I bombed in an interview I asked for, employee wants to skip lunch and leave early every day, and more

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

1. I bombed in an interview I asked for

I’m in a customer-facing role at a large company, and I’m interested in advancing into a management role. I’ve held management positions in the past, but happily took a “step back” in this job because it’s a great company, good job in itself, and it supported a family-related interstate move.

I recently asked my grand-boss for a 1-1 meeting to discuss advancement opportunities, and he was very supportive of the conversation. Knowing this was effectively a job interview, I came prepared to discuss staffing, training, expectations, client engagement, priorities and goal setting, etc. Unfortunately, what my grand-boss wanted to discuss was systems, metrics, repeatability — more of the systems-thinking side of the job than the human-thinking side of the job. And it’s a job that I tend to approach in a very human-thinking sort of way. That was reasonable of him, but I wasn’t remotely ready for that conversation, as I’d been very focused on the people side of it.

It wasn’t the worst professional conversation I’d ever had, but it was easily in the top three. He even left me with the advice “If you ask for a meeting like this, you really should prepare for it, which is impossibly embarrassing to hear. That he thought I needed that advice feels like I may as well have needed to hear “don’t drop your pants in front of the CEO. Of course I know that, but I’ve clearly made a terrible impression.

My gut reaction was that I’d blown any opportunity at advancement (and my current job is great, but it’s not a career). But I didn’t, exactly. Grand-boss left the door open, offering another shot at a “career development” call with him, suggesting we talk in a few weeks. He’s been gracious about the whole thing, even while reinforcing the message that the conversation itself we did have was completely unsuccessful in promoting my candidacy. (If I hear “you really should prepare…” again, I’ll probably die of shame.)

How do I recover from this? I doubt my aspirations will survive another disaster-meeting. I feel like I shouldn’t wait too long to reengage, but this has become the only interview I’ve ever been hesitant about. I normally delight in job interviews, but this was my worst interview failure ever, and I’m feeling bruised and full of self doubt. How do I approach the next round? Do I address my past failure as incorrect rather than absent preparations, or just let it go? Is it reasonable to stall for a month or two while I collect my thoughts and my confidence, or should I get back on the horse quickly? There’s no open position currently on the table, so it’s all about putting myself in position for when a seat opens up — which could be soon or could be well into the future.

I’m a big fan of just putting it out there, on the theory that if they don’t like your thought process on something like this, that might be a sign that they won’t like it on other things too, and better to just be transparent and figure out if that works for them or not. So I’d just be candid about what happened. And it doesn’t need to be a big deal (shouldn’t be, in fact). It can just be something like, “I want to be up-front with you that I’d prepared for a different conversation last time. I’d come prepared to talk about staffing, training, expectations, client engagement, priorities, and goal setting. I’m ready this time to talk about systems and metrics.” And then move on quickly — you don’t want it to sound like excuse-making, just quick context, and then move right into what you’re there to talk about. In fact, you could even could address it when you reach out to schedule the next meeting instead — as in, “When we talked, I’d prepared to talk about X — and I appreciate you refocusing me. This time I’m going to be prepared to talk about Y. Would the first week of May work for you?”

On the timing of the meeting, don’t stall — the sooner you have the second meeting, the sooner you can recover from the first. And you’ll show that you’re able to take criticism, incorporate it, and move right along without being rattled by it. (I mean, don’t reschedule so quickly that you don’t have time to thoroughly prepare — but don’t stall just because it feels awkward.)

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Replying to the wrong optional emails on vacation

My colleague, “Sophie,” is on holiday. In our office, there is no expectation that staff should check their emails when on vacation but many people do. Sophie has been replying to emails, but only non-urgent or even trivial ones that could easily wait until she gets back. I also know that there are some more urgent requests she has received and not responded to (not necessarily labour intensive, some just need a confirmation from her).

Our manager is frustrated but doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t want to encourage anyone to work while out of the office, but since Sophie is already taking the time to get work done, our manager would prefer she redirects her efforts.

Do you think it is worth even bringing it up? If so, how would you approach this?

I’d leave it alone. Any attempt to address it is going to undermine the idea that people aren’t expected to check email on vacation. At most, I suppose someone could reply to one of her non-urgent replies and say something like, “If you’re checking email, I’d love your thoughts on the message about X — but no pressure if you’d rather wait until you get back.” But even that is signaling that you want her to do work on vacation. And who knows, maybe she’s answering trivial emails because they’re an easy break for her brain, but she doesn’t want to deal with things that require more stress or more thought.

3. Two people giving notice at nearly the same time

I am hoping to get your perspective on how my colleague and I should handle giving our notices, when it looks like we are both going to be a leaving our professional services firm at nearly the same time.

We both work for a small company (<30 people) and have both been here for about five years, which is relatively long. We are both senior managers with some but not all overlapping responsibilities, and we both report directly to the CEO. It is likely that if only one of us was leaving, the other would assume most if not all of the other’s responsibilities, including taking on direct reports and client accounts.

We independently decided to search for new positions for various reasons, both personal and because of some concerns about the direction of our current employer. Not coincidentally, we are both good friends outside of work who are at similar stages of our careers and with similar family situations, work styles, and personalities. We are both nervous to tell our current boss we are leaving because he has taken resignations personally in the past and because we recognize the short-term disruption we will cause with our timing. We have already discussed with each other where all our work could be reassigned without overloading the team, as it has been a slow time for the past few months.

So, how do we handle giving our notice? Do we go one at a time and the first person pretends not to know about the second? Do we speak to our boss together even though our decisions were independent? What is the least hurtful way to break the news?

Don’t talk to your boss together; that’ll be weird and it will look like you coordinated more than you actually have. Hopefully you won’t get job offers on the exact same day or need to give notice on the exact same day, so whoever accepts an offer first will give notice first, making no mention of the other person. Then when the second person accepts an offer, they give their notice at that point and can say something like, “I know the timing isn’t ideal with Lorraine leaving as well, but I have some ideas for how to reassign work that might make the transition go more smoothly.”

If for some reason you both do end up having to give notice on the same day, you should still do it separately. In that case, whoever gets to go first (and thus sticks the other one with a more awkward conversation) should probably buy the other one several drinks.

4. Employee wants to skip lunch and leave early every day

I have an employee who often doesn’t eat lunch. He sometimes stays at his desk and plays on his phone, or sometimes visits with friends on their lunch hour, but seems to rarely eat lunch himself.

It is common knowledge on my team that if you need to leave early for the day, you’re allowed to skip your lunch break and leave early. This team member asked me if he could skip lunch every day and leave early. I am hesitant to agree to this as an every day option because in the past I’ve read multiple articles saying that skipping lunch breaks or working through lunch is bad for productivity, and often leads to burn-out (and I have some personal experience with this as well). Additionally, we work in a collaborative environment and while I don’t dictate set working hours, I do like people to generally be available to their teammates for questions, help, etc. I allowed this policy because I really try to be as flexible as possible for my team, but I just don’t feel right about making it every day. Am I overthinking this?

If it will inconvenience your team to have him unavailable for the last hour of the day every day, it’s perfectly reasonable to say no to this, and to explain that it’s fine to do occasionally but not every day.

But I wouldn’t base it on worries about burn-out. Some people do fine with working through lunch; others don’t. You don’t want your reason for banning this to be that it can be bad for some people, when others do just fine with it and even prefer it. Keep the focus on how it impacts what you and your team need from him.

5. I’ve been asked to give a reference for two people for the same job

I work in a fairly competitive, but still small, field, where getting a job is all about who you know. There is an opening at the company I work at that two people who I have worked with in the past are going to apply to, and both want to put me as a reference. I think both would do a great job, and I had agreed to be a reference in the past, not knowing that both would be applying for the same job at the place I am working.

Is that weird? Do I need to talk to my HR manager and explain? Should I tell them not to use me?

It’s not weird. When you give a reference, you’re not saying, “Definitely hire this person over all your other candidates.” You’re ideally saying “Here is a detailed assessment of this person’s strengths, work habits, and challenges, and it’s up to you to decide how this person fits in with your needs.” So you can definitely give a reference for two people for the same job.

The exception to this might be if you think one is significantly stronger than the other — especially since this is for a role at your company, meaning that you’ll want to be very candid. In that case, it might be fairer to say to the weaker person, “I want to be up-front with you that I’ve been asked to be a reference for someone else applying for this same job, and I think they’re a really strong match with the role. I’d still be glad to be your reference as well, but I wanted to be transparent about that in case you’d prefer to use someone else.”

{ 242 comments… read them below }

  1. Elizabeth West*

    Hmm, well I used to work through lunch and leave early at Exjob. I wanted to work 8:30-4:30 to avoid rush hour traffic that was causing me a great deal of stress, especially in bad weather. I made sure of a few things before I asked my boss about it.

    First, I checked to make sure it was allowed legally. My state doesn’t mandate breaks, so it didn’t put the company in a bind. Second, most of my team arrived before my usual start time and left earlier than I did. So I was available while they were in the office or during the time they usually needed me anyway. If asked to stay later, of course I would, but it almost never happened. Third, and most important, once she agreed, I made sure to get my work done on time and as thoroughly as possible.

    My boss was fine with it and it went well. Knowing I would avoid the crush actually made me more productive. I didn’t need twenty minutes to calm down once I arrived, nor did I ramp up at the end of the day. Obviously, this wouldn’t work with every job, but it did with this one.

    1. valentine*

      OP4: Be clear about the accepted frequency, so you’re not upset someone does it weekly when you secretly meant twice a month.

    2. Lucy*

      I came to say that it wouldn’t be legal where I live, so checking break rules in your jurisdiction is an important first step.

      I think a manager needs to keep an eye on it more generally – If the employee doesn’t leave his desk for a lunch break, but does mentally check out of work and spend twenty minutes on his phone, then that is Not What We Meant. And she needs to assess what effect the precedent could have on the rest of the team.

      1. CheeryO*

        Yeah, I’d be wary of setting the precedent. I think most people would prefer more flexibility with their lunch time (I know I would, but I have to take a break after six hours by state law), so you’re risking some resentment if the rest of the team isn’t afforded the same option.

      2. Manya*

        Why would you assume bad things about your employee? And couldn’t any employee, regardless of schedule, “mentally check out of work and spent twenty minutes on [their] phone?”

        1. Lucy*

          I don’t assume bad things of him – but if he is currently in the habit of browsing AAM ;-) in the middle of the day he might think he isn’t taking a break and that he is just formalizing his non-break.

          I have known people who “never take a break” but regularly disengage from work in this or similar ways. From a manager’s perspective she simply needs to ensure he’s abiding by the spirit of the arrangement once it’s in place – which also includes his leaving early enough.

          1. BlueDays*

            I get what you mean. I know people who “don’t get to take breaks” or “have to work through lunch” too. They like to stop at people’s desks to “stretch” and chat for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, answer personal calls/texts throughout the day, and leave to get coffee or food from the cafeteria and are gone for 15 or 20 minutes multiple times a day. That’s fine with me since they’re productive, but if I found out they got to leave half an hour early on top of all that I’d think it was unfair since I’ve always just taken my lunch break and otherwise spent my time working.

            1. Lucy*

              I agree it’s largely optics. If he genuinely appears to work through then great. If he’s known to stretch minimum work to maximum time, or spend twenty minutes to pour a single cup of coffee, then it won’t look good if he’s also claiming an additional time benefit.

              I worked at a truly flexitime company where you just had to complete your week’s hours between 7am and 9pm Mon-Fri and be available in certain core periods every day, with a minimum 30-min break in the middle of the day: the rest was up to you. Twelve hours one day and four another with a lazy restaurant lunch, great. Nobody really noticed anybody else’s precise comings and goings because we knew everyone must be making up their hours one way or another. But we definitely noticed the people not working in the core periods.

        2. BlueAnon*

          But mentally checking out and spending time on your phone *is* taking a lunch. Just because you’re not leaving the office/your desk doesn’t mean you didn’t take your break. So you don’t want him “skipping lunch” and leaving early if that’s what he’s doing while he’s “working through lunch.”

