can my parents contact my employer if they haven’t heard from me, getting out of a snacks rota, and more

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

1. Can my parents contact my employer if they haven’t heard from me?

I live far from my parents in another country (the U.S.). If my parents can’t reach me by phone for, say, two days and are worried, can they ask HR or my manager to check on me to make sure I am safe? (So that if my company can’t make contact with me either, HR could call the police to do a welfare check or go to my home?)

Two days would be much too early for your parents to contact your employer; that would be imposing on your employer in a way that isn’t reasonable unless there were highly unusual, extenuating circumstances — like you always call them at 7 pm on the dot and you missed two nights of calling and you had told them you feared for your safety because of a mountain lion prowling your backyard (I had a hard time coming up with an example that would work here, as you can see). Otherwise, since lots of people go much longer without talking to their family, contacting your employer after two days would be a prohibitively unusual burden to place on your company.

Even in those unusual circumstances, though, they’d be better off calling the police in your area to do a welfare check rather than your employer. Your employer would have the benefit of knowing if you’d been at work or not, but they won’t necessarily give that info to a non-employee who calls to ask. (And consider that some people are estranged from their family, don’t want contact with an abusive ex, simply don’t want that info shared, etc.) You could give your employer explicit permission, but even then if your family did contact HR, your parents would need to see it as a one-time thing only.

If your parents are likely to be anxious and wanting this kind of reassurance more than in a once-in-a-blue-moon true emergency, you’re better off coming up with a different system — like that you’ll always check in by Thursday each week and so there’s a problem if they haven’t heard from you by Friday, or whatever works for you.

I should note that my read of your question is that if my answer had been “yes, it’s fine for your parents to do that,” that would be okay with you. But if, instead, you don’t want your parents to do this and are worried they will anyway, you can warn HR and your boss that it might happen and let them know it’s fine to explain they can’t give that information out.

2. How much time should a manager spend on people stuff vs driving actual work?

I’m a manager of an analyst team. I report directly to our C-suite leader because of a somewhat strange org structure; most other managers in this department report to a VP. He is very focused on us executing on strategic work, but I find myself spending most of my time with my reports dealing with their interpersonal problems, or lack of motivation, or what they want for professional development, etc. We’re also entirely remote so I feel like I need to make an extra effort to focus on this since I can’t observe them at the office.

My feeling is that they won’t be able to focus on the important work if these things aren’t addressed but my boss doesn’t seem to agree on how I split my effort. It sort of makes sense that someone at his level isn’t worried about the individual people doing the work and it needs to be my job to do so. What do you think?

If you’re really spending most of your time with your staff talking about those things rather than the actual work, your boss is right that the balance is way off.

A couple of those items set off alarm bells for me too: if you’re spending significant time discussing someone’s lack of motivation, that’s a pretty big performance issue and I’d question whether you have the right people in the job. It’s of course important to create the conditions in which good hires will feel motivated (by doing things like giving them meaningful roles with real responsibility, ensuring they see the bigger picture of what their work adds up to, etc.) and you need to avoid demotivating staff by things like yelling, but beyond that if you’re spending significant time on someone’s lack of motivation, that’s not a good use of your time or energy. That amount of time on interpersonal problems worries me too; of course those will come up from time to time, but if you’re regularly focused on that with people to the extent that it’s overshadowing the actual work, that’s a sign of bigger problems too.

I’m with your boss on this one.

3. I don’t want to do a team snacks rotation

One of my colleagues has suggested to our 12-person unit that we introduce a weekly cake/snack rota where we each take turns bringing snacks to the office for the unit. I really don’t want to participate in this. First, I think office cake culture is pretty terrible for our health and diet outside of people celebrating a personal event. Second, I am a single parent to two-year old twins and I just don’t want to add to my existing chores to spend time and effort on something I disagree to begin with — even if it is only four times a year. However, I know some people in our unit love this sort of thing and can get a bit offended by those not equally willing to participate. How do I opt out in a non-offensive manner?

In theory you should just be able to say “no thanks!” and have that be respected, but since that sounds like it’s not the case, you could try one of these:

* “Oh, I’m really picky about snacks so I’ll opt out — thanks for inviting me though.”

* “I’m juggling two toddlers at home by myself and will literally burst into flames if I add any additional stuff to my list! Thanks for inviting me though.”

* “For a bunch of boring reasons, I’m not going to participate, but have fun doing it!”

Note: if your coworkers get offended by reasonable actions, there’s no magic language that will prevent that. But these are reasonable things to say. Say them cheerfully and as if of course that’ll be the end of it, hold firm if there’s any pushback (“nope, I really can’t!”), and figure that any Feelings they have about it are on them to manage.

4. I can’t reach HR about medical accommodations

I have been trying to reach out to our human resources team with no success to get accommodations. I’ve emailed twice, and my boss has emailed as well. Do you have a script that might help? I don’t want to be too forceful. I was in the hospital for two weeks. I emailed them late September and then was in the hospital part of October. I just emailed them again recently but still no reply. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Is it an option to call? If so, do that! Whenever one method of communication isn’t working and it’s something important, you should try a different method, since sometimes that will get you better results.

But if you can only email, then try again and put this in your subject line: “Official request for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.” And then the body of your email should open with, “This is an official — and time-sensitive — request for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. I originally made this request over a month ago and have not heard back.”

Also, if there’s a way to go over the head of the person you’ve been contacting (or for your boss to), do that since a month is an unacceptably long response time. If you still don’t hear back, a lawyer may have better luck.

{ 572 comments… read them below }

  1. I'm confused*

    LW 1 – I live alone in a diff country from my parents and my coworker would be who would notice I wasn’t at work? Are friends, coworkers, neighbors not an option here? This is not something that most HR places would do or that you would want them to do?

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Agreeing – it would be better to set up a designated individual as an emergency contact. That might be a coworker (ie. a specific person) but shouldn’t be the company.

      Personally, I would go with a roommate or neighbour, over a co-worker, though. You don’t want to have your family members contact you for some embarrassing reason.

      Personal anecdote – when I was in university, my mother called my roommate in a panic one day to find out if I had been shot at a street festival. I was actually at work in a completely other area of the city. I lived in a city of about 2 million people. The street festival was for a specific cultural group of which I am not a member. I am not a big fan of standing out in the sun watchin parades. Ie. the odds of my being at the street festival – let alone the victim of a gunshot at the festival – were vanishingly remote. My mother insisted that my roommate find me and make sure I was okay. My roommate was thankfully amused. I would have been absolutely mortified if a coworker / HR / my manager had gotten that call.

      Parents get bees in their bonnets sometimes. You want to control where the bees are directed.

      1. Fi*

        “You want to control where the bees are directed.” is such great advice, whether it is just a single bee in a parental bonnet or a whole house full of bees.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        Sounds like my mother-in-law. She worries whenever I take the kids into the city. Yes, it does have a disturbingly high murder rate. No, that isn’t in the parts with museums and live arts. My church is in the city, adjacent to city hall. Many people are too afraid to come into the city. I don’t have great regard for the city police force, but they have control of city hall and its immediate environs. We we have here is a combination of people with a poor sense of geography, poor sense of risk, and an inchoate fear of Those People.

        1. The bean moves on*

          Hear, hear! Some people act like I’ve signed a death warrant if I even mention going into the city. What a nasty piece of propaganda

          1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

            My husband and I like to go into our city to attend basketball games, and often stay in a fancy AirB&B condo overnight near the arena so we can feel like ballers for a day. We’ll go out to dinner, see the game, and usually get brunch the next day before heading back to the suburbs.

            The number of people I know who think we will come back in a body bag is decidedly not zero. It used to piss me off, but now I just roll my eyes and move on.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              I bought a house a year ago on the exact block that, five years ago, a couple in my friend group had refused to walk past. We’d all run into each other at a nearby art festival, and after it, everyone walked over to a nearby restaurant; except this couple, who went to get their car because “it isn’t safe to walk around here in the evening”. Not going to lie, the fact that the odds of this couple, and others with similar political leanings, coming to where I live are close to zero, makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside each time I think about it.

              Aside from giving me the warm fuzzies though, that kind of thinking is messed up and I see how it can backfire in bad ways.

            2. MigraineMonth*

              I exclusively used busses for over 5 years and only had a couple of uncomfortable experiences, but some people seem convinced that busses are completely unsafe because of all the riff-raff on them.

              For example, I once had a ticket on an Amtrak train that was cancelled due to mudslides across the track, so Amtrak arranged for a charter bus to take everyone to the destination. My seatmate had a sobbing emotional breakdown while yelling at her phone about how afraid she was to take a bus with “these people”. When we found out there was room in a town car also going to the destination, I was not the only one who volunteered my seatmate. (Yes, it rewarded bad behavior, but we just wanted some peace and quiet.)

              1. Mad Harry Crewe*

                Especially amazing because the people on the Amtrak charter bus are going to be the exact same people who would have been on the train, had the train been functional.

              2. Old and Don’t Care*

                I don’t think they are unsafe, per se, but they do reek of pot. (Local bus rotes, obviously.)

              3. Random Dice*

                There was a fatal stabbing at the bus station my brother took every day except that day. But I’m from a crap city that the world knows as very murdery, and indeed I have many murder stories.

            3. Portia*

              I live in a “bad neighborhood” — it’s actually one of the areas people are always warned against when they think of moving here. And it’s fine. We’re all just going about our lives, not terrorizing each other in the streets.

              (Yes, there are genuinely dangerous areas in any city. But often the “bad neighborhood” rep for a larger area doesn’t come from the crime rate but from the colors/languages of the neighbors.)

              1. Irish Teacher.*

                Or income levels. Areas with higher rates of poor people are more likely to be considered “bad”. And in Ireland, one could add any area with a halting site or members of the Travelling Community living in the area.

              2. Mialana*

                Maybe there are genuinely dangerous areas in any American city. I don’t think the same is true for european cities.

          2. Caliente Papillon*

            Yes and for those of us who live in the city – particularly we people of color – seeing what frequently happens to us in what should be beautiful country, is a good reason to stay away from small, rural towns.

            1. Moonstone*

              I live in a big city and have never once not felt safe. We also go to NYC frequently and think nothing of walking around in the middle of the night while there. I have always felt extremely safe either here (Boston), there, and elsewhere. This paranoia about cities kinda blows my mind; maybe it’s because I’ve always lived in one and that is why I feel safer there than in the country.

        2. BethDH*

          I have one of these in my family too. Something that might help OP is that we set up an explicit set of contact instructions. It was something that was more or less how long to wait to contact someone if they hadn’t heard from us and who to contact, plus doing a video “tour” of the places we regularly go and saving them to a google map for them. It helped undo the collapsing of distance and make the places we go “normal,” and now this family member will also sometimes at least google map search where a disaster has taken place and see whether it’s within ten miles or so before assuming we’re in the middle of a forest fire that’s 150 miles away.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            For the past several years, I’ve been driving down to a suburb of Chicago for an annual event of a group I’m in. First time I went, my older son, who was then in his early 20s and spent a lot of time on the conservative/libertarian side of the web, was worried about my safety and hoped I wouldn’t get shot… the event is in Wheeling. (not that it would make a difference if it was in downtown Chicago)

            1. Laura Charles*


              Wheeling. Ha!

              Thank you, I Wrote This; this ridiculousness is just what I needed today.

            2. I Have RBF*

              I grew up in a suburb of Chicago (Mount Prospect.) You couldn’t get more “safe suburb” than that place. We regularly left our doors unlocked, it was that safe. But when you mention that you grew up near Chicago, some folks assume you are running a gauntlet of crime every day.

              I now live in the downtown area of a fairly major SF Bay Area city. The number of people of a certain political persuasion who are convinced that I’m risking my life going out my door are astounding. Yes, we have homelessness and robberies. So do rural towns, it just isn’t as noticeable because there are fewer people.

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                “Yes, we have homelessness and robberies. So do rural towns, it just isn’t as noticeable because there are fewer people.”

                The only time someone close to me was robbed was in a rural area. Their house was literally across the road from a cornfield. Someone broke in when they were away and cleaned the whole house out, as in they took the washer and dryer.

            3. KTB2*

              I attended Lollapalooza in downtown Chicago this summer. The number of people who inquired about my concern for my safety was not zero, and definitely should have been. My eyes got quite the workout from all of the rolling…

          2. Destra N.*

            Same. About 10 years ago I went to a class reunion in the smallish farm and factory town where I grew up. Upon learning that I live in Chicago my classmates asked “Oh, but aren’t you afraid of all the violence?”

            I was like, “You live 20 minutes from Springfield where there also are problems with gang violence. It would take me at least 45 to get to any place where you think the violence is bad, over an hour on the train. You literally have a faster path to ‘bad’ neighborhoods than I do.”

            And to be perfectly frank, that kind of reaction is why I make a big point of getting my nieces into the city for girls days. We ride the buses and the El all over and have a wonderful time. I refuse to let them grow up being afraid of the city.

      3. Sloanicota*

        Yeah, I find this is very common when family members live in a relatively small town and you are one of the few people they know who has moved to a certain big city / area of the country. Then every time anything remotely close to that city/area of the country is reported in the news, they are sure you were caught up in it. When there’s not always breaking news about the place you live, you just don’t get it.

        1. Le Sigh*

          I get sent news stories about something terrible that happened in my city with subject lines like, “Are you okay???” And while some bad stuff has gone down in my own neighborhood, my relative seems to pay no attention to circumstance or geography — they pay enough attention to know it’s my city, as though it was 1 sq mile. I get panicked emails that indicate they haven’t spent any time assessing whether this is something they should worry about. I’ve also gently pointed out to them that while yes, I take common sense precautions to avoid being a target, I don’t particularly consider myself safe in the suburbs and small towns either, given the mass shootings in the U.S.

          1. AnonORama*

            I get forwards of news stories about crime and bad weather ANYwhere in the huge state I live in, with similar questions. (Usually, depending on which family member is inquiring, there’s some degree of implication that I’m too dumb to come in out of the hailstorm/stay away from the wildfire/avoid antagonizing people with large guns, etc.) Most of the time, the event in question happened a good 6 hours from here, if not more.

            1. Freya*

              Me too. Occasionally stuff in a whole other state from family who live in another country. But in my case, it’s always because they’re looking for reassurance which is quick to give (sometimes I follow up with a call to my dad to suggest that he call his sisters please, because reassuring them that he’s alive is no part of my job as the most chronically online person in the family).

              During bushfire season, I set my apps to alert me if there’s any near the people I care about or their evacuation routes, and otherwise ignore it or the stress would have me getting no work done :-)

        2. learnedthehardway*

          Oh yes. My sister and I traveled to see another sibling this past week, and our travel plans got disrupted, resulting in an overnight stay in a major city. My father left worried messages for us because he was concerned that we would be stuck in the station / on the street.

          Forgetting for a moment that airports are generally pretty safe places to hang out in, and that airlines are obligated to put you up for the night in a hotel if they cancel your flight, the fact that we were a) together and b) competent adults who could have rented a hotel room, if we had needed to, apparently slipped Dad’s mind.

          Just as well that he left the worried messages on our mobile phones, and didn’t have an employer to connect with, when he couldn’t get ahold of us directly.

      4. PhyllisB*

        You are so correct. Many years ago I went to spend the weekend with some friends and was driving all night to get there. Even though I was 23 years old and had been living on my own for years, my mother freaked and made me promise to call as soon as I arrived.
        When I got there I found out they didn’t have a phone, and not wanting to go back out to find a pay phone, decided to sleep a while then go call. ( This was way before the days of cell phones.)
        Later that day her husband came home from work and said “CALL YOUR MOTHER!!” When she didn’t hear from me she got the local police to go to his place of business to check on me. I was mortified, but she was unapologetic.
        Needless to say I never forgot to do a check-in again.

        1. Cmdrshrd*

          ” my mother freaked and made me promise to call as soon as I arrived.”

          I don’t know, I kinda feel like making you promise to call when you get there is a bit overboard, but on the other hand car accidents are pretty common and if you were driving overnight, I would guess you were maybe going through stretches of empty road/land that if you were in an accident someone might not see you for a while.

          But I do think once you promised to check in and you missed it, it is a bit more understandable to get worried. As much as I would logically know the chances are high/98% PhyllisB is fine, but on the off chance they are not would I rather have acted/called police and be wrong (as was the case here) versus not acted/left things alone and be wrong (possibility small as it is, is PhyllisB is lying in a ditch somewhere along the road).

          “but she was unapologetic.” I also kinda get it hindsight is 20/20, but with the information she had at the time it seems like it was the right choice still.

          1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

            I think it is the parent’s responsibility to manage their own anxiety. I’ll allow an exception for war zones, but not driving at night.

            1. This_is_Todays_Name*

              But PhyllisB wasn’t “driving at night” she was “driving all night to get there” which is vastly different. Especially THAT many years ago. That’s during the period when we were all convinced serial killers roamed the highways and fake cops pulled over young girls on the roads at night, etc.. It’d have been one thing if she’d been driving a half hour at 9pm to get there, but it sounds like it was like 8-10 hours through the night. I’d have wanted a check in too! My daughter and son in law live 8 hours from me and prefer to drive during the night, and they STILL text me when they get there. I STILL text my Dad who lives 7 hours from me when I get home, and he and Mom do the same. Phyllis’s mom may have gone a tiny bit overboard, but….I kinda get her fear, since she was told she’d get a call and didn’t, especially back then.

            2. Elitist Semicolon*

              The “unapologetic” part does it for me – “I called the police in a town I don’t live in and asked them to go find a guy I don’t know when he’s at work and ask him whether my kid got to their house safely and I’m not sorry” is…a lot.

              1. Cmdrshrd*

                Maybe this is semantics, but saying I’m sorry to me implies you agree you should not have done it?

                Maybe saying I’m sorry just to appease everyone is the right thing to do, but if you are not actually sorry should you say it?

                With hindsight and now knowing Phyllis was okay obviously the police did not need to be contacted. But under the original circumstances of OP AGREEING to check in, OP did not check in, I do think it was reasonable to think something might have happened even if it was a small chance.

                I would rather inconvenience people and be wrong, rather than avoid being an inconvenience and passing up the ability to potentially save.

                I don’t think you can judge the decision based on hindsight, but rather on the information the person had at the time.
                I would say with the information I had at the time, I would still do the same thing again, so in that regards I would not be sorry that I called the police. I would be sorry about the trouble it caused, but would still do it again.

                1. Elitist Semicolon*

                  That’s fine for you. Now imagine the person being inconvenienced – whether that’s OP’s friend’s husband, whose job we don’t know (maybe he came out of, say, a 9-hour brain surgery to find a call from the police); the receptionist at a large company who fields a number of calls from family members looking for an employee each week, a dispatcher or police officer who gets repeat calls from the same person to go check on someone who always turns out to be fine (and doesn’t have a situation warranting extra concern). There’s a difference between inconveniencing someone and expecting them to do their jobs (or a quick favor).

                2. Irish Teacher.*

                  The word “sorry” doesn’t always imply that somebody believes they have done the wrong thing nor is it necessarily always just to appease. Admittedly, I am Irish, where “sorry” can be used in almost any context, but “sorry” can often mean “I wish you hadn’t been inconvenienced by this”. Heck, it’s very common to say, “I’m sorry to bother you, but could you just do x.” In that case, the person is definitely not saying “I am wrong to bother you.” They are saying, “I wish I didn’t have to bother you and wouldn’t if it wasn’t important.”

                  In this context, “sorry” would mean the same. “I wish I had known everything was OK so I wouldn’t have had to bother you and I regret that you were inconvenienced.”

                  It doesn’t mean you think you were wrong or that you are trying to appease anybody. It is just an acknowledgement that they were inconvenienced and that it would be better if things had happened differently.

                  I guess you shouldn’t say it if you are not sorry, but to me, in this case, “not sorry” wouldn’t just mean that you think you did the best thing possible with the information you had. It would mean that you were glad things worked out the way they did and that your daughter needed a good lesson for forgetting to call. To me, not sorry in this case implies, “I’m glad I didn’t know things were OK because she needed a good lesson and maybe what happened will teach her to contact me in future. This is great! Things worked out exactly as I would have hoped” whereas sorry would imply, “if I had known that she was OK, I would have done things differently and I wish this hadn’t been necessary.”

              1. Seashell*

                I have a kid who is in college. We can use the Find My Phone feature to see if said kid is alive and moving, but we don’t use it a lot.

                My theory on requiring people to call when they get somewhere is that the police will call if the person is dead in a ditch. Otherwise, assume they’re fine.

                1. This_is_Todays_Name*

                  Yes, but Phyllis’s story occurred in “the way back times” when not only did people not have cellphones, but also some people had no landline either. It was a different time.

                2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  “My theory on requiring people to call when they get somewhere is that the police will call if the person is dead in a ditch. Otherwise, assume they’re fine.”

                  Someone gave me this advice when my kids started driving and moving away from home and it honestly saved my sanity.

                  My mom still wants a call from all of us when we get to our destination. I’ve been able to talk her into settling for a text. It is usually very hectic for me when I arrive somewhere and not always easy to make a phone call right away.

                3. Cmdrshrd*

                  “My theory on requiring people to call when they get somewhere is that the police will call if the person is dead in a ditch. Otherwise, assume they’re fine.”

                  That assumes the person is found by the police. If someone is traveling all night, it is likely they will pass through uninhabited/lightly inhabited areas where they might not be found right away.

                  “I have a kid who is in college. We can use the Find My Phone feature to see if said kid is alive and moving, but we don’t use it a lot.”

                  Sure now we have that ability, and onstar etc… but the example listed was when payphones were still a thing and the friends in question did not have an actual landline.

            3. Weaponized Pumpkin*

              Grateful for my mother who always said “bad news travels faster than good”.

              In her later years she was more likely to ask me to let her know I got home safe — which, at that point we could text which made it easier — but grateful in my younger years she managed this anxiety.

        2. I Have RBF*

          I would have told my mom that I wasn’t sure there would be a phone where I was going and refused, at 23.

          I’m so glad I was a latchkey, independent kid. The way parents do the overboard helicopter thing these days is horrible.

          1. This_is_Todays_Name*

            This didn’t occur “these days”. It occurred (sounds like) early 70s maybe? If not earlier. When not everyone even had a landline. I don’t think back then, asking a child (who apparently still lived at home) and was driving “all night” to get somewhere to check in was out of bounds. Independence is a great tool, but asking for “proof of life” in the circumstances PhyllisB mentioned, isn’t being a helicopter parent.

          2. Irish Teacher.*

            It’s not specific to “these days.” My gran was one of the worst helicopter parents I know of and she woud have become a parent in the 1940s. (Like when my parents married in the 1970s, she suggested my mum continue to live at home and my dad could stay over on the weekends! My mum was almost 30 at the time.)

      5. Smithy*

        Without knowing a lot more about the OP, the relationship they have with their parents, where they work, and what country – I do want to echo how very common this kind of reaction can be by parents/family when they have an adult child abroad. Because of the distance, if they hear of anything bad in the news in the city where you are, or even the country – it triggers that immediate need to confirm if you’re ok. And how much that reaction is driven rationally or by anxiety can varry… planning a system in advance where “you control the bees” or at least where the bees bounce, is smart.

        When I was working abroad, my mom calling where I worked would have been a nightmare. I could easily see her talking to the Executive Director for about an hour or so about why I was still single and what were they going to do about it…. However, now I work at a large humanitarian organization and even though I’m not placed somewhere with high security needs – it does mean that whenever I travel (to another US state or to a higher risk area) I’m covered by the organization’s larger security system. So my mom is aware that were something to happen to me, she would be called first by my job to be notified.

        Two different jobs, so I’ve taken different approaches with my mom. But both include my mom not reaching out to where I work when she’s worried.

        1. Observer*

          Without knowing a lot more about the OP, the relationship they have with their parents, where they work, and what country

          The OP is working in the US.

          I do want to echo how very common this kind of reaction can be by parents/family when they have an adult child abroad.

          Yes, it’s common. But that does not make it a good idea! Helicoptering (which is a lot what this sounds like) is becoming ever more common, but it’s not a terribly healthy way to operate. So, I do agree with you that I can’t be shocked that this is happening, but I do think that the OP should also take on board all of the advice to *not* let their parents do this.

          so planning a system in advance where “you control the bees” or at least where the bees bounce, is smart.

          True. And I would say that it starts with being very clear about what is and is *not* appropriate. And also managing expectations. 2 days is a really, really short window of time to go into full panic and call the authorities for a welfare check. Also, the employer is *not* “the authorities”.

          But both include my mom not reaching out to where I work when she’s worried.

          Yes. Very much this. OP, this is probably the best tldr of the issue here.

      6. lilsheba*

        As someone who just recently went through a time where I was unable to reach my daughter on her birthday and had to go to her boyfriend’s mother to track her down, be glad your parents care enough to try and find you. Y’all may be grown now but we still worry when we can’t find you, that never goes away.

        1. Observer*

          be glad your parents care enough to try and find you.

          This has nothing to do with whether parents care about their children, and it’s pretty gross to frame it that way. (And that’s before we get to the very real problem of hyper-controlling and / or abusive parents whose “worry” has nothing to do with their child’s actual welfare.)

          <i.Y’all may be grown now but we still worry when we can’t find you, that never goes away.

          Some of us actually know that there are going to be times when we “can’t find” our kids, because they are busy with stuff that they didn’t tell us about or plan with us. Which is fine, normal and *good*. The idea that you should be able to find your child 24 x 7, is not healthy or appropriate.

          Yes, there have been times when I was worried about my kids – not because they didn’t call me when I expected them to! But still and all, for the most part that is *on me* to manage. It’s on me not because I do not care about my kids, but because I *DO* care. I care about them enough to know that I need to let them loose to be adults. And even though that’s really scary, it’s what I need to do for my children’s well being.

