Smile! We’ll Remember This Forced Fun Forever

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Not Into Group Photography

My company is planning an off-site all-company retreat. As we are a virtual company, I am very excited to meet my co-workers. Management has planned one event, however, that I am dreading. They are buying everyone matching company T-shirt and taking various group photos to use on social media.

We are a small company, so I will be visible and recognizable in these photos. I am a very private person and don’t use social media, but many friends, colleagues and clients do. I am mortified at the thought of being in these photos that will be posted publicly, and having anyone I know see them, particularly my clients and outside colleagues.

We are a professional services organization and most of us are over 40 and have postgraduate degrees. Group photos in matching T-shirts feels silly and unprofessional (and frankly, embarrassing). It’s the kind of thing I would expect from a start-up of 20-somethings trying to build brand recognition, not a bunch of middle-aged professionals.

Is there any way for me to get out of this without seeming like a complete party-pooper?

— Anonymous

Your reaction to this fairly harmless team-building activity is pretty intense. Why is that? Now, I hate having my picture taken, and I’m not a fan of mandatory fun, so I don’t judge your distaste for a group picture. But what is so mortifying about wearing a company T-shirt with your colleagues? Why would anyone in your life think anything negative or judgmental if they saw these images? It may well be silly, but it isn’t unprofessional.

I hear that this is not something you want to do, but people over 40 with advanced degrees take group pictures sometimes. If you don’t want to take the group picture, don’t. It will be fine. Just tell your colleagues you would like to opt out. You don’t have to explain yourself. You’re allowed to have boundaries. I hope the rest of the retreat is wonderful.

What Do I Really Owe?

I recently completed my master’s degree, thanks to my company’s tuition reimbursement program. Since my employer took on the financial component of this schooling, I owe them three more years or else I will need to pay back the reimbursement in full.

For lots of organizations, usually a higher degree would equal a higher salary, although I know it is not guaranteed. Even so, this was a big part of the reason I wanted to obtain a graduate degree. My yearly review is coming up, and I would love to discuss the possibility of a raise now that I have a master’s. Because my organization paid for it, I feel like I don’t have a leg to stand on.

I have also been hoping to ask about a promotion, but I have been told we do not have the budget for it. I have already spent three years in my current role and am doing work beyond the scope of my job description. How can I negotiate this when the organization has already put a decent amount of money into me through schooling? I understand that it has essentially paid me in the form of a degree, but I also feel I deserve some recognition for the hard work I did to obtain the degree and the tasks I have been doing outside of the parameters of my current job. This is leaving me frustrated with my job, but I also do not have the option to apply for jobs elsewhere because I cannot afford to take on the debt from my master’s degree.

— Anonymous

Your job has not paid you in the form of a degree. Tuition reimbursement is one in a suite of benefits employers offer to recruit and retain talent. It’s fine to be grateful for the benefit, but you earned it. You don’t owe your employer anything beyond continuing to do your job well and, as mandated, staying for the next three years.

If you feel you deserve a raise, ask for a raise. Unless it’s a very small company, I doubt your taking advantage of the reimbursement benefit is even on your manager’s radar. Make some notes to yourself about why you merit a raise and/or promotion, and when you feel the time is right, make the appeal. You may not get what you want, but there is no harm in asking.

Now, in terms of recognition for the work you did to obtain the degree, sure, that’s a human thing to want but this is your employer. Though they clearly benefit from your advanced education, your employers aren’t family members or friends so they aren’t really going to care about work you did, of your own volition, for your own betterment. Look for that validation elsewhere.

A Little Gratitude Would Be Nice

I’m a 37-year-old manager of a nursing home. I have an outstanding employee I hired two years ago as a new college grad. I taught him everything and put him through an administrator-in-training apprenticeship, which he completed. He is great for our business and helps ensure everything runs smoothly. Recently, I made him an excellent offer. After some negotiations, he signed the offer letter for his new position: an assistant administrator. Four weeks later, a recruiter called me to say my outstanding employee is about to sign elsewhere. I confronted the employee and he has tried to backtrack saying he hasn’t signed elsewhere, and that he was only “talking” to other employers.

Meanwhile he confided in a nurse that he got two job offers, and he was countering them on terms. He said he can’t shake the feeling that he wants to go somewhere and be the boss. He can probably get a job as an administrator elsewhere, but I feel he doesn’t appreciate how good I have been to him. I really saw growth opportunities with him. Several co-workers and I think he lacks the finesse and emotional intelligence to be “the boss” right now and needs more experience. I am paying him well. I’ve treated him how I would have wanted an employer to treat me at his age.

I asked him to either give me one year of professional courtesy in his current job (which he began four weeks ago) or leave in 30 days. He said he’ll let me know in two weeks when he returns from vacation. I am left waiting in suspense. Does this mean I should be interviewing candidates for his role? What if I find someone better and cheaper? I am hurt because I feel betrayed. Is this because he is a straight man and I am a gay man, and he has made clear to me that we don’t agree politically? He’s a great employee. Is loyalty to a good employer dead? Is this a Gen Z thing?

— Anonymous, California

You’re taking your colleague’s choices (however inadvisable you think they may be) way too personally. We are supposed to be good to one another in both our professional and personal lives. Treating your staff well isn’t something that requires deference in return, and it’s a shame that social mores have degraded to such a point. Your frustrations are understandable in that you’ve clearly invested time and energy in your employee. You have feelings and they’re hurt, and you should separate that from the professional decisions you need to make. It sounds like this young man wants to run before he walks.

I don’t think he is doing this because you’re a gay man. He’s just being young and irresponsible. As someone with more experience, you know he is being premature but lots of people take on jobs they aren’t ready for and either succeed or fail in growing into those positions.

Right now, just wait the two weeks for your employee’s decision. It doesn’t sound like that will greatly affect the management of your operation. When you know if he is staying or going, develop a plan for moving forward. Of course, you also have the option to let him go and start the hiring process for someone new, but I imagine that would be more a panacea for your hurt feelings than anything else. As for loyalty, I’m pretty sure loyalty to a “good employer” died when people started realizing that loyalty in the workplace goes only in one direction most of the time.

Is There a Diet for Diet Talk?

A few of my colleagues are really into talking about diet culture at work. Some of my team members spend too much time (any time is too much, IMO) talking about juice cleanses, cutting out sugar and diets. What’s a work-appropriate way to ask them to stop?

— Anonymous

People who love talking about diets and the surrounding culture really seem to love it or feel a compulsion to perform being good, disciplined people who watch their weight and blah blah blah. The next time your team members spiral into one of these discussions, simply ask if you can talk about something else. Or raise a different subject.

If you’re feeling up for it, share that you find diet talk harmful and are trying to foster a healthier, more gentle relationship with your body and food. Make reading suggestions like “Fat Talk” by Virginia Sole-Smith, “The Body Is Not an Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor, “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat” by Aubrey Gordon or “Weightless” by Evette Dionne. And know that you can also just walk away. We can’t necessarily control what others want to talk about, but we can control what we’re willing to expose ourselves to.

Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributing opinion writer. Write to her at [email protected].

Roxane Gay is an endowed professor of media, culture and feminist studies at Rutgers, the author of the forthcoming “Opinions” and a contributing Opinion writer.

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