coworker wants to withhold PTO as punishment, religious gifts for colleagues, and more

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

1. Coworker wants to withhold PTO as punishment

We have a series of educational seminars by coworkers every month. I am expected to attend 80% of these seminars, online or in person (preferred). Attendance is monitored through completion of an anonymous survey with a follow-up page where you submit a daily code to get credit. The code is not always provided during the session, so sometimes we have to bother the presenter to provide it. Sometimes my role works off-site or has other expectations around the time of day that these sessions are held. When we are off-site, there is no expectation to attend and we are excused from the attendance requirement.

My coworker, who is involved in a committee that acts as a liaison with management, has been advocating for withholding PTO as punishment for failing to attend a sufficient amount of educational seminars. Our PTO is listed as a benefit in our contract so I don’t think it is legal to withhold PTO. My coworker disagrees and points to a time when we were severely understaffed due to Covid and PTO was denied automatically for all employees due to low staffing. Would withholding PTO like this be allowed?

Do you have actual contracts? If you’re in the U.S., that would be unusual — but if you do, then the answer depends on the specific wording in your contract. If you don’t, the legality depends on the wording of other company documents.

But it doesn’t really matter, because this would be a horribly ill-advised thing to do anyway. First, it’s ridiculously punitive and a far larger punishment than the offense warrants.

Second, PTO isn’t something an employer gives out of the goodness of their heart and which can/should be yanked back to teach a lesson; it’s part of employees’ compensation package, and it’s in your employer’s interest to have people use their PTO so they have rested, recharged employees. Revoking it to punish people is very likely to cost you good employees, who will leave over this.

Third, you don’t manage people via punishment. If someone isn’t attending enough seminars, then their manager should talk with them, figure out what’s going on, make the expectation clear, and then hold them to it like they would any other requirement of their job. If it’s happening with lots of people, then you look at root causes: are the seminars not helpful? Do people not have enough time for them? Are there legitimate reasons people aren’t prioritizing them? You don’t just bludgeon them by yanking their PTO.

Your coworker is being ridiculous, and I hope she doesn’t manage anyone with her instincts this off. And if you work at an even slightly well-managed company, your management should shut this idea down hard if she proposes it.

2. Are religious gifts ever appropriate for colleagues?

Is it ever appropriate to get a coworker a religious-themed gift (her religion, not mine)?

Our team’s administrative assistant is going through a really rough time with cancer treatment, and I’d like to get her something to let her know I’m thinking of her. Our team has some weird dynamics, and we work in academia, so there won’t be something central organized for her. I am not sure her schedule for being home or in hospital, or what she’s able to eat, etc. so don’t want to do any of the standard perishable gifts of food or flowers.

She has been quite open about her commitment to Islam (e.g., she was really excited to share when she recently made her first pilgrimage to Mecca). I have a strong sense she might appreciate something like a framed calligraphed section of the Qur’an that talks about healing, or a small bracelet with a prayer on it.

I myself am not Muslim, and don’t personally believe in the power of prayer (other than the healing effect of feeling happy and calm that prayer can bring about for people who believe in it), and normally am a big proponent of not mixing of work and religion, so I am surprised to be finding myself asking this. Is it totally whacky to get my coworker a religious gift? If it matters, I am higher than her in the hierarchy but she does not report to me.

I wouldn’t. There are indeed people who would be moved by a gift like this, and it’s possible your coworker is one of them. But it’s also possible it would feel like overstepping, or that you’ll miss the mark in some way because you don’t know the nuances of the religion or of her relationship with it.

What you’re proposing is a very personal and intimate gift, in the context of a work relationship, and there’s too much risk of it being a misfire (especially as someone outside of her religion and who lacks insight into the ways she connects with it). There are so many other thoughtful gifts you could choose that aren’t religious. Go for one of those.

3. I have to do math for a project and I’m terrible at math

I’m an office administrator at a mid-sized company and have been in the role for about five years. Based on my promotions and excellent performance reviews, I think it’s safe to say I’m good at my job. However, I have managed to go this entire time without doing more than the most basic math.

Our office is hosting a large conference this year that involves setting up several of our meeting rooms in a classroom style. I’ve been tasked with calculating how many tables and chairs can fit in each room while still allowing each attendee ample space to move around. Relatively basic surface area stuff, right?

I am terrible at math. I have pretty serious ADHD (and my boss is aware) but frankly, I seem to have been born without the math gene. The amount of mental math and spatial reasoning involved in this project, however simple in theory, has me spiraling.

This is going to sound ridiculous but I have a lot of low-key traumatic associations with math (parents yelling, teachers upset, lots of crying, elementary school homework taking countless hours to complete.) Being “academically gifted” in every other area only seemed to make adults angrier at me when I struggled with something. I don’t come from a family background where dyscalculia would have been taken seriously and I’m honestly not sure whether or not it applies to me. But yes. Terrible at math, zero spatial reasoning, can’t follow a map, etc…

I don’t want to admit defeat because it would be embarrassing to tell my boss that I’m essentially too dumb to do this. The project needs to get done. How do I get through it without authority figures getting upset, me crying, and a straightforward task taking countless hours to complete?

This isn’t about defeat or being dumb; it’s about being assigned a task that happens to play to a historical weakness of yours (and maybe a disability too). You’re known to be good at your job; no halfway decent boss will be outraged that you’re not good at math too. You clearly don’t normally need to rely on it in your job, so it’s not like you’re revealing something that makes you fundamentally unsuited for your work; you’re just explaining something that makes you unsuited to one minor task.

Your boss almost certainly doesn’t want you to spend hours on this or suffer major angst from it! Right now, though, she doesn’t know that’s happening, so she just needs you to let her know this isn’t a good plan.

So, own it! Meaning: “I’m terrible at math and spatial reasoning, and the amount of both of these needed to figure this out, however simple in theory, has me spiraling. I’m worried it will take hours and could still be wrong, and I don’t want that outcome. Is there someone who could help me with this?”

4. Taking an external offer when my manager has been fighting to promote me

I’m in what I consider to be a tough situation. My company has been going through a rough patch lately with a large portion of the company being impacted by a layoff and rumors of more layoffs coming in the near future. As a result, I felt it responsible to explore other opportunities, just in case. I’ve been approached for an exciting role and am now faced with having to make a decision of staying or leaving. Meanwhile, my manager is terrified of me leaving my current company (he should be!) and has put me up for a promotion that’s in the final stages now. I’ve been pushing for this promotion for quite some time and working my tail off to prove that I’m worthy, so the recognition is appreciated.

Normally, I would say that this isn’t a tough decision. However, our promotions this year had a VERY low quota and were heavily scrutinized. My manager had to fight very hard to get me into one of the few slots available and others in my organization were cut from the list even though many of them deserve a promotion as well. If I accept an external offer, I’ve basically taken one of the very few promotion spots and made no use of it all. It’s too late in the promo cycle for them to substitute my spot as the decisions have been made and the cycle is now closed.

Would I be in the wrong to accept an external offer that I’m excited about after taking one of the promotion spots? On the one hand, it’s not my fault that my company has locked down promotion quotas so much this year. But, I also feel a bit guilty about going through with the promotion process knowing there was a good chance I’d be leaving.

If you want the other job, take it. Yes, the timing is too bad, but you don’t owe it to your manager to turn down a better offer. And keep in mind that your employer isn’t promoting you as a favor or a gift; if they promote you, it’s because it makes business sense for them. That doesn’t mean that your manager might not feel disappointed that he used capital (and a limited promotion slot) only for it not to pay off, but that’s how this stuff goes sometimes. It’s absolutely not something you should sacrifice your own career progression for! Act in your own interests, and just let your boss know that you appreciated he fought for you.

5. Can my boss make me use AI?

Can our management team force us to use AI transcription services? Our staff (all nine of us) share one multi-user Zoom account, and our executive director has turned on the “AI transcription” option for all our accounts, and locked it so we can’t turn it off on our individual accounts. I find the AI transcription piece unnerving and unnecessary (someone always takes meeting notes), especially given our line of work (similar to 12-step/recovery sharing, a lot of what we discuss in meetings we and our patrons do not want published, ever!). So far the only “discussion” has been an FYI that it was happening.

If it matters, we work in Illinois, which has new legislation around AI use during video interview review, but most of my colleagues are remote and work across the U.S.

Yes, they can do that. Your employer can choose what tools it does and doesn’t want to use in the course of its business. (The Illinois law you mentioned only applies to job interviews.) You can certainly raise it for discussion and explain your concerns, and you can attempt to rally coworkers to push back with you, but ultimately it’s your employer’s call.

{ 585 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A note about letter #3: the writer is not asking for advice on solving the math problem; please don’t try to advise on that here (particularly since those suggestions may be useless to her given what she described; please take her at her word). She’s asking how to handle it with her boss.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is being roundly ignored and the comment section is filling up with solutions that involve math and spatial reasoning, the two things the OP clearly said she didn’t feel able to do. I’m going to remove the ones I see, and ask that this be respected.

  2. Turtle*

    #5, one way to push back on this is to point out that AI-generated transcripts contain many inaccuracies, particularly if you use uncommon terms or industry jargon, have strong accents, or there are many people talking (trouble differentiating speakers). It’s a great starting place for a human-edited transcript, or to do a quick search for where to listen in the full audio, but if you’re not saving the audio as well (from context, it doesn’t seem like you are), having an AI transcript could be less helpful than nothing.

    1. Annie*

      Another concern with these services and serious.grounds for pushing back: A coworker who is depending on the transcript to comprehend the meeting might get wrong information and not realize it during the meeting because of hearing and/or speech processing difficulties.

      The online service might look at your transcript and find something “wrong” that would otherwise take too many company resources to look at in the absence of an abuse report.

      While the potential for someone or something to listen in on “private” communications has always been there, the AI transcription practically invites it.

      1. Goldfeesh*

        I have worked for an online transcription company that has draft/AI transcripts. The horrifying mishears by the draft is something to behold and if users of AI drafts don’t realize it, it could be bad. Innocuous words get misheard as very *not* innocuous words all the time.

        1. Elle by the sea*

          That’s more funny than horrifying and it’s pretty easy to figure out what the more innocuous words were.

          1. Harper the Other One*

            No, it can be genuinely horrifying. It’s not just subbing in swears but can also total mishear critical context of conversations to a point where the transcript essentially says the exact opposite of what the person said. (Think stuff like dropping “not” from “I strongly recommend not investing in this endeavour.”) It will also regularly attribute something said by one person to a different speaker.

            I would absolutely not trust an AI transcript without thorough human review at the best of times, and this is for a sensitive topic!

            1. Myrin*

              I encountered your example just yesterday evening! Granted, it was the auto-generated Youtube subtitles on a cooking video so not particularly high stakes but I was fascinated to see the subtitles saying exactly the opposite of what was actually being said.

              1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

                Seriously. The auto-generated subtitles on YouTube are *awful*. This tech is just not ready for this type of thing. And that’s aside from the other concerns about AI, like confidentiality.

                1. Dina*

                  I use AI transcription for social media posts at work, and I always go back and edit the subtitles because they’re almost always hilariously wrong. I’m always baffled when people just leave the inaccuracies in!

              2. I already forgot my name*

                This reminds me of back when LSU still had Coach O and the captions just had no earthly idea what he was saying.

                Sometimes it was jibberish like “Ain’t no mussels on Latonya shore,” and sometimes it would just default to “??? Go Tigers!”

            2. MigraineMonth*

              Exactly. The big failures where the transcription goes off into complete nonsense are actually less alarming than the little, barely noticeable ones that change the meaning of key statements.

              Think of all the little things in everyday speech that flip the meaning of a sentence, or put it in the past tense, or even the little slips of the tongue and misstatements that we gloss over in our minds. Our brains are wired to expect within a certain context, and AI still can’t do that with any accuracy in real time.

          2. Eldritch Office Worker*

            It can be, if you’re lucky, but it can also very much not be and can cause everything from interpersonal rifts to huge business misunderstandings. In a context like this I would be very worried about possible big-deal miscommunications

          3. Antigone Funn*

            Machine transcription can go very wrong when the speakers A) overlap with each other, B) have accents or speech impediments of any kind, or C) sprinkle words from other languages into their speech. I used to have a job repeating what people said into a voice-recognition program, so as to smooth out all those problems into something the robot could understand. It still heard “orange juice” as “orange Jews” all the time (part of this complete breakfast??) and liked to spice things up by throwing in an “Osama” every now and then.

            More recently, I worked on transcripts for a piece of audio about refugees from a Spanish-speaking country. The transcription bot I used can do other languages, but not at the same time as English. So the Spanish and Spanish-accented English used by the refugees came out as total nonsense and needed to be completely rewritten.

            Worse, the leader of that country referred to refugees as things like “worms” and “scum.” The AI transcripts garbled the refugees’ words and names to the point where one man’s name routinely came out as “a spider.” Yikes! I spent days going over the transcripts to correct all the mistakes, because they ranged from innocuous, to just wrong, all the way to racist and insulting.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          MSTeams transcription had some really weird results when international co-workers shifted language to explain industry jargon to a new hire!

          1. A Significant Tree*

            I watched the (either Teams or Zoom, can’t remember which) real-time subtitles completely fail when some international clients, speaking fluent but heavily accented English, described things in technical terms. At the time I thought we could absolutely release this transcript publicly and no one, including people in the meeting, would have any idea what was being discussed. It was a bit like Jabberwocky. The use of acronyms alone meant the algorithm had to swap in the nearest sounding word/phrase, and of course it made different substitutions if the acronym was spoken with or without a generic American accent.

            I trust that the AI transcription works for some situations, even works very well! But not all situations – for our purposes it would be completely useless. Like any other tool it should not be applied outside its intended function, at least not without understanding the limitations.

            1. Nightengale*

              Early in the pandemic, our local disability community started holding zoom meetups and wanted to use zoom transcription for accessibility. We got on the system to test it out and someone asked me to “say something.” The first thing that came to my mind was a string of medication names. (that’s what you get when you put a neurodivergent pediatrician on the spot during a public health crisis.) We were not impressed with the result.

              Mind you, back when I was required to dictate, I was not always impressed with the human transcription of medical terms either.

      2. Elle by the sea*

        I have seen really good quality ASR systems. I don’t know how the one used by Zoom is – I used it years ago (can’t recall the quality) and I’m pretty sure it has improved by now. But in any case, it doesn’t hurt to have it on and even if it has some inaccuracies, in my experience, it’s a lot easier to make notes with this help (at least it will remind you of the topic of discussion).

        1. happybat*

          I’d suggest it could hurt sometimes. For example a ‘small’ error like a missing word in an otherwise fairly good transcript that misleads people about what a particular person said in ways that could harm their reputation, as in Harper The Other One’s example above. ‘Word Salad’ can be annoying and useless but the harm of nearly accurate transcripts is potentially much worse. There is also, of course, the environmental harm from energy-hungry AI.

          1. Dusty Facsimile*

            There’s an enormous difference in energy use between speech transcription (for which we have models that run comfortably on even a phone CPU) and cutting edge LLMs (requiring expensive, power-hungry hardware). The energy use objection works in general, but it’s much less applicable to transcription alone (assuming summarization or question-asking about the transcript isn’t layered on top).

        2. Observer*

          But in any case, it doesn’t hurt to have it on and even if it has some inaccuracies, in my experience, it’s a lot easier to make notes with this help (at least it will remind you of the topic of discussion).

          Neither is universally true.

          For one thing, I don’t know how Zoom secures those transcriptions, but if they are not really well locked down, you could be looking at some fairly serious privacy breaches. So much so, that one question I would be asking in the OP’s shoes is whether their meetings are covered by HIPAA or any other privacy / data protection laws. Not specifically about AI, but in general. Because if they are, they need to make sure that Zoom’s transcriptions are considered secure enough. And even if they are not *legally& required to do this, give the sensitivity of their discussions, this is something they should be thinking about as well.

          Also, because some of the mistakes that can crop up are both serious and not noticeable, a mistake could “remind” people incorrectly. Maybe it’s correct that they discussed whether to do AA meeting in this particular location, but it “reminds” *INCORRECTLY* that Social Work Supervisor said that they think it’s a good idea, when they *actually* said that they think it is NOT a good idea. Whoops! So that gets very tricky, and the risk can be substantial.

        3. TheOtherLaura*

          Might be a good idea to also make (and archive) a sound recording or video that can be connected to the transcript via time stamps. So people reading the transcript can make sense of unclear or absurd passages, someone slandered by AI has a way to prove they didn’t say that, and there’s documentation that stupid, questionable, or illegal things in the transcription come from the AIs strange not-mind and not from any meeting participant.

      3. chewingle*

        This is true if there is an alternative to the transcription that is better. If the issue at this company is the same as at mine, then they may have done this because not everyone is taking notes (OP says they do, but they may be the exception), or because there’s been too much “he-said-she-said,” or whatever. I am constantly running into issues with people having meetings that I was unable to attend, taking no notes, not remembering core decisions from the meetings, and then I wind up gathering all the people AGAIN for the same meeting. Even an inaccurate AI is a better option than that.

        1. Observer*

          Even an inaccurate AI is a better option than that.

          Not necessarily true, when the errors are potentially consequential and easy to miss.

          And there IS a better way – record the session and save the recording on the company servers. That means that you can go back to the source, but it’s not being run through a service you have no control over or insight into, and it stays under your control.

          1. Artemis*

            I asked about this in a meeting last week, and our division’s boss said that the company is drafting rules that don’t allow us to be recorded by AI. I assume this will also cover transcriptions. I’m relieved because I don’t like being recorded, and it makes me nervous. I end up focusing more on trying not to make a fool out of myself than on the content of the meeting.

            So far, every vendor and external partner I’ve met with over Zoom or Teams has been very cooperative about getting me a meeting link that doesn’t automatically record and/or transcribe the meeting. They do seem to have trouble turning off the AI or ejecting it from the meeting – hence the special meeting link.

    2. stratospherica*

      Hah, you just reminded me of this big conference my company did where all of the subtitling and interpreting into English was done with AI.

      Because of the quirk of the language that was being spoken, every discussion when translated into English turned into a discussion about mining. We’re an internet services company who do not operate any mines.

      1. Cmdrshprd*

        I think that was the AI/universe trying to tell you your company should pivot into the crypto mining field.

    3. münchner kindl*

      I thought the big problem was that of the several existing transcription service send the transcript into the cloud, therefore it violates confidental clauses?

        1. Wintermute*

          Yes, this is something too few people realize. Use ML tools at your own peril if you’re in a regulated industry, I do not know of any of them out there currently for public use which do not use all queries as training data. I heard Amazon wants to make a model specifically for regulated industries but I don’t know if anything will come of it.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          This is more important than it sounds! “Training data” may be regurgitated later pretty much word-for-word, and there are NO privacy guarantees that it has names or other identifying information stripped out.

          (One of the AI coding assistants has a habit of spitting out entire functions that were in its training data, complete with comments and author’s name.)

        3. Hats Are Great*

          This is absolutely the issue. Zoom trains its model on your data, full stop. Training data DOES NOT DISAPPEAR FROM THE AI MODEL IF REMOVED. The only way to excise it is to retrain the model from scratch on new data.

          You are handing over confidential information to Zoom to use as they see fit, and there’s a good chance Zoom’s AI *will* regurgitate that data to whomever it wants to.

          Personally, I would put my foot down.

      1. Festively Dressed Earl*

        It’s a big problem, along with the others that commenters have brought up. If LW 5’s employer is serious about not wanting certain information disclosed, ever, then they need to weigh AI re identification risk against the convenience of not having to take meeting notes.

    4. GythaOgden*

      A good minute taker should be able to make sense of the transcripts and convert the gobbledegook into the correct jargon for the published record. Also recordings generally include the video as well so any snagging can be found in the recording.

      AI transcription is an absolute godsend. An intense hour of back and forth about contentious topics already takes about three hours to type up minutes for and that’s with the transcription and recording. With my job there is a need to capture the debate as well as the barebones agenda; no-one’s asking for a verbatim transcript, but it’s important to get the views of the stakeholders involved and thus have a clearer record of who said what/who asked for what.

      So for utility purposes, having that record is important. Apparently before I started asking for it it was SOP to record most such meetings anyway, but we’re dealing with stuff that has to be recorded anyway in some detail and it makes my job so much easier it’s untrue.

      1. Allonge*

        I agree it’s very helpful for a lot of things; that said, OP and their team are forced to use it for all meetings, whether or not there is a need for minutes at all. And at least from what we know, they were not told where the information on this is stored and so on, so they have obvious concerns for privacy.

        Just as any tool, the AI transcription has its time and place, but needs training and safety instructions, not a blunt ‘keep your axe with you while at work’.

        1. Antilles*

          Exactly. AI transcription is a tool, no more, no less.

          In some cases, it can be valuable if you keep in mind the limitations. In other cases, it’s not particularly useful. In still other cases, it can be directly detrimental because it’s the wrong tool for the job.

    5. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      I really don’t understand why the meeting can’t just be recorded instead. OK there might be bits that are inaudible, but the AI transcript will probably not make out those bits either, and just make something up that won’t make sense. Or that does make sense but is plain wrong.

      1. AVP*

        They want to read through the AI transcript or have AI flag relevant words and phrases to them – takes 5 minutes instead of the meeting time to review. (As a good note-taker I haaaate this and want them to just read my notes. They think I can just replace my efforts at note-taking with something more efficient and money-generating.)

      2. Filosofickle*

        My company often does both recording and live transcription — the transcription is there not really to document the meeting, but to improve accessibility to those who can’t hear the audio well. So recording addresses documenting a meeting but not the other. (The LW didn’t say why their company does this. Just noting why mine does.)

    6. postscript*

      Also ask them how they are planning to keep these transcripts confidential? Where will they be stored? Who will have access? On what schedule will they be deleted? How will you prove they are not being used for training AI?

    7. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Is the ED aware of the likelihood that these transcripts are kept by the AI company for additional training of their AI model? If you’re promising confidentiality to external participants, you may be breaking that by using AI transcription.

      If these sessions involve external people, please, please inform them that this is happening.

    8. AVP*

      My boss *loves* this service, even for meetings he’s not in. The only thing that’s worked at our org is external parties and clients pushing back on him directly in a meeting. If there’s any kind of confidential info being discussed, it makes sense for someone in that position to say “please turn this off, I need to see fireflies leave the chat before we continue.” Staff objections (ie, “our clients are going to hate this”) went nowhere until the clients said it themselves.

    9. welcome to monday yay*

      I flatly turned down an offer of one of those, after discovering that often they get numbers wrong. Yeah, it does in fact matter if someone said 13 or 30!

  3. Heidi*

    Where I work, the facilities team keeps a list with the maximum occupancy of each meeting room. It think it’s related to some kind of safety regulation. This won’t necessarily give LW3 all the information they need, but it might be a good starting place. Also, if they’ve hosted a meeting like this before, someone may have the information docketed somewhere. If it’s at all feasible, perhaps the best thing would be to actually go to the room when no one is using it and move the furniture around. Then you’d know for sure how many would fit without having to do any math.

    1. Certaintroublemaker*

      Yes, the building manager or company risk manager—whoever has a relationship with the local fire marshal—should be determining the maximum layout for room configuration.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Fire regulations where OP is might differ (and any fire safety people here can provide more details or correct me), but in the US and UK venues I have worked in, the maximum room capacity is usually listed as the highest number of people that you can fit into a room if they are standing and there are no tables or chairs. (You will also sometimes see different standing and seating capacities listed for theatres or concert venues that have removable or movable seating.)

        So the overall maximum capacity is useful to know, but you really need a layout guide from the venue to know the maximum capacity for different seating configurations.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          I’m not an expert in fire regulations, but my understanding is that the maximum room capacity is determined by the size of the room, but also how easy or difficult it is to evacuate in case of an emergency (e.g., number of exits).

      2. AngryOctopus*

        This. OP, you need to talk to the venue or the ops manager at your place of work (I wasn’t clear where you’re having the meeting). There are likely very strict rules in place about how tables can be arranged and how many people can be seated in that configuration, for fire safety reasons. OldJob had rooms where you could shift the tables and chairs around for different configurations, but you couldn’t bring in more tables due to code. If they want classroom seating with everyone having a space to write (as in, no chairs along the wall in the back/sides so you can sit and not have desk space), you’re going to be pretty limited, so talk to the managers of the space and start there!

      3. Hush42*

        I think this is a good place to start but it won’t necessarily tell you how many can fit comfortably with chairs and space to walk around, it will just tell you have many can safely be in the room. But you definitely need to take that into account too. The legion where my brothers reception was held told them that the room could hold 200 people. We got there to set up only to discover that the clearly posted sign on the wall was a max occupancy of 150 people. We were told that they have and can set up 200 chairs in the room so they tell people that it can hold 200 people… despite the fact that it can’t legally hold 200 people. All that to say- it seems unlikely to happen but check with facilities to make sure that you aren’t overstuffing rooms on accident.

    2. EllenD*

      When I’ve booked rooms for meetings – internally or externally – the people I was booking with would offer the different capacity for different formats – eg drinks/mixer event is different from that for lecture with rows of chairs, which is different from people sitting at tables. There may even be variations between events with waiter service at table and buffet food. Others must have the expertise in working this out, ask your manager if you tap into it.
      I don’t think it’s a skill easily learned or worked out, as there are issues around ease of evacuation, which are linked to number of entrances to rooms. Just say you don’t have the technical knowledge or skill and it would be better to seek advice from someone who does.

      1. Someone Else's Problem*

        Exactly this. Even if LW were great with math and loved to do it, it sounds like this is just Someone Else’s Problem.

