boss says we can’t celebrate birthdays, I don’t want to swap work with my coworker, and more

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

1. My boss says we can’t celebrate birthdays because of one employee’s religious beliefs

I’ve recently started a new role and so far, I’m loving it. My manager seems to be reasonable and I feel supported. But a situation on our team feels odd and I’m not sure how to navigate it. It’s important to note that I don’t think there is any ill will in this situation, and everybody means well.

My coworker Susie belongs to a religion that doesn’t celebrate any holidays or birthdays, and she doesn’t recognize holidays or the birthdays of coworkers. This usually isn’t an issue, but a few weeks ago, the birthday of another coworker came up. As it was a decadal birthday, two other coworkers, Erica and Jackie, got some cake for her. Our manager said it was a sweet idea, but she didn’t want us to get a card or sing “happy birthday” as she didn’t want Susie to feel excluded. Erica and Jackie are livid that “birthdays are ruined” because of Susie and said they want to talk to our manager again about this.

I’m not sure what’s the best way to proceed. On the one hand, inclusion is a topic dear to my heart and I don’t want Susie to feel uncomfortable or excluded. On the other hand, I think it’s a nice gesture to celebrate a team member’s birthday by singing, signing a card, and bringing cake. Usually I would just ask Susie how she feels about it, but our manager instructed Erica and Jackie to not talk to Susie about her religion. What is your take on this — should we ban birthday celebrations to make sure nobody feels uncomfortable and risk coworkers “blaming” Susie for not being able to celebrate birthdays or should is it okay to expose Susie to some degree of birthday recognition?

Your manager is off-base. I appreciate that she wants to be sensitive to Susie, but it’s fine to celebrate birthdays in your office as long as you’re not celebrating someone’s against their will (so don’t celebrate Susie’s) and as long as you’re not forcing participation from people who don’t want to participate (so don’t insist Susie take part in someone else’s birthday). Susie would almost certainly tell you the same thing — and it’s a problem that your manager has banned anyone from asking her and instead is making decisions on her behalf without asking her directly what she prefers.

One option is to talk to your manager and say, “Could you ask Susie how she prefers we handle this, rather than deciding for her? My strong suspicion is she’ll be fine with us celebrating birthdays as long as she’s not expected to participate and as long as we don’t celebrate hers.” If your boss won’t budge after that, in theory you could ask HR to intervene if you feel like spending the capital (which may or may not make sense, depending on how strongly your team feels about this — but if Erica and Jackie are blaming Susie for “ruining” birthdays, someone may need to, since that’s not going to go anywhere good).

2. My coworker wants to send greeting cards to our houses

I suppose we can all agree that pre-Covid there were some office trends that were harmless but didn’t translate so well to remote work. Popping by one’s cube for a chat, for instance, is more acceptable than popping by one’s home office unannounced.

We have a new team member who is into greeting cards, but is asking people for their home addresses so she can mail them directly since we’re all remote. I’m one of those people and got a “you’re amazing” card for no reason other than the normal onboarding time I spent with her. Now she’s asking me and others if we want to put our names on cards she mails to other people for things. One is a condolence situation when the office already sent a card and gift on behalf of everyone, and then another is Boss’s Day — things that, were we in the office, might not be a big deal, but feel like they cross a line into home life now that we’re remote.

It\s harder to keep personal and professional life separate when you have a coworker who clearly misses the casual chatter/work friendships of an in-office setting. She’s also invited me to hang out on weekends and tried to friend me on social media, both of which I’ve declined. Everyone probably has a different set of boundaries when office work moved to remote, but how do you know which are appropriate and which are inappropriate, and how do you best communicate your preferences yet keep a good working relationship if “appropriate” is a gray area?

When she asks for your home address so she can send you cards: “Oh, no thanks, I prefer not to receive anything at home.” (It sounds like it’s too late for that now, but if she keeps up a steady flow of cards, it’s fine to say at some point, “Thanks for the cards! I prefer not to receive things at home, so I’d be grateful if you’d switch to email or Slack for anything going forward.”)

When she tries to organize a card for something that’s already been taken care of: “We normally do official things from the office; Jane is in charge of sending cards and gifts on behalf of the team. I would rather keep it that way so those things are company efforts and company expenses rather than personal ones.”

Friending coworkers on social media is pretty common so that wouldn’t alarm me (although plenty of people choose not to and it’s fine to ignore the request or explain that you don’t mix social media with work). It’s also fine for her to extend social invitations for outside of work as long as she doesn’t push when you decline. If she continues to ask, explain you’re not usually available on weekends because of your schedule.

To the broader question about boundaries in general: The most important things are that you feel comfortable asserting your own boundaries and that your coworker respects them once you lay them out. If the latter doesn’t happen, that’s a different situation — but so far, it sounds like a situation where you just have to be slightly more direct about what you are and aren’t up for.

3. How to answer, “Is there anything in the job description that gives you pause or would be a big learning curve?”

I’ve been interviewing for jobs, and more than once I’ve been asked, “Is there anything in the job description that gives you pause or would be a big learning curve for you?” These are positions I am fairly well qualified for, so I don’t think the question is about my resume not matching with the job description. I’ve typically replied something along the lines of, “Well, the X work will be slightly new for me, but I am confident in my A, B, C abilities that are also part of this role because of 1, 2, 3.” Is there something I’m missing as a part of this question, or a better way to answer it? I try to sound confident but not cocky.

I don’t love that answer. They’re asking about potential challenges and you’re using it as a way to pivot to talking about your strengths. Some interviewers won’t mind it but some interviewers, like me, will be annoyed. I’d rather hear something like, “X will be new for me — I’m usually pretty quick to pick up new software, but how much learning curve have you typically seen people have with it?” or “I’m curious about how much of the job is doing Y” or “Z is the least familiar to me; how have you seen others approach that when they’re new to it?” or something that engages in a more genuine way with what they’re asking and doesn’t take you right into sales mode.

4. I don’t want to swap work with my coworker

I work in a small office in a client-facing role. Recently, a few of the more interesting projects for clients I’m assigned to have been given to our client service manager. From what I understand, she has requested this type of work. Typically, she works on more operations type responsibilities, including billing and reporting. This was frustrating to me, as this type of project is one of my favorite parts of my job. Further, some of the client service manager’s projects have been assigned to me as a result, so she can take on the projects that I otherwise would be doing.

How do I tactfully bring this up with my manager? I’ve received great feedback, specifically on this type of project. I’m concerned some of more tedious and messy admin type work is being assigned to me because I’m good at it and there have been some performance issues with this client service manager. Normally, I’ve never been the type to say “that’s not in my job description,” but I’m starting to feel some serious resentment as a result of this situation.

Talk to your boss! She may have no idea you feel this way and, if she’s a decent manager, should be receptive to hearing it. Say something like: “I really enjoy doing projects like X and Y — they’re some of my favorite parts of my job. Lately we’ve been giving more of that work to Jane, while giving me parts of her role like Z — which I hadn’t anticipated being part of my role. It’s important to me to continue being the main owner of things like X and Y and ideally keep Z with Jane. Could we revert those responsibilities back to how they’ve historically been?”

5. Can my company force us to CC higher-ups?

If you wish to communicate with your supervisor and get their opinion of a situation, can the company force you to CC the supervisor’s supervisor? I understand if I share a concern and the supervisor says it needs to go to a higher level or they don’t have an answer, so they wish to consult a more knowledgeable source. But sometimes, you just need a little guidance without all the bells and whistles. So can they make you include the upper management?

Yes, they can require that if they want to. It’s an odd choice because it’s almost certainly not a good use of the higher level manager’s time, and it also signals to the lower level managers that they’re not trusted to handle anything on their own … but the company is allowed to run things that way if they want to.

If that’s the practice in your workplace, the way around it is to put fewer things in email and instead talk in-person (or over the phone, etc.).

{ 404 comments… read them below }

  1. Eliot Waugh*

    #1, sounds like Susie is a Jehovah’s Witness. Obviously not everyone’s experience is the same, but I grew up in that cult and despite all its flaws, I was very much taught that I was not meant to take the celebrations of others personally. Boss is getting offended on Susie’s behalf when it’s unlikely Susie herself is offended (though she may think y’all are “sinning”).

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I had a JW teacher at school who, while he was a total arse in a lot of other ways, just said never to give HIM birthday cards. A load of kids exchanging them was none of his business.

      1. londonedit*

        We had a JW kid at primary school (which was unusual as it was a very small rural school in an area where 99% of the population was white and at least nominally C of E, though this being Britain no one was particularly religious) and he just sat out of assembly in the mornings and didn’t participate in birthday celebrations – those were always done in assembly so it was easy enough for him to avoid them – or go to the church services for Easter/harvest festival/Christmas. I vaguely remember that it was explained to us that Fergus’s family had a different religion and it meant that he wasn’t allowed to come to assembly, and everyone just accepted that as fact, no questions asked.

        1. alienor*

          Same here, there was a girl in my second-grade class (so about 7 years old) who was JW and wasn’t allowed to participate in class parties for holidays. The memory in my head is that she sat out in the hallway, which I hope I’m remembering incorrectly because that would have sucked a lot.

          1. madge*

            Nope, you aren’t incorrect. I’m a former JW and had to stand in the hallway quietly. (one teacher insisted I do so with my nose against the wall) for the pledge every morning. It’s absolutely humiliating and stays with you. Fortunately, there was a principal who stood up to the nose-against-the-wall teacher; she had also told me that my entire family and all JWs “deserved to be publicly executed”.

            Fortunately, in early grades, my mom was allowed to come in during holiday parties and set up a separate party in an empty room for the JW students. She’d make fun little bible characters/Noah and the ark type cakes and cupcakes and have little games. I think she made grade school bearable for a lot of us.

          2. many bells down*

            I used to have to send a JW kid to the office if we had a class party. I couldn’t even save him a cupcake totally devoid of birthday decorations. This was after I got in trouble for giving him one at another kid’s party because no one had INFORMED me that he was JW and his mom complained. A 5-year-old isn’t necessarily going to tell you themselves!

          3. Rainy*

            I grew up in a different cult that didn’t celebrate birthdays or any holidays other than a specific set of Jewish holidays (none of the fun ones, and even the ones that could have been fun were carefully made unfun), and I sat in the hall, on the floor, during birthday cupcakes, holiday parties, and holiday assemblies. Sometimes I’d be allowed to go read in the library, which I preferred but wasn’t often allowed to do.

            But yes, assuming you are in the US and somewhere between 50 and 30, you are not remembering incorrectly.

          4. Miss Chanandler Bong*

            Yeah, I grew up JW (still am one) and my mom either pulled me out when we did holiday parties or the school did a “winter party” or “spring party” instead. (we had a lot of Jewish kids so this worked out). If there was an assembly, when I was in elementary school, I usually sat out and read a book (which was fine by me; I’m a total bookworm) or if it was an all-day thing my mom would pull me out and we’d go do something fun. By the time I got to high school, I just sat through the assemblies; it honestly wasn’t that big of a deal except I hate Christmas music, lol. Pledge of Allegiance I just stood there. By high school no one was saying it anyway. As an adult I find the whole pledge thing a little weird, but that’s a different story.

            Anyway, I think it’s on point that Susie would not want this. At my last job, only my boss knew that I was a JW. I didn’t feel like it was anyone else’s business to know. So if a boss banned birthdays because of me, I’d find it weird. I just kept mine a secret so no one celebrated mine. With everyone else’s birthday, I’d just politely decline dessert (I have a lot of food allergies, so sometimes they’d bring something in that I’m allergic to and I’d be like, “Oh, well darn it, I’m allergic”). For other holidays, before I became fully remote, the only one I avoided was Halloween; I asked to work remote that day. People came dressed in costumes and I didn’t feel like answering questions about why I didn’t all day long.

            1. Worldwalker*

              I have a T-shirt that says “this is my human costume; I’m really an anglerfish.” You could always just say that you’re dressed as an office worker!

        2. CatMintCat*

          I have a JW kid in my class this year. He doesn’t engage in birthday celebrations (stays in the room but sits at his table; not banished outside) and we don’t celebrate his birthday. I talked this through with his mother and him at the start and that’s what they wanted.

        3. 1-800-BrownCow*

          I went through school from (K-12th) with one JW student, the only JW family in our very small, rural community. The JW student’s mom would pick her up from school for every holiday celebration and she didn’t have to participate in the school Christmas concert when we were in elementary school. When we got to HS, she started exchanging birthday and Christmas gifts with her friends, without her parents knowing. I think she felt very left out.

      1. vegan velociraptor*

        It seems entirely reasonable to me for someone who grew up in a particular religion to identify it as a cult if that was their experience of it.

      2. Eliot Waugh*

        My experience of it was as a cult, and the same is said by the many people harmed by the church. It also fits the criteria, with the “charismatic leader” being Bethel and the lauded 144,000. This is simply acknowledgement of a fact, the same as it would be if I was speaking about Scientology or the FLDS.

      3. madge*

        I was in it for several decades (former pioneer with COs, Bethelites, pioneers, servants, elders in my family) and it fits not only most cult guidelines but also nearly identically ticks the boxes for identifying signs of abuse. There is very little autonomy. Women are second to men. You are only allowed to have approved people in your life, thus creating a support system that they will completely annihilate the moment you speak against The Truth and/or decide to leave the religion.

        My brother barely speaks to me because I questioned our mother’s decision to have bloodless open-heart surgery as an overweight 70-something. My childhood friend died giving birth as the medical team insisted that transfusion would save her life. That is not autonomy, freedom or choice. That is a cult.

    2. Anonys*

      Yeah, I think the Manager is a little overzealous in accommodating Susie.

      Like, if you have a Muslim coworker who eats Halal and doesn’t eat pork, your responsibility as a manager would be to make sure there are pork free Halal options available at the restaurants for team lunches, for ordering catering, etc. but not telling other colleagues they can’t bring a BLT for lunch.

      Even if Susie would object to someone else getting a birthday card (unlikely) I think it would be overreaching to forbid that. If the office regularly made a big deal out of birthdays, did a big company-paid team lunch etc for each birthday, that might be slightly different, because Susie would be excluded from a regular perk but this situation is totally fine.

      1. Eliot Waugh*

        Yup. Plus continuing along this line the manager would also need to stop anyone on the team being openly anything but heterosexual and cis, any discussion of voting or blood donation, and any other holiday being mentioned. Those things are also against the beliefs of JWs.

        1. madge*

          Also, the women in the office would no longer be allowed to be leaders and would need to bend to the men any time a disagreement occurs.

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes we have 2 Muslim colleagues and 2 vegetarians in my unit. I ensure they have halal food and vegetarian food respectively. I don’t require everyone else to observe halal rules or only have vegetarian food as I also have colleagues who won’t eat halal food. So we have a range of dietary options to accommodate the requirements we know about.

        We’ve had a JW colleague in a previous company and we didn’t observe her birthday or involve her in others’ birthday activities but we didn’t make everyone else not do birthdays because that wouldn’t have gone down well at all and would have been considered disproportionate.

        1. Rainy*

          Thank you for not “defaulting to the most limited choice” in catering. As someone who’s allergic to most vegetarian dishes, and to whole swathes of global cuisines that are often used as a stand-in for vegetarian accommodation, I appreciate managers who don’t just order vegan lunch for everyone.

          1. Rainy*

            Some people object to halal meat, usually (though I’m sure not always) due to concerns about animal welfare.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes also some Sikhs often do not eat halal meat because it conflicts with their religious views. So I’ve had Sikh staf log this as a dietary requirement before.

            2. Nina*

              My parents wouldn’t buy meat labeled as halal because they felt it contravened the ‘do not eat food sacrificed to idols’ stipulation in the Bible.

            3. Despachito*

              Yup, I know a person who does not eat halal meat for this reason (has objections against the way the animals are slaughtered).

          2. Princess Sparklepony*

            It seems to be a problem with the ritualistic slaughter in halal and kosher meat that causes a problem.

      3. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. If Susie isn’t being forced to celebrate *her* birthday, then it shouldn’t matter if other people gather. Let Susie, presumably a capable adult, decide if she wants to be a part of someone else’s celebration or not. I like the analogy to other religious observances because it puts it back on what you do for *that person* specifically, not just a blanket edict for the office. If someone needs to leave by 4PM to make it home in time for Shabbat, then you don’t schedule them in a meeting at 4:30…but you could schedule other people on projects they aren’t a part of, if you don’t mind the grumbling about a Friday afternoon meeting.

      4. Nothing Happening Here*

        At my previous job, there were a number of Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu employees. However, on pizza day, which was once a month, all they ordered was pepperoni, meat lovers, Hawaiian – you get the drift? So a large portion of the employees could not eat the pizza.

      5. Purpleshark*

        The problem with this manager’s type of ‘inclusion” is that it is really a form of exclusion. The only thing it really does is foster an environment of resentment toward the employee who has a religious difference. I have always felt that this was a very poor way to accommodate any differences. It is a slippery slope that others have brought up as well – if we eliminate all the things that people don’t or won’t or can’t then we really limit things for everyone to the degree that there is nothing we can do that won’t accidently offend. Personally, I have always preferred the term tolerance because we all have to live together and learn how to deal with each other’s differences and recognize those.

        1. Princess Sparklepony*

          Reminds me of the Vonnegut short story Harrison Bergeron. I think it was in an anthology I read for school.