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            There’s a lot of issues where if your state does mandate meal breaks you can’t have any illusion of still working or it makes it unclear and therefore unacceptable as a meal-break. They suggest you never allow eating at your desk or office for that reason.

            However it depends on if he’s exempt or not. Exempt employees are not required to have meal breaks.

            1. Anna*

              This. In Oregon you have to be away from where you normally do work (like your desk) and if you are interrupted by a work-related question, your break starts over from that point. I mean, that’s what’s written. If a student asks me something while I’m eating lunch, I don’t generally restart, especially if it’s a quick yes or no thing.

              1. Aggretsuko*

                Oh my god, that would cause so much drama at my office. If you are at your desk, you will be asked questions, period. If you want to take a break at your desk, hah. This would be a nightmare for work.

            2. Completely Different Name for This*

              I like to eat lunch at my desk and do personal online things. I’m so glad I’m not required to eat elsewhere!
              I’d have to get a bigger phone, and do a lot of personal paperwork like paying bills evenings and weekends.

      3. Retired Accountant*

        That’s been the philosophy at companies I’ve worked for; they didn’t believe people would really work through lunch and didn’t permit them to adjust their schedules as though they did. Right or wrong, that was their position.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Same—this set-up would not be legal for hourly, non-exempt employees in my state.

    3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      Could you meet him halfway? If his lunch break is an hour let him have a half hour break, then he leaves half an hour early?

    4. Asenath*

      I frequently work through lunch or come in early and leave early, but I work in a very flexible situation in which as long as the work is done, and I am present and prepared for the really big events we have, that’s accepted. I think the manager should consider the possible effect on the work and co-workers – do they require the employee’s presence at the end of the day? – and let the employee decide whether working through lunch will cause burnout.

    5. Dr. Doll*

      That’s great that it worked for you and your boss allowed the flexibility.

      In my state, breaks are mandated. I tend to ignore the rare need for someone to work through lunch and leave early. But if someone wanted to do it regularly I find that it does lead to very poor work later in the day, so I’m glad I can fall back on “State law, sorry.”

      This is why I hate 4/10 scheduling, too — the 11-hour day. No one actually starts work until about 90 minutes after their arrival time, and then everyone poops out around 4 pm. Definitely including me!!

    6. ThatGirl*

      Yep, I did the same at my last job (I worked 7:30 to 3:30) because it was a ~30 mile drive that could easily turn into an hour or more due to traffic. Honestly the best thing about that job was that everyone had that kind of flexibility, some folks worked 6-2:30 and some worked 10-7 and it was all good.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        I’m just curious, though, if people that do this still take two fifteen minutes breaks?

        1. ThatGirl*

          I never have been much for formal 15 minute breaks outside of retail environments. I get up, stretch, get water, etc when I need to. But some did and some didn’t.

      1. KarenK*

        I find the level of discourse on this site to be far superior to that found on most of the internet. If there are grammar or spelling mistakes, it’s usually because someone is posting on their phone, which can be difficult, and we do not have the ability to edit our posts.

      2. Aveline*

        Some of us have perfectly fine grammar, but write on the fly on our cellphones while at our jobs or otherwise engaged. This is particularly difficult for those of us with older eyes. Also, Apple’s auto-correct doesn’t care much about grammar. Finally, Siri doesn’t work well for many, many people.

        All of this combined can mean typos, mistakes, etc.

        As this site doesn’t have an edit function, it can lead to some cringe-worthy moments for some of us.

        Given that this is a discussion site, not a professional site or site where the writing is the point, I personally believe we should give everyone a wide birth.

        Also, several posters whom I greatly admire speak English as a second or third language. Several posters here have only a high school education and do their best. Their contributions are valuable and we shouldn’t discount them because of grammar.

        Being a grammar Nazi has it’s place, but I don’t think it’s here.

        1. Ain’t Miss Behavin’*

          Back up. I have taken college courses, but don’t have a degree. My grammar and spelling are typically impeccable. Having “only a high school education” doesn’t mean stupid, and the implication is quite condescending and insulting.

          1. biobotb*

            Yeah, I don’t see the connection between “only” a high school education and potentially poor grammar. I don’t know anyone who improved their grammar in college, unless it was during further study in a foreign language.

        2. Emma*

          100% agree, but there are better terms to use than “grammar Nazi” – especially at a time when actual Nazis are marching in the streets and carrying out terrorist attacks on a fairly regular basis.

      3. Cattiebee*

        There are a lot of people who post here for whom English is not their first language. That makes them rockstars imo, because HR-related issues and accompanying jargon (see the direct reports discussion from yesterday) isn’t exactly what’s taught in school language classes. That said, I haven’t found anything hard to understand this morning or in general.

      4. Aveline*

        If you have time later today, can you post in the open thread some of your favorite sites and podcasts?

        I love Grammar Girl.

        I don’t want to derail, so I’ll leave an open request for people to talk about the subject of grammar and style generally and specific resources they find useful.

    7. gsa*

      The way I read the letter number four:

      Said employee, does NOT eat lunch and does NOT continue to work.

      I don’t think it earns that person the right to leave an hour early.

      Another commentor mentioned to split the difference. That’s probably not a bad idea if you consider working and eating at your desk for an hour and you’re probably half as affective as you would normally be.

      The every day part risks that employee either alienating everyone else, or alienating themselves.

      Whether or not this position is non-exempt is very very important, and I did not pick up on employment status was mentioned in the original letter.

      I am been exempt since I finished my BSME in ‘93.

      1. gsa*

        I probably should’ve said “efficient” v Letting voice text aside the difference between a Factive Ness and effectiveness… :-)

        1. Marthooh*

          So I’m guessing “a Factive Ness” is, like, Elliot Ness, as opposed to the fictive Loch Ness monster?

    8. TootsNYC*

      one thing that might give me pause w/ this guy is that he plays on his phone. If I were going to allow him to do it more often, or on a semi-regular official basis, I’d want to see that on days when he was officially “working through lunch,” he was actually working, and getting things done.

      “staying in the office” is not the same as “working through lunch”

      1. Elizabeth West*


        If he were eating, he can do that at his desk and work, but he should still be actively working.

      2. Elsajeni*

        I think this is a misreading of what’s going on — he’s not currently being allowed to skip lunch sometimes and then spending that time on the phone, he’s spending the lunch break that he’s required to take even though he doesn’t eat lunch on the phone. I think it’s reasonable to keep an eye on anyone who’s “working through lunch” or otherwise changing their schedule around and make sure they’re actually working when they’re supposed to be, but I don’t see anything about what this guy’s doing that would give me special concern.

  2. Break time*

    #4 If the employee is hourly, state law may require a meal break after so many hours. Moving the break to the end of the day could break the law.

    1. WS*

      +1, I’m not much of a lunch person so I checked this out early in my working life only to find that for anyone under a certain (very high!) level of pay, you have to take at least a 30 minute break after 5 hours work – there are special arrangements for some particular jobs, but if you’re not in one, the break is mandatory. It was handy to know this when, years later, an employee with children at school wanted to skip her hour-long lunch so she could leave early, and we could instead negotiate a 30 minute lunch and leaving 30 minutes early.

      (I’m in Australia.)

      1. Kate H*

        +2. My state requires a half-hour break every six hours. Otherwise, I would absolutely take a working lunch and leave early every day.

        1. Angelinha*

          I thought this was true of my state too – because it’s what our HR person told me when I was faced with this same question from a staff person. But then it turned out the law here is really just that the employer has to *offer* a break at that frequency. Nothing about whether people have to agree to it.

          I think the HR rep eventually agreed to let me have people do this but they had to put in writing that they were ‘waiving’ their break. That part seemed a little silly but I got the flexibility for my team, so felt like a win overall.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            University of MyState had a must-take-30-minutes policy “because it’s state law”–except it’s NOT how the state law is written. When a key employee had a critically ill family member to care for, he had to sue to get them to change the policy. That let him save his FMLA for when other caregivers weren’t available.

          2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Waivers aren’t silly. It’s to protect you from allowing someone to skip that break and put it in writing.

            Otherwise you have someone decide to file malicious lawsuits claiming you forced them to work without their lunch break.

            Waiting a right is pretty serious and so you cant do it on a handshake

      1. Tathren*

        It’s actually 20 states, which still isn’t a majority but does mean that there’s a good chance that the OP could live in one of those states.

        1. Alton*

          Also, regardless of what’s legally mandated for private employers, this can depend in the field and company. My state doesn’t require meal breaks in general, I don’t think, but I work for a state university, and some employees do have to take a break after so many hours, and breaks can’t be used to shorten the workday. And for hourly and non-exempt employees, not taking breaks can put of them into overtime.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Yep. I don’t know if my state mandates breaks, but I had an employer that did, and the personnel manual specifically stated that breaks couldn’t be used to shorten the workday.

        2. a*

          I think some employers take the “must provide a break after X hours” and create policy that says “employees must take breaks after X hours” so that they don’t have to constantly monitor and then get involved in lawsuits when rogue managers try to institute “we must finish this – no breaks!” policies. OP should probably verify her companies policies as well as state law.

          (I work for state government, and we have all kinds of rules around breaks and benefit time and working overtime on days off – and we’re union.)

      2. soon to be former fed*

        And the US Federal government. Thirty minutes after six hours of work is required.

    2. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

      +1 – definitely check to make sure this plan is legal. But if it is, and if the role allows it, giving employees that kind of flexibility in their schedule can be a big way of keeping your employees happy. At Exjob, some people would start a couple hours earlier than others, and leave hours earlier. Everyone was working the same total number of hours, and for the bulk of the working day everyone would be in the office together – but allowing the early birds the chance to start early and leave in the afternoon, without forcing the night owls to wake up earlier than they’d like, made everyone happier and more productive, imho.

    3. JM60*

      Some states, even California I believe, allow for a paid working lunch if the employee consents. However, they must at least give the employee the choice to have an off-duty lunch.

  3. ContemporaryIssued*

    Man, I sympathise with OP #1. I can easily imagine myself in this situation because I also have a job that could bridge towards managing the people or being responsible for the clients or alternatively become more focused on the systems side of things. I actually just got a new colleague who started out in a similar position and now works as an assistant to the person in charge of our invoicing and client database. Whereas I moved up slightly by becoming sort of an assistant to my boss, training new employees and still dealing with clients.

    I think Allison’s advice is great. You got this, OP. Good luck!

  4. pcake*

    Since the employee in letter 4 sometimes sits at his desk playing with his phone, I’d consider that a break whether he eats lunch or not. Unless – and this seems highly unlikely – he gets paid to play with his phone. Btw, I used to be a manager here in California. At that time, you legally had to give employees lunch breaks and another break. It didn’t matter if they didn’t want the breaks, either. They HAD to take them.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Re: the phone use — Right, but I think the OP is just explaining that he doesn’t eat on those breaks, so they feel like a waste of time to him and he’d rather skip them.

      And yes, break laws vary by state. Some states (not all) require breaks after a certain number of hours for non-exempt employees.

      1. Aleta*

        That is how I read it too. My body’s eating schedule can vary a lot because of health problems, and when I’m in a “no lunch” schedule being forced to goof off a bit at the office is annoying and I would much rather just skip it and do that at home.

      2. Aveline*

        It’s really difficult for those of us who’d rather work straight through to be forced to take breaks. This was so me at the start of my working life.

        However, when it was made clear that I didn’t have a choice to take the time away from my desk and my boss could not waive the requirement of a break b/c of state law, I did so.

        Whatever his reasoning, if the company policy or state law is to take breaks, one must find something to do.

      3. VioletCrumble*

        My state not only mandates meal breaks – there is a financial penalty payable to the employee if meal breaks aren’t taken in line with the statute.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          Yeah, it’s specified here that you can’t skip a break and leave early, or make your lunch 15 minutes longer by taking your break right before or after your lunch, and you have to take at least a half hour lunch.

    2. Roscoe*

      I get what you are saying, but then you are really policing peoples phone use, and break time anyway. If he just works nonstop, but spends 20 minutes on his phone at lunch, is that worse than people taking a bunch of 5 minute phone breaks during the day? Aside from optics, realistically its not.