      2. Cabbagepants*

        Yes! I like math, do well at math, have good spatial reasoning, and have a job that involves spatial mapping.

        I would never dream of calculating how many tables etc would fit into a room! I would use the other methods listed here for figuring it out.

        (ok, I have some something kind of like this for fitting furniture into a new, oddly shaped living space. But any sort of dedicated meeting area will already have figured out the info!)

        1. Allonge*

          This. All the figuring has been done somewhere, this is a ‘find Beata who knows this’ problem, not a math problem.

        2. lunchtime caller*

          right? I was actually kind of amazed that their first thought was “I should sit down with equations and a calculator and figure this out,” and I wonder how much of that is just their fears blinding them from any other much more simple solution. Maybe they don’t realize that most people would have a lot of difficulty with doing it via hard numbers?

          1. Cabbagepants*

            On the surface, it does sound like a high school geometry problem! “If each table is a circle 10 feet in diameter and the ballroom is a rectangle 50×125 feet, how many tables can fit in the ballroom?” Except is actually really complicated (without even getting in to close packing of circles in a plane LOL which is where my engineering mind goes first).

          2. The Prettiest Curse*

            Yeah, I very much understand the fear of maths, but this is much more of a venue information task than a maths problem.

        3. Mynona*

          Exactly. This is NOT a problem that can be solved with math, basic or otherwise. Since these are the company’s own rooms, find someone who has more experience scheduling them. Ask what they think a max. capacity would be for a classroom layout. If there isn’t anyone and it’s a standard, not-so-enormous meeting room, I would actually arrange some chairs myself in the space to see how long the rows could be, etc. When I’m assigned a new-to-me task, I’ve learned to ask others for advice because invariably my initial idea of how to do it is totally bizarrely wrong.

        4. MigraineMonth*

          This, OP! It’s not a math problem, it’s a Somebody Else’s Problem.

          I took advanced math classes up through grad school, and I wouldn’t even know where to start with this. What does “enough space to move around” even mean??

      3. The Starsong Princess*

        I just googled”space required for events calculator” and there’s several links where you just fill in your conditions and it spits out your answers, no math required beyond how many people. I think OP is making this more difficult than it needs to be.

    3. Toast*

      I believe there are also online calculators (meant for wedding planning) that will allow you to calculate how many tables/chairs will fit in a room based on the room size

      1. theletter*

        +1 – I was also having flashbacks to setting up my wedding. Good venues already know how many people fit inside comfortably.

        As a general rule, 8 is the limit of people per table, 6 is a bit more comfortable. Beyond that, it’s ok to use a calculator. You get to choose what tools to use. I like math myself and I still use my fingers sometimes.

      2. Joielle*

        Yes, this was my first thought too. There are people who do this kind of thing for a living, so use the info that’s already out there! Plus then you can say “this is my estimate based on information from X website, but we’ll need to work with the table rental vendor for a more precise layout.”

      1. Miette*

        Agree. OP3, best believe there’s someone in your office who already knows the seating capacity of your meeting spaces. And if your meeting is being hosted in a hotel or conference center, their staff will be able to tell you how many people fit in a room in a wide variety of seating formats.

    4. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I can relate to the LW on this one. I would also find it impossible to figure out how to set up a space with math or mental models. How much space does each person need? I have no idea!

      I’ve never been able to guesstimate distances, lengths, etc. And my grade 5 teacher was pretty frustrated that I just didn’t get long division. (Thankfully, my parents are nice and my dad was able to teach me).

      You are definitely well within your rights to ask for help on this. Unless your boss is awful, it’ll be OK. You want the conference to go smoothly and everyone to feel comfortable. If it takes some back-up to get this to happen, that’s fine.

      Otherwise, I’d definitely commandeer the rooms for a bit and experiment with set-ups. Then make yourself some notes / a diagram on how each room is set up so you’re not stressed when it’s time to do the set-up for real.

      1. Also-ADHD*

        I’m okay at math, but my spatial reasoning isn’t great. It sounds like a horrifying task to me, and I helped run conferences for awhile! But rooms always had set up options and numbers provided. It’s wild to me that someone has tasked an admin to do this.

    5. Starbuck*

      Yes, I’d start with whoever you know that most recently arranged a big meeting or event in that space, and go from there. LW is probably not the first person who’s encountered this question at the company, no need to re-do the work if someone else already knows – you just have to find the right person. You could even ask about this without revealing it’s a math challenge if you didn’t want to – more like, it’s a conceptual challenge (not knowing what the numbers would be to calculate vs. not knowing how to do the calculations).

    6. Artemesia*

      Many offices have people in charge of facilities. Schools certainly do. But I would think offices might as well. They routinely have to set up rooms and know how many tables etc are required. I would first see if there is an office or individual who is the facilities management person and see if they can or have already basically done this calculation.

      Any place that has facilities for banquets or conferences or training is going to have some standard plans for room capacity and set up.

      To boss. ‘I haven’t done this kind of set up before and don’t have the expertise to design room plans. Fred in facilities has set up for many events, I’d like to get his expertise in planning for this event.’

      Maybe without the first sentence

  4. Eric*

    #3, if it makes you feel better, I am very very good at math, and would find this task intimidating.

    How much side does a person need to be able to push back their chair from a table to be able to stand up? I have no idea

    How much side do people need to pass? I think fire code says 3 feet but is that ideal?

    This isn’t an easy thing for anyone who hasn’t done it before.

    If you are working with a caterer for this event, they might already know these answers, but I wouldn’t want to try to do this myself from scratch.

      1. Cabbagepants*

        Poor OP — I think this is an example of how insecurity about an issue is causing them to take an more difficult approach. Whereas a more confident person could say — hey actually this is a hard problem and we gotta solve in a different way.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I spent such a big chunk of my career thinking I wasn’t good at logical thinking because everytime I tried to do something someone came along and told me a way I could be doing it 10x easier.

          But it’s exactly like you’re saying – if you’re not confident (or genuinely haven’t mastered the information inherent to the task), it’s impossible to know which corners you can cut or which pieces can be consolidated or what that one trick is to make excel do all the work for you. I also have REALLY poor spatial awareness and even things like trying to make displays when I worked retail would absolutely knock me over because I just didn’t know what looked good from the POV of corporate vs what looked good to me. You can really get in your own head about this stuff and it can kill your self-esteem.

      2. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        This x1000. It’s not about areas, it’s about how much space people need in different contexts and fire codes and a million other things that aren’t math.

    1. JoR*

      Agreed- this isn’t basic at all!
      I’m a Chartered Accountant- and I would pass on this task as too complex.

    2. Tangle*

      I’m another maths-brained person who’d find this task challenging. There’s just so many elements to consider when planning a space like that, not all of which are intuitive or easy to measure.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Or even defined!

        I know a lot of people who are great at math who would say, “Okay, so the minimum comfortable distance between any two strangers sitting next two each other is 2 meters…”

    3. CityMouse*

      +1. I am both very good at math and used to work in events, and no, this isn’t a simple task at all. This isn’t calculating crystal structures Basic math rarely covers the variables of human spaces and you always end up with variables (like the table with a weird corner, you can’t block that outlet or how much space you need to physically open a folding table). And what may be “comfortable”
      on paper doesn’t work at all in person. One time a projector screen required an entire setup to be redone.

      So anyone expecting a calculation from someone who hasn’t set up the space before with this furniture is silly.

    4. SarahKay*

      Adding my voice as another maths-brained person who would *not* find this task easy.

      It *looks* like a maths problem (and I guess *ultimately* it is) but there’s a whole lot of specialised extra knowledge needed about fire codes, comfort, space to move chairs, required walkways, etc before you get to the area calculations.

      OP#3, definitely speak to your boss and ask if there’s someone in facilities who will have experience with this. Good luck!

    5. Katie*

      Bingo, plus it also deals with fire codes and maximum occupancy. MS in math here. My first thought was “not basic math at all”.

    6. Lady Lessa*

      LW3, I’m another person, moderately skilled with math, but would run from having to do that. I’m also right/left challenged. I’m glad that others in this thread mentioned fire codes, etc.

      I hope that you find the right person to do that.

    7. MBK*

      Agreed. This is an “ask the facility manager and/or fire marshal” task, not a “do the math” task.

    8. Tracy*

      I had to do this for my wedding and it was just 50 people. I wanted to absolutely tear my hair out trying to figure out what tables to put where and I had a computer program to help (which was clunky and frustrating to use). I’m decent at math and I can’t imagine doing this for a larger group and room!

    9. RIP Pillowfort*

      Same, I use high level math everyday for my job and this is something that would send me spiralling out of control. It’s not just about the math.

      I also have ADHD and struggle with spatial awareness. Setting out a floor plan would be agony for me. Setting up my office/rooms at home/etc the way that is optimal is stressful because I can’t “see” how it’s going to come together. I just have to start doing it and hope I’m able to make adjustments as I go. It drives my husband nuts because he is much better at seeing that than I am.

      OP needs to ask for help. There’s no shame in it and we can’t be good at every task given to us.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        I really appreciate hearing this is something associated with ADHD, because I didn’t know that. I’ve always struggled with this too, so it’s nice to know that it’s related.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          It’s also HEAVILY associated with dyslexia, which a lot of people don’t realize. We talk about ND symptoms as challenges to overcome so often that we don’t internalize the fact that our brains Just Don’t Work That Way.

          1. HollyTree*

            dysgraphia also! I thought for ages that because I was not great at maths a d have poor spatial reasoning that I had dyscalulia, but the numbers themselves don’t change or move.

            Until I heard thst these difficulties go with dysgraphia also, along with my poor handwriting and painful hands

          2. Silver Robin*

            I had actually heard the opposite about dyslexia – my partner is dyslexic and is incredible with spatial reasoning. Can take an object and rotate it 3D in his head, plan out a whole room, knows for sure if the couch will fit in that spot etc.

            One of the resources I looked into said the rotating a thing in 3D was why p, b, d, and q, where so tricky. They are the same shape, just rotated, and my partner confirmed that he does not really “see” letters as flat/2D in his head.

            But this made me Google the phenomenon further and looks like most of the research is actually mixed. So maybe it just comes down to the individual.

            1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

              I’ve heard this too (my kid has dyslexia) that in most situations recognizing that one shape is a rotated version of another and therefore they are the same shape is a useful skill! It’s only in reading that the difference between b and d is critical information.

          3. LW #3*

            Yeah, it’s why “ADHD isn’t a disability!” has never made sense to me. Like, no, my brain is actually *not able* to conceptualize certain things in this way.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I have the same problem, bad spatial thingies. I can’t visualize the changes. At all. I have to move stuff around to see what it’s like.

      3. LW #3*

        Quite severe ADHD here. I have the same problem with setting up a room. Thank you for the solidarity.

      4. Nesprin*

        Another math person with ADHD here- the only way I’d be able to figure this out is by moving tables around in the actual room, then photographing the most likely setups for a conference (u shaped table), a lecture (rows), a dinner (round tables) and a family style dinner (long tables).

    10. Applesauced*

      Yep, I’m an architect and I do stuff like this all the time

      It’s a special skill set – there are local and national codes about egress widths, door capacity, best practice on the dimensions between tables, distance from the presenter, allowable length of chair rows…. Many many little pieces of information (and sometimes they conflict each other!) go into space planning.

      Don’t feel bad asking for help!

    11. Ally McBeal*

      I agree. As an event planner I know how hard it is to get these rooms right so people aren’t knocking into each other when they push their chairs back to get up. I’d be tempted to ask for a day where the meeting room can be blocked off, grab a bunch of tables and chairs from storage (or just use one table + 3-4 chairs for reference then lay down masking tape for the rest), and lay it out in actuality. No math involved, just physically configuring the room until it feels right.

    12. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I have become, in recent years, a strong proponent of hiring an expert to do any job that is not in my wheelhouse. So for instance, I learned after my first time hiring movers instead of moving my own furniture from apartment to apartment that not only do they have way more muscles than I do, but they also know HOW to move stuff, from covering nice wood stuff with blankets to knowing exactly how to pivot the sofa to get it up the stairs (yes, that was a Friends reference; you’re welcome), and also they usually have the right equipment to do so whereas I would be struggling to figure out where I could get blankets, a truck, the right kind of bubble wrap, etc.

      So in this case, OP, might your company be willing to hire someone else to take on this job? Do they have a budget that would allow them to hire an event planner, someone who is an expert at figuring out how best to lay out a room with desks and chairs? Are there other aspects of planning this event that you and others at your company are doing without having too much experience in that area that an expert could take on, thus freeing up your schedules to go back to doing your regular job instead of having y’all spend a large proportion of your time working on issues that an event planner could do better and quicker? I realize that as an admin you might not have the power to do the hiring, but maybe you could suggest it. Your track record as an excellent employee probably means that your opinion on the matter would be respected.

      And I agree with AAM that you definitely should ask your manager if someone else can do this part of the job; it’s totally fine to say that this kind of planning is not something you feel you would be able to do justice to.

      1. Jackalope*

        I agree with this. And I’d mention some of what people have said earlier in this thread and other threads; Fire codes, maximum occupancy, etc. Since you don’t feel comfortable with math and especially math with a spatial dimension, you’re thinking that it’s something that’s easy that only you can’t do because you feel lousy about your abilities in this area. But it’s actually something that is a much more specialized knowledge set than many people realize, and it totally makes sense to shift it to someone else who actually has knowledge in that area.

    13. RaginMiner*

      I am fully an engineer and would have a hard time with this!
      There are calculators and such where you can move tables around on a grid online. That might help. But I really do feel for OP since this would be SO difficult for me to figure out.

    14. M2*

      Talk to your boss but also come up with other solutions if they say they can’t push the work on someone else or they don’t know an outside company to contact to do the work. If you’re using a company for an event can someone on their side do it? Is there $$ to hire a consultant or some kind of online program that could help you? Maybe do a quick search on organizations you might be able to hire out to do the work. If your boss is interested you might be able to find quotes.

      I came up with a similar issue but not math related and someone came to be and said they couldn’t do one (large) aspect of the job. I could not put that part of their job onto anyone else as everyone else had a full plate/ it wasn’t part of their role and I couldn’t either (and it was part of the original person’s role). I figured out a solution by finding an outside company to come and help on a temporary basis and getting this person into a specific training in order to help. I also found a program in order to make it a little easier but it was more work for me to do it all as the person did not come up with solutions just came and complained to say they couldn’t do the work. That was frustrating for me, they said they couldn’t do it but had no solutions or ideas to solve the issue, just pushed it into me and sort of shrugged!

      So talk to your boss but also come up with some solutions in case they can’t help or no one has the bandwidth on the team to do that work. Even if they don’t take you up on your ideas it will make them think that you at least tried to come up with ways to solve it before just saying you couldn’t do it.

      If this is a huge part of the job going forward you might want to think if this job is right for you. I had someone on my team who said they could travel (domestic and international travel 25-30% if the job was required) but then when they had to travel said they were afraid to fly. Well, it was part of their job so for as much as I could I got them driving things or short flights but basically told them it wasn’t feasible long term and they eventually changed departments. We worked together to figure it out.

      Im sorry you’re dealing with this and hope you and your manager can come up with a solution.

      Good luck to you!

    15. AnonInCanada*

      Agreed. I believe OP#3’s answer isn’t “I suck at math, boss,” it’s “I don’t know the first thing about event planning. Shouldn’t we be contracting this out to someone more experienced at this? We want the event to go as smoothly as possible, so it’s best we leave that to the experts.” Maybe the boss may see it that way and do the right thing.

      1. Joanie*

        Yes, and I am like the OP in that i am terrible at math, had very bad experiences with it in school, and just never “got” it. Despite having tutors, going in for extra help, and so on. if i were tasked with this, I would also probably panic, and not realize that its not a math thing, but more logistis/event planning.

    16. RagingADHD*

      Right. You also have questions like, “what is an average size person anyway,” and “how much room do they need to move their arms” and “what kind of chairs are you dealing with”?

      I have planned events and am comfortable with math, and if there was nobody overseeing the room to ask, I would be using every kind of online calculator / reference chart, because there are too many variables.

      1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        And if anyone uses a mobility device, and how many wheelchair users are there vs. cane users vs. walker/rollator…

        (Everyone needs extra space to maneuver, wheelchair users typically need table space without a chair, walker/rollator users need somewhere to park their machine.)

    17. The dark months*

      My coworker did a quick calculation, one I’ve also done many times before, but it caught me off guard and I started to freak out. You see and hear the tension in my voice and body. He called it out and it made me realize how much math had stressed me out over the course my schooling and still does to this day! You are not alone, the trauma is real so yeah, this is a task you delegate! Or call in a buddy and do it together. Saying I suck at this and calling for help is way better than the stress or having to many or not enough chairs etc.

    18. Hush42*

      This. I am fairly good at math and pretty confident in my googling skills if I don’t know the math off the top of my head but I would 100% start to overthink it all trying to figure out what constitutes a comfortable amount of space for people to move around. Then you run into the questions of what chairs are being used, are they the same for all the conference rooms or are they different? Different chairs take up different amounts of space. I would be spiraling too.

        1. Clorinda*

          I would bet a small amount of money that a lot of this information already exists. Has this event been held before? Who organized it then? Ask them!

          1. Really?*

            The information does exist. Hotelier here. Most hotels with function space we have online calculators, showing the area of their rooms, and the capacity with various set ups. In addition, you can Google function room set ups. In theory, I am both numerate And trained in this area, and I still have to look it up. Don’t feel bad. If you want a ballpark without having to rely on others,–room-capacity–calculator maybe helpful In telling you how many people your rooms may fit under various set ups, and well, they may not be specifically adapted for your rooms, if your facilities people can tell you how large the rooms are this tell you how many people you can fit.
            If you’re renting the tables and set ups from a rental company, most of them should be able to tell you how many tables you’ll need. Hope this helps, you have my sympathy.

        2. Azure Jane Lunatic*

          The big thing to be aware of is whether there are multiple levels or high thresholds in or on the way to the room, particularly if there’s a stage or platform that presenters are going to be on.

          Cane users and people of size may want to be directly on the aisles (so we don’t have to contend with whatever space the other people have left for maneuvering) or in whatever row has the most space behind it. (Often this is the back row.) People on wheels also need space and are going to be concerned about any bump or level change of more than about a centimeter, starting from the parking lot or public transit station to the venue and from the meeting room to the dining area and bathrooms. To say nothing of ADHD, hearing, sight, and other things!

          If you already have your list of attendees, you may be able to get a count of who needs what kind of accomodation by including a question about that in your attendee survey; that’s probably something to bring up with your boss as a factor that will play into the decision-making process. Like, “Hey boss, the venue says that we can fit X people in the room with a standard classroom setup, but if we have more than (however many fit into one row) of people who need extra maneuvering space, we would only be able to fit Y people.” If you don’t know who’s coming yet, you may have to make some estimates, possibly based on actual knowledge of your audience, or possibly just guessing. Hopefully you’ll be able to know how many of what kind of thing you need before finalizing everything!

          My phrasing for dietary accessibility when surveying attendees is “Dietary requirements or preferences” as a write-in of at least 500 characters — this will capture the guy whose preference is “beef, a lot, as rare as possible” but it will also hold space for the people who have various intolerances that don’t necessarily rise to the level of an allergy, or that they’re not used to thinking of as an accessibility need, they just kind of try to work around it.

    19. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I play in an orchestra, which has the same set-up for all the chairs and stuff every week. Whoever gets there first starts with the set-up. Most weeks, we need to do some shuffling around when people start to sit down. Usually, this is due to there not being enough space between chairs. If a group of people trying to replicate the same set-up every week can’t do it well, it’s not reasonable to expect someone to magically figure out how to do a novel set-up.

    20. TheOtherLaura*

      Yes. I love working with maps or floor plans, doing room planning, but in the case LW#3 describes, I would prefer calling in the professionals. If nothing else, they can probably do it a lot faster, as in “they take a look at the room and can say how many people will fit for the planned activity”.

    21. Artemesia*

      I have had to plan rooms for conferences and it would never occur to me I should be the one calculating how many tables and such per room. You ask the facility about the set up and capacities for the rooms.

    22. also bad at math*

      It honestly sounds like one of those problems I was bad at in school come to life! Terrifying!

  5. Allen Falcon*

    If the discussions in the meetings include personal health information, there is a good chance the using the AI assistant violates HIPAA.

    Unless the AI service has contractual terms and a privacy policy that explicitly states information is private and secure and is NOT used to train the AI, then assume using the tool is a public disclosure of everything said, chatted, or shared in the meetings.

    You may also be violating no disclosure clauses in contracts and state information privacy laws.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Ironic isn’t it that in companies where private information is discussed, they require people working at home to have a secure workspace with a door, no one can overhear, computer must be locked when not in use etc… and then someone decides that AI is the hype of the year so the same employer applies it to all their meetings without a second thought. I’ll eat my hat if someone has gone through all the terms etc for this tool to assess whether it is compliant with their requirements. Of course companies jumping on thr bandwagon because some “thought leader” decided x is the new thing – is nothing new.

      1. Annie*

        That’s good to know! However, we don’t know for sure if the OP’s company has a HIPAA-compliant Zoom setup (assuming the company even knows that’s a thing), and there’s the possibility of normal business activities being caught in a moderation dragnet that would have been impractical for online services to implement without automated captioning.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Can we assume that a business that needs HIPAA compliance is already using it and not, like, basically incompetent on that score? All it might take is reassurance to OP that that’s likely to be covered rather than having a histrionic round of ‘what if…?’

          If OP is concerned about it she might ask her managers/bosses what the safeguards are in that regard. I work in public healthcare and routinely record meetings between building stakeholders that include discussion of incidents with patients, and so long as we declare that the meeting is being recorded it’s compliant.

          All OP needs is to speak to the people who are responsible for compliance in her org and be told yes, the recordings are compliant and so on or, thanks for bringing that to our attention and you might want to speak to our team about it. The way of getting things resolved is to communicate professionally and not assume the company is doing anything nefarious.

          1. bamcheeks*

            I don’t know if you can assume that, actually. I certainly wouldn’t have assumed that pre-GDPR. I worked in the NHS and data protection rules were routinely flouted (I spent six weeks working on someone else’s log-in, and got no training on how or when I was allowed to access patient records, so I just did what seemed “sensible”. Fifteen years later and post-GDPR, I can see that a lot of what seemed fine back then was actually extremely bad!)

            The whole point of GDPR was that it *massively* raised the bar on “do this right or else”, and forced lots of enormous software companies to hugely change their practices or lose the ability to work in the EU, as well as huge amounts of training for us all on how to comply, and a whole bunch of new senior roles whose job is information management compliance. I think it’s *very* possible that outside of that framework a lot of people aren’t considering that stuff in great detail when introducing new tools, because until 2017 we didn’t!

            1. Peachtree*

              You know that working in the NHS pre-GDPR, and working in the States with HIPPA, is quite different?

              1. bamcheeks*

                Sure, but I was talking about the general human tendency to go, “this will be fine!”, especially around new technology, without anyone necessarily doing the due dilligence to be SURE it’s fine, in the absence of extremely stringent frameworks with strong enforcement and significant penalties for failure.

                LW hasn’t actually said whether HIPAA applies to their workplace: all I’m saying is that if it does, checking whether they definitely have the HIPAA-compliant version of the software and things like whether they need to be able to switch it off if patrons don’t consent to its use is reasonable.

              2. fhqwhgads*

                The actual regulations involved are different. How reasonable it is to assume giant conglomerates that are supposed to follow whichever regulation do follow it because they are supposed to is very similar, namely: no it’s not reasonable to assume they’re doing it right.

              3. Tiger Snake*

                They’re not nearly as different as you seem to argue. They’re both regulations which mandate requirements around controlling and restricting access to Personal Information that your organisation/company can reasonably be considered a custodian of and yet is still owned by the individual client. They’re both enforced through legislation and rely on companies to self-administrator with audit-based oversight from the government, which can only be done on a spot check basis.

                They’re both on the same topic, for the same purpose, and they’re both things that companies in general do very badly at following and only take action to address when they’ve determined there is a genuine risk that being caught will result in a financial penalty that is greater than the money they will have already saved beyond that point. Companies are great at finding cost-saving solutions. They’ve never been good at making sure those cost-saving solutions are okay, and they still aren’t.

          2. Allonge*

            To be honest, “our executive director has […] locked it so we can’t turn it off on our individual accounts” does not fill me with confidence that we can assume compliance.

            Obviously you are right that OP needs to ask rather than assume that it’s not compliant.

    2. Elle by the sea*

      Zoom has ASR built in. There is no more privacy violation involved than what is caused by using Zoom itself.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        I am not an expert on HIPAA, but I had multiple telehealth providers change platforms to Doxy when Zoom announced some changes to their privacy policy last year. It could be worth LW looking into whether their use of Zoom in and of itself is a problem, because it might be.

    3. RagingADHD*

      It would only violate HIPAA if the organization is covered by HIPAA. This acronym gets thrown around a lot whenever people are sharing personal information, and it just isn’t relevant unless you’re dealing with a covered entity.

      People can talk about their own perosnal or health-related information in any context they choose to. It doesn’t magically become a HIPAA issue if the entity isn’t a healthcare provider or providing services to a health provider.

      1. Freya*

        Exactly. In Australia, our privacy laws cover a _lot_ more than HIPAA does. _Any_ sufficiently large organisation is an APP entity, as well as healthcare providers and a bunch of other entities dealing with sensitive personal information, and has obligations under the Privacy Act.

