my top performer constantly texts and web-surfs, asking about drug testing during an interview, and more

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

1. My top performer constantly texts and surfs the web

As a relatively new manager working in state government, I am having an issue with a direct report that I am really unsure how to address.

Let me preface this by saying this person is, hands down, the top performer in my group. The problem is that she is nearly constantly texting, sending and receiving personal emails (both from her work account and her personal account), surfing (both on her phone and her laptop), etc. I know you tend to reject the generational stereotypes, but I really think she is just part of the generation that grew up with constant access to technology and this is how she operates. Work a few minutes, check Facebook, make a comment or two, back to work. I don’t personally understand how she ever gets anything done, but she does.

We do of course have a policy addressing use personal technology and cell phone use during work hours. And athough she is the most productive person I have, I find it distracting, annoying, and disrespectful. Recently during a webinar she sat and surfed around on her phone during the entire time. Afterward, we discussed some of the topics covered, and she was obviously paying attention. However, she was the only person in the room behaving this way. We were in a group with several other professionals from other states, and at least one person raised their eyebrows.

I guess I would have an easier time addressing this if she weren’t such a high producer. For a variety of reasons (our heavy travel assignments, 10+ hour work days, working in a different time zone than where our loved ones are at home), I don’t think it’s necessary or even appropriate to be a crazy tyrant about enforcing 100% adherence to the technology policy, which doesn’t even throughly ban it (says simply that personal use of technology should be limited to break periods whenever possible).

Well, since she’s your top performer, I wouldn’t address it from a productivity angle. Instead, I’d focus on the impact it is having: it’s distracting other people and coming across as disrespectful. I’d say something like this: “Jane, I’ve noticed that you’re on your phone and social media and surfing the web a lot during work. Frankly, your work is excellent, so I’m going to defer to you to manage your use of these things on your own. However, I do want you to stay away from those activities during meetings, webinars, and other situations where your attention should be on other people. It comes across to other people that you’re not fully engaged or respecting the time they’re spending with you. It can also distract other people from the meeting.”

In other words, focus clearly on the pieces of this that are demonstrably problematic for other people, without getting into whether it’s impacting her own ability to focus.

For what it’s worth, I do believe this type of thing impacts people’s productivity. So if she’s exceeding your performance expectations anyway, it’s worth thinking about whether that indicates that your expectations for your team are too low across the board.

2. Should I let this coworker be on a hiring committee with me?

I have recently taken a new job as a program coordinator. This is a new position for my agency. In the past, each of our 3 offices (in different geographic areas) had a lower level position that was managed by each of the office managers.

The program has now been separated out and is expected to be manged by me. The challenge is, two of the office managers are thrilled to have this taken off their plate, but one office manager is not happy at all that she is no longer in control of this in her area. My position on this is that it will just take some time for me to build trust with her, showing that I can effectively manage the program in her area. However, I am in an immediate dilemma because soon I will be interviewing and hiring the lower level local position for her office. It is up to me to form the interview committee for this, and she has asked to be on it. I am very concerned that if she is part of the interview and selection process, it would be very confusing to the new hire as to who their boss is (particularly when she has made it clear that she is unhappy that she is no longer in control of this position).

But, I also fear that if I turn down her request and upset her, that could have some very negative consequences. Her office is in a small community and she has a great deal of pull not only as the office manager in our organization, but also within the community. Our work is very community orientated and my life could be made very difficult if she undermines my position. I want to do the best I can to stay on her good side, and earn her trust and the community’s trust. However, if she is set on throwing me under the bus no matter what, maybe working around her instead of through her is a better option. (I am young, and while I have managed staff before I have never hired them, so any advice is greatly appreciated!)

It’s not crazy to let her be part of the hiring process, and she probably has worthwhile input to give. The key is going to be you making it very clear to your new hire what the reporting relationship is, and setting up clear boundaries with the office manager. She can try to influence that person all she wants, but if you’re being hands-on in managing that person, you’ll be able to mitigate that impact.

In other words, the most important factor here is you doing your job of managing the new hire really well (including clearly setting up expectations up-front about how your relationship with her and how she should relate to that office manager, and probing periodically to make sure that the office manager isn’t causing problems). If you get that down, the office manager is going to be pretty limited in any negative impact she can have.

3. Can I ask during the interview process if a company drug tests?

I’m a daily cannabis user, about to start a job search. For most of my career, I’ve worked for small companies who didn’t drug test. I don’t think it’s necessarily common in my industry to test for drug use, but some of the larger companies might do it as a matter of course (I’m definitely not in a creative field or anything like that). For right now, random drug testing would be a dealbreaker for me, though I might be able to deal with an initial drug test at hire, if I really liked the position.

At what point can I find out about whether or not drug testing is part of the package? Is this something that’s usually disclosed in job listings? I don’t want to out myself as a smoker unnecessarily, but I also don’t want to waste a lot of time (mine and the potential employer’s) going through a process out of which I’d eventually bow.

I do realize that I may change my mind about the issue if my job search takes a lot longer than I’m hoping it will, but for now, this is how I’d like to go about it. I’m not in Colorado or Washington, where marijuana is now sold legally. (Technically medical marijuana is permitted in my state, but it’s one of the most restrictive programs in the country and implementation is not going well.)

There’s no way to ask about it without it reflecting badly on you. Even I — someone who strongly supports your right to do whatever you want in the privacy of your own home and has worked professionally to end marijuana prohibition — would look askance at someone who asked about drug testing during the hiring process; there’s just too much cultural baggage associated with the question.

I know it sucks to have to go through an entire hiring process without knowing if it’s all going to be for naught; chalk it up to one more lame effect of our drug laws, but there’s no practical way around it.

4. Should I be honest about why I didn’t attend my boss’s goodbye lunch?

My boss is giving a Saturday potluck luncheon to say thank you to her employees before she retires in a month. The luncheon is at her house, and most employees live 15-20 minutes away. Two of us work in a satellite office with a roundtrip drive of four hours. Driving to the lunch, attending it, then driving back home will take more time than I am willing to sacrifice for my day off. Should I be honest about how I feel when my boss asks me why I wasn’t there?

“Attending your potluck would require more time than I want to sacrifice on my day off” is honest but unnecessarily harsh. Why not just say that you wish you could have been there but you had a prior commitment that conflicted with it? It’s fine if that prior commitment is actually “sitting on my couch watching Sister Wives” (although you shouldn’t specify that).

5. How to respond to critical feedback after a job rejection

I got rejected for a job I really wanted, so I emailed the interviewer to ask for feedback. I was fortunate enough to receive a response, but I’m unsure how to respond to the criticism I received. Truth be told, it kind of hurt to read it, probably because it was completely accurate. Would a simple “Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback” or something along those lines be sufficient? I don’t want to come off as sounding hurt by the criticism, but I also don’t want to make the response too generic, in the hope that maybe they’ll still consider me for future positions. I’d appreciate any advice on how to respond to an interviewer who took the time to provide me with honest feedback.

“Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback” actually sounds borderline curt in this context. Instead, I’d go with something like, “Thanks so much for taking the time to share this with me. I’ll definitely be thinking about what I can do to address it in the future and really appreciate your being candid with me.”

{ 433 comments… read them below }

  1. jesicka309

    I have been the employee in OP#1, and I promise, a quick conversation with your employee will definitely help. In my first performance review, my boss correctly pointed out that I was frequently playing on my phone when she wanted to speak with me, and while she knew that I could get across all my work with no issues, it came across badly as people walked past, and they were hesitant about approaching me. It was creating an image issue, even though I was flying through my work.
    My phone now lives in my bag, and I only check it occasionally. I’ve known myself to get a bit addicted to checking it, and hearing that it was glaringly obvious to everyone made me cut the crap and put it away. But it also prompted me to review why I was on my phone so much (long breaks between work, waiting on people before I could continue etc.), and I asked my manager for more work. As Alison points out, if she’s your highest performer and she’s on her phone all the time, imagine what you could get out of her when she puts it down! Definitely talk to her and sort it out.

    1. C Average

      +1. I can really relate to this as well.

      For me, I’ve found that putting the screen out of sight is the only approach that works. I now attend meetings old-school, with a legal pad. (I do still doodle. Haven’t been able to kick that habit. I go nuts if I have to sit completely still, and sometimes taking copious notes just feels too contrived.)

      Another reason she should try to kick this habit: when you never give anything your 100% focus, you risk losing that skill. I’ve been a shameless but highly productive multitasker in the workplace for years, and I still struggle to focus on things I want and need to focus on: my data analysis class for my MBA program, a story my stepdaughter is telling me on the way home from work, an exciting ballgame, a really good sermon at church. If you never practice focusing, you’ll forget how. I’m not kidding.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger

        I get distracted when people around me in a meeting are surfing the web, etc. in a way that I don’t get distracted by someone doodling on paper. I think it has to do with how often the visual input changes – I don’t get distracted by someone taking notes on a laptop; I’ll involuntarily glance over once, see a bunch of text, and ignore it. Likewise, if you’re doodling, I’ll definitely take a peek at your artwork once or twice, but I won’t keep watching you unless the meeting’s deadly dull already. (And if it is, I’d probably be counting the polka-dots on the presenter’s blouse if I weren’t watching you doodle.)

        But if I can see someone’s screen and it jumps back and forth between Facebook and the New York Times and their sister’s blog and eBay, each change makes me do another one of those involuntary glances and my brain spends a couple neurons going, “That’s Facebook” or “Did that headline say ‘geese’?” Even if I’m not judging their focus, I’m definitely more distracted.

        1. Puffle

          +1 I’m exactly the same. If there’s something flashing/ moving on a screen nearby I can’t help but glance at whatever it is

        2. L

          Doodling has always helped me retain what I am hearing. I am not an auditory learner and it becomes very difficult for me to sit in meetings with nothing for my hands to do. I lose focus very quickly. In college I discovered that hand writing notes and doodling on the edges of the paper significantly improved my retention.

          Maybe the top performer here is in the same sort of boat. I really think playing on a phone during a meeting is rude, but maybe she needs some sort of thing to keep her hands busy. I knew one guy who use to knit in classes in college. He said he had ADD, and by splitting his focus between the lectures and the knitting, he was also able to retain a lot more information.

          1. Raptor

            This is not uncommon. In fact, they say that for some people, this is the best way to learn. By incorporating drawing into the notes, you will learn the material better, because it provides a visual anchor for what you are learning. If this is how you learn, then accept that as a fact and use it to your advantage. And try to make the drawings match what you’re learning (even if the match is only in your head, it’s your notes after all).

          2. Bea W

            Same. My auditory learning mostly sucks. I usually take notes for myself which some people misinterpret as taking minutes. :( uh no. These notes really aren’t coherant or very legible and not really meant to be referred to later.

            1. Vicki

              I have a friend who takes notes in a private shorthand that is partly English abbreviations and partly Japanese characters. :-)

            2. Britni

              I do the same thing! In college someone once asked if they could copy my notes. Not without translating them into something resembling a language!

      2. Wonkette

        I don’t have the scientific citations for this, but I heard that doodling actually helps people think, learn, and be more productive. I think doodling is kind of like daydreaming where your mind subconsciously tries to absorb the information around and and try to solve problems. So, it’s actually good for you!

        1. INTP

          Either doodling or taking notes/writing lists/etc is 100% necessary for me to be able to pay attention to someone speaking for a long time. It’s just engaging enough that I can kind of stay rooted in reality and continue to hear whatever is being said. If I actually have to sit still, do nothing, and “just listen,” I wind up completely in la-la-land and later have no recollection of what was said, no matter how hard I’ve tried to stay present.

          When I was a kid, my mom got frustrated with me for not paying attention to the sermon in church. Every week she would ask me what the sermon was about and I’d have no idea. When she finally started letting me doodle again, I could actually answer her. Now I’m a 27 year old grad student and the same thing applies in my lectures. When I have those profs that want you to “stop taking notes and just listen” (clearly auditory learners themselves) it is so frustrating. My attention span for just listening before I’m fully zoned out is about 1 minute.

          1. esra

            stop taking notes and just listen

            I hated those profs.

            My first manager out of school had a big issue with note-taking, he wanted people to look at him the whole time he was talking. But when you’re hearing complex, multi-step technical instructions about three different projects, I think pretty much everyone would have to jot something down.

            1. INTP

              That prof would hate me as I would have to get the disability office to give me a pass not to look at him and to take notes in class! (I have ADHD, but have never requested accommodations formally because I can generally get what I need by taking notes and reading the book.)

              But seriously, I’m guessing these professors made it into their positions without even a rudimentary lesson on actual teaching. We had to do a lot of pedagogy training when I was a TA and different learning styles is basically the first thing that they teach.

              1. Simonthegrey

                Sometimes it depends on if they went to school for teaching…I didn’t, but got a job adjuncting because I had the degree requirements. All I’ve learned about teaching has been learned on the fly.

            2. Anx

              I can understand the urge for professors to signal that it’s more important to just listen then start taking notes, as many times students are so focused on writing down information for a test instead of absorbing the material all at once. But I need to keep my hands busy if I’m going to learn. I highlight so much, not to highlight important info to read, but to keep my eyes moving across the page or keep my ears up to speed.

              I would think that the ‘just listen’ may work if it’s used intermittently to overview a subject that will be reviewed again in class in more detail.

              1. INTP

                I’m okay with “Just listen for the next 20 seconds” before the professor introduces a major concept or something like that. I’ve had professors, though, that would get frustrated and want no one to write anything down for like 5 minutes or even most of a lecture. Because my attention span for listening with nothing to occupy my hands is so low, I literally can’t do that. I’m also a naturally conceptual person (I scored in the highest box for N on the MBTI) so I am never unable to grasp the whole picture because I was writing down details or anything, which I think is what the professors are often trying to avoid.

                1. Anx

                  Also, they’ll theoretically just want to engage you in following them to understand the concepts or just ‘have a discussion,’ but then they grade you on assignments that may require notetaking to ace anyway. They get annoyed if you just want to do well on the tests, but then they only evaluate students with tests similar projects.

          2. Dan

            I’m the same way. My views on church have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the fact that I just can’t sit and listen for periods longer than a minute.

            In my education, I studied disciplines that came completely frm a book. No need to take notes in that class.

            I suck and taking notes, and the last time I posted that, I got a lot of comments along the lines of “try harder.” Well no. I know what types of things I need to write down (dates, times, locations, people’s names, to do items). But running commentary of conceptual things? No. I spend too much time trying to understand what the speaker is saying and properly recording the ideas in “note” form. Then I get caught up in that, and tune out the speaker.

            So I skip writing down concepts and just try to process as I go.

            1. ThursdaysGeek

              Our pastor provides a written copy of the sermon he is presenting (since he always wrote it out and read it anyway). That allows people to listen, read, listen and read, whatever works for each. It doesn’t help everyone, but at least it adds one more learning type to the mix.

              For meetings, I appreciate a written agenda to keep me on track.

            2. Kelly O

              I’m a note-taker too. It just helps me absorb better. If I don’t write it down, I am way more apt to forget it.

            3. Chinook

              Dan, I too have trouble sitting still for a whole religious service. I would pick up a hymnal and read it front to back while listening. When I found a missal with the readings, it helped a lot. But, eventually I gave in and just volunteered to help during the mass. (I have done every role except priest in a mass) so I could do something and still do. People that I was eager. Nope, just had trouble focusing.

          3. Emily, admin extraordinaire

            I knit in church. I know it drives my mom mad, but my brain is always going in at least two directions at once; by focusing half of it on knit, knit, purl, I can focus the other half on what I’m hearing. It’s just the way I learn, and I don’t think it’s going to change.

            1. Bea W

              There is a woman in my church who does the same. Lately I think she’s been working on some lovely socks. We have a knitting ministry, so it’s not entirely inappropriate.

          4. EvaR

            I am an auditory learner but I have to do this at work often because of all the reading powerpoint verbatim style stuff… I always watch movies with subtitles but I have to either listen or read information- having someone read something and trying to not skip ahead doesn’t work at all for me. Coloring books are awesome for this, by the way.

          1. fposte

            This thread is making me think about the fact that I take notes on a laptop, and that if somebody created a simple utility for doodling in Word I’d be all over it.

        2. manybellsdown

          This is a classroom accommodation we’ve requested for my ADHD daughter. She does in fact focus better when she’s allowed to doodle in her notes. Sure, the notes look “messy” to other people, but they’re HER notes.

      3. Relosa

        Doodling is actually healthy (from what I’ve read)! I do lots of doodling when I am specifically talking to my bosses on the phone. Something about having my hands doing something that doesn’t require a note to take really helps. For some reason the doodles end up being symbols for me and they trigger more complex memories/thoughts or something, like a weird organizational Rorschach test or something. I doodle less in person during meetings, because I have mild aphasia and have to see each person’s face, but I’ll doodle when I talk – it also helps me maintain some brevity lol.

        Go doodlers!!

        1. INTP

          I should try doodling on the phone! I usually pace back and forth across my apartment so furiously that I get a little out of breath and the person I’m talking to asks if I’m exercising, lol. (These are personal calls, luckily I don’t have to talk on the phone for work.)

          1. Jen RO

            Hah, that’s so cool, someone else who needs to pace while on the phone! If I try to sit still I get really uncomfortable, I don’t know why!

    2. UKAnon

      “But it also prompted me to review why I was on my phone so much (long breaks between work, waiting on people before I could continue etc.), and I asked my manager for more work.”

