my coworker writes fanfic in meetings, telling a friend I don’t want to work for her, and more

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

1. My coworker writes fanfic in meetings

A coworker of mine (Sansa, shall we say) and I are a little unsure whether we ought to narc on a third coworker — we’ll call him Bran — who consistently spends our team meetings writing what appears to be fantasy fanfic on his laptop. For context: we’re an 11-person team of specialists within a larger but still small-ish (~120 people) company, and we use a bunch of Excel models and similar stuff to do our jobs. Since the models always need improving, we have a lot of meetings (maybe too many meetings…) where we talk about potential improvements and issues we’ve seen.

For the last couple of months, Sansa and I have noticed that, when we’re in these meetings, Bran is almost always writing some sort of novel or story in what appears to be an online fan forum for something. He’s the second-newest person on our team, maybe six or eight months now, and so far he seems to do okay but somewhat slow work on his projects. He’s not mentally checked out in the meetings — like, he’ll respond to things that are said and make contributions — and we’ve always had the understanding on our team that you can, within reason, do whatever you want as long as your work gets done. I’ve been known to have baseball on in the corner of my second screen in the summer, and even the manager freely admits that she’ll put a TV show on while she’s doing Excel grunt work or something like that. But it’s still starting to really concern/bother us that Bran is using meetings to work on his answer to The Hobbit. Should we escalate this to our manager? And if we do, what should we say?

Nope, I’d stay out if it. Assuming that your manager is in these meetings too, she can see what’s going on (or at least can see that he’s very occupied by something on his computer) and can address it if she wants to. (If she weren’t in the meetings and it were impacting his participation/engagement, it would be reasonable for someone else there to say, “Hey, you seem distracted — do you need a minute?” or otherwise call him out on it.)

This is one of those things that’s annoying but doesn’t sound like it’s impacting your work, and it doesn’t on its own rise to the level of involving your manager. That answer would change if it did start to affect your work — like if Bran were giving you work with errors because he was missing instructions in meetings, or if you had to spend extra time repeating things for him that he missed while immersed in his story-writing.

2. Telling a friend I don’t want to work for her

I have a bit of a dilemma with a friend/former colleague, Belinda. We used to work together, but she has since moved on to a different company. We have maintained a friendship and a shared professional network since she moved on. She knows I am unhappy at my job and am looking for a new one. I love the work, but I don’t love my current company.

Belinda was recently promoted and is looking to hire someone to fill her former role. She has told me several times that she has been working with her management to expand that role and that the expanded job description is basically written for me to be the perfect candidate. She says I would be a perfect fit, they want to hire me for it, and that I should apply when it’s posted in two weeks. She has asked me to dinner soon so she can “give me intel” on the position.

The problem is I don’t want to work for Belinda. She’s a good friend but a bad manager. When she worked here, some staff threatened to quit if she became their supervisor. I know our personalities would clash in a manager-employee relationship. The role does sound perfect for me on paper, but I am concerned it will turn into another situation where I love the work but hate who I work for. I am pretty sure it would ruin our friendship.

How do I let her down softly when she knows I want out of my current job and is basically offering me a perfect fit job on a silver platter? Jobs like this rarely open in our local industry; I would likely have to move to find something similar any time soon. I don’t feel like there’s any way to say “thanks but no thanks” without it being too obvious that the problem here is her.

Blame it on the friendship! There are tons of legitimate reasons not to want to work for a friend. Say something like this: “I really appreciate you suggesting this, but I’ve given it a lot of thought and I’ve decided not to apply. I value our friendship, and I know it would have to change if I was working for you. It sounds like a great job, though, and I know you’ll find someone perfect for it.”

If she pushes you to reconsider and tells you that your fears are for naught, say something like, “I’ve seen it go wrong too many times, and I don’t want to risk it.” Or even just, “Thank you — I’m flattered, but this is the right choice for me.”

3. Responding to my mom’s coworkers about her terminal illness

My mother and I work for the same organization, but totally separate departments. Our work occasionally intersects, and I do know all of her coworkers. She has been battling a terminal illness, and has been missing more and more work, as her health has recently declined drastically. Her coworkers reach out to me for updates, and I’m finding it increasingly more stressful. I know that she is still in contact with several people in her department who could update the coworkers reaching out to me. Am I under any obligation to respond? I try to focus on my own work during work hours and to be as productive as I can, and these questions are very upsetting to get throughout the day. Or is there a polite way to shut this down?

Can you talk to the coworker she’s closest to from that department, explain that it’s upsetting to get multiple questions about your mom throughout the day, ask if you can deputize that person to handle updates to the rest of their team, and ask them to spread the word to their colleagues to stop continually contacting you? And if any of them keep contacting you after that, say that you appreciate their concern but it’s become distressing to be asked about it so frequently and so you’ve asked Jane (or whoever) to keep people up-to-date.

I’m sorry about your mom.

4. Can I get unemployment if I resign rather than being put on a PIP?

I am already 150% over-innundated with my caseload, and I have over 15 hours of accumulated overtime hours. Recently I started making a lot of mistakes as a consequence of feeling overwhelmed with my workload. My manager added three more large accounts to my current caseload, but he wouldn’t remove my existing caseload. I expect to work 10-15 hours of overtime every week in addition to my regular 40 hours a week, in order to achieve an average level of performance so that I can keep my job.

If I am asked to sign a performance improvement plan this year (they have set me up to fail this job and some coworkers are hoping that I fail), I will not sign it. I will resign from the position, as I know two coworkers were recently dismissed after they were put on a PIP.

Would I qualify for unemployment, if I explain that I was forced to resign before they fired me? Is the employer obligated to pay me back the accrued overtime hours? I expect to collect at least 50 hours of overtime.

Unemployment rules depend on your state, but generally you won’t be eligible to collect unemployment benefits if you resign rather than accept a performance improvement plan, even if you argue that it was the first step toward preparing to fire you.

However, yes, assuming that you are non-exempt and thus legally entitled to overtime pay, they are legally required to pay it to you. In fact, they’re legally required to pay it in the paycheck for the pay period when it was earned. Assuming that you’re in the U.S., “accruing” overtime hours isn’t actually legal (unless you’re exempt from overtime laws or working for the government).

5. My school is pushing an online portfolio service

My community college just sent out an email saying that they’d signed up for Portfolium. Here’s what they have to say about it: “Companies are using Portfolium to hire students and alumni that have their skills on display. Tens of thousands of employers use Portfolium to match their jobs and internships to the skills in students’ and graduates’ Portfolium profiles. There’s an entire interface for employers to do this efficiently across the entire network.”

What’s your take? Is this a useful tool or a waste of time?

If you’re in a visual field like design, it could be useful — but there are much simpler ways to make an online portfolio. For everyone else, it’s a waste of time. But that company’s bottom line is benefitting by convincing your school to market this to students.

This company’s website says that you can showcase your “projects, presentations, papers, labs, clubs, and activities.” Noooo. When will colleges get over the misconception that employers want to see a portfolio of schoolwork? For the vast majority of fields (with some exceptions, as above), they don’t. It’s weird that they keep pushing this on students.

{ 389 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, blaming it on the friendship will get you out of so many sticky situations—not wanting to be roommates, not working together, etc. And in this case, it has the benefit of being partially true (i.e., if you worked for Belinda and she’s a bad manager, it would probably significantly tax your friendship).

    Tell her you appreciate her looking out for and thinking of you, but that you try very hard not to mix work with friendships (in whatever phrasing makes the most sense for you). I do this with friends who ask me to matchmake for them, and it’s shockingly effective.

    1. sacados*

      Something like, “I value you as a friend, and I know that if you were to become my manager we would have to scale back to a less close relationship. Your friendship is more important to me than a job.”

    2. Casuan*


      Your friendship answered your question for you, OP2. For what it’s worth, I think you’re wise to understand that this job offer is a bad idea even if it does fit your skills & qualifications. Working in a different power dynamic &or loaning money &or becoming roommates are each a very good way to lose an otherwise good friendship.

      1. Tuxedo Cat*

        I’ve been learning this the hard way, and it’s just a collaborator/friend. Things I might’ve minded but not to this extent are having me question the friendship.

    3. anyone out there but me*

      This… so much this. Don’t do it. I wish I hadn’t. It started out great!! But it went sour… I learned things about my friend that I wish I didn’t know. She probably feels the same about me.

      I ended up resigning. Partly to try and save the friendship, but also because I needed a shorter commute, less stress and wanted to move (my husband got a job offer in a different city around the same time). But my friend just felt like I was betraying her by leaving so *poof* there went a 20+ year friendship. She barely speaks to me now.

      I should have known better. Sigh.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Same here. I will never do that again. In my case, it was my performance that ended up wrecking things (I was in the throes of a major depressive episode) but the friendship has never been the same. We’re still in the same city but are now Facebook friends. I feel lucky to even have that.

        If you want to keep Belinda as a friend, don’t work for her.

        1. Contrarian*

          The plural of “ancedote” isn’t “data.” I appreciate that in your case, working for a friend did not pan out well. That doesn’t mean the pattern will hold true for everyone.

          1. Someone else*

            No one said it will hold true for everyone, but a lot of people are chiming in that they did have that experience. Considering the point is to help the LW and the LW doesn’t want to work for the friend (even if it might not harm the friendship) all these anecdotes are helpful because it supports the “use that as the excuse” approach to the problem. If a lot of people have had that experience, it adds credibility to using that as a reason.

    4. Totally Minnie*

      Absolutely blame the friendship. I actually have a close friend who works in my industry, and we’ve made a pact to never become each other’s supervisors. It just complicates so many things.

    5. Video Gamer Lurker*

      I would even siggest that coworkers may think the friendship would lead to Belinda favoring unfairly (even though that wouldnt be true, or so I would say because I am a user of white lies and giving the benefit of the doubt).

  2. Mike C.*

    He’s not mentally checked out in the meetings — like, he’ll respond to things that are said and make contributions

    This and the fact that your coworker isn’t disrupting meetings is really all that matters.

    I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to sit in endless meetings where the speed of information delivery slows down to an absolute crawl but you have to sit there and do nothing else with you time. If your coworker has found a way to take that edge off, please let them do so!

    1. Original Flavored Kaitception*

      This is pretty much my take. I’ve been at companies who do the “meeting to talk about what we’ll talk about at the meeting” thing, and since my prior employers were all in the Southeast, there was also an obligatory socialization/asking about everyone’s children and grandchildren and marriages period, and then of course we had to make more iced tea, and god, I just wanted to fling myself out the window.

      If he’s engaged and not missing anything, and not needing extra corrections/explanations from you, why do you CARE?

      1. Snark*

        Somewhat alternative take: the problem goes beyond Bran. Everyone at this org is wasting vast amounts of each others’ time in pointless meetings, and wasting vast amounts of their own time watching baseball and posting on forums, and the entire picture of how people spend their time at work there and how much time is valued needs to be scrapped and reassessed. If someone can spend a meeting posting on a forum and still has the bandwidth to contribute as meaningfully as anybody else, then the meetings need to be either cancelled, shortened, or subject to meticulously planned agendas and adjourned as soon as that agenda is completed.

        1. Luna*

          I think we are all making a lot of assumptions about the usefulness of these meetings, based on our own negative experiences. Yes, OP said there are “maybe too many” but also goes on to explain why. The meetings do seem to have a purpose.

          If OP had said that several employees were taking part in this type of behavior that would be different, but from the letter it is only Bran. And just because Bran manages to respond when needed does not mean he is contributing at the same level as everyone else.

          1. Snark*

            I’m completely comfortable making the generalized judgment that if you’ve got the time and headspace to write fanfic in a meeting, either you don’t need to be at the meeting or the meeting is a lumbering, pointless mess.

            1. tangerineRose*

              I’ve been in meetings where my input is useful sometimes, and in between, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t need to know or help with.

        2. Erin*

          At work we had a pre taped town hall meeting that took an hour, and the higher ups answered 5 questions, with vague answers. That meeting should’ve been an email. It sounds like you’re company is having a similar thing going on.

    2. Sarah G*

      This. I can see it being pretty distracting if he’s typing away, and ideally he would find a quieter and less distracting
      activity (like reading AAM!), but it doesn’t rise to the level of a Thing To Bring Up. I have a colleague knits a lot during meetings and (interactive) trainings, which is pretty annoying and distracting; it seems out of place and unprofessional. But I wouldn’t ever say anything. Different activity, but analogous. I seem to remember the knitting thing coming up in an AAM question not too long ago. (And sorry, I keep having this thing happen where I think I’m replying to a comment, but am actually just adding a new comment, and then I have to re-post it because it doesn’t make sense where it ends up. I wish there was an “undo” option!)

      1. Cristina in England*

        I could never write and listen at the same time, but knitting takes away the fidgeting impulse and I am a super duper listener if my hands are busy. I understand that it seems weird to outsiders but the knitters are probably listening more intently than anyone else!

        1. Samiratou*

          Cristina is me. I would love to be able to knit in meetings, but I understand how it can be distracting to others. So I tend to tune out, instead. *sigh*

              1. Your Tax Dollars at Work*

                I love watching people knit too! Except I do get so distracted on their project, I forget to listen!

          1. Tara2*

            My best office fidgetting recommendation is a puzzle ring! You can take it with you anywhere, its small, unobtrusive, looks awesome (I’ve found it to be quite the conversation piece!), looks professional, and once you learn how to fix them(this will take a bit) is something that has an active fidgetting quality that isn’t distracting.

            You can get some pretty nice sterling silver ones for $20, but nicer ones vary in price upwards from there.

        2. AccountingIsFun*

          as are crocheters, cross-stitchers, etc. I agree when my hands are busy with something, my attention for listening is greatly improved.

          1. Fiennes*

            Same here. If I’m listening to an audio course or lecture, crocheting is the single best way to ensure I’ll really absorb what’s being said and not get distracted.

          2. Kj*

            Agreed. I’m an artist and in my CEUs for my non-art profession, I constantly draw. Many of the sessions involve a lecture, then discussions at the table. I have impressed my table mates multiple times by retaining the information really well despite (or really, because of) my drawing. I’m classic ADHD and sitting, hands clasped, listening, is HARD for me. Drawing allows me to better retain the information.

          3. Aerin*

            I picked up cross-stitching specifically because I needed something mostly brainless I could do with my hands while on calls, something that wasn’t messy or loud and could be instantly dropped if I suddenly need my hands or more of my attention. I actually tried a few different things before settling on that. Early on I got talked to about it because the optics weren’t great, but I explained that my focus was significantly worse if didn’t have that sort of occupation, and that since my performance metrics were well above standards it was clearly working. I got left alone after that (although moved to a less highly trafficked part of the floor).

            I really wish I could sew in meetings, but that might be a harder sell. I’ve gotten away with it in trainings before, either because they were over the phone or with permission from the trainer.

        3. RabbitRabbit*

          I was at a work conference with a doctor I worked for, and as is her usual habit, during a presentation (which we were getting all the Powerpoint slides for anyway) she was working on other things on her laptop. We were sitting at a hotel conference room table with huge, drapey tablecloths. She looked over at one point and asked, “are you knitting?” Yup. Had a little hat tucked into my lap and you couldn’t really tell unless you were right next to me, especially as with simple knits I rarely have to even look at what I’m doing. (She approved.)

