the prize for our tree decorating contest is baby clothes, I accidentally recommended a smutty book to my boss, and more

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

1. The prize for our tree decorating contest is … baby clothes

My office does a “Best Holiday Tree” decorating competition based on department. Everyone is encouraged to decorate their department’s trees using office supplies. It has been popular for several years. The winning department, based on anonymous vote, previously got a free happy hour and dinner. This year there was a wave of newborns amongst my coworkers so the admin who sets it up has decided that the winning group will get … company-branded baby clothes.

I pointed out that while a lot of people did have kids this year, baby clothes excludes more than half the office. I’ve suggested we do a voucher to the company brand store so everyone has the same level of incentive to participate if a happy hour was no longer an option, but “baby clothes” has taken off among the new parents. I’m one of the many who hasn’t had a baby this year, and when I brought it up to the admin, I was told I was whining. Is there a way to bring it up without coming off as “whiny,” or should I suck it up?

Yeah, that’s a bad prize, for a whole bunch of reasons. It’s not that a prize is so incredibly high stakes — obviously it’s not — but it’s an odd and un-inclusive choice.

If you want to try again, bring it up to someone who’s not the admin — her boss, or someone else with enough authority to overrule them. It’s not “whiny” to point out the prize is of strangely narrow interest. (And if you have anyone struggling with infertility or miscarriages, ugh.) Although at this point, the thing I’d be more interested in raising is that it’s fine to consider and reject feedback, but it’s not okay to call well-intentioned feedback “whiny,” especially about something that’s supposed to boost morale.

Whether to bring any of this up depends on how much you care and your sense of how much other people care — it might not be worth the capital to bother — but you’re not wrong to be annoyed.

Also, those aren’t “holiday trees.” — your friendly neighborhood Jew

2. I accidentally recommended a smutty book to my boss

In my last one-on-one with my boss, we started chatting about books, and I mentioned that I’d be rereading a series in anticipation for the release of the third book this past weekend. We exchanged titles of books we liked, and the meeting moved on.

However, upon rereading the books I recommended, I realized they were a LOT smuttier than I remembered, and this third one has some pretty kinky sex scenes. Help! My anxiety is through the roof, thinking that I told my boss to go read a romance book that I remembered as mostly fantasy! How much of a work faux pas did I commit? Should I mention it again and warn her about the explicit bits that I forgot about?? Or am I completely overthinking this?

For reference, the book series is The Last Binding by Freya Marske. I highly recommend it but know that it gets pretty explicit lol.

Did you recommend it to her or just mention that you enjoyed it? If the latter, I don’t think you need to worry about it, but if the former, yeah, it wouldn’t hurt (and would probably give you peace of mind) to go back and say, “After I recommended Book X to you, I realized it is much smuttier than I’d remembered! And then I was mortified because I hadn’t warned you. So I am remedying that with this warning!” A lot of bosses will laugh at that point, and that should be that. But if she doesn’t think it’s hilarious, that might be even more of a sign that the disclaimer was a good idea.

3. My boss threatened to fire me after I had one bad month

I’m a manager on a small team. The past month or so, several personal issues have caused my response time at work to slow. Think going from same-day or one day response time to 4-5 business day response time. Some tasks that I’d previously always completed on time I needed extra time for. I honestly didn’t think it was severe enough for anyone to even notice. I have a stellar track record at work up til now, and received a promotion/raise earlier this year in recognition of that fact, so I thought I could let myself slow down a little while I worked through everything in my personal life.

My boss did notice. Instead of addressing it with me, we had a surprise meeting where he implied I would be fired if I didn’t shape up. No “I’ve noticed you struggling, you’re usually so on the ball, how can I support you?” Just “Get back to how you were or you’re out.”

At least until I revealed that some of the personal issues I have been going through are medical in nature. He was a lot more supportive and understanding after that. I’m still on thin ice, but the tone definitely shifted from aggressive to understanding.

It seems wild to me that, until I revealed private medical info, he was ready to fire me after a few bad weeks without once offering support. I fully admit I haven’t been as on the ball lately, but I really would have expected some steps between that and immediate risk of firing. We don’t do any work that’s time sensitive or life-threatening. Am I crazy?

No, that’s ridiculous. You have a stellar track record, which they recently recognized with a huge raise, but they threatened to fire you over one month of slower response times? Maybe your work in the last month was worse than you realized, but the conversation should have been, “I’m seeing these issues, what’s going on?” not “This is your final chance.”

4. High school teachers as references

I’m a high school teacher, and have been asked to be a reference for dozens of students over the years. These are either for typical high school jobs (fast food, retail) or for internships / junior positions in the field that I teach in (computing).

I have never once been contacted! Often students will tell me they got the job and thank me for being a reference — but I’ve never been emailed or called in the last six years of being a teacher.

Is this common in hiring teenagers? Do people not really care what an applicant’s teacher has to say about them?

Yeah, a lot of jobs that hire teenagers won’t bother to check references at all, or if they do they’re more likely to call past managers (if available) rather than teachers because they want to ask job-focused questions. It’s not that teachers don’t have insight into what their students are like or that there’s not a lot of overlap between how someone shows up in class and how they are at a job — you do and there is — but a lot of hiring managers just don’t put enough stock in teacher references to bother calling them. (Which is not to discourage people from using teachers as references at that stage of life! Teachers are a reasonable reference for teenagers to offer when they don’t have much or any job history.)

5. Company pays health insurance premiums for some but not others

My husband works for a small mom-and-pop business with about 15 employees. After many years of employee requests, the business just started offering health insurance to employees two years ago. As is typical, the business pays for a percentage of the health insurance — I believe around 50%. However, my husband recently learned that some of his coworkers (seemingly at random) have 100% of their health insurance premiums covered, including one coworker who also has her dependent covered in full. My husband is the only other employee who has a dependent, and having him and our child covered would lift a huge financial burden on our family. All of his coworkers but one have the same title, and there is no pattern that we can ascertain as to who has theirs covered and who doesn’t. Is this legal?

No federal law requires employers to cover the same portion of insurance premiums for all employees as long as they’re acting without regard to race, sex, national origin, religion, age, or other protected class. That’s still a very unusual choice, though. Typically employers that cover different amounts for different people base the differences on clear eligibility criteria, like full-time or part-time status, job title, or seniority. If it’s truly random, they’re opening the door to (even inadvertent) differences by race/age/etc., which creates a legal liability.

Your husband would be on solid ground in asking what criteria are being used for this, or just trying to negotiate his own premium coverage.

{ 780 comments… read them below }

  1. coffee*

    Thank you, LW1, for including the name of the book series. You know our curiosity well. (Also those books look fun and I will be checking them out.)

    1. Exile from Academia*

      They’re fantastic, LW2 has great taste in books. (and if anyone likes those and might want to read sci-fi novels that hit some of the same emotional notes, I recommend Winter’s Orbit and its sequel, by Everina Maxwell)

      1. SharksAreCool*

        YES to Winter’s Orbit—that is one of my very favorite books!!! And much less explicit than The Last Binding, lol.

        I might also throw out the Locked Tomb series by Tamsin Muir for more queer vibes in space, though those aren’t really romances in the traditional sense.

        And Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree. This was SO much better than I expected it to be. (The prequel just came out and the author did a book talk in my town–I haven’t had time to dive into my signed copy yet.)

        I’m way more passionate about queer sci-fi/fantasy than my day job so it was a delight to see The Last Binding mentioned in a question here. I LOVED the last book, but the smutty scenes were definitely more—um—sticky than would be my personal preference.

        (P.S. I’d also recommend Cat Sebastian to anyone who likes the British historical fiction vibes of The Last Binding as much as the magic.)

      2. Silly Penguin*

        Thanks!! I just bought A Marvelous Light, the first book of the series.

        I’m bookmarking your other recommendations.

        I’m currently re-listening to Murderbot, since the latest book just came out. Murderbot is my favorite comfort read.

      3. AnotherLadyGrey*

        For folks who liked these, I highly recommend the Kingston Cycle by C.L. Polk! The first book is Witchmark. I loved all three. They are very romantic and very queer, like The Last Binding. They aren’t as spicy, but they are wonderful.

        1. Angela*

          The Kingston Cycle by C L. Polk


          The Watchmaker of Filagree Street (which starts a series) by Natasha Pulley


          The Saints of Steel series by T Kingfisher

    2. Kat*

      I love this series and am so excited both that my library just added The Last Binding to its ebooks, and that I managed to be the first one to grab it! Going to start reading tonight :) (I also was second in line to grab the latest Murderbot so will have that soon. I love my local library system!)

      1. Bear Expert*

        The latest Murderbot I’m saving for my boyfriend and I to read aloud together, and we haven’t been able to do it yet this week.

        When we made the plan, the idea of slowly savoring it sounded great.

        I have some regrets.

      2. The Person from the Resume*

        Totally off topic, but you just alerted me to the release of a new Murderbot novel so thank you, AAM. I am late to this knowledge and probably have to wait a few weeks to get it from my library. It would be perfect to get it during my Christmas PTO. (If I don’t, I of course have a ton of books I’m excited about on my to read list.)

          1. Silly Penguin*

            I’m relistening to Exit Strategy, working my way forward so I’ll be completely refreshed upon reading the new Murderbot. I can’t wait!!!!

            I’m so glad you wonderful people are excited about this too.

          2. Reluctant Mezzo*

            I suppose it would be wrong to actually *create* Sanctuary Moon (hmm, need to make some notes).

    3. Books!!*

      I read the first book in the series when it first came out and it was fantastic. Very excited for the reminder to loop back and finish the series! Also, I second the recommendation for Winter’s Orbit.

    4. Single Parent Barbie*

      Yes! Good form for naming the series. I am always on the look out for a good book series just because if I like the first one I have more to read! I have added it to my list!

      1. HannahS*

        Yeah, that’s kind of where I land. It’s hard to put this very politely, but “This very popular exclusionary event was ok until it exuded me” is a perspective that I….struggle with.

    5. chewingle*

      Seriously, all I took away is another book to add to my library queue.

      LW2 — come back here and recommend more books.

      1. Jackalope*

        Definitely a good call naming the book and author! I hadn’t heard of this series before but t will be fun to give it a try! (And you can rest content that we have been properly warned about what’s in the book.)

          1. Jackalope*

            Hah! I was thinking that the LW was so concerned about her boss going into this unprepared that I was thinking to make her feel better that we won’t be blindsided. But given how many of us rushed out to get a copy (I personally just picked my copy up from the library), encouragement is probably a better word.

    6. Another Michael*

      It’s a great series! Having read all three books I was certain this was the series the LW2 was describing even before they mentioned the name. The third was a bit more explicit than the rest – I have been careful not to speak to much in detail about it at work, or worse, with my mother who I often recommend books to haha.

      1. Pajama Mommas*

        I’m 3/4 of the way through book #3 in the series right now, so this was the first thing that came to mind when the letter posted. So pleased to have guessed right. And definitely recommend the series. They are excellent. Also, if you like those books, KJ Charles has books with a similar feel (though some of hers are historical fiction rather than fantasy)

        1. Rachelnyc*

          KJ Charles is the best. Loved the Freya Marske series too – I kind of guessed it was that one as I just reread all of them and it was definitely spicier than I remembered!

    7. Al*

      Freya Marske used to co-host the podcast Be The Serpent about fiction and fanfiction, and she spoke often about writing smut. So I’m kind of delighted that it’s one of her books in question.

    8. emkay*

      Iiiiii read this author’s fanfic Back In The Day and am so thrilled to see her blowing up. They’re great books!

        1. emkay*

          She’s been quite open about her fannish identity on her author socials, so I feel okay saying that she’s fahye on AO3. (I wouldn’t share the same info about a writer who was more cautious about crossing the streams, in case anyone reading this is concerned about fandom ethics!)

    9. Amber Rose*

      I was just reading A Marvelous Light by Freya Marske and highly recommend the author. I do so love a book that balances plot and romance that well.

    10. LizB*

      I was just coming here to say that LW2 has excellent taste in books, that series is wonderful. Also, if anyone is on tumblr, I’ve gotten further great book recommendations by following the author’s tumblr – she often posts about ARCs or upcoming books I’d never had heard about otherwise.

    11. cleo*

      I love this series! I’m on my library’s waitlist for the 3rd book and am trying to limit myself to checking just once a day to see if the queue’s moved.

      To add to the recommendations, Zen Cho has several books that combine history, fantasy and some romance. The Sorcerer to the Crown series is set in Regency England with magic and romance – I preferred the second book but both were good.

      The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water and Black Water Sister are both set in Malaysia, with magic. The first is historical and has a wuxia feel and the second is urban fantasy. Neither have much romance but they’re excellent.

    12. unicorn*

      I laughed because I’m literally reading the second book right now. My boss and I share book recommendations but I will NOT be suggesting this one.

    13. Liz*

      This is so relevant to me because I was JUST considering if it was safe to recommend this series to someone I manage (who shares my taste in books)! I think it’s better I not…

    14. LW2*

      hahaha so glad to hear everyone else loves these books/is going to start the series! at least one good thing came out of this debacle. I started reading a book that my boss recommended to me in that meeting, so my plan is that when I see her IRL on Monday, I’ll mention that I liked the book she recommended and then casually slip in the warning about TLB. Thanks to Alison and everyone on here who has made me feel so much better about this slip up!! In the future I am only ever going to talk about the Discworld books bc they’re all PG (even if it’s a lie about what I read most recently!)

      1. Jess*

        It’s such a good series! I also second the KJ Charles recs, and her Magpie Lord series has a very similar queer historical romance/fantasy blend. Also Allie Therin’s Magic in Manhattan series!

        (Also your letter made me realize I have a terrible framework for what kinds of books are okay to talk about at work…because I work for a romance publisher.)

        1. Julie*

          Seconding your recommendations. both of those series are ones I go back to to re-read again and again.

          If you’re into audiobooks, the voices/accents for Ace and Rory are fo well done that I now read the physical book with those voices in my head.

    15. Allura Vysoren*

      I love that I knew exactly what book series it was before I even got there. The third one is SO GOOD.

  2. Emily*

    #1, yeah there is a lot that company is doing that is cringey. The baby clothes thing would really bother me as a non-parent, and the “holiday tree” thing is ridiculous. If it immediately makes you think of one certain holiday, then it is still not inclusive and is still favoring one holiday over others, no matter what you choose to call it.

    LW # 1, I do hope you talk to someone above your admin. Even if the prize doesn’t get changed, they need to be told to stop calling a legitimate concern “whiny”.

    1. Observer*

      The baby clothes thing would really bother me as a non-parent,

      I *am* a parent and this would bother me. And I think it’s related to the “holiday tree” thing. There is ONE “right way” to be, and that’s what we are going to support, while pretending to be inclusive.

      No thanks.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        It’s so weirdly specific. Even if you have kids, the period of time when they fit in baby clothes is very short, so you’ve got a gift that’s only useful for people who are pregnant, or have given birth in the last year. It’s like giving a company branded t-shirt, but only in men’s size XL – the number of people who can use it is very limited.

        The LW might be able to make a point if they win, by looking puzzled when handed the gift and saying “No thanks, I don’t have kids” and handed it back.

        1. Someone else*

          If LW wants to make that point, they could also just not enter, and, when anyone asked why, look confused and say they assumed it was just for parents, since the prizes were clearly only for parents.

          1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

            Or take a more direct approach than “looking confused”, and state that “I didn’t enter because imo the prizes are non-inclusive and in bad taste” (or similar wording).

            1. nnn*

              A more direct way of being direct might be “I didn’t enter because I have no use for baby clothes” (or maybe even “because I don’t want to get stuck with a bunch of baby clothes”)

              (I’m thinking that, in a vacuum, “non-inclusive and in bad taste” sounds like the prize is somehow racist or something, and a person who thinks baby clothes are an appropriate prize might hear that and think “What are you talking about, the prize is baby clothes…”)

              1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

                That could be another way, but “I have no use for baby clothes” is a statement about OP in isolation. “It’s non-inclusive” (or whatever) is a statement about the contest itself.

                1. Twix*

                  That’s true, but the flip side of that is that OP has absolute standing to make statements about themself in isolation, whereas a statement about the contest as a whole is an opinion. Sometimes highlighting the natural consequences of a problem like this can work better than pointing out the problem itself in abstract, particularly if you’re dealing with someone who interprets the latter as whining or stirring up trouble. “People didn’t enter the contest because they weren’t interested in the prize” is much harder to rationalize as being a “them” problem than “People didn’t enter the contest because they thought it was offensive.” I think both approaches have merit.

              2. Nomic*

                The prize isn’t racist, but it is exclusionary (as is the “Holiday Tree — No Really It’s Not A Christmas Tree Why Would You Say That?” competition as a whole.

                1. Random Dice*

                  Oh gosh I forgot about Hanukkah Balls!

                  Though I’ll admit that my mental image was of that loony potluck lady’s dog’s cookie festooned harness (in my mind they’re now round to be Hanukkah balls, and the dog is the adorable Grinch’s reindeer dog in the cartoon).

                2. I forgot my user name again*

                  At my company, we do a tree all year round . we decorate it seasonally. Winter, spring, summer, fall,. So I wouldn’t call it a “Holiday Tree” at all. Just a taller decoration so you can find our unit in a sea of cubicles without religious connotation.

            2. Seeking Second Childhood*

              Didn’t OP say the competition is by department? I’d be concerned if they didn’t participate the next criticism would be “not a team player”.

              1. Totally Minnie*

                I’m wondering if LW1 should bring it up to their own manager or team lead. That person might have more standing to ask that the prize be changed without being told to stop whining.

              2. Office Lobster DJ*

                I was considering the criticism, too. It would be so much easier to just bow out if it were an individual contest, but the way it’s set up there’s risk of “not a team player” and “LW hates babies!” Being told to stop whining when gently pointing it out….yeah, LW is probably in for some form of social blowback, and I wish them luck.

          2. Mongrel*

            The problem is that not participating rarely gets noticed or if it does it’s rarely to the point of asking “Why”.
            It’s the same as voting (remember to vote!), if your ‘protest’ can be confused with lethargy they’ll assume lethargy

        2. davethetrucker*

          It’s possible that’s the point, though. They want to give one of the new parents clothes, so when the person who wins says no, thank you, it becomes why don’t you give them to Kelly, then?

          I’d try my best to win, take the clothes, then send around photos of my dog awkwardly modeling them. If I did not have a dog, I would get one for this purpose.

          1. anonny*

            If you have a friend with a sense of humour and a tolerant pet, I’m sure they’d be happy to help. Bonus points if the pet is wildy the wrong size for baby clothes, like a Leonberger or a guinea pig.

          2. goddessoftransitory*

            And that’s its OWN can of avoidable worms! What if Kelly’s going around snagging all the prizes from non parents before Derek or Zoe can ask? Am I supposed to split up my prize between everyone evenly? Why has this supposedly fun activity morphed me into King Solomon and the Divided Onesie?

            This approach is basically pitting half the office against each other AFTER the prizes have been distributed.

        3. Seashell*

          At least anyone who is an XL or smaller could wear that, even if only around the house, to sleep in, or to do messy chores in. No one over the age of one is fitting in baby clothes.

        4. Zarniwoop*

          “ It’s so weirdly specific.”
          Pure speculation: The fix is in. A friend of the admin’s needs baby clothes, and the winner of the contest is already predetermined.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Ahh, I never even thought of that, but yes, this is the most likely.

            I was going to suggest, in case OP team wins, to go on the most public work chat available and offer OP’s share of the win to new parents on the losing teams*, but I bet you’re right and the winner really is already predetermined.

            * my thinking behind this was, this would help new parents, while also sending a public message of “that was a hell of a goofy prize, do better next time”.

          2. Observer*

            The fix is in. A friend of the admin’s needs baby clothes, and the winner of the contest is already predetermined.

            More likely they are trying to get rid of the baby clothes. There is a lot of branded stuff that I’m happy or ok to use. But baby clothes? No. My kids (never mind grandkids!) are absolutely *not* “future employees of X”. It reminds me of the letter where that’s how the CEO congratulates people who have kids and, if I recall correctly, sends a branded onsie for each new baby. That LW was NOT impressed.

            1. lyonite*

              I think this is more likely. And honestly, if someone is so hard up that they’d fix a work competition for company-branded baby clothes, I say let them have them.

          3. Daisy-dog*

            But I feel like baby clothes are the easiest thing to obtain for free. I know multiple people with crates of them in their home. If I ever have a kid, I’ll be assaulted with “gifts” of people cleaning out their garage. Some of it will never have been worn even because of how quickly my nieces have grown.

            1. Rose*

              Seriously, anyone in my social circle who has a baby gets so many baby clothes foisted on them. Facebook groups are full of people with free baby clothes. Charity shops are full of cute, hardly used baby clothes. I can’t imagine if this was an actual financial need your best option would be “attempt to win a work contest.” And if you weren’t really suffering finically there are so many cuter options. Unless I was working for a clothing company I liked, I wouldn’t put my baby in a work branded outfit. Why put them in something likely to be ugly when there are so many cute options out there?

            2. Watry*

              I used to work in a thrift store. Even when we were struggling to fill our adult racks, the kid and baby racks were always overflowing. Babies don’t wear baby clothes for that long, and they wear particular sizes for even shorter periods.

            3. Kyrielle*

              Yup. I was happily able to give newborn baby clothes to friends having a baby as a gift for a while after mine…because mine came out too large for the newborn size. lol

          4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            That came into my head when I read Seeking Second Childhood’s comment: If you don’t participate, you might not be seen as a team player.
            It got the spidey senses tingling and I thought, “look around and see who IS all in on this?”
            And from there, are they far too excited for baby clothes, not just playing the game?
            Is someone so invested that it seems like they are counting on this?

            1. Ssssssssssssssssssssss*

              Am I missing something? If you are counting on branded baby clothes from work for your baby, that seems very strange to me. Babies go thru clothing very quickly in terms of size; and in terms of laundry, on some days, thru several outfits depending on food/pee/poop/nose bleed (more toddlers for that one) disasters. I don’t know how much clothing is being given away but I would not be counting on this to get me thru the first year of parenthood!

              1. Rose*

                And the fact that they’re outgrown quickly means there are tons of great, gently used, free or inexpensive options out there.

          5. edda ed*

            Yo, you were almost completely correct. Except it wasn’t a friend of the admin, but the admin herself! See update from Holiday Trees LW below.

        5. Nonanon*

          I would argue that the men’s XL shirt is more inclusive; as a medium to large sized woman, I would at least still be able to use a larger shirt to sleep in or whatever. Baby clothes, considering the 2week period when an infant can fit in to them and more importantly the fact that neither myself nor any of my closer friends have children that could use them, would go straight in the trash or to a donation center that didn’t care about corporate logos.

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            Yes. I’d say this is more like having the prize be a pair of sneakers, but only in women’s size 6.

        6. Observer*

          It’s so weirdly specific. Even if you have kids, the period of time when they fit in baby clothes is very short, so you’ve got a gift that’s only useful for people who are pregnant, or have given birth in the last year. It’s like giving a company branded t-shirt, but only in men’s size XL – the number of people who can use it is very limited.

          Yes, weird is a very good word for it. And the limitations on who could use these items is also really strange.

      2. Harper the Other One*

        I have a tween and a teen and NO interest in another baby. All I’d do with baby clothes is donate them.

        If someone higher up doesn’t see sense, I’d point out that chances are nobody but the parents with newborns will decorate a tree. But I’ll bet once you get past the admin someone will recognize that the gift certificate to the company clothing store is the perfect option.

        1. ScruffyInternHerder*

          I mean, I *might* torment my two teens with baby clothes for an hour or two (because babies mean parents are still having the s*x and OMG when you’re a teenager that is THE most offensive thought on the planet) before donating them.

          Its like offering a ladies XS shirt.

        2. The Original K.*

          Yeah, none of my friends or family with kids have infants so the clothes would go straight to Goodwill. (I also never want company-branded clothes in general and tend to donate or toss company swag when I no longer work for the org in question.)

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            Hard same. I’m not a parent, but I can’t imagine wanting my baby to be a billboard like that.

          2. nm*

            Same–I like my workplace just fine but that doesn’t mean I want to dress my baby in advertisements. *I* don’t even want to wear that stuff

            1. Just Another Cog*

              I agree. Company-branded clothing really isn’t much of a prize. I’d not be motivated to win anything with advertising on it.

        3. Anonym*

          I have a baby, and there’s no way in hell I’m putting company branded baby clothes on her. ?????

          Not sorry, my kid is not a free advertising billboard for you. Eff off.

          1. Seashell*

            When my kids were in the diaper stage of life, I used to put an outfit I didn’t really like in the diaper bag or at daycare, to be used only in case of emergency. That would probably be a good use for this “prize.”

            1. Orsoneko*

              Exactly what I was thinking. This would be going straight into the daycare cubby as a second or third backup outfit, right underneath the cute-but-no-longer-seasonable skeleton/ghost/pumpkin-emblazoned items. Thanks but no.

          2. Caramel & Cheddar*

            This was my first thought! Even if baby clothes wasn’t a totally bizarre prize in and of itself, company branded baby clothes is so out there that I have no idea why the coworkers who like the idea of baby clothes in general even want this stuff.

        4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Right? My kids are adults who do not plan any kids of their own anytime soon. My few friends that are grandparents, don’t need baby clothes because their grandkids are not babies anymore. I would have no use for this prize at all. I mean, I just adopted a cat, but while baby clothes would fit him, I don’t think he’ll want them.

          This is an oddly specific prize that is only of use to a tiny percentage of parents.

          1. Dancing Otter*

            But Meowmmy! Something new to shed on and shred with my claws and paw into a nest! You never want me to have any funnnnn!

        5. Observer*

          All I’d do with baby clothes is donate them.

          Who is going to want company branded baby clothes?

          In a way that’s where my mind went when the OP said that the Admin told them not to whine. “You can’t use them? Neither can anyone else, even the parents of babies. Stop whining.”

