (though this is taking some time, as current projects can’t be changed since other people aren’t on the grant).

      1. C.*

        But are they working on ways to help prevent *your* burnout or your entire workforce’s burnout (in systemically toxic environments)? It’s great your boss is going to bat for you, really, but if we’re talking about churn-and-burn environments or industries here, that’s a drop in the bucket. I’m a big believer that burnout is not the employee’s problem to solve; it’s the employer’s responsibility to create and actively maintain the guardrails that will protect their employees from burning out in the first place.

  41. Sally Rhubarb*

    LW 2: Every job where I experienced burn out was 10000% the fault of the employer. All the mindfulness exercises in the world aren’t going to help being wildly understaffed and overworked while upper management sticks their heads in the sand and ignores the problem.

    My vote is look for a new job, but that’s doubly hard when you’re feeling so burnt out/over it. Good luck!

    1. kiki*

      Right, while there are some factors that make individuals more predisposed to burnout, generally there are issues with the workplace/ workload that the employee cannot address on their own. They are often systemic issues. It is really frustrating to see a lot of leadership and managers act like the individual employee should manage burnout themselves. While mindfulness, yoga, and good sleep hygiene are always helpful, they can’t counteract a dysfunctional workplace.

    2. C.*

      I totally agree, and I wish Alison’s response covered this more. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with employees going to their managers to candidly report their burnout or to come to the table with ideas on how it might be addressed. But if one employee is reporting work-related burnout, chances are, others in the office are feeling the same way—and in that case, the onus is on the employer to figure out where they went wrong, not the employee.

  42. Knope Knope Knope*

    Sorry if this double posts. For some reason when I post on my phone the comment either disappears or shows up hours later.

    Anyway, for LW 2 with burnout…

    As a manager, I would be upset if any of my direct reports were experiencing burnout. I genuinely care for them as people, but this would have been the case even when I managed people that I did not actually particularly as people.

    However, as a manager, I have my own boss. My boss has expectations and goals for me. I am given a budget and a headcount and have to figure out how to use those things to build systems and workflows that achieve the goals that are expected of me. It’s not always easy to figure that out how to do that. Sometimes it is very hard. If an employee came to me and told me they were burnt out, I would want to know what I could do to help them, but I wouldn’t necessarily be able to easily just change our workflows and expectations. Especially if it was working well for the rest of the team, or if my own workload was unreasonable. If that employee had specific requests, I would certainly try to honor them. I do think it would have been good for your manager to point you to your company EAP if you have one. They are in a better place to support your mental health.

    Good luck.

  43. ThisTooShallPass*

    LW2 – good for you, for speaking up about feeling burned out. Having the self-awareness to know when something isn’t quite right is an achievement in and of itself.

    That being said, “burnout” is a bit of a catchall these days, and everybody gets burnt out on different things. Whether it’s burnout from overwork, being under-challenged/limited by your work, dealing with compassion fatigue or emotional overload, or having competing responsibilities at work & home — these are all valid reasons to feel burned out, but there’s not a single fix, especially not from a manager.

    Since your manager asked what you needed from them to support you, and every case of burnout is different, the first thing you can do is ask for the time to figure out what you need. Do you think disorganized processes are one of the root causes of your burnout, or is that a surface level frustration? Have disorganized processes caused your career progression to slow, or shifted your work-life balance in a negative way, or caused your customers to be annoyed with you?

    If you can take a step back to figure out why you’re burnt out, then you have an opportunity to address the root cause with your manager. Personally, I’d go start with something along the lines of the following:

    “Thanks for asking how you could support me while I’m feeling burned out. As a starting point, I’d like to be able to take some time off to reset and recharge, without worrying about how much work is going to be piling up in my absence. Can we make a plan for me to take that time, in the next 2-3 weeks? Then when I’m back, I’m hoping to have a better handle on why I’m feeling like this, and I’d like to make a plan on how to prevent burnout happening in the future.”

    P.S., As someone who has been there, I can tell you there’s a light at the end of the tunnel on feeling like this – it doesn’t have to last forever.

