how can I get my staff to figure things out on their own, asking about internal candidates, and more

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

1. How do I train my staff to be comfortable figuring things out on their own?

I’ve been a manager for a few years now, and I’ve been working hard to build my bench. I seem to keep running into assigning an employee a new task with as long of a lead time as I can manage, and the first response is “Can you show me, first?” Most of the time when I get tasks at my level, I’m not given 100% of the information. I’m given a new report to run, or asked to find a piece of data. Most of the time I play around and figure it out, and if I get stuck, I’ll come back with “I tried A and B and those ways don’t seem to work, is there a different way to approach this or someone I can talk to?”

Nothing I’m assigning is outside the capabilities or bandwidth of the employees, and rarely when I’ve pushed them to try by themselves have they needed additional support. I just don’t always have the availability to screenshare and show you how to filter and copy a report. I’ve had success with letting them know if they want to check in with me after trying in a week, I can make some time, but not every task can come with an in-depth training. I’m spending my time with the more advanced tasks with even less information! I’ve made sure to include questions about what to do when you don’t have all the information to my interviews, and make sure my existing staff know that they have my support if there is a problem with the work the first time.

How do I get my team to get more comfortable swimming in the deep end?

Name it explicitly as something you want them doing, and something they need to work on. If you haven’t explicitly told them this is your expectation, they may not realize they’re out of sync with it. In fact, they may even see their requests for up-front demonstrations as conscientious, since they’re ensuring they’ll be doing something the way you want it done.

So say something like this: “With tasks like X and Y, I’d like you to try doing it yourself first. If you get stuck, you can come to me and let me know what you’ve tried and that you need help. But I have confidence that if you try on your own first, you’re usually going to figure it out, and that builds your skills and saves me time.”

You also need to let people know it’s okay if things take longer while they’re figuring it out, and that they won’t be penalized for mistakes in that process. (And then you really need to mean that — if you seem irritated or upset when there are delays or mistakes, people rightly won’t take you at your word about this.) You also should watch for how much time this really adds to people’s workload — if someone is spending days trying to figure something out when you could have shown them in 10 minutes, that’s likely not the right allocation of time.)

You also need to be judicious about it. You say that when you’ve pushed people to try on their own, they’ve rarely ended up needing additional support, which is great. But make sure that you don’t overlook times when people really do need more support up-front (like when something uses skills they’ve never had to employ before or when the work is very high-stakes — which are both times when you should provide more guidance).

2. Can I ask my interviewer if internal candidates are also applying?

I work in a field where mostly people are promoted from within. I’ve just applied for a lateral move to another organization, but I honestly don’t think it’s worth my time pursing if they have an internal candidate also applying. Can I ask about internal candidates during a phone screen?

You can, but it won’t necessarily tell you what you think it will. Sometimes there are internal candidates who have zero chance of being hired. Sometimes there are decent internal candidates, but the company prefers to bring in someone from the outside with a fresh perspective. Sometimes there are decent internal candidates but the company is going to hire the best person for the job, whether they’re internal or external.

It’s absolutely true that sometimes companies are already planning to hire an internal candidate and just go through the motions with interviewing other people. That’s rude and a waste of time, and it’s really frustrating to feel your time was wasted that way. But unless you have insider info about the situation (which you’re unlikely to be given in a phone interview), you have no way of knowing what the situation really is, and in many cases it would be a mistake to bow out of a hiring process simply because someone internal is also applying.

3. New employee fell asleep in meeting

I have a new employee who started on Monday. So far she seems great. But we were just in a kind of boring but important meeting with internal colleagues and she kept nodding off to sleep. She was trying to fight it, but it happened multiple times.

Is this something I should address with her now? Keep an eye on? Something else?

Any chance she wasn’t working for a while before she started with you or was working somewhere with a very different schedule? It’s possible this is just the initial adjustment to her new schedule and that she’s mortified it happened.

One option is to let it go and only address it if it happens a second time (at which point, address it privately right away). Alternately, you could say to her, “Are you doing okay? You looked pretty sleepy in that meeting.” That’s ideally said the day it happened though, and it doesn’t work as well to say it a few days later.

4. My awful former boss is terminally ill — should I reach out?

I spent over three years working for a small nonprofit before moving to a new company almost two years ago. When I was working for the nonprofit, my boss, Sansa, was diagnosed with cancer. If memory serves, she was in remission when I left. However, since then, the cancer has spread, and she has been given one to two years to live. It’s utterly heartbreaking. She is quite young, in her early forties, and she’s very good at her job.

Here’s the thing, though: Working for Sansa was unbelievably difficult. She was hypercritical well beyond what could be considered constructive, she was a chronic interrupter, and she had virtually no boundaries. She talked to me about her personal and sex life, made snarky comments about church-going colleagues (she was deeply metaphysical), and once told me I needed to “rethink my life” and my “attachment issues” when I went to retrieve a favorite pen I’d left in her office. Another time she raked me over the coals in front of a volunteer over a very small and easily accommodated change she wanted. Her moods were wildly unpredictable and she had a reputation around the office for being snarly and emotionally unstable on her bad days. Her toxic moods were so potent they had their own oppressive ecosystems that could put entire roomfuls of people on edge and leave me with anxiety stomachaches for the rest of the day. She made everyone on her team cry. I could go on, but you get the picture.

I have not kept in touch with her after leaving (all news of her illness has come through the grapevine). It took a month or two at my new job for me to stop getting a stomachache whenever my new (amazing!) boss came over to my desk because I was so used to getting dragged through the mud, and I needed a clean break to distance myself from that relationship. Sansa sent me a text maybe a year after I left, but it had strange vibes (and a friend who still worked there confirmed she was in a BAD mood that day), so I gave minimal answers and she left it alone.

So now we’re here. This woman made me utterly miserable for years, and she is terminally ill. So my question is … do I reach out? Should I try to see her? Would reestablishing contact under these circumstances even be appropriate? Is there anything to be gained in seeing her again, or is it better to just keep it a clean break? I’m not proud to admit this, but I wouldn’t even be considering reaching out to her if she weren’t sick. Am I insulting her by only considering it because of her health? Will I deeply regret not seeing her again before the inevitable? What should I do?

It doesn’t sound like you and Sansa have the sort of relationship where there’s a lot to be gained (for either of you) from you reaching out to her now. You don’t like her, she made your life difficult, you were glad to make a clean break, and it’s okay to simply feel sympathy and compassion from a distance. If you’d like, you could send her a card letting her know that you’re thinking of her, but this isn’t a situation where you’re a bad person if you don’t do more than that.

Read an update to this letter

5. My employer will only get me a laptop if I give up my desktop computer

I have been working in my current job (as an early-career academic at a public university) for just over two years. During that time I have used my personal laptop whenever I work from home/outside office hours, or while travelling. We are expected to undertake work/conference travel and attend workshops etc where laptops are required. We are also encouraged to work from home one day a week to maximise research productivity/minimise student interruptions. I have a desktop computer in my office, which has greater storage space/processing power than the laptop. Two weeks ago my laptop broke and it cannot be fixed (it is more than 5 years old). When I spoke to the university about getting a work laptop I was told that they would only purchase one if I gave up my desktop computer or surrendered my personal laptop to them! Am I right in thinking this is unreasonable? If so, how do I push back on it?

The “give us your personal laptop” part of this is really weird (so weird that I wonder if they misunderstood and thought they’d purchased it for you), but the rest of it seems like they’re saying they have a policy of supplying one work computer per person. They’ll give you a laptop or a desktop computer, but not both. That’s not inherently unreasonable for an employer with limited funds (which is likely the case with a university).

It would be unreasonable if you needed a laptop for work (which you do) and they refused to provide you with one. But that’s not the situation; they’ll buy you one, but you’d need to use it for all your work things and let them reassign your desktop computer to someone else.

{ 519 comments… read them below }

  1. Kimmybear*

    #5…I work in IT and we were just talking about this today. There are people that want one laptop for home and another for the office…huh? One person, one computer. Having said that, if you choose a laptop, be sure to get an external monitor and a keyboard and mouse if you want.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      The magic words are “docking station,” and ideally, it should be one designed for the specific model laptop by the same manufacturer.

      (And just because your old laptop had less drive space doesn’t necessarily mean the new laptop will. It will probably have a less powerful processor, though in the business world, that’s rarely an issue if you’re not doing graphics or video work.)

      1. Bilateralrope*

        The lower hard drive space might also not matter. If you’re only generating a few mb of documents a day then any hard drive on a new computer will be sufficient.

        Though I would suggest the letter writer getting a mouse, keyboard and something to put the laptop on. Just sticking the laptop on the desk is poor ergonomics.

        1. AnnaBananna*

          And even my public university low budget IT department moved us all onto a shared network where that type of storage didn’t matter.

          Plus, once IT provides the laptop, any processing issue is handled by them – including quick upgrade (every ~4 yrs at a much higher build cost than most folks budget for in their personal lives), to keep up processing speeds as new software is released. I guess I’m not really seeing how this is a bad thing? The laptop will likely function way better than a personal laptop anyway as most large IT strategies insist on top of the line functionality as it saves resources in the long run.

      2. Akcipitrokulo*

        Yep. I got my desktop switched out for laptop… better specs and docking station so when at desk I still have my keyboard, mouse and two monitors (option of three if I use laptop screen too).

        One computer per person is perfectly normal. I wonder if talking through the specs and arrangements for new one would help as it sounds like there’s an assumption that laptop is automatically less powerful than desktop – which isn’t the case.

        Do get a docking station though!

        1. AnnaBananna*

          “there’s an assumption that laptop is automatically less powerful than desktop – which isn’t the case.” Yep, I think so too. It kind of reads as if LW hasn’t used an enterprise level laptop before – won’t they be in for a pleasant surprise! :)

          1. Dr E*

            I’m an academic. There might be a reason this person doesn’t know what a great laptop can do. I have a work desktop and a personal laptop that I use for work all the time because the university provided laptop is not good enough.

      3. Bilateralrope*

        How much does a docking station cost ?

        Is it a justifiable business expense if they aren’t providing a monitor to use with it ?

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          Yes, and they should give a monitor too – but in this case, they already have a monitor (and other equipment) for the desktop.

          (But seriously, not providing a monitor is unreasonable.)

        2. KR*

          The business can also look at it as an EHS expense because it affects the ergonomic health of their employee.

        3. Jules the 3rd*

          New docking stations usually cost $50 to $150. High end ones can cost $300. Large institutions often have extra around, though you have to be thoughtful about matching the tech, and a fractured IT structure can make that hard (eg, different departments having independent IT purchasing…)

      4. Mongrel*

        “(And just because your old laptop had less drive space doesn’t necessarily mean the new laptop will.)”

        Most laptops come with M.2 drives nowadays, which get quite expensive quite quickly as you ramp up the space available.
        Check with the IT purchasers as most laptops aimed at business contracts have the option of adding a mechanical high capacity (for a laptop) hard drive at the time of purchase.
        Worst case for extra storage is to get an external drive that can be encrypted, again talk to the IT people, and backed up to work servers frequently and automatically

      5. Roger, Willandholly*

        YES. And if you can, get a 2nd docking station for home, and a carrying case or roller bag bag. You get used to it, and it’s is so easy to pop it in and go. Plus it allows me to have two monitors.

        But do remember the laptop is for work stuff only. As a public university employee, everything on your laptop is discoverable.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Yes this.

          You will have to get a laptop for you, but you should stop using it for work.

      6. Elizabeth*

        She’s at a university; there’s a decent chance she might be doing something computationally intensive. (For me, it’s running stats models on big datasets.)

        In that case, she might have a remote server to connect to for the big jobs. But that’s a pain. As another early-career researcher who often works from home, I paid extra out of pocket for a more powerful laptop for this reason.

        1. epi*

          Yeah I’m not sure why anyone would comment that the OP may not need anything that powerful. They said in their letter that storage space and processing power are a concern. I do all sorts of things for my research that are inefficient to do on a laptop, or that shouldn’t be done on one at all.

          The OP should ask around their unit to find out what setup others have who are doing similar work, and who paid for that. They might have faculty development funds that could be used that way, or be able to give advice about research funding mechanisms in their field that can be used to purchase equipment. The OP could have access to something like this and not realize it.

          If the need for a new laptop is urgent, I would prioritize getting something light, affordable, and strictly conference ready. If the OP thinks about it, maybe there isn’t a need to run all of their weirder software on the go– just an office suite and a stats package or something. That is the setup I have right now. I do a lot of GIS work but just don’t load that on my laptop– it would be unbearable. I put R on it so I can follow along with stats talks knowing the datasets will never be that large. It has been a really nice arrangement.

          1. the_scientist*

            I also work in an office with a lot of work being done on big datasets and GIS work as well. We all have laptops with docking stations and monitors at our desks. While the laptops we have aren’t super computationally powerful we have a dedicated remote SAS server and can run analyses off of base tables stored in shared drives, which offloads the computational power from individual computers. I don’t do any GIS work so I can’t comment on how that setup works, but I feel like they might have something similar. Of course this is a set up that requires a lot of IT support and the systems architecture to make it happen, and I don’t see this being the case at a university.

            1. epi*

              I usually access SAS from a remote server too, but typically not GIS. My experience at a large research university has been that specific units have this set up, and you need to be connected to them or have a collaborator from those units to use it. Generally it belongs to a stats or computing shared resource so its employees use it and it’s not guaranteed to others.

              My experience with GIS has been that you always need at least the option to work locally. That’s because of both silly things about file structures in ArcGIS, and just how huge the files are and resource-intensive a lot of the processing can be. I’ve done GIS work for several different groups in different fields, using the GIS for different things, and with different IT setups– but I always worked on the local machine, at their direction. I know there are enterprise GIS applications that presumably don’t do this, but I have never seen it in academic research.

          2. AES*

            Seconding the advice to ask your department chair about other funding solutions. Personal development funds might apply here, but you might also find a variety of offices at the university who can provide smallish grants for things like this. At my university I can think of three non-IT sources off the top of my head where I could ask for research-supporting money, and if you have undergrads involved in your research that would open up even more sources. You could also check with your university grant office to see if they know of any external resources that could apply here.

          3. Yet another Sara*

            Exactly. My institution does one computer per employee, but there’s other funding available for projects/faculty/researchers who need it, it just doesn’t come from the same budget.

          4. Cathy Gale*

            Because (as someone who worked frequently in an IT-adjacent department, and was frequently mistaken for an IT person and roped into helping people when IT personnel would or did not), many IT personnel do not know *anything* about programs like SPSS and r, or media production software that require heavy horsepower [Creative Cloud, FinalCut, Avid], and others make gross assumptions about the needs of different employees without talking to them first. I have worked with excellent IT personnel who are customer driven and those who are not.

            Also, IT communications and training outreach were absolutely abysmal at two institutions I worked out. Example: Lync was the Microsoft product used to connect thousands of employees on multiple campuses. IT did not explain why Lync was turning into Skype for Business, why Lync for the Mac and different versions of Windows worked very differently, and how Skype for Business was *not* run on the same system as the Skype many people had independently downloaded. (I used to explain it with KFC metaphors… Original Recipe, Extra Crispy.) It’s easy to point the finger and describe it as a “PIC” or “PICNIC” problem [“Problem in Chair” or “Problem in Chair, Not in Computer”] if you keep users barefoot and ignorant, or if you refuse to give your IT people a decent place to take support calls or provide professional development and training for them.

            1. theblackdog*

              To be fair to IT, Microsoft kind of sprung it on a lot of users that “BTW we’re making Lync move over to Skype for Business” without much warning.

      7. Hlyssande*

        Yes! Docking stations + the various accouterments are awesome! My work setup has a docking station, two monitors, ergo keyboard, and mouse. I have a small mouse + power brick in my laptop bag for travel stuff, and at home I plug an extra monitor and keyboard in to approximate the two monitor setup from work for as much wfh productivity as I can manage.

        Also, your employer should pbuy the docking station setup for your office at the very least. Since they ask you to work from home regularly, you may be able to convince them to do the same for when you work at home. I know things are different when you work at a corporate giant like I do and they may decline, but making your home setup as similar to the office one as possible definitely helps with productivity.

        1. skunklet*

          this is exactly our set up at work (Fortune 20 company) – everyone’s on a laptop with the docking station set up, etc.. It’s frankly awesome that I can wfh if needed without batting an eye!

      8. Maya Elena*

        Well, OP is in an academic setting, suggesting that they might need to do heavy number-crunching.

      9. 4Monitors*

        Those aren’t magic words if you work in the IT department. More like a curse from the depths of hell, in my experience. Docking stations go out, calls to IT increase 25% or more, usually because the folks getting the docking stations were impatient and couldn’t be bothered to learn the correct procedure for connecting to them and disconnecting from them.

        1. theblackdog*

          It does depend on the docking station. The modern ones for Dells now use a single USB-C cable that connects to their laptop so it’s very painless to connect and disconnect from the station.

          1. AudreyII*

            At my workplace, it’s not physically connecting and disconnecting from the docking station that poses a problem for many – it’s how Windows reconfigures (butchers) our 22″ dual monitor displays onto the 14″ laptop screen when people “hot” undock. I can definitely see it adding to help desk ticket loads, especially with tickets from users who rarely need to take their laptops to meetings or to a coworker’s desk. Since I do both of these a few time a week, I know the exact order of operations for my office’s laptop/dock/monitor setup to keep the the display from being forced onto a tiny screen at the huge resolution and needing 4-way scroll bars. I’ve sent a few emails out to my team reminding them of this, including in the invite for every working meeting we have. But you know, horses, water, forced drinking, etc.

      10. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        This was going to be my suggestion – it is what I and all of my staff have and it works great.

      11. TootsNYC*

        the other important thing to say is “processing power.”

        if the laptop is going to be your only computer, it needs the oomph that your desktop has been providing you.

        1. TootsNYC*

          but as was pointed out–5 years is a long time in computing; it may be that all the processing speed and storage capacity you need is standard on a new laptop.

          Also, depending on your security constraints, storing things in the cloud (Google Docs, Dropbox, etc.) might be enough. I find that I store very few things on my hard drive.

    2. Lil*

      my current job is the first in which i’ve had only a laptop, and my desk setup includes a monitor with a docking station. and for meetings, i just unhook the laptop and bring it with me. when i work from home, it’s the same computer (but hooked up to my monitor setup at home). this is the most ideal computer situation and i will never again buy a desktop.

      1. AnonEmu*

        Same – it is so nice to be able to be working on some data on my work computer, plugged into 2 big monitors, and then to unplug it to bring to a meeting. It’s -amazing-.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        Agreed. I gave up desktops…gosh it seems like eons ago now, but I think the last time I had one was 2004/5 maybe. I will never buy a desktop again. Even using them at this stage feels I don’t know, “alien” to me I guess. Also I will give up my Mac when they pry it out of my cold dead hands. I will never go back to Windows.

        1. TurquoiseCow*


          I have to use windows for some things at work, and they gave me a windows laptop, but ugggghhhh.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            But for everyone, it’s what works best *for them* . Mac works for you – yay! Windows works for me – yay! Unix / Linux needed? Sure!

            The OS tribal wars were always weird to me, until I realized that users couldn’t understand what other people needed unless they’d happened to have close contact with others’ jobs. I know that finance people build extensive weird reports in Excel, stretching the limits as much as possible – they need Windows. Programmers need to be able to dig into what’s going on – Unix/Linux makes sense.

          2. RJ the Newbie*

            Amen to this. Spreadsheets are my bread and butter. I have a Mac for personal use, but I at work I alternate between heavy Excel and our accounting software that is not Mac compatible

          3. Media Monkey*

            this! but OS wars aside – Mac people – if you go to someone else’s office and might want to present, bring an adaptor! i have lost count of the amount of time i have spent running to and from IT because someone brought in a Mac that doesn’t connect to the AV equipment in a meeting room!

            1. Cathy Gale*

              THIS! I would like this comment a million times. Please, Mac people, this is wonderful advice! Carry it in your laptop bag or purse!

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                There are people who don’t already know to do this? I just kind of figured it was a “duh” kind of thing. Wow. On behalf of my fellow Mac users…I apologize.

          4. JKP*

            I use Excel a lot too. On my Mac. They do have a Mac version of it.

            The only thing I can’t use on my Mac is Access. But then I just have that installed on a virtual Windows machine on my Mac.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              My biggest annoyance is that there is no Mac version of IE for those stubborn websites that use only IE…for some reason. Virtual windows machine on mine too…just for those websites that I have to use more often than I like.

              I was a PC/Windows person forever. I was a very loyal HP customer who bought new machines every 12-18 months on average. Then…Windows 8 came along. Since I could no longer get a new machine with Windows 7 (believe me I tried), I went shopping at the Apple store.

              I’ve never regretted it. I also ditched the Android phone for an iPhone (well several of them at this point), the tablet for an iPad, etc. I am fully enmeshed in the Apple Cult (TM) at this point. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

              1. Lurk Til I Can’t Help Myself*

                I had a big, clunky Dell laptop that was fantastic until it abruptly crapped out the first week of November, 2012. I had to get a new one fairly quickly, so I went with another Dell that already had Windows 8 on it. I had NO IDEA what I was getting into. Even my IT guy walked away.

                My office mate’s laptop had to be replaced at the same time. She went for a Mac, but had no experience with Apple. The wailing and gnashing of teeth in that suite went on for both of us (non-tech-savvy people) for months.

          5. RUKiddingMe*

            I have Excel for Mac. Full disclosure I have a love/hate….mostly hate relationship with Excel so I really rely on others to use it for me, but I can if I absolutely have to do some very basic stuff without screwing it up.

    3. Penelope Garcia’s glasses*

      I use my own laptop at home and a work laptop when I’m not at my desk at work and need one, because I have back problems and can’t carry a laptop around – those things aren’t actually that portable!

      However what we do is have communal laptops at work. You book one from IT when you need it, and log in to get to your own stuff.

    4. Amy*

      I don’t find it a strange request, depending on the role.

      I have desktop + laptop. At the office, I’m generally looking through large data sets, comparing multiple spreadsheets. (In fact, I’d really like two monitors) On the road, I’m presenting to clients. If I had to choose only one, I’d need to go with the laptop. But it would make my work in the office more challenging on the smaller, less powerful device.

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Wow – I thought two monitors were standard now. I don’t think I could function with just one anymore. Every single person at my last two companies had at least two, even the interns.

        1. Leah*

          here at my office the standard is also a single monitor, which, as a person who spent the last six years of her career using AT LEAST two monitors, drives me up the wall. thankfully I managed to get a widescreen monitor after a few months in, which still isn’t what I’d like, but it’s better than the small older monitors most people use here.

          But yeah, to give my two cents to the OP, I work in IT, configuring and handing out computers to people in my office. As a rule, everyone gets laptops with docking stations, monitor, and accessories; only people who don’t work from home, like the mobile support guy and the nurse, have desktops. Honestly I wouldn’t mind having a desktop myself, since I also don’t work from home, but desktops here are the exception to the rule so we don’t have any in stock readily available, and when I got hired all we had in stock were some very basic, brand new HP computers, a model that people in our office rarely ever request, so in the end we took those and so far I have no complaints.

          And if you do need the extra processing, just ask for it! sometimes it may cost a bit more to your department, but sometimes it’s not that big of a difference. at my office our standard i5 laptop is only about $200 cheaper than our i7 laptop, so most times it’s just a matter of explaining to your boss why the extra processing power is necessary to your work, how a slower computer will impact your routine and your overall productivity, and of course checking if the department can afford that extra expense. a HD with more storage space is usually a bit (a lot) more expensive, but most laptops nowadays come with at least 250GB, which is, as someone pointed out earlier, a heckuva lot of space depending on the kind of work you do. but if you do need more than that, again, talk to your boss and your IT person and see if there’s any alternatives in case a HD with larger storage space isn’t a viable option financially speaking – you could maybe get an external HD, or maybe your university has a cloud service where you can storage files that are just meant for keeping and not for day-to-day use.

          and don’t forget to ask about the docking station! if you’re connecting a bunch of things to your laptop at your desk – two monitors, mouse, keyboard, network cable, charger, all that jazz – it’s MUCH easier to just unplug the docking station rather than unplugging all these cables every single time you need to get up to go to a meeting, or even when it’s time for you to go home at the end of the day. trust me, you’ll need it, and you’ll love it.

          good luck with your new laptop!

            1. ThatGirl*

              Yeah, at my current job I have two real monitors, but at my last one, I used the laptop monitor as my second one. It was a reasonable – though not huge – size.

              1. Lynn*

                Same here. I WFH or am in client offices 100% of the time. A docking station would be nice for my home office setup, but my company won’t pay for that. Instead, I have hooked a separate monitor (free-it was an old one we hadn’t gotten around to getting rid of) and use my laptop screen as a second monitor. I have bought a separate keyboard and mouse for my desk and a more compact set to travel with me. But, much as I would love to have a larger second monitor, the laptop screen works for me and it didn’t require me to lay out any cash for my employer. I wouldn’t mind having a desktop machine for my home office and a laptop for travel, but I can’t blame my employer for not wanting to lay out the cash for a dual computer setup when what I do doesn’t really require it.

                1. Lynn*

                  Oops-hit submit without finishing my thought. If your situation requires the computing power of a desktop-that is a different issue and you might need to escalate it by way of your boss, who should be aware of your needs. Most folks, in my experience (which I do realize isn’t universal) are fine with a laptop. It is a hassle to haul it around-but your employer has to decide whether the cost of a two computer setup exceeds the hassle-and it seems like that decision has been made already.

