my whole team brings their spouses on business trips, turning in work too quickly, and more

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

1. My whole team brings their spouses on business trips

Employees on a team I manage attend one regional and one national conference per year for professional development and training. All expenses are paid. Is it normal that spouses commonly accompany them on these trips?

From what I can gather, the practice started years ago when one employee got permission to extend their trip so their spouse could join them for some tourism. All extra costs were paid for by the employee and PTO was taken. Many of the other team members thought this sounded fun and they started doing it too. At some point before I came on board, it changed from spouses coming before or after the conference to spouses coming during the conference. This happens a lot, so that the norm is now bringing a spouse instead of traveling alone/with the team.

This seems weird to me. I see two potential issues: (1) employees may be missing opportunities and networking that happen in the evenings and other down time, and (2) there are now times where the company is incurring extra costs because the employees are trying to accommodate traveling with their spouses. For example, taking a different and more expensive flight to a national conference, or opting to drive themselves (and then submit for mileage reimbursement) instead of sharing a rental car with 3 or 4 coworkers to a regional conference.

When I’ve asked employees about this, they assure me that their spouse isn’t distracting or keeping them from the conference. And that they really appreciate this perk that the previous manager gave them for years. The conferences are usually in fun, touristy cities and I understand the appeal. So my question is, is this normal? And if it isn’t normal, is it bad enough that I should stop allowing it to happen?

It’s not unheard of for someone’s spouse to join them on a business trip so that they can enjoy the city together in the person’s off-hours (or so the spouse can enjoy themselves during the day, or so that they can extend the trip for a vacation afterwards). What’s unusual in your situation, though, is that it sounds like it’s become the culture in your office for lots of people to do this — to the point that it now feels like a perk.

The big question for you is what the real impact is. Are people less engaged in the conferences? Would substantial networking be happening in the evenings that isn’t happening now because people go off with their spouses? Is part of the point of sending everyone to these conferences to have team bonding time outside of the conference sessions? If you’re answering yes to those questions, it’s really not unreasonable to ask that these trips be spouse-free going forward … but that people are still welcome to extend the trip at their own expense and have spouses join them afterward if they want. If it’s a week-long event, you could even say spouses are welcome to join on day 3 of the event, or something else that preserves some team-only time first. Or you could just set up a couple of employee-only dinners, and make sure people know ahead of time that they’re expected to be there for those. On the other hand, though, if networking and team bonding are not a big part of your goals in sending people to these conferences, and if most people would probably head back to their rooms alone after the daytime sessions anyway, then it might make sense to leave this alone.

But if nothing else, you need to tackle the piece about expenses; it’s not cool for people to cost the company more because they’re bringing a spouse along. It’s more than reasonable for you to lay down a rule that you won’t cover extra costs incurred by people trying to accommodate spouses.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Am I turning in work too quickly?

I recently quit my crappy retail job, where I worked hard and got “exceeds expectations” on evaluations and finished projects much faster than they were scheduled to be done. I’m now starting work in a new, highly technical field and worry that I’m getting things done *too* quickly. I’ll frequently be assigned a project and have the product back to my supervisor the next day, while most people would only finish the project in a week or longer. I’ve had no complaints about the quality of my work, and when I ask for feedback I only get small edits, not relating to the quality of my work but to the content (which would have been coming anyway, as it’s usually new or revised content than I was originally given). I feel confident in the quality of what I’m producing.

But I wonder if my supervisor (or anyone, really) is going to get the impression that I’m just half-assing my work, or not putting everything I have into it, just because I know it well and am able do it faster than some of my peers. I almost feel like I should delay turning in products so they don’t think I’m rushing, but that doesn’t mesh with my work ethic, which tells me to get it, finish it, and return it ASAP. It’s definitely more of an internal worry than anything I’ve noticed from other people — but it’s one I’m having a hard time moving past. This is my first position in this field and I really want to stand out in a good way!

Some people are faster than others at certain types of projects; that’s just a reality of the work world. If your work is good, your manager is unlikely to think you’re half-assing it. If I were your manager, I would be concerned if I was finding mistakes or thought that you were stopping at “good enough” when it could be great if you put more thought into it. But it doesn’t sound like your manager has those concerns.

That said, it would be an interesting experiment to see what happens if you finish a project, put it aside, and then come back to it with fresh eyes a day or two later. When you do that, are there things you see that you could improve? If so, that’s evidence that at least some of your work might benefit from doing that regularly. On the other hand, some work doesn’t lend itself to that, and if yours doesn’t, you don’t need to introduce false delays just for appearances’ sake.

3. Catching up on emails and explaining why I dropped the ball

I work as the director of a youth program. My jobs is almost entirely public/client-focused. In the past month, my dog escaped from the dog sitter in -10 degree weather (he was found safe four days later), my partner’s sibling went into rehab, and my grandfather’s health suddenly declined. He passed away this week. I’ve really dropped the ball on my emails and phone calls because I’ve been overwhelmed at work and home. I’m catching up on all of my endless emails and phone calls this week and am at a loss as to how I can address my absence. Saying I’ve had a family emergency or I’ve been “very busy” feels like I’m just making excuses for myself. I’m an open person and don’t mind telling them I’ve had a family death, but that feels unprofessional. What is a good way to tell people, “I’m sorry I dropped the ball but it was for very real reasons”?

“Family emergency” doesn’t sound like you’re making excuses! It sounds like you had a family emergency, and people will understand that. I’d go with “I’m so sorry for the delay in getting back to you — I’ve been dealing with a family emergency and am just getting caught up now.” Or it’s also fine to change that last part to “I’ve had a death in the family” if you prefer, but I’d generally reserve that for people who you know rather than distant contacts. But really, either one is fine! People understand that sometimes life throws things at us that take us away from work.

4. Weird behavior at career fairs

I recently took part in a career fair at a university representing my department. It was a mostly fun experience, but I found out there were two distinct groups of people at at the career fair.

The first group was great. They knew what our company was about and introduced themselves and told us about their experiences and education. The other group was … not so good. They would come up to our booth (and I presume others) and stand in a particular way and say something like “so…what can you do for me?” We would generally tell them about our company and the different department and roles we have and then it turns out that they are in a completely unrelated field! After a few times, we would start by asking them what they were taking and try to tailor what we told them based on that. How would you deal with the second group of people?

It’s useful to have a short spiel (like two to four sentences) that you can give about your employer and what types of jobs you’re hiring for. It sounds like you were doing a much longer version of that, but it’s okay to trim it down. After your short explanation, you can say, “What field are you in and what type of work are you looking for?” And then it’s their turn. That way neither of you are investing too much time if you’re each looking for something completely different.

And if someone takes a “what can you do for me?” approach, don’t feel like you have to jump to figure out what the answer to that might be. They’re not exactly putting their best foot forward there, and you’re not obligated to cater to that.

5. Why do I have to stop working for two months before my contract can be renewed?

I am about to come to the end of a two-year contract period at my very large California employer, and I had been put forward for permanent employment several months ago. Because of headcount, instead of staying at a job I love and that I’m good at, with a boss and manager who both desperately want to keep me, in March I will be unemployed. I can reapply for my current position after 60 days, but there is no guarantee there will be an opening.

Can you please explain (to me, and to the readers in general) why this is? (Also, can I apply for unemployment? And if I can, *should* I?)

My friend in Washington state had a similar situation a while back, although his breaks had to be 100 days long before reapplying, which is the only reason I even knew this was a thing.

For the record, yes, I’m handling the transition VERY professionally, because why burn bridges with two excellent references who’d love to hire me back? I’ll be okay, but I don’t have the answers people are asking me for, and I’d love to understand how and why this happens.

They’re doing it because they want to avoid having their contract workers forcibly reclassified by the government as employees (and thus entitled to employee benefits). Some years back, the IRS reclassified a slew of contractors at Microsoft as employees because the’d been there so long and were essentially being treated as employees — which meant that Microsoft had to pay millions of dollars to said contract workers and give them the same stock options as employees. So now many employers, especially big ones, limit the amount of time that contract workers can work in one stretch, in an effort to avoid the permatemp problem that led to the Microsoft case.

And yes, you can and should apply for unemployment. You should be eligible, assuming that you weren’t a 1099 independent contractor — in other words, assuming your employer took payroll taxes out of your check. (If you were an independent contractor, it’s more complicated; in that case, in most states you’d need to have paid into your state unemployment fund in order to access benefits, which most independent contractors don’t do.)

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 357 comments… read them below }

  1. Bea*

    #2 I too work at a faster pace than I’ve learned many others do. I have times when I truly second guess if I did something correctly because I whipped it out quickly.

    Use your extra time to check your work and you’ll still get it done faster than others. Once you’ve double and triple checked it, you’ll feel better and have less self doubt. That goes along with the concept of looking at the project with fresh eyes.

    I’ve never had any issues with my pace or being accused of being half assed. It will always depend on your workload and prioritization on your end. Some people arrange theirs differently so yes, they give you the report 5 days later but it took them 2 hrs. You did it right away and it also took you 2 hours.

    1. Alex the Alchemist*

      THIS. As someone who’s always worked fast throughout her life, I always worried about turning stuff in too fast and looking too rushed (waiting for someone else to turn their test in first, for example). I realized that it’s an opportunity to look stuff over again and make sure everything’s right, although it takes me a good break first because I feel like if you try and look over it right after it’s very easy to think you did perfect. Clearly you have plenty of time, so use it to take a step back and then go back and make sure everything’s perfect!

      1. Robin B*

        Anyone who writes or edits will tell you a few days (weeks, or months!) between readings will allow you to find many more things that need correcting. It really gives you a “fresh set of eyes.”

        1. Kyrielle*

          Yep. If I review it right after I wrote it, mostly I read what I *meant* to say, and not necessarily what I *did* say.

    2. AC*

      The other thing to consider is that longer-term employees might simply gotten used to working at a slower pace. This could be for a variety of reasons – their work load doesn’t require significant speed, they have other responsibilities that you’re unaware of, they’re happy getting by doing less work, whatever.

      1. autophage*

        I work in software development, and I’ve noticed the “they have other responsibilities that you’re unaware of” pretty often. I once had a coworker who I thought was incapable of doing anything in under three days, only to realize that they were also coordinating a daily deployment for another client (which took 2 hours a day), plus had one day a week dedicated to organizing conferences and recruiting events, plus were in charge of editing company blog posts.

        It turned out they were actually very fast, and had been assigned some of those other duties specifically because they could handle them and still make a useful contribution to the team that I was on with them.

        1. ToodieCat*

          This is what I’ve observed, too. Employees who’ve been on board for a long time often have a lot of “baggage” that new employees don’t have, and that can slow them down.

        2. Sketchee*

          Very true! I’ve found that over time, you start picking up projects and work that you’re interested in, that others aren’t interested in, or that you just notice could be done. If you start doing it, it often gets absorbed into your duties.

        3. Jaguar*

          Yeah. This is something that can be hard to understand when you’re new to the workforce. I’m surprised Alison didn’t mention it.

          The longer you are at a position, the more trust you’re going to build up with your coworkers and the more responsibility you’re going to take on. I’m also in tech, and I imagine if someone else was hired parallel to me and they saw me being requested to make some CSS changes to a page that might take two hours and I didn’t do it until mid-next-week, they could easily assume I’m lazy. I am lazy, but the reason I didn’t finish it for a week is that the layout of a page can wait and the other things I’m working on can’t. I’ve made it a lower priority.

        4. MerciMe*

          There’s another aspect to this too – once your boss realizes you’re quick and good they have to find a way to keep you engaged while still leaving themselves time for their other duties. So folks get put on long term projects with a lot of independent work they can do prior to any deliverables emerging, or where management just needs to weigh in on the most important or sensitive decisions. That means that the work being visibly produced is everything else they’re fitting in around their major roles. Because the op is new, the boss doubtless has them doing easy stuff. This gives the new employee early successes and learning opportunities, while freeing up more senior employees who take less management time, so they can focus on the stuff the new employee isn’t ready to handle quite so independently…..

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I wondered if part of this is that OP is new and so they are still integrating her into the workflow, while other people have more projects on-deck.

      3. Bryce*

        It could also be a burnout factor for some people. I *can* work fast at some things but I can’t keep it up all day.

    3. Casuan*

      If you’re not getting any feedback on your work other than minor edits, probably you can assume that your work is correct. That said, if it were me, I probably wouldn’t make the assumption & I’d ask if my work was comprehensive enough or if it needed any other changes.
      I love Alison’s suggestion to put some work aside & then to review it after a day or two.

      There is one caution to such efficiency: If you are completing assignments quickly, that can become the new normal. Over time this can lead to unrealistic expectations from your management & burnout to yourself.
      This doesn’t imply that you should slow down your work, just that you should be aware of potential false expectations.

      You have a great work ethic :)

      1. MommyMD*

        So so true. I was an over-achiever and learned quickly that if you exceed expectations on a regular basis this will become your baseline. I was then saddled with others workload. I slowed down. No good dead goes unpunished.

        1. OP4 career fair*

          Yes!!! This is something we would do at my grandma’s cabin in the summer. If she gives you a list of stuff to do, don’t rush out and do it all so I can relax for the rest of the week because she will have more work for you. Instead, you need to plan out what you will do and when you will don’t and build in relaxation time.

          Obviously you don’t build in relaxation time at work so I can only really use that method at the cottage.

          1. Beatrice*

            Not relaxation time, but if you’re working hard enough that burnout is a real risk, sometimes you can be more effective if you pace yourself a little more and stop treating everything like a sprint instead of a marathon.

          2. TootsNYC*

            “If she gives you a list of stuff to do, don’t rush out and do it all so I can relax for the rest of the week because she will have more work for you. “

            As a parent, I learned to explicitly tell my children that if they did the task quickly, they’d have more time for fun, and to promise them that I wouldn’t just add more stuff for them to do.

        2. TL -*

          Yes. At my first job, I religiously had a 1 week response time for small orders and 2 weeks for large orders. (Unless you only gave me very small orders or you had a good reason for needing it faster.)
          A new coworker came in and started turning things around in 2-3 days – she only had small orders and only one at a time. I warned her about doing that and she gave me an “I’m not lazy like you” response.
          First big order she got, it took her two weeks to finish and the client emailed her every other day starting from day 2 asking to see results. Then that backed her up on the small orders that came in next, so she got emails from that batch of clients at 2 days out, which was the start of our busy period….

        3. Casper Lives*

          This. In college, I had an hourly office job as a student worker. I worked too quickly at first, ran out of work, and went home early aka didn’t get paid. I slowed way down! They promised a certain amount of hours, but didn’t have enough work for my pace.

          1. KT84*

            I had a similar experience in a temp job – I had a tedious job of entering in data but it was a three month assignment with future employment definitely on the table. The job was so large they hired an extra temp who turned out to be a tech wizard. He did something in Excel which cut our workload down and we finished the task a month ahead of schedule. If he was an employee he would have gotten promoted – instead they ended our assignment early and we were out of a job! At the time I was pissed but in retrospect it worked out – two temp jobs later lead to my first permanent job and a career path in an entirely different industry.

            1. calonkat*

              ooh, sort of me too! I had a temp job that was introduced as “we have these mountains of old documents to scan into archive, check, and destroy the paper copies, just try to keep up”. I didn’t have a smartphone to play on in the corner like the other temp, so we got caught up within the first month. They’d just hired her on permanently, so they let me go! I assume they had to start hiring temps again because she couldn’t keep up :) But I’ve been a real employee with benefits and leave somewhere else for over 10 years now, so it all worked out.

        4. Casuan*

          Baseline, yes exactly. And being given an a greater workload. Sometimes this baseline becomes “Give it to Jane, she’ll get it done” & eventually Jane has the workload of three, special projects & a task list of “little things” that aren’t so little when the list is so long. So mistakes get made… at first minor mistakes which aren’t so minor when they add up… Jane doesn’t notice & she becomes defensive & burnt out.
          There needs to be a balance between efficiency & productivity, which is different for everyone & can take some time to discover.

          Also I agree with what others wrote about a new hire having a lighter workload & how one isn’t always aware of their colleagues’ full workloads.

          MommyMD, I love your freudian-ish typo of “no good *dead* goes unpunished”!!
          At least, I assume it was a typo…?

      2. Bea*

        This is a good point but I’ll also share the flipside where if you have the right management, it will help you rise through the ranks.

        I’m a self taught professional who has been rewarded for my speed and accuracy. Only one employer tried to exploit it and get messy when I was being crushed under ever increasing tasks and unrealistic expectations. The other ones notice what I bring and are thrilled to the tune of many raises and awesome reviews. When I do mess up or accidentally screw up, my track record of kicking ass overpowers the mistakes.

        So I caution understanding your limits and watching out for those skeezy bosses who think “bonus work” and bleeding you emotionally dry is an acceptable practice.

        1. MassMatt*

          Having the right management is key, though. At a good organization someone who completes work quickly etc will be rewarded. At bad organizations they will be punished for making others look bad, or pigeonholed as impossible to promote as they are “too valuable” in their existing role. And at the majority in between, they will get the occasional “good job”, but while there will be plenty of work to get added to your pile, the raises will likely be less so.

          OP it sounds like you are excelling in your new role, don’t overthink it too much. But see how they respond and treat you over time. If they treat you well then great, if poorly then be ready to take your skills elsewhere.

      3. Susan K*

        Yeah, I feel guilty about it but sometimes I sit on things for a while because I don’t want people to get unrealistic expectations about how quickly I can get something done. There are things that I can do in, say, two hours IF I can plan for them in advance AND everything goes perfectly (e.g., I’m not busy with other stuff, all the equipment is working properly, all the supplies I need are in stock, etc.), but if I regularly achieve a two-hour turnaround, people start to think that I can always do it in two hours and then they get upset if it takes four hours because I’m swamped or there’s a problem with the equipment or something. So even if I finish it in two hours, I wait another couple of hours to turn it in, unless it is a legitimately high priority, and then I make sure they know that I’m going out of my way to put a rush on it just this once.

      4. Kramerica Industries*

        Ugh, dealing with this right now. I feel like I’m being taken advantage of because I’ll always be able to find time/re-prioritize when things come up, whereas my coworkers flat out say ‘no’ because they’re focusing on what they already have on their plate.

        1. Bea*

          Last time I said “no, I’ve asked someone else to do that, there’s no time for me to complete that task”, I got written up. By my only psychopath boss to date. So no joke, I gasped at the idea of just saying “no” to a request. That’s a world I’m not apart of.

