I was told I’m socializing too much with another team, two employees arrested for embezzling, and more

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

1. I’ve been told I’m socializing too much with other teams

I have been at my current job for a year and have been struggling with fitting in. I think there’s a big culture difference than what I’m used to, and I’ve also dealt with a lot of bullying from my team. I’ve been job searching, but no luck so far.

I’m finally starting to make friends with people at work outside of my team, which is great! I’ll occasionally (no more than once per day, if that) go down to their unit to spend 5-15 minutes chatting, and maybe once every two weeks I’ll eat lunch with them in their unit (we don’t really have a convenient break room, so everyone usually eats at their desks). Our jobs don’t overlap at all, so I’ve asked general questions about their job process out of curiosity, learning more about my organization, etc.

The third person in their unit reported to their supervisor that I’m there way too often and that I’ve been trying to get them to show me sensitive information (this is not true at all). Luckily, their supervisor didn’t really believe his full side of things, talked to my friends, and cleared that up quickly. It’s worth mentioning that I currently do not have a supervisor as he was moved to a different unit.

However, in the past, people have mentioned to my old supervisor that I tend to “linger” when I go to collaborate with other units, which is a big part of my job. I was not formally reprimanded, just nicely told that it was something to keep in mind.

I truly don’t believe that I’m this big of a distraction, but I’m having a hard time since this has now been brought up twice in some capacity. This seems like a place where you’re fine if your friends are already in your unit, because you don’t have to move anywhere to chat, but if you aren’t friends with your unit, you’re out of luck.

I don’t think I’ve changed my behavior at all, and in my previous job I was known for being personable and received excellent reviews my entire five years there. Is this just a culture fit problem, or am I the problem?

It’s hard to say, but I’m concerned that it’s been brought up twice now.

I’m curious about what the vibe was when the other unit’s supervisor spoke to you about it, especially in the conversation after they investigated a little more — because there’s a whole spectrum of possibilities there, from that manager thinking it was ridiculous that the complaint was made at all to something more like “the person who complained was off-base about the details but it would still be better to avoid this coming up again.”

Absent any other info, I’d say that yeah, you need to spend less time in that other unit — because even if the person who complained was totally off-base, from a work-priorities perspective it’s more important that the manager not have to keep refereeing this (and that you don’t look oblivious to the feedback) than that you get to eat lunch over there.

(The lunch thing in particular sticks out to me, because if “eating at their desks” means “working while they eat” — for any of them, even if not for all — it would definitely be annoying to have someone from another department show up with their sandwich to turn the time into a purely social one.)

I would also say, now that you’ve been talked to about it a couple of times, five minutes of chit-chat is okay but 15 minutes at a time is pretty long and you should stick to five … and even then you should be alert to the other person’s cues — are they actively engaged in and enthusiastic about the conversation / are their eyes getting pulled back toward their screen / etc.

But also, all of this is just about calibrating yourself to the norms of the organization you’re in. It doesn’t mean you’re an annoying person or you were overstaying your welcome with colleagues in past jobs. It’s just about paying attention to how things work in this environment and adjusting accordingly. Which especially sucks since your own team has been awful to you, but is probably the reality of it.

Read an update to this letter

2. Explaining to new hires that we just had two employees arrested for embezzling

I’ve worked for a small company which handles a lot of money, including cash payments, for about eight years. Five years ago, a staff member, Sarah, was caught and arrested for embezzling a huge sum of money. Afterwards, we instituted new security procedures and we were all caught up in a heartbreaking criminal investigation and trial. Sarah spent four months in prison and now will have to repay about 6% of what she stole.

As the criminal proceedings were winding down, we hired Lily. Lily knew about our changes in security and I think, crucially, realized that Sarah’s actions were not met with equitable repercussions. Lily instituted a criminal scheme and has been caught and charged with embezzlement of a lower, but still significant, sum of money.

The crisis with Lily just came to light this past week and I have two new direct reports starting Monday. Presumably, we will also be filling Lily’s role. I feel like being too transparent about what happened with Sarah may have contributed to the Lily situation, but I also know that hearing about Lily from colleagues is unavoidable, and I know that I will at least have to come up with a reasonable way of explaining our security overhaul and why our boss is meeting with police and prosecutors.

What’s the proper way of handling this situation? Am I just way overthinking things? How much transparency is helpful vs. harmful?

Most people don’t see a light sentence and think, “Great, I can handle four months in prison — I’ll embezzle too.” It’s far more likely that your security procedures are still far too lax and don’t have enough checks and balances. It shouldn’t be possible for someone to embezzle without those checks and balances flagging it very early on. That’s where I’d focus — on figuring out tighter systems, including bringing in outside security experts if you haven’t already.

As for the new hires, be matter-of-fact about it and don’t beat around the bush — “this happened, there’s an ongoing investigation, and we’re in the middle of a security overhaul.” They’re going to hear about it from coworkers anyway, and it’s far better for you to matter-of-fact address what’s going on than for them to have to piece it together on their own. The issue isn’t that if you’re honest about Sarah and Lily, your new hires might decide to embezzle too; the issue is that your company, for some reason, has still left itself far too open to it being possible.

3. My coworker always asks me for guidance on work I don’t know anything about

My colleague, Petunia, and I both report to the same manager, Iris. We are the same rank on two different teams in the same department. We work on projects together regularly, but we do not assign each other tasks and we have independent tasks that are assigned to us by Iris. I find Iris to be very approachable and collaborative as a manager.

Petunia regularly asks me what her tasks are for projects that I am not involved in, instead of asking the person who assigned the tasks. I usually respond by saying she should check in with the senior person who assigned the task.

Most recently, there was a meeting with Iris, Petunia, and I to discuss a large project with input from the different teams. I completed my portion of the project, then Iris said she and Petunia would work on another portion of the project without me. Petunia agreed to this and did not ask any follow-up questions during the meeting. After the meeting, Petunia immediately asked me, “What do I need to prepare for the task with Iris?” I said I wasn’t sure, and she should ask Iris for guidance.

This has happened on several occasions, and initially I chalked it up to Petunia looking for reassurance from a peer. However, I’m beginning to find the questions grating as I’m not involved with assigning tasks and it seems obvious to me that Petunia would follow up with Iris or whoever assigned the task to understand their expectations. Am I being too harsh? And how do I address this constructively?

No, this is strange! And it’s one thing for Petunia to ask you once or twice, but it sounds like it’s happening a lot and that’s bizarre; if nothing else, she should be realizing from your responses that you’re the wrong person to help.

So, it’s time to name the pattern: “You ask me a lot about your tasks for projects I’m not involved in, so I wanted to make sure you realize: I’m never going to be able to answer those questions for you — you will always need to ask Iris or whoever assigned you the work. It doesn’t make sense to bring those to me.”

And then if she keeps doing it after that: “This is what I meant — this isn’t anything I can answer.”

If that doesn’t take care of it, you could mention it to Iris if you want, framed as, “I think Petunia might need guidance from you on what to do when she has questions about a project. She’s been asking me, but I’m not involved enough with her work to know, and while I’ve suggested she talk to you instead, she’s still coming to me.”

4. My team apologizes for repeated mistakes but it keeps happening

I run a successful print shop, but lately my team seems to not perform accurately. They need to enter the press orders correctly or read the orders correctly and when I mention they did not, which meant we then had to reprint the job, costing the company money, their only response is, “I’m sorry.”

These same mistakes keep happening and again I get “I’m sorry.” What is the best way to respond? Especially since it does not seem to help and they keep doing the same mistakes.

You need to talk about the pattern: “This has been happening repeatedly lately, so we need to figure out to do differently. I don’t need you to apologize — I want you to dig in with me on figuring out where our processes are going wrong. What’s your sense of why it keeps happening and what we can change to prevent it?”

And then listen. They might have insight into the situation that you don’t. But if they don’t, then it’s appropriate for you to try to figure out solutions (which could be anything from retraining to instituting a checklist that needs to be signed off on before any job is run or adjusting your staffing levels if you realize people are rushing at an unreasonable rate to get everything done, or who knows what). At some point you might conclude that the issue is the person, not the systems, but if you’re seeing it with multiple people, it’s more likely that it’s something about the system. Start there.

5. Can I ask if I’m going to be laid off in a merger?

My company recently announced a merger. They’re not handling it well (I could write many more letters about all of the issues). While some people have been quietly let go and we only know from office chatter, the messaging has been that there will be more people let go but they don’t want to talk about it until it’s done.

My dilemma is that my mortgage is up for renewal in the next two months. The interest rates have climbed, so the new payment will be quite a bit higher (I’m in Canada, where mortgage terms are typically three to five years, then renewed at the current rate). If I lose this job, I will likely get a severance payment, but jobs in my industry are scarce right now and all companies are laying people off. If I renew the mortgage and end up having to sell the house, I will be on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars of interest with the bank.

Is it okay to reach out to the new leaders and ask that they let me know if they plan on letting me go sooner rather than later? It would mean having to sell the house quickly and other stresses, but at least I wouldn’t be on the hook for so much money to the bank? Or am I just putting myself at risk of looking like I’ve placed an ultimatum in front of them and invite them to terminate me anyway?

You can ask, but you can’t really depend on their answer if they tell you that your job is safe. If decisions are ongoing, they might not even know for sure yet, and if they do know they might not be willing to tell you. (There’s a lot of business philosophy that goes into the timing of layoff announcements, and it’s probably not going to be trumped by your personal situation.) It’s also possible that the person you ask might not be privy to decisions being made above them.

Because of that, as a general rule I don’t recommend even bothering to ask; you’re unlikely to get an answer you can count on. That said, in your case there’s not really anything to lose by explaining your situation and asking (assuming you don’t present it as an ultimatum, which of course you shouldn’t). You won’t be able to put any real weight on a “no,” but it’s possible you could nudge them into giving you some information (or just making a decision about you) faster. There’s no guarantee of that but it’s also not likely to hurt you, so I lean toward thinking you might as well, just for the small chance that it does produce something useful in a situation where you really, really need it. But simultaneously, be thinking about what you want to do if you don’t get any useful info, which is very likely to be the outcome.

{ 325 comments… read them below }

  1. AskingWontHelp*

    OP5 I’ve been through two mergers where they swore up and down no one was getting laid off then did substantial layoffs on day 1. They both knew but were contractually obligated not to say anything until things were finalized. However, the first time (when it seemed like they were being up front about it based on the number and BBC vehemence of the statements) really threw me for a loop. I wouldn’t bother asking and if you do ask I wouldn’t trust the answer.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      Exactly this. You need to start looking for a new job, yesterday, or put your house on the market. You need to proceed as if you’re being laid off if the alternative is being caught off guard and ending up homeless and in significant debt.

      1. MassMatt*

        This is the problem for companies doing layoffs. Their hope is to cut dead wood and retain good employees so they cut costs and become more profitable.

        But when the rumors start flying (and IME they always do) it’s the best employees that have the most options and ease of finding another job. Unless there are efforts to retain them (not just empty assurances, but real efforts, such as retention bonuses) many of them will leave. The company is left with a lot of poor and especially mediocre employees.

        And often layoffs are poorly handled, managers retain people based on who they like or who they perceive as loyal, or based on tenure, and more productive employees are let go.

          1. Nina*

            Best, not as in most expensive, but as in, ‘of your 4 people in an Engineer II role and pay level, 2 of them are good enough and competent enough that they can easily get another job and probably already have headhunters contacting them fairly regularly. 1 is good enough that they can get another job but it may take a couple months. 1 is not competent enough to get another Engineer II job’. Which one do you think you’ll be left with when the rumors start flying?

    2. Trillian*

      Went from “Your jobs are safe,” to, “There will be some layoffs,” to Black Thursday, when 30% of head office and 4/7 in our department were cut. There were legal limitations on what the executive could say, but also moral cowardice. I didn’t have a mortgage, but I’d moved across the continent 9 months before for this job.

    3. Thatoneoverthere*

      I am not sure if its like this in Canada but alot of times with a layoff you can receive unemployment. I have been laid off twice in my life and both times I had no issues getting unemployment. Mine kicked in after severance was received. It was helpful, while I looked for a new job.

      1. Reality.Bites*

        When I was laid off from my last job I got five months of severance pay and benefits, and 48 weeks of unemployment insurance.

        In general, the legal requirement is one week per year worked, however courts generally award one month. So companies generally offer slightly less than you’d get in court.

        (My job was in a federally-regulated industry. Most jobs are under provincial jurisdiction and different laws and standards apply)

      2. Contracts Killer*

        Depending on the state (U.S.), unemployment may subtract out any severance or other benefits you receive. I was laid off but paid out my vacation days. I had to report that as one of the unemployment questions and they subtracted that amount from the total amount of unemployment I received.

      3. RNL*

        Yes, you could get EI, but it wouldn’t to likely be enough to cover a mortgage payment at a higher rate for a house in many Canadian cities.

    4. Artemesia*

      I moved my family including a husband in a none easily movable career for my job and 3 years later there was a major merger in which my entire department was eliminated as a duplication — they did it not by merit but by whole departments to avoid lawsuits. It was a very hard thing because my career means moving to other cities usually — and so having once uprooted my husband’s career, I didn’t feel I could do that twice.

      Mergers are vicious. No one tells the truth. If there is any way to bridge a few months before a renewal of the mortgage, do that. Otherwise your plan B should involve losing your job in this merger.

    5. Lcsa99*

      Yup. The one merger I have been through, they signed an agreement not to let anyone go for a year, so one year to the day they started the layoffs. Don’t count on this job. Start looking for something more secure now.

    6. L.H. Puttgrass*

      “Am I going to be laid off?” isn’t a question you ask because you think you’ll get an honest answer. It’s a question you ask because you want to hear how it’s answered. Now, some execs are better at baldfaced lying than others, so you don’t always get information in how they answer, either. But you can tell a lot from a hemming, hawing, hedging semi-denial.

    7. Ribka*

      I asked when I was thinking of buying a house but knew layoffs were pending, was told I was safe and should buy a place, but still didn’t trust that enough to buy anything. Made it through layoffs, but I guess my point is even if someone says you’re going to be fine, can/will you trust that enough to make a decision? It just does not/did not seem like reliable info to me, even though in my case it was accurate.

    8. Allura Vysoren*

      And even if they’re being truthful today, things change very quickly. I left my last job while the company was going through a merger. They swore up and down that no one would lose their job, nothing was changing, the new company would take care of us–then less than a year after the ink dried, almost my entire division was laid off.

  2. AnonRisingRates*

    OP5, I think this is a case where maybe a variable rate mortgage could put your mind at ease (given the smaller penalties to break). Obviously, we’ve seen that comes with its own set of risks, so YMMV.

    1. Murfle*

      Fellow Canadian here: Canada’s central bank has, like the US, raised central interest rates VERY steeply in the past year or so. People with variable rate mortgages have had their mortgage payments increase drastically – we’re talking thousands more per month. Considering the fact that Canadian real estate is widely considered a bubble, and the reality of mortgage stress tests in Canada, they may not be able to afford refinancing on, or even qualify for, a new variable rate.

      Many people in the same situation are currently opting to renew on a shorter term (2-3 years) in the hopes that when that term ends, interest rates will have lowered.

      LW5, this probably isn’t the advice you’re looking for, but try going to RedFlagDeals and look for the gargantuan forum thread on mortgage rates. The brokers who post on there are pretty responsive and may be able to help you find a workable rate. Try visiting r/MortgagesCanada on Reddit as well.

    2. Harper the Other One*

      Or go for a single short term (6 month to a year) mortgage – you’ll pay a little more interest but any penalties you pay if you have to sell the house are based on the length remaining in the term. Those options are basically made for the situation where someone thinks they may have to sell their house soon but doesn’t know for sure.

      1. Anon in Canada*

        Yes, was here to say that. This is a case to get a 6 month term.

        I really wish Canada had 30 year fixed rates like the US does, and did away with mortgage break penalties, which the US doesn’t have!

        1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

          Yeah, this whole topic is wild to me; I had no idea that Canadians were penalized for selling their houses outside their mortgage cycle. In the US it’s considered one of the major advantages of owning, that if your situation does change, you aren’t dependent on a lease term and can just sell if necessary.

          1. Anon in Canada*

            I have an American friend who has lived in Canada (as a renter) since 2009 (she has a Canadian partner) and until a couple years ago, she didn’t know that Canadian mortgages have to be renewed (i.e. that the rate doesn’t last for the whole time you pay it off); and also didn’t know about mortgage break penalties. She was outraged when I first explained it to her!

            Those penalties can easily be in the tens of thousands of dollars! Owning a house (with a mortgage) in Canada is considerably riskier than doing so in the US.

      2. Selling a condo up for renewal myself*

        Yep, I also came to say this. I may go for a 1-year because the rates are better and I feel like that will be enough time to know what direction the BoC will be going in and how things are looking at your job. Don’t lock in for longer. It will also give you some time to sell should things fall apart for 6-months. Yes, it’s pricy but it’s flexible.

        Also, look for how long the timeline is for selling the kind of house you own in your area, if it is 1 month – great – go short. If it takes 3 months, make sure you have the time and space to stage & get it ready for the market if you need to renew again at the higher rate within 6mo-1yr.

  3. SocualuzingCanBeWorkRelated*

    LW1 This clearly isn’t the case for you, but I’ve found that the line between work and socializing in an office can be very thin. I used to do “rounds” 2-3x/week where I went around and casually asked a selection of people from 4-5 specific departments how things were going and what they were working on. To a casual observer it was purely social, but it was actually my way to discover the important work-related things I needed to know to do my job that no one thought to tell me about. Those 1.5-2 hours/week saved my bacon so many times it wasn’t funny.

    In general, building relationships with coworkers is an important part of many jobs. That means actually talking to people, getting to know them, and building trust. In some environments that means going to their desk areas and socializing. People who always see this as non-work related are being shortsighted.

    1. MK*

      In general, relationships with coworkers are supposed to be based on your common work and building them happens as you work together, not by taking time out of your work day to socialize; social interactions do add warmth to a work relationship, but I would argue it’s much less effectve if you approach it as an item in the agenta than if it happens naturally, as you are working together. Unless a role specifically requires this, it sounds more like an after-the-fact rationalization for workplace socializing than a reason for it.

