Talking about your finances with folks requires tact and the right timing. But throw in some eggnog and a dinner table packed with extended family, and any hope for a reasonably civilized conversation about money goes right out the window. Depending on your family dynamics and your financial situation, heading home for the holidays means preparing to field some majorly awkward money questions. Consider it a cross-examination where the courtroom is the dinner table, and the jury includes a great aunt, a distant cousin, and some in-laws. Any good lawyer would advise you to prep before you take the stand, so consider us your counsel on all holiday money talk. We've compiled an assortment of awkward questions you might have to field this holiday, along with some tactful ways to answer—or deflect—them.
Is that a real job?
Whether you're one of the 37 million freelancers, starting your own business, working in the creative arts, navigating the startup world, or doing anything that your relatives might not consider conventional employment, the answer is always YES. Because that is the truth and because you shouldn't have to defend your chosen career and the goals you're striving everyday to meet. It's important when faced with this question that you answer confidently, if not for their sake, for your own.
When Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach and author of the book Poised for Success, was starting her own business, she had to deal with this line of questioning over the holidays. "My answer back then was the first thing that came out of my mouth which was, 'I have a real job.' That's all I said. Sometimes that's the best answer," Whitmore tells Time. If you're worried you'll come off as defensive, Whitmore offers another tactic. Try saying: "I am doing what I love, and you know what they say, 'when you do what you love, the money will follow.'"
How much are you making?
File this question under one you never have to answer directly, unless you really want to. Your income is your business, and unless you're asking for financial help, you are entitled to keep your business to yourself—especially at the dinner table surrounded by distant relatives.
Wisebread's Emily Guy Birken suggests responding to the question playfully —"for instance, by saying "Half of what I'm worth, I'd say," or by placing your pinky against your mouth and intoning 'One million dollars!'" Then, feel free to change the subject. ("So, what's the secret ingredient that makes this stuffing so delicious?")
You're still living in that place?
Here's one you might get from a parent or sibling. Whether they're prompting a discussion about your investment strategy or pressuring you into home ownership, the question may be well-meaning, but it's also dripping with judgment and condescension—and that's no way to begin a productive financial conversation.
One tactic is to shut it down with a simple, "Yes, and I'm still very happy there, thanks." But if you really want to address the elephant in the room, state your case. There are plenty of solid reasons millions of millennials are choosing to rent their homes rather than buy—from a volatile housing market to lowered insurance costs.
"Be honest with your parents, laying out the ways in which renting is a better fit for you right now and how much better off your finances are as a result," suggests Learnvest's Marianne Hayes. "A big mortgage payment may have meant not being able to afford your plane ticket home, for example." If they won't listen to your reasoning, maybe they'll listen to Warren Buffett who believes the best investment you can make is in yourself.
Why don't you hire your cousin/invest in her company?
Yeah, this one is really awkward. One of your relatives is playing job recruiter, or worse, you're confronted directly by a relative who wants you to invest your hard-earned cash into a business that doesn't seem financially sound.
There's nothing wrong with helping out a family-member in need, but the holiday table isn't the best place for financial matchmaking. If your cousin needs a job, you can respond by saying you'll be happy to help in any way you can, but that you're not in a position to make hiring decisions at this time. Feel free to ask him to send you his resume in the new year, and add that you'll be happy to pass it along or keep your ear out for opportunities that might be the right fit.
If you're being hit up for a financial investment you're not comfortable making, you can be a bit more direct. "Instead of saying you have anything against the product or her method of doing business, just blame your budget," suggests Refinery29's money expert Priya Malani. "If it's not entirely true, think of it as a white lie for the greater good: 'I'd love to but it's not really in my budget right now. Thanks anyway!'"
Can I borrow some money?
The answer to this question all depends on who's asking. Is it a parent or sibling? Is it someone you trust with financial decisions? Is their need dire? And most importantly, are you flush enough to meet their requests?
"If you're able to take on the responsibility, pinpoint how much you're comfortable offering," writes Learnvest's Hayes. "In other words, lend only what you can afford to part with. From there, establish a clear payoff timeline and put the agreement in writing."