          1. Bookmark*

            Thank you for this, as the adult child of a parent with unmanaged anxiety that I’ve been expected to manage for them through my behavior and putting my own emotions and needs second, since childhood. It’s a lot, and it definitely hasn’t served me. The worry a parent will always have for a child is of course understandable and natural. But it’s when that worry translates into intrusive actions that it becomes unhealthy for everyone involved (and I’d argue that without extenuating circumstances, tracking someone down through 2 degrees removed connections on their birthday counts as that…). There’s a lot of stuff I don’t share with my parent because I don’t want to have to deal with the effect of her anxiety about whatever it is, and the result is that we’re less close than we otherwise could be.

            1. Le Sigh*

              Yes. One can both appreciate having parents who care — and I have friends whose parents are meh to awful in many ways, so I do appreciate what I have — and still not make it your job to manage their anxiety. There are some things I’m willing to do bc I know it makes my family member feel better, but I have limits and I don’t want to feed the problem by catering to every request. Framing it as “be grateful they at least care” … well, having been on the receiving end of this, it feels manipulative!

            2. StarTrek Nutcase*

              I’m (F) the eldest of 4 and when I moved out on my 18th bday (pre cellphone days), my mom was very upset to no longer have full control/knowledge of my actions. (Dad was bleh!). She would call my apartment multiple times per day and I had difficulty refusing her orders. So I got an answering machine to avoid talking while pretending I “could” be reached. But she started leaving multiple long messages which I ignored but just seeing the blinking light gave me anxiety. Eventually, I threw away the answering machine and just kept my phone unplugged. She went crazy. I wish I could say I had developed iron-clad boundaries, but she really only eased off because my youngest brother started misbehaving big time.

              FWIW, if my mom had “ever” called my work or police to check on me, I would have gone NC on her for at least a year and never forgiven this behavior.

              I think many parents underestimate the consequences of not letting go of adult children. And monitoring an adult child is love it’s control. Those parents need to focus on figuring out how to deal with their own fears. Adult children will make mistakes and face difficulties, but learning how to cope on their own is important.

        2. RussianInTexas*

          This is a bit much. There are multiple reasons why I may not answer the call or text, and none are an indicator I am in some danger.
          Like: didn’t see it, busy, in a loud place, so won’t talk, don’t feel like talking at the moment, sleeping, eating, whatever.
          Unless it’s an emergency, please don’t start calling my partner’s parents, my employer, friends, etc. Not even if I don’t answer for couple of days. Not even if it’s my birthday.
          I am an adult of over 40 years old, I am not 5, so you don’t need to access me 24/7.

          1. RussianInTexas*

            And I just want to point out that I’ve been living abroad from my mom for over 20 years now. And she absolutely gets in to the “OMG I saw flooding in Texas somewhere are you OK?”.
            But the above conditions still apply. I am not a child.

        3. Insert Clever Name Here*

          My parents did something similar to me when I was in college and it is the reason they did not find out about my husband until we had already discussed engagement and marriage. My mother was hurt she didn’t know I was dating someone seriously…and then I reminded her of The Incident. Yay you care, but recognize that it could very well turn into being put on an information diet.

        4. Misty_Meaner*

          But you didn’t “ha[ve] to go to her boyfriend’s mother”. You chose to do that. Was there any indication she was in danger? Or was it because it was her birthday and you felt that she owed it to you to spend it with you and she wasn’t answering her phone? I have to say, that level of anxiety about not knowing where to find your child is … over the top. And I say this as a mother who’s literally had children in combat zones and has a son who is a Firefighter. I have no idea where my kids are right now. One could be fighting a fire, one could be in the office or WFH, another could be piloting a drone via a remote airstrip. No parent needs to know where their ADULT children are 24×7. Nor are they entitled to.

        5. learnedthehardway*

          Sorry, but I am disagreeing with you. Your anxiety doesn’t give you the right to be intrusive or to create a situation in which your adult child’s competence / credibility is called into question by their employer, school, or friends.

          I wrote about my mother calling my roommate above. What I didn’t mention is that my roommate did actually stop in at my work to tell me what had occurred, was overheard by a coworker, and I was the butt of some jokes about it. Really didn’t help me. I was somewhat annoyed at both my mother and my roommate for lacking common sense.

        6. iglwif*

          I can both appreciate that my mom cares enough to worry about me, and need her to respect that I will not always be free to pick up the phone when she calls me, because I am an adult with a job and other responsibilities.

          It took a while — and there was a major setback when I got very sick in my early 20s — but we got there. I do my part by calling her every week without fail and answering her WhatsApps and emails pretty promptly when she sends them, and she does her part by not calling me at random times unless it’s actually urgent. (She’s in her 80s, my stepdad is over 90, we have many relatives & friends in that age range, the chances of this are far from zero.) It works great.

    2. SemiAnon*

      I also live abroad from my family, and in almost 20 years, they’ve had to track me down through other people once (the combination of a death in the family and me being on international travel when it happened).

      Personally, I’d be very reluctant to be an emergency contact for a coworker (as in, their parents can contact me and ask me to track them down), and would tell them to go through HR if they need to set that up. Between different work responsibilities and meetings and travel and the occasional work from home day, I can easily go a few days without seeing people I share an office with. A roommate would be a different situation, but only for genuine emergencies, not to reassure anxious parents. You should, however, have up to date emergency contact information with both your job and a roommate, so that if you vanish or are unable to communicate, your family can be contacted.

      To be honest, if this sort of contact is something you anticipate outside of a rare emergency (like you are in the hospital after a stroke, or shut in your apartment with serious depression and not contacting anyone), then you probably need to make some sort of check in plan that doesn’t involve your employer or the police. FWIW I’ve seen both the above examples happen, with international employees, and it got complicated. In the first, the employer didn’t have up to date contact information, in the second, a welfare check was needed (employee was fortunately alive).

      1. Yorick*

        If a random coworker asked me to do this, I agree with you. But if a coworker who was close to me asked, that would be different.

    3. JSPA*

      Yes; of dozens of possible check-in options, you’re picking one of the more bizarre ones. (Or your parents are picking it. Or you’re suggesting it because you don’t want it to work, and your parents are being pushy.) This just isn’t a thing!

      If you’re somehow fragile (physically, emotionally, psychologically) to the point where you are realistically likely to go silent rather than contacting them proactively, get a nanny cam or security cam that they can check remotely (noting that this is set against the risk of the cam being hacked) or have a device that’s always set to streaming, pointing somewhere innocuous in your living space. Or set up some sort of support service in the US before arrival. Contacting work isn’t for a break in this sort of near-constant tracking.

      If you are not unusually fragile, my sense is that most people in the US would consider this a fairly unusual level of anxiety (on someone’s part), and that systems are not set up to accommodate it as a norm.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        I could be wrong, but I didn’t read it as a check-in option. I read it as the parents are very anxious or overbearing and the LW is worrying that this could happen and that they want reassurance that if their parents panic and phone their employer saying they haven’t heard from them and it happens to be at a time they have a day off or something, the employer won’t jump to “something must have happened to them. I’ll ring the police.”

        I took it as “what would my employer be likely to do if my parents rang them up in a panic, saying they thought something bad had happened to me? Would they take it seriously or realise my parents were overreacting? If I didn’t answer the phone to my employer, is there any risk I could end up with the police at my door?”

        I didn’t think anybody was planning for this, more that the LW was worried that her parents might overreact and call the employer, then the employer might overreact and call the police. If she is young and if she has grown up with parents who overreact, she might think that normal and assume her employer would be equally likely to jump to a dramatic option.

        If that is the way she is thinking, then I think it pretty unlikely. It would require a lot of people to overreact – her parents, her employer and the police. To give a story, admittedly from Ireland, we recently had a case where a man’s body was found twenty years after he had died. Family members did go to the police and the police just said “oh, I think he went to England,” which…still didn’t explain why the family had gotten no Christmas card from him as they do have postboxes in England. Yes, this was twenty years ago and in Ireland (where I assume the LW is likely to be) but I don’t think most employers would go to the police that quickly – assuming you were due back at work in a week or so, they’d probably wait until you hadn’t shown up to do any more. And I’m not convinced most police would take “hasn’t been heard from in two days” as an emergency anyway.

        1. Sneaky Squirrel*

          As someone who has a parent who is like this, this was my take too. I read this as a concern as to whether an employer would give away personal information to overbearing parents if the parents contacted them.

          1. Sloanicota*

            I think either way, it’s best to prepare for the scenario you want. So if you sometimes want to disappear for few days, mention to HR that you have very overbearing parents and if they call, you’d prefer HR not to disclose your status (and ideally give your folks some kind of heads up that you aren’t always going to be available). If you do actually want your folks to be able to check in, set up the system you want now, which ideally will not be HR.

          2. Smithy*

            Depending on where the OP works (both in terms of type of workplace and country), I just want to flag that the level of discretion may vary wildly. I allude to this above, but where I worked outside of the US – had my mother ever called, the Executive Director likely would have been thrilled to speak with her for hours swapping stories about my personal life. Whether or not that was against the law in that country or not, I don’t even know, but that was certainly who she was.

            So I think when you have parents who are prone to aggressively reach out in the name of concern or worry – I do recommend taking the most grounded and realistic approach possible. First, if your parents are the type to proactively call your place of work – what do you need to do there proactively? Despite what I said above, had I gone to my old boss and said that I was worried about my mom becoming anxious and checking up on me repeatedly – then despite her potential to go digging for gossip, I believe she’d be more inclined to take that as a more serious problem to ward against. The second piece, is how to prevent the first. For me that included never giving out the number of where I worked (my mom’s never been very tech savvy) – but also having a very clear plan on how we communicated over phone and email. Set times each week were marked on the calendar, and protocols in place for unplanned calls.

            Obviously, the more parents cross boundaries – the more of an issue all of this is. But more middle of the pack high anxiety/boundary crossing parents, I found this effective.

        2. iglwif*

          That’s how I read it too, because while my parents are fortunately not like this, I know people whose parents absolutely are.

    4. Laura*

      Especially not for parents who might feel worried after two days. Two days it not an emergency. Or, if it is (eaten by the mountain lion in the backyard!), it’s likely already too late for them to do anything about it.

      OP, what are the scenarios where you want your parents to reach someone who will be able to contact you? And what do you want to happen after your parents reached them?

      Would it help to set up something where your parents get contacted if there is an issue on your side?

      1. Cmdrshrd*

        ” Two days it not an emergency.”

        Eh I think it depends on the person/dynamic.

        For me and my parents two days is not unheard of. When I was in school, I easily went two weeks without contacting them. Even now two days is not a lot, I do try to contact more regularly maybe once a week.

        But if OP/someone is on contact with their family everyday two days can be unusual/emergency.

        1. alienor*

          Yeah, I sometimes go several months without talking to my mother, and it’s no big deal because that’s us and our relationship. Though, I do make it a point to answer promptly when she does email me, because I know an unanswered email will worry her in a way that just not hearing from me won’t.

          On the other hand, my daughter and I talk every day, and it would be so uncharacteristic of her not to respond to a message within 24 hours (allowing time for her to be busy, her phone to be out of power, etc.) that I genuinely would be anxious, and after two days I would absolutely be trying to contact someone. And she would do the same for me.

      2. Office Lobster DJ*

        My read was OP was thinking of a hypothetical situation where their parents had been trying and trying to get in touch for two days. In this age of constant availability, I think it would fairly set off different alarm bells than just “Huh. Haven’t heard from OP in two days.”

        1. Observer*

          In this age of constant availability, I think it would fairly set off different alarm bells than just “Huh. Haven’t heard from OP in two days.”

          That’s not really true. Sure, we have cell phones etc. But people do actually ~~gasp~~ turn them off, set them to silent / DND, or ignore them. And they fail to call back on an even more regular basis.

          1. Tanya*

            But it CAN be true for some people, especially if they break patterns of behavior, made threats to harm themselves, or any million reasons why people would be worried.

            That might not apply to this LW, but to generalize all behavior is really shortsighted.

          2. Office Lobster DJ*

            I really don’t think most people are in the habit of silencing their phone and dropping all other means of communication for multiple days without a heads up to people who would need to reach them. If OP is, presumably it wouldn’t cause concern (and we wouldn’t have a question).

    5. WellRed*

      Interesting! I read it as something she’s worried her parents will do, not that she wants to use them for emergency contact but I can see that might be the case.

      1. Observer*

        I was trying to figure out which it is. It’s not clear from the letter.

        I imagine that the OP didn’t mention that because you would think that the answer would be the same in either case. Which is true to some extent. But the surrounding pieces and how people react are heavily influenced – legitimately – by which one it is.

    6. Harried HR*

      In the US the employer is NOT the point of contact in this scenario…if you are affiliated with a specific organization that is familiar with your country of origin and their societal norms (Religious / Cultural group) having them be your point of contact MAY be easier.

    7. fhqwhgads*

      I read it as perhaps they recently moved there for work, so there’s an assumption work people may be the only local people OP knows at the moment.

    8. Exhausted Electricity*

      if you are unwilling to set the boundary of “Parents, I am an adult, I am fine, I do not need to be in constant contact with you” you can set up something like the Life360 app to share location.

      My uncle used to use it because he traveled for work, so his mother and his wife would constantly have his location. He only stopped sharing location or using the app when his mother was actively stalking him when he was HOME so he never had a moment of privacy.
      I don’t use the app “that lets my grandmother have peace of mind” because I don’t need someone with severe FOMO to know I’m in a different area than I usually am, and did not bring her with me.

    9. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

      Agreed with leaving HR out of it. Find someone else. One of my coworkers recently started living alone and is worried her cat will trip her down the stairs and nobody would know.

      Her parents know how to reach me if they are very worried and I know how to reach her parents if she just doesn’t show up for work one morning.

    10. Dugsayssquirrel*

      The best way for parents to contact/check in on their kid is to send them a pizza and request that the delivery be confirmed
      By text/email.

      This way parents get reassurance, kid gets pizza

    11. Kerry Middaugh*

      You should talk to your boss. He or she may offer to be a contact for parents, or they can give you information on how you could set this up. As a former Area manager for a large corporation, I would have been happy to accommodate this arrangement, but not all bosses will.

  2. Jolene*

    #1 I had to train my parents. “Mom, I’m not always available to answer your call. Also I’m going to be very busy with [work-school-friends-crafts-activities-etc.] for the next [indefinite time period], so I’m not always available to return calls immediately. But that’s normal and I’m okay.”
    Then the next time that she is anxious that I didn’t answer the phone “Mom, that’s sweet. But I’m 24 now. I have a lot going on. Like I said, I’m not always available to talk on the phone, but I’m okay.”
    I’d like to say that the above worked in itself, but I did actually pretend not to be able to figure my voicemail for a period of time. (While reassuring my mom that I was okay…it was just this dang technology.)

    1. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

      Some in older generations also seem to need it explained to them several hundred times that phone calls are more asynchronous now- that if you’re busy, you just don’t pick up the call, you and you can just call back when you are available. (And that that is neither rude nor confusing.)

      Many boomers grew up, dropping everything every time the phone rang, even though they had no idea who was on the other end of the line. So rather than thinking, “OP may not have time to talk today, or may be watching a movie or something. I’ll leave a voicemail and hope she calls back sometime in the next few days,” they may be thinking, “Voicemail!? She’s been abducted by pirates!”

      1. Mangled Metaphor*

        You then, of course, get the Boomers who have worked out technology and successfully substituted calling for WhatsApp messages. And then get in a flap if the message isn’t read after five minutes (my MIL) and follow up with a call!
        Some parents have trouble with the cutting of the apron strings. Some (adult) children have trouble letting go of said apron strings.
        Neither of which is your company’s HR department’s problem to solve.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          My mother right after email became a thing. She sent me an email. When I didn’t respond right away she called to ask why I hadn’t responded yet. I said my computer wasn’t even on so I couldn’t see the email. She kept insisting but it shows up right away why haven’t you read it. I actually said because it doesn’t appear in big golowing letters in the living room, the computer has to be on and I have to be at the computer to read it.

          She’s not much better with text.

          OP, it is okay to set boundaries with parents. You can just tell them they cannot contact your work. That if it is a a genuine emergency — and spell it out because some boundary crossing parents will claim anything is an emergency — they can do X, whatever you choose for an emergency contact system. Then hold firm. With my mom, that means not answering texts that don’t have meaningful information or answering her calls during the workday (she thinks because I am WFH it means I am free to talk during the day).

          1. BubbleTea*

            You’ve just provided me with my newest tech fear: that they’ll find a way to beam messages in big glowing letters in the middle of the room.

          2. I Have RBF*

            … or answering her calls during the workday (she thinks because I am WFH it means I am free to talk during the day).

            My mother does this too. She calls in the middle of my workday, and will. not. shut. up. This becomes more of a problem when I’m in the middle of a meeting (thank all the gods for mute.)

            1. Mangled Metaphor*

              In addition to the WhatsApp debacle, my MIL has had to be forcibly trained to stop calling during a work day, even in the pre-WFH days. She would phone both her son and me (if her son didn’t answer within two rings).
              We (he) came close to setting the damn apron on fire before she finally got the message.

              Fortunately, we work for understanding companies where taking the occasional family related call is not unusual or frowned upon.

      2. Angstrom*

        Ah, yes…the excitement when a call was Long Distance. The whole family would leap up and gather around the phone so the handset could be passed around.

      3. Be Gneiss*

        My mom, who is pretty good with the basic technology of communication in the modern world, will tell me “I was going to call, but I thought you might be busy.” I absolutely cannot convince her that I just won’t answer if I’m busy, and then I’ll call her back. I don’t think it’s a generational thing or a technology thing. I think sometimes people are just a little weird.

        1. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

          My mom is like this too! She won’t text me at work because she “doesn’t want to bother me”. I keep trying to explain to her that my phone is on silent and I will only read her text when I’m not busy, and that it’s actually easier for her to text because then I can read it quickly to see if it is something I can respond to quickly, if it is urgent, etc. But nope, she likes to wait until I’m on my normal commute time (train, so don’t have to worry about driving, she also doesn’t like to text me when she thinks I’m driving even though I’m not coordinated to even try looking at a text while driving so I don’t do that ever.).

          1. Nonanon*

            It’s nice to know I have Boomer parents on the opposite end of the spectrum; prefer text to the point where I’ve told them I’m driving and will not see it and they should call instead, they’ll still text.
            (My mother, who has needed reading glasses for as long as I can remember and has recently switched over to “full time” glasses, was SO PROUD when she found how to increase text size on her phone)

          2. Frieda*

            My MIL texted once while I was visiting my young-adult kids at college; I read the message and texted her back a few minutes later.

            She spent *weeks* apologizing to me, and to my partner, for having texted while I was spending time with my kids (which she did not even know!) The number of minutes spent apologizing far exceeded the ~ 2 minutes I spent reading and then responding to the text.

            It made me laugh, but ruefully.

        2. doreen*

          I think the weird part is absolutely correct , it’s just that everyone is weird in a different way. My problem is the opposite of yours – I can’t convince my husband he doesn’t have to answer the phone if he’s busy, not even if it’s me. And my mother – if I don’t answer the phone she calls (I’m still stuck with a landline) , she immediately calls the other one.

        3. Lalaith*

          When I was on maternity leave, my MIL said a few times, “Oh I thought about calling you, but I don’t want to wake you or the baby up if you’re sleeping.” No matter how many times we would try to explain that I keep my phone on vibrate and I just *won’t answer* if I’m too busy, she kept telling us this and never once called. …Although, I was fine with that, because I don’t like talking on the phone basically ever, and most definitely not just to chat with my MIL while I’m trying to juggle a new baby!

        4. Anon in Canada*

          It’s a generational thing. To many boomers, and some older Gen X’ers, the idea of not answering a ringing phone is unthinkable, so they’ll answer no matter how inconvenient it is. This probably has its roots in the fact that caller ID did not exist during their formative years (or, for older boomers, for most of their lives).

          In my culture, this is why most boomers, and many of the older Gen X’ers, have not and will never cut their landlines: they still make and receive a huge number of non-urgent social calls, and don’t want those calls routed to a cell phone. Because they cannot let a phone ring without answering it, if the social calls were routed to a cell, they’d find themselves continually answering those non-urgent calls in awkward situations (while checking out at the grocery store, while on a walk, even while driving, etc.) and they don’t want that. They’d rather miss the call entirely and have the caller try again later.

          OTOH, younger generations make much fewer social calls, and don’t find it as hard to decline a call if it’s not a good time or place.

          1. doreen*

            This Boomer still has a landline for one reason – if I get rid of it, the cost of my cable/internet will go up. While I do hate to hear a phone ring unanswered , I have no problem with turning off the ringer or responding by text if I don’t want to answer a call at this moment.

            1. Anon in Canada*

              I am perfectly aware that that’s a common reason for people (who haven’t transitioned to streaming) to keep a landline even if they rarely use it or have adjusted fine to cell phones, and that in most cultures, most boomers have adjusted fine to cell phones. I was talking about a peculiarity of my culture (French-speaking Canadian, especially outside Montreal).

            2. I Have RBF*

              We still have a wired landline, not even VOIP, because when the cell towers are down from a power outage/blackout, the landline still works. With aging people in my household, that very reliable way to call emergency services is worth the cost.

          2. M*

            So *that’s* why a customer yelled at me for calling him while he was at lunch!

            I mean he *yelled* at me because he was a jerk but I’ve wondered for months why he didn’t just not answer the phone if he was busy. Mystery solved!

        5. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          I am absolutely guilty of not calling because I think people are busy, and I’m an X who feels completely free to not answer incoming calls and texts. That’s really weird now that I think of it! Texting is cleaner though — there’s only a few people I’d just call unexpectedly, which I feel okay about because those are the people who do it to me.

        6. Observer*

          I absolutely cannot convince her that I just won’t answer if I’m busy, and then I’ll call her back. I don’t think it’s a generational thing or a technology thing. I think sometimes people are just a little weird.

          She may not be all the weird. Look at how many letters and comments we get here about people’s angst over getting *texts*. Even when you do get notifications, they don’t ring like a phone call, it’s just one tone. Yet people get *really* bent out of shape by how disturbing.

          If she’ heard that kind of rant before, I can see why she would hesitate.

          1. RussianInTexas*

            My dad has dementia. One of his symptoms is to call people a lot to check if “his phone works”, if people still answer to him, to ask me and others if his wife, who went to a store, will ever come back, etc. On his bad days, he may call over 20 times. If you ask him to stop calling, he will call even more.
            Yes, I can ignore his calls, because I cannot answer the phone 27 times in 3 hours. I just can’t. But even seeing him calling is absolutely incredibly stressful and disturbing, because he does not understand “busy”, or “driving”, even if I have my phone on DND. So I just block his number for hours or sometimes a day or two.

        7. This_is_Todays_Name*

          What annoys ME is that my son or husband WILL answer just to say, “I can’t talk right now; I’m in a meeting.” OMG, If you cannot talk, don’t answer the phone just to tell me that! I can take the objective data of you not answering and figure out that you’re either busy or your phone is on silent, or whaever. I will NOT immediately conclude that your office has been taken over by a roving band of criminals and you’re in mortal danger that requires me to act. Sigh

      4. I Laugh at Inappropriate Times*

        My parents are like this, but in reverse. They will apologize profusely if they do not respond to a text immediately (because they were taking a shower, walking the dog, at an appointment, etc.). I’ve endlessly explained that a text is not urgent, get to it when you get to it. If I need you Right Now, I will call.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Yeah haha my parents will answer the phone out of breath and annoyed with me because I interrupted something or they had to run in for the phone from outside. I have tried to explain that it’s okay if they don’t pick up because they’re busy and I’ll just call them back. I don’t actually want to chat with them if they’re irked anyway! If I just had an important piece of information to convey, I’d probably text it.

      5. Sloanicota*

        My parents initially fell into this because they grew up in an era where most phone calls (and mail, for that matter) were “real.” Whereas 99% of what I get in the mail, and 99% of my phone calls, are just spammy junk. So no, I don’t rearrange my life around rushing for the phone. Text me if you want something.

      6. Office Lobster DJ*

        I was actually thinking how this question would have played out in a pre-smartphone world. Being constantly available has redefined everything related to this question, in my opinion. You make a good point about people no longer dropping everything for a phone call (I sure don’t, and I’m all the happier for it), but I think the flip side is that it now takes two seconds to text “Got your message, I’ll call later this week.”

      7. Lalaith*

        Can you convince my FIL that *he* doesn’t need to drop everything when his cell phone rings? Like when he’s in a restaurant, with other people?? *sigh*

        1. hotsauce513*

          My dad can join in this lesson too. You don’t have to answer the call from my sister when we’re having dinner because you know she just likes to talk.

        2. Hell in a Handbasket*

          My daughter once had a teacher who hated email and insisted on phone calls for all communication. The one time I called him (with a non-urgent question), he informed me that he was in the middle of a doctor’s appointment and would have to call me back. I was completely mystified as to why he picked up the phone!

      8. Isben Takes Tea*

        I had a different but related problem, where I had to explain to my parents that if they called several times in a row, I was going to assume it’s an emergency. If it’s not an emergency, they should leave a voicemail or send a text, and I’ll call them back. But if I’m not answering, it’s (90% of the time) because I’m in a meeting, so if they call three times in a row, I’m going to leave my meeting to find out who was in the hospital.

        Reader, they had not considered this. Thankfully, they understood and adjusted.

        1. iglwif*

          This is going back years, before I had a cell phone, but my bio father used to do this — instead of leaving a message when he got an answering machine / voicemail, he would hang up (i.e., leave a blank message) and call back 10 minutes later, repeat that procedure at least 3 times, and finally leave a very huffy message. Like, my dude: leave a message the first time.