  44. Another academic librarian*

    Gift to grieving family . Please give the family grace on the thank you note front. I tried I really did when my husband died. I wrote over 150 thank you notes and was given permission by friends to give up when there was still about 100 left to go. It was all that I could do to get the basics done for more than two years.

  45. Hiring Mgr*

    I think there are different levels of burnout. Some can be helped with adjustments to workload, scheduling, WFH, etc. But for me at least when I was experiencing burnout a couple of years ago it wasn’t job specific, so the only thing that worked was taking about 9 months off. Not everyone can do that of course, but just to say that sometimes it requires more than an employer might be capable of.

  46. Insert pun here*

    OP 2 (burnout), I mean this kindly: you need to take the first step here in articulating your needs. Or if not your needs, a “I think this will help and I’d like to try it.” Not a “these are the things that are wrong with the org” but rather “these are the things that are a problem FOR ME.”

    Mental health is complicated and unique to the individual, and it would be wildly inappropriate for an employer to try to problem solve for your specific, immediate, house-on-fire situation.

    It IS appropriate for your employer to try to problem-solve on larger, systemic problems, and it sounds like you’ve give them info/direction on how to do that. It is worth keeping an eye on if/how things change in the next several months. But for your specific, urgent need, you need to take the first step (or A first step.) You may not know exactly what you need, but you’re better equipped to come up with a possible solution than your boss is, because you know what’s going on and what has or hasn’t worked for you in the past.

  47. Dust Bunny*

    4. I sent a condolence card to the family of a coworker who died suddenly and I have to admit, when they sent a thank-you I felt guilty that they had gone to the trouble. It’s not like they were writing thank-yous for something happy. Augh.

  48. Liisa*

    OP2: One thing I might recommend is look up the 6 factors of burnout (a quick google will show you a ton of articles, but the 6 factors come from research done by Dr Christine Maslach) and see if you can figure out which of those is the biggest factor for you. I totally hear you when you say you’re too burnt out to care enough to find solutions (oof, been there) but because there’s so many different potential causes, your manager can’t reasonably be expected to come up with solutions for you.

    But, identifying the biggest trigger can be helpful. If it’s something like too much/little workload, that’s a pretty straightforward conversation with your manager. If it’s something like a values mismatch with you and your company (like, you work for a company making the Puppy Kicker 9000 and you don’t believe puppies should be kicked) well, then it’s probably time to start job searching. If it’s a problem that’s reasonably fixable at your current workspace, it could be helpful to go to your manager and say “look, I’m overworked, I don’t know what would be the best solution but I can’t keep doing X Y and Z” or something, that gives your manager somewhere to start, and then the two of you can brainstorm together. If the problems are more systemic (like, you’ve been trying for a promotion that seems like it’ll never go through because there’s widespread favoritism in who gets promotions) it’s kind of up to you if you want to try to address that with your manager or start looking elsewhere.

    The other thing that’s been helpful for me when dealing with burnout is ask yourself: If you had a magic wand and could change ONE thing about your workplace tomorrow, what would it be? Just one thing. Don’t make it realistic at first. Just find the biggest thing. That will help you identify where to start. Because yeah, if you’ve been burnt out for a while, you won’t be able to fix everything, especially all at once, but if you can put out the biggest fire first, that can help get you some breathing room to deal with the rest.

    1. sam_i_am*

      Thank you for sharing that concept! Conversations about burnout always seem to revolve around overwork, but I’m burnt out and not overworked. “Insufficient Reward” and “Lack of Fairness” are jumping out to me as big factors in what I’m feeling.

      I’m in continuous conversation with my boss about targeting some other triggers (siloing is a big one), but I hadn’t really thought about how unfair I think it is that other people’s work gets more time to shine in our group. It feels like no one else on the team even knows what I do. And my compensation with my last promotion was just not enough!