          1. Autumnheart*

            Mine either, although “I’ve asked someone else to do that, so that they could prioritize the project to be completed sooner than my projects would allow” would be an acceptable “didn’t say no” kind of “no”.

          2. The Rat-Catcher*

            My “not no” is “I would have time to do this on X date” when X is a month from now and I know darn well they don’t want to wait that long.

      5. TardyTardis*

        Yes, I call this the Patsy Problem–in the movie 12 Years a Slave, Patsy consistently turned in way more cotton than everyone else–but she was young and strong, and the others slaves clearly weren’t.

        I turned in lots more work, and my reward was…to get more work. In every job I had at Big Corporation, when I moved I was replaced with just about two and a half people. Not that it helped me advance, hence my eventual retirement from same.

    4. Junior Dev*

      #2 in addition to double checking work, it’s possible colleagues have taken on some responsibility around planning, documenting, or coordinating work that doesn’t make sense for someone newer at the job to be doing.

      If you’re looking for more to do, try documenting your process, or writing up some questions you have about why the workflow is the way it is, or taking some time every day to research the broader context of the work you’re doing.

    5. OP4 career fair*

      Op1: since your assignments are new they may be things that are done faster than what your co-workers get. You can always ask your manager what a reasonable timeline is to do the work.

      1. OP4 career fair*

        Oops. I mistyped. Since you are new, your assignments may be smaller things you can get done faster! Off to bed for me!

    6. Blue*

      Your last point is really key. If OP proves herself in this field/position and gets more responsibilities added to her plate, priorities will shift and it will likely take longer to get some things in, even if the work doesn’t take any longer than it used to. That was a huge adjustment for me, and I really struggled with feeling like I was doing a bad job because I couldn’t get to low-priority tasks as quickly as I could before. In reality, I was still performing well, but it didn’t match the pace I was accustomed to and it really threw me off.

    7. Maybe?*

      OP2, if you were my new employee, this is essentially what I’d expect from you. I might only have 3 assignments right now that take 2-3 hrs each. I certainly would wouldn’t want that to take several days. But the next day/week/month there may be a couple 10 hour assignments, and then all the same routine 2-3 hour assignments, and then, eventually, you’ll have 60 hours of work back logged and I would expect you prioritize which 40 hours will be getting done this week, and what stuff will wait.

      1. LQ*

        This was my thought as well. The projects might look very similar to someone but the project someone who has been there longer might require a lot more work. I had a new coworker of mine say this about me once to my boss. (I overheard because the acoustics were weird.) She thought I was incredibly slow at doing the thing I was doing because she’d done 10 of the things she was doing and I was still working on one (she was trying desperately to get me in trouble). My boss (a bit uncharacteristically) actually laughed and then went back and kindly explained essentially what you said. My project was a several month project made up of a few hundred little 2-3 hour things that were getting done but wouldn’t matter until the end. Plus like 4 other giant projects I was working on at the same time. Keep working at the 2-3 hour projects, as long as you aren’t at burn out rate and you’ll eventually start to see how it looks as you get bigger more complex things.

    8. Casuan*

      This thread reminds me of a convo from Star Trek The Next Generation:

      Geordi: Yeah, well, I told the Captain I’d have this analysis done in an hour.
      Scotty: How long will it really take?
      Geordi: An hour.
      Scotty: Oh, you didn’t tell him how long it would *really* take, did ya?
      Geordi: Well, of course I did.
      Scotty: Oh, laddie. You’ve got a lot to learn if you want people to think of you as a miracle worker.

    9. valc2323*

      I have always worked very quickly, from the earliest days of taking standardized tests in school (reference point: I completed the GRE, a four-hour timed exam, in less than 45 minutes, and scored above the 95th percentile). As a kid, this meant classmates judging me. In some entry-level jobs, this meant peers judging me, because I was “making them look bad”. As I’ve moved further into my career, it’s meant the opportunity to become involved in a lot more interesting projects much earlier than some people who are my contemporaries — but I’ve also had to develop strategies to keep myself busy, especially in new jobs, because basically all of my bosses have had a hard time keeping me busy enough for the first 6-8 months while they figure out what my capacity is and how best to use me. Thankfully I’m now at a point in my career where I can do a lot of my own project-choosing, and my current supervisor and I have a good understanding worked out: as new projects come in, he’ll keep throwing things at me until I tell him I’m swamped, and let me worry about the actual number of projects I’m managing and how I split my time across them. My part of the bargain is that if nothing much new has come in recently and I’ve cleared my to-do list, I’ll ask him what’s next up on the “get around to it someday” project list for our team.

      Some strategies that have helped me:
      * Yeah, sometimes I do put off starting something for a few days or weeks, if it’s not due for a while and I know I’ll turn it around very quickly when I start working on it. This tends to be really small things like a newsletter article or a blog post.
      * I make a point of putting time into documentation of projects – templates, SOPs, and when they’re complete, a quick writeup of “what we should do differently if we do this again”. We use those after action reports a lot, and templates I make for one project are often used for the next, thus saving everyone time.
      * I have a personal “get around to it someday” project list, as well as the one my boss keeps. We have slightly different technical specialties, so my list tends to be things that I could do behind the scenes to make our next project go more smoothly, and his list tends to be things that are stretch projects for me
      * I keep a running list of recent publications in my field that might be relevant to our projects, and if I’ve got an afternoon with not much going on, I’ll dig one out and read it.
      * A colleague and I who work very closely together sit down about every three months and work out a plan for which big project or two we’d like to tackle in the next three to six months (usually something that we’re actually required to accomplish in the next 6-12 months but we’d like to get a jump start on), and then both of us nibble away at pieces of it as time allows. When we get to the planned “start point” of the project, half of it’s done already, so we can think ahead to the next one.
      * I volunteer for everything. Well, not everything. I volunteer for projects that will help me develop additional professional skills and enable me to work with other groups across our large-ish (about 15K people) organization. This week I volunteered to facilitate a strategic planning meeting, review job applications, and write an evaluation plan for a grant program.

      OP, keep doing your job quickly and well, find ways to build your skills, and ask your boss what other projects you can get involved in if you have downtime. I guarantee that if you are meeting their needs and fast about it, your boss will do her absolute best to keep assigning you more stuff – because she knows if you’re bored, you’ll go find a job where you aren’t bored, and any boss worth her paycheck wants to keep someone like you around.

      1. The Rat-Catcher*

        I’m in this arrangement and didn’t realize it! I’m glad to know it’s working out for someone that’s a bit ahead of me.

    10. AP*

      It doesn’t mean anything that you’re finishing your work “too fast”! Sometimes, it just means the tasks you’ve been handed are tasks that are easy for you.

      However, as someone who’s been working for awhile, and has been the fast worker, you should be mindful of ancillary dynamics with being the “fast worker”:
      1) In a lot of disorganized workplaces, tasks- or information used in the task- will be changed very close to the due date, or even cancelled. So if you do the task right out of the gate, chances are you’ll have to go back and do it over.
      2) When you get a reputation for working fast, people will start giving you extra work and responsibilities. This can be a double-edged sword. Some supervisors will utilize your skillset and help you build your resume. Some will use you as the dumping ground for clerical grunt work that ends up demeaning your position (clean the fridge! go through six years’ worth of files and move them from chronological order to alphabetical order in long-term storage! be my personal assistant or secretary when that’s absolutely not your job description at all!) And finally, some will see that you have free time and ultimately assume that your job is not necessary, thus cutting your hours and/or position entirely.
      3) Some will see you working to a high quality and be threatened. They will worry that it will expose their poor work ethic, because their similar assignment contained 1 hour of work and 7 hours of watching YouTube. They will worry that it will expose their poor work quality, if their work is done more slowly AND it’s worse than yours. Ultimately, they will take it out on you, for “rocking the boat.”

      There’s nothing wrong with having your work done early, and going around looking for more to contribute so you can grow your skill set. However, it’s also helpful to be mindful of what subtle political messages you’re sending to your coworkers, and make sure you navigate them in the way that is the most advantageous to your career in the long term.

      1. Rachel01*

        It can also be because you are a new employee you have less distractions. New staff were out of the loop in many aspects about what taking place in the office politics and social network. Those items can be time consuming and also new employees get upgraded computers Inc if they’re lucky which will speed you up. You may be getting training on the programs that m be more effective than employees that ahe same role.

  2. Casuan*

    As an opener you can ask “What made you stop at my booth?”

    My guess is that most individuals from the not-so-good group are uncertain how to present themselves- they could be shy or it’s their first career fair & they don’t know if they should let you make the opening remarks or if they should… of course, there are always the jerks who are only in it for themselves so “What can you do for me?” really means “what can you do for them” as opposed to an awkward subtext of “I have no idea what to say & I heard someone ask this & because I can’t just start telling you about myself I’ll go with that.”

    1. Blank*

      It could also be that the career fair isn’t well planned/marketed. I’ve been the “what can you do for me?” humanities PhD student at a job fair supposedly offering non-academic routes for PhD grads, as I realized that only two recruiters at the large event were interested in talking to non-STEM/non-finance students. If the organisers had found a few more places interested in humanities grads, or been honest in the marketing (“not for you, Faculty of Arts!”), it would’ve been less awkward for all concerned!

      1. OP4 career fair*

        This one was for the whole university. There was a wide variety of places there. Some well known like I thought we were and some smaller companies.

        1. ainomiaka*

          so it sounds like it would be a really big ask for the students to do the kind of research you wanted about every company. I’d have phrased it as “tell me about your company and what you do (or what it’s like to work there if you are truly famous beyond just your industry)”, but I don’t think the idea that they would be prepared like a job interview is a realistic expectation. The likelihood of any payoff for them is a lot lower than a job interview.

        2. College Career Counselor*

          For the whole university = non-targeted audience. Having done a lot of career fairs over the years, I find you get a mixed bag of student attendees. As you note, some students are very much on the ball and prepared to engage. Others are….less so. This is the group that is wandering by on their way to or from lunch/class/the gym/whatever, and they are drawn in by the crowd at the event or pulled in by their friends.

          Since they haven’t been by career services to discuss how to present themselves at a career fair (or paid attention to the advertising or read the emails–don’t get me started on students not reading emails), they haven’t done any prior research. In other words, they are more or less browsing the event, taking it in. They are largely viewing this as an informational event, ie, “please tell me what you do” rather than an opportunity to promote themselves.

          Unfortunately, this leads to an apparent diffidence on their part and a potential disconnect with the employer reps at the fair (who are obviously looking for interested, motivated students). And some of those students may (eventually) become decent candidates…given the time to get themselves and their materials together. Alison’s advice is good, but I would add a caveat just to remember that they’re young (especially if you’re looking for interns through the fair) and still figuring out what they want to do and how to go after it.

          1. OP4 career fair*

            I feel like you are the true expert to weigh in on this!

            I was probably not a typical university student. In my last year or 2, I kept a folder of clippings of job postings from the newspaper. This was back when jobs were usually always posted in Saturday’s paper.

        3. Not a Morning Person*

          Kudos to you for your username…it helps to clarify which posting is relevant for you! Thanks!

        4. MG*

          I go to career fairs and train other people who do so. I would say to not spend too much one-on-one time with these candidates, and instead see if there are other people nearby who look like they would benefit from hearing your spiel. The spiel should include who you’re looking to hire (degree, major, GPA considerations if you have them, “profile” in terms of internships or other experience, etc.) and a brief description of the work (especially if, like I do, you work in a niche industry). These are unlikely to be high-yield candidates for you, so if you spread your time across several people it will make it feel less like a waste to you.

          1. OP4 career fair*

            I had a spiel I gave to students specifically interested in my department. Most people who work in my department have similar backgrounds and you wouldn’t really be wanting to work in my department without that background. Luckily there was a lot of people there interested in my department so I was busy telling them the different roles we have and what they all do and what type of people thrive in those roles generally so I didn’t have to talk to many of the walkups because I had students waiting to talk to me after they talked to someone else at our booth.

          2. designbot*

            Agreed. I’d even feel free to say something like, “I was about to ask you the same thing. We’re looking for junior programmers.” If I ever said something like that at a career fair I feel like I would have been schooled so hard by the reps.

      2. Julia*

        This. I’m a German studying in Japan, so I speak both languages, and last month my university had a career fair for German companies in Japan. Figuring they’d love to have me, I went there to talk to some people and was basically told I shouldn’t bother unless I was an engineer, and that language skills didn’t matter. This was NOT advertised at all, on the contrary, it seemed like they were targeting language people because why else call it “German Career Fair” instead of “STEM Majors Wanted Fair”?

        1. SpiderLadyCEO*

          This was my experience, as well. Career fairs at my university were large and they often stated that they covered a variety of careers, but in practice they didn’t. In practice, they were scammy places or wanted engineers. There were never any marketing/pr firms, and much of the larger well known companies in that city didn’t show up, either.

          Also, even when I did research all of the places, which was often a huge ask because there were often over 70 places, jobs would not be listed on the site, so I would have no clue what they were hiring for. I did try to phrase the ask better then “what can you do for me,” more like “What are you looking for?”

          1. Birch*

            Yeeeep. I only went to one career fair during college–advertised as being able to fit any major. There was so little information that I left not understanding what any of the companies were looking for. I put the question of “I’m interested in xyz, my skills are ABC, is your company looking for this and what do those jobs look like?” I got one of three answers: 1. I don’t know what jobs are available, go look online. 2. I’ve never heard of your major. 3. We are only hiring engineers.

            1. Artemesia*

              Every ‘fair’ type event I have ever attended was staffed by people who didn’t know anything and could only refer you to the web site. Even the fairs they held for benefits at our large organization. I went because I was going to be retiring and had a bunch of obvious types of questions that must come up literally dozens of times a year and yet no one staffing the health insurance booth could answer a single obvious question I had and just gave me pamphlets; same with other benefit ‘experts.’ I can read a pamphlet or a web site — I don’t need to bother with some stupid ‘event’ if they offer no value added. Job fairs similarly were always staffed by people who didn’t really have much information about the jobs actually available.

        2. OP4 career fair*

          Wow….that the amazingly bad. Did they have the preconceived notion that all of the German students take engineering??

          1. BeenThere*

            I’d hazard a guess it’s more that there are lots of engineering companies in Germany, similar to how there are lots of technology companies in Silicon Valley. If I went to a Silicon Valley Career fair I’m going to assume they are *mostly* hiring software engineers not that they are seeking people who know the local culture and are fluent in bro speak.

            I think this was caused by the quirk of the English language that allows the word describing a language to be also used to describe something relating to the regional area. e.g. Speaking German and eating a German wurst.

    2. KarenT*

      In my experience the first group are also those actively seeking work, which is why they are more prepared and more polished. The second group would have those who heard there was some kinda career fair and maybe they should check it out. “What can you do for me?” is a terrible opener but it’s normal for a job fair to have lots of passive participants.

      1. OP4 career fair*

        Hmm that makes a lot of sense! Some of these people may have just checked it out between classes or at the end of the day. It was hard not to be grumpy about them as the day wore on because we were standing the whole time and our feet and backs hurt!

        1. MG*

          Also, for this, you should have a team that’s larger than what you’ll “need”, and take coffee/sitting breaks. It’s mind-numbing otherwise.

          1. OP4 career fair*

            Definitely. If I do this again, I may tag team the day with someone else so we each only do half a day.

        2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          I used to teach Written Communication for the Workplace and an extra credit assignment I would sometimes give was to tell students to go to the job fair on campus, talk to at least 3 different reps, bring back some brochure, and write a bullet point memo about the fair. So it is possible some of those students were there for a reason like that.

    3. OP4 career fair*

      I am pretty sure most of the people in the second group were not in the shy camp based on their body language and tone of voice. I guess there was a third group of people – the shy people who hovered around not making eye contact until we said something to them.

      I think maybe a lot of it for the second group is that they don’t know how they should behave at a career fair and that they want to impress potential employers.

      1. Immy*

        It also seems like some careers advice may have gone awry. They may have been told to make the company work to get them in a playing hard to get way (dating analogy!). If these are college kids its annoying for sure but may not be entirely their fault. After all it seems like a lot of bad careers advice is out there….

          1. College Career Counselor*

            I commented before seeing the response about the shy students being the 3rd group. I didn’t initially realize the 2nd student category was rude/entitled, which changes my response somewhat. In that case, tell them what you’re looking for briefly and ask them what they they are interested in. If they follow up, you can decide how much weight to give their behavior at the fair.

            That said, I have NEVER encouraged a student to play hard to get with employers, or ever heard any of my career center colleagues at three different institutions (or at consortium schools or at conferences) advocate a “hard to get” strategy. I suppose it’s possible that there is some campus career adviser out there, routinely telling students to “neg” prospective employers. I’ve just never seen or heard of it in 20 years in the field.

            1. Immy*

              To be clear in my comment I didn’t just mean from ‘official’ sources such as a college careers centre but careers advice from all sources including parents, friends, relatives and some websites etc (obvs not AAM but there is some very odd advice out there!)

          2. Snargulfuss*

            Please don’t underestimate how difficult it is to get students to pay attention to information about how to prep for a career fair. Helping students prepare for a career fair is a monumental effort. It takes tons of marketing and, even more important, faculty and departments talking about the fair and teaching students to prepare…which is often difficult when you’re dealing with faculty who don’t see it as their responsibility to help students articulate their skills and value to the market.

            As others have mentioned, these students are probably the ones who stop by the fair without any previous planning or preparation.

            1. Feline Fine*

              If anyone can solve the problem on how to get those “middle students” engaged, I’m all ears! Career educators cringe when they hear feedback like this from employers because we do so much to help prepare our students. We can throw all the information out there that we want, but if the students aren’t willing to catch it then they won’t.

              I agree with the advice given; spend more time with the prepared students and have a prepared bit for the uneducated ones. I also like to ask employers to remind students to take advantage of their career services on campus!

              Also – speaking to the comment about the bad career advice given to students – a recent survey conducted among post-secondary institutions found that the majority of students get their career advice from their parents!

            2. OP4 career fair*

              I forget how I felt I knew everything in university! Or if I didn’t know it, it wasn’t worth knowing.

        1. OP4 career fair*

          I wonder if they organizers took feedback from our HR department after. If so, that would be great instructive feedback to give them in case they are giving that advice. The job market isn’t awful here but it isn’t great either. We definitely aren’t desperate for people!

