I keep falling asleep at work, employee won’t speak to me, and more

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

1. I keep falling asleep at work

I have worked as the receptionist at my current firm for over two years. In the last couple of months I have been unable to stay awake through my entire shift! I do not have a lot of tasks to occupy my time and so I often end up sitting with my head resting on my hand and nod off. But even worse is that this will happen even if I’m sitting up straight! I obviously know that this will look very unprofessional if I am caught, but short of asking for more tasks (which I have done several times), I am at a loss as to what to do. Do you have any advice?

I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked if anything has changed, inside or outside of work, in the last couple of months. The answer:

I did get a second job. I worry that may be the problem, as its the only real change there has been.

Yeah, I think that’s really likely to be what’s causing it. It makes sense that working a second job would make you more tired, even if you’re getting the same amount of sleep.

Some options: Strategically timed caffeine. Getting up and taking a short walk around your work area or even some unobtrusive stretching if no visitors are around. Talk to a colleague (that will often pull you out of sleepy mode — depending on the colleague, of course). Any of the suggestions here. What other advice do people have?

Updated to add: A reader who works in sleep medicine asked me to say that you should talk to your doctor to be sure there’s not something more serious going on.

2. Employee won’t speak to me

I have an employee who recently lost her mother to cancer. We’re a small team, and we covered for her extensively while she took the time to care for her mom at the end of her life. Understandably, she’s still very upset, and we try to be accommodating as possible.

However, a couple weeks ago, my brother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. The rest of my team has been supportive, but this one employee has stopped speaking to me almost completely. Her office is right next to mine, but there are days that she will not say a word to me. She did tell me that it was because my family’s situation “hits too close to home.” I do understand that it’s painful for her, but we still have to work together (and I have to supervise her). I’m not walking around the office weeping or talking all the time about my brother’s cancer. I feel like I have to walk on eggshells around her. What can I do to improve the situation?

Ooof, that’s tough. But she’s not being reasonable. That’s perfectly understandable — grief does weird things to people — but in order to do her job, she does need to be willing to talk to her manager.

I think there’s something of a middle ground here: You should respect her need for space when you don’t actually need to speak to her — in other words, don’t force optional conversations on her — but she does need to have normal work-related conversations with you.

The key is to be empathetic to what she’s going through, while being clear about what you still need. For example: “I know you’re going through a tough time, and you’re grieving. I want to respect that as much as possible and I’ll try to be aware that you might need extra space right now, but at the same time, I need us to talk about work-related things that come up in the normal course of doing our jobs. Knowing that, is there anything I can do differently to make things easier for you right now?” If she says that she really needs a period of not interacting with you at all (which is unlikely, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for it), you could say, “I’m so sorry you’re feeling that way. Unfortunately, that’s not something we can do because of the nature of our jobs, but if there’s something that would make the interactions we need have easier for a while, please let me know and it might be something we can figure out a way to accommodate.”

3. Recruiter asked me to do a long assessment without telling me what job it’s for

This morning I received an email from a recruiter at one of the major banks; I had applied for a teller position two years ago but never heard back after filling out the lengthy online assessment. The entire email reads, “I received your resume from a colleague of mine, I will send you an online assessment shortly. Kindly complete the assessment.”

I was thrilled because this is one of the few employers where I am following new job postings. I checked online to see if a position I qualify for had become available, but there was only an investment advisor position (my resume CLEARLY doesn’t show me as qualified for this based on the basic job requirements).

So I thought that there must be an unposted opening. I emailed her back thanking her for reaching out and confirming my interest in any positions with the company. I asked if she could explain what position this assessment was for. I got a reply back within minutes. Her reply: “The online assessment is the first step in the recruitment process with [company].”

I took a quick look at the online assessment and there are approximately 300 multiple choice questions. I remember this taking me over an hour when I first completed it years ago.

Something feels off to me. I haven’t been told if there is even an open position or if they are just updating their records. I feel if I was being considered for a position that I’d at least be given the role or asked for an updated resume. I’m doubting whether or not I should waste my time tonight completing this assessment. I don’t know if this is ‘normal’ for recruiters or if there is actually a job that I qualify for. Any advice?

What’s off is that she’s being curt to the point of rudeness and incredibly inconsiderate of your time. It’s rude to ask you to spend time answering 300 questions (!) without even telling you what the job is.

It’s possible that she’s saying that this is the first step in being considered for any job there, but even then, she should tell you what position she has in mind, because you might determine that you’re not interested. And it makes sense for you to have the chance to decide that before answering these 300 questions, not afterwards.

4. Can I ask my estranged husband’s company for his employment records?

I have grounds to believe that my estranged husband used my critical illness as a pretext to get compassionate leave from his employer and then used it to go on a holiday (with another woman). We are now in the process of getting divorced.

Am I within rights to contact my ex-spouse’s employer and ask for the exact dates they granted him compassionate leave, explaining my lawyer needs it in order to establish the level of support I received during my illness? I wish not to use it against my ex-husband at his workplace (he is a civil servant, it may cost him his job) but only in our divorce proceedings.

No, you shouldn’t. They’ve very, very unlikely to release an employee’s records to you, a non-employee. If your lawyer really needs it, she could try contacting the employer directly, but even then they’re not likely to provide it voluntarily.

5. Approaching employees of a competitor that’s shutting down

I have a question regarding poaching employees from a competitor that is shutting down. My company is in growth mode, while this other company is in the process of closing its doors. We want to reach out to their current employees to potentially bring them on after their company closes in a few months. We know they are being offered retention bonuses to stay to the end, so we are hoping to have them start shortly after that. In the meanwhile, we want to begin preliminary interviews.

Do you have any advice on how to reach out to them to gauge their interest? I want to be sure that we are being tactful/respectful about them losing their jobs while getting them excited about our company’s growth?

You can be pretty straightforward. Most people in that situation are likely to really appreciate the outreach, and even if they’re not interested in the job you’re offering, they’re likely to appreciate that you’re contacting them to check.

Obviously you don’t want to say something implying that you’re thrilled that their loss might be your company’s gain. But something like this is fine: “I know you might be thinking about your next move since Teapots Inc. is shutting down, and if you might be interested in talking with us about roles here, I’d love to set up a conversation. I should note that I know you may want to stay in your current job until the company closes, and that wouldn’t be an obstacle on our end — although if you’re interested, we’d like to talk in the next few weeks if that works on your end.”

{ 353 comments… read them below }

  1. Bee Eye LL*

    #1 – I am no doctor, but struggling to keep awake even if you get enough sleep could be a symptom of some other issue. You may want to check in with your own doctor and maybe get a blood panel done just to make sure something else isn’t going on.

    1. purlgurly*

      Yup! When I started feeling like I needed a nap every day at work, it turned out I had developed sleep apnea. Now I use a CPAP machine and it helps. If the LW has a partner, they could ask if partner has noticed snoring/gasping/restlessness at night.

      1. Still learning how to adult...*

        Another vote for getting a medical checkup; yes, it could be many things. In my own case of OSA, (obstrucitive sleep apnea) I have seveal friends who had been diagnosed and done sleep tests; their symptoms matched mine at many points so I went to my Dr. asking specifically for a sleep test. Tested positive, have been on CPAP for about 10 years now. The difference is night and day; no more fuzzy-headedness, constantly having to consume caffeine & snacks (which of course, caused weight gain) to pump up my metabolism. Before diagnosis I was doing a fair amount of driving across the state. Truly, it scares me now how close I may have been to being an accident waiting to happen.

        To paraphrase Horace Greeley, Go see your doctor, young man!

        1. Statler von Waldorf*

          Seconding/thirding/whatevering the see a doctor idea. I was falling asleep at work and was told I could either go see a doc about it or get written up. I chose option A, and was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea. I’ve been on CPAP for several months now, and just like SLHTA above, it was light night and day. I feel so much better and far more alert now, and I strongly recommend getting it professionally checked out.

          If it ends up being nothing medical, just too much work and not enough hours, I do have one suggestion. Caffeine naps. You pop a caffeine pill with a cup of coffee, and then nap for about 20-30 minutes. If you time it right, you wake up just as the caffeine starts kicking in, and it tricks your body into thinking you have slept longer than you really did. I find they work far better together than just caffeine or naps by themselves.

        2. Anonymoose*

          I remember deciding three years ago that it was no longer safe for me to commute to work (sleep apnea caused by a critical med that I have to take). I was thisclose to falling asleep every time I drove home and it really scared the crap out of me that there are many folks just like us that don’t think to check up on the issue. It’s even more amazing that we all just…thought how we felt was normal for so long, you know?

      2. Jess*

        And when I started getting brutally tired midday I went to my GP and it turned out I was pregnant. You never know; it might be the second job, or it might be something medical. Can’t hurt to have it checked out.

        1. Anonymoose*

          Also, smoking shrinks blood vessels which makes oxygen difficult to get to your brain which induces sleepiness. There are so many good reasons to get it checked out by a doctor!

          (and congrats, BTW)

    2. Jeanne*

      It’s worth checking to be sure. But it is often the obvious answer, especially if the new job is physically active.

      1. SophieChotek*

        I agree; a medical opinion would be worthwhile.
        I will say from my own current experience – I have a second job (work a FT day job and then an evening job 20-25 hours a week), and even though I am technically getting the same amount of sleep, exercise regularly, try to eat overall healthily, and neither job is that physically demanding, I am exhausted all the time and I think it’s just the mental stress of having the two jobs and no down time at all. So it also wouldn’t surprise me if its just the two jobs.

        1. Stan*

          The lack of mental down time is my thought, too. My work load tends to ebb and flow and I can always tell when I’ve been working too many hours, too many weeks in a row. We’re just finishing up a busy period and yesterday I spent at least a half hour staring blankly into space and may have actually dozed off. It’s not the sleep or any increase in physical effort, it’s just that there’s no down time.

        2. Anonymoose*

          Oh gosh yes! People don’t really understand how much energy constant mental stimulation drains a person.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There’s definitely no harm in checking, but if it coincided with the second job, it’s pretty likely that the new schedule is simply wearing the OP out.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        However, a reader who works in sleep medicine just emailed me to say that she should talk to her doctor to be sure there’s not something more serious going on, so I’ve added that to the post.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It could also be a shift in OP’s activities and sleeping habits vis-a-vis their circadian rhythms. Or it could be a blood sugar crash. Or it could be drinking caffeine too late in the day (which can interfere with the quality of sleep). I wish we knew more about OP’s second job, because I think it could help clarify which suggestions are more/less likely to help.

      1. Mookie*

        It’s not indisputable proof one way or the other, but if it is an issue of altering circadian rhythms as a response to the second job, body temperature can be a useful metric for distinguishing sleepiness from another species of fatigue. I know when I switched to or from graveyard shifts I wasn’t losing any additional sleep but I did get teeth-chattering cold right around the time I’d theretofore be going beddy-byes.

        1. TootsNYC*

          And so speaking with a doctor who specializes in sleep might provide our OP with tools to track and manipulate her circadian rhythms.

        2. Anxa*

          I don’t have any diagnosis of DSPS, ADHD, or hypothyroidism but I have major symptoms of all three.

          One day I’d love to find out if I’m always tired because I don’t have enough thyroid hormones, or if I’m always cold because my sleep phases are out of whack.

          1. Sarah*

            I have a medical condition where I can’t drink caffeine, and so I was ALWAYS. TIRED. at work. Especially after lunch. Turns out I have ADHD, and with the right medication I’m so much more productive. It’s an issue worth talking to a doctor about if you can, because the difference was night and day for me.

      2. Smiling*

        I would love to hear how OP solves this in the end. I have an employee who has 2 side jobs on the weekend, plus is the sole caregiver for not just immediate family, but also extended family as well. I’ve often caught this employee nodding off during the day. Although I’m not unsympathetic to the situation, I need employees to do their work while they are in the office and have to keep check on the employee to make sure the work is getting done.

      3. ThatGirl*

        re: blood sugar, I never straight up nodded off at work, but I did have plenty of “oh, lord, I could go for a nap” times … until I changed my eating habits a bit. More protein and fiber in the morning and a mid-afternoon snack with protein and fiber (fruit and yogurt, veggies and nuts, that sort of thing). Helps regulate your blood sugar and doesn’t give you that rise-crash from simple carbs.

        (Caffeine can certainly help too, I’m not opposing that at all.)

        1. TootsNYC*

          and another reason why consulting w/ a sleep expert could yield some great tools, even if it turns out there isn’t something medical underlying this.

    5. Artemesia*

      This. I started nodding off in meetings and an international trip to China was just a nightmare of jet lag — I never did bounce back on that one. At my regular check up blood screen it turned out I had almost no thyroid hormone. I just figured it was age — but it transformed the situation when I started taking thyroid meds.

      Your situation is probably boredom and being tired with so much extra work — but at least rule out medical issues.

      1. Julia*

        Sorry to be nitpicky here, but if the thyroid-stimulating hormone TSH I assume you’re talking about is almost zero, paradoxically that would indicate hyperthyroidism, whereas the higher the number (over the lab threshold of usually 2,5 these days) the less your thyroid works, so a 5 or so in TSH would mean hypothyroidism.
        I just felt like pointing this out because a lot of doctors don’t know how to interpret thyroid test results correctly and I was worried someone on the threshold might read this and get the wrong impression.
        So TSH over 2,5 – hypothyroidism/Hashimoto’s disease if antibodies are present or the ultrasound shows structural issues – you may feel tired.
        Many doctors also don’t test t3 and t4, which is a problem because often, TSH only doesn’t show the full picture. Your TSH may still be within range (and the range is being discussed at the moment), but your t3 and t4 might be bad and the doctor won’t know and won’t take your symptoms seriously unless they test for those as well as antibodies.

        And now I’ll get out of my soap box.

        1. fposte*

          Or they gave her a T4 test. That was part of my Graves’ diagnosis; they just use the TSH to check my maintenance.

        2. Book Lover*

          Let’s try not to give detailed medical advice here :(

          Artemesia actually accurately said on a regular check up screen it turned out she had almost no thyroid hormone – she didn’t say her TSH was almost zero.

