I resent my coworker’s sick days, getting out of a carpool, and more

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

1. I resent how often my coworker is out sick

I am having trouble rallying appropriate sympathy for a coworker with depression and I’m hoping you can help me with this. I work in a public-serving, unionized institution with five full-time employees and three part-time. I’m pretty sure one of my full-time coworkers suffers from depression, on top of some mobility and health issues, in addition to being borderline morbidly obese. Recently she has been calling in sick, at times staying out for a week at a time, at others just two or three days before or after a previously scheduled day off. At this point, I’m pretty sure she’s used up all her PTO and will sometimes cut her lunch breaks short to try to make up time when she returns from one of these absences.

I want to regard her with sympathy for these sick days, as depression is a serious disease and life can be hard for the overweight. But I’m having difficulty because (a) she often talks about staying up late night on Twitter and downing entire boxes of cookies at 3 am and it’s hard to sit by and watch someone “happily” engage in self-destructive behavior, (b) these sick days often seem to coincide with her daughter’s return to college, and perhaps on some level are a ploy to guilt-trip her child into moving back to town, and (c) any time she’s out, the rest of us have to pick up all her work, which is especially taxing since our institution is down a number of positions. Because of this coworker, the rest of us are loathe to take time off because we know from experience how that increases the workload on our peers and because we’re afraid that if she calls in sick while one of us is off, our institution will be run by a frantic skeleton crew.

I’m not giving this coworker any attitude or throwing shade at work; I’m friendly and simply glad she’s there. But on a certain level, I’m having a hard time not feeling resentful that her frequent sick days mean more work for the rest of us, and I foresee years and years of similar absences, as she can’t afford to retire or go on disability.

If you’re short-staffed when your coworker is out, that’s an issue for your management to solve, not your coworker. If her absences are causing problems for the rest of you, talk to your manager, say that you don’t have the staffing to run at full capacity when someone is out (or that you can’t do X and Y when you’re covering Z for someone who’s out), and ask how they want to handle that. Similarly, stop worrying that you can’t take your own time off; take it and expect your employer to figure out a way to cope.

Because the thing is, people get to use their time off. And they get to negotiate for additional time off beyond that, if that’s what your coworker has done here and your employer has agreed to it. And you really, really don’t want to get into judging what they’re using the time for, or if they really need it “enough,” or if some of it might be self-inflicted or they’re not taking sufficiently good care of themselves. You do not want colleagues doing that to you, and people can find a way to do it with an awful lot of illnesses.

There’s a lot of speculation in your letter, and I’ve got to think it’s feeding your frustration. It’s far better for your own mental health to remind yourself that you don’t know your coworker’s personal medical details (nor should you), you don’t know the exact causes for her absences (even if she shares info with you, she may not give you the full story), and she’s just as entitled as anyone else is to eat a box of cookies without her coworkers thinking that correlates with an increase in their own workload (which is, frankly, an awfully big stretch).

The issue here is that your employer isn’t managing its staffing levels appropriately. Put the issue squarely on their laps to handle, and don’t make your coworker the repository of your resentment.

2. I don’t want to carpool with a coworker

I’ve carpooled with one coworker for over a year. A new coworker has come and also wants to carpool with us. The two coworkers do not have a good relationship (but can tolerate each other). The new coworker is also incredibly annoying and inconsiderate (but not a bad person). I am technically her superior at work (although not her direct manager), and on Sunday she needed to be disciplined but as I was driving her back and forth, I asked my colleague to talk with her instead.

I really would prefer to stop driving her, but I don’t want to hurt her feelings. I like carpooling with person #1, so an excuse of like “I need some time to myself” doesn’t work. I’m unsure what to do, or how to navigate this, without putting myself in an even more uncomfortable position at work.

Oooh, this is hard. It might have been easier to say no from the start, but now that you’re carpooling together, it’s harder to get out of it without dropping out of the carpool with the original coworker too.

You mentioned the other two don’t have a good relationship. If things are tense between them in the car, you could use that — “I need to be able to unwind at the end of the day and the tension in the car is too much.” Or you possibly could say that picking up/dropping off two people is too much (although then there’s a chance she’ll offer to drive herself to the driver’s house). Or there’s the chain of command — “I realized that since I sometimes manage your work and need to give you feedback, we should have good outside-of-work boundaries and not keep carpooling.” Or, if any of her inconsideration is about the carpool itself (being late, being rude in the car, etc.), you can explain that — “We need to leave on time every day so can’t keep carpooling.”

