employee does needlepoint in meetings, company won’t let me say goodbye to clients, and more

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

1. My employee does needlepoint in meetings

I have an engineer who is doing an excellent job during the first six months in her new role on my team. All feedback has been positive, and I already have other engineering managers asking when she can apply for positions on their team.

Two weeks ago I joined her for a technical meeting. As I walked into the conference room, she was working on a needlepoint project. I’ll admit I was initially taken aback and made an awkward comment about how I should give her more projects if she had extra time for crafts. She laughed, said it helps her focus, and we proceeded with the meeting. I observed that she indeed did actively participate in the the discussion, so I didn’t feel any point to discuss further.

This week I was called into the office of our HR engineering office and told that someone observed my engineer working on a project through the window of a conference room and they felt it was unprofessional. I talked with my engineer to let her know that the comment was made, and while professional appearance is important, I was pleased with her performance and felt no need to restrict the craft activity. I am curious how you feel about this situation.

It’s so, so office-dependent. It would be fine in some offices, and in others (significantly more of them) it would seem really out of sync and would be A Thing that people would comment on negatively and that she’d become known for.

It sounds like your office might be in the second group. That said, it also sounds like her work and reputation are good enough that she might be able to withstand the counterweight of the needlepointing seeming off. That can go fine, or it can be a dangerous place to be — because it uses up some capital, and there’s a risk that if she goes through a tough period where her work is slipping, she’s going to get less slack because she’s already seen as the person with a weird habit. Or maybe not — but it’s enough of a risk that it would make me uneasy.

Needlepoint is also a very female-coded activity, and if you’re in a male-dominated environment, it might mean people take her less seriously. (Which is obviously BS, but it happens.)

More broadly, if she does it in meetings, it’s going to make some people feel she’s not giving them her full attention (whether or not that’s true). It would make me feel that way, until I saw a lot of evidence that it wasn’t true — and not everyone will have enough exposure to her to counteract that.

It’s worth noting, though, that doing something with your hands during meetings is a strategy some people use to help with ADHD, and her “it helps me focus” comment makes it sound like that.

I think so far you’ve handled it fine. You let her know there might be perception issues, but that you’re happy with her work. She can decide from there if she wants to change anything.

2. My company won’t let me say goodbye to clients and vendors when I leave

I have worked in an office as a legal assistant for about six years or so. I have been in regular contact with clients, as well as vendors, and have become closer to some of them. For example, I exchange pictures of pets with one of our vendors!

I recently gave notice and was told I would not be allowed to tell any of our clients or vendors that I am leaving and I’m not even allowed to say goodbye. I had wanted to express my gratitude to the clients who have been fun and easy to work with and our vendors who have always been helpful and kind. I did not want to go into any details about why I was leaving, I only wanted to say a goodbye and I won’t be able to.

I recognize I’m just a legal assistant, and I’m not high up on the office hierarchy, but it just feels wrong to suddenly vanish without saying anything. At the same time, I have worked with clients whose administrators left and were replaced without goodbyes or explanations so I know it does happen. How normal is it for resigning workers to not be able to tell clients and vendors that they are leaving?

Yeah, this is a thing some companies do because they want to have control over the message. They don’t want clients worrying about what it means for them, and they definitely don’t want to risk the departing employee saying anything that doesn’t sound completely positive. In most cases it’s unnecessarily heavy-handed, and it can be weird for the clients too, especially when they had a warm relationship with the person who’s leaving.

One option is to email clients and vendors who you were especially close to after you’re gone to say goodbye and give them your new contact info if you want to. (Check your company’s policies first though to make sure that taking client email addresses won’t violate anything that you’ve agreed to.)

3. Employer won’t offer me a higher salary because of internal equity

I am currently negotiating a job offer, and was offered 10% below my current salary. I was already expecting a lower rate, but the HR person gave me a range when I first applied, and then provided an offer below that original range and that she is unwilling to negotiate. She says there are internal equity issues and that’s why they won’t increase the offer.

The person I’d be reporting to was promoted internally and is within the same salary band, while I’m an external candidate. Plus, they knew the supervisor’s salary when the position was created and the range was shared with me. I’ve worked for this organization before, so I know how bad their HR can be.

Regardless of the difference between the offer and the original range, it doesn’t seem ethical to limit one person’s salary because another person with different circumstances negotiated a different offer. I don’t think there is anything illegal about this, but I’m curious the extent of how far I can push back on this and what final decision to make. I do want the job, and I don’t want to cut off my nose to spite my face, but it seems unprofessional, and I have other opportunities I can pursue if necessary. I know the decision is up to me in the end, and most friends say “just take it and then negotiate raises” but I’m concerned that this relationship is starting off on a very bad foot and will be exacerbated every time HR screws up in the future, or my annual merit increase isn’t what I expected. I’d like to know your opinion on the organizational stance here.

There are a few different issues here: One, I wouldn’t take an offer 10% below your current salary unless you have good reason to do it — like that you’re currently overpaid, or you’re changing fields, or there’s something about this job that will make up for it. Two, your friends who say “just take it and then negotiate raises” are wrong; your raises will always be tied to this initial starting salary. Three, you’re right that it’s not great that they initially told you one range and then made you an offer below that range (although it sounds like they might have acknowledged they messed up).

But on internal equity: They’re absolutely right to care about ensuring that their wages are equitable internally. If they don’t, that’s how companies end up with pay gaps by race and gender. You can try making an argument for why you merit more (and why the market supports more), but ultimately, they’re right not to pay you more than others doing similar work at the same level.

4. My husband has cancer and I’m distracted at work

My husband was recently diagnosed with cancer. I’m finding myself very distracted at work and having a hard time focusing. I’m generally known as a very high performer and actually recently got promoted to work on a big new project but I’m definitely not producing at the level I normally would.

Everyone in my department is very kind and I think they would cut me a lot of slack if I told them what was going on, but I’m struggling with how much to share. It feels awkward to just bring it up and I don’t want to seem like I’m looking for sympathy. On the other hand, if I don’t say anything and just try to push through as normally as possible, I don’t know how to handle normal office small talk while my life is in such upheaval. It feels selfish but I also don’t want people to think I didn’t deserve my promotion.

This is the kind of thing that decent people want to know about their colleagues, because they want to be able to cut them some slack while they’re going through something so hard. And having this context will help things make sense to them — if they notice you seeming off or distant or disengaged, it’s actually much more helpful if they understand why, rather than having to wonder if you’re being chilly because of something they said, or if you’re fed up with your job, or if something else is going on. Seen through that light, it’s a kindness to let them know, assuming this is a team of kind people, which you said it is.

It might help to reverse this a bit — if your coworker were going through this, wouldn’t you appreciate knowing so you could cut them some slack and rally around them? At a minimum you should let your boss know, but really, it’s okay to let everyone else know. It’s in no way selfish or something that will look like you can’t handle your promotion.

5. Listing board service on a resume

I am a 30-year-old professional working in state government for 5+ years and I have a terminal degree in my field. Some recent changes in leadership at my organization have me starting to think about updating my resume and starting to do a bit of job searching — I want to know what my options are if I decide I want a change.

Your resume advice is always so helpful, so I’m wondering if you can help me highlight some particular community service experience on my resume. I sit on the board of directors for a local nonprofit (an animal shelter) that brings in $1 million in revenue annually. In that role, I don’t directly perform the professional service that I am licensed to, but I am an active contributor to the work and discussion and sometimes rely on my professional training to provide insight. We meet several times a year and the work is ongoing.

What are some ways that I can highlight this experience, particularly because I’ve been in my current role for 5+ years and otherwise my professional experience is mostly internships that are 5-8 years old at this point.

What you want is a Community Involvement section, or an Other Experience section, and you can put this there. When you do, you can list it similarly to how you’d list a job, with 2-3 bullet points describing your accomplishments.

{ 448 comments… read them below }

  1. Flyleaf*

    OP2, if you are connected with any of the clients through LinkedIn, you can send them a note through LI after you leave without needing their email address. That should avoid any issues related to taking email addresses when you leave.

    1. SpellingBee*

      This is an excellent idea. Also, while your employer has some standing to dictate your contact with clients, it doesn’t have any to restrict your contact with vendors (I’m thinking court reporters, copy services, office supply companies and the like). After all, they’re businesses that you could be working with through your new employer. I’d wait until I was at the new firm and then email them from there to let them know you’ve moved.

    2. Kimmybear*

      LinkedIn has a setting where any connections are notified when you update your profile.

    3. AnonymEsq.*

      This exactly. It’s also a good opportunity to make sure you are connected via LinkedIn.

    4. charo*

      LW doesn’t seem to know that interactions may have been cozy as you need to work together, but once you leave they usually end. It’s good to stay professional and not cling to them in a way that might not seem appropriate. Pet pix are nice but make sure it’s mutual.

      1. ChimericalOne*

        OP just says she wants to say good-bye. Nothing in the letter suggests that she thinks she’s going to go on to be BFFs with former clients or vendors.

      2. MayLou*

        I think there’s a distinction between wanting to say goodbye before disappearing forever out of someone’s life, and clinging inappropriately. I lost a job after an unpleasant probation hearing that I was certain would end up in me being let go, but my colleagues at the time (the few I spoke to about it) thought would not. I said goodbye and thanks for being good colleagues to those handful of people the day before the hearing, but the others simply got an email sent immediately after the hearing saying “MayLou no longer works for us.” I’d have liked to have said goodbye and good luck to them.

  2. Elizabeth West*

    I read somewhere that doodling can also help increase your focus. I sometimes doodle or fill in letters on a paper agenda in meetings. This is probably similar to what the needlepoint person is doing. If someone tried to stop me from doodling, I’d feel frustrated. If she’s participating and paying attention, I wouldn’t mind, though if you’re meeting with clients, they might see it as a little weird.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      I fill in letters too! This is one of the few things that will keep me awake during meetings. Now that I work from home and don’t have printouts to fill in, I need to find another way to stay awake during meetings that won’t be distracting to my teammates on the calls (so something like listening to light music is out).

      1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

        Are the meetings video calls or just conference calls? If it’s conference calls, I recommend some mindless app. I have a coloring book app on my phone. It’s basically color by number so super mindless, but something to keep my hands busy.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Just conference calls, thank goodness. I’ll try that coloring book app.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Finally a good use for junk mail & unsolicited restaurant menus.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I can’t do this in meetings anymore, but I used to color code my planner since I couldn’t bring actual coloring books and pencils in.

      It could definitely be helpful to redirect the employee, with the understanding that not all activities will allow her to focus the same way as needlepoint. But she also needs to know that if needlepoint is her only option, she may have to give it up because “optics” =/

      1. Works in IT*

        Yeah as an experienced needlepointer, I can confirm that needlepoint is absolutely not distracting, and does not prevent a needlepointer from participating in a conversation. Now, it doesn’t prevent someone from going off in their own head somewhere, but that can be done with or without anything to “distract” you.

        1. Washi*

          I guess I would have assumed that with needlepoint you have to mainly look at your hands though? I knit occasionally on my lunch break while chatting with coworkers because I can do it while maintaining a completely normal level of eye contact (since it’s also not considered polite to stare unblinkingly at someone even without a craft) but I don’t sew because that has me looking down at my hands too much.

          1. Works in IT*

            Eye contact, not so much, but it allows for complete focus on whatever discussion is going on. Although… I don’t bring anything to fidget with to meetings, and I still struggle to make eye contact with people! Is eye contact really necessary?

            1. Michaela Westen*

              Yes, IME. If you make no eye contact at all while talking to someone, it gives the impression you don’t like them or don’t want to talk to them.
              Just make eye contact for an instant at a time and work up from there.

            2. Anax*

              Most allistic folks will assume that you’re not paying attention if you aren’t watching their face, even if you’re contributing actively to discussions and clearly engaged. That one has always baffled me, but it really does make a difference in how people react.

              I say allistic because disliking eye contact is commonly an autistic trait, and autistic folks also often want something to fidget with (me included). There are other folks with that trait, but it’s so common in autism that it’s a cultural stereotype.

              For the allistic folks: Eye contact for me feels like… say, imagine you had to have all conversations with your nose pressed to the other person’s nose. It feels INCREDIBLY uncomfortable and invasive, in a ‘person is directly in my personal space’ way, to the point where I’ve started crying or gone to scrub myself compulsively. While there are other reasons people may dislike eye contact, this level of reaction is *incredibly* common among autistics in particular – it’s a terrible creepy-crawly feeling that’s nigh unbearable. (It may also be an ADA issue, since it’s so commonly tied to disability.)

              I’ve managed to train myself out of the worst of that reaction, but I still don’t *get* anything out of eye contact – it doesn’t signal attention, and I can’t read facial expressions – so it’s a relief when I can fidget with something in my hands rather than just playing to optics.

              1. wittyrepartee*

                Not ASD, but we’d get along. I’ve learned to stare off into the distance behind people’s heads so I don’t have to look at them.

                1. Anax*

                  I learned to lipread, actually – helps when the background noise makes it difficult to parse people’s words, too.

                2. Not Rebee*

                  I am not aware of disliking eye contact or of having a hard time meeting people’s eyes (other than that it’s difficult to focus that intently on one part of someone’s face for the duration of a full conversation – no one has ever said anything to me about it my whole life), but I’ve noticed frequently that people turn around to glance behind them when we are having conversations, which makes me think I’m looking behind them more than I’m looking at them. Wittyrepartee do you get that kind of reaction often or is there a more subtle way to stare off into the distance than I am apparently using?

              2. Works in IT*

                Yeah, am not ASD, but meeting someone’s eyes is really hard for a while. It’s not awkward for me, but if I’m looking at someone’s face for a few minutes my focus will start slowly sliding down. And then it looks like I’m staring at people’s chests which IS weird.

                1. Washi*

                  That seems fine for a meeting! In that situation all the eye contact I expect is a look every so often if I’m presenting. It would seem a bit weird to me if someone never looked at me while I was talking, just because it feels like a natural instinct to look at the thing that is making noise? But maybe ASD folks don’t feel that way.

                2. Close Bracket*


                  It would seem a bit weird to me if someone never looked at me while I was talking, just because it feels like a natural instinct to look at the thing that is making noise? But maybe ASD folks don’t feel that way.

                  I can’t speak for all people with an ASC (autism spectrum condition, which is slowly replacing ASD), but for some of us, we don’t have the ability to process both your face and your words at the same time. I personally can listen and make eye contact, but I tend to have to look away when I talk bc I can’t process my own thoughts and also process your face. I’ve met non-autistic people who do the same thing for the same reasons, too! Anyway, your natural instinct is definitely not everybody’s natural instinct. So it might seem weird to you when the person you are talking to is looking away, but that doesn’t mean they need to change what they are doing.

                3. Anax*

                  Sudden or startling noise: Yes, definitely look. That’s the instinct part for me.

                  If a new person is talking, I might look to double-check which person is speaking, then look away again.

                  If the same person is continuing to present, then I probably won’t look.

                  Most folks can follow podcasts and radio, even though there’s no person to look at, right? And, for instance, most people don’t regularly stare at their car radio while they’re in traffic, even if they’re fascinated by what’s on NPR right now.

                  Same thing – because I’m not generally getting information from the presenter’s facial expressions or gestures, I’m not more inclined to watch a live speaker than, say, my car radio, or an audio-only call which just shows your stationary employee ID photo. The verbal ideas are interesting, but I can’t register any information the “live video feed” is providing – it might as well be a stationary picture for me, most of the time.

                  Some folks may vary there, but that’s how my brain works.

                4. Washi*

                  This is really interesting, thanks Close Bracket and Anax! Anax, your analogy to a podcast was particularly helpful. It makes sense if the visual appearance isn’t giving you any new information, you wouldn’t need to watch it closely.

                  And just fyi I realize that “weird” wasn’t a great choice of words, I meant and should have said “unusual” since I wouldn’t think the person not making eye contact was themselves weird, but that it would be a bit unusual and I would wonder about it.

                  Anyway, my husband actually has trouble making eye contact and doesn’t always intuit people’s meaning from their expressions the way I do. He’s never really connected the two but now I’m wondering if he doesn’t maintain much eye contact for similar reasons – maybe once he’s seen the like, macro expression of happy/sad/angry etc he doesn’t feel the need to watch for micro expressions because he doesn’t notice them as much as I do. Very interesting!

                5. MayLou*

                  Out of nesting but a reply to Close Bracket’s comment about processing thoughts/words and eye contact at the same time – I had to ask for a question in a job interview to be repeated because I had been concentrating so hard on “Is this a normal amount of eye contact? Should I only look at the person who is speaking or should I glance over at the other interviewer? Can I look down at the piece of paper with my notes on yet, or should I keep making eye contact?” that I just… didn’t hear the question. At all.

              3. Michaela Westen*

                I had no idea it could be that bad! I was thinking shyness.
                Maybe looking at the person’s neck or chest would help?
                I’ve done that when I had to have meetings with someone I didn’t like, and it seemed to work. However, he knew/knows I don’t like him and why, though he pretends not to. So maybe he noticed and let it slide.

                1. Anax*

                  I actually learned to lipread, which usually works alright. I also have (ASD-related) trouble filtering out background noise, which lipreading also helps with.

                  (Parties and restaurants are particularly hard – say, in a work lunch at a restaurant, I often might as well be deaf because my ears can’t catch a darn thing.)

                  I do feel like I’m staring too intently at people’s mouths, but no one has seemed put-off yet, especially if I mention that I’m lipreading because I have trouble hearing.

                  I’m also always the “designated note taker” in meetings – I take a lot of very tidy color-coded notes, and that gives me a good excuse not to look up.

                  There are coping skills, but even in my late twenties, after years of concerted effort, eye contact is awful!

                2. Zephy*

                  Trick for faking eye contact: look at their nose or the space between their eyebrows.

              4. only acting normal*

                If I’m making “normal” eye contact I guarantee all I’m thinking is EYES EYES EYES. I’m not hearing what is being said.
                It happened yesterday in casual conversation with a big eye-contact maker: I can remember his eye colour (light blue, with thick reddish brown eyelashes) but not the conversation.

          2. Aerin*

            I read while cross-stitching. (In fact, I was cross-stitching while reading this article.) I can’t do it if I’m working on a more complicated project that has me double-checking a pattern and counting stitches. So I do a lot of pixel art stuff where I can print the outlines directly onto the fabric. I can’t do it completely blind, but it takes a split-second glance to confirm that the needle is in the right spot and then the rest is by touch.

            Basically, if I’m in a scenario that doesn’t require frequent use of my hands, I reach for the cross-stitch. And yes, that includes work. I’ve never done it during meetings because I don’t want to have to explain myself, but I’ve gotten permission to do it during trainings, and I do it on calls (since I work in phone support) as a matter of course. Anyone who’s ever seen me rattle off a 48-digit recovery key while picking out a row of bad stitches knows it’s not an issue.

            1. Clisby*

              I was thinking similar for needlepoint. I haven’t done needlepoint in years, but when I did I could easily do a lot of it while having conversations, watching TV, etc. Think about a needlepoint piece with a complicated center design, and then a lot of background. I could almost do the background part with my eyes closed.

          3. nonymous*

            When I used to work in a call center years ago I would crochet afghans to sell for extra money – it was great, and a diversion well-received by management.

            More recently when I was at a church retreat where another woman and I were knitting and the leader felt that he needed to call on us individually to make sure we were engaged. I had to point out to him that of the N ideas being brainstormed that 1/3 of them came from me and maybe some non-knitters should be surveyed too, since I wasn’t 1/3 of the people in the room.

          4. AKchic*

            I crochet in meetings, and I hate looking at people in the eye. People find my gaze unnerving. *shrug*

            I don’t do it in professional settings, though. I know how difficult it is to break the “optics” plus the whole “women in professional placement” issues. Only during my volunteer meetings will I crochet. The rest of the time, I’m focusing on notes and doodling.

      2. Quickbeam*

        Optics play a huge role. I can’t knit at my desk during lunch as it was seen as a professionalism issue. If I was to try to knit during a meeting it would be seen as an act of contempt. Unless it was a reasonable accommodation, my industry would find any hand work during office hours very disrespectful and an indication that the employee was “half there”.

        1. Kimmybear*

          An HR person I spoke with once interviewed someone that knitted while she waited for the interviewer. Can’t remember if she knitted during the interview but either way she was remembered as the “one who knitted” and it wasn’t a positive thing.

        2. yala*

          At a meeting I can understand (I like knitting, but it can be kind of A Lot sometimes), but at your own desk *on your lunchbreak?*

          That just seems silly.

          I can see both sides of this where it looks disrespectful from the outside, but also I NEED something to do with my hands during meetings, or I will drift off (or possibly fall asleep)

          1. Jadelyn*

            I have putty, a fidget spinner, and a fidget cube that I’ll sometimes use during meetings. The spinner I usually restrict to conference calls since the motion can be distracting in-person, and I try to use the quieter functions of the cube if I’m in a meeting so I’m not driving people nuts with click-click-click, but they keep me sane while I’m in meetings.

            Agreed that it’s a bit much to scold someone for what they’re doing on their breaks, but I can also see if it’s at one’s desk, other people don’t realize you’re on your lunch break, they just see someone sitting at their desk knitting.

        3. tamarack and fireweed*

          During an interview I would consider as inappropriate *even as someone who thinks there should be no problem knitting or similar small-scale repetitive craft work in meetings* because the interview is a situation where you don’t know the company culture yet, and even if you’re prepared to introduce crafting-in-meetings, the interview would not be the place to scout this out. (Or it would be only if this topic is SO IMPORTANT to you that you are prepared to drop an employer for any level of unfamiliarity with/frowning upon the idea.)

          But knitting while waiting? It’s not rude, it’s not disruptive, and the person is on her own time. So unless sitting umoviningly in a corner is part of the job I find it exceedingly small-minded to judge a candidate for this.

