my employees keep taking the same days off, I don’t want to sit next to my wife at work, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My employees are coordinating their time off and I can’t figure out why

I’m a manager at a medium sized nonprofit. I was recently promoted to an administrative position a few months ago. I supervise two employees who have worked here for several years (5-10 years) and openly admit that they are close personal friends.

I’ve noticed that they always seem to take the same days off during the work week, but give different reasons. In the past 12 months, they’ve taken 17 days off in common. They are random days here and there, so I don’t suspect they’re off vacationing together in a far off destination. It’d make more sense to me if that seemed to be the case! If they are not gone on the same day, then they are gone different days of the same week — one will take Tuesday and the other Thursday. The days don’t always coincide with holidays and are both use sick and vacation days. I get a variety of reasons when they let me know they’re going to be out.

It’s even occurred to me that they could have a side business going that causes them to be out at the same time, but I don’t know. I’ve noticed they’ve become friendly with another employee and she is now calling out sick on the same days that they are. That’s three employees randomly out on the same day once or twice a month. I supervise eight people, so it’s almost half of my team. They take more time off together than they do individually. What’s the best way to address this?

First, I’d try to take the mystery element out of it — the question of why they might be coordinating their time off and how they might be spending it. While I am intensely curious to know now too, you’ll be on more solid ground addressing it if you isolate the problem to the ways it impacts your team’s work.

You could say something like this to them individually (not together): “I’ve noticed that you often take sick or vacation days at the same time as Jane is taking hers, or if not on the same day, then within the same week. I know that you two are friends outside of work so I understand that you might occasionally want to be off at the same time, but because we’re a small team, it can be hard to have multiple people out at once. I do want to accommodate you when I can — so can you tell me if there’s something that’s making you want to coordinate your time off, and we can talk about what is and isn’t realistic to do?”

If they deny it’s happening, you could say, “Going forward if you want to coordinate your time, let’s pick once or twice a year when you can do it and we’ll plan for it in advance, but aside from limited occasions, it’s not something the team can easily accommodate.” Presumably if they are coordinating their time off for some reason and don’t want to talk to you about why, saying this will make them aware that there’s an impact and that it’s something you’re concerned about.

(By the way, if it does turn out that they’re running a side business together, it’s okay for you to say that they can’t take sick days to work on that; that’s not what sick days are for, and because sick days are generally last-minute, they tend to be more disruptive than planned vacation time.)

2. I don’t want to sit next to my wife at work

My wife and I work at the same company, an insurance broking firm — we met through work 10 years ago. We work in the same overall department now, but where there is any crossover with the work each of our teams does, I make sure I assign other people to deal with her, and she does the same vice versa so we keep work and marriage separate. We currently sit at other ends of the office about 30 yards apart so we cannot even hear each other at present.

The problem is that we now have a couple more employees than desks, so are moving to what our boss is calling agile working, i.e. just use whatever desk you can. It will work okay as there are always people off or away on business. My wife and I are okay with it in principle, but we don’t want to get to a situation where the only spare desks are together. Imagine if we have had an argument about something, or if we discuss work and have a disagreement.

So ideally I would like us to have allocated desks so we can stay sat as far apart as possible, but our boss is basically saying no, it’s first come first served to be fair to everyone, and we should just get to the office earlier to ensure we can bag desks far apart. This sounds wrong to me, and I would be grateful if you could suggest how I can maybe take this forward.

Your boss might be more open to it if there happen to be two desks in particularly undesirable locations and you offer to take those two worst ones as your permanent spots, as a trade-off for not having to suffer under this new plan like everyone else will. But if there aren’t two “worst” desks, or if he’s not open to it, then he’s right that all you can do is try to get there a little early to ensure you’re not next to each other. While it’s true that it’s not good for married people to sit next to each other at work — for all sorts of reasons — he’s also right that it might not feel fair to others if you two get permanent spots to store your stuff while they have to scramble for space every day.

3. I need a knowledge transfer from an employee and can’t get one

I have an employee, Jane, who’s abruptly taking leave to deal with some health and personal issues. We don’t know when (or if) she’s coming back, so we’re planning on going at least several months without her, and I’m trying to implement stopgap solutions.

I work at a small organization, and Jane handles our building issues for us. Consequently, there’s a lot of knowledge Jane has that nobody else does (things such as key contact people with suppliers / clients, the location of our keyholders list and the extra building keys, the password to our account with the alarm company, etc.). Jane agreed to come in to meet with me to hand off some of that knowledge, but keeps… not doing it. I’ll get a text saying, “Sorry — something’s come up, but I’ll come in tomorrow for sure” and then get the same message the next day, and the next. Beyond that, I haven’t heard anything from her — she’s not answering my calls or emails at all. It’s now been almost a week, and I’m starting to despair.

I’ve found some of the information I need by poking around Jane’s office, but some of it I really can’t find at all. Do you have any advice for what I can do to try and get Jane to do that information hand-off? Or do I just need to suck it up and assume it won’t happen, and try to work around it as best I can?

I’d do two things: One, proceed as if it’s not going to happen — whatever you’d do if Jane had fallen off the face of the earth do that now. Two, in tandem with that, make one final attempt to connect with her, but ask if she’d be able to do the meeting by phone. It might be that coming in is too hard for her right now, but that she’d be able to set aside 30 or 45 minutes to talk by phone. You could send her an email saying this: “I don’t want to bother you further while you’re on leave, so this will be my last message to you until you’re able to get in touch. But I wanted to propose that we do the hand-off meeting we’d planned on over the phone instead of having you come in. I think that would be easier for you to do, so if there’s a time we can plan on a call, let me know. I can also send you the list of questions I have for you ahead of time if that would help (and I’ll limit it to what’s essential to keep it short). I really appreciate you being willing to do this — but also, if you’ve realized that you can’t right now, I understand that too.”

Normally I would say not to even try that final attempt since she’s supposed to be on leave (and the fact that she hasn’t responded in a week may be a clear sign that she’s just not up to it), but since she did promise repeatedly that she was going to come in, I think it’s okay to try once more (since you’re now suggesting something easier on her than the original plan). But if falls through again, I’d just assume you’re not getting anything from her right now and move forward without her.

Also! Take this as impetus to have everyone on your team document the essential info you’d need from them if they were captured by aliens tomorrow. People do sometimes disappear without warning, so the more you can do to ensure some continuity — or at least lack of total crisis — the better.

4. Asking about time off for grief counseling

I am currently job-hunting and wondered how I should approach a standing weekly appointment for grief counseling, with a potential new employer? It is the last appointment of the day and I would be willing to work through my lunch break that day. I would also be willing to go every other week. A few weeks ago I lost a parent and a few months before that, my best friend. I need the therapy to help process all of my emotions and keep my mental health in check.

I wonder if it would be appropriate to bring it up if offered a position or beforehand? And is there a way I can mention it without having to share any details?

Wait until you have an offer, and at that point you can say, “I have a standing medical appointment once a week, generally late in the day. I can switch it to every other week if necessary, and I can work through lunch on those days. Can we work around that?” You don’t need to explain what it’s for, and they shouldn’t ask.

I’m sorry about your parent and your friend — this must be a very hard time, and I hope this helps.

5. Do we have to pay someone who walks off the job on their first day?

Is a new hire who walks off the job in the first hour or two (or less) of employment entitled to be paid for that time? It is happening more often. Department of Labor rules would suggest that the answer is yes, but there is no value or benefit from someone being trained to do a simple task and then abandoning the job.

Yep, you still have to pay them for any time they spent at work. If you’re seeing this happen more than extremely occasionally, though, it’s worth looking into why. Are you being rigorous enough in your hiring process? Are you making sure people understand what the job is that they’re signing up for? Are you prepared for them when they show up, and are they being treated well and getting a good impression of your organization when they arrive on the first day? Those are all things that could potentially explain why this is happening, and making changes there could help solve the problem.

{ 481 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Ramona Flowers

    #1 Okay, so this made me think of the Duck Club letter. But I think the reason is indeed beside the point (though please update and tell us what it is when you find out).

    Reply
    1. Jen S. 2.0

      Agreed. You might be curious about why they seem to be coordinating (it might even be a coincidence), but I’m not sure the reason is 100% important to know for work reasons. If they volunteer the information, fine, but in general, it seems like you should address the work-related part, not specifically the extracurricular piece. Your curiosity is not an emergency.

      (This actually reminded me of the employee and boss who blabbed to the whole world that a colleague was out because she was receiving inpatient mental health treatment. Um, not anyone else’s beeswax, y’all.)

      Reply
    2. Mookie

      Okay, so this made me think of the Duck Club letter.

      I love this. I was definitely thinking of something more pedestrian. Now I’m almost cheering them on. At least they’re getting their quacks on outside the office proper.

      Reply
    3. Armchair Analyst

      EVERY SCHOOL seems to have honors award ceremony the same week, or holiday concert, or valentine’s party, or whatever, and even if their kids go to different schools, even in different school districts, the same weeks will be heavy for involved parents. I bet it really is as simple as this.
      Signed,
      Parent who schedules things

      Reply
      1. MashaKasha

        Eh, I dunno, they would all have to have kids in K-12, around the same ages, and the schools would have to be really in sync with their holiday concerts and similar events. Also,

        “I’ve noticed they’ve become friendly with another employee and she is now calling out sick on the same days that they are. ” Did she transfer her children to the same school district as the other two?

        Reply
        1. Rainy

          I wouldn’t really find it that surprising if it were true–of the portion of my office who are parents, half of them have children currently in elementary school, and the schools around here do tend to hold things on the same days, for whatever reason.

          Reply
      2. As Close As Breakfast

        But then why wouldn’t they say these were the reasons they were requesting time off? It’s not that an employee has to explain what they need time off for, but it seems like at some point between the 2-3 employees at least 17 times during the year, something innocuous like this would come up. And it surely doesn’t explain the calling in sick part.

        Reply
    4. Important Moi

      I don’t see anything that OP says is affecting the team other than to say that almost half the team is out the same day once or twice a month. Work has not been affected because OP hasn’t said work is affected. OP is curious. The concern about a side business is odd.

      As an employee I’d be annoyed at the question, but I’d answer with not necessarily the truth. Also, ” “Going forward if you want to coordinate your time, let’s pick once or twice a year when you can do it and we’ll plan for it in advance, but aside from limited occasions, it’s not something the team can easily accommodate.” is a bridge too far.

      I’d like an update.

      Reply
      1. Anony

        We don’t know that work is not affected. They did not say either way. The OP may have assumed it would be obvious that work was affected and didn’t feel the need to say it. I don’t think we can assume either way. I think Alison’s advice is good. The OP should focus on the effect on work and let their curiosity go. If there is not an effect then it doesn’t need to be addressed. If there is an effect on work then her wording is great.

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        1. CmdrShepard4ever

          I 100% if work is not really impacted by three people being off at the same time then OP should not bring it up and it doesn’t really matter why they are taking the time off. This reminds me a little of the letter where the letter writers boss did not “approve” of using vacation time to go to a video game competition. The only say an employer should have regarding vacation should be to not approve it when it actually impacts work productivity.

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          1. ContentWrangler

            Yes, since the OP didn’t elaborate whether this is negatively impacting work, the letter seemed overly paranoid to me. I mean 17 times in 12 months means…a little over once a month. 1.5ish days out of every 24 or so. So maybe they’re just friends who occasionally want to have a day off together or maybe some of it is a coincidence, but without further comment from OP that this is throwing the team off and impeding work, I don’t think they need to pry into this. And if it is causing issues, for the vacation days, just don’t approve one if the other has already asked for the same day. The sick days are a little tougher to manage but I’m generally of the opinion that people should be allowed to use their allotted sick days without much questioning, unless there’s a serious issue.

            Reply
          2. 1Admin

            OP … if this isn’t causing too much of a hardship to your department I would leave it alone beyond stating that you do not want to see multiple people out of the office on the same day. Wanting to limit the number of days they want to be out together, per year comes across as controlling. Remind your employees what your sick leave policies are, and remind them that they are not supposed to be using it in lieu of annual leave.

            OP — question. Is your main concern that the 3rd person is calling in sick when they have planned to be out? That the 3 people out at once is an issue? If they have the annual leave available, and they are requesting time off together, leave it alone. Unless you have a policy that only 2 – 3 people can be out on annual leave on the same day, you need to leave it alone. You can mention to the 3rd person how this appears; and the assumption you are making; and state what the hardship is when it happens. Be careful that you are not creating the environment that when people want off, they feel that they have to justify it. Otherwise you’ll have people doing what I have to with my boss. Which is call out at the last minute either sick (when I’m not) or have some type of emergency that I cannot avoid.

            Years ago I had a car accident while working at a bank, I asked to take an afternoon off to get estimates for the repair. My insurance required 3. They denied my request. They had the policy that you have to take two weeks off at once, period. You couldn’t use your leave a day here or there. I called in sick in order to do so. An employer does not need to know why someone is asking off if they have the leave to do so.

            OP, You can either approve it or deny it based on your department’s workload & if it would be a hardship. Working in a university limits me on taking time off. I can take a Friday off with Annual Leave, unless there is something going that requires my presence. But I am not allowed to take anything past the one day while classes are in session.

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            1. Anna

              OP said it was once or twice a month on a team of 8 people. That’s a lot of time and a lot of people to be out so frequently.

              Reply
        2. Dolorous Bread

          I think the OP saying “That’s basically half my team out on a given day” means work is being affected, personally.

          Reply
      2. LCL

        It’s not a bridge too far managing days off requests. A lot of places do it. In many business places, only X amount of persons are allowed on planned leave, and if someone asks who would be X + 1 they are told no.

        Reply
        1. Jerry Vandesic

          I don’t think there is anything in the letter about a company policy limiting the number of people taking off on the same day.

          Reply
          1. SarahTheEntwife

            It doesn’t have to be written policy for it to be an established best practice. At my workplace, for example, we do absolutely need to have at least one person on every shift for security reasons, but whether we need more than that depends on what time of year it is and is negotiated on a more case-by-case basis.

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    5. Amber T

      LOL I did not think of the Duck Club or anything of that nature… but now I can’t unsee/unthink.

      OP, I do agree it’s none of your business *why* they’re taking off the days. If the scheduling is impacting your/their jobs, then it’s an issue. But I’m also a busy body who actively works to keep my nosiness in check and works to get her gossip on through safe resources, like anonymously online on sites like AAM, so if you indeed find out it’s something dubious, please let us know.

      Reply
  2. strawberries and raspberries

    Re: #5, are they hinting about wanting to ask their supervisor on a date and realizing it’s not going to happen?

    (Sorry, throwback.)

    Reply
      1. esra (also a Canadian)

        I love where that cuts off, because I glanced at it quickly and thought “Why would they ask the policy about asking out the supervisor’s lazy friend?”

        Reply
  3. bunniferous

    Back at a different job, my old boss got diagnosed with a brain tumor. She never got around to making sure various passwords, etc were transferred to her manager-or to anyone-as she assumed she would still be capable for some time. Unfortunately a pulmonary embolism(iirc) struck her out of the blue while she was recovering from surgery and afterwards-lets just say she was unable to communicate from then on until she passed away(I hate glioblastoma with all that is within me. My husband lost a stepdad to it too.) It made life hell for quite some time to her husband (the co-owner) and the manager (who did all the day to day stuff.)
    People, write your stuff down just in case. You never know what life may bring. I am totally guilty of not doing this myself with my job and if I got hit by a truck tomorrow there is no one who could just pick up where I left off with any semblance of ease. So I am preaching to myself…..

    Reply
      1. RabbitRabbit

        My vet’s office literally had a “If (First Name) Is Hit By a Bus” three-ring binder behind their desk. I’m assuming they moved it to a less obvious place since I don’t see it these days.

        Reply
      2. Anonymoose

        Yep. Before I left LastJob, I had all my staff type up their ‘hit by a bus’ data – re-occurring processes, dates/times, log info, etc. This is also super helpful for PTO workload planning. I also did the same (obvi).

        OP, the good news with a lot of this is that you can assign the ‘digging’ to your most research-agile staff member. Think of the person who always find the best online coupon codes, or can google the crap out of ‘how to fix my spreadsheet’. That type of thinking will really help nail down the hows and whys of your vendor list. The other good news is that most of those vendor will bill you, and you’ll be able to reverse-search the process, find someone at the company who can look up all your password/contact data. The keysheet is a little difficult, but I would assume it’s in two places: file folder system (hard copy) and on employee’s personal drive. Log onto her computer and do a ‘recent places’ search on her Windows explorer and sleuth your way through her files. It will take time but you’ll also have a better understanding of what’s in her workload/responsibilities.

        Good luck!

        Reply
    1. Traveling Teacher

      A thousand times this, yes! I got into the habit of doing this for my substitutes after seeing the very organized “in case” file a couple of head teachers had while subbing for them in my assistant days–passwords for the grading and attendance systems, list of classroom policies, class lists with pictures of the kids, etc.; it made everything so much simpler and more efficient for them upon their return from unexpected illnesses, too.

      And also! Consider doing so for your personal passwords–you can keep the passwords in a secure location, like a safe deposit box, as well as a list of all accounts, in case the worst should happen. I started doing this about two years ago after a relative tragically–and quickly–passed away after similar circumstances to your colleague’s, bunniferous. His spouse had to go through lawyers just to get access to passwords for financial accounts that he had managed, etc. (ie: all of them! And she got locked out of the accounts after too many attempts to guess the passwords… Checking, savings, IRAs, etc.) and it took months of effort during a very difficult time. I also keep an “in case of death” file on my computer with my last wishes and scan of my living will, instructions for my funeral in case anyone cares to follow them, and an updated list of accounts. I think all of this probably took me only two Saturdays to write and set up, and it has given me (and my husband) enormous peace of mind.

      Reply
      1. Dozinoff

        A good idea, but a safe deposit box is not the best place for the information. Banks usually will not open those for anyone but the box holder without a Court order unless you have a key too. I suggest a fireproof lock box stored somewhere in your house.

        Reply
        1. zora

          Well, if it’s intended for family, you can make sure both spouses and all the children have access/know where the key is, etc.

          Reply
      2. The Cosmic Avenger

        LastPass lets you set up “Emergency Access”, where those emergency contacts can request access, and if you don’t respond to the notice that they’ve requested it within a specified time (that you set), they will be granted access.

        Reply
        1. Parenthetically

          OK, well, I’ve been putting off setting up a LastPass (“you may not use the same password as any of your last 12 passwords” has me fully convinced that there are dark forces at work in our world), but this clinched it.

          Reply
        2. MashaKasha

          Ooooh, I need to set this up for myself and my sons. I use LastPass, but thought they’d need to have my LastPass login and password to have access (which obviously I don’t want them to, unless I really am gravely ill or dead).

          I had a pretty rough time getting to my dad’s contact info after he passed. Some of his accounts, I never got access to. For one of them, I was asked to provide his mother’s maiden name. Even though I happened to know what it was, by a wild stroke of luck, I had no idea of its English spelling. Tried several different ways , but none of them matched whatever spelling Dad had provided when he was setting that account up. I just walked away from that account in the end. Dad was 75 years old, on SSI and Medicaid, and living in a Section 8 apartment, so none of his accounts were all that important for me to get into. If something happens to me, on the other hand, my sons would need to be able to contact the mortgage company, medical insurance that they are both on, things of that nature. That was one of the big reasons why I set up a LastPass account for myself.

          Reply
        3. Aglaia761

          The Emergency Access feature sends an email invitation to them. So make sure to give them a heads up that it’s coming.

          Reply
          1. The Cosmic Avenger

            I only set this up this morning, actually. I had a group chat with my small band of friends of 30+ years, but only other is currently using LP, despite us all being in IT. He accepted right away. :) (He’s also the person who will be our minion’s guardian if all other immediate family is gone, because between us we only have 2 adult immediate family members still living.)