  6. Akrasia*

    LW3, you are so not alone here. I have the spatial reasoning of a concussed frog and would need to physically be in the room with the tables and work it out through trial and error … and even then might get it wrong. I have been reduced to tears trying to give people directions, including within my own building. I would be hyperventilating if I were given this task.

    I appreciate Alison’s advice to be (relatively) upfront here (I wouldn’t mention the concussed frog), especially if you’re a good performer and known to be generally capable and responsive. That said, it might also depend on your organisation and your manager, and I know that sometimes it’s not safe to say no or admit vulnerability. In those cases, I have quietly outsourced the spatial reasoning to my partner, who works in a different field and is known in our household as Spatial Awareness Man … and hoped never to be asked again. If you have someone in your life you could trust with this sort of thing, that might be a comforting alternative to keep in mind if other avenues fail you.

    Good luck and solidarity!

    1. Cabbagepants*

      I wouldn’t mention “spiraling” and I’m surprised at the advice for such a personal and emotionally charged disclosure! just treat it like any other work thing where you need help. “hey boss, I’m not sure how to solve the chairs and tables question. is there someone you could point me to to figure it out with me?” boom.

      1. Justout*

        I completely agree, I was coming here to say I agree with the advice but not the words. I wouldn’t describe myself as “terrible at [task]” or “spiralling”. Just “I find this kind of math and spatial reasoning task much more difficult than you might expect, so there’s a risk it will take me hours and still be wrong. Who could I rope in to help me with this?”

      2. Irish Teacher.*

        Yeah, I also wouldn’t mention “spiraling.” I think it’s probably easier to just focus on the fact that the LW would struggle with the actual task.

        Your script is brilliant.

      3. Seashell*

        I agree. Spiraling sounds like you’re mentally unstable. The boss doesn’t need to hear that.

        1. i drink too much coffee*

          I think it depends on their relationship with their boss for that! I’d definitely say something like that to my boss, and he’d just laugh at me (in a good way) and tell me where I can go to find help lol.

          Then again, I recently asked my boss for a raise that came in the form of Dunkin’ iced coffee, so we have a fun dynamic. (He didn’t go for it, in case you’re wondering…)

          1. Hush42*

            This was my thought as well- it depends entirely on your relationship with your boss whether or using the words spiraling would be appropriate. I could absolutely use it with my boss and my team could and would use it with me.

            To your comment about Dunkin’- we recently instituted white boards for my team to list out the items that they have on their to-do lists that day (i.e. finish X Teapot, Y Teapot, and Z Teapot) which has been really well received. My boss decided that he and I would be putting our lists on there as well. A few weeks ago I jokingly added “Buy Hush Starbucks” to his list. His comment to my team member nearest the board was a lighthearted “I’ll buy Hush Starbucks when she stops being so salty”… needless to say I have not yet gotten Starbucks.

          2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            Agreed. I would definitely tell my boss I am “spiraling” on a task. I think it also depends a lot on HOW you say it. Like, if it is accompanied by gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, it is going to come off badly. But if it is more of a “I have been spiraling on this because it involves skills in something I am not good at (math/spatials) and is in area (event planning) that I do not know well enough to even assess if my work product is correct or not. This feels like a recipe for an avoidable hinder/unforced error” I think it just sounds like when you say you are “drowning” in emails. Unless your whole presentation of the situation screams “no, literally, I am being suffocated by the feelings my inbox is producing in me, like having a panic attack when I open Outlook” most people are just going to take it as “they have an unusually large amount of emails at this time,” not they are having a mental health crisis.

          3. Joielle*

            Yeah – I recently told my boss I was starting to lose my grip on reality because had so much to do and the tasks just kept coming in (not his fault – it was a busy couple of weeks for outside reasons). Obviously that was hyperbole, but we have the type of relationship where it wasn’t a weird thing to say and he’s not now questioning my mental stability.

      4. AngryOctopus*

        And OP, if you think your boss will react negatively to this (although I would hope not), please add in the middle “I’m not sure of fire code capacity and exit space requirements”, so they realize it’s not just a simple matter of “but we just want you to shove a bunch of tables and chairs in there, why can’t you do that?” issue.

      5. Artemesia*

        I had the same reaction. Why would any rando know how to calculate tables and plan room set up. No need to frame this as a failing on the part of the OP. This is about expertise. Fine out what the experts do here.

    2. Yoyoyo*

      I agree with being upfront depending on what you know about your boss and company culture. I have dyspraxia and will be borrowing your “concussed frog” expression. When I have been asked to perform tasks at work that would be difficult for me, I have actually said “I have a disability that interferes with spatial reasoning; you really do not want me doing this.” I work in mental health and it has always been a non-issue, people have been very understanding. YMMV depending on your field but it sounds like OP wouldn’t have anything to worry about being upfront about this.

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I think it REALLY depends on context. I often lean into the idea of spiraling or hyperfocusing or losing perspective because if you know me, you know that means I really care about the task at hand and I am really invested in making it work. I don’t pretend to be a low-stress personality or a linear thinker, and some days that’s a strength and some days someone needs to throw a stop sign in my face and tell me to walk several steps back to where I zoomed past the easy solution. People who understand that work with me much better, so I don’t act like it’s not true. And I’m a high performer! Perhaps just a quirky one.

      There are a lot of different strategies for dealing with mental health in the workplace and sometimes “what you see is what you get” is a really effective one that humanizes you and earns you empathy, and sometimes you’re in a place where it will just coat you in stigma (and I do typically spend a year getting to that point of comfort in a new job to be sure which place I’m in). But for a lot of problems, in a sympathetic workplace, especially when you’re dealing with a real protected condition – “this isn’t working for me”, however you say it, is the right starting point.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        Yeah, I guess context is going to make a big difference. I just feel that in this case, “I am unable to do this task” is reason enough to pass it on to somebody else and in my experience (which admittedly may be different from the LW’s context) saying “I am unable to do this task and feeling I have to find a way is making me anxious” tends to lead to people focussing on the latter and ignoring the actual issue. In my experience, people tend to take that as meaning, “I want reassurance that you think I am able to do it and that you won’t be mad if I make a mistake” rather than “I need somebody else to do this task” and I’d be concerned the boss might reply with something like “just do your best. There’s nothing to get stressed over.”

        In my experience, people tend to hear “I am being irrational and could really do it but have convinced myself I can’t and need reassurance than I can” when they hear any suggestion of anxiety (even though anxiety is a perfectly reasonable reaction to being asked to do something you are unable to do).

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I agree, the focus would be best placed on the fact that LW cannot do this task (or at least not without additional support they don’t have at this time) rather than how it makes them feel (which could distract from what they really need, which is not reassurance).

    4. Shirley You're Joking*

      From being in school, we are taught that it’s cheating on a test or homework to ask someone else to provide an answer. The nice things about jobs is that they aren’t tests in school and those rules don’t apply. But it’s so ingrained in us not to outsource or ask for help when we are given a task.

      I think that saying you’re not the right person for a task is the perfect way to go. Personally, I’d rather hand something off entirely to someone else with my manager’s knowledge rather than ask for help if there’s no chance that the help will allow me to do something like this on my own in the future.

    5. Festively Dressed Earl*

      Concussed frog, huh? Personally, I go with “I have the spatial reasoning of a stoned hamster”, but I might like yours better. May I steal that?

  7. Mid*

    For LW 4: you aren’t taking a promotion spot from anyone, or making it useless. Your company’s overly rigid promotion cycle and policies is what’s making it useless. Their financial instability and inability to support their employee’s growth is taking that away from people, not you. You are not doing anything wrong in looking for a different job, and you aren’t betraying anyone by leaving this company. Release yourself from the guilt of potential future outcomes and from the idea that you owe your employer anything.

    1. Sherm*

      Yes. Even if your leaving means that no one gets the promotion slot in the short term, maybe it will compel them to adopt a more flexible approach, making promotions easier to attain in the long term.

      1. Not Australian*

        Exactly what I was thinking. In fact, OP is doing the employer a favour by showing up the flaw in the system.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Or even think, “Wow, we moved too slow and lost OP. We need to speed this up and make this more flexible.”

    2. Monday monday*

      Absolutely agree, if your manager is annoyed he should be annoyed at the company, they are the ones causing the issue which is making people leave.
      They are buying into the myth that somehow they are doing people a favour and everyone should sacrifice things for “The Company”. The same company that would sack people immediately with no remorse.

      1. Lab Boss*

        In that manager’s shoes, being a pragmatist, I’d be using this event to twist management’s arms on the promotion policy. OP had to push for this for some time? Well gee, it sounds like maybe if we’d promoted them earlier they wouldn’t have been looking outside! And now I can’t promote anyone else either? I guess that means if anyone else leaves my team for another company, I’m going to raise a ruckus about how they ALSO left because we’ve shown they can’t advance here.

        It’s a bad outcome for the manager, but the silver lining of a bad outcome is if you can use it as hard evidence of the harm caused by a bad policy you want changed.

    3. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      It’s the classic if you get hit by a bus then your company still has to replace you. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are for your departure, your company has a very bad promotion policy.

    4. Fikly*

      They are also doing no wrong to their manager by leaving. The ultimate bad actor here is the company/employer. The manager who is doing a good job by trying to get them the promotion is still working for the same bad actor, and has the same freedom to choose to search for a job elsewhere.

      This is one of the many tricks of capitalism, to try and get you to feel loyal to an individual in a company so you stay with company treating you horribly, because to leave feels like you are betraying the individual you like. But companies aren’t that person, those people all can make their own choices, and at the end of the day, that company will screw you over to save a dollar.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      OP, if there were some sort of directive from on high to cut costs for next quarter, do you think the company would hesitate to hit an indefinite pause on all promotions?

      1. Sloanicota*

        I was trying to imagine – so OP turns down this new job out of loyalty to the boss and appreciation for the (potential) promotion. Keep in mind this is a promotion that it sounds like you’ve long since earned and should likely have had already, but whatever, let’s even say it really does come through. Then in six months more people are laid off and raises are frozen, maybe OP themselves is let go. You will certainly not feel that avoiding the faint guilt of leaving shortly after the promotion was worth it.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yeah, the fact that the company sounds unstable is an extremely valid reason to be looking elsewhere, regardless of the promotion. I actually am in a similar place to OP4; I am having a 2nd interview this week for a job that pays $30k more than what I’m making now, but I also just requested a long overdo promotion last week (lots of drama resulted in my delaying the request, unfortunately). I have no idea if I’ll get the new job but I’m already feeling bad for leaving my boss with a large void she’ll have to fill on the team (because if I don’t get this job I’ll still be looking elsewhere). Even if I get the promotion, I will undoubtedly leave because there’s a lot of drama here ATM and I’m tired of it. So I think it’s fine, OP, to feel badly for leaving someone who has gone to bat for you, but don’t put off your own career path just because of that.

        2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Exactly. Will this promotion even happen? You earned it long ago and your boss still had to fight for it? Also say you turn down this job, actually get the promotion, then are laid off in the next round anyway, then what?

          You did the right thing by realizing that you could be next on the chopping block and went out to get a new job before you had to. Stick to that plan.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            And we’ve gotten many stories on here of people whose promised promotions never materialized. They just kept being told there’s some issue and it’ll happen in 3 months or 6 months or after X happens. Then 18 months later, they still don’t have the promotion.

        3. Cyborg Llama Horde*

          This is EXACTLY what I was thinking as I read this letter. OP, your company has already had one round of layoffs and is talking about more. It sounds like you’re a strong performer, but if your company is doing “we can only afford to pay half as many people as we had a year ago” math, that will not necessarily protect you.

          It sucks that your company’s policies leave your coworkers in the lurch, but this is not a stable job and they have shown you that they are very slow to recognize good work. If you like the other job, you should take it.

      2. linger*

        Worse yet: if OP gets a promotion and a larger salary, they also get a larger target on their back for the next round of cost-cutting layoffs.

    6. TG*

      Agreed – move onward to the new position as your present company appears unstable and unable to promote without pulling teeth

    7. Sloanicota*

      Yes, honestly, them making you jump through so many hoops and dragging out a well deserved promotion is one of the factors causing you to want to leave right now. It’s all on them, none on you.

    8. learnedthehardway*

      Another vote for moving on without undeserved guilt over it. If anything, the fact that you moved on rather than waiting for the promotion will serve as notice to your current employer that they need to do a better job at employee satisfaction and retention.

      Also, someone else will get a promotion – the spot will no doubt be opened up and another colleague will be able to advance.

    9. The Original K.*

      Yeah, my stance on this has always been “if it’s easier for me to get a new job than a promotion or a raise, guess which one I’m going to do?”

    10. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Exactly. The problems are caused by the policies and procedures that make it take forever to get promoted. The company absolutely could promote someone else into that spot if the LW leaves. They’ve just set up a situation where they won’t.

      And the promotion doesn’t necessarily mean that the LW won’t be let go in future layoffs. I understand why it makes intuitive sense that it would – promotion means the LW is valued and valuable employees don’t get the axe. But that’s not necessarily the case. What if they shut down the area the LW works in? What if they want to save money by losing some of the higher earners?

    11. Caroline*

      This! I was a manager in this exact situation last year and I am glad that my former employee found an opportunity elsewhere that provides him with career progression that suits his talents. I don’t hold anything against him at all. I’m using his departure and some other events to push for change in company policies and process.

    12. Artemesia*

      In this case there are layoffs coming. The OP would be unwise to not take a better offer. If she truly doesn’t want to leave it is on thing, but no thought should be given to disappointing the boss or damaging the company. they will not hesitate to let her go if that is their plan. And even someone newly promoted is not safe from layoffs. I personally know many people who were shocked when their effective and profitable position was cut in a layoff or merger.

      The OP probably needs to get out of there. Rolling layoffs are not an environment that supports hanging around if you have other options.

    13. sara*

      THIS. Your company could easily re-allocate your spot if they so chose … they are the ones who decided to implement an extreme policy, which is part of what is driving you to look for other opportunities in the first place! No doubt other strong employees are also looking for jobs elsewhere, including those who might have been up for the same promotion you were.

  8. Carl*

    #3 I have a degree in mathematics, but I am so bad with words, language, etc. it’s comical. I still remember getting “out” in a spelling bee when I spelled “mother” with a “u.” I remember getting poor marks in elementary school for language, spelling, etc. – which was always so confusing based on my excellent marks in mathematics, and my teachers talking about how I was very bright. I remember my parents trying to put an extra work to fix the issue. I graduated first in my class – and I very much remember feeling, ashamed, scolded, etc. for my supposed deficiencies.

    So, one, you are “too dumb to do this.” Brains all work differently. Sometimes, our brains just literally cannot process something in one way – and it usually means that we have a significant opposite strength.

    Two, omg please speak up! I don’t think anyone is going to judge you for this. Your boss, presumably, is not your parent. And I think at this point it is pretty well-known that even very smart, capable, brilliant people sometimes do not think mathematically. What people will judge you for is not realizing that’s not a strength, and then making a bunch of errors. But realizing that’s not a strength and speaking up – no one’s gonna blink an eye.

    1. Deuce of Gears*

      #3 I have a B.A. in mathematics and an M.A. in secondary math education, although that predated dyscalculia being widely known as a thing. LW3, please know that difficulty with math does not make you “dumb” and that you are far from alone in having math trauma. When I peer-tutored math in undergrad and taught HS math, one of the hardest but most necessary things I had to try to do was help students work past math trauma, which was absolutely not their fault. I have known so many incredibly smart, kind, resourceful people for whom math is not their strength for various reasons. They are probably going to revoke my degrees for saying this, but in fact a world in which we are ALL math majors would REALLY SUCK. We need your strengths too!!

      (Carl, my husband is an astrophysicist with a PhD from MIT. Brilliant at math/physics. Cannot spell for beans. But in his job, it doesn’t matter! If he needs to check spelling/grammar/mechanics, he grabs me…since I’m a writer. And he’s one of the smartest people I know. :) )

      Agreed that things like room capacity/layout are non-trivial (I could use methods to get to lower/upper bounds and ballpark figures, but…) and that asking if you can outsource, in the short run, is probably the best way to go. It might help (if you have to convince a boss) to frame it like: Hey, a lot of facilities-related planning is more complicated than it seems at first glance [1], and this is not my area of expertise so my doing this is not the best use of my hours, is there someone else on staff who is good at this/loves math or has facilities experience who could take this on?

      [1] When I say “more complicated than it seems at first glance,” I mean it. For instance, the answer to “How do you pack spheres in 3D space in the densest way possible?” (think oranges in a crate), which is a very intuitive question to pose, was only proven in 1998 and confirmed in 2014! Adjacent to facilities and furniture-arranging: the moving sofa problem, i.e. given a 90-degree L-shaped hallway in 2D, what is the largest area rigid 2D shape you can actually maneuver around the corner? So, an idealized sofa-around-hallway corner problem. *This is an unsolved problem in mathematics.*

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        This is an unsolved problem in LIFE. The people who have lived in my basement bedroom over the years have brought at least three pieces of furniture into the house that they either couldn’t get into the basement in the first place, or couldn’t get back out, because of the corners involved. (And that’s not even counting how many times they’ve almost knocked off the router that’s mounted high on the wall across from the top of the basement stairs. :P )

        1. Enough*

          I still have the couch my son couldn’t get through his apartment door. They even took the door off that was across the hall. He is a civil engineer.

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            Yup, my brother’s big four-poster bed has been in my guest room (upstairs) for eight years, and while his couch went into the basement in one piece, it came out in about eight through the power of an electric reciprocating saw. A king bed also had to be exchanged for a pair of twins. :P

        2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          I’m having flashbacks to destroying an old, terrible couch with my landlord because we couldn’t get it outside intact. It was here when I moved in, so I have no idea how it got inside.

          1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

            Possibly through the window! That’s how the largest piece of our couch got in. We had to destroy a shrub so it could happen. I have made a note to this effect in the household document, so when it comes time to dispose of the thing we will not have to re-invent the wheel.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I also think that math is taught TERRIBLY at lower levels. It’s all about memorization and “follow these steps”, as if math wasn’t something humans were constantly inventing and reinventing: sometimes to solve problems and sometimes to imagine problems that couldn’t be solved. Crazy shit like imaginary numbers and whether one infinity is bigger than another infinity.

        I’ve always been crap at computation or holding numbers in my head for even a couple of seconds, and I started having panic reactions whenever timed multiplication tests were handed out. I literally couldn’t pass out of the 3’s times table in *fifth grade math*. I was told I had a non-verbal learning disability. I would have probably given up on math if I hadn’t had teachers and parents who constantly told me that computation wasn’t the same as math and to assure me there were much cooler things to come.

    2. Twix*

      I have a BS in applied mathematics, an MS in computational mathematics, and am a professional applied mathematician. I came here to say the same things. A lot of people are terrible at math, whether due to natural aptitude, issues like dyscalculia, or historical problems with how it’s been taught. It’s not at all ridiculous to have trauma around the subject – it’s actually incredibly common, which is something that I’m happy to say has started getting talked about more in recent years. And it certainly doesn’t mean you’re stupid! Personally I’d hate to have your job, because I also have ADHD and for me that presents as being absolutely useless when it comes to things like organization and time management. Believe me, I feel plenty stupid every time I wildly underestimate how long something will take or can’t figure out when I need to start getting ready to get somewhere on time. But we all have our strengths and weaknesses.

    3. Clearlier*

      My wife has a PhD, a postgraduate diploma in statistics, teaches research methodology (including quantitative methodologies) to her students and cannot add two 2 digit numbers together.

      Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is a big plus to both you and your manager. By all means acknowledge that it’s a little bizarre but if you’re upfront about it any halfway competent manager will be happy to help you resolve this or enable you to solve it yourself by seeking the help of someone else.

    4. WMM*

      Yes, this was exactly my thought for lw3! They have a great deal of self awareness, and these challenges are not a character flaw. Spacial reasoning is built into brains, and like everything else about humans, it varies a great deal from person to person. While I have other very notable challenges, I am “gifted” at spacial reasoning. I didn’t have to put much effort in beyond focusing, and it was never something I had to consciously learn. My brain isn’t “better” just like yours isn’t “worse”. If I were your coworker, I’d be thrilled to take this off your plate, especially if it meant someone helped me with my bigger struggles.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I signed up for a spatial reasoning test once, but I couldn’t find the answer sheet. Which probably says more about my spatial reasoning abilities than any test result. *sigh*

    5. Karma is My Boyfriend and so is Travis Kelce*

      My nephew is exactly the same way. If it didn’t interest him, he wouldn’t do the work. STEAM interested him, so he did the work. He’s getting by just fine (just bought a house at 22!)

    6. Carl*

      Lol, I just reread my comment, and that was supposed to say that you’re “NOT” too dumb. Left out a critical word there. It was on the page in my head but didn’t make it to the paper. See? Words! Not my thing.

  9. Popeye & Olive Oil*

    #2 Please don’t give a religious gift where you don’t know the nuances. I briefly thought of giving someone a menorah after she lost hers in a move. I found what seemed like an adorable tiny one online that used birthday candles. Then I learned menorah candles should burn for at least 30 minutes. Birthday candles don’t last 30 minutes and that “adorable” menorah would have been inappropriate and I’m so glad I didn’t buy it. And that “adorable” might not be the best criteria for judging a religious gift.

    1. stratospherica*

      Yes, very much agreed! What immediately sprang to mind for me is that the Quran is usually considered sacred to the point that framing/hanging a passage of it would be considered haram, even though Christians may find doing the same thing with a Bible verse more or less unobjectionable.

      1. Risky Biscuits*

        Hey, do you have a source for this idea that framing or hanging a passage of the Qur’an would be haram? I’m wondering if this is a regional or sect/school-based difference. I’m Muslim and to me it seems very normal and widely practiced to display certain verses (e.g. ayat-ul Kursi, the “Throne verse”) in wall decorations, on jewelry, etc.

        To be clear, I agree that one reason the coworker shouldn’t give such a gift is that they may miss nuance. I was just surprised to see this particular example.

        1. stratospherica*

          It was an assumption (which, reading back, I worded poorly too – I should’ve been clearer that I was speculating) on my part. I did look up whether using Quranic verses as decoration was allowed and it seemed mixed, but I should’ve been more thorough/careful before I commented. Thank you for letting me know that it’s a normal practice (though still not a good idea as a gift)!

          1. Smurfette*

            > I did look up whether using Quranic verses as decoration was allowed and it seemed mixed

            I think that’s the whole point! There are a multitude of opinions + observances on this type of thing and OP has no way of knowing what their coworker holds by.

    2. Tinkerbell*

      Giving a religious gift when you’re not that religion feels almost… othering, in a way? Like “hey, I noticed you’re a minority! I got you this thing that other people who look like you sometimes use, because you minority people seem to like this kind of stuff!” That doesn’t mean it couldn’t potentially be a very touching gift, and obviously I’m over-generalizing, but from the perspective of the gift recipient it can sometimes feel like you’re seeing them as minority first and coworker second :-\ (I say this as a queer woman, who is the only queer person in some of my social groups, and who gets a lot of “hey I saw this gay news thing and you’re gay so we should talk about it.” It gets old.)

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Yeah, definitely. I’m from a multireligious upbringing, and it feels really weird when my Christian friends get me a Hanukkah card when they could’ve just… gotten me a Christmas card and been done with it. It feels like you’re trying to draw unnecessary attention to the fact that I am Different™, essentially.

        1. Empress Ki*

          I have a religion that’s not mainstream where I live. I appreciate it when my friends make the effort to send me a card/gift that acknowledge my religious difference. I’d be annoyed if they sent me a Christian Christmas card. But they are my friends and they know me well. This is different from a coworker, unless we were very close.

          1. Brain the Brian*

            I would probably be annoyed, too, if I only celebrated Jewish holidays and my friends got me a Christmas card. But we celebrated both Christian and Jewish holidays (and Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday that mainstream American culture “propped up” as an alternative to Christmas), so it’s always felt like posturing when Christian friends get me Hanukkah cards. These friends have never bothered with anything to recognize any of the actual major Jewish holidays. Oh well.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          Would your reaction be different if they had sent a Rosh Hashanah card (at the appropriate time) instead?

      2. OneAngryAvacado*

        See, I think this is an instance where it’s very much a Your Mileage May Vary – as a religious queer I quite like it when my atheist/straight friends do things like this for me, as *to me* it feels like they’re making the effort to engage in something they know is personal to me even if it’s utterly alien to them.

        But the fact that there’s so much variation in responses shows that it would be best to avoid this really well intentioned idea. Faith is just one of those things that’s *so* personal, and the responses to it are (demonstrably) varied, that there’s very rarely a ‘one size fits all’ answer to something like this, and therefore is better to avoid entirely in a professional environment.

        1. Lab Boss*

          I agree that it’s a YMMV situation, but given the workplace context (as opposed to friends) and the sensitivity of religion, I think this is one of those where “if you have to ask if it’s inappropriate, then it is.”

        2. Artemesia*

          I feel like a card that recognizes your beliefs is considerate — but a religious object is too fraught with negative possibilities.

    3. Dittany*

      Yeah, there are often nuances and connotations that people from outside the culture just aren’t aware of. And if you misstep, it turns what should have been a thoughtful gesture into placing the burden on her to not be visibly irritated at a genuinely well-intentioned gift. (Not that that’s necessarily what will happen, but why risk it?)

    4. KateM*

      I would even say that this is a very general thing, before we even get into religions and coworkers – don’t give anyone a gift of something that she is well-versed in but you don’t know anything about (unless she has told you this one specific thing to buy).

      1. Still*

        Yeah, the risk is too big that you’ll end up giving your colleague the religious equivalent of a jar of mould.