          And unless the pituitary or hypothalamus aren’t working, the TSH is a perfectly adequate screen for thyroid disease, and regardless the numbers you are giving are incorrect for most labs. A TSH of 3 would typically not denote hypothyroid.

          And now that I’ve not followed my own recommendation not to give medical advice on AAM I’ll stop there.

        3. Anxa*

          T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine) are usually referred to as the thyroid hormones (calcitonin is also produced by the thyroid, but it’s role in the body is a lot different than the others).

          TSH isn’t really referred to as a thyroid hormone because it’s not produced in the thyroid (it’s an anterior pituitary hormone), but rather ACTS on the thyroid (hence the name Thyroid Stimulating Hormone). T3 and T4 don’t stimulate the thyroid, but go out and target a variety of parts of the body.

          FWIW, My lab tests for TSH several years ago came out on the borderline, but doctors just said it came back normal. Which was true, technically. I have heard that endocrinologists tend to favor a narrower ‘normal range.’

      2. many bells down*

        I lost my thyroid to cancer 6 years ago, and whenever I’ve had to go off my levothyroxine (for tests) I’m the opposite! Totally hyper and can’t focus on anything for more than 5 minutes at a time. I actually get a lot done because I can’t sit still, but it’s not a pleasant feeling.

        Ironically, both high AND low thyroid can cause fatigue or hyperactivity. When mine’s too high I have the problem you had at too low. I am just constantly in a fog of exhaustion.

    6. Kelly Green*

      I am a sleep professional – and LW#1 should go to a medical practioner and should not be taking medical advice (!) from anyone (including me) on this blog! There are already some potentially dangerous/uninformed recommendations in comments above.

      I think generally AMA respects professional boundaries (e.g. for lawyer, HR pros). I’d ask that we do the same for medical professionals.

      1. Kelly Green*

        Sorry, I meant in the comments below (can’t figure out the nesting) and I don’t mean to diminish other experiences. Many people have provided good exanples t with useful anecdotes that provide context for why this warrants evaluation!

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          Fair point. I have a central nervous system sleep disorder and have stuck to posting advice that’s good for anyone (reduce blue light, etc). It can be hard to get general practitioners to take sleep problems seriously if you haven’t ruled out obvious causes before asking to see a specialist.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’ve added something to the post suggesting the OP also talk to her doctor. But it’s also true that plenty of people get sleepy in the afternoons for reasons that aren’t medical, and if that turns out to be the case for her, she’ll still need advice on how to deal with it. Given that, I think it’s fine for people to offer advice in that regard as well (with the “talk to a doctor” caveat in place).

        1. Aveline*

          Always go to a doctor and rule out physical causes first. Insist on a full blood panel.

          After that: diet and movement.

          One non-medical thing I strongly recommend is to get out of your chair and move at least once every 1/2 hour – even if all you are doing is marching in place for 3 minutes.

          Modern office desk jobs are horrible for sleepiness b/c we just don’t move enough.

          1. Ramona Flowers*

            Sorry to nitpick but bloods alone won’t rule out sleep disorders – you need a CPAP to test for OSA and there are other tests for neurological sleep disorders.

            1. Aveline*

              Oh, I didn’t mean those as either or. I meant to get your blood work done and go get a sleep analysis.

              We’re not disagreeing here

          2. Allison*

            Yes! I “listen” to my Fitbit and get up and move every hour, and I find it really helps to keep my blood flowing throughout the day. If OP needs to “man” the desk, maybe they could figure out a way to move a little bit at the desk, even if it’s just pacing or something.

            1. Temperance*

              OT, but is there a way to program it to tell you to move every hour? Otherwise, I forget. Really sad but true.

              1. SpEd Teacher*

                Go to the hourly activity section (click the tile with the stick figure), settings, and check “reminders to move”.

                I have the Blaze, if that makes any difference, but mine buzzes me every hour, 10 minutes before the end of the hour, of my goal window if I haven’t hit my 250 steps.

                1. Astor*

                  I think it’s also just the newer wristbands so, for example, the Fitbit Flex 2 has the reminders but the Fitbit Flex (original) does not.

                  I also love this feature. I found that the software/computer versions of this didn’t work for me, because I’d be mad at the interruption to my day. But the buzz ends up being the perfect level of reminder for me.

                2. many bells down*

                  I love that thing too; I get so focused on whatever I’m doing that I’ll realize I’ve been sitting for hours. I had a Jawbone UP3 before, and it only gave me phone notifications which were way too easy to ignore. I only wish I could set it to a higher number of steps per hour; 250 doesn’t get me to my step goal and I like the little cheer it gives you when you hit your mark.

        2. Allison*

          I used to get sleepy in the middle of the day, especially during my first internship, when I didn’t drink caffeine. Now, I don’t advocate for caffeine dependency, but I see nothing wrong with a small pick-me-up when you need a little boost to get through the next few hours, even if it’s tea or something.

      3. Bee Eye LL*

        Dang y’all! I didn’t intend for this to turn into a medical discussion. Lots of personal stories here, though, and that’s good. Kelly is right, though – let your doctor tell you what to do, not some message board poster. Any time your body starts doing things that don’t make sense, it’s worth a checkup.

    7. Cazkiwi*

      When this started happening to me 5 years ago… Falling asleep or struggling to stay awake… I was extremely confused too……It turned out to be Diabetes T2 for me. (After weightloss and lifestyle change last year, I have it fully in control and normal blood sugars again now tho)

    8. ceiswyn*

      I stopped having to have micronaps at work when I started taking iron supplements. Turns out I’m not naturally quite THAT pale :)

    9. Allie*

      I’m going to add that seeing a doctor regularly is never a bad idea. My friend went in for a routine physical with no complaints because her mom was bugging her about it and “hey, that mole looks a little funny” and guess what? Skin cancer caught early, meaning she ended up totally fine. My friend never tans or goes out in the sun and uses sunscreen obsessively so it wasn’t even kind of on her radar.

    10. Aveline*

      Sleep issues are often a sign of liver or kidney issues. If caught early, then usually there is no permanent damage and easy management.

      1. Aveline*

        Adding this in here not to give medical advice, just to point out that there are sleep issues caused by insufficient sleep at night and there are sleep issues caused by other system issues. Be sure to get BOTH checked out.

    11. GermanGirl*

      In addition to talking to your doctor, the following three things helped me most:
      1) no blue light for an hour before sleep (I use an app called twilight on my phone so I can still read in bed)
      2) strategically drinking coffee – caffeine works different for everybody but for me it really kicks in 3-4 hours after drinking it, so when I noticed I was getting tired after lunch the key change for me was to drink coffee around 10am instead of after lunch. Find out your optimal caffeine rhythm and stick to it.
      3) I know this might be impossible with some jobs but if you can, try to stick to within an hour of your weekday bedtime and wake up time on the weekends so you don’t get jetlag on monday.

    12. Elizabeth West*

      Agreed—I had this problem when my thyroid started going bad. I would struggle with fatigue at work and then go home and sleep for hours. A second job can for sure wear you out, and I tried having one shortly before the illness commenced, but it was really hard even in hindsight to tell whether one or the other caused it.

    13. Stranger than fiction*

      I’ve fought fatigue for years and years now and every year my doctor does bloodwork and finds nothing. I do however wake up a couple times a night, so surely that’s a factor, but sleep aids don’t agree with me and give me a hangover of sorts. But yes, Op should definitely check. I’m just saying sometimes they can’t find anything wrong and end up labeling you with chronic fatigue. I used to do the head nod at work (almost falling asleep) and it’s horrible. Getting up and taking a walk outside helps if that’s possible. The only thing that saved me is I happen to take a medication now for something unrelated that just happens to have a slight stimulant effect, which gets me through the work day, but I still crash shortly after I get home.

    14. Cedrus Libani*

      Yep. From high school through my late 20s, I don’t think I made it through a single class or meeting without at least one micro-sleep. I got a couple talking-to’s about it, but generally it was laughed off, and I thought it was a mild personal quirk. Turns out, I am a sad pile of autoimmune diseases, and that was a symptom. Didn’t realize it until I got diagnosed and treated for a different disease, and the micro-sleeps went away.

      If it’s just a sleep hygiene issue, I personally swear by blue-light blocking glasses. I’m somewhat night-shifted by nature, and I have a really hard time falling asleep if I’ve been exposed to bright lights (e.g. computer screens) before bed. Don’t buy the expensive custom-made ones; orange glasses sold as laser safety goggles work just as well, and can be found on Amazon for ~$10. I wear them for an hour or so before bed, and it makes a big difference.

    15. Jenna*

      My sleepiness during the day went away once I was diagnosed celiac and cut gluten out of my diet. Turns out my body wasn’t digesting a lot of things properly and once that was under control a number of annoying things cleared up.
      It could be a number of things besides the second job, though a second job could certainly contribute.

  2. TheListofJericho*

    LW #3, this sounds like the beginnings of a scam. I wouldn’t be surprised if they ask you for a finder’s fee or fee for a background check after your completion of the assessment. At any point, did the assessment ask for a SSN, credit card number or checking account number? Make sure the recruiter is legit (read Yelp reviews and check with your Better Business Bureau) before engaging with them.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Seriously what are the doing with 300 multiple choice questions? It’s almost double the number of questions on the SAT. I don’t know if it’s a scam, but it sure sounds like a shady recruiter.

      1. Greg M.*

        I remember applying for The Source (used to be Radio Shack in Canada) and they had this ridiculous test that was like 100 questions asking things like if you get into fights or like to drink beer. I thought that was crazy but 300?

        1. Alter_ego*

          When I applied to michaels (arts and crafts store, morning sure if they’re in Canada or not) I filled out maybe the same questionnaire. It was I think 150 or 200 questions, and sooooooo many were focused on drug or alcohol behavior. The question I remember most distinctly was “it is better to come to work drunk, rather than high” where you just had to chose on a 1-10 scale of agree to disagree. So neither wasn’t an option, you had to choose drunk or high. I forget what I chose, but it must have been the wrong answer, because I didn’t ever get called back after that.

          1. Aveline*

            Drunk. It’s legal. High is not.

            I also did that stupid quiz many years ago (before law school). All I wanted was a part time job.

            1. Alton*

              It’s an interesting distinction, though, because while “high” usually means using illegal drugs, that’s not always the case. If someone lives in a state where medical or recreational marijuana is legal, for example, they may not be breaking the law. And being drunk could involve breaking the law if you’re underage. It can also be possible to get “high” off legal substances unintentionally.

              That’s why I hate quizzes like that, because a lot of times they deal in absolutes and don’t allow for any context. And I don’t know, certainly there are some out there who don’t have the common sense to realize that it’s a red flag to say they’d go to work drunk, but I feel like questions like these are a lot more likely to trip up people who have stronger critical thinking skills and who prefer to consider different variables. There’s not really a “wrong” answer to a question like this because either way, you have to weigh out different factors based on incomplete information.

              1. many bells down*

                I have legitimately prescribed medications that make me high as a kite. Fortunately, they’re not something I have to take every day. I might be able to work while on them but I wouldn’t try to drive!

            2. Dinosaur*

              Huh, no wonder I didn’t get hired at Jack in the Box in high school. I would have answered “disagree” meaning “no, it isn’t better to show up drunk because they’re both unacceptable”.

            3. Alter_ego*

              I think that’s what I ultimately settled in, but it was a lie. I mean, I don’t drink or do drugs, there is no risk of mycoming to work under the influence of any substance, but as long as it was weed and not like, lsd or meth, I think you’d probably more effective, or at least less disruptive if you were high rather than drunk.

            4. Marty*

              Add in the totally innocuous drugs that can deer you high (caffeine anyone) and high is probably preferable…

          2. Dankar*

            I remember that! Wasn’t there also a short essay space to write about what kinds of crafts you were passionate about?

            I mean, yeah, I love crafting–that’s why I’m looking at Michael’s in the first place. But what I was really passionate about as a high schooler was just having a job that paid me money.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            I have literally walked out of a place when filling out an application because of that stupid crap. I turned it back in and said, “I’m sorry; I don’t think this place is a good fit for me.” It bugs me the same way it bugs me when Walmart assumes I shoplifted something because the cashier didn’t put it in a bag.

        2. Allison*

          I hated those stupid personality tests for retail jobs. I don’t think I ever passed, every minimum wage job I managed to get didn’t require one. Although I did fill one out for The Body Shop and then I went in to pick some things up, and the cashier was like “hey, you applied here, I was going to give you a call” but I’d already gotten a job. Pretty sure it was despite my test score, since I shopped there all the time.

          1. Peter the Bubblehead*

            When I joined the Navy and volunteered for submarines, every volunteer has to complete a psyche exam of 100 questions. In reality, it is actually 25 questions asked four differently worded ways to make sure the answers are consistent and the volunteer is not ‘cheating’ in some fashion.
            We all like to joke that the results for true submariners always show the same thing. It simply confirms we’re already insane.

            1. Anxa*

              Yeah, this is probably a big reason why I failed those personality tests for jobs.

              I found a lot of similar questions to be asking different things, and so my answers were different. Never occurred to me that that would look like cheating or not paying attention. I thought I was paying MORE attention.

        3. Amy*

          I took a similar test at one of my first job interviews out of college, it was personality/ basic skills test. The place was looking for investment advisors, they didn’t care if you had no experience they basically wanted you to pull everyone you knew in as clients.

          1. Chloe Silverado*

            Pretty sure I did the same assessment for the same company. I got uncomfortable when they asked for a list. Personally, I’d rather cold call for weeks then hand over a list of my friends and family’s names and contact info.

      2. Melissa*

        I don’t know what kind of positions LW3 is looking at, but manual labor and retail positions seem to love wasting applicants’ time with ridiculously long “assessments.” I recall helping someone apply as a cashier to Kmart and it involved tons of questions and a VR-like customer service simulation. So ridiculous.

        1. Mookie*

          I have the luxury — and many legitimately don’t — of avoiding any retail or service chain that uses those simulations and trick-question ‘ethics’ tests during the hiring process. One unemployed summer I spent a few days applying to every chain in my region just to see whether or not they treat applicants like crap and created for myself and family a masterlist (augmented by where and towards what issues they make political contributions, are they union-friendly, and so forth). It was infuriating.

