update: my coworker’s husband gets annoyed when our meetings run over

Remember the letter earlier this year about the person whose husband would get visibly annoyed when her meetings ran over and when she wasn’t ready to have lunch with him exactly on time? He worked in the same building and would lurk around, glaring, until the meeting ended. Meanwhile, the employee would mentally check out of meetings as soon as he showed up. Here’s the update.

It actually worked out really well for everyone involved. I took your advice and talked to Jane about checking out when Fergus shows up, but I framed it as a peer, saying that it puts me in an awkward position and I feel like I’m imposing, but also that the work is suffering if we’re just rushing through it trying to get to lunch. She totally got it! She understood why I felt like that and apologized, but did say that the work we were doing was very stressful, and she needed some breaks from it.

I don’t want anyone to ever be unhappy with their work, so I asked what about it she didn’t like, and learned that teapot outputs wasn’t her jam, but that she loved teapot sourcing. She just hadn’t wanted to speak up, because she appreciated everything that I had taught her about teapot outputs and didn’t want to be ungrateful. I talked to her manager and grandboss, and we re-worked her role into just dealing with teapot sourcing. In a few months, she has excelled at teapot sourcing so much that we promoted her. She’s doing a great job, and now SHE tells Fergus to go away when she’s on a roll with a sourcing project — I see him less and less. Teapot sourcing also means she has to go to the production department more frequently to drop things off and pick things up, which means she can chat briefly with Fergus a few times a day. And the gap on my projects gave me the opportunity to train a teapot assistant into a star teapot outputs specialist, and she is killing it. Everyone is happy.

I want to address some of the comments about my organization’s culture that came up in the comments. We aren’t monsters who lock the refrigerator until we feel the work is done, and I don’t literally not eat — yesterday I spent an hour getting coffee and returning stuff at the mall in the middle of the day – but some days I look up at the clock and realize it’s 3 pm and grab a cereal bar. The culture here is no different than many professional environments, and this type of workplace has always been my experience. I think this argument comes up in the comments very frequently when anyone suggests that a standard workweek could be more than 40 hours and that this is okay, but there are different norms for everyone!

{ 88 comments… read them below }

  1. Foreign Octopus*

    I love this update!

    This is the best case scenario that we all hope for. Congratulations on turning the situation around into a win-win-win!!!

    1. Dankar*

      Agree! I think this is the best update we’ve seen this year (and there have been some good ones).

      1. Frank Doyle*

        Maybe in addition to Worst Boss of the Year, we can have a Best Update of the Year — something positive to balance out the negative!

          1. Letter Writer*

            I didn’t realize until recently that people didn’t provide updates! I was thrilled that Alison wanted an update – in fact, the only reason I didn’t send one sooner is because I didn’t think this story was particularly interesting!

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              We always love updates, especially positive ones — I’m so glad you did tell us! You handled it great, and I’m so glad it worked out that way.

            2. Leticia*

              Thanks so much for the update. It’s great to see a thorny situation resolve so beautifully. It made my day and it isn’t even 6 am. :)

            3. Formica Dinette*

              Maybe it isn’t the weirdest or most exciting story, but it’s great to hear when things work out so well. Thank you!

      2. Specialk9*

        Agreed, I also came here to say, yay for an awesome update that had a best case scenario resolution. WOO!!

        I was really concerned in the original about control and potential domestic issues. I’m so stoked it’s not that!

        Wonderful that she was able to get into a better fit that she’s rocking at, and you look good too, and that awkward situation is resolved.

        Boom! :D

        1. JessaB*

          Yes great results for the OP, the company, the employee and even Fergus. This is an awesome update. And it really shows that you have to talk to people because you never ever know what the story is.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes! It shows thoughtful and strategic management, and OP was able to come up with a resolution that not only worked, it thrived. That’s super rare and shows pretty gifted insight! Congrats, OP!

    3. Hrovitnir*

      Yes! It always makes me happy to read updates like this. And this one is particularly nice. ^_^

  2. Tuesday Next*

    Lots of places just aren’t flexible enough to implement this type of solution. It’s fantastic that you were able to make the roles fit the people instead of the other way around.

  3. Cafe au Lait*

    This is a complete win-win-win situation! You solved your problem, Jane is able to focus on stuff she loves, and you were able to give an opportunity to someone new.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      And Fergus is even probably cool with it, since he gets to see his wife for more frequent moments (even if not always at the same time) when she stops by production.

  4. LBK*

    My favorite part is that she’s now self-corrected the Fergus lurking (my brain really wants to mash those words up into “flurking”) issue that was the genesis of the original letter. It seems that was merely a symptom of her general desire to be elsewhere and the times Fergus was around were a convenient excuse to disengage from work she didn’t want to be doing. Thrilled to here it’s all worked out for the best for everyone.

