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I work in an office with about 40 other people in varying situations (junior up to director level). I'm a little older than my immediate peers (the people I work with and socialize with) and more financially established in life, mostly due to luck and timing rather than any exceptional skill on my part.

Our culture We have a very chatty environment where it's the norm to share a lot of personal information, so I hear a lot about my peers' children, schools, financial troubles etc. Some of my peers are 'working poor' who have full time jobs but are still struggling financially, in some cases claiming welfare benefits.

Frequently my 'peers' ask for my advice or input on things that come up in their lives that are new to them, but not to me as I've come across them before. For example "how to ask their landlord about problem X" or "what features to look for with this household item they need to buy".

My issue is that as a somewhat more well-off person I feel guilty in displaying any signs of relative "wealth", for example:

  • I'm looking for a newer car (about 3-4 years old; mine is 11 years old) which some of my peers would perceive as a luxury (I'm not going to ask them anything about cars, but it will be seen when I buy it and arrive in the car park).
  • sometimes I take a trip outside 'our city' and stay in a hotel which I feel guilty admitting I spent the money on when asked as part of the general chat "what did you do over the long weekend you took PTO for?"
  • I recently had about $3000 of unexpected repairs to my house which I could spend but would have financially ruined others, so I feel guilty mentioning it. I mentioned the problem originally believing it to be much smaller and it was the reason for needing to take a day off at short notice. So then they asked what happened with it.

I worry that displays of "relative wealth" like this would be perceived as grotesque or bragging by less well-off colleagues (partly influenced by my own feelings when I was the less well-off colleague myself and did feel this way).

My question - is it poor office etiquette to display/mention signs of "relative" wealth when I know others are struggling? Should I hide them and avoid the subject (in a workplace where people do talk openly)?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Oct 11 at 13:55
  • Question already has good answers, but could you shed some light on their financial responsibility? Do they live above their standard, spend on unnecessary things perhaps? – Edwin Lambregts Oct 11 at 14:02
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    where do you live ? – giò Oct 11 at 15:07
  • Do the directors of the company drive a newish car; or display their wealth in some way? – UKMonkey Oct 13 at 1:20
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is it poor office etiquette to display/mention signs of "relative" wealth when I know others are struggling?

Given that you are not doing it with the intention to brag or boast (it comes up naturally in a conversation), then it's ok.

Sometimes, people can take naive or honest things one says the wrong way, but there is few to nothing you can do to prevent some people for taking it that way or to feel envy for your situation.

As long as you don't treat differently or reject your coworkers for being in a different situation you are not doing anything wrong.

Should I hide them and avoid the subject (in a workplace where people do talk openly)?

Perhaps not hide or avoid them, as you will be halting the natural conversation and deviating from the company culture you mentioned (open, conversational, honest).

However, there are some details that you could refrain from mentioning.

For example, you could have chatted with someone about your house repairs and how inconvenient they were, but could have conveyed your message without having to explicitly mention the $3000 number (perhaps saying "I had to spend some money I didn't intend to on my house, how inconvenient", instead of dropping the number).

That way you will avoid disclosing certain details that could make someone feel "bad", but are still being polite and true to your company culture by not avoiding casual chats and conversations.

Now, if someone asks you for the amount (or the detail you wish to avoid), then it's up to you to disclose it, and it would be foolish of them to take it the wrong way if they are asking for it in the first place...

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    yep, just leave out amounts unless asked, apart from that op has nothing to be ashamed of. – Kilisi Oct 10 at 0:50
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    Avoiding the actual $ is excellent suggestion. The idea that you went out of town for holiday is pretty normal. If you then go say you spent over 2 grand over a weekend and moan about it, that's going into unnecessary details. – Nelson Oct 10 at 3:14
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    This advice applies to pretty much everything discussed by OP too. Bought a "new" car? You can talk about buying it, and how you hate dealing with the salesmen at dealerships, or how you got a great deal on the car. At no point do you have to say how much you actually spent though. Just avoid the hard numbers and no one needs to know. If someone asks, you can decide to reveal that number or not (or in the case of the car for example, just say "yeah, I managed to haggle $2k off the asking price without giving the final number). – Doc Oct 10 at 16:07
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    Just remember to check your privilege. Too often we scoff at low quality purchases, sub-optimal buys, or marvel at the fact that a person is/isn’t using/doing something. That’s often where you can really start grinding people’s gears. – Malisbad Oct 10 at 22:36
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    As a great example here, my boss and coworker both dabble in the stock market. They are nowhere near eachother in financial terms and I would expect the same about their stock investments, but since they only discuss percentage profits and losses; they have meaningful conversations while avoiding unnecessary "I have X money, you have Y" comparisons. – Flater Oct 11 at 8:56
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The key to maintaining professionalism is keeping the details out of it.