          1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

            A constant frustration for me is that it is considered unprofessional for me to knit while waiting for a meeting or interview (I would never do it during a meeting because I am taking notes), but killing time by playing Sudoku or surfing Facebook or whatever on your phone is totally fine.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I just scribble because I can’t even doodle to save my life. Thankfully I’m now in a very few meetings required job but during training seminars I’ll scribble on the workbooks.

      I can’t even watch tv without playing a cellphone game, I need my hands to be occupied. I also hate eating without reading or watching something, it spikes my anxiety!

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I have never watched as much TV as I did when I was doing cross-stitch stockings for my partner’s family. Partly because I needed to get that ish done and partly because I can never pay attention to TV unless my hands are going.

        I also once watched all of House and knit myself a shirt…

        1. Romney Marsh*

          I patchwork and quilt while watching TV because I can’t have still hands either- and I consider it time-effective multi-tasking..

          1. EPLawyer*

            I do the same thing. If I have hand piecing or hand quilting to do, the tv is on. It keeps me occupied.

            1. Lucy*

              Ditto but crochet. If my hands aren’t busy they seek out FOOD and frankly that’s not necessary.

              1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

                Cosigned, team knitting. I keep my hands busy so my pants continue to fit.

        2. yala*

          lol, last year for Christmas I found out that it takes the entire length of the first season of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel to knit a potholder (double-knit with a chicken design I made, so not just pure stockinette)

      2. kittymommy*

        Same. I have a hard time focusing on a show unless I’m doing something else, generally surfing the web. And I doodle in meetings all the time. You’d think I’d be better at it….

      3. Clisby*

        While eating, I prefer to have a conversation – but if I’m on my own, I absolutely want to be reading/watching something. I never eat alone in a restaurant without bringing a book or magazine along. (I don’t mind eating out alone at all – I just want something more entertaining to do than gazing around the restaurant while I eat.)

      4. Jadelyn*

        Zentangles! You don’t have to be able to draw. I sure as hell can’t, but I’ve learned some of the simpler zentangle patterns and will do those in the margins of my notebook.

      5. Tiny Soprano*

        I definitely get more art commissions finished when there are good things on TV.

    4. Wendy Darling*

      I play solitaire during meetings. Badly. I can’t focus on what people are saying if I don’t have something to do with my hands. When I was in college and took paper notes I either took absurdly detailed notes or ended up drawing dinosaurs if things moved too fast for my notes. I was recently in a week-long super-hardcore strategy session during which I played solitaire basically continuously and then got praised for my level of interaction and the high quality of my input. THE SYSTEM WORKS.

      Luckily I now work from home so no one notices my fiddling, but I had a professor in graduate school who took a vehement dislike to me because I played Bejeweled in her class. Literally that meant I was listening but she wasn’t able to get it.

      1. Lady Jay*

        Wait–I assume you play solitaire on your computer, right? Because I initially pictured you with a real deck of cards all spread out on the table, and thought I’d found the one in-meeting activity I wasn’t sympathetic to.

        Then I cottoned on.

        I personally knit in meetings and focus much better, so whenever these recurring questions come up about knitting/needlepoint/drawing, I’m on Team Craft. Given the manager’s reaction in this letter, I wonder if the tides are starting to shift a little.

        1. Clisby*

          I thought the same thing! Like, you know, spreading out all your cards on the conference room table is probably not going to go over well. What’s next, you and the guy next to you break out a chess board?

      2. Sled dog mama*

        I went to college before smartphones but I think I had that same professor. Professor hated me because my notes were covered in doodles, simply couldn’t understand that the doodles meant the info stayed in my head.

        1. D'Arcy*

          I had a professor who got mad at me for “paying too much attention to my computer” during an in-class video documentary. . . and then paradoxically got even madder when I showed her that I hadn’t been on social media, I was literally writing my reaction paper on that video documentary in real time.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            She was mad because you called her out on being wrong about you. What a jerk.

            1. D'Arcy*

              I suspect it’s also because my reaction paper was a factual call-out of how superficially researched the documentary was. It was Ricki Lake’s hit piece on medical childbirth practices, and, well, *I’m a healthcare professional*.

      3. Snark*

        An old friend of mine, for some reason, needs to be talking to retain and engage in a conversation. So talking to him is like this constant battle to get a word in edgewise as he interjects and interrupts every third word, excitedly repeating and reacting to what you’re saying. If he can’t interject, he drifts, and he can’t follow the conversational thread at all.

        Literally that means he’s listening. His system works.

        It’s STILL indescribably irritating [i]to me[/i] because even knowing that’s how his brain works, it’s still annoying as hell to have someone running a commentary track to whatever you’re saying when you pause for breath. It still feels like being constantly interrupted by someone who can’t let you complete a thought without riding roughshod over it, and it’s very hard to logick your way out of a lifetime of generally agreed-upon social conventions and assumptions. .

        The constant assumption I see in every discussion about this here is that, well, if my system works for me, nobody else has any valid position on it one way or another. And I’ve got to say, I too would be taking the express train to BEC Town if someone was playing Bejeweled in my class on their phone, even if it “worked for them,” for much the same reason my friend is exhausting.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I think there’s a difference between someone running their mouth in a conversation, and someone quietly playing a game on a phone during class lecture.

      4. Sarah M*

        Yes (replying to Wendy D). And that’s the thing. Many people just Don’t Get It. I’ve had this issue many times with teachers in the past – looooong before I had any inkling that I had/have ADHD. They would get very upset with me, but I would be paying close attention to what they were saying class. It just didn’t look like it. I learned far too late in life that taking handwritten notes works equally well (and shocker! I have a record of went on in class. Duh. Call me Captain Obvious (eyeroll)).

        Needlepoint is very tricky, though. The optics are tough. You *might* be able to get away with obscuring your doodling or Solitaire playing, but this is uber-visual.

    5. -A*

      All of us as humans are inherently bad at judging our own performance. The needlepoint would be a problem for me. Many of us think we’re “better” when doing something else, like doodling, which may or may not be true. Most people cite one small study from 2009 as evidence that doodling boosts attention, but this is hardly proof. There definitely isn’t robust or conclusive research on the topic. Even if doodling were truly a beneficial strategy, needlepoint is different as it takes focus to make a pattern. This would require divided attention (aka multitasking), another thing humans are not the greatest at! I wouldn’t want my employee colating and stapling papers in a meeting any more than I’d want them doing needlepoint

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Not everyone is terrible at multitasking. Especially if you are an ADHD-type because for us it works kind of in reverse. I can say as a crafter that needlepoint doesn’t take THAT much brain power that would make me unable to follow a meeting or have a group discussion. Whereas having to sit still and stare for two hours (I can’t take notes or doddle or ANYTHING) at a time attempting to pay rapt attention is seriously killing me and I am not paying the rapt attention that I look like I am doing.

        I get really, really, really, really tired of hearing from everyone that they can’t manage to chew gum and walk down the street at the same time and I am sooooo weird for being able to juggle a project while listening to other humans speak at the same time.

        1. -A*

          Well chewing gum (or playing with a stress ball, etc) is totally different than a task that requires focus and attention. Yes, people with ADHD (myself included) do do better with something mindless like this. Or, something like a treadmill desk, which can be great! These are automatic motor tasks. Two cognitive tasks at the same time is what I’m talking about when I use the term “multitasking,” and this is what people are not great at

          1. Not A Manager*

            You might be mistaken about how much focus it takes to “make a pattern” in needlepoint, though. If the engineer is doing needlepoint on a printed canvas, she is literally stitching one color at a time in a printed area.

            1. -A*

              I hear you, and maybe it’s a really big pattern with lots of one color. But still, there’s some degree of attention going into each thread and she’s probably looking at it while she does it, unless she’s some kind of needlepoint master. I still think it’s similar to sorting and stapling papers in a meeting, which I think most people would not be down with

              1. Observer*

                No – Totally different. Because the sorting and stapling takes up space, makes noise and is distracting to others. None of that is true of needlepoint.

                Now, *I* could not do needle point during a meeting, but that doesn’t mean that someone else can’t. Just as I CAN doodle during a meeting, but other people can’t.

                There is a fair bit of evidence that for many people actually doing something physical helps them focus their minds on one task.

                1. Anax*

                  Ah, you’ve reminded me that I tend to do crafts at my desk specifically to reduce the level of obnoxious fidgeting. I’ve never really been able to sit still, and if I’m knitting or sewing, I’m *not* rocking back and forth in my chair, or drumming my foot against my filing cabinet, or something equally noisy and obnoxious.

                  Brains, huh?

                2. Snark*

                  Speak for yourself? I’d find needlepoint incredibly distracting in a meeting, about half because it’s annoyingly repetitive movement in my visual field and half because it’s so out of place.

                3. Observer*


                  Being distracted by silent things that other people are doing is the one thing in meetings that people have the most control over, so it's the thing that needs to be the least considered.

                  You can't block noise out, because that means also blocking out the non-noise audio stuff. But generally, you CAN not look at the other person (unless it's the speaker or the person who is running the meeting.)

                4. Alianora*

                  Needlepoint and other crafts are absolutely distracting to me. I would not be able to focus if someone else were doing that in a meeting. Doodling, no problem.

                5. JSPA*

                  Indeed, the fallacy here is that everyone else is both neurotypical and not (garden – variety) easily distractable. My own fidgets are great — for me. Other people’s are hugely distracting. As, presumably, are mine, for some of them.

            2. DyneinWalking*

              And even if it does take focus, it’s a different kind of focus than that needed for retaining information. I mean, when she’s doing needlepoint in her free time, it’s unlikely she ONLY does that – people generally combine manual labor, even focused one, with some auditory input or idle daydreaming.I really struggle with viewing arts and crafts as “cognitive” tasks – I ALWAYS amuse my mind with other things while doing something in that area; at a minimum, I’ll reflect on stuff I read or heard, current issues to solve…

              Whereas, if I do any of that while working on my current master’s thesis, you can bet I’m not actually getting any work done.

              1. yala*

                “And even if it does take focus, it’s a different kind of focus than that needed for retaining information.”

                I mean, saying it like that reminds me that it wasn’t uncommon to use stitchcraft to help *remember* things. Usually by coding the stitches, but also just…it really helps to have a physical action associated with a memory.

                1. Clisby*

                  “… it wasn’t uncommon to use stitchcraft to help *remember* things. Usually by coding the stitches …”

                  Like who goes to the guillotine.

              2. Tiny Soprano*

                When I was doing my music degree I became known as that person who draws the performing students in all the masterclasses. Ten years later I can still flip through that sketchbook and remember a) what each person performed and b) some of the feedback they received. Which I sure as hell couldn’t do if I’d taken blocks of written notes. For me, drawing IS a form of note-taking. Just one that works better for my particular brain.

            3. Seeking Second Childhood*

              Counted cross-stitch wouldn’t work.
              I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and figure she’s aware enough to limit herself to filling in large swaths of one color.
              But the issue of it being gendered is unavoidable… I look forward to the day my *male* friend starts showing up to a boring meeting with the socks he’s knitting. I can just picture him now :”It’s not like I’m turning the heel, I’m just doing the same stitch in one color for the next 10 inches.”

              1. Anax*

                I’m a dude, and I’ve done that, for what it’s worth, lol.

                I do think that it depends on the person and the specific craft, so focusing on performance is probably better. Someone who’s just started knitting will probably be way more distracted than someone who’s been knitting socks for twenty years.

                Though with certain crafts like fussy counted cross-stitch, there’s also some concern about the physical footprint of the activity – just sewing away with one color seems much less distracting than switching back and forth between fifteen, all laid out on the meeting table with the scissors and pincushion. That seems potentially annoying even if the individual is focused.

                1. EventPlannerGal*

                  Yeah, that’s important for any craft at work situation – does it create mess? Will there be multiple tools/gadgets/materials involved? Clippings, threads, shavings etc on the table?

          2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            I get where you’re coming from but you’re assuming some tasks are more cognitive than they are.

            I’ve had meetings or thoughtful discussions while collating papers for years. Most crafters get into a rhythm and they’re often not thinking about the hands.

            I play puzzle games on my phone and can tell you what’s happening on whatever episode of SVU I’m watching at the time.

            You have to trust that the person who is multitasking knows their abilities more than any outsider would.

            1. -A*

              It’s not my assumptions of multitasking though, it’s a science! My point is that we’re not good at judging our own performance and limitations. We don’t necessarily know our own abilities, which I agree is a scary thought but there is established scientific evidence that we are poor at self-assessment across a variety of areas

              1. Story Nurse*

                I am headtilting at your assertion that people are so bad at knowing their own capabilities that you, a random commenter, know better. Is there “science” showing that strangers understand people better than people understand themselves? If not, you might want to step back from this insistence that the numerous people saying “this works for me” are wrong, and consider that whatever generalizations you’ve read may not cover the delightful variety of humankind.

                1. -A*

                  That’s just the thing. I’m not saying that *I* know better at all. Which I thought I already described. I didn’t think that my comments read as snarky and I apologize if they did, but yours definitely reads as hostile

                2. Story Nurse*

                  No hostility intended, certainly, and I apologize for coming across that way.

                  You didn’t sound snarky to me. You sounded very sincere. I would still encourage you to step back from very sincerely asserting that people who feel they pay better attention while doing detailed crafting, doodling, etc. must necessarily be wrong about themselves, because telling people they are wrong about themselves—and especially that they’re wrong about what accommodations are most helpful for their disabilities—is rude.

                3. -A*

                  I do feel that it has derailed at this point. My point was that we’re not good at knowing what we’re best at. I’m thinking now to recent studies about sleep, and how people who swear they “work great” off 4 or 5 hours actually have reduced memory and processing speeds with that amount of sleep compared to 8 hrs, even though they swear that they don’t. This is what I mean by us being poor at self-assessment, and it definitely is true that this concept extends to multitasking. That being said, I don’t know what practical applications my comments have to the OP’s situation and how the manager should approach her. I realize none of this is practical from an advice perspective, which is what we’re here for. I do feel that I have derailed!

                4. DyneinWalking*

                  @-A: Do they still think that they did great when assessing the work at a later point, though? I usually overestimate my productivity towards the evening, but the difference is pretty noticeable when I revisit my evening tasks the next morning. Since sleepiness impairs judgment, it would make sense that the judgment of their working ability would also be impaired.

                  Also, I feel that “working well with little sleep” and multitasking fall under “desirable traits”. People WANT to be able to pull that off – “fiddling around with something while listening”, on the other hand, is not desirable. Quite the opposite, in fact. If people do that, they probably feel that they benefit from it even when taking negative reactions into account.

                5. New Jack Karyn*

                  I think there are two separate discussions happening. There is a lot of cognitive science that says that we’re not great at multitasking when that means two or more tasks requiring certain forms of thinking–such as talking on the phone and editing a document. We think we’re good at doing both at the same time, when actually, we’re switching back and forth quickly and there’s a lag. Both tasks are not done as well as when we can give our full attention.

                  However, for people with ADHD, it’s often true that a ‘mindless’ activity (maybe ‘automatic’ would be a better term) can help focus on an actual task. Doodling, certain forms of repetitive crafts, and yes, Candy Crush, help this subset of people stay engaged in their real task. I both live this truth, and teach high school kids with ADHD, and watch it in action every day.

                  My guess is that it’s because our brains keep searching for the next thing to switch to (like a phone searching for a signal)–if there’s something there to switch TO, that doesn’t fully engage our attention, then we can switch back no problem. If there’s nothing there–no fidget task–then our minds wander away and we get lost in thought.

                6. Batman*

                  I’m not sure why you’re pushing back so hard. There is a lot of evidence that people can’t multitask in most cases, especially if both/all of the tasks involve concentration. I’m not saying that needlepoint is an issue – I think it’s a little different if you’re doing something physical and cognitive at the same time than if you’re doing two cognitive tasks – but the research is still there. At best, when people are multitasking, they’re just switching between two tasks very quickly.

              2. DyneinWalking*

                I REALLY doubt that applies here, though… this isn’t a case of “do I have desirable trait X?”, it’s a case of, “does process X or Y get me better results?”. I’d think most people would do fairly well when assessing the latter.

                I can tell you from actual experience that trying to listen to something complicated while slightly tired, and NOT doing something with my hands, will result in my mind constantly slipping away interspersed with intensive thoughts about “non no NO, I need to pay attention!”, all the while hardly retaining anything. The assessment of “do I keep daydreaming” vs. “I’m actively listening and can spot missing information that I should ask about” really isn’t all that difficult.

                1. Lexi*

                  I don’t understand why knitting and listening is multitasking, but writing and listening isn’t. They both require doing to things at once and frankly probably use about the same amount of muscle memory. Now there might be an objection if these are the type of meetings that require taking notes.

              3. yala*

                “My point is that we’re not good at judging our own performance and limitations”

                Apparently this person is tho? It’s not the person writing in asking if they’re doing ok. From their boss, they are actually doing a good job and are engaged in the meetings, so…seems like they are judging their own limitations well enough.

              4. Myrin*

                That might well be true (it sounds like an interesting topic which I’d definitely like to learn more about!), but I feel like it would only hold water in this case if you were talking about people who have never before tried doing only one thing at a time.
                However, as a culture, we very strongly correlate “attention” with “doing nothing but look at the person/thing I’m supposed to focus on” and “inattention” with “doing something other than look at the person/thin I’m supposed to focus on”, and as such, I’ve literally never heard of someone who needs a secondary to help focus on the primary thing who hasn’t at least tried to go the “conventional” route before.
                And science or no science, I feel like it’s very fair to trust someone who’s tried it both ways when they say “No, actually, I didn’t retain anything at all when I did nothing but stare at the speaker whereas I vividly remember every point that other speaker made while I was knitting”.

              5. Colette*

                I don’t really see handicrafts (when done by someone who is competent at them) as multi-tasking – it’s really common to do them at the same time as something else that requires more focus.

                On the other hand, trying to produce a report while answering ad-hoc questions is typically something people are bad at, even when they think they’re good at it.

            2. TotesMaGoats*

              Right. It’s like the ability that gamers have to know exactly what buttons to push without looking at their hands. My son doesn’t understand how I can play tetris and not look at the controller. But he’s five and if he can’t swipe it, he can’t play it.

            3. Massmatt*

              But haven’t we all been in situations where someone is shuffling papers, or looking at their computer or phone, and obviously ARE distracted? Most of the offenders think they are successfully multitasking but in my experience definitely are not. When someone doesn’t participate in a discussion beyond the occasional “uh huh” and cannot field a question without having the last couple minutes of it replayed they are not “keeping their hands occupied” they are distracted.

          3. Librarian of SHIELD*

            For frequent crafters, it takes up a lot less brain space than you might think. I’ve been knitting for years and there are certain patterns I’ve done often enough that it’s mostly just muscle memory now. I don’t need to give the project any of my higher level brain function, my hands just sort of do it by themselves.

            I’m aware that this is not true of all crafters and all projects, and it’s certainly true that from the outside, it’s easy to think this kind of project takes up more mental space than it actually does, so it’s still really specific to the office and to the employee.

            1. Chidi Annakendrick*

              Agreed. I’ve been cross stitching for decades. It doesn’t take much brain power. But aside from that, I think -A is misunderstanding the purpose of crafting while engaging. It’s not multi-tasking. The way it works for me is cross stitching pulls together all of the static and random noise in my brain and sets it on a task. Without the noise and static, my higher functioning brain can now better focus on the important listening and engaging going on. I don’t give a squat what science says – this is how it works for me and it works very well.

              1. Story Nurse*

                Yes, this is how it is for me with listening to music while driving. The hardest part of taking the driving test was that I couldn’t have music on! It’s so much easier to pay attention to the road when the part of my brain that keeps going “hey! hey! did you check your email? are you wearing the right shoes? did you turn all the lights off before you left? hey! what’s for dinner?” can latch onto following the music instead.

                My “fidget” for meetings is bringing in my laptop. I look like I’m taking notes. This wouldn’t work for everyone because laptops can be super distracting, but usually I can manage to focus on the meeting and shunt the static-brain to what’s on the computer instead of the other way around. If I realize I’m getting too distracted or tuning out, I close it. (And it’s handy when someone says “What are the dates of that conference again?”.)

              2. Jayn*

                For me it’s more like giving the idle portion of my brain something to do so it doesn’t get bored and hijack the part of my brain that’s trying to pay attention. My mind has a tendency to wander and it really does help to have a simple task when something requires less than my full attention.

                I’ve never used needlepoint this way, but I have done knitting and crochet. I can’t do anything too complicated—I tried doing a 2-2 ribbing once and kept messing up. But if you know what you’re doing well enough it really doesn’t take up that much brain power.

                1. Blue_eyes*

                  This is exactly the way I think about it. I used to doodle a lot in high school and college during lectures. (Coloring in patterns on graph paper squares was a favorite). Just listening to something doesn’t take up all my brain power, and that little unused portion will wander and then sometimes take the paying attention part with it, and then I’m just day dreaming and not paying any attention. Listening + doodling takes up all of my brain capacity and then I stay focused.

                2. TangoFoxtrot*

                  For me, crocheting and other repetitive tasks are mindless whereas holding still, staying calm, and LOOKING attentive are mindful (and exhausting!) tasks for me. I don’t keep my hands busy in a meeting because I think I’m great at multitasking; I do it to AVOID the cognitive multitasking that happens when my hands are still.

                3. Aerin*

                  I’ve always referred to it as giving crayons to the five year old who lives inside my brain. I can focus on exactly two things at once. (Three if you count the song running through my head, because there is never not a song running through my head.) Any more than that and I tend to flit from task to task instead and forget things. But if there’s only one thing, I guarantee you that five year old will find something else to do.

                  The brain power thing kind of works the other way as well. If I specifically need to let my mind wander (usually when working through writing stuff like ironing out a scene), I’ll play something like Minesweeper or 2048 for literal hours. You might think logic games like that would make it difficult to simultaneously think about other things, but again, five year old that lives in my brain. (Though thinking about it, it’s not that different from the cross-stitch. Once you can see the pattern, following it doesn’t take much effort.)

