my coworker/girlfriend might get fired soon, employee wants a second paid month off for her dissertation, and more

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

1. My employee wants a paid month off to finish her dissertation — a second time

I have been in my managerial position for less than one year. One of my direct reports received four weeks of paid time off a couple years ago in order to complete her dissertation (when I was her colleague, not her boss). This is not a standard policy/practice, and many of us were upset with what we considered unfair treatment. A PhD is not required for the position, although we do work in academia and it’s normal for people to have them.

She did not complete her dissertation, and now two years later she is under pressure to finish. She is also pregnant, and will take 16 weeks leave this coming fall/winter. She took last week off to paint her house, and during that time sent a request directly to my boss for another four weeks paid time off this summer. Earlier today he told me about her request, and I am angry that she would request this again. He is considering her request and asked my opinion. I don’t support it, but don’t think I made a great case other than “it’s not fair.”

She has not spoken to me about it, and I need to be better prepared to discuss it, but I get angry and I’m struggling to get beyond that. Do you have any suggestions for how to calmly discuss a topic that is emotionally charged? Also, I wonder if I am being unreasonable and harboring resentment and therefore unable to think about the request objectively?

Yeah, you’ve got to take the emotion out of it when you talk to your boss or you’ll harm your own credibility. But think about the actual reasons for why you’re angry — there’s logic to them, and you can present that case to your boss. You can point out that this employee has already received a month of paid leave that other employees haven’t received, and that offering her an additional month on top of that will demoralize others on your team and cause resentment, as surely some of them could also use a biennial month off. (Keep her maternity leave out of it though; that shouldn’t be a consideration, and it’s legally iffy to make it one.)

Or you could come at this from an entirely different angle: If this is something your boss wants to do, would your employer be willing to offer a month of extra paid leave every two years to every employee, regardless of what they want to use it for? If so, that would be a hugely attractive benefit for people. If he’s not up for that, then you can use that to point out that this isn’t equitable — but if he is, then great.

(But also, why are these requests going to your boss and not to you? While different companies do things differently, ideally if you’re her manager, these requests would come to you and you’d handle them.)

2. My girlfriend is my coworker and might get fired soon

I work for a large international company, and so does my girlfriend of two years. We have the same role, but it’s such a big company that we’ve never worked together (and HR has no problem with the relationship).

The problem is that, while I love my job and am doing well, my girlfriend is in trouble and might be getting fired pretty soon. She asks me for advice and vents to me, but it’s hard to know what to say. I can’t be and don’t want to be her career counsellor, but I also want to be there for her when things are tough, you know? Basically, how can I maintain boundaries while still being supportive?

One option is to just focus on how she’s feeling and avoid getting into actual advice — in other words, “That sounds really hard — I’m sorry this is happening” or “I know this is really stressful — want to just order delivery tonight and just watch a million episodes of SVU?” but not “Why don’t you try talking to Lucius about what happened in the meeting?”

If she’s directly asking you for advice, though, you might need to say, “I want to support you as your partner and not as a colleague who works at the same company, and I feel like it’s healthier for our relationship for me not to try to really lean into work advice.” But at the same time, I don’t know that either of you will be well served by being too rigid about this — if there’s something where you might have a helpful perspective, it makes sense to offer it (and she could be rightly annoyed if you refuse to). The key is in watching the balance — you don’t want to be workshopping her work problems every night. But some advice, in moderation and when it’s requested, can be part of being supportive. If it feels like too much, though, that’s something you should flag.

3. I panicked and said I was interning somewhere that hadn’t hired me

I’m a recent college graduate and a couple months ago I reached out to a woman, “Claire,” who is one year older and who works at a company I’m very interested in. Claire agreed to get coffee and tell me about her career path. I felt like we had a fairly good back and forth, but when she asked me about my job experience, I kind of had a an insecure / panicky reaction where I felt like I haven’t done enough stuff with my life. I ended up blurting that I’m currently interning at an organization that I had an interview scheduled at the next day.

It’s a small organization but well-known in our field, and to my horror Claire excitedly asked if I know her friend who works there. I back-pedaled and said something like, “Oh, I just, just started there so I’m still learning names,” etc. Honestly, the blip barely seemed to register to Claire, but it was hanging over me for the rest of the conversation. I tried to stay cool but at the end of our talk she told me that she’d be happy to recommend me to her company and to just shoot her my resume when I want to apply and she’ll forward it to the hiring manager. So long story short, I’m not sure what to do.

The interview the next day ended up going great (even though I was terrified the whole time that my interviewers would slam their fists on the table and demand to know why I told so-and-so’s friend that I already was an intern there) and a few weeks later they offered me the internship. So now I will be interning at the same place as Claire’s friend, but not till this summer. Do I still send Claire my resume and hope she forgets about the internship I mentioned? Do I include a note on the resume that I’ll be starting the internship this summer? Do I just apply to her company without emailing her? It’s a large corporation so it’s not like she’d know, but if she does recommend me to HR I’d have a way better chance of getting an interview. What’s your take? I know I’m an idiot.

Normally I’d say your resume shouldn’t include an internship you haven’t yet started, but in this case it makes sense to list it so that Claire doesn’t wonder where it is. You could just put “summer 2019” for the dates, or even “summer 2019 (hired).”

Hopefully Claire won’t recall your conversation so word-for-word that she realizes you said you were currently working there (and if she does, will probably just assume she misunderstood). And while “I’m still learning names” is a little weird about a place you haven’t begun working at, it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility — I could see an intern saying something like that, figuring they had learned some names already (like the people they interviewed with). So, a little awkward but definitely not as awkward as if you hadn’t been hired! Since some time has passed and this wasn’t a major focus of your conversation, there’s a pretty good chance that it won’t seem terribly weird.

The bigger thing is to make sure you reflect on why this happened and how you want to handle moments like that in the future. Also, know that it’s totally okay that you haven’t done a lot yet! That’s very normal for intern stage and you shouldn’t feel insecure about it … and actually, being up-front and humble about that is a lot more appealing than entry-level people who try to cover that up.

Read an update to this letter here.

4. “We foresee job openings in the future”

I recently interviewed with a small organization while still under contract with a national service program (that’s ending soon). The interviews went really well, and we discussed me possibly starting part-time and then transitioning to full-time when my service contract was up in a couple months. They called me, saying they went with another candidate who was able to start at full-time right away, and told me they think I’d fit in well with their organization, and that they foresee having some openings that I should apply for once my service contract is up. I responded graciously and added the interviewers on LinkedIn.

Should I keep applying to other jobs despite this potential open position? What if I accept another position and then they reach out to me? Would it be too forward of me to email the hiring manager thanking her for her time and consideration, and asking for a timeline on the potential job opening?

You absolutely should keep applying to other jobs! This offer is probably sincere, but there are all kinds of reasons that it might come to nothing — they could find a better qualified candidate, they could have a hiring freeze, they could reconfigure the position, they could move someone internal into it, the hiring manager who liked you could leave, etc. So definitely don’t count on this in any way — instead think of it as something that could happen, but very well might not.

But when you email the hiring manager to thank her, you could say something like, “Is there a particular timeframe where it would make sense for me to check back with you about the possible future openings you mentioned?” Or you could just email her in a few months and ask at that point.

Meanwhile, though, if you get another offer somewhere else and you want that job, you should take it — since you’d be comparing an actual offer for an actual job to a non-offer for a job that doesn’t exist yet.

{ 392 comments… read them below }

  1. sacados*

    Yeah, I think a general guideline is to think about how you would handle this situation if your girlfriend was working at a different company.
    With a side of maybe refer back to AAM’s past advice about how to set boundaries with overly negative/complaining coworkers. Because you definitely don’t want to become a sounding board for your gf’s upset feelings about the company (they’re so mean, this is unfair, etc) especially since it seems like you don’t feel the same way and are enjoying your time at the company.
    So you can be sympathetic and supportive while avoiding getting dragged into a swamp of negative emotions.

  2. Bill*

    I had that problem (6-7 years ago) – dating a coworker (not the same department, but we worked on the same floor). When she got in trouble with her new boss and got put on a PIP, I was the one whose shoulder got leaned on and I had to hear everything about it, despite me telling her “I really don’t need to know this, its between you and your manager”. Then there was the fact that she would come to my office 3-4 times a day “to say hi”… Bringing me coffee in the morning is fine, stopping by on the way out the door at 5 is fine, but otherwise I have a job to do (and so did she…)

    When I finally decided to end the relationship (due to a number of other factors, her-family drama, etc) I did wait until a month after she’d gotten laid off to have “the talk” – I didn’t want to be *that* jerk….

    I can’t speak too ill of the dead – she passed away (leukemia) a couple of weeks ago, after having survived stomach cancer before we met. And we met because someone introduced us because we’d both lost spouses…

    1. MK*

      Coming to your office many times a day was crossing the boundaries partner/co-workers should have and you should have put a stop to it. But it’s not realistic to expect your partner will not lean on you for support when they have problems at work, even if you are also a co-worker. Boundaries at work is one thing, being cut off from the support a partner should give another. If you are unable or unwilling to handle the balancing act, don’t date co-workers.

        1. Clementine*

          If you know you are going to break up with someone, and you delay it for a month, that is not kindness, but manipulation. One party has the information that the relationship is over, and the other one is still in it. I appreciate the story, but the behavior is still wrong.

      1. Busy*

        Agreed. OP, if you want to continue to have a relationship with *anyone*, don’t treat having to listen to their issues like its a burden – which doesn’t sound like you are. And sometimes, maybe you need to give some perspective, but just stick with the whole “it sucks and maybe there are better things out there” conversations.

        Just don’t be this guy ^^^^^

        1. DrR*

          Talking with your partner about major life issues (including trouble at work) is pretty normal. My husband and I are in very different industries, and we like to be able to turn to each other for perspective and venting sometimes. The appropriate limits will vary for different people, but the idea that talking with your partner about work trouble is off-limits is not going to work for a lot of people.

        1. nutella fitzgerald*

          I am genuinely tickled by the idea that we might need Alison to decipher a comment complimenting her ability to clarify and edit someone else’s words

  3. Artemesia*

    For the future intern. This is one to be very cool about. If she says anything (which is unlikely, it is ‘I was really excited when we talked because I had just learned of the internship, so I must not have been clear about when it started.’ You have the internship so don’t worry about it. But really reflect on why you did what you did and how you can avoid shooting yourself in the foot in a panic.

    1. Tallulah in the Sky*

      Yes, same, Alison’s advice was spot on. You have the internship, so act like there was just some kind of miscommunication if it ever comes up.

    2. Holly*

      Yes – in fact saying “i’m interning at X place” *could* mean you’re interning there in the future, so it’s an easy way to save face. Easy to put this behind you and learn from it.

    3. Heidi*

      I agree that it is unlikely to ever come up and there’s no need to call attention to it. Once you get some distance from this, you might find it nostalgically charming, like I do. Starting out is hard. However, in the remote chance that Claire really does call you out on it, I would not try to fix a lie with more lies (like an “Oh I must have mixed up the dates” kind of thing). It sounds like you might have had a bit of a detailed conversation about working there, and it’s hard to make a series of lies convincing and airtight on the fly. It sounds like it would be easy to prove that you lied, too. You might consider coming up with a script where you come clean and apologize for misleading her. You may never need it, but you’d be prepared, and preparedness is a good way to mitigate anxiety for me. Something along the lines of, “I told you that I was interning at the Iron Bank when I hadn’t actually secured the internship yet. It was insecurity and wishful thinking on my part, and I feel terrible about it. It won’t happen again.”

        1. DrR*

          Agree. A small error in a moment of anxiety is easy to recover from. A cover-up could get you into real trouble.

  4. KTB*

    OP1: I would definitely lean into Alison’s recommendation to look at equity versus fairness. Life and work aren’t fair, and your boss is definitely looking at her request through the lens of finishing a dissertation. You’re right to be annoyed that she squandered an excellent opportunity a couple of years ago, but you have more leverage now that you did then. Have the conversation with your boss about equity and optics and see where it lands. Best case, your employees get a killer new perk, and worst case, this employee has to face the consequences of squandering her chance a few years back. But definitely leave the house painting and pregnancy out of it–there’s nothing to gain there.

    1. Yet Another Loser*

      Making a dissertation is definitely not a vacation in the beach. It is very hard work. You cannot even compare it with a paid-off to paint a house etc as a Phd degree may be valuable in the work and paint of the house not (I assume, though, that the week off to paint the house was unpaid). How valuable the PhD degree really is, depends on the position, though, but in academia it gives a lot of status, negotiation power with stakeholders etc. Even in administrative positions it helps when dealing with professors.

      Also, if the job is in academia, making PhDs is one of the purposes of the institute and there may be higher organizational reasons to push for finishing it. It is a standard practice in universities to pay for people to make research and finishing dissertation definitely is research. A doctoral degree will also open doors for other positions, e.g. in higher management, though there is a danger that she will leave.

      Whether it is fair, you have to compare with other persons in the similar situation. Are there any employees who have been denied a paid month off particularly for finishing the dissertation (not to repair a house)? Are her colleagues making dissertations or have they made them?

      Is the anger for unfair not for envy of someone making a Phd that the colleagues or possibly boss does not have?

      If the person kind of lied two years ago for finishing her thesis then may be another issue, but I do not know details.

      1. Wake up !*

        No, the OP is probably not jealous of her employe for having a PhD. She might be jealous that the coworker is getting institutional support for completing what is essentially a personal improvement project when OP and other employees don’t. (And before anyone gets mad at me for calling a PhD a personal improvement project, from the perspective of the employer it sort of is. It doesn’t have bearing on her work functions and in fact might lead to her leaving the employer for a job that does require the degree)

        1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          I suspect that leaving for a different job is on the radar of this employee. Why else would she be drawing down her paid leave before going on maternity leave, when most people need to use their PTO? I can see asking for time off to finish the dissertation, which makes sense because it would be impossible to do when dealing with a new baby. But four weeks in the summer and a week to paint her house? That’s a tipoff she’s not planning on sticking around much longer.

      2. sacados*

        OP said that many other people at her workplace also have PhDs. No one is implying that a PhD is not valuable, or that writing a dissertation is easy.
        I think the anger/unfair is coming from the fact that a) this person is now getting much more paid vacation than other employees; and b) none of the other employees with PhDs got paid time off to do their dissertations, they got it done on their own time.

        If the employee were asking for unpaid time off, I would be inclined to be a bit more generous with that sort of request. But an additional 4 weeks PAID is a pretty big ask and I completely understand why OP feels that might be out of line.
        I do definitely agree with Alison though, that if the paid leave for dissertation is a policy that could perhaps be implemented officially and open to all employees, that would be a really awesome perk.

        1. Wake up !*

          Right. They’re paying the employee to write her dissertation. There are fellowships for that, competitive ones that grad students spend a lot of time applying for. It’s very unusual for a company to pay for a non-required degree, and saying that in no way implies that writing a dissertation is easy (if it were, the employee would have finished it on time to begin with).

          1. Yet Another Loser*

            It is not clear what is the “company” here. The OP wrote “we do work in academia” which makes me guess that she has a technical or administrative position in a university of alike, though it is not clear whether she prepares the thesis for the very same organization she works for.

            Hidden details of the employer and the position would be very important to interpret the situation correctly and comment the advice.

            I agree that in any case the decision should be coherent with the general policy of the employer.

            1. The Original K.*

              Yeah, knowing what the employer is would help. One of my best friends works somewhere that’s academia-adjacent and the company DOES give people time off to finish their dissertations (many of the people there have or are working on Ph.Ds, including my friend (working on) and his boss (has). It’s a very degreed-place). You have to request it – they don’t give it to you as a matter of course – but it’s a thing they do.

              However, OP said it’s not common where she works and that it bred resentment when the employee got it the first time, so I’ll take that at face value.

              1. DrR*

                I’m in academia at a public university. I’m faculty member with a PhD that I completed while working full time as a professor. I think it is completely reasonable to give this employee a month off paid to complete her dissertation. I think the most the OP should do is ask that all employees completing dissertations be given the same consideration. That would be fair. It is perfectly fine — even positive– for academia to privilege dissertation completion over house painting or other “self-imrovement projects.” Lots of administrative and support staff get advanced degrees while working for the university. It is in some respects a perk and in some respects an investment in the employee. The pay is not competitive (compared to private industry), and support for those pursuing advanced degrees is one way to make the job more appealing to qualified and competent staff members. Furthermore, in higher education, a PhD can be recommended if not required for many advancement avenues open to staff members. Therefore, if this person wants to make higher education her career, she needs to get this degree.

                1. uranus wars*

                  But the employee did get a month off and she did not complete it. What if she doesn’t complete it this time, will she get another month off in a year to complete it again?

                  If the institution is willing to do this for all employees moving forward then I agree it can work. I also understand the impact a PhD it can have on your advancement in academia or even in opportunities to present/publish in a given field. But in my 15 years in the higher ed I have never had a co-worker be granted additional paid time off to work on or defend theirs; they have had to use from their bank or work on their off hours.

                2. anonymous 5*

                  If this person wants a career in higher ed, then yes, she probably does need (or at least stand to benefit from) this degree. And, as you remarked below, the road to the PhD is never smooth and often pretty hellish. But that doesn’t make it the employer’s responsibility to allow for more paid time off. Flexible hours? Unpaid time? Possibly. But nobody is entitled to a PhD any more than they’re entitled to a particular job or career. The fact that so many horror stories exist about finishing up the degree is pretty awful, and in a lot of cases those horror stories are preventable and highlight major toxicity in academia. But none of that inherently makes a second month off a reasonable request.

        2. Tallulah in the Sky*

          “If the employee were asking for unpaid time off, I would be inclined to be a bit more generous with that sort of request.”

          True, but I feel many commenters here, like OP, are mad she even dared to make that request, and I don’t get it. Why ? She’s allowed to ask for as much as she wants (even more so if she thinks there’s a good chance she’ll get it). It wasn’t a sensible request, and I can understand a little side-eye for asking more when you already got a lot. But I feel a lot of ill-will and negativity towards someone who, in the end, just made a request. OP and her manager are allowed to say no. She’s not forcing anyone to do anything, and she’s not taking anything from anyone. She did something a lot of people are afraid of : just ask, the worse that can happen is they say no, and everything else is a win.

          I’d be more miffed at the manager who is seriously considering this request.

          So OP, I would put my focus on my manager and his kinda poor judgement, and try to advocate for more for all my employees instead of focusing my energy on one employee who honestly didn’t do anything wrong (aside from maybe being a bit self-centered).

          1. JSPA*

            Google “ask vs guess culture.” It’s been covered here before, so I don’t want to start a derail.

          2. PontifexMurilegus*

            I think it comes partially down to ask vs. guess culture. Some people will see it as rude to ask for things if you’re not sure that the answer will be ‘yes’ (and will resent having to say no when _clearly_ this was a ridiculous request), while others are inclined to take the approach of “I won’t know unless I ask”. In this case, it seems like the commenters that are miffed about the fact that she even asked are leaning into the latter.