      1. Rainbow Roses*

        I think you’re focusing on the phone but the point is that he’s forced to take a lunch break so he has to do *something* other than work. The OP is not policing him. She doesn’t care what he does on his own time; he can nap if he wants to . The guy is the one who feels he is wasting that hour so he wants to leave early everyday instead.

  5. KR*

    Hi OP 1, if you’re in more of a customer facing role right now take this conversation as a valuable hint as to what part of your focus would be in this new role. Until I moved up to being a supervisor in a customer service department I was entirely focused on the people side of things because I didn’t have any idea about metrics or anything. It wasn’t until I began being a supervisor that I learned how to check our sales by hour and use those metrics to see how many hours we were supposed to cut or add. So the manager is probably in a metrics headspace almost all the time whereas the position you’re interviewing for is a mix of the two, and the customer facing role is almost entirely people oriented.

    1. OP #1*

      Hi, OP#1 here. That’s a really good way to think about it. Framing it like that seems like it’ll help with the frustration I have over missing the mark so badly. And it definitely would put me on a better track to get it right the next time. Thanks!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Of course we view life through our own lens, OP. I get it about focusing on the people side of the business, I believe if we take care of the people, THEY will take care of the business. I can do the numbers thing and I know I am solid at it. But I would be questioning what the job actually looked like. Granted it’s a promotion, etc. But if I am stuck in a room with an adding machine all day I am not happy. As you go along make sure you understand what your average day/week would look like so you can better estimate if this is something you actually want. For myself, I would have to learn more about the specifics of the job. I know once the people aspect is reduced or removed from the job, I am less and less interested.

        1. valentine*

          OP1: It sounds like you were so embarrassed, you endured a lecture. Did you feel like you couldn’t tell him you prepared for a different discussion and offer to have that or to reschedule?

          1. kittycritter*

            I agree with you – I probably would have mentioned something during the actual conversation when it became clear that none of the topics I was prepared to talk about were going to be on the agenda, and then give the manager a choice whether to have “that” conversation or to stop and reschedule for another time so that I could research the topics that HE wanted to discuss.

            But if you were already very nervous leading up to this meeting, I can understand freezing and not explaining that you had prepared for a very different kind of talk and just enduring the lecture in shame :( I just think it would have been better to explain that you had prepared for different topics versus not saying anything and letting him think you were just unprepared and cavalier about the big meeting.

      2. Busy*

        In a lot of places, particularly in the present time, managing means managing people through metrics. It also means managing through budgets, sale amounts, tact time, etc. More and more companies are becoming data driven due to 1. ease of collecting data and 2. to be more agile (there is a jargon word flying around).

        All managing jobs are about managing people, but they are all also about so much more, and hard data metrics are a huge part of that. A good way to know what the means is to find out what your department’s and the company’s goals and metrics are for the year – and think of ways of how you can be proactive in achieving those goals with a team.

        Trying to manage without this quality is going to become increasingly hard, as businesses are using it to stay on top of customer demands in real time.

        That said, the people side is totally important to! I am just wanted to point out the above to give context and maybe understand what to focus on int he next meeting!

        1. Busy*

          I am sorry, the allergies are getting to me. I edited this in a way that maybe is not clear.

          My point here is that managing systems along with managing people in this way is becoming a Very Big Thing. Because through a well structured system, you can effectively manage your people in real time.

          In the past, systems were generally managed in a lot more reactive manner then today (think lots of meetings looking at lots of stuff moving to dashboards and real-time data). And with things like AI becoming more popular in study and in practice, it is only going to become more of a needed skill on the market. And this is why the CEO probably focused on that, and it is not surprise why! He wants new people coming into these roles to have these needed skills that the customer market is demanding.

          If you want to come back from this, I would definitely include that in my brief explanation that AMM mentioned above. Like “Last meeting I focused on XYZ of role, but after our discussion, I realized the need for ABC in this changing global market.”

          And then really look at the metrics. Look at what the goals are of the company and how systems can get a company more proactive and move away from the reactive – and you will look like a rock star!

          (BTW, I have been developing and managing these systems for years – and I work with lost of managers right now who are very much struggling with this – and this would impress the pants off me!!!)

      3. Fieldpoppy*

        OP, I just want to empathise — I think all of these comments are helpful, but I also think your grandboss was a teensy bit mean to you. It’s one thing to have this conversation and think, “oh, I’m not sure if OP really gets the shift from their current role to this new one” — and then gently help bridge that understanding, or say “it might be helpful for you to go talk to X before we have another conversation, because I’m hearing you see A about the role but not B.” It’s another to sort of whack you like that. I get why they made you feel bad but I think the phrasing was unnecessarily harsh.

        1. Fieldpoppy*

          I work with a LOT of senior teams and the successful ones are the ones who look at high potentials or people who want to advance and HELP them.

        2. Wheezy Weasel*

          I agree…if the grandboss was looking for your specific thoughts around metrics and hadn’t said that beforehand, how were you to know that would be the focus of the meeting?

          When I come to a customer’s site to do training, I’m sometimes waylaid by people who want to steer the conversation towards business needs that aren’t going to be covered by the training session. Part of that is on me: did I sent out an agenda ahead of time saying what would be discussed? Did I check in with my client’s sponsor to ensure that the message is delivered to the training attendees? If I did, then I need to quickly say ‘We’re not going to cover those topics today. I am prepared to talk about X. If we need to talk about Y, it will need to be at another time. I don’t have the data I need for that discussion’

        3. ragazza*

          I agree–sounds like they had different expectations for what they were going to discuss, but how was OP supposed to know that?

          1. Lance*

            Exactly; from the sound of things, it wasn’t exactly fair of him to question OP in such a way, when OP had in fact prepared… just not happened to prepare what he wanted to focus on.

      4. Stranger than fiction*

        Hi Op,
        Just wanted to say I can totally sympathize, as I just had a similar bomb of an interview.
        I studied my ass off for “most common management interview questions”, as well as “most popular client success interview questions”, and the first two managers I met with were totally on the same page as me…
        The I met with the Director who’d be my boss and she completely caught me off guard! First, she hadn’t even read my resume like the other had and didn’t even know I had been working in a very similar capacity at a very similar company. So I had to spend several minutes explaining all that and catching her up. Then, I had prepared to ask her what was expected in the first 30-60-90 days, but she asked me that instead! The whole time I felt like she was a VP interviewing me for a director role, as she was asking me for business strategy, whereas I thought they had that established and I’d be taking over…anyhow, it was a nightmare and I flubbed the whole thing.
        Turned out for the best as a) I could never work for that woman, as I could tell there wasn’t going to be any guidance, and b) I got the job at the next place I interviewed which was a much better fit!

  6. Polyhymnia O'Keefe*

    #2 – Depending on the vacation, I may check emails while I’m gone, but often it’s just for the sake of clearing things out as I go so that there’s less in my inbox on my return. Sometimes I’m disciplined enough for that just to be deleting/archiving as necessary, but sometimes it’s just too tempting to get the one-line responses out of the way. Especially with gmail’s suggested text where I can reply with one click. I wouldn’t want to do more than that level of thinking, but if I can clear some things out, it means there’s less to deal with on returning. But if I have to review and approve something more in-depth, or I have to engage in a longer conversation, it’s waiting until I’m back at my desk.

    1. Richard*

      I had the same thought. I work part time in a place where I deal with a jillion emails on various ongoing projects, and on days off, I often scan through emails on my phone and answer quick ones and put off complicated ones until I’m back in the office. It’s probably not a great practice, but I don’t get the impression that it creates major confusion or hassles for anyone.

    2. Willis*

      Yes, this exactly. I don’t really get the manager’s frustration here. You can’t simultaneously not encourage someone to work while they’re on vacation while also emailing them directions about what work you’d like them to do. If there’s urgent emails coming in, then there should be a system (an out of office response, alternate contact, etc.) in place to handle them. If they’re things that don’t require a response till Sophie’s back, then let them alone even if she is responding to other, more mindless emails that come in.

    3. doreen*

      I will answer certain, quick emails when I’m on vacation just to get them out of the way , but the complicated, urgent ones that can’t wait until I get back – that’s why I arrange coverage when I’m on vacation.

    4. NoviceManagerGuy*

      Exactly. I just took a week off but checked my emails once a day so I didn’t have a thousand when I got back. I flagged the hard ones and dealt with the easy ones, because why not do something easy to be helpful if I can? As Alison said:
      “maybe she’s answering trivial emails because they’re an easy break for her brain, but she doesn’t want to deal with things that require more stress or more thought.”

      1. BetsyTacy*

        Yes, this.

        And depending on her vacation style, she may not want to be like the woman (me) who literally once had to take an ‘URGENT OMG’ work phone call while she had been on an all-day wine tour (there was a bus involved and lots of delicious wine). Yes, I was very tipsy, and yes, I did answer the question correctly.

        While I would have been totally fine to respond to an email letting my longtime coworker know I wanted to contribute $10 to Sally’s baby shower, I would not have wanted to be doing higher stakes or client-facing work. Even without the wine, I really try and disengage my ‘work’ brain.

    5. Asenath*

      I eventually stopped even looking at my work email when I was off. If I didn’t, I tended to respond and do work during my off time which is neither expected nor desired at my job. Some of my co-workers do respond, and many of them who work different hours than I do email me when I’m off. I let my co-workers who do deal with emails when they’re away do what they want; I’m not their supervisor. And the people who send me email during my off-hours (but not theirs) don’t expect me to respond until I’m back at my desk.

    6. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah, if it’s easy for the person to write a two line response from their phone or personal device without doing research or opening files, then why not answer those emails to clear out the inbox? Urgent emails probably require doing more work than just replying “yes, that’s right” or whatever – might require looking at documents that maybe she doesn’t have access to if she’s just absently scrolling through email while lounging poolside or whatever other relaxing vacation emails she’s answering. If it’s an email that I can tell will require some thought or effort to reply to, I won’t even open it on vacation, because I know I’m not equipped to answer it properly without doing a bit of work – and I’m on vacation!

    7. The Original K.*

      Yeah, I do this too. I don’t respond to emails when I’m on vacation but I’ll go through and de-clutter my inbox so it’s less daunting when I’m back.

    8. Parenthetically*

      Yeah, I had exactly this thought — if she can respond with a two minute email to the non-urgent stuff that doesn’t require a lot of thought and not have it cluttering up her inbox when she gets back, why wouldn’t she?

    9. pleaset*

      Yup. S/he’s answering the simple ones because they’re easy. The harder one’s require more thought so that has to wait.

    10. Cat*

      Yep. Better to get the low-hanging fruit out of the inbox so that the substantive emails don’t get lost in a sea of 1,000 unread messages upon return.

    11. smoke tree*

      Yeah, I think it’s a bit of a weird double standard in the LW’s office that no one is officially expected to check email over vacation, but in practice, they expect them to respond to urgent questions and get frustrated when they don’t. I can see why it could be annoying when someone responds to every question except the one you really want an answer to, but I think the real solution is to structure people’s vacations so that you don’t need anything from them while they’re gone.

      1. JustaTech*

        I’m not sure it’s a double standard so much as “we don’t expect you to answer emails while you’re on vacation, but you *are* answering emails so could you please answer the important ones?”

        Maybe the folks in the office are feeling like the person on vacation is specifically avoiding answering the important emails, and that’s frustrating, where if *no* emails were answered then it’s just “oh, they’re on vacation” rather than “you had time to say yes to the Spring Tea Party, why can’t you say who’s in charge of the WaffleMan account?” or whatever.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Sure–but I like Spring Tea Parties. If I’m on vacation, I don’t want to think about the WaffleMan account. That’s work.

          1. ChimericalOne*

            Agreed. And despite the OP’s saying that these are “simple” confirmations, the vacationer might feel like she needs to double-check a document (or something) before saying “Yes” or “No” (or, if the answer *is* no, it might require a significant explanation) and that automatically moves it from the “easy-peasy” category to the “work” category. You don’t need to double-check unimportant things, so sure, you can answer those emails casually. Serious emails, not so much.

