coworker sings and talks while we’re in the bathroom, acting supervisor gave me grief about teleworking during blizzard, and more

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

1. Acting supervisor gave me grief about teleworking during blizzard

I live/work just outside the D.C. metro, which spent this past week expecting a huge blizzard to start sometime on Friday. My supervisor has been out for the week, so I requested telework for Friday from my “acting” supervisor (a team lead, but not my team lead). He chided me for asking for the entire day (the storm wasn’t supposed to start until the afternoon), a message that I believe my supervisor wouldn’t have sent me.

I spoke to my team lead, and he said I should stay home if I’m worried (my neighborhood rarely sees plows, and we’re in an area that the storm was supposed to hit early). So, I think I’m okay. My question is, should I tell my supervisor about the other team lead chiding me? I think he would like to talk to the team lead so that their messaging about winter weather can be consistent, but I’m concerned it would look like tattling.

If it’s relevant, neither of the two team leads nor my supervisor were in those positions last winter (we had a rough summer), so this is the first major winter event for them (together and individually) in management.

Yes, tell her. It’s not tattling (a concept that doesn’t really apply at work most of the time anyway — more on that here); it’s helping her make sure that things are working the way she wants when she’s not there. You can frame it as “I thought what Fergus told me was out of sync with what I suspect you would have told me. It’s no big deal — it worked out fine — but if I’m right about that, I figured I should mention it to you so in case you want to get everyone aligned about how you want this kind of thing handled in the future.”

2. Coworker sings and talks while we’re in the bathroom

One of my coworkers sings while using the restroom and occasionally tries to engage me in conversation while she’s doing her business or I’m doing mine. It seems silly, but it makes me very uncomfortable. I’m too embarrassed to ask her to stop and it seems like a ridiculous thing to bring to HR. Help?

Let the singing go; it’s not a big enough deal to get into with her. (It would be different if she were doing it in your work area and preventing you from focusing, but I’m assuming focus isn’t so much of an issue in the bathroom — or that if it is, you can wait her out.)

But if she tries to talk to you while you’re both in bathroom stalls, you can say “Sorry, I have trouble hearing in here” or “This isn’t a good time” or “I’m pretending I’m alone in here, Jane” or whatever you’re comfortable with. (And yeah, definitely don’t take it to HR.)

3. How should my resume handle seven months of leave to play professional sports?

I have worked in sciences for my state government for four years. In August, I took unpaid leave in order to play sports professionally in a European league (my bosses are very supportive of my sporting endeavours, and I play for my country in international competitions). I’ll be back in the office in April and plan on applying for other jobs within the department within the next 6-12 months. How should I list my job and leave on my resume?

I’m looking for roles geared more towards training and development. In past interviews, I have had a lot of interest in my sporting career and how it relates to working in teams, leadership, self-management and so on, so should I make a note of it?

Right now, I simply have the previous role as:
Job, Department, 2011-present
– achievement
– achievement
– achievement

I think it’s fine to list it that way; I don’t think you need to call out the seven months away, just like you wouldn’t need to note if you were on maternity leave for part of that time. Then you can list the sports league separately, possibly in a section titled Other or wherever else it might fit.

4. Explaining a four-year gap due to visa issues

I taught high school for five years in Canada before relocating to the US in 2011 with my husband (also a Canadian citizen) while he completed his medical residency. Due to the type of visa he was on, I was only able to obtain a spouse visa, meaning I was unable to work during that time (I was no even able to obtain a SSN). It is a long, complicated process but we are in the midst of getting our green cards. In the meantime, I have (finally) received work authorization (even though our green card application is still pending). This is the short and not-at-all-comprehensive explanation.

Complicating matters is the fact that I don’t intend to return to teaching (another long story – the short-ish version is that I have a teaching license in my old state but our current state will not recognize it and the process to get my license here is absurd).

I am now able to apply for jobs but am struggling with how to address the four-year employment gap. I spent those four years volunteering with the Ronald McDonald House (and include that on my resume – I was highly involved, just unpaid). Even though I am fully authorized to work now, I fear any mention of previous visa issues, resolved or not, will give prospective employers pause. Moreover, it’s not an issue that can be explained briefly, especially in a cover letter. How would you advise me to handle this?