      3. Lilo*

        I am a parent and this bothers me too. Even with newborns sizing is all over the place so the chance of this actually being useful is very slim and… company branded clothes? Just no. I have a hard time believing the parents are enthusiastic about this because a company branded onesie is usually not a must have for any parent.

      4. ferrina*

        Ooh, you’re right about the pattern. Pretending Christmas trees are “holiday trees” and baby clothes are fine for everyone. Sounds like they’re just doing what they want (who cares about other people?) then putting some glitter on their ideas to pretend like they’re fine.

        1. I Have RBF*

          While a Yule Log is sorta close to a Christmas tree, it’s not the same. Also, Hanukah Bushes aren’t a thing.

          IMO, baby clothes are even less inclusive. Only a small percentage of the workforce has infants at the same time, even if it seems like the company is having a baby boom. Plus, even if the company is all parents (which it isn’t), that means everything from age < 1 to adult and out on their own. The baby period is really short, so it wouldn't even be good for all parents.

          A contest prize that interests only a few people is a shitty prize.

      5. Freeforever*

        This friendly neighborhood Jew drew the ire of many in a state court clerk’s office years ago when I suggested that it was inappropriate to display a nativity set on top of the file cabinet in s state building. They removed it. Unhappily. I said nothing about the “holiday tree.”

        1. Princess Sparklepony*

          I think you have to pick your battles. Holiday trees are much older from the pagans, the Nativity set is super Christian and ultra religious, at least in my book. I was raised Catholic.

    2. Holiday Trees LW*

      I’m going to try to address it with the admin’s boss since she signs off on any prizes for competitions.

      Not defending the “Holiday Tree Decorating” either. It’s… very cringey.

      1. paxfelis*

        I’d be tempted to pick an alternate holiday. Perhaps St. Patrick’s Day, or Memorial Day.

        Or maybe Spring Break, and have Barbies pole-dancing on various branches….

        1. Zennish*

          I do a Bodhi Day tree every year (Buddha’s enlightenment, it’s December 8th.) It looks remarkably Christmas tree-ish except for the little miniature Dharma Wheel ornaments and the Buddha statue sitting under it.

        2. TX_TRUCKER*

          We have a “holiday” tree that is out the entire year, and it does have some bizarre decorations throughout the year. February is the most popular … Football and Hearts competing for the prime spot.

          1. Ssssssssssssssssssssss*

            Every year at my workplace, there is a small tree deposited on each floor and each floor decorates and there’s a light hearted with no prize decorating contest. One year, the 2nd floor said, who has time for this and instead of unboxing the tree, they wrapped the box containing the tree like it was a present and placed it, wrapped up, on the tree base. And then added a bow. Best decorated tree ever.

      2. Ally McBeal*

        I think a “Holiday Decorations” contest would be much more appropriate. Like, decorate the entire department, tree 100% optional. I’ve seen some absolutely gorgeous Hanukkah and Kwanzaa decor, and Festivus would be a fun theme too.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          My mother worked somewhere that decorated their office doors however they wanted in December, which was also when their busy time was wrapping up. They had a lot of graphic designers, so the competition was fierce.

        2. SpaceySteph*

          Another resident Jew just to say that I emphatically despise “inclusive” holiday decorating also. Hanukkah is not Jewish Christmas, its a low-key minor holiday inflated in awareness and importance due to its proximity to Christmas, while also being a holiday about NOT assimilating to the dominant culture. Tree or no tree, we all know this is meant to be a Christmas decorating contest.

      3. Peon*

        Yeah, it’s not that hard to find something else if you want a contest. We did a snowflake making contest once, people really got into it.

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        So, I just looked up “Yule tree decorations”, and am pretty happy with my search results (though I don’t yet know what all of these items are, but will not rest until I’ve read up on them all). I’d be tempted to do this. Axial tilt is the reason for the season!

        “Table of Contents

        Mini Yule Log
        Pentagram Stars
        Witch Balls
        Gingerbread or Cinnamon Symbols
        Natural Yule Tree Decorations
        Clear Quartz Crystals
        Elder Futhark Rune Yule Tree Ornaments”

        1. Random Dice*

          Yeah, on so many levels.

          Like, oh nice, please steal my religion’s holiday tradition, paint a bizarre baby Jesus over it for colonialism and pretend it was always Christian, then later pretend that it has *nothing* to do with baby Jesus… while not using any other actual pagan holiday traditions because it would offend the Christians, who it’s definitely not for it’s just a “holiday” tree.

          It’s so messed up.

        2. DJ Abbott*

          People love the secular Christmas because its fun and pretty and brightens up dreary cold winter.
          We need to detach it from any religion so no one feels excluded. Let’s still have celebrations, pretty decorations, and presents (only when appropriate). We’ll need a new name for it and new music*

          *I didn’t realize till I started reading AAM, almost all traditional Christmas songs are religious. We’ll need secular songs most people know, that are easy to hear and sing along.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I grew up in an atheist, secular society, celebrating new year instead of Christmas. Honestly, still my favorite holiday. We had everything, the tree, the ornaments, the gifts, the Santa-like old guy, the parties, but on New Year’s Eve instead of Dec 25 or Jan 7. I suppose there were songs too… had to be. I am only able to remember children’s songs at this point. But it can be done. I’d celebrate Solstice or NY instead of Christmas though. Secular “random winter holiday that just happens to fall on Dec 25” feels weird to me.

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                I also just remembered the advice I got from many people in the immigrant community when we first arrived here – “do not buy a New Year tree. There will be free ones on every curb on Dec 26” hahaha (no I never did follow this advice)

          2. penny dreadful analyzer*

            Maybe I’m not “people” but this comment gave me a full-body shudder. As a recovering Catholic, I’d rather go back to doing full tradcath Christmas as a heritage thing than intensify any of the trends involved in Secular Christmas/Generic Winter Holiday/Festivus/Shopping Season.

            Especially the music.

          3. Burger Bob*

            I…do not love this. Christmas remains very much a religious holiday for many, and trying to pretend it has nothing to do with Christianity is futile, I think. There’s no taking that “Christ” out of Christmas, whether you personally worship him or not. How about just finding a different holiday instead of foisting a stripped-down, “secular” Christmas on everybody? New Year is nice for this.

            (Side note, my husband positively hates all the trappings of “secular” Christmas, and I personally only started to really look forward to it when I leaned into religious traditions associated with it. Secular Christmas is definitely not everyone’s idea of a good time.)

          4. at war with christmas*

            No thank you, and I hope you think about why it’s so important to you that everyone celebrates Christmas. This is the logic by which we get the Hannukah ball lady. Wanting to assimilate everyone into cultural Christianity may technically be an improvement from trying to convert everyone to religious Christianity, but it’s still infuriating to be on the receiving end of. (I celebrated secular Christmas growing up despite neither of my parents being Christian, but as an adult decided to take a year off for every time someone whines about Jews being un-American for not putting up Christmas decorations or the cashier saying “Happy Holidays”. I think I’ve banked up about 40 years of skips so far.)

          5. Anonymous For Now*

            “Jingle Bells”, “Frosty The Snowman”, “Let It Snow”, “Winter Wonderland” and “Sleigh Ride” are not religious.

            And while it does mention Christmas, “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” is just too funny to be categorized as religious.

    3. RabbitRabbit*

      The Holiday Tree idea reminds me of the satire social media account (Facebook, maybe Twitter and elsewhere) called “Jew Who Has It All” – it’s written by a small group of Jewish writers who basically satirize America’s Christian-centricity by writing about an Alternate Earth where Christianity is seen as a related but odd little offshoot religion of Judaism, and centering Jewish customs as being totally completely normal for everyone and also definitely non-secular when suitable.

      A couple months back, their parody of the Holiday Tree was featured in a number of posts about the holiday of Sukkot and how Holiday Booths can be decorated in so many non-secular ways, and of course **everyone** combines apples and honey at this time of year, and it’s a harvest festival so why can’t the odd-ones-out just celebrate that part. The token oddly-promoted Christian holiday to pair with Sukkot was the Feast of St. Francis, hyping up the ‘quaint customs’ and trying to elevate it to a major holiday due to the timing – including a public school newsletter noting that they are unable to play a clearly Religious hymn about St. Francis but the school chorus will honor that Christish holiday by singing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”

      (The account pulls few punches when it comes to diving in deep on topics, at least from this Christian-raised perspective, but they have an alternate account called “Jewsplainer” to provide the interpretation of some of the more difficult items. And that’s the point, that often things people take for granted as being obvious can be quite opaque to someone from the outside or at least who wasn’t born into a society that centers certain things as Normal and The Way Things Are Done.)

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I definitely need to look that up. I follow the “Man who has it All” on facebook, which is a similar account imagining an alternative universe where gender roles are switched.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          That one is excellent too. Both are definitely “read the comments” accounts because the vast majority of the commenters roleplay into it so well.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Same! I love Man Who Has it All, and have been trying to get more in touch with my Jewish roots lately, than my usual “On Hanukkah, I say I need to make latkes this week and then never do and that’s the sum total of Jewish things I do the entire year.” Will look this up now.

          1. Random Dice*

            Trader Joe’s frozen latkes are where it’s at. You can even get parchment paper sleeves online for your toaster, so it’s even easier.

            If you want low-planning Jewish exploration, your might enjoy Chabad events. (They can get a bit intense and conservative in the big cities, but my local small town Chabad rep is pretty chill and progressives. YMMV)

            You might also want to check out the free events at a Reform synagogue. I enjoyed “Tot Shabbat” when my kid was young, it’s a very accessible rug-and-guitar service. (One needs tickets for the High Holidays, but anything else is usually open.)

            1. SpaceySteph*

              For a slightly more home-made latke (if that’s your jam, or you don’t live near a Trader Joes) shredded hashbrown potatoes make an excellent latke base with no grating your knuckles or breaking out the food processor. I like the refrigerated Simply Potatoes the best, but the frozen ones work fine too.

        3. I am Emily's failing memory*

          My favorite one of those ever to this day is still (paraphrased from memory):

          “Stop calling me a male CEO! I’m just a CEO!” whined angry Ben, making everything about his gender as usual.

      2. Happy holidays*

        omg that sounds amazing, and as an atheist who loves holidays but was raised on the Christian ones… I fully plan on using what I learn here to celebrate Jewish holidays in a non-religious way like I do the Christian ones haha

        1. ABB*

          I am Jewish and this gives me the icks a little. I love that you want to learn more about other cultures, but religion, my religion, other people’s religions aren’t just a party.

          I’m sure you’ll hear the same from Christians who feel like their holiday has just been coopted by secularism, and they would be right. Santa and trees and all other things aren’t part of their religion at all. My friend was looking for advent wreath in target and I had no idea what that was – never heard of it. She said you can’t actually get christian religious stuff there. She’s catholic though so I don’t know and most people where we live are of some other christian denomination.

          ANYWAY, I would love for you to learn more about Judaism, but please not just for “fun” and some kind of hobby.

          1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

            I disagree in several different directions that Christians can claim Christmas as a purely religious holiday. Mainly, Christmas itself is basically stolen from the pagans. Religious scholars don’t believe Jesus was born in December, conveniently right next to the pagan holiday related to the solstice. Wreaths and trees and candles have pagan roots. An “advent wreath” is greenery + candles: this is related to the time of year, not anything to do with Jesus. I think that Christmas is popular precisely because it falls at a dreary time of year when people are missing greenery and light. So co-opting both the pagan holiday and the related imagery that is related to the cycles of nature and then excluding everyone else from using them would be very…colonialist.

            1. RabbitRabbit*

              Granted, but ‘Christmas is secular/for everyone!’ is also exactly the argument that many Christians use to cram the holiday down the throats of everyone who doesn’t want to celebrate it, especially Jewish people.

              In many areas it’s Christian and (neo-)Pagan, in some areas it’s being accepted as a general secular-ish (sometimes foreign import) holiday. But it absolutely can be weaponized to turn people who don’t like it into the Other. (And don’t think for a minute that Christians who do this would give any allowance to the Pagans’ actual celebrations.)

              1. Zennish*

                OTOH, as a Zen Buddhist, my take is that my experience of an event has nothing to do with either A) reality or B) other people’s experience or expectations of an event. I love the holiday season, with everyone putting up lights and decorations to celebrate Buddha’s enlightenment. :-)

              2. Agnostic Grinch*

                Yeah, I mean, the word Christ is in Christmas so it’s never going to be secular to me no matter how hard people try to make it that way.

              3. penny dreadful analyzer*

                “Actually, the dominant religion stole it from a minoritized religion!” is also just a weird way to try and woke-wash continuing the dominant religion’s dominance. Great, now I will avoid it because it’s cultural appropriation from pagan religions of which I am not a member, in addition to avoiding it because it’s a tradition of the faith that I do not believe in and left on purpose!

              4. StarTrek Nutcase*

                The history is interesting, but isn’t a factor for me. As an atheist I don’t want any religious holiday or related activity sponsored in even a minor way by my employer in the workplace.

                With inclusion being advocated more and more, I think it’s important to strongly encourage workplaces to stop with religious related activities. If my coworker decorates her space with an Xmas tree, fine. But a company supported “holiday” (right! it’s obviously Xmas) tree contest is not.

                It’s sad to me that LW sees the baby clothes as worth mentioning to admin/company but the “holiday” tree not. Both are exclusive.

            2. Christina*

              FWIW, an advent wreath (or advent calendar) is very Christian, even though the greenery/candles have pagan or seasonal/secular roots. I may have misunderstood your point , but just wanted to point that out. I was raised Catholic but am agnostic and find all the secular “advent” calendars over the past few years weird considering the word advent specifically refers to the “coming/arrival” of Jesus.

                1. DJ Abbott*

                  I know more than one person who enjoys Halloween more than Christmas. They’ll post things like “only 240 more days till Halloween!”
                  I expect that’s what inspired the idea of Halloween advent calendars.
                  I don’t get it, I never liked Halloween, and even less as I get older. I know it was also originally a pagan holiday. Maybe I would like the pagan version.

            3. Random Dice*

              Well… yeah, Christians coopting pagan holidays is colonialist!

              Non-Christians who object to a now-Christian holiday being treated as universal to all religions is not colonialist.

              And we all know that if that “Holiday tree” were to be decorated with actual pagan decorations, there would be a significant number of Christians who were deeply offended.

          2. Heather*

            As an atheist raised by atheist parents who’s always celebrated secular Christmas, I don’t really care if anyone thinks I’m coopting their holiday. I’m not mocking them or hurting them in any way, I just enjoy Christmas trees and cookies and silly family traditions.

            1. ShanShan*

              For the record, if you asked most people engaging in cultural appropriation how they felt about it, this is what they would say.

              1. Random Dice*

                You’re NOT applying “Cultural appropriation” correctly here.

                Cultural appropriation has to have an element of the powerful taking something sacred or meaningful from the minority or oppressed (“It’s not yours”) and usually mishandling it (“That’s sacred, not a costume or a punchline”).

                A non-Christian celebrating a Christian holiday in a majority-Christian nation would be called “assimilation”. It’s 100% fine.

                Now… when my Christian extended family invite Jewish me to their Passover Seder – in which they explain that the matzoh crackers are “striped and pierced to represent Jesus’ flesh during the crucifixion”: THAT is cultural appropriation.

                1. Oy and Vey*

                  matzoh crackers are “striped and pierced to represent Jesus’ flesh during the crucifixion”

                  The what now? As a Jew, that cracked me up.

                2. SpaceySteph*

                  I think you’re missing that the cultural appropriation here is Christians stealing trappings of a pagan holiday.

                3. Princess Sparklepony*

                  The matzoh description sounds like something my long dead racist Catholic gramma would have come up with if she knew what matzoh was…. So a big YIKES! Possibly on bikes.

          3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Yeah, I’m in agreement with your last sentence.

            I was raised atheist, as were my parents. After we came to the US (on a refugee status brought over by HIAS along with much of the rest of my home country’s Jewish, and atheist, population), my dad started observing the holidays. If I ever go that route, it’d be to honor dad’s memory and to get in touch with my culture.

            I have also met people here who weren’t born or raised Jewish, but who converted at least to some degree, and observe, or used to observe, some of the traditions. I think that is awesome. But the idea of celebrating a literal holy day, that has a history behind it, just because the holiday sounds cool, kinda rubs me the wrong way.

          4. Observer*

            ANYWAY, I would love for you to learn more about Judaism, but please not just for “fun” and some kind of hobby.

            Agreed. Thanks for saying this.

          5. Princess Sparklepony*

            I think you got to be in Germany or Sweden to get an advent wreath. In Sweden they do the whole Santa Lucia thing with the candles worn on the head… I was raised Catholic and I’ve never heard of an advent wreath. Advent calendar – yes. Little doors you open each day with a treat of some kind for each day ending at Christmas.

            As a walked away Catholic (I didn’t fall away, I ran!) I celebrate the miracle of the fat man in the red suit getting down the little chimney and leaving presents.

            1. Clisby*

              Advent wreaths are definitely a thing in some Christian denominations in the US. Episcopalians and Methodists often set them up. I’m pretty sure my sister still has one every year.

        2. Silver Robin*

          yeah, please no. They are not yours. The point of the account is not instructions on how to make Judaism the same level of default as Christianity. The point is that having *any* default is exclusionary and we should be creating space for everyone to thrive in their respective cultures/religions/spiritualities.

          If you want to check out Jewish holidays, ask your Jewish friends about them and see if you can snag an invite to the more open ones. If you do not have friends you can do that with, definitely use the internet to learn but do not randomly cosplay as us! And think about why you do not have Jewish friends and whether that ties into anything else about the environment you are building for yourself.

          1. Random Dice*

            Good points!

            Though to be fair, we tend to settle in certain places – Brooklyn NY, Toronto, Boston, L.A, Silver Spring DC, Pikesville MD near Baltimore, Chicago… One has to already be connected in to the Jewish network outside of a Jewish hot spot.

            1. Silver Robin*

              Sure, the reflection might produce the answer of “I am far away from Jewish communities” which then might mean leaning harder on media and the internet. That can be okay! But then that also still means not taking on celebrations or observances because they look fun.

              And, to be fair, there are Jews in lots of places, even outside our urban clusters. So it would be good to check if there is a way to connect with or support the local community before assuming none exist. I spent a good while outside those clusters and we had community that non-Jews could engage with!

          1. Random Dice*

            My synagogues have always welcomed anyone who are respectful.

            I highly recommend Torah study at Reform temples, especially in bigger cities. My mind is blown every time, by the depth of the knowledge about the history, culture, language, and anthropology. It’s really cool to be a fly on the wall and listen to smart people geeking out and applying a refreshingly open analysis. (Anyone can come, though it might be good to ping the rabbi in advance to verify and check on any security protocols, these days.)

            1. Random Dice*

              To clarify, since I can’t edit:

              “Closed religion” doesn’t mean you’re not welcome, as a guest. Far from it, we’d love to have you there, if you can be polite and respectful.

              Just don’t cosplay as us. You’re very welcome to attend as a guest, but not to pluck our sacred traditions out and try them on like a costume.

              We’ve defended these sacred traditions and stories and identity for millennia against assimilation, during which time many millions of us have been murdered for being Jewish. We get touchy about appropriation because this matters.

              Rutherford Falls had a great episode about a “Pretendian” – a white person passing as Native American for personal cachet or profit – where one of the characters says something like “You don’t get to pick and choose all of the positives of who Natives are without experiencing any of the hardships.”

        3. Zennish*

          You’re welcome to try out any of mine you like, though most Zen Buddhist holiday celebrations seem to work out to “Have tea, then sit quietly and stare at the floor for an hour.” (aka meditation.)

          Sometimes there’s a potluck.

        4. NotAManager*

          Just going to gently push back on this a little – Judaism is a closed religion. I’m not Jewish, but I’ve been welcomed by some friends to participate in a seder which I was really touched and honored to attend as a guest. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to then decide to throw my own “secular seder” based on my experiences with my friends because although I was invited to celebrate with them in their homes it was an *invitation.* It’s not really appropriate (especially in a world where antisemitic sentiment is rampant) to “celebrate” Jewish holidays the way one might apply some festive trappings of Christian ones.

          Frankly, Christian holidays are forced on people in the US by virtue of the fact that Christian religious holidays like Christmas are federally recognized and Easter is celebrated on Sunday which is often a non-work day in tacit recognition of the Christian Sabbath. There’s no equity there because people whose day of worship is neither Saturday nor Sunday often struggle to get time off to get time off of work to get to religious services, or get accommodations for fast periods or religious holidays that don’t align with the Christian calendar. If someone who isn’t Christian wants to decorate a tree or dye eggs or encourage belief in Santa (as opposed to Saint Nicholas), there’s not really a problem there because of the cultural dominance of these holiday symbols. It’s just not the same with other faiths in the US.

      3. Jay (no, the other one)*

        There’s a TikTok account that does the same thing (and maybe is the same people). They had one where the teacher or principal fields a call from a parent asking why a test is scheduled on Christmas (pronounced with the Hebrew “ch” for additional amusement). The teacher says “You told me about this last year and I carefully didn’t schedule anything for the 15th of Kislev. What do you mean it’s on the 20th of Kislev this year? How can I keep track if it keeps moving around?”

        Absolutely priceless and totally on point. I’ve recommended to a few well-meaning and essentially clueless non-Jewish folk.

        1. SweetestCin*

          That’s the part that gets me (even though I’m a non-Jewish person); its not like Jewish holidays are the ONLY holidays that move around. Easter is a pretty darn big Christian holiday, and the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant branches of Christianity don’t even line up in the same calendar year, much less year to year. So the pearl clutching over a “moving holiday” has always been baffling to me.

          Side note: I appreciate you guys mentioning these resources…I try really hard to not be clueless myself :)

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            It’s common in all the Abrahamic religions. And there are calendars you can get that list all the holidays for all the major religions.

          2. Ace in the Hole*

            Heck, even secular holidays move around! Thanksgiving being one obvious example for any American.

      4. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        I follow them on the Fediverse (I’m on Mastodon). I absolutely love that account. I’m actually learning a lot.

        Bringing it back to the letter, definitely go over the admin’s head. First her response in calling you whiny is inappropriate, second the whole let’s give Company Branded Baby Clothes as a prize is just ridiculous. Not everyone, even new parents, need or want baby clothes. Especially company branded ones.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Aaaand the first post is that they’re not posting anymore. They’re primarily on Mastodon and Facebook.

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            Considering the sorts of posting that Twitter has been allowing I can’t say I’m surprised they would leave.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Can somebody send them a Bluesky invite please? I don’t go on Twitter anymore and from what I heard of it over the past month, sounds like I won’t ever go back.

      5. Bear Expert*

        … I am not Jewish but I love Sukkot. (I live walking distance to a well populated schul, and my neighborhood has some beautiful sukkah in season, there’s a sukkah hop event that is lovely.)

        I would so get behind holiday booths. Its a better time for a family holiday, travel is easier than the dead middle of winter, eating outside is fun.

        I kind of hate that I can’t try to make Holiday Booths happen in this reality without it looking like I’m mocking Judaism. I’m not going to convert, but as “non secular” interpretations of holidays go, I like this one way more than pretending pine trees aren’t related to Christmas.

      6. Random Dice*

        That sounds amazing.

        I didn’t question how pervasive Christianity is in all of the countries I’ve ever lived… until I spent the winter in Israel. No Christmas carols everywhere. The only winter holiday thing was jelly donuts appeared in the grocery store, like candy corn shows up in fall. The absence of JESUS!!! in every interaction was so shocking.

        I tried to explain to my Israeli friends that yes, people really do climb on ladders – yes even with ice and snow – and outline their whole houses with Christmas lights, then take them down – again, yes in ice and snow. I had to show them photo proof, the concept was so totally bizarre to them.

      7. AnotherSarah*

        The (main? sole) owner of the account is great! She’s faced a lot of online hatred in recent weeks and I believe has backed off from posting anything other than pre-written holiday messages.

    4. Jennifer Strange*

      I am a parent and I would totally side-eye the baby clothes thing. It’s one thing to send a branded onesie to a new parent (or branded items to anyone for other major life events) but making it a prize in a work contest is just weird beyond belief. Even if the dinner and happy hour is now off the table for whatever reason, I’d rather the prize be something I can enjoy.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Yeah. Unless it’s for a work-related prize (unlike a morale-related prize), the prize is essentially advertising for your company for free.

    5. Sneaky Squirrel*

      Given that the prize is specific to only a few, I’d question whether the tree decorating contest was rigged for a winner. “So you’re telling me that there’s no way I can win because the prize is clearly intended for someone with a baby?”

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        You are not alone. There are a couple comments above.
        I’m going to throw in another one.
        Admin got sick of people telling her that ham and alcohol were not inclusive holiday gifts and she is staging some giant “eff it” performance art protest.
        “Everyone loves babies! Suck it.”
        Which I could support.
        I loved a good temper tantrum this time of year.

    6. Anthony Tellier*

      ‘Also, those aren’t “holiday trees.” — your friendly neighborhood Jew’ … literally chuckled out loud

      1. Jojo*

        Agreed. I mean, we are all here because Alison is such a good writer, but that sentence manages to say so much in so few words. Perfection.

    7. A Simple Narwhal*

      I am a parent and I still think this is a very weird choice! Baby clothes only fit for a very small stretch of time and depending on when they were born and how big they were, there’s a strong chance that a predetermined size of clothes as a prize won’t fit any of the people who recently had babies. I have a one year old and a number of friends have had babies in the last year, and the variety of sizes we have amongst our similarly aged babies is almost comical.

      I think the suggestion to make the prize a voucher to the company store to allow someone to pick the branded item of their choice was a very good one.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Additionally, I think this would make it clear the physical prize is just a token, and the real prize is the bragging rights.

    8. Dust Bunny*

      Confess I would enter in the hopes I’d win and could take pictures of the baby clothes on my mom’s puppy.