      9. Jack Russell Terrier*

        Right – it’s better, if I can, to pick up the phone to my MIL and say ‘I’m busy can I call you back’? She hangs up right away.

        Light dawned when she did this to me! Her family (including my husband) is so trained to her worry that they just roll with it. I come from a family that doesn’t worry so it’s all too weird to me.

        To be fair, mostly she’s ok leaving a message but if it’s a time she thinks I’ll be available then she can get trigger happy calling back and leaving worried voicemails. Her mother who lives with her is worse and mostly I just roll with it because I don’t want my GIL to slough off her worry onto my MIL.

      10. Observer*

        Some in older generations also seem to need it explained to them several hundred times that phone calls are more asynchronous now- that if you’re busy, you just don’t pick up the call, you and you can just call back when you are available.

        This has nothing to do with age. For one thing, answering machines – even for personal use- have been a thing for DECADES. And even before that, “not picking up the phone” was also a thing.

        On top of which all of these “older generations” and “boomers” have learned to use technology *just fine*! They understand voice messaging and all that implies.

        Some people are just boundary stompers, unreasonable, overly anxious, and / or control freaks. (See the example of the person whose mom was using Life 360 to stalk him at home.)

        1. Clisby*

          Oh, absolutely. I’m 70 and for at least 50 of those years was fully aware that I don’t have to pick up the phone just because it rings.

      11. Awesome Sauce*

        My mother combines the worst of both (phone/text) worlds by texting me a message like “Give me a call as soon as possible, please.” During the work day or something. So I’ll go on break, wondering if her car has broken down or my dad has fallen down the stairs or something, and she’ll be like “I need to know what side dish you’d like for Sunday dinner because I want to go grocery shopping this afternoon.” Unreal.

    2. thelettermegan*

      If I had the technology then that we do now, I’d totally set up a quick signal emoji pattern – parents can text me whenever, and I promise I’ll send back a specific emoji (like a heart or star) back to indicate that I’m alive and well but not in a space to talk, and if I don’t respond with that within ~12 hours, then they may panic.

  3. Fikly*

    LW2: You are busy bailing water out of the boat instead of actually fixing the holes. At some point the boat will just sink, and bailing is never a long term solution.

    You need to spend your time fixing the actual problems, not the symptoms. Then you will have time to do the rest of your job.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I could totally see falling into #2 if I didn’t really understand the role of manager. After all, the drama is more interesting, and if you’re relationship-oriented (I am) this would seem like the work! That’s kind of this is the advice most of my friends need, after all! However, it is not at all the work, it’s the crap you need to minimize or shut down or get around in order to do the actual work, which is producing whatever widgets your company hires you to produce. But, I would absolutely have to keep correcting myself, especially when I was first out of school.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think there even are some places where the managers job really is focused more on supporting their staff then on producing any tangible work themselves, but I think based on their examples that seems unlikely to be the case here (and based on the fact that their boss has told them that’s not how he wants their time allocated!)

      2. Ama*

        Yes this reminded me of the trap I fell into the first time I managed someone, where I ended up spending a lot of time worrying that my report would decide she hated the job and would leave, which resulted in me doing a lot of unnecessary emotional labor talking through how she felt about a task any time I delegated something new to her (and sometimes *not* delegating things at all if I thought she wouldn’t like doing it).

        It was actually something Alison wrote here around that time that helped shake me out of it (I can’t remember verbatim but I think it was a letter where a manager was worried a report was going to leave over a new task and Alison’s response was along the lines of “as a manager your job is to make sure your reports understand the parameters of the job and what they need to do to do it successfully and they can make their own decisions about whether they want to do the job or leave”). It really changed the way I approach managing.

    2. LW2*

      This is wild, I would like to think I’m pretty with it but I was seeing this all wrong. One important piece I should have added: three weeks ago we had our second round of layoffs this year and this one cut 40% of our team, including strong performers that were popular. So you’re right that it’s definitely a sign of a larger issue.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Thank you for replying! If your company is undergoing multiple rounds of layoffs that are affecting your team, I can see how you would feel you need to be there for emotional support. Unfortunately, it sounds like it’s gone too far in that direction.

      2. el l*

        Thank you too for replying! While you can probably blame a bit of that extra pressure on the organization structure…it has to be about getting things done.

        If your job is not just “coordination” but “need to remove impediments like grudges and demotivation just to even begin talking about coordination” then it’s back-to-the-drawing board time.

        Perhaps less drastic would’ve been required. But here we are – it sounds like they laid off the wrong people.

      3. Hiccup*

        This info is critical. Combined with people being remote, I can understand how this dynamic has evolved.
        Layoffs are tough on teams. Maybe figure out ways to do quick checkins and connect with staff that is less time consuming? But still helps them to feel connected and important?

    3. not nice, don't care*

      I love having a boss that focuses on people management/support over admin’s bullshit demands for performative busy work. Maybe LW2’s reports are a bunch of whiny melodramatic slackers, but maybe LW2 just doesn’t like managing people.

  4. Viette*

    LW #1: in the United States, two days is too short a duration for this to be normal. Alison creates a possible circumstance but barring murderous wild cat interference this is just not the done thing.

    I agree with Alison that the employer is NOT the responsible party to check with at whatever time is right — I think there’ll be variability in opinions, but in my experience you’d need “weeks” not “days” — although for those who have immigrated for work it can feel like the employer is the core governing body of your existence in the country. Still, it would be the police if you were thought to be unsafe enough to require an institutional force to check on your welfare.

    In the U.S. there is really not another reason to notify any authorities, employment or legal, of an inability to get in touch with you apart from fear for your physical safety (harm from others, harm from self. Harm from puma).

    Anxious parents may believe there is a real likelihood of harm in a two-day absence (and anxious children may believe this keeps them safe) but the actual harm of damaging your reputation, losing your job, or having the police show up at your house is probably a lot worse.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Yeah, the two days part jumped out at me. I suspect that the parents imagine that people in the US are constantly dodging gun play. I can see how they would get that impression, but really the answer is to turn of the TV news and give some thought to statistics.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Lol, my parents are like ‘ why don’t you tell me every single place you are all the time?’ and I’m like that’s not what I do. there’s no way they could get to me faster than the police or THE FOLKS WHO LIVE IN THE HOUSE.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Ugh I actually have a bunch of adult friends who share their location via app with their parents and loved ones so they can literally know where they are all the time! I would hate it, but I guess it works for some people.

          1. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

            Yeah that seems really unhealthy to me. I can’t believe how many people do that.

            1. abca*

              Interesting. I don’t see the harm at all in adults sharing their location. Seems like such a minor thing to care about. It seems really unhealthy to me to be so judgmental about these kinds of decisions that other people make though.

            2. RussianInTexas*

              Yeah, it feels so intrusive and weird. I don’t live and work in the war-time Falluja, and unless there are some medical reasons I to know where my partner is at all times, or someone job can take them to danger, or some other extenuating circumstances, not freaking way I am sharing my location, even though I even work from home and don’t go anywhere, really.

          2. Bee*

            My dad set this up for my mom a few years back when they suddenly realized due to her job (real estate agent) there was a legit possibility she could fall off a ladder in an empty house and no one would even know where to begin looking for her if she never made it home. In reality he has used it most often to see when she’s on the way home so he can start getting dinner ready, hah. But they would never ask me to do the same and I would never agree!

            1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

              One of my partners shares location with me (and more of the household) because they’re often out on really obscure back roads with not-great cell coverage, and they give us the time they expect to be back, along with steps to take if they’re not back. It also helps when scheduling laundry or figuring out dinner. I have an alert set up to notify me if they arrive or depart from the nearest airport.

              Another of my partners will probably never share location, in part due to a past relationship with a chronic boundary overstepper. She liked to quiz my partner on where they’d been, what they’d done, who else was there, and why were all those unwatched baseball games stacking up in the DVR and what was my partner doing instead of watching baseball. It would be convenient if they did want to share location with me, but at this point I probably won’t ask them again if they’re comfortable with doing that, at least not for a few more years.

              I share my location with both partners and a close friend, because it makes things a little easier for me if they can just look me up when they’re trying to find me if we’ve become separated somewhere.

    2. Ally McBeal*

      It sort of doesn’t matter what’s normal in the U.S. If OP’s parents are from a country/culture where everyday calls are normal, you can’t expect that they’ll say “oh well our child is in the U.S. now, I guess we have to change our expectations to fit her country’s norms.”

      I think the only real answer here is to identify a friend who can be OP’s emergency contact and doesn’t mind fielding calls that aren’t actually emergencies but just manifestations of anxiety. Paired, of course, with a conversation with the parents about expectations around availability.

      1. BubbleTea*

        I think there are currently countries where not hearing from someone in two days is a very real and legitimate cause for fear. Absent specific circumstances that’s not true in the US or the UK, but certainly in Palestine or parts of Ukraine, for instance.

        1. doreen*

          And even in the US, there are specific circumstances that are legitimate causes for fear. You don’t need to go to a murderous mountain lion for an example of when it might be OK – a murderous spouse/stalker will do and they are sadly a lot more common than mountain lions in the backyard. But I will say the couple of times I have heard of a family calling the employer in that situation they were actually trying to call the victim at work – and got more concerned when she hadn’t shown up for work.

        2. Office Lobster DJ*

          I also think there’s a difference between simply not hearing from someone in two days, and what I’m reading OP as proposing, a situation where repeated attempts to reach a loved one have gone completely unacknowledged for multiple days (and that is unusual for them).

          1. Observer*

            I also think there’s a difference between simply not hearing from someone in two days, and what I’m reading OP as proposing, a situation where repeated attempts to reach a loved one have gone completely unacknowledged for multiple days (and that is unusual for them).

            Yeah, except that a bunch of missed calls don’t really mean anything. There are soo many innocuous reasons why that can happen. Two days of that, absent some really specific information (eg the OP has a stalker) is just way too soon to hit the panic button. Even, by the way, if the cultural norm is every day calls and that’s what the person typically does.

            That’s going to be especially true as the OP adjusts to a new job and a new country. And even more so if there is a significant time zone difference.

            1. amoeba*

              TW: death

              Eh. My mom used to call me every weekend and always answer the phone if she was home. When I couldn’t reach her for an entire weekend and she didn’t answer multiple calls, I sent the police for a wellness check and found out she had died the day before.

              So well. It does depend on what’s usual. If you usually talk everyday and suddenly don’t answer the phone or read your messages, of course that’s a reason for worry. Other people, you know it’s completely normal and they’ll get back to you whenever.

              Having an additional way of checking in (flatmate, work friend, whatever) can certainly be valuable, as long as both parties are ok with that. It’s horrible to worry and not know how to make sure your loved ones are ok.

          2. ClaireW*

            Yeah exactly this – I have a family group chat and it wouldn’t be weird for any particular person to not be messaging or initiating a conversation for a few days, but if we were tying hard to contact someone and couldn’t reach them for 2 days (including through their partner and phonecalls rather than just messages) then that would be very unusual for our family and people would be concerned.

            1. Office Lobster DJ*

              Yup. It’s the same with my friends and family. Don’t respond to some meme or video or keep up with the group chat? No worries. Don’t respond to multiple attempts to reach you specifically about something? Two days could very well be enough to cause concern.

        3. George*

          I can see it now. Dear Ask A Manager. I’m currently in the middle of an active war zone. So naturally I decided to write you for business etiquette advice.

      2. sulky-anne*

        It does matter if the parents are planning to call the OP’s employer and expect immediate action from them every time they’re out of contact for two days. Most people in the US are going to see that as an overreaction and may not be willing to help out in that situation. That’s certainly a factor in how they should figure out their emergency planning.

      3. A person*

        I’m not sure how to say this… my employer would likely notice before my family if I’d disappeared. My family is in the US but we are a 5 hr drive from each other so it would be so normal for me to not talk to family for days, but it would be uncharacteristic of me to not show to work with no explanation so my colleagues would almost definitely try to find out if I was ok (which may mean calling a friend they know could check on me). I also live alone which changes the dynamics. I definitely could be injured in my home and not able to get help and other than my employer it could be days before people would realize because I just don’t see the same people every day. I interact with someone daily, not not always the same person. Adulting alone is tough. Haha.

    3. Broadway Duchess*

      I was born and raised in the suburbs of the city in which I now live. My parents are not particularly anxious but if they didn’t hear from me for 2 days, they’d get nervous. I talk to or text one of them fairly frequently, so 2 days with no contact could be a sign that something is wrong. While there are many people who don’t communicate with their parents (my husband might go for a week without speaking to his parents and my brother might be 3 weeks between calls, for example) for long periods of time, this is not a “US Cultural Rule” to which OP needs to adhere.

      1. Observer*

        this is not a “US Cultural Rule” to which OP needs to adhere.

        No, but it’s still a real norm. Even in situations where it’s typical for someone to communicate daily, calling the authorities after two days of no contact is way too soon.

    4. thelettermegan*

      The 48 hours to report a missing person is a myth, however – Most municipalities say that if you have a credible reason to believe something terrible has happened, they can start searching immediately.

      If LW1 can set up a system of a daily or every-other-day ‘check-in’ text/email, with an emergency contact they can reach out to if contact fails, that’d probably work best. Most authorities can use ‘did not respond to electronic communication yesterday, breaking a consistant pattern’ as a reason to do a welfare or open a case.

      1. Observer*

        The 48 hours to report a missing person is a myth, however – Most municipalities say that if you have a credible reason to believe something terrible has happened, they can start searching immediately.

        True. There are exceptions, but it’s absolutely true that most municipalities will start as soon as they get something credible. But that’s the key. “My kid calls me every day” is generally *not* going to be seen as a credible reason to start checking on people.

        1. Tanya*

          “My kid has called me every day for a year but I haven’t heard from them in three days” …is precisely grounds for a welfare check.

          1. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

            Realistically, though, that’s so much more frequent than the norm that what will probably happen is the cops will laugh.

    5. Observer*

      but the actual harm of damaging your reputation, losing your job, or having the police show up at your house is probably a lot worse.

      Not just worse, but a LOT more likely. The first time your parents call, it’s going to be bad for you, unless you’ve warned HR that your parents are unreasonable. And, if you don’t warn them and they do it anyway, you MIGHT be able to recover if you do some groveling. But otherwise? You will not look good and it will harm your reputation and ability to to grow with your employer.

  5. Viette*

    LW #3: this might go without saying, but if you opt out of the rota, you have to really really really be sure you that never, never (even one time) eat any of the snacks or cake ever in your employment there.

    If “some people in our unit love this sort of thing and can get a bit offended by those not equally willing to participate” then they will notice that you declined to do the cake rota, and if they notice you declined the cake rota then they will probably REALLY notice if you declined to bring in cake and then ate a piece of cake they brought.

    And look, it’s a bit petty but I think honestly you couldn’t justify it if you tried. Opt out is opt all the way out.

    1. Kate Daniels*

      This reminds me a bit of a similar situation where someone in my department opted out of being a part of the weekly fridge cleaning rotation “because I never use it,” and while they may not have used it on a daily basis, it did not go unnoticed that they did here and there. All that is to say, I agree it must be a full opt out.

    2. Ama*

      I might not be mad at OP but I would think less of her if she opted out and then still partook if other people’s offerings. It’s the subtle kind of thing that can influence how you’re perceived among colleagues. Also, it seems like OP is assuming she won’t like anything her colleagues bring — and assuming that it will all be unhealthy treats. That will probably be true for the most part (we do one at my office and it’s almost always store bought donuts, etc) but all it takes is one person bringing in some cheese and crackers or a veggie tray and offering you one because there’s “plenty” for it to become a thing. Also, if these turn into a socializing event in the middle of the office, declining to participate would be pretty visible each time.

      Not saying OP has to agree to it, and maybe her office is actually super chill and no one will even care. But I’m a bit curious about how important this hill is and whether it might not be easier to add a fruit platter to your grocery list once every 4 months.

      1. Mrs. Pommeroy*

        The LW being a single parent to two-year old twins to me indicates that “add[ing] a fruit platter to [their] grocery list once every 4 months” might actually really just be too much.
        When my kid was that age, I was almost overwhelmed by just everyday stuff. Anything on top of it became really exhausting really quickly. Sure, theoretically a fruit platter for the office onc every four months isn’t a lot but it is one more thing amongst lots of other extras – birthdays, holidays, day-care festivities, but also legal stuff, home repair, sick kids etc. etc.
        I can really understand the LW wanting to opt out of another responsibility, especially if it’s one they wouldn’t enjoy.

        1. KateM*

          Exactly, someone with small children would be overwhelmed – and that’s why I feel like buying a fruit platter every four months would be the way to go, at least for me it would be much less exhausting to buy a snack every four months than to remember day to day not to take any snack in kitchen and to be ready for mentally walk the tight rope of not offending the colleagues and still being considered as part of the team etc. Also the kids won’t be “at that age” forever – only one fruit platter later, OP’s kids will be four months older already.

          1. Been There, Done That*

            Having twins with a CO parent is hard. Having twins with no CO parent is even harder. You don’t know what they’re going through with those twins (no sleep, food issues, medical issues, etc). If they say it’s too much, believe them. Don’t believe that it wouldn’t be an issue “once every 4 months” to add a grocery item.

            1. ScruffyInternHerder*

              Shoot, just REMEMBERING to do it would be too much. When my (not twins) were tots, it was the not-regular-things so not-routines that twisted me. And I HAD a spouse parenting along side me.

              Even with all the reminders (electronic and paper), there was more than one time that I had to run out and grab a snack for school. Because I only had to bring in snack every 15 school days (and 3 year old child attended 3x a week, so about every five weeks). And also more than once, I brought in snack early, because I’d messed up the date.

              1. New Mom (of 1 2/9)*

                Yep, was just telling my husband this (1 under 1, 1 on the way). It’s the remembering. All of my non-regular events in my calendar like doctor’s appointments, I set up a special notification a few days in advance and then the day before so I don’t miss it.

          2. Observer*

            than to remember day to day not to take any snack in kitchen

            For most people that’s a “set and forget” setting, while dealing with something every 4 moths means *tracking it*. Cognitively much harder.

            only one fruit platter later, OP’s kids will be four months older already.

            yay? I suppose? It’s going to take many multiples of platters to get to a place where things are not highly stressful on a purely logistical level. Even if the OP is perfect at helping their kids be optimally independent at the earliest possible age, we’re still talking about years.

        2. Loony Lovegood*

          Thank you for this, I am irked by the suggestion that it’s “not that much” when the LW is a single parent to two year old twins. TWINS! The level of chaos this person is managing on a daily basis is enormous, and yes, they are well within their rights to want to opt out of this.

          1. Kt*

            I had a checklist in the morning that included “wash face” and “moisturize” when I was the parent of one two year old! just to remember to do that!

        3. Helewise*

          Actually remembering to get the fruit platter on the grocery list on a given week may well have put me over the edge in my more chaotic seasons. I’m pretty absentminded by nature and that kind of one-off task is my nemesis… it ends up sucking so much more energy than it seems like it should. In other seasons it would be fine!

          I wonder if mentioning that you’re solo parenting twins would open the option to re-evaluate down the line. I personally would be happy to give you a pass and welcome you to eat the treats during this busy phase of life, with the thought that we can always reevaluate when things calm down.

      2. Lily Potter*

        To bring the fruit platter suggestion full circle so we can close the topic – yes, a single mother of twins might find even that suggestion too much financially and logistically given the chaos that is her life. Regardless, this situation is going to require an on-going choice of one thing or the other. Either remember the fruit platter, or remember to never, ever nibble from the communal snacks. LW#1 gets to pick her poison and run with it.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          I was thinking OP could join the rotation and bring their favorite snack each time. Then they would be motivated to buy and bring it, and enjoy it too. They might already be buying it to have at home, so they could just buy some extra to take to work.
          If they decide not to join the rota, they should probably keep their favorite snack in their desk so they won’t be tempted to eat snacks from the rota.

          1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

            They have said they do not want to join the rota.

            And honestly its really not that much effort to remember not to partake. Oh this isn’t mine, I won’t eat it is kinda the default. It takes more effort to remember your place in the rota and bring something then just …. not participate at all.

            1. Be Gneiss*

              I love this very pervasive idea that the LW will have to constantly remind herself to not eat food that isn’t for her. Is that an actual problem that people have?

              1. JSPA*

                My experience of being overwhelmed is that you hit scenarios like:

                you’re incredibly low on sleep. At breakfast you’re focusing on getting the kids fed rather than getting yourself fed. You get to work, and then realize you left your wallet and granola bar sitting on the kitchen table.

                Some days you’re then SOL, or resort to asking a work-friend to front you $5; other (lovely) days, there’s cake or bagels at work. And even if they’re not something you’d normally want, you do very much want them, this one time.

                1. Be Gneiss*

                  Why are we inventing dozens of scenarios where the LW doesn’t have the self-control or the presence of mind or the social grace to just literally NOT eat food that isn’t hers??

              2. This Old House*

                I can only think that possibly, if the office snacks have thus far been more ad hoc and LW has been partaking, it might be a change not to snag a cookie as you walk past the break room, and, for some, a hard habit to break. But given LW’s snack preferences vs her office’s offerings, I’m guessing that not as big a problem for her as it might be for, say, me!

              3. L-squared*

                It may not be a constant problem. But I can easily see a time where she is bouncing from meeting to meeting and doesn’t have time to sit down and eat lunch, but there is a veggie tray there and she could easily grab a couple of things.

                When there are snacks in your face, especially ones that are for “everyone” (Except you), its easy to think “oh this one time won’t hurt”

              4. Runcible Wintergreen*

                Because “snacks that are on the cafeteria table and intended for sharing with the whole office, except OP” are different from “A brown paper bag labeled with Prunella in the fridge”?

                1. Be Gneiss*

                  But surely the LW is competent enough to know that the snacks from their little snack club don’t belong to her??? Does everyone just walk around their office assuming that any food not labeled with a name is automatically theirs? The LW is consciously making a decision to opt out of something. This isn’t “oh, I didn’t realize there was a rotation I could join!” This is the LW saying “this isn’t for me, I’m opting out.”

              5. Antilles*

                In every office I’ve ever worked at, it’s incredibly common for there to be food left out in the break room that’s freely up for grabs. A vendor stopped by to make a pitch and brought snacks, there was a lunch meeting and had some leftovers, stuff like that which is intentionally open for everyone.

                So it’d be very easy to accidentally walk by the break room and forget that the Rotation Cakes aren’t the same as the vendor sandwiches from yesterday, despite being in the usual “take one if you want” spot.

              6. CommanderBanana*

                Hah, yes! There were so many questions about food-related stuff in the office that Alison rounded up the craziest food-related stories from readers and published them.

              7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                Having worked at a place where cake culture was pervasive, none of the food that will be brought in will even be something that LW would enjoy or consider healthy. OMG the mountains of heavy pastries and sweets that people used to bring into the office at that job. It was long enough ago that jello fruit salads and dishes like ambrosia and pink fluff made their appearances. (I actually enjoyed the pink fluff and asked the coworker who’d brought it in for a recipe. Some, but not all, of the ingredients are an entire container of miracle whip and a can of sweetened condensed milk. And it doesn’t get better from there.)

                I am also assuming that the treats will be set out in a special place and not, like, on LW’s desk where she might absentmindedly take one.

                So, no, not an actual problem that I know of!

              8. DJ Abbott*

                I have so many food allergies and sensitive stomach too, that I can’t eat ready-made food.
                My colleagues often bring cookies or candy and leave it on the counter near my desk.
                If I didn’t bring my lunch and snacks and was hungry, it would be very difficult to resist the treats. I would probably eat them even though they’d make me sick.
                That’s why I suggested keeping their favorite snacks in their desk. Good advice for all of us.

              9. Kara*

                My former retail years were primarily in food. To answer your question: yes. Emphatically yes.

                I might also suggest going through the archives here on this site and see how many coffee club letters there are from both sides of the issue. And then how many food letters there are in total. Food is a shockingly fraught topic!

        2. Elitist Semicolon*

          The mere possibility of a twin-tantrum because the kiddos love fruit and can’t understand why they can’t have the strawberries on the fruit platter that mommy bought for work would be stress enough for me.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            This is a great point. Kind of like, when my kids still lived with me in their early 20s, I had to label every bottle of wine and six-pack of beer that I’d bought to bring to a party, with a big all-caps “PARTY”. But less peaceful, because two-year-olds will never understand why they can’t have the strawberries, and will be sad even if they do understand.

          2. DJ Abbott*

            A fruit platter is too hard to handle. It has to be kept upright, and it might leak.
            If they decide to bring snacks, it should be something easily carried in a bag.

        3. MaineC*

          I find it really weird how many people would have to remember not to partake of communal snacks. There are in fact many people who do not snack at work. Ever. I do intermittent fasting and eat nothing at all, ever, until I get home for dinner every night. And severak co-workers have food allergies or intolerances. It’s not weird to opt out of something that does not mesh with your approach to feeding yourself.

      3. Laura*

        It would not recommend that OP goes down the rabbit warren of “might be” or “depends”. To reduce mental load, or to keep it from increasing, all-or-nothing (nothing, in this case) works best. It closes the issue forever and one does not have to dread the “order food, get it to office somehow, clean up, handle leftovers” days that seem to appear in the calendar at the most inconvenient times.

        If snack time is a social event at work, one can join and have (or bring) a coffee (or tea, or water) that is not part of it.

        Yes, some people feel rejected when their offerings are, especially when it’s food. This is where reasons (healthy, tasty, simple, inexpensive, or not) only invite debate, which is a losing game for everyone. Frame it as a personal idiosyncrasy and, as Alison wrote, sound cheerful and not as if this might be a big deal. If needed, asking a tiny favour from the unhappy person might restore the balance.