          1. Anxa*

            This most certainly effects whether or not a look on the company favorably. I’ve switched grocers over Taleo applications. I have chosen to patronize another because they didn’t use personality tests.

            IMO it’s a hugely overlooked component of long-term unemployment and I cannot believe our labor departments and employment agencies are not addressing how huge an impact this has.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Yeah, when my dad was looking for work, I helped him with online applications and some of them were absolutely ridiculous.

          1. many bells down*

            I’m looking for some part-time work right now and some of these applications are nuts. I’m not willing to re-enter ALL my information 4 different ways just for 15 hours a week.

        3. Jessesgirl72*

          She says it was for a bank. Not normally the kind of place where they like to waste your time so much.

          1. Katelyn*

            While banks may not waste their customer’s time, they have no problem wasting employee time. I can’t even begin to list the number of annual trainings I have taken that are in no way applicable to my back office role, or that are only applicable in one jurisdiction when I live an ocean away from that jurisdiction in another country. And the internal surveys and the annual procedure sign-offs, and and and

          2. Elsajeni*

            My impression is that the big retail banks treat their tellers basically the same way big retail chains treat cashiers, so I don’t think this sort of time-wasting “assessment” is that unusual; it’s mostly weird that they’re asking her to do it again, two years after she originally applied to a teller role, and refusing to say why.

      3. Valor*

        I applied to work for ICE once, a few years ago, and there were literally hundreds upon hundreds of questions.
        They asked me if I’d ever competed in horsemanship events with a horse I’d raised myself or rebuilt a vintage car, among other things.

        1. CMart*

          Deep in my heart of hearts I’m hoping some lonely ICE home office agent was just lonely after a relocation and was looking for friends, and snuck in those hobby questions to screen for potential work buddies.

            1. JustaTech*

              Oh, and here I was thinking that if you answered “yes, I raise and train my own horses” they’d be like “Sweet! One for the Montana border!”
              Riding horses and building cars are a weird place to check for socieo-economic class. In my life the people I’ve known who rode (as adults) were either crazy rich or ranch hands. And cars, that could be my buddy who’s first car was the Thunderbird he built from junkyard parts because that’s all he could afford, or my dad’s friend who was rebuilding a Jaguar E-type.

              1. Valor*

                It was the consistency of the examples that made me feel that way. Every example hobby or skill was something that was either predominantly white or expensive- for instance, there were questions about sports that mentioned rugby and lacrosse, not more common sports like football and basketball. Like old-school SAT questions.

          1. Junior Dev*

            I had to take an IQ test in high school to see if I qualified for an IEP and the social worker who administered it eventually admitted she was drawing out the process to avoid going back to her boring regular work.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Application procedures for federal law enforcement jobs are insane. They’re even worse than the tests for local stuff. I haven’t done a federal LEO assessment, but my ex went through it for an FBI application. He ended up with a different agency, but it was basically the same process.

          The training was pretty awesome, though. I visited him at FLETC (the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia) and he gave me a tour of the campus. There was this tactical simulation area set up like a typical office building (no ceiling, just walls) and we pretended to have a shoot-out in it, haha. They also train U.S. marshals and Secret Service there.

        3. blackcat*

          ICE & boarder control ask all sorts of weird questions to catch possible cartel affiliations. I doubt they work, but those agencies are must susceptible to having would-be criminals apply for jobs.

      4. The Final Pam*

        I applied for several retail jobs while in college / just out of college and I definitely had to fill something like this out for some of them.

      5. Chalupa Batman*

        My husband managed at Blockbuster for a few years right before they went out of business, and they required one of these ridiculous questionnaires. He said the results were almost useless, but it would automatically weed out people that were deemed unfit by some kind of unknown algorithm before the manager even saw the apps. The questions were basically “do you steal” and “are you nice to people” rephrased about 50 different ways. It was required by corporate, and I’m sure it wasn’t cheap, so that says something about the trouble they had managing their money. But at least those applicants always knew what job they were applying for.

    2. Jeanne*

      I am also wondering how OP knows the person is a recruiter at the bank. Email signature, email address, etc? If it seems fishy it probably is. Be sure they work for the bank. If they work for a recruiting agency, not directly for the bank, skip it. 300 questions? What could they possibly want to know? I can’t imagine why a job as a teller needs to know your favorite color, shoe size, and if you hate your mother.

    3. Daria Grace*

      How long they’ve taken also makes it seem like a scam. I’ve occasionally had calls from employers I applied with 3 months ago, but never anything close to two years. Unless you have very specific skills they only need to hire for very rarely (in which case I assume they would have given you a bit more detail), it’s illogical that they’d wait two years given how much people’s interests and availability could change in that time.

      It could just be an awkward choice of wording, but that they say they got the resume from a colleague seems a bit odd unless you know someone who works closely with them. Surely resumes would be stored in their database, not turn up in the possession of a random colleague two years after applying.

    4. Casuan*

      OP3: Ditto x the number of comments that mirror TheListofJericho’s scam admonishment & warning signs. Also ditto those who say after two years this is all quite dodgy.

      :::curious as to what some of the questions are:::

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        Yes, please tell us about the questions. Are we talking a knowledge test or personality nonsense?

        1. OP3*

          This was purely a personality assessment… 150 of the questions was for me to rate personality traits on a scale of 1-5. It was unbelievable how much time I had to spend looking at a thesaurus for that.

          1. Jeanne*

            You shouldn’t need a thesaurus to answer questions for a teller position. These people are insane. Let’s use all the big words we can think of in our worthless test.

    5. Gen*

      Having worked for banks temp-to-perm that sounds like a recruiter who likes to have a stock of possible applicants for roles that don’t exist yet. Given the time scales I wouldn’t bother

    6. OP3*

      Turned out it was not a scam but a recruiter scraping the bottom of the barrel for an out of town position. I did ensure this was a legitimate recruiter (another hour of my time wasted).

      The only actual personal information the assessment asked for was my name and email… but if it had been a scam, they surely have enough behavioural information to mimic me.

      1. Aveline*

        “out of town”

        Why didn’t they say that first? If you didn’t want to move, they were wasting your time and theirs.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          Maybe they were hoping the OP would consider it more if she’d already sunk a bunch of time into it? I don’t know – sounds like a sneaky thing to do either way. Or, at best, some rookie tactics.

        2. OP 3*

          Worst thing is that it isn’t even just an ‘out of town’ position…
          It is a part-time bank teller position that pays minimum wage – not even guaranteed hours! To make it worse, the town is a SEVERAL hour drive away from where I live!
          I don’t even think they looked at my outdated resume; if they had they would’ve seen I lived very far away and I already had a full time position.

      2. Casuan*

        OP3, I’m glad you had a relatively successful conclusion to your post. Thanks for letting us know!

        I’m not too familiar with how recruiting works. Did this recruiter work for the bank? If so, would the bank have given the recruiter a carte blanche to “scrape the bottom of the barrel” [to quote the OP]?

    7. Jonathan T.*


      It never ceases to amaze me how in the world people who can’t communicate effectively get hired to be “talent acquisition specialists.” Many of these people are vague and/or can’t communicate, but yet want detailed and often times personal information about the talent they are hoping to acquire. Several of these people have contacted me via phone and e-mail and many fumble their words during messages or don’t leave messages at all, this leaves a bad taste in my mouth about wanting to deal with these companies.

      1. Risha*

        I’ve been baffled for years by the number of recruiters who’ve contacted me who can’t seem to construct a sentence in English. Frankly, if I ever got an email from one with a salutation, closing, multiple paragraphs, and proper spelling and grammar throughout, I’d probably assume it was a scam.

      2. Anonymous Commenter #839*


        The recruiter at my company is *always* as terse as the one who LW #3 dealt with. And then TPTB wonder why they have a hard time finding good candidates.

  3. Anne*

    I also started falling asleep at my office job after I started taking on extra freelancing work a few years ago, so that seems the most likely reason for #1’s problem. But if your health insurance covers it, this would be an excellent time to get checked out for sleep apnea, which can also cause daytime sleepiness. I found that as I fell asleep/woke up at work back in 2011, I was letting out a little strangled snore, so that’s what finally got me out to the doctor and diagnosed, as neither my husband nor I had noticed anything off about my sleep or breathing at night.

  4. Daria Grace*

    OP2, It’s not realistic to cut out all face to face discussion. However, can some of the things you need to discuss with her be dealt with via email or instant messenger? It’s possible she would find that less confronting

    1. LW2*

      I’ve been sending her tasks and info via email. It’s just extremely awkward because our offices share a wall, and there are only a few of us to start with. Our customers (faculty members and students) have started commenting on the tension they feel when they come into the office.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        I’m sorry, LW2; what’s happening in your family is hard enough, and your colleague (who is understandably still grieving) is causing this to be an even bigger issue–it’s hardly as though your brother got sick AT her. I hope Alison’s advice is helpful, and in the meantime, you have my sympathies. I hope things get better soon.

      2. Allie*

        If customers are commenting on it, someone needs to step in. Grief is one thing, but you are being treated badly in a hard time when you did nothing wrong.

        1. PatPat*

          I agree. The grieving woman’s behavior is completely unacceptable and unprofessional and needs to stop. Just because she’s grieving is no excuse for her being rude and obstructing the normal course of business.

      3. Biff*

        Hmmm, I wonder if some management of other’s expectations is in order. Something like “Unfortunately, a colleague has recently experienced a death in the family, and one of my own family members has fallen ill with a similar disease. In a close-knit group like this, it’s been heavy going. In the meantime, we’re still very dedicated to sorting out your issue with transcripts. Let me help.”

        I’d give it a few weeks of being awkward. Really I would. Just manage expectations. She may very well feel a lot better once you’ve acknowledged that it is a very trying time for all of you.

        1. SignalLost*

          Depending on the office volume, that’s really not practical, though. Plus I would be embarrassed to be informed of something like that, as a client – what do you say? I would get pretty caught up in that.

          Unfortunately, I don’t think the colleague is being reasonable; grief or no grief, it’s hard for me to read stopping speaking to OP (and creating such tension) as a really terrible (for colleague) sort of competitiveness. I know grief does weird things to people, and it really may just hit too close to home, but … managing your grief in that fashion isn’t appropriate in the workplace.

          1. Biff*

            Hmmm, I was thinking that they had low traffic with people they worked with regularly. If it is higher traffic/less close clients, perhaps just saying “I’m so sorry, there’s been some very difficult news” to those who comment on the tension in the office would suffice.

            1. LW2*

              Thanks, everyone. When I say customers, I mean mainly our faculty and students, most of which we all have a good relationship. Most of them already know the situation for both me and my employee (we have a large department, but still have that “everyone knows everyone’s business” culture). It’s really the awkwardness that people tend to comment on.

              1. Biff*

                If they already know the situation, it’s sort of odd for them to comment. Almost rude, honestly. Or, it may be that they are trying to express concern and it is coming out awkwardly. Either way, this info really changes the script for me.

                Them: Gosh, things seem awfully tense.
                You: I appreciate your concern. It really has been difficult but we’ll get past it in due time.

                1. LW2*

                  Biff, I don’t think the people commenting are being rude. It’s more of a surprised vibe when they witness it. For example, the other day, she made a show of saying hello to everyone in the room except me as she walked by, and someone asked if she was mad at me.

                2. Biff*


                  Wow. That is odd. I can see how that might be strange to witness. Others have better advice here regarding how she’s treating you, but I think that setting expectations with your clients will help give her needed space.

                3. Turtle Candle*

                  Ooh. That’s… pretty extreme. I was envisioning her keeping interactions minimal, which I’m sympathetic to, but saying hello to everyone except you in a way that’s visible to visitors? That’s pretty extreme. I think you probably do need to say something, per Alison’s suggestion. This is beyond opting out of office chitchat. This is the cut direct, and in public, and it’s really not tenable, IMO.

                  (And while I’m sympathetic to her pain, it remains true that you are also presumably in pain due to your brother’s illness. You both deserve support and sympathy.)

          2. Stranger than fiction*

            Am I the only negative nellie here that thinks the coworker might be miffed (in some weird post trauma type way) that the focus/attention is now on the Op and not her?

            1. Biff*

              I wouldn’t say you are wrong, but I think it’s more like there’s only so much slack to go around and a person who would rightly expect slack right now isn’t getting enough (probably neither of them are getting enough.)

              Letter Writer, is there any reason you can’t take on a temporary worker to get your department enough breathing room?

              1. LW2*

                I wish! We’re actually in the process of hiring a new staff member (to replace another person who recently left), but ours is a state institution with all the bureaucracy that comes with it. It’s taking forever! The work load hasn’t been a problem so much, and I can’t require her to go on leave anyway.

          3. Marty*

            The office volume problem is unavoidable, after all, sending her on leave or replacing her won’t fix it at least in the short term. This is one of those “an employee was hit by a bus kind of situations.

            I wonder if you could bring in someone from your EAP to help. It sounds like this needs someone who is good a empathetic communication to help you to get to the bottom of it. You also might want some kind of agreement that you won’t dump on each other. (Like the circles of support, you can dump out, but not in)

        2. Taylor Swift*

          I think that would make an already awkward situation even more awkward. It’s just TMI for a client or customer.

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      There’s a limit to how much this behavior needs to be tolerated. If she can’t have civil conversations as necessary to do work, and is actively being hostile and frosty, she’s a liability and she’s not fulfilling the requirements of her job. I would personally not accommodate her beyond Alison’s sample script, and if she’s unwilling to interact at all, I’d make it clear that such behavior makes it impossible to continue employing her.

      1. fposte*

        I don’t think we know she’s being actively hostile and frosty, though; we just know she’s being avoidant. I agree that she’s not meeting the necessary standard and that Alison’s script is a good one; I just don’t think her actions necessarily map onto the belligerence you’re describing there.

