telling my coworker not to bring his kids in every week, accepting coffee from my boss, and more

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

1. How do I tell my coworker not to bring his kids to work every week?

I teach at a university and am not on the tenure track. I am in an office with nine other instructors and we only have the illusion of privacy that four-foot-high cubicle walls can give. Recently, another instructor moved into one of the cubicles after having a private office last year. This week I was surprised to see him roll a stroller into the office and then spend the next hour and a half entertaining his two children, one a loud preschooler and the other a very curious and mobile baby. I was trying to get work done, but the loud discussions of snacks, baby burbles, and noise-making electronic toys make it impossible. I eventually gave up and spent some time entertaining the preschooler. As he left the office with his children, my coworker told the preschooler that they all would see me again next week.

I had thought this was a one-time emergency deal, but it sounds like he expects this to be a weekly thing that no one else in the office will have trouble with. The problem is that no one is in charge of the office—we’re in a different location than the department we work for, and academics are notorious for wanting everything to be democratic and to not have policies passed down from on high. I could go work somewhere else when he is in the office, but I don’t want to trade access to my work computer and books for peace and quiet. To make things even trickier, this colleague often works closely with our department chair while I do not. How do I, someone without kids and who appeared to be just fine with having loud children in the office, tell this colleague that this arrangement won’t work?

If it’s very clear that he’s planning to do this weekly (as opposed to just, say, talking nonsense to his child to get them out of there more quickly), speak up now! You could say, “I of course understand if you’re occasionally in a bind with child care, but I’m concerned about the idea of bringing your kids in every week. It was pretty loud and distracting this most recent time and made it tough to focus. I don’t that’s feasible to do weekly.” Or you can wait until it happens again and frame it as, ““I of course understand if you’re occasionally in a bind with child care, but the noise is pretty disruptive when you do. I’m sorry to ask this because I’m sure you wouldn’t be bringing them in if you had other obvious options, but it’s tough to work when they’re here. Is it something you’re planning on doing regularly?” (That’s softer than “don’t do it,” but it’s an option when “don’t do it” isn’t something you have standing to say on your own.)

That said, academia is its own odd bird, and things that would be perfectly reasonable approaches elsewhere often aren’t in academia. Any academics want to weigh in via the comments?

2. How often should I accept my boss’s offer to grab me coffee?

I am in my mid-20s and have been working in a professional environment for close to two years. I am about three months into my current job where I work as a business assistant at a law firm. I report directly to the chairman of the firm, who is very high up and well-respected. We work in a building that has a Starbucks in the lobby. My boss often goes down to grab himself coffee and asks if I would like one myself every once in a while. He offers to everyone in the area and I’ve never seen anyone accept his offer. These are not his direct reports like I am.

My question is: how often is it appropriate to accept a coffee? Sure, it’s less than $3 and not much trouble, especially if he is offering. I’ve accepted once before, but I’m unsure is there is any etiquette that could help me gauge this situation.

I don’t think there’s one definitive answer to this! My personal take is that I wouldn’t take him up on it every time (unless you’re going to start making him the same offer in return sometimes) but it’s fine to accept now and then … but I have no idea how to quantify what “now and then” means. Once a month? Once every third time he offers? Those both sound reasonable to me.

I don’t think you should feel awkward about occasionally saying yes, though. When someone repeatedly offers to do something kind for you, it can be gracious to sometimes take them up on it (if it’s something you’d genuinely like to accept). It can also build more a connection between the favor-offerer and the favor-accepter in a small but not insignificant way.

3. Employee is monopolizing the conference room to get quiet work space

My office is open, but it’s not a new, innovative concept. It’s an old building and this has happened out of necessity. We’re the support team for several businesses downstairs, so it’s never going to happen that we move into a new, more workable space. We all work pretty silently, and keep distractions to a minimum. We also have a large, open event space where we’re all accustomed to taking phone calls and having meetings.

Recently, we’ve added a few employees and the volume level in the office has increased. Most of us have just deployed headphones, until the newbies catch on. (One is our new boss, so it’s not as easy as telling them all to keep it down.) The problem is with one employee, who has taken it upon herself to consistently go work in the event space. She also happens to be the only employee with a laptop she can work off of. But now, that room is never available for anyone else. Unless we ask her to leave, which she always is willing to do — it’s just awkward. I don’t know how to communicate to her that what she’s doing is inconsiderate. It also seems like she should be able to work in there if she wants to, and it seems petty of me considering the majority of the time that space is vacant. Am I being unreasonable?

If she’s always willing to leave when the space is needed for something else, it doesn’t sound like this is really a problem. Open offices can be incredibly difficult for people to work in, and if there’s a mostly unused conference room sitting vacant, there’s no logical reason why she shouldn’t use it, as long as she’s willing to move when needed, which she is. Working in there could be making a major difference in her concentration or her productivity, as well as to her morale.

I know it might seem unfair since other people without laptops can’t do it — but then the solution is for them to ask for laptops so multiple people could use the conference room as a quiet room at the same time, not to stop her from doing it just because others can’t.

If the issue is that you feel awkward or rude asking her to vacate the room, I’d say the solution is for you realize it’s perfectly okay to do that (and she seems to think so too, based on her cheerfully leaving when asked to).

4. When I arrived for my interview, the interviewer told me the job had been changed significantly

I recently applied for a job at a large, well-respected company in an industry that I have a lot of experience with. In the third week after the job posting, the hiring manager contacted me for an interview and told me to expect that the interview would last at least an hour. All seemed fairly normal.

Three days later, I arrived for my interview, and was told point-blank that the job description had drastically changed (“due to some changes in the department”); 50% of the job would now be something that was not in the job description at all, and the person I would be reporting to would be different. While I was still trying to process this (having just sat down), she said, “If at any time you feel you are no longer interested, please let us know so that we don’t waste any time.” She then spent the next 10 minutes telling hair-raising stories about how difficult, exasperating, and stress-inducing the newly added job duties would be (it almost sounded like she was venting about something that was currently her job that would be given to the new hire) and I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

The fact that the job description had been changed on the fly was enough to deep-six my interest in working with this company (quite shocking considering their reputation and stature in the community), although the new job duties sounded pretty miserable too and they certainly didn’t sell me on working in the position. I did try to be polite but eventually had to interrupt to give a very cursory “Thanks for calling me in and here is a little bit about me and my work experience…” but then I quickly wound it up with “…and I’m sorry, but I don’t feel I’m the right person for this position as you describe it.” I added that I wished them luck in filling the position and that it might be a difficult search to find someone willing to take on such apparently demanding duties. (They said, “Don’t worry, we have a large applicant pool to go through.” I wonder if they had kept the truth from all their other applicants as well?)

I shook hands with everyone and even politely commended them on their honesty, but I also left with sour feelings too: they never once apologized for the bait-and-switch, and I had spent considerable time preparing for the interview, driving in to the interview site, arranging time off my current job, etc. It had been three weeks since the job was posted and three days since they called me in for an interview; could they not in the meantime have sent a heads-up email about how the job description had actually substantially changed and to ask if I was still interested? Am I off base for expecting that kind of consideration from a prospective employer, or is this just the way things are in the work world these days?

Yes, they should have told you beforehand so you could have decided if you were still interested or not. But while it’s reasonable to be annoyed, sometimes this stuff happens. Who knows, maybe they just nailed down the changes the night before. It’s better than if they’d interviewed you and then changed the job a week later — or worse, after hiring you.

In any case, yes, it’s annoying. But it’s also not cause for extrapolating any larger messages about the work world these days. It’s just one annoying situation that wasn’t perfectly handled.

5. Cover letters that say working there has always been a dream

Does it sound disingenuous to say that working somewhere has always been a dream? For instance, I’m a journalist and have a few publications where I have always wanted to work and/or be published (some big, like The New Yorker, but others small). In a cover letter, I would, of course, also elaborate on why I love their work and why I think it’s a particularly good fit for me — but I do that in every job application, regardless of how much I want the job. I know the New Yorker is everyone’s dream, but if I were to apply to some of the smaller publications that probably are not aspirational for every writer, does it sound childish to explain how important they are to me?

If it’s something like the New Yorker, don’t say it at all. They already know, because it’s true for so many people, and it’ll come across as slightly naive to say it.

If it’s a smaller place where it’s a much less common dream, it’s fine to spend a line or two on why you’d be so delighted to work for them — but just a line or two. They do want to know that you’re interested in working for them specifically, but that doesn’t require a lot of space to explain. They’re much more interested in hearing about why you’d excel at the role, and that’s where the bulk of your letter should focus.

{ 341 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    I think the approach for OP#1 makes sense (or at least it would make sense in my department). If the instructors were in offices and not cubicles, I think it would be a more difficult conversation. But in a shared cube farm? Totally fair game to bring up as a problem.

    That said, if OP’s coworker does not respond to the scripts, OP may have to come up with methods to tolerate the children being present (e.g., headphones, working semi-remotely from a more quiet location). Unfortunately, this doesn’t sound like the kind of issue that OP can send up the chain without there being negative professional repercussions.

    Reply
    1. Engineer Girl

      Couldn’t you just say “Hey Fergus, it’s incredibly hard to concentrate and accomplish work once things go past a certain noise level. Unfortunately, your kids have exceeded that level”.
      It’s really about the noise, not the kids. And it’s reasonable to expect a certain level of quiet at your own desk – even if it is shared space.

      Reply
      1. MK

        Considering the (fairly) recent letter about the woman who brought her baby to a lecture and the volume of commenters who said it was fine, I agree with this. Focus on the noise, not the kids.

        Reply
        1. TechWorker

          That was ‘on the very occasional times childcare falls through’ though, not ‘every week’ & she was hyper aware of leaving if the baby made noise… so I’m not sure really comparable to this?

          Reply
        2. Karen from Finance

          Yeah this is an entirely different situation. The mother was very conscious of the baby, she wasn’t playing with him making noises and such. She left the room whenever it got a bit loud. Not the same at all.

          Reply
        3. Kathleen_A

          I was one of those commenters who said it actually was not fine. :-) Even happy baby noises (and I believe the OP mentioned that there were some of those) are pretty distracting in a work environment – though not, of course, nearly as distracting as unhappy baby noises. I mean, I love babies and I love happy baby noises, but not when I’m trying to listen to a lecture.
          So anyway, a weekly visit from kids who, of course, cannot possibly be quiet for hours at a time is just not sustainable.

          Reply
              1. Vicky Austin

                But what if they’re smart enough to attend as a student? What if they did really well on their GRE’s?

                (Kidding, of course.)

                Reply
                1. VelociraptorAttack

                  I presume this is the next stage of hyper-competitive parenting. My baby can definitely ourscore your baby on the GRE!!

      2. Hi there

        I agree with this approach. In my experience faculty balk at being told what to do, so OP1 might want to appeal to a higher value, like getting work done, when addressing the noise issue. Suggesting another place for the faculty member to take the children may not work, although a cafe on campus could be a great spot for weekly office hours with two little ones in tow. This may also be a case where the other lecturers in the cube area want to band together and get some strength in numbers before addressing the issue.

        Reply
      3. Rock Prof

        I also think a focus on noise is the way to go. It might feel different to the parent since they’re in their office, but most faculty and students I’ve known who’ve had to bring their kids to campus for whatever reason tend to be somewhat heightened to their kids being distracting and noisey. Of course, this parent could be completely oblivious, too.

        Reply
      4. JSPA

        It’s not only noise, though. It’s worrying about little hands in pinch points of your desk and chair, little heads behind your chair, under the desk near your feet, paperclips or other choke hazards you may drop that can bounce. It’s also uncovered sneezes or even puking. It’s the hot coffee you can’t set near the edge of your desk, and all the cords that would destroy equipment (or at least the document you’re working on) if pulled. An active toddler in an office isn’t the same problem as a burbling lap baby in a lecture. It may be against safely regs for the kids to be there more – than – incidentally. And I’d bring up the safety issue with the parent.

        Reply
        1. Rock Prof

          I don’t think anyone is saying those aren’t problems (having a 2 year old, I know all about those myself) but just that focusing on the noise makes the most sense as the starting point to bring it up with the colleague.

          Reply
        2. Parenthetically

          As a parent of an EXTREMELY active toddler, those safety issues are certainly at the forefront of my mind! You are absolutely right, and Fergus cannot ask coworkers to kidproof their cubicles against a “very mobile” baby and a curious preschooler. He just cannot.

          That said, I agree that it’s best to start from the noise angle, because it’s the most obviously and continuously intrusive to the entire office. I think you could mention the safety stuff as an aside — “…and that’s not even to mention the fact that an office full of academics and their coffee and pushpins and computer cords and paperclips could be really unsafe for a baby and preschooler…” kind of thing, though.

          Reply
          1. CMart

            I wouldn’t mention the hazards. I’m also a parent of a pretty active toddler and also have those safety issues at the forefront of my mind and I would be pretty ticked off/dismissive of someone reminding me that little kids aren’t safe around open coffee mugs. Gosh, thanks. I only work really hard to keep my baby alive pretty much every waking minute but gee, I hadn’t considered the paperclips. It would annoy me enough that I probably wouldn’t care whatever else the person was saying or asking of me in the moment.

            That said I’m much more inured to the noise–it’s very possible that sometimes my kid is being disrupting and I haven’t noticed because “toddler noises” are essentially the same as humming fluorescent lighting these days. So someone saying my daughter’s happy chattering was actually quite distracting would mortify me and I’d be very apologetic.

            I’m not saying my reaction to being reminded of hazards is right or good, just that’s what it would be.

            Reply
            1. JSPA

              Hm, I don’t think it’s actually reasonable to expect that everyone else will be able to 100% ignore how what they do could affect the safety of your kids, just because they’re yours. Furthermore, there’s no clear divide between a hazard to the kid and a hazard to OP. If the kid unexpectedly gets leverage on some cords and pulls, they could bring something down on their head, but they could also pull the power on OP’s computer or knock OP’s glasses onto the floor. Being a parent does not turn someone into a minor deity, able to forestall all bad outcomes. A parent is a human being much like any other, just with more distractions, less sleep, and several competing job descriptions. It’s not about being a good or bad parent There WILL be moments when something’s off your radar, and you don’t even notice other people taking up the slack. (As you will do, in your turn, when yours are older, and you see a frazzled young parent.)

              Reply
              1. CMart

                Oh, I’m totally with you on the practicalities!

                My comment was speaking more toward how someone “reminding” a parent that a place might be hazardous for children could be taken as needlessly patronizing. Parents know when things are hazardous, they just choose to take that into consideration or not. OP’s colleague clearly thought the risks of laptop cords, coffee mugs, pushpins etc… weren’t enough to warrant not bringing the kids by. Not that he didn’t realize they would be hazards.

                Or maybe he’s an idiot, but my money is on that he was fully aware and just didn’t care.

                Reply
            2. Jasnah

              The thing is, I don’t think anyone bringing up the hazards is doing it to mean, “Hey, I suspect you don’t know this, but actually babies are fragile? Also did you know water is wet?”

              They mean, “I’m not childproofing my office so that you don’t have to pay for a nanny. So keep the kids here at your own risk.”

              Reply
          2. JSPA

            But you don’t want Fergus to buy you a super nice pair of headphones and expect that the problem is solved–which it would be, if the main distraction was the noise. You want office space to not be kid space on a regular basis. Also, you presumably don’t want Fergus to get in big trouble, which might happen if in fact it is not OK, for safety reasons, to have kids there. And of course, you don’t want the kids to get hurt.