      1. Student*

        That is just not how all jobs work universally. I work a role that is parallel to many of my co-workers. We test equipment. My role is to lead tests; their roles are also to lead tests – so we almost never work directly together. We often test similar equipment. My co-workers are often doing work with significant overlap with mine – similar or same equipment, same end-users, similar or overlapping teams, similar or same test problems.

        It often helps my job a lot to casually ask my co-workers what’s up, what gripes they have lately, how things have been lately. Sometimes they just tell me about social stuff like how they’re painting their house or whatever. Sometimes they tell me a mutual end-user’s about to go through a re-org that will screw up our coordination, or that someone on both of our test teams is going through a hard patch and needs some room to work through it, or they’ll tell me about some weird equipment or software problem they ran into that could affect my tests.

        It’d be nice if I didn’t have to do that – if my co-workers or manager reached out proactively with issues that have broad impact on our department. But that doesn’t happen organically, and there is no prospect that it’s going to start. So I learn about our end-user reorgs through random department gossip.

        1. Observer*

          That is just not how all jobs work universally.

          I would say that you are both right – neither is universal. There are a lot of jobs where building relationships is important.There are others where that’s not so true. And there are situations where, wisely or not, that kind of socializing is frowned on.

          Which is why I think that Alison is on point here. The OP’s behavior is not unreasonable, but it seems to be out of sync with the culture in this workplace. I think that they are wise to be looking elsewhere.

      2. Dr. Vibrissae*

        I’d disagree both with your assessment that relationships occur naturally (i.e. without regular work) your point about having social interaction as an agenda item makes it less effective. For those of us who don’t naturally go out of our way to talk to people or who can forget how often we have (or haven’t) interacted with others, having a regularly scheduled reminder to check in on various people or aspects, doesn’t make the connection any less meaningful or important. there is research about the importance of these types of ‘weak social connections’ and in offices where these types of interactions aren’t regularly facilitated in other ways, it can be a good practice to be sure you are building them on your own.

        1. Sparkle Llama*

          I have been mindful this past year to try to reinforce and build these types of relationships with other departments. The primary way I do it is by occasionally brining my own mail to the mail machine and running it through so I can say hi to the receptionist or bringing a paper to another floor in person rather than inter office mail. I think by doing this I have a much better relationship with other departments and am more able to get them to help me with things that they may not otherwise do. And I pick up more on what they do and why they have seemingly asinine rules for how other people do things (and I may still not like it, but I at least see where they are coming from).

          Also, it is good for me to get out of my office and walk up or down a flight of stairs during the day.

      3. Hannah Lee*

        In several of my jobs, doing walk arounds has been the difference between doing really well in the job and just performing okay.

        The ‘reason’ for me going to the other department or a different building on campus or to the production floor might have been to talk to someone about a particular project we were working on, but all the people I talked to along the way, even just saying hi as I passed by their desk? It might have seemed like just chit chat, but it built rapport, made me recognizable to people I hadn’t worked with yet, and approachable for questions, updates, etc.

        The number of times I had impromptu conversations in stairwells with directors, VP who happened to be going the other way, or pulled into someone’s office for a quick question or ‘hey, can I run this by you?” and had those conversations have a positive impact on something (or give an valuable heads up on something negative brewing) are too many to count. Sometimes proximity and approachability matters, and being seen as a team player or personable can make a difference.
        I’m a strong introvert, and it was sometimes a struggle to get up and go find someone when my personal preference was to send a email. But it was worth doing.

        All that said, if the culture of the place you’re working discourages that kind of interaction, don’t buck it. But think about whether that’s a place you want to stay.

        1. SocializingCanBeWorkRelated*

          People seem to think I’m talking about random socializing without a point. I am not. I am a very shy introvert. But I forced myself to do the regular walkabouts to find out what people were working on because that was the way I found out about ongoing work I should have officially been told about but never was. The avenue for this was “hi, how are you?” followed at some point by “what are you working on these days?” – my work goal for the conversation. But the social lubrication was required first. None of these folks were friends outside of work and I never did non-work related things with them. But I found out about at least half a dozen new product features every release this way, things that no one bothered to tell me about but that it would have been a problem for me not to address in my work.

      4. Pet Jack*

        Indeed. I have an extremely cohesive team and am very much appreciated by my staff, but it’s our everyday normal work interactions that make us what we are. I do not care to socialize generally with people from work. My team has an incredible amount of differing personalities. Only a few would ever be friends outside of work, but we are by far lauded as the best culture in the company. The way you interact, train, help, coach, and generally respond to folks builds this up, not necessarily “socializing”

    2. GammaGirl1908*

      I have been on the other side of this. A very good friend of mine was temporarily assigned to a team near mine, and she started coming by my cube every day for a social chat (sometimes, hilariously, announcing herself with a ballet-style leap into my cube, heh). I am intentionally pretty quiet at work — like, I hate answering personal calls at work. I answer in a whisper and rush the person off the phone — so it always felt very loud and very obvious that I was socializing. I have no problem with non-obvious socializing, like exchanging emails or messages or similar, but us chatting out loud about nothing in particular where everybody else in the cubicles could hear us was awkward for me. I’m sure it was less obvious to everyone else, but it felt like everyone could hear us. She also always just appeared, and never checked ahead of time to see whether it was a good time, and, as I sat where my boss could see and often hear, it always felt like it was very obvious that we were spending 30 mins talking. It’s perfectly normal to have a social moment, and nobody — least of all me — is working 100% of the time, but I just wished it was a little bit less obvious that my friend whose work did not overlap and with whom I spent time outside of the office was coming by for (uninvited) visits every day.

      Also, and very specifically, anyone who comes by your office for a social chat is coming when it is a good time for them, and without a lot of concern about whether it is a good time for you. I’m usually happy to say a quick (<5 mins) hello, but then it feels awkward to have to send them away three times a week. I was happy to see her, but I didn’t necessarily want her to come plop down in my office for 20 or 30 minutes a day while my boss was watching. Once a week would’ve been more than enough, and then we could’ve just emailed or messaged the rest of the time.

      Mostly it sounds like LW 1 needs to cut way down on the visits. Cut back to more like once a week instead of every day, and look for subtle signs that people are getting a little antsy after a couple of minutes. Nobody wants to have to tell a friend that they are too busy to talk, but if they are at work, odds are they are either too busy to talk, OR, perhaps much more importantly, they don’t want to give the impression that they are not busy and thus have plenty of time to talk.

      1. birch*

        This.”Doing the rounds” needs to be transferred to socializing in the coffee room, not at people’s desks where people are working. OP’s workplace is one where people at at their desks, so clearly having a water cooler place for people who are in the headspace for socializing to interact isn’t part of the culture. That’s too bad if you’re the kind of person who wants that at work, but the answer is not to go disrupting other people’s workspace.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I’m sure they get up from their desks to get coffee or to heat up their lunch sometimes? I’ve had a lot of valuable conversations with people from other teams happen while we all waited for our coffee or our turn with the microwave. My point is that there have to be better ways to accomplish what OP wants that won’t involve them swooping into someone’s workspace.

          1. Mel*

            Yes, this is always how I’ve socialized w/people who didn’t work near me.
            We run into each other in the break room and we chat.

            I hate being interrupted while I work and I’d hate it even more if the person just wanted to chit-chat.

            Now, my current job has a lot of down time. People do sometimes just pop by the chat while we’re slow, but I think the key here is that we can pretty reliably tell when other departments will be slow at the same time we are.

      2. M2RB*

        I agree with this comment. At my last job, when the department was all in the office pre-2020, I sat at a corner with a lot of traffic. People would stop by my cube to chat any time with no concern for my (overwhelming) workload, and due to my natural introversion, I knew I had to be careful not to alienate coworkers so that we could stay collegial. I ended up getting a little signal light (green meant interruptions were fine; yellow meant work-related only; red meant do not disturb) and it worked pretty well.

        My strategy for getting social time was to message my work friends “hey, anyone up for a coffee/water break in 5 min?” and then if folks were available, we’d be able to chat in the breakroom – get the social fix, not disturb cube neighbors with the chit-chat, (quietly) vent as needed, etc.

    3. Angstrom*

      Visiting people to ask work-related questions is different than visiting purely to socialize.
      I need to get up and move anyway, and asking a question with a friendly smile is often more effective than sending an email. A short conversation can be better communication than an email or text exchange.

      1. KateM*

        But on the other side, a short conversation just at the wrong time can be a far bigger nuisance than an email or text exchange. For you it is effectiveness, for the person you visited it may have been a nuisance.

        1. Myrin*

          Man, people on here are always so handwring-y about this topic (including phonecalls) when in reality, it’s entirely office-dependent.

          At my workplace, it’s normal and understood that someone can stop by at your office at any time and you’d definitely stand out negatively if you were categorically against that. It possibly goes hand-in-hand with the absolutely and obviously preferred form of contacting others being phonecalls which are, in terms of “intrusion”, the same as a personal visit just without being able to see the other side.

          Another factor, though, is that it’s 100% fine to not answer your phone, put it on “do not disturb”, or tell someone stopping by that now isn’t a good time and they should email/come by later/talk to X instead. I’d assume those factors are all related in terms of how accepted a practice is but yeah, there are definitely places where this is perfectly normal.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            My office doesn’t really do phone calls, but we do cold video calls and I know that would send people on here into fits so I don’t talk about it much. But really – it’s NOT a big deal in our culture, and if you don’t answer or send a quick message asking for a phone call instead or saying you can’t talk right now that’s also not a big deal.

            In person, generally if someone has their door open they’re available to talk for a few minutes. Sometimes that’s a quick work question, sometimes that’s social. If it’s a longer conversation they’ll ask if it’s okay to chat and close the door to other interruptions. It’s all very normal, and stated explicitly in our orientations.

            But this will vary a LOT by culture – you just need to learn your norms.

            1. amoeba*

              Yup, same here. And I’m so much more productive and involved in my work when co-workers actually stop by to chat about work in person instead of doing everything by email. Not everybody works well in a vacuum, for me it would be a nightmare.

          2. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

            It’s more field-dependent than office-dependent, though the two definitely overlap. People who work in fields requiring deep concentration (computer programming is a classic example) in general take longer to “recover” from an interruption and get back to where they left off. This shows up in things like hating unnecessary and unscheduled phone calls or in-person drop-ins and preferring a block of meetings (if meetings are necessary) so they have the corresponding block of continuous work time rather than scattered half-hours of work time between meetings. If you’re in a field where you can easily pick up right where you left off, and everyone else in your office is too, then a five-minute interruption only takes five minutes, so it’s going to be more widely accepted.

          3. Analytical Tree Hugger*

            “…when in reality, it’s entirely office-dependent.”

            This, exactly! There’s always a push-pull between our personal preferences and the general practices of a group.

          4. Shan*

            Yes, this is such an office-dependent issue, and as soon as I started reading LW’s letter, I knew how it would go here. I have a collaborative job, and I’m also a senior employee, so I get asked for advice a lot. And we’re a social company! Not a day goes by that people don’t a) stop by my office unannounced, b) call me on the phone, and c) video call me. It would be weird for me if they didn’t.

            I think LW’s office is just a poor match for them. They’d probably fit in great at mine.

        2. H3llifIknow*

          I think it’s pretty clear that Penunia is afraid of looking like she doesn’t know what she’s doing in front of Iris, so she doesn’t want to ask questions. Maybe give her a little encouragement along the lines of “Iris is a great resource when you have questions; she’s been in our shoes and she knows these tasks inside and out. I always ask her when I need guidance and she’s never judgmental about it.” If she STILL keeps asking, next time, say “Come with me” and walk her to Iris’s office and say, “Hey Iris, Petunia has some questions on the Llama project. Can you give her some clarification on her task?” And then leave them to it.

        3. Mel*

          Yeah, I’d rather people send me an email 98% of the time. And the times I understand needing an in-person chat, it’s not going to be short and they should ask if I’m busy.

        4. This_is_Todays_Name*

          But, if your cubicle is 2 rows over from me, and I have a question or need some data or whatever that I may need to explain in more detail or with nuance that’s going to create a back and forth of “this rock?” “No the other one, the green rock” “This one?” “Nope, the bigger darker green rock” etc… why wouldn’t I COME TO TALK TO YOU? If you’re at work, yes, I presume you’re busy, but if I get up from my desk to come talk to you rather than email, maybe give ME the benefit of the doubt that it’s possible that it is time constrained and important, also.

      2. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        Effective for you, maybe. Extremely disruptive for someone who’s deep in thought and suddenly gets jarred out of it to answer a quick non-time-critical question that could easily have been asked over Slack. Please be aware that an exchange that takes five minutes for you can be a half-hour disruption for whoever you just interrupted as they pick up their lost trains of thought. If you need an answer RIGHT NOW then of course stop by or call on the phone, otherwise be considerate of the other person’s time.

    4. Linda Evangelista*

      So much of this totally depends on the office and, frankly, whether you have an office vs. a cube or not. At my last job, my work friend and I would pop by each other’s cubes to say hi and chat, and my manager flagged that she came by a lot and we needed to cut back. However, if I went to chat with another work friend in a closed-door office, that was never raised – so clearly it was about optics more than actual work. That said, LW1, I don’t know the dynamics of your office and definitely defer to Alison’s advice (Which is spot on, as usual :D)

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’ve only had it happen once when someone from another team asked me what I was working on. I was puzzled and gave a non-answer. To be honest, at first I thought she was talking to someone else. Admittedly, I was in a bathroom stall and she was outside when she decided to have that conversation. I would see this ask as weird and I’m saying it as someone who consistently gets it noted on performance reviews and such that I am extremely good at collaborating with other teams – but I collaborate with the teams I have to work with, while we work, about our work. (With social interactions happening naturally during those conversations as well.)

    6. ferrina*

      It really depends on how you do it and how well you read the social cues.

      I also have a role that is incredibly dependent on my relationships. At every place I’ve ever worked, I’ve been incredibly good at fostering relationships, which opens up more avenues of information. It starts as a quick socializing, which builds trust over time, which allows a freer flow of information and a greater openness to collaboration.

      BUT. Not all socializing is equal. It’s one thing to cultivate strong relationships. It’s another thing to park yourself at a coworker’s desk and delve into D&D for an hour (I’ve done both, and they are both great, but they do very different things). And you’ve got to be aware of how the physical office environment directs sounds- if you are in a quiet open office, a 5 minute regular-volume chat could be very distracting.
      If there is an open area around the office, LW should see if their friends are up for taking lunch outside or grabbing lunch at a nearby restaurant.

    7. Hanni*

      I’m sure that everyone here is not this bad, but in my office we have a fairly senior team lead, Ali, who, every day that she is in (around once a week) will walk around, plop down at everyone’s desk in turn, and immediately engage them each in a 15-ish minute social conversation about what they’re doing, how their life is going, etc. Even though I’m sure this is well-intentioned and Ali thinks it helps keep her informed, the rest of us all find it incredibly distracting because not only are we pulled away from our work when she is talking to us personally, but we can hear all the rest of the conversations because it’s an open-office plan.

      I understand that people want to catch up with other teams, but I hope you’ll consider trying to arrange a time that works for both parties rather than assuming their schedule is your schedule!

      1. Freya*

        It’s also exhausting to try and decide what’s work appropriate to share and what’s not – like, funny stories about my himbo of a dog are a no-brainer share, but the things my psychologist and I are working on are not, even though that has a much bigger effect on my work life!

    8. somehow*

      I once had a co-worker who would duck out for a couple of hours every day to socialize with others in their offices, and it became clear he was doing so to avoid the public-facing responsibilities our office had.

      And no one did anything about it because it was a toxic workplace. In fact, one of the people he’d go see was our boss’s boss; you’d think she’d tell him he needed to be back in his office, that he was spending way too much time in hers, but no. Direct boss was just as clueless and intimidated.

      So, so glad to be out of there and at a workplace where my boss and her peers would never stand for that level of socializing.

    9. OMG, Bees!*

      Phrasing it like that, reminds me of things like when my role changed and a particular client would call me directly every day for ~15 minute call on what was “How are things (personally and work issues with client)?” I know they liked to keep constantly updated on their issues. I had to mark that time in the time sheet as a billable call, but for how it was setup, they weren’t billed for it.

    10. sothenisay*

      If I had some random manager or whatever walking by my desk multiple times a to ask me what I’m working on, both me and my boss would tell you kindly to not do that. If you wanna know what’s up, put 15 on my schedule and I have no problems talking. But desk time is work time, and most of my work is fires, and if you’re distracting from that and I can’t account for that time, you’re hurting me.

      If there are work related things you need to know for your own job, figure out a process for learning those things. Don’t interrupt people when you feel like it for the sake of “saving your bacon”.

  4. Boat*

    OP1: Honestly, I relate quite a lot to this. The people in my immediate office vicinity are not much for incidental socializing with me at work, for reasons ranging from “our work stuff never overlaps” to “is extremely introverted and quiet by preference” to “openly dislikes me and doesn’t want to chitchat”. I hadn’t realized before starting this role, how much of a difference having a bit of friendly conversation at work affects my day-to-day experience there; I had never experienced working without it before. Therefore I too have sought out a bit of socializing with another, more gregarious team. (I try not to overdo things with the other team, of course.) It seemed the best way for me to respect my nearby colleagues’ workplace culture and not impose myself socially on them, while also getting that dopamine hit from a little bit of pleasant human interaction in my workday. (I wonder if there’s any chance that you could frame it in a similar way to your manager too, if you think it would go down well?)

    1. Jackalope*

      I’ve noticed this a lot recently. I’ve been in my same area of the office for awhile, and have had many coworkers come and go due to retirement, transfers, etc. I’ve always gotten along well with them. Then recently I got a new work neighbor who is… maybe more reserved, maybe doesn’t particularly like me (no signs that they actively DISlike me, but I may not be their cup of tea), who knows. It’s made things much trickier than I’d anticipated; somehow it really throws me off, even though said coworker is perfectly polite and courteous. So I feel you on this one.

    2. Tiger Snake*

      OP1, you said that in the past people reported that you ‘linger’. As in, in your old role and old workplace before taking this job?