      4. Amy*

        I would think less of anyone who mentioned they think less of a single mom of twins who doesn’t want to participate in a snack rotation.

        1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

          Yes Im amazed at others social energy. Unless you’re cussing me out or hindering me in some way I’d never notice your small social transgressions.

        2. Observer*

          So would I.

          *Espcially* for a single mom of twins. But pretty much for anyone. There are sooo many reasons why a snack rotation might not work for people. Leave it!

          And if enough people have their own reasons (whether they disclose or not), then maybe it’s just not a good idea for you office.

      5. BubbleTea*

        It might not be too much to add a fruit platter to the grocery order once every four months, but doing it on the specific day that’s been assigned very probably is. I’m a single parent of only one 2 year old and I would not be confident that I could commit to a rota like this. All my priorities currently yell at me when they need something. Snacks for the office wouldn’t even whisper. (See also: why I can’t keep fish as a pet. They would quietly die of neglect.)

      6. thelettermegan*

        I would suggest that the people proposing this are probably doing it more because they want to bring treats into the office to share, and not because they want others to bring to share – and I think the OP should find a diplomatic way to ask about that.

        If it’s really a matter of 10 people collectively working on their baking skills, then they really shouldn’t have an issue with one or two people being the designated tasters for the rota.

        If it’s more about people wanting other people to bring snacks into the office, then OP could suggest they look into hiring a company that does office snacks (there are companies that do that) instead of turning it into part of the job.

        1. Caramel & Cheddar*

          I think there’s a third group in here: people who do like to bring stuff in but then get oddly resentful that not everyone feels the same way. We’ve seen it a few times with letters about candy bowls: someone will have treats on their desk, everyone comes in to eat them, and then eventually the candy provider gets mad that everyone is eating but no one is offering to contribute. I wonder if this rotation is designed to get people who don’t want to (or who didn’t consider) contributing to snacks to participate and spread the cost out, etc. [I would also opt out in this scenario, personally.]

          1. Candy Morningstar*

            this is why the best way is for the company or manager to provide regular snacks if people want snacks. if people really want to bake or bring something themselves, it should be less frequent, like once a month or less. every week seems like too much!

      7. Observer*

        whether it might not be easier to add a fruit platter to your grocery list once every 4 months

        When you are juggling tons of stuff on your own an intermittent task like that can be a huge load. Because it’s just one more thing to keep track of. And bringing healthy snacks like fruit for a week (even assuming that people are ok with it – which is not a given) generally means a lot more work than bringing in a bag of mini-chips or something. Also, a lot more expensive in many cases.

      8. Sam*

        That fruit platter could be pretty hard. When I was the single mom of just one toddler, the logistics made it impossible to grocery shop during the workweek. A fruit platter that needed to be served Thursday or Friday? Not possible. Or if this single mom doesn’t have a car – as I didn’t at that time – dropping those kids off in a double stroller/holding two little hands on a train while carrying a tray? Not to mention that most things I’d serve my coworkers would have been considerably more expensive than the lentils I was eating. Sometimes people really do have no bandwidth to spare – and this isn’t something she should be sacrificing for/stressing over.

    3. Tea Rocket*

      Totally agree with this comment. The only exception would be if LW3 decided to join the rota at a later date. But even then, it would be best for the LW to hold off on eating any snacks until they had taken their turn bringing them in. Being able to say, “I have already taken a turn,” is a lot more powerful than, “I’m on the list to take a turn” when it comes to removing the label of Person Who Does Not Participate in the minds of the sort of people who would be inclined to police this.

    4. Scully*

      Yes to this. We did a similar snack rotation in a previous position, but ours was large enough to be split up by department. Theoretically it’s optional, but everyone knew and side-eyed the person who refused to participate (but still occasionally grabbed a snack). That side-eyed led to some cold-shouldering and hurt feelings. Fair or not, it was the outcome.
      OP, Is it the monetary commitment or the time commitment that is most hindering? If it’s time, our department had the most gung-ho person collect cash from the people like me who just didn’t want to spend the mental energy thinking about what to buy. That COULD possibly be a solution.

      1. House On The Rock*

        I think offering to kick in money might be the way to go, assuming, as you say, this is more about time and snack preferences than the expenditure. There are people who genuinely enjoy shopping for and providing snacks for teammates, one of them may be very happy to do so on your dime. And even if the gesture is refused (some folks may feel awkward taking money) it will be remembered that you made it.

      2. Baunilha*

        This is what I was going to suggest, assuming money isn’t the issue for OP. (If it is, then please ignore it) My husband has a weekly breakfast rota that each time there’s one person responsible for bringing the treats, but one specific coworker gives him money instead of buying the snacks, so coworkers pays and hubby brings the stuff for him. That’s because the coworker relies on public transportation whilst my husband drives to work, so they worked this system so coworker could still join the rota.

        1. Baunilha*

          Forgot to add: in this case, the coworker actively wanted to take part in it, just the logistics made it difficult. And they’re friends outside of work too, so hubby doesn’t mind, since I believe he wouldn’t do that for everyone.

        2. Hiccup*

          Hard to imagine a single mother to twins (assuming she’s paying childcare costs) doesn’t have some financial priorities that don’t involve buying snacks for the whole office

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      Yes, this is just a sweeter version of “I don’t put into the coffee fund because I don’t routinely drink coffee at work. My deviations from this are wild one-offs that could never be repeated and so do not need 50 cents added to the coffee tin. It’s like I hunt the coffee in the wild, and am not able to grasp that a) this is farmed hunting; b) on someone else’s game preserve.”

      If you want to preserve these relationships, be scrupulous about fully not taking part in the thing you don’t want to do. (Or convince them to do the “bring stuff in as you are so inclined” system. Though I wonder if the people who bake more often are starting to resent requests, and this is an attempt to spread the burden more equitably.)

      1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        I dearly hope this is sarcasm. If so, I love it. If you’re serious… wow, people here are really stingy. And far too invested in trivia.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          It’s an observation of the great passion that arises around free food in offices, and the rage felt at freeloaders.

          It’s the divergence between the economic model human, who won’t sacrifice to punish cheaters, and actual humans, who are like “Jeff cheated the system, taking advantage of everyone else’s good faith: I will give you half my marshmallows to take him down.”

    6. eeeek*

      Like Persephone and pomegranate seeds, you do not want to be forced to live in the realm of “but you took from us, now you owe us”.
      In my case, the person who loves cake-culture most wheedles and serves – they will approach with a ready cut piece of lovely cake on a plate, with a napkin and fork at the ready, and urge it upon me whilst extolling its delights and oh! how lovingly it was made. I am a monster, of course, and say as kindly as I can that it looks beautiful, but I am watching what I eat and can only look at it…
      Because I know, if I eat it, I enter the rota, and will at some future point be “assigned” future treats that I must provide. Nope.

    7. Sloanicota*

      Ooh great point. The bar is really low on that one. I recall a roommate made a big stink about not wanting to pay for cable because they never ever watched it – I came home to find them watching it at least once and that was IT for me, even though it’s actually pretty reasonable. The person who refuses to do the dish washing rota better be personally washing their one cup and fork every single day, because it’s going to look like freeloading even if it’s not.

    8. kiki*

      Yes, I was going to add this comment as well. If you opt out of contributing, you need to opt out of partaking. It sounds like LW doesn’t really want to partake anyway due to their own dietary needs and preferences, but it’s definitely annoying when you see the person who doesn’t contribute helping themselves to something other people are chipping in for.

    9. Anonynonybooboo*

      Honestly if it will cause a ton of bad will for her not to participate, and the issue is time (not money): I would probably talk to the organizer and say that I just can’t manage the logistics but would be willing to give my $$ allotment to someone who wanted to do the actual buying/schlepping.

      And then I’d give them the $$ for the whole year, and promptly never worry about it again.

      She might not have the money as a single mom, but having been a single mom at one point, I know for sure she doesn’t have the time or mental energy – and sometimes the cheapest way to deal with something is throw money at it.

    10. WorkingGirl*

      I’m vegan and i could see myself wanting to opt out as what if other people bring snacks that have animal products in them, like Cheetos? So then the only snacks i can/will eat are the ones i bring (but i have to bring enough to share with the crowd)- i wouldn’t want to contribute peanut butter pretzel nuggets if i had to buy a bunch of large bags and in return got nothing. (Same goes for anyone with health-related or religious dietary restrictions!)

      That said, how strongly i’d oppose this would depend on how many people this is, how willing/likely other people are to bring vegan friendly snacks at least sometimes, and the “vibe” of it all… are we all friendly coworkers and the type to enjoy trying a weird new flavor of chip and thank the person who brought it? If that’s the case, i think i’d bring the dang pretzel nuggets every 12 weeks because the camaraderie would be nice.

    11. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      It is extremely petty. If my single parent of toddler twins (!) coworker said she couldn’t commit to it, I would 100% be okay with that. And if she ate cake every time, I would 100% be okay with that too. Geez.

      But then, I like my coworkers and have even brought in homemade treats just because I felt like it. Apparently this isn’t about enjoying cake with coworkers, but is some sort of hierarchical power play?

      1. Just Me*

        I don’t think this is petty at all, and neither do most people here, judging by the comments. It’s pretty rude/selfish in any context to routinely take something that someone else provides, but never contribute anything yourself – and much more so in a case like this, when it’s a more formal system that she isn’t contributing to. It’s certainly fine not to contribute, but it’s not fine to then keep eating what other people are providing.

    12. Knope Knope Knope*

      I don’t think this goes without saying. It’s ridiculous. I am a parent of two toddlers so in this case my heart is totally with OP, but even she wasn’t a parent and even before I became a parent I would care a big fat 0% if you took some snacks. Like really, who cares?

      1. Ticotac*

        I would give grace to the single parent of two that asked not to be part of the snack rotation but still occasionally partakes because they’re busy and presumably low on money. I would give some grace to the coworker who asked not to be part of the snack rotation but still occasionally partakes, although if it happens enough times I would eventually ask them to bring SOMETHING, then, since they clearly ARE part of the snack party. I would have no grace whatsoever to the person who doesn’t want to participate because it’s unhealthy and yet still partakes. If you want one of the cookies I made, bring a tray of fruit or keep your hands to yourself.

    13. sulky-anne*

      I wouldn’t really care about that side of it, but I think the LW should try to keep their food judgment to themselves. Not wanting to participate is fine, but I don’t want to hear my coworkers’ opinions about what office cake is doing to my health. I like baking for the office, and I do it in a low-key way so people don’t feel pressured to have any, so it’s a real bummer when I get a full dissertation on the evils of sugar or whatever.

    14. Hrodvitnir*

      Welp, a mix of opinions in the replies to this! I was bemused at multiple comments stating this – because nothing about the letter indicated she would take anything? As someone who has opted out of things like this, it was never remotely a concern that I would desperately want in.

      That said, if someone *else* opted out but one day really wanted something, I wouldn’t care. Only an issue if they never contribute and always take.

  6. Blueberry Girl*

    LW3: If you choose not to participate in the snacks rotation, that’s fine, but please be mindful. From what I’ve seen, if you decide not to participate and then later consume any snacks, you might quickly lose a significant amount of your political capital. I assume you’re aware of this, but I once had a colleague who initially declined to be part of the monthly breakfast bagel/donut rotation (which was entirely optional for everyone). However, after about 6 to 8 months, they did end up having a few bagels. This didn’t go unnoticed, and it led to some discontent among the team. It was fascinating watching, but maybe not something you want to be in the middle of.

    1. Viette*

      “fascinating watching, but maybe not something you want to be in the middle of” –> so very true. And really, if you want to eat some free bagels occasionally, it’s not outrageous to say that the price is you have to bring bagels in a few times a year. The whole point is that it’s not that hard to bring in a box of bagels once every however many months, for the delightful return benefit of regular free bagels. It only makes sense to opt out if you have the disinterest (or self-control) necessary to not eat what is effectively other people’s food.

      1. Old and Don’t Care*

        If you like bagels. The OP has said she’s not interested in the snacks.

        I would find the whole thing annoying. I’m not a picky eater, but for a treat I want to have what I want to have, not something that I would only eat if it’s put in front of me.

        OP, I would keep it simple. If you say you don’t have time, people will try to explain to you that you do have time. I’d say something like “it’s just not my thing.”

        1. Verthandi*

          “If you say you don’t have time, people will try to explain to you that you do have time.”

          Truth. All you have to do is read some of the comments here.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      If it’s a time issue but not a money issue, you could offer to donate money if someone else will pick them up. If someone is very keen on weekly snack time, they may be happy to do the actual choosing.

      But yeah, if you opt out, you opt out completely.

      1. WS*

        +1, I had a coworker who had a long drive in from the opposite direction to the shops and picking something up on the day would add significant time and annoyance to her morning. She offered to pay if someone else would pick it up, and I did that for her since it was easy for me to do.

        1. St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research*

          Same. Everyone knew I always stopped at Panera in the mornings so every few weeks someone would ask me to pick up bagels for the team. I didn’t mind, but I did always tell them that I was adding my drink to their order. No had any issue with it as it was considered my tip.
          If you do go this route, especially regularly, just make sure you’re showing some small gesture of appreciation to whoever does the picking up!

          1. Sloanicota*

            You should get your drink free and never have to pay for the donuts, if you’re the only person picking them up every morning! People do get entitled very quickly so you will earn those free donuts in my opinion.

      2. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

        I’d be wary of the donate option, though, if you have any cheap-ass-rolls-esque coworkers. They might still act like you didn’t really participate, even if you chipped in and they know that, if they don’t see you bringing stuff in yourself.

      3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Single mom of twins. I doubt she has any money to donate. Which remembering to donate and figuring out how to add that to the budget is work.

        This is really not that hard. Most decent people remember they aren’t part of the rota and just … don’t. Its not this huge effort to go Oh wait I don’t participate I cannot have any.

    3. The Prettiest Curse*

      I think this might be a potential minefield for the OP. If they don’t participate in the snack rotation, they’re never again going to be able to eat an office snack without wondering whether it’s off-limits and will cause a diplomatic incident. As we’ve seen in many previous letters, people can be very weird about office food stuff.

      Honestly, I’m wondering if the best strategy might be just to keep bringing in something that’s less sugary and less popular until they ask her to stop – though if the rotation of responsibilty isn’t frequent, this might be less effective as people will forget who bought which item.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Lol. I swear the part of the brain that deals with free or unlimited food is connected directly to the emotion center and bypasses logic completely.

        Would I pay $.05 for that donut? No, I don’t like that type; it always makes me feel sick after I eat it. Wait, it’s free? I’ll take two.

    4. Lily Potter*

      A couple of things will increase the chances of LW getting judged for grabbing a snack while not being on the official rotation. First, if she’s generally vocal around the office in her beliefs about “cake culture” and the unhealthiness of cake, and is then seen grabbing a sugary snack without being on the official rotation, people are rightly going to judge her. People sniff out hypocrisy pretty quickly. Also, if she’s in management, she needs to be extra careful, lest her reports think that “LW1 is so high and mighty – she’ll eat our BAD snacks but won’t contribute, even though she makes twice what we do!” I’m flashing back to a job with a quarterly potluck where some of the lowest paid employees brought in beautifully made dishes with higher end ingredients while some in management couldn’t be bothered to stop by the gas station on the way in for a few bags of chips (but still went through the chow line). The differential did not go unnoticed.

    5. sulky-anne*

      I think people should only take part in this kind of thing if they are prepared to be normal about it. If you think you’re likely to start a feud if a non-participant has half a muffin one time, or if you feel you may be tempted to steal all the donuts and hoard them in a cave under your desk, step away from the snack rota.

  7. Jane*

    Me, who spends way too much time on Reddit:
    LW1 definitely doesn’t want her family contacting her.

    LOL – I had the totally negative take. Hope that isn’t the case, though.

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      Same here. I interpreted it as “my family did (or is considering doing) this incredibly weird thing, is this legal?”, to which (like many things on this site) the answer is “unfortunately, yes”.

    2. Lemon*

      I had the same gut reaction. My mind went to: OP wants to go off-grid or no contact (for however long), and is sussing out viable options. Let’s hope it’s for something fun “I spent a week doing X activity in Y location parents would disprove of!”

    3. Irish Teacher.*

      I took it to mean, “my parents tend to overreact if they don’t hear from me. I could totally imagine them calling my employer and I’m in a foreign country so I have no idea what the norms are here or how an employer would react to this. Say they did it when I was on holiday; would my employer wait until I got back and see if I turned up for work or would they be likely to contact the police? Should I let them know that my parents tend to overreact and not to call the police if I’m not at work and my parents ring up in a panic? I don’t know how the police would respond to such a call here.”

      I took it as a “could this worst case scenario happen if I (or when I, if the LW is planning a trip) go off for a week and don’t contact anybody?”

    4. Generic Name*

      That’s where my brain went.

      Also, bless Alison for not having a scenario in her brain where a person might express fear for their safety to friends and family. There are many victims of domestic violence who told friends and family “if anything ever happens to me, ex would be responsible”. (But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here)

      1. Observer*

        <i.There are many victims of domestic violence who told friends and family “if anything ever happens to me, ex would be responsible”

        The thing is that I would have expected the OP to mention that, if something like that were in the mix.

        But, yes, OP, if something like that is at play, set something up. HR is *still* not the vehicle for you, though.

        1. Random Dice*

          At my giant corporation, employee wellness checks is absolutely an official HR function, written into our plans and all. It tends to be more emergency-related (after a hurricane, if there are signs of domestic violence that come into work) but it definitely happens.

    5. Myrin*

      I find that really interesting because I read OP as someone who is in voluntary regular contact with her parents and the family had this topic come up recently and now they were wondering if a job in the US would look askance at the proposed behaviour or not.

      But from the wording alone, it really could be either or, we as commenters are certainly just influenced by our own experiences and families.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        > I live far from my parents in another country (the U.S.).

        I really can’t tell who lives in the US here. It’s like in Settlers of Catan, when someone says “Who will trade sheep for rock?” and you can’t tell which they hope to gain.

        1. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

          “in another country (the U.S.)”
          -grammatically she’s indicating that the other country she works in is the US.

  8. Thinking*

    Yes, you are absolutely slammed with work as a single parent to twins plus a full-time job, but I suspect it might be easier all around to just sign up. When you go grocery shopping, get some nice crackers and dips/cheese. The important thing here is not the food, but being perceived as a team player, whether that is fair or not.

    1. John Smith*

      And this is why I hate work. I don’t go there to socialise, play office politics or mind games, I go there to exchange my labour for money. If anyone accused me of not being a team player for not bringing cake in (or other activity) after I had just finished sorting the photocopier out that nobody else had bothered to do, raided the supply cupboard for pens everyone keeps moaning about a shortage of, raising team concerns at meetings rather than moaning behind the bosses back, they’d likely find the cake to be slapsticked right in their face there and then.

      If people want to bring snacks in for the team, let them. They should not be burdening other people, and if its an issue for someone that non-donors are taking snacks, then that someone can always not bring team snacks in. Why is something so simple being made into a ‘mare?!?!

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        Thank you for this comment. It always drove me crazy that this sort of enforced socialization is considered part of being a “team player.” It’s not. It’s just people who want a steady supply of snacks around who are asking others to fund the effort. I say this as the person who always had a candy dish because I like to have chocolate around, and I didn’t mind sharing. I never asked anyone to fill the candy dish for me.

        You want to be a good team player? Then spend more time doing your actual job so I don’t have to keep picking up your slack.

      2. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

        I don’t remember writing this… oh I didn’t! But yes, 100%

    2. DJ Abbott*

      Yes, and it sounds like their coworkers are rather petty so I lean towards going along with it and bringing a healthy snack. An easy way to remember would be to add it to the same calendar where the doctor appointments, etc. are.

      1. Scrimp*

        We have no.idea what her voworkers are like. They don’t sound petty, they don’t sound like level-headed people, they don’t sound like anything because they were not described in the letter at all. The LW only asked how to get out of snack roster politely, and we don’t know why she felt the need to write in to ask advise- maybe because there are so many food stories here she wanted to double check office norms.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          “I know some people in our unit love this sort of thing and can get a bit offended by those not equally willing to participate.”

          Sounds petty to me.

    3. Insert Clever Name Here*

      I think you misinterpreted the question. It wasn’t “would it be easier for me to sign up, and if so what do I bring” it was “I will not be doing this, how do I opt out in a non-offensive manner.”

      1. Anonym*

        Yep. She’s already decided. (And I must say, I would 100% opt out with just one toddler and a co-parent. It would not be easier to add something like this to an already overflowing, borderline cracking plate.)

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          I would opt out and I have no toddlers, just an easy-going cat. I appreciate that the coworker thinks they’re suggesting something nice to build community, but I’m not down with having to add a work task to my personal time on the regular. I’d also politely decline on premise, because I’ve been in my job long enough that I can say outright, “Thank you, but I will not be participating” so that other people who don’t have that capital might feel more comfortable opting out.

      2. KateM*

        And people are saying that by far the easiest way to opt out in a non-offensive manner is to not opt out. :)

        1. Zeus*

          That’s a contradiction in terms. If someone’s asking for advice on how to do something, the least helpful response is, “just don’t do it.”

    4. Risha*

      But she said she doesn’t want to do it. Not everyone is in a good position financially. I don’t know why she has to spend her money on providing snacks for the team if she doesn’t want to do it, or cannot afford it. I wouldn’t be able to afford it, and I have my income and my husband’s income. Not everyone has extra money laying around, and they shouldn’t feel pressured to hurt themselves financially in order to be seen as a team player.

    5. ferrina*

      I was thinking the opposite- LW’s a single parent to 2-year-old twins! That’s one of the best reasons possible to not participate in the snack rota!

      Of course, this is totally dependent on your company’s culture and expectations. At the places I’ve worked, no one would expect a single parent with a toddler (much less twins!!) to pick up random volunteer tasks in their free time, because they know that you don’t have free time. But there’s always the companies that just don’t get it.

    6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      The notion of being or not being a team player at work being based on anything other than how the person keeps up on their share of work in a team, collaborates, mentors others etc, has always raised my hackles and maybe it is time for us to retire it at last.

      Like, thinking of the words, “team player”, they sound like they originate from sports. When we watch your favorite sports, do we base our opinion on whether someone on the team is a team player on their contributions to the game? or do we sit there wondering whether Kevin Durant brings the snacks in on his assigned days?

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        *our favorite sports, of course. Hate it when I double-check and a typo still sneaks in.

    7. Observer*

      ut I suspect it might be easier all around to just sign up. When you go grocery shopping, get some nice crackers and dips/cheese.

      That’s still an extra thing that the OP needs to do – and keep track of. And it’s annoying because the OP is really not going to be able to take part in it because they don’t like the snacks that everyone else is going to be getting.

      So, basically you are saying that to be considered a “team player” the OP needs to take on a task and expense that they will get *nothing* out of. I don’t see how that’s “easier” by any measure.

    8. Awkwardness*

      I think the easiest way would be to take part and buy some healthy snacks as dried fruits or nuts.
      These can be stored at work, so there is less risk to forget about it and have nothing on the required date.
      If LWs co-workers are not satisfied with this, it would be easier to opt out:
      “I wanted to give my share, so I brought snacks that I personally prefer. If this is not ok, I must opt out, as I cannot handle the logistics to bake myself/drive to a special place/remember something that is not on my regular grocery list.”

  9. LikesToSwear*

    LW3: If you feel that you must participate (not doing so should be perfectly fine!) then healthy options are always an option! A veggie tray from the store is a fabulous option, and one I would greatly appreciate over constant cake and other less healthy options.

    1. Ama*

      I’m not sure about a veggie tray only because they’re kind of a pain to eat. A fruit tray would probably be a big hit though!

      LW 3 — My work has something similar and I noticed that most people bring sweet things. Low effort people brought store-bought loaves, cakes, or donuts, and high effort people made cookies or brownies. I’m low-effort but I wanted to stand out, so I brought a store bought platter of bread and spinach dip. Let me tell you it was pretty much devoured and I got *so* many compliments!

      1. English Rose*

        Yes, I brought in a fruit tray a couple of times and it goes really well.

        I also one time made vegetable samosas including pastry by hand from scratch. They disappeared in seconds and people loved them but the effort nearly killed me. Never again!

        1. Lady_Lessa*

          Could be due to the fact that veggies have dip to go into, while the fruit is eaten plain. With the dip you need plates or people super careful only avoid double dipping.

        2. Ama*

          Yes, I was thinking the dip creates either messy dripping or necessities napkins/cutlery where the fruit is grab and go. But honestly it’s probably fine either way.

      2. Elitist Semicolon*

        Neither of these is easy if someone doesn’t commute by car. Shoving a fruit or veggie tray in a backpack for a walk or bike in or holding one on your lap for a long bus ride isn’t the most convenient.

    2. Phryne*

      My workplace has fruit delivered once a week. The department pays for it, it is brought up to our floor so no one has to do anything and it is very very popular. If a service like that exists OP could see if they can steer the discussion in such an direction. (does not even have to be fruit, just a system where everyone pitches in and a couple of people who have room for it do the actual shopping/arranging delivery)

    3. Khatul Madame*

      Veggie/fruit tray means perishable (especially fruit) and heavily marked up.
      A package of baby carrots and optional dip would do as a snack. For dessert, I prefer tangerines over any other fruit – tasty, easy to consume, LW or coworkers can take leftovers home without fussing with packaging.
      I think the bigger challenge here is the cake part. LW has a problem because cakes are not healthy. “Healthier” (not as sweet) or better cakes would be more expensive. I don’t know whether LW can be in on the snacks part (doable with my suggestions above) but opt out of the cake-bringing.