              3. Cat mom*

                yes! well said.
                I can and do listen to instrumental music and an audiobook at the same time.
                Sometimes I practice piano while listening to an audiobook because it cuts down on my mind chatter and distractions. Without the book I have to work harder to stop a critical voice.
                My ADHD is lifelong and fairly weird to anyone neurotypical. I don’t expect others to understand the things I can do. I’d love to do needlework in meetings, but since I can’t, I volunteer to take the best notes (almost a transcription) my manager has ever seen.

              4. knitting librarian (with cats)*

                For me ~ this. very much this. Most of the time, my brain is going in 17 different and competing directions. When I’m knitting, it’s 1.5 ~ half for the knitting, and the rest for the meeting or class.
                I’ve been knitting for 45ish years, so it’s very automatic for me. I definitely have meeting projects (lots of stockinette or knitting in circular needles) and not meeting projects (lace, cables, anything with sleeves).
                I was diagnosed with ADHD last spring (in my 52nd birthday!) and so many things have clicked into place ~ including that I’ve consistently gotten better grades in classes {I’m working on my third masters level degree….} when I could knit through the lectures. Like a full letter grade on average :-) Seriously, my therapist and I went through my transcripts as part of the assessment process. So, while that is anecdata rather than scientific evidence, I think that it shows that for me, knitting increases my ability to retain information.

                One other benefit for me: my job has me in frequent meetings that I have to be at but that are only somewhat tangential to my job. It would be very easy to get frustrated with having to attend so many too-long, semi-useless meetings ~ but it’s cat-free knitting time, so I {almost} look forward to them.

          4. OxfordComma*

            I don’t know about needlepoint as that’s something I haven’t done in years and years, but with knitting, assuming it’s a simple project, my hands know what to do. It’s purely muscle memory. I find I listen better, focus better, and remember better when I knit as opposed to just listening.

          5. ArtsNerd*

            I agree that multitasking isn’t great under most conditions — but I think the reports that it’s a blanket detriment are referring to neurotypical people, aren’t they?

            I can’t multitask for the life of me when I’m trying to do multiple things that use the language parts of my brain (like writing the alphabet in meetings, even if it’s not cognitively demanding. Another example would be listening to podcasts while I try to get my desk work done.) But the motor skills thing is a great way for me to focus, truly. Notetaking doesn’t work so well for me; on a computer I find myself playing games that are too engaging, and on paper I end up getting super involved in extremely complicated doodle-drawings.

            With counted cross-stitch, I’m not making any decisions. I’m certainly not switching colors in a one-hour meeting. I do make eye contact and stop moving and speak up when appropriate. It’s the long stretches of listening to other people where I struggle.

            I don’t do this at my job but my engagement visibly suffers for it. I recently had an all-day strategic planning meeting and asked if I could bring cross stitch as an accommodation and was turned down. Thank god the facilitator brought fidgets, which kept me from breaking down in tears. But it was still brutal, and I spent *all* of my energy on the optics of my participation instead of the content of what was happening.

            On the other hand, I was on a working board for a nonprofit organization that involved lots of long meetings — some intense, many tedious. Everyone was down with crafting-and-talking –which is how I know it actually works for me instead of just daydreaming about “what ifs”.

            1. Chidi Annakendrick*

              Yes, my double tasks have to be different in order to appease different parts of my brain. If I’m writing a paper, I can’t listen to music with words or podcasts. But cross stitching helps me focus on things with words when I’m supposed to be listening and engaging. And I do think this might hinder neurotypical people where it helps some neurodiverse people. I also think though that we’re slowly moving toward models of education and employment that recognize diverse learning and listening methods. Slowly.

        2. Caitlin Burrows*

          I have a learning disability and the worst attention span so if a meeting is running a bit too long for my liking I’ll either say (or write) the alphabet backwards or try to name all 50 states.

        3. krysb*

          I do my best thinking while playing video games. I’ll just play Skyrim, which I’ve played to death, wander around the virtual world, and let my brain go. The game gives my hands and eyes something to do, allowing me to keep most of my focus elsewhere.

      2. Ren*

        You seem to be forcing your own personal experience onto everyone. For people with ADHD or similar issues, the options are 1. Do something to keep their hands occupied so they can focus or 2. Be completely ineffective in the meeting because their train of thought zoomed off to a dozen different stations before you finished welcoming everyone to the meeting. There is no in between.
        This is not something they have much control over, either, anymore than someone with dyslexia can suddenly read perfectly. Yes, with a great deal of effort they can squeek by, but it will leave them exhausted and they will quickly burn out.
        Or, they can use reasonable coping mechanisms for their disability. A small craft project to occupy one’s hands is a fairly reasonable accommodation.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Yes! I have no idea if this is literally what’s going on with the cognitive difference, but it helps for me to think of it this way:

          Let’s say there’s a meeting that takes 10% of my brain power. Someone without ADD can take 100% of their focus and operate it at 10% power, using all their focus on this meeting even though it doesn’t require all that much mental energy, and leave the rest of their mental energy for when it’s actually needed. My brain takes 10% of my focus and operates it at 100% power, leaving the other 90% wandering around looking for something else to do. If I have something like knitting or doodling that will be a reliable, planned “job” for the rest of my attention and it dramatically reduces the chance that all of my brain will go off on some random train of thought and take the meeting-brain bit with it.

          1. Lucy*

            My techy spouse refers to this as NOPing – analogous to where the computer has to process a “do nothing” loop to keep it busy as it can’t do nothing on its own. For some people, crafting (etc) fulfils the NOP function. I don’t think this is an ADD-specific thing though obviously it applies there and requires accommodation.

            Personally, I have a hearing disorder so I need to reserve some function for visual support of auditory input (e.g. subtitles, lip reading, etc). Doodling is no good for me, but crochet is great if it’s a muscle memory pattern I don’t need to look at. If it’s an important meeting I take lots of notes (visual support) or even volunteer to minute (the added benefit is that you control the retained narrative). I vividly remember being asked to stop fiddling with a pen as I presented, as the attendee found it distracting, but that was the NOP on that day and I had to then fidget in my pocket or behind my back or something to stay level.

            1. Colette*

              Yeah, I don’t have ADD but I constantly doodle in meetings or play with a pen or something when talking with colleagues.

          2. Myrin*

            There are so many great explanations of this phenomenon in this thread!
            I honestly cannot comprehend that at all – I can’t even listen to music while assembling a cupboard or something, I’m super single-minded and can only focus on literally one thing.
            I’ve never doubted people who told me they need a secondary thing to help them focus but I’ve never been able to truly understand it, either, because it’s such a vastly foreign concept to me. But all these analogies really help me get a clear picture of what people mean when they say that, which is awesome!

            1. Sutemi*

              It might depend on the task as well. I can’t drive and listen to music because I rarely drive, so it requires all of my attention as well as physical coordination. However other tasks which are purely mental or purely physical I can combine with music. For me, putting together one cupboard wouldn’t be well combined with music, but if I had to put together 50 of the same cupboards I would like music by the time I was midway through.

      3. Koala dreams*

        To be honest, I feel there are this secret rulebook about what people are supposed to be able to do simultanously, and what they are supposed to not, and it’s very loosely connected to actual abilities. For example, if this woman was instead taking notes, nobody would assume she was distracted. Also, if you say that you can’t listen to people in a meeting and taking notes at the same time, you would just hear a cheery “Then you need more practise”, not a lecture on h0w nobody can do a good job on that because it requires multi-tasking. Yet if you are required to do needlework in meetings, it would be perfectly fine to push back. It just doesn’t make any logical sense!

        I do think it can be valuable information for an employee if future advancement in the company requires following this secret rulebook, but it can be equally valuable for a manager to be able to see people’s actual abilities and not put too much value on the optics of a situation.

        1. Yorick*

          But taking notes is related to the meeting. If she looked like she was taking notes but really she was writing a grocery list or manifesto, everybody would agree she wasn’t paying attention.

          1. Koala dreams*

            Yes, that’s my point. If it’s related to the meeting, you’re supposed to be multi-tasking and still pay attention, but if you do exactly the same multi-tasking when it’s not, it’s suddenly seen totally different. Clearly the way people interpret multitasking is not related to anyone’s actual ability to multitask. So confusing!

          2. Librarian of SHIELD*

            I have written many stream of consciousness journal entries in meetings and lectures, and been complimented afterward about my focus and note taking skills. I was paying exactly zero attention, but the people in the room thought I was because I was participating in an activity that is coded as “paying attention to the speaker.” If I had been coloring or doing a sudoku puzzle, I could have been taking in the information just fine, but those activities are coded as goofing around and not paying attention.

        2. Lusara*

          I didn’t realize that “look like you are paying attention” is a secret rulebook. That’s something that’s drilled in to kids starting in kindergarten.

          Taking notes (or doing something that looks like taking notes) gives the appearance that you are paying attention. Doing needlework or such gives the appearance that you aren’t paying attention. That seems pretty obvious.

          And to make sure I’m being clear, I am not saying that someone doing needlework is not paying attention. I understand that for people with ADD and such that it helps them focus. I am just saying it gives the appearance of not paying attention, and perception is often more important than reality.

          1. Manon*

            > perception is often more important than reality.

            I think this is the key point. Regardless of this employees actual level of attention while doing needlepoint, it’s going to look to most people like she’s not paying attention. People she doesn’t know well will likely think “huh, pretty rude that she’s doing needlepoint right now”, not “oh that’s helping her concentrate”.

          2. Koala dreams*

            Glad you had it drilled into you in kindergarten! I wasn’t as fortunate. (Or do I mean unfortunate?) Everything is easy when you already know it, but that doesn’t help those of us who doesn’t know. Or those who can’t do what’s expected for any reason, of course.

          3. MatKnifeNinja*

            I had a boss tell me, “I pay you to fake pay attention.”

            So no crafts, no mobile phone, fidgets…

            I’m an artist, and it is really hard not to doodle.

            When I worked in a hospital, no one was allowed to do crafts in the cafeteria, because the public also ate there. You could read, do a crossword puzzle or something like doodling. The reason being, the “public had complain (?) and worried about the staff not being able to leave their “stuff” to answer an emergency page.”

            Do I believe some rando complain? Meh. Do I think the higher ups had an big issue with something that was never an issue. Yes. Many of the ICU/CCU nurse did beautiful cross stitch, and this was so insulting to them.

            My current boss doesn’t mind if I doodle.

            OP, my concern is if your higher ups think needle point at meetings is terrible. You not crackling the pay attention whip makes you look less.

            People get weird about how you show respect and attention.

          4. Kahi*

            Yes – thank you. This seems so clear to me.

            Needlepoint during a meeting would be so unacceptable in my office that i don’t think it would ever occur to anyone to try it. Same with fidget spinners, doodling, and other fiddly stuff. It just wouldn’t happen. The appearance of being engaged is part of being professional. I mean in an office with other people, not working from home,

            I’m so curious though, what kind of jobs and meetings do people go to where this would be OK? Just because it is so far from my own expectations that I can’t imagine it.

            1. Horatio*

              I think it’s probably more acceptable in less traditional industries. I work in a performing arts nonprofit and for one of the meetings I attend (which is a much longer meeting than normal), the meeting chair brings pipe cleaners, putty, and coloring pages for the explicit purpose of giving people something to do with their hands during the meeting. It makes a HUGE difference in my own ability to concentrate (and not rip my fingernails off) and I’ve noticed that a good portion of the upper-level managers and senior staff usually end up taking stuff as well.

              Now that wouldn’t fly in ALL meetings in this org (like meetings where outside stakeholders are involved – board meetings and the like) – but the company culture is pretty relaxed around what you do during internal meetings. If I started bringing knitting to my department team meetings, I’m pretty sure no one would bat an eyelash.

              1. Kahi*

                That’s cool to know thanks – my own organisation is very casual culturally but it seems our business practices are very traditional. Thanks for answering helpfully.

      4. Batgirl*

        I have ADHD students who don’t have enough focus to watch a film, of their own choosing, as a treat on reward days. Conversely, if I allow them to make putty shapes or go straight to highlighting instead of reading along they can recite word-perfect the ‘most boring book ever’. The more you give them to do the more likely you are to get them into hyper-focus. Also, I truly hate citing evidence of studies when much of this is highly individual. A person isn’t going to stop using tools which allow them to function just because the same tool doesn’t work for other people.

      5. Gladiator*

        I feel like your comment is tone deaf. Unless you are well verse in research surrounding attentions, add, ADHD, and other disorders or disabilities, that point should be left out. As the op said, the engineer is a top performer. It’s ok if you rather her not have needle point but she needs to do something to help her focus.

      6. Mike C.*

        Uh, there are tons of ways tonknownif you are able to participate in meetings like, “can I follow the conversation and contribute appropriately when asked a question?” or similar measures of “am I doing my job”.

        It doesn’t require the use of some rando study, it can be tested every meeting.

      7. BethRA*

        It’s also entirely possible that she’s sat through enough meetings both with and without keeping her hands busy, and is able to judge the difference in her ability to focus. There’s a difference between judging your performance at a given task in general, and noting the difference in performance at a given task in different circumstances. Based on what the OP says about her performance in general, I’m willing to believe Knatalie Knitter knows what works for her.

        I think OP and Knatalie might want to be more proactive about explaining the habit, though, it might head off some of the assumptions her colleagues are making.

        1. Tisiphone*

          “It’s also entirely possible that she’s sat through enough meetings both with and without keeping her hands busy, and is able to judge the difference in her ability to focus. ”

          Yes! If she had a similar school experience as me, she was likely told repeatedly not to play with her pens, not to doodle, not to look out the window, not to do anything else that helped her focus. People like me figured this out before we got to high school and still the teachers didn’t get it.

          I’m hoping that with the awareness of individual differences, teachers are no longer requiring an Oscar-worthy performance of the starring role in “Paying Attention: Episode One”.

        2. Aerin*

          It took me a lot of trial and error to optimize my crafting for multi-tasking. There are other crafts I do that are too noisy or messy or can’t be dropped easily without causing big problems. And even with cross-stitch I tried a few different types of project before I found one category that worked well. I’d be super pissed if someone assumed that I couldn’t assess that for myself after basically years of A/B testing.

      8. Dragoning*

        Unfortunately, teachers with opinions like yours nearly failed me out of several classes because I absolutely need to be doing something to draw off the random signal noise in my brain in order to be able to focus. Flash games on the phone are really good for this–but optics don’t allow for it. Drawing can be really good for this, too–not doodling, fuller sketches–but again, optics. I’ve had teachers throw these things out that I was working on and my grades and ability to retain information and remain engaged plummeted.

        Not everyone focuses the same way.

      9. LQ*

        Yes. There’s a whole lot of data to back up that we are not multitaskers. But I really don’t think that many people are always performing at peak performance at work 100% of the time, especially in meetings. It’s sort of like how much of my brain power do I need to fold laundry and if I do it at slightly less than the peak I can, it’s likely fine. You can complain and say that everyone should always work at 100% but that’s just not how humans human. Plus, especially in meetings, you’re often asking people to do something that they are going to check out on anyhow so giving them something from doodling to collating to crafting that will make them more likely to stay checked in for longer is good.

      10. Observer*

        Interesting. While you have a point that people often misunderstand their performance, the rest of you comment is simply not supported by people’s experience. People may not be as good as they think, but most people are generally good at knowing when their work gets good feedback and when it doesn’t.

        Also, in this case you make this blanket statement about needlepoint, but ignore the actual facts of the situation. Keep in mind that the OP is NOT the person doing the needlepoint, yet they say explicitly that their employee did good work in the meeting – she was engaged and on target. What gives you standing to claim that this employee is NOT doing good work?

        Perhaps the problem here is not actually poor work but your own biases.

      11. Sarah M*

        Doodling/keeping my hands busy helps enormously for those of us with ADHD. It’s counterintuitive, I know. But in this respect, our brains essentially work “backwards”. Not incidentally, stimulants have the opposite effect on us. They don’t rev us up and make us jittery, they calm us down and allow us to focus. We’re just wired differently. There’s nothing we can do to change that, we can only try to adapt -overcome – improvise. Doodling is one tool in the box.

      12. tamarack and fireweed*

        People who confidently affirm that mechanical manual craft activities distract from real work are really wrong, at least in jobs that require creativity and problem-solving and are’t themselves primarily physical. It’s really not at all the same thing as multi-tasking, necessarily. I mean, it CAN be – I’m currently working on a complicated hat pattern with shortrows that has me refer to the pattern at every row; or sometimes you have to even look at your hands to get some complicated color/lace/cable work right. But rounds and rounds of stockinette requires just as much attention as drinking a cup of coffee, scratching a small itch or handing around a stack of documents — virtually none. I know the kind of almost-pain I get when I try to multitask, and I HAVE in the past over-estimated my ability to do so. But meeting knitting doesn’t cause this kind of feeling. I’m talking about jobs where other actions are considered permissible, even beneficial, creative breaks (getting up and stretching, getting a cup of coffee, desk exercises, tending to flowers, using a fidget spinner, going out to take air/on a cigarette break etc.) Ultimately, in this type of job, we should be evaluated on the quality and quantity of our contributions, and taking away something we do with our hands on the side.

        I wish workplaces would be more open to it, but I also see that where this isn’t part of the culture, it requires work to make it so and should always be carried out with awareness. A friend is a community college professor and a big meeting/seminar knitter. Except if the seminar speaker is a student who hasn’t worked with her before, because she doesn’t want a student to even doubt that she’s paying full attention.

        Even though the activity is female coded, I know several male knitters (in STEM jobs) who at least occasionally knit in a work environment. Maybe they get away more easily, but it also opens doors for others.

        As for distraction, of course any feature of what you do or look like can be distracting for someone. People sometimes wonder “how does the sock come out striped when she never changes the yarn?” Fundamentally this kind of distraction isn’t more severe than idly wondering how a colleague’s hair stays up so perfectly or how a co-worker knotted a tie. People should be mature enough to cope.

      13. TardyTardis*

        Actually, I pay more attention if I’m knitting or some other handwork than if I’m desperately composing chapter summaries for my next novel just to stay awake…

    6. Knitting Cat Lady*

      On any given day may pockets contain:

      -Two fidget cubes
      -several spinner rings
      -squishy stress balls

      Also, my keys are connected to one of the belt loops on my trousers via a chain.

      In meetings, or when I’m thinking about stuff, I’ll fidget with SOMETHING.

      I’m autistic. Work is an environment of high sensory stress for me. Stimming helps. And fidgeting is how I do it.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        I’m having to do this in meetings now. It’s not nearly as beneficial as if I could do a project during meetings, but it helps slightly. Sitting still and staring is awful, y’all.

        1. Knitting Cat Lady*

          If I don’t fidget I start jiggling my legs or flapping my hands. If I’m really overloaded I start body rocking.

          Which is all WAY more disruptive than any of my other stimming methods.

          Depending on the air quality (looking at you, meeting boxes) I also have trouble staying awake…

          1. Nea*

            THIS LAST ONE! I trained myself to knit while maintaining unbroken eye contact and a conversation and do so at parties. But I can’t knit at work due to it being perceived as unprofessional and I WILL nod off without something in my hands. So I have to stand the whole meeting long – and sometimes I’m still struggling to stay awake.

            And worse, there are some folks who think quietly standing is unprofessional too.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              About the standing — I take scurrilous advantage of a very minor very long ago back injury and everyone else’s dislike of someone else shifting too much in tightly-packed seats. “My back stiffens up if I sit still too long so if I stand back here I don’t bother anyone.” If they look dubious I’ll point out that I do this at my desk too, and sometimes quip “Same reason that I always get an aisle seat at the movies.”
              And yes…..I need a fidget. I’ve only been brave enough to bring knitting in to a work meeting once, where they knew me already, and it felt awkward. But dang if I wasn’t better able to focus on the the whole meeting than other days. So I do have projects for conference calls — crochet in the round is ideal for me, just one stitch and go until I run out of yarn and since it’s a potholder who cares if stitches vary. I do the same at the movies — it keeps me from biting my fingernails in desperation.

          2. Tiny Soprano*

            OH MY GOD this happens to me too! Stale air = instantly asleep. It’s overwhelming, like really bad jetlag. I fell asleep after a rehearsal once, sitting up, eyes open, while the director was trying to give notes. Because we’d been in the same room all day with no windows open.

            1. TardyTardis*

              There was a Duffel Bag entry (humorous military blog) about a Pentagon meeting that had twenty casualties due to oxygen depletion (which I sent to my brother, retired Navy, who said he thought he was at that one).

      2. Morning Flowers*

        Amen to stimming for focus for my fellow autistic lady! :-)

        As for me, I’ve found if you want to keep my attention for several hours sitting around a table with something that isn’t actually that interesting, I need to be sitting on my exercise ball. The “active sitting” helps my posture at the same time as it occupies the huge swaths of my brain screaming “bored, bored, BORED,” and when I really need more motor and sensory focus, I can bounce on it a little.

      3. Close Bracket*

        Yup. Same here. And women are more likely to stim by fidgeting or playing with hair or some other maskable activity. I fidget, I squirm, I scribble or doodle, I play with my hair, I play with stuff on the table, etc.

    7. Jasnah*

      My biggest issues with this (and any other “keeps my hands busy” activity) are:
      1. How important is it that I look like I’m paying attention?
      Once we invited a distinguished speaker to present to the entire company and no one was allowed to bring anything, not even a notebook. It was more important that we looked like we were paying rapt attention and respecting the speaker’s time, than that we actually learned a lot from it. But sometimes it’s an hour long phone lecture and no one can even see what you look like.