Anyone else have better ideas on this one?

3. Company offered me a job, then offered it to someone else while I was considering it

I got a phone call on a Monday and was offered a job. I was expecting another offer in the coming days, so I told them that and asked them when they needed an answer by. They told me that I could have until Thursday to make a decision and let them know. I called back the next day but no one answered. I left a message asking if the salary was negotiable, and asking that I be sent a written offer to review since they still hadn’t told me anything regarding benefits or PTO. They didn’t call back until Wednesday afternoon, and then told me that they might have already given the job to someone else! They said they would find out if that was the case and call me back in an hour. They never called back.

I just graduated, so I’m new to the whole job searching thing, but is that how it’s supposed to work? They told me I had until Thursday to make a decision but went ahead and offered someone else the job instead. Is it unreasonable to ask for time to review two competing offers? Did they expect me to just accept the job on the spot with no written information regarding salary and benefits?

No, that’s definitely not how it’s supposed to work. If they told you that you had until Thursday, they should have given you until Thursday — or if for some reason things changed on their end, they should have proactively told you that.

It’s reasonable to ask for some time to consider an offer, and it’s certainly reasonable to ask for info about benefits. (Do know, though, that not everywhere does formal, written offers.) Ideally you wouldn’t have said you were waiting on another offer, because that implies that they weren’t your first choice (which might be true but employers sometimes take it as a sign that you’re not enthusiastic about the job), but that wouldn’t warrant them pulling the offer.

4. Should I let recruiters know their advertised “great jobs” are in fact terrible?

Recruiters frequently reach out to me on LinkedIn with “great job opportunities,” as they like to put it. In actuality, most of these jobs sound terrible! I majored in finance and am about five years removed from graduating with my bachelor’s degree. Many of the direct messages I get on LinkedIn look something like this:

“I am a member of the recruiting team for (finance/accounting related) company. I came across your profile and think you would be an excellent fit for X role. X role offers a competitive salary of $30,000/year, excellent benefits, and generous vacation time, starting at two weeks. Please let me know if you are interested in connecting!”

Call me crazy, but $30,000 is NOT a competitive salary for these sort of positions. Most of these jobs tend to require at least five years of accounting experience and a lot of technical skills; no one with those qualifications would accept $30,000/year. I live in a large city with a relatively low cost of living, but even for my area, this is not a competitive salary. I work in a mainly customer service based role with some accounting work required and make about 40% more than the salaries these recruiters generally offer (of course I’ve received raises over the years, but even my starting salary was higher than $30,000!). Additionally, two weeks vacation is certainly not “generous.” Almost all of the messages I get from recruiters on LinkedIn offer similar salaries/vacation as the example mentioned above.

Would it be worthwhile to reach out to some of these recruiters to say, “hey, I don’t know if you realize this, but $X/year is more in line with this sort of position”? Or, would this just look tacky and unprofessional? For what it’s worth, I’ve always either ignored these messages, or politely told the recruiter that I’m not interested.

These are probably crappy recruiters who are messaging everyone with a remotely relevant background; they’re not paying that much attention to your profile. There are a lot of recruiters like this on LinkedIn, at least for some fields. In other words, it’s not a targeted approach where they’ve carefully considered you and decided you’re a strong match with the job. They’re doing the recruiter equivalent of resume-bombing.

You can certainly send them the kind of response you proposed, but it’s unlikely to have an impact. You’re most likely to get no answer or ridiculous responses trying to talk you into considering the job anyway.

5. Getting a clear answer about my job without sounding manipulative

Two months ago I was hired by a company. The position was listed as a permanent position with benefits but I was offered a one-month contract (without benefits) as a trial period to see if it was a good fit. At the one-month mark, the company lawyer said they needed some more time to get their ducks in a row and asked if they could extend until the end of the calendar month. My boss is very happy with my work and doesn’t want me to leave, and also seems convinced I was going to be hired permanently (the company lawyer and my boss aren’t always on the same page), but it turns out my contract is just extended by another three months with a slight raise and a “possibility for permanence at the end of three months.”

