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The Bad Christmas Boss

So here’s my story of a bad boss at Christmas. Sorry, it’s long:

Background: I worked for a group of contractors who were entrenched at a manufacturing site, “Widgets”, working in their offices on their property. After many years, Widgets was sold to a larger company. The new owners pushed our contracting group offsite and let it be known that while they would continue to give us some work, we would no longer enjoy the access that we used to have to Widgets’ information and facilities. We went from being basically co-workers with Widgets’ own employees, to just-another-group-of-contractors among several. Well, life happens. The original Widgets employees were no happier than we were about it, but we all carried on.

Before the sale of Widgets, we would often combine with a close group of Widgets employees for pot lucks, holiday dinners, retirement parties, etc., but that ended with the new Widgets owners. So, for my group’s first Christmas after being “kicked out”, we had a potluck dinner in our rented office (Only money for a ham was provided by our own corporate offices for our Christmas dinner) and invited the Widgets group we worked with the most closely in the past, making the dinner head count consist of about 22 of us contractors and 8 of Widgets employees. We had a really good time.

However, the new owners at Widgets were ruthless – by next Christmas, most of that group of Widgets employees that we had invited the previous year had been replaced, because of retirement, firing, or quitting when they could no longer take it. We barely knew some of the replacements by name, much less in person, and they seemed uninterested in furthering the acquaintanceship. My own group had been downsized to about 14 employees. So when it came time for my company’s next Christmas potluck in our new location, a few of our employees suggested that we simply have a dinner just for our own group this time. It had been a rough year, seeing several of our own people laid off, and saying farewell to some longtime friends at Widgets as well. Two of our employees had planned to be on vacation at that time, so only 12 of our group would actually be there at the potluck.

Our boss was adamant – we needed to invite Widgets people with whom we worked rather closely. So, our admin drew up a list of about five names of Widget employees and asked if there were any others who should be added. The boss submitted his list of names that must be invited. His list brought the number of Widgets employees up to sixteen! There were only twelve of our group, and sixteen of the Widgets employees, and he expected our employees to provide the food for this meal, but he assured us that he had corporate’s agreement to provide a ham again.

To understand this better – my group received no bonuses or Christmas gifts of any kind from our employer, except for that one ham for our group meal. To keep our bids super competitive, our salaries were much lower than those at Widgets – my counterparts at Widgets, for example, made $20,000/year more than me at a minimum – the ones with my experience made nearly twice as much as I did. This Christmas dinner for our group was to be our only celebration and we were being asked to basically cater for a larger group of people than ours, all of whom made much better money than us, and most of whom didn’t know us and showed no desire to do so, just because it was “good client relations.” Admin asked the Boss if he was sure this was the best way to wish his own employees “Merry Christmas,” by asking them to do this much work, and out of their own pockets to boot. She mentioned that a few employees had been quite startled to be told that their selected dish that they had planned to bring would have to feed almost 30 people, not 12. A couple of employees had asked why we had to invite anyone else at all, since the early indication had been that it would indeed be just our group this year. Most felt, but didn’t want to be quoted, that if it was “good customer relations,” then our company should pay for the meal.

In response, the Boss, who was normally a nice enough, if often insensitive guy, cancelled the dinner completely, then sent out a blistering email to our group, berating (unnamed) employees who had “forgotten the meaning of Christmas – giving” and accusing them outright of selfishness. We are talking employees such as the mother going through a divorce, the spouse of a disabled person, a newlywed just starting out, a man trying to help pay for his failing parents’ nursing care in their home, a veteran recently returned from overseas…. Yes, such greedy, selfish employees! I don’t know what the boss was thinking, but it was right then that I began my search for my new job. 1214-18

{ 31 comments… add one }
  • Marie December 17, 2018, 6:21 am

    OP, I hope you find a new job soon! This isn’t a healthy place to be!

    While my company does take care of my, my department head annoyed me this year. Our team switched departments this year, and we were now invited to the annual Christmas lunch. In our old department we went out to a nearby restaurant for Christmas lunch, but the one we invited listed our HQ as the place.
    We all assumed there would be sandwiches by our caterer. But, after we all accepted, we were told it was pockluck and we should inform everyone which dish we’ll bring. When I mentioned I was suprised that it was a potluck as this wasn’t clear on the invitation, I was told “it’s a potluck every year, you should know this”.
    There were about 15 employees that were new to the department or the company al together, so I wasn’t the only one suprised. Luckily we have a nice and healthy work environment, so we could just laugh this one off.

