my employee talks about people’s weight

A reader writes:

I’m a female manager of a team. I’m significantly overweight. One of my direct reports has repeatedly made derogatory comments about overweight people to me during the course of conversations, such as “____is a big girl, I mean, she’s really big!”

I think that’s rude in general, and I also sense she’s doing this intentionally to insult me regarding my own weight in a passive aggressive way. Ironically, she’s overweight herself. Can you advise me on how to address this with her?

I answer this question — and three others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Can I bake for one employee’s birthday but not the other’s?
  • My coworker waits for me to schedule meetings he initiates
  • How can you tell if a recruiter is worth your time?

{ 124 comments… read them below }

  1. Chairman of the Bored*

    The way I’ve dealt with recruiters is to tell them upfront exactly what I want in terms of location, title, pay, industry, etc and ask that they only send me jobs that match that description.

    If they can work with this and then restrict their proposed positions to ones that are a match then you have found a good recruiter.

    If they complain or send you openings that don’t meet your criteria then they are bad recruiter, and you can just “fire” them and stop responding to calls/emails.

    1. E*

      This is how I deal with them too. It can end up working out great. I wasn’t really looking to leave but was open to seeing what else was available. I gave the recruiter who kept messaging me a very specific list of my requirements, told her I wasn’t interested in anything that didn’t meet them and ended up with a more interesting position with better work/life balance and a 30% raise.

  2. Stuart Foote*

    Regarding the recruiters, I have never once heard of one that wanted an in person meeting. It’s usually just a call and they send your resume to the company and then you never hear back again. Is this a very old letter? Maybe they did things differently 20 years ago, but I’ve never heard of things working that way now.

    1. BubbleTea*

      It’s not quite 20 years ago but more than 5 – I went into the recruitment agency multiple times for all kinds of things that never led to actual work. I realised eventually that their goal wasn’t getting me a job, it was getting someone a job.

    2. 1-800-BrownCow*

      Not that recent, but I was working with a recruiter once to get an interview with a company. He insisted on meeting me in person before sending over my resume because he “likes to meet people face-to-face first as it gives him a better connection”. I took a half-day off from work, arranged childcare for my son and drove over an hour to meet him at his office. He spent less than 15 minutes with me. I was livid. He did forward my resume and I got the interview with the company. After interviewing, I knew I was no longer interested in the company or the job due to so many red flags. When I spoke to the recruiter after, he got angry and nasty that I didn’t want to take the job. Between his behavior and a few other recruiters I worked with in the past, it’s made me not to want to work with or recommend using a recruiter to others.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        I’ve found that recruiters who work for the company (usually freelance, I guess?) or for a group of companies are dedicated to making sure they get the right person into a job opening. Recruiters who work for a firm that helps to place people, like this guy you talk about, want to put A Person Into A Job, so get unreasonable when you say “hey, this job isn’t right for me”.

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Pre-pandemic I worked with a lot of recruiters that wanted to meet in person. I would assume that’s fallen off a bit now, but definitely not 20 years ago.

    4. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

      The last time I worked with a recruiter WAS 20 years ago and they never wanted to meet in person. They were always calling about specific jobs though, never a keep me on file situation.

    5. pally*

      Well, I was asked to appear in person at a couple of different recruiter offices. I had applied for various biotech lab positions at a temp agency that specializes in the industry.

      The reason they gave me: I want to see what I’m dealing with. They talked things up in a big way how they had lots of roles that I fit.

      When I arrived, each asked the same general questions; spent maybe 5-7 minutes total talking with me. Like they couldn’t get me out of their office fast enough. No more big talk about all the positions they have available.

      And I garnered exactly zero interviews as a result.

      I have my suspicions as to why this occurred.

    6. A Significant Tree*

      I think it depends on the recruiter. I was approached by multiple external recruiters for various jobs – most just did a quick screen and submitted my resume and I never heard anything more. One was much more thorough, I met in person once (pre-Covid) for about 45 min to go over my work history in detail – this made sense because my experience is pretty specialized and was in an area the recruiter was trying to expand into. That was followed by multiple short keep-in-touch calls/emails with him maybe once a month. I think he only submitted my resume to one place; he suggested others but was fine when I said I wasn’t interested in those other jobs for XYZ reasons.

      Because he seemed to get what kind of work I was looking for, I would have continued to work with him if the need existed, but he’s since moved on to internal recruiting positions.

    7. MigraineMonth*

      I’ve had a number of recruiters who wanted to meet me, but I was able to get them to come to a coffee place near me or similar (rather than having to take time off work).