      This was exactly what I was thinking – if she’s a high performer otherwise, then maybe she’s bored either with the amount or the content of the work (is it the same really repetitive tasks each day? If so, is there any work you can provide that helps to break it up a bit?) I think that’s probably where I’d start if I were the OP – ask her if she’s satisfied/happy with work, or if she’d like more/variety.

      1. Clover

        Yes, this!

        I work faster than the rest of my team (but to the same standard, which is reflected in my performance reviews) and am constantly underworked (I’ve asked for more work many times, nothing has come of it) and often just need either a distraction or something mentally challenging. I’ll often either reply to personal e-mails/texts or catch up on the latest lecture, assignment, etc. in an online class. I also take my tablet to work and if it’s an especially slow day read a book or play a game on there (sound turned off, obviously).

        It I had a decent amount of work to do, I wouldn’t be using these methods of distraction to keep myself from slipping into a boredom coma!

        I would say that I do not ever mess around on my phone/tablet/laptop during meetings, I do sometimes doodle, especially in VCs where I know the speaker can’t see me, but I try and be respectful and look like I’m giving my full attention to proceedings as well as actually giving my attention.

      2. ClaireS

        That was my first thought: is she bored or, on the flip side, is she overwhelmed?

        The overwhelmed part seems a bit counter intuitive but I am someone who would absolutely procrastinate like mad because a task was overwhelming me. In the end, I’d get it done so it would be hard for someone to see that from my output.

        Maybe in addition to the “hey, pay attention” talk, ask some questions about their workload and how they are feeling about the job as a whole.

        1. Amanda

          I have the same problem – I always get very high performance reviews and coworkers comment on how much work I take on. I think I just work very quickly when I am working. But whenever I feel overwhelmed, which is often, I end up losing focus and surfing the web or playing on my phone. It’s a habit that I’m trying to break (website blocking extension on my browser, keeping my phone off, therapy for depression, not leaving my personal email open all the time) and it’s true, as someone pointed out above, that focusing is a habit as well, and one that needs practice.

          1. Lucy

            This is me exactly! I get so overwhelmed that I’d rather do ANYTHING but what I’m supposed to be doing.. because I don’t even know where to start.

            1. Vicki

              A friend of mine posted a great photo to FB today. Under the caption:
              “Story of my life”
              was this screenshot of an application alert:

              “SelfControl” is damaged and can’t be opened.
              You should move it to the Trash.

        2. Kristy

          This. I am the same way. I’ll work like mad to get it done in the end, but overwhelming tasks cause my attention to go in a million different directions, and I need to take breaks to re-focus on something other than what’s overwhelming me.

      3. Pennalynn Lott

        I once had a manager who wanted me to quit checking personal email and working on crossword puzzles on-and-off throughout the day because, “You’re my best performer, imagine what you could do if you applied yourself ALL the time!” Well, I can tell you what would happen: I would crash. My brain would lock up and I would be utterly, completely, mentally exhausted. I NEED those little brain breaks throughout the day (and not just in the standard 15 mins in the morning, an hour at lunch, and 15 mins in the afternoon). If I stay “on task” constantly, I wear myself out and my productivity drops precipitously.

        One size does *not* fit all when it comes to work styles.

        1. Katie

          Thank you! I am the same way, and was waiting for someone to come to the defense of the employee. Little distractions break up the heaviness you can feel from focusing so long and heard on something.

          I check my phone a LOT during the day, but in extremely short bursts, usually as I shift gears from one project to the next or as a break from one really long project.

          The only way I made it through college without going berserk was to study with the TV on (usually Gilmore Girls or Disney movies).

          1. AdminAnon

            Are you my long lost twin? I’m exactly the same way, down to the Gilmore girls and Disney background noise. Thankfully, we don’t have many visitors in my office and we are fairly casual, so I often play audiobooks or Pandora in the background as I work–it keeps me from checking Facebook/my phone during the day. If I don’t have any distractions/background noise, I can’t focus at all. In college classes, I was always a doodler as well. In meetings, I volunteer to take the minutes so that I don’t drift off into la-la land.

        2. Not So NewReader

          This is sounding familiar to me. I have read about this before.

          OP, PL might be on to something here. Hold the door open for other types of brain breaks for your high performer.
          I understand the feeling of just have to rest the mind for a minute by looking at something else. I know for a fact, that I have woken up in the middle of the night because I thought of a solution for a problem at work. The down time seems to trigger that.

        3. Vicki

          Yep.

          In my case, my manager wanted me to completely change my job description. “You’re so good at ABC! Why couldn’t you be good at X?”

          Because I would hate X.

        4. Vicki

          In my last job I did tech support. I loved it because I would have 5 or 6 tasks I was working on and I could alternate between them. If one got stuck, I could move to another. If one was waiting on a response from someone else, I could move to another. If I lost motivation for one, I could move to another.

          If any of you know about the MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator), one of the two “dichotomies” is N (intuition) / S (sensing). S thinkers work linearly through a problem, at a steady pace. N thinkers tend to bounce from idea to idea, and formulate a “big picture”, and work in bursts.

          Neither type is “right” or “wrong” but either can look Very Unusual to someone of the opposing Type!

    3. Marcy

      I’m glad you brought up how it looks to others. I tell my staff all of the time that they never know who is watching and that usually the people watching are the ones who decides raises, promotions, etc. Play with your phone in a meeting and you might someday be passed up for a job you might have gotten otherwise because one of the people in the meeting formed an opinion about you from that one (or many) observation. I know I have declined to hire someone from another department based on my observations of them in meetings. I am not familiar with the quality of their work so the observations are all I have to go on. The employee doing it probably has no idea of how others view them so their manager should let them know.

    4. Vicki

      It could be that employee #1 simply doesn;t have enough work to occupy her time. She may be your highest performer because she only had 5 hours worth of work to do in that 10 hour day.

      She may be required to attend meetings or webinars where she already knows the material. (My brother-in-law tells a story of when he an army medic, required to take a First Aid class. He and a buddy were in the back of the room, pretty obviously not paying attention. The instructor asked the buddy “Have you read this book?!” His response: “Sir. I wrote that book.”

  2. Puffle

    OP#2 if a candidate asked me about drug testing and seemed very reluctant about it, my first thought would be that they’re potentially taking something a lot more potent/ dangerous than cannabis. Maybe it’s just that I’m from a country that has less of a marijuana/ drug testing culture than the US, but I’d be wondering if you were taking cocaine or something, which is obviously more of an issue than cannabis. I think it’s easier to just not say anything.

    1. BRR

      Not only would I think it’s something more dangerous but I would think the candidate is more than a recreational user.

      1. JoJo

        If you smoke weed every single day, you’re not a recreational user and I have a hard time believing that it wouldn’t eventually affect job performance, especially if the employee has to drive or operate machinery.

          1. marci

            My understanding is that THC is fat-soluble, meaning it is stored in fatty tissue, and that’s why you’re going to test positive for it for a pretty long time. Alcohol is water-soluble, which means it is flushed out of the system via sweat or urine in a few hours. Daily THC exposure would probably result in buildup. Fatty tissue is in the brain, and some studies seem to suggest a link between brain abnormalities/memory loss and marijuana use. It’s not a slam dunk, but interesting nevertheless.

        1. Natalie

          I don’t think you can make any claims about someone’s drug dependence based solely on frequency/quantity of drug use, particularly since marijuana isn’t physically habit forming. I’ve known alcoholics (as in, their major life activities were significantly impaired by their alcohol use) that couldn’t drink more than 2 or 3 beers without passing out, and I know people who probably drink daily or nearly daily who aren’t at all dependent.

          Drug dependence isn’t a math equation.

        2. Anonymous

          How so? I smoke when I’m at home, not when I’m at work, and not before work. How on earth would that affect my productivity? If anything, it ensures I have MORE sleep the evening before I go to work.

    2. Loose Seal

      Marijuana can be detected in a drug screen much longer after use than other drugs. You can test positive in a urine screen for marijuana a month or more after use. On the other hand, if you use cocaine on a Friday night, by Monday you will be clean for it. If you work with drug screens a lot, you are aware of this and I don’t think they would necessarily think it’s anything other than pot because most people who are recreational users will be able to forgo cocaine for a few days if they have an interview scheduled. But you’d have to stay off marijuana at least 45 days to be safe.

      OP, if you want to ask, you might think of saying that you take an occasional Ambien (a commonly prescribed benzodiazepine meant for treatment of insomnia) and want to make sure that, if you are drug tested, that it won’t disqualify you. That way, you’ll find out about the drug screen without prejudicing the employer about you. Also, do not confess about your pot smoking before you test. I’ve seen many people confess to drug use and their screen shows up clean.

        1. Loose Seal

          I know it doesn’t. I’m suggesting a way that the OP can inquire about possible drug testing by claiming they are using a drug that doesn’t carry the stigma of marijuana.

          1. nicolefromqueens

            A legally prescribed drug can be worked around/written off if tested positive. Unless OP lives in a state where medical marijuana is legal, this would backfire.

            1. Loose Seal

              No, OP just wouldn’t apply for that job. Perhaps I didn’t make my point well.

              OP wants to know, as I read it, is it ok to ask companies if they do drug testing. I am suggesting that they say that they take a commonly prescribed drug that doesn’t come with a stigma solely to determine if the company does the drug testing. Then, if the company says yes, the OP will just move on to their next application since they know they will fail the drug screen for marijuana. If not, the OP can continue applying with that company. Since OP does not, at present, need the job they would be applying to, it wouldn’t be a big deal to them to withdraw their application when they find out they would be drug tested.

            2. Nanc

              LW3. I live in a state where marijuana is legal by state law and many companies who drug test won’t hire if you test positive for marijuana. Nothing to do with state law–although some play the Federal law overrules state law–everything to do with business insurance, especially if you operate machinery or motor vehicles. Until it’s decided one way or another can you give it up until you’ve found a job?

              1. Case of the Mondays

                I’m writing an article on this issue and would love if you could provide more info like which state. Basically, I’m writing on the employment law impact of recreational and medicinal marijuana use laws.

                1. MT

                  there is a case in Colorado about a satellite dish installer who tested positive for medical marijuana and was fired.

                2. OP the Third

                  I believe a dude working for Princeton University was recently fired for using medicinal marijuana.

        1. Pennalynn Lott

          I take Adderall for ADD and have had my start date delayed by a week because of the need to get the prescription verified. So you could say you take Adderall (or Vyvanse) and that you’ve had the hiring process delayed in the past, so you’d like to know as early as possible if you’ll need to get paperwork from your doctor’s office (which, of course, is notoriously slow with “non-urgent” requests like that).

          1. Natalie

            A potential downside to this, though, is any possible weirdness when OP can’t produce an Aderall scrip.

            1. Loose Seal

              They could just say they’ve decided to quit taking it during their job hunt because it’s caused problems with the drug tests in the past.

              (I am generally an honest person although you probably couldn’t tell it by my suggesting lies here. But I just think it’s ridiculous for someone to have to worry about drug testing for employment and I would be willing to lie my ass off if I were in the OP’s situation.)

              1. Pennalynn Lott

                Yep, since Adderall doesn’t stay in your system very long, you could say you quit taking it a couple days before the test. Or even that you forgot your dose that morning.

                But, really, it won’t even come up because the hiring company only gets Pass/Fail results from the testing company. If the OP told the hiring manager the Adderall story early in the process, and the hiring manager gets a report of “Pass” on the drug results, they’d just assume the OP produced the right documentation for the Adderall.

      1. Natalie

        Marijuana is a little more complex than “you can fail a test a month later” – because of the way your body stores cannabinoids it depends heavily on how often you smoke, how much, how much you weigh, your body fat level, and what level they’re testing for (which is practically never zero). Someone who smokes once or twice a year is pretty unlikely to test positive even a week later at the typical levels that are tested for.

        1. some1

          I agree, but I think Loose Seal’s point is that it’s a mistaken assumption that someone who is inquiring about drug testing is doing so because they are using something “worse” than pot.

        2. Ms Enthusiasm

          Where I work they do a hair strand test. I guess things can be picked up for much longer time periods than a urine test.

      2. Mister Pickle

        I guess I’m in the minority, but if a job candidate asked me about drug testing, marijuana would be the first thing to come to my mind. It kind’ve shocks me sometimes when I think of all of the people I know – people in their 60s, their 50s, all ages – who smoke it recreationally[1].

        I like the “Ambien Gambit” – although to be pedantic, Ambien / Zolpidem isn’t a benzo.

        Was also wondering about saying “I’m concerned about a drug test because one of my roommates smokes marijuana”. Some employers might not be impressed that you have a pot-smoking roommate, but others might figure that’s just life. As with the Ambien Gambit, it doesn’t matter whether or not someone is really at risk of testing positive due to second-hand marijuana smoke – it simply turns the topic of conversation to “drug test: yes or no?”

        [1] I’m lovin’ the legalization movement that’s happening in the US these days! I don’t care for the effects of marijuana, myself – but I really don’t like the way US policies on it have distorted and damaged our nation and its people. My fondest hope is to live to see it legal in all 50 states and all US territories.

      3. Mints

        I like this idea. I think it’s a good gateway question where hopefully the other person gives a few more details and the OP can try to gauge the test rigor

        (And I need to go get drug tested today! And I don’t actually know what they’re testing for)

    3. some1

      Actually, one will typically test clean for cocaine after their last use much sooner than a regular pot smoker. Not that I expect that to be common knowledge to people, but it’s one of the reasons I don’t think drug testing is all that practical.

    4. INTP

      I’m in the US, mainly have worked in California where it’s very common, and I wouldn’t assume a more serious drug but I would probably assume that it’s very heavy consumption. There are people who just have a few puffs in the evening the way I have a glass of wine, but I’m guessing they’re able to quit during job searches and don’t ask about drug testing during interviews. I’m pro-legalization but it would still give me pause.

      For the OP though, I’ve never heard of a company doing random drug tests for office workers, just pre-employment. I understand you might not be an office worker, but I’m assuming you’re in a function where it wouldn’t make financial sense to routinely test current employees.

      1. OP the Third

        Thank you for your final paragraph! That’s the sort of information I’m looking for, actually: I had less envisioned actually asking about it in an interview, and more was just wondering when, typically, the topic usually arises (it’s been a long time since I’ve last looked for employment). So all of this anecdata is helpful.

        1. De Minimis

          I used to work for the Post Office [as a mail processor in a sorting facility] and even though they did an initial screen they never tested again. I don’t know if the rules might have been different for various employee groups.

          I’m currently a fed working for another agency and they did not do a drug test at all.

          I’ve been tested as part of various jobs over the years, and never had to do a second test after being hired.

          1. Ms Enthusiasm

            I know someone who just got fired because they failed a drug test. My company doesn’t routinely test current employees BUT someone told this employee’s manager they saw him smoking pot and he was required to take a test.

        2. some1

          Also, and I don’t know what jobs you are applying for, but if you drive a company car you may have to submit to a drug test if you get pulled over in the company car, and some companies also require them after a workplace injury.

          1. hildi

            Also if you’re applying for a position that requires a commercial driver license (CDL) there is a whole host of drug testing policies associated with that (pre-employment; random; post-accident; reasonable suspicion, etc.).

          2. De Minimis

            It’s actually a little weird that we don’t have to test at all, since many employees do drive government owned vehicles on occasion. Probably some legal workaround to where the government isn’t responsible if the driver is impaired.

        3. Natalie

          You also might want to check your state laws on drug testing. Some states require that the job posting clearly inform you a drug test will be required. My state requires you to be allowed to re-test within a week or so if you fail, which I swear is a carve-out just for pot smokers.

          1. Joey

            Depends what they mean by retest. Many re-tests are just a 2nd test of the initial sample to ensure a mistake wasn’t made.

            1. Natalie

              Ah, fair enough. Any warning laws about warnings, written policies, or random testing would still be handy to know about.

          2. Ange

            Second the recommendation to check your state laws. Maine (my state) requires that “any company that wants to have a substance abuse testing program (but is not required to under federal law) must submit a policy to the Bureau of Labor Standards for review and approval.” These employers are included on a publicly available list that details what type of testing (applicant, probable cause, random/arbitrary) each employer has been approved for. Granted, I wouldn’t stake my life on the list being 100% accurate or up-to-date, and it doesn’t include folks covered under federal law (pilots, truckers, etc.) but it’s somewhere to start!

        4. Anon for this

          I’m an engineer in the pipeline industry and we get randoms at least once per year because of some of the clients we work with.

      2. Traveler

        I know of a few companies (including one international corporation) that randomly test office workers.

        1. Emily, admin extraordinaire

          I worked for one that did. It made a lot of sense, though– it was one of a large group of companies, which included things like car dealerships, sports teams, movie theaters, etc., where an employee being high on drugs could cause a heck of a lot of liability and safety issues. In the interest of fairness, all employees were subject to random drug testing, not just the ones operating heavy machinery or walking on scaffolding.

          It was a privately held group of companies with a conservative owner as well, which I’m sure played into it. Those types of companies are much more likely to do random drug screening, so the OP should do a bit of research when applying.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            If that company truly wanted to address safety, it would have used performance testing, not drug testing — to catch it if someone was impaired due to alcohol, cold medicine, fatigue, or sickness too.

            1. Emily, admin extraordinaire

              Oh, they did performance reviews/spot checks as well. I helped with some of them.

      3. Anna

        I worked in an office as part of a company that had manufacturing plants. Because they had to randomly test the people in the factories, the office workers had to be randomly tested, too. I was randomly tested so often, I had to remind myself that it proved it was random and not that they suspected something and were trying to catch me out.