            Reply
      5. MusicWithRocksInIt

        The electronic toys I especially think you should be able to veto. It is one thing if he is trying to keep the kids quite, but loud electric sounds in a quite office space are especially rude. He’s not even trying to be considerate. Could you band together with other people in the cube farm for this? Six people requesting he take the kids elsewhere will come across more strongly than one.

        Reply
        1. Gazebo Slayer

          Yeah, I’m just thinking of yesterday’s monkey toy! Sadly, the loud electronic toys make me think this coworker is either totally oblivious or the sort of parent who is going to be Very Offended that you would *dare* suggest their precious little cupcake modify their behavior.

          Reply
      6. Snark

        Concurred. Having worked in a shared bullpen, it’s not a great environment for productivity anyway, but kid-noise would be very difficult, particularly when doing a bunch of grading or lesson prep or something else that requires a decent amount of focus.

        I’m not ssure I particularly agree that it’s the noise, not the kids, because the two travel together. Do not bring kids to a place where quiet and focus are needed and expected.

        Reply
        1. RUKidding

          “I’m not ssure I particularly agree that it’s the noise, not the kids, because the two travel together.”
          _This is something that needs reiterating…

          “Do not bring kids to a place where quiet and focus are needed and expected.”
          _Hard agree.

          Show of hands…

          Who all responds to/looks up/pays attention/etc. when they hear “Mom(my)” or “Dad(dy)?”

          You have a child doing that over and over…and they will, that’s multiple interruptions to pretty much everyone the entirety of the children’s visit.

          Reply
          1. Artemesia

            Toddlers, the worst. Just can’t have them in the office. Even in a private office is dicey but certainly not in shared space. The 8 year old who sits in a corner and reads a book — I’m okay with that on occasion.

            Reply
          2. Ego Chamber

            Not a parent/will never be a parent/I just plain don’t like small kids or babbies and I still look when one of them says “Mom(my)” or “Dad(dy)” in a public space because I want some confirmation that “Mom(my)” or “Dad(dy)” is handling their shit instead of ignoring it (or is at least nearby).

            I used to go to a college in another state with a gorgeous campus library that a lot of people mistook for drop-off daycare for some reason. People would plunk their kids down, hand them a book and some toys and then hurry off to class—there were multiple signs on the walls and at the entrance that said not to do this, but broke college students will do all kinds of stupid/rude things that convenience other people, you know?

            Reply
    2. Sympathetic

      I agree. We academics don’t much like being told what to do, but most of us are pretty humane. And adjunct faculty who are sharing office-space under conditions like these are usually really sensitive to working conditions. I’d think it’s pretty likely that the other person just doesn’t recognize how disruptive the kids are and would try to minimize that once they know.

      And if they don’t want to hear it from you, next time it happens, ask another faculty member or a student out in the hallway to poke their head in the door at some point, say, “Oh, that’s what I was hearing from down the hall. I couldn’t imagine why I could hear somebody’s kids!”

      Reply
      1. Pippa

        I agree about the humaneness – most of us realise that we’re all working with resources more limited than would be ideal, especially space and money. When people have brought their kids into my department, it’s been on rare occasions and met with a combination of tolerance and quiet grumbling about the noise. Doing it regularly would be widely seen as unacceptable.

        When I was a grad student, our one small shared office space was occasionally taken by a professor who put his kids down to nap there. This got him an instant and universal reputation as an arrogant, inconsiderate prick. If the offender were a peer rather than someone senior, the social dynamics would be different but it would still be unacceptable. The only way shared space works is if everyone is considerate. Someone should just say to OP1’s colleague, “hey, if the kids are in here it’s really disruptive, so this isn’t going to work.” Doesn’t have to be a confrontation, just a gentle pointing out of the bleeding obvious. Social correction is probably a better tool here than higher authority or official policy.

        Reply
        1. Consuela Schlepkiss

          That is absolutely enraging. I imagine you were funded by your program, which means he was interfering with your ability to earn a living. That’s not acceptable.

          Reply
          1. So long and thanks for all the fish

            Eh- you can’t go that far. I’m a grad student and we have a professor who does this as well, unfortunately (though much less often- it’s only happened to us about twice a year). There are a ton of places nearby to work, so people go to the lounge down the hall, an empty classroom, or the next building over- it’s just inconvenient and quite rude of the professor.

            Reply
        2. Parenthetically

          Your script is excellent. Cosigned.

          Also cosigned on Consuela’s rage about that jagoff professor, literally what the hell.

          Reply
        3. RUKidding

          Yes! No beating around the freaking bush.

          “This will not work. You need other arrangements.”

          Personally I think if it bothers even *one* colleague (in this case OP) that should be sufficient to veto him doing this on the regular.

          Reply
    3. Consuela Schlepkiss

      OP#1: A major issue for me having been in a bullpen office in grad school is what happens if students need to come to office hours and there are small children running around. If a student is coming to my office hours, generally it is because they are having a problem, sometimes related to disability accommodations, or I am trying to curb the behavior of someone who is talking too much in class, etc. I do not feel I would be able to offer students what they need if there are small kids running around. I’ve just had too many occasions where students are coming in because of really big issues to feel good about having certain conversations in front of kids. It’s a lot easier to ask a colleague to vacate or something for a few minutes if it’s just them than it is if they have to pack up the kids and all their crap.

      The LW may have more success framing this as an issue of meeting student needs, which is a major, major focus for someone who is NTT. There is a lot less room to wiggle in being able to maintain one’s position if you don’t have a tenure-track job.

      If you do go the route of suggesting that a student could be paid to babysit, suggest a student who is not enrolled in the colleague’s class, otherwise that can get into weird territory.

      Reply
      1. blackcat

        FYI, when we were getting redesigned offices, we successfully used FERPA to push back on a full on bullpen arrangement. Instead we have low walled cubes with tiny (2 seat) meeting rooms scattered about. They have glass walls but are pretty sound proof.

        “We can’t legally discuss a students grade in earshot of others, and we need to be able to have those conversations with our students. How can we find a solution that lets us follow the law?” was highly effective. It came first from the grad students, then from the our faculty as they pushed for meeting rooms on our behalf. As long as we kept it on “But FERPA” we were not seen as “entitled” but rather as protecting the university.

        Reply
        1. Consuela Schlepkiss

          That would not have been a possibility to rearrange space. We did arrange with officemates to have privacy in that case, so we handled it well within FERPA regulations. I found it preferable to what you describe. But my point here is that OP1 needs to be able to have a conversation with students in accordance with the law, to protect their privacy, and also to protect her ability to keep her job. I am currently adjunct faculty, and both grad students and TT faculty would have more job protections than I would in the event of student complaints, even with an NTT union. Adjunct positions are precarious in ways that others are not.

          Reply
        2. So long and thanks for all the fish

          They solved that problem for us by not allowing us to discuss grades with students at all- we were told to have them go to the instructor of record.

          Reply
    4. kbeers0su

      Most campuses have a policy about when and where minors can be on campus- that’s even the usual title of the policy. So I’d suggest OP check the university policy (usually you can find a register of all university policies online). I also work at a university and ours is several pages long, covering minors who are in the university daycare facilities and when/where/how they’re allowed to travel campus, minors at university events and requirements for parents/oversight/liability insurance, minors in the classroom, etc.

      In addition, I’d check with HR to see if you have a policy. I know that our HR policy clearly says that employee’s children cannot be in the workplace. So it’s not a question of is this coworker “on the clock” (because they could just claim that they’re not when the children are there, but just happen to be inhabiting that space with children), but the fact that children cannot be in the actual office space.

      Reply
      1. Katerina

        Another academic here, and this would be seen as a steep escalation on some campuses. I’d only go this route if talking to the person didn’t work.

        Reply
        1. kbeers0su

          And by citing the existence of such policies I wasn’t saying that OP should walk up to their colleague, hand them a copy of the policy and tell them to take their kids and leave. Or immediately go to HR.

          Pointing out that such policies exist to OP was simply my way of sharing that the OP has options and rights. I find that many folks who work on college campuses are unaware of many of the policies that exist. Universities are notoriously bad at providing any kind of onboarding- especially to adjunct faculty- beyond the basic things they need to teach their class and leave campus.

          I’m generally a fan of people knowing their rights and options up front so that they don’t feel like they’re powerless!

          Reply
      2. Sarah N

        FYI, there is a LOT of pushback among faculty on these sorts of policies as being really anti-family — I think citing a policy like this will probably get you instantly hated by those around you, given how controversial they are. And there is literally no on/off the clock in academia. But I do think it is reasonable to discuss noise and a need to focus or meet with students, given the shared space situation.

        Reply
        1. kbeers0su

          Agreed. Even from students there is push back because life is what it is and sometimes kids need to tag along. But the reality is that policies like this exist because for every 8/10 people who could bring their kids to campus and not interrupt daily business, there are 2/10 who would create disruptions, and at least 1/10 who wouldn’t care about the fact that they’ve created disruptions.

          It’s the same conversations that we have here about any other flex policies- like work from home. Many will use that perk wisely and produce great work, but there’s always someone who doesn’t understand the limits and ruins it for others.

          Reply
        2. JSPA

          That’s a reason to push for reasonable alternatives, especially day care on site. I have no idea how that’s not a title 9 issue, as well as a quality of life issue.

          It’s not a great reason to have your kids someplace where there will be no insurance protections if they’re injured, and where the legal and financial burden for all sorts of bad outcomes (emeritus trips over your kid and falls on their head?) becomes entirely your burden (with doubling down, likely, by the institutions lawyers).

          You’re not bringing up the policy to bully the coworker. You’re bringing it up because it’s something a parent would normally want to know, so they can put their plans in the right context. It may still be safer than the other options, in which case, they will make that decision. But they should know if it’s a risky choice (and many seem to have no clue).

          Reply
      3. Dragoning

        Wait, really? I was a minor for the first year and a half of college! I wonder if I was in areas I shouldn’t have been.

        Reply
        1. AES

          Usually the policies only apply to _unenrolled_ minors since if you’re enrolled you’re accounted for by the school’s insurance policies.

          Reply
      4. WonderCootie

        I was coming here to say the same thing. In our building, we have a no kids rule. The administration has taken a hard line on it because of safety. Of course, people were letting their kids hang out in their wet labs unsupervised, so our policy is a bit more strict than most of the rest of campus. LOL.

        Reply
    5. Doodle

      Not so– the OP can indeed go up the chain one level at least — see my comment below. Very very unlikely that OP would be fired over this, and OP already has a crappy office situation, so it’s not like OP can be punished with a bad office…

      Reply
      1. So long and thanks for all the fish

        OP is a non-tenure track instructor- they can simply not renew her contract and she’ll be out of a job.

        Reply
          1. MM

            I think people who aren’t in academia (or very close with others who are) really have no idea about how the employment system works, and probably should be very cautious about commenting.

            Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        This is simply not a request a non-tenure-track faculty member could make in my department, especially if their peer is good friends with the department chair.

        I doubt OP would be fired for taking it up the chain, but if there’s no security of employment (as is the case for many pre-presumptive-renewal contract faculty/lecturers), it would be quite easy to engage in low-level forms of retaliation other than bad office space that can make OP’s life miserable (e.g., no office space or more people sharing your space; diminished clerical support; denial of access to funding or professional development opportunities, including conferences; trouble adjusting or receiving your teaching schedule or room reservations; increased teaching or advising loads). Our non-tenure-track faculty are unionized, and there’s still a number of terrible things that can be done before a grievance is adjudicated.

        And worst case scenario, the school could decline to renew OP’s teaching contract for the upcoming term or lower OP’s teaching load to levels at which OP receives even less compensation (if OP’s gig is like our university, they’re already earning too little for their work), which could make the job untenable.

        Reply
        1. Academic staff

          Agreed. That point is what stood out to me. It isn’t fair, but I work in academia and the harsh truth is that if the other lecturer is friends with the department chair and you aren’t, there’s a big professional risk in making a big deal about it. There are tons of people in my department who have unusual child care arrangements, including our chair, and complaining about it could easily get you flagged. Not that they would consciously decide to not rehire you based on that, but it might make them more likely to go with someone else. And the chair has a lot of control over funding for projects, etc. Again, not that they would consciously deny you funds, but academia is weird and often very connections driven.

          Even if it ends up actually being once a week, if it’s just for 1.5 hours I’d probably suck it up and just work somewhere else or take lunch during that time. (Assuming you like your job)

          Reply
    6. wittyrepartee

      If it’s going to be a regular thing, maybe it makes the most sense for OP1 to ask for a heads up, and just schedule lunch or something mindless like grading short answer questions during that time.

      Reply
    7. Dr. Doll

      There’s probably a university policy about unofficial guests on campus as well, although that’s the nuclear option.

      Can I just apologize to *every* grad student in the Big U economics dept carrell farm for my kid like behavior when my mom was in a similar bind 40 years ago? So sorry, y’all… didn’t get it, at age 10.

      Reply
      1. Dr. Cubicle Farm

        OP here—thanks for all of the advice and sympathy! The update is that the kids haven’t been back, so I think my colleague realized this wasn’t workable on his own. But I’m definitely keeping AAM’s scripts and your advice in my back pocket should I need them.

        Reply
        1. Sara without an H

          Hello, OP#1 — I think we can all agree that the real culprits are the family-hostile attitude of much of higher education and the exploitation of adjunct faculty. I sympathize with your colleague, and I hope he’s been able to find some more appropriate care arrangement for his children. (He’s probably grateful that you spent some time entertaining his pre-schooler. I’ve known academics who would have eaten the kid.)

          If it comes up again, Allison’s scripts about noise issues are probably the way to go, although concern for the children’s safety could also be a legitimate talking point. Just keep your tone sympathetic.

          Reply
          1. Dr. Cubicle Farm

            Yes! Thank you for the comment about the real enemy—the more time I spend in academe, the more I remember that my students and colleagues are never the enemy. I felt icky even asking this question because being contingent faculty and having kids is so tough.

            Reply
        2. Narise

          One thing I wanted to point out. The colleague is not working when his kids are present. You are working and that takes priority in an office environment. Please keep this in mind because what you are asking for is not unreasonable.

          Reply
      2. Tisiphone

        Every time I hear about parents bringing their kids to work for several hours, I feel sorry for the kid. I was a hyperactive toddler and an easily-distracted older kid. I’d be bored out of my mind and be exploring the campus every chance I got.

        Reply
    8. Else

      The worst part is that they said they ended up playing with the kid in self-defense, and the parent was basically just planning on this happening again out loud TO THE CHILD. This jerk is expecting the LW to help occupy his kids, because the LW was present and wasn’t able to ignore the disruption.

      I don’t think the LW is going to be able to do anything about it other than plan to be absent, either, though – 90 to 1 that parent isn’t going to respond to polite requests because he can’t think of anything else to do about taking care of his kids during that time period. Not until someone more senior is bothered and has the weight to push a change.

      Reply
  2. sheworkshardforthemoney

    Most universities have seating/eating rest areas scattered all over the campus. Can OP#1 ask that the childcare be moved to one of these areas? They can point out the advantages to the parent, more space to explore and closer to washrooms and other distractions that aren’t an office space. Or if the campus has an on-site childcare centre, maybe a drop in visit there if that is allowed by the centre.