        2. tamarack and fireweed*

          “Maybe the folks in the office are feeling like the person on vacation is specifically avoiding answering the important emails, and that’s frustrating” — Yeah, but the OP is on vacation, so avoiding anything they want to avoid is **perfectly ok**. The frustration is unwarranted and up to the coworkers in the office to deal with.

    12. Allonge*

      This, absolutely. In some cases, having to flag and then re-read the email when I am back in the office would absolutely be more work than just responding quickly. So as long as I read the bloody thing, why not?

      To be fair, I try to respond to emergences etc too, but the time invested in that is completely different – if it can wait until I am back, than most of it will just have to. The easy stuff? It’s a win-win.

      If someone tried to police this for me (while saying that I don’t need to read my emails while on leave)? I would be looking for another job, tbh.

    13. Cheshire Cat*

      I do this, too. I receive a bazillion emails every day, so if I never check emails while on vacation it will take all day to go through my inbox (or feels that way, at least!)

      I delete the ones that I don’t need to read (Jane is out sick today, Brownies in the break room) and send short answers to others (meeting invites, Spring Tea menu polls.) There are always at least 1 or 2 that someone characterizes as “quick” that I can’t answer without checking project notes. And since I’m on vacation, that’s a line I won’t cross.

  7. Marvel*

    #4 – Re: articles on burnout, I think it’s important to remember that those articles on based on aggregate trends across the working population. They certainly don’t apply to every individual! And sometimes it can vary based on the job, as well: I nearly always work through my lunch at my current job, because I get very focused on what I’m doing, and I’d rather have a big breakfast and then grab an early dinner than interrupt my work flow. But I’ve also worked jobs where I needed that break, for exactly the reasons those articles describe.

    The average person needs a lunch break every day–but the average person doesn’t actually exist, only a set of variable individuals who all orbit that hypothetical at different distances. I’d trust your employee to know what works for him!

    1. Emile*

      I detest eating lunch; all it does it induce drowsiness at 3pm. I’ll do it for networking purposes but otherwise forego it.

      1. BatmansRobyn*

        Oh man this so much. I’ve never been a lunch eater, but for the first few months at my office people were CONSTANTLY on my case about lunch! I think a big part of it is that many people in my office came from much more intense big law/public accounting settings, so they wanted to make sure I knew they meant it when they said I was encouraged to take a lunch break. Even now we do big full-group lunches every couple of months or so and people are just now starting to take me seriously when I say I’m really not hungry.

        Flexing the time isn’t so much an option, but at when the weather’s nice I’ll take the hour to go run errands or whatever instead.

    2. TacocaT*

      I love this comment “but the average person doesn’t actually exist, only a set of variable individuals who all orbit that hypothetical at different distances”. I’m going to print it out and post a copy on my wall, credits to “Marvel” :)

    3. Blue*

      And if OP is worried, she can make a point to check in with him periodically about the arrangement and whether it’s working as he’d hoped or if there have been unexpected consequences for him.

      1. Ada*

        Also, the employee is an adult and the change doesn’t have to be permanent. If the employee starts to find that skipping lunch everyday is having a negative effect overall, he’ll probably stop doing that of his own accord.

    4. Alton*

      Yep, and there are a lot of individual factors that can change things, too. Someone who has a long commute might feel less burned-out if they can get home a little earlier and have an extra hour to relax or cook a nice dinner, for example.

  8. ElleWoods*

    So when I gave notice at my firm, I knew a close colleague of mine at my level was accepting a new position and preparing to resign as well. He had originally planned to resign a little bit after I did due to the timeline of his offer, but as I came out of our partner’s office from giving notice he stood up and said “I can’t anymore” and went right in after me to resign. (Maybe it was momentum? I don’t know even know….).

    I don’t regret resigning, and neither does my former colleague, but we definitely felt bad about dropping two resignations on one day, literally back to back.

    Well…we felt worse when we later found out that we had both resigned on his birthday.

    With that in mind, I don’t have any real practical advice for #3, but if you do resign on the same day maybe try to avoid doing it on the CEO’s birthday…

    1. LucyB*

      I’m the question writer and as luck would have it, one of us did resign on our boss’s birthday. As you can imagine, it wasn’t the greatest timing.

  9. It Can Wait*

    “(not necessarily labour intensive, some just need a confirmation from her)”

    This happens to me a lot when I take vacation. People decide that, because I have access to my phone, they can call me up and ask me all kinds of work-related questions. To them, it’s a quick question that can be easily answered because they’re consumed with what they need, and all they need is a “yes” or a “no”.

    To me, it becomes another unwanted task, and I now have to open my laptop and view the materials they need me to confirm; I need to think about the impact of the confirmation on my future work plans and I need to determine what this decision is going to do to their plans and their work.

    And I also find that people sense more of an opportunity cost when someone is not readily available that makes them consider trivial work matters to be more urgent than they should be.

    1. I Took A Mint*

      So true. To the person looking at the if:yes/no fork, it’s just “which path do I go down.” To the person making that decision, who knows what level of info and thinking and references they need to comfortably say “yes/no”?

    2. Antilles*

      Excellent point. If you want to look at this from a liability perspective, those “confirmation yes or no on project emails” are the ones that can *really* get you into trouble because the person on the other end is assuming that you thought it through and relying on your ‘yes’ the same way they would if you were in the office…and if you didn’t because you were out of office, uh oh.

    3. boo bot*

      “people sense more of an opportunity cost when someone is not readily available”

      I think this is very true, and I think the frustration might actually be increased by seeing Sophie replying to the “trivial” emails: she *looks* available, even when they know she really isn’t.

      I do think if the manager is going to be monitoring what Sophie responds to and getting annoyed about it, she should tell her not to respond to email at all while she’s on vacation. That’s not just for the manager’s peace of mind, it’s for Sophie’s: she thinks she’s doing a little extra by putting in a few minutes here and there while she’s out, while her manager is secretly ticked off at her for not doing more. Stepping away completely is better for all of these people.

    4. Bunny Girl*

      Honestly one of the reasons I’ve still held onto my basic phone is I don’t want the expectations that come with being connected all the time. I know you don’t “have to” get your email and social media on a smart phone, but people have the expectation that you do and it’s really annoying. I tell people that when I’m out of the office, I cease to exist, and I like it that way. I don’t have a ton of free time (I’m a student and I work full-time) and I guard what little I have with tooth and nail.

    5. Le Sigh*

      I’ve got a policy of not looking at email on vacation at all and directing everyone to my boss, who I trust to contact me only if truly, truly necessary.

      It takes a few days to remove myself from the work head space — and the whole point of me being gone is to check-out of work for several days or a week or two, and really relax. The way my brain works, even answering a few small emails or calls puts me back in a work head space, gets me anxious, and undermines vacation effect. It’s like getting woken up 30 min before your alarm is supposed to off — sure, you can go back to sleep, but it’ll take 20 min to fall back asleep and it’s already messed with your rest.

      1. DaffyDuck*

        I once answered my phone halfway down a ski slope. No, I wasn’t able to send the non-urgent document to the caller. Pretty much decided then all calls were going straight to voicemail unless it was from my kids who were also skiing.

  10. HA2*

    Re #2 – My guess is – it’s not a coincidence that she’s replying to the trivial and less urgent emails, and not the urgent ones.

    It’s a vacation – she’s not putting much work and thought into these responses. So she’s not replying to the ones where it takes real thought (i.e. work) and ALSO skipping the ones where sending the wrong answer would be harmful (since if her reply actually matters, she needs to actually think about it before replying.)

    So that would lead her to respond to an email like “We’re announcing Jane got promoted to Senior Something!” with “congrats Jane!” but skipping over an email like “Hey, we just need your confirmation that XYZ is ok”. Even though the second one might only require one line of text (“yes, that’s fine”), it also requires thinking about XYZ, thinking through the consequences of it, and working out whether XYZ is actually fine. Wouldn’t take a lot of time, but does take getting out of the vacation mindset and back into work mode.

    So I think you have to leave it be. If it’s fine for Sophie to take a vacation where she doesn’t respond to ANY emails, it’s also fine for Sophie to take a vacation where she only responds to trivial/obvious emails of her choice.

    Now, if the problem is that the business CAN’T handle Sophie being out of contact on vacation, that’s a separate issue. Then you need to either figure out how to cover for Sophie’s PTO better so she can, or make the expectations explicit, having a discussion about what level of work is expected of her during “PTO” (and probably rethink that, because that’s not really a good place for a business to be, relying on one person so much that they can’t take a vacation ever).

    1. TootsNYC*

      This reminds me of the time our Biggest Cheese was given several documents that had big deadlines.

      Some were one or two lines; some were ten paragraphs.

      The longer ones were more urgent, and the project-manager-type folks were mad that she sent back all the two-liners. But she was reading in the car on the way to an event!

      1. Mr. Tyzik*

        See, I would have to clear all the small ones before my brain would even consider the bigger ones. And that’s just SOP for me.

  11. Koala dreams*

    #2 I think it would be fine to bring up that she is encouraged to NOT check and answer e-mails during her vacation, and suggest she get an out of office-message instead. If you don’t feel able to have that conversation, you might instead choose to answer one of her e-mails sent from vacation with a “Oh, I didn’t expect you to answer during your vacation! Enjoy your vacation and any e-mails from me can wait until you come back.”

    It would also be worth looking at work processes. It seems quite inefficient to send e-mails to coworkers on vacation in order to resolve urgent issues. If the issues are truly urgent, surely it would be better for someone currently working to resolve them?

    1. Shad*

      Sometimes those emails are coming from outside the group that’d be expected to keep track of vacation. For things like that, I rather like the way an employer I had to contact recently did it, if an OOO isn’t going to be used. This was maternity leave, so a much longer break, but all the original contact did was forward it without any additional message to the person covering that issue, and he did the rest, including telling me the original contact was out for awhile.
      Either that way or an out of office with a timeline and an alternate are great—both is best; that lets me make an informed decision between forwarding something that could really wait a week and just following up a couple days after they get back (because really there’s not much that needs an answer that quick unless either we’re letting things slip or they’ve been seriously giving us the runaround).

      1. KarenK*

        Except, I don’t think that the original contact, i.e., the person on maternity leave, should be checking emails at all. The OOO should supply the name of an alternate contact, or if possible, automatically forward the message to the alternate contact.

  12. Ruth (UK)*

    2. Interested me because just the other day, my boss’s boss (who is on leave until after Easter) replied to an email that was actually titled “not urgent:” and then the title of the email. It was just a discussion about maybe changing the layout of our office. There are other emails that it would have been highly convenient to have been able to receive a response from her about so I was a bit entertained that she was checking her emails / working but only replying to the one literally titled as not urgent.

    Still, for the reasons Alison said, and my/her position etc of course I didn’t/wouldn’t say anything, and also because what someone above wrote about maybe it just being something quick, easy and non time consuming to think about and answer when away on leave.

  13. TechWorker*

    Agree with Alison on #2.
    Even things that ‘just require a quick confirmation’ may actually require her to review and ok something, which involves properly thinking about it.

    I can easily imagine a situation where on holiday she’s like ‘oh I’ll just check my mail to make sure nothings on fire, ok good nothing massively urgent, I’ll respond to the quick and easy stuff so my inbox is a bit smaller when I get back’. I don’t really think it’s that unreasonable, even if it is a little irritating from your POV!

    1. Green great dragon*

      Yep – I would read this as her keeping an eye on things, ready to jump in if she thinks something’s going off the rails, and clearing out the trivial stuff as she goes to make her inbox less of a nightmare on her return, but not wanting to really engage with anything. Others have mentioned that a ‘quick’ y/n might need a lot of thought, and I’d also worry that giving the y/n was encouraging them to expect me to be contactable or could start a conversation I don’t want to have on vacation in a way that clearing the trivia doesn’t.

      1. Lynn*

        I do the same thing when I am on vacation. I go through my inbox and get rid of the “clutter” so that, when I am back, I can concentrate on the things that require me to think or take action. My boss is a “when I’m on vacation, I am OUT” kind of guy-but then he has hundreds of piddly emails on his return. I hate that and do a few minutes of clutter clearing every couple of days when I am out.