Still, Hayes suggests listening to your instincts before you jump into any agreement. "If the idea of loaning cash to little bro makes you uncomfortable, trust your gut," she writes. "Politely saying that you can't afford it right now is better than a ruined relationship down the line."
When are you going to find a stable partner?
This one is a doozy. You may be dating someone who isn't as financially stable as your family would like. Even if it's an issue you've grappled with in your relationship, it's not healthy or fair for your family to interfere with your romantic choices—financially or otherwise—unless you're soliciting their advice. Being too defensive can open a can of worms, and take the conversation further down a road you'd rather not go. Try citing a positive career shift your partner has recently made or touting an achievement you're proud of them for. Then, change the subject as fast as you possibly can.
Any other awkward question we haven't covered yet...
You may not be able to predict what you'll be hit with before the holidays, but you'll know an awkward question when it lands.
"If it's uncomfortable for you, it's probably uncomfortable for everyone in the room," Bethany Palmer of TheMoneyCouple tells US News and World Report. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and follow her blanket suggestion for shifting the conversation. Try saying this: "That's an interesting question – let's talk about it later?" Then, ask about dessert. Better yet, ask if you can replenish anyone's wine glasses. A glass or two more, and they might forget all about it.
Over two years into the most momentous event in our lives the world has changed forever … Some of us have PTSD from being locked up at home, some are living like everything’s going to end tomorrow, and the rest of us are merely trying to get by. When the pandemic hit we entered a perpetual state of vulnerability, but now we’re supposed to return to normal and just get on with our lives.
What does that mean? Packed bars, concerts, and grocery shopping without a mask feel totally strange. We got used to having more rules over our everyday life, considering if we really had to go out or keeping Zooming from our living rooms in threadbare pajama bottoms.
The work-from-home culture changed it all. Initially, companies were skeptical about letting employees work remotely, automatically assuming work output would fall and so would the quality. To the contrary, since March of 2020 productivity has risen by 47%, which says it all. Employees can work from home and still deliver results.
There are a number of reasons why everyone loves the work from home culture. We gained hours weekly that were wasted on public transport, people saved a ton of money, and could work from anywhere in the world. Then there were the obvious reasons like wearing sweats or loungewear all week long and having your pets close by. Come on, whose cat hasn’t done a tap dance on your keyboard in the middle of that All Hands Call!
Working from home grants the freedom to decorate your ‘office’ any way you want. But then people needed a change of environment. Companies began requesting their employees' RTO, thus generating the Hybrid Work Model — a blend of in-person and virtual work arrangements. Prior to 2020, about 20% of employees worked from home, but in the midst of the pandemic, it exploded to around 70%.
Although the number of people working from home increased and people enjoyed their flexibility, politicians started calling for a harder RTW policy. President Joe Biden urges us with, “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”
While Boris Johnson said, “Mother Nature does not like working from home.'' It wasn’t surprising that politicians wanted people back at their desks due to the financial impact of working from the office. According to a report in the BBC, US workers spent between $2,000 - $5,000 each year on transport to work before the pandemic.
That’s where the problem lies. The majority of us stopped planning for public transport, takeaway coffee, and fresh work-appropriate outfits. We must reconsider these things now, and our wallets are paying
the price. Gas costs are at an all-time high, making public transport increase their fees; food and clothes are all on a steep incline. A simple iced latte from Dunkin’ went from $3.70 to $3.99 (which doesn’t seem like much but 2-3 coffees a day with the extra flavors and shots add up to a lot), while sandwiches soared by 14% and salads by 11%.
This contributes to the pressure employees feel about heading into the office. Remote work may have begun as a safety measure, but it’s now a savings measure for employees around the world.
Bloomberg are offering its US staff a $75 daily commuting stipend that they can spend however they want. And other companies are doing the best they can. This still lends credence to ‘the great resignation.’ Initially starting with the retail, food service, and hospitality sectors which were hard hit during the pandemic, it has since spread to other industries. By September 2021, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4.4 million resignations.
That’s where the most critical question lies…work from home, work from the office or stick to this new hybrid world culture?
Borris Johnson thinks, “We need to get back into the habit of getting into the office.” Because his experience of working from home “is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.”
While New York City Mayor Eric Adams says you “can't stay home in your pajamas all day."