            2. TootsNYC*

              one of the designers I was working with did that, and it confused me SO much at first. But it was really handy, to have the live web page on it and the coding up on her big screen.

            3. Kendra*

              I have two monitors and also use the laptop as a small third one – it has a 15 inch touchscreen and can go in tent mode, so I usually have it as an upside down pyramid to keep the screen closer to me.

          1. Indigo a la mode*

            *You,* in IT, have *one* monitor?? Standard issue here is one, devs have two, and everyone in IT has three. One monitor for a IT folk sounds impossible.

          1. 4Monitors*

            I have…4. 4 28″ monitors. I have replaced all the light sources in my office with orange bulbs to try to counteract the ocean of blue light that washes over me when I power up my systems.

        2. Fabulous Friday*

          I cannot work with two monitors, I am unable to focus on either one. It’s just too much stimulation. Split screen works better for me.

          1. Kathleen_A*

            When I was switched from a desktop to a laptop+docking station, I could have gone to two monitors, but instead they let me opt for one big one. Personally I prefer it – like, by a LOT – but YMMV.

          2. Galloping Gargoyles*

            I am one of the few people in our building that doesn’t have dual monitors and the only one that works strictly on a laptop, both my choice. I have a Surface for backup when I’m traveling. I considered going back to a desktop once I got the Surface but I’ve been on a laptop at work since the early 2000’s and just can’t bring myself to go back. When I have to work at one of the desks with the dual screens, it is really hard for me for that same reason- too hard to focus on either one plus I lose the programs I open because it’s on the wrong screen. :-) OP, if it’s an option I’d consider a desktop for in the office and a laptop or Surface for traveling and WFH. Perhaps the grants idea mentioned in an earlier comment is an option to explore. Good luck!

        3. Anonymeece*

          We just got two monitors and it has been magnificent. I work with a lot of data entry and number crunching, and being able to glance over at the data on one screen and type in the spreadsheet in the other makes me wonder how on earth I got by toggling between the two before.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Resizing my windows to get two of them on the same screen makes me break out in well, not hives, but in sheer annoyance.

      2. Sloan Kittering*

        Yes, I have always had jobs that travel and require me to have a laptop for that travel, but then the IT is very stingy about providing that laptop – like, there’s only one shared one for the whole office and you have to sign up in advance and go pick it up before 5PM – but my travel is often pretty last minute and doesn’t get arranged until later in the day. The result is that I end up using my own laptop. IT hates this because it’s not secure – I hate it because it adds to the likely wear/tear/risk of damage or loss of my own private device. The correct response would be to give me a docking station for my desktop machine but they’d rather be stingy and make me suffer to do my job, I guess.

      3. Willis*

        Same. I have a desktop in my office for running GIS and some Adobe design programs and a small, light laptop for traveling so I can do presentations/email/non-intensive work. Depending on what the OP’s doing, I don’t think it’s that odd of a request. (That said, if I really wanted to keep my desktop, I’d probably just buy a replacement for my dead laptop on my own. I’d want one for personal use anyway.)

    5. Lupe*

      I work in university IT. It’s actually really common for academics to have, say, a large desktop for processing results, and a laptop for general use. I think though the large processing desktop would be normally purchased out of project funds, though, rather than being provided by the university.

      I’m in a very computing heavy field though, not sure how data heavy OP’s field is.

      1. Tela*

        Yeah, my lab has upwards of six computers, all of which are technically under my PI, who has a desktop, laptop, and tablet.

        Desktop is for doing the massive data processing, programming, and statistics work we do. Laptop is for when we bring those results toc convince people to give us more money…

      2. NforKnowledge*

        Yes, this exactly.
        All the people saying you only need a laptop and external monitor: not necessarily! Some people do actually need lots of disk space and RAM for their work!

        That being said, OP5 the university should have shared servers where you can get an account to keep your data and do intensive analysis, that you can access from your laptop. That’s the way things are generally done in my field, as people need laptops to travel or just bring to meetings.

        1. Kimmybear*

          Yes, there are times when a desktop makes sense…statisticians, graphic designers and computers that double as servers. But for most standard office workers, a laptop with appropriate deelsk setup is fine.

        2. Rock Prof*

          Depending upon the university, server space and power for storage and analysis might not exist. I’m at a small, masters-granting public institution, and we don’t have this available for us.

      3. Rock Prof*

        My university has one computer, one person for the one we get provided. But I was able to use start up (grants would also have worked) to buy a large-processor computer in addition to my provided laptop. I did the same thing to get a PC for my lab, since I personally use apple, because it can run arc gis. I’ve also inherited multiple older computers for student used when they get decommissioned out of computer labs.

      4. epi*

        Yeah, I’m happy so many people are happy with their docking stations, but this is not an acceptable solution for a lot of researchers who actually need the computing power. It definitely would not be for me and OP has said they care about the storage and processing power of the computer they do most of their work on.

        The responses about just getting a docking station come across as naive IMO. A laptop that could handle what my desktop does would be very expensive, if we could find one at all. And it would be unlikely to be very portable. The last laptop I owned that could handle all my analytic work– kind of– weighed over seven pounds and was toast by the time I finished the project I used it for.

      5. nonymous*

        Yes, my experience as well. The way it was explained to me was that the University computers are for university sponsored activities (e.g. presenting, email collaboration, authoring course materials, grading), but if additional/specialized hardware is needed for research activities that needs to be funded via grant/startup money.

        Where I think this becomes a problem is when the institution tries to save money by hiring early-career academic faculty without any provision for startup funds. There is one person in this position at my own institution, hired at graduate student stipend levels (!!) with no provisions for additional funds towards equipment and the title “Research Assistant Professor”. The kicker is that she contributed significantly to the research supporting the initial grant during a period of post PhD unemployment and is expected to bring grant money to cover her position going forward.

    6. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

      I switched to “just a laptop” and I am *loving it*. My desktop was ancient, and because of my seniority, I can have pretty much anything I req — I just couldn’t justify a desktop replacement AND a nice laptop. I finally ordered my desktop trashed and okay here I go.

      There is the mild annoyance of bringing my laptop on office days. After I got in the habit (and bought myself a shiny, pearlized, rose gold leather tote that makes me happy to tote it in), it was just routine and NBD. I can pop my sleeping laptop open to exactly where I was before. All in all, a significant time saver.

      I was offered a docking station which, right now I don’t see the need for. I actually use our remote desktop when I am in the building. (IT gave me creativity points for that). What I have is 100% seamless and I love it. Only regret is that I didn’t do this five years ago.

      1. Roger, Willandholly*

        Docking station, wireless keyboard, wireless mouse, two monitors, and lan line – they all plug into the docking station.

      2. Just Employed Here*

        I once had a problem accessing a program on the remote desktop… which might have been because I was connecting to the remote desktop from the remote desktop… I guess some things don’t work when you are essentially building a Russian doll of remoteness!

        (Yes, I asked IT why it wasn’t working. No, I didn’t tell them what I had tried to do after I finally figured it out myself.)

      3. Yvette*

        At my last place everyone used the “remote” desktop from everywhere, home, office etc. This way you could use any computer, anywhere on-site, any software was loaded to your remote, you could work from home, from home nothing could be saved to the hard drive (so no need to surrender personal laptops) I worked at work from the office desktop and from home from my personal laptop or desktop. It was great.

    7. Seeking Second Childhood*

      My company has mostly gone to laptops so people can bring them to meetings.
      The assumption is low weight low cost are most desired. There’s an “engineering” class of machine as well, but you have to know to request it …and then jump through approval hoops to justify it.
      For Office Suite, the basic is great. For AutoCAD or Adobe Creative Cloud it’s worth pushing for the stronger machine.
      My decaffeinated point is that you may be able to get a higher powered laptop by explaining the business need.

    8. ssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      Those who wants two – one for home, one for work – are unusually entitled, or don’t want to schlep back and forth a laptop.

      I take public transit. I love my laptop at work as it allows me to be hyper productive and informative in meetings but to take it home is a PITA as it is heavy once it is on your back, and IT doesn’t give anyone a carrying case for it. Luckily, it is rare I take mine home but when I do, it’s not fun.

      1. WellRed*

        I use my desktop to do design and layout which I find a pain to do on a laptop. I also need to work from home ocassionally or travel for work. It’s not the norm to have two machines, but I am hardly entitled.

          1. fposte*

            I’m not sure “entitled” has much meaning here, tbh. Schlepping a laptop back and forth (which I do) is kind of objectively stupid on several levels, and even if it’s common I don’t think it’s unreasonable to seek to avoid it.

          2. Cathy Gale*

            Agreed, not kind. But also, we don’t know anything else about WellRed’s work expectations. Is she expected to work on call, 24-6 or 24-7? Is she expected to work 80 hours a week? On Christmas and New Year’s, when others have the time off – but she’s expected to update major programs or servers?

            If you have crazy work demands, you’re not entitled.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        I agree with you on the not wanting to cart it back and forth–that’s why I use my personal laptop when I work from home. Our work laptops are not exactly wee. But as a number of people have pointed out, even if that’s not the case for you, wanting both doesn’t necessarily make you entitled. If you generally need a more powerful machine than the laptop your work would pay for, you need a desktop. But if you need to travel for your job, you need a laptop. If both those statements are true for you, wanting to have both is not entitled.

      3. Powercycle*

        Where I work we also get laptops by default (including monitor, mouse, and keyboard for the office) but no carrying case. Why? Cases don’t have to be expensive. (Probably even cheaper if bought in bulk!) Which is a really weird policy considering the employer encourages some remote work and what not.

    9. Captain Radish*

      For my job I actually carry around three laptops AND I have a desktop at work. This is not including my personal machines of which I have my own personal desktop and (I think) four or five laptops.

      Of course, I work on fire alarms of which the programming software often requires a specific version of Windows. I have one Win10 machine, one XP machine, and even an old 98se machine.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        Have you looked into virtual machines? They may or may not work for what you’re doing but could get you down to 1 laptop.

    10. Not So NewReader*

      I went in a different direction on this one. It sounds like OP’s laptop is worthless and going to the dump. So if you can get a laptop for work and still retain your desktop, I would seriously consider using my old worthless laptop to set that one up. I mean if I was going to toss the laptop anyway, why not turn it into something of value to me as I toss it out.

      However if you are only allowed to put programming on one computer, I do agree with the others that you can be very happy with just a laptop. I converted from desktops to laptops at home. I got a regular keyboard, because I just am not comfy with a laptop keyboard and I got a trackball mouse to save my wrist. I don’t even notice I am not using a desktop computer. And I spend hours on my home computer almost daily. I should say I made the switch begrudgingly but now I have no regrets. My laptop at home runs better than my desktop at work.

    11. blackcat*

      To me, this depends on field.
      In a computationally heavy field (certain fields of STEM, generally, some social science areas), it should have been negotiated as a part of start up to have a big, honking, powerful desktop computer provided *and* a laptop. Both are really needed for certain types of work. Many of my colleagues have set ups like this and how they work remotely is that they often use a tool to take over the desk top remotely from the laptop, so the desk top is still doing the heavy lifting.
      That said, this was a problem with negotiating at start up. There’s not a great way to fix it now, other than write a grant that will allow you to buy a desk top.

      (And agreed that two computers are just silly for many fields. But in many fields, it’s not. I have a desktop that I split with my research group that was $$$$$, has software that was $$$$, and a 30TB Drobo set up. We have a calendar for coordinating use.)

      1. Academic Addie*

        This is basically my feeling. I’m at a regional, public MS-granting institution. I’m provided one desktop computer. I have a personal laptop (purchased from my start-up funds), two large-scale data processing machines purchased off a grant, and access to a remote server.

        I actually greatly prefer my personal laptop to be purchased with project funds, as it limits the control the university has over what is installed on it. Can your start-up funds be used for this, OP?

        1. blackcat*

          Hopefully start up funds are available! But if not, I suspect OP is SOL.

          (This is also one of those questions where I feel like academia is really different from other fields. Lots of folks have said asking for a desktop and a laptop is silly/entitled, and it’s really not to me. Maybe 2/3rds of my STEM department has 2+ university-provided computers. BUT our administration constantly doesn’t seem to “get” STEM stuff. Like we have to pay for safety training for our grad students out of our grants because it’s “optional professional development.” I’d be less cranky about that if overhead didn’t take a 40% bite out of grant funds.)

    12. PennyLane*

      #5 At my job we have laptops with a docking station and have a large monitor for our desks. It’s really hard to work with just a laptop screen for long periods, especially with reporting, because everything is so small. So I can understand if you would like a large monitor at the office, but it’s normal that they won’t provide a full desktop and a laptop.

      If you need a bigger screen, ask if they would buy you could use a docking station & if they would provide you a large widescreen monitor. I was having a hard time when I worked from home with the small laptop screen, so I asked our IT team if they had any unused screens I could borrow and they gave me one for home that they were going to get rid of- it’s square but the bigger screen still helps. If they won’t buy you a monitor, you could try that.

    13. ITisnotEZ*

      We had a manager that oversaw two sites roughly 1000 miles apart and traveled every couple of weeks. She wanted 2 laptops, one at each location so she wouldn’t have to commute with them.

    14. Noah*

      I’ve never had a job with a one person, one computer policy. Where I’ve worked, computers have always been doled out by individual needs. Sure, 1:1 has been the default in recent years, but even that’s pretty recent. In the early laptop days, everybody had a desktop, so anyone who needed a laptop had two computers.

    15. Jenny*

      My social science department at an R1 has a one computer per person rule, and also provides docking stations, extra monitors if we request them, etc. I wanted something lighter to teach from, so I bought an 11-inch laptop with startup funds.

  2. Lena Clare*

    LW5 – I disagree with Alison here although she knows more than me about work conventions! :)

    It sounds to be like you do need both desktop (for working in the office) and laptop (for working away) and the employers are being unreasonable about it.

    I just don’t understand how they think you can do your job away from your desk with a desktop if you decide that’s the only computer u need?

    Can u go that route and keep the desktop, then ask them what to do when you’re away at conferences etc?

    1. Lena Clare*

      Alternatively, get the laptop and a separate monitor, keyboard and mouse for in the office?

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The idea is generally that you can use the laptop when you’re in the office too. (It depends on the kind of work you do, but lots of people only use a laptop — me, for example!)

      1. Maria*

        I do heavy numerical computations that my beefy desktop is barely capable of performing overnight. My last two jobs had servers for this. The program won’t run on a laptop.

        However I am also required to travel to client sites a few times a year, plus conferences.

        So they gave me a laptop so shitty that it was basically worthless. OneNote and Chrome work; it has extreme difficulty with Outlook so I use owa.

        This is ok with me. In OP’s shoes, I would ask for a laptop they are ready to recycle (I guarantee there are a few) and install Ubuntu.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          What we would do in this situation is give you a laptop with a remote desktop capability into the server running the industrial-strength computation program. Stuff like that will generally perform better on a server-grade machine (over a desktop or even modern-spec laptop), and it’s very easy to set up a virtual machine that can leverage the power of the server AND be accessible via remote desktop from any machine.

          I also can’t speak for every organization, but we would not allow someone to take an organization computer and install an OS outside our standard setup and then connect it to our network. If you’re coming into our network, it’s via a device imaged to spec by the IS department or via one of the vetted/authorized remote access solutions. But we also don’t allow end-users to install software, so our security procedures may just be more stringent than most.

          1. Sally*

            I think it’s pretty standard (or it should be!) to not allow end users to install anything on their laptops. I don’t think that’s overkill at all.

    3. Someone Else*

      She doesn’t necessarily needboth. She needs a laptop with a docking station that stays in the office. So she’s using the same machine whether she’s there or working from home or while traveling.

      I wonder if there was some miscommunication about the personal laptop that it may have work-specific data on it because she’s been using it for work and they want it “surrended” to make sure it’s wiped of that? Not because they’re demanding to keep the dead laptop, just to give it a once-over. That said if they have concerns about work-stuff on personal devices, all the more reason for them to have provided a laptop in the first place and not allowed her to use her own.

      1. Artemesia*

        Was just going to say the same thing. I had a dock many years ago with a large monitor; it is pretty standard stuff in academic environments where you really do need to be able to travel to conferences and such with a computer.

        1. LovecraftInDC*

          It’s also very common in IT. I do have a work from home schedule, but even before I did, I would occasionally need to troubleshoot on a weekend or after hours.

          Honestly, even outside of IT, I very rarely see a manager or supervisor who doesn’t have a laptop with a docking station as their primary PC.

      2. KR*

        This – I only use a laptop at work but I have a docking station, two monitors, a keyboard, and a mouse so when I’m in the office it’s like I’m on a desktop. OP should definitely go back to IT and clarify. “I am not ready to surrender my personal laptop to you as I purchased it with my own funds and it has my own personal data on there. However my job does require a laptop to do X and Y. Will the laptop you provide offer be comparable to my desktop in terms of storage space and processing power? Will I be issued a docking station or external accessories?”

        1. motherofdragons*

          I also have this setup, and our company has an account with a file-sharing system so all of our documents are uploaded there, so I don’t have any concerns for file space on my actual laptop’s hard drive. I think yours are great questions for the OP to ask IT. If her org doesn’t have a file-sharing system or that’s cost prohibitive, maybe asking for an external hard drive?

      3. Daisy*

        Yes, my thought about the request about handing over her laptop was that they have some rule about the number of devices people should have work data floating about on. She should make clear it’s her own laptop and ask them to clarify.

        1. New Job So Much Better*

          At my office it’s the same; one or the other. Some folks had both and would end up with the seldom-used laptop never getting needed updates.

      4. doreen*

        There might be other factors involved as well. The people above me wanted me to have a laptop, so that I could access records and write reports nights/weekends ( the reports legitimately had to be written almost immediately after the incident happened) Fine with me, because what I was doing pre-laptop was calling the 24 hour office, having them read me the records and then dictating the report to them. IT said ” laptop or thin client, pick one” . Nope, not doing it ,I said. You what me to have a laptop, get IT to let me have both. Not because I’m entitled , not because they wouldn’t get me a docking station – but because my employer treats laptops and other “portable” equipment differently than equipment meant to stay in the office. Leaving a laptop on my desk overnight and having it stolen would would not be treated the same as having the thin client stolen. Having the laptop would mean I would have needed to carry it back and forth everyday, and i wasn’t interested in doing that. ( I did end up with both )

    4. Lena Clare*

      Yes I see that it’d be possible to use a laptop with a docking station, keyboard etc. That would make it easier to use! That’s generally my concern about using laptops in general for long periods of time; I hate writing on them for any length of time. But a keyboard and whatnot plugged in to it would solve that problem.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Yeah, that’s what I do – working on it is exactly the same ergonomic setup as I had with my desktop. I’d 100% agree unreasonable without a docking station & desktop accessories – but with them, it’s fine.

    5. Hermione*

      I’m in a not-dissimilar situation at work. We need laptops when we travel but my employer will only buy us desktops as our office computers because they “last longer/are more resilient.” They’re not wrong but it doesn’t solve the problem of needing to use my personal laptop for work.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I hate the whole bring your own device(s) trend. If I worked for someone and they required it, I would refuse/state I didn’t own whichever device(s) they wanted me to provide. Equipment is a business expense.

        I provide laptops/tablets/phones for my staff to use. I don’t want my personal stuff on work computers and I don’t want work stuff on my personal computer. Likewise for my staff. They have their own devices (laptops, desktops, phones, tablets…) that’s cool. Whatever they need to do their jobs…I provide it with the pretty simple requirement to not cross the streams.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          This would be strictly verbotten at my work, because we work with HIPPA protected data. Therefore, I only have a desktop. *shrug* I wish we could work from home, but I’ve been assured it’s never going to happen.

          1. Blank*

            Just because something is verboten, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. I’m in the EU, and the nature of my job means using my own device violates GDPR. I’ve been asking my employer to provide me with a computer for over a year now (with support of my manager!), and they haven’t done so. I’m still using my personal laptop, because the alternative is to… not have a computer.

          2. Arjay*

            We work with HIPAA and protected health information and we’re all able to work from home. With a company laptop, we connect through a VPN. With a personal laptop, we connect through Citrix with dual authentication. This is completely doable.

            1. Maria*

              I’ve worked remotely using vpns, yubi keys, google authenticator, and a variety of other security measures. If the government could figure it out back in 2008, I’m sure OP’s company could figure it out now.

          3. Fiberpunk*

            I work from home and work with both HIPPA info and Federal Tax Info which has even more stringent rules. Your employer just has to take precautions.

    6. Beth*

      You can’t work away from your desk with a desktop, obviously, but it’s absolutely possible to work at your desk with a laptop! Lots of people do it. A graphic designer or other role that works with really large files/needs a lot of processing power might not be able to make it work, but most of us can do just fine. Laptops can also be set up with an external monitor/keyboard and a docking station at your desk, which makes the experience of working on it pretty darn similar to working at a desktop computer (and those accessories are a lot cheaper than a whole second computer).

      I think that’s what OP should ask for, unless they’re in a role that really requires more power than a high-end laptop can provide. (If their job does require that extra memory/processing power, they can probably make a strong case that their unusual needs justify an exemption to the “one computer per person” policy.)

      1. Anonysand*

        “A graphic designer or other role that works with really large files/needs a lot of processing power might not be able to make it work…”

        I will chime in here- I work in higher ed marketing, and our policy purchases different levels of computers/laptops based on the requirements of the position. The videographer I work with got a higher end model because he needs more computing power to edit and render large video files. The graphic designers here have more storage space and processing power on their laptops for their design files, as well as 4k monitors that show colors in true tones. I’ve got a more basic setup than they do because my role doesn’t require those things, and it all works out fine. Laptops aren’t one size fits all!

        1. LovecraftInDC*

          Very true. I do data modelling and processing work from time to time, so I have a big honking workstation with a discrete graphics card, 8 core processor, 16 GB of RAM, 17″ screen, etc. It’s much more powerful than any of my coworkers desktops.

      2. These Tiny Keyholes*

        Funny you should use that as an example – I’m a graphic designer at a large university and almost my entire department works on laptops (mostly MacBook Pros). I have a separate keyboard and mouse and a fancy monitor that I connect to in my office, as well as the portability to take work home or into a conference room for presenting or collaborating.

        Laptops are definitely not less powerful by default, and I like the flexibility I have at work so much that I’m planning to replace my home desktop (which I also use for freelance graphic design) with a laptop in a few years.

        1. Moonbeam Malone*

          This is true but if cost is an issue it can make sense to have both, assuming you didn’t actually need the same processing power when you were on the road (which seems to be the case for OP?) Right now I can get an $800 machine with more power than my $2,500 macbook (RIP) had. (I also loved the flexibility that thing gave me, though! I needed it as a student since we had to use them in class and at home.)

        2. Parenthetically*

          Yeah, I haven’t had a desktop in over a decade. I love my MacBook Pro and have zero interest in a big permanent device collecting dust on a desk when I can take my laptop anywhere and do everything I need to do with it… like, in a coffee shop.

    7. Amey*

      Most of my team work with laptops, a docking station, external mouse and keyboard and 2 monitors. It’s just when you need to work from home, travel, or take your computer to meetings that you notice any difference from the couple of people who still have desktops and that’s a positive one as you can just pop the laptop on and off the docking station.

    8. Tom*

      Lena Clare – just a thought. But a laptop is a MOBILE computer.
      Which, you know, you can take with you – even in the office. /s

      From an IT point of view – 1 user having two (or more) computers (desktop or laptop) is a nightmare.
      One is not used for a while, so gets out of date with patches and updates – and then the user screams bloody murder when that system is used again, but is slow due to all mandatory updates.
      So – Alison is correct – one machine.

      Given the nature of the job – it would need to be a laptop – and then in the office a docking station with screen, mouse and keyboard (although a wireless mouse could be used as well).
      I cannot speak for other companies – but my employer (a for profit multinational) – has this approach:
      If your work requires to you travel, visit other clients, or offices : Laptop! With home office bits & pieces as well (so, you get 2 dockings, one for in the actual office, and one for your home office)
      There is absolutely no logical reason for anyone to have a desktop AND a laptop.

      The only exception we have – is for normal office based users, who have a desktop, when they need an outside training or similar. For those, we have a couple of pool laptops, but they are IT property, and to be returned after the training. These are also maintained, updated etc by IT.

      One of our offices actually has this but then the other way around – the office has 2 shared desktops – for those that need a place to work, and have either not brought their laptop, or because they need more power for one specific task. Again, these machines are IT property and maintained by IT.

      1. only acting normal*

        Very similar to what my company does.
        Laptops for nearly all, desktops by exception (we have hot desking so these are becoming rare now), pool laptop borrowed when necessary for those without their own. For high power computing we have an internal-cloud solution, so the laptop power isn’t a limitation.

      2. Cathy Gale*

        I would repeat the advice upthread. Do not make assumptions about users’ needs as an IT professional without talking to your client, especially in higher education. I don’t doubt that you have genuinely known some users who let one computer grow moss. However, I would switch between laptop and desktop on a daily basis to this day, so did my former boss, so did almost all of my colleagues at half of the positions I’ve held. This was also the case for several PIs/researcher colleagues in my last position, who taught and who were doing heavy statistical analysis.

        Even after I started explaining in my support calls that I was working in an adjacent technical department (where I was administrating or coadministrating multiple systems used by thousands of people across multiple campuses, and provided support using the same ticketing system), and then I would outline what the problem was and likely solution on their end, I would be asked moronic questions along the lines of if I had turned the computer on or off.