      4. Agile Phalanges

        I wouldn’t count on an office job not doing random drug testing–the job I recently left did it. I’m not sure if they notified people during the interview stage, during onboarding, or not at all, as they didn’t do randoms when I was first hired, so I was notified when they began the program. And somehow I escaped pre-employment testing with that company between starting with a temp agency and being pregnant at the time. But I got drug tested on a random basis a few times during my time there. I don’t use any drugs, so it wasn’t an issue for me from that perspective, but it was a pain in the butt, even though they allowed us 24 hours to get to the clinic (and we could go during working hours) so we could do it at our convenience, within those 24 hours. Our counterparts in our manufacturing plants were not so lucky–the testing folks came to the plant and tested both production and office workers by taking over the company restrooms and doing it there. That would be ten times worse, in my opinion. I don’t have “stage fright,” per se, but don’t like having to perform on someone else’s schedule. :-)

      5. Nobody

        I work in an industry where everybody — office workers, managers, janitors, secretaries, you name it (in addition to the people operating heavy machinery) — is subject to pre-employment, random, and for-cause drug and alcohol testing. The drug testing program is part of maintaining a security clearance. I would guess that most places that require a security clearance also do drug testing, so you probably want to stay away from jobs that require a security clearance.

    5. Marcy

      I actually had a candidate ask during his interview last year if we did drug testing. He was young and probably had not been on many interviews so I immediately thought he was nervous and knew he should ask a question of his own and that one just popped into his head. I figured he would kick himself later. My staff, who sat in on the interview, laughed about it when he left and figured he didn’t think he would pass the test. As it was, I hired someone else (not because of this question). This guy was actually hired by another department at my same employer. He has already been promoted and is doing very well. I had to fire the guy I hired. Go figure. Anyway, I don’t get the whole drug testing thing anyway. If I suspect an employee is using, then there is probably a problem with their performance that caused me to suspect it. If their performance is suffering, then address that. Why does it matter what is causing it? The test is just a waste of time and money to me if it isn’t an issue of public safety.

    6. Vicki

      Nah. Here in the US, as a rule, we are Very Concerned (ZOMG) about cannabis.

      Personally, I feel for the OP. If I go through an interview and then they tell me they have mandatory drug testing, I’m going to say “no Thanks” and I don’t use any drugs that cannot be purchased at a regular pharmacy. I also don’t use tobacco.

      But no one other than my personal physician is going to get me to voluntarily pee in a cup…

  3. Stephanie

    #3 – Yeah, I don’t know how asking in advance would come across any way BUT making it sound like you’re a giant stoner (or whatever). For the record, I have no issues with marijuana use (I’ve used it myself before). But asking in advance just sounds like an admission of guilt. When I was a fed, we had to submit to background checks (not for a clearance or anything, but OPM still wanted a decent amount of history for what were entry-level jobs). One of my coworkers asked about a “hypothetical” situation about how OPM/the background check people would perceive a lot of mortgage and credit card debt. The way he asked, it was pretty obvious he was talking about himself. Asking about a drug test in some abstract hypothetical situation, would sound like that.

    IME, I’ve only found MegaCorps drug test and that’s usually after an offer (that is contingent on passing the drug test and background screening) and not even the case for every MegaCorp. When you apply, there will be some point where you consent to a drug test. I’ll concede my experience might not be universal.

    Would it be possible to taper down your use while you’re hunting or if you start advancing in an interview process? From my understanding (and I don’t know how your regular use would impact this), marijuana only stays in your system for a couple of weeks (for a urine test). I think it’s a lot longer for hair samples.

    1. Loose Seal

      Regular use is going to cause the marijuana to show up in the drug screen longer since the levels accumulate. Other factors include how fast your metabolism is, your general overall health, sex (it tends to stay longer in females) and how fat you are. THC, the tested component for marijuana, is fat soluble, which is why it hangs around so long.

      You are correct about hair screens being able to detect past drug use; it can pick up use as long as six months in the past. However, it takes a great deal more use of the drug to show up in the hair; one toke at a party isn’t going to cause it to be deposited in your hair but since OP uses regularly, I’m going to go out on a limb to say that their’s would likely register. I doubt OP would get a hair screen, though. Not only are they much more expensive than the pee in a cup method, you can’t prove where in the past six months the user used. They could have had a vacation in a drug legalized part of the world four months ago and are perfectly sober today.

    2. some1

      Marijuana can be detected in a urine test up to six weeks, depending on the frequency the person smoked and their BMI. I doubt a daily smoker would test clean after two weeks unless they have, like, zero body fat.

    3. ThursdaysGeek

      Funny story: my spouse once worked for a place that did testing for radioactivity (we’re near an area that had the first large-scale reactor, built during WWII). Someone called DH because he was the head of bioassay (which did the urine and fecal testing) and asked about drug testing. DH said no, they only tested for certain radioactive elements, but the guy tried several ways to get him to admit that they were also testing for drugs. The caller finally said “oh, you send it out for the drug testing!” People had to provide samples to keep their jobs, and some would often put it off until they were threatened with the job loss, probably to give their system time to clear from the drug use…which wasn’t what they were testing for.

    4. Vicki

      Anecdote:

      An Open Source company called Cygnus Support, founded in 1989, specially had a public policy
      statement against “Human Quality testing” (aka mandatory drug testing). When asked if they had a drug testing policy, one of the founders was said to have replied “Sure! Bring us your drugs and we’ll test them for you.”

  4. Just Visiting

    #1: A lot of people, myself included, concentrate better if they can be occupied with other things. This is especially true at desk jobs where I never get to stand up and walk around (although I hate those kind of jobs and excel best at physical ones). However, doodling usually works just as well as looking at the phone. I would suggest to her that she doodles in meetings instead, but not mention the other Internet use. It’s possible she’s a high performer because she “wastes time” on the Internet.

    #3: Weird anecdote: I once applied at a place where they said in the Craigslist ad that they drug test and they asked that you acknowledge this in your cover letter. I did so. Then I was called for an interview and in the course of the interview they said “we drug test, are you all right with that?” I indicated it was fine. When I went on the interview I asked about the drug test in the “if I get this job, when/where should we schedule it” sense and they said “oh, we just say we’re drug testing to weed out people, we don’t really do it.” Kind of hilarious actually. I agree that you shouldn’t ask about it, but you should try to get in the medical program ASAP, even if it’s hard to get in.

    1. Stephanie

      I do wonder, though, how does drug screening work in states where medical only is legal (like mine)? I’ve done some drug tests for volunteer jobs and consented to drug tests and I didn’t notice any distinction for medical marijuana.

      1. Just Visiting

        I was on a Schedule II drug once (stimulants) and I asked my doctor how I would deal with a drug test and she said that if I ever had to take one I should bring the prescription bottle to the testing facility and show it to them. Do medical marijuana users have written prescriptions? If so, I guess you’d have to carry it around with you… that’s not much of a burden, though.

        1. Natalie

          It might not matter – federally, marijuana is a Schedule I (no accepted medical use). My understanding is, thus far, medical marijuana is not as safe from federal intervention as other drugs.

        2. Judy

          Every drug test I’ve ever done has had a form to fill out to declare what medications I was taking. I’m assuming in states that medical marijuana is legal, it would be one of the items on the list. (It was usually a list of things with additional blank lines at the bottom.)

        3. Mike C.

          Yeah, this happened to me for the exact same thing. Even though I brought the bottle they called saying, “You popped for METH!!!!11!!” Then when I explained *AGAIN* they asked for my doctor’s name and her DEA number and it was all settled.

          But seriously, it drives me up the fricking wall. Schedule II drugs are a pain.

          1. SH

            My company does random drug tests but I haven’t been given one yet. I think companies say they will to deter drug use.

            1. Cherry Scary

              We also do random drug tests (you had to do one to get hired as well)

              Though we’re kind of special in that the company bans tobacco too, so I had to answer about 20 times that no, I do not smoke anything.

            2. Kat M

              I was once part of an organization that did “random” drug tests. 50% of my team was white. 50% was black. Guess which team members were drug tested that year.

              Yup, you’re 100% correct.

      2. Juli G.

        In my state where medical marijuana is legal, employers can still legally disqualify you from employment for using it. Eventually, this will probably change.

          1. Natalie

            That’s not an accurate comparison here unless alcohol and tobacco are being medically prescribed somewhere. As it stands right now, medical marijuana is legally treated differently than other prescriptions, even prescriptions for other “street” drugs.

          2. Treena Kravm

            Right, but drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes isn’t prescribed by a doctor. Employers can’t discriminate whether or not you take any other prescription drug, so yes, this will probably change to align with that.

          3. Case of the Mondays

            Except in NH. Can’t make employment decisions based on whether someone is a cigarette smoker. The medical marijuana law, however, is different and employers can still prohibit use.

          4. cataloger

            They cannot in Kentucky either (or about 28 other states, according to Wikipedia). Some of those laws are specifically about tobacco, but others cover all lawful activities.

        1. Zillah

          Yeah, I’m not sure how that would stand up if someone started alleging discrimination based on disability… Which if you were disqualified for that reason, I think you’d have a case to do. I mean, if anywhere ever refused to hire me because I use (prescribed, fully legal) Ritalin to help with my ADHD, I would be furious and definitely see it as a discriminatory practice.

            1. Natalie

              ADA is federal law, too, though.

              I imagine it will come to a head in court one of these days. DEA vs ADA… FIGHT!

          1. Squirrel!

            Ritalin isn’t a Schedule I drug though, marijuana is, and that means the federal government has decalred there is no legitimate medical use for it. Not a valid comparison.

            1. Zillah

              Right – for the moment. I honestly can’t see that not changing in the near future, though… at the very least, to give the power to make that decision to the states, even if it isn’t fully decriminalized or legalized.

              Even as things stand, I think it could get tricky for the courts.

      3. Mike C.

        There are other regulations that need to be addressed. For instance, in my state Marijuana is legal. But where I work is covered under FAA regulations, and thus if you pop for MJ that’s going to be a problem. This is outside of the Schedule I issue.

        1. Traveler

          Yep. It doesn’t even have to be FAA regulations. Because it’s still illegal federally speaking, even in states where its completely legal (WA and CO) employers and even entire cities can “opt-out”.

      4. Anx

        Exactly. If you have to produce a prescription, you are giving an employer knowledge of medical conditions. Even if you just suggest you’re on sleeping pills or medicine for ADHD, you open yourself up for discrimination.

        1. Zillah

          That’s really true – I’ve encountered a lot of people who are prejudiced toward ADHD – either they don’t believe it exists, or they think it’s massively over diagnosed, or they think stimulants are just a racket by the drug industry… I generally don’t disclose that I’m ADHD in professional contexts, even if it comes up.

          1. Anx

            I’m symptomatic for it, and have been my whole life. Just becoming aware of it as a possibility has led me to work around my weaknesses, whatever the origin, and has made me so much happier and a better performer in life in general. My depression has let up (more stigma) and I don’t feel the need to start medication, but I was hesitant anyway because I haven’t asked me doctor about ADHD yet (other therapists believe it’s probable).

            Next week I’m asking to check for anemia and thyroid issues. My attention and concentration issues cannot just be depression and anxiety.

            But I don’t think I’ll even tell my instructors. For one, I’m not sure they would believe it right away (unless they understood the disorder well). But I’m also afraid it will affect how they perceive me for internship placements and the like.

            I wouldn’t want an employer to know. Sometimes I’m late because of ADHD (or shadow syndrome) reasons, and I’d hate to think that after all of my hard work in trying to become punctual, one missed bus or car accident will be attributed to a fixed trait and not a situational one.

    2. victoria

      I have to agree with you on #1. I actually find it easier to keep focused if I am keeping my brain constantly ‘active’ and I once had a boss complain that my doodling during meetings was disrespectful but it actually helped me concentrate. When I stopped doodling because of the comment, I was so ‘ansty’ and was paying less attention than if I’d just been left to my own devices to do what works for me. I am Gen Y and find that many people my age just don’t do well at being completely focused on one task and do well when multitasking, and the fact this girl is a top performer while using the internet and her phone speaks to that. When I worked in a call center, the top performer used to listen to their ipod in one ear and the calls in another and started doing much worse when that got banned, because the music helped him concentrate and his much older supervisor didn’t understand that some younger people really do concentrate better with their technology at hand.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

        My brain works this way also.

        I doodle so I *can* focus completely. Isn’t that why everybody who doodles doodles?

        I’m tail end Baby Boom. I’ve always been this way. If I need to get a crunch load of work done from home, I put Law & Order on Netflix because having two channels (pun not intended but pretty clever) running at the same time makes me the most productive.

        1. Colette

          I’m in the same boat. Most of my meetings are conference calls, and I usually play a game on my phone while I’m on the call. If I don’t (and I’m not the one talking), I start reading email or working on something and suddenly realize I’m not listening anymore. Doing something relatively mindless keeps my brain busy enough that I don’t go looking for other stimulation.

          1. C Average

            Yes! I do this, too. I nearly always play solitaire when I’m on the phone with anyone at all–friends, relatives, colleagues, etc. I focus MUCH better if I have something relatively mindless to look at and do while I’m talking and listening. If I don’t, I wind up walking around, looking at stuff, tidying my area, etc., and get absorbed in those things and realize I’ve lost the thread of the conversation. I’ve had to break the habit of doing this on conference calls at work because my manager finds it disrespectful, and it’s a lot harder for me to stay focused now.

            1. Natalie

              I have to do that when I talk on the phone, too. I always use the headphones/mic and do my dishes or fold laundry.

        2. Ezri

          I’m the same way (and I’ve used L&O too, shows with pattern storylines are especially handy for this). In college, if I just sat down to do homework without some sort of background noise I’d go completely berserk and get nothing accomplished. Having a tv show or a movie on gives the easily distracted part of my brain something to focus on so I can get things done.

              1. fposte

                Oh, Mythbusters is perfect for this! Also good for me are low-impact British mysteries, like Poirot or Miss Marple, where I don’t care who did it, I just like seeing the guest stars and the business.

                On the other hand, if it’s a show that isn’t in my groove, it grates like sandpaper–having the TV on “just because” is like leaving an alarm going to me.

              2. Anonyby

                Speaking of Mythbusters… On his podcast, Adam has admitted to knolling while on the phone, and during the episode where he demonstrated by knolling through the podcast as his co-hosts handed him more items.

                1. fposte

                  I’d never even heard that word before–fascinating Google results on that! I have no interest in doing that at physically all, but I would do it mentally, with making to-do lists and project steps in the margins.

                2. Cherry Scary

                  I just recently discovered his podcast. Need to start remembering to download them before I come into work. I enjoy listening while working, but the data reception here can get pretty badk.

                3. LBK

                  Oh my god. I have been a life-long knoller and I never knew until this moment that there was a word for it! Literally right before opening this page, I knolled my keyboard, post-its, pen and phone. Wow.

            1. Oryx

              Yes yes yes. So glad I’m not the only one. I always have Netflix playing when I’m working at home, always shows I’ve seen before, it helps keep me on task.

              1. Natalie

                I’m “watching” (aka listening to) Leverage for about the thousandth time right now while I put in AP.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

            That’s exactly it. The predictability of the L & O order structure is perfect. (I could never do say “Breaking Bad” and work at the same time.)

            Any procedural I’ve seen before works for me this way. I could run Numb3s again to the same effect, as an example. Propels me forward while giving the back of my brain something to process also.

            1. Jill-be-Nimble

              I’ve also found that formulaic cooking competition shows are really good for this–Cutthroat Kitchen, Chopped, Hell’s Kitchen, etc. You don’t really miss any plot points if you zone out concentrating, but it’s great background noise and entertaining when your brain needs a break!

              1. Jill-be-Nimble

                Ooh!!! Also, if I’m doing something extremely repetitive and boring for a long period of time, I put headphones on and listen to the Savage Lovecast (Dan Savage’s very graphic sex advice podcast). I feel guilty and work that much harder on getting my work out because I’m doing something “naughty”!

            2. Aunt Vixen

              I am the same way! (Tail-end Gen X here.) My parents never understood it and neither does my husband, but when I was doing homework or now if I’m working from home and it’s too quiet I can’t concentrate. Background noise is exactly what I need – but background speech. Music doesn’t work because I want to listen to it. I need something I can deliberately tune out in order to sharpen my focus on what I’m doing. (This is what my husband especially doesn’t get–that I put the TV on for the purpose of not watching it.)

              It’s the same when I’m driving. I don’t do very well with tunes–even assuming there are words and I can sing along, I find it much easier to concentrate on the road and the route if I have an audiobook on. (Especially, as you say, one I’ve heard before. My go-to selections are “The Code of the Woosters” and the entire Hitchhiker’s Guide “trilogy”.)

              1. Kyrielle

                This is totally foreign to me, and yet makes so much sense – I’m the opposite: words (at least potentially interesting words) interrupt me, but music (especially familiar music) makes a nice background carpet.

                If it works that way for me, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the opposite is true for someone else. Similar phenomenon, different things qualified as “background noise”.

                1. teclatwig

                  In undergrad, I once studied my OChem unit so intently that I was about 3 hours into my study session before noticing that my CD player was set to repeat a single son on infinite loop. :-)

                  I find that I can listen to music with words for some subjects but not others — it depends which parts of my brain are being recruited. (Math and composition require instrumental pieces.)