    Reply
    1. Dr J

      Yes, in fact, most departments have faculty lounges that are not usually occupied (except for people making a coffee run or heating up lunch). I think there would be lots of options that OP#1 could suggest as alternate locations.

      Reply
      1. Chocolate lover

        My academic building does not have faculty lounges. If you’re lucky, you might occasionally find an empty conference room, but those are also limited. There are definitely other locations on campus one could go to, but that could make it harder for students to find you when needed.

        Reply
        1. MusicWithRocksInIt

          And if a student did need to find him then what? There is no way he would be able to give them any kind of attention while trying to keep a toddler and a baby both contained and entertained. Lets not pretend he’s getting any kind of work done in this time.

          Reply
      2. Doodle

        Ha ha, no way the faculty will be happy to have kids in their lounge, if there is one. Co-worker with kids is unlikely to be tenured or tenure-track faculty, having been moved out of a single office into the cube hell.

        Reply
        1. Gingerblue

          Enh, this was pretty normal in my department. On a snow day you were likely to find at least one department kid hanging out in the shared lounge. Depends on the department culture.

          Reply
      3. Rusty Shackelford

        And then we’ll get the letter from the person who wanted to peacefully eat lunch in the faculty lounge but couldn’t because KIDS.

        Reply
        1. So long and thanks for all the fish

          Nobody peacefully eats lunch in the faculty lounge- the faculty lounge is there for socializing, and in my department nobody ever uses it other than to store their lunch.

          Reply
    2. zaracat

      Yep, I’d be saying something along the lines of “It was lovely to meet your children the other day, but it was a bit hard to concentrate on my own work because the noise really does carry in such an open area. If having them here is going to be a regular thing, it might make sense for you to find somewhere to hang out with them that’s away from the main work area – maybe [suggestion]”

      Reply
      1. Dr. Cubicle Farm

        OP here. I’ve been brainstorming suggestions for other places and a friend Hs also offered their more private space as an alternative for my colleague. The good news is that the kids haven’t been back yet, but I’m strategizing in case they return.

        Reply
        1. Quandong

          Strategizing in case they return is an excellent plan.

          Because I’m a woman, I have on more than one occasion been expected to entertain or engage with young children brought to work by my male colleagues (or male people who shared the workspace). Obviously this affected my ability to work and it wasn’t fair, but it happened.

          I hope you have plenty of strategies at hand for future use.

          Reply
    3. Hannah

      I’m wondering whether the parent is holding office hours during that time (office hours that he knows students won’t really show up for, but that he’s mandated to have, maybe mandated to have in his actual office, although I’ve never known that to be a thing…I held office hours in the campus coffee shop/student center when I hated my office or it was hard to find).

      Still, I’d raise it as an issue, and see how it goes. If this is just what the parent does and isn’t willing to move, I’d decamp for 90 minutes once a week.

      Reply
    4. Rock Prof

      While it’s a great idea, very few campus actually have drop in day cares. Even if they did, it might still be prohibitively expensive for non-tenure instructors.

      Reply
        1. Frozen Ginger

          I’m going to push back on your “enlightened” comment. I don’t want to derail the discussion, but that kind of snide remark is not helpful.

          Reply
        2. Marty

          My enlightened country with nearly-fully subsidized healthcare *and* childcare does not offer drop-in space at on campus, it is reserved for full-time students and staff only. As an instructor, I still had to scramble to find drop-in care for occasional use.

          OP, I agree with others about the noise and not the children. Bringing up the children could really backfire as many academics are also perceived to dislike children (there’s a skewed ratio of childfree to parents due to extended travel/study/choices). I’m not saying it’s right but it’s a perception of some academics that are parents. So, just be mindful of this and focus on the noise issue as if he was blaring a radio or something.

          Reply
        3. Crivens! (Formerly Katniss)

          I’m gonna be a non-defensive American and say you are correct in this, the USA is way less enlightened than we like to pretend to be, especially when it comes to accommodating the actual costs of childcare.

          Reply
          1. Marty

            Drop-in childcare IMO is much more available and accommodating in the USA. I’m on a business trip next week and I was blown away by the availability of drop-in childcare, I’m assuming because sick leave/PTO is less available.

            We (meaning non-Americans with universal-type/mat leave childcare systems) don’t really have access to drop-in childcare. If your child is sick or the other parent can’t help for XYZ reason, then you’re scrambling for family/Facebook strangers/the occasional dayhome with an absentee/call in sick. This is especially true for campus childcares, there is NO option of drop-in for any that I’ve seen, and I’ve dragged my babies to several Canadian university conferences in desperation to find one.

            I realize this is super off topic now sorry.

            Reply
            1. wittyrepartee

              This is really dependent on location though. From my friend’s reports, in the Bay Area you’d probably have to knife fight at least 3 other parents for a spot at a drop in daycare.

              Reply
              1. Kimmybear

                Same in DC. But given the number of lawyers and politicians, we battle with lawsuits and government shutdowns rather than knives. ;)

                Reply
        4. madge

          Agreed, in my experiences in one major city, then one decent-sized Big 12 college town. As for campus daycare, the wait list is absurd and there is no drop-in option. When I found out I was pregnant, I checked availability. It was 2+ years long. I seethe with envy when (p)maternity leave and childcare in many other countries are discussed.

          OP, I’m glad you haven’t had to deal with the issue again. Maybe someone else beat you to the conversation with your colleague.

          Reply
          1. CmdrShepard4ever

            Just curious do you need to have a child to get on the wait list or can you put yourself on the wait list if you are already planning for a family?

            Reply
    5. Elizabeth Proctor

      I was going to say the same. He should take the kids to the cafeteria. And when the weather is nice, outside.

      Reply
  3. neverjaunty

    OP #2: say yes and thank you. This sort of thing at law firms is very normal. Unless you start acting like you expect it, you’re fine.

    Reply
    1. MK

      Yes, that has been my expoerience with the legal profession as well. When I worked in a law office, the lawyers often treated the junior lawyers and the rest of the staff, and it’s even more prelevant in courthouses: judges are expected to offer coffee to the secretary of the bench, the more junior judges of the panel, also the jurors and the state attorney, if they take part in the hearing, etc.

      Reply
      1. Amber Rose

        Paying is usually implied for little things like coffee. I sometimes offer, if I have change, but I’m almost always turned down.

        Reply
        1. Jess

          I think that’s a good way to do it – accept the offer, and have some change handy on your desk or in a drawer. You can go to offer it – “Oh thanks! Here, I’ve got a $5 just here…” and it lets the person making the offer either wave it away, or accept it.

          (I think you do need to have the cash reasonably to hand – very awkward to keep someone standing waiting while you rummage in the depths of your handbag!)

          Reply
    2. BetsyTacy

      I’m not at a law firm, but I have had good assistants who I don’t want to lose. I want them to know that they’re genuinely appreciated. While I can’t give them extra vacation days or triple their pay, I do what I can which is stuff like offer to grab them a coffee and be flexible with time off.

      Reply
    3. Dagny

      While it is wrong to feel entitled to treats from higher-earning people, I will point out that the partner in a law firm is likely pulling down literally ten times what his business assistant makes. The $2.50 coffee is something he’s probably happy to pay for in order to make her feel appreciated.

      Reply
    4. Ginger Baker

      Came here to say this. “Don’t say yes every time” is a fine rule to apply to your coworker offering you coffee occasionally (or “make sure it evens out with you offering too”) and a terrible one to apply to your Boss Who Makes Minimum Five Times What You Do. Trust me, your boss is very aware that for him this is an easy-peasy no-big-deal expense and for staff (and more junior lawyers, to an extent) NOT a “sure, I can treat you every day” thing to offer in return. This falls FIRMLY under Gifts Flow Down; smile, say yes, and appreciate the gesture as well as that you are helping prop up your boss’ excuse to stretch his legs and get away from conference calls for a few minutes.

      Reply
    5. Oh So Very Anon

      HAH! This reminds me of my first “real” job. My boss asked me, “Would you like to go for coffee?” I replied, “No thanks.” He said, “Um… we need to have a meeting. Let’s go get coffee.”

      Oh…

      Reply
    6. lawyers are the worst

      Agreed. I do this for my assistants and I’m a government lawyer. Kind of an unspoken expectation around here.

      Reply
    7. Mercurial

      I’d add: it’s also good form to keep it relatively simple. Don’t ask for a venti soy half whip triple shot extra caramel low fat extra cream frothy chilled no chocolate latte (probably nonsense as I don’t drink coffee but you get the gist ).

      Reply
  4. Essie

    #5 I would focus more on demonstrating deep knowledge of the publication and their readership. What do they do well and why would you be a good fit for being part of that?

    Reply
    1. Judy Seagram

      Agreed. I think you could mention having paid attention to their organization for a long time, or some such. But referring to it as a “dream” probably doesn’t help.

      I work for an organization that has a good reputation in my field, but as an insider I see all sorts of serious dysfunction that an outsider wouldn’t. So when people apply with comments about our stellar reputation I just give off a bitter internal chuckle. Every organization has its strengths and weaknesses, and the “dream” employer has the same feet of clay as anyone else.

      Reply
      1. Shirley Keeldar

        Similar experience here–I once worked for an industry that many young people (myself included) dream about getting into. The trouble it, I spent the first six months or so of my employment getting rid of all my preconceptions and ideas about why it was a dream to work there and figuring out how to actually get stuff done.

        So I got it when young assistants would apply for jobs and talk about how it was their dream to work there. It had been my dream too. But it didn’t help me in actually working there, you know? And it wouldn’t help them either. So while I didn’t blame them for having that dream, it wasn’t a help to their application either.

        Reply
  5. Talbot

    OP3 – I like Allison’s advice, with the caveat that your neither your coworker nor anyone else in the office get in the habit of viewing it as HER office. I’ve been in a similar situation where the interloper got very territorial, and others sort of let him. Looking back, I still don’t know how that could have been handle proactively without seeming petty, but I think it is something you should be vigilant about.

    Reply
    1. KP

      I sensed resentment is building over a combination of things: 1) the coworker is the only one with a laptop, enabling her to 2) consistently go work in the large, open event space where her entire team is accustomed to taking phone calls and meetings.

      “But now, that room is never available for anyone else.”

      Yes, everyone else could ask for laptops too. Yes, everyone else could continue to have to ask her to leave every single time anyone else on the team wishes to take a phone call.

      But somehow it does seem like the main issue still has not been addressed? Or is it just me? Does it not seem weird to anyone else that one employee can essentially turn the only space the entire team uses for phone calls into her personal full-time office, forcing every single person to ask to use what space used to be available to them too?

      Reply
      1. Lady Jay

        As somebody who is more noise-sensitive than many of her peers, I have a lot of sympathy for the woman taking the conference room. I’m hesitant to say that her using the conference room is this big serious problem because (gasp!) it’s making other people ask (!!!) for something.

        That said, I’d agree that the the main problem hasn’t been addressed: it’s the increased noise level, and it’s not reasonable that the newcomers will magically learn to be a little quieter when nobody actually tells them this. Is there an appropriate, respectful way to communicate to the newcomers, new boss in particular, that office culture is to be a little quieter?

        Reply
        1. Blue

          I assumed OP meant “until they get a better handle on their jobs and don’t need to ask questions/get pointers as often.” If she meant it the way you read it, then, yes, hoping they magically start to get quieter is unrealistic.

          Reply
          1. Ego Chamber

            It won’t be magic, it will be the natural result of having every attempt at polite chitchat with your colleagues shut down with frosty politeness and a redirect to work matters or a pointed look, a ritualistic donning of noise-cancelling headphones and an irritated sigh. (Ask me how I know.)

            Reply
        2. MusicWithRocksInIt

          I feel like a good time would be if the new boss does a check in (which he should be) and asks how things are going. Then you could say “The noise level has been a lot higher than it used to be, which is making it more difficult to concentrate in such a open area” and see if he takes any action on it? If he doesn’t ever check in maybe bring it up when you have to bring something else to his attention, preferably at a time when you are semi-alone with him.

          Reply
        3. Antilles

          I think it really depends on the reason why the new employees are making more noise. If the noise is primarily due to people moving furniture, asking newbie questions, etc, then it’s reasonable for it to quiet down a bit later on. Similarly, if it’s people who are being completely out of step with the culture (talking across the room, making cell phone calls at their desk, etc), then it might help.
          But if it’s mostly a function of having a larger team, then there’s a limit to how quiet it’ll ever be because every person makes a certain minimum level of noise due to typing/shuffling papers/etc.
          It’s also worth noting that some people are naturally louder than others. If a couple of the new employees are the ‘louder’ sort, then asking them to quiet down might help a little, but they likely won’t ever be as quiet as someone who’s naturally quiet.

          Reply
      2. Traffic_Spiral

        Well, I think the issue was “can you prevent someone from using an office resource just so you don’t have to Use Your Words when you need to use it yourself?” And the answer is, “not without coming across as a jerk.”

        Also, if LW has trouble saying something as acceptable as “hey, I need the room for X time,” s/he’s definitely going to have trouble saying “hey, can you just not use the room so that on the off chance I need to use it for a bit, I don’t have to ask you?”

        Reply
        1. Someone Else

          I interpreted this differently. For the LW, sure, she seems to have so far not had a problem asking the laptop-user to vacate when needed, but others may not realize they even CAN ask the person to vacate. It’s not about not having to Use Your Words, it’s being under the impression the room is Occupied and thus Not Available. I suppose if it’s all day every day, it’d become more obvious that she’s just ducking into the room for quiet when it’s unused, and not…on some big project or a conference call and asking using the room for its intended purpose. But I think for me, and probably others, unless the laptop-user ever said she was going in there for quiet, it wouldn’t occur to me to ask her to leave in the moment. I’d just think “well crap, the room’s not available”. Although should lead to some sort of room-reservation process, in which case you can totally boot someone because you booked the room three weeks ago for today from 1-3 or whatever. But I think it’s reasonable that the LW finds it awkward that one individual is regularly camping out in a shared space. Even if she’s chill when asked to vacate, if you’re going to have to ask someone to vacate the room every time you need it, that gets tiresome.
          The bigger issue of Why Is The Office Now Too Loud All The Time should be addressed sooner than later.

          Reply
          1. So long and thanks for all the fish

            Yeah, I agree- I probably would also just mentally mark the room Occupied and go outside or whatever with my phone call. Possibly an ask vs guess culture gap (person assumes if someone else needs the room, they’d ask, other people assume she wouldn’t be in there unless she really needed it and therefore shouldn’t interrupt to ask), but as someone who leans to the guess side, I’d find this incredibly rude.

            Reply
          2. myswtghst

            “Even if she’s chill when asked to vacate, if you’re going to have to ask someone to vacate the room every time you need it, that gets tiresome.”

            This stood out to me too. Currently, OP and peers are having to ask *each time* they want to use the room. Chances are, this also means they’re frequently making the calculation of “do I really need to use the room?” and sometimes deciding “nah, I don’t want to disturb her.”

            Having a one-time conversation with the squatter might be a little higher stakes than the usual “hey, can you clear out so we can meet?”, but it also will hopefully be something that doesn’t have to happen every day.

