Welcome to our latest Bad Advice column! Stay tuned every Tuesday for more terrible guidance based on actual letters.
By The Bad Advisor
“One of the perks provided by my workplace is a paid day off on your birthday (or the day after if it falls on a weekend or holiday) provided by the firm and not taken from your own vacation days, and a gift card which works at several restaurants in our city. Once a month, a cake is also provided at lunch for everyone as an acknowledgement of everyone who has a birthday that month.
There is an employee on my team who was born in a leap year on February 29. Since she only has a birthday every four years, she does not get a day off or a gift card and is not one of the people the cake acknowledges. She has complained about this and is trying to push back so she is included.
The firm doesn’t single out or publicly name anyone that has a birthday. People take the day off and that is it, nothing is said. The gift card is quietly enclosed with their pay stub. The cake is put in the lunchroom without fanfare for anyone that wants some. There is no email or card that goes around and no celebrating at work. If there was I could see her point, but since everything is done quietly/privately, she is not losing out on anything. My manager feels her complaints are petty and she needs to be more professional. I agree with him.
She has only worked here for two years and was hired straight out of university. I want to tell her that she should be focusing on work issues and not something as small as a birthday. If she had a complaint about a work issue it would be different. How do I frame my discussion with her without making her feel bad or like she is trouble? Her work is good and I am sure the complaint is just borne of inexperience and I don’t want to penalize her for it.”
— Via “Ask A Manager,” 29 January 2018
Typically we could blame this kind of petty complaint on the average millennial’s overblown sense of entitlement, but since your employee is only five or six years old by your reckoning, there must be something else going on. You say this employee’s work is good, but is it really good, or is it just good for the average kindergartener? Have you taken the proper steps to protect yourself from potential violations of child labor laws? I realize that’s not what you’re asking about, but you’ve really left yourself out in the open here and I want to make sure all your bases are covered. If your employee is driving a company car while too young for a license, or attending work-related events where alcohol is served, it’s likely you could be liable for any related accidents.
But to the matter at hand: Your employee is fixated, as any child would be, on her own warped sense of fairness. Because she ages at a different rate than other humans, she simply can’t assume that she’ll be treated the same way as other humans — even in the workplace. Some of your employees happen to have an annual birthday, and they need a day off every year to grapple with their speedily approaching mortality and a small gift to soothe the encroaching nightmare of death. This Leap Day worker wants the same benefits these others get, when she has approximately one-quarter the need for them! Patiently explain to her that she’s hurting her career by insisting that the laws of space and time are not uniquely bent in her favor, as if she is somehow being denied the days off and meal perks that other employees are afforded simply because she has been denied the days off and meal perks that other employees are afforded. Of course, by the time she’s old enough to understand this, you’ll have gone to your extremely businesslike grave. But don’t worry — the world will remember you as an eminently reasonable and un-petty manager who died denying a wee child a Bloomin’ Onion, as any experienced career person would do.
“I have three grandchildren who address me as ‘Mr.,’ and not as ‘Grandpa.’ Although it is true that I was not in their lives growing up, I was not a bad or cruel influence. A few years ago, I sent a Christmas gift (a large check) to one of these grandchildren, and I quickly received a nice thank you card, but it was addressed ‘Dear Mr. Smith.’
I was so angry that I never sent another gift and haven’t heard from them since. I am 87 years old. How do I become ‘Grandpa’ before it is too late?”
— From “Want to Be Grandpa” via “Ask Amy,” Washington Post, 21 January 2018
Dear Want to Be Grandpa,
If people who’ve never been told to call you “grandpa” don’t automatically call you “grandpa” after receiving a large cash gift, perhaps it is not really worth having them in your life. But then again, what exactly is family for, if not silently stewing in aggrieved rage at people who failed to read your mind one time? You may already be “grandpa” at heart, if not in name.
“My brother and his wife recently had their second child through induced labor. On the delivery day, my mother asked what she could do to help. My brother asked her to go to his home, which is an hour away, sweep and vacuum the house, change the sheets and do the laundry because they didn’t have time.
I feel it was extremely inappropriate. Picking up diapers and making sure the bassinet has clean sheets are acceptable requests; cleaning the house is not. My mother wasn’t bothered by it, but I am appalled. Am I wrong?”
— From “STUCK IN THE MIDDLE” via “Dear Abby,” 23 November 2017
Dear Stuck in the Middle,
My dear, you are not at all wrong! The correct course of action in this situation would have been to engage in a loud and protracted performance of offense on your mother’s behalf, diverting the attention from your self-absorbed brother and sister-in-law, who were so seemingly obsessed with bringing life into this world that they couldn’t be bothered to assign your mother a task from the widely known “list of acceptable chores for grandmothers.” You should not have stood by for even one moment while your mother expressed her extreme unbotheredness at helping her children in this way — no indeed, only a fit to rival the cry of a newborn would have put right what your sister-in-law put wrong. Your family should have been rent asunder by this unthinkable offense; instead, they are ploughing through as if people are just allowed to decide what they want to do or be mad about or give two shits about, instead of engaging in a showy production about laundry.