      My impression from the freelance recruiters is that they didn’t seem to be listening to me. For example, I said I wanted full-time and they sent me part-time positions, or would pressure me to take interviews or accept offers from places that were 10k below the bottom of my salary range.

      I did enjoy the deer-in-the-headlights look they got when they ignored my clearly stated salary range and *insisted* on knowing my previous salary. Which was significantly higher than my salary range, because I knew I’d have to take a pay cut to escape my golden handcuffs, and which they knew they definitely couldn’t match.

    8. Quinalla*

      Meeting in person is not that weird if they work for a recruiting firm, if they work for specific company that would be weird. However, my advice to the OP is to just say you aren’t interested in meeting in person and don’t feel it is necessary. If they insist, just say you will have to part ways. Plenty of recruiters will NOT insist on meeting with you in person or even suggest it.

      Always remember recruiters work FOR YOU. If they won’t work on your terms, use a different one, their are tons of them out there.

  3. PerplexedPigeon*

    Regarding the guy who won’t set up meetings he initiates, I’m wondering if the LW is a woman by chance? If so, that’s a whole other dynamic that’s got to be managed.

          1. Lauren*

            This happened to me last year (I am a woman in my 30s, the other person was a man in his 50s)! We were peers in a very hierarchical structure and not even in the same team.

            I left that job because that was just the tip of the shit iceberg. I recently learned that because so many other people also left, my old job was combined with someone else’s old job, has turned into an even bigger nightmare, and was assigned to sexist guy because his team didn’t want him anymore.

            Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

    1. Saturday*

      From the letter, “He just emailed me again to ask if there is a time we can meet soon.”

      Honestly, I wouldn’t even take that to mean that he wants you to do the scheduling. I would take it at face value – can we meet soon? You might say sure, or you might say “can it wait a couple of weeks because I have this other thing that I’m swamped with” or “I want to figure out some details about the X project first” or whatever.

      1. not nice, don't care*

        Also from the letter:
        “When Bob managed me, we met frequently and he always told me to propose dates and times, to do the labor of setting up our meetings. Our organization uses Outlook, and it is a simple matter to use the calendar to see when a colleague is free to meet and send an appointment slip. Bob never did it. ”

        Nice try excusing shitty dick behavior though.

        1. Rose*

          This is such a comical level of hostility for an innocuous comment. Yes, a lot of managers expect their employees to do the light work of scheduling 1:1 meetings. It’s totally appropriate for an employee/direct report relationship.

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      “And…?” tends to wither people as well. There’s no response that won’t make them look like a jerk. And if they are enough of a jerk to answer… the more you know!

      1. Rose*

        I have tried this and it never worked for me. The people rude enough to randomly comment on someone’s weight were happy to double down.

        At least it always gave me a blatantly horrible comment that I could chew them out for rather than getting a defensive “what? I’m just saying/its a fact” back.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      I’d agree if the LW was a coworker, but a manager really needs to shut down all commenting on other people’s bodies. It’s just not work-appropriate.

      Also, the only times it’s appropriate to refer to someone as a “Big girl, a really big girl!” is a 10lb+ baby or an animal that is an absolute unit.

      1. Tinkerbell*

        My 15yo informed me that his friends all had a long debate over lunch last week and came to the conclusion that fat shaming is 100% okay to do to cats but not in any other situation :-P

        1. JAR5001*

          No, no, fat shaming of cats is not okay. There are only good kitties, some are just wider than others.

          1. RLC*

            I refer to our well rounded and squeezeable kitties as having “healthy reserves”. (Our family policy is no body shaming of any living creature.)

            1. MigraineMonth*

              I miss the days my cat was a chonkster and would snarfle any food in sight. Now he’s an older gentleman, I sometimes have to follow him around with the bowl and beg him to eat just a little more.

        2. Lenora Rose*

          This assumes cats could be made to feel any shame.

          One can comment on their weight, but part of what allows it is that they take any comment on being an absolute unit as high praise.

  4. WantonSeedStitch*

    Really? If your direct report is saying this stuff, how hard is it to just say “Commenting on people’s weight at work is unprofessional and inappropriate, and creates an unwelcoming workplace. Please stop.”

    1. goofBall*

      Seriously. I wouldn’t let my friends get away with this, certainly not someone I manage at work!

    2. Sam*

      Managers don’t seem to know how to actually manage people anymore. So many letters pop up here with managers asking basic questions, or no spine whatsoever.