            1. doreen*

              You know, I see a lot of references to “ask vs guess culture”, but people often don’t acknowledge a middle ground. I wouldn’t say it’s rude to ask for things if you’re not sure the answer will be yes – but I also don’t think “I won’t know until I ask” is always appropriate regardless of the request.. There a difference between asking if I can take the weekend of the big event off for my daughter’s wedding and asking for the event to be rescheduled around that wedding ( and yes, I know someone who asked for an big event to be rescheduled around his time off)

              1. AvonLady Barksdale*

                YES, this exactly. I am very much in favor of asking and I think people should not be punished for doing so, but you can’t just barrel ahead without thinking about your options. I don’t blame the co-worker for asking, but I think she should have started from a position of opening negotiations, not from asking for the time off paid, full stop. Your example is an excellent one.

                1. Busy*

                  Yeah, and I think Allison covers this pretty squarely in her advice often. Search for “how to ask for …” Here is the thing. Asking is fine – as long as YOU seem to recognize how it might look.

                  Asking for a month off when it is not a common thing that is done once in a polite way that relays you understand you are asking for something extraordinary is one thing. Asking for a month off under these same circumstances while already on leave while knowing you will need time off later on in the year without even recognizing the optics of that is another. It comes across as feeling like they are really out of touch with what working means – or even how their coworkers would see it. It really says “I’m super entitled to this thing other people don’t get.”

                  If anyone needs a specific example, reference the woman who had to cancel her vacation due to being a lot of for medical issues. That’s the way this works sometimes.

                2. Tallulah in the Sky*

                  I agree. But my main point is that it’s not helpful to OP to judge or speculate on the thesis employee. Right now, the only truly constructive and helpful post I saw on the subject is from Mara (, which *weirdly* has almost no responses.

                  People here are having way too much fun clutching their pearls and bashing someone we know practically nothing about instead of giving some helpful advice to OP.

                3. Tallulah in the Sky*

                  Also, in response to you and Busy : we don’t know how she asked that time of. OP got it second hand from Boss. For all we know, she just asked for the possibility of taking time off, didn’t discuss it being paid or not, and Boss offered/assumed it would be paid.

                4. Busy*

                  Tallulah, sometimes the act of asking itself is what will give people pause. I mean you may not think that is fair in your through process, but it will do people well to remember for a lot of people, this is how it works.

                  For instance, if you went to your boss and said “can I cuss out this customer?” The act of asking makes you look bad because in your line of work it should be obvious that this is a hard no. And asking to do makes you look really out of touch and that you have a really poor understanding of expectations.

                  Asking to take more time off to complete something you didn’t finish the last time you got time off for to complete it while already out and knowing you will need to be out later on in the year looks so bad. It shows you don’t have an understanding of how work works. Add in that it is not a thing the company normally allows, and yeah, wow. Judgement is waaaaay off.

                  Most people would know that asking this second time would not be something they could do and reasonably believe they wouldn’t create issues for themselves.

                5. Tallulah in the Sky*

                  Alison : for the record, I don’t disagree that the employee mishandled that request (and in fact totally agree that she shouldn’t have made it, if it happened like OP said, she didn’t get the original request after all). I did have a problem with all the assumptions that were made, which were in my opinion unkind and often baseless. I didn’t mean to dismiss the other users, just express my own opinion that their reactions to and focus on this employee’s request was exaggerated, hence the expression “pearl-clutching”. If it is dismissive, I’m sorry (I speak english very well, but it’s not my main language and I mainly use it in a professional setting, so sometimes I miss the nuance), won’t be using that again.

                  For the others : I totally agree the request was unreasonable, OP is right to decide to refuse it (at least paid). It’s not so much that asking is always OK, you should think about coworkers and what’s the norm etc; but in the end you are just asking, you’re not forcing anyone. I find the manager ready to grant such a request much more worrisome than an out of touch or too self-centered employee. For example, it very well could be that when she requested paid time off the first time, if her boss was very casual/enthusiastic/non-plussed, she might think it wasn’t in the end that big a deal, and so it would be OK to ask again (or at least not as bad as it is).

                  I’m also way more of a “ask” then “guess”, so that might be why I’m not ready to roast that employee and am much more critical of the manager.

              2. Batman*

                Yeah, if I were a manager, I would definitely think less of someone who makes a request that is outside the norm for my organization (and this seems like it’s outside the norm).

                1. Washi*

                  I would normally agree, but in this case I wonder how about the language used when the first request was granted. If she was told “Ok, but only because you are very valuable to this company we will grant this one request as a privilege to you because of these very special circumstances” then yes, she should have used her professional judgement not to ask again. But if she were told, “well it will be tough, but sure! Good luck!” and basically granted the request as if it’s no big deal, I can see why she might figure it’s nbd to ask a second time.

            2. Sam.*

              I think there’s also something there about having reasonable expectations around your workplace. I’ve worked at four universities in a role similar to OP’s, and this is far outside the bounds of what would’ve been seriously considered at any of them. Asking for one month paid leave to finish a dissertation falls in the “I’ll never know if I don’t ask” category to me; two is just…no. Unpaid time off is a very different story, and that may be a reasonable compromise here.

              1. Artemesia*

                If the time off comes with the baby then there is no way the time will be used for the dissertation — it will be just additional maternity leave. Unpaid time off is reasonable; MORE paid time off not available to other people for similar reasons not so much.

            3. Allison*

              My mom is like that. She says it never hurts to ask, so you should always ask if you want something because the worst they can say is “no,” when in reality, she sometimes gets mad when I ask and the answer is “no” because I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN it was a RIDICULOUS request and she would NEVER say yes to something like that, and the fact that I want something I can’t have is just SO FRUSTRATING.

              1. Move Over Thrawn - Florian Munteanu is BIGGER than you!*

                I’m a big believer in asking, have gotten many things I would not have otherwise. BUT in this case, she squandered the first yes to her request. I don’t think she should get a second chance on her company’s dime.

                1. DrR*

                  Maybe, but she may have been shafted by a dissertation adviser. This happens all.the.time. I have a PhD and know people who had to go to different universities and spend extra years on their projects because of spiteful or inept dissertation advisers. There is no way the OP knows the details of why the requester didn’t complete her dissertation the last time she got time off for it.

              2. Anna*

                My actual philosophy is “if you never ask the answer is always no” but even I know that comes with a very big asterisk that says “As long as what you’re asking is not so egregious or so obviously at the wrong time that you risk damaging the relationship.” In my line of work you have to know where that line is and toe it very carefully.

                1. Burned Out Supervisor*

                  I’m stuck on cutting her direct manager out of the loop. It kind of signals to me that she knows the manager will say know, but she might have better luck with big boss (I know mom will say know, but dad is a little easier). I get the feeling this employee knows her request is unreasonable and doesn’t want to be asked a lot of questions. IMO, if I were to grant it, I’d make pay contingent on getting the PhD (but I doubt that’s feasible).

          3. Someone Else*

            It’s not that she asked…it’s that she asked TWICE. That’s a HUGE ask. She requested this a couple years ago, received it, and then didn’t finish. And I’m not saying it’s not hard work…but many employers don’t even give 4 weeks paid off per year. She’s asked twice for an extra four weeks paid. The letter mentioned her other recent time off for other things, I thought, to indicate she’d been using her PTO for regular PTO stuff, and is now asking for this extra 4 weeks again for the dissertation because she already used her normal annual PTO. If she’d asked before using it, I imagine the answer would’ve been “sure use your X that you have accrued right now”. So the point is this employee is really asking for a lot of extra paid time off that nobody else gets. You could say “well if they asked too they might get it” but if it were that easy then everyone’s baseline PTO should be a lot higher. I mean, a paid month off is a lot of money.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              The only place I’ve ever seen 4 weeks paid time off/year is where highly trained, highly paid and in-demand professionals receive it.

              1. Beatrice*

                I get 4 weeks now, but only because I’ve worked for the same employer for almost 15 years.

                1. Burned Out Supervisor*

                  Me too, but even then I don’t think I would be ok’d to take it all at once unless it was a family emergency.

                2. Michaela Westen*

                  My colleagues wouldn’t either, and they have to clear and organize it several weeks in advance.

              2. Someone Else*

                OP said downthread that they do get 4 weeks paid off a year. So the employee has her regular 4 weeks a year, and has used some portion of it already (house painting, and possibly other smaller chunks) and has asked for this additional 4 weeks paid specifically for the dissertation. So the employee in question already has what I’d consider generous vacation, and asked to double it this year for the PhD. To me, that’s either really ballsy or really tone-deaf or both.

                I see all the people saying “ask vs guess” culture but seriously some things most people should recognize that asking isn’t just “worst case, they say no and you move on”; it’s “worst case, they say no and think you have no sense of what is a big ask or not”. The previous yes doesn’t automatically make it not a big ask.

          4. Observer*

            I think that there is good reason to think that the employee did mishandle the request, although we can’t know for sure, because we’re getting this 3rd hand. However, the OP’s reaction is way out of bounds, in my opinion.

            The issue is not that they don’t want to give the leave, as I think that there are some good reasons to say no to that request. The issue is that they are “angry that she would request this again” and “get angry and I’m struggling to get beyond that.”

            That’s just over the top. And a pretty poor look for a manager.

            1. Samwise*

              Agreed. If OP doesn’t want to give the leave, then say no (nicely). OP can offer unpaid leave, if that will work for the office, and if it won’t, then say no to what I assume is leave on top of PTO (= the employee doesn’t have four weeks of PTO available). Why get all worked up about it?

              1. DrR*

                Agree. The asked if her response was disproportionate, and I think the answer is clearly yes. The OP’s letter is not objective and is full of problematic points (pregnant people shouldn’t need leave for other things; the OP is so upset she can’t be calm about this situation).
                OP’s anger at this situation is disproportionate. Also, I’m thinking the OP might be a manager of a group of staff and the boss could be a high level administrator or academic department head of some kind. I think the OP’s frustration is more appropriately directed at the “boss” rather than at the employee. If OP wants to go get a PhD, maybe the boss would support that in a similar way.

                1. Ms. Taylor Sailor*

                  Where did OP say anything along the lines of “pregnant people shouldn’t need leave for other things”? The reason (I’m assuming) OP brought it up is to highlight the total amount of time the employee will be gone for. Not that it should impact whether or not she should get time off, but it is clearly going to affect the logistics of how her work is covered and it’s valid point to mention. And maybe OP shouldn’t be angry per se, but it’s certainly stressful in figuring out the best way to deal with how to make sure everything’s covered. Not that the employee can’t or shouldn’t be able to get all this time off, but it’s incredibly unusual and not something employers generally anticipate.

          5. Jaybeetee*

            Yeah, I don’t understand the *anger* at the request. I suppose for me, it strikes me as a bit presumptuous to ask for an out-of-the-norm big chunk of leave two years after being granted an out-of-the-norm big chunk of leave (intended for the same purpose). Perhaps a bit tone deaf. But… anger?

            From OP’s colleague’s perspective – every time she’s asked for leave, she’s gotten it. It’d be nice if she had been a bit more conscientious, but if I had a colleague doing this, I don’t think I’d be actually angry. I’d figure if the leave wasn’t feasible, management would deny it (or tell her to take it unpaid if it’s more leave than she already has banked). If she’s absent too often and it’s causing work issues, I’d assume management would speak to her about that and deal with it in some way.

            That said, if she did this a couple times then *I* tried to put in for leave, and got denied – then I’d get salty. But even then, I’d likely be more upset with management than my colleague.

            1. EH*

              I totally get it. I come from a REALLY passive-aggressive guess/indirect communication culture background, and asking for something that’s not okay is a boundary violation. I could see how OP would be pissed that this person keeps asking for more and more time off, especially after “misusing” the previous dissertation-time. Depending on a lot of context we don’t have, it could feel like she doesn’t care about her job or coworkers (surely her being gone increases work for folks covering for her? That matters, and taking it for granted is a massive dick move), and that will piss off any boss, I would think. The optics of the ask may be really bad, depending on the office culture and how her other PTO has been handled.

              Now, I’ve been working a lot on being more direct and asking for things for a while, but hoo boy, reading this letter set off my old, not-super-healthy training big time. I agree OP needs to get past the anger when handling this, but I totally get why OP’s angry.

        3. Mookie*

          Honestly, when it comes to the leave that ensures a peer retain their job security along with enjoying their perfectly and statistically average personal life choices, I never really understood that kind of resentment, where someone feels hard-done-by. If doing so places a disproportionate workload on everyone else? That demonstrates a failure from on high. The solution is not to dial back reasonable leave but to ensure there’re enough warm bodies on hand to complete the workload. The unwillingness to hire temps or distribute core functions is never the singular employee’s fault or their responsibility. And if standard leave is insufficient, that’s either where staff speak up and agitate for change that puts them on par with other, more generous private entities or that changes the practices of publicly subsidized institutions such that completing a degree doesn’t impoverish someone or burden their colleague.

          1. Mookie*

            Also, lol, PTO is definitely not covering her tuition. (Likely to be her department at school.)

            1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

              If she’s already defended and just needs to finish her dissertation, she probably doesn’t need to pay additional tuition- if she hasn’t defended yet though that probably comes out of her pocket (at least it would at my university).

            2. Paulina*

              Depending on the position and university, her tuition may be paid as part of a (taxable) benefits package; that’s how it works here, for many of our employees. Unfortunately this often leads to them being less motivated to finish, and the degree dragging on until they have to finish or else quit the program.

              I appreciate the advice for the OP to put the focus back on the boss to approve or not, and to consider how the “perk” can be broadened to be accessible by more people. One problem with allowing requests for extraordinary treatment, in less than extraordinary circumstances, is that it may be something that only the initial person asking can get, because the workload can compensate for one person getting leave like that but not others. In my experience, many of the people who deserve the most consideration are the least likely to ask for it, and are assisted by those in charge working out and clearly stating a policy.

          2. Tallulah in the Sky*


            Thanks for placing the focus back on where it belongs : the boss and the company.

          3. EPLawyer*

            This is not a case of standard leave is insufficient or the workload is too much if anyone takes off. This person is not asking for a couple of extra days. This is a four weeks of paid leave. That no one else gets.

            The workload is probably fine under normal conditions, taking into account the leave that is available and the fact that people will be out sick. This is a LOT more leave than normal and would be hard to redistribute the work. Not because of not enough bodies but because it’s so far outside the normal range. It’s just not done in most companies that you get to take a whole month off at a time.

            I would bring up the house painting. You are not painting your house 24/7. She could have some done some work on her Ph.D. then. It is not the company’s fault she is a poor planner. She should not get a perk no one else gets because of it.

            1. Tallulah in the Sky*

              “I would bring up the house painting. You are not painting your house 24/7. She could have some done some work on her Ph.D. then. It is not the company’s fault she is a poor planner. She should not get a perk no one else gets because of it.”

              FYI, this is the kind of mean and baseless comments I’m talking against.

              I agree she shouldn’t be granted paid time off (with the info OP provided us), but there’s no need to make unkind and baseless assumptions.

              1. Indigo a la mode*

                And really, she gets to use her leave as she wants to. She knows the month of extra time is unusual and may not be approved. It has nothing to do with her pregnancy or house painting.

            2. Observer*

              I would bring up the house painting. You are not painting your house 24/7. She could have some done some work on her Ph.D. then. It is not the company’s fault she is a poor planner. She should not get a perk no one else gets because of it.

              Say that and you’ll lose any shred of credibility you have. You don’t do substantial work on a dissertation in the moments you are waiting for the coat of paint to and the room to air out fromthe fumes.

          4. Maya Elena*

            PhDs are often paid for with a stipend, or at least the tuition is waived. I don’t think it’s the same as a master’s or undergrad degree. More likely an “all but dissertation” situation, where she just needs to submit the thesis but has long done the necessary coursework and actual research.

          5. Rusty Shackelford*

            The solution is not to dial back reasonable leave

            Not everyone agrees that an extra paid month off is reasonable.

          6. schnauzerfan*

            I don’t know how things are where you work, but we have a personnel budget. If someone is on unpaid leave we can us their unused salary to pay for a temp. But if they are on paid leave? Well the pay for the temp needs to come from somewhere… maybe it will come from the bonus everyone would have received, or future pay raises, or travel money or… but it comes from somewhere and in all likelihood, that somewhere is your coworkers hide. And if the “leave” is something that is not available to everyone on staff, and given not once but twice to one person? A person who apparently went over hir managers head to get it approved? Well I can understand big time resentment. Now if education leave could be made a “thing” and anyone could have a month off to finish a degree or do a boot camp? That’s an awesome beni.

            1. Artemesia*

              This. I had a subordinate who took 3 mos maternity leave during our busiest season two years our of 3 and it all came out of my hide and to a lesser extent other employees. We were the ones working 12 hour days to accommodate it. I don’t oppose generous maternity leave but any leave has consequences for those who pick up the slack. Imagine the resentment when people are pulling long days so this employee can yet again be given weeks off to finish something she supposedly had time to do a couple of years ago. If her research were done and she ws ABD, that month should have been enough to get the thing written with perhaps some weekends and nights over the two years hence. This is someone not working hard on her dissertation looking for more perks that her peers don’t get and will resent.

              1. Autumnheart*

                Not to mention that everyone else will walk into their annual review like, “Well, I did extra work for 4 months straight because So-and-so was on leave, and accomplished this and that and the other thing. What do I get?” A pat on the back for being a “team player”?

                Nobody wants to work for the company where one person gets paid for their life choices, and leaves fewer rewards for the people actually doing the work. You can say it’s a management problem all you want, and it is, but the people who actually feel the brunt of it are the employees, and they will either leave for a company that knows how to manage, or their performance will drop in proportion to their reward. It kills morale in the workplace to visibly reward one person *more* for contributing *less* than the others.

                Personally, I would say that people have to make choices in life, that earning a PhD is a privilege, that they are welcome to use their PTO as they wish, and take advantage of existing leave policies to their benefit. If that means this person never finishes their PhD because they can’t squeeze it in between work and maternity leave, SO BE IT. Life isn’t fair. Or they can hold off on the house-painting and family vacations, and finish their dissertation. That’s what everyone else has to do, after all.

                1. valentine*

                  Granting paid leave/choosing to hurt employees to pay for a temp and not having maternity leave coverage are employer, not employee, problems. No one should have to plan their pregnancies around work coverage.

                  I don’t understand resenting a person for taking leave you granted. If it was OP1’s boss who approved the house painting, wasn’t there time to object? If this person’s absences had a great negative impact on her colleagues, I would expect the litany to flow freely when the boss told OP1 about the new request for the old dissertation, especially since OP1 is still angry about it years later.

                2. Autumnheart*

                  They shouldn’t have to plan their pregnancies around work coverage, but they should absolutely have to plan their PhD dissertation around work coverage, especially when they are already planning to be on leave a significant chunk of the year.

                3. Anna*

                  @valentine It is an employer problem to get coverage for maternity leave; however Autumnheart’s point still stands. If you know you’re going to be gone for 12 weeks for maternity leave, it’s pretty tone deaf and privileged to also ask for a paid month off for dissertation work you already took time off to complete. The boss should have said no to the month off, but you know what? The employee shouldn’t ask for that second month. It’s as if y’all don’t think this PhD person has any responsibility in their own behavior.