          2. teclatwig

            I remember my mother climbing the walls in high school when I would do my homework with the radio on, find it wasn’t *enough* input, and switch on the TV too.

            Having recently been through an ADHD assessment for a child (and thus doing lots and lots of reading on the subject), my sense is that there are a few things that may be going on. 1) In the case of (possibly undiagnosed) ADHD, the brain needs the extra stimulation to bring the forebrain online. In one example, a grad student struggling to keep focus on dry monographs discovered that playing a video game while listening to the audiobook drastically improved her concentration and comprehension. 2) Sensory or attention deficits. People with ADHD have buffers that are easily wiped, and people with certain auditory processing difficulties can only hold so much “tape” before everything else is just blah, blah, Ginger.” Drawing on other parts of the brain (and body) helps with the overall processing and ability to handle the input productively. 3) For the H in ADHD: trying to focus can be taxing, and you may get distracted, wiggle, zone out. Having a thing to do can help channel that energy. 4) Others have discussed learning style differences; if you are strongly visual or kinetic or whatever, eventually auditory input degrades.

            The person in my life who was dxed with ADHD has been given an accommodation at school that allows him to work on puzzles in math. (Not jigsaw, but something small and problematic.) I thought all he needed was a fidget to fuss with, but it turns out he needed his brain engaged too. He now has an endless supply of metallic pieces stuck together in mysterious ways (he has to figure out how to detach them). I mention this because, while doodling is awesome for me in these situations, some people need more mental engagement. (And also, the kid in this example has handwriting issues, so he wouldn’t turn to a writing-based solution.)

          3. Simonthegrey

            I had court TV on constantly when I was in college. Live boring court coverage was the perfect background.

        3. LBK

          Totally me. I play TV shows on my phone while I’m a work the way most people might listen to music – my coworkers often wonder how I can focus on anything, but that’s the only way I CAN focus. Music is too distracting (I always want to sing along!).

          1. Allison

            Me as well, I don’t try it at work because everyone would see it, but whenever I work from home I have the TV on – Gilmore Girls is on for 2 hours these days, Grey’s Anatomy is on for 3. If there’s nothing on I put on Netflix on my personal laptop, which is next to my work laptop, and has things like Facebook and Gmail open all day so I can see if an important message comes in during the day. BUT because I’m not being supervised I make sure I’m producing the same level of measurable work as I do in the office.

            also helpful when working from home, taking quick breaks to clean something. few dishes here, bathroom floor there, etc.

      2. JayDee

        I am very much a visual learner. I can focus intensely on tasks where I am reading or writing. Like, “forget to eat or use the restroom” focus. “Two or three hours of reading medical records” focus. But put me in a meeting and make me listen without anything to visually orient myself, and I will lose focus. I’ll miss half if what’s said, start daydreaming, ask too many questions just to try to stay focused. I have to take notes or doodle or have written materials to follow along with. Then I can stay on track.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale

      “oh, we just say we’re drug testing to weed out people, we don’t really do it.” No pun intended, right??? (Sorry, sorry, carry on, nothing to see here.)

      Agreed on #1. I think the biggest grievance here is the phone/surfing during meetings, because being in a meeting with several people who are all required to pay attention to the same thing is not the same as being at your desk and taking a (however frequent) Facebook break.

    4. Allison

      You make a good point regarding #1, I have heard that people can get more done if they occasionally give in to the temptation to check this or that “fun” website for a few minutes every now and then. But it should be short and infrequent, and ideally at a time when you’re unlikely to get caught. Fighting that temptation could actually be more distracting and a bigger drain on one’s energy.

      I get my work done and everyone seems happy with me work, but if my manager felt that my browsing or phone use was excessive, either affecting my productivity or just the image of our team, I’d want him to say something sooner than later so I know I need to work on cutting back. I certainly wouldn’t want him to stew about it until the problem is so bad they have no choice but to let me go.

      1. Anx

        This is how I feel about the cell phone. I almost never use my phone in the car, but I’ve caved in and called someone for directions when I was starting to panic on the road. Also, I texted at work once because I was having a visitor come meet me on the train from the airport after my shift, and worrying about whether or not they landed was more distracting than a 10 second text message.

      2. Marcy

        Not getting caught is important. When I catch my staff on personal calls or the internet, I assume they are caught up on their work and need more so I give it to them (we are understaffed so there is always something that needs to be done and I don’t need to work 60+ hours a week to get it done if they have extra time to play around during the day).

      3. Hillary

        I reward myself with a couple specific Internet breaks a day when I finish my first daily task and a couple times later in the day. My boss inevitably decides to do his daily walk through at the same time.

        Fortunately I’m a very productive exempt employee, and he gets that I need a break to switch focus to something else.

    5. Jennifer

      Yeah, I think your “high performer” must have ADD or something because she sounds like me. I have a hard time focusing on ONE THING ALL DAY CONTINUOUSLY and still get a ton of shit done despite taking little mental breaks like that (though in my case, I don’t do social media or phone stuff–no reception where I work even if I wanted to!). I get lectured all the time on how it looks bad if I am not sitting perfectly still, frozen and smiling at someone’s droning head….but let’s just say I have long since lost all focus and interest in someone talking if I’m not doing a little something to burn off that excess mental energy. Which is to say: if I look like I’m 100% focused on wonderful important you, my brain left the building 20 minutes ago.

    6. Meg Danger

      #1 – I agree with “Just Visiting” that sometimes additional stimulation can really help with concentration. For example, when I am doing a boring work task, like data entry or collating, I will listen to podcasts. If I am listening to something interesting I can focus on an un-engaging task much longer without a break… and I actually enjoy being assigned tedious tasks when I know I will get to listen and learn something new while I am working.

      It would be totally reasonable for my employer to say that listening to podcasts during work is inappropriate (so far this has not been the case)… it uses extra bandwidth (which could slow the internet for everyone – I’m not really sure how BW works) and I may appear unprofessional or unapproachable if I have an ear-bud in one ear. However, if my employer did ask me to stop using technology in this way, it would significantly decrease my job satisfaction, and probably my output, as I would need to take far more breaks from repetitive tasks to keep myself engaged. It *might* even be a deal breaker for me, given the nature of my work.

      If the employee OP #1 is managing feels she is not able to work in a way that she finds engaging (using technology during the work day), the OP risks losing or demoralizing a high-performing employee. Is the technology use legitimately impacting other people’s work? If so, I like AAM’s advice to focus on trimming the tech only when it is significantly impacting others in the office.

  5. OriginalEmma

    #1: Ouch. You ever see yourself in one of these letters? I just did.

    Time for some changes, like phone in the bag like jesicka309 and C Average do, and browser unopened unless being actively used for work.

    I also do need to find myself more work, which is difficult because I’m a temporary employee and everyone in my office is their own island/program within the organization. It seems to me like a situation where it is more work to train me up only to have me give the work back because I’ll be leaving.

    1. some1

      Absolutely. I think part of my problem with checking something like Facebook or even Ask A Manager at work is that while I only mean to check it for a minute, 15 minutes can go by like that.

    2. Jen RO

      I kinda did too (I don’t bring my phone to meetings, but I do browse a lot)… and I don’t think I should change. If I tried to be 100% focused for 8 hours a day I’d burn out and be useless by day 3. Sometimes it does mean that I have to stay late to finish something… but I’d rather work 9 hours, with pauses, than 8 hours without.

      (Technically 10 and 9 hours, because I have an hour lunch, but you get the point.)

      1. Heather

        Yup. For me, reading a blog post or something is kind of like taking a walk to clear my head. Thinking about something else for regular short periods of time means that I will get way more done when I return to the work I was doing, because I’m not trying to force my brain to be on overdrive 100% of the time.

    3. Hillary

      A wallet style phone case also helps – if you can’t see it light up, the temptation goes down immensely.

  6. GH in SoCAl

    Re #5, I suggest letting her know ahead of time that you’re sorry you can’t make it to her party (and wish her all the best, or whatever you feel comfortable saying). Waiting for her to ask why you weren’t there is kind of rude, imho.

  7. Ludo

    #1 …. yea that could have been me even a few months ago. I know I tend to resort to a little surf/phone time when I hit a lull in work. I have to be careful about it now because I have to set an example for my team. Now if I feel the urge to pull my phone out of my bag, I do double duty. I take a quick break/walk around the building and do a little surf. Then, back to work.

    #3…You cannot ask without coming off as a. a not-so-recreational user and b. a potential user of something more than pot. I firmly believe in the legalization of marijuana and that as long as you aren’t doing it at work, or coming to work impaired, it should not be your employer’s business (how many jobs test for recent alcohol usage?) but the fact is, it is illegal in your state and your employer just might care. And if you ask, they are going to worry that it might not be as harmless as pot and that you might not be in control of your usage.

  8. Dan

    #2 Heh. Before starting my last job, I had a trip through amsterdam. Nothing was mentioned about preemployment screening. I ended up passing on the fun, because yeah, you can’t just call and ask.

    First day on the job, I asked the guy next to me, “what about the test?”

    “There is no test. Just don’t come to work high” he tells me.

  9. Merion (de)

    #1 I could be the person mentioned. If I take a break and surf for a few minutes, I’m able to concentrate better on the tasks afterwards. If I do have a task that is repetitive and boring, I just need some time where I can think about something else.
    If I do have a deadline and people are depending on the work I’m doing, I work concentrated and fast.

    I don’t surf or play on my smartphone and I stopped doodling while in a meeting after somebody told me to. I’m not sure, that stopping was really in anybody’s best interest. I listen while doodling and I tend to concentrate better on what is said if I am doing something with my hands.

    You might want to tell her that she should think about the example that she’s giving to other people. And you might want to look at what she is doing. Maybe you can change the focus of her work to give her more challenges. Don’t just throw more work at her.

    1. victoria

      I find doodling actually helps me focus because it narrows my focus a lot. If I’m just expected to sit there and not do anything at all, I find myself looking out the window, staring at my shoes/handbag/fingernails and I start thinking about what’s for dinner/what dress I should buy for my cousins wedding/wondering what my cat is doing at home/practising counting from 1-50 in French/whatever. But if I can look at my notepad and doodle, I have something to focus on and since my mind isn’t wandering, I take in what is being said.

      I think sometimes workplaces can be a bit rigid and ‘one size fits all’ and don’t acknowledge that people work in different ways.

    2. jesicka309

      A handy hint for those who like doodling in meetings and can’t stop – open up to a page you’ve already taken notes in, and trace over the words you wrote. Underline headings. Fill in your bullet points. Close the gaps in your cursive a’s, o’s and other letters. It looks like you’re taking notes, but you’re really just tidying up a new page. It’s not as creative as doodling, but you’re unlikely to get the ‘wow, how rude’ response if there’s writing on the page, because, uh hello, you’re reviewing notes from last week? Aka working.
      :)

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

        This is so funny to me. I guess because I’m the Boss who doodles, nobody ever said anything to me…well, they have said things to me because I have some pretty elaborate doodles that will fill and entire page, but I thought it was genuine admiration. (chuckles)

        Doodlers of the world, unite! Don’t hide your doodles under word tracing! Be proud!

        *unless it will get you fired or otherwise hold your career back, in which case, see advice above

        1. Helka

          My father is a compulsive (and very artistic!) doodler, and apparently there is some actual competition to sit near him in meetings in order to watch what he creates in the margins of his notes.

          So yes, be proud!

          1. Anx

            My boyfriend will have drawn 50 drawing and 10 page of notes in a grad school lecture. It’s fascinating to go through his notebook.

        2. Jennifer

          Well, you’re the boss. You could probably pick your nose and wipe boogers on the table and nobody’s gonna say something!

      2. misspiggy

        Or write your shopping list, or poetry! Cannot just sit in a meeting with no distractions, or I would end up staring out of the window in a reverie.

    3. Vera

      Thank you for saying to NOT throw more work at her. While I see myself in #1, I’m also the top performer on my team and am completely overwhelmed in terms of workload. I use 5 minute web surfs for mind clearing or to transition from one task to another more cleanly. And to avoid burnout. As for meetings, I sometimes get antsy/distracted because the meeting (or a large chunk of the agenda) is not relevant to me and time could be much better spent at my desk.

      I’d definitely recommend focusing on how this is affecting her professional image. All it takes is for one superior to make a comment about this behavior to have an impact. You could even mention (if it’s true) that this type of behavior might hold her back from getting promotions.

      Alternatively – maybe she doesn’t find her work particularly engaging or inspiring? Or she’s doing too much of the same type of work? Maybe she’d be interested in serving on a project team/task force that has corporate impact. Or perhaps she has some ideas on how to improve a process or would like to try her hand at implementing a new one (see what she suggests and if you can, let her run with it!). Or maybe you could suggest volunteering in a leadership role for the local chapter for your professional society. For me, these type of activities have the same affect as surfing the web, checking facebook, etc. but are much more fruitful.

      1. Marcy

        My staff does get more work if I catch them. We are understaffed and I have been working 60+ hours a week picking up the slack so my staff doesn’t have to. If I hear them on a personal call for half an hour or see them surfing, I give them some of the work I am doing after hours. Why should I work so much if they have time to waste? Sorry, but in that case, they get more work. Plus it doesn’t look good for any of us. I am trying to convince senior management that we need more people and if the people I am trying to convince walk by and hear my staff on a personal call or see them surfing then I am never going to be able to get the help we need.

    4. Cat

      Yeah, leaving the meeting aside, I want to push back on the idea that every worker would be more productive if they didn’t do this. I think a theoretical platonic ideal of a worker would be more productive if they never checked Facebook but real people have different ways of focusing which may not get them to the most work anyone could ever accomplish but do get them to a good place for them. Personally, I’ve experimented with this a lot. There are certainly, hmm, non deep focus tasks that I can do continually without a break. Something like writing a long brief, however, goes much, much better for me if I work as described by letter writer #1. I think my subconscious deals with the next paragraph while I’m checking Facebook. (Actually, when it’s something really long and really focus-intensive, I usually have food blogs open – not sure why, but I think it being a neutral topic related to a sensory experience and totally different than work puts me in a groove.)

      Anyway, it’s easy to say “oh but you’d still be more productive if you didn’t do it.” Maybe. My billable hours would be higher. But it is how I’ve learned to do work that, based on objective markers, is high quality. And I can feel myself click into a different kind of focus that is qualitatively different than when you’re just web surfing (I am definitely familiar with that too) or doing more surface level tasks so I’m pushing back on the idea that it’s inherently bad.

      1. Colette

        Yeah, I think there’s a perception that checking personal email or Facebook or whatever is not work – and it’s not – but if you’re working on something creative*, it helps to give your brain a chance to focus on something else and figure out the other issue in the background.

        *by creative, I mean solving a problem that doesn’t have an obvious solution.

        1. the gold digger

          I figure out a lot of stuff while I am at the gym during lunch. It’s like several commenters have noted – if part of the brain can be engaged in something relatively low level, it’s easier for the rest of the brain to work out the hard stuff.

      2. AnonAnalyst

        Agree. I find I’m the same way – it’s pretty easy for me to keep going without breaks on easier tasks, but when I’m working on something that requires a lot of focus and critical thinking, I’ll lose some of that if I keep trying to plow through without taking brief what I call “brain breaks.” Taking a few minutes to read something online or check my personal email helps me come back to the task at hand refreshed so that I can keep going and be more efficient, as well as produce higher quality work since I’ve found that I make fewer mistakes when I step away for a few minutes. When I don’t take breaks, after a time I just start slowing down and it becomes harder to keep that level of focus so it actually takes me longer to complete that task. So, just adding more work is not going to increase my productivity.

        That said, the meeting thing is a no-go. I don’t have issues with doodling in the meeting, but texting/emailing/etc. on the phone for the entire session isn’t going to reflect well on you in a lot of places, so I like Alison’s suggested wording to address that.

        1. ThursdaysGeek

          And I’m the opposite. If I’m doing something easy or repetitive, I want something else to distract me as well, to keep me from dying from boredom. The more I need to concentrate and think, the less distractions I want, to the point I’ll use earplugs if I really need a high level of concentration. Breaks are still necessary, but it will take 5-15 minutes to get back up to speed after each one.

      3. Jen RO

        My brain tends to work like this too. I write for a living, so it’s not uncommon to struggle for a word, go on Facebook for a few minutes, and come back with the next 2 sentences popping in my head.

      4. Heather

        You said what I tried to say above, but way more articulately!

        I mean, theoretically, workers would be more productive if they never took meal or bathroom breaks, but in reality they’d be sitting there unable to think about anything but food or how badly they have to pee ;)

    5. WorkingMom

      Yep, same here. Ironically, I am considered one of the top performers on my team. Not quite to the extreme of the direct report in OP’s letter. I don’t bring my phone to meetings, ever. I certainly do “reward” myself for completing certain tasks with reading a blog (like this one) or looking something up online, etc. When I do get really busy though, those things fall to the wayside and work trumps everything.

    6. Nerd Girl

      Doodling is a proven way to pay attention when bored. There have been all kinds of studies on it. If I don’t doodle I walk out of a meeting wondering “what were we talking about???” I’ve attached a link (hope it works!) of a recent article talking about doodling and the brain.