      2. Do you need to bring a lot of materials with you to do it?
      I have done knitting, needlepoint, cross-stitch, doodling, fidget rings, staring off into space, etc. There is a difference between “I brought this notebook to take notes in, and also I’m doodling” and “I brought a craft project with needles and string, and I will need to take these with me when I leave”. Bringing something with too many materials suggests that you expect to set up and have enough time to craft that it’s worth schlepping all that back and forth. It reveals your hand in a way that a more discreet hobby doesn’t.

      3. How quickly can you drop what you’re doing if you need your hands?
      If we’re in an active brainstorm session and you need to draw something on the board, do you need to put aside all your materials, mark your row, etc. and then get up? If the presenter gestures at something, do you catch it, or are your eyes mostly down at your craft?

      Personally, I love crafting and love that it keeps my hands busy while I watch TV or listen to something. But usually it fails one or more of the above 123 test, so I choose to save it for home.

      1. Ren*

        My crocheting fits in a bag smaller than most purses. And if I need to get up and do something, I can set it down as quickly as you can set down a notebook and pencil, with no adverse effects beyond maybe losing count of my stitches on a more complex pattern. Which is why I only do simple patterns in classes or meetings.
        Cross-stitching is even smaller to cart around. I can often carry a project in my pocket. And to set it aside, I just have to stab the needle into the fabric so it doesn’t fall off. No different from a note-taker making sure their pencil doesn’t roll away.
        I think people have a seriously skewed view of what is involved here.

        1. Lady Jay*

          I think people have a seriously skewed view of what is involved here.. Which is fascinating, because it suggests that what might be going on in the disagreements about crafting in meetings is competing mental models of “crafting”–why people do it, what skills are needed, and how involved it is. The problem isn’t (just) that it’s perceived as unprofessional, the problem is perhaps a difference in the mental model: crafting as something that requires concentration, versus crafting as something that involves muscle memory and aids concentration.

          1. Close Bracket*

            You can give variable amount of attention to a craft depending on your desired outcome. A sweater that you need to carefully block and pay attention to stitch size on is not a good meeting project. A potholder or facecloth that can look like anything as long as it is square-ish is a good meeting project.

        2. Aerin*

          I’ve busted out cross-stitch on planes and at baseball games. It’s extremely portable and compact. Being able to pull a long thread in one motion is preferred, but if I don’t have space to do that for whatever reason I can manage.

      2. WS*

        Well, that would be true for crafts that I do, but my partner is a crocheter and can bring everything she needs in one hand, and pick it up and down immediately. So while I think your points are certainly worth considering when thinking about whether or not to bring a craft, but different crafts and different crafters will have different answers.

        1. Jasnah*

          I definitely see that! I think it’s ultimately good though, to see that just because your boss also knits doesn’t mean it’s automatically cool to knit in meetings. Your boss may have a different assessment than you which will change the answer.

      3. EPLawyer*

        Perception is the key here. Rightly or wrongly, taking notes looks like you are listening to the person and recording important information. Crafting looks like you are here because you have to be but you would rather be doing something else.

        Also, as Alison noted, it’s very gendered for a woman to be doing cross stitch. This lady wants to be known as a good engineer, not the person who cross-stitches in meetings. It might be a good idea to talk to the person and work out some strategies that keep her brain occupied but are not crafts. Especially if you want to help this woman move up in the company. Perception more than work product may make the difference at promotion time.

      4. Seeking Second Childhood*

        How quickly can I drop it? Right away.
        Do I need to mark something? No – I bring projects that are at the “one stitch, repeat” stage to movies/etc.
        Do I look down at my craft? No. Muscle memory by now. That’s how I can knit & watch TV (I need to read the captions.) I look at my knitting *less* than I’d look at a doodle.

    8. Rebecca*

      I play medium level Sudoku puzzles. I tear out a page from the booklet and hide it in my notepad, and I look like I’m taking notes.

      1. Allison*

        I did this in high school and college, and would probably do it again if I could sit somewhere where no one could see my notebook.

      2. Anax*

        Interestingly, *that* is something that would absolutely take up all my attention, and I’m in the work fibercrafts camp.

    9. AnotherAlison*

      I run engineering meetings almost every day. I would not allow crafting in my meeting. It would be weird and culturally off base in my office. I think the OP is giving the engineer poor advice by telling her that even though HR brought it up, OP is okay with the engineer continuing to do it and allowing it. The employee is going to eventually work for some of those managers who don’t want to see it, and while it may be as simple as stopping it when that happens, it will cloud her reputation before they have that conversation with her.

      I am the mom of a teenager with ADHD so I understand the focus aspect, but if she needs to employ methods to focus better, there are things that are less distracting to the other people in the meeting than doing a craft. This just seems like an odd hill to die on.

    10. HannahS*

      I doodle a lot, but I only knit or crochet if I’m in a large lecture where no one will see my hands. Or am at a conference where no one knows who I am or cares. In a smaller discussion, I feel like doing recreational crafts in a meeting sends the message that I’m not there to work. It’s not necessarily fair, because doodling isn’t a productive activity, but I think that drawing in the notebook that you’re using to make notes does send a different message, even beyond the whole female-coded portion. After all, if a man was whittling during a meeting, it would draw my attention, and he’d have to lay down his handiwork in order to make a note. If it was an internal meeting and I knew he did good work, I wouldn’t care, but it doesn’t send a first impression of industriousness. It’s a “how high are the stakes, how much capital can she/you use on this” question. And I agree with Elizabeth. It’s not a good idea in client meetings.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        The “not a good idea in client meetings” is part of why I don’t think this is a good idea at all. This is a newer employee. She needs to establish impeccable judgement right now, not go to battle for her fidget. I have some employees that are not yet trusted to run client meetings, or attend client meetings solo, for completely different reasons than knitting, and I might put this engineer in that boat.

      2. Washi*

        Yeah, I think doodling is fine not because everyone is on the same page about its value but because it’s so easily disguised as note taking.

        I think crafting is maybe more analogous to (non-medically accommodated) eating then to whittling. It is fine in some casual environments to eat whenever. It is fine in some less casual environments when there is a clearly stated reason for it – the meeting is at lunchtime and everyone knows you have no other time to eat. And there are some more serious/conservative environments or meetings where other people’s perceptions trumps your need to eat. Fair or unfair, this is based not on how distracting eating is or how important it is, but on how it affects people’s perceptions of how polished you are, and I think the same can be said for crafting.

    11. Mel*

      It’s true! I’ve always done it and found it helps keep me present and retain information. Sometimes people do look askance at doodling during meetings, but once I explain and am clearly present to interact at meetings, they’re fine with it. It probably helps that I am also able to doodle and take comprehensive notes.

      Note taking is actually more distracting to me, it requires focusing on what was just said while I still try to hear what’s being said. But no one would be irritated by someone taking notes!

      1. Dragoning*

        I am of the same opinion–I don’t typically take notes in meetings because to do so distracts me from the meeting and what’s being said and I miss more than I gain. I never did it in school for the same reason.

        But doodling doesn’t cause that problem and helps me retain information so the notes are less necessary.

    12. CheeryO*

      I think doodling is fine because it’s pretty discreet. Between the gendered aspect and the fact that it is definitely going to be distracting to some if not most people, I just wouldn’t. It’s not something that’s worth burning capital on, as a young (I’m assuming, I know the letter doesn’t specify) female engineer. I’m sure there are quirky offices out there where it would be fine, but it doesn’t sound like theirs is one.

      1. Dragoning*

        It might be worth burning capital to the engineer–it’s hard to say. But it really does make her better at her job, she’d lose capital by not doing it, too.

    13. GreenThumb*

      I am big into crafting, specifically embroidery but I have dabbled in all sorts of textile crafts including knitting, crochet, cross-stitch, etc. I would find it really distracting if someone was doing any of these crafts during a meeting – just seeing someone’s hands constantly working in that way would be really distracting to me.

      It would definitely affect my perception of their professionalism. I would feel like they weren’t paying full attention to the meeting. Also, because you have to bring materials to the meeting it would signal to me that you anticipate the meeting being boring and not requiring your full attention before it even starts. When you doodle in a notebook, it’s not the same because you presumably brought the notebook to take notes. If someone brought a coloring book instead of a notebook I would find it off for the same reason, even though you’re still “doodling.”

      1. Yorick*

        Kind of off topic, but another thing about coloring books is it makes a lot of noise, especially if you color with markers. I sat next to someone coloring in a meeting once and it was super distracting.

      2. Snark*

        This would be my issue. Yeah, great, it helps you focus. I’ll take that as stipulated. But I’d also find it distracting to my focus, for the same reasons and in the same way.

    14. amyjean118*

      The needlepoint may indeed by a mechanism to help a person concentrate, particularly someone with ADHD, and therefore this could easily be requested as a reasonable accommodation. I would keep that in mind if others make complaints about it.

    15. charo*

      Doodling is low-key but needlework is high-visibility and maybe distracting to others.

      I wouldn’t want to do such a “female” activity in a meeting any more than I’d want to shave my legs there. Even if it helped me “focus.” She may still add great comments in the meeting, but it’s just not a good look. It’s asking for people to form a bad opinion. Daring, even.

  3. Fortitude Jones*

    OP #3

    One, I wouldn’t take an offer 10% below your current salary unless you have good reason to do it — like that you’re currently overpaid, or you’re changing fields, or there’s something about this job that will make up for it.

    Yeah, I would say don’t take a pay cut period if you can avoid it. My last job, the one I just left, had a starting salary budgeted at 6% less than what my salary was in a different industry at that time, and I still told them I wasn’t taking a cut – either they could match what I made or they could give me a few grand more, especially since their benefits ended up being worse than the ones I had, and they gave me the slight salary bump. If the company really wants you, they’ll find a way to pay you fairly or give you something in exchange that’s equivalent if they can’t raise the pay band. And yes, OP, it’s concerning that they told you the job would pay X and then came back and offered you W; however, it’s also kind of admirable that this company is thinking about pay equity within the same job family. I worked for an insurance company where I was paid $10k less than my white male counterpart because he had a JD that wasn’t even necessary for the job. We did the exact same thing, but yet his optional advanced degree got him more money, and that always rubbed me the wrong way. It was one of the reasons I ended up leaving that company.

    1. Mother Jefferson*

      I worked for an insurance company where I was paid $10k less than my white male counterpart because he had a JD that wasn’t even necessary for the job. We did the exact same thing, but yet his optional advanced degree got him more money, and that always rubbed me the wrong way

      It is surely legitimate for a company to pay someone with an advanced degree more. This is not an apples to apples comparison.

      1. Alternative Person*

        It depends on how ‘optional’ an advanced degree is though. Paying someone who happens to have an unrelated advanced degree more for the same work is arguably shaky ground because the company is valuing someone who happened to have the resources to gain an advanced degree more than someone who didn’t.

        If the optional qualification is tied to better work/a higher pay band, there’s an argument for that, but the company should be making resources available for their staff to get said training.

        1. MK*

          Eh, I cannot agree with your last statement. There is no obligation on the part of the employer to help their staff acquire degrees, or other qualifications; when offered, it’s a perk. I also think it’s a huge stretch to say it’s shaky if the degree isn’t related to the job; one could also the argument that further education (especially a la degree) is generally a plus, even if the connection to the work is not apparent.

          Paying someone more for an unrelated degree is legal and “safe” in the sense that you can protect yourself against discrimination allegations by pointing to this objective factor to justify inequalities. But it is a question of values: the employer is stating that they are overvaluing formal qualifications.

      2. Batman*

        If the degree is not necessary for the job, it is not legitimate to pay more for it. It’s just classism.

        1. JSPA*

          Having an employee whose other skills or expertise could be called upon, in a pinch, is rarely completely irrelevant, though. Neither is their demonstrated follow-through, in a largely self-paced and self-directed endeavor. It shouldn’t be automatic, perhaps–and non-academic qualifications should also be similarly considered and rewarded–but you don’t put money in a slot and pull out a degree.

    2. Traffic_Spiral*

      ” it’s concerning that they told you the job would pay X and then came back and offered you W; however, it’s also kind of admirable that this company is thinking about pay equity within the same job family.”

      But they couldn’t think of that equity when advertising for the job in the first place?

      1. minuteye*

        And presumably they listed that range in the job ad for a reason (market value of the work, attracting people with the right level of experience?), so when they realized that hiring at that salary was going to create a pay equity problem, the response should not have been “Let’s try to pay the new hire less than we calculated they were worth” but “Oops, looks like we’re underpaying current employees”.

        1. Sarah N*

          Yes! It feels like the solution here would be an equity-based raise for people currently in the position, not playing bait-and-switch with job candidates. Our company actually has done this due to “salary compression” (people being hired in at higher salaries because that’s what the market demanded, and people’s yearly raises not keeping up with that). So, it’s not like it’s an impossible option for companies to do this.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Yeah, we just did a huuuuuge compression adjustment last year. We’ve also increased our internal minimum wage several times in the last few years, so we had second-tier reps with several years at the company making the same as brand new first-tier reps. So we created a whole new system of minimums by position grade and tenure, and processed several dozen pay adjustments for the folks who weren’t where they should be.

            THAT’S how you handle an equity problem. Not by reducing your offer to someone after you’ve given them a quoted range.

        2. Jadelyn*

          That’s what I was coming here to say. The answer to “Oh, we have a current EE making less than the salary range we quoted to the external candidate” is not “let’s lower our offer to the external candidate”, it’s “let’s fix the fact that we’re underpaying our existing EE.”

          Internal equity is indeed important, but there are ways to fix it that involve helping one person, not holding the other back.

        3. LJay*

          This was my thought on the whole thing.

          If the only issue with giving OP the requested payrate is that they wouldn’t be at equity with the existing employee in the role, they should increase the existing employee’s payrate.

    3. Bulldog*

      I have also worked in insurance. While a JD might not be necessary for the job, it is hugely beneficial. I can completely understand a company offering more pay to an employee who has obtained one.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, a knack for reading and understanding tons of tedious rules and paperwork is pretty valuable, and law school does help with that.

  4. Zombeyonce*


    I could definitely be wrong here, but to me the fact that they have internal inequity compared to the salary that you wanted (and the original salary range they provided) means that they’re not paying their people market rate. That to me is a bigger red flag than everything else in your letter.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes, this. I’m transitioning, and the hardest thing is recruiting a replacement. Why? All of my peers are paid severely below market, and Soon-To-Be-Old-Employer can’t even offer a salary at 10% below market because they’re paying comparable folks 40% below market.

      I wouldn’t move forward with the offer. I wouldn’t count on raises, either—they won’t materialize. An organization this committed to underpaying its folks is not going to allow salaries to diverge because doing so would require them to pay everyone else a reasonable wage. Internal equity is important, but keeping everyone well below market is not an acceptable way to achieve that equity.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t know if that’s the case though; the OP doesn’t comment on how it compares to market, and says they were already expecting a lower rate than what they current make.

      1. Blossom*

        But we do know that the person she’d be reporting to was promoted, but kept within the same salary band as before. That’s shocking practice.

        1. Feline*

          The organization I work for does this, unfortunately. Coworkers have been turned down for promotions because their current pay was below the salary band of the next-step title.

          I’ve been here long enough my current employer’s practices feel normal, but from responses I’m reading here, title promotions are also expected to increase salary in normally-functioning companies?

          1. EinJungerLudendorff*

            Getting a promotion generally means getting more responsibility, and doing harder and more valuable work (as the company perceives it). People rightfully expect to get compensated accordingly. Which indeed means salary increases.

          2. doreen*

            Yes, usually promotions are expected to result in a raise. In fact, in my experience, a “title promotion” without a raise is typically not considered a promotion, just a title change. But let me see if I understand you properly- are you saying that if Job A pays 50K-60K and Job B pays 57K-67K, you won’t be promoted to Job B unless you’re already earning 57K at job A? I think it’s very common for a variety of reasons for that to be the case- but that’s different from turning someone down because they currently make 52K at Job A

            1. Feline*

              Exactly, no title promotion until you’re earning 57k in your example so there’s no budget impact. We see execs get astronomical bonuses and figure that’s why we have to annual raise ourselves into eligibility for titles in our department. I’m sure that coworkers who moved to other, much higher-paid departments must have gotten raises when they moved, so it seems to be an unfortunate lack of perceived value for our group.

          3. Massmatt*

            “Coworkers have been turned down for promotions because their current pay was below the salary band of the next-step title.”

            I am trying to understand how this makes sense and am completely baffled. How many people are interested in jobs that don’t involve increases in pay? How does anyone advance their career in the long run? This seems like a blueprint for telling your employees to leave for better opportunities elsewhere.

          4. Jadelyn*

            Title promotions and raises go hand-in-hand in a non-dysfunctional company. If you’re getting a title bump, you’re doing work that is higher-level, which means you should be paid more for it. This is such a normal practice that often people are advised to turn down title promotions that don’t carry a concomitant salary increase, because it’s seen as a way for a company to take advantage of you by dumper more/more difficult work on you without paying you appropriately.

        2. OP3*

          OP3 here: The problem is the salary band in this organization is $50k, with around half the band overlapping with either lower or higher job categories. Is that normal? I always found such large bands absurd.

          Furthermore, when I previously worked there we were routinely told that no internal staff could be given a salary raise greater than 12% (even when promoted and given additional responsibilities), but when you look at the public 990 forms, there were clearly multiple executives that received yearly raises well over 12%. This would engender distrust between departments and HR, as it gave the impression ‘rules’ were only applied selectively. This little event just furthers my already existing impression that HR was (and continues to be) incompetent.

          1. doreen*

            The band sizes at my employer aren’t that wide ( the largest is $149K to $184K – about $35K) but for all bands except the highest one, all of the salaries overlap with at least one other band- sometimes more. For example, a salary between $149K and $154K will fit into three different bands.
            But there are a lot of rules regarding salary , possibly due to the fact that most employees are working under union contracts. There’s a even a rule that says how much of a raise you get when you are promoted – it’s X% for the promotion plus Y% for each grade OR the hiring rate for the grade of the new title, whichever is more. So even if the salary you are making at grade 27 fits into the band of your new job at grade 29, you will still get a raise

            1. doreen*

              I forgot to mention it is totally common to have a higher salary than your supervisor here – I often have , because it depends on your salary before promotion and your time in title. But I’ll still get a raise when I get promoted .

          2. CAA*

            Yes, a salary band can be $50K wide. That’s common in flat organizations (i.e. where almost everyone is just an “xxx”, and there are no “junior xxx”, “senior xxx” or “consulting xxx” type roles) because people tend to stay in that same salary band for many years.

            If the wide salary band applies to a very technical position, I could see it having a lot of overlap with an admin or customer support band on the lower end and a manager band on the upper end. A new software engineer could easily earn less than an experienced customer support technician, and likewise a very experienced software engineer could earn more than an inexperienced manager.

            HR doesn’t usually decide how much executives get paid. They have an interest in keeping pay equitable at the lower levels of an organization, but usually little to no input on executive pay. HR might be the ones to communicate and enforce rules like the max 12% raise for those who are not execs but labor budgets and limitations are typically set by finance and approved by the C-suite. The HR at this company might very well be incompetent, but I think you may be blaming them for some things that are outside their control. Your real beef might be with the way the executives run the company rather than with HR.

            1. Jadelyn*

              Thank you for that last paragraph. HR tends to catch the blame for a lot of things that we can’t actually do anything about – if a C-suite executive says “We’re doing this”, HR can’t just refuse. We can fight it, we can make a case for why it’s a terrible idea, but we don’t have veto power.

            2. OP 3*

              Well, this organization has Jr and Sr xxx for almost every salary band. They also have some made up positions that are technically the same level (salary range is exactly the same), but will occasionally prohibit a staff person from being promoted to an actually higher level without going through both positions within that salary level. The org has a management tract and a technical tract, and this second position in one level is only on the managerial side. It’s bizarre.

              Regarding executive pay: I don’t know the actual policies because they’re not written anywhere that staff can see, and we’re not unionized, but seems like a little honesty could go a long way. Telling us that executive level staff can receive different promotions (since they already receive bonuses when non executives don’t) is less demotivating than seeing others treated differently seemingly against company policy.

          3. Sarah N*

            I’m kind of unclear why you want to work at this place?? Also, I would stop framing this as “HR is incompetent” — HR may very well be bad at their job, but ultimately these types of policies come from the top, from company leadership. HR is almost certainly not randomly inventing a policy that execs can get >12% raises but non-execs cannot — that’s coming from the executive level. I think framing this as “the leadership of this company is terrible” will maybe help you make a better decision here on taking the job versus just “HR is terrible.”

        3. CM*

          It doesn’t shock me to stay in the same pay band, necessarily, but it’s surprising that the supervisor is being paid so little that the OP has to get 10% less than the lowest number they originally proposed. To me, that says they kind of cheated the supervisor and now they’re like, “Yay, we underpaid one person so now we get to underpay another person, too, and call it equity!” In other words, their motivation isn’t really fairness, it’s getting everyone as cheaply as they can.

    3. Clementine*

      I hate if equity is used as an excuse to grind everyone down to a lower salary level, rather than as an inspiration to raise everyone up. But I suspect the former happens a lot more than the latter.

    4. Krickets*

      Thank you for saying this, as I was about to come here and mention the same thing.

      This “internal equity” line has also been used as a way (or excuse?) to not pay PoC who are more qualified and experienced than current staff. I’m speaking solely based on anecdotes from friends and also other WOC online. It’s troubling to me and worries me when I have to switch jobs and negotiate as a minority.

      1. Alternative Person*

        I’ve had a similar experience where becoming more qualified (out of my own pocket, no-less), and better reviewed by clients was not enough to get parity with my male colleague (we’re both white) because internal pay structures value loyalty, not knowledge/ability, and this means I’ll never be able to get parity. The manager involved even threatened me with contract non-renewal.

        So yeah, internal equity should be backed up by observable, logical metrics as otherwise it can be used as a smokescreen to hide a lot of bad, cynical stuff

    5. Massmatt*

      The biggest of red flags to me is that they quoted a salary range and then lowballed it. Unless your experience is dramatically lower than what they were looking for (in which case, why offer you the job?) then IMO making an offer below the range they stated is either insulting or indicative of incompetence.