        1. Maria*

          Agreed. IT professionals like the one above made a past job impossible to perform and I was ultimately let go. I firmly asked anyone who would listen for more compute power but since other people with my job title didn’t ask for that, I was SOL. Did I mention they’d recruited me with the carrot of doing heavy data analysis?

          It was 2 years ago and I’m still pretty butthurt about it.

        2. thestik*

          Re: turning computer on and off advice

          Having been on the tech support side for a few years, I find I do need to ask those basic types of questions every single time because people do not accurately explain what troubleshooting they do beforehand (or if they do it often do it wrong and make things worse). The basic questions allow me to figure out if they did something out of sequence, which is the case at least 60% of the time.

    9. Alternative Person*

      I see where you’re coming from (I once bought a netbook so I didn’t have to cart my laptop around on trips) and there is an issue of the university trying to have it both ways (cart a laptop around or have to provide your own device to work out of the office), but I think this is a battle she’d be hard pressed to win with the University as they often have only so much money they can spend on certain things.

      I think the LW’s best bet is to see if the university will provide ergonomic support for using her device in-office and go from there.

    10. londonedit*

      Where I work, if someone works from home a lot they can request a company laptop, but that means they don’t have a separate computer for the office. They can have a monitor in the office, and an external keyboard etc if they want one, but the idea is that they use the laptop when they’re working from home and when they’re in the office.

    11. CJM*

      They aren’t actually saying they won’t provide both. The OP can keep the desktop, and they will provide a laptop *if* they turn in their personal laptop.

      Are there record retention policies at a public university and that’s why they need his personal one? If it doesn’t work anyway, why are they reluctant to turn it in?

      1. CJM*

        Should have added, if they do need to make that voice, choose the laptop. But like other people have said, get a docking station, monitor and keyboard. It makes all the difference.

      2. Parenthetically*

        “If it doesn’t work anyway, why are they reluctant to turn it in?”

        …because it’s her personal property and she shouldn’t be asked to relinquish personal property to get a new computer if it’s necessary for her job.

    12. YetAnotherFed*

      My agency has a lot of teleworking. We are all issued laptops that connect to a docking station at work. The printer, mouse, keyboard, speakers, and dual monitors plug into the docking station. I telework one day a week, so then I bring home the laptop and plug it into the agency-provided router (security reasons) agency-provided headset for VOIP, and my own monitor and mouse. Second monitor is opening up the laptop. The only bad thing is that my phone settings are messed up when I telework so my phone isn’t ringing through, but I’m going to work with IT to check my settings.

    13. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      No she doesn’t need both. You get a laptop and take it back and forth. It’s not unreasonable for a company to only provide one computer to each employee. The thing that is unreasonable is asking her to use her personal laptop when she’s WFH or travelling. If it’s a piece of equipment that is needed for work, then work needs to supply it.

    14. That Would be a Good Band Name*

      At my last job, you had a laptop or a desktop, but not both. You were supplied with a docking station in the office so essentially the laptop just functioned like the tower of a desktop while in the office. No need to supply two computers to one employee.

    15. c56*

      You don’t need a laptop and a desktop, unless you need processing power that a laptop can’t provide, which is unlikely in academia. You need one computer, and that computer should be a laptop for anyone that needs to work from home or travel. Ideally your workplace would also provide you with a monitor, docking station, keyboard and mouse as well for when you’re in the office.

      1. VAP*

        Plenty of academics do heavy data analysis; many that I know have really good computers and still need access to an external service for some of their work. At my current university, all of the CS faculty get a desktop and a laptop, because they need both. Plenty of biology faculty that I know have similar needs.

        1. blackcat*

          Yup, yup, yup.
          >75% of STEM (maybe minus the M–pure mathematicians don’t need processing power like applied folks) researchers really do need processing power. In the social sciences, plenty of econ folks do advanced computational modeling. In other social science fields, video analysis is totally a thing and that requires more hardware, too.

          The image of the academic who is just writing all the time is very, very inaccurate for most fields.

        2. Kate R*

          Agreed. I worked in academia for 12 years doing molecular modeling which takes quite a bit of computing power. Most of the jobs were run on external servers, like you say, but we still needed a fair amount of processing power for visualization and some analyses. Universities can be really stingy about spending though. I was once denied a $15 ID reader that I needed to log in to the external servers because “it’s not in the budget right now”. So I’m not surprised they wouldn’t want to buy both a laptop AND a desktop. I’ve worked for groups that used grant money (instead of university money) to buy additional computer equipment and/or had a shared laptop for anyone to use for travel or work-from-home situations as long as others didn’t also need it. I’m not sure if either of these would be options for the OP.

    16. ENFP in Texas*

      You don’t need a desktop for working in the office if you get a laptop that has sufficient storage and power. Having both is redundant and a waste of resources unless you’re doing something that has a really high level of processing demand (graphic rendering, for example).

    17. Galahad*

      It is common to need more power in a desktop, although with cloud storage, VPNs, and external hard drives, the storage issue is not a thing anymore.

      Our company would assign only one pc per person, and if a laptop, that was your secondary monitor (they tried to make it the only monitor assigned, but that lasted about 1 year).

      We needed very power PCs to run some specialty software. They set up a bank of “visitor / sharing” desktops with large monitors for people with laptops (or broken PCs) — you could go sit at the desktop when running that specific software (which had expensive licensing, so saved those costs). You could not use these to check your email only while actively running the software that was not on your laptop. There were 3 shared desktop PCs for an office of 80 people.

      People with desktops could take a loaner laptop that would run powerpoint and basic office suite and the VPN, slowly…these were laptops that aged out of service for daily use. The loaner laptops (I think there were 5) all had to be returned within a few days.

  3. Venus*

    LW3: I fell asleep in a meeting on my first ever day in my chosen field (I was young and it was bigger stakes than previous jobs so I was more worried). I’m normally calm and collected, but I didn’t sleep well the previous night (not a schedule thing, and I tend to sleep really well). I was fine after a good night’s sleep! No one said anything, but I felt mortified and if my boss had said something I would have apologized.

    1. Some kid*

      My first internship I woke up at 3am, getting about 4 hours of sleep. I walked in at 8am and by noon I was positively sleep walking. I ended up brewing myself a cup of coffee (having never had a cup of straight coffee before) and chugged it around 3pm. When I left at 5pm I was about to start shaking.

    2. Lilian*

      I have fallen asleep when I was new to my previous job, and current job. It usually never happens to me, but it was something about being new, maybe the schedule, maybe the overload of new information, so I wonder if it might be a thing for some people like me.
      From just one time it’s not really an indication of what’s going to happen going forward, so I also definitely wouldn’t address it at this point.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I was once in a training session, early one morning in a full, stuffy conference room and found myself nodding off. To make matters worse, the (internal) trainer said loudly “Chocolate Teapot stay with us!”

        However, new job nerves often make me sleep badly. I also never get a good night’s sleep before catching an early morning flight/train as I am worried about oversleeping and being late.

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          That was really rude of the trainer. When I did live training sessions and had people who seemed to have trouble staying awake, I would approach them at a break and ask if there was anything I could do to help. The idea being that they weren’t sleeping to be rude to me, and there was no need for me to be rude to them.

    3. Mookie*

      I’m convinced that as long as I’m of working age (so, to death or serious debilitation), I will forever be this person on my first day of any job (interview, conference, volunteer gig, certification testing, et cet). I’ll sleep for about twenty restless minutes the night before, show up convinced that my pounding pulse rate signifies a surfeit of endless (nervous) energy for the next ten-ish hours, and once the shock wears off I’m dead on my feet, a little more relieved and relaxed but to the point of semi-consciousness. It’s a common phenomenon, and says nothing much about the sufferer’s professionalism, competence, or enthusiasm. All part of new kid jitters, like babbling too much or exhibiting a too exuberant, bordering on effusive, manner.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        People who don’t care about doing a good job, do not have these problems. They don’t worry in the least. I have met a couple of these people. At least they are consistent. After I talk to them they STILL don’t care.

        Mookie, you are an extreme in the opposite direction. But I relate to you as I have similar problems. I hope you find things that help you calm because I know for the long run this type of “rush” can wear on the body.

    4. Retail*

      I’d find myself close to nodding off in boring or interesting meetings in my internship! We’d been doing physical work in the heat and then stop! Go sit in a comfortable chair in a warm office.

    5. k*

      My BOSS fell asleep his first week on the job in our boring staff meeting. I guess he was just adjusting to the new role and schedule. It happens.

    6. Amy*

      Worth keeping in mind this is an issue that disproportionately hits disabled people – many of us are on meds that can cause sudden, brief sleepy periods and there is not much we can do about it.

      1. PicoSignal*

        Very good point! Furthermore, some causes of disabilities also cause people to fall asleep, so we get a double whammy: my disabling condition causes severe fatigue, and some of my medicines also make me tired (both of which are fought by yet another medicine to keep me awake, but it doesn’t completely offset the first two issues.)

      2. Tammy*

        Came here to say this. I fell asleep recently at work because of a medication interaction (Vyvanse and a blood pressure medication), and was rather mortified when my boss brought it to my attention. Fortunately, he was very understanding about it, but…yeah, sometimes that happens.

      3. Old Biddy*

        This. It may be a medical condition, temporary poor sleep, or something that falls in between major medical condition and one-time event. I never used to fall asleep during seminars until I hit middle age. Perimenopause related insomnia at night plus overly warm and crowded stuffy seminar rooms can put me to sleep nowadays. I don’t have an issue if the room isn’t crowded.

    7. Boss of Sleepy*

      LW3 here. The meeting was at the end of the day and I had to run out after, but the next morning when my direct report got in I did what Allison recommends and just said “I just wanted to check on you to see how you were doing, you seemed a little tired during our meeting yesterday.” She immediately apologized and let me know that she normally take a medication in the mornings that she’d forgotten that day (I didn’t ask anything further) and felt bad and was embarrassed. I assured her I wasn’t upset with her and I’d just wanted to make sure that she was ok. She seem relieved that I asked and we’re all good!

      1. PicoSignal*

        I’m glad you have compassion about this, Boss of Sleepy. Years ago, I went through a very embarrassing few months of constantly nodding off during meetings and at my lab bencb despite every attempt to remain alert. My boss was compassionate, as well, when I told him that my falling asleep was a mystery to me and out of my control. A year later, I was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease that can cause periods of extreme fatigue, to the point of suddenly falling asleep. After the diagnosis and a few prescriptions later, I too, only fell asleep at inappropriate times when I forgot to take my medicine (I’m not armchair diagnosing here; several conditions can cause people to fall asleep despite best efforts.) I will always be grateful to the boss who had enough faith in me to stick with me through that difficult time, and I tried to help him in any way I could even after I moved on to different positions.

      2. Gadget Hackwrench*

        Boss of Sleepy: This MAY indicate that your employee has a form of hypersomnia for which they are prescribed a wakefulness promoter, which they had forgotten to take. The hypersomnias are Narcolepsy 1, Narcolepsy 2, and Idiopathic Hypersomnia. We Hypersomniacs can be very hard working and competent people, but if you should find this employee is reluctant to take on extra hours or stay late after work, please know that hypersomniacs basically *cannot* work for much longer than 8 hours a day (some can’t even make it to 8 and are on disability!) without a major drop in job performance and/or falling asleep at work, so avoidance of extra hours is not an indication of a lack of dedication or work ethic with us. Thank you.

        1. ChimericalOne*

          They might also be on a medication that helps them focus — a stimulant like Concerta, Ritalin, etc. Your body gets used to those, and forgetting to take them can leave you unusually tired/sleepy by the end of the day, too.

        2. Parenthetically*

          Eh, I don’t know that trying to diagnose her is helpful here. There are lots of possibilities, and none of them is particularly relevant to the fact that this has been very competently handled by Boss of Sleepy!

        3. Kitryan*

          Hi fellow hypersomniac! I am loving that autocorrect initially turned that into hypersonic. I started dosing off in plays, even when I was interested in them because of my condition. It’s definitely not always indicative of a lack of interest or under someone’s full control, due either to this sort of condition or any number of other factors. I work from home 2 days a week primarily because removing the commute on those days helps with my energy allocation and allows me to get household chores done and to see a trainer for another health issue.
          It looks like LW3 is handling it well. I hope things go well for the new employee.

      3. mli25*

        My husband is a diagnosed narcoleptic. Pre-diagnosis and medication, he would routinely fall asleep at his desk. Thankfully, his boss was cool about it and it never really caused him any problems at work. What concerned me, was when he told me he could feel the overwhelming urge to sleep come over him at traffic lights. To the doctor he went! Even now, about 8 years later, if he doesn’t take his medication, he will fall asleep at some point during the day. He also cannot take it after a certain time or he will be kept up much later than normal.

      4. CanadaTag*

        Just wanted to say *thumbs up* for your handling of this! That’s the kind of thing that leads to your reports respecting and trusting you. :)

    8. 5 Leaf Clover*

      This happened to me too! I’d been unemployed for 3 months and my natural sleep rhythm is to stay up late and wake up around noon. While I was still adjusting to my new 8:00 AM start time, a prospective new director came and gave a job talk and I am SURE I lost my fight against sleep once or twice. Thank god we ended up not hiring him – it would have been a heck of a way to meet a future boss.

  4. The Original Stellaaaaa*

    OP1: Are you assigning these tasks while knowing that your employees probably don’t have all the info they need, or should they realistically be able to do it in their own with minor troubleshooting? I’ve had managers that didn’t respond well when I explicitly asked for training – they reasoned that if I’d written SEO copy for Walmart tshirts before, I should be able to write seo for Target lampshades. I probably could have, but it wouldn’t gave been my best work, and we ended up wasting more time on rusted fixes than if my managers had just had a training meeting with me.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      She says “rarely when I’ve pushed them to try by themselves have they needed additional support” so I think they *are* capable of doing it on their own most of the time, or at least that was my read of it.

      1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

        In this case I wonder if they are for some reason afraid of making mistakes? Maybe they think that if they try on their own and don’t get it right the first time, they will be in trouble, so it’s better to ask for more specific instructions. How does OP#1 react to mistakes? Is there a reason for them to be afraid? Of course it could also have nothing to do with the current boss and be more about how their previous bosses have reacted.

        Also I think a week is in some cases a really long time to keep trying and failing and getting stuck. If the task is expected to take several weeks anyway then it’s not that long, but if it’s a shorter task, I would be very frustrated if I wasn’t allowed to ask for advice sooner than in a week, and to avoid that I might even choose to ask straight away.

        1. Karen from Finance*

          My read is they’re just new and insecure, and think they’re expected to follow specific instructions. I’ve been this person, over time you move on to using phrases like “is there a specific way you’d like to see this information?” to get an overall feel before taking it on. I think these people probably just need to be nudged in that direction.

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            Yeah you need to be explicit when assigning the task though, that you’re the kind of person that doesn’t want to tell them the answer / walk them through it, you value them independently learning how to do it – there are many employers who are not like that, so just be clear so they know this is A Thing for you. My boss is the worst, I watch her do this to new employees but she doesn’t tell them it’s “a test” to see how independent they are, so they just flail around trying to figure out what she wants. If she told them she has this perspective they would better adjust.

        2. Utoh!*

          The whole afraid of making a mistake part resonated with me because one of my coworkers is this way. Though he’s brilliant at many aspects of his job, he has a hard time making a decision without getting *approval* from myself or our manager. I have tried my best to encourage him to trust his instincts because they are spot on most of the time, but I don’t think he’ll ever change. Another thing he does is make a suggestion about a process and if we determine it’s not what we need to do (because it’s usually too complex for the task at hand), he will apologize profusely for his idea! He will also work on solving issues that were never asked of him, which take him away from his tasks at hand, and cause some friction with his manager and the person whose task he’s working on.

        3. Works in IT*

          I am definitely in a position where there are several ways to do things, but it’s very, very important that everything is done the SAME way each time, because we get audited and if things are done three different ways the auditors will go why is this different there should be one process for this. So maybe the employees are coming from a position like mine, and are used to needing to know the exact way to do it that this company uses, whether or not it’s possible to figure out a way to do it themselves?

        4. OP#1*

          I have trained most of these people in our main system, which is much more complicated. They’re all very used to my speech of “I accidentally changed the location of every instrument in our system to my home site. There is very little you can do to break something more impressively than I have. We have either locked your access from the really bad stuff, or there’s a way to fix it.” For the most part, these are display-only tasks (think like an online pivot table that you just filter and click the areas of interest).

          I’d like to think I’m pretty good at reacting to mistakes. There’s really not much to break on these tasks, but even if there were, most employees are happy to learn new things out of the conversations resulting from mistakes. I get a small period that frequent and smaller feedback is jarring to people, but they soon settle down into enjoying that they know how they’re doing. More often than not, we’re talking about “Hey look! You did it!”

          The timing of availability… unfortunately I travel a lot. That’s what’s driving the availability.

        5. smoke tree*

          I think, for a lot of people, the default is to ask questions rather than figure things out themselves. And some managers won’t take the time to train them out of it, so they’ll just carry on thinking this is what they’re supposed to do. In some ways, I was lucky that my first two office jobs were with incredibly hands-off managers who were hardly ever available, so I was forced to learn to fend for myself. Subsequent managers have been very impressed by this ability, so I can only assume it’s not universal.

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      While it’s possible that it’s harder than LW thinks for her staff to resolve the issues, or that it’s more frequent than she thinks that they don’t have the resources to figure it out, I suspect the answer lies more in the end of Alison’s answer.

      If the staff has any inkling whatsoever that they’ll be: chastised for mistakes, and/or rushed to provide the product, and/or dealing with an irritated Type-A manager if they provide B- work because they had to muddle through it, and/or spending forever on something where a 5-minute conversation would cut the work in half? Then it makes sense that they are looking for direction on the front end instead of muddling through mediocrity. That’s especially because you then have to unlearn doing it wrong if what you end up doing wasn’t what your boss wanted.

      (We don’t know for sure that’s what’s happening. But this reminds me of people who complain that their unhelpful spouse doesn’t proactively do X task, but when you dig a little, it turns out that in the past when Unhelpful Spouse tried to X, Complainer Spouse chastised them for doing it wrong.)

      1. I Took A Mint*

        I was in this situation in the past as the employee. Looking back I can see exactly why my employer was frustrated at my lack of initiative and inability to figure things out on my own. But any time I took initiative I was scolded for doing it wrong, and when I figure things out I was missing crucial information that would have led me to the answer. So I ended up just giving up and asking for instructions.

        Me: How many copies should I make for the meeting?
        Boss: How many do you think?
        Me: I don’t know.
        Boss: Well, guess.
        Me: Well last time there were 8 people. Should I make 8 copies?
        Boss: No, X Y and Z aren’t coming but A and B are, so make 4.
        Me: OK.
        Boss: I want you to think about it first, and ask me “should I make 8 copies” so I know you thought about it, don’t just come to me for everything.
        Me: OK. (internally: but you said I should only make 4 copies and I don’t know who is coming to the meeting so how is this way faster or better, if ultimately I have to ask you how many copies to make??)

        Basically, do the employees actually have the support they need to trust their own judgment?

        1. KayDay*

          This. Especially in the case of junior employees who haven’t had time to build up professional judgement. Early in my career, I would get critiqued for the few (and usually very minor things) that I knew I had full control over, so really doubted myself about everything. It’s not that I can’t handle any sort of critique, it’s just that I wanted to check to make sure my boss agreed with me since I felt like I always got it wrong (examples: putting the copy paper in the copier instead of the supply closet where my boss wanted; using the wrong colors in the heading of a document, etc).

          Also, are there some things that are really easy but not intuitive? (Example 1: Sharepoint intranet: “first click on the three dots, then click on the three dots, then scroll down and hit submit” how the bleep could I have known that?!; Example 2: Turning off the generator. Original someone said to press the off button. Turns out, the big red button is actually the emergency stop, that you should not press except in emergency. In reality, you need to flip a switch and then press a small button and it’s difficult to read the labels of the buttons. Easy-peasy now that someone showed me, but I definitely would not have gotten it right if I tried to figure it out!)

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          About your example… if that employee wasn’t managing the attendee confirmations, it’s reasonable to expect them to ask for the number!

        3. Not So NewReader*

          To me this is PITA stuff. Don’t make me play guessing games. The boss knows I need four copies just say so. Don’t use it as a test to see if I am thinking through problems. All this says to me is, “I want you to be good at guessing how many are coming to a meeting so I am going to make you learn how to guess.”
          sigh. What a waste of everyone’s time. I can become good at guessing at how many will be at a meeting and
          how does that help the big picture?

          A better answer would be, “Any time you need a head count, the meeting attendance list is kept [here] and you can check for yourself.”
          In your example here, all the boss has done is set herself up to be asked the same question over and over again. It’s really important to teach big picture resources. People don’t like doing this because “it takes too long”. However, the time savings comes later when people never ask that question again, because they know they can find the answer on their own.

          1. I Took A Mint*

            Oh man your comment sums up exactly how I felt working there and why I left. “It’s really important to teach big picture resources.” Every time I had this conversation about teaching me the order of things, not just 1-on-1 tasks, I was told “this is how we do it, first we teach small tasks that you can handle, then you can move on to big stuff”. OK, I get that it’s more useful to have a gopher to do what you say, but it would get me to “useful teammate” level faster if you helped me understand how all these tasks come together!

            Now I work at a job where I’ve been explicitly taught the big picture stuff as it comes up, and I get to decide how we do the smaller stuff. It’s much more my style!

        4. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          Yes, this! I’ve had jobs where I was in charge of things, but not trained on the quirks of the individual employer or internal policies. So I’d say, “Oh I’m so sorry, but the llamas can’t go out during a tornado watch,” and then have someone screaming at me, “How DARE you stop someone from taking a llama out!”

          Or I’d say, “Sansa needs to be written up for watching Netflix when she was supposed to be supervising llama camp and a few kids rode their llamas down the street to McDonald’s,” and get “Ummmmm you can’t write her up in a word document, it has to be in a corrective action form submitted online and approved by HR.”

          If you have a specific internal process, you have to communicate that.

          1. Maria*

            Ha, I work in a role with a ton of internal processes, but my superiors have little outside experience so they have no idea that their methods are far from universal. It’s maddening.

            I’ve learned via criticism. It’s a good thing I don’t care (anymore). I need to get out of here.

        5. Parenthetically*

          I am honestly filled with rage about your boss making you do a song and dance like that when she could have just said “Four” ffs! “Well, guess.”!!?! That is some seriously petty, ridiculous management.

      2. Elizabeth*

        I have to wonder if this is the case. I spent time working for a manager who gave me vague end goals. When I thought I had finished them, she went over them, showing me how terrible my planning and processing was and how the goal was actually this “much more specific and clear” goal. When I started to ask her to be more specific and clear in the first place, she refused, took me through HR processes, etc. It never got any better. It took me a long time with a new manager to trust that when a goal was outlined, that would remain the goal. If the goal was vague, I could expand on it how I wanted, AND I could use any process that worked for me to achieve it. I ended up explaining to her what the previous manager had been like.
        There are (unfortunately) an awful lot of managers who lack training in relating to people, working with people, listening and understanding.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Even if OP is a good manager who gives clear goals, how long has it been since the employees worked for the opposite? It can take years to get back to being willing to take risks.

        2. BeenThere OG*

          *cries* this is my current situation exactly. Coupled with team mate who think giving me incorrect information and making me reverse engineer everything is entertainment. I’m so exhausted that it’s making job hunting difficult.

      3. IEL*

        Yeah, there are many managers who say “take your time to figure it out and don’t worry if you don’t get it right at first” because it sounds good and they know it’s what a good manager would say. Unfortunately what they mean is “I need this by Tuesday at the latest and, if it’s not done according to the specifications I have in mind but never shared with you, it will affect your performance evaluation”. Maybe LW1 is a great manager but her employees had bad managers in the past, it’s a common enough situation.

        Also, figuring things out is a skill in and of itself. It’s not surprising LW1 has complex tasks with little guidance, she is after all the manager. If the employees could do complex task with no guidance right off the bat, they would be managers as well. These skills have to be learned.

        1. SamIAm*

          I have to wonder if this really is the most efficient way to manage a staff? Frankly, training is a beast, and it takes a lot of time, but my guess is her staff is WAY less productive than they could be because they are bumbling around uncomfortably trying to figure out what she wants. I think this more a management needs to spend more time explaining and training on new tasks because in the grand scheme of things… her employees will feel more comfortable and their productivity will rise because they won’t spend the majority of their day hoping the are doing it right vs just getting it done and moving on. There is a lot to be said for a a manger who is willing and able to foster a staff.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I wonder if OP’s staff knows where their resources are and how to use those resources.

            When I started the job I have now my boss gave me list after list of resources. It was daunting. However as we went along, she showed me, “Okay for this type of question you call so-and-so. They are on your resource list.” I made little notes beside the names so I know who handled what type of question.
            Then there were internet resources, which she had bookmarked on my computer before I got there. As questions came up, she’d refer to the bookmarked site and show me how to navigate it. (No, it’s not intuitive. If I want to know about “dogs”, let’s say, I have to look under “teapots”. Most people would find this an obscure system. But it’s the system in place and I had to adapt. Fortunately, my boss would make little jokes about how illogical it was such as, “Doesn’t everyone look for “dogs” by googling “teapots”???” Her jokes helped me to keep a realistic sense of things and forge ahead in spite of the lack of logic.)