        1. Amber T*

          You know, the tea I’m drinking really didn’t need to come out of my nose.

          (So frickin true.)

  5. Former Hoosier*

    That is a great update and good job spending time with your employee figuring out just what was wrong instead of just criticizing her.

    Also, thanks for your comment about culture. I think most places work like this. I sometimes get lunch as early as 11 am because I am hungry or really need a break and other days I forget all about lunch. That is my expectation not my employer’s.

    1. Is it Friday Yet?*

      Yes! I never would have guessed all of that based on just the lunch situation. This was nice to read.

    2. Bryce*

      I think one thing is that we commenters tend to read letters looking for red flags, and we don’t have the surrounding context. Like the one a few days ago whose letter sounded harsh and arrogant, but that was because they wrote it at 3AM while at their wits end stressing out. It’s easy to assume that if someone talks about working through lunch they’re always working through lunch, or if they mention some additional piece of info that doesn’t fit with their main question it must be key to what’s REALLY the trouble.

      1. Emily S.*

        This is a great point, Bryce. Based on the letters we see, we only view a slice of the picture of what’s going on. So, often, it can be easy to jump to conclusions about various things — when the case might just be that we’re missing a few details here or there, so the facts aren’t clear.

    3. Kathleen Adams*

      I agree. Some of the commenters on the original thread were…pretty adamant about things like lunches beginning at the same time and lasting a minimum number of minutes per day, that breaks must occur at specified times, etc.

      And that’s just not how it has worked in any of the places I’ve worked. I’ve always had to be flexible about such things, but on the other hand, my employers have always been pretty flexible about minor things, too.

      Anyway, the fact that a company doesn’t have specific lunch and break times isn’t necessarily a sign that it’s evil or anything.

      1. 2 Cents*

        Yeah, my company doesn’t have specific lunch/break times. Generally, you get an hour for lunch, but when you take it is really up to you. On a day when we’re slammed, it can be (much) less than an hour, but on a slow day, if you take a 75 minutes, no one really cares. Plus, they’re flexible for things like doctor’s appointments and other “we employ humans so these things happen” things, which is what I really appreciate.

      2. Jadelyn*

        Some of that adamance may be coming from people who have legal requirements around breaks. I’m in California, and hourly employees who work a shift of more than 5 hours MUST receive a 30 minute unpaid break minimum, which MUST be taken by the end of the 5th hour of work. That’s legal requirement, not us being inflexible.

        1. copy run start*

          It could also come from people who are very used to working in that kind of environment. Breaks aren’t as strictly regulated here, but at OldJob we were under a union contract with similar stipulations around breaks and lunches.

          At OldJob, lunches were strictly scheduled and breaks could only occur during specific timewindows in the morning and afternoon. The business need was valid, however I believe the policy created a lot of drama regarding lunches and breaks — leave late or take an extra minute or two and people would mutter snide comments for days. If someone left at the wrong time, it often meant someone else had to go late or miss their break, or for lunches, explain to management why they were taking a late lunch. And if you needed to go at a different time, you had to beg people to swap with you to ensure the minimum number of staff were present.

          It wasn’t a good place to work, but the break policy is the least of the problems I ran into there. I felt much more aggravated when I wasn’t able to take my breaks or lunch at the allotted times than I do when I go late or miss a break in my current position (where no one cares and it doesn’t matter!).

          I felt rudderless for a while when I departed for less-strict pastures… and I was only at OldJob a few years. The me from OldJob would probably have been more adamant about scheduling and timing than I am now.

        2. Tau*

          Yeah, same (in Europe). As far as I can tell, just working through lunch would be illegal for me to do. It would definitely have gotten me into *deep* trouble at my last job. As a result the “oh, I might or might not have lunch at some point depending on if I have time” mindset is really, really alien.

      3. Specialk9*

        I so love that nobody tells me what to do to that degree.

        I meet with my boss once a week, though with schedules that’s usually really twice a month. (I happen to think he’s hysterical and pop in most days just to chat, but actual meetings are rarer.)

        Otherwise I’m on my own. It would feel really insulting to have someone micro-manage me at this point, though when I was younger and learning the ropes I needed that.

    4. Delphine*

      I think commenters were responding to the OP’s framing (“No one takes a lunch — I’m lucky if I get to eat, and if I do it is at my desk.”), which did make it sound like getting lunch or taking a break simply didn’t mesh with the work they were expected to do–that part of the problem with Jane was that she was taking lunch and getting more time than most people (“Jane will still get to see him for 30 minutes, which is still longer than everyone else on the team is taking.”).