  • Rinme December 17, 2018, 6:26 am

    It sure is nice to practice “giving” on someone else’s dime!

    You’ve obviously made the right decision, OP. I hope your job hunting journey wull be quick and fruitful.

    • OP December 17, 2018, 10:46 am

      I found another job, where the bosses take us all out to a very nice restaurant for the holiday, and hand us a bonus as well.

  • Ultrapongo December 17, 2018, 7:25 am

    Is your boss Pointy Haired?

    • Babs December 17, 2018, 3:28 pm

      You have to read the comic strip Dilbert (as we do) to appreciate this comment!

  • Yasuragi December 17, 2018, 7:44 am

    It is my experience that whenever Person A calls Person B selfish it is because Person B won’t give in to Person A’s own ridiculously selfish request.

    Of course, people are often selfish and it causes arguments. But thinking of the times I’ve actually heard the words “You’re going so selfish!” and it is almost always projection.

    • Yasuragi December 17, 2018, 9:57 am

      *being. Le sigh.

  • Pep December 17, 2018, 8:01 am

    Ouch. That boss is sadly out of touch. There was a time when my mother would have had to ask for a salary advance to fulfill a request like this because we simply had no extra money at all, and tripling a recipe would have been a Big Deal. This kind of thing is aside from the servant mindset the boss wants OP and coworkers to adopt. I award the boss 9/10 on the jerkiness meter.

  • Michelle December 17, 2018, 9:24 am

    I bet this is the kind of boss who is SHOCKED and feels BETRAYED when people leave.

    This story makes 2 things I’ve seen attributed to Richard Branson come to mind: 1. Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to. 2. Take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your business. It’s as simple as that. Healthy, engaged employees are your top competitive advantage.

    Those two things are so true.

    • Kali January 2, 2019, 9:49 am

      Sadly, I’ve worked for one of his companies, and it was one of the most toxic workplaces I’ve ever seen. :(. Shame the principles dusn’t trickle down.

  • staceyizme December 17, 2018, 9:55 am

    It’s irrelevant who makes more money and it’s irrelevant who is no longer there. Your boss gas a point about being inclusive as a company working with clients. It’s just that he hadn’t any standing to lecture, since it was your money he was spending. That said, it wasn’t worth pushing back on. Bring a cheaper side dish and have the event off site next year. No more drama.

    • Yolanda December 17, 2018, 1:49 pm

      It was worth pushing back on. The boss hijacked the office party by adding more Widgets employees AND he placed the financial burden on the employees. If he wants to have for a PR/marketing event labeled as a “Christmas party,” the company should pay for it.

  • DGS December 17, 2018, 10:02 am

    It is irrelevant and unsubstantiated who makes more money, and who does and does not any longer work there. If the company wants to be inclusive, then the company ponies up the money for catering an event (lunch is usually, cheaper than dinner) and hosts a holiday party for both employees and clients, which is more of a marketing/PR/schmoozing event with munchies (finger foods, soft drinks, cookies, etc.) The employees can subsequently host a potluck or a party with their friends in their own time, off company premises and invite and enjoy whoever they want and serve whatever they want. That is not a company party; that is a private party with co-workers who happen to be friendly. Two completely separate events. The trouble is, that the employees and the boss have mixed the two.

    • EchoGirl December 20, 2018, 1:33 am

      I think the reason for mentioning that the Widgets employees were better-paid was specifically to the issue that they were not being asked to contribute, despite their higher salaries, but rather they were being “invited” to take advantage of the hospitality of people whose financial situation was that much more precarious.

  • Mizz Etiquette December 17, 2018, 10:04 am

    To clarify, you worked for a company that was contracted with Widgets, correct?

    If you’re a contracted company, Widgets wouldn’t be your “employer”, right? I can see why you’d want to include Widget employees as you’d done in the past but since things had changed, I’m confused as to why you had to include them at all (or why Widgets Boss even knew about it).

    Either way, it’s still a crummy situation.

  • Gena December 17, 2018, 11:04 am

    Similar thing happened to me, but not quite as bad. Our dept had potlucks each year, the managers would usually chip in for the entrée, everyone else would potluck sides and desserts. We all had a very good time eating and playing games.

    New director. Generous guy- he offers to buy the entrée from his own pocket, and we potluck rest as usual. Problem: He’s sort of a kiss-up and invites several VPs. Most of our group has no interaction with upper mgmt, and the mood was much more subdued as they were not comfortable, and instead of enjoying my lunch I was playing hostess. Fortunately they left before the games started.