        4. fieldpoppy*

          Me too, exactly — knitting focuses my attention. I got through my phd by knitting in group learning sessions where other people had to process their Insights out loud.

        5. PlainJane*

          This is totally me, but I worry about looking unprofessional if I’m the only one knitting in meetings. So I try to stay focused but end up getting distracted by email or a wandering mind.

        6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Y’all can say what you want against knitting in a meeting, but you cannot deny that it rhymes.

          (I totally have “knitting in a meeting” running through my head to the tune of “Smoking in the boys’ room” now.)

          1. Someone else*

            This does not rhyme is my dialect of English. Knitting rhymes with sitting. Meeting rhymes with greeting. Short i. Long e.

      2. DCompliance*

        Sometimes in meetings, if someone is typing away loudly, that can be distracting. But it isn’t what they are typing that bothers me. Therefore, I probably wouldn’t say anything.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Loudly, yes–but if he’s just typing, that wouldn’t bother me. I’d probably be doing it myself to take notes.

          If I’m using paper, I doodle. But I can’t take paper notes very well thanks to dyspraxia. I can’t keep up with the conversations. Even typing gets hard if people are talking too fast. I think I read about a study that said doodling actually helps concentration.

    3. Casuan*

      I’m with Mike C.
      Also I’m impressed that your colleague can multi-task well enough for to write fantasy fanfic & still be mostly engaged in a meeting!

      1. Wintermute*

        I’d be even more impressed if he’s able to keep it from bleeding through into his work!

        “And we shall form… the working task group on the subject of rings!”

      2. Kelly L.*

        I find it more likely that he’s just making forum posts, FWIW. Writing your fic directly in a forum is a PITA–you don’t have as many word processing tools at your disposal, and if you crash, it’s probably all gone. I bet he’s arguing about, e.g. who would win in a fight between Ser Jaime and Ser Barristan if they were in their prime at the same time.

        1. Helpful*

          That’s helpful to know, as I think it’s pretty unlikely he could sustain the attention a longer story/novel requires. But popping in and out of different convos makes much more sense.

        2. Myrin*

          Yeah, I was actually surprised by the conclusion that he must be writing fic just because he’s on some sort of forum or “what appears to be an online fan forum for something”. I’m pretty involved in fanfics and that would never be my fist thought. (Unless, of course, OP has literally seen his prose. If she sits by him in such a way that she can tell that he’s always on this site, she might also be in a position to see that he does indeed write fictional stories (although she actually sounds mighty unsure about that, mind you).)

        3. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Either that or he’s doing forum role playing which is basically collaborative fanfic where each person takes on the role of a specific character.

        4. Falling Diphthong*

          That’s an interesting insight–I was perplexed that anyone could write a coherent story (even fanfic…) with half their attention on the changes to the Excel worksheets. But arguing with people who are being Wrong On The Internet can rise above such things.

          Obligatory link in name.

      3. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        One of my old bosses wrote her first 2 romance novels in meetings. I was impressed because based on her level of participation in the meeting you’d never have guessed she wasn’t 100% focused on the topic at hand

    4. Julia*

      This. If my mind isn’t occupied enough, I fall back into anxious thinking patterns (that can lead to depression, and yes, I am and have been getting help), and occupying myself with writing (fan) fiction has been one of my best coping mechanisms. It might even be why your boss is putting TV on in the back if she’s doing repetitive work.

      Unless it’s impacting his and/or your work, and you’re willing to give up baseball, leave him be, please.

    5. Traffic_Spiral*

      So long as it’s not really raunchy sex fanfic, I’d ignore it. Heck, even if it was, I’d just be like “meh, not my problem.” Unless it goes into Real People Fic about you and your co-workers – I think I’d draw the line there.

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        This is totally unrelated, but a few months ago I was in a dive bar comedy club. You have to get there super early to get a table, so we were just hanging out for 45 minutes. It’s dark in there and the guy next to me was on his laptop, typing away with his word document set to look like a notebook and the screen set to full brightness. I finally looked at what he was writing and it was very, very erotic…and terrible. It was jarring enough in a smoky bar – if I saw that in a work meeting I would feel very uncomfortable.

    6. Mookie*

      Yep. I don’t entirely understand what is bothering / concerning the LW and Sansa about this, because it sounds like Bran is mentally checked-in enough to be performing to capacity and expectation. (Fiddling with grammar is an excellent way of keeping a perpetually busy mind’s secondary consciousness occupied to focus greater attention and awareness on more germane matters, I’ve found.) This is a nice illustration of the distinction between disruptive behavior and a person’s unsustainable threshold for distraction. Manage your distraction, LW. Bran is fine and what he is doing seems to be, as you say, in keeping with your office’s culture. You don’t have to worry about this for him anymore.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, even after re-reading the letter several times, I’m having a bit of trouble determining what exactly it is that bothers OP and Sansa about what Bran’s doing.

        The qintessence of the letter seems to be summed up in this sentence: “But it’s still starting to really concern/bother us that Bran is using meetings to work on his answer to The Hobbit.” but there’s no actual reason giving for the concern/being bothered.

        So it seems to me that OP and Sansa feel strongly that this is something that is Not Done, although I can’t quite tell whether that is because they’re prejudiced against fanfic in particular – after all, baseball games and TV shows seem to be fine – or whether that is because this happens in a meeting vs. while doing your individual work. In any case, since OP herself says that there appears to be literally zero impact on his actual output (which, btw, props for that – I can’t even listen to a three-second-clip while doing something else without becoming hugely distracted), I don’t think this has anything to do with her at all and she should just try and focus on something else while he’s typing away.

          1. AJHall*

            And Sansa is a book canon purist who complains about the AU “everyone lives!” side of those two ships.

            1. Liane*

              LOL, good ones, Traffic_Spiral & AJHall. However, I think they are people who spent their high school (& college) years mocking classmates who were into roleplaying games and now spend their grown-up leisure time–and work time–playing fantasy football.

              I also think LW and Sansa could solve their Fanfic Problem by forcing themselves to pay attention to the meeting topic and focusing on their jobs outside of meetings, instead of fantasizing about reporting Bran and his fanfics.

              1. Lissa*

                Whoa, I think this is a bit of a leap! Just because they are annoyed or uncomfortable with what Bran is doing hardly means they are hypocritical bullies. They might well be just as annoyed by Bran if he was playing fantasy football too.

              2. Luna*

                This is a really uncalled for comment. I think people are giving Bran way too much of a pass because it is related to fanfic, which apparently is very popular among commentators here.

                If Bran was playing fantasy football during meetings I bet these comments would be very different.

                1. Totally Minnie*

                  It’s less a “Yay, fanfic!” reaction than a “meetings are mind numbing” reaction.

                  I, for one, hate all forms of sportsball, but When my coworkers check sports scores or do fantasy football stuff in meetings, my reaction is pretty much “spend your extra mental bandwidth in whatever way you have to if it keeps you from being bored out of your head.”

                2. Lora*

                  Nah, have had many colleagues who do fantasy football. Constantly. It’s really just “do all these people really need to be here for the whole entire meeting?”

                  If you’re the presenter/organizer, you can do the teacher-y thing and call on people you think aren’t paying attention, but you won’t make any friends.

                  Mostly I think folks need to chill about the whole “doing other things in meetings” deal, and examine why they feel so strongly about it. IMO it’s a culture thing, where people are trying to achieve things in the meeting other than transmit information, in an unacknowledged and possibly subconscious way. Think about it a bit like being the star of a live play: people are going to be coughing and whispering and chomping popcorn and getting up to use the restroom and you are going to need to deal with it. It’s just a thing that happens.

                3. Luna*

                  I disagree. As someone pointed out downthread, there was a letter not that long ago about knitting during meetings, and commentators were clearly on the side of it not being okay. Why is this different? I get the temptation to want to do something else, but most professionals resist that temptation because they know it isn’t okay.

        1. Portia*

          Hmm, I don’t know. It sounds like their specific complaint is that Bran is doing this in meetings – where it sounds like a lot of collaborative conversation is happening – whereas they only employ similar distractions when they’re doing “grunt work.” There’s a big difference between working on your own, at your own pace, and multitasking in the middle of a meeting.

          Also, both watching basketball and watching TV are passive activities – they don’t necessarily interfere with work. When I grade papers, I put TV on, but it’s really background noise. I grade papers just as quickly with it on as with it off. But if I were stopping every two minutes to write long posts in a fantasy forum? I’d never get anything done.

          All that said, I agree this isn’t LW’s problem to solve. If it’s affecting his work, his manager will hopefully figure that out.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            If the difference is that his online distraction is in meetings while theirs are during solo pound-the-spreadsheet sessions, that’s a substantial distinction.

            If not, the meetings would probably go faster if they were fewer and shorter, put some hard stop times on it, and everyone put away their distractors. It sounds similar to the lateness arms race, where having learned meetings start 15 minutes late everyone accounts for that, and then they start even later, so everyone comes later… If the meetings are so boring and largely useless that lots of people have distractors going, address the boring and useless parts.

          2. Myrin*

            I don’t think we disagree? I wrote “although I can’t quite tell whether that is […] because this happens in a meeting vs. while doing your individual work.”, which is the same point as your first paragraph, although I will say that if that really is OP’s specific complaint, she could’ve made that much clearer – it kind of got buried amongst other examples of their working culture.

            1. Portia*

              Sorry, I missed that in your comment. Yup, we’re making the same point – I think the meetings vs. individual work is the key thing here.

          3. Observer*

            In meeting vs alone is a difference, but not big enough to report, imo. Also, it doesn’t really matter if the activity is actie or passive. The issue is whether his work, or the meetings, are suffering, and according to the LW, they are not. His work is good, he’s paying attention to the meeting content and apparently is working is unobtrusive enough that the LW believes that others are not aware of what he is doing.

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          I read it as their issue being that he’s doing in meetings. I got the feeling they wouldn’t care if he was doing this at his desk on his own.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            To clarify, I don’t think it changes the answer, I was just addressing you question of whether they were prejudiced against fanfic specifically.

          2. Totally Minnie*

            I find this interesting, because I think doing non-work stuff at your desk during work time is worse than doing it in meetings. At my desk, my tasks require my full attention, but I’ve never been in a meeting that required my full attention.

            I think everyone’s probably had a moment in a meeting when your mind wanders off for a few minutes, but when you’re fully checked in again the conversation has barely moved and you’ve hardly missed anything. Finding something else to do with your brain in those moments is fine with me, as long as you’re still paying close enough attention to participate in the meeting.

        3. Turquoisecow*

          Yeah, I wonder if OP and Sansa have reached BEC with Bran – they seem fine with everyone else doing non-work activities that might be distracting, like watching television, but the fact that Bran is writing during a meeting is not okay? Seems arbitrary enough that I wonder if something else is going on.

        4. Wintermute*

          It’s the same thing I’ve called out here before…

          There is this sick culture (it’s not just you LW, it’s our ENTIRE culture, I don’t mean to single you out) that says “the more misrable you are the more worthy you are”– I blame being descended from Puritans.

          So it really is just the vauge sense that someone else is having more fun than should be allowed, or that if someone has found a way to make their work less misrable we should begrudge them that.

          It’s an offshoot of the crabs in a bucket problem: one crab in a bucket, crab crawls out, many crabs in a bucket, the ones on the bottom grab the ones above and they ALL go into the boil. Well American labor has the same problem, the only thing we tend to hate more than how we’re being treated, is the thought someone else has it a little better than us.

      2. Someone else*

        My take on the letter was slightly different than Alison’s and what I’m reading in the comments so far. I took the “we’ve realized he’s writing fanfic and/or on forums in meetings” combined with the “he’s slower than everyone else at his tasks” that OP1 has put two and two together and thinks the fanfic-during-work-hours is actually affecting his performance. He’s not checked out enough during the meetings to be disruptive in the meetings (which made it a sort of iffy call) but since he’s doing it enough to do it in meetings, it might indicate he’s doing it all day and that’s why he’s slower at this work than everyone else.

        I don’t think OP1 has enough information to definitively come to that conclusion, but I think that’s the general vicinity of where the concern comes from.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yes, but why is he slower at his work? Is it because of this, or something else? Is he waiting on information from other departments/coworkers? Plus, OP said he’s only been there for six or eight months. Is he expected to be as fast as they are in that time? These are things a good manager will stay on top of.

          It also sounds like they have way too many meetings. I’d bet they’re highly repetitive if someone can write forum posts in them and still stay engaged.

          1. Someone else*

            Right, that’s my point. The question is: why is he slower at his work?
            The answer may be he’s new and will get faster as time passes, or he might just be slower for totally unknown reasons. But a bunch of folks were hopping on the “why should this even bother LW? it doesn’t affect LW” train, so I was just hypothesizing, if LW had the “ah ha” moment of “wait maybe this is why he’s slower” then it makes sense that it would bug, AND makes sense she might want to bring it to Manager’s attention. The meeting behaviour and the slowness aren’t necessarily connected, but I can see how someone might wonder.

      3. Luna*

        “This is a nice illustration of the distinction between disruptive behavior and a person’s unsustainable threshold for distraction. Manage your distraction, LW.”

        I’m sorry, but no. Absolutely not. Typing away on a laptop during a meeting IS known to be a common distraction to many people, even more so in small group settings like the LW’s.

        I understand that some people concentrate better when having something to fiddle with, but that is on you to figure out how to concentrate in a way that does not add distraction to everyone else in the room. You don’t get to engage in distracting behavior and then blame everyone else for being distracted by it!

        1. LilLamb*

          Right, but what if he was taking notes on his computer during the meeting? LW would still have to be able to tune out his typing.

          1. Luna*

            But he is not taking notes, so I don’t think playing the “what if” game is really helpful in this scenario.

            1. Not Your Monkeys*

              But the OP never even says the sound of typing is distracting. She says: “But it’s still starting to really concern/bother us that Bran is using meetings to work on his answer to The Hobbit.”

        2. Mookie*

          Yeah, we violently disagree on that. Being un-immune to or driven to distraction by someone typing in an office-setting is very much a you-problem (you being anyone, not you in particular, Luna).

    7. Drama Llama*

      Even if this helps with his concentration, the downside is that it potentially looks awful to his superiors.

      I had an ex colleague who doodled cartoon drawings on a notepad throughout every meeting. You could see everyone else cringing because it was so contrary to the office culture there. I could see our boss eyeing him on one occasion and could tell by the look on her face she was unimpressed. This would also create a negative impression with client meetings, whether he is actually concentrating or not.

      1. krysb*

        I’m a doodler. Keeping my hands busy helps my brain remain engaged with the conversation in the room. If I don’t have something secondary to do, my brain might as well not be in the room.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Me too. I doodle through staff meetings, and I’d hate for anyone to assume I’m not paying attention because of that. But if Bran is writing actual words that make sense, while still fully participating in a meeting, I’m impressed. That’s beyond my ability.