      1. Random Dice*

        This is the perfect use of a Festivus pole!

        /LW don’t actually do this, and consider whether you want to rock the boat over any of this – we may be being carried away by this whole situation, and giving Internet advice more than real life advice

    9. KayDeeAye*

      Giving away baby clothes at anything other than the Convention for Parents of Children in the 8-12 Pound Range is just ridiculous. And so is the admin, IMO.

      And she’s also mean and weirdly defensive. Obviously she’s so proud of herself for thinking of this “original” idea that she refuses to see how ridiculous it is. Yeesh.

    10. Ent-curious*

      As a non-reproducing, non-parent lifelong pagan, this would be so rude. The baby clothes on top of the religious appropriation. But folks like me are used to it.

    11. Betty*

      Related to “holiday tree” — An Instagram parent I like (Local Passport Family) has offered the framing of asking “Would X happen if no one celebrated Christmas?” as a way of asking if something is really inclusive. “Would there be snowflakes and snowmen?” Yes! “Would there be Santa/decorated pine trees?” No!

      (Yes, I’m aware that Christians stole the pine tree thing, but I doubt the office is really celebrating a pagan Yule…)

    12. K*

      Is it ethical to go over someone head like that, though? If someone at work asked me my opinion about something, didn’t get an answer they liked, and then decided to circumvent like that I’d not be particularly pleased. This seems to conflict advice Allison has given in the past.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        You can always go over someone’s head if they’re causing a problem; ideally you just try talking to them directly first when feasible. (It’s trickier when it’s your boss; that’s a different dynamic.)

      2. Le Sigh*

        But this isn’t an answer OP just doesn’t like — they’re not asking for a an extra PTO day or different candy in a jar. They raised a legit issue and then got dismissed as “whiny,” which tells me the admin didn’t even consider OP’s point. It’s not unethical to go to a higher up about something that affects the entire office, and which the higher ups may or may not be aware of since it’s not necessarily on their radar. It doesn’t mean they’ll listen to OP, but OP is still on solid ground to raise it. The admin might be mad, but that wouldn’t necessarily be justified, based on the facts given to us.

        My memory might be off, but I’m pretty sure Alison’s past answers have included the option to go above someone if the situation called for it.

      3. Observer*

        If someone at work asked me my opinion about something, didn’t get an answer they liked, and then decided to circumvent like that I’d not be particularly pleased.

        Sure. But so what? It’s one thing if someone is trying to circumvent appropriate processes, or undermine the authority of their boss or something like that.

        But if your boss is *wrong*, not just doing something you don’t like, you’re dealing with a difference of opinion of someone who is a peer, or (as in this case) doing something that is genuinely problematic, well, that’s what chain of command and escalations paths are for.

        There is a huge difference between doing something someone does not like, even if they have a legitimate reason to not like it, and doing something unethical. Doing something that displeases an Admin may not be smart. But going over their head if they are doing something that causes and issue and won’t bend is perfectly normal and reasonable, and does not present any ethical dilemma.

        Given what turned out to be the actual situation (it turns out that management had actually decided to NOT have the contest this year and the Admin was acting against instructions) it’s just as well that the OP went over her head.

    13. Momma Bear*

      I’d bring it up again, to someone above the admin. Maybe your own boss. It’s a bad prize idea. Does everyone know this is the prize? Maybe their boss does not.

    14. ariel*

      Good luck, as someone who tried for a couple of years before the pandemic (which thankfully killed this party) to get colleagues to stop decorating for our spring party with bunnies and eggs. “These are clearly Easter eggs….” “No, they’re just spring-y, people like it!” “People like it” is my least favorite explanation – I demand names and rationales.

    15. Nina*

      As a culturally Christian grinch (as in, I’m not even non-Christian and I still find Christmas ‘stuff’ at work somewhere between annoying and offensive) and openly childfree individual, god, I can’t think of many team bonding activities that would make me check out more.

  3. Dark Macadamia*

    LW2, that’s the exact series that popped into my head when I started reading your post! I don’t typically read romance and picked it up because of the fantasy aspect not realizing it wouldn’t be the “PG13 at most” experience I tend to prefer, but they’re good books even if they made me blush lol

    1. Mister_L*

      I once started a longer series about halfway through only to realize later on that the earlier books were a bit “spicy”, an aspect the author mostly dropped in the later book.

      For those wondering: Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong.

    2. Lulu*

      When my mom would recommend books to her mother, she’d always give a disclaimer if there was some spiciness. My grandmother’s reply was always “I know when to close my eyes”.

  4. Aggretsuko*

    #3, that’s happening to me too. I have been told the only way I won’t get fired is if I get diagnosed with a disability. According to the union guy, it looks bad if you fire someone for medical issues. Maybe that went on here.

    1. BubbleTea*

      I was told that I had to be diagnosed with a disability before I could have any support (not what UK law says), and then I was fired anyway. Some people are really really shitty about disability.

    2. Practice Practice Practice*

      I wouldn’t take your union guy at face value. If you can’t perform the core job functions either with or without accommodations, you can get fired even if the reason you can’t perform them is a disability or medical condition.

    3. Random Dice*

      I’m sorry. That’s so awful.

      Human beings aren’t robots.

      The managers who are not robots should be decent enough to give grace to non-robot employees who are dealing with human issues!

      1. Laser99*

        I agree, it’s very worrisome. It’s a time-honored way to force someone out. She should start putting out feelers.

  5. Roland*

    Imo there’s enough plot in those books that I probably wouldn’t say anything. I get it, I would probably be mortified to think about it in retrospect but that’s already done, I’d rather just take the 98% chance that she won’t read it over for sure making it awkward.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      Have you read the third one yet? I’m a regular romance reader who doesn’t mind spice/has a pretty high threshold for what I consider spicy and the third one definitely meets that threshold.

      1. SharksAreCool*

        Right?? I really, really liked the third book, but every time I think I’ve grown accustomed to her style the sex scenes just get MORE MOIST somehow.

        1. FashionablyEvil*

          Yes, they get progressively so throughout the series and within book 3 in particular! It was the last scene in book 3 where I was finally like, “Yeah, this is going to be pushing the boundaries for a lot of folks (especially if they are not regular romance readers.)” I thought it was a great conclusion to the series. But might be a lot for someone who is not expecting it.

          1. LW2*

            the third one is A Lot for sure, and the whole time I was reading it I was cringing internally that my boss might think that I would think it’s okay to recommend this to her at work…such a great series! but not something I want to talk about with my boss now that I remember how explicit it is!!

      2. Roland*

        If she makes it to the 3rd one she’d clearly be okay with some level of smut though. It would be unusual for her to judge OP at that point, book 1 wasn’t totally vanilla or anything.

    2. Legislative employee*

      I asked for an accommodation last week and got told that since my department reports to the state legislature, we’re not covered by most worker protection laws so they didn’t have to do anything for me unless they get a specific request from my doctor, and even then they’re not required to do what my doctor recommends.

      1. Anon for this one*

        So sorry to hear this, but quite a funny nesting fail. Imagining needed an accommodation for reading steamy books at work :)

        1. Legislative employee*

          Sorry, I thought I was replying in the thread where people were talking about disability stuff.

        2. Random Dice*

          That’s now the only way I can read this comment now, and it’s pretty funny.

          Legislative Employee, that sounds like utter horsehockey. I’d definitely talk to a lawyer.

          I’ll add a link to the ADA that backs up my “yeah that totally doesn’t sound right but good try”, but it’ll take a bit to get released from mod.

          1. Random Dice*

            State and local governments that fail to provide services to people with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs may be failing to comply with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The U.S. Department of Justice (the Department) has created this guidance to discuss and explain the requirements of the ADA’s integration mandate and the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring, 527 U.S. 581 (1999), as applied to segregated employment settings and facility-based day programs.


    3. LetitDrop*

      Came here to say this, I strongly disagree with the advice to say anything further. You’re all adults, they’re mass market books, the boss can use their own discretion about what they want to read from there. By separately bringing up the fact that the books are “smutty,” you’re basically bringing up sex in the office. And worst case scenario, the boss is caught off guard and takes it somewhere even more uncomfortable/inappropriate: “Oh, wow, I’m even more interested now, remind me what the title was again?! Har har.”

      As is, odds are the boss won’t even remember the name of the series beyond the conversation (I wouldn’t), if they do, they’re unlikely to seek out the books, and IF they do, maybe they won’t think anything of it because – again – everyone involved is an adult, OR if they do think “wow, this is way too smutty and inappropriate,” how is that better than immediately jumping to the last step and proactively telling them you recommended something inappropriate?

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Eh. I don’t like the term “smutty” but I think it’s totally appropriate to say “so I realized the books were more explicit than I remembered — just so you’re aware!” You recommended a thing, then realize the thing should have come with a heads up on content and so are clarifying your recommendation.

      2. Bear Expert*

        I think that the bringing up sex has already happened, and being transparent that it was a bit of an accident is better than letting your boss think your judgement about sexual material at work is shaky.

        Pointing out that you hadn’t read them in a while, looked at them again after the discussion, and realized they were spicier than you’d usually bring up at work and then applying the warning label is more above board and showing professionalism than just letting it go. (I think Alison’s line about the difference between saying you liked it vs. did you recommend it to someone else is a good one, though subtle nuance. Just saying you enjoyed it is about your taste, there’s more room for everyone to give separation between your whole self and your work self. Recommendation is about your judgment about what is good for others, and in a workspace that’s something you want to keep pretty PG.)

    4. Roland*

      If she makes it to the 3rd one she’d clearly be okay with some level of smut though. It would be unusual for her to judge OP at that point, book 1 wasn’t totally vanilla or anything.

  6. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    OP 1, I completely agree with you that bany clothing is a terrible idea on all counts, doesn’t include a lot of people, will be painful for people dealing with infertility, pregnancy loss or struggling to adopt, and doesn’t meet the goal of improving morale or building camaraderie.
    As Alison not so subtly pointed out, the tree is a Christmas tree. Calling it a holiday doesn’t make it inclusive, and so many non-Christians are really sick of Christmas at work. You’re right about the lack of inclusion with the baby clothing prize. This is a good opportunity to look at when you are happy with something, are other people not being included?

    1. Clare*

      I’m not so much sick of Christmas at work as I am sick of holidays of white origin being the only reason to decorate at work. There are enough decorating holidays around the globe to celebrate every month of the year! In my opinion the best kind of inclusion is celebrating everybody’s joy and partying in many different ways! Not awkwardly trying to force December into a depressing homogeneous sludge. I might not have grown up holding your kind of party, but I’m happy you’re happy this week, and I’d be honoured if you’d let me help you celebrate :)

      1. John Smith*

        Re #2, am I the only one bothered about corporate baby clothes? I wouldn’t want to be reminded of work every time I looked at my kid. Unless the employer is a fashion retailer, but if it were, say, a firm of accountants, those clothes would be going straight to charity (with an apology).

        And can I be the 94th person to point out that, like it or not, “Christmas” is not a swear word.

        1. Andy*

          We get corp-branded baby clothes, but as a gift to the new parent (which makes much more sense than gifting it selectively for competition winners who might not need it). My kid’s favorite baby bottle is branded by a different company, following a “mom&baby meetup” they organized. Bottom line, it can be nice when it comes at the right time.

        2. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

          Oh mea culpa for saying out loud that the lack of inclusion and the othering of non-Christians at work is a problem. As long as your holiday is celebrated, who cares that Diwali and Eid and Rosh Hashanah and Chinese Year and holidays of other religions and cultures are ignored? Anyone who brings up the problem gets chastised. As long as you get to celebrate your holiday on the job, it’s all kittens and rainbows.

          1. bamcheeks*

            I don’t think it was meant as “nobody should complain about Christmas dominating supposedly secular spaces” so much as “acting like as long as you don’t say the *word* Christmas you’re being inclusive with your tree, your carols, your day off on the 25th Dec etc is weird”.

            1. This_is_Todays_Name*

              Yeah, that’s how I read it too. I’m a big believer in “if there’s a non-insulting way to take this sentiment, that’s how I choose to interpret it and not assume malice or offense.”

          2. Fluffy Fish*

            I think you misinterpreted what was said. He was addressing calling it a holiday tree in a pretend effort to be inclusive saying just call it a Christmas tree. As in pretending its something its not is stupid and not saying Christmas doesn’t magically make it not Christmas.

            It was not advocating that only Christian holidays matter.

        3. ShanShan*

          The thing about saying “like it or not” is that you can’t complain when the response is a resounding “not.”

          1. John Smith*

            My point is that it should be called what it is, whether you celebrate Christmas or not – it was not a question as to whether you agree with it or believe other holidays should be celebrated which is irrelevant to the point I was making. That is a different argument.

            1. Observer*

              My point is that it should be called what it is, whether you celebrate Christmas or no

              OK, then ignore my other response. I agree with you 100%

            2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              Exactly. You also couldn’t put up a menorah and called it the “Totally Secular Candelabra” and magically be like “Look, it’s secular now and thus if it is the only/major holiday decor it is inclusive of Christian faiths’ winter holidays, too!”

              Put up some snowflakes, twinkly lights, and decorate in a legit winter theme, you cowards! (obviously, this is meant lightheartedly…but really “winter” is such an easy target to hit without getting near a holy day!)

        4. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s not about Christmas being or not being a swear word; it’s that treating Christmas and trappings of Christmas as universal and secular things — like pretending these are really just “holiday trees” — feels like erasure to a lot of people of other faiths.

          1. duinath*

            as your friendly neighborhood pagan, it actually can be a holiday tree. it was pagan first, even. but in this case it absolutely is not, and your point is very valid.

            1. JSPA*

              Yep. Purely linguistically, “tree covers two groups’ holidays” makes it a “holiday tree”; but given that one of those groups is hugely culturally dominant, and the other quite tiny, that linguistic argument is at best convenient cover, in the vast majority of US workplaces.

              And I read the comment about christmas not being a swear word not as a defense of treating Christmas as a cultural default, but as a call to not slide Christian (and only Christian) holidays into the work calendar as a cultural default. Have smaller / opt-in cultural-holiday-themed events that don’t hide what they are… and detatch any default, workplace-wide events from those religious or culture-specific holidays.

            2. Wisdom Weaver*

              Hello, fellow pagan! Yes, I was just going to add that myself: it’s no accident that so many faiths have holidays right around the Winter Solstice. In the midst of winter, the year turns towards the light and warmth of spring – and people all over the world celebrate that. And yes, folks; we pagans very often decorate our homes with evergreens, just as we’ve done long before the beginning of what are now considered the world’s major religions!

              So by all means join us in celebrating that turning point of the year – hey, we won’t even whine about cultural appropriation! But please: don’t use your faith as a weapon or pretend that OF COURSE absolutely EVERYONE thinks about EVERYTHING exactly the way you do. Okay?

            3. Ellis Bell*

              Second pagan here and I always find it ridiculous when people claim that “things Christians stole from older religions” is not religious, or exclusive. It’s like: “We don’t sincerely believe in the sympathetic magic of greenery, but if we can play along with something we don’t take seriously, so can you!”

            4. nikkole82*

              I am non-religious but I do love a Christmas tree. I leave mine up till almost March because my ornaments are so cute. I don’t even consider it a holiday or Christian thing anymore.

              1. H3llifIknow*

                Mine is also left up until almost March, but that’s because while I love decorating it, I sooooo hate the chore of taking all the ornaments down, finding the right boxes and hauling everything back to storage! So, my default religion is apparently “laziness”!

            5. I Have RBF*

              Also pagan.

              IMO, a “Yule Tree” is still religious, not secular, unless you are decreeing that anything to do with a solstice or equinox celebration is automatically secular. While I could argue that, and it might make dealing with the holiday frenzy easier for atheists and agnostics, in practice it’s still religious to me.

              But if most of the other religions in the world don’t celebrate the Winter Solstice, it’s not a universal religious symbol, so it would, in reality, be a Christian|Pagan Holiday Tree.

            6. Ivkra*

              I’m not sure I agree. I’m ex-Christian, my partner is pagan, and when I was Christian, I found the secular commercialization of Christmas irritating and sometimes offensive, and avoided celebrating it outside of services. But I don’t think you actually can do a “holiday tree”! Sure, Christianity subsumed a lot of pagan traditions many, many years ago, but they’ve certainly diverged paths by now. Christianity is monotheistic*, pagans (and their various off-shoots) are not, and although both can involve decorating a tree, the purposes and decor and imagery around the tree are going to be very, very different.

              It may well be possible to have Christians and pagans decorate a tree together and call it a holiday tree, but 1) it’s still not actually a generic “holiday,” it’s Yule/Christmas, and the fact that Yule is also often used to refer to Christmas just shows how inescapable the hegemony is, and 2) anybody who’s, say, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, Scientologist, etc etc., is still not included. You really cannot make a religious tradition generic without making it fully secular, which is not really possible under a religious hegemony, IMO. I’ve seen the UK folks talking about a secular Christmas that’s entirely distinct from the religious holiday, but that’s just not how it is here in the US. The reason Halloween is a generic secular holiday is that most protestants here, the primary cultural powers, do not celebrate All Saints’ Day or All Hallow’s Eve, and in fact the more radical of them have protested the celebration of Halloween because it’s too close to a secular/generic celebration of Samhain!

          2. MK*

            Decorating trees in the middle of winter is a pagan custom that was incorporated in Central European Christmas traditions at some point in the past and has only spread globally relatively recently. I am not from Central or Northern Europe and I am old enough that in my childhood the most religious of the older generation considered Christmas trees a newfangled foreign non-religious custom that was at best tolerated by observant Christians. They are still commonly referred to as simply “pine trees” by a lot of people here.

            I understand you are coming at this from the specific context of US society trying to pass something that has been exclusively associated with Christianity in that culture as universal and non-religious. And I would never argue that a non-Christian should learn to consider Christmas trees secular, when they are in fact globally identified as a Christian custom at this point in time. But it is jarring to be told “no, it’s a Christmas tradition, don’t try to pretend otherwise!”, when that hasn’t been the case for a lot of us.

              1. Rainbow*

                Yeah, was gonna say – Christmas is secular in my country. (Of course, Christians will still celebrate it religiously, but most people celebrate it secularly, and Muslims, Hindus, and others mostly seem to celebrate it too.) So it’s not clear whether internationalism has put its foot in it again here :)

                1. amoeba*

                  Huh, really? I’m curious now – I’m from Germany, and yes, a lot of people treat Christmas as a secular holiday, but Muslims don’t typically celebrate it – even though most of the ones I know seem to be fine with participating in activities like Christmas market visits. Which I’m sure is better because it’s less… “religiously charged” than in the US. But they definitely won’t get a tree or even have a big family dinner on the day or exchange presents.

                2. Beth**

                  Are you in the UK? Many British people seen to be under the weird impression that Christmas is somehow secular. It isn’t. It’s still literally about Christ. Yes, many people of other faiths have adopted Christmas traditions, but that doesn’t actually make them secular. And not all people of non-Christian religions are equally relaxed about it.

                3. Bit o' Brit*

                  In response to Beth*:

                  It’s a bit disingenuous to say it’s “literally about” Christ when a lot of the time the celebration features no mention or reference to Christ other than the name. No one argued that Halloween is Christian for being “All Hallows’ Eve” a couple of weeks ago.

                4. Emmy Noether*

                  to amoeba: I’ve seen it celebrated in countries like Korea or Japan (while Korea has a very active Christian community, it’s not dominating the culture) as a purely secular thing, where elements like christmas trees and Santa are picked out and adapted without all the significance we associate with them.

                  As a German, who of course feels we are the ones doing Christmas the best (hello, trees and markets and candles and Plätzchen and advent calendars and Besinnlichkeit), it feels deeply weird. In Korea, Christmas is celebrated with friends and partners, not family!

                5. amoeba*

                  I do believe there are countries where it’s more secular than in Europe, though – as far as I know, in Japan Christmas Eve is something similar to valentine’s day (which I just realise is also Christian in origin – so I guess it’s possible for those things to change!) – a romantic day to celebrate with your partner. Also celebrated by the non-Christian majority. But have only read about that, so not first hand information!
                  Maybe generally in some Asian countries, where it’s been adopted due to popular culture, while the majority of people aren’t Christian?

                6. münchner kindl*

                  This would be my impression, especially the interesting shift in Hollywood movies (and US series shown in dubbed versions in my country): Christmas in general culture has morphed into a “Love your family, have a huge meal, a tree and some gifts” feast, where going to christian church for the special family service, with a pageant, that was more common in the 70s and 80s, has disappeared.
                  With both people in my country now in second and third generation growing up distant from the church, being baptized late, and the very unpleasant association of church with scandal, leaving out the church and just doing “traditional family celebration” – which often varies in details between families, while similar enough to be a shared custom for majority of population – seems to be the new way.

                  It reminds me of reading pre-Shoah memories of assimilated Jews in middle class: they were educated and thus, similar to the protestants in middle class, distant to daily religious observation, and there is often a mention of “putting up a Christmas tree and giving some gifts so their kids won’t feel left out when every other (christian) child in their class is doing so”.

                  As for the tradition of Christmas Tree: Peter Rosegger, a famous rural author who with a sharp eye skewered the poverty and tradition of the mountain villages as not romantic, but unjust, wrote a story about surprising his younger siblings by decorating a small fir tree with wax lights – a custom which he’d learned in the big city when going studying. That was the end of 19th century.
                  Similar the Adventskranz (fir tree circle) and Adventskalender were invented in the Rauhe Haus in mid-19th century, and spread since.

                  It was certainly interesting a few years ago, seeing an Islamic “Adventskalender” in a big store – a calender with doors to open to get sweets, just not for Christmas but for Ramadan! I was glad that muslim kids got some fun, too, but I guess it’s new to their tradition.

                7. MK*

                  @Beth, Christmas has been becoming secular for decades for many people, and the fact that the name has “Christ” in it doesn’t make it “literally about Christ”, when people’s celebration is completely devoid of any religious observance. Many names that we still use today have roots that have become disengaged from their original meaning; for some people Christmas is heading in that direction, and people of other faiths adopting Christmas traditions does in fact actually make them secular, in the sense that it is contributing to that progression.

                  There is nothing weird about thinking that Christmas is a secular celebration to you and to a great many other people of varying faiths, it’s a reality. The problem starts when those for whom it does have religious significance (Christians, either observant or nominally so) try to pressure those who don’t view it as a secular celebration to participate in the traditions by claiming it is universally secular.

                8. I Would Rather be Eating Dumplings*

                  As someone who moved to the UK in adulthood, I will say that an odd amount of locals (usually from a Christian culture traditions) seem to labour under the impression that Christmas in the UK is secular — but that has largely not been my experience. I think many non-Christians go along with it cheerfully, NOT because the holiday is secular but because the level of push-back they get for bowing out is so severe that it’s better just to smile and join in.

                  Christmas is a holiday in the Christian tradition, even if you yourself are not personally religious. I absolutely do think a lot of the traditions associated with it are trending towards secular, but I don’t think insisting that it’s reached full secularity is as inclusive as people hope.

                  I cannot speak to how it’s celebrated in Asia, though!

                9. amoeba*

                  @I would rather be eating dumplings: or some people probably also join because they actually like to – which does of course not mean you should just assume that everybody does. But still, they do exist, just like I’d happily participate in Eid if I lived in a country where that’s a big thing.

                  Not sure what the solution is though – welcoming everybody but not forcing it on anybody certainly is a tightrope act!

                10. I Would Rather be Eating Dumplings*

                  @amoeba: oh, 100%!! I think a lot of people participate because they enjoy it or because people they love participate.

                  But I think the popular claim that Christmas in the UK is entirely secular is overstated, and causes locals to sometimes not see ways in which they might be inadvertantly excluding. It feels a bit like white people claiming to be ‘color-blind’, IMO.

                  As a personal example, I wanted to decline to have my daughter participate in the nativity, as it required some labour outside of school hours for me and honestly, I felt a bit weird about it. I mean, nativity are explictly Christian. I got pushback on that. Definitely NOT the majority, to be clear, but a robust vocal minority let me know that not doing the extra labour for the navitity would be perceived as actively anti-Christian or anti-English. And ultimately I just didn’t care enough to make that stand. So in the nativity she stayed.

                  I think that a lot of the people in the majority are not aware of how uninclusive that vocal minority can be, which is part of why I think the language around the holiday being ‘for everyone’ and ‘secular’ is not helpful.

                  On the other hand, I cheerfully buy tickets to Handle’s Messiah every year and ALWAYS stand for the Hallelujah chorus. I just love it, and it feels earnest and moving for me, even if I don’t identify with the religious underpinnings.

                11. Amy*

                  The people best suited to state if Christmas is secular in your country are non-Christians who didn’t grow up with the holiday.

                  Because otherwise it’s often a “fish don’t know they are wet” situation. If you are Christian or grew up with Christmas, you’ve likely been swimming in these waters far too long to notice.

                  I personally would be very surprised and upset if a Nativity play were included at a public (in the sense of free, run by the government, non fee-charging) school where I was a parent,

                12. Beth**

                  The fish don’t know they’re wet comment is what I am getting at. My UK public sector employer holds a carol service IN A CHURCH and I have had colleagues try to convince me it’s secular.

                  Yes, not all British people go to carol services, but a surprisingly large number seem to consider them and the Christmas carols a part of “secular Christmas”.

                  I did once go to a carol service after being convinced by friends that it wouldn’t be very Christian. They were wrong. I don’t see how Bible readings from a very Christian perspective or songs about Jesus are secular. Even if the majority of the audience don’t believe I’m religion.

                13. Betty*

                  Yes, when I worked in Japan I learned that Christmas is celebrated there almost more like American Valentine’s Day, as a romantic celebration by a couple. This made it awkward when my whole office went out to dinner and my roommate and I arrived first (there was definitely a “why is that lesbian couple sitting at a giant table???” vibe from all the couples).

              2. JubJubTheIguana*

                I’m British, and Christmas is absolutely not secular in Britain, though lots of people push the idea that it is.