        1. Nebula*

          Thank you for reminding me of that letter. The best possible example of ‘he’s a little confused by he’s got the spirit’.

        2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

          A coworker once gave me a spider plant in a plastic solo cup because he knew I liked plants. Which I do! But I already have more spider plants than I need at home (they’re my wife’s; if it were up to me I’d give them away, because while spider plants are cute, they get kind of straggly, and we have a LOT of plants), and this particular spider plant had fungus gnats, which meant that there was no way in heck I was going to bring it into my house.

          I wound up killing it by withholding too much water while trying to get rid of the gnats. Which I felt bad about… but it was only one step up from the jar of mold.

          1. Elle*

            I tell my non-plant-loving friends that I never need more spider plants or pothos- they will have very large plant families of their own without needing any external additions

        3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          I thought it would be playing safe to get my religious SIL a religious gift, turned out that since her father died of cancer she’d lost her religion (because a good god wouldn’t have taken her father from her).

      2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        100x this – even setting aside the highly personal and sensitive nature of religious beliefs, if someone is deeply involved in an interest and you are not? Steer clear unless you have been offered specific instruction.

        The chances that you will buy something they already own, or something that is heavily marketed but not actually particularly useful or good is just so high.

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          Yup, I once had a friend of a friend give me a book about the History of Ireland, “since you like history.” It was a book for tourists, giving a very basic introduction to Irish history, the sort of stuff all kids learn in primary school here and as a history teacher…well, it was almost insulting. Like giving a French teacher a gift of a book introducing basic French phrases for holidays.

          I mean, I knew it was just a case of all of us meeting up and her realising that when she was giving a present to our mutual friend, she should give me one too, but it does highlight how giving specific, meaningful gifts to people you aren’t close to doesn’t always work out, especially if you don’t share the interest.

          1. KateM*

            And I got a very basic crocheting book of “how to crochet a tube” complete with photos when I have created several patterns for things several magnitudes more difficult than that.

    5. Pupper*

      I remember a discussion about giving bibles as a gift a while ago and honestly this falls into the same category: even if you were both of the same faith, there are so many personal decisions that go into purchasing religious items (in the case of the bibles people brought up not only specific versions, but also things like specific fonts) – I feel this is the same general idea.

      Religious items (and religion in general tbh) are a highly personal thing and odds are pretty big that you may get it wrong – best avoid it entirely.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Hell, I generally avoid getting *family members* religious gifts. To do it at work would seem really inappropriate.

        1. Smurfette*

          My MIL offered to make me a crocheted tichel (headscarf worn by *some* Orthodox Jewish women).

          – I have stopped covering my hair
          – When I do cover my hair, I wear a hat, not a tichel
          – I have sensory issues and the yarn she buys is scratchy

          I could go on, but I won’t.

      2. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        I’m a former Catholic and a writer. I’ve been looking a for a bible for a long time as a reference source and realized how deeply personal a religious book can be. A better idea may be a gift card especially if it’s generic.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          I would be happy to receive a Bible if it is a translation I don’t already have. I would add it to my collection. Or if you want to spend a few hundred dollars on me, there are Bibles that go all out as examples of the printer’s and binder’s art. I have been tempted for years by these, but could never justify the expense. Which, come to think of it, makes it a perfect gift for me. I would go KJV for this. I wouldn’t be using it as a reference Bible.

      3. Emily Byrd Starr*

        I don’t think it’s always wrong to give religious gifts. I am a Christian and one time, a co-worker who is also a Christian (and who knew that I am Christian) gave me a magnet with a Bible verse on it. I thought it was very sweet. But if you’re not the same religion as your coworker, better to err on the side of caution.

      4. mgguy*

        As someone who is a Christian and who was raised in an Evangelical Southern Baptist environment, I can think of dozens of examples of gifts I would be hesitant to give to other Christians unless I actually had a theological connection to them(i.e. were friends with them through a church connection, maybe attended the same church or at least the same denomination).

        Bibles are a great example-a nice Bible might seem like a great gift for someone, but there are so many catches with that. There are probably about 100 different English language translations of the Bible that I can think of, all with different aims and different purposes. I reach for my trusty NASB reference Bible most of the time, but I’ve caught flak for even using that translation in the Baptist church. There are folks out there-you’ll mostly find them in Independent Baptist and Pentecostal Congregations, who believe that the King James Version(the original King James, not the New King James) is the only acceptable English translation. I love the poeticism of the KJV and wouldn’t be without one, but as a reference it has some glaring issues(it is a thought-for-thought translation that necessarily introduces some of the writers’ bias, not to mention it had some inherent political influence given that it was “authorized” by King James and translated by clergy of the Church of England). There’s also the fact that more modern translations have been heavily influenced by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are older and presumably more accurate than what the KJV referenced. To add to all of that, all of the Thees and Thous and Begats can get tedious and even confusing to the modern reader, and sometimes the KJV ends up with really awkward phrasing and practically needing a crib sheet to keep track of who’s doing what since it sometimes prioritized poeticism and sounding good when read aloud over absolute clarity.

        All of that aside too, there are popular paraphrase Bibles-the Message is probably most familiar to modern readers and IMO takes the mostbl liberty with the text-along with New Living Translation(IMO does a good job of improving readability without fundamentally changing what’s said) and the Good News Bible(a sentimental favorite of mine because of ties to my undergraduate college, but slanted toward a fairly specific audience). I know there are other paraphrase Bibles out there-those are just three I’m familiar with. I have two of the three on my bookshelf, along with the partial New Testament “Cotton Patch Gospel”, and they do have their place, but they are controversial to some folks.

        Good study Bibles in any translation are wonderful gifts to the right person, but study Bibles are called that because they are loaded with footnotes and commentary that introduce a modern author’s interpretation-there again they can be a valuable tool(the Bible isn’t an easy book to read, especially in some of the modern word-for-word translations like the NASB and ESV) but again the commentary included is inherently influenced by the author’s bias.

        I mention all of that just because even something like a nice Bible, especially if get fancy and get a leather binding with the recipients name on it, can end up being something that instead is inadvertently offensive.

        That’s not to mention too all kinds of other catches. I can remember years ago someone giving a friend who a member of the Church of Christ a nice CD of hymns and the person almost immediately tossed it in the garbage because the CoC forbids instrumental accompaniment in services.

        Just knowing a lot of these real world hang ups, I would not begin to attempt to give a religious gift to someone part of a religion I do not practice, and that’s just knowing how much of a minefield it can be even within my own religion…

    6. Richard Hershberger*

      Back in the 90s I was working as a small-to-mid sized company, whose owner is Jewish. The C-suite (such as it is in a company this size) people were brainstorming for a gift for him for a round-number birthday. I got wind of this and suggested a fancy Haggadah with illuminations and calligraphy that had recently been published. At this point I don’t recall whether it was a facsimile of an old manuscript or an original work. This might have been out of line, in that I am not Jewish, but I also didn’t make the decision, just a suggestion, and at least some of the people who did were Jewish. In any case, they leapt on the idea, either as being a really good one or relieving them of having to come up with something better. So far as I know it went well, though it is always possible that the owner was just being polite.

      1. Hey Nonny Nonny*

        Yeah, as a Jew, that does sound like a great gift–assuming you knew he was pretty actively Jewish and religiously-involved. But in general, I agree with Alison. It isn’t that you won’t sometimes or even often wind up getting a nice gift, but when you’re coming from outside the culture, it is really hard to make sure you’re getting the nuances right.

        And just being Jewish doesn’t necessarily mean part of the culture. As someone who is observant but not Orthodox, I think I am fairly well positioned to know what to get for Jews representing a fairly wide swath of the religious spectrum, but even there, there are limits. Syrian or Yemenite Jews are going to have customs that differ from that of Ashkenazi Jews. I have limited awareness of the nuances between different more ultra-Orthodox sects (some of whose members you could find in a secular workplace). So it isn’t as easy as Jewish/not Jewish.

      2. HannahS*

        I think the fact that other Jews thought it was a good idea is relevant.

        I would LOVE a reproduction of the bird head Haggadah, but I also recently saw a very sweet Christian friend give a gift of a mug with an excerpt of proverbs 31 on it for a bat mitzvah gift and it was so, so obviously made by a Christian for other Christians, and a very odd gift for a young Jewish girl.

        There are just nuances that could be missed by someone who isn’t from the culture.

        1. metadata minion*

          Definitely! A nice Haggadah is the sort of thing that many Jewish people enjoy having just as a beautiful coffee table book type thing, even if it isn’t one they’d want to lead a seder from. But you have to a) know that about Haggadahs, and b) have a sense of whether the person in question actually likes that sort of thing.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          Not merely any Christian. Giving any female a Proverbs 31 gift is sending a very specific message. For those unfamiliar with it, this is the chapter about the perfect wife. It goes exactly as one would expect.

          1. HannahS*

            So, an interesting nuance which is that the Jewish interpretations of Proverbs 31 that I grew up with tend to focus on the lines about her economic productivity, and while it IS traditional in many Orthodox homes for the household to sing it on Shabbat evening, it’s very much associated with married women, and even so the primarily American-evangelical notion of the “Proverbs 31 wife” is not really A Thing. Traditional Jewish and Christian conceptions of ideal womanhood–even linked with the same text–are in some ways similar, and in other ways different.

            1. metadata minion*

              My partner gave me a spindle with the spinning-related lines of Eishet Chayl on it when I converted to Judaism, since I spin :-)

              Though that said, if he tried to do the whole “sing Proverbs 31 on Shabbat” thing he would be poked with said spindle repeatedly since I am very not here for gender essentialism.

    7. Charlie*

      A thought I had was gift certificates for something like a cleaning service or meal deliveries, something that would ease the burden of other chores. I know it’s not uncommon for people to organise to provide meals for people/families that are going through health issues and something like an Uber eats gift card would probably be helpful.

      1. Crumbledore*

        Yes, I hear the LW wanting to do something meaningful for the colleague, and this would fit the bill.
        Or, if you’re in a position to offer to help ease their workload in some way that made sense for your org and your relationship with the colleague, that could also make a difference for them.

    8. Cat Admin*

      Religion aside, I think it’s iffy to get someone a gift that would be expected of them to display in their home/hang on their wall. Because you may not know their taste in home decor or the layout of their space. While I love cats, I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy a framed pic of a cat as a gift.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Tell my mother! I love cats and any time she visited any place she’d find a cat trinket as a souvenir, to collect dust on a shelf. Even though she never saw any of them collecting dust anywhere in my home.

        1. Cat Admin*

          I may need to tell a few people in my life while I’m at it lol. While a few cat items are fine and cute, but I don’t want my house to gradually become cat themed circa 90’s rooster, grape, etc. themed.

          1. Artemesia*

            My ex MIL once was gracious when someone gave her an owl themed kitchen towel, by the time she died her entire house was overrun with owl clocks, posters, towels, tschokes etc — She once told me she had no particular interest in owls and didn’t know how to stop it. She was not an easy person to buy for and so people seized on the owl thing.

          2. Azure Jane Lunatic*

            I once proactively told the tchotchke-est person in my friends group at the time, someone I’d observed buying things for other friends and then being miffed when the target didn’t want the thing and wouldn’t reimburse her, that yes I was a chicken person, but I was super, super picky about my chicken art. And then launched into a screed about my pet peeves. She seemed miffed, so I think I dodged a Situation.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          Isn’t it great when there’s a thing you like, and it gradually takes over your public identity?

          Like when you like a particular brand of hot sauce, and someone notices and gives you a bottle, and you’re like, “Thanks, that’s so sweet, I love that brand of hot sauce!” So next time they get you a gift, it’s a t-shirt, which is… a bit much, but whatever, you wear the t-shirt, and everyone notices decides you’re the Hot Sauce Person, and suddenly everything you receive is either hot sauce or hot-sauce themed?

          Soon, when anyone new meets you, they’re like, “Whoa, that person is wearing a hot-sauce t-shirt, carrying a hot-sauce bag, and even their water-bottle has something printed on it saying they never drink water after eating hot sauce, they must be the most Hot-Sauce obsessed person in the whole world!”

          1. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

            I can relate. I have a cousin who was an animal science major. At a family event, she mentioned that her class in animal husbandry had her artificially inseminate a pig. Her aunts ran with that and gave her pig-related birthday and Christmas presents for years until she put her foot down.

      2. Dek*

        My mom got her PT guy a poster of a very For School Type anatomy illustration of the various muscle groups, which…is alright (tho huge). But she also gave him her VERY detailed expectations of where/how it should be displayed.

        She is kind of Like That.

      3. JustaTech*

        Can you please tell my MIL?
        She very kindly got me a giant piece of framed art for a wall she thought was empty.
        Except it wasn’t empty, it already had art on it (Ikea art, but still, something I’d picked).

        The piece she picked was this Mattisse-esque collage thing in a huge, chunky, ornate frame (the kind where half of the paint was deliberately rubbed off).

        Sure, the subject matter was fine, but I like Art Deco, Art Neveau, Pre-Raphelites and Salavdor Dali, and clean frames. I hate anything “shabby chic” – to me it just looks like it needs sanding and painting.

        So she gave me a big, expensive thing that must be displayed that I hate. (It ended up in the guest room so at least I don’t have to look at it.)

        Art is meant to inspire feelings, so be really, really, really sure that the person you are buying it for will like it, or the feelings it will inspire will be not nice.

        1. Artemesia*

          My brother gave his two older sons and their wives huge modern paintings of the wives. They were kind of cool — but huge and certainly of a certain taste. One of the boys hung his prominently on the wall and the other didn’t. When brother and SIL asked about why this very expensive commissioned work was not displayed. He said ‘I live in a tiny cottage — it would be like I gave you a 15 foot tall sculpture of Mom in gold and expected you to display it on your lawn. It would be a cool thing but would you want to do that?’

    9. Shirley You're Joking*

      I once got a gift from a coworker in December and they wrapped it in what I’m sure they thought was reasonable “Hanukah” gift wrap. The problems? #1 – I don’t remember telling this person that I’m Jewish. #2 – I’m not religious and I don’t celebrate Hanukah. And the best was #3 – The gift wrap was a printed with lots and lots of colorful Stars of David.

      I’m not religious, but I don’t really want to see the symbol of my religion/culture used to make cutesy gift wrap.

      The gift was a lovely bowl, by the way, and the person was just using Hanukah as an excuse to give me something he (rightly) thought I would like as a thank you for a lot of help I’d provided. Putting the religious paper on it diminished the gesture momentarily, until I decided to find it funny.

      1. SpaceySteph*

        I am Jewish and love buying outrageous Hanukkah wrap (last year I got a roll of dinosaurs lighting menorahs) but agree this was an odd choice. They make so much generic gift wrap that isn’t for any particular occasion. Did this guy buy a whole roll of Hanukkah paper jut for your one gift?

        1. Tinkerbell*

          Alternate theory: he had the Haunkkah paper sitting around for years and though “Finally! I’m giving something to a Jewish person! I can use this stuff!”

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Or it was literally the only paper he owned/could find at the wrapping station that wasn’t overtly (or covertly) Christmas-themed.

            (We see you, “non-religious” evergreen trees and reindeer, and we aren’t fooled.)

            1. Emma*

              I feel like in this case, it would have been better to go for some generic paper intended for birthday presents, which is available all year round and generally pretty unobjectionable.

    10. sb51*

      Yep. Though knowing a few nuances could be helpful — like it’s Ramadan right now, so if you give her anything food/drink, make sure it’s packaged and will still be nice at sundown, because if she’s fasting she won’t be able to eat it until then.

      (And even if she’s not fasting because her health means that she shouldn’t, she might not want to call attention to that.)

      So, like, a regular get-well gift, but presented in a way that honors her religion.

    11. Smithy*

      I think this is a great call in the difference between a gift that is inclusive vs one specifically religious.

      After my father died, my mom’s coworkers got her a 6 month trial to one of those meal kit services. The service had the option for kosher, halal and vegetarian meals – as well as ones that were neither of those considerations. For my mom (who does a mix of her version of keeping kosher and being largely vegetarian), having those options let her pick and choose without any of her coworkers needing to know 100% her relationship to being kosher – or vegetarian.

      Broadly speaking, I do think that Uber gift cards to offer a similar kind of help where the recipient can choose restaurants they know fit their requirements. But for the OP, if there’s a local grocery store known for having a halal butcher on the premise or meal services that have that halal option – it’s a way of being mindful of those needs without being overly familiar with where that person is at the moment.

    12. Consonance*

      Another consideration is that even people who are religious may be experiencing complications in their relationship to that religion when going through a tragedy/trauma/rough time. Giving a thoughtful religious gift might work for them in normal times, but it can land really wrong if they’re currently mad at God.

  10. Executive Assistant*

    No 3. Try searching Google for conference facilities near you. They often list how big their meeting rooms are, and how many fit in each style (e.g classroom/boardroom etc). photos may also be available to give you an idea of space/fit.

    1. Em*

      I wanted to say this too: Google is your friend. You can also find a tool that will calculate this info for you: meeting room capacity calculator or whatever. I bet chat GPT would help too.

      1. No name*

        Hum, I wouldn’t trust a glorified autocomplete algorithm to actually guess the right number. Google and specific tools, yes. Chat GPT, no.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I agree, not for something this nuanced. I use ChatGPT as a starting point sometimes but I take its data output with a giant grain of salt

  11. Procedure Publisher*

    LW2 Hank Green posted a video about what he found helpful when he was going through cancer treatment. I would try to watch that for ideas if you are stuck on what to get.

    1. Ink*

      +1, there are a ton of other resources like that that will be more useful to her anyway. There are so many things that get passed around in random forums and such that it’s impossible for someone to hear about them all even if they aren’t preoccupied with enormous stressors. A practical gift is the way to go!

    2. Ms. Murchison*

      Absolutely agreed on the Hank Green video recommendation. I got the link posted a little further down too!

    3. MissMeghan*

      I agree. I like his suggestion of creature comfort type items. In my experience those handwarmers filled with wheat/rice that go in the microwave, nice socks, a nice quality fidget toy for adults, a nice soft hat to protect from the sun, etc. are all thoughtful gifts that have been very appreciated.

      1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        Creature comfort things are great! I wound up making a dedicated gift list at Amazon specifically for cancer stuff, and it was a great idea and really helped my nearest and dearest channel their helpful urges into stuff that I could use without getting too many duplicates of the same thing. Different treatments have different best gifts, of course. One of my personal favorites was a pair of fluffy socks with an aggressive message in non-slip material on the soles. I wound up wearing those under my anti-neuropathy ice packs during my 3+ hour chemo infusion sessions.

        If this co-worker has a gift list, that might be a place to look for ideas.

  12. goddessoftransitory*

    Being “academically gifted” in every other area only seemed to make adults angrier at me when I struggled with something.

    Oh GOD, do I feel this! When you’re a “smart” kid, it seems to really piss off some people when you can’t automatically do something and need help. I have many memories of teachers being irritated that I needed their attention and help when I was supposed to be one of the “easy ones.”

    1. Madame Arcati*

      Yes and people can really generalise! My degree is in let’s say Italian, German and Arabic. I’ve known colleagues be very disappointed when I say I can’t help them with a document in Spanish or Turkish…

      1. Pupper*

        This! I have a degree in linguistics and while yes, I do speak multiple languages, I have to regularly remind people that I am not a translator or interpreter. That is an entirely different skillset that I have not quite mastered, nor am I particularly interested in it.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Seriously. I speak French OK. Definitely not well enough to be expected to translate stuff properly.

        2. myfanwy*

          I actually am a translator but very much not an interpreter, and people are often disappointed by this. I’m great at fiddling around with text in a nice quiet room by myself. Put me in the middle of a real-time conversation and I freeze.

    2. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      I was “book smart” and “math dumb.” I can write a short story in 30 minutes about being trapped in a room but figuring out how many people could realistically fit into the room? No.

    3. kiki*

      Yes, I think a lot of people subconsciously believe intelligence will be distributed somewhat equally across disciplines in one person. So when somebody is great at math but is struggling with writing they interpret it as a lack of effort or focus or discipline in a way they might not for a kid who struggles academically across the board.

    4. Dr. Rebecca*

      My era was big on “watch one, do one, teach one,” and I felt continuously defective because that is just NOT enough time for me to grasp things. I do get iteratively better, and if it’s something I’m interested in I will keep trying until it’s perfect even if the first time is a disaster, but three isn’t enough. A lot of my childhood “learning experience” decisions were made in a blind panic of trying to do something well enough that people wouldn’t be mad at me.

      1. LW #3*

        “A lot of my childhood ‘learning experience’ decisions were made in a blind panic of trying to do something well enough that people wouldn’t be mad at me.”


    5. Ellis Bell*

      I don’t know how long ago this happened to you, but there’s simply no excuse for this level of ignorance in teaching with what we know of how the brain works. Not only could you just be less well versed in a particular skill, but having a big difference of ability between subjects or skills is one of the most common flags for dyslexia or dyscalculia or other special educational needs. “Easy ones”… good grief.

      1. LW #3*

        In my experience, “gifted” programs and the treatment of “gifted” kids in general were benign neglect at best and straight-up emotional abuse at worst.

        1. Meh*

          Boy howdy, those gifted programs…like, for example, the one they stuck my autistic self into in grade 8. Where they took the kid who was battling severe depression and didn’t even have the executive function to complete and hand in the standard assignments, and said “oh look, do some extra on top of what you already can’t keep up with!” It was sooooooo much fun. /s

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          The wildest one I had was in 5th grade another girl in my class and I plus one boy in the grade below us had apparently tested out of our math class but they didn’t have anywhere else to put us, so the three of us had to sit in the back of a different class during their story time and try to teach ourselves math out of a textbook while a teacher was reading books ten feet away. Idk who the heck thought that was a good idea!

          1. Artemesia*

            I spent first and second grade with a couple of other kids in the back of. classroom not being taught because I came to first grade already reading.

    6. Juicebox Hero*

      Another smart kid feeling the pain.

      I was good at basic arithmetic and geometry, and that’s it. I’m good at rote memorization and a visual thinker. Calculus and algebra might as well have been taught in Klingon. Since I was good at everything else, my mother was convinced that I was just “lazy” because I didn’t like math and thought the ideal motivation was to bellow at me at top volume about being lazy and shameful and making her look bad.

      As a result I came to equate being bad at math with being a bad person and I was ashamed to ask for extra help, with the result that my math grades sucked all through high school and college, too.

      It took me decades to realize that being bad at math isn’t a character flaw, plus as an adult in the working world it’s perfectly OK to use all the cheats you weren’t allowed to as a student.

      1. Galadriel's Garden*

        Oh wow, this is a very similar tale for me as well! My brain latches onto music and words and languages no problem, so I could get by well enough with certain facets of math until getting into what I frame as “math for math’s sake,” i.e. algebra and calculus – and having two parents who are both numbers-brained people (accounting for one and an economics degree supplemented by a career in building things and a hobby in woodworking), they Could Not Understand why I had such good grades in every subject besides math (well, until I hit chemistry and physics). It’s just not how my brain works, but it felt like I was a failure for being an honors student with top grades…in everything but math, for literally my entire academic career…supplemented by the frustration of two parents who thought I was just not trying hard enough to get it.

        And yes to those cheats! My love for Excel knows no bounds, because it does the math for me and allows me to synthesize data in a way I would otherwise be completely incapable of doing myself.

    7. Butterfly Counter*

      Oh yes. I was a great reader, so was good at things that required language or memorization. I worked really hard and got decent at math.

      But chemistry. Oof.

      But the problem was that I don’t know if I was just bad a chemistry or if it was the fact I was in “honors” chemistry and the teacher was leaving a lot of holes for students to intuit that I just could not. And my chemistry teacher was incensed whenever I asked a question to have her explain how she went from discussing A to now discussing B. One day, I just refused to ask the question because I was tired of her scorn and just wrote whatever she said down and figured I would try to understand later. At least 5 other students came up to me during lab in that class to ask me how the teacher had made the leap from A to B because, since I didn’t ask, I must have understood it. So I went to her desk to ask her. She fully yelled at me in front of everyone, “Class! Isn’t it sad that we’re three-quarters done with this class and one of you doesn’t understand when I say X, and it’s not labeled, it means BLAH!” (Don’t remember exactly the issue.)

      Oddly, from that point on, I made it a point to have her explain every little detail that I couldn’t understand from that point on because I knew it irked her. She hated me by the end of the year.

      1. Minimal Pear*

        Oh man chemistry was my big weakness too! What was so frustrating was that I did mostly understand it, but I just could NOT get things to work. Much later I found out that I have deficits in procedural learning–I struggle to do things in the right order–but my skills in some other areas compensated for it, and those issues only show up in very specific academic contexts. (And also how I sometimes accidentally put on deodorant before I shower, lol.)

      2. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        Oh man, chemistry was a nightmare for me, too. I still remember how horrific that class was, scraping by with a C that was almost a D, while meanwhile I was taking AP English, AP French, and skipped from German 1 to German 3, all with As.

        Give me all the languages, all the writing, etc., just keep the chemistry far away from me.

    8. Rage*

      Yup. I remember once in 3rd grade (isn’t it crazy how these things stick around in our brains??), I was having trouble with a math assignment, and asked for help. It was really just a mental block, but the teacher said to me, “You’re smart; you shouldn’t need help to figure it out.”

      I didn’t ask for help from a teacher again until COLLEGE.

      And there was always this undercurrent of “you are smart, you can do anything” but when I couldn’t (and couldn’t articulate why), it led to on-going frustration and arguments.