      1. Beatrice*

        Yeah, I can understand coming in lower on the range than OP expected, but below the bottom end of the range, because they’re already paying someone else below the bottom of the range? Why even have a range?

      2. Lusara*

        Yeah, the rest of it is moot. They gave her a range up front, and then made an offer below that. That’s reason enough to turn it down.

      3. OP3*

        Exactly my problem: their incompetence is insulting. Since I’ve worked there before I was aware that I was going to have to deal with incompetent HR, but the insult really exacerbates existing doubts about working there. Since I’ve worked there before and know the departmental staff, I contacted them to inform them about this, but their response was that HR makes salary decisions, and they have no influence. Is that normal? It does not seem practical to have the non budget holding department making budget decisions. Of course they should be involved, and bring into consideration issues of equity and other best practices, but do others organizations operate like that?

        The range that was quoted by HR was what was budgeted by the hiring department (so they had the money and decided that the position could, if not should, pay that much). HR apparently just didn’t think of doing the equity review before telling me the range.

        1. OP3*

          Practically speaking though, my main concern is that every future merit increase (annually at this organization) will be limited by what the supervisor makes. Does this mean that regardless of performance, I can’t be given a higher increase than the supervisor because it’ll affect equity? This would cause more issues than equity concerns I feel.

          1. Sunflower*

            I think A LOT of companies do this and it does affect your pay, you just don’t visually see it because a lot of the time it doesn’t present an issue.

            Something like this kind of happened to me. I was non-exempt and working a lot of OT hours. I was promoted, which made me no longer eligible for OT. My boss fought really hard for me and the best she could do for my new salary was $1k more than I was making with my previous salary and OT. I went back and forth with HR over it and they said I was already at the high end of my salary band so that was that. I quit shortly after since I knew it would be years before I ever was promoted again and the raises were so minimal(1.5-4% each year) that I felt destined to be stuck at that salary for years. I was in a an unfortunate position because HR was being truthful and it was just a matter that my team was working way more than other teams in my dept. For me, leaving was my best option.

            As far as budget, I think budgets for positions were determined by HR alongside the hiring managers/dept heads but HR had final say(see my story above). Part of HR’s function was market rate research and setting the salary bands. A hiring manager would have needed help from above to get a higher salary out of band for someone. For example, my coworker quit and to keep her, they offered her more money than someone more senior than her. Our dept chief had to approve that and coworker was told to not tell anyone about the $$ amount. She didn’t take it but a lot of people found out about the offer and were pretty upset about it. If she had, it would have caused a lot of resentment and I know other folks would have quit over it.

            IMO, I think it’s clear you’re turned off by the company and I doubt you will ever be happy about the compensation. It’s already less than you’re making now and my guess is your supervisor is also being underpaid and that’s how this situation came up. I wouldn’t take this job.

        2. Beatrice*

          I can understand not doing the equity review before giving you a range. What stumps me is why they have someone in the role making less than the range, and are just leaving it like that, and pegging future offers based on it. It sounds like they have some really rigid and illogical policies around pay. Where I am, your pay must be at least equal to the low end of the pay range for the job (but can be above the top end for reasons), and if you were at the bottom of the range but still somehow deemed skilled/experienced enough to supervise someone else in the same type of jobs, that would get some serious side-eye and probably get corrected as well (and it would be considered a serious failure on the manager’s part to not spot that and advocate for it to be fixed).

          I don’t think it’s normal for HR to just *decide* pay with no input from the hiring manager. At my company, they provide guidance, and they have to approve, but it’s a multi-sided negotiation and there are business-sided approvals as well. It makes sense to have them involved so they can make sure pay is equitable and fair and market rate, but the hiring manager is often a better authority on how a candidate’s skills stack up vs. others, how critical specific skills are, etc, and ultimately, their signature goes on the offer letter and they have to live with the candidate, so they have a pretty important say.

        3. Darren*

          Just because they have say 150K to pay the position doesn’t mean that every candidate would be worth that amount of money. If your experience is comparable to someone making 100K they can’t justify paying you the full 150K. This all makes sense, what perhaps didn’t make sense was them not being clear that 150K was the absolute maximum and the remuneration would be based on experience aligned with existing employees (which is fair enough because if you don’t do those kind of checks you won’t get pay equity).

          They should have had a better idea that your experience would put you well below the maximum part of the band.

          1. Beatrice*

            I think you misread. They gave the OP a range – like 100-150K – and then offered him/her something below the range, like 80K.

            1. Lance*

              This. Initially, I was going to say something similar; that maybe they just thought OP was worth a bit less. Coming to the ‘salary equity’ bit, however, this seems really disorganized, maybe even skeevy. The company definitely messed up here.

          2. Brett*

            I don’t think it is “experience aligned with existing employees”.
            I think it is a hard limit.
            e.g. The band is $100k-$150k, and we would offer your $120k, but your supervisor makes $80k so you cannot make more than $80k regardless of your experience.

            1. OP 3*

              OP3: Exactly. “We would’ve paid you more if your supervisor hadn’t been promoted internally and had other limitations on their salary level completely unrelated to your qualifications.”

        4. Jadelyn*

          As several other folks have said, this sounds less like an HR issue and more like a “the whole company is dysfunctional” issue. Because no, it’s not normal to have HR *determining* salaries unilaterally, if that’s in fact what’s happening here. Honestly, my read of it is the whole company is a weird dysfunctional garbage fire, and I’d be fleeing in the opposite direction if I were you.

    6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      This jumped out at me too. “Oh hey, we just found out that we are underpaying some of our employees, what can we do? Oh, I know, let’s underpay all of them! and the new hires too! Level the playing field.” This is going to backfire so badly. Not only are people going to decline job offers from this company, but word will get out fast and no one will bother applying, either. I had a friend contact me about a senior-level position at their workplace a few months ago, and when the workplace called me for an initial phone screen, it turned out that, not only would I have to take a 25-30% cut to work there, but what they said they paid their senior people was less than my current job pays our mid-level ones. It is a fairly large employer and well-known in our area. Of course I told everyone I knew. I need to warn people.

  5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Oh, OP#4, please don’t frame this as “slacking” or “looking for sympathy.” This is a serious illness that affects you and your husband intimately, and most decent people would understand that. I doubt anyone will think you’re resting on your laurels ever since your promotion or that you didn’t deserve it (and if someone does, they’re acting like a jerkwad).

    At a minimum, I would reach out to your boss or HR (or equivalent), mention that your husband was hit with a serious medical condition, and ask about the possibility of taking intermittent FMLA leave. That way at least your job and workload are covered, and it gives you time to prioritize your relationship in the context of his treatment. FWIW, I think it’s worth disclosing to your teammates, also.

    1. Ron McDon*


      My dad is currently undergoing tests for cancer, and when we got the result of the first investigation back which indicated a mass and that further tests were necessary, I was very tearful.

      I had told my boss and big boss about his tests as I needed to collect him from the hospital, so when they asked me about the results afterwards I had a little involuntary cry and explained what the situation was. They both made sure I knew I could take a breather any time I needed one, could chat to them if I needed someone to talk to (which is when my big boss disclosed her mum had had the same cancer my dad was being tested for, which was really helpful), and could adjust my hours as needed to take him to/from hospital appointments.

      I haven’t told my colleagues yet, but will tell my close colleagues if it does turn out to be cancer, just so they know what the score is. I can’t imagine going to work and trying to keep something as big as this secret; I know my colleagues would want to support me – even more so if it were my spouse rather than a parent.

      OP4, no-one will think you’re slacking or trying to get sympathy or making excuses, they’ll probably just feel very kindly towards you and want to do what they can to support you. Please do tell your co workers and bosses.

      It is a hard subject to bring up, so I would recommend just coming out with it ‘I need to let you know my spouse has been diagnosed with cancer, and it is of course a very difficult time for me. I just wanted to let you know, so that you know why I might appear distracted or not at the top of my game at the moment.’ Your boss might tell your coworkers if you prefer, we’ve definitely had that happen where I work because the person concerned didn’t feel able to do it themselves.

      Sending you lots of warm thoughts and good wishes for your spouses treatment and recovery,

    2. Sara without an H*

      +1. When I got my diagnosis, the first person I talked to was the HR director about FMLA. Unless your firm is very small, you probably qualify for intermittent FMLA leave. Then have a candid talk with your manager. If he/she is at all decent, they’re going to want to know what’s going on with you. A good manager will want to support a good employee who’s going through a rough patch.

      As to how to tell your colleagues, maybe pick a couple of people that you’re close to, brief them, and give them permission to spread the word.

      And then, please cut yourself some slack. This is going to be hard, but don’t be hard on yourself. You will be better able to support your husband if you take care of yourself.

      1. Person of Interest*

        “As to how to tell your colleagues, maybe pick a couple of people that you’re close to, brief them, and give them permission to spread the word.”

        Definitely this, in addition to telling your manager. Make sure the people you deputize tell your other colleagues that you don’t want to discuss it beyond maybe an simple one-time acknowledgement. I have a friend who handled her pregnancy this way because she did NOT want it to become a “thing” at work, but obviously people were going to notice.

    3. edj3*

      OP4, my husband and I are dealing with this now. I’m the one with the cancer diagnosis and we’ve been navigating the who to tell and when to share path–so exhausting.

      In our situation, and on the same day, we both shared with our managers. I’m so glad we did. Both of us are getting good support and (to my relief) not a lot of over the top sympathy which is what I dreaded.

      This is a hard time and you definitely will need support. As someone shared with me, people can’t support you when they don’t know you need it. And you need it right now.

      I hope your husband’s prognosis is good and his treatment isn’t horrible.

    4. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      OP4, one way of doing this is to find a single ally, let them know, and then control the situation by saying something like “It’s distracting and distressing enough to have this on my mind — it will be even more distressing to have to have all the co-worker conversations about it. Could you help me let the team in on the basics, and ask that they let me take the lead on whether we talk about it or not?”

      That way they’ll know, you won’t have to do the scary disclosures, and the stage is set for you to develop some simple responses to the questions so that you’re not stuck listening to unsolicited and meritless medical “advice” or stories about someone’s aunt or cousin’s situation.

    5. FiveWheels*

      I’m dealing with a similar situation and I told my manager because I need ad hoc hours adjustment, and he’s a friend. He responded by telling a colleague who I’m not particularly close to, who in turn offered me her sympathy – which I found upsetting, as I don’t want to think about this while at work.

      I think it’s very much a your mileage may vary situation.

      1. Supporting spouse*

        OP 4, I’m sorry you are dealing with this. Not to be a downer, but my husband struggled with serious health issues a few years ago and it affected my performance at work to the point where I was pushed out (luckily I had been an excellent performer up to then, so they gave me ample time to find a new job, but still not what I wanted to be dealing with back then). He didn’t have a clear diagnosis like cancer (and he now has a complicated diagnosis that requires lots of explaining) (not that I’m saying cancer is a good thing in any way, but it’s commonly understood as serious) but I wish I had said something instead of convincing myself I could do it all and then slowly falling apart. I understand it feels icky to share details about your husband’s private life but in hindsight I would 100% recommend that you speak to your manager or HR to preempt this happening.

    6. Doc in a Box*

      Absolutely, please tell your close co-workers and supervisor! A couple years ago, a new colleague started making rookie mistakes, showing up late/leaving early without a reason, within a couple weeks of starting with our group. She always put on a cheerful, carefree face (fake it till you make it, I guess?) and hadn’t had the time to build up any social capital at work, so she really got reamed for it by our boss; the rest of us who had to pick up the slack were resentful of the apparent entitlement. Then everything fell apart dramatically and it turned out she was dealing with very sick parents overseas + a toddler with developmental regression/speech delay — she did end up taking intermittent FMLA, but I really wish she had let us know so we could support her!

    7. Misquoted*

      I’m so sorry about what you are going through. I lost my partner to cancer in 2017, and writing the emails to my coworkers was very difficult (I work remotely). I decided to tell my boss and one or two other coworkers with whom I worked daily. I gave permission for them to tell others if it came up. I explained what was going on, stressed my commitment to the company (I hadn’t worked there very long), and described my plan going forward (working while at the hospital during his treatments, but needing to jump off of calls if medical personnel came into the room because that’s where my attention had to be). Everyone was wonderful about it, and it made things much easier for me to know that I didn’t have to worry about my job every minute — I could focus on Ed when he needed me, and focus on work when I could (sometime that meant at night or on weekends or whenever worked).

    8. irritable vowel*

      OP4, I’m also going through this with my husband, and a recent promotion/change in responsibility. I feel like I just got my feet under me with the new position and then was hit with this huge life situation. It has been so hard. My two managers have been very kind, and I had recently hired a direct report who has been very understanding as well (I found out that my husband had cancer the week they started work and have been in and out at doctor’s appointments with him since then). The three of them are the only ones at work who know my husband has cancer – there are some others who know he’s been unwell and has recently had surgery (I’ve had to take 2 weeks off work so far, and I wanted to let some folks I work with regularly know why, but didn’t want to share all the details). Everyone has been very compassionate.

      As far as taking time off, so far I’ve been able to avoid FMLA and have been using a combination of paid family sick leave (we get 40 hours a year in my state) and personal time. So, keep in mind there may be other options for taking time off that isn’t unpaid. Best of luck to you and your husband.

  6. Undine*

    The masculine/feminine coding is interesting, because if there are masculine-coded things you can do in meetings, obviously they are traditionally not acceptable in a white-collar meeting. The only thing I can think of is whittling, and I feel that occasionally in olde tyme books one reads of a station master or a country lawyer whittling, but the implication is that he’s eccentric and this wouldn’t fly in a formal office in the big city. And I feel if someone tried to whittle in an office now, it would definitely raise some eyebrows. (Whittling also wouldn’t fly in a modern office because of the shavings issue.) Or there’s the CEO who has a mini-putter in his office and is golfing while he talks to you, but I think he wouldn’t take that to a meeting room.

    So maybe part of it is that traditional feminine things to do while paying attention never came up historically in office work and so aren’t clearly disallowed in the same way as whatever the masculine equivalents are.

    1. FaintlyMacabre*

      Okay, now I want to start making a birdhouse during meetings.

      But I do think the “feminine” coded activities tend to be quieter? So they can be done while other activities are happening.

    2. AnotherSarah*

      I was just thinking about this–we have a few knitters in our meetings (all women knitters except for one time, when a man who doesn’t usually attend was there, knitting). I’ve joked with a male colleague that we need to find something to do that’s not playing on our phones (which does NOT help with focus), and we’ve been thinking of bringing in whittling.

      I’ve made paper cranes in meetings before, which feels less gendered?

      (We obviously have a very tolerant office.)

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I frequently end up mangling a paperclip during meetings. Not on purpose, just because I get handed a stack of papers clipped together and my fidgety nature takes over.

      2. Story Nurse*

        When I was a teenager, I sat in on my boyfriend’s D&D game one night. All the players were guys. I had my cross-stitch, and another player’s girlfriend brought her knitting. One of the guys snarked, “I feel like I’m at my grandmother’s house!”

        The next week, I brought my cross-stitch, Amy brought her knitting, and Brad sat down at the gaming table and pulled out pliers and rings for making chainmail. There was no further complaining.

      3. Alli525*

        I wouldn’t recommend whittling, due to the optics of someone pulling out a knife in a meeting.

        1. tangerineRose*

          Plus it probably makes a mess – all of the bits of wood that’s whittled off.

    3. Alice906*

      I am now remembering a male student who started rolling cigarettes while talking with me after class. I’m pretty sure, however, that that was less about staying occupied and more about a general pretentiousness coded as male. (He also wrote on my course evaluation something like, “She played to her strengths, however [enter litany of complaints about my reading list not being white and male enough.]”)

      1. AES*

        OT but: “she played to her strengths” omg. So much empathy coming at you. My favorite was a student who wrote in my eval for a survey class that “she’s obviously letting her feminist agenda override her common sense, because this class was 95% female writers.” Reader, it was consciously and deliberately 50/50 men/women.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      The one thing I could think of to occupy your hands without ever having to look down at the project to check your work was kneading bread, so I was picturing the fourth quarter report taking place in The Great British Bake Off tent.

      Whittling also works, but your never looking at the sharp knife I can see being very distracting to people worried you’re about to cut yourself.

      1. higheredrefugee*

        An entire group of have been actively supporting each other as we knit through CLE (continuing legal ed) sessions across the US and Canada. The Supreme Court justices ask me what I’m working on, and any snarky comments get a calm, “I’m a kinesthetic learner, and this is more productive than doodling. At least I’m not reading the newspaper or my email.” Not a single person continues to object. I have knit my way through long divisional meetings, car rides with colleagues, etc. Pick your battles and just be prepared with your responses.

        1. Blue_eyes*

          I once brought my knitting to jury duty. It was great for when I was in jury selection and had to listen to questions being asked of other potential jurors, but wasn’t being questioned myself. On my way out, the bailiff asked what I was making :).

          1. Gumby*

            I assumed it was a state supreme court and not the one in DC. Could be wrong though.

        2. anon today and tomorrow*

          Yes, I’m sure sassing other people’s method of paying attention while promoting yours goes over real well.

          1. higheredrefugee*

            Clearly you’ve never spent a lot of time with litigators then, and don’t know how to make a comment in retort respectfully. Again, you start the snark, I’ll defend my position politely and respectfully. There is absolutely nothing I’ve ever read that indicates that reading the newspaper or checking email increases attention retention, and trust me, it annoys those Justices far more how many people are engaged in those activities while they are presenting CLE than anyone who is knitting. I have yet to see a lawyer engaged in doodles that approach anything that is like Sara without an H discusses below so I feel safe using that as my comparison within the legal cohort in which I travel.

          1. higheredrefugee*

            The term is used in adult learning theory differently than in child development learning theory, so I did use the term properly for purposes of not making this an entire discussion of mixed-modality approaches. But ok.

    5. Sara without an H*

      A colleague of mine draws very elaborate doodles during faculty meetings. (This is a small private women’s college.) The head of our studio arts program sat next to her one day and told her: “That’s ART!”

      She now exhibits large-scale versions of her doodles at the annual campus art show.

      I don’t know whether doodling codes masculine or feminine, but at least it’s quiet. And you may be able to eventually hang it on the wall.

    6. Tom & Johnny*

      “So maybe part of it is that traditional feminine things to do while paying attention never came up historically in office work and so aren’t clearly disallowed in the same way as whatever the masculine equivalents are.”

      There are a ton of ‘traditional’ female behavior that was stigmatized in office settings. Think of any old cartoon strip from the Sunday papers 20-40 years ago.

      A woman filing her nails.
      A woman checking her hair in her compact mirror.
      Likewise applying lipstick in her mirror.

      No, needlepoint and whittling aren’t on the list. But dudes with mini-golf putters are definitely still a thing, as you noted. And if my recent bosses are any indication, some of them sure will do that during a meeting.

  7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #4 I’ve had to bring up awkward personal things before and the best results have come from being proactive.

    You’re feeling your attention slipping but right now it’s probably not noticeable to your colleagues. So I always bring it up in passing in a casual as possible way. This allows you to not wait until people are possibly irritated or confused as to why you’re distant or not as responsive or making more errors. That way they already know what’s going on and don’t jump to poor conclusions about a what’s going on.

    You don’t need a lot of detail. Just that your spouse is ill and you’ve got a lot of sudden things going on that eat up your mind space that would otherwise be available for work.

    1. GreenThumb*

      This seems like a reach to me. Do you think it would be fine to doodle Star Wars characters because it’s masculine, but doodling flowers would be frowned upon because it’s feminine? I don’t think that holds up.

      The difference between doodling and needlepoint is that doodling is more discrete and only requires a pen and paper (presumably brought in for note-taking purposes), not that it’s inherently masculine.

      I also don’t think it would be acceptable to do masculine crafts in a meeting, like, I don’t know, soldering something or sanding wood or whatever.

  8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#5, I list this sort of stuff under “Community and Pro Bono Service,” and then I bullet-point the activities (instead of describing my accomplishments, but that’s because my board accomplishments aren’t super relevant to my job skills).

    It looks roughly like this:
    Community and Pro Bono Service
    * Pro Bono Counsel, Friends of the Central Perk Animal Shelter (2015–present)
    * Board Director, Museum of Prehistoric History (2012–present)

    And so on.

  9. Story Nurse*

    OP4, I once had a colleague give a prepared statement to our team at the beginning of our weekly team meeting: “Everyone, I want you to know that I have been diagnosed with cancer. It was caught early and my prognosis is good. I’m going to be undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, and then may have surgery in a few months once we see how the tumor responds. Until the very end of that process, I expect to be able to fulfill all my duties here. I may ask some of you to help me out when I need it and I will let you know if I’ll be taking time off. Please don’t ask me how I’m doing, give me cards, or feel any need to directly express concern. Your well-wishes are assumed and I appreciate them very much.” And then he sat back, and our boss (who had clearly been briefed in advance) said, “Thank you very much for letting us know, Jim. Of course we wish you all the best and everyone will respect your privacy. Now, Danielle, what’s the status of that TPS report?” And that was that. As far as I know, everyone respected his boundaries, even when he was looking haggard, and if he let things slide a bit, we caught them and didn’t make an issue out of it. (He’s now in remission, b”h.)

    I really recommend this approach: do it at a time when the team is generally gathered together anyway, do it at the start of the meeting so there’s an obvious next thing to move on to (and everyone can quietly process the info in the background while the meeting goes on, plus you can be your usual professional self and encourage the takeaway of “LW is having a tough time but still on top of things” rather than “Oh gosh poor LW!”), set clear boundaries and expectations, alert the person running the meeting so they can reinforce your requests and then redirect the conversation away from you.