            Another cool thing my boss does when I encounter a problem is remind me that New Question is similar to an Old Question I had several weeks ago. By tying New to Old I got to see patterns in problem solving. She would point this out in an explanatory tone, not a snotty tone. I said to her, “You are so good at teaching, you could have been a teacher.” She said she has patience for adults only. ha!

            In short, OP, teach how to use resources and teach patterns. Sometimes they will hit a one-off. Let them know that this is unusual and they have not seen it before. I find that saying this out loud helps people to pay closer attention. It’s like saying, “Heads up, I am going to show you something new.” I have trained a few people… okay more than I want to think about. My system that I used was to answer the immediate question, once they seem to be comfortable with that, I’d go to the bigger picture, “Any time you have a question about “teapots”, you can just google “dogs” and find what you need.” This worked well for me.

          2. Susan K*

            I agree. If there is a clear “right way” to do something, it is probably more efficient for someone who knows how to do it to show the employee the first time rather than make the employee waste time trying to figure it out (which also runs the risk of the employee doing it incorrectly and then having to be corrected/retrained). And if these are things that are being done frequently, it would be a good idea to have written instructions so you don’t have to keep showing people. Just because they can eventually figure it out on their own doesn’t mean it’s a good use of their time to struggle with it for 20 times longer than it would take you just to show them.

          3. Patty Mayonnaise*

            I agree, especially because this is an issue that is cropping up with more than one staff member. If one or even two people were asking for clearer instructions, but everyone else was chugging along figuring things out on their own, then I would follow Alison’s advice. But since it seems like a staff-wide issue, I think LW also has to do some reflection on whether or not the problem is her not giving enough support.

            1. Washi*

              I don’t know if that’s conclusive though – you could walk into a culture where every little task comes with specific instructions, when it’s a much better use of time to have the manager teach problems solving skills so that minute directions are not needed, and the employees feel more ownership over their tasks.

              Of course, I would like to be expected to be a mind reader (like if the report needs to have a certain type of formatting, just tell me that) but I actually prefer to just be given a task and a desired outcome and be left to my own devices to figure it out or ask specific questions as needed.

              1. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

                I prefer that too. In fact, I get very annoyed if someone fails to share with me the desired outcome or goal. I’m, “Just tell me what you want. I’ll figure out how to get there!” However, sometimes a specific process is prescribed or required, for whatever reason, or sometimes everyone needs to be doing a particular task exactly the same way. This would not happen if they are each figuring out how to do it themselves. So it depends. And sometimes it’s a matter of the manager’s style, not right or wrong, just the way that manager wants it done. It’s like when you’re the receptionist and the boss tells you how he wants the phone answered.

          4. Super Dee Duper Anon*

            Oh I was in situation that highlights this recently. Started a new job. Got about two months of training from a sr. team member, but then the sr team member left. I ended up assuming most of departing employee’s responsibilities, but we all knew that I wasn’t able to hit the ground running at 100%, which meant I needed to go to the manager for questions/training. Managed was swamped because he took on anything that I could quite take on from the departing team member. I had a conversation with him early on – told him that I knew I was taking up a lot of his time, but my goal was to ask all of my questions now, rather than muddle through things only partially understanding, because I’d rather spend a couple of months taking up a lot of his time but getting very well trained, rather than muddling through and then realizing later that I don’t fully understand x or y and having this whole “training process” drag on.

            He agreed with that approach because he knew if he dealt with some pain/annoyance now, in the long run both he and I would be in better positions.

          5. Media Monkey*

            but you could go “ok, so what information do you think you will need to gather for this request? do you know where we get that from?” “i’d like to see you add in the llama shearing volumes as well and you can ask Fergus for those”. “Do you want to have a go at laying that out in a spreadsheet? Show me the template you suggest and we can make any changes before you input the data”. so a bit of thinking for themselves, but regular checking and input to make sure you get what you need and not much time is wasted doing the wrong thing.

        2. NW Mossy*

          You’re absolutely correct that the skill to problem-solve independently has to be learned. But the best way to learn the skill is practice, which is what this OP wants to encourage in her employees – she wants them to keep trying until the skill comes together. As Alison advised, stating explicitly that the learning is part of the point of the assignment and keeping in mind that higher-stakes assignments should come with more guidance to lessen the fear factor are both helpful to start getting people comfortable.

          Speaking from my experience, I tend to the OP’s side. In my department, the ability to problem-solve without much managerial guidance is a must-have to move up into higher-level individual contributor roles and leadership. In those roles, the challenges you face often don’t come with a clear roadmap for what to do and the outcomes of your decisions are harder to predict. To do the job, you have to be able to plan and decide based on information that’s incomplete. That’s scary, but it also gets a lot less scary the more you’ve done it.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I think often it’s valuable to explicitly tell people, “There is no one right way.” (I know my kid really struggled with free writing because he felt that he would “do it wrong.”)

            And to stress that what they’re practicing is not “the way to do it,” but all the little individual skills that go into creating solutions: feeling brave enough to figure it out, the skills to recognize that this approach isn’t working, the ability (and nerve) to approach other people for info, The knowledge of what resources are available, the ability to recognize patterns of cause-and-effect, etc.

      4. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        I told my complainer spouse flat out that if didn’t stop complaining about the way I did X, Y, or Z, that I was just going to stop doing XYZ, period. And I followed through for every instance of complaining about X, Y, or Z.
        It eventually got through to him, but he had to become a very unhappy camper before it did.

    3. Washi*

      Eh, sometimes that happens, but I think it can also be the case that people are really uncomfortable with the uncertainty that comes with problem-solving and want to bypass that entirely by being shown every step. (Which is what I was interpreting the situation as.) As long as this “problem solving” doesn’t involve having to read a manager’s mind for information only they know, or having to produce something where it won’t be at all clear if it’s right or not, I think it’s really valuable.

      My work recently got this new online database that is relatively intuitive to use, and due to a staff member’s departure, we were given an absolute minimum of training. Some people mess around with it until they find what they want, and some people give up the second that they don’t see an obvious answer. Guess who is developing better skills and ends up more comfortable with the database?

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        It seems like there needs to be a happy medium here. OP expects her staff to figure everything out without training, and staff want their hands held. I get that she’s a manager and her time is limited, but you can’t expect new people to figure stuff out on their own immediately without any type of supervision. That’s setting them up to fail. It seems to be a problem whenever she hires new people, and the only common thread is the OP. I think before OP lays out her expectations to the staff, she needs to figure out if her expectations are realistic.

        1. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool*

          But LW said when she HAS asked them to figure it out, they figure it out most of the time, which to me suggests she isn’t asking too much of them, they are just perhaps insecure (or something else, but not unable).

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            If OP genuinely wants the product to be completed and just doesn’t have time/energy to handhold herself, she could encourage peer trainings too, in order to lift the load. I can’t tell if that’s the case though, or if she just values initiative-taking/independent thinking in her employees on its own merit. After all, it *is* inefficient to have everybody puzzle through a confusing process on their own, and end up with a million different tricks and shortcuts.

            1. Washi*

              I guess ultimately it’s hard to adjudicate this without knowing what kind of task it is. If Boss needs a report every week on how many cats were bathed with how many scratching incidents, then that should definitely be a process that’s written up so it’s always done the same way.

              But if one week Boss needs to know the ratio of shorthairs to longhairs, and then another time it’s record number of cat baths in one week, and another time the heaviest cat bathed in each month, and Boss hasn’t run that exact report but just knows it should be possible, then Employee in that role maybe needs to be able to just figure it out. Because there’s no time savings in Boss figuring it out, then teaching Employee, just for one report one time. Again, as long as it’s “I need this specific information and don’t care how you get it/what it looks like” vs “Please reproduce the specific idea that exists only in my mind with no input from me.”

              1. Parenthetically*

                Yeah, this is a great comment, and I think it may also be revealing what sort of person is going to thrive in that environment. If you’re running 50 different kinds of Cat Stats in a given quarter, you really need someone who’s good at working things out on their own, because it’s genuinely not a good use of a manager’s time to write a manual or do a training on Tabby Nail Trimming number AND on Siamese Eye Drops numbers AND and and…

                I also think it’s an opportunity for OP to get feedback from her staff. Sometimes just asking, “What would it take for you to feel confident enough to do these tasks independently?” can be really revealing.

            2. MCMonkeyBean*

              Yes, the examples given of things like “filtering a report” is something that sounds like peer trainings would be helpful. I would have been extremely frustrated if I was sat down at my job and told to pull information from the ledger without being given information on the mechanics of the process. Whenever a new person starts, the manager gives us a schedule where we all pitch in to train the new person on the various systems and tools they will need to use.

          2. Decima Dewey*

            They figure it out most of the time, possibly. But what they may remember is the times they mess up and get dinged for doing it the wrong way.

          3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

            Yes but there’s not enough information in the letter to know how often she does this, or for what types of tasks OP is taking this approach. If they’re new employees, there’s a lot to learn just about how the company does things outside of your actual job. If they’re fresh out of college, they may need more guidance. I can think of plenty of scenarios where a little hand holding is needed. And it doesn’t have to by OP – are there senior staff members that can help, or can they work together to figure it out? I’m not saying she’s wrong, but she needs to evaluate her expectations to make sure they’re realistic, because to me it sounds as if she expects them to hit the ground running with very little supervision, and getting frustrated when they can’t do that. In a lot of cases, that’s not fair and OP could be setting them up to fail.

      2. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool*

        I agree with you. It could be that the letter writer is somehow causing the insecurity in her reports, but in my early career I was just afraid of making mistakes for no real reason other than I didn’t want to look stupid or something. Then I learned, eventually, to come up with what I think the solution should be, and running that by my supervisor. Then the supervisor knows I’ve thought about it and most of the time, I got the (or a) correct solution.

    4. pleaset*

      “I’ve had managers that didn’t respond well when I explicitly asked for training – they reasoned that if I’d written SEO copy for Walmart tshirts before, I should be able to write seo for Target lampshades.”

      I read this and think “yes you could” – and you’d learn by doing it. Not every business process needs to be trained. Some can be learned, and if the output isn’t the best the first time, that’s OK.

      “I probably could have, but it wouldn’t gave been my best work, and we ended up wasting more time on rusted fixes than if my managers had just had a training meeting with me.”

      Your manager’s time has value also.

      1. The Original Stellaaaaa*

        Except in this instance the difference in approaches yielded quantifiable gains and losses in profits, and the losses were turned into profits when I was finally able to get my manager into a room and have him tell me the industry-specific information he had previously withheld, and which I had no way of deducing in my own, in my position, with the resources that were made available to me.

  5. PollyQ*

    LW#4 — I vote no. “I wouldn’t even be considering reaching out to her if she weren’t sick” says it all.

    1. I Took A Mint*

      My thoughts exactly. It’s hard to sound compassionate when your true feelings are “I’m sorry this happened to you but I never liked you anyways.”

    2. Daisy*

      Which circle of hell is ‘you’re on your deathbed and every former colleague from years ago whom you didn’t like is getting back in touch’? I don’t keep up with ny Dante like I should

      1. Antilles*

        Exactly. I don’t see any real indication from the letter whether Sansa actually even liked OP. If you guys were friendly on a personal level but just butted heads at work, then there’d be an argument for reaching out…but I don’t see any real indication that’s the case.
        If I found out I had a year to live, I certainly wouldn’t want to waste one of those limited remaining hours on an ex-co-worker where there was mutual dislike.

        1. LW #4*

          “I don’t see any real indication from the letter whether Sansa actually even liked OP.” Ha. You know what’s funny? I didn’t even think about this way but you could be totally right.

          She had her moments when she could be pretty great, and we had our moments when we got along well. But, looking back, her tendency to overshare (and my tolerance of it) was probably more a symptom of me being too young/scared of her to draw boundaries than anything else. I truly don’t know if she actively disliked me but I think you’re right: It’s quite possible that hearing from me would be utterly meaningless (or even annoying) to her at this point. Strange personal observation: that realization may have made me sad at one point, but now, I’m pretty indifferent to it. Hm. Growth?

          Thanks for the perspective and for sharing your thoughts.

          1. Ethyl*

            If you really want to do *some*thing, send a nice card or even a small plant or arrangement to the funeral home when the time comes (or a donation if that’s requested). Her family will appreciate it, you won’t have to be reminded of such a terrible time in your life, and you won’t be bothering your boss.

            This is a hard thing to navigate, what happens when someone we didn’t like dies. There’s not a ton of good, compassionate info out there, I’ve found. Hope this helps!

          2. Argh!*

            eh, you really don’t want to reconnect with an oversharer who has a severe medical condition!

      2. Kathleen_A*

        Oh, I agree. I mean, a card probably wouldn’t hurt anything, since the recipient can give it as much or as little attention as she wishes (and who knows – maybe her family, assuming she has one, would like it, and there’s definitely value in doing nice things for the family members of terminally ill people). But really, that’s about as far as the OP needs to go, and I’d go so far as to say that it’s as far as she ought to go.

      3. Lora*

        #5, Anger, I think. But in the Buddhist/Chinese version it’s #3, the Court of King Songdi.

        LW4, I say this as a cancer survivor: no, you absolutely do not need to contact her, and you should not worry about Sansa. Sansa is busy with doctor visits, updating her will and health care proxy and other legal paperwork. Her main concern is likely when she can get a nap again, how often she needs to call the doctor to get a new fentanyl scrip, and when she can afford to quit her job – not when she can say farewell to people she never liked anyways.

        And this is one of the reasons why the second time I had cancer, I barely told anyone: not only do you have to deal with being sick your own self, you have to deal with other people’s reactions to it, which can be an extra burden because they’re kinda having a bunch of feelings AT you about death in general, and it’s all a bit much. Best case, you’re stoned silly on painkillers and don’t care at all. Worst case, you’re miserable from a shortage of adequate nausea and pain control and you want to strangle them for pestering you while you’re trying not to barf on their shoes. When you’re in your pajamas, oozing from surgical sites, feel all ooky from nothing but sponge baths instead of a good shower with a loofah scrub, your teeth feel vile and vaguely sticky from puking no matter how much you brush and you can barely eat applesauce, you just don’t want to be around other humans who aren’t really close. Seeing people who are NOT close is a lot of work to get cleaned up and dressed nicely and as awake as you can be, and you kinda feel like, “hey, screw this, I am dying, let me sleep and eat ice cream all day for crying out loud.” Imagine someone calling you from work while you’re in bed with pneumonia, just so they can have coffee and chat or whatever – that’s about what it feels like. Just no.

        1. LW #4*

          Lora, thank you for your perspective and for sharing your experience. This is really helpful and I’ll confess I hadn’t thought about it this way. I certainly do not want to be a burden to her. I will leave her alone. Thank you, again, for reframing this for me.

    3. LW #4*

      Thank you for affirming this – and for being able to spot the truth in that rambling message!

      1. Smithy*

        I had a somewhat similar situation with an awful active boss and it was initially a very torn experience.

        In this case it was an awful boss’s adult child who’d been diagnosed with a terminal disease. Just a situation I would never want any parent to have to go through. However my boss remained actively awful while all of this was going on. It was an active reality of acknowledging that she was an awful boss who I did not like, and it didn’t make me a bad person because she was also going through an awful situation.

    4. Dr. Pepper*

      Agreed. Just don’t. It sucks that she’s terminally ill, but that doesn’t mean you need to do anything because of it. She gave you anxiety stomachaches, I’m puzzled as to why you would regret not seeing her again- for any reason at all.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        I agree with this as well. So much so that when my own father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I gave him one phone call. I heard through the grapevine that he wanted to speak to me, so I called him in case there was anything he wanted to say. He wanted to have a relationship. No. The time for a relationship was when he was raising me but he was abusive and/or neglectful and squandered that opportunity long ago. I wished him well and never spoke to him again. I have never once regretted the decision. You can have compassion for someone but still maintain the bounrdary of not having them in your life. Only a good person would worry about something like this, so don’t feel guilty about it.

    5. ITisnotEZ*

      If you wanted to twist the knife, you could try suggesting that she” “rethinks her life” and her “attachment issues”. But with her being that self-oblivious, it’ll probably go over her head.

      1. Peridot*

        That would also be really cruel to say to someone who is literally dying? So don’t do that.

    6. DaffyDuck*

      Just —don’t. Don’t send a letter, don’t call, and especially don’t visit. People do not switch personalities because they are terminally ill. You are not her closest family member nor a bosom buddy; actually, you do not have any type of relationship at all. If you feel you must do something make a nice donation to a charity in her name after her death.

  6. Bleu whale*

    When you do show them how to do this task, do you show them your thought processes of how you go about figuring it out? This will make it easier next time they need to do figure out something similar, or even something different.

    1. Bleu whale*

      If someone just tells me the final solution, I learn a lot less compared to when they show me their thought processes.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Ooo- GREAT point. Share how you find solutions for yourself. “Okay if I was faced with this question, here is what I would do to break it down and start to dig into finding the answer….” I often thought that I had to open my mind like it was a book and let people see what was written on those pages.
      It was actually kind of humbling because my thought process is not the smoothest or most efficient. So at first I was hesitant to let people see how I stumble along. After a bit, I got over it because I realized that most people are stumbling along in a similar manner.

    3. Washi*

      This definitely works in some situations, but in others, I’ve found that people who struggle with problem solving also don’t really register my thought processes in a way that allows them to apply it to their own. Sort of like how when I was in physics in high school I would nod along as the teacher explained a problem and then still be totally unable to solve it on my own.

      I’ve had more success asking people to walk me through THEIR thought process, which then allows me to get a better sense of where they are, and lets them see exactly where they got stuck. And also, a lot of times when people are explaining their thinking to me, they actually realize themselves what they were doing wrong!

    4. OP1*

      When I do the training on *Big Advanced System* that has a ton of repetitive, important tasks, I go through the processes, the pitfalls, have training documents and cheat sheets…

      When it’s the cases I’ve listed, it’s like teaching someone to filter in Excel. I can show you the mechanics and give you the raw report, but telling you “to filter by location for a report of this location, but filter by teapot types if you only want to see that.” The nature of the data is that you would want something different depending on the question.

  7. Midwest Academic*

    #5: The policy at my university is that they will supply faculty with one computer, either laptop or desktop, the choice being the individual’s.

    1. Sc@rlettNZ*

      Same here. I don’t think it’s unreasonable. If folk choose a laptop they can also have a docking station, keyboard and monitor or two

      I use a laptop and with all of the above it’s no different than having a desktop machine, it’s just more portable.

    2. blackcat*

      And everywhere that expects significant research, I’ve found that this is negotiable for a start-up package if it’s necessary for one’s research to have a powerful desktop.

    3. Galahad*

      I am not full time, I only teach 6 classes a year, half are on-line classes. I wish my university gave me ANY laptop or PC. I think they believe that only full time faculty use computers to prepare their lecture notes, mark assignments, post final marks to the online system as required, check student emails … etc. ?

  8. Doctor Schmoctor*

    #5 One person, one computer. Sounds very reasonable to me. I work for a big company (one of the biggest industrial automation companies worldwide), and we get laptops because we need the mobility for site work. We use the same laptops at the office. I don’t see any problem with that.

    1. Obelia*

      Same here. When they switched our whole office onto laptops for everything I was a bit wary, but it has been absolutely fine.

    2. SherBert*

      I think it’s actually easier. If I forget to save something to the shared drive, and I am switching computers then there’s a chance what i need is on my desktop when I’m working from my laptop.

      We are issued small lightweight laptops. We can request an external keyboard and a large monitor for use at home if we like (we have docking stations with large dual monitors at work). They def make our lives easier!

    3. AndersonDarling*

      I wonder if the OP isn’t aware how powerful modern laptops are. Once on the docking station, there isn’t any difference between a laptop and a desktop. If the OP was a Data Scientist or Graphics Designer, I think it would have been important enough to mention that they needed a personal server or something of that nature.
      IT Depts have 2 or 3 levels of laptops. The first is for everyday usage of spreadsheets and email, then a bump up in processing and memory for graphics and data processing users. I run Alteryx, Tableau, and run massive database queries with no problem on my laptop.

  9. Nelly*

    Falling Asleep at Work.
    I do this all the time in meetings. I’m a very high energy person. I’m either working, working out, or asleep. I don’t watch TV (I’d just fall asleep if I sat still) and as soon as I sit down in a meeting my brain goes ‘not working, time to sleep!’ I’ve tried everything from multiple coffees to stabbing myself with a pin!

    The only thing that works for me is standing up during a meeting. It’s tricky if I have to take notes, but I can even fall asleep if I’m giving a presentation, so I do what I must to remain conscious. Standing up stops me nodding off.

    I’m not sick, or tired, or bored, I’m just at a standstill which my brain interprets as nap time, maybe your employee is the same?

    1. Penelope Garcia’s glasses*

      That isn’t normal and you should get tested for narcolepsy, stat. I know about the armchair diagnosis rule for letter writers but as you’re not the LW I hope it’s ok to say.

      1. Batgirl*

        This is actually pretty common, it totally can be a sign of something but it’s just how some people are made. Lots of people choose active jobs for this reason and it’s tough for them to get through school. Its why teachers have started using kinasthetic learning methods.

      2. An Unkindness of Ravens*

        The rule isn’t “Don’t armchair-diagnose letter writers.” It’s “Don’t armchair-diagnose others”.

        Maybe try considering that Nelly knows their own body and health needs better than you, a random person on the internet?

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        That’s not how narcolepsy works. You don’t just fall asleep randomly while sitting down.

        It can happen with insomnia or sleep apnea, etc. Or other assorted disorders but I’m sure the commenter has had this long enough they’ve been checked. Sounds like it’s been going on for their life and not sudden.

        1. alliisara*

          Actually, this is exactly how my ideopathic hypersomnia presents. I sit down for more than a few minutes, and I fall asleep, no matter what’s going on around me. I was told by my sleep doctor that the symptoms could be that or narcolepsy, we had to do a sleep study to tell them apart.

          I also had multiple primary care doctors dismiss me before skipping them to go straight to the sleep specialist, who was shocked that I was getting diagnosed so young. It’s very common for sleep problems other than insomnia to be missed. In my case, it took a while to realize my “normal” was not everyone else’s “normal”, and then the doctors didn’t believe me.

          That said, neurological sleep disorders are far from the only possible diagnosis. I have friends with sleep apnea, insomnia, and thyroid problems who’ve had similar symptoms, and heart or breathing problems can do it to (by reducing blood flow or blood oxygen). But as a symptom, it definitely should get checked by a medical professional. It just unfortunately might take being insistent to get them to actually do so.

      4. Dragoning*

        This doesn’t even sound like narcolepsy. I feel like you simply decided you didn’t know anyone like Nelly and picked “the sleeping thing” to diagnose.

    2. Rebecca*

      I fell asleep at my desk the first day back after maternity leave. I hadn’t slept properly in 8 weeks, my baby had colic, and it was very warm in the office. My boss helpfully poked me in the back with a window opening pole to wake me up. It was embarrassing, but I couldn’t help it. I did make a point to do whatever it took to keep my eyes open from then on, though.

      The OP’s new employee could be transitioning from an 11-7 shift to a daytime shift, or have other issues that interrupt her sleep like loud neighbors, a fire alarm in her building in the middle of the night, etc. If it happens again, I’d have a quick chat with her after the meeting and ask if everything is OK, as Alison suggested.

      1. TheRedCoat*

        Totally off topic, I specifically got a standing desk for the ‘up every hour for a half hour’ nights. I recommend them for all the new parents now.

    3. Colette*

      I find I’m getting sleepy in meetings more frequently now that I have a sit/stand desk. I spend a lot of day standing, and then when I get into a warm meeting room with a chair, it’s harder to stay awake.

  10. His Grace*

    OP 4, What do you hope to gain from reaching out to her? Closure? Peace of mind? A clear conscience? You already have those things (I hope) when you left an unbearably toxic environment. Please excuse me for sounding crass or insensitive, but Sansa reaped what she sowed. Write a sympathy card (if you must), and leave it at that.

    1. Nico M*

      Write a cathartic horrible lack-of-sympathy card, then burn it, then donate x$ to a charity related to the illness.

      1. Approval is optional*

        The LW seems like a kind- hearted person. I can’t see how writing a card that basically says ‘glad you are going to die soon’ will help her feel better.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, my first thought there was, “OP, this is a good way to torture yourself.”

      First and foremost, OP, you do NOT owe her anything. At all.

      So this bumps the question down a level and it becomes “Do you WANT to do anything?”
      Well it could be a kind thing to reach out to her. And that talking point does have some merit. But honestly, I think that time for talking has passed.
      Others have suggested donating money to charity. I’d add, light a candle for her or whatever peaceful gesture that you prefer and then let it go. See, you don’t have to be the one to jump in and help her. Others will try to help. She may or may not accept their help and that is her thing to sort out. I think that given your past turbulence with her, there is not much that you can do that would satisfy either you or her. You might make out the best by saying into the air with no one listening, “I wish you peace, Former Boss. I wish you peace.”

      1. LW #4*

        Hi – thank you for this. I think, truly, I want to keep it a clean break. I have to mull over the possibility of a card. At face value, I think it’s a great idea… but I worry it’ll open up communication and I’ll be in a position where I’m trying to draw boundaries all over again. But the candle and the meditation, as it were, are lovely ideas. Thank you.

        Also, thank you for this reminder: “See, you don’t have to be the one to jump in and help her.” I needed to hear this.

        1. DaffyDuck*

          I wouldn’t send a card. I like the idea of lighting a candle, sending good karma or say a prayer for her to find peace.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          I came to say I wouldn’t reach out to her at all. The problems that bothered you before are probably worse now from the stress of this illness. If you send a card, she might get emotional and try to draw you back in or cling to you.
          If you would be ok with that go ahead, but I wouldn’t. There are others who can help her. If there’s no one else, the Cancer Society will.