Play up the volunteering, especially if it was anything close to full-time. But it really should be okay to simply say, “I needed to wait until I had legal work authorization, and now I do.” I don’t think that’s going to give employers pause — it makes it clear that you waited until things were settled, and now they are. Seriously, people will get that.

5. Tracking down a networking connection who changed jobs

A few months ago, I had a networking call with a manager at an office where I’d love to work one day. It went well, and he told me that if he spotted any job opportunities where he works, he would send them my way. (They’re very rarely posted online, and new opportunities are mainly found through word of mouth.) Recently, I sent him a quick email to check if he’d heard of anything, but it bounced back—presumably because he’s moved on to other opportunities.

I’d like to stay in touch with him, if possible, but only have his (now former) work e-mail. It’s also possible that an opportunity has opened up in this office with his departure, but because I don’t have a way to contact him, I have no way of knowing.

The person who put us in contact was another networking connection. My question is, would it be odd to ask them if they have another contact e-mail for him? Is there another way to keep in touch that I’m not thinking of? Or should I just let this one go?

I’d first try LinkedIn, which is made for this kind of situation. But if you can’t find him there, it should be absolutely fine to ask your original contact for an updated email for the guy — since the contact put you in touch in the first place, I doubt she’d be hesitant to help you reconnect.

{ 83 comments… read them below }

  1. AMT*

    My God, other people have Bathroom Singers at their offices? I have several. I have no idea what’s going on, nor have I ever heard it in any other bathroom. For context, I’m male and it seems to occur mostly at the urinals. It’s not even a particular song. It’s mostly like “doot doo doot doooo” or “yatta da da” type of stuff, sometimes a few discernible words. Always loud. Sometimes it’s multiple loud, exaggerated sighs (and I mean LOUD), or “whoooooOOOOOOO” noises. Sometimes whistling. Do they need these sounds to pee? Are they alerting other people that they’re in there? Is it a sign of embarrassment?

    1. West Coast Reader*

      Maybe they just feel REALLY good about relieving themselves??

      Seriously, the one I don’t get is people talking on the phone while doing their business. I won’t even pick up a call until I’m out of earshot of a flushing toilet.

      1. ginger ale for all*

        I don’t get the eating in the bathroom. WTF? I work on a college campus and I have lost count of how many fast food meal remains I have seen tossed on the ground in the stalls. Ick.

        1. StarHopper*

          I have a weird thing about chewing gum in the restroom. Like, airborne particles are going to be trapped in my gum so I spit it out before I go in.

          1. Scotty_Smalls*

            My OChem TA told us that it does happen. He wouldn’t chew gum in the lab or the bathroom.

        2. Charityb*

          I’ve seen people bring in full mugs of coffee and thermoses to set down on sinks in the bathroom. I admire the courage that takes; either that, or they think that someone will steal or spike their beverages if they are left out of sight for even five minutes.

          1. Kate Heightmeyer*

            I (along with many others) did that on campus when I was in college. I’d either set my coffee cup on the little shelf below the mirror or stick it in the side pocket of my backpack. Never had anything stolen (or spiked). I went to a really good university, though, and it wasn’t uncommon for people to just leave their bags (with laptops, textbooks, phones, etc) alone for up to fifteen minutes. I don’t think I would do it anywhere but there, though.

        3. Boo*

          I used to work with a guy who’d go in the loo every morning with a paper under one arm, a mug of coffee in one hand and a plate of biscuits in the other.

      2. StudentPilot*

        The building I work in gets TERRIBLE cell service and the only place to get a signal is…..the bathroom. If I need to make a person call, that’s where I go……but only if no one is in there, and I make it quick. (Because yes, no one needs to hear a flushing toilet)

        1. Green*

          OH man. I hate people who talk on their cellphone in the toilets. (Not you, since nobody’s using the toilet at the time.) But airports are just the worst for that.

      3. V*

        Well, when you’re 2.5 hours into the conference call, one of the junior people on it, and nobody leading it has taken a break . . . Sometimes you just have to check that your line is muted and go.