  10. Jessica*

    LW3, another important point if you want to get out of this without social damage is to keep all judgment and disapproval out of your refusal. Just decline politely, don’t lecture your coworkers on why you’re declining and what you think of their life choices. If they’re reasonable people, they will manage to be okay with that.

    1. Despachito*

      I was thinking about this, and I liked Allison’s reply about having two toddlers and too much on her plate the most. (Or she could claim she has some weird food restrictions if she wants to).

      I agree that OP should be absolutely non-judgmental about it (it’s me, not you), upbeat (thank them for inviting her but be adamant that she will really not participate, with a smile not a frown), and NEVER take anything what her coworkers bring.

    2. An Honest Nudibranch*

      Was coming here to say something similar: Alison’s suggestions of phrases are excellent. But your thoughts on how cake culture is bad for health and diet is. . . not a thing you need to tell your coworkers.

      In my experience, “oh for personal reasons I don’t want to engage in snack time” won’t offend reasonable people – there are lot of possible personal reasons and most rational coworkers would realize it’s none of their business. But anything that starts to sound close to, say, those letters that sometimes come in about people constantly making “oh, I wish I could eat that but it’s so fattening” or “you know that’s unhealthy, right?” comments will raise hackles.

      You don’t know what your coworkers’ diets look like outside of the office, and it’s none of your business regardless. Assume they’re rational adults capable of making food choices for themselves – you’re not saving anyone by expressing moral disapproval about how unhealthy cake is, I assure you they are hearing that 50000 times a day from every unavoidable diet ad that tends to permeate our society.

      1. I Would Prefer Not To*

        Is there anything in OP’s comment to suggest they are going to moralize? It seems a bit of a wild take on their post that they are going preach about their colleagues’ diets. All they are saying is that they’d rather not spend effort on that they’re not into, thank you very much.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          The LW included their thoughts on “cake culture”, so it’s not unreasonable to suggest they keep that bit out of their reasons for not participating.

          1. I Would Prefer Not To*

            Agreed they of course shouldn’t mention it or in other ways make their colleagues feel uncomfortable with going ahead with the rotation but since the OP is asking for advice on how to gracefully decline, I think we can assume they’re not intending to “express moral disapproval” as was suggested above or considering their colleagues’ health “their business”. It rather seems to me that the OP would like to find a way to avoid their colleagues’ disapproval and getting into the OP’s business.

            1. An Honest Nudibranch*

              Oh, I agree that OP doesn’t look like they’re intending to express moral outrage . . . but framing their reasoning the way they did to Alison, in the text of the letter they sent in, is pretty likely to be taken as a moral judgment if they say it in the context of something the coworkers are participating in. I think you might be underestimating how reactive people can be about comments on their food habits!

        2. JSPA*

          Only that they did so, here, by way of explaining their motivation. When people have a Motivating Philosophy about something, it’s surely not unheard of for them to share it?

        3. Bookmark*

          they literally said “I think office cake culture is pretty terrible for our health and diet”, as the first reason, before the reason about time and effort. That is specifically the kind of language OP should not use when talking to coworkers about why she doesn’t want to participate, and it’s reasonable to caution about that since it was used in the letter. Keep reasons to why participating doesn’t work for you, and avoid any comments about what is or is not terrible for anyone else’s health, which should not be part of your workplace unless you work in healthcare or public health.

      2. Macrina*

        I work with a Licensed Dietitian who prescribes a sweet treat after every lunch a dinner – in my case, “cake culture” fits in with my overall plan for my health, and I’d appreciate not hearing from my (non-dietitian) coworkers about how my food makes them feel!

    3. k*

      I think Alison’s first two scripts are fine and non-judgemental. But I will say that if someone responded to me about a snack rota with “For a bunch of boring reasons, I’m not going to participate, but have fun doing it!” I would honestly think that person was being pretty weird. It’s a strangely cagey response for something so low stakes. Just say you’re not into snacks.

      1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        After reading here for years, I would take that as “I have medical stuff I’m not willing to talk about”. And you should keep that in mind if someone ever does use a “strangely cagey” response with you. Stop looking for reasons to be judgey.

        1. k*

          Sure, but the vast majority of people don’t read this blog, and a pretty normal human response to that statement in conversation would be “Oh, like what?” Instead of saying you’re opting out “for boring reasons” and inviting questions about what those reasons are, just actually give a boring reason. It doesn’t need to be true.

          1. Observer*

            just actually give a boring reason.

            Which then invited people to discuss, debate, or question your reason.

      2. Observer*

        I would honestly think that person was being pretty weird. It’s a strangely cagey response for something so low stakes.

        For a lot of people it’s not low stakes. And if it’s an office where where people tend to expect *explanations* for even low stakes “deviations”, being cagey makes sense. People don’t want to explain or justify their pickiness, for instance, much less argue with people why they don’t want to try to “overcome” it in the name of being a “team player”. And even here on this site we’ve seen several suggestions that being the single mom of twin toddlers is not a good enough reason to opt out because “how hard can it be” to “just” do X suggestion to “easily” take part.

        So being cagey is reasonable. And the fact that people are going to judge someone for that is even more reason to be cagey – because if you’re getting judged for being “too cagey”, then you’re *definitely* getting judged for reasons that some people consider “not good enough”.

    4. iglwif*

      Came here to say this.

      I don’t work in an office now but I did for a couple of decades, and inevitably we had vegan people, vegetarian people, celiac people, people on a diet … there are always reasons for people to not participate in snacky things, or to need accommodation around snacky things. If someone bows out in an “I just don’t have the bandwidth, but have fun” kind of way, that’s received 1000% better than bowing out in an “I’m not going to participate because your snack choices are unhealthy” way.

  11. They Don’t Make Sunday*

    Could we please take LW 3 at their word that they don’t want to participate. Their question wasn’t, “Will I regret not participating?” It was, “How do I opt out in a non-offensive manner?”

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      I didn’t think it’s a matter of not taking Lw3’s word. I think people are just suggesting that LW3 to be extra mindful of the optics involved as this goes forward after they’ve opted out. And that is part of doing things in a non-offensive manner. People get weird about snack rotations in my experience and become extra vigilant about people who chose not to participate, so perceived “injustice” can become a thing.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah I’m starting to feel like people don’t understand what a round is, or that they think OP doesn’t know how to be in round. A round (whether it be at work or at the bar) is simply “I get one, you get one”. Of course OP is not going to help themselves to snacks after declining to pay their share! Also, participants in a round should really understand that “no thanks” is a polite response to a polite offer; there’s no judgement if someone doesn’t want anything, or doesn’t want to participate; it’s simply a logistics arrangement. There’s no point taking turns, if someone doesn’t want a turn! (especially if there’s plenty of other people to run the arrangement with). Everyone saying OP will be seen as less of a team player, or that it’s not that hard to participate, are overreacting and missing the point that OP doesn’t want or need to! If OP does decide in the future that the snacks look better than they imagined, or they realise they can manage to join in after all, they can join the snack club later on. I would start with “Leave me off the rotation please guys, I don’t want to join in with the snacks; I’m happy to sort myself out for food” and if they change their mind later: “Is there any room to join in the snack rotation from next week; I was thinking if I brought the next batch in, I could join in going forward?” I really don’t see why this is any more fraught than declining to go in with the group on a takeaway sandwich order.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        It SEEMS like it should be obvious that if OP isn’t contributing, they won’t take any of the snacks, but the number of people I’ve known who rationalize their way around that is astonishing (oh, but Nanaimo bars are my favourite, and last week I forgot to bring lunch, and the week before that I needed a sugar boost before my big presentation…)

        I think it’s valid to remind the OP that opting out of the rotation means truly opting out 100%

        1. birb*

          People are REALLY REALLY bad at passing up dopamine when they’re low. Their brains will obsess over it in the background until they give in, then find a justification. It’s really frustrating when the stakes are higher than just free baked goods, but its also a symptom of our society slowly bleeding all the dopamine out of everyday life. No one really notices its absence, but when a little bit of dopamine pops up, they act like addicts to rationalize taking it at all costs.

          1. Harper the Other One*

            I had never thought of this behaviour as being part of dopamine seeming but that makes total sense!

          2. Brrr*

            I’m really interested in this idea (society slowly bleeding all the dopamine out of everyday life) and wonder if you can expound on it, or have any articles or books to link to?

          3. sulky-anne*

            This is a really interesting perspective, and it helps explain all of the weird stories here about carb-related freakouts. It might be related to the grim nature of office life–as soon as something pleasant enters the building, we collectively obsess over it. Kind of similar to how the bar for a joke to go over well is way lower in a work presentation.

          4. MaineC*

            I’m so confused what kind of offices most people work in, because: anytime someone brings food into our office, it generally goes to waste because only 1 or 2 people will want it. I don’t eat at work period, because I do intermittent fasting. So I have zero interest in food people bring. I know a ton of colleagues with dietary restrictions due to allergies or food sensitivities. Who are all these people who lose their minds over snacks brought in by colleagues?

      2. metadata minion*

        Off-topic, but I did not actually know that that’s how rounds worked in a drinking context, because I don’t drink. To me, that seems like it would end up being either too much alcohol or too much logistical annoyance to keep track of who bought the round last time.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          I don’t drink anymore, but alcohol rounds are best for just a few people so you’re only getting a few drinks in. However yeah round culture here in Britain usually does end up being too much alcohol, but really only if people want that. If you don’t want that, or there’s a lot of people involved making it not-logistical, you make “a kitty” which means everyone puts in the same amount of money, and you use the kitty to pay for the drinks at each round. Whatever is leftover goes on the cab ride home or food, or gets divvied up.

        2. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

          Buying (booze) rounds is much more of a British thing (at least to do so frequently and in a standardized way everyone understands.) It’s not nearly as common in the US bar-going culture.

      3. JSPA*

        If it’s Friday, and also Kev’s birthday, the LW may be stuck figuring out, “is this treat part of the sweets rota, or something for Kev’s birthday”–or else they’ll miss out not only on the rota items, as expected, but also on birthday stuff (which they currently participate in). Or the rota is moved by a day because someone is traveling, but only the rota people get the message, so it looks like non-rota shared “celebration” food (again, something that the LW would currently participate in).

      4. CowWhisperer*

        Because a one time take-out order is straightforward and time limited. It’s not hard to remember “Don’t eat the Chinese that arrived today at lunch.”

        It can get dicey to remember when the LW is dealing with a heavy snack culture while having two small children at home. Exhausted humans tend to snack as a survival method and the LW could build up a lot of bad feelings by refusing to bring in snacks which eating snacks even sporadically.

        Not participating and not partaking is a workable method as long as the LW is fine with the mental load of not eating available food at work.

        1. Samwise*

          It’s not that hard. OP can bring their own snacks. I suggest an obnoxiously bright lunch bag or mini cooler from which they pull their own snack in public view.

      5. Kara*

        People get WEIRD about food! It certainly seems like a nice low-stakes situation, but between food and possible optics of ‘they’re not paying but are still getting the benefits!’, it can get heated surprisingly quickly. For an example, look through the AAM archives at all of the coffee club letters, from both sides of the issue.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      As with “sometimes the cheapest way to fix a problem is with money,” sometimes the cheapest way to keep the office functioning smoothly around you so you don’t have to think about it is to buy a premade bread-and-artichoke-dip.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        But she said she didn’t want to participate. I don’t understand why commenters are convinced that she will if they can just make it easier for her.

        1. JSPA*

          Because we’ve worked places where opting out has turned out to be a big stinking deal.

          If the LW happens to be working in a place where it’s legit going to be a huge headache either way, we feel obliged to pass along alternative strategies for minimizing total headache–in that the LW is unlikely to want to change jobs over this issue.

          “If people are difficult about it, no matter how well you word your opt-out speech, then tell them to suck it, and change jobs” is even further outside what the LW is envisioning as a path forward…isn’t it?

    4. Be Gneiss*

      And what is with all the comments where we assume that LW3 will simply not be able to stop herself from eating the snacks?? Are people seriously *that* lacking in self-control that they don’t think anyone is capable of not eating food that isn’t theirs? Inventing scenario after scenario where the LW will be powerless to resist because she’s tired or grouchy or forgot her lunch or whatever, and she’s crushed under the “mental load” (????) of not eating the snacks.
      Take the LW at her word. She doesn’t want to participate. She knows that means she can’t have the cake, and she’s cool with that.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Yeah, it’s a little strange to me. As someone who doesn’t participate in her office’s version of this kind of thing, it’s really not hard to remember not to eat what other’s bring and restrain myself from doing so. And from the way LW phrased her question, it really doesn’t seem like something she’d be interested in anyway, so it seems even less likely that she’d forget or be unable to resist.

        1. doreen*

          That depends a lot in the specifics. Most places I worked it would be very easy for a non-participant not to eat what co-workers bring because all food that appears was brought in/paid for by one or more co-workers. There have been other places I worked where for example, one breakfast per week/month was paid for by the soda machine profits and anything else was paid for by co-workers. Or some days the manager paid for food for a meeting. And it would be very easy ( for me , at least) to not realize that today’s bagels are not the ones paid for by soda sales.

      2. Sneaky Squirrel*

        I don’t think anyone is assuming that LW3 wont be able to stop herself from eating the snacks. In a heavy food culture company, lines begin to get blurred. My company has a heavy food culture and sometimes it can be hard to tell if the food left out is someone’s lunch or if someone is giving it away for free. Also consider that food might be left out for other reasons: Is the food that’s on the counter left over from a meeting or is it our shared snacking rotation? Is the food here because someone decided to charitably bring something in today or is it the snacking rotation? It’s holiday season, are the cookies here from a vendor or are the in the snacking rotation? If today is Susan’s birthday and I choose to bring in birthday cake as my snack to celebrate her, should LW participate?

        Also, realistically, many of us CAN name a coworker who took something (food, supplies, other) that wasn’t theirs and while I don’t think anyone is accusing LW of being this way, LW should be aware that there will be a consideration of optics when opting out.

      3. Ticotac*

        Saying, “just remember that if you opt out you gotta opt out completely” doesn’t mean “remember to keep your ravenous cravings at bay, OP, for surely you will be tempted and will lose all self-control.” It means “in the unlikely happenstance that someone DOES bring something you like and consider healthy, you still want to remember most people won’t be pleased with sharing something with someone who isn’t sharing back.” It feels obvious to me, but I’ve seen enough people saying they won’t be in the dish-washing rota because they never use the dishes at work only for them to occasionally use their dishes at work and leaving them int he sink to know that, clearly, it’s not very obvious.

      4. sulky-anne*

        I don’t think it’s really a marker of terrible self-control if once in a while you get hungry and take a communal snack. We need to eat for sustenance, and sometimes it’s hard to override those signals when something is right in front of you. I don’t think the ability to “control” that is universal, or necessarily a good thing. (According to many, I had great “self-control” when I was struggling with disordered eating, although in reality it was just my anxiety and depression taking the wheel.)

      5. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

        They’re not assuming she won’t have the willpower not to. They’re providing a warning that should she successfully opt out, it will absolutely become A Thing if she then later takes one of the snacks, which she might not have been attuned to.

      6. JSPA*

        It’s a question of recognition / the need for increased situational awareness, not self-control.

        Sure, if someone is (say) celiac or has major allergies or keeps strict kosher or halal, they’re used to either avoiding everything, or having their mental food scanner set on extreme caution.

        But this doesn’t seem to apply to the LW, who’s primarily looking to have fewer things on their mental checklist–not more of them. If they said, “I literally never partake of food at work unless I brought it myself, or bought it myself from a trusted source,” then, fine. But that’s not what the letter says.

    5. the cake is a lie*

      “Don’t ever eat a snack, ever, not even one little star mint” *is* advice on opting out. I don’t think people are not believing she doesn’t want to participate, they’re stressing that if there’s any indication that LW is taking without giving, it’s going to come back to bite her.

      Does it sound insane and petty? Sure. But I completely agree- if people get the impression she’s partaking without ponying up, they’re going to hold a grudge.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        I don’t think it is insane and petty; it’s simple common sense not to eat stuff that’s not yours, or you haven’t been invited to share explicitly. I don’t take exception to that advice really, either, it’s more the advice saying: “Oh pull the other one, OP of course you’re going to want a snack, of course you’re going to graze on anything not locked away, so just participate, it’s not that hard”. Like I believe OP isn’t wanting any snacks and if they do end up wanting snacks, I believe they’re an adult who can figure that out without eating other people’s stuff.

        1. the cake is a lie*

          I’m not sure your interpretation is really what everyone’s saying- it’s not what I’m saying, at least. It’s not that we think the LW is asking for permission to eat and not buy, we understand that she wants to not partake in general. But it’s about optics, which often have little to do with reality. If someone sees OP eating her own granola bar and mistakes it for one of that week’s blondies, the whisper campaign starts up. If OP continues to have a slice of Throckmorton’s birthday cake, even if that particular cake is separate from the weekly signup, the image that sticks in people’s head might be of OP eating cake and never bringing any in- it’s petty because it’s irrational.

          1. Ellis Bell*

            Yes I did think you were saying that people could only get upset about OP getting food that wasn’t theirs, thank you for clarifying. It literally just didn’t occur to me that people would also get in a twist about OP bringing their own food, if it wasn’t easy to verify where they got it from.

  12. Squidhead*

    LW1- You may or may not like this idea, but some online messaging apps can show when you were last active (I’m thinking of WhatsApp and FBMessenger specifically but it might be true of others). I actually use this in WhatsApp as a “proof of life” for a family member who lives overseas and we don’t talk very often, but at least I can see they were on WhatsApp as recently as Tuesday. If there’s an app you use frequently and you are trying to find a way to allay your parents’ concerns, this could be something to show them. If you are trying to reduce nosiness and interference, this is a setting you could look for & turn off!

    1. Helewise*

      Similarly, my family uses the Find My Friend app all the time. We aren’t very intrusive when it comes to each others’ private lives and this might not work if your family is, but it would let them see that you’re moving around and active. We mainly check it when we’re meeting somewhere to see who is on their way and who is stuck in traffic.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      I’ve seen my mum worry at that, during lockdowns, when my cousin’s WhatsApp was saying his last seen was about a week earlier. Cousin has since explained that he’s recently been trying to cut down on his phone use, so she doesn’t worry about that any more (if anything is ever time sensitive, she’ll go via his wife who’s more easily contactable).

  13. JSPA*

    #3: if you’d like the occasional half slice of cake, and if cost isn’t prohibitive, you could try, “I’m not available for baking and cooking, and don’t have much of a sweet tooth. So unless you’re comfortable with my contribution always being something like a bag of apples, or a plate of carrots and store-bought hummus or a box of animal crackers, I’m going to opt out.”

    Chances are they’ll be fine with something more random four times a year, and you can feel comfortable taking that last lonely half of a cupcake, if you wish.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      But they don’t want options of how to participate. They do not want to do it.

      Here’s the thing, if they opt in even with fruit platters, they will be expected to partake. Saying no I don’t want your cake, when you are part of the rota gets in the whole judgmental diet thing.

      It really is a lot easier to just opt out than come up with all kinds of creative ways to opt in.

      1. JSPA*

        They more specifically want to not bake, and they want to not encourage a sweets-heavy default.

        But they are currently open to occasional cake for special events.

        Said special events can end up subsumed into the weekly events; that’s been my experience, anyway.

        They may not have considered alternative participation options, nor considered that they will lose out on actual celebrations (which they currently do participate in) if there’s a merging of the two streams.

        This isn’t a stand-alone answer. It’s an alternative to the main answer; an alternative that meets both of their stated goals.

        1. HonorBox*

          They don’t want to participate in the treats club. There’s a big difference between the muffins that Dorothy brings in when it is her time or the cupcakes Jimmy brings in when it is his time and the cake that the company brings in for Janice’s birthday. While some offices may see this as a merging of streams, there’s nothing in the letter that would indicate that this happens. The LW can choose not to participate, not eat from the treat club snacks and still guilt-free participate when it is time to celebrate Janice’s birthday. If coworkers can’t see the difference, they’re being petty and aren’t operating with good intentions and understanding.

          1. JSPA*

            Oh, well, if it’s a professional cake that the company brings in, that makes sense. Two of the places I’ve been, the team pitched in to make the birthday stuff happen, too; either by collecting a couple of bucks per person for a bought cake, or people who liked to bake would decide on who was covering the birthday prep, based on what sort of treat the birthday person liked best. At one of them, “let’s do joint birthdays monthly” became “nah, let’s do them every fortnight, even if there isn’t a birthday, so people with different preferences are more likely to get the cake they like on their birthday” which became “cake rota unrelated to birthday…except when it was a birthday, after all.” Some people are just very invested in, “celebrations and food are what make community, and community is what makes work bearable.”

      2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

        Sorry but turning down a piece of cake shouldn’t ever be interpreted as anything other than “I don’t want a piece of this particular cake at this particular moment in time.”

        Unless LW says it in a nasty judgemental way (and we have no evidence of that I don’t think?), it would be utterly ridiculous to interpret “no thanks” this way.

        I mean, if LW still prefers to opt out, then that’s fine. But in any even vaguely l sane office it would be fine to opt in, contribute your offer, and not eat any of the cake that others make.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I don’t like the grocery-store sheet cake. I have always been able to opt out of workplace birthday cake and no one ever said a word. And that was 20 years ago when cake culture was a lot more pervasive.

          I guess it is possible that LW somehow alienates the teammates by not taking a piece of their cake. But it is so unlikely that to me it falls under “I’ll cross this bridge when I get to it”.

          1. Yeah...*

            Yeah, but here the tone of the comments here is often “do something the guarantees I will never, ever have to cross this bridge or any other.”

            You can plan for everything but sometimes crap happens anyway doesn’t seemed to be believed here.

  14. Dorothy Zpornak*

    #1 reads to me as though LW’s parents are basically threatening to call the employer to extort the LW into calling every day, because if LW doesn’t check in daily they’ll be ‘forced’ to make sure LW is okay because they’ll be so ‘worried.’ It sounds like LW is trying to figure out how believable this threat is. LW, this is a totally unacceptable level of control for parents to try to exert over an adult and you are absolutely justified in setting a boundary about how often YOU want to check in with them.

    1. Artemesia*

      But alas this means he will need to discuss this with HR and be sure they understand he wants them to go ‘no information’. And he needs to set up a system where he reassures the parents in some particular way weekly or whatever.

      1. Testing*

        Nope, LW1 can decide perfectly well for themselves if and how often they reassure their parents, and whether there’s any kind of system needed. It’s not for the parents or us to decide.

      2. Other Alice*

        By default, HR should not be giving out that information except under exceptional circumstances, and “haven’t heard from them in two days” is very much not that. LW is also allowed to decide how often they want to contact their parents, including never if they chose to.

    2. JSPA*

      I don’t think we can assume either way; some people thrive on this level of interdependence. And of course, some people think that the u s is an extremely scary, violent place, because they’re seeing the news, without correcting for the size of the population. Or because they know the percentage of gun ownership, Which is in line with a few places that are legitimately (statistically) far more dangerous.

    3. Stipes*

      My read is that the LW’s parents are the ones who want to call the employer… and the LW wrote the question in a carefully neutral way because they intend to show the parents this post as evidence against the idea.

  15. Cake or death? Death*

    So many comments here perfectly illustrate why people like OP 3 have difficulty saying no to these things – people get so insistent that there HAS to be a way for you to participate, and/or suspicious that you plan to eat all the treats without contributing because you’re just that sneaky and evil, and they cannot take a simple “no thanks”. They just will not accept that you want to opt out entirely and they make it A Thing.

    OP 3, follow Alison’s advice and be free of this nonsense.

    1. philmar*

      The point all the other commenters are making is even if you opt out, your co-workers might still make it a thing, and in fact you get embroiled in more nonsense such as being monitored that you never ever take a single celery stick or half a cupcake, and if the price of avoiding that is bringing a Safeway platter of croissants once every four months, perhaps it seems less burdensome if you reframe it as “purchasing workplace capital” rather than “joining an annoying snack rota.”

      1. Phryne*

        This. OP has every right to opt out, but people here are correctly pointing out the potential non monetary cost of that, which OP might not have considered, and are providing alternatives that might actually be less burdensome in the long run.

        1. Anonym*

          But it seems like OP is very aware of this? That’s why she’s asking for a strategic way of responding.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        Wait, were did this stick of celery or half cupcake come from though? If it’s food belonging to other people of course OP can’t just take it? If it’s OP’s, of course they can? The only other option is they were invited to share something gratis, but then what does that have to do with the snack club that OP isn’t eating anything from?

        1. Lexi Vipond*

          Initially brought for the snack club, but then offered as leftovers to people who drop into the office, or offered to visitors who came for a meeting which the OP is also in, or just lying about.

          Not being eligible to join is one thing, like the PhD students’ cake club where I worked long ago, which was occasionally trying to get give away to admin staff something that wouldn’t keep or that the baker didn’t want to carry home, but I think they would have noticed if a student didn’t join but seemed to be keeping an eye out for giveaways (and they were generally nice people!)

          1. Ellis Bell*

            I think if OP is happy to pass on the weekly snacks when they’re whole and fresh, I think they can resist stray celery sticks and half cupcakes. They don’t want in on the snack club, so I doubt leftovers are going to tempt them to ignore their dislike of snacks and doing food admin. Also, is cutting cupcakes in half actually a thing? This is the second reference I’ve seen to this, and it’s leaving me scratching my head a lot, as though the fact that it’s only half a cupcake removes it from the normal rules or of engagement or something? I can’t even imagine offering my colleagues half of a single serving baked good. Just eat a whole cupcake or leave it undefiled would be my advice.

            1. Too Many Tabs Open*

              Yes, cutting a cupcake in half is a thing, especially if it’s a really large cupcake. In my office, the cutting would be done by the person who’d like a taste but doesn’t want to eat a whole cupcake, not by the person who brought the cupcakes.