        1. Taylor Swift*

          I don’t know if the Scientist’s attitude is becoming more prevalent here or I’m just becoming more sensitive, but the lack of room for any kind of grey area or even empathy in the comments here is really driving me away lately. It’s a bummer.

          1. Jeanne*

            We should always have empathy. It bothers me that we are losing it everywhere (not just here).

      2. LW2*

        I wouldn’t call it belligerent. Frosty maybe. I’ve been trying to give her space, but I do like Alison’s script. I’ll probably use it in the next couple days. I don’t think she realizes how far she’s taken it.

        1. lawyerkate*

          I must be the Professor Coldheart of the commenters, because there is something about this that pings my outrage meter.

          Let me make sure I understand. This worker is upset with YOU and acting out in the workplace because YOUR family member has an illness similar to what claimed the life of her family member?

          I just… does she have a habit of making everything about her?

          1. LW2*

            Lawyerkate, thanks for your comment. Your “outrage meter” made me giggle. To answer your question, yeah, she’s a bit of a drama llama.

          2. PlainJane*

            I had the same reaction. I’m sympathetic to anyone who is grieving, but this seems ridiculous and cruel. Grieving doesn’t give you the right to mistreat others.

      3. LizM*

        I don’t know that it’s necessary to raise her leaving the company the first time this is discussed. That seems a little extreme. She may honestly not realize how this is perceived by others, and Alison’s script may be enough to prompt the needed change. Raising the possibility of firing in the first discussion seems cold.

  5. Kas*

    #1, it might seem counter-intuitive, but you could try cutting down on caffeine. That way your body won’t depend on it to stay awake; if you do get sleepy for some other reason, a coffee will get you through it faster and for longer.

    1. Mike C.*

      Make sure you have other fluids instead. A good friend of mine did that in the lead up to the birth of his second kid, and thought the headaches were signs of caffeine withdrawal. Nope, it was dehydration.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        But it also is the #1 thing for caffeine withdrawal.

        The key is that withdrawal headaches only last a week or so.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          RIght, I think the point is to be extra sure to hydrate since the symptoms overlap and might mask each other.

      2. k*

        Good point. I drink my coffee and tea mostly for the caffeine, so if I cut back I probably wouldn’t think to replace it with water or another drink.

        And bonus points, if OP drinks more water she’ll also have the increase in bathroom breaks to keep her awake ;)

        1. CMart*

          This is how I’m staying awake at work right now thanks to having an infant at home who only lets me sleep in 45 minute bursts. Chugging ALL THE WATER.

          I then go to the far away bathroom for my super frequent trips. It gets me moving, I walk more quickly to mitigate the guilt of being away from my desk for “so long”, and it takes me by the windows so I get some sun on my face/cold air draft on my skin. By the time I’m back to my desk I have a good 10-15 minutes of actual wakefulness and focus that I try to make the most of.

          1. Workaholic*

            I try taking the “scenic route” to the bathrooms. Down 6 flights of stairs which opens to the parking lot, around to the front entrance, use first floor bathrooms, then back up the stairs. Or the elevator. Sadly i don’t do this nearly enough.

    2. Daria Grace*

      It’s worth a try. I dramatically cut back my coffee consumption for other reasons. The cutting it out wasn’t fun but a positive impact has been when I do occasionally have one now the impact is so much stronger than it used to be

  6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Oof, OP#4, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. If you can, I think your best option is to handle this exclusively through your attorney (who’ll likely have to subpoena the employer’s records for this information). I think this is a situation where you keeping your distance from your estranged husband’s employer is the best way to protect yourself, avoid getting him fired, and preserve information for your divorce proceedings. But this sounds messy and awful, and I’m sorry.

    1. eplawyer*

      Yes. I routinely subpoena employment records in a case. The employer will respond to a court subpoena and it avoids making you look vindicative.

  7. Misclassified*

    #4 If your attorney needs it for the case, he’d likely request it as part of the discovery (or disclosure if in Britain, which I suspect by the use of “go on a holiday”) process, whether asking your husband to disclose it or asking the employer to disclose it through some non-party procedure such as a subpoena. It’s best to leave legal maneuvering to the attorneys.

    1. Mookie*

      It’d be interesting to know under what circumstances, outside of criminal investigation, an acting civil servant’s personnel files could be accessed by or disclosed to a third party.

      1. Caro in the UK*

        Yes, I wondered this, I would have thought that they’d need a warrant for it. But I’m not a lawyer, so I certainly couldn’t say for sure.

        What I would say to the OP is that if this information is something that your lawyer can legally obtain, then allow them to do so. That’s what you’re paying them for.

        If this isn’t something that can only be obtained at the discretion of your husband’s employer, then I think realistically there’s a strong chance that they’re not going to want to do it. It would probably put them in too risky of a HR position to be disclosing current employees personnel files unless they were legally obliged to do so.

        With that in mind, it would be worth thinking about what you really hope to achieve by contacting his employer. If they are legally bound to disclose this information, then your lawyer will get it, but if they’re not, then you contacting them is unlikely to induce them to do so. All it’s really going to do is get your husband in (potentially serious) trouble at work. This might feel like wonderful karma, but could hurt your case when your divorce goes to court. So I’d try to avoid getting involved and let the lawyers do their best for you.

        I really hope it works out well for you though, I’m sorry your having to go through this.

        1. Caro in the UK*

          Argh! I should have said “if this IS something that can only be obtained at the discretion of your husband’s employer”

        2. Aveline*

          “need a warrant for it”

          FYI, warrants are for people. You mean a subpoena.

          In the US, the lawyer could subpoena the records, but they may still decline. Her attorney will likely have to get a court order.

          In the US, government employment records are disclosable in a divorce proceeding. There’s a procedure for it.

          1. Aveline*

            PS to other attorneys: Yes, I know the distinction between warrant and subpoena is a bit more nuanced than that.

            1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

              I was trying to frame something similarly layperson friendly – I think you got the basics just fine. And, of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if the UK version is more like a warrant – discovery standards in the US are quite broad compared to most of Europe, I believe.

              1. Aveline*

                Yep. I hope a U.K. attorney comes in because my suspicion is this person is somewhere in the UK

                1. Discordia Angel Jones*

                  Gonna chime in to this nest.

                  I do not specialise in Family Law, but I am a UK qualified and practising lawyer.

                  OP4 – As part of the divorce proceedings, if contested or if a claim for maintenance or financial support is involved, your husband will have to disclose all financial information, and I’m not aware of the facts in your case, but I’m also not sure that whether your husband being granted compassionate leave from work and then going on holiday with another woman really counts as financial information, or revelant information. You can always get your lawyer to request the information, but short of the Court making an Order that this information be released, your husband’s employer is not obliged to share this information. If both of you are lawyered up, get your lawyer to speak to his. In any event, OP4, I’m sorry this has happened to you.

                  There is a process similar to “subpoena” in the UK – the most similar one I can think of is a request for Specific Disclosure and there are more involved processes in criminal law (which I also don’t practice).

                  It’s also worth noting that in the UK you don’t need to have a lengthy Court process to get a divorce, sometimes it’s essentially a rubber stamping process.

                2. Noah*

                  In the US, you don’t need a court order to serve a subpoena. You might need one if they refuse to comply, though. But, technically, the party being subpoenaed has to either comply or move to quash the subpoena.

          2. Graciosa*

            I suppose an employer could go fight the subpoena, but I don’t think any of mine would have bothered if the request is only for one employee’s records. It is extremely likely to be upheld, and the effort is hardly worth it.

            Real disputes about record production tend to be arguments about whether the request is overbroad (“Every record ever created in any media by your Fortune 50 company since 1992”) or unduly burdensome. One employment file is next to nothing.

            Also, even these disputes tend to be resolved by the attorneys themselves informally without having to go to court.

            Other commenters are right that the OP can leave this to the attorney. This is one of those things that a client may perceive as confusing or scary although for the attorney it’s just a matter of routine.

      2. Brett*

        In the US, it depends on what is considered a personnel record.

        It varies from state to state, but this particular record, records of hours worked, are almost always considered open records. That means you can tell when an employee took leave, but not the type of leave taken (which is confidential in most states and not open by default in others). The interesting part here is that salaried exempt public employees often only have a record of leave taken, not of hours worked.

      3. CanAnon*

        I’ve never thought to ask about leave, but in the Canadian public service divorce proceedings have often been used in my training as an example of “you don’t own your email, it’s a matter of public record, and they could be used against you”.

    2. Aveline*

      I don’t know about the UK, but I’m a US attorney. This type of record would have to be “certified” in order to be admissible. Very few lay persons ever get the process right.

      As you said, leave legal maneuverings to your counsel.

      1. Brett*

        I’m actually curious how that could work in this case if the husband’s time sheet records are considered public records (as a financial transaction). In my state, only vital records and property records can carry a certification and other public records cannot be notarized. Would it have to be certified by the custodian of records for open records requests for that jurisdiction and department?

        1. Miss Betty*

          We request medical and employment records all the time. We do send a certification for the custodian of revords, who (usually) signs it and sends it back with the records. (Sometimes they forget to sign it but we still get the records.)

        2. Noah*

          That’s a different kind of certification. In this context, it just means a declaration saying “these are what the records are, and they are what they purport to be.” If you can’t get that declaration for some reason, you can typically take the deposition of somebody from the agency or company to certify that the records are what they are.

    3. CanCan*

      Not sure what country the OP is in, but where I am, the employer would likely be prohibited by privacy laws from disclosing any information (or at least any useful information). Such disclosure would only be permitted in limited circumstances (such as a criminal investigation) or by a court order (and the employer may or may not oppose such an order being granted).

      NB: I’m a government lawyer, and we’ve recently required someone to get a court order for the release of records protected by privacy (even though we had no interest in protecting this person’s privacy – it wasn’t an employee, but we do have a legal obligation to do so).

  8. Jeanne*

    For #1, I wonder if it’s worth being somewhat upfront with your manager. Something like “This is a little embarrassing. I have found during my down time that I tend to get a little sleepy but I know it’s not appropriate to fall asleep. Do you have anything else you would like me to work on/ Could I help with X duty/ May I read a book? (You know best what to ask.)

    I guess I might advise job searching also. If you don’t have enough to do and you have had to take a second job for money, I would at least find out if you could get a different job that kept you busy and paid enough. You never know what you might find.

    1. Casuan*

      I agree that OP1 should talk with her manager & ask if there are other tasks she can take on, although I don’t think she should word the request to say she’s sleepy. Just give the time-management report & ask if there are additional duties for which she can be responsible.

      If the reply is no, if possible slow down a little on what work you do have, several times per day take a little tour of the reception area & make certain it is “show ready,” ask your colleagues if you can help, create helpful phone lists or work on an SOP for reception [the idea being that if the receptionist was out & a temp is filling in, what does the temp need to know to do your daily tasks?] or whatever else you can think of.

      OP, if you can have more work to do at this job, it will help you to narrow down the cause of your sleepiness. Please do see your physician as well as there are many conditions that begin with little changes [like being sleepy] & with early diagnosis can be easily cured or treated.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Though, I’d suggest that the OP also suggest a pay bump to go along with those extra duties.

    2. Ginny*

      If they can’t give you any work to do, you might ask what other kinds of discreet occupation would be all right. Knitting, reading, drawing, solving puzzles like crossword or Sudoku. Something that involves pen and paper is often fine because it looks like working.

      When I was on night shift reception I had to come up with non-work projects to do to keep me awake, and if they really are saying they can’t give you anything else to do, something like this should be okay as long as the optics aren’t bad for the office.

      1. Ashie*

        Yeah, I was going to suggest something that will keep her brain active. I’ve recently taken up crochet and I find myself very mentally invested when I’m working on a project, even late at night.

      2. k*

        Things like Sudoku and brain-games are great because they can be done online. Since OP is in the reception area they might not want visitors seeing her with knitting needles, but will be none-the-wiser if she’s just looking at her computer screen. There are also options for reading full length novels online, many of them free.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I used to just write and edit when I had downtime. I got in trouble at OldExJob for going online when I had nothing else to do, so I brought a flash drive in and worked on my own stuff at my desk. I wrote a ton of content articles at work (it was a second job). I would just print my source material into a PDF at home and access it from the drive instead of going online. Of course, when the phone rang or anyone needed me, I took care of that first, but in the late afternoons after the FedEx pickup, I’d have two hours of sheer boredom. Since I had to stay at the desk, and the office activity died off at that point, I would often feel sleepy if I didn’t have anything to do.

          YMMV on this; our IT guy didn’t care what I did because he knew how bored I was and that I was careful about viruses, but some places won’t let you plug a drive into the work computer. And you might not be able to openly work on other work. I sneaked it; my boss never looked.
          At NewExjob, they didn’t care if we went online, and my bosses even gave me permission to work on homework during downtime.

        2. TootsNYC*

          or learning stuff–programming, better skills at Office applications, etc.

          Podcasts w/ discreet ear buds…

        3. Lily Rowan*

          In the 90s, I had a temp job as a secondary receptionist in a place where everyone had direct phone lines. So I was sitting by the elevator not at the main floor, with very few phone calls. I don’t think the computer even had internet. So I was assuming that the regular person in that job had more to do, and it wasn’t worth training me on the other stuff… until I opened the credenza, and found it FULL of romance novels! That is still the most ridiculous full-time job I’ve ever come across.

        4. LizM*

          Your library may have ebooks. I read them on an Overdrive app on my tablet, but I believe you can also open them in a browser.

  9. NoMoreMrFixit*

    For #3 if they are not willing to share what position you’re being considered for then don’t waste your time. 300 questions? That’s nuts. This doesn’t sound like a legit offer to me. And on the off chance they are legit, this is incredibly disrespectful to you to not provide any information and hit you with such a big investment of time and effort despite that lack of info.

  10. Mike C.*

    Re: #4

    AaM is great, but did you think to ask your lawyer how she would feel if you just approached your husband’s employer and asking for that sort of information under the pretense of acting under your lawyer’s wishes? Did you consider how a court would see this?

    Look, I’m not saying this to be mean or overly critical, I’m saying this because you could easily be undermining your case or exposing yourself to legal trouble. You hired a lawyer to represent you, let them do their job. Don’t go out on your own looking for revenge.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      +1. OP, your lawyer will know what documents are needed and how to get them without jeopardising your case.

