The worst way to react to free pizza in the office, and other workplace concerns

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We get pizza every week around 6, and people have started lining up for it at 5:30 or earlier. By the time I get there, the line is out the door, and by the time I get to the pizza, it’s usually just crumbs or, if I’m lucky, broccoli deep dish. Some people take three or four pieces, enough so that latecomers like me don’t get any. I’m thinking of sending a department-wide email about leaving some for the rest of us. Good idea?

S.C., Lincoln Square

The ascension of technology in the office has moved all sorts of real-world tasks online. Where we used to swap business cards, we now Link In. Where we used to flirt by the water cooler, we now send G chats. And where we used to shout so loud into other people’s ears until their brains hurt, we now send department-wide emails.

Outside of nothing I can imagine, department-wide emails don’t solve anything. The department-wide email is like laying on your horn, flipping someone off or leaving the toilet seat up on purpose. It’s not about a resolution — it’s about making you momentarily feel better. Which is why you shouldn’t send one — not in this case, not ever.

Now, there are other ways to approach this. If this is just about you getting yours, consider getting out of your chair ten minutes earlier. (Although, as we covered last week, you sound concerned enough about others’ behavior that you’d make a good candidate for a standing desk.) If it’s about spreading the bounty around, ask whether there’s not room in the budget to order more for the ravening hordes. And if the budget folks shut you down, give a listen to a pretty solid idea from Thomas P. Farley, a business etiquette writer who’s famous enough to have cornered the name, “Mister Manners.”

“How about implementing a ticket system whereby each month, everyone is given eight tickets to redeem for slices? People who ate four slices in one week would be using half of their allotment for the month, leaving more for you and everyone else the next time around,” Farley suggests. “The tickets could also be traded (perhaps a gluten-intolerant worker who never partakes could give his ticket to a friend) and accrued (you were out of the office last week).”

That sounds suspiciously like either socialism or the prizes counter at Putt-Putt. If Farley’s ticketing scheme feels like too much work, you’re too lazy to queue up earlier and there’s no room in the budget to order more, take solace in the fact that anyone who wolfs down four pieces of deep-dish pizza every week cannot possibly be long for this world.

I work at a non-profit that tries to promote healthy eating in public schools, and have been doing so since I got out of school two years ago. It’s an awesome mission and we’re really catching on. As we get more grants, though, my salary hasn’t risen a bit from the rock-bottom level where it started (less than $35K annually). I know you take a financial haircut in exchange for meaningful NPO work, but it seems to me like I’m entitled to receive something above the living wage, especially as we get some financial breathing room. How can I ask for a raise without sounding greedy?

Jamie, Hyde Park

In addition to the banner ads for teen romance movies that I keep seeing, big data is responsible for the movement toward measurable outcomes in the non-profit sector. Right around 2009 or 2010, as stimulus-boosted federal and state funds began to dry up and private donations shrank, the ribs started to show on a lot of philanthropies. Competition grew fierce as the pie grew smaller. Can you say “grew smaller”? I don’t know.

Anyway my point is, before you bring up your own financial concerns to your boss, you first need to be sure you understand the organization’s fiscal health. If your nonprofit is on solid financial ground, you’re in a good position to ask for a decent raise. If it’s a leaky ship, you’ll be lucky to get a cost-of-living bump.

A few things to keep in mind. First, the the grants your organization is qualifying for probably don’t kick in immediately. So even if their bottom line is looking a little healthier in 2014, they may not yet have the cash on hand to increase your salary.

Second, many foundations tie their dollars to specific projects. For example, the Ford Foundation may say that they want all of their money spent on free-range radishes to replace dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets, and not a dime spent on operations. That leaves employees like you out in the cold.

Now don’t get me wrong. Even if you conclude that the organization is barely scratching by, or may not have immense funds earmarked for payroll, you should still knock on your boss’s door.

“Despite popular belief, working for a nonprofit does not have to equate to taking a vow of poverty. Your health – financial and otherwise – requires that you are able to at least keep up with inflation,” says Lisa Brown Morton.

Morton, who’s the CEO of Chicago-based Nonprofit HR, says that 2-3 percent is the going range for a salary increase in the sector, so you can go forth confidently and ask for at least that much. Although that bump works out to a little less than $1,000 a year, a grand does buy a lot of adorably-shaped chicken nuggets.

Got a question about how to act around the water cooler? Tongue planted firmly in cheek, we’ll find an adult to answer it. Email Amos at

Want more advice from Amos? Look here.

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