update: should I cut my new business partner loose?

Welcome to “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager! Between now and the end of the year, I’ll be running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

We have a lot of updates this year, so there will be a lot more posts each day than usual. Here’s the first one…

Remember the letter-writer wondering whether to cut her new business partner loose? Here’s the update.

First, I really appreciate the commenters. Lots of excellent advice there that was really useful.

Ivy did not react well when I reached out to let her know I was reassessing the situation. She de-activated her remote software and went completely radio silent. My attorney advised me to write her an email with details concerning the issues (dates, times, issues) to highlight the software deactivation, and to let her know considering this, which in our state constitutes job abandonment, I was accepting her resignation. He also stated for the record that these issues were sufficient to fire her for cause, if it came to it, but that calling it a resignation might be kinder. I cannot give her a good reference but we both saw no need to pile on.

Her response was a LOT. She blamed me for laundry list of issues, but she didn’t address the actual issues laid out in my email – failure to respond to clients at all, failure to QA/QC work to the point we could have been sued, failing to send reports to clients after agreeing to do so, and throwing the part-timer under the bus when she was to blame for a late report. The issues she laid out were things she either never raised with me or made no sense to me. I’m not going to adjudicate whether her complaints were valid – but I will say that her failure to address my stated concerns was interesting, along with her choice to raise her issues only when she was presented with my concerns.

That validated for me that while her learning curves were real, her past success with the sub-contracting work I’d given her was not a sufficient predictor for success in this role. Looking back, I also tend to think that she overstated her current technical skills to some extent, but I’m not objective and honestly that’s not the point. Leaving aside my irritation at her response, I feel bad for her. But I’m feeling that compassion for her from a distance that does not impact my clients.

She sent a letter by certified mail a few months later asking that I “confirm that [I] had fired her”. It may have been a bid to support an unemployment claim, but she didn’t work with me long enough to qualify, and frankly, since I could have fired her for cause, she was disqualified on that point as well. I responded via email detailing her resignation and attached the documentation to back this up. Haven’t heard from her since.

Untangling the many, many mistakes she left behind in ongoing reports was difficult, and the part timer was an absolute hero in helping me handle that. We cranked out several complex projects, initiated a partnership with a larger company, and started discussions on a joint venture with another company. Business then got very slow over the summer, so the part timer has taken a different full-time role to pay the bills (which I cheered her on for doing). I’m about to ramp up again, but I have some backup help ready in the wings as needed.

While my decision to bring Ivy on board was not completely based on naïve hopes it was clearly based on incomplete information. I assumed that she understood the role of business partner in the same terms I did. Never mind whether my concepts of what a business partner is supposed to do are in line with typical norms. Without knowing for certain that Ivy agreed with me, we were bound to end up with mismatched expectations and thus a ton of difficulty.

I will keep this business as sole proprietor for the foreseeable future, also. I’d love to have a full partner at some point, but I need more regular work coming in. Seeing a pattern with slow summer seasons tells me I need to bring contracting into line with filling that gap, among other things. But I’m optimistic that business will get steadier as we go.

Thanks again to you and the commentariat!

we have to give slide presentations about ourselves, should I have a no-weekend-work policy for my team, and more

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

1. We have to give very personal slide presentations about ourselves

My office is planning a morning of team-building exercises for the end of the month. We’re all supposed to prepare a Pecha Kucha slide presentation to share. The directions are to answer 20 questions/prompts with images only. The questions/prompts run from “You, as a baby” and “You, as a teenager” to “Your favorite animal” to “What is your actual challenge?” and “How do you live and show your values?”

I am not excited about this. I’m fine with light questions about childhood heroes, but I don’t want to explain my vision for my life and what helps me reach it. I might be overthinking this, I just have to put up an image and talk about it for a few seconds, but it feels invasive. I suspect the solution is to just address the questions as lightly as possible, but I’m wondering if I’m out of touch with sharing expectations?

I think it’s invasive and inappropriate for work, but these sorts of exercises have been getting more popular in recent years.

You’re right, though, that the way to handle it is to treat it as lightly as possible. You don’t have to reveal anything terribly personal about yourself. Stick up a photo of a goth for “teenage you,” pick a work challenge to use for “actual challenge,” and offer up something bland about kindness and compassion for how you live your values.

Really, though, at what point are workplaces going to learn to remember that not everyone had childhoods and adolescences that they care to discuss at work?

we have to make PowerPoints about our personal lives and present them to coworkers

2. Hiring more diverse candidates

I manage a team that is currently all female and the average age is late 40s. When hiring for an entry-level/new grad position, is it okay to favor non-female and/or younger candidates? We work with a diverse population so I would ideally like to have more of a balance of age ranges and genders. Where’s the line between valuing diversity and discriminating against a certain demographic?

Legally, you cannot give preference to candidates by sex or youth. You can do things to increase the diversity of your applicant pool like advertising the job in places where you think more diverse populations will see it, looking for ways to appeal to a wider range of applicants than you’ve traditionally had, etc., but when it comes to deciding who you hire, you can’t consider sex or youth. (The reason I’m saying “youth” and not “age” is because federal age discrimination laws protect people 40 and up so technically you could give preference to applicants 40 and older, but not younger ones.)