      1. Czhorat*

        In fairness to the LW, I can see how she feels awkward about it because of her discomfort with her own weight; she might be afraid of being seen as personalizing it or being defensive about her body in addition to shutting down talk about other people’s bodies.

        Sometimes ALL of us need a reminder that our concerns are normal and reasonable, and that we can – and should – speak up.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            She mentioned being concerned the employee was saying it to be passive aggressive to her. That’s the discomfort in question.

            1. Coffee Protein Drink*

              That’s a discomfort about the employee’s motive, not discomfort about weight.

      2. Happy meal with extra happy*

        It’s a bit silly to make an assumption about an entire group when you’re only seeing data from a site that specifically only shows the problems.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          As someone who deals with statistical data on a daily basis, yes, yes, yes, very much this.

          Advice columns are pretty much the epitome of selection bias because….well….that’s how advice columns work.

      3. A (Former) Library Person*

        Speaking from my own personal perspective, I was thrust into the position of supervising and mentoring students without any formal or informal management training whatsoever. I would have had no idea how to approach the kinds of situations that tend to pop up here, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know and no one ever thought to point out that personnel management is its own thing with its own required skillset and mindset. I place the blame not on individual managers who write in and more on a cultural phenomenon that doesn’t place appropriate value on how difficult and specific management actually is.

        And that’s before diving into all of the cultural issues surrounding weight that play into this specific letter. I can understand why OP might initially take pause at responding in the way Alison suggests.

        1. not nice, don't care*

          My (state university) employer has all manner of support and training for managers, new and experienced. It’s too bad this isn’t more of a thing, but it also depends on how the training is received and implemented by individual managers to make a difference.

      4. Shiny Penny*

        “Anymore?” Like, in the good old days all the managers were skilled and awesome??? Hmmm. Not in my experience.

        1. lazuli*

          There were neeeeeeeevvvvvvveeeeeeerrrrrr any problems with inappropriate comments in the workplace in the past, nosiree!

      5. Zona the Great*

        I hate the ‘no spine’ comments. It’s insulting and minimizes the issues many people face when they become managers. Often what seems like the result of spinelessness is actually someone who was beaten down over the years and no longer trusts themselves, their feelings, and their instincts. I don’t lack a spine; I am rebuilding what was taken from me by abusive managers and coworkers and I need a trustworthy source like AAM.

    3. Girasol*

      Sometimes people’s inappropriate comments about others are intended for someone present. The fellows in my team had a habit of one upping each other on stories about wives. “You gotta hear the stupid thing my wife did!” And then another would say, “Oh yeah?? MY wife is so dumb that …” But they would look over at me, only woman in the group, after each story, to see my reaction. There wasn’t any way to miss that they were saying “You’re stupid because all women are stupid!” in the only workplace acceptable way they could. OPs person sounds like they’re doing something similar. It sounds personal.

      1. throwaway123*

        You should reply back something like, “Don’t complain about a wife you picked yourself. It does’t reflect well on your decision making abilities.”

        1. Caramel & Cheddar*

          Yeah, I’d struggle to not say something like “Maybe you should think about divorce if you hate your wife so much.” Don’t badmouth your spouse in front of me, it’s so weird and uncomfortable.

        2. Susannah*

          Yeah, or something like…. well, they married the two of you, I guess their smarts and judgment are automatically in question.

        3. Wendy Darling*

          I had a coworker whose ONLY humor genre was “my ex-wife is such a bitch”. And like, I have no idea, maybe she is! but also when your entire sense of humor is how much your ex-wife sucks it’s just misogynist and annoying.

          I told him I didn’t appreciate it a few times to no effect, so I was forced to get manipulative. He was Gen X and I am a millennial, as were most of our teammates. He was also quite insecure about being “old”.

          So every time he made a horrible-ex-wife crack I would be like, there you go with your sexist boomer humor again, eww! and he would freak out about how he was NOT a boomer (and also he was not sexist but it was much more important that everyone know he was definitely not a boomer!). After a couple weeks of me calling him a boomer in front of everyone he stopped, at least in front of me.

            1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

              Yeah, trying to stop sexist humor by being ageist is not a win for anyone.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Please leave GenX out of the generation stereotype-and-bash parade. We are not interested in engaging in this weird thing that’s been happening over our heads with the folks on either side of us for years and are, as a whole, too busy getting shit done and caring for both our kids and our parents.

            This guy is a misogynist because he’s a misogynist, not because he’s “old” or part of a cohort you don’t identity with.