      That would suggest to me that this is a pattern, and it’s not a pattern caused by the workplace, it’s not because you’re having trouble fitting in; but by your more general actions and behaviour.

      1. LW1*

        In the past as in last winter, so this same job! I don’t think I ever had a single complaint to my manager about me at all from my old job in the five years I was there.

    3. Rhymetime*

      I can relate to Boat’s comment. I worked at a place where the content lent itself to being done more individually rather than the collaborative kind of setting I came from, and therefore the workplace attracted people who thrived with focused work mostly done alone. Looking for more connection, I sought out colleagues on the one team whose work was inherently collaborative who were more interested in interaction in general.

      Unlike the letter writer, I didn’t make this a daily event. If we wanted our conversations to be more than a few minutes of chatting, we spent time during our mutual breaks going out to lunch or going for a walk at a nearby park.

      Ultimately, I realized I wasn’t a fit there for either the work focus or its associated culture. I’ve been much happier since taking a job where the work itself as well as my colleagues are more interactive. From the more social team at my previous workplace, the person I came to know best remains a friend, including being a reference for the job I left for.

    4. Smithy*

      This comment strikes me as being part of why I think OP might be struggling to differentiate the line between culture fit and something they’re specifically doing. Their personal preference for a workplace with some or more socialization than they’re currently getting is perhaps clouding their ability to determine as quickly as normal how they’re being perceived in this space.

      I’m an extrovert, who’s sought external facing jobs and certainly enjoys some socialization at work and having “work friends” if that’s a possibility. However, for my first real jobs post college, the culture of those workplaces afforded me almost zero opportunity for any internal socialization, let alone a work friend.

      For years this was my norm, and when I finally started working in places that had that – it was nice – but it was also a lot easier to not expect it and to have found other ways to get those extrovert hits without socialization. I try really hard to spread my meetings across the week so I have at least one a day or might decide to get a coffee/lunch or visit a shop near work to engage in “hello how are you” chit chat if I know I’m feeling more isolated than usual. I found that helps feed my extrovert needs and take some of the edge off of a desire for socialization and my own neediness.

      1. hardly_lovelace*

        I just came here to say it’s not needy to have social needs. I wish those who don’t have to socialize at least once a day would stop judging our kind like this.

  5. Viette*

    LW1: I think you just have to listen to what you’re hearing from this workplace that your actions are out of the norm and you’re getting reported/talked to about it. If you keep doing it just as you are, it seems likely you’ll continue to be reported/talked to about it. Fair or unfair, it’s reasonable to expect negative social or employment consequences from that.

    The question, “Is this just a culture fit problem, or am I the problem” is I think a bit of a false dichotomy. It *is* a culture fit problem, and the problem is that you and the culture don’t seem to fit.

    That doesn’t make you bad with people but it might mean it makes this place bad for you.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, I have to agree with this, unfortunately. Can you perhaps message them on Slack/Teams so people don’t see you out talking with them openly?

      1. Bonny mouse*

        +1 – chatting online has been really helpful for me, especially because I need a lot of social stimulation to motivate me to do any work. Just make sure that you don’t say anything over chat you wouldn’t want lawyers to find in discovery. :)

    2. MK*

      The problem, I think, is that OP isn’t seeing her own behaviour clearly, or listening to the messages she is getting. If she goes to the ther unit’s office “no more than once a day” and for regural lunches, that’s not “occasionally”, as she describes it. If a person on that unit objects to the visits to the point of going to their supervisor, and this has been remarked upon before, the reaction shouldn’t be “I truly don’t believe that I’m this big of a distraction”, because in the workplace you shouldn’t be a distraction at all, not trying to calibrate an acceptable level of being a nuisance.

      1. Squirrel*

        Agreed. I’m very gregarious and I work in an industry that’s known for being very social, but I wouldn’t turn up in a different department every single day for a chat.

        1. MK*

          Lunch, yes, but she goes there “occasionally” “no more than once a day”; daily, or almost daily, is not occasional, it’s a pretty regular thing.

      2. morethantired*

        I agree that once a day for purely just chitchat is a lot and would be noticed in any office if LW is going into a different department, though whether it would be seen as an issue would vary by culture. It’s worth cutting back to twice a week and keeping it to 5 minutes or maybe just stick to the lunches since then you’re all on break anyways.

    3. Michelle Smith*

      Yes, and I don’t think it’s necessary to even get to the daily socializing with other teams part to figure out that this is a bad fit for LW1. The fact that her own team has bullied her should be enough of a sign that this is not the place LW1 wants to work and she should get out ASAP.

      1. LW1*

        I’ve been trying for probably six months and no luck so far :(

        My team has made it extremely clear they only like each other and I’m not included in that. Ever been in a room where everyone is on a Teams group chat with each other and giggling at it and everyone’s notifications are going off, except yours? I have!

        1. Smithy*

          I totally get that this place isn’t working for you and that perhaps as you actively try leave, you’re trying to make this job as pleasant for you as possible.

          As someone who enjoys positive social interaction, I get this approach and depending on the office layout and all of that, I don’t think anything you were doing sounded wildly out of the norm generically. Unfortunately, so many different offices and office cultures are different enough that this also doesn’t sound like it’s working.

          With that in mind, a long job hunt is 100% terrible and because of that, I really recommend of thinking of other things you can do that will make the workday a little easier and kinder for you. Maybe it’s changing your routine to bring in a really nice lunch for yourself? Maybe it’s including “treats” that you don’t mind having more regularly, like a fun size candy bars or buying yourself a coffee. Instead of walking to this other department, maybe it’s finding time during the day to take a short walk and listen to music or a podcast?

          You know yourself best, and what are things that might make getting through a long job hunt while you try to hold onto a difficult job easier. But I recommend focusing on things that help you do the best you possibly can at your job without trying to force yourself to enjoy being at work. But rather to take care of yourself while you keep this job while looking for a new one.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            These are good ideas! I was also wondering if the coworkers you are friendly with might be able to get away for lunch once in a while. That way you can still have lunch with them but also wouldn’t be bothering anyone else. This, of course, would only work if there are places you can go outside of the office, but it might be nice to get away if you can.

        2. Aggretsuko*

          I was on a team that hated my guts (and one of them tried to get me fired) for two years. I really feel your pain :(

  6. Anonys*

    LW2 – Wow, the fact that the person who got the job right after Sarah has also been embezzling for what seems like 5 years and only just got caught is concerning.

    I think what your company could really use (if not already part of your current security overhaul) is to have an external consultant or auditor help devise/check your updated security procedures, internal controls, implementation of 4 eye principles and so on.

    Also, how is your hiring? Are you conducting reference checks and maybe even background checks for critical positions handling sensitive financial data? Your internal security policies should still protect you from ongoing fraud even if you make another “bad” hire, but could be worth to look at this too.

    1. RVA Cat*

      All of this, plus the business should look at alternatives to taking cash, because that seems unusual to me when there’s mobile apps for taking cards etc. Cash enables all kinds of crime like money laundering and tax fraud so embezzling is not the only risk here.

      1. Observer*

        All of this, plus the business should look at alternatives to taking cash, because that seems unusual to me

        Not unusual at all. There are a lot of businesses that still work with cash – and 5 years ago, that was even more true. A lot of people are still unbanked, and many of those people are not going to be using apps like Zelle, CashApp, Venmo or the like.

        In fact, there are localities who are passing laws that require certain types of businesses to accept cash payments.

        Taking cash is the least of these people’s issues. There are plenty of businesses that handle cash all day long, and they don’t have this issue.

        1. Le Sigh*

          This is a point that I think a lot of folks forget if they’re used to having bank accounts and cards. There has been a proliferation of restaurants, coffee shops, and other shops in my town that only take cashless options. I realize for some businesses it’s probably easier that way, but in our drive to innovate, we’re also cutting off people who don’t always have ready access to the tech or tools needed.

          1. Gerri’s Jaunty Hat*

            Plus, if too many businesses eliminate cash, credit card companies will have way too much power to do whatever the heck they want.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          Thank you for pointing this out.

          Also, cash is more foolproof than cards and other electronic payments. If you only accept cards, venmo, etc. then your business completely shuts down when the power goes out, there’s internet/data connectivity problems, or any other significant IT issue. If you accept cash, you might lose some business that day but you can still stay open.

      2. GladImNotThereAnymore*

        A good point. Several years ago, a secretary was found to be embezzling from a local chiropractor. I don’t know the full details, but apparently when handling cash or checks she was able to redirect them, while credit cards were safe from her ministrations. I know she encouraged people to not pay by card – a relative experienced that herself, and thought it was odd at the time, but wasn’t swayed and did pay by credit card so at least she wasn’t affected.

    2. Generic Name*

      Yup. Your security overhaul needs to include hiring practices. Not only are your current practices not catching employees who steal, you are hiring people who steal.

      1. MassMatt*

        This. I doubt very much that these two people were pure as the driven snow and only started bad behavior at this job. They very much need to tighten up hiring as well as oversight processes.

        I know there’s a lot of controversy about requiring background checks. They may be overkill for many jobs, but but for financial positions with access to funds they are a must.

        Check references also, and call supervisors at prior jobs. Look hard at people changing jobs frequently, ask why they left, and at people with large gaps in their job history without good explanation.

        1. Agile Phalanges*

          I took a job where I was replacing someone who embezzled. The boss was dumbfounded that someone who had worked for him for 13 years could steal from him. I asked if he checked my references (I knew he had not). He said no, because I’d worked at my prior place for 13 years, so clearly I was a good employee. *headdesk* Luckily for him, I am honest to a fault and wouldn’t steal 5 dollars from petty cash if I was minutes away from being homeless, but still…

    3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      I caught the 5 years too. Someone was able to embezzle for 5 years and no one noticed is kind of a big deal. It’s not the information you are giving to new hires, its the lax security policies. You can’t stop people attempting to embezzle completely. But there should be strong checks and balances to catch it quickly, not after several years.

    4. Abogado Avocado.*

      I want to second the proposal of employing an auditor, LW#2, to evaluate your financial procedures.

      An auditor’s job is to review a business’ financial procedures and determine whether they’re sufficiently locked down to prevent embezzlement. If not, the auditor will suggest various strategies to minimize opportunities for embezzlement (e.g., such as, the person who deposits the money is not also the person who gets the bank statements or routine audits to ensure that staff aren’t setting up straw business and billing the company for phantom projects).

      Further, if your employer’s business has been audited during the periods when Sarah and Lily were stealing, you should be referring to those prior audits to determine if the auditor identified gaps in your procedures and what reparative steps were recommended. It’s not unknown for auditors to recommend various security steps and for those to be ignored because the business is too small or the business doesn’t want to spend the money. However, in this case, with having been stolen from twice, your employer certainly has an incentive to tighten things up.

      1. Candi*

        I think it’s definitely didn’t want to, and the company can afford to spend the money. LW describes them as a “small” company, but they’ve financially survived two embezzlers in a row. That’s at least a decent income and one that should be able to afford a well-recommended auditor.

    5. Sara without an H*

      Ditto. LW2, this is a systems problem, and your company really needs to hire somebody to give expert advice. You need much, much tighter internal controls and a more rigorous hiring sequence for any position with financial responsibilities. Your company needs to get ahead of this situation before it damages your reputation.

    6. Observer*

      Wow, the fact that the person who got the job right after Sarah has also been embezzling for what seems like 5 years and only just got caught is concerning.

      Very much this. I mean who is their auditor? Or do they even have one?

      I think what your company could really use (if not already part of your current security overhaul) is to have an external consultant or auditor help devise/check your updated security procedures, internal controls, implementation of 4 eye principles and so on.

      It sounds like that was definitely not part of the last “overhaul”. And, from what the OP says, it doesn’t sound like they have spoken to anyone with that kind of experience. If they had, they would have known that their question is simply irrelevant.

      So I see 2 possibilities.

      1 – There is an overhaul going on. And the OP is not in on it yet, because one of the initial steps is to figure out what the OP’s future in the company is. If I’m understanding correctly, these were all the OP’s direct reports. People may therefore be thinking about what level of responsibility they bear, even if they are 100% innocent of actual wrongdoing.

      2 – The OP hasn’t heard anything because no one with the appropriate expertise has been hired yet – and who knows if they will be.

    7. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Not just any auditor either. We have specialties. You need someone specifically to look at controls and processes, in detail, as well as specifics as to how these frauds were committed and concealed, to figure out what is going wrong. This may or may not be a forensic auditor.

      Frankly, fraud only happens when all elements of the fraud triangle are met: pressure, rationalization and opportunity. You can influence pressure and rationalization, but opportunity is generally the one that companies can really control. The fact that there have been multiple frauds, one for 5 years and one after supposedly tightening controls, tells me that it likely isn’t straightforward.

      1. Candi*

        The second one was five years, the one after allegedly tightening controls. The first one’s length wasn’t stated, but was likely around three years at max, since the LW says the full amount of time handling cash was eight years.

    8. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      It’s been a while since I read this, but from what I recall the likelihood and swiftness of punishment serve more as a deterrent than the severity of the punishment. So if the previous crime factored into Lily’s thinking at all, it’s more likely that “she got away with it so long, and she’s not as smart as I am, so I won’t get caught at all” was the thought process than “I can handle four months of jail.”

    9. OMG, Bees!*

      That is a good catch that I missed! I only read that Sarah was embezzling 5 years ago and Lily hired afterwards, not that Lily was hired right then. I doubt she was also embezzling for the whole 5 years, but even a fraction of that shows the lax security is the issue, not “the jail time and partial repayment is too lax a punishment”

      I agree on having external auditor or pentester, maybe every year or two as a regular test.

    10. sothenisay*

      I also think this why jobs that handle money require a week or two off in a row- so that another team member has to take over and it’s like a yearly forced internal audit.

  7. Graphics Person*

    OP4, are you well enough staffed? With adequately trained employees?
    I worked a very short time at a printing company that was severely understaffed, we were constantly told to work faster, faster, faster and also be incredibly attentive to details.
    I was yelled at once for not sending a file to production, but I hadn’t had time to check it. I wad told it had been printed before and didn’t need to be checked.
    And then, when there WAS an issue, I was yelled at for not checking it.
    Nepotism was rampant. Family members of the managers would be hired for graphic design jobs and not even know what Adobe Illustrator *is* and we were expected to keep up the insane load and also train them.
    If that’s the kind of ship you are running, that’s on you, not the employees.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I really want to know what’s happened “lately” that this has suddenly started happening! Did a particular employee leave and it turns out everyone depended on them? Have you instituted a new system? Has the resolution on your monitors changed so it’s really hard to tell the difference between a 5 and an 8? Are you taking on a lot more orders?

      It’s really unlikely that your team has spontaneously become sloppier all that the same time (although, again, not impossible if Violet was the person who generally led by example and kept everyone up to the mark, and Violet left), and therefore it probably isn’t something that can be fixed by repeatedly telling everyone to be less sloppy. It’s much more likely that something about the system or the team more broadly has changed and the mistakes are the symptoms. You need to figure out what’s causing the symptoms, not just keep complaining about the symptoms.

    2. PrntMngr*

      The systems have always been in place and this isn’t a new occurrence. It’s just a continuous issue that happens. I’m not sure why they apologize instead of correct their wrong doing as I have not given them a reason that the apology is an acceptable response. I also do not punish them for mistakes made by someone else, I go to that person and get the same “Oh, I’m sorry”.

      1. BatManDan*

        You’ve left them with the impression that “I’m sorry” is all that’s needed. Best response: “Okay, I accept your apology. What plans do you have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again? Because, it CAN’T happen again. So, walk me through it. Thank you. Now, if you were me, and it DID happen again, what do you think the most appropriate plan of action would be for me, as the owner? So, you can see where I’m coming from, and that this is serious, right?”

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I agree that wording is a little aggressive, but the general note that you have to address the pattern and make it clear that the mistakes are a big deal is correct. And it should be a conversation as opposed to a lecture.

            “I appreciate the apology, but these mistakes keep happening and we can’t keep absorbing the cost. What can I do, or what systems can we put in place, to make sure orders are being entered correctly?”

          2. Jen (they or she pronouns please)*

            I agree that it might be a bit too much, but some kind of “This keeps happening, and it’s a serious mistake. What’s the cause behind it? What can you do to prevent it from happening?” is necessary. And making sure the details are clear, so don’t accept an “In the future, I’ll check all the files” when that should already happen. This might include walking through examples, especially if the issue is more complex.
            Though I’d find it a little strange to basically decide my own punishment (I know, that’s not how the workplace should work). Have the manager stating something like “If this keeps happening, we’ll need to let you go” after the issue keeps to stay, yes, but not have the employee say this.

            1. Fierce Jindo*

              The examples from Eldritch Office Worker and Jen both seem good to me.

              Neither hits the tone of exasperated venting (or feels like setting a trap) that I pick up from “Now, if you were me, and it DID happen again, what do you think the most appropriate plan of action would be for me, as the owner?”, and neither is as condescending as, “So, you can see where I’m coming from, and that this is serious, right?”

          3. Andy*

            I agree. “Not only is my salary several times yours, and I get to decide whether you continue to receive yours, could you please tell me how to do my job and tell me how I should be disciplining you?”

            If you were my boss, I’d quit sharing anything non-mission-critical with you and move you from the “collaborator” column to the “adversary” one.

        1. Ginger Cat Lady*

          Here’s the thing about that approach. It assumes the employee is 100% to blame, and that the fix is 100% within the employee’s control.
          If it is a systems issue (and I think it is, because it’s multiple people over time) how is the employee supposed to answer that question? If they said “Sorry, I’m working 12 hour days already and I can’t keep up with the volume if I take it any slower and more carefully.”
          If the truth is that the shop is severely understaffed and/or oversold and the employees don’t have adequate time for checking every detail because of the volume they’re expected to process, what possible response is there for the employee to say that will be well received?
          I’m not sure there is a response that would make him happy if the problems are systemic. To be honest, OP4 doesn’t really seem all that interested in looking at systemic fixes, he just wants people to do something “more” than just apologize. He’s not even clear on what exactly he wants. (Frankly, I wonder if he wants the employees to volunteer to cover the cost…which is not okay)
          Sometimes all an employee can do in a crappy situation like that is say sorry and immediately put the nose back on the grindstone so they don’t get even farther behind. I get the feeling that’s what’s happening here.
          And like it or not, errors will happen, because human beings are human beings. Any company that expects 100% accuracy of all employees at all times is being unrealistic. Human beings are imperfect, and employees are human beings. Not only can it happen again, it probably will happen again.
          And if the print shop can’t handle an occasional reprint, or adequate staffing for good quality work, then they are doing it wrong.