    Another option is a mass email with whatever details you want to share, a link to your husband’s CaringBridge page, etc. But do alert your boss first so they can follow up with similar boundary reinforcement.

    Very best wishes to you and your husband.

    1. IsbenTakesTea*

      I LOVE this wording. Tell people how they can best support you, even if it’s by not doing something.

      1. Story Nurse*

        I was in awe, honestly. I already respected him a lot, but my respect rose to new heights after that. I hope I am never in a similar situation, but if I am, may I handle it with even half as much grace.

        1. IsbenTakesTea*

          I am a lot better prepared since reading “There Is No Good Card for This” by Dr Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell (of Empathy Card fame)–linked in my name–but it’s always encouraging seeing it modeled. (I now recommend this book to everyone. My mother and I call it “The Book.” It is the absolute manual for empowered giving and receiving of support.)

          1. Tom & Johnny*

            Oh geeze, I need this. I hate being hovered over when I’m sick or something is going wrong. I don’t want to be pestered, asked after, consoled with, or talked to about it, not in any shape or form. What feels to others like showing community and being supportive feels invasive and claustrophobic to me. Consequently I’m one of those people who will keep it to myself for far too long.

            I wish there was a graceful way to say “now you have the information leave me the eff alone.”

            It sounds like this guy found the way. Great respect to him.

          2. Jennifer Thneed*

            Not linked in your name. Alison changed that ability some weeks back because some people (koff, like me) were abusing it just a wee. Maybe share the URL here and know that it’ll go thru moderation?

    2. aepyornis*

      I love this. I’ve never had anything this serious to mention at work, but I have a couple of chronic conditions that I felt were best mentioned (without medical details) to work partners from different organisations (to explain why they would be seeing less of me in professional events for some months for instance). I think it makes it always easier for people when they receive clear instructions as well as a clear outline of what the impact of it might be and what should not be impacted. They can express their well-wishes once, matter-of-factly, then don’t have to worry about or speculate about your absence (or whatever other change is brought by these circumstances), or worry about appearing unconcerned if they don’t bring it up every time they see you.

    3. edj3*

      That’s pretty close to what I did. I manage a large team and the company’s had some reorgs so folks were already nervous. I knew they’d see my frequent absences and probably assume I was job hunting. They also knew I’d already been diagnosed w/ a different cancer and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t immediately dying or anything. So far, it’s worked well. I just say hey I’ll be out at a doctor’s appointment, contact so and so if you need anything.

    4. Massmatt*

      This was an awesome way to handle it!

      Other people’s (usually well meaning) expressions of concern and wanting to know how you are doing etc can be a huge burden on people who are ill or have chronic conditions. Especially if it’s the fourth or eighth time you’ve had to go into it that day.

      Even worse is when people get emotional about the condition, and expect the person they are ostensibly expressing their concern to to manage their own feelings. As in, no, don’t burst into tears at the cancer patient and look for them to console you!

    5. Elephant in the room*

      I did the email thing after talking to my boss. I had to take a lot of time off after my husband was diagnosed with cancer, so I would have had to say something to my co-workers. It worked very well for me and allowed me to avoid multiple awkward conversations. Coworkers were good about not bringing up cancer talk.

    6. Just wondering (pronouns: she/her)*

      This is truly wonderful. Thank you for sharing this. This actually addressed what I came here to say:

      To OP #4, if you don’t want to have to deal with your colleagues’ responding based on their (well-intentioned but often misguided) intuitions, make it as clear as you can. This can be hard to do especially if you aren’t exactly sure how you want or don’t want people to respond, but perhaps use the comment I’m replying to as a template.

      Most people are well-meaning but just don’t know how to have hard conversations. When my mom got diagnosed with cancer last year (her prognosis is now good, btw), I shared it with people at work. I don’t regret it but I do wish I had thought to ask people not to check in about her health unless I asked.

      I really appreciate how much people cared, but I just didn’t want to always be talking about my mom’s health at work (or elsewhere). Because:
      1) It was upsetting to be reminded of it constantly and discussing it frequently

      2) Things didn’t actually change often (some people asked multiple times a week!)

      3) When people hear about cancer they almost inevitably end up sharing their own stories of people they love having cancer. I’m an empathetic person so those conversations ended up with me making sure to make the other person felt heard. Which is just a difficult thing to be doing multiple times a week, at work. Hearing people’s stories about other people’s awful cancers just added to the terror I was going through. And yes, everyone deserves to have their experiences heard, but the fact that they tend to be shared right when a diagnosis is being shared just adds to the difficulty of the person with the new diagnosis.

      4) The other strange thing about fielding these questions is that it led to people thinking of my mom as a cancer patient. In my mind, my mom is brilliant, hard-working, a wonderful mother, an excellent employee, a great daughter and supportive family member to our whole extended family. She is as experienced with home renovation as she is with cooking delicious meals. She is even a talented artist! But suddenly all my conversations about my mom were about her cancer.

      For what it’s worth, my mom chose not to share at work with anyone except her boss and a single trusted colleague the details of why she was out for a few weeks and then worked part-time for a while. She just didn’t want to be talking about cancer all the time when she got back. She didn’t want to be defined by cancer. Luckily, since her prognosis is good so far and most people at work don’t know she had cancer, her life is getting back to normal.

      So I guess the lesson from my own experience is to think about what reactions may be frustrating to you and then do your best to set expectations. Most people like knowing expectations and will try to follow them if they know that is what is best for you.

      All of us here at AAM are sending you the warmest of wishes.

  10. Mike C.*

    OP1: The rules for what is and is not professional are generally quite arbitrary. Outside of any political issues that may force your hand, there is no reason to take the feedback of an anonymous person gazing through a window as though it’s any more meaningful than your first hand experience.

    The fact that HR pulled you in to talk to you about it is simply nuts. The fact they wouldn’t tell you who complained is simply nuts. They observed little with no context, and had to rush to HR to report it? Come on. You’re in the right to support a good employee, even if meetings are a little odd at first.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I am unfortunately not at all shocked to hear that some random person staring through a window complained and HR was brought in, unfortunately. People lose their shit over the slightest things now. Sigh.

      1. Mike C.*

        Why wasn’t that person yelled at for time theft? They should have been working instead of looking into windows at other meetings.

      2. PretzelGirl*

        I am not either. I have a friend who works in HR and you wouldn’t believe the stuff people complain about. She could go on for hours about the stupid complaints her dept receives.

        1. MatKnifeNinja*

          My sister works in HR. Having someone crab about the needle pointing engineer would be a really easy day.

          People are petty AF, and complain about all sorts of stuff they shouldn’t worry about.

          She said she would have told OP, depending who the complainer is. If she doesn’t say something, they go up two levels two b*tch about HR -who never addresses anything-, and the manager who obviously “isn’t managing”.

          My sister had a person complain about a coworker’s cheese sandwich. The smell (mustard/cheddar/white bread), and their eating noises. That’s what today brought her.

        2. Jadelyn*

          There was an episode of Leverage that was basically a The Office parody, and the HR lady was the bad guy. At the very end, as a couple of the employees are shoving her into an office to wait for the cops to arrive, she’s yelling past them at everyone “I’m smarter than all of you! I’m sick and tired of listening to your stupid, petty, work-related complaints!”

          I’ve already told my partner that that’s gonna be me in 20 years. People really do complain about the weirdest and stupidest stuff sometimes.

      3. Jeff VanDyke*

        I submitted the letter for OP1. I was made aware of who submitted the comment to HR. I think his comment to HR was more passive and likely had good intent, similar to my initial reaction when I walked into that first meeting. My conversation with HR was entirely positive, along the lines of “How do we as leaders make sure we are doing the best for this employee’s career?”

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m not shocked at all someone complained. We have seen people police others over and over again. I’m annoyed HR bothered to pass it along however.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        But of course they did! Every single complaint MUST be addressed! Or else the complainer feels bad!

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          We! Take! Your! Concerns! Seriously! Right/right?

          I will give them credit for only passing it along to the manager to have them handle it though. At least they didn’t drag the engineer into the mix right there.

      2. Jasnah*

        I mean, I think it’s fair to raise to the manager that their employee is being perceived as X for doing Y. Then at least the manager could do something about it one way or the other if something came up.

    3. Chidi Annakendrick*

      The weird reporting that felt more like spying and tattling bothered me too. I really, really hate the idea of “optics.” Like, yeah, don’t fall asleep at your desk or pick your nose in a meeting, but some people actively go around looking for things to complain about regarding their coworkers. Those are the people who need more work to do.

    4. Wendie*

      Not so sure I agree that the person who reported should lose anonymity. It’s not a secret note because HR knows who complained. HR has to make a judgment call on what needs to be escalated but procedures keep people safe. The person who reported was wrong but they don’t need you to come yell at them!

  11. Maya Elena*

    For the OP3: either HR is just lying, or it is unlikely that you’ll negotiate any noticeable raises in the future, because – unless it is a very rigid rubric- or metric-based promotion grid – it creates inequities by default and it’s way easier to just give everyone the same, and follow a grid, than try to prove that the raise was based on merit if the inequities skew in the wrong demographic direction.

  12. Librarian of SHIELD*

    OP 4, I can give you a bit of your coworkers’ perspective here. A few years ago two of my colleagues were the primary caretakers for a family member with a serious illness (separate families, they just happened to both have ill family members at the same time). It’s true that they weren’t in the office as often as they were previously, and it’s also true that I had to take on a larger share of our workload for a while. But I was glad to do it, because I knew these people were good employees who were committed to their jobs who just happened to be going through a terrible time in their personal lives. I was happy to take a few things off their plates so they could focus their energy on what really mattered.

    If your coworkers knew what you were going through, they’d want to help you. It’s not about making excuses for slacking off, it’s giving your coworkers the context they need to help you in the way I’m sure they would want to.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Also, if you’re worried that telling people might make you emotional (which is 100% understandable, you get to be emotional right now), it’s okay to delegate someone to tell people on your behalf. If your manager or HR or your work BFF is willing to do it, you can totally have them share the news. It can be as simple as “Theodosia’s husband has been diagnosed with a serious medical condition and she’ll be in the office less frequently for the next few months while she sees to his care. We’ll let you know if we need any assistance on the XYZ project.”

      1. edj3*

        I’m just all over this thread today!

        My manager did something like this and I didn’t know she was doing it but was very glad afterwards. I’d shared with my team and my peers so she didn’t violate my confidence. But what she did was bring the other managers together to say hey edj3 is going to need support and probably help with her team, so let’s help her out as and when she needs it.

        I love my manager btw!

  13. Erin*

    #1 We have a colleague who knits. After one meeting where interest was expressed, she even started a club, and not just for women! It hasn’t affected the way people look at her, if anything, her coping mechanism is quite impressive.

  14. allecto's sister*

    Re #1 and Alison’s comment that it’s a female-coded activity in a male dominated environment. As a women in tech, I knit (not in meetings but in breaks) and a lot of other women in tech also knit, crochet or similar. It’s getting common to see knitting circles form at tech conferences, at least the open source ones. It’s important and powerful to do these ‘girl’ things when the atmosphere is overwhelmingly male. One knitting engineer friend argues that as much important business gets done in the knitting circles as on the golf course. The sewing engineer should hold strong!

    1. Massmatt*

      this is really interesting but clearly you have a very different work culture than the OP. Someone complained to HR about the knitting (which seems ridiculous to me) and HR followed up by meeting with the OP to discuss it. This seems even more ridiculous to me but it seems to indicate that at least some people are hostile to seeing someone knitting in the office.

      I think this means it’s likely the OP and/or the engineer on their staff are going to have to expend political capital to push back on this. Is it worth the push for knitting?

      1. AnotherAlison*

        This is where I’m at. Knitting wouldn’t be okay in my office. Wearing shorts is also not okay, and you can’t bring your pet here, either. I’m pretty okay with having a very conservative, boring culture because there are a lot of other great things here. Culture shifts are glacial in my field, and I think it would be a bad move to encourage a newer hire to make this their thing that they do or a mini-cause. It’s weird for me to see so many pro-knitting-in-meetings folks here when I think my industry may pride itself a little on being anti-tech culture (when they go hoodies, we add blazers). I might be over-projecting my personal experience, but I think others are, too, and the OP should really pay attention to what their management is saying rather than random internet comments.

        1. Observer*

          The thing is that the needle work is different than both the pets and dress code.

          Pets definitely affect other people, needlework doesn’t unless you choose to let it. Overall dress code has far more to do with overall atmosphere in the office than something like needlework in a meeting (assuming that the supplies are not all over the place.)

          1. Sarah N*

            Hm, I think this does depend a lot on the office. I think a person doing crafts in an important meeting would be a lot more distracting than wearing a pair of shorts, but again, that is solely based on the environments I’ve worked in. The thing is, it really doesn’t matter who’s objectively “right” about needlepointing because there is no objective right answer. Ultimately, unless your job is literally to do needlepoint, you are not being paid to do this and it’s within the realm of things your employer gets to decide. So, it makes sense to read the company culture which can be really different in different places.

            1. Observer*

              Sure, the employer does get to make the call. But, a smart employer will pick their battles.

          2. AnotherAlison*

            I don’t love making the slippery slope argument, but I see needlework having that affect on overall atmosphere. “If Jane can do needlework, why can’t I do sudoko puzzles?” “Jeez, why does someone have to take meeting minutes when everyone else gets to do what they want?”

            I repeat myself enough for the people on the phone and can’t hear, and people who aren’t paying full attention because they’re multitasking with actual project work.

            If it’s your company culture, that’s totally fine, but I think it’s clearly NOT the OP’s culture and they’re arguing to allow this employee to do it because she’s an otherwise high performer. That’s a discussion I really don’t want to have. It takes too much of everyone’s time policing this if it’s not generally allowed for everyone in all meetings.

          3. Jasnah*

            I think needlework is exactly the same as dress code. Most of dress code has no actual impact on the work being done, it’s all about the atmosphere and impressions you want to give (“we are trustworthy/stuffy” vs “we are laidback/lazy” depending on the context and person).

            Needlework during meetings is the same way. Unless you stab someone with your needle, if it doesn’t distract the user, then it’s all about atmosphere and impressions: “we are accommodating/bored” or “we are attentive/boring”.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          As a crafter, I would say that there’s a definite Thing – certainly with knitting, at least – about when and where it’s appropriate to work on crafts. (This is the exact sort of question that would spawn a 500-comment Ravelry thread, for sure.) I think that certainly in my experience, people who are pro-crafting in meetings tend to be quite vocal about it and that might be contributing to the number of comments you’re seeing here.

          (FWIW, again as a crafter and former yarn shop employee, I do think a lot of people underestimate how distracting knitting/crochet/sewing etc can be *for other people* who can see you doing it, which the OP might consider in terms of her advice.)

          1. TangoFoxtrot*

            Why is that? I’m so deep in the crafting world that I guess I just can’t see why being in the same room as someone who’s quietly working on a project is so distracting. Is it the sound?

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              I’ve heard people mention the sounds, yeah, and also the movements. It’s also easy to forget that many people will have little or no idea what you’re doing, particularly if it’s a little-known craft, and that can be distracting in itself – not “oh, Jane’s knitting” but more “wait, what the heck is Jane doing? What are those things? Is that knitting? Why is she knitting?” and so on.

      2. Wendie*

        You know, that is so interesting. My niece has trouble making friends with women in tech because she is not quirky like this – she is a straight arrow. Out groups sometimes look like in groups — I forget who said it but it’s rung true for the young women in tech I know. It hurts just as much to not be the right kind of woman in tech when it comes from the craft circle. No, she doesn’t want to learn either.

        1. Important Moi*

          Yes, but as a woman in tech, I’m not sure what other women in tech are supposed to do about your niece’s discomfort.

    2. Chidi Annakendrick*

      Now I’m tempted to tattle on all of the dudes who do business while golfing. I mean, isn’t golf distracting from the actual business?

      1. hbc*

        In my experience, no one is buying the fiction that “working” on the golf course is work. At best, it’s an accepted perk at higher levels that they can get the equivalent of a 30 minute meeting talked about in an afternoon of goofing off. More often, the people who can’t indulge their hobbies on the clock see it as a sign of how out of touch and hypocritical management is.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          When my brother in law became a consultant, he learned to golf. He has no passion for it; it was just a skill it helped to have so when clients suggested a round of golf he could say “Sure.” (His wife is great at golf, and plays for fun, but even working in fundraising hasn’t been in roles where this schmoozing was the expected way to do business.)

        2. Massmatt*

          It’s not so much that golfers are getting work done while golfing. They are creating and strengthening relationships, which is how in the long run, decisions get made, and promotions are awarded. This is why Alison has taken a strong stance that these sorts of opportunities need to be open to all and not just the stereotypical boys club.

        3. AnotherAlison*

          “More often, the people who can’t indulge their hobbies on the clock see it as a sign of how out of touch and hypocritical management is.”

          The people who hold this opinion will probably never be in management. Sure, ymmv by industry, but working in a B2B industry, golf, charity events, and thousand dollar dinners are foundational to building relationships that lead to more relationships, partnerships, and sales. I don’t play golf and would literally rather work a 14 hr day on my computer than go to a fancy dinner, and engaging in these is so not doing my hobby on the clock. Stakes can be pretty high in these “social” activities.

    3. CheeryO*

      But it’s not on OP’s engineer to be a beacon for women in STEM by doing something that could harm her reputation. The amount of capital it takes to join a knitting circle at a tech conference is much lower than the amount it takes to be the only person knitting or doing other crafty things during meetings.

    4. Wendie*

      I replied to the wrong comment so I am commenting again.

      May 28, 2019 at 9:57 am
      You know, that is so interesting. My niece has trouble making friends with women in tech because she is not quirky like this – she is a straight arrow. Out groups sometimes look like in groups — I forget who said it but it’s rung true for the young women in tech I know. It hurts just as much to not be the right kind of woman in tech when it comes from the craft circle. No, she doesn’t want to learn either.

  15. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    God help me…my dad’s fidget of choice is carving then sanding wooden bowls he creates. The scratching noise haunts my dreams. So the idea of whittling just made me clinch so hard LOL

    He also crochets though so thankfully he can switch when others get tired of the shhh-shhh-shhh-shhh of sandpaper on wood or shorter sh-sh-sh-sh of carving.

  16. Knitrex*

    LW #1. I took up knitting a few years ago because I heard it helped some concentrate. During my six month rigorous training at for my current job I would sit at my desk and knit through full day virtual trainings. Luckily, I worked in a very small satellite office so I could easily explain to my co-workers what was going on.
    For trainings in larger offices or with management I use fidget toys. I get variety packs from Amazon for very little money.

  17. Common Welsh Green*

    OP4: Please let your manager and coworkers know what’s happening. My husband’s been fighting an incurable cancer for the last eight years, and there’ve been many times when I’ve needed time off at short notice, or to work from home or from the chemo suite, and more than a few times when everything piles up and it’s all I can do not to cry. The kindness of the people with whom I’ve worked has been a source of strength to me, and makes it easier to keep all the balls in the air.

    1. Not A Manager*

      This is so hard. I’m so glad that your workplace is supportive. Best wishes to you and your family.

    2. Elephant in the room*

      I’d like to add my best wishes to you and to the letter writer, as someone who has been there.

  18. Chidi Annakendrick*

    As someone with ADD, cross stitch is my focus activity. I work on it at home, especially when I need to focus on something else, like lectures for class (I’m also a graduate student). If I can keep the antsy part of my brain focused on what my hands are doing, then I’m better able to listen, absorb, and respond.
    At work though… I’ve never had a job where it would be okay for me to stitch at work. Long meetings are difficult for me. I have a hard time staying engaged. I make my brain behave as much as I can through sheer willpower and feel exhausted after. I know that not everyone can do that. So I sympathize with the stitcher in the first post, and OP – on behalf of those of us with ADD/ADHD, thank you for recognizing her good work over “optics.”

    1. My cat is my alarm clock*

      Optics can matter though, whether you want them to or not. If you have a diagnosis however you could ask for it as an accommodation.

      1. LQ*

        It is very strange to me that people say optics matter and then also say you can ask for this an an accommodation. I’d assume you wouldn’t announce “The cross stitch is an accommodation” (although it would make a hilarious cross stitch project) so wouldn’t the optics essentially be exactly the same to everyone except the boss? And the OP/boss here seems to understand that the crafter is doing a great job. So what is the optics difference between doing it without an official stamp of approval and with one?

        1. TangoFoxtrot*

          While I’m not saying this was anybody’s intent, as a person with multiple disabilities, I often get the feeling that people are saying, “Optics matter, but it’s okay because we don’t expect as much from someone like you.”

          1. Observer*

            I’m glad and sad to hear you say this. I’m glad because it always seemed to me that this was the implication, although I don’t think people mean it that way. But I’m sad, because it’s really not fair.

          2. Close Bracket*

            And I am sure some people mean that, but other people mean, “Optics matter, but it’s ok bc we know you are doing this to accommodate a disability and not bc you are not invested or bc you are slacking off.” You have choices about how to interpret things. Some choices are more likely to lead to a comfortable environment for you than others.

            1. TangoFoxtrot*

              I’m sorry if I gave you the impression that I was trying to condemn the character of people who make such statements. I was trying to share my own perspective in a way that might be helpful to others. Not everybody realizes that certain comments can mean the difference between accessibility and inclusion, and that a simple syntactic choice can be the difference between making your atypical staff feel like valued team members or like kids being allowed to sit at the grown-up table. Again, I assume no ill will and feel no resentment, nor am I crying myself to sleep at night over this sort of thing, but for me and for some people like me, it can sting.

          3. LQ*

            Yeah, what you said. And it feels really ugly. And I know it’s true, but it’s also shit.

          4. My cat is my alarm clock*

            Woah. Talk about twisting my words. This is not what I meant AT ALL.

            And I have disabilities too.