            1. Pizza Rat*

              Bingo. If we were in a restaurant or bar, you’d be drinking free for the rest of the night.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yeah, there are easy things to manage and there are hard things to manage. This one is pretty straightforward – we don’t comment on other people’s bodies or appearances at work. There’s no reason for it, and it makes nearly everyone who hears it uncomfortable. And, if they don’t care about looking like a jerk, it does affect professional perception of them, so they should at least care about not being seen as the person who makes people uncomfortable.

  5. Fluff*

    This came at a perfect time for me.

    #3 – Allison – I really like your scripts. I was today years old when I realized this was happening to me and may be somewhat of a power play. I was ruminating about how to handle it, what email to send in my righteous fiery anger (email dream), apologize and please please be kind (email in reality). I am a chief level nerd in health care and these scripts are going to be used tomorrow! Me – female. All the meeting Game of Thrones maneuvers are coming from the Boys. I looked because I did not pick up on that until this letter.

    Use email templates too – Making templates out of these scripts helps dampen my annoyance. I have an “Tempaltes AH” folder and these scripts are going right in there. Shampoo, rinse, repeat.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      LOL, that’s genius! One folder to filter all the obnoxious emails into, one to hold all the templates for responding.

    2. Rebecca*

      “All the meeting Game of Thrones maneuvers”

      It’s funny how much of a power move delegating meeting scheduling can be. I’ve experienced it from all sorts of people who believe themselves to be above opening the calendar and setting up a new meeting.

  6. Fluffy Fish*

    “and I also sense she’s doing this intentionally to insult me regarding my own weight in a passive aggressive way. Ironically, she’s overweight herself. ”

    I know it feels very personal, and certainly not excusing it, OP, but I suspect it’s more to do with how she thinks about herself than you. She doesn’t like herself and so she’s positioning others as “worse” than her. I have a friend like this who is wildly insecure about everything and so she makes everything, I mean everything, either about herself or as an attack on herself.

    I mention it because it’s 1) infuriating and 2) feels very much like a personal attack, but I’ve learned she’s not really thinking about anyone but herself. It’s helped me in not taking things personally. I’ve also greatly distanced myself which helps – in your case you have the ability as a manager to shut it all the way down.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Well put. OP, your report sounds very insecure. I think a low-key, but firm, response along the lines of, “We don’t discuss peoples bodies here,” will probably fix this problem. Be alert though, for other areas in which her insecurity may pop up.

    2. GrumpyPenguin*

      I had a similar situation in my first “real” job, only the roles were reversed. I know I’m overweight, but my manager and my coworkers kept pointing that out. They were all overweight with me being the “thinnest”, which in hindsight might explain the comments, but I still don’t know what I could have done about that, if anything at all.

    3. GrumpyPenguin*

      It might also mean “I don’t like myself and neither should you”. Some people feel better when they make others feel miserable.

    4. lazuli*

      Yeah, my assumption would be that it’s internalized fatphobia, and that she’s somehow psychologically trying to distance herself from those “real” fat people.

      Regardless, it’s inappropriate in a workplace and she needs to be told to stop it.

  7. kel*

    For Bob who won’t schedule a meeting: my go to now is ‘my calendar is up to date’.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      I write “My calendar is up to date for this week. Please go ahead and schedule.”

      That way, they don’t think they can randomly schedule me in the future…

      1. Victor WembanLlama*

        Doesn’t not being able to schedule time with you defeat the purpose of that person being the one to schedule

        1. A Significant Tree*

          Unless it’s a tactic to schedule you without checking if you’re free (or specifically when you’re not), then when you get tired of “decline and suggest new time”, their hope is you just take charge of scheduling…

          Sometimes it can be a no-win situation. I have had the experience of someone asking me to plan the schedule and saying their calendar was up to date, yet decline meeting invites due to (invisible?) conflicts. Worse is when they *don’t* suggest an alternate time/date because then I’m still stuck with what I now know is incomplete information.

          1. Victor WembanLlama*

            I’m not sure what you mean in the first paragraph. If someone is scheduling for an incorrect date, why wouldn’t they just schedule for the right one instead? They’re already doing the “work” of scheduling.

            1. Anneke*

              Weaponised incompetence. The point isn’t to not do any work at all now, it’s to not have to do it future. It’s worth it to them to go to whatever amount of effort it takes to do the job poorly once if it means they never have to do it again.

        2. Broadway Duchess*

          I think the inclusion of “…this week” is meant to convey that the meeting requestor can schedule for that week, not some random one in the future.