    3. Ben*

      Just because you can’t play with toys doesn’t mean I can’t play with mine. Also, you don’t have to play with my toys either.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      I feel like there’s a significant chance that boss talked to Susie in the past and this is in fact a problem for her, and that’s why both the rule and the instruction to not pester Susie about it.

      The second paragraph of the advice is fine. Just be prepared if the boss is like “This has been settled.”

      (I type this as someone who is always happy for an excuse to eat a cupcake. Eating a cupcake while it is being explicitly tied to some other symbolism is not a molehill I will die on in the office.)

      1. Cj*

        that would lead us to, but that’s different what her religion teaches, if it is in fact Jehovah Witness.

        people who have been members of the group have stated her the they were taught just not to observe the own birthdays are celebrated others, not that other people shouldnt. my experience with my JW aunt was the same.

        if the boss is intended to be a religious accommodation and it it actually talked by that religion, then what.

        1. Cj*

          hit submit before I was done editing. obviously should have said “isn’t what is actually taught by that religion.”

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Maybe it’s not JW.

          Both “Let me tell you how to do your religion correctly” and “Explain your religious tenets so I can argue that you misunderstand them” are not good choices. And even if we agree OP is the soul of reasonableness and being able to take no for an answer the first time, that’s sure as heck not the rule for everyone in the office.

          1. Dahlia*

            It doesn’t really matter what her religious tenants are, frankly. Her right to her religion ends at her coworkers’ noses. She has no right to force her religion on them. Doesn’t matter what she believes.

      2. Antilles*

        I feel like there’s a significant chance that boss talked to Susie in the past and this is in fact a problem for her, and that’s why both the rule and the instruction to not pester Susie about it.
        Perhaps, though we’ve seen enough managers who are flat out wrong about HR-related issues that I certainly wouldn’t rule out that he just decided on his own that since Susie doesn’t celebrate, nobody else can because religious discrimination and also that nobody (not even boss herself) can check with her because religious discrimination.

        1. Totally Minnie*

          This was my thought too.

          This letter reminded me of the one from the person who was allergic to peanuts whose boss decided to ban all nuts from the office even though she told him that would be unnecessary. Her coworkers blamed her for the fact that they couldn’t have peanut butter at work anymore, even though it wasn’t what she wanted, it was her boss being overzealous.

          It’s possible that the boss has talked to Susie about birthdays, but it’s equally possible that he hasn’t and he’s just blind to how his birthday band is creating bad feelings in his staff against Susie when this isn’t her choice or her fault.

          1. Hlao-roo*

            For those who haven’t read it, Totally Minnie is referring to the “my new team is taunting me because I have a nut allergy” from October 26, 2020 (someone was even leaving Snickers bars on her desk!).

            There was an update, “update: my new team is taunting me because I have a nut allergy” on February 22, 2021. The woman leaving the Snickers bars was fired when the company’s second-in-command caught her, and the boss resigned before he could be fired. Unsurprisingly, there were other issues with that boss beyond the poor handling of the nut allergy.

            1. Observer*

              Unsurprisingly, there were other issues with that boss beyond the poor handling of the nut allergy

              Yes. To start with, the boss was not being clueless, but totally deliberate. He was specifically setting up the OP to be resented by their coworkers.

        2. Quill*

          There are also – and I have no hard evidence that Susie is one – people who do, in fact, use their religion as a battering ram to make other people behave the way they want. So there’s a chance this isn’t on the manager.. but even if that’s the case talking to Susie could probably straighten this out in terms of knowing what her stance is.

      3. KToo*

        Personally I feel that if Susie has a problem with it then it’s her issue to deal with. She can also say she has an issue with any holidays (from any religion), time off for voting, military participation, etc…. but one can’t ban all discussion or hint of these things from every space Susie is going to be in. It’s ridiculous to want to impose any personal religious beliefs on other people. Susie is also not going to be able to go to any holiday party, so should any party be cancelled? Should the office just never close for other holidays?

      4. umami*

        I was thinking this, too, because I’m wondering how else manager knows about Susie not celebrating? So I would have tweaked the advice to start with asking manager if this was a request from Susie.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Maybe just offering to set up something for her birthday and getting a “no thank you I don’t celebrate”? Or a “can you tell me when we’ll be celebrating a birthday at lunch so I can opt out”?

          I grew up a JW and those would both be pretty normal responses to something like office birthdays, but asking them not to happen would be pretty outside the norms in my experience.

          1. madge*

            Completely agree (also former JW). I had supervisors who broached the topic and I would panic. Like, people already express opinions that I’m a weirdo for my beliefs, let’s not make them hate me too, please and thank you

          2. umami*

            Maybe. I just know that many moons ago I actually shared an office space with a JW, and it was more than a year later that I learned, and only because we had hired someone else who was JW and they were talking about it. That’s when it dawned on me he never responded when I said ‘bless you’ after he sneezed. Anyway, it was interesting to finally learn a little bit more about his beliefs.

    5. Kelly*

      Most of the JW I grew up with (at least 3, two families left while my friends were children) had absolutely zero problems with other people participating as long as they weren’t forced into it. The other would have meltdowns about their neighbors’ holiday decorations and scream at them. Obviously that person was an outlier that you can see in any group. Shutting down birthdays for one person is just bizarre.

      1. Momma Bear*

        This makes me wonder if there’s a story here about Susie. That said, though, OP wasn’t the only one participating and I think if it was a banshee scream kind of thing it would have been mentioned to OP.

        1. NutellaNutterson*

          Definitely imagining the mashup question “can I scream at my workplace decorations if I find fault with them?”

      2. UncivilServant*

        I have a colleague who’s a JW and he’s exceptionally chill about birthdays/holidays. He’s happy to explain his beliefs if people ask about them, but normally just doesn’t show up to the annual Festive party.

        I’d initially been a bit nervous about working with him, as I’d heard so many horror stories from ex-JWs about the sexism in the community. Thankfully, he’s proved my biases completely wrong, has always been incredibly professional and has even tried to convince me to go for leadership positions as he thinks I’d be great. I imagine he’d be horrified if there was an office ban on birthdays/holidays on his account.

    6. Ozzac*

      I’ve seen it with a lot of minorities. People getting “offended” on other people behalf, without even asking the person what they thought

    7. CommanderBanana*

      One of my coworkers at a previous job was a JW, and in our small (4-5 people) department it just meant that we’d bring in a birthday cake sometime during someone’s birthday week and just call it a Tuesday cake or whatever, and it wouldn’t have happy birthday on it.

    8. Panicked*

      This sounds to me like an overzealous manager who is terrified of a religious discrimination lawsuit. If one person chooses not to celebrate, then no one else can because it wouldn’t be “fair.”

      I’ve worked with lots of diverse people and never once has anyone told us we couldn’t do something because of their religion. Heck, my BIL is a JW. He still spends time with us around holidays and birthdays, but once we start doing something actively holiday (like opening up Christmas presents or having an Easter egg hunt), he just goes into another room. He has never once told us we couldn’t celebrate because of his religion.

    9. She of Many Hats*

      I agree the manager probably is trying to be inclusive but over-shooting the mark by the b-day policy. Unless Susie is being obnoxiously Entitled about her faith and making the manager’s life miserable, a discreet discussion with the manager should help. Now, if Susie is being a Entitled PITA about her faith, expect any holiday celebration or acknowledgment to be banned – but it doesn’t sound like that is happening.

      1. linger*

        b-day cake

        “Oh, this? Totally not a birthday cake. It’s a … bidet cake. You know, like a urinal cake.”

      2. Despachito*

        “if Susie is being a Entitled PITA about her faith,expect any holiday celebration or acknowledgment to be banned ”

        I think this, albeit somehow understandable, would be bad management. It crosses the line of reasonable accommodation.

    10. lilsheba*

      Yup, besides telling others they can’t celebrate birthdays because one person’s religion says so is forcing that religion on other people. Just because that one person doesn’t want to do it doesn’t mean everyone else has to suffer.

    11. Phony Genius*

      I keep seeing comments using the word “offended” on this and other matters, not just here but everywhere in society. The thing is “feeling left out” and “offended” are not the same thing. In most cases where the word “offended” is used, “feeling left out” is more correct, and I think the LW correctly used the words “feel uncomfortable or excluded.”

      With that said, I can kind of understand where the boss is coming from. It can feel awkward, especially from a manager’s perspective, to see one employee sitting out an event alone at their desk, even if that employee says it’s OK. But that means that the manager is putting their own feelings ahead of the employee’s, and that is where problems start.

    12. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

      I had a boss who was a terrible supervisor, a not so nice human being, and also a JW. Despite her taking everything incredibly personally, to the point of screaming at us if we dared to get together outside of work without inviting her, when it came to holidays and birthdays she never made the slightest fuss or comment. She would just excuse herself, or take PTO if it was an all day office celebration.

      I got the impression that it was something that had been drilled into her, because it was the one and only thing she was 100% reasonable about.

    13. T2*

      For balance here. I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and have been one for over 50 years. While I personally do not celebrate birthdays, and non JW holidays. It doesn’t bother me if others do. And frankly it is mortifying to be put on the spot like that.

      Jehovah’s Witnesses do in fact have holidays believe it or not. I have long had the policy that I will cover for your holidays and you cover for mine. So I get the Memorial and assemblies off and others can get their special days off.

      To the instance of the example in LW1, I personally would object to the manager. The manager is wrong to assume that offense would be taken. If you attempt to FORCE me to do those things, you will be disappointed. But by the same token, no one should force you to do or not do anything on my behalf.

    14. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I’ve known a few Jehoveh’s witnesses, and none of them have said anything or acted upset that I and others celebrate birthdays and holidays, as long as we aren’t pushing it on them. Which is reasonable.

    15. Fiona Orange*

      I used to have a co-worker who was a JW, and whenever we celebrated someone birthday, she simply declined to sign the card or have a piece of cake. She had no problem with anyone else celebrating.

  2. Another Ashley*

    I have family members that are JW and it’s not that serious. Susie probably doesn’t want to celebrate her birthday or participate in others birthday celebrations but you can still celebrate the birthdays of those who do celebrate. I don’t celebrate Christmas but have no problem with being told Merry Christmas or attending a Christmas party,

    1. Dasein9 (he/him)*

      I might be tempted to say to Susie, “Oh, hey, this is totally not birthday related, but I happen to have this random cupcake in a flavor you once said you liked. Will you take it off my hands, please?” on office birthday celebration days, and never on her own birthday.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Please don’t. that’s right up there with blue and white tinsel at Christmas to honor Hannukah.

        The person does not celebrate birthdays. Don’t try to get around it when everyone knows its a birthday cupcake. The person is an adult. They can decide for themselves if they want to follow the letter of the stricture or the spirit.

      2. Jennifer Strange*

        I really wouldn’t do that. I know it feels like you’re giving her a way to participate so that it doesn’t conflict with her religious beliefs, but it also feels like you have decided it’s better to participate rather than simply respecting her wishes.

      3. MigraineMonth*

        Don’t try to rules-lawyer someone else’s religion. If you want to include her, just bring in a plate of cookies on a random Tuesday instead.

      4. T2*

        Yeah. Please don’t do that. For one, I am not an idiot. And for two, I don’t want you to feel you have to lie. And that is what that is.

      5. Miss Chanandler Bong*

        Yeah, as a JW, please don’t do that.

        I know to many people it seems like we’re “missing out” by not celebrating birthdays, but honestly, I’ve never celebrated my birthday and I’ve never felt any great loss over it. Honestly, I don’t want the attention. And it doesn’t bother me not to celebrate anyone else’s birthday either, so trying to include me, while you may be well-intentioned, is just…please don’t.

  3. Coin Purse*

    Re#1…I tried for many years to get out of the birthday gerbil wheel at work. I really disliked getting dragged into celebrations, forced to sign cards and pony up cash for gifts because the earth rotated around the sun again. I did not want gifts, asked my manager to take my name off the list and noted that I don’t celebrate birthdays.

    While I see that some people put a lot of feeling into their workplace celebration of birthdays, there are also those of us who find it intrusive and uncomfortable. In this case I hope Susie is left alone. I was unfortunately not so lucky.

    1. Happy meal with extra happy*

      I’m not sure what this has to do with the question? No one’s trying to force Susie to participate.

      1. Coin Purse*

        Some workplaces get really gung ho stuff like this and it can be alienating. It’s hard being the person who chooses to opt out. That was my point.

        1. Eliot Waugh*

          Sure. It doesn’t sound like the LW’s workplace is particularly gung-ho about it, and as long as Susie isn’t getting pressure to participate, her feelings about the celebrations of others is her responsibility to manage.

        2. KateM*

          But the point of the story was that this workplace has gone very gung-ho in the opposite direction?

        3. The point is over there*

          Sure. But that’s not the case here, as per the info provided, and your personal history with this issue is not relevant or helpful to the OP. So I’m just not sure what compelled you to share it. Did you just see the topuc, have a big feeling about it, and decide to share that without considering the purpose or audience? I don’t get it.

  4. Phil*

    #5, have you tried just… forgetting to cc the higher-ups? I had a similar counterintuitive policy in my team years ago (from memory, cc-ing my managers when emailing a parallel team who were around the same level in the company). I just neglected to do that a few times, no on pulled me up on it, so I kept going, and eventually I shifted the culture, which turned out to be a remnant of a very micromanaging former manager.
    I realise yours is different in that it’s the whole company, but if you’re confident there wouldn’t be backlash for a harmless forgetful mistake… I think do it and see if you get away with it.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I would recommend asking someone why you need to do the CC’ing. Sometimes there is a historical reason that no longer applies and you can stop.

      In my case I have a task where my great-grand boss has stated that he needs to be CC’ed on the final report* for this task – because the department that the report is going to likes to go hunting for “human-sized speed bumps for the blame bus.” CC’ing him prevents the other dept from nominating us as said speed bump.

      *Great-Grand Boss has an email rule sending this report to a file in his email – he never reads them; but he has them to play “overly concerned about technology failure boss” to the absolutely over the top max every time they try and claim we didn’t send the email. It’s a thing of beauty, and the other dept has left us alone for three months now (it’s the current record).

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Sometimes there is a historical reason that no longer applies and you can stop.

        I agree.

        I have seen more than a few things that were only required because a particular person wanted them at one time. In a lot of cases, that particular person no longer even works there.

    2. nodramalama*

      I do not necessarily recommend this approach. Conversely to your experience, we had a similar policy at my work and when people ‘forgot’ their managers were told to remind them, and at weekly meetings it was brought up that it appeared “some people were forgetting the policy”

      1. Momma Bear*

        Some of our management like to be informed, even if they can’t possibly read 1000 emails a day. Forgoing their name on the CC line will get you questioned if it comes up later that you were having a side discussion without them that became Important. It’s annoying but I’d err on the side of including it if there was a specific request. OP may also ask for clarification on what kinds of emails. “Where do you want to go for lunch? Can you grab that off the printer for me?” probably not. There may be projects or tasks they really don’t want to know about once they think about it.

        1. House On The Rock*

          I’m one of those managers that likes to be cc’d even if I don’t actively read the emails. I do it to help protect my own staff from things going off the rails with customers or other departments (we have some partners who are notorious for back channeling requests as well). Doing this also saves staff time when explaining issues or concerns because I can read through the full email chain if I need to. I realize this isn’t always the motivation of managers who ask to be cc’d, but it lets my staff know I have their backs and also don’t need them to rehash minutiae after the fact.

          1. I Have RBF*

            Yeah, I can see that.

            There is a certain department that is very quick on the trigger to drive the bus over anyone, even if it’s the department’s own fault, not another group. So any and every email I send them is CCed to my boss and grandboss. Because otherwise the group will claim either a) I didn’t send them anything, b) I sent it “too late”, or c) that I broke something when I didn’t even touch their stuff yet.

            Yes, it was irritating at first to have to include them on all those emails, but it has really reduced the number of bus tread incidents, so apparently it’s working. This is the first time I’ve had to do this. Some folks will throw anyone under the blame bus at the drop of a comma, so we end up with stuff like this in place.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Yup – I’ve got a similar “blame shifting group” at my job. Fortunately they have learned that our mutual great-grand boss doesn’t play that game.

              He gets copied on EVERY email they get from the whole nationwide organization because of those games.

              And why does that department still exist as composed – Politics.

              1. I Have RBF*

                In my case, the reason that they get away with it is that they actually make the company money, so they get to act like prima donnas… up to a point. But with our CIO, they will always have to knuckle under to IT security concerns. But the people who actually do the IT work still have to watch out for buses.

      2. Office Lobster DJ*

        For me, it would depend on the topic being discussed. It’s not worth flouting the policy every time just on principle, but there are probably some times where having the original conversation privately is worth being on the receiving end of a “gentle reminder” of the policy after the fact.

      3. ABC*

        Agreed. I work in an organization with a similar policy, and “forgetting” is an absolute no-go. No one is going to buy that more than once.

      4. Esprit de l'escalier*

        Well, at least they tried. That was the point of the advice, try it and see if anyone actually cares.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          I think it’s okay for someone to push back on advice that basically amounts to “Just don’t do what you’re asked.” That could lead to worse consequences than the LW would like.

    3. Observer*

      have you tried just… forgetting to cc the higher-ups?

      That’s a pretty bad idea in general. And if they have voiced their objections to the practice, then there is not way anyone is going to believe they “forgot” – even when it really was a genuine oversight.