            Reply
      3. JDusek

        I know it’s not as physically “secure” but my parents keep a physical non digital address book with the name of the website and pw.

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    2. BioPharma

      All my stuff is accessible by IT so I’m fine there, but NOTE TO SELF: clean out personal stuff in case I get hit by a bus! (nothing embarrassing, but still)

      Reply
      1. the gold digger

        Also, designate a friend to get rid of the naked photos in your house so your kids don’t have to find them. And your porn. And your equipment.

        Not saying don’t do that stuff. Grown people get to do what they want. But nobody wants to see his mom and dad naked. With – equipment.

        Reply
        1. MashaKasha

          I dunno. By the time their dad and I are, say, 70 or 80, those photos will look nothing like us. (Heck, they probably already do, since ours were taken in the 90s.) At that point, it’s art. But I do agree that this kind of art will be uncomfortable for the kids to see. (I would not want to see theirs, either!!) Now, if I put those photos in a sealed envelope and passed it to the great-grandkids…

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        2. Connie-Lynne

          Yeah, my mom and dad are coming up to help me clean out my husband’s effects and I’m like goddamnit, I have to find the fortitude to do a first pass solo, because his drawers and closet were where we kept most of the sexytimes stuff.

          His parents had a similar problem when his uncle, who lived alone, died in the same way — *somebody* had to go and clean out his uncle’s porn but nobody knew any of his non-family-members so his dad did it. People’s sex stuff is not what you want to inadvertently learn about after your death or while they’re grieving.

          Reply
    3. Damn it, Hardison!

      This is going into my goals this year. I have 2 areas of responsibility (one of which is an enterprise wide service) that no one else has any insight into, primarily due to institutional memory loss and my colleagues distinct lack of interest (aka it’s beneath them). I’ve never taken a vacation where I’m not checking my email and resolving issues with one of the services. My manager finally agreed that creating “playbooks” (I hope that word goes out of fashion soon) would be a good use of my time.

      Reply
    4. NGL

      My boss unexpectedly resigned last month. I’ve been scrambling for weeks to try to piece together all the different things I didn’t even know he was doing, let alone the things I was peripherally aware of. Every damn day a new e-mail pops up in my inbox saying, “So, [old boss] used to handle this. Are you doing it now?” The answer is “I guess so! What do you need/how do I do it/who else do I need to talk to?” because NO ONE knew how Boss actually did his job.

      Reply
      1. Hellanon

        Same issue, only with a long-term report I inherited when I took over our boss’ job on her retirement. What my report said to me when I met with her was, “We’ll get along fine if you don’t touch my stuff.” Now, I by and large didn’t listen – but when she went out on a sudden medical leave of indeterminate length, I very quickly realized how much of her day-to-day work I didn’t really understand. I have a good grasp of the big picture and a capacity to strategize its place in the greater scheme, but I am struggling to train a replacement on the task flow…. “Process sustainability” is my mantra for 2018.

        Reply
    5. Lili

      My dad passed suddenly as a complication to surgery. While he’d written down enough beforehand for the month he was expecting to be out in recovery, he still took a lot of knowledge with him. One of his coworkers said at his funeral that my dad “forgot more knowledge over the years about the teapot industry than I’ll ever know,” and that really stuck with me. Documentation is such a useful thing.

      Reply
    6. Serin

      At the veterinarian I used to go to, there was a three-ring binder at the front desk with “BIG BOOK OF HELP” written on it, which made me laugh but was also obviously a good idea.

      Ever since then, I’ve left behind a Big Book of Help every time I’ve left a job.

      Reply
    7. Rock Room

      When I started my current job, there was very little documentation of anything, and what we had was shoddy at best. I have documented as much as possible (there are a few things undocumented, but those are fairly easy to stumble through and I will get to them eventually) and keep everything meticulously updated. I call it the Hit by a Bus Contingency Plan. If this entire office were obliterated tomorrow, people with a working knowledge of the field could pick up our documentation and keep things moving (maybe not perfectly, but it would go on). I’m quite proud of that. In theory, it also means that people will ask me fewer questions and when I’m on vacation both leave me alone and not mess things up because they don’t have instructions, but…

      Reply
      1. k.k

        This is exactly what I’ve done. When I came into my job, it was clear that a lot of important details had left with the employee I replaced. I wasted so much time reinventing the wheel trying to figure stuff out. I created what I believe to be a very clear documentation for most tasks now, so in theory the next person in this role will have an easier go of it.

        Reply
    8. Mockingjay

      We had to do a disaster recovery plan at ExJob. The IT department gave me a list of restart procedures to get the servers back up and running. I thanked them and said, that’s nice, but did you talk to Logistics? They were puzzled.

      The point of the plan was complete restoration (assume a tornado leveled the building, for instance) of ALL business departments to get back up and running quickly. So you need the inventory of all current equipment from Logistics, for repairs or replacement before you can start it back up. You need the network architecture map (how everything connects) from IT. You need a list of POCs for utilities (who in the company is authorized to shut down or restart electric or water services) from Management. And so on.

      It’s SO important to document these kinds of things. If you break it up by assignment: IT provide this piece, Logistics another, then it’s easy to put it in a binder. Doesn’t have to be fancy. Set an update time of 6 months or yearly to ensure the information is still accurate. I found lots of easy-to use disaster plan templates online, provided by state and federal agencies. It takes some time to develop one initially, but it solves problems like the one OP #3 encountered. When we did ours, we realized only the head office was authorized to coordinate with the utilities and the leasing agent. So we asked to have a local staff member as the alternate POC, which they agreed to.

      Reply
      1. TardyTardis

        We had that nailed pretty much at my last job, because we had an assets manager who was insanely good, and her files were backed up every week with all the inventory/sales/other important data off HQ site. The IT people also had their own building on the campus, but I don’t know what their backups were. I understand a lot of what they had came in really handy after the 6.2 earthquake we had in 1993.

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    9. Bea

      Ever since I went through losing my bosses mind to dementia I advocate procedure manuals for every place I have worked since.

      Only one place didn’t bother allowing me time for it and when I quit with 2 weeks, they suddenly realized how much they didn’t know. And yet didn’t bother having me spend 2 weeks writing things down or shadowing. That place is destined to go out of business so whatever.

      Reply
    10. Jesmlet

      This… because you never know what will happen. You should never keep essential information inside the brain of only one person. That’s just a recipe for disaster. We finally have a second person who knows how to do payroll (me) but I still don’t have access to the actual payroll system because it’s on the owner’s desktop (seriously). From vacations to sudden deaths to situations like OP’s, there are so many reasons why this stuff needs to be written down.

      Reply
    1. JamieS

      Agreed. Hopefully this isn’t overly harsh towards OP but assuming this is actually happening at OP’s company and not just an “out of curiosity” question I think the fact OP wrote in to ask if they had to be paid, with a strong implication OP thinks they shouldn’t, instead of asking for advice on why they were walking off speaks for itself.

      Reply
        1. KHB

          Maybe the OP is personally in a position where she has authority over payroll but not over hiring practices or general working conditions?

          Reply
            1. KHB

              It sounds like LW5 does know the laws surrounding paying for time worked, but she wanted to double-check that she’s understanding them correctly. My broader point, though, is that this (and every other) LW is an individual, not an embodiment of her company as a whole. Depending on what her specific role is, she might not have the power to fix everything that’s wrong with her situation, and that colors the question that she asks.

              Reply
      1. anon scientist

        Just because they only asked about the pay doesn’t mean that it is the only thing they are thinking of. Maybe they know exactly why the person walked off (and possibly even how to fix it in the future) and don’t need advice on that, just whether to pay them.

        Reply
        1. Natalie

          They had already found an answer though: “Department of Labor rules would suggest that the answer is yes, but there is no value or benefit from someone being trained to do a simple task and then abandoning the job.” I have to agree that it sounds like they are looking for permission to break to the law.

          LW #5, just generally speaking I think you need to do a bit to adjust your thinking. It’s never acceptable to mess with people’s pay as a form of punishment or whatever, and it is nearly always illegal. (There are a few circumstances in which you can make deductions, but they’re rare and in my opinion usually still shitty behavior.) Remove it from your mental toolbox entirely.

          Reply
          1. anon scientist

            True, it does seem like they already know the answer to their question. I guess my point was that it seems off for the commentariat to say that a letter writer is asking the wrong question.

            Reply
            1. Natalie

              Fair, although when the blog writer asks that very question it’s going to be hard to keep people from discussing it in the comments.

              Reply
    2. Drama Llama

      This is unfortunately a frequent occurrence at low skill industries like F&B. It tends to attract certain types of people, eg inexperienced students, who aren’t familiar with workplace norms. It’s certainly worth a self reflection on where your organisation can improve (is there a mean boss? Do you expect too much during training? Is the hiring process rigorous enough? Etc). But in certain occupations you have to accept there will be some walk offs and quick turnover, even in good workplaces.

      Reply
      1. Mookie

        Eh. It’s definitely part and parcel of some blue-collar trades that have undergone “disruption” (and deregulation and de-unionization) over the past half century, and have transitioned from long-term career prospects to something more temporary (like being let go every other fortnight only to have to re-apply again on a makeshift lottery system). So workplace conditions is my first thought, and that includes training that only takes an hour or two the first full day. I wouldn’t chalk it up necessarily to a lack of experience — sometimes it’s experience that tells us this isn’t going to work and there’s no reason to waste any further time. That spells, for me, desperation on the part of the applicant (knowing this is dicey but being willing to show up and also willing to walk off) and something slightly dysfunctional in the workplace. The LW can speak to that, of course.

        Reply
        1. Mookie

          Also, if the positions are strictly “low skills” with no further investment required, coupled with the LW knowing her industry well enough to gauge that the frequency of these walk-offs is unusually high, the problem is, as you say, hiring and screening and then time set aside to truly acclimate new hires and ensure that their first few days feel productive for everyone. Letting someone loose the first day and being surprised that they feel frustrated or overwhelmed is not a long-term or sustainable strategy, unless you can handle the money wasted and it sounds like the LW can’t.

          Reply
          1. Collarbone High

            Very true. My first job was a fast food place that asked new hires to come in at 11 a.m., watch a handful of outdated training videos and then start work in the middle of the lunch rush. A not-small number of people noped out after a half hour of being yelled at for not already being an expert at running the fryers or the grill.

            Reply
        2. MM

          I had a whole thing typed out, but basically +1. When I worked in this kind of place I knew people spending hours on the bus to reach what was, frankly, a pretty shitty workplace. We had relatively quick turnover (though a lot of people stayed for months or years), but I never ever saw someone walk off the job on their first day.

          Reply
      2. hbc

        You can expect *some* walk-offs, but many in the first few hours indicates a major problem in the company. If the work is really hard, make sure they do a trial run (either short test or actual paid hour) before they get there. If the environment is hot/cold/loud/otherwise unpleasant, make sure they spend some time in the work area. If they get fed up with following orders, make sure the interview questions are tailored to sussing that out.

        Reply
        1. Anony

          I agree. The volume suggests that either the working conditions are bad, the pay is too low for what they are asking of the workers or the people they hire are do not have an accurate idea of what to expect on the job.

          Reply
      3. Allison

        Yeah, bad training can definitely play a part.

        I worked at a fast food place for one day, and at the end had a talk with the boss and we agreed it wasn’t a good fit. So I didn’t exactly abandon the job, it was mutual, but what really set the tone for my day being so crappy and me being in a bad mood was the training in the morning. The videos and interactive training stuff on the computer were fine, but then when my supervisor showed me the kitchen it was all so rushed, then she had me take a customer and yelled at me for freezing up, and THEN asked “wait a minute, this is your first job??” that I had never worked in food service before and never touched a register, or done a cash transaction, and she was like “but you’re nineteen!” and, I don’t know, seemed kind of horrified that I didn’t have a job in high school. I didn’t really want to take that job in the first place, but after all that, I really didn’t want to be there.

        Reply
      1. Dr Wizard, PhD

        Yes. The only time in my life I’ve walked right off a job about half an hour in was the job where we were expected to robodial strangers constantly asking them to do surveys.

        In addition:
        – We could not deviate by a single word from the posted script BUT were rated based on how many people did our surveys. (So we should magically compel them with our tone of voice? In practice I think they wanted people to break the script to succeed so they could ding their reviews.)
        – We were told in training that no call was ever rated Perfect (red flag red flag red flag).
        – No talking between calls, ever (REDFLAG REDFLAG REDFLAG).
        – The training was unpaid unless you lasted two weeks (unsure if even legal in my country but RED FLAG RED FLAG RED FLAG).

        Then my first call was to a recently bereaved woman. Walked right off (after handwriting a letter of resignation because I am punctilious in weird ways sometimes).

        I really shouldn’t have taken the job, but I was desperate at the time.

        Anyway, attempting to get back on topic, some work environments are set up to be inherently toxic and dehumanising because it’s in the company’s interests, and it’s also in their interest to convince employees any negative experiences or missed targets are their own fault.

        Reply
        1. Blue Anne

          Ugh, I worked at one of those while I was finishing up college. It was the worst. The first thing I would do when I got there in the morning was write down all the times, in 15 minutes increments, that I was going to be on the phones and draw a grid around them. Then as I reached those times, I would doodle in the squares as a reward for surviving.

          It was horrible.

          Reply
    3. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize

      In one toxic workplace there was a high turnover of people quitting in less than a week. The cause was an older worker who refused to train anyone and refused to answer any basic questions. She made it clear to any new hire they were there for donkey work and nothing else. Management did nothing, they kept hoping she would retire. She’s still there, running off good people.

      Reply
    4. Runner

      One caveat: I saw this at a call center. The cable/internet company had a five- or six-week training period where we didn’t work with customers but sat in class learning the products and pricing etc. and did hypotheticals and practice runs and listened to real calls and how they had been handled. We of course were paid full time for that. Everyone here knows the products/services; with few exceptions, nearly everyone hired had worked at call centers before and knew what they signed up for. And then on day one, when it came time to really start the job, more than one in the incoming class quit before taking even one phone call.

      Reply
      1. Nox

        Call center person here: this is common for our industry that’s often why we hire 10 to 15% above what we need to account for no shows or people who just end up not working out.

        Also, I would not pump us all in CC as low skilled. In QA you need to have experience in the LOB you monitor and strong analysis skills. To people who complain about how metric driven we are: that’s how the business works, we have to rely on KPI and scorecard performance to ensure everyone is doing the most optimal work. The reason you’re asked to not talk between calls is because the risk of you saying something inapprpriate that another customer can hear, you might think its “demeaning” but i can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard agents drop the 7 dirty words you can’t say on TV in the background of another agents call. This is also why if you mute and place customer on hold – we still record up your audio on the line. There is always the one agent who feels the need to call someone the bword and gets shocked when they get the auto fail from QA over it.

        Reply
      2. Natalie

        Eh, I kind of get this. Five to six weeks of “class” for any job seems frankly ridiculous and unbelievably boring to me, and if I got another job offer in that time I’d probably quit too. Cable company pricing can be complicated but it’s not rocket science, it shouldn’t take that long to learn.

        Reply
        1. N.J.

          Yeah…that’s not really what the long trainings are about. I’ve worked as a rep in four different call centers and a supervisor in one across a wide range of functions (banking customer service, cable customer service, product surveys, political fundraising, non profit constituent customer service and sales). An identifiable portion is learning about the product line or service, but a significant part of these several week trainings is to learn the software systems and interfaces that will be used, building confidence in the reps (even if you knew everything there was to know about cable pricing, most folks can’t just sit at a phone their first day on the job and not panic the first time they get a call) ensuring that messaging and approaches align with the goals and wishes of internal and external customers, dos and donts, and even weeding out for responsible folks who will show up every day. In my experience, people leave before training is completed because they found a job that is less stressful or with better hours, better pay or many times because they were already dealing with chaotic personal lives and wouldn’t last through any job, training or not. Call center environments are soul sucking and extremely hard jobs to do. They attract folks because they can often pay the best for an area if you don’t have the training or education to pursue white collar careers, or because people are misguided in their perceptions and think it’s easy work. It isn’t…your assumption that the training is unnecessary or that all you need to know is product pricing is a good example of why people leave—they aren’t cut out for the job and figure this out during training because they aren’t approaching it as a field they need to learn about or a job that requires a lot of knowledge of many different things. There’s nothing wrong with deciding the training is boring etc. but trust me it’s definitely necessary.

          To each their own, of course. I hated it and am glad I’m out of there.

          Reply
          1. Natalie

            It isn’t…your assumption that the training is unnecessary or that all you need to know is product pricing is a good example of why people leave—they aren’t cut out for the job and figure this out during training because they aren’t approaching it as a field they need to learn about or a job that requires a lot of knowledge of many different things.

            I can see how it came across like this, but to clarify, I’m not assuming call center work requires no training. It’s just a fact that a long class is going to have a certain amount of drop outs, no matter what the topic is. I imagine a lot of people drop out at the beginning of rocket science school, too.

            That said, lots of other industries manage to train people without making everyone sit through a six week class doing mock calls. I think that kind of one-size-fits-all training structure is a mistake by design for nearly all circumstances – you’re going to have some people that pick up, say, software systems very easily and others who really struggle with them, some people who are natural phone talkers and others who need lots of practice, and so on. Making everyone sit through the same paced instruction is a recipe for some people being bored, other people being lost and panicky, and thus increasing your likelihood of losing both groups before work starts. And if you’re pushing start dates forward so you can have 10 or whatever people in your training class, you’re further increasing the chances that they’ll find another job in the interim.

            Given the ludicrously high turnover in the industry, I’m not really inclined to look to them for management best practices.

            Reply
            1. Doreen

              I’m not going to say that call center jobs require five or six weeks of “class” because I have no idea. But saying that five or six weeks of training is ridiculous for “any job” goes too far. Lots of jobs require that amount of training and it isn’t just about learning software. The last job I had required 8 weeks of training and every bit of it was necessary before sending people out to work. While weeks -long group training is not suitable for every job, individual on-the-job training is not suitable for every job either. You wouldn’t hire someone as a police officer without spending weeks or months teaching them the law, how to shoot, arrest procedures, etc before putting them on the street. And there are plenty of other jobs like that.

              Reply
              1. Natalie

                Oh come on, there’s an obvious context for this conversation of job where lots of people fail to show up on their first day or quit sometime during their training without explanation. And in the comment you replied to, I said “lots of industries” rather than “literally every job ever in the world”, which should have made it further obvious that I was maybe not talking about certain specific jobs where lives are actually on the line if people make mistakes. It seems like you’re just being nitpicky for its own sake.

                Reply
            2. Perse's Mom

              I work in health insurance; the weeks long training for our reps is necessary. Multiple systems, lots of processes, claims and health plans are complicated! They have to learn and master SO much in relatively little time because it doesn’t go over well if we loose a new class of folks on the phones just for our customers to hear “I don’t know” or “please hold” constantly.

              Reply
        2. Mr Grinch

          I used to work at a call center for a cable company. We had four weeks of training to learn the company’s absolutely TERRIBLE software system. It was from 1980 and barely worked. Impossible-to-use software seems to be the norm in the industry.

          Reply
      3. KHB

        See, this looks – from a distance, anyway – like those employees were deliberately wasting the employer’s time and money by sitting through the training, drawing 5-6 weeks worth of paychecks, and then leaving without doing anything of value to the company. If an employer is seeing this happening a lot, I don’t think it’s completely ridiculous for them to feel taken advantage of or to wonder whether they might have any recourse.

        And OP5’s situation sounds like a miniature version of this same general thing (with a much shorter training period). I don’t think her question is necessarily coming from as nefarious a place as some people are concluding.