            2. I Have RBF*

              Also, is cutting cupcakes in half actually a thing?

              Yes, it’s a thing, unfortunately. Cupcakes, muffins, donuts and bagels regularly get mutilated as a sacrifice to the diet gods: “Oh, I shouldn’t eat that, I’ll just take half (or a quarter), someone else will finish the rest”, “Oh, it’s against my diet, I’ll just take the top off the muffin, surely someone else wants the bottom”, etc.

              At one job, on bagel day, I would regularly pile up all of the half bagels on one plate to point out just how obnoxious that was. I would get in a little later than the early birds, and there would be nothing left other than mixed bagel bottoms that were now stale. Then people would leave just a little cream cheese in the container, so that way they didn’t “take the last” and have to throw the container away. The only thing worse that getting in late to zero donuts on donut days is coming in to find two one quarter donuts left in the box.

              But no, apparently some people never understood the rule of “Take a whole one, or don’t take any.” Wanting to appear virtuous in their diet BS trumps social courtesy, especially in an office with mostly women. They are literally performing “virtuous restraint” at all the other people in the office, because if they really were actually restrained they would not have any at all.

              It’s why I’m glad that I work remotely now. I never have to deal with someone else’s sloppy seconds again.

              1. DK Perler*

                Counterpoint: have you SEEN how huge cupcakes/muffins are are lately? If I don’t take a whole one, it’s not because I want to show off my dietary self-restraint to the rest of the office. It’s because I don’t actually want the whole cupcake. I’d rather neatly cut it in two and leave the other half for someone else to enjoy, than end up throwing perfectly good food in the trash because I couldn’t eat an entire softball-sized cupcake on my own.

                1. sulky-anne*

                  I wouldn’t have trouble with a softball-sized cupcake personally, although I’m not a buttercream fan so I don’t understand the ones that have basically a 1:1 icing to cake ratio.

              2. Stopgap*

                This is awfully judgemental. If I take half a baked good, it’s because half was how much I wanted, and it didn’t strike me as “social courtesy” to waste the second half. Do you think people are licking the halves they’re not taking?

            3. Random Dice*

              Cutting treats in half is a regional unwritten rule that is deeply DEEPLY engrained.

              Eating the last piece is coded as so deeply selfish and antisocial that people would rather it go to waste.

      3. Dinwar*

        A person who’s going to watch what I eat in hopes of catching me eat something that they can claim is from the snack rotation is not going to fail to find a way to throw me under the bus merely because I contribute to said snack rotation. Such a person is pretty much by definition hostile towards you, and in my experience such people will always find a way to get you. There’s absolutely no point in going out of your way to appease such people, because there simply is no limit to what they’re going to demand of you.

        To be clear, if someone gives you a side-eye for not participating in the snack rotation, that’s one thing–that’s normal office politics. But if they’re watching what I eat and unwilling to understand that I can in fact bring in my own snacks, that’s a whole other thing. That’s no longer about the snacks; that’s about overt hostility towards me personally.

        1. Just Me*

          Seriously? It is possible to notice someone doing something without them “going to watch what I eat in hopes of catching me eat something that they can claim is from the snack rotation.”

      4. rollyex*

        This is…a lot.

        The OP should just say “No thanks” or use one the phrases AAM suggested. And then not eat the snacks. It’s not that complicated unless where she works is very dysfunctional.

        “That’s a nice idea, but no thanks.”

    2. Alinator*

      “Cake or Death?!”
      “Cake please”
      “Sorry, we’ve run out, we only had three pieces, we weren’t expecting so many”
      “So my choice is ‘Or death’?”

      You username immediately caused a flashback to the wonderful Izzard!

    3. Snow Globe*

      I think people are responding to personal experience seeing people partake in snacks/potluck lunches even when they never contribute. I don’t think people are assuming the OP would do that, but you can’t assume they won’t – there is too much evidence that such people exist!

      1. JSPA*

        It can be awkward when someone who doesn’t know you’re not in the rota hands you a plate. Or walks to the cake while talking to you, and then has the whole, “oops, I forgot this isn’t for you” look on their face. It’s not necessarily because they’re being weird about it on purpose, or in a controlling way; it’s legitimately sometimes socially awkward to be in a situation where there are “haves” and “have nots.”

    4. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Thank you.

      Yes some people will partake without contributing, but most people will not. There is no indication that OP is one of them.

      If someone people then make a big deal out of OP not participating, that is a them problem, not an OP problem. If some people then monnitor OP’s own intake of food, again a them problem.

      OP gets to decide if they want to partake or not.

      1. Dainerra*

        part of the problem though is say someone’s contribution to the snack rotation was a couple boxes of granola bars. letter writer brings in her own granola bar. you’re never going to 100% convinced your co-workers that that was your granola bar and you brought it from home and not a granola bar that you took from the break room. even if they say to your face that they believe you, there’s going to be at least one person who doesn’t. and then 3 months from now when you happen to be finishing the last bite of 100% healthy bran muffin you will never convince anyone that what you were eating was not one of the cupcakes or muffins from the break room.

        1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

          This sounds really paranoid and extreme. I know some offices are weird but this sounds a bit bonkers.

          1. Lily Rowan*

            Yeah, I hope the OP would know if people in her office are going to be tracking THAT closely.

            Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but in almost every situation I’ve been in where people were bringing treats or whatever, there were plenty leftover, and people who didn’t contribute were invited to partake.

            1. Dinwar*

              Where I work it’s common to have snacks to give away. I usually have a thing of hard pretzels on my desk, for example, and everyone knows they can grab a handful if they want. Another coworker keeps candy at her desk in a dish. We bring snacks we like, but it also serves as a way to bring people to us. If I go to you and say “I need this report” it can come off as harsh. If you come into my office for a snack and I say “Oh, hey, by the way, what’s the status of that report?” it’s a friendly reminder.

              We also occasionally bring in stuff we want to get rid of. At one office someone would bring in buckets of lemons–as in, multiple 5-gallon buckets of lemons fresh off the tree. Other coworkers have brought in leftover cookies or pie or whatever from birthday parties or holiday parties. Turns out putting snacks in a breakroom is a really good way to dispose of leftovers!

            2. doreen*

              In my experience, that depends. If I bring in cookies just because I was baking over the weekend and I have a lot extra, everyone is free to have them. And that’s true even if I bring cookies this week and Alan brings cupcakes next week and Melinda brings cookies the third week. The problem comes when it’s organized and people take turns or chip in money – I once had a coworker who was so notorious for not contributing to anything but still taking food when there were “leftovers” that his office mate was not allowed to to leave the conference room with food, lest he bring it back to the non-participant.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I have never worked at a place that had this kind of granola bar police. If this happens, maybe time for a job search.

          If LW brings in granola bars often, then, even on the one day out of the year when someone accidentally brings the same bars in, the coworkers will be able to figure out that it is still the same bar that LW brings from home every day.

        3. rollyex*

          “you’re never going to 100% convinced your co-workers that that was your granola bar and you brought it from home and not a granola bar that you took from the break room.”

          Who gives a s#it about those people.

          Don’t go through life letting these kind of worries get into your mind.

    5. Laura*

      OP 3, follow Alison’s advice and be free of this nonsense.

      So much this.

      All those attempts to minimize one’s contribution will not significantly decrease mental load. My idea to simplify would be to order cake delivered from the nearest bakery to the office, and that is still mental load, and it might still not successfully navigate the “food is caring” connotation, especially if LW does not partake in the food provided by others.

      If LW’s place of work is that complicated, she has my sympathy. And even then, staying out might be the most sustainable way to handle it.

    6. Risha*

      Yeah, I’m seeing too many comments here telling the OP ways she can still participate, after she said she doesn’t want to. I don’t get it. I’ve dealt with people like this irl, and it’s irritating. If someone says they can’t/don’t want to do something, why is it so hard to respect that? No one knows her financial situation, or her time constraints, but it doesn’t matter anyway. She said she does not want to participate.

  16. Seven If You Count Bad John*

    All the veggie tray comments are making me remember my first real reception job, in a small engineering office where periodically Management would bring in donuts. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so I would just not have a donut, and I’d cheerfully say something like “call me when you have bagels”. and one day Management showed up with bagels! (And donuts. The bagels were literally just for me.)

    1. Hrodvitnir*

      Aw. I’ve been sort of hate-reading these comments, so yours was a nice break! Also +1 to bagels.

  17. Mrs. Pommeroy*

    I am really astounded by the reaction to LW3 in most comments.
    I’m not sure what kind of people you are all working with (or are yourself) that after opting out of a not work-related activity LW would have to watch out to never participate in it at all lest they become a social outcast in the office. All places that I’ve worked at, the people participating in the activity would have been completely fine with a non-participant occasionally accepting something that was offered to them – especially if we all knew that person was just too swamped in their non-work life and could possibly use a little pick-me-up.
    But then, about 98% of all people I’ve ever worked with have been rather kind. And also, I don’t live in the US, so it might be more culturally specific than I would have expected.

    1. WS*

      I also don’t live in the US, but someone not participating in the snack roster then eating the snacks was a HUGE issue where I work. Which is a mostly female workplace, which might have something to do with “people expecting them to do all the extra ‘nice’ work while they sit back and enjoy the results” being a hot-button issue.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Same! When I’ve worked somewhere with a snack rota the people who contributed did it because they liked baking or buying snacks and wanted everyone to enjoy them. It wasn’t a tit-for-tat thing. I’d expect there to be one or two people who see it as very transactional and take note of how much every contributes or consumes, but the idea that *most* people see it that way is really odd to me.

    3. EchoGirl*

      In a reasonable office, I feel like it wouldn’t be a big deal if it was occasionally (like, once a month or so), but could become an issue if it started to become a regular thing. So it would still be something for OP to be mindful of, but probably not in the “never ever take a single snack” way that some people are suggesting. That being said, not all offices are reasonable, so the scale could slide a little bit (or more than a little bit) if the coworkers are the type to overreact/keep score to that extent.

    4. Phryne*

      OP themselves state that they anticipate a number of people on the team will take opting out badly. The kind of people that will take opting out of the rotation badly will *absolutely* react badly to people not participating still taking something.
      The literal reason for OP to write in is because they themselves *know* people will react badly.
      If that is not an issue at your workplace, good for you, but that does not help OP does it.

    5. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

      It’s a pretty common phenomenon for people in offices to get a little obsessed with food (and ‘fairness’) in a way they wouldn’t outside that environment. I absolutely believe that in way more than half of offices, someone declining to chip in/ participate but still taking a muffin or whatever, even once, would be notably commented on.

    6. Myrin*

      I think this depends to a not-insignificant amount on how well-liked a person is at their place of work.

      I have one coworker who is an absolutely sweetheart, very knowledgeable and competent, always going the extra mile, and so on – I doubt that if he opted out of a roation like that but occasionally helped himself to a cupcake, anyone would say anything.

      I have another coworker who basically everyone is at BEC with to some degree (I personally get along with him fine and I mostly view him as an endless source of entertainment but I’m only waiting for the day where I, too, do something completely benign and he’ll decide that I’m The Worst, which happens often) and I can guarantee you that if he even so much as looked at a cupcake despite not taking part in the rotation, people would immediately start talking about it in a “Look what he’s doing now, isn’t that just typical?!” sort of way.

    7. Liz*

      Because I am financially comfortable and have an easier parenting situation if I had a LW3 on my team I would probably ask privately if they would like me to bring an extra snack on their behalf. Twice every twelve would not be as much of a burden for me as it would for them and nobody needs to know where they are coming from

    8. I should really pick a name*

      Don’t forget that the commenters here are reading nearly weekly letters about employees behaving badly about food.

      It can make you extra cautious.

    9. Seashell*

      There’s a difference between accepting something specifically being offered to them by one of the people in the group and grabbing something that is left in a break room or other common area for participants to take. I would definitely avoid the latter, as it’s akin to stealing in my mind, but even the former has the potential of getting one of the participants wondering why you took something.

    10. Dainerra*

      at my workplace Not only would people be monitoring that you didn’t participate in the snack rotation, potluck, or whatever food related event but say this month Bob from accounting brought two boxes of granola bars. you happen to bring a granola bar from home. you will never convince everyone that it wasn’t one of Bob’s granola bars. and then 3 months from now when you have a snack cake you brought from home, everyone will believe that you took one of the snack cakes from the break room. and you will forever be known as that person who takes but doesn’t contribute.
      since I also live in a small town, this would not only quickly become an issue at work but something that will get passed around the entire community. people will question you about it at Walmart. most definitely at church, if you attend, otherwise they will just talk about you at church. you can quickly become the community pariah and forever labeled as someone who is a taker

      1. Dainerra*

        to add on, because it is a small town, you’re not only affecting your reputation but your family’s reputation. which means that you are most likely going to get a call from your mother, grandparents, cousins, about how you have embarrassed the entire family

          1. Risha*

            Nope, because people always want to judge but never offer any assistance. It’s easy to judge a single mom (any single parent, but moms always get the harsh judgements), but no one ever steps up to ask if she needs help. I was a single mom for years before meeting my husband, so I know first hand how people are. That’s why OP should not give any reasons why she cannot contribute, she should just plainly state she cannot do so without adding anything extra. Because chances are, she’ll be judged but none of the judgers will ask if she needs anything. Of course, no one is obligated to offer help, but then they should mind their own business and keep judgements to themselves.

      2. JSPA*

        People who’ve never lived someplace that small will assume this is mistaken, or trolling. But no, it’s not.

      3. Dinwar*

        I grew up in a small town. People who were that petty were typically not held in high regard. The only way you’d become a social pariah for bringing a granola bar from home is if you’d done other things that egregiously violate cultural norms of the town. If you were more or less an upstanding citizen (and they were willing to put up with some pretty egregious wrongs if you were balancing them out with good stuff–fire fighters, EMTs, police, and the like had significant leeway) the occasional candy bar or soda or the like didn’t warrant notice. If you do it every week it may raise an eyebrow or two, but if it’s once or twice total no one would care. And if they did, it would easily be smoothed over by you randomly going to the good bakery (there’s always one in a small town) and bringing in the good pastries once or twice.

        The folks in small towns I’ve lived in had enough real problems that “Dinwar may have possibly taken a granola bar from the communal snack bin” simply wasn’t an egregious enough violation of norms to warrant notice.

    11. Old and Don’t Care*

      This is not the kind of thing that is culturally specific to a whole country. But perhaps we can count this as our daily “Americans suck” post and move on.

      1. JSPA*

        Was this specified as being in America? Small towns with long-running opinions and grievances are hardly a US invention.

    12. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      Thank you! I have been boggled by the petty selfish judgmental weirdness on display here. Take some cake! Or don’t! It’s fine either way.

      I am in the US, but I like my coworkers and I like sharing food with them.

      1. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

        No one is endorsing being weird about the snacks. They’re warning OP that her coworkers are likely to be. Even if it should be “fine either way”, that doesn’t help in the real world where people will not treat it as fine.

  18. Is this even helpful?*

    LW1 if you actually want them to have access to this information, and you and one of them has an Apple product (you having a phone you always carry with you would be best), the “find my” app works really well for me and my husband. If he’s traveling somewhere and keeps moving, it’s statistically very likely that he’s still alive; ditto if he’s at the expected destination.

    It’s a thing I only share with my husband and sister, though – for me, sharing with my parents is something I’d rather avoid (although I’d love to know whether or not they were actually at home before I tried to call them ). I did use it for a colleague for a weekend while we were at a work event in a city which was familiar to me but not to her, but I was glad to remove them at the end of the weekend.

  19. Alinator*

    #1 The mountain lion is an excellent example, as I would in fact be missing at that point. The security cameras would have recorded me leaving the house in dressing gown and slippers with a large bowl of kibble, calling “kitty kitty kitty”

    1. Queer Earthling*

      I realize you’re joking, but treating wild animals as cute little pets leads to a lot of wild animals losing their fear of humans, which leads to them snacking on pets and even attacking people, which leads to those animals having to be put down. If you respect mountain lions, coyotes, gators, whatever, then treat them like wild, dangerous animals, and avoid them or, at best, admire them from afar.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        My dad worked somewhere in Florida where someone had taught the local alligators that humans provide marshmallows. The other humans were not pleased about this.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            So I asked the internet before posting this, as it sounds unlikely and would have been the 1960s. It is true: gators are apparently notorious for liking marshmallows, the theory being that they will eat anything that looks like an egg.

            1. Opera X*

              I went on a swamp tour in Lousiana, and the guide gave gators marshmallows as treats. They also gave them raw chicken legs, so it could be that the gators just opened their mouth for whatever was coming and were sometimes disappointed.

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                A “could be food” approach to their diet is why alligator-esque things*

                *Like, you or I would be like “Aaah! Alligator! Run!” and an expert might be all “If you examine the eye ridges, this is a specific subspecies of extinct crocodilian,” but only if the expert was confident that other people were still easier for the alligator to catch.

                1. Dinwar*

                  We have the boring crocodilians. Crocodilians are one of the more under-appreciated clades in paleontology; they were absolutely wild in the past. There were huge ones (bigger than any living ones), fast bipedal ones, tiny 2 ft long ones….Pakasuchus was a crocodile pretending to be a cat, several that fit the niches of dolphins and pelicans, and a bunch more.

                  If you’ve ever played “The Elder Scrolls” games, you probably came across a Daedroth. Bipedal, mean, demon-crocodile thing. Compared to what actually existed in the Mesozoic–and again, I’m just talking crocs here!–the Daedroth are downright tame and cuddly. Reality is much, much stranger than fiction when it comes to crocodilians!

        1. t-vex*

          They just killed that gator. They made it a nuisance and nuisance alligators get killed.

          When I worked in Florida, our employees took smoke breaks by a retention pond and thought it was cute to toss treats when a little gator showed up. I was SO ANGRY.

        2. Clisby*

          I’m in SC, not FL, but there are plenty of alligators here and tons of signs telling people NOT to feed them.

          If you teach alligators to start associating you with food, you’re pretty much asking for trouble.

      2. mlem*

        One of my coworkers shared pictures (in our group newsletter) about how she’d finally trained her local wild geese and even ducks to eat from her hand, as if this was a good thing. We don’t need Canada geese accosting people for their daily bread, dammit!

          1. JSPA*

            Most (all?) cased of human bird flu have been workers in enclosed or semi-enclosed settings (mostly in a commercial poultry barn, sometimes with birds penned under a (raised) house, rarely when cleaning a chicken coop) or from touching the soiled feathers of a clearly ill or recently deceased bird, then touching eyes, nose or mouth.

            Having wild birds grab at a bit of bread while you hold the other end is safer than those scenarios (though still bad for the birds, because of habituation, and because it’s bread). Especially if she’s using hand sanitizer afterwards, and following up with hand-washing when she reaches a bathroom, I’m not seeing it as a huge risk to her–just the same bad idea it’s always been.

  20. Anony - movin, movin!*

    #1 :
    My read on OP1 is she wants to be left alone by her parents, or at least not contacted as frequently (aka smothered).
    And IMHO they shouldn’t ever contact work. Tell your work gatekeeper/receptionist etc. want you want.

    I have my own reasons why I’m estranged from my parents, who would fill my answering service and pull…. interesting stunts for many years.
    In an earlier job, one parent tracked me down at work and called me. They were put through to my desk. (I hung up.)
    Then an uninvolved friend of the family was drafted into calling me at my desk (was put through), trying to guilt me back into contact. I politely refused.
    Every job after that, I’ve notified our receptionist to never, ever put calls from “family” through, but to ask for a message. Funny how there never was a message in years…
    In an nutshell: Tell your gatekeeper to not answer questions about you, not even confirm you’re working there. Data protection laws and regulations are slowly becoming a thing even in the US, have the gatekeeper use that as a shield.

    1. Risha*

      I didn’t have a good relationship with my parents either, and didn’t speak to them for a long time (I ended up forgiving them and had a “friendship” with them). Nothing pisses me off more than people getting involved and trying to guilt you into forgiving your parents. It’s especially infuriating if they know the reasons why you don’t speak to your parents, and they still pressure you to maintain contact. I hope you reduced/cut off contact with that friend too. People need to respect the fact that not everyone has a good relationship with their parents, and sometimes parents do bad things that cause you to never want to speak to them again. Just because (general) you have a loving family, that doesn’t mean it applies across the board to everyone.

  21. bamcheeks*

    LW2, I think if you’re spending that long on personnel issues, Something Else is wrong. I don’t know what it is— it might be stress caused by unreasonable expectations, it might be conflict caused by bad systems, confused priorities and people not knowing what other people are doing, it might be that you’ve got the wrong people in the team. You might be right that “heavy on the people management” is what your team needs right now, but your manager is right that “getting the work done” is the long term picture.

    Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Are the kind of issues you’re seeing things that you can work through, so the team’s in a better place and ready to start meeting objectives? Or is it a relentless grind with no end in sight? Is the stress coming from the team itself, their interactions with other teams or services, or management?

    Your manager is right to be frustrated if you are talking about, “this is normal, I expect to spend 80% of my time as a manager juggling people issues, forever”. But you might be right if this is where your team is *right now*, and you need to focus o the people issues in the short term to get them to a place where everyone is happy and motivated enough to focus on strategic matters. It shouldn’t be your long term expectation of managing, though!

    1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Considering OP#3 lists professional development of her employees as one of the personnel issues that’s taking time away from strategic work, I suspect she’s not prioritizing correctly. It’s important, sure, but less important than

      And her other two list items should also not take up so much time. Occasional motivation issues, maybe, but employee’s primary motivation should be their paycheck and maybe the work itself. If that’s not cutting it, the employee need a new job, a therapist or something along those lines, not pep talks from their boss.

      Interpersonal conflict should also not take up enough time to make a top 3 list.

    2. LW2*

      I thought I responded to this but the comment didn’t show up.

      It’s nice to hear this could be a temporary state. In hindsight I realize this focus has only happened since lots of work uncertainty started around reprioritizing company initiatives mid-year, missing KRs, and now in the last 3 weeks having a second round of layoffs that significantly affect my team and the whole company. I’d like to say that things will calm down and I can focus more on executing, but more likely I think this is a sign that this is an unstable company and I probably need to go.

      1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

        LW2 – I’m glad you responded with this insight. I was getting worried that this was a situation where the manager was trying to turn into a counselor, but it sounds like there’s some definite anxiety in the environment.

        Shifting some of the “counseling” toward practical applications for dealing with the work situation while still conveying some compassion may be the right balance to have for now. I don’t imagine that either you or your staff have any actual power to address the more systemic problems, so pull together to do the best you can until you can all find an escape plan.

      2. Two Fish*

        Ditto. Without more specifics, I wasn’t sure what to suggest.

        For instance, was your team’s being all-remote a recent thing and Jill was taking advantage to slack off, which added more work to Kelly and Sabrina’s plates.

        At PastJob, a colleague who’d been helpful pre-Covid became less so during lockdown WFH. I could see the reason going either way. Colleague’s team did lose some people to an early retirement offer, and went through a rough patch before those holes were filled.

      3. bamcheeks*

        OOF, to be honest I’d call that a manager issue, if your manager expects you to be making progress on strategic work with all that going on.

        One of the reasons I asked is because I had exactly this in a team I managed a few years ago. I took over a team a couple of years after a major and very antagonistic and conflict-heavy change prices with lots of redundancies, and then the management had plunged straight into a very unpopular strategic plan, plus some awful and genuinely traumatic stuff in the wider sector, and everyone was just still in this extreme state of stress and fight/flight response, just trying to keep their heads above water, get the urgent operational stuff done, and support each other. The first meeting I had with the whole team, I presented a slightly complicated but (I thought!) fairly useful template for an aspect of our work that the managers had developed, and the response was, “ok, I don’t see how management are going to use this to screw us over, which means there must be something I’m missing.” Most of my one-to-ones were about stress and overwork, I spent a lot of time organising cover for people being off sick, I literally had people crying at me— meanwhile our senior managers were planning another round of massive strategic change and demanding that we make progress on it. It was a good strategy and I believed in it! But you just can’t *do* that in a context when people are stressed up to their eyeballs to start with.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          On the one hand, you’re totally right! You can’t be doing many kinds of strategic work in that context.

          On the other hand, I’d argue that in chaotic times it’s especially important for a manager to be spending time thinking about things like “How am I going to guide and manage the day-to-day work of the team in this complicated and fraught environment? Which things are most important, and which can be put on hold? Are we being intentional about that or just reacting to chaos?” And that’s important strategic work.

    3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      I think that there might be a case of “OP is empathetic, if you say you’re overwhelmed because of a family issue, she’ll listen to your problems” and so any time someone messes up at work, they mention whatever issues they’re dealing with, and OP likes to play knight in shining armour and is playing a therapist role rather than being a manager. Whereas at some point you need to say, OK I get that you have a lot on your plate, but at the end of the day the work still needs to be done.

  22. HR Lady*

    LW1 – I’ve been the person called by a ‘concerned person’ about an employee in the company I work in. It was during the holidays and the employee in question was not in work so to do the welfare check I ended up phoning the local police in her country of origin (the employee’s next of kin didn’t answer their phones). The employee was fine in the end and of course once it was flagged to me I did all I could but: her employer was absolutely not the right first port of call in this instance.

    1. Daisy-dog*

      I have also been the recipient of a concerned phone call. An employee’s sister called in a panic because she hadn’t heard from the employee in a while. I knew the employee was fine as I had heard from him recently (I was in Texas and he was working in Canada at the time). I checked his Emergency Contacts and the sister wasn’t listed, so I didn’t tell her anything. Afterwards, I emailed the employee to let him know what happened and he replied to thank me for not telling her anything. (I hope he texted her or something, but it sounded like it was very complicated and I didn’t press for details.) We had the same manager, so I let our manager know what happened too in case she kept calling.