  10. AnonyMouse

    #1: I view phone use a little differently than checking facebook/surfing the web at work. Not sure it’s rational, but I do. I think it’s entirely reasonable to ask that someone go the duration of the work day without checking social media, especially on a work computer. But especially if you’re working 10+ hours a day in a different part of the world than your loved ones, it’s probably not reasonably to ask that people not check their phone/text. In a perfect world, everyone would stay 100% focused on work at work, but unfortunately things do sometimes come up, and especially for people with dependents (but everybody, too), they may need to be accessible by phone. But even if people’s phone use is entirely legitimate, they do need to be aware of how it looks to others, so I think Alison’s advice is spot on here.

    #3: I’m not in the US and have never worked somewhere with a drug test, so I’m not particularly familiar with these policies, but depending on the company and their size etc you might be able to find information on their drug testing policies online somewhere. But I definitely wouldn’t bring it up in an interview – like Alison said, even people who support marijuana legalisation may wonder if you have a more-than-casual habit, or if you’re using something harder. Bringing it up makes it an issue even if they don’t test.

  11. TheOtherJennifer

    #4 – I realize it’s your day off but I hope you’re not expecting a reference or any other positive interaction with this former boss after the lunch. Wonder what your relationship is with this person.

    1. Natalie

      That seems like a pretty big leap, actually. OP didn’t give any indication her boss was an unreasonable or irrational person, so as long as the OP is polite when she declines, there’s no reason it would affect her reference.

      And really, if the boss is so unreasonable that she’s give a bad reference to someone because they couldn’t come to her party, she’s just as likely to change her reference over anything else silly – eating too much hummus, being insufficiently gushing enough over grandkid pics, wearing polka dots when you know I hate them.

      Generally I proceed as if everyone is reasonable, because trying to predict or placate unreasonable people is impossible.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale

        I agree– it’s a Saturday, and the OP was invited because the whole office was invited. I don’t know any reasonable person who expect someone to drive 4 hours just to attend a lunch. The OP should decline with regrets and, if she likes this boss, send some flowers.

        1. Sue

          Yes! The OP says most of the team lives 15-20 minutes away, so 4 hours does seem like a long time. I like the advice of sending some flowers :) Then you have a nice gesture without having to drive 8 hours.

        2. BOMA

          Yes, this. I’d definitely recommend declining ahead of time, so they know not to expect you and you’re not just “blowing it off”. If you send cards and/or flowers, it shows that you’re still thinking of them and wishing them well. Most reasonable people will understand that driving 4 hours each way is a hell of a drive just for a lunch.

          1. MaggietheCat

            +1 A pot luck lunch too! That’s a long way for me to drive AND have baked cookies for an entire office.

      1. Not So NewReader

        Me, neither. I might, once in a while drive two hours and meet her half way. But that’s not anything firm. I would consider it, that’s all.

  12. Chloe Silverado

    OP #4 – Are you sure that the boss expects you to come? I work in an office where we all genuinely get along and occasionally socialize outside of work. We have 2 employees who work in satellite offices (1 is 1 hour away in a city with tons of traffic, the other is about 2.5), and while we make sure they are always invited to any happy hours or social events, we completely respect that the length of their trip usually makes attending prohibitive. There are costs and time commitments associated with their attendance that differ from the rest of the group. I realize this is a special occasion since the boss is retiring, but I know in my office no one would bat an eyelash if one of our satellite office employees politely declined. I would personally send a nice card congratulating the boss on her retirement along with my regrets for having to miss the potluck and move on.

    1. Sorcha

      Yeah, this. If I was the boss inviting #4, I would be doing so to be polite and to make sure no one felt left out, not because I actually expected them to show up. I would be totally unsurprised to receive a polite “sorry, I can’t make it” response.

      1. some1

        Yes, and I’ve worked with people who absolutely would feel slighted for not being invited for such a practical reason.

  13. Let'sBeAnonymous

    So, #1, I just want to say that I am one of those people who concentrates better when I have more things in my head. It sounds odd, and I don’t really know how to explain the restlessness, it’s kind of like my mind has room for 7 topics at once-and if I don’t purposely find seven things to think about, then semi-random thoughts kind of rush in and take over my mindspace, and then I just sit there staring off into the distance.

    So if I only had WorkThing1 and WorkThing2 to think about, then I’d be distracted by everything under the sun, and something like this would happen: WorkThing1, oooh Jenny’s lost weight again, I heard about that miracle cure green coffee bean thing Dr Oz oh he was accused of fraud John Oliver did a piece on him and on miss america he insulted Donald Trump who doesn’t seem like a nice person, his hair looks really fake, WorkThing2, I wonder why men care so much about their hair I got another email for hair follicles and ED meds the other day does anyone actually buy those from badly worded spam mail, seems like a poor marketing strategy… And so on.

    Or I could just read a few news articles and blog posts between tasks, and let my mind chew on them quietly in the background while I complete my work.

    So if she’s anything like me, then I’m a little sympathetic to your employee, but really she should try to be as subtle as possible. I avoid sites with bright colors, music, or large, loud font. I don’t switch back and forth from my computer to my phone. Maybe she just doesn’t realize how obvious she is? For meetings, someone already suggested what I do, I just trace over old notes. It’s a bit tedious, but it stops me from fidgeting out of my seat.

    Anyway. My point was just that there are some people who do need constant stimulation to be productive. Your employee might be one of them, or she might just be a bit tactless with technology etiquette. Talk to her about it.

    1. Cat

      Huh, I never conceptualized it this way, but this describes me as well – interesting thought about just having to have various things in your head.

      1. fposte

        I too tend to work better with a melody and a harmony (that’s why I love doing a task with clear stopping points, so I can go back and forth between, say, folding three clean shirts and reading three chapters).

        But…I know that I can also use distraction as an out, and let it take up an inappropriate amount of time. One problem in making it part of your workflow is you do need to be vigilant about this possibility, because it can creep up on you more stealthily than if you just never, say, surfed at work.

    2. Jen RO

      Your brain and mine could be twins… I kinda like it – the only downside is that sometimes I forget what I was initially thinking about!

    3. Heather

      it’s kind of like my mind has room for 7 topics at once

      I am officially naming this phenomenon the Brain Horcrux. :)

  14. Kelly O

    I’ve seen way too many people run into issues with prescribed medications and drug tests lately – particularly people with adult ADD or ADHD – and even taking out the cannabis issue, it’s something I really do think American culture specifically needs to address.

    In one instance, a coworker fully disclosed the ADHD medications, provided bottles and medical information, and passed the pre-employment screen. When chosen for a random test a few weeks later, the same medication, the same information, and he was (basically) asked to resign because “we have a zero tolerance policy for ‘stimulants’ in our workplace.” While it’s an employee-and case-sensitive issue, obviously, it caused a lot of raised eyebrows and questions about why our random results are different than pre-employment, and what constitutes a stimulant…

    I say that to add that I can understand why someone even on a prescription medication would be curious about that, even if asking is a bad idea.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale

      That is absolutely horrible and ridiculous. I’m not a litigious person, but if I were that guy, I’d be RUNNING to a lawyer.

      1. Mike C.

        You don’t have to take those drugs within a certain period of time, and lots of doctors (mine for instance) allow us to take them as needed. I don’t take mine on the weekends for instance.

        1. Zillah

          Yeah – my last prescription was filled three months ago, but bc I rarely used it in the summer and only use it when I have work now, I still have plenty left. Unless your last prescription was filled a year ago, it being more than a month old doesn’t mean anything.

    2. Just Visiting

      Why is this man not suing your company for every penny they own??

      I would like to see an end to all drug testing (outside of a few select jobs where other people’s lives are at risk, like being a pilot) for the sole reason that it forces disclosure. Someone with ADHD, or chronic pain, or glaucoma that’s treatable with MJ, who treats their condition medically, has to disclose their condition on threat of being fired. It’s an invasion of my right to keep this under wraps. I don’t care if these things are “common,” I have good reasons for not wanting to disclose ADHD to anyone at work, even HR.

      1. Joey

        It’s not disclosed to your employer unless they’re administering the drug test. Typically, whomever is doing the drug test doesn’t release details. If they get a false positive they contact the testee to inquire about medications that might have caused a false positive. Once the medical professional verifies the Rx was legit they report a negative finding. The employer never finds out about the Rx.

        1. Traveler

          But they are administering it in some cases. You’re not always farmed out to a separate medical facility. In those cases I have my doubts about the secrecy of those documents.

          1. Joey

            Let me assure you that most managers have much better things to do than to be concerned with what Rx’s you’re taking or what they’re for. Most could care less as long as they don’t affect your performance.

            1. Mike C.

              There are plenty of managers and business owners that feel like they should have a great deal of control over the personal lives of their employees. Otherwise contraception coverage wouldn’t be such a big deal.

              1. CEMgr

                Yes. A rational manager should have better things to do, but unfortunately some of them don’t.

                1. Heather

                  A rational manager should have better things to do, but unfortunately some of them don’ta lot of managers are totally irrational.

                  Fixed it for you ;)

        2. some1

          I don’t know about that. My coworker at a former company took a prescription that shows as a positive for drugs, and the first she heard about her false positive was when she was informed by HR.

        3. Just Visiting

          As stated by others, yes it often is (or the results might look slightly different from another person’s test, and there’s not that many medical conditions that lead to a “clean with an asterisk” kind of result), but I was thinking more of the testing facility itself. Those people aren’t my doctors. Why should I have to show a stranger my prescription, which implies a stigmatized medical condition, under threat of loss of income?

          Just thought of this one: if the facility can’t get a hold of your doctor right away and they need the okay from the doctor to clear it (not just your own paper script or bottle), that will cause a delay in the test results, which might read as fishy when other people get their results back instantaneously.

      2. Traveler

        I agree. It’s a huge invasion of all kinds. Having to pee on command while someone waits outside the door also really kills my interest in a job.

        1. Tinker

          You know, that gets blown off as trivial all the time but I totally get you. Spending a bunch of time talking with an employer (generally pretty enthusiastically, if the interview is a hit) about the neat things I’ve done in my career and the sort of things that I’d be interested in doing for them and then finalizing the deal by going to some dirty-carpet lab office in a skeezy office building and handing over bodily fluids is… jarring.

          *takes off sunglasses*

    3. INTP

      As a user of ADHD medication (and I take the smallest dose I can get away with for the given task), I think the ideal situation would be a law that if you show the drug test center your proof of prescription medication, they are only allowed to tell your work that you passed the screen, not details about what you’ve taken and why. It’s a violation of privacy to be forced to reveal a medical condition or disability at work when you aren’t requesting accommodations for it. That includes medical marijuana – I know that many people with medical cards basically buy their prescriptions, but the cancer patients’ right to privacy trumps the employers’ right to exclude those people from employment imo. (This is also assuming reasonable exceptions for jobs that can be made dangerous by specific drugs, like you probably don’t want a forklift operator on opiates or barbiturates even if they are a medical necessity.)

      It brings up an interesting legal question – Is it legal to fire someone for using a medication required to treat their disability or medical condition? Because essentially, you are firing them for having that disability, and a stretching of the “no tolerance” policy would seem like a reasonable accommodation with no undue hardship to me.

  15. Mallory

    #1 She should not be on it during presentations- disrespectful.
    But aside from that people function differently. I don’t buy she could be more productive- how do we know?
    Perhaps your entire team are low performers and she looks good, look into that. But more likely,
    this how she works….we are not machines. Some people NEED distraction, then work and so on. IT IS NORMAL and forcing someone, esp. a top performer, into a production line mentality will most likely force her to leave. How many co-workers chat during day? That’s just another form of distraction.

    1. Katie the Fed

      Agreed. I like/need frequent mini-breaks during the day. I work best like that. I think studies have shown most workers only really work about 5.5 hours in an 8 hour day, which sounds about right.

      1. OP#1

        No question that the entire team are under-performers, or so new at the job that they need more time than the employee in question. This is a government job. Everyone is paid the same regardless of work output. Are hands are seriously tied and it takes an order from the governer to put an employee on a Performance Improvement Plan. It is really tough managing people in this environment. And she doesn’t like her job, I’m sure it’s a coping mechanism of sorts. But this isn’t really an environment where she can get involved in other projects or other types of work to help stimulate, at least not at this time.

        1. LBK

          Are hands are seriously tied and it takes an order from the governer to put an employee on a Performance Improvement Plan.

          Seriously!? Good lord, I should hope a governor has much, much better things to be doing with their time than authorizing PIPs for people they’ll probably never meet…(assuming you don’t work directly with them on a regular basis).

          1. OP#1

            Ha, no I’m sorry. I was being facetious. But once you are past your probation period it is very difficult to put someone on a PIP.

            1. LBK

              Oh! That totally went over my head. It’s kind of scary that the things I hear about gov’t hiring/firing restrictions are so ridiculous that I believed that could be true!

            2. Marcy

              I had always heard that so when I had a poor performer (also state government), I thought I would have to jump through hoops. Nope, I didn’t even need to put him on a PIP. My documentation of his poor performance was more than enough and he was shown the door. I guess it depends on the state you are in.

        2. Mike C.

          Given all of your under performers, why in the heck are you so concerned about your best employee surfing the web?

          1. LBK

            Perceptions. Bad employees will hide behind “Well Jane gets to surf the web and text all day so why are you telling me to stop but you let her do it?” It sounds like the OP is a probably a good enough manager to deflect that defense, but a lot of managers aren’t.

            1. Mike C.

              Then you tell the bad employee that once they produce work at the quality and rate that Jane does they can discuss it but until then stfu and get back to work. More professionally of course.

              1. Squirrel!

                Ha, that’s what my teachers said to all of the kids in class. They would whine about how I got to read books when I was done with my work, and the teacher would point out that 1) I had actually done my work, and 2) I was passing the class, which they usually weren’t. That shut them down pretty quickly. I agree that the same dressing down works here. Which unfortunately reinforces the stereotype that the workplace mirrors high school so often… Which it does.

                1. Oryx

                  When I was in high-school choir we had to take a mid-term and final that included writing out scales and for a few days before the final we’d go over this in class since understanding scales wasn’t really discussed in class. We mostly, y’know, sang. I’d been in band since 4th grade, so my band friend and I would always finish the scale worksheets in about five minutes and then show our choir director and get an early lunch. I have no doubt other people complained about it, but, hey, that’s how it goes sometime.

              2. LBK

                Oh, I completely agree, but I was addressing why a manager would be focusing on this specific issue when there are much worse employees to be dealt with. Confusing “fairness” with “making everyone do exactly the same things” is a really common problem among managers, and this is a form of it.

            2. Natalie

              But wouldn’t bad employees just move on to something else, or even keep using Jane’s web surfing as an excuse after Jane has stopped? Better to address the bad employees’ issues and excuse-making directly, rather than taking away one possible excuse and hoping that somehow inspires them to be better.

              1. Not So NewReader

                Totally agree. I have said things such as “We are not here to discuss Jane.” Or” that would be a private conversation between Jane and me. Just as I do not discuss what you and I talk about, I am unwilling to discuss what Jane and I talk about.”
                I prefer the second choice. It seems to offer an explanation and my walk matches my talk so eventually that whole conversation dies a natural death.

                But I have pulled out “We are not here to discuss Jane”, when my go-to is not working at all.
                Then I refocus on productivity levels or goals or whatever.

          2. JMegan

            I expect it’s kind of like being in school, where the brightest kid in the class gets the most criticism on their work because you know they can do better. If you’ve got a bunch of C- performers who are slacking off, and not slacking off will maybe bring them to a C+, there’s not much point in bugging them about it. (Especially in government, where pay, performance evaluations, etc are not used as a motivator.)

            Whereas if you have a B- performer slacking off and you could easily improve them to an A- with a little coaching, there’s more incentive there. Even if there’s no way to reward the improved performance in this workplace, it’s often helpful to point out that people are noticing the phone use, and judging her by that rather than on her work output. It’s as much a workplace etiquette issue, and a perception issue, as it is a performance issue in this case.

        3. Joey

          It’s not totally crazy for someone high up to approve PIPs, since lots of managers want to use them when they haven’t done a good job of documenting problems. Not saying that’s you, just saying that they can cause big problems if not used in the appropriate context.

          There has to be ways to deal with underperformers. In govt the key is usually having documentation that you’ve communicated expectations. After that it’s usually just a matter of giving the employee an opportunity to explain before going through the progressive discipline steps.

    2. INTP

      I agree with this, and I think it’s possible that the employee is not actually wasting as much time as the OP thinks. If you spend 30 seconds every 5 minutes answering a FB chat message, then you’re in total “wasting” about 6 minutes an hour, which is a perfectly reasonable amount – about the amount of time I take to make a cup of coffee and use the bathroom. She may waste a lot less time than her coworkers who engage in more traditionally acceptable off-task behavior, like checking news sites and chatting. And the Pomodoro technique – which is the best productivity technique that I’ve used by far – allows for 10 minutes of break an hour. But to someone who isn’t culturally accustomed to people being constantly connected (the OP admits to a generation gap), a reasonable amount can look excessive due to sheer frequency.

      That said, I do think it gets out of control for some people who tell themselves that they’re just using it for a mental break – I’ve done that myself, you wind up spending as much time on your “break” as you do working. If she can do that and still be the top performer by far, though, the job is so easy for her that she probably needs the breaks to avoid exploding from boredom.

  16. Katie the Fed

    #4 – am I the only one who thinks a potluck is kind of a crappy thank-you to the employees? I mean, you don’t really “throw” a potluck – you’re not really even hosting – just asking everyone to show up with food. Potlucks are fine in an office, but this seems like an occasion you can spring for the sandwich platter from Costco.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale

      Nope. I hate potlucks, especially when thrown by the boss. You want a celebration in your honor because you’re retiring, yet you expect junior employees to make and bring food? No thanks.