          1. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

            Etsy has a wonderful essay on “blameless post mortems”, i.e., how to engage employees in identifying and addressing systemic errors. https://www.etsy.com/codeascraft/blameless-postmortems

            It describes the normal human tendency to think that if the person who made the mistake just took their job seriously enough, this wouldn’t happen; explains why that mindset isn’t correct; and illustrates how to more effectively reduce errors with a different approach.

            The one thing I would add to the essay is that:
            1. During a group post mortem, you assume competence and goodwill on the part of all employees.
            2. If you can’t assume competence and goodwill for an employee, you address that with the employee in private, like any performance issue.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I believe you. Had a few instances of people making the same mistake over and over and going ‘oops, sorry’.

        Same response as Alison though – ‘it’s not an apology if you keep doing it’.

        I wonder if you can adapt a blameless situation review thing as a one off. We do this after major errors in IT – people are a lot happier to come forward with the *real* causes when they know they’re not going to be punished for what they say in the meeting. The review is for ‘why did this happen and let’s discuss how to make sure it never happens again’.

      3. Cat Tree*

        Honestly, this is a perfect example of where human error prevention would be more useful than grumbling about them doing bad work. Are they consistently missing an entire piece of the process? Or are they making the wrong choice between two or more different options? Those types of mistakes require very different solutions.

        And the solutions can be relatively simple, anything from adding some kind of reminder (crucially, the reminder has to appear at the right time in the process), to reorganizing things (physically or electronically) to make it easier to to pick the right thing than the wrong thing. In a previous job I had, a solution was to drastically increase the font size for one particular field on a label that was hard to read. But I wouldn’t have figured that out without just talking to the operators and asking why mistakes happened.

        Honestly, if things were fine before but bad now, and it’s not just one specific person messing up, it’s almost certainly an under-staffing issue. But no manager wants to hear that. But even if you don’t want to hire enough people, my other suggestions could really help dramatically. Go into it with a problem solving attitude instead of a blame attitude and see how far you get.

      4. bamcheeks*

        Everything about how you’ve phrased this suggests you are thinking of this as some kind of moral failing on the part your employees, rather than a system issue, and I think that might not be helping. “correcting their wrongdoing” something you usually use for a moral wrong, rather than a work mistake. And you shouldn’t be “punishing” anyone, regardless of whether it’s their mistake or someone else’s– that’s not how the relationship between manager and employee should work. You’re their manager, not their parent.

        It kind of sounds like you’re making the same mistake they are– you tell them they’ve done wrong, they acknowledge it, and then you all just assume that if someone Tries Harder, the mistakes won’t happen again. That’s not how work usually works. If someone is regularly making mistakes — and especially if multiple people are regularly making mistakes– you need to look at the whole context and process. Sometimes it’s that you have the wrong person in the job and this kind of attention to detail just isn’t something they can do. Sometimes is IS something they can do, but they need more help learning how to do it. Sometimes they make mistakes because they’re rushing. Sometimes they make mistakes because the system is too complicated.

        You and your staff need to look at the whole picture– and you need to be the one that lads this — not just keep doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.

        1. Falling Diphthong*


          It’s a pattern, showing there’s a problem with the system. Trying harder, feeling sorry, apologizing, etc are not going to correct the systemic problems.

          1. Office Lobster DJ*

            And if it’s a systemic problem, “sorry that happened” is the best you can expect from an individual employee.

      5. Ellis Bell*

        I think it is the way you have phrased it; by saying: “I mention they did not (check), which meant we then had to reprint the job, costing the company money”, it sounds like you are emphasising the cost and seriousness – and expecting them to be sorry for that. I would start with the kind of phrasing that produces a ‘sorry’, but follow it up by phrasing the issue in questions: “Why have the procedures and checks not been followed?” and “What is it that makes this difficult to check accurately?”

      6. ferrina*

        There’s two options here:

        1. The processes are the problem. Processes are necessary to create fail-safes for human error. To err is human- to troubleshoot the errors is the process’s purpose. Do your processes account for human error? How do the processes trouble shoot common errors?
        Back in the day I worked at a daycare, and we had to do a name-to-face check every 30 minutes. Even if you were in the classroom all day, you needed to ensure every kid was accounted for. Before you did something serious like giving medication, you had to read the label aloud to someone else and say “This is Baby Grogu. He is getting 10 Blue Snacks.” And they would have to verbally confirm “This is Baby Grogu. I see you are giving him 10 Blue Snacks.” This may feel like overkill, but it greatly decreases the general human error. Where can you implement fail-safes like this?

        2. The humans aren’t following the processes. There’s a number of reasons this may happen. If the human doesn’t have the time to follow the process, that’s an issue- in that case, you need to change your processes and timeline expectations so the human can feasibly follow the process (a process doesn’t work if the human needs to be superhuman in order to follow it in the expected timeline). If the multiple humans skips the process because they felt like it was okay, this can be indicative of a culture problem- have a Very Serious Meeting where you make sure everyone knows that this is important, and communicate and implement repercussions for people that skip steps in the processes. I know it sounds silly, but sometimes people don’t actually realize that processes are serious- this is where strong leadership is important to communicate cultural expectations. If humans don’t know the process, this is also a organizational process- you need to make sure vital information is clearly communicated and easy to find. This is why some places have checklists on clipboards literally hanging in strategic places. Sometimes vital information gets buried. Finally, sometimes humans are just plain lazy. These are usually isolated cases- if you’ve had a Very Serious Discussion and know that the process is easy to access, then start implementing repercussions. This could be a write up or a PIP. This could be an impact to potential raises or promotions (can’t give promotions to people who don’t follow processes!). Eventually this will need to be termination. Figure out at which point you need to terminate people for persistently disregarding processes. Hold to that.

        Note that this isn’t an either/or. There’s always potential that there’s multiple issues going on (in fact, it’s more likely to be multiple issues than a single thing). You could have both a process problem and a people problem. The people might both be unaware of what the processes are and think that they don’t need to take it seriously.
        As the manager, start by investigating so you know what the problem really is. As Alison said, ask and listen. People probably don’t know the root of the problem, but this is why you are the boss- you have a more strategic view. You can talk to more people and put the pieces together to understand the whole picture, develop and implement a solution, and reinforce that solution among your people.

      7. MassMatt*

        I’m kind of struck by “the systems have always been in place and this isn’t a new occurrence”.

        If the problems are not new, then there are problems with the system—not necessarily software/monitors but perhaps also QC, supervisory, communication, etc.

        I imagine you are probably struggling to balance accuracy with volume. It sounds like right now the pendulum has swung too far to volume and accuracy suffers. In day-to-day management, are you or supervisors checking for accuracy or is the major emphasis more “go, go go, get these things done, we are falling behind!”. If so, the employees are naturally going to feel rushed.

        Is it possible to have a 2nd person look at major print jobs for accuracy before starting them?

        Are people paid hourly, salaried, or based on the number of jobs they do?

        Are quality measures taken into account in regular reviews, raises, and bonuses? If the answer is “we don’t do any of these” I suggest starting there.

      8. Kez*

        One thing which I want to note here is that a lot of workplaces would see this response as appropriate. I’ve worked in fast-paced, high-detail positions in several different environments, and been entrusted with managing temporary employees in positions requiring similar levels of precision and speed. Generally, it was understood that a small number of errors was inevitable, as we were working with humans who might have any number of perfectly normal reasons to have a difficult day or miss a step because they were interrupted by a complex call from a customer. If every time I brought an issue to an employee they were bending over backward to never make any mistake ever again, it would have slowed down our time-sensitive work and been considered an overreaction by myself and my manager. I actually had more conversations with good employees about not overreacting to small mistakes than I ever had to have with careless employees to ensure they improved their habits

        A significant portion of my work was dedicated to analyzing these mistakes and trying to build processes that would minimize errors and ensure that they were caught before they could impact the business. This was the work of years, involving significant amounts of trial and error: adjustments to training policies, written checklists, additional checks by a supervisor, and helper materials for these employees. If a mistake happened and it wasn’t part of a pattern of negligence or ignoring our training materials, I would consider it a failure of the process and try to build in effective and efficient failsafes to prevent the issue from impacting the business again.

        I think that it might be helpful to evaluate the issues you have seen over the years and consider the business impacts. If the mistakes seem to be random (not particular to certain steps in the process or certain employees repeating specific mistakes) then it might be worth considering that your budget needs to account for a certain margin of human error because mistakes happen. If you want a 100% error-free workplace, the cost to your business in time and money (100% error-free work means recruiting highly skilled and in-demand employees, as well as giving them extra time and adequate rest to prevent burnout) might be more than just writing off the occasional typo.

      9. Observer*

        I’m not sure why they apologize instead of correct their wrong doing as I have not given them a reason that the apology is an acceptable response

        Well, that’s not really true. Because if this were *truly* not an acceptable response it would have made sense for you to do something about it.

        Starting with asking them what happened, why it happened, and what would make it less likely. As Alison said, that’s a really good place to start.

        But also, separately, look at patterns – is this mostly with work that involves one person? A certain type of job? Time of the day, week, month? Crunch times?

        And thirdly, look at the overall system, including environment. Like, is the lighting right? Are you giving proof readers high quality print outs / large High res monitors? Are you making sure that people are getting all of the information they need? If they are proofing / working with stuff that requires subject matter expertise, do your staff have the requisite expertise or access to source materials that will help them catch stuff?

        This is an ongoing problem with multiple staff. That means that this is a management problem. Either you (your company) are extremely bad hiring, or you (and the people above you) are just poorly managing the situation.

        There is an old line that “insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.” You are doing the same thing – telling your staff that they made a mistake, getting an apology, and then not following up. And yet, you expect your staff to start responding differently. Why? You need to change your process.

      10. borealis*

        I’m not sure why they apologize instead of correct their wrong doing

        Could it be the case that you go to them and say “This is inaccurate” or “You read the order wrong”, and not “This is inaccurate, please check the order again and re-do it”? Because it can be easy to think that when we say “this isn’t correct”, the other person ought to interpret it as “please fix the mistake”, but they simply hear “this isn’t correct, I made an error I should apologise for”.

        I also agree with other posters who have suggested tracking the kinds of errors that occur. When you have some idea of where / when the errors happen, you could have a meeting with the staff and discuss what needs to be improved and how, as Alison suggested.

      11. Gerri’s Jaunty Hat*

        After they say they’re sorry, do you let the conversation end there, or do you follow up by asking what they’re planning to do differently next time? If they apologize and you walk away, how are they supposed to know you want there to be more to the discussion?

    3. Formerly Ella Vader*

      OP4, I wondered whether you’ve actually asked the workers to participate in identifying the problems with the existing systems and coming up with new ones. I’ve been in situations with bosses or a parent where the “why did you do this? how did you miss this?” questions were rhetorical. They didn’t really want me to volunteer suggestions about how other people had contributed to the problem, or to share my thinking about how my own workflow could be improved. They just wanted to express their upset, displeasure, frustration, whatever. So I would say I was sorry.

      I wonder if there’s now a way to set aside your feelings about the consequences of the past mistakes, and find a way to engage the workers in finding solutions. This might involve some group discussions, but also some one-on-one conversations of trust.

      Maybe Dwight is missing things when he takes orders over the phone. When Jim fills the orders he knows to query the weird bits or change them to what makes sense, but Dwight is on the phones Mondays and Jim is off Mondays, so the orders printed from Dwight’s notes on Mondays are more often wrong. Jim could probably explain to you what’s happening, but he probably won’t if it feels like this will make other colleagues think he is a tattletale. And he probably won’t say it in an all-hands meeting because it would hurt Dwight’s feelings. Nevertheless, the information is out there to solve this problem.

  8. Decidedly Me*

    LW2 – While I will say that hearing Sarah only had to pay back 6% of what she stole made me think she got off lucky, that thought did not continue on to “and maybe I’d get lucky too if I tried!”

    Telling people about criminal acts does not suddenly turn those people into criminals. I’d be up front about what happened (they’ll hear it anyway) and what’s being done about it.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Agreed. I greatly value personal integrity, and would be offended if my new employer started off our relationship assuming I was going to embezzle if the controls are lax enough, so warning me off it upfront. If you don’t trust me to do the job you shouldn’t have hired me for it…

      The way you (OP) approach this needs careful thought, as it can potentially have a huge influence on the relationship with the new people (assuming they are normal employees and not criminals, which I’m sure is the case!)

      1. Juicebox Hero*

        I also am in a position of collecting large payments, much of it cash, and people in this same position in other organizations had been busted for theft and embezzlement, plus stupid carelessness, before.

        Our evil overlords did wise up and put better checks and balances in place, but unfortunately part of it was having our books checked by the Auditor that Nobody Liked. The AtNL came to me my first year on the job and basically asked “what’s to stop you from stealing all this money?” What he presumably MEANT was, “how are you recording payments in order to show that all monies are accounted for” but what I HEARD was “try to convince me that you’re not a thief”.

        Wasn’t a good way to kick off a professional relationship.

        1. Agile Phalanges*

          Oof! I’m a total rule-follower and actually like being able to provide stuff to the auditors, like “look, see, everything on the up-and-up!” but yeah, that would put me on the defensive even though I KNOW I have nothing to hide.

    2. MK*

      I am really doubtful that “Sarah spent 4 months in jail and only had to pay back 6% of what she stole” is an accurate description of her sentence. It varies by jurisdiction, of course, but in general poenal courts aren’t about making the victim whole, you need a civil suit for that. Probably Sarah got a much longer sentence, but served 4 months and the rest was suspended, and was made to pay a monetary sentence (a sort of fine) of that amount. It’s not like they found the money she stole and let her keep it; more likely that was the amount that the court thought she could reallistically pay, given that the emmbezzled money was almost certainly spent and she would have difficulty paying more with no job and a criminal record.

      OP has the common misconception that harsher sentences act preventatively, which has been debunked time and time again. It just doesn’t work that way.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        And I suspect most embezzlers don’t expect to go to prison at all. For one thing, I suspect most think they have such a great system they will never be caught and for another, I suspect if they do think of being caught, they quite likely think they will just be fired. The fact that Sarah was criminally prosecuted, spent four months in jail (pretty terrifying for most people) and now has a criminal record which will follow her for life would be more likely to discourage than to encourage future embezzlement.

        And even if she got away with it completely, that wouldn’t encourage an honest person to steal.

        I think the company needs to look at its hiring practices. Hiring two thieves in such quick succession…well, it could just be a coincidence, but it could also indicate that they are missing red flags.

        1. münchner kindl*

          That was my first thought – did the same person hire both Sarah and then Lily?

          Did the same person do the background checks? Did Lily and Sarah know each other before?

          Because yes, that’s not normal for a job seeker to hear somebody was caught embezzling and then deciding to do it, too.

          But if a senior manager hired them, maybe that senior person is still embezzling in a much greater style because Sarah getting caught stopped all further investigation, and now Lily has been caught – so why were the measures put into place after Sarah lax enough that Lily could embezzle, too?

          Somebody very high up is either criminally incompetent (and thus should be fired for failing at their job) or activly in (and need to be caught and stopped).

          1. Observer*

            Somebody very high up is either criminally incompetent (and thus should be fired for failing at their job) or activly in (and need to be caught and stopped).

            I was thinking about the incompetent piece, but I think that someone higher up being actively dishonest could easily be happening as well.

            In fact, if I were someone with say here, I would be demanding a more exhaustive examination of the business, not just Lilly’s newer thefts. Because this is *not* normal, and usually means that either some hanky panky is happening higher up, or someone should have been fired a long time ago.

            And depending on the OP’s industry this failure could also be a legal liability for the company.

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes harsher sentences don’t tend to discourage people because people believe they won’t be caught or think the benefit of the action outweighs the cost. The UK used to have a legal code in the 18th century with death penalties for 220 different offences (mainly against property). It did nothing to stop people committing those crimes. It did mean that the courts really worked hard to mitigate things because they felt the sentences were too draconian.

        I think courts have to be realistic in terms of what they can get back from people who have been convicted of financial offences. If Sarah hasn’t got the money and has a criminal record which will prevent her getting the type of job that would easily allow her to earn the money, there’s no point trying to compel her to provide full restitution because it’s not feasible.

      3. Antilles*

        Frankly, even if it is a fully accurate description of the sentence…4 months in prison and a conviction for embezzlement is still 4 months in prison and a conviction for embezzlement. That’s still really serious, a huge long-term impact on life, and a major deterrent for the average person.

        “Getting off light” in a way that would encourage others would be something like the company refusing to press charges at all or the company having such disorganization that Sarah completely walked away because nobody could even prove money was missing.

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Right. Betting 6% of my paycheck that Sarah was/is on probation after her 4 months in jail.

      5. Phony Genius*

        That sentence makes it sound to me like it was a plea bargain. One reason for the low percentage could also be that the money was spent in a way that makes it unrecoverable. (For example, if you bought a car with it, they can seize it and sell it. If you used it for travel, it’s gone.)

      6. Observer*

        I am really doubtful that “Sarah spent 4 months in jail and only had to pay back 6% of what she stole” is an accurate description of her sentence.

        You are probably right. But it’s not really relevant. That’s how people in the company are seeing it. And that what matters.

        But the OP is still being pretty unreasonable about this. The fact of the matter is that Sarah did get a *relatively* light sentence for embezzling a high amount of money over the course of years from people who apparently liked and trusted her.

        But the thing is that “relatively light” is *still* not the thing that makes someone into a thief. You are completely right that harsher sentences don’t necessarily act as a deterrent. And the reverse is also true. Lighter sentences are not what make people into criminals.

