My boss has a kid who is constantly selling things for school fundraisers. Every time she will ask all of us (her employees) to participate (ie, pay up). I feel like this is a really unfair abuse of her power (and I definitely don’t need any more cookies/chocolate bars/wrapping paper/magazine subscriptions). At the same time, I worry about landing on her bad side if I refuse. Is there a way to say no that doesn’t put my potential future promotion in jeopardy?

 You are absolutely right re. your boss’ behavior. I wish she had written a letter asking if it’s appropriate to ask the people who work for you to support umpteen of your kids’ school fundraisers, in which case my answer would be absolutely not (!!!). A single Girl Guide cookie drive or what have you is one thing, but to make multiple asks from people who are below you on the employment food chain is, as you say, an abuse of power.

The problem, of course, is that she’s the one who has the power to abuse. Depending on the company you work for, you could try reporting the behavior to HR; though in my experience, that sort of thing is just as likely to bite you in the butt as it is your boss. I once had a co-worker who complained to HR about our boss only to find out that the two of them (the HR supervisor and our Devil Wears Smart Set boss) went for after work cocktails together on the regular. Needless to say, the complaint was never dealt with, and our boss’ behaviour only got worse.

N/b: I’m not saying this is always the case. Nor am I trying to trivialize abusive behavior in the work place and the importance of documenting that abuse through HR. It’s just that given the relatively low stakes here, it’s probably best to sort this one out on your own. 

Is there a way to opt out without putting your future career prospects at risk? Hard to say for sure, but what does seem likely is that by opting in you are giving those prospects a boost. If we view this in a glass-half-full kind of way, one might ask: why turn down a relatively easy way to score brownie points with the woman who holds your next promotion in her hand?  

Perhaps the best solution is to establish a sort of middle ground. You mention that a bunch of the products are junk food. So next time boss lady asks you how many boxes of thin mints and peanut butter busters she can sign you up for this year, you say something like: “Oh, I would love to, but I’m on a diet/just cut out sugar/starting a cleanse and I just don’t trust myself around those delicious treats. Count me in for the next magazine subscription drive though.”

That way you are getting out of, say, fifty percent of the donation obligations while remaining in the good books. It’s true, this is more of a practical solution. It’s also true that if your goal is to address the principle of the matter, you may want to update your resume first. 

Fact: Bosses do annoying things all the time and at least this one involves donating to a good cause and getting something in return. Maybe it’s stuff you don’t want, but keep in mind that magazine subscriptions make fantastic gifts and wrapping paper…well…might I suggest this classic holiday prank to try on your least favourite co-worker.