            2. Sarah N*

              I agree, having a standard policy for “education leave” that people could use in various ways (maybe time off for finishing a dissertation, but maybe also leaving an hour early on Thursdays for a quarter to take an evening class, etc.) is a great idea! But even then, it should first be offered to those who have not already taken advantage of it and wasted the time. I say this as someone who really struggled to finish my dissertation for a variety of reasons — it’s definitely not an easy thing and there is a lot wrapped up in it! But even so, it feels grossly unfair to shower one employee with all these benefits that aren’t opened up to others.

            3. Tallulah in the Sky*

              Then if that’s the case, OP has a good case to deny the request. It is not however an argument to burn someone who asks for leave. This is the kind of information employees often don’t have (I know I never had it), it’s not up to them to evaluate the budget and ask an adequate leave. They make a request, their boss looks at the budget and logistics and makes the educated and reasonable decision. I agree that here, the employee is being obnoxious (or really naive, or whatever), but this all still applies.

          7. Anna*

            How is someone getting two extra months of paid time off in addition to their already awarded leave when no one else gets it reasonable? I don’t understand this comment. Unless everyone else gets the same benefit, you are affording inequitable treatment to employees based on what? Level of educational attainment? This isn’t resentment or feeling hard-done-by; it’s frustration. The OP sounds frustrated because their report is going above their head to get what they want. To even ask and expect it is a level of privilege I can’t even comprehend. I’m willing to bet also that some colleagues will feel pretty resentful if they too don’t get to take advantage of a month extra off to do something they need to do, whether that’s a month long vacation or painting their house.

        4. Harper the Other One*

          Yes, in an academic context, EVERYONE would probably love to be getting paid study leave of some kind. That’s why sabbatical policies are such a big draw! And yes, it would be huge for retention if paid leave for dissertations/other academic pursuits were made a standard benefit.

          But the flipside of that is that it would be very demoralizing for the other employees, ESPECIALLY if any of them have asked for leave (paid or unpaid) for coursework, research, book writing, etc. and been told no. A second paid leave to one employee really does need to be followed up by some sort of explanation/new policy.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I think there’s a distinction in this case between paid leave to write a thesis and paid leave to “write a thesis.” I can see other employees wanting their own one month paid leaves, on top of any regular paid leaves, to “write a thesis; don’t ask to see it at the end.”

            1. Harper the Other One*

              That’s an excellent point – most sabbatical or paid study leave policies require something along those lines. My partner gets study leave as a minister, which is part of the compensation package (specifically to make it more attractive because the pay scale isn’t that great for work that requires a Masters) and even for that, he has to explain what he’s planning to use it for. “Reading two new theology books I’ll incorporate into my work” counts, but the church board is entitled to ask what they are and how they’ll fit into his ongoing work with them.

              1. BenAdminGeek*

                Exactly. When our pastors take sabbatical, it’s understood that it has two components- refreshment and research. So they take 4-6 weeks off to spend time how they see fit, but also do something related to an ongoing ministry interest (eg. discipleship, how to establish a sister church, do I want to be a missionary, etc) and then come talk to the church board about it. It’s not like a book report, but more that we’re genuinely interested in what they’ve learned and also how they are feeling about continuing ministry with us.

      3. Tan*

        Yet another loser- I think that is the OPs issue, and one I suspect he/she may no more about, what did she do for 4 weeks 2 years ago? I know technical writing is tedious but come on- if she wasn’t at work and assuming she didn’t have research to do or results left to take how did she not “break the back” of her dissertation?

        1. JSPA*

          Really depends on the dissertation–it’s unclear if she thought it was finished, then her advisor handed it back with scathing comments demanding a total re-write or more research (it happens! Even if the writing itself is fine), or if she futzed around for a month.

          And then there are all the “unexpecteds” where any one example will seem like random speculation, but taken together, they’re not so unlikely. e.g. got the flu, bereavement, water leak emergency, sick child…all situations where one might otherwise take sick or other leave, burt if she was already on paid leave, she might not have had the ability or the awareness in the moment, to convert to another sort of leave for a week or two.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I think even with scathing comments and a total rewrite–that’s just not four years worth of work, explaining why she’s only partway through the rewrite two years later.

            If two years of your evenings and weekends were not enough to accomplish something, I really doubt four weeks off will do the trick. I would say the same about someone who was sure they’d finish their novel with four paid weeks off.

            1. Works in IT*

              Sometimes people get demoralized completely if something they put tons and tons of effort on gets rejected, and that can take them a long time to recover. So two years of not touching it isn’t actually unexpected.

              1. fposte*

                Slow progress isn’t unexpected in some programs, for a variety of reasons, but a two year absence of progress from a single feedback moment actually is unexpected. More to the point, it’s not something work has to uniquely compensate you for while other employees don’t get any such benefit.

                1. Annette*

                  What is a ‘feedback moment.’ Anyway taking two years off is very common. For a variety of reasons. Such as working a full time job depression or having kids.

                2. fposte*

                  @Annette–Officially taking leave of a doctoral program for two years is highly unusual. My university doesn’t allow it, and I think that’s pretty common–there’s a lot of money and effort riding on doctoral students and they really can’t leave and expect a place to be held for them.

                  (By “feedback moment” I mean an event where a student receives feedback from their advisors. People upthread were theorizing that she received scathing feedback, hence her delay.)

          2. blackcat*

            Yup Yup Yup.

            At one point, I thought I was one year out from defending.
            And then I was told I needed to learn methodology from an entirely new field and redo a bunch of analysis.
            3 years later, I got my degree.
            It happens.

          3. alphabet soup*

            Yup. And depending on your committee members, there can also be a lot of weird interpersonal politics involved in completing/defending that can delay things quite a bit. It’s not just writing– it’s writing plus Cirque de Soleil levels of interpersonal acrobatics.

            1. Tan*

              Interpersonal /department /institutional politics (any good supervisor would say keep writing, I’ll help you sort this later), life events, restarting chapters due to feedback happen. I really do know how hard writing up is I have a doctorate. I wrote the majority of my dissertation (just less than 50,000 words- not sure exactly haven’t looked at it in years) with a baby, in the same year my (close) grandma died, and my dissertation was handed in 1 month before my daughters first birthday. My major corrections were done juggling a full time job and a small child within 6 months of the Viva. It wasn’t easy, and I think if I went back I wouldn’t begin the research and choose a different path, but once I started I really wanted (and later needed) that qualification so made time to do it. There probably is far more to this story but on the face of it it looks like this person has been procrastinating and squandering her opportunities to write up. Giving her more money to finish is not the responsibility of the employer.

        2. Pommette!*

          I get that dissertation requirements vary by field, but I can’t imagine that a single month of full time work would get you very far in most fields. I have a social science background. Someone who spends a full year writing + revising (full time) after having finished their research is considered to be both lucky and fast. It’s not just simple “this is what I did” technical writing; it’s analytical writing, and it’s hard.

          I don’t think that the employer should her any PTO to write her thesis, but the snark is not really warranted.

      4. Kettles*

        Completing a PHD is a choice and one that is a privilege. I don’t think this is envy; this is like demanding a month off (paid) to train for a marathon. Do this stuff in your own time.

        1. D'Arcy*

          It’s a choice which is good for th company, good for the worker, and doesn’t affect nosy co-workers outside of petty jealousy.

          1. ChimericalOne*

            There are many, many uses of an extra month of paid leave that would be good for the company & good for each individual worker (leading to healthier, lower-stress, more productive employees). If they’re going to offer this to one worker, they should offer it to all. There’s nothing petty about wanting equity in the workplace.

          2. Fiberpunk*

            It’s good for the company how? It’s not needed for her job, and it’s clearly quite demoralizing to her co-workers who don’t get extra free months to pursue their personal projects every couple years. This isn’t some altruistic thing she’s doing, it’s for herself.
            And of course it affects her co-workers who have to cover for her.

          3. So long and thanks for all the fish*

            I’m not sure exactly what a PhD brings to the table that an ABD does not in a position that doesn’t require one.

          4. uranus wars*

            But the “nosy co-worker” is her boss whose head she went over to ask for the time off.

          5. Anna*

            It’s not petty jealousy if your taking months of paid leave to complete a project and that offer isn’t afforded to me; it’s actually inequitable treatment and it sucks. Make it available to everyone or don’t make it available.

      5. Colette*

        There are plenty of hard things that require time off work – that doesn’t mean a dissertation should be paid and, for example, caring for an ill loved one/dealing with rebuilding a house after a fire/running marathons on all continents should not be paid.

        1. Kettles*

          Especially because elder care and home rebuilding are essentials, whereas taking a PHD is a self improvement project you undertake by choice.

      6. Batman*

        Ugh, this is wrong. Obviously a PhD is difficult, but that’s unrelated to situation. It’s very unfair to give one person a month off, but not to give other people the same perk.

    2. Spencer Hastings*

      Did she squander the opportunity? All the letter says is that the dissertation isn’t finished. We don’t know whether that’s because she didn’t make a good-faith effort to finish it during that time, or if there was some complication or setback that prevented her from finishing.

      I know we’re supposed to take letter writers at their word, but I interpret that to mean “assume they’re not lying” and not “assume they cannot possibly be mistaken about anything.” And “coworker’s dissertation is not finished, therefore coworker was lying about what she was using that time for” is faulty reasoning.

      1. sacados*

        That’s true. But I don’t think OP was actually implying that the coworker lied either. A lot of commenters seem to have taken it that way, but all the letter says is “She did not complete her dissertation.” So like you, I took that to mean that the coworker probably worked on her dissertation during the last break but … just didn’t finish it (I have a relative who was ABD for almost twelve years before finally finishing!).

        So I do agree with you that the commenters assuming this means the coworker lied are making an unwarranted leap.
        Which still doesn’t change Alison’s advice, and I also still find it completely understandable why OP would be irritated by the coworkers’s request for more time off, even assuming the coworker made a good faith effort to finish during the previous paid writing vacation.

        1. Not An Academic*

          You are correct. She didn’t lie about working the first leave – she did! She just didn’t complete it, and hasn’t in the two years since (which includes a generous vacation package of 4 weeks/year plus two additional weeks/year that are paid). Perhaps she underestimated how long it would take… but that doesn’t really work in her favor now.

          1. L. S. Cooper*

            Wait, wait, your company already has SIX WEEKS of vacation a year, and she wants more time?

              1. L. S. Cooper*

                Now, math is not my strong suit, as in, I literally had to change majors after failing calculus five times, but I’m pretty sure that 6 weeks vacation, plus 1 week house, plus 14 weeks maternity leave, plus 4 weeks for thesis ends up being…. like, 25 weeks? At this point, she’s going to wind up gone for nearly half the year! Oof. That’s a lot of time. I know I’m a procrastinator, but with this much time…. Yeah, I wouldn’t be inclined to give her a month off PAID. Looks like your company has a hugely generous vacation policy that she’s… apparently not been using?
                (Also, completely unrelated, but where do y’all work and how do I get in on this six weeks a year deal?)

                1. Samwise*

                  Please. Maternity leave is NOT for writing a dissertation. I’ve done both and I can assure you, each of those things requires a huge amount of focus and it’s really really hard (not impossible, but spectacularly difficult) to do both at the same time.

                2. blackcat*

                  The maternity leave 100% shouldn’t be counted in any of this. It also might not be paid or fully paid. Making decisions about her employment based on her pregnancy is likely illegal. Even if it isn’t, it’s a really crappy thing to do.
                  And HAHAHAHAHA to writing a dissertation on a maternity leave. One friend tried. Even though she had a pretty easy baby who slept, it didn’t go well.

                3. CMart*

                  Echoing Samwise and blackcat – maternity leave, even with the best of babies, is not a time to be working on a dissertation (or doing much “work” at all if you can help it).

                  I studied for one of the CPA exams while on my first maternity leave and while I did it, and passed, it was a mistake. I shouldn’t have tried to push myself like that.

                4. Aurion*

                  I don’t think L. S. Cooper is saying this coworker is attempting to write her dissertation on her maternity leave, just that all these leaves (vacation, house painting, dissertation) already add up to a lot of time off! It sounds like this company is already very generous re: time off (I don’t know of any company that would grant you a week of time off to paint your house…you’d have to book that on your own vacation time, not in addition to), and for this coworker to request a second month of paid leave for the dissertation is very tone deaf. Doubly so for a PhD that does not benefit the work in any way.

                5. Ms. Taylor Sailor*

                  I’m with Aurion. Absolutely nothing L. S. Cooper insinuated that they thought the employee was planning on using the combined time off to work on the dissertation, just expressing the mere surprise at the amount of time off added up.

                6. Michaela Westen*

                  the highly trained professionals I work with start at 4 weeks paid vacation.
                  6 weeks and she needs more? I’m not in academia but I still have to question that.

                  If I had that I would be so happy and well-rested!

                7. CMart*

                  @Aurior and Ms. Taylor Sailor, it was the “I know I’m a procrastinator, but with this much time…” remark. To me that very much implied that 20+ weeks would be plenty of time to finish dissertating.

                8. L. S. Cooper*

                  Apologies for my bad wording– no, I am neither dumb nor callous enough to believe someone is going to write a disseration while on maternity leave. I had two points– the first being that she’d end up needing coverage for almost half the year, the other being that, over the past two years, she’s had 12 weeks of paid vacation to do exactly what she wants to do now. Sorry for not clarifying better.

          2. Yorick*

            Yeah….it sounds like she should have saved the existing 4 weeks to use all at once for this.

          3. Observer*

            You know, you really need to dial your rage down a couple of notches. You are making a really good case for not giving her leave, but your anger is keeping you from articulating it. That’s really not healthy – and in this case, totally counter-productive.

              1. Observer*

                It most definitely is. Which is why it’s so odd that the OP is having a “hard time getting past” their anger to articulate this to their boss.

                That is what I’m addressing.

              1. Observer*

                Not from the comment, but the original letter. The OP explicitly says that they are so angry that they can’t get past it to articulate an good reason to say no. Which is wild, since the comment I replied to (and other comments) make an excellent case.

                1. EventPlannerGal*

                  Yeah, I also found that to be sort of bizarre. I’m hoping that was a heat-of-the-moment thing as their other comments here have been pretty calm, but I’m surprised that it’s causing that level of anger in the first place.

      2. Tallulah in the Sky*

        +1. And nowhere in the letter does it even suggest the employee used that time for something else, it just says she didn’t finish her dissertation (Alison made that assumption in her response, which is why I think everyone thinks that now).

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Yeah, I can easily imagine spending four weeks not doing anything *else* but still not finishing the dissertation! Even if it’s just a mental block, that can be really hard to get through.

      3. Daisy*

        But if it was plausibly a month away from being finished two years ago and it’s still in the same state then she clearly HAS squandered, if not the original month, then two years’ worth of weekends and evenings and normal leave (I don’t know why people think the house painting isn’t relevant- ‘why didn’t you use that week of leave for the dissertation then’? seems like a perfectly good question to me). On the one hand, yes, I guess you could say it’s OK of her to ask. On the other hand, she’s relying on her boss feeling guilty about ‘oh, well PHDs are so IMPORTANT and so HARD’, like all the soft-touch commentors here. If she’s using a reason for the leave to make her case for it, then it’s perfectly fair to contemplate that reason and whether it’s legit.

        TLDR: If OP can make this ‘sabbaticals’ for everyone thing work then yes; if it’s just this flaky PhD writer then no. She can finish it on her own time like everyone else.

        1. Tallulah in the Sky*

          “she’s relying on her boss feeling guilty”

          Where does it say that ? People are making a lot of assumptions, and unkind ones at that. The boss can say no, she’s not forcing them to say yes, even if she does try to guilt trip them (again, nothing in the letter indicates that).

          And a lot of comments here already covered why it’s not that unusual for someone to take so long to finish a PhD, clearly she’s not alone in that case, and it doesn’t automatically indicate a lack of character and/or discipline, like you’re suggesting.

          1. Daisy*

            I’m saying if she’s given the reason why she wants the time off to bolster her request, then it’s reasonable to take the legitimacy of the reason into the account. My assessment is that she’s being pretty cheeky asking to ‘finish’ her dissertation again, two years later. Either it was nowhere near finished the first time, or she’s done absolutely bum-all for the last two years. No one’s saying she should be fired or anything. Fine to ask, fine for her boss to say no (and to think that she’s taking the mick a bit).

            (I’ve got a PhD that I faffed about on way too long – I have no idea how you can argue that it *doesn’t* show lack of discipline! It’s a common lack of discipline, sure, but that’s hardly her boss’s problem.)

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              I do suspect the PhD thesis may have come to look like a giant untacklable mound, with concurrent “If only I had this ONE THING then the thesis would just be done” magical thinking.

            2. Tallulah in the Sky*

              “Fine to ask, fine for her boss to say no”

              Totally agree. That’s what I’ve been saying. Commenters are piling on this employee when all she did was ask. And boss/OP should say no (or give same perk to other employees). And it would be totally appropriate for the boss/OP to have a discussion with the employee to understand why she needs a second month, two years later. All very valid.

              What I don’t like here in the comments is all the unkind assumptions based on nothing, like your comment that she’s trying to guilt the boss to give her time off. Nothing indicates that, it’s not relevant to the actual issue, and it’s not constructive or helpful to OP.

              1. Anna*

                I don’t think it’s fine to ask, especially after being given that favor once before. I think it’s really privileged and tone deaf.

          2. doreen*

            Because it’s common for people to give a reason in the hopes of influencing/guilting another person into allowing the time off. She could have just asked for paid month off this summer without giving a reason – and presumably didn’t do so because she thought OP and OP’s boss wouldn’t approve an extra paid four week leave shortly before she’s going to start a four month maternity leave and not long after taking a week off to paint.

            Which is also possibly the reason she went over the OP’s head. It is not uncommon where I work for people to jump over a few heads if they think that will get them the answer they want.

            1. Tallulah in the Sky*

              I think no one would ask for a full month of paid absence without explaining a bit. A month is a long time. It’s not necessarily to influence, it’s to give context to an unusual request.

              1. doreen*

                But “giving context” in this circumstance is an attempt to influence precisely because it’s so unusual. She could have just asked for a paid month off without explaining why – but she didn’t because she anticipated that it wouldn’t be approved. You can say it’s likely necessary to provide the reason to get approval and I won’t disagree- but that doesn’t mean it’s not also an attempt to influence. After all, there’s a reason she asked for extra time off to finish her dissertation rather than using her PTO for the dissertation and asking for additional time off to paint or go on vacation.

            2. Mary*

              I think it’s really weird to assume an employee can “guilt” their employer into something. I mean, that’s not how balance of power works. If they can, that’s really on the employer for making what should be rational business decisions on an emotional basis.

        2. JSPA*

          Painting can be necessary. Flaking lead paint, children present. Wood siding with some water damage, and a rare 8 days of splendid weather in the forecast allowing it to dry out, be painted and cure well before the next storm. Periodic painting required by tenant, by terms of the lease. If you can’t afford to have it done, you have to do it yourself. If it was a case of, “that pale peach is boring, I’d prefer marigold,” completely agree. But houses (or landlords) can be super demanding.

