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My workplace is a very relaxed place and we all like to have a good time, and we share a similar sense of humor. Weekly we have different employees make treats or snacks and they are brought in for everyone to share.

My manager started doing this thing which he thinks is hilarious -- he will pick up a snack and pretend it's an airplane and feed it in our mouths like a baby. We actually don't mind this, we love it and think it's really funny. It's always accompanied by cheering and clapping.

Recently, there have been snacks that I am allergic to, and eating them will upset my stomach and cause erratic behaviour. However, I don't want to refuse because I am afraid this will kill the atmosphere. How can I approach my manager about this?

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    What the hell?! Is it "The Office" week in primary school? – Lilienthal Jun 1 '16 at 21:16
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    As entertaining as it is that everyone now thinks you work for a 4 year old or something, maybe you should just say it. You are not attacking anyone or insulting anyone, you are just looking out for your well being and so that you can (if you do) continue your work. Also I just can't wrap my head around this whole situation! – Kiwu Jun 2 '16 at 8:14
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    I feel that you may benefit from talking to someone, about assertiveness. – ctrl-alt-delor Jun 2 '16 at 9:51
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    Do you guys also sit on papa's lap for an afternoon nap? Seriously, just say that you'll get sick if you eat some foods. I bet that, even though he is a toddler, your manager will understand. – undefined Jun 2 '16 at 14:12
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    This may seem funny now, but eventually someone is going to join this team who thinks it is weird and creepy. I strongly suspect that several people think that, they just don't want to say it. – DJClayworth Jun 2 '16 at 15:44
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Since it seems that this is a team exercise that you enjoy participating in be straightforward and clear with your boss. Speak to him outside of "Snack Time" and explain that you are allergic to certain items. If he insists on feeding you make sure to bring in something that you will not have a reaction to.

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    "If he insists on feeding you make sure to bring in something that you will not have a reaction to." - There will be trace amounts of the substance on the manager's hands from feeding others, and that could still trigger an allergic reaction. IMHO completely avoiding this practice is the safest approach for this individual. – alroc Jun 1 '16 at 20:07
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    Depends on their degree of sensitivity... yeah, this sounds like an exercise I would simply decline to participate in. – keshlam Jun 1 '16 at 21:23
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Reading this makes me appreciate the fact that I don't work with wacky bosses.

I cannot believe that the whole team likes this - I think there is some pretending going on.

It is very wrong that you allow someone to put food in your mouth that you know will hurt you.

At the very least you need to bring this up with your manager and explain that you are allergic to certain items.

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Once your employer starts treating you like toddlers (by doing the airplane thing) slip out before he can feed you.

Repeated exposure to an allergen can make the allergy worse.

  • Well, he did say "we share a similar humour". Not exactly my humour, but as long as they are not wearing diapers... – gnasher729 Jun 1 '16 at 21:33
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    They are essentially pretending all of the employees are babies/toddlers and the employer is the parent/babysitter. It's demeaning. I can't believe anyone would put up with it, let alone a group of people. My first thought was to suggest the OP quit and find a job where the employers treat their employees right, but I know that's not what the OP was looking for. – Amanda R. Jun 1 '16 at 21:37
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    I've seen some very odd "trust exercises", especially when run by someone who doesn't understand w what the purpose of those is supposed to be. But trust has to include trusting that people will speak up when there is a problem. – keshlam Jun 2 '16 at 12:04
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1 - Speak to the manager privately

Whenever you have to give delicate feedback, it's wise to do it privately. Double that when you are giving it to a superior. "Delicate" can be anything you think might be taken negative. "Praise in public, punish in private" is a good guideline, even when the "punishment" is just saying "hey, please don't do that".

Since you do enjoy participating in the group bonding activity, be clear that you do want it to continue, you just don't want to eat allergens that make you ill. A good strategy is to clearly point out the problem foods and offer safe alternatives.

If you are very sensitive, it's also wise to point out what the limits are - for example, with a contact allergy, just having someone who's touched the danger-food put their fingers on your skin could trigger a response.

2 - Fix the food procurement process

Can be problematic depending on how your logistics work. If, for example, this is food brought in by the company, it may not be so easy to change. But if this is food brought in by an individual in the team, it may be that you can change the ingredients without a big hassle. If you have a reasonably straightforward allergy, it's OK to say - "hey, I can't eat --this food--, can we avoid that in shared meals?" - This is rather like the trend in the US for elementary schools to say "please don't bring peanuts -- too many kids are allergic" - they often ask parents not to pack nuts in individual lunches, because kids are so prone to sharing, that the school doesn't want to deal with the surprise when nut-bearing kid shares with nut-allergic kid.

Keep in mind that this starts to be less of a good plan if your restrictions are very complicated. For example, many gluten intolerant folks will just back away from food sharing activities, because it's pretty hard to figure out how to avoid gluten if you are new to gluten-free eating.

This varies as much by culture as by allergy. For example, you won't see much cheese in some cuisines. In others, it can be as if the very definition of "edible" includes "has cheese in it".

3 - Avoid it

It sounds like your reaction is not too severe, and you really enjoy participating. But if you can't offer simple guidance that people could reasonably follow, you may need to avoid the activity. There is a point where you have to make the judgement call that your issues mean a severe imposition to others. The golden rule ia a good guideline - if you would find your food-allergies to be extremely annoying, then you may be right.

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