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“any special requests?” September 14, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Experiences, Free Food!, Getting Fired.
Tags: , ,

Someone in my area recently got a new job. This conversation took place Friday morning between Ron, who is departing, and Harry, a middle manager who oversees Ron:

Harry: So, when’s your last day?
Ron: Next Thursday.
Harry: Okay… any special requests?
Ron: *shifts anxiously* How do you mean?
Harry: What kind of cake do you like?
Ron: *clearly uncomfortable* Um… well, I don’t like chocolate cake.
Harry: No chocolate. Okay. What do you like?
Ron: *even more uncomfortable* Whatever, I guess. *shrugging*
Harry: Okay.

CC-licensed photo by whalesalad

CC-licensed photo by whalesalad

I felt pretty bad for Ron, who was really put on the spot by Harry. Ron is a self-effacing kind of guy; he doesn’t make a fuss, and he isn’t very good at taking praise. Like me, he’s good at being criticized because it gives him something to respond to, something concrete to change, but blanket praise is hard for him. When the cake ceremony happens on Thursday, Ron will probably stand there, shifting from foot to foot, maybe even blushing a little as Harry and the Two-Year-Old (and probably Ron’s co-worker Cedric) say nice things about the work Ron’s done during his time at CorporateSpeak. Then Ron will have to make a short speech filled with the usual platitudes before cutting and distributing the cake.

I for one had always wondered how the content of the cake was decided; Poppy, the department secretary, is responsible for making sure the cake is present at the appropriate time, but I thought she just picked up whatever she thought the most people would enjoy. (She also bakes the monthly birthday cakes shared by everyone in the building, testing out new recipes.) I happen to know — because Ron and I have had lunch together from time to time — that Ron enjoys vanilla cake or cookie cake, and prefers one local grocery store to the other.

Resigning from a job is always weird — you get dozens of congratulatory messages, the obligatory “happy you get to go, sad to see you leave” from everyone who thinks they’re being original by saying it, and questions about why you’re going. Usually people ask: “more money, right?” Ron happens to be getting more money at his new job, but that’s also a hard thing to discuss — you’re basically condemning your current boss for not paying you enough. The last time I resigned — before joining CorporateSpeak — I did so because of a conflict with corporate management over how they handled harassment against me*, which I told my boss. He also asked if I was getting a raise at my new job and I answered honestly: yes, and I told him how much. I could’ve declined to answer, but my boss and I both disagreed with how corporate handled things.** Ron, for his part, is leaving because he’s dissatisfied with the way things are going here (more on “throwing your old job under the bus” in a later post).

How would you answer that question? How would you respond when someone says “what kind of cake do you want for your goodbye gathering?” Is it ungrateful to make a request? Should your boss even bring it up? It’s amazing how many tough questions there are around the simple purchase of a congratulatory/goodbye cake.

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* It wasn’t sexual harassment. And no, I’m not going into the details. It’s a rather personal story that I don’t feel comfortable sharing.

** I still keep in contact with folks at my old job, and all of them want me back; they haven’t liked any of the managers who came after me. That’s gratifying, but they can’t afford what I’ll want to be paid. That’s not being boastful, either — the person in that position shouldn’t be paid as much as I’m making for what I’m doing now. It’s just not that kind of position.



1. modestypress - September 14, 2009

Odd, something similar happened to me.

In fact, I worked before I retired for an organization dominated by women. (There are two fields mostly dominated by women–this was in one of these.) At the end of my career, I was a victim of sexual harassment. Not because a supervisor wanted access to my weary old body, but because she used me to climb to a higher position. Too compllicated to explain, but true.

A month before I actually retired, I was ordered to watch a video about harassment and then urged to report it if I experienced it. The only people I could have reported it to were the people who were harassing me. So I shrugged and retired and never looked back (except for posting this comment).

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