3. Should I have a no-weekend-work policy for my team?

I run a small consulting firm of about 20 staff, and we are mostly remote and spread around the country. This was true even before Covid, and we allow the majority of our team to WFH 100% of the time.

As a professional services firm, we operate on a pretty standard Monday-Friday schedule, but over the last year or so we have noticed quite a few people not being available during business hours and instead working across weekends to make up their time. While I get and can appreciate the flexibility this provides in accomplishing other activities not related to work, this “never unplugging” is resulting in some serious burnout which is showing up in a variety of ways, none of which is good for the company. It also means that our clients are having difficulty getting to team members during the business day, which is also a problem.

I am leaning towards a no-weekends policy and have been told by a staff person that people may leave because we would be limiting their flexibility. While I can understand this, it also just isn’t working for us as an organization. Am I wrong to want people to fully disconnect from their work on the weekends?

I think you’re focused on the wrong problem: the biggest issue is that your clients can’t reach people they need to reach during business hours. Focus there.

It’s entirely reasonable to expect people to work during core business hours, particularly when you have clients who expect to reach you then. Require people to work during business hours and then see if you still have an issue with weekend work burnout. (And if people leave over that, they weren’t a good match for your business needs. It’s more than okay to be up-front about what those fundamental needs are.)

4. Can my company deny me unpaid time off for surgery?

I am an hourly employee at a job that receives zero PTO (vacation or sick). Any time you take off is unpaid. Even though time off is unpaid, the company limits us to 40 hours per year of time off. Is this legal? I’m not saying you should take time off willy-nilly just because it’s unpaid, but can you be forced to come in if you’ve exceeded your unpaid time off “allowance” for the year?

I am having surgery soon and my doctor wrote a note saying I need two weeks off for recovery. But I was told I can only take two days off because that’s the amount of unpaid time off “allowance” I have left.

Yes, they can limit how much time off you’re allowed to take each year, even though it’s unpaid.

But it’s really ridiculous to do that in a situation like yours, where you need the time for medical reasons. Any chance you qualify for FMLA? To be eligible, you need to have worked at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months and your company needs to have 50 or more employees … but if you are, it would get you the time you need while protecting your job. (And even if you don’t qualify, your state might have a similar program with a lower eligibility threshold. To check, try searching the name of your state plus “family medical leave” but without the quotation marks.)

Otherwise, you could try saying, “This surgery isn’t optional. It’s medically necessary and I have to get it. Are you saying I will lose my job afterwards, simply because of a short-term medical need?” and “How do I get an exception made?” Also, if the person who said you could only have two days is your manager, skip them and talk to HR instead.

weekend open thread – November 25-26, 2023

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand.

Here are the rules for the weekend posts.

Book recommendation of the week: Family Happiness, by Laurie Colwin. A seemingly perfect wife and mother finds herself having an affair.

* I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

open thread – November 24-25, 2023

It’s the Friday open thread!

The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on any work-related questions that you want to talk about (that includes school). If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to take your questions to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please do not repost it here, as it may be in my queue to answer.

Thanksgiving free-for-all – November 23, 2022

This comment section is open for any discussion you’d like to have with other readers (work or non-work or possibly even entirely dessert-focused if that’s your bag).

Happy Thanksgiving!

the Christmas bureaucrat, Secret Santa questionnaire, and other stories of holidays at work

It’s more holiday stories!

Tradition dictates that as we head into the holiday season, we must revisit holiday stories previously shared by readers. Here are some favorites.

1. The depth of flavor

“Not my story but my dad’s, and it makes me laugh every time. His workplace hosts an annual chili cookoff and everyone would bring in a crockpot of their chili, put it in the kitchen, and then judging and mass chili consumption would happen at lunch.

One year, one of his coworkers brought in an empty crockpot in the morning, took a bowl of chili from every other crockpot and dumped it in his crockpot while people were working, stirred it up and called it his own chili. He ended up winning that year for his ‘depth of flavor,’ and confessed after he got asked for the recipe and had no answer. Everyone wanted to riot!”  (2021)

2. The Secret Santa questionnaire

“When my office decided on a Secret Santa gift exchange, we all filled out short questionnaires (clearly labeled as being for the Secret Santa) that gave us an opportunity to describe things we like and don’t like. I drew my coworker’s name and was curious to know what she’d put about her likes/dislikes. This coworker, despite being very good at her job in many respect, was known around the office as someone who occasionally needed to be reminded to slow down and listen to or read the entirety of what someone was saying before speaking/acting. So I should not have been surprised to see that she’d listed her likes as ‘walks on the beach’ and ‘sunsets,’ or (my personal favorite) ‘making love.’”  (2021)

3. The jazz casserole

“I worked with a very sweet older lady who always hyped up her special casserole for potlucks in this same way. She called it ‘Jazz!!’ casserole and always made jazz-hands when she said the name, which she pronounced with a drawn out A sound, like she was in the cast of Chicago doing a musical number. It was basically pasta and cream of mushroom soup, super boring and not jazzy at all. She was so sweet that everyone took a little bit to be mannerly and told her it was good, which meant that she kept on bringing it to every potluck until she retired.”  (2022)

4. Not a pickle

“One year, I was The Pickle Lady. I was obsessed with pickling, especially lacto-fermented pickles. I pickled anything I could get my hands on and, since my pickling was so prolific, I often shared the fruits of my labours with people in the office. I also talked a lot about pickling and would happily offer guidance to anyone seeking the way of the pickle. This also expanded into talking about making vinegars and kombuchas, and I freely offered bits of my SCOBYs to anyone who would ask. I often joked that I was the Queen of Controlled Rotting. In retrospect, I was probably a little obnoxious, but it was all in good fun.