      1. AggrAV8ed Tech

        This sounds exactly like something my boss would do too. And if he left, there’s no way in hell I’d want to attend such a party in his “honor”. I’d instead be at home drinking myself silly in celebration.

      2. Katie the Fed

        In general, I’d rather chip in $5 to order pizzas than to lug in my crock pot and ingest god-knows-what cooked by my coworkers.

        1. Alien vs Predator

          Yeah, people come up with the weirdest stuff for these potlucks. Even the word “potluck” sends a little terror through my heart when spoken in a workplace.

        2. Joey

          sometimes there’s no right answer. Just as some people hate potlucks others hate the thought of chipping in cash. And of course plenty of managers don’t have it in their budgets to buy food.

          1. Katie the Fed

            We don’t have any budget for office parties or things like that. Congress would freak the eff out if they found out we were spending taxpayer money on parties.

            But usually the managers will just pay for things out of our own money. Not often, but at the holidays for example I’ll take my team out for lunch.

            1. De Minimis

              Same deal for us….food can’t even be provided for important visitors at annual meetings, or at least not on an official basis. I’ve been to a few where the executive-level people paid out of pocket to provide food for visiting officials.

          2. INTP

            If you don’t have it in your budgets to buy food, then find a non-meal way to say “thank you” to your employees. An obligatory (or “optional but people will think it’s super weird if you don’t go”) party that they are responsible for themselves financially is not a reward. It’s an obligation. Let them leave an hour early or come in an hour late, something like that.

    2. Diet Coke Addict

      A potluck is indeed a crappy way to say “thanks.” To thank your employees–do something that won’t require them to buy and prepare extra food. I do enough cooking in my life that the privilege of making a casserole for ten or a salad for 15 isn’t actually doing me any favours. I’d rather do without the weird food other people bring in (“oh, Martha, this tomato-onion aspic with herring garnish is really something else!”) and just bring my lunch like normal.

      1. Kerry (Like the County In Ireland)

        A potluck luncheon is not really a thank you. I’m firm on if you’re throwing a party and inviting people to your home, you should really only expect a hostess gift (box of chocolates, flowers, etc.) and not for them to bring the meal. Or charge them.

        1. JMegan

          I have no problem with potlucks in general – sometimes that’s the only way to get a group of people together, by agreeing to share the cooking like that. And even for work – I don’t love it, but I also work in government, so I accept that’s just the way it is.

          But a boss throwing herself a goodbye party, and asking her employees to contribute to the potluck? Totally agree that it’s not an appropriate way to say thank you. Boss makes more money than the employees, so if she’s hosting a party on her own time, it should also be her own money and prep going into it.

    3. Alien vs Predator

      I came here to make this point exactly. I wonder if the employees are invited to stay and clean up her house afterwards as well. To me this is a pretty rude way to “show appreciation” to your employees.

      But, I’m jaded. At one old job, senior management was always planning these “appreciation potlucks” for the grunts like me. The employees would do all the prep and planning, buy all the food, handle all the clean up afterwards. Senior management would drop by for a few minutes, tell us how awesome we are, stuff their faces and then leave.

      OP, I don’t think you should feel guilty at all about not going. But, to be honest, especially if you liked this manager, I would consider dropping by for just a few minutes (while on the way to some other appointment with a definite start time) and drop off a bottle of wine, or a dessert, or something like that. Your boss probably means well, but just doesn’t know how to throw a party.

      1. Traveler

        Yes – with these appreciation potlucks. I do not enjoy. You just added food service and janitorial duties to an already packed day. No thanks. I’d much rather go out to a restaurant and pay for myself (where I can order what I want and not just whatever the cat dragged in).

    4. madge

      This is exactly what I came here to say. Giving me another thing for my to-do list does not make me feel appreciated. I skip our “employee appreciation” picnic every year because it’s a potluck where you also have to bring your own chairs and a fun game. And it’s on a weeknight evening, not even during work hours. It’s not well-attended.

    5. Ann Furthermore

      You’re right, it is kind of crappy. It would be different if it was being organized by the manager’s employee’s, but for the manager to decide that a potluck is the way she wants to say goodbye is pretty tone deaf. I don’t mind potlucks, really, as long as there’s not one every other week, but I sure don’t like them enough to drive 2 hours in each direction to attend one.

      My company has a long-standing tradition of an annual Employee Appreciation Day. Every manager from the director level on up to the executive leadership team works in the company cafeteria serving food to all the other employees. The food is usually pretty generic, standard fare, and it’s got a definite move ’em in/move ’em out vibe in the interests of getting everyone through the line, but they usually do a really nice dessert buffet in another area of the building. It’s a cool idea and I appreciate the sentiment. I’ve never worked anyplace else that had something like it.

    6. INTP

      I agree. It’s a party that costs me time and money to attend (because I have to cook a large amount of something reasonably well-liked or buy something), robs me of my lunch break, and yet I have to act grateful to my employer for orchestrating it. I abhor potlucks and I’m someone who loves to cook.

    7. Just Visiting

      I don’t mind them except when people get judgey over folks bringing store-bought items. I don’t cook, deal with it. That has only happened once though, I think in general people are happy when one person gets their cookie tray straight from the Keebler Elves.

      1. INTP

        I’ll admit to having been judgy about that before, but only when literally every unmarried male always brought in some weird Dollar General-type packaged cookie that no one wanted to eat. It was a small company and if everyone who didn’t want to spend time or money did something like that, we would have all gone hungry! It’s just frustrating when one specific faction gets away with treating something as optional because everyone else feels obligated to make it work and carry their weight, iykwim. Plus one of them gave me crap for the lentil taco filling I brought in (everyone was to bring sides because one manager was bringing stuff for tacos, but she wasn’t planning to bring any vegetarian fillings).

        It was only that specific situation, though. I adore the people who bring in appetizer platters from greek restaurants or delicious bakery desserts! And if one person just doesn’t have the time or money for one potluck, I wouldn’t think twice. It was only that it was the habitual actions of every unmarried man in our office, as though worrying about food is the job of the women and the wives of the men only.

  17. Illini02

    #1 Is a really interesting one. As someone who is often online surfing the web, I kind of think that if its not a productivity issue, then it shouldn’t really matter, since it doesn’t sound like she is doing anything inappropriate. Also, how does that distract other people? With that said, I have no problem with asking her not to be on her phone in meetings. I will say that can be hard too, because more and more people are on their tablets in meetings now, and unless you are directly looking at their screen, you really don’t know if its fully for work, or boredom. I think overall though, if she can do her work enough to be the top performer, let it go. Many people are great at multi-tasking work and social media. Others need to be focused on one task at a time. Neither is necessarily better, but when you start saying she can’t do these things just because, although there is really no work related reason, it can also make a good worker less good. She probably knows she is a top performer, and out works others who are focused. That might lead her to say, fine, I’ll work less hard since I”m getting backlash and still am the top performer.

    1. Katie the Fed

      I think it’s like the messy desk thing. People will form opinions of you if you’re on facebook everytime they walk by. I don’t like it or agree with it, but it is the reality in many places.

    2. MT

      “We do of course have a policy addressing use personal technology and cell phone use during work hours.”

      My only issue is that the manager is letting someone break an explicit policy.

    3. OP#1

      In this work environment, we work in teams, often all together in one room with no barriers between desks. So at times she may be scrolling on her phone, smiling and giggling to herself, etc. And you can see what’s on her laptop screen.

      1. LBK

        I’m really, really curious how she’s being productive if it’s that obvious all the time. Does she only have, like, one hour of work per day?

        I’m totally guilty of workplace texting/surfing (I’m on AAM at my desk right now…) but if it’s this constant, it really sounds like she needs more to do.

        1. Jen RO

          My office sounds the same as OP’s, *everyone* spends time on the phone/Facebook/internet, and work does get done. It’s really weird to me that this is not more common…

          Honest question: are American workplaces really this strict (in terms of both internal policy and perception by management/peers), or is the perspective of the commenters skewed by some other factor?

          1. LBK

            This is absolutely a cultural thing, although I think it’s loosening slightly as people realize they aren’t going to get a lot of younger workers to buy into the idea that they can’t be productive if they go on Facebook for 10 minutes. It all folds into the 60+ hour work week, show off by coming in early/working late all the time, “I’m so busy all the time so that makes me important and means I must be a good employee” culture we have here (that I hate).

          2. INTP

            Most American workplaces are not this strict. In most of the places I’ve worked, I was in the minority for not being on Facebook at work. (I like maintaining a strict division between work and facebook, so I don’t friend coworkers and I don’t log on where the company IT could monitor my facebook.) I would say that playing on your phone and giggling (not quickly checking for messages) while working with a team or sitting in a meeting would be considered disrespectful in most offices here, though.

    4. Allison

      It’s an image issue. If it looks like I’m goofing off every time someone walks by my desk (and I’m in a high traffic area, so people walk by all the time), I look lazy, and it could reflect badly on my team and my manager as well. If my job were ever at stake, if I was in trouble or the company needed to make cuts, I wouldn’t want my web browsing to come up in that conversation.

      Also, it’s an issue of fairness. A lot of the people who walk by my desk seem very busy and frustrated, often huffing, sighing, stomping, or just walking really fast. If you felt like you were running around like a chicken with your head cut off, busting your hump to solve problems, the last thing you wanna see is some dolt looking at pictures of cats.

      1. illini02

        I “get” the image thing, but I don’t like it. I get that perception is reality, but in a lot of cases, its just not true. Someone earlier mentioned the messy desk thing. I’ll also go with people coming in at different times. If I’m in early every day, and I leave earlier than you, you shouldn’t just ASSUME I’m slacking, you just don’t know what I’m doing.

        I’m going to disagree though about the fairness. If you are constantly stressed out, its not “unfair” that I’m not. Maybe I handle stress better. Maybe you are a procrastinator and thats why you are stressed. Essentially, your job stress level and my productivity (or your perceived lack ther of) have nothing to do with each other.

        1. Allison

          I don’t like it either, but whether I like it is irrelevant. How the higher-ups perceive my daily activities will impact my future at the company. How the rest of the company perceives my team impacts how much respect we get. If they’re showing a prospective candidate or client around the office and they see me doing what looks like goofing off, that can impact how they view the company. And it’s a morale issue – should they be pissed that I don’t seem to be working as hard? No, probably not. But they are, and that can add to their frustration which can spread to others. Should people keep their attitude in check? Yes. But it’s also not a terrible idea to avoid adding to that stress.

          Look, if someone was honestly concerned I was wasting hours of my time on Twitter, I’d want them to talk to my manager, who would explain that a) social media is part of my job, and b) my work is amazing and there are no concerns about my productivity.

          1. illini02

            I just don’t see it being MY responsibility to have to worry about someone else’s stress level. Should I not take my full lunch break because someone else is so stressed by work that they can only eat quickly at their desk?

      2. Kai

        Exactly this. I do my fair share of goofing around on the internet at work (and am also considered a high performer)–but I make sure to be discreet about it because of the image it could create for me.

    5. Mister Pickle

      Re #1, I totally agree with AAM’s advice to address it as an “image” issue, because like it or not, the ability to show engagement with other people is an important skill in business (and life in general).

      However – I also tend to think that people’s workstyles are often a matter of reaching some kind of “equilibrium”. The employee in #1 has apparently found a mix where she performs at a high level. Asking her to lay off on the social media during meetings etc, and raising her workload at the same time? I can see that tanking her morale while also interfering with her abililty to do high-quality work.

      I guess I’m thinking it would be best to do one thing at a time.

  18. OP#1

    The policy is vague. It acknowledges that a certain amount of personal use is unavoidable, but that it should be limited to breaks “as much as possible”. And we do use the internet daily in our work. Even sometimes receive work related texts.

    1. Cat

      So here’s a question for you – does the employer in question take normal breaks? Because in my office most people don’t – they just check stuff online here and there rather than a morning break or a mid afternoon break or often even a lunch break.

      1. OP#1

        Nope. The policy was made for state employees as a whole, but our specific work environment really doesn’t allow the standard 2 15-minute breaks and half hour lunch per day. So this is another reason I feel conflicted about how to handle it. And again, as I mentioned in the original letter, we travel extensively, work long days, etc. so it is not reasonable to forbid personal use of technology. And even our policy doesn’t really support that approach.

        1. Cat

          See, to me it sounds like a strict interpretation of the policy in your workplace would have no benefits other than to make your good employees feel needlessly harangued and micromanaged. Imagine how you’d feel if you were told “your work is great but no checking Facebook except on your breaks but you can’t take breaks. Also you do continue needing to work long hours and traveling.” It’s just not a good way to treat people and it doesn’t sound like you have so little discretion in how you enforce the policy that you have to.

          1. Heather

            This, this, this. If I were your employee, doing this would be a pretty good way to de-motivate me.

        2. INTP

          In this case, I wouldn’t specifically address the fact that she’s off-task but the image issues she’s creating for herself. You can present it as an “I’m on your side, so I’m going to tell you how other people will perceive this thing you do and how it may affect your ability to receive promotions” thing. Then explain how it’s perceived when someone is on their phone at a meeting or on their phone giggling to themselves when they’re working with a group (basically it’s as rude as whispering to someone and giggling in front of others), and acknowledge that you know everyone needs a mental break sometimes but suggest that she be more discreet about it. That way it’s an issue of professional decorum and it’s something that benefits her, which I think is less likely to result in resentment than telling someone who works overtime and travels extensively that she can’t be off-task during the workday.

    2. MT

      How would you deal with a different employee who was displaying the tendencies but was only an average worker or maybe slightly below average? Would you bring up the texting/emailing or would you only address the performance?

      1. Allison

        Address the performance first, see if they solve the problem on their own. If performance doesn’t improve, acknowledge that you see them texting and e-mailing and maybe that’s contributing, so they should try to cut back on that in order to improve. If they still don’t change, say flat-out that you need to see less texting and more working, and you will take formal action if they don’t. A performance improvement plan is the last step, followed by termination if necessary.

        1. LBK

          I think you could even incorporate the texting/surfing into the original productivity discussion as one of the suggestions for how they could improve it. No need to hide the details – and specifics usually get a better response.

    3. Katie the Fed

      Some people don’t do vague guidance.

      We have vague guidance on dress code, and I have employees who just didn’t get it. That’s when you stop being vague: you need to be a collared shirt, dress pants, and nice shoes.

      For this, maybe something like “spend no more than one hour a day on the internet.”

    4. Fabulously Anonymous

      Do you know for certain she was using her phone for non-work purposes during the meeting? I’ve heard of people being reprimanded for using phones during meetings but it turns out they were using them to take notes on or to take pictures of diagrams on the white board.

  19. TotesMaGoats

    #1-Address it from the image perspective, yes. Otherwise, as your highest performer and the work conditions you’ve mentioned I would so let this go. If I had someone busting their hump for me, in the conditions you’ve listed, and they were frequently taking breaks to check FB or whatever, I’d let it go. She needs to understand how it looks but if her work product doesn’t suffer then why mess with a clearly working situation. Most adults don’t like the buckle down for 4 hours at a clip type of work setting. Honestly, we probably all need more frequent brain breaks than we take.

    #2-Why do you do two rounds on interviewing? Let her be on the first round, so she has input but do a second round so the final decision is with you and that can be clearly communicated.

    #3-No, I don’t think you can ask for all the reasons everyone else has mentioned. What if you found your “dream job” but regular drug testing with termination as the consequence was the caveat? Would that be a deal breaker?

    #4-Be nice like AAM said and come up with an excuse. I doubt she thinks you’ll actually come but didn’t want to offend by not inviting you.

    #5-Be nice like AAM said. You’re hurt, I get that but at least you found out something. That’s more than most people get when they ask for feedback.

    1. OP the Third

      As a regular reader of AAM, I know that there is no such thing as a “dream job” (and if there were, it wouldn’t necessarily be evident as such from information gleaned from a few interviews).

      However, leaving that aside, any job that forced me to make a major lifestyle change, and concerned itself with how I live my life outside of work, is not a dream job for me.

      1. Joey

        “concerned itself with how I live my life outside of work”

        is that just as it relates to drugs or are you saying everything outside of work should be out of bounds?

          1. TotesMaGoats

            I see where Joey is going with this though. Think about people who take jobs in countries that require women (regardless of religion/nationality) to wear certain clothing to participate in public life. If this was an opportunity to gain otherwise unobtainable experience, would you be willing to give up wearing shorts and a tank top when it’s hot?

            In that situation, employment (because of the location) is controlling behavior outside of the workplace.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Actually, quite possibly because I find that offensive. But that’s not the case here. The majority of employers don’t drug test, and it’s reasonable for the OP to prefer to select those that don’t.

            2. OP the Third

              On the one hand it might be fascinating to live someplace like that for a while; on the other, I find THIS country (i.e. the U.S.) overly religious as it is. I don’t think I could handle living in an actual, legit theocracy.

              However, your hypothetical is neither here nor there; I’m asking about my actual specific situation, which does not involve moving to the Middle East.

              1. TotesMaGoats

                No, it’s not applicable to you but thinking about deal breakers doesn’t hurt any of us to do. Even if those deal breakers are things that the employer shouldn’t have control over.

          2. Joey

            does that cover posting it on Facebook too? Is that no ones business but your facebook friends? What if you’re arrested for dealing in the privacy of your own home? Is that off limits? It’s pretty hard to draw that line without running into problems.