In the end, does it really matter where we work if efficiency and productivity are great? We’ve proven that companies can trust us to achieve the same results — or better! — and on time with this hybrid model. Employees can be more flexible, which boosts satisfaction, improves both productivity and retention, and improves diversity in the workplace because corporations can hire through the US and indeed all over the world.
We’ve seen companies make this work in many ways, through virtual lunches, breakout rooms, paint and prosecco parties, and — the most popular — trivia nights.
As much as we strive for normalcy, the last two years cannot simply be erased. So instead of wiping out this era, it's time to embrace the change and find the right world culture for you.
What would get you into the office? Free lunch? A gym membership? Permission to hang out with your dog? Some employers are trying just that.
The rising trend of pet-friendly offices is part of the effort to incentivize employees to come back to work in person. Many companies completely embraced the remote-friendly convenience of WFH. Digital nomad culture emerged and “second cities” arose when people exited New York, San Francisco, and LA, and headed to Denver, Austin, Charlotte, Nashville, and Raleigh.
But now, employees and employers have a choice to make. The question now is: to return or not to return to the office? This is no longer about forcing employees to commute. Post The Great Resignation, employees feel more empowered to leave in-person positions and seek out remote jobs. So if offices want people to return, they’ve got to do a ton to entice their employees.
Some huge companies with giant operating budgets are not worried. With major perks like shiny facilities and full-service food bars, they feel comfortable requiring in-office work days — even if it’s for a hybrid week. But the solution might be simpler: pet-friendly workplaces.
The Allure of Pet-Friendly Offices
According to the Washington Post, pet-friendly workplaces are becoming a common solution to improve employee morale and appease the rising number of pandemic pet owners. “As offices start reopening and thousands of workers are being called back for the first time in two years, some companies are allowing employees to bring their pets. About 23 million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Many workers say they find pet-friendly environments an important perk for their new furry family members. A recent survey conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital, owned by Mars Inc., showed that 57 percent of the 1,500 pet owners polled said they would be happiest returning to a pet-friendly workplace. Half of the 500 top executives surveyed said they are planning to allow pets at the office. Tech companies including Google, Amazon, and Uber plan to continue to allow dogs at their offices, even with their flexible office policies.”
With so many people adopting and fostering since the pandemic, becoming a pet parent is a trend. And to welcome these new additions into people’s lives, it makes sense for some workplaces to welcome them into the office.
After spending unlimited amounts of time at home, many pets grew greatly attached to their “parents” — and pet-parents feel the same about their pets. Rather than keeping them locked in the house while their caretakers head off to work, this is a mutually beneficial solution to the current separation anxiety faced by pets.
Pets have also been shown to boost happiness in pet owners. According to heart.org, “Studies show that dogs reduce stress, anxiety, and depression; ease loneliness; encourage exercise and improve your overall health. For example, people with dogs tend to have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease. Just playing with a dog has been shown to raise levels of the feel-good brain chemicals oxytocin and dopamine, creating positive feelings and bonding for both the person and their pet.” Most likely, this might have a similar effect on people who bond with animals at work that don’t even belong to them, lending an overall mood boost to the office.
The controversy behind pet-friendly workplaces
However, not everyone is as enthusiastic about the prospect. Some would rather keep the office separate from their personal lives. Some are allergic to pets. And some people simply don’t like animals.
Offices considering pet-friendly policies are weighing the pros and cons to keep everyone happy. According to the Washington Post, clear guidelines and communication can increase the chances of success.
“Before making the jump, pet experts say that leaders should first understand whether their employees have interest in, or strong feelings against, having a pet-friendly office. Doing an anonymous survey may allow employees to freely share thoughts on the matter.”
Overall, the key to a policy like this is flexibility. “Be ready to adjust: Above all, pet-friendly offices should be ready to listen and adjust their policies as they go. What works for one office may not work for another, but experts say proper planning can lessen much of the burden.”
Ensure your office is actually suited to the pets you want to welcome. “A well-developed pet-friendly office should be both safe and welcoming to pets. That means companies should consider blocking off areas that could be dangerous to pets as well as making sure pets have access to clean water, food, and places to rest.”
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