        Reply
        1. Kate 2

          From what I understand call center jobs are difficult emotionally and don’t pay very well. If you got offered a better paying job before you start, why wouldn’t you take it? There is nothing immoral in honestly accepting and training for a job you need, and leaving the job for one that is in your best interests. If the company had to lay you off during training they would be crying over it or asking your forgiveness.

          Reply
          1. KHB

            Agree with all of that. But it does seem like quite a coincidence that so many people are apparently completing the entire training and then quitting just before they’re called upon to do any actual work.

            Reply
            1. Lissa

              I knew 2 people who literally did that at the large call center in my city (that was their plan along, they had registered for full time school in September so they did the training over summer with no intent to work the job) I also knew lots of people who worked there for awhile though. I think they factored in a certain amount of people not making it through training.

              Reply
    5. K.

      Yep. In all the “quit after a very short time” scenarios I’m aware of in my own life, the people quit because the job had been egregiously misrepresented, e.g. the job had been billed as full-time salaried with benefits and turned out to be hourly. (This happened to my former coworker at his previous job – he got a call from HR asking him why he hadn’t logged his hours, and he was like “Log what now?”)

      Reply
      1. Merci Dee

        This happened to me once – having a job misrepresented. I was working with a temp agency during late 2008 – early 2010, and was sent on several assignments. Most were good placements, but didn’t turn into permanent gigs because of budget cuts, etc. But once, I was sent to a job that was described to me as data entry. No problem, I can type away as long as you need me to. I get to the site … and it’s cold-call sales. Ummmmmm… no. After an hour, I politely explained that I had been expecting data entry, and was shown the door. Called the temp agency, and learned from the assistant manager that the owner routinely lied about that job to get people to agree to work it. That was the last job I worked for that particular temp agency. The next day, I was telling a good friend about what happened, she recommended that I submit a resume to the temp place she recruited for, because they’d just gotten a new client looking for an accountant. I got placed on that job, went permanent after 3 months, and have been here for 8 years, next month.

        Reply
        1. the gold digger

          I moved to a new division at work – supposed to be a business development/marketing job.

          On day one, my new boss handed me a list of 6,000 names and told me to start cold-calling.

          I started looking for a new job instead.

          Reply
        2. crookedfinger

          I had a temp agency do that to me before, except the “office work” turned out to be applying decals onto t-shirts in a warehouse… I stayed the entire shift because I needed some money and, frankly, I was great at it, but I ended the night by letting them know I wasn’t coming back and then I never used that temp agency again.
          Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twi–just kidding, I never give additional chances to fool me after the first incident.

          Reply
        3. Taggett Strange

          Merci, that reminds me of my story, advertised as “admin assistant” and was actually more like “maintenance assistant” with moving office furniture and vaccuming, hauling paper around to departments and making coffee. (I even had to pass a HIPAA test for this job!) I went with it for a couple days, but they fired me (over BS) claiming they said for me to come in an hour early and they did not. When I told the temp agency, my placement person was majorly POed, and got me a better spot immediately, where I was hired on full time some months later, about 5 1/2 yars ago. I started as a file clerk, and now am a bookkeeper managing seven accounts with a lot better pay. The other day I overheard my boss telling a client she “lucked out” with me. A little motivation to help me make it through the rest of this month.

          Reply
      2. SirenSong

        I once walked off a job after a day and a half. In the interview, the position was advertised as an analyst position with flexible hours and large amounts of professional development opportunities. But shortly into the training, it became clear that it was actually a call center with inflexible hours. So I just left at lunch the second day.

        Reply
    6. Lady Russell's Turban

      Not necessarily. I work for a large hospital support services division and this happens to us regularly, especially with custodial staff. We pay well, our working conditions are excellent, and we are up front and explicit about how physically difficult and often disgusting the work can be. We reiterate this in our screening and then our interview process. But people are optimistic and either can’t fully imagine how physically demanding this work is and how gross cleaning up blood, feces, and vomit can be or delude themselves into thinking they can handle it. Very often they can’t. Some are gone before the end of their shift, others stick around for a week or two or until they can find a new job. Blessings and all the thanks in the world to those who stay and do a difficult job well.

      For the record, we do pay these short-time employees.

      Now, if anyone else faces these staffing challenges and has recommendations on finding, hiring, and retaining environmental services employees has suggestions or recommendations, please pass them on.

      Reply
      1. KellyK

        I think you’re in an area where having it explained and actually experiencing it are two really different things, so you’re always going to lose the people who didn’t realize they couldn’t handle it until they actually had to do it. Other than looking for people who’ve done physically difficult and/or disgusting jobs before or asking “What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever had to deal with at work?” in interviews, I’m not sure how you’d prevent that.

        Reply
      2. Winifred

        That sounds like a terrible but important job. I hope your organization pays very, very well, and gives awesome benefits.

        Reply
      3. nonymous

        My local university hospital has good luck with immigrants with limited English skills and limited education in their own country. For a lot of the workers, their previous employment is as a CNA (maybe that’s the tip? hire former CNAs?), so new staff is coming in with experience dealing with blood/feces/vomit and lifting heavy stuff. But the pay & benefits are much better, and the work is much more independent so it’s really common that they chat via a hands-free device with friends the whole shift.

        Reply
      4. GriefBacon

        Totally different industry, but this would happen a lot when I worked for a national park concessionaire. We would reiterate over and over that living in a national park can be challenging, as can living on company property with coworkers. We’d make it very clear multiple times throughout the hiring process that employees would be drug tested upon check in (and that, despite being in a medical marijuana state, national parks are on federal property and all drug use/possession is a federal offense) and randomly. But we would regularly have people show up and leave as soon as they had to drug test. Or they’d go to the first half of orientation and then leave once they realized they actually had to work 40 hours a week and couldn’t just go hiking 24/7. You can tell people over and over what to expect, but if it’s completely outside their range of experience/understanding, there’s only but so much you can do.

        Reply
      5. JustaTech

        I have a friend who works in childcare who has the same problem with people quitting (often with no notice) because no matter how thoroughly you describe “covered in poop and surrounded by screaming toddlers”, some people don’t know they can’t take it until they experience it first-hand.
        Which I totally get, but walking off in the middle of the day isn’t the best way to deal with it.

        Reply
      6. TardyTardis

        I have bad sinuses and impaired sense of smell thereby, or as I called it. God’s gift for when I was a nurse’s aide. I so hear you. You may wish to pass the word that people with those problems may well be able to cope better with that cleaning job than others. Me, I would have trouble coping with all the chemicals, have some fun allergies to floor stripper and such. But there may be others who could cope better.

        Reply
    7. Zombeyonce

      It could very well be that this is a telemarketing job. I took one once as a teenager and the responses from the people I had to cold call were so upsetting that I left at lunch and never went back. I think they still owe me $30. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were incredibly common for certain jobs.

      Reply
  4. DMLT

    LW#1 – seems like you’ve put an awful lot of effort into analyzing their pattern of time off. Why? I honestly would be very annoyed if my boss had been looking that closely at my time off and trying to find a link with someone else’s time off.

    Reply
    1. Someone else

      It may not take much effort to analyze though, nor is it necessarily “trying to find a link”. On a team that small, anytime two people are out at the same time, it’s not odd that it’d have a ripple effect on others. It’d only need to happen conspicuously 2-3 times before it might prompt a manager to run a report out of the time tracking system and realize “oh, that wasn’t just a gut feeling, they really do keep taking time off at the same time”. It’s the sort of thing you’d notice before you looked it up. My company actually has a policy that, outside of very common holidays (or sudden illness), certain staff are not allowed to take time off at the same time as each other. If we’ve got two teapot glazers, and two teapot painters, and two teapot assemblers, PTO requests that’d leave us with zero glazers or painters or assemblers on the same day will get rejected (ie whoever asked first is approve, second person is denied). It’s about coverage, and when you’re synching your time off with a colleague whose responsibilities are similar to yours, the “they’re BOTH OOO today?” will be felt by the rest of the team. No witch-hunt necessary. The behaviour is probably conspicuous.

      Reply
      1. Susan K

        Yeah, it doesn’t take a lot of analysis to notice this type of pattern. I’m on a team of 12 and it’s common knowledge that certain people have patterns in their sick days. I often hear people say things like, “Hm, tomorrow’s the Friday before a holiday weekend; I bet Bob calls in sick.” If you’re a manager and you notice that kind of pattern, I think it’s reasonable to want to look into it.

        Reply
        1. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize

          Yea, the old, “Why God do you curse me with a cold every single Friday before a holiday weekend?”

          Reply
          1. Falling Diphthong

            Heh. In middle school my son reliably got sick at the end of the week, Thursday or Friday, I think because of increasing sleep deficit as the week went on. I was certain he wasn’t faking because the School Virus of the Week would reliably take me down a couple of days later, so if I went into an office I would reliably have been missing Mondays.

            Reply
            1. Misc

              Ouch, yeah, the sleep deficit. I tend to miss sleep on Friday so I can make sure do show up and wrap up work, sleep all Saturday, miss sleep on Sunday because the rest of the world has normal hours, and then have to sleep in Monday and miss some work (or rather, put it off a few hours) or function very badly.

              Reply
          2. Bobbin Ufgood

            I had a co-worker once who was *always* “sick” the Monday after a planned week-long vacation — and it was my job to pick up her work. The part that made it even worse was that, if *I* was out, someone had to come in and cover for me, but if she was out, she didn’t have to have coverage– I was just forced to do her work and mine, too (by the way, this was not easy work — think something that requires more than 8 years of training and includes responding to emergencies)

            Reply
          3. Overeducated

            My entire family got sick the full weeks before Thanksgiving AND Christmas this year. I definitely went into work when I shouldn’t have (and was told to go home so others didn’t get sick over the holidays) because I didn’t want to be That Guy.

            Reply
        2. copy run start

          I was on a team of 30ish and it was still noticeable when one coworker routinely either took Friday afternoons off or got sick Friday afternoon… But only in the summer. It was also well known he had a cabin in the woods he would spend summer weekends at.

          Though it did sort of work out because he never had enough vacation left to take a week or two off like the rest of us.

          Reply
    2. TL -

      I think in a group of 8 it’s very noticeable when the same two people are consistently off together!
      And once you notice that, you’re gonna notice other patterns, like Charlie was out Tuesday and Diana was out Thursday, and phew, they weren’t out together, but it’s a little weird they’re out the same week and didn’t that also happen week before last?

      In my last workplace of ~10 people, I definitely would have noticed if Charlie and Diana took multiple days off at the same time and I wasn’t responsible for anybody’s schedule.

      Reply
      1. Kathleen_A

        I would absolutely notice it if two members of my eight-person team repeatedly took off the same day. I wouldn’t be able to help myself. In my case, it wouldn’t be my business to do anything about this because I’m not their supervisor, but in *this* case, it actually is the OP’s business.

        Gosh, I do so wonder what the heck they’re doing?

        Reply
      1. Turtle Candle

        Yep. I’m on a team this size. Once or twice I wouldn’t even notice, but given that wre have daily standup meetings, not noticing these ‘coincidences’ with the frequency that the LW reports would be basically impossible. I could ignore it if it didn’t have a business impact (though it sounds like it might for the LW), but I couldn’t not notice it.

        Reply
    3. Scotty Smalls

      That was my first reaction as well. But in such a small team it really would be obvious and it’s causing issues.

      OP should probably be prepared for them to react that way though. Maybe make it clear that the issue is about being understaffed when they both (and or 3 of them) take off.

      Reply
        1. MilkMoon (UK)

          I once worked at a very small business and one day, in our busiest period, three people had been granted holiday, leaving myself, two others and the manager. I came in and one of them had called in sick (no surprises there tbh) and the other had been in a car accident on the way to work. So that was a fun day…

          Reply
    4. HannahS

      I think it would be hard not to notice. OP1 wrote 17 common days off in 12 months. That means they’re absent on the same day more than once a month, even if it’s evenly distributed. And on top of that, when they’re absent on different days, it’s often in the same week. I’m no statistician, but I’d imagine no other two people’s absences coincide with remotely the same frequency.

      Reply
    5. Mookie

      I’m wondering whether the first bit of information the LW provided — that she’s new to the supervisory position (but I’m not sure whether she was acquainted with these employees before this?) — might play a role here, as well. Is it now that she’s directly overseeing scheduling she’s noticed the “pattern,” or was it there all along (random or intentional)? Did she have a suspicion at one point and then go back in history to inductively “verify” those suspicions, or is this pattern only the product of the last few months (since she herself was promoted)?

      I’m not really doubting the objective information, but the interpretation — that this is nefarious and a product of a close personal relationship — might only be one of several reasonable possibilities. If the department can’t handle more than one or two people missing, is there a chance the two primary offenders are, in fact, coordinating their appointments so they’re only out the same day once in a while, whereas the rest of the time one takes a Tuesday and the other a Thursday, and so forth? It does sound like they’ve taken an inordinate amount of sick days for a few months, though…

      Reply
    6. Zip Silver

      I track employee absences in a calendar. It takes no time at all, and any sort of pattern pops out pretty quickly.

      Reply
      1. Jesmlet

        Same. This doesn’t take much sleuthing if you note absences in the calendar. We have a fairly small team, but different offices, and when someone’s out, the HR person puts it on the calendar for the day. Most people I know keep their calendar set to work week so it wouldn’t be hard to notice this pattern even if it wasn’t the same exact day every time.

        Reply
      2. nonymous

        yeah, I used to work in a unit with about 25 people with the same job title. We reported to different supervisors, but there were days I worked where a different supervisor had the floor. All leave (both unexpected and planned) was noted in a master calendar, which we would refer to when planning our own leave requests. It was super-easy to spot patterns.

        Reply
    7. finderskeepers

      The employees are all part of a covert government organization that has infiltrated your company. But because they’re government employees, they won’t use their evenings, instead they will take the same days off to plot against you.

      Reply
    8. Falling Diphthong

      This reminds me of my teenager being disconcerted that I somehow knew that she had been home and gone out again. Yes, putting together the open loaf of bread, open jar of peanut butter, open jar of jelly, and pbj smeared knife on the counter, and the plate with crumbs and one crust of a PB&J on the table, I was able to discern her movements.

      Some patterns aren’t hard to notice.

      Reply
    9. MashaKasha

      Because OP only has eight people on the team, and having three of them randomly call out on the same days with no notice makes it hard for OP to plan the overall work? That would be my guess?

      Side note, that’s a lot of sick days. At my place of work, the three friends would call out three times and that would be it for the rest of the year.

      Reply
    10. Aloot

      LW could be like me and start taking notes (or going through the data they have) because they think they *might* be seeing a pattern based on a couple of occurrences but don’t want to draw a potentially false conclusion based on that.

      the brain loves patterns and it’s good to make sure if it’s just talking nonsense or if it has a point instead of just wondering for eternity.

      Reply
  5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#2, at the risk of sounding scoldy, I’m not sure that your request is reasonable. I know that this is not that responsive to your question, but I was imagining being in the shoes of your boss, and here’s what went through my mind:

    I understand why you and your wife would prefer the distance, but aren’t others required to maintain professionalism even if they’ve had a fight or difficult conversation with their partner? I know it’s different to be present and triggered by each other, but what you’re proposing seems like it imposes an inconvenience on your coworkers that isn’t really fair to them. It also suggests that you two would not be able to adhere to workplace norms even if you disagree on work-related issues. I’m worried that the request could undermine how your boss and colleagues see you.

    Reply
    1. Engineer Girl

      I was coming here to say the same. Don’t make your problems the company’s problem. Otherwise they’ll see you as unprofessional.

      Reply
      1. Ramona Flowers

        I’m so confused. I thought we were discussing humans, who do tend to have lives and personalities and stuff that, from time to time, affect how they do their jobs. If we’re actually talking about robots I’ll need to amend my advice below.

        Reply
        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          That’s such a misrepresentation of Engineer Girl’s comment. It’s possible for people to have emotions and feelings, and for them to exercise the kind of executive functioning skills to keep those emotions in check on the job. It’s not possible for everyone, but it’s possible for a lot of people.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Sorry, I just realized my tone might sound attacking—that’s definitely not my intent! I thought the snark about people not being robots was not very fair to Engineer Girl, and that’s what I meant to convey (not cold aggression).

            Reply
            1. Ramona Flowers

              I wanted to push back pretty hard on the idea that it’s unprofessional to need help with an issue like not sitting next to your spouse. Life doesn’t divide up that neatly. If you’re married and you work together it’s not unreasonable to need to take steps to avoid sitting next to each other that other people wouldn’t need to take. You wouldn’t make the above comment to someone who needed an assistance dog, or time off for a funeral, so why make it here?

              Reply
              1. Turtle Candle

                I work at the same company as my husband, and I’m actually a little horrified that you’re putting it on the same level as a service dog re: accommodation. My mother in law is blind, and has a service dog, and the dog is literally necessary for her to operate independently in the world. Not having to sit next to my husband isn’t even on the same order of magnitude as that. Not sitting next to my husband is a convenience; her dog is a need.

                Reply
                1. Ramona Flowers

                  I just meant it was personal. I’m really sorry if I chose the wrong example. It’s just that companies have policies that mean spouses can’t sit together or manage each other so changes do need to be made and thus for those people their problems are the organisation’s problem. All I’m saying is that sometimes it’s okay to need different treatment to someone else. I’m also remembering the letter from someone who didn’t want to sit next to two spouses!

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  I think there’s a significant difference between accommodations that are legally required and that enable people who have suffered systematic discrimination to participate fully in the economy and accommodations you prefer (but don’t need) because you’re worried you can’t get your emotions under control when working near your spouse.

                3. SignalLost

                  @Ramona – I’m missing anything that says the company’s policy is to not seat spouses next to each other. It reads to me that either the company doesn’t care and has never cared and the current seating is just the way it worked out, or, possibly, the company once cared but no longer does as a result of not having enough desks.

              2. TL -

                I do think there’s a big difference between “we might sit together sometimes because of lack of assigned seating” and the examples you’re giving!

                It’s fair to expect that, on the days they may end up sitting together, they should find a way to be professional (or trade seats/come in early.) I think this would be different for assigned seatings, but presumably this would be a more random occurance, not an every day thing.

                Reply
                1. Anony

                  I agree. It isn’t like they were assigned desks next to each other. The likelihood that they will have to sit next to each other with any frequency is small. If they really want to avoid any chance of that, they just need to arrive early to get their choice of desk. It isn’t ideal but doesn’t seem unfair.

                1. Diamond

                  I see you addressed this already though :)
                  Anyway, I agree with you that all this is a hammer to crack a nut – they aren’t going to consistently be sitting together. Maybe now and then, and perhaps someone will swap then.

              3. JamieS

                I don’t agree with your examples but I’d agree with your overall point if OP wrote in that they’re being assigned to always sit next to each other on a permanent basis but that’s not what’s occurring. Based on the context I’m assuming it’d be an infrequent occurrence for OP and his wife to sit next to each other and, assuming OP and his wife don’t fight on a regular basis, the days they are upset with each other they can make it a point to arrive early in order to further lessen the likelihood of sitting next to each other. If all else fails and they do wind up next to each other while steaming mad one of them could potentially ask to trade with another coworker.

                Reply
              4. Falling Diphthong

                I expected the problem to be a shared permanent desk, and in that case I’d be empathetic to “Can we rework this proposed office map to separate the husband-wife, parent-child, and roommate pairings?”

                But it might happen once in a rare while (there are 30 desks) and the solution would be to exempt them from a frequently hated policy that will still apply to the 28 nonmarried workers? That’s really not a good idea. Then come in early (Alison’s suggestion) or just be professional if a paired-up day happens to fall when they are feeling touching (PCBH’s) are reasonable accommodations for the employees (not the business or their coworkers) to make.

                And to take your time-off for a funeral example, if someone needs a special accommodation every day so they can attend a funeral that’s pretty odd.