          1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            I saw this happen. Someone I had known for decades got cancer. They had always had a difficult personality, but once they were ill their true depths came out. TL:DR, they were NPD and their illness turned them into a full blown abusive, malignant narcissist (though truly, they always were, they just hid it better, partially due to the fact they were a pathological liar, confirmed by comparing notes with two other long time friends and finding out we ALL had gotten different versions of their life story!) They ended up using & burning through every genuine friend they had left like a drag racer burns through fuel. I walked away and never looked back. NO regrets, no guilt, not even after they passed away 5 years later.
            Someone who starts out abusive is not going to become sweet as pie when they are ill, or suddenly realize they have been awful. They are going to double and triple down on their abusive behavior and entitlement, and make the lives of everyone around them as miserable as possible.
            Just stay away LW4, you’ll do yourself no good by reaching out to this woman.

      1. Dr. Pepper*

        She made people miserable, thus she cannot expect their support at this time.

        If she even expects such things at all. She may very well not care one way or the other if anyone reaches out to her. But if you’re an awful person who makes people miserable enough to have anxiety attacks at the very thought of you coming over to their desk, well, you shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t reach out to you or show you support later on when you’re going through hard times. Or in this case, are terminally ill.

    3. Another Anon*

      I really hope I’m misunderstanding but please don’t imply that people who are dying from cancer somehow brought it upon themselves.

      1. KWu*

        I read it as, she reaped what she sowed in her poor treatment of other people such that those mistreated folks don’t want to talk to her anymore. Nothing to do with the return of the cancer, but not being in the situation where people gladly rally around you.

      2. Sarah Mary*

        I interpreted this to mean that if you treat all of your employees badly, then you end up not having a lot of friends.

        Anyway, I agree with not reaching out. It’s not clear from the message that your former boss even wants you to contact her. And after 2 years of no contact, there’s no way to approach her that wouldn’t make it obvious that you’re only doing this because she’s sick.

      3. Elise*

        I read it as: she can’t expect everyone to come rushing to her death bed after her treatment of them in life. I felt the same way after my maternal grandfather died. I in no way celebrated his death, but I didn’t feel he had earned the grief that would have come from me if he had treated my mother kinder in life.

        1. Exhausted Trope*

          Elise, yes, my identical situation when my grandfather died years ago. Didn’t mourn him then, never mourned him since. He regularly abused my mother from age two until she left home at 16. Happy he’s gone.

        2. Jenny Grace*

          She probably does not want people with whom she does not have a relationship to come rushing to her deathbed?!
          I mean….reaped what she sowed is one way to interpret it I guess?

    4. LW #4*

      Hi HG. Thanks for these questions. I think there’s a part of me that feels some…guilt? She was never a very happy person, and that made me sad. She sort of turned me into her emotional support system (which I would never allow now that I’m older and MUCH better at setting boundaries), and I find myself feeling latent guilt about not “being there for her,” regardless of the fact that it was never my responsibility to begin with. A strange brand of Stockholm Syndrome. That being said, your and everyone else’s replies are giving me a lot of clarity on what’s true here and helping me let go of guilt and the false duties I keep feeling compelled to place on myself. And for that, I am very, very grateful to you.

      1. Dr. Pepper*

        Do what’s best for your own health and happiness. Just because she decided to lean on you doesn’t mean you are obligated to be there for her. She treated you terribly, abused you even, and therefore you owe her nothing. You relationship with her was not friendship with a peer, entered into freely and based on common interests and mutual respect. It was a boss/employee relationship where she was a terrible boss and abused her power and you dealt with it because it was your job to do so, and because moral high ground doesn’t pay the rent.

        You have nothing to feel guilty about. Feel compassion, forgive her, wish her peace, whatever, but do so in your own heart and for your own health and happiness. It sucks she’s sick, but you don’t owe her anything.

      2. Marthooh*

        If you don’t want to be Sansa’s best friend forever, then don’t pretend to be. Keep in mind, her cancer could very well go into remission again.

      3. WS*

        If you don’t want any further relationship with her, don’t start one! I’m a cancer survivor and it was distressing immediately losing a lot of friends as soon as I got sick, but more distressing was the people who promised to be there and then weren’t. If you feel like you need to do something *for you*, donate to a relevant charity. Resuming contact when you don’t want to really be in touch is not helpful to anyone.

  11. Bilateralrope*

    Working security we make a distinction between “fell asleep” and “went to sleep”.

    The first is accidental. For example someone not preparing themselves properly for night shift. Managment tries to work with the guard to stop it happening.

    The second is intentional. For example, moving into the corner of the guard hut where it’s not as easy for the client to see the sleeping guard. That’s a firable offense.

    So I’d suggest assuming the first and working with the employee unless you have evidence of the second.

    1. Willis*

      Although if the OP’s new hire moved into the corner of the conference room and intentionally went to sleep, that would be kind of amazing! Bonus points if a she balled up a jacket or scarf for use as a pillow. (But seriously, I agree and would leave it alone unless it continues to happen.)

    2. KP*

      I worked at a call center where either was a fireable offense, and saw some merciless on-the-spot terminations.

    3. Lynca*

      My sister works the night shift and this is how they deal with it when on-boarding new employees. Night shift can be a huge adjustment for someone used to working a ‘day to evening’ shift.

      It could also be that the OP’s co-worker was a night shift employee and is now working days. The important thing is to ask and see what the actual problem is.

  12. in disguise for this*

    OP #1 rubbed me the wrong way because I know someone with a learning disability that needs to be shown what to do so that they can be successful. I hope no one on the staff has that issue.

    1. Penelope Garcia’s glasses*

      If my boss explained everything to me just in case I had a learning disability, that would not be a happy situation. If someone has specific needs, they need to ask for accommodations – and I’m sure the boss would know if that was the case. She has clearly said that the staff do fine when they try.

      My solution would be for the staff to start writing some documentation for themselves on stuff they’ve tried.

      1. in disguise for this*

        I guess you’re right. Most people would do fine, and I’m glad, but in my experience, me “trying and doing fine” turns out to be, “actually, you’re doing it so wrong this is how you should do it from now on” and me feeling hurt and dumb for not knowing.

        Or the recent hit, “ugh, I know you’re new, but you need to stop making mistakes so stop bothering us because we have important work to do.”

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            No apologies needed, it sounds like an awful situation. OP needs to consider if that was the employee’s last manager’s practice.

      2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        Because I was the one who was gifted, intelligent, creative, talented, and so on, NO ONE, least of all myself knew or even suspected that I have any learning disabilities or executive function disorders. I didn’t learn it until I was 48, and mine are all really severe, and obvious (if the high school senior who just got one of the schools highest SAT scores also still can’t figure out how to tell time on an analog clock, or remember a 3 item grocery list for the 5 minutes it takes to get to the store, it should be PRETTY OBVIOUS there is a problem.)
        Not knowing I had these issues did not, of course, make them go away. Sure, I could ASK a boss to show me how or walk me through something (because that’s how I learn best), but I could not have asked for an accommodation for a disability I did not know I had.
        I know too many people in my age range (I’m now 52) finally getting diagnosed with ADHD, autism, various learning disorders, executive function disorders and so on to just assume that everyone that has one is going to know it, or know they can ask for accommodations, or know how to ask for them. I would rather just take the lead and make sure that I had made everything they needed to know clear to them, that they had all the information they needed, they knew how to do what they needed to do. That’s part of my job as a manager- to manage.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I tend to think that if OP would write AAM about this, then OP would probably also be actively interested in accommodating people who needed things done in a particular manner. The two kind of go hand-in-hand. The boss you describe would never write AAM, the boss does not have it in them. I am so sorry you have to deal with this boss.

      1. Dragoning*

        I don’t know, there have been some pretty awful bosses that have written in–like that one who got angry that everyone thought they should let their leap-year employee have their birthdya off.

    3. Middle Manager*

      I think it would be the staff person’s responsibility to request that accommodation. It would be weird for the manager to just universally assume all her staff need that.

    4. quirkypants*

      It’s probably unlikely that all team members have a learning disability but if they did, I would think that if OP1 said, “Hey, I’d like you to try to figure this out on your own” that it’s an opportunity for the employee to say something or ask a few clarifying questions before going out on their own.

      I don’t have a learning disability and at this point I’m pretty senior in my career, but if I’m asking to do something my default is to figure it out myself. But even I sometimes need to ask clarifying questions or ask for help sometimes.

  13. Not Australian*

    OP4, it strikes me you’re feeling a bit remorseful about disliking Sansa now that you know how ill she is – but that’s really okay. Feeling sorry for her and liking her are not necessarily the same thing, and you can certainly do one without the other. May I suggest that you turn these feelings to practical use by making a donation to a charity that supports people in her situation? It may not benefit her personally, but it could be helpful to someone else facing the same challenges. Harness the negative energy and turn it outwards so that it becomes positive; I think you’ll find it works.

      1. Candle light*

        I agree with Alison about feeling sympathy and compassion from a distance. One thing I’ve done previously to aid this was to light a candle for them.

    1. blackcat*

      Yes, this.
      A dying asshole is still an asshole.
      Whatever feelings you’re having are okay and valid. But you don’t have to do some show of liking or appreciating someone who made your life miserable just because they’re dying.

      1. Exhausted Trope*

        “A dying asshole is still an asshole.”
        Sad, but true and delicious. I may get a tattoo…

    2. LW #4*

      The donation is a great idea, thank you! It’ll deliver some much-needed catharsis and meaning. I will do some looking around. And thank you for observing the reality of how I’m feeling and putting it so clearly into words. Very helpful.

      1. AnonTemp*

        I don’t know if this is helpful, but I had a coworker who was displaying stalking like behaviors towards me (heck maybe you’d call it stalking). He was also dealing with a not-well managed mental illness (although trying). He left the company and I was relieved (my manager had been very helpful in keeping us apart).

        Recently, a mutual coworker told me that unwell coworker had committed suicide. I felt generally bad that he had not found the right treatment plan for him, but honestly I also felt relieved. Then bad, of course. But until that moment, I didn’t realize that I’d be holding onto a tiny bit that was worried he might show up at my door someday. So definitely a mixed bag of emotions. It’s okay. I can feel bad for him and relieved for me.

        1. LW #4*

          That sounds so scary. I’m glad you’re safe. I have a family member who mentioned very similar feelings after a scary ex passed away. It’s complicated for sure. Thank you.

  14. Knitting Cat Lady*


    We have a one person, one machine policy. Since I do a lot of code development and testing I’ll be the only one in my group with a desktop when we switch over to Win10.

    I have no idea what kind of field you’re in, but everywhere I worked (academia and for profit business), the physical computer was basically an interface for the internal network.

    All data is stored on servers, all documents are stored in the document management system, most calculations are done dedicated server farms, etc.

    And if people work from home or while traveling they dial into the intranet with VPN.

    On my local disk are only copies of the code I’m developing that I’ve checked out of our version management system, various test files, and some personal admin stuff.

    So, handing in your private laptop? Might be a misunderstanding, and you certainly should push back on that.

    But giving up your desktop in favour of a laptop? Pretty much standard any place I’ve worked.

  15. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    LW4: Your compassion speaks so well for you. You sound like a very kind and decent person. But there’s nothing to be gained by reconnecting unless you really WANT to. You aren’t obligated to, and ex-boss’s illness doesn’t erase the misery she caused you.

    1. LW #4*

      Thank you so much for your kind words. All these comments are making me feel so much better, and like I’m not a total jerk for just… not wanting to reach out. Just the idea of reopening lines of communication makes me a little anxious, so it’s comforting to know that so many feel I’m not obligated to do so.

  16. Kent*

    In response to the terminally ill boss question: It sounds to me like you are re-evaluating her conduct based on the fact that her health was not stable. But that is making excuses for her. Frankly, I’ve known plenty of people who were terminally ill that did not make other people’s lives miserable. One thing I have learned from eight years of working in a hospital is that a***oles get sick too, but they are not owed your friendship solely on that basis. She treated you badly for years, to the point where you became physically ill from being around her. Feeling happy about her dying would make you a monster, but you don’t have to over-compensate in the opposite direction by being over-friendly. Alison has the right idea; write her card and leave it at that.

    And lose her number. She’s got no business sending you any messages now that you don’t work for her anymore.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I agree lose her number.

      However, I have used someone’s health issues as a possible explanation why they behaved the way they did. It’s a tool for me to help let go of old baggage. I totally agree that being ill does not give anyone the right to abuse others and is solid reason alone to move away from that person. But it’s human nature to seek answers and yes, poor health can cause people to behave poorly. Not everyone and not all the time. And def not acceptable rationale. But it happens just the same.

      OP, part of your answer maybe forgiving yourself for putting YOU in that toxic spot with her. Maybe this is not about her so much as it is about you forgiving you. We step in crap from time to time, OP. The next time, if ever, you encounter a crappy boss, promise yourself that you will extract yourself much quicker.

      1. LW #4*

        Thank you so much for this, Not So. I’ve written this in a few other responses, but her oversharing was, in a lot of ways, her counting on me for emotional support. I would never allow such a thing now that I’m a little older and better at setting boundaries (and not terrified of my boss…) but I think there’s still a part of me that feels that false responsibility for her feelings and feels bad that I’m not “there for her,” even though it is not and never was my responsibility. So, I think you’re right: I need to forgive myself for not being there and internalize the fact that I am not even remotely obligated to be there!

        And yeah, I think super scary and hard-to-swallow news can absolutely justify some changes in behavior and demeanor. That was hard for me to parse out at the time: How much of this can be forgiven because she’s carrying such a heavy burden, and how much of this is Not Okay regardless of life status? (Spoiler alert: it was like 80% the latter.)

        Whew. This whole thing has been much more cathartic than I expected. Thank you for being part of that.

    2. LW #4*

      Hi Kent, thank you for taking the time to write this up. You hit the nail right on the head with this one: “It sounds to me like you are re-evaluating her conduct based on the fact that her health was not stable.” She was brutal to work for long before she first got sick, so you’re right that using it to justify her behavior is an exercise in falsehoods. Any kind of scary or disruptive news can absolutely justify some more minor changes in demeanor (i.e. being more stressed and prone to curtness), but it didn’t and doesn’t give her grounds to treat me like an emotional punching bag or dumping grounds (which she was doing before she got sick). Thank you for the clarity.

      This is also making me feel better for essentially ghosting her text, too… my first (and only) response was extremely noncommittal (i.e. “Thanks, hope you’re well!”), and she texted back something about her dating life?! Hard pass. It makes me a little sad to think that she’d be talking to me about those things as if there were no one else in her life for those conversations, but… that’s not my responsibility. Which is hard for me to remember sometimes (hello, Stockholm Syndrome!). But this comment is making me feel better. Thank you!

      1. Batgirl*

        I didn’t realise she’d reached out to you after the job ended which might be responsible for the weirdness you’re feeling.
        Nice people grow up believing we all feel the same way inside and give others the benefit of the doubt.
        You think: she reached out, so she must value me. You wonder if you’re a curmudgeon for not being able to see the same value in the relationship that she sees.
        I wouldn’t worry. If she was ok with hardcore venting to one of her reports and has low boundaries with who she talks to about her dating life, then I don’t think she’s shy or unable to find those people who are more appropriate sources of support. Help her out with this blindspot by eliminating yourself.

  17. Blarg*

    I went from LW #5s situation (desktop at work, traveling with my personal laptop) to replacing my work computer with a laptop and a docking station at the office with my three monitors. It’s *amazing.* I plug it into the docking station at the office and unplug it and take it with me whenever I need it. I always have the files I need, I’m not emailing stuff to myself, and I don’t have to worry about my personal laptop getting damaged or stolen when I’m on work time. The downsides: background photo gets distorted every time I switch back and forth (obviously not actually a problem). And every so often I leave the thing at home and get to work and have no computer and have to run home. I live close by so it’s not a huge deal. Get a docking station and run away from two work computers!!

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Screen distortion did get problematic when I was developing online help files and needed screenshots to stay consistent. Solution was to use laptop as a small monitor on a stand so I could keep CompanyProduct images consistent.
      I mention it in case OP’s work has similar issues.

  18. RUKiddingMe*

    OP4: You don’t have to do anything at all. The woman sounds like she was a nightmare to work with. You don’t like her. She wasn’t your friend. She is just a former boss from a number of years ago.

    Yes, she’s dying young and that’s sad. Really though we’re all dying, she just knows “when” better than most of us do.

    I know this will sound callous, and I don’t mean it that way, but just because someone is dying/has died doesn’t change who they are/were. We should not pretend we like/liked them better than we really did out of some sense of guilt…or propriety…or not speaking ill of the dying/dead…or something.

    OP You are free to just go on with your life without so much as a text, card, or visit. She is simply someone you used to know.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I always say we are accountable for our actions right up to our last day. This statement annoys some people. However, if you think about that elderly former abusive parent sitting in a nursing home who NO ONE visits, we realize that is happening for a reason. Reality is that we live with the consequences of our actions. Not just this abusive boss, but all of us.

      1. LW #4*

        Dang. Truth bomb, NotSo. A hard-to-swallow truth bomb, to be sure, but I agree with you. Age, illness, etc. do not erase accountability for previous actions and behavior.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        Thank you for this. People tend to think I’m some kind of unfeeling monster when I refuse to sugar coat someone’s life when said someone is/was a horrible person just because they are old/dying/dead.

    2. LW #4*

      Thank you for the clarity, RUK. You’re right. I don’t know her anymore. She was such a huge part of my life for so long (though not in a good way) that it’s hard to recognize the reality of where we’re at now. And because her boundaries were so poor (and my boundary-setting skills at that stage in life were so non-existent!), it’s easy to muddy the waters and think that relationship is more personally important than it really is.

      I really appreciate you spelling it out in such clear terms. This was really helpful and oddly liberating to hear.

  19. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    For #5 would you be able to use a tablet when you travel? Does your university consider a tablet the same as a laptop? I’m imagining that you’re mostly using it for things like PowerPoint presentations or accessing online tools or information. A mobile device may come out of a different budget account and therefore more likely to be approved instead of 2 computers, even though tablets are practically laptops these days. That doesn’t solve you no longer having a personal laptop, but that’s not for them to provide anyway.

  20. g*

    LW5 – “Two weeks ago my laptop broke and it cannot be fixed (it is more than 5 years old). When I spoke to the university about getting a work laptop I was told that they would only purchase one if I gave up my desktop computer or surrendered my personal laptop to them!”

    I’m confused why they’d want your broken laptop, but what would be the problem with giving it to them? Just wipe the drive and hand it over.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I am also confused why they’d want someone’s personal property, especially if it’s broken.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        My guess is that Alison’s right – they’ve got the idea that they provided it in the first place.

      2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        Yup. My husband’s a professor and I’ve dealt with University IT services. They are disorganized, bureaucratic, and have a habit of treating STEM departments with specialized IT requests like they’re the 90 year old professor emeritus of dead languages who can’t be trusted with email.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I thought they might have to document a one-for-one swap as in one came in so a new one went out.

  21. Billy Yum Yum 2x2*

    OP # 4: I’ve had cancer, so I have a perspective from the other side of your situation. (Also, I’m good now, 7 years out–all good.)

    Do not contact her.

    You had a contentious relationship at best. Contacting her now would seem less about her and more about you. When people learned I had cancer and it travelled through the grapevine, I got all sorts of old contacts reaching out. They hadn’t cared to do so before cancer and neither had I. So why now? To me, it felt more like they were trying to work out their own issues with mortality than checking on me. I didn’t need any “Sorry you have cancer” messages from people I hadn’t kept in touch with. At times, it felt overwhelmingly taxing; was I supposed to acknowledge this contact when, on a good day, I was awake for 3 hours in a row? Should I spend my one or two good days a week thanking people for their sentiments when I didn’t really think about anymore ? It also kinda pissed me off that they only reached out when they found out about the cancer. I wasn’t worthy of contact when I was healthy? (Though I hadn’t reached out either, so I know that’s a little paradoxical.)

    My awful boss, whom I worked for during the cancer experience (I was out on FMLA, of course), did send cards and such. They were always from the whole team. I loved my team but my boss was terrible. When I got back to the office, I learned that she constantly made comments to other people intimating that my cancer put her in a bad spot. She’d say, “Why me?!” when the temp made mistakes. She asked why I couldn’t work during my treatment when another person in the office did. (She was basically pre-cancerous. I was mid-Stage 2 with rather aggressive treatment.) It basically negated all the humanity I saw her finally exhibit while I was sick.

    Don’t send a card. You can feel sympathy for her and that’s fine, but don’t contact her. She’s got enough on her plate right now. Her support system will surround her and give her what she needs. You are hereby absolved of any self-imposed obligation to reach out. :-)

    1. BelleMorte*

      As someone who also had a serious illness, I completely agree.

      If you didn’t care before, why care now? You’d be reaching out to assuage your own guilt, not to make her feel better, and she’ll know it.

      Not to mention the pity coming from people who were grief-grouping was maddening!

      1. Billy Yum Yum 2x2*

        Ugh, the pity. I called them the “cancer whispers” and “cancer face.” You say you have cancer and immediately, people get Cancer Face. It’s a deadpan, wide eyed fear followed by a quick double take to then go into the “cancer whispers” wherein their voices get really low and breathy and they drag out syllables “How are you doooooooooing?”

        Dude, I’m doooooooing fine. Ask me again after surgery, but ask me like that and I will stab you with a plastic fork.

    2. LW #4*

      Thank you for taking the time to write this out and the clarity of the message. This is a really helpful mindset for me and definitely not one I’d considered before.

      “To me, it felt more like they were trying to work out their own issues with mortality than checking on me.” <– Yup. More my own guilt than mortality issues, but you're right.

      I'll give her space. Thank you again for sharing your perspective and for the absolution! :)

      1. Billy Yum Yum 2x2*

        No problem! I’ve experienced both sides of it and was hoping you’d be open to the flipside of your coin.

        My mother says guilt is a wasted emotion. I can see where she’s coming from, but they also tried to raise me Catholic and I think they practically invented guilt. (I’m no longer Catholic, but the guilt thing is burned into my dang soul.) However, I don’t think you should really feel guilty on this one. Of course, reading that probably won’t zap all guilt away (see previous, re: Catholic), but I hope it helps.

        Go forth and be awesome! :-)

  22. FinanceKiwi*

    Ugh OP1 I feel ya. I’ve written detailed, step by step documentation for processes (after having to learn them by myself due to not having any docs) and the team I pass them onto don’t seem to ever want to try actually LOOKING at them. They prefer to ask someone else every time to show them.

    It’s annoying, because I do need to know if something is missing in the documentation (like did I miss how to go from A to C), but since no one ever wants to try actually using it…

    1. Delta Delta*

      I was wondering if these are the kinds of tasks that can be solved with written processes or not. If so, that seems like a good solution. If not, it feels a little bit like OP ought to talk to her team and figure out where the issues are. Maybe different instructions would be beneficial. Or make it clear she doesn’t already know her desired outcome but they need to work toward some sort of solution.

    2. Middle Manager*

      I feel you, too, OP1 and FinanceKiwi. I have a staff person who does sometimes reference written instructions I’ve given her, but her ability to problem solve for herself is so limited that if ANY tiny variance happens, she just gives up and comes back to me. Like, if my instructions say “Click Submit” and the website has moved the submit button from the center of the page to the left of the page, she doesn’t bother to try to find it.

      There is also so much of the work we do in my office that you can’t create a form or template. There are a lot of assignments that are unique, one-time, etc. If I have to give you step-by-step instructions for every one of them, I might as well not have you as an employee, I should just do the work myself. I usually give my staff members general ideas along the lines of “This will be a little similiar to Project A, you can probably steal some language from that letter, but you’ll need to tweak it to meet the specs of our new Project B.” And then they come back to me with Project A basically verbatim…

      1. musical chairs*

        That would drive me up the wall! It’s hard to decide if/when to teach judgment. It can be done but determining whether or not it makes sense to keep teaching it is always hard.

      2. University Minion*

        Do you work at my university? That level of learned helplessness is rampant here.

      3. OP1*

        This is what I’m trying to describe.

        Ultimately, the skills needed to advance are learning how to be more and more independent. I love my team. I spent a long time interviewing and coaching. This is just a thing I run into from time to time with several people. I even have one that thanks me for pushing her to learn the task!

    3. Madame Zeroni*

      My organization provides very detailed procedural documents on our intranet site. Whenever an employee approaches me with something that is on the intranet, I direct them to it first. Once the document has been reviewed, I’ll assist if they have further questions but I really want them to get in the habit of utilizing the resources available to them first to make their decisions / do their work.

  23. vlktschy*

    OP#3 could have been written about me…

    I started a new job recently and fell asleep in a big team meeting on the very first day. I wanted to die of shame because it must have been a terrible first impression.

    The thing is, if I’m sitting down in a meeting or lecture situation, my brain just switches off and I literally cannot keep my eyes open. I’ve tried copious amounts of coffee and it works occasionally, but it’s unreliable and far more likely to just make me sick. A more reliable coping mechanism is to bring something to keep my hands busy like a stress ball, which I have done at all meetings since. It was unfortunate that I didn’t know about that first meeting in advance, otherwise I definitely would have come prepared. It was even worse that day because I had to wake up at 4am as I had a very long commute, and the room the meeting was held in was very stuffy – but I know there’s really no excuse.