One sweet, lovely coworker watched all of this happen without engaging with me about it much, so she must have misunderstood how fermentation works. She picked me for Secret Santa that year and when the office got together to open gifts, I ended up opening mine near last. It was this beautiful gift bag, just to my taste, and I pulled out my gift to find … a jar of mold. Just grey-green fuzziness throughout the entire jar. I was deeply confused and not originally sure what it was, so I tentatively opened the jar. The smell was eye-watering to say the least, and it quickly spread to those around me. They reacted with a mix of polite confusion, low-key revulsion, and concealed amusement. After a few jokes and confused noises, we all made nice, set the jar of life aside, and moved on with the party.

Later the coworker came to me, red in the face and with tears in her eyes, asking why everyone had hated her gift. I asked her to clarify what it was supposed to be. She said she knew that I loved all this ‘controlled rotting’ business, so she had put some of her favourite foods in a jar and let them go bad in the hopes that I could use the mold to make my own treats. That way it would be like we were making them together. It was so adorable, so endearing, so loving, and so misguided. I thanked her for her intentions and we were eventually able to laugh about the misunderstanding.

Now I love to tell the story of the time I was gifted a jar of mold.”  (2021)

5. The elf’s vice

“The dreaded Elf on a Shelf got passed around the different departments. At the end of the day, someone from the department that had it last would go to another department and pose the elf. For the most part, it was okay: cute poses with rubber duckies, a little bathroom humor (the elf pooping a Hershey’s Kiss), that sort of thing… until my department got it. He was snorting hot cocoa using a $1 bill besides a naked Barbie doll. I work in HR. The department that left it was Legal! I don’t work there anymore and I’ve banned Elf on a Shelf from my current job.”  (2017)

6. The Christmas bureaucrat

“Last year, the head of our department brought leftover seltzer water from her wedding to the department potluck, slammed it on the counter, and said, ‘I brought this in because nobody wanted it – it tastes like cough syrup.’ Prior to the party, she mandated that the Christmas tree could be no taller than one foot, and demanded a written plan for where we intended to store the department snow man (made out of scraps from a previous project, approximately 10″ tall). I even got a panicked Saturday slack where she needed to discuss holiday decorations with me asap. Needless to say, I left this job shortly afterward.”  (2022)

7. The dance

“Our CEO loved hosting the annual Christmas party as he felt it was his personal thank you to all of the employees. He would spend weeks planning out the decorations, tasting food for catering, hand selecting the gifts, and always made sure there was a huge open bar with premium drinks for everyone to enjoy. The party started at 7 pm, ended at 12 am, and then he would do an extended “after hours” party until 2 am. Needless to say, people wound up pretty wasted at these parties and the CEO was the most wasted every year. Luckily, he was a happy go lucky type of drunk who usually just ended up thanking everyone profusely for their work.

One year the dance floor was pumping and everyone was having a grand old time when the DJ decided to play ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’ (you know, the song from Dirty Dancing). Suddenly the dance floor parted. The CEO stood at one end of the dance floor, zoned into the music. The VP of Sales locked eyes with the CEO and they began to fully run toward each other, each clearly assuming the other would catch him. They leapt into the air with drunken grace and enthusiasm. ::smack:: They landed on the concrete with a smack you could hear over the music and crowd. All we could see was some blood and two bodies trying to untangle.

They had both cracked their heads on the ground and gotten concussions. Neither gentleman wanted an ambulance called so someone’s sober wife packed them into her SUV (each of them with a roadie in-hand) and drove them off to the ER.

The next day we got an email from the CEO with the subject ‘Each Year Gets More Epic’ and a picture of him and the VP of Sales posing together at the ER with stitches on the side of their heads.”  (2021)

8. Excalibur

“We usually have a potluck at the end of the year. Some people make a fancy dish, buy a thing of cookies or chips, a veggie tray, etc. My favorite was last year when someone unwrapped a block of cheddar, put it on a plate and stuck a plastic fork in it. Like it was Excalibur.”  (2017)

9. The cherries jubilee

“Working first position after residency at a smallish regional heart center. The head chef for the cafeteria was a retired Navy cook. Started out on destroyer, finishing as the chef for an admiral. This Christmas dinner at the hospital he went all out for the staff: steamship round, roasted turkey, all of the fixings, all from scratch. His finale was cherries jubilee. He made a great show of the preparation at the center of the cafeteria, then flambéed the concoction, setting off the sprinkler system and soaking all assembled there.”  (2022)

10. The first job

“Many, many years ago, at the start of a new job, I was put in charge of the holiday party for over 200 people. I was young and this was my first professional job in my chosen career field. My boss left on maternity leave with little direction. I got the caterer who did my wedding. My assistant was a party planning expert and she handled decorations, etc. based on previous parties.