    2. Quinalla*

      For me, I explicitly tell the other person to schedule the meeting so their is no room for real (or fake) confusion. Is someone ask something like “Hey, can we meet next week?” I’ll say “Sure, check my calendar and send an outlook invite.” I started doing this as a lot of folks would wait for me to schedule because they didn’t want to take the time, or they forgot, etc. In most cases, whoever wants the meeting should schedule it and if it is a mutual meeting, it isn’t out of line for the more junior person to be asked to schedule it.

      As a woman in a male dominated industry, I did NOT want to fall in the trap of scheduling all the meetings and then me doing that reinforcing the expectation. It sucks that I have to think a lot more about this kind of thing, but that’s how it goes. Same with other office “housework” when I was in an office. I always pitched in and did my share, but made sure I wasn’t the default or doing it more than others. My job is engineering, not loading the dishwasher or ordering lunch :) If everyone pitches in on these things when you don’t have a designated person, it is great, if they don’t, you can end up spending hours a week on stuff like this and still be expected to do the same assigned job workload and it is utter BS.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yes, this is pretty effective. My whole team knows to keep their calendars up to date and use the scheduling assistant or scheduling polling in Outlook, but not all other departments are on board with this yet. (And we have one group who insists on using Calendly when no one else does and they can see our Outlook availability with two clicks – it’s fine for them to use this outside the org, but, inside, it just makes more work for people not in their relatively small department)

  8. Fluff*


    Favoritism is both intentional and unintentional for the person with the power. For the unfavored (pooped on) person, it does not matter.

    In your scenario, the favoritism is ‘real’ (easily measurable) like in this case: you are baking for one person and not the other. Favoritism may not be real for you like this scenario: you bake for Fred but not Bob because he has Celiac disease. Bob and Fred might be fine, but co-worker Tiffany is wondering why you don’t like Bob. Then she wonders what about her? The perception then drives her behavior and outlook – because we all create a story about what is going on around us.

    As the manager / person with the authority – it is not just important to act without favoritism, but to work even harder to avoid the appearance of favoritism. Yes, this can be hard. It is ok to WANT to favorite – it is not ok to DO that. Note I did not say be withOUT feeling favoritism towards people. Like Batman said, “It is not what you say that defines who you are, it is what you do.” Especially as a leader at work.

    You get kudos for reflecting and asking. You want to do something nice and that is wonderful. How can you use your joy of baking and be include you folks?

    1. Ellis Bell*

      The reason I am kind of wowed out by that letter is because it’s just blatant favouritism. It’s not just the possible perception of favouritism, or a grey area; it’s literally just liking one report a whole lot more and not wanting to stop showing it.

      1. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

        This so much. Beyond the baking the LW needs to shut down the personal relationship, they are no longer peers, and Fred is no longer the only person in the dept. If they can not do that, they have no business managing.

        Regarding the hobby baking, if you want to bake, pick days that are nowhere near anyone’s birthday and bring something. The optics should be considered, but if it is important to you then make it about celebrating the team.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          The “based on our personal relationship not business” was exactly what I keyed in on, too. The fact that LW has a personal relationship with one employee and not the other is a big problem (and, really, I’m not a fan of bosses having personal relationships with their teams at all – too many issues).

          There are two people on my team who are very good friends, and one was recently promoted. We specifically designed the structure so that their friend would NOT report to them directly or dotted line. They’re too close for that to be or even look fair.

      2. Smithy*

        While I agree, I do think that the OP asking before doing indicates an awareness that it’s wrong and is looking to double check those feelings.

        I know a few hobby bakers where when they do bake – it’s not chocolate chip cookies but something like custard filled croissants. a recipe with a high level of labor, time, and potentially cost, so when there’s significantly less personal motivation it takes the hobby activity more into work. Think driving a close friend to the airport who’d just helped you move, vs driving an estranged relative to the airport.

        I do think a way of reading the letter is that the OP is looking to preserve their hobby of baking to be something that they only do for actual friends or when it’ll be fun for them. And as a supervisor, I think it’s far better to be double checking those feelings or impulses than assume you’ll never have those moments.

        1. duinath*

          i agree with appreciating op for taking the time to stop, think, and ask.

          i would go even further and say as a manager, none of your decisions at work should stem from your personal relationship with the people who report to you. i think it’s important to check back on that, from time to time, and, as op did, ask when you’re not sure.

          we’re none of us perfect, but the willingness to ask, to learn, and to be wrong is what makes us better.

    2. Smithy*

      This is so well put.