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Yep, right there with you. Me doodling will get far better results than me not doodling.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            I doodle like, boxes on graph paper, or little stripes or repetitive patterns, which keeps my hands busy, but I don’t doodle whole cartoons or illustrations of my coworkers in an important meeting where I’m supposed to be focusing. Not because I think it would distract me so much as because I feel like it would look bad.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Personally, I wouldn’t consider myself “doodling” if I were drawing actual cartoons or illustrations. Doodling is mindless.

          2. SarahTheEntwife*

            Me too!

            I felt substantially less guilty about it after watching my grand-boss doodle through a Skype interview. Also dude, grand-boss has serious art skills.

      2. Bagpuss*

        I think depends on company culture, though. LW says;

        “we’ve always had the understanding on our team that you can, within reason, do whatever you want as long as your work gets done. I’ve been known to have baseball on in the corner of my second screen in the summer, and even the manager freely admits that she’ll put a TV show on while she’s doing Excel grunt work or something like that”

        So it sounds as though what he is doing is not necessarily going to look bad, or unusual, to his superiors. I think that meetings with clients are different to internal ones . I’m curious about whether the other people who have stuff up are doing so only when working in their own space, not during meetings.

        However, unless LW is Bran’s supervisor I don’t think it’s up to her to address it, unless Bran’s work was affected, or he was doing it in such way that her own work was impacted, neither of which seem to be the case at the moment.

      3. Beth*

        That is true, but it is still not the letter writers problem. I have a plaque in my office that says “not my circus, not my monkeys” to remind myself not to get involved in things that do not concern me- critical skill for success at the office. This seems to fall in that category.

        1. Myrin*

          Your first sentence is pretty much verbatim what I was thinking.
          And also, OP’s objective is, by her own admission, to “narc on” her coworker; Drama Llama’s comment seems more applicable to a letter writter who is in the same situation but is worried that her coworker is going to come across badly.

          1. Agenda*

            It also seems like LW is not paying their whole attention to the meeting, if they have the time to peep Bran’s writing. Maybe a little less gossiping with Sansa would be more productive than preventing Bran from writing.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think that’s unfair — it’s often pretty easy to see what someone else is doing in a meeting if you’re sitting near them.

              Y’all, this is a reasonable question. If your coworker appears to be writing a novel during meetings, I think a lot of people would wonder if that was far enough over the line that it should be be pointed out to someone. It doesn’t mean that the LW is out to ruin Bran or has a vendetta against fanfic or whatever else.

              1. Agenda*

                But if it was that evident/distracting, wouldn’t it already be on his superior’s radar? Perhaps my opinion was a bit unfair, but my point is unless it directly impacts your work, what your coworkers do is not your business, and you are not at work to “narc” on others.

            2. Luna*

              If I was in a meeting of this size and there was one person typing away on his laptop (which, it’s not clear whether he is the only one with a laptop or not) it would be very distracting. I’m sure it wasn’t hard for OP and Sansa to notice Bran’s behavior.

              1. Not Your Monkeys*

                Really? I’ve sat in on a lot of meetings where someone is an appointed note taker and is therefore the only person in a meeting (of about a dozen people) on their laptop. As Mookie said above, you’re in an office – typing in meetings is going to happen.

          2. neverjaunty*

            This seemed weird to me too. The LW may mean that the issue is meetings vs work, but there’s A “it’s OK when we do it but not when he does it” vibe.

              1. neverjaunty*

                I can’t tell. But the LW staring the letter off with “narc” is probably the reason people are seeing her tone a certain way.

                1. Myrin*

                  I actually think it’s pretty clear when you read closely: OP is speaking about her “second screen” with the baseball on (which reads like her regular work setup, not something at a meeting), and the manager has on the TV “while she’s doing Excel grunt work” (which, as per OP’s first paragraph, is what their regular work entails).

                  But I do agree that the “narc” language probably set the tone here, along with the fact that he actually does engage just fine during these meetings. (Additionally, it’s pretty obvious that the inclusion of the baseball and TV shows confused many commenters – I’m quite sure OP included it to illustrate that their work environment isn’t one where they sit in silence all day long only focusing on their various workscreens and nothing else, but if someone is only skimming or similar, it might seem like she’s a big ole’ hypocrite.)

            1. KitKat*

              Yeah, I think this is what’s tripping up a lot of people, including me! Upon a close reading, it seems to be that Bran does this in meetings and others don’t, which is a totally legitimate concern.
              But I initially read it the other way, which makes the LW seem a lot more judgmental if she objects to coworker writing fanfic but not to herself watching baseball.

              1. LCL*

                It seemed pretty clear to me that OP and others do that stuff when they are working at their desks by themselves, not in meetings. I often, uh, have ask a manager up on my second monitor.

      4. Mike C.*

        I know you aren’t the source of this but I can’t tell you how much I hate this, “it looks bad” stuff. Paying attention does not mean having to sit with your back straight and your eyes forward, and it’s a weird sense of entitlement that seems to follow many in positions of superiority. I already produce great work, I work well with my coworkers and I’m always there when your boss’s boss starts making unreasonable demands, so cut me some slack when it comes to a dumb PowerPoint deck that’s clearly half BS.

        I can’t tell you how many times people like teachers, principals, new managers and so on would stop what they were saying and ask me some trick question or just “what I thought”, to catch me off guard. Well, just about every time they got a full answer along with either a correction or an pertinent question.

        They only ever did that once.

        1. LQ*

          I think that the produce great work (etc) is the key here. If you aren’t doing a good job, aren’t able to answer questions when needed, aren’t engaged in the conversation, then yeah, stop doing whatever you’re doing (included sitting with your back straight and eyes forward if that hasn’t been working) and do something different.

          I’ve learned (because I get that optics blahblahblah) to be a take notes and look engaged in a lot of contexts, but I’d rather be fidgeting with a slinky any day. But what I’m always going to be is able to answer the questions. If he wasn’t engaged in the meeting then yes, that’s a huge problem, that’s the time to talk about changing behavior (and yeah, I’d say if you haven’t tried doing the taking notes and not doing other things give it a shot).

        2. Sylvan*


          Sometimes things like doodling are how people ~process~. It might sound dumb or woo, but when I’m stuck sitting still, doing something helps me stay engaged. If I stop doodling, I’ll probably sit still nicely for a few minutes and then start bouncing my leg or fiddling with my hair.

        3. KitKat*

          I have mixed feelings about this. I have seen people doodling/fidgeting in meetings while still looking up occasionally to make eye contact, smiling at jokes, nodding when appropriate, asking questions, etc, and I have no problem with that. I have also seen people doodling who make zero eye contact and give absolutely no visual cues that they are paying attention.

          The second situation does feel a bit rude to me and I don’t think it’s entitled for me to expect that if I’m speaking, I will attempt to keep my presentation relevant and concise, and my coworkers will make some attempt to seem like they are paying attention.

          1. Q*

            Personally, I have a great deal of difficulty looking someone in the eyes while they talk during meetings. It feels super weird to me and uncomfortable, and I end up focusing on maintaining appropriate eye contact instead of what’s coming out of their mouth.

            (I’m also possibly in the minority here where, I could absolutely write one of my novels in a meeting while paying attention. First drafts can, in many ways, be busy work if I already know what I need to write)

            1. KitKat*

              Haha I also have that problem if I start thinking about my eye contact! I meant more just glancing up and looking at the presenter occasionally, not sustained eye contact :)

              1. Q*

                Honestly, I’d rather not do that either (and probably forget to sometimes). It doesn’t mean I’m not listening; it’s just much less awkward for me.

                1. KitKat*

                  This is so interesting! I can’t imagine being in a meeting and not looking at the presenter occasionally, even just because they are the thing that’s making noise.

                2. Q*

                  @KitKat I suspect that behavior is also a lot more common for people on, say, the autism spectrum than elsewhere.

            2. Aerin*

              I don’t think I could do actual drafting and still focus on the meeting. I definitely have brainstormed or worked on outlines, though.

          2. Luna*

            I agree KitKat, there is definitely a rudeness factor to the second situation. I don’t think it’s wrong to expect people to show a little consideration to others in the room, especially in a professional setting.

            1. Mike C.*

              Consideration for others is always important, but I feel like when it comes to meetings that consideration is only expected to go one way – from the audience to the host. If most hosts were cognizant of the time they were asking for and the manner in which they present, I wouldn’t feel so strongly about this issue.

              1. Luna*

                That is often true, but I think that we also tend to forget about consideration to the other audience members. Just because a meeting is not useful to me, doesn’t mean that it is useless to everyone else in the room. So we think we are expressing our dissatisfaction only to the host when we spend the whole meeting knitting or typing, but that can also be really rude or distracting to the people around me who are trying to listen and actively participate.

                1. Mike C.*

                  Sure, you should make sure whatever you’re doing isn’t distracting to others in the room, that’s totally fair! I make a habit of sitting in the back of the room and reading on my phone if things get slow, but then you get the folks who insist that Electronic Devices Are Rude and then it feels like I can’t win.

                  I mean look, I don’t tell depressed folks to cheer up or those in wheelchairs to climb stairs, but folks continue to insist I have to sit in small rooms for an hour or longer and listen to them prattle on in Comic Sans and just accept that as “professional behavior”.

              2. PlainJane*

                I’m with you here. The older I get, the less tolerant I am of the meeting that should have been an email or the meeting presenter who reads their slide deck instead of sending it to everyone to read. Unfortunately, my lower BS tolerance and shorter attention span is leading to some bad habits, where I get so distracted in a meeting that I do miss something important. That’s not OK, but neither is burying one important nugget in an avalanche of BS.

          3. Genny*

            Agreed. Depending on the type of presentation, it can be hard to get up in front of a bunch of people and then see nothing but the tops of their heads as they look down at their cell phones. Maybe it’s helping them focus on what I’m saying, but as the presenter, it feels like they don’t care, and that really saps the energy from the room.

            There’s definitely a give and take that needs to happen. Presenters need to keep their presentations concise, relevant, and ideally interesting. The audience needs to display a few of the typical body language signs that indicate they’re paying attention (nodding their heads, answering/asking questions, occasionally looking at the presenter, etc.). Meeting organizers need to make sure they’re only organizing meetings that people really need to attend.

          4. Lissa*

            Yeah, this is hard because I have known more than one person who claims that doing something else “helps them concentrate” when this is really, demonstrably not the case. I mean, they probably don’t realize how checked out they are, but it’s something I’ve seen a few times. Of course there also are people who it helps!

          5. Rana*

            I have also seen people doodling who make zero eye contact and give absolutely no visual cues that they are paying attention.

            The frustrating thing is that, for me, this is what I need to do if I want to pay full attention. I’m highly visual to the point that if I see something, it will dominate my brain to the point that it can overwhelm what I’m hearing. So if you’re showing me slides, that’s great, but if you’re just reading from your slides, or just speaking with no visual aids at all, I’m going to have trouble forcing myself to pay attention. (For example, if I need to talk with someone on the phone about something important, or if I am listening to something like a podcast, I will sometimes go so far as to close my eyes so as to restrict my focus to the audible input.) And I’m fidgety, so if I don’t give my hands something to do, a good part of my attention will be diverted to forcing me to sit still.

            I have learned to fake paying attention because of this perception, but, trust me, if you want my full brain paying attention to your words, shutting out extraneous data input and giving my body something to fidget with is the best way for me to do it, however “rude” it may look.

        4. Mookie*

          Utterly agree with this. A blanket “this looks bad [to everyone]” is demonstrably untrue and sounds a little green to me. That it discomfits some people does not make it a universal taboo.

    8. Trout 'Waver*

      I kinda disagree. Maybe the speed of information delivery slows down to an absolute crawl because everyone is preoccupied doing other things? It’s been shown time and time again that humans are completely terrible at multi-tasking.

      1. Natalie*

        Is that a problem that is going to be solved by changing what Bran does, though? It doesn’t sound like he’s leading these meetings or even super involved in them. If it’s a broader problem with how the meetings are conducted, the LW would really need to change their focus away from getting their coworker in trouble and towards whomever actually facilitates these meetings.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          I think there are two separate problems:

          1. Unfocused meetings.
          2. Disengaged participants.

          Completely disengaging to the point of writing fiction or watching baseball is unprofessional, even if the meeting is terrible and unnecessary.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Agreed. And if Bran wrote in with this question, I’d tell him to stop doing it. That doesn’t change my answer to the OP, but let’s not pretend this is 100% fine for Bran to be doing.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              For Bran is the issue that he is doing something else during meetings that OP seems to agree they have too many of and are unfocused, or is it specifically that Bran is on a fantasy fanfic website? If Bran were doing actual work during the meeting or reading the news would it be okay?

                1. Q*

                  As a fiction writer…it honestly doesn’t? I can knock out a first draft while having multiple conversation and interrupting myself and looking up and paying attention to what’s going on around me, if I have to. Revising might be harder to do that way, but honestly if I had the option I’d love to do that in meetings, too.

                2. Aerin*

                  For me drafting is a full-attention activity, but I tend to end up with pretty polished first drafts. I have friends whose first drafts are much more of a brain dump. One of my writing partners can carry on a fully-engaged conversation with me and never stop typing in her manuscript.

                3. Totally Minnie*

                  @Q, this is how it works for me as well. My first drafts tend to be of the word vomit variety, where I just pour the contents of my brain into a computer file. I can do that with other things interrupting. Revising is where I do the bulk of the work that requires uninterrupted time and attention.

                4. Mookie*

                  In the same boat as Q. It varies depending on the genre and format, but my first couple paper or digital drafts are either stream-of-consciousness freestyling or the act of committing to writing something I’ve already composed, arranged, and tinkered with in my head. Both are very easy to do while successfully carrying out unrelated mental and physical work. A lot of very good prose is written by sneaking it out of your brain when the foremost sphere of your mind is occupied elsewhere.

            2. LCL*

              Our company has paid very big money on culture change and training. The first thing one of the trainers focused on was people being on their electronic devices in meetings. Being on your device is considered rude and unprofessional here. So much so that the agenda form we are supposed to use for meetings has expectations listed at the end, and one expectation is no use of electronic devices or conducting other work during a meeting.

              1. Lil Fidget*

                That’s fine, but they’d better hold damn good meetings then. It seems to me that most meetings are a big waste of time here. A training, yes, you should be paying attention more than a general round-the-room, what’s-everybodys-status nightmare.

                1. PlainJane*

                  This. I wish organizations paid more attention to meeting culture overall than just the, “no devices,” thing. Require an agenda, train people on what belongs in a meeting vs. an email or other written announcement, and insist on focused discussions with clear outcomes. Then people will be more likely to be engaged rather than checked out.

              2. Mike C.*

                I wish corporate trainers like that could endure some of the ADD I deal with before declaring things “rude” and “unprofessional”.

              3. SarahTheEntwife*

                Are you not allowed to take notes during meetings? I tend to use paper but I’m significantly in the minority there in my workplace. And sure, I sometimes see people doing things that are not taking notes, but usually they’re looking at some document we’re discussing or editing the minutes or otherwise doing meeting-related things on their laptop or phone.

              4. LCL*

                (To PlainJane but I ran out of nesting)
                Your suggestions are great suggestions, and in fact were part of the whole culture change initiative. All of those points you make are also on our blank agenda form, in slightly different language.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              There’s a big difference between actively participating in a meeting and responding when you’re called on. It’s unclear to me from the letter which is the case in this instance, though.