      OP, like Alison said, just ask for help. If you know you have a coworker who is a math whiz, maybe just ask for their help (and give a head’s up to your boss later) like “Math is my Achilles heel, so I had Petunia help me with the calculations. She’s a whiz and got them done in a fraction of the time I could have!”

    9. Hiring Mgr*

      We had a Forrest Gump type of savant in my school as a kid and it was like that for him too

    10. Festively Dressed Earl*

      Especially when you struggle with something that’s in “your” subject. When we got deeply into grammar elements in middle school, I floundered because I had to articulate things that I took as given. My mom screamed at me for getting a B in English and outright dismissed the fact that I’d gotten As in every other subject.

  13. Skippy*

    LW #3, I’m pretty good at math and I wouldn’t be comfortable doing this. I don’t know whether accessibility is an issue at all, but this is not a basic-surface-area issue. I’d be interested to know how hotels and events venues calculate this… Anyway, get out of this task and don’t think it says anything about you.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      First, OP – as a fellow very much non-mathematical person, you have my sympathy.

      I’ve rented a lot of event spaces, and venues have to know their room capacity for fire safety reasons. This means that venues can usually provide a layout and capacity chart telling you the maximum capacity of the room in each different type of room setup (classroom, cabaret style, U-shaped etc.)
      You can generally find this info on the venue website or by asking the venue staff, but if it’s a smaller or non-traditional event venue, it might be harder to find.

      The maximum capacity isn’t exactly what the OP is being asked, but it’s close enough that it might not matter too much. If the OP can get a capacity chart from the venue and show it to their boss, they could work with their boss to determine how many tables/chairs to remove if they want to allow additional space. Also, do a site visit (if feasible) and specifically ask the venue staff “I know the capacity of this room is [number], can people easily move around with that many chairs/tables or should the number be lower?”

      I have also seen meeting space calculators online (you can find these by searching) – these allow you to enter the dimensions of a room and it will give you a rough capacity. However, this won’t be as accurate as the info you get from the venue, as the venue will know if there are any weird architectural or configuration features that will figure in to the capacity number.

      I would never ask someone to calculate what the OP is being asked to calculate (and have never been asked to do it myself, in many years of event planning), because the venue will know their space much better than anyone who might hold an event there. So before we all go off into spatial-mathematical solutions, let’s not overlook the best source of this information!

      1. Varthema*

        this makes sense – OP, any chance that researching this/being in touch with the venue to get their configuration plans isn’t actually what your boss had in mind?

        1. Myrin*

          There is no venue, at least not in the sense it’s being used here. OP talks about “our office” and “setting up several of our meeting rooms” – it’s just random big rooms at OP’s company.

        2. The Prettiest Curse*

          I was commentibg above in more general terms re: how to find out room capacity. However, unless it’s a brand new building, I guarantee that someone in the organisation has held an event (even possibly the one that the OP is planning) in the room(s) before and can give a rough idea of capacity. It doesn’t have to be exact to the millimetre.

          1. doreen*

            It’s probably a guarantee that someone has held an event in the room before but I’ve experienced plenty of rooms that have always been set up in one particular way. Knowing the capacity when it’s set up auditorium-style with rows of chairs doesn’t tell me anything about how many will fit at round tables of 8 or rectangular tables of 10 . (It might tell someone else something, but I’ll still be cutting round shapes out of graph paper because I have no spatial ability)

    2. Glen*

      I spent a decade working as a structural/mechanical designer and I would definitely need a pretty high level of detail to pull this off (which *may* be available, to be clear). I would think that this is a pretty specialised task.

    3. Myrin*

      Yeah, I work at my town’s city hall which has an adjacent ballroom-type building and the stuff OP has been tasked with figuring out is something the architect had to lay out in great detail when he proposed his construction, so this is not something that can be done on the fly by any random employee, not least of all because of firecodes and thelike. And when we have conferences or meetings in rooms not specifically used for such purposes – which is the situation OP describes as well – that kind of planning gets outsourced.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      I actually think attempting to work this out mathematically would be the worst idea! I’m not great at maths either, but I think there’s a big difference between working out something like carpet for an L shaped room, and something like this were you’re figuring out all the moving parts. Here, you’re talking about people/fire safety/chair clearance and general comfort and logistics of holding the event. This is one of those things where you don’t know if it actually fits or works without a rehearsal. Speak to someone who has used the room before/knows it’s capacity. If this is the room’s maiden voyage, I would at the very least try to dry run it with some real tables and some real bodies; I think this is a building manager/facilities job really though. Someone who has spoken to an actual firefighter about it. This stuff is no joke – what if the fire alarm went off?

      1. AngryOctopus*

        In addition to the fire safety aspects, there is also a comfort aspect. What if you can fit in 6 rows of tables, but it turns out those people in the front row will be uncomfortably close to the screen? That can be a huge issue. Definitely try to find someone who has done this before, and when you ask for help (because you should have help) mention fire safety and attendee comfort (seat spacing, distance from screen, aisle width).

        1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

          One of the auditoriums at my old job had a seat where the view of the stage was blocked by a giant pillar. We figured out how to work around it but it was one of those things where each successive group who used the room had to re-invent the wheel.

    5. The Wedding Planner*

      The county dictates the room capacity. From there, it’s super easy to figure out how many tables and chairs fit into a room with floorplanning software! I couldn’t imagine doing it manually.

  14. Always and Forever*

    #1: very minor, but we don’t know the gender of coworker. Would have been more appropriate to use “they” instead of “ she”.

    1. stratospherica*

      I believe Alison uses “she” as the default pronoun as a stylistic choice in AAM. It stood out to me in the past but I’ve come to feel very comforted by it.

      1. niknik*

        It still trips me up from time to time, and i love it. :)
        Goes to show how easily we internalize / forget about preconceived notions.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I like to default to they as much as possible, when the person reading might be misgendered, but when it’s a third party, using “she” works fine for a hypothetical or anonymous person. Besides, as well as Alison’s default she also emails the writer follow ups occasionally, so you never really know if the gender is actually unknown or not.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I plan to stop defaulting to “she” as soon as I’ve used it exactly the number of times that other publications have defaulted to “he”!

  15. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP4 (leaving after a promotion) – go for it. Your manager will be able to say to the company “this is what happens when you drag your feet over promotions”. It may be more complex because of the layoffs, but often layoffs and who gets promoted are two separate sets of things. (I appreciate it isn’t a good look to have just been promoted when team mates may have been laid off, though.)

    1. bamcheeks*

      They aren’t always two different things, though! You can definitely be in one of the “safe” or even “expected to do well out of this period of uncertainty” roles, and still want out because uncertainty still creates a horrible atmosphere. I’ve known plenty of people who were up for promotion or expected to take a more senior role during a re-structure choose to leave instead, simply because re-structures and redundancies create such bad feeling and contention and uncertainty.

      Organisations should expect that some good people will leave by choice when you go through lay-offs or re-structures. It’s always amazing to me when the people in charge of change get all, “wait, we didn’t mean YOU!!” face when people who have other options choose to exercise them.

      1. ceiswyn*

        Yes, I very much saw that in a previous company I worked for, which handled the layoffs in a manner that we all considered to be inconsiderate and underhanded (for example, they claimed they had given us the list of criteria they were working from so that we could see they were being ‘objective’, but they refused to tell us how those criteria were weighted).

        After they’d laid off the people we all knew they’d wanted to lay off, including one guy who was suffering from stress-related illness due to overwork, they suffered an exodus of all their best people.

        I imagine they’re still confused about what happened.

      2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        And even if you’re in one of the “safe” roles, it can still be bad for your career. Despite getting title bumps, my opportunities were limited for YEARS after a layoff at my last company, because we’d laid off the most recent/most junior hire, and all the work that he would’ve done just got shoved onto the more senior people. So I had a level 3 title but was doing a significant amount of level 1 work, because the level 1 work just kept coming and someone needed to do it, and level 3 work was pretty thin on the ground and needed me to actively pursue it, which I didn’t have time to do because I was swamped with the basic tasks.

        I got lucky in that when I got laid off for COVID slowdowns, I got a role doing actual level 3 work and things are generally going well now, but one of my level 2 coworkers from the same job is still bouncing around different level 1/2 jobs, even though they’re a good employee and ought to be eligible for level 3 now — they’re just stuck at the bottom of the “demonstrate that you can do level 3 work” cliff.

      3. House On The Rock*

        At a couple different points in my career I’ve been the “safe” person who left in the midst of turmoil. It doesn’t always feel great to hear “we are letting 75% of the group go but you get to stay!” when the expectation is you’ll be grateful and pick up all the extra slack for those laid off.

    2. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, it’s that simple. If they want to retain key employees, the company needs to do a better job at promoting people.

    3. Lab Boss*

      If OP has a strong relationship with the manager, they might even talk about how to frame their exit (in an exit interview, or similar). I was the manager in a somewhat similar situation, and my departing employee was willing to be open about leaving for reasons X, Y, and Z, because I told her I could then use her on-the-record interview to push to FIX X, Y, and Z.

    4. Sloanicota*

      If it helps OP to think of it this way, perhaps taking a safe exit themselves will allow one of their coworkers who might have been on the chopping block to stay.

      1. Lab Boss*

        Great point. I was once in a position where it looked like I’d have to lay off one person, right up until someone else left for a new job. That counted as my 1-headcount-loss, and nobody had to leave involuntarily.

  16. Ms. Murchison*

    In re: LW#2, as a member of another minority religion, I’m cringing so hard at the thought of a coworker trying to pick a religious gift for me. AAM’s advice is spot-on and I hope the LW picks a different option.

    Procedure Publisher’s recommendation of Hank Green’s “What to Get a Cancer Patient” video is an excellent idea. I’ll try to paste the link in a reply to this one and see if it works. Otherwise just go look for that video title on the Vlogbrothers channel.

  17. Manglement Survivor*

    LW#2 – NO religious gifts at work unless you work in a church or other religious organization. Nope nope nope!

    1. Panicked*

      Even then, I think it’s still too personal. I’ve worked for religious employers before and I’m completely non-religious. Several people I worked with were as well. It’s best to just leave it out of the workplace entiremly, in my opinion.

  18. Brain the Brian*

    I had a fellow volunteer in a community theatre group once try to impose “punishment” on cast members who didn’t attend optional masterclasses by reducing the number of excused absences they would each be granted from our next show’s rehearsals. Everyone involved was a volunteer, and we were always struggling to attract enough talent to flesh out a full cast for our shows. You can imagine this went about as well as the Hindenburg’s final flight.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Some people just have a very punitive mind set in everything. I guess they feel it is a way of flexing power or maybe it just makes them feel good. It’s a bad quality in a manager when so often honey catches more flies.

      1. Elle*

        This was my takeaway as well and I’ve been musing on it all morning now. Some people take an automatically punitive approach to a variety of situations and very rarely is it effective. I’m in the US so I’m inclined to point to our school system and the authoritarian/punitive way that children and teens tend to be treated there as one of many contributing factors.

        1. JustaTech*

          Years ago I had to visit another worksite where, before we could start with our meetings the site director had to lecture everyone (including those of us from another site) on our collective failure to clean up the broke coffee machine.
          I described it as feeling like I was back in middle school being lectured by the vice principal – and that’s what it was, weirdly punitive by someone with limited power.
          (News flash – this is not how you get the best work out of your employees!)

      2. Festively Dressed Earl*

        I wonder if LW 1’s coworker would even consider going the opposite direction. Why not give a gift card or an afternoon off to those with perfect attendance at these meetings? Some bonus instead of a penalty?

  19. Saveyak*

    #5 — My work specifically banned the use of transcription software because our security team raised data protection issues. (We switched to Trint instead, but there’s no automatic captioning of Zoom calls.) I would perhaps consult with IT or whichever team deals with information security at your job to ask if whatever program you guys are using has been vetted for security.

    1. Thegreatprevaricator*

      Yes I was wondering about this? They should also consider if they could be the subject of an FOI request. We’re in the uk but things like Teams chat are deleted after 1 month. We don’t use automatic transcription but some meetings are recorded, it’s made clear what will happen with recordings. Those with sensitive discussion are not recorded.

  20. Daria grace*

    #LW2, even if you do correctly identify the kind of religious item they use in their particular form of the religious practice, there’s every chance they already own the thing or are about to be given it by other members of their religious community. Best to find something less personal.

  21. Red Rowan Berry*

    #5 tangentially related, but to the AI question – Í work as an artist in the games industry and know multiple people whose jobs have changed from creating art to generating it at the click of a button using models built on their own work. They get no say in it themselves as this is cheaper and faster. It’s tragic. I’m mentioning it to say that I fear it’s only going to get worse and more intrusive overall, so I’m with you on this.

    1. Sloanicota*

      A lot of people sent me that link to show that my published works have been used to train AI – uncompensated, of course. Now my workplace forces me to use AI tools that we pay good money for, that were trained on my own work. It doesn’t feel great.

      1. Cmdrshprd*

        “Now my workplace forces me to use AI tools that we pay good money for, that were trained on my own work. It doesn’t feel great.”

        But is it actually your work as in you own it? or was it “work for hire” as in the company/employer owns it, but you made it at their direction?

        I agree and support creatives in not having their own individually owned work used for training without consent/compensation, but a company letting the algorithms train on their collection of owned work that they hired and paid for is an entirely different thing.

        1. Sloanicota*

          I’m not sure this answers your question, but at least one AI used my traditionally published novel to train itself, and now my workplace makes me use AI as part of adobe, canva, and google suite. I do understand that my contribution would have been extremely fractional and that it might not be the same AI program. I would still prefer to opt out of AI programs, but my workplace has activated it.

        2. *sad Wall-E noise**

          I’m also a creative in the video game industry and while I know in principle that work for hire product can be used however C suite chooses, I may not have taken the job if I’d been told that my work would be used to train AI without my knowledge and I certainly wouldn’t have taken the job if I knew that I would eventually be laid off along with 2/3rds of my department as a cost cutting measure because the AI was supposedly cheaper. (Nevermind that it only works intermittently, arguably voids their IP rights, and requires more time for my former colleagues to make the AI’s product even mildly presentable than they ever took dealing with a human product but hey as long as venture capital thinks they saved money right?)

          There’s an alarmingly normalized lack of consent when it comes to generative AI that seems to be predicated on the idea that we somehow should have assumed our work being used this way was a possibility when generative AI is such a young technology.

          1. Emma*

            This doesn’t come close to “making right” the impact on anyone whose career has been damaged by the use of Gen AI, but I’m trying to get into the habit of Nightshading every image I post online or put anywhere it might wind up in an AI training set. My hope is that, if enough people do this, the big tech companies will be forced to choose between knowingly poisoning their models and making them incapable of responding appropriately to a prompt, or restricting the data to pre-2024ish so that the style rapidly becomes dated and unappealing.

  22. ADHDFox*

    #LW2 – agree with the advice generally (don’t get someone else a gift from their religion) but it will probably mean a lot to your coworker if you reach out to them and directly express your dilemma (“Hey, I want to get you something thoughtful but also respectful.”) Just the reaching out will probably mean as much (if not more) than an actual gift.

    1. Aardvark*

      I disagree with sharing the dilemma. There is too much of a chance it is miscommunicated as ‘I tried a bit to think of a present but then it got too hard so I didn’t get you anything’. It puts the emotional burden back on the non-recipient to make the non-giver feel better.

      Reach out – yes. But don’t mention what you didn’t do. (or the effort that it took to do what you did do. Complaining about how hard it was to do the nice thing makes it not a nice thing)

      1. KateM*

        Don’t put on a cancer patient the burden of having to feel thankful that you wanted to do something for her but found it too difficult.

    2. Pistachio*

      well I don’t know – I don’t think I would feel particularly touched or grateful that a coworker had tried to find me a gift but didn’t know what to get – how would that mean more than an actual gift? There is also a risk of “othering”, unless OP has this problem with everyone they try to buy a gift for… if the coworker wasn’t Muslim, would they be having such a “dilemma” about what to get them?

    3. Nancy*

      No, don’t reach out to someone dealing with a difficult issue to ask them about your ‘dilemma.’ It isn’t about you and they do not need to assist you with your gift giving.

      Just get a card saying ‘I’m thinking about you’ if you must get something.

  23. Akwardness*

    #3: What means “ample space to move around”? This alone has nothing to do with math but a lack of guidance. Could you go back to clarify this? Maybe you think it’s you and your math skills, when it is mostly lack of clear requirements.

    And once this is clear, you could use small paper shapes to solve everything. I always use this method when rearranging furniture.

    1. Elle by the sea*

      Exactly. It’s a very vague task. People come in different shapes and sizes. As a European, I used to be so clueless about the fact that some fat people don’t fit into regular spaces or chairs. If there is at least one such attendee, they should be accommodated as well. And there are so many other concerns and needs. I would find this task extremely difficult, too.

      1. ABC*

        As a European, I used to be so clueless about the fact that some fat people don’t fit into regular spaces or chairs.

        I think that’s a you thing, not a European thing.

        1. basically functional*

          Exactly. I’m sure many Europeans are thoughtful and have empathy. Some of them are even fat themselves, believe it or not.

      2. WantonSeedStitch*

        Wow, that’s the most passive-aggressive “LOL AMERICANS ARE FAT” I’ve ever heard.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      This is a great way of putting it, re. lack of guidance. This is one of these things that seems like it should be simple, but is actually really hard when you start thinking about it. How is “ample space to move around” defined? There are also other things to consider, like where power outlets are, making sure everyone can see what they need to see, the size of the tables and chairs…

  24. nnn*

    Does anyone here in the comments know if there’s an app or online calculator of some sort that #3 can use to do this?

    1. Applesauced*

      Kind of ironic to ask this when another OP is questioning the ethics of an AI scribe.

      1. I'm A Little Teapot*

        There have been tools available for this sort of problem long before AI was a thing.

      2. Expelliarmus*

        Why? nnn is not suggesting using AI to solve the issue. Also, using AI to solve these kinds of math problems only requires an outside correction check; it’s not nearly as ethically fraught as the recording dilemma.

      3. nnn*

        Oh no, don’t use AI!! It will likely hallucinate something with no basis in reality and then you’ll be tearing your hair out trying to figure out how to implement it!

        I was thinking more that “How many tables can we fit in the room?” is a problem that people have had to solve many times within the full scope of human history, so someone must have made a mathematical formula for it.

        And when there’s an established mathematical formula for a common problem, it’s common for there to be online calculators (like how you can google up a mortgage calculator to see how much mortgage you can afford on your salary and what your mortgage payments would be).

        Even if there isn’t an online calculator, there’s likely an Excel formula or a script somewhere on Github.

        In other words, let the computer do the computing, and let the people who have solved this problem before tell you what to input into the computer.

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          It’s not really a mathematical formula problem, since just square footage won’t tell you what you need to know. It’s about the oddities of the specific room shape and the specific tables and chairs you have.

          (I just pulled up one of my event planning brochures from a hotel hotel to confirm this. Most of their rooms will seat about half as many people schoolroom-style as theater-style, but it varies from 40% to 60% based on the quirks of that specific room and how well they can fit the tables into it. If these were all just square footage calculations they’d all have the same percentage.)

          Floor planning software would work well for this kind of task, and that’s what I would ask for access to if someone asked me to do this and I wanted to use a computer program. However, you’d need the measurements of the rooms and also of the furniture you’re going to use to get good results from it, so if the LW isn’t comfortable with those kinds of measuring tasks it’d be better to hand the project off to someone else rather than ask for the software.

    2. doreen*

      I’m sure there is – I remember using an online furniture layout planner years ago. It was just an online version of cutting out furniture shapes and moving them around a graph-paper room.

    3. HonorBox*

      There are plenty of online space calculators out there.

      I think using one of those, with an additional conversation with the boss to clarify expectations – like what do you envision when you say “ample space to move around” – will be helpful.

      This isn’t about being bad a math, so I wouldn’t frame it that way. I’d just ask for some guidance on the needs and inquire if others have done similar setups before.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I imagine that asking the boss to clarify what “ample space to move around” means will demonstrate to her that this isn’t a simple, straightforward task.

    4. The Wedding Planner*

      Yes, there are a TON of free floorplanning softwares out there! I am horrible at math but I can build out complex floorplans without issue. I couldn’t imagine doing it manually.

  25. BirdieCalledCatherine*

    For LW3, ha! I was going to point out that people, your boss included, may not believe you when you tell them this math problem is going to end you. I am a middle class white woman with ADHD and have had academic success – hey, masking! Hey, making myself sick compensating! – and succeed in many aspects of my job. But I have found that because of people’s ideas about me, and what they find easy, they often will not accept that I find some things so difficult. For example, a GP prescribing me daily time-sensitive birth control because ‘you don’t look like the kind of girl who would forget to take a pill every day’. So I would suggest the wording on asking for help or someone to delegate the rooms’n’chairs task not focus on how you’re bad at math, in case that invites an argument that surely you can’t be THAT bad at math. Something like, this task is really not for me. Or at least be prepared to deflect their disbelief. And comfort yourself afterwards! Also, for some reason I find it comforting to know that math can be taught in a way that is ND-friendly, feminist, anti-racist, collaborative, cooperative, and creative, but usually isn’t. When it is, guess who solves key puzzles and wins prizes? Sending spicy brain power your way.

    1. Annie*

      “Math can be taught in a way that is ND-friendly, feminist, anti-racist, collaborative, cooperative, and creative”

      Would you happen to know of any books, online courses, videos, etc. (free or paid) that can guide teachers, students, and parents in this task?

  26. nnn*

    Actually, another thought for #3:

    Where is the furniture coming from? (Tables, chairs, etc.?) Does your company already own it? Is it being rented from somewhere?

    Who would be setting up the furniture? If your company owns it, do you have facilities people who would be setting it up? Would the rental company be setting it up?

    Maybe the people who actually handle the furniture would have insight into how it would fit into the space, or how would they normally set up the space as a classroom?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s a really good suggestion. People who do this kind of thing all the time not only develop a good intuition for it, but they know the small things that could go wrong or details you might not think of just because they’ve done it a hundred times.

    2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      This is a really good point! Hotels will use special, narrower tables for setting up rooms “schoolroom style” rather than “banquet style” since people only sit on one side of them rather than both sides sitting across from each other. If your office already has a bunch of those kinds of tables, then they probably also have someone with expertise in setting them up in the rooms you’ll be using since they must do this pretty often and they already know how many will fit. If not, then whoever you’re renting them from is probably used to dealing with people who don’t do this very often and need some guidance.

  27. ChurchOfDietCoke*

    LW3 – the capacity of a meeting room shouldn’t be an office administrator job. It’s a Facilities job. They will know the maximum occupancy for reasons of practicality and fire safety. And if they don’t, now is the time for them to do their job and calculate this! Push back!

    1. GythaOgden*

      It depends. As facilities office administrator it was generally our jobs, although in practice we had the numbers set at a very conservative level already. In a small office the administrator might well be in charge of facilities duties (my husband was office manager in a tiny company where most of the staff were manual labourers, so he definitely wore the facilities hat along with everything except the book-keeper/payroll one).

      This might actually be OP’s job, be it as a worker in a small office or actually attached to facilities, so let’s take her at her word that this is part of her job and she needs to get some help with it.

      1. Margaret Cavendish*

        I think we can take her at face value that it’s part of her job, but there’s room to push back to make sure she understood the instructions.

        As others have pointed out, this calculation requires a lot of knowledge beyond simple math. So while it may be the OP’s job to *know* the answer, it’s almost certainly not her job to find the answer by doing the calculations herself. If her boss wanted to know the per diem rate for overnight travel, OP wouldn’t sit down with a calculator and start looking up meal prices and mileage rates – she would go to the accounting department and ask them. Same thing here – it’s not OP’s job to create new knowledge, but to research the knowledge that already exists.

  28. pennyforum*

    #2 I’d skip it for all the reasons mentioned so far and one other.
    Core religious practices are usually the same for all members of a faith (degree of personal adherance being a seperate question).
    Cultural expressions of secondary practices vary from country to country.
    As a Catholic I can tell you that saints day celebrations in Italy and in Ireland are *very* different. And the sign of peace in Mass is different in the churches I’ve been in in the US and in Ireland.
    Going on a pilgrimage is also different than hanging religious art. I know people who would love both and some who love one and pass on the other.
    Islam is a world spaning religion and different countries have different styles of tying a headscarf let alone on religious gifts/personal items. I don’t know where you live but would bet that your intended gift would have different connotations to a Muslim convert raised in the US, a person born in the UK with a family background from Nigeria, and a person from Pakistan.

      1. trust me I'm a PhD*

        Yes. I have extremely specific sock preferences and won’t regularly use socks that don’t fit those preferences.

        1. SpaceySteph*

          Same. I hate receiving socks. People gift such cute socks but I am not going to wear them.

    1. Applesauced*

      I like this line of thinking – small gifts that give comfort, at home or at the hospital.

      Socks, lotion (unscented), tea of small snacks, books or magazines, puzzle books (there’s lots of waiting in healthcare)

    2. Lora*

      Yes, due to medical reasons I can’t wear socks. You have just burdened me with having to be nice about a gift and useless socks.

        1. Roland*

          Tbf, it was implied to be something everyone would appreciate. I think 2 things are true, it’s an inoffensive present but also some people won’t inwardly enjoy it and that has to be something we’re ok with as a gift giver. There is in fact no present that every single person would actively enjoy receiving so all we can do is our best.

      1. Nancy*

        Regift the socks or donate them.

        There is no perfect gift and unless it is offensive, just accept that people are trying to be thoughtful. Religious gifts don’t work unless you know exactly what to get and that the recipient wants it.