    3. bamcheeks*

      I’m kind of baffled by that comment! I mean, four months in prison is not minor. It’s not just the actual time in prison: it’s the massive, massive disruption that prison sentences cause to your life. Lots of jurisdictions discourage short prison sentences because the impacts (losing jobs, losing tenancies, losing custody of children, disruption of other relationships which may be caring ones) go far, far beyond the actual time of the sentence itself. It can take years to get back to where you were, even ignoring the impact that this crime and criminal record will have on Sarah’s ability to get back into work, which will be absolutely massive.

      LW, I would really let go of the idea that Sarah’s sentence was “too light”. There’s research over and over again showing that people don’t commit crimes because they think they’ll get a “light sentence”, but because they don’t think they’ll get caught. That’s where your focus needs to be.

      1. Anonys*

        Exactly, I think Lily was just someone determined to embezzle and thought she could do it better/smarter than Sarah so wouldn’t get caught at all, likely because she (rightly) determined the checks and balances implemented after Sarah’s case were still inadequate. Lily should have been caught way earlier.

        Simply knowing that a recent predecessor committed fraud and received a supposedly “light sentence” isn’t suddenly going to turn a reliable, upstanding employee into a criminal of opportunity. But knowing that diligent internal controls and checks are in place might make a less than upstanding (or financially struggling) employee think twice about trying to pull something like that again. Or at least, if fraud is every attempted again, the company will catch it very early on and the damage is not as great.

        1. Observer*

          But knowing that diligent internal controls and checks are in place might make a less than upstanding (or financially struggling) employee think twice about trying to pull something like that again.

          Yes, and there is a fair amount of evidence that it does make a difference. Nothing is going to work 1005 of the time, of course, but stuff like this *matters*.

          Or at least, if fraud is every attempted again, the company will catch it very early on and the damage is not as great

          Exactly! Which is why the 5 years that this went on is very, very important. This should have been caught *years* ago.

      2. kiki*

        Yeah, four months of prison time and a criminal record is not an easy thing to come back from. Unless she saved the money she embezzled and has enough to live off of for the rest of her life or has money from some other source– and both of those seem unlikely to me– Sarah’s going to have a tough time. I’m guessing she only has to pay back 6% of what she embezzled because that money’s gone.

        I think the bigger issue here is opportunity. I think most embezzlers start not because they have some big plan to steal all that money, but they see an opportunity to take a little something. Maybe they have some sort of stressor that means they really could use some extra cash. A lot of them say that they’re going do it just this once or just a couple times, but then they keep getting away with it and it’s hard to stop. “Nobody noticed! What’s the harm? I’ll stop once I have enough to pay for X. Well now I need Y. Oh, just a couple times more.”

        The best way to stop embezzlement is to have more checks and practices in place to ensure there aren’t easy opportunities to embezzle.

        1. MassMatt*

          “four months of prison time and a criminal record is not an easy thing to come back from.” It’s difficult if you are honest and disclose your record, or answer questions about being convicted of a crime on a job application, but many places don’t ask this, or do any background checks. Unless you are on probation and the officer makes sure your employer knows, it’s often on the honor system. Which makes it easier for people with… no honor.

          1. Observer*

            It’s difficult if you are honest and disclose your record, or answer questions about being convicted of a crime on a job application, but many places don’t ask this, or do any background checks.

            True. But it is absolutely going to put a crimp in her ability to get a new job, and certainly to get a good job. Maybe it should make it “more” hard, but still, it’s a real barrier.

            1. MassMatt*

              This makes me all the more curious—Did the LW’s workplace do a background check on the two employees found to be embezzlers?

              Checks are common for large employers but much less so for smaller ones.

          2. kiki*

            I feel like it’s pretty hard these days to find somewhere that doesn’t do a background check! There are definitely places, but almost all jobs at big box jobs companies do them. And I feel like most places that handle large amounts of money insist on background checks to catch situations like this. It will be hard for Sarah to find anything like her previous role.

          3. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

            New York City and a lot of other localities forbid asking about convictions until a job offer has been made precisely to make it easier to come back from (you can google “ban the box laws” for more information. There’s no obligation to disclose for reasons of ‘honor’ that I can see. But an employment gap plus trauma plus loss of community connections is often plenty enough to make it hard to come back from anyhow.

            1. Observer*

              New York City and a lot of other localities forbid asking about convictions until a job offer has been made precisely to make it easier to come back from

              And once that question gets asked, if it’s answered honestly, the offer should be off the table, for any job where money is handled.

              Same for background checks – even if you wait till you make an offer, there is no reason not to make them contingent on the background check.

              1. June*

                Yep. My state has that requirement. And yes, when I was working a job that involved both heavy machinery and interactions with children (theme park ride operator), the offer was very clearly contingent on the background check coming back clean for DUI and crimes against children.

      3. Daisy-dog*

        A part of me wants to fantasize that I would be able to float under the radar, read and work-out a bunch, and collect just enough interesting experiences to write a book or start a podcast afterwards. (Does Hello Fresh sponsor podcasts from ex-cons?) In reality, even with my pretty carefree life with lots of support, I would never recover.

        1. UKDancer*

          There’s a podcast by a former drug trafficker called Shaun Attwood (British) who served time in Maricopa County and Arizona for about 9 years and then got deported. He works as a motivational speaker, discussed prisoner rights and reform and has a Youtube true crime channel.

          He’s actually quite entertaining but you can see that his life has probably damaged him quite a lot. Everyone I’ve read about who has served time has been damaged by it to some degree.

          If you want something more factual Vicky Pryce (ex MP’s ex wife and economist) wrote a fascinating book called Prisonomics based on her time in prison for perjury about the prison system.

    4. WS*

      I was in a similar situation at one workplace – someone who had been embezzling for years got caught when they were in a traffic accident and ended up needing surgery, and someone else took over their job. The bosses were horrified and firmly closed the loophole that this person had used…and did absolutely nothing else to prevent it happening again. They just moved the “one person controls all the accounting information” position further along the chain, despite many employees pointing out that the same problem was still in play, because it was something they didn’t want to deal with themselves. Surprise! It happened again a few years later, when I was no longer working there, but still had friends there. The business had started as a family business then outgrown that, and the founders/owners concentrated on the parts they were good at and got employees for the rest. I’m wondering if you have a similar-sized organisation.

      1. Anonys*

        4 eye principle is so important with financial stuff! even in a small org with not many employees, you need to have several people trained to handle these things and regularly have to have a second person look everything over.

        1. münchner kindl*

          Yes – and it serves to protect both the company and the employees: by making it very hard to transfer money, employees don’t get tempted into stealing just a bit, which slowly grows bigger because nobody notices so it’s not a big deal…

          A lot of this seems to start out small, either a honest mistake that goes unnoticed, or just a quick loan during emergency, and then it slips along the slope downwards, until ten thousands of dollars have moved from the company to the employee, who still doesn’t think of herself as deliberate criminal, let alone being caught and getting prison.

          So making sure that it’s very very hard* to do prevents employees from taking that first, very small but “fateful” step.

          * No system is impossible to cheat. A good system makes it very hard, so people know they are cheating and have to put effort into it.

          1. kiki*

            Yeah, I think a lot of embezzlement starts with the intention of just taking a little bit to get through some sort of emergency or even with the intention of somehow returning the money. It’s just super easy for someone to slip into doing it multiple times. The threshold for an emergency gets lower and lower. The person might get bolder with amounts and feel more confident about frequency. Embezzling, in most cases, is a crime of opportunity and slippery slopes. I think most people don’t get into it with the plan to embezzle large amounts forever.

      2. 2023 is Meh*

        A local small church had a long time bookkeeper… you can see where this is going. She was caught after quite a few years, but they didn’t have any controls in place, of course, because they were a church and didn’t bother. Not all churches are like this; I worked for a big one in NC where all the checks had to be double-signed by a financial committee member and the pastor or administrator. And accompanied by a requisition sheet and receipts/invoices.

      3. Dancing Otter*

        Being caught when someone else filled in is the reason financial institutions require annual vacations (at least a continuous week).
        I actually discovered embezzlement once, when I was brought in to clean up a backlog of bank reconciliations. Do not have the person who has access to blank checks and the key to the check signer also do the bank recs: I don’t care how tight the charity’s budget and headcount are, that’s practically an engraved invitation to steal.

    5. Observer*

      While I will say that hearing Sarah only had to pay back 6% of what she stole made me think she got off lucky, that thought did not continue on to “and maybe I’d get lucky too if I tried!”

      Especially since there is also the 4 month prison sentence to consider.

      Telling people about criminal acts does not suddenly turn those people into criminals.

      Yeah, that one struck me too. OP, do you realize what that sounds like? *You* knew about this, but *you* didn’t become an embezzler. Why are you assuming that Lilly and any other person you hire is going to become an embezzler because they know about this? And what about your existing staff? Are you and they all so ~~special~~ that the rest of the world gets turned into thieves because they heard of a less that completely successful heist but you and existing staff are somehow exempt?

      By the way, old and trusted employees tend to be a pretty high vector for schemes of all sorts.

    6. Ticotac*

      When I read the title of the second letter i thought that the letter would be like, “I think it’s very embarrassing that two of our employees embezzled money from our company, and I’m really afraid that it will reflect badly on us. How can I tell them what happened without losing face?” and I was thinking that was kinda weird but, then again, what do I know about business, maybe being a victim of embezzlement can be a real black mark against you…

      And then I read that it was about making sure that the new hires wouldn’t get ideas and I was like, ah.

    7. Anonys*

      The more I think about it, the more I am actually baffled by OPs assumption that knowing about a previous fraud would make the average person more likely to also consider stealing from the company. In my view it’s more likely the opposite? If I wanted to embezzle (I don’t), the very last job I would choose is one where the previous employee just got convicted for that.

      In Lily’s shoes as Sarah’s successor, I would have thought: Since my predecessor went to jail for stealing money, the company has probably implemented a whole bunch of extra procedures for me to go through and will keep a very close eye on me for a while/double check everything and audit the accounts regularly. I better be extremely diligent and hope they don’t overdo it and micromanage me!

      Lily might have thought that initially, but then realized no meaningful checks and balances on her position were implemented. Maybe at some point she had some unexpected expenses (medical bills, car wreck, debt), was in a tough spot and thought: “if I just skim off some of the cash, noone will find out – the internal controls are not very tight and I know how to hide my tracks better than Sarah” – and then the embezzlement escalated from there.

      Obviously the last paragraph is speculative on my part (maybe Lily was always a determined fraudster) but something along those lines seems way more realistic than OPs assumptions.

  9. nnn*

    For #2, since your concern seems to be that telling new hires about the embezzlement might encourage them to try it themselves, a possibility might be to frame it in a way that suggests that now’s definitely not the time and place to try anything.

    Example: “We’ve had some cases of embezzlement recently and, as a result, there’s a far greater focus on security. In this context, it’s particularly important to scrupulously follow all the security guidelines you receive and assume everything’s being verified and audited, perhaps even in ways we don’t know about. I know that some employers sometimes fall into a culture of cutting corners or letting things slide to save time, but that’s definitely not where we’re at here and now.”

    The vibe is similar to how you’d let new employees know that the boss is a real hard-ass about people who arrive even 3 minutes late, or that they very actively track your internet use.

  10. Armchair Analyst*

    LW3, I appreciate Alison’s answer and the conversation might end up there, anyway. I can’t tell if you asked the question-asker, “why do you keep asking me about what someone else has assigned to you?”

    I know I might ask a question like that to someone if i know they’ve worked together or might have special insight. or even again if I’m just anxious or bouncing ideas around and being conversational! a lot of innocuous reasons

    but yeah weird that the question-asker hasn’t taken your hint/direct language yet of “ok, don’t ask this person about this topic; they can’t help.” when it comes to that side, definitely Alison’s language will help get the results.

    1. Jules*

      I have a similar situation in our small non-profit (20 people total). Loretta, the new assistant to our event planning team, keeps asking me questions about her job. I only work with that team in publicizing their events. I don’t have anything to do with the planning. I forward her questions to her manager, Tammy, and Tammy takes it from there. I’m happy to answer Loretta’s questions about publicity or printing deadlines, but I’m not going to be helpful at all in the planning part. I just keep redirecting her to Tammy.

    2. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

      I think it’s notable that Iris is their manager, and LW is a peer. I think Petunia is trying to avoid flagging her lack of knowledge/understanding to Iris, her manager.

      I have a coworker who used to do the same thing all the time, trying to get other people to show her how to do things she definitely should’ve already known how to do. I got her off my back by feigning ignorance myself.

  11. Aggretsuko*

    I don’t know anything about Canadian mortgages, but maybe OP 5 needs to assume they will be laid off and plan financially accordingly these days. Even if OP 5 survives one round of layoffs, there may be more :(

      1. JM in England*

        I second that.

        At OldJob, survived one round of layoffs then started job hunting like mad, assuming that my team would be next! It proved to be a prudent strategy because it happened one year later. However, had managed to secure an offer elsewhere shortly before my team’s layoff was officially announced. Negotiated the start date of new job so that I wouldn’t miss out on the severance package, which also saved the hassle of giving notice.

    1. Yellow cake*

      I’m also ignorant of Canadian mortgages. However, there are similarities to our system.

      LW can you get financial advice from a government service or charity regarding your situation? Where I am there are hardship provisions following job loss that can defer mortgage repayments, or reduce the out of pocket expenses (flip to interest only temporarily etc).

      I am concerned that you might be making major financial decisions on a maybe. It sounds like you are in mortgage distress and close to losing your home with the job – in that case selling now (and purchasing something cheaper and more affordable long term) before you are told you are about to lose your job would be my advice. You might keep your job, and therefore maybe could have coped – but if losing your job means losing your house downsizing while you can seems sensible.

      If you ask and are told you will be made redundant – then this could stop you getting a new loan for a cheaper property. If you do lose your job you’d then have to sell – but may not be able to find a new home.

      1. Chocolate Covered Cotton*

        And if you wait for after a layoff to sell and downsize, you’ll be under pressure to sell quickly. You might then accept a lower price than if you put it on the market now and wait for the right offer.

    2. ccsquared*

      This was my thought as well. And don’t just focus on the mortgage, but the whole financial situation, including anything you can do right now that might give you a better shot of finding work before severance runs out: document your accomplishments, shore up your skills, and rekindle your network.

      When layoffs were looming at my company, I planned for three scenarios: being laid off, not being laid off and being fine with the post-layoff environment, and not being laid off but not being fine. I definitely didn’t have every i dotted and t crossed, but even just mentally confronting those as possibilities put me in a better place to support others and exit fairly cleanly when I found myself in the last scenario.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      If OP thinks they will *need* to sell the house, would it be good advice to prep it for the potential sale starting now? I sold mine two years ago and it took a bit of time and money – even though I cut corners because I was in a hurry to sell and get out of my old area. (Longer story below.) But that’s the time and energy OP could use to prep for the job search, and the money they could save to help them stay afloat if they are in fact laid off? I’m undecided on what the best path forward is here.

      (Longer story: I got the house ready to be shown to a realtor, painted most of the rooms, cleaned and scrubbed everything, etc. Called an agent, we set a date for her to stop by, one of my sons came over to help out with the conversation as he is good at sales and I’m not. Agent came in through the attached garage and entered the house soaking wet. Turned out, there’d been a design flaw in my roof that caused it to collect snow, pool water when the snow melted, and then leak it into the garage, in case of a big snowstorm. This was the second time in my 11 years owning that house that this had happened, and I’d forgotten all about the first. Yada yada yada I had to put it in the listing that I was replacing the roof, and pay for, and get, an entire new roof three days after the house went on the market. Fun extra last-minute expense that I thankfully had the money for in my account!)

    4. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

      Yes, this.

      My company went through a merger last year. There was an initial round of layoffs, as everyone expected. Over the course of the next 16 months or so from then to now, various teams have undergone re-organizations, and when each team has that there’s been another, smaller round of layoffs within that team. My team was last week – my job was safe, but among the total of the two teams that were combined over 30% were laid off.

  12. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP5 (mortgage and layoffs) – this is a situation of asking a question only if you know what you will do with the answer. Do you have a plan for the following responses to “will I be laid off”?:

    No (and you believe them)
    No (and you don’t believe them)
    Likely yes
    We don’t know yet and will re evaluate in x months after the dust settles

    Standard answer: The trouble with asking this question, as the answer and other comments point out, is knowing whether a positive answer is actually truthful. If you still suspect it is not then you’re no further forward than if you hadn’t asked. (Except perhaps if Canada has a setup like the UK, where any known changes to employment have to be disclosed. So being able to say “I asked leadership and they said no layoffs at this time” might be a useful c y a move.)

    Answer in this situation: do you think they are likely to give a truthful answer rather than a political one? If they are handling the merger badly in other ways, the answer to this might actually be yes.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      But the problem is, even if they are truthful, they are well within their rights to change their minds and lay OP off anyway. And they very well might. The only answer that can be trusted is “yes, we’re laying you off, goodbye” so might as well act as if that is the situation and not bother wasting time asking.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My argument *against* asking, in addition to what you said (OP is unlikely to get an honest answer), wouldn’t that possibly give them ammunition? I’m imagining the management agonizing over the list of employees, trying to decide who to cut, when all of a sudden OP walks in like “will you lay me off?” Sure! when otherwise they may not even think of OP.

      1. Chocolate Covered Cotton*

        If the company is basing their layoff decisions not on which roles need to be filled or which individual employees are worth keeping around, but based on who *asks about layoffs*, then that’s a whole other problem of bad management.

  13. Jade*

    Fifteen minutes of someone chatting when I’m trying to work would drive me insane. Accept that you are there too long and too often. Any distraction takes away from work. And work is the entire point. Also if you are not salary and not on a break, company may not want this on the clock.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Every day. I don’t think OP realizes how distracting she is. She shouldn’t be a distraction at all. The people in that department have work to do too. They are not there to fulfill her social needs.

      The visits need to be cut waaaaay back. No more lunches, because if the norm is to eat at the desk, they probably are working. Or you are distracting those who are trying to work. Stopping by a chat once or maaaaybeee twice a week would be acceptable, but make sure its short, set yourself a timer for like 3 minutes if you have to.