    2. Cakeroll*

      OP #2 here – thank you for your reply. I mentioned this in my letter to Alison, but I have looked up causes of burnout (she included my link, which isn’t the same source you recommend but similar). I identified what I thought the top causes were for me, and shared I them, with detail and examples, in the conversation with my boss. I’m glad you highlight the difference that burnout doesn’t need to be due to overwork – that’s the case with me as well. The two top issues I raised with my boss were: 1) frequent and intensive context-switching (unlike anyone else in the company, I work with two very different teams, both of which have large-scale complex scopes of work that I have to bounce between multiple times a day); and lack of social support (I’ve joined this fully-remote company having a preference for working remotely, but I’m now realizing that when you don’t have existing relationships, or ways to form them, it’s very isolating when the only things you hear from coworkers are “I need this from you now”).

      It was at that point my manager said what I described above – but being relatively new, and not in management, I don’t have the context or authority to know what specific changes are feasible. I wanted to start a dialogue, but the other half wasn’t there.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        Is it possible to alternate working projects day by day instead of throughout the day? Or one in the morning and one in the afternoon? Would that reduce the context switching stress by reducing it to a time when you’re already switching context (from “off work” to “on work”)? Because doing that several times a day sounds exhausting.

        The second sounds like you need to be able to meet up with your teammates, or to have some kind of a group slack chat or equivalent where there can be friendly interaction. (It’s also possible that working with one team continually for an entire day or entire morning instead of constantly would give you a few more chances to speak to people during “down time”, and humanize things.)

        1. Cakeroll*

          Thanks Lenora! I could have guessed I’d have gotten more supportive dialogue from the AAM commentariat than I would from my manager. These are great ideas that might be feasible, and I’ll bring them to my manager. He’ll owe you a consultation fee! ;-)

      2. Allonge*

        Hm, sorry, that sounds tough! Honestly, your manager may well be thinking that these things are not something they can solve (certainly not with any speed) – the context-switching sounds like it’s part of the job, and as a remote employer, whatever relationship-building methods they have may well be as far as they are willing to go.

        Which is not to say you are wrong to find these an issue or that your manager should not be trying to address it! But it really sounds like a structural change is needed in how your job works, and that might need some thinking.

        From your end, do you know about any meetings that you could attend that would help with the isolation issue? Is there any social element that you would prefer to have? If these don’t exist, but need to be created for you (and those who come after you), they might as well looks like what you would prefer.

        And for the context-switching, would doing just one kind of task per day help? Let’s ignore the feasibility of it for a second, what would be your ideal scenario?

        I would suggest to go back to your boss with some proposals, and try to press the issue a bit. Hopefully they will also have thought about this a bit more. Good luck, take care of yourself!

  49. Pink Candyfloss*

    LW #4 grief is hard and sending thank-you notes or acknowledgements of gifts is a further reminder of loss. There is so much to sort out when someone dies: legal paperwork, financial upheaval, going through their personal effects….. acknowledging gifts may fall far down on the list of necessary activities for the family.

    And also, unlike a birthday or wedding or celebration gift of a happy event, going through a list of who sent flowers or casseroles or whatnot to write out a response that recognizes the event of the loss can re-traumatize or be upsetting to the family tasked with doing so. If you never receive anything from the family, please don’t take it personally. Whatever happens, thank you for your compassion towards them in sending a gift and I hope you can find it in your heart to continue to extend that compassion even if you never receive a thanks.

  50. CzechMate*

    LW 1 – not the point of the post at all, but I wanted to say a) I hope your client is doing better and b) that’s really good of you to LITERALLY TAKE THE SHIRT OFF YOUR BACK to help a client in need.

  51. Dinwar*

    #1 The phrase you want to be looking for is “Universal Precautions”. It’s an OSHA system for dealing with bodily fluids. If you’re going to be dealing with blood I’m pretty sure you’re required to have a policy on this. “Standard Precautions” is apparently the more recent concept, and weirdly includes more stuff that can come out of a body (agency nomenclature is weird).

    FYI, “throw it away” is almost certainly NOT the right way to deal with it. There are ways to clean clothing that’s been in contact with potentially infectious material–mostly “wash separately on warm with detergent”. If they are going to throw it away it cannot go into the trash can; universal waste (which is what most garbage cans are considered) doesn’t include potentially infectious material. If your boss honestly believes the shirt to be contaminated or potentially contaminated and doesn’t have facilities for dealing with medical waste, it could be a violation of the laws or the landfill’s permits.