      I think I’ve seen this most intentionally when teams grow and their previous birthday/baby/wedding/funeral practices have to change. Where when the team is a certain size, one thing works but as it either grows or contracts, the end result is that certain people may be receiving larger or more valuable acknowledgements – and others are receiving noticeably smaller. Even if the process doesn’t have that intention in mind, if you have scenarios where some team members are getting a card signed by everyone a gift card valued at over $100 and someone else is getting $15 and a card signed by only a few people – that’s not great.

      It reminds me of people promoted who have to change their happy hour practices. Even if everyone is equally invited to a happy hour, the fact that the supervisor is now there means that for those who can attend – they get that additional face time. And if it’s only a few times a year, that’s one thing. But if it’s every week….

      For this OP, I think the simple solution is to start bringing in their baked goods to mark seasons, holidays, or general team achievements (i.e. closing out the fiscal year, completing a big project, etc). Overall, this lets the hobby baking truly remain something fun to do when it’s fun and not become a required task for all of their direct reports.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yeah, we used to buy a specific small gift for every new team member and had to stop as the team grew. We could manage it for one or two people per year, when we subsumed another department, it quadrupled the costs and had to stop (and now we’ve taken on another and are literally 10x the size as before). There is no way we could have continued buying them for the original sub-team and ignored all of the other people in the department. That’s not very welcoming or inclusive.

    3. Crencestre*

      LW2: Alison was right on both counts: baking for one employee but not for another will look like favoritism (because it is!) AND you do NOT want to be known as Office Mommy, cookie baker for the boys. It’s all too easy for a gender stereotype (lowly women prepare and serve food to the lordly men) to get underway and pretty well impossible to stamp it out once it’s got started.

      Several decades ago, my then-boss told me, on the first day of my new job, “Don’t make the coffee!” I knew exactly why she’d said it – the rest of the staff at that branch of the agency were all men, and she wanted me to be perceived as a professional right from the start. I took her words to heart, followed her instructions and was indeed treated with respect from the get-go. It’s unfortunate that, some 40 years later, we women STILL have to be concerned about this, but it’s also true that we must!

      1. anxiousGrad*

        Yep. My mentor at one of my first summer internships told me that, as a woman, she never brings in home-baked goods at the office. If she’s bringing food, she always brings something store bought and brings it in the original packaging. As much as I love to bake, I don’t want colleagues to associate me with domestic skills, so I save that hobby for social situations.

        1. No Mo Cow*

          Sadly, I have to prefer store-bought now, too, because of the ingredient label. Milk hides in so many things. :(

    4. Esprit de l'escalier*

      Here’s another way to do hobby baking, one that I do not recommend. This was decades ago in my first job after college. There were two of us young new grads in the office, and every Friday the other new-grad colleague brought in a big container of cookies that his mother had baked for him to bring to work.

      No doubt his being male insulated him from being cast in the Office Mommy role, plus he made it clear that his mom was the baker and he was just the courier. I bet it would have had a different vibe if I (young female) had been doing that. (But the cookies were delicious.)

      1. Commenter 505*

        A younger, self-aware feminist attorney I know “stress bakes.” She gets to do her hobby and the next day she can plop it down in the communal kitchen without comment. It’s never for anyone’s birthday; it’s just because she’s pissed off. And truthfully, her baked goods taste like it. But damn, I admire her for creating a space for herself that doesn’t play into old stereotypes.

        If you’re gonna do it, there are worse ways.

  9. Czhorat*

    In my industry there are a LOT of recruiters offering varying levels of value. One thing that makes one seem like a waste of time to me is not really understanding what I do, the limits of what I can do, and what a logical next step in my career would be. I’ve been working in a full-time permanent position and gotten calls about contract work. Sorry, but no. Or roles well more junior (or senior!) to where I was.

    I think Alison’s suggestion of asking about *specific roles* and why they think you’d be a good fit is the way to go. The hard thing is that the better ones might want more of your time; I’ve had a recruiter spend a half hour on the phone with me for just general “what are your goals/salary requirements/wish lists” discussion before matching me with jobs. Is that time well-spent? Maybe. It’s more likely to be a worthwhile use of time than a 5 minute talk with someone who doesn’t ask any questions, but just tosses your resume at whatever clients are at the top of their list.

    1. Wendy Darling*

      In a previous job I trained our contractors, who we hired short-term for specific projects that lasted 3-6 months each — it didn’t make sense to hire permanent staff since each project was in a different location, so we had a few permanent employees who were subject matter experts and others who managed the contractors.