            Reply
      3. Roscoe

        But according to the letter, the conference room is vacant the majority of the time. If, lets say, twice a day for 30 min, people need it, I don’t really see a problem with this co-worker using it at other times. It really seems to be just resentment that she has the option and others don’t.

        Reply
      4. Yorick

        I don’t have a laptop at work, but if it’s noisy at my desk I still might step into an empty office/conference room for a bit to take a call or to brainstorm and take notes about how to proceed with a project. I can’t do that if someone else has decided that space is now their space.

        Reply
        1. Yorick

          I’d have no problem kicking someone out if I had booked the room or I needed it for a meeting. But it wouldn’t feel right to say, “Can you step out so I can be the one to quietly work in here instead of you?”

          Reply
          1. Jules the 3rd

            I think ‘take a call’ is the relevant activity, tho

            If everyone gets a laptop, the space will no longer be available for calls.

            Reply
          2. Zillah

            Yeah, this is the issue that stands out to me, too – if the default is that someone is always in there, it puts everyone else in a perpetual state of “is my reason good enough to ask her to leave?” even if she always leaves when she’s asked. It’s not just about not liking to ask – it’s about always having to weigh whether your justification is worth it, and that does start to add up.

            Reply
            1. Alfur Aldric

              Yes, I think Zillah is hitting the nail on the head here. I would not feel at all awkward about saying, “Hey, I have a 10:30 call with a client and will need this room for that hour,” but I would be very uncomfortable asking someone to stop their work and leave the room so I could make a 5-minute call to my doctor’s office to get some test results. The whole “take a call” thing probably encompasses personal and professional calls that coworkers would prefer are not overheard and will not take significant amounts of time. I worked in an office where we had nowhere to take calls like this (and leaving the building took 10 minutes) and I remember a couple times where it got in the way of trying to schedule medical appointments because I felt uncomfortable describing my symptoms on the phone.

              Reply
              1. Yorick

                There are also different levels of work calls. Some clearly need privacy or whatever and so you have no problem taking over the room. But others would be fine at the desk but it’d be so much nicer to talk in an empty room. But then you have to decide if it’s really worthy of asking the person who’s taken over that room to gather their stuff and leave, especially if it’s a short call.

                Reply
          3. Rusty Shackelford

            But it wouldn’t feel right to say, “Can you step out so I can be the one to quietly work in here instead of you?”

            If you only want a quiet space to work, and not for a meeting or phone call, there’s no reason two people couldn’t work in that room.

            Reply
            1. LCL

              Yeah, that’s what I’m not getting about the situation. If it is big enough to be called an event space, surely a few people can just walk in there and start doing whatever work they need to do. Including making phone calls.

              Reply
            2. Yorick

              Most people want a quiet space to work. Everyone can’t go in that room at all times or it becomes the noisy common room.

              So basically what the coworker with the laptop has done is get herself a private office that other people have to ask her permission to use.

              Reply
              1. demanda

                Hi, OP here! This is kind of exactly it, and I should clear up a few things. There’s zero bitterness over the laptop. Totally not the point, not for me or to my knowledge anyone else. I prefer working at my desk, and using my giant double monitors.
                I also really don’t mind letting her know when I have a planned meeting. It’s not a problem at all and she clears out in plenty of time. It’s all the impromptu meetings/conversations/phone calls. And someone really nailed it when they said that it means constantly weighing if it’s worth asking them to vacate if it’s just going to be a quick call or meeting.
                There have been a few times when I’ve taken calls in my car, or outside–not because I’m afraid to use my words, as someone suggested, but because it’s easier and I am already on the phone. I don’t have time to interrupt my call and ask her to pack up and leave. It’s just easier for me to keep moving past the occupied space and find somewhere else to talk privately.
                Sometimes someone will come to my desk to talk with me, and I would prefer to pull them into the other room, so we can talk privately, and without disturbing anyone else who is working quietly at their desk.
                Frequently, the noise in the office escalates, but only for 2-3 minutes, and by the time it’s quiet again, she’s already gone, working in her satellite office!
                I do plan to talk to the new boss and we have actually already discussed re-structuring the office. I’m not sure how much it will help, or how many options there are, but I’m optimistic that there will be a plan. I’m just hoping that this practice can be stopped before it does really become her private office.
                I really do appreciate everyone weighing in on this!

                Reply
              2. MrsFillmore

                Yes, this is a really rare case where I disagree with Alison’s advice. It is a pretty normal and expected thing for an office to say “this is a space for meetings” and to have a shared expectation that the space is used for meetings and not for individual work. Individuals working in that space may inadvertently discourage others from using it for meetings, and this will get worse if additional staff start using it as a quiet space.

                Designating a quiet work space *might* be a good idea for this office if they have two spaces available, but if they don’t then it is reasonable to expect that staff work at their desks and not in meeting room. I suspect that more laptops will only compound problems, unless there is an additional space available. With the additional info from letter write in comments, it sounds like they might be in need of a phone booth/Skype room more than a quiet work space.

                Reply
          4. biobotb

            But why can’t two people quietly work there? If you’re just brainstorming or taking notes, would it be that terrible if a coworker is also in there, quietly typing on a laptop?

            Reply
    2. Seeking Second Childhood

      If OP has a paper task, bring it to the conference room…preferably just before other employee usually gets there. And queue up a lot of calls to do the same.
      The more the room is used by all, the more it is obvious it’s a community resource.

      Reply
    3. MLB

      The last sentence in Alison’s advice is key here. Co-worker seems to have no issue leaving when the room is needed. The OP feels it’s awkward to have to ask, but really, it’s not. Sounds more like OP is a little bitter because the co-worker has a laptop and a way to escape the noise.

      At my last company we had a system we used to book conference rooms. I had no issue kicking people out of them when either they went over their time or they hadn’t booked the room at all. Once was during a company call and a group had gathered in a conference room to listen to it. They were hesitant to leave, but I explained that if they wanted the room exclusively, they should have used the system that was in place to reserve it. Nothing awkward about it.

      Reply
    4. Dr. Pepper

      I experienced this too. One place where I worked, one guy “claimed” the conference room, and even though he’d leave if you asked him to, well, it got tiresome. At first he’d hop up whenever someone opened the door, so all you needed to do was say you needed the room. Not a problem. Then, when he got more comfortable, he’d sit and look at you inquiringly and not move until you explained *why* you needed the room and it was awkward. I got really tired of justifying why I wanted to use this supposedly shared space. He still would leave, but it got to be a more involved process that included packing up his stuff (yes, stuff, not just grabbing a laptop- he’d set up camp) and grudging looks. It was just annoying. Like, I didn’t really want to take this call or have this quick meeting anyway, and now you’re here making it even more of a pain. He clearly came to think his desire/need for the room trumped everyone else’s. He was a peer with a different supervisor, so it wasn’t so easy to escalate, and besides, when you say it verbally it sounds ridiculously petty. Oh well, long rambling story aside, I don’t know if this particular woman will start to see the space as “hers”, but if she does, it’s going to be a pain in the butt.

      Reply
      1. Yorick

        This is exactly what I was envisioning – and even if she doesn’t *force* people to give an explanation before she’ll leave, she’s probably creating that mindset in others by being in there most of the time.

        Reply
    5. female peter gibbons

      I just want to say that open office spaces are horrible.

      To add insult to injury, in my experience,the people WITH offices often do crazy things like

      – blast music with their door open
      – bring dogs with their door open
      – talk on SPEAKERPHONE WITH THEIR DOOR OPEN
      – walk around on cellphones talking loudly near us cubicle people
      – sit next to others in cubicles to “supervise” them (while leaving their office empty) while taking extremely loud calls and meetings AT THEIR DESK

      all of which loudly distracts people who are not allowed to have offices.

      I feel like this is mocking those underlings, kicking them when they’re down. I don’t care if others think I’m being unreasonable with that feeling. Open offices are horrible.

      Reply
      1. Tisiphone

        Back when I worked tech support, which meant being on the phone 95% of your shift, I was the only one with a table instead of a cube. There weren’t enough cubes, so tables with dividers were added to the area. They ran out of dividers, so it was desks only. When I got out of training, there was one person too many for the desks with dividers and I was the unlucky winner of the worst workstation in the entire area.

        That didn’t stop other people from stopping by my desk, standing right next to me with their loud conversations about non-work, despite me hunched over my desk as far away as the headset would allow and my finger in my other ear. I’d even told them to STFU I was on the phone multiple times and they still did it.

        I considered it obliviousness rather than malice, but damn was I glad to get a cube when someone quit.

        Reply
  6. Belle8bete

    In an academic setting, I would just suck it up and not be at my computer for a portion of my day once a week (especially if it’s only 90 minutes). It’s not worth the drama!!! And in academia, everything is drama.

    Reply
    1. Caaan Do!

      And in academia, everything is drama.

      So, so true. I work in the Corporate Services side of a university and the amount of entitlement, pettiness, ‘that’s not my job’-ness and other such issues that come up can get exhausting. The academics themselves are a whole other kettle of fish and I’m glad I don’t have to deal with them directly!

      Reply
      1. sheworkshardforthemoney

        A friend offered me a job at his university. The pay and the hours were good, with no weekends. Only super busy twice a year, at the start of the school year and graduation. But holy heck, he warned me about the politics, pettiness, passive-aggressive behaviours, I turned it down. Another friend took the job and she lasted six months. Ivory tower doesn’t come close.

        Reply
      2. Oxford Comma

        Eh…I get the “not my job” thing. I do. Because it’s very very easy for suddenly for it to become a part of your job, but with no raise for the extra work.

        OP: I agree that you focus on the noise. Start by appealing to the colleague.

        Reply
    2. Academic Addie

      > And in academia, everything is drama.

      Truer words …

      But anyway, OP, I’d decide what you want. If this really is just 90 minutes, I might plan to be elsewhere. Which is easy for me to say, with my locking office door and my lab space. I can schedule myself lunch followed by an hour of maintaining lab equipment.

      If that’s not possible, just tell him you thought it was a one-time thing, and ask him to take them elsewhere. For me, if my kids are with me in the office, something has gone wrong. I generally approach it from that angle. It’s not your responsibility to find him space, but it’s not normal or fair to have a baby and toddler in a shared office.

      Reply
    3. blackcat

      Yes, this. If it’s less than 3 hours a week, I would have one conversation and then suck it up and leave during that time.

      I interviewed for a a faculty position, and was kinda shocked that the search committee chair had their very large dog (~150lbs, male newfie) with him always. I love dogs and was happy to have a furry creature to pet while I was there… and needed to be popping allergy pills for the two day interview because OMG MY EYES.

      I said not a word because, as you said, everything is drama in academia, and I’d like the job. And I’m lucky that claritin works magic for me without making me sleepy and I had brought some. I feel TERRIBLE for any candidate who is afraid of dogs. Because while newfies are super sweet, they are MASSIVE and intimidating.

      Reply
    4. Dr. Pepper

      I agree. Academia is drama. I have yet to meet a group of people as dramatic and petty as university employees, faculty or not. Something about working within the confines of bureaucratic rigidity coupled with high job security for many but- importantly- not all just makes people like that. I’d just suck it up too and take myself elsewhere for that time period. No, it’s not convenient but if it’s only a hour or two once a week, well, that sounds like a nice coffee and stretch of the legs break.

      Reply
  7. Where’s my coffee?

    Open offices are unbridled evil and I support anyone staking a claim on un-booked rooms to get stuff done. Office space is expensive but laptops aren’t that pricey—fight for your right to get one and then set up shop in the other side of the conference room. Enjoy the silence.

    Reply
    1. Stormfeather

      Now I have “The Sounds of Silence” running through my head. “Hello conference my old friend…”

      OP, maybe if you figure out the right phrasing it won’t seem so awkward to you? Like a quick knock on the doorframe and a “Hey, mind if I grab the room for a quick meeting?” Would feel nicer and less awkward than asking her directly to leave.

      Reply
      1. Not Australian

        Maybe just a proper scheduling arrangement for the room, where regular meetings are booked in and the co-worker (or anyone else who wants a bit of peace and quiet) has the option to book it at other times?

        Reply
        1. Akcipitrokulo

          Does run the risk of her booking out whole day though, so no actual meeting can be booked. (And doing so quite innocently!)

          Reply
            1. Friday afternoon fever

              Yeah she’s have to be pretty tone deaf to do that. Also, the quick one time fix would be to say “don’t book this for solo work time, you can only use it if it’s not booked for actual meetings.” Problem gone?

              Reply
              1. LarsTheRealGirl

                But since she’s willing to move whenever someone wants to come in, there’s no issue that the scheduling would solve. It’s just creating more work for no reason.

                Reply
                1. Lizzy May

                  Since the coworker seems reasonable, it’s also possible with a schedule that she’d make a point of being out of the room before a meeting was scheduled to start. That would eliminate the short wait time between asking her to leave and getting whatever meeting started.

                2. Friday afternoon fever

                  It would (ideally/theoretically) prompt her to proactively move before meetings instead of needing to be asked by OP

        2. TechWorker

          I mean if you had a booking system it would make more sense to be ‘book it for meetings, otherwise anyone can use it as quiet workspace’. But it doesn’t even sound like this is necessarily needed, LW just needs not to stress about asking her to leave.

          Reply
      2. Engineer Girl

        I would not use “do you mind” because it doesn’t matter if she minds. The room is a conference room made for meetings. A simple “hey, I need the conference room now” should be sufficient.

        Reply
        1. EPLawyer

          Which is why even having to ask her to leave, or telling her you need the room is a problem. By doing this, it concedes that it is her space and you need her permission to use it.

          Sorry, the co-worker is monopolizing as her private space something that is for the entire office. What about the phone calls? She has to pack up and leave her stuff so someone else can use the space to make a phone call.

          The better solution is to address the noise levels so one person doesn’t take over the space.

          Reply
          1. Traffic_Spiral

            >By doing this, it concedes that it is her space and you need her permission to use it.

            Nah, you’re just conceding that she physically is there, and needs to move. Personally, I wouldn’t even tell her to move if I had to make a company call. I’d just be like “hey, I need to make the call. It’ll probably be about X minutes. Do you want to move or should I just go ahead?”

            I mean, yes, the office noise is a problem, but it’d be a waste of the conference room to have it empty when there’s an employee who could use it to be more productive. I see no point in wasting things.

            Reply
          2. Jennifer

            It’s not conceding that it’s her space. It’s a shared space. If she thought it was her space, she’d get an attitude when asked to leave. That doesn’t seem to be an issue here.

            It seems silly for the room to just sit empty the majority of the time just to avoid ruffling feathers.

            Reply
            1. So long and thanks for all the fish

              Avoiding ruffling feathers is part of working with others, though. And if it’s empty, it’s always potentially available for whoever needs it, particularly for short periods of time that people might not feel are worth stopping someone else’s work for (like to set up a doctor’s appointment, or get medical results as someone mentioned above). I think Zillah’s point above nails it- if the conference room is empty as a default, it stops other people from having to weigh their reasons to decide if they’re good enough to ask her to leave. That’s a morale boost to the entire office, not just one person.

              Reply
              1. Jennifer

                Avoiding ruffling feathers AND avoiding taking offense at things that aren’t really that big of a deal are parts of working together in an office. She has a laptop. They don’t. This would only be an issue to me if they all had laptops and she was monopolizing the room. Since they don’t, it seems like a petty thing to get mad about.