It was a fiasco. We ran out of food in about 45 minutes. Before she left, the boss got karaoke for the entertainment and nobody wanted to sing in front of basically a group of strangers with some coworkers thrown in. It was open bar, so everyone sat around and drank … and drank. We had one of our maintenance guys dressed as Santa with a sleigh and artificial snow. He drank too. The end result was not pretty. The next day, Santa had to be bailed out of jail for DUI, the rented Santa suit was a total loss, and the local leadership was scrambling to hide the entire fiasco from our corporate HQ. Yeah, the party the next year was quite different. I was still in charge, we still had liquor, but I learned so much.”  (2022)

11. The hometown hero

“This is actually a heartwarming story that despite being more than 15 years ago still makes me really happy.

So mid-2000s. I worked at a pediatric hospital. Anyone who is in-patient on Christmas day is SICK. There are no scheduled surgeries, everyone who can be safely discharged for a day generally is. It is rough for families who observe.

This is when American Idol was THE thing. And a contestant from our city had done well the prior season — hadn’t won, but kind of ‘hometown hero.’ I didn’t watch the show so wasn’t super familiar, but I’d heard about him. We heard he was visiting with his family. Figured that they’d stop in a couple rooms, get some photos/PR, and go on home.

Readers, I kid you not, this man, his brother, and their parents visited every single child in the hospital. They were there for hours and hours. They put on gowns, masks, and gloves and took them off again. They held babies. They sang carols with families and staff. The singer guy was, uhh, surprisingly handsome in person. He made the adults and teenagers blush with his charm – including me.

I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since. It must have been so exhausting for him and his family — both physically hard, rough on their voices (so much singing!), and emotionally fraught — so much heartache and sadness. But the joy they brought to everyone, including this pessimistic Jewish woman who always works on Christmas cause it isn’t my holiday … well, it was certainly my most memorable Christmas.”  (2022)

the Christmas tantrum, the potluck tyrant, and other tales of holidays at work

Over the years, readers have submitted a tremendous number of amusing stories about holidays at work, and since we’re heading into the holidays we must revisit them. Here are some of my favorites.

1. The Christmas tantrum

“A woman who had worked at our office for more than twenty years pouted and threw tantrums like a child if she didn’t win a door prize at the annual Christmas dinner. Every time someone else’s name was randomly drawn, she would yell, ‘FIX!”’ or ‘CHEAT!’ or something similar. And one year, she just snatched a prize she really wanted from the table and told the person who won the prize, ‘I DESERVE this,’ and walked away with it.”  (2014)

2. The cranberry usurper

“In the pre-Covid days we had a Thanksgiving potluck. I signed up to bring pumpkin pie bars.
Well, I was doing my potluck cooking while also doing my Friendsgiving cooking, making my pie and some cranberry sauce at the same time. In a moment where I forgot how measurements worked I ended up making an absurd amount of cranberry sauce – just over 2 gallons. Friendsgiving was small (6 people) and my family is small (5 people) so I figured I’d pack up half the sauce and bring it to the work potluck since I had it.

This was the wrong decision.

Our office manager had apparently signed up for cranberry sauce and HOW DARE I try to take over her item. She gave the expected greeting to the potluck lunch, burst into tears and then called me out for ‘being disrespectful’ and ‘humiliating her’ and asked me to please come up and throw away my ‘usurper cranberries.’

I did go put them at my desk because WTF but also people still talk about this.”  (2021)

3. Phillippe

“One place I worked had a fruitcake of undetermined origin which had been passed around for at least 10 years (longest tenured employee remembered it at her first holiday party, but it had been there prior to her). It had a name (Phillippe). Whoever won it built a shrine to Phillippe in their cube and proudly displayed it until the next year … Might have been a cheap gag gift, but dang the competition for Phillippe was intense.
The end of Phillippe’s story: An intern won it one year after I left and hadn’t realized that this wasn’t supposed to be eaten. Apparently Claxon Fruit Cake is still edible after at least 13 years. She brought Phillippe II for the next gift swap … All interns are now warned not to eat Phillippe II.”  (2021)

4. The Purim party

“When I took my gap year between high school and college, one of the rabbis on the program hosted a Purim party at his home near the yeshiva (for the non-Jews, what you have to know is that one of the traditions of Purim is to have a LOT of alcohol. Like, a L O T of alcohol. Like, more alcohol than you’re thinking of right now). His rule for the party was that if you came, you were only allowed one cup of wine, with the caveat to that being that you were allowed to bring your own cup … of whatever size you want. This rule was amended to “it has to be an actual cup” after one year a student brought a vase.”  (2022)

5. The brie

“The wildest thing I’ve ever seen, from an academic wine and cheese event, is a person I didn’t recognize marching up to the cheese board, flipping an entire wheel of brie into her purse, and marching back out. I almost respect it for how gutsy it is, but it just shocked me that you’d do this without at least playing the game of pretending to be excited about the forthcoming book/new minor program/new dean of whatever.”  (2023)

6. The unintended message

“When I first started college I got an on-campus job so I mainly worked with other students. As an 18-year-old freshman, I was the youngest person there, and most of the other student workers were between 3-5 years older than me. There was a guy Fergus who was one of the older student workers and I remember thinking that he was very cool and I was much less worldly than he was. He had mentioned going camping several times so I also was impressed that he was outdoorsy (I was easily impressed at the time, and clearly pretty sheltered).