  • lakey December 17, 2018, 1:53 pm

    I don’t mind making a dish for a potluck. However, people who don’t cook or bake don’t understand the work and expense of preparing a dish for 20-30 people. Clueless boss probably thinks you walk into your kitchen the night before and spend 30 minutes making something with whatever you find in the cupboards.

    • NicoleDSK December 19, 2018, 2:52 pm

      And people who don’t host a lot of potlucks don’t understand how little food you need to bring… if ten people bring food for thirty that is food for three hundred!!!!

      • Stephanie January 3, 2019, 12:56 pm

        No, your math is off- you’re assuming each of the 10 people is bringing a full meal for 30 people- that isn’t the case, they are bringing 30 servings of a side dish. So while everyone may not partake of every single side dish, even if each person only took a serving of 5 different sides that would still only be food for maybe 60 people- not 300.

  • JeanLouiseFinch December 17, 2018, 7:46 pm

    It sounds as if this company was trying to get away with having its client relations budget almost completely underwritten by the underpaid employees. That boss sounds like a real jerk, too, considering he expected to have the company donate a lousy ham as its part in all of this (it doesn’t sound as if he had signed up to bring anything on his own dime either!) Too bad nobody was in a position to tell him to put his money where his stinkin’ mouth was. Hopefully, all of the people you knew were able to get better jobs at better pay! I worked for a company where the boss was about that cheap and the company stopped doing Christmas parties and told everyone they would get a bonus instead. I heard that there was a small bonus given to the secretaries. Guess what? Next year, no parties, no bonus and each of the secretaries ended up taking on an extra attorney’s work. The associates and secretaries started having potlucks and the (mostly male) partners would show up and scarf up all of the food without contributing. It only got worse so that was when I retired.

  • AJ December 17, 2018, 8:41 pm

    Boss wanted to look good on someone else’s dime. If they really wanted this event to happen, they would have coughed up the money themselves. They were the one being selfish (self-promotion), along with cheap and greedy.

    Glad the OP is out of there.

  • Karen L December 17, 2018, 9:41 pm

    Oooooh, I just HATE these things where the employer requires the employees to celebrate each other on the employee’s own dime. I always always always decline these things.

  • Shoegal December 18, 2018, 7:44 am

    I never participate in the Christmas party at work. It is a nice party – lots of things for kids to do so a family type get together. I went once early on and stood alone because everybody was having fun taking their children into the bouncy house, crafts, Santa Claus, clown show etc. Not an adult party and one I never enjoyed. There used to be a Christmas Eve lunch – but that was stopped years ago. I also live an hour away from work so driving into town on a Saturday certainly doesn’t appeal to me. I do like my co workers and wouldn’t mind spending some time with them over the holidays but not at that Christmas party. Shouldn’t a Christmas party be for the employees and not just their families. I get absolutely nothing out of it. I just wish the boss would give us an afternoon off and allow us to go out for lunch or to a bar. That sounds like a nice thing – and something I would enjoy.

  • Angela December 18, 2018, 8:51 am

    This is a really bad idea. For one thing, if I were a customer invited to a company potluck and found that the employees had been coerced into making all that food, it would be the opposite of “good customer relations”. Instead, I’d be concerned about working with a company that was cheap and manipulative. For another thing, if a company wants to serve food in this kind of context, the company should have control over the source and type of food and work with a caterer or restaurant. If you’re asking/demanding that your employees make the food on their off time on their own budgets, you don’t know if the food will be good, if it will be appropriate and frankly, if it will always be safe to eat. If providing food at a function is a way to impress clients, forcing a potluck is a bad idea in addition to being an unreasonable demand on employees.

  • Lerah99 December 18, 2018, 10:51 am

    I worked in a contact center for many years. Often my coworkers were barely scraping by.
    It wasn’t uncommon for people I worked with to have their power shut off or to end up walking several miles to work in 90+ degree heat for weeks because their car broke down and they couldn’t afford to fix it. People stressed over things like where they were going to get $20 for their kid’s field trip.

    It was the sort of job where you couldn’t leave until all the calls in the queue were answered. The phones were supposed to shut down at 8pm, but if there were 300 calls still in queue at 8pm, we had to stay to answer them.

    BUT, if we stayed more than 15 minutes after 8pm, we’d get written up for unauthorized overtime. And if we didn’t record our hours accurately (saying we left at 8:15pm, when really we answered calls until 9:20pm) we could be fired for inaccurate time card reporting.