            1. MK*

              And before someone jumps with this remark, yes, I understand this is a US-centric blog and it’s natural that it largely reflects that experience and reality.

            2. Chili Heeler*

              Saying something is a Christian custom doesn’t mean that it is so theologically intrinsic that all Christians everywhere so it. it simply means that it originates from Christians rather than another group. This feels like a notallmen argument.

              1. amoeba*

                Well, I think the point of the comment was actually that it *doesn’t* have a Christian origin, but a pagan one and was incorporated into the concept of “Christmas”/co-opted by Christianity quite recently. But yeah, I agree that it’s certainly strongly associated with Christmas nowadays so if you’re trying to be inclusive, calling it a “holiday tree” won’t help! Unless your workplace is made up exclusively of Christians and pagans, I guess…

            3. londonedit*

              I’ve come to understand that this is an issue that I just can’t involve myself with here, because the cultural differences between the US and the UK/other parts of Europe are just too deeply entrenched to be understood by the other side.

              1. Pippa K*

                I feel similarly. I watch this discussion happen every year and no common ground or agree-to-disagree resolution ever seems to emerge. Understandable, in a way, but people who have good reason to see the issue one particular way often don’t seem to acknowledge that “you’re advocating something that would be incorrect or problematic in my context” doesn’t always mean “you’re wrong and ignorant about this in all contexts.” Not saying people shouldn’t care about the issues this raises, but the discussion itself sometimes goes in frustrating ways.

                1. Punk*

                  Non-Americans don’t have the context that there’s an evangelical thread in American flavors of Christianity that encourages them to force Christmas stuff on people of other religions (particularly Jews) as a conversion tactic. “Come on, just wear this sweater and decorate your desk! Now see how much more fun it is to be Christian?” If your country doesn’t have that undercurrent in its Christianity or a notable Jewish population, that’s the context you’re missing.

                  There’s no “agree to disagree” when one side is practicing forced conversion.

                2. amoeba*

                  I think at least after reading this site (and the general news!) for a while, we’re certainly aware of (and horrified by) that! But of course it’s different when you live in that reality yourself.
                  On the other hand, I sometimes do feel that US commenters don’t really get how Christian things seem less… threatening? in countries that are a) more secular and b) where Christianity, even within the major churches, is much more laid back.

                  I do find the discussions super interesting though, even if we probably don’t understand each other all the way – always good to learn something new!

                3. MsM*

                  @amoeba, do they feel less threatening to you as someone who simply doesn’t practice Christianity, or as a member of a minority religion?

                4. Punk*

                  @amoeba: Countries that gave codified Christianity as their official religion are by definition not chill about Christianity. My guess is that there aren’t enough people of other religions, particularly Jews, in these areas to oppose the presumption of Christianity and trigger pushback.

                5. JubJubTheIguana*

                  While Britain is generally much more secular than the USA (and Britain doesn’t have fundamentalist Christianity), as a British Jew and coming from a Jewish refugee ancestry, the UK absolutely has a history of subtle but insidious forced conversion and Jewish people feeling like they have no choice but to assimilate into the so-called “secular” form of Christianity that dominates this country.

                  I don’t celebrate Christmas and it’s constantly an issue, the pushback in this country is non-stop and it’s always with the lie that Christmas in Britain is secular.

                  Britain is a weird country because Christianity is our official state religion, it’s the law that all schools have a period of Christian worship daily, yet in practice it’s one of the most agnostic/secular countries on earth. But sometimes that just makes it more insidious – British people who aren’t Jewish really need to shut their mouths on this one.

                6. Inconvenient Indian*

                  The Europeans who profess confusion about this really don’t understand their history or their present. Europe (as a rule) doesn’t have a significant population of Jewish people in recent memory – their ancestors are mostly dead or forced into exile. Pogroms, gulags, concentration camps – heard of those? The others either fled to what places of exile they could find (North America, Israel) or assimilated themselves thoroughly in hopes that they and their families might live another day. For Muslims, the history isn’t all that different.

                  As for the present, well… we have countries that ban the wearing of religious symbols (but somehow some Christian symbols get a pass because they’re so commonplace that they’re really “secular”), countries that have Christian state religions or where major public ceremonies are conducted in Christian churches with token members of other religious faiths along for “inclusion”.

                  America has lots of bigotry and is very Christian-dominated, but guess what Europe? So are you.

                  Signed — Your not particularly friendly minority who would like the citizens of former and current colonial powers to actually grasp the totality of their countries’ histories

            4. Punk*

              One of the strongest prohibitions in Judaism is against observation of pagan customs. Hanukkah is a celebration of Jewish resistance against forced assimilation. Using the timing of Hanukkah in proximity to other religion’s’ holidays as justification for why Jews should be cool with participating in pagan customs is…you see where I’m going with this?

              The simple answer is that it’s perfectly fine for pagans to do trees this time of year. But I’m neither Christian nor pagan so what’s the actual argument here?

          3. The Grinchess*

            “…those aren’t “holiday trees.”

            I have this argument every year with my condo association when they want to put a “holiday tree” up in the lobby and argue it’s inclusive. Our building is VERY diverse. I finally got them to not do a tree but do other nondenominational decorations and, whooooboy, did the claws come out with indignation over not having a tree! They caved recently and went back to a tree on a rotating basis and some are still upset that it’s not every year. It’s never enough. The indignation just rolls off some owners. And it’s like, do you not see the point and realize that’s how other owners feel when there is a tree but they’re holidays are erased and ignored? Of course they don’t. I wish self-awareness could be gifted.

          4. Sharkie*

            Yes I agree! If you want to make it festive just lean into the snow / winter imagery and not “red/ warm winter” imagery. It is not that hard.

          5. Aha*

            Yes, I’m an atheist and Unitarian Universalist, so for me Christmas does not hold the same meaning that it does for devout or practicing Christians, but I do still consider it religious. I read the stories and find them meaningful in a metaphorical way. I engage in traditional activities like gift giving, trimming the tree, listening to the music (and my taste leans strongly toward the very old and therefore religious songs), celebrating with family, etc. My family history is also Christian, so whether I consider myself one or not, there’s a distinct cultural environment that produced me. Pretending that Christmas or my celebration of Christmas are secular manages to be offensive to both Christians and non-Christians, and would be frankly disingenuous on my part. I get to have my own pseudo-religious Christmas that’s complex and mine, and not expect others to want my version pushed on them.

            1. penny dreadful analyzer*

              As an atheist of Catholic heritage/upbringing, I have similarly complex feelings and “just scrub out the religious bits :)” isn’t the fix-all everyone seems to think it is.

        5. Observer*

          And can I be the 94th person to point out that, like it or not, “Christmas” is not a swear word.

          And can I be the 95th person who points out that no one said it is. But that if you have a tree, be honest about what it is. And also, the tree is NOT inclusive. At all. Unless you do it the way @Clare suggest. Of course, if you don’t care about inclusivity, that’s your prerogative. But inclusivity, like it or not is ALSO not a swear word.

        6. Sandi*

          I like my workplace, and if the clothes were nice then I wouldn’t mind branded baby versions. Yet most importantly it should be an option for everyone to choose what they want! I don’t want any baby clothes at all, and I wouldn’t want adult branded clothes if they had the company name in big letters. I’m used to small logos to one side and that’s the most I’d tolerate because I only rarely wear clothes with any design or writing.

      2. Pennyworth*

        I’m with you on acknowledging festivals from all religions. My six yo grandson has just spent a very happy week making intricate Divali decorations at school, although he is a budding atheist with no Hindu heritage. A multi-faith calendar is a good place start, and full of interesting information.

      3. Emmy Noether*

        This is an interesting topic for me – I’m always up for more decoration, and for learning about different cultures, but I don’t want to be culturally appropriating, and/or bungle someone’s Very Significant Thing because I don’t know what I’m doing. And it’s not great to put it all on the lone representative of whatever culture in the office (if there even is one) if they don’t enjoy doing that work…

        Any tips for doing it right?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think this is one where different people will have different answers/preferences so I am speaking only for myself here, but personally I get nervous when people talk about bringing *more* religious holidays into the workplace, because it can so easily go badly wrong — see Hanukkah balls, this total clusterfudge, etc. I’d rather we just give people plentiful time off and flexibility for celebrations and observances of all sorts.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            Yeah, that’s probably the safe bet, unless someone volunteers to bring their own cultural holiday things (I feel like that’s especially appreciated when it involves food – I never met a holiday baked good or sweet that wasn’t delicious). That probably means no decorations at all, though, which one can find sad or normal, depending on how one views the workplace.

          2. Violet Fox*

            Totally this. It’s one of those things also of the workplace isn’t really the best place to educate people about the holidays of other groups, and if people are really interested in other cultures and religions, seeking out ways to learn about them outside of work is a lot better day.

            It’s also exhausting coming from one of those smaller groups to have to keep on educating people, and spending my time and energy on that, when all I really want is no major meetings on Yom Kippur so I can actually take it off without it being a problem.

          3. Rainbow*

            I think we did a nice thing in my old workplace. Big cultural holidays no matter their origin were explained with a little 1-pager sent round to everybody, and all chosen were celebrated roughly equally with small food items sourced or even sometimes made by volunteers from that community. (Of course, this wouldn’t work with a smaller workplace or if someone starts cajoling people who didn’t volunteer themselves)

          4. Betty*

            I think this has to be something that is organic from the people whose culture it is, honestly, or at least something that’s been cleared with them. I’m thinking of Mexican-American friends who really, really do not want their culture reduced to “let’s drink tequila” on the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, Jewish friends who look askance at the grocery stores putting out a big display of matzah for Hanukkah, etc.

          5. Burger Bob*

            Yes, this is where I land too. Just do less public holiday stuff in the workplace, even none at all. Let people decorate their own personal desk space or whatever if applicable, assuming the decorations are office-appropriate, and give people ample, flexible time off to celebrate their holidays of choice (or to just be home celebrating nothing). But if you must decorate shared spaces in the office, maybe just stick to basic seasonal decor that has nothing to do with any holiday. (And no, “holiday trees” do not qualify.)

        2. MK*

          I think the best way to do it right is to give up on Christmas decorating in the workplace. And if that were to bleed out to less public decorating in general, would that be so bad?

          1. Aaaaa*

            I understand where you are coming from, but why does the same not apply to Halloween? (Which is a holiday some people don’t want to celebrate on religious grounds, btw.) I’d rather not see any decorations ever in a workplace, except what single workers put up in their own offices/cubicles.

            1. MK*

              Who said it shouldn’t apply to Halloween? And, yes, that’s what I would choose personally, decorations confined to people’s more personal spaces. Maybe I am getting old, but I am growing nostalgic for my childhood, when Christmas decorations were confined to the inside of people’s homes and shop windows, and some very subdued imagery in churches, and all that starting on December 21st at the earliest. Nowadays, there seems to be a never-ending cycle of more and more and more disposable decor that it blurs to a sort of visual noise all year round.

          2. Wisdom Weaver*

            It’s always possible to put up secular SEASONAL decorations that celebrate that season but don’t have any religious connotations. Think: snowmen, snowflakes, sleds, sleighs, ice skates, etc. – all wintry and none of them religious! You don’t have to ban ALL seasonal decorations in winter – just make sure that they really DO reflect the season and not a faith.

            1. Clare*

              But why waste your energy? Would you really, honestly, be putting up snowflakes and snowmen in July if you lived in New Zealand or Chile? Why not drastically reduce the scale of the winter decorations to a point where it’s feasible to do the same level of celebrating for lots of holidays? Spread out the joy a little more?

              1. ShanShan*

                Honestly, I know that people who suggest putting up snowflakes and snowmen mean well, but it’s just such a drastic misunderstanding of which part of this situation we’re mad about.

        3. Clare*

          White people don’t have the monopoly on the subgroup ‘people who like decorations and tasty food’. If you’re genuinely positive and curious when people mention their holidays, the people who are the snack-bringing sort might feel empowered to bring in some mooncakes, or the decorating sort might put up a few decorations in their cube for Diwali. Then, if people are enthusiastic about the trappings of any particular holiday and there are multiple people in the workplace who celebrate said holiday, it might grow. You might see multiple decorated cubes, or a holiday-X potluck. It might not grow, too, which is fine. You can’t force it, but you can definitely provide a conducive environment. It’s not about appropriating someone’s holiday, or forcing them to celebrate if they don’t want to, it’s about joining in the celebrations. If you approach with that attitude, it’s hard to go wrong.

          1. amoeba*

            I like that approach! Forcing people to take care of decorations because they’re the single person in that tradition, or others taking over and getting it wrong seem bad. But encouraging/supporting people who already seem genuinely enthusiastic (while making sure the dominant group doesn’t… domineer too much) seems like a good solution. And if no decorations/snacks come out, sure, fine as well.

            In my very international group during postdoc, at least we always had mooncakes that people brought in for lunar new year. (No time for any kind of decoration in academia, haha!)

            1. aqua*

              My group in academia is similar – in terms of what festivals people celebrate there’s a slight majority who celebrate traditional Chinese holidays, then a roughly even mix of people who are culturally Christian/Muslim, and then a mix of people who celebrate other holidays. I think that because we’re in the uk but the majority of people in our office aren’t, it means Christian holidays aren’t assumed to be a default thing everyone knows about. People will tell each other about any holidays/festivals they have coming up and we all ask each other questions about it, and if there’s a specific associated food or little treat then someone might bring some in to share. I think it only works because we’ve got enough of a mix that within our office Christian holidays genuinely aren’t the default, we all get along well and are roughly peers. Last year I bought in some home made Christmas cakes and made a halal version (alcohol free). Halal Christmas cake might sound like a weird thing outside of that context but in my office British Christian traditions are genuinely a bit of a novelty and people were into it. This is very specific to my particular office though.

          2. Emmy Noether*

            I like this approach, but it does require a fairly diverse workplace to pull off. Which is, of course, the main problem to start with.

            1. SpaceySteph*

              yeah, having just moved from an area with a lot of diversity to one with mostly white christians, the vibe is definitely different in my new office. In both offices I was one of the few/only Jews, but I felt more empowered when there was also more diversity of religion and race/culture to share my own. I guess I’m feeling extra-tokenized now.

        4. HannahS*

          I just don’t think work is the place for that! It’s a lovely thing to do in your personal life, and there are often cultural and religious festivals or events that are open to others.

        5. Bear Expert*

          Do it outside of work.

          I loved my last company’s Holi celebration every year, and I also saw the work the employee resource group that put it on put into making it accessible for non Hindus without being insulting. My current company probably doesn’t have the ability to do something similar. Special circumstances made that work, including a really healthy support of ERGs where doing real work in them actually contributed to promotion prospects. If your company isn’t going to give someone a raise for teaching a bunch of clueless people about a holiday they take seriously, and organizing the party for it, your work isn’t a good place for this kind of learning.

          Inside of work, get the major holidays for a collection of folks on your calendar and google them. Figure out which ones shouldn’t have hard work scheduled on them. (Is someone not eating today? Can you do the major budget fight meeting sometime else? Yom Kippur should not be when the big conference lands. Etc.) For what you can control, make it not screw up someone else’s holiday. If you have power or pull in your company, use it. And use it before you hire someone who needs it so its not “we have to move the party/promotions discussion meeting because Sam is a Muslim” but is just a habit for the company that makes that space.

          Outside of work, if you live in a diverse neighborhood, participate in the community and be invited in. My daughter’s best friend’s family brings us in for Lunar New Year and does dumpling folding parties. My neighborhood Jewish community has been extremely welcoming, I took a swim class with one of the loveliest grandmas, and that has turned into having a cat sitter and finding a plumber and all the usual neighborhood stuff… and invites to seders and Sukkot. Invest in your community, and let them invest in you. Show up. (I mean that literally, I know we’re all exhausted and busy, it shocks me every time how powerful and effective it is just to go to the thing and sit in the chair.)

          If you don’t live in a diverse community, so you can’t get holiday invites from your kid’s ballet class, its harder. Make your personal community diverse is the best I’ve got.

          1. SpaceySteph*

            Almost certainly the ERG you’re referring to was an Asian or Indian ERG (ethnicity), its actually pretty rare to have a Jewish ERG because its considered a religion not an ethnicity (despite being both).

        6. Zennish*

          For the workplace… Maybe just do winter decorations (assuming you’re somewhere that has cold/snowy weather in December.) I go with white lights and lots of glittery cardboard snowflakes and such.

          As far as cultural appropriation goes, feelings vary from group to group, and even individual to individual, so there’s no way to anticipate. Personally I and the teachers and monks of my acquaintance, are generally happy if you want to learn about, partake in, or try out Buddhist holidays or practices. Some traditions (i.e. Tibetan Buddhism) have closed practices that require empowerments or initiations or training, but basically if you aren’t supposed to be doing it you probably won’t know how to do it, or that it even exists. To paraphrase the Dalai Lama, you don’t have to use what you can learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, you can use it to be a better whatever you already are.

        7. Random Dice*

          My company has employee resource groups, and funds holiday get-togethers for, say, Diwali. Anyone can join the holiday celebrations. I love when employees choose to do dances in their traditional dress.

      4. AnotherOne*

        My office doesn’t really decorate for the holidays but we do a poster near where we put snacks and I’m the maker of the poster because…mostly cuz I can cut and paste in word.

        I make it my mission to find the most random winter holidays to include on it. Any holiday from December to March can get included.

        And I make it my mission to get random and inclusive.

    2. Holiday Trees LW*

      yeahhhh it’s… not great. I didn’t start the competition, but a lot of participation was because people wanted to go to the happy hours and dinners afterwards, since free food and alcohol can be popular.

      I think they’re trying to keep/get new parents involved instead of having the realization that our company isn’t just comprised of Christmas Celebrators, and haven’t realized there’s MANY reasons this isn’t inclusive.

      1. MK*

        The common problem with companies when providing a perk, is that they usually do it at the expense of other employees, not the company. If they want to get new parents involved, they could have given the baby clothes as an added bonus on the prize, not instead of it.

        1. anne of mean gables*

          As a relatively new parent, I cannot underscore how much company branded baby clothes are not the first, second, or tenth thing I need from my employer to feel supported.

          1. Anne Shirley*

            I am COMPELLED to express my appreciation of your user name! :-D I hope Mean Gables does not cause folks to be in the depths of despair.

      2. Betty*

        You know the inclusive gift that new parents, old parents, and non-parents all adore? Bonus PTO or cash money.

  7. Lizzianna*

    Oh my goodness, if my workplace had offered baby clothes as a prize while I was in the midst of my infertility treatment, I probably would have shut down completely. If your office is in the middle of a mini-baby boom, it’s hard enough for anyone struggling with that, but to have the office rub it in their face.

    I did a year-long leadership training program a few years ago, and about a quarter of the cohort ended up having babies during the program. At one point during our graduation, the leader joked that this had to be the most fertile group she’d ever facilitated. Except I was in the middle of infertility treatments (compounded by the fact that COVID was ramping up and greatly complicating the treatments), and that was just a punch to the gut. At least it was a virtual graduation (again, COVID), so no one noticed when I turned off my camera to start crying.

    The “everyone is having babies” narrative really, really sucks for anyone who wants to be having babies but cannot.

    1. birch*

      As someone in that phase right now, THIS. This would send me over the edge and I would probably end up in a highly charged meeting with whoever was in charge of this horrible idea. I’m lucky to be able to avoid most of this but for the love of all that is professional PLEASE people keep your reproductive choices to yourselves, stop making jokes about it and have your baby-fests OUTSIDE the office! It’s really awful to try to find one space away from the constant reminders of how traumatic everyday life can be when you’re in this situation, having to put on a normal face and try to hide crying on Zoom, in the bathroom, during the commute, behind the closed office door, thinking that your job that has nothing to do with it is the one place you can at least try to compartmentalize, and then have it thrown in your face with zero thought. Ugh.

      1. WellRed*

        My company has had a “baby boom” and they decided to throw a big party. I neither gave nit want kids but I was a bit grossed out and also appalled on behalf of people in your situation.

    2. Totally Minnie*

      This was my immediate thought. I’m in a healthy place now, but there was a period of my infertility journey where so many of my friends and coworkers were having babies and I was not at all okay with the fact that I can’t. If someone had given me baby clothes during that period I can’t guarantee I wouldn’t have ugly cried in the workplace.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I’m sorry to hear about your struggles.

        I don’t think people need to have fertility challenges to find this inappropriate and even offensive. Is it supposed to be hilarious if the obviously menopausal coworker wins? or the newlywed? or the famously deliberately childfree?

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yup. I went through several unsuccessful IVF treatments and if someone gifted me baby clothes at this point in my life I might not be able to stop myself from saying, “Great, I’ll put them on all the embryos I had that never developed into fetuses.” Because really, it suuuuuuuuuucks a ton to want kids and not have them.

    4. Alter Ego*

      Yep. My department has had a baby boom over the past six months– which I was part of, except my baby was stillborn due to a very random, completely unforeseeable medical event. I just recently went back to work after taking maternity/bereavement leave and am catching up on meeting recordings, email, etc. and there are SO many jokes about the baby boom, people asking for/posting pictures of the babies, etc.

      I know that other people’s fertility has nothing to do with me and I’m genuinely happy for all of them, and know that I can’t avoid pregnany people and babies forever, but there is zero need for a company to give out baby clothes as a prize. If they want to, they can gift it directly to the parents before they go on leave.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Oh, no, I’m so so so so sorry. I agree with your second paragraph; I keep reminding myself that people of *course* aren’t having babies at me, but I still feel sad for myself even as I feel happy for the baby-havers. (But don’t get me started on how irate I am about all the horrible people and parents there are out there; I am repeatedly saying, “All these horrible people with kids who should absolutely not be parents and yet here I am, wanting to love and care for a child, with no child to love and care for.” It makes me quite angry. And yes, I am trying to adopt but that process takes forever.)

        Jedi hugs from an internet stranger if you want them, Alter Ego. It’s so, so hard.

      2. Observer*

        I know that other people’s fertility has nothing to do with me and I’m genuinely happy for all of them, and know that I can’t avoid pregnany people and babies forever, but there is zero need for a company to give out baby clothes as a prize.

        It makes me so sad that you have to have that first half of your sentence as a disclaimer.

        There is suuuuuuch a big distance between pretending babies don’t exist and refusing to congratulate people to making baby stuff THE prize in a workplace that it just boggles my mind that anyone would do the latter, and then act as though any objection is the former.

        And I’m so sorry for your loss.

  8. Sammmmmmmmm*

    As someone who has had a recent miscarriage and would be due in the beginning of January. Although I’m very open about all of my fertility struggles and I’m “fine” 90% of the time, Getting baby clothes as a prize, especially so close to my due date, would kill me – and I would avoid participating at all cost.

    I would be bringing it above the admin because it is a horrid prize and something they should just be giving away to new parents.

  9. HBJ*

    I am a parent, and the baby clothes would bother me. That is not a prize for me; that is a prize for my baby.

      1. Pennyworth*

        x 1000 It’s like giving a woman an iron or a vacuum cleaner. And what is a childless person meant to do with baby clothes? I think the admin was totally on the defensive when she described OP as whiny. Baby clothes is a super silly idea.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          Perhaps I’ve been on the conspiracy sites too long again, but I almost wondered if the admin has a particular recipient in mind and was planning to rig the contest… who judges it?

          1. Other Alice*

            Or one of their office friends just had a baby and they thought it would be a good prize for them and didn’t bother to think it would be a bad prize for many other people.

          2. Itsa Me, Mario*

            My thought is that it was their idea, their manager OK’ed it without really thinking about it, and they don’t want anyone else to harsh their good vibes after having a “cute” idea that “everyone loved”.

          3. Avery*

            My thought is that they just had a baby, love the idea of dressing their baby in work-themed onesies or whatnot, and think that any critique of this idea must be some sort of misplaced jealousy of the office baby boom and by proxy the admin’s own child.

        2. Rainbow*

          I’m child free; I guess I have some friends with babies but not close friends… what on earth am I supposed to do with baby clothes with my company’s logo on?! Oh that’s right, give it to one of the gushing parents who wanted it in the first place…

          1. bamcheeks*

            I was wondering the opposite– someone senior had a baby and got given some company-logo baby clothes and is looking to offload them. I find it hard to imagine company-logo baby clothes being an attractive offer even if you had a baby.

    1. Emmy Noether*

      I disagree: the baby wouldn’t be the one to buy its own clothes if it needed some, and it won’t be the one to care if they’re clean and whole and cute. The baby would be perfectly happy in dirty rags as long as it is warm and dry. Cute baby things are for the parents, and for the pleasure of the ones who enjoy selecting and gifting cute things.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I agree that baby clothes are more of a present for the parent than the baby, but there is also no way on EARTH that I would ever consider company-branded baby clothes “cute”! Unless LW actually works at like, Frugi or Polarn O Pyret or something. :)

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Ok, maybe not cute, but clean/dry is already worth something when baby soils/spits up on their clothes for the fourth time that day. I assumed these ones must not be horrible if at least some people think it’s an adequate prize. I’ve seen some with unobtrusive logos that were ok. Add some kind of pattern and it may even be cute-ish.

      2. Itsa Me, Mario*

        Cute baby things are for the parents. Company branded baby things are for the company.

        The only people I can imagine being excited to receive this “gift” is maybe Disney Adults who also happen to work for Disney.

      3. SpaceySteph*

        This is why I dress my babies in stained onesies, and hand-me-downs with slogans I don’t care about/bands I don’t listen to, etc. They don’t care, why should I?

        (to be clear these clothes are clean/laundered, but not everything comes out)

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Yeah, I enjoy cute baby things, but I’m not turning my nose up at stained hand-me downs (or free branded onesies). They get the job done just fine, and it’s wasteful to not use what’s already there.