We would all attend the same parties and one weekend Fergus was having a birthday party and he invited everyone from work. I was excited to be invited to the party and went to get him a small birthday present. Since I was too young to buy a bottle of wine and didn’t have a lot of money I went to a store that sold novelty shot glasses because that was the only thing I could think of.

I saw a shot glass that said ‘I Hunt Beaver’ with a picture of a beaver on it and since I was so naive and sheltered I took it at face value and thought it was perfect because he was into “the outdoors” and I assumed that meant hunting. This was also during the time that everyone had ‘vintage’ t-shirts that had random expressions. I did NOT know the other lewd and true meaning of the statement.

So I bought that obscene shot glass and gave it to him at the party in front of people. I remember he looked a bit perplexed but I didn’t think anything of it until another coworker told me what it meant and I was so mortified that I really don’t even remember much about that night afterward and I was too embarrassed to explain to him. I think I avoided him at work for a good two months afterward. Shudder.”  (2020)

7. The Christmas meal

“My office had a Christmas party last weekend! One person had to show up already wasted, of course. We were all eating around one big table at a nice-ish restaurant, and maybe 20 minutes into the meal he hollers at our boss across the table: ‘You know (boss’ name), despite what my coworkers say, I think that you’re a good boss!’

We all sit in mortified silence and the exchange keeps going for several minutes. As soon as my boss is done eating she gets up and leaves without paying for her meal! Said coworker also sang two Robbie Williams songs to/at me in karaoke, pointing and making intense eye contact the whole time. He’s married with children and I’m the youngest woman in the office.”  (2022)

8. The TVs

“At our company holiday party, there were a few huge flat screen TVs in the gift drawing. A big Ohio State football game was on that night, so the owners had four huge flat screen TVs set up on rolling stands in an area for people to watch the game. One exceptionally intoxicated employee grabbed one of the game TVs and started rolling it out to the parking lot, being under the impression they were the TVs from the drawing. He had the back door of his SUV open and was only stopped by the much soberer coworker who he asked to help lift it in.”  (2022)

9. The tyrant

“Currently employed at a very dysfunctional medical office (and seeking other employment), and this is just the cherry on top. The following is from an email about Thanksgiving potluck at the main office (our satellite office is an afterthought).

Greetings Staff,

Can you believe Thanksgiving is literally around the corner? In the past 3 years [COMPANY] has weathered all kinds of storms and with two years and ongoing with COVID we are extremely thankful and grateful. Please join [COMPANY] in our Thanksgiving Celebration family style luncheon this year at the office on November 18 from 12pm-2pm.

To be prepare for the luncheon, I need everyone to do the following:

1. RSVP no later than Wednesday, 11/9 at 12 noon.

2. Along with your RSVP, start thinking of a dish that you can prepare and share.

3. If you are not a good cook OR have cats or dogs that shed, please opt out of food preparation. I recommend you bring drinks, napkins or a purchased dessert.

4. Note on drinks- NO off brand sodas allowed. That is Food Lion, Walmart, store brand sodas, etc. We want the type you see in Soda Vending Machines.

5. Note on desserts. If you are not baking yourself, then do us the favor of NOT purchasing store brand cookies or cakes. Please go to a bakery. This is meant to be a special event.

6. Finally, I will have final say on if a dish is approved or not. Please don’t take offense, I just have a vision of the types of dishes I would prefer. Isn’t Thanksgiving all about good food and communion?

7. Just to remind you, [COMPANY] will provide all the meats – Honey baked Ham, and Turkey. We will need the following categories of food contributed by you:

We will have a limit on the number of dish categories so sign up fast with your favorite dish or contribution.”  (2022)

10. The salad

“Our universally hated lab tech was mulling out loud what he should bring to a company-wide winter holiday potluck. He did not know how to cook, so we offered up many ‘safe’ suggestions (sodas, crackers and cheese, chips, etc.), all of which he nixed. He figured it wouldn’t be too hard to make a tossed salad.

He proceeds to ask everyone in the lab what ingredients everyone would like in this salad he would make for us. Suggestions are made for things like romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, mushrooms, croutons, avocados … wait. Avocados? Well, all right, he’ll get an avocado for the salad. Just for us.

Next day is the potluck. Lab tech comes in with a huge metal bowl, filled to the brim. He removes many of the refrigerated potluck items from the lunchroom refrigerator to accommodate this bowl. Someone discovers this and manages to return everything to the refrigerator, wedging dishes in around this bowl.

Then lab tech starts the day by complaining about this salad.

First, it’s, ‘Okay everyone, I brought a bunch of salad and I expect everyone to eat it. All right? I got most everything you wanted.’

Then he starts grousing about the cost of the ingredients. The mushrooms were omitted because of cost. He almost used CANNED tomatoes instead of fresh because canned was cheaper. Who even thinks of using canned tomatoes in a tossed salad?