      4. Perse's Mom*

        I kind of want to carry around an airhorn for the next person who comes into the bathroom to take a call. Or take my phone with me and play the Jeff Daniels poop scene from Dumb and Dumber as loud as my phone can go.

    2. Mookie*

      “yatta da da” type of stuff

      Scatting while they make scat, in other words. Have to admire the dedication.

    3. Merry and Bright*

      AMT, singing as an alert would have come in useful at OldOldJob. The HR manager there never locked the door. This is the UK too where the doors are usually floor length so you could not tell the cubicle was in use.

      I won’t go into more detail than that.

    4. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I don’t get it either. I’ve encountered a few of those– women, as I am one– and my first thought is that they just like to call attention to themselves. But maybe they sing because they want to draw attention AWAY from the fact that they’re peeing? It’s baffling to me, and it’s annoying as hell.

      I can’t stand work singers. I used to have someone right outside my office door who sang constantly, and in her case, she was definitely trying to draw attention to herself. All day long. Annoying and seriously distracting. It’s like my co-worker who likes to whistle occasionally and/or tap her feet rhythmically and loudly– in an open office with very few people. AAAARRRGGGH.

      For the record, I am actually a singer. As in, I have been paid at various points to do it, and I sing on a weekly basis. In the office? Hell no.

      1. OP2*

        I’m glad my discomfort has resulted in so many people sharing their own bathroom singer stories!
        I really don’t understand it at all. The singing and talking is actually a bit better than a previous incident where this coworker commented, ah, on the speed of my stream? (Like- oooo you’ve had a lot of water today!”)
        I’m from a family that basically refuses to talk about anything bathroom or fart related ever, so I pretty much died from embarrassment immediately and have been a ghost ever since. She tried to apologize for that one and I was like, it’s fine, let’s really really not talk about it any more.

        1. Afiendishthingy*

          The singing and talking is actually a bit better than a previous incident where this coworker commented, ah, on the speed of my stream? (Like- oooo you’ve had a lot of water today!”)

          I… What? No. No no no.

        2. Myrin*

          Oh. My. God. WHAT?!

          For the record, I’m from a family that doesn’t generally have any problems with talking about bathroom-related things but this is just… I don’t even know what to say.

        3. The Cosmic Avenger*

          I drink a lot of water, and in our household the fact that I pee for quite a while is a topic of much amusement. However, I would never comment on it at work, or would I be comfortable with a co-worker commenting on it, even though there are a few with whom I’ll have a conversation at the urinal. (I always wait for someone else to initiate it; it doesn’t bother me, but I know it bothers a lot of people.)

          I think the theory that some people make noise because they are trying to cover the other sounds they are making is mostly valid. Me, I figure everyone poops, so everyone makes those noises, but some people are very sensitive to others knowing that they have bodily functions.

          1. Green*

            In Japan they have the toilets with buttons that make artificial flushing noises to cover up the sound of you going to the bathroom. (Problem: I often had difficulty finding the actual flush button.)

            1. AcademiaNut*

              And portable keychains with the same function….

              But it was the heated toilet seats in the public bathrooms in the Sapporo train station that I really appreciated.

          2. dragonzflame*

            Oh yeah, at high school people used to turn on the sink taps really hard so it covered up the sound of their peeing. I thought it was silly – I know why you’re in here, it’s fine, I’m here to do the same thing – and a waste of water, so if I entered the girls’ toilets and the water was running I’d turn it off before heading into my cubicle.

    5. Elizabeth S.*

      A male coworker and close friend told me once that, while in a back bathroom stall on the little-used top-floor restroom, keeping as quiet as possible, he heard another guy come in to use the urinal and (apparently thinking himself alone) whistle the “Ma Na Ma Na” song from the Muppet Show while doing his business, punctuating it with little toots in the appropriate places.

      My friend said he almost suffocated trying not to scream out loud, but he was awestruck by the level of skill involved. We never learned the identity of our musical colleague.

      1. Former Diet Coke Addict*

        I had an old roommate in university who was a terrible, terrible, terrible roommate, but he was an absolute virtuoso whistler. He could whistle anything, could do tricks and whistle things like Flight of the Bumblebee, but he swore up and down that the best time for whistling was while using the toilet. Apparently he was not alone in this belief.