        1. Lora*

          The easiest thing for me would be to shug them in the garbage, instead of finding the next person to hand unwanted socks to or bring them in to donation, all stuff that requires a lotore thought and action than should be heaped upon the gift recipient.

          Socks aren’t thoughtful gifts if you just give them because you don’t actually know what the other person would welcome. They are quite thoughtless gifts under those circumstances, like all other “just regift or donate” gifts.

          1. Czhorat*

            One could argue that a gift that you think “anyone would like” and that you assume fits everyone you know is the opposite of thoughtful; it is thoughtless in the literal sense that you are not giving thought about the recipient, but just handing them the “default” gift. (see also: doorshash/Amazon gift card).

            1. Lightbourne Elite*

              An individual giving another individual a gift is almost always being thoughtful, even if that gift is easy to get. Labeling someone as thoughtless for giving a gift you personally didn’t like is spoiled.

            2. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

              As someone who has been through cancer treatment a door dash gift certificate is something I really appreciated. It let me get no-effort food that I could eat when I wanted it rather than yet another well-meaning pan of lasagna.

            3. Cicely*

              But if you really believe that the person would like socks as a gift, what offense is the gift-giver committing?

          2. Nancy*

            People actually do give socks to be thoughtful. Point is there is no perfect gift.

            Personally, I don’t find donating a huge burden but sure, trash is fine too, since the recipient can do whatever they want.

      2. Pippa K*

        I chuckled at this, thinking it was a perfect wee parody of how we sometimes go overboard in trying to think through every possible circumstance. But then I saw your comment below and you’re serious. I think it’s no good being exasperated or offended when someone makes a quite ordinary gesture of good wishes that, for some unusual reason they probably couldn’t know, doesn’t work for me. Sometimes the gesture is the point, not the socks.

  29. Awkwardness*

    #5: Sharing as a team that you are uncomfortable with this might be enough to get the discussion going. Maybe it helps, maybe it won’t, because in the end it’s on the management to ensure data safety and not open up the company to liabilities.
    I feel that too many people, especially in upper management, follow the logic of “shiny new object” while individual contributors have much more reservations about AI but rarely this within the team or with their managers.

  30. Holly.*

    For 3 – If your office is large enough to host a conference, it should be large enough to have a Facilities person/team. They are best placed to know how many people can be seated, as they’ll be getting the furniture moved into position. Talk to Facilities/Caretaker.

    (I sympathise with the math issue, I’ve got suspected dyscalculia, so have a virtual hug if you would like.)

    1. Dave*

      I have worked at places where we hosted events / conferences without having a facilities department.
      I always tried to ask people about what was done before and recruited others to help solve the problem. Tape measures and painters tape are definitely your friend in those cases as well. The more time you can spend in the space with the table and chairs the easier it gets … but again get others to help because no matter who you are someone else may see something you don’t see any have some other suggestion. (Folks who always wear pants don’t always remembering to have tables with cloths so folks wearing skirts don’t accidentally flash the presenter for example.)

      1. Observer*

        Now, that’s a twist.

        But still, you don’t have to be the person who handles this.

        Yes, if you can use a calculator that lets you plug in a few pieces of information and spits back that’s great. But otherwise, this is still specialized enough, that you should be able to tell your boss that “This is something I don’t know how to do and we need to get a consultant to give us the answer.” Then it becomes your job to find the consultant. Which is probably the kind of thing you can do with your eyes shut, because it’s like finding a consultant for anything else, like finding an electrician.

      2. sb51*

        If you actually are the facilities team, and figuring this out really is your job rather than something you should be getting the experts to do, I second what someone else above said to actually get a group of people together and physically set up the room in different configurations. Some of the people in the group will be good at spatial maneuvering and you can “supervise” and say things like “let’s see how many tables we can fit” and “how can we set up tables so everyone can see a speaker at the front and also work well for round-table discussions during exercises” or whatever scenarios you have. They’ll figure it out. Take photos of the layouts that result with a written record of any numbers (chairs, tables) that you can’t easily count from the photos (write them on a piece of paper and hold it/have someone hold it for you in the photo!).

        (This comes from experience with a group non-work activity where we’d rent rooms and would get the same room for several different occasions. The first time in, we’d first photograph the initial setup so we could put it back, and then we’d experiment with a bunch of people moving furniture so it was easy to tweak, and then photograph the desired results. That way one or two people who arrived first could reproduce it the next time.)

  31. r.*


    for purposes of whether a certain PTO policy is appropriate it is often helpful to think about it was if it were pay: The company pays you a total compensation, some of it in pay, some of it in PTO. In some jurisdictions this cash-equivalence of PTO is pretty explicitly posited by law, but even in those it is not treating it as if it were is a helpful Gedankenspiel.

    Therefore, in the present situation, the question becomes whether it would be appropriate to withhold a raise, or even reduce pay (if permissible), with this conduct as the sole reason for it; to me the answer would be not simply ‘no’ but a very hard ‘certainly not’. It lacks all sense of proportionality, and would likely cost you some of your best employees.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Something tells me that OP1’s coworker would withhold pay if she thought she could. This is someone who can’t see the difference between we are low staffed therefore we can’t have anyone taking time off versus people aren’t attending this mandatory thing so therefore we should threaten time off in order to make them attend. The two are not equivalent.

      OP1, I seriously wonder about the utility of these things. You have to attend 80% of them. How often are they and do they really do anything that helps the company? When are you doing your actual job if you are attending these meetings? Plus the time for the surveys (does anyone even read them, because my response on all of them would be – waste of time can we please stop doing this). I am thinking this is someone’s idea of teambuilding and no one really thought about it.

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*


        The reasons organizations do this are wide and varied: keeping up with the Joneses, reduced business insurance costs, defense against lawsuits or regulatory penalties, need to show a certain percentage of employees trained in order to win/retain contracts, and on and on.

    2. Governmint Condition*

      On #1, it is common for local government employees who are unionized to be subject to loss of vacation days as a disciplinary measure for various infractions. But this is done through hearings ruled on by an arbitrator, usually with a union official representing the employee. Often it is part of a settlement (or “plea bargain,” if you will). I have not heard of it used much in any other contexts.

        1. AnonForThis*

          Me too, and I’m a unionized local government employee. I’m not sure it’s that common.

          1. Governmint Condition*

            Hmm. It must be a localized thing in this immediate area. Think really big city and surrounding suburbs.

      1. Union Rep*

        I’ve never heard of this in a CBA and I’ve worked public higher ed in four states. In my current unit the harshest leave policies are imposed on the non-union workers.

        Any chance that PTO docking is mostly applied to frontline employees like garbage collectors and parking enforcement, but not to office workers? You know, the employment categories that were mostly minorities in the 60s when a lot of public employee CBAs were written (and probably still are)? That’s my best guess at how this happens.

    3. learnedthehardway*

      Agreeing – I would look up the labour laws in the jurisdiction, but my guess would be that if it is illegal to withhold cash compensation as a punitive measure, then it would ALSO be illegal to withhold PTO. It’s all part of the compensation package, which is owed contractually (written or not) to the employee.

      Besides which, being punitive is absolutely guaranteed to destroy employee morale.

      If people aren’t coming to the meeting, their direct manager should be the one dealing with the situation. Perhaps the meeting isn’t perceived as providing value, some employees may have more urgent/important things they have to do, and maybe the material should be delivered in a way that works better for them (eg. online training).

    4. MassMatt*

      I agree with Alison re: getting at the root causes of why attendance at these trainings is poor. Some jobs have extensive continuing Ed requirements but in other cases the amount of training LW seems to be suggesting seems like overkill, or useless busywork getting in the way of having anything accomplished.

      That the providers of the training often can’t be bothered to provide the code necessary to even claim credit for the training suggests no one cares much about the training except the LW’s coworker. Is she, perhaps, the person who devised the training program?

      1. JustaTech*

        Right, the line about getting the presenters to give the code is important – how many times have people attended the training only to not get the code and then not get credit?
        If it has happened repeatedly you’re going to get worse attendance because people will think “I’m not getting credit for the ones I *have* attended, so why waste my time?”

        The LW’s coworker should be encouraged to ask if there are systemic issues to getting 80% attendance (people don’t get the code) before jumping to assuming that it is because no one cares but they will change their behavior if threatened with punishment.

    5. Freya*

      Australia is one of those places where one’s right to PTO is enshrined in law. Casual employees get paid a casual loading of 25% on top of their wages to compensate them for their lack of entitlement to annual leave and sick leave.

  32. Laveolus*

    Re: LW2.
    An [insert religion] gift for an [insert religion] colleague risks appearing that you do not acknowledge their personhood beyond their religious affiliation. Some people may very well be touched but others who want to be seen as more than their affiliations might feel disappointed. Same applies for ethnicity/skin colour/sexuality etc.

  33. Other Alice*

    #1, There is a difference between denying PTO requests (you are still accruing it but can’t use it for the time being) and taking it away/not granting it to people. I would look at the wording of your contract. Mine for example says I accrue PTO at X rate and does not list any exceptions related to performance reasons.

    This of course unrelated to the fact that taking away PTO like that would be terrible for morale, but when people are being unreasonable it can be helpful to point out that something is not legal rather than trying to reason with them.

    1. SarahKay*

      That struck me too. I have a fixed amount of vacation to take every year (I’m in the UK so vacation is separate from sick leave) and there would be times of year when a request would be denied because of the demands of the job.
      But that doesn’t mean my total annual days to take is reduced, it just means that as a finance person I shouldn’t ask for a week off over Year End.

    2. Miss Pickles the cat*

      Is there a reason you need to attend 80% of co-workers seminars? Is this really something that is required by management, or would this person that wants to punish people for not attending also putting in that requirement? It seems like a lot, especially monthly. I mean, if there are only 4, you technically need to attend them all to reach 80%. And are you really learning something at all of these seminars that is integral to your job? And how much time are your co-workers spending to create these, or are they part of your job already? This is one of those types of things that sound good in theory, but in practice can have a lot of unintended consequences.

      1. gmg22*

        This was my question, too — the way LW1 describes this situation it sounds like there are two problems: 1)the colleague’s punitive idea about PTO and 2)employees being forced to waste inordinate amounts of time or reorganize their actual work obligations to sit through seminars.

        1. JustaTech*

          The punishment also seems disproportionate to the action of not taking educational seminars. Like, even when the training is something required by law to maintain compliance in order to keep the business functioning, the response isn’t “take away your PTO” it’s “serious conversation with manager” and then “taking the employee off their usual shift to just sit and do the trainings” to “you can’t be scheduled for any more shifts until you complete this training”.

          I understand that if people are being asked to conduct trainings for their coworkers it would be nice if people actually showed up, but “taking away recess” isn’t the way to get people to care.

  34. Knitting Cat Lady*

    #3: I’m a physicist and did tutoring for maths and physics while I was still in school and uni.

    I’ve tutored a handful of students with dyscalculia and what you describe of yourself reminds me of them. It’s not just difficulty doing math, but anything to do with a sense for numbers, spatial reasoning, etc.

    Like ADHD, dyslexia, autism, etc. dyscalculia is a neurodivergence and a learning disability.

    And we all know that if you have one, having another one is a bit more likely.

    I’m autistics and getting an official diagnosis has helped me a lot in finally letting go of the lables (weird, strange, lazy) other people gave me.

    And having a name for things can be really helpful in framing how you feel about them, i find.

    Also, the task you’re supposed to do? You need detailed knowledge of the firecode regarding egress routes, max occupancy of rooms, etc.

    That’s not easy. There are people whose entire job is doing stuff like this!

  35. Rebecca*

    #2 – Just send flowers. My mother would remind both of us: “when in doubt, just get flowers”.

    1. Mary Connell*

      Flowers are on the short list of what not to get for cancer patients. They could medical issues for someone in chemotherapy.

      1. Dog momma*

        I’m A cancer patient. if someone gave me flowers, I’d probably have to throw them out. I’m very sensitive to odors now, esp cooking, but now other scents. and my doc says it’s permanent at this point. When our church fed us for 6 wks, I asked them to concentrate on Dogpoppa, bc I could only eat ONE meal that was provided. I’m still living on chicken and some fish…extremely boring and very tiring. apparently this is quite common, I’ve asked about it.
        Don’t get me anything.. really

        1. Dog momma*

          And it took a while to get to that point..with eating. I also can’t stand strong perfumes etc

      2. Little Miss Sunshine*

        Agree. I was so sensitive to odors that strong flower scents made me feel ill.

    2. ceiswyn*

      Does the recipient have a vase to put them in? Are they a hayfever sufferer? Have you considered whether the flowers are pet safe?

      There is, alas, no such thing as a guaranteed ‘safe’ gift. Some are just less risky than others.

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          And you were taught correctly, IMO. Gifts that require the recipient to put work into it before they can enjoy the gift are a no-go in my book.

    3. Anon for this one*

      Your mom was wrong. When I was having chemo I was briefly hospitalized, and there were big NO FLOWERS signs in the oncology ward. Flowers are problematic for anyone (most arrangements include some type of lilies which are deadly to cats, people are allergic, they need to find a place for them, etc) but especially for cancer patients who are likely to be extra sensitive to scents and immunocompromised.

    4. Observer*

      Just send flowers. My mother would remind both of us: “when in doubt, just get flowers”

      And your mother was wrong. Allergies, personal tastes, interactions with treatment, etc. are all real possibilities which means that when you know a person so little that you are in doubt, flowers are actually one of the worse gifts to give.

      See all of the responses you’ve gotten for a more extensive discussion of why this is.

    5. Emily Byrd Starr*

      In addition to all the other issues mentioned, some cultures only give flowers to the dead, so it would be highly inappropriate to give to a cancer patient. I don’t believe this is the case in Islam, but better not to go there.
      When in doubt, get a coffee mug.

    6. Dek*

      I’m iffy on that, if only because I have a cat (who likes to eat anything that’s not food and fits in her mouth), so bouquets are usually a Source Of Concern for me.

  36. Rosacolleti*

    #1 contracts of employment are unusual in the US?? How does it work? How do you both agree terms of employment such as salary, benefits, notice periods, leave accruals, and legal things like non-compete clauses, working hours, adherence to policies?

    I didn’t think these things are generally statutory in the US so how does it work?

    1. bamcheeks*

      Employee handbooks. (Not American, just have seen this question asked and answered many times!)

    2. Empress Ki*

      It’s the same in the UK. There are no law saying that employees must receive a written contract. In the absence of contract, I suppose this is the common law that is applied (Statutory pay leave, maternity leave etc…). It must be the same in the US.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Hm, I don’t think it is the same as the UK — here, you have to have a written statement of particulars in the UK, however, which is specific to you and has your name on it, and includes things like notice periods, start date, job location, hours of work and so on, pay, and those things can’t be changed without notice. YouGov says, “this is not an employment contract”, but that’s a very technical distinction, and most people will refer to that written statement as a contract.

        My understanding is that when Americans say they don’t have a contract, they mean they don’t have to have a written statement of any of those things and the employer can change them at will as long as it’s not retrospective.

        1. melissa*

          We do too, but it’s called an offer letter and an employee handbook.

          When Europeans hear we don’t have contracts, they think we are just showing up to work with a handshake and crossing our fingers that we get paid.

          1. bamcheeks*

            I think the difference that everyone emphasises here is whether or not it can be changed? The written statement of particulars is pretty binding, even if it’s not formally a contract. Employers need to give at least a month’s notice to change things like location, pay, notice periods, annual leave, entitlement to maternity pay etc, and there are clear processes for objecting. (Many of those things are “subject to being able to go to tribunal”, of course, but they’re still a significant deterrent to good employers and many bad ones.) My understanding from AAM’s answers is that employee handbooks can be changed by the employer without notice.

            I also think that whilst we don’t legally have to have a contract, most people do. You hear a lot about “zero-hours contracts”, which is because even when people are doing casual work with no minimum hours specified the company still provides them with a contract.

            1. Hlao-roo*

              Yes, I think the biggest difference between contracts and the US offer letter/employee handbook is that the handbooks can more easily be changed. The past letter “I burned a bridge in a spectacular way — how do I deal with everyone talking about it?” is a good example of this: the letter-writer’s pay was significantly decreased with only a few hours notice, so when they had secured a new job offer, they only offered the company a few hours notice that they were leaving. Very bad management practices on the company’s part, but legal in the US.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Usually it’s at will on both sides–easy to fire, easy to quit. There’s at a late point in the offer process something in writing, but it can be an email.

      My son got an offer from big tech and in that case it was strictly “For all new employees with education A and experience G, the starting rate is X. Vacation days are Y.”

    4. Nancy*

      We get an offer letter that details salary and benefits and an employee handbook that details policies. Most places do not have non-compete clauses and in some states they restricted or even illegal.

    5. doreen*

      Most of those terms don’t really require agreement in the US. ( Really only the non-compete requires “agreement” ) If there isn’t an actual written contract , the employer can change any of those things by fiat and the employee has the choice of continuing to work under the new conditions or quitting. There aren’t even always employee handbooks or offer letters. Most employers aren’t terrible and there’s not a constant fear having your pay or vacation accrual decreased going forward – but it does happen sometimes and there’s nothing the employee can do about it unless it’s done in a discriminatory manner.

    6. Roland*

      You still agree to them, it’s just not usually a contract that both sides must adhere to – except, of course, things that only benefit the employer like an NDA or non-compete, they do make you sign those! But for something like salary, you may sign an offer letter saying that’s the plan, but they can change it or anything else you agreed at any time going forward if they feel like it because it’s not a contract. The letters will definitely have wording like “any of these terms could change at any time”.

    7. MigraineMonth*

      If there is no union involved, the company makes an offer (usually written) detailing the terms of employment: salary, health insurance (because we lump this in with employment!), leave accrual, and working hours if you are hourly. The worker can negotiate or accept the offer as-is.

      The big difference from an “employment contract” is that there is no time period. At literally any time, the employer can notify you that they’ve changed those terms. Starting today, you’re only being paid the state minimum wage! Or you’re laid off with no notice or severance, pack your things. Or maybe the company has decided benefits are too expensive so everyone only gets part-time hours from now on. As long as it isn’t retroactive, companies are allowed to change almost any details they want.

      Supposedly this is also a great deal for workers, because at any time they can decide to leave their employer at any time with no notice (except that will probably ruin your reference). Yaaaaay.

    8. Emma*

      It’s a bit of a false distinction, really. Most, not all, employees in the UK have a single written document that is the employment contract; if you don’t have this, then you’re legally entitled to a single written document which is your main terms & conditions of employment, which is the same thing functionally. Most employees in the US don’t have a written document which is their employment contract, but they have a collection of other documents which contain all the terms & conditions of their employment – which is functionally a contract.

      Employment contracts / T&Cs in the UK typically include notice periods etc for some types of changes to the contract, but that’s a cultural norm and it’s not required. Employers are required to give notice for some changes, such as redundancy, but that’s not because you have a contract; it’s because the Employment Rights Act 1996 says so. A US state could also pass a law requiring something like this and it would work fine, regardless of whether or not the employee has a formal written contract. As in the US, in the UK, your only alternative to accepting the change is *usually* to quit (with a few exceptions).

      The other thing that contracts are useful for is enforcing your rights after the fact. If your contract says you get paid x per hour and you realise that for the last 6 months you were getting paid less than that, then you can use your contract to force your employer to pay the difference (although they might reduce your pay going forwards by changing your contract). As far as I understand it, that’s the same in the US.

  37. lost european*

    #1 – Wait you don’t have employment contracts in the USA? I can’t get past this, can someone shed more light on that. On that topic, in Europe, if you get denied your PTO request, they are required to give you a period within the year that you can use it without further requests, and if it is a transferred PTO from the past year, they can’t deny it all.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I don’t think that’s European-wide– I’ve never come across any version of that rule in the UK!

    2. Tracy*

      Some people do have contracts, but it tends to be higher paid professional positions. I’m a veterinarian and have had one for every job I’ve had. Some have more information than others and a few have just been mostly threats about non-compete agreements and such.

    3. Ask A Manatee*

      In the US, most of us work without a contract. Depending on the job, you might get an offer letter/email with salary and benefits info. The salary is binding in the sense that if they don’t pay what they said they would, you can sue (civil, not criminal court). Lots of jobs don’t have offer letters at all (many fast food, many blue collar). They tell you what the compensation is verbally. Most employers can change your compensation (going forward, not retroactively) at will, and your recourse is to quit. You can be fired at will. If you are a member of a trade union, the employer has a contract with the union. If you think an employer has violated labor law in any of the above, you can sue, but that’s a Big Step and far from easy.

      The US is quite anti-labor in policy compared to many countries, IMHO.

    4. Nancy*

      No, we are at will, which not only means we can get laid off at any time, it means we can quit at any time. Offer letters and employee handbooks details salary, benefits, and policies. My employee handbook is very detailed on the process for requesting and using various days off.

      1. Antilles*

        Also, that Employee Handbook and offer letter will explicitly use phrases like “policies are subject to change at any time, at the Company’s sole discretion” and “nothing in here is a guarantee of employment” and similar weasel-word phrases to let the company basically change the rules on the fly as they see fit.

        1. Nancy*

          No offer letter of mine has ever had that notice. And sure, the handbook can change because policies need to be updated.

          1. doreen*

            Of course policies need to be updated – but the reason those statements exist isn’t to allow policies to be updated. They can update policies without having such a statement. It’s specifically an attempt to avoid the possibility of the handbook/offer letter being interpreted as a contract when the company want to change something later on.

            1. Antilles*

              Bingo. The reason for those statements is so that the company isn’t legally held to anything that may have been put in them AND the company is free to change them at any time (possibly to your detriment as an employee) if they choose…and as ScruffyInternHerder correctly points out below, you as an employee have no real recourse.

    5. ScruffyInternHerder*

      I’ve not heard of anyone having an employment contract in my sector in the USA.

      Offer letter showing the negotiated rate of pay, salaried or not, how much vacation, etc. in combination with the employee handbook pretty much covers me. For raises and bonuses, we receive a letter detailing the raise and/or bonus. (FWIW I’ve actually had an offer letter at an old place of employment that spelled out the bonus structure.)

      What I dislike is that there is very little recourse for employees when they make changes to the employee handbook – you can either accept it, or you can opt out and turn in your resignation. I’m not sure that that is actually “equal consideration”, but that’s seemingly where that stands. And in my years here, there’ve been several MAJOR changes in the employee handbook.

      1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        Even that letter for raises/bonuses is optional! At my job it’s typically a verbal “you’re getting $X, and you’ll see it in your paycheck on Y date”.

        1. ScruffyInternHerder*

          You’re correct, I probably should’ve mentioned that the letters I have received about that (bonuses and raises) seems to be specific to my current employer! Only time I’ve seen it!

  38. Yellow sports car*

    LW2 – I would avoid it just because it would be hard to defend if someone else reported you for it – and while I suspect the majority would appreciate your thoughtfulness there is the risk that someone would be offended.

    I suspect that with a little research there likely would be a small gift that would be genuinely appreciated even if you didn’t get it perfect. I know I would appreciate something similar in those circumstances from a friendly colleague. For me it would just be you acknowledging me as an individual and recognising that something is important to me.

    However, sticking with something non-controversial seems sensible.

  39. Physaliphorous*

    On a Teams generated transcript for a hospital meeting, I noticed that “Path and Lab” (department of pathology and laboratory medicine) was being transcribed as “Meth Lab.”

    1. SarahKay*

      Teams was also noticeable worse at correctly transcribing what I (female) was saying compared to my male colleague.
      This was on a series of training calls with just the two of us and I was really startled by *how* noticeably worse it was when I was using the recordings the following month to carry out the task. Luckily I was primarily using the video and only using the transcription to get to the relevant timestamps within the calls.

      1. Boof*

        That might be interesting to flag and report… (report to who, I’m not sure, ideally IT or whoever can select something better, vs reporting to some outside org that might look into it more seriously) maybe like the AI was only trained on male voices, and that’s a pretty major DEI (maybe even EEOC?) flaw for a big software tool.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      I had one once where the name of a local town was transcribed as the name of one of the families from Game of Thrones. That was…interesting.

    3. Coffee Protein Drink*

      It’s laughable how Teams can mangle words. I have teammates whose first language is not English and Teams can’t handle their accents at all. It’s a bit of a problem because I live in a large city with a diverse populations.

      1. Smurfette*

        I live in a country where many people speak 4-5 languages with varying degrees of fluency. All my colleagues speak English fluently but there are a multitude of accents since it may be their first, or 2nd, or 4th language. Most AI transcription tools make a complete hash of it =(

    4. Bread Crimes*

      A colleague of mine did their dissertation on mapping Roman Carthage. At their defense, Zoom provided automatic transcription for the talk they gave about that dissertation.

      It didn’t manage to transcribe “Carthage” or “Carthaginian” correctly a single time over thirty minutes of speech, and used about six different words in its place–cartilage, cartridge, curtilage, and more–so it wasn’t even replacing it in a consistent manner that could be find-replace fixed in a transcript afterward.

  40. Justin*

    I have adhd. Math isn’t my issue, but I can’t take notes AND participate in a meeting (frankly I am bad at notes overall). I had a similar teacher experience being yelled at for not being able to take notes and respond to questions (mind you this was 1997, it was by hand), so week I was asked to be the note taker for an important meeting i told them that was not a role I’d be good for (they also know I have adhd). They switched me to a different role for that meeting and haven’t asked me since. As Alison says, especially if you are doing well at the job, like we both are, the best thing you can do is name the specific issue and an understanding team will work with it.