    2. kalli*

      Honestly this came up with the secret gift exchange at my work – someone gave someone who came back from parental leave that year a bunch of baby stuff (bib, partitioned bowl and toddler sized cutlery) and everyone else basically got what they hinted at or mid-grade wine. It turned out that the person who drew them didn’t know them, just that they’d been on leave and they hadn’t been able to snoop since both people concerned were remote, so now we use an online exchange site that has a wishlist function; if you get something you don’t like and you didn’t put up at least a vague ‘I like chocolates and cookies, especially vanilla bean and triple mint choc chip’ then people are less sympathetic.

      There’s a time for recognising you are a human with a family, and recognising you as a human individual, and the end-of-year holiday is the latter.

    3. Itsa Me, Mario*

      Also what if I don’t want to dress my baby in company branded baby clothes?

      My company does a branded swag layette type gift that gets sent to all new parents at the company. It’s fine and I guess I’d add it to the pile of onesies or whatever, but I don’t know that receiving it would feel like a “prize”.

  10. Jill Swinburne*

    I’m a parent, and well past the baby stage – I wouldn’t bother participating if that was the prize on offer. Pointless at best, terribly insensitive at worst.

    (Also, even when I was in the baby stage we were swimming in hand-me-down baby clothes and wouldn’t entice me one bit.)

    1. MamaSarah*

      This times 100! I would opt out and find other things to focus on. It so ridiculous it’s not worth be offended.

      1. Mister_L*

        Something I’ve been wondering and I hope not too much speculation for rule 3:

        Could it be that either the company is trying to let the contest “die” so to speak by having the excuse “only half of the people cared about it last year” or is someone new in charge who was voluntold to handle it and now does the bare minimum?

        That being said, the baby clothes (and the un-inclusive “holiday tree) are a bad idea for many reasons and the LW pointing this out is not “whining”.

        1. Holiday Trees LW*

          i commented below: They were trying to let it quietly die off and it wasn’t supposed to happen at all this year, and there’s been a move to Winter Themed/New Year celebrations.
          The admin is pregnant and wanted more than just the Company Brand Gift Basket that gets shipped to new parents.

          1. DramaQ*

            The admin is pregnant and wanted more than just the Company Brand Gift Basket that gets shipped to new parents.

            Ha I guessed it correctly! This is definitely something to bring up with her boss AND make sure the boss knows your admin dismissed your concerns as “whiny” rather than acknowledge your valid points about childless employees, people struggling with fertility etc.

            Plus who wants corporate baby clothes?! I donate most company swag I am not paid to be a walking talking advertisement for them. I definitely am not roping in my kids too.

      2. Observer*

        I would opt out and find other things to focus on. It so ridiculous it’s not worth be offended.

        I hear you, but I can see why a lot of people *would* be offended.

        And what I think is unequivocally offensive is the Admin’s reaction. It’s one thing to not change it, which would be bad. To respond that the OP is just being “whiny”? That’s just waaaaay out of line.

    2. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Exactly, a friend is having their third baby and said very strongly they don’t need anymore baby items. They need hands on help more than cute onesies.

    3. Clisby*

      Yeah, I think with my first child I ended up with 10 newborn-size onesies, which my 8-pounder outgrew in a month or two. After my own experience, I started giving newborns 1-year-sized clothes, because once they’re that old everyone has forgotten them.

      1. Jill Swinburne*

        I do that too – new parents in my life get two meals cooked by me and something cute for a one-to-18mth-old.

      2. allathian*

        Yes, this. I totally get the impulse to buy tiny onesies for tiny newborns because they’re so cute. But the slightly larger clothes are a lot more useful once the baby grows a bit. When our son was born, we got a lot of baby clothes for him, and we had at least two onesies that he never wore because he grew out of them too quickly. Admittedly I was very lazy about changing his clothes. Generally I changed them once a day, after bathing him. He didn’t have a separate pajamas until he stopped wearing diapers. Until then, we dressed him in clean clothes for bed, which he’d wear the next day. I only changed his clothes during the day if his diaper leaked or he spewed enough milk on himself to wet his clothes to the skin. I really couldn’t have cared less about stains that didn’t wet him to the skin.

  11. Marzipan*

    I just had a particularly traumatic miscarriage (not that aren’t all traumatic, but this one was way way worse than the ones I’ve had before). That happened about 10 days after a close colleague also had a miscarriage. My pregnancy was the result of fertility treatment. Off the top of my head I can think of two other colleagues for whom I suspect fertility is likely to be an upsetting topic on some level. And we aren’t a particularly large team; and I just know these things because we’re generally relatively close and supportive.

    The idea of a competition prize being baby clothes is so grotesquely inappropriate because you never know what someone’s dealing with. The default assumption should always be that someone is likely to find the topic of babies tricky for their own private reasons, and to tread with caution.

    Also, this just sounds like an objectively rubbish prize even for the people who are fine and whose babies are fine. Why would anyone want company branded baby clothes?

    1. birch*

      This. IMO all baby related stuff should be kept out of the office. If your coworker is someone you’re close enough with that they’d want to hear about it, you can tell them privately and don’t need to include everyone. Celebrating stuff like that shouldn’t come at the expense of making other people feel awful in the one place they should be able to just do their work without the reminder of such a fraught topic.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah. After a certain point, pregnancies are hard if not impossible to hide (even if there have been cases of larger pregnant people who were unaware of their pregnancy until they went into labor) and I think even asking people to (attempt to) hide their pregnancy is an unacceptably excessive request.

        But baby showers at the office? Not necessary. At the very least, employees shouldn’t be forced to participate or punished or even made to feel guilty for declining to participate.

  12. Sunny*

    I’m a parent and have zero need of baby clothes. My kids are well into grade school. I’d be super bothered by this prize – and not even remotely motivated to participate.

    This could also raise questions around how winners are chosen. I know OP mentioned anonymous voting, but how is it tracked, managed, etc.? The way the admin responded, and the intense focus on the new parents in the office would make me wonder if it’s rigged. Is the admin counting these anonymous votes? Are some of the new parents her friends? These are all things I could see people thinking.

    And how do you even give a non-parent or parent of older kids, a prize of baby clothes with a straight face? And then will they be expected to “do the right thing” and give it to one of the new parents instead? So many ways for this to go wrong!

    I think, OP, it’s worth pointing out how this might create friction and resentment in the office, instead of the bonding I assume this is meant to foster.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      This prize is so tone deaf and specific that I wonder who the admin in charge of it is friends with in the office.

      1. This onesie doesn't fit, but I like prizes*

        I would go hard and win that tree-decorating contest, then cut the arms and legs off of the onesie, and use it as a handkerchief. Ok, maybe that’s not a good idea. But I would win and offer the baby clothes on my BuyNothing group, donate them to a holiday clothing drive, or upcycle them into scrunchies, a can koozie, seat cushion, or pin cushion.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Crochet a really big amigori or find a thrift store teddy bear — and stuff it with a brick to use as a door stop.

          Hopefully our community’s visceral reaction will help the LW explain the problem to the admin’s boss.

  13. The Real Fran Fine*

    OP #2, I sympathize as I recently had a similar situation at Halloween where I brought up Colin Robinson from “What We Do in the Shadows” (long story, but it had to do with my team and I seeing a story about a woman who proclaimed to be a real life vampire who feeds off energy). Realizing that my team is a global one and many people may not be aware of the show or the character, I dropped a YouTube compilation of the best Colin Robinson moments (courtesy of FX) in our team chat. After it was up for maybe half an hour and received quite a few laughing emojis, I then realized – oh crap, this show has adult subject matter and I didn’t actually watch this video. I’ll go back and watch it now.

    Good grief, there were so many inappropriate scenes included that I hadn’t remembered – some even of a sexual nature – and I panicked because my manager is in that team chat too! LOL. I quickly edited my message to add a disclaimer that the content may not be suitable for all audiences so they might not want to watch it on work devices (or around children). My manager hasn’t said a thing, so I guess I’m in the clear, but it was a great reminder – always brush up on your subject matter before recommending anything pop culture related at work.

    1. Artemesia*

      I once took a group of young teen girls to Rocky Horror Picture show because I remembered the group participation and ‘Dammit Janet’ and all the fun. I had totally forgotten how raunchy it was. I was so embarrassed and really worried I’d have angry parents lining up — either they were cool with it or conflict adverse, but it reminded me to pay better attention before recommending something.

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        Yeah…I told my mom to show that to my nieces for Halloween since it’s one of the few musicals my mom likes.

        My nieces are both under the age of 10, lol. I forgot about the more mature themes as I was too busy time warping!

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          Nah, I saw RHPS extremely young, and there have been no lasting issues.

          Now…where’s my boa?

      2. PhyllisB*

        I can relate. My sister asked if it was OK for her 11 year old son to see Animal House. I said “Sure!!” I had seen it when it first came out but didn’t remember all the raunchy stuff in it. I just remembered the hijinks, which I knew a young boy would love. So off we go to see it; me, my mother, sister, and nephew. I was wanting to crawl under my seat before it was over. Luckily it mostly went over his head, and my sister didn’t get TOO upset, but my mother really laid into me. Lesson learned: be careful about movie recommendations.

    2. Heidi*

      I think about the energy vampire from that show’s first season at least once a week. Still cracks me up.

    3. Heart&Vine*

      Over the summer I went to see “My Dad Wrote A [NSFW]” live. For anyone who isn’t familiar, it’s a podcast where a gentleman reads chapters from his dad’s (terribly written) erotic novel out loud and his friends give running commentary. It became so wildly popular that they did a live tour of it and I went to see it in NYC.
      I took the day off to travel up there and my boss asked me what show I was seeing. I should’ve just said “Lion King” but instead decided to try to explain the premise of the podcast as PG-13 as possible. It didn’t work and I ended up blurting out, “Well, I’m sure if you listen to it, you’ll get the gist… not that I’m recommending it… but it’s very funny.” Oof.

      1. Smithy*

        I feel that pain…I’m a podcast listener, including of that one – but also other comedy podcasts that even if the general theme isn’t adult, have a taste level that can run “blue”.

        I was recently talking to a senior colleague about podcasts, and he was like “oh I love getting recommendations to expand my horizons from *insert names of very serious news and current events themed podcasts* – do you have recommendations.” I have a few single episodes of general audience recommendations, but it is at those moments where I do think about all of the least recommendation-worthy-at-work podcasts I listen to…..

    4. Itsa Me, Mario*

      I don’t feel like WWDITS is too “adult” to share in a workplace setting. There may be some specific episodes or clips that I wouldn’t share, but to me “Oh, it’s a character from this TV show, here’s a YT video of some clips from the show” wouldn’t be obviously problematic. I would probably fully watch any youtube clip compilation before sharing it, though. It’s a mainstream television show, not porn.

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        The point is, the compilation video had scenes that were talking about sex acts, so yes – not appropriate for work and I would have known that had I watched it first. I didn’t say or insinuate the show was pornographic.

    5. LW2*

      thank you all for sharing your similar experiences, it’s helpful to know I’m not the only one who has messed up like this!

      1. Humble Schoolmarm*

        One day, I brought Outlander to school to read on my lunch. I was teaching grade 7 and some kids were eating lunch in my room but I figured there was no way my students were going to know about Outlander, let alone the spicy bits. Cue the following conversation.
        “Whatch’a reading, Miss?”
        “Oh, it’s called Outlander. It’s about a woman who accidentally time travels to the 1700s.”
        “My Mom read that!”
        “Yeah, she says there’s lots of sex in it!”
        Me, wanting to fall through the floor “…oh, I guess I haven’t gotten that far yet…”

  14. Viette*

    LW1 – random baby clothes wouldn’t even be useful to everyone who has a baby! It’s not like all baby clothes fit all babies. Are they planning to produce (custom?) age-specific apparel for the winning baby-producer?

    Truly, this is the strangest idea for a prize. It would be worth some capital to get this concern in front of someone in power who would think it’s as absurd as it if, is that person exists.

    1. Chili Heeler*

      Yeah. my kid was in “3 month old” clothes before he was 2 weeks old. He was out of “baby clothes” before his first birthday.

      1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

        My newborn left the hospital in 3m clothes. I’ve had many clothes gifts we never used because they were the wrong season (light when they fit my kid in January, or super heavy in July). This is an actual issue even for those new parents. it’s a terrible gift idea.

      2. Bo Peep*

        Mine was a preemie so I felt sure all the way too many newborn clothes I had would be useful for longer.

        Nah. He exploded. He’s born in mid November and was long out of newborn stuff by December. And because it’s winter (even in Florida) I found the typical branded legless short sleeve onesies pointless even if they did fit.

      3. Nona Selah*

        Heh. My daughter was adopted and came home when she was 13 months old. We never had infant-sized clothes, which I’m guessing this is. My first thought was that this was rigged, and I see I’m not the only one!
        Oh – and it was an 8 year wait to become a parent. This sort of thing at work would have felt absolutely awful.

    2. Holiday Trees LW*

      The email only said “Baby Onesie” and I checked the company brand store. It only comes in one size.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Yeahhhhhh babies come in a WIDE range of sizes. I think you have the right idea. Maybe make the gift certificate the exact amount of buying a onesie +tax, shipping and handling.

  15. Looper*

    LW4- As someone who does hiring for a national retail chain, honestly no, no one is checking references for entry level jobs. Particularly for national chains, a lot of hiring is automated- applications are done online, interviews are done via submitted video or phone screening, they are sent to the store to onboard without having met or spoken to anyone who works there yet, and they are on the floor working as quickly as possible. Turn over is very high in retail right now, checking references takes time and money that most of these companies don’t want to spend for employees who often have never worked a job before and likely will be gone in less than a year.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        They may assume requiring a named reference weeds out people who don’t have good references.

        (Not that I agree—someone without good references can just lie or write them dodown hoping they don’t get called.)

      2. ecnaseener*

        It might be that not all these jobs are actually asking for references, but the teens are being told “when you’re job-hunting you will need references and you should confirm with them ahead of time” (or even, heaven forfend, “and you should list them on your resume!”)

      3. Antilles*

        For large national chains, it’s typically because the application itself is standardized by corporate. They include a spot to include references to cover the situations where you might actually check it (e.g., for a GM or headquarters position) and that’s that.

        For smaller chains, I assume it’s either (a) the application form is a standard one the owner downloaded online without bothering to change or (b) the owner just knows it’s normal to ask for references so he does out of habit despite never using them.

    1. Thea*

      (LW4 here) – Yes I figured that this must be the case for most of the entry level jobs students are applying to. I did think for internships and apprenticeships they might bother – but so far no! I even had a student put me down as a reference for a Government digital apprenticeship that needed security clearance, I thought for sure I would be contacted for that one. But at least she got the job!

    2. Nethwen*

      As a young person, I caught onto the fact that these type of jobs rarely call references. When talking to one manager when I picked up an application, I asked if they actually called references. I was hoping to save myself the discomfort of asking people to be a reference. They assured me they did check references. As far as I could tell, I had to scramble around to find references in my small circle, go through the embarrassment of asking them to be a reference and getting all their contact info, and then they weren’t contacted.

      I’m a big fan of only asking for what you actually need at each stage of the hiring process.

    3. Daisy-dog*

      I did have my reference checked for my first ever job in 2007. I gave 2 high school teachers as options. They asked for another and I gave my Girl Scout Leader. They only called my GS Leader and not my teachers.

    4. Charlotte Lucas*

      Back when I was in high school, my mother and our neighbor were references for each other’s kids. (If you didn’t have work references, they wanted personal ones.) Nobody ever called our neighbor to check references. My mother only was called once, for the youngest of the neighbor’s 3 kids. (Who got a glowing reference and actually had done paid work taking care of the family dog sometimes.)

  16. linger*

    LW3: If management has already forced disclosure of medical status by threatening your job over performance, that is your cue to list possible accommodations to raise to HR to mitigate the work impact.
    (Extra bonus points if brain fog is due to e.g. Covid contracted as an indirect result of other management decisions increasing employees’ risk of exposure.)

    1. LW3*

      LW3 here: Sadly we do not have HR. Tiny company, which is part of why I found this reaction so weird! I thought a small company would mean more flexibility and understanding. Luckily, the brain-fog is due to something else and should eventually resolve itself.

      As a bit of an update: I have been more or less disregarding my health to ensure I work at the level I was at previously. After a few weeks of this, the president told me she was so glad it was *just* a medical issue and I’m all better now. It was… a weird conversation. But they seem happy with my work, and my health and personal issues should eventually improve, so I won’t have to work myself to the bone forever.

      Alison, thanks for the sanity check! Your last line is exactly where my mind is. I’ve managed people myself, and my first step in similar situations has always been to ask how I can support them. There are plenty of good things about this job, but this was just jarring and bizarre.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        Ugh, I’m so sorry you have to sacrifice your wellbeing to keep your job! That really sucks. I hope it does indeed improve nevertheless.

        Your bosses are treating you like a machine, not a human being. Like, oh, employee was broken, fortunately they could be repaired, else we would have had to throw them away. That’s a terrible way to treat employees.

      2. JSPA*

        In the future, consider using some variant of the following, in equivalent situations.

        “I’m going through some personal stuff that comes with a known risk of short-term effects on energy levels and concentration. My intent is to keep it from impacting my work. But if you notice slight increases in lag time or anything similar, please let me know, while also understanding that I’m aware of the issue, and working to resolve it.”

        Mostly this could be a question of timing; if they stretch to give you a pay boost, and then your performance dips immediately after, people who are not particularly well versed management can have the (very human) reaction of, “wow, I guess she figures she can coast now!” or “that salary boost sure went to her head.”

        As the commentary here has often shown, when people have facts that don’t entirely make sense together, they’re very quick to write their own script for causality. If you can preempt some of the bad scripts without losing much capital, it’s often worth doing so.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          THIS. LW3, the first time you were called in, you should have explained. They can’t accomodate if they don’t know what’s going on. What they saw was you just got a big raise, then work not getting done (and honestly 4-5 days is a long time to not respond to emails), so they assumed you were slacking off after you got what you wanted, more money.

          This is not to say you have to disclose private medical information, but they need to know its not just you deciding to coast now. They can’t help you, give you accomodations, adjust your schedule or anything if they don’t know that’s what you need. Even if it doesn’t formally fall under ADA, its still an interactive process.

          Should they have approached it different and come from a place of what’s going on? Yes. But its still on you to keep them informed of things that impact your work.

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

            This sounds a bit like you are blaming the OP. I can see why she didn’t say anything at first. Also, we don’t know that its responding to emails. She just says response time. That could be anything.

          2. LW3*

            Oh, I did explain things the first time! I just didn’t deep into specifics because I felt that it should be enough to say that I was going through some personal/medical issues without getting into details.

            1. JSPA*

              That really should have been enough, with the proviso that they need to believe it. (Saying “I’ve been under stress” is pretty much a default response to being called on the carpet, so in that sense, you’re probably suffering for other people’s tale-spinning, I suppose.)

              Broadly, they’re more likely to believe that it’s real, the more proactive you are. Really, though, they should not be demanding the juicy details.

        1. Totally Minnie*

          I’m wondering this as well.

          LW, when things settle down and you’re feeling more like yourself, take some time to think about this. Are these the people you want to continue working for knowing what you now know about their lack of care for their staff?

        2. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yeah, I don’t think they do. While of course I understand that you need to take care of your health and that now probably isn’t the best time for you to be looking for a new job, OP, I also think that *you* should fire *them* as employers. What a terrible way to treat one of your star performers! Or anyone, really, but if they think they can fire you on a dime because of a few weeks of your health affecting your work (to the point where it’s probably on par with what other employees are doing, it’s just not as stellar as your usual performance), then you can fire them for being so callous about your health issues. I do wonder if what they’re doing is some kind of scare tactic that they think will “whip you back into shape” or something, but that is almost worse, IMO.

          It wouldn’t hurt for you to at least start glancing at job ads and see if there’s anything out there that might be a good fit for you. These people sound like they don’t actually want a workforce of people but rather robots that don’t have health needs.

      3. Libellulebelle*

        It is ridiculous that you should have to be sacrificing your health to meet their inflexibility. If I were you I would seriously consider looking for a different job—they’ve shown you who they are, so believe them.

      4. Barcaldine*

        I’m really sorry you’re going through this, LW3! I’ve also got chronic brain fog, and the contrast with my pre-fog self is really dramatic. I hope that you can find spaces where your current capacity is deemed okay, and your job isn’t forcing you to demand more of your body than it’s capable of giving.

      5. Gyne*

        I would have the opposite assumption about a small company and flexibility – with fewer people in the business, there’s just less room to flex. You don’t have the built-in redundancy to cover like at a larger company.

        But yes, it was kind of jerky to lead with the “we’ll have to fire you” talk – was this in character for these people otherwise?

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Same – smaller companies are also more likely to be exempt from certain labor laws and less likely to have someone well-versed in law and sometimes best practices. I work for a large company but with some smaller teams with specialized expertise, and, if someone’s performance dips significantly, it’s a more noticeable impact because there’s less coverage.

      6. kalli*

        Your health won’t improve if you kill yourself to meet expectations you set in a different situation. This is why *you* speak up, get a medical certificate that says what you can do (which doesn’t actually disclose private information, just informs your employer of your capacity so they can work with you on accommodations), and work out a solution that doesn’t kill you and keeps your job.

        Your boss trusted you and gave you space to speak up or recover quietly, and it turned out neither happened, and you keep making the decision to withhold information about your work capacity and set what are obviously untenable expectations for yourself – further damaging your boss’ ability to both trust and manage you.

        If anyone I managed went a month with their work output suddenly 5 times worse than it was and they didn’t even tell me they were aware and figuring things out, I would be giving them a warning too – at which point they could say ‘oh, I’ve been unwell and wasn’t quite across the impact it was having’ and prompt me to ask how I can help. If they didn’t and they kept messing up they would get a final warning; that’s a normal process that is not out of line for something like this.

      7. Ama*

        Part of me wonders if they were somehow worried that you were slacking off after your big raise — this is a terrible and cynical thing to go straight to instead of “hey is something wrong?” as Alison points out, but I’m battling this exact mindset with my senior management right now.

        1. LW3*

          That was partially my bad for my wording. I received the raise about three months ago. Still recent, but it was not like one week I got a raise, the next I started slowing down.

      8. Quokka*

        I’ve had serious brain fog for several months, along with memory and concentration issues, headaches, fatigue, etc.. I’ve been mildly going through most of this for over a year with it slowly getting worse.
        My boss (I’ve been working at the place for 8 years) sat me down and said he was worried about me, this is not me, and he wasn’t going to pry into my circumstances, but to let him know if there was anything he could do to get me back on track. LW3, you deserve better.

        (And I’m better now, turns out my body doesn’t get along well with progesterone long term ‍♀️)

      9. Random Dice*

        I hope that they really miss you, badly, when you go to a job with people who have actual hearts.

  17. PNW cat lady*

    I don’t find company branded clothes much of a prize, whether in my size or clothes for babies I don’t have. I hope your company recognizes itself and you don’t have to actually push this further up the chain.

    1. duinath*

      i completely missed that they were company branded. i was going to push for winning the thing and then selling the clothes online, but with company branded clothes who’s going to buy? no one. truly pointless prize.

    2. Rainy*

      The combo of the topic and your handle is making me think of an IG reel I saw recently where (I think–may have some details wrong) a guy and his wife gave his younger brother a baby-sized tee to announce that he’s going to be an uncle and he immediately thought it was for his cat and proceeded to excitedly call said cat, announce to the cat that his aunt and uncle got him clothes, put it on the cat, thank them, etc, until they were like READ THE TEE and he was like “oh, cool, congrats”.

      (It may have been staged, I don’t care, it was hilarious.)

  18. Martin Blackwood*

    I’m not surprised that a lot of high school level jobs (that over lap with “likely to just hire you on the spot jobs”) don’t check references. That being said, the only good advice I got from my middle/high school career classes was regarding references, which was an anecdote from my teacher about bring called for references. However, this was a really small town, so almost any teacher could be assumed to have known the 16 year old (or whatever) for 4+ years, which carries different weight than a couple semesters.

  19. Jan Levinson Gould*

    I had a baby this year and the last thing I need is more baby clothes. I haven’t bought a single garment since I was gifted so many articles of clothing. Some things only get worn once or twice before they’re outgrown. Plus it’s a totally un-inclusive gift and tone-deaf. What if there’s someone struggling with infertility.

    1. Jay (no, the other one)*

      That’s not a what-if, it’s pretty much a guarantee if the company has enough employees to have multiple departments.

    2. Itsa Me, Mario*

      I didn’t buy a stitch of clothing for my baby until he was 9 months old, and even then it was a bathing suit. I don’t think I had to make a regular practice of buying clothing for my child until he was well into toddlerhood.

      1. allathian*

        I didn’t buy any until he was well into toddlerhood. My best friend’s son is 9 months older than our son, so we got a lot of second-hand baby clothes from them. The first item we bought was winter overalls, because the ones my friend’s son wore his first winter were too large for our son.

    3. whingedrinking*

      A friend of mine is pregnant, and I knew my MIL would be delighted to knit some kind of fatally adorable baby thing if I asked. I did, however, ask my friend first if she would *like* a little hat or something, because just being extremely cute doesn’t necessarily make it something she actually needs and I didn’t want to make it just another thing for her to deal with. (She said yes. The hat has an owl on it.)

  20. Budgie Buddy*

    One takeaway for #3 is to disclose proactively that you know your work has undergone a sudden and dramatic drop in quality and this is because of life stuff and temporary. People are usually more accommodating if you reach out first to let them know something’s going on and you need grace than if they have to wonder “Wait what’s up with OP we could always rely on her before is something going on?”

    Going from 24 hour response times to a full work week is a BIG shift, especially with zero explanation. In my work I often have less than a week turnaround for many assignments so I’d be missing key tasks.

    Rather than the mindset of “how many Good Will Points do I need to earn before I get a hall pass?” a more helpful way of looking at things is “Since I know how my company works, and they’ll give me the benefit of the doubt, what’s a good way to sort my tasks until I’m back at my usual functioning level?”