      It definitely did not sound like this was her “first try” – she likely tried his wife, their parents, friends, etc. But it still wasn’t a good look to involve his employer in their argument (though this employee had other problems).

      1. EllenD*

        While I wasn’t the recipient of the call, I know of one instance where the parents of a colleague rang his office, as he’d not turned up at a pre-arranged Sunday lunch and not rung to apologise, nor responded to phone calls. This was the following Tuesday or Wednesday and the office said they’d assumed he was sick and since he lived alone hadn’t been able to call in. This was out of character for him. So the police were called and found he’d fallen from a step-ladder and hit his head, prob on the Friday or Saturday, and had been unconscious and then succumbed to a brain bleed. I think the parents didn’t want to call the police unnecessarily and so checked with his office to see if he was there first. But this is a very rare phenomenon and doesn’t justify normally ringing someone’s place of work, if there are better alternatives.

        1. Daisy-dog*

          Yes, I’ve heard of tragedies like this too. It is surprising that the employer didn’t think anything of it when an employee didn’t show up for a few days.

        2. t-vex*

          Something similar happened to one of my employees. Thankfully it was only a few hours before people really started to wonder where she was. We called her daughter and she ran over to find she had fallen and broken her pelvis the night before, out of reach of her cell phone. Poor lady heard us calling but couldn’t answer.

        3. Clisby*

          This seems different to me from what the OP was describing, though. I have 2 children, a son and a daughter, and if we had arranged to meet for lunch and they just didn’t show up, I’d be worried sick from the start. Of course, everybody’s different, but if this happened in my family, the kid(s) would let us know they weren’t coming to this planned meeting. They wouldn’t have to go through a big song and dance about why, but they wouldn’t just not show up. It would be so out of character for them to blow it off without notice that I’d know there was a problem.

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        At my old job, there was an employee who I’ve mentioned here before who had frequent absences due to alcoholism and a manager who wasn’t really handling the situation (that would be a whole post in itself). At one point, this employee’s sister called the office saying the family were concerned as none of them had heard from her in a while and had she been in to work? Employee had not been in in a few days, although I seem to remember someone having driven past her coming out of the supermarket somewhere around then.

        Manager hadn’t been following up on these frequent absences with no or implausible explanations (she was under the impression that her hands were more tied than they actually were by the UK Disability Discrimination Act; I don’t know what she ever did re: trying to clarify the position with and seek advice from HR on the matter), but on this occasion she did call the employee at home (manager was actually on sick leave following surgery at the time, but her deputy had called her at home thinking she was the only person the employee was likely to pick up a call from). Employee told Manager she was going through withdrawal at the time and didn’t want her family to see her like that. The sister never called back so it was assumed (as far as I can remember – this was 2010) that employee had made contact with her family. Employee never returned to work – we were told a few months later she wasn’t coming back.

  23. Dinwar*

    LW#3: I opted out of a snack rotation at work. Everyone else paid into a meal delivery plan to get random snacks, and I didn’t have the cash, so I told them I would pass. There was some mild pushback at first, but it was very mild and after a few days no one brought it up again. Occasionally I would chat about the snacks, if one was weird or particularly good, and occasionally I would bring in doughnuts (because I like doughnuts), and no one said anything negative about it. It just wasn’t a thing. I burned no political capitol, annoyed no one, and honestly until I read this didn’t even remember it, nor has it ever been brought up. (Some of the snacks have—some were apparently really good—so not like there was no opportunity.)

    If people do make a big deal about it, they are the problem. Not you. Opting out is fine. The folks saying otherwise have a distorted view of office norms or work with toxic people.

  24. Richard Hershberger*

    LW4: I was struck how outside the bounds of imagination it is to pick up the phone and call. Yes, this is no longer the norm for social interactions. But speaking on the phone is still well within business norms. This is especially true if they don’t answer emails.

    1. Anon in Canada*

      Depending on the company, there may not actually be a phone number provided (and Alison alluded to that possibility). Business processes have been moving away from calls a lot slower than social communication with friends has, but in more recent years, some business processes have moved away from calls and some no longer offer that option.

      1. anon for this one*

        Reminded of 1989 when I has living in China during the democracy movement. I had no phone and I don’t think my parents could have called my boss even if they wanted to. There were stressed out at that time and used the US State Dept to try to get a message to me.

      2. NeverEmailHR*

        I’ve never had an HR issue that could adequately be addressed via email. If I’m talking to HR it’s about something complex. It needs a live conversation.

    2. Myrin*

      Yeah, I was surprised that possibility wasn’t even mentioned in the letter! Possibly there is an obvious reason for this, like the phone lines haven’t been working for weeks or the responsible HR person never answers the phone on principle, but it kinda read like OP hasn’t even considered it.
      (Also, in my workplace, the next answer would be “Walk up two stories and knock on their door” but I somehow got the impression that OP is remote and depending on size and structure of a company, that’s simply not done, but it would be super normal where I work.)

      1. Dr. Rebecca*

        Srsly, when I had a paycheck question that went unanswered, my next thought was to go perch on someone’s desk* until they payed attention.


    3. Lily Potter*

      Same here, Richard. The amount of time that people waste waiting for email responses astounds me, especially when it’s something important like this. Of course, the world has made it difficult to get people on the phone but I save a ton of wait time by “picking up” the phone and “dialing” them. Added bonus – if the call is to someone you work with regularly, you develop a personal rapport that simply doesn’t happen over email.

    4. The Linen Porter*

      Might be that you need a ”documented path”, and on the phone its then he sid/she said/they said…

      1. sb51*

        Yeah, this is why I always email HR, never call. I want it on record. (Even if it’s something I expect a positive, helpful response to.)

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          That’s what a follow-up email confirming the substance of the conversation is for.

      2. Mostly Managing*

        But that’s what the follow up email is for.
        You have the phone call.
        HR agrees that you will be giving priority parking for your llama.
        Then you email HR and say something like, “It was good to talk to you today. Thank you for confirming that parking spot A42 is reserved for my llama. I have received the temporary permit, and assume a permanent sign will be in place by X date”.

        1. Anon in Canada*

          This assumes that it’s even possible to call HR. Some companies no longer provide a phone number for HR, you can only reach them by email or by creating a case/ticket.

          LW should ask their manager to escalate this.

          1. SnappinTerrapin*

            At the client company where I work, there is no phone in HR for employees (or outsiders) to call. If the employee is on-site, they can go to the HR desk. If no one is there, they contact HR by email or by an internal message or by an app on their phone that generates a work ticket.

            Strikes me as odd, but that’s the way it is.

    5. Snow Globe*

      Agree about a phone call, but also: another thing to do when you don’t get an email response is to check that you are contacting the right person. I worked for a company that had a large HR department, but requests for FMLA or medical accommodations went through a specific group (due to the need to follow legal guidelines). So check your employee handbook about how to make such requests.

    6. Grey Coder*

      I work for a moderately large, mostly remote organisation. As an experiment, I have just spent several minutes trying to find a phone number for HR. I failed. (We do have an HR ticketing system rather than just email.) So it may be that it’s not that straightforward for LW4.

      1. Victoria Everglot*

        My assumption (after “why can’t anyone use the phone?”) was “wait, maybe there’s a very rigid system in place you can’t go around without getting in trouble and that’s why they need a script to maybe speed things along because the people who read the tickets keep putting it off”.

      2. Anon in Canada*

        I was just here to say that; some companies no longer provide a way to call HR. It’s just no longer offered as an option. If calling had been an option, LW’s boss would probably have known about it.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Yeah, I tried to call about my commuter benefits last year (they had been screwed up for my whole onboarding cohort, it turned out), and I called for a week and got an error message. I finally had a friend refer me to someone she knew in benefits, who got them to call me! And that was annoying because I had to be “not working in the lab with gloves on or doing something sterile” to answer it!

      3. Pajamas on Bananas*

        Our in person org is the same. You email You get who you get. There’s no phone number in the org contact book they set up for us in outlook.

    7. Kel*

      I’m not sure this is what OP is going through, but I can’t just ‘call someone from HR’. My HR department is 100+ people, they all have massively different jobs and I wouldn’t even know where to start.

      1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        Start with any one of them. They will know who to refer you to or can take a better guess than you. It’s better than emailing into a void.

    8. Mousemouse*

      Not sure where you work, but speaking on the phone to HR is definitely not still within business norms at larger HR departments. No way will the org make their HR employees’ numbers available for random colleagues to call; you’d need to follow due process, like emailing a shared inbox or submitting an intake form. Or, as Alison alluded to, you’d need to know someone who knows someone important in the org and then have them escalate.

  25. Mellie Bellie*

    LW1: Don’t drag your employer into your parents’ (or your) separation anxiety issues. Your employer’s role isn’t to monitor your off-hours whereabouts, track you down for your parents, or service as your go to emergency contact. Your parents calling your company because their adult child has not returned their call in two days is going to read very oddly in the US and that may blow back on you professionally in ways you’d prefer it not. You’re an adult and your parents need to respect that. Figure out another system to soothe any separation anxiety on either side.

    LW3: I agree with the other commenters that you can obviously opt-out, but the social capital cost might make doing so more of a burden than half-assed participation once a month. While you could probably get by with Alison’s script in a larger office where there were enough people that your lack of participation would largely go unnoticed, on a 12 person team where you already know people will notice and grumble, I’d honestly just add something cheap easy to my grocery list once a month and bring it in.

    I like the bag of apples idea. If you want to be fancy, dump them in a big bowl for presentation. Done. Or just leave them in the bag. Either way, you’ve participated, there is something healthy to snack on and you don’t have to hear about it.

  26. I Would Prefer Not To*

    As regards the LW3 – if I read all of the comments posted here, I’d certainly be worried about opting out! If something framed as a voluntary activity (presumably intended to further team spirit and community) can stir up this much division, I wonder if the onus shouldn’t be on those suggesting it to think through the potential consequences and refrain.

    1. Dinwar*

      The posts here tend toward the extremes. The idea that a town will ostracize your family because you happened to bring a granola bar from home, for example, is the sort of thing that happens in bad romantic comedies, not in real life.

      A reasonable group of people will acknowledge that not everyone wants to participate in everything. They may push more than you’re comfortable with, maybe engage in some good-natured ribbing about it, but if they’re reasonable they’ll accept that you’ve opted out. If they refuse to accept that, they’re not reasonable–and I would seriously start examining how the office functions, because I would bet very good money that this is not the only problematic behavior (and yes, harming someone’s career because of snacks is absolutely problematic), or even the worst, going on in that office. If your coworkers are willing to burn the bridges between you and them because of some snacks, those bridges were already scheduled for demolition or were so shaky that they’d fall regardless.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Advice columns have a strong selection bias toward the extremes. Yes, this is what a reasonable group of people would do. But reasonable people don’t provoke letters to advice columnists.

        1. Dinwar*

          So we’re supposed to advise people to bow to the irrational demands of unreasonable people? That’s neither healthy nor viable long-term.

          1. JSPA*

            We’re advising them to be aware of common patterns of irrationality, and make their choices accordingly.

            Think of it as shining a light on the landscape of human behavior, including the peaks and troughs, and pointing out some of the more-traveled paths, and the hidden pitfalls.

            Some pitfalls are common but not serious. Some are serious but not common. They’re all part of the landscape.

            Furthermore, we don’t shame people here for sharing their lived experience. Nor do we tell them, effectively, “you must live someplace shite, then, why don’t you move elsewhere, where people are normal.”

            “I can’t imagine living where you live, and the life you live, and the attitudes you live with” is not the same as, “so shut up about it, it’s not something that real people deal with.”

    2. Yeah...*

      People wonder if other people should be nicer, more considerate, more generous and so on and so forth all the time. Seldom does it happen in the ways people would like, hence the questions.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      In contrast, when a British OP wrote in to say she doesn’t drink tea or coffee and didn’t want to go in on the office tea round, everyone was united in how unfair that was and how they should stand firm against such an unreasonable request since she’d already made it clear she didn’t want to, and couldn’t benefit from it. This, even though her colleagues were definitely crackers and unreasonable and did indeed turn it into a drama.

      1. JSPA*

        They’re only superficially identical.

        1. Being disrupted ~daily is quite different from 4 times a year.
        2. this LW doesn’t “never eat baked goods at work,” while the other literally never drinks coffee or tea.
        3. this LW has much greater lattitude in what to do or bring; in contrast, you can’t decide, “I’ll just make everyone mint tea” when you’re doing the tea and coffee at work.
        4. there’s no “cleaning other people’s appliances and mess” component in bringing treats in to the office.

    4. HonorBox*

      I’m thinking about the letter from earlier this week or last week related to the employee being weighed before the zip line. People were adamant that it was awful because it was a voluntary work function on a non-work day and that asking people to voluntarily participate was a bridge too far. Yet here we are with so many people telling the LW that opting out is a terrible idea. This is a voluntary activity that does not impact the company’s bottom line. If we are going to be adamant that non-work functions, even presented honestly as 100% voluntary are bad, we can’t try to also convince someone that they MUST find a way to participate in a snack rotation or there will be dire consequences.

  27. I should really pick a name*


    If you use polite language to opt out, and someone is offended BECAUSE you are opting out, that’s not really your fault, and there isn’t a way to avoid it.

    I suggest framing your response as sharing information “I won’t be able to participate” as opposed to a question “Is it okay if I don’t participate?”.

    1. pally*

      Yes- agree with this take.
      In fact, I bet the person who made the suggestion didn’t even think about various aspects like whether someone might have food sensitivities or preferences (bring this, not that) or no time to prep something or simply no interest in participating.
      So really there shouldn’t be an issue with OP indicating they won’t be participating. Folks who are interested will participate, those who are not interested won’t participate. Taking offense at someone’s stance on the suggestion should not be the OP’s burden to deal with.

  28. The Linen Porter*

    Also kind of depends where you are working at… (looking at current world situation)

    Then again I have a totally *opposite* case of a very keen employer calling my parents. Back in the ’first’ bank collapse after the 80’s crazy years I’d applied for a job on cruiseliners & gotten an interview invite… to the UK. I was living in Finland back then so I wrote back something snarky along the lines that ”I can’t afford a bus pass, let alone a plane ticket, but as you are building those ships right here in the harbour, if any chance your people do interviews when picking up the ship…”

    So I land a job as a ”night porter” (which is also night auditor and night manager) in a posh new hotel and happily get along, and one night around 02 am I get a very mysterious phonecall asking for me by name & if I want to come for an interview… on a ship, in the harbour!?!?!?

    I was like ”damn I want to see one of those from the inside” and got interviewed by two ’geezers’ in a classic ”good cop-bad cop” interview (later on figured out it was the internal security chief). And I ended up as a purser on the cruiseliner…

    So, how does my parents come in? Back then it was a landline, so they’d called my home.
    Mom & Dad both = ”No speak London”
    Then they had someone in the company (I heard the story from) to call…
    Mom = ”My boy is not going anywhere, he has a steady job!”
    But she was cunning enough, I forget if she was then pretending to be a gf or what, but she got either off my mom or dad the combination of ’hotel’ & ’night porter’ and did the maths.

    My mom never fessed up to this before I had my visa and papers… my dad had *wanted* to go back in the 40’s after the war so he was just smirking.

    But yeah, ”helicopter parents” existed before as well.

    1. ZSD*

      I’m not following this story. So did your parents not know that you had changed jobs from the hotel to the ship? What maths did your co-worker do? Or are you saying you were working two jobs, one at the hotel and one for the ship but remotely?

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        I remember this story! Yes, I think it was that The Linen Porter had changed jobs and Mom didn’t approve so he didn’t tell her. ;)

      2. doreen*

        I think “the maths” was that the coworker got the information that The Linen Porter was working nights at a hotel and “did the math” ( put the information together) to find them at work.

  29. Pdweasel*

    In re: welfare checks, I’d argue that it depends on the person and the circumstances (granted, I work at a morgue and that probably skews my perspective a touch). I’ve seen welfare checks performed after 1-2 days at the request of coworkers/bosses when a previously-reliable employee no call/no shows (or doesn’t log on if working remotely) and isn’t answering calls or texts. Sometimes it’s the coworkers (presumably with whom they’re friendly) going to their home & knocking on the door, but often they’ll call the actual apartment building & have the landlord do a welfare check. But the timing is highly dependent on the person and their usual patterns.

    But as someone who’s lived far away from my hometown (both abroad and within the US), I get the feeling of isolation that comes with it and wondering who would notice & come to your aid if you were in a bind. When I first moved for work, I knew literally nobody in my town except for coworkers, so I listed my chief resident as my emergency contact initially—and then switched it to a local friend after I’d made a few outside of the work hierarchy.

  30. nnn*

    Looking at #1 from the point of view of a scenario where OP would be okay with their parents checking if they’re okay via their job, a more sensible interim measure would be to contact OP at work.

    Do you have a work email address or a work phone number? Do you have the kind of job where a member of a public could call reception and be put through to an employee?

    Whether this is feasible depends on the job (it probably wouldn’t work in a factory or a restaurant, for example). But if OP works in an office or in some setting where it’s not abnormal for clients to try to reach employees directly, “Good morning, I’m trying to reach Jane Smith” without mentioning that you’re a worried parent is a lot lower-drama way to check if someone is okay than calling their HR for a wellness check.

    1. Satan’s Panties*

      That would be okay in theory, but not if the parent/s then expect an hour-long phone convo. Also if word gets around that “LW’s parents are always calling to check up on them!” that would not be a good look.

  31. Jade*

    Nervous Parents: I’d tell mom and dad NEVER to call my work looking for me. Can you send them an “alive and well” text every two days? This can work.

    1. Risha*

      Yeah, I agree some very strong boundaries are needed here, if you feel they will call your job looking for you. Calling someone’s job looking for them should never happen. I cannot think of any reason where you would need to call a person’s job to find out where they are.

    2. Generic Name*

      I’m a nervous parent (to a late teenager), and while I understand the parental impulse to know that their child is safe at all times, this is not a good idea. Nervous parents need to understand that their adult children are adults and have the right to contact their parents as little or as much as they want.

  32. Hiring Mgr*

    I’d say if you or your parents are located in Israel/Middle East now, it might be ok if your parents reached out given everything going on. But under normal circumstances, no that would be strange

  33. Safely Retired*

    For #1, while contacting HR would be terrible, perhaps a friend who they work with would be willing to take a call now and then. It might be worth exploring the possibility of texting too. I don’t know what international texting is like, but I know I text family and friends FAR more often than we talk on the phone, and responding to a text doesn’t have to be immediate. Even a daily text to the parents might be practical.

  34. Falling Diphthong*

    LW1, if the “my parents won’t let me go low contact” interpretation is true, then you can talk to someone at your police non-emergency line (or go into your local station) and they will likely put a note by your address about the context.

    (Used when family members need the local 911 operator to know that a disabled family member has taken to calling 911 for “someone told me no.”)

  35. Spicy Tuna*

    #3, you can do this, absolutely, but be very cautious! I had a job once where I really didn’t vibe with my co-workers and had no interest in participating in these types of things. It was a hill I was willing to die on and I died on it! My skipping the social events caused an even bigger divide between me and co workers and caused them to complain to management about petty things (skirt too short, “I don’t like the way she puts papers on my desk”, etc, etc,).

    I wasn’t planning on staying at that company, so I didn’t really care, but if you otherwise like the job and your coworkers, you could buy a packaged snack and call it a day

  36. HonorBox*

    OP3 – If people feel feelings about you not participating, that’s on them. While I don’t disagree in principle with the idea of people sharing in the cost/work of having some snacks in the office, it should be voluntary. And honestly, I think having snacks EVERY WEEK is a lot. Bottom line, regardless of the timing: If someone isn’t interested in eating the snacks, there’s no reason they should be expected to participate.

  37. L-squared*

    #3. It should be fine to politely decline, but also make sure you aren’t EVER participating. No “oh well this looks especially good”, or “man, my lunch wasn’t satisfying, I’ll take some of this”.

    I would always hate at jobs where we did something like this, a pot luck or cookie exchange, and people chose not to participate, but then when everyone was enjoying stuff, they were over there digging in with everyone else.

  38. Delta Delta*

    #1 – I’m guessing OP’s family sees only news about the horrors that happen in the US (of which we have far too many) and also that they lack a sense of how vast the country is. If OP is in California and they hear about the shootings in Maine, they’re going to get worried but maybe not fully get that those two locations are the very definition of Not Close To Each Other.

    I think OP should make boundaries with their parents in whatever way is effective, and also make boundaries with the company. And a big part of the conversation with the parents is to tell them not to call work.

    1. Atlas Impaired*

      When I was a child we had to school relatives in New England not to be surprised we didn’t attend a Large Event just because it was in California. If they asked why we didn’t go, we asked them, “well, did you go to the inauguration in Washington, D.C.?” They didn’t get that it was half the height of the country away from us.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        I’m in the UK, and was surprised at how many times I had variations on this theme with my non-UK ex – for example I had to explain that turning up in London to surprise me wouldn’t really work because I’m 3 hours away from there and that would NOT fit around work commitments, or the time my cousin and his wife announced the birth of their first baby at about 9.15pm and he seriously thought I was going to drop everything to visit them – leaving aside a) the Beast from the East snowstorm the UK was in the middle of that day and b) he wasn’t taking into consideration that they may not have wanted me just turning up unannounced to visit, even if I’d been right next door and physically could do it…I’m four hours away from them too, so even without the snowstorm, I wouldn’t have got there at any sensible time.

  39. EHJ*

    LW 2 – I’m curious how many director reports they have. I skimmed so may have missed it. If they have two or three direct reports, then yes it may be too much time spent on personnel issues and indictive of bigger problems with those folks. If they are managing a team of, say, 6 or more, though, and they are their direct supervisor, I can absolutely see how all the people management would take up most of their time. In that case, if their boss is amenable to a conversation about it, they may want to make the case for another manager to split up the team. I’ve had folks directly supervising several people before during periods of turnover/transistor and it really does take up a ton of time and, in my opinion, is only feasible on a short term basis. Otherwise you’ll never get to the strategic stuff.

    1. TechWorker*

      Nah even with ‘6 or more’ direct reports you cannot let them take up all of your time, in most places your job is also to set strategic direction and make sure the work is being executed correctly, not ‘just’ personnel manage. (Note their list of things doesn’t even seem to include reviewing and coaching their work, just solely dealing with personnel stuff).

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Yeah, if you’re managing a lot of direct reports you’re going to have a whole lot of time taken up by managing the actual work those direct reports are doing, and with a larger team there’s more hiring, training, people going on leave, and such that can take up a whole lot of time. It’s very easy for the strategic stuff to get pushed out by day-to-day management. But it should absolutely not be 80% of time spent on interpersonal issues, motivation, etc.

  40. AthenaC*

    LW2 – It can take a bit to learn the right balance between personnel support and actual work, and it’s not as simple as “every week I spend 70% of my time on work and 30% of my time on personnel support.”

    Here’s what I would suggest:

    1) Figure out what your “actual work” output expectations are and schedule your week so you make those expectations happen
    2) Personnel support time can be fit in around the “actual work” time.
    3) Often this means that you’ll have to stay pretty focused and efficient during meetings with your team members – I don’t mean rushing them and ignoring them, but you may not have time to talk with them at length about, say, their lack of motivation. Give them a minute to talk, but then after that spend only a few more minutes talking about potential solutions or next steps. And then – both of you get back to work.
    4) It may also mean that you figure out how to do your “actual work” more efficiently if you feel like some of your team members need a bit more support. Or maybe you have to put in a few more hours to keep your “actual work” on track because one of your team members is in crisis. (This should be VERY rare, but it does happen.)

    So that’s how I think about it – it’s more of a priority order process for time management than it is a set ratio. Hope that helps!

    1. AthenaC*

      Forgot to add – if you’re a kind and caring person and you want to be a supportive manager, it can be very easy to get “sucked in” to spending all your time supporting your team. You have to fight that and professionally push them away some times, for example –

      1) “Yes, Bob, I have a few minutes, but I have a hard stop in 10 minutes because I have to keep X task moving / prep for Y meeting / get Z ready for Big Boss’s review.” And then enforce that.
      2) “I’m afraid I have a full plate today; can you add to our list for our weekly / bi-weekly check-in? Thanks for understanding.”

  41. Hiring Mgr*

    I think the only way opting out of the snacks would bother anyone is if you criticized the whole idea of it (as you did in the letter). Other than that I don’t see why anyone else would care.

  42. Jen Barber, IT*

    LW1 – I am projecting my own controlling parents issues here, but after they called my job multiple times I told them that I wouldn’t let them know where I worked in future and they finally stopped. Somehow telling them that I wasn’t answering messages because I was indeed at work wasn’t enough!

  43. Generic Name*

    #2 While I agree with Alison’s answer, I’m curious how many direct reports you have. At some point, too many direct reports becomes unwieldy and a manager just can’t effectively manage the amount of reports they have. A quick google search tells me the number is approximately 5-7. If you have more than 7 direct reports, I think it would be worthwhile to discuss with management about how your team is structured and possibly adding more layers to the org chart.

  44. Risha*

    LW3, just tell them that you’re unable to participate in this snack rotation at this time. There’s a good chance that whatever reason you give, someone will find a way to bulldoze over it. “Oh you’re a single mom? I know someone that’s also a mom and she’s able to do things like this. You don’t have the money? C’mon, it’s only $40 every 3 months.” I’m telling you, people are something else and will try to come up with an explanation for every reason you give. Just plainly state that you cannot do it right now, and you’ll start contributing if/when you’re able to.