            1. Natalie

              By definition those things are no longer in the privacy of one’s home – they’re on Facebook or the police blotter. That’s different than essentially making someone give you access to their private life via a test.

              1. Natalie

                Hey, I’ve seen Reefer Madness. You’re going to enticing young ladies to jump out the window any minute now!

              2. Joey

                Obviously I’m not talking about your situation, just the idea that things that you do outside of work should have no bearing on work. That’s a seriously flawed perspective.

                1. Natalie

                  “Consensual activities you do in the privacy of your own home” is a little more specific than “things you do outside work”.

                2. Natalie

                  But getting arrested is no longer something within the privacy of your own home. That’s what you said originally.

              3. Joey

                does that mean nobody should care about your illegal activities as long as you don’t get arrested for them and it’s between two consenting adults?

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  I can’t think of a single activity that takes place in private between consenting adults that I have a problem with as long as they confine it to the privacy of their own homes and everyone involved is truly consenting.

                2. Joey

                  By the way I’m not just trying to be argumentstive for kicks. I’m interesting in understanding how you can draw a clear line where I don’t think one can be drawn.

                3. Zillah

                  Well, but there’s a difference between caring what consenting adults do in private and thinking that it’s relevant and should be used to make decisions about employment.

                  I think it’s reasonable to “care” about consenting activities between adults, illegal or not, that take place in the privacy of their homes. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of heavy substance use in general, and in my personal life, I’m generally going to gravitate toward people who use drugs – alcohol, weed, whatever – fairly infrequently.

                  However, that’s my personal life, and my inclinations there have no place in employment decisions. What you’re talking about goes beyond “caring” as an individual – you’re talking about a strong policy.

      2. TotesMaGoats

        Lots of people make major lifestyle changes to accept their ideal/dream/next step job. I feel that it’s a question worth considering for all of us. What are you willing to sacrifice to get what you want career-wise? My husband works as an electrical engineer. We could move to North Dakota (or anywhere else with the oil boom) and he could make bank. Like I don’t have to work, could have a huge house, a couple horses (that’s my dream right there) and someone to keep it all clean. To get all of that, I’d have to move thousands of miles away from all of our family. I’m not willing to do that. A couple hours, sure. A multiple hour plane flight, no.

        Or the people who want to live overseas but to do so means changing how they live and possibly halting their career trajectory. For some people, it’s worth it. For others not.

        It was just a question.

        1. Tinker

          Maybe you’ve had this experience — if so, it seems odd that there’d be a misunderstanding here — but how would you feel if you persistently had people in your life pressuring you to move to North Dakota and passing off your desire to live with family as unimportant? If, whenever you or your husband was between jobs and you were perhaps stressed about the economics of the matter, it was an opportunity to bring up yet again that maybe you’re throwing away happiness by not moving to North Dakota? If you’re sitting around the table at Thanksgiving and the conversation du jour is a) how the place you’re living is surely on the verge of economic disaster that will drag you down and b) why are you insisting on not moving to North Dakota? And then, maybe, you want to ask a question about how to implement the location preference that you do have and what you get is… “Well, there’s this thing you need to consider that maybe you haven’t heard of — you know it’s possible to move to North Dakota, right?”

          Having had that experience — pretty much that exact one, actually — I can say that I don’t have a strictly Platonic response to the subject. Sometimes “just a question” isn’t.

  20. Sabrina

    #1 It could also be that she’s not challenged in her work, is bored out of her ever loving mind, and needs a bit of a distraction every few minutes just to stay awake. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. ;)

  21. LBK

    #3 – FWIW, I’ve only ever been drug tested for two jobs – one was an internship in college with a small software company, one was a retail job. No test for the huge multinational corporation I currently work for, so I wouldn’t assume that they’ll test just because it’s a big company.

    1. the gold digger

      I have been drug tested for my past four jobs. Three large multinationals, one smallish nonprofit, which I totally did not get. The multinationals are manufacturing and transportation companies. I think – purely conjecture – that in industries where drug use could have an actual safety impact – for truckers, for machine operators, it might be more likely that there is drug testing. Again, I have no idea why my nonprofit member association tested. None at all. Maybe for a reduction in insurance rates?

      1. Creag an Tuire

        Did the non-profit get any government money? Boilerplate compliance with the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Act is frequently a condition of doing any business with government.

      2. CC

        Each time I’ve had to do drug testing was in an industrial environment. And frankly, those are the sorts of environments where taking a common over-the-counter cold medication could cause a problem… because there is heavy equipment around that can kill or maim people, and many cold medications explicitly say “do not operate equipment” because they do cause some impairment. In situations like that, drug testing is another layer of safety and I’d be somewhat worried about a site that didn’t actively manage that layer of safety. (Whether it’s pre-employment plus random drug screens or a dry camp with luggage screening on the flight up, they all managed it. And dry camp luggage screening is *way* more thorough than commercial aviation security screening.)

        For a strictly office job, not so much.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          If you’re concerned about employees being in some way incapacitated during work time, do performance testing. This will catch it if they’re under the influence of alcohol and legally prescribed drugs too, or even being compromised by something like extreme fatigue, and it’ll catch it in real time, none of which drug tests do. (Performance tests = computer-assisted tests that measure things like hand-eye coordination and response time — so they’ll catch multiple types of impairment, including the perfectly legal ones like sleepiness, etc. — which is of course what you want when safety testing. They’ve been used for used by NASA on astronauts and test pilots.)

          1. CC

            I’m not familiar with the performance tests you’re describing. Is this a start-of-shift thing, or something installed in a piece of heavy equipment to measure the driver’s performance throughout their shift? Does it require interrupting their work to do the test? How well does it stand up to dirty environments, or even just dirty hands?

            I know fatigue is not something that’ll be caught on a drug screen; like anything, it’s not a perfect system and every layer of safety has some holes in it. That’s why there are many layers. If we can screen for impairment instead of only a few drugs, that would be a better layer.

  22. Graciosa

    Regarding #2, both the OP and the Office Manager seem to be reacting out of fear. The OP is clearly afraid that the Office Manager is somehow going to take over management of the position (just by participating in the interview panel?) and the Office Manager is likely afraid that this work will no longer be properly performed once it is out of her hands.

    OP, you are missing a real opportunity to work on your leadership and diplomatic skills here. Your preferred approach seems to be avoidance – don’t involve the Office Manager, keep your head down, and hope that over time you can quietly win her over with performance. Effective leaders do not avoid tough conversations (although candidly, this one is not that tough) and they work to build relationships. My advice to you is to have the conversation.

    Find some time to talk to the Office Manager about what she thinks is important to find in a candidate to make sure the new role is successful. Ask her what her organization needs in the way of performance. Tell her you will be checking back with her (and the other Office Managers who are also affected) regularly to get feedback on your new employee’s performance and look for ways to improve – and then do it.

    Your goal here is twofold – you want to turn a potential opponent into an ally (in this case, by assuaging her fears and ensuring that she feels that her concerns have been heard), and you also want to ensure that you get genuine feedback that will help you improve your function’s performance.

    If you think that involving her or asking her for input makes you look weak, change that thinking. Confident leaders understand that nothing is ever perfect, and they are constantly on the lookout for ways to make it better. They also understand that treating a colleague like someone with value to contribute pays off in the long run.

    Also, this positions you beautifully for any issues that may arise – for example, if Office Manager starts issuing orders to your new employee, you head her off not by treating this as a power struggle but by asking her to address any issues directly with you because you want to ensure that it is properly addressed.

    In short, stop worrying about whether you will appear to be a leader and act like you are one.

    Best wishes in your new role –

    1. some1

      +1. LW, you mentioned that the other two Office Managers were happy to get this part of the job off their plate and don’t seem to understand why this OM is not of that mind. But keep in mind some people who have tasks taken off their plate are afraid it means that they didn’t perform the task well, or worst case scenario that they might get replaced.

      I’m not saying that orgs shouldn’t restructure roles as they need to in order to appease people, I’m just saying it might be worth it to look at this from where she’s coming from to get the best outcome.

  23. Jubilance

    I was the employee in letter #1 when I first started my career. I worked in a setting where I had a lot of downtime (laborary testing, so you’re constrained by the length of time each test/sample takes to run), and I was also fresh out of grad school. It was my normal routine to check Facebook/Twitter/read blogs while tests were running, either on my lab computer or my phone. I once sat through a meeting and played on my phone the entire time, and afterwards the PM told me how professional it looked & that I seemed uninterested. So I had to learn to not touch my phone in environments when people are watching what I’m doing, like meetings, especially with senior leaders. It was a valuable thing to learn early in my career & I’m glad the PM told me, or else I would have kept doing it.

  24. Joey

    #3. Forget the point of it, are you really willing to potentially seriously limit your ability to make a living to get your daily high?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Maybe she opposes drug testing on principle. I touch pot about once a year, wouldn’t care at all if I never touched it again, and wouldn’t work somewhere that drug tested because I consider it a massive infringement of my privacy.

      1. Joey

        That’s a hard stand to take when you’re unemployed and potentially losing out on jobs with good work and good salaries.

        1. OP the Third

          Fortunately, I’m not in that position. As I indicated in my letter, my mind might change if I’ve been out of work for a year and a half with no prospects, but that isn’t the case at the moment.

      2. The Cosmic Avenger

        Anyone remember the WKRP where Johnny Fever actually does BETTER on a test of reaction time while high?

        Seriously, that was hugely influential for me, because it spelled out how measuring outcomes and/or output is much more useful than trying to prohibit certain behavior, whether it’s drug use or internet use or personal phone calls. Is the employee getting [stuff] done? Then let them be! If they’re not, it should be up to them to decide how to increase their productivity. (Unless and until it affects other peoples’ work, of course. If you do make a lot of personal phone calls, just DON’T TALK SO LOUD IN YOUR OPEN CUBE.)

          1. De Minimis

            I remember it….it was supposed to show how alcohol slowed reaction time, there was a state trooper giving him a breathalyzer as he continued to drink.

    2. Kimberlee, Esq.

      I compare it to if it were illegal to wear the color purple. It’s very easy to not wear the color purple. Are you really willing to not take a good job just to wear the color purple? Why is purple so important to you anyway?

      But everyone would be able to understand why people would chafe under such a law, and protest it… it is ridiculous on its face. It would be an affront to all people that such a law would even exist. Thus is the case with marijuana laws.

    3. Traveler

      It’s not always about a daily high. There are lots of important and effective uses for medical marijuana. This is a pretty dismissive attitude.

      1. Zillah

        But the OP doesn’t say it’s medical – I get the impression that it’s recreational. And, either way, I think that defending “a daily high” with “but it can be used medically” is missing the bigger picture, which is the intrusion. It shouldn’t be private bc the OP is using it medically. It should be private bc it’s none of their business whether she’s getting a daily high or not.

        1. Traveler

          The OP said “Technically medical marijuana is permitted in my state, but it’s one of the most restrictive programs in the country and implementation is not going well.” Which made me come to the conclusion that they may be using marijuana to treat something (beyond a seeking of a “daily high”) that would be more permissive in states like WA or CO, and they did not want to jump through the hoops of the medical marijuana process.

          I’m not missing the bigger picture, as I argued up thread that I am against drug testing in general (except in very specific cases like someone else suggested – pilots) because of the intrusion into privacy.

          1. OP the Third

            My comment about the state of medical marijuana in my state was made just to give an idea of what the prevailing attitudes in my area are. I’m not really interested in getting into why I smoke, as I don’t think it should matter.

      2. The Cosmic Avenger

        Yes, but the OP talked about it like it was recreational, not like it was for palliative use. It is a shame that people who have a medical need for marijuana might not get a job due to these policies, but that isn’t what the OP asked Alison’s opinion about.

        1. Traveler

          The last paragraph of OP’s letter implies (to me at least) that they are just uncomfortable or unable to jump through medical marijuana process in their state because its restrictive.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger

            Good point. I thought that was just further information about the state of marijuana laws where they live and are applying for employment, but I can see that it implies that. I’d be a lot more sympathetic if that was the case, and in that case I’d urge them to start on the process so that eventually they would get that card, ideally before they are confronted with a mandatory drug test.

  25. The Cosmic Avenger

    #3: I would recommend checking on Glassdoor to see if either drug testing is mentioned or if there’s an employee there who will answer your question about pre-employment testing. But you should consider just abstaining while job-hunting anyway, as you don’t want to lose an opportunity due to a lack of reliable information. Unfortunately, cannabinoid metabolites may show up for up to three months after discontinuing heavy daily use, so you may want to stop now if you’re concerned about losing out on an offer.

  26. Mike C.

    #1

    I really, really hate that the only issue here are vague things like “image” and “respect”. Yes, the employee should be more subtle about it, but if you’re sticking this person in meetings that they don’t actually need to be in or they’re reading stuff on their phone yet they’re still able to retain all the information you need them to then it sounds like to me your only real issue is that they don’t have the common sense to sit in the back.

    And the idea of just giving them more work is the equivalent of a nasty teacher giving a good student a stupid worksheet to keep them busy “just because”.

    1. Joey

      Why? Isn’t reality based on perceptions? And why is giving more work a bad thing? If you’re more productive then isn’t it a managers responsibility to utilize that productivity? Obviously it should be rewarded.

      It’s really not the equivalent in school because real work benefits the company. Busy work at school is just to keep you occupied.

      1. illini02

        I don’t know. Giving one person more work because they work faster doesn’t seem right to me, especially if they are going to be getting the same amount of pay there. I know you said it should be rewarded, but if that reward doesn’t come until the annual review, and its a 3.2% raise as opposed to slower co-worker getting a 3% raise, I don’t think getting more work is really worth it. It kind of reinforces people not working harder because they don’t want to be saddled with more work

        1. Joey

          Well that’s the difference in being a mediocre employee and an outstanding one. Outperforming other employees might not always be worth it in your current job, but it will always be worth it when you look for another one.

          1. Natalie

            This seems like helpful advice for the internet-using employee if she wrote in, but not necessarily the LW that did write in. For the LW, pushing her employee to do more work without being able to offer anything beyond a vague “eventually you can work somewhere better”could negatively affect her employee’s morale and lead her to start job searching.

            1. Joey

              Not really. If you’re top performing employee has tons of time to spare that’s probably an indication that everyone has the capacity to do more and your bar might be too low.

              1. Natalie

                That’s an entirely separate issue from “you, employee, should do want to do more work without raises or promotions because you’ll get rewarded at your next job.” If the manager needs to look at the overall workload, that hopefully wouldn’t involve singling out this high performing employee.

                1. Joey

                  it goes like this:
                  “Since you appear to have the capacity to do more let’s put together a plan for you to position yourself to move to the next level either professionally or salary wise. If that’s happens here, great. If there are no options here I will do everything I can to help you move on to bigger and better things and will be happy to have worked with you.”

                2. Natalie

                  I think that would be a great plan, as long as the LW feels capable of mentoring and is comfortable with possibly losing the OP. But that is quite a bit more fleshed out than your original comment, which simply suggested giving the OP more work.

                3. Marcy

                  I have had jobs where I finish my work early and am bored the rest of the day and I have had jobs where I am working crazy hours because there is too much work. I prefer a good balance but if it is one or the other, I want the job where I am crazy busy. The extra work would BE the reward for me. I’d love to have extra money for it, sure, but if I can’t then give me more to do so I am not so bored I have to check Facebook all day and play on my phone.

          2. Me

            As a manager, that’s also the difference between me giving that promo or not. Go ahead and check your facebook, etc.. all day. If your productivity is ok I’ll leave you alone but you’ll never be my “top performer”. That will go to the guy who wants to know what else he can do and learn. And for those who don’t want to be saddled with more work, they don’t need to be saddled with a paycheck either. Yeeesh! Children.

      2. Mike C.

        I get the impression that the extra work won’t be rewarded because of the OP’s comment that everyone is paid the same regardless of output.

      3. Mike C.

        That might be true, but I’m allowed not to like it. It leads to incredibly stupid situations where some jackass higher up who doesn’t know what’s actually going on making judgements at the ultimate detriment of the department/company/etc.

        Furthermore, this person is already doing more work. How much harder do they need to work before people stop judging them for looking at Facebook once in a while?

          1. illini02

            Even if it is pretty constant, they are still outperforming all of their other co-workers. It just seems that an answer of giving more work while you let others slack off seems lazy on the part of a manager.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I think the answer is to use this as a flag to look at everyone’s workload. If your top performer is spending this much time on other stuff, it raises the question of whether everyone’s workload is at the right level (and whether the performance expectations overall are calibrated correctly).

      4. alma

        “And why is giving more work a bad thing? If you’re more productive then isn’t it a managers responsibility to utilize that productivity? Obviously it should be rewarded.”

        Ideally, yes. But in reality, there are many workplaces where doing more work isn’t significantly rewarded, and where poor managers would rather redistribute work to the high performers than get into the hard and uncomfortable work of disciplining low performers. Even for the most motivated and positive employees in the world, that is a morale killer.

        1. Joey

          Absolutely, but doing the minimum to get by will only get you by. You will regret it when you go looking for a better job and decided to pass up opportunities to add to your resume.

          1. De Minimis

            I agree, the only time it’s okay for people to just get by is if they are in a secure position that they plan to be at for the remainder of their career [and how common is that these days? Not very.] For a younger person starting out, it’s definitely not the best plan.

            I’ll add that the places I’ve seen where you had a large number of lifers and no career mobility tended to have the lowest morale of just about any place I’ve worked.