    2. eplawyer*

      Thank you. The court would take a very dim view of one spouse contacting the other spouse’s employer. It looks vindicative and guess who the court will hold that against? Not the allegedly cheating spouse.

      On the other hand, if the attorney subpoeanas the information, well, that’s just what the attorney is supposed to do.

      I tell all my clients, it’s not about convincing the other side, it’s about convincing the judge. So don’t do anything that upsets the judge.

      1. Aveline*

        “I tell all my clients, it’s not about convincing the other side, it’s about convincing the judge. So don’t do anything that upsets the judge.”

        +a gazillion

    3. CDM*

      There is a local criminal case (insurance fraud) where the defendant faked and had served subpoenas requesting the personnel files of several law enforcement officers involved in investigating her.

      Her defense attorney first disclaimed all knowledge of said subpoenas, then backtracked and said the defendant sent the subpoenas at his request while he was on vacation!?!?

      Defendant comes off as insanely retributional, lawyer comes off as a powerless patsy.

      Let your attorney handle this – s/he can subpoena the records if they are material to the case. (which it sounds like they may be)

      And loads of sympathy and cyber hugs to you – your ex’s actions are absolutely appalling.

    4. Aveline*


      So many people sabotage their own divorce proceedings by doing things without talking to their attorney.

      Tell the attorney EVERYTHING (even if it makes you look bad) and do what they tell you (even if you don’t like it).

        1. Aveline*

          In my jurisdiction, some types of government benefits can be garnished for “spousal support” and some cannot.

          Also, if support is ordered but not paid, it accrues like any other debt.

          I’ve had a lot of clients tell me not to pursue spousal support for child support because “he doesn’t earn anything.” Even if he doesn’t, you want the order in place in case he wins the lottery.

          Also, in my state you cannot get any type of meat-based government benefits unless you at least attempted to pursue child support. Spousal support is different.

          This is why she just needs to have a conversation with her attorney.

    5. Matilda Jefferies*

      I am probably not in OP4’s jurisdiction, but I do work in records management for a civil service organization.

      I don’t know for sure if your ex’s employer would disclose the records to your lawyer, but I can pretty much guarantee that they would not disclose them directly to you. There are all sorts of rules about what kinds of government records can and cannot be disclosed, and to whom, and under what circumstances. Many of them include sharing information with lawyers for various reasons, but I can’t think of a situation where they would share someone’s employment record with a third party. Definitely let your lawyer handle it.

      And I’m sorry for what you’re going through, I know divorces are tough. Hang in there.

  11. Ramona Flowers*

    #1 How is the temperature in your office? Has that changed and got warmer? Can you dress less warmly?

    How is your ‘sleep hygiene’ at home? You should sleep in a room that’s not too warm. Avoid caffeine and blue light before bed. If your pillows are old, replace them – put them over your arm and if they flop down at the ends you need new ones.

    Is this only at work or also in other places? If there is any risk of being sleepy while driving it would be a good idea to see a doctor.

    Personally I find sometimes the only thing that helps is a cold glass (containing an iced drink, or that has been in the fridge) pressed against my cheeks.

    1. Nolan*

      When I worked retail, I’d sometimes find myself getting really drowsy during a shift. To combat it, I’d do into the bathroom and run the cold water until it was at peak coldness, then dab it under my eyes, or wet a paper towel with it and pat under my eyes and my eyelids. It would make my eyes feel less puffy and helped refresh me. Of course, this only works if your bathroom has paper towels, and you don’t wear foundation.

  12. Marisol*

    For #1, off the top of my head, blue light–the same blue light commonly found in our handheld devices, computers, and television–is stimulating. There are also special devices with blue light, as well as light bulbs that are meant to be energizing that look like normal white light but that have more blue in their spectrum. I can’t remember any specific manufacturers but you can google. I use a little blue light device on my computer monitor for two hours a day–I have a wonky circadian rhythm–and it does seem to help me stay regulated. Also just going outside and being exposed to the blue sky will do this. So you might consider taking a walk at lunch.

    You want to make sure the sleep you’re getting at night is quality sleep, which means NO blue light after sun down. At night time, use orange light. Yes, seriously put an orange bulb in a dedicated lamp and use it at night. Or candlelight. Light in the orange/red spectrum does not keep people awake. No devices, no computer, etc. close to bed time.

    You might try having some carbs at dinner, preferably something like potato, rather than grains, which this paleo eater can’t recommend, or some homemade chicken broth (which is protein, obviously, not carb, but which lots of people use at night to help with sleep.) Basically do whatever you can to make sure your sleep is optimal. Google sleep hygiene and see if there is anything you need to tweak.

    Companies that make supplements for bodybuilders often make stimulants, which body builders take in order to power through a diet or to get the most out of their workouts. Again, I don’t have a specific reco but you can google around. This is something to use with caution though, and not too close to bedtime.

    I spend a lot of time thinking about sleep cycles; I will see if I think of anything else once I wake up tomorrow…

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      For the orange light at night, I use f.lux on my MacBook at home, it makes the screen more orange when it’s dark, based on my local sunrise/sunset times. I believe Android OS 7 has a feature to do that, too, although I don’t know if it’s time based.

      I also find that, although it’s counterintuitive, walking up the stairs in the morning wakes me up. I may feel a little physically tired, but I’m anything but sleepy because I’ve gotten my heart rate up. I also used to jiggle my leg (bounce my heel, keeping the ball of my foot on the ground) to keep from dozing off when I was younger and would pull all-nighters. It’s hard to fall asleep if you’re moving! I would add stretching, but if the OP is working the front desk that might look odd.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        Yes, the Android one is time based, and is now built in, as of Nougat. It’s just called “Blue light Filter” and shows up in the basic pull-down settings.

      2. Liane*

        My Kindle Fire has something like this. Settings>Display>Blue Shade. (You can set the times, which is what I do, but I think there are also default on/off times.) Since I got the Fire, I have been using it at night, rather than my iPad, even though, oddly, blue light doesn’t seem to affect me getting to sleep. I figure it might help on nights I’m having trouble sleeping for other reasons, plus my iPad is gen 1, so it’s heavy.

      3. Zip Silver*

        On the older Androids, you can get Twilight in the play store, and turn it on and off whenever you’d like.

      4. Callie*

        I love f.lux.

        I don’t think f.lux works on Android unless it’s a rooted phone. I have Twilight on my Android phone, which is basically the same thing as f.lux.

      5. Elizabeth West*

        When I did double stair climbs at Exjob, I would do the second one around 2:30–3:00 pm because that was when the worst of the afternoon sleepies hit. Many, many people took their breaks then too. You’d get a big round of folks hitting the coffeemaker about that time.

  13. paul*

    If you have a lawyer, *they’re* the people that should handle getting records and informatoin they need, not you. If you’ve retained legal counsel for the love of everything, let them do the legwork.

    When you pay for an expert in a field, let them expert.

    1. Casuan*

      OP4: This.

      When you pay for an expert in a field, let them expert.

      I love this thought & wording.

  14. Book Lover*

    Op2 – I am sorry about your brother, and hope he does well.

    I am sorry also that your employee is making this time harder for you. It is true that she has been going through a difficult time, but it is unfortunate that she is unable to see through her grief to recognize what you are dealing with and see that she should not be adding to your burden.

    1. Duck Duck Møøse*

      I agree that the employee is making things harder. OP2, you are doing your best to be empathetic, but it doesn’t seem to be a two way street. Everyone grieves differently, and she may so weighed down by grief that she cannot see the bigger picture, like how it is affecting the job or her performance, or even her camaraderie with the team.
      You shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells for normal, mundane work interactions. You need to get that part straightened out ASAP, before it becomes her normal operating mode. Who knows how long her grief cycle will be, but that is private, and it cannot continue to intrude on work relationships. Adding more structure to her workday, to give her milestones to complete, might be a good start; whether asking for more email updates on projects, or having an extra team meeting or two, just doing normal business stuff, might be helpful. You don’t want her to feel singled out, but you don’t want her falling through the cracks or making the distance even further.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        Yeah, I could see how she may think she’s protecting herself from further grief by avoiding yours, or is worried about being triggered by cancer-talk. It’s understandable, but of course she still has to do her job. I like the idea of signaling to her that you’re not going to push her to commiserate, but that you must insist on professional interactions.

        And I’m so sorry about your brother.

        1. Jenny*

          I personally would find it deeply unsettling. Cancer is a big factor in my life thanks to genetics (I have to be screened regularly) but if someone just entirely avoided me like it was catching, it would be them making me entirely into my family disease (I carry a gene that makes me far more likely to get the cancer that killed my dad and grandmother). She’s making her supervisor into his brother’s cancer and nothing else.

          1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

            Her mother just died, though, after what sounds like a difficult illness, and the brother is actively being treated – it seems understandable that she doesn’t have the emotional reserves to face someone else’s trauma right now. I think it’s possible to be compassionate to both the LW and the employee here – and after all, the LW isn’t aking how to get this person to form a support group or something.

            1. Jenny*

              I think avoidance though makes the problem worse. When I got my genetic testing back, the person who was there the most was a friend who had cancer herself. I didn’t abandon her when she was sick because I lost my dad and she didn’t abandon me.

              But friendship or not, this avoidance actually builds the issue rather than helps it. The more she avoids her the more it becomes about her brother and changes the relationship. If cancer is all interaction she will form a negative association with her, instead of it being just a thing.

              1. MegaMoose, Esq*

                Oh, I think you’re probably right, but the LW isn’t really in a place to help the employee move past/through this avoidance – the only thing the LW really should be doing is enforcing professional norms, and it’s up to the employee to figure out how to do that. I’m really just suggesting that I can understand where the employee might be coming from with this.

            2. fposte*

              I can also see this as a manifestation of the anger phase of grieving (I know, I know, Kübler-Ross isn’t really universal, but there’s often still anger). She may not just be protecting herself but mad at the OP, because the OP is there and cancer is there and that’s about all the logic the grieving human brain needs.

    2. Harper*

      I was just going to post something similar, so I totally agree with your comment. Maybe the employee is concerned about hearing about cancer treatments and such and just can’t stand to relive all of that, which I do understand, but it feels a little like making it all about her.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        I think it’s understandable that the coworker doesn’t feel able to comfort the LW right now – I don’t think think that’s the same as making it all about herself. Since the LW is the manager here, she needs to address the work behavior, but I think making it clear they don’t need to interact beyond that right now would be compassionate. It’s not like the employee’s grief has expired and it’s the LW’s turn now – these things take time and may overlap. The important thing is correcting the unprofessional behavior.

    3. Vin Packer*

      I think this is important. AAM’s answer is admirably efficient, but it’s worth pointing out that her behavior is not only not reasonable, but it’s also hurtful in that she is demanding that her struggle should take precedence over the OP’s, and it makes what must be a very difficult thing for the OP all about her. Yes she’s dealing with something horribly difficult–but so is the OP, and yet the OP is still concerned about treating her with compassion.

      Doesn’t change the advice of coursr. Just offering some validation and sympathy.

      1. LW2*

        Vin, thank you. You put into words exactly what I’ve been feeling. I know that as the manager, I have to be the bigger person, and I’m trying. As a human, though, it’s exhausting.

        1. Vin Packer*

          Of course. Good on you for doing your best to continue to be mindful of others, but I hope somebody around you offers you some support too, and that you’re able to redirect some energy away from this person back to your family. I’m so sorry about your brother.

          1. LW2*

            Thanks, Vin. I have to say that one good thing that has come out of my brother’s cancer is that I’ve realized just how many good friends I and my family have. I am in awe of amount of support we have received.

      2. Zweisatz*

        What I’m confused about here is that if you, LW2, are only talking with her about work, how is it unreasonable to ask for interactions? As I took it, you are not discussing your brother’s treatment or your own worries around it with her.
        And I do get the fear reaction she might have around that potentially coming up. But if that’s an issue, her avoidance is only making it worse. (She fears things will be discussed, you don’t talk at all, her belief gets cemented even though there’s no proof.)

        To get to something resembling advice: If you believe this is actually not clear for her, you could broach the subject and let her know that you will only talk about work-related stuff and keep the rest away from her, but you need to be able to talk about work.

        1. LW2*

          That’s a good point. Since we’re such a small staff, and we’ve all been here for years, we’ve always all talked about our personal lives with each other (probably WAY too much). She may just assume that I’ll automatically dump it out on her like we’ve all done to each other for years.

    4. Kathleen Adams*

      As far as I can tell (and I could have missed something), so far nearly everybody who has commented on the grieving employee, including Alison, has been a lot kinder than I find I am able to be. I am trying, with all the good will in the world, to give the employee the benefit of the doubt, but…

      Come on. You cannot ignore your manager because your mother recently died. You just can’t. I’ve lost one parent (to cancer, in fact) and of course it was awful and sad and all that, and though this was years ago now, I still think about my dad every day. But projecting those feelings of grief onto someone else’s tragedy to the extent that you *refuse to talk to that person* is…unbalanced. She needs to get some serious counseling, but even before that, she needs snap out of it enough to act like a reasonably normal person at work.

      I am sorry to say that because I realize it sounds unkind, but the OP is being far more understanding than most managers would be.

      As for what the OP should do, I like Alison’s scripts. If I used one, I would be kind of pretending, but hey, if it gets the employee out of her trough of despondency enough so that she (1) ceases to make everybody else miserable and (2) realizes that maybe she needs to get some help in getting on with life after her mother’s death, then I for one would be find with a little pretense.

      1. Jenny*

        So I was pretty young when my dad died but one of the very best teachers I ever had explicitly day “You can’t use this as an excuse to not perform your best.” I’m hindsight I owe a lot to that teacher. Ones who let me get away with stuff because my dad was sick did me no favors.

        1. fposte*

          I’m glad it worked for you, but as somebody who also had a parent sicken and die in youth, I’d have been pretty upset about that. The family upheaval in that kind of situation is immense, and the statement seems kind of clueless.

