Boss only takes one worker out for birthday lunch

Marie G. McIntyre
Tribune News Service

Q. Three years ago, my boss hired “Katy,” who is a great person and a good fit for our group. My problem is that every year he takes Katy out to lunch on her birthday. He has never done this with any other employee. In fact, he never remembers our birthdays at all.

I feel quite sure there is no hanky-panky going on, so this favoritism towards Katy is hard to understand. I don’t see how a manager can give one person special treatment and ignore everyone else.

Unfortunately, after a co-worker and I discussed this, she made a point of telling our manager that my birthday was coming up. Now I’m afraid he’ll feel obligated to ask me to lunch. How can I tactfully decline this forced invitation?

A. Your boss appears to have a huge blind spot regarding employee perceptions. If I were talking to him, we would discuss the morale-busting implications of recognizing only one birthday. But since he isn’t available for coaching, let’s consider your reaction to his cluelessness.

Although your feelings are understandable, you’re wasting a lot of emotional energy on a rather trivial issue. The birthday girl is “a great person,” the relationship is not inappropriate and the lunches don’t affect your work. So you really need to let this go.

In reality, your boss may not actually be remembering this woman’s special day. Given that he typically ignores birthdays, it’s quite possible that Katy is the one who brings it up. If she’s fairly assertive, she might even suggest lunch.

So if your manager does offer a celebratory invite, accept graciously and enjoy your outing. Perhaps you could recommend putting everyone’s birthday on his calendar. And by the way, on your boss’s birthday, does anyone take him to lunch?

Q. A few weeks ago, I accepted a job in a Third World country. When I arrived, I was dismayed to find that the business is quite small and the working conditions are deplorable. The water doesn’t always run, the restroom fixtures are inadequate and management tries to cut costs by reducing the heat.

I asked if I could bring in a personal heater at my own expense but my boss refused with no explanation. When the outside temperature was near zero, I asked if I could work from home. He got upset and said new people shouldn’t be so demanding. I think he’s being irrational and ridiculously unfair, but I don’t know what to do.

A. Since you apparently took this job without researching the company, I assume you also failed to explore cultural differences. Business practices vary greatly from country to country, so it’s possible that you and your boss have a conflict of expectations.

If you plan to continue this international adventure, I strongly suggest reading “The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer and “Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands” by Morrison & Conaway. These books are an invaluable resource for anyone working in a multicultural setting.

Of course, if this new environment proves to be intolerable, you can always head for home. But even in familiar territory, you need to research potential employers before accepting a job.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”