            It is fine if you need to stim but needlecraft is going to be over the line in many workplaces. And by ‘optics’ I meant that doing a complex craft project will look unprofessional.

      2. Chidi Annakendrick*

        This sort of thing just shouldn’t be an accommodation. I get it. I really do. If you have a front facing job where paying close attention to clients is what you are paid to do (and this is my job), appearing distracted would be very, very bad. And I think most people who have those jobs understand this, and with or without ADD are able to do that aspect of the job well. But when it comes to staff meetings where clients are not present and you are with others who know you do good work, people should be able to listen and learn in the ways that work best for them, especially if they can prove they’ve been listening and absorbing. Basically, I just really wish the world would get on board with the idea that we all learn in different ways. And I do believe this is a gendered thing too in terms of women having to work harder for respect and in terms of the nature of crafting. Apologies, My Cat – this turned into more of a general rant not specifically aimed at you. I also have a feline alarm clock. He weighs 15 pounds and likes to sit on my stomach in the wee hours.

    2. Ren*

      I agree completely. The only classes from which I ever retained information in school were the ones where I was allowed to crochet, or we did hands-on learning. It is very much a coping mechanism for people with ADHD and other similar issues. If our hands aren’t busy, our minds quickly grow bored with the enforced slowness of verbal communication, and we start to day dream. Our brains jump around so rapidly from one thing to another – almost at random, but not quite – and the only way I’ve found to control that is to keep my hands busy with something that requires a small degree of concentration in itself. Because then, when my mind tries to wander, what I’m doing with my hands pulls me back to the here and now.
      Fidget spinners and other similar gadgets do not work; they are too mindless. If anything, they get me daydreaming faster. It needs to be something that requires occasional thought, but not too much attention. This is why crafts often work well. Crocheting, knitting, needlepiint, cross-stitch, whittling, and any number of other small handicrafts do the trick.
      Pediatricians are now requesting this as a formal accommodation for students with ADHD. If more workplaces understood and allowed this, it would be very beneficial, too. Just like some folks need to listen to music or podcasts on their headphones to work at peak efficiency, we need to keep our hands busy to pay attention to meetings and lectures.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Seconded. Pushing little buttons on the cube and fidgeting..sigh. I need something constructive.

    3. BethDH*

      I teach (college-aged) adults and generally want to give them as much autonomy about how they manage their learning as possible, so I’m pretty flexible about how people adjust their presence in classes/meetings, but there’s a factor I haven’t seen come up in the comments.
      PLEASE keep in mind how distracting your chosen fidget is to others. I’ve had students play something on their computer, and while the student is clearly still engaged in whatever we’re doing, the students around them are visibly distracted. The more unusual your choice is, the more likely it is to distract people. Also be really careful about noises, even soft ones like needles clicking. You may be so used to it you don’t hear it, but it can be impossible for others to tune out. I don’t think it’s fair to create a more distracting environment for others in order to help yourself focus, and I don’t think it’s fair to say that others should just deal with it. So try to find the least distracting option possible, not just the one you like best.
      Also please keep in mind who is speaking and how your relative position might influence their experience. By that I mean that as the instructor I’m in a position of relative power, so I try to make sure I limit how much I use fidget-type activities when a student is meeting with me, knowing that they are likely to feel uncomfortable speaking up. I also want them to be more careful about doing this when their classmates are speaking, since they’re often especially sensitive to the appearance of their classmates being distracted. If you’re the boss or just more senior, try to be mindful that others might not be willing to speak up. If it’s a direct report or someone you have an ongoing relationship, maybe just state explicitly what you’re doing and why at some point.

      1. Chidi Annakendrick*

        Those are all really good points. To clarify my own situation, all of my classes are online so no one can hear or see me when I’m cross stitching. Regarding in person usage of crafting or gaming, all things in moderation and dependent upon context. I 100% agree that whatever a person is doing to keep themselves focused should not be a distraction to others. There has to be some kind of middle ground between rows of staring eyes and rapt attention and an absolute free for all of hobbies. I just don’t know what it is.

        1. Observer*

          I think that some good rules include

          No mess
          No noise
          Not large
          Doesn’t intrude on people’s space
          Doesn’t block people’s vision
          No lights, flashers or other visual items designed to distract / catch people’s attention

  19. Tallulah in the Sky*

    #4 I’m going to second everyone here and encourage you to be proactive about this. I wish I could have done that.

    I’ve been dealing with a lot in the past year (my partner lost his job and hasn’t find one yet, other financial troubles, loss of my father) and am going through a bout of depression right now. It took me time to realize it and get help. In the meantime, my work slipped (it was harder for me to recognize at first since for a couple of months the workload was light, but when I had more to do I realized I couldn’t focus and work as well as before) and colleagues noticed. Some complained, and I had a talk with my manager and his boss where I explained succinctly the situation and that I’m getting help right now. They were very kind and understanding, thankfully. But now I don’t know how to handle my colleagues.

    I wish I had realized earlier I was on a slippery slope, that I got help earlier, and that when I noticed my lack of productivity (and being unable to get it back on track) I had spoken up. Now it really feels like I’m making excuses, so I’ve decided to not say anything to my coworkers, my bosses know and that’s enough (and since it touches on my mental health, it’s a bit trickier to announce it to the whole office, I’m not comfortable with that). It does feel awful though to know some of my colleagues would rather not work with me anymore. But I’ve worked here for three years, and I hope that I’ll soon be back to my old self (or at least, be an OK employee), and that people will realize it was just a bad moment.

  20. Blossom*

    OP3 – what also shocks me is that they would promote someone (the person you’d be reporting to) yet keep them in their original salary band. This is the root of this whole mess. It’s very rich of them to go on about equity when they have treated their own staff in this stingy, short-sighted way.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, I worked at a place that wouldn’t give anyone more than a 10% raise, even if they were changing jobs, and it was total BS.

  21. Bookworm*

    LW1: My workplace recently banned using laptops during team meetings, so I can somewhat relate to your employee. If they’re productive and contribute, then it shouldn’t matter.

    LW4: I’m sorry that happened. It sounds like you have somewhat of a relationship with at least a few of the vendors/clients and so that is unfortunate. I’ve been on both sides (not having control of telling people I was leaving and wondering where someone has gone) but think Alison’s advice is on points. Good luck in your new job!

  22. Koala dreams*

    #1 It’s wonderful to read about small issues like this as a break to the big issues we often read about. Needlepoint is such a delight! It’s fine to inform your employee that the optics of doing needlepoint in meeting can be bad, but it’s more important what future managers, clients and other people who colloborate think, compared to a random person who just sees a meeting through a window. I mean, they are clearly out of sync if they expect the attention of the meeting participants when they aren’t even in the meeting! It’s also important to make clear why you are telling the employee. Is it because you want them to change? Only as information? Because it might impact their future advancement at the company? As a manager your words will have more weight with your employees, so you have a responsibilty to be clear about your expectations.

  23. Kate*

    It should go without saying, but just in case: if the needlepoint project is one of the new subversive cross-stitch patterns that are all the rage now (no more *ucks to give, shut up liver- you’re fine, get ducked), then NO it is not appropriate to do during a meeting.

    1. Observer*

      Why is that even coming up here? There is nothing in what the OP has posted to indicate that the engineer would do that. There is a huge difference between “doing atypical thing” and “getting in people’s faces with vulgarity” and it’s really not helpful or fair to conflate the two.

      1. Kate*

        Actually, I cross-stitch AND I do the subversive kind of cross-stitch. One is more work appropriate than the other :)

        1. Mr. Tyzik*

          Just because you do both doesn’t mean that the needlepointer in the OP does. It’s one thing to lean upon one’s experience, and a different thing entirely to project performance in another based on personal experience.

          I’m with Observer – how is this relevant or helpful?

        2. bonkerballs*

          Well…yeah. What a bizarre comment to make. This is like someone writing in asking a benign question about business casual pants and someone commenting to remind them it’s not appropriate to show up to work in only a bra and panties.

  24. Detective Amy Santiago*

    OP#4 – I’m sorry you and your husband are dealing with this and send you positive vibes.

    If you’re not comfortable addressing this with your team directly, perhaps you can speak with your supervisor one on one. Let them know what’s going on (and ask about FMLA like the Princess suggested) and also request that supervisor let the rest of the team know, but that you’d prefer not to discuss it individually.

  25. Sarah*

    In relation to OP 5, for Boards, do you list organization accomplishments like raised $xxxx, which staff did and the Board just provided oversight/guidance or do you just list your own accomplishments as a Board member like chaired efficient meetings?

    1. BeenThereOG*

      I’ve been wondering this too! I joined the board of a small charity and fundraising is a priority I would love to put it on my resume somewhere when I have accomplishments.

  26. Marthooh*

    OP #1: have the employee needlepoint a window shade for the conference room. Problem solved.

  27. MeTwoToo*

    OP #1: I also get restless in meetings if I don’t have anything to do with my hands. In my office meetings sometimes last hours and happen on most days. My boss has allowed me to do: hand quilting and now crochet. My last three bosses at this position have been supportive, and I’ve stayed in my position for 10 years because all my needs are being met. I am in health care though, so it’s a bit different culturally. I participate in meetings and leave them feeling calmer and more focused on my work as opposed to irritable and restless. My coworkers are all aware and no one blinks an eye. Although they do still ask me to make them things occasionally!

  28. Czhorat*

    Even in an internal meeting, I don’t think needlepoint is a great look; body language matters and perception matters. I’ll take OP’s word that the employee or engaged, but I’m also certain that they don’t appear engaged.

    Good meeting behavior and body language are valuable to practice. Look up. Make eye contact. Lean forward a bit, not back in your chair. Take notes.

    You’re not doing any of the above if you’re cross-stitching, knitting, crocheting, or whittling. Someone working on a craft project and chiming in when appropriate feels less engaged than someone taking notes or even just sitting and looking up at whoever is talking.

    I’d very strongly advise against it.

    1. LQ*

      You can absolutely look up, make eye contact, and lean forward in your chair. You can even take notes. You can say it’s a bad idea. But have you ever hung out with someone who was good at cross stitch, or knitting or the like? Every single thing you can do with a project in your hands.

      1. Czhorat*

        Can you? Possibly. WIll you appear less engaged if there’s an active craft project on your lap? Definitely.

        I know you don’t like this answer (and I’m really sympathetic to you on this), but it does go down to optics. Whether or not you CAN be attentive you will appear less attentive and, to an extent, less professional. To me, this is not a hill on which to die.

      2. Jasnah*

        I feel like now we’re getting into assessing how good someone is at crafting, instead of whether it’s appropriate for the office in the first place.

        You could be really good at painting, or origami, or whistling, or speed-reading, or poetry, but the nature of those hobbies are not acceptable for most offices. You’re not there to do your hobby, you’re there to work, and meetings are no different than being at your desk.

    2. Observer*

      I’ll take OP’s word that the employee or engaged, but I’m also certain that they don’t appear engaged.

      No, you are not taking the OP’s word for it – clearly if the OP realized they were engaged, they appeared to be engaged. It’s not like the OP is claiming to be a mind reader here.

      You’re not doing any of the above if you’re cross-stitching, knitting, crocheting, or whittling.

      Not true.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      My friend’s mother will look you directly in the eye while she’s knitting, it’s all muscle memory for her, it’s not a new pattern and she’s usually only making dishrags. So therefore she’ll also toss them to you as she finishes them and continue the conversation like nothing is going on in her lap!

      I agree that they need to be showing that they’re readily engaged in the meeting though and if they’re not, that is what needs to be addressed . It’s an internal meeting, I don’t know why optics matter there, you know the person more so than if it’s an external meeting, so you should be able to say ‘Yeah Nancy needlepoints at meetings, that’s Nancy.” instead of looking for silly clues that she’s engaged because oh she’s leaning in and taking notes, what a great team player!

      1. higheredrefugee*

        I watch sports while I knit, and I know the pitch count, score, current number of fouls, see all the substitutions, etc. (this is clearly across sports formats). Sure, I have to pick patterns that enable me to do that, but I make far more eye contact and contribute more in meetings than most doodlers I’ve worked with throughout the past fifteen years. In meetings, I take the right balance of notes, etc., because I’m no longer bored and distracted or overly involved and writing everything down but not processing it and have far too many notes to be helpful later. Is it appropriate for every meeting? Heavens no, but I’ve started crafting groups at several places (social and employment) by being a very public crafter.

    4. Jennifer Thneed*

      A) I absolutely can knit without ever looking at my hands. Not everything, but the stuff I call “social knitting” is purposely chosen to be this simple.

      B) With me, specifically, you WANT me to be slightly distracted, because otherwise I will ALWAYS have something to contribute, a joke to crack, whatever. It’s not a great trait but it’s mine, and I have ways of working around it. “Doing something with my hands” is big in there.

    5. Oilpress*

      I agree. It’s a terrible look. Doing something else during meetings always appears “distracted.”

      I don’t know why more people don’t just take notes. You always look attentive and focused when taking notes. People eat it up if you write down what they are saying. It’s a bit like hearing someone say your name. You can’t not love someone writing down your points.

  29. Trout 'Waver*

    In regards to the letter on equity, one thing that really bothers me when talking about pay equity is that many people really don’t understand what “market rate” means. In a market, there is a wide disparity of what people are willing to sell something for and what people are willing to pay. The market rate is the marginal rate. The cost of buying one more widget. It’s only the average price in a very efficient market. The labor market is not an efficient market.

    Also, “market rates” implies that labor is a commodity. However, that glosses over the obvious, that people are individuals with strengths and weaknesses and not commodities.

    I believe the way to abolish inequity is to train managers to properly value diversity, instead of favoring people that think, talk, and act like themselves.

  30. hbc*

    OP1: Maybe this is overkill, but I would give some thought to an overall Theory of Activity in Meetings. You don’t need to put together an official update for the handbook or anything, but it makes sense to figure out why this is okay, what similar situations would be all right, what wouldn’t be, and so on. For example, I can pay 100% attention to words while doing jigsaw puzzles, but that wouldn’t be cool (at least in my mind) if there’s a speaker in the room who deserves eye contact. Are you going to let anyone craft who can stay engaged, or are you going to be comfortable saying, “Your performance is okay, but not great, so you don’t get to cross stitch”? If meeting participation isn’t technically required but you suspect someone is tuning out, is that enough to block them from

    Personally, I frown on anything that basically looks like a person is getting to indulge significantly in their hobby on the clock, especially if they’re producing something with potential commercial value. Doodling on a notepad? Lovely. Drawing illustrations for a book? Not so much. That’s why fidget spinners and stress balls and playing with pens are all fine–it occupies your hands without multitasking on personal stuff.

    And for those who think optics are a ridiculous concern, we all accept that as a part of the workplace. It’s not good enough that you can do your work while you’re wearing a filthy trucker hat, or take in the training while playing Angry Birds, or judge a vendor’s product fairly while accepting gifts from them.

  31. GillysGotIt*

    I’m a doodler but I don’t do it in meetings anymore. Even though I can totally focus, as others have said, I’ve found if anything goes wrong after the meeting, even with some aspect of an action item that was out of my control (or out of the control of the person who was engaging in some other passive activity), the activity will always be blamed. “Of course the package didn’t go out on time – you were distracted in the meeting!” (even if FedEx or UPS decided not to show up that day.

    Not only that, but whether consciously or not, people will start looking harder for faults when they see you doing something else in meetings. It’s just not worth it.

  32. Observer*

    #1 – Alison gave you a good answer. But I have another issue here. The whole incident seems like a real red flag to me about the culture of your organization. Someone passed by the conference room, looked in the window and felt the need to report her to HR? And HR felt the need to make a big deal of this? What on earth?! How much time and energy do people spend on policing things that make no real difference, and which really are none of their concern?

    1. CheeryO*

      There are busybodies everywhere – it doesn’t necessarily mean anything about the workplace as a whole.

      1. sometimeswhy*

        HR taking the busybody seriously enough to bring it up with the manager instead of nipping it in the bud by saying “And it affects you how?” or “Why is this an HR issue?” *is* a problem and does say something about the culture.

        1. Observer*

          Exactly. I know that there are busybodies everywhere. But in some organizations they know that no one wants to hear it. And in others, even when the busybodies show up, HR nips is in the bud, so you don’t have to deal with it.

    2. Indigo a la mode*

      I’ve been on the receiving end of an HR “issue” that should have been a MYOB. Someone went to HR about a relationship they suspected between me (a woman) and my friend, a married male employee in a different division. It really burned my biscuits because:

      1) We weren’t having an affair
      2) Even if we had been, that’s not against any company policy and therefore none of HR’s concern
      3) Our HR director called me in privately to warn me about guarding my reputation. When I asked her if she’d be talking to my male friend, she said no.

      I love my company, but that was a huge overstep on the complainer’s part and sexist af on the part of HR.

      1. sometimeswhy*

        Thank you for sharing this. We have specific examples here of times (plural!) HR addressed a busybody complaint like it was an actual issue that caused real, lasting, *irreparable* harm but all of them are specific enough to be identifying.

  33. NEWBIEMD19*

    “…someone observed my engineer working on a project through the window of a conference room and they felt it was unprofessional.”

    I’ve never worked in an office environment before. Is this really a “thing”? I think knowing there were coworkers roaming about policing me would make me crazy.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      We went through a slower period a few years ago, and received feedback from our manager that people had walked through our department cubes and seen too many people playing around on the internet. So yes, it’s a thing. (In that case, these were senior managers who made the comments, not random busybodies)

      1. Massmatt*

        Most places I have worked had rules about computers and phones being for work purposes only. If there is down time then people were expected to catch up on work, study for work-related licenses and continuing education, or read work-related websites, in roughly that order. Reading CNN even would get you some side-eye, and something like Facebook or AAM some kind of warning to get back to work. Repeat offenders definitely got reprimanded.

    2. Czhorat*

      It depends.

      If clients could conceivably be walking through the area then it absolutely IS an issue if people are cross-stitching or similar through meetings; that sends a message about tone and perceived professionalism.

      I see such activities in meetings as a big mistake, and were I OP I’d strongly council the employee to find other ways to occupy their hands.

  34. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    OP1: I think the content/context of the meeting need to be considered. If it’s an info dump like a lot of trainings or update meetings, and it’s either small enough that the others “get” you or large enough to be buried in the crowd, then some non-thinking and quiet crafting can be awesome for focus and eyes forward listening.

    If it’s a working meeting where people are actively engaged, then no, probably.

    I’ve handquilted in all-staff all-day annual meetings, and plenty of conferences. But when I’m around a table or in a smaller setting, then the doodling kicks in. I take no fewer than 3 colors of pen to every meeting. Notes get color coded, and for really tedious stuff, imaginary and non-imaginary quilts get designed, and sometimes completely plotted out including exactly how much fabric and what sizes to cut things.

    Luckily, I’m in a job where I am in no more than one staff meeting a week, so it’s not too bad.

  35. LSP*

    OP#1 – I am a knitter, and have also done some needlepoint and those are the kinds of activities that can keep your hands busy while focusing your mind.

    My mother carries her knitting with her literally everywhere she goes, and is able to do that while holding conversations, watching a movie, answering jeopardy questions and helping my dad with the crossword puzzle. These tasks do not diminish ones ability to pay attention.

    However, as Alison said, they are not only quite gendered, but are viewed as an unprofessional thing to do during work hours. It’s often frustrated me, since sometimes I’m on calls I don’t need to take notes on, and so I really want something to do with my hands that will also be productive, and if I could hand quilt something while on that call without getting side eye from coworkers, I would be all over that.

    1. Elizabeth*

      I watch tv and movies while I knit. I can even knit in a movie theatre in the dark. *shrugs*

      I find I concentrate on things better if I’m knitting. If I’m not knitting my attention wanders. People can do more than one thing at a time.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      I take notes in lots of meetings where I’m not “the note-taker”. Sometimes my notes are hilariously unrelated to the topic at hand… but it also gives me a place to jot down reminders of things that I need to do after the meeting, whether they’re related to the meeting or not.

  36. SickHusband*

    #4 I went through the same thing almost 2 years ago. Because I work remotely I thought I was hiding the stress and emotions well, and then one day I sort of snapped on a call, I yelled and then cried!! I was horrified, but it happened. I told my boss about what happened and told her about my husband. She was grateful to know what was going on because I hadn’t been hiding it as well as I thought. She did some much-needed damage control for me, and I apologized to the people individually and shared with them my husband’s condition, and then on the next call with everyone, I apologized to them as a group. It was a relief to tell people. When I needed to reschedule a meeting or declined to take on something more, people stopped commenting that I was sending emails at weird hours on the weekends. Because I was stressed and distracted it took me longer to do my work, I often would work late into the night or on the weekends when my husband was asleep.
    I strongly recommend you tell at least your manager. It is a difficult time and we are often not as good of an actor as we think we are. Good luck and best wishes to a fullr ecovery for your husband.

  37. Amili*

    LW1: I’m currently in a contract role in an industry (banking) where you’d think knitting/needlepoint would be a flashing lights, sirens blaring, no-go. Except: They’ve all the contractors contained on one (secure) floor, we’re all on the same project, and all our meetings are conference calls we join from our desks.
    As the project has some intense down-time, I’ve been bringing the baby blanket knitting project I’m working on in for those points, and I started just carrying on during the conference calls. I pay so, so, so much more attention and get so much more out of these conference calls now! I’d not connected it to my ADHD, but it makes total sense – I have to knit through D&D sessions or I get frustrated and distracted as well!
    The optics of it is one thing, but I think that might be something I keep in mind on future projects/in future roles if I’m starting to struggle – requesting permission to do something with my hands during those times. I just wish I was a doodler, but that bores me more than anything… I’m not sure what kind of optics-friendly alternatives there are in that case. My last contract, when I mentioned the struggle, they basically had me handling notes on a board/any movement-required tasks through the meeting, or when neither of those were options, I’d be working on building our training kits for future trainings, which worked well!
    I do rather hate how gendered the optics are though, and am heartened by the slow, quiet growth of crafters in male-dominated fields, mentioned above by a tech-industry employee.