      1. I'm just here for the cats!!*

        That’s what stood out to me. She comes every day and occasionally has lunch with them. If she wants to be friendly I think she should limit to once every few weeks coming over, or maybe offering to get folx coffee or go for a walk on break. For lunch, maybe they should leave to get lunch. Even if it’s sitting outside. I am side-eyeing the company a bit if they don’t offer a break area and make people eat at their desks.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      It’s the timing. I’ve built whole relationships with people on my and other teams, most of them living halfway across the country, where we’ve talked about a mix of work and social stuff – but that happened organically and during work-related conversations while we worked on something together! Not the other way around.

      I also had people walk into my workspace (cubicle, shared office) while I was “in the zone” working on a project, with questions that were work-related, but unrelated to what I was working on. They were all met with a blank stare and a “I’ll have to look it up for you later and get back to you”. This answer was honestly the best I could do while concentrated on working on something else. I am amazed that OP is getting more than that, to be honest – or maybe OP is omitting things and is in fact less invasive and more organic about these interactions. (I am also wondering if this is a two-way street? Do OP’s friends from other teams come to OP in the same way to find out what OP is working on? If not, then these visits might not be as welcome as OP thinks.)

  14. Dorothy Zpornak*

    Where can I find one of these jobs where one has 15 minutes of downtime *every day* to walk around and socialize? And a break at lunch on top of that? I’d be less worried about how people perceive my personality and more worried that my boss would think I don’t have enough to do.

    1. fanciestcat*

      Become an hourly employee. In an eight hour shift you get two fifteen minute breaks and an hour lunch. I work in a place where managers are salaried and honestly I never want to move up, I’ve heard some people get a good deal being salaried but I’ve only ever seen people get taken advantage of.

    2. londonedit*

      You can’t spare 15 minutes in the day? That’s a standard British tea break. If you’re in-office in Britain then a lot of general socialising gets done while making a cup of tea – you’ll generally chat to whoever else is in the office kitchen while you’re putting the kettle on and sticking the tea bags in the mugs and waiting for the tea to brew. Maybe it doesn’t take 15 minutes, but definitely five minutes or so, and if you have three or four cups of tea a day then there you go. I wouldn’t like to work in a job where I didn’t even have 15 minutes to take a break from my desk.

    3. Earlk*

      15 minutes lunch is nothing? If they’re annoying other staff then yes they should stop but I really don’t understand why 15 minutes is seen as a huge imposition, it’s just 3% of an 8 hour day.

      1. bamcheeks*

        It’s pretty common in lots of sectors or even in specific departments for legally mandated breaks to be ignored when the workload is high, and that’s all the time for some areas.

        That said, these are by no means all workplaces and Dorothy Zporiak, if you think it’s surprising that anywhere respects lunch breaks and where you’ll have time for breaks, you should probably look around! It might be normal in your sector but it’s by no means normal across the board.

      2. Ana Gram*

        I work in public safety (in the US) and don’t have any mandated breaks but I definitely have down time and can chat with coworkers!

      3. RabbitRabbit*

        Probably the United States. Lunch or breaks are not federally mandated under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

        Checking over a guide from last year it looks like about 10 states have no requirement for anyone to get a meal break and nearly 20 more limit meal breaks to minors only, sometimes restricting it as low as 15 year olds or younger, or with limits like only for minors in the entertainment industry.

        Many states that mandate lunch breaks limit it to non-exempt employees (like labor-friendly California!), or other limitations like seasonal farm workers only/factory workers only/etc.

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Speaking as an exempt employee, these things were always fuzzy, but in the recent decade, distributed work teams (and, ironically, remote work) put an end to all that. It’s all good and well for me to break for lunch at noon, but in my teammate’s time zone, it is 9AM and they need my help for a hot task they are working on and there goes my 12PM break. Plus, work emergencies happen.

    4. Yellow cake*

      Well today I had an almost hour catch up with colleagues that was social with some work mixed in. Then another hour with a different bunch of colleagues that was more drinks than work. On top of the official “morning tea” we had had where I caught up with another different bunch of colleagues.

      Sure that’s not every day – but I absolutely get at least 15min in a day to chat with colleagues on most days.

      In this job those informal catch ups save as much time as they take up. They can end up very productive. My workplace funds more of these because they disappeared over COVID and they want us back catching up informally because it is good for overall productivity.

      In previous jobs we had official break times (mandated in our contracts) of usually 2×15 min paid breaks and 1 unpaid break of 30 or 60 minutes duration. In these jobs catching up with colleagues had less of an upside for the employer – hence being a “benefit” for basic health, safety and not being an asshole employer (most people need to use the bathroom, grab a drink, and eat over a full day shift)

      1. Yellow cake*

        Oops – meeting fail. Was meant to be a reply to the comment above about getting 15 min in a day for a break as unusual.

    5. Myrin*

      Are you saying you’re working literally every minute of your time at work? Totally possible, of course, but I’m wondering if that’s even sustainable in the long run.
      Personally, if I so chose, I’d have at least 15 minutes of down time every day to walk around and socialise and still get my work done. Granted, I’m in a bit of a unique situation regarding both my specific job and my specific place of work but even my best work buddy, who regularly works (way too much, if you ask me) overtime, doesn’t really take lunch (frowned upon socially and definitely not legal) and doesn’t ever seem to be able to say “no” to anyone stops me for a little chat in the hallway at least every other day.

    6. kiki*

      Obviously this isn’t possible in every job, but 5-15 minutes socializing in a day isn’t actually terribly wild, especially if this seems to be LW’s only social time at the office. 15 minutes is on the longer side for one interaction, but there are days where something big is going on and a little extra chatter is merited.

      I would say, though, if they’re chatting in a work area where others are forced to listen/ can’t really get away, 15 minutes probably too long. It’s unfortunate that there isn’t a lunch area/ common area that they could retreat to. Perhaps if there’s any sort of coffee nook or water cooler area they could move to, that could help keep the chats from distracting others while working?

    7. ThatGirl*

      I have some days with a lot of downtime, it just depends – and I easily spend 20-30 minutes a day going to the restroom, refilling my water, stretching my legs. But I do think there’s something about being visibly socializing outside of your area that can set people off.

    8. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      Most people can’t get optimal work done without at least that much downtime, probably more.

    9. Insert Clever Name Here*

      I’m an exempt employee and yeah — I could take 15 minutes or more every day to socialize. I’m a professional and an adult who doesn’t have set deliverables every day, so if my work gets done (and it does) no one expects me to spend every minute of my 8 hours with my nose to the grindstone.

    10. Chocolate Covered Cotton*

      This time isn’t necessarily all at once, you know. If I take 3-minute breaks 5 times in an 8 hour shift, that’s 15 minutes total and doesn’t seem at all excessive to me. That’s normal for just going to the bathroom, refilling my coffee, or yes, taking a minute or two to have a friendly chat with a coworker.

      Agreed that taking a whole 15 minutes *at a time*, outside of normally scheduled breaks, would be too much. It’s the difference between a friendly greeting and a bit of chat and having a whole conversation. One is a momentary distraction that can have real benefit in clearing the mind for the next task and/or building work relationships. The other is counterproductive and potentially annoying.

      Of course, if the person you’re chatting with is deep into their work then any chat at all is an unwelcome distraction and the OP should be sensitive in such situations.

    11. Lana Kane*

      One with a union. Half hour lunch and 15 minute breaks are part of my union contract. Sure, there are departments that pressue staff into not taking them, but they can (and do) get grieved.

  15. Peter*

    Cultures do vary but LW1’s culture sounds noticeably weird and somewhat unpleasant to me, rather than just one of those things. If you don’t have a separate area at all for people to eat lunch, it’s odd if the organisation is so intolerant of social chit chat at desks at lunchtimes, or somehow frowns upon it when teams mix (a lot of companies make serious efforts to encourage teams to mingle!). Lingering while speaking to someone outside lunchtime sounds completely normal, too.

    Lying about someone accessing sensitive info is both petty and serious at the same time and I’d probably want to hear more along the lines of “Apologies, this was a complete misunderstanding/The person who claimed this feels very embarrassed now” rather than just “Oh, yeah, it was a total lie, all’s fine”.

    1. Squirrel*

      I’m not seeing anything that suggests anyone is deliberately lying. Clearly the people in the other team find LW behaviour in turning up in their department every single day and asking questions about their work to be intrusive and inappropriate, and they’re wrongly assuming LW has an ulterior motive.

      LW mentions that their job involves collaborating with this other department but not what that collaboration means or what structures and guidelines (if any) are in place to govern that. Some companies really fail at that and leave people to figure it out for themselves.

      It’s very very easy for a misunderstanding like this to occur: “Ohh you’re working on important secret project? How interesting tell me more” can easily be interpreted as prying, when the speaker was just making innocent small talk. It’s very possible LW said something innocuous that the other person genuinely perceived as LW wanting access to info above their pay grade.

      The fact the other team are working on sensitive secret projects the LW isn’t allowed access to puts her actions in showing up there for chats every single day in a different context.

    2. MK*

      There isn’t any indication that “the organisation is so intolerant of social chit chat at desks at lunchtimes, or somehow frowns upon it when teams mix”. OP isn’t socializing with people sitting near her while eating lunch, she is visiting her friends on another team daily for a fairly lengthy chat, to the point that she is annoying another person of their team. Companies who encourage teams to mix don’t generally mean that it’s ok to leave your work and go chat with your pals on a daily basis; likewise, lingering when chatting is normal in the context of “I went to another team’s office for a work-related reason and spent a few minutes asking about their weekend” not “every day I go to another team’s office where I have no business being and chat for a quarter of an hour”.

      Also, if you go to another team’s office every day and ask questions about their work, which apparently has confidential aspects, it’s not necessarily crazy of a person hearing you to think this is inappropriate. It sounds to me, not that what the coworker said was a lie, but an understandable misunderstading that was cleared up once the supervisor spoke to the other employees.

    3. Rachel*

      1: I have another perspective on why this might be bothersome for some people in the other unit.

      In my workplace and personal life, the people who give me the worse advice or input are the people who have some information about what is going on. Often, people overestimate how much information they have and use that to provide input that really isn’t helpful. But since they aren’t 100% in the dark, dismissing them completely feels rude.

      It sounds weird, but somebody in a different unit who sort of knows what is going on would be the most disruptive to me.

  16. LedgerMan*

    LW2 – the fraud triangle consists of opportunity, pressure, and rationalization. As an auditor, I assume anybody can rationalize anything, and that we all have our personal pressures – though we certainly look at work pressures in the environment as well. But the main thing we focus on is opportunity. I don’t think that knowing embezzlement happened makes it more likely for another employee to try it, but it’s clear your employer did not respond appropriately to the first issue and did not implement appropriate controls. Hopefully this is rectified now.

    You have a chance to set a tone and an example for the new hires about how much you value integrity and candor and be honest about what happened – they’ll hear things through the gossip mill.

    1. Harper the Other One*

      I came specifically to say that OP2 needs to put some serious thought into the fraud triangle and what aspects weren’t addressed after the first situation. But as you say, opportunity is the big one, and especially with cash, if it happened twice, the controls need major revision. I’d second the advice further up in the thread that OP’s employer needs to bring in consultants to review their processes because they’re not tight enough.

    2. Observer*

      You have a chance to set a tone and an example for the new hires about how much you value integrity and candor and be honest about what happened – they’ll hear things through the gossip mill.

      Yeah. I was thinking about this, and I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one.

      OP, you need better controls. But also, you need employees who value honesty and integrity. They are going to hear stuff. That can’t be helped. How do you think they are going to think about the honesty and integrity of management if you are less that honest with them?

    3. Former Young Lady*

      This is so important.

      A childhood friend of mine (now deceased) grew up to be an embezzler. It was a similar situation to LW2’s — he was the only person at the firm doing anything related to accounting for years. Without segregation of duties, no one asked why he needed to spend company money on European vacations, gadgets, furniture, and two luxury SUVs. The only reason the lid ever blew off was that the firm hired a “junior accountant” to help him, and while he was on yet another vacation, the new person did some digging.

      Pressure, in this case, came from desperately wanting to fit in with a social class he aspired to, and rationalization probably followed the standard old pattern of “If they’re stupid enough to let me get away with this, they deserve it!” (He was like this when we were kids, too. It’s not at all surprising in hindsight.)

      But it was his employer who created the opportunity, by hiring indiscriminately and implementing zero internal controls. The base of the triangle was already in place, but the company was responsible for capping it off.

    4. Champagne Cocktail*

      Today I learned there is such a thing as a fraud triangle. Thank you for posting this.

      Candor is definitely the way to go, IMO. It’s an opportunity to set expectations and tone.

  17. Grandma Mazur*

    LW4 – please send Alison an update, near the end of the year or whenever you have one! This is the kind of question where I’d love to know what you found and how you resolved it…

  18. VP of Monitoring Employees' LinkedIn Profiles*

    At my agency, one department had decided that none of his staff were allowed to socialize with any other employees, within or outside of the office. That didn’t go over well.

    If you’re not already on the layoff list, asking WILL put you there.

    1. BatManDan*

      Curious about your OP5 Comment – do you feel that by asking, they add themselves to the list because it shows they are prepared / preparing for the layoff, and can therefore survive it more easily?

      1. Yellow cake*

        Personally I can’t see a company making decisions that way – and if they do they aren’t making good ones.

        A good company selects layoffs based on who they should keep and what would be best for the company. That might mean laying off those not entitled to severance, or the cheapest to layoff. It might be based on performance or work areas etc.

        They should also give thought to if those they want to keep – want to stay. I knew a company that sacked almost everyone only to discover that most of the core team they decided to keep wasn’t interested in the new reality and left! What’s more, they couldn’t legally hire anyone they’d sacked. Was problematic for a while (and very expensive).

        A company/manager who plays games with a layoff list is petty anyway – so not worth worrying about as any little thing could have then decide you should lose your job (even to their disadvantage).

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          You’re right, but that doesn’t mean that VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn Profiles is wrong, either. Sometimes when these things come, they come quickly, and all a company knows is that they need to lose 30% of staff to make the shareholders happy. They’re not going to take the time to think this through and make the most rational decision.

    2. Lobsterman*

      This! Just quietly update your resume, and start applying. If you don’t get laid off, great! Updated resume. If you do, you’ve started the job hunt.

      The security LW5 wants does not exist in American capitalism, which is why people keep saying that it’s too harsh and destructive.

    3. the bat in the office popcorn machine*

      For LW#5, I hardly see them playing games like this to determine who is being laid off, if they’re a serious company at all. If they’re on the list, they’re already on it with or without asking.

  19. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP2: There should be mandatory training on financial fraud for all new starters and refresher courses at periods of say one year. That’s always step one after a major case.

    Step 2 is bringing in the experts. You need data security, validation checks, full audit trails and an expert financial data security team can do that. They can show you the holes and how to patch them. Invariably this results in more procedures and more authorisation and quite often a big IT outlay to bring the systems up to code. It’s not cheap and it’s not simple.

    I’d put background checks on new staff on this list but under the importance of the above. Because people, unlike computers, can lie. Someone could have a pathetic credit rating yet it be none of their fault, another could have the cleanest record ever but be the smart one who keeps their criminal activity hidden. It’s largely impossible to tell.

    I don’t recommend saying stuff about how person X walked off with money and got X years in jail because to the innocent they won’t do it anyway and the criminals will think ‘well, I’m smarter than that Wally’. Do make a big thing about how security is tight and fraud training is now mandatory.

    1. MassMatt*

      I agree with all your points but think you conflate “background check” with “credit report” and the two are very different. The former checks criminal records, it’s not relying on someone’s self-reporting, though often the reason for firing/not hiring is “lying about X” or “failure to disclose X” vs: whatever the offense actually was.

      It used to be easier to have convictions etc not show up on background checks but computer systems have gotten more and more integrated so they are more comprehensive than they used to be, though certainly there are exceptions.

  20. Antiqueight*

    I was told about 2 months ago that after a discussion my job was safe as I was too hard to replace right now. And about a month ago that I was being let go, to the annoyance of my boss but there you go, higher ups decided and there was nothing more they could do.

    1. pally*

      My report heard rumors of impending layoffs. She asked me to confirm. I didn’t know anything about this.

      So I went to the CEO (small company! Just down the hall from me!) and asked. Got all kinds of assurances that no layoffs were upcoming.

      I relayed this to my report.

      The next week: she’s laid off. Along with two others.

      Moral: never believe what management tells you-believe only what they actually do.

    2. Uranus Wars*

      This happened to me a few years ago. We had a round of layoffs and I was told I was probably in the safest position of anyone in the company – and then someone above my boss made the decision to lay me off without his input. And there you have it.

  21. FD*

    LW2: There’s something I’ve found to be a generally good rule of thumb.

    10% of people will try to do the right thing no matter what situation they’re in
    10% of people will do the wrong thing no matter what situation they’re in
    80% of people will act as good or bad as the system encourages them to be

    You want to set up systems that encourage the 80% of people to do the right thing, and which has a high chance of catching wrongdoing when the 10% try it anyway.

    You had two people who embezzled over very long periods of time. I think you’re focusing on the individuals involved and worrying about what will happen if future people get the same idea. You should be worried about what systems allowed this to happen twice for multiple years without anyone noticing. If you fix your systems, then individual behavior is likely to become much less of a problem.

    1. UKDancer*

      Definitely. I think the key thing is to make the system work so that people find it more difficult to embezzle. If the system doesn’t allow it then people won’t be tempted. Remove the temptation and people are more likely to be law abiding.

      1. Angstrom*

        I remember hearing someone refer to good security precautions as “Helping honest people stay honest.”
        Anyone can have a crisis and a moment of weakness. Strong systems can prevent them from choosing to become criminals.
        LedgerMan’s comments above on the fraud triangle are excellent.

        1. FD*

          Exactly! We would all like to think that we’re in the 10% of truly ethical people but when you’re desperate and scared, knowing that you can’t do something without a high likelihood of getting caught makes it much less likely that you’ll seriously consider doing it.