          1. Janey-Jane*

            At all the schools I’ve worked at, we really do take the feedback to heart. And often we are in agreement, “Yep, some students don’t seem prepared.” And then we go through the list of all the ways we do try to prepare them (classroom, emails, special workshops, club presentations, posters, individual meetings) and try to figure out how we can still get those other folks who clearly aren’t paying attention ;)

      2. sap*

        Yeah, at least when I was at college career fairs were pitched as opportunities for EMPLOYERS to market themselves, so the “what can you do for me” camp (or at least the ones who aren’t saying something as rude as that, but something like “can you tell me why Company X is somewhere you enjoy working?”) Probably think that career fairs are places where you are marketing.

        1. Anecdata*

          One thing I never really understood about college career fairs was what I should actually ask! The employer representatives were usually from HR/recruitment; and so I didn’t really feel like I could ask the kind of detailed “fit” questions I would ask about during a late stage interview…and the other stuff would be on their website anyway. Sometimes I did ask really basic questions (“So…can you tell me about Llamas inc?”) because I thought it was polite to ask /something/ – but in retrospect I’m sure it just made me look horribly unprepared!

    4. Poppies*

      I would have been one of the clueless ones! I worked through high school and college and never went to a career fair, and went straight to grad school so never needed to go to get one in my field. I always thought they were informational, like the ones at college for clubs, to just give you information on the company and possibly recruit people to apply, I didn’t think it was for actually networking! I just supposed you went to find out about companies and they were advertising to hopefully get a pool of applicants I would have never known that I had to do any more than go receive information. I especially wouldn’t think to dress up and have to talk about myself to someone who probably won’t remember be out of the other five hundred people they met that day.

      1. only acting normal*

        Yeah, I was fairly clueless about fairs back then. But even now, I thought they were a bit of both: targetted networking for final/penultimate year students who are further along in their career planning & job searching; info searching for students earlier in the process.
        The wording “what can you do for me” is terrible, but I wouldn’t object to *polite* approaches from the curious-unprepared: they might have been focussed on different companies and this is their first sight of the OP’s.

  3. Danae*

    #5: You can and you definitely should apply for unemployment! It’s a benefit that your company has paid into specifically for times like this. I’ve had mandatory service breaks (I’ve been a contractor at what is likely the same large WA State employer your friend works for) and yep, you will very likely qualify for unemployment. I’ve never had an unemployment claim contested during a service break, since it’s officially a layoff.

    It’s one of the several downsides of being a contractor, particularly in the tech world. I have friends who more or less cool their heels for their 100 days and go back to a comparable position after the break. Others use the time to freelance and look for other work.

    1. Alli525*

      But Alison points out that whether OP’s company has paid into UE insurance entirely depends on the kind of contractor OP is… I wouldn’t say “definitely” when we don’t know what OP’s contract says.

      1. Anonymoose*

        Are you sure it’s supposed to be that large of a break in service? Or rather, is your HR sure??

        I work for Large Higher Ed Institution (*cough* in CA) and our contractors have to do a break in service only up to 4 days (usually 2 is good enough), then they’re welcomed back as another contractor or as a new permanent employee, depending on how employment is going to continue. I’d make sure that they’re interpreting policy correctly.

  4. AC*

    OP4: Funny. I represented my company at a career fair last year and was actually somewhat turned off by the people with overly polished presentations. I suppose it depends how well known your company is – in my case, my company is niche enough that for a number of people who came up and pretended they had some deep interest in our work, it was clear that they had maybe googled the company a few minutes before walking up to the booth and really had no clue what we actually did. My favorites were the people who had a very short spiel, and then asked what our work entailed.

    1. OP4 career fair*

      My company should be well known…especially at this career fair since our head office is a large building near the university. We had a lot of people approach us saying they want to work with us because they know who we are since we are so close.

      I don’t think any of these people were overly confident. A lot of them were very nervous as they spoke to us.

      There was one man who approached us though that seemed to work in a lot of odd fields and name dropped a lot of prestigious areas to have worked in but couldn’t tell us what area he was interested in working in. He was very insistent on getting the names and contact info of us to followup with about getting a job. Luckily I was busy talking to a lot of people who were specifically interested in my department most of the time so I didn’t have to talk to him!

    2. Optimistic Prime*

      I work at a large, well-known employer and I am also turned off by people with overly polished presentations, because in my experience few of them actually have really *good* polished presentations. They often sound too salesy. And no presentation can fit every situation, so sometimes they felt ut of place especially if I had already started more casually interacting with the candidate.

      1. Liane*

        The sales-y could again be Bad Career Center Advice, as suggested above. Or Bad Jobseeking Advice from anywhere. But yes it would annoy me in your position.

      2. OP4 career fair*

        I definitely don’t think any of these students were polished. The first group just seemed more genuine.

        We did hire someone once (I’m not involved in hiring!) who was rather polished. And then we go to know him and he was definitely less than what he presented himself as.

    3. Naptime Enthusiast*

      I think there’s a difference between robotic scripts and “elevator speeches”, which sounds like the second scenario you described. We were encouraged to practice in undergrad, and while some of us were very good at them due to actually practicing and tailoring them, others were very awkward and felt like they were reading off of index cards. I agree that someone using the same exact language at every booth is probably just throwing themselves out there wherever they think they might have a shot, which doesn’t seem to work as well as picking out the companies that do work they’re actually interested in.

      1. OP4 career fair*

        I remember when I was first starting out, I just wanted a job anywhere. Now I am pickier about my career.

        1. Naptime Enthusiast*

          Absolutely, but even for campus career fairs it’s a good idea to actually take a look at the companies that will be attending and see which ones are actually hiring for your major, or at least a job you could do reasonably well. Otherwise students are wasting their time in really long lines at booths waiting to talk to a recruiter that may not even have positions available for them.

  5. Serendipity*

    OP 1
    I have to travel from the west coast to the east coast for a team conference/ training session next week. I have a 3 month old baby who will be coming with me, and my husband will be coming along to care for her while I’m in the work ‘do’.

    If I didn’t have the ability to bring them along I would not be attending at all, so this is a perk that I value.

    That said, abusing the company’s goodwill by making more expensive travel arrangements is just not on.

    I am paying the difference in upgrading a single room to a shared one, my husband is travelling separately, and I wouldn’t dream of bringing him to a team dinner!

    You’re well within your rights to set expectations for your staff in how they travel and what events they attend while there.

    1. MK*

      That’s fine as far as it goes, but what rubs me the wrong way about the letter is that the OP seems uncomfortable with the situation and is looking for ways to justify banning the spouses coming along.

      OP, why not go through last conference’s reimbursement receipts to see if your concerns about extra costs have any foundation? Or try to contact someone who attended the last conference and discreetly find out if there were in fact networking events and if your employees did miss them?

      In any case, I think it would be more appropriate to tighten up your reimbursement policy and set clear expectations about attending networking events beforehand than tell them their spouses cannot come along.

      1. Samata*

        Yes, these were going to be my suggestions.

        I wouldn’t punish the employees at this point, which is what the perception will be, but I would look into tightening up the other policies. Most reasonable employees will scoff but ultimately understand if it is framed and explained the right way.

        My company will allow me to extend my trip, but they choose the ticket and times for flights….we have to wait and book s/o’s ticket based on what the company schedules for me. Rental cars, hotel upgrades and his food are all on our own tab. Heck even if I upgrade my room when I am traveling by myself that is on me. We can put dinner on one receipt, but I have to pull out his portion for expense reimbursement (I choose to use my own card).

        1. Lady Phoenix*

          Yup. Brought my mother to a travel event because this was my first ever job and I wanted to make sure I got their safely. Company paid for travel (it was a 2-3 hour drive), hotel expense during the event (I paid for an extra day before), and MY MEALS. The did not pay for my mom’s.

          Mom spent that time in our hotel room getting her own work done. New location helped a lot.

        2. Anony*

          Yes. The impression I got was that the OP is frustrated at having to accommodate spouses when planning. So don’t do that anymore. Plan the trip as if no spouses were coming. Decide on mode of transportation and how much tickets/milage will cost. Then if an employee wants to bring their spouse, they incur any extra expense that costs. It may mean that they turn down the carpooling arrangement and are not eligible for milage reimbursement. It may mean flying on a more expensive flight where they incur the extra cost. That way the employee has the flexibility they want and the company is not impacted. Just make sure that you aren’t penny pinching because that could impact morale. If the cost increase is negligible, just pay it.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            My initial thoughts were that OP seemed to just not want spouses on these trip and were looking for reasons to ban them. I agree it is not reasonable for the company to have to pay significantly more money because a spouse is coming, but if it is just a little more it might be worth the morale boost for the company to just cover it.

            But one thing I disagree is forcing coworkers to car pool together unless it is under an hour an a half. I have having to depend on others or have them depend on me for transportation I would much rather have my own car with me.

            1. Kj*

              It is almost certainly a morale booster and likely a lovely perk that costs less than the goodwill the company would lose if they banned spouses (by all means, make sure the spouses aren’t costing extra- but don’t ban them because you don’t like it).

              My dad’s company paid for us to go on business trips with him often- it was a perk he negotiated when he had to be away for a long time. Once my mom and brother went to Australia for 6 months on the company dime. Another time, the company flew us all to Alaska for a few weeks since my dad was stuck there all summer. These were perks. For conferences, my dad would book a BnB that was cheaper than the hotel the conference was at and we’d all stay there. He’d do his thing during the day and a few evenings and then join us for after the conference was over. It was a nice perk and my father often presented at conferences to ensure he’d get to go, thus putting the company out there more. Letting us go along was good for everyone and it greatly increased my father’s loyalty to his company.

            2. The Introvert Hiding In Her Office*

              Oh yeah. I don’t do carpooling, even if I have to incur a personal cost to have my own transportation. My nightmare is being trapped in a car with my coworkers. I also usually end up paying for my own hotel room, as I work in a field where it is generally expected that we share with coworkers. Nope.

            3. Rumple Fugly*

              Yeah, the idea of being crammed into a car with 3 or 4 coworkers for many hours in order to save the company a very small amount of money is pretty rough to me. Even if no spouse was coming with me, I would not want that arrangement at all.

      2. Parenthetically*

        I agree with this, particularly the advice to look over receipts. Someone in a recent comments thread linked to Evil HR Lady’s “Cheapity Cheapity Cheap” article, and she reminded the LW that there is measurable monetary value in having steady employees who stick around rather than bailing, requiring the expense of searching for, hiring, and training new employees. I think this one requires a fine balance.

      3. kittymommy*

        This was the felling I was getting as well. I mean if they’re missing formal, pre-arranged networking events because the family is there, that’s unacceptable, but if it’s just informal, hanging out at the hotel lounge or spontaneous dinner, who says they would be attending anyway? The reimbursement does need to be tightened up , but going to the extreme of just outright banning all family, especially if it can’t be shown that there is a significant negative impact with them being there, then this is likely to become a big morale issue.

        1. Gyratory Circus*

          I was going to say something similar. I’ve gone on business trips where people want the whole team to be together every single waking minute – all meals, plus drinks later in the day, etc – and it’s just way too much for me.

        2. Stone Cold Bitch*

          Ditto. After a full day of work I need to be on my own for an hour or two, so I sometimes skip pre-dinner drinks (but join the group for dinner) and retire early.

        3. Rumple Fugly*

          Agreed. I worked for an organization where we traveled for conferences a lot, and it was also the standard culture for everyone to bring their spouses along. We would set one night during the conference (they were usually 3-4 days) where we would all have dinner together as a big team thing, but otherwise spouses or not no one was expected to keep hanging around with other conference goers all evening. I never knew who had brought their spouse and who hadn’t unless they mentioned it, as everyone was still always at all the parts of the conference we were supposed to be at. The after-hours and networking stuff was optional for everyone since many people are exhausted by the end of the day and just want to go back to their hotels.

        4. echidna*

          I can understand an employer asking for employees to attend certain events. But the employer has no business in proscribing travel activities of a non-employee – the spouse.

    2. It's all Fun and Dev*

      I’m sure others will have better suggestions on how to tighten up your expense policies, but here’s how my (very large public university) employer manages travel: It’s very clear from day 1 that they will only pay the exact dollar amount it would cost to send the employee alone, and not a cent more. Employees who want to stay extra days have to use PTO, pay for the hotel/car rental themselves for those days, and submit a flight comparison proving that it’s not costing the company more for them to come home on a different day than they otherwise would have – if the flight they chose is more expensive because it’s accommodating a guest, the company will pay for the value of the cheaper flight and the employee foots the rest. It’s a hassle and somewhat onerous, but not prohibitively so.

      Of course, I travel a LOT (multiple times per month) so they might scrutinize my guest expenses more than for an employee who only travels once or twice a year – a few hundred extra dollars per trip adds up much faster for me than for someone else.

      1. Rumple Fugly*

        This is close to what they did at my org where many people would bring spouses along, except you didn’t have to show a side by side for the flights like that. Since we would all go to these conferences together as a department, the folks dealing with our reimbursements could see what the typical flight cost was for everyone and would notice if someone was way out of the ordinary. Sometimes you’d request a flight and they’d come back and say hey, this one jumped in price by a lot, are you ok with taking one of these other flights? But if the other flights were something wacky like a red eye with 3 layovers, they wouldn’t make you take it.

        But people had preferences for flights around their general life schedule, so overall you were allowed to take the flight that worked best for you assuming it wasn’t dramatically more expensive than any other flight. No one was going to chase people down like, hey you, prove that leaving at 8am isn’t $50 cheaper than leaving at 11:30pm the night before! So there was no bookkeeping on why anyone chose x flight over y flight as they were all always very similar in price and they generally had the attitude that our work travel shouldn’t be crappy if we could avoid it.

        1. Nerfmobile*

          Yes. My company allows flights of up to $200 more over the lowest cost alternative to allow for adjustments for life schedules and travel preferences. If you add on personal days, etc., then you have to pay for the extra.

    3. Turquoisecow*

      I guess everyone probably has different levels of interest at a conference, but about a year ago I went to one with my husband. He put in a full day of attending talks and networking, and I did some tourist stuff on my own. (Originally a friend in the same industry was supposed to be bringing his wife along so she and I could be tourists together, but she got sick at the last minute and couldn’t attend.) He’s currently debating attending a conference in Barcelona, to which I would also go with him, with the understanding that I’d be alone most of the day.

      The first conference was one he’s attended multiple times in the past, with the same general crowd of people and talks, so if he and I went to dinner alone (rather than with colleagues), he wasn’t missing out on too much. The second was a new conference he’d never attended before, so we might have dinner with colleagues/vendors more often.

      In both cases, I agreed to go with him knowing I would be on my own most of the time. My mom has turned down many similar trips with my dad because she didn’t want to be a tourist on her own. If the spouses/families understand that conference attending is not a vacation (though it can be extended), and there may be a need to sit through a dinner with people they don’t know discussing an industry they don’t work in, then I don’t see a problem with spouses or families traveling along.

      If the employees are ditching parts of the conference to hang with their families, then I would question the employees’ commitment to their work, as well as the benefit of going to this conference. If there are multiple talks, it’s reasonable to think that people might not attend all of them, but if they’re missing huge amounts of the conference, are they the employees you want to employ? Or is the conference really useful?

      1. anomonom*

        I’ll admit that’s a favorite part of my husband’s conferences at his old job. I’m a super happy solo tourist. He’s traveled to mine before, too, and been perfectly happy. Neither of us ever interfered with the other’s work activity.

        OP, something to consider is a blanket per diem. Like someone above, I’m at a large public university. We have a certain meal allowance per day (it used to be per meal). I receive that amount per day, regardless of whether I spend more or less, or who eats. I also have to arrange my travel through appropriate staff, *then* I can do my husband’s plane ticket separately on my own. If I want to upgrade the room, I pay for it personally. Same with the rental car. Hotel is either the conference hotel(s), or something cheaper. If I don’t need a rental car, but choose a hotel farther away from the conference, I pay 100% of the rental car.

      2. Wheezy Weasel*

        Good points in Turquoisecow’s last paragraph. Focus on fixing the problematic behaviors you’re seeing vs. looking for a common factor in the spouse/family attendance. If I was an employee, I’d jump quickly when told to fix the issue, but I’d slowly nurse a grudge if told that I’d have to forgo family travel because no one was actually trying to address the issues at hand.

        I’m writing this from the hotel lobby on Day 5 as the solo spouse tourist. I think I’ve seen my wife an hour each night. She’s been very clear that I need to keep my visibility low so that it doesn’t reflect badly on her commitment to the company.

    4. Turquoisecow*

      Also, Serendipity, my SIL has a similar arrangement with her young daughter (who refused to take a bottle). Her mom went along and stayed in the hotel room where the conference was being held. Periodically, SIL went back to the room to feed the baby, and then returned to the conference without an issue.

    5. sap*

      Since the spouse-bringing is so pervasive, I wonder if it might not be a good policy to (on your own) price out the vehicle rentals and flights #1 wants the employees to take and tell them that’s the value they’ll be reimbursed for in advance *if they would like to make travel arrangements on their own* when deciding to send employees on a conference, and then book the employees who don’t want to be on a different flight directly as a block.

      That way, the change in reimbursement policy:
      -Will be applicable to other situations where the employees are incurring extra costs (like choosing to rent their own car or take different flight so they can see friends in the conference city, for example), so you won’t have to go through this process repeatedly
      -Won’t seem like a direct attempt to take away something your employees see as a “perk” because it doesn’t affect their ability to choose their own flights with their spouse and rent their own cars with their spouse
      –it makes traveling with the whole group something employees have to OPT OUT of–which will probably cut the number of employees bringing spouses. Right now traveling with spouses doesn’t require deviating from the norm for making travel arrangements, because it sounds like people would be choosing and booking their own flights anyway.
      –It has the side benefit of *also* taking the burden of fronting travel costs off of employees who don’t want to make arrangements on their own, because you’ll be paying for the group of tickets/cars you’ve selected for those who don’t opt out.

      I’d also think really hard about the lack of carpooling and mileage reimbursement component, though. Carpooling with 4 people in a car is pretty miserable, and if some of the conferences are within driving distance (it sounds like some employees are driving to them?), I think you should be encouraging carpooling but reimbursing mileage for everyone whether they carpool or not. 4 coworkers to a car is pretty cramped, especially if these are long, overnight conferences, and if the drives are long it gets worse because you’re asking your co-workers to help you pee/quietly wondering whether anyone will be annoyed if you roll down the window to fart/falling asleep and maybe drooling in front of your coworkers/listening to the driver’s terrible Hanson CD.

      In other words, you shouldn’t have a reimbursement policy that forces your employees to carpool (beyond to/from an airport) unless they want to pay part of their own way on work trips.

    6. A Nonny Mouse*

      I understand the value of the perk, but if it’s costing the company hundreds of dollars per employee per conference, and starts to feel like they are giving the people a free vacation with a token conference attendance thrown in, that’s a problem.