      It may be worthwhile asking what the reason for this is, but it’s generally a bad idea to play passive aggressive games

    4. Nina*

      Yeah, in a previous job that had very weird interdepartmental politics and where sending stuff straight to the CEO was just not unusual, the rule was, cc your grandboss in any communication going above his head, because a subset of specific higher-ups will make it your fault that they missed deadlines and grandboss will go to bat for his team but can only do that if he can say ‘no, Nina did send you that on X date which gave you seventeen days to write a one-line answer before Y date, I know because she cc’d me‘ when asked.

  5. John Smith*

    Re LW1. The manager is totally off base here. Stopping a celebration or event on the basis that a person will find it offensive is not inclusive but is exclusive. Even if Susie did find birthday celebrations of other people offensive or unpalatable, that’s for Susie – not everyone else – to deal with.

    Sadly the thinking of the manager is common in the lower quality right wing media in the UK. Barely a year goes by without a headline of something being banned (usually Christmas decorations) by someone or other on the basis that it will upset people of X religion. Essentially they’re using their own insecurity / fears / ignorance as a beating stick. It serves only to stir up resentment and hatred, which is now unfairly being displayed by the colleagues who are resentful of Susie through no fault of her own.

    That manager seriously needs putting on an equality and diversity training course to learn that those terms do not mean banning anything they feel might cause offense.

    1. KateM*

      I think that better analogy with your Christmas example would be if people celebrated big time birthdays of some coworkers but would neglect birthdays of others, without these others asking for it.

      1. Myrin*

        Not really, though? Your comparison is a fitting one regarding the general topic of “publicly celebrating Christmas” but looking at the situation that’s actually happening in the letter, John’s analogy is very apt.

      2. Mangled Metaphor*

        I’ve been on the receiving end of the “not celebrating your birthday, while we celebrate others” and it sucks. There’s no religious, or other belief based snubbing involved, just people who don’t particularly care.
        2020 was the year I turned 40. For my birthday I got…. an email with an animated gif image from my former team lead, cc’d to about eight other people – four of those replied with their own birthday wishes. (She’s very not tech savvy, so I actually appreciate the effort she took to work out how to email a gif in the first place!) Of course this was the first few months of lockdown, so I wasn’t expecting much – I did also get a small bunch of flowers and a card left on my porch from a different coworker (not weird like LW2, we’re friends who have previously car shared).
        From my actual current team lead? Nothing.
        Fast forward a few months. Still in lockdown, but another of my coworkers is also turning 40. Ahead of her day, we get an email asking if we want to PayPal a donation towards getting her a gift and card. From her (Muslim, not that it makes a difference) team mate who doesn’t normally organise these things.
        Fast forward again, my team lead still isn’t great at acknowledging birthdays. Except, just a month after my birthday this year, she nudges a card over the desk for my direct team mate who turned 22. I got a “oh, wasn’t it your birthday recently too?” from a different coworker, but that was it for my acknowledgement.

        I’m asked to sign cards for coworkers on a very hit and miss basis. There’s no religious or office political basis for forgetting or otherwise failing to acknowledge, but it hurts when it’s a significant one. And then you feel petty for it hurting.

        1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

          “Hey boss/team, I’ve noticed that we are hit and miss on whose birthdays and milestones that we remember to acknowledge. What do you all think about creating a list of birthdays and then having a standard process such as circulating a card a few days before the birthday, so no one feels left out?”

          1. Inkhorn*

            “What do you all think about creating a list of birthdays *of people who want to celebrate their birthday at work*.”

            1. AngryOctopus*

              That’s what my group does. If you want your birthday celebrated, there is a list you can put your day on. They will decorate your desk. Then they will take the decorations down later (I get to/like to keep them until the next birthday, which is fun). If you don’t want your birthday celebrated, you don’t put your name on the list. The only time it gets mentioned is when they tell new people how it works and where the spreadsheet is (or if someone asks because they want to add their name).

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I do wonder if boss’s position is tied to some past hard feelings about “Well OF COURSE we did a big do for Gladys, everyone likes Gladys; if Penelope is upset that no one remembered her birthday then it was on her to bring in her own darn cake and card.”

          And rather than go the route “What if we demand the person who sits closest to the copier be in charge of organizing birthday celebrations for everyone who wants one, so it’s fair?” instead went with “Do this outside the office, and I don’t want to hear any more about the Special Gladys Exception.”

          1. MigraineMonth*

            But the person who sits closest to the copier is already dealing with the unwanted administrative labor of everyone asking them to fix it! Make it the person with the best office instead.

          2. Willow Pillow*

            It genuinely doesn’t occur to some people, I think. My manager didn’t even acknowledge my birthday. My mother passed a couple of months before that and all I got was an excuse that he wasn’t sure when I would be at home so didn’t arrange to send flowers. I wrote the eulogy on company time, though so it works out…

        3. MK*

          The reality is that people will have varyuing degrees of popularity and visibility at work and people will want to participate and even organize for some people, while they forget others. And it depends on many random factors. Even in your own experience, it makes total sense to me that people would drop the ball in acknoeledging a coworker’s birthday in the existantial dread of first months of the pandemic (I know I spent them staring out of the window, thinking that this cannot be happening). And a manager who isn’t great at acknowledging birthdays might be more likely to do so for a young person who is new to the work force than a seasoned employee. As for the team mate who doesn’t usually organize these things deciding to do so for one person, my guess would be that they are work friends and she didn’t stop to think that, hey, other coworkers might not be interested in that.

          1. Mangled Metaphor*

            I think what hurt the most about the pandemic birthday as that the month before my birthday I was asked to get quite involved in helping to pull together a baby shower style presentation (in lieu of a card, and we’d already done the collection prelockdown). So it wasn’t as if people had completely forgotten how to do small celebrations, they just don’t apparently care enough about mine, they’d just rather use me (and my awesome PowerPoint skills!) for other’s.

            My younger coworker joined our team during the pandemic, just after the big 40th for my coworker, so she’s never known it be otherwise.

            But at least I know where I stand.

    2. Worldwalker*

      Exclusion is not permitting someone to participate, not doing something (non-mandatory, of course; “team building” is not included here) which they don’t want to participate in.

      It would be a very joyless world if people could only celebrate those things that everyone else would willingly participate in. There are no such things.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes. My part of the company regularly runs a fantasy football league organised by a couple of the staff for their own amusement. I have no interest in football so never get involved and don’t really see why it’s fun. That said a number of my colleagues find it really fun and enjoy chatting about it.

        I don’t try and squash their fun in the league or abolish it because it bores me, I smile and move on. There are enough other team building things I enjoy.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        True, though this needs to be balanced with not having too many activities that marginalized groups self-select out of. At least in the US, you’re still going to get in legal trouble if the women in the office choose not to go to the social event at the strip club. I imagine it would be the same if non-Christians opted out of the holiday party.

      3. Lizzianna*

        There is a fine line. It is exclusive for a business to host events that people can’t participate in for religious reasons. It doesn’t have as much as an impact if it’s just one thing of many that the company does to include it’s employees.

        Like, if you have a monthly team lunch to celebrate all the birthdays for that month, and that’s the only team lunch, then yes, you’re excluding Susan, even if she’s not technically penalized for not coming. But if “celebrating birthdays” is cupcakes in the breakroom, and there are other times that people get together in the break room for coffee and baked goods, you’re probably fine. It’s all about degrees.

        It’s the same reason you shouldn’t have every off-site get together in a bar. Not everyone feels comfortable in bars, for health or religious reasons. That doesn’t mean that the team can never go to a happy hour, but you just need to shake it up every once in a while. If you know there is someone on your team who doesn’t feel comfortable at birthday celebrations, you should make sure that you’re including them in other ways.

    3. münchner kindl*

      That was my first thought, too – I understand why Alison recommends the diplomatic approach of “surely you misunderstood” for tactical reasons, but I suspect Manager is a jerk who deliberatly misinterprets inclusion and accomodation stuff.

      So that coworkers are now angry at Susie for “stopping” birthday celebrations, when Susie did no such thing, is the desired result for manager.

      It also gives him an excuse later on to harrass Susie because “her coworkers can’t get along with her and resent her” when he alone caused this.

      I don’t think a training helps against deliberate jerk, but LW should keep their eyes open for further red flags from manager, and be very wary of any other accomodations required from this manager.

      And if LW can convince their coworkers to stop being angry at Susie and being wary of manager, that would be a good thing.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        It’s possible (we’ve seen that before with the nut-allergy manager), but I don’t think we have enough information to know the manager’s motivations. Maybe he’s well-meaning but clueless, maybe he’s malicious, maybe he has a secret phobia of singing the Happy Birthday song.

        1. I Have RBF*

          … a secret phobia of singing the Happy Birthday song.

          My wife actually has this. She was abused by a teacher in grade school by having the class gather around her and sing it when it wasn’t her birthday, to teach her “not to want to be the center of attention” (oh, the misogyny in that.) The damned song is still traumatic for her decades later.

          I get around it by singing her the Barbarian Birthday Dirge.

          1. Beacon of Nope*

            That’s … odd. Dare I ask – how did the teacher get the idea that she wanted to be the center of attention? That’s just too WTF for words.

            1. Clare*

              Quite possibly just because she was an intelligent and quick-witted young woman who had the audacity to speak up and answer a question once too often in class, overshadowing the male students.

              1. I Have RBF*

                Yep. That’s it exactly.

                She is smart, and was the kid of a teacher, so not discouraged from being smart. The teacher decided that she was “spoiled” and had to brought down to where she “should be.” There were other incidents, too, that were quite WTF, that she didn’t tell her mom about for fear of getting her mother in trouble at her job.

                Being a smart girl in the 50s was no picnic.

    4. jasmine*

      Alison is spot on but Erica and Jackie are totally off base for completely different reasons. And so are people who get resentful more generally.

      This reminds me about a past letter where someone on the team observed strict kosher so Alison said that they should do team lunches in a way that worked for her instead of “we’re going to this place but it’s totally fine if you aren’t comfortable coming because of your religious beliefs!” And a lot of people in the comments were arguing that since the coworker has a choice, the team shouldn’t have to accommodate kosher needs since they’d need to really go out of their way to do so.

      Sometimes accommodations are harder. But like… if it’s so hard to swallow doing things differently sometimes to accommodate someone, it’s certainly a lot harder for them who have to worry about this all the time. In this case, the manager is wrong to ban birthdays anyways, but I have zero sympathy for the “this person is RUINING things for me” mentality. It only comes from people who are privileged enough to not have to worry about said thing until is comes to be inclusive.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I definitely wondered how old Erica and Jackie were (specifically if they were both twelve). “Suzie Ruined Birthdays!” is just an over-the-top reaction to “please don’t celebrate at work.”

  6. Turanga Leela*

    For #3: I really like that this is becoming a popular question. It’s more thoughtful than “What is your greatest weakness?” and it’s more likely to elicit an interesting answer.

    1. Tinkerbell*

      Agreed! It’s also more relevant to the job – it gives you a chance to open up dialogue about job aspects you’re not sure about (“I’ve done X, I assume that’s the same as the Y you ask for?”) and it gives the interviewers a chance to see how realistic you are about your abilities. I’d side-eye someone who confidently said they could do 100% of the job without any learning curve, even if they were fully capable, because every employer is different and there’s *always* a learning curve – even if that curve is just “here is where you turn things in, this is the person you talk to, here’s the coffeemaker.”

      1. Nico M*

        No its a rubbish question.

        “Imagine a potential problem then perform a bit of theatre about it to show you are capable yet humble”

        Not useful.

        Such questions should be about the roles specific challenges or organisations specific quirks ,

        1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

          “Such questions should be about the roles specific challenges or organisations specific quirks”

          That’s actually how I read the LW’s question and Alison’s recommended approach.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Alison also demonstrated using the question to segue into questions about the most challenging part of the job. “How important is X skill to success in this role?” “Have past people in this role picked up on Y quickly?” etc.

        2. nnn*

          What? The whole point of the interview is to have an as-honest-as-possible conversation about your potential suitability for the job. Asking which parts you think might be the biggest challenge or biggest learning curve is not what you just characterized it as.

        3. Irish Teacher*

          I wouldn’t have taken it that way, but rather to figure out both what particular difficulties various candidates would run into in a role and also to see if they are self-aware and willing to acknowledge potential difficulties. I don’t think it’s really about being humble, so much as you don’t want an employee who will try to hide any problems.

          I was asked a similar question in a school where the principal acknowledged that there were a lot of students with behavioural issues and I said that probably the biggest adjustment would be that the last school I had worked in was a small country school where behavioural issues were minor so it had been a while since I’d last dealt with regular serious discipline issues. That was important for him to know, not to assume I wouldn’t be able to handle them, but so that if I got the job, he would know to brief me on things that are often obvious in large city schools but aren’t necessary in small country ones, like “make note of who is going to the bathroom, so we know who was there if vandalism occurs” and to be aware that I might need support from the school discipline system at the start.

          Equally, something like “well, I’ve been mostly teaching English recently, so it’s been a while since I’ve taught History” is useful info when timetabling, assuming the job includes both, as it would make sense to timetable mostly English at first with maybe 2 classes of History.

          I don’t see any need for theatre, just honesty about which parts of the role you might find difficult but why you are enthusiastic about the job anyway.

          1. hbc*

            There can be “wrong” answers, in that they can and should exclude you from the job. As in, you’re applying for an OSHA inspector job and you say, “I think it would be hard to be the bad guy and enforce all those niggling rules.” It can even be an okay weakness in isolation, but the team doesn’t need one more person who hates being on the phone. And yes, sometimes it’s the personality of the interviewer, who thinks everyone should love setting up detailed spreadsheets.

            But those are still good things to get out there! Would you rather have this job where your manager is going to be on your case for three months before firing you over your struggles with spreadsheets, or would you rather have the next one where it’s not so important?

            1. Irish Teacher*

              Yes, I once had an interview where the principal clearly disagreed with my teaching style. He argued that encouraging students to discuss issues like alcohol, drugs, religion, etc, just “led to sharing misinformation” and basically seemed to prefer teachers to just basically tell them what they should think. I did respond that of course I wouldn’t just come in and say, “hey discuss what you think about drugs?” We’d cover the facts first and then discuss say the arguments for and against decriminalisation.

              But I also figured if he wants a staff who simply expect students to learn off set answers and parrot them, then that probably isn’t a school I want to work in anyway. So yeah, I think if your minor weakness is something the manager just has a particular bee in their bonnet about, that might not be the best job.

              I know people generally can’t afford to be fussy, but…any question can weed out people who answer in ways the boss doesn’t like.

          2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

            Yea that’s why I like the question that is more direct ‘ What would be hard at this job which does X’ because at least I have some idea what I’m supposed to be saying – ‘ I usually work with children, so I need to adjust my level of directiveness sometimes ‘ and then go on to a story about how I work with adults and near adults rather than ‘ what’s your weakness ‘ ( I have literally no idea what that means)

        4. FashionablyEvil*

          I was asked this in an interview and it was fine—there was a line in the job description about sometimes needing to do media appearances. Not something I’ve done before so I just said, “That part would be new to me, but I’m really excited to learn about it.”

        5. bamcheeks*

          It IS about role-specific challenges– I’m not sure how you’re reading ti? It’s more like, I’ve got five years’ experience selling coals to Newcastle, and I’m really familiar with the regulatory framework and the import forms and licenses in that area. However, selling tulips to Holland is new to me– I have had a look over their regulatory framework and that’s quite similar but I’ve not had to deal with complicated colour classifications before. So I’m looking forward to that challenge, and I’d certainly be interested in getting some training in that area.

          On the other hand, if you’ve sold both coal to Newcastle and tulips to Holland before, I think it’s fair enough to say that this role is substantially similar to one you’ve had before, so you’re really just excited to see how another company’s processes work / the difference between working in a small specialist company versus working in a global coal-and-tulips enterprise.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            These are good examples. For the first paragraph, it’s a chance to demonstrate that you are good at recognizing when you will need to get more information.

          2. Smithy*

            I really like how you called out point #2 – I’m in a more generalist role, where even if Job A to Job B ends up being a fairly lateral move in terms of specific team KPI’s, you’re still learning the new organization.

            Someone who would treat their old organization and the new organization as completely the same would deeply concern me. I wouldn’t need someone to position the learning curve as wildly difficult, but essentially someone in sales for COVID vaccine sales for Pfizer recognizing that doing COVID vaccine sales for Moderna will have some differences. And if anything, just to acknowledge the need to not be on autopilot and open to learn more how the industry can be run differently while having some similar objectives.

            To the point Allison made about not enjoying an answer that switches this to being about strengths or dismissing this as a question about theater, this is a question that can give you a chance to really just show your professional savvy and directness in an industry.

        6. Peanut Hamper*

          If you have to imagine a potential problem, then you have neither read the job description thoroughly, nor understood the question.

          Honestly, I think I’d pass on you if this were your reaction to the question, so the question is actually useful to me as an interviewer. It’s telling me that you have difficulty thinking in abstract terms.

          1. metadata minion*

            I agree. Even if you’re applying to something that’s identical to what you’ve done in the past, you’ll at least have to learn the way they’re done at a new employer. If you seriously can’t think of anything that would be new or challenging, you could pivot it to ask “what have people in this position previously found most challenging?” and then address how you’d handle whatever it is. And sometimes that might even give you something solid to talk about — you can’t tell from a job description if, for example, the workplace departments are particularly siloed, or the company has undergone a major reorganization recently.