  14. EventPlannerGal*

    OP4: Breaks aren’t just about physically consuming food; they’re also about getting the opportunity to take a mental break, get away from your work for a bit, get some fresh air or whatever. It sounds as though your employee is doing those things by noodling on his phone or chatting to friends, he just isn’t actually eating food, so I would question whether it’s really the case that he doesn’t need the break. Like Alison I would be wary of a blanket ‘no’ and of course he’ll know his own working patterns best, but if you peak to him about it I would personally want to point out that there’s a big difference between “I often choose not to take breaks but could if I felt like it” and “my work day is now structured so that I have no break”.

    1. Zephy*

      I read it as the employee was using his break time to scroll through the ‘gram or socialize because, well, he’s gotta do something during that time, if he’s not going to eat. Not that the employee necessarily believes he “needs” the break (whether or not he does, I guess he’ll find out). If OP4 granted his request to skip lunch and leave early every day, he would probably stop using that time in that way during the day. I do agree that it would be important to really hammer out the details of whatever arrangement they come to – like, how much notice is necessary to approve these schedule changes?

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        Right, I feel like that’s probably what he’s doing! But in terms of the overall effect, whether he wants to or not it does sound like he’s at least sometimes taking the break and therefore is still getting that not-working time, so he won’t really know if having no breaks at all is going to negatively affect him until he tries it. I think a trial period would probably be a good idea, and as you say, really hammering out the details.

  15. Zip Silver*

    #4 – I don’t eat lunch (or breakfast!), only dinner and a snack right after I get home. I purposefully intermittently fast for fitness reasons, and would be annoyed if I were required to sit around for an extra hour not doing anything besides playing mobile games during the day (luckily, I’m the head honcho at my office, so I’m not).

    1. Zephy*

      I mean…you could do all kinds of things with an hour to yourself in the middle of a workday. Go for a walk. Meditate. Swing by the store for sundries you suddenly need. Call your mom. You’re not locked in the building or forced to eat anything, and there’ve been studies showing that mental breaks mid-day are good for you.

      1. Zillah*

        Sure, but everyone is different. Mental breaks are good in general, but speaking as someone who actually has a hard time getting back into a “work” mindset after taking a non-eating lunch break more often than not, what’s true in general isn’t true of everyone.

  16. Darren*

    OP1 if I were in your position I would want to be prepared for any feasible conversation when you have the next chat. Partly because I’d feel that this would be my last shot to prove that I actually am across what I would need to be for that level of role, but also just in case they decide to change up the interview next time (which I would be doing in his shoes).

    Fundamentally you have to be able to speak confidently and competently about all facets of the role, you can’t prioritize any particular part to the exclusion of the others. As a result if I were him I’d be checking that you boned up on the area you were weak on but I’d be aiming to touch other areas as well searching for any signs that you haven’t gotten the feedback and taken it on board (which from what you said wasn’t to know more about X but to prepare for these kinds of meetings) which means I’d be searching for weak areas in your preparation i.e. looking for things that would be reasonable to expect you to know about that you wouldn’t necessarily have boned up on if you were just trying to answer my previous questions.

    1. TacocaT*

      Do you feel like asking the grandboss for, or OP him/herself offering up, a list of topics for discussion or an agenda is an option? I have zero experience managing, nor with these kinds of interviews (state employee here, so we have everything by-the-book, recorded, and panel interviews only), but I’m curious if the “prepare better” could mean asking for some topics of discussion so that s/he can prepare better.

      1. Zephy*

        I’m inclined to agree with you. It shouldn’t reflect badly on OP to ask how best to prepare for the next conversation, if their guess was so badly off the mark last time. And if grandboss does think it reflects poorly on OP for not being psychic, well, that’s good information to have.

        1. OP #1*

          Replying to a whole lot of good comments in this thread here.
          Asking for more of a map to the next conversation would be nice, but I don’t think it will fly for me. Part of that is the nature of the job itself. I’m in technical sales, and basically every minute of every day is taking left-field questions from customers and working out ways we can help solve their problems or resolve their concerns. I have a lot of collateral to work with, but it’s very much a “prepare for the unexpected” type of job. And frankly, that’s one of the things I really like about it, but this specific instance of the unexpected went really badly for me.

          I also don’t feel like he was unreasonable with his expectations in our conversation. I was asking for an opportunity to lead. He, essentially, responded with “OK, this is what I need my leaders to be able to do. What have you got?” And really, he wasn’t unfriendly in any way. I’m embarrassed by the advice he thought I needed and the hole I dug myself getting to it. Grand-boss himself, though, has been positive and encouraging — tough, but positive. My problem isn’t with him. It’s that I asked for a chance to impress him and I was profoundly unimpressive. So if/when I try again, I have to overcome that bad first impression.

          I really like RandomU’s suggestion about “intelligence gathering” as an approach to prep. I tend to be pretty siloed-off from other people reporting directly to grand-boss, simply as a result of geography in a national organization. But I do have some friends and contacts that are peers of my boss, and working with them on my prep for the next round seems like a very smart approach.

          Lexi, grand-boss actually did make almost exactly your shadowing suggestion early-on in our meeting, before my prat-fall. And I am going to do that.

      2. Washi*

        Yeah, maybe it’s because I don’t have the full context, but I’m confused about how the OP should have known exactly what the grandboss would want to talk about. I think ideally when the grandboss started in with detailed conversations about metrics, the OP would have said something about have prepared for a conversation about a different side of the business, so it was clear that she did prepare, just for a different topic. But all is not lost! I think Alison’s idea of confirming by email that you’re looking forward to talking about X will be good to make sure that you’re on the same page.

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          I, too, was confused about how OP should have known what the grandboss wanted to discuss. I completely understand feeling embarrassed and chastised, and I would have the same exact struggle as the OP around the simultaneous need to fix their reputation and the feeling of wanting to never speak of it again, but I hope they can let themselves off the hook a little.

          Yes, definitely prepare for next time, and offer up the brief explanation that Alison provided, but I hope the self-flagellation can end!

        2. LilyP*

          I think at a certain level knowing what sorts of things you need to be thinking about and prioritizing is itself a big part of the job. So “it didn’t occur to me that metrics would be a big part of a managers responsibility” might be a legitimate flag that someone isn’t ready for that level of autonomy or isn’t the right fit for management in that company. I don’t think OP is actually underqualified for this, but in general “has an accurate sense of what topics are important to management in this company” is a pretty reasonable thing to expect of someone trying to move into management (especially, as others have pointed out, for someone who is trying to create their own opportunities vs being trained or groomed for the role).

          But OP, don’t let embarrassment over this one strategic mistake keep you from trying again! Now that you know that systems and metrics (and maybe the ability to think on your feet?) are really important here, you have a stronger position to keep making your case for moving up.

      3. RandomU...*

        I don’t think this quite the right approach, but it’s close. OP1 needs to draw on what they know of the grandboss and ask others for input but not the grandboss themselves.

        A trusted coworker who works closer with the GB more than the OP would be a good choice or OP’s boss (if the boss was aware of the conversation).

        It may take some teasing out based on contextual clues, but the OP should also be looking at and preparing for conversations about topics that their boss is interested in. It’s often the stuff that people don’t really notice or is noise in the background for them. Discussions about call times/queue waits, lists of stats that are posted, topics like coverage and training.

      4. Lexi Kate*

        I think if the grand boss had initiated the meeting and was grooming OP to be promoted then yes OP can ask. However since OP asked for the meeting on the grounds that she was ready to be promoted to management op can’t really ask what should I prepare for in our meeting. The same with OP not knowing about the metrics if they were grooming OP then that is fine but telling them she/he is ready and experienced then not knowing makes it look like OP isn’t qualified.

        I think OP’s best bet is to ask the grandboss if op can shadow a manager for a day, then have the meeting. Then OP can go in with an agenda based on an outline of what OP observed the job as and move on from there.

      5. Ophelia*

        I don’t think OP should ask, per se, but it might be worthwhile for OP to *suggest* an agenda – and frame it with what Alison mentioned before, something along the lines of “I realize I had prepared for XYZ, however, realizing how important it will be to handle ABC, I’ve put together the following to help guide our conversation.” or something like that.

    2. OP #1*

      I think you’re absolutely right about the need to prepare and the stakes of the next conversation I have with grand-boss. Good preparation advice, too, about making sure I’m broad enough. It’s really easy to focus on the particular topics that were big misses, but planning to get out in front of the next one and avoid new misses is smart. Thanks!

  17. Jam*

    Usually Alison recommends the “experiment” framing to employees but I think it makes sense for the lunch break manager here. Given the concerns about burnout and optics for other employees, you could say “let’s try it for a week/fortnight/month, and see how it goes.” Then schedule something in your calendar to remind you to follow up (at least I would, because that prevents things becoming precedent and accepted passively, and if you do want other employees to get permission for something like this it’s good to keep it formalised).

  18. Hiring Mgr*

    OP#1, I noticed you didn’t mention your direct boss at all. Obviously we don’t know your relationship with him, or his relationship with the grandboss, but if those are good, you might want to ask him to help you prep, or get his take on your thoughts before the next meeting. Presumably he’ll have some more insight and context into grandboss’ thoughts, plans, etc…

  19. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    #4 It sounds like this employee is doing everything except eating (playing on phone, talking to friends) on his lunch break so essentially he is still taking one. Asking to leave early because he didn’t have a sandwich is really stretching it. Perhaps if he wants to leave early you could assign him specific work that must be done during his lunch break to rationalize the early departure.

    1. Blue*

      I think it’s likely he’s doing break things during that hour because he’s currently expected to be on a break. If I were him, I’d probably see the choice as 1) do an extra hour of work with no pay off or 2) waste an hour on my phone. Neither are appealing options, which is probably why he’s proposing this solution. I realize I am assuming his motivations here, but as someone who would very happily give up half her lunch everyday to leave half an hour early, I can easily understand this kind of ask.

    2. Overeducated*

      Or maybe he’s noodling on the phone because he’s not getting paid for that time anyway, and he’d stop if he could leave early. My employer doesn’t want to pay me for my mandatory break time, which is fair, but it is also fair that I don’t want to donate hours every week. (Tobbe clear, I will happily work through lunch when there is a need. There is not on a daily basis.)

    3. MissDisplaced*

      He’s doing that because he’s bored and not getting paid for the time. Not because he wants to.
      Least that’s how I read it.

      Stupid me, I’m also forced to work 8-5 w/hour lunch and I actually keep working through lunch while I eat. The company gets a free hour out of me.

      1. Even Steven*

        I feel for you – at my new job it was hard to switch gears mentally while eating lunch at my desk. My boss actually pointed out that I was working while eating, and insisted that if I was going to eat at my desk, that I must put work away for the lunch break. Now I close all my spreadsheets, set out nice lunch dishes, open up the Washington Post and have a real mental rest from number crunching. Maybe try it a couple of times, even for half of your lunch break? You might be surprised how it recharges you for the rest of the day.

        1. JulieCanCan*

          Wish my boss did that. Yesterday I tried to get out to run down the block at “lunch” so I could grab some supplies for the office kitchen. At 12:45, 1:45 and 2 pm when I mentioned getting out for a minute, he literally said “can you just finish up xyz first?” despite x y and z being totally not time sensitive. “Sure!” I said. Finally when I finished everything it was 3:30 and not only was I no longer hungry, I had no energy to go anywhere so I decided I’d just leave a bit early since I had no lunch or breaks.

          At 5:15 (that was the 9 hour mark, no lunch yet) I looked up and there’s my boss in my office door, he decided to wait till I had already been there 9 hours to show me a glitch he HAD to make me aware of, and could I look into it? Cut to 6:15 and I was hungry, tired, grumpy and achey and finally I escaped. 10 hours no break and annoyed.

          The thing is, I don’t think he does it to be a d*ck or to be annoying. It’s HIS company and I get that HE enjoys working 11-12 hour days. I get that he doesn’t want to leave at 5:30 after working nonstop all day. HE MAKES MILLIONS A YEAR AND THIS COMPANY IS HIS BABY. But I don’t really need to work 10-12 hour days to feel I had a productive day. I want to show dedication and effort yet I also want a balanced life. I don’t want to burn out in this job because I actually like it a lot.