          1. L. S. Cooper*

            Ooh, I hadn’t even considered this– but a combination of old paint or damaged anything + baby on the way could make sense of why she needed to take the time off to paint.

            1. KRM*

              You can’t take care of lead paint by yourself. Certified professionals have to come in and delead the unit. I have paperwork from the previous people certifying deleading that I am legally required to pass onto the next owners if I sell.
              That said, most painting projects should either be 1-done on your weekends, as you can or 2-take a week of your vacation and paint, that’s fine, but then don’t expect extra leave because you weren’t actually on vacation.

        3. Mary*

          >>like all the soft-touch commentors here

          I literally haven’t seen a single person arguing that the organisation should grant her paid leave, unless there’s some context why it would be useful for the organisation, so I don’t know who you’re classifying as “a soft-touch commentor”!

          1. Tallulah in the Sky*

            We didn’t get our pitchforks out, that’s why.

            I’m getting really tired of the comments here, where people tend to go to the worst possible explanation. And it’s not just this letter, it’s been a while. Remember the update on the PhD student who took her baby to a grad school talk ? It’s in the suggested articles of this post, funny enough. Alison had to purge all the comments even after asking not to rehash the criticism OP got the last time.

            We’re soft touched because we don’t see thesis employee as a lazy, undisciplined, entitled moron who must be inconsiderate to anyone in her life. Based on a couple of sentences, in this short letter.

            I’ll still choose trying to be kind, empathize, and focus on what would help OP deal with this situation.

            1. anon for today*

              This. I’ve wanted to write in for awhile but I haven’t because I don’t want to read comments jumping to the worst conclusion. They’re awful to read as a lurker, I’d be upset as a LW

              1. Tallulah in the Sky*

                I’m so sorry. I wrote in once, many comments were focusing on my relationship with my SO and made some offensive and untrue assumptions. This relationship had nothing to do with the question being asked, and my SO was only mentioned in a sentence. So lots of assuming on not much.

                That’s maybe why I’m so sensitive to this now. A letter is only a summary of an issue, a tiny snippet of a person’s life. I didn’t add all the details and the nuance because honestly, it wasn’t relevant to the question. Those comments also didn’t help me. At All. Thankfully there were some thoughtful comments who did focus on the question and were really helpful, so at least this wasn’t for nothing.

            2. smoke tree*

              I don’t know, I’ve been reading here for a while, and I still find the commenters here on the whole to be thoughtful and considerate. I think this letter is one of the polarizing ones that come up from time to time, where commenters seem to have a hard time seeing the other side of the issue, but I don’t think anyone has been needlessly unkind. A little hyperbolic, maybe.

              I think Alison’s advice to leave the emotion out is a good one in this situation, because otherwise you get caught in the weeds of questions about entitlement and how long is reasonable to complete a dissertation and whatnot. But the LW has good insight from working on the team that the employee’s previous sabbatical causes resentment and a morale hit, and that is definitely a factor worth considering.

            3. Mary*

              I’m wondering whether there’s a bit of Ask/Offer culture going on here: it’s OK to ask, AND it’s OK to say no; vs. there is no way the organisation can or should say yes to this, therefore it’s completely unacceptable to ask.

        4. Phoenix Programmer*

          It’s completely normal to have something “finished” 2 years ago and then “almost finished” again today in research! That’s just how publishing works.

          1. Academic Addie*

            Yup. I’m back in my old lab this week, working on something that has been “almost finished” for two years.

            Maybe this employee super sucks. Or maybe that’s just how it went.

        5. Samwise*

          Squandered? Really? We absolutely do NOT know that. We do not know that the PhD writer is flaky. We do not know that she’s playing on the boss’s feeling guilty. We don’t know anything about the employee here, and speculating about it is not helpful to the OP.

          This is going with the OP’s emotions here, and I think the OP really needs to work on taking the emotion out of it in order to (1) make a good decision and (2) present the decision to the employee.

    3. Mookie*

      Barring additional information from the LW, I question the assertion that the employee didn’t work on her dissertation during that tine and would be interested to hear more about what “pressure” she’s currently withstanding, presumably from her advisor or department. Alao, why are her colleagues angry about the sabbatical and what value will her degree confer to their company?

      I should think the LW can substantiate the burden (beyond general ‘anger’ at the first, possible the second accommodation) this second absence places on her and her team.

      Too, just be clear, this employee explicitly requested the additional four weeks for maternal duties beyond parental leave, yes?

      1. Lance*

        ‘Alao, why are her colleagues angry about the sabbatical’

        Same reasons as ever: because they’re the ones that’ll have to pick up the work in the interim… and because it’s a perk they’re not getting. Certainly, an argument could be made that they might get it if they asked, depending on circumstances… but that’s how it stands right now.

        1. Tallulah in the Sky*

          This I agree with, I totally understand employees not being happy that an employee who already got something that’s not standard might get it again. I totally get OP’s “that’s not fair” feeling, I would be miffed too.

          But that’s not on the employee. That’s bad management. The boss should either be able to give this kind of perk to everyone, or not grant the absence this time. Not make exceptions for one employee several times, for non-emergency situations.

          1. Anna*

            I don’t think you can absolve someone who has already been given a lot of leeway for thinking it’s okay to ask again when it’s clearly not a normal thing. It is on the employee to know it’s pretty ballsy and possibly shitty to ask, especially when they probably know not everyone is getting that privilege.

        2. Decima Dewey*

          There’s probably also a fear that she won’t get the dissertation finished this time either–and that a third leave to finish the dissertation may be in the offing.

      2. minuteye*

        As far as the pressure goes: many programs have a maximum number of times you can extend the program (e.g. you have to finish in 10 years). If she’s getting close to that time limit, and facing the prospect of now having a child as well as a full-time job, it’s possible that this is a question of “If I don’t finish it before I go on maternity leave, it may never get finished at all”. And a month of unpaid leave is something few people can afford.

        That doesn’t mean that it’s fair or reasonable for the employee to have their request granted, but I can see how a need to finish pre-maternity leave would make this seem like the only viable option for the employee. If it’s a choice between “never finishing my PhD” and “risking sounding a bit entitled to my boss”, I know which one I’d pick.

        1. blackcat*

          “And a month of unpaid leave is something few people can afford.” Particularly if the mat leave will also be unpaid or paid at a reduced rate.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      What is the sabbatical policy at your institution? Competitors?
      There’s a sabbatical program in my corporation that I looked into a while ago–almost unknown, but I carpooled with the head of HR. This company allows a month off *unpaid* every ten years. But that’s a publicly traded commercial corporation — an academic employer might be more generous.
      By the way, you said that a PhD is not required for this employee’s position. Have you considered that the upper-level manager who she spoke with is trying to recruit her for an internal promotion that *DOES* require a PhD? Developing internal candidates is a strong incentive for finding ways around bureaucracy. If you can get your direct-reports promoted from within you’ll be a manager that others WANT to work for.
      Encouraging the employer to create/modify/use its sabbatical policy could be one way to bend this rule and still be fair to all employees.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Oh also? The unpaid sabbatical must be taken AFTER all of the year’s paid leave is used up.

      2. Not An Academic*

        There is not sabbatical policy for us. Not for competitors, either, to my knowledge. I had not considered that my boss is considering recruiting her for an internal promotion… which would be my job (also does not require PhD)!

        Creating a sabbatical policy is an excellent idea from so many people here.

      3. Anna*

        It would be really bizarre for the boss to be willing to wait years for the employee to finish their dissertation to recruit them.

    5. Not An Academic*

      OP1 here. Thank you all for your comments – you’ve helped me a great deal in thinking about the request differently. I can clear up a few things. First, she did work on the dissertation 2 years ago and worked hard at it. I don’t know how much progress has been made since, because it’s not a professional requirement I don’t ask for updates.

      Second, the offer has not been made to anyone else… there was only one person in a similar position two years ago and she was not granted the same leave. I was told it was because she didn’t ask, then because she was at a different point in the process! I am friendly with this person, and yes, still am miffed about that. That’s probably where the resentment comes in. But it is not my current employee’s fault.. and I need to remember that. If this was a policy – “anyone writing a dissertation can take 4 weeks off paid every 2 years” – and made public, I’m all for that! Even though no one is actively pursing this degree, maybe with that benefit they might see it as a real option.

      Finally, I love the idea of using this as a way to advocate for a sabbatical for my employees!

      1. Michaela Westen*

        “I was told it was because she didn’t ask, then because she was at a different point in the process!”
        This sounds like rationalizing an unfair decision. And it would make anyone angry, and alienate anyone who see one person getting the PTO, and the other person being denied it.
        This could be a good example to take to your boss and emphasize: Either everyone gets this option, or no one. Period. No rationalizations, no disclaimers, no exceptions.

    6. Tasha*

      To be fair, we don’t know that the employee “wasted” the first leave, merely because she didn’t finish the dissertation. I understand dissertations are notoriously difficult to finish–she probably worked on it during the first leave, but that last 5% or 2% or whatever can be the hardest.

  5. AcademiaNut*

    From the point of view of someone who has a PhD…

    The PhD finishing stage can be very stressful, and things can take more time than you expect. And it really does help to be able to focus on it fully. But giving someone a month of paid leave to finish a dissertation is unbelievably generous. I would be impressed if an employer gave a month of *unpaid* leave, one time only. The few people in my field I know who defended after starting a job got enough time off to come back and do the defence and that’s all, and that was for jobs that required the PhD. Also, if the employee didn’t finish the PhD in the previous leave, and hasn’t finished it in the past couple of years, I wouldn’t hold out high hopes that she’ll finish it now.

    For your boss – I think it’s worth asking if the boss is willing to give a month of paid leave every couple of years to other employees to pursue career development or education options. Or, as an alternative, whether employees can take a month long unpaid sabbatical every few years to do non work things (education, travel, time with family).

    1. Wake up !*

      Yeah, I think getting a job that doesn’t require a degree tends to be a nail in the coffin for actually finishing that degree. I’ve seen it happen plenty of times, and OP probably has too. I like the idea of reframing it as a sabbatical.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I wonder if she got the job with “I’m a year out from finishing my PhD” as a positive factor? Not that you HAD to have a PhD for the role, but it would be a plus and so almost having the degree (certification, etc) in hand puts you up above the other applicants. But then your employer starts breathing down your neck about where that valuable, almost-in-hand qualification you touted so hard in your interview is?

    2. KP*

      Unpaid leave might actually be a good or even great suggestion for the OP to make.

      I am not in academia so the month-long paid leave seems excessively generous. OP said it is not common and that PEOPLE IN ACADEMIA were upset by the special treatment the first time. OMG I cannot even imagine how it will go over if she is indeed granted a second month of paid leave to do this.

    3. Mary*

      I was extremely confused by it being paid leave too! Unpaid leave seems like a very sensible compromise.

    4. Mookie*

      Right. If “unfairness” exists, it manifests as a failure to accommodate similar employees similarly, not as this employee requesting and receiving (manifestly normal) time off.

      1. KP*

        Well, with the caveat that according to the OP, providing the month-long leave the first time she asked was “not standard policy/practice,” nevermind a “manifestly normal” request to have granted.

        1. Mookie*

          And then the LW clarified below that not-asking is likely the only barrier. Now it’s up to her and her employer to nail down that policy in its details and make it known for everyone.

      2. smoke tree*

        I would imagine that part of the reason both the LW’s team and commenters here feel so strongly about this particular request is that four weeks of vacation is not really normal (at least in North America), and I think pretty much anyone would love to have that opportunity. That’s more time off than I get in two years. If it is possible to extend that leave to other employees as well, that would be a great outcome for everyone.

    5. JSPA*

      Ascertain if the important aspect is “increasing degrees / institution wants extra leeway granted for degree-chasing behavior” (could be!) or “personal development” or “professional development even if unrelated to current job function” or “keeping employees happy within reason” or “education writ large, whether it leads to a degree or not” or even, “making the department look better by reducing the “time to degree completion / percentage of students not completing degree.” Any or several of those could be in play here.

  6. Ella*

    OP2: One think I’ve learned to do in recent years is to explicitly ask people if they are looking for advice or if they just want to vent. It’s important to ask it kindly (aka not let snark or impatience sneak into your voice) but outright asking at the start of a conversation what someone is in the mood for can really help keep conversations from turning sour, especially since the last thing you want to do is make your girlfriend feel defensive or patronized to if you start doling out advice when she just wants to know she has your empathy and her emotions are valid.

    1. Luna*


      I really like this suggestion. There can always be times where you are just intending to vent, and then they keep interrupting you with (albeit likely well-meant) advice or suggestions. Knowing ahead of time can really help.

  7. Tallulah in the Sky*

    OP #1 : “that she didn’t use that time for the work she’d said it was for”

    I’d just like to point out that we don’t know that. She didn’t finish her dissertation, doesn’t mean she didn’t work on it in that month, it just means she didn’t manage to finish it. And if OP thought she had used that month for something else, I don’t think they would have been too shy to share their suspicions ;)

    And as for why the employee went to OP’s boss, it might be because she knows OP’s opinion on the first month she got. Or maybe it’s not that weird for them, OP didn’t seem mad about that.

    Also OP, don’t mention her parental leave if you decide to push back on this. Taking parental leave shouldn’t be used as a strike against you.

    I’d do a mix of approach one and two : “I’m reluctant to offer such an opportunity to take a whole month paid leave, for a second time, when it’s something we don’t allow normally. Is it something we could offer all employees ?” Also, if you push back, you could maybe share the experience of having a coworker having such a perk when you don’t ? Like explain to your boss you know that at the time, it was something employees didn’t appreciate not being able to take so much leave, and it affected morale to see someone get “special treatment”.

    1. rider on the storm*

      I like this . Unfortunately Alison’s answer also refers to the month not being used for what it was for :( but yes, unless the LW explicitly knows otherwise, the employee might not have finished it and the employee might figure now is the time before the baby comes along.

      1. TechWorker*

        The amount of people I know who have struggled to finish and taken longer than they thought is approximately the same as the number of people I know with PhDs :D

        I totally agree she might not have taken full advantage of the 4 weeks she had before – but also she might have done and was just a long way off finishing! So not sure phrasing it like she squandered the time off and didn’t use it for what she was meant to is definitely accurate or useful. (But yeah, I’m amazed the company is considering this and would expect most places would want you to take the time unpaid, if at all)

        1. Psyche*

          Yeah, she very well could have used the leave as intended. She very well may benefit from having more leave. The problem is that it is unfair to extend extra leave only to her. I doubt that someone on maternity leave would get extra time, even though it would be beneficial.

    2. Amylou*

      Yes, it would be killing morale for me as a fellow employee. And I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one either. A one-off paid month off is exceptional and was very generous already. And I think fellow employees can (with a little effort) get behind that. But a second time may be harder to stomach.
      Either give everyone the opportunity to use a paid month off for personal improvement/education* or not at all. If she really wants to have a month off, she could take it unpaid – I know plenty of phds who’ve had to hustle to get theirs finished. None got paid months off.

      *killer perk, and great for the company as well to get people in who have a learning/self-improvement mindset.

    3. only acting normal*

      AIUI you can get quite far into writing the dissertation and still need to change tack because of all sorts of things. Accusing her of misusing the previous leave is a stretch, unless OP1 is her academic supervisor and knows different. But a second month off is also a stretch. Deny it for business reasons if necessary, or offer it unpaid, or offer less time, but leave the accusations out.

    4. JSPA*

      I’d go with a very open ended, “is it official or unofficial policy that we can offer a month of paid leave every two years for laudable personal development projects or education?

      If so, can you give me some guidelines on the limitations and parameters, as I’d like to offer the same perq to my other reports, and perhaps make use of it myself, as well.”

      1. Michaela Westen*

        Does going dancing 5 nights a week count as self-improvement? ;)
        It would certainly make me happier and healthier!

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      Technically, she took a month off to finish and then didn’t. She might have spent the whole time working on the thesis, but was bad at estimating how long it would take.

      If it’s a paid month off to work on your thesis, well, that’s more akin to a paid month off to work on your house, or your abs, or your half-written novel. And it would be problematic if the boss approved paid months off for “intense skiing development” because he really liked skiing, but not for snowboarding or swimming or painting because those didn’t have the shiny polish of skiing.

    6. blackcat*

      Yes, I definitely spent about 5 full time months worth of work on my dissertation that ended up going no where. Basically, for an entire year, I did not make forward progress.
      This is *incredibly* common, at least in STEM where I am.
      My husband ended up spending 18 months proving something that… had been proved in the 70s, by some random mathematician in eastern europe and the paper had never been translated so my husband never knew about it until someone told him at a conference.
      Dissertations are not a linear process.
      I am also a bit miffed that LW seems to be holding the employee’s pregnancy against her in considering this leave. That’s really not good…. I agree that the request is a bit over the top (month unpaid seems reasonable to me), but the fact that the employee will be taking maternity leave in the future really, really needs to not factor into this decision.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        My doctorate has 18 dissertation hours. If I follow my normal schedule, that’s three semesters (or one full year if I take summer also). So yeah, one month is nothing.

        1. blackcat*

          Early in the process, after particular meeting where I was trying and failing to convey some big ideas, my advisor said, “Take two months. Read some, but mostly just go think.”
          Yeah. Dissertating is an interesting process.

        2. Yorick*

          One month isn’t a long time for writing a dissertation, but it’s a super long amount of EXTRA paid (or even unpaid) leave.

          OP said in the comments that they get 6 weeks a year. The employee could have used the time that she’s already entitled to for this.

    7. Tea Earl Grey Hot*

      Yes, I think the point to make is not “she didn’t use the time for the work she’d said it was for” (she may have), but rather “in the past, the time requested did not accomplish what she said it would”.

      That’s the point you make to your boss. This puts the request firmly in the world of perks, which should be offered equally.

      1. fposte*

        To me it’s close to that but not the same–if she’d taken the four weeks and not finished her dissertation, I’d be okay with it not accomplishing what she intended; that happens. It’s asking for the same perk a second time that ratchets it up to me. Same as if she’d asked for special time off to paint her house but it turned out that didn’t get done, so she came back and asked for special time off again to paint the house. I don’t care that the house didn’t get done the first time, but I think there’s only one trip to the special-perk bank per event.

        Separately, though, I think the real problem is that OP needs a fairness policy across the board on this extended leave. If the office can permit and prominently offer a month’s additional paid leave for every employee, even if it limits it to academic reasons, then cool, great, I don’t care if she takes a month every year. But if it can’t, she shouldn’t be getting it. I’m in academics too, and nobody gets a month extra of paid leave a year to finish a dissertation–that’s ridiculous.

  8. OP #4*

    Thank you for publishing my question(s), Alison! I’m working on getting over the lost opportunity that was that position. Maybe someday the timing will work out perfectly. If it doesn’t, that’s alright – there are plenty of great jobs out there!