          2. MigraineMonth*

            In my field, the job description’s “required skills” section is long and semi-random. (I don’t think I’ve ever applied to a job where I had all of the required skills.) So I never have to “imagine” where I might not meet the requirements, they’re all laid out there in bullet points.

            I’d definitely use the question as an opportunity to dig in and find out whether the skills I’m missing are critical ones for the job, what resources they have for learning on the job, how long the expected ramp-up period is, etc.

          3. But what to call me?*

            Not necessarily. Job descriptions within my industry tend to be remarkably similar unless you’re applying for a role in a very different setting than the one you’re used to.

            Of course every job has its own unique challenges, but if you’re applying to a similar role to the one you’re leaving (pretty likely in this industry unless you’ve deliberately chosen to make a big change), you’re unlikely to find anything listed or implied in the job description that isn’t a pretty close match to what you did at your last job. Maybe the population served is notably different, but there’s a reasonable chance that it’s not. Probably they run their problem-solving collaboration team a little differently than they did at your last job, but the process is fairly standardized so it’s unlikely to be different enough to count as a learning curve. Maybe their paperwork management system is different, but unless they use a terrible one (which the job description won’t say), any reasonably competent applicant is going to be able to figure it out pretty quickly. As for the clients themselves, of course every one is different, but probably not *more* different than those you encountered in your last job.

            The question might make sense in fields with a lot of variation between roles or for people who are moving to a notably different setting, but for some jobs the only way an experienced professional could answer that question from a job description is to pretend to struggle with something that they really, *really* shouldn’t be struggling with past the first year or two of their career.

        7. Starbuck*

          I find it helpful to ask; I phrase it as ‘based on what you know about the role so far, what aspects do you think would be most challenging for you’ and I will get answers like ‘I don’t have much experience yet with X task or Y program’ or whatever, and then I know what training I might need to plan, etc.

      2. crb11*

        We are interviewing for a role which is senior but slightly “between two stools”, so most of our candidates are strong in one half of it, but will have to do a fair bit of learning in the other half. I do the initial interview and ask a question like this to confirm they understand the situation and are happy to go for it, and to hear their strategies for learning on the job.

        We had someone who gave an answer like #3 (and indeed steered pretty much every other question back onto the half they were clearly stronger at). They didn’t proceed to the next round.

      3. Itsa Me, Mario*

        This! Maybe it’s because I’m an EA and am often being interviewed by hiring managers who’ve never actually done that work and don’t really know what it requires beyond them not having to do their own admin, but one common issue I’ve found in job interviews is that… the actual nuts and bolts of the job often don’t come up. The top question I find myself asking at the end of the interview is something like “can you tell me what this role’s day to day is like?” or “of the responsibilities listed in the job description, can you give me a sense of what I’ll be doing most, and what might come up less often?” This question feels like a good way to discuss the nitty gritty of what the job entails, and a good lead in to discuss more details of the actual job itself.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      It’s a yes or no question so NOT particularly thoughtful if the answer is “no.”

      1. Smithy*

        I think you can change the wording of the question to avoid that by saying “What part of the job description would have the steepest learning curve or give you the most pause?”

        Obviously, someone might still respond with “no part of the job description does” – but I do think that rewording can at least indicate that the interviewing is hoping for an answer beyond yes or no. Similar to “greatest weakness” where someone can give those answers along the lines of workaholic, you can always give answers around learning how an organization runs, its bureaucratic systems, etc. But as with anything, how genuinely and thoughtfully you provide that answer can have an impact.

      2. analyst*

        but why not? If I applied to the job, I obviously feel that I can do the job! If there’s an obvious thing I have less experience with, I’d say that, but not about to go helping the interviewer find my weaknesses either (ie, not about to volunteer something that’s not obvious, so you’re learning nothing)! It’s a job interview, my goal is to show off my strengths and get hired.

        And just like those annoying questions about weaknesses, no one wants to give a real one and not get the job….people are going to hedge and give rather bland answers. Not going to be a useful question as a result.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Bamcheeks has a good script above for if you genuinely don’t think any part of the role will be a challenge / don’t want to say so. But even in that case, keep in mind that the interviewer wants to see that you’ve carefully considered the job including its challenges and are willing to discuss them – for a variety of reasons, but perhaps especially because that’s the kind of coworker/report they want to have, the kind who communicates clearly about problems and isn’t afraid to admit they don’t know something. If I’m going to be training the new hire, and I sense that you’re just saying whatever you think I want to hear, I do NOT want to train you.

        2. metadata minion*

          I’ve seen this question asked in interviews and had people give real answers, or at least what seemed like real answers. It might be because library jobs tend to be a wear-10-hats situation, and there are an astonishing number of hat brands out there, so for a lot of positions I’d actually be mildly suspicious if someone didn’t have *anything* that was new for them about a job description. Even if you’ve done cataloging before, you might not have used the same software we do, or worked with some of the material types, or whatever.

        3. bamcheeks*

          I think this question may be identifying a fundamentally different approach to jobs and job interviews! I am super happy with this question, but I have only ever applied to jobs where I think there’s something new and interesting to learn. Even when it’s been a sideways move rather than a move up, there’s been something different about the role or a different focus which I see as an opportunity to learn something new. For me that’s kind of the difference between a job-job (pays money, doesn’t offer much other kind of reward) and a career-job (opportunity to learn and develop.)

          And I work in a field where that’s expected. For the most part, when I’ve been on the hiring side, we’ve looked for people who see the role as a new challenge and a chance to learn something new. In the sectors I work in, it’s generally expected that “X is new to me, and that’s exciting” will be a significant part of your motivation for going for that role. There’s lots of different ways that challenge might be framed– the good old “expertise in llamas, excited to learn about alpacas”; to “five years’ experience llama grooming, ready to manage a team of llama groomers”; to “coming from a very artisanal llama farm, I’m excited by the technological approach you have here” and so on, but in my sector it would be very unusual for (white-collar, professional) hiring processes not to be looking for candidates who weren’t looking for new-challenges and opportunities to learn.

          This is very much a career-job culture thing, and wouldn’t be asked in lower-paid, customer-service or blue-collar oriented roles. I am interested in people who are in white-collar and professional roles who don’t expect or like this question, though. Do you think people are expecting to hire people who can already do everything? Do you think it’s a weakness to admit that some parts will be new or difficult? The “new challenge” aspect of job seeking is so normalised to me that I’d really like to hear more about where people who don’t like it are coming from.

          1. Parakeet*

            I’ve been in different roles and sectors – and life circumstances – and so I would have had a different internal reaction to this role at different times. During times when I wouldn’t have liked it, my feeling would have been “I need a job, getting to the interview stage is precious and I don’t want to blow it, and I’ll be out of the running if I accidentally answer in a way that leads them to think this is a ‘stretch’ role for me. After all, there’s probably other interviewees who will be able to hit the ground running.”

            You might say that this sort of “I have to win the interview game” approach to interviewing isn’t the best mentality, or likely to result in excellent matches between person and role. You’d be absolutely right about that. However, that brings us back to “I need a job.” Scarcity society.

            1. bamcheeks*

              But isn’t that true of any interview question? I do recognise that anxiety of “I JUST NEED A JOB” and I’ve also interviewed in that state, and it’s a horrendous irony that the more badly you need a job the harder it can be to do a good interview. But I’m not sure I see this question as different from other common interview questions.

        4. Lenora Rose*

          Isn’t this true of almost any question they can ask in any interview? We can all fake bland answers and hedge; even the “tell me about a time when” questions we can find a safe sort of story we repeat ad nauseum. This question is new enough and different enough from the weakness one that it might bring out some honest answers from people who didn’t intend one.

          But frankly, bland interviews are rarely the interviews that get jobs.

          And and “of course I can do this job 100%” is a form of bland interview (Note what Alison says about “sales mode”), and also unrealistic in that there’s always something to learn.

          If it helps, having the capacity to make a realistic assessment of your own skills IS a strength you should demonstrate.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        That is a willfully obtuse reading, of course it’s not a yes or no question. A person could answer no if they truly did not see anything that gave them pause in the job description but it would be ridiculous to respond with just “yes.” It’s a prompting for discussion of potential concerns.


      I’ve hired wrong enough times that I ask this question every time now, with the follow up question being “what support will you need to overcome that?” It comes after discussing in depth the duties of the job and how the job fits within the department/org. If at that point, they can’t respond with something that tells me they understand the job (even if the answer is simply “getting acclimated to the field and/or organization”), I get concerned that we aren’t on the same page.

    4. el l*

      Look, there’s 2 wrong ways to answer this:
      1. “No” or to turn it into a sales pitch
      2. Drown in the minutiae or express a lot of self doubt.

      Best way to answer it is to turn it around, because what comes second lands harder:

      “Well, I’ve had [x,y,and z challenges] in my career where I had to learn new things or make adjustments, so I know I have the flexibility to make things happen. But, from what I can see, here’s what I foresee as the big challenges here. [Fill in]”

      What you’re doing with that is showing blood, sweat, and tears – and that you’ve thought through what needs work.

    5. Not that other person you didn't like*

      It’s also an opportunity to ask about things that are often hinted at in job postings that are less about skills and more cultural. So, for example: “The focus on ‘Ability to deal with challenging personalities’ gave me pause and I wondered whether these challenges were more focused on the technical team, demanding customers, or the management structure?” — so, effectively, “who’s the asshole?” because I can speak to my experience with challenging customers and managing tech folk, but if your CEO’s the asshole then I’m a hard pass, thanks.

      1. I Have RBF*

        There have been times that I wished I had been able to ask “Who’s the asshole?” at the interview, and passed on them. But usually the assholes have been people who transferred in or who were hired after me.

  7. The Prettiest Curse*

    #2 – Is there any way you could ask her to switch to group-signed email greeting cards? Those can be annoying too so it’s not an ideal solution, but having something sent to your work email is less intrusive than having something sent to your home address.

      1. Enn Pee*

        I love the idea of group-signed digital cards!

        LW2, I’d also see if part of it is that she likes sending PHYSICAL cards. If so, perhaps you can get someone close to this coworker to recommend that she put that energy into writing letters to military members (or a similar cause).

        1. LW2*

          I definitely think that’s part of it. Another part of it is that she’s alone in the area, having moved back to care for a family member while her spouse stays in another part of the country until the school year ends. It’s just highlighted for me all the parts of office work that don’t translate well to remote work and how many people likely fulfilled a social aspect of their lives in the workplace. I don’t know who is close to her but I will look for that opportunity to sneak a bug into her ear, keeping in mind it may be her aim to build relationships in the workplace.

          1. "That Personality"*

            So, knowing all this, you still want to discourage her from the benign but kind gesture of sending notes and greeting cards? That’s just mean.

            1. Katara's side braids*

              There are plenty of reasons someone would not want to share their home address with their coworkers, and none of them are “mean.” LW2 can have empathy for this coworker’s need for connection without humoring this particular expression of that need.

            2. AngryOctopus*

              It’s not mean to encourage a coworker to work on social connections that don’t involve them knowing my home address and also sending out things that aren’t necessary because the department covered it. There are plenty of ways she can form connections, even if they’re harder because of being remote.

            3. LW2*

              No, I just want her to recognize that there’s a boundary for some people (like me) between home and work … even though I currently work from home. Yes, an electronic greeting card sent to my work address is much preferred. In fact, we have a company recognition program to send an electronic “high five” to someone, and each month’s recipients are entered into a drawing for a gift card. I would prefer that a thousand times over than a personal card mailed to my home from a colleague.

            4. sparkle emoji*

              I don’t think it’s mean to steer this coworker’s efforts toward a recipient who’d enjoy receiving them as much as she enjoys sending them.

          2. Camelid coordinator*

            I appreciate your sensitivity to her situation. It might take her a little while to get used to working remotely and being away from her usual sources of support, but hopefully she’ll lay off the physical cards once you explain they don’t really match your office culture. Suggesting she organize the online alternative will be a nice positive touch. If you are worried she’ll go overboard you could have a suggested list of acceptable occasions so you don’t end up with random Fridays or National blueberry muffin day.

      2. Goldenrod*

        I only skimmed the comments, so apologies if someone else already mentioned this but is a great way to send digital cards.

        I’m in charge of coordinating birthday cards in my office, and it makes it soooo much easier, because it allows a group to sign it digitally, and then it’s automatically sent for whatever date/time you specify.

        1. LW2*

          Thanks, I was looking for a specific recommendation from someone who actually used them, so this helps!

        2. lyonite*

          We use Kudoboard, which is nice because everyone gets their own spot to put a picture or gif (from the site’s approved selection) so it’s easy to do and still personalized.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Okay I admit to this being something I’ve thought of a lot of times during the pandemic – because I design and hand stitch embroidery onto cards and often I look over at the huge pile of completed ones and think ‘ohh who to send them to? I bet people at home would love one!’

      Then the rational part of brain takes over and puts them in a storage box.

      Someone saying to me ‘I don’t want cards sent to my house’ would cause a momentary “oh crap I screwed up” in my head but we’d be cool later. It would soften it if people suggested an alternative like electronic cards (but please no embedded videos if this is company email) but either way it shouldn’t be a major deal to be told ‘Nahh, stop that’

    2. Susie Occasionally(formerly No)-Fun*

      Yes, digital seems like the way to go here. Our office transitioned to remote at the start of COVID and has largely not gone back. So the physical cards transitioned to things like which lets people add a personalized greeting.

    3. LW2*

      I love that idea. Does anyone know a platform that handles that well, where we could all use a link to sign the same card?

      1. londonedit*

        We tend to use groupgreeting where I work. You just send round a link, and everyone can sign the card.

      2. ThatGirl*

        The platform my team has used is Kudoboard – you can email the link out and then it emails the recipient on a specified time and date.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Second for Kudoboard–people have a time frame they can enter their message, and then on X date at X time, it gets sent to the recipient. Low stress and fun.

        2. Jayem Griffin*

          A third +1 for Kudoboard – you can attach GIFs, use different fonts and colors, and it’s super easy. I still go back sometimes and look at the one my team did for me when I went on medical leave.

      3. Modesty Poncho*

        I’ve done this in just a plain googledocs drawing with clipart but ymmv. The thought was more important than looking great lol

    4. ThatGirl*

      We started doing these in my department last year – we have team members across like 6 states so it just made things way easier. Low effort, cute, people feel acknowledged without a big fuss.

    5. lilsheba*

      Oh this would be way better, I HATED doing the signed physical cards at work, especially at the wf call center, because our team changed so often I had no idea who the card was for or who was supposed to sign it next. I do not miss that confusion at all, and with the digital method that would be handled!

      1. Esprit de l'escalier*

        That’s such a good point about not needing to figure out who should get the card next. Sometimes signatures aren’t very clear, or there are two Susies in the office, or you’re new and don’t know who wants to sign a card and who will snap at you for bothering them with it.

    6. ErinWV*

      I’m my office’s birthday card person and that’s exactly what I did during COVID. I got a subscription to one of the nicer, less-spammy sites and sent cards to people’s work emails.

  8. Allonge*

    LW1 – I very much disagree with your boss.

    That said, and going especially by the remark on “our manager instructed Erica and Jackie to not talk to Susie about her religion” which does not sound good – would it be an idea to take birthday celebrations outside of the office (birthday coffee or lunch / dinner, whatever works best)?

    It sounds like you are on a team with people who feel strongly about this, and this is not being managed well and could lead to a lot of conflict that is not helping anyone.

  9. Despachito*

    LW1 – I find it strange the manager banned you from speaking to Susie directly, and I am wondering why Alison did not suggest this as an option. It seems to me as the most natural thing to go directly to the source, but perhaps it has some repercussions I may not be aware of?

    1. Bit o' Brit*

      I imagine it’s just that the manager didn’t want the risk of Susie feeling harassed due to her religion and creating a hostile work environment for her of the actual legal kind.

      1. Chocolate Covered Cotton*

        Except that she is being singled out because of her religion, her coworkers told to stop a fun activity because of her religion, and her coworkers were then forbidden from even talking about it with her?

        Sounds like a hostile work environment to me, making her into a pariah at work on the basis of her religion. Being aware of others’ birthday celebrations is not a hostile work environment.

        1. Dek*

          Yeah, I feel like if the boss didn’t want Susie to be targeted, then she would’ve just put a kibosh on birthday celebrations without tying it to Susie.

    2. Snow Globe*

      If the coworkers who want the birthday celebration go to Suzie, it could seem like they are pressuring her to say that it’s ok (even if it is not). I can understand why the manager might not want that. But the manager should speak to her! The manager can ask what she’d prefer in a way that makes it clear that her religious beliefs will be respected and there is no pressure to respond a certain way.

      1. Observer*

        But the manager should speak to her! The manager can ask what she’d prefer in a way that makes it clear that her religious beliefs will be respected and there is no pressure to respond a certain way.

        Yes. Given the others’ strong reaction, I get the manager’s concern. But given that the manager *is* trying to protect Susie from being pressured over her birthday, Manager has standing to have a non-pressurizing conversation to find out what would make Susi comfortable.

      2. Despachito*

        What exactly should Suzie OK as to the birthdays, though?

        I think she absolutely has the right to be heard and respected as to HER OWN birthday, and HER OWN participation in other people’s birthdays, with zero repercussions to her. But she does not have a say in whether other people celebrate THEIR birthdays.