          1. Jenny*

            It really wasn’t. It was a year after he died and my grades do collapsed because I was in a holding pattern. Without that kick in the pants, I probably never would have gotten into college and death would have defined my entire life. That teacher saved my butt.

            1. Kathleen Adams*

              Your teacher sounds like a wise person to me. Saying that right after death would be cruel and clueless, but a year after death? It’s time to find a way to cope with grief but still move on.

              Of course we don’t know how long ago the employee mentioned here lost her mother, and the recently bereaved deserve a lot of latitude. But not so much latitude that she’s allowed to – I still can hardly believe this – refuse to talk to her manager.

      2. fposte*

        I would agree. I don’t mean that the employee is bad or she should be punished, but she’s failing to meet a minimal acceptable employment criterion here. If I were her boss and somehow magically untainted by my own emotional upheaval despite the situation, I’d lay out the fact that this isn’t sustainable, give her the option of a week of mostly email contact while she pulled herself together, and then say that face to face contact is an important aspect of the job, and that if it’s still that difficult for her it’s time to talk about either leave or moving on.

      3. Fuzzyfuzz*

        I agree. And this goes doubly true when dealing with someone going through something similar. Acting like you’re irreversibly triggered all the time makes someone else’s difficult situation all about you and is a bit self-indulgent. I survived a rare and aggressive form of cancer in my mid-20s. I had a really bad prognosis and the fact that I am alive and in great shape nearly 10 years later is kind of a miracle. It was traumatizing and awful, but I’ve done emotional work to get on with my life and have recovered well. A few years ago, the mother of one of my direct reports contracted the same disease and passed away quickly. It was a little difficult for me, but I distracted myself by providing a listening ear when she needed one and offering her overall support. It would have been unacceptable for me to ignore her or treat her differently.

        1. LBK*

          Acting like you’re irreversibly triggered all the time makes someone else’s difficult situation all about you and is a bit self-indulgent.

          I agree – I hesitate to say it because it sounds so unkind to someone who’s clearly still going through something, but it feels a little self-centered to be making the OP’s situation about herself in this way. If anything I think that’s a huge red flag that she needs to speak to a professional about this.

        2. LW2*

          Fuzzyfuzz, congratulations on beating cancer! It’s stories like yours that give my family hope!

          1. Fuzzyfuzz*

            Thanks! The best to you and your brother. Seriously–no one would ever look at me now and guess I was ever that sick. It can happen! :)

      4. LBK*

        I agree. If it’s affecting her to the extent that she can’t bear to speak to anyone else who has a close connection to cancer (which, frankly, is probably about half the population), she should really be in therapy. I know that for some reason people tend to take that as an insult, but that’s part of what therapy exists for: to help you process trauma. It’s just not feasible to live the rest of your life that way.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, the OP intimated they’re in academics and they have student contact–what’s this employee going to do with a student who’s losing a parent or being treated herself for cancer?

          1. LW2*

            Fposte, we are, and that’s something I’m worried about. Thankfully, her contact with students is more incidental, so I’m not worried about it too much.

    5. Lissa*

      Yes, one thing that occurred to me is that everyone rallied around the coworker in her time of need, which is awesome! And while I wouldn’t expect her to do the same for OP#2 because it’s still too close, now OP#2 is also worried about setting off the employee and walking on eggshells – instead of feeling supported. That’s got to sting.

  15. PayrollLady*

    #1 I’ve struggled with this before when I wasn’t sleeping well and was depressed. I finally started setting reminder alarms in my phone so that I would remember to stand up, stretch, take a short walk if time permitted. Another trick was to listen to my favorite “hype” music and get pumped up (Superstitious by Stevie Wonder)! Comedy works well too and makes you smile! As a receptionist sometimes you can’t have audible music, but hair can easily cover earbuds!

    1. Kheldarson*

      The getting up and moving thing had worked wonders for me. My parents bought me a FitBit for my birthday and it nudges me to move every hour to get 250 steps. It’s been working well for eliminating my after-lunch sleepies.

    2. Engineer Woman*

      OP#1: would it be strange for you to stand up once in a while? I’m picturing a receptionist at the front desk of an office building or at the entrance of a floor and think it should be okay to be standing once in a while. People entering wouldn’t / shouldn’t think oddly (I wouldn’t) if I entered a building and the receptionist is standing and greets me. I think just by getting up every so often might help the sleepiness.

      1. Erin*

        Standing up worked for me as a substitute teacher proctoring the ACTs. Longest 1/2 day of my time as a sub. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t go on the computer I had to stare at a bunch of 11th graders taking a test in silence. Worse than watching paint dry. I would get up and walk around or stand for a couple minutes.

    3. Erin*

      I love these suggestions, my only concern is she probably can’t walk around as a receptionist because sometimes they’re chained to the desk, and same deal for headphones – they probably can’t listen to them and answer phones at the same time. Although maybe listening to music quietly not on headphones could work. Or as you said, cover earbuds with your hair, haha.

  16. Kate the Little Teapot*

    LW #1 – I think it’s most likely the extra work.

    If you don’t have work at the receptionist job, are there things you can do to mentally stimulate yourself at work enough to stay awake that don’t look too much like you’re working on another job or like you’re goofing off?

    The ideal thing would be studying something relevant to the job, so you can say to your manager “I had some spare time at work this week, so I took the initiative to take an online course in X.” But you don’t have to.

    For instance, one example would be reading books, even fiction, in the form of PDFs on your computer (so it looks like you could be reading a work document). Another example might be something like Duolingo.

    Until you’re through the “learning period” at your new job I wouldn’t pressure yourself to study anything you don’t quite feel up to studying – even if your job isn’t that hard for you there’s still a lot of learning going on.

    1. Manders*

      This is a good point. It’s hard to stay awake when you’ve got nothing to do but sit and wait for the phone to ring!

      Checking in with your doctor is a good idea, but this could also be a bad combination of boredom + adjusting to the stress of a second job + possibly a mild health issue like bad sleep hygiene or a vitamin deficiency.

    2. BF50*

      Agreed. At my previous job, the receptionist spent the entire day playing solitaire. They needed someone at the front desk to answer phones and greet visitors, but that was too disruptive for her to really focus on other actual work, so they didn’t give her any and it was understood that she could occupy her time any way she choose as long as she was at her desk and available for her two primary duties. That might be acceptable or even expected by management.

      Also, drinking water may help. Hydration can help fight fatigue and having to run to the bathroom also wakes you up.

      1. Is it Friday Yet?*

        I was also going to recommend something like solitaire or minesweeper, but only the OP knows how that will go over.

        1. Is it Friday Yet?*

          Is there any opportunity to clean or organize when things are slow? I know that might not fill up much of your time.

  17. Ramona Flowers*

    #2 What a difficult situation. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this on top of what you’re going through with your brother.

    I actually think someone else needs to talk to her rather than it being you. Yes, on paper as her manager you should be able to have this conversation. But I do wonder if a neutral third party might be best-placed to talk to her.

    Grief affects people in all sorts of ways, as does the stress of caring for someone as they die. It’s possible she isn’t simply experiencing regular grief but (and this is just an example, I’m not trying to armchair diagnose) something like PTSD. If you have an EAP, it may be worth reminding her of it. I do wonder if it’s okay for her to be at work right now.

    My one caution here is not to make assumptions about what is going on for her. You know her mom died and she seems upset. You don’t know if it’s actually because she didn’t get along with her mom, for example. So I’d be very careful to stick to what you know.

    Lastly, I wondered if she specifically said she’s not talking to you because it hits too close to home; or she said that and you put two and two together? I guess I’m wondering if she knows just how much she’s freezing you out. She may be so focused on each individual time your paths cross that she doesn’t realise the overall effect (and we can talk about how she should, but the fact is she may not).

    1. Casuan*

      OP2, I’m sorry as well that you are experiencing your brother’s illness from various fronts. Hopefully your employee appreciates your sensitivity during what is also a difficult time for you.

      Ramona has a good point re how grief can affect individuals. Your employee’s aversion does seem to be a bit stronger than one might think & you might inadvertently be making it worse. Probably you can stay with the need to have work-related discussions & as suggested email or IM’s might be easier for her. If you do offer an EAP, it might be best for someone else to broach to topic with her. Hospice usually has excellent resources.

      My thoughts are with you!

    2. Graciosa*

      I think there’s another aspect here that I haven’t seen touched on. Is the grieving employee in condition to be working? If not, maybe she should be looking at FMLA leave.

      I won’t pretend I can accurately define when mental health issues are such that the person needs to be on leave to recover, but it is an option.

    3. LW2*

      This employee specifically told me it was “too close to home” to talk to me. She acts appropriately (even happy) around everyone else, until I enter the conversation or even walk by. Then she shuts down.

      I’m not worried about her work, or really even her emotional state. She has used Eap at least a few times.

      1. Lissa*

        That’s really not appropriate – it would be one thing to not want to talk to you about your brother, but not want to acknowledge you or talk to you at all? And if she’s fine/happy around other people, it really sounds like she’s focusing everything on you, or has gotten into a mental loop where even seeing you triggers memories of her mother — which is sad, but not something you should be expected to accommodate, especially since it’s making it harder for you during a rough time.

  18. Mike*

    Re #5: I was with a company that did a massive layoff (and then shuttered the rest a few months later). As soon as word got out (less than 24 hours) a lot of other companies in the same space reached out and it was openly talked about.

    I’d be tempted to also reach out to managers and leaders so they can let their people know (as well as directly reaching out to people).

    1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      Yeah, I assume this is pretty normal, and I would think welcomed by the people who are certainly mostly all looking for work. A couple of friends of mine work in a regional office that’s being shuttered, and I know people have reached out to them as it’s assumed not all can or want to relocate.

    2. Adonday Veeah*

      Reach out to the management of the company. They may be delighted to place some of their best employees, and can steer them you way.

  19. Blossom*

    #3 is surely a scam or phishing attack! Reminds me of those lottery scams – you’ve won a lottery you never entered. Employers don’t get in touch out of the blue to order you to take a mysterious test.
    Even though you applied there two years ago, it could either be pure coincidence (if they’re a big name bank, they could be exactly the kind of organisation that a scammer would wish to mimic anyway), or it could be that their job application database has been hacked.
    Check the domain names carefully, for a start.

    1. OP3*

      Turned out it was a legitimate recruiter that was scrapping the barrel for an out of town position. I probably spent a good hour just confirming it was a legitimate email.

  20. MommyMD*

    See a doctor. Obtain basic labs including thyroid panel, blood sugar screening, possible sleep study and referral to a neurologist. It could be the second job, but maybe not. Right now it should be considered more of a medical issue versus advice issue. Good luck.

  21. Tulips*

    For the sleepy receptionist – try taking a walk at lunch if you can. The fresh air, daylight and exercise may all help keep you more alert in the afternoon.

  22. Channel Z*

    OP1: Can you schedule in a nap as part of your day? During my scheduled breaks, sometimes I used to go and nap for 15 min in my car and set my phone alarm to wake me up. Usually it was at the end of a 45 minute lunch break. We didn’t get afternoon breaks at my last job, but that would have been my best nap time had it been available. A short nap definitely helped! Another thing, when I started tracking when I was tired, I discovered that caffeine was actually the cause of the sleepiness, not the cure! I would get sleepy 1.5 to 2 hours after coffee.

    1. INeedANap*

      Honestly, this is great advice if possible.

      I unfortunately no long have one, but I used to have an office where I could close the door and be private. I’d have a good lunch and put my head down and “sleep” for 15 minutes. I usually didn’t literally fall asleep, but I would empty my mind and drift into a hazy half-awake nap state. Then when my phone buzzed at me I would pop right up, stretch, and do a few quiet jumping jacks. It worked like a charm.

      As a caveat, it only works to banish post-lunch “brain” sleepiness. I get plenty of sleep at night, I was just getting sleepy in the afternoon. If I was genuinely tired because I wasn’t getting enough sleep, it didn’t work.

  23. Mookie*

    This sounds really tough for you, LW2. You are deserving and in need of the kind of understanding, support, and accommodations that you and your team provided, and continue to provide, this employee. It’s important that this doesn’t turn into dueling battles over grief, and you sound completely cognizant of that and not likely to try to establish a hierarchy classifying whose emotions are more valid. I think the suggestion about inserting a a trusted, mature, and discreet third party to communicate that expectation to this employee is a good one. There will never be a convenient time in our lives to emotionally process instances of people we love growing ill, experiencing harm, and/or dying. It’s what happens when we are living, working, breathing (‘life is what happens when we’re making other plans,’ etc). It is a universal human experience, to feel pain and anxiety deeply, to fear loss, and it’s natural and understandable to desire to avoid the situations and triggers that remind us of our grief or refresh its intensity. Often people retreat into work or hobbies to escape it, whereas here there appears, at present, to be no escape route for your employee; indeed, their reactions are equally interfering with your own ability to compartmentalize and manage fear and dread while working.

    Were it not for how recently this employee lost their mother, I’d chalk this up to another holiday blues situation, where people ask for accommodations or extended leave to formally acknowledge a family member’s death because the anniversary of that death coincides with a holiday. While I sympathize with that desire, I don’t really like those sorts of requests, as though fellow colleagues might not have their own losses to process or commemorate. This reads really harsh to me, but this employee does not have a patent on cancer in the family. They just don’t. They need assistance in balancing out their own highly specific needs with their role in this office and on your team. This simply can’t happen in the future, that anytime a member of your team is touched by cancer, this employee hibernates or exudes resentful vibes of ownership. In the aggregate, that is a potential toxicity you want to nip in the bud as early as possible.

    And I think it’s fine if you decide that part of the immediate solution entails you limiting conversation in the office about your brother’s health. I don’t think it’s particularly fair, but as a manager expectations for your behavior are set at a higher standard.

    1. LW2*

      Thanks, Mookie. The holiday thing is something I hadn’t considered. Her mother passed on the day after Christmas, so I’ll need to remember to keep that in mind later this year.

    2. Arduino*

      I think it is perfectly natural to request extended holiday time after a family member dies. How is that at all an issue of “claiming that holiday”?