I love my job but I don’t want to work as a contractor (I prefer benefits and job security to a higher pay). How do I let them know that I will need to start looking for work elsewhere if permanent employment isn’t actually on the table without it sounding like I’m being manipulative or making a threat? I really just want a clear answer on whether it’s something they actually plan to do, or if I need to start looking elsewhere.

It’s not manipulative to ask for a clear answer about their plans for you, and it’s not making a threat to explain that you’ll need to go elsewhere if this can’t be resolved soon. That’s just exchanging information, as long as you do it in a calm, professional way.

Say this: “It’s important to me to be in a long-term position with benefits, so I want to make sure there won’t be another short-term extension after this. I love the work here, but if it’s not permanent, I need to be looking at other positions. How confident are you that the role will convert to regular employment in three months?”

The tricky thing is that your boss could be right if she says this will get fixed in three months — or might be being more optimistic than she should be. There’s no way to know for sure, so it’s wise to do at least a low-key job search until you can see what really happens at the end of the three months. At that point, if they do it again, you’ll have a pretty clear answer.

{ 580 comments… read them below }

  1. Aphrodite*

    OP #2, I would not provide a reason. Keeping it friendly (beyond polite) simply say something like, “I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but it just isn’t possible for me to carpool with you any more.” She probably will be hurt, she may well question you as to why. You don’t want to edge up to the rudeness fence by sounding cold so have something ready to follow up if necessary such as “I am truly sorry for the inconvenience but I just cannot do it any more so but want to give you time so find another solution so a week from Friday will be the last day. I hope you find another solution that works for you.”

    1. Not A Manager*

      How about “the situation that arose last Sunday made me realize that I can’t share a carpool and be an effective manager”?

      1. lost academic*

        Because she’s not that individual’s manager, this response isn’t going to make sense.

        1. Myrin*

          Of course it is – the letter says “on Sunday she needed to be disciplined but as I was driving her back and forth, I asked my colleague to talk with her instead”, which means that it would’ve been the normal course of action for OP to do the disciplinary talk.

      2. Kiki*

        Yeah, I think something like that makes the most sense, unless the original carpooling coworker is also someone LW is responsible for disciplining.

      3. TootsNYC*

        I was surprised Alison didn’t lean on this point.

        The carpooling has already negatively impacted the OP’s work responsibilities.

        This is an easy out.

        (the other one is that you’ve realized that you only want to carpool with one other person; two is too many, it’s a personal preference and so can’t be reasoned away; “It’s just a quirk of mine; that’s the way I am.” Listen, if “it’s just the way he is” can be weaponized for the jerks, then the rest of us should get to use it too)

        1. TootsNYC*

          oh, and it is the truth.
          And it’s necessary.

          The army has rules about fraternization for a reason.

    2. government worker*

      I think this is the way to go. I once had a work experience where I was transferred to a different location and told I’d be back at the initial location at a specific date. That date came and went and my supervisor explained that I wouldn’t be transferring back. I asked why not and my supervisor said chirpily “because that’s the decision we made!” It was jarring and a non-answer but effective in shutting down further conversation.

      1. government worker*

        I’m not saying this is great communication (it’s definitely not). It’s just an effective approach when you don’t want to get into the “why”.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In this context, I think that’s more hurtful than using the chain of command or another reason. She’s going to see the OP continuing to carpool with the other coworker and a reason-less “I’m sorry, I just can’t” or “that’s my decision” is going to be more hurtful than just citing something plausible.

        1. Aphrodite*

          I agree with this too. OP, forget my original answer and go with the better one (the chain of command) here. It’s clean and truthful and can’t be argued with.

        2. government worker*

          I think being shut out of an existing carpool will be hurtful regardless of the reasoning behind it! It’s not a situation where the excluded person is going to feel great. My reasoning is that getting into specifics shuts down any negotiation. As I said, it’s not great but it’s effective.

          1. MK*

            Even if it is hurtful, it’s not equally hurtful. I don’t think a reasonable person would be actually hurt disappointed maybe) by being excluded for work reasons, but even if they are, it won’t be as bad as a complete lack of explanation that would leave them to imagine it was something they did, or that their colleagues just don’t like them.

            Your way is frankly a bizarre one to handle a social interaction, and I am not sure it will be effective in shutting down the conversation. It worked for your boss, because they were a boss laying down the law on a work issue, thought it was still a jerk way of dealing with it.