                Reply
              5. INTP

                In this case though, they aren’t just taking steps to avoid sitting next to each other, they’re trying to get exempted from a rule that sucks for everyone so that they never have to sit next to each other. They can take steps to avoid it without requesting special treatment – like getting to work early enough that there are still plenty of seats left, talking to their coworkers about their preferences and working out a compromise, etc. If you absolutely can’t handle sitting near your spouse even on rare, isolated occasions when you can’t avoid it by taking responsibility yourself, you probably shouldn’t be working in the same office with your spouse – I don’t think it’s unreasonable to acknowledge that working with an SO is not for everyone.

                Reply
            2. Ramona Flowers

              PS my comment wasn’t intended as snark. Just that I thought the advice would be hard to action if you were a living breathing human.

              Reply
              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                I see a lot of human beings who work with their spouses do this successfully. So I don’t think this is about robots v. feeling, living breathing humans.

                I really don’t think it’s as much of a stretch as you’re suggesting for couples who work together to avoid relationship spillover at work. Could people have fights or disagreements that spill over into their work life? Absolutely—people have those fights at work, too! But I think there’s a difference between that happening rarely and a policy of separation because you don’t think you can bring it under control on a regular basis.

                Reply
                1. AcademiaNut

                  I think that’s an important point.

                  Not wanting to sit next to your spouse, in order to maintain reasonable professional vs personal boundaries (and to appear to do so to others as well) is entirely reasonable. I work at the same place as my spouse, and we wouldn’t want to share an office (and none of the other half-dozen couples here do either).

                  But wanting to sit next to your spouse because you’ll keep fighting over whatever you’re fighting about at home? If this is more than a very rare occurrence, then you probably shouldn’t be working at the same place.

                  So with the hotdesking, if you occasionally end up sitting next to each other, then I agree with the boss that exempting you from the hot-desking system and giving you dedicated seats is unfair to the rest of your coworkers. If it’s happening a couple of times a week, though, I think it’s a legitimate complaint.

                2. Mookie

                  I see Ramona Flower’s point, though, that most conscientious people internalize the Don’t Shit Where You Eat mentality and try to abide by that even when they’re colleagues. Asking management if there’s a way to make that easier and less potentially dysfunctional / disruptive for everyone involved is a good instinct and the right idea, but it doesn’t sound like their solution makes sense here because what they want is, fact, disrupting new guidelines.

              2. New Bee

                I think it reads as snarky because presumably everyone participating is human, so the comparison to robots is like when people say, “Anyone who isn’t stupid would XYZ.” No one self-identifies with the opposite category, which puts them in the position to have to defend their disagreement (“No, I would ABC, and that doesn’t make me a robot/stupid/etc.”)

                Reply
        2. Engineer Girl

          They are humans. They are also adults. They should be able to sit next to each other for 8 hours.
          That’s what professionalism is about!

          Reply
        3. rolllingmyeyeballs

          The letter writer is asking for special privilege on the basis of being married, when the whole purpose of them not sitting together is to make sure their being married doesn’t affect their work or their workplace. Before insisting on special accommodations they should try treating each other professionally on the rare occasion that they have to sit next to each other; it’s really not that hard. Or come in earlier. That’s the solution the supervisor provided, I said the same thing to my son today who was complaining about limited parking. It’s a thing.

          Reply
      2. a Gen X manager

        Agree, Engineer Girl. In addition to being viewed as unprofessional, it will cause the couple to be seen as a problem, which is a difficult label to get out from under, once that is the perception.

        I don’t understand why this is such a big deal for OP (not saying it isn’t or shouldn’t be, but why?). If either or both of them have trouble maintaining a professional relationship at work unless they are fully separated, then I humbly suggest that one of them should change departments or employers.

        OP seems to have good intentions, but the request isn’t reasonable given the new plan for the desk assignments. Other than legitimate accommodations for disability, etc., it is basically always problematic to be / try to be an exception to a rule or guideline that applies to a whole group of people. I also think OP’s boss would probably love to hear a “take-back” of this request from OP and verbal acknowledgement that this is their (OP + wife) situation to deal with rather than the boss’s.

        Reply
    2. Ramona Flowers

      I think this is a bit unfair – if you’re married and you work together then that is a bit different to just being a person with a partner. My reading was that the letter writer is saying they try to stay professional so other people don’t feel like they behave differently due to being married, but that might be harder to do if they sit together, especially if they’ve argued. Equal treatment doesn’t mean the same, after all.

      I thought agile working was about convenience and allowing people to work anywhere that suited them. I don’t want this to turn into a derail, but I don’t know that it’s reasonable to say some people have to come in earlier to make that work.

      However, all of this seems like using a hammer to crack a nut. If the only two desks left are next to each other, maybe someone will switch? Or maybe your colleagues would be okay with trying not to leave you two with two desks together?

      Reply
      1. SignalLost

        Oooor maybe your colleagues would prefer not to be involved in helping you manage your relationship and you should indeed get to work early enough to get the seats you want! I’ve worked with several married couples and it was successful in part because they kept it really out of the office, even in the case where both members were on the same team. I didn’t know they were married for years. If the only way LW can keep their professional and personal lives separate is to not sit beside their partner, then the onus to make that happen is on them, not their colleagues. And I for one would be pretty ticked about a situation where I wasn’t even guaranteed a desk … now I also have to monitor whether Pat and Morgan are sitting next to each other and accomodate that for them?

        Reply
        1. Engineer Girl

          Yes, please. I don’t want anyone else’s drama. I have enough in my own life.
          I’ve worked with several married couples. The only way I knew they were married was because they sat together at social things.
          This is 100% on the couple to manage.

          Reply
          1. Falling Diphthong

            “I need an accommodation.”
            “Why?”
            “I’m fighting with my spouse. You need to separate us.”

            This is not a conversation most of us want to have with our bosses.

            Reply
            1. SignalLost

              So, my boyfriend and I are officers in the same social club, and I have a really short temper. We can have been fighting in the car on the way to the meeting, we can have sat in the parking lot for several minutes while my voice reaches that pitch that only dogs can hear … and the second we get out of the car, that argument is behind us. If we haven’t resolved it, we can get back to it later, or I suppose one or both of us could go home though we’ve never done that, but it is 100% our jobs not to make our members and guests uncomfortable by not managing our relationship.

              Reply
            2. neverjaunty

              Yes. Especially since the LW and spouse met at work, and so kind of assumed the risk that they’d have to keep personal stuff out of the workplace.

              Reply
            3. a Gen X manager

              right, Falling! it makes me cringe to even think of having that conversations with my boss – and I can only imagine the eye-rolling by co-workers!

              Reply
        2. A.

          I remember once when flying a married couple asked me to move to a middle seat so they could sit together. It was a five hour flight and by the time they boarded the plane, only middle seats were left. I declined and the wife became upset. Not my problem. If you wanted to sit together, pay to upgrade or check in earlier. You cannot involve others in managing your needs as a couple.

          Reply
          1. a Gen X manager

            YES! also, movie theaters at new releases. don’t come in immediately before it starts and demand us to move over so you can sit together.

            Reply
            1. Anna

              I wouldn’t demand, but I might ask. If you get huffy because I asked, guess who the jerk is.

              Also, if you’re at a crowded new release and you won’t move over to accommodate two people…well, you’re still kind of a jerk.

              Reply
              1. a Gen X manager

                I don’t get “huffy”, but I think it is really inconsiderate. If you want your choice of seats, then arrive earlier. This thinking makes me a jerk?

                Reply
                1. Lissa

                  She didn’t say thinking it makes me you a jerk, she said not being willing to move over one seat would, and I kind of agree so long as there’s literally no difference between the one you’re in and the one you’re moving to – it just seems like trying to teach them a lesson about showing up earlier.

          2. Anna

            Um. I don’t think that’s even the same thing, but cool. It’s okay for her to have asked; it’s not okay for her to be upset because you said no.

            Reply
            1. A.

              I’m not sure if your reply was to me but I do think it is the same thing. It is an inconvenience to either come in early to get a good seat or taking whatever is left. If I come into work early to ensure a window seat or a seat near the bathroom etc, I should not have to move to accommodate a couple who comes strolling in late. That is very similar to the person who comes to the airport early to ensure a window seat and being asked to move by the couple who comes late. In my case it was a morning flight and I would have loved to sleep in before the flight.

              Reply
          3. nonymous

            what? I thought that the rule when doing airplane trades is that the person asking has the better seat. The last time I had someone ask me to swap I got the wife’s aisle seat and she got my middle one (which was next to her hubby and waaay in the back). win-win.

            Reply
        3. a Gen X manager

          +1 Signal

          How would the co-workers know whether or not OP + wife have a preference about sitting together, apart, or no preference? I agree with Engineer Girl – if I was a co-worker I’d rather not have any of this on my radar – let’s all just do our jobs.

          Reply
      2. Safetykats

        I work in the same field as my husband. Several times in our careers, we have worked on the same project. We are often in the same meetings. There is absolutely an art to separating your private and work lives, but I can’t imagine what kind of fight outside of work would make us unable to sit in the same room at work. Well – actually I guess I can – but it would likely make us unable to stay married as well.

        I also work with several other couples in the same situation – same jobs, same meetings, same projects. So I don’t think it’s that unusual to actually be able to figure out how to make that work.

        Reply
        1. TL -

          I could easily see myself being mad enough to find sitting in the same room as my partner, even for work, quite a challenge – but I wouldn’t work with partner or family for exactly that reason.

          Reply
      3. Mookie

        I thought agile working was about convenience and allowing people to work anywhere that suited them

        Well, that’s how it’s marketed but that’s not always the true impetus for open floor plans and free roaming space and unassigned stations and the like. It’s also about overhead.

        Reply
      4. London Bookworm

        I mean, I hear you, but I also think that part of marrying someone you work with is being aware that these issues could arise.

        The counterpoint to your married people aren’t robots argument is that neither are the not-married coworkers on the team, who may feel resentful and annoyed if they’re scrambling for desks and lugging around their stuff while the married couple gets assigned seating. I like Alison’s suggestion of offering to take the “bad” desks, but I also think it wouldn’t be unreasonable if the boss held his ground.

        Reply
      5. Bagpuss

        I don’t thin kthat being married or having a partner makes much difference. Either way, it’s the responsibility of the couple to behave professionally at work.

        I think it’s perfectly valid for LW2 to have raised the issue with their manager, hopefully framing it as ‘we normally avoid working directly together / sitting together to avoid any appearance of bias’ but as the manager doesn’t feel it warrants making a special arrangement for you then I think you have to accept that, and devise your own strategies for avoiding any conflict.

        In terms of arguments from hoe spilling over, I think that that’s spilling over, that something which you need to manage for yourself, without involving colleagues or letting it impact on your work. If you disagree about something work related, then deal with it as you would if you had a work-related disagreement with any other colleague.

        As the agile working is a new thing for your company, see how it goes for a while. I suspect that you will find that most people with have their preferred desks and will be fairly consistent about where the sit, given a choice, so you may find that it is much less of an issue that you fear. And even if that isn’t the case. you are not usually going to need to come in early, just (potentially) to avoid being the last 2 in every day. After all, as long as there are at least 2 desks unoccupied when you arrive, you can avoid sitting immediately next to each other.

        Reply
      6. Falling Diphthong

        I thought agile working was about convenience and allowing people to work anywhere that suited them.

        I think it’s almost always about not having enough desks, and trying to slap a we-did-this-on-purpose-to-be-phleet label on that situation.

        Reply
        1. Antilles

          Exactly. Companies may *say* it’s about convenience, but it’s obviously not. If you want to claim it’s convenience, then answer these questions:
          1.) If it’s such a great idea, then how come you virtually never see agile working when there’s plenty of spare desks; instead it only is used when there’s insufficient space?
          2.) If it was really about giving people ‘convenience’ and ‘working where it suits you’, then how come “I want the same desk every day” isn’t an option? That certainly seems like the most suitable and convenient choice for me!

          Reply
          1. Former Retail Manager

            YES! I am government and they are using hoteling on a very limited basis with talk of expanding it/contracting office space (for obvious budget reasons). I detest it and if we get to that point, I will raise hell. Everything I need to do my job is not on my laptop or a tiny little folder that fits neatly in a computer bag. I think it can be efficient for certain positions, but the desire to blindly apply it to every office and every position just really baffles me.

            Reply
      7. A.

        I think it is extremely unfair for everyone else to have to scramble for a seat every day while the married couple gets to have a permanent seat. I could see that leading to resentment in the office. Especially if the seats happen to be in a desirable location. The couple just needs to come in earlier to ensure they get a seat apart. As does anyone else who wants a specific seat. I’m sure there are people who want to sit next to each other for whatever reason, so they find ways to make it happen.

        Reply
        1. a Gen X manager

          Yes! If boss has granted the request, OP + wife would absolutely be looked at as being needy or “special” (snark implied).

          Reply
      8. Specialk9

        “I thought agile working was about convenience and allowing people to work anywhere that suited them.”

        You what now? You thought taking away assigned seats was to benefit *employees* rather than increase the bottom line? Really?

        I mean, that’s what companies SAY, but pretty much everyone hates it except the bean counters.

        Reply
        1. Snark

          I just don’t understand why a business is so unforgivably goddamned cheap that spending a grand or so on 4-5 new desks isn’t the obvious thing to do in this situation.

          Reply
          1. Anony

            My guess is that they don’t have the space for more desks. Doesn’t make it ok, but does make it a more expensive problem.

            Reply
      9. Anony

        Except it isn’t about convenience or allowing people to work where it suits them. It is about not having enough desks. Very few people like those policies. Allowing the OP and their spouse to have permanent desks while everyone else has to get in early if they want their first choice of desk would be unfair to the other workers. Telling them that if they want to be guaranteed separate desks they need to arrive early is treating them fairly and equally with other workers. If they don’t want to arrive early, how likely is it that the only two desks left will be directly next to each other? And if that is the case, how likely is it that they could not behave professionally?

        Reply
      10. INTP

        That might be what agile working is about in theory, or at least in marketing. In reality, I bet most of the coworkers have an equally valid reason to want to avoid sitting near specific people or in specific locations. Allergic to someone’s perfume or lingering cigarette smell, find a specific person really annoying and distracting, cold all the time and want to avoid the desk under the cold vent, easily distracted by noise and need to avoid the desk in the high traffic area or near the receptionist’s area…In reality this is a situation that sucks for everyone. I wouldn’t blame coworkers for being annoyed if OP got out of the unassigned desk situation entirely over the remote possibility that some day might come when there were only 2 desks left for OP and wife, and the desks were right next to each other, AND they were fighting that day.

        Reply
      11. Jesmlet

        This whole question is just very strange to me. It’s based on a situation that would only happen if the only 2 spare desks were right next to each other (unlikely) and if you’d already been arguing (unless OP’s marriage is rife with arguments, let’s not peg this as likely). Asking for the privilege of a permanent desk when no one else has one to accommodate this very specific situation is just weird.

        OP, on days when you’re arguing and don’t want to be right next to each other, find a way to go into the office early. If this is every day, then your desk at work isn’t the problem. On the other days, if you end up next to each other, just be professional. It’s that simple.

        Reply
      12. Someone else

        “Agile” and “hot desking” are not synonymous or necessarily even related. I know plenty of companies do both (possibly out of attempts to seem modern), but these are not the same thing. Agile isn’t really about convenience or allowing people to work anywhere that suits them. Agile is about doing work in iterations, getting feedback as you go, and being nimble, rather than “do the whole project, get feedback, possibly redo half the project after getting that feedback”. Agile poorly applied more closely resembles “never make a damn decision and constantly redo everything and never finish”…but I digress.

        Setting aside whether it’s a horrible management decision for this company to choose hotdesking as a solution for literally not having enough desks, I think if the OP and spouse are going to work together, they sort of just need to deal with it? The reasons provided for not wanting to sit next to each other I think would not land well with management. It’s not a good enough reason to make an exception for them. Theoretically, it shouldn’t happen all the time that they do end up forced to be next to each other. So even while I sympathize with the reason why they don’t want to on a regular basis, once or twice here or there shouldn’t be so very disruptive. If they’ve got personal stuff going on that’s bad enough that sitting next to each other for one day every once in a while, that’s a much bigger issue and ensuring they get separated is a bandaid, not a solution. If the only thing keeping them professional during the workday is being physically separated all day, frankly I’d be reconsidering whether it’s a good idea for them to work at the same company in the first place.

        Reply
    3. Turtle Candle

      I work at the same company as my husband, and I agree. Is it sometimes awkward if we’ve had a spat or something and then work puts us in proximity? Sure. But I accept that as part of the cost of working at the same company as my husband, and I wouldn’t ask the company to take special steps to ameliorate that for me.

      Reply
    4. Jen S. 2.0

      Coming to say this too. The fact that you are in a personal relationship with a colleague is not supposed to cause the company problems. Essentially, at work, no one else should be affected by your marriage. You’ve done well with this so far*, and the hot desking shouldn’t be the start of an issue. Find a solution that doesn’t affect anyone else.

      *Perhaps you’ve done too well? You should be able to have a neutral conversation with each other at work, or, it seems to me, sit near each other neutrally once in a while.

      Reply
      1. a Gen X manager

        Yes! It’s a great example of why so many companies have policies to disallow family from working together!

        I wouldn’t have wanted to be the supervisor that had to field the inquiry from OP – I have enough challenges and responsibilities, this isn’t one of them.

        Reply
    5. Mike C.

      I think the bigger issue here is thus “agile seating” garbage. Hotelling works ok for occasional use, but this is really just a case of a traditional business copying what it heard some tech firm was doing without understanding why.

      For another example, look at all the non-manufacturing firms who try to push “the Toyota Model”.

      Reply
      1. WellRed

        Totally agree, Mike. Managers who are fluent in business jargon will always find a way to co-opt words and make them fit a new definition, usually to the detriment of the rank and file.

        Reply
      2. Hlyssande

        Yeah, seriously. What happens when everyone is actually in the office on the same day and there aren’t enough seats? Does someone have to sit on the floor to work? Do they just not work that day? Have to go find a coffee shop that will let them sit there all day?

        This sort of thing really sets my hackles up. I have a hard enough time in my office with low cubes (4′ walls), but open plans and/or hotdesking would be the stuff of nightmares for me.

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          The high ranking SMEs at my old company got to work from home. The lower paid people who had to commute a good distance had to come in. It made a crappy situation feel even worse, because then it was penny pinching plus class discrimination.

          Reply
      3. FD

        It’s not even really new! It was also popular in the 50s and 60s (look up Bürolandschaft). Cubicles were developed in a reaction to give people back some of that privacy.

        Reply
      4. Elfie

        Heck, I work in IT, and I can’t even figure out why we have hot desks. Y’know, other than the “can only seat 80% capacity on any given day” thing. But that’s nothing to do with our business model other than we’re quasi-government here, so *tight*.

        Reply
      5. Antilles

        this is really just a case of a traditional business copying what it heard some tech firm was doing without understanding why.
        Honestly, I don’t think they’re actually *trying* to copy a tech firm. That’s just them stealing a buzzy-sounding word since “agile working” sounds better than the actual truth of “we can’t afford/don’t want to pay for 5 additional desks”.
        After all, true “agile working” as used by tech companies includes far, far more than just swapping desks – it’s a whole culture of flexible/oddball work hours, telecommuting, loose organization rather than rigid chain-of-command departments, encouraging employees to spend several hours per week on pet projects, and so on.

        Reply
      6. Specialk9

        YES. Every company I’ve been in that switched to hot desking paid a lot of money for professional office makeovers – big sheets of colored acrylic by the new Ikea kitchens, cutesy signs like “gather” and “collaborate” and “nosh”, decals on the new tiny phone booths. That kind of thing.

