Defund the food police

Q: I am a senior leader in a large health care system. In my department’s break room, I noticed a small, empty wicker basket. I started to fill it (anonymously) with individually wrapped chocolates I buy personally, as a small morale booster. Every week or so I refill the basket. Last week I walked into the office of one of my direct reports for a brief meeting and noticed on their desk a small pile of Hershey Kisses, likely taken from the basket in the break room.

This employee is a high-performing, outstanding individual. They are also quite overweight. I said nothing, of course, but now am wondering: Am I contributing to this person’s weight problem, with all its attendant health risks, or am I just doing something nice for the office staff, or both? Do I continue to fill the basket with chocolates? — Anonymous, New Hampshire

A: Your employee’s weight is not a problem. Your employee’s weight is none of your business. What they eat is none of your business. Your employee is a high-performing, outstanding individual, in your words. That is all that matters.

Their health is not your business, and you should not make assumptions about what their health is or is not. Keep filling the basket with chocolates or don’t, but stop obsessing about someone else’s public body and private life. It is fatphobic and unkind and unnecessary.

Funny money

Q: I work as a contractor, freelancing on a large project I really enjoy for a project manager I love — with a co-worker who has me pulling out my hair. We are both working on the same project, for which we bill hourly. We do the same set of tasks, but my colleague works much less and bills more hours. On the list of nearly identical tasks for this project, I’ve completed 75% of the tasks to her 25%, and our project manager — who doesn’t seem to be aware of the division of labor — recently let slip that my colleague has been billing more hours than I have. I don’t think my colleague is patently dishonest or even a bad person. I think she’s very, very slow and fudges her hours.

I don’t know whether to bring this to my project manager’s attention. Normally, what another person earns is not my affair. And I don’t want to create bad feelings, especially between me and my project manager, for whom I’d like to work a lot more. But the other freelancer and I are paid out of the same pot of money. We’re actually competing for it — for time and for dollars.


My project manager is blinding herself to what’s going on because it’s easier than having to confront an often challenging person. Of course, the injustice stings. But I’m not sure I should say anything, though I am the only person in a position to do so. — Anonymous, California

A: Your colleague’s business is none of your business. This isn’t injustice. Injustice is … voter suppression or police brutality or any number of truly horrible things. This is frustrating and, perhaps, unfair. I hear your frustration. I do. Our co-workers often do maddening things. They seem to get away with behaviors we would never get away with or even attempt.

I want you to think about why this bothers you so much. Why do you care? You don’t think your colleague is “patently dishonest or even a bad person,” right? Your colleague isn’t really taking money you would otherwise receive. She is earning money for work she performs, just like you. If you genuinely think your colleague is doing something nefarious, let your manager know, and then it is up to her to handle the matter.

If your colleague, however problematic in other ways, just works more slowly and differently, let it go. Or work more slowly yourself. The only thing you can really control in this situation is you, and I don’t think it serves you or your well-being to obsess over this.

Divorce court

Q: In a small argument, not related to work, my husband basically told me I am worthless, that my salary (with benefits) does not make enough compared to the pension he started receiving at age 60 (he’s been unemployed for four years, and he is still looking for work). How do I counter this language being thrown in my face?

I did stay home to take care of the kids and clean the house and shovel the snow and take care of the lawn and garden and took garbage to the dump and food shop and cook all the meals, plus nursed sick kids (and husband), chauffeured, tutored, counseled, among many other things. I felt that was the contract; if I was not “making money,” I would do this essential, can’t-ignore job called housewife. I took a part-time job when the kids were in middle school and am now employed full-time with benefits, which has helped us tremendously since my husband lost his job.


We are both in our 60s, and I want to get some respect for the steady contributions I have given to the household. — Anonymous

A: This is not a small argument. When one person in a marriage or committed relationship stays home to raise the children and care for the home, that person is doing incredibly important work. Homemaking is a job that isn’t neatly contained within traditional working hours. It requires multitasking, flexibility, patience and endurance. You certainly have my respect. I know how hard that job is.

Counter the language being thrown in your face by divorcing your husband. This is one of those instances where you need to get rid of the whole man. You are young, yet. You deserve better than to spend your golden years with someone who doesn’t respect your contributions to the nurturing of your home, your family and now your career that provides financial support to your shared household.

I jest, but also I don’t. It is deeply unkind for your husband to say that you’re worthless. It is also incredibly wrong. You are far from worthless, not only for what you contribute to the household but also for who you are. It is nearly impossible to get respect from someone who is unwilling to give it. You took care of him and your children for many years, and if he doesn’t recognize that contribution after all this time, he likely never will.

You could certainly move your money to a separate bank account to which he has no access, remove him from your benefits, stop cleaning the house or cooking for him, and then maybe he will understand your significant and invaluable contributions while you enjoy a well-earned break from your domestic responsibilities. I do hope that you and your husband can come to a place of mutual respect and understanding, but if you can’t, know that you are an invaluable person and you deserve to be surrounded by people who recognize your worth.