      My advice would be to price everything out (departure and arrival flights, hotel rooms, rental cars, etc.), and communicate to the team that the cost to go alone is $x. Then offer to pay $x plus about 20% (just so people aren’t angry about penny-pinching), and everything else is on the employee.

  6. Mike C.*

    for OP 5:

    If you are able to apply for UI (I don’t think you can, since this is a contract, but I could be wrong), there is no reason outside of mistakenly believing “you’re a moocher” or some similar garbage for not signing up. You paid into it, and when you need it you should get it back out.

    Furthermore, counter-cyclical policies like UI serve very important functions to society as a whole. They help keep you economically secure (which is cheaper for everyone else) and in times of increasing unemployment it stems the tide of further unemployment by ensuring those who are laid off still have money to spend. So the way I see it, just like it’s our collective duty to pay into these sorts of systems, it’s our collective duty to sign up for whatever we qualify for when we need to and use those resources as needed.

    1. Cobol*

      Just an FYI, most very large companies in the US that rely on contractors employ them through third-party firms that pay via W2s. That would make OP eligible for unemployment insurance.

      1. OP 5*

        Thank you! Yes, I am a W2 through a staffing agency, so that answers my question.

        Thanks everyone for the feedback, and thank Alison for posting my question.

        1. JessaB*

          Although I’d talk to your agency, it’s highly probable that if they staff this company a lot they may have interim contracts or another job lined up for that staff. If they do a lot of “we go a year then stop 60 days stuff,” they may have a rotating list of jobs lined up so THEY get paid for those 60 day gaps too. Get with your agency sooner rather than later because they may only have limited jobs and they already know you’re a good employee if the firm would take you back even if they can’t. UI is great if you need it but if you have a good contracting firm you might not.

    2. SignalLost*

      You can. The times I’ve done this, it’s been a contract gig with a W-2. Thera no issue with filing for unemployment, and all of the tech companies I’ve heard of in WA who use permatemps know they’ll be filing.

    3. K.*

      If OP is employed through a staffing agency, has a W-2 and the staffing agency takes out taxes, etc., she’s absolutely eligible for unemployment benefits. I was in a very similar situation to the OP. I worked as a contractor for a year through a staffing agency. There were a lot of long-term contractors, to the point where you really didn’t know who was an employee and who wasn’t (I found out one person I was working with had been a contractor there for two years. My role had been billed as a three-month contract to hire, but they kept renewing it.). The company’s HR department slapped the company’s hand for having so many long-term contractors and told them to fish or cut bait re: contractors who had been there six months or more. The two-year guy and I, and probably others that I’m not aware of, were told that our roles MIGHT be reposted in a few months. In my case, when they did repost a role, it would be for a more junior position; the pay cut would be so big I couldn’t afford to consider it. I filed for & got unemployment.

    4. LQ*

      The only thing I’d say is that technically the employer pays into unemployment in most states (I believe all but I’m not 100% sure), it’s not one of the things that comes out of your paycheck. (Not that it doesn’t impact it, but…)
      Because even employers know* that it’s better to have workers be able to look for work after they are laid off (which you were) to find a good fit so that employees aren’t constantly in jobs that are a horrible fit for them because that’s not good for anyone.
      Use the resources that are there for you. Especially if you aren’t 100% sure you can make it through and that that job will be there for you on the other side.

      1. Natalie*

        And really, cycling through W2 contractors and taking the hit to their unemployment tax is still cheaper than making them employees. Microsoft paid nearly $100 million to settle their permatemps lawsuit (around $140 million in today’s dollars). That’s a lot of unemployment tax.

        1. JessaB*

          Yeh it’s cheaper for sure, but it’s also arguably unethical. You need those people. The jobs are consistently filled. Holding them off for 60 days is arguably a kind of fraud. It’s technically legal, but it’s a really rotten way to do business and shift your social cost to the community. Most contract workers don’t get decent medical insurance or holidays or sick time and they really get the rotten end of the stick. Continually running with contractors is kinda skeevy.

          Now if you’re a call centre, with call centre turn over that’s a little different, because I know that as a permanent employee with one big one, I was there for 6 years and the other seats around me probably changed 3 times a year or more and not because they were tossing temps, but because people just never stayed. I did quality control and every day there were ten new names I’d never heard of that I was listening to. They added a second trainer because the one guy couldn’t keep up with all the new people they had to run through. So the reason they used contractors was that it was too freaking expensive to onboard permanent people and lose them in 3 months to something else. They did however hire temps permanently who lasted 6 months AND had good quality scores and it was easier to dump a temp that wasn’t performing vs a permanent employee that had step discipline rules.

          1. TootsNYC*

            “Continually running with contractors is kinda skeevy.”

            I agree! It frustrated me so much when my company would say, “she’s coming up to 900 hours, we need to stop using her, find someone else,” instead of saying, “let’s make that a parttime position” or even “let’s hire someone full time.”

            1. JessaB*

              I wish the regulations would look at behaviour like this because it’s absolutely the intent of it to violate the INTENT of the law. The law’s intent it seems to me is that permanent slots need to be filled by permanent people. These are on the face of it permanent slots. It’s…disingenuous to say they’re not. They should be treated as such.

      2. JessaB*

        Yes the employer pays but if you’re a 1099 employee you ARE your own employer. And most 1099ers don’t pay into Unemployment Insurance unless they belong to some kind of guild or union group where they can get a group rate. It’s not a thing they usually do because since they control their own employment, they’re usually unemployed less or they can’t afford UI and would rather pay worker’s comp or medical insurance for themselves. All those extra insurances just in case can be very expensive when as your own employer you can put aside money that you will always have control of vs paying that money to a 3d party.

        1. JessaB*

          In fact I just did some research (I’ve done that for a living,) and most states don’t have a way for sole proprietor independent contractors to pay in. In most states you’d have to form an S corp or some other legalised entity in order to pay into state UI services. So as a single person working it’s not so easy.

    5. Jennifer Thneed*

      As everyone else has said, many/most contractors in the US are actually employees of an agency. As such, unemployment benefits are available to us, and our SSA account is fed. What we often don’t get is health insurance. If we do get it, it’s pretty expensive or really bare-bones.

  7. MommyMD*

    Employees should definitely be told no additional expenses will be covered because family members are going on business trips. That’s just taking advantage

    If someone wishes to use their private vehicle instead of the employer van pool to travel to regional meetings, make it clear in writing they are declining company-paid transportation and they will be paying for their private travel themselves.

    1. Samata*

      If we chose to do this we still get reimbursed but at a lower rate. It is explicitly laid out in our travel policies.

    2. Kittymommy*

      Good point. Here one is expected to use a company car (gas card is provided). If you choose to use a personal vehicle you need to get pre-approval. If you submit mileage, you better have a very good reason why you opted not to use the fleet vehicle.

    3. CmdrShepard4ever*

      Forcing people to carpool to a regional conference unless it is under one and a half hours is such a pain. Who wants to be stuck in a car with 4/6 other coworkers for 3 or 4 hours carpooling is already a pain with friends/family. When traveling for work I don’t like to be dependent on others of have them depend on me. Even if I didn’t have a spouse come with me I probably would want to drive myself.

      The cost difference for flights might be something reasonable to cut back on but make sure you are not calculating the flight cost to just the cheapest ticket for that route because it might be a 5/6 am flight and/or a flight with layovers. I would be upset if my employer was trying to send me on a 6 am flight with a layover(s) that doesn’t put me at my destination til 1 pm because they are trying to save a couple hundred bucks when a direct flight at 10 am was available that would get me there at noon.

      1. blondie*

        ^^^came here to post this exact point.

        Also, I don’t think it’s worth the effort it’d take to check up on employees’ travel arrangements just in case there was a less expensive yet still reasonable itinerary.

      2. Rumple Fugly*

        This is what I was gonna say. Like yeah, don’t cover the cost of spouses overall, but give people some wiggle room for comfort here. Traveling with a partner or not, you should be giving people the option to take the more comfortable choice even if it’s a little bit more expensive. “A little bit” is subjective based on the cost of the trips and the frequency of travel, but clearly the company had no problem footing this bill before. The manager doesn’t like it on principle, but I think cracking down on this is a bad idea.

        A company telling me they think it’s better for me to have a crappy time traveling for them so they can cut a very small cost would be a pretty good way for me to both not be on my A game at these meetings and scoot on over to another job sooner rather than later.

    4. Specialk9*

      So… lose good workers with very little benefit to the company, because a new manager got a hair up her butt. Because, what, rules are rules – well ok, no, they aren’t the rules, but new manager thinks they should be the rules, and wants to flex her power.

  8. MassMatt*

    #4 I would suggest giving the short intro about your company as suggested, and unless you are really desperate for hires, not invest/waste much time in dealing with people that either don’t really want to be there or don’t know how to behave at a job fair. Seriously, their opening is “So… what can you do for me?”? I would be tempted to say “Not hire you!”

    Really, would you ever want to work with anyone like this?

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      I would love to say, “show you where the bathrooms are” but could probably at least get out, “I could give you some pointers on how to approach a prospective employer”.

      1. OP4 career fair*

        Very very tempting! I feel like if I do this again, my fellow attendees from my company and I should come up with a solid plan to be polite (we are Canadian!!) yet still let them know that this is now how your approach a potential employer.

        1. Alli525*

          You might try turning it around as “Well, that depends, because we hire in a variety of roles – what could YOU contribute to US? What are you studying?” That will help you tailor the message a bit. Also, if your top-line marketing materials (I mean banners/branded tablecloths, not brochures – whatever your eye sees first as you approach the booth) include a one-liner that describes the company, that might help a little.

          “The Broman Group” = bad
          “The Broman Group: Manufacturing and Selling Teapots Since 1982” = better

    2. OP4 career fair*

      Yeah…most these people really turned me off! I was tempted sometimes to say “so…what can you do for us?”.

    3. Hey Nonnie*

      The way the letter is written does give me the impression that OP4 is approaching the fair with the attitude that it’s like a pre-arranged interview, however. Some people haven’t researched your company or know what you do? Isn’t the point of a career fair to provide prospects with the opportunity to discover and learn about companies they might not otherwise have heard of or considered?

      I agree you need an elevator pitch so you can explain what your company does / is looking for when people ask, so they’ll know right away whether it makes sense to keep talking or move on to the next booth. And lose the attitude that they should already know this before they get there. I’ve been to some poorly organized career fairs where I didn’t get any information other than a list of company names and booth numbers when I walked in the door. I had no time to research because I didn’t know who would be there until I was already in the room. (From my understanding, this was partly the school being disorganized and partly the companies not committing to attend until the very last minute, instead of anyone hewing to deadlines.) I also largely got the impression that the booth attendants were only there to play hooky from work — they didn’t have an elevator pitch and would only say “give us your resume and we’ll call you if anything fits” instead of having a conversation — and a lot of them admitted to not having any openings at all — so there was that, too.

      For a career fair, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that you come prepared to sell yourself a little.

      1. Cubicle Queen*

        I completely agree with Hey Nonnie. Going to my university’s career fair was a complete bust– I had no idea who was exhibiting until I entered the room, didn’t recognize most of the names, and many reps were major-specific (and not my major), which I only found out after trying to talk with representatives. It was a lot of uncomfortable and unprofitable conversations because there was no advance work done by the university to help the students they wanted to attend.

        1. JessaB*

          This. And if the person staffing the booth has no idea what jobs they have open, they shouldn’t be there. Part of being there is selling your company for the future but part is also looking for people to fill existing roles and the person at the booth needs to know both what you are looking for later and what you are looking for NOW.

          And if it’s easier to put an 8.5 x 11 (or A4 if in Europe) sign on your table with a brief explanation of what you do and what you need, or have a simple hand out with that info, it’ll go faster for you.

      2. OP4 career fair*

        We were given what to generally say to students about what we are and who we hire. We have representatives from different major areas to answer specific questions. I was just shocked at the attitude. It was fine if they didn’t know who we are but they definitely could have asked in a better way.

        My problem was more the way they approached us and not that they didn’t know what we do.

        One of the best people to approach us had a science degree…we have any science related jobs. But even he came and introduced himself and said what he was taking. We explained who we are and what we do and wished him luck in his search.

  9. Matt*

    #1: I understand how this should neither impact the actual conference nor cause the company additional costs, I think everyone would agree on this. However I cringed at the mention of those “networking opportunities in the evening”. Even on business trips employees need their off hours (and in the case of introverts like me, their alone time) as they do in normal office business, don’t they? I don’t have business trips in my job, but after a whole day conference it would feel like a really, really huge demand if I was expected to do further “networking” in the evenings, regardless of whether my spouse was present at the trip or not.

    1. MK*

      There is a difference between a business trip, where you are still working during the day, and a conference, where networking is usually part of the point of going in the first place. In the latter case the evening “entertainment” is part of the deal; that’s why the company is sending you there. I don’t consider it a huge demand, especially since, for me at least, a day listening to speakers (and maybe not paying much attention or even stepping out for a breather, if it’s not something relevant to my work), though draining in its way, does not equal a day of hard work.

      1. Tuesday Next*

        My experience is different – we attend conferences to benefit from the speakers and workshops. The opportunity to network is more of a personal benefit that people can take advantage of, or not. Perhaps it’s industry dependent?

        1. Matt*

          For me, even if the conference wouldn’t be that much “hard work” or “draining”, it seems a bit too much that employees are supposed to literally be “on” around the clock and have no time off except actual sleep. Even though the company pays for the trip, they don’t “own” their employees 24 hours during this time.

          1. MK*

            Oh, come on, that’s pure hyperbole. No one says the company owns you 24/7 while on conference trips, just that attending an evening event for a couple of hours might be part of the “working hours” for these few days.

            1. Matt*

              We don’t actually know this – from what I read from OP 1, it’s not about one dedicated evening event, but the general expectation that participants join their coworkers on “after work” evening activities and engage in networking there. So that it raises eyebrows when they decide to spend their evening with their spouse (or alone) instead, even though there’s no actual “event” … I understand that missing a dedicated work event would be a no.

              1. MK*

                We don’t know, but we can pretty safely assume that there aren’t activities planned around the clock, because there never are. Even when there are more than one event planned, few people go to all of them (though there are some who enjoy doing so). My point was that it’s not really a huge demand to expect an employee attending a conference on the company dime to put in an appearance at the socializing.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yeah, this is pretty normal.

                  I don’t like it either, as an introvert, but it’s a pretty standard part of the deal. As introverts, we’re not delicate flowers who will wilt and die if we occasionally have to do something that wouldn’t be our first choice.

            2. Sabine the Very Mean*

              No it isn’t. For an extreme introvert like myself, a full conference day plus networking with the same people would exhaust me to the point where I wouldn’t enjoy the conference at all. I can’t even spend that sort of time with my spouse.

              1. MK*

                That’s something to be arranged beforehand with the employer though, isn’t it? There have been times when my organisation sent me to conferences solely for the material or subject matter. Other times, it was understood that there was a slight PR aspect to attending. On very rare occasions, meeting certain people and making a connection was the main point of going.

                If the social aspect of conferences isn’t something you can or want to do, ok. But if your company is paying for you to go, they should know and factor this into their decision.

                1. Grapey*

                  +1. I’m bringing a new member of our team to a big yearly software conference this year and she got excited at the idea of the nightlife of the town. She was even ready to buy concert tickets for something each night!

                  I had to put the kibosh on some of her excitement and say that we’re doing separate meetings two of the four nights out there – it’s not a free for all once the last workshop ends. (The plus side is that our company is super accommodating about covering extra days/weekends etc. The only thing they don’t reimburse is alcohol.)

              2. BPT*

                Well I mean the goal of conferences isn’t really to enjoy them, it’s to work. It’s a plus if you do, but often conferences are times to make connections with people at other organizations that might help your employer, or visit with members if you’re a membership organization, or have staff dinners one or two nights you’re there to strategize, bond, and encourage teamwork. I’ve been to some conferences where I’ve had things to go to from 7 AM to 9 PM one or two days while I’m there, but even after hours there are usually a few days when things are done by 5-7PM, so that still gives some time to yourself.

            3. CDM*

              LW wants to trap employees at the conferences without personal transportation in the name of cost savings, making it significantly more difficult and expensive to do anything personal, which isn’t far off from saying the company owns them 24/7.

                1. CDM*

                  ” the company is incurring extra costs because the employees are … opting to drive themselves (and then submit for mileage reimbursement) instead of sharing a rental car with 3 or 4 coworkers”

                  I suppose the most charitable interpretation is that LW hasn’t thought through the ramifications of denying their employees the option of their own transportation. It’s one thing when 2 or 3 co-workers choose to share a rental and coordinate their plans, it’s another entirely when four are forced to share a car by their employer and have conflicting needs for transportation. Or, heaven forfend, a family emergency at home in the middle of the night.

                2. Colette*

                  CDM, it’s incredibly normal for coworkers to share rental cars on business trips. That’s usually how it works. It’s certainly not a draconian policy the OP has invented.

                3. Specialk9*

                  I read the LW’s attitude the same way, as onerous and an unsettling creep into the feudal attitude of ownership. I’ve never shared a rental car with a coworker, except for a short trip to the same place. Or shared a hotel room. I go to a meal (often breakfast if we’re at the same hotel) with coworkers, and for together at catered lunch, unless networking, but I need my evening downtime to decompress from all the learning, talking, and smiling and social drain of talking to people, especially strangers.

                  I guess at the end of the day, what’s this manager going to gain from changing the rules and taking away an expected perk? I’m guessing people are going to leave her dept or the company entirely, and the ones who stay will be sullen and resentful. I just don’t see how it’s worth it to indulge her desire for things to be her way instead of the long agreed-upon way.

              1. Genny*

                LW also said that the conference locations are in touristy cities, so likely taxis/Uber/Lyft are all available (and my company would reimburse those costs) as well as public transportation (also reimbursable) and just plain walking (not an option for everyone, but certainly an option for many). Not having your own car for a few days won’t kill you.

                1. BPT*

                  Yeah, I generally fly to conferences so I’ve never had personal transportation while I’m there other than public transportation or Ubers/Lyfts.

                2. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  I imagine your company would reimburse the costs for taxis/Uber/Lyft for work purposes but not if you want to travel to say a near by attraction like Disney Land or other touristy area. Also depending on what kind of travel people have to do at a business site it would be cheaper to rent them a car even if they use it a bit for personal reasons than reimbursing so many local travel costs. This is certainly a reasonable policy. Its understandable to not have a car when you fly somewhere else for a conference.