  24. Former Retail Manager*

    OP#2…I could actually see myself responding in the same way that your employee has. It would likely bring all of those same feelings that you are dealing with flooding back to me which seems to be the co-worker’s challenge. While some meetings and conversations will be unavoidable, maybe a mention of communicating via e-mail as the default, if your employee doesn’t have a response when you ask how you can help her. If it were me, I’d be okay with e-mail or instant messenger conversations, but the face-to-face might cause me to burst into tears if you caught me on the wrong day.

    And my sincerest sympathies to both you and your co-worker. I hope your brother beats cancer.

  25. Jenny*

    For OP2, grief doesn’t give you license to be cruel to others, and the way your coworker is treating you is cruel to the OP and really unhealthy for her too. I don’t want to get into details, but thanks to a nasty little shared mutation, I have lost quite a few family members to cancer. I am sympathetic but she needs professional intervention at this point. The idea that she can’t do her job (which frankly, not working with a supervisor is definitely going to affect that) with anybody who is ancillary to cancer (which I would bet is pretty much everyone) is horribly unhealthy. I’ve seen a counsellor when my dad was sick, and so I know the more the coworker avoids the OP, the more OP becomes cancerperson in her brain. Avoidance is the exact wrong thing to do here because it will just further warp the relationship.

    1. Jenny*

      (Sorry further context is that my childhood best friend beat leukemia, but if I had avoided her when stuff got bad. I would have made her just into her all about her cancer and thrown away what ended up being a life-long friendship. Employee could be risking the ability to do her job. If company had EAP, I would recommend it, otherwise someone needs to take her aside and recommend counseling (which doesn’t mean she is bad or weak, you see a doctor if a cut isn’t healing right, seeing a doctor because grief is affecting your ability to do your job is no different.))

    2. Arduino*

      I think this is a stretch though. Having just lost your mom to cancer and wanting to dial way back on talking about personal stuff with your boss whose mom has just been diagnosed is not “avoiding everyone ancillary to cancer” or even unhealthy.

      She needs to speak with boss for work though that’s a given. But not chatting with someone when you have told them it’s not you it’s me is not cruel and it’s perfectly normal grief response (source my psychiatrist who I am seeing after my mom’s recent cancer death).

  26. The Cosmic Avenger*

    I know that my company’s HR does a good job of trying to help find internal or external new positions for people whose positions are eliminated through no fault of their own. I wonder if OP#5 could reach out to the HR department of the company that is closing down, talk to them about interviewing people to be hired just as the company closes? They might be grateful to be able to offer their employees assistance in finding a new position.

  27. Artem*

    OP #1: I have a long hours schedules so I feel your pain! If it’s possible for you try to find a quiet place during your lunch or break where you can spare just ten of fifteen minutes, set an alarm, and just close your eyes for that 10/15 minutes it really is helpful. Or if it’s a really bad day even going to your car during your lunch break and putting the drivers seat all the way back and closing your eyes for 45 minutes. The 10 to 15 minutes cat naps are surprisingly effective though but sometimes after a really long week getting a long doze in on lunch is what I really need. But to echo others if you can afford it can’t hurt to go to a doctor and get it checked out.

  28. Bad Candidate*

    #5 My husband’s company recently declared bankruptcy. Part of the company is being liquidated and part is being taken over by a new company. Luckily his job is going to the new company. But the news of the bankruptcy was in the local paper and as soon as it dropped, employees were getting contacted via LinkedIn. A lot have already left and they haven’t shut the doors yet. Though they aren’t offering retention bonuses, so there’s that. A lot more are going to be losing their jobs, last week they brought in several area companies and had a job fair on site to help folks find something new. I would say reach out, your probably not the first to do so.

  29. OP3*

    I’m actually glad to say that I have an update to the letter I wrote in…

    I did do some research to make sure this was a legitimate email – this was a genuine bank email coming from a confirmed employee of the company.

    I sat on the email a couple of days before I decided to bite the bullet and complete the assessment. I didn’t want to miss out on a potential job opportunity with an employer that I want to work for. It took a huge chunk of time out of my evening but I figured it could be worth it – plus I had the extreme curiosity about what it was for.

    Yesterday the recruiter emailed me back again to confirm that I submitted my assessment and to notify me that they were moving onto the interview stage.

    Then at 9:30pm last night I got an email from another recruiter asking me to select a phone interview slot for the position of bank teller. In the subject line I noted that they mentioned a town that was a several hour drive away from where I live!

    I was able to confirm that they had sought me out for an out of town position… part time… a bank teller… I could’ve screamed at them. But instead I sent back a polite email asking to withdraw my name from consideration and mentioned that I was confused why I was connected with the job since I live so far away and applied over 2 years ago.

    1. Lablizard*

      I’m glad it wasn’t a scam, but that recruiter was kind of an ass. I’m guessing one of their performance metrics is getting an applicant to do the assessment which is why she wouldn’t tell you what job it was for or, more importantly, where it is located.

      Sorry a jerk stole your time!

      1. Purest Green*

        If applicants didn’t already know about and want to work for the company, this could also reflect poorly on the employer itself.

    2. Kheldarson*

      You mean you *wouldn’t* want to uproot your entire life for a part-time job? You just aren’t thinking long-term here! /sarcasm

      1. OP 3*

        I’m just DYING to give up my full-time, well-paid accounting position in my hometown to move several hours away (to a smaller town) for a part-time, minimum wage, entry level position.

        1. Jenny*

          How absurd. I might leave a glass door review for that kind of ridiculous time wasting.

          It almost shows the attitude that job seekers are always willing to accept anything. On the professional level that is entirely untrue.

          1. OP 3*

            I don’t know why I didn’t think of leaving a glassdoor review about this…

            I’m so peeved off that I really want to get this out there; I had looked up and down for people that got an email from this banks recruiters for a position they didn’t apply for and found nothing.

  30. Professor Ronny*

    #2. I had cancer back in 1980. For years afterwards, I would turn off the TV or change channels if a show even mentioned cancer. The treatment is brutal and scar not just the person with cancer but also their close love ones. To this day, over 35 years later, I rarely talk about it.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I’m glad you recovered. *hug*
      I don’t think there’s any disagreement about how hard it is for the OP’s employee, but it’s unrealistic not to speak to her manager at ALL. They still have to get the work done and that requires communication.

    2. Madison*

      I’m glad you recovered and thank you for sharing your perspective! A life threatening illness leaves traumatic scars that don’t go away.

  31. Washington*

    #4 If you’re in the US or UK, this is a very easy process for your atty to subpoena this info. I get requests like this all the time – including needing to know leave and holiday time.

  32. Bend & Snap*

    #4 lawyer! I’m in the US but I had my ex’s employment and medical records subpoenaed for my divorce. Totally normal.

  33. Aveline*

    #4 In my jurisdiction, if you got those records, they would NOT be admissible in a court proceeding. In order to be admissible where I practice, you have to have the lawyer subpoena a “certified” copy of the records. That certification must be in a very specific format.

    So even if you got the records, they wouldn’t be useful to you.

    Also, if you get into court and it’s an issue, the issue can be raised before the judge and he can order your husband to obtain and submit the records.

  34. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    #5 – when OldJob announced layoffs, we got quite a lot of contact from prospective new employers. From my personal experience, and from what I heard from my coworkers, it was mostly appreciated — it’s incredibly reassuring to know that there are opportunities out there, and people who want those skills! OldJob was also quite supportive, and even held a mini job fair for us onsite. My current role isn’t one that was advertised at the job fair itself, but is working for a subsidiary of a company that was there. Please, do reach out to these employees and let them know that you’re interested!

  35. LizM*

    #1 once you’ve ruled out a medical cause, maybe see if a standing desk is an option? I have a desk that can be raised and lowered, so I don’t have to stand all day, but it helps to stand up if I’m getting drowsy. I originally got it to help with some back pain, but this is an added bonus on long conference calls.

      1. Allison*

        Maybe, maybe not. A standing desk wouldn’t necessarily block the OP from view of visitors, it depends on the model.

      2. LizM*

        I suppose it depends on your office and the set up. Several of the receptionists in my office have standing desks.

        1. Temperance*

          Really?? I might have only worked in overly formal places, but the reception desk has always been very huge, very old fashioned, and very fancy wherever I’ve seen one! I stand corrected. ;)

      3. TootsNYC*

        Why on earth wouldn’t a standing desk be appropriate for a receptionist?

        She needs to look professional and attentive.

  36. Hal*


    Don’t call it “poaching.” These people aren’t game on someone else’s land. You don’t owe a competitor the luxury of diminished competition for employees, and deliberately avoiding a pool of employees is effectively, even if not legally, collusion between one company and another.

    1. KellyK*

      There are cases where trying to hire employees out from under another company could legitimately be considered poaching, but this isn’t one of them. They’re closing. They know all of their employees are job-hunting, probably frantically.

      1. Hal*

        Language is often policed in the comments here, such as the term “big-girl job” and the casual use of “crazy.”

        “Poached” used the way it was here, while common, is an insulting and anti-labor term.

    2. Dr. Ruthless*

      It is illegal (in the US) to agree not to hire another company’s employees. Link in reply with the DOJ and FTC’s guidance for HR professionals.

      There have been some pretty big antitrust trials about this–the High Tech case comes to mind.

  37. M*

    #2 – Please don’t take this personally. I was diagnosed with a treatable form of cancer and chose to keep it to myself and my husband/family. Word got out to a group of friends we hang out with a year later. Imagine my surprise when people kept coming up to me asking if I was ok in a concerned manner. I did, interestingly enough, have three people completely ignore me once the news got out. They had all had parents die in the last few years from cancer. It took a while for them to warm back up to me, but it’s really about their healing process. It’s nothing personal. Cancer is heavy stuff.

    1. Liane*

      Yes, in your personal relationships you can decide to cut off/reduce contact with someone For Reasons, good or bad. But we are talking about Work Life. You *have to* talk to coworkers, reports, and bosses about Work Stuff. You can skip eating lunch with/near someone, not gab about Game of Thrones vs. Samurai jack with them, not offer to share the paper’s comics pages, etc. because they took your favorite parking space, you don’t like their haircut, you’re mourning, or their brother is seriously ill. You still need to *do your job* and discuss with them why the TPS numbers are down or contribute at Team Meeting they lead.

      1. Liane*

        And please don;t take this as diminishing what you went through. I have had illness scares, deaths in the family and seriously ill baby over the years. I really didn’t want to deal with people a lot of those times. So I totally understand the feelings and actions. But I had to talk with people at work, in order to get my work done.

        I probably just process differently than your friends, but I find it less painful for me to rally around someone going through something that reminds me of my Rough Time. Especially, if as it sounds like the OP did, they were rallying for me during Rough Time.

  38. RobM*

    OP #3 – I was incredulous when I read the recruiter’s reply to you: “The online assessment is the first step in the recruitment process with [company].” It comes across as extremely rude and unprofessional in my opinion.

    I would be tempted to reply with “Explaining at least some of the details of the vacancy you’re looking at is the first step in the recruitment process with [your name here]”. Recruitment processes are a two-way thing and unless you’re in dire need of a job or you see working for them as your “dream job” then I would point out that they’re failing _your_ recruitment process with this behaviour. In any case, if we’re all supposed to be on our “best behaviour” during the recruitment process, this tells you that organisation’s “normal behaviour” to its staff might not be very good.

    Just as I’ve never been offered every job I have ever applied for, I’ve sometimes walked away from a job due to issues during the recruitment stage. I appreciate that’s a luxury that we don’t always have, but if you do have that option then don’t be afraid to use it.

    1. RobM*

      Just read the comments about it being a scam which are a very good point. I’m assuming its a legitimate but dysfunctional recruitment process, but that might not be correct!

    2. OP*

      I was really tempted to reply with this: ‘No, the first step in the recruitment process is when I apply for an opening listed on your website.’

  39. CC*

    #1 – I’d like to add to the chorus of people saying to get checked by a doctor. Before I was diagnosed with a thyroid disorder (which I had to go to an endocrinologist for a full work up to get a diagnosis since TSH levels can be normal when something is actually going on), I was resting all day to work 5-hour shifts. It was ridiculous. Anyway, it could be the added stress/activity of a second job, but I’d still get checked out to be safe.

  40. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    OP1, I feel you so much! I tend to crash 60-90 minutes after getting to work. I have a stressful commute, so I can’t caffeinate on the way to work, and I always eat/drink breakfast at my desk shortly after 8 am. I get up at 7 and fly out the door for 8 am work, but by 9 or 10 am I can barely keep my eyes open.

  41. VroomVroom*

    OP #1 – my job is cyclical, and is VERY busy sometimes, and sometimes I have almost nothing to do. It’s just the way it is. My boss and I have discussed and we don’t put extra responsibilities on my plate because when it is busy I have no time to think – so I just have to deal with being bored, sometimes for a few weeks at a time.
    Also, right now I’m pregnant and nearing when I’ll go out on maternity leave. The last big cyclical ‘busy’ time ended a week ago, and so now I’m basically just playing the waiting game until baby comes!
    Anyway, I take up my time by reading things online. I’ll read the news, AskAManager, Reddit. I just try to fill my day with interesting content. I also downloaded kindle on my phone and I’ll sometimes read a book on my phone to pass the time. I have my own office where I face the door, so I don’t have to worry about anyone seeing what’s on my computer screen or anything though – you may have to be more careful. However, if you’ve asked for more things to do and you’re not getting it, they can’t really blame you for passing the time.

  42. Allison*

    #5 I’m no stranger to this practice. We find out a company in our industry is even having layoffs, we look at their employees to see if there’s anyone we can contact about working for us, because even if someone hasn’t been laid off, they might start wondering if they should go somewhere more stable before they get the ax. Now, this is slightly controversial, as some people feel that recruiters, even internal/corporate recruiters (as opposed to agency recruiters, remember we don’t all work for 3rd party firms!) who do this are like vultures, taking advantage of a bad situation, but if someone is laid off or feels in danger of being laid off, don’t they want to find a new job as soon as possible? They land on their feet, we fill an open job, everyone’s happy.