        In other words, if she does not want to celebrate her birthday and/or other people’s birthdays, this should be taken as a fact, she should be never pressured for it and it should be never used against her, but she should have no right to police whether OTHER people celebrate theirs (in theory, because here Susie not only does not police anything but probably even does not know what fuss is being made around her).

        I actually think the manager is not helping Susie but the other way round – he makes her coworkers dislike her (although I am side-eyeing the coworkers for that as well because poor Susie is innocent in this), while if asked, Susie may very well say she does not mind.

    3. Observer*

      I find it strange the manager banned you from speaking to Susie directly, and I am wondering why Alison did not suggest this as an option.

      I wonder if the manager banned *everyone* or just those two?

      If everyone, the manager is wrong.

      But if I were in the manager’s position, I would most definitely *not* want *Erica and Jackie* talking to her. The fact that they are “livid” is bad enough. The fact that they are angry at *Susie* and blaming her for “ruining birthdays” means that there is almost no way that they will be reasonable when they talk to her.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      I mean, my first guess is that the manager HAS gone directly to the source, and so is telling them to stop haranguing Susie.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        It doesn’t seem like anyone is haranguing Susie at all. The coworkers are mad that “Susie” is ruining birthdays, but really it just seems that the manager is ruining them with a blanket ban, and the coworkers aren’t actually going to Susie and saying “you ruined birthday celebrations, we hate you”. Susie is a big girl who can say “no thank you” if invited to participate in a birthday, and “I don’t celebrate my birthday” if asked (assuming here the person doesn’t know Susie’s religion). As long as coworkers are accepting no for an answer, then they should proceed as they like, with Susie and anyone else who wants to opting out with no consequences.
        If they want to include Susie in things, they can, as someone suggested above, just bring in a cake on a random day and say “hey there’s cake, because it’s been a hard week, so let’s meet up at 2 and eat cake”.

    5. Irish Teacher*

      It’s possible the ban on asking about her religion doesn’t directly relate to the birthdays and the manager simply wants to avoid her being harassed over her religion. If it is JW, as seems likely, that is a religion a lot of people have a negative opinion of, so the manager may have meant “don’t start telling her why her religion is wrong or insisting it’s a cult or trying to convert her to your religion” and the LW is just wondering if asking her if she’s OK with them celebrating birthdays would fall under the prohibition,” rather than the manager meaning “you can’t celebrate birthday because of Susie’s religion and you’re not allowed to mention that to her.”

  10. Bob*

    this is a very strange case of double think when you consider how often Alison says Xmas should not be celebrated at work in case in offends a single person that isn’t Christian.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Pretty sure I’ve said that literally never, and there are loads of posts all over this site with advice about various aspects of Christmas at work, none of which say it shouldn’t be celebrated there at all. What I do say repeatedly is that offices/people need to recognize that Christmas isn’t secular, that people shouldn’t be assumed to want to participate in Christmas stuff or pressured into it, and that sticking up some blue “Hanukkah tinsel” next to your Christmas decorations is offensive to some of us, among other things.

      And it’s not the week for this.

            1. Nina*

              I am in a country with almost no Jewish population, I see by googling that apparently Simcha Torah was Sunday but that doesn’t seem to be a huge deal as a festival, what am I missing?

              1. ...*

                Terrorist attacks in Israel, largest mass slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust, hundreds of civilians brutalized and murdered (including babies and children), first target was an outdoor music festival where young people were raped and killed. Israel is now at war.

              2. Roland*

                Over a thousand Jews being tortured, kidnapped, murdered for being Jewish? Idk what you were googling that this did not come up.

                1. Nina*

                  I was googling to see if there were any Jewish holidays that workplaces might be being inappropriate about right now…? Not really a ‘read the news’ kind of person but that’s horrible, thanks for telling me.

      1. Jay (no, the other one)*

        Thank you. Definitely not the week.

        And your advice is pretty the same as for Christmas: recognize that not everyone wants to be involved and respect their choices. Create a welcoming and affirming culture. Double think? What?

        1. JustKnope*

          She’s referring to the pain of what’s happening in Israel and Palestine right now, and how awful Jewish people are feeling because of the horrible attacks and escalating antisemitism in the area. This is not the time to complain about Jewish people feeling uncomfortable with the omnipresence of Christmas given the very real, existential threats they are facing.

          1. Something Similar Happened To Me....*

            Many people do not watch “the news” in any form. The logic used is that if it’s a big enough deal they will be told by someone. Otherwise they just don’t know.

            I see the responses from other commenters, but there are people who just don’t keep abreast of things taking place outside of their immediate circumstance.

            Some people do live under a rock.

            1. Rock Lurker*

              Yes, and it’s often part of a larger system of self care that we use to protect our mental health because of various innumerable additional factors affecting us, so please don’t be so quick to judge those of us hiding under here struggling to preserve the last shreds of sanity we still have left.

              1. Roland*

                I’m going to judge whoever I want for taking a dig at Jews while they are being murdered actually. “I live under a rock” is not actually a moral defense.

            2. anon for this*

              Fwiw, for some very sensitive people it’s a defense mechanism – there are so many awful and upsetting things happening every day all over the world that “keeping up with the news” would involve basically inviting an anxiety attack, nightmares, whatever. Hearing about others suffering in extreme graphic detail, as the news usually focuses on, is really difficult. So we let our news be filtered through those close to us who can give us enough information to stay informed about the big things, without all the distressing details. Because we have to go about our lives and get things done, and it helps exactly zero of the actual victims of tragedies and horrors to spend a lot of time having breakdowns over the suffering and our own helplessness.

              Yes, it’s a therapy thing and all, but people are allowed to figure out their own coping strategies.

              1. Clare*

                And that’s ok! I think people are just a little surprised that the people who filter the news for you didn’t give you a one-line version to allow you to avoid stumbling over it in an abrupt and unsafe (for you) way, since this is extremely big news. To put it in as bare a form as possible: there will be a lot of news that comes from this for quite a while, the geopolitical and social ramifications are very large. It will affect a lot of things.

              2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

                yeah I stopped reading the news in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre here in France. The reaction to the horror was extreme, to the point that 7yo children expressing sympathy for the terrorists were rounded up and taken to the police station.

          2. cranbr*

            To be fair, I am aware of the news and when I read “not the week for this” my first thought wasn’t “ah, of course, the situation in Palestine and the rise of anti-Semitism,” it was “wait, have they started talking about the war on Christmas already and they’re being especially awful?”, mostly because the first comment didn’t seem to specifically single out Judaism, it seemed to be whinging about having to cater to non-Christians in general.

            My second thought was, “wait, is it an important date for Jewish people? Is it Holocaust Memorial day? I thought it was in January?” But i admit that could be because I’m especially dense

            1. Fiona Orange*

              “To be fair, I am aware of the news and when I read “not the week for this” my first thought wasn’t “ah, of course, the situation in Palestine and the rise of anti-Semitism,” it was “wait, have they started talking about the war on Christmas already and they’re being especially awful?”, mostly because the first comment didn’t seem to specifically single out Judaism, it seemed to be whinging about having to cater to non-Christians in general.”

              Yeah, same here to everything you said.

      2. lilsheba*

        I have personally never even heard of Hanukkah tinsel, didn’t know that was a thing. That does sound cringy.

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          Just imagine ANY xmas decoration you can think of, and now imagine it in blue and silver or blue and white (because those are the colors of the Israeli flag).

    2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      This comment reminds me of the way Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how people make up their own stuff about one of her books (Eat, Pray, Love).

      In one instance, a woman said that the way Gilbert stood up to her violent husband empowered her to leave her own abusive husband…and Gilbert was flabbergasted, as there had never been any hint of abuse either in her book or her real life.

      She did say it was none of her business what people did with her book once it was in their hands. So, you do you, I guess. I would encourage you to consider some critical analysis and critique of your own assumptions though.

      1. Ell*

        No it’s pretty different. this is someone deliberately misinterpreting Alison to favor Christianity, and massively ignoring the larger context of what is going on in the world.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      There’s a huge difference between something being celebrated happily by those who willingly partake, who recognize it as their own thing, and participation being enforced on other people as the “omnipresent colonizer holiday” (credit to Captain Awkward for that phrase).

    4. Clare*

      Considering you appear to care so little about Christmas that you don’t realise many practising Christians find it offensive to write Xmas (because you’re putting an X through Christ’s name), you’re probably not the right person to be starting discussions about the observance of the tradition, Bob. Diverse people are genuinely trying to engage with each other respectfully in good faith here. Please stir up arguments somewhere else.

      1. JSPA*

        Well, using a Chi (or Chi-rho) as code for “Christ” goes back to the first centuries of the Christian faith. Which doesn’t mean people can’t get worked up about whatever works them up. But there’s a long and solid history–to the point that I’m a bit flabbergasted (on a purely historical level, as I have no horse in this race) to hear this new wrinkle on such an old usage.

      2. Fiona Orange*

        That’s actually a common misconception. “X” was a common abbreviation for “Christ” in the Roman era, and sometimes still is. That’s the reason why one might abbreviate “Christians” as “Xians,” and why the singer Christina Aguilera sometimes goes by Xtina. (Though, really, if she’s going for accuracy, she ought to spell it Xina, but that’s neither here nor there.)

    5. JSPA*

      “People ought to be more aware about ways that they may be offensive or presumptuous in the way they celebrate Xmas at work, or make the One Big Bash of the year Christmas Themed” is not at all the same as, “Xmas should not be celebrated at work.”

      I mean, if you lack the ability to look at stuff from the point of view of an outsider who has complex or bad associations with that stuff, or is put off by being co-opted into someone else’s faith traditions, dressed up as pseudo-secular…then yeah, maybe it’s safer to cancel.

      But most people are quite able to manage not being a douche, if they put a smidgen of thought into it.

      I mean, you can separate out the year-end-holiday-for-all from any Christmas-specific observance, right? Just like you could have Holi, Easter, and the first company picnic of the year, all in the same 10 days.

  11. Irish Teacher*

    LW1, I definitely think that Susie should be asked here before assuming she would feel excluded. While it’s not religious, I have…well, probably some sensory issues with food that restrict my diet. I would be horrified if people decided that say pizza couldn’t be ordered because I can’t eat it. Just don’t nag me about the fact I can’t and don’t order the same thing every time so I’m constantly left out and I’m happy.

    It might be something to change if every office event was about birthdays, but I doubt that is the case.

    And I’d try to avoid framing it as not being able to celebrate “because of Susie” when she hasn’t even asked for this and may even be uncomfortable with it. It sounds like some of your coworkers may be blaming her when it was the manager’s decision. I know you have no control over their framing but just wanted to point out that if birthdays are ruined, it’s because of the manager’s decision, not because of Susie.

    1. anononon*

      Yep. I’m vegetarian, but that doesn’t mean my colleague can’t eat a BLT bagel in the office. I also happen to dislike ‘a fuss’ about my birthday at work, so I take the day off. It doesn’t mean others can’t have balloons and streamers and cake with candles.

      1. londonedit*

        I also don’t eat meat, and people will often do a little apologetic face and say ‘Oh…sorry, do you mind?’ if we’re out together they order a steak or a burger, or they’ll say ‘Oh…hope you don’t mind but I’ve got a bacon sandwich’. I don’t mind! I’m not going to force everyone around me to eat vegetarian food just because I personally don’t like eating meat. Personally I do like to make a fuss about my birthday, but I can also appreciate that many other people don’t, and there’s no way I’d force someone into making a big thing of it if I knew they weren’t keen – whether that’s because of their religion or because they’re just not into it.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      If it’s about the baked goods, every office I’ve been in has been happy to consume those on the giver’s “I just felt like making lemon bars Sunday” rationale.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Yeah, this is me. Sometimes I just want a certain baked good, but the recipe makes a large amount, and so I’ll just make it on a Sunday and share it at work.

    3. allathian*

      This is a difficult issue. I’ve worked with JWs and others who didn’t want to celebrate their birthdays at work. None of them would’ve dreamed of asking others to stop celebrating their own birthdays, as long as their request was respected and they were neither pressured into celebrations they didn’t want nor forced to participate in other people’s celebrations.

      I strongly suspect that all of these people would’ve been extremely uncomfortable if this meant that those who enjoy celebrating birthdays were banned from doing so to avoid offending those who didn’t.

      The manager has every right to tell the other team members not to give Susie a hard time, but at the same time, as long as they treat Susie professionally, they’re allowed to think she’s a party pooper.

    4. Despachito*


      I would feel extremely othered if I were Susie.

      I think if both coworkers and Susie are reasonable people (and I assume this as a default), they should be able to tackle the whole thing without this unnecessary drama.

      Why couldn’t Susie just be asked whether she wants to participate, and her decision naturally respected? Why does the boss automatically assume the coworkers would harass Susie? Just asking her about her preferences is not harassment.

      And I’d keep in mind that there are reasonable boundaries (like this one – no one should be forced to celebrate birthdays/Christmases/ eat meat) that should be respected, and other, unreasonable ones (such as requiring that if I don’t celebrate birthdays/Christmases/ eat meat, no one in my presence should).

  12. JSPA*

    #4, if you get pushback because you’re better at it, have a “nevertheless” statement ready.

    “Nevertheless, it’s not the job you hired me for, and not the job I accepted.”

    “Thank you, but to put it in context, I’m also competent at making coffee and cleaning bathrooms; nevertheless, none of those things are part of the job I was hired to do.”

    “I’m sympathetic to the management challenge that you’re facing, and your short-term needs. Nevertheless, prioritizing Jane’s job satisfaction over mine effectively punishes me for being dependable, and rewards her for being more loudly dissatisfied.”

    “Nevertheless, I took this job because Z was not part of the job description.”

    “I understand that having me do Z meets your immediate needs. Neverthless, a job with Z duties, and with fewer X and Y duties, does not meet my needs.”

    All of this should say, “I’m a reasonable person. I’m not going to walk today. But if you prioritize your incompetent (or strategically-incompetent) employee over your competent employee, you always run the risk that your competent employee will look elsewhere.”

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      This is beautifully stated. I love the combination of assertiveness, clarity, and calm.

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      Oooh this is a great script! I’m definitely keeping “nevertheless” in my pocket for future use.

      1. ferrina*

        It’s wonderful! I’d never thought about the Nevertheless angle- I always got stuck at this part of the argument (“you have to do it because you’re good at it and I’m telling you to do it”). Nevertheless brings it back to a negotiation and points out their obligation to you (i.e., that you signed on because they promised X).

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “I’m sympathetic to the management challenge that you’re facing, and your short-term needs. Nevertheless, prioritizing Jane’s job satisfaction over mine effectively punishes me for being dependable, and rewards her for being more loudly dissatisfied.”

      The curse of competence rearing it’s ugly head

    4. Ganymede*

      I came here to say these things, but you’ve done it better than I could, JSPA. “Nevertheless” should ring out like a bell. Sounds like the boss isn’t joining the dots.

    5. madge*

      This is exquisite. I struggle with conflict (people-pleaser in attempted recovery) and am popping your suggestions into Keep (I have a Difficult Conversations list, what can I say?)

    6. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

      I like these scripts, but I don’t think Jane is being incompetent, strategically or otherwise – it seems to me like she wants to grow in her career and learn skills X and Y, and the problem here is the manager doing so by reassigning Z to the LW. There’s nothing incompetent about wanting to learn!

      1. MassMatt*

        Jane may not be doing this, but where there is undesirable work to be done, many people definitely employ weaponized incompetence to get out of it, and LW says they may be getting assigned more of the undesirable work due to being good at it, despite not wanting to do it.

        1. linger*

          When there’s less than pleasant work to be done (to be done),
          Being competent is not a lot of fun.

      2. Chocolate Covered Cotton*

        I agree. It looks to me like the manager is trying to cross-train her crew.

        Nothing wrong with that, but she should be including OP in the conversation. It might have been explained as, “In the interest of having backup, Jane needs to develop these skills so we have more than one person competent in them. Meanwhile, we’ll need you to help out with her tasks until she’s up to speed on yours. Are there other skills you’d like to develop as well?”

        Then OP can decide if she’s on board with this or not with a better understanding of her actual role and expectations and without the anxiety that this is now going to be her job.

        1. I Have RBF*

          Yeah, developing Jane at the expense of the LW is not a good look, especially if the reassigned tasks are a step backward for the LW.

          If they are asked to make a sacrifice so that Jane can grow, where are the commensurate benefits to them? Where’s the quid in the quid pro quo? What development opportunities are they getting?

      3. JSPA*

        Second paragraph. “I’m concerned some of more tedious and messy admin type work is being assigned to me because I’m good at it and there have been some performance issues with this client service manager [Jane].”

        Performance issues, in this context (where it is contrasted with “good at it”) almost has to mean Jane is screwing up from time to time. Not that she is taking long lunches and being sullen (though, maybe that, too).

        If they were looking to fire Jane, they might still cross train the LW. But they would not be letting Jane loose on LW’s job. And if Jane feels like she is screwing up because she is bored, that’s a great reason to job-search. But there’s no such thing as a right to grow into somebody else’s job, and fob yours on them.