                  But I think the car question really comes into play if a regional conference is 4 or 5 hours away. I think it would be unreasonable to tell people they have to carpool 4 people to a car (either rental or someones personal car) or say the company is renting a van and that 6 or 8 people all have to carpool in the van down together. I do not want to spend that much time with my coworkers in a confined space, especially if I am going to spend a lot of time with them at a conference. You get to know more information then I ever wanted about them, bodily functions, music tastes etc… I might decide to car pool with one coworker that I am particularly close with I don’t want to be forced into it.

                3. Genny*

                  Cmdr, my company would reimburse the cost of transportation if I went to a restaurant that was close to (insert tourist destination here that I could just walk to before/after eating). Honestly, they’d probably just cover the cost of the transportation to site itself, because even my company that operates with nearly identical rules as the federal government doesn’t go through my expense report with a fine-toothed comb. I figure a lot of that type of stuff comes out in the wash anyways. They might cover a $5 taxi fare to a non-work site, but I round down on the amount of time spent in the airport thus charging them less for my time. I feel like that’s a healthy employer/employee relationship – they don’t nickel and dime me and I don’t nickel and dime them.

                  Carpooling to a conference is a slightly different matter. I do think that’s a bit out of professional norms (assuming the location is more than 2 hours away), though I could see only getting two cars for the team to split vice everyone getting their own car.

          2. neverjaunty*

            Expecting employees who attend a conference to go to a one or two hour social event in the evening to network is hardly demanding their attention 24/7.

        2. MK*

          Mayeb it is. I have never attended a conference where 100% of the speeches were relevant to my work.

          And I think networking is perhaps the wrong word; making connections, that often prove useful to my job is common, being a representative of my organisation and being seen to be there as such, fostering courtesy relationships with contacts, etc, these are the things I suppose the OP is worried about their company is missing by employees bringing their spouses. If it’s a matter of personal networking, it’s not really the company’s business if the employees waste the opportunity, no?

        3. SarahTheEntwife*

          Yeah, I think it’s industry-dependent and probably position-dependent as well. I finally went to my field’s big annual conference last year, and I was really interested in some of the evening events and parties and such…and I was asleep in my hotel room by 8 almost every night.

          Though in the future if networking is intended to be a big part of my goal for a conference, I’d just arrange things to spend less time at panels and workshops and stuff so I don’t burn out.

      2. Mike S*

        Many conventions I’ve been to have had inexpensive tickets for spouses, so I don’t see why that’s not an option. What gets me is the expectation that you’ll be back the next day after it ends, so I often have to either leave early, or take a vacation day. The last conference I went to ended at 5:00 on the last day. My group left right after lunch to catch our flights so we could get home before 11:00.
        Also, expenses can be complicated. At my first job out of college, we went to a conference at Disneyworld. One of my coworkers stayed over 3 days to do the park with his wife. His air fare was so much cheaper than that of the people who flew back when the conference ended that the company was happy to eat his hotel costs. (I flew back to my hometown for a high school reunion, and ate that portion of my ticket.)

        1. Not a Morning Person*

          I’ve had that sort of travel. I was on company travel, not a conference, for two weeks, visiting multiple cities during the two weeks. The final weekend before I returned to my office there was a family event in a completely different city. I paid the difference to go home via the “family” location. It worked out that I had to pay for only one leg of that airfare since my company would have been paying for my return flight and it didn’t cost them any more. I had to do some work on the expense reports when I returned to ensure the reimbursements worked out and I had to get it approved by my VP before the trip, but they were very accommodating.

    2. Temperance*

      Conferences are special events, though. Of course networking is a part of the deal, and honestly, probably the most important part, for many of these events.

    3. Grapey*

      That’s something to cover with your boss, then, if you ever do get sent out.

      However, most companies that throw conferences know that tons of people feel that way so they tend to make it alcohol friendly or party themed for social lubrication. It’s not always my thing but I appreciate the companies that do that.

    4. DataQueen*

      For me, the majority of the value in attending the conference is because of the networking. Sessions are interesting, and i’ll get a few tips and tricks out of it, but it’s all about in between the sessions and after hours. If i don’t have dinners scheduled and happy hours on the books, i’m missing where the real business happens. This is definitely industry dependent, but for me, it’s crucial. In the past, I’ve varied which employees I bring to the conference, and it’s expected (and discussed) that you’ll network with your peers and with vendors. I’ve had experiences with some of my staff, who are lovely awesome people, and who do great work, but just aren’t great networkers. Which is fine, but I’m going to choose a different team member to bring next time.

      And mind you, as an introvert who doesn’t drink, going to a bunch of happy hours is TORTURE. But the benefits for my business far outweigh my personal discomfort.

    5. OP #1*

      Hi, I’m the letter writer for #1! I’m really excited Alison published my question and will be checking in today to respond to questions and comments.

      I used to go to these kinds of conferences before I started managing the team. Networking – and by that I mean making connections to other people in the field and talking with vendors – is usually a big part of these conferences. There’s usually a big banquet dinner at the conference, and many of the vendors and corporations hold evening receptions. Although these things aren’t required, I think there’s value in going to some of them.

      1. Oilpress*

        Same thing in my line of work. This isn’t too demanding. The big issue is that you will be seen as taking something away from the employees. You will have to sell them on the idea that this is helping their career and prepare yourself for some pushback.

  10. neverjaunty*

    OP #1, it’s industry-dependent, but it’s not weird to bring a spouse – as long as the work purpose of the trip comes first, and as long as the company isn’t paying for it in any way. I go to a lot of professional conferences where there is a separate ‘spouse badge’ you can purchase that gives your spouse the right to go into the expo hall, attend receptions that kind of thing. But in every firm I’ve worked at, you are expected to be at all the working sessions, and to attend ‘mandatory fun’ events instead of ditching them to go hang with your spouse. And it’s 100% not okay to have the company incur expenses because your spouse is along.

  11. Scarlettnz*

    #1 In situations where an employee chooses to drive instead of fly, what my company does is reimburse whichever is the cheapest – the equivalent cost of the return economy airfare, or actual mileage expenses.

    1. Mananana*

      I work for the Fed Gov’t (US) and if we choose a different mode of transportation than is expected (drive instead of fly, for instance) we have to do a constructive travel sheet that shows how much it would cost to fly versus drive. If flying is cheaper (because of the length of the drive) the traveler is reimbursed the rate to fly. And no more. So if I want to drive so and take my DH, it’s not costing the government a penny more. If that means being on the road an extra day to/from, then that’s Annual (personal) Leave. As long as our travel plans don’t cost the gov’t anything extra, no one cares if a spouse comes to a conference.

  12. Not Australian*

    #2 I’ve been in your situation. I had a routine data processing job and I wasn’t much interested in the social life of the office so I just put my head down and kept working. I got told to ‘slow down’ and accused of ‘hogging all the work to make the others look bad’. (I didn’t even know that was possible!) In the end my boss monitored our output for an entire month and then did nothing, presumably because he was satisfied with my work. As long as your work is good enough, you should just work at the speed you’re comfortable with and not measure yourself against anyone else. It may be a good opportunity to ask for something more challenging to do, though, if that’s possible where you are.

    1. xyz*

      I’m Not Australian too (are you also a kiwi?) and I had the same complaint from colleagues at a former job. It kind of made some sense in my case as it was a website so my items were pushing theirs off the front page, so I just developed the habit of building up a big queue and then publishing them at a slower pace. But I often find myself in situations where my colleagues are complaining about huge workloads and I’m wondering why because I don’t have enough to do :(

    2. Susan K*

      Ugh, I have also been accused of “hogging all the work,” but if I didn’t hog the work, people (the same ones who complained about me hogging the work) would either complain about having to do so much work or just not do it, so then I’d end up having to do it anyway! Sometimes you just can’t win.

    3. K.*

      I got this criticism at a data entry temp job when I was in college. I had a few weeks between when my internship ended and I had to go back to school, so I got a temp job for some extra cash. I was a temp and about 30 years younger than everyone who worked there, so they weren’t that interested in talking to me. I put my headphones on and just pounded out the work, and the others complained about me making them look bad. My boss didn’t care because hey, more work was getting done, and I was out of there in a few weeks anyway so I just kept going.

      1. Bea*

        I’m glad nobody in my temp days tried to drop the gloves with me over crushing tasks one after another. I finished a 3 week placement in less than 2 because I walk fast -[pulling old files to merge or shred project]. Nobody flinched.

        “Slow down”
        “Am I doing something wrong?”
        “You’re making us/me look bad!”
        “Yeah…no you’re doing that to yourself.” seriously, I wouldn’t tolerate anyone putting their insecurities on me.

        1. Specialk9*

          I was like all of you when I was young – fast, arrogant, and unwilling to change my behavior for others. I have learned that people are often dealing with things we don’t know about, and have a lot more compassion for the ‘slow down’ contingent.

        2. Anonymissy*

          I think I actually got a summer gig by working fast as a temp. As a summer job during school, I would find clerical temp work. I had a 1 or 2 week placement towards the beginning of one summer copying some files and organizing others. I finished what they had planned for me to do rather quickly and started helping to do more and more while during my planned placement time.

          They asked me back for the rest of the summer and soon I was helping with “regular” work, which was supporting the processing of loan documents.

  13. Amey*

    #2, I wonder if part of this is because you’re new (as well as because you’re good, which you clearly are!) In my team, new people are often in this situation where they’re given projects and complete them very quickly and thoroughly while established members of the team take longer to do similar things. Sometimes it’s obvious that the other team members have other responsibilities, but at other times it’s less obvious but still true – the new people are much less likely to be contacted directly by email/phone etc with questions from other departments, they’re less likely to have ongoing former projects that resurface etc. They’re also sometimes less likely to realise the wider effects of something that they’re working on whereas a more experienced employee will go and do some extra research or make additional checks to make sure they have all bases covered. And the projects often look very similar on the surface (like, research and write up some information for the webpage) but the new person will be given the task where we know the information will be easy to find and interpret, the more experienced employee will have something more difficult. But mainly they have just a few more meetings and a lot more emails.

    We also often have new team members start just after our extremely busy period so sometimes it’s just that current employees are a bit burned out and pacing themselves. I’ve seen new people burn themselves out during quiet periods and then really struggle during our full-on season.

    1. Ten*

      That’s a really good point! I’ve noticed this too and the way you explain it makes a lot of sense.

    2. Temperance*

      THIS. It takes my interns less time than it takes me to complete tasks, but that’s because they can hyperfocus on one task. Their phones aren’t blowing up.

    3. Kelsi*

      This is what I was wondering about also. When I meet with my boss and we’re scheduling/prioritizing my work, we often talk about the actual time it’s going to take (four hours, for instance) and then the calendar time it’s going to take (one week). Because yes, if I could get four uninterrupted hours to do nothing but this project, it would only take me four hours and I’d have it ready tomorrow. But the way my work is structured, there are interruptions and other things I need to work on concurrently.

      When I was brand new in this role, I could turn around most of my work in a day or two, because people didn’t know what I did yet and there were fewer interruptions, plus I was given fewer simultaneous “must be done by Tuesday” type projects because I was new.

    4. Guitar Hero*

      I thought this exact same thing. I churned through projects when I was new to the workforce, because I had basically minimal responsibility and was very good at the tasks I was assigned.

      Now, not only am I working on more projects simultaneously, they’re far more complicated, require input from more departments/individuals, and have much larger impacts on the business. It’s not just my effort required to complete these things, in many cases. So, naturally, timelines extend.

      Though I do miss the days where I wrote my to-do list and finished it all in one day. :)

    5. only acting normal*

      I was going to say exactly the same thing.
      I used to fly through tasks, but over 10+ years in a company you build up a bunch of distractions that *do* contribute to the business, but MAN do they slow you down.

  14. Wintermute*

    #1– I second all of what Alison said and I would add my own spin.

    Whenever you find yourself irked, look deeper. A lot of people find themselves acting out of a sense of vague unease or this nebulous sense that people are “getting one over” on the company whenever it comes to travel, time off, job perks. The general attitude seems to be this sort of puritan expectation that work should not be pleasant, or a sense or injustice that they suspect they’re working harder than someone else.

    So try to identify if there’s any actual problems, or this is just one of the above, a sneaking suspicion that they are having a bit too much fun or not working quite hard enough. Look at your objectives for these conferences, and consider if they’re being met, if the spouses are really interfering with core objectives.

    Then weigh that VERY hard against the fact that this is a norm here, and has been common practice for years. Are you willing to spend a large amount of your social capital, make your employees’ lives less pleasant, and turn these conferences into a bone of contention between you and your team over this?

    I’ve seen it time and time again, new manager, they see a perk or practice that’s favorable to the workers and sure, it’s arguably slightly wasteful or the company could do it a little cheaper, but only by reducing the quality of life and work/life balance of their employees and every time they went for it. They nuked employee morale from orbit, sometimes made good employees start looking for another job, lowered productivity, sometimes it caused employees to stop going the extra mile (“if they’re going to start sweating every last penny and second of time, so will I! No more overtime, no more flexibility on clockout time, no more volunteering for extra work”) and they also bought themselves a reputation as someone not to be trusted. They immediately created an uncessarily adversarial relationship between them and their team by taking away perks that ultimately had little cost which made them look petty and unwilling to be generous.

    Now all of this only applies if the cost and impact truly is minimal, if not it may be a battle you have to fight, damn the cost. But you should be aware of the many likely costs and consider carefully if this is no big deal, a soft line issue (where you can allow it mostly but set a little more structure and some more limits around it), or a line upon which you must stand. If there are other teams in the organizations similarly situated that may help inform your decision as well as provide justification and borrowed authority (“Hey, no one else in the company gets this either, and if our travel expenses start getting higher than any other team for conferences, it will result in uncomfortable questions and could impact all our careers, I have to be a good steward but I also have to be able to protect you all, and part of that is not giving you ammunition when I see you have the gun pointed right at your foot”)

    1. Jessica*

      This is pure gold right here, Wintermute. When you’re coming into a situation, the question is not “how would you ideally run this if you were starting from scratch,” it’s whether it is really worth it to you to seriously disgruntle existing, potentially good employees who already have the thing you want to take away from them. Whether it was the best idea to give it to them in the first place doesn’t really matter.

      1. Specialk9*

        Yes, this was a far more articulate expression of what was bothering me about this question, and why the proposed clampdown is such a bad idea.

    2. Juliecatharine*

      I really really agree with this. I think if there were major issues being caused by the spouses OP would have identified them. Instead it was suspicion and some iffy expense-related choices made twice. Tighten up the expense policy, set expectations for what after hours events are mandatory, and leave this one alone unless there’s a major impact that somehow has gone unnoticed for years. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s bad.

      1. Oilpress*

        Yes, I think a lot of the issue can be solved by scheduling specific after-hours events as mandatory. As long as they aren’t “Attend strip club with the sales team…” type of events then I don’t see a problem with doing this.

    3. Trout 'Waver*

      I strongly agree with Wintermute here. I’d guess the impact on the business of this policy is in the $100-$200/employee range. That’s chump change for the impact on morale it has. Your team looks forward to national meetings instead of dragging their feet.

      1. FunTillSomeoneLoosesAnEye*

        They really just need more concrete information then the “may” be costing more “may” be missing out.

        This seems more of “going to dig for something that is wrong here until I find it” sort of thing, and less an actual problem.

    4. Parenthetically*

      Goodness, this is so well said. OP1, this comment is well worth your review and contemplation.

    5. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      Incredibly well said, Wintermute.

      OP, I feel you on the expenses thing. What does your company’s travel policy state? Does it have one? If it does, are they within the guidelines? If they are, I think you need to do what Wintermute is saying and really examine why this is upsetting you. If they are not, you have that to fall back on. “Your spouses can still come, but the company will not pay for a more expensive flight to accommodate you two flying together. Per the company travel policy, flights must meet XYZ requirements. I am sorry if that means traveling separate from your spouse, but if you want them to attend you will have to. Or you can pay the difference in flight cost from the company approved flight and the one you wish to take.”

      If your company does not have a travel policy, now is the time to get one in place.

      I strongly urge you to consider how banning spouses outright will come across. I have never worked anywhere with required travel where I wasn’t allowed to bring my spouse along if I wanted. I would have had to pay for his ticket, and his meals, etc. But no company has ever said it wasn’t ok for my spouse to join me in my company provided room. I’ve never brought him, but I have had my family meet me in a business trip location, and was certainly not scolded for taking a few nights to have dinner with my family rather than my team that I see every day.

    6. MashaKasha*

      Wow, this really is well said. OP, you don’t want to start off at this company by becoming “that manager who banned spouses on trips for no apparent reason”.

      From my experience, I was the significant other whose SO (academia) used to go to conferences in nice, travel-destination places, and had me join him there after a conference. I paid my own way, he and I split the cost of the accommodations we had after the conference. Normally he’d stay at a hotel with his colleagues for the conference, and get an Airbnb for the two of us after it would end. With one exception where some of the conference attendees had an informal dinner and I joined them there, no one at SO’s work probably even knew I was joining him, unless he told them. It did not impact his work in any way. I’m kind of puzzled to read it in OP’s letter that there are managers who see this as problematic.

      1. TootsNYC*

        well, there’s one fundamental difference.

        Now the spouses are there DURING the conference, and apparently the employees are slipping away from the “extracurricular” time DURING the conference.

        So that might be the thing to focus on–to speak w/ employees about the benefits to the company, and to them, of attending some of the evening events. And to decide how firmly to require/request some of that energy.

    7. paul*


      I go to work conferences 1-3x a year usually; sometimes my wife comes along if we can find childcare. I’d be driving to some of them, and she just tags along in the rental car (cheaper than milage or flying out of our regional airport).

      If I was told, for example, that wasn’t on anymore just because I elected to skip a voluntary networking event (that I’d probably skip anyway)? Yeah, that’d be upsetting as hell.

      Now if people are bailing on major workshops or the like that’s different, or if these are sales conferences and people aren’t selling because they’re ditching out…that’s a bit different. But if it’s just that people aren’t hanging around talking about what workshops they went to and drinking at the hotel bar with people? Feh.

    8. selina kyle*

      Wonderfully put. I think that not only do you make some very good points, you’ve said it so consciously and kindly.

    9. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

      This entire post is exactly right.

      The OP reads as unnecessarily rigid and parsimonious, which is not a good look for anyone, and certainly not a new manager who wants to develop a successful relationship with their team.

      I think tightening up the expense reimbursement process is perfectly reasonable, and bringing a spouse shouldn’t cost the company more; however, if this is a perk that the team has enjoyed for years with minimal disruption, eliminating it is just going to make the OP look like a jerk.