              I don’t care how good you claim to be at multitasking; you’re not actively listening when you’re writing fiction.

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                While I disagree with the last statement, does it make a difference to you if as OP says “we have a lot of meetings (maybe too many meetings…)” that they have to many meetings and people might feel like they are wasting time or not being as productive as they could be?

                1. Luna*

                  “Maybe too many” is not the same as all meetings being a complete waste of time. OP states that there is a reason why they have lots of meetings.

                  Either way, I don’t think it is up to a regular staff person to decide that the meetings are useless and so therefore he has a right to write fiction instead. Attending meetings is part of the job.

              2. Mike C.*

                As someone who is always doing something else in meetings, I’m always actively participating. In fact, I often hold back because I talk too much.

      2. Purplesaurus*

        I agree with Natalie. By OP’s admission, they have lots of and “maybe too many” meetings, which I’m guessing is more the problem than Bran or any other individual employee. That many meetings with that many people involved usually means nothing relevant is going on for many of the attendees.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Nothing relevant is going on for many of the attendees.

          This is definitely a large part of the problem. I am sometimes on meetings (phone meetings, so I can’t tell what anyone is doing with their hands) where one of the people is just there to weigh in on a few narrow issues and they will be focused on other work tasks until we get to a section where we need their input and draw their attention. Live in-person meetings shouldn’t have a lot of people only affected by 5 minutes of the meeting.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            I totally agree. Even for live in-person meetings, you can have the technical expert just present their data for 5 minutes and then leave. Not everyone has to be there for the full meeting if it’s not practical.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            I agree–many of the meetings we had to attend at Exjob were a complete waste of time for me. If they were webinars, I would often be engaged in something else, either work, AAM, or something else entirely.

      3. Mike C.*

        Those studies presume that the multiple activists are each individually fully engaging. Trust me when I say that the meetings I attend are nothing close.

      4. Lora*

        In my experience, information transmission goes at the pace of the slowest audience member. This is usually not the person messing with their phone, so much as one or more of the following:
        -The person who didn’t read any of the pertinent information sent out ahead of the meeting, or skim the agenda, and now wants everything explained to them in excruciating detail
        -The person who is visiting from a totally different department and doesn’t have the background to understand the material and really, what are they doing here at all? but they feel compelled to show up and aspire to have an opinion
        -The person who is showing off their brilliance by interjecting their opinion every five seconds and interrupting the presenter
        -The person who says things just to hear themselves talk, because that way they feel like they’ve Made A Contribution
        -The person who is trying to build a relationship with colleagues sort of artificially instead of absorbing the material, and wants to discuss things to death, whether they are even up for discussion or not
        -The a-hole who wants to criticize everything without offering any positive solutions

        These are things which the host should rightfully deal with, but for various and sundry reasons, might not be dealt with.

        1. Lissa*

          Ughhh I am dealing with a 3 right now (“person who wants to show off their brilliance by injecting their opinion”) I think combined with 4, and I so often want to break in and yell, “No, you do not have a relevant anecdote from your life for every single thing the speaker says! Stooooop!”

    9. Oxford Coma*


      I’m one of those “she doesn’t fit anywhere else, so tack her onto Department X” people, and 90% of what occurs is meetings is not relevant to my position. I am not allowed to multitask in department meetings, to the point that I am expected to leave my laptop at my desk and take hand-written notes instead. I work in tech. It’s archaic, wastes my time, and treats me like a child. I say bully for Bran.

    10. Lora*

      Yes. PowerPoint is the tool of the devil. It is safe to assume that in any given PowerPoint slide deck, I have ignored everything that wasn’t actual data. People loooooove PowerPoint though, and don’t realize that it makes everyone else hate them.

      The other thing that infuriates people about bringing a laptop to meetings is when they want to talk endlessly about a Thing We Must Find Out, instead of *actually just looking it up* and you go ahead and pull up the data in the meeting and say, “it’s four. The answer is four.” They wanted to talk and be listened to and debate and have a big thing, not find out the actual answer, and then present themselves as the heroes who Found The Answer. It was a big deal because they wanted to develop a relationship via talking about crap, not do any work. It’s a very white collar upper-middle-class behavior.

      If you are not from that background and you are more data-driven and just want to get the meeting over with so you can get back to your actual work, then it comes across as nearly insulting because you don’t want to Relationship with these people.

          1. Mike C.*

            In and of itself, no. But it certainly points to the idea that this specific model of culture is not set in stone, that we can do what works for us and that anything we come up with will be as arbitrary as what what was expected of us in the past.

      1. Nariko*

        I am, myself, an introverted, task-oriented tactile learner. Not everyone is. PP’s are not for meetings, they are for presentations, and they are designed to be a visual representation of the verbal presentation for those who are visual learners. One method of presentation does not capture all learning styles.

        I support many of your statements on the misuse of PP’s, but please keep race out of it, and remember that some people need that visual aspect of a presentation to stay focused or learn more efficiently. They are not inherently evil, just some of the users.

            1. Nariko*

              I misread, too, even though I read a few times, so my apologies! The white and collar show up on different lines, and my brain fudged it. That makes quite a bit more sense to me! :)

    11. Hush42*

      This exactly. One of my team members likes to draw during meetings. We had a meeting with another department that we work closely with. Right before the meeting she asked to borrow my Surface Book so she could draw. The day after the meeting the manager of the other team and I were talking about something else and he mentioned that he felt that it was a little disrespectful for her to be drawing during the meeting and that I shouldn’t allow it in the future. He acknowledged that she was engaged during the meeting, answering questions directed to her and giving her ideas about the problem at hand. I told him that for people like her being able to do something with her hands helps her to pay better attention in the meeting which is why I am fine with her drawing and am not going to stop her.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Wow, she asked to borrow your equipment to do something unrelated to work? That seems a little over the line to me. At the very least I feel like she should be bringing her own tablet if she needs to get out some energy.

        1. Q*

          I agree I never would’ve done this even though I draw while listening to things like meetings (and always did in class). But it seems like a conversation she may have had with Hush already.

    12. BurnOutCandidate*

      I don’t know anyone else, but now I’m passionately curious about Bran’s Hobbit fanfic and I kinda want to read it. :)

    13. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yeah, as soon as I read to “too many meetings”, I knew where the issue lies. (It’s not with Bran.)

  3. Gaia*

    When I was first applying for jobs after college I once sent in a 20 page essay as a writing sample (the job required very minimal written communication with the public). I thought they would be impressed with my ability to dissect an analyze 19th century American literature.

    They were not.

    1. Irene Adler*

      Ouch! Disappointing isn’t it?

      I was on the receiving end of a very pushy job candidate who insisted that I review his portfolio with him during his job interview. I knew he was desperate for a job but his work just was not in alignment with the position (think research vs. quality control). Somehow, he had the notion if he could just convey the smarts behind his research projects, anyone would hire him in a minute. So awkward having to let down someone like that. We were not in need of his skill set.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        A few years ago, I had a candidate for an upper level job in my office bring written samples of his work to show us during his campus interview. First, we weren’t interviewing for a communications/marketing position, second, I’m not going to take time out of the interview process to ooh and ahh over unsolicited brochures and posters. Very awkward!

  4. Artemesia*

    I can’t imagine that people who push this crap have ever hired people (with the exception of course of visual media roles). Who wants to watch anything in real time? Who wants to read someone’s college project? I may for a new grad be interested in what they tell me about the kinds of projects they have done especially if they are community based, part of internships etc. but I don’t want to wade through them. It is expensive and it is very time consuming to create this junk and it is largely useless.

    1. OES*

      The college where I work has recently instituted student portfolios, and the administration is trying to force every faculty member to require it of students. I’ve been in higher education for a long time, so I’m deeply cynical, but as far as I can tell, it’s just a marketing ploy for parents: “Look! Send your children to our school and they’ll graduate with a real product they can show people!” There’s no room in this initiative for anyone to say, “What’s the use of this?” But education is faddish and nay-sayers are figuratively tarred and feathered.

      1. RN*

        I had to do one in nursing school. I never actually thought I’d show it to anyone, but they did make us keep our shot records in it, and that was useful. All of two pages from a three inch binder :-D

      2. College Career Counselor*

        Totally agree. I have never met an employer in the many years that I have been doing this who said, “Y’know, we’d love to sift through a large portion of largely irrelevant applicant-submitted information while we’re making our first round selections.”

        (Of course, if the EMPLOYER’S ATS wants the applicant to submit a crap-ton of largely irrelevant information–I’m thinking evidence that you graduated from high school 30 years ago, your gpa while there, and the salary from the paper route you had–you kind of have to comply or opt out.)

        OES, you are likely correct, and your institution is looking for a way to differentiate its graduates to multiple audiences. It’s unfortunate that the audience that is mostly targeted (employers), doesn’t care. Is anyone at your institution reviewing these portfolios? If not, students will put into them exactly the effort they deserve. Every time someone around here starts talking about student portfolios for non-visual/arts/teaching majors, I start with two questions: “Who is asking for this?” and “Who is going to GRADE them?” That last one usually shuts it down, fast.

        Higher ed institutions would be much better off if they instituted an experiential learning graduation requirement (just put it on your resume–no portfolio needed) and had a robust alumni mentoring program.

        1. Anonym*

          “Higher ed institutions would be much better off if they instituted an experiential learning graduation requirement (just put it on your resume–no portfolio needed) and had a robust alumni mentoring program.”


      3. Falling Diphthong*

        Blurgh. My children are 5 years apart in school, meaning that whatever bold new program that fixes all the problems with the last one the first child got, there would be a new new bold new program that fixes all the problems with the last one by the time the second child got to that grade. Maybe that at least means the portfolios of term papers will be short-lived?

      4. Wait, what?*

        When I was getting my professional degree in 2006, student portfolios were all the rage. We spent so much time making these things even though every single potential employer in the province had stated categorically that they would not so much as look at the portfolios. They all had their own process and it did not include portfolios. Meanwhile, most employers in my field use this one, notoriously user-unfriendly, computer program. Students in my program did not spend a single minute on learning this program, but spent hours and hours on the portfolios.

        The best part was when we were doing interview prep. Our instructor was really keen on having us figure out ways to sneak the portfolio content into our job interviews. Her idea was to bring a series of file folders containing elements of our portfolio which we could produce whenever possible. We had also spent a lot of time on Personality Dimensions (it’s like Myers-Briggs but less scientific), so the instructor thought we should colour-coordinate our files to match our personality colours. The green folder has a thing that shows I can use logic. The blue one shows my emotional intelligence, etc. Also, we should make sure the clothes we wear to the interview are colour-coordinated to match the sneaky not-a-portfolio file folders.

        I did not take that advice.

    2. Kept on Trying*

      I can’t believe colleges still think that schoolwork (and activities???) are going to SO USEFUL for job hunting. It’s an odd kind of hubris. When I was doing an internship combined with a post-grad diploma (something like Applied Studies), we had a course late in the year called Portfolio. I actually am in a visual field that relies heavily on portfolios, so I was very excited for the class. I thought it was a change to get a great portfolio together and get professional advice on it. Found out on the first day that it was actually meant to be a portfolio of schoolwork. We were supposed to include something that showed what we learned in each of our classes that year (which were decidedly not-visual things, like Organizational Culture, Project Management, Negotiation, etc.) At the same time, we had to submit weekly write-ups on what we learned in class that week and how we could apply it to our professional lives. I wrote that I was disappointed that the portfolios weren’t going to be professionally useful at all, and got docked marks. I’m still a little ticked all these years later.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        When my oldest child graduated from high school they sent us her portfolio of past work, and it was absolutely charming. Specifically the aptitude tests from kindergarten where she had to stack blocks into a tower (she failed this because she made a tunnel) and where she got to explain her reasoning (at extreme length). But I can’t see how anyone who is not literally her mother would find this helpful or informative.

        1. Observer*

          You forgot her grandparents. My mother would LOVE this kind of stuff from my kids (and their kids, now.)

        2. Orca*

          “Your resume looks great, we’d love to hire you, unfortunately we see here your block stacking skills are lackluster and we were really hoping to bring someone to the team who had an edge there…”

    3. MissGirl*

      Finally I can showcase the poster board project I did on mudslides in my senior year natural disasters class. Spent more time on that than my final papers for my journalism classes. PS the natural disasters was required class and I was a writing major. Ah college.

    4. Mike C.*

      Yeah, it’s complete and utter bullish!t. Someone had an idea that involved other people doing needless work but they were seen as “innovating”. They got the professional recognition, and everyone else has to pay for it.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      This is an ongoing puzzle for me with replacing writing with video. If you don’t have visual content that needs to be conveyed, the video format is slower, harder to search or skim for the relevant parts, requires headphones if you are somewhere the sound would bother people… it’s such a misfired attempt to be edgy and hep to the max. (Podcasts are different–I listen to them when making dinner or exercising, where watching something on a screen wouldn’t work.)

      1. Airy*

        I often hear people gush about how great it is that now you can find a YouTube tutorial video for anything you want to learn, and think glumly about how much I prefer written instructions with step-by-step pictures, if a visual element is needed (I would go so far as to say an animated gif might be useful if you need to demonstrate a movement). I don’t want to have to sit there waiting for someone with an annoying voice (and why do so many people who make instructional videos for YouTube have annoying voices?) to very leisurely get around to the one point I really need them to make clear, or to get to the end of the video only to realise that they never actually address it. It’s not that I don’t want there to be instructional videos, only written instrutions. I just want there to be both.

    6. KayEss*

      Even for visual media roles, schools tend to be wildly out of touch with how portfolios are expected to be done in the professional world. My program had an entire curriculum unit dedicated to showing us how to make a portfolio website… in Flash.

      (It was 2008, so not quite as fundamentally insane as it sounds now, but even then the first item on every list for “what makes a good online portfolio” was “for the love of god, don’t use Flash, you look like an idiot.”)

    7. oranges & lemons*

      When I was in high school, our local school system decided on a brilliant new “portfolio” program that would make us so much more competitive in the job market. It consisted of reams of time-wasting mini-projects to show how well-rounded we were. For example, listen to a song and describe how it makes you feel! Document your physical activity for a year! There were dozens of these. In theory we were supposed to present this massive file to each lucky employer, but fortunately the student body figured out what the school administration couldn’t, that it was a massive waste of time and no one would ever read them. When the end of the school year approached and it was clear no one had done any work on these, they reluctantly decided we could all graduate anyway.

  5. Isabelle*

    OP4, I hope you are job hunting as it sounds your current boss is setting you up for failure.
    It may be worth starting documenting everything now before there is even a PIP in place. For example document the increase in case load, the number of additional hours you have to do every week just to keep your head above water and so on. Write down the dates, times and names of any witness present during conversations regarding your workload with your manager. Forward email evidence to a safe email address. You may never need the documentation but better be safe than sorry.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*


      This is especially true if it reaches a point where you can make an unemployment claim for constructive dismissal.

      1. Mildred*

        “Constructive” is usually such a positive word. I never have understood how it Came to be used in this context.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I know, right? Constructive dismissal should mean “Hey, this isn’t working, but we’re going to give you a few weeks notice and a good reference because we really think you’re a good person; this just isn’t the job for you.”