      4. fhqwhgads*

        It sounds more to like Jane somewhat sucks at Z, which is her actual job, and the manager is rewarding that by letting her stretch by doing X and Y, which is OP’s job. Normally, you’d want someone to be good at their actual job before you let them add on more and branch out. Instead, she gets to drop the stuff she’s not doing well and basically switch their jobs. Unless the manager had concerns about OP’s doing OP’s work and the switch was a benefit all around, they’re basically rewarding someone for being bad/mediocre and punishing someone else for being good at both their actual job and Jane’s.
        Good way to lose good employees.
        The boss sucks here, but also Jane’s ask to take on more when she’s not doing well at her baseline is a bit gumptioney.

    7. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      “I’m sympathetic to the management challenge that you’re facing, and your short-term needs. Nevertheless, prioritizing Jane’s job satisfaction over mine effectively punishes me for being dependable, and rewards her for being more loudly dissatisfied.”
      This is fantastic. Acknowledging the reason for the change, while pointing out just how very unfair the solution is.

  13. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    For OP4 – any chance this is a cross training exercise and boss hasn’t told you? We hear all the time about how cross training helps keep an employee from getting as overwhelmed because you can then pivot another employee to help.

    Also, a former job really leaned into cross training staff as they were putting a struggling employee on a PIP (to make sure the essentials of that employees job could be covered if they failed the PIP and were let go).

    Regardless of why, I think you should have a chat with the boss about the new project distribution. But make sure you do go in open minded.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Cross-training was exactly my thought too. But it should definitely have been discussed and explained to LW beforehand.

    2. Lenora Rose*

      I had that thought, too, but IMO, cross-training in other jobs is something people do either by choice or with an understanding the shift in tasks is temporary. Both of which require communication in advance, even if they are dictated from on high (and dictating from on high is, shall we say, not the ideal way to make a decision like that.)

      Unilaterally changing an expert’s role without asking, for anything other than the short term, is a mistake. It almost happened here – I’m in a job where we DO expect flux similar to cross-training at least annually, and right in the centre of a big reorganization which may change every portfolio I handle, and they *still* take some consideration for expertise, at least if it’s pointed out to them. (Our alpaca health expert was *almost* moved to llama research for no good reason, but they reverted that decision when they realised the impact.)

    3. Chocolate Covered Cotton*

      I should have read further because this was exactly my thought. It looks like Manager wants some cross-training among the crew but hasn’t communicated this well.

      1. I Have RBF*

        I don’t see anywhere where the LW is getting any cross-training or benefit, just more admin drudgery pushed onto them. So it’s only Jane who is benefiting from cross training, at the LWs expense.

  14. Zircon*

    #3. I’ve seen this question asked as a way to find out if the applicant has any support needs / hidden disability that would make the job challenging or impossible. Or where the potential employer might need to make allowances (and which would also usually put them to the bottom of the list!!).
    It’s ugly, but it happens.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s way more insidious that 99% of employers are when asking this question. Particularly if a job requires wearing many hats or having multiple competencies, this is an incredibly standard question to ask – particularly at a final interview stage. Different people are going to have different support needs in different areas and a good employer wants to be prepared for the specific training and onboarding a new hire requires.

  15. Dorothy Zpornak*

    For #3, I like Alison’s advice for entry-level candidates, but for myself I would be worried it sounds like I’m expecting someone to teach me how to do my job. Couldn’t this come off as sounding like you can’t problem-solve independently? And is this something a hiring manager would even know, since usually they are working in a different division or come from a different background (if you’re applying to be the head of a department and reporting to someone in leadership)? I would be inclined to answer this question with, “I’m unfamiliar with X and here’s how I plan to address that.” But actually, I’ve never gotten a question with this wording; typically they just ask what do you anticipate the biggest challenge will be.

    1. A Girl Named Fred*

      You… do need someone to teach you how to do the job, though, don’t you? There’s some kind of training period in any new role, and this is just a question to see what spots you anticipate needing to make sure you receive proper training or support in. In my interview for my current job, I asked about their training process and they told me it’s basically nonexistent – jump in, listen to nearby colleague and watch him do things once or twice, then go. That was good intel for me AND for them so I could explain whether I anticipated that approach working for me.

      Knowing that you have less experience in X area and asking their average timetable for getting up to speed on it is something a strong candidate would acknowledge and a good interviewer would appreciate, IMO.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      If there was nothing giving me pause, I’d answer “no.” And if you’re reasonably well qualified, there’s a good chance there’s no “big” learning curve.

      This is a yes or no question. If the answer is no, the answer is no. If the answer is yes then you should also rate, but if not say “no” and wait for the next question.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        You have no idea what they are looking for from this question–which, as you pointed out, is literally a yes/no question.

        They might be looking for a “no” because they need to hit the ground running.

        They might be looking for a “yes” because the last three people in this position quickly got bored and left because they were overqualified.

        So yeah, the best policy is to just answer it honestly.

      2. bamcheeks*

        And if you’re reasonably well qualified, there’s a good chance there’s no “big” learning curve

        I don’t think this is about whether you’re well-qualified or senior or not, so much as whether you’re going for “same role, different place”, or a job where the attraction is the opportunity to expand and develop your skills and knowledge.

        I’m kind of fascinated that people think this wouldn’t be an appropriate question at a senior level, because I’d see it as even more important at that senior level. At a junior level, it’s pretty OK to expect someone else to tell you what it is you’re supposed to be learning next: at a senior level, the expectation is that you identify that for yourself. Even if it’s being Head of Finance and you’ve been Head of Finance before: you are being hired because you have a demonstrable track record of Financing, but the first 6-12 months are still going to be a learning curve as you find out what’s going on at this organisation, whether they finance well or finance terribly, which departments finance well which barely finance at all, who finances well on paper but terribly in practice, and so on. I can’t imagine where you’d go with someone who said, “Well, I already know how to finance, so I don’t really anticipate any challenges.”

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          WAY more important at the senior level. Senior people often have the biggest knowledge gaps, because they tend to have specialized more over the course of their careers. That’s not a bad thing, but if you spent your career getting very good at sales and management and this senior role also requires 5% accounting and financial analysis, that can be a really big learning curve. And your specialized experience is probably a big draw! We want that! But we still need to be prepared for you not to have that 5% and strategize how we’re going to get you there if it’s vital to the role.

          (Example based off true experiences hiring senior people. So much more stressful than hiring junior staff.)

        2. Lily Rowan*

          Right. I’ve basically given that answer for mid-level roles in the past. “I have a lot of experience with this *type* of work, but will need to learn your organization before I will really excel in the role.”

        3. AngryOctopus*

          Yeah, when I hire people at my level, challenges are anticipated to be things like “I’ve never used software X before, or I’ve never read an assay on machine Y, so I have to learn those.” If we hired a CSO, they need to know what scientific questions we’re trying to answer, what medical needs we want to meet in the short and the long term, what is our business strategy around those, do we have plans to pivot should an indication become less attractive in the market, etc etc. That’s a LOT they have to think about, at the same time as they’re learning the company culture.

        4. Dorothy Zpornak*

          I didn’t say the question wouldn’t be appropriate at the senior level, I said the suggested answer wouldn’t be appropriate at a senior-level — that someone senior should be anticipating the challenges AND strategizing to address them, sharing with the employer that they have a plan for how to close the gap rather than looking to the employer to tell them how.

        5. iglwif*

          SO SO MUCH more important as the role gets more senior! The more independent you’re going to need to be, the more problems you’re going to have to find and investigate and resolve, the more important it is that both you and the prospective employer understand each other.

    3. thelettermegan*

      From my experience with hiring in technology, the job requisition tends to be a big wish list, and often times lists many technical skills, languages and toolsets that are inaccurate. Usually the hiring manager is actually looking for someone who knows how to learn new skills, as the tools and skills tend to change every couple of years. Somehow there’s always a game of telephone that ends with job posting that asks for five years of experience in a software program that was invented two years ago.

      So the candidate clearly stating what tools they would need to learn before or on the job could be extremely helpful in judging whether they do actually have what the job requires at the moment, and how honest they are about their own learning abilities and the strategies they use to teach themselves.

      A candidate who says they can usually sit with a book for a work day and learn a new toolset is going to be very interesting to hiring managers.

      1. I Have RBF*

        A candidate who says they can usually sit with a book for a work day and learn a new toolset is going to be very interesting to hiring managers.

        I wish.

        I regularly learn new technologies on the fly. It’s one of my greatest strengths. But every time I interview, they want people who already have experience with the newest tech. It’s very annoying.

        There’s no way that people in my field can be up to speed on everything, there’s just too much. But many of us can learn very quickly.

  16. Harper the Other One*

    Op#1 – I’d ask your manager if you can talk to Susie. You say that Erica and Jackie were told they’re not allowed to talk to her about her religion, but you also say the same two people “are livid that ‘birthdays are ruined’” and if the manager heard that direct quote, I’m not surprised they banned them from talking to Susie about the issue!

    If you are being more neutral about it, I suspect the manager will be more open to you having the discussion with Susie, because they won’t be worried that you’ll open the discussion with “so your religion is ruining the office, are you okay with us celebrating birthdays again?”

    1. Observer*

      You say that Erica and Jackie were told they’re not allowed to talk to her about her religion, but you also say the same two people “are livid that ‘birthdays are ruined’” and if the manager heard that direct quote, I’m not surprised they banned them from talking to Susie about the issue!

      Yes, that was my first thought, as well.

      OP, given that you are being a LOT more reasonable about the situation, and are clearly willing to hear other points of view, you could offer to talk to her in your conversation with Susie.

      One thing to keep in mind, though, is that your two coworkers *must* reign in their reactions, no matter what happens. Their reaction is over the top. Even if Susie were the one who wants no birthdays celebrations in the office (something you don’t even know!), being “livid” would be more than a bit much. And it makes me wonder how reasonable they are being about not pressuring her into joining in.

    2. Jasmine Tea*

      I am sure Susie would be shocked the boss banned birthday celebrations for the entire office.

    3. Ashley*

      I really wouldn’t be asking to see if someone else can talk to Susie about the birthdays. What I think will be more interesting is to see how the upcoming holiday’s play out. Like are you allowed to decorate your cube for Halloween or have an extra bucket of candy out? Does anything happen at Thanksgiving as a company or department? As the new person on the team this seems like an odd thing to try and use your political capital on so early.
      I also tend to reside on the if you know me you can mention Happy Birthday, but I am also not a kid who wants anything more then that from outside of my immediate family.

  17. consuela*

    For LW 1 — if you hear Erica and Jackie say that Susie has “ruined birthdays,” it might be a kindness to Susie (and, following Alison’s line of thinking, more effective problem-solving) to remind Erica and Jackie that they only have the manager’s word for what Susie wants, and so right now, their beef is with the manager’s policies, not Susie. The “don’t talk to Susie” policy plus the blanket ban on b-day celebrations is (or seems to be) a poor managerial response, but the DEI question is real and important. Meaning, is there room to halt the smear campaign and redirect *their* energy even if/as you address the other problem with your manager?

  18. JSPA*

    LW #1, your boss may be getting hung up on a false equivalency with Christmas parties.

    The difference is, Christmas is an actual (major) religious holiday that gets passed off as approximately secular in the workplace. That’s why “Christmas party at work” (or “holiday party with secret santa and a tree,” and it’s fine because we don’t say the Christ bit out loud, never mind that Santa = Saint Nicholas = an actual Christian saint”) can be a bit of a kick in the teeth to people from other religions.

    In contrast, birthday celebrations are, for the vast majority of people in the USA, secular from the start. The fact that participating would be counter to someone’s religious practices is thus more akin to not eating pork, or covering one’s hair. From the point of view of the people who do partake, there’s nothing religion-adjacent; it’s just one of the multitude of things in life that can happen to be addressed by someone’s religion.

    I’m assuming I’m not the only person to have had classmates who were Jehovah’s Witnesses (or some one of the other faiths that don’t do birthdays and standard holidays). If a 10 year old can explain “my family doesn’t celebrate those things, but that’s our way, it’s not a judgement on your way,” I’d expect that an employed adult is at least as clear on the concept. (Even if the boss isn’t.)

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this. To me it feels like the manager overreacted by banning all birthday celebrations.

      One of the biggest privileges Christians have is the fact that the global business calendar coincides with the Christian calendar. As a culturally Lutheran non-believer I’ve always considered NYE to be a secular holiday because there are no religious practices associated with it. But Jews, Muslims, and others who celebrate their own religious New Year no doubt feel very differently about this. I actually only realized this a few weeks ago, during Rosh Hashanah. Sometimes we can be blind to our own biases.

      1. Worldwalker*

        The standard date for New Year’s isn’t for religious reasons, though. (The Christian religious New Year was once celebrated on Christmas Day or, confusingly, on Easter) It goes back to Ancient Rome. While their nominal year started in March, the Kalends of January was the date they inaugurated consuls. Since they commonly referred to years as “during the consulship of Ioe Schmoeus” that came over time to begin the year. (Which they technically did number from the supposed date of the founding of the city)

        Now, the BC/AD designation *is* Christian (though inaccurate) and calling it the common era” doesn’t change that. But that’s only specific to the current year being 2023, not on which date it became that.

    2. Sloanicota*

      Eh, just me but I don’t think this is the line of logic to follow. Obviously, to Suzie, birthdays are not secular, so we don’t really get to tell her “yes they are.” But you can work to accommodate Suzie without saying nobody gets to celebrate a birthday in her proximity, just as you do with other holidays (many of which I assume Suzie … also doesn’t celebrate).

      1. analyst*

        I don’t think JW folks think birthdays are religious, just that celebrating them is against their beliefs.

        1. Worldwalker*

          I believe that the reasoning is that the only person in the Bible who was described as celebrating his birthday was evil, and they don’t want to do what he did.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        I don’t see any reason to assume that Susie considers birthdays to be religious and not secular. Many religions have rules against secular things – alcohol, sex outside marriage, divorce, etc. Of course, I don’t know what Susie’s religious beliefs are, but I wouldn’t assume that the fact her religion prohibits them means that she considers them religious. And I would be very surprised if she believed them to be religious in the way Christmas is, celebrating the birth of a major figure in the religion and implying a celebration of the creation of that religion.

  19. I should really pick a name*

    The boss is off base in how they’re handling it, but they got it right about not letting Erika and Jackie talk to Susie about it. Anyone who accuses someone of ruining birthdays is not going to be sensitive enough to have a discussion about this.

    SOMEONE should talk to Susie to find out how she actually feels, but it shouldn’t be Erika or Jackie.

  20. Bookworm*

    Also chiming in with experience of working with a JW: the office handled it by the employee sitting out of those particular meetings, we did not celebrate their birthday, no fuss. Employee wouldn’t say no if someone “remembered” (it wasn’t really a matter of forgetting/remembering, we just saved a slice) to offer cake. No big deal for us but YMMV.

  21. Robecita*

    LW2- people in my office used an online card site (I can’t think of it now but am sure it could be googled) during our remote COVID period. the organizer selects a virtual card, sends a link to other people in the office so they can sign virtually with little messages, different fonts and colors, and then the person with the birthday or whatever is emailed a link to a finished card. This did a good job of replicating the shared office card in every way but producing a physical card. maybe not great for serious bereavement but solves the problem for birthdays, ‘congrats on a great presentation’ or whatever.

    1. LW2*

      Love it. Please post another comment if you learn which one it was – I’m currently reviewing about a dozen of them online.

  22. DJ Abbott*

    The situation with Susie reminds me of some thing – school. Blaming her for “ruining” birthdays sounds like what grade school and middle school bullies did.
    The times I’ve seen it, the grown-ups would tell the bullies “no, she’s not ruining anything, leave her alone” and then the bullies got even more resentful and kept trying to punish Susie as soon as the grown-ups back was turned, and it spiraled into a hostile environment.
    Unfortunately, I’m not sure what to advise. If these colleagues are as immature and resentful as they sound they might take this direction to keep their job, but they’ll continue to resent Susie.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I agree. The co-workers who say birthdays are ‘ruined’ sound like pouty children who want birthdays to be celebrated a certain way, and don’t/won’t/can’t understand why some people not only don’t want the same kind of attention, they don’t celebrate at all. Insert emoji of ‘mind blown.’

      It’s a shame the manager doesn’t seem to understand how to navigate through this, it’s not right to blame Susie for any of this.

      1. allathian*

        Agree, it’s not right to blame Susie. But by the same token, banning all birthday celebrations feels like an extreme overreaction. As long as everyone respects Susie’s right to have her birthday ignored, and doesn’t make a fuss when Susie doesn’t acknowledge anyone else’s birthday, I suspect that would be good enough for Susie. It’s certainly been good enough for all the JWs I’ve ever worked or gone to school with.

      2. Green great dragon*

        The co-workers absolutely shouldn’t be pouting, but as far as we know they’re fine with Susie not celebrating. Their problem is the team aren’t being allowed to celebrate their own birthdays they way they want.

        1. Observer*

          but as far as we know they’re fine with Susie not celebrating.

          Normally, I would agree with you. But given that they are “livid”, which a a fairly big over-reaction and that they are *blaming Suzie* for “ruining birthdays”, I think that it’s reasonable to suspect that they are not being completely reasonable about the birthday stuff.

          1. Chocolate Covered Cotton*

            Seems like the *manager* blamed Suzie for “ruining birthdays” by mentioning her religion as the reason for the decision.