  • I'm looking for a newer car (about 3-4 years old; mine is 11 years old) which some of my peers would perceive as a luxury (I'm not going to ask them anything about cars, but it will be seen when I buy it and arrive in the car park).

There is nothing you can do about it, and you can just say "I got a good deal", and not mention how much you paid for it. It's not their business, and if you don't disclose the details, you remain professional. Then, change the subject ASAP

  • sometimes I take a trip outside 'our city' and stay in a hotel which I feel guilty admitting I spent the money on when asked as part of the general chat "what did you do over the long weekend you took PTO for?"

Again, the fewer details, the better. "Oh, we went to visit family, had some dinner, the usual" Then change the subject "Hey, anything interesting happen while I was gone?

  • I recently had about $3000 of unexpected repairs to my house which I could spend but would have financially ruined others, so I feel guilty mentioning it. I mentioned the problem originally believing it to be much smaller and it was the reason for needing to take a day off at short notice. So then they asked what happened with it.

Either don't bring this up, or if you must, downplay the expense and again, the fewer details the better.

"Ah, my house needed a bit of work, it didn't break me, but it hurt."

Same thing with the car, "I got a good deal" should be enough.

If pressed for details, you can blow it off by saying it's annoying and you'd rather talk about something else.

Become genuinely interested in your coworkers, and their interests, and talk about THOSE subjects, and you can avoid the topic most of the time and not have to worry.

Also, be careful not to project your unease on your coworkers. If you are uneasy about your relative wealth, they will start to resent you. Just be their coworker.

  • Although I agree that the financial details are superfluous, sharing the little hardships, doubts or joys and pleasures inherent in such day-to-day dilemmas is something that suits the open culture described by OP. Brusquely trying to change the subject or avoiding the subject is immensely difficult in an apparently tight-knit team. – TvZ Oct 10 at 19:01
  • @TvZ I said nothing about brusquely changing the subject. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Oct 10 at 19:41
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    That is a mistranslation on my part, apologies. I didn't realize brusquely is also a synonym of 'roughly' or 'bluntly'. In hindsight, abruptly or quickly would have been a better fit, as I wanted to comment on your repeated use of 'asap'. – TvZ Oct 10 at 19:53
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    @TvZ maybe I should change that to "as soon as convenient?" or "as soon as reasonable to do so?" Or "gently steer the conversation in a different direction?" I tend to be more blunt than diplomatic when offering advice. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Oct 10 at 19:55
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    Option #3 feels fitting to me with regards to the atmosphere in the team. I'd find it easiest to implement without coming across too strongly. – TvZ Oct 10 at 20:00
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We have a very chatty environment where it's the norm to share a lot of personal information, so I hear a lot about my peers' children, schools, financial troubles etc. Some of my peers are 'working poor' who have full time jobs but are still struggling financially, in some cases claiming welfare benefits.

My background is similar to yours. I've been fortunate (well-off parents, white, male, etc.) and I'm significantly better off than a lot of my friends.

As best I can tell - and I can only speak from my side of things, not from the working-poor side - it makes a huge difference whether one is mindful of those advantages. It's very rare that somebody would hold it against me personally that I'm comparatively well off, but being oblivious about it is a great way to foster resentment.

A couple of years back, one of my friends had this discussion at her workplace:

My Friend: My husband and I are looking for a house, but it's so hard to find anything we can afford.

Co-worker: You should just sell an investment property.

My Friend: Uh... we don't have any investment properties...

Co-worker: Really? I have six. I rent one out to cover costs, and keep the others vacant so they'll be in good condition to sell when the price goes up.

That one's pretty blatant, but there are a lot of subtler ways to make the same mistake. For instance, every so often I see an article about how poor people could save $$$ on their food budgets written by somebody who assumes that everybody has a fridge, an assortment of cooking gear, easy access to fresh food markets, and lots of spare time to spend on food prep every night.

The fact that you're asking this question suggests you're already a long way in the right direction. If you want to do better still, go out of your way to listen to/read up on poor people writing about what it's like to be poor - a lot of stuff is really hard to imagine for those of us who've never been there.

With that kind of understanding, you can sometimes go beyond "don't talk about it" and actually make those differences something positive for your co-workers. As you've noticed, somebody with bad finances won't have all the same options you have when looking for a car or a rental, but you may still be able to give them insights into the process - what the landlord will be looking for, things to watch out for on a rental agreement, etc.