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          (Apologies if I’m taking your comment too literally!)

          Law is full of contradictory word uses :) (e.g., to be admitted to practice, you’re barred; to admonish bad behavior, you’re sanctioned)

          In this case, “constructive” means affirmatively creating conditions that would not otherwise exist in order to make someone quit. It indicates that the employer isn’t a passive actor in the bad behavior. It’s used similarly in the term “constructive eviction” (creating such awful living conditions that it’s tantamount to eviction).

  6. Alison Read*

    OP#4, it really depends what state you’re in. Your situation might be considered a constructive dismissal with the existing excessive caseload and adding more work. Some states are more lenient when it comes to receiving benefits when you voluntarily resign.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Totally agree. There is a lot nuance to employment law in some places, so consulting with an attorney about the specifics of this situation would be recommendation.

    2. Anononon*

      Generally, proving constructive dismissal is a very high bar. I’m not sure if too much work would count. OP, if you’re even considering going this route, you must talk with an attorney to make sure you don’t quit for nothing. (Really, at this stage, you should probably talk to an attorney no matter what.)

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          It could work in CalifornIs, which doesn’t require a nexus to public policy, but it would have to be pretty severe and pervasive, and it would have to be seen as objectively unreasonable (hard to know without comparators). I don’t think what OP has described, by itself, would qualify in most states.

        2. Brett*

          I’m wondering what impact the unpaid overtime wages would have on constructive dismissal?
          I assume not being paid at all would make a very strong case, but it seems like not paying overtime would be a bit more hazy (especially if this is comp time for a public agency rather than unpaid overtime).

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I think not being paid is typically categorized as a wage and hour violation, which is usually treated as a distinct beast from constructive dismissal.

    3. LQ*

      It does absolutely depend on the state. But I’m in a more lenient state and it is unlikely OP would be eligible here. I’d recommend a call to your local unemployment office and they should be able to point you to the right law….if you can read it or not is another matter, but they’ll be able to get you to the right place.

  7. ExceptionToTheRule*

    OP3 – when my mom got sick last spring, the last thing she wanted to do was talk to anyone about her illness. I got the fun of telling everyone from immediate family to the co-workers at her part-time job and then giving the updates as things got worse. It was emotionally brutal. Take Alison’s advice, deputize someone in her department to funnel updates to & deflect questions when there isn’t any new info.

    Take care of yourself, OP, all that self-care talk is no joke. I gave myself 60-90 minutes a day that was mine alone & that time was the only thing that kept me centered. Good luck to you & may your mother’s journey be peaceful.

    1. OP3*

      I honestly don’t know why that never occurred to me. I’ve been so busy shutting down my own coworkers (politely). We are very much a small town, and despite how large our employer is, it’s very dysfunctional. I didn’t mention it in the letter, but at one point, her supervisor called my supervisor to tell her that my mom had gotten very ill that morning and left, rather than him contacting me or letting my mom update me. I got an immediate call from my supervisor to update me. Long story short(ish), my bigger concern is that no one will respect boundaries I try to set.

      1. MLB*

        I know you said you know all of her co-workers, but unless you are 100% sure what your mom would say if she were able and who she would say it to, I would stop providing updates and tell them you’re not comfortable sharing personal info about your mom. I’m sure most of them are just concerned, but it really isn’t any of their business. And if there are already boundary issues, stopping with the updating will make it easier to keep those boundaries. Good luck and hoping your mom’s health improves.

        1. OP3*

          Part of the problem is that she has been fine openly sharing information from the beginning. I am ending up giving short. generic answers, though.

      2. ExceptionToTheRule*

        Oh god. And let me guess, everyone thinks you’re one giant family? I don’t know if there’s a gossipy busy-body you trust at work, but it might be worth saying something similar to what you said here to that type of person and let them spread the word.

        I’ll admit the one time I tried that was the time that person decided discretion was the better part of valor and kept her mouth shut.

          1. ExceptionToTheRule*

            Oh! There’s your ally. Go out for coffee with that person and lay it out. Everything that you’ve said here and enlist their help. Use the phrase, “I need your help” and define what that looks like. You need the pressure taken off you, you need to be able to use work as an escape from thinking about it all the time, you need space, whatever it is – this is probably the person who can help you. Good luck!

      3. The Cosmic Avenger*

        OP, first of all, my deepest sympathies.

        If people continue to push or violate boundaries, try telling them that you’re trying to cope with your mother’s illness by using work as an escape from the caregiving and worrying about her. I know that’s often true for people in mourning, we try to get back to work sooner than expected because we need to be doing something other than dwelling and stewing in our own grief. When a coworker came back to work after taking care of her father and having him pass away, I reminded her that if she wanted to talk about either the emotional or logistical parts of having a parent pass away, I had just gone through that very recently, but if she didn’t bring it up I would assume that she didn’t want to talk about it (at work, with me, at least).

        Best of luck.

      4. Lynca*

        As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes you have to be pretty brutal to get people to understand you want to be at work to just work.

        When my father died I was constantly barraged with concern, genuine concern at least, that I had not taken enough time off, wanting to know how things were going, etc. I had to put my foot down and tell them I didn’t want to talk about it. Flat out: “I don’t want to talk about this at work anymore.” And if they brought it up again: “I told you I’m not discussing this at work.”

        Work was giving me focus away from the pain and I wanted to just go to work and be normal for a while. I didn’t want to have to bare my soul to well meaning co-workers.

      5. Casuan*

        …my bigger concern is that no one will respect boundaries I try to set.

        They will respect your boundaries, OP3, although you should prepare for a brief adjustment period as others learn that you’ve changed gears. Your responses should convey that of course colleagues will understand if you set boundaries as to how to you answer questions. You’re not scaling back on giving updates— which would be in your rights at any time— you’re simply changing the forum in which you do so.
        Your literal work is your friend here & it might help to have certain responses at the ready.
        eg: “Thanks for asking about my mum! Because so many are concerned & ask for updates, we have a CaringBridge page now. Excuse me, I need to finish a report. Oh, would you please give the site to others who are interested? Thank you!”

        However you decide to update, still ask for a liaison to help you with this.
        Anything you can do to make things easier for you is warranted, I think.

        1. Jersey's mom*

          +1000 For Caringbridge.

          You can just write a brief update (from home), or if your mom is up to it, she can write something as well on Caringbridge, then just point people there, and use the scripts others have provided.

          When my dad was seriously ill, I used this for both family and friends, as my extended well meaning family would start calling me the moment I got home from work.

          Take care of yourself, and so sorry about your mom.

        2. Ophelia*

          OP, my sympathies for your mom’s illness.
          I was also going to suggest CaringBridge – it lets your mom put out the information she wants to share, and moves the burden of looking for it over to the people who are interested, and takes it off of her and you. Good luck, and I hope your co-workers are willing to respect your boundaries.

      6. HappySnoopy*

        I’ve been there done that on a personal, not work level. Long term serious illness is a weird thing for people socially to know how to react tyo and asking is a way people will reach out, not realizing the added obligation it’s putting on family just trying to get through day/hour/minute. Some truly care, some are busybodies.

        A big key will be to assume they agree with you whether they will or not. “Of course you understand Im trying to focus at work during this difficult time. I know you’ll respect that and let others know.”
        Repeat as needed.
        If you want, could add “I think mom keeps Fergus and Lucy updated/go to caringbridge etc.”

        I’m sorry your family’s going through this, OP3.

      7. Natalie*

        One note re: respecting your boundaries. Sometimes I’ll hear someone say “Jane doesn’t respect my boundaries”, and it turns out the person only told Jane once and then gave up when Jane didn’t immediately change her behavior. Obnoxiously, with some people you have to set the same boundary multiple times before it sticks. So it can help to be prepared for that, maybe even come up with a short statement you can commit to memory and just rattle out by rote – “Jane, remember we agreed you would [ask Joe/read my email blast/check CaringBridge] instead of asking me about my mom’s health? Thanks!” and then no further engagement.

    2. Emmie*

      I am so sorry about your mom, OP. It’s okay to tell your coworkers that work is an escape for you; you appreciate how much they care; and that you just need the distraction now. I second delegating the info to someone else, and also pointing someone to a Caring Bridge or other site. You may also task this person as someone who gives people a heads up that you just want to focus on work while you’re there. It’s not rude at all. People will understand. Some will not understand today, but they will at some point in the future.

    3. Former HR person*

      OP3, I am so sorry for you and your mom. One of my coworkers recently passed away after a long and terminal illness. She also designated one person here to be her voice and share updates. Unfortunately, that person did not actually share the updates with us. My coworker and I had mutual friends from outside of work (they were like family to her), and I was able to get updates through them (though I didn’t share because I didn’t know what she wanted to be shared). The suggestion of asking her closest friend is a good idea, but make sure they know to share updates, otherwise, it may backfire on you.

      Another option is something like Caring Bridge – you can post updates there and if anyone asks you can explain that all updates will be shared there and talking about it beyond that is just very difficult for you. You should also add in a line that you know they care and understand, and you are so grateful for that (basically, lay it on thick so that them not coming to you becomes a point of perceived closeness).

  8. Sarah G*

    This. I can see it being pretty distracting if he’s typing away, and ideally he would find a quieter and less distracting
    activity (like reading AAM!), but it doesn’t rise to the level of a Thing To Bring Up. I have a colleague knits a lot during meetings and (interactive) trainings, which is pretty annoying and distracting; it seems out of place and unprofessional. But I wouldn’t ever say anything. Different activity, but analogous. I seem to remember the knitting thing coming up in an AAM question not too long ago.

    1. MuseumChick*

      This is where I come down on this. Working on your own personal writing, knitting, any kind of crafting activity come off out-of-place, unprofessional, and frankly, pretty disrespectful of your co-workers. It’s like “Oh, yeah, you all are BORING so I’m going work on my craft now.” But, most often this does not rise to a level of needing to get a manager involved.

      OP, depending on your relationship with this guy you may want to mention to him that 1) People are noticing that he is working on his own writing in meetings 2) This can come off not-so-great.

      1. neverjaunty*

        This. The test of whether a distraction (doodling, catching up on your sports team) is OK during a meeting is whether it’s obvious you’re doing so.

      2. Kj*

        I think it depends. It can be a legit accommodation for people with ADHD and studies show that doodling helps people retain information. I always draw during CEU events- people tend to notice, even though I’m using a normal-sized sketch book and I COULD be taking notes, but people are noisy (I use a regular pen, not like I have pastels out or anything crazy). I retain the information better if I draw while listening. It has never been a problem- heck, the bigwig, famous, speaker at a conference even noticed when he was walking around after his lecture and complimented me on the drawing and we talked about his lecture- it was clear I was retaining all the info and I likely wouldn’t have been able to talk to him if I hadn’t done that.

  9. Casuan*

    OP3, this is your mum’s personal health infos, so if it’s feasible to ask your mum then you could ask her for the best way to update her colleagues. This is a tricky call & you’re the best one to decide whether or not you should ask her on it.
    Regardless, as Alison suggested if you can ask someone from your mum’s department to be a liaison then that will help.
    Liaison or not, most people will understand if you tell them that you’re too overwhelmed to reply. It might help to have a generic reply such as “Thank you for asking. Probably you can imagine how much this all is, so I can’t get into details. Tho for the moment, Mum is stable & we’re thankful for that.”

    OP3, I’m so sorry about your mum & that you have the added stress of daily questions. Please keep us updated.

  10. So Very Anonymous*

    Re OP #5: I work at a higher ed institution that is big on this kind of thing, and I suspect it’s only going to get worse this year for Reasons. It’s frustrating to see how much faith gets put in these shiny! electronic! toys! especially since my particular institution draws a lot of first-generation college students.

    That said, I do wonder about the companies they claim use these services for hiring, and whether anyone has had experience with using them for actual hiring.

    1. Another Kate*

      I will say as someone in the design field who does a lot of hiring I’ve never heard of Portfolium. I know there are sites like this out there, but honestly just send me a pdf of your work.

      1. designbot*

        +1 to this! I also hire for design roles and had never heard of this. I tried to go there to just browse portfolios and couldn’t seem to, so I’m not even sure how it’s uesful since employers won’t sign up for a service without being able to see what it is or what it gets us access to. If you happen to be in visual design and are looking for something like this, go with Behance or Coroflot. I’ve gotten contacts from some really good firms on Coroflot in the past, and more recently feel like Behance is becoming the standard.

  11. Wintermute*

    OP 4– you have a lot of options here.

    Courts have found that making your working conditions “intolerable” is the same as firing you, there’s no free pass in making you so misrable you quit as opposed to being fired. And it’s a myth you cannot collect unemployment if fired. Unless you were fired for gross misconduct, you can probably still collect. Your employer doesn’t get to decide those things, UI does. SO if they increase your workload to intolerable levels, then fire you for it, they can’t point to those conditions and go “aha! we fired him for not keeping up with workload! no unemployment for him!” (presumably while twirling a mustache because that’s about the level these guys are approaching here).

    It may be worth, if a lot is on the line, briefly talking to a lawer to confirm the constructive discharge laws in your state.

    Another viable tack would be to file a wage complaint with the state for unpayed overtime, illegal overtime deferral (overtime must be paid if you are non-exempt it may not be banked). And even if you are exempt it might be worth looking at whether you’re mis-classed because your employer seems like just the type to do it.

    in the first case you’re out of there, never to look back, in the second you buy yourself some protection (and hope they put their foot in it by retaliating while you look for another job, if they do retaliate and fire you, they’ve just handed you a nice settlement most likely.)

    As a side note, it’s a myth that you’ll be in court for ages and the company can mess with you. These complaints go to the government that proceeds for you, you do not need to pay a lawyer to pursue a wage claim, nor do you need to personally litigate.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Unemployment laws and regulations are highly state specific, plus if you’re government-employed, that’s a different wrinkle.

      So research—don’t assume anything. Constructive dismissal is a thing, so find out how it applies in your state.

      Maybe even consult with an employment lawyer for info and strategies.

      1. Wintermute*

        I feel like I should point out I did suggest contacting a lawyer, and pointed out that this IS highly state specific:

        “It may be worth, if a lot is on the line, briefly talking to a lawer to confirm the constructive discharge laws in your state.”

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      A lot of the things you say here are state specific and wouldn’t necessarily apply in my state. I think if OP#4 should consult an attorney about the specifics of their case if it comes to that.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I never understand unemployment, but I do know a lot of people who thought they might be eligible for it and weren’t. So – you can’t get it if you quit, but you can’t get it if you were fired either? Usually in my field layoffs aren’t very common, so I guess I won’t be seeing it :P

        1. Natalie*

          It varies widely depending on both the state and the reasons for quitting or being let go. My spouse collected unemployment after quitting, but he had quit because of medical issues and his employer agreed not to contest it. You can also collect in my state if you left a job for a new job, but the new job turned out to be “unsuitable” (no idea how that’s defined) and you quit within 30 days, if you quit within 30 days of a layoff date, if your job changes significantly, specific domestic violence issues, and probably some other reasons.

