If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, Don’t Be a Reference

Little of that common wisdom encourages employers to embrace multigenerational workplaces. It’s unfair and I wish you had more recourse. I hope you find a great new employer that embraces all you bring to an organization.

A few years ago, a colleague whom I considered a friend, although not a particularly close one, invited me to their home for dinner. What I thought was a pleasant social evening turned out to be a setup to pry information out of me that was immediately shared without my permission.

Since then, our relationship has been chilly. My colleague’s efforts to exclude me from social gatherings, and to make sure I know I’m being excluded, have recently escalated to middle-school levels of absurdity. It’s things like consistently scheduling events on dates when I said I couldn’t make it, stage whispers with other colleagues about upcoming plans when I’m right there, among other slights. I’m beginning to feel pretty isolated in a workplace I used to feel was quite congenial. Any advice?

I believe that this colleague will probably leave for another position in a few years, so I’m tempted to ride this out because I don’t see how responding to these provocations will have a positive outcome.

— Anonymous

It is astonishing how many people deal with petty torments in the workplace. I shouldn’t be surprised given that I work in academia, a bastion of pettiness, but still … This is a strange, unfortunate situation. You don’t say what the nature of the information they pried out of you is or if anything precipitated such a dramatic shift in behavior from a friendly colleague, so it’s hard to know what’s going on here.

Waiting it out for two to three years is probably the most realistic and frictionless way forward, but that’s a long time to feel isolated in your workplace. Why are your other colleagues going along with this? I have more questions than answers, but you should stand up for yourself! Point out that your colleague is scheduling events when you made it clear you aren’t available. Create your own plans with colleagues. Meet absurd with absurd if you have to.

I work for a nonprofit with more than 800 employees. Salaries aren’t high, but we get a 2-to-1 match on our retirement plan contributions, which is significant. The organization restructured last year, and our retirement plan administrator changed. For one month, we couldn’t make contributions, and therefore didn’t receive a match.

We were told if we made up the amount for that month, we’d get the match at the end of the year. It’s now over a year later, and no one has received the match. HR blames the company that administers our retirement plan and says it is working on a fix. I feel like being over a year late to pay into our retirement plans is wage theft! People have left the organization and I assume they’ll never get the match. Is this worth getting upset over, even though it’s only a few hundred dollars I won’t even get to use until decades from now?

— Anonymous

This is certainly some kind of theft, however unintentional. A few hundred dollars matter to most people, particularly when that money accrues interest over time. Unless they chase that payment, your former colleagues will never see that money, which I’m sure the organization knows.

Those of you still working there should continue to press the issue. You are owed the money and if the situation was reversed and you owed the organization, you can best believe management would do everything in its power to collect.

You have to calibrate how upset you get about this and how much you escalate the issue, with how much you care. This probably isn’t something that requires a scorched earth approach, but you can ask HR for specifics on how the company is working on it and a timeline for resolution. Stay on this until you get the money you are owed.

Write to Roxane Gay at [email protected].


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