  22. Random Academic Cog*

    LW3 – first thing that came to mind was Iris has already told Petunia she needs to be working independently and Petunia isn’t capable of doing her job to the standard expected. I had a situation like this and found out in passing (when the employee in your role mentioned how often “Petunia” was interrupting their workflow) that what I saw as stepping up and getting work done without asking the same questions over and over was just redirecting the same behavior to a coworker without my knowledge. Your boss needs to know what’s going on here. You might not be the only one.

  23. Pierrot*

    LW3: I am dealing with a Petunia situation at work, so I sympathize. I sometimes know the answers to Petunia’s questions, but she will also ask me a lot of questions that I do not know the answer to/the answer is subject to our supervisor’s discretion. For her, it seems to be coming from a desire for instant answers. She is averse to making decisions for herself in the moment that questions come up, and she feels a sense of urgency even though they are not urgent questions at all. It came to a head and I spoke to our supervisor about it, and we found out that she was sending me messages that said “Supervisor is not responding right now” within a minute of sending her question to the supervisor.

    Our supervisor is addressing a lot of this, but I am also trying to discourage my colleague’s behavior by not answering her questions right away. I think that the first step, which you’ve already been doing, is being a broken record- just repeatedly give the same answer, “I don’t know, this is a question for Iris.” Since that isn’t working, I do think it’s time for a friendly but firm “I have noticed that you come to me with a lot of questions about your projects with Iris. I am not able to answer those questions since I’m not involved in those projects, so please direct the questions to Iris.”

    I suspect that Petunia feels like asking her boss questions is a sign of weakness. That’s where my Petunia started off- she wasn’t directing any questions towards her boss (eventually she started to, but as I said, she’s still sending me a lot of questions when the boss doesn’t respond right away). It actually does her a disservice- if the boss thinks that there aren’t any questions, she won’t know where Petunia needs more direction and clarification.

    1. MsM*

      It could also be that Petunia finds Iris intimidating or difficult to communicate with, although that’s still something they need to work out between them.

      1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        Doesn’t mean the boss is intimidating or uncommunicative:
        Many mediocre employees won’t want their boss to realise how much they are flundering, or how much support from coworkers they need to just about struggle through their job.
        Petunia may be deliberately avoiding the boss for these reasons.

    2. Jules*

      I commented above, but yes – I just keep redirecting my version of Petunia to her Iris. I also suspect that my Petunia feels like she looks “dumb” when she keeps asking Iris questions, so she spreads out the questions to a variety of people.

  24. Peaceful*

    LW #1: I have a coworker who frequently makes social visits. The problem is that she doesn’t usually read the room and will interrupt me when I’m clearly working, on a call, or even mid-sentence in a conversation! I would also describe her visits as “lingering” – I can’t seem to get her to leave! If I tell her I’m busy, she starts asking what I’m working on instead of taking the cue and leaving. Very very nice lady, but not very socially aware.

    Look at the actions of your friends – are they visiting you at your desk for lunch or popping in to say hi to you in the same way? If not, I’d limit the visits. It may not be as appreciated as you think.

    1. LW1*

      They have a couple times been like “oh we’re slammed today” and I’m like cool, see you later!

      They don’t come up here because my teammates keep a very chilly vibe up here. Plus, people hate coming to my floor because I work on the same floor as the executive staff (I’m not executive staff haha) but people don’t like walking around up here unless they absolutely have to.

        1. Enai*

          Or even have a standing “walk around the block once a day” appointment with your friends from the other department or something like that? You can talk while walking and will just look health conscious.

      1. Annony*

        Do they invite you to lunch or do you just show up? Eating lunch at someone else’s desk is outside of the norm and doing so unprompted is probably a bad idea. Have you considered inviting them to go for a walk or eat lunch outside?

      2. Lady CFO*

        LW1, I think the fact this other team never comes to “visit” you should tell you all you need to know.

        You’re trying to pass it off as being the fault of your coworkers (they’re chilly) and the executive staff, but I really think the takeaway here is that you are (daily!) going to chat with people who never come to chat with you.

      3. Peaceful*

        That all sounds pretty normal to me (and not like my coworker at all!). Maybe the person who complained was just a very solitary person. Is there a neutral space you can all eat lunch? Maybe an empty conference room or outdoor space on nice days?

    2. Fiona Orange*

      She sounds like someone who doesn’t pick up on subtle hints or cues (like me, sometimes). You need to be more direct if you want to get through to her. “I can’t talk right now. Please come back in an hour.”

      1. Peaceful*

        I’ve tried that. The response is “Oh, what are you doing?” and I politely reiterate what I’m doing and that I can’t talk. She realizes what’s going on and becomes embarrassed and leaves.

        She’s a very nice lady, just a little lonely. I’d rather just be distracted a few times a day (and complain anonymously online) than embarrass her or make her feel bad.

    3. I Laugh at Inappropriate Times*

      Yes to reading the room. I had a lovely in many ways coworker who was terrible at determining an appropriate time for non-work related conversation. In my building, you have to pass through my “office” area to get to the boss’s office. One day boss is walking/talking an Important Visitor from his office to the front of the building, and they were lingering right behind my desk. Coworker decides this a great time to come up and start telling me loudly about this great chicken salad recipe she’d found. With boss and Importamt Visitor 2 feet behind me. This is not the time, Ma’am.

  25. A. Nonymous*

    OP2- A more rigorous investigation of all your checks and balances is needed immediately (if you are able to do that)

    It’s shockingly possible for people to embezzle/accidentally commit fraud, even at big companies. An admin on my team was accidentally charging one company for all external business trips for 2.5 years, which is also how long it took for anyone to notice it was happening & correct it. This is at a nationally known finance company.

    Investigate — immediately!!!!

    1. Irish Teacher*

      There was a letter here ages back from somebody whose boss had told them they needed to have a car or their job was at risk and seemed to give them a kind of hint that while they were allowed to put personal purchases on their company credit card, nobody would care if it were paid off at the end of the month. Then they had a crisis and couldn’t repay it all, so they ended up borrowing to cover what they’d borrowed and ended up owing the company thousands. They hadn’t intended to steal, just to take a sort of unauthorised advance on their wages, but it spiralled out of control.

      While that probably isn’t what happened here, I do think the LW’s company should check out any possibilities along that line. Are there things that are “unofficially OK” or that are being encouraged because they are easy to get away with? Most likely not but given that two different people were embezzling, it’s worth checking out, especially as they got away with it for so long.

      1. MassMatt*

        I think a lot of fraud and embezzlement starts off small, and once gotten away with, gets rationalized away until it starts to feel like a perk of the job. That’s two legs of the fraud triangle another poster mentioned. Add in a personal crisis like ballooning debts and the need for more fraud increases. There’s a reason getting a security clearance checks into things like gambling, alcoholism, and drug addiction, as these things can all escalate pressure to commit fraud dramatically.

      2. the bat in the office popcorn machine*

        I was just reading this one in the archives. They were trying to pay it down and it just seemed like a giant hole they were running circles in. I think they were just paying the minimum and interest, too.

  26. CAS*

    LW1, I wonder if you’re being honest with yourself about the likelihood that you’re distracting the staff in the other department or even other staff who are nearby. How do you know that it’s a good time for them to chat with you? Are you sure it’s 5-15 minutes, or is it longer than that? Is there a chance your chitchat presence is being politely tolerated? Are you asking questions that aren’t really your concern but are tangentially related to your job? Could that come across as prying? Some self-reflection might be needed here.

    I had a similar coworker who would park himself in another coworker’s office doorway for 30-45 minutes every day, sometimes more than once per day. That doorway was not in my department, but it was next door to my office. So, for 30-90 minutes a day, I was subjected to the guy’s chitchat but not participating in it. His chitchat partner took a different job, and after she left, this guy wandered around from department to department with his chitchat and questions. He did in fact start eating lunch a few times a month in the other department, which is unusual for our office culture. Most people have been eating at their desks since the pandemic, and only a handful of people sit in the break room. I felt for this guy on one hand because his only departmental coworker is not friendly or social. And on the other hand, I couldn’t wrap my head around how much time he seemed to have for chitchatting. He was let go earlier this year. I was told he wasn’t a good fit, but I don’t know if that’s the real reason.

    1. Bart*

      I have also had the experience of a colleague from another area showing up frequently to chat with their friends. It is so loud and distracting! I end up having to shut my door and even then the laughter and non work stories seep in. It also eats up the work time of my colleagues. If that happened every day or multiple times a day for 15 minutes a crack, I would also start complaining—more about its impact on my productivity than anything else. And the person who does it is so nice so it’s a problem with the behavior not the person.

  27. Ellis Bell*

    OP2, you say “Lily knew about our changes in security and I think, crucially, realized that Sarah’s actions were not met with equitable repercussions.” Other commentators have described really well that Lily’s knowledge of her predecessor getting a short jail sentence is not enough to turn her into a criminal, so I will focus on the first part of this quotation: “Lily knew about our changes in security” Just knowing the security details is enough for a dishonest hire to figure out how to embezzle for years? There should be a much stricter set of policies in place than that, and far more checks on them. The reference checking part of the hiring set up could be one way of spotting dishonest people, but you need eyes on the ground at your workplace too, and it has to be totally standard practice and impersonal – based in no way on their predecessors or what they may or may not have heard about jail sentences and the security system.

    1. Observer*

      Just knowing the security details is enough for a dishonest hire to figure out how to embezzle for years? There should be a much stricter set of policies in place than that, and far more checks on them

      Yeah. Security by obscurity generally does not work very well. If knowing what your security processes are is all you need to sidestep them, then you effectively don’t have security processes.

      but you need eyes on the ground at your workplace too, and it has to be totally standard practice and impersonal – based in no way on their predecessors or what they may or may not have heard about jail sentences and the security system.

      Really. Because on top of everything else that has been said, you can’t control what they hear, in the company and outside of the company.

  28. Looper*

    LW2- You really don’t know what happened with Sarah and her lawyers during sentencing. Her not getting a harsher sentence that you feel she should have received is not the problem here. That your company has a position in which a single person has unsecured and unmonitored access to funds that apparently can be taken without anyone knowing for long periods of time is the problem.

  29. Clara*

    LW1 – I’m guessing that you see people around you chatting for 5-15 minutes at a time, and having lunch with people in their departments and are therefore assuming it’s OK for you to do so with this other department. I wouldn’t be surprised if you feel in some way entitled to do so, seeing as you don’t get on with and have felt shut out by the people in your own area.

    Unfortunately, I think it’s quite common to view department chats, which even if they’re 90% social could be interlaced with 10% actual work, differently to those with someone separate from them. You know it’s gotten you into trouble and I don’t think the daily chats are worth the risk of a mark against you and your friends’ names. Maybe ping/message them and ask if they can say when they’re going to lunch so you can join, or see if anyone specific wants to grab a coffee, but I don’t think you can be there everyday and it not count negatively against you/them.

    If your own team is making you as unhappy as it sounds, I think it’s worth looking for a role elsewhere.

  30. A. Nonymous*

    Print shop OP: What are your standards when hiring the people filling these roles? Do they show keen ability or potential, or are they just upright with a pulse?

  31. Helewise*

    LW5, my husband works in a volatile industry where mergers are common and there are cyclical rounds of layoffs and furloughs (we’re expecting the next round in the next few months, optimistically). More often than not we know through the rumor mill that they’re coming at least a few months ahead, but last round the rumor came through on Monday and people were being walked out on Friday.

    With your mortgage, the questions that come to my mind are how healthy your emergency fund is, and how likely you are to be able to find a new job nearby. In other words, can you ride out a period of unemployment, and will you want to have this house at the end of it?

    We do a couple things when we’re preparing for potential layoffs – we work on socking extra money into the emergency fund, and then go through the budget. For the budget, we’re looking to see what we can scale back on or cut entirely, and also see if there are any debts we can pay off to improve our cash flow. And on the work end of things, brush up your resume and start reaching out to industry contacts.

    Good luck! We’ve been lucky so far and my husband hasn’t ever been caught in a round of layoffs. I wish you the same luck!

  32. LW1*

    Slight update?

    I haven’t been down there for weeks now except for a handful of work related reasons that happened to come up (for the first time, our areas of work came together!), and once when they Teams-ed me to come down because one of their husbands brought their baby in. Coincidentally, Other Coworker wasn’t there any of these times. Because of our areas of work coming together for a short period, I got to know their supervisor a bit better, and now funnily enough he comes into MY unit’s office to chat or laugh about something weird that happened haha.

    We are also finally getting a new supervisor! I’m super excited to see how this will change the dynamic on my team. They don’t start for about a month, but I think having someone new in charge will help things a lot in my own unit.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      That’s good news and I hope that the new supervisor helps.

      PS I love it that the other team’s supervisor is coming down/over just to socialize.

    2. LCH*

      Great! This was going to be a question from me: if anyone from the other team ever came to your space to chat. If they didn’t, that wouldn’t be a good sign.

    3. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      I’m happy to hear things are going better for you, LW1! I hope your new supervisor is able to facilitate some more camaraderie among your own unit; even if you won’t be friends I have recently learned what a difference it makes to at least be on warm, friendly terms with your immediate coworkers.

  33. HonorBox*

    I was struck reading the 4th letter with a thought that someone had shared with me years ago. Don’t tell me you’re sorry…show me you’re sorry. That’s a bit harsh when something happens one time or even a mix-up happens from time to time. But if there’s a consistent issue and people are just saying they’re sorry, you need to ask them how they’re going to ensure it doesn’t happen again. And in this case the LW needs to get to the bottom of the problem. Is it that people are just not paying enough attention? Are they expected to do too much too fast? Or is there a flaw in the system? But to start, ask the individuals who are consistent in their apologies how they can work to ensure mistakes don’t continue to happen. It might be on them. It might be on the systems. Or it might be a combination of both. No matter what though, something needs to change because this is costing money.

    1. Observer*

      It might be on the systems.

      I don’t think that there is any possibility that it’s *not* a systems issue. It’s possible that there is a*also* a people problem. But what the OP describes – including their own response – can only be seen as a systems error.

  34. Kesnit*

    I’m an attorney who has worked in criminal law for over 6 years – first as a defense attorney and now as a prosecutor.

    Embezzlement happens. I don’t say that to downplay it; it’s a crime for a reason. (One of the judges where I used to practice would sentence embezzlement harsher than other larceny offenses.) Most people just don’t wake up one day and decide to randomly steal from their employer; they have a reason, and that reason is often financial. (i.e. medical bills. Child care. Christmas presents…) So one thing to consider is how pay at your company compares to comparable pay in your area and to the cost of living. That may not be something you can address, but it is something to think about.

    LW, you commented on the sentence and others have addressed that. To add my own perspective from inside the system… Four months may not seem like a lot, but it is more significant than you may think. As was addressed above, likely, that is just the active sentence and Sarah has a significant amount of time hanging over her head that could come back if she screws up. (Screwing up does not necessarily mean breaking another law. It could be something like traveling to another state without telling her probation officer.) Also, depending on what Sarah’s criminal history looked like, 4 months could be above the calculated guidelines. (Where I practice, if someone does not have a criminal history, a first felony embezzlement could calculate out – on paper – to zero active time.) Plus, finding a new job after a felony conviction – especially a larceny conviction – will be very difficult. (Several years ago, I represented someone who got a job at a warehouse and started work, but as soon as his background check came back, they fired him.) Court-ordered restitution cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, meaning if Sarah reaches the point that she feels bankruptcy is an option, even that “little” 4% will continue to hang around her neck.

  35. Berin*

    Apologies if this isn’t the forum for this, but Alison, is there any reason the recommended links at the end of each post aren’t showing anymore? I really loved being able to read older letters that I may have otherwise never discovered in the archives! Any chance of bringing those back?

      1. the Viking Diva*

        I’m glad to see this comment. I noticed the links became very generic near-time neighbors, when they have previously been uncannily well connected, often to posts well back in the archives.

  36. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    A thought on OP1.

    A large part of working in IT is/was going to peoples desks and fixing issues and while I do I’ll generally have a chat if the user is up for it. Genuinely don’t mind it, I’ve made some valuable networking connections this way (and I’m not talking RJ45 variety here).

  37. HonorBox*

    OP2 – here to second (third, fourth?) the sentiment that your systems need more overhaul. Bring in someone from the outside to assist. The fact that Sarah embezzled and Lily knew of the changes just shows that Lily believed that she had figured out the system and thought there was a way to get away with doing the same as Sarah had. It isn’t about the “light” sentence. And I say “light” because even if she only served 4 months and had to pay back a fraction of what she stole doesn’t mean that her charges won’t follow her. But back to the point… if the system is poorly designed, which it appears to be, there is opportunity. Limiting opportunity will prevent the wrong person from taking the steps Sarah and Lily did.

  38. kiki*

    LW 1– this can be hard because even if your level of socialization is normal for work places, there are some workplaces that are just much less social than others. I’ve worked at one before! It was completely silent, which I know is some folks’ dream, but I found it isolating.

  39. BellyButton*

    #4- I recently helped a first level manager come up with a tracking spreadsheet for mistakes so she could see if there were patterns, so her staff could see them all in one place, so that fixing the mistakes could be assigned, and so that coaching could happen. It is just a simple spreadsheet, but seeing all of them in one place helped her direct reports see how many were happening, where, and when. With one person we noticed that her mistakes happened most often right before lunch or the end of the day. So the manager was able to have a discussion with her about slowing down and not rushing to be done. It has helped immensely .

    1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      I love this idea for me personally. I feel like a lot of people I have worked with in the past would take this kind of thing very sideways, but I’m interested in trying it out on me! What kind of data points do you track? Is it just the date and error and you kind of intuit past that point or do you log other info to help identify the patterns?

      1. BellyButton*

        We approached it as a way to help develop them- how to catch mistakes before they get processed- how to prevent it in the future, assign corrections, and to track mistakes to see if there was a process issue that could be identified. So it wasn’t about the mistake and not about the person making them.

    2. kiki*

      This is a great idea! Especially if LW4’s team are processing tons of orders, it’s easy to see each mistake as a random one-off that’s simply the result of unpreventable human error. Having tracking allows someone to see patterns and assess what reasonable methods of preventing issues might exist.

