Weaver, a columnist at The York Times, answers a reader’s question about handling free food at the office.
Q: My manager is a nightmare. Name anything that shows the worst of bad management and she’s done it, including presenting my ideas brazenly as her own.
Recently, I did a favour for a colleague, not a personal favour but a work favour. As a thank you, she surprised me by bringing in a box of fancy mini pastries, two dozen, for me and to share with my team.
My manager sits next to me. After my colleague had walked away, the manager commandeered the pastries. She gave me one, then walked around dishing out one here and another there to people she likes, leaving out my team. With about 18 pastries left, she put them under her desk, telling me she was taking the rest home to her family.
Besides my horrible manager, I like the company and I don’t want to quit. What, if anything, could I have done so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again? I am furious.
A: Gifts shouldn’t have stipulations. If I’d been you, I probably would have joked to the pastry giver: “To share? Yeah, right!” and while everyone was chuckling, quietly placed the pastries in my desk drawer for consumption by me alone. They’re mini.
One interpretation is that your manager is a true-blue psychopath who remorselessly stole your gift before your very eyes.
More likely, your manager is simply a jerk who didn’t quite understand what was happening in that moment: that the treat was in recognition of your extra work. Is it possible she felt that she, as the supervisor, had delegated the work favour to you, therefore it was her thanks for effective management?
This interaction is so strange and specific I cannot conceive of what a second instance of “this kind of thing” might be, let alone envision the conditions that would result in such events becoming recurring.
What you could have done is that the moment you sensed she intended to move the goodies to a second location, you should have said: “I’m going to send an email to make sure the team knows we got these as a thank you,” and then sent one.
That way, even if she had, bizarrely, hand-delivered mini pastries only to her favourite people, she would have been publicly identified as their custodian. When team members came calling, you could have turned to her and asked: “We still have some of those mini pastries, right?”
Mistakes become harder to correct with every passing second. By the time she tucked that box under her desk with no protest from you, her error had become your reality. I maintain you could have corrected her then, even if awkward. I encourage everyone to tolerate low-grade social awkwardness whenever possible; it improves character.
I’m relieved that this incident did not make you want to quit a job you like, where you apparently are liked or at least appreciated by your colleagues.
You will be happier if you kept your interactions with and thoughts about your manager to a polite minimum and focused on those aspects of work you enjoy and your favour-driven cultivation of generous supporters.
This article first appeared in The New York Times.