Finally, he says he’s very tired, having stayed up ‘all night’ to cut up the salad components. ‘Especially that avocado,’ he griped. ‘That skin was murder to cut up. Almost lost a finger!’

A voice from the next bench asks, ‘You do know that the skin is inedible, right?’

‘Oh, of course, everyone knows that!’

Later that morning someone rushes into the lab to alert everyone to come to the lunchroom.

‘You gotta see this!’

Our lab tech has dumped the entire contents of his salad bowl all over the lunchroom table. Yes, the table from one end to the other is covered in greens. He’s fingering every piece, searching for the avocado, which had been cut into odd-shaped bits smaller than an orange seed. Then trimming off any hint of skin from each itty-bitty piece and returning it to the bowl. He’s so intent on this he doesn’t see the half-dozen faces watching this from the doorway.

We pass the word: Do NOT eat the tossed salad.

So potluck time comes, and no one is touching the salad. A few reach for the tongs, but are stopped and ushered along to the next food items. Later we explain why.

Next day, lab tech chews us out for the expense incurred on this salad. Says we should all reimburse him for what he spent on ‘your salad.'”  (2022)

11. The bourbon balls

“Many years ago, I worked at the corporate office of a regional retailer. I worked closely with the senior VP, and while he could be a pill at times, I genuinely liked the guy.

One year, I found a recipe for bourbon balls that I decided to make up for the holidays. Knowing that the SVP had a giant sweet tooth and also that he was very fond of bourbon, I brought him a container of several dozen bourbon balls, thinking (foolishly) that he’d enjoy them over the course of several days.

He did not spread them out over several days. He chomped through the entire container in a single afternoon, ingesting a significant amount of bourbon and a whole lot of chocolate in the process.

As it happened, that day turned out to be the day the boss was going through the list of employees to decide how much each of us would get for a year-end bonus. And everyone was quite astounded that year at his unaccustomed generosity in deciding the bonus amounts.

For some reason, every year after that, multiple co-workers would pull me aside in early December to urge me to make up another batch of bourbon balls for the SVP the week before Christmas.”  (2022)

12. Something nicer

“One of our coworkers was a daughter of a Laotian immigrant who taught traditional cooking classes at the local community center. Her spring rolls were legendary. The daughter would always bring a large tray – enough for at least 1 per person if not 2 – of them to the annual all-company holiday potluck (300 people). You could always tell when her dish arrived – first you would hear murmurs, then a dull roar, an email would go out, and then a stampede down stairwell. Even people who usually abstained from the potluck would go down and get at least one.

One year…she and the precious spring rolls weren’t there. We found out the mom was in a bad car accident a couple days prior and was not expected to make it so daughter was at her bedside. A collection was taken and PTO was donated (company matched all offerings) and mom sadly passed after a few more days (shortly before Christmas).

First day the company was open after New Year’s there is a commotion at the front door. This employee and her entire family came to the main entrance with THOUSANDS of these spring rolls for the employees as a thank you for donations and financial/PTO assistance. We feasted. I happened to work in the department next to hers and for several months following, whenever she was missing her mother she made those spring rolls and brought some in to share with our floor. I left there 2 years ago but timed my last day to coincide with the annual potluck so I would have one last chance at those spring rolls.”   (2021)

using tracking software to monitor employees, leading the charge for women’s shorts, and more

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

1. Using tracking software to monitor employees

My employer uses tracking software to track remote workers. If they determine you “worked” less than seven hours in a day, you come up on a bad list and can get in trouble.

Thing is, these are exempt workers — mid and senior managers. And how long your mouse is moving on your laptop does not completely constitute the totality of time worked. Many of us work on our phones — especially after hours — attending calls, answering texts and emails and the like … and none of that is counted because there’s no tracking software on our phones.

What do you think of tracking hours “worked” for exempt employees in this manner?

That’s ridiculous. It makes no sense for any job that isn’t entirely focused around typing all day long. And even for those jobs, that kind of monitoring usually means you have management that doesn’t know how to manage; the way you know if people are working or not is by looking at their output, not by monitoring their every movement.

You should ask your manager how they’ll be accounting for the significant portions of your work that don’t take place on a computer.

2. Communicating with a coworker who works a different shift

I’m hoping to get your advice about communicating with coworkers who work different schedules. I’m in a team with two other people, one of whom works a completely opposite shift most of the time. She’s mainly assigned to the team to help when projects get really busy and has other duties that she also works on in the evenings.

Communicating with her can be hard because of the shift differences. Her shift starts a full hour after we’ve already left for the day, so we mostly have to rely on email or Teams messages for communication. Occasionally I’ll stay later to talk with her in person about what’s going on, but we’re paid hourly so have to get any schedule changes approved before doing so.

The issue is that she waits a day before reading and responding to emails or Teams messages. Due to our different schedules, this means that communicating with her takes a minimum of three days. This isn’t great when we’re deep in project season and our tasks are more time-sensitive. I’m not her supervisor so I’m unsure of how to approach this issue without sounding accusatory and I don’t want to ask her to just do the less interesting and less time-sensitive “clean up” parts of the projects, as that seems demoralizing.