    1. tg33*

      I have three children. Two of them have had a teacher (different teachers, same school) who put up notes and they had to write down the notes while listening to the explanation. Funnily enough, this was higher level maths in the years 2020to 2022 and 2022 to 2023. It is so frustrating that this is going on. My husband tutored them in maths, both of them were perfectly capable, but had no confidence.

  41. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    OP1: “The floggings will begin (and continue) until morale improves” is not the mindset of a competent leader. Here’s hoping that the colleague who suggested this “bright” idea isn’t promoted to a managerial position!

    But here’s also hoping that your company will look honestly and closely at WHY employees are avoiding those meetings. Has anyone done an anonymous survey asking for feedback about them? Are they relevant to ALL your employees? At the end of each meeting, do the attendees come away with practical, substantive suggestions that they can put into practice? Or are those meetings perfunctory, superficial and a waste of the attendees’ time? It’s impossible to please ALL of your employees all of the time, but those monthly meetings should not engender annoyance and resentment in the overwhelming majority of the people forced to attend them.

    1. Peter the Bubblehead*

      Reading the OP’s letter, it sounds like the letter writer themself is missing these meetings because their job has them working off-site and at times when it is not conducive to dropping their assigned task and logging into a meeting, and that the co-worker is complaining about the letter writer in particular missing these meetings (and perhaps other co-workers in similar work situations?).
      Sounds to me like the co-worker needs to mind their own business when company employees are assigned actual work considered more important than the need to attend these meetings that may or may not have anything to do with the actual performance of their jobs.

  42. Percysowner*

    LW1 I hear you! I’m fine with math, but spatial reasoning is completely out of my wheel house. When I had a job that required giving directions to people interviewing for employment I had to have a large map, with all the streets labeled just to give directions and I had to use it EVERY TIME even though I gave the directions to people for 15 years.

    Tell your manager that you just can’t do it. Explain that is is your Achilles heel. If your boss is the least bit understanding they will assign this to someone else.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      Reminds me of a time when I was repeating directions to our new office. My mouth said “Right turn” and hand pointed Left. My hand was the correct one.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        In court you have to introduce yourself and indicate your client is present. One 8:30 a.m. hearing I was struggling mightily. I was waving my hand at my client but could not remember which side she was on, because it depends whether your Plaintiff or Defendant which table you are at and which side your client is on, lawyers always in the middle keeping the parties separate. The judge filled it in for me. After that I just started saying and client is present is at counsel table with me. There’s only two chairs, the judge can figure out which one is not me.

        My absolute best math moment is when I was a paralegal in a personal injury law firm. Boss handed me 3 checks of $25K each for the same case. He told me to figure out the firm’s 1/3 share of the checks. I was literally reaching for my calculator before it hit me – 3 checks, same amounts, 1/3 would be the value of one of the checks.

        OP – definitely go to your boss and point out this is harder than it looks and perhaps someone else should handle it.

    2. Observer*

      Explain that is is your Achilles heel. If your boss is the least bit understanding they will assign this to someone else.

      I don’t think that this is even necessary. *Math* and *spatial reasoning* are the LW’s Achilles heel, but this particular task is one that they would have a problem with even if that were not the case.

      The LW needs to talk to their boss, probably. But what they need to say is that they can’t do this, and if Facilities management / the Conference planners can’t help out they need to hire someone to figure this out, to make sure it’s done right, and what’s the budget for that?

  43. Boof*

    OP3 – I love spacial “math” puzzles like this and I wouldn’t want to do it on my own either! There’s a lot more to making sure you’ve gotten the right layout than “just” math (can people see the screen, can they walk around if someone’s sitting in a chair, etc etc). I think even allison’s script is too much, it’s incredibly reasonable to just say “It’d be best if I talked to someone who’s planned similar events here to get a sense of what worked well and what to watch out for.” Hopefully your org has someone who is familiar with the seating options in the rooms and can recommend an arrangement and numbers. If your org is so new to the space that no one has any idea, then I’d say it’s actually probably worth spending a few hours shoving around chairs and tables (and asking for help with that!) to make sure you’ve got the right layout.

  44. melissa*

    I wouldn’t, for the reasons Alison states. I am thinking about the religion I know best (Christianity) and realizing it could be a minefield for gifts. The first example that comes to mind is that Catholics often wear and display crucifixes, but many Protestants will only wear a plain cross, not one that has Jesus on it. Nobody outside the religion would have any reason to know that! If someone gave me a religious gift that was “off,” of course I would be gracious and realize they had the best intentions, but it still makes sense to avoid that possibility. Buy her a secular gift, and maybe in the card you can reference something like “I know your strong faith / faith community / whatever will help sustain you”

  45. I should really pick a name*

    That promotion policy seems like just another reason to get out while the getting is good.

    If your manager had to fight so hard to get you this promotion, what’s it going to take to get the next one?

    1. Glazed Donut*

      & I’ll add – anyone who has been in the job market recently knows how much of a slog it is. Maybe your field is really great with hiring right now, but for many it is a slow process. If you’re even thinking of changing jobs in 2024, and you like this offer, I’d suggest you take it!
      Perhaps the company will re-think the promotion policy if someone so good (& about to be one of the few promoted) is still going to leave.

  46. Anon for this one*

    Having been through cancer treatment, some things I found helpful and kind:

    Gift certificates for Doordash or similar. This provides food without you needing to know when she needs it, and means she gets to pick what sounds palatable on a given day rather than having yet another pan of lasagna.

    Soft/warm things. Fleecy blankets, cozy socks, etc. Between losing hair and losing weight and all the other stuff going on I got COLD during treatment.

    A fun, lightweight book to read during chemo, if her treatment includes that. It’s boring to sit there for hours.

    Stuff I’d suggest for friends, not coworkers, but am including here in case someone finds it useful would be providing rides to/from treatment (my chemo regimen included a large dose of Benadryl so I wasn’t comfortable driving myself home), picking up kids if your friend has treatment that overlaps school dismissal, or running errands like going to the grocery store – I had a friend who would always offer to pick stuff up when she was at the grocery store, which I really appreciated when I was immunocompromised and avoiding public spaces.

    1. Rebecca*

      +1 on the gift cards! food delivery is nice, but I like Amazon/target even more. I know some people might find it impersonal, but I think it’s very thoughtful to let the recipient get exactly what they need (whether that’s fuzzy socks or toilet paper)

    2. Zap R.*

      Came here to say Doordash gift cards. It’s our go-to at work because A) everyone likes food, B) everyone can theoretically find at least something that they’ll enjoy and C) food delivery apps can be prohibitively expensive when you’re going through a health crisis.

    3. Azure Jane Lunatic*

      I had the chemo drug that tends to give people peripheral neuropathy, so I was sat there in ice booties and mittens, tanked up on Benadryl and anti-nausea meds so I wasn’t tracking anything really well. Ordinarily I live on my phone. I was Not Best Pleased.

      I wound up doing library audiobooks on my phone, and figured out a combination of accessories that let me at least hold my phone and poke at it — a telescoping sticky gripper wand to hold my phone, a long stylus, and a semi-elastic grip band to hold the stylus to my other mitten.

  47. Doc McCracken*

    LW3, I have adhd too. I wasn’t diagnosed until age 41. Stuff like this makes my brain explode unless I draw it. It’s like my mind’s eyebis blind to these things! If you cannot get out of this task, ask around to find out who at your company handled this in the past. Unless this is entirely new, someone probably already has this figured out from a past event.

  48. Irish Teacher.*

    LW3, if it makes you feel any better, that task is one that a lot of people would struggle with. I am good at Maths but I would find that difficult because I am aphantasic and can’t picture stuff. I could measure the room and measure a desk and divide, fairly easily, but…ample room to move around? Without being able to picture a person walking through the room, it’s hard to figure out how much space they would require.

    And Maths is something a lot of people struggle with. Maths anxiety is a known thing. So it’s something that is more socially acceptable to struggle with than say literacy related tasks or social skills.

    You’re not “too dumb” to do it. It sounds like there’s a good chance you have a disability in the area and it doesn’t sound at all ridiculous that you have trauma related to it. It sounds like you were treated pretty badly for being genuinely unable to do something.

    I suspect if you said something to your boss like “this is a bit embarrassing but I am just terrible at Maths and I’m sure I’m going to make a mistake working out how many desks to put in that room. Could I switch tasks with somebody/could this be given to somebody else?” your boss’s reaction is likely to be something like, “oh, I didn’t realise that. No worries. I’ll ask X to do it.”

    LW2, while that idea does sound really nice, I agree it’s probably better to avoid it when you aren’t Muslim yourself. I think people who don’t belong to religions often overestimate the level of hemogeny there is, whereas in reality, what is meaningful to one person is often meaningless or even irritating to another. As a Catholic, there are parts of the Bible that would mean a lot to me, whereas there are other parts that I consider simply myths or examples of what Jesus was reacting against and there is at least one story that really bothers me and seems to contradict everything I believe about God. Similarly, with prayer aids, rosary beads are associated with Catholicism (and personally, even though I don’t pray the rosary, I think some of the beads are so pretty that I would like getting a gift of them) but I know some Catholics who have somewhat negative experiences with the rosary, having been forced to pray it regularly as a child and maybe getting in trouble for not concentrating or people who associate it with…well, sort of performative prayer or some people might feel the prettier beads are sort of commerciaising religion.

    Religion is such a personal thing and there are so many interpretations that I think it would be easy to make a mistep with a religion you weren’t entirely familiar with, for example by choosing a passage on healing that is widely considered to be a metaphor from healing from sin or something like that. I have not read the Qur’an nor do I know anything about the theology related to it, so I don’t know if there are any passages like thatbut it’s just an example of a way it could go wrong.

    It is a really nice idea but unless you know a lot about how she experiences her religion and what passages, prayer aids, etc are meaningful to her, it is probably better avoided.

  49. Blarg*

    #2: Cancer patient here. Get your coworker a gift card to a local restaurant that is halal AND delivers. Or something like Uber Eats/DoorDash if you live in an area with lots of halal options.

  50. Math-Challenged Solidarity*

    How many tables and chairs can fit into a triangle? I feel your pain. But, if you’re in an office building and it sounds like you are, your building management/facilities department will tell you exactly how many. Barring that, call a party rental facility, tell them how big the rooms are, and the rental facility will tell you. You don’t need to do geometry, algebra, or calculus. :)

  51. Riggs*

    LW5, I think your line of work makes the use of AI especially alarming. If you can emphasize the negative impact and privacy concerns for your clients you might have a better chance at getting it disabled.

  52. Jay*

    To LW#3:
    I’ve had a very odd relationship with math over the course of my life.
    I usually either understand something perfectly or not at all, and nothing in between.
    This means that I’ve learned not to keep banging my head against something that isn’t going to happen.
    I wouldn’t bother with math in this situation AT ALL.
    This is not a math problem.
    This is a PHYSICAL problem.
    And you deal with it by getting an empty room and a bunch of tables and putting them together to see what happens.
    Then you take a blank piece of paper and a pen and draw a picture of what you did so you don’t have to worry about remembering what the set up was on the day of.
    If it’s your job to “just figure it out”, then they shouldn’t come to you complaining about how you did it.
    It’s done.

    1. Seashell*

      Yeah, I think I’d rather move tables and chairs around than try to figure this out mathematically.

      1. Antilles*

        Even if OP loved math, I’d still recommend this approach because actually setting up the room and checking how it feels will identify issues that you’d never spot from just a sketch.
        Does it feel cramped? Did you trip over a chair walking around the room? Is the presenter’s table near enough to outlets? If someone’s sitting at the back does it feel like the front of the room is miles away?

  53. Betsy S*

    #3 – you may be able to solve this informally. Has your company done this before, and if so is there anyone around who remembers how it was set up? Do you have a building/equipment manager or lead custodian or other person who is tasked with setting things up and moving things around? Folks in those sorts of jobs are usually really good at figuring out space problems. Do you have the tables and staff to move them in-house, or is there a vendor you’ll be working with? Whoever has the experience probably has a good sense of how to put it together.

    Forgive me if you’ve already thought of all this, but sometimes people don’t think about going outside their usual group of contacts.

  54. Adriane*

    Event planner here – if your conference is offsite at a facility, they’ll help you do this :) they have specific programs designed to do just this – no one does the math!
    Make sure you’re in contact with the catering sales manager and/or your onsite planner.

  55. Not your typical admin*

    LW 3 – I don’t see how this could be solved without physically being in the room and arranging furniture. There’s just too many variables. How big are the tables/chairs? How many doors are there any where are they located? Is there anything odd about the shape of the room? The only way I could figure this out to is physically set up the room/rooms and count.

    1. Not your typical admin*

      Forgot to add – I doubt your boss is thinking of this as asking you to do math. I would approach them and ask if you could have access to the rooms to do a dry run of the setup.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      We have one conference room in my office where we did try to do this kind of thing mathematically and it wasn’t until someone stepped into the room they noticed a huge smoke detector on the wall that threw the whole idea off.

      Math is great when it’s great. It’s not the only or best solution other times.

  56. Seashell*

    Is LW4’s promotion going to stop them from being laid off? If not, definitely get out. If so, it may still be worth leaving, because this business doesn’t sound like it’s doing that well.

  57. discalculia disclosure seems dangerous*

    I’m really interested in hearing from folks who have raised discalculia / math issues with their boss. It seems at least as dangerous as disclosing something like ADHD which is something folks are often counseled not to do on here. It would be great to hear from folks who have actually tried: did you feel like your boss treated you differently after?

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Amy Trask the former CEO of the Raiders loves to tell the story of counting on her fingers to do math. Al Davis would look at her funny. But she stayed CEO for many many years. He didn’t need her to do math.

      Like a lot of things, it depends on your relationship with your boss, how reasonable your company is, etc. An unreasonable company, don’t disclose. A reasonable company and a reasonable boss, disclose as much as necessary and genuinely collaborate on a solution. Most office math can be done on a calculator so it doesn’t really need to be disclosed. In this one case, yeah this job needs to be outsourced to someone who understands conference room set ups. Which has nothing to do with whether one is good at math or not. So the only disclosure would be — this is not as easy as it sounds, can we see if someone else has done this rather than start from scratch.

    2. JustaTech*

      I work in biotech, so pretty arithmetic-heavy (as opposed to calculus-heavy).

      For the life of me, I can’t do dilutions in my head (think 1:300 that’s so many mLs of this and so many mLs of that). Like, no matter how many times I have done it, I have to write the whole thing out and have it checked.

      I think about a year in to my current job I said to my boss “I can’t do these in my head, I will need to use a spreadsheet” and my boss, who can totally do all of this in his head said “sounds good!”

      And when we did a new set of dilutions last year I had two coworkers check my math because it was worth their time to be sure I had done it right.

      So my boss didn’t treat me differently because 1) I had a plan for getting the work done, 2) I was up-front about it *before* it was a problem and 3) he’s a good guy who understands that everyone has strengths and weaknesses and doesn’t hold them against you.

      #3 is probably the most important – if your boss is a jerk then it might not be worth the risk.

  58. Chocoglow*

    LW #2, please please don’t let this spiral you out; your weakness in math is more than made up by your other strengths. Please talk to your boss, and suggest, as other have above, asking around the office for previous organizers to share their knowledge.

    Those past traumas are a b*tch to heal from; I share the same boat in relation to math, and to this day, I still can’t do long division and algebra properly.

  59. Math Anxiety Researcher*

    For LW3, while I don’t have particular advice on your work situation, I am an academic researcher in math anxiety, which is what you have, and have spent the last decade or so on this area, and can provide some background which might help you feel better about it!

    First of all, math anxiety is INCREDIBLY common. It can vary in severity, but it’s reasonable to estimate that about a quarter of the population has it. Whether that’s anxiety about taking a high stakes math test or more real life math like calculating a tip or doing the kind of things you have been tasked to do, just know that you are not alone!

    Second, I will get on my soapbox for just a minute to say that there is no “math gene” that people are born with or without. Unless you have a fairly rare cognitive disorder like dyscalculia (the math/number version of dyslexia), then everyone is able to do math, it’s just a matter of learning, practice, and confidence. In fact in your very next paragraph you mention exactly what the #1 cause of math anxiety is: bad experiences in learning that really have nothing to do with the subject matter!

    The things you experienced lead people who later develop math anxiety to have a negative association with math, but it’s not that math is the problem, it’s that since you had something upsetting and traumatic happen and you likely avoided trying because you didn’t want it to happen again (a reasonable response! Especially for a child), and then it became a self-fulfilling prophesy. It is not ridiculous in the slightest to say that you have trauma around this, and is unfortunately a very familiar story. In my line of work I hear stories like yours all the time.

    Whether you wish to learn more math now is up to you, as many people get through life just fine with math anxiety. They learn coping strategies, find resources for themselves in case they ever need to do quick mental math that they can’t, or just avoid situations where it’s necessary. Just know that what happened with you and math is unfortunately so very common and if you decide you want to do something different, and really it’s entirely up to you, it need not be forever.

  60. HonorBox*

    OP3 – When you talk to your boss, I wouldn’t frame this as having a problem with math or not being good at math. While it is a math problem, this is more about not having experience with this particular type of question, which is probably more common. I work in an industry where this situation – room setup, guest flow – is more common and it still throws me at times. I would ask if there’s someone else internally who has experience. You could phrase it as, “I’ve not had experience with this kind of task before, and I’d like to make sure I’m headed the right direction. Have you or anyone else on the team had experience with this before. I’d be really happy to get some insight.”

    And I’m trying to stay within the commenting rules, but I would also suggest that there are calculators on the web that can help with this type of question, too.

    1. Observer*

      When you talk to your boss, I wouldn’t frame this as having a problem with math or not being good at math. While it is a math problem, this is more about not having experience with this particular type of question, which is probably more common

      Exactly this. This is not really a math problem. And it’s extremely common to not have experience with this kind of task.

      All of the people who are telling you to talk to the facilities people or the event managers are right on the money.

      As for the calculators, what you want is the kind that asks you things like: How big is the room? What kind of desk are you using? What’s your zip code? Then IT will do that actual calculating.

      The Zip code might be important in terms of any code issues.

  61. Sneaky Squirrel*

    #3 – I don’t think this is a math problem though that’s a component of it. There’s comfort and the ability for people to freely walk around without bumping into others. Since your office is hosting, if you already have tables or chairs onsite, could you request to do a practice set up before you commit to a number? If you’re working with a furniture set up team, they may also have suggestions.

  62. Delta Delta*

    #2 – First, I appreciate that OP asked before getting a possibly offensive/off-tone gift for her friend. I also appreciate that OP cares about her coworker-friend as a human being and wants to do something nice for her. A nice note that says “I care about you” is one thing OP can do. It costs nothing, it isn’t clutter, and isn’t offensive. While OP likely doesn’t want to burden her friend with making the gift her responsibility, it might do some good to ask what will be helpful. Some folks mentioned gift cards, but those are helpful only if they’re to places the friend goes/frequents.

    Another thing OP might consider is a gift of her time. She could ask the friend if she would like some company, and if she says yes, go visit her. Spend an hour or two. Bring something to do that OP and her friend might enjoy doing – cards, puzzles, etc., and bring an empathetic ear. The friend may enjoy some non-medical socializing.

  63. mreasy*

    OP3, I hope this isn’t against the rules (and if so, I apologize), but I was recently looking into something similar for an event and found sites online that calculate these things for you based on the size of everything. This may still be too much and Alison is right that you should go to boss first, but if not perhaps one of these solutions could provide relief.

  64. But not the Hippopotamus*


    I just want to let you know that I have a degree in math and zero spatial ability. I wouldn’t be much good at that problem either!

  65. Kylee*

    #3 – hotels and conference centers have already done this work for you. most will list on their website the square footage of their rooms and the number of people that can fit in different configurations. if you know the square footage of your room, you can use their work to your advantage.

  66. RuleFollower*

    OP3: The way it was stated was as though you’re setting up rooms in your own building. I do training for a living and I’ve never once tried to figure out on paper how much a room can hold in a particular configuration. I go in and actually set up the rooms and then move stuff around until it works.

    1. HonorBox*

      This is a great suggestion. I think the conversation with the boss should be “Hey, I’m going to take some time this afternoon to work through configuring the room. Can I grab _____ (coworker) to have them help me?”

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      Also, take photos of different set-ups so you can remember how they look. I’m very familiar with our building’s lecture theatre, but I can never remember the exact set-up for one of the monthly events we hold in there. So I’ll usually take a few photos when set-up is complete and save them in the notes app on my phone.

  67. MollyGodiva*

    #5 Make sure the clients know their words are transcribed and saved. If they are not happy then being that to management. If the clients are cool with it then issue over.

  68. Juicebox Hero*

    Religious gifts to me always seem to be a “please don’t” situation unless you know the person really well. Even for my first holy communion I’d much rather have gotten something secular instead of another prayer book or praying girl figurine.

    10 years ago someone might have assumed I was religious, which I wasn’t. I was going through the motions to placate my mother while firmly believing god is nothing but a cosmic dickweed. If someone had given me a religious gift I’d have accepted it graciously and fumed on the inside.

    1. doreen*

      I’d say you have to know the person and the religion and its customs all really well. I’m Catholic and it would be fine if someone gave me a “Healing Prayer/Mass” card if I was sick. But if the card didn’t specify “healing” , I’d probably be wondering why you gave it to me because IME they are normally given to the bereaved after a death. Practices vary among different groups of Catholics so there may be groups where they are commonly used for illnesses, which is why it’s not always enough to just know the religion.

      1. AnonORama*

        Agree with both and also will be stealing Cosmic Dickweed as my band name if that’s ok with you, Juicebox Hero. (I don’t and won’t have a band. I would never scare anyone by subjecting them to my singing. I just enjoyed the turn of phrase!)

  69. Mouse named Anon*

    OP2 – I had just had a co-worker go through a major medical event. He was out for 3 months and recovering for most of that time. As a department we gifted him a Door Dash gift card. His family really appreciated it. They have kids and it was nice to have a few nights off cooking for dinner.

    You could also do gas gift cards, local coffee shop gift cards, instacart, or other grocery delivery type things.

  70. Mouse named Anon*

    #3 – I agree with others that I am sure where this is being hosted likely already has most of this figured out and you can ask.

    Please don’t feel bad about being bad a math. I am very bad at math and suspect I have dyscalculia. I can barely help my 3rd grader with her math homework (common core doesn’t help either!). Most of the math classes I took in college I got Ds in. Somehow I convinced a counselor in college to write me out of taking any more math.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I can do math that’s more about manipulating formulas than it is about numbers (algebra). But anything spatial like geometry, or basic arithmetic, always mess me up.

      I’ve looked at common core and I am very happy I never had to experience it.

    2. Myrin*

      The problem is that it’s being hosted by and at OP’s company: “Our office is hosting a large conference this year that involves setting up several of our meeting rooms in a classroom style.”

    3. Helena Handbasket*

      Adding another (bad at math) voice to let you know that you’re not alone! I also suspect I have dyscalculia and the best thing for me has been to be open and honest with my limitations at work. Helping manage multi-million projects? Great, I’m in! Being the person that does the final budget check? Nope – I’ll definitely need help with that. Most people have been quite understanding and have offered to help me with ‘work arounds’, double checking my work, or helping to reallocate super math-y tasks.

  71. Silverose*

    #3 – Have you ever been evaluated for dyscalculia? It’s a specific learning disability related to numbers and math. My spouse didn’t learn until returning to college in their 40s that they had it, and it explained a lifetime love-hate relationship with math, including number swapping, inaccurate calculations, and high anxiety around math tasks. Dyscalculia would also fall under the ADA for requesting reasonable accommodations in the workplace (and school/college!) for tasks like this – things like Allison suggested of having someone assist with the task.

  72. Hermione Danger*

    #3 – If the conference is being held in a hotel or conference center, the conference services staff should be able to provide you with that information and even diagrams of how the space would look. It’s part of their jobs to do that.

  73. Sleepiest Girl Out Here*

    OP #3 – I’ve gone through the exact same thing except for proofreading! I’m severely dyslexic and I simply can not proofread, it’s not because we’re dumb, sometimes our brains just don’t work a particular way. I read around 75 books a year, but don’t ask me if any words were misspelled or a comma was out of place.

    When I’ve gotten pushback in the past, I think because a general misunderstanding of what dyslexia actually is, I do have to say, “sorry I will not do this because it simply will not work.” It can be a bit awkward but once people understand they’re generally very kind about it.

  74. CommanderBanana*

    LW#3, there are a number of websites for meeting planners that will calculate layouts and capacity. You just plug your set-up and a few other basic parameters in and it will do the layout for you. I use the meeting capacity planner at I can’t link it here but if you Google it will come up.

  75. Chuck*

    #4 I went through the same thing. My boss was fighting to get me promoted with a raise and the higher ups were fighting it. I was looking at the time and had an offer that I accepted. When I gave my notice my boss was disappointed because he felt I was a good employee and should have been promoted but he was happy for me. They tried to counter but it was too late for me and I left. My job (been here for 7 years) is great and it was really the best decision I made.

  76. Gigi*

    Allison, your response to #3 made me want to cry. Even after I got my ADHD diagnosis in my 20s, it never would’ve occurred to me until recently that I could ask for help for something like this. If it did, I would’ve dismissed it as looking weak or pealing off the high-achieving mask I was “fooling” everyone with to expose the loser inside. I didn’t start owning my executive function challenges until my 40s. To see someone as successful as you giving advice that it’s ok to ask for help is just…amazing. Thank you to OP for writing and you for answering so kindly and practically. I know there are people reading this that you helped today.