        1. likeOMG*

          Actually, the acoustics in most bathrooms and oddly, stairwells are quite good. That might be why people like to sing and whistle in them.

    6. sylph*

      Or they’re using the sound of their voice to cover up the sound of other things? I used to have folks automatically hit the hand dryer before going into the stall to cover any resultant noises. Took me a long time to figure out why they were doing that.

    7. Lady Bug*

      Some people just love to sing. It makes them happy. I am one of them. I don’t sing in the bathroom, or anywhere that anyone can hear because no one needs to hear that, but its a minute or two while you use the toilet. Its not a big deal. As far as the talking, just tell her you don’t like to talk in the bathroom. Some people do, some don’t, just let her know your preference.

      1. Green*

        I’m going to argue for the “most people do not” like to talk in the bathroom, particularly at work. Actual gal pals in the restaurant, maybe.

    8. Mean Something*

      In Nicholson Baker’s first novel, The Mezzanine, there’s a bit about hearing a song hummed in the bathroom and getting that song stuck in your head and humming it yourself, then the next person hears it, etc., with the result that a snatch of tune lives on in the bathroom all day.

      I’ve never thought about it before, but when I go to the bathroom, I often have a tune in my head, and it sort of swells into my consciousness because going to the bathroom is a kind of solo break between bouts of constant interaction (I’m a teacher), so I’m sure I hum in the bathroom. The acoustics are good in there. However, our staff bathroom is a one-holer, so presumably no one hears me.

    9. Economist*

      I used to work with a woman who would sit in the bathroom stall and play her harmonica at length. That was just weird.

      1. Manders*

        This is the funniest thing to me. Did she keep her harmonica in her purse so she could whip it out as needed? Did she have a special harmonica she kept at work for bathroom serenades?

      2. Musicista*

        I went to music college and there were never enough practice rooms… It was quite common to go into the bathroom and hear someone playing the cello in the stall next to you!

    10. Rubyrose*

      A coworker, an IT desktop expert who was well know in the company, would have people follow her into the restroom, wait until she was seated, and then start plying her with questions about their computer issues.
      After this happened several time, her manager sent an email to the entire office (300 people) asking that it stop.

    11. Random citizen*

      I’ve caught myself starting to sing in the bathroom before, because when I’m in a stall by myself and can’t see anybody, I guess I just forget that there might be other people there? I sing a lot, in general, though (but I’m terrible at it, so I try to avoid subjecting my coworkers to it. :))

    12. Catsan*

      It’s just a normal human behavior indicating relaxation…the opposite of swearing or an idle animation thing, as you will. I’m slightly horrified that so much of the non-productive things people do are so…unknown and scrutinized by so many.

    13. mander*

      My 7-year-old nephew used to love to sing Adele songs at the top of his lungs whenever he was sitting on the toilet. I’m not sure if he still does it, though.

      Sometimes the bathroom is the quietest place to take a call, especially in places like malls, bars, restaurants, airports, etc. where there is a lot of music and other noise in the main area. It’s not ideal but I’d be quite irritated if another person felt compelled to make extra bathroom sounds in the background just because they were uncomfortable with the idea of someone else using their phone in the bathroom.

  2. Little Teapot*

    #2- can you just not follow her in the bathroom?! Like go at a different time? Or even time it, so if you see her walk out, walk straight in.

    1. KR*

      This seems like a good idea. If she tries to follow you in or whatever just tell her you prefer privacy. It’s not a strange thing to ask for.

      1. OP2*

        What tends to happen is that I’ll go and then she’ll come in when I’m already in the stall. It’s not like we’re walking in together.

      2. Connie-Lynne*

        Actually that’s a totally weird thing to ask for if there are multiple stalls. If some other woman at work tried to tell me I couldn’t go into the bathroom while she was going in there I would do a lot of silent judging.

        1. fposte*

          Agreed. Plus, when I’m heading for the bathroom I’m not messing around, so if you’re not comfortable in there with company, you’d better be willing to wait yourself.

      3. Observer*

        Not, it’s not “strange”, it’s utterly weird and out of line. You REALLY cannot tell someone that they can’t use the bathroom (it’s clearly a multi-stall arrangement) just because you want to use it.