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        I guess I read that as “No one takes a (regular) lunch,” plus a little bit of “We’re too busy to always count on a 30-minute break” hyperbole. Not saying this interpretation is right, but that is how I read it. I think I based this interpretation partly on how matter-of-fact and non-bitter the OP was about this situation.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        I agree – the original post did explicitly say no one takes a lunch, and when they do, it’s less than 30 minutes. I’m glad to see that’s not the case, but I’m not beating myself up over taking the LW at her word when it turned out it was just hyperbole. Glad to see a happy ending for everyone!

        1. Specialk9*

          Exactly – we’re not magicians, we can only know what they tell us, and things like exaggeration and humor get lost. But the cool thing is that we get to get refinements to the letters in the comments and follow-ups. And this is a wonderful follow-up!

  6. Elizabeth H.*

    Yay! This is such a fantastic update and I’m so glad. This is probably my favorite ever update here on Ask a Manager.

    I also think this is a wonderful example of executing a piece of advice that Alison has given in many situations: that when there is a problem, to talk to the employee and describe what’s happening and ask them what’s going on so that you may either get a new perspective, be able to uncover the most effective solution, and both have clarity of communication.

    1. LBK*

      Totally agree, I’ve never really noticed that but you’re right – usually the suggested language is “here’s what it looks like is happening from my perspective, what’s going on from your perspective?” and then shutting up and listening to the response. This is a beautiful example of what that approach can reveal.

  7. Beatrice3*

    This is an awesome update! It sounds like directness + flexibility worked out really well for you & her.

  8. Drew*

    This is an example of stellar management and dealing with the cause of a problem, not just the symptoms. It speaks very well of you that Jane felt comfortable admitting that she wasn’t happy with her work and trusted you to accept that feedback professionally even if it wasn’t what you wanted to hear.

    Brilliantly done, OP.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Thanks :) These comments are making me realize that I have a really awesome workplace, boss, and grandboss – because not only did the original advice not sound particularly scary to me, but the solution was pretty easy to implement in the end, and I didn’t even blink in suggesting the job shift. With this situation, my awkwardness in approaching it was that I felt like I was overstepping personal boundaries – once Alison redirected my thinking to view it as a work issue, I didn’t really worry about having the conversation, because I knew that I’d either find out that Jane wasn’t going to change, and I’d adjust to deal with it, or that something else was up, and I’d have the information to move forward. Once I had a solution in mind, I was lucky the timing was pretty quick on this (Jane got switched within a month, I had to wait probably 4-5 months to promote Teapot Superstar, but now she’s a rockstar and a half), but even when you have to wait a while, my org is really invested in us as employees and wants us to be happy. Within reason of course – if you don’t like your job because you can’t wait a bathing suit to work or watch youtube videos all day, then tough luck, but if you’re passionate about one thing more than another, we’ll try to accommodate that as best as we can!

      1. Emily S.*

        LW: This is awesome. Not only I am pleased that the situation worked out so well, I’m thrilled that you were able to turn a sticky mess into a win-win-win. Nice work!

      2. beanie beans*

        I love updates like these because they give me hope that reasonable workplaces/bosses/managers/coworkers are out there and that the office world isn’t solely made up of people pooping in plants, putting spells on people, and rearranging their desks every night.

          1. beanie beans*

            Oh that’s for sure! I just personally feel desperate to get out of my current disfunctional workplace, and if all we heard about was other disfunctional workplaces and horrible bosses, I’d start to get too depressed that there wasn’t anything better out there for me.

            And I guess it doesn’t just give me hope that there are better companies out there to work for, but that a lot of times people can actually turn crappy situations into better working environments and not have to leave their job!

  9. Murphy*

    Great update!

    I didn’t think anything was odd about the culture in the office. I had a standing weekly lunch with a friend from another office at noon. It wasn’t uncommon for us to tweak the time that day because something came up or a meeting went long. It happens sometimes.

    1. CableGuy*

      I didn’t think so either! I thought it was weird how much everybody in the comments was fussing about the lunch thing. I guess people forget that every office culture is different especially regarding taking lunches.

  10. Been there*

    Yaaa… Agree with the others, this is a great update.

    +1 for LW asking the questions and being willing to address the lunch issue
    +1 for LW taking Jane’s concerns to those above
    +1 for the creative thinking and job juggling
    +1 for Jane learning that she can speak up for herself
    +1 for Jane enforcing boundaries with Fergus when needed
    +1 for Fergus getting the hint about lunch and listening to Jane
    +1 for Boss and GrandBoss for recognizing employee strengths and managing to them

    This could seriously be a chapter in that elusive manager handbook* that should be written and handed out to new managers.