            “You can’t celebrate birthdays anymore because Suzie is a JW.” That’s not Suzie ruining birthdays, that’s the boss ruining birthdays and blaming it on Suzie. I suspect the boss isn’t trying to avoid a hostile work environment, she’s creating one.

            1. Observer*

              I suspect the boss isn’t trying to avoid a hostile work environment, she’s creating one.

              Could easily be. See the letter someone else referenced about a boss who was being overly draconian about a peanut allergy. It turns out the the boss was doing this deliberately to harass that LW.

              But both in that case and the current case (if that’s what is going on), the manager has willing participants. These two people are being mightily unreasonable.

    1. UKDancer*

      Yes I mean I think Valentine’s Day I’d a pointless commercialised excuse to sell over priced tat. I don’t say this to my junior team member when she shows me the teddy bear her boyfriend got her.

      It matters to her and makes her happy and who am I to criticise or think badly of her? I am glad she’s happy.

  23. Hiring Mgr*

    #4 – it sounds like Jane may be an AAM reader and is weaponizing her incompetence

    Seriously though, this is a normal thing to bring up to your manager – he might not know how you feel about that part of the job

  24. Going Against The Flow*

    LW4. Speak up!
    It could be your co-worker asked for the type of assignments you had and the manager was accommodating her without considering what you thought. If you don’t say anything she’ll just likely assume everything is fine and have no clue that any resentment is building.
    Ideally she’d have gotten your thoughts ahead of time but it’s amazing how people don’t think things all the way through and justify it with “someone will tell me of if it’s not working”

    1. Generic Name*

      I agree. If there was one thing I wished I did differently at my last job, it’s I wish I had advocated for myself more in terms of what projects I worked on. At the end of my tenure, I was managing upwards of 20 dinky, uninteresting projects. And I had cheerfully agreed to manage those types of projects for so long that upper management seemed flabbergasted when one day I suggested an upcoming PM manage a teeny, uncomplicated project instead of me. If you don’t say anything now, management will assume you’re cool with not working on your favorite projects.

  25. KB*

    My old workplace handled birthdays beautifully. As part of the onboarding process, the office birthday coordinator asked “Do you celebrate birthdays? If so, when is yours?” And then we had a list of “Birthdays to Celebrate” that anyone could view. If someone’s birthday wasn’t on it, then they clearly weren’t into birthdays and were to be left alone. A card was passed but since we worked hybrid there was never any worry about someone not having signed (though this was why they started the list, so that when everyone was there all the time they would know who was likely to pass on signing the card). And then there was a Slack message on the day saying happy birthday to the birthday person. A line down there would be a line about cupcakes in the break room, which allowed a loophole for anyone who didn’t do birthdays but did do cupcakes.

    Before that I was a teacher with JW kids in my class. The parents specifically requested that we send their kids to another room for birthday celebrations, but suggested that if we passed out birthday treats without signing happy birthday their child could have a “friendship cupcake.” So we did happy birthday in the morning with the pledge of allegiance (USA) which those kids also did not participate in, and the cupcakes in the afternoon. No idea if that is the belief of all JW members (I suspect interpretation varies like in most religions) but I have never known a JW that opposed others celebrating. They just didn’t want to be badgered when they said “I don’t celebrate birthdays” or surprised with a celebration that went against their religion.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I would really love that approach! I am very happy to celebrate my birthday with my family, but don’t particularly want a card or anything else at work. I basically employ the “smile and say thank yoU” approach because I know it’s meant well, but I’d be very grateful to have a pleasant way to opt out.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Same. I don’t really like birthdays, I wasn’t raised celebrating them and now it’s just kind of a meh thing where people expect me to come up with ideas of what I want to do and I really just want to nap or play video games. I also know a LOT of people in my office who are older and don’t like being reminded of their birthdays – that may not be universal but it’s a weirdly intense thing here. Asking up front seems like such a simple solution.

    2. Delta Delta*

      I would take a “friendship cupcake” right about now. This has nothing to do with birthdays or religion and everything to do with cake.

    3. Nina*

      At my last job, HR knew your birthday (because it’s on your ID), and asked if you wanted to opt-in to having it observed (which was literally just, they would message your manager the day before with a reminder, and the manager would put a ‘happy birthday [Name]’ message in the team group chat and people who saw it might wish you a happy birthday in person or they might not). Everyone was way too busy for passing a card around or bringing in baking. If you opted out, HR considered your birthday to belong in the ‘information about employee that is strictly need-to-know’ part of your file along with your IRD number and your emergency contact.

    4. iglwif*

      As part of the onboarding process, the office birthday coordinator asked “Do you celebrate birthdays? If so, when is yours?” And then we had a list of “Birthdays to Celebrate” that anyone could view. If someone’s birthday wasn’t on it, then they clearly weren’t into birthdays and were to be left alone.

      This is FABULOUS.

      Because there are all sorts of reasons why a person might not be into having their birthday celebrated at work, and this approach can accommodate all of them without being nosy.

  26. The Other Evil HR Lady*

    #1: We had a coworker with the same dilemma and we did exactly what Alison is suggesting here. Her manager asked her what would make her most comfortable, our coworker had no problem with everyone else celebrating birthdays and holidays, as long as she wasn’t forced to participate (which, in my office, no one is forced to participate in anything!). She would continue doing her work, and had no hard feelings at all. She was a great worker and we valued her, so we expressed our gratitude to her in other ways – notes of thanks go a long way for all employees to feel valued! That was it!

  27. Thatoneoverthere*

    I worked with 2 Jehovah’s Witnesses and they sound similar to Susie. We often had celebrations and they simply choose not to participate and just went about with their day. As long as there was no forced participation they were fine with it. Once I baked Christmas Cookies for the department. I made a separate batch that was plain (no shapes or sprinkles) for the JWs (I asked beforehand if they could accept them) and they did and were thankful to have the treats. I would def ask you boss if she could speak to Susie about this.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I had similar experiences when teaching. I would usually give out seasonal pencils at the beginning of the month and I had a JW student who refused. I offered him a plain yellow pencil, and he was very happy to accept it.

      People like LW’s manager are really making a mountain out of a molehill which doesn’t even exist. I wonder what other management issues there are or will be down the road.

      1. Silly Stuff*

        This is why JWs should run their own schools. Children don’t pick their religion, and you aren’t considered a member until you’re baptized. Forcing children to be excluded from some of the most joyful moments of childhood and because of what their parents believe is cruel.

        Nothing wrong with a no birthday celebrations in the workplace rule, if it applies to everyone at all times. But if Susie leaves and birthdays are ok again, then another Susie comes on board and they aren’t, well that’s a lot of whipping people back and forth. I’ve known many JWs in the workplace and none have wanted others to not celebrate, they just don’t partake. Susie may not be a JW, but it’s a reach to shut down an innocuous cultural practice because of one person’s religion.

        1. Dahlia*

          Isolating children so they have no exposure to the world outside of their borderline-cult religion is uh. Actually bad.

        2. JSPA*

          Please; this is not the right place for opining on religions, and how they should operate.

          And IMO, it’s never the right place to explain how people from one group should self-exclude from the public sphere.

  28. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    LW1: This manager is treating Susie as if she were a child; making decisions on her behalf without asking for her input and forbidding Susie’s colleagues to talk with her about a matter that directly concerns her. Frankly, if I were Susie, I’d be very angry if I found out that my manager had done this! That said, if LW1’s manager really won’t budge on this, then LW1 could suggest that their colleagues celebrate birthdays out of the office – say, by taking the birthday celebrant to a restaurant for lunch or dinner.

    But please, LW1 – make it clear to your colleagues that this absurd ruling comes from your MANAGER and NOT from Susie herself. It’s massively unfair to blame Susie for your manager’s inane decision to treat her like a child! Your manager is the one who’s ruining office birthday celebrations and this should be made clear to everyone in the office.

  29. On-Call Nerves*

    LW#3 – This is a pretty standard question in my industry (higher education). It is used as a great way to gauge what additional training we would need to front-load for the individual and how in tune someone is with their own strengths and weaknesses.

    When I interviewed internally for my current position, one of the responsibilities involved serving as part of an on-call rotation. I’ve made it through my entire career without serving in an official on-call capacity. However, I have had students call me after hours with emergencies that I would need to report up, coincidentally to the on-call position I was interviewing for. When asked that question, I used it as a chance to explain that I’ve never served in an official on-call capacity. While I’ve had to manage emergency situations, I had no idea what happened once I reported to the person I was calling. My now supervisor did a great job explaining in the interview that what I had dealt with in the past was beyond the norm of what the role typically handles when on call, and then spent a few hours within my first month reviewing the on-call process and procedures.

  30. Violet*

    LW1: You mentioned you’re new, and I know you said things have been great so far- but for me it’s a bit of a red flag that something isn’t great in the workplace if people get ‘livid’ over small potatoes like this. Just keep an eye out.

  31. ferrina*

    #5 sounds ripe for malicious compliance.
    I guarantee 90% of higher-ups do not want to be CCed on daily activities. They already feel like they spend too much time on their email and do not want to have to wade through a million CCs just to get to the emails that matter.

  32. Mothman*

    I used to teach, and we had a student who didn’t celebrate birthdays or holidays. He just ignored birthdays (though he sometimes took a piece of cake or a treat since treats weren’t banned, lol!) and didn’t come to school during holiday celebrations because having the whole grade taking time to have a party while he sat at the sidelines wasn’t okay. He didn’t get an absence for this.

    That said, I wonder if Susie is the only one feeling iffy and the manager just thought it was easiest to “blame” her religion. I don’t mind small birthday things like a gift card or available cake, but the singing and other big things would make me very uncomfortable. I wouldn’t want a boss to say “Mothman hates having her birthday celebrated like this, so I’m taking it away from everyone.” Susie probably doesn’t feel good about it, either, but saying it’s about inclusion could be an easy way out.

    Also… super uncool for the manager to mentioned Susie by name.

  33. Jasmine Tea*

    Susie will not care if anyone else celebrates their birthdays as long as they respect her right to not do it. Boss is overthinking it!

  34. Lacey*

    LW4: I do always love a manager who thinks, “Belinda isn’t very good at her job, so let’s giver her the fun bits of someone else’s!” or “Lavinia’s so competent, let’s give her the worst work no one else does well even though it’s unrelated to the work she’s trained to do!”

    Hopefully you have a manager who values your work enough to fix this situation when you bring up that you don’t like it.

  35. Mothman*

    I really dislike the wording of the question about the job description. “Gives you pause” typically means you’re so doubtful about meaning/intention that you’re considering exiting the situation. “Big learning curve” feels like a “gotcha.” What is “big” anyway? And having it be about the job *description* essentially asks “did you apply for a job you knew you were under qualified for?” And since descriptions are often vague, there isn’t really a good answer!

    If I didn’t have a really good answer, I think I’d answer it more like “the description aligns with my skills, though every job has adjustment and some surprises. Do you have a professional development or mentorship system in place where I could get support if and when I have questions or need help?”

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I think you’re really misinterpreting things here.

      “Gives you pause” means exactly that — you pause, so you can think about it more. Not that you are going to say “Nope, sorry, this isn’t the job for me”.

      The “gives you pause” part means that you can reflect on those parts of the job that aren’t perfectly aligned to your skillset and decide if it’s you are willing to invest the time and energy to get better at those areas.

      “Big learning curve” isn’t a gotcha. What they mean by “big” is “what is a big learning curve for you?” As I’ve said elsewhere, maybe they need someone who can hit the ground running. Or maybe they are looking to rework the department and are looking for someone without a lot of predisposed notions about how this is supposed to work and will be willing to learn and adapt to get the best possible outcome.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Yeah, there’s a big difference between “I’ve never used machine X to run the assay so there will be some learning there” and “I’ve never run assay Z at all”. One is training from the ground up, and one just needs an hour of training on some equipment and probably someone around who knows the machine the first few times they run it. Sometimes you NEED the person who only needs machine training because you need results for grants that are due in a shorter time frame.

    2. glouby*

      I agree that this is real way that people sometimes use “gives one pause”–in a euphemistic sense meant to discreetly indicate GLARING POSSIBLY INTRACTABLE PROBLEMS HERE EXIT NOW.

      When used in an interview context, I think we have to gauge context and our own feelings–like if an interviewer is asking during an interview when you’ve chosen to apply to the role and presumably have enough interest to attend the interview, I don’t think the above interpretation is warranted.

  36. ticktick*

    When I worked in an office many moons ago, it was the custom for whoever was celebrating something – be it a birthday or other occasion – to bring in donuts. So if you chose NOT to celebrate your birthday, that was fine, and there was no expectation on any of your colleagues to do anything for you. Anything a colleague did (such as a card) was purely on an individual level.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I worked in a place like that, and it was nice. Where I work now, we tend to ignore them (unless there is some private going on)

    2. Random Bystander*

      And then there was my office’s pre-pandemic practice of having a quarterly celebration with (usually bagels with varieties of plain and flavored cream cheese–most popular were the cinnamon and the cheese varieties) some treat available for everyone and the names of the people with birthdays in that quarter with their date (month/day only) on a sign on the wall above the treats. There would also be a cake (sheet cake, half white/half chocolate) for the group. I suppose that if there were anyone who didn’t want to be acknowledged, it would be a simple matter of speaking to the department admin (who was responsible for keeping all that info) to leave the name/date off the display for whichever quarter was involved. If individuals wanted to bring in treats on/near their actual birthday, treats were always welcomed but not expected.

  37. Maybe I Need Coffee*

    I don’t know, I think I “might” hesitate asking Susie what she thinks…maybe that’s me overthinking this morning. But that gets close to the situation where a marginalized person is asked, “but Joe doesn’t mind that, does he?” and is afraid to answer honestly.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I assume this is what the manager is trying to avoid by asking people not to talk to Susie directly. It may or may not be relevant in this situation but I appreciate the instinct to err towards protecting the marginalized person.

    2. Despachito*

      But there are two things Susie could in theory mind – one of them is reasonable, the other isn’t.

      Would you ask her “would you mind if we celebrate your birthday” or “would you mind if we celebrate OUR birthdays in your presence”?

      In the first case, if the coworkers are normally decent people and the atmosphere is not toxic, she is less likely to be afraid to say “I actually would mind, I do not want to celebrate my birthday”, the second question should never be asked (because she has no right to police this).

      I’d say she (and anyone else) should have a veto as to what she is willing to participate in, but it is up to her to deal with the fact that others participate in an activity she does not like.

  38. Lyr*

    Why pull Susie into the birthday conversation at all? She didn’t ask for it and hasn’t indicated it’s a problem. Birthdays are secular celebrations even if certain religions do not allow for them. This feels like asking a religiously-motivated vegetarian if it’s okay if other people eat meat in the office—obviously it is fine and dragging them into it feels unwarranted and targeted.

  39. Dinwar*

    LW #1 reminds me of Speedy Gonzolas. He was removed from the Loony Tunes lineup because people thought he might be offensive to the Hispanic community. Turned out, however, that he was loved by that community–a wise-cracking hero that could hold his own against Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck is a rare thing in US media! They added him back in after the Hispanic community complained about his removal.

    Being offended on someone else’s behalf robs them of their voice as much as silencing them does. And at least in my experience the person offended on someone else’s behalf is wrong more often than they’re right.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Except he’s not universally loved in the Latino community — minorities are not blocks.

      Which is why it’s always best to treat individuals as individuals.

      Being offended on someone else’s behalf robs them of their voice as much as silencing them does.

      Not always. There’s nothing wrong with being offended on someone’s behalf. It’s the action you take afterward that can be problematic.

      1. Czhorat*

        Yeah, the “don’t be offended on someone else’s behalf” argument often translates to “don’t stand up for marginalized communities”.

        In this case (birthday celebrations) the action not only probably doesn’t help the JW employee but might harm her (by making it seem like her fault that the office loses out on celebrations). In terms of characters that are ethnic stereotypes, I’ll note that for every Speedy Gonzalez there are numerous actually racist depictions of minorities in media which shouldn’t be celebrated. Those of us in positions of privilege DO have an obligation to use our voices to call out sexism, racism, and other bigotries where we see them.

      2. Dinwar*

        “Not always. There’s nothing wrong with being offended on someone’s behalf.”

        Hard disagree here. It’s okay to be offended WITH someone, but not to be offended FOR someone. There’s a pretty substantial difference. To be offended WITH someone means that you’re being an ally, using your status and privilege to assist them. To be offended FOR someone means that you’re using your status and privilege to tell them what they think about things.

        “Except he’s not universally loved in the Latino community….”

        You can find exceptions to any statement, especially in a group as large as the Latino community. If we limit ourselves to only those characters that are universally loved, we infantilize that community (the attitude being that they’re too delicate to take even the most mild of controversies) and silence a large number of voices in that community. I’m not saying, to be clear, that we should ignore minorities–we shouldn’t force people to celebrate birthdays, for example!–but rather that in any situation where offending a minority group is a potential issue we should differ to the views of that group (allowing of course for the rich nuance inherent in all human cultures).

        Bringing this back to the letter: We don’t know if the person in question finds other people celebrating their birthdays offensive or not. The boss is making that choice for the employee.

        (As an aside, the view “Your religion bans you from doing things, not me” also comes into play. YOU can forego birthday celebrations due to your religion; since I’m not a member of that religion I have no obligation to comply by your religion’s rules.)

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          It’s okay to be offended WITH someone, but not to be offended FOR someone. There’s a pretty substantial difference….