          2. alma

            No disagreement here. My point is that, from a management perspective, sometimes “give more work” is the correct solution, but sometimes it’s also a lazy solution that will have bad consequences for your team down the road.

          3. Oryx

            You just have to strike a careful balance as it can cause resentment and low morale like alma said. If the top performers are being recognized and “rewarded” only with more work while they watch the low performers to continue working at low output levels without being corrected, it could backfire and your top performers may start slacking off.

            I’m not saying more work isn’t the answer, I’m just saying that can’t be the only way a top performer is recognized. There have to be other carrots to offer.

    2. JMegan

      it sounds like to me your only real issue is that they don’t have the common sense to sit in the back.

      That’s a really good way of putting it – it sounds like that might actually *be* OP’s biggest issue! Especially if the employee is young and/or new to the workforce, it may well be that she doesn’t have the experience to know that this kind of thing is generally not acceptable. We’ve talked about this here before, a lot of things that are “common sense” are really just the product of experience and time in the workforce.

      In which case, the conversation OP needs to have with her employee is “I know this isn’t impacting your productivity, but the problem is that it *looks* like it’s impacting your productivity, and it’s considered disrespectful when you’re in meetings. I’m not asking you to stop entirely, just knock it off when you’re in a face-to-face situation with other people.”

  27. illini02

    Another note on #1, for me it comes down to the type of workplace and manager you have. In my experience, some places/managers are very process oriented and others are results oriented. My current place really doesn’t care what I do as long as I’m bringing in the sales. I’m the type of guy who works better when you tell me what the end result is that you want, and let me do what I need to get there. Just because “your” way works better for you, let me try my way and see if it works. The managers I’ve had problems with were very process oriented and wanted things done in a specific way that really didn’t fit my working style. Even when I showed success doing it my way, they weren’t ok with it. So if in the workplace in #1 is very much all about process and appearance, then you might need to talk to her (and risk her deciding to move someplace more accommodating to her work style), but if you are more about results, be happy she is your top performer.

  28. anonymous91

    Hi,
    I’m the OP from #5. Thank you for the feedback on my question about feedback, AAM! I agree that only writing “Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback” does sound a bit curt, which is certainly not the tone I want to convey.

    Thank you for the advice!

  29. Jubilance

    Oh and for the drug testing question, I’ve found that for virtually every application I’ve submitted at a large company (Fortune 500) there’s a blurb at the end of the application saying that drug testing will be a component & to indicate I’m ok with that. The OP can keep an eye out for those types of things & just avoid applying to those companies if they find that text listed.

    Also, I’ve encountered the random drug testing culture in companies that are manufacturing/testing focused, because of the safety concerns. Once I left that industry, I found companies generally just test when an offer is made & don’t test employees again. Maybe avoiding manufacturing companies may be a good tactic as well.

      1. Creag an Tuire

        As I mentioned upthread, it’s probably also a good idea to avoid any kind of government contractor, as drug testing is often a condition of doing business with the government (‘cuz we don’t want our taxes going to no potheads, gorsh darn it).

        FWIW, the only time either my wife or I had to take a drug test was for jobs we got through a staffing agency.

    1. jhhj

      I worked at a Canadian company providing packing-type materials for, among other companies, ones that made foods or drinks in the US. They invariably had very strict rules about how we had to drug test anyone who had access to production areas (= everyone). The Canadian companies, often sister companies, had no such rules. I’d assume any company that touches food/drink (or is a step away) or has a manufacturing component will test everyone.

      (FWIW, we did not do these tests on office workers, or even factory workers.)

  30. Scott M

    #1. I’ve learned to keep my phone face down at meetings. But there have been occasions I listened to podcasts through my blue tooth headset during very boring presentations.

  31. Amateur Pundit

    For #1, I’m wondering if you’re focused on a symptom instead of the root issue.

    What was the purpose of the webinar? Was it to convey information? Then mission successful with this employee. Did the other employees retain more information? Then, you have a problem. Did they retain less? You also have a problem.

    Was the webinar engaging enough for this employee? My experience with webinars is that they tend to pack 10 minutes of information in an hour or so. I don’t attend webinars in groups. I do so in my office so I can do something else to keep from becoming bored out of my mind. If it’s a webinar, why does it have to be presented to a huge group.

    Does your employee surf the web during the middle of a conversation with you? If so, it’s a problem. If she does so during a meeting, I’d suggest the meeting is an issue. A meeting should be a productive conversation. If it’s boring and doesn’t require interaction, then it has been poorly planned and the organizer has done a poor job inviting only the essential people.

    Your employee is bored. Fix the problems. Not the symptoms.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’m assuming that philosophically she doesn’t see why she should have to, and she’s in a position where she has enough options that she doesn’t need to.

      If you think marijuana prohibition is outrageous, the idea of being drug tested is akin to the idea of employers checking to see if you have a glass of wine at night — a ridiculous overstep that you might very reasonably decide not to play along with, if you had other options.

      1. JMegan

        Also, depending on how long the job search takes. If it takes a year or more, and OP the Third is a frequent user, that’s a pretty significant lifestyle change with no real benefit other than she knows she’ll be able to pass a drug test that may or may not happen at some indeterminate point in the future. If she knows for sure there will be a test on a specific day or within a specific time frame, that’s easy enough to prepare for, but making a big change like that for something that’s still entirely hypothetical, is a lot to ask.

      2. Cautionary tail

        Everywhere I’ve worked has always had random drug and alcohol testing. So employees know to not drink that glass of wine within 24 hours before going on shift. And the random tests are pretty pervasive with almost every employee being tested every year.

          1. Cautionary tail

            Critical Infrastructure. The sort of place where if a person makes a mistake then either they or someone else could die. Safety is paramount and this is part of that safety focus.

        1. Natalie

          I don’t think your experience is typical, particularly the alcohol testing. Random testing isn’t even allowing in my state unless you’re in a “safety sensitive” position or a professional athlete.

      3. soitgoes

        I dunno, I have mixed feelings on marijuana legalization. A lot of the same people who support legalization by saying it’s not addictive are nonetheless unwilling to stop smoking every day. Someone who continues to smoke to the detriment of their job prospects, all the while acting like it’s (as you say) a philosophical issue, gets an eyebrow raise from me. It’s the internal hypocrisy, not the smoking itself, that bugs me in these situations.

        If the OP had legitimate medical need she would have mentioned it as a mitigating factor. Someone who tries to justify daily recreational use by clinging to the discourse surrounding medical marijuana gets no sympathy from me.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Any substance can be psychologically addictive — including cake. The scientific literature is clear that marijuana isn’t physically addictive.

        2. Zillah

          I don’t think the OP was clinging to discourse about medical marijuana, though. She pretty clearly stated her issue – she’s a daily user, and she’s job hunting and doesn’t know whether to bring up drug testing at interviews. The mention of medical marijuana seemed to me to be an afterthought that just gave a little more context to its legal standing in her state.

          I’m not a huge fan of marijuana, either, for a lot of reasons, including that I’ve know a lot of smokers who advocate legalization in the way that you’re describing, generally with a side of “And it doesn’t have any negative effects!” No, marijuana is not a magical drug that unlike all other drugs, legal and illegal, does not have any negative effects. I unfortunately haven’t had the chance to get to know people who don’t hit one of the extremes.

          However, I’ll point out that 1) the OP is not choosing weed over being employed – she’s ruling out jobs that drug test, and there are many that don’t, and 2) most of us have similar boundaries. I would not, for example, stop using birth control, even if it was to the detriment of my job prospects. I don’t think that refusing to stop something even if it’s a little detrimental to your job prospects automatically signals a problem. If it adversely affects how you perform your job? Sure, absolutely. But your prospects? Not so much.

        3. OP the Third

          I’m unclear on what the “internal hypocrisy” is to which you refer. Hypoocrisy is saying one thing and doing another, right? I’m saying that I don’t want to change my lifestyle, so I’m going to look for a job that doesn’t require me to change my lifestyle.

          Actually, if I said “people should not be forced to stop smoking!” and then immediately took a job that forced me to stop smoking — THAT would be hypocrisy, in my mind.

          I only brought up the state of medical marijuana to give an idea of what the prevailing attitudes in my state are. While I support medical marijuana and believe the plant has a LOT of legitimate uses, I don’t focus on that because I think it should be legal for all adults to use.

    2. LBK

      Might not even be effective. If the OP is a daily smoker it could take a month or more for it to get out of her system – and IIRC if they use a hair test, we’re talking years before it will be undetectable (that might not be right, but it’s definitely an extremely long time for hair tests).

      Ironically, harder drugs that might be more detrimental to someone’s overall quality of life get out of your system a lot faster and are undetectable by the drug tests most companies run. Makes a whole lot of sense, doesn’t it?

      1. Just Visiting

        I know that stimulants (whether Ritalin or Heisenberg’s special blend) are always out within days, maybe A day if you drink a lot of water. Yet another reason to ban these tests.

  32. OP the Third

    Thank you very much to everyone who is sharing their experiences with drug testing, it is very helpful. And I’m grateful to have a space to even ask the question in the first place, where I know that I’ll receive intelligent and non-judgmental responses. Thanks to Alison & commenters!

  33. Graciosa

    There have been a lot of comments about whether multi-tasking really helps or hurts individual performance, and extensive discussions of image issues and how it looks.

    I tend to think about this as a matter of common courtesy in some situations, although I realize that courtesy is a cultural standard that may evolve over time. However, I still expect that people who are attending training are at least appearing to pay attention to the trainer / speaker, and will step out of the room to (for example) handle an urgent matter that cannot wait for the end of the meeting. Spending the time staring at your device makes it very apparent that you don’t feel the speaker is worthy of the effort to lift your eyes.

    That said, there are a lot of rules of etiquette that can only be breached if you are caught. Learning to gaze earnestly at a speaker or meeting participant and maintain a serious (but thoughtful) expression while thinking of something else is a very useful skill to develop. So is the art of tuning in occasionally just long enough to ask a question that makes it appear you were paying attention the whole time.

    1. Kelly L.

      I have the skill in the last paragraph, and it does occasionally get me in trouble. The thing that it most reminds me of is the sign language scene from Big Bang Theory. Oh crap, this is a sad story, I was making the wrong expression!

  34. pizzagrl

    Something I’ve recently become curious about regarding drug testing….let’s say you get to the point where a company is ready to make a job offer pending the results of a drug test. Would it be a terrible idea to say, hey, I am a marijuana smoker and that’s going to show up on my test? What would the reaction to that be?

    1. Natalie

      I have to imagine they would decline to proceed with your application. Anyone with government contracts or in certain regulated industries probably doesn’t have a choice. I would assume anyone who’s testing to save money on insurance isn’t allowed to make any exceptions. And I can’t imagine why anyone else would be testing – it’s not exactly cheap.

  35. Darcie

    #1 I have a friend who plays with her nails when she’s trying to listen to something. It helps her focus. Yeah, it comes across as unprofessional, but maybe she’s like my friend, who needs to fiddle with her hands in order to pay attention. Just ask her not to do it during meetings. If she’s performing well, does it really matter if she’s checking her e-mail/SM periodically throughout the day? Like another commenter said, maybe she’s feeling bored and unchallenged.

  36. Employment Lawyer

    If you REALLY want to avoid the drug test thing, you can try to be sneaky. It involves a bit of a lie, though not a dangerous one. And it won’t always work. But here’s the script:

    You: “I assume you drug test–that’s OK, of course, but do you guys pay for time and/or do it during business hours? I know it seems like a strange question, but I once worked for a place that scheduled them at a remote site every two weeks, after work. It really played hell with my ______ (commute, schedule, kids, school, etc.) and it took me almost an hour and half to deal with, for no pay.”

    If you can pull that off right, you’ll seem like a concerned person and not a user. And they will respond by telling you tell you what they do, whether it’s “No, our tests are monthly during hours” or, “Oh, no, that isn’t a problem at all; we don’t test.”

    1. esra

      From my, admittedly limited, hiring experience, it would be really strange if someone said something like what you’ve got here in an interview.

    2. Zillah

      I’m not sure whether it’s a great idea to get into those specifics when they’re not true – what if you were asked, “Oh, wow, that’s awful! Where was that?” or something similar? Or, if you choose to bow it when they say that they do drug test (or if they say no but it comes up later), you could come off as looking really dishonest.

      As a general idea, though, that could work for the OP, especially if she phrased it in a slightly more general way. “Will I ever have to go off-site or do something outside of normal business hours?” or something similar could work – they may not think of drug testing even if it is off-site, and it wouldn’t come up if they did drug testing on-site, but it should at least pull out the details from some companies that drug test, and I don’t think the question would arouse any major suspicions about drug use, because it could apply to a lot of things.

  37. Maureen P.

    re: the drug testing – I don’t have strong feelings about whether or not someone should use marijuana – and I live in Washington, so it’s legal here. BUT – if a job candidate asked me about drug testing at any point in the hiring process, it would definitely rub me the wrong way. To me, it’s similar to questions such as “How long do I have to work here before I get promoted?” or “How many vacation days do I get?” or “Is there free coffee?” or “Can I take 2-hour long lunch breaks?” or “Do I get a free laptop?” – or any number self-serving questions that make me wonder whether the candidate is planning on doing a great job, or just planning on drawing a paycheck until moving on to the next gig. My company requires drug testing at hiring, and it’s clearly stated on our job openings website.

    I’m not saying that a candidate shouldn’t inquire about vacation or promotion potential, just saying that a candidate would be better off asking “What kind of career path do you envision for the person in this role?” rather than “How soon can I move up to Senior Teapot Technician?”, and “Are there any other time-sensitive assessments or paperwork involved in the hiring process?” rather than “Am I going to be tested for drug use?”

  38. Purr purr purr

    For #1, maybe there’s more of a problem here. If someone who spends that much time on the phone is your top performer, maybe that suggests that the others are performing way below expectation! They have more time (less phone distraction) so surely they should be the better performers?

    Also, just as an aside, I’d put a stop to it ASAP. I’m sure her colleagues will have noticed and it does cause resentment, even if she’s producing her work on time. I have a colleague who turns up late for work (9.30am instead of 9am), takes 90 minutes for lunch (we’re allowed 60 minutes max if we use our breaks at lunchtime too) and then leaves early at 4.30pm instead of 5pm. He’s constantly on his phone during the day or watching YT videos, etc. even though he has work to do and our manager is aware of it but has said absolutely nothing. The rest of us are getting pretty annoyed that he’s taking so long to do the simplest little task but mostly we resent the fact that he’s getting paid for 7.5 hours, just like us, when he’s only in the office for 6 hours and he’s definitely not working a full 6 hours.

    1. Illini02

      Are you hourly? That definitely makes a difference in my opinion. If his lack of being there is truly affecting you, that is one thing. If he was the top performer, even with being there less time and goofing off, well to me you have a bit less room to really be angry about it. Results do matter.

  39. Not So NewReader

    I don’t have much interest in pot but I am very much against drug testing at work. I think that it will open the door for other things that we reeeally don’t want.

    For the OP, I have worked two retail jobs that asked if I was willing to submit to random drug testing. I said that was fine with me. It took a while to play out but eventually I found out that the only time they tested you is if you got injured on the job and you had more than $x in medical or damages. I almost wonder if it was something their insurance company made them set into place. I reeeally hate sitting in doctors’ offices. And I hate it more of a company orders me to do so. (BTDT) My solution was to just watch what the heck I was doing at work so I did not get into a big high cost accident. Which is only makes sense, we should all be working that way anyway.
    What started out as questionable/intimidating turned out to be something close to nothing.

  40. Another Anonymous Commenter

    Re: #1:

    I see a lot of comments here saying to re-evaluate everybody’s workload, and while that may be the answer, sometimes people are just… fast. I run into this a lot both with schoolwork and in my professional life: I have always tended to have a lot more free time than my classmates, for example, because I just do things more quickly in a number of ways:

    1.) I’m a speed-reader. I’ve read all 5 books in ASOIF in three days, read 20 academic articles well enough use in a lit review in about 4.5 hours, etc.
    2.) I’m a mental calculator.
    3.) I studied languages for over half my high school and college classes, which means my memory is really well trained. (Human memory is amazing if it’s trained properly – consider all the epics that used to be told via oral recitation). I don’t need notes most of the time, and I don’t need to hear/read things more than once either, usually.
    4.) I type at about 130 WPM.

    Together, that all gives me a very distinct advantage, timewise, on a lot of activities. This isn’t a brag; it’s just a statement. In a lot of situations, if a task is assigned a reasonable amount of time, I’m going to get it done sooner. That’s when you get into the ‘is it fair to give someone twice as much work for the same amount of pay’ aspect. My feeling is that if you pay hourly, then absolutely, because you’re paying for the time.

    In cases of salaried positions, though, I’m iffy (which I’m thinking this is, since few employers have people regularly working 10+ hour days in hourly positions because the overtime isn’t in the budget). Because we hear a lot with salaried positions that sometimes you have to do overtime to get things done. Which is fine. But we rarely hear about the converse (which is: You’re done, you can leave). So the question I have is: Does that person actually need to be there for 10 hours? Otherwise, salary positions are just an excuse not to pay overtime, if employees only get the downsides of that arrangement.

  41. Jody

    OP # 3 – Daily user here as well. Use Quick Fix synthetic urine, it has worked for me to pass 3 drug tests! I always have an extra one handy in case a good job opportunity comes up and I need to quickly pass a test. I think they can also do a rush shipment.

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