Be matter-of-fact about it — treat it as a workflow issue, not a “you’re slacking” issue. For example: “Because our separate shifts mean we rarely get to talk in person, could you try to respond to email and Teams messages the day you receive them? Otherwise our schedules mean that it takes several days to communicate, which is really slowing down time-sensitive projects.”

If that doesn’t work, talk to your manager about what’s going on, since (a) it’s important that she know this is happening and (b) she can exercise authority that you can’t.

3. Time zone etiquette when interviewing

I work as a recruiter for a company based on the east coast of the U.S. We offer remote work and, for most positions, we will consider applicants from anywhere in the country. However, the majority of our employees are based out of our east coast office, and the company operates within east coast business hours.

Is it a red flag when candidates give their availability for interviews in a different time zone? I will frequently get candidates telling me they are available for an interview “any time after 3 pm PST” (i.e., after east coat business hours) or something similar. I can get past having to do the time zone switching (although truth be told, I do find it a bit off-putting), but I find it’s a bigger concern when candidates don’t take into account when their interviewers will likely be available. Among other things, we are looking for candidates who have good interpersonal and communication skills, and candidates who are actually okay with working east coast hours. Someone living in, say, Oregon, who doesn’t want to show up to a meeting because it’s at 6 or 7 am their local time is not going to work out, and I worry that not showing awareness of the time difference during the interview process might be a warning sign of this. Would love to know your thoughts.

I don’t think it’s a big red flag. People are used to giving times in their own time zones, and they don’t work for you yet. Plus, with the increase in remote work, they may not know that the people they’ll be meeting with are all on the east coast; after all, you’re interviewing them to work from the west coast, so it’s not implausible that you’d have other people around the country too. It would be better if they said something like, “Depending on what time zone the people I’m interviewing with are in, that may be too late in the day, in which case I could do XYZ instead” (and if they were writing to me, that’s what I’d recommend). But it’s not terribly worrisome that they’re not, as long as you don’t see other signs that they’ll resist working east coast hours.

Of course, you do need to be very explicit about the hours they’ll be expected to work in their time zone — and their reaction to that is where you should focus your assessment of how okay they are with that schedule.

4. Leading the charge for women’s shorts

I recently started working in an office that’s very casual for the first time as a mid-career employee. If someone showed up here in flannel pajama pants, it might be noteworthy, but it wouldn’t be a problem. It took me a few weeks to notice an unspoken rule — women do not wear shorts. Men wear shorts. Cargo shorts, mostly, but the occasional basketball shorts or more form-fitting shorts. But none of the women wear shorts. If I asked my manager about it, I’m sure he would say it was fine. It’s just … not done. It’s 100 degrees in the summer here. Should I lead the charge to bring women’s shorts into the workplace?


5. My company keeps paying us late

I am based out of California. More than once, my work, which pays twice monthly, has been late to pay us. There is little to no notice. We are not high earners and most live paycheck to paycheck. Although I’ve been vocal about how this affects myself and the staff, nothing changes. What are my options moving forward besides finding a new job?

California is probably the most work-friendly state when it comes to enforcing employment laws, and particularly its paycheck law. Your state has — and is very willing to assess — strict penalties and fines on employers who pay employees late. You can file a complaint with the state department of labor here.

the bacon monitor, the baby boom, and other stories of holidays at work

Over the years, readers have submitted a tremendous number of amusing stories about holidays at work. Here are some of my favorites.

1. The cook-off

“Our office had a chili cook-off once. The morning of the potluck, it was announced that due to inclement winter weather and some people not being able to make it into the office, the potluck was canceled. Most people took this news with a normal level of disappointment.

A colleague of mine, Barb, had a crockpot of chili cooking at the office. Chaos erupted when Barb read the cancellation email. Yelling, punching things at her desk, crying, screaming, etc. She called HR (who had decided to cancel the potluck, the perpetrator in Barb’s mind) and chewed them out abusively over the phone, and then called her husband to blow off steam, and a handful of others. She yelled and cried at the office for 3 or 4 hours. (It was awful and I complained to her boss.) She ended up demanding that HR reimburse her for the chili ingredients, and they did.

At future potlucks, Barb proudly announced to anyone nearby on potluck day that she didn’t bring anything to the potluck. According to her, she had special permission from HR to attend potlucks without contributing to food (as was the office etiquette) as retribution for how they ‘screwed her over.’ We never had a chili cook-off again.”  (2022)

2. The apricots

“My BigLaw firm, pre-2008-recession, threw serious events/parties. At one event for ‘alums’ (i.e., for firm lawyers to schmooze with/try and get business from former firm attorneys now in house), every conference room on our meeting floor was a different theme. I was talking to a friend in the cheese room (which had assorted platters overflowing with cheeses, crackers, nuts, dried fruits, etc.) and saw my friend’s eyes go wide as she hissed, ‘Be casual, but turn around slowly.’ I did, just in time to see a partner who was the head of her practice group and easily making a few million dollars a year tip the ENTIRE PLATTER of dried apricots into her designer bag. It had to have been several pounds worth. She then casually turned and walked out of the room. We speculated about ‘Tammy’ and why the heck she needed so many apricots for years.”  (2023)

3. The bacon monitor

“In one of my last jobs, our party planning committee, used to do company-wide catering for most major holidays. I swear, every single time we did a breakfast one and included bacon, we always had to have a member of the committee stand watch as the ‘bacon monitor’ and count how many pieces of bacon each person had. Apparently, a few years before I started, some people would pile a plate full of nothing but bacon, and no one else would get any.”  (2017)

4. The baby boom

“My former company had a fancy dinner at a hotel party with an open bar. It was a great event. Many people got hotel rooms but my spouse and I went home. I must have missed something because HR sent out an email saying that in the future there would be a two drink limit, beer and wine only, no shots or hard liquor.