  38. SigneL*

    I would find it very distracting if I were in a meeting and someone were crocheting, knitting, etc. On the other hand, few of the meetings I’ve been in demanded much of my attention.

  39. Lynca*

    OP1- I work with engineers (civil) and I could absolutely see someone calling needlepoint during meetings unprofessional. I have ADHD and do cross-stitch/embroidery. I was able to do it openly at some of my office jobs in college. I think what you really need to do is what Alison said. Arm them with the knowledge so they can do what is best for their career. They may not always be under you so they need to know that there are people that may not look at the behavior in the same way.

    It helped me cultivate other “acceptable” coping skills. Not saying they’re as good but they work.

  40. Amethystmoon*

    #1 Maybe it’s just me, but I think crafts should be limited to lunch periods, and only then while you’re obviously having lunch. If possible, away from your desk. I’ve had too many jobs where people would have been hollered at and/or possibly fired for doing an activity like that not over lunch break. I crochet and I wouldn’t work on crochet at my desk. It’s something I normally do in front of the TV to keep myself from snacking.

    1. Close Bracket*

      Being at your desk is not the same as being in a meeting, though. If you are at your desk working, you are probably using your hands to work. Doing needlepoint would necessitate stopping work. In a meeting, you are listening and talking. Neither of those involve your hands, unless you sign.

  41. Alexis Rose*

    OP 4: A lesson I learned very early on in my career (I was 20 and doing a summer internship) was that telling people what is going on with you helps so much.

    My dog was being put to sleep and I was away from home and wouldn’t be able to say goodbye to him. I was up all night on the phone crying with my best friend the night before and was tired and distracted the next day, which was the day he was being taken to the vet. I was a mess, and I could tell my boss was frustrated that he had to say things to me twice and that I wasn’t as focused as I normally am. At the end of the day, there was a moment where it was just the two of us and I said “I have to apologize for how distracted I’ve been today, my dog was put down this morning and its been really hard for me.” He had an IMMEDIATE change in reaction from frustrated/annoyed to understanding, thanking me for telling him, asking if he could do anything, did I want a day off, etc, etc. I had been embarrassed and didn’t want to be “too personal” at work (I was young, I didn’t know what was allowed or appropriate), but his reaction made me feel so much better and I was cut a little bit of slack that I needed to not have to worry about my job performance on TOP of saying goodbye to my childhood pet. A dog and a spouse are not the same, but I think the lesson still stands and Alison’s advice is spot on.

    Now, almost 10 years later, my grandfather is very sick and in the hospital and I’ve let my coworkers and my boss know just the basics, and its been very helpful if I zone out or aren’t as chatty as I normally am, they understand and have been very compassionate.

  42. Jilly*

    OP 3 – I encountered a similar situation but from the other side many years ago. We were interviewing candidates for a position at my level. Because of our specific niche government client, salary histories were documented at the application stage so I knew how much our top candidate made. Based on the history, he got that salary by moving every 2.5 years. We both had the same number of years of experience both broadly and in our industry. We both had MAs. His (then) current salary was a lot higher than mine. Now, I knew they weren’t going to match that history because of what our departmental budget was. So he would have to take a pay cut to come to our company. Which he did. But they also gave me a $5K bump to get us closer in rates. It was in their best interests because he was a white man and I am neither of those. I had negotiated fine when I started at that company, but was hampered by some internal policies when I was promoted 2 years later. And the company had to tread lightly because there was a habit of pushing the women employees into slots that inherently made less plus the stated policy that salaries should stay below the median of the applicable salary band and the median was in fact market rate.

  43. Ali G*

    OP3 don’t take this job, unless you are OK with being underpaid and never getting raises. What I gleaned from your letter is:
    Company advertised a position with a salary range
    Company promoted an internal candidate that would oversee the advertised position, but kept her in the same salary band (red flag)
    Then, lowballed your offer because essentially the advertised rate was too close to the managers rate
    So, basically, instead of actually giving the manager a promotion and upping her salary accordingly, you are both being underpaid, because “equity.”
    I would also expect the same crap any time you attempt to negotiate a salary increase.
    If you indeed have other options, I would pursue them.

    1. Kitty Harrington*

      Yep. Unfortunately, I encountered this exact same situation with a job offer. I was told that I couldn’t negotiate for more money because of internal equity so even though the same person who was getting this amount had less experience, it was oh well too bad for you because you were hired after them. If it’s a job you don’t intend to stay in for very long (ie you intend to go to grad school or move), that’s one thing but it will be an uphill battle otherwise.

  44. MeowYorker*

    I’m curious about the implications on OP #1, the manager of the needlepointing employee. If the office’s general perception is that the needlepointing employee is out of synch with professional appearance yet her manager lets her continue, I imagine that would put the manager in an awkward position. In a sense, by actively defending the needlepointing employee or otherwise letting her continue, OP #1 might end up burning her own political capital on something that might not be *that* important to her (or, possibly, even to her needlepointing employee). Would it be reasonable for OP #1 to push back on needlepointing from this standpoint?

    1. Jeff VanDyke*

      For the record, I am willing to invest some personal capital for a good employee. I do desire to see more diverse perspectives and a shift in culture at our workplace.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is a fair point.

      However the manager has much more political capital to burn than your standard employee. If your only beef with my management style is that I let my solid employees, who have a great work product and return rate on their work needle point during a meeting, I’ll take it. I’ll go down swinging for my crew to be allowed to buck the norms if it’s something so basic and not going to turn us all on our heads.

      If the manager is in a place that they cannot go all in like that, some setups don’t allow it, then the manager can certainly tell the needlepointer it’s not in her control and therefore the needlepoint will have to stop. The manager can go either direction here.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        Sure, but I think MeowYorker has a good point that we don’t know important this actually is to the OP’s employee. Maybe it’s the only way she has to manage her attention, or maybe she would be perfectly happy with a fidget toy or doodling – it’s something the OP should check in with her about before doing anything. I would find it incredibly embarrassing to be that person whose manager went down swinging over her right to needlepoint if I wasn’t that invested in it in the first place!

  45. Workfromhome*

    #3- To me this is red flags all over the place. I would not take that job.
    1>If they offered that range and then changed it because of pay inequity they have very poor planning.
    2.It indicates a pay philosophy that leads me to believe people are underpaid and will continue to be so. They knew that they needed to pay X to higher a new person into that r9ole. Yet when they discovered that the market rate was X yet a current experienced employee was paid x- 10% they decided to ask you to take less than market rate rather than bumping current employee up to X.
    They value keeping their current employee under market rate over brining in qualified people.

    3.If they would rather lower their offer than bump up the current employee to market what do you think the chances are you’ll get raises?
    4. Even if you do get raises you are essentially doomed to always be at less than market.

  46. I'm A Little Teapot*

    I do needlepoint, and while I don’t take it to work, I can and do hold involved conversations with people while needlepointing. For me, it depends on the project. More involved projects take more of my concentration. Doing plain background in a basic tent stitch – it’s brainless. Similar to knitting/crocheting.

  47. Pink Peonies*

    #2 Check your contract that you signed when you started. I do healthcare consulting and in my contract if/when we part ways I have a cooling off period where I cannot contact clients (usually 90 days). I didn’t pay attention in the beginning and it caused a lot of issues.

  48. Blue Anne*

    OP 1 – I have ADHD and really wish I was allowed to knit in meetings. It does help me focus to have something to do with my hands. I don’t even need to look at it. Instead I doodle all over my meeting notes, which does take my eyes off the people who are talking and makes me look unfocused.

  49. OP#4*

    This is letter writer 4. Thank you everyone who has responded for your advice and well wishes. This experience feels very isolating and it’s heartening to hear from others. I did tell my manager right after we found out because I wanted them to have a heads up that I might need some flexibility in the coming weeks to go to doctors appointments and things. My manager is supportive but is still pretty concerned about the image I’m projecting to the rest of the team by asking for more flexibility. So I will probably end up having to tell more people anyway just to have some control over my own story.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      It should be your manager’s responsibility to, you know, *manage* the image that is being projected to the rest of the team. I stand by my suggestion that if you are not comfortable actually talking about this directly with your colleagues, it’s perfectly fair to request that your manager handle that communication.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You are not alone, please know there are support groups for spouses and families of those who are going through treatments. This is often a life changing event and there is a huge amount of support out there for you. It’s early but my biggest piece of advice is to remember to take care of yourself as well through out this journey.

      Your manager needs to manage the optics and stop burdening you with them. Please also know if you’re eligible for FLMA with your organization. Get that paperwork in line with your husband’s doctors for that flexibility. I’m grouchy AF that your manager is pretty concerned despite putting on a supportive face. Use the law, your manager has something to learn and I’m not impressed by it.

      When my mom needed flexibility, her manager didn’t flinch. The only reason she had to file FLMA paperwork after awhile was for corporate paperwork issues.

  50. Hello!*

    OP2, although this wasn’t in the workplace, I used to crochet during lectures while I was in college. It helped me distract that part of my brain that would get distracted and keep me focused. I would record the lectures though and take notes on the content at a later date. It helped me a lot so I wasn’t trying to count ceiling tiles or whatever else my brain wanted to do for the day. Assuming she is talented at needlepoint (and assuming it is similar to how I viewed crocheting), it is a mindless activity that just keeps you moving a bit.

  51. Veryanon*

    Needlepoint – I’d love to be able to crochet during meetings, as I do find that it helps me focus. Unfortunately, though, the “optics” aren’t great, as noted in the response above.
    Husband with cancer – definitely tell your co-workers what’s going on. You don’t have to go into a ton of detail, but you can say something like “You may have noticed I seem distracted lately. I just wanted to let you know that my husband is going through a serious health challenge, and it’s been on my mind a lot. I don’t have a lot else to share right now, but I’ll keep you updated as necessary. Thanks for understanding.”

  52. Barefoot Librarian*

    Just to lend my voice to the other ADHD people who have already commented, I’m far more productive and focused when doing something relatively mindless with my hands. It’s something I regularly use as a coping mechanism when I have to sit in one place for a period of time and be engaged. I once knitted 12 hats during a marathon watching of the Lord of the Rings one Christmas. I can’t just SIT without something to do with my hands. It would drive me crazy.

    If the needlepoint itself is distracting, I greatly encourage you to allow her to do other tasks (coloring, doodling, etc.) while in meetings and conference calls. If it *is* an ADHD coping thing, then she’s going to be a better employee for it.

    1. Hello!*

      Second to this. I don’t have ADHD, but am just always fidgeting with my hands, usually picking at my nails or, and this is weird, doing the finger placements for a solo I had played on the clarinet in high school. I crochet constantly while watching tv, listening to podcasts, whatever it is. I even have a stationary bike at home and I crochet while working out.

      If it is making her a better employee, then more power to her.

  53. human fidget cube*

    #1 I would be more annoyed at the person complaining. What really looks unprofessional is tattling on people through meeting windows. Get a grip.

    Also complaining about needling specifically seems almost sexist to me.

  54. Tapping Has to Stop*

    I have an coworkers who “taps” in meetings because he says it helps him focus. And by tap, I mean, beat his pen on his notebook or his fingernail on his laptop. There’s a time and a place for “focusing activities” and this one has to stop. Ugh.

  55. cheese please*

    #1 – I work as an engineer in a non tech field (ie: not software or computer stuff) so it’s arguably a more “old school” environment. We have some meeting where attention is really important and other meetings where we can be more relaxed and people eat snacks, have their phones out etc. Could you coach your employee about situations where needlepoint would be more “welcome” – ie: in the Friday team meeting that is more relaxed and is a small team, that’s ok, but in the monthly project report meeting with c-level finance people it’s not as welcome.

    I know in my experience, I have felt “out of the group” when all the men in the room (more often than not I am the only woman)have talked about the best place to get a crew cut or their new pickup trucks (no joke, this has happened multiple time). It was already obvious I was different, and it didn’t help their relationship with me. Had I been crafting in any way, I would certainly have been teased etc. Your employee may face similar criticisms / judgments from coworkers because some jerks are just the worst, and she needs to decide what she values at work, and what makes her comfortable and productive.

    1. cheese please*

      Also, if you run team meetings, and you are pro-needle point employee, you can be an advocate for those that complain directly to you and simply state “Mike, I understand your concerns about having all team members active in meetings. The fact of the matter is that Heather finds that keeping her hands occupied makes her more attentive in meetings, and her productivity speaks for itself. So I need you to understand that different mechanisms work for different people, and know that I welcome you to bring in any quiet activities or snacks to our next team meeting if you know they are helpful to your concentration”

  56. Close Bracket*

    doing something with your hands during meetings is a strategy some people use to help with ADHD

    And some people on the autism spectrum do things with their hands as a form of stimming.

    1. JES*

      Also, lot’s of neurotypical people also find doing something with your hands helps them focus, myself included. I think its important to keep this in mind, but ultimately it doesn’t matter whether this employee is neurotpyical or not. It’s none of the OP’s business. What matters is whether she is a good worker and is engaged in the meetings, which she is.

  57. Lilo*

    In law school a classmate used to knit all through class. She graduated with honors, so I don’t think it hurt her focus.

    1. Aggretsuko*


      If I’d known how to knit in college I would have done this. Instead I did crossword puzzles. High school was intricate doodling. Knitting is more productive.

  58. Noah*

    OP2 works at a law firm. I hope taking client contact info with her violates their policies. Otherwise they need new policies.

    This firm’s policy on clients make a ton of sense. It’s policy on vendors makes no sense.

  59. JES*

    OP1, choose to think of it as charming. Because it is charming! As long as she’s actually engaged in the meeting, it’s fine. She might be more engaged than if she weren’t crafting. I knit in every one of my lectures and meetings, and I am more engaged for it. Also, she’s an adult and knows what she needs to focus. If other people are choosing to focus on this instead of her actual work, then it sounds like they’re missing out on a relationship with really good employee and that’s their own damn problem.

  60. Scarlet*

    LW #2 – I don’t have any advice, but just wanted to let you know this happened to me in one of my last jobs and it SUCKED.I had spent years building relationships with my clients and then at the end of it the company wouldn’t let me say goodbye until the last day. Even one of my clients apparently complained up the ladder since I was forced to leave her a vm about it. Worst of all, it completely looked like it was my decision to not tell anyone- so I was the one who looked unprofessional.

    To make things worse, one of my favorite clients ended up dying a year later, and ex-company wouldn’t give me the contact information to send his family flowers :( It was so sad. I just wanted to let them know what a great man he was and that even though I didn’t work with them anymore, he was missed!

  61. NewNameTemporarily*

    There’s a few possible questions / other points to consider?
    1) What is being imparted in this meeting that is so not riveting, or so time consuming? Does she – or most of the folks – NEED to be in that meeting, or is it a CYA meeting?
    > Is the culture that everyone attends every meeting in person? Is that really necessary?
    I’ve arranged that I can dial in from home on some of the big “this is this quarter’s reorganization” meetings… because they don’t impact my level. (and I can multi-task).
    > And I’ve pushed back on a couple and asked that they SEND OUT good minutes (with time stamps) so that I can review the “one” item I had to attend for, later. But I’m diligent about staying on track with all the intersecting paths of work… If I have to sit on one, I listen and ask what the ramifications are for my area.
    2) I understand that sometimes there are optics that “someone” has to attend a meeting. (I’ve been sent to a few above my level because no one at the right pay grade had a whole day to spend in them).
    > But in that case, I take my cues from those around me. I take notes by hand with some doodles on the side, (even if I throw them away afterwards or just scan and file them). I do not soothe myself or distract myself (years of practice at looking attentive). Optics do matter. I’ve been included and upgraded to attend conferences and meetings well above my pay grade, because I’ve used the opportunities to network, to present my company and group well, to learn.
    3) think about it from the other side of the podium….I took multiple classes – extra work on the side – to learn how to do “C” level presentations. I once spent two solid weeks preparing a wonderful presentation on a critical, government mandated project that touched every aspect of our (300 person) division. I even had a coach work with me on. I gave it. Only 2 people in the entire room looked up and engaged with me. Everyone was multi-tasking. It was completely disheartening. ONE person did tell me it was the best presentation of the year that group had received. (and I’m sure it was… but, I never volunteered again to give to them).
    Takeaway – if I go, I listen and actively engage. I honor their time put into it. If there isn’t a clear reason for me to be there, I try plan B (dial in) or plan C (catch up later). But I don’t go and zone out in the room, or at least, I don’t go and spend the entire time looking like I’m there against my will. (which is the optics – I have something better to do, right or wrong).

    So look at the meeting culture, and at the forum and way in which information is being disseminated. But also look at how the actions can be perceived by the presenters/ others. It isn’t entirely about her.

    1. Close Bracket*

      But I don’t go and zone out in the room, or at least, I don’t go and spend the entire time looking like I’m there against my will.

      I think this speaks to a perception problem on your part. The OP’s coworker actively participated in the discuss (OP’s wording). If you perceive someone who actively participates in the discussion as zoned out or being there only for the optics (are these lens design meetings?) or disrespecting the presenter’s time bc they are doing something with their hands, that is entirely on you. You have choices in what you focus on and how you choose to interpret it. You can focus on what’s in their hands or you can focus on their contributions to the discussions. I recommend the latter.

      1. NewNameTemporarily*

        I’m just pointing out,that from the presenter’s viewpoint -and that does count, too…. someone who only pops their head up and makes eye contact when “the listener” themselves are speaking – may not present the best optics. It is part of the social interaction of a conversation or a presentation to look engaged, nodding at key points, and give non-verbal feedback for a presenter.
        There’s a reason optics matter, whether we like it or not. Participating in the discussion is not the only rule for engaging in a meeting. I understand that’s my perception. But…. I am entitled to it. (I have ADHD and I used to crochet in college during my music class… but I wouldn’t do it at work, at least not in my hard-fought world).
        I’m not criticizing her – perhaps I wasn’t gentle enough – but I am pointing out that this will likely affect her career in the two major industries I’ve been in. She’s fortunate to have her boss but I’m offering up this could be a reason she gets marginalized by others.

  62. Kelsi*

    A lot of folks have weighed in already on OP1, but I’ll throw my own two cents in the fountain.

    My workplace recently began allowing things like knitting/cross-stitch at our quarterly all-staff meetings, and it’s gone from a torturous day where I spend all my attention not falling asleep (and frequently step out of the room because I’m so antsy I can’t handle it anymore), into a day where I’m actively participating and engaged.

    I could not give an eff about the optics in this case because even if it was a problem, I genuinely believe my increased ability to retain, reference, and make use of the things we discussed in the meeting will more than balance out any negatives.

    (Do I probably have undiagnosed ADHD? Yes. Do I do my best to cope in non-disruptive ways? Also yes. Paying attention in long meetings with my brain is like trying to complete a puzzle while also caring for several high-energy toddlers–you have to give them something to occupy them first or else they’re just throwing puzzle pieces everywhere and screaming.)

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I love this post, Kelsi. I really really really wish my job would do this! And I agree: I’m willing to have a “bad reputation” for this if I could just stay awake and remember the information better.

      (Also, I already have a bad reputation here for other things, like my voice, so that shit’s out the window anyway.)

      I swear it doesn’t matter if I get 8 hours of sleep if you want me sitting still staring at you for 2 hours at the start of the day. I yawn constantly no matter what.

  63. Sleepytime Tea*

    LW #1 – In my first big kid job I brought in my crochet project, which I mostly worked on during breaks, but I had it out and was working on it during a meeting when I was very new. I have been crocheting since I was in grade school and I can do it without barely looking at it and it does help me focus (I do have ADD and keeping my hands busy is helpful). That said, my supervisor immediately told me to put it away and to give my full attention. Regardless of the fact that I could do it and give my full attention at the same time, the optics were terrible, and I understood that.

    It gave a truly terrible early on impression at that job that I had to make up for. While I totally understand your employee being able to focus on both her craft and a meeting at the same time, because I truly believe that it’s possible as I have done it, the damage to their reputation is very real because to some people they will just never see it that way. I’m not saying you should put the kabash on it completely and refuse to let them do it, but I would say it would actually be a kindness to them to not let them potentially create a bad reputation, especially early on in their career at your company. Please make sure they understand the potential ramifications, even if you want to give them the choice of whether or not they continue to do it. Coming back from that for me was not easy.

  64. Pookie's Mom*

    When my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer, the people in my office were nothing but supportive.
    He was hospitalized a few weeks later and I kept on working as much as possible in order to preserve my leave and postpone the start of FMLA. My boss was incredible supportive during this time and worked out a way for me to preserve my insurance eligibility as long as possible if I had to stop work. My husband died before these plans could go into effect but just before the busiest week of our year. They all came to his wake and funeral despite the busy time and having to pick up my work beside. When I came back to work a few days later, their support was what got me through. I know I wasn’t “all there” for quite a while, but they understood that I was doing my best after being widowed with a teenage fairly abruptly. I pray you office will be as understanding as mine was during a difficult time.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I lost my beloved boss last year, after a nightmare run with a nasty terminal illness as well. A lot of the people at his memorial service were coworkers of his wife, it was amazing how supportive they were. I know that they got her through a lot of the days as well. I’m grateful to hear others have such supportive workplaces as well because I know what it means to her.

  65. Hlyssande*

    OP1, I knitted my way through college to help focus. I found that I was able to pay attention better, took better notes, and retained information more easily if I had something to do with my hands. I absolutely would have flunked out without it.

    Sadly my office isn’t one that allows me any sort of fidget toy during meetings or even conference calls (my cube is extremely visible), or I’d be spinning/knitting/wire weaving my way through all of them. Having something relatively productive to do with my hands helps SO MUCH with my focus it’s ridiculous. I have alleviated this a little by taking minutes during a conference call, but it’s still very difficult to pay attention (and sometimes to stay awake!).

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