          It’s also possible some of the people you’ve known could have successfully appealed but didn’t realize that or decided not to.

        2. Trout 'Waver*

          In my state, you get unemployment if you’re fired unless you were fired for gross negligence or criminal behavior. However, the judges almost always take the word of the company in their initial ruling. So you have to appeal the decision to actually get your unemployement. However, the appeals process is pretty straight forward and most people successfully win their appeals. It’s a mess, to be honest. I’m not a lawyer so I’m sure I’m still missing some parts of it.

          Honestly, if I was concerned, I’d call up an attorney and ask for an initial consult just to better understand the process. Around here, I’d expect to pay $75-$100 for a 30-minute initial consult. Not cheap, but worth it.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            This reminds me of disability benefits, according to the people I know who tried to access them – they were basically automatically denied the first time, and had to appeal (maybe even more than once?) even though their case seemed pretty cut-and-dry to me. I suppose it’s an effort by the government to minimize people who aren’t really committed to it, but it seems kind of BS.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              It’s exactly the same thing. It disproportionately impacts minorities and immigrants too. All around lousy policy.

        3. CmdrShepard4ever*

          As other people have said it varies by state but in my state they have a requirement “You must be unemployed through no fault of your own….Your actions or decisions cannot be the cause of your separation from work.” in my state if you were fired for cause that could lead to a denial of unemployment even though you were fired.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            Seems like a bit of a Gordian knot … in hindsight there’s usually *something* someone could have done differently to avoid the axe, even in the case of a layoff.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              In case of layoffs you will be fine, it is meant to cover instances when you are fired for cause such as
              “If your employer cited you for violating their policy over and over, and gave you repeated warnings, your actions caused your separation. This would be “misconduct connected to the work.””

              I think its to prevent you from being able to “quit” by not showing up to work and getting fired, or any other way of forcing your employer to fire you when you want to quit to be able to recover unemployment benefits.

        4. Falling Diphthong*

          Think of it as “Not if you quit… unless you quit because they deliberately made your work impossible so you would quit and they wouldn’t have to pay unemployment. If you’re laid off or let go… but not if you screwed up maliciously so they’d have to fire you and pay you unemployment.” Attempts to prevent gaming of the system in both directions.

          I also recall in the ’08 crash an internet comment from someone in law school allowing that maybe there would be no jobs when he graduated but that’s what unemployment is for, being told “No, dude, it does NOT work like that.”

          1. Lil Fidget*

            Yeah, you have to have been working recently to get it (and it expires after not that much time, too) – that I did know. But it does seem counter-intuitive if you believe it’s supposed to be helping people who are unemployed, hence the name!

      2. Wintermute*

        I feel like I should point out I did suggest contacting a lawyer, and pointed out that this IS highly state specific:

        “It may be worth, if a lot is on the line, briefly talking to a lawer to confirm the constructive discharge laws in your state.”

  12. Knitting Cat Lady*

    Ah, meetings.

    If I have to sit still without doing something to occupy my mind I start stimming.

    I tend to occupy my hands with my fidget cube. Or my key chain. Or my spinner ring.

    That’s less annoying for my colleagues than jiggling my feet, turning my chair side to side, or bouncing in my chair if it is a bouncy chair.

    If I can’t do any of the above I start picking at my cuticles…

    1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

      I once removed every scrap of shellac nail polish from my nails in a meeting that was an entirely pointless waste of my time and evergy. After that I started taking my drawing pad and pencils to the meeting, and it became obvious that I was far from the only person in the team who brought along a ‘distraction’. One woman starting turning up with the cryptic crossword, and the manager in charge of the meetings soon decided they should be shorter and less frequent!

    2. Cristina in England*

      Company branded fidget cubes should definitely be a thing to help employees get through meetings!

      1. Susan*

        One of the more brilliant people I work with frequently works on the company branded Rubiks cube while in meetings. Doesn’t stop him from making excellent technical contributions to the conversation.

    3. Not That Anne, The Other Anne*

      I have both a fidget cube and a fidget pen, because otherwise I will start picking at my hands and then there’s blood and it’s just bad.

    4. eplawyer*

      The LW did mention maybe there were too many meetings. Perhaps the co-worker’s writing would be less distracting if they had to see it less? Are these meetings really productive? Do they have to be in person or could some of the issues be addressed by email or some other means? If people need to check out during meetings, it’s possible the meetings are the problem not the checking out.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        THANK YOU
        I was thinking this exact thing. If Bran can do this kind of activity and still stay engaged, the meetings are probably very repetitive and he’s figured that out.

    5. Annie Moose*

      I’m so happy to see I’m not the only one who picks at my nails to occupy myself!!

      It’s not that I’m not paying attention, I do it even when deeply interested in the subject matter. It’s just that I need to do SOMETHING with my hands; I’ve got all this extra energy that has to go SOMEWHERE!

      It’s a terrible habit that I try to do less of, but hey, if I can’t fidget with anything else, it’s where I go.

  13. Mookie*

    Tens of thousands of employers use Portfolium to match their jobs and internships to the skills in students’ and graduates’ Portfolium profiles.

    While this is carefully worded and hedged enough, I doubt those numbers stand up to much observation, if they’re suggesting that students have parlayed this into long-term employment. The company’s a handful of years old. I’m disappointed CalPoly and the UC system is pushing this on students. And targeting STEM majors in particular is just icing on the cake.

    Three boos for disrupters, consistently, aggressively, and almost always proudly unacquainted with anything resembling the real world, which is why they’re always “inventing” things that already exist and then making those things more cumbersome and less accessible. It would appear, like a lot of social media, that what is being sold is not a service but a young person (or, considering the dearth of real users, the idea of a young person). I’m not really sure why a legitimate employer would need to use this. Is this a scam to skim off the top of a public university’s budget or are there actual investors? The only publicity this seems to have generated is back-slapping the company’s founder for creating yet another unprofitable start-up.

    1. Mike C.*

      Seriously, this. If I had a dollar every time some techbro decided to “disrupt” a field they have no clue about but think they can change for the better because they know how to program I’d be rich.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Heh. The people who came up with project/portfolio based assessment for K-12 rethought their approach years later, when they had 10-18 year olds being told “To demonstrate what you learned this unit, make some sort of project! It can be anything, any format, any length, and we’ll grade it based on awesomeness.” And realized how frustratingly vague yet hugely time consuming that is.

    3. Chaordic One*

      When I worked in H.R. there were a fair number of applicants who used online portfolios, but they were not set up with “portfolium.” Most of them were for positions in visual fields, such as graphic design or website design and they seemed to be set up on a variety of different websites. Some used things like Word Press. There were also a handful of people who used portfolios to demonstrate their writing skills and I thought those seemed neat. Since I never actually made the hiring decisions, I can’t say with absolute certainty that they always helped, but they didn’t really hurt. Still, I don’t like the heavy-handed way these are being foisted off on students and I certainly don’t think they are appropriate for the vast majority of job applicants.

      1. Mookie*

        I mean, an on-line portfolio is already a thing, as you say. If you take a gander at Portfolium, however, that is not what they are hocking.

  14. SandrineSmiles (France) - At work*

    1) Yeah, I can understand the fanfic writer here. I mean, at my job (receptionist) I have to find ways to keep busy, otherwise I fall asleep at my desk at times. It’s either keep busy or consume tons of sugar (and on bad days, both) . So yeah. As long as the work is done, the most you might ask is that this person doesn’t type to enthusiastically to avoid grating on everyone’s ears, I guess ^^;; .

    2) I hope Belinda listens to you and doesn’t flip out when you don’t join her at the new company. I agree with others, blame it on the friendship. If she still pushes because she thinks it’ll be awesome, you can also say “As we are friends, I hope you understand my perspective and stop pushing for it. Thank you.” or something like that. Just because this is a rare job doesn’t mean you’d just HAVE to accept it anyway. If she doesn’t listen to your points, how much of a friend is she, anyway ? Crossing fingers for you.

    3) I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. Sending you and your mom good vibes.

    4) Darn, I have no idea, but I’m crossing fingers for you as well, OP!

    5) Is this pushing about the college benefitting from some kind of arrangement with the Porfolium thing or what ?

    1. LJL*

      Re: #5…it could be. It’s possible too that the college is using the artifacts submitted as evidence that demonstrates the extent of student learning, required for accreditation. It sounds like they are incentivizing students to use it so that they can get the data. Not a bad thing, but an alternate explanation.

      1. Cassandra*

        Yes, exactly — accreditation and related forms of pressure to “prove learning outcomes.”

        The graduate professional program I teach in requires portfolios, because the profession’s accreditor is leaning on everybody hard about the learning-outcomes thing, and they only accept certain forms of evidence. One is portfolios. One is a (supposedly-)comprehensive exam. One is a thesis (capstones and internships are iffy, even though they would make infinity more sense).

        Portfolios are the least available evil. We don’t like them. Students don’t like them. All we can do is require them and not lie about them — “you have to do this because [accreditor] requires us to collect evidence about the breadth of your education.”

        Our institution is starting to lean on departments about direct evidence of learning outcomes also. Our existing portfolio system should suffice for our graduate program, but I hate to even think what that will turn out to mean for our undergraduate courses. We can’t easily defy the Powers That Be, however.

  15. Lollygagger*

    OP 3:

    I’m so sorry about your mother. When my good friend’s mother had a medical issue, she created an account on she could then send the link to people who would want to be updated (you need the link to access it), and she went in and posted an update whenever something major happened.

    Her mother did pass away, and near the end my friend did find it challenging to come up with ways to sound positive but till realistic, but she only had to do that once a day, in writing. Worth a thought.

    1. Manders*

      I’m not the letter writer, but thank you, this is the perfect solution to a problem I’ve also been dealing with.

      My mom also has a terminal illness, and my family isn’t very good at talking about tough things, so I’ve been fielding calls from relatives who can’t get information out of my dad. My heart goes out to you, OP. Dealing with all those questions never gets easier no matter how many times it happens.

  16. Zephyr*

    The continued push of school work portfolios wouldn’t be that bad if there could be examples of certain hard skills that were actually meaningful. The problem is that in the bubble, there’s no way to know how much was group work versus individual work, and a lot of “real world examples/ study cases” students are given to work through still aren’t. They’re usually far too watered down.

    At a recent interview, the grad was talking about learning SQL for fun on his own. Now, I don’t doubt that he did play with it some and that’s fantastic, but he was talking it up like he could be a database admin today without being able to give me specific answers as to what more he knows than select * from. (And I later blew his mind that there’s more than one way to join tables).

    It’s the false sense of “I did this thing well at school (or in an online free course etc), therefore I’m going to be awesome at work because I know it all!” When the truth is really maybe with some learning curve you’ll be decent in your first 6-12 months, but becoming a SME takes years (and is often more focused/ narrow than you envision as a fresh grad).

    1. Zephyr*

      Colleges do a disservice to their students by pushing the myth that classwork matters outside of class. I think it’s that otherwise incurring all the costs of college seems pretty futile, so it’s marketing. To their students.

      1. Say what, now?*

        There’s truth to this. How do you sell people on a $20,000/year experience when there’s nothing tangible to take from it?

    2. Parenthetically*

      The value of a university education is that, at its best, it produces broad-minded, creative-thinking students who are ready to tackle a variety of challenges and have the flexible brains to do so. Unfortunately they’ve conflated education of minds with job training programs to the point that they do both poorly, and IN NO UNIVERSE is even the most ideal result worth six figures in debt.

      I think many fields that now require a bachelor’s degree would work better with a kind of 2+2 program — two years in the classroom learning theory, two years of apprenticeship — so you don’t end up with crap like this letter, a bunch of 19-year-olds posting their half-assed group project assigned by someone who hasn’t been in the field in 30 years as if it’s meaningful work skill development, while going into crippling debt.

      1. Lynca*

        Honestly this was one thing I felt my STEM program did right (not perfectly). We spent time honing skills in the field, learning testing procedures, learning how to report testing results, etc. as much as we did theory. One thing they did really badly was not push internships. Their thought was you need to dedicate to the program 100% and not work.

        1. Lora*

          Which really craps on kids who need to work to eat. One thing I liked about my college was, everyone did research as undergrads as part of the program as well as part of your financial aid-supported work study, not as an internship that had to be pursued outside of classes. I was working 30 hours/week while carrying a full load, because I had rent to pay. There was no way on earth I could take an unpaid internship or be paid in recommendation letters.

          1. College Career Counselor*

            I hear you on paying rent. Some colleges do set aside funds to support student un/under-paid summer internships, although they’re often very competitive to receive. However, it is an attempt to level the playing field of access to career-building experience between those who can afford to do an unpaid internship (or travel to one) and those who can’t. My institution does that, but we really need to increase the amount of $$ available for it.

  17. Clairels*

    #3 I’m really sorry you’re going through this. Does your Mom have a CaringBridge site set up? This site was started I think, pretty much, as a solution for this type of situation. You or another family member can update it with whatever you want people to know, and, if someone asks, just politely refer them there.

    1. Lollygagger*

      I posted the same above but I think it’s in moderation because it auto hyperlinked. My friend found it to be such a great service to help her not have to repeat updates to everyone daily (or hourly).

    2. Corky's wife Bonnie*

      That is a great idea. Plus, she (or other members of your family) can use CaringBridge if she should need meals, help around the house, etc. I’ve assisted people using this and it’s very convenient because the calendar marks off who did or is doing things on a given day.

  18. Rebecca*

    OP#1, I think you pointed out the real problem with the statement “maybe too many meetings”. Maybe not every single person needs to endure every single meeting? Why not see if you could cut back on the number of meetings, provide a recap for the people who need the new information and have a brief go over once things are decided, and see how that goes?

    There is nothing worse than having to sit through regularly scheduled meetings when you have other work to do but are not permitted to be excused because “reasons”. Ugh. This is why we have Sudoku books.

  19. PN*

    #1 “Bran is almost always writing some sort of novel or story in what appears to be an online fan forum for something.”

    It’s never good to assume what your coworker is doing. So unless you’re a 100% sure, I would stay out of it.

    1. MicroManagered*

      Even if OP1 is 100% sure what Bran is doing, she clearly states it doesn’t impact his work and he is still participating and responding in meetings… She should stay out of it either way.

  20. Pickles*

    I’d be very skeptical that the college would continue to pay for Portfolium use after graduation, which could lead to lost work (if stored only there) and effort (if design is important for Portfolium display for the viewers). Seems similar to how that .edu email might go away after graduation, depending on the institution. Even if the OP signed up, liked the service, and wanted to keep it, s/he might have to create a new account unaffiliated with the college. That’s assuming it’s a field where samples are important. I like writing samples, but that’s sadly an exception.

    1. LJL*

      Not according to what their website says. Many of these services will keep data as long as the college is buying the service.

  21. eve*

    #1 Apart from the too many meetings thing, you honestly don’t look too good yourself if you are so disengaged with the meeting you are snooping on what your colleague is doing. You say fantasy fanfic, your boss may well be saying, why are they spending all their time snooping out what Bran is doing.

    And it’s probably science fiction anyway – Bran is probably saving sanity by imagining what an alien overlord tribunal who came to earth to see if humans deserved to live (or if they should just put an intergalactic freeway though) would think if the meeting you are in was the benchmark for how humans interacted and whether humans as a species had enough to contribute to the universe to survive.