    1. sacados*

      I’m sort of in a similar position, in talks with multiple companies who seem interested in me but don’t have a concrete position now.
      When I was about to get an offer from Company B, I shot an email to my contact person at Company A saying basically — I don’t know what your timeline is/if you are at a place where you’re prepared to make any decisions, but I am expecting an offer from somewhere else, and am still really interested in your company too so I wanted to let you know

      — basically giving them an opportunity to fast-track their process and make me an offer as well, if it was something they were prepared to do/if they were in fact that interested in me.

      So that might be something you can do, if you do wind up getting an offer before hearing anything definite from Small Organization. Worst case, they say no we’re not ready to move on this yet and you thank them for their time and express the hope your paths might cross sometime down the line.

    2. Zephy*

      Hi OP #4! Just out of curiosity – are you serving with City Year? (CY Miami, class of ’14 here :)) Honestly, the end of the school year/service term is so jam-packed with stuff to do–checking and reporting data for CY to make sure everyone graduates, end-of-year stuff on the school’s end, negotiating the relationships with your students, lots of LACY tasks and info sessions…starting a new job sometime in the next six weeks would be rough, to say the least. I would give yourself a week or so after the end of your service term to decompress, if you’re able to swing that, and give a mid-June start date to prospective employers.

  9. mark132*

    Maybe with letter one, a fallback position could be let her take it off unpaid. As a coworker that would grate on me less.

  10. Knitting Cat Lady*

    #1: If an employee came to me and said ‘I need a month off to finish my PhD’ I’d expect this:

    -The first draft is already written
    -At least parts of the thesis were already seen by the thesis supervisor
    -The only work left is reviewing and editing the thing

    The time not spent on that I’d expect to go into studying for the thesis defense.

    If my employee came back two years later and wanted another month off I’d ask when they had the time to start a second thesis.

    1. rider on the storm*

      Your last para is passive aggressive So I wouldn’t phrase it like that but yeah you could certainly ask for more details about the circs

    2. Rock Prof*

      On your point, i think it’s pretty common to finish writing your dissertation after the thesis defense. Personally, I defended a month before turning in my thesis, but I know people who have taken months to years.

      1. DreamingInPurple*

        Whoa, really? My uni would never have let someone walk into their defense with an unfinished dissertation. Edits are expected (sometimes major edits, even), but there is no way that a defense committee would come to hear a defense when the dissertation wasn’t fully written. Maybe it’s country-dependent or field-dependent; I am in the USA in a physical science field.

        1. fposte*

          No, same in my fields, English and LIS. The advisors would look bad for allowing that to happen. They may request some changes–usually the degree of those changes is part of the defense post-mortem and celebration convo–but I don’t think many people grind to a halt between the defense and the depositing.

        2. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

          My sister-in-law (USA, humanities field) was not allowed to even schedule her defense until three weeks after her final thesis had been submitted so that the committee hearing her defense had the time to carefully read her thesis and do any checking into material that they needed to do.
          She was also told up-front that given her program she would get two semesters with a possible one semester extension to finish her dissertation. I do not know how normal that is, but she did complete her dissertation in the allotted time frame.

    3. Angelinha*

      I think it is extremely unlikely to go from a finished first draft to a final product in a month, unfortunately! I guess I agree it’s a little much to ask for a second paid month off, but it doesn’t seem ridiculous to me at ALL that she didn’t wind up finishing it the first time (and I would bet she was a lot, lot further along than “first draft” when she first asked for time off). I’ve never written a dissertation, but don’t they usually take forever?

  11. Rez123*

    #1. I can really see that this is unfair. She has gotten already a month off paid leave for a degree that isn’t a requirement. Now she is asking for a second one. I don’t necessarily think that her not finishing it the last time is not relevant. The issue is that if this is not standard practise. Maybe there should be room to negotiate a paid month off for edcational needs for everyone?

    Where I’m from the law states that employee is entitled to 24 months of unpaide leave every 5 years for further education. This is a great and I’m all for employer giving time off for employees for futher education. I’m not really sure it should be paid time off if it’s not s requirement or directly benefit the employer.

    1. Shad*

      I agree that her not having finished isn’t particularly relevant in itself; however, her asking a second time for a perk that most people at that employer don’t get once is. I definitely like the proposed solution of negotiating to bring what this employee receives in line with what’s available to everyone in part by improving what’s available.

      1. KRM*

        100% this. I don’t care that you didn’t finish two years ago. I care that you being granted 4 (potentially 8) weeks of EXTRA paid leave that is not on offer to anyone else is bad optics at best. Especially since the PhD is not a required aspect of the job. Either have a policy that “every X years employee gets Y weeks paid leave for [academic work, or for anything if you decide it’s just a perk!], or offer her the leave unpaid.

  12. Lily*

    One minor point: it’s not clear if Thesis Employee didn’t use the last month for her thesis. She didn’t finish it but it’s totally plausible that she worked on it and that it was just way more work than she expected. Thesises are known for this.

    1. Myrin*

      Sure, but what did she do during the past two years, then? If I’m at the point in my dissertation where I request a month off to finish it, the thing should basically be finished already with the only thing being left being editing, some formatting, maybe changing up some minor parts, stuff like this (at least in my humanities field; it’s possible this is different in e. g. STEM but at a certain point, it always comes down to just some last changes needing to be made). Meaning, even if I don’t get it done in the allotted four weeks, it shouldn’t be that much anymore anyway, and certainly not so much that I can’t get it done spread out over two years.

      1. Tallulah in the Sky*

        I think that many commenters above already gave some responses as to why/how the thesis employee is in this situation, and that it is not at all uncommon. Also speculating on this employee’s life/organisation/discipline/… is irrelevant here, no need to make unkind assumptions.

      2. Mary*

        >> Sure, but what did she do during the past two years, then?

        She had a full-time job, a life, possibly other children?

        1. Kettles*

          So do most people. The team shouldn’t have to cover this person so she can better herself at the company’s expense.

          1. Mary*

            I quite agree! I was responding to the question about why she hasn’t completed her thesis in the last two years.

        2. Myrin*

          I know that, and I don’t mean to be unkind or like I don’t understand that life gets in the way sometimes – I actually say that as someone who has just had to take three whole months off from her dissertation because of several badly timed life events (health crisis of a family member, a big move, surgery).
          My point is really just my second sentence, which is basically KCL’s comment further above, now that I think about it – if you’re at the point where you think four weeks will be enough to finish your thesis – not just work on it intensely, not getting into the meat of some research, not getting a certain big chunk done, but completely finish it -, you should be so far ahead with it already that even a delay, even a full-time job, even a life shouldn’t be able to stop you from finishing for two whole years (unless you had something like a life-changing health event which made you bed-bound for two years, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case). It’s possible that it does, of course, but then you weren’t in a position to finish it in four weeks to begin with.

          That’s more my musings, though, and not really relevant to the OP’s question, so I’ll leave it here since I don’t want to contribute to the derails already happening above.

          1. Mary*

            I don’t agree, actually – I wrote something like 50% of my PhD thesis in the last month and a half, which was an extremely bad choice (and also one of the reasons I am not an academic now!), but it is completely possible, and it’s also extremely common to think it’s possible and for it not to be.

            Part of the point of writing a thesis is to learn to write a thesis: for two years my job was to support PhD students with study skills like planning and organisation and to be honest the ones who can actually do that stuff are the exception, not the rule. It would be just SUPER if everyone was good at anticipating how long a dissertation takes to research and write and doing it in an organised and methodical manner, but realistically, if it was that straight-forward, it wouldn’t be half the achievement that it is.

            I don’t for a second think the employer should support this with a second month of paid leave. If it’s sufficiently relevant to the job that it does make sense to do so, they should require a project plan and evidence that it can be done in four weeks and hold the employee accountable if she fails to finish it in that time, just like they would any other paid work product. But I don’t think the fact she *needs* a clear four-week run at it to get it done is evidence that it’s not possible or that she’s not capable of it.

            1. Mary*

              (also, this is assuming it’s just common or garden time management and organisation–without getting into the *extremely* common shame/guilt/self-hatred/writing blocks that even experienced and established academics can experience on research projects.)

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                But that’s all the more reason for her fellow employees to figure she’ll get a recurring month’s paid leave to “finish her thesis” at ever shorter intervals.

                1. Mary*

                  Again, I’m not responding to the question of whether the employer should grant the request, but the question of “what’s she been doing the last two years” and whether it’s fair to assume she’s incapable of finishing it or unreasonable in thinking she can.

        3. Anon for this, colleagues read here*

          I finished my dissertation while working full time as a faculty member (so, 60-hour week, sometimes more). I was married, living in a different time zone from my spouse, no kids. I had to revise my intro and write my conclusion chapter at that point, fix up formatting, re-check citations, read through the whole thing and make sure my arguments weren’t dumbass tangents, that sort of thing. My job was a long plane ride away from my grad school; I had scheduled the defense (diss director insisted on it) for early in the second semester, so the ms was due to my committee right before winter break (they cut me some slack).

          Even though I did not have a lot of personal life distractions, and even though I didn’t have a huge amount of thinking-work to do, it was incredibly hard to do while working full time. In fact, I became extremely ill (avoided being hospitalized because my supervisor said, I will find someone to teach your classes the last two weeks of school, go home and sleep).

          So. That’s anecdotal but not unusual I’m pretty sure. I think we need to NOT assume the employee in this case is a slacker, or incompetent, or unfocused, or hasn’t used nights/weekends/PTO, or thinks she’s entitled, or or or. And I *really* think that tying this request to maternity leave is just wrong, and wrong-headed.

      3. Mookie*

        Sure, but what did she do during the past two years, then?

        Nothing so easy as asking and listening.

      4. Lily*

        Dissertations are time-eaters. Probably there was some kind of wishful thinking involved when she thought it was only 4 weeks away; I certainly did do this kind of mistake, underestimating how much work it still needed. Also, possibly there was/is some new stuff to include now because the world doesn’t wait while you write it. Also, she is in an academic job which probably requires a lot of prep work that happens off the hours.
        I’m not saying she should get the paid time off; I just easily see how she got into that situation.

        Also, the week to paint her house, was it her vacation time/PTO/other part of normal benefits? Because I can’t really imagine my employer giving me an additional week off for home renovation. But if it was time that was part of her normal compensation package, her boss really shouldn’t start to ask whether she deserved it or not. That’s a slippery slope.

    2. Casper Lives*

      This is true. This might be feeding into LW’s resentment. It could be better for you emotionally to decide, generously, that the employee worked on her thesis diligently last time. OTOH, the employee opened herself to judgment a bit by telling her employer and colleagues: “give me this extra month of vacation no one else gets, and I’ll finish this dissertation! We’re all in academia so you should support me.”

    3. deesse877*

      I have also heard of at least three cases where the thesis director suddenly withdrew support (in one nightmare situation, days before the defense), thus necessitating either an unanticipated total rewrite or a search for a new director.

      It occurs to me that, if the person granting leave is also an academic, they may also know this sort of story, and therefore have the sort of sympathy for the dissertator that others extend to, for example, parturient parents, seeing degree completion as a life-changing drama rather than something peripheral to the person’s workplace contributions. Not to excuse, only explain a possible culture difference.

  13. Tallulah in the Sky*

    Letter #1 : I really don’t get the animosity here towards the thesis employee. Yes, she’s asking for much, after already getting more than other employees. So what ? She’s allowed to ask, she’s not holding a gun to anyone’s head. We also know nothing more about this employee and her work ethic, or if she’s unreasonable in other instances, or anything. She also asked for something that will bring value to her career, not a month long paid vacation to Tahiti or something. There are many letter writers here who could use some of her “chutzpah”. Yes, it’s an unreasonable request, but it’s not a horrible one that deserves the unkindness here in the comments.

    So instead of being revolted by this employee who did nothing but ask something, why not focus on the one person who has the actual power to grant unreasonable requests : the manager ? Or be upset by the situation ? Because yes, it’s unfair an employee gets paid time off to work on a personal project (it’s professional, but doesn’t impact the company). And it’s weird the manager doesn’t get why this request is unreasonable. Or that it will not go well with other employees who don’t get that kind of time off. Although, do they ? Maybe if they asked, the manager would be open to give paid sabbaticals (I’m very skeptical of this myself, but who knows, nothing says in the letter other similar requests have been denied) ? Has anyone asked, other than thesis employee ?

    So I would redirect all that negative energy that right now is pointed at the thesis employee, and redirect it towards the boss and make something good out of it (either everyone gets something, or your boss learns something).

    1. Knitting Cat Lady*

      Like I said in my comment above:

      If you’re at the point where you think four weeks is enough for you to finish the damn thing the only work left should be editing and fine tuning. At this point your research needs to be done, you should have all your sources, and already know who’s going to evaluate your thesis.

      As someone who has written a thesis, knows lots of people who have written theses, and who keeps writing technical documents that require the work of a thesis, I’m just plain baffled about what she has been doing.

      My mum took 12 years to finish her thesis. The major stumbling blocks were me being born, moving to a different country, and her supervisor dying.

      And asking for an EXTRA MONTH of payed time off not once, but twice, is really tone deaf.

      This goes beyond chutzpah and straight into audacity.

      1. Mary*

        I have also written a PhD thesis and I wrote I think 30000 words in the last six weeks? I extremely don’t recommend it, but the idea that all PhD students do their work in an organised and methodical fashion and spend the last four weeks fine-tuning is not upheld by the evidence, IMO.

      2. Tallulah in the Sky*

        And like I said : it doesn’t matter.

        She’s asking for this time off. No matter why she didn’t manage to finish it last time, it doesn’t matter. She’s asking for time off the company doesn’t normally grant, and the boss is thinking about okaying the request. If she gets the time off, it’s because someone granted it and shouldn’t have, and that’s the problem. Not the fact that she’s asking, or that she didn’t finish her dissertation two years ago. Is she being tone deaf ? Possibly. But to me that’s not the biggest issue. The bigger issue is management not being consistent on how they treat employees.

        Also, we don’t know a single thing about this person. A number of things could have happened afterwards that derailed her whole plan. We just don’t know, so let’s stop assuming the worst. It’s irrelevant and unproductive. Whatever the reason, the issue here is her possibly getting a perk nobody gets. The reason doesn’t matter.

        And to finish, let me rephrase something then : there are many letter writers here who could use some of her “audacity”. Not every day and for everything, but I like it when people/employees dare to go for what they want and is best for them. How many letter writers here are just too afraid to speak up or make a reasonable request ? Yes, hers wasn’t reasonable, I totally agree, but all she did was ask, it’s up to management to set the boundaries.

        1. Sam*

          Totally agree. And possibly the OP’s boss thinks this employee is valuable and is willing to do something extra to help and/or keep her. Employees do ask for such things. How co-workers will view it is part of the calculation, but some resentment might be worth it to the boss if the employee is valuable enough. Or maybe the boss hasn’t thought about that aspect of it, in which case, it’s the OP’s job to discuss it with their boss

        2. Anna*

          It *is* a problem that she’s asking, though. I can’t understand how on this site we regularly tell people that asking for ridiculous things is ridiculous but this person gets some sort of special pass for having unreasonable expectations that she should be granted something nobody else is getting. There is a tone deafness associated with asking that I would be shocked didn’t show up in other areas. I don’t think you can divorce the asking from the issue.

          1. Tallulah in the Sky*

            It is a problem, but not the problem. Yes you should make a request thoughtfully, and this doesn’t seem to be a reasonable request. But in the end, if the boss okays it, I see this as a much bigger problem, and that’s where I would focus my energy if I were OP. On the boss, management and policies, not the employee.

        3. Aurion*

          But Alison has written numerous responses in which she advises the LW against asking for something because the ask is so out of the bounds of reason that the mere act of asking, irrespective of the no that they are likely to get, will earn the asker some serious side-eye. In a company that grants 6 weeks of paid leave, 1 week of house-painting leave (?????), and a prior 4 weeks of thesis-leave, asking for a second round of thesis leave will make this colleague look wildly out of touch. And I think it’s entirely human for the OP to be incredulous and yes, irate, at the audacity.

          Should the OP express that ire in the professional sphere? No, but she is expressing her incredulity outside of her workplace, and thus I think their reaction is very human and understandable.

      3. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Yes, I also think it’s tone deaf. For me, the problem is “paid”. If she had approached the boss and asked for the time unpaid, because she understood that she had already taken a lot of paid leave (including a week of PTO to paint her house), then I, personally, would feel a lot more kindly towards her.

    2. Colette*

      In my experience, people who ask for unreasonable things (because “it doesn’t hurt to ask”) don’t confine themselves to one area. It wouldn’t surprise me if she also asks people to cover her work without ever covering theirs, plays music out loud at her desk or otherwise fails to recognize that her coworkers are different people who don’t always want what she wants.

      In fact, if she were someone who built strong relationships with her coworkers and went out of her way to help them out, there’d probably be less resentment at the paid time off.

      1. Observer*

        Totally speculation. Nothing the OP said in the letter or their follow up remarks bear that out.

    3. Kix*

      I don’t think the animosity provoked by this employee is unreasonable. Who will be tasked with getting this employee’s work done while she’s out of the office? The only way I would not be angry/sullen/miffed is if her work is set aside for her to complete when she comes back from yet another paid leave not extended to others in the office.

      1. serenity*

        I think there are people thinking back to having worked on their thesis/dissertation and what a lengthy and chaotic process it can be to complete one (accurate) while not acknowledging that most full-time workers do not get significant amounts of paid time off to finish their grad/post-grad school work and those that do, more than once, will possibly demoralize their co-workers (also accurate).

      2. Name Required*

        Why would you direct the animosity at the employee, though? Shouldn’t you direct it at management for not managing her workload so as not to impact coworkers during her absence, or denying her the request in the first place?

        1. Yorick*

          But she is asking for way more time off than is standard. It’s not management’s fault that they planned for people to take 6 weeks of vacation and so someone being out 10 weeks will cause a problem with the workload.

          1. Observer*

            So? It’s management’s fault if they give her the time without some sort of reasonable plan in place.

            The point here is NOT that she should actually get the time, but that ASKING is not terrible. And, the final decision is totally on management, which has the ability to say no to the request. And they SHOULD say no if it’s going to have an impact on others that they can’t (or don’t want to pay to) ameliorate.

            But, being angry should be directed at management if they say yes, not at the coworker for asking.

            1. blackcat*

              “It’s management’s fault if they give her the time without some sort of reasonable plan in place.”
              It’s not up to the employee to decide if the leave is unfeasible for the department. That’s a management decision, and management should deal with the consequences.

            2. Anna*

              Disagree. It’s on her for feeling like her reasons are so important she can “of course” ask. Yes, people, sometimes asking is a bad idea and not knowing whether or not it would be tone deaf is a failing.

    4. hbc*

      The “all she did was ask” view is pretty simplistic. I’m pretty sure you would be ticked if an acquaintance asked for a four figure loan, or for you to pay for their groceries, or to invite their five cousins to your wedding. It can show a stunning lack of social norms to “just” ask some questions.

      Sure, the boss has the responsibility to say no, and maybe to put into place a policy about how often paid leave can be granted. But if I had a nice work environment where management was really flexible and someone kept “just asking” for as much as they could get to the point of needing to create policies, I’d be pretty ticked off at that coworker.