    10. Liane*

      Since OP1 seems to be new to managing and/or the team (not clear to me), has she checked in with someone at her level or higher, who has been there longer, like her own boss or another manager? It’s very likely that if “Spouses welcome” has been the custom for so long, someone has already considered the pros/cons/costs and concluded that the additional expenses are worth it because of better retention/recruitment of good employees, higher morale, less pushback on travel requirements.

    11. OP #1*

      Wintermute, thanks for your comment. You’re right that my question comes a suspicion that this is weird. I don’t really think they’re trying to pull one over, steal money, or skip work to have fun. It sounds like the practice has grown over time and become a norm for this particular department, even though it doesn’t match my experiences within the industry or even the general company culture. When I talked to other current managers at my company, they were surprised spouses came during the conferences.

      I’m unsure if the extra costs are a problem. For a conference in March, I’m estimating about $900 of extra company costs. Per person, it’s not a HUGE sum, but I’m not sure how I would justify it if the accounting department asked. I’m leaning toward treating it as a “soft line issue.”

      I’m also thinking of a similar way I can encourage – but not mandate – more networking during the conference. I think, and again this is based on my own experiences, it’s beneficial to go to some of the evening events.

      1. Wintermute*

        Knowing more details, I think your instincts are spot on here, 900 bucks may be trivial or might be a lot depending on the company and the general level of the employees, but even if it’s trivial I’m sure there are other places in the budget that money could go! About how many people is that additional 900 spread over? If this were my last team of 12 people we’re talking about 75 bucks a person, that’s a very different picture than if this is a team of four and 225 a person. 75 dollars is, in most companies, regions and circumstances, quite reasonable to allow for employee preference and convenience when you’re asking for travel, 225 would raise eyebrows most places if all your department’s reports were that much higher!

        Companies pay petty cash sums all the time to allow a daytime flight not a red-eye, or allow using uberX as opposed to pool, or get an employee a late check-out after a late night or early check-in so they’re not carrying bags to the pre-conference sessions, it’s all about how rigid your budgets are, how rigid sweating it would make you appear (An employee could reasonably call you petty over 50 dollars, if told their expenses were 225 more than the norm you’d be more likely to get a sheepish apology than righteous indignation).

        Also consider how much is actually extra cost. For instance you mentioned carpooling, and sure some companies do that. Others realize that there is a special kind of hell that is the passenger seat while your co-worker drives like he’s an extra in Mad Max: Fury Road and you just handed him a can of chrome spraypaint. Same with altering flights, how much would be reasonable if a spouse wasn’t involved but it was just a preference as to airport, time of day, avoiding crowds, etc?

        Also, since this is an issue where if you’re unsure if they are a problem, do you have a mentor in management that you trust that you can bring this to? Asking something like “Hey, this thing is weird in terms of overall business culture and doesn’t seem to jibe with our company culture but it’s been going on a long time and I’m not quite sure how to handle it, especially because it could be contentious to take away a fringe benefit”?

        I think at the very least at the end of the day you’d be well within your rights to set a limit on the cost the company wou

        1. Wintermute*

          That’s supposed to read “the costs the company would absorb for their spouses coming along.” it got snipped by posting.

  15. Cristina in England*

    1. You say the employees “may be” missing out on networking opportunities. But you don’t know for sure? Being away from home for work is draining and actual work, so please don’t take away the employees’ only downtime because you feel like they are getting one over on the company. Just tighten your expenses policy and let it go.

  16. Wakeen Teaptots, LTD*

    #1 from a slightly different angle: perks are good things. It’s not easy to come up with perks that are generally appreciated by most of your team (short of handing out wads of cash envelopes monthly). “Let’s do team jackets” and then some people gripe they would have rather had a different style or a different garment, “Terrific holiday party, bring the SO!” and then some people gripe about the date, the venue or the I don’t wannnnnnnnnnnna do it in the evening/lunchtime/whatever time you pick.

    Your employees seems to have settled on a perk everybody likes! They have perk self selected. I’d be thrilled.

    My approach would be, “I am so happy this makes you guys happy. This is now our tradition/perk and I’m going to support this. Let’s just keep the expenses tight so we don’t get in trouble from PTB.”

    1. neverjaunty*

      This is a great approach. It shows the employees you are on their side while reminding the few who have been overdoing things to dial it back.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      +1 for perk self selection. A valued perk has arisen naturally in the wild; other managers dream of this.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But keep in mind that unless everyone there is married, it’s only a perk for some of them — and I could see it being annoying to the single people who don’t get to enjoy the trip with a partner and who might be having a very different type of trip than their coworkers.

      I wouldn’t change this right off the bat as a new manager, but I’d definitely be looking at it with the same questions as the OP for future years — primarily, are they getting out of the conference what we intend them to get out of it? If they are, great. But if they’re not, that’s a valid thing for the OP to have concerns about.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        OP doesn’t mention children, which makes me think the current configuration has to do with a coincidental confluence of many employees who are paired off but either don’t yet have kids, or their kids are grown and out of the house. If the former, that will likely shift over time with no effort from OP…. and the parents still might appreciate the possible option of one day hopping along on a trip again if it’s an easy week for Grandpa to babysit.

      2. Colette*

        And not just single people, but people whose spouse can’t travel for whatever reason. That may not apply to anyone on the team right now, but if they hire someone new or someone currently on the team has their life change (divorce, death, illness, having school-aged children, etc.) it will become a very different trip for part of the team.

      3. Jerry Vandesic*

        Not just married folks. Anyone with a partner/SO/friend/family member that would be someone to share time with in an interesting location. I have traveled to business events (conferences, training, meetings) with all of these types of people, and have never had a problem or let it interfere with the event.

        1. bonkerballs*

          But we don’t know that’s part of this configuration. And many places put a significance on spouses that they absolutely do not on any of the other types of people you just mentioned. We have a huge fundraising event coming up, for example, and many of my coworkers are bringing spouses or long term significant others. But bringing someone on a third date, or someone who’s just a friend, or you sister would not be allowed.

          1. Jerry Vandesic*

            Are there rules about who can be brought as a guest to the fundraising event? If there are, then the employee just needs to follow the rules. If there are no rules, then the employee can bring who they want.

          2. Specialk9*

            Going to an event is very different from someone taking the other unused bed in a hotel room that is already paid for by a company. That’s all the perk they’re getting.

      4. Wakeen Teaptots, LTD*

        It’s always something. We did twice yearly sponsored happy hours, successfully, until our mostly young single employee contingent turned into mostly married parents of young children. Staff changes over, life evolves, point taken – don’t enshrine it as a forever perk.

        For our holiday gift this year we offered FIVE choices, pick your own, and I think we finally nailed the holiday gift to 100% happiness and fulfillment. Until that stops working. :D

      5. SallytooShort*

        I don’t see how the policy where they pay for all the extra stuff themselves would preclude a girlfriend/boyfriend or friend from coming. Nothing suggests that it must only be a spouse.

        And telling people their SO can’t have a trip they pay for entirely by themselves because they have to be forced to have dinner with single colleagues is not a way to build a good team.

        1. Colette*

          Well, they can’t socialize with their SO on an average Tuesday at 2 p.m. either, because that’s work time. So is a conference – they’re not literally working 24/7, but there are often expectations that they will be working (or attending networking events) well into the evening. And if one of the goals is teambuilding, then they’re expected to do things with their team. If bringing their SO along is getting in the way, that’s a problem.

          1. Specialk9*

            I don’t have that expectation at a conference. I’m usually already starting my day much earlier, and ending it later – I don’t see why my day should extend further into the evening, when that’s not my normal schedule. Especially since travel is bloody awful for me (more so than most due to height and health) and I’m working longer hours there too. I’m just not giving up my me-time without a really good reason (eg gala or award banquet).

            My company wants me to go to conferences, either to learn and improve my knowledge, or to present and represent the company. If it gets awful enough, I’ll just stop going.

        2. BPT*

          I’m not sure I understand this point – what about the employee’s work requirements would preclude the SO from having a trip they paid for themselves? The SO can go do whatever they want, and they usually have to alone. On conferences there usually are some evening events and staff dinners that occur. 1) The single employees or those that didn’t bring anyone shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of these evening events, and 2) the employee’s required events doesn’t have anything to do with what their SO is doing. If the spouse has to have dinner by themselves, so be it, they chose to come on a work trip.

      6. DataQueen*

        On the “not everyone is married/partnered” front – this can have weird ramifications if someone chooses to travel alone and your peers are stuck in 1950. I’ll explain… I don’t bring my boyfriend with me when i travel. I find it inappropriate and I want to do business while I’m there, not spend time with him, which i can do at home. If it’s a great city, i’ll stay the weekend and he can join me then. So I attend conferences as a single woman. I had a peer male attend a conference with me last year and insist on bringing his wife because I was going. He told another colleague that it was “safer that way.” Yuck. Another male colleague brought his wife to a business dinner because there was a single woman (me) there, and the vendors we were out with thought it was so strange. And they totally are open about this – not wanting to travel/be out with a woman without their wives. But as gross as it is, I let it go, because they’re the ones who look crazy out of touch.

        1. A Cita*

          As a SO-free person, I just don’t get this at all.
          As in you have no personal agency in this situation?

          1. Decima Dewey*

            DataQueen will tempt them to stray by her sheer existence as a lone woman. They won’t be able to resist her professional officewear and professional manner.

        2. Specialk9*

          Gross. “Aaaaaahhhhh! My penis just goes crazy and I’m towed along, wailing in despair, as it does its own thing.”

      7. Bette*

        It’s not necessary for everyone in a company to be able to use a benefit for it to be a good benefit. Parental leave, for instance, only benefits parents.

        In any case, why would it have to be a spouse? As long as you’re willing to share a room with them, you could bring a friend, relative, bang buddy, neighbor, child, personal masseuse…whoever.

  17. hbc*

    OP4, having hosted many tradeshows, I would say a good chunk of them are looking for swag. If business owners in their 40s and up can act like they’re trick or treating at an industry event, there’s no reason to expect that college students won’t do the same.

    Of course, the 2-4 sentence spiel works in these cases too. Someone who’s not interested in a job with you will end the conversation quickly, whether it’s because they realized that you aren’t a good fit for them or because you don’t have candy or branded phone charging cables.

    1. Nox*

      Oh my goodness yes! Every job fair I’ve ever been at feels like freaking Halloween. I participated in one at the local community college by me and these folks only would come up for our little stress balls. Or if they thought stress balls were lame they would side eye us and go for my neighbors table with the gourmet organic fancy pants lip balm!

      1. OP4 career fair*

        I went to a conference once in Las Vegas…the swag was mostly the same. Pens, papers, bags. But i also for a wood brain puzzle that fell apart in my hotel room and could not get back together and these cute little magnet people that I still have up at my desk…and ice even switched companies and brought them along!

      2. Stormy*

        I was so excited for a fair that had a bunch of lip balms, but they were all coconut. BLECH.

        Generally, I like the idea of consumable items for swag. I think it assuages my guilt about manufactured junk sitting around.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Oh my goodness, you have hit the nail on the head.

      As a friend of mine who helped run his company’s booth at trade shows once said, “you would not believe the things grown men will do to one another fighting over a free T-shirt.”

    3. OP4 career fair*

      We had swag that I think we appreciated more than the university students! I was happy to bring mine home with me. We only had one person that was super obvious that he was only there for the swag.

  18. Huddled over tea*

    #4 – I haven’t been to a careers fair in years, but I feel like your expectations of them confuses me. As a person about to graduate and perhaps with no real idea of what I want to do next, surely the careers fair is so I can wander around and talk to people about what they do and what their company does. That might bring up areas/fields/etc I’d never even known about and I can then decide if it sounds interesting for me. If I already knew about the companies and what they do, I wouldn’t need to be at the careers fair…

    1. Pollygrammer*

      There’s a difference between “I’m interested in learning more about your company” and ““so…what can you do for me?” It sounds like the main problem is in how the students present themselves, not what they’re actually asking for.

      1. OP4 career fair*

        Yes. I agree with this. Is there a way to approach a company and ask about them and then there is what we saw.

        Regardless we told everyone who we were and what we were about.

    2. Murphy*

      I disagree that if you knew what you wanted to do you wouldn’t be at the careers fair. You may know what you want to do, and use the opportunity to learn more about the companies that do what you want to do, and find out if they’re hiring in your field.

      And also, as long as the list of companies was available beforehand you might have done some research and had an idea of some companies that you wanted to talk to, or some that might be completely irrelevant. Like if you studied chemistry, you may want to talk to the chemical engineering company, but probably not the graphic design firm.

      1. OP4 career fair*

        I’m not sure how much it was announced. My cousin goes there and she didn’t know about it until I texted her telling her that she had to come.

  19. Not Today Satan*

    #2 I do technical work too. I’m someone who likes to get work off my desk when it’s done, so if it’s a priority task, I might hand it in an hour or so after I get the assignment. But I’m trying to wait on everything before I hand it back. I don’t know what gender you are, but I’m a woman and at my workplace everyone pretty much assumes that anything technical that I can do must not be that hard. But the male data guy (who granted, is more experienced/skilled than me but the difference isn’t nearly what people think) is treated like a genius, and anything he does must be difficult and time consuming. I think that when I return work quickly it reinforces their idea that the work I do isn’t as hard or sophisticated as what he does.

  20. Broadcastlady*

    I travel with my husband when he goes to CLEs and visit museums during the day while he’s in class. My mom accompanies my Dad to conferences/business at least twice a year, especially if it is on the East Coast or in Europe. While my husband is his own boss, so non-issue, I think Dad would be pretty upset if this perk was taken away. My boss’ wife accompanies him to industry conferences. They went to Hawaii and Canada last year. I thought this was very normal.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      And as an introverted spouse, the offer “free hotel room near stuff you’d like to visit; you’ll need to entertain yourself” is potentially very appealing in the right city. There’s a few more years that kid school schedules preclude this option, but it’s not like I need my husband to skip stuff and occupy me. I’m delighted to visit the museum at my own snail’s pace, reading the label on every brachiopod.

  21. Trout 'Waver*

    OP#3, First off, condolences on your loss.

    I just want to point out that this is why reputation is so important. If you usually return e-mails and phone calls promptly and professionally, then people will generally believe you and be accommodating when you claim a family emergency. Life happens.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Good point, Trout. I also wanted to comment to #3 that saying to business contacts that there was a death in your family is not at all unusual.

  22. Buffy*

    I wonder if OP #3 is from my area. A dog was accidentally left behind at a doggy daycare and got loose. They were missing for a few days…it was a sad story with a happy ending, especially because the town really mobilized to find the pup! Made me proud of my community.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Last year I found a collarless (but hair matted down where it had been) bichon frise in January in the New England woods, and animal control told me that a month after Xmas is their busiest time of year. Glad these two stories had happy endings.

  23. drpuma*

    Hi #2! Another fast worker here. You mention that you are new to your job, so I want to remind you that just like you are still learning what it’s like to work there, your manager is still figuring out how best to manage you. If you can get good work done really well and fast, eventually your assignments will reflect that. You may also find that your pace naturally slows down as your work assignments become more complex. Please follow up later in the year to let us know how your new job is going!

  24. CleverGirl*

    OP #1: Stop. Please, just stop. Stop being one of Those Managers who gets annoyed any time they see their employees actually having a good time, and automatically jump to the conclusion that they must not be working hard enough if they are enjoying life during work hours, and they must be somehow stealing from the company, too. Work trips are horrible in a lot of ways. Even if you’re only “on the clock” for 8 hours a day, you can’t go home in the evening and work on your hobbies or see your family or relax in your favorite chair and watch Netflix after eating the delicious home-cooked meal that you made with your spouse while laughing about the crazy stuff that happened at work that day. So you are essentially “at work” 24 hours a day, even if you aren’t technically working that whole time. Work trips are terrible and if employees are able to bring their spouses along to make them slightly less terrible, that’s great. What a wonderful setup! Your job as a manager is not to make sure your employees never get any extra perks to make them enjoy their job more; it’s to keep them as a happy and healthy team that is productive and functional.

    It distresses me to see that your immediate reaction was “I see two potential issues”. To me that means that you aren’t actually seeing issues; you’re just seeing “potential” issues that *could* cause problems. It almost feels like you just don’t like the idea of this perk and you’re trying to find reasons why it should be taken away.

    Your “this seems weird to me” comment is also quite revealing. You’re feeling a bit weirded out by the fact that everyone is showing up to the conference hotel with their spouse in tow, because it feels weird that people are bringing their spouses “to work”. So you are trying to dissect that situation and figure out how to justify your “this is weird and wrong!” reaction, by coming up with reasons like “they might be missing networking!”. I don’t like it. It feels like an overreach, and a deliberate attempt to shut down a harmless practice that VASTLY improves work trips for the employees. If you’re really worried about the “extra costs”, you can find the price of the flight the employee would be on without any schedule changes for an accompanying spouse, and then say if they want to take a more expensive flight they have to pay the difference. (Although frankly unless it’s hundreds of dollars, I would just let it go. My company lets me pick specific flights based on my preference for schedule and I don’t really see anything different about this. I’d be mad if I were forced to take a 5 am flight or a redeye just because it was the least expensive option.)

    I’m asking you on behalf of all the employees you manage and will manage in the future to take a good, hard look at why you don’t like the spouses coming along, and make sure your concerns are really legit and not just “Joe wouldn’t bring his wife to work with him so why is he bringing her to the conference with him… that feels weird to me!” Bringing spouses it not outside the norm in most industries. In fact, many of the conferences I’ve attended in the past even have an option to buy a “spouse ticket” to the conference banquet, and I’ve frequently wished my own spouse had more vacation time so he could come along with me.

    Many people talk about “work-life balance” these days, but I’ve seen a newer term emerge: “work-life integration”. With laptops and smartphones, the ability to work remotely, and check one’s work email any time and from anywhere, the boundaries between work and “life” are very very fuzzy. We no longer have a balance scale where we can place “work” on one side and “life” on the other, because it’s much harder to cleanly separate the two. Bringing a spouse on a work trip is a good example of work-life integration where it feels like everybody wins. Please don’t make everyone into losers just for the sake of it.

    1. Sarah*


      I resent him trying to control all of his employees’ time. Just. No. Employees are allowed to have lives. (And really, carpooling with co-workers?? I like mine but couldn’t spend more than an hour in a car with any of them. I would gladly pay the difference.)

    2. CDM*

      The LW complaining about “opting to drive themselves (and then submit for mileage reimbursement) instead of sharing a rental car with 3 or 4 coworkers” is really rubbing me the wrong way.