  77. Almost Empty Nester*

    OP3…please see this as not a math problem, and more of a facilities issue. Get your facilities or environmental or whatever team manages the conference spaces for your company involved and leave it to the professionals! This is not something you should be figuring out. If no one will help you, just go up to the room and organize/reorganize with chairs etc. so you can “feel” how the room works with the configuration you want. See it more that you get to configure the room to be comfortable since it was left up to you! Literally no one will judge you for asking for help.

  78. InterPlanetJanet*

    LW#3 As someone who has a similar background — bad at math, but all other courses were fine, my view is this is a resources issue. You don’t need to figure out how to solve the math. You just need to identify the tools that would work for you. You don’t do the work. You just follow the directions given. You are not being paid to know the answers, you are being paid to find the answers.

    1. Tell boss this is not your forte. Outsource it.
    2. No outsourcing? Google it. There are plenty of sites that have calculators or advice on how to set up meeting rooms.
    3. Call a hotel and speak with an events planner and ask them for advice.
    3. Set up a test room to see if the directions given work for your space.
    4. Afterwards: Keep set up charts for each room for the next time something like this happens.

  79. Karma is My Boyfriend and so is Travis Kelce*

    Re LW #1: my boss did this to me (for taking “too much” PTO over a three YEAR period), but my PTO had never been denied, nor had I ever gotten a warning. They absolutely lost a good employee because of it. I started job searching immediately and was in a new position/company within 2.5 months. They then had to pay me out all that unused leave(I had a bank of about 200 hours, and earned 8 hours each pay period). Karma.

  80. Veryanon*

    First letter: gift cards to a meal delivery service are always welcome, especially to those with dietary restrictions of any kind. That way, your co-worker can choose what she wants, when she wants.
    Letter 3: Does the office have some kind of facilities manager? If so, typically that person would be responsible for figuring out the room configuration; you would just tell them how many people you’re inviting and the layout you’re envisioning. If that’s not the case, there might be software programs that do this, or perhaps a co-worker can assist. But absolutely tell your boss!

  81. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    LW1: It sounds as though your coworker wants you to skip actual work assignments in order to attend those meetings, and thinks you should be punished for getting your actual work done rather than attending the educational seminars she is involved with.

    That’s weird enough that I wonder whether she has been given a goal like “everyone attends at least 90% of sessions” or “at least X number of people attend each of the next three seminars.” If by some chance she has, that is a problem for her and her manager, and not a good reason for her to expect you to attend seminars that conflict with your work schedule.

    This isn’t just about whether they can withhold PTO if you don’t go to these seminars. It’s that your coworker is pressuring people to neglect their work, even though you know, and she knows, that you don’t have to attend the seminars when we have offsite meetings. That’s the angle I’d suggest bringing to your boss: the combination of her odd priorities, and that she thinks she can rearrange everyone else’s schedule in the service of those odd priorities.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      It could also hurt attendance once employees realize they’re being sold their freedom for a price in PTO and they can negotiate for more PTO with their supervisor…

  82. Glazed Donut*

    LW1: It sounds like your coworker is thinking PTO is the grown-up equivalent of recess, and if someone is naughty, they should lose recess. This generally isn’t how adults operate or treat others (or, at least, it SHOULDN’T be).
    On the other hand, adult solutions include talking to the employees who are not attending and/or evaluating the program for value, time commitment, engagement, etc.

    1. NotARealManager*

      Taking recess away is also a bad idea for kids. Although I sympathize with teachers who often have few options for discipline and not enough time or resources to devote to getting to the root of the problem.

  83. Lurker*

    LW2-As Allison and others are stating, a religious gift is a bad idea. I hope you see her response before you giver her anything, because there are just too many ways it could go wrong. Some online research on this matter to figure out what to get her would be the better choice. Good luck!

  84. SpaceySteph*

    I can think of one situation where getting a religious gift for someone you aren’t super close to is a good idea– when it is on someone’s registry or wish list. I am Jewish and put a few Jewish ritual items on my wedding registry. I was surprised to see that most of them were purchased by non-Jewish friends rather than Jewish relatives– not in a bad way, I just didn’t expect that. (As time has gone on I continue to be touched that these people wanted to honor my minority religious practice in that way) But these were religious things that I had selected for myself, to my taste, based on my religious observance, so they knew I would like them.

    In your case I think you’re very thoughtful but ultimately better not to, unless they do share a wish list and you find something similar on there.

  85. kiki*

    I’ve been tasked with calculating how many tables and chairs can fit in each room while still allowing each attendee ample space to move around. Relatively basic surface area stuff, right?

    LW, this isn’t just basic math calculations! I also think even a super experienced conference organizer would likely want to try out the chair numbers and configurations in person before committing.

    Just calling out a thought pattern I fall into and noticed it might be happening to LW in their letter: sometimes when you’re “bad at something” you might low-ball the effort “anybody else would need, I’m just so bad at this!” LW, please keep in mind that this is a task that takes time, trial, and error. Please feel confident asking for help and time to try the chair layouts out in advance. Don’t think, “Somebody else could just do a simple calculation that I can’t! I’m so bad at math!” There are calculations, but most people would probably want to visualize the chair placements in some way before committing to a number.

  86. Chirpy*

    #2 – I worked at a religious organization for a while, where I knew quite well what my coworkers’ theological stances on things were (we had a lot of good-natured debates, same religion but different takes on it), and we still didn’t give each other religious-themed gifts. It’s just too personal, like Alison said. Plus, even if it seems like a nice verse about healing, you as someone who isn’t knowledgeable about the religion may not know the context of how it’s used, and sometimes that’s important.

  87. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    I absolutely hate companies that use promotion cycles in such a rigid manner. What happens if someone leaves off-cycle? Do they not fill the role? Do they only consider external candidates because “promotions are closed”? It makes no sense to me. You promote people if and when there is a job to promote them to and they are the best candidate for it.

  88. Margaret Cavendish*

    OP3, this started as a reply to another comment, but it got too long so I’m making it a standalone. (Hello to my own version of ADHD!)

    Think about *why* your boss was asking the question. Do you think she needs the specific number so she can plan the conference; or do you think she’s pushing you to learn an entirely new skill, out of the blue and with no instructions? I’m not your boss obviously, but I would bet a large amount of money that she *just wants the answer.* She’s probably assuming you’ll go ask someone in facilities, or see if anyone else has used the room this way in the past.

    I’m guessing your brain did something like this: your boss asked you to “find the capacity.” This is the same wording that’s often used on math tests, where they ask you to “find” the answer by doing the calculations yourself. So your brain immediately took you back to high school, and you went “OMG MATH,” and got stuck. Then from there, if you were thinking it was a test, you were probably also thinking you’re not allowed to ask for help, right? Hence the letter here. And meanwhile, your boss just wants to know how how many people the room can hold!

    So, fellow ADHD person. Here’s your gentle and loving nudge onto a different path. Your boss doesn’t want you to do the math yourself. She wants you to find out who already knows the answer and ask them. If you don’t know who to ask, or if you ask a bunch of people and none of them know, you should absolutely ask for help. Go back to your boss and say “who would know this?” or “I’ve asked these five people and none of them know, is there someone else I should ask?”

    It’s easier than you first thought, I promise!

  89. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

    LW 3, even if the boss said “calculate”, they probably meant “determine”, in which case “I spoke to the facilities dept. and they say XYZ” is a perfectly acceptable response. I can’t imagine a boss responding with “No no no! – I wanted you to do the math yourself…”.

  90. EvilQueenRegina*

    #1, would this coworker even have any authority to implement any such policy about withholding PTO? Surely someone – senior management, HR – could step in and tell them where to go? There’s much more sensible ways of looking at it – seeing if scheduling’s a problem, how many of the sessions every employee really needs to attend, whether workload’s an issue – than this!

  91. Butters*

    So irritating that most won’t even consider using AI tools. I’m in an industry where we’re constantly understaffed/overworked and having Copilot to transcribe and summarize next steps in meetings has been a huge time saver, especially when your entire day is back to back meetings. Our IT vetted it and rolled it out to certain individuals to who could benefit from using it the most so the privacy argument that most people have doesn’t hold up! People need to embrace it as a timesaving tool. Oh yeah, we’re using it to discuss clients also.

    1. Observer*

      These things work for some situations, but not all.

      It’s great that your IT vetted MS Copilot *and* are rolling out out selectively. There is no indication that the OP’s management did any checking of Zoom’s security, and they rolled it out willy-nilly for everyone on all calls. That’s not a good way to do this stuff.

    2. Lightbourne Elite*

      There are entirely industries where AI tools would be both useless and unethical. It’s a tool, not a miracle.

  92. Engineer*

    OP #3 – will you be in charge of physically moving the tables and chairs around yourself? I’m thinking likely not. The table rental or facilities mgmt for the facility should be able to give you estimates for max number of tables and person based on your set-up. There are also other things to factor in like ADA and emergency access, which I wouldn’t expect to be in your wheel house.

    1. LW #3*

      I will indeed be in charge of physically moving the furniture myself, which is its own separate issue.

      1. NotARealManager*

        I don’t know how many people your office is hosting, but if it’s more than 10, request additional hands to help out from your boss. Moving tables and chairs doesn’t seem like a big project, but it can take up a whole day, especially if you need to make sure the layout is working as you thought.

  93. welcome to monday yay*

    #1: “We have a series of educational seminars by coworkers every month” set off alarm bells in my hand, clanging through the memory of a job I had that did this. Every month, some poor coworker would have to give a seminar on a Friday at noon. And then the coworker or expert brought in would pause 40 minutes in and wait for any questions.

    A long pause would happen when it became clear no one had any questions.

    Eventually the boss, the only person who actually wanted these seminars to occur, would chime in with a question that may or may not have anything to do with the seminar topic. You see, I also wasn’t listening. These seminars never had anything, ever to do with my job, and I still had to get my actual job done.

    Eventually the boss left and the seminars magically disappeared.

    Who wants these seminars and why? If they’re all just internal, good lord, let people skip them.

    (Later on, at a later job, another boss told me I wouldn’t get a good rating for the year unless I did my part and presented at a resurgence of this kind of thing. The problem? I’d done it the year before; 20 coworkers out of my 500 person department attended. He wanted the same thing every single year. We recorded the sessions. I have a new job.)

  94. EA*

    OP 3 – I think you’re overthinking this because of your history with math, and you just need to ask for help. No need to talk about your math trauma. Don’t even mention math at all… just say you aren’t sure how to approach this task because you’ve never done it before.

  95. Christina*

    Ugh, letter #3, I empathize so much! I was a gifted child. Always read far beyond my age level. Teacher’s pet in nearly every class. I have a B.A. and M.A. from great universities. My professors loved me and I still keep in touch with many of them years later. I am great at many things, and my bosses love me. My performance reviews are always exceeds expectations on all metrics. And I cannot do math to save my life. Have never been able to. Failed college algebra three times, finally had to take a business math class to fulfill the requirement. My brain just does not work that way, and it’s been a source of lifelong shame to me that I cannot do this basic thing that other people seem to be able to do, even though everyone who meets me thinks of me as a very intelligent and educated person. It really makes me feel bad about myself, even though I know my worth isn’t measured by my math skills or lack thereof! LW3 — you’re not alone!

  96. Dawn*

    I remember one time when it was made explicitly clear that I would get in trouble for skipping an educational seminar; it was being held by a local naturopath which, not to put too fine a point on it, clashes sharply with my own, uh, I don’t want to use the word “beliefs” here but you get the point.

    I did end up attending and managed to white-knuckle my way through it, but it later came out that she was friends with one of the C-suite and that’s why everyone had to attend and listen to, essentially, her sales pitch.

  97. ijustworkhere*

    #3 I’ll bet your boss has no idea what they have actually asked you to do. That would be complicated for many of us! Asking for help is exactly right–and good luck.

    We have someone in our organization who is a whiz at this stuff–she can figure out logistics and space needs, and how many chairs fit in this room in about a nanosecond—and she likes it. I hope you can find someone in your organization who is equally gifted in this area.

    #4 A bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush. Don’t ever pass up a sure thing that you are confident you want an would like–for a promise.

  98. KayZee*

    My comment seems to have been moderated out – maybe because I provided a link. At any rate, I am terrible at math. As I’ve gotten older I’ve let the internet do my math for me, and so can you, LW. As with percentages and currency rates and so many things, I’ll bet the internet can find out how many tables will fit in your rooms as long as you know the dimensions.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      A note on moderation: if you put a link in a comment, it will go to moderation. If your comment is acceptable per the commenting rules, it will be released from moderation. Sometimes takes a few minutes, sometimes takes a few hours.

  99. Nat20*

    #2: I’d concentrate more on other aspects of her personal style/taste that you know of; there are lots of thoughtful, personal gifts you could go for that aren’t religious. Books, jewelry/accessories, candles, journals, art or small knickknacks of things she likes, etc. Also the “self-care” kind of stuff (bubble baths, face masks etc.) might be nice if you think she’s into that kind of thing. Or maybe she has a hobby you know of, and something that relates to it like a gift card to a craft store, merch for her favorite team, a cool dice set, etc. could also be really sweet.

    #3 – I’m also undiagnosed officially but 99% sure I have dyscalculia too, so I sympathize. But I don’t think that admitting a personal area of difficulty would translate into your boss thinking you don’t do your job well! You can bring it up and keep it casual and normal, it doesn’t have to be a big confession. Like Alison suggested you can just say, “Hey so math and spatial reasoning has always been a struggle for me, it just doesn’t click in my brain. I’m floundering a bit on this since it’s not my strong suit, so could I get some help with those aspects to make sure I do it well?”

  100. caholmes*

    #3 – What everyone is missing is the fact that OP, because of past experience and trauma, believes it is her responsibility to do the math and the spatial reasoning in the first place. It’s not her responsibility. As others have pointed out – the facility should have that information on how many people can fit in a certain room, with a certain style of seating. Or find some event planning calculators online. Even Alison answered it in such a way that assumes the responsibility is on OP to do the math and therefore she should talk to her boss about it. OP should take others suggestions (check with the facility or find event planning information online) before she talks to her boss about it. These things have already been figured out by event planners and/or math wizard’s and it is not necessarily an easy thing to figure out depending on the requirements or number of people. When we are traumatized in a certain area, we often talk on more responsibility than we should, or do more work than we should, because we assume it comes easy to other people.

    1. JustaTech*

      To add on to this: when I see a coworker struggling with a thing I know how to do, I *love* to offer my experience/solution – because struggling sucks!
      If it took me three weeks to figure out how to get an expense into Concur (something that gives me a lot of anxiety) I am *more* than happy to share the knowledge of how to do it with others, because I don’t want them to have to struggle.

      In general, people are happy to share their expertise, so ask! If it helps your brain, it’s not “oh, I need help” it’s “I’m giving this person a chance to shine!”

  101. Anna*

    lw 3, as someone who likes and enjoys math, that is a challenging and interesting problem, not a trivial one. I agree with aam that there is no reason to feel shame admitting that it is beyond you and asking that it be reassigned.

  102. Coin_Operated*

    #3, you’re not alone. I have to use a calculator constantly to do the most elementary of math problems. I used to do a weekly deposit report as part of my job. What should be a basic, 1-2 hour task would take half a day because I was always making a small error that I’d never be able to catch to make my report reconcile with the bank statement deposit. Thankfully, our accountant took that task from me so I could focus on other things I was good at.

  103. Sherman*

    OP #3, oooof I feel you!! I sometimes get what amount to word problems in emails regarding some work I do as requested by CT Corp and even though they are indeed probably very easy questions with very simple answers, my brain sees the word problem and short circuits. I punt every single one to either Tax or Finance with the caveat that I don’t do math, it’s never been a part of my job to know how to answer those questions and if pressed I am not responsible for the answer as I’ve been clear this is not something I’m comfortable doing.

  104. Idbeme*

    I work in Conference tech and AV. If you speak to the venue they already have this mapped out and will give you diagrams! All you have to do is ask!

  105. Little Miss Sunshine*

    OP2, as a cancer survivor I can tell you that there are many sites that offer care kits for cancer patients. If you wish to send something to your colleague, please use one of those. has a hope kit that when you buy one they will also send one for free to a cancer patient. All the contents are thoughtful and useful and not remotely religious. There are lots of options.

  106. Anita Brayke*

    I understand that “not wanting to go to the boss, even though she’s understanding.” Just as a suggestion, if you’re having catering at the conference or know a caterer, they’re likely to have a good idea how many tables of what size fit into a room, and they’ll likely know how much space to add around each table to allow for the backing out of chairs, etc.

  107. Jane*

    LW #3 – Do not feel bad! There is no shame in this. I am exactly the same way. When I worked retail and someone tried to hand me cents (to only get bills back) after I’d already entered their payment in the system, my brain shut down. If you asked me to walk 30 feet in one direction, I would be wildly off. Directions? I still use GPS in my hometown. So, I’m a writer. Haha. We play to our strengths, and that’s ok and VERY human.

  108. Rage against the tide*

    OP #4 re: enabling the AI features for meeting transcripts
    This is quickly becoming a controversy, and with good reason, if you work in victim services or in other organizations where client confidentiality really matters. You don’t want the software to be in charge of the content of meeting notes in such cases. In general – regardless of whether AI comes into it, clients’ personal details and identifying information should be need-to-know within your organization and not available to anyone who happens to know which network folder contains the transcripts – and that’s before it’s in the hands of a vendor wanting to make money from it. If your boss doesn’t think this is a big deal, you may be able to talk sense into them by pointing out that it will reflect terribly on your organization if that data is misused, within your organization or outside it. A little Googling will give you some good resources for identifying the concerns that AI currently presents, which can help you educate your boss on its risks.
    Technology companies adding AI components to their products by default will collect as much raw data as possible whenever they can do so. Privacy, security, and confidentiality are not uppermost in their concerns. They don’t go out of their way to be clear about what they are and are not capturing and what might happen to it in their hands. If your boss won’t back down on enabling AI, you and your colleagues should come up with best practices for keeping clients personally identifying information out of meetings. If you don’t say it or show it on the screen, it won’t be captured.

  109. Lisa*

    I used to work in the commercial furniture industry. Someone has already done all the math for you. There are standard numbers for number of people with round tables, for stand-up cocktail tables, for seminar tables, etc. do some quick googling before you go to your boss.

  110. Union Rep*

    LW1: If this is a union environment, management can’t do what your coworker’s suggesting without negotiating it into the collective bargaining agreement (or at a bare minimum pushing it through a meet-and-discuss process). Needless to say, no functional union will agree to allow members to be punished for doing their actual job as directed by a supervisor. If the committee that your coworker’s on is a labor-management committee of some kind, you need to learn your local’s constitution and get her the hell off it before she wedges her way into your next contract negotiation and makes stupid concessions like this one.

    (Also, your post has big K-12 energy, in which case I wholeheartedly concur that the trainings are useless.)

  111. Tisserande d'Encre*

    I have the exact opposite experience/skills with math and spatial reasoning as OP #3, though I have had many friends who have had similar experiences, and I so badly wish I could step in and help! I hope your boss is kind and understanding and there’s a coworker who can take care of that part of the project!

  112. Anonomatopoeia*

    Hey LW #3, if you can help me work out how to write emails that are both fully detailed but very short and businesslike so my boss likes them, I will do your math and spatial reasoning, at which I am, well, I’m the person you call if you don’t know how much space you need for *gestures* this unpacked stuff and will it fit in this car or will I need to rent a truck, or if you can’t tell by looking whether this couch will fit* up this staircase. I’m a terrible accountant because ugh, detailed tracking is not a thing my brain is in favor of, but I’m also always really close to the mark about what’s going on with the budgets I manage, even when there are a bunch of chaos factors I can’t control for and don’t look at with any regularity.

    This is just a talent, though. Useful occasionally, but not especially germane to whether I am smart. It follows, therefore, that not having it is not a sign of being dumb. I’m confident you have plenty of other useful talents.

    *with or without pivoting >.>

  113. nnn*

    Another thought for #3: has this space ever been used for an event with similar configuration before? If yes, are there pictures, perhaps on social media?

    If you can find a precedent of this space being used this way, you can just copy what they did.

  114. musical chairs*

    LW#3, As someone whose entire career is based on math skills and spatial reasoning, I’ll tell you right now that is not the measure of intelligence everyone makes it out be. I’m willing to bet that your job requires you to be really good at managing relationships in order to get things done. Knowing to ask or who to trade to favor/set up a contract with in order to accomplish a goal. Use your skill set rather than focusing on what you have trouble with. If you needed a vendor or internal staff member who had a specific skill or ability resource that you needed to do your job, you wouldn’t think twice about relying on them fully to help you out. Reframe the problem, play to your strengths!

    1. musical chairs*

      To be clear I would suggest in this order, 1)finding out layout information from someone who’s already figured this out, 2) finding someone in your workplace who can help figure this out for you and report back to you, 3) look for an online resource that can help you estimate with minimal input from you and have someone check it for you, 4) talk to your boss about reassigning this part of the task for you so you can focus on completing other tasks in a timely manner.

      Your letter made me think about all the ways that people in healthy communities accommodate each other all the time formally and informally. It’s what makes everything function. In brainstorming ways that you could get the help that you’re looking for, I’m inspired to contribute positively to my healthy communities by sincerely asking for help more often, rather than of looking for ways to always provide help (admittedly so I can convince myself I am strong or capable or needed).

  115. Too many events, too little time*

    For the letter writer with the table setup issue:

    Before you tell your boss that the task is making your brain melt, what are your resources?

    If your event is at a venue (hotel conference room or similar), then just ask whoever you’re working with on the reservation. Like “ok I have 50 people in the Phenomenal Room and I need tables set up classroom style”. Like magic, it will be done.

    If it’s at your own office (which it sounds like it is), are you renting tables or bringing in catering? The table vendors will make it magically happen. More corporate-style catering vendors can advise you (and even bring things like tablecloths) on appropriate setup. Again, no need to get into too much detail, just “hey, I’m trying to figure out the table setup. I’ve got 50 people and I need it classroom-style; do you have suggestions?”. This may not work if you’re bringing in pizza or something that the vendor just drops off.

    If neither situation applies, has someone done this before? Ask them! “How did you guys set this up last year?” Or even, “ can you help me think about this? I’m trying to figure out how many tables to set up and for whatever reason, I’m overthinking this!”

    You’ve got this. If in doubt, err on the side of one too many vs. one too few. You can always remove a couple and stick them in a hallway or whatever if needed.

  116. Azure Jane Lunatic*

    LW #2, one of the cancer gifts I appreciated the most was from an aunt, who made it financially possible to use a cold cap during my chemotherapy and not only keep most of my hair, but enable the hair I lost to start growing back still during chemotherapy. The low tech version involves a bunch of precisely fitted ice packs in direct contact with the head; a standard freezeable migraine gel hat may not actually work that well. The high tech version involves a precisely fitted hat with a bunch of coolant tubes, connected to a portable refrigeration unit. There are at least two vendors, and it seems like each cancer center uses a different one, and the patient or someone with permission to act for them generally has to organize it. But if there are a lot of people who’d be willing to chip in towards it, it might be deeply appreciated if she wants to go with it.

  117. SteffiCR*

    LW 4 – I recently handed in my notice on the first day of a new role at my old firm, something I had been pushing for for the better part of a year, to take my dream job on the other side of the world. My boss was surprised but supportive and has even said I am welcome back if I find the transition too much and want to move home. My former boss just said he was happy I had moved the leaver stat from his team to my new one. The right people can be very understanding and supportive!

  118. Heather*

    I feel awful for LW 3. Does the LW know there are online calculators for this exact scenario? Perhaps the LW could ask the boss if that solution is sufficient as they are not well versed in spatial reasoning and would like to utilize tool to guide them?

  119. "Why don't you ever take a day off?"*

    LW1 reminds me of the helljob I worked that would routinely require overtime for being “behind” in emails, and our supervisor once telling us “PTO is a privilege not a right” as a justification for not approving anything requested during that time. Even if you had sonething requested months ago.

  120. quadrilegal*

    #3 – I too lack the math gene but feel pretty confident in almost every area. Much crying spent in Mr. Finneran(begin again)’s Algebra class. Had to take remedial math courses my first year of college, even!
    Actually – I feel *mostly* confident in “regular” math (+ – * /) and can do the basic calculations in my head, so I shouldn’t say I’m bad at “math”. I’m bad at HARD math or math I’m forced to do. LOL

    BUT FRFR – why do these people, having been warned, trust me with so much math-related work and information!? Y’all know I suck bozack and yet here I am once again being forced to calculate damages for trial. Even without the stress of trial, I can’t stand to work with numbers b/c I know I’ll have to ASK FOR HELP??? No thank you!

  121. Liz*

    For letter writer #3 I would consider reaching out to the venue itself and see if one of their staff could help you set up the table placement. They likely know the site better than anyone and likely know the best use of the space. If you give them a number of participants and ask how they would accommodate them in the space I’m sure they would be happy to help. It would take them a matter of minutes to lay out possible table placements based on what has worked for similar groups in the past.

  122. Gwynnyd*

    For #3 – There’s no need to admit you can’t do the math. There are apps and web sites for calculating how many chairs/tables and chairs/banquet seating fit into a room. Ask the building staff for the room dimensions/square footage (you are clearly too busy to measure it yourself and they surely already know). Just ask your favorite search engine for “how many chairs fit into a meeting room”, select a site from the ones that come up that lets you input the room size and/or number of seats needed, what layout you want (ie – theater seating, classroom, banquet) and let it do the math for you. That’s what the professionals do these days.

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