  3. Julie Noted*

    I don’t respond to people who talk to me in the toilet. Even if they address me directly with a question. When we’re or if the stalls, washing our hands, they usually say something like “you don’t like taking in the toilet, eh?” and we have a laugh.
    A couple of times someone hasn’t let up in the face of my silence, even when I’ve pointed out my no talking policy before. “Julie? Is that you? Julie? Julie?”. I responded “door’s closed!”, to the great amusement of third parties sharing the facilities at the time.
    Toilet conversation preferences is one of those light conversations that people laugh and bond over, in my experience. No need to be embarrassed about saying something next time.

    1. Connie-Lynne*

      This was gonna be my suggestion, although I also like “Trying to pretend I’m alone in here!”

  4. knitchic79*

    Our bathrooms at work used to be single stall family restrooms. For some reason they were “upgraded” to multi stall women’s and men’s rooms. I had a lady follow me into the restroom and then stand outside my stall talking to me. Sorry OP2 no advice, but I feel your pain.

  5. Mookie*

    A friend of mine successfully warded off unwanted and unsolicited bathroom dialogues by making an endless number of interesting fart noises (a symphony, as she described it) with her mouth in response to whatever the person was saying, so there’s that as an option. I’m a weirdo, but personally lack that particular kind of courage.

    1. OP2*

      I also lack that type of courage.
      Randomly, this comment reminds me of that one rather disgusting scene from Harold and Kumar go to White Castle with the girls in the bathroom having a contest…

  6. AvonLady Barksdale*

    #3: I know this isn’t part of your question, but your employer is awesome. I would love to take a few months’ leave to pursue some of my outside endeavors professionally, and I know my employer would never stand for it. So this is an unhelpful comment about how cool it is that you were able to do that, and that I hope your next employer/department is equally cool.

    1. fposte*

      And it’s the coolest reason for an employment gap any hiring manager would be likely to hear. While I agree with Alison’s answer, I’m a little sorry that it means no one will be asking about this gap and getting “professional football tour” when they’re expecting to hear “parental leave.”

    2. OP #3*

      OP 3 here – they really are a great employer, which is why I want to stay on government/public service. It’s the sort of place where I wouldn’t be concerned had that leave been maternity leave, which I think says a lot, although I hadn’t considered that a gap could be interpreted that way had I listed it without explanation!

    3. ThursdaysGeek*

      I had married co-workers who wanted to take a leave of absence to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. My employer said no, so they quit.

  7. Cam*

    Volunteering is a really great thing for new immigrants to do while they are waiting for work authorization. Especially if you come from a non English-speaking country where potential employers probably won’t go through all the effort of contacting previous employers, it really helps a lot.

    1. OP4*

      This is such a good point and I completely agree. Even coming from Canada, the volunteer experience was invaluable. It helped me develop new skills and gave me lots of new accomplishments to put on my résumé. I’d encourage anyone in a similar situation to seek out volunteer opportunities, not just because it helps fill holes on your résumé, but because it can be a great source of personal and professional development.

  8. OP4*

    Thank you so much, Alison. I think the combination of having to completely overhaul my résumé and cover letter to look for jobs outside of education has addled my brain! As soon as I read your advice, the proverbial lightbulb went off above my head and I was able to address the issue clearly and concisely in my cover letter. I was so worried that prospective employers would write me off for having that gap (even though it wasn’t by choice), or that any mention of it would make them hesitant about considering me. Thank you for taking the time to respond and thank you for this blog – your posts and the community have made me feel more confident and well-prepared to move away from education into a new career!

    1. Chinook*

      OP4 I made that transition from teacher to other first the same reason (credentialing from one province to another sometimes being a rather weird process. I was told I had to upgrade my B. Ed. with a 1 year after degree B.Ed because I earned my first version in another province). I highly recommend using a temp agency who can help convert and sell your teaching skills into other industries. For me, a good placement officer was able to talk me into real positions that a cover letter couldn’t. Plus, from an office work perspective, they had skills test I passed to back me up.