    5. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

      I don’t see any practical difference between a month long vacation for writing a dissertation (that doesn’t benefit your employer) and a month long vacation for visiting Tahiti. Neither one does anybody else any good but her. Sure a PhD is broadening, but so is travel.

      1. blackcat*

        Yes, this is exactly where I land and I still don’t see the problem with her asking.
        If someone asked for a month of extra PTO to go do X wild personal thing, management is entirely within their rights to (and probably should) say no.
        But if it happened that someone got approval for their trip to Tahiti once and now asks again, it’s odd, but they have the precedent that it’s a thing that’s done. So long as they take the “No, that doesn’t work for the company” in stride, I don’t think it’s a wildly inappropriate ask. Weird, yes. Perhaps a bit off putting? Sure. But not wildly inappropriate.

    6. Luna*

      I believe a certain amount of animosity is granted, given that she *already* got a month of paid time-off previously, which is not something normally done in the office. Sure, she can inform the boss that she’s planning on time her vacation days or what-not-available-by-default to finish her dissertation, but asking a *second* time for something normally not granted?
      That is not okay. This isn’t a case of “no harm in asking”, this is more, “You already know it was a huge favor based on goodwill, what makes you think it’s okay to want it a second time?” Or even ‘ask for it’ a second time, since someone can want something as much as they desire.

      1. Paulina*

        I give her a bit of side-eye for asking for a second paid month off, but more side-eye for bypassing her direct manager in doing so. Shopping for a friendly response? Who knows. Given that this is one of the OP’s direct reports, the OP should consider workload impact aspects explicitly, i.e., assess who’s going to have to cover for this employee during that month and how much work that will be, and discuss that with the boss. Figure out how much of the “but someone will have to cover” is genuine, and put names and numbers on it. This can either tamp down the boss’s generosity by showing significant impact, or make a good case for allowing more flexibility if there isn’t much.

  14. Mara*

    I want to echo @Tallulah in the Sky in that I don’t think the employee in Letter #1’s case deserves the animosity they are getting in the comments here.

    OP#1, here’s what I would consider to try to remove the emotion from your approach to this
    1. Consider why you feel that this request is so unfair? Is it about her? Is it about the unequal/inequitable opportunities? Is it about the pay piece?
    – You sound a bit resentful of the employee generally and all her time off (last week to paint the house, mat leave etc.). Is your reaction to this this centered around her general performance and work ethic?
    – Or is it that she is the only person who has been able to benefit from these type of opportunities so it seems like she’s being favoured.
    – Is this an emotional reaction because you were a coworker when she first had the time off and you / colleagues were jealous? (I don’t mean this in a judgmental way, it’s a genuine human emotion that comes up)
    – All of these questions/prompts are to get you to think about why you feel the way you feel about this. What are the underlying core value(s) of yours that this situation is contradicting.

    2. What is the operational impact of this additional time off? Will it overload other team members? If the same opportunity were afforded to other employees in the future for graduate degrees (coursework/exams/theses etc. at the MA and PhD levels), would that have a significant operational impact?

    3. Why does your boss want to consider / grant this opportunity? Where are they coming from?
    – Is this about giving employees opportunities / being a good boss?
    – Is this about supporting academic pursuits since you are located in an academic setting?
    – Is this about wanting to attract employees with higher qualifications?
    – Is this just blatant favoritism of this employee?

    All of these questions might help you to reframe your reaction and give some helpful feedback to your manager. “I have concerns related to the impact of a second paid sabbatical on the morale of our other staff” or “This employee seems to under perform and I have concerns that this opportunity will reinforce bad habits” or “We need a policy on sabbaticals”.

    1. Mary*

      I would add to 1.

      – are you particularly pissed off because the employee has approached your boss rather than you, and do you have a sense that she’s done that because she thinks he’s more sympathetic than you and you feel undermined and powerless?

      I think that’s also a legitimate thing to have a problem with, but again, it’s a problem you need to address in a non-emotional manner. If requests for leave from your team members are supposed to go directly to you and you are supposed to be the decision-maker, then you need to reinforce that with both your employee and your boss. If it’s not formalised or this is the “correct” way but it leaves you feeling out of the loop, that’s something to address with your boss. Either way, identifying the problem will help you address it constructively.

      1. CM*

        This stands out to me too. It might not be a case of “I’m frustrated that this person is asking for something I don’t want to give her” (which usually shouldn’t be a big deal) but rather “I’m frustrated because I’m forced to give her something I don’t want to give her” which has more to do with the OP’s manager and the internal process for PTO requests (which, in most places would start with one’s direct manager before traveling up).

    2. Tallulah in the Sky*

      Those are some great questions for OP to ask themselves. And they will certainly help them advocating for all their employees.

    3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Thanks. I like all of these points.

      My 2 cents include – house painting is a perfectly legitimate way to spend one’s earned vacation time, as much as going to Disney or visiting family … so, was that a scheduled vacation just like anyone else’s? Using vacation days?
      If so, that can stay off the table.

      Also, the operational impact thing is important. What preparations for backfill are being made? What’s the ongoing policy for extended leaves? Will someone else be asked to double up on work again, with too short a time for recovery? What’s the plan for that person to get some extended leave?

      If Big Boss grants this extra leave, then I’d personally feel quite within my rights to suggest that if there are coverage or morale issues, Big Boss should be on the hook (at least a little) to take on whatever it means to make it easier for the team that’s left. Which could be some comp time or days off or priority for days off at peak holiday time or pizza on Fridays or whatever might repair morale.

    4. LaurenB*

      That’s a great list. The fact that this has come up a second time is reason enough to discuss it with the boss as a matter of policy – it’s no longer a one-off, and it would absolutely not be unreasonable for another employee to expect to get the same opportunity.

      I would remove any question of how she used the time from the equation for now, because you can’t impose terms on a contract from two years ago.

      1. boo bot*

        I actually wonder if part of the reason she is asking is BECAUSE she was allowed to do it before? If you’re in an academic environment, the idea of sabbaticals isn’t totally out of left field, and they’re not a once-in-a-career thing: if you’re in a position where that exists, you get them every X years (though usually more than 2!)

        So, I’m wondering if she saw that leave less as “you get one shot at this” and more as “this is something we allow from time to time.” I’m not saying that’s the message she should have gotten, but it might explain why she felt comfortable asking. Regardless, coming up with an official policy will help everyone.

  15. Bookworm*

    #5: I have to disagree with Alison here, unless you get information otherwise that actually gives you some indication they really are looking to expand. I’ve had organizations say this only to ghost me or tell me to go through the entire process all over again and never get anywhere, etc. It could be different for you and your field but I’d say move on and keep looking. Good luck!

    1. Angelinha*

      I agree, but want to share that I had this happen and it worked out! I interviewed for a position at a nonprofit that I didn’t get and when they told me they’d hired someone else, they said that they had funding coming up in a couple months and that they thought I’d be a great fit for that position, but they couldn’t bank on it yet because it was government funding and the state budget hadn’t passed yet. I had a job at the time but wanted to leave so I was disappointed, but sure enough, once the budget passed they hired me for the new role, which paid $5K more and wound up being a fantastic fit for me. It can happen, but definitely don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

  16. Manchmal*

    Re: OP#1: I would not jump to the conclusion that the dissertation writer did not use the previous four weeks off for the intended purposes, or that she “squandered” the time. Dissertation writing is difficult work, and she may have very well worked diligently at it and still not come close to finishing. As someone who wrote a dissertation, I cannot imagine trying to write it while holding a full-time job. I know people do it, but I can understand how this person has still not finished.

    That doesn’t mean her employer should give her another four weeks off. I can see how other employees would find that profoundly unfair. Perhaps the employer could offer to let her go down to 3 days a week (with commensurately less pay) while maintaining her benefits so she could have 2 days a week to write?

  17. Casper Lives*

    OP#1: I’m amazed she asked for something so blatantly unusual and so generous to her. Getting a month of paid time off is a massive benefit for any employee in the U.S. I’d ask your boss to take the reason (that she’s allegedly doing her thesis) out of it because you’re not tracking what she’s doing with the time, I assume. I’d be annoyed too. I’d try to take the fact that this person thought it was okay to ask for something unreasonable twice (does she normally act entitled? That’s an aside), and focus on this: Is the company going to give all employees an extra paid month off every two years to use all at once how they want, be it a European tour, hiking the Appalachian trail, or staying at home? If not, why not? The company should have a good reason to give this employee an extremely generous perk of an additional month of vacation. Under what circumstances will the company consider it “good enough” to give an extra month of vacation?

    1. Mary*

      >> I’d try to take the fact that this person thought it was okay to ask for something unreasonable twice

      You can’t accuse of asking someone for something unreasonable twice if the request was granted the first time. You might think there’s an unwritten rule that it was extraordinarily generous to grant it and you shouldn’t push your luck by trying it a second time, but you can’t call the first time unreasonable *if the employer said yes*.

      1. Anna*

        Yes, you can. It is unreasonable and most people would realize getting it the first time is a huge benefit and to ask again is stretching the bounds of credulity. It makes me wonder if she understands how completely off base it was the first time or if she just thinks she’s so special she’d be able to get it again. I am not concerned that she didn’t finish the first time; I’m concerned that she thinks normal boundaries and standard office behavior doesn’t apply to her.

  18. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    If the PhD isn’t relevant to the role/employer (even if the employer isn’t a university!) OP/manager should treat the request the same way they would for any ‘hobby’ e.g. would you grant 4 weeks additional paid leave for a large DIY project, trip abroad, or similar?

    If granted you will likely mysteriously find that a lot of other employees have a PhD they need to finish, or a lot of vacancies to fill!

      1. MicroManagered*

        Sure it is! At least in this conversation. I don’t care if you are writing a dissertation or renovating a house to flip–you’re talking about a paid month off to do something not-work-related.

        1. Dollis Hill*

          A PhD is waaaaaay more expensive, time consuming, and stressful than a hobby, it is not comparable in any context whatsoever.

            1. Dollis Hill*

              It’s insulting to compare a PhD to a hobby, regardless of how expensive the hobby is. PhDs are expensive, so is horseriding, doesn’t mean that they are the same or at all comparable.

              1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

                What would you say is the key difference, as it would be perceived by the employer (I’m genuinely asking you, not trolling!) if the PhD is not related or relevant to the job (as the OP described it)?

              2. bonkerballs*

                What makes them not comparable? My sister’s hobby took her to the Olympics. So it was incredibly expensive, incredibly time consuming, and incredibly stressful: all three of the criteria you used to differentiate a non work related PhD from a hobby. So…what’s the difference?

              3. Anna*

                Naaahhhh. A PhD is a privilege afforded very few people and frequently without any sort of worthwhile benefit except to be able to say you have a PhD.

          1. Dragoning*

            That’s certainly not true. I know many people who are deeply invested in their hobbies and spend thousands and thousands on them. There are expensive hobbies people turn into very high-stress, high-demand activities.

          2. Yorick*

            Sure, as a PhD myself it feels weird for someone to call writing a dissertation a hobby, but it is definitely comparable to a hobby in the way that MicroManagered explains.

          3. Samwise*

            In addition, in an academic workplace, even if one is not faculty, a PhD is a valuable credential (especially if it’s from a highly regarded program). I have one, it is not required for my current position in any way, but it has been exceptionally useful for my department and my supervisors that I had one. It meant that people around campus were more inclined to take me seriously (sad but true), and that when I talked about my department and our work, people took that more seriously too. My supervisors strategically got me onto various important committees so that I *could* represent and promote our department. It was a consideration when I was being hired — it was a substantial and unique asset and I’m pretty sure it helped me get the job, as it was a really strong candidate pool.

            1. Anna*

              I would argue that can all be traced back to classism associated with someone having a PhD. If you’re not taken seriously when you don’t have a PhD, but are when you do, that’s not about the PhD, that’s about privileges society grants people of certain statuses, which more often than not, is associated with coming from privilege.

      2. just my opinion*

        I’m actually torn on this. Part of me wants to say that if it’s not required for the job, it might as well be a hobby: it’s personal enrichment, but it’s not your employer’s job to care about your personal enrichment outside what is relevant to your actual job. The other part of me thinks there are certain forms of “life enrichment” that we treat differently (for example, having my son didn’t add to my job, but I still got time off for that)… so why not treat a PhD as one of those different things when it’s such a major milestone for people?

        1. Ms. Taylor Sailor*

          I get what you’re saying and I highly commend anyone who has or is working towards higher education. However, I don’t think employers should really be getting into the business of dictating whether or not one employee deserves more time off than another based on what it’s for. Either it’s okay for them to take it off or not, regardless of what their purpose of it is. It’s like the previous LW whose boss was completely okay with giving them time off until they revealed it was for a video game tournament, at which point the boss said he doesn’t give time off so people can sit on their butts all day and play video games, which is really not his judgment to make.

          Also, parental leave is COMPLETELY different from other kinds of leave entirely and, as Alison pointed out, goes into totally different legal territory than typical PTO.

          1. WellRed*

            “I don’t think employers should really be getting into the business of dictating whether or not one employee deserves more time off than another based on what it’s for.”


        2. Kate R*

          I’m struggling with this too because I still see it as a professional activity even if it’s not necessary for that particular role. When I was a grad student/postdoc, it seemed pretty common for other employees at the university to be working on a degree since typically they were offered tuition waivers, and that bosses were invested in helping them grown their careers even when it meant they would likely move on. (OP says they are in academia, so I’m wondering if that’s the situation). I also work for a company now that doesn’t require employees have a PhD, but when we do have them, they LOVE to put that on proposals because they think the funding agency will see a bunch of smart people and give us money, so the boss could see some potential benefit depending on what they do. Also, with this business of unfairness, I’m wondering if other people have requested time off for things similar and denied or if they just assume they wouldn’t get it because 4 weeks PTO is a lot to ask. Because while I think it would be great for the company to just offer equal benefits across the board, I think denying similar requests would be more demoralizing than just not openly offering it. I guess my biggest peeve would be that the employee already received 4 weeks PTO to complete this and didn’t, and this is where I would focus my energy. If she didn’t utilize the first 4 weeks the way she was supposed to, why should they think this time will be different?

          1. Elsajeni*

            On the other hand, it’s quite unusual for employers to give extra paid time off (I’m assuming this is an EXTRA 4 weeks of leave, not “I have 4 weeks saved up and I’d like to use them all at once”) for professional activities that aren’t directly related to the job you’re doing for them. You wouldn’t, for example, expect to be allowed to take a paid month off to… idk, organize and run a livestock show, even if your day job is related to llama breeding and showing and having run your own show would be a major positive point on your resume.

            However… the tuition waiver aspect is an interesting point. I’m also university staff, and as you mentioned, my employer does provide some tuition waivers and time off for degree completion. It’s limited to degrees specifically related to your job (but it sounds like OP’s employee’s degree may be in the same field as her work), and tuition waivers are especially limited, but nearly anyone can get, basically, one course’s worth of time off per semester. Which, if you could take it all at once rather than 3 hours a week, would be about a week total per semester… or… about 4 weeks over the course of 2 years. Frankly, I just changed my own mind about this, and now I don’t think it’s nearly as unreasonable a request as I did when I started this comment.

            Obviously, I have no idea if the OP’s employer has a policy like this at all, or if they do, how closely it resembles my institution’s policy. But if they do, it may be worth thinking about it in those terms: if she’d been in the coursework phase of her degree these last couple of years, could she have been granted time off for that? If so, how would the amount of time compare to what she’s asking for?

        3. MicroManagered*

          As a child-free woman, you just won me over. One of the things child-free people complain about is how people get several weeks or months off for parental leave, but we don’t get extended paid leaves for the major milestones in our lives and that’s not fair… So yeah, ok, on principle, I agree.

          1. MommyMD*

            Parents taking parental leave to care for a newborn are also not getting time off for other milestones. Apples and oranges.

            1. MicroManagered*

              That’s true. But what I am saying is that I think there’s possibly some validity to the idea of allowing extended personal leaves for things other than children.

          2. Lady Blerd*

            Oof, I’m childless as well but you’re framing of this is way off. Parental leave is about taking care of the child when it’s at it’s most vulnerable, it is not a reward for having a child. The one comparison that would come close is having to take care of a sick family member.

            1. Dragoning*

              Yeah, and it’s also about recovering from the, frankly, incredibly difficult, dangerous work of carrying a child in many cases, and about bonding with the child and making arrangements fr childcare for the future, and bonding with the child when it’s very important to do so.

            2. Batman*

              Yeah, I don’t think we should be comparing having a child or taking care of a sick family member to getting a PhD. Those are different things.

            3. L. S. Cooper*

              Yeah, it’s certainly not a vacation. It’s a necessary thing to care for another human being. Saying it’s unfair that people who have children get leave is like saying it’s unfair that someone who had major surgery would need time off. It’s not a vacation. (And I’m also childfree.)

          3. Librarian of SHIELD*

            No. I’m also a woman without children, so I’ve never had a paid maternity leave. But I’ve also never had to physically recover from the act of pushing a child out of my body, or lived for weeks/months in a home where a screaming baby prevented me from sleeping more than a couple of hours at a time. A maternity leave is an FMLA leave, in that the employee is often (not always, but often) recovering from their seriously traumatic physical experience, and is always providing care for a child. It’s not “free vacation” time over and above their existing paid time off, and most women in the US end up using most if not all of their sick and vacation time to cover it.

            What this employee is asking for is not “I would like to use my existing PTO to cover this extraordinary circumstance,” according to the LW’s updates in earlier comment threads. It’s “I’d like to do this thing that I don’t have enough PTO to cover, so can I have four more weeks of PTO than anybody else in this office gets?”

            She’s not a monster for asking for it. She *is* possibly pretty thoughtless when it comes to the feelings of her coworkers, and that’s not great.

      3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        No it isn’t, but they have a valid point. The company is not requiring her to get a PhD so this is something she is doing on her own time. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s not the company’s responsibility to help her manager her time for something that has nothing to do with the company. The fact that they granted her a month off WITH PAY a few years ago was very generous.

        I liken it to this situation…If an office is generous and understanding for those with children, by letting them leave early/come in late or take off frequently because of kid stuff, but they give non-parents a hard time when they need time off, that’s a problem. Maybe nobody else has asked for additional paid time off to further their education, but if the company isn’t willing to offer this perk to others, then this person shouldn’t get special treatment.

      4. BRR*

        Hobby isn’t the right word but I think Captain’s point (and sorry if I’m getting this wrong!) is that if it’s not necessary from the employer’s viewpoint, the request should be treated like any other request for a month off. I think this is where I’m landing for an answer as well. I don’t like the idea of an employer deeming what is and isn’t worthy of time off and if you do get into the reason for the request, I don’t think it works in the person’s favor.

        1. Dollis Hill*

          Everyone I know who has done a PhD has done it for their career, and not merely “personal enrichment”. It’s not like taking an evening knitting class or similar – in the U.K. this would fall under career development and an employee could certainly negotiate for paid study leave without having to eat into their holiday allowance. It depends on the company, but a lot of companies here are very generous with study leave regardless of whether you’re specifically studying for your current job or not, especially in academia, whether that’s having a couple of days paid leave per week to study for a set period of time, or taking a longer sabbatical.