                If I were going to call a doctor, I’d step out of the office altogether and use my cell phone. I know people make non-work-related calls at work all the time, but it seems weird to ask someone to stop working so you can make a non-work call.

                Reply
                1. Jasnah

                  I think the laptop issue is a red herring. It doesn’t matter who has the capability to work in the conference room all day and who doesn’t. They all have workspaces already: their desks.

                  The issue is that the conference room is a shared space, and she’s using it as her default workspace. It means that others have to ask her to leave each time–but it’s not her room, it’s everyone’s room. It’s no longer equally accessible to everyone if they now need a “good reason” to use the conference room.

  8. tra la la

    Re #1: if this is a coworker who is used to having a private office, I think you may need to say something along the lines of Alison’s scripts. He may not have a handle yet on how not-private a cube farm is (sort of like how my downstairs neighbor didn’t realize how thin the floor/ceiling is in our building because I’m really quiet) and if you don’t speak up a bit he may assume that it’s OK to have the kids there. I wouldn’t be confrontational at this point, but he may need the reminder that it’s a workspace, it’s not terribly private, and you’re there to work.

    This may be especially important since academics don’t necessarily work set hours and you don’t know at this point what the frequency of childcare-in-cube-farm is likely to be. If he thinks everyone’s cool with the kids being there, he may bring them there more often (depending on what his schedule is like).

    Reply
  9. Akcipitrokulo

    OP1 – you said that you could go somewhere else… does he also have access to that space? If it isn’t going to happen that he stops bringing them, asking him to use the separate space may be an option.

    Reply
    1. Mel (Cow Whisperer)

      That was my idea, too. My university had a variety of conference rooms that were generally unused at any given time available for staff members. A staff member and I who had an infant and toddler at the same time would book the room when we had to bring our munchkins with us when we had the little ones in tow for a few hours.

      Reply
    2. blackcat

      OPs option may be some space like the library–I’m thinking a place where OP could expect quite would not be a space where kids could run around.

      Reply
      1. Dr. Cubicle Farm

        OP here. My other option is the library, so not terribly kid friendly! I also don’t bring a laptop to campus because I bike in and already have a lot of weight on my bike, so not having a computer makes getting work done hard.

        Reply
  10. Akcipitrokulo

    OP5 – may be a personal thing, but I would be seriously turned off by someone saying working at my place has been “a dream”. It may be a “show don’t tell” situation… in the same way that you wouldn’t say you have excellent skills, you would give examples of those skills, it may be more effective to gice a line or two showing why you want to work here.

    For me, saying it would be a dream comes off as twee and possibly insincere. And yes, this may be a personal reaction! But you may get someone else with the same reading the letter.

    Reply
    1. Andrews

      I would worry they already had a fixed (and rose-tinted) idea of what the job entailed that’s setting them up for disappointment with the reality of it – maybe not as extreme as, eg, “my dream job is to work in a library so I could just sit around and read books all day”, but that’s what I think of when I hear that phrasing.

      Reply
    2. OP5

      Thanks everyone for your feedback! My impulse to include nothing on something being a “dream” was a good one, it seems.

      To clarify — I would always describe why I’m a good fit, and why specifically I’m interested in a publication’s work (“this series you published framed something in precisely the way I would, I want to work with editors like that” or “you’re the only publication that focuses on the intersection of x and y, which is what I focused on in my graduate research and in freelance work since”). However, I think journalism (and likely other creative fields) tends to have more aspirational roles than other industries because each publication has a certain “style,” and it’s really finding somewhere that fits with how you write that is the dream. Editorial fit is something you can at least glimpse from reading a publication regularly, so it’s less about rose-colored glasses than someone saying “my dream is to work at Facebook!” might be.

      All that is to say that I agree that the “dream” language is twee…so I think figuring out how to explain “your editorial style fits with the way I want to be writing” in a not-boring way is the task at hand.

      Reply
      1. Ali G

        I think you can get across what you are trying to say without coming across like you are gushing about the publication (you are my DREAM JOB!!!). Saying something like “every time I read X publication, I am reinvigorated about Important Topic, because of my past in A and B,” shows you understand their POV, know their audience, and have experience in their main subject areas.
        Saying “I want to work at X publication because you are the best at covering Important Topic, and I want to be a part of that” doesn’t show your value at all and just looks like you picked something at random to compliment them on.
        As an aside, I landed a job recently at one of me “dream companies.” In my cover letter I showed how my past experiences (over 15 years) with Dream Company shaped my view of the work and how I could bring value to it. I also said that knowing people personally that worked there helped me feel like I could take my next step in my career, not just my next job (i.e. I was looking for something long-term). It was true and it worked :) Know your audience and you can do it right!!

        Reply
      2. boo bot

        Oh, cool, I have advice specific to this (my qualifications: I write things, sometimes even other than blog comments):

        I think that everything you are saying is already good, if you drop the language about dreams and aspiration: ‘”this series you published framed something in precisely the way I would, I want to work with editors like that’ or ‘you’re the only publication that focuses on the intersection of x and y, which is what I focused on in my graduate research and in freelance work since,'” are both extremely relevant and grounded things to say.

        If you start talking about a publication being your dream to work at, it will make you look a bit starry-eyed, which is never a good look for a journalist (except astrophysics journalists? No, not even them!) I wouldn’t talk about that kind of thing until you’ve already got the job and established yourself in it, and ideally not even then – “always dreamed of X” is best saved for later, when you’ve already done the things you dreamed of.

        Finally, very seriously, “’your editorial style fits with the way I want to be writing’” is NOT boring at all when you are a writer talking to editors. They have put tons of time, energy, and thought into their editorial style – it’s what they do! (And, they want writers who understand that style and won’t be fighting with them about it all the time.)

        You have to be able to explain what it is about their editorial style that you like, and what it is that you want to be writing, but it’s true that journalism, writing in general, and editing are things people pursue out of interest, and yes, passion. I don’t know many professional writers or editors who don’t talk shop for fun when given the chance. So, as long as you know what you’re talking about (and it sounds like you do) just go for it.

        Reply
      3. so many resumes, so little time

        I work at a place that is a lot of people’s dream employer, judging by the cover letters we get when we have entry level positions open. I can tell you from experience that the phrase on its own has no significance and that some people assume that applicants put it into all their cover letters/applications. It can even sometimes cause a negative response to an applicant, when the applicant does not expand on the statement.

        Explaining what about you/your interests makes you a fit for the job is a much better tack, especially if you can cite specific articles or books that made an impact on you and talk about why.

        I would also suggest avoiding phrasing like, “I read X when I was 10 and it made me want to work there” if you’re unsure of the age of the hiring manager; some people don’t like to be reminded that they are that much older than an applicant!

        Reply
  11. Rez123

    #1 The mature thing would be probably talk to him. I think I would suck it up and either take a laptop (request one if not having one already) and go to another space or put on headphones and ignore it after an initial hello. Especially if it is 90 minutes once a week.

    Reply
  12. Anancy

    OP #1 Is bringing kids to work one afternoon a week possibly a perk he had arranged with his supervisor? Which obviously plays out differently in a shared space than a private office. But if it is something he has negotiated, that might change how you want to address it.

    Reply
    1. Engineer Girl

      That would be wrong of the supervisor though. A good one would check with the others first to see if it’s a problem.

      Reply
      1. Anancy

        I’m thinking it could possibly be an agreement from a year + ago, and the supervisor either forgot or assumed the employee would not take kids to a shared office.

        Reply
      2. TechWorker

        Right but as Anancy says, if this is a long standing arrangement and then the office setup changes maybe neither supervisor or kid-bringing-in professor thought to revisit it.

        Reply
    2. Bagpuss

      I don’t think it changes how you address it in the first instance with the co-worker, when you are raising it as being a problem with noise and distraction, rather than the children.

      If he has agreed it as a perk then he can say so, but even then, I think the response is “I’m not asking that you not bring the children in, simply that you work in the lounge / conference room / other, or ensure that the children are quiet, if they are in the shared space, as unfortunately the noise is very distracting.

      Even if it was a perk, it would be reasonable for it to be re-considered as he has changed location and moved to an open plan area, so LW may want to speak to her own superviser to ask if they can liaise with his, if he is not amenable to making a change.

      Reply
    3. Yorick

      I doubt it, because in academia (IME) you don’t really have to negotiate that kind of stuff with your supervisor.

      Reply
      1. Dr. Cubicle Farm

        OP here. This is definitely not a negotiated perk. We don’t have a clear supervisory system in our department and academics are pretty notorious for resisting any hint of being supervised. I updated above jay the colleague hasn’t brought the kids back, so that is some good news!

        Reply
  13. Jessica

    LW1, you mentioned that you’re in a different building than the department you work for, but presumably you have some contact with your department. Does the department have any kind of administrative staff person whom you know well enough to feel comfortable talking to about this? That might feel safer and more feasible than going to your department chair, and depending on the people and departmental culture involved, the admin person might be able to help in a number of possible ways.

    Reply
    1. jam

      This would be kind of a big escalation, at least in my university. The department secretary for us is kind of the enforcer, and Dr Dad would get a fairly stern email, possibly also raising formal consequences if there’s any sort of rules that could be brought into play. It’s the kind of thing that would be very upsetting to a precarious employee.

      I would tend to assume that, unless this is a very new graduate student or someone coming from a conventional job who hasn’t adjusted to the “freedom” of academia, having the kids there isn’t the coworker’s first choice either. I would advise waiting until the kids come back (so you’re sure it’s not a one off thing) and then saying to him, “I really need to use these books and this computer to write this lecture/chapter/article. Is there any way we could keep the noise down? I just find it hard to concentrate with the kids here.”

      Reply
    2. Holly

      I would push back on any response that’s not “talk to the person.” Escalating this would be extreme in the academic context.

      Reply
  14. Ms Cappuccino

    OP4 Yes it’s very annoying and inconsiderate.I would share my experience on Glassdoor to warn others potential applicants.

    Reply
  15. babblemouth

    #5: I work in a company that is a genuine dream for a lot of people to work in, and writing this in a cover letter might be held against you. The reason is that for people coming in with stars in their eyes, the drop is quite tough when they realise that even the most dreamy place in the world is still filled with bureaucracy, petty squabbles about not leaving dirty dishes in the common kitchen. So while you do get to do *insert your dream here*, it’s not all that.
    Experience has shown that people coming in expecting their dream job leave the company faster when reality doesn’t match expectations. We’d rather have someone who likes our company/product, but has their rose colored glasses fully off and is ready to live with the less-than-perfect.

    Reply
    1. babblemouth

      (and at least a third of the cover letters I read have that line in there, so it’s not going to make you stand out either)

      Reply
    2. Huddled over tea

      +1 I also work in a company like that, and I often find that people have very incorrect impressions of what working here will be like.

      It’s also useful to think about the flip side – I don’t care if someone first heard of us last week if they do their research on it and realise that they’re interested in the role and the product. It’s like being a fan of something; being a fan for longer doesn’t make you a better fan, it just means you happened to get exposure to it earlier.

      Reply
    3. Parenthetically

      This very specifically addresses my initial “ooh, no, don’t” feeling about #5! It does seem too idealistic. Excellent comment.

      Reply
    4. pomme de terre

      I worked for the national governing body of a sport. I was there for seven years and saw SO many people come in with stars in their eyes about how it was going to be all sport, all day, every day and then burn out when they had a dumb boss or an irritating schedule or other common workplace irritants.

      Reply
  16. Mrs B

    #4 Might not apply in this situation, but a something I’ve observed in civil service positions specifically, is downselling the position during the interview so that you can get to your prefered candidate. This is because civil service rules often mandate that jobs be offered to candidates that score the highest or that the list must be exhausted, before the job can be offered to a lower scoring candidate or the job title modified or changed. Often it’s someone that they would like to hire/promote internally and they have to prove that there was not a more qualified candidate willing to take the position. So certain aspects of the jobs get exaggerated, like working nights and weekends, working between various locations involving long commutes etc etc, things that are technically true but they want to paint a more grim picture.

    Reply
    1. irene adler

      It did seem awfully odd that the interviewer told stories to illustrate how bad the job might be. Usually interviewers try to sell you on how great the company is.
      I bet you are exactly correct- interviewer had an ulterior motive here. She’s scaring away the candidates she doesn’t want to hire.

      Wonder how this interviewers actions would sit with the upper managers at this “well-respected” company.

      Reply
      1. hmm

        Maybe the interviewer really did feel that way and hated his/her own job, and it was being shown in the interview? I wonder if there was more than one person interviewing OP #4? If so, did the other people echo this person’s grim picture of the work place?

        Reply
        1. irene adler

          Hafta wonder.
          Assuming this was a stunt to scare away all but the candidate she wanted to hire, I would have turned the tables on her hair-raising stories.
          “Really? Boss yelled at you for an hour? Gosh, that’s exactly the environment I thrive in. Bring it on!”

          “Forty-eight hours of straight overtime? Suits me fine. I can work on tea pot folding tasks forever. They have to turn off the electricity to get me to leave for the day.”

          “I do my best work under miserable conditions. In fact, my greatest work achievements have been under circumstances few others can compare. I relish the chance to work in misery!”

          Reply
  17. Thing1

    Op1, can you talk to others in the office? In my experience sharing an office with grad students, there was a strong sense that we set our norms as a group. You could sound out some of the others. I wouldn’t recommend all getting together and then informing the parent that you don’t want the kids there, but if most of you agree that you’d like it to be quieter in there, that sounds like a place to start a discussion.

    Reply
  18. ChristineD

    LW #2- are you absolutely sure they’re asking you as a treat, and not a “while I’m down there does anyone want anything” while expecting payment later?

    At a law firm I’d expect it’s the former, but doesn’t hurt to be absolutely sure. I grew up in a very middle class household where money did not flow freely. My older brother became a patent lawyer and is working at one of the top law firms in the country now. Whenever I visit he’s constantly trying to buy me and my kids treats or pay for dinner. I mentioned how my toddler is addicted to Bubble Guppies, but their cable subscriber didn’t have any free episodes when we were visiting, so he downloaded 2 seasons worth at $2.99 an episode without a second thought. It’s definitely not in a bragging or boastful way. I finally asked him what was up and he said “I work 70 hour weeks and barely see my kids or family. I have plenty of money so I’d rather spend it on buying things for people to make me feel better about never seeing them”.

    I’m not sure why I went on that tangent, but I think LW’s boss might just genuinely be a nice guy trying to buy coffee for people.

    Reply
    1. Traffic_Spiral

      Also, law firms are run by partners who get a percentage of the profits, so from their POV, buying underlings coffee is just a business expense – whether they buy it themselves or take it out of the office budget. Heck, it’s probably directly expensed from the office budget.

      Reply
      1. boo bot

        I was going to say this – there’s not really a material difference here between “boss is a nice guy who wants to buy you coffee,” and “company offers workers coffee as business incentive.”

        I’d say, accept the coffee when you want some coffee. Every third time, once a week, once a month – all of those sound reasonable. Bear in mind that right now you’re saying no every time he asks; if you start saying yes more often, he will probably start asking only as often as he is actually willing to get you coffee.

        Reply
        1. Ophelia

          Also, this is probably obvious, but keep it to something simple – like an actual cup of coffee or tea – not a triple shot mocha with whip or something that takes time to make, because he’s likely popping in and out, not waiting for complicated drinks.