      Every. Single. Time. we started hiring contractors I’d get inundated with emails and phonecalls from recruiters wanting me to quit my permanent role at the company to take a short term no-benefits contract with them instead. If they’d even actually read my linkedin they’d know I was already working on the project they were trying to hire for, but they never did. One time I picked up the phone and was like, oh, you’re hiring for a 3 month contract at X? Yeah, I work at X and that’s the project my team is running. The recruiter was baffled.

      1. Pizza Rat*

        A lot of them don’t read resumes. They do keyword searches and will contact you via blast email if you match one of them.

        I’ve had a recruiter use LinkedIn messaging to ask me to send them the URL for my LinkedIn profile.

  10. blah*

    For LW2, I’m wondering if you were planning on doing anything for Fred’s birthday? I can maybe see getting away with not baking something for Fred as long you still bring *something* (would getting store-bought goods instead of homemade ones still be noticeable? Maybe! But some people truly don’t care, and I guess it’s up to you to gauge that among your direct reports). And if that wasn’t your plan, then it’ll definitely look like favoritism!

    1. MigraineMonth*

      I don’t think the primary issue is the appearance of favoritism (though that’s an issue as well). The primary issue is that LW2 really does see herself as having a much closer, personal relationship with one of her reports than the other. You can’t maintain a personal relationship with your reports, and particularly not with *only some* of them.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        It’s this, I think. I just had this experience last month, when I almost got switched to a team led by one of my friends. My boss intervened, and I did not get switched, and my friend was disappointed and said so. My response was “You would have gained a great employee, but lost a friend.”

  11. ReallyBadPerson*

    LW1: “Being fat or thin is morally neutral. But making rude comments about someone else’s size isn’t.” This is my go-to line now. It is a bit harsh (and I’m generally a people pleaser), but it’s effective and reflects my frustration that people think it’s okay to make those comments to a lean person thinking she will agree.

  12. BellaStella*

    I have a colleague who comments on people’s weight all the damn time. he is special and the favourite tho so no one can shut it down. It is so discouraging but there are some good comments here to reply with so maybe next time I can try to do this.

  13. Juicebox Hero*

    Oh, lord, don’t do anything for one of your reports and not the other. If you were ever been picked last for kickball in elementary school, that feeling isn’t any easier to take as an adult.

    When I started my current job in 2008, the tradition was the birthday person picked what kind of goodies they wanted and the others would pay for them. It so happened that my birthday, March 28, was the first in the cycle of the next new year; I asked for and got bagels. Unfortunately, the office manager’s birthday is April 4 and no one did anything for her (I mean, I had no idea when anyone’s birthday was). There were people in the office who didn’t like her and I’ll bet you a nickel that this was their passive-aggressive way of letting her know it.

    She hit the roof, was almost shouting, and banned any birthday celebrations in office from that point onward. She’s notoriously high-strung and tends to take things personally.

    Thankfully everyone except me and her has been replaced over the years and so there aren’t those kind of playground shenanigans anymore, and I forget how but the birthday celebrations resumed somewhere during the 2010’s and we make darn sure to include everyone. Even the grouchy old bigoted crabby Elvis impersonator that no one really likes.

      1. Juicebox Hero*

        Of course it was, because they had to know how she’d react. I certainly don’t blame her for being upset, and I wouldn’t mind if the birthdays would quietly fizzle out again.

    1. Curious*

      I realize the temptation to exclude the Elvis impersonator, but…
      Don’t be cruel, to a heart that’s true!

  14. I should really pick a name*

    For the recruiter question:

    A legit recruiter with a job in mind will provide you with the job description (usually without the company name).

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      Without the company name, the offered rate (for a contract) or salary range, the location… all of which are important things for me to know *before* I can tell them whether I’m interested in considering it.

  15. aarti*

    You gotta shut down the weight talk, and hard. I have firmly but kindly said things like (We are an almost all female office here) “We support each other in this office and don’t make comments about [weight, size, whatever the case may be].”

    Women can be such harsh critics of women! I remember the time, as the lowest person on the totem pole, when I got the courage to say, “I don’t want to talk like that about my coworkers”. A woman was straight up saying another woman was blowing the director to get her job! WTF! We don’t need to knock each other down we should be building each other up. I was, and am, so proud of myself – I was too low to control anyone else’s behavor, and I got passive aggressive comments for a long time, but I did not get any more blowjob comments.

    Now I am a manager and I won’t allow that kind of talk in front of me. I just had someone say “I don’t understand that, it’s all Chinese” and I corrected her gently, saying we didn’t want to use Chinese as a synonom for confusing so as not to offend actual Chinese people we work with.