          1. Mary*

            >> that’s having a couple of days paid leave per week to study for a set period of time

            I have worked in UK HE since 2001, and studied a PG qualification directly relevant to my role, and I’ve never heard of a policy that generous! Wow.

            1. Dollis Hill*

              In the last few years I’ve had co-workers who’ve taken two days a week study leave for four to six weeks, or just taken one single day to revise for an exam, or taken some days of study leave coupled with holiday time to study. Like I said, it depends on the company, some are more generous than others.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            The LW specifically says that the PhD is not necessary for the position. Beyond that, it’s not the employer’s call. There are lots of skills one might pursue in order to advance one’s career trajectory that don’t involve PhDs, and for which employers might also not grant time off. So if you’d hesitate to give an employee time off for personal enrichment that *wasn’t* a PhD, then there is no ground to grant it for a PhD that isn’t needed for the current role/trajectory.

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            Everyone I know who has done a PhD has done it for their career, and not merely “personal enrichment”.

            Yes, but if you’re not doing it for the job you have right now, it may as well be “personal enrichment” as far as your employer is concerned.

            1. Samwise*

              Please see my response above — even if it is not a requirement or necessity for one’s current job, in an academic workplace it is very often a substantial asset to the department when its employees do have a PhD.

          4. Colette*

            Let’s say I’m working in customer service, and I decide I want to be an accountant. Should I get paid leave to go back to school, since it’s career development? Most (all?) of the time, the answer is no – if it’s not relevant to the job you have, it’s something you do on your own time.

            1. Dollis Hill*

              I mean, yeah, my opinion is that all employees should get paid leave for whatever reason they want – full time permanent employees in the UK get at least 20 days paid leave a year, and we get to take it all without having to justify reasons we need time off, so if someone wants to take half a day once a week for six weeks to do a six week course, as long as their manager is OK with it then it’s fine to do that – and that’s a good thing, surely?

              1. LJay*

                Yeah but it sounds like the difference here is that the OP already took her 6 weeks of paid leave (so 30 days) that she could take for whatever reasons she wants without having to justify it.

                And now she wants another 8 weeks of paid leave on top of that.

                So she and her coworkers all get 30 days of paid leave.

                But now she wants another 40 days of paid leave (so 70 days total) which will be a perk to her that nobody else gets.

                I don’t think anybody would care if it wasn’t extra days on top of what everyone else was getting.

              2. Yorick*

                Sure, she should be able to take her standard 6 weeks of leave to work on her PhD. Maybe all at one time, if that’s not too much of a burden for the office. But she’s asking for extra paid time off that no one else gets for any reason.

          5. Me*

            I work with a police officer who a few years ago finished his PhD in Sociology and it was 100% for his personal desire and 100% nothing to do with his career. He used his allotted vacation time for the time off he needed.

            Just because you don’t know anyone who has doesn’t mean they do not exist.

              1. Me*

                Given that your pretty strongly advocating that it should be allowed because of professional development, in disagreement to someone else, it’s relevant to point out that your experience justifying that outlook is not all. Anecdotes beget anecdotes.

          6. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

            I didn’t do a PhD admittedly, but I did do a Master’s degree (which I expect would be looked down upon here!) in my own time around working full time, and (rightly) got no sympathy or allowances from my employer because ultimately even if it would benefit them in some abstract way e.g. “critical thinking skills”, “ability to apply oneself to independent research and respect deadlines”, etc it was ultimately to my benefit rather than the employer’s.

            In fact I was told that they could require me to give it up if it presented a conflict of interest! (as in time spent out of hours… not subject matter or anything). In that case I would have continued secretly though.

            Maybe other people’s employers are more understanding than mine, but I tend to think that “studying for a qualification that isn’t needed here” would make managers wonder.. what are they planning and why should we accommodate that?

            1. Oh So Anon*

              I did do a Master’s degree (which I expect would be looked down upon here!)

              Where are you getting the idea that a Master’s degree would be looked down upon?

            2. Oh So Anon*

              Okay, I want to follow up with this one a bit more:

              Lots of people here have career-relevant Master’s degrees, terminal or otherwise. I’m not entirely sure that anyone’s implying that a Master’s or doctoral degree isn’t valuable somehow, but the issue is whether the value of pursuing further education trumps the value of meeting operational requirements at work.

              An employer (and many commenters here) might expect someone to pursue their graduate work using the same PTO that they would for a hobby, but it doesn’t mean that they’re conflating graduate education with a hobby.

      5. Me*

        I don’t think the comparison is that it’s the same level of work for the individual, it’s that to the employer its the same. An employee choosing to pursue an advanced degree, or any additional education/training, that is not required by the employer doesn’t require the employer to provide an additional amount of leave.

        So for the employer it doesn’t matter that Suzy wants a paid month extra to work on her dissertation or to learn to scuba dive or replace her roof.

      6. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        I understand that a PhD is a lot more work and is a whole different “ball game” than a hobby like knitting or whatever (which is why I put it in scare quotes) but was thinking more from the point of view of the employer. I appreciate the PhD takes a lot of energy and so on but ultimately… if it’s not relevant to the employer/role it is more comparable to a renovation project (etc) or a side job, than it is to “professional development”. I’m sorry if it seemed that I minimised the amount of work involved in a PhD which I didn’t intend!

  19. MicroManagered*

    The bigger thing is to make sure you reflect on why this happened and how you want to handle moments like that in the future.

    OP3 this is so important. The best way I’ve found to handle moments where you might be fumbling for what to say is to keep reading blogs like this one and really pay attention to the scripts that are given as advice. Don’t just focus on your anxiety around the fact that you said the wrong thing. You need to think about what actual words you could’ve said, and have that in mind for next time.

    In your case, when Claire asked about your experience, you could’ve said “Well I just graduated with my degree in X. I don’t have a lot of job experience yet, that’s why I’m so glad you were willing to take time to meet with me like this. Oh and I am really excited about an upcoming interview for an internship at Company!” (To which Claire may have very well told you, “Oh my friend works at Company! I’ll give her a call and let her know you’re one of the candidates!” Boom. Networked.)

    Again, the point is not to grind you down for not saying the right thing–but to get you thinking about the technique of literally practicing what you’d say. This is a great tactic for interviews as well. You might not be able to predict what you’re going to be asked, but having an idea of what you’d say to certain types of questions is a valuable skill.

    1. Hermione at Heart*

      +1000. Lying is also my panic response in situations like this and it’s a REALLY bad reflex in the workplace. OP needs to think hard about how they would handle, say, a boss asking for an update on a task they’ve forgotten about, or a question that presumes a qualification they don’t have (“So where have you worked in llama herding before?”), and have some scripts ready for situations where the answer is I haven’t done it/I forgot/I don’t know.

  20. AvonLady Barksdale*

    Not in terms of the actual work, for sure, but if you’re looking at it from the perspective of “outside of work activity”, then the principle is pretty similar. It’s closer to having a side business, if you will; if someone wanted to take a month off to focus on building a client base or traveling to craft shows, it’s something that requires work but isn’t part of the full-time job. If it’s not relevant to the full-time job, there’s no requirement or expectation (in most places) that you’ll be given paid leave to take care of it. Shoot, I’ve never worked in a place that would offer the leave unpaid.

    If I decided to get an MBA, it would probably benefit my employer at some level and it would certainly benefit me. My employer would probably be very supportive. However, my job doesn’t require an MBA and I would be getting it on my own time. While I would probably use PTO to focus on it, I wouldn’t feel comfortable asking for PAID leave to do anything related to the MBA, though I might try to take some time unpaid.

    Now, if an employer wanted to be generous, then that’s great. But they should be generous across the board. I participate in a hobby that sometimes involves a couple of weeks of travel, and it would be really nice if I could just take that time without it cutting into my PTO. It’s a hobby that uses different parts of my brain, that enriches my life, that educates me. So… why shouldn’t I get the same perk my co-worker does to wrap up an outside-of-work academic pursuit?

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      This was supposed to be a reply to Dollis Hill on Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd’s thread, but hey, I’ll just leave it here.

    2. just my opinion*

      Yeah I also commented on the thread above re: the personal enrichment part.

      I don’t know about your last paragraph though just because a PhD is measurable, it’s something you can’t get without putting in a tremendous amount of work, and everyone knows that. With a hobby it could actually educate you or it could not. I keep saltwater corals as a hobby and I had to learn a hell of a lot to do that, but marine biology isn’t at all relevant to my career. Also, there are plenty of people who do a half-assed job at my hobby, and others who spend a ton of time learning and growing to become great at it. It would be very hard to measure for something not as well-defined as a PhD.

      But I’m also wondering whether anything can be “life enrichment” now that I think about it so… gah, I’m undecided here lol

      1. Yorick*

        People can get a PhD without really being that good or knowledgeable, though. If it’s not required or expected for the job, then the boss is not going to evaluate it on those terms, and may not even be able to if it’s in a very different field.

  21. Ms. Taylor Sailor*

    I know several people have touched on it, but I think the main point that should be emphasized is what is the overall impact on the organization if she’s given the time off? I know that the maternity leave can’t factor into the decision as to whether or not this employee ultimately gets the month off, but if they give her the month to her to work on her dissertation, that’s A LOT of total time off that could very well impact how OP decides to cover her work while she’s gone, which is a reasonable consideration. If there was a way for her to take the month off without a major impact, that absolutely should be considered, but it’s also reasonable to evaluate if it’s feasible for the organization first and foremost.

    Aside from that, I also want to echo Alison’s main point. If it’s feasible to give this employee the month off, then they need to evaluate if it’s possible for other employees. It may be, it may not be, or there may be a middle ground, such as the organization can afford to give everyone more time off that’s not a full month. OP should look into that and see what’s possible for the organization to give to everyone.

  22. Hiring Mgr*

    While it’s still not common of course, more and more companies offer sabbaticals these days every few years. We’re so used to the rat race that everyone resents someone for trying to have a life and so things a little differently. It’s things like this that cause me to take a step back and examine our norms a bit more and wish they were different

    1. Me*

      We offer sabbaticals but they are definitely not paid. You also aren’t guaranteed to have the same job as when you return. A job, but not necessarily the one you left.

      1. MommyMD*

        Exactly. Not paid. This makes one prioritize. I am eligible to take months off for any reason. But if it’s not a covered leave, I have to choose time over paycheck.

    2. WellRed*

      We allowed a 7 week sabbatical once, unpaid, and were happy to make it work because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity (she didn’t actually ask for the time off, she just planned to give notice, but we wanted to keep her).

  23. Not So NewReader*

    OP1. I will be the odd voice here. I so get your anger. Does this person want her job and want to work or NO? To me this is what this all boils down to.

    People who have excessive reasons for time off WILL eventually tick off those around them. I so get this. And it’s not one reason, rather it’s a hundred reasons that make people angry.

    My go-to for these situations is to look at the bigger picture, like Alison says. This helps to remove a lot of the emotion for me. I would simply ask the boss if we can afford to do this for everyone. Tell him to crunch the numbers what does this look like in dollars? And if everyone is allowed to do this then how many people do we allow to have time off at the same time?

    I do get that her reasons are important to HER. So let’s figure that she is an adult who is choosing to ask for help where she feels she needs help. This avoids getting down in the weeds and questioning her decision making process. I left work early to take care of my sick dog. It was important to me. Right, it’s not the same as a sick child and at no point did I imply that it was. I did say it was important to me. See, we get to do that. We get to decide what is important to us and it may or may not seem important to others. That part is irrelevant.

    The part that is relevant is at what point does her job become a priority for her? My boss uses an interesting technique with people. They will ask to reschedule for a seemingly non-urgent matter. Rather that debating the urgency of the matter, my boss will say, “Okay but this is the last time.” Then the person is instructed to pick and commit a time frame where they will do what they are supposed to do. I am a big fan of this method.
    I had one guy almost cry because he wanted to take his dog to the vet and had to cancel with us to do so. He was incredulous that my boss okayed that. I shrugged and said, “We both have dogs.” Then I went on to explain that we would reschedule and we needed to commit to a time that he would definitely show up. He picked his own date for the next step with us.

    So this is a technique that might be applied in your setting, OP. You could suggest to the boss that if he does okay this he could put in the stipulation that he will not be granting more time off soon (mat-leave not included here), as he does need her to show up for work. The unspoken here is “This better be darn important to you, because we are putting up with a lot here on your behalf.”

    And this could lead to you calming down a bit, when you realize that she is not going to be allowed to have endless requests for time of for this, that and the other thing. At some point our jobs have to become a priority.

    1. Yorick*

      Your first paragraph is another point that I was thinking about. If someone’s out for a long time and everyone else is struggling to keep up with the workload, at some point it’s not going to be possible for others to take vacation during that time. So not only does Susie get a whole extra month that we don’t get, but we also can’t take off a day off while she’s out.

      1. Cats and dogs*

        I agree OP has every right to be upset by this disparate treatment. I thought Allison’s Advice was spot on.

    2. Tallulah in the Sky*

      “I will be the odd voice here. I so get your anger.” Are you being sarcastic ? Because a lot of people share that anger ;-)

      And love the advice !

  24. Guy Incognito*

    A reminder for OP1 (and Allison): just because someone didn’t get their dissertation the first time doesn’t mean they didn’t spend the time working on it. Plenty of people work on their dissertations for a long time and aren’t ready the first time they think they’re ready. it’s a long, stressful process. You say you work in academia, you should be aware of this.

    1. Me*

      That’s fair, but that’s also not the employers problem. A month off extra is exceedingly generous. Few employers are going to just hand over a month of leave for any reason.

      1. Ms. Taylor Sailor*

        Yeah, I think a lot of people are getting too hung up on the purpose for the time off as opposed to whether or not 1) it makes sense for the organization and 2) if they’d do it for any other employee.

    2. MommyMD*

      Yes. But this has nothing to do with her wanting paid time off to finish it. It’s not her employer’s responsibility. Employer has already been more than generous.

    3. WellRed*

      I think where I fall is, as has been mentioned above by others, when you are requesting a month off to finish your dissertation, it should be down to the final edits, etc. True, something could come up but you can’t blame the LW for being a bit skeptical this time around. However, there’s no need for the employer to keep paying for it. I also think the LW should go ahead and ask for a sabbatical herself.

  25. Me*

    LW1 – I think it’s a wonderful thing for employers to offer flexibility when possible. So perhaps it’s not about giving a month off for a dissertation. If the employer is willing to give people flexible paid time off for special life circumstances, that’s pretty cool, and makes for a great work place. Everyone has life stuff. Graduations, moving, house repairs etc.

    Everyone needs to know what the rules are though to prevent resentment and the optics of special treatment.

    I also think that providing another month off for this is probably absurd, but can it be an unpaid leave of absence? What about a hard no on paid time off, but willingness to work PT or flex schedule?

  26. Lucy*

    I think the maternity leave is relevant – but mainly because I think it suggests she thinks this is her last opportunity to finish her dissertation. Perhaps she would have stretched out the work through normal PTO/weekends etc over another year or two if she hadn’t been pregnant, but now she’s realised how little free time she will have once the baby comes.

    A second *month* of additional PTO in such a short period is too much for the boss to agree to given the current circumstances. Unpaid, and with a general statement that any employee can apply for a similar sabbatical for self-improvement/personal reasons, well that would be defensible.

  27. KimberlyR*

    OP#2: IF you want to discuss it in this amount of depth (which you may not want to do), why not help your girlfriend reframe it in her mind that this job or position may not be the one she is best suited for? The employer isn’t happy with her performance but maybe she just isn’t cut out for that job. If she can find something she is better suited to, she will likely have a better performance and will be happier all around. She could use this time to start job searching and really think about the skills she has and the industry she is in, and see if there is something better for her out there. It would be better to leave on her own terms if she can, and she will likely feel better about herself if she does. Plus, there could be some tension in your relationship if she is fired from your employer while you excel or possibly get promoted. But if she leaves on her own terms, she may have less resentment towards that company.

  28. Lexi Kate*

    OP1 So if I’m reading your request the employee in question is asking for 21 weeks of coverage from the rest of the staff this year?
    -16 weeks for maternity leave
    – 1 week for house painting
    – 4 weeks for her dissertation

    I would lead with this as a staffing issue, and how that much time off is not going to be ok for the employee’s colleagues to cover the position for her. The maternity leave is expected but the second time off for the dissertation in the same year as maternity leave which is pushing her close to half a year off paid. I would also ask what the policy is on time off for dissertations, since if approved this will be the employee’s second paid leave for the same dissertation in a position where the degree is not required and you would like an official response to give to your other employees since they are inquiring based on this being her second time taking this leave. I don’t think you can reasonable revisit the animosity this is causing for the employees on a morale standpoint since you already went with its unfair. You can’t and shouldn’t push the maternity leave, only that with the time off for maternity leave this makes it a bad time for the employee to take additional time off.

    1. Delta Delta*

      This is how this struck me, as well. I think everyone agrees new parents should get parental leave (and paid, whenever possible, because that’s just the right thing to do). I also think it comes across as incredibly tone-deaf for an employee – knowing they’re going to need coverage for 16 weeks, also asks for paid time to do other things, as well. It leaves other employees in the lurch for coverage. And if nobody else has this kind of leave, it ends up looking unfair and bad for morale.

      Also, having not written a dissertation, but having known plenty of people who have, I know it’s a lot of work and it can have unpleasant twists if the research goes sideways. This request feels unreasonable, though, since she got time once before, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of explanation for a) If she’ll finish it and b) what else she has to do to get it finished this time.

    2. Autumnheart*

      It also doesn’t leave much room for other employees who may want, or need, time off while this employee is on leave.

      The other part of this that bugs me is the premise that “other people don’t get leave requests granted because they don’t ask for them.” Okay, then is the employer willing to grant leave to everyone who asks for it? Or would some requests be denied if everyone asked for leave? If the answer is the latter, then that’s an inequitable policy.

      An employer shouldn’t depend on an unspoken policy and office culture in order to handle situations like this, because it drives inequity. Having one person on leave puts a burden on the others, by adding to their workload or reducing their own ability to take leave, or both. So there should be a policy, and it should benefit everyone who has a need to take advantage of it.

    3. blackcat*

      It’s a really, really problematic thing to start basing leave requests on someone’s pregnancy.
      First off, it could be illegal.
      Secondly, something could happen with the pregnancy. It sounds like she’s still pretty early on. Think about how spectacularly shitty it would be if someone said no based on her anticipated maternity leave, and then she ended up with no baby AND no degree.

      I think the LW needs to ask “If this were any other *not pregnant* employee (who had taken dissertation leave 2 years ago and house painting leave), how would I feel about this request, and would it be granted?” I don’t think it’s a reasonable request! I think it should be rejected! I say this as a PhD holder myself.

      If it is at their employer, the resolution of instituting an official policy re: leave for personal stuff every few years is a good one. But whether or not someone is eligible to take that leave (if policy allows) should be completely independent of pregnancy. If leave (of any sort) creates workflow problems, that’s something for bosses to plan for! Or a reason to reject the request.