    It was a terrible job with a company that absolutely didn’t care about it’s employees. There was fairly high turn over, which the managers always chalked up to how single mothers/minorities/people in their 20’s etc… were “soooooooo entitled” and had “NO loyalty” and “weren’t willing to work hard” for their pay.

    The employees had a party committee that sold “jean badges” for $20. It allowed people who bought the badge to wear jeans on Friday. That money was then used to throw the annual holiday party. The party committee were all volunteers that had to use their personal time, off the clock, to plan, budget, and throw the party. Management was not involved at all and the company made no additional contribution to the party fund.

    The last year I worked there, one of the high muckety-muck’s nephews was made our location’s VP.
    In October he decided that jeans were too unprofessional and he abolished the “jean badges”. He also cancelled the holiday party.

    When people asked what was going to happen to the money that had been raised that year, we got an email from HR basically saying that holiday parties were not a right but a privilege and the company would use that money for some sort of “employee enrichment” as they saw fit but we had no right to know any details.

    In December the top 10 executives and their spouses went out on a dinner cruise to celebrate the holidays. There was a lovely article with pictures of them toasting each other and smiling for the camera in our company newsletter. We were all pretty sure that’s where our holiday party fund went.

  • kingsrings December 18, 2018, 6:05 pm

    This whole debacle could have been avoided if the company would just completely host a holiday party and not only do part of it and schlep the rest of the party onto their employees. I find it tacky and insulting for anyone to thank someone for their service only partly. “We’ll throw an appreciation party, but we’ll only provide part of the party”. It’s a slap in the face. And in this case, it now puts the burden on the employees to have to spend even more time and money to provide the necessities.

  • Sunnydi December 18, 2018, 8:22 pm

    I worked for a boss once that REQUIRED our department of 8 to go to a restaurant for breakfast before work and each pay for ourselves. We also had to get a $5-$10 gift for EACH PERSON! You couldn’t back out of it as if you called in you would have to take the day off unpaid! Who has an extra $35-$70 laying around over the holidays to buy gifts for people you may not even like?!? So, I’m required to get up 2 hours early, pay for my own breakfast AND spend money on people who I wouldn’t normally buy gifts for? I showed up late and got them all little $1 store trinkets. The boss got us little $5 ornaments. I don’t think these things should be required. Or, do a secret Santa for like $5-$10 for ONE PERSON and don’t make it mandatory. It’s no fun and kills morale to force people to do things like this.

    • Shoegal December 19, 2018, 10:13 am

      If employees get together and decide to have a pot lunch lunch to celebrate the holidays what right does management have to dictate how it’s done or who belongs there? They aren’t providing anything for the lunch and at lunch – it should be their own time. Nothing on them. All anybody really wants is to have a nice time – not a huge big deal, not a bonus or presents – we don’t want to feel taken advantage of or hassled – we just want a nice time around the holidays. You know, season of good cheer and all that.

  • Kitty December 20, 2018, 8:38 am

    I’m surprised you didn’t look for a new job earlier. As for the boss demanding you cater other people, well, don’t. Tell the members of the original party plans that the party will take place somewhere else, and rent a room there. Make it clear it’s a private party of friends, and not a company thing.

  • Catherine St Clair December 23, 2018, 6:19 pm

    My school’s administrator put a secretary in charge of our pot luck. We were the adult ed. center and the secretary decreed we had to invite the entire senior high school staff. Each of our employees had to bring a dish for everyone to enjoy or pay forty dollars to attend the meal. I volunteered to remain in the office and answer the phones. I made more money than anyone but the principal because I had been in schools for thirty years and had a M.S., so I could afford the cost. What I could not agree to was making the clerical workers foot the bill as all of our teachers were part time and would not be at the party. We were basically providing a party for the senior high school. My protest was heard, the charge was dropped, and only our staff had a party. The senior high had their own party.

  • MollyMonster January 16, 2019, 4:47 pm

    I worked for a group where the branch head was leaving to take the division head position. A promotion. They sent around a card for us to sign and solicited donations for a giftcard. For the boss who was not retiring, not leaving the company, not being demoted, etc. Yeah, hard pass on that. If it were the secretary or one of the lower paid people actually leaving it would have made sense but having the minions and peons give money to the person who helped determine how much of a raise or bonus they got that year? That was some shady cr@p. I don’t think many people donated toward the gift card.

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