    1. GrumpyPenguin*

      There are very weird dynamics that can develop in almost all female offices. Almost all male offices have dynamics on their own, but all of them are unhealthy and destructive. Lots of managers are either completely blind to that or don’t regard it as a big deal, because “that’s just typical male/ female behaviour”. Sooner or later, people will leave, the culture becomes more toxic and nobody understands why.

      BTW, kudos to you for shutting this nonsense down, I really wish I had a manger like that.

    2. lazuli*

      And in the spirit of your comment: “low man/person on the totem pole” is also not a great expression. I also recently found out it’s inaccurate anyway — the bottom of totem poles is usually reserved for the creature/person being given the most honor.

    3. Pizza Rat*

      Yikes! I hate that you had to deal with that crap.

      It’s sad, but true: some women are raised to see other women as competition and anyone with any kind of real or perceived advantage as a threat. It happened to me.

      I had a lot to unlearn. Just one example, my mother told me as a teen that all women were scheming conniving bitches.

      I’m better now.

  16. HonorBox*

    LW2 – You can’t do something for one and not the other. You might choose not to do something for either, and that’s totally ok. Or you could bring in something “for both” once rather than doing something for each individual’s birthday. But if you do something for one, you need to do something that is equal in appearance for the other, else you seem to be playing favorites.

    LW3 – “My calendar is current, and you’re welcome to schedule our chat for anything that is available there.” Give a timeframe if you want, too, if it is something that is more timely. Like, “… you’re welcome to schedule our chat for anything available in the next 7 days.”

  17. It's Marie - Not Maria*

    For the LW asking about Recruiters – I will ask point blank – “Is this for an actual position you have been tasked with finding candidates for, or are you just looking for candidates to add to your bench? If it is for a real, open position, I am open to having a conversation. If not, I do not have time in my schedule for a conversation of that nature.”

    Just about every Recruiter I’ve ever said to who didn’t have an open position paused before they answered me. The Recruiters I have dealt with who had an actual position available usually had an immediate answer. Can it come across rude? I am sure it has, but as a Senior HR Professional, I try to be respectful of candidate’s time, and feel I deserve the same. Don’t waste my time if you don’t actually have a position to fill.

    1. Wendy Darling*

      I had major issues with recruiters telling me they wanted to talk about some very appealing-sounding role but once they actually had my current resume in hand suddenly that role was gone and they wanted to submit me to a bunch of crappy jobs, or just keep my info on file. In one very memorable instance the person brought me in for an interview with the company they wanted to hire me for and lied to my face about the specifics of the role (like, what the work entailed and whether there was a chance to convert to a direct employee) in front of the hiring manager from the client company, who actually interrupted to correct them.

      I just ignore third-party and staffing agency recruiters now unless I’m desperate to change jobs, because I find that in general talking to them is a huge waste of my time. Very rarely has one surfaced a job to me that I did not already know about and was actually interested in.

  18. Alan*

    For #3, this happens to me a lot and I just respond “Please put something on my calendar.” And they either do, or perhaps they don’t and we both forget about it. But I never take on the mental labor of scheduling someone else’s meeting. The only caveat here is that you better then keep your calendar up to date.

  19. Lady of Dusk*

    I worked in the recruiting industry for about a decade. To me the important thing to remember when working with recruiters is that you, the candidate, are not their customer. You are their product. The company they are doing the search for is the customer. They are not there to help you get a job no matter what they say. This makes working with recruiters less frustrating to me because it tempers my expectations.

  20. The Grinchess*

    Ah birthdays. Our office had a simple card and cubicle decoration system going. Now certain people get all out celebrations – massively over the top decorations, flowers, baked goods (yes, plural), balloons, sung to, lunch, and on and on. Other people barely get remembered for desk decorations.

    My birthday has been forgotten two years in a row now. It absolutely is favoritism and it absolutely is high school “mean girls” bs. And it absolutely does force you to view other interactions through that altered lens.

    I hate that stuff so I make every effort to make sure no one in the office is forgotten because it absolutely will hurt feelings and is meant to. It’s work, people. Put your big adult pants on and treat your co-workers how you would appreciate being treated once a year. I think you’ll survive it.

  21. Project Maniac-ger*

    Oh wow I first read #1 as the employee was making weight comments about the MANAGER and the manager found out, hence why she’s personally offended.

    Still bad, don’t say things like that about people, but not as audacious.

  22. Rosacolleti*

    #2 we solved this by randomly drawing birthday buddies who are responsible for proving the cake/bubbles/cheese plate etc to celebrate their buddies birthday. It allows the bakers to go all out of they choose without any weird assumptions of preferenci treatment

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