        That tells me something very clearly – the company is saving a lot of money, enough to invest that kind of cash; and they know that employees HATE the setup, enough to try to gaslight them into thinking it’s all great and fun.

        Reply
        1. Heather

          Don’t forget the “focus” rooms! Boy, was it was news to me that my job didn’t require me to focus the other 90% of the day.

          Reply
      7. Marty

        To be fair to the Deming and the Toyota model, it can provide great inspiration for setting up work systems for all kinds of work. Now, of course some companies fail to grok the underlying principles and therefore make a hash of implementation, but that doesn’t mean that the middle is wrong, just that people who don’t understand what they are doing can break any model.

        Reply
    6. MsSolo

      I’m with you – I think it’s a little weird to insist of permanent desks when everyone is hot desking specifically not to sit next to each other. This isn’t an access need that requires a specific desk (like a standing desk) and it isn’t a professional need (like a conflict of interest). This is a personal preference being brought into the office, and that the reason is “in case we fight” rather than “to avoid appearance of bias” makes me a little skeevy too, because, again, that’s personal rather than professional. Honestly, in a hot desking office, the hard thing is to sit near the people you need to, not to avoid the people you don’t want to.

      Reply
    7. essEss

      This seems like being over-concerned about a normal business practice. You said that each day you’d take what desks are available. So it sounds like you MIGHT end up sitting together on a day, then the next day you might sit at other desks. I’d be concerned about professionalism if a married couple told me that they couldn’t handle an occasional day of sitting at adjoining desks.

      Reply
      1. a Gen X manager

        essEss, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I’ve been trying to find the wording and you said it perfectly: “I’d be concerned about professionalism if a married couple told me that they couldn’t handle an occasional day of sitting at adjoining desks.”

        Reply
    8. Former Retail Manager

      Have to disagree with you here. The difference between OP’s situation and everyone else is that while everyone else is expected to remain professional despite a fight with their partner, their partner that they just fought with isn’t sitting one cubicle over. I don’t think it’s unrealistic or unreasonable to request desks rather far apart, nor do I think that most, if not all, of their co-workers would really care.

      Reply
      1. Specialk9

        But it’s asking for a special accommodation nobody else gets due to their having an intimate relationship. I would expect my married staff to either handle their stuff at work or find different workplaces.

        Reply
        1. Xarcady

          Yep. I’d be not pleased if I had to find and set up at a new desk every day, while two co-workers got assigned permanent spots just because they were married. If someone needed a permanent spot because of an adapted desk or chair or special monitor setup or something like that–fine. But a special privilege just for being married? Very irksome.

          Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        But I think the solution to that is for OP to come in early to obtain desks that are separated, not to be allotted a preference in the hot desking lottery (which could easily create resentment among coworkers).

        I don’t think OP’s request is inherently unreasonable (we prefer not to sit near each other sounds reasonable to me). But in the specific context of this ridiculous desk practice, I’m not sure that OP will want to burn goodwill with their coworkers and boss before trying all other options that are within OP’s control.

        Reply
    9. INTP

      I agree, and besides any red flags about professionalism with your partner, it just also seems really entitled to me. Realistically, even without assigned seats, it will be an occasional occurrence at most – it will only be an issue on days when they both arrive to work when there are only 2 seats left AND those two seats happen to be right next to each other. Wanting some space from your spouse at work on a daily basis is reasonable and professional, but not being able to sit near them once a month or however often this happens and expecting special privileges to avoid it even being a possibility kind of comes across like either you just really want your own desk or you and your wife shouldn’t be working in the same company. Especially when you consider that this is a situation that’s going to be stressful for *everyone,* and everyone has their own valid preferences about where they don’t want to sit – everyone else is presumably expected to take responsibility themselves and show up early enough to get a seat that isn’t under the cold vent or near the person whose perfume they’re allergic to.

      Disclaiming that I’m no accusing the OP of being an entitled person – I think they’re probably stressed out (reasonably so) about this new arrangement and fixating on issues that are going to come up. It’s what I would be doing to. But when this arrangement is going to suck for EVERYONE, I don’t think that asking for a special accommodation to make it not suck for yourself would come across well. (Unless, like Alison suggests, there are two very undesirable desks that they can commit to sitting in.)

      Reply
      1. Anony

        I think it sounds more paranoid than entitled. So many things would have to happen for it to even be a problem that going that far to prevent the possibility is excessive. Also, people are creatures of habit. Everyone is probably going to probably gravitate towards the same desk or two each time. If you pick desks in less desirable locations, people will probably just naturally leave those desks for you.

        Reply
        1. a Gen X manager

          I read it as more entitled than paranoid like INTP. The fact that there IS a solution that allows OP + wife to meet their objective without creating a hassle for anyone else (going in early), but they don’t want to do that and are instead hoping to be an exception to the new rule that applies to everyone else, strikes me as very entitled thinking.

          Reply
  6. Ramona Flowers

    #4 Sorry you are dealing with these losses.

    Just a thought, but it might be worth checking you’re definitely okay with once a fortnight before offering that – maybe give it a try now, while you’re job-hunting, just to check it works for you.

    Reply
    1. MilkMoon (UK)

      +1

      Your health comes first – if once a week is better for you then you stick with that, don’t risk your health for any job, it’s not worth it.

      Reply
      1. Janey Jane

        Yup. I know a lot of people who had to do a bit of schedule finagling in order to accommodate standing medical appointments – for dialysis, for physical therapy, and beyond. In most normal businesses it is completely reasonable to request a slightly altered schedule one day a week to accommodate a medical appointment.

        Be aware that due to labor laws, they may ask you to come in an hour earlier that day rather than working through lunch, or make some other minor tweak (like if your department has a weekly required meeting at the same time, they may ask you to move your standing appointment from Tuesday to Thursday, for example). But yeah, there really shouldn’t be pushback on this.

        (Also regarding going every other week — I’ve frequently found that it’s actually much easier to get coworkers/the workplace used to your different schedule if it happens every week, rather than every other week. The former is a known thing. The latter will inevitably lead to people perpetually forgetting whether it’s an on or off week and cause more confusion than just “Francine leaves early on Wednesdays.” So if it’s better for you to keep the appointments weekly, that might also end up being better for them as well)

        Reply
        1. Legal Beagle

          Good point about it being easier to remember a weekly appointment rather than bi-weekly. I totally agree, and coworkers get used to those types of standing appointments very quickly in my experience. Also, it might benefit the LW to keep her regular appointment – starting a new job is stressful for anyone, plus meeting a lot of new coworkers who may ask about your family. (Although depending on the LW’s age, people might not ask about her parents. I’m in my early 30s and look younger than I am, so I often get asked about my parents and siblings as part of polite “getting to know you” chat.)

          Reply
          1. Connie-Lynne

            It’s not just people asking about, but part of the “getting to know you” process at work is telling stories, and those stories sometimes involve mentioning people you’re grieving over, particularly if they’ve passed recently. That was one of the roughest parts about starting my new job this year, I’m glad I kept my shrink appointments.

            Reply
    2. Connie-Lynne

      OP#4, seconded. I was in the process of interviewing for a new job when my husband passed away, and the manner of his passing was incredibly traumatic. I wasn’t sure that I was ready for work when I set my start date, but I knew that I had to start working again eventually.

      I’m lucky in that I appear to have landed at a particularly compassionate company, and they were particularly interested in hiring me, but what I did was, after the offer, have a call with my future boss, wherein we discussed:
      * Start date.
      * What to do if I wasn’t mentally healthy by start date.
      * The fact that I might start and then relapse into grief, and would need to take time if that happened.
      * The fact that I would need to keep seeing my psychologist weekly to deal with the grief and trauma.

      I then documented that discussion in an email followup. I’m coming up on 9 months there and everybody completely respects my “Sorry, I gotta leave right now to make it to my shrink.” I think if you’re just matter-of-fact about it and set expectations up front unapologetically, others take their cue from you.

      Reply
  7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#5, I understand that you’re frustrated by people walking off the job and making you feel like your training is wasted. Aside from the broader question of why people are walking off the job with such frequency (which is pretty unusual in most fields, although not in all), why wouldn’t you have to pay for someone’s work hours? Because you didn’t get the benefit you wanted? If you were hired to do a job, but you were fired in the first hour, wouldn’t you expect to be paid for your time, too? (I’m asking out of genuine curiosity about the underlying logic, not to be a jerk or aggressive.)

    Reply
    1. Safetykats

      I think the broader question is pretty important – because, as you’ve pointed out, waste of resources. I actually worked at one location where we had a stretch of time in which a lot of people sat through three days of initial training and then never came back. After examining the hiring process we realized that some people really didn’t understand the hazards of the job until after the training. We added some informational briefings to the interviewing process, and after that our acceptance rate went down jut our retention rate went up.

      Reply
      1. Mad Baggins

        This is a great point. Someone leaving within the first hour or two of work is a sign of a pretty severe mismatch. What information didn’t get through during training, or during the interview process, that allowed this to happen? Instead of trying to recoup your losses in the form of not paying for time worked, it sounds like OP should reexamine their screening process and work environment.

        Reply
        1. Newt

          Yep.

          I know we get some letters about people leaving jobs for all kinds of ridiculous reasons, but if there’s a pattern that would indicate there’s an issue with the job. I can think of a few reasons why Spouse and I left roles or considered leaving roles very early into starting a new job. In every case it was because the job role, hours, expectations, safety, pay or legality of the role was misrepresented to us.

          Worst case for the Spouse, an advertised permanent full-time job with a £20k wage “plus commission” turned out to be a rolling temporary “commission only” role (they weren’t paid for their time only the sales they made) in which staff were collected at the office and then bussed from location to location all day with no idea where they were going or how long for. And the “job interview” turned out to be a “trial/training day” during which he found this out by talking to the other staff. At the end of this first day, Spouse informed them he wouldn’t be taking the job.

          Mildest case for Spouse, a shift-work zero-hours contract factory repair job turned out to be exactly that. Except the repair teams were so underequipped that he started day 1 learning how to steal tools from other people and where to stash equipment (both fireable offences if caught but literally the entire team had to do it). He still ended up staying on, but knew from day 1 he wasn’t planning to stay longer than he needed to.

          I had qualms about my new job recently after my first week of training due to how negatively the role was represented to me by the people doing training – thankfully that was resolved and turned out to be a case of a couple of people who honestly don’t want to be in the role any more but aren’t trying hard enough to leave.

          If LW doesn’t do exit interviews, it’d be worth starting even though these people are walking out so quickly. There’s likely to be something – actually multiple somethings – that add up to people making it through the application and interview process with different expectations about the role. What is it people aren’t being told that they’re finding out once they actually walk in the door?

          Reply
          1. MilkMoon (UK)

            Your spouse’s commission job sounds like an interview I walked out of. The first interview was a normal office interview, for a sold-as-normal office job, then I went for a second interview (dressed for an interview, nice blouse and heels etc) only to be lead out of the building with a hoard of other applicants being told that we’d be travelling to some area of our city going door-to-door, and being given some rubbish ‘corporate language’ description of that we’d be doing for this job, which was actually door-to-door scamming of the elderly, flogging them insulation they could actually get for free through the government. The guy leading this ‘interview’ fortunately wanted to stop-off at McDonalds before setting off, so I told him I was not interested and left. Ugh!

            Reply
            1. Newt

              Ah if only!

              No, this place was a cesspit of Bad Ideas. Having your own tools strapped to your own body would get you fired for “theft” there, even if your tools were very blatantly not the ones provided by the employer. They had to take their shoes off for security search in and out at each shift, and in and out during their 20min break! The employer actually tried to mandate a uniform that had pocketless trousers and shirts, they were so paranoid.

              Which is hilarious because while they were freaking out over the chance of staff stealing what little they could hide in a shoe or pocket, a fire door at the back of the warehouse was routinely left lodged open “for the breeze” by management, resulting in a disgruntled ex-employee literally waltzing in one day and leaving with a backpack full of goods.

              (I don’t condone theft but this company was an abusive pile of crap that would regularly short-pay staff, “accidentally” forget to pay people, laid people off en-masse by pointing them out of the crowd to security and walking them out in the middle of the day and I shit you not, told staff they were expected to drink less of the drinking water during a HEAT WAVE to save money. So I can laugh at that comeuppance)

              Reply
      2. Birch

        This is a really good point. I temped briefly at a place that had massive turnover–for a project needing 4 people, they went through something like 7 non-starters in the first three days. I realized on the first day that it was not what was described. We had zero computer access, weren’t allowed to talk to each other (we had to fight to be allowed music), and were supposed to move heavy boxes of files in a warehouse and go through each file checking off a few bits of info on a list. For 8 hours a day. Temps were treated like naughty children and some of the others developed a complex about it that they took out on the rest of us. If I had another option at the time I would have left too just to save my self respect.

        Reply
      3. Janey Jane

        Yup. In my early 20’s I left a job at a cafe after my first 4-hour shift because I witnessed so many health code violations (on the part of managers and regular employees alike) that I could not work there and save my integrity (nor my lunch).

        Reply
    2. Bea

      That pinged with me. I come from a previous background where we hired just about anyone who applied. It was heavy labor and you needed to keep up, so if they wanted to try, we’re happy to let them.

      I never flinched or thought we shouldn’t pay them even if they left at first break. They’d always be back SOMETIME to pick up their check. It’s the nature of the beast. Trial runs are still paid for, nobody should work for free unless it’s a true volunteer position.

      Reply
  8. Nacho

    I’m not really seeing why LW1 needs to know why these people are taking time off together. Maybe they’re just good friends, maybe they’ve started a secret sex club, maybe it’s just a coincidence. But LW1 never said it was causing any problems, just that s/he is curious.

    I say just leave it alone.

    Reply
      1. JamieS

        Only OP doesn’t actually make any indication it’s causing a work issue. That’s a fair and very likely assumption but nowhere in the letter does OP indicate an actual staffing or work related problem caused by the coordinated absences. OP just mentions it’s almost half their team but the focus seems to be on it being odd and trying to figure out why instead of focusing on it causing an issue or potentially causing one.

        So with that in mind, I’d recommend OP first ask themselves if there’s an actual issue, including likely potential issues, and if so forget about trying to figure out why they’re taking time off together and just address the work related issues it’s causing.

        Reply
        1. SignalLost

          “That’s three employees randomly out on the same day once or twice a month. I supervise eight people, so it’s almost half of my team.” That pretty strongly suggests it’s causing a staffing issue to me. Regardless of whether you all do the same thing or all do different things, with 3/8s of your team out once or twice a month, you’re going to not get as much done. And god forbid that be the day someone else has a flat tire. I had 15 people not show up in my department one day last week and it was hell on wheels trying to cover every position. (Current establishment is hogh 40s/low 50s, but a lot of people aren’t cross-trained on the really specialist roles.)

          Reply
          1. JamieS

            Taking the letter as a whole I disagree. OP’s letter focuses more on the oddity of them taking time off and trying to come up with reasons why it’s occurring so I took that as OP listing another reason why they’re noticing it and finding it off which I think most of us agree is odd. Also the fact OP never actually states a problem and my bias/assumption is that people will directly state at least one problem a behavior is causing inclines me to think this is more of OP finding it odd behavior rather than the behavior causing an issue. It’s also possible it doesn’t actually cause other issues but that OP thinks them being out at the same time is an issue by itself due to thinking that there must always be a minimum number of team members there at all times even if it’s not actually necessary.

            Although I may also biased in that my work is very independent from my team members so half of us being out at the same time wouldn’t cause an issue (day absences not extended leave) so I don’t automatically assume it is unless an OP states it or otherwise indicates other issues caused by the mutual absences.

            Reply
            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I think this is starting to get into criticizing the OP for not writing her letter exactly the way she perhaps should have — but it seems to me that the OP does make it clear that this is having an impact on her team, like I wrote below (“That’s three employees randomly out on the same day once or twice a month. I supervise eight people, so it’s almost half of my team”). I want to ask that we give her the benefit of the doubt on that before this takes over the thread — since this is the kind of thing that can make writing in really frustrating for people.

              Reply
          2. finderskeepers

            I think this is the birthday problem. If you ‘re not looking at particular days, it’s pretty easy to have multiple employees take the same day off.

            Reply
            1. finderskeepers

              Also, since this is the beginning of the year, I wonder if OP does not allow roll over , and thus people are more likely to burn days at the end of the year so in Nov and Dec people are more likely to use them.

              Reply
    1. Elizabeth

      Yeah, except for misuse of sick days, their vacation days are their to spend as they like. If, as Allison addresses, both of them being out at the same time is an issue or if it’s bad they’re always away on Thursdays because they’re missing an important meeting, etc. then that needs to be addressed, but the reason itself seems pretty immaterial beyond intense curiosity (which I also have now too!).

      Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I think this implies that it’s causing staffing issues: “That’s three employees randomly out on the same day once or twice a month. I supervise eight people, so it’s almost half of my team.”

      Reply
      1. Turtle Candle

        Yes, it’s not unreasonable to think that the LW might at least potentially be asking because of staffing issues, at which point they can’t really just leave it alone.

        Reply
        1. Falling Diphthong

          And there really is a difference between coping with something that sometimes just happens–two people out sick when two people already had vacation–and coping with a situation people are deliberately setting up for you. Both the frequency with which it’s happening (which is far beyond what you would get with normal time off) and whether it’s reasonable to look at the underlying cause and try to address that.

          Reply
    3. HQetc

      FWIW, I read the OP’s context about them being close friends and the range of reasons to more mean “I have reason to believe that this isn’t just a coincidence, and therefore it’s unlikely to go away on it’s own. Therefore, I have to address it because it’s affecting my team. Please advise.”

      Reply
      1. purple orchid pot

        I think vacation and sick days should be treated differently here. If simultaneous vacation days cause hardship to the small staff, it should not matter who is taking them at the same time and they should be approved/rejected based entirely on staffing needs, timing of request, etc. The conversation in AAM’s reply, to me, should only include reference to sick days occurring together. And honestly, I am another reader who thinks that the *reason* for this overlap is none of the manager’s business, unless the organization has unusually strict policies against outside employment or fraternization.

        Reply
    4. Kathenus

      I agree with Nacho. I think the LW could evaluate staffing needs, decide how many people can be approved off on any given day, and then let the whole team know the new plan for time off requests. After that, it doesn’t matter who requests off or who else is already off – either there are enough people to cover in which case it’s approved, or there aren’t and it isn’t. People should not have to explain why they want time off, it’s part of their benefit package and they should be allowed to take it when staffing levels allow. And a manager has the right to not approve time off if it negatively affects the job/team, as long as people have the opportunity to use their time off during the year without too much hoop-jumping.

      Reply
      1. Kathleen_A

        No, but managers can’t really approve sick days, right? At least not the same way they can vacation days. Unless you have one of those draconian workplaces where you have to bring in doctor’s notes and so on, the way it works is Frodo calls/emails/texts in and says “I’m sick,” it’s marked on his timesheet or PTO record or whatever, and that’s that.

        But if both Frodo and Sam repeatedly call/email/text in on the same day and say “I’m sick,” well, that’s a problem. I don’t see how the OP can address it just with general guidelines and the reason is that you can’t make a policy about the maximum number of people allowed to be sick on a given day. What if there’s a flu epidemic or something? If people are actually sick, that’s out of everybody’s control.

        Therefore, at least IMO, the OP has to specifically address the problem of these specific two people so frequently taking sick days on the same day. I just don’t see any way around it.

        Reply
        1. Kathenus

          I agree with you on the sick time, and that this aspect may require some discussion. It’s hard to know how much is vacation versus sick, and my brain went to shared vacation primarily with some shared sick time as well, but re-reading the question I may be interpreting that incorrectly. So for the vacation time I strongly feel that employees need to not have to explain why they want time off, but you’re right that if the sick time is a significant part of the issue bringing this up makes a lot of sense.