          I agree with what you are saying here. I think we may just be quibbling over semantics.

          You can find exceptions to any statement, especially in a group as large as the Latino community. If we limit ourselves to only those characters that are universally loved, we infantilize that community…

          The issue I have is that when a character is almost universally despised by the entire Latino community because it is perceived as racist, there are always those people who say “Oh, but my cousin’s friend’s neighbor’s mailman likes this character” as if that’s supposed to make it all okay. It does not.

      3. Chocolate Covered Cotton*

        If I, a white straight male, get offended at racism or sexism, I’m not offended on anyone’s behalf. I actually don’t like racism or sexism and can find them offensive all on my own.

        1. Clare*

          Sure, but the problem isn’t as black and white as that. If I survey 10 women and 5 of them say “Advertising for makeup is sexist because it’s helping continue the narrative that women need to look a certain way and spend money on things men don’t have to” and 5 of them say “It’s not sexist, I wear makeup because I like it, don’t patronise me and take away my ability to find good eyeliner”; is it sexist or not? Should you be mad about the next bronzer ad you see? There are many shades of grey here.

          The problem is a complex one, look at Australia’s current issues with their Voice referendum if you want to see the complexities playing out in real life. It’s not a problem we can solve by making declarations in the comments section of a workplace blog, as nice as that would be. I do wish it were that simple though.

  40. Trawna*

    There are only two ways to handle birthdays in the workplace:

    1. Do nothing, ever.

    2. Company or department brings in cake once a month. Those whose birthday month it is fess up, or not. Anyone who wants cake, eats cake.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Or the various other ways that birthdays are handled in the workplace without forcing people to participate…

    2. Esprit de l'escalier*

      I always found solution #2 to be so perfunctory as to be meaningless, whether it was my birthday month or others’. It was just “cake in the conference room” day, and not even very good cake.

    3. Clare*

      3) Everyone who want to celebrate anything brings in their own cake. When the cake is brought out at the end of lunch, people go “Oh, is it your birthday? Happy birthday!!”. Occasionally the answer is, “No, actually I just bought a new house!!” and the response is “Congratulations!!!”. The cake is left on the lunch table for anyone who wants a slice. All life events are celebrated for those who want them celebrated. Those who don’t, don’t even have to say so out loud. If the boss thinks they deserve an extra fancy cake, they buy one, no gifting up. Those who don’t celebrate birthdays go back to their desk 2 minutes before everyone else without taking a slice of cake. The biggest drama is the yearly “Is chocolate ripple cake really a cake though?” argument on the Australian’s birthday. Everything is chill.

  41. Pink Geek*

    LW2: Our office has a shared spreadsheet with home addresses. Adding yours is entirely optional. The people who like mail can mail each other to their heart’s content without bothering others for their addresses. Though, I would still ask if it’s okay to send something if it’s the first time I’m mailing someone. (“I see your address in the spreadsheet, would you like a Halloween Card?”)

    A yearly reminder is sent to add/update addresses by our admin and the link is shared as part of on-boarding.

    1. LW2*

      Helpful, thanks. We don’t have an admin so I’m not quite sure who would manage this or if it’s worth implementing for one person. What was the origin of creating it? Other than the confidential HR data kept by the powers that be, I can’t think of a legitimate business reason why everyone would be asked to voluntarily consider sharing their home address with their coworkers.

  42. EngineerResearcher*

    #1 – I might be veering into reading too much into things, but a little part of me thinkgs that the boss might be making Susie’s religion the fall guy for avoiding birthday related drama. Especially with the two other coworkers having such a negative reaction, I wonder if the boss is (badly) trying to head off birthday celebrations because of past issues. I can see “so and so got celebrated but not me and now I cant let it go” or “Roger didn’t sign my card and now I feel the need to snub him at work” being an exhausting cycle.

  43. H3llifIknow*

    I think LW1 has some standing to say, “you do realize that your effort to be inclusive of Susie, has in fact sort of forced all of US to embrace/practice HER religious beliefs by not doing what we’d normally do.” I used to work with a woman of *speculatively* that religion, and she had NO problem at all with the rest of us doing “our thing” because she recognized that we all had differing beliefs and ways to act in accordance with them. I believe your manager’s heart is in the right place, but her head… maybe not so much.

    1. Observer*

      , “you do realize that your effort to be inclusive of Susie, has in fact sort of forced all of US to embrace/practice HER religious beliefs by not doing what we’d normally do.”

      Not really. Unless someone actually has a religious obligation to celebrate or acknowledge their birthday at work, to NOT do something could not really be seen as following someone else’s religion.

      A more real world situation is if someone tries to keep Person 2 from wearing something that has religious significance to Person 2 because the original person has a religious objection. (Like someone who wears a Bindi and another person objects for religious reasons.)

      1. H3llifIknow*

        Agree to disagree. Using another example, if I normally as part of my life wear sleeveless blouses to the office in the summer,and it isn’t against corporate dress code, and because YOUR religion says you can’t, I am forced to start wearing long sleeves so you don’t have to see my arms, I’m essentially being told to practice YOUR religious beliefs along with you.

        1. Rainy*

          Yup. When I was 19 or so I worked (restaurant kitchen job) with a young woman who as part of her religious beliefs had to wear long skirts and couldn’t cut her hair. Fine, whatever makes you happy, not my pigs, not my farm.

          When she started calling her coworkers who wore jeans to work (that would be…the rest of us working there) “sluts” because we wouldn’t wear skirts to work (at a BARBECUE RESTAURANT), our boss came down on her like a ton of bricks. You get to make whatever rules you want to for yourself. You don’t get to make rules for me, and you for sure don’t get to namecall, harass, or assault me when I won’t follow your rules.

          1. Observer*

            When she started calling her coworkers who wore jeans to work (that would be…the rest of us working there) “sluts” because we wouldn’t wear skirts to work (at a BARBECUE RESTAURANT), our boss came down on her like a ton of bricks.

            Your boss was 100% correct. Your coworker was out of her mind, imo – and my religious beliefs also preclude pants. But calling people gross names because they don’t follow your religious precepts is wildly out of line in general, 1,000 x over in the workplace.

            But that’s not really relevant. Not allowing someone to do something because of your religious beliefs is not making them follow your religion. I’m not saying that a boss (or coworker) who does that is doing the correct or proper thing. But not doing that thing is not a religious statement. Not wearing pink shirts (or jeans or whatever) is not a religious action or statement of religious belief.

            Aside from the exception where the action being forbidden being a religious obligation, I also think that there are situations where the religious angle is so strong that it’s a really bad idea to push it anyway (even without name calling.) But for the more general stuff, including celebrating birthdays *at work*, I don’t think it would ever fly. I would be shocked if any EEOC / DOL / Similar regulatory body would see it that way.

            1. H3llifIknow*

              “…and my religious beliefs also preclude pants. ”
              And if I worked with you and the boss said, “listen, Observer’s religion doesn’t allow her to wear pants, and I don’t want her to be uncomfortable or feel like she sticks out like a sore thumb because the rest of you wear pants, so I want you to start wearing longish skirts and dresses so she feels included,” that would NOT be okay. Just like “X doesn’t celebrate events due to her religion and so as not to make her feel uncomfortable, none of you can either.” It’s not about an EEOC claim or whatever, it’s about an employer making a religious accomodation on her behalf that affects everyone else, when she hasn’t even ASKED FOR ONE!

            2. Rainy*

              Mmm…sorry, I’m not sure I understand. Are you saying that if we worked together, you can tell me that because of your religious beliefs (that I don’t share!) I have to change something about how I live and work, and I have to do it because just demanding that I, e.g., wear long sleeves or skirts isn’t making me follow religious beliefs, so it’s okay?

  44. No Tribble At All*

    #3 – if it’s any kind of tech job, you can say you assume there will be a learning curve for the new Jira ticketing system. (Once had a candidate say “every company uses Jira, and every company does it poorly” which is accurate).

    I was surprised to hear the “don’t try to turn it back into a strength” advice, because it feels so wrong to admit weaknesses in your candidacy. I suppose it’s the difference between “I’ll need the most support for X type of task” rather than “yeah I don’t know how to do X task.”

    It almost sounds like the interviewer is asking this question in order to prompt the interviewee to ask something like “what have new hires struggled with in this role?” which is great if you know to ask that, but is tougher if you’re a less experienced interviewee.

    1. Cedrus Libani*

      I think admitting weaknesses can be a good thing. No need to borrow trouble, but if you call out something the hiring manager has already noticed and has concerns about, then you get to have a conversation about it. Yes, I haven’t done X since high school, but here’s why you should hire me anyway.

      I’m pretty sure this question got me hired at my first industry job (in biotech). My answer? Documentation. If you’re working in an academic lab, your notebook can be as disorganized as you please, so long as you’re able to make sense of it when it’s time to write the paper. In industry, if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen. People who have never met you will read your notes, and they will need to understand what you did and why you did it, without your intervention. The fact that I was aware enough of what I was walking into to give that answer gave them reassurance, even as I was admitting a legitimate weakness (and I did mess up a few times because I had “academia goggles” on; my documentation was fine, but I had to get used to the industry mindset in other ways).

      That said, I’m a scientist. I’ve got the interpersonal subtlety of a bag of hammers, also I have Resting Guilty Face (can’t play find-the-impostor games, I die immediately). Not much to do about it besides play to my natural strengths. Can’t doublespeak, but I’m credible when I’m talking about what I’m good at. That’s often enough.

  45. LB33*

    I used to work for an Israeli company and the way they do birthdays there, and maybe other places too, is that the birthday person is the one to bring in cookies, a cake, etc so they get to decide whether and how to celebrate or not.

    A couple of my former colleagues got called up this week so it was on my mind

    1. Ellis Bell*

      This is how it’s been done in most of my (British, northern) workplaces. I’m not sure it would work in this situation though, because if the boss has banned birthday stuff, it would mean you can’t celebrate your own birthday too, surely? If I really wanted to mark someone’s birthday I’d probably give my own card and gift privately instead of a joint office effort.

  46. Lexi Vipond*

    I just managed to read this as ‘boss said we can’t swap birthdays’, which is fair enough, but possibly not within the boss’s remit!

  47. too many dogs*

    LW #1: When the office closes for, say Thanksgiving or Christmas, does Susie come in and work because she “doesn’t celebrate holidays”? Suggest the polite, commonsense thing: don’t wish Susie Merry/Happy [pick a holiday], do give others cards and cake, but don’t insist Susie participate. This is only a Big Deal if people make it one.

  48. Sheldon Cooper*

    I think Jehovahs Witnesses are allowed to celebrate anniversaries. For various reasons, we’ve shifted to celebrating work anniversaries instead of birthdays. Everyone still gets celebrated once a year, but it misses the minefields of those that don’t celebrate bdays, those that don’t want to share their age, those that are older and where comments about their age would be problematic, etc.

    1. Phony Genius*

      I think that the JW rule is specific to wedding anniversaries. (After all, your birthday is really just the anniversary of your birth.)

  49. Elizabeth West*

    #2 —
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but by making everyone else go along with it because of Susie, doesn’t it seem like the manager is enforcing a religious practice on people who are not of that faith?

    I know there’s no law that you have to celebrate birthdays at work, and a workplace can totally not do that, but the reasoning behind what they’re doing here seems to me to be leaking into rather iffy legal territory.

  50. Tiger Lily*

    LW2: maybe suggest an online service like KudoBoard that allows people to contribute to an online greeting card. My staff enjoyed it during remote work as it still offered the personal touch of individual greetings you’d write in a card without asking someone to share a home address.

    1. LW2*

      Thanks, I see KudoBoard is getting lots of love in the comments from people who have been there, done that. I was originally thinking of suggesting a specific service to her but don’t want to suggest that she spend money as part of it (although she is clearly spending money on cards) so I may just suggest it in general.

  51. whinger*

    LW: please talk to your boss about unbanning birthday celebrations. We used to pass around cards at work but then someone high up threw a tantrum about signing the cards (instead of yanno, just not signing them???) so it was nixed. I never got a card, not once before that because whoever organizing it ran out of steam but still.

    Mind you there are a lot of things here that make me feel unappreciated but ugh.

  52. tinyhipsterboy*

    The answer to #3 is super helpful! I feel like the advice you get a lot from people that are a bit out of touch is that you should always try to turn it around to speak to your strengths, so it’s good to see that’s not actually the case all the time.

  53. jane's nemesis*

    I had a manager who was a Jehovah’s Witness at an ice-cream chain that rhymed with Schmaskin-Bobbins, and she literally was our cake decorator. Had to write Happy Birthday (and also decorate other holiday cakes) for other people to purchase. I was curious why it was okay, she said as long as she didn’t consume the cake or celebrate the occasion, it was fine!

    She was a lovely manager. Thought I was high all the time because my eyes were red, but I was just a tired college student who often fell asleep with my contacts in.

  54. Signed, An Other*

    I am projecting my own glee that I no longer work in a big office onto The Susie Situation. My former coworkers are horrifically non-diverse in gender, age, socio-economic background, lifestyle choices and education. For some of my less worldly colleagues, any deviation from their norm is a comprehension challenge and continual topic of discussion. As a benign example (there are worse), someone ordering a team lunch would tell all 40 of us individually that there are vegetarian choices so Carl could order, and the restaurant will leave the cheese off of Jim’s sandwich for his lactose intolerance, and that Rita could get extra cookies to help her blood sugar. Every. Single Time. I can totally see Susie sharing her religion and view on celebrations once, and then, it became The Conversation Topic That Wouldn’t Die, and when Erika and Jacki organize a birthday, they’re telling everyone, “We’re having cake for Tommy’s birthday today. But remember that Susie doesn’t do birthdays, so don’t talk about it around her.” Despite the bazillion diversity education seminars everyone attends, they don’t understand how they are “othering” Susie. So perhaps the manager knew they were sitting on a harassment powder keg and said, “enough, no more birthdays.” I know, that’s totally not what the letter writer said, but I’m just tossing out the possibility because I’ve seen my well-meaning coworkers do that time and time again.

  55. Yep, me again*

    The workaround here is:

    Everyone gathers and without singing, keeps to the cadence of ‘happy birthday’ by reciting:

    ‘It’s the anniversary of your birth. It’s the anniversary of your birth. Today you were born, it’s the day you were born.’

  56. Dawn*

    LW#3: It’s not a trick question and the goal is not to find the “best answer” but answer honestly. They’re asking because they want to know, and because it’s something you should give some honest thought to.

  57. Raida*

    1. My boss says we can’t celebrate birthdays because of one employee’s religious beliefs
    “don’t talk to her about her religion” Yeah nah mate, I’m immediately going to go talk to her about her religion. I’m getting very clear information from the source.
    Because otherwise I’m telling him “Okay then there isn’t to be anything to do with [list of holidays and observed days from a range of religions and cultures] in the office. Because if one person doesn’t observe it, we can’t have it. Is that the rule? No X-Mas tinsel, Easter Eggs, Diwali sweets…?

    4. I don’t want to swap work with my coworker
    Jeez, I’d have to write out a few approaches before speaking ot my boss so I could be calm, cool and professional when I did speak. Because the first thing I think of is “So you’re saying it’s my responsibility to support her in doing what she wants at work, but it’s nobody’s responsibility in supporting me in diong what I want at work. Is that right? She wants to do the fun stuff so fck me? She wont’ have time to do *her job* so I can pick up the slack?”

  58. SB*

    Has anyone asked Susie? She may not care, as long as you don’t try to force her to participate!

    This sounds very much like a recent call at a local school to stop doing the annual Christmas carols at the end of the school year because there is now a Muslim family at the school. No one asked this new family how they felt, the P&C just decided that it would be better to just cancel the whole thing. Turns out the muslim family was very relaxed & were keen to experience their very first Aussie Xmas after immigrating here & had no problem attending a carols night.

  59. Kay*

    #1 is a good example of an “inclusivity” policy that excludes more people than it includes. Many such cases.

  60. ThisIshRightHere*

    I highly doubt anyone is interested in pressuring Susie to celebrate her own birthday. If anything, they may take offense to her disinterest in celebrating theirs. In my 20+ years of JW experience, it is others who get so offended at your refusal to celebrate THEIR observances that is the biggest powder keg. And that goes double when people won’t accept a simple explanation and prefer instead to debate with me about why my beliefs are wrong–I never engage with that. No one cares (or even notices) that I don’t celebrate my own birthday at work or help myself to the Christmas cookies. And rarely has anyone insisted I do so. But I have been *formally* counseled on separate occasions, at separate jobs for: (1) not signing the boss’ birthday card, (2) continuing to work rather than singing happy birthday to a colleague, (3) RSVPing “no” to an Easter brunch, (4) not participating in the office trick or treat shindig where folks buy and hand out candy to coworkers’ kids, and (5) declining to attend a coworker’s child’s [after hours, offsite] birthday party. And this doesn’t even include school days where teachers shamed and othered me with versions of “Tommy will feel bad if you don’t wish him a happy birthday. Do you want to make Tommy cry?” In all cases, I declined very politely. In some cases, I may have explicitly cited religious reasons. No matter what, people always, always freak out.

  61. FTN*

    Erica and Jackie are livid that “birthdays are ruined”
    I agree with what Alison says about not assuming this is why Susie wants in the first place or imposing her beliefs on others – but can we take a second and ruminate on what children Erica and Jackie are? You ruined birthdays??? Really?

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