    My most reliable keep-awake method is actually being able to multitask and do something else entirely – read forums on my phone, play games on my laptop etc. It’s what got me through uni. Unfortunately it’s also terribly unprofessional, so I’m going to keep my stress ball handy from now on.

    1. Asenath*

      When I get sleepy, it’s not unexpected exactly – it’s usually because I haven’t been sleeping well or overdoing things. When I did it a lot, it turned out to be because I had a sleep disorder, and treatment solved the problem – although not before someone called me out in a meeting for demonstrating boredom with the talk! A single incident could be due to a one-off situation; if it happens a lot, ask her about it.

      1. vlktschy*

        I suspect my issues are due to ADD. It’s not a normal ‘sleepiness’, it feels like my brain just goes completely blank when I’m sitting down and doing something passive. I also seem to be able to absorb information even while I’m ‘asleep’, so I can pick back up when I do manage to shake myself out of it. It’s just very, very embarrassing,

        It happens when I’m driving too sometimes, which is truly terrifying. I put off getting my license for years because of it, but it’s a requirement for my current position. I can’t wait until I’m able to use public transport again.

        Adderall or similar would probably be life changing for me, but I live in a country where they’re /extremely/ hesitant to prescribe it.

          1. Batgirl*

            Its not narcolepsy – ADD doesnt work that way. Driving is a very active thing to do and brings an awareness mindset so that would actually bring on a very heightened hyperfocus.
            It’s only an issue in ‘sit still, do nothing’ situations. Those situations which make us all a bit tired, but it’s more extreme for ADD people.
            Fidget toys, multitasking and stress balls aren’t needed when you’re actually doing something active.

            1. Dragoning*

              This is true, but vlktschy specifically admitted it DOES happen when they are driving…so I feel the warning is warranted.

    2. Rose*

      Can you not take notes at the meeting? I take notes or bring work that can be done, like reading something that needs to be edited, but I suppose it depends on your field. Nothing with my phone because that looks bad optically.

    3. AnotherSleepy*

      I have a similar issue. It’s not often but I do fall asleep (uncontrollably) in meetings, watching movies, waiting, in cars, waiting in line even while standing, in public transit… (thankfully not while driving but I’ve only driven 3 times). During those events I actually dream, do the whole super embarrassing drooling out the corner of the mouth, etc. I wake up after 15 min or so feeling fully refreshed, and when it’s happened in class, it felt like I hadn’t missed anything, so it wasn’t so bad, but it does look terribly weird, and I’ve had comments from bosses on it.

      I actually have a mild caffeine problem (for different reasons, I just like the feeling). I’ve fallen asleep while on enough of the stuff I could feel my heartbeat in my temples and imagine other students were talking about me in code. At uni, I made do because I was in a lab-driven environment, and I didn’t fall asleep in the lab. (Although I did have an “absence” leading to a mistake at one point). At the office, well, I enjoy my work and can “lose myself” in it, and at home I’ll stay physically active until 1 or 2 am. I don’t fall asleep often now that I’m no longer in school, and I can bring my laptop and do work (real work not facebook or games) during all-hands, but I’m still scared that someday I’ll have to be at an all-hands where I’m not allowed books, doodling, or work, or that it’ll get bad again and I’ll fall asleep while driving, when I get around to driving more/driving alone.

      So um I guess you’re not alone. For what it’s worth when it’s actual work I’m bringing people don’t think I’m bored, just busy/hardworking. And in non-all-hands meetings, I usually have things to contribute, which also helps.

  24. Anonymous Poster*

    To #4:
    Don’t engage in guilt olympics. You can’t force yourself to feel sufficiently bad about someone’s troubles, and you can’t force emotions. That’s fine. It’s acceptable and you aren’t a bad person for not feeling sufficiently bad, however that would be measured, for someone or their family. The thought you have of reaching out and expressing sympathy is fine and generally would be welcome. So yeah, send a card, but don’t beat yourself up over not feeling sufficiently bad about something. You can’t control that, and the in the guilt olympics, no one wins.

    1. LW #4*

      “Guilt Olympics.” Damn, if that ain’t the truth. I usually hate the Guilt Olympics, so it’s kind of funny that I didn’t even realize I’d become a competitor… Thanks for this. I’ll mull over the idea of a card. I wrote this on another comment but I worry a little that she’d see it as an invitation to reopen lines of communication/start talking again, and I do not want that. It’s possible that she wouldn’t do that, but… you never know. Thanks for your response.

      1. Anonymous Poster*

        That makes sense.
        You’re under no obligation to respond to her though. Funny thing how things sometimes get lost into the texting ether or mail system.

  25. Anon Accountant*

    OP4- Would you be willing to donate to a charity instead? A cancer related charity or another local charity? If you would like you could make the donation in her name or just under yours.

    1. LW #4*

      That’s a good idea. I could make a donation to the non-profit where I worked for her, actually. I hadn’t thought of that!

  26. Delta Delta*

    #4 I had a similar situation not long ago. Someone I knew, but did not like, had a serious illness and ultimately died from it. I didn’t contact her, because i hasn’t been in contact in many years and it would have been odd to reach out. And to be clear, although I didn’t like her, I certainly would not wish serious illness and early (mid-30s) death on her or anyone. Her last weeks were slow and painful, and that makes me very sad for her and others in her situation.

    I don’t know the right answer, but I think it’s more than okay to have empathy for someone you don’t like.

    1. LW #4*

      Thank you, Delta. It’s a weird emotional space, isn’t it? To feel so deeply for someone and wish you could take their pain away… without wanting to actually, you know, interact with them.

      So you don’t regret not reaching out? That’s what I worry about… but that’s more about me than her, and that doesn’t really serve her any better than it does me.

      1. Delta Delta*

        I don’t regret not reaching out. My situation may be different in that it had been many (at least 10-12) years since I had seen this person, and I don’t think it would have been productive except to maybe feel like I patted myself on the back for saying, “sorry you’re dying.” Which seemed like it would feel disingenuous.

        I decided that going forward I would choose to extend kindness more broadly, since kindness hurts no one.

      2. Cartographical*

        I’ve been in a similar place twice and I reached out once only because I knew the person had a colorful history of alienating people and didn’t have many friends when we’d spoken last. I did make contact to say a few things about what I had genuinely appreciated about working with them and a good memory of a project that had gone well, and I sent along a couple ARCs of books I had edited (with the authors’ permission) because I remembered her enjoying the genre. I heard back from a friend managing her email, saying she’d got the message and appreciated it — I felt better about knowing she had a couple good friends looking out for her than anything else. I don’t regret doing so, though I didn’t expect it to make any difference that would have been missed if I hadn’t. It was more for me, in a way, simply because I would have regretted not doing so.

        1. LW #4*

          Your first sentence perfectly mirrors my feelings and situation. In a way, this is sort of my dream scenario? Some way to offer support and comfort without any expectation of continued communication or anything. But I think, realistically, this isn’t how it would go down. It’s something for me to think about, though. Hm.

          Either way, thank you for sharing this and for sharing your feelings on it. I’m really glad it worked out well for you!

  27. Jl*

    #5… it’s not normal to have a laptop AND a desktop from work.

    They can get you a laptop for work with a docking station and it will still feel like a desktop. Then you unplug it and use that to wfh.

    I’m unsure how they let you wfh with a personal laptop… really big security issues there. At least if you have a work laptop it will be setup for security and allow you to VPN in to your network.

  28. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

    OP#4, I was in a situation not quite the same but similar and I really, really feel you. A former coworker who I really disliked and felt was a bully became terminally ill and I suddenly became conflicted over my “welp, never wanna see YOU again” stance. I wondered whether it would be kind to reach out – I thought maybe it would give her some comfort to hear that people felt warmly towards her and wished her well. Except I didn’t feel warmly towards her exactly, I just felt bad that she was dying. There’s a difference.

    I realized that reaching out wouldn’t have been a kindness to her, I was just trying to grapple with the fact that terrible, unfair things happen to people and there’s no rhyme or reason to it. She was mean, but she didn’t deserve to die relatively young. But “deserve” has nothing to do with it, these things just happen. At the end of the day I really had nothing to say to her except “I’m sorry you’re dying,” which was true, and I chose to keep it to myself because it felt strange to say it and just leave it at that. I didn’t want to fondly reminisce about the time we spent working together, or catch up with her, or anything like that. I hadn’t been wrong to feel the way I did about her before she became sick. And that was okay. She didn’t deserve to die but she didn’t deserve insincerity, either. She did pass a few months after I heard that she was sick. I heard her passing was peaceful and I’m glad, at least, for that much.

    Feel your full range of feelings and don’t feel obligated to act on any of them. I can tell you that while I’m sad “Jan” died, I don’t regret my choice not to reach out to her.

    Good luck.

    1. fposte*

      Oh, this is covering some really useful ground. “Except I didn’t feel warmly towards her exactly, I just felt bad that she was dying” is where the OP sounded to me too.

      I think it’s fine for our choices to often be about who we’d like to be, and I often don’t care as much about sincerity as much as I do about behavior. But unless the OP has come to some miracle appreciation of Sansa, which it doesn’t sound like she has, I don’t see the slightest benefit for either of them in her reconnecting with Sansa. A card could be an acceptable compromise if the OP can’t close this down in her mind unless she does something, but it is basically a card that says “I still don’t like you but it sucks that you’re dying” from somebody who, frankly, probably doesn’t mean that much to Sansa. (And for somebody like the OP, who’s already worrying about the whole thing, choosing the card and figuring out what to write in it will likely be an exhausting process.)

      I think this feels more compelling to the OP *because* of all that anger and frustration; she’s wondering if this is the time to get over it. If it were a boss from years ago she felt neutral about and hadn’t talked to since, I suspect she wouldn’t feel the same push to connect, because she wouldn’t have that “unfinished business” feeling. But I think it’s likely better for both of you to just let it go without connection.

      1. LW #4*

        This was really, really helpful and you’re absolutely right about all of it.

        I mentioned in my letter that she texted me once after I’d left. I obsessed more over my text back to her than I ever have over any text to a date! I wanted to send a message that wouldn’t offend her OR invite further conversation, which was a shockingly hard balance strike, and it had my stomach in knots all day (when I had not seen or spoken to her in MONTHS). So, to make a long story short: You’re right! Just choosing a card would be Herculean. I hadn’t even thought about the emotional reality of actually taking that step.

        Anyway. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. This makes me feel a lot better. I do hope she’s finding some peace but I need to let go of this weird need to provide it myself (and the belief that I even could!).

    2. LW #4*

      I can’t choose just one line from this to quote and follow up with “YUP.” But basically you’ve captured my own feelings perfectly and put them in very valuable perspective. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. This was really helpful.

      Another part of me is somewhat mired in the sadness of the fact that she didn’t seem to have much of a support system (part of why, I suspect, she told me so much about her personal life: she didn’t have anyone else to tell, and I was too afraid of her to draw boundaries against it). But… that can’t be my problem. And I’m not doing her any favors by revisiting that weird dynamic due to guilt over it, or thinking that she “needs me.” She doesn’t. I can let her be. And it’s not as if she has NO support system!

      Thanks again. This was really helpful.

      1. fposte*

        Not every failing in the universe is yours to rectify. For some people, and I suspect you may be one of them, that’s really hard to believe, but it’s true.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I felt like that because my mother put that responsibility on me. My brother and were supposed to save the world and everyone in it – but no one, including her, cared what we needed or how we felt.
          I felt it was unfair at the time even though I didn’t understand it, and shaking it off has been a project.
          One thing there is never any shortage of is needy people who want me to take care of them. I’ve had to learn to set boundaries and walk away. When I was young I was conflicted by feeling responsible for everyone who came along, but not wanting to get involved with them. Luckily it’s much better now!

      2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

        You know, the same was true of Jan. Part of what made her so overbearing at work was her own deep loneliness and insecurity, and it was hard not to feel compassion for that vulnerability. It’s human and natural to feel compassion and sorrow for suffering, and there’s so, so much suffering in that situation. But, as you say, that can’t be your problem. It’s the “don’t set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm” principle. You won’t save her life by expending emotional energy, and you don’t owe her anything. She treated you badly, and your feelings mean something. Honor that, and practice compassion from a distance, to borrow Alison’s phrasing.

        You did work much more closely with Sansa than I did with Jan, so the emotional entanglement is going to be uglier and harder to grapple with. All I can say towards that is that I feel for you and wish you all the best. I’m glad you found my post helpful and hope you find peace with this situation.

        1. LW #4*

          Thank you for sharing your perspective. This was very validating and healing to read. I’m so glad I wrote into Alison… I’ve been reading comments all day and it’s helping me untangle a lot of things. Thank you so much.

  29. nonegiven*

    Yank the disk out of your laptop and hand it over.

    Then save up and get yourself a new one eventually.

  30. SamIAm*

    As an external candidate who was selected (on multiple occasions) when there were internal candidates, I had more concern with how I might be received by those people. I use that as one of my questions during the interview process. I think it lets them know that I am aware that as an outsider I might have different challenges.

    This was particularly true when I was chosen for a management position at a company with very little turnover so all my staff had been there for a very long time.

  31. musical chairs*

    I’m in a task lead role (managing projects but not people) but because of my experience level relative to rest of the team, I’m participating in their professional development, even if I’m not ultimately responsible for it in an official capacity.

    I started at my engineering firm right out of school at a time when it was pretty top heavy—folks didn’t have a ton of time to walk me through the step by step of every program and also because I was less experienced and a minority woman in STEM, I think I was personally self conscious about seeming like I couldn’t pull my own weight. I pretty much never asked a question that I could find the answer to myself, from the jump I thought question were for fact finding, understanding preferences when multiple approaches would work and maybe process verification (“this will take a while, before I go down this rabbit hole, am I on the right track?”). I thought everyone did this, cause I saw my more experience team do it.

    As I moved up, people found me to be resourceful and willing to help and as newer people came on, especially new grads, it got to the point wear I could no longer wear heels to work, cause I was running around so much answering questions, many of which could be answered with a google search.

    How do I make program X compute Y?
    Click the comically large button labeled “compute”, while I use all my strength to will my entire being—the essence of my very self—into holding back a sigh that wake the dead

    What’s the directory for this project?
    It’s the bright blue link in the first paragraph in the email I sent you when I assigned this two you 2 full hours ago, what have you been doooooooing?

    Where do I find this design manual

    I’ve brought it up in department meetings (I’m not a manager but I am senior to most of my team) as general career advice for the newbies: if you’re asking for help, start your question with what you’ve already tried. I only had so much luck with that.

    The only thing that’s really worked was counter intuitive: I became less immediately helpful. Delayed responses (due to my own workload and meetings) meant they learned to find things in their own and the quality of questions went way up because they only had so much of my time. I’m always available to teach a technical concept that they wouldn’t have reasonably already gotten training on. I create/run internal design workshops for my team as regularly as budget allows, and provide on the job training on smaller budget projects where we can’t carve out 6 billable hours with the whole team to work out a theoretical solution. When I assign a task, I talk constraints, final deliverable format and deadline and really only touch on process a little, insofar as it’s related to output. And then I more or less disappear other than usual check ins.

    If I get an instant message with an easily answerable question, I ignore it and usually within ten minutes, I get a “nvm figured it out”. It happens less and less often with each team member over time. I don’t try as hard to police my tone when I get a less than great question in person. I’m still professional and kind in every interaction, but I already spend a ton of energy on tone in other interactions (as I’m sure a lot of black woman can relate to) and choose to spend less on these ones.

    I haven’t explicitly said I won’t answer dumb questions cause I think can rattle people with less experience, but I won’t reward dumb questions with an immediate response. And to be clear, dumb questions are only questions with zero effort behind them. I’ve found people tend to grow into the space that you give them.

    It takes a little getting used to, and I do check in with folks to make sure they feel comfortable on tasks and in general as way to balance it. In my peer reviews, I still get described as helpful which is so hilarious to me.

    And I can wear heels again!

    1. Middle Manager*

      I like that plan of ignoring it for a few minutes to see if they figure it out themselves. My people usually come in person, so that’s harder to do, but I’m wondering if I can tell them I’m in the middle of something and they can schedule time later if they haven’t figured it out.

    2. Washi*

      I totally agree with all of this, especially not answering questions instantly. For easily answerable questions, I want to make just googling it or clicking around for a few minutes easier than coming to interrupt me.

      I will also often ask (in a genuine, warm tone) “oh ok, what have you tried already?” People feel kind of embarrassed to answer “nothing” so over time I’ve trained at least some people to not come to me if they literally haven’t tried at all.

    3. Cartographical*

      I’m one of those people who wrote an embarrassing number of “I can’t do this…nevermind, I got it.” missives (half the time I never sent them) until I realized that the asking was part of how my brain best figured out the solution. I now have a “duh! buddy”, a friend who is like me whom I message on Slack with my “oh, no, I’m stuck” issues. My friend will check back “did you figure out X?” later if I haven’t done my usual “nevermind” — and I do the same for her. Not hopping on the question right away can give room for people to have their “nevermind” moment.

      Maybe teaming up your newbies would help or giving them a “new kids” channel on Slack that you can check yourself when you have time — get them in the habit of asking each other with the caveat that they should refer to you if anyone is dumping questions on them to the point of distraction. We used to do it in a official capacity when I worked for a large social media platform, in part because of time zone differences — there was a “questions” channel that senior staff and trainers checked on when they were free but new members were mostly expected to try to solve things themselves or with their peers once they were out of training. (We once had to remove one person from it officially but they were let go shortly thereafter as it was obvious they weren’t going to work out and at least they didn’t drive anyone to quit in the interim.) The channel cleared out a lot of backlog.

  32. Bazinga*

    LW5, if they will give you a computer if you surrender your laptop, do that! Then you can have the desktop and laptop. If your personal laptop doesn’t work anyway, wipe it clean and let them have it.

  33. No Mercy Percy*

    LW5 when I got a laptop at my current job, they took my desktop PC back. They gave me a docking station, so I can still use my same two monitors and keyboard and mouse. I even purchased the same model docking station for my house, so when I work from home I can use the two monitors from my personal desktop (that are bigger, and higher resolution).

  34. Argh!*

    LW1 seems to have hired people who don’t actually match what LW1 wants to see in an employee. Going forward, you can develop interview questions that would probe the ability to figure things out. “Tell me about a time when…” kind of question would do it.

    In Myers-Briggs typology, these people may be J rather than P, and would need that clear and detailed picture ahead of time. This would also mean they’re good at following rules and policies, so if that’s what you want, you have to take what comes with it – the training issue. I had this exact problem with a report who couldn’t get started on assignments that I thought I’d been clear about. I had shown her an example of a written guide, and told her to do the same for topic xyz. When I checked in with her, she hadn’t even started because she said she didn’t know what I wanted. This would have been enough instruction for me, but not for her, so I adapted from then on.

    Another thing I wonder about is how LW1 responds to reports who get things wrong. If they are afraid to make mistakes, they’ll need more up-front training and reassurance.

    I think we tend to forget that we became managers *because* we’re not like the average individual contributor. When we treat others as we would want to be treated, we’re not actually doing the job right. It’s the corollary to Dunning-Kruger: people who are extremely good at doing something tend to think it’s easier than it really is.

    If LW1 doesn’t want to spend time explaining new things, then looking around for someone who can do that for others would be a good idea, or even hiring for that ability.

    I’d like to hear how this turns out, especially since I’ve been through this myself.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      LW1 may not have hired them: The department may already have been in place when LW took over managing, and it might be the management style that is the mis-fit.

      1. Super Dee Duper Anon*

        Sounds like they have hired at least some team members because they specifically reference including certain questions in interviews.

        I think Argh! has a good suggestion in asking “tell me about a time” questions. It might get more accurate info than more theoretical type questions like “what do you do when you’re not sure what the next step should be”. Sometimes it’s easy to articulate what the answer should be (in questions like the the latter) even if you’re not great at actually doing it in practice.

    2. Dragoning*

      I’m a J on the Myers-Brigg’s (for what little value that is). It doesn’t mean I can’t problem solve. It doesn’t mean I need step-by-step instructions. I find, it just means I make decisions quicker and figure out the problem when it doesn’t work, rather than by thinking about it and looking through, say, manuals.

    3. OP1*

      I do include questions like “what would you do if you didn’t have all the information you needed?” and ask for some examples.

      Some of these employees are an S on the DISC model, so they’re fantastic at customer service, which is their job, but don’t love change and will waffle before moving forward if uncertain. It’s a trade-off when not all of the skills sit in one hypothetical personality bucket.

      I’ve tried slowing down my overall training and pushing them to understand the why’s over the what’s. Otherwise, it would like showing someone how to turn a phone on and call someone. They want such detailed instructions that they’ll forget they can turn the phone on and call someone else, or turn it on and find a number.

      I’m going to try and make sure I coach that learning how to do things without all the information is a requirement of moving up in this company. I want to give everyone the opportunity to have a safe place to practice, which is why I only give new tasks that I can do quickly if need be, and I let them know.

  35. Environmental Compliance*

    For #4….as someone with a previously similar Toxic Boss, I’m not understanding why you’d want to reach out. It is awful she’s got a terminal illness, it really is….but why have support fall to you? Not that it’s not a very thoughtful and generous thing in general to do, but this person made a previous chapter of your life miserable and awful. This chapter has been closed. Perhaps it makes me an awful person, but there’s just no way I’d reach out and reopen those lines of communication with someone that made my life horrendous because they were/are a horrendous person. You can feel badly about someone’s situation without involving yourself in it.

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      If it’s only sending a card, i don’t think it’s really getting so involved in the situation. Of course OP doesn’t have to do anything at all, but IMO it’s also find to make a small gesture if she wishes. I wouldnt’ call or visit but a simple card might be ok? Maybe it makes the OP feel better somehow and that’s what they gain?

      1. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool*

        Agreed. Also, maybe OP just needs to “train” them to try first on their own. That’s what Alison suggested, and if she hasn’t already tried that it seems eminently reasonable to me. If that doesn’t work, and they really can’t do things without detailed instructions, then that’s a different issue/question.

    2. LW #4*

      Thanks, EC. All very good points. More and more I’m thinking that my best move is to just let her be. It’s not my responsibility and there’s nothing to be gained by revisiting that weird dynamic. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Hi, LW#4 — I agree with Environmental Compliance. It’s not as though the two of you were close on a personal level, or that she made any attempt to be your mentor. Send a card if you feel like it, but I don’t see any obligation on your part toward this woman. Sad, but not your responsibility.

  36. Samwise*

    #2. If you did this, we would think you were fairly clueless, not a good look when we have dozens of very good and excellent applicants. If you’re young/newish to the working world, probably we’d just be annoyed — and not answer your question. If you’re not new, we’re going to think you don’t understand the norms of our field (large research university, state employees).

    We are required not to discuss specifics about any candidate, starting with applications and all the way to the point that we bring people in for in-person interviews. I’ve run searches and I’ll kick people off the committee (and inform their supervisor) if I find out they’re leaking info to anyone, for any reason.

  37. Utoh!*

    Yeah, managing more than one computer per person is hard, and is not a precedent that should be set. We have provided two to some users but we are doing a refresh this year and will be collecting any machines that are extra and providing docking stations (and other additional accessories) where needed. Additionally, laptops are now comparable with desktops as far as processing power, storage and memory, so the argument about the desktop in that regard is moot.

  38. Utoh!*

    OP 1, while I’m not a manager, I am the most senior member of my team and deal with this same issue. I have always been the try first, ask questions later type of person, even in my personal life, but (I think) is also the way all IT professionals should be. It’s probably one of my favorite aspects of being an IT professional, figuring out how to fix a problem and come up with a quality resolution. If all the answers were easy, I’d be so bored that I would hate what I do. While I will certainly assist my coworkers on issues that are clearly out of their realm, with other issues they should either know already or are quite capable of figuring out, I guide them to the documentation, or tell them to Google it..seriously. I am not here to provide all the answers and do their work.

    1. BradC*

      I strongly agree; there are some positions for which “figure-out-ability” is a key job skill, and it is the type of skill, unfortunately, that is pretty hard to teach, if someone doesn’t already have an aptitude for it.

      Although Alison’s answer is good, I think there are some comments here that are missing one key point: OP1 isn’t deliberately holding back information from their employee as a way of encouraging them to be more independent; OP1 doesn’t know the answer to “how exactly to do this report” either! To provide those step-by-step details that the employee wants, OP1 would have to spend time figuring it out first.

      So we’re not just weighing an extra moment of the manager’s time to explain the thing vs the employee struggling to figure it out themselves, we’re weighing the time for the manager to first figure it out themselves and then to explain it.

      That said, I do think there are ways to point the employee in the right direction: Did you look in (internal reporting system)? Is this similar to other reports we’ve done? Have you mapped out the data to understand what back-end database this report needs to pull from? Have you Googled it? Did you check StackOverflow? Go do a details source analysis for this request and let’s get together to discuss next steps.

      1. Powercycle*

        Another strong agree here. “Figuring it out” is just part of the nature of some jobs, especially in IT. I’ve worked with techs who didn’t have that skill.
        “I got this error message, what do I do?” “User doesn’t know how to do X in popular_software and I don’t know myself. How do I do it?”
        Did you look in the knowledge-base? Did you try Google? Vendor’s support page? Search for past tickets?
        Instead they’d escalate the ticket to a sysadmin… with minimal troubleshooting documented… Ugh.