      That isn’t just an issue of spouses coming along. OP wants to limit employees so they can’t leave easily to get home in case of a family emergency, (try to get a new rental car at midnight when your kid has an appendicitis attack and is going into surgery), make it more difficult for sight-seeing or any personal activity during free time, and prevent employees from making any personal side trips or stops en route. (without charging the mileage), while costing the employees the extra time, effort and distance required to meet up somewhere.

      I doubt LW is planning to compensate employees in any way for giving up all their personal time during work conferences, since all the focus is on cutting costs.

      Traveling for work sucks in many ways, and LW making travel suck more is going to get blowback.

      1. Myrin*

        I mean, I get what you’re saying and don’t even disagree with the overall point, but you’re framing this as if the OP plans to take her employees hostage at a conference site.

      2. Judy (since 2010)*

        I’ve never worked at a company where corporate policy allowed travelers to all take separate vehicles when traveling for work. And most companies require using rental cars on longer trips because it is less expensive. Anything outside of those guidelines usually required justification.

        At my last company, I routinely made trips that were a 6 hour drive from my location, about 350 miles. At $0.535 per mile, for just the traveling (not daily travel to the worksite) that comes to $374 reimbursement. A week of unlimited rental car was around $150, plus some gas (maybe $70-100). Especially on shorter trips, it was much cheaper for the company to have you rent a car. If 4 people are going on a 2 day trip, and can get a rental car for $70 plus gas (maybe $70-100), and they decide to all drive separately, that would cost the company $1400. At least when everyone takes a separate rental car, it would only cost $680. That doesn’t include any parking fees, which convention hotels usually have ($30-50/day). And my car insurance is for “Pleasure and Commute”, I don’t have “Business Travel”, so there can be an insurance issue if anything happens.

        And if I was sharing a rental car and a child had an appendicitis attack, I would let the employee take the rental car, and then arrange to have one for me delivered in the morning.

        1. CDM*

          First, it’s a complete myth that personal auto insurance never covers business use of an auto unless you add endorsements. It does, with limited exceptions, mainly for delivery use and the new policy exclusions for Uber etc. use.

          And your personal auto insurance can be hit hard by an accident in a rental car if your employer doesn’t have their business auto hired & non owned insurance set up properly. Do they carry both liability and property damage? Do they carry enough in property damage to cover the value of the rental? Do they cover the loss of use charges while the rental is being repaired? If your employer has you rent in your name rather than through a business account with the rental company, you’re signing the contract and taking responsibility.

          1. Judy (since 2010)*

            It certainly is not a complete myth, one of my former co-workers ran into it. He was traveling that 700 mile round trip and had an accident. His insurance company ended up dropping him, and our company sent out a reminder that we had to use rental cars. The company did pay the damages.

            When I’ve rented for business purposes, it’s always through a corporate account in my name. That way any employee of the corporation with a drivers license can drive the vehicle legally.

          2. SarahKay*

            This is definitely country dependant though – in the UK you need to have your car insurance cover you for business travel if you are going to use your car at all on business purposes.
            UK-wise, many policies won’t charge you extra for this, assuming you want business cover for (e.g.) driving to a conference twice a year or dropping off the occasional parcel to the local post office, rather than business travel being a huge part of your day, such as being a sales rep, or driving a painter’s van complete with logo and equipment.

        2. Trout 'Waver*

          12 hours round trip with coworkers in the cheapest imaginable rental car sounds like my version of hell.

          And I like driving and and I have great coworkers who all get along.

      3. the gold digger*

        I doubt LW is planning to compensate employees in any way for giving up all their personal time during work conferences, since all the focus is on cutting costs.

        I would be a lot happier about showing up at the terminal at 5:30 a.m. and not checking into my hotel until 10 p.m. that day if I got paid OT. LW, it needs to go both ways.

      4. MashaKasha*

        Carpooling with 3-4 coworkers sounds like my version of travel hell that I would need months to recover from. And I don’t even have a spouse!

        1. Future Analyst*

          Oh yes. Being in a car that long with people I love wears on me– I cannot imagine a trip with colleagues!

          1. MashaKasha*

            Not to mention, being squeezed into the backseat of a car with two other people would wear on me physically!

            The most carpool-intensive trip I’ve had was three people in a car on a 4-hour drive. That was manageable, but I don’t know if I could handle sharing with more people.

      5. Academic Addie*

        That also really stuck out to me. I think it’s great if employees can carpool, and I usually carpool if I have to drive somewhere. But the option being presented as “travel alone or with spouse” or “packed in a car with three people in the back seat” strikes me as OP being a bit of a Guacamole Bob.

    3. TheCupcakeCounter*

      I agree with a lot of this but can also see (depending on where the OP came from) why they might have an issue with this. There are a lot of industries and regions even where this is just not done. It could also be that he/she had never thought about the possibility of bringing a spouse or SO along because their experiences with conferences or work trips have been vastly different from what they are like in the current company. My husband and mother both work in industries with conferences that actually cater to spouses attending but my uncle laughed at that idea – when he goes on a work trip is usually stuffed with events specifically for networking and relationship cultivating. I can definitely see how someone with that background would balk at the idea of their employees missing/not attending those type of events because their spouse was around. My dad’s former field was also similar to this but his national conference was geared towards bringing the ENTIRE family – as in free trip to amusement parks, shuttles to areas of interest, vouchers for meals and special treats at the local mall, etc… So a couple of times a year he would go on a 3 day or so work trip where he really was working all the time and then once a year we would all go with him. I thought that was a pretty decent set up (granted I was 10 and loved roller coasters and shopping).
      I definitely think that the OP should wait on this as you suggested, maybe reiterate or clarify the reimbursement policy and expectations for travel, and see what kind of environment these conferences are like to determine whether or not there is merit to limiting spouse attendance.

      1. Case of the Mondays*

        My former firm did weekend conferences where spouses were encouraged to attend. They were on their own during the day when we were in class but invited to the dinner and social events occurring after. No one skipped out on events to be with their spouse because their spouse was invited. I do understand that this can be hard on people without a spouse/SO or people that may not want to mesh work and spouse/SO for whatever reason. That said, it really did make having to give up my weekend a few times/year a lot more enjoyable.

    4. Ten*

      It almost feels like you just don’t like the idea of this perk and you’re trying to find reasons why it should be taken away.

      Very well put! It crossed my mind that OP1 doesn’t mention his/her own significant other, so I wonder if they’re feeling left out and maybe a bit resentful.

      1. Colette*

        Whether the OP has a significant other or not, this kind of thing can result in less-happy employees who go alone (either because they don’t have a significant other or because their significant other can’t go). If everyone attends the conference portion but has all of their meals with their spouse (for example), you may have one person who spends every meal alone. Some people would be happy with that; others would hate it – and either way, there is no teambuilding aspect to the trip.

        On the other hand, if the employees socialize with each other outside of the conference (at least some of the time) while their spouses do their own thing, that’s a different situation and it’s probably fine if it doesn’t cost the company more.

    5. Murphy*

      I think it is unusual that the default is that all spouses come every time. I’m not saying that they should be made to stop doing that, I agree with you that it’s not a big deal, but I think it is a little on the unusual side, and that’s how I took the “this seems weird to me” comment.

      1. AnotherJill*

        That’s what I thought as well. I think it’s odd that so many are piling on the OP when they had a very reasonable question. And if their team is large enough, each person choosing more expensive travel options could add up to a significant amount.

      2. K.*

        Me too. I used to work for a company where business travel for conferences was fairly frequent, and while extending a trip by a few days at your expense was very common and no one cared if your SO came along for that, having your spouse come along for the trip itself wasn’t done.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I imagine there is a certain amount of coincidental life alignment, where the employees going to these conferences tend to be partnered but without young kids. (Either no kid yet, or kids grown.) At various times I would have embraced or rejected looking after a toddler alone at a hotel while my husband worked, but once the kids were in school, especially secondary, taking them out caused them extra work and I needed a strong reason to do it.

      4. always in email jail*

        I think it’s odd in that it’s a bit of a coincidence- I can’t imagine everyone’s spouse being available for every conference in a year where I work, for example, because most people have working spouses, so it’s kind of weird or odd to me in the sense that they’re able to manage this multiple times a year, but I don’t find the idea of bringing a spouse (if you don’t cost the company extra money) odd

      5. Kate*

        Yeah, I feel like people are piling on the OP when they were essentially asking for a gut check. I think the current status quo as described is unusual, and would be unusual everywhere I’ve worked. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, or should stop. But I don’t think the OP is a bad manager for wanting Alison’s feedback.

    6. OP4 career fair*

      As I was reading #1, I was also thinking that by now these spouses probably all know each other and have their own things they do together during the conference time which would be pretty amazing too!

    7. OP #1*

      CleverGirl, what’s I’m seeing on this team doesn’t match my previous experience at other employers in this industry or attending these conferences myself in prior years. I’m not trying to take perks away unnecessarily because I’m some kind of fun killer! I’m trying to determine if this is situation is as unusual as I believe it to be, and if I should make changes.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I would caution you against equating unusual/different with bad/wrong ( I am not saying you are doing this). Don’t get me wrong if it is actually costing the company significant additional amounts of money when spouses come along certainly look into tightening the rules on reimbursements. But don’t prohibit spouses from coming just because everyone else does, or just because no other companies bring their spouses.

      2. Parenthetically*

        “I’m trying to determine if this is situation is as unusual as I believe it to be”

        Why should that matter, though? Serious question. Weigh it up. Keep a great perk that costs your company a few grand a year (you mentioned $900 in a comment above for this conference) and makes folks want to stick around and buys you a lot of goodwill vs. blow up a beloved system that developed over the years and then lose all of that goodwill as a new manager… seems like a pretty easy choice.

        1. Tedious Cat*

          Yeah, I’m really reminded of a time at OldJob when they cut sick time because they’d done a survey of local employers and our sick leave was more generous than the average. You can bet there was never a time when something was upped because it was less generous than the local average.

    8. Bowels of Temp Hell*

      Yeah Op1… you come across as controlling and probably resentful that your employees have personal lives. Bitter is a good color on nobody.

      1. Specialk9*

        I’ve had a hard time with Dilbert since he revealed his misogyny. He was already a little too bitter for my tastes, but openly advocating for (white) men’s rights and comparing women to children and the mentally handicapped? Too far, too alt right.

  25. Gerry*

    My first public sector job was in a clerical position where my job was to assemble the files of completed passport applications, staple them together, and then put them on a shelf to be filed by someone else.

    We had a “quota” of 125 files a day. I took that to mean I had to assemble at least 125 files per day. Since it was kind of a mind-numbing exercise, I took it as a challenge to see how many I could do in a day. Usually I could get 15o done; sometimes I managed 175. In a typical week I would exceed my quota by at least 100 files.

    It took me a couple of months to realize that my co-workers were doing “exactly” 125 files per day — no more and no less. If they had a day where they were unusually productive, they end their daily tally sheet at 125 and start a new tally sheet for the next day, so maybe they would do 150 files one day and 100 the next, but say that they did 125 files on each day. Fridays were often quite raucous and not much got done, because everybody but me had completed their 125 files per day (625 per week) by Thursday.

    In time it was also subtly intimated to me that I might make more friends at work if I didn’t work so fast. This was from my boss.

    So clearly, the only benefit to doing all my work quickly was that I got to slack off on Friday, but I had to know the game first. Plus, Friday could be kind of boring with no work left to do.

    1. Bea*

      That is utter hell and torture. I worked a temp gig 10+ years ago where they brought a dozen in for two shifts of copying medical records. I remember being the only one who kept going, digging in and plowing out the copies.

      In the end as the project wound down, they cut away the temps a few at a time. I never spoke to anyone and was in my own world copying away until I was last standing. When it went just me and part time to put the files away I was shuffled to accounting to help them part time while they found a new AP clerk.

      Each department wanted me to put in for the full time slot they had because I was killing it.

      I’m not cut out for anywhere with a quota and slackers even in my older age…and just wow that it was encouraged and noticed by the boss. I wouldn’t want to be friends with any of them anyways.

  26. LW2*

    I’m glad to see other people who finish stuff quickly leaving some ideas here.
    I always do at least 2 checks on my work before I send it off, so beyond that there’s not much for me to do with it. It’s pretty technical, but there is a creative element to it, so I usually get an idea of what I want in my head as the project is described to me and then work towards that idea.

    The day after I sent this in, I was given a much bigger project that will end up being shown for legislation purposes. I guess working hard and turning out a product quickly impressed someone!

  27. Nep*

    OP#1 – I’m a spouse that has attended conferences with my partner. I think your concerns are legitimate and you ought to check in with your team, but there may not necessarily be a problem.

    When go with my partner when he has a conference, it is clear and agreed upon that the conference and work responsibilities have to be his priority. He attends networking seminars, dinners and happy hours whether or not I go. (Often, I prefer not to, because I don’t want to monopolize his time anyway.)

    Once the conference is done, we do all the touristy things we wanted to do together. Until then, I enjoy seeing the city by myself and doing all the things that he won’t care about.

    Again, I definitely think you should check in, even if everything turns out to be fine.

    1. TheCupcakeCounter*

      Same here – in fact the conferences he usually attends have day trips set up for SO’s of the attendees as well as several meet and greet cocktail parties and events for attendees and spouses.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Same. My boyfriend goes to academic conferences on a grad student budget, and I usually go with him if it’s within driving distance. He spends the day at lectures and sometimes goes to dinners in the evenings, I wander around and check out the area. Sometimes the dog comes too. Guests are rarely invited to events but I have no trouble dining on my own, though I’m usually invited to come along for a drink. Alison’s suggestion of employee-only dinners is fine and may help alleviate some of the “issues”.

  28. a different Vicki*

    Yes, you should apply for unemployment. That might cost your employer a little bit–but it’s less than the company has been saving by not making you a permanent employee, or your boss and manager who desperately want to keep you would have gotten the okay to offer you that position.

    Not applying for unemployment wouldn’t increase the chances of you being hired back on in sixty days. It’s not just that you don’t owe them the loyalty they clearly don’t feel towards you–they’re the ones who broke the relationship by saying “go away even though we love your work, maybe you can come back in two months, maybe not”–but that they wouldn’t think better of you for making that sacrifice, if they even noticed.

  29. TheCupcakeCounter*

    Another option for OP#1 is the limit spouses to the national conferences and for the regional ones focus more on team building and networking (which means you, as manager, need to have some dinners or other event set up ahead of the conference). Either way it is perfectly reasonable to remind everyone of the expense reimbursement policy and that you expect them to make the best choice for the company vs for their family.

  30. M*

    OP 1: If you’re in a position to change this, please consider setting the standard that employee travel should be sensible and responsible but NOT cheap. Allow employees to travel alone, not in a shared rental car as you mentioned. Allow them to have single hotel rooms, and allow a spouse to attend at their own cost and share the room. If the employee demonstrates that they can pick up any extra cost of staying over a weekend, let them do it. It can mean a lot to employee morale.

  31. Murphy*

    OP#4, I haven’t had this experience, but my husband has represented his company at university career fairs. There are people who are prepared and focused, who know which companies they want to talk to, and then there are people who just hit up every table. He said he would tell people “We’re a teapot company” and then they would launch into their spiel about llama wrangling and try to get him to take their resume even though they have no need for llama wranglers! He said sometimes he would just take it if they really weren’t listening.

    I’d maybe have a really short explanation of your company and ask if that interests them before elaborating. I think you’ll still get some people who don’t really absorb what you said, but it may eliminate some of it.

    1. OP4 career fair*

      There was one guy who when we told him we were a teapot company, he started to tell us how he made the most prestigious tea filled with real gold and how he was involved in making the biggest tea garden in the world and all of this other stuff related to tea but not actually tea pots. He was rather aggressive and I was glad I wasn’t talking to him.

  32. Millennial Lawyer*

    OP 1 – Try looking on the bright side. There are people that behave badly when they are in the conference environment in a cool city – you’re lucky that there’s no debauchery going on, and everyone wants to be with their spouse. That reflects well on your company culture. That being said, you definitely would be right to make clearer, perhaps stricter policies about what employees can expense, and also take a look at if you want specific networking events to be employee only and mandatory. That would be very fair.

    1. neverjaunty*

      While I agree with the sentiment, I regret to inform you that having a spouse along doesn’t stop some people.

  33. SallytooShort*

    OP#1 is this really worth the huge amount of bad will you will sew with your team? Sure, tighten expenses (but I don’t think they should be forced to share rental cars). Don’t let them opt for a more expensive flight. But, otherwise, this isn’t really hurting anything. You couldn’t really point to an issue with it beyond a nebulous “networking” concern at night. And these people are around everyone else all day.

  34. Higher Ed Database Dork*

    #1 – Personally whenever I go on conferences, I never network in the off hours unless specifically told to do so. Conferences are exhausting for me, so I hole up in my hotel room as soon as I can. Spouse or no spouse! I did bring my spouse to one conference and that was enjoyable. So I think if you are wanting your employees to get in networking or team building time, you’ll have to explicitly tell them so.

    #2 – I tend to work pretty quickly myself, and what I like to do is build in buffers. For example, if I’m pretty sure something will take me one day to finish, I might give myself 1-2 days. It largely depends on the request, but especially for projects, having buffer time is invaluable. Sometimes stuff just goes wrong, or another priority gets dropped in my lap, and I’ve got that built in time for the original work and I don’t have to rush.

    #4 – For people who walk up and say “What can you do for me?” (like you’re trying to sell them a car?…), I’d turn it back on them with a question. I’d ask, “What are you looking for?” and make them explain it, before you jump into your company spiel. I find their question kind of rude, so I wouldn’t hesitate to just turn it back and make them do the work.

  35. Lora*

    OP1, the usual perk that my employers have given in the past has been, you have to pay for your partner’s airfare and meals, but you may use our corporate discount / travel agency discount rate to book things. It’s a flat discount they get from the travel agency people, so it doesn’t cost the company anything and saves a decent amount of money for the person booking it – you can often book a business class ticket for nearly the same price you’d normally pay for coach, sort of thing. Plus, if it’s a very busy city and hotel rooms are hard to come by, sometimes you can get hotels to cough up a room without a reservation or give you an upgrade.

    This is going to sound fairly evil, but is it possible to send people to conferences in boring cities? There’s one particular very elite conference series in my industry, to which you must be invited or nominated, and the conferences are invariably held in the middle of nowhere, often on small college campuses. They do that on purpose, so you’ll stay focused, but it’s much better for networking than the huge monster conferences in Boston / Orlando / San Diego / New Orleans: at those big conferences you pretty much meet someone for three minutes, exchange business cards, and then promptly forget they exist.