          Reply
        2. KellyK

          Yeah, that is tricky. I think that if they handle the PTO issue first, they’ll be in a better position to judge whether the sick time is a problem. Trying to address it with the employees is really tough, because you pretty much have two possibilities: either they’re coordinating sick time (and they aren’t really sick), or it’s innocent (either it’s coincidence, or they tend to catch each other’s bugs because they hang out together outside of work). If it’s innocent, and you start asking about it, they’re going to feel, rightly, that you don’t trust them.

          Unfortunately, you’re not likely to catch them at it if they really are coordinating sick time when they aren’t sick, so you’re pretty much left with talking to them individually if they take too much sick time individually.

          I do think it’s reasonable to occasionally ask someone who calls in sick if it’s possible for them to make it in if you’re already in a bind, as long as you aren’t asking for a doctor’s note or pressuring someone who’s too sick to come in. Someone’s threshold for calling out might be higher if someone else is already out and they know it will be busy.

          Reply
        3. Tiny Soprano

          The LoTR reference is killing me.

          “Frodo, Sam, you can’t both apply for 200 PTO days at the same time. We only have a team of nine, it’s not going to work. I don’t care what sensitive equipment needs disposal.”

          Reply
  9. Ramona Flowers

    Did everyone get out of bed on the wrong side or something? Half an hour in and at least three letter writers have been told off for even asking their question.

    Reply
      1. MilkMoon (UK)

        Honestly this morning (just gone 6am on Wednesday here) it feels like the week that time forgot. I am s t r u g g l i n g

        Reply
        1. TL -

          Yeah, and the winter blues in AAM comments is a noted phenomenon! (also hello from 5:50 pm Wednesday. If it makes you feel better, I can say from the future Wednesday was a pretty decent day.)

          Reply
      2. Sylvan

        I think the earliest replies to short answer posts include a contingent of Americans up past our bedtimes and grouchy about it…

        Reply
          1. TL -

            I’m actually in Australia right now (and loving it!) :)
            But historically, there’s a period right around mid-February where everyone starts saying that the comments section is much…grumpier…. than usual which coincides with deep northern hemisphere winter; I wouldn’t be surprised if the past couple of weeks of Artic blasts haven’t brought the blues a little earlier.

            Reply
                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  An actual thing! Bat babies are dying because their brains are frying in their head because it’s so hot. It’s really sad/alarming :(

      3. Tiny Soprano

        If it’s any consolation it was 47 degrees here in Sydney the other day (that’s 116 for all you Fahrenheiters.) We’re all cranky too but for the opposite reason. :(

        Reply
      1. The RO-Cat

        I think this is an unfair assessement of Ramona’s question. She didn’t “tell off” anyone, just wondering what’s up with today (I feel also that there are, lately, way more terse, snarky or downright unkind comments that there used to be, one of the reasons I stopped almost completely posting here). At least that’s how I read her comment.

        Reply
      2. Ramona Flowers

        No, just I read through the comments and at least half of them were critical of the letter writers’ questions in a way that felt atypical. I don’t give a hoot if anyone disagrees with me!

        Reply
      3. tangerineRose

        I agree with Ramona Flowers – seems like people are really piling on the letter writers today. We’re supposed to give the LWs the benefit of the doubt.

        Reply
    1. Bobstinacy

      It’s something I’ve been noticing here more frequently. It’s that weird Internet thing where people get really absolutist about complicated situations and defend their viewpoint relentlessly, and the equal and opposite reaction of smacking down anyone that seems to be one of the absolutist naysayers.

      I feel like the comments are filling up more with people being snarky on all sides, probably due to the increased popularity of this delightful blog.

      Reply
      1. New Bee

        I don’t remember when this commenting rule was added but it’s one of the least-followed/enforced (no shade), IMO:

        You don’t have to convince everyone. Consider making your point and moving on. In particular, you don’t need to respond every separate time someone says something you disagree with. And if you are leaving tons of comments all over a particular thread to argue your opinion, I may ask you to pull back so that your voice doesn’t drown out others.

        I usually read the comments a day or so late, so it probably stands out to me more how frequently some people repeat themselves than to someone following the thread in the moment.

        Reply
        1. On Fire

          +1.

          The posting rules of my favorite writing blog include one something like this: “Don’t post too much. And if you’re posting more than three times a day, that’s too much.”

          Honestly, I collapse a ton of comments because it’s the same half-dozen posters rehashing their arguments, and instead of confining themselves to one specific section of comments, Every Single Time someone posts about a letter, they have to reiterate their argument. “As I said below…”

          Reply
          1. Specialk9

            Oh, that’s a useful rule of thumb! I tend to repost because different threads cycle. But that’s interesting.

            Do other people have rules of thumb about how often to post under an article? Or do you balance same general comment vs new comments?

            Reply
            1. Jesmlet

              I’ll occasionally reiterate a previous point, but only if it’s relevant and if I’m tacking on a new point in that comment.

              Reply
            2. Annie Moose

              For me, anyway, I feel that if I’m saying more or less the same thing in more than one or two comments (down to re-using the same phrasing), I need to step back and consider if it’s strictly necessary for me to post it. If I’m not writing a comment with significantly different phrasing or addressing a noticeably different aspect of the topic, then I ask myself what I’m actually contributing by saying the same thing again.

              Reply
          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            This is really useful. I try hard not to do this but am definitely a “post too much” perpetrator. I think it’s worst when folks who disagree are online at the same time, but this is a very helpful rule of thumb (thank you for sharing it).

            Reply
        2. Annie Moose

          Oh man. So much so.

          I very much get the feeling of reading through comments full of People Being Wrong and desperately wanting to correct all of them, but when you’ve commented ten times with almost the exact same wording, you may want to reconsider your crusade to correct everyone.

          Reply
        3. a different Vicki

          Also, one of the rules at the Captain Awkward blog: “There are no points for class participation.” If (say) fposte or Bobstinacy have already said what I wanted to say, I don’t need to chime in and agree, or find another way of making the same point.

          Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        It seems like it’s seasonal, as well. When I stopped lurking and started commenting, I was like, “what is up with the snark in winter??” Alison noted that we tend to go through a weird slump this time of year. I think it may be that people are indoors more often and possibly grouchy when the weather is dreary.

        Reply
        1. k.k

          I’ll admit, the other day I found myself halfway through typing a comment before I stopped and realized how negative it was. I think January is just a bad month. For It’s a very cold gloomy, we’re past the excitement of the holidays, you’ve got people trying to stick to crazy diets and other resolutions…it’s just a lame month.

          Reply
        2. tangerineRose

          It actually helps to know that this is a slump time of the year. I was feeling oddly sad this morning for no particular reason, and it seemed weird to me.

          Reply
      3. Lily in NYC

        Totally agree. I used to be a very regular commenter here but now I rarely comment because I end up getting annoyed with how much less civil people things have become. And don’t get me started on the thread derailments when 50 people say the exact same thing.

        Reply
  10. MilkMoon (UK)

    LW1: If this is causing staffing and/or morale issues then by all means, go ahead and discuss it with them. I don’t actually think it’s – in the nicest way possible – any of your business what they’re doing though (although we’re all curious now, I get it). Sometimes I offer-up what I’m doing on a day off because I want to and it’s just part of a chat, but if I hadn’t and I was *interrogated* about it I would definitely go cold and say it was private.

    Reply
    1. SignalLost

      I think that definitely needs to be navigated and the way to address it is to bring it up as a staffing issue rather than as a what are you doing issue. Because if I want to sit on my couch watching YouTube and eating frozen eclairs with my day off … that’s my business.

      Reply
      1. FD

        As long as it’s a vacation day, at least. Here, the LW does state that some of these are sick absences, which tend to cause larger issues because the company can’t plan for it.

        Reply
    2. Bagpuss

      I agree. Possibly even think about having a policy for granting requests for time off. Where I work, there is a policy which explicitly states that you should check for conflicts before requesting time off, (there is a shared calendar which lets everyone see who is in or out on a given day, although not what type of leave it is).

      It’s made clear that the dept. head will check the calendar before agreeing a request and that there are certain clashes which won’t be approved (e.g. a fee-earner and their assistant or secretary can’t be off on the same day, both cashiers can’t be off on the same day, and so on)

      It’s not foolproof as of course you can’t legislate for someone then being off sick, but if you have a general policy then you are not targeting specific individuals, and if you then find that there is a pattern of someone calling in sick every time their request for time off is turned down, then you can address that as a separate issue.

      Another thing to consider may be whether they are coordinating, not because they are doing something together but because neither likes having to provide extra cover / do additional work to cover for the other- is it possible that (either in reality or in their perception) other members of the team don’t assist to cover when either of them is out, so they are choosing to be out at the same time so neither gets left with 2 people’s work instead of 1 and 1/7 people’;s work?

      For that reason, it may be worth having a conversation with them, let them know that it is causing a problem with staffing levels and ask if there is any reason.

      It may also simply be that they are very close. We used to have a pair of employees (now retired) who were practically joined at the hip. The only time you ever saw them separately was of one of them was off sick, otherwise they were always off at the same time, always took their breaks together etc. It always seemed bizarre and more than a little claustrophobic to me, but they preferred it, and as their role wasn’t one where them both being off at the same time was a problem, it wasn’t anything which we as employers had to raise with them.

      Reply
      1. SarahKay

        I’d second Bagpuss’s comment about considering having a policy for granting requests for time off. As a general thing, I don’t like the idea of adding rules just because one person is doing something that you wouldn’t normally expect, but in this case I’d say it’s more a case that your reports’ behaviour has highlighted an area where a little rule-making would be a good thing.
        My business has a spreadsheet for each area of coverage and it’s expected that this will be checked before time off is requested, and requests will be refused if there isn’t sufficient cover. It also makes it easy to track how much vacation everyone has used from their allowance which is helpful for manager *and* employee. Plus, I’m in the UK, so there is a legal *minimum* number of days everyone must take each year so again, it’s easy to track that the company is complying with the law – and, where needed, make people use up some of their annual leave to keep us legal.

        Reply
      2. Doreen

        There were two pairs of employees in my office who asked for time off in similar patterns. In both cases, it was one way, so it wasn’t a matter of the two employees coordinating to do something together.Whenever Margaret asked for time off, Rhoda asked for the same time off but not the reverse. In the other case, if Joy took off Tuesday, Sara would take off a day in the same week, but not the reverse. As far as anyone could tell (although no one asked, because the reason didn’t really matter) , it was due to coverage – Rhoda tried to be out to avoid covering for Margaret , and it seemed that Sara was taking off in the same week as Joy so that Joy could “pay back” the coverage in the same week.

        Reply
        1. Ama

          See this is what I was wondering — if there’s a workflow reason that might prompt the bunching. I have definitely worked jobs where I’ve dragged myself to work when coming down with something because I *have* to get Penelope’s feedback on X project — only to find out Penelope is already out sick with the same cold. Then by a day or two later I really am too ill to come in the office.

          I also wonder if there are ebbs and flows in the workflow so people might think they are doing the right thing by taking days off only on “quiet” days — not realizing that once half the team is out at once a quiet day no longer seems like one for everyone left in the office.

          Reply
      3. Natalie

        I’m not a huge fan of making a policy for something that can hopefully be resolved with a conversation. It seems like overkill, for one – no policy is required to deny a vacation request – and it’s also a bit like sending a mass reminder email rather than talking to the one or two people doing something wrong.

        If the LW talks to these employees and they keep scheduling their time off together, the LW can just start denying the second request and remind them of the conversation about coordinated days off.

        Reply
        1. Lujessmin

          At my former company, if one of the schedulers took a day off, the other scheduler would take a different day off, and vice versa. In their case it was more “well, if one scheduler can do it, so can I”, than actual coordination. Thankfully, my scheduler never played that game.

          Reply
        2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

          Normally I would agree with you about not sending a mass email rather than talking to the one or two people doing something wrong, but in this case these employees don’t seem to be technically doing anything wrong — the OP doesn’t mention a policy about multiple absences or number of people out at once. So their pattern brought a valid business problem to light and a new policy that applies to everyone needs to be implemented — otherwise it’ll looks like “special rules” against only one or two people and if they are the only ones who have their requests denied, it could end up badly for the OP.

          Reply
  11. Susan K

    #2 – It’s good that you and your wife are keeping your work separate from your marriage, but would it really be the end of the world if you occasionally ended up sitting near each other? I can understand why you wouldn’t want to be permanent desk neighbors, but how often do you really think you’ll run into a situation where there are only two desks left and they are right next to each other? If it really is a big deal, maybe you could ask someone to switch with one of you on the rare occasion that this actually happens.

    Reply
    1. Diamond

      Yes, I’m not really understanding the big issue with occasionally sitting by each other. Maybe my spouse and I just don’t fight very much? I mean I get keeping work and marriage separate but I’m not seeing the need to keep pushing back on this.

      Reply
      1. Mockingjay

        Due to the great storm last week, my husband and I both teleworked. I damn near killed him. We have completely different working styles. I ended up working in our freezing dining room with the doors closed so I could get things done.

        Like the OP, we met through mutual coworkers. Although we still work in the same government industry on related programs, we have always kept our actual daily work experiences separate. He recently was approached about coming onto my program. He declined, noting that he was happily married and wanted to stay that way.

        If we had to work together, could we? Maybe, but it would be a huge adjustment and I could see us wanting to take similar steps as OP to physically separate. (I know that there are plenty of couples who work together beautifully. We are not those people.)

        Now whether that physical separation is something that a manager should be involved in? In a large business, likely rules already exist about spousal employment and seating isn’t an issue. In a smaller company, it’s the manager’s call. If manager says use desks as available, that’s what you do. It’s no different than sitting near a coworker you dislike. Maintain your professionalism and keep working.

        Reply
    2. Erika22

      Yeah, if anything, it seems more unlikely that there would be two empty desks next to each other – don’t people usually gravitate towards not sitting next to someone /before/ sitting next to someone, if that’s an option? (i.e., bus seats, urinals, bar seating, etc).

      Reply
      1. Specialk9

        I would never apply urinal rules to desks. Urinal rules are about minimizing forced inappropriate intimacy. Sitting next to people you know is about being sociable, and a member of a community, and not a misanthrope.

        Reply
    3. A.

      Yes plus I think it may open up a can of worms. Once the married couple gets assigned permenant seating, others can make request for permanent seat to make sure they can always sit next to a window or to make sure they never have to sit next to Co-worker A because they hate them. Where would they draw the line for requests?

      Reply
    4. tangerineRose

      I think the real problem is the new plan for seating. Seems like something that will cause morale problems for everyone – who wants to go to a different office every day, have to do set-up every time, carry everything you need from one place to another…

      Reply
  12. JamieS

    #3 I’m inclined to recommend giving Jane the option of a call or sending you an email with the information. A call may be better for OP since they can get answers while Jane is there but an email may be more convenient for her and it’d be a written record of the needed info for future reference.

    Reply
    1. OP #3

      Yup, I sent Jane the list of information I needed, and gave her the option to reply by phone or email. Sadly, no response.

      Reply
  13. Diamond

    #1 – If they’re using their vacation days doesn’t that need to be approved first? If it’s causing staffing issues then just stop approving them to all go on leave at the same time. Or in your office are you allowed to take vacation days without asking? I’m not sure how that’s happening. If they’re using sick days that could definitely be an issue if they’re misusing them.

    Reply
    1. Casca

      That was my thought!

      Also, all calling in sick could be hangovers (could be way off-base, but coordinated drinking could lead to coordinated consequences)

      Reply
    2. Yet Another Business Analyst

      Yup. They could be parents in the same school system. They could have chronic health issues with similar triggers (several of my friends at work are migraineurs – that shared experience is part of why we became friends – and if there’s a major weather change there’s a good bet most of us end up taking a sick day). They could be hanging out enough outside work that they’re catching the same illnesses. Their kids could be hanging out enough that -they’re- catching the same illnesses, and then the employees need the same time off to care for them. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for two employees to take the same sick days often.

      Reply
    3. sunshyne84

      That’s what I was wondering although the other person would probably just call in sick if not approved. Also, I hardly take time off, but is 17 days not a lot? What is the policy? At an old job if our sick days or time off started a pattern we may be reprimanded.

      Reply
      1. Roscoe

        Well, I think its fair to have punitive measures for people who are denied vacation time and then take a sick day

        Reply
  14. Sue Wilson

    1. I wouldn’t address the planned vacation days with them. If you have staffing issues, deny the vacation you need to deny, and let it go. If you think they’re misusing sick days, address the misuse of sick days. Otherwise, yeah, it feels like something because you’re all together for a long period of time, and these particular people have carved out that block of togetherness for some unknown purpose, but ultimately you gotta leave it alone. Also, I don’t know what you do, but is having a diminished team once or twice a month really affecting things? Maybe your jobs are more interconnected than I’m used to.

    As a guess for what they’re doing….film club! They want to see a film and discuss but they don’t want to have to bear the crowds on weekends!

    Reply
    1. Agent Diane

      Poker night the night before and sleeping it off?

      Deny the next conjoined leave requests and see if they tell you are part of arguing back.

      Reply
  15. Oilpress

    OP#2: You work with your spouse. If you don’t want to be near them all day then get another job. As soon as you ask for something even slightly special then others will notice and resent you for it.

    Reply
    1. Former Retail Manager

      Ehhhh…not taking as hard a line as you. I am baffled at why anyone would work with their spouse long-term, but neither here nor there.

      As for the resentment, I don’t know that I agree. I’ve worked with several couples over the years, both married and some that were just in long-term relationships but treated as married for all intents and purposes. I’ve seen various requests made over the years, all were accommodated, and no one was bothered. Everyone understands that you can’t pretend that people aren’t husband and wife outside of work even if they’re expected to behave professionally while at work. One couple, hired at different times, actually ended up in the same group under the same manager (not prohibited by the organization and the job is solitary with no need to work with anyone else) but one requested a transfer…..requested granted….no drama.

      Reply
      1. AnotherJill

        I can see resentment toward this type of request. Anyone assigned a permanent desk gets a lot of benefit from it that others do not. They don’t have to come in early to snag a desirable desk and they save time not having to set up/tear down their space. They also don’t have to deal with the possible situation of a desk not being available and having to sit in the conference room or where ever.

        If I had to come in early to get a desk and a couple others could waltz in at the last minute to their own desks just because they happened to be married, I’d be resentful.

        Reply
        1. tangerineRose

          The new seating arrangement seems like something that will cost time, which costs the company. Maybe getting a few more desks would be cheaper in the long term.

          Reply
  16. Cookies n' Cabernet

    #1 I imagine if I was part of this team their curious pattern of absenteeism would be a topic of water cooler discussion and could be seen in a negative light. The OP’s role as supervisor is potentially undermined since the perception could be that OP is letting these employees abuse paid time off policies. Once in awhile is one thing, 17 times in 12 months is another! Definitely worth a discussion with the employees to unveil the mystery IMHO.

    Reply
  17. Ruth (UK)

    5. I worked in a few retail jobs where quitting on the first day wasn’t uncommon. In a fast food store I was in for a while, new people would frequently go home on their break and not ever return, or would do the first day and then never be seen again.

    I wasn’t involved in hiring but I do think it’s harder to avoid in these situations. Most of the people doing this were 16-18 year olds in their first job. Turnover is high anyway and I imagine it’s difficult to be especially rigourous in hiring when you’re mostly hiring such young people and turnover is pretty high as well and also, they would get flooded with applications a lot, and it’s naturally a job where the people applying do not necessarily have any past experience except school…

    I could be wrong but I read 5 to be a job like this…

    Reply
    1. SignalLost

      Five could also be a job like mine, where basically if you have a pulse and can read at a minimal level (and frankly I’m not sure about the latter) you can have the job. There is NO rigor in hiring, mostly because the hiring is more along the lines of “we need to hire 2000 people by December 10, it is now October 25, GO!”