        1. Utoh!*

          Yup, just today I was assisting a user with a software install that is unique to his deparment. The user told me that another tech did not even want to *try* to assist him with a software installation and out right told him that he had *no* idea and instead had the user send an email to our support mailbox where it was assigned to me. Difference is that I took it on, and just kept trying until I figured it out, which I did. This is not the first time this has happened and it’s incredibly frustrating having to work with someone who won’t even try, and don’t get me started on my manager not doing a thing about him.

  39. KMM*

    #5. Look into getting a desktop computer/laptop docking station combo. I bounce between two offices, and I love that I can disconnect the laptop for when I’m out in the field and return to the desktop format back in the office. This system has also lasted quite a while, about 5 years before needing an upgrade (and that wasn’t because of deficiency in the machine, just routine IT upgrades at my workplace).

  40. HailRobonia*

    Farnsworth: This is an outrage! I demand you hand over your captain’s jacket.
    Leela: This is my normal jacket. I’ve had it for 10 years.
    Farnsworth: I said hand it over!

  41. Dust Bunny*

    LW1: Search AAM for the Socratic Method manager. Not completely the same thing but I think there is some overlap, and commentors had a lot to say about it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm, I don’t think it’s the same at all! That manager was being patronizing; this one is saying “it’s part of your job to go off and figure this out.”

  42. Q*

    OP1: How are you reacting when they send you the completed work and it is not what you wanted/expected? I used to have a manager who give vague instructions and when I asked for clarification or more details he would just tell me to “figure it out.” But then, after I did my best, he would get angry and rage about THIS IS NOT RIGHT! THIS IS NOT WHAT I WANTED! It was very frustrating for all of us (he did it to the whole staff.) He was an awful person all around though but please consider giving more info or telling them where they can go for resources if it’s not something they’ve done before. I understand you don’t have time to handhold and you shouldn’t have to. But, if you are having the same problem with more than one employee then maybe reconsider your expectations or how you are assigning the work. And since tone cannot be conveyed over the written word, I mean this sincerely. It’s no good for anyone to be in a situation like this and if a small adjustment on one side can make it better, then it’s worth considering.

    1. OP1*

      Honestly, they come off less afraid and more… apprehensive. It’s a natural reaction of “but I haven’t done it before!”

      Two of them have gone for a promotion in the company that requires strong troubleshooting skills, and it seems like they won’t get it because they can’t deal with “it’s broken, we don’t know why, but we need you to fix it so we can push this $1M invoice tomorrow.” I just don’t know how to teach that.

  43. Samwise*

    #5. Talk to your department chair about this. Entirely possible this is true, but rarely are such policies written in stone. Your chair may be able to help.
    In the meantime, see if your department or the university library has loaners. That’s pretty common. Not ideal, but a workable stop gap.

  44. Ali G*

    #2 this is literally how I got my job :)
    They had lots of well qualified internal candidates, but they specifically wanted someone from outside the organization (i.e. no baggage) to fill the position.

  45. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP#5: What you describe is very, very common in higher education: one computer per person, desktop or laptop, your choice.

    If you go with the laptop (which sounds like what you need), be very specific about the technical specifications you’ll need to do your work. If you’ll need to be able to run a certain software package, make sure the laptop they get you will do that.

    You might also want to negotiate for a monitor and docking station for your office. I’ve had colleagues combine these with a laptop and they’ve all been very happy with the results.

    Be sure to loop in your department chair/PI if you need help on this. You’ll be using the laptop for work, so be sure to get something that will actually do the job. But one computer for person is so common in higher education that it’s probably pointless to fight it.

  46. blink14*

    OP #5 – Not sure how your university buys equipment, but at the university I work at, everything is purchased through your department’s budget, and old machines often get passed down to more junior employees, work/study students, etc. It’s a horrible system, and everything should be run through IT, but that’s not the case, unfortunately. This means that some departments have very tight equipment/computer budgets, and the cost isn’t spread university wide.

    Some people do have a desktop and a laptop – I do, for instance, although my laptop mostly stays in the office for presentations and workshops, though when I work from home, I use it. Most people that have laptops use some kind of docking station or hook up to a monitor/keyboard/mouse in their office space. It’s entirely possible the people you’re speaking with on this think that you were given a laptop as well as the desktop, but obviously the laptop is your personal property, you don’t need to turn it in. If there’s a strong case for a desktop and a laptop, you’d probably have to go to your budget manager or maybe your department head to make that case.

    1. EmbracesTrees*

      Yes on them misunderstanding that it’s a personal laptop. At my univ, though, we get *one* per person — thankfully (for now, anyway), they’re still all handled through IT. My dept has some very expensive equipment needs for some “tracks” and we’ve shifted from mostly school-funded to mostly dept-funded. This puts a real burden on the dept, so the less-“needy” tracks get even less in order to fund the needier ones, and we’re less able to afford top-of-the-line equipment, meaning we have more difficulty attracting the best students — even though the institution is pushing us to recruit, recruit, recruit. Sigh.

  47. MM55*

    #3 – that was me for many years. I even shifted to my standing desk and it did not help. I got off a medicine for restless leg and the afternoon sleep/nodding off issue went away. It can be hard to understand why someone has a hard time staying awake, but please let the person know you know and make sure that if it is a medical issue, the person addresses it.

  48. WindyLindy*

    If your concern is storage space and processing power, you can probably get a new laptop that will still have what you need- just be ready to make the case to IT for why you need it. You won’t necessarily be losing anything in this exchange.

  49. BigSigh*


    I LOVE my new job. But when I first started last year, I feel asleep in several meetings. It’s an incredibly large company with a lot of moving pieces and I could not, for the life of me, stay awake in these long meetings when I had zero understanding of the content. I would try to take notes and make eye contact with presenters, but … it just didn’t work.

    I was mortified, but did my best to look awake. As long as she’s not actually putting her head down or something. I would probably bring it up privately. Just ask if everything is alright and mention you say her having difficulty during the meeting.

  50. Qwerty*

    OP1 – How much documentation do you have for tasks? Even if the details of every report are different, having a baseline document that explains the common steps and situations will give them a starting point. When I used to train a lot of new people, I’d usually explain it as “Check the instructions for creating X-type reports on the wiki. Reports Y and Z are good references too.”. (Y and Z might be previous iterations of that report or similar in style).

    Tell your employees *where* to look for the information they need or that would lead them to the next steps. If most questions can be answered with “look at this document/website/file cabinet”, then eventually they’ll change from asking “How do I do it” to “Where can I find the steps” to more specific questions like “Where do we keep the historical sales records on the ABC’s chocolate teapot special?” Explain to your employees that you want to hear what they’ve tried, and then respond to their initial, vague questions with “what have you tried” and “where have you looked”.

    Also, enlist your employees to help create this documentation and teach each other! Tell Fergus that Jane did a similar report last month and can provide guidance. Have a centralized place like a wiki where they can put their notes on report templates and where data is stored. It’ll be a slow start and there may be some grumbling, but it’ll help with the culture shift and make it easier when new people get added to the team.

    1. Anonysand*

      These are all really great suggestions. I’ve had several jobs where the direction was “do this thing you’ve never done before and figure it out on your own with no instruction or training,” and let me tell you- I hated those jobs with a passion and I genuinely felt like my boss wasn’t interested in managing, only dictating work. I wasted so much time searching for an answer and hoping that I’d figured it out so it wouldn’t come back wrong (and need re-done). I don’t want someone to hold my hand and walk me through step-by-step, but general guidance goes a long way. I could have saved hours of time and energy if there had been even the smallest of instruction like what Qwerty lists above.

    2. Manu*

      I’m seeing this response a lot and I think it is very useful for most types of jobs. However, I manage someone who constantly needs to be taking the initiative on new projects that have never been done before and that I myself don’t know how to do without trying to figure it out. I try to give as much information at the outset as possible, but it really is up to my employee to dig in, do some research, and come back with a couple proposals so I can understand the project and help pick a path forward.

      For example, last year we had to move offices. She was responsible for figuring out how to do that. If she had needed extensive handholding (start by figuring out when we need to be out of the old office, contact moving companies, get quotes for moving big items, make a plan for how to get all the furniture in the right places), it would have been sapping a ton of time from me. There’s no way we could have had documentation on how to do that, but she googled around and found some helpful resources, and really took charge. I jumped in at decision points and to bring up some things she might not have thought of, but I really did depend on her to figure it out on her own.

      A significant portion of her job is this way, and it is a requirement for the person filling her role that they be comfortable with and adept at that kind of thinking. If LW1 manages this kind of role, she really does need strategies for encouraging this in her employees, and may need to replace them if they are incapable of it (once it’s clear, as Alison says, that this is a requirement of their job).

  51. EmbracesTrees*

    Yep, universities are struggling now as they’ve never struggled before: decreased funding from state governments; slashed federal support for grant and research programs; smaller pools of students each year (a trend expected to continue for the foreseeable future); and increasing public disdain for science and education in general. As the primary breadwinner and a parent of a youngish child, it’s actually a pretty terrifying time to be in academe (my institution is restructuring because we’re many millions short of what we *have* to have to function; I literally don’t know what department or “program” I’ll be in next year).
    In short, even when I started well over a decade ago (and $ wasn’t the concern it is now), 1 laptop OR desktop was the norm in the educational institutions I know of. I use my school laptop for *everything.* Yes, the lower storage is sometimes a pain, but if LW #5 is using space-heavy programs, they should be able to get a higher memory unit. The convenience of being able to tote it around, have *one* device with everything updated, AND hand it over to IT for a couple hours and have it back like new in the case of problems are great perks for a way underpaid job!

  52. LaDeeDa*

    #1 is something that makes me crazy. I expect people to at least try to figure things out– and I interview for it. I ask candidates; “If you are given a project how to do you go about figuring it out?”
    “what do you do if you don’t know how to do something you are asked to do?”
    “Describe a complex problem you encountered at your last job and how you contributed to its resolution?”
    With the internet, there is very little excuse for not being able to figure something out.
    It is important to empower them and let them know you believe they have the ability- if they have pulled a report before, they should be able to figure out how to pull a different kind of report. I have made “Complex Problem Solving” a competency for all positions now- so they are clear this is part of their job, expectations, and what they will be measured on.

    1. Middle Manager*

      Love this suggestion. Thanks! I’ll be interviewing candidates soon. We have really structured interviews (government panels), but I’m going to see if I can advocate getting a question like this added.

  53. Qwerty*

    OP2 – Since you are making a lateral move, the internal candidates may not be as big of a threat as you think they are. You are already experienced in the position, whereas it sounds like the internal candidates would be getting a promotion and need to be trained. This gives you an opportunity to wow them with how capable you are!

    If you avoid every job where you may not be the front runner, then you’ll eliminate most possibilities. Even without internal candidates, there tends to be many qualified people who could also be applying for that job. Making a great impression in an interview can have good results even if they had an internal candidate in mind – maybe they’ll like you more than that candidate, maybe they’ll make room for both of you, maybe you’ll be asked to interview for a higher position, or they recommend you to a friend at another company. But if you go into the interview assuming that you will automatically lose to any internal candidate, then it will just become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  54. PicoSignal*

    LW#5: Could you use start-up or grant money to pay for a laptop? If your (putative) grant doesn’t include $ for hardware, you could submit a supplemental application (NIH calls them Administrative Supplements, but different agencies have different names.)

    I’ve gotten some sweet machinery through this funding mechanism
    and many agencies accept applications on a rolling basis, so they go through much faster than grant applications.

  55. stitchinthyme*

    I have to say I kind of sympathize with the new employee in #3…I *always* get sleepy in meetings unless I’m actively participating. Doesn’t matter how much sleep I got the night before; it always happens. I don’t go so far as to actually nod off, but it’s not easy.

    #4 – I would definitely NOT contact the old boss. When someone I can’t stand is out of my life, they’re out of my life, and I see no reason to bring them back, not even if they’re dying. OldBoss is unlikely to notice or care much, especially if you haven’t been in contact for a couple of years.

  56. Laura H.*

    Re: Op 1: there are circumstances where one absolutely cannot afford to just “figure it out”.

    I’ve used this example before, but at my old job, there was a process that, in order for it to go through correctly, had to have something changed at a very specific point in the process- problem was there were two similar spots (one was right, and one was not).

    I never quite got the difference down pat, so I ALWAYS asked my manager at the first opportunity for screwup before I got the order put into the system. (If I goofed, I’d have to do it all over again and delete my oopsie- which ate more time.)

    So consider whether it’s something like that going on as well… I knew I wanted to do that process correctly (because getting repremanded over an easily correctable mistake because I was too gung ho/ didn’t think to ask hurts far worse than actually making the mistake) so asking “how do I do task x again? I’m at this point here.” was a necessary part of the process for me. (I always made sure I asked only when I was at the point in the process where I actually needed the assistance. That didn’t make me feel any better about having to ask again but it did make me feel not completely incompetent.)

    1. LaDeeDa*

      Was it possible to screenshot it, or write it down so you wouldn’ t have to keep asking?

      1. Laura H.*

        Not in a way that would have been useful. They were retail transactions, and while those weren’t a once in a blue moon thing, it wasn’t so bread and butter that working memory was able to help. (However, if that type of transaction happened more than once in a shift, I was usually fine after the first time- or I think I would have been, can’t recall if that ever happened.)

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It depends drastically here. Your situation would result in an order processing error. That’s high stakes in my opinion. You flub it, it’s not just an annoying situation you fix and learn from, a client suffered as well. I’m very much into driving home the “ask me if it’s anything that screws with our end product and customer!”

      But if it’s a report and internal kind of project, where you can play around and make the pieces fit or dig for data, it’s a different ball of wax.

      Nobody should be 100% do it yourself or 100% train so extensively that I’m going into a tutorial about every where a copier can jam and how to fix it.

  57. Exhausted Trope*

    OP4, you aren’t less of a person if you maintain your distance from your old toxic boss. There’s absolutely nothing to be gained from reaching out to Sansa now that she’s terminal.
    Just my 2¢.


    LW#5: Give up the desktop and get a laptop bag. You’ll love it. Many years ago, through attrition, I was in the same boat. I had a dedicated desktop at work and a team On-Call laptop at home. Since I was a team of 1 (attrition, remember), it sat at home. When I switched managers, she asked everyone what they had, and I accidentally mentioned my cubicle row mate and I had both a laptop and a desktop. she immediately assigned the OnCall laptop to me, got me a dock, and took away my desktop. You know what? She was right. All I was doing with the laptop was remoting into my work desktop that I left running all the time. I carried files back and forth in flash drives (how dangerous is that?). Like Knitting Cat Lady said, most items(code, documents, resource) are now external of your desktop. It was more common back then to run items on the harddrive which is why I was remoting in.

    I second Sara without an H’s recommendation. Ask for the best you need to do your job. I recently had to upgrade a level because my harddrive was too small to install an app (we had 30 GB Harddrives, who does that?) and I will need to upgrade to the next level when I start .NET programming, but other than that, my laptop does what I need to do.

    PS Do not under any circumstances give your personal laptop to your workplace. This new BYOD trend drives me batty. My workplace has no business having access to my personal devices.

  59. boop the first*

    1. Are you the only manager, or are there others? There are too many variables in play.
    They could be newer and not have all the small jobs confidently down, which makes a huge difference (long-time employees always forget what it’s like to not know everything yet).
    There could be a micromanager afoot, which means that every decision an employee makes will be “wrong”, which is extremely paralyzing, even if it’s as small as what colour pen to use for their notes.

    Alternatively, they could be burned out. Sometimes, employees are doing the work for a paycheque, rather than by passion. And sometimes they get tired. At that point, they just want to do the work and go home, and don’t have space in their mind to hold extra information or do extra puzzles. A frustrating thing is when you’ve gotten to this point, and the boss comes in and says “we have a custom order for a (product you’ve never made before). They want something new, but I don’t have time to think of anything clever so just figure it out! And it has to meet my (ever-changing) standard!” Exciting if you feel empowered and experienced, but it’s a nightmare if every decision is “wrong”.

  60. LaDeeDa*

    I have not seen a desktop in years! LOL! Everyone in the company I work for has a laptop, docking station, at least one large monitor, and a keyboard. Even our hotel spaces are set up that way. I work from home and was provided all of that for my home office.
    I don’t think it is unusual for a company to have a one person/one computer policy.
    Also, the storage space part of the letter threw me a bit– every place I have worked we have a shared drive where we save things and we keep very little on our desktops. I only keep things I want to access if I can’t get onto the network or if I have internet problems at home. I back up to the Shared Drive and my personal folder a couple of times a week so I don’t lose anything in case my laptop breaks.

  61. Daddys Girl*

    Perhaps Sansa was a b**** to work for, because she was unknowingly extremely sick?

    My loveable, very easy to get along with father had suddenly became impossible to live with. After living in turmoil for over two years, my SAH mother decided he must have just grown tired of having a family, and developed her Plan B. I was due to get my drivers license the coming October, and could then help get my younger sibs to school and sports. The day I passed my road test was the day she planned on going back to work, in preperation to support herself and her children when the need arose.

    The doctors found the cancer in September. the minute he got the diagnoses, it all became clear, and even though he was dying, his mood actually lifted, because he, along with the rest of us, finally understood why he was so miserable. Even with agressive surgery and chemo, he didn’t live to see me graduate.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Absolutely heartbroken to hear your story!

      It’s true, being ill can change moods. Wounded or sick animals also follow the same pattern. Drastic change in mood is a sign something is wrong.

      Also treatments attribute to it when someone is going through them. The medicine used to fight these diseases change a body more than just physically. Cancer treatments made my dad very difficult. Anyone who watches Real Housewives of Atlanta will see the changes Gregg went through as well while battling cancer.

    2. Liane*

      LW has stated the jerkiness was there long before the illness.
      The “Maybe Cancer made her act awful” hypothesis has been brought up a few times now, so more repetition is not helpful.

      OP, you’re a good person or this wouldn’t bother you enough to write in, or engage in the comments. I think it’s okay to not send her a card, you’ve already been kind to think of her.

      1. LW #4*

        Thank you, Liane, for your kind words. I really appreciate it. All the comments today have made me feel so much better and less anxious about the situation, yours included.

    3. Batgirl*

      I’m sorry about your dad that sounds rough.
      I kind of think your example is that it’s more reason to stay away? Im thinking of her trying to join in with a gang of pre-jerk friends who ask her: “How long have you known Sansa?”
      “Oh I worked with her x ago”
      “Really?! And she was pleasant then? at work..?.”
      OP either knows a jerk or doesn’t the real Sansa. Support should be left to the real deal people in her life who had more context or a real relationship. Nothing worse than the insincere, here to help you!

    4. LW #4*

      I’m so sorry to hear about your dad, DG. That sounds so hard.

      Sansa was challenging well before her diagnosis (though I’ll confess I’m not a doctor and have no idea how long cancer could linger and impact one’s mood; in her case, I knew her for a few years beforehand, and heard from others that she’d been the same long before I even met her). If memory serves, her mood swings became more volatile afterward (which is, quite frankly, understandable), but I don’t think her illness is what made her who she is.

  62. Manchmal*

    OP #5 – I’m also an academic, and your situation is quite different than people working in an office doing work for a corporation or a non-profit. You’re doing work for your own benefit (your own scholarship) as well as for teaching, etc. I don’t know your field, but scholars in many disciplines need hard-core processing power to run simulations, etc, and then they need portable computing for when they travel, give presentations, etc. I wouldn’t assume that one computer could do it all. That being said, your computing hardware is often something that comes out of your research budget, something you fund via grants, etc. It is not assumed that the university or your department would necessarily cover this cost for you. Most people I know get a new computer when they get a new job, but the department certainly doesn’t agree to support your computing needs indefinitely. Assuming you need both the desktop and the laptop, I would suggest getting in touch with IT or some other department that might have technology grants to cover what you need. Otherwise, you may just need to buy a cheap laptop yourself.

  63. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #1 Is fascinating to me because of my own experience with People Who Require Training vs People Who Naturally Troubleshoot. It’s just like any other difference in style and self assurance I’ve noticed.

    We screen for this in the interviewing process for our roles outside of the support positions due to knowing the stress one who requires extensive training may feel dropped into our “you need to try figuring it out, none of us know the exact answer without just fussing around a bit either.”

    I’ve never had the luxury of training so my brain wired itself to just start from scratch and play. Others are always trained for weeks or months and cannot thrive without having process docs to turn to.

    You can certainly try to push towards figuring it out. Empower them by letting them know you trust their knowledge and instincts, be firm and consistent in never shaming or showing frustration if they give you sub par results after the no training.

    That’s the hardest part is they probably feel embarrassed or scared of the repercussions if they try and fail. If you insist they try first, you can’t be upset with the results. You have to do the trade off.

    1. Jamie*

      I am of the figure it out on my own ilk as well … I’m curious if you think it’s innate or something that can be learned?

      It feels innate to me as I’ve always been this way, but Idk if others can learn it out of necessity as I’ve developed several work place traits over the years that certainly didn’t come naturally to me at first.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        It can be learned- a lot of it has to do with how your family operated and what your educational and work experience has been like. If you’ve worked with a lot of micro-managers, you learn to be scared of making mistakes or “doing it the wrong way”.

    2. Brogrammer*

      This is how I work and how my team works – show me how the basics of how to use a tool and give me a problem to solve that I can solve with that tool, and I’ll figure it out eventually – I might have specific questions, but the questions won’t be “how do I solve this problem?”

      I’m currently training two new hires. One “gets it,” the other… doesn’t. I’m giving the one who doesn’t get it extra attention as best I can, but I’m not sure if the problem-solving approach is something innate, something that can be taught, or something that only comes with time and practice. My money’s on the latter – I’m better at it than I used to be, and the new hire who gets it is a good 15 years older than the one who doesn’t.

      1. LaDeeDa*

        I don’t think it is one or the other, I think it is a little bit of both. My job is leadership development. I work with people at all levels and in all areas of the business. My theory is that millennials are the first generation of people to grow up with helicopter parents and the drastic changes in education curriculum and “teaching to test.” They (of course I am generalizing this doesn’t apply to everyone) have been more managed than any other generation before them. Meaning since the second they were born they were told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. They were never allowed to problem solve. This is also why we hear managers say “they are always asking me what to do next.”
        This isn’t a dig or being negative towards Millennials, who I adore working with and greatly look forward to the day they are the big leaders. What it means is we have to approach managing and training them differently. We have to help them understand critical thinking, and problem solving, and let them know failure isn’t that big of a deal- it is HOW we handle failure that is most important.
        I talk about cross-generational managing in all my leadership classes, I talk about problem-solving and critical thinking and empowerment in my new-graduate and intern programs, as well as in my high-potential development training.
        We have to adjust our management and our training/teaching styles to meet the needs of the new employees. They grew up differently, they learned differently – so we can’t expect them to do things the same. And that is actually one of the greatest things about Millenials, is they bring a really different perspective into the workforce and if we stop fighting it, and stop trying to make them conform to the way “it is always been done” then we could see some great innovation.

        1. LaDeeDa*

          If anyone is interested in more about this, you can Google “Mary Donohue How to get along with Boomers, GenXers and Millennials” and watch her TED. She is hilarious and really breaks down the differences between the generations. I find it really helpful when I am managing people in each of those categories, or when I am managing up.

        2. Brogrammer*

          The state of education in this country certainly has a lot to answer for, but I think a lot of the stereotypes about Millennials in the workplace come more from young people being young than anything endemic to the generation. In this example, I’m a Millennial and my younger new hire isn’t – he’s Gen Z (the older new hire straddles the Gen X/Millennial gap). They’re starting to graduate and enter the workplace!

          1. LaDeeDa*

            Gen Z have experienced that kind of upbringing as well. I think most everything we hear about Millenials/Gen Z is all crap and it is just old people forgetting what is like to be young. But I do strongly believe we have to manage and teach differently. I am excited about these new generations, I am over Baby Boomers being leaders in the corporate world and in government. I look forward to the acceptance of differences/people/cultures etc we get with Millenials and Gen Zs.

            1. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

              LaDeeDa, I love your point about helicopter parenting. I also think this generation was scheduled up the wazoo. Do this for 45 minutes, then go and do this for 45 minutes. I’ve arranged it all; you don’t need to think for yourself. People wonder why this generation has ADD. I am a Baby Boomer (though I prefer to refer to myself as an aging hippie) and I completely agree that most Baby Boomers just need to get out of the way!! But perhaps many more of them would have if the recession hadn’t happened. I love the younger generations! I went to March for Our Lives and it was an amazing experience. I still get emails from David Hogg, Jaclyn Corin and others and they all give me such hope. I am so proud of them.

        3. Birch*

          It’s definitely both, and can shift depending on the environment. Being in the kind of situation that many have described, where you aren’t given all the necessary information or reprimanded for problem solving your own way breeds learned helplessness, even in people who are usually staunch independent problem solvers.

          Also, this is not at all a generational thing and there are way more explanations for why Millennials as what to do next! Maybe they’ve completed all their work already and need more. Maybe they’ve had a micromanaging boss in the past. It’s not all about not being able to tell the difference between parents and bosses. Millennials understand critical thinking and problem solving just fine–look who created a massive gig economy when all those good jobs and houses we were promised didn’t pan out. We really don’t need a lecture on how to deal with failure–we’ve been told we’re failing at life and adulthood for years now.

        4. Cathy Gale*

          I think you have made some excellent points, though I would disagree about them being the first to grow up with helicopter parents (they existed in the past, they just weren’t as common, just as there are latchkey kids today who aren’t Generation X), and express some concerns about the myths and stereotypes with millenials and education. The main thing is the idea of millenials and post-millenials as “digital natives”, who use information and technology differently than everyone else has, and who are intuitively able to pick up technologies faster and multitask. There’s been more than a decade of research indicating this isn’t true – I even know a guy who wrote his PhD on the topic about 8 years ago – but the myth remains.