    For example, there’s no shame in proactively bringing in another person to pick up the slack so you can actually focus on recovering. Maybe these guys wouldn’t have been reasonable no matter what, but it’s worth trying to give them
    a heads up.

    1. LW3*

      LW 3 here. I think this is a fair way of looking at things, but the key difference is that they never just asked me the question you would be wondering– what’s up? Instead, the “what’s up” conversation was wrapped into the “you’re about to be fired” conversation. That’s what I found so confusing, not that my change in performance raised some eyebrows. As someone who has managed others before, my first step in similar situations has always been to go to my direct report one-on-one first to ask what’s up, how I can support them, etc. Firing never came up first thing.

      I thought about proactively reaching out, but it wasn’t that all of my work slowed to that degree– think one or two emails per week took longer to reply to than usual, and a similar amount of tasks took me longer than usual. I thought that was small enough that it would be more concerning than it was worth to bring up ahead of time.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I think the escalation to DEFCON 1 in the first conversation is what surprised me. Even my best performers have had rough patches, and, if something’s not in keeping with someone’s typical or expected performance, my first reaction is concern for their well-being. I think you’re absolutely right that it would have been reasonable to expect a “what’s up?” conversation in the first event.

      2. kalli*

        “What’s up? If this keeps going on we’ll have to let you go so can we address it right now?” however worded is not actually wrong; it’s acknowledging the extent of the issue and doing you the courtesy of not putting you in the situation we often see here of someone being fired without ever understanding that was being considered. Sometimes tone or attitude, or even just context/subtext, doesn’t help or makes it feel more threatening than an acknowledgement or part of a checklist, but it’s not out there or skipping steps.

  21. Coverage Associate*

    I am surprised by the comments about not participating if you’re not interested in the prize. There’s never been a work prize (besides a cash bonus) that was the reason for my participation in games like this. I did it to show I was a good sport, etc. I have been in workplaces where “bragging rights” were a sufficient prize, or something worthless, which I suppose is the same thing.

    Don’t the mayors for the Super Bowl send food to the other city’s food bank? And there are some stories from professional sports about wearing the other team’s hat or whatever.

    Baby clothes are worse than no prize or a prize with no cash value, but I didn’t know prizes were motivation. (I am one of the resident introverts, so that happy hour holds no real appeal for me, but I recognize it as a further team building event after the silly one.)

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      I like decorating for holidays so I wouldn’t need the prize as motivation, but this one is so off-putting it actually kinda sucks some of the fun out of it. I’m not very competitive but I don’t want to be hoping NOT to win, you know?

      1. Awkwardness*

        “I’m not very competitive but I don’t want to be hoping NOT to win, you know?”

        Really, what do they expect a winner without baby to do? Donate the prize to some co-worker? And then have drama because there might have been more deserving co-wokers?
        This sounds like a bad idea no matter the angle you are looking at it.

      2. bamcheeks*

        yeah, it’s the difference between “this isn’t very motivating, but that’s not the point” and “this is actively de-motivating”.

      3. Hannah Lee*

        Yeah the baby clothes prize isn’t just a non motivator, it’s actually kind of an anti-motivator –

        company SWAG (aka something Marketing/Promotions overbought and is trying to get rid of)

        + baby focused, so useless to me and likely the majority of LWs coworkers.

    2. Sorrischian*

      I think the difference in “bragging rights” or food bank donation situations is that even if the winner isn’t directly getting some item they want, they’re also not going to be burdened with something they actively don’t want.
      A bad prize really is worse than no prize, because you have to pretend to be happy so you don’t offend someone, plus now you have to figure out what to do with this thing you do not want (and yes, straight in the trash is an option, but for a lot of people that feels wasteful, and also you still run the risk of offending whoever chose the prize if you’re insufficiently discreet about disposing of it).

      1. Seashell*

        I would much rather get a donation to a food bank or comparable charity in my name as a prize than baby clothes. I don’t have a baby or know anyone who has a baby currently, so that would just create a chore.

        1. metadata minion*

          And as other people have commented, they’re not even something that can be easily regifted. Wine is inappropriate as a workplace gift, and I don’t drink, but I can pretty easily find someone I know who wants it. A *workplace-branded* onesie? I think I probably would give it to my brother to put on my new nephew, provided it even still fit him, but that’s because my brother has an off-the-wall sense of humor and would think that a Pfizer-branded (or whatever) baby was funny.

    3. Delta Delta*

      This. I once bought a bunch of raffle tickets because one of the prizes was a bushel of corn, and that, in my mind, is a very good prize. (I won a gift certificate and a hooked rug, both of which were also pretty good prizes) Had it been a contest for baby clothes I wouldn’t have entered because I don’t want that prize.

      This isn’t going to end the way the organizers think it will.

    4. ClaireW*

      If someone were struggling with infertility or a recent miscarriage or similar, I think it’s perfectly understandably that they wouldn’t want to take part in a competition that “awards” them with a genuinely upsetting item that they either have to take home or start to give an excuse for why they don’t want them… or even worse hand them off to someone who is having a baby and try to be happy for them

    5. Jennifer Strange*

      The issue here isn’t that people aren’t interested in the prize; it’s that it’s completely unusable by some folks, and runs the risk of outright alienating those who may be dealing with fertility issues. This isn’t “Oh, the prize is a paper weight that I don’t think is pretty” but rather “The prize is a dog collar and I don’t have a dog.”

      1. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

        Or it’s a dog collar for a chihuahua sized dog and you have a St. Bernard or your dog died recently.

    6. JustaTech*

      What kind of motivation a prize is often depends on the prize.

      Years ago my site decided to have a holiday cube decorating contest – and that year the social committee decided the sole prize would be a pair of tickets to our local football team (who were doing very well that year).

      I have negative zero interest in professional football, and as a member of the committee I pushed back gently, not least because the cost of the tickets meant that there wasn’t enough money left to have a second place prize.

      So the email goes out about the contest and the prize and where in previous years there had been a lot of low-to-medium key participation, that year it was like 4 cutthroat people and no one else, either because they did NOT want the prize, or because they didn’t feel like there was any point in competing when they knew the lengths the cutthroat people would go to.

      As a member of the social committee I was obligated to decorate, so I did paper cranes, a Princess Leia tree topper and a sign that said “don’t vote for me”. And that was the last year of the cube decorating contest.

    7. K*

      Yeah, some of these comments are weird. The point of competitions like this is just to have a little fun. The prize is inconsequential. This is a pretty dumb prize, I will agree, but that’s not really important. The fact that some are suggesting escalating this to the boss is silly. This isn’t important.

      1. Dek*

        I mean, the issue here isn’t really the contest at all. It’s just how tone deaf this prize is. It shows really…weird judgment.

      2. allathian*

        It’s not unimportant if it risks upsetting some people, in this case people who’re struggling with infertility. I’d agree with you if the prize was a more typical piece of company swag, like a coffee mug with the company logo. Those probably aren’t particularly motivating for most people, and may be downright demotivating for some, either because they never drink warm beverages of any kind, or because they have a huge mug collection already and don’t know what to do with another one. But a mug, even an unwanted one, is unlikely to be as upsetting to anyone as a baby onesie would be to someone who’s struggling with infertility.

    8. Dek*

      You said it yourself: “Baby clothes are worse than no prize or a prize with no cash value”

      To me, it almost sends a signal that I’m not SUPPOSED to participate. And it also annoys me enough that I think I just wouldn’t want to participate anymore, whereas if there wasn’t a prize (or if it was just, like, the printed certificate and bragging rights our place does), I’d be fine with it.

    9. HonorBox*

      If you’re providing a prize, even a stupid trophy that travels from department to department, it should serve to motivate people to participate. It could be attached to pride. It could be something else. Providing a prize that a good number of people can’t benefit from at all is going to likely demotivate some of the others who won’t be able to use the prize.

  22. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP3 (brain fog and poor performance) – A month is a fairly long time (in business terms) to be performing significantly worse than usual with no explanation. Of course people have a few bad days here and there and I’m not talking about that, but a month and no sign of it changing. It does seem strange that the boss took it directly to the company president instead of talk to OP directly – but also, I presume OP didn’t bring this up with the boss proactively either.

    Perhaps this varies by locale, but in the UK where I am, the expectation would be that you’d have a talk with your boss and say something like “I’m aware my performance has been slipping lately. I need to make you aware that this is because of a medical condition (brief details).” And then “it’s being treated and the expected recovery time is x” or “currently doctors aren’t sure what it is and in the meantime I need to request adjustment y” or whatever applies as the next steps.

    Do they threaten people with firing for other incidents without any discussion or fact finding? Worth thinking about if that is a pattern (or more generally, jumping to conclusions that are not fact-based and immediately acting on them – a poor way to run a company!)

    1. LW3*

      Thank you for this perspective! I agree that a month of sudden change is bad– although looking back, the first meeting was actually closer to two weeks after the medical/personal issues started. Two weeks in which I responded to a few (not all, not even most) emails more slowly? Meh. Either way, I just wish my boss had spoken with me directly in a non job-threatening context rather than going straight to the president/firing.

      I don’t know if they’ve treated other coworkers similarly (we’re all fully remote). However, based on comments they’ve made about the person who previously held my role, it was the opposite. Perhaps they are reacting to being more lenient with her by being less so with me.

      1. Gyne*

        I wonder if something else went down with the previous person in your role with respect to leniency for poor performance and they felt taken advantage of, so acted more quickly with you – not that it excuses them coming in going straight to threats of firing – but their context in this situation might be very different than yours.

    2. Blue wall*

      LW3, a change from a same-day or one-day business turnaround to a week is an increase of 500%. This could be impacting customers or parts of the business that you aren’t aware of, costing your business time, money, and reputation. It’s not clear to me from your letter that you see this as a serious issue. Are you able to do anything to address it, that is within your control?

      1. amoeba*

        But it was just a few e-mails, not suddenly every e-mails. (And hopefully it was actually e-mails that, you know… could wait, as apparently the LW did do some triage there?)

        Not completely clear from the letter, but from the additional info in the comments, it seems like the boss did indeed wildly overreact.

      2. LW3*

        I completely see what you mean, but it was a small percentage of responses to non-urgent queries that saw that drop. Hence why I didn’t think anyone would even notice at all! I was able to ensure all urgent or time-sensitive requests were taken care of in my usual timeframe. Our company is quite small, so I am aware of the scope and importance of my role, and which kinds of requests have wider-reaching impact. I fully admit it was not great regardless– but that was never my question.

  23. Mialana*

    I don’t think you should ‘warn’ for smut because that sounds like it’s something inherently dangerous. Maybe point out that there is smut in the book (in case they don’t want to read it so they can make an informed decision) and acknowledge that it’s inappropriate to recommend at work.

    1. Sorrischian*

      I think this is unnecessarily splitting hairs over wording. If I warn a friend who doesn’t like raisins that my oatmeal cookies have raisins in them, I’m not implying that raisins are inherently dangerous, I’m giving them information so they can avoid something that they personally might find unpleasant. Same with smutty content in books or song lyrics or what have you.

      1. bamcheeks*

        For me it wouldn’t be so much about whether or not they find it unpleasant as clarifying that I wasn’t recommending it BECAUSE of the sexy stuff. There’s very little more awkward to me than getting a recommendation from someone for a book that’s got stuff that’s obviously written to be titillating and reading it with this voice in the back of my head going, “is this what Co-worker thinks is sexy, then? Do they think *I* think this is sexy?” It doesn’t matter whether it’s stuff that’s actually hot to me or stuff that I’m trying to skipread because it’s extremely Not My Thing:either way, it’s O No.

        I would do a disclaimer less as a *warning*, and more from the point of view of letting them know that the sexy stuff is there but it wasn’t the point of the recommendation– “Really love the plot and characters, I forgot about the a weird incesty vibe, so there’s, um, that” is different from, “I love this because of the weird incesty vibe!”

        1. anywhere but here*

          Some people are uncomfortable reading smut and would rather avoid books that have it, so “warn” isn’t inappropriate in this context imo.

          I don’t think incest is comparable to smut and I think that you do incest victims a serious disservice by treating it that way rather than as comparable to other forms of sexual abuse/assault.

          1. bamcheeks*

            It wasn’t meant as a comparison– I was thinking of a specific book series which I liked but felt like it had been written by someone with a (consensual) incest kink, and I wouldn’t recommend it to someone without acknowledging that.

        2. LW2*

          YES, this is exactly how I’m feeling! my boss is much older than me (this is my first office job out of school) and I don’t want her to think I’ve got such poor judgement as to recommend her a ~sexy book because I think she’ll like the sexy bits.

      2. kalli*

        People can’t look up what you personally put in your cookies.

        They can look up information about books.

  24. WoodswomanWrites*

    #1, I have steam coming out of my ears around the fact that “everyone is encouraged to decorate their department’s trees.” This is such an exclusionary practice for anyone who isn’t Christian and doesn’t celebrate Christmas. No way I should be required to have a Christmas tree at work.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      Meaning I can barely consider the terrible prize awarded because the contest itself is infuriating.

      1. Ganymede*

        Straight to a domestic violence charity or refugee support. And make a warn and excited acceptance speech about it.

        It occurs to me that the judges of the competition might realise how stupid this all is when they find themselves awarding the prize to someone who patently has no use for it. Or will they solve that by choosing only participants who have babies…?

        The whole thing is so comically inept and dim-witted.

        1. Ganymede*

          I don’t know how my reply ended up under the wrong comment, apologies Woodswoman. Obviously I mean the prizes should go straight to… etc.

    2. Your Mate in Oz*

      Up here it’s really, really obviously Christian because pagans don’t celebrate the winter solstice in midsummer. I still contribute pagan decorations and let the exclusionary people make the decision about how public they want to be.

      (the whole “winter solstice in summer” thing makes Christmas a bizarre time in Australia. It’s over 100 degrees every day and the mall is full of fake snow and songs about sleighs)

  25. nnn*

    “Holiday tree” sounds like a palm tree on a beach that you might sit under on a lounge chair while drinking a drink out of a coconut.

  26. Kwebbel*

    LW1 – So I’m just thinking…the happy hour + dinner also isn’t the most inclusive gift ever. A lot of people have health, wellbeing or religious reasons why they won’t drink. And as someone whose due date is 8 days away, a restaurant gift voucher would make me go “hope it doesn’t expire before I can actually use it”.

    BUT. Still way more inclusive than company-branded baby clothes. I echo what others have said here that, my goodness, with the hundred items I’ve already got from family members in my baby’s closet, I find that prize about as enticing as a pack of disposable forks.

    And with the company logo, no less. So I can’t even pawn the items like I could if the baby clothes were from a baby store. (Do you work for a baby store? Because then this would make a bit more sense.)

    Also, what’s wrong with a simple visa gift card?

    1. NominaLee*

      >Also, what’s wrong with a simple visa gift card?

      Well, unlike giving away company merchandise as a prize, it (1) requires an actual outlay of money and (2) doesn’t promote the business!

      I’m sure the admin expected to be praised for cleverly killing multiple birds with one stone with the baby clothes prize (reducing costs, recognizing all the new parents, giving something tangible/useful, and promoting the company). But of course it’s atrocious for all the reasons everyone here has pointed out.

      1. With A Y*

        It is possibly also taxable income, which is another headache, because many payroll systems are not set up to include this “cash equivalent.”

    2. Itsa Me, Mario*

      I think all potential gifts are not useful to *someone*, or not inclusive of some group of people one could come up with. This usually isn’t what people are talking about in a workplace inclusion context. Parenthood and pregnancy are extremely sensitive areas where workplace inclusion are concerned. “What if some people are intermittent fasters who actually don’t eat dinner” usually is not.

      Also, while I guess every company is different, usually in my workplace when we say we are having a “happy hour” what we mean is that we’re having a short afternoon social event on company premises where beer and wine will be available for those who choose to partake. And other treats will be available for those who don’t drink. I guess we could call it a “social” or something, but happy hour sounds mildly fun at least.

    3. Dek*

      Y’know what’s a nice, useful item that a company like that would probably have in their branded store? An umbrella. Just about everyone can use an extra umbrella.

  27. nnn*

    Also, I’m thinking if they have a bunch of company-branded baby clothes sitting around and they have a bunch of people with new babies, they could cut out the middleman and present new parents with a company-branded onesie or whatever as a baby gift.

  28. Irish Teacher*

    As well as the non-inclusive nature of the prize in the first letter, I also feel it has some unfortunate implications that say a voucher to a denim store wouldn’t (I’m using that example as I personally dislike and never wear denim), especially if the team is predominantly women.

    I’m finding it hard to even articulate what I find uncomfortable about this, apart from the possible implications if the workplace is largely women (which probably isn’t the case, as there is nothing to suggest that), but there is an “everybody loves and wants babies” implication.

    1. metadata minion*

      Agree. For me, the difference is that the gift is intended for parents, and the sociopolitical dialogue around parenthood/pregnancy/etc. is really uncomfortable and fraught. If it was a gift certificate for, I don’t know, a naalbinding class, most people would be baffled and vaguely disappointed, but there’s no particular social narrative around people who either do or don’t participate in obscure fiber crafts.

    2. Your Mate in Oz*

      Much like a tattoo voucher, not everyone wants one and many people have very good reasons for that. There’s also a bit of not just any tattoo, a tattoo of the company logo!

      It’s possible that even someone who likes working there doesn’t want their baby decorated with “dodgy bob’s discount viagra” or whatever the company name is.

  29. linger*

    Would it change things if the nominal “prize” were recast as a company donation towards baby wear for employees’ new offspring? That’s still not great or equitable, but it would at least formalize what is in practice true already, i.e. whatever anyone does, it will only benefit that subset of employees who have just had or will soon have babies. And it would reduce (but not entirely remove, noting e.g. some parents will be fully supplied already) potential for triggering others by giving them the extra work of “winning” and having to redistribute a “prize” they have at best no possible use for, and at worst adverse emotional reactions to.

    1. ClaireW*

      I mean, if I was in that company and struggling with infertility/miscarriage and my “prize” was to help someone else get clothes for their baby, I’m not sure that would be any less upsetting than being giving baby clothes myself. That would be pretty difficult to handle.

      At that point why not make it a much more neutral donation, like either to a local charity or a gift card for the winning team or something? I can’t see any benefit to keeping it so baby-focussed.

    2. londonedit*

      Nope, still horrible, and still likely to make anyone who doesn’t have/doesn’t want/can’t have/has no interest in children feel like a second-class citizen. If there’s a prize it should at least be something the majority of people have an interest in or can use.

    1. It happened in the 1980s*

      Better than a hanukkah bush which so help me I heard someone suggest for a smaller tabletop display. I couldn’t tell if he was joking. Everybody looked aghast. Even he dropped it.

  30. Dutch*

    In Letter #1 it’s not even an individual prize, it’s for the department. So you could end up with non-parents, or other disinterested parties, being pressured into participating, under the guise of ‘team spirit’, then receiving nothing, or a worthless prize, for their efforts!

    If it had been a prize for one person I’d have suggested going all out to win, then donating the prize to a shelter/DV charity etc

  31. Put the Blame on Edamame*

    I have worked as a bookseller, been a book critic, judged book awards, and always been a voracious reader – I’ve had a lot of conversations about books in my life. I’d say the rate of recommendation to actual reading is maybe 5% at most. I wouldn’t worry about it.

    1. Billy Preston*

      This is my thought too,most likely they weren’t going to read it anyway. But give them a head’s up, just in case they do. I often get recommendations and they do sound interesting, but I prefer certain genres and generally gravitate towards those. So it has to be an amazing recommendation for me to actually read it.

    2. RussianInTexas*

      Ha! I have since friends who’s recommendations I trust, and who actually read the books I recommended.
      But in general, from a coworker or something? Nah.

    3. LW2*

      I hope you’re right in this case!! I know she wrote the title down, after I recommended it, but hopefully life gets in the way? or she loses the note haha

  32. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #1 “Holiday tree” is ridiculous. We all know what it is and imo it has no place at work unless you have to put on a show for customers. I’m glad I’ve never worked in any office that had Xmas decorations.

    Baby clothes as a prize for anything is also ridiculous, not useful for most people and actively hurtful for some.

    This workplace is run by insensitive clods.

    1. JustaTech*

      My work just calls it a Christmas tree, and I’m genuinely trying to understand if that’s better or worse than calling it a “holiday” tree.
      I’m also that person on the social committee that every year reminds folks that not everyone in the company celebrates Christmas and we should *try* to be thoughtful/inclusive about that. (Honestly my greatest success on this is that venues are *much* cheaper in January, so we can both have a New Year’s party and save money.)
      But we still have a Christmas tree lighting party (ok, cookies), and an Ugly Christmas sweater contest, and a “holiday” lunch with a White Elephant gift exchange, and a toy drive. (We do at least do a back-to-school drive as well so it’s not like our only charitable thing is in December.)

      There’s only so much one person can do.

        1. AnotherSarah*

          Agreed. I (also Jewish fwiw) use the phrase “Christmas break” (I’m at a university, where we have just that), and get soooo much pushback. But the break is scheduled around Christmas! Don’t pretend it’s not!

        2. JustaTech*

          Good to know! That’s what I thought, but when I’ve asked my (very secular) Jewish in-laws they got distracted by “I wish I could have a tree” and never gave me an answer.

        3. Burger Bob*

          Agreed. Nobody is fooled. It’s a rose by any other name. Call it what it is, and if you feel embarrassed to do so because you’re worried about not being inclusive….maybe sit and think about that for a while.

      1. whingedrinking*

        Covering a pine tree with lights and calling it a “holiday tree” is sort of like serving “yellow noodle soup” and saying you’re being inclusive of vegetarians just because you didn’t use the word chicken.

  33. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #5 Could this inequity be the result of different negotiating skills/results on hire or when being promoted?
    Is his pay comparable to others there for his level of work ?
    Maybe the differences are due to negotiation, or maybe the system is that those paid a bit less receive slightly better benefits.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      I meant that maybe those who didn’t negotiate well for pay were later given better benefits rather than improving pay.

      I’ve always chosen jobs with fixed pay scales & benefits because as a mixed race woman Aspie I need this kind of genuine measure for equity, not just slogans.

    2. Itsa Me, Mario*

      This was my thought as well. With a 15 employee company, this could simply be that they did this for certain random employees for A Reason (compensation package negotiation, an extenuating circumstance LW isn’t aware of, one of these people is the owner’s grandchild, etc), but did not do it for others who didn’t ask or didn’t have those same circumstances.

    3. Kell*

      Yeah, when I worked at a similarly small company, it was way more common to negotiate on a far more individualized level based on a specific employee’s needs and wants. Employee A is still on their parents health insurance so instead gets a $100 expenses check every month, while Employee B has income based student loans so paying for a larger portion of their benefits and keeping their paid salary lower is beneficial to them.

      In hindsight it was a bonkers system (and I question how on the books some of what our owner was doing was), but in a small business without a lot of perks or pay, it was kind of nice that over time our owner wound up getting to know what might be most helpful for us personally.

      1. Your Mate in Oz*

        I prefer working for small companies for this reason. Being able to negotiate workplace stuff with someone who has the power to change it is very helpful. I work with a bunch of non-neutrotypical people and we mostly have setups that work for us as individuals. Pay is not completely random but is bizarre, but again it works for each of us.

        The downside is occasional completely random events, but that is compensated for by being given the information to understand *why* they’re happening. I might not like mad panics, but knowing that it’s because we’re trying to get a major new customer helps.

    4. Nik*

      Yes, this is definitely likely. I work for a very small company and we have slightly different vacation amounts and some profit sharing differences as we have each negotiated upon hiring and later when asking for raises/benefits increase.

  34. Alexia*

    Is it possible the employee with full coverage negotiated a different remuneration package; i.e. lower weekly wage in exchange for full medical coverage?

  35. Minimal Pear*

    I INSTANTLY KNEW WHAT THE BOOK WAS! Mainly because I started reading it at work (I know, I know) expecting the sex scenes to not happen quite so early on, and I had… a hard time maintaining a straight face.

  36. Hiring Mgr*

    I get the problems with #1, but you’ve already been told to let it go and it may not be important enough to keep pushing. You might be better off waiting ’til next year and get out in front of it sooner.

    1. Jackalope*

      I think it is important to keep pushing, actually. This is something that’s going to be irrelevant to the vast majority of the employees (including parents who don’t happen to have the right-sized child at the time – the LW said above that there’s only one size the onesie comes in), and bothersome or demotivating for many. And it’s inappropriate for the person who set the contest prize up to say to someone who brings a genuine concern to her that the concerned person is just whining. This has the potential to explode in their faces in so many ways. I mean, the admin’s boss may choose not to take action but at least they’ll know, and most people would recognize that a gift of baby clothes in a situation like this would be off on a number of levels.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        OP updated and it looks like that’s exactly what happened, and you’re right – it seems to have worked out well.

  37. nyny*

    LW1 — I have successfully regifted many company gifts, and been very happy.

    LW5 — I have not read all comments, but is the difference generally that they pay 100% of the employee, and a smaller amount for spouses. I do not think this is uncommon.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      If LW5 has heard the right details it is a very different situation, much more random situation:
      “the business pays for a percentage of the health insurance” BUT
      “some…have 100% of their health insurance premiums covered, including one coworker who also has her dependent covered in full”

      1. LW5*

        Yes, it’s what Seeking Second Childhood mentioned – the standard/published information is that employees get 60% covered, but some get 100% covered and one person gets her child 100% covered as well. None of the other current employees have spouses or children besides my husband and the one person with full coverage (single mom).

  38. Lily Potter*

    Could it be that the admin in LW1’s office is either already chummy with a bunch of new parents or is trying to worm her way socially into a group of them? Every office has a group of “cool kids” and if the “cool kids” happen to have new babies – well, suddenly, babies are the “in” thing.