And as a side note, almost exactly 9 months later there was a minor baby boom in the company.”  (2022)

5. The engineers

“I love the engineering department at my old job for being The Most Engineers.

Their holiday gift exchange is: everyone who wishes to participate brings a $15 gift card. The gift cards are placed in a bowl. Everyone removes one (1) gift card. End of exchange.

Last year they had a festive holiday presentation on environmental compliance policies because ‘everyone’s already in the same room.’ The compliance people put some holly on the first page of the PowerPoint.”  (2022)

6. The light apps

“My worst story is a Friday night holiday party with one round of light apps (at dinnertime) and an open martini bar. People got blackout drunk whether they meant to or not. Nobody could look at each other the following Monday.

Highlights: One guy withdrew the max from an ATM and gave it to a stranger. A male supervisor patted a female staffer on the butt. There were martini races. I got a piggyback ride from the IT guy to another bar. Underage interns were served. There was a conference call the next day to try to piece everything together.

And that is the last time we had an event with almost no food.”  (2023)

7. The locked bathroom

“My husband had a fabulous over-the-top company Christmas party at our house every year for his small company. In our town, the university was famous for their co-op program and the company had several science students. One got really drunk and managed to pass out in our rather small powder room. His immediate manager tried to rouse him by banging on the door and couldn’t, so we got worried. He had fallen forward so even picking the lock didn’t work. The door had to be smashed off its hinges and removed.

All was eventually forgiven and he was hired when he graduated, but never lived it down.”  (2022)

8. The lawyer

“The most epic work-related celebration of the holidays that I encountered during my working years involved a three-day, that’s THREE-DAY, party put on by an attorney who worked with a lot of federal agencies and courts. It was basically an open house with free-flowing booze and catered food. It started as a half a day event, but so many people wanted to attend that it was expanded to a full day, then two days, then three. Some people in my office would take PTO so they could attend all three days, for the full 10 hours or whatever it was. I swear a couple of folks stayed drunk the entire three days and slept on the floor of their offices. There was great grief in the legal community when this attorney retired and the parties stopped.” (2022)

9. The gazpacho

“A coworker once brought in gazpacho (soup that’s served cold) and couldn’t understand why there was so much left at the end. We all thought it was salsa and ate reasonable salsa-sized portions with the tortilla chips that were placed directly next to it. The ladle and bowls did not tip us off.” (2022)

10. The Christmas countdown

“I once had a coworker who lodged a complaint with her manager’s manager that her manager was making her take her hours to Christmas countdown (yes hours, not days) off a whiteboard that was needed for something else. Wasn’t even like it was the week before Christmas at that point, pretty sure it was at least a month before. She was getting up and changing it a few times a day.”  (2017)

11. The casino

“There was a workplace where the Christmas party was a big buffet lunch with theme entertainment afterwards. We did have to pay for our tickets, but not too much. They kept adding more themes onto the most popular ones from previous years, like line dancing from the western one and leis from the Hawaiian one. Also, there were once piñatas, so they kept doing those. The casino was so popular that they found more themes (Vegas, Mardi Gras, and I forget what other theme) that gave them an excuse to keep using the games of chance, which had mostly been custom-built on site.

It turns out that it’s very hard to build a perfectly-balanced spinning wheel (like a Wheel of Fortune wheel), so I would just watch for a couple of rounds to remind myself which was the favored segment, and would then win more play-money playing the game of supposedly-chance than my colleagues who thought they were poker stars.

And then there was an auction for all kinds of odd prizes with the play money, usually culminating in one of the male workers jumping out of a box in a costume. And did I mention that the play money all had the department head’s face on them, and there was a big discussion whether or not to reprint when we got a different department head, considering which of the department heads would be more offended not to be on the money.”  (2017)

12. The reply-all

“My organization hosts an annual Christmas party where staff, spouses, volunteers, and board members are all invited. We get an email sent out when tickets are available so that we know when to go ahead and get them.

A few years ago, one of the board members accidentally hit Reply All to the ticket announcement email and asked the organizer to ensure that he wasn’t seated with our volunteer firefighters, since he was stuck at their table the year before and none of them wanted to talk to him. Within a minute, someone else had hit Reply All again saying that he would be honored to be seated with those firefighters, as they’re willing to risk their lives to keep our community safe. A few other emails went flying back and forth congratulating the firefighters for their hard work, and the board member soon sent out an apology email.

To make things even more awkward, one of the people making a speech at the company Christmas party did take a few minutes to commend our volunteer firefighters. I’m sure the board member couldn’t have looked any more uncomfortable as the rest of the room toasted them.” (2018)