          But I don’t want to have to say “Did you not notice that I didn’t take lunch or leave my desk at all today, and now I need to get out of here?”

          1. blaise zamboni*

            Is that not illegal where you are? That is so, so illegal where I am. Wtf??

            Can you push back at all? Don’t say you’re just stepping out for a minute, say “I’m going to lunch now, be back in [half an hour] [an hour] [never, you egomaniac]”. If he asks you to finish xyz first, say “Oh I’m actually at a perfect stopping point for xyz, so I’ll pick it up when I’m back at [time], thanks!” (If it’s truly not time-sensitive, at least.)

            If you feel like your boss won’t respect your extremely human need to eat lunch and have a break, then…leave? Not trying to be flip, but you deserve better than that.

          2. Nanani*

            “Did you not notice that I didn’t take lunch or leave my desk at all today, and now I need to get out of here?”

            Almost certainly not. Nobody notices how tired and hungry you are other than you, generally.

    4. bonkerballs*

      Yes, he’s doing those things because he has to take a break or OP would have to be paying him for an extra hour everyday. If she says yes, he can leave early, he’d stop doing the things he’s doing to occupy himself during his break time.

    5. TootsNYC*

      But those are on days when he’s not leaving early, aren’tthey?

      Maybe he’s realizing that those activities have low value to him, and he’d give them up if he could leave early.

    6. JamieS*

      He’d be working during that time if he got to leave early. As it is now he’s just goofing off because he has to take a break since he can’t leave early daily.

    7. neeko*

      Assigning tasks that have to be done during the lunch break every day seems like wild micromanaging.

  20. OP2*

    I really appreciate all the comments about my letter, I think you have all made some really valid points about the time and effort that can go into emails and also the importance of taking time away from the computer and not being expected to work. I’m fairly sure that our boss won’t say anything about it as it’s a bad precedent to set up.

    I definitely tried not to let my personal feelings about Sophie affect how I described the problem, but a lot of our team’s frustration stems from finding it her difficult to work with anyway. Some of the urgent/priority matters were things that she could have responded to before she went on leave, and at least one was just asking her for a confirmation that she gave someone X permission to do Y, which she would know without looking it up. However, she did manage to find time to review and give feedback on a template that we won’t need for a couple of months and no one really cares about.

    As for the company policy, when I described the emails as urgent, I meant that they should be Sophie’s top priority when she gets back, not that they needed to be dealt with while she was on holiday. She had an out of office email set up and we all assumed that she wasn’t checking her inbox so I think the internal processes work pretty well. Our boss normally tells us off if we respond to anything when on holiday or sick leave, particularly for more junior employees who might feel pressure to always be online.

    1. TacocaT*

      Thanks for the follow-up, OP! This additional context helps a lot, as far as the specifics of what she is vs. isn’t responding to. Still no advice other than probably need to let it go, but I feel your pain.

    2. BetsyTacy*

      Hm.. It almost sounds like your issue isn’t so much that you’re frustrated with the vacation emails issue, it sounds to me like your issue is, ‘I have a coworker who has very haphazard prioritization. This impacts the rest of us negatively. She can’t be bothered to review time-sensitive information before a planned time off; however, she seems to always have time to review things that aren’t due for months. This has a negative impact on me, our team, and our morale.’

      …Is this possibly the issue?

      1. Arianne*

        Agreed. I’m guessing if OP2 loved Sophie, her patterns of vacation correspondence would go entirely unnoticed. But if people are already frustrated with her, even little offenses get magnified. Better to address the things that Sophie does that frustrate and impede work productivity than to have an overly nitpicking response to this vacation email issue.

        1. OP2*

          That all sounds pretty accurate – in fact, I would go so far as to say Sophie actively avoids reviewing time-sensitive information and otherwise impedes work by ‘forgetting’ to cc relevant people on emails almost daily. It’s all part of a much bigger problem but she has enough higher-ups on her side to usually get away with everything.

          The email thing is definitely nitpicking, but since she has an annoying habit of avoiding blame whenever she messes up, my boss is always looking for any concrete evidence of incompetence so she can take it to the grandboss. But based on everyone’s responses and my own thoughts, I doubt this will be it.

  21. Oryx*

    Regarding OP #4, I work in a state where lunch breaks aren’t mandated s when I started at my job several of us on our team would eat while working and then flex our time if it didn’t affect the team (leave an hour early, come in an hour late to avoid using pto for an appointment, etc).

    Work caught on and gave everyone the option to essentially give up their lunch (with manager approval) and change hours. So instead of working 8-5 with an hour lunch I work 8-4, no lunch break. I eat, but while working.

    For me, being able to leave that hour early is what saves me from burnout. Having to stay until 5 everyday was mentally exhausting, and I do not need a full hour break in the middle of the day. I don’t even need 30 min. So don’t assume those articles can be applied to everyone because for some of us the opposite is true.

  22. Too old for this nonsense*

    To OP#1:
    You probably weren’t prepared for the conversation because there was no job description, no role to apply for. It sounds as though you prepared for what you thought the job would consist of (and all those skills have a place in *a* job), but he had different ideas, and neither of you communicated those expectations to one another. (I’m leaving aside the possibility that he deliberately asked you about things you didn’t know, as such an interpretation is (I hope) silly.).

    If he offers you another of these chats, you can refuse, saying you’d rather wait until there’s an opening and a job description , so you can see if you are interested in applying at that point. (This returns some dignity and choice to you, whereas going back to another nebulous “interview”, in which you can’t possibly succeed because there is no job on offer, keeps you in the position of supplicant, and makes you look *less* like management material.)

    Good luck!

    1. Overeducated*

      Yeah, I think this is not all on OP, clearly OP didn’t have a great sense of the focus and priorities of the management role and gained important new information from this “interview”. I’d make “ask more questions about the job” (of other managers, not necessarily the CEO) the intermediate step before scheduling a redo.

    2. Robin Sparkles*

      I wouldn’t refuse if he offers another interview/meeting! This person has direct influence over OP’s promotion and moving to a higher level. I think it is far better to accept and explain using the script Allison gave. I think OP would be better served asking questions to the grand boss’ questions rather than struggling to answer. And really, she has a gift here that many others may not- she knows what questions to expect and she knows what he is interested in talking about. So if he asks something metric specific – OP can ask if they are not sure how to answer- that not only buys her time but it also shows she is thinking carefully. And questions should be thoughtful – if he is telling you about a goal percentage you need to meet, ask where the benchmark comes from (if it isn’t something you should already know of course) or ask where they have been in previous years.

      Not saying this won’t feel like an interview for a job that does not exist – but it’s important for OP to show that she is taking grand boss seriously.

    3. Arianne*

      Since it was OP1 who requested the meeting, it might have been useful to specify up front what topics they were interested in discussing. “I’ve been researching x, and think that there are ways that we could improve the way we do y.” “I’ve been working a lot on problem z, and I have several solutions that I think will make the process easier for the team.” If grand boss is not interested in those topics, he can just refuse the meeting. It would give the OP more control over the agenda to focus the discussion on things they care about, rather than feeling like they have to go along with whatever is running through the boss’s head at that particular moment.

    4. OP #1*

      Arianne’s suggestion sounds really promising. I think that’s part of what I need wrong — I framed the request to talk with grand-boss _very_ broadly (e.g. “can we talk about my career development and future management potential”). That left basically every door open topic-wise.

      At the same time, refusing to reengage has its own problems. If I decide I just want to stay where I am (and believe me, it’s crossed my mind), I’m OK to do something like that. If I want to take on a leadership role, though, there’s simply no way to avoid reengagement. It’s a very competitive division of a very competitive company in a very competitive industry — and all of those things help make it a place I love working. But it means if you want opportunities, you have to create them, and you have to get noticed. That’s exactly what I was trying to do when I asked for the meeting with grand-boss in the first place. So in that respect, my options are
      A) stick with what I’ve got or
      B) figure out how and when to get in front of grand-boss and do it right.

      Realistically, A) is a legitimate option. But this is a great organization doing work that’s a very good fit for me, and I plan to be here for quite some time. To make long-term work, I want the challenges, opportunities, and impact that a leadership role provides, which means I have to go for B).

  23. Roscoe*

    #1 Despite your reasons given, it still sounds like its more of a principle thing with you. Like you want him available to answer questions, which I get, but I’d really look at how often people are asking these questions after he is gone and can they really not wait until the next day. I mean, if it just became his schedule, its likely that people would just realize this and adjust accordingly. Also, if you say this, you probably need to be willing to give an actual number and specifics, because “you can do this occasionally” is far too vague. Is 4 days a week too much? What about every Friday and before every long weekend? Does he need to clear it with you first?

  24. Lynn Marie*

    The required hour lunch in the middle of the day has been the bane of my work existence. Yes, I need 15 to 30 minutes to take a mental break and have a bite to eat. But an hour is not long enough in most places to get out of the building to go out to lunch, do errands, take a walk, etc, etc. And with either a half hour break, or an hour and a half break instead, I’d be able to lose the time spent in traffic at the beginning or end of the day, which is exhausting and stressful. Employers/HR are curiously rigid on insisting on that magic 60 minute number even if 30 minutes is all that’s required by law, wouldn’t cause coverage problems, and would actually result in an easier day for the employee. It wouldn’t be so frustrating if they didn’t recite, in detail, the patronizing, rote answer that it’s for my own good, avoids burnout, and shows how much they care. Why won’t they listen?

    1. Kristine*

      I’ve never had a 60 minute lunch break before. All four of my jobs (all non-exempt hourly) have been 30 minute lunch breaks. Is a 60 minute break strictly enforced at many larger companies? I’ve worked for smaller businesses (150 people or less) my whole career.

      1. Murphy*

        I briefly had a salaried job at a community college with very strict come and go times (that weren’t necessary) and they included an hour lunch. I would much rather have taken a half hour and come in later/left earlier.

      2. Alton*

        It can depend on the hours. I’m non-exempt and work 8-5, and I have a strict 40-hour work week, so I take an hour lunch. Otherwise, I’d go into overtime. But if I renegotiated and came in at 8:30 or left at 4:30, I’d take a half hour lunch.

      3. ThatGirl*

        We’re encouraged to take a full hour, but I usually end up at around 40-45 minutes (because it doesn’t take me that long to eat, and I can only stare at my phone for so long) and have an understanding with my manager that if I ever need to leave a little early, it doesn’t really need to be made up. Most of my coworkers do take a full hour, though.

      4. Colette*

        I’ve definitely had jobs with a 30 minute break, which is too long for me in general. At one of them, I made it 90 minutes so I had time to go to the gym, which worked fine.

      5. IEanon*

        I’m in the same boat (hourly non-exempt) with a mandatory 30 minute lunch break. I asked if I could skip the lunchI typically work through anyway and leave early/come in late like a coworker in an adjacent department did.

        I was told no, which is fine, but my supervisor who had a 60 minute lunch came in late, left early AND took 90 minute plus lunch breaks. Now that was frustrating.

    2. BlueWolf*

      I’m salaried non-exempt and we have set work hours because we provide internal support, so we have to take our 60 minute lunch or else we would be going over our scheduled work hours. We are allowed to work overtime within reason (and our work week is actually 37.5 hours so that there’s a bit of a cushion before going into time-and-a-half pay), but in general the 60 minute lunch is required. However, I don’t mind because I usually only take about 20-30 minutes to eat and then I go for a walk the rest of the time or run errands. Luckily, our office is in an area that is easy for taking walks, running errands, etc.

  25. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

    #3- My colleague and I both quit our toxic small business job within a week of each other. She wanted to give as much notice as possible so did it while the boss was on vacation which went horribly. I then got to do it as soon as boss returned and was told I was stabbing boss in the back. It was ugly, though I did later get an apology. Boss has a history of being a “d-word” (their words) to anyone who gave notice. We felt awful at first because we were literally half of the money making part of the business leaving, but the tongue lashing we got helped us feel better about getting out of Dodge.
    The business hasn’t shut down and has hired replacements despite the owner claiming they would never find anyone during that time of year (I don’t think any time would have been acceptable to quit and we were both hired during the “bad” time).
    One bit of advice- if you go second don’t mention that you know about your colleague’s notice unless the whole office already knows. It’s natural to start thinking you planned it together even if completely untrue.