    I’m guessing the answer would be no.

    1. Jam Today*

      LOL I was just thinking that the characters in his fics are totally barely-disguised caricatures of his coworkers.

    2. Laura H*

      Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy reference!!!

      Minor mad props to Bran (even if I wouldn’t dream of ficcing at work) punching out words AND being able to respond and follow the meeting takes serious skills…

      Are you sure he’s not just taking notes in a way that makes sense to him though?

    3. Elizabeth H.*

      Other people doing non-related stuff (like browsing the web, looking at forums, Facebook, G-chat), and so forth in a meeting or a class is INCREDIBLY distracting. I don’t think it reflects on the OP at all for noticing this – anyone doing something non-work-related is harder to tune out.

  22. Catabodua*

    OP3:. there is an online tool called The Caring Bridge that you should use.

    It’s like a journal that you can update with whatever information your mom wants shared and every time someone asks you for an update you just direct them there.

    One thing that is a must at the start is set expectations on how often you will update it. If it’s once a week, say that up front so people then don’t start pestering you to update more frequently.

    If anyone persists, remind them it’s your mom and it’s taking an emotional toll on you to discuss and they need to back off.

    So sorry to hear of her illness.

      1. Corky's wife Bonnie*

        I posted above, that it can also be used if your mom needs anything such as meals, help around the house, etc. It is a wonderful tool. Take care of yourself too.

  23. Cordoba*

    OP#1 – If Bran isn’t disturbing anybody, is participating in the meeting as needed, and is not otherwise an albatross to the team why would anybody care what he’s doing in meetings unless it’s dangerous or blatantly offensive? If it’s a problem then your manager can address it. If not then don’t worry about it.

    My college grades went up when I started to sneak books into class and read them during lectures. I went from being bored and completely checked out for 2 hours to paying attention when new material was introduced until I understood it and went back to the book until the next new thing. I’m glad none of my classmates decided that they needed to turn me in for this outrageous behavior.

    There are a surprising number of AAM questions where people seem to think they have a responsibility or right to police their peers about things that don’t impact the question writer and are not a moral/ethical/safety problem. This mindset is foreign to me and I would like to understand it better. What drives this behavior?

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Meetings are supposed to be about team problem-solving. If someone is so disengaged as to be writing fan-fic or watching baseball, then they don’t really need to be in the meeting. Also, when most of the participants are distracted, it increases the length of meetings.

      I don’t think people need to police their peers. But it would be appropriate to say things like, “I noticed many people are distracted during the issue-spotting meeting. Maybe we should review who is needed or focus on making the meetings more efficient.” Or, “It seems that only half the team is participating at a given time. Maybe splitting into two shorter, more focused meetings would help productivity.” Or even, “If we had an agenda and stuck to it, people could call in for only the portions they’re needed.”

      In other words, use the observation that people are distracted as a reason to call for a more efficient format.

      1. Cordoba*

        I think most meetings are unnecessary and fully support using people’s checked-outedness to justify having fewer of them, but that’s not what is going on here.

        From the letter:
        “But it’s still starting to really concern/bother us that Bran is using meetings to work on his answer to The Hobbit.”

        The writer appears to see Bran’s writing as a genuine problem that they need to solve, to the extent that they are asking third parties for advice on how to bring it up to their manager.

        Making an issue of how Bran spends his time seems to me like a great way to force the issue and wind up with new more restrictive rules for everybody. No more writing for Bran, no more baseball for LW. Everybody loses!

    2. mindsetter*

      Cordoba, here are are two factors that I think are involved: 1. The people running the company schedule too many meetings that, to the participants, don’t seem useful. Therefore, everyone involved, including the people running the meetings, are checked out for much of the meeting. Sometimes, regular meetings are an excuse for a kind of unconscious team-building exercise, or some other obscure motivation, but if the people in the room can’t tell that the meetings do much good, and the managers running them don’t seem to care, you wind up in an environment like the one these people are working in … 2. The second factor driving the behavior is probably more important. The people complaining about the fanfic writer are guilty of the same behavior themselves, and feel the urge to correct others when they see them doing the same thing the complainers are doing. You can think about many examples of this principle outside of work, when people who complain that somebody else is slutty are conflicted about their own sex lives, or people who complain about somebody else’s drinking are usually people who have misgivings about their own relationships with alcohol.

    3. Lil Fidget*

      I did wonder how the advice might change if the OP was someone with authority over Bran’s work. I’d guess you’d want to call it out just as a note to them that it’s not as subtle as they think it is, in that case, even if it’s not affecting their work in a way that you can tell? I have a hard time believing it’s not related to his otherwise slow production outside the meetings too, but hard to say.

    4. Legal Beagle*

      In this particular letter, I think it’s a feeling of unfairness. “We have to sit through these boring meetings and pay attention without doing a fun side activity, so Bran should, too.”

      (Also, I think some commenters are misreading part of the letter. The LW did not say he watches baseball during meetings; he does that at his own desk while working. So the baseball/fanfic comparison doesn’t really stand up. I agree with Alison that LW shouldn’t say anything to his manager, but I don’t think he is being a hypocrite here.)

      1. Cordoba*

        “We have to sit through these boring meetings and pay attention without doing a fun side activity, so Bran should, too.”

        That is the inverse of how I would approach this situation.

        LW knows that Bran gets to do fun side activities in meetings. He participates as needed, and it does not appear that his manager minds his approach.

        Why ruin that for Bran when LW can just start doing their own fun side activities in meetings too?

      2. Elizabeth H.*

        I didn’t get that vibe at all from the letter, for whatever reason! I thought it was useful context. If the meetings are not productive and lend themselves to people doing their own side stuff that’s not even work related during them, that’s a problem in and of itself – I think Bran’s activity is more of a symptom of the larger problem than something that the LW wants to tattle on out of jealousy or something.

    5. Luna*

      I would argue that Bran’s behavior is obviously disturbing others, otherwise OP and Sansa (and possibly others) would not have picked up on what he is doing.

      Just because people are too polite to call you out on bad behavior, doesn’t make the behavior okay and not distracting.

      1. Natalie*

        Eh, maybe, maybe not. If the meetings are dull or not well managed or too frequent, it’s perfectly likely that the letter writer’s attention also wandered and that’s the only reason she noticed the website Bran was on.

      2. Cordoba*

        It’s possible to “pick up on” something without being disturbed by it.

        I have observed that the colleague sitting next to me often reads sports articles during boring meetings, conference calls, or online training sessions. That doesn’t mean it bothers me, just that it occasionally happens within my field of vision.

        1. Luna*

          Okay but in this case the OP is clearly both picking up on it and disturbed by it or she wouldn’t have written in about it.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Yes, but we don’t know if it’s “Bran’s typing is really distracting” disturbed or “OMG, it’s so unfair that Bran gets to do this” disturbed.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        Or else they noticed it because they’re very bored in the meetings themselves. If they’re participating and so is Bran, why would they care what’s on his laptop? How are they even noticing it? Are they sitting where they can see it and disengaged enough to peek at his screen? If someone were typing in a meeting but still participating, I’d just assume they were taking notes and not even bother looking.

        This is truly puzzling to me. Unless he’s typing REALLY LOUDLY AND PRESSING THE KEYS HARD, then I’m unsure as to why it’s bothersome.

        1. Luna*

          It is really easy to notice…they aren’t “disengaged” because they saw what is on his screen.

          People who do things like this in meetings are never being as subtle as they think they are.

  24. Say what, now?*

    OP #1, I’m thinking that you maybe hit on something big in your letter. The part where you say that there are maybe too many meetings could be contributing to your coworker filling his time alternatively. If these are happening with more frequency than necessary maybe you could suggest a bi-monthly meeting instead of weekly or whatever makes sense. He might be more engaged if he doesn’t feel like his wheels are spinning.

    And probably other people would be happy about this as well. No one loves meetings.

  25. Jam Today*

    #1 — that’s awesome. My best ideas typically come in the middle of the workday when I’m supposed to be doing other things. Sometimes (very rarely) I’ll bang out a few sentences just to get it down, only because if I don’t do that, I’ll be so distracted by the sentence or paragraph that’s in my head that I’ll be useless.

    Does OP #1 know what fandom? I’m super curious now.

  26. No Name Yet*

    For #1: this was briefly noted in the longer thread above, but I think it’s worth highlighting – I think the conversation/advice would change if Bran was writing/reading sexually explicit fanfic in the meetings. That’s actually where I thought this letter was going, but I assume it would have been mentioned if that were the case.

    (And like some of the other commentators, I pay much better attention when I can knit in meetings, makes me sad and much more distractible that it wouldn’t fly at my work.)

    1. SpiderLadyCEO*

      That’s what I thought too! If he were, this would warrant a bit of a different response, I imagine.

      OP #1, are you very sure that is what Bran is up to (writing fic, not writing smut). If you are, I would just mention to him that you and other coworker do see what he is working on during meetings. He might appreciate it. After that, of course it’s up to him what he does, but it would be nice of you to let him know.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      If Bran is actually writing fiction in meetings, I don’t see why it makes a difference whether it’s smut or not.

  27. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

    LW2: Please tell me your friend isn’t a manager at a cookware supplier in London.

    In all seriousness, I think the fact that she’s your friend outside of work should be reason enough to not work for her. As a lot of people said already, even if she’s a good manager (which it sounds like she’s not), that just changes things a LOT. And hopefully, you have a good enough relationship with her to tell her that friends shouldn’t work for friends directly. (I wouldn’t mention she’s a bad manager of course, but I’d definitely mention the friendship.)

    Also…so tell me if I’m off base, but I’d be wary about the fact that the job description was tailored to you by Belinda, and it’s basically filling in her old role. I can’t imagine that the necessary duties changed that much since she got promoted – so I’m getting the sense that she’s trying to reel you in.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      LW2: Please tell me your friend isn’t a manager at a cookware supplier in London.

      Are you kidding? This would be a great opportunity for the LW. She’d be a regional sales manager within a week.

      1. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

        On the other hand, the hours would likely be absolutely bonkers. LW would be working around the clock! If nothing else, I endorse a healthy work – life balance.

        1. Cherith Ponsonby*

          At least she’d always have time on Friday nights to nip round to the Pentra.

          (I am so glad this thread exists)

  28. Joie de Vivre*

    OP #3 – I’m very sorry about your mom.

    There used to be a website (Caring Bridge ???) that people could use to keep friends and family up to date regarding health issues. Maybe it, a similar site, or a Private Facebook group would work for you.

    Then you could post a daily/weekly update and everyone could look at the site and no ask you directly.

  29. WeevilWobble*

    I occasionally read GOT fanfic so I’m not opposed to it. And ultimately I agree with Alison’s advice. But people here are being way too hard on OP1. Writing fanfic in meetings is a strange thing to do and will ultimately hurt him in his career. Yeah, meetings can be pointless but if your manager holds them she doesn’t think so. Actually using that time to pursue a hobby is completely and totally unprofessional. And it IS distracting to others. Which is how OP and Sansa know about it.

    It’s not OP’s place to get into it. But it is unprofessional and will impact him negatively when his boss figures out he isn’t just taking notes.

    1. neverjaunty*

      But the Lw’s question wasn’t how to help Bran or whether she should warn him everybody knows what he’s doing. She asked if she and her co-worker should tell their manager.

    2. MuseumChick*

      I agree. It’s unprofessional and Bran is probably hurting himself without knowing it. But it doesn’t rise to the level of getting a manager involved. If the OP has a good relationship with Bran I would suggest that she pull him aside and let him know that people are noticing he is working on personal writing in meetings and that it doesn’t come off great.

  30. MommyMD*

    Sounds like coworker is posting on a forum rather than writing anything. If the sound of constant typing is distracting you, say something. If not, let the mangers worry about it. If people are watching tv during work, it sounds like a pretty relaxed environment.

  31. Emi.*

    For #4, if OP is exempt, the company is not obligated to pay out “accrued” overtime if they leave, right? (Legally, I mean, although they might have their own policy to that effect.)

    1. Natalie*

      I think it would depend on the state? Some states consider anything of value that’s accrued to be part of your wages, and thus something you are entitled to at separation. Other states will hold employers to whatever policies they have in their handbook, even if there is no law or contract compelling them to follow the policy.

    2. Brett*

      That gets a little strange since there is no such thing as an hourly exempt worker. So whatever the accrued overtime is, that’s something defined by the company. At that point, it becomes an analysis of company policies and state law to determine whether or not the “accrued overtime” could be considered deferred earned wages. (I think it is even possible that, with the way FLSA is written, accruing overtime for exempt workers would jeopardize their exempt status?)

      There is the case though of exempt government workers earning compensatory time, which could fit for the OP. In that situation, there is no legal obligation to pay out comp time on separation, but if it is defined by policy then that policy must be followed. This is actually a very weird area because there are no federal requirements at all on local governments. A local gov could grant only 30 minutes or even 5 minutes of comp time per extra hour worked (and I do mean 5 minutes, not 60+5 minutes) and make it use it or lose it to whatever extent they want. In practice, they normally do not grant comp time for exempt workers or grant the same comp time under the same policies to exempt and non-exempt.

  32. Lady Phoenix*

    #1: You admit that you and your friend have “ways” to help with your workflow. For Bran, Fan Fiction is how he stays concentrated, As long as he actually pays attention to the meetings. This is a case of “mind your own business”.

    #4: Sounds like your boss is trying to shove you out the door. You need to start documenting, researching, and job hunting.

    #5: If you need to make anportfolio, there are plenty of options that will reach a bigger audience than just your college, especially when you graduate: Wix, Youtube, etc. if your job doesn’t require anportfolio, I can’t see why you would need to set up one, especially one filled with work that might not be in your field (for example, an essay from anclass that was just for a credit). Even then, you need to fill it with work that is not school based too.

  33. Allison*

    #1) I’m similar to your coworker, OP, only in that I wish I had the guts to tune out and do something else during meetings. Most of the content in these meetings don’t pertain to me or my work, yet I’m pretty sure if my coworkers catch me responding to a message on Facebook or browsing Reddit, they’re gonna think “ugh, must be nice, I have to be present while Allison gets to goof off . . .” I try to pay attention and look interested because it’s part of being a team player and I don’t want my coworkers to hate me, but it would be nice if everyone wasn’t so damn nosy.

    Has anyone seen the video of the little kid in the car seat saying “worry about yourself”? I think that video applies here. OP, worry about yourself!

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I’m going to admit that I do something similar to Bran during boring meetings, and I’m aware that it’s not best practice :D But c’mon people, use long hand on paper and have illegible handwriting!! These things don’t take a genius!! (I’ve only once had someone ask me to send them my notes, since it looked like I took copious notes – whoops).

      1. Allison*

        Man I am dreading the day someone asks me for my notes. I do take notes in meetings, because it’s the only thing to do to stay occupied while also appearing engaged, but my notes aren’t good and they’re probably not useful to anyone but me. Also, I’m a 28 year-old woman on a team with middle aged men, I’m actively resisting getting pegged as an unofficial secretary. Take your own damn notes, Bob!