    *I joke with people that there is no such thing as a manager handbook and most of us are making it up as we go along. Of course other managers know that I’m not joking :)

  11. Myrin*

    Never in a million years would I have expected an update like this to that letter – stellar management, OP, and what an absolutely delightful ending all around!

  12. Prince of Snarkness*

    The old saying “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” comes to mind.

    Rather than creating an adversarial situation, they set up a situation where everyone won big, apparently, even the husband. Happy employees are productive employees. Best update ever.

  13. This Daydreamer*

    And everyone is happier! It’s amazing to see an update with absolutely no losers and several winners.

    1. Maya Elena*

      Except poor Fergus, who apparently needs to lunch alone sometimes now! But I bet his wife being generally happier at work makea up for it :p

        1. Letter Writer*

          Yup, even Fergus wins! They get to see each other for a few minutes a few times a day when she does runs to production. I never really asked her if that was important in the new role – it just worked out that way – but in the end the problem wasn’t her wanting to see Fergus, it was the pain of doing teapot outputs all day!

  14. SheLooksFamiliar*

    This update made me smile, and I don’t even know the people involved. THIS is why I love AAM. OP, thank you for the great news!

  15. Mrs. Fenris*

    What a great update! I absolutely love that the OP talked to her and really got to the bottom of things. Nicely handled!

  16. gurkan*

    So all those commenting on the original post and extrapolating to an abusive relationship and domestic violence care to eat some humble pie?

      1. Maya Elena*

        It doesn’t seem snarky to me, just a criticism of conclusions that were jumped to.

        Anyway, most men are not abusers and most women are resilient to their husbands’ boorishness. I think that the tone and frequency with which the red flags are brought up, as though abuse is up there in likelihood with every other explanation, makes it seem to commenter gurkan like people believe the opposite.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Why? It remains true that sometimes abusive behavior would show up at work this way. The fact that it wasn’t true here doesn’t change that fact.

      (I did note in the comments originally that it was just one of many possibilities that could explain this, and that it was equally likely that Jane was just being weird and unprofessional, and that the advice would be the same no matter what’s causing it. But as long as no one said “abuse is definitely happening,” there’s no humble pie to be eaten.)

      1. gurkan*

        So as not to derail this will be my last comment on the matter. Yes you did say that in the comments and my comment was not directed at you. Some of the other comments in that thread were

        Agree-my “spidey” senses are tingling. He is overly controlling. This isn’t about lunch

        I get the creepy feeling that Fergus is the “take it out on the wife” type of guy, and Jane is afraid of him.
        Maybe not, but that’s just the vibe I’m getting from this

        Absolutely yes. Also I’m getting a huge helping of sexist I own my wife and she comes with me how dare you keep my property busy. But if op wanted it’s worth talking to hr about weather or not they have a policy about abusive relationships especially if both spouses are working in the same company.

        I find some of these grossly overspeculating from the original letter. Perhaps they do not fail your test by saying “abuse is definitely happening,” but they are pretty close.

        Maya Elena, thanks for your comment above. You were right.

    2. Scubacat*

      It’s a relief that domestic abuse was not a factor here. In the end, I think that society is a better place when we can freely discuss domestic abuse prevention.

      1. Mary*

        Yes, absolutely. Suggesting that something *might* be abusive should be part of normal discourse, not something that needs apologising for.

        And a red flag is just that: it doesn’t mean “here be sharks”, but just “sharks might be here, keep an eye out”.

      1. Gurkan*

        Yeah, I understand evidence based reasoning, probability and statistics whereas you and many others commenting appear to have no grasp on them at all.

  17. cornflower blue*

    Dang, I need to read more slowly. All I got was “my coworker’s husband gets annoyed” and “run over” and thought I was about to hear about someone mildly put out after being mowed down in a parking lot.

  18. Lissa*

    I liked this update! I understand why people were seeing potential Major Badness in either Fergus or the company, but I think very often these things do have more mundane answers where nobody’s a “bad guy” and things can be fixed with just a little tweak.

  19. Elise*

    Nice resolution! I have to say that I am so surprised by married couples who work together and then also take lunch together. I could not work with my husband. I love him, but that’s a bit much.

    We have several couples that work in our organization and some of them are better at managing it than others. Also a lot of parents/children (not managing each other or working in the same unit). One colleague I often work with will stop our work related conversation when her mom walks in to discuss who is picking up dinner, the kids, etc and it is so annoying.

  20. somebody blonde*

    Part of what I like about this update is that it actually makes me feel better about Fergus. If she didn’t like the teapot outputs part of her job, I imagine she was telling him how stressed she was and the glaring was probably related to the fact that he knew she was stressed out by the work and needed a break from it in order to cope.

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