      Reply
    2. (Different) Rebecca, PhD

      I walked off a job halfway into training because they vastly misrepresented my responsibilities when I was hired. You can’t say I’m going to be weeding established plantings in the garden center and then send (120 lb, 5 foot 2, 18 year old) me out to actually be chainsawing tree limbs off at 40 feet up. No sir.

      Reply
  18. Nico m

    #2. Judging by comments above, nobody will care about you ending up sitting next to spouse. Therefore you need to change strategy and attack the general policy of hotdesking. I’m sure there will be allies for other reasons.

    Reply
    1. SarahKay

      OP #2, if I were in your office I would absolutely be your ally for pushing back against hotdesking. I work in an open office (and like it) but if hotdesking were introduced I’d be looking for a new job. I know there are people who like it, or don’t mind it, but I’m willing to bet there are people in your office who feel the same way I do, and would support you in pushing back on it.

      Reply
      1. RVA Cat

        Agreed. Pretty much anything that makes the office more like a high school cafeteria (as hotdesking does) needs to die in a fire.

        Reply
      2. Windchime

        I would hate hot desking, too. The anxiety of not knowing where I would be sitting or who I’d be sitting with would be unbearable.

        Reply
    2. Specialk9

      Good point. It’s like that can sculpture problem – so much energy was being spent on browbeating someone to be captain, and none on fixing the actual issue (we all hate this, it’s time consuming and unenjoyable). You’re right that if someone asked for a marriage exemption to something everyone hates, side eye big time. But going after the hated thing? Yeah, where’s my pitchfork again?

      Reply
    3. Rockhopper

      Agreed. What is it with hotdesking? Since you don’t have enough desks for employees how does that even work? Are some people part-time or work-from-home most of the time? Or, if you are the last one in on a given day, do you have to stand up in the corner all day? I may be only a cube-dweller, but at least I can put up a couple of photos and leave my stash of tea and granola bars in the drawer.

      Reply
  19. Hal

    #2

    Focus on the likelihood of the problem here (which hasn’t occurred yet): for you and your wife to have to sit next to each other, all but a few desks in a large room (a square room with a 90-foot diagonal separating you would be around 65 feet by 65 feet, and even bigger if the 90 feet isn’t a diagonal) have to be occupied when you get there, meaning you’d have to be two of the last people to arrive. Then, those few desks would have to be very close to each other. And then you and your wife would have to be angry at each other in a way that won’t dissipate easily (you would know how often that’s the case).

    Make sure you’re even in the first half, or probably even first two-thirds, of arrivals if securing some distance is important enough.

    Reply
  20. Athena

    OP 4, I went through a similar situation when job hunting, and brought it up when I was offered the job. My employer was hugely understanding – I had standing appointments for the month first thing in the morning (weekly), then after that it was once a fortnight scheduled on a Friday afternoon, and I just came in an hour earlier. The office closed an hour early, too. I did get into vague details with my employer (“I have a standing therapy appointment”) and they were super happy to accommodate, and I am forever grateful they were.

    Reply
    1. Athena

      ETA it’s not necessary to get into details like that with your employer. It’s purely a comfort thing, and I only really did because I didn’t know how else to say it.

      Reply
  21. QualitativeOverQuantitative

    3–I really hope knowledge transfer doesn’t catch on. Jargon generally doesn’t bother me, but this one is ridiculous. No one needs a knowledge transfer. You just need someone to tell you something. Let’s not make this a thing.

    Reply
    1. misspiggy

      Sorry, too late! It’s already a thing in my industry – quite a useful catch-all term for lots of different things that we routinely do and monitor.

      Reply
    2. Purplesaurus

      Please clear your data port to initiate the knowledge transfer process. And please make sure you have enough free memory.

      Reply
    3. Kitten

      Knowledge Transfer is all over IT and software, and has been for years.

      It tends to refer more to ‘here is how to set up the new version of the widget, and here are some common trouble-shooting tips’ rather than ‘here is the password for the Widget Management Console’ though. You’re literally transferring your knowledge of how to use a system to another user in a way that’s slightly different to training.

      It’s a useful term overall, just perhaps used with broad-strokes by the OP.

      Reply
    4. The Other Dawn

      “Knowledge transfer,” in my mind, is exactly what the OP says: she needs multiple pieces of information from the employee in order to ensure operations continue on while she’s away. Simply needing a password is just needing someone to tell me something, not a knowledge transfer.

      Reply
      1. essEss

        Exactly. A knowledge transfer is supposed to encompass some of the ‘institutional knowledge’ about the process. Such as background history of WHY we do it this way, what have we tried in the past that didn’t work, the actual steps to do it, frequent problems that occur and how to trouble shoot them, etc…. Essentially a well-rounded training to replace the original person.

        Reply
      2. SarahTheEntwife

        Yeah, that one seems usefully succinct and I can’t think of a more colloquial way to phrase it. Cross-training is part of it, but doesn’t necessarily cover “make sure you write stuff down so when you leave the next person knows where the widgets are stored”.

        Reply
    5. OP #3

      Didn’t realize this was a jargon term! Honestly I was just trying to find a concise way to say “I need X, Y, Z pieces of information from Jane”, and “knowledge transfer” seemed to do the trick. But maybe I’ve just absorbed that term through osmosis or something.

      Reply
    6. tigerlily

      Unfortunately, that ship has sailed. Knowledge transfer is a phrase people have been using for years. And I think it encompasses a bit more than just “needing someone to tell you something.” It implies a large quantity of knowledge. Not just answering a simple question.

      Reply
  22. Sutemi

    #1, is it possible the the employees are both parents with kids in the same school system? The kids have the same day off school and need a parent at home to watch them.

    Reply
  23. John Rohan

    Re #1, NO ONE has even considered the possibility that the employees are having an affair and want to keep it secret?

    Reply
    1. Falling Diphthong

      But… they’re going about not raising suspicion exactly wrong?

      Not that that would be the first time affair partners did that…

      Reply
  24. Delta Delta

    #3 – I know it doesn’t really fix the current problem, but it doesn’t seem great that only one person in the whole organization knows these particular pieces of information. Necessarily, I suppose, it’ll turn out that Jane gets to know Lucinda at the office supply company if she talks to her every week (or whatever). But there should always be a list of this information/contacts/passwords available to others in the office for this very reason. Or people probably ought to be crosstrained so if Jane is out, Lucinda can step in and handle certain tasks smoothly. (I say this from a place of experience, having worked for an incredibly inept manager who didn’t believe in cross-training, because cars could be built on assembly lines – why not run offices that way too?)

    The other thing that pops out at me is that perhaps the employee is ducking the meeting, because once she gives up that information she isn’t vital anymore? If her life is a little out of control due to whatever is going on with her, this may be the one thing she has left that she can control, and she may be worried that she’ll be made redundant after sharing what she knows.

    Reply
  25. M

    OP3: If Jane has an email account for work, you could look through her emails to gather any contact details or other info you can’t get elsewhere.

    Reply
    1. Peter the Bubblehead

      The trouble being the OP would likely need the passwords from Jane to access said e-mail in the first place.

      Reply
  26. Roscoe

    I’m going to kind of disagree on #1 . I fully believe the reason people are taking days off is none of managements concern. So the thing is, either 2 people taking the same day off (or different days in a week)is a problem or it isn’t. If its not a problem for 2 random people on your team (which it sounds like its not), then its not a problem for 2 friends to do it. You can always not approve the days, but overall you shouldn’t single them out for this. With the sick days, its a bit trickier, but I still think the issue should be the number of sick days taken, not if someone else happens to take them on the same day or in the same week.

    But I mean, if they want to take vacation days occasionaly for a “Treat Yo Self” day together, why do you care?

    Reply
    1. Say what, now?

      She’s perplexed about the why, but I think that the larger problem is that they are an office of three and having two thirds out at the same time is a hardship. But because she likes them both she is willing to deal with the occasional hardship to let them both have time off at the same time if it’s important to them. She just wants to know if it is that or just some weird coincidence.

      Reply
      1. Roscoe

        Its actually an office 8, so its more like 1/4 out at the same time. But her being perplexed doesn’t mean its her business why they are taking the days off. Like I said, its a problem, or its not. They WHY shouldn’t matter. If she likes them and can make it work, then don’t say anything. If its not a sustainable situation for the office, say something, but leave out asking why they are taking it off together

        Reply
        1. Kathleen_A

          I’m sitting here trying to figure out how the OP can address the problem of two employees repeatedly taking sick days on the same day without getting at least a little bit into the issue of “Why is this happening?”…and I’m failing. On vacation days, which are approved ahead of time, as a general rule, this isn’t an issue. The OP can either approve them, or not, based on the company’s guidelines.

          But on those sick days, it definitely is an issue. I don’t see how the OP can address it just with general guidelines. For example, you can’t make a policy about the maximum number of people allowed to be sick on a given day. What if there’s a flu epidemic or something? If people are actually sick, that’s out of everybody’s control.

          Therefore, at least IMO, the OP has to specifically address the problem of these specific two people so frequently taking sick days on the same day. I just don’t see any way around it.

          Reply
          1. Natalie

            I think if I was the LW I would hesitate to mention the sick days just because it’s so potentially fraught for a manager to question people’s sick days. Depending on how much of an impact it’s having, I wonder if it would be sufficient to just address the vacation aspect. Then hopefully the issue is reduced enough that the simultaneous sick days don’t have an impact, or the two employees start reevaluating whatever it is that they’re doing that causes the simultaneous sick days.

            Reply
            1. Kathleen_A

              I understand what you’re saying, and I more or less agree, but if they are deliberately taking sick days on the same day, I don’t think they should be allowed to get away with that.

              Almost everybody takes sick days for…you know, fuzzy reasons (“mental health” days, “I have doctor’s appointment at 10 a.m. and I just don’t want to come in to work after, even though I’ll be done at 12:30” days, “I had an asthma attack at 2 a.m., and although I feel fine now I *really* don’t feel like going in to work” days, and so on). And that’s fine. But the unspoken rules about those fuzzy-reason sick days are that (1) you don’t inconvenience your coworkers with them and (2) you don’t do anything that makes a lie of your fuzzy reasons, e.g., posting photos of yourself at an out-of-town concert taken on the day you were supposedly sick…or routinely taking a sick day on the same day your very dear friend does so.

              So I think some reference , be it ever so subtle, to this phenomenon needs to be a part of any discussion about being courteous when scheduling vacation days and being mindful when taking sick days. Mind you, I agree that this is, as you say, Natalie, “fraught.” But I do think it has to be brought up somehow.

              Reply
              1. Natalie

                Well, part of what I would hope by mentioning the vacation is that it would be a wakeup call that their taking all the same days off. So if they have an actual reason that they had never mentioned it would prompt them to explain, and if they don’t have a reason they might stop on their own. It’s not so much that you would never mention the sick days, just that it would be a last resort.

                Reply
          2. Ainomiaka

            At least in my employer, abuse of sick leave can be a separate issue. If the manager wants to ask for more documentation of sick time because of a suspected pattern of abuse, they can do that, and why isn’t the focus.

            Reply
    2. Falling Diphthong

      I think there’s a confused space between “respect employees’ privacy” and “figure out the underlying reason and treat that.”

      And there are lots of things that people don’t mind covering for once in a rare while because life happens, but do mind covering because the person figures “X managed this for me one day, that means it’s easy for her to do that all the time.” Social capital and soft skills things.

      Reply
      1. Roscoe

        But the underlying reason doesn’t matter. What matters is whether its sustainable or not. If its not, then its not, and the underlying reason doesn’t mater

        Reply
        1. tigerlily

          The underlying reason can change whether your more willing to be inconvenienced. If it’s a major inconvenience to have both of those employees out on the same day but they’re out because they both have kids and those days are parent/teacher conferences for example, I would try to be accommodating for them both despite the burden that’s putting on me. But if they’re out working their side hustle, I don’t feel I need to take on that burden. So yeah, it’s not necessarily OP’s business and her employees don’t have to offer up the information of what they’re doing, but it’s also not ridiculous for OP to want to know what’s going on so she can better assess and deal with the situation.

          Reply
        2. SarahTheEntwife

          The underlying reason doesn’t matter, but it potentially does matter whether there *is* an underlying reason other than coincidence. If you end up with a couple of random days where half the office is out because everyone got the same bug or everyone’s cousin picked that weekend to get married, it’s going to look kind of odd and micromanagey to lecture everyone on staffing needs. But if it’s a recurring thing where people are deliberately arranging to be out at the same time as other people, that needs a different conversation.

          Reply
      2. Ainomiaka

        Right, but encouraging X to do it for me when I’m gone for one reason but not a different one is not a game a manager should ever be playing. If they’re violating sick policy, deal with that as a sick policy violation. If only one person can be out a given day for coverage reasons, make that a rule. Getting into why is just encouraging favoritism.

        Reply
  27. Say what, now?

    OP #5, this isn’t helpful except to perhaps make you feel less alone but… my first day at this job (back when I was a bottom of the chain temp) I walked in and this woman was in a huff. I didn’t have anything to go on so I asked her where my boss’s office was. She starred daggers at me and huffed off without a word. I found someone else eventually and was escorted to my new desk and told the desk next to mine was Huffy’s but that it was best not to ask her questions.
    Well, a few minutes go by and then half an hour and Huffy has still not returned so I go to my boss’s office and mention that I think something is wrong. He goes out to the break room and finds not a trace of her except her badge sitting on a table! Her locker was cleaned out and the key was sitting in the lock. She had just quit but in the most confusing way. It was as though she believed that if she gave us any inclination of what she was about to do that we would have forcibly stopped her so instead she went the disappearing act route. At first we were all very concerned that she had fallen very ill, but she apparently called her recruiter to tell him that she never wanted to hear from him again so I think she’s fine? Maybe this was some bleed-over from personal problems.

    All of this is to say that it can happen. Sometimes people just walk out because they lack the communication skills to say that they’re unhappy or for other reasons. As long as this isn’t a pattern I think it’s fine to chalk this up to “what an odd duck…” and leave it there. It doesn’t really pay to be angry at them or try to get your own back by withholding a paycheck.

    Reply
    1. theletter

      I wonder if Huffy was dealing with some harassment or other significant problem at the job, and finally decided that the company wasn’t worth her efforts or good graces.

      Reply
      1. Say what, now?

        I doubt it. From what I’ve witnessed my boss is quite careful of having people there when other people want to have conversations with him. He doesn’t attend parties where alcohol might be served. He’s learned a lot from his ex-boss who was let go over a harassment suit.

        I’m thinking she was unhappy in her personal life because I was cautioned about asking her questions even relating to work. I was told to come find someone else. I don’t think it was because she didn’t know what she was doing. I think it was because of things like the response I was met with when I asked to be directed to my department.

        Reply
  28. MuseumChick

    #3, as Alison says, this a good time to have everyone at your workplace create what a co-worker of mine calls “Hit-By-A-Bus-Documents”. In other words if one of your employees got hit by a bus another person could pick up this documents and be able to processed with the employees job. Carve out some time for your staff to create this so you don’t find yourself in a situation like this again.

    Reply
  29. OP #3

    Hi everyone! OP #3 here. A few points of clarification:
    – I’ve already sent Jane the list of information I need, and offered for her to send it back to me by email. So far she hasn’t answered me.
    – I’m having Jane’s emails forwarded to me for the moment. I haven’t looked through the archives, but that may be an option. Thanks to M for suggesting that!
    – To everyone who suggested that moving forward, we have all our employees document all their key information… you are so, so right. I started doing that with my position when I started — I had to create pretty much all the documentation myself, as there was nothing left for me by my predecessor. Formally it’s my “position handbook”. Informally I call it my “in case I’m hit by a bus” file. Jane isn’t great with documentation / paperwork in general, but I think I’ve got to arrange for whoever’s replacing her in the meantime to start putting this together.
    – We try to have a fair amount of crossover knowledge between positions, but we’re a very small organization and the employee roles are all very different. (Think: One person in teapot sales, one person who’s the teapot assembler, one person in teapot R&D, one person in teapot administration.) It’s hard to have every part of every person’s job known by someone else, since most people don’t have the background to do (or sometimes even understand) anyone else’s job.
    – As Alison suggested, right now we’re moving forward as though we won’t hear from Jane until she’s ready to come off leave. It makes things harder for us in the office, but I understand it’s what she needs right now.

    Thanks to everyone who’s responded so far! I’ve got a busy day at work today, but I’ll try to answer as many of you as I can if you have specific questions/thoughts! (Please put “OP3” or “LW3” in your comment so they get flagged in my emails, though!)

    Reply
    1. Natalie

      Good luck. I’ve been in this position in ever professional job I’ve ever had, both at a small business and at two big corporations with redundancy where you’d think it would less of a problem.

      From my experience, you will be able to get passwords and contact emails and such reset, but it might take a while. I might start now for anything critical so you don’t end up with an urgent situation and no access to the Blah Blah account.

      Reply
      1. OP #3

        Thanks. There’s only one or two items that are super-critical and I really don’t know how to get them. (Probably through lots of hair-tearing with our suppliers.) Otherwise I’m just gonna muddle through and hopefully put together some documentation as I go.

        Reply
      1. Lynca

        The OP says she’s taking leave for health and personal issues. The OP even mentions it is an if she comes back situation potentially, not necessarily a when. So I don’t think Jane is trying to protect her job as much as she may be dealing with serious issues. I know I have not been focused on whether my job was having difficulties without me during bereavement or surgery, for example.

        Reply
        1. Brandy

          I understand and wouldn’t be worried about that either but some people do just withhold info for job security. Or just withhold it. We’ve seen on here before people just retire or leave and don’t pass on pertinent info. Some stuff I can figure out but some things are really important to the job.

          Reply
    2. neverjaunty

      OP, if and when Jane comes back, strongly recommend being less accepting of “she’s just not good at paperwork”. Most people dislike paperwork and documentation of routine stuff; this is an excellent opportunity to show Jane WHY she can’t let this stuff slide anymore. And make clear that this is part of her job, not an optional extra.

      This is, btw, also important because you need to be sure Jane up till now has just been skipping a dull task rather than withholding knowledge.

      Reply
  30. ToodleLoo

    For #3, my company has a strict no-work policy while out on sabbatical, FLMA, short-term or long term disability. If an employee responds to work related tasks/items it would “in theory” mean that they are able to work and it somehow restarts some clock somewhere. I know of two people this happened with; one was on maternity leave and the other on short-term disability. It’s a pain, but once the start date hits on the medical leave, we cannot contact the employee at all, only HR for HR related items.

    Reply
    1. Natalie

      It is generally not allowable to contact someone on FMLA by law (although there are exceptions) but it’s worth noting that since the OP is at a small organization FMLA likely doesn’t apply. Other than that, I don’t think the policies you describe are laws so an exception could be made in unusual circumstances.

      Reply
        1. Natalie

          Ah, fair enough, hopefully whatever laws do apply in your area have some exception for critical stuff like passwords!

          Reply
    2. Rusty Shackelford

      That seems too strict. Unless someone’s work is strictly answering the phone, I don’t see how “you can answer the phone” means “you could be working.”

      Reply
      1. fposte

        That sounds to me like you’re thinking this is going in the opposite direction of what it is. This isn’t a gotcha for the employee but for the employer, who can get in trouble if they bug an employee on leave.

        Reply
        1. Rusty Shackelford

          No, I understand what’s going on. I just think Toodle Loo’s employer’s policy feels too strict on the side of protecting the employee. Obviously you don’t want them to be harassed by people expecting them to do actual work, but calling to get a password? It just seems to swing too far in the other direction to me. My opinion only, obviously.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            Ah, okay. They are actually being more draconian than court decisions on the FMLA would require them to be (I realize that the OP isn’t in the US so this is a discussion about general practice and not her case) but I could also see an employer making a bright-line rule if there’d been trouble understanding what’s acceptable to ask in the past.