    If the company is shutting down and everyone will need a new job, wouldn’t they want to be approached about new opportunities? Only reason I could see them not being interested is if they’re concerned the whole industry is dying and they need to take their skills to one that’s more stable.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Yup, this is how I see it. My company did this last year to a competitor who is slowly winding down their business (we’ve taken on quite a bit of it), and we were able to get eight employees from them. Now, two have gone back to the old company (I don’t know why – they claimed the workload was terrible, even worse than ours, because of all the layoffs and backlog) and one is interviewing for another position as an investigator. It’s business. People need to eat.

    2. lurky mclurkerson*

      Yes! I was once the employee of a closing business in a very small niche industry, and it was a huge weight of my shoulders when other companies reached out to me and I was able to quickly find a new position. At the time I wasn’t making much money and had zero savings, so finding work before my (very minimal) severance ran out meant I didn’t have to worry about whether I’d be able to pay rent and feed myself for another month.

    3. Tin Cormorant*

      My husband’s in this position right now. Part of his company was recently sold, and the rest of it is going to be shut down in a couple months. He’s got a huge retention bonus for sticking around to help with the shutdown, and a nice severance on top of that.

      With our savings, we’d be fine until next year if he can’t find a job, but obviously the best situation would be if he’s able to find a new job to start right when his current one ends, so all that money goes straight into long term savings.

      He’s been actively job searching for a few weeks now and loves when someone reaches out to him about a job opportunity that takes his end date into account (he’s had to turn down one job that wanted him to start in 3 weeks already).

  43. imakethings*

    OP #1 – I am you! I am a receptionist at a firm who has nothing to do. I work a second job part time to help pay down student debt and to meet people (I’m new to the area). I also have a hard time keeping my eyes open for a number of reasons: 1. I’m also taking online classes , 2. My second job is waitressing and it is physically draining, and 3. this place is so dang boring.

    To stay awake, I take a walk everyday at 10am and 3pm. I’m lucky enough to have a gym in the ground floor of my building, so I work out during lunch to get my blood flowing. That does wonders to wake me up. Then I eat lunch at my desk, which helps occupy some time. I am sure to eat light lunches and snacks (mostly salads, fruit and nuts – too many carbs = nap time). Previously, I was able to work on homework because I had nothing to do, which kept me awake because I enjoy it. Unfortunately yesterday I was given the world’s worst project (I get to move 5000+ emails into folders. The server is slow and each email requires a search in our systems plus renaming procedure. It took me all day to do <200 emails). So I'm dealing with falling asleep again.

    I don't have anyone to talk to and can't play any sort of music, so it's just sleepy silence and boredom. It honestly would put anyone to sleep. I am job hunting, however, because I hate feeling so useless and exhausted with no one to talk to all day. Doing homework at my desk was the only thing keeping me sane because I knew that my time was at least productive as I was contributing to my portfolio that would ultimately get me a better job. Now I'm just tired and depressed and bitter.

    Good luck to you OP. I totally understand your situation and I hope you find something better soon.

  44. Will's mom*

    I worked two jobs for almost 10 years and sleep was a luxury. I worked 40 hours at a desk job M-F and then at a sandwich shop 5 nights a week. I generally worked about 60 to 65 hours per week.

    I would eat at my desk before lunch, and then set my cell phone alarm and go sleep in my car during lunch. I also took (and still do) vitamins to which I had never done before. It made a world of difference. Energy drinks help too, but you have to be careful of which ones you use. I found the V16 energy supplement to work best for me. It does not contain caffeine which gives me the jitters.
    Think of your second job as though you are living with a newborn. You sleep whenever you can, and you learn to let certain tasks go. For instance, there is no harm in using paper plates and disposable cups and utensils and the crock pot and freezer are your best friends. I hope this helps you!

    1. Parenthetically*

      A high-quality vitamin with plenty of vitamin B and the right level of iron for OP’s needs is a great suggestion. My energy levels when I remember to take my stupid prenatal in the morning are so radically different than when I forget!

  45. mdv*

    #5 – I help supervise a 5-year contract with a service provider, and one of the key features if we go with a new one on the next contract is offering employees of the previous contractor an opportunity to move over AND retain their seniority if they do so. They still have to go through the hiring process of the new contractor, and meet all of the new employment requirements, but that is how they have an employee who just hit 30 years of service, but not with the same company.

    My thought is that you can even speak to management or higher staff (HR?) at the company going out of business, and THEY will be thrilled that their employees have this opportunity, and might be willing to help disseminate information about it.

  46. JamToday*

    I’ll offer another non-clinician opinion to the desk-sleeper — make sure you’re drinking lots of water. I used to have the same problem, I’d be so sleepy in the afternoon that my eyes would start closing involuntarily, and I’d completely overdose on caffeine, which in turn kept me awake later at night, which made me sleepy, etc.

    Turns out it was dehydration! I started drinking at least a liter of bubbly water a day, and within a few days all my afternoon sleepiness was gone. It was like magic.

  47. Karyn*

    OP1, funny enough, it’s been happening to me a lot lately, right around 10-11 am. My doctor recommended I get a UV light and use it in the morning (I mounted mine to the wall right beside my mirror where I blow dry my hair). Between that and starting some iodine supplements, it’s seemed to have helped. However, I would recommend talking to your own doctor to see if there’s something physical going on – and if not, I’ve also found that quick walks around the office can help wake you up.

  48. Erin*

    #1 – Having been a receptionist for years I completely understand. I’d talk to your boss about it as far as you feel comfortable. You said you already asked for extra work – as another commenter said, you could be candid and literally tell him you’re falling asleep.

    But, you don’t necessarily have to disclose that. I would disclose that you’re bored, I think that would be okay if you use the right tone of voice. “I have to be honest, I can get bored when I don’t have work to do. If you don’t have more assignments for me, would you object to me reading a book/playing Sudoku or similar games online/walking around on occasion” or whatever it is you think would be best. They might say no, but it wouldn’t be crazy weird or out of line to ask the question.

  49. Bunny*

    Op #1 I would see a sleep specialist. I was diagnosed with narcolepsy after falling asleep at work and while driving.

  50. saby*

    OP1: I know the pain. For me not a sudden change, it’s something that’s been recurring for years (due mostly to the fact that I suffer from insomnia). During the day if I am sitting in one place for too long, especially when I’m reading a report that’s not very interesting, I will start to nod off.

    Some in-the-moment suggestions that might be less conspicuous than getting up and moving around all the time include: doing foot/leg stretches under the desk (lifting your legs, circling your ankles, etc.); drinking something very cold; chewing on a piece of peppermint or cinnamon gum, or sucking on an extra-strength menthol lozenge if you have one; and putting something cold on your face or the back of your neck. If all else fails I use the old trick of pinching myself so the pain will wake me up. I also have an energizing eye gel that makes the skin tingle which I put on if the rest of me feels fine but my eyes are just inclined to flutter shut.

  51. De Minimis*

    #1—I’m late but I worked two jobs for awhile and was constantly tired while that was going on. The second job was only part time and I wasn’t technically getting any less sleep than when I just had my regular job, but it really took a toll.

  52. theletter*

    L1 – possible medical issues aside, I vote you start looking for a new job. You’ve been there two years, paid your dues, and they should be looking to move you into something more fulfilling, professionally and economically. If they can’t give you more tasks, they are wasting your time. Life is too short to sit with your head in hands, even if you are getting paid for it.

  53. Soumba*

    Hopefully someone can help me. One of my coworkers (first job out of college, only about six months), has been regularly falling asleep in his cube. I want to talk to him, mention that I’ve noticed this and want him to be aware before his supervisor notices, make sure he’s okay and suggest talking to his supervisor if there’s an issue that needs accommodating, but I’m struggling with the language on how to make him aware that he is expected to be awake all day, and he should be aware of it. I’m definitely not his supervisor, but I don’t want to take this straight to his supervisor since he’s otherwise a good employee.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I like two approaches to situations like these, and you can pick one or try both. You can ask if he’s OK because you’re concerned about his health, and/or you can let him know that you’re concerned that he might get in trouble if a supervisor sees him sleeping at his desk. Maybe offer to take short walks around the block/building during your break?

  54. Sue*

    OP #2, I’m wondering if the timing was such that you’re convinced the avoidance is due to your brother’s condition? Is it possible that she has some (unfounded) animosity towards you for anything that happened during her time dealing with her mother? It sounds as if it would be irrational but possible.
    OP#4, have your attorney take a deposition of your husband and ask him, under oath, these questions. If he isn’t truthful, then attempt to subpeona the records.

    1. LW2*

      Sue, no. She specifically told me that she wouldn’t be talking to me because my situation “hit too close to home”. At the time, I decided to give her space. I didn’t realize at the time that it meant she wouldn’t speak to me at all.

    2. Noah*

      Usually you get the records THEN take the deposition, because you typically don’t get two shots at the deposition.

  55. Arduino*


    My mom just died of cancer a few months ago. It was sudden but still horrible. Please meet her in the middle and don’t take it personally. Limit all non-work chat with her if possible. Keep work related items brief and on point. Watch what you say around her too. Let her come to you for personal chatting. If co workers comment try to be supportive of her.

    I have a co worker whose moms health has started to decline. It has strained our relationship. One thing that is hard for me is overhearing her complain how hard it is to have to move your mom into a skilled nursing home… I bitterly think how happy I would be to talk to mom and have her take part in moving items out of her house instead of being left to deal with it alone.

    Just a perspective on the feelings involved. We are all human. She will come around. The work should be a focus and personal can be completely ignored.

  56. Statler von Waldorf*

    #2 – Well, writing this comment makes me feel like the biggest jerk in the comments section. While I do understand that everyone processes grief in the same way, I would have one conversation with the employee that talking to her manager was absolutely a job requirement, and if she couldn’t commit to doing that, we should plan her exit from the company. I’d give a good reference and severance, but this is just one of those non-negotiable things about being an adult in the workplace.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think a lot of of us here basically agree (me included), but that that conversation should be kind and empathetic in tone. You can hold firm on it being a requirement while still sounding compassionate in tone.

      I don’t agree with the people here saying to just use email with her; I don’t think that’s feasible or reasonable.

      1. Statler von Waldorf*

        Ehh .. this is where I disagree and start feeling jerkish again. I think half the problem here is that there has been too much kindness and empathy here, to the point where the employee thinks this whole thing is reasonable when it clearly is not. This feels like a situation where some very uncomfortable tough love needs to be used.

  57. casinoLF*

    #4 – I get subpoenas for employee records in divorce cases all the time. Usually they want wage information but leave balances or days worked would not make me bat an eye. In general we’ll comply after notifying the employee that the request was made. The employer isn’t really going to ask WHY you want the records; it will be obvious that it’s related to the divorce proceedings.

  58. Jill*

    #1, While you explore the possible medical and/or other possible causes, do you have a computer at your station that you can use without guests seeing? Or can y0u use an ipod or other device with the volume on low?

    When I’ve gotten sleepy, (both from having infants at home and from lack of work tasks) I’ve taken free online courses or watched online learning videos or listened to a podcast. Sometimes job related, sometimes not. But always on a topic that really captured my interest. Could you do something like that? At the least, you stay awake listening to a lecture or watching interesting demonstrations or reading something captivating…at the most, you may be able to get a completion certificate or some other official recognition.

  59. LizM*

    I like Allison’s script for LW2.

    It’s a different situation, but I struggled with infertility (including hormone treatments that really messed with my emotions) for over a year. I didn’t share with a lot of people. During this time, I had a coworker who was pregnant, and she was pretty open that it was unplanned (although welcome, once the shock wore off). Truthfully, I had a hard time socializing with her. I thought I was being professional, but, remember, hormones clouding judgment. After a few weeks, she pulled me aside and asked if she had done something to offend me, because it was noticeable, and it was affecting our work. Once I realized how I was coming across we were able to figure out a way to keep working together.

    It may be that LW2’s employee doesn’t realize how far she’s taken it, and a gentle conversation is all that’s needed to get her back on track. If that’s not enough, maybe a referral to the company’s EAP.

    Raising the prospect of her having to leave the company seems unnecessary at this point. Of course, if she resists, or it doesn’t get better, absolutely, make clear that communicating with her manager is a necessary part of the job, but at this point, it may backfire if she sees her manager as “against” her.

  60. Noah*

    Presumably OP4 has a lawyer who, if they thought this information was important, could have obtained it through the means provided by our judicial system. It’s probably telling that OP4 is doing this herself — her lawyer likely (and probably correctly) does not think this is relevant evidence. I totally get why OP4 is mad that Ex is taking family medical leave (or whatever) based on her illness, but it’s probably not relevant to the distribution of family assets. (At most, it might be relevant to impeach Ex’s testimony since it proves shows he’s willing to commit fraud.)

  61. Dan*

    TO #1– I completely second the update! I was diagnosed with serious sleep apnea (my doctor said I was well on my way to heart damage when they caught it) and I’d been ignoring occasional bouts of moderate-to-severe fatigue that sound similar to you. I’d tried everything I could think off: coffee, cold water, energy drinks, but nothing seemed to completely fix the problem. I KICK myself because I lost so much of my life to sleeping and not having energy to make the most of my nights and weekends and all I had to do was go to the damn doctor!

  62. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #5 – in my business (IS/IT) – – companies sometimes are going down for the count. Those companies “on the ropes” know that their employees are looking. There are opportunities for healthy companies to go after those who in a bad situation.

    I wouldn’t call such recruiting “poaching”. In fact, if the marketplace is competitive, I don’t consider any form of competitive recruiting as “poaching” but reacting to and exploiting the marketplace.

    1. Chaordic One*

      I have seen a few instances where opportunistic companies will take an unfair advantage of employees (who are going to be soon losing their jobs) by offering them new jobs doing the same kind of work at lower wages. Sometimes desperate employees will accept these jobs at lower wages, but it usually doesn’t work out very well in the long run.

      Morale will be down and most of the people who accept these jobs will move on to other jobs as soon as they can. OTOH, if you can get hired at what you were making at your current job (if not more) then you should probably consider it.

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