    1. anon_s*

      People who have babies (specially the ones that still have the new baby smell) tend to be really excited about it and want to talk about their baby a lot because that’s 90% of their life right now. Most people with older children or no children can only tolerate so much, so it must be something of an “in” group for all these folks because they share the same level of enthusiasm for this thing that has just happened to them and they probably can take about late night feedings and diaper changes as much as they want without the other person smiling politely and saying “well, better get back to work” as soon as they can get it in. The admin either had a baby themselves or their work friends are among the new parents.

      My theory is that this is a cheap gift that is defensible considering the events in the office, so the company saves money without losing good will or morale from 1/2 the office automatically and they’re banking on the other fans going ‘aw’ for the babies (for instance, LW complaining was called ‘whiny’ — “why are you competing with a baby?” and/or “why are you trying to take clothes from a baby?” is a logical fallacy argument that usually has enough emotional reactions around it that people don’t see the actual issue is not about the baby, but about the prize not being equally valuable to everyone in the office and exclusionary).

  39. I should really pick a name*

    #1 mentions that the prize of baby clothes has taken off among the new parents.

    I wonder what they would choose if the winner was given the choice of company-branded baby clothes or a free happy hour and dinner…

    1. Anne of Green Gables are you home?*

      Honestly, if I was the parent I would totally choose the baby clothes so I wouldn’t have to hang out on my own time with coworkers, but…thats just me. Now I would ABSOLUTELY take a gift card to a restaurant over anything clothing like or company branded, but then I can go out with my friends/family.

  40. Raw Cookie Dough*

    OP1, win that contest and turn those baby clothes into a lumber pillow for your office chair.

    1. Jane Fiddlesticks*

      Oh brilliant! I like that even more. January and February are the most dreary months anyway.
      Would be a hell of an electricity bill though if one were to do this from December through to February, but certainly very cheery!

    2. Hrodvitnir*

      As someone from a culturally Christian country who was raised atheist, my attempt to have a holiday that’s not religious is NY… when I found out that’s what Russia did I was stoked.

      I know new year by the Gregorian calendar isn’t universal, but as much as I’d love a new areligous calendar, that’s not happening.

      1. whingedrinking*

        It’s honestly a shame that the French Revolutionary Calendar kind of sucked for actually keeping time (and I don’t just say that because my birthday is the first day of the year in it). Who wouldn’t love to say their birthday is on the 12th of Frimaire (Frost Month), a.k.a. Horseradish Day?

  41. Jane Fiddlesticks*

    LW1: how unpleasant that they exclude so many people based on the prize they offer! It was definitely not ‘whining’ to raise that!

    As an aside. I like the idea of holiday trees! It sounds very festive and inclusive (if done right and if not focused on one religion.)

      1. Jane Fiddlesticks*

        Just some lights, garlants and non-religious ornaments? I personally would go for paper ornaments representing food, drinks (hot chocolate!), animals and snowmen.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          It’s pretty difficult to put up a tree in December and not have it associated with Christmas.

          1. JustaTech*

            Even when we put up our artificial birch tress with lights on the tips of the branches, there’s still an underlying “Christmas” vibe because they go up in December. Maybe, maybe if we waited until February to put them up and decorated with hearts and footballs.

            (We bought the trees for a New Year’s party, and we did use them for a Halloween party one year because they’re great for hanging bats.)

        2. Phyllis Refrigeration*

          But what time of year would you have it? A random Tuesday in August?
          You are still having it around Christmas right? So why are you having it at that time of year?

          I have no issue with trees or anything as a Jew (I get depressed in winter and I live for people’s house lights,) I just think your reasoning of what constitutes “not a religious” tree is funny.

        3. Happy meal with extra happy*

          Nope, it’s still a Christmas tree. Decorating trees in this manner makes Christmas trees. Many (most?) ornaments are technically non-religious, but they still create Christmas trees.

          1. Jane Fiddlesticks*

            Not sure why. The Yule practice celebrating the winter solstice and to wish for prosperity with fire (lights) and feasting predates Christianity by far. It also stems in large part from people not wanting it to be cold and dark all the time in winter.

            1. I should really pick a name*

              Attaching a link where Alison describes the issues with trying to present a decorated tree in winter as inclusive.

            2. I should really pick a name*

              I’m adding another comment with a post about the issue with trying to present a decorated tree in winter as inclusive.

            3. Happy meal with extra happy*

              Because I would wager that 99.9% of US offices that put up decorated trees in December are doing it because of the Christmas tree tradition. Really, to say otherwise is pretty disingenuous and insulting. AND even if they’re saying it’s because of “Yule” that’s still a festival that is only celebrated by a small set of people. It’s still not a generic, global “winter” celebration.

              1. Jane Fiddlesticks*

                With Yule, I was referring to Yule the pagan festival, far predating the start of Christianity and the reason why there are “Christmas trees” in the first place. People celebrated light and enduring harsh winter times until the spring, not the birth of Christ. Evergreen trees like the pine tree represent eternal life and endurance.
                I think the problem with the trees is that now lots of people seem to think that only Christianity has trees with lights on them and that this originated there, but that is not the case.

                1. Happy meal with extra happy*

                  It doesn’t matter where it originated if in our current culture, they’re associated with Christianity 99.9% of the time. I am not a Christian. I am not pagan. Calling them “holiday” trees does NOT include me.

                2. metadata minion*

                  Evergreens and lights as winter celebration certainly predates Christianity, but I’m not a British or North Germanic pagan any more than I’m Christian. You’re just moving the celebration to a different holiday not everyone celebrates, and in this case moving it to one that most likely the people organizing the holiday don’t actually celebrate. Paganism is a term for a broad category of actual extant religions; not just a quaint thing that happened millennia ago and that we can borrow from now.

        4. Burger Bob*

          Yeah, that’s, um….still a Christmas tree. Or at least most people will assume that was the intent.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Please go and read alllllll of the other comments and then read this: putting silver and blue tinsel on your tree doesn’t make it any less of a Christmas tree, it’s still a Christmas tree, and if someone tells you they don’t celebrate Christmas and are therefore not interested in having or decorating a tree, keep your arguments to yourself.

      1. Jane Fiddlesticks*

        Is this a response to my comment? I just said that a holiday tree seemed like a great idea to me. It was not a response to anyone else stating that they don’t like Christmas.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          It’s a response to your comment that a “holiday tree” can be inclusive. A decorated tree around Christmas time is a Christmas tree, no matter how you slice it. It’s inherently not “inclusive”. If you want a Christmas tree, great, but please do not call it a “holiday” tree.

          Also, for many of us, it’s not about “don’t like Christmas”. We don’t celebrate it. And we are surrounded by it. My point was that throwing blue and silver tinsel on a tree is like throwing us a bone. You can have your Christmas tree but please don’t try to throw that bone.

            1. Jane Fiddlesticks*

              So, decorating a tree as something fun to do together, where each department can collectively decide what to hang in it, is “erasure for Jews”?

              Good God, little did I know that my comment would have such awful responses of “my being RIGHT is more important than seeking a constructive solution for all”. I’m so glad that my Jewish family are not this militant!

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I don’t understand this comment. A constructive solution for … what? There’s no problem in need of a solution here; people just shouldn’t push their holidays on others who don’t want to have it pushed on them. It’s pretty simple.

                And yes, many, many Jews and people of other faiths (including some of us commenting here) find claims that Christmas and its trappings are secular fun for all is indeed erasure of our faiths and cultures. That you don’t feel that way doesn’t negate that, and calling it militant is dismissive.

              2. Indolent Libertine*

                You aren’t “seeking a constructive solution for all,” though. You keep trying to convince people who have already given you dozens of reasons why this would not feel inclusive to them, that they are unjustified in feeling that way, and getting bent out of shape when they assert that they have every right to feel that way.

              3. NotAManager*

                This comment is unfair; there is nothing “militant” about expressing frustration about ones culture and religious beliefs being treated disrespectfully and subsumed under a dominant Christian culture. A “constructive solution for all” does NOT involve pressuring people to engage with the trappings of a Christian religious holiday. It involves not celebrating Christian religious holidays at all in a secular workforce, beyond what the law dictates about time off for federal holidays.

              4. Inconvenient Indian*

                Your Jewish family has *assimilated*! I’m sorry that they felt that they had to do that for their safety and other reasons, but I respect that decision. I do *not* respect your gross pressuring of others to do the same.

    2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      If the holiday tree is in July, fine. Otherwise it’s a Christmas tree in camo.

      1. Jane Fiddlesticks*

        If there were holiday trees in June, I would decorate mine with fruit, parasols, palm trees and yellow and orange garlands!

    3. CommanderBanana*

      Holiday trees are not a thing. Christmas trees are specific to Christianity. Yes, decorated evergreen trees were taken from rituals that predated Christianity.

      I am Jewish and I don’t care if an office wants to put up a Christmas tree (most of the places I’ve worked have had Christmas trees somewhere in the building during Christmas) or a Yule log.

      I do not want someone insisting that a ‘holiday tree’ has anything to do with Judaism or that a Christmas tree can somehow be retrofitted to have anything to do with Judaism, just like Hanukkah is not “Jewish Christmas,” as one of my more moronic coworkers referred to it.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s where I fall. I don’t really care if a workplace puts up a Christmas tree, let’s just be clear on what it is and that it has nothing to do with me. (Hell, my husband, who is not Jewish, puts up a Christmas tree in our house because it is part of his tradition and I enjoy sitting by it, but it’s not mine and it’s certainly not a holiday tree.) (Although I will say that this year I am much more uneasy about it than I have been previously but that’s my own internal struggle related to what’s going on in the world — although now that I think about it, I’d be more uneasy with one at work this year too, for the same reasons. Sigh.)

        1. CommanderBanana*

          I hear you there! If we had a “holiday tree,” what would it even be – a Jerusalem artichoke?

    4. GreenDoor*

      “Holiday trees…if not focused on one religion” Trees do equate to religious traditions though. My workplace does a door decorating contest. You’d be hard-pressed to equate a door with a religious tradition and there’s way more options for festive decor.

  42. Bast*

    Letter #1 — this is such an odd prize. Very, very odd and even odder that no one sees the complete lack of logic in this “prize.” The best thing I can think of to do is donate the clothes to a shelter if someone who doesn’t need them wins so at least some good comes of it.

  43. Dee Engineer*

    While the people at LW1s office are arguing about the “holiday tree” and the prize of baby clothes, I would be getting things done so I could end my workday. As a Christian that doesn’t celebrate Christmas, I find the notion of the “holiday tree” in the office offensive.

  44. le teacher*

    I have been struggling with infertility for a couple of years now, I’ve done some treatments with no success and am starting IVF soon. So I’m in the thick of it. I am pretty good at dealing with triggers in the workplace and as time has gone on I don’t get upset anymore over baby talk or baby showers, etc. However, for some reason, LW1’s situation is really triggering. I cannot imagine how sad I would feel if my department won and received baby clothes. Honestly, I would say something as well. That’s really not cool.

  45. Ash*

    LW5: definitely bring this up, and see if you can get confirmation from your coworkers. I’ve seen it happen where someone states they are resigning, and in an effort to retain the person, the owner improves the benefits package significantly to retain the person. That may have been what happened for some of these folks. Or, they negotiated a better package when they got hired.

  46. Pink Candyfloss*

    LW#2, I recently recommended a KJ Charles novel to my boss so I share your post-recommendation dawning feeling of horror, but the good news is: she liked it and moved on to read more, so there is hope!

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      Ooh, I love KJ Charles (and can totally understand why you felt that way after recommending her books!)

  47. FashionablyEvil*

    #2–I made the same mistake with a colleague with She Who Became the Sun. There is a somewhat unexpected, but quite explicit sex scene fairly late in the book that I’d forgotten about. I just said, “Hey, I had totally forgotten that there’s a rather explicit scene in the book. Just wanted to give you a heads up.” It was fine.

    1. LW2*

      such an excellent book! and yes, so much happens with the plot that it’s easy to forget about the explicit bits haha

  48. Dr Sarah*

    I know it’s been said already, but… even apart from the significant issue of how many people *can’t use* baby clothes, why on earth would anyone want their company’s brand on their baby’s outfit?

    1. Dr Sarah*

      Another aspect hit me just after I’d posted this: Company brands are for advertising. The company is setting up a system where they get to use someone’s baby for free advertising and pretend it’s a treat for the parent. I would be distinctly unimpressed with this.

    2. Hiring Mgr*

      I don’t think that aspect is really a big deal – when my kids were babies it didn’t matter if the clothes said Red Sox, The Gap, Microsoft, or nothing. Company branded tshirts and things are extremely common

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        The sheer volume is a little head scratchy. Like I get having one company onesie, and I get “hey, a thing that will fit for a few weeks, any theme is fine.” But a big box of stuff on this theme just doesn’t seem exciting.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          I don’t think you should pay the babies or parents for wearing the shirts if that’s what you mean.

          Grotesque sounds like an overreaction to me, but maybe you’re right in that others may find it more important than I do.

        2. JustaTech*

          I was actually super bummed to not get a onesie from a local company for my baby – but it’s the local blood bank where I donated kiddo’s cord blood and the onesie says “saving lives since day one” so it was marketing *I* felt good about.

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          That was the most delightful reference I’ve heard all day! Anne’s early teen writing is so hilariously awful.

      1. Andromeda*

        I like where I work, but there’s a reason I never want any of our company branded merch. (not least because a lot of company branded merch is extremely ugly)

      2. anon_s*

        I like where I work, but for me, my department contracts with nice brands when they offer merch and I’d rather get a Patagonia or Eddie Bauer pull-over with my department logo that I can wear for years vs baby clothes that will last a few months.

  49. WellRed*

    Aside from everything else wrong with the tree contest, I can’t think of much uglier and unfestive than decorating with paperclip garlands and post it notes.

  50. Falling Diphthong*

    I propose that in 2024, all “holiday tree” celebrations be held to honor Arbor day. (April 26th)

  51. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

    In addition to everything that’s already been mentioned about the problems with giving baby clothes as the prize for the “holiday tree” decorating contest, how are the prize logistics supposed to work? Giving a free happy hour and dinner for a whole department is pretty straightforward to organize (make a reservation, arrange to pay on a company card), but how are they planning to handle baby clothes as a department level prize? Everyone gets a onesie? One onesie for the whole department? Everyone in the department who’s had a baby in the last year gets a onesie, and if you haven’t then sucks to be you?

  52. kalli*

    I really wouldn’t bring up the books again – it can read as ‘hehehe I recommended you a sex book’ as if boss can’t figure that out from the back cover or online reviews, and sometimes people recommend books that it turns out someone doesn’t like or it doesn’t grab them for whatever reason anyway, it’s no big deal if it turns out it’s too explicit for them, that’s normal. If boss comes back and is like ‘uh yeah so that was graphic’ you can then legit be like ‘I completely forgot that part of it because I was fascinated with [the part that stuck with you]’.

    LW#3, that seems like a totally normal disciplinary process when someone’s performance drops just after a raise to the point where it takes them five times as long to complete their work, which may significantly impact the rest of the business even though nobody’s going to die from it. Their attitude changed because being unwell is something they can understand and provide you accommodations for; taking your foot off the gas because you don’t think your work matters enough for you to ask for help before the brown stuff hits the fan is bad judgment that you can’t always come back from.

    LW#4, nobody ever called my teachers either but they have called personal references from my church/volunteer work. One time I needed to finesse references as one of them was overseas back before mobile roaming was really a thing, and they accepted a letter of reference instead of making a phone call and said that at that age the point wasn’t to ask someone how good at work I was, but for me to show that people were willing to recommend me, even if they weren’t socially obliged to or expected to give references the way managers are. You simply being a reference is helping your students get into work because teachers aren’t obligated to give references or have anything to do with students after they graduate or move on to other classes, so the fact that you are willing to carries weight in itself as an indicator that you believe this kid can be successful, and could be something that tips the scales for that particular student.

  53. Michelle*

    If the company in #1 won’t change the prize for the tree contest, the petty in me would win and I would do a bad job of decorating.

  54. Holiday Trees LW*

    I’m the Baby Clothes/Holiday Trees letter writer. I managed to catch the admin’s boss when she was coming in this morning so I have an update.
    The company is apparently trying to phase out the “holiday” trees (their words, I know very well they’re Christmas trees.) and was intending to not have the competition at all this year, so the Admin’s boss had not known this was happening. I don’t know how the Admin left her off the email blast, but the boss was furious for the same reasons mentioned here. The Admin’s Boss assured me that if it WAS still on, a company store voucher would’ve been a totally fine prize.

    One of the commenters suspected the admin was conspiring with an office friend for extra gifts, you were half right but there’s no conspiring. The Admin is pregnant and thought it would be great to announce by having her group win the Tree competition. An all office email has now been sent out explaining the step back from Holiday Tree Decorating as a DEI effort with an apology for the confusion. So far the reactions have gone from “shrug” to “thank goodness we don’t have to compete for baby clothes” but no one is going on about “The War on Christmas.” Other teambuilding events are still on and not mandatory, with an acknowledgement that attendance will likely be in flux due to the fact that there was a baby wave.

    As for “company branded baby clothes” we usually have a gift basket, organized by the Admin, that includes a branded blanket, onesie, and a few other accoutrements. It is shipped to the employee’s address once the employee has submitted the parental leave notice, and not handed out at work. Everyone with a child who’s recieved it has had the “if the baby fits, it works for a giant diaper blowout emergency outfit” reaction, but they frequently get donated or repurposed.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      “The Admin is pregnant and thought it would be great to announce by having her group win the Tree competition.”

      She sounds insufferable.

      1. Mister_L*

        Can we get back to the “announce by having her group win the Tree competition” part.
        Was she going to rig the competition?

        LW, please keep an eye on how the company handles this, because if there are no consequences for the admin I’d suggest at least a passive job search.

          1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

            You mean an official, on-the-record reprimand? (not just “we are unhappy that you did this”?) – if so, you will probably find that the reprimand ‘is’ the outcome (and hopefully, her banned from running these kinds of things again…). In general once some kind of outcome has happened, companies/bosses move on rather than re-litigate the same thing with additional consequences.

            1. Holiday Trees LW*

              I don’t know. I do not have access to any official records or personnel files, and that would be private. I DO know she’s mad at me for ruining the surprise of her new baby.

                1. GammaGirl1908*

                  You took the words right out of my mouth. Serious MCS.

                  Not as bad as the letter about the lady who was banging her boss and tried to stage her filmed preggo announcement by flinging her used preggo test at a colleague and getting performatively irate that they did not want to handle her pee-soaked trash … but still pretty terrible.

              1. allathian*

                Here’s hoping she decides not to come back from maternity leave… Honestly, she sounds insufferable. The baby’s not even born yet and I feel sorry for them for having such a self-absorbed mom.

        1. Boss Scaggs*

          What consequences would be appropriate? Assuming the admin is a good employee besides this, I’m not sure what you would really do other than “use better judgment in the future’. This is definitely not a firing offense

          1. Annony*

            Possibly a little more oversight due to the poor judgement. I wouldn’t fire her, but I would reevaluate what she is doing independently.

          2. Observer*

            Assuming the admin is a good employee besides this, I’m not sure what you would really do other than “use better judgment in the future’.

            Keep a *much* closer eye on her, going forward.

            The essential issue of trying to get some extra baby clothes is not that big of a deal. But there *is* a fair bit that is troubling here.

            1. She directly went against what management had decided (no contest vs having a contest)

            2. Being extremely deliberate about it. No matter how she did it, keeping her boss off of the email blast took absolute thought. It is not necessarily hard to do, but it cannot happen by accident or “slip of the finger”.

            3. Handling the feedback from a staff person very, very badly and quite rudely.

            4. Planning on rigging the contest. Like I said, the onsesies are not the problem. There are 2 issues here. One is that team building events require that people basically believe that the process is more or less fair. If it’s a lottery, then it’s actually a lottery. If it’s a contest then they *definitely* want it do be fair, even if the only prize is that you have the office mascot in your space. etc.

            The second problem is that she’s shown that she’s willing to do dishonest things when it suits her. And either her financial situation is bad enough that she’s at risk of abusing her position is more substantial ways to get money, or she can be very easily motivated to do so. Not someone I would really trust for many things that Admins often do.

            Considering how many security breaches come through compromised employees, I would be worrying about this.

            Which doesn’t necessarily mean firing, but absolutely a lot less independence and trust, and a lot more oversight.

          3. LizB*

            I think a strong reprimand and maybe not being the primary planner for the next few company events – having to explicitly run plans by the boss, or having them given to another admin entirely to plan – would be appropriate. The level of deliberate subterfuge and bad judgment here is pretty significant.

            1. Boss Scaggs*

              Yeah, re-reading the update from the OP I think that’s fair. When you think about it, what an incredibly stupid thing to lose your credibility over.

              Hopefully it was a one time slip-up and she gets back on track

          1. Mister_L*

            The admin went against policy (run something as a competition with prices the company wanted to “phase out” / not run at all) and at best hid it from her boss (lie by ommission when boss wasn’t on the mailing list), at worst actively lied to her boss.
            That’s just two examples.

            Do I want her fired?

            My answer is this: I’m not completely heartless, so I wouldn’t suggest firing someone who is pregnant (or the partner of someone who is pregnent), but her name should be at the top of the list if someone needs to be laid off.

        2. Critical Rolls*

          LW probably won’t know exactly how the company handles this, because that would be very bad practice. There isn’t going to be a public flogging.

          1. musical chairs*

            Right, if your company is at all doing it right, you are never going to hear about what happens to her as a result of this, unless it impacts her responsibilities that impact your work. And even then, it would just be what you need to know to keep moving things forward.

            I’m not gonna lie, while I find the teambuilding stuff at the end of the year to be a nice way to reflect on achievements (during a time of year that is generally festive in the US even if you don’t celebrate Christmas), I cannot muster the energy to care about who wins or loses an office decorating contest in any capacity, no matter what the prize is. As a manager, I spent a good amount of time being pleasantly cheerful and reasonably participatory for these types of things, but good Lord, internally I hate it so much. Sustaining morale and fostering healthy professional community is a part of my job.

            The onesie stuff is nonsensical and exclusive, yes. But also the whole thing is a little silly. Realistically, there’s just not gonna be consequences that rise to significant level of visibility unless this is part of a pattern on her part that has a significant, discrete business impact.

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      Really glad to hear things have worked out. Also, the gall of the admin. That is someone who thinks waaaaaaaay too highly of herself.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        And she had the audacity to call OP whiny for pointing out what a hot mess her idea was.

      2. GammaGirl1908*

        A few months back, someone here who needed to have their ego pierced was told they were “high on their own farts.” Hard same.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      Decorating contest corruption is just the level of drama I was looking for this morning XD

    4. Sunny*

      Am I reading this right? The admin is pregnant herself and planned to RIG THE RESULTS so she could announce her pregnancy and get the baby clothes?! Whaaaatttt???

      Also, thank you for such a glorious and speedy update, OP.

      1. Holiday Trees LW*

        It wouldn’t have happened so fast if I didn’t run into the admin’s boss on the way into the office. If I hadn’t and this went on, there would’ve been a riot.

    5. Hiring Mgr*

      Yeah i think baby clothes for the contest isn’t good but whether they’re company branded or not doesn’t seem to be the point. Sending the gift basket to the new parents is a great idea.

      Personally I’m one of those Jews that doesn’t mind trees or Christmas time, and I think there are ways to make it all inclusive, but sounds like your office has figured it out

    6. Dulcinea47*

      I’m impressed that the powers that be acknowledge there’s no such thing as a “holiday” tree! In my experience that’s a very common way of trying to force people who don’t celebrate xmas to do it anyway.

      1. Holiday Trees LW*

        when it was initially started the office was very small and only had Christmas celebrators in it. We still are having the “Office Holiday Party” but that’s more because it’s also to celebrate everyone getting their yearly bonuses than the actual holidays.

    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Whew, good! Thanks for the update!

      “The Admin is pregnant and thought it would be great to announce by having her group win the Tree competition.”

      I mean, as pregnancy announcements go, it beats throwing a pee stick at a coworker while filming it all, but still, how weird!

      “thank goodness we don’t have to compete for baby clothes”

      I am now envisioning your coworkers fighting over the prize of baby clothes. “You take them.” – “no, you take them” – “no, I won them last year, it’s your turn”

    8. Zarniwoop*

      “I don’t know how the Admin left her off the email blast”
      By “accident” I’m sure.
      She sounds like a real peach.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        In the same way that the people at an old job of mine ‘accidentally’ left bosses off the email advertising their various MLM side hustles etc – by expanding the “group” in Outlook to show all the individual addresses rather than “First Floor Employees Distribution List” or whatever, and then deleting the people who they didn’t want to see it.

        1. Observer*

          In the same way that the people at an old job of mine ‘accidentally’ left bosses off the email advertising their various MLM side hustles etc

          Very easy to do, but no way could it be an “accident”. And anyone who claimed that is was would be getting even MORE side eye from me. I’m not that stupid!

    9. Zarniwoop*

      ‘no one is going on about “The War on Christmas.”’
      It’s not even Thanksgiving yet and already I’m seeing Christmas stuff.
      If there’s a war on Christmas it’s purely defensive.

      1. Dr Sarah*

        A meme I saw: We will stop the War On Christmas when Christmas stops its illegal occupation of November.

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          I passed by a funny meme noting that we all owe the Goth kids a debt of thanks for holding the line, because Halloween is the only thing keeping Christmas from taking over the whole year.

    10. Sparkles McFadden*

      Ah…so the admin went rogue. That explains a lot. I guess she figured no one would stop her once everything was underway and then her boss would see that everyone *loves* the idea.

      Thank you for the update!

      1. Mister_L*

        That’s something I really don’t get. The company had decided not to have the competition this year. How did the admin think this wouldn’t come out at some point. Even if higher ups thought people were decorating just for fun, at some point someone would ask who won.