    1. OP3*

      Thanks; our boss asked me if my colleague might be leaving too. I didn’t confirm anything for him, but he chased her down to try to entice her to stay, which of course didn’t work.

  26. flowerjoce*

    #4 Not to be a stickler but can we acknowledge that chatting with friends or playing a game for an hour IS a lunch break! Just because he’s not eating doesn’t mean he isn’t away from his work. I definitely wouldn’t let that fly on a daily basis.

    1. KRM*

      I think the point is that maybe he’s playing a game/chatting because he doesn’t want to take a real lunch, but feels obligated to take the break at that time. He would actually prefer to NOT do that, to work through the lunch hour, and then leave earlier.

    2. Beehoppy*

      I think what the employee is saying is that he would like to work through that hour and leave early, rather than (in his view) wasting it with chatting and games. he would not still continue to do that if he could leave early.

    3. Liz*

      This is kind of where I fall. yes, he may not be eating, but he isn’t working. And his company may be like mine. We “get” a set amount of time for lunch each day, and are not paid for it, but we can pretty much take it whenever we choose. Or not. I’m salaried so i could theoretically not take lunch every day, yet still get paid the same if i did take it. We also have flex time; i come in earlier, and leave earlier, so, especially if i have a quick errand to run, i’ll go about 11:30. It’s really not an issue either if you have something do to an run over your lunch hour; again, i still get paid the same, and as long as i get my work done, there’s not a problem.

      But i know that it wouldn’t fly if i suddenly said hey, i’d like to skip my lunch altogether every day, and leave early. Nope. And in this case, what about all the other employees in the dept? wouldn’t they resent the fact HE gets to do this, but maybe they can’t?

      I know my company has a bad habit of special treatment for certain people, and if someone I worked with, absent a valid reason, wanted to do this, and I couldn’t? I wouldn’t be happy, especially if i was expected to pick up the slack because they left early for the day.

    4. Roscoe*

      You are being a stickler. Because, you can say that someone coming in at 9 and chatting for 15 minutes while they drink coffee then isn’t really starting until 915, or that every time someone pulls out their phone, to do something, that should be deducted from their total hours

    5. bonkerballs*

      Of course that’s a break, but he’s doing those thing BECAUSE he has an hour that he’s not being paid for that he needs to waste in a non working manner. If he were allowed to spend that hour leaving early, he clearly wouldn’t need to waste it chatting with friends and playing games. He’s not working through lunch now because that would be giving his company a free hour of work every day. He’d start working through lunch when he’s allowed to go home early.

    6. flowerjoce*

      It makes sense if he would prefer to work through his lunch rather than “waste” the time, I get that. But Roscoe, call me a stickler if you want, 15 min and 60 min are different.
      I’m also salaried exempt and can pretty much flex my schedule whenever necessary as well. But working in gov’t I would not be able to officially change my schedule to exclude a lunch break. I can however elect for 30 mins then get off 30 min earlier… I think that’s fair.

  27. boredatwork*

    op #3 if either one of you feel like you could be swayed to stay with firm, they should go second. There is a very good chance that the round 2 person will be offered the sun and stars to stay. This happened to my SO, who was given a RIDICULOUS retention bonus, plus a very handsome raise and a former co-worker who was offered a promotion and a large raise. My SO took the $$ and is still there years later, very happy. My co-worker turned down the promotion, and it was the right decision.

    Something to consider, if you’d rather be on the receiving end.

  28. Anonandon*

    OP #1: Your boss screwed up and sounds like a jerk.

    Professional development is HIS responsibility. Leaders have to train junior employees so that they understand what is expected of them in order to advance to the next level. If you current job requires X, and more senior jobs require Y, it is HIS job to tell you that.

    Failing to explain the requirements and then making snarky bullshit comments is terrible leadership.

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      Not sure on that one. If I were in the OPs position, i would not have gone in blind but instead would have done as much prep as possible, either with her own direct boss or the grandboss to understand what the grandboss would be looking for. Thinking about it from the OPs side, why did she choose to focus on the people management part vs the metrics? If I were the grandboss I would be wondering why her emphasis was off the mark.. Did she not ask for guidance?

      The good news is the grandboss seems to realize the OP can do better and is giving her another shot.. So OP this time be ready to cover everything

    2. Flat Penny*

      I wouldn’t have thought to be prepared to talk about hard numbers either. I think he sounds like a dick.

    3. Emmie*

      The language he used for his comment is awful even though the information is valuable. But, professional development isn’t exclusively in a manager’s domain. It’s helpful for managers to inform their employees of skills needed for the next step, but employees need to tell managers about their desire to progress upwards in the company and discuss their desired path with their manager.

      As an employee, professional development is my responsibility. It is my career. It is helpful to have companies fund things like seminars, or tuition. That may not always happen in smaller, or struggling companies. It is also helpful to have managers who provide you with opportunities to grow such as committees, projects, etc…. That might not always happen in customer service focused roles because those roles tend to be incredibly busy. I disagree that this is largely or exclusively the manager’s responsibility.

    4. Breakfast Cupcakes*

      How did the boss screw up? OP asked for the meeting based on that OP was ready for promotion and had the experience. If someone tells me they have experience in JOB B and are ready for JOB B, then I expect them to know about JOB B and not me having to train them about it. The comment that OP wasn’t prepared isn’t snarky it’s the un-sugarcoated truth.

    5. smoke tree*

      I don’t think this is equivalent to a mentoring or professional development situation–the LW already has management skills and requested a meeting so she could discuss them with him. However, his approach does seem pretty patronizing to me: assuming that she didn’t prepare at all and reprimanding her for it, just because she didn’t read his mind about which topics he wanted to discuss. I feel like he could have just said something more neutral to acknowledge that they obviously had a mismatch in what they expected to discuss, and then she would have had the chance to clear it up and reschedule. He seems like he may not be a great communicator in general, if this exchange is typical of him.

    6. OP #1*

      I appreciate the moral support. But as the person on the receiving end of it, I’m entirely with Breakfast Cupcakes on this one. My problem isn’t with grand-boss. My problem is I told grand-boss “Hey, I can juggle five things”, he said “show me with these eggs”, and they all landed on my face. That’s on me.

  29. Murphy*

    #4 I also work through lunch so I can leave earlier. I’m a team of one who’s not inconveniencing anyone, and I always check my email once in the evening to make sure nothing important happened after I left. It works for me and I’d be annoyed if someone else tried to make those decisions for me when it doesn’t affect anyone else. (Especially since they took out our break room and I’d have to eat at my desk anyway.)

    1. Murphy*

      To add, at my old job, I had a co-worker else who did this semi-regularly when it did affect the rest of the team, i.e. me, by leaving me alone or understaffed for a half hour during one of our busiest times, and that really annoyed me. This is the only reason to push back on that kind of thing, in my opinion.

      1. JulieCanCan*

        Yeah I had a job where one of the “favorites” got to make her own hours (MHOH?)and decided to work 7-4 DESPITE the fact that no one else was in the office before 9:30 or 10 am, nor did she have anything she could even DO before 9:30 or 10 am….literally, she would ne on Facebook from 7-9:30 am and everyone seemed to know and be Ok with that. Then cut to 4 pm when she left and it was just me available to the entire company until 7 pm. She’d regularly mess up things and be careless and when people would come to discuss things with her at 4:15, 5, 6, 7 pm, guess who had to deal with it since she was long gone?

        I mean I’d love to be in my office getting paid while NO ONE was here, plan birthday parties and trips like she’d talk about doing, then escape hours before anyone else realizes I’m gone. We had no need for anyone to be in our department before 9:30 or 10 am, which aggravated me to no end. Why she was allowed to do that i will never understand. No one else had the luxury of this kind of thing.

        All it did was build resentment, which I guess was obvious since everyone else would be spoken to by our manager and HR about our poor attitudes and seemingly resentful feelings.
        Lolol that’s right, we were resentful! I wonder why.

  30. No Mercy Percy*

    OP 4, your employee sounds like me! I’d love to be able to skip lunch entirely and leave early. Unfortunately for me, Illinois mandates at least a 20 minute lunch and my employer requires a lunch of between 30-60 minutes (I only take between 20-30).

    I resent having to take a break I neither need nor want, but realize there’s nothing I can do to change it.

  31. MissDisplaced*

    #4 This is me. I don’t like “taking” lunch. I hate it because it feels like a disruption to my day and my momentum, and after a long lunch break I only feel tired and want to go home. I do eat food, but lightly, and bring it right back to my desk. Getting/eating lunch takes at max 10-15 minutes and I usually read work emails or work-related articles while I eat. My hours are 8-5, and I typically arrive at 7:45 or so (a buffer in case of traffic).
    If I am forced to stay until 5pm, the company is effectively getting at least an hour of free overtime work from me. It’s not right, and I’d rather leave at 4 or 4:30 and work straight through, but if you do that, the people who stay until 5 give you the side-eye, even though many of them come in right at 8am and take an hour (or more) for their lunch break! I have always hated this about working in an office when you’re salaried.
    Just let the guy leave if he doesn’t take lunch. Provided he really isn’t taking lunch.

  32. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP#3: You asked, “what is the least hurtful way to break the news?” This isn’t like you are breaking up with your boyfriend/girlfriend. This is a business arrangement. Follow AAM’s advice. Just focus on being professional and facilitating transition matters, as you would do in departing any job. I would argue that the inconvenient timing of the two notices isn’t your problem–it’s your employer’s problem. Good luck.

    1. OP3*

      Thanks, Bob. We gave our notice (separately) and despite it being pretty frosty at work, it seems likely we’ll still be able to use our soon to be former boss as a future reference.

  33. Early Leaver*

    OP4: I know that in my case, when I wanted to be able to do this, it was because I was working in a position that was a 45+ minute commute, and during the winter the sun would be practically down already by the time I left at 5 PM. I found the commute much less of a struggle when I could leave while there was still daylight. However, I was unable to make it a standard thing.

    Where am I now though, I have the opposite problem; my commute is so short I could easily go home for lunch, but we only get half an hour for it, so there’s not enough time for me to really do anything.

  34. Anon for this*

    To OP #2: In my last job, I worked in a department of 8 people that had a few associates and managers, two directors, and one SVP. We had one open role already when the SVP gave notice so her announcement of a departure was taken with a lot of panic and anxiety from the team, particularly as our high pressure budget process was just a few weeks away. This was then compounded when my coworker and I both gave notice the following week, literally cutting the team in half. HR went into a full-blown panic about why the bottom dropped out of what had long been a consistent team with good morale, but we each had completely independent reasons for leaving and timing just happened to coincide.

    Tensions were running high and hiring was extremely expedited with a few non-ideal candidates coming into the open roles, but honestly, it’s not my problem. I made the choice that was right for me. Don’t ever set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm, especially when that someone is a business that would drop you without a second thought if the tables were turned.

  35. Elizabeth Proctor*

    #2: Sometimes when I’m on vacation I respond to the trivial stuff to keep it off my plate for when I get back, since it requires no brain power. I did this especially when part of my job was scheduling.

    #4: Maybe give your employee Wednesday and Friday to do this? A few set days that they and the team can plan on, but not every day?

  36. Amtelope*

    OP#1: Do make sure you still actually want the management role at this company, based on what you’ve learned. Do you want a job with a heavy focus on metrics? Is this a sign that you’re going to spend your time pushing employees to meet strict numerical targets for sales/hour or to do task X in Y number of minutes? Does that seem like the right next step in your career? If it does, then I agree with Alison’s advice, but it’s also legit to decide that this company takes an approach to management that isn’t a good fit with your interests and talents, and that you’d rather look elsewhere for a better fit.