    3. Heffalump*

      I understand the LW’s frustration, but if I were the employee, I wouldn’t know what to say beyond, “I’m sorry.” Alison is probably right in thinking the problem is systemic.

  40. LucyGoosy*

    LW1 – First real job out of college there were some major shake ups in our org and I called a meeting with HR to ask if I should be job searching. She said no. One month later, I was laid off. Woman from HR was crying and said, “I had no idea when we talked before that this would happen.”

    Moral of the story: it never hurts to start job searching, and as Alison says, even your managers and HR may not know what’s coming.

    1. somehow*

      This is unbelievably harsh.

      “…you apparently think that the people you hire are stupid.” And so on. Truly unnecessary, and I wonder if those kinds of sneering responses discourage others from writing in.

    2. Observer*

      OK. Let me try to put it differently.

      OP#2 – embezzling

      You’ve gotten a lot of good advice here. Listen to it.

      I would say that you need to focus on two things.

      1. Your controls and security. The fact that your company had two *years long* embezzlement events, including *5 years* after supposedly instituting “stricter” controls says that you actually don’t have any decent controls in place. It’s true that no controls will 100% keep people from stealing. But good controls WILL catch people long before 5 years, unless someone(s) on the top are subverting those controls.

      2. Think about how you hire, think about, and treat your employees. The idea that simply knowing about the thefts and the lack of security will be a crucial factor in taking someone from honest to thief is totally not based in reality for people with reasonably healthy ethics. Expecting that you can actually keep them from finding out about this just doesn’t make sense outside of a dictatorship. There is no way that reasonable transparency on your end is going to be a major factor in whether people steal from your company again.

      This is totally not the issue for you to be focusing. What you should be focusing on is making better hires, and instituting *real* controls and cross checks.

  41. FlynnProvenza*

    The advice for OP2 is spot on. My ex husband embezzled and served several years in a Federal Prison. This was 100% his fault, but the oversight and protocol at his employer was a “perfect storm” that did not catch his behavior for years. Sarah’s replacement could have had a multitude of reasons to embezzle herself, and it was unlikely the light sentencing. At least federally, sentencing is based on many, many factors including amounts of money embezzled. She saw opportunity. They need to focus on squaring up their processes and closing up the opportunity before they are concerned with what new hires do.

  42. BellyButton*

    #3 I would probably ask “Why are you asking me this? You know I am not part of that project.” Get her to explain herself. I wonder if it is like when my husband asks where the mustard is and if I just don’t say anything he finds it himself, not that it isn’t still annoying AF!

  43. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #2 You need an independent team of security consultants to examine your financial systems and make them much more secure, plus thereafter regular security measures and external checks
    e.g. thorough annual audits, mandatory 10 consecutive working days vacation for everyone with access to your financial systems.

    When you tell your new hires about the ongoing and past fraud investigations, do tell them that your policy is always to press for criminal prosecutions, even “minor” ones – you don’t just sack fraudsters. Then you can cite these 2 cases, mentioning that both employees have ruined their lives.

  44. H3llifIknow*

    I think it’s pretty clear that Penunia is afraid of looking like she doesn’t know what she’s doing in front of Iris, so she doesn’t want to ask questions. Maybe give her a little encouragement along the lines of “Iris is a great resource when you have questions; she’s been in our shoes and she knows these tasks inside and out. I always ask her when I need guidance and she’s never judgmental about it.” If she STILL keeps asking, next time, say “Come with me” and walk her to Iris’s office and say, “Hey Iris, Petunia has some questions on the Llama project. Can you give her some clarification on her task?” And then leave them to it.

  45. Fiona Orange*

    Letter 1: I have been the “third person” in a corner office with two other people, both of whom had friends elsewhere in the office and in the building. Their friends would often come into the office to socialize and hang out on their breaks. They pretty much used the office as their break room. Sometimes there would be at least 5 or 6 people in our office at once! It was very distracting to have them in the office when I was trying to get work done. I would suggest that OP1 find a time and place to hang out with their work friends that doesn’t interfere with anyone’s work time or productivity.

  46. Lobsterman*

    LW2: what do other companies in your industry use for systems to prevent this?

    LW4: what have wage increases looked like for the past 5 years or so? Inflation has been brutal; have your real wages dropped below the point where your employees can bring themselves to care?

  47. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #5 Your manager may well not have any information, or could have been deliberately given false info about their team.
    It is a legal duty for the C-suite to protect shareholder/company interests, which means they may not be able to give honest answers about redundancies, even if they wanted to.
    Their aim is to get rid of groups of workers on a timeline that suits the finances of the company, not the workers.

    They don’t want to lose those workers whom they need for at least a while to keep the business going during transition.
    Also, they could expect that notifying specific employees on demand, as the OP wants, would result in a productivity crash as many of those warned would do the bare minimum work – or indeed nothing productive – while concentrating on job-hunting.

    You could be told your job is safe, then be made redundant – with only the legal minimum severance – the day after you renew your mortgage.

  48. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    So I have a question about LW3. That sounds like a great approach, but I always wonder how to go about initiating these conversations about patterns? If you already have a standing 1-on-1 with the person it seems clear, but for a random coworker–when and how do you start that convo? Do you just wait until they do it again? When I wait for it to come up on its own, I feel like I always forget and miss my window.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      You can wait for it to come up in the moment, and after you say “you should check with Iris about that task” (or whatever you actually say in those conversations), you can add, “I also want to mention that I’m never going to be able to answer those questions for you — you will always need to ask Iris or whoever assigned you the work. It doesn’t make sense to bring those to me.”

      If you continually miss the moment, you can bring it up outside of one of those times. “Hey, Petunia, I wanted to mention something. Sometimes you ask me about your tasks for projects I’m not involved in, so I wanted to make sure you realize… [follow the script in the answer].”

      It may help to practice the script a few times in private (closed office door, or at home/in your car, etc.) so the words come to mind and flow more easily when you’re ready to bring it up. Practice will help both for brining it up in the moment and also if you bring it up independently of Petunia asking for clarification you can’t give.

  49. Ess Ess*

    OP#1 – Not trying to pile on, but adding my observation since I’ve worked next to popular coworkers before that constantly had social visitors. Based on your letter, you are spending up to 2-1/4 hours on some weeks doing just social chitchatting. Up to 15 minutes per day then you are sitting at their desk for the lunch (unsure if this is 1/2 hour or 1 hour lunch) on top of that. That’s a LOT of disturbance to the people around the person you are visiting. Does everyone in the other unit take lunch at the exact same time? In most offices, that’s unlikely so you would be disrupting a lot of other people working around the person you are visiting for quite a while. I would probably also raise a complaint about the daily interruptions if my work required me to concentrate on detailed work or be on the phone with customers and there was a daily interruption from another team with no work reason.

    In a busy office, you are probably not the only person that stops to chit chat. So adding your 1+ hours of interruption plus x number of other people stopping by, this becomes increasingly difficult for surrounding workers to get any work done. I once worked next to someone that would have over 3 hours of people just dropping by to chat every day and I had to request a desk change to another area of the office in order to be able to focus on my complex work that required concentration.

    1. LW1*

      For the record, I only ate lunch down there like, twice total. There were multiple weeks in between those two times. No one in the office was actively working at the time, just casually watching their email to make sure nothing important/time-sensitive was coming through.

      I would absolutely agree it would be way too much if it was every day I was eating lunch there, but I’m 100% not. That was a rare occurrence.

      I’m actually very mindful of what’s happening in the office around me. Their work fluctuates throughout the day – sometimes they’re slammed, then 2 hours later they’re all reading books or playing on their phones because nothing is happening. That’s when I would come say hi and chat about our kids for a little bit or something.

      I’m not trying to be overly defensive, but I DO have some awareness!

      1. umami*

        How often do your colleagues in the other department go to your workspace to visit? If they stay at their desks during downtown, then they might be signaling that they aren’t necessarily interested in socializing. So something to think about, if it’s always you going there and never reciprocal.

          1. umami*

            Got it ! Conversely, maybe don’t go down without them explicitly asking you to, IOW, allow them to miss your visits enough that they ask you to come chat. I get that you want to escape your workspace for a bit every day, but you might need to find other things to do with that break than go to your colleagues’ workspace and be seen as a regular disruption.

  50. Lola*

    In the pre-Covid days, I shared a large office with someone who had much different tasks than I did. Whereas my job often involves writing long documents, requiring a fair amount of concentration, she was doing tasks that were more visual and were shorter. She and I got along great and we were both respectful of each other’s need for quiet or minimal distractions. The problem was that our office was off a busy hallway and people often stopped by to chat. She had a couple of people in other departments who would do this and some days, especially on a deadline, I just couldn’t deal with it. I’d have to ask them to take their conversation elsewhere or, with time, she’d know from a look I was giving her that it was time to cut it off.
    A 10- 15 minute chat may not feel like that much if you have the time or no pressing work. But when someone else has a deadline or is trying to nail down a difficult task, this can feel like an eternity.
    Of course now we’re on a hybrid schecule and our department was moved to a very quiet area, so I rarely am in the office with distractions anymore. Except for my cats at home!

  51. Pizza Rat*

    I’ve been through a buyout, though not a merger, but the tension over whether the job will still be there is similar. We were told up to the last minute that our jobs were secure, then we were fired en masse.

    We convinced the nearest bar to open at 10:00 a.m. and were there until about 3:00.

  52. NYNY*

    I am a CPA and have seen far too many white collar criminals get light sentences.

    One guy I know stole a lot from a federal agency and all he got was house arrest during COVID. Jeez, no one went out much during COVID. AT most they should have deferred his jail sentence.

    That being said, after he was caught, the company improved controls

  53. Quill*

    #2 Nothing you said or didn’t say about the embezzlement trial would have changed Lily’s embezzlement. She saw an opportunity and was unscrupulous enough to take it. (Honestly I think it’s very possible that she knew your security had failed in the past before she even took the job, and decided you were a good target.)

  54. umami*

    LW1 I know that you don’t think you are being disruptive, and perhaps you aren’t, but with it already being mentioned twice, clearly that is the prevailing view. It’s really important that you curtail these daily-ish visits to the other department to show that you heard the information and are acting on it. You don’t have to technically be wrong in order to comply with a helpful suggestion like this – they have already told you they want you to cut back on these visits. Believe them!

  55. Snooks*

    A security expert is sorely needed to set up systems to prevent theft; however, there is another aspect to consider: If an employee spots something that makes them suspicious, can they report it privately without being accused of being petty, nosey, etc.? Years ago I learned about highly inappropriate behavior. When I suggested that management might want to take a look at a process, I got a harsh reprimand and nothing was done. A few months later there were warrents, police tape and a huge scandal.

    1. Observer*

      f an employee spots something that makes them suspicious, can they report it privately without being accused of being petty, nosey, etc.?

      That’s an excellent question. Especially since it seems like Sarah was well liked. The OP says that the investigation was “heartbreaking”. That sounds like people really had a hard time believing that Sarah had been stealing and really pushed back on the idea. Is it possible that someone did see something, but couldn’t say something?

  56. jellied brains*

    LW 4 part of your job should be determining why and how the mistakes keep happening. So ask your team probing questions. Sounds like you need to reexamine your system if these issues aren’t new and keep happening. Is it your staff or is your order system a colossal mess? Who signs off on the files? Do you have someone to double check that the right art file is being sent or the specs are set up correctly? Does your software flag mismatches in info? (Order says spot gloss but the employee enters flood fill instead)?

    Trust me, you do not want one of your clients getting fed up with the wasted time & money these mistakes cost and then having a conversation with you about how you need to shape up. Believe me, if the client is sitting there giving you suggestions, they’re also going to be thinking about how to present to their boss that the company should be looking elsewhere.

    The fed up client

  57. Summer Bummer*

    LW2, I spent a long time at a used car dealership with a ton of cash flow, desperately trying to get our accounts in order and make the money make sense. Whenever I tried to introduce new procedures and security measures, they were shot down. It took me a couple years to realize that the embezzling started at the top. The people doing the most of it were never going to help me clean up my smaller discrepancies, because of the risk that it would reveal their much larger ones. Hopefully your situation is nothing like mine, but sometimes when you can’t fix something, it’s because other people don’t want it fixed.

  58. Ms. Murchison*

    LW#5: Like others here, I’ve been through poorly-handled layoffs, and they lied to us about what would happen. The dean announced that no one would be laid off, then a couple weeks later the staff was massacred and he immediately went on sabbatical. You cannot trust them if they tell you you’re staying.

  59. SofiaDeo*

    #1, If you are leaving your work area and going to the other one for *no work related reason* just to chat, that a no-no. Just because you may be on a break, or they happen to have general downtime, does not allow you to interrupt others at work. The “having a bit of social interaction to forge relationships” should be more of an add-on few minutes when legitimately working with the others. Management won’t perceive this as being intrusive, and is actually a big reason behind the push to go back into offices IMO. No one really lingers a few minutes to chat when on a Zoom call, but relationships get organically built when a bit of chit chat occurs as part of the work related interaction. But just showing up to chat on your break is not. If you’ve got a buddy, arrange to meet in the breakroom or other neutral area at an approximate time. Calling or texting to ask “hey want to take a stretch break at 10:30?” for 15 seconds is less intrusive/flies under the radar easier than actually leaving your area & showing up in theirs unannounced when it’s not work related. At least some of this, is that in many jobs we may not actually be “doing” anything except thinking about something work related. So just showing up and interrupting the “work related though processes” is often seen by management as interrupting work. Of course I can’t tell if my staff person staring out the window for a few minutes is thinking about some work task or not, but if someone shows up and they are talking about social things, I definitely know they aren’t working. It’s optics for sure. The going to get a drink, or stretch ones legs, or use the bathroom, are all better times to meet/chat briefly about social things. Not at desks where everyone else can hear.

  60. Feotakahari*

    For #2, a story from my accounting teacher. When she worked as an accountant, she had a customer who refused to institute anti-embezzlement measures for a “trustworthy” employee. That employee embezzled. The customer hired a new “trustworthy” employee. That employee embezzled. The customer hired a third “trustworthy” employee. That employee killed herself after she was caught embezzling. My teacher quit.

  61. Gerri’s Jaunty Hat*

    Embezzle me once, shame on you; embezzle me twice, shame on me*.

    (*and also on the embezzler still)

  62. Raida*

    1. I’ve been told I’m socializing too much with other teams

    I would say give yourself a short agenda when going to other teams, make sure you work through it, and then give yourself, say, a five minute timer (on vibrate).

    If you find that after a few collabs using this that you’re back at your desk *so* much sooner – then yeah you were probably a bit chatty a bit long.

    And from there, stay longer when *invited* into conversation/discussion – but keep updating the five minute checks – and don’t stay more than… fifteen minutes, maximum.

  63. Raida*

    2. Explaining to new hires that we just had two employees arrested for embezzling

    I would say that knowledge of previous embezzlement *may* prompt a staff member have a good look at security protocols, and *if* they found a weakness, exploit it.

    But that decision is on them, not you for talking about why the security is the way it is.

    Y’know what works *really* well? When staff are in the rhythm of how things are as-usual, once a year announce an Embezzlement Bonus – outline the process to exploit a weakness, and you get a $5k bonus. You’ll find all weaknesses, pay out $15k max. hah.

    Incidentally, while the person unable to afford paying back the large amount they stole only spent a few months in prison – their life is ruined.
    Their capacity to earn is significantly decreased, their existing qualifications and work experience are probably of little use since they can’t work with money again, they’re locked out of several industries entirely, their dirty laundry (I’m guessing an addiction if the money’s all gone?) has been aired for all to know, their family will be referred to as “You know Susan, her daughter was the one that stole all that money.”
    They will *always be* a thief. They will *always be* untrustworthy.

    Unless they have dual citizenship, moved all the money offshore for a decade, and are just leaving it all behind to enjoy the fruits of their labours – they’re rooted.

    It’s possible someone might say “I’d go to gaol for four months for a hundred grand!” that person would, quite simply, be a fool. And you can educate fools – so if you want to describe the outcome of the court case I’d include a personal comment as well such as “Everyone was so hurt by her actions, and now nobody trusts her, she can’t get a job, she’s got a police record, you get stripped of all dignity in gaol… I mean really it just was never worth it. It’s just sad all round.”

  64. The Shenanigans*

    oh geez #3 needs to be transparent about this in the interviews not after hire! Most people applying will Google the company and so find it anyway. I know I would. I would also wonder why they didn’t bring it up. If they told me the whole story I’d be wondering if I wanted to work for a company that was so extremely lax with sensitive information. I couldn’t trust that, for instance, my SSN wouldn’t be stolen in a breach. But, that’s exactly why you need to tell people in interviews. If I’d heard after hiring, I’d immediately start job searching and come away feeling like that company can’t be trusted much at all. I wouldn’t be thinking that I could embezzle too.

    Oh and actually fix your issues. Like hire a financial security expert from a reputable firm and do exactly what they say. Clearly y’all can’t fix this internally.

  65. Aisling*

    Op#4, do you send proofs of work to your clients before printing? I worked in a marketing department for a bit and our printer always sent us a PDF proof of whatever we needed printed, before the job printed. We had the chance to send back with corrections or say it was good to go, and the printer wouldn’t print without our ok. It may not solve all of your issues but would help.

  66. IShouldGoToBedEarlier*

    When my previous employer did the covid layoff, the management at my department knew there would be a fairly large layoff, but they had no idea how many people would be laid off, even a day before it happened. Maybe your workplace has less of a culture of hiding information, but I wouldn’t make major life decisions on what they tell you. They might say you’re clear and find out later from their boss that they were wrong.

  67. blood orange*

    OP#3 – The second part of Alison’s advice is really crucial in my opinion. Having the big picture conversation is definitely important, but if you don’t follow that up with cutting her off when she does inevitably ask you for direction again, the issue is likely to continue.

    I had a sort of similar situation with a peer a few years ago. I had the big picture conversation with her maybe three times, but when she’d ask me for something that wasn’t in my purview, I neglected to refer back to the big picture conversation. My colleague was honestly just a jerk, and I think this was some sort of power move, but had I been more firm in the moment I think I would have been more successful in putting a stop to the behavior.

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