  52. monogodo*

    Years ago my wife was being sent to a Communications Conference in St Louis by her employer, the local church. She had to pay for her own airfare and hotel accomodations, then submit receipts for reimbursement. At that time, we couldn’t afford to pay those costs up front, then wait for reimbursement.

    At one point she said, “it might be cheaper for me to rent a car and drive there and back” (we only had one car, and she didn’t want to leave me for a week without it). I responded that I could take a week of vacation from my job, and we could drive our car up together, and stay at an AirBnB. We looked into the costs to do that, and it was much cheaper than airfare and hotel costs. She asked her boss about possibly doing that, and her boss ran it by the finance people. They agreed to reimburse us for the AirBnB costs, as well as our fuel costs (not mileage). Since AirBnB charges your card when you book the room, we got reimbursed for that before we even left. The only other caveat was that I had to get up early to drive her into the hotel for the conference in the morning, and pick her up in the evening. I got to spend the day exploring the city (Anheuser Busch Brewery Tour FTW!). There was one evening that they had an Awards Dinner that I wasn’t allowed to attend, so I had dinner with a friend from HS that lived in the area. Her boss ended up having to leave the conference a day early, so I drove her to the airport to save her the cost of a cab/Uber. And because we drove, we were able to stop at my MIL’s house on the way, and we left our cats with her so we didn’t have to pay a pet sitter.

    If I ever were to travel with her on a work trip again, and we had to fly, I would expect to have to pay for my own airfare, but would also expect that we would stay in the same room and that she wouldn’t have to share with a coworker. Her employer wouldn’t have any additional costs due to my presence.

  53. Sneaky Squirrel*

    #4 – I know it’s customary to send ‘thank you’ cards for gifts of different occasions (birthday, weddings, etc) and I absolutely always send a thank you card. But the whole process is a turn off for me when the gifter expects a thank you card in return. A gift should be given with no strings attached; the need to receive a thank you card is nothing but self-serving.

  54. Octobergirl*

    I retired a couple of months ago, and recently started doing “contract” work for my former employer, although I have yet to see the written contract, despite asking weekly. What troubles me, aside from not having expectations in writing, is that former colleagues have been welcoming me back, as though they think (or have been told) that I’m back in the fold. An associate attorney called today looking for advice, and mentioned my short-lived retirement. I reiterated that I am still retired, not a part-time employee- I have my own health insurance, no paid PTO, etc. He seemed a little taken aback, and apologized, but now I’m wondering whether I may have been too harsh, but I told the administrators of the firm that I have very firm boundaries that I expect people to respect. Obviously I need that written contract and I’m working now to put my own draft out there instead of waiting on them any longer (a gentle reminder that taking early retirement from this firm was a very good idea.)
    They have been regularly paying my invoices so I’m not worried about that, but does anyone have advice or experience about setting and adhering to boundaries in a situation like this?

  55. Mothman*

    I don’t understand wanting acknowledgement for a gift in general (at least in the form of a card; a text confirming they got it would be nice). This is double for when people are in a nutso part of their lives, like dealing with grief or recently having had a baby.

  56. Tom*

    LW2: Yeah, this kind of attitude is really common, sorry. Just to give you an idea of how common it is, earlier this year I took an exam for FedGov employment, and one of the questions was about what I would do if I were a manager and my employees were burnout.
    The only option on the list that wasn’t actively psychotic was to give them materials on mindfulness and other ways to help their mental well-being. Actually trying to do something about the conditions causing burnout wasn’t even on the table.

  57. Justme*

    #2- I feel you!!!! I am in the same boat and attempted a convo with my manager as well, even planning my talking points very carefully based on the knowledge on this site and very carefully crafting my words so they didn’t put her on the defensive. I barely got through a sentence or two before she snapped at me, “We’re ALL busy!” and she cut the conversation down. I am glad for you that your manager at least sounds like they might be open to hearing more. I agree with Allison that you need a skilled and experienced manager (I have neither) in order to have any hope. I really wish you well!!

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