Q: I run a small startup and employ many young female employees. As is standard for the startup world, we buy kitchen items for our staff, including snacks, beer and wine, paper towels and facial tissues. We have a board in the break area to indicate what items we are getting low on. My employees keep putting feminine sanitary items on that board. I quizzed building maintenance and found that these items are for sale in all the ladies’ restrooms for 25 cents each. Should I buy these items with corporate money, and how can I justify it one way or the other? — ATLANTA
A: How nice that you keep your staff well fed and with access to multiple booze options. While it is of course not necessary for workers to have access to Kind bars and hazy IPAs in the office, it is a nice way for you to show them that their happiness matters. You know what is absolutely necessary for workers to have access to? Tampons and pads! Why are we having a conversation about how to justify the cost of necessary hygiene products when kegs and chardonnay are considered essential!
Now, I’m sure you pay your employees handsomely, Atlanta (and that you’ve made very sure that there’s no pay gap between your male and female staffers), so it’s probably true that paying 25 cents a tampon is not cost-prohibitive for any of them. It is also true that the realization that you don’t have a quarter and your period has come a day early is among the worst feelings in the world.
Your well-paid employees also could surely afford their own snacks, but you have wisely decided that offering some options is a cheap, easy way to make people more satisfied at work. Now you want to undo all that good will by telling a significant portion of those people that you can’t “justify” the cost of products they need for their physical health. A box of 96 tampons will run you 15 bucks at Costco, which is a small price to pay to not look like a total jerk.
I must beg you to calm down
Q: I interviewed for a big job three weeks ago, and was told it went very well. Now all I have gotten is a call from the recruiter saying, “Sorry, I don’t know what’s going on.”
Are these red flags too big to be further interested? I really want this job. Help! — D.M.
A: Hiring makes people crazy! On the candidate’s side, you can’t resist interpreting every tiny sign to mean a thousand things it doesn’t. On the company’s side, you have to deal with the HR department and the budget and seven executives’ opinions about which person will magically fix every institutional problem the moment they walk in the door. It’s a nightmare for all involved, and while hiring managers should of course be more cognizant of applicants’ neuroses, the applicants could stand to be a little less neurotic. A three-week delay doesn’t mean you’re out of the running. If you haven’t heard back in two more weeks, send a polite check-in. Until then, please download a meditation app.
Ashamed of an alma mater
Q: I am a senior executive in a large multinational company. I love my job, and am considered a capable leader. However, I carry a dark secret: 25 years ago, I got my undergraduate degree from a no-name school in the Deep South. I received a good education, but since graduation I have encountered reactions like “Why would you go there?” I did my MBA several years later at a prestigious European business school, where many of my classmates would be gobsmacked to find out that their erudite and cosmopolitan classmate had country-bumpkin credentials.
My next career step could be a prestigious position in the U.S., and I live in fear that I will be “exposed” when I apply. Even if I get the role, I worry what the announcement email (which usually mentions educational background) will sound like to my colleagues. I know this seems superficial and petty. But my real issue is that my undergraduate degree does not go with my self-image as a world-traveling, New Yorker-reading, Amalfi-vacationing executive.
I could live with it if I had simply gone to a public university in the Midwest, but how do I get over my insecurity of my having a calling card from a state which is synonymous with slavery in the past and retrograde policies in the present? — R.A., SINGAPORE
A: Good lord, I am newly stressed out about all my life choices just reading this, so thanks for that. What do you say we all decide right here and now to not be the people who judge people based on where they went to college, nor the people who are still worried about where they went to college 25 years later?
There is no reason to care where any adult went to college. The vast majority of jobs that “require” college degrees do not in fact require any knowledge you learned there, and many of the vaunted “critical thinking” and “ways of knowing” skills that colleges purport to develop are easily built through just working and living in the world. For the vast majority of the professional class, the entire point of college is checking a résumé box and building a network of those who also aspire to be New Yorker readers and Amalfi vacationers. I don’t doubt that people have said upsettingly snobbish things about your hard-earned degree, but I also think you’re blowing up a few offhand comments, when it’s likely that no one really cares where you went to school. Look at it this way: You likely got to the same place as your senior-executive colleagues with far less student debt than most of them.
The issue of the South’s reputation is trickier, but you are not responsible for those policies. Donate to civil rights groups, and share your feelings with your colleagues. List your alma mater on your résumé and be prepared to talk about what you gained from that experience. If college boasting arises at parties, note how silly it is to be talking about decisions made decades ago, but don’t act cagey about where you went. And for bonus anti-snobbery points, I beg you, stop bragging about where you vacation.
Work Friend is a cheeky New York Times advice column to help with careers, money and the sometimes grim, sometimes hilarious maze that is the contemporary office, from a rotating cast of advice-givers. Email questions to email@example.com.