    I’ve also gotten some edicts from management like, “no overseas conferences” and “if you want to go to a conference you must submit a poster or be a presenter.” Honestly you meet more people that way and the contacts you make are…like, higher quality? More likely to not be useless. People come up to you because you share relevant interests, as opposed to drifting by a booth, collecting your pen / magnet / bottle of hand lotion and moving on.

    1. Natalie*

      Shouldn’t the conferences should be picked on the value of the conference itsself and not factor in the actual location at all (unless for some reason the location makes it prohibitively expensive)? Sending people to crappy or boring conferences seems like a waste of money and/or morale points that’s definitely not worth it if your only purpose is to try and disincentive SOs tagging along. Although I don’t go to a lot of conferences, so maybe the quality doesn’t vary as much as I’m assuming.

      1. Lora*

        Yes, that’s sort of what I’m questioning – if employees aren’t getting out of the experience what management wants them to get from it (networking, promoting the company, whatever) then re-examine what type of conferences these are. Send employees to conferences that do achieve those goals. You’re not wrong about the quality varying significantly, often the purpose varies pretty significantly too.

        It really depends on the field, we can’t exactly tell from the letter what these conferences are for. Are they for promoting the company, presenting research, B2B marketing, or simply networking alone? Are there better ways to achieve those things or better conferences? All I can get from the letter is that the manager doesn’t feel there’s ROI to justify the expense of bringing spouses.

    2. Eaarthwalker*

      Some bosses send people to conferences as an “attaboy:” get away from work and the wife and go do some golfing. So conference organizers always schedule events in Las Vegas or Orlando or some place where the hotel is especially spendy because of the tourism opportunities outside of it. Some attendees never see the outside of the hotel because there’s networking breakfast and lunch keynote speaker and evening “meet and greet” or “birds of a feather” sessions that make a conference attendee marathon from 7:00 in the morning until 8:00 or later in the evening every night for a week. It makes sense for conference organizers to want to sell to both groups, the learners/networkers and the boondogglers. I’ve watched the same manager jeer dedicated conference goers for being naive about “how to play the game” because they never leave the hotel and then upbraid his golfers for not attending expensive sessions. Managers should decide what they expect and provide some guidance before the event. That’s the issue here, isn’t it, rather than whether a spouse goes?

    3. The Other Katie*

      Sending people to conferences in boring cities can be stymied by the fact that conference organisers pick interesting cities so more people come :)

      1. Lora*

        True, although mostly I’ve seen it related to the size of the city and their facilities more than anything else. For a 25,000+ participant conference, you don’t have a lot of options that can support the logistics: Boston, NYC, New Orleans, San Diego, Orlando. Those cities have giant conference centers and have services (hotels, shuttle buses, public transit, major airports) to support that many people coming and going.

        Not that I’m a big fan of trying to drag a suitcase full of presentation materials from Penn Station to the Javits Center, but at least they have a venue that can serve overpriced lukewarm meals to 25,000 people.

  36. Kate*

    OP4: I’ve recruited at a lot of different college job fairs for several different orgs, so I know what you’re talking about. Other commenters have great points about how students have different motivations in attending job fairs. A couple other things to consider:

    When a job fair is in a college setting, sometimes students are more inclined to think of it as a learning opportunity instead of a networking or pre-interview event. Especially if it’s their first time at a job fair, they may think of it as practice or a chance to see what a job fair is like, and not as the real deal.

    If it’s obviously not a match, it’s fine to wrap up the conversation quickly. “Oh, you’re studying llama wrangling, that must be interesting. Our focus is on hiring teapot designers, decorators, and finishers, so we typically can only considerate candidates who’ve majored in those subjects or have interned in those fields. It sounds like we’re not going to be a good fit for what you’re looking for. I appreciate your stopping by, though. I hope you enjoy the rest of the job fair!”

    And finally, remember that like all other potential candidates, these students are talking to one another. You might talk to someone who seems entitled or clueless or just like a total dud, but their roommate or BFF or lab partner could be awesome. These job fairs aren’t only for you to find candidates. They’re also PR for your company targeted at potential customers and employees.

    1. OP4 career fair*

      I like your wording to the llama wranglers. I’m going to have to store that away somewhere.

  37. Kimberly*

    #1 – About the extra cost, could you have a rule that only 1 car per every 4 employees can be reimbursed. We have a rule like that in my district, and it was strictly enforced. I had to sign a paper saying I wouldn’t ask for reimbursement or hold the district liable for damage to my car a few years ago. I lived 10 miles from the conference. To ride in the “official car” would have meant driving/riding in a car for a total of 140 miles in a day. (3o miles from my house to school, 40 miles to conference, 40 miles back to school, and 30 miles home).

  38. Oryx*

    OP #1, you talk about the employees you manage getting to take advantage of the travel but not you yourself so I’m curious if you ever get to travel for work to fun places and take a significant other (or even a friend, like a coworker has done when she traveled to London). If you don’t have reason to travel to these destination locations, I’m wondering if some of your complaints are really resentment at not being afforded the same opportunities?

    This is super common in my industry. Where I work, almost everyone has, at least once, taken an SO on a work trip. When our national conference was in Orlando a couple years ago, multiple employees who were there for work stayed a few days and went to Disney or Universal. When I had a work trip to NYC, my SO joined me but I paid for his flight (and luckily was able to get him on the same flight work had booked for me), we covered the hotel room for the extended stay, all meals were paid separately and I expensed mine but he was on his own, etc.

    That said, I know the conversation has come up before here about employees who don’t get to travel for work seeing it as an unfair advantage because they see it as work paying for a person’s flights to Disney World (as an example). The fact that the employee is only going there for work doesn’t really seem to enter into their thought process, they just see it as “unfair” and while you don’t mention anyone extending their stay in these cities, I’m wondering if it’s still this concept of it being “unfair” that the employees get to travel with their spouses and only have to pay for one half of the couple while work foots the bill for the other half.

    I would look at your travel policy, if you have one. If you don’t, know is the time to draft it up but try not to do so in a way to punish those employees that have been doing this. We tend to have certain mandatory meals and events as a team and SOs aren’t invited to those so if the team building element is important to you, you can build it into the schedule or policy but not everyone wants or likes to network after hours. As an introvert, I need my hours in the evening otherwise I’ll burn out and none of my coworkers will want to be around me after, say, Day 2.

    I would also actually run the numbers on what this is really costing the company versus any projected costs to see if this really is more expensive and, if it is, if that extra expenses is worth possibly wrecking employee morale.

    1. bonkerballs*

      I think there’s a big difference between everyone has done this at least once and everyone on the team does this every time there’s a trip.

  39. Kath*

    For OP#2, check to make sure there isn’t a process you should be considering or a point of view outside your own that can be used to make your projects better. You apparently have some time to make it extra awesome and learn a bit more about the field/company you are working in.

  40. VioletEMT*

    OP1, if you don’t have a formal travel policy outlining what your company will and will not reimburse or pay for when personal travel is added or staff bring guests, then now is the time to do it.

    My company has employees who travel a lot, and there are clear guidelines for personal travel for yourself, and how to make those arrangements, and what the threshold is for flights (e.g., there’s about a small window within which we have flexibility to pick our own flights – that is, within $75 of the cheapest flight, the company will pay, but if the flight you want is >$75 more than the cheapest flight, you have to pay), and if changing your flights around to accommodate your personal travel is at all more than the business fare, then you have to pay the entire overage. There are also guidelines for bringing along spouses/guests, how to get yourselves booked on the same flight, when the company will reimburse things like getting your own rental car or mileage for a personal vehicle, etc.

    You could also formally outline expectations for conference participation – Whether or not spouses are there, which events are your employees expected to attend? What is considered free time? Etc.

    Get your staff’s input as you’re formalizing these policies, and explain that you just want to have everything in writing so that if the top brass start questioning, you have guidelines to point to. This way also, if someone truly DOES start taking advantage of the benefit, you can point to the policy as a way to reign things in.

    Beyond this, I will side with the commenters who say to leave it alone, and examine why it’s bothering you that employees are enjoying themselves during work travel? If they’re getting what they’re supposed to get out of the conference, then why not let them take steps to make the travel experience more comfortable and pleasant?

    1. OP #1*

      Our travel policy gives employees some latitude in booking travel so they can accommodate their work schedule. The policy doesn’t address bringing spouses.

    2. CmdrShepard4ever*

      @VioletEMT when you say you have to book the cheapest flight for your travel do you mean the actual absolute cheapest flight or the cheapest reasonable flight? I’m talking about the cheapest flight is $150 but it leaves at 5 am with a layover putting you in at your destination at 2 pm, vs a direct flight that costs $225 that departs at 10 am and arrives at 1 pm? If my company made me always take the cheapest flight and that routinely required me to depart at 5 am and have a layover my morale would severely drop and I would probably start looking for another job.

      @OP #1 With the flight issue it is certainly reasonable that if booking a flight to accommodate traveling with a spouse cost significantly more the employee should pay the difference. I would just caution you against always using the cheapest price available. To continue with the above example the I think the $225 flight would be reasonable flight for the employee to expense. Now if the employee wants to travel on a direct flight departing at 6 pm (to accommodate their spouse getting out of work) and arrive at 9 pm and that flight costs $300 it would be reasonable to have the employee pay the $75 difference for 300(flight c)-225(flight b), but as an employee I would be upset if work asked me to pay $150 for the difference between 300 (flight c)-150(flight a).

      As for the car pool issue for regional conferences I would hesitate to force people to carpool (via personal car or rental car) with coworkers. i don’t know how far the regional conferences usually are but I feel anything over 1:30 hours in the car with coworkers is a lot to ask. That is not to say I would never choose to carpool with one or two coworkers I particularly get along with really well, but i would not want to be forced to do it. You could certainly encourage people to carpool maybe even provide some kind of incentive. I understand for a regional conferences that cheapest option would be 4 people per car or maybe even 6 or 8 people in a van but I again if I was forced to do this it would lower my morale and I might start looking for another job.

  41. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #2

    There’s nothing wrong with turning work around quickly…as long as it’s accurate and thorough. I have someone who works quickly, but I sometimes find that she’s missed things and I have to have her go back and add more to it. She’s getting better (there’s a learning curve involved), but I definitely give her the side-eye when I know this particular item takes at least an hour or more to complete to the level that’s required and it’s in my email inbox within 15 minutes.

  42. Earthwalker*

    OP 1: I’ve heard a number of women say that travel is difficult for them because their husbands are so unhappy being left alone at home to fend for themselves and I’ve heard men say their wives resent the fact that the husband will go to some fancy place while she stays home keeping house. I’ve also heard of cases where a somewhat jealous spouse left behind is concerned over who the traveler will be with. I know it sounds petty but it can be pretty painful for the traveler. If the manager allows a spouse to go along at no extra cost to the employer, it may mean reduced worries for the employee who will be more willing to do travel.

  43. Manager-at-Large*

    For OP#2 (fast worker) –
    I agree with others that some of this might be that your speed and turn-around time are benefits of being able to single task for them. Others probably don’t have that luxury. In estimating, there is always a difference between the hours of effort a task will take and the estimated date you can deliver it. Right now, you can basically treat them as the same.

    As you get more experience and more work, two things will change. That 6 hour task will take longer when you have to stop and start over a period of a week – it may be 8 hours when you have to take time to get into it each time. When you have more on your plate, finding those 8 hours might mean that you have a turn-around time of 3 days rather than 1 day. Or it may be still a 6 hour task but you cannot start it until next Tuesday.

  44. Liz2*

    Small detail- don’t bring up the car share thing as an “extra expense.” People should be free to travel alone and adding a spouse doesn’t add the expense of a car which would drive anyway. Take the big picture approach.

    1. bonkerballs*

      It does add an extra expense if the employee would have been carpooling with other employees, but now is traveling separately because of the addition of their spouse.

    2. Colette*

      It’s really normal to share a car with coworkers on a business trip, so if they can’t share because they are bringing their spouses, that’s a cost to the business.

      1. Liz2*

        My point is that if you are already “limiting” an expected perk, don’t tighten the belt over the little things. Focus on the real changes and needs of the conference. I would hate carpooling ever, and what if people don’t live within 10 miles of eachother? Make your battles count.

        1. Colette*

          I mean … renting 4x the number of cars + parking + gas is not really a little thing – it’s quadrupling your transportation expenses. And renting a car per person is very much not the norm – the norm is that you share on business trips of this sort. Taking one car doesn’t necessarily have to mean picking everyone up at home – it might mean everyone meets at the office – but it is a normal thing to do.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I think sharing one rental car at the conference/work site to get around is reasonable. But I think forcing employees to share a car/van carpooling (rental or personal) to travel to a conference/work site 4 or 5 hours away is unreasonable. I really like all of my coworkers but being stuck in a car with them for that long would be a pain on top of the actual traveling. I would feel like now I have to be “on” the whole time rather just being myself in the car (singing very loud, listening to all different kinds of music). In that instance I think it would be reasonable for the company to rent 4 cars one for each person or to reimburse mileage for 4 people. If the company really wants to save money it can provide some kind of incentive for people to car pool together for a trip longer than 2 hours.

  45. Samiratou*

    OP #5, I’m sorry. I can assure you that your manager & coworkers are frustrated by the rules + their company’s refusal to just HIRE PEOPLE ALREADY instead of overusing contractors.

    We’re going to lose yet another good developer on a project I’m working on because they’re hitting the 2 years and my company REFUSES TO HIRE THEM and it drives me batshit. It causes months of delays and rework and bringing someone new up to speed and is just ridiculously wasteful. But we must reduce capex in technology, so no FTEs for you! So frustrating.

    1. OP 5*

      Yep, same thing in my department. My supervisor and manager both fought to keep me, and couldn’t get an approved headcount. My supervisor was so sad.

      They’re being awesome about letting me take time for interviews, doctor stuff, etc., but it’s still so hard because they need me and the work isn’t going to magically vanish.

  46. Alienor*

    One of the issues with finishing things too fast is that if your work has to be reviewed by someone else, you may be impacting their ability to get their own work done. For example, in my job I’m the first reviewer in an approval chain, and one of the people directly under me who actually produces the work is dead set on doing everything as quickly as possible. So, they’re whipping out work that isn’t due for a week or more, passing it on to me and then following up every day about whether I’ve reviewed it yet. The thing is, reviewing their work is only part of my job; I have a dozen other things I’m supposed to be doing–including reviewing other people’s work that may be more urgent because the deadline is sooner–and they’re throwing a wrench into things by jumping ahead of schedule. Plus, they’re creating stress for me (because now I have to either drop everything and review their work, or put up with badgering), and for themselves (because they’re anxious about when I’ll get to it). I admire their initiative, but I wish they’d use some of it on literally anything else.

    1. Bea*

      This is a great point to make. Which actually isn’t so much that the person needs to slow down, they just need to realize that after it goes on for review you have to be allowed time!

      I’m fast. I then give others two or three days, check in and get the sense of “yep got it, I’m about 4 days from done.” and don’t pester again until the 4 days have gone by. This is a skill developed from working with customers for so long and learning to go at their pace, not mine.

    2. SallytooShort*

      To me the inappropriate part is the following up daily, which is just rude.

      My boss is very busy. I will sometimes get memos or briefs to him much sooner than the filing deadline. But I don’t expect him to review until closer to the deadline.

      It’s just easier for my workflow to get these done ASAP.

  47. The Other Katie*

    #1, I sometimes travel with my partner on business trips, but the company doesn’t cover any of the cost. I pay for my flights and meals, and we pay for any extra time in the city on our own. Typically, he also attends post-work events as usual, though I sometimes come along for social evenings. The only things he does is book hotel rooms that will sleep two and don’t charge extra and sometimes books a slightly more convenient flight (that still fits in the travel policy). I definitely wouldn’t expect his workplace to pay for my travel, but neither would I expect them to say I had to stay home, unless it was a retreat or training trip or something where he really had to be in work-brain all the time.

  48. Curious Cat*

    #1: My mother travels to conferences a few times a year for work, and often to cities I’ve never been to and want to explore. I sometimes tag along with her, but I pay for my own plane ticket and pay the difference in room upgrade from single to double. She generally goes to the conferences during the day, while I wander the city during the day and then we meet up in the evening for dinner. Of course, on nights when she has team dinners, I find myself something on my own.

    I’d say as long as the +1’s are paying their own way and not interfering in the actual conference duties, then it’s up to the employee’s discretion who they want accompanying them. If it is costing the company extra, it’s totally fine to put down rules & expectations.

  49. TootsNYC*

    That said, it would be an interesting experiment to see what happens if you finish a project, put it aside, and then come back to it with fresh eyes a day or two later. When you do that, are there things you see that you could improve? I

    There are benefits to procrastination–your mind percolates on the ideas while you’re procrastinating.

    I like to make Halloween costumes, and other sorts of gadgety sewing. Just now, I’m supposed to be making a bandolier so my son can carry his Nerf gun around for his college’s Humans Vs. Zombies.

    I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of weeks, and I have completely changed the materials I’ll use, the methods of attachment, and other features.

    If I’d plunged in right away, it would have been MUCH more work, and less satisfactory.

    One secret: I started mentally planning at Christmas, but I knew I wasn’t ready to spend money on materials. But I had actively started thinking. And then I could evaluate, add other info, etc., in the meantime.

    I’m going to put some links down a layer. One of them was written by Adam Grant, who learned that he wrote MUCH more comprehensive and creative papers when he started them, then let them sit, and then came back to them. (Note that he didn’t just “not start, and not think about it.”)

    1. TootsNYC*

      “Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate,” by Adam Grant, The New York Times

      “How to Be a Productive Procrastinator” on NPR

      “According to Research, Procrastinating Can Boost Your Creativity,” by Thomas Oppong
      (Founder @Alltopstartups. Curator at, Columnist at Inc. Magazine. Featured at HuffPost, Business Insider, Quartz, CNBC, Entrepreneur, etc.)

      As Alison points out, some tasks don’t really benefit from that “creative thinking / problem-solving” interlude. It would be interesting to see if you think yours does.

  50. Umvue*

    Re: letter #1 – I think Allison does a great job here delineating the distinction between “is it weird?” and “is it a problem?”

  51. Bowels of Temp*

    LW#5: Your employer is an entitled douchebag. That’s why. Here’s a hint: as a contractor you are NOT valued or appreciated. You are a scapegoat. That’s why you’re not a real employee. You deserve better and I truly hope you find it.

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