          Reply
          1. spek

            I was going to post the same advice. better to not seem too high maintenance. The best bet is an order with one descriptor; medium coffee with cream, large mocha, etc. Don’t make it something he has to write down.

            Reply
          2. Alex in Marketing

            When I have accepted, I only ask for black coffee or tea… something easy that just needs to be poured and won’t take time to make OR end up being a $6-$8 drink since he got me a large coffee the one time I asked. I wouldn’t imply what size drink I want and leave that up to him when ordering.

            Reply
    2. CM

      I think #2 could also offer to get coffee once in a while — not every time, but maybe once for every 3-4 times that she accepts. My assumption, from working in a law firm, is that the boss would pay. Law firms usually have a strict hierarchy and everyone is very aware that partners make way more than anybody else.

      Reply
      1. Ginger Baker

        ^This, also, BUT NOT with offering to pay. We operate, at every BigLaw and for that matter Accounting Upper Tier, firm I have been at by what my boss calls the “you fly, I buy” rule. I have bought more coffee – and lunch – for the both of us on his dime, and my running-around, than I can count. And if I look up and see that the day is getting late into the afternoon and he hasn’t eaten anything, it’s not unusual for me to suggest that I could go pick up some lunch for him (and he offers to pay for mine as well).

        Reply
    3. Murderbot

      Just tossing this out: I’ve worked at places where “want some coffee?” was shorthand for “I’m free; want to drink coffee and talk?” It’s an opportunity to shoot the breeze with a boss. If that’s the case, I’d take him up on it every few weeks, maybe. Offer to pay for your coffee, but he’ll probably say “no thanks”, and you should leave it at that.

      Reply
      1. Alex in Marketing (OP2)

        Often, my boss walks down with another partner to discuss a meeting/debrief the happenings of the day. He rarely goes down alone. If he does head out for coffee on his own in the future, I can definitely offer to walk down with him and have some one-on-one time with him.

        I have also offered to pay for my own and he politely told me it was on him. We actually have a great, caring culture at my firm and he is definitely the ring leader for it.

        Reply
      2. Holly

        I would doubt this is the case in a law firm context when there’s the huge power imbalance – it’s not two colleagues

        Reply
    4. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Man…I grew up in a lower middle class family with laborer parents, money didn’t flow by any means. We still didn’t flinch at renting a couple movies. I buy my nieces and nephews a lot of treats when I see them. So that makes me super sad that downloading cheap videos for a loved one is shocking.

      Reply
      1. Iris Eyes

        $120 isn’t cheap by most people’s standards ($3 per episode for 2 20 episode seasons) for 960 minutes of watch time which is probably more than a kid would (and definitely more than they should) be watching over a visit. That’s just a lot for something that is excessive and fairly trivial.

        Reply
      2. Basia, also a fed

        I agree with Irish Eyes. Season 2 of Bubble Guppies has 20 episodes and Season 3 has 26 episodes. Downloading both seasons would be $137.54. I also grew up lower middle class, and my parents could not have afforded that in one weekend. I’m doing better financially than my parents at this age, and I would never consider spending this much on one weekend’s worth of videos.

        Reply
  19. Kimmybear

    For OP #1, 30+ years ago I was that baby/toddler. My dad used to bring me to meet with students/sit in class if it was an odd time that he usually didn’t have meetings or the random teacher work day. For regularly scheduled classes or office hours, he hired a student to watch us in the student center for an hour or two playing pinball or sliding down the library bannister. Those are some of my favorite memories as a kid. Do you have any students you know that babysit and you could mention to your colleague? I get that having kids in a shared space is disruptive but can you use that time for things away from your desk (library research, meet with students, etc.)?

    Reply
    1. Daniel

      Maybe it would be fine if you could send out a general bulletin, but I wouldn’t approach a specific student. The power differential would make it more difficult for a student that didn’t want to do it to decline.

      Reply
    2. Dr. Cubicle Farm

      OP here. I love that you have those great memories! It reminded me of ways my own parents wove their professional loves around me when I was a kid. I don’t feel comfortable asking students to be babysitters, especially because we don’t get a lot of long-term contact with students, but that is a great suggestion.

      Reply
    3. DAMitsDevon

      I think like Daniel mentioned, sending a general bulletin out (or asking the coworker if he’d be willing) could work. I think there would be at least some students with babysitting experience who might appreciate the chance at getting some extra income, especially since it doesn’t seem to be a huge time commitment.

      Reply
    4. Holly

      I would find this really intrusive/passive aggressive and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it – there’s a bit of a power imbalance in this situation mentioned by OP, and it would be very odd to bring this up to him when, presumably, he’s educated himself.

      Reply
  20. Lady Jay

    Re. #1, with the kids: I’d just ask whether he’s willing/able to watch his kids somewhere else. You know your university campus better than other people, of course, but many universities have public spaces–coffee shops, talking floors on the library, etc–where it would be possible to bring kids, get any work done, be available to students . . . and not worry about kid noise disrupting people.

    I say all this because I have a friend in my grad school cohort with a daughter (we’re both in our 30s) and my friend is always conscious of the way her daughter’s presence influences other people; if she thinks her daughter will disrupt a space, she’ll be the one to call out and/or go somewhere else. If your colleague is reasonably collegial, he’ll acknowledge the fact that yes, the presence of his kid changes the nature of the space and adjust his plans. If he’s a jerk about it & refuses to move . . . well, then, I second those who say use that opportunity to find a different location on campus and work there.

    Reply
    1. Traveling Teacher

      Yes to all this–and my mind immediately turned to the mostly soundproofed study rooms in the library that we could book. Professors had priority, so in that case he could pretty much have a standing booking. In my last year, they were even making family study rooms with toys and activities for kids in the library so that working/studying parents on campus could have a place to take care of their kids and still get some work done.

      Reply
      1. curly sue

        “In my last year, they were even making family study rooms with toys and activities for kids in the library so that working/studying parents on campus could have a place to take care of their kids and still get some work done.”

        This is brilliant. Brb, submitting this request to my campus library now.

        Reply
  21. Emilia Bedelia

    LW2: If you’re interested in using this as a relationship building opportunity, why not go with him occasionally? You could say something like “you know, I was just thinking of going down myself, mind if I join?” If you build the coffee run as a ritual somewhat, you’re in a better position to pay for your own drink, or even reciprocate occasionally (“I just realized I have a Starbucks card to use up! Let me treat today”) if you want.

    Reply
    1. 123456789101112 do do do

      I was going to suggest this! My boss is a coffee addict and goes to the coffee shop at least once a day. A few times a week, I’ll go with him just to get some face time, even if I’m not buying anything. “I don’t need any coffee but I do need to stretch my legs and clear my head! Mind if I join you?”

      Reply
      1. Ace

        This! I do not always want to get coffee. But, it is great to have face time with my boss (and even peers and subordinates). It is nice to walk away from my desk once in a while.

        Reply
    2. Person of Interest

      Ditto that- my boss and I are the only two coffee drinkers in our office and we go together once a week or so. Sometimes she pays for me, sometimes I get my own. But it’s a great way to get informal face time.

      Reply
    3. LQ

      The little bit of face time and conversation are absolutely a thing. When I moved into a new role I made a rule for myself that if someone invited me to coffee or lunch and it was at all possible I had to go. (This did lead to 3 coffees and 2 lunches in one day…) The conversations are nearly always valuable and make some of the hard conversations easier because I have that relationship.

      You don’t have to always go like me, but sometimes can really help with a relationship.

      Reply
    4. Alex in Marketing

      Emilia,

      This is a great suggestion that I never even thought of! Sometimes he walks down with another partner kind of as a “working” coffee break, but if he ever goes alone or is actually taking more than two orders, I could join his walk down AND offer my help with carrying the coffee he is bringing back to the office.

      Reply
  22. Flash Bristow

    OP2, I’d accept but give him the money, in case he meant just to carry it for you. If he says “don’t be daft, put your money away” then great, but at least you’ll know what is intended and can then get more of a feel how often to accept. I guess I’d accept if I’m really thirsty and busy, but other times say “thanks, but I need to stretch my legs anyway” to balance it out. And if you’re genuinely going for a coffee, you could offer him one if you see him en route, but not if it’s awkward to *only* offer to him, assuming you don’t want to buy coffees all round!

    Reply
    1. Duckie

      I was surprised to hear coffee costing $3. In Australia it’s hard to get a coffee for less than $4.00 (small size, no frills). My coffee usually costs between $4.50 (medium size, no frills) to $6.50 (medium size, some frills). Wish it was $3.

      Reply
      1. boo bot

        In NY, anyway, it super depends on where you go – I can think of places to get coffee for $1, and places to get coffee for like $7; I think Starbucks is about $2.14 for a small drip coffee?

        It also depends where she is – checking the current exchange rate, your 4.00 AUD coffee would be 2.86 USD, so, less than the OP’s $3.00 coffee in absolute terms (assuming she’s in the US, which is quite possibly an erroneous assumption!) Anyway, thank you for this opportunity to be a dork! :)

        Reply
        1. Alex in Marketing

          I am located in Buffalo, NY where we have a variety of coffee costs :) Starbucks and independent coffee shops are usually on the more expensive side. Tim Hortons, on the other hand, has large coffees for $2. Unfortunately, that’s not the coffee shop readily available in my building.

          Reply
      2. Parenthetically

        That REALLY depends where you are and what you’re getting, both here and in Oz. A $4 or $5 flat white is ubiquitous in a major city’s cafes, but a country town cafe serving dripolator coffee isn’t going to charge $4, that’s for sure. I have a friend who owns a cafe in a small city CBD and he sells a small long black for something like $3.30.

        In the US, a drip coffee from a kiosk in an office building is definitely not going to set you back more than $3, and I’d be surprised if a small wasn’t more like $2.

        Reply
        1. Bee

          Yeah, I’m in a 32-story office building in NYC’s financial district, and the little kiosk in the lobby sells coffee for $1.25 for a small and $1.75 for a large. Granted, the only options are regular/decaf/hazelnut, and you pour it yourself. But it’s just as likely that this is the case for the OP as it is that there’s a full-fledged Starbucks in the lobby where they could easily drop $6 on one drink.

          Reply
      1. pentamom

        The purpose of the offer to pay is not to make sure you pay, though, it is to gauge the boss’s desire to treat. I think it could potentially be more awkward to order and pay through app and then treat the boss as errand boy, if he actually wanted to treat. Just offer the cash once and see what happens, and then you’ll know for the future. Even if it turns out that the boss expects merely to carry, it’s simpler to hand him a few bucks and let him pay for everything, than to have him pick up an order in your name plus whatever other pickups or purchases he needs to make.

        Reply
      2. Alex in Marketing (OP2)

        To me, this seems like an odd move. My boss genuinely wants to pay for the coffee. I ensure that I order only simple drinks (a black coffee or regular, hot tea).

        Also, he will often go down for a “working” coffee break to debrief with a partner or meet with a client. He will bring the coffee back up when he has finished his meeting. If I ordered via the app, it has the potential to be cold or not ready when he’s prepared to leave. He’d definitely feel bad if it was cold and would probably be quite annoyed if it wasn’t ready when he wanted to leave as he is a very busy person.

        Reply
  23. Fainting Goats

    #4 We have had to switch up job duties during interviewing before (usually because of a internal reorg or a change to what we are doing) its hard on both sides but I would never call a potential 1st interview to let them know. Especially if this happened a few days before their interview. I feel like the interview is where they are learning the most about the job and this is where I screen out as well. It really sounds like they were told recently and are making due, its kind of a good thing they are making sure you were aware of the bad aspects to the new job and not sugar coating the issues that are going to be there with the change.

    Reply
    1. MLB

      If you know about a massive change days before an interview, it’s rude to not give them a heads up. People are taking time off from current jobs and prepping for a specific kind of job. If there’s a major change in the duties of the position, the least you could do is give them a heads up and let them decide if they still want to interview. You’re wasting both their time and yours if you bring them in with no warning. And the fact that you don’t think there’s a problem with that is an issue in and of itself.

      Reply
      1. Ponytail

        Yup, this happened to me. I got an email in the late afternoon, confirming the interview (and the job it was for) and by 10am the next day when I sat down, they’d changed the job. The recruitment consultant was super annoyed, and so was I, and in retrospect, I am kind of glad my acceptance and then last minute rejection, of the role, turned out the way it did. There is no way they didn’t know they were interviewing for a completely different job when they sent out that email, and it was very rude of them not to tell me, and the agency, beforehand.

        Reply
    2. MissDisplaced

      I think if it were possible to contact any pre-scheduled interview people, they probably should make an effort let them know the position had changed quite dramatically and ask if they still want to come in and interview for it. But in the particular case with #4, it sounds like it was too recent to have done so. Annoying.

      But at least they didn’t lie or hide the fact the position was a whole different thing. I’ve seen many a company pull the true bait and switch and not fully disclose the job is expected to change, company will move, change to open office, etc., etc.

      Reply
    3. WellRed

      Frankly, I think the interviewer’s negative Nancy-ing about the job duties was a big red flag about the company.

      Reply
      1. Parenthetically

        I thought so too, though it occurred to me that she could have just been really irritated about the job description itself changing, and (unwisely) using the interview as a chance to vent. I can imagine coming in to work on a Tuesday and getting called in to my boss who hands me an entirely new job description for the position I’m interviewing for TODAY, and thinking, “What the hell, man, you added ALL THIS STUFF to this job? This isn’t what people are coming in for, jeezy creezy, I have ten minutes before the first person comes in and I’ve hardly had a chance to read this!”

        Not that she was right to vent at OP4, but I can understand if it was a scenario like that.

        Reply
        1. LQ

          This was totally what I imagined. Not that it’s great, but this was immediately what popped into my mind. Interviewer just found out and was trying to work their way through the problem in their head and kept having things pop in like (OH and this person is going to do THAT now too? That doesn’t make any sense!) and it comes out in how they are talking about it.

          Reply
    4. StellaBella

      OP4, this has recently happened to me, too. I applied in mid December for a role in Marketing/Comms and web comms management overall. I interviewed mid January. Sat down, and first thing interviewer says, is, “the job description is obsolete now, and here is why: 2 people we had hired have withdrawn, and we now have more roles to fill. So ….” we chatted and then went thru a list of things that they needed to have people do in terms of comms, social media, etc. This was fine for me as it is more appealing to me the things she was mentioning as newly needed. But yeah, I get it. It is a bit annoying and not easy to roll with it in an interview. I think you did well and stood up for yourself and handled it just fine.

      Reply
  24. Prof Ma'am

    OP#1 I had this exact thing happen. My building is under renovations so my entire 40 person department was relocated to a giant cube farm. A colleague brought his kids in, with pack ‘n play. While they were the quietest toddlers I’ve ever seen, every sound echos in this room and it was super distracting. The approach we took was to acknowledge that it was an emergency childcare situation, that sometimes it’ll happen, but perhaps there is a better place he can go when it does. Maybe reserve a conference/meeting room, an empty classroom, etc.

    It’s the Semisonic approach: “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here”.

    Reply
  25. Valegro

    Please don’t say working there is a dream. I work in the veterinary industry and we get so many applications for receptionist or kennel jobs that say working with animals is their number one dream and those applicants tend to think we snuggle kittens all day. It looks like you haven’t considered the actual job and the downsides like getting bitten, peed on or yelled at by clients. Nevermind the euthanasias. Just the boring, rote work alone is enough to drive many people off after the first week.
    If there’s something specific you like about the company mention that instead.