            Reply
  31. Rusty Shackelford

    Department of Labor rules would suggest that the answer is yes, but there is no value or benefit from someone being trained to do a simple task and then abandoning the job.

    Ouch, #5. I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way, but it sounds like “While the law says we have to pay this person, I’m not getting anything out of it, so I’d like to find a way not to do that.”

    Reply
    1. Jam Today

      I’m pretty sure that is what they meant, otherwise they would not have written in. This letter is a total bummer.

      Reply
    2. Minerva McGonagall

      I think the issue isn’t about the hour’s pay, it’s all the paperwork that has to be done (IRS, etc) in order to produce that check, and the associated W-2 at the end of the year.

      Reply
      1. Natalie

        I suspect those costs are fairly minimal. If the company is outsourcing payroll, the marginal cost of another employee isn’t all that significant. If it’s a small company, presumably they aren’t cycling through dozens of 2-hour employees a year.

        And ultimately it doesn’t matter if there’s an associated cost – it’s the law. It’s like complaining about tax withholding because of the cost of paperwork and processing.

        Reply
    3. K.

      Yeah, this read to me as the letter-writer asking Alison for permission not to pay employees who quit after short periods of time.

      Reply
    4. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo

      Well in a strict sense the OP isn’t getting anything out of it. In the first 2 hours on the job there is zero productivity from an employee (usually), so not only aren’t they getting any they are losing productivity with the on boarding activities when another employee is tasked to show them around, explain policies, start training, etc.

      All of that being said, while I can understand the frustration, paying the ghosting employees is the cost of doing business, the law, and more importantly the right thing to do.

      I think that it’s effort better spent by the OP to figure out how to get a better retention rate. I used to hire for light warehouse. We used a temp service but still interviewed everyone. We took them out to the warehouse had them pick up the boxes that they would be carrying and moving, nothing was sugar coated about the job including the downsides; it can get hot in summer and cold in winter, you will get dirty, you will have sore muscles at first, there’s a lot of repetition, you will be standing, lifting, pushing, and pulling all day, we have tight deadlines, you may encounter bugs, and on and on.

      I think we did pretty good with our retention, on average we would interview 5-6, hire (via temp service) 2, and keep 1 for 3-5 months. We paid better than average in the positions (I haven’t been in the role for about 5 years, but mid to late 2000’s we were paying in the $12-14 range). We also had a great temp service (local-not a big well known one), I know we got better and more reliable temps from the local one verses the big name ones.

      Reply
  32. OlympiasEpiriot

    1) Ditto to Alison’s advice.

    2) I really hate hot-desking for all kinds of reasons. Here’s another one.

    4) My condolences and I hope things improve for you.

    Reply
  33. Grey

    #2:

    …so we keep work and marriage separate.

    If you get assigned desks, you’re no longer keeping work and marriage separate. You’d be getting a benefit that no one else has only because you’re married.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Very succinctly put.

      I suspect in an environment like this people with strong preferences will come in early to get the desks they want. I would recommend that technique if this is really important to the OP.

      Reply
    2. Rusty Shackelford

      Yep. If you had permanent desks, that would be one thing. But you’re asking for something that everyone else probably wants, and the only reason you want it is because you’re working with your spouse. That’s not keeping work and marriage separate.

      Reply
    3. Amy S

      100% this. If I was a coworker in this office and the married couple got assigned seats while I had to just find whatever desk I could each day I would be pretty peeved. Just go in early so you can get the desk you want. If I had to be in one of these stupid “agile working” arrangements, you bet your booty I’d be the first person there every day to get the desk I wanted. I also figure this will be like the weekly staff meeting where eventually everyone finds “their spot” and just ends up in the same seat everyday anyway.

      Reply
    4. Former Retail Manager

      By that same token, if you have a health issue that requires you to sit nearer the bathroom that everyone else, you get a benefit that no one else gets. If you need a cubicle with a window with natural light due to an eye issue, you get a benefit that no one else gets. If you are moved away from a co-worker with an extremely distracting habit because it causes you to be unable to focus, you get a benefit that no one else gets. I could go on and on. I realize that health issues are on a different level, but at the same time, life isn’t fair and the professional workplace isn’t a vacuum in which you can pretend that outside, non work related factors don’t matter. Everyone can’t sit by the bathroom, have a window seat, or get the cubicle they want. And some people’s needs occasionally need to be prioritized over others, even if people get upset about it. If it is really important to these folks to maintain some distance, I see no reason not to permit that. And quite frankly, from a manager perspective, I’d much prefer that my married employees take this approach rather than wanting to be together/close to each other every second which can create far more issues in the workplace.

      Reply
      1. Rusty Shackelford

        No. Health issues that require you to be near the bathroom, or eye issues that mean you need more natural light, are not remotely similar to “I’m married to my coworker and we might have a fight.” That’s a choice, not a need.

        Reply
      2. Observer

        Well, sitting separately because you might fight is not really a need for most people, it’s a choice.

        Also, if you DO get that benefit, the reality is that you ARE mixing personal and work stuff. Now, sometimes it can’t be helped. If you need to be near the bathroom, you need it and you’re just going to have to bring that part of your personal life into the workplace to some extent. You can’t ask for workplace perks based on your personal life and then claim it’s because you want to keep your personal and work-lives separate.

        It’s like the woman who sued her employer for firing her for harassing a coworker. She claimed that they fired her based on her relationship to the co-worker she was harassing. Of course, the OP’s request isn’t in the same ball park in terms of egregiousness, but the argument is about the same.

        Reply
      3. Amy S

        If you need a certain spot for medical reasons, such as needing to be near the bathroom, that’s an actual need. Not wanting to sit near your spouse (in what sounds like a potential rare situation) is not a need. Because they might be having a fight? The LW is trying to find a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist yet.

        Reply
  34. LSP

    #3 – I am a project manager who deals with all of the day-to-day client interaction and product development for a major project. Everything passes through me, and for a long time, I was trying to be thoughtful about the number of emails that my boss (project lead and program director) had sent to her inbox. She gets hundreds of emails a day, and I didn’t think she needed to have every single communication between me and the client going to her.

    Then I planned a week’s vacation, and the week before I left, I was unexpectedly out sick for two days, and it turned out that her job was made that much harder because she not only had no idea where many of the products were in terms of development, but was unaware of a lot of back-and-forth that had already occurred between me and the client contacts.

    Since then, I copy her and my assistant PM on every email to a client. They don’t have to read and respond to those emails, but they have them. Just last week I was out sick again for another two days straight (hooray for migraines!) and she had a better grasp of what was happening.

    All this is to say that having information redundancy is necessary and helpful.

    Reply
  35. hbc

    OP2: “Imagine if we have had an argument about something, or if we discuss work and have a disagreement.”

    I’m imagining it, and I’m not sure what the problem is. I mean, if you have an argument at home and have to sit near her, just act professional and maybe treat her the same way you would a coworker who ticked you off the other day. If you have a work disagreement, handle it as professionally as you do with any other coworker. You can even keep your policy of assigning other people from your group to coordinate with her, so literally the only problem is proximity, which I hope isn’t all that’s needed to start arguments.

    I know it’s not ideal, but right now it looks like you might end up sitting together once or twice a month. Asking for further accommodation here is going to make people think you can’t work together for a day without bickering *and* that you want the company to solve that issue when you won’t even try to avoid being among the last five people to the office. I hate hot desking, but there is No Way they I would set a precedent of “You get a permanent desk if you think you’re going to fight with your coworker.”

    Reply
    1. Emmie

      This might be something you two partially establish early on with your coworkers. When people are talking about their preference for a certain desk (i.e. window seat, by the air conditioner), you and your spouse can say “my biggest preference is that spouse and I sit on opposite sides of the building to keep work / home separate.

      Reply
        1. tigerlily

          It shouldn’t be up to other coworkers to accommodate that, but that doesn’t mean they can’t mention it and see if their coworkers are up for it. There are lots of things about my workplace that I shouldn’t have to accommodate, but I do because I genuinely like my coworkers and am willing to do things to make their worklife more comfortable.

          Reply
          1. Amy S

            Sure, I can understand wanting to help a coworker out and create a generally pleasant work place. But this issue is about a perceived problem that may or may not happen yet. If they are having personal issues and fighting and therefore can’t be within 20 feet of each other, that is a personal problem and not something that they should be making the business of everyone else in the office.

            Now if I were in this situation and a coworker needed to sit in a certain place because they needed to be near the bathroom or some other reasonable reason, I would happily accommodate that because I also like my coworkers.

            Reply
      1. nnn

        Building on this, if explicitly saying they don’t want to sit next to their spouse isn’t workable (e.g. some commenters have suggested it’s an unreasonable demand of the rest of the co-workers), the two spouses could simply express different seat preferences.

        For example, one says they prefer sitting in the warmer part of the office, and the other in the cooler part. Or one says they like being near the windows and the other away from the windows.

        Reply
  36. Bow Ties Are Cool

    #2: Don’t know if this will help you out or not, but it might help some of your colleagues: if there are people in your office who are there every day (meaning, they don’t have client calls/work remotely/etc), they should have permanent desks. It’s the folks who work at least partly out of the office who should use the flex cubicles. That’s what we do in our office and it’s great. Those of us (like me) who are in all the time don’t have to schlep our coffee mug around everywhere, and those who are only in part time sit where they want. Suggest this to management.

    Reply
  37. ClownBaby

    #5, I had a guy walk off after 3 hours a few weeks ago. Went to lunch and never came back…I hadn’t even entered him in our payroll system yet. When I found out, I went ahead and entered him. Ran payroll. Then terminated him. He called me a few days later when he received his check in the mail saying he couldn’t believe we paid him.

    Trust me…we didn’t want to, we just had to.

    Turns out he left because he got a job offer on his lunch break that paid more, so I can’t totally be mad at him for accepting, money is important…but telling someone instead of just disappearing would have been the right thing to do. That was a bit frustrating and I will admit there was a part of me that was wanting to ignore legal responsibilities and just pretend like those three hours never happened….my sensible side took over, of course.

    Reply
  38. I'm A Little TeaPot

    #2 – regardless of the seating assignments, won’t having more people than desks be a problem long term? I’d be pretty pissed off if I came to work and there was no where for me to sit. I’m NOT sitting in the kitchen all day!

    Reply
    1. Amy S

      Yeah this is going to turn into a huge inconvenience. I worked at a place where we didn’t have enough desks for everyone. My boss “gave” me her desk because she worked from home most of the time. But when she was there it was incredibly inconvenient to try to shuffle around and find a place to work. She also made a big production of pulling out a folding chair and weirdly placing it in the middle of the office because I was at “her” desk. Gosh that was an awful place to work.

      Reply
  39. That Would Be a Good Band Name

    #2 – Just in case this makes you feel better, I’d guess that you’ll find people assigning themselves seats. If you have enough desks for everyone, most people like to sit in the same place everyday and will just naturally go to the same place. Think back to college in classes where seats weren’t assigned. Didn’t you usually sit in the same place in every class? I know my classes tended to do so. And at my last employer, they tried to go to hot desking and the employees would just sit at the same desk they always had unless someone actually told them they had to move for some reason. Maybe you have an office full of people who enjoy musical desks, and you’ll end up next to each more often than I’m imagining, but I’m guessing that you’ll find this to be a non-issue.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      The OP suggests they don’t have enough desks for everyone. People who’ve been in that situation will know better than I do how that plays out, but I suspect it’s kind of like musical chairs–you get your chosen desk until somebody else comes in before you and takes it, so then you grab an available desk that displaces somebody else, and so on. I bet people hate coming back after an absence and trying to get a regular desk again.

      Reply
      1. That Would Be a Good Band Name

        That’s what I get for reading too fast. I missed the not-enough-desks part. I suspect you are right about it being like musical chairs.

        Reply
    2. SoCalHR

      I agree that because most people are creatures of habit those that are typically in the office more (or earlier) than others will gravitate to a type of unofficial seating chart – unless the composition of employees on any given day truly varies in the extreme.

      Reply
    3. theletter

      in my experience, Agile projects mean that people are grouped by the project or product they work on, not by their job role. Projects can take months to complete, and if the group is charged with supporting a product that the company intends to provide for the long term, that group will work together for several years – with the occasional team member changing assignments.

      What sounds like ‘musical chairs’ at first might end up being more like ‘student pods’ in elementary classrooms. people will sit near their team for weeks or months as needed, then reorganize as the teams change.

      Reply
  40. BadPlanning

    On OP#2 — riding on Alison’s advice to offer to take the worst desks — I would bet if you just showed up early for a week, each took lesser desirable desks in different spots…those spots would magically be “left” for you in later weeks.

    I’m generally interested if people actually “hot desk” once you make the transition — clean up their stuff, sit somewhere new, never grump about their seat or the good seats being taken? Or if people pick a desk and sit there.

    We moved to an open workspace, but we confirmed several times it was assigned desks, not hot desking.

    Reply
  41. MashaKasha

    #2: Was it just me, or did anyone else read this part:

    The problem is that we now have a couple more employees than desks, so are moving to what our boss is calling agile working, i.e. just use whatever desk you can. It will work okay as there are always people off or away on business.

    and think: Yeah, riiiight, of course it will. Maybe because in my line of work, you learn very quickly that anything you count on never happening, will happen, and probably soon. I cannot even concentrate on the problem of OP having to potentially, once in a blue moon, sit next to their wife, because when I read this, the first thing on my mind is, What is going to happen WHEN someone comes in one day and there’s no desk for them to sit at?

    I think the whole “agile working” idea needs to be scrapped and replaced with something more viable. While that is being addressed, maybe they can also look into making sure OP and wife aren’t sitting together.

    Reply
    1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD

      It did seem odd to me that the first idea was “let’s inconvenience everyone!” instead of “let’s, at the very least, get more chairs!”

      Reply
      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

        Eh. I’m on the record as a loather of open space offices (and their hot desking brethren), but there really are places where it doesn’t make sense to have a desk set aside for every employee. I’m thinking of management consulting, for example, where the vast majority of consulting staff spend Monday – Thursday at client sites.

        My last organization had a similar setup, and while I personally hated it it really did make sense. Most of the staff spent most of their days “in the field” (in that case, in classrooms and/or one-on-one meetings with members). As a nonprofit, it wouldn’t have been a good use of donor funds to pay for the space rental for 75 dedicated cubes that were empty 90% of the time.

        Reply
        1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD

          This doesn’t seem to be that type of place, though. It seems to be the type of place where everyone needs a desk, and they’re relying on daily attrition to ensure that the people who bother to show up have one. I’d be…kind of cranky to work under such circumstances, with no option to, say, double up on desks instead of being made to go without if I drew the short stick in the transportation lotto that morning.

          Reply
  42. nnn

    My first thought for #1: Do they have the same number of vacation days? If so, maybe they’re distributing them evenly throughout the year, so they tend to take days off around the same time.

    One of my teammates and I both independently decided that the way we wanted to use our vacation days was to take long weekends distributed evenly throughout the year. As a result, we both ended up asking for exactly the same days off. (Once we realized what was happening, we arrived at a mutually agreeable solution.)

    Reply
  43. John R

    “… Consequently, there’s a lot of knowledge Jane has that nobody else does …”

    I’ll put in a plug here that even a small organization can hire a contract tech writer to document policies and procedures. There’s a lot of us weirdos out there who LIKE doing this. Then, in the worst case, you have written, step-by-step procedures for anything an employee might do. It’s even better than having a backup person!

    Reply
  44. Samiratou

    #3, do you need to have the meeting by phone or in person? If you compile a list of essential questions, can’t she just answer those by email? If we’re talking stuff like the contact info for a vendor, she should be able to tell you where that is (or provide it) via email as well as by phone or in person. Or the location of a file or a password (which I’m assuming you’d be changing right away, anyway, even if she told you in person) or whatever, those can all be communicated by email.

    Reply
    1. OP #3

      Samiratou: Yes, I’ve offered Jane to send me the information by email, because I thought that might be easier for her, but so far she has not responded to me.

      Reply
  45. YarnOwl

    OP #2, I work at an insurance brokerage firm and I cannot IMAGINE most of the people I work with not having their own desk. We have different programs installed on our computers, hard copies of things, personal items…that sounds awful! I don’t have any advice to add, just agreeing that that sucks!!

    Reply
  46. mf

    LW 5: You don’t pay someone because they added value or you benefited from their work. You pay your employees because they gave you their time, even if it is only an hour or two.

    Reply
  47. Emilitron

    Re #1 – if they’re friends who spend time together, it’s not inconceivable that they get sick at the same time (or have kids in the same school who get sick at the same time). That’s just the nature of communicable disease. BUT, in that case I’d expect to hear them talking about it – my office it seems like anybody who was out sick yesterday can’t resist telling everyone how awful it was and how they ‘probably caught it from Kevin, wasn’t he out on Monday?’. So in some sense, the absence of that type of chatter implies that either everybody is very private (nothing wrong with that) or something is up. We have to trust the OP’s instinct that something is up.

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  48. stitchinthyme

    #2 – a huge peeve of mine is employers who can’t/won’t provide adequate space for all their workers, so they make the employees suffer by foisting crap like open or “agile” office plans. If you can’t afford to give all your employees adequate pay and working conditions, you can’t afford to be in business.

    Reply
  49. SoCalHR

    At my last company I had a married couple who worked there, on the same team, with cubes right next to each other. I was amazed that they could commute in together, eat lunch together and work side-by-side without wanting to kill each other (#relationshipgoals).

    If this was a permanent placement, I could understand LW #2’s concern more, but not on an occasional basis – that seems a bit odd to me, from a professional side and also from a relationship side. And I agree any accommodations of that fact would appear preferential.

    Reply
    1. Ergo Jon

      I know many people who work from home with their spouses, and seem to enjoy it. I think the common denominator is the type of relationship they all have with their wives- it’s a partnership beyond just husband and wife.

      Reply
  50. GreenDoor

    #3 Your employee may be avoiding the info hand off because she’s worried about her job security. Maybe you’ll find and train someone while she’s gone that’ll be better than her at the work and you’ll give her a crappier position? If there’s any language you can use to reassure her that her work is valued and you’ll have a place for her when she’s able to return I’d add that. Even just a simple, “We’ll be looking forward to your return, Jane!” might help reassure her (assuming that’s her fear).

    Reply
  51. Miles

    #5 if it’s happening more often, what changed? One job I held in college had people walking out and it turned out the new manager was mistreating them and scheduling them to work during shifts that they had told him in advance they couldn’t do. He also manipulated things so people’s time in training never got tracked and the time sheet records were as if they had started the week after. He got fired within a month of being promoted to that job.

    #3 can you ask her as things come up? It sounds like that’s the only option she is leaving you.

    #2 so where do the last few people sit when everyone else has a spot? It may be worth it for one of you to default to where ever those people end up

    Reply
    1. OP #3

      Miles: I honestly don’t think I can ask her anything at this point, at least not expecting a response. I think, like Alison said, I have to work on the assumption that I won’t get any answers and will just need to figure out things myself, unfortunately.

      Reply
  52. RB

    Alison, re LW #1. Lots of comments, not sure if this has been touched upon. Let’s say the manager suspected the two staff members of having an affair. Would she have to talk to them about it and have them fill out one of those HR relationship-disclosure forms or could she ignore it as long as their “coordinated” absences did not have a work impact (and they were otherwise discreet). Would she just focus on the work impact in her conversation or would she be justified in asking if there’s a relationship happening?

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I don’t think there’s any reason for her to ask about that; she should just focus on the impact of their absences on work (assuming that they’re not in each other’s chain of command).

      Reply

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