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    I see an article about how poor people could save $$$ on their food budgets written by somebody who assumes that everybody has a fridge, an assortment of cooking gear, easy access to fresh food markets, and lots of spare time to spend on food prep every night. I know, right? – cst1992 Oct 11 at 8:23
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    I love this answer but would add the following caution: while cluelessness is bad when being mindful of the wealth gap it can be pretty easy when speaking to stray over the line into condescension. – Jared Smith Oct 11 at 16:59
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I've been on both sides of that spectrum. Some years ago I broke by back, lost my job, my house, my car, etc. I've slowly built my life back up, but I'm not there yet. For the past 2½ years, I've lived off about $5000 and work-for-rent.

It isn't your fault my life sucks.

You don't owe me anything.

If I got offended or upset by every person who had substantially more than me, I'd have to just live in a cave somewhere. And telling others to avoid enjoying their wealth because "misery loves company" would be utterly juvenile.

If I'm in a job where people like to have food catered in the lunch room and they invite me, I tell them I can just bring my tupperware lunch and socialize, or decline entirely if I'm not interested. When people have nice cars, I enjoy them from a distance. Sometimes I even get to drive them. When people bring in cool, expensive toys to show off in the office or shop, I can live vicariously through their descriptions, or go back to work if I don't care.

The thing to avoid is making comments to the effect of "you're just poor because you're lazy". Sometimes it's true. But many people work harder than you and I put together ever will and still can't come ahead. Some people are paying for mistakes they made decades ago and don't need to be reminded of it. Some people just ran into rotten luck. Unless they're specifically asking for advice, it's usually best to just leave the hows and whys of their low income out of the conversation.

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    I was thinking of posting an answer from this viewpoint, that boils down to: Give your co-workers credit, and look at it from their perspective. If they'd be more financially secure, they'd also buy a more recent car; especially as repair costs start to mount if you don't have a friend-mechanic. They might consider you a weird miser if you'd insist on a clapped-out car, worn clothes, bad glasses, a decrepit phone and not treating your family to a visit. – user3445853 Oct 11 at 8:40
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Good answers already, my addition would be showing relative wealth should not be dictated by others. If you have nice things you're not obligated to hide them because others don't. And it's good for your career to be well groomed and look successful.

I wear a lot of gold, import silk shirts from Thailand and have my own car. Most people here have none of that. That doesn't stop me from using the car when I want to and strolling around dressed in silk. It is a form of showing off, but it's fine.

It's not what you have that matters, it only matters if you use it maliciously to put others down.

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    It would be helpful if you could indicate your industry and location. Some of what you described would come across as showing off in certain places and be poor etiquette. This is related to the culture of the country, role and industry. I can turn up in a short sleeve cotton shirt, Jeans and cheap trainers and still be considered quite well dressed for a software engineer in a relaxed office. I would be expected a bit more pizzazz if sent off to a customer and loads more if they were somewhere with smarter dress code. – TafT Oct 10 at 17:09
  • @TafT multiple countries in multiple industries. What you wear is usually up to you so long as it's not against the dress code. It is showing off, but not offensive and will get you ahead all else being equal. There are a lot of advantages in many scenarios. – Kilisi Oct 10 at 17:18
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    @TafT they don't wear shirts? Or rings? Watches? etc,.? I find that hard to believe. – Kilisi Oct 11 at 8:51
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    *short shelieved shirt. I do not think I would cause offence by dressing as you suggest although I would expect to be thought of as a bit flashy and slightly showing off. If I was coming in as a consultant and dealing with all grades, not just management, I might tone it down to avoid appearing grotesquely overpaid. However presently I work in a well paid sector so I do not have to worry so much about regulaly working along side much lower paid coworkers who may envy ostentatious wealth signalling. – TafT Oct 11 at 9:34
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    @MartinBonner in my country wearing gold or flashy colors is viewed as tacky as heck. We are a very blue-gray suit society. It is changing lately by means of immigration, thought, so that's good :-) – Leonardo Herrera Oct 11 at 13:48
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Not at all. You are not flaunting your "wealth", you are just spending on normal everyday things - buying a new car, home repairs, vacation, etc.

There is nothing wrong with that. Actually, this is to be expected - you are older, you had more time to save, you've been in the workforce longer and thus probably have higher income, etc, etc.

I very much doubt your colleagues will feel that the expenditures you described are grotesque. I wouldn't hide them either - if anyone comments that you are living "large", just point out you were in their shoes when you were their age and that they too will climb the racks as they advance in their careers.

  • This deserves more upvotes. – cst1992 Oct 11 at 8:27
  • "that they too will climg the racks as they advance in their careers". I am not at all sure this is true. The state paid me to go to uni in the UK in the 70's; my son left with a significant student loan debt. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Oct 11 at 13:25

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