    I don’t know why people always need to rope others into spending their money as well. I’m on a very strict budget and would not be able to afford buying snacks for 12 people, even if it were every few months or so. Whenever I say I cannot afford something, or it’s not in my budget, people tell me I’m a nurse so I should be able to afford anything!!! I wish people would be more considerate of others. At the very least, people should be able to vote on if they want to do it or not. Like others have said though, make sure you don’t even take 1 small piece of what they brought in, because I’m sure they’ll notice and have an issue with it.

  45. Guacamole Bob*

    I was very interested in letter #2 based on the title, because I’m also a manager of a team of analysts and the past few weeks have felt like all my time is taken up by non-strategic stuff. But then I read the letter and something is really off in this situation!

    I work in a large bureaucratic government agency so maybe my experience isn’t typical, but the “people” stuff that takes up my time is being on interview panels, getting HR to sign off on new or updated job descriptions, working out what the needs are for recruiting when we have an open position, ensuring work doesn’t get dropped if someone’s out unexpectedly, sorting through funding and approvals for conferences or training, signing off on or escalating IT requests so that my team has the tools they need to do their jobs, scheduling and rescheduling team meetings, dealing with desk assignments for new staff, dealing with the multiple rounds of emails it’s taken to get a new employee a functional desk phone, making sure people are up to date with training, having skip-level checkins with folks two levels below me every so often, and so on. And that’s still very much not the majority of my time. (Recently the non-people, non-strategic stuff has been around requests from our risk management department, federal reporting requirements, etc. – government bureaucratic stuff. Plus dealing with incoming work requests and such that have to be dealt with but are lower priority for the team.)

    Do I listen to venting about how difficult Bob from another team is to work with, hear about a personal issue that someone has going on that’s impacting work, have people raise issues with their current workload or balance of projects when they’re stuck with some meh assignments and want to be on more exciting or stretch projects, talk with folks about their professional goals, and so on? Absolutely. But that adds up to maybe a couple hours a week, and often less. Most of that is within standing one on one meetings, or part of the performance planning and review process that calls for a bigger-picture checkin every few months.

    1. House On The Rock*

      I feel like you are my Sibling from another…something that rhymes with Sibling! I manage a large team of analysts at a public, academic medical center.

      I said something similar in another comment, but the “people management” stuff that consumes me is more administrative, HR activities or, as you say, removing institutional or technical road blocks. If someone is having motivation issues or is in conflict with another staff member, I don’t let that drag out, I work to course correct in the moment (or reinforce that some things just can’t be fixed). I feel really bad for the LW. It seems like they’ve fallen into the trap of “my job as manager is to make everyone happy” not “my job as manager is to support staff so they do good work and meet institutional goals”.

  46. I Would Prefer Not To*

    LW2: I sympathize with you here and I’m wondering if you yourself is getting enough management coaching and support from your manager (more than just “don’t do this thing so much”). It is so time consuming dealing with staff that appear demotivated or plagued by personal issues and I kinda agree with you that you need to handle that otherwise it undermines productivity! But perhaps what you need to do is find a way of limiting it so it isn’t the subject of every interaction with your team – for instance saying, “Bob and Susan, let us agree that we will follow up on your X interpersonal thing in two weeks. Until then, our meetings will focus on the task due on Date.” The standard has to be that staff welfare issues and motivation are handled timely but that coworkers also understand that outside of that, they are still expected to deliver professionally on their tasks. In your interactions with your own manager – if you haven’t already done so, I would ask: “As you know, I am facing this issue of staff welfare and motivation issues taking up a disproportionate amount of my time. Do you have any advice for me on how to handle it?” That both shows that you respect their position on it and are keen to learn from them and shares the responsibility for handling staff issues (that may even be outside your area of work to handle) with your line manager.

    1. LW2*

      Hi! I get a decent amount of coaching from my manager but I’m going to be honest I really don’t like how he manages me so I probably am not taking his feedback as much as I should. Actually, this extreme response is probably in direct reaction to feeling like I have to “protect” my team from him and soften up his management down the line. He’s….tough.

      As I noted in another comment we just had layoffs so things are extra sensitive right now. I’ve mentioned some of the personnel concerns as a result of that to him and he came to my team to meet with us about it, so he’s doing what he can. But he’ll never ask “how are you doing?” so I feel like I have to! I can’t go back and undo things but I’ll stop bringing it up so much so we can focus on moving forward. Or until I leave (:

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I’d say that you aren’t getting quite the right coaching from your manager in this case, because layoffs are super hard to manage through!

        We aren’t going through layoffs but our particular agency’s focus area has a ton of financial uncertainty and there’s public discussion of future layoffs. My management chain has emphasized that the message that we want to convey to staff is that despite the challenges, the best thing we can do is continue to show up and do a good job every day and contribute in ways that are valuable. Our funding situation is out of our control as staff members, so as hard as it might be we can’t let it become too much of a distraction.

        That’s a bit different than layoffs, but your management should still be supporting you in how you communicate with your team. And with a 40% reduction in staff, your strategic work is even more important – which parts of that work is getting reallocated and which is getting dropped? How can the team function well with smaller numbers? What are the highest-value projects to be focused on in the current situation? How are you communicating your team’s needs and accomplishments and such to those above you? How are you responding to the reduced capacity on other teams that you collaborate with?

        You can acknowledge that the situation is hard without becoming people’s sounding board about their anxiety – especially since you can’t ever 100% reassure them that their job isn’t at risk.

      2. I Would Prefer Not To*

        Hi there! Thanks for replying. Sorry to hear about the poor relationship with your boss! If some in your team are genuinely worried about their jobs or their workloads those are actual concerns that will affect your productivity and may lead people to find other jobs – and that really should be of concern to your manager. On the other hand, if it’s really more trivial stuff, I’d opt for setting some boundaries around this for the team as suggested above – keeping griping to max a few hours total per week if that much. That said I’m wondering if you and your manager simply have very different ways of communicating about this? Perhaps he hears “Feelings are happening, make them go away” instead of seeing how those staff issues actually negatively impact delivery? If so I’d try to be concrete with him about what’s happening: “Jane keeps telling me she is stressing about how to handle all those tasks coming up now that xyz was laid off. She’s a great worker but I can tell she has a hard time focusing on delivering. I’m spending time with her to help ger prioritise and ensure she knows she can always raise these issues with me.”

  47. Nancy*

    Lw3: “thank you for including me, but I won’t be participating. Have fun with it!” No reason needed. I am a single person with time and money to participate, but I declined the one at my previous job simply because I was not interested. No one cared, or if they did I never noticed. And if they do care, so what?

    LW1: choose a friend if you need a contact, not your employer.

    1. Ketki*

      I think what LW1 is trying to ask only when its a high emergency case when someone is not reachable who is very communicative and regular on calls. Since family is far and someone doesn’t show for work too. In that emergency case only she is asking whether family could contact employer if they could check on her whether she shows up on work or not and then let her know to contact her family if she is fine. No one wants to bother anyone but who knows what may be the situation which makes family member contact a workplace. Obviously they wont just routinely contact employer just like that. There are cases where welfare checks by employer led to discovery of deaths and foul play.

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

    Question about #4’s situation. Is there legal parameters for how long it can take an employer to respond to accommodations? Like if there is no response from HR after multiple attempts of communication can the company get in trouble legally? I can see a bad company or bad HR just ignoring these things hoping the employee would just give up.

    1. There You Are*

      I requested an ADA accommodation from my last employer. From what I remember, the law doesn’t state a specific timeframe for the company to respond, but says something like “in a timely manner”.

      But, also, there’s nothing in the law that says it has to be HR that grants the accommodation. Usually, it’s the person’s direct supervisor/manager.

      If the OP’s company has an internal policy saying that only HR can grant accommodations, and the only way to get in touch with HR is by email, then I’d hope OP’s manager would just go ahead and grant the accommodation, and then push back on the policy if/when it ever comes up (“You can’t have a procedural requirement that is impossible to perform.”)

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

        Thanks for the info.

        I was thinking that in some situations a manager cannot grant accommodation requests themselves. Like if the person needs to work from home, Or if they need special equipment and facilities won’t purchase the equipment without an official accommodation through HR. Or they need to have the ability to WFH certain days but the boss can’t grant that on a long term basis.

        Also, you really do want to have something official on the record. I’ve read stories about people whose boss managers were great and accommodating without extra hassle but then they got a new manager who micromanaged everything and wouldn’t allow accommodations and grilled the employee about their disabilities.

        I’m assuming the OP and their boss have something temporary worked out but wants something official and HR is dragging their feet or they have someone who is over their head and not prioritizing these things.

  49. Irish Teacher.*

    LW2, the specific examples you gave of things you are spending time on seem to me like things that…shouldn’t be taking up that much of your time. This may be partly industry dependent, but I don’t think I have ever had a conversation with a principal (or manager in my college days working retail, etc) about interpersonal issues or motivation issues. I have had a couple of conversations about professional development, but mostly along the lines of “hey, I’d like to do this course. Would you be able to arrange for my classes to be covered so I can do it?” (Admittedly, a particular colleague is in charge of a lot of the professional development, but even then, conversations with her tend to be, “hey, Irish Teacher, there’s this course available in an area I know you are interested in. Do you want me to sign you up?” “Yeah, that sounds interesting. Just let me check it out and I’ll get back to you” and then I generally e-mail her with my decision. It’s not a huge part of her job.

    There are management tasks I can imagine taking a large proportion of a manager’s time, such as hiring new staff, reviewing work (for example, my advising examiner has to check 5% of the papers each person on her team corrects to be sure everybody is correcting to the right standard; as she is responsible for 6-8 examiners, well, that means she is correcting 30% – 40% of the papers most of us would before she does one of her own), training new staff, that sort of thing, but I wouldn’t have expected dealing with interpersonal issues or motivation issues to take up that much time on a functional team.

    Regular interpersonal issues can be an indication of a missing stair and especially when people are remote, I would consider this happening regularly to be a red flag.

    I’d also advise being careful that you aren’t trying too hard to “make up” for the fact you are all remote. Remote work is different and I have no doubt managing remotely is different from doing so in person, but that doesn’t mean it should be more difficult or take more time. If you are trying to recreate the office environment while remote, then that will likely make things more difficult and that may not be the most efficient way to manage a remote team. I realise this will depend, to some extent, on the job.

    1. LW2*

      I don’t know, I’m always dealing with “this person is asking for things that are unreasonable and is consistently a jerk about it” and that kind of stuff. We’re a service org, so I think that’s where the need to deal with interpersonal issues comes from, and it happens a lot. I’m jealous you don’t have to deal with that!

      Before WFH I had just started managing and since then I’ve grown out a big team fully remote. I definitely think that is impacting how I respond to issues, I feel like I’m constantly trying to fight their battles for them but actually writing that down I realize it does not sound good.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I think getting clear in your mind about some possible responses might help on this stuff.

        If Jerk is on your team, you speak to them about it and treat it as a performance issue.
        If Jerk is not on your team, you can a) choose to escalate it to that person’s management or through your management or whatever might be appropriate in your workplace, b) tell your employee that you’re sorry it’s annoying but it’s just part of the job, c) have Jerk come through you for requests, d) provide some coaching or suggestions to the employee about how to respond to Jerk in the moment (“If he swears at you again, state that you’re hanging up now, immediately disengage, and report it to me”, or “intake the request and then come to me to discuss what we can reasonably turn around on the given timeline”).

        Get decisive about what action is appropriate on your part. For a lot of garden-variety complaints, option B is probably appropriate and shouldn’t take up a ton of your time. None of these should require endless time, really, though there can be a lot of quick follow ups to track. They certainly don’t require indulging a lot of hand-wringing from employees.

        1. LW2*

          Damn Bob, coming in with the insightful comments in two different threads! That’s a good framework, I appreciate it and I’ll definitely keep it in mind.

      2. Irish Teacher.*

        The type of job could definitely be a factor. Teaching leaves you in your own little world a bit so what other people do often has less impact. Not to say people can’t be jerks, but their impact is less likely to be serious enough to need management involved.

        But if it’s the same people being jerks and making unreasonable demands all the time, I think there is a bigger issue there. If it’s always different people, then…yeah, maybe just the nature of the org.

        And you sound like a manager who really cares about your team, which is awesome. Just be careful they aren’t taking advantage.

  50. House On The Rock*

    LW 2, I empathize with your situation. I manage a team of almost 20 analysts, many of whom are high strung high performers, and sometimes it’s A Lot. In the moment it can definitely feel like your job is to keep them all happy so they are productive. But that’s not actually serving them, you, or leadership well.

    Can you re-frame your job as supporting your staff in doing their actual work? Meaning helping them with priorities, aligning projects with institutional goals, removing process roadblocks, etc? Also consider bringing what you are hearing from staff to your boss. If they really are unmotivated and having a lot of interpersonal conflict, that points to problems in the culture that should be escalated (and that you likely can’t fix even if you spend all your time on them!).

    In some workplaces, staff see their manager as their emotional support boss – don’t buy into that. I did when I first became a manager because I thought it was the path to happy employees. It’s not, it’s the path to manager burnout and boundary crossing. Good luck, these are not easy lines to walk.

  51. Leklek*

    LW3, no recommendations from me, but when I saw “single parent to two-year old twins” *I* (childless) nearly burst into flames from the thought of how much work that must be, so politely declining + striking the whole issue from your mental list forevermore seems absolutely like the way to go. (Also, I’m a former professional baker and regularly bake things at home, and I still wouldn’t want to be put in a rotation and have a sense of obligation added to my enjoyable pastime!)

  52. Sara without an H*

    Re LW#4: At this point, I think you should ask your manager to escalate this. I know you said they sent an email, but have you told them that you’ve still had no response after a month? If I were your manager, I’d be livid.

  53. This_is_Todays_Name*

    I lived in Germany for 3 years and phone calls were EXPENSIVE back then (anyone else live there and remember the “clicks”? The charges started as soon as you lifted the dial, not once connection was made!). My parents worried, but we sent lots of letters and they called me every other week and I called them once a month or so. We made do. My husband was in Desert Storm and my child a few years ago was in Afghanistan and then Iraq. Lack of communication eats at a parent’s soul, for sure, but I had to trust that my ADULT child who was a trained Marine could take care of herself or it’s really super easy to spiral down into crazy town. If the LW WANTS her parents to be able to check on her with HR after 2 days of non-comm, I’d argue that he/she is NOT mature enough to be there. If the parents are the ones pushing for it, then he/she needs to tell them, “you raised me to be able to take care of myself. Remember that. I’ll call you each Sunday IF I CAN, but don’t panic if I get busy and can’t.”

  54. Sneaky Squirrel*

    #3 – I can empathize with not wanting to rotate being the snack person for time and cost reasons, but disagreeing on it from a health perspective will rub people the wrong way as your coworkers will perceive you as someone who is judgmental on their choices. I would discreetly tell the organizer that you aren’t able to participate citing budget and time as a reason if you have to give reasons (and they really shouldn’t pressure you to give reasons but people do). With everyone else who asks, you can just say that you aren’t able to participate at this time but that you’re appreciative that they wish to include you.

    As others already mentioned, if you’re not contributing, you need to be sure to never have any of the snacks if someone brings something you like later.

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

      I know that rubbed me the wrong way. Especially the comment ” I think office cake culture is pretty terrible for our health and diet outside of people celebrating a personal event”. Snacks do not equal cake. Unless we are missing something and they specifically want to bring cakes and cookies, snacks do not need to be sweets.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        LW specifically called it “cake/snack rota” so it’s a reasonable inference that the discussion in the office is that this is going to be sweet heavy.

    2. This_is_Todays_Name*

      I agree except for “citing budget and time” because citing ANY excuse is seen as an invitation to “solve” the “I can’t because” by offering suggestions such as “Oh just buy store bought. XYZ is super cheap–there solved it for you!” etc… “It sounds like fun, but it’s not my thing” or “I won’t be participating, but certainly don’t want to stop anyone else if they’re into it” would be my response.

  55. Come On Eileen*

    OP#3: Rightly or wrongly, there can be a social stigma when one person opts out of something most people are doing in the office. On my team we used to have “camera free Fridays” where you were encouraged to have Teams meetings with audio only and no video. (For context we are an extremely “cameras ON!” team otherwise) So on Fridays I would log in to meetings without my camera, only to find everyone else had their cameras on (including my manager). So all of a sudden I look like the lone wolf who doesn’t like cameras, even though we “encourage” camera-free Fridays. I decided it wasn’t worth the effort to keep being the lone wolf. In retrospect, I really wish managers would have adopted this and encouraged it for the rest of the team. You can’t preach “let’s have a casual Friday without cameras” but not do it yourself.

  56. Former Retail Lifer*

    #4: If HR is off-site, what about sending a certified letter requiring a signature? I had to do that to cancel a contract with an unresponsive vendor.

  57. Observer*

    #4 – ADA accommodations.

    You say that “ I don’t want to be too forceful.” I would ask you WHY? I’m not suggesting that you should be rude, but you are perfectly in line to be forceful.

    I like Allison’s language here. And definitely cc someone higher in the hierarchy.

      1. Random Dice*

        This is one of the most retaliation-proof situations out there. Which doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but winning the lawsuit is very very likely.

  58. Sweet Tooth*

    LW4 – I’m so sorry that you aren’t getting a reply to your email re: needed accommodations. could you consider getting the necessary accommodations from another source? For example if you need frequent breaks from staring at the computer, could your manager accommodate that themselves? Or if you need a special keyboard and mouse because you had hand surgery, could you request one from an IT team? Or could your manager purchase it and expense it? A good HR team would of course make sure that you are well taken care of for your sake, the sake of the business and legal reasons, but they might not be your only option.

    1. birb*

      The problem with that is that then you’re telling a LOT of people you have a disability and need an accomodation, and even though it shouldn’t, that does affect people’s perception of you. Also, many people who know you have a disability WILL use it to shift blame from themselves to you later.

  59. Sorry - This is Grim*

    My son was found dead when I asked the building manager to take a look. A few years earlier, another relative had suffered a stroke and was found incapacitated a couple days later. I get that people want to be footloose and fancy free, but if you’ve been through these types of situations, not hearing from someone as expected is a form of torture.

  60. Sunflower*

    #3. I’m not sure why there are suggestions for the OP to bring a fruit or veggie tray. Those are more expensive than packaged cakes, cookies, or chips. Unless she wants to make her own tray but she’s a single parent of twins with little to no spare time.

    The fact is the OP wants to opt out and her coworkers should just accept that as long as she doesn’t take any of the treats.

    1. Celeste*

      I suppose they suggested fruit and veggie trays because the OP mentioned concerns about the impact on health and diet.

    2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      Agree, and I don’t see how bringing healthy snacks is a better move if other people don’t share LW’s concerns about “unhealthy” snacks. Like, if everyone is bringing cake and cookies and chips, and then LW is bringing carrots and hummus, that becomes an optics thing, which doesn’t put LW in a better position than just saying “no thanks! You guys enjoy.”

      A lot of this depends on how petty or how generous her officemates are, I guess, but I think the idea that LW needs to participate or otherwise be hypervigilant about her food intake at the office going forward lest someone think she’s taking food that isn’t hers and hold a grudge against her indefinitely is just… doing a lot.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        Plus, it means work for the LW with little in it for her. If she isn’t eating any of the treats brought in by anybody else, but still has to make a fruit and veggie tray herself. I took her reference to health to mean she wasn’t going to eat the unhealthy treats because she doesn’t feel that is good for her and therefore doesn’t want to have to make an effort for something she will rarely get benefits from.

  61. rollyex*

    “One of my colleagues has suggested”

    When some makes a suggestion you don’t want to do, say “No, thanks” or “That’s a nice idea, but no thanks.”

    If this seems hard sometimes, practice this with low-stakes environments until it’s easy to do.

  62. Scrimp*

    LW 3: a few people in comments chains have pointed out that you might be able to suggest that the department should hire a snack catering service (fruits, crackers, etc) instead of rostering people for snacks. Of course it moght not work for your office, but it might be worth the suggestion anyway!

    I figured I’d put this in an uncollapsed comment in case the suggestion got overlooked in the replies.

  63. Jane*

    A lot of the responses to #3 are just…mindboggling to me (but I’ve also never worked in an office with a heavily ingrained Snack/Cake Culture, so)

  64. Head sheep counter*

    #1 I’m surprised to read that work would give out location or attendance information about an employee to anyone other than law enforcement with a court document. I thought, in the US, that privacy issues were much stricter than this. If you are looking for a safety net and this isn’t an avoidance issue – I, too, would suggest a friend or someone a degree closer than HR. If this is a helicopter parent issue, I’d want to know what the company policy is (see aforementioned surprise that the information would be given at all).

    1. I should really pick a name*

      The individual who answers the phone at the time may not have been trained on what information is and isn’t okay to share. Or, even if they’ve been trained, they might just decide for themselves that it’s okay because “It’s Tangerina’s mother, so it should be fine”

      1. Head sheep counter*

        I would’ve thought that doing so would open the individual who answered the phone this way to a warning, write-up or firing.

        I just… had no idea that my private information could be a phone call away. And for what its worth… I’m lucky because it really would be against policy at my job to provide this information but further it would be very hard for an outside person to find a person to ask the information from. Hooray for my job! and here I am properly cautioned for future jobs.

        1. kiki*

          I think this would be a no-go at most offices, at least in my experience. The exception would be if LW told authorized their work to provide this sort of information to LW’s parents specifically. I know when I joined my company, there was a form available for me to identify folks who they could contact and who could receive certain, limited safety- related information about me if they called.

        2. I should really pick a name*

          It might open them up to those things, but at that point, the information has already been shared.

          Also, even though policies about these things might exist, it doesn’t mean they’re actually followed/enforced.

  65. Head sheep counter*

    #3 the size of your unit struck me. I think with only 12 folk, opting out is still quite doable but it will be noticed and your actions around the snacks will be monitored.

    I wish my group were more social around food… but a rota would be… a lot.

  66. JaneDough(not)*

    LW2 — If your team members are struggling with motivation because of working remotely, then that’s a legit thing to spend time on. But I’m a little concerned about the “interpersonal problems”; I think back to when I was on a small team (3 FT, 2 PT, and the supervisor); in the 18 mos. we worked together, I don’t remember anyone’s performance suffering because of problems outside of work (and we put out a daily product, so I would have known — everyone else’s workload would have soared).
    ……. I also think back to 20 key years of my career, in which my work suffered only four times (not “I had only four problems” but “I had only four MAJOR problems”): when I experienced protracted bronchitis and had no help with finishing a deadline-heavy project (we were a tiny office); when I worked for a sadistic supervisor (and left with medical problems); when one of my cats literally dropped dead in front of me; and during the final 6 mos. of my father’s life, when he was was ill-better-ill-better and then died suddenly.
    ……. So it seems to me statistically unlikely that your team members are having a sufficient number of true crises such that you really need to step in and find solutions to workflow — in other words, I wonder whether you are a bit of a savior and are therefore trying to help in areas where you really ought not to. Pls know that I’m not criticizing you; saviors tend to be compassionate, which is great, but the point is that I think you’re doing something counter-productive in a work situation. This could be a good time to examine whether you’re blurring some important boundaries with your team members.

    Also, would it be useful to talk with other managers in order to find out how they handle WFH motivation problems (if that *is* what your employees are experiencing), or to find out where they draw boundaries with regard to employees’ interpersonal problems? There’s a difference between “My partner and I fight a lot,” which (I think) an employee ought not to discuss with you, and “My parent/partner has a terminal illness,” which *is* going to affect the employee’s work and which *is* something the employee could update you on — but keep in mind that updating you (“X’s new medication is causing problems, so I’ll need more time off for about two weeks’) is *not* the same as using you as a therapist. Again, I wonder whether you’re unconsciously crossing that line with them. Good luck sorting all of this out.


    LW#3 While I would enjoy this snack rotation, it is something extra that no one should feel obligated to take on. Taking care of yourself and your family trumps how a co-worker may feel about you opting out of something totally un-related to your job. I would be willing to bet that if you speak up, there is someone else who feels the same.

  68. kiki*

    On letter 4 and getting in contact with HR– I am a little concerned that LW4’s manager seems to have done the bare minimum here. I understand reaching out via the same method twice, but it’s a little mind-blowing to me that LW’s boss hasn’t picked up the phone, reached out to an HR contact via an internal chat system, asked their manager what to do, etc. This really shouldn’t be on LW.

  69. me*

    #1 – there are “work abroad” situations where it’s really common for employers to be very involved in the day-to-day aspect of someone’s life (teaching at a boarding school with housing provided comes to mind) so it really depends on the work/life situation re: whether your workplace would know where you are outside of work hours / be able to check on you.

    I would echo what others say and suggest that you find a friend/friendly coworker point of contact for your parents to have as an emergency contact who would be able to confirm that you are alive and well if your parents don’t hear from you, in addition to setting reasonable expectations with your parents re: when and how often they should expect to hear from you.

    Another option would be, if you have a friend/friendly coworker from your home country, to exchange parent contact information too, if that’s something you’re comfortable doing and for peace of mind and you don’t think the system will be abused. When I did a study abroad program for my grad program, my roommate’s parents didn’t have internet at home, so her parents had my parents’ phone number and her mom periodically called my dad, who emailed me to check in until my roommate was able to set up internet calling to reach her parents directly. Again, this depends on reasonableness and not abusing the system.

    On domestic work trips, I’ve also told younger colleagues (especially ones right out of school) who I supervised that they can give my cell phone number to their parents as an emergency contact to put minds at ease. I’ve never gotten a call from a worried family member, but I’ve had at least one coworker tell me that the exchange of information was very much appreciated. My mom had a close family member die suddenly when she was out of state on a work trip at a time before cell phones were ubiquitous and nobody could reach her, so I prefer to err on the side of making myself available as a point of contact.

    #3 – I will add “I will literally burst into flames if anything more is added to my plate” into my regularly used phrases because I feel this very much.

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