      I’m frankly really, really bothered by all the commenters bringing up the total amount of leave she’ll take. Leave the pregnancy out of it. Consider the request independent of that. I still think it’s totally fair to say no! I’d say no! But saying, “This is particularly egregious because she’s pregnant” is way, way to close to pregnancy discrimination for me.

      /Gets off woman in STEM soapbox, returns to office where I’m the only woman

      1. Lexi Kate*

        I disagree we are talking about 5 almost 6 months of time off in one year, I really think that changes the conversation. If we were talking about PTO or Sick time that is part of an employees benefit plan then yes I agree with you. However with this essentially being an at will sabbatical that needs manager approval I disagree that the maternity leave should be left out of the equation. Looking at this as a staffing issue the maternity leave needs to be factored in, with the maternity leave the employee is taking 21 weeks off in one year that’s close to 6 months. Determining staffing isn’t illegal, and its not right to have people pick up another co-workers job for 1/2 a year. We are not talking about not giving someone a raise or a promotion we are talking about paid leave for a non work related issue. The answer may be brining in a temp employee or looking at the rules around the sabbatical, but the staffing side needs to be addressed. When an employee is asking for paid leave that takes place in the same year as maternity leave, and used PTO you really can’t just ignore 16 weeks of leave. You have to consider if the slack can be picked up for that amount of time, there is a job to be done. I’m sorry you’re the only woman in your office, but I don’t want to pick up someones work for 1/2 a year male or female.

        1. Autumnheart*

          Having coworkers cover for someone on leave for that long is one thing…but then they should be compensated for it, and have the same opportunity to benefit from that sort of flexibility themselves.

          If this person does get the leave granted, maybe it should be reflected in the raises for the year, in that the PTO recipient doesn’t get a raise, and the raise funding is distributed among the remaining employees.

          1. blackcat*

            Agreed that people should be compensated for extra work.
            But it is also illegal to a pregnant person’s use of PTO to not grant them a raise and not do the same for non-pregnant people. If they’re the only person getting extra PTO, I get it. But if anyone else gets similar PTO and the person who *also* takes FMLA/mat-leave is the only one denied a raise/bonus, that’s illegal. (FYI, a friend was in the situation, sued, and got a reasonable settlement. Her performance evaluation cited her “time out of the office” which was no more than the average employee when her 12 week–unpaid!–maternity leave was discounted from the calculation.)

        2. blackcat*

          I’m sorry you haven’t worked in environments that adequately cope with maternity leaves.
          The manager needs to MANAGE in a way that doesn’t stress out the other employees.
          Again, it’s really, really shitty to decide that a pregnant employee doesn’t have access to the same leave as a non-pregnant one. If you’d consider a PTO request from a non-pregnant person, you need to consider it for the pregnant one. It’s totally fine if you’d say “WTF?! NO!” to them both! Anything else is blatant pregnancy discrimination.
          A manager that can’t cope with maternity leaves on their team either isn’t doing a good job managing or has structural problems at the org. Either way, it’s not the pregnant employee’s fault.

    4. Arctic*

      Would you really say someone can’t take a vacation because they are going on maternity leave?

      If not you shouldn’t raise it here.

      There are lots of reasons why this is an unreasonable request. Leave her leave out of it.

  29. MommyMD*

    Employee had enough paid time off to work on dissertation. It’s her responsibility to find time to get it done. If it’s not required for the position, employer has already been extra generous. Every single person could find a reason to need paid time off.

  30. Amy*

    Is there any possible compromise here? My company is extremely generous with benefits and tuition reimbursement but even so, this dissertation request would probably get a bit of a side-eye.

    Several of my colleagues have been in the same boat with their PhDs, MBAs or masters programs. A solution has been either 1) unpaid time off or 2) smaller increments such as every Friday off/ every other Friday off. Most see this as preferable to a large chunk because of issues of coverage.

    It will probably also help if you can demonstrate how this request will ultimately be helpful to the company. We have a sales team where about 1/4 of people have PhDs and see it as a boon to our credibility.

    1. Oh So Anon*

      Yup, my org is like this too. We’re generous with tuition support when an employee can demonstrate that further education will be helpful to their department, but we more or less expect people to use regular PTO, minimally-flexed schedules, or to simply do their coursework on the DL to get their degree done.

  31. ShortT*

    About #1…

    If I read correctly earlier, there had been another employee in a similar position as the disserter, but was denied the same leave. If so, and the disserter knows this, I’d be an annoyed, if not upset colleague, too, with the disserter and with management. If a month PTO is granted for this self-improvement project, then, IMO, it should be made a perk for all employees who want to dedicate time to doing something that doesn’t affect life or limb, regardless of what that is.

    1. valentine*

      It’s not the employee’s fault OP1’s boss said no to someone else and that’s not a reason not to ask. Why not be mad at him for his favoritism or whatever he’s doing, instead? OP1 could have avoided or defused this by having strict rules about how much leave she’ll grant, and what for, and insisting requests go to her first. They seem to find house painting frivolous, in and of itself.

  32. Squeeble*

    OP3: I’ve been in similar situations where I panicked and blurted out something that wasn’t true, so I feel you! One time I was introduced to the president of the university where I was getting my MA in communications. He was very friendly and asked what my concentration was, and I said marketing. Why? I wasn’t studying marketing at all, but it was the only word I could remember. Then I spent the next several weeks terrified that he was going to realize what had happened and boot me out of the program for lying, when in reality he probably forgot about me the second I walked away.

    One of the advantages of being brand new to the work world is that people probably aren’t scrutinizing you the way you might think they are. Breathe, try not to do it again, and let it go.

  33. T*

    No one is mentioning in letter #1 the employee is going around her own boss to grandboss for the request. This is highly annoying and should be done through the proper channels (starting with her boss). If she’s doing this it seems she realizes it’s an absurd request and is going around her own boss to get her way. I would be pissed off if I was this woman’s boss.

    1. Me*

      I think it may not be a circumvent, but an actual this is how leave requests go at this company. Something like the department head gets and processes all leave requests, but the teamlead manages the day to day employees.

      Otherwise I think the OP would have explicitly pointed out that as part of the issue.

      I’m not saying its a good way to operate, just that it appears to be how they operate.

  34. Heidi*

    A couple thoughts on OP1’s situation:
    Having completed my own PhD dissertation (STEM field) a few years ago, I do feel for OP1’s employee. She is probably wondering if she’ll have time to complete the dissertation once the baby is here (I’ve seen it done, but it requires a lot of help). And since we’re 2 years out from what was supposed to be her completion date, her advisors may be telling her she needs to finish this or leave. It’s awful to think that you might have to abandon your graduate program so close to the finish line.

    That being said, I also think that there’s a feeling of, “You didn’t finish it during that last 4 weeks, what makes you think that you’re going to finish it in this 4 weeks.” Perhaps some of the resentment is based on the idea that the first 4 weeks leave was was granted with the understanding that it was a one-time thing and if you just gave her that, the matter would be DONE. And then it wasn’t. People might be wondering if this is going to lead to even more requests for paid leave down the line from this employee, and they just can’t cover it.

    I also find that just having huge blocks of completely unstructured time are not good for me. When I wrote my dissertation, I still worked part of the time, mostly in the mornings because I am most productive with my writing in the late afternoon/early evening. Maybe adjusting her schedule will be a reasonable compromise. You don’t have to do it, of course. Or any of the options people have listed. But it would be generous and helpful, and you might end up feeling good about doing this for her. Plus, if someone did this for me, I’d consider myself to be in their debt. I’m no Lannister, but I do believe in paying my debts.

  35. boredatwork*

    OP #1 – I really think you should focus this through the lens of opening up paid sabbaticals for professional development (or not). If another employee wanted to take a month off to take a summer class that would help further their work skills would that be allowed?

    Since by allowing this twice, you are setting a precedent and you should get ahead of other employees wanting the same perk.

  36. Lady Blerd*

    I’m adding a suggestion for OP1 for the future: Suggest to your boss that employees who want an extended time off that they take a pay cut so that they can continue receiving a pay while they’re gone. Canadian federal employees have that benefit, I’ve had colleagues leave from six weeks to three months. But of course all of that is dependant on approval by the employer and it does reserve the right to say no if it has a negative impact on the organization.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      Leave with income averaging! Yes, I had a (Canadian Fed) colleague do that too, when she got married, then took time off to help her new husband with his business. I don’t recall the math involved but I think it’s essentially “unpaid” leave but your annual salary is averaged out so that you still get some pay during the time off?

    2. Oh So Anon*

      We do this in the organization where I work with one-year sabbaticals, but guess what? It still causes a ton of resentment among colleagues even though it has to be planned years in advance. It’s to the point where people are discouraged from even asking for it as an option.

  37. Worked in IT forever*

    I’ve worked for a major, mega IT company, not in academia, so the environment is different. A PhD in this field has little value, for the most part. But in any case, I can tell you that there is no way that people here would get paid time to complete any sort of university degree or certificate—not even once. We’d have to take an unpaid leave, and even that would be need to be approved. There is too much focus on the bottom line and job coverage. Granting paid leave even once seems like an unbelievable luxury to me. I would be super ticked off if anyone got this, in an era where even in a profitable company, raises are tiny.

  38. Koala dreams*

    #1 Do you really want to reward your employees (wheter it is salary, paid time off or educational opportunities) based on who asks for the most? It’s worth having a discussion with your boss about the broader implications of this kind of thinking. There is a post buried in the AAM archives about how it’s bad policy to give the highest salary only to those who ask for it, and it’s better to overhaul the salaries now and then and make sure they are in line with the roles of the employees. I think you can use the same arguments on this issue.

    I also agree with the commenters that it’s misdirected to feel angry at the employee. I can understand feeling annoyed that your other direct reports will be underpaid compared to this employee (if you see paid time off as a part of the total payment), but that’s on big boss, not on the employee who succeeded in negotiating for more.

    #2 I think it’s fine and healthy to draw your own boundaries when it comes to negative complaining. You have to go to work every day and display a good attitude, and if your girl friend gets fired this might be even more important, since you as a family will lose a big part of your income. Therefore, maybe you are not the right person for her to vent to. However, being the primary venting partner is such a commong thing when it comes to romantic relationships, so you need to sit down with your girlfriend and negotiate your boundaries. You can’t just assume that your girlfriend will have the same view as you do. Maybe you can come up with some other ways of supporting her instead? Cooking extra nice food, watching a funny movie together, time to catch up with friends… There are many possibilities!

    1. L. S. Cooper*

      I think that’s a really good point! I tend to be a keep my head down and do my work sort of person– to the point of feeling incredible guilt for staying home while sick or when the state government has issued a warning to say “Please don’t drive right now”. I would love time off to finish school activities, or other self-improvement things. But I would never ask for such a thing, because it’s just not in my nature.

  39. mf*

    OP 1: one thing you can bring up with your boss when you discuss this is, “What happens if we grant her paid leave again and she doesn’t finish her dissertation? What if she asks for paid leave a third time? Where do we draw the line?”

    The fact is that she didn’t finish her dissertation the first time, and that doesn’t inspire confidence. You can’t continue this pattern of giving her additional leave if she doesn’t finish this time.

  40. Missy*

    I might be reading into it but I get the feeling that a lot of the anger at the leave asker in #1 is related to the previous feelings of unfairness when they got the time off earlier. The sentence “many of us were upset with what we considered unfair treatment” makes me worry this was a BEC situation or the group dynamic created a narrative that shouldn’t be applied now that you are a manager. There are plenty of times that I felt something was unfair when I was in a co-worker situation that made lots of sense as a manager, especially since I had a longer term view of things going on. As a co-worker I could think it was terribly unfair that they let employees with kids get weekends off. As a manager I understood doing it because the alternative meant that the workers often had to call in at the last minute because they lacked reliable child care (schools aren’t open on Saturday!) and then I was having to try and staff at the last minute. Long term you should try and find ways to balance out the unfair things to be more equitable (like letting the people who work more weekends get first crack at picking vacation dates).

    I wasn’t given any time off to study for the bar exam because my boss didn’t think it would be fair to the other employees. That was fine, but it did make the decision to leave when I passed the exam much easier than it would have been otherwise. Even when I was offered a raise and new position it didn’t matter. It made me feel like they were more than willing to exploit my talents but didn’t want to invest in them. You might ask the big boss inclined to give the time off their reasons for doing so, especially since you think that it is a perk that isn’t normally given. Maybe they have reasons to want this particular employee to get the degree as part of a larger plan or think that having someone with that credential will help with a project that you aren’t currently doing but may do in the future.

    1. Bruiser Woods*

      Great answer. I am doimg a PhD while working. I work part time 3 days a week while trying to finish a PhD that has taken 9 years so far. As other poster have said completing a PhDs is not a linear process and does not always go to plan and are certainly not something you can just bang out whenever you feel like it especially when you throw work or family commitments into the mix. I would consider taking some of my allocated paid annual leave to work on my PhD to try to finish it sooner. This worker also has the right to take her leave and use it however she likes but I can understand her coworkers think it is unfair if she gets extra paid leave that they don’t. I wouldn’t expect any additional leave and would carefully negotiate and plan the timing of any leave (paid or un
      paid) so it works for everyone in my team. I agree it is often in the interest of a good employer to support their employees with academic pursuits and professional development even if they aren’t directly related to the job otherwise good motivated employees who are willing to better themselves and seek challenges will just go elsewhere.

  41. Light37*

    I feel like the problem here is less the specific employee, and more the fact that PTO is being given to one employee as an educational benefit but has been denied to others for the same purpose.

    The company shouldn’t be showing preferential treatment to one individual on something like this because it will breed resentment. Since this employee already got a bonus paid month, I would decline a second request until others have had one so that the playing field evens out. If they’re not willing to grant similar sabbaticals to other employees, then I would also be unwilling to allow it because the inequity is going to cause problems.

    1. L. S. Cooper*

      +1000. I think it got buried in the comments, but LW1 said that another employee had requested paid leave for the same reason, and was denied. This is blatant favoritism, and needs to be rectified.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        If you have two employees working on PhDs, one on track to finish on time (with or without PTO) and another who is dangerously close to their institution’s time-to-degree limit, who would you be more likely to give time off to for dissertation writing? There may be considerations here that aren’t necessarily about favouritism, even though IMO it’s not clear that it’s an employer’s responsibility to bail someone out if they’re on the 11th hour of their PhD candidacy.

        1. Observer*

          True, but it’s still not really fair treatment. And when management seems to be making excuses, it’s worse.

  42. Luna*

    OP #1: I would point out that she already got a month off on pay for her dissertation previously. Her not completing her dissertation is her doing. And it was already a special treat to her, so doing it again looks pretty bad. And maybe even point out how she also got extra time-off for other personal stuff.
    I know that painting a house can be quite a thing, but you can easily achieve it by using your regular days off to portion the work out on those various days. Takes longer, of course, but you don’t require extra time off for it.

    If this really is a case of favoritism, maybe even point that out to the boss. “You know, giving Jane these favors, especially a second time-off for her dissertation, makes it seem like she’s being favored… this likely isn’t the intent, but…”

  43. Autumnheart*

    What happens in another year or two, when PTO PhD wants an additional 4 weeks of paid vacation to go do some other thing? What’s the saying: once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is …well, not enemy action in this case, but certainly a pattern of behavior.

    At some point you have to crunch the numbers and realize that you’re paying an employee months of salary for which you are not receiving commensurate labor. Does this employee do $10-20K worth of something for this enterprise that justifies this kind of arrangement? Or is this request being considered because management figures that it won’t hurt their goals because the rest of the team will manage it? Does management actually care if the rest of the employees suffer resentment and low morale due to this imbalance, or do they only care that the work gets done? It’s time to consider a bigger picture, and decide what kind of workplace this is supposed to be.

  44. Skeeder Jones*

    It sounds like this “little white lie” originated from some insecurity you felt next to “Claire”. I think that is something it is easy to fall into but think of it like this: you would never expect a high school graduate to have the same credentials as a college graduate and the high school graduate should not feel insecure about where they are at in life or how much they have accomplished. Maybe before meeting someone that you see as a potential professional contact, you can list all that you have achieved and remind yourself that your future is bright and the list will grow in time. You are on a path, appreciate where you are, all the options ahead of you. I am much further along on life’s path and sometimes it seems I’m too committed to THIS path to see how limitless the future can be. I envy you for hat

  45. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    OP#1–I am wondering if part of your anger at PhD employee is due to her having gone over your head to ask for the time off. Your letter does seem to imply that she should not have gone directly to Grandboss. Is it possibly that during the first PhD leave she took, when you were one of her colleagues rather than her boss, you were one of the most vociferous complainers about how unfair this was? If so, maybe that’s why she went directly to Grandboss this time. Which is not to say that she should have. I’m also wondering if Grandboss even worked there during the first PhD leave. Or, if he did, was Grandboss far enough up in management that he didn’t know, or didn’t care, how much resentment this caused in the ranks? And, frankly, I wouldn’t care if she said she wanted the paid leave to save the world. She shouldn’t get a perq that no one else gets. Period. Paragraph.

  46. Bruiser Woods*

    Great answer. I am doimg a PhD while working. I work part time 3 days a week while trying to finish a PhD that has taken 9 years so far. As other poster have said completing a PhDs is not a linear process and does not always go to plan and are certainly not something you can just bang out whenever you feel like it especially when you throw work or family commitments into the mix. I would consider taking some of my allocated paid annual leave to work on my PhD to try to finish it sooner. This worker also has the right to take her leave and use it however she likes but I can understand her coworkers think it is unfair if she gets extra paid leave that they don’t. I wouldn’t expect any additional leave and would carefully negotiate and plan the timing of any leave (paid or un
    paid) so it works for everyone in my team. I agree it is often in the interest of a good employer to support their employees with academic pursuits and professional development even if they aren’t directly related to the job otherwise good motivated employees who are willing to better themselves and seek challenges will just go elsewhere.

  47. Freya*

    #3 “and if she does, will probably just assume she misunderstood”

    Not necessarily and I think this isn’t great advice for the LW. I know I wouldn’t assume this. And I have actually fired someone for turning out to have exaggerated something on their resume – not about an internship, but I don’t think you’ve been clear enough here that it’s important not to do this again.

    I would rather someone in this situation admitted to me that they lied than took me for an idiot.

  48. Mariella*

    OP#2 – i am going through a very similar thing at the moment. My partner is effectively being pushed out, whereas our mutual boss has created a new position and promotion especially for me, so our 2 experiences at our company are very different right now.
    I find my partner appreciates a vent, but also likes a lot more affection and taking their mind off it with distractions helps. I think he most enjoys given a night just to enjoy his hobbies.
    Ive been with my partner the whole of my working life so i cannot seperate the 2 really. I dont let him vent all the time but give constructive advice as im in a position to know more about our HR policies so give him advice how to navigate that or if he wants to do x option to do it within a certain time period etc, and sometimes if i see a really good job i think will be a good fit for him ill send it to him.

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