    Reply
    1. boo bot

      I agree – I think that if you really have a realistic picture of what you’re getting into, you should be able to express the enthusiasm that “I’ve always dreamed of this” represents through specific examples (and without saying “I’ve always dreamed of this”). If you really know why you’re doing something, you don’t need to resort to generalities.

      I think you can say things like,
      “It’s so rewarding to me, to find the perfect snuggling position for each individual kitten.”

      “I’m so impressed by how uniquely your kitten-snuggling business goes beyond the physical cuddles to meeting the emotional needs of the cat within.”

      “I find that the challenge of avoiding claw-marks without sacrificing snuggle-quality pushes me every day to be a little better than the day before. I know your organization has the same drive to constantly improve the snuggle, and I’d love to be a part of that.”

      (Sorry, Valegro, I went with it!)

      Reply
    2. mememe

      THIS! Saying that a job is your “dream” means you don’t really know what it’s like, and your operating off of a fantasy.

      Reply
  26. KR

    Hi OP1, I think it’s super reasonable to at least ask your coworker not to provide noisy toys.
    OP4, that sucks but Alison is right that at least they told you at all. Reorgs tend to happen quickly at my job and it’s a possibility this wasn’t the hiring managers decision and she just learned about it.

    Reply
  27. skunky x

    OP2 my solution for this has always been to accept if I want one and could also happily buy one myself, with something like “Oh if you’re going! Let me just get you some change.” It gives them a chance to say “Oh no don’t worry, my treat” but also to wait and accept cash if they weren’t planning on paying. That way you don’t feel like you are taking advantage.

    Reply
  28. Doodle

    OP #1, anyone banished from their own private space to the hell that is your shared office has less pull than you think. This is not at all reasonable. Use AAM’s script with your colleague AND ALSO make an appointment with the associate chair if there is one, because that’s the person who’s usually in charge of the day to day decisions like who lives in what office. You could use a version of AAM’s same script: I’d start with something like, I feel bad about complaining about this but… Or, I feel uncomfortable about bringing this up but…

    Be sure to note that you and the others in the office meet with students there and that the noise makes it very hard for you to assist students. (Depts often care rather more about students being disrupted than an adjunct’s focus on research or reading, sadly.)

    If this doesn’t resolve it, go to the department chair. That’s a little trickier…you might see if there are any tenured profs who would be on your side. If you don’t have very good political sensibilities, however, just go yourself.

    My experience with academic depts is that they are often pretty inflexible about children in the office. Occasional emergencies, yes. Bringing the kids around to say hi and then whisking them away, yes. Parking your kids in the office and allowing said kids to be noisy and disruptive, negatory.

    Reply
    1. Doodle

      And no, I am not anti-child. My husband is in an academic dept, I’m not, and for sure our child went very very occasionally to the academic dept for emergency childcare even though he has always had his own office with a door; my dept was more understanding, plus I have my own office and it’s bigger. Many of my colleagues have had to bring their kids in when childcare fell through.

      Neither the academic dept nor my own dept would have been ok with having the kids in the office every week.

      Reply
      1. Dr. Cubicle Farm

        OP here. Thanks for the advice! Luckily the kids haven’t been back, but AAM’s and advice like yours are giving me good ideas for how to proceed if they return.

        Reply
  29. CRM

    OP1: When I was in school, professors often would hire students that they knew and trusted to babysit or watch their pets/house. If that is something your colleague would be willing to do, even just for a few hours, he should look into it. Preferably they wouldn’t be students he is currently teaching, but students he has had in class before and/or students he is advising.

    Reply
    1. Doodle

      Actually, should not ask students he’s currently teaching as they might feel pressure to say yes. Choose students from previous classes, or a colleague’s recommendation.

      Reply
    2. Close Bracket

      I wouldn’t ask students he is advising, either, as the same power dynamics/pressure to say yes exist in that situation as with students in his current classes.

      Reply
  30. caryatis

    Removed. I’ve asked you to stop with this kind of comment before (and in this case it’s off-topic to boot). This is your final warning. – Alison

    Reply
    1. Jennifer

      It sounds like he has childcare but there is a conflict one day of the week.

      There’s more to it than just budgeting before having kids. Childcare providers get sick or have other obligations. Daycares close or fill up quickly if there are a lot of kids in the area. And people who did budget before they had kids sometimes have financial issues they didn’t foresee.

      Reply
    2. Baby Fishmouth

      Well, situations can change, even if people have enough money to afford childcare – the babysitter or daycare provider gets sick, or a daycare closes down, any number of things. It’s not like you can just leave your children with random people at the last minute, and not all parents can afford to take the entire day of work every time their childcare falls through.

      That said, I’m sympathetic to one or two unscheduled emergencies, not an ongoing weekly situation.

      Reply
    3. A Non E. Mouse

      Affording it and *finding it reliably* are two different things.

      I work full time and need full time childcare and it’s an enormous task to find new care when it’s needed (sickness, babysitter moves, Random Crisis occurs). During those times I’m in full panic, doing what I need to do to get by.

      That said, this sounds like a weekly event, which I would not consider a crisis but instead a failure to adequately plan.

      Reply
    4. Rusty Shackelford

      Really? You’ve never had something you relied on that suddenly wasn’t available when you needed it? You’ve never had anything break down? Cars and bikes get flat tires. Wifi isn’t always available. Batteries die. And sometimes, childcare falls through, or can’t be found even though you can afford it.

      Reply
    5. Parenthetically

      Childcare can’t fall through? Daycares don’t close/change hours, babysitters don’t get sick, nannies don’t quit suddenly? People’s financial situations don’t change?

      There is no indication from the letter or LW’s subsequent comments that Fergus doesn’t have childcare, or that he deserves scorn for failing to budget for childcare before he had kids… just that he has brought his kids in to the office a few times. Maybe his partner had to pick up a few hours every Thursday for a month to finish up a project at work, but if they don’t get the kids by 3 that day, the daycare charges them an extortionate amount of money. Maybe their babysitter moved and they found coverage for all but those couple hours a week, but they’re working on it. None of that makes Fergus an irresponsible jerk, just a human with a life, who may need a gentle reminder to be more considerate of other humans.

      Reply
    6. Indie

      People can still get pregnant, accidentally or not, without budgets.
      Childminders get sick, even when there’s payment set up.
      You can discover the daycare is based in a hellmouth, and is actually dangerous, after enrollment.
      Your circumstances/local childcare availiability changes overnight… or in the many years or months between conception and childcare being needed….
      The possibilities are endless. I don’t know anyone who had all kid-related emergencies catered for on a daily basis pre-conception. Heck most babies of my acquaintance were not even planned.

      Reply
    7. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)

      That comes to “nobody should have kids unless they have a job that’s guaranteed not to change or relocate until the kids are in school, and an incredibly stable life otherwise.” Because someone who had childcare all set up in 2017 might be told their company is moving to another city–yes you can go, but there are waiting lists for childcare. Or the parent who had offered to take the kids three days a week gets sick. Or their relationship breaks up, and the stay-at-home spouse suddenly has to go back to work and arrange childcare. Or…

      That’s just not a realistic expectation.

      Reply
  31. Lily Rowan

    OP#4 – I had similar experiences more than once in my early job searches, 25ish years ago, so it’s definitely not anything about “the work world these days”! Good luck to you.

    Reply
    1. ragazza

      That’s both depressing and comforting! That it doesn’t mean this aspect of interviewing is getting worse but that organizations haven’t learned to manage these situations better.

      Reply
    2. Mrs_helm

      Agree. I’ve worked at 4 companies in my career, and TWO of those this happened. On both cases, it was “X just gave notice, so…”. Both were actually a level up to the role I’d applied for. One went from entry level IT to a specialized role + training in addition to the original tasks. The other pivoted from one skill/experience to a higher paying skill/experience I also had. Both were legit – I worked with the outgoing person a few days in both cases. It happens, and it is another reason I think it is a good idea to apply to those jobs that are “close” to what you want (and you do qualify for).

      Reply
  32. Jennifer

    I’m confused about #3. I don’t really see what the issue is. She leaves when other people need the room and no one else can work in there all day because they don’t have laptops. I would probably use that room too if it were empty. Does the OP feel she is rubbing this in everyone’s face by working the quiet room? I think this is a case of a new person doing something doesn’t really fit with the office culture and maybe rubbing people the wrong way. In some of those cases if you sit down and think about it you realize that what they’re doing isn’t a big deal. It’s just different.

    Reply
  33. The PhD Is Purely Decorative

    OP#1, while academics value our independence, I have found that we place much higher value on our productivity. An office space that doubles as a daycare is not a conducive work environment. I think Allison’s advice is spot-on.
    [Disclaimer: this issue may be institution- and field-specific. My perspective is from a hard science field at R1 universities.]

    Reply
    1. Dr. Cubicle Farm

      OP here. Thanks for the support—productivity is a big issue for me because we have a really heavy grading load (endless acres of essays), and I can’t grade at night like many colleagues because of other commitments and the fact that it sends my anxiety through the roof. The good news is that the kids haven’t been back, but I’ve got good advice to follow now if they return!

      Reply
  34. Roscoe

    For #1 I guess I’m just not understanding something. I understand no one is “in charge”, but there must be a supervisor or something right? I bring this up both as someone you should be able to go to, but also that its very possible he got permission to do this once a week or something to that effect. I’m in a remote office (not academia), with only 1 other person. But we do have a supervisor who I could go to if there was a major issue like this.

    #3 I, like Alison, don’t really see the problem here. She leaves when asked. Are you just mad that she is getting a “perk” that you aren’t? I mean, I don’t know that a lap top is really that much of a perk, because in my experience when you have one, its a bit more expected that its used outside of work. It does sound like you are just being a bit petty here

    Reply
    1. curly sue

      An academic here: “For #1 I guess I’m just not understanding something. I understand no one is “in charge”, but there must be a supervisor or something right?”

      Not in many, many departments. There is a department chair, but at least in my department they make a very big deal about the chair position being ‘first among equals’ rather than any kind of supervisor. Here, the role rotates among full-time faculty for three-year appointments. The chair is often chair only because no-one else wants to do it / it’s their ‘turn’ to have to deal with the admin side of things. (Our current chair is in for a second three-year term precisely because no-one else put their name forward to do it. No problem there — they’re doing a great job.) Same with being assistant dean. It’s more of a vaguely controlled intellectual anarchy, theoretically run by consensus.

      Reply
  35. Bunny Girl

    I work in academics and yeah it’s pretty normal for a lot of the faculty to bring their children in to our office. Most people have private offices and they keep them in there but occasionally there’s a lot of running up and down the halls and yelling. One woman from a different department brings in her two grandchildren (I think) and lets them run all over the building.

    It’s yet another reason why I can’t wait to leave higher education and I’ll never work in this world again.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Wow, I’ve heard running up and down the halls and yelling in my department only once in twenty years. From kids, anyway.

      Reply
      1. Bunny Girl

        To be fair it isn’t every single week, but it’s enough that it shouldn’t happen in a professional environment. In the summer it happens way more than the winter.

        Reply
  36. Database Developer Dude

    I am now doubly gobsmacked. It’s bizarre of me not to want to change my eating habits because of a co-worker’s personal life choices (not wanting to eschew a BLT when I eat at my desk because my co-worker is either vegan or of a religion that doesn’t eat bacon, for example…)……. but bringing ones’ loud children to work on a regular basis is okay, and the OP doesn’t have standing to say something? No, THAT is bizarre….. I come to work to work, not to entertain other peoples’ children, and I *like* kids, and enjoy the hell out of being an uncle.

    Some of you really need to get your priorities straight. OP #1 definitely has standing to say something to the co-worker directly. The co-worker is disturbing the workplace. You start *there* in a polite, respectful, but firm manner, and escalate as necessary. Anything else is bizarre. While I agree that academia is a strange bird, common courtesy is common courtesy.

    Reply
    1. AvonLady Barksdale

      I don’t know where you get that anyone agreed with the vegan co-worker OP, for starters. Most people told her she should not change her eating habits. She was unsure and trying not to be disrespectful. She wrote to Alison. She got advice. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. I also don’t see a whole lot of people telling today’s OP #1 that she has no standing. Whether you like it or not, academia IS a different beast– I’m not in it, I don’t feel particularly well versed in its norms, but I understand and appreciate that it’s got different ones from those I’m used to.

      If you believe that OP #1 has standing, you do realize you can just say that without making it seem like the rest of us are a bunch of loons, don’t you?

      Reply
    2. Parenthetically

      Please point me to the multiple comments telling the non-vegan coworker to shut up and eat vegan, and the multiple comments telling OP1 to shut up and deal with the kids and their noise.

      Reply
    3. Delphine

      Nothing you imply about the comments is actually evidenced by the comments here. (Nor, while we’re at it, is the LW being asked to entertain anyone’s children…)

      Reply
  37. pleaset

    On #3 – I disagree with AAM saying it’s not a problem since that person always leaves if asked. That’s true, except if the OP or others have guests/clients/etc with that. It looks disorganized to have to ask the person to leave with client standing there.

    If I was the OP, I’d check the room earlier to have the other person leave before the I arrive with the client, but that’s another bit of work added to the OP.

    Reply
  38. Xarcady

    Back in my grad school days, professors who had to bring their kids to campus usually hired a student to babysit the kids. Sometimes the babysitter was in the professor’s office, but they would take the kids out if students or other faculty showed up.

    There was a daycare on campus and anyone could use their playground. Or the kids could be taken to get a meal or a snack. Outdoor play if the weather was good. The library–they had an extensive children’s lit section. Running around the lake to burn off energy. Off to the barns to look at the cows and horses (it was a land grant university.

    The professor could get work done and a student earned a little money. Win/win.

    This professor has options. He just isn’t using them.

    Reply
    1. Zennish

      You know, I realize that the older I get the more “get off my lawn” I get, but I honestly don’t understand why the very basic workplace norm that one’s dogs/cats/spouses/kids/crazy aunt Edna shouldn’t be wandering the cubicle farm is up for debate nowadays. Barring emergencies, if you aren’t on the payroll, you don’t need to be in the office.

      Reply
  39. CBH

    OP#1 I know OP wrote of and is receiving good advice. I’m am just shocked that the other instructor thinks bringing his kids into a shared workplace is ok and justified. No matter what angle I look at things from, given the office environment I can’t see the reasoning as to how the instructor would make this work.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Ripley

      Eh, it’s not really a workspace in the usual sense. At a lot of universities, adjuncts/non tenure track don’t even get a desk, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. Sometimes you get access to a shared desk, so you can hold office hours. But other than that it’s expected that your non classroom work is done somewhere else.

      Reply
      1. CBH

        I completely understand what you are saying. I’m just shocked that if at a university, one’s office environment is constantly changing, how could the other instructor think is ok to bring his children into work. I mean you don’t know where you will be, who you will be surrounded by. You would be in an environment that normally does not allow children. I guess what I’m getting at is that in this scenario if you don’t know what you are getting into day to day, and it’s not an emergency, I would think professionally bringing your kids to work isn’t a suitable solution. The scenario is distracting to everyone else. I’m not saying emergencies or exceptions don’t come up, I’m just shocked that the other instructor thinks this is acceptable in an ongoing basis. For some reason OP’s letter/ description of the other instructor has me so frustrated.