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Maybe the first time they receive your “not useful” notes will be the last time they ask for them?

        2. Bookartist*

          I got around that by writing in Greek characters. Yes, my notes say “Files due to printer by Wed EOD” but unless you too took, or speak, Greek, my notes are useless to you.

        3. Natalie*

          I always tell people I have my own weird shorthand that it’s unlikely they’ll be able to parse. Which isn’t completely untrue, it just happens to be that there is probably a lot of complaining about the meeting peppered throughout my notes.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Even the shorthand that people (i.e., women) used to learn in school is so uncommon now that it could be used as a secret language. I once worked for someone who did that.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              I’ve heard they teach something like this in Debate Clubs too, so you can take rapid notes as the other person is talking.

      2. Annie Moose*

        Yeahhh that happened to me once! Had to quickly come up with a reason why it just wouldn’t be suitable, whoops, sorry.

        One of my hobbies is constructed languages and writing systems, so once when I was an intern in a very boring meeting, I was writing random things in an invented writing system I was playing around with. Did NOT realize a higher manager noticed! He very curiously asked what I was writing, after the meeting (I think he meant it out of genuine curiosity, he was not the type who would’ve held back if he thought it was inappropriate), and I had to play it off as apersonal shorthand for taking notes, but in reality I think I was writing something like “this meeting is so boring, when will this meeting ever end, why am I even here”!!!

        Anyway I learned two important lessons: don’t write non-notes where the big boss can see you, and if you’re going to write rude commentary on a meeting, don’t do it in a format that anyone else can read.

      3. Aerin*

        When I was doing ITIL training, the instructor was so aggressively bad that I started ignoring him and just taking my own notes out of the textbook. A few colleagues asked me to share the notes afterward, and I had that little moment of panic thinking about all the weird asides and jokes I’d written, plus a couple of, um, colorful mnemomics. There was definitely a bit of revision before I passed them along…

  34. GradStudent*

    #5- My school actually just posts jobs to Portfolium, so they may be switching to it just to make a better, more centralized job board. I’ve gotten several interviews through it and I only have my resume in. It does link out so people can see your GPA, etc. but I doubt any of the employers are using it that way in our case. Don’t totally discount it without digging around and seeing how they are using it.

    1. Reba*

      When you say “have gotten several interviews through it” do you mean that employers with openings are cold-emailing you after finding your resume on the site?

      I’m in academia and generally skeptical of this stuff, so I’m curious to know a little more about your experience.

  35. Observer*

    #1 What are you actually trying to accomplish by going to Bran’s manager? Why are you so bothered by what he is doing?

    In general, I don’t think that “narcing” or “tattling” have any place in the workplace. When dealing with a peer, either the behavior affects your work or there is a legal / ethical / safety issue, in which case you need to report and it’s not “tattling”. Or, those things don;t apply, in which case it’s just not your place to get involved.

    1. Cordoba*

      If a person observes a colleague do something and is considering making an issue of it they should consider three questions:

      1) Am I this person’s manager?
      2) Is this a legal/ethical/safety issue?
      3) Does this directly impact me or my work?

      If this answer to all of these questions is “no” then it’s probably best not to worry about it and focus on your job and your performance rather than what other unrelated people are doing.

      1. LCL*

        It’s an ethical issue because it is rude and disrespectful. It directly impacts the OP because it is extremely demoralizing to OP. OP is trying to follow basic business ethics rules and Bran is openly displaying his contempt for the rules, and by extension his contempt for all his coworkers who are acting like grownups. Look, nobody enjoys meetings, and it sounds like this company has too many. But if the others have to suffer through that crap, Bran doesn’t get to be special and escape. I might bring this up to boss, depending on my mood. More likely I would start asking Bran frequent questions during these meetings which would force him to be a little more present.

        1. STG*

          Not everyone is going to agree that it’s rude and disrespectful though. Frankly, it seems to me that it’s getting closer to ‘but that’s not fair because I can’t/don’t do that’ territory.

          1. LCL*

            This may be a corporate culture thing. I posted upthread that my company considers it rude and disrespectful and has put it in writing and spent training money on this concept.

        2. Natalie*

          By this logic, literally anything you don’t like is now an issue for your manager to solve. I rather doubt that would land well with most managers.

        3. Annie Moose*

          This seems like an extreme reaction, especially considering that LW1 explicitly said Bran is engaged and participating in the meetings.

        4. Observer*


          You have a rather unusual and expansive take on ethics and morals. Also, why does Bran have an ethical obligation to suffer if he can do what he needs to in the meetings? I don’t think that anyone ever has an obligation to suffer just because someone else is suffering.

          If any of my reports came to me and said “I’m having problem X, how come Jane is allowed to not have that problem?” I’d be looking at that person’s performance and behavior quite hard – I would NOT be worrying about Jane.

          1. LCL*

            There are certain things we all agree to when we work for someone else. And yes, some of them are utter BS. Others are just annoying because we all would rather be doing what we want to do instead of following someone else’s schedule, wearing a wardrobe we wouldn’t normally choose, and spending time on someone else’s work. My job let the Brans of the world have pretty much free rein for too many years. Don’t want to go to meetings, or God forbid talk to people, because you’re so smart and special? Sure, that’s fine Bran. That kind of behavior was rewarded, and it hurt us as a company and as human beings. Encouraging specialness and exceptions regarding normal standards of behavior was EXTREMELY corrosive to morale.

            If someone came to me and asked why Jane was allowed do something that they weren’t allowed to do, it would depend entirely on what Jane was doing. If the complaint was that Jane was eating fast food everyday, my response would be MYOB. If the complaint was that Jane took an hour lunch when everyone was only allowed a half hour, I would start by talking to Jane. Who would probably respond back with fast food is the only thing she can eat and it takes her longer to get her meal so she should be allowed the extra half hour.

            Nobody has an obligation to suffer because others are suffering. But also, nobody gets to escape tedious social and meeting obligations just because they don’t like them, WHEN OTHERS IN THE SAME GROUP are expected to fulfill these obligations.

            1. Cordoba*

              Do we have any evidence that LW is being held to fulfill obligations that Bran is not?

              It is entirely possible, even likely, that LW could also read/chat/type/etc in the same meeting without their manager objecting.

              If they had tried this and been told to knock it off I expect this would have been included in the letter.

              1. LCL*

                You have perfectly illustrated how and why actions such as Bran’s can be so corrosive to morale. Bran does an admittedly minor bad thing, Bran isn’t called out for it in any way, so Brienne believes it to be acceptable behavior and starts doing it too. Except Brienne’s actions get management’s attention and she is chastised or otherwise made to stop. Now Bran’s mad because he’s been found out, and Brienne is mad because she believes Bran got special treatment.

                1. Observer*

                  So, let’s not let anyone do anything that not every single person can do, because hurt feelings.

                  That, by the way, is the classic reason for never granting reasonable accommodation requests, as well. And, that’s just bad management.

                  In any case, there is nothing here that rises to the level of ethical lapse or anything that a peer has standing to address.

                2. Cordoba*

                  Do you contend that it would be less injurious to morale for the letter writer to do one of the following:

                  -Tell Bran to stop writing in meetings, even though she is not his manager and apparently cannot clearly articulated how it harms or interferes with her.

                  -To use the wording of the original LW, “narc” on Bran and tell their manager to tell him to stop writing in meetings.

                  What you outlined may result in lowered morale, but either of these two things *definitely* would.

                  We have no reason to believe that their manager does not know that Bran is writing in meetings, it is likely that she knows and is cool with it.

            2. Observer*

              Except that nothing you describe relates to anything in the letter. Bran is doing his work and participating appropriately in the meetings. No one is doing his work for him.

              In short, you are claiming that he’s unethical because he’s found a way to lessen the effects of excessive meetings without affecting anyone else, that doesn’t happen to work for anyone else.

  36. Devil's Advocate*

    To OP #4,–I haven’t seen this answered yet, but what field are you in? I find it to be rarer and rarer that jobs are actually a 40 hour work week (well less than that if you take lunch) and most jobs would expect an actual 50-55 hours work week.

    Before quitting, have you talked to your supervisor (and if no response their supervisor) to see what can be done about reducing your case load or prioritizing your work so that your performance goes up?

  37. Delta Delta*

    #1 – I always carry a little notebook with me and more than once have sat in the back of meetings writing longhand prose. I flip back and forth between writing the next great American novel and actually taking meeting notes so that if someone asks for my notes I can email them something from my bullet points. This has happened to me exactly once and I was glad I was a step ahead in my meeting boredom deception.

    1. Your Tax Dollars at Work*

      Same! I use the notes app on my phone and just take meeting notes at the top, write my fic on the bottom!

  38. nnn*

    Upon reading letter #1, my brain wrote a story where LW was writing the letter in a meeting, and someone happened to catch a glimpse of her screen and saw the names Sansa and Bran and assumed LW was writing fanfic.

  39. cheeky*

    The first letter is interesting to me- I also have a coworker/direct report who writes fanfic/draws anime/writes out role playing game notes during meetings. I direct and manage her work, but not her from a personnel standpoint, and while I think it’s a bad look for her to appear to not be paying attention, I also can’t really do anything about it. I just try to ignore it.

  40. J.B.*

    Uurgh meetings. Especially fun when the worst person for derailing and making longer is playing on his phone. (Not usually at the same time he’s derailing things though, so I would actually be happy if he would just commit to the phone thing.) And big boss gets mad if people avoid these meetings, but hasn’t said boo about the phone or the derailing.

  41. Ellen Ripley*

    #4, what would happen if you worked ~40 hours a week, doing the best job that you can while you are working, and let the chips fall as they may? I’m not suggesting this would be easy, as something is obviously awry in your workplace – excessive workload, favoritism, general dysfunction – but you believe they’re gearing up to let you go, so what’s the worst that could happen? If you quit, you won’t be eligible for unemployment. If they fire you, you will be, and perhaps, just perhaps, before the PIP process is complete someone will buy a clue and realize that the current situation is unsustainable.

    1. A Nickname for AAM*

      LW says “caseload” so I am wondering if they’re a social worker. There have been a lot of media accounts of social workers so overloaded they miss something critical, like they send a child back to their abusive parents and the child is murdered shortly after, or they’re the one responsible for telling a roster of concerned teachers that no, their student is not so mentally ill that they’re a danger to others and belong in inpatient, only to have said student storm the school later and murder 17 people with an AR-15.

  42. AnitaJ*

    Personally, if someone is typing away on their laptop in a meeting, I find it distracting, whether or not it’s meeting-related. When it’s taking notes on the meeting, it’s still annoying, but I deal with it because it’s necessary. When you’re obviously writing unrelated emails, working on other projects, or even chatting with friends, it feels disrespectful. We all stopped what we were working on, showed up to this meeting, and are ready to collaborate on this particular subject. You’re showing up, banging away at the keyboard, and visibly showing us that you think your time is more important and better spent on something else. Which, maybe that’s the case! But then address that prior to your meeting attendance. Have that conversation with the meeting organizer and don’t come. But if you do come, please respect that we’re all there and give us the courtesy of your attention and *full* participation.

    I agree with Allison that you shouldn’t escalate this to a manager, but have you tried addressing it with Bran? “Hey, Bran, your typing during the meeting has gotten a little distracting. Would it be possible for you to minimize your other unrelated work during meetings?”

    If not, then yeah, it seems like you’ll just have to deal.

    1. Catabodua*

      I agree with this. I think I’d be way more annoyed at hearing keyboard typing than the fact that he’s writing fiction.

  43. Specialist*

    Poster #3:
    There is a website called Caring Bridge. This was a godsend when my husband was dying. You can post updates and people can go on to see how things are going. You can post whatever you would like. My husband wrote all kinds of things, and when he wasn’t able to write he would dictate to me. There are other features as well, including something where you can post about things you need help with and people can sign up to bring meals or mow the lawn or anything like that. We found this site to be incredibly helpful and I highly recommend it. This would allow you to direct people to the site instead of having personal conversations. Not saying that you still won’t get asked–you may need to let people know that you are having a hard enough time focusing and that it would really help you out if they would follow her on caring bridge. I understand. I would be trying to care for my husband while at the same time fielding multiple phone calls from his family and friends who were trying to be helpful. It is overwhelming. Please take advantage of hospice as well. They offer so many things. There are rules about when you can get it, but they will give you amazing support. Be prepared to have people overstep. It happens.

    I am sorry if this information has already been posted. I usually read the posts before responding, but doubt I will be able to today. My thoughts are with you during this really rotten time.

    1. OP3*

      Thank you! I’ve been trying to get her to look into hospice, but she isn’t quite ready to. Caring bridge sounds like a great tool, though!

  44. Miles*

    #4 I would figure out which accounts are the most important (primarily for your own career growth, and secondarily for the company) and focus on those. The rest can get delegated to someone else, or get the 20-80 treatment (do the 20% of the work that completes 80% of the task, e.g. don’t worry about polish, just accuracy)

    1. Miles*

      Also work on an exit strategy if you aren’t already and if your peers really want you gone think about improving your people skills as well

  45. KJDubreuil*

    I am an owner/manager of a small business and when my lead receptionist (someone I inherited and who was difficult to manage) moved on voluntarily I asked a friend/close acquaintance to quit her job of 18 years ( I knew she was not happy there and I offered her more money) and take the open position. Which she did. It has been awesome because she is an experienced person in the workforce (nearing retirement age) and she keeps work place interactions strictly separated from the volunteer program we both participate in every week.

    On the other hand three years ago I hired a different friend/acquaintance to manage my office part time. She saved my life (figuratively) at the time, but now has become difficult to manage and acts too entitled for me to be really happy with her in the role. Since I have hired and fired numerous people in that role over the past 25 years I know it could be worse so I just continue setting limits and ignoring her pushing the boundaries a bit.

    Finally, I recently had a dear friend suggest that she interview at my business for a position she knew was open. She probably could do the job just fine but . . . so I looked right at her and calmly and kindly said “Oh no, that wouldn’t work at all. I think it would be much too hard for me to manage you.” With a smile. Thank you Ask A Manager for making it possible for me to find the right words in the moment! Before I started reading AAM I would not have been able to be direct, kind and effective in this utterly awkward moment.

    To the OP, you could flip this script and just say to your friend “Oh no, that wouldn’t work at all. I would never put you in the position of trying to manage me.” With a smile.

  46. Stop with the portfolios!*

    Alison, THANK YOU for saying that portfolios for college students outside of creative fields are ridiculous. I worked in a college career centre for a long time and students and faculty alike would come to me for guidance on this (read: students would come for advice because their teachers said they should do it, and faculty came to me to ask me to convince their students of how useful they are). I mean, assembling one can be great interview prep (in terms of helping you articulate your skills and accomplishments), so if you want to assign one to your students for that, great…but for the love of everything, I NEVER advise them to take a big binder that’s really just a scrapbook with them when job searching.

  47. Your Tax Dollars at Work*

    I’m just glad I’m not the only one who writes fanfic in pointless meetings! I have to attend lots of meetings at OTHER organizations for my job, and there’s lots of times when they’re talking about something that is not relevant to me or anything I do. Bring on the fanfic!

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