        1. Boss Scaggs*

          Probably because a holiday decorating contest is usually a pretty minor event that most people wouldn’t really care about, so I guess she figured only a few people would really be into it. Just a guess of course

  55. CommanderBanana*

    Also, those aren’t “holiday trees.” — your friendly neighborhood Jew

    Thank you. Renaming Christian* stuff to try to inclusion-wash things in the workplace is not cool.

    *Yoinked from non-Christian religions, but whatever.

  56. MailOrderAnnie*

    Also, those aren’t “holiday trees.” — your friendly neighborhood Jew

    Hey Allison, from one Jew to another, thanks for pointing this out. I have found it difficult over the years of my career to get people to understand the distinction. I get a little weary of people thinking that changing “Christmas Party” to “Holiday Party” means that they are including Hanukkah and all the other holidays that occur around this time of year. It’s not. It’s just another way to make non-Christians feel like outsiders.

    1. anon_s*

      I’m quite curious on how holiday party got wrapped up in this conversation. Those/that has actually been an effort to combine multiple holidays into one event, or at the least a sincere effort to be inclusive (even if clumsy), in my experience.

      I suppose it’s office specific — that is, if the majority of your office was raised in one faith then it’s more likely that the tune the party will come out to (that’s more a DEI issue – wherein the organizers should be making a conscious effort to include everyone regardless of if they are there in the room or not), but I am not sure that conversation is in the same vein as “holiday tree,” where the ‘tree’ is only recognizable to one faith group during the “season” its up (basically saying that “Christmas is the status quo holiday but the rest of you can participate if you assimilate”).

      1. bureaucratte*

        So many ways to do this incorrectly and so few ways to do it correctly. I work in the government and have seen:
        1. Calling it a holiday party but having it as close to Christmas as possible while Chanukah/other holidays have already ended.
        2. Calling it a holiday party and having ham be the main central food
        3. Calling it a holiday party and decorating the whole place with red and green and/or adding some blue and silver ornaments and wreaths–which are Christmas decorations in blue and silver.
        4. Calling it a holiday party, making it look like the Ghost of Christmas Present committed all over the room and then adding a menorah
        5. Calling it “an ugly sweater” holiday party, when the sweater thing is already a Christmas thing but now some manufacturers make Chanukah ones because Jews keep getting invited to “ugly sweater parties”
        6. Calling it a “holiday party” and having it after sundown on Friday when observant Jews cannot partake

        And on and on and on. This is why some Jews get rankled by calling things holiday parties.

        And NONE of these examples address the fact that Christians and Jews are not the only two religions.

    2. Hiring Mgr*

      Tons of companies have holiday parties though that aren’t even the slightest bit religious. Unless the act of having a party in December itself is the issue. I think if these things are done well there’s no reason anyone should feel like an outsider (I’m jewish myself if it matters)

      1. Lainey L. L-C*

        Yeah, my work “holiday” parties could have honestly been end-of-year or New Year’s parties, or hey it’s Thursday parties because it was just…food. We got a catered meal one day.

      2. But Not the Hippopotamus*

        Ive been to plenty that are Christmas parties with one dreidel paper cutout decoration. Also, between Christmas decorations, attire, food, and the like basically every single one is a Christmas party.

        Now, if they left it at snow flakes and cocoa and whatnot, it might be better, but I have never seen that. Also, let’s be honest, there’s no other season equivalent in most places.

        1. Jackalope*

          Honestly, what if everyone switched to having a “winter party” in January or something? (Obviously this would be specific to the Northern Hemisphere.) People tend to be busy in December anyway, and most people feel a bit dreary by January. It wouldn’t be that hard to make it wintery rather than holiday-ish – like you say, snowflakes and cocoa and icicles and such.

      3. Beth**

        Er, yes,having a party in December and calling it a “holiday party” can be the issue. Not everyone has a “holiday” to celebrate in December. Call it an “end of year” party maybe, but holding the major office party in December is honoring Christmas in a way no other group’s most significant holiday is honored.

      4. There You Are*

        All of the companies I’ve worked for have done it right, then, except for my second-ever office job, and there were only five of us in the company. *Those* holiday parties were called Christmas parties.

        But the larger companies, the ones who got it right? No red & green decorations, no trees. The decorations were more like “If two corporations got married…” So, flower arrangements, centerpieces featuring fall foliage / winter-themed stuff (bare branches, berries, frothy white fabric substituted for snow, etc.).

        And the companies emphasized that the timing of the party was to celebrate making it successfully through another year, and because it has been the slow time of the year for the industries I’ve worked in.

    3. jellied brains*

      I realize my opinion comes from being raised atheist with a vague attempt at teaching world religion but work “holiday party” to me always meant “end of year celebration (aka NYE) + maybe Xmas but this is work so there’s no actual religion involved” but I don’t want to be alienating anyone with that language either.

  57. Ann Onymous*

    Letter #1 is impressive just from the number of different issues present in this one situation:
    1. A prize that will be of no use to many of the potential winners is a weird choice no matter what it is.
    2. Baby clothes will be potentially painful for those experiencing infertility or pregnancy loss and potentially feel like nonacceptance of their reproductive choices for those who have chosen not to have children or not to have any more children.
    3. All the issues around a Christmas-centric celebration being presented as a generic holiday celebration.
    4. The admin accusing the LW of whining when they raised these very valid concerns.

  58. Sunflower*

    #1 That’s a horrible prize for so so so so so many reasons. If they insist and I won, I’d donate to women’s shelter. I’m petty enough not to pass them on to a coworker.

    I’m so tired of parents having priority with many things in the workplace. I can’t tell you how many holidays I worked because “you don’t have a family” or shifts I had to cover because a kid related reason. I usually don’t mind (or at least suck it up), but at the very minimum, non-parents should get a prize that’s not baby related! We matter too!

  59. Relentlessly Socratic*

    LW2: And then there was the day my boss/lab chief (F) and I (F) decided to play hooky and go see a matinee of Brokeback Mountain….I mean we knew what it was about but gosh!

  60. Busy Middle Manager*

    I’ve noticed the topic of Christmas as religious or not and to have religious holidays or not gets religitated to death every year so I’m changing the subject a bit.

    As someone who has to eat gluten free out of necessity, this time of the year is horrible for me. It’s basically two months of turning down food and having discussions about why. Even from people who are liberal and enlightened and on the right side of every social issue who should know better. I’ve been noticing that people still have huge blind spots and think these issues exist out there but it doesn’t register when it impacts a real person right next to them. Then the constant stream of “you can have just one,” 1) no I can’t, 2) when it’s “just one” every single day for weeks, it adds up real quick. Then it’s the constant stream of gluten free foods shoved in my face, most of which are not especially healthy (loads of cheese and meat basically). I also have slight heart issues so need to steer clear of huge heavy meals like that, which then attracts a bunch of “you’re too young for that” when I actually am not.

    I breath a sigh of relief mid-January when it’s all over. The holidays has turned into a series of events where I feel like a weirdo for not drinking and eating a reasonably healthly diet. I get a bunch of food items I can’t eat and told to “just regift them” which gets really annoying after the nth time the same person does it and people reject the regifting because not everyone wants a bunch of boxes of cholocates in the house. I’m tired of people acting like I am not eating when I literally just ate a huge meal from the buffet. I feel like the US standards for what are normal proportions are just impossible for some of us to do. I wish we came up with ways to celebrate that didn’t just involve just drinking and eating huge amounts.

    I also which people were a bit more sensitive to peoples’ schedules. I always get a few invites back to back and am tired/full from the last one. So maybe don’t schedule a random retirement party the week before Christmas as an example! Maybe if someone is moving away on December 31st then you just mention it quickly at the official end of year function, but they don’t get their own party due to the timing

    1. Observer*

      I also have slight heart issues so need to steer clear of huge heavy meals like that, which then attracts a bunch of “you’re too young for that” when I actually am not.

      So much in your post that would make me nuts, if I were in your shoes. But this one just sends me around the bend.

      It’s *so* invalidating with a veneer of “but that’s a compliment!” Yuck!

      My sympathies.

      1. Avery*

        Yep. Disabilities and health issues don’t come with an age restriction, but sadly some people seem to think otherwise.
        Signed, a person who wore a hearing aid in college, and is also so so tired of this assumption…

    2. Andromeda*

      This feels like a derail, besides which… people aren’t eating unhealthily *at* you. I do feel sympathy for you over your friends/colleagues not being willing to accept you have dietary requirements though!

      1. Busy Middle Manager*

        I wrote it’s a derail TBH, I haven’t even read that long and have already seen the rest of the comments here dozens of times before. I was trying to add something new about why holiday season may not be pleasant to people. We’ve already discussed the rest of the items here dozens of times.

      2. Busy Middle Manager*

        As per the “at you” part, I mean, it would be nice if you were correct. But I already went to a pre-holiday thing that of course was at a steak house. Had to discuss why I am sober and for how long, then a bunch of questions on why I didn’t want a steak and how it’s pointless to be at a steak house and not eat the best thing on the menu.

        I bring this up because these are otherwise progressive, for lack of a better word, people. They know better but think all of these things are about other people out there, not us

      1. Boss Scaggs*

        I think BMM is just giving other ways Holiday parties can be difficult, and why we should be more thoughtful

  61. The Person from the Resume*

    It’s just so off-base.

    1) A prize is unnecessary. I do not need a prize to decided to particpate or not in a tree decorating contest. For something that basic (decorating my office for the holiday season), you shouldn’t need a prize for motivation.

    2) But if you are going to do a prize, this one is actually disincentivizing. The old prize was that the winning department got a free happy hour and dinner was something a lot of people could look forward to and use — free food! This prize is something only a small number of people could use in their own household, and you can’t convince that more than half the people at this company have babies that would fit in this prize.

    1. Other Alice*

      Not sure what you mean by basic. Many of us who don’t celebrate Christmas really don’t care about decorations and would need motivation like free drinks and dinner to bother.

      1. Andromeda*

        I *do* celebrate Christmas (albeit only the secularised kind), and I would need motivation! There’s a reason decorating the office usually becomes a task allocated to an office manager or similar around that time.

        1. Clisby*

          Same here! I put up a tree at home and I’m done decorating. No way I’m decorating an office unless said office is making it worth my while. Nice dinner with drinks? OK. Possibility of a baby onesie? No chance.

    2. Observer*

      For something that basic (decorating my office for the holiday season), you shouldn’t need a prize for motivation.

      For *you* decorating your office is basic and doesn’t need an incentive. But for a lot of people, that’s just not the case. Even for people who celebrate the holiday. For people who don’t celebrate, there is just no reason to do it. And for people, like me, for whom this holiday is explicitly other (and has some bad associations), any expectation around this would be a problem.

  62. Lucy P*

    #5 Baffles me. The last time current company signed a contract with a health insurance company, they had to put the percentages that they would contribute towards employee and dependent premiums. I assumed that meant they were contractually obligated to keep those percentages. I could be wrong.

    1. Dulcinea47*

      The insurance company don’t know or care, their entire payment for the premium is coming from your employer. How much is withheld from your check is between your employer and you.

  63. sam_i_am*

    As someone who does not want kids, I would find the baby clothes as a prize pretty darn othering. It really makes it feel as though the company thinks having kids is “the normal thing to do” and makes the assumption everyone will at some point have a need for baby clothes.

    1. Holiday Trees LW*

      I don’t want kids either, and I’m mentally gearing up for 2 months of constant “oh when are you having kids” from family so I don’t cuss out my grandparents. The fact that I thought the office was starting it made me livid.

      1. Princess Sparklepony*

        I don’t blame you. Went through about 10 years of that with my ex-mother in law. My mom mentioned it once and I laughed at her.

  64. Boss Scaggs*

    This might be nit-picking, and dependent on your relationship with your boss, but I don’t think I’d use the word “smutty”. It sounds too base or dirty, or something.. Maybe use “adult” instead?

    1. Princess Sparklepony*

      I kind of like “spicy.” In one show they used “fruity” which I thought was just weird.

  65. NaoNao*

    I dunno, a title like “The Last Binding” seems to pretty strongly hint if not outright signal adult content–and of the risque nature to me! Unless the actual title is “Kittens and Rainbows” and the subtitle or general overall series title is “Book 1 in The Last Binding” series” it feels a tad disingenuous to recommend “Secks: teh book” to one’s boss and then retroactively be flustered.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Maybe I read too much fantasy, but “The Last Binding” totally sounds to me like some kind of spell holding off some ancient evil.

    2. Roland*

      I’ve read it and the title is not really referring to constant bondage or anything. And if you just look at the blurb for book 1 on goodreads, there’s no real reason to assume it has any steamy scenes.

      1. Elsewise*

        On the other hand, I once recommended a colleague a podcast called Dungeons and Daddies, with the caveat that “yeah, it’s nsfw, but not for the reasons you think!” (He responded very earnestly “it’s okay if it is!”)

    3. ferrina*

      This title feels like a weird Rorschach test! Or that image that could be the young lady or the older lady, depending on how you look at it.

      My brain immediately ran down two separate tracks, the first wondering about summoning spells (seconding commenter I should really pick a name) and the second thinking of 50 Shades of Grey.

      It’s like asking someone to pronounce Hellspark (which is an amazing scifi and linguistics book, btw)

  66. Dances with Flax*

    LW1: Yes, company-branded baby clothes are a terrible “prize” to give out for winning a competition!

    My cynical take on this is twofold:
    (A) your company ordered a lot of branded baby clothes, found out that nobody wanted them and decided to dump them on the “winner” of the tree-decorating contest.
    (B) Consciously or not, the powers that be want the hapless “winner” of the baby clothes to be reminded – even at home – that Our Company Takes Priority Over Your Family and Don’t You Forget THAT for One Single Second!

    The branded baby clothes sound absolutely awful, the idea of unloading them on the contest “winner” sounds absolutely awful, pretending that a Christmas tree really ISN’T a Christmas tree sounds absolutely awful and sneering at the LW for pointing out that most people won’t want the branded baby clothes IS absolutely awful. I think that sums it up!

  67. i like hound dogs*

    I’d be so annoyed at the baby clothes thing. WTF am I supposed to do with those? Everyone in my family is age 8 and older.

    It’s worse than no prize.

  68. Sally O'Malley*

    LW #4, I’ve been a high school teacher for over 25 years and have had numerous students ask me to be a reference. Out of all those, only once have I been contacted. It was an in-person interview with a representative from the Department of Defense. My former student was in the military and was getting a security clearance to be on a special assignment. Thankfully he had given me a heads up that they may contact me. They showed up unannounced in the middle of the school day, and the guidance department was nervous. LOL. They paged into my room and said shakily, “Umm, Ms. O’Malley, someone from the Department of Defense is here to speak to you.”

  69. DameB*

    LW#2: Oh, I feel your pain. My boss just asked me for suggestions for her teen daughter, who is the same age as mine. The problem is that I’m a free-range mom and figure a 17 year old can read whatever she wants and my boss is NOT that kind of mom.

    She was looking for steampunk in particular and I had to do a lot of very very careful caveating about Gail Carriger books. (Finishing school: great! Parasol Protectorate: maybe? I don’t remember it being smutty? Werewolves in San Francisco: very smutty!)

      1. JustaTech*

        Mmm, thinking about the later books in PP, how the boss feels about LGBTQ romance may influence how acceptable that is.

        The Werewolves of SF: I thought my hair would catch fire (but I kept reading!)

  70. learnedthehardway*

    OP#4 – please don’t feel that high school teachers aren’t being seen as serious references, just because you haven’t been contacted. Employers will generally feel that anyone who puts a high school teacher as a reference is probably pretty confident that it will be a good reference. That does mean something.

  71. Random Dice*

    Huge cosign to calling out the nonsense that is swapping out the word “Christmas” for “holiday” in the context of a work-sponsored Christmas tree decorating event.

    My company tried to thread this needle once by decorating the office Christmas trees with silver and blue… Jewish-decorated Christmas trees at work are still Christmas trees but with some really messed-up stuff added!

    Though when I commented on it to my coworker, she pointed out that as a pagan, she had never once been wished Happy Yule, or seen a Yule Log, at work. (Ironically, since Christmas was borrowed wholecloth from pagan holiday celebrations.) That hit me hard, and I have wished her a happy Yule, and Samhain, ever since.

    1. Observer*

      My company tried to thread this needle once by decorating the office Christmas trees with silver and blue…

      Yuck! That’s *worse* than not threading the needle.

  72. Anne Shirley*

    LW1, this situation is perplexing and alienating on so many levels. Does every department include a parent(s) of a baby? If so, only one (or a few) individuals could use the gift (if they even want to). If not, what if a baby-less department wins? Do they just hand over the gift to another department or individual of their choosing? Are the judges only going to consider trees from departments with parents of babies (which would negate participation for baby-less departments)?

    Childless people (women especially) already get enough flack in everyday life. Why add to it with an exclusionary, penalizing activity?!

    1. Holiday Trees LW*

      i added an update above, but no it’s just my 30 person department in a baby wave, + the admin who rigged the competition for the free baby clothes?

  73. Beveled Edge*

    LW2, as someone who received a recommendation for a very racy TV show (Lost Girl) from a coworker without a warning, yes please update them! I ended up loving it, as I’m a fan of urban fantasy and that’s why my coworker recommended it, but wow I wish I’d had a warning. Some materials you only want to watch or read in private settings, in case others can see and make assumptions.

  74. K*

    I would not want my baby to be an ad for some company, even if I worked for that company. The fact that they even have company branded baby clothes is pretty dumb.

  75. HailRobonia*

    In my old office we did a Yankee Swap for the holidays. I was the only man among 10 women. So many gifts in the swap were gendered: perfume, women’s jewelry, etc.

    When I complained about getting stuck with perfume one year, my coworker said I could give it to my wife. I said “you mean my husband? He doesn’t like perfume either.”

    1. Aunt Bee’s Pickles*

      That comes with the territory with those type of gift exchange. Our team is fairly evenly split between men and women and I (a single guy) ended up with earrings three years in a row. It got to be a running joke.

  76. D. B.*

    #2 — I would let it go. Your boss is presumably an adult and doesn’t need to be warned that some books (and not just “genre fiction”) have explicit sex in them. Your recommendation is not supposed to be a guarantee that she will like the book or find it acceptable. I think it would come across as weird and patronizing to warn her about it.

  77. Gold and Jade*

    For LW4, another idea for references are coaches if you play sports. My sister plays competitive basketball and she has used her coach as a reference for things she applies to.

  78. jellied brains*

    LW 2: I bet my old boss would love the recommendation. She was constantly leaving open the very explicit romance e-novels she was reading on the shared workstation so you’d sit down to start your shift and suddenly you’re reading about parts quivering and throbbing.

    1. Avery*

      That makes me feel better about reading some… questionable content on AO3 on a work computer back in the day! To be fair, I legitimately didn’t have anything work-related to be doing at that moment, and also the rest of the chapters of that fic were not nearly as smutty as the one I happened to read that day. (And perhaps most importantly, it wasn’t a shared computer, and I don’t think anybody noticed what I was reading.)

  79. Natalie*

    I lost a pregnancy last year in my 2nd trimester about 4 weeks after announcing it at work. I also work in a women heavy function where there is always at least one woman pregnant. That has been hard enough to deal with on its own, since we have been unable to get pregnant again and have now started IVF. If branded baby clothes were a prize for what’s supposed to be a fun activity, I would be apoplectic. I would probably quit if they went through with it and actually awarded it.

  80. HonorBox*

    OP1 – Wow what a terrible idea! While some people may not want to participate in a happy hour or dinner as a team, at least they COULD. It seems incredibly tone deaf to offer a prize that not everyone could use/enjoy, even if they wanted to. As Alison said, too, it seems tone deaf when you consider that there are some who might want to have a child but are struggling, or just can’t. I’d suggest pushing back again, and maybe bring in a few others who feel the same. You could point out that while this is a team comradery thing, the prize will likely make some opt out from even participating. That’s not great for morale, nor is it building the spirit they want to build.

    Then definitely address the “whiny” issue. You’re pointing out that the prize isn’t something that everyone could use. You’re pointing out that it might lead to non-participation. That’s not being whiny. That’s just pointing out fact. It feels like the admin who is in charge of the prizes has their mind set on that being the best and only prize and anyone bringing up a concern is doing so negatively. While this is a relatively low-stakes issue, will this come up in the future with that person when the stakes are higher?

    Also, just saying this… I’ve been the parent with a new child in the home. I would HATE a prize from work to be branded gear for my child. If the company wanted to let a new parent pick from the company supplier when the child comes home, as a congratulatory gift, maybe that’s a good idea. But I wouldn’t want a bunch of new stuff that is very work-centric for my child.

  81. Have you had enough water today?*

    LW1 – I am petty so I would be striving to win that prize just so I could put it on my dog & proudly display photos of my dog wearing the clothing on my desk.

    LW2 – Many years ago I gifted my elderly MIL a copy of Fifty Shades of Gray without knowing anything about the book. I had to buy her some “stocking stuffer” type gifts as she made a last minute decision to sleep at our place on Xmas Eve so would be with us Xmas morning (instead of coming later for lunch as planned) so I wanted her to be able to open a bunch of small gifts as well as her big gift along with the rest of us. She took the book with her for her after lunch rest & afterwards asked “have you read this?”…we all got a laugh out of it but I was pretty embarrassed to have gifted my MIL what amounts to soft porn.

  82. Head sheep counter*

    The bizarre grab for work logo’d baby clothes… will have me laughing for the afternoon.

    If I had won… I’d have to decorate a canned ham with the clothes… or my dog… or both… on rotation. With photos. Because who wants branded clothes for anyone other than themselves… maybe?

    1. Bo Peep*

      I’m giggling at the thought of baby onesies being equivalent to nice dinners and happy hours. A pack of 3 or 4 (depending on brand) new white onesies costs like 5 bucks at walmart. Even if they give a whole bunch of them, no one wants to see their kid in the same not-even-cute thing every day and they’ll grow out of them before you use them all.

      1. Head sheep counter*

        Right because… there are very very few logos that look great across say… a diapered butt. And I hope that’s where the logo is… so that it can be decently large and and “advertisey”.

  83. Bo Peep*

    The only people who even will see a baby in a company onesie are either the people who already work there (who will be annoyed they’re still being reminded of work while trying to keep their little human alive) or people way too distracted by how cute the baby is to care what’s on its clothes. Or maybe people who think babies are ugly and so won’t be looking at them much.

    Also I don’t think I’d want my logo covered in baby spit-up or baby food stains…

  84. LW5*

    Thank you, Alison for the advice! I know that “is it legal” is usually a pretty weak question, but here I was truly wondering if it IS legal due to the boss sometimes running afoul of legalities in the past, ie telling the employees that they were not allowed to talk about their wages to each other. Unfortunately pay transparency, consistency and equity have long been an issue at their workplace as well. But, good to know that healthcare premiums are something that my husband may reasonably try to negotiate for going forward.

  85. Yule Howser*

    Decorating trees, logs, and boughs of greenery for worship or celebration in the winter months pre-dates Christianity, and those practices were co-opted by Christians for their new-fangled religion. So, one *could* call it a “holiday” tree because lots of people (not just Christians) want to celebrate the rebirth of god(s)/pray to survive another harsh winter/stave off depression with some extra sparkle and color.

    We’re all basically practicing stolen ancient paganism, is what I’m saying. Enjoy! :-)

    1. TransmascJourno*

      How incredibly disingenuous. A lot of people up and down this thread have explained that they are a part of minority groups (religious and/or ethno-religious in origin) and have detailed why decorating Xmas (or Yule) trees is not inclusive, and how trying to pass them off as “holiday trees” is also, at best, artificial and disingenuous. Not every religion is based on your supposed schema, and it’s pretty crappy for you to pretend that’s the case.

      —signed, another Jew

    2. NotAManager*

      Here’s the thing. If we were in this comments thread 1500 years ago and people were shaking their firsts about the upstart Christians co-opting their Yule garlands, this attitude would probably resonate a lot more.

      However, in 2023 where offices are making members of their workforce feel uncomfortable and excluded and erased by pretending common signifiers of Christmas are actual neutral, non-religious holiday items, that framing falls incredibly flat.

      Not to mention the idea that holiday decorations stave off depression – for a huge number of people, regardless of their beliefs – the trappings of Christmas are hugely triggering for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. So there’s literally nothing to “enjoy.”

  86. Raida*

    3. My boss threatened to fire me after I had one bad month

    While your boss did a poor job, I feel like “I’m good at my job it’s fine if I’m not good at it for a while – everyone will accept and understand” is a little silly?

    Would it not have been better to tell your boss “I know that I’m going slower than usual, this will be temporary, I know you appreciate my normal speediness. If there is anything you’d like done differently in regards to prioritisation just let me know.”
    And you could have, at that point, explained there’s a reason and you know it and you’re aware of it and the impacts?

    Again – they did poorly. No doubt.
    I’ve had a manager threaten my job once and they never did it again after I told them they can tell me I’m going slower, or if I’m going slow to focus on tasks x, y, z, but they do NOT say “there’s plenty of people who’d want this job” when I’ve just done two so-late-it-was-morning closes at KFC and I’m tired and I don’t even realise I’m going slow.
    I don’t know if he felt bad or if I looked like an angry crazy person at that moment, but he bloody well didn’t use that approach again with me.

  87. Raida*

    4. High school teachers as references

    I think it’s a lot to do with having a standard application form than businesses actually expecting teens to have references they need to contact.

    Most have nobody, so they use a teacher. Not because they were told “we want a teacher’s reference” just because they had no work history yet

  88. Matt*

    thank you for the comment about “holiday trees.” that is not a thing, and highly offensive to those who don’t include trees in their celebrations (everyone who doesn’t celebrate xmas)

  89. olderthanmost*

    I didn’t read any of the comments but this hit me. My company really did it right. People who made more money had less covered. The lowest earners had more of their insurance covered. I was always impressed by that.

  90. NeutralJanet*

    Am I losing my memory, or did LW3 originally state something about sending confidential information in an email to the wrong person after the first meeting, which led to a second meeting? Was there a reason why this was edited out?

Comments are closed.