        Reply
    2. Yorick

      If the instructor brings his kids while holding office hours, that may not be as strange as it would be in other work settings. It’s unlikely that students come, but you have to be there in case they do, and these kinds of conversations with students are usually informal enough that the kids’ presence isn’t too big a deal. He may think that other people in the office are also holding office hours and would be ok with the kids nearby. Talking with him to let him know that the kids are distracting people from other kinds of work may completely fix the issue.

      Reply
  40. anonforthis

    I’m pretty shocked by all the responses to LW1 suggesting ways that he or colleagues could work around the kids…why is this even an expectation? Shouldn’t the person responsible for the distraction (anything from taking a long phone call on speaker phone to bringing kids in) be the one to attempt to mitigate its effects on colleagues? And while we’re on the topic: why are commenters labeling not wanting kids as a regular fixture in an office as family-hostile? I don’t think it is EVER okay to have an expectation of bringing your kids into work on a regular basis, unless your office provides a truly separate, dedicated space for that. To me, an office is an inherently serious adult space, where people are trying to concentrate or engaging in outside activities like calling clients/vendors…why would this kind of intrusion be deemed acceptable aside from rare occurrences?!?

    Reply
    1. Parenthetically

      I didn’t read all the comments but I did a quick scan, and I can find one comment explicitly saying it might be better to figure out how to work around the kids if the other person doesn’t respond to requests not to bring his kids in, and a few others suggesting talking to the coworker and offering other places on campus as options for him to take his kids rather than disrupting his colleagues. Where are you seeing many commenters suggesting OP1 not bring it up at all?

      And I see no comments saying that not wanting kids in offices is family-hostile; rather, policies that forbid children on campus are family-hostile, because they would preclude a parent in a bind even having a babysitter watch their kids run around the quad for an hour while they attend class.

      Reply
      1. Name Required

        anonforthis doesn’t seem to be saying that other commenters are counseling that OP shouldn’t bring it up at all. What I’m reading from their comment, and I agree, is that it isn’t OP#1 job to figure out where instructor can care for their children on campus. Putting the onus on me as your colleague to suggest a place for you to take your children when you need to work and care for them at the same time, so that we can avoid children in our shared and unsafe workspace just seems … a little much. If this is normal for academia, then I’m glad I don’t work in academia. Because it would be utterly bizarre anywhere else.

        Reply
        1. Parenthetically

          “If there are some more kid-friendly spots on campus, it might smooth the conversation (which you’ll definitely have because you can’t bring kids to a shared office) to suggest them.” /= “The onus is on you, OP1, to find a place for Fergus to care for his children.”

          Reply
    2. Holly

      Part of this is that OP does not have a lot of standing. OP’s job is not secure, and it sounds like OP’s colleague is closer with his respective department head. There’s no one for OP to complain to without really escalating this matter in a way that would be poor for OP’s career. So, the best course of action is to talk with the colleague, see how often it is, and work with the unideal situation. In academia you can’t be guns ablazing about everything.

      Reply
  41. Higher Ed Anonymous

    I work in a university where non-tenure-track faculty also share a single large office, without even cubicle walls in their case, and there is no way this would fly there- because of the noise, not because of the kids. We’re an open-campus community college, and it’s fairly common to see kids here, everyone from older teenagers waiting for their parents to finish class to younger kids who are under the supervision of a spouse or other relative. Most of the time, there’s no problem. But there’s a zero tolerance policy for two things: a) kids damaging university property and b) kids making noise with toys. Parents who bring loud electronic toys are promptly asked to leave, because they’re playing with them in open spaces where they’re going to also disturb classes, full-time faculty, administrative assistants, and everyone else. I would focus on this angle, as everyone else is saying, if the kids appear again, because I bet that you’re not the only person annoyed by it.

    Reply
  42. It's Been a Long Day Already

    OP #2: Why don’t you occasionally, maybe once a month or quarter, not only take your boss up on the coffee offer but also say “Coffee sounds great actually, why don’t I come with you? I could use a few minutes to stretch my legs” Boom! You’ve got one-on-one face time with your direct manager in a non-formal setting. This is best time to get to know your manager personally (within appropriate boundaries, of course) and build a rapport that can make your life easier. When it comes time to pay for the coffee, offer every couple of times. A simple, “Why don’t you let me get this this time” will do just fine, even if your boss pays everytime.

    Reply
    1. Alex in Marketing (OP2)

      This is a great idea! If I can get a chance to walk with him, as he often walks down on a “working” coffee break with another partner, it would be a great opportunity. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to happen. I will be on the look out for that type of situation and take him up on it if I can!

      Reply
  43. Le Sigh

    I have a few friends at big law firms and this is kind of an unwritten rule at their offices — support staff, paralegals, etc., are skilled, put in long hours, and make a lot less than the lawyers. So sometimes them to coffee, giving them a nice gift at the holidays, is more or less something my friends budget.

    I will say it’s kind of fun to help pick out the holiday gifts–it’s stuff I would never buy myself so instead I’m get to help pick out nice scarves or wallets or other fun things.

    Reply
    1. Le Sigh

      Well, that nested incorrectly. This was in response to all of the comments about how treating support staff at many firms is expected. Anyway, carry on.

      Reply
  44. Indie

    Surely coworker-daddy isnt getting anything done himself? I have to wonder why he bothered going into the workspace at all. There are probably better places on campus to hang out in a childcare emergency, or even better if he were to ‘work’ from home (or fail to).

    Maybe that’s a good place to start the conversation. If he is just waiting on a phone call, offer to listen out for it. If he feels pressure to ‘show up’ then agree with him that no one is going to get work done under those conditions and push back on the expectation together.

    Reply
  45. Also a Journalist

    OP5, I’m a journalist too and have worked/am working at some of the “bigger name” newsrooms, and am an adjunct professor at a J-School in NYC. I’m not sure if there’s a way for us to connect, but if it’s helpful, I’d be happy to chat cover letters with you!
    There are also a number of good journalist groups where you can get advice and also network (which, unfortunately, is a big factor in finding jobs in this shrinking industry), so if you’re not already involved I would encourage you to join some, or go to industry conferences (e.g. IRE, ONA, and more specific ones like AHCJ, NABJ etc’s annual meetings.) If you’re a person of color there is a very active slack group for journalists of color which often has discussion of resumes, cover letters, and other career questions.

    Reply
    1. OP5

      That is so generous! I’m not sure how to leave my email without being marked as spam, but if you’d like to get in touch, my (not necessarily name-identifying) email is lmj . ucb [at] gmail . com.

      For context — I’m a few years into my career already, and am pretty good at networking, but definitely should attend more conferences! What’s been tough is getting someone’s attention via cover letter at a publication where I don’t necessarily know anyone. I’m working as a reporter already and not necessarily planning to move anytime soon, but have submitted a few applications when “dream” jobs open up (though I haven’t used that word and don’t plan to, for the record!).

      Reply
  46. cactus lady

    OP#3, for some of us, working in an open office that’s loud is HELL ON EARTH and being able to work in the conference room might be the only reason why this person hasn’t quit yet. The problem with headphones is that they don’t make it quiet. They just add more noise. I work in our conference room whenever I can, because I hate our open office with a fiery passion, and I wouldn’t still be here if I couldn’t do that. It sounds like asking her to move is working, so why not keep doing that?

    Reply
  47. Ruth

    OP #5, I have worked at a couple of famous places. Applicants who talked about it being a “Dream” were the absolutely most stressful and often cringeworthy. One person spent a full 5 minutes of an interview explaining the nuances of her history of wanting to work here. I could see everyone else dying a little inside.

    Besides what Alison mentioned (we know it’s a subject of dreams!), people’s perceptions of some dream thing and the reality are often at a mismatch. There will be a subset of people in the room for whom it’s been as much a nightmare as a dream (probably because famous is rarely famous for being a good place to work). That group will wonder how you will respond if it turns out not to be what you expected.

    Focus on presenting what it is you bring to the job, even in the “why do you want to work here.” From the workplace’s standpoint, the best thing to hear is how your X compliments our Y. Do we have an initiative about Y which you admire? It’s fine to say you admire very specific thing and then how your experience with X will provide you with grounding or background to get involved with it.

    Reply
  48. Aphrodite

    OP #1, I don’t (yet) know if anyone has mentioned this but I think you shot yourself in the foot when you went over and played with the kids. Now they and your colleague think you love to see and play with them. That makes it much more than necessary that you have that uncomfortable conversation or you’ll have a lot more interaction in the future.

    Reply
  49. pcake

    OP1, one other thing occurs to me. If your colleague is spending all his time watching the kids, he isn’t doing literally any work. But if he isn’t spending every moment keeping an eye on the toddler, safety can easily be an issue. What if the kid gets into someone’s purse and finds their medication? How about their pocket knife or perfume? There are so many things in an office that small children shouldn’t be allowed to touch. Staples come to mind.

    And children touch things a lot when not closely supervised. Things can get knocked over and broken – office things and co-workers’ personal stuff. And once broken, there can be shards. Kids might go into the trash or might walk out the door; people can trip over them.

    Reply
  50. ManderGimlet

    LW1, it was for an hour and a half once a week and you admittedly can go somewhere else during that time. Find out why the kids are there; very likely it is not a first choice for your coworker and/or anyone else they are co-parenting with, it’s a necessity born of their work schedules and the outrageous cost of childcare. Forgoing “access to my work computer and books” for an hour and a half a week seems like a small price to pay for good karma and building relationships at the university. In an ideal world we would all be able to have the exact space and environment optimal to our styles but instead we get a compromise where no one is happy. Your coworker and his children are not the problem here, it’s a system in which you are ALL devalued and made to battle for scraps. Choose to be cool in a decidedly uncool world. This is absolutely a temporary problem .

    Reply
  51. stemprof

    OP1 – I’m an asst prof and have a kid and would be annoyed by this too. However, there are corners of academia that are infamous for being low-paying and also having unreasonable demands. If I were in your situation, if he brings them in again, I would just ask, with a friendly smile, “Childcare emergency?” and see what he says. For me, if I heard something like “we have a childcare gap but PI/chair/boss is insisting I be sitting in the office with the kids rather than working flexible hours even though obviously no work is getting done” – I personally would tend to cut him some slack and invest in headphones (or work elsewhere) – especially if he is an adjunct or postdoc since those positions make it really hard to pay for full childcare coverage – but that’s a personal call. If his answer indicates anything else…it depends on the internal politics in your dep’t and your position, which sounds like it may be less secure than your colleague’s. If this were me in my dep’t, I would say “Your kids are awesome, but I’m having trouble focusing on X, and I really need to get it done – could you take them somewhere else on campus?”

    Reply
  52. 4Sina

    If only there was some way for a childcare service to be available and affordable on campus, say during the day, a daytime caring service offered to students and faculty…

    Seriously though. If this is an issue in your cube farm, 1) bring it up with the guy that it’s a problem but also 2) even if you don’t have kids, or it doesn’t affect you, advocacy for easily accessible childcare on college campuses would alleviate A LOT of stress for people with kids in tow and for people who don’t want to be around those kids. If this service isn’t available at the university, I’ll bet there’s already some traction for trying to get in place. Get behind it.

    Reply
  53. Cassandra Mortmain

    OP #5! I am late to this discussion, but I am a hiring editor in journalism here to beg you not to use that line in your cover letter! It wouldn’t be a total dealbreaker for a qualified candidate, but it’s a weak argument for reasons that have nothing to do with its sincerity — it doesn’t advance your case, and it’s not good writing.

    A big mistake I see in cover letters is people who make it about what the job could do for them: working for you is a lifelong dream, I think I could really grow as a writer, this role would let me do the ambitious reporting I’ve always wanted to do, etc. Unfortunately, while I love working with writers and helping them grow, at the hiring stage, I do not care what this job will do for you. I care what you can do for us!

    Definitely demonstrate that you are familiar with the publication and like something about it! But be specific rather than resorting to a cliché. Pick out something you admire about the publication and link that to the job you hope to do or your own skill set: “I’m a lifelong New Yorker subscriber, and I really admire how you’ve adapted to the internet while staying true to what has long set the magazine apart. In my past work, I’ve been able to balance the demands of deadline-driven web journalism with the depth of writing and thinking that New Yorker readers expect.” Or “The Washington Post was the essential newspaper of the 2016 campaign, and I’d love the opportunity to bring my dogged investigative talents to your team,” etc. That tells me that beyond just having a dream of working at a place you’ve heard of, you admire something specific about what we do and have a vision of how you could contribute to it.

    Reply
  54. mememe

    Re: kids at work, academic workplace: if daddy has tenure and you don’t, then you’ll just have to put up with the kids, and objecting to them could put your employment in jeopardy. Believe me, I wish it was different, but that’s how it is.

    Signed, worked in academia for nearly nine years (2 different positions)

    Reply
  55. Sick Civil Servant

    My sister did her PhD at prestigious university and got a teaching job right after graduation (NTT). When her baby was born, my sister took one semester off but dragged her six month baby to her classes for the next bit until it was “affordable” to put her into daycare. My sister claimed that she’s “a mother” so of course the university should bend to accommodate her. And when the child was 5, the university paid for my sister & her daughter to fly business class to Asia to help coordinate a joint course. When I mentioned that my employer (federal govt) would never buy my kids a business class ticket to join me for travelling, her attitude was the same: “I’m a mother!” She was also married to the father of her child how had the capacity to work from home. But in my sister’s eyes, the fact that she was a “mother” meant the world should bend before her. And no, she doesn’t do well outside academia! Academia attracts people with very limited views.

    Reply
    1. mememe

      This is so true about people from academia having “limited views” and not functioning well outside it. I would even use the word “institutionalized”. I worked for a bunch of years at a university, first part time and later full time in two positions (total of nine years full time and during those years I got my Masters degree). I had colleagues who regularly used their kids as an excuse when they didn’t feel like coming in or doing a certain task or dealing with something/someone on a certain day. It was understood that one of their colleague/buddies would cover for them and that they would return the favor in the future. Kids are a huge get-out-of-jail-free excuse for ANYTHING in this environment. All you have to say is that Junior is sick and that is the end of the discussion.

      That simply does not fly in other venues, to put it mildly! (This was on Long Island, which has its own subculture which is surprisingly and shockingly provincial, conformist, old-school traditional and old-fashioned, despite the proximity to NYC. I was so happy to get out of there and back to the city. The racism and intolerance made me sick to my stomach.)

      Reply
  56. Lynn 744181

    My boss and I take turns getting coffee. If you can’t leave your desk to take a turn getting it, have some money ready and offer to buy sometimes since he is going to get it.

    Reply
  57. Candace

    Agreed with the folks saying that a non tenure track person can and as likely as not WILL be risking her job saying much to a tenured prof. I have worked in academe for 35 years and been on both sides of tenure. Honestly, I’d buy noise cancelling headphones, go to the library, anything else. It sucks, but a LOT of tenured faculty are entitled jerks. Not all, but if this prof was not, the kids would not be there weekly.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Before you comment: Please be kind, stay on-topic, and follow the site's commenting rules.
You can report an ad, tech, or typo issue here.

Subscribe to all comments on this post by RSS