  37. Orange You Glad*

    #4 – How is this employee’s work output currently? Is he meeting or exceeding your expectations otherwise? You definitely don’t want to reward someone if their work is not up to par.
    If it’s legal in your state, could you maybe work with the employee to alter his break times? For example instead of a 1 hour lunch give him a 30 min break and let him leave 30 mins early. Also maybe encourage him to split up the 30 min break into 2 15 min breaks.
    I would also worry that if you gave into this employee, suddenly everyone else would be asking for the same or similar accommodations which could then lead to even bigger issues with productivity at the end of the day and possibly resentment from other employees who don’t get to leave early.

  38. Wing Leader*

    OP#4, I would totally do this if my office allowed it. I can easily eat a big breakfast, skip lunch, and have dinner when I get home and be just fine.

    Like Alison said, if it would cause problems with your team, then feel free to decline his request. But don’t do it just so you can manage when he eats. Plenty of people simply don’t need to eat three times a day (myself included).

  39. blink14*

    OP #4 – I could see potentially splitting the time 50/50 – letting him leave 15-30 minutes early, depending on the lunch break. However, I think this would mean really making sure he’s actually doing work in that time period, and not continuing to take the full break, but not counting it as a full break because he’s not eating lunch.

    At my current job at a major university, I’m salaried with a 40 hour work week that includes an hour lunch break daily (so really, 35 hours), with set start and end times. Usually once a month we have an event that falls across my lunch break time, but includes free lunch, so I don’t take the break at a different time, but if I need to leave an hour or a half hour early at a different time in the week, I’ll do so. Some people don’t take their lunch break, but most leave at their usual time, or maybe 30 minutes early. I think some of this is due to the fact that in most office areas, there simply is not a place to eat (I currently use an empty desk).

    At my old job, which was a private company, we were required to take our lunch break, no matter what. This was to ensure people didn’t work through lunch and then felt entitled to leave early. Same scenario, pay and hour wise – salaried, set hours, 40 hour work week including an hour lunch each day. You had to be physically away from your desk or leave the office.

    All that being said, I love my lunch break and require it. I can’t skip a meal, and having an hour allows me a good 30 minutes to relax after having lunch.

    1. Cheesecake2.0*

      Wow, I’ve worked at a couple universities and the expectation was always 40 hours of work plus lunch time. So you were at work 8.5-9 hrs a day depending on how long you take for lunch.

      1. blink14*

        Anyone salaried at my university has an hour lunch break per day with set office hours – generally 8:30 – 4:30 pm or 9 – 5 pm. Obviously some people in higher positions put in more hours, but that’s the standard across the university.

        Anyone hourly gets a half hour lunch, but is generally required to be in the office for those same standard hours.

  40. Miss Muffet*

    If the person is non-exempt, you could be running afoul of the law with a culture of “working through lunch”. I managed non-exempt administrative assistants and they were required to take an uninterrupted 30 min lunch (whether they ate or not was irrelevant – they couldn’t be doing work) during the day and they could not move that half hour (or any of their breaks) to the end of the day. Them’s were the rules, as they say.
    If they are exempt, then presumably it doesn’t matter if or how long they take lunch breaks for.
    That being said, I think you can say, we expect core hours of X :00 to Y:00 in order to be able to collaborate, etc. If you want to come earlier and leave earlier within those bounds it’s ok. But I do think that there’s a difference between occasionally doing it to allow people to accommodate something in the evenings and doing it every day. Also, once he starts an expectation of leaving at the earlier time, are you sure he will extend his day when he does decide to take a lunch?

    1. MommyMD*

      Exactly. I posted below before I saw your excellent answer. It’s up to state law whether or not lunch can be skipped. In California I believe lunch has to be taken by the sixth hour of work.

      1. Pescadero*

        Actually – it’s generally up to state law whether or not lunch breaks must be offered.

        In many states (~20) the employer must OFFER lunch break after ~5 hours. Employees are not legally required to TAKE a break.

        1. Food Sherpa*

          Not so in Ca. the employer is fined for missed or late breaks. A minimum half-hour break before the start of the 6th hour worked is mandatory. It can’t be waived by either side.

      2. npd*

        In California, employees can skip the 30-minute meal break if they work only six hours. This needs to be waived by both the employer and employee (ideally in writing!). If employees work even one minute more than six hours, the 30-minute meal break has to begin no later than the end of the fifth hour and there is no legal way to waive it.

        1. Food Sherpa*

          The waiver must be signed by each party AND it is good for only that day. Labor board in Ca can still levy fines for the break. Waivers for more than one day are void in Ca’s eyes and fines can result.
          Keep in mind, the fines only happen if there is a problem or an audit. Something has to trigger the state to look at the situation. Unless the company has government contracts which can be voided or ineligible for renewal if labor laws are ignored.

  41. Save One Day at a Time*

    OP2 I’m annoyed with your manager for being annoyed. She can manage how people prioritize work WHILE THEY ARE WORKING, but being on vacation means they are out. If they decide to work, she doesn’t get to decide what their priorities are. I think her frustrations are uncalled for, as the base line expectation would be that Sophie is out and won’t help y’all with anything. She’s giving you more than that. You can be grateful

    1. valentine*

      The manager gets to be annoyed and focusing on trivialities could harm Sophie’s reputation.

  42. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    1) “So, how do we handle giving our notice? Do we go one at a time and the first person pretends not to know about the second?”

    Don’t resign as a team. One at a time. The only thing I’d keep in mind is – if ONE of you is willing to entertain a counter-offer, that person should go in second.

  43. AnotherKate*

    #1: You’re being very hard on yourself about having fallen short on this interview, and I see a lot of myself in the way you’re approaching solving the problem–that is to say, all on your own, without asking anyone for help or clarification. I don’t think you were wrong to prepare for the meeting the way you did, but now that you’ve been given feedback, I think you need to lean into that! I love Alison’s advice to be upfront with your grand-boss about what your thought process was. It will show your grand-boss you only made a tactical error, not that you just blew off the entire thing without thinking you needed to prep.

    But I also think there’s something to learn here for next time. You don’t have to play detective to figure out what people want to talk about in a meeting! Sure, it’s wise to do things like look up the job description of the position you’re moving into and see if you are well prepared to talk about each line item, but you’re also allowed to do things like:

    -Ask for a meeting agenda
    -Run your thought process by someone ahead. I think depending on your relationship with grand-boss, you could do that directly with her; e.g., “I’m looking forward to our meeting and have prepared to speak to staffing, people management, etc. Is that in line with what you want to focus on?” But if you sense that would come across as needing your hand held, you can also ask for advice from someone else in the company who you have a good relationship with and who already holds a position at a similar level to the one you want.

    I think a lot of high-achieving people tend to think that every challenge is something they’re expected to figure out entirely on their own, but the truth is this can really bite you in the butt. Sure, you may usually figure it out, but at what cost? If you’re ruminating and problem-solving for hours instead of just asking for clarification, you’re spending time you could’ve been doing other more important work. It can be really hard, because as you found out, sometimes you didn’t even realize you NEEDED to ask a question! And of course that happens. But as Alison says, this is an opportunity to show you can take feedback and hopefully apply it to future endeavors.

    Ultimately, your grand-boss gave you a correction; she didn’t fire you or blackball you or stop you from ever progressing. Most things in life aren’t a one-shot deal. If you’re used to succeeding right away, this can be kind of a hard lesson, no matter how many times you’ve heard the platitudes about “getting back on the horse” or “try, try again.” But it’s absolutely true that the way you come back from this will show your superiors as much or more about you than being perfect the first time would have. You can do this!

    1. OP #1*

      Thanks. That’s good perspective. I’m actually going to save this comment and make sure I refer back to it. Keeping the right expectations for yourself isn’t always easy.

    2. LilyP*

      This is great! I’d also say, since OP is the one requesting the meeting, it might be on her to *send* an agenda or outline for the next meeting when she requests/confirms it. That way the grandboss has a chance to flag in advance if there’s something else he wants to talk about.

  44. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Resignations at the same time is difficult but it’s nothing you should stress out about. I’ve seen it happen and have had to deal with it multiple times, all at small, less than 30 employee businesses.

    There may be groaning or counter offers thrown around but ignore them. Be kind and professional, it’s okay to think of yourselves and leave the company to handle the gap. If they’re not prepared to have people in any position leave, they’re going to be in danger with or without you.

  45. Bopper*

    Re Sophie:

    I would actually do the same thing. There are some questions I can answer off the top of my head when on vacation. So I answer those. The other ones would take actual work…which I am not doing on vacation.

  46. Linzava*


    I’m the only person in my office that takes a lunch. Burnout is different for everyone, some people are less likely to burnout if they can leave early and avoid the worst of the traffic everyday. I need a small break, because that’s how my brain is most efficient, but a lot of people lose efficiency when disconnecting from work during a break. I think the cookie cutter workplace schedule costs more money to companies overall than people realize.

  47. cmcinnyc*

    OP#1, I feel for you. But I think your situation is salvageable and the advice above will do it. I once So Bombed an interview. I knew I was going to see someone at a conference we were both attending and she said we should talk then. But then we ran into each other at the coffee on the first morning and she decided Now Is The Time. I hadn’t had coffee yet, and yup, she started off in a direction that really was not what I was expecting, at all. If I’d been caffeinated maybe I could have gracefully redirected into the area I’d prepared, but I was flustered, we were at a breakfast table that sat 8 (and filled up around us with socializing conference-goers), and I essentially babbled like a loon. She then managed to avoid eye contact with me for the rest of the week, which had to be a deliberate choice because we were unfortunately face to face *a lot* due to the way the conference played out. Oh man… Your CEO at least gave you a way to redeem yourself. Take it!

    1. OP #1*

      Ouch. That one sounds really rough. Thanks for sharing, though. I don’t _like_ that it happens to anybody, but it’s also nice to be reminded I’m not alone in it.

  48. MommyMD*

    In California you could be penalized if employee is not taking a lunch break. I’d check the laws in your state.

    Also if he gets to do it every day, others will want to.
    Just a thought.

  49. Secretary*

    For OP #4, my job gives me the option of working through lunch and leaving early or taking a lunch and leaving later. I LOVE this option! With a lunch, I would work 7:30-4:30 every day. Without the lunch (I just eat during breaks or at my desk while working) my day can either be 8:30-4:30, 7:30-3:30, 8:00-4:00, or whatever other combination I want!

    If there’s no reason he has to be there, let him leave early :)

  50. Schnapps*

    OP 4, if you’re allowing that make sure your state/province/country/contract agreements don’t have mandated breaks. Under labour law in my province, we are required to give a break after ever X hours worked. Under my collective agreement, I’m supposed to get an hour unpaid break after 5 hours worked. On occasion, either at the request of the employee or manager, we are able to cut that hour break down to 30 minutes and leave early (subject to operational requirements).

  51. OtterB*

    The discussion about OP #2 responding to easy emails but not more complex ones reminds me of a long-ago colleague of my husband’s at an industry research facility. This fellow had been there long enough that he accrued more vacation annually than he really wanted to use, plus he liked his work and had a national reputation in their area. So he would take some ordinary vacations, but would also sometimes come in to the lab on “vacation” and work on his pet projects and not do the things he didn’t want to do. (Staff meeting? Nope, I’m not here, I’m on vacation.)

  52. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #3 – Definitely don’t resign together, but other than that just do what’s best for you in your own situation, regardless of what happens with your colleague. When you’re ready to resign, just resign. I know it’s hard not to feel bad, but this falls under “not your circus, not your monkeys”. If there are issues within the company, both of you leaving at the same time may prompt them to figure out why and make some positive changes.

  53. LawBee*

    #2 – Seems to me that Sophie is clearing out her email box of the trivial things when she can so that she can focus on the higher-priority items when she gets back.

    It also seems to me that Sophie’s manager shouldn’t be sending her urgent or high-priority emails if she truly wants Sophie not to check email while on vacation.

  54. Food Sherpa*

    OP #4- PLEASE check your local laws. As others have stated the labor laws can be severe. Breaks are mandated in many states. Entire companies have been shuttered in Ca. over breaks and the fines which resulted. Perhaps it would help if you stopped thinking of the breaks as a ‘lunch break’ and as a mid-work recharge. If the break is reframed to avoid the meal reference it might be easier for your employee to swallow.

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