      1. OP4*

        Thanks for the suggestion! It’s a really good idea – I hadn’t even considered that. I’ll definitely look into it :)

    2. Connie-Lynne*

      Oh, OP, I don’t know where you live but my sister discovered when she moved that in many states private schools do not require teachers’ licenses — even accredited schools! So she taught in a private school while taking the two years of classes to qualify for public schools.

      I wanted to mention it as an option in case you wanted to keep teaching.

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        …and also in some places subs are not required to have credentials, just to be working on the credential.

        1. Kathlynn*

          BC canada, I was told all you needed was to have graduated high school to sub at my local high school. Was actually shocked at this. Then again, it was a very rural school, so might be different in bigger cities.

    3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Are you in MN? Minnesota is the WORST for transferring out of state teaching licenses.

      1. OP 4*

        Nope – Illinois. I was in CT before and I thought they had some ridiculous expectations for certification. I have a B. Ed (in addition to my B.A), plus five years experience. CT made me do a bunch of standardized tests (reading, writing and math – which was super fun, since I taught English), as well as taking community college courses in math, Spanish, biology, and American history. I got my English 7-12 cert but they wouldn’t recognized my Specialist in Special Education and wanted me to do student teaching placements – after I had taught it for five years.
        Moved to IL and they said all the CT stuff wouldn’t count and I’d have to do it ALL again. And I laughed and laughed, because, NOPE.
        It’s all good – I figure the universe is telling me it’s time to explore other opportunities :)

        1. Marian the Librarian*

          I currently live in IL as well, and can second being completely flabbergasted by the requirements to get a teaching license here (I also had previous teaching experience in other states).

  9. LibraryChick*

    #1 – Giving anyone on the east coast grief for wanting to stay home yesterday was ridiculous. It is ONE day! Personally, when I saw the broadcast that the National Guard was being called in to service to get vital personnel transported during the storm I knew the situation was serious.

  10. Rebecca*

    #1 I’m sure Friday evening commutes in the DC Metro area are challenging enough without a huge blizzard bearing down on the region. I understand the government shut down at noon, and that allowed people to get home before the storm actually started. I think that was a smart move, safety wise.

    I am getting tired of the butts in seat mentality this country has. Unless you are in public safety, the medical field, or other totally essential services, why not let people do their computer work from a safe place? What difference does it make where the work is done, so long as it gets done. And even if an email isn’t answered at 4:55 PM on a Friday, I’d bet that most things could wait another business day.

    I’m going to say this. A dead or injured employee is not a productive employee. Please employers, use some common sense when the weather is bad.

  11. MeUnplugged*

    I don’t like to talk or be talked to or listen to others talking in the bathroom. Granted I was at my last job for over a decade so it eventually became known that I will not talk while in there. Some people found that quite amusing and would do/say things to try and engage with me while in there. (I guess I should note that I don’t even like it when we’re at the sink even if no one else is in there.) for new comers that didn’t know to be quiet in there I honestly ignored them until we left the bathroom. Once outside I’d usually say something along the lines of “sorry, I just don’t like talking in the bathroom. People pull their pants down in there, and I don’t like talking when people aren’t wearing pants. But to answer your question…”

    No one ever seemed bothered by my refusal to engage, especially once I became my usual chatterbox the moment I stepped outside. A lot of people really thought it was funny and some would warn new people if I walked in the restroom while they were in there. I think bathroom talkers are weird, they think I am weird. For the record, those that think I am the weird one are wrong.

  12. Audiophile*

    I’m not one for talking in the bathroom, it always bothered me for as long as I can remember. Now at home, I’ll say there’s very little privacy in the bathroom, so that’s probably why I prefer to be quiet in public restrooms or work bathrooms. I’ll occasionally break that at the sink, because I haven’t figured out how to say “can we wait until we leave to talk?” I also really dislike when people say something to me as they’re walking into the stall. Say hello before that, the other is just ick.

    1. OnFire*

      Wonder if CW will introduce a new noise/variation each week. I’m (unfortunately) visualizing a Battle of the Bathroom, with CW mooing, quacking, meowing, etc., and OP finally, in desperation, beginning to hum loudly just to drown out the noise.

      I was in the bathroom at work once and heard someone go into another stall. A moment later, I heard noises that made me think the visitor had been (or was still) on a personal call and needed, er, some personal relief. I left as quickly as possible.

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