          (To find out more, Neil Selwyn wrote a review called “The digital native – myth and reality”; Paul Kirschner and Pedro de Bruyckere wrote a paper called “The myths of the digital native and the multitasker”; Kirschner also cowrote “Urban legends in education” with a well known technology expert, van Merrienboer, which also busts the ‘learning style’ myth – we all have preferences, but absent a learning disability we all can learn from multiple methods. Anoush Margaryan and Allison Littlejohn wrote “Are digital native a myth or reality?”, which is available in a free, Creative Commons licensed version online.)

          Anyway, the reason I feel so strongly about it is because I’ve talked to many professors (and in a medical school, preceptors) who blame millenials and post-millenials for being lazy and not putting effort forth with technology that they have not been given specific training on. It’s assumed they’re going to immediately “get it”. (I have even heard those exact words as an excuse!) This is just as bad as someone who is a technical specialist assuming that older people are ignorant or unable to pick up new technologies.

          The reality is that younger people need help learning how to use technology, and integrating it into their lives as much as anyone else. (They may have different priorities, yes, but that may be a facet of their age, not their generation.) Being able to use Tinder or Snapchat on your cell phone has nothing to do with using the school’s learning management system, Microsoft Access or Excel, Adobe Acrobat, SPSS, video software, etc., etc…

  64. Jamie*

    I recently started a new job and my first 4 hour meeting here in a hot, stuffy room when I hadn’t had much sleep I struggled to keep the yawning and the temptation to “rest my eyes for a second” under control. So I took notes.

    Copious, detailed notes 2/3rds of which are completely illegible because I was so tired.

    Just a tip for others in the same boat – brute force focus can help at times.

  65. wittyrepartee*

    Tell the IT department at your university what specs you will need in the laptop for it to do what your PC does. I’d phrase it like “I need the laptop for travel and working from home, but if it’s going to be my only computer I will need ___ RAM, ___ processor, ___ hard drive space, as well as a docking station that will work with my current monitor, keyboard and mouse setup at my desk. Will this be possible?”

    If you’re primarily using your laptop for notetaking and research, can I suggest a chromebook? They’re wicked cheap and really reliable. My only issue with mine is that I can’t use it to look over edits for my side gig because of the lack of a compatible word processing program (like, it has google docs, but the software they want me to use doesn’t cut it).

  66. Brogrammer*

    LW4, it sounds like your feelings on the matter could be summed up as “I wish I was sadder.” Sometimes bad things happen to people who are jerks. It’s okay to let this lie.

  67. EvilQueenRegina*

    Had to smile to myself a little at 5 because I got an email this week telling me I wasn’t allowed two devices and that someone will be collecting my desktop. The offending desktop was actually collected a month ago and I was glad to see the back of it because it wouldn’t stop freezing after it was upgraded to Windows 10! Makes me wonder where it ended up if IT don’t think they got it back

  68. Adrienne*

    #2 Does the type of field impact this response at all? When I was interviewing in a certain field relating to state permitting, I was told I’d have almost zero chance of getting the job if an internal candidate applied. Also, I had to pay for all of my travel expenses for the interview. If it’s that type of position, wouldn’t you want to ask so that you can save on later expenses?

    1. league.*

      Maybe that was a union position, and union applicants were automatically given priority? Of course, this may be the case for the company OP2 applied for as well.

  69. Miss Muffet*

    For LW1 – I have long used the “3 B4 Me” with people I’ve managed or coached. Basically, once someone has been reasonably trained on a task/process/whatever (or reasonably has the skills to handle it independently), they need to look for answers in 3 places before coming to me with their question. It might be a procedures document, or online resource, or whatever is appropriate (I’m not a hardass about it either, if two resources is reasonable for that situation, I’m not going to force it).
    THEN, when they come to me, they should tell me where they looked for the answers and why those things didn’t help. Maybe it’s truly a wacky situation that none of the standard documentation addresses. Or maybe they did look somewhere where you know the answer can be found, but they looked in the wrong section. Knowing where they looked can help you coach their ability to research.
    Setting this up with your team in a team meeting also helps you be able to push back in a gentle and friendly manner after that. “did you do your 3 b4 me?” “where were the 3 places you checked? what did you find?”

    1. fposte*

      Oh, I like that little mnemonic. It really emphasizes that this is a standard process rather than a personal reproof.

  70. tgif*

    Re #1, I feel ya. I worked with a paralegal who would ask things as basic as “how do I print from this webpage?” It drove me nuts.

  71. tgif*

    Re #1, I feel ya. I worked with a paralegal who would ask things as basic as “how do I print from this webpage?” It drove me nuts.

    Re #2, I’ve heard of people who always fall asleep in meetings, and to combat it, they stand. Might be worth suggesting.

    1. tgif*

      Oops, I meant #3. And sorry for re-posting my first comment. I hit back on my browser, which took me to the comment and made me think I’d forgotten to post it (even though I thought I had!)

  72. WantonSeedStitch*

    OP#1: I think Alison is spot on, but sometimes, I’ve also found it helpful to have quick brainstorming sessions with my reports when they have a new task that they’re not sure how to handle. I ask them to give me some thoughts about how they might approach the task–about what information they might need, and about what tools they might use to find it. I might say, “I’d also try running the XYZ lookup against the database,” or, “I think the client might find it helpful if you included A and B information in the finished product.” I will let them know I’m available to answer questions, and encourage them to update me once they’ve gotten started to let me know how it’s going. I might also offer to check over their finished product before they send it off to the client. I find that the more often I do this and tell them, “this looks good–go ahead and send it out!” the more confident they become in their own abilities.

    OP#5: In my office, where they’re pretty flexible about working from home, everyone has just as laptop as their work computer. We also, however, each have a good-sized external monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse. These peripherals are much less expensive than a whole other computer, but give us the same comfort and ease of use we’d have with a desktop setup when we plug the laptop into it all. Plus, it gives us the ability to leave the peripherals on our desks in the evening (the monitors are locked to the desks) and put the laptops away in a locked drawer if we’re not bringing them home, to keep them more secure. I really think it’s an ideal solution!

    1. Jennifer*

      In reference to OP#1 sometimes it’s good to ask because then you learn that maybe you’re missing a key piece of information that the person who gave you the task neglected to tell you.

      I also always ask to have someone look at it before I send it out if I’m new.

  73. TootsNYC*

    #1, getting staff to figure stuff out by themselves

    Make it part of their instructions:

    “I need you to pull together X report from the data; you may need to do some noodling to figure out which filter to use, and don’t forget that Google can help you find the formulas you need. Give it a shot, and if a couple or so attempt are still not what you need, come back and tell me what you’ve done, and I’ll see if I have any further insights.”

    Also, that long lead time is part of the self-training time, so tell them that: “I’m giving you a little extra time with this, because I expect you’ll need to do at least a little self-training at the front end.”

  74. Havarti*

    LW #4, you ask if you’ll deeply regret not reaching out. I think it’s human nature to always have some regret over the roads not taken. In your case, it could be that you reach out and she’s wonderful and happy to hear from you and you develop a great relationship that enriches your life until she passes.

    But more likely what will happen is she’ll either not respond (due to lack of time, energy, or interest) or will rope you into being her emotional support human again and then you’ll have to deal with the additional burden of guilt while trying to untangle yourself from this mess all over again. I’d rather feel the guilt of never contacting her than have to go thru Horrible Situation 2: Electric Boogaloo plus guilt.

    You have to take care of yourself first and foremost. It’s okay to mourn the relationship you could have had if she had been a better boss. It’s okay to not perform grief if you feel none. It’s okay to not send the card and go on with your life. It’s okay to focus on being kind to others and not worrying about those who choose/chose to be unkind to you.

    1. Celia*

      I agree completely, and I would add that it says a lot about this boss that the LW still sounds so haunted by the spectre of her toxicity and the atmosphere she created at that workplace. The LW sounds like an emotional hostage who got away, but still feels the pull created by Stockholm Syndrome.

      1. LW #4*

        Oof, you hit the nail right on the head with this one. Yes to all of the above. Thank you for the clarity (and for making me feel so validated).

    2. Jennifer*

      #4 I think sending a card would be nice. I don’t think any more is needed. It sounds like she isn’t a very nice person and if so she may not have a lot of support right now, due to her own actions, of course, but it’s still very sad to me. I think a card would make her feel less alone, and maybe alleviate any guilt you might feel about not reaching out.

    3. LW #4*

      “…or will rope you into being her emotional support human again and then you’ll have to deal with the additional burden of guilt while trying to untangle yourself from this mess all over again.” This is my EXACT fear!

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and perspective. I think the best move is to let her be and let life move on. My guilt is sort of silly, too… I don’t owe her any emotional support and obviously haven’t provided any in years, so why should I feel bad for not providing it now? And why would I assume she even wants it?! :) Thanks again!

    4. Cathy Gale*

      So well said. I have been there, your advice and Alison’s is perfect. And Celias comment about being haunted. It doesn’t make you a bad person to sympathize at a distance and protect yourself. When an early, sometimes abusive boss died of cancer I felt sympathy and expressed it to his friends for them but I have zero regrets about getting more deeply involved. I had stood up to him and he had said horrible things about me to my colleagues. I had no wish to relive it or experience the mixed emotions you are feeling. It says a lot about your caring as a person OP but you don’t have to engage!

      1. LW #4*

        Thank you so much, Cathy. Sounds like a lot of parallel between our situations. I really appreciate you sharing your experience. It’s solidifying my resolve that my best move is to give her space and keep on the “move on” path. Thank you, again.

  75. TootsNYC*

    #2, internal candidates?

    I have asked, “I know that frequently in the past, you have promoted from within to fill this position. Is there a reason you’re not going with an internal candidate for this?”

  76. Observer*

    #5 – Make sure they don’t think that your old laptop was issued by them. Otherwise, find out why they are asking for it. I would seriously consider surrendering my old laptop after wither running a disk wipe program or literally taking the hard drive out of there.

  77. Jennifer*

    #1 This is such a tricky situation. I remember being kind of annoyed when I found out a new employee had spent a day trying to figure something out when they could have asked one of us and we could have shown them in five minutes. It was such a waste of time when we were backlogged. On the other hand, it is also annoying when people act completely helpless and don’t even try to figure things out on their own before they ask.

    I have also been confused about whether I should take some initiative and try to figure things out on my own, risking taking longer and making a few mistakes along the way, or just asking and being made to feel like an idiot if the solution seems obvious but I just didn’t think of it.

    I agree with Alison. Make sure the employees know that they aren’t going to be penalized for taking a bit longer to finish work or if things aren’t 100% perfect the first time they try. Also, think about how long it would take you to show them the answer as opposed to how long it’s taking them to figure it out. If it will take five minutes to train them, it may not be worth it, as long as they are retaining the information or taking notes and not coming to you and asking the same questions over and over.

  78. Peridot*


    “Harriet had long ago discovered that one could not like people any the better, merely because they were ill, or dead—still less because one had once liked them very much.”
    ― Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night

  79. Martha*

    I work at a public university. We get one computer per person. We can choose from a couple of pre-approved models–if we want something different, we need special approval, which is not easy to get even if it costs less. And no docking stations.

    I chose a desktop computer because it is easier to use when I am in the office. I purchased my own desktop computer for home, and my own laptop for travel. This is normal for every public institution I’ve ever worked for. Honestly, I’m fine with that because I want to be able to use my personal equipment for personal stuff and work equipment is not private.

    1. Clisby*

      But depending on where you work, your personal equipment might not be private either. (I’m thinking mainly of government employees, but there could be other areas where if you use your own laptop/desktop for work, your own personal computer could be subject to discovery.)

  80. Jennifer*

    #3 I struggled with this too once. It was warm in the conference room. The person leading the meeting had this soothing, kind of monotonous voice, almost like ASMR. I could have put my head down and slept for hours if he kept talking. I wasn’t especially sleepy. She may have to do something like take diligent notes, even if she doesn’t need them, just to stay focused.

  81. Mike S*

    I have both a desktop and a laptop (with dedicated dock, dual displays, etc.) My desktop has twice the memory and disk space of my laptop (and my laptop’s maxed on memory), so some things are just faster on my desktop. For some things, my desktop’s faster than the department servers, as well, so I occasionally get asked to run something locally if the overnight job failed. Doing that with a slower processor, less memory, and across a VPN ain’t happening. If you don’t have that kind of need, a laptop + dock’s a fine replacement.
    As for internal vs. external candidates, in a large organization, that can get complicated. We recently hired for 2 positions. We had one candidate who’s in our department, but works on something completely different. We also had a couple from other departments. We also had one from another organization, in another city, but his org and ours have the same parent. Technically, they’re all internal hires. That still doesn’t mean that we know them at all.

  82. ThatLibTech*


    I had a former boss recently pass due to cancer as well. She wasn’t as “altruistic” as your boss pretended to be, and honestly made me life a living hell for three and a half years. I didn’t find out that she was terminal until just before she went into palliative care, and she passed relatively quickly. I offered condolences to her daughter (a former co-worker), but that was it. I feel pain for her family because she was still relatively young (I think she was in her 50s or 60s), and for my grandboss as they had worked together for over 20 years. But there wasn’t sympathy from me to summon because she was… not a great person to me at all, and I had to reflect on this with a friend (and former co-worker) who went through similar feelings.

    It’s difficult to work through, to be sure. But you’re not obligated (unless I suppose you have a moral or religious ethic that says so) to create space for those people in your life again.

    1. LW #4*

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I really appreciate the perspective. All the comments are helping me let go of any guilt or obligation to see her. I think it’s best if I just let it be. Thank you again for chiming in and taking the time to share!

  83. alphabet soup*

    #5: Do you know if your university uses thin clients at all? This might be the happy middle ground between getting to keep the desktop and have a laptop. Might be worth asking about.

    (If you don’t know, a thin client isn’t a full laptop, because it doesn’t store any data on its own hard drive. But it allows you to remote into your desktop via vpn. They’re cheaper, easier to maintain, and more secure than a laptop.)

  84. Cathy Gale*

    Very much a YMMV question that requires some consideration. Ask an experienced friend (or us in open thread) to compare models after IT gives you the info on what the two kinds of computers are like in terms of specifications. Confirm also whether there’s a difference in how frequently they will update or provide service for the two different kinds of computers. Many schools that lease from Dell etc. have you commit to a plan that you’re stuck with for a set number of years based on the model. Make sure for example you’re not running any kind of program (maybe SPSS or r) that would not work on a crappier laptop or Chromebook (possibly a good low cost option for you, can be $300 to replace) or a Mac, and requires a desktop. In my friend’s university department the chair made a decision to buy all department computers that came with no support from IT and the computers would only be updated after a very long period, 5 years I think. Using a web browser or a simple elearning package with Java was tough let alone SPSS. They were hosed.
    It may make sense to keep the desktop if it’s solid and buy a personal laptop that fits your budget (don’t buy an expensive Mac if your knowledge is limited and you need to lean on friends… many unis do not provide lots of Mac support… Mac is not automatically best for those who have less computer skills (met many people who believe this myth and then become upset that they can’t get support at work, or run programs like Publish or Perish)… Don’t buy Lenovo without reading about a history of tracking personal data of users without telling them). If support is limited and you’re knowledgeable or have a best friend or lover who wants to spend weekends making your computer awesome, obviously the sky’s the limit. Otherwise you might want to pick whatever the uni gives the most support to that also allows for regular refreshing and earlier upgrades on Windows. That usually equals desktop.
    If you don’t already, look into remote program options, using Citrix for instance, that would let you login from home on whatever model, and not require you to install or pay for many products. I wouldn’t be surprised if they still think the laptop is theirs.

    1. Moose*

      I also want to be clear that I think the LW in #4 is much more diplomatic and, well. petty-seeming than the one in think linked column. Wasn’t comparing that, just the situation.

      1. Moose*

        Oh god, I meant “LESS petty-seeming than the one in the linked column”! I made a mess.

        1. LW #4*

          Thanks, Moose :) I won’t pretend I’m incapable of being petty… but I still appreciate this.

  85. That One Person*

    #4 – Nothing wrong with not reaching out to a prior boss/coworker you don’t like and left a very bad, toxic impression on you regardless of their health. Doesn’t sound like you’re dancing a happy jig about it either so honestly I’d let it be as saying/sending nothing isn’t mean spirited – the Scrooges of life have to deal with the fact their behavior has turned people off dealing with them altogether when possible. Besides it might open a new channel of anxiety if she decides to try and latch onto you for emotional support or something, so it’d be better to avoid letting any toxicity back into your life from a trusted source of it.

  86. Chelsea*

    #5 – if it’s just one time, let it go. Shit happens. If it happens again, definitely do talk about it with her directly.

  87. StaceyIzMe*

    To be honest, in your shoes, I’d buy the laptop. You shouldn’t have to, but Universities aren’t known for their flexibility. There are lots of things to expend professional capital on, and this one seems enough like either party could be “right” that it’s not worth fighting City Hall over.

  88. Jenny Grace*

    To LW#4 I have stage 4 cancer and I do not care for the people in my life who are reaching out to me out of some misplaced sense of obligation. You don’t like me, don’t pretend you like me because you think I’m dying, that just adds a weird social burden that I don’t need, and makes me think you’re a shallow asshole. I get the inclination to reach out, but if it doesn’t do anything to make the sick person’s life easier or better, don’t do it.

    1. Jenny Grace*

      I just mean, from the perspective of the old boss, even if she was a GREAT person, she doesn’t necessarily want people from her past popping out in the world simply because she is ill. I personally find it to be deeply overwhelming.

    2. Cathy Gale*

      Thanks for sharing this. The narrative about cancer and similar diseases is that you want to fight fight fight, and that you need bannermen everywhere, and it doesn’t occur to some people that this can be exhausting, too. I hope you are doing well and you have some people who are providing cover, so you’re not constantly dealing with the shallow people or the well-meaning people.

      1. Jenny Grace*

        Thanks. For the most part people just want to be kind, and they want to do something (or feel like they are doing something), and they don’t want to feel like the last time they saw me was the last time they will EVER see me. But I can’t be the cruise director for this ship, I need to take care of my (very young) children, and myself, and my affairs, and I don’t have the bandwidth to even tell people HOW they can help. I certainly don’t want to get together with old coworkers, even if we got along well.
        It has really changed my perspective on a lot of things. Are you doing it to make YOURSELF feel better, or are you doing something that will actually make the PERSON IN CRISIS feel better?

        1. voyager1*

          Another vote of thanks for sharing. I was kinda surprised nobody was thinking about this from the boss’s perspective.

          1. LW #4*

            Yeah, the people who have chimed in regarding Sansa’s perspective have really offered some important clarity for me. I haven’t been very close to anyone’s cancer journey, so I had no idea how much of a burden I could be imposing on HER by reaching out and trying to make nice. So I really appreciate everyone’s willingness to be so candid about the reality of it and helping me understand and consider the situation from that angle. More and more I see that the best move for me is to leave her be. It’s best for me AND for her, and the last thing she needs right now is a burden.

    3. LW #4*

      Jenny, I really appreciate your honesty and perspective here. It’s very helpful and offers a viewpoint I honestly hadn’t even considered. I’ve been so worried about my own obligations that I didn’t even think about hers! She’s not obligated to entertain my own guilt-quenching quest just as I’m not obligated to be her emotional support. And I don’t want to burden her at all or add any more stress, since she’s definitely enduring more of it than I can even imagine. I think you’re right: it’s best to just leave her alone.

      I’m sorry you’re going through this. Peace to you.

  89. ladycrim*

    #3: earlier this week I dozed off at my desk a couple of times. Didn’t know why I couldn’t shake the sleepiness. Then I realized I’d accidentally taken a nighttime medicine that morning. Possible the new employee made a similar mistake (in addition to the other possibilities Alison mentioned).

  90. Urdnot Bakara*

    #3 – Did this meeting take place in the afternoon/after lunch? I find that’s when I get the sleepiest at my desk or in long meetings. Also, if the conference room is too warm, that tends to make me sleepy, too. IMO it’s probably not a big deal if it doesn’t become a regular thing, sometimes the conditions are just right and they make people sleepy.

  91. Dinopigeon*

    LW4, I too have an ex-manager who is terminally ill. I consider his behavior towards me outright abusive at times and it was alarming how much better I started to feel once I was out of that situation. It’s absolutely normal (and to your credit) to feel compassion and empathy towards someone losing a battle with cancer. But as a friend told me when I was wondering whether I should reach out- people who are assholes don’t stop being assholes just because they got sick. It doesn’t mean they deserve to be ill. It does mean there’s not much for me (or you) to gain by inviting them back into our lives, and give them the opportunity to hurt us again.

  92. OP # 5*

    Hi Alison and all for your thoughtful comments! I am not in the US and the time difference makes it hard to follow along with the discussion in real time. As many commenters said, I am in a scientific discipline that requires processing/analysing large amounts of data. Our High Performance Computing infrastructure is still in its infancy at my institution, so I was initially allocated a desktop computer that could handle all the work I need to do without any issue. We do not have loaner laptops available (although I am told that one may become available in the coming weeks). Part of the problem was the way the decision was communicated/lack of consultation – ie. after asking about a laptop, I received a brief email stating that my desktop would be repurposed and I would be allocated a (much smaller, less powerful) machine as a replacement. The happy update is that after speaking with someone else in our IT department who understands the computing requirements a bit better, I will be allowed to keep my desktop and be allocated a small laptop for word processing/conferences etc. I will of course be purchasing a new laptop for personal use – even though it is a hassle to juggle different machines there are a lot of good reasons to keep work completely separate, as a couple of people noted above. Thank you again!

  93. Same.*

    Re OP #5 – Having to work on a laptop all the time is pretty unpleasant in a lot of jobs, and it can slow you way down and affect the quality of your work (depending on the industry and type of job, of course – this was very much the case at my last job). With this policy, the employer is making it so people who can afford a personal laptop have a better set-up for their work than those who can’t, and that’s really crappy.

  94. PlainJane*

    LW 1: This may sound counterintuitive, but tell them where their limits are. A good definition of boundaries makes it easier to feel free inside those boundaries. For instance, “Well, I have final say on all teapot designs, and I’ll be the one submitting it to higher-ups, but as far as what you give to me… hey, just keep it below the 5 drachma price point, and I’ll want to see it.” Or “Look, your constraints are that we have six kinds of metal and problems with the designer of the old teapot, so we need something entirely new, and the higher-ups want to focus on X theme. Anywhere in there… that’s where I need you coming up with ideas to submit to me.”

    And of course, having some benefit to it would be helpful. Not necessarily a tangible one that you can’t afford (or aren’t authorized to give), but maybe at a staff meeting, point out someone who’s made helpful suggestions. “So, Max had a great idea, and we tried it this week… I think it’s working pretty well!” Or, if it isn’t working pretty well, maybe, “Hey, Max’s idea was great–that’s the kind of thinking we need–but it didn’t quite work. Anyone have a suggestion? Work with Max and get me an idea.”

  95. 6502*

    OP1, perhaps you could use “Ask the duck?” To paraphrase, this employee was asking his supervisor questions all the time. Finally, the supervisor told him that whenever he had a question, he needed to ask, out loud, the stuffed duck in the supervisor’s office. The employee found that by asking the question, it stimulated his mind to come up with the answer. If he tried that and still didn’t have an answer, then he could ask the supervisor.

  96. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #2 – perfectly legitimate question. If an external candidate were to be hired over internal candidates – who also may be qualified but are being passed over for various reasons, including locking them into their current situations – the prospect of overseeing/supervising/managing those individuals might be just a tad too challenging. Those passed over may depart, creating a huge knowledge void; or – worse – deliberately make life difficult for the new hire. Someone coming in might want to know that before taking the job.

    #4 – Unless YOU have an issue to resolve, steer clear. Yes, your outreach may be construed as a reconciliatory gesture (or to allow the dying person to repent/reconcile what they’ve done) but on the other hand it may be viewed as taunting or grave dancing. For most circumstances, stay away.

  97. Nic*

    Re: falling asleep in meetings, I have a colleague who has narcolepsy, and if a meeting is extended and getting up/stretching is frowned upon…she will fall asleep. We try to help navigate and ensure accommodation (putting snacks on a side table for an excuse to walk a few steps, encouraging people to stand and stretch if they need without singling her out) but sometimes the meeting is led by someone who doesn’t know about the narcolepsy (and it’s not their business!) and who takes affront that some bodies need to move every half hour or so. So she falls asleep. It’s worth addressing and obviously not all folks who nod off in a meeting are doing so due to a medical condition, but better to start the conversation open to the possibility than end up being That Jerk who didn’t account for an illness, whether it be acute or long term.

  98. Checkert*

    OP1: how have you recieved/given feedback on previous work? I’ve had managers that are meticulously critical and picky and thought anything deviating from exactly what/how they’d do something was wrong. In those cases, I would ask for clarification ad nauseum, both before and after the task, focusing on how small the differences were (Example: How would you have liked me to do this? Oh, I see, you only wanted to see this small word difference. What is your reasoning for wanting that word instead of what I used? etc). Eventually they picked up that those differences WERE quite small and it was wasting time to continue to pursue every little deviation. If you examine your management style and find that you are hoping for clones of yourself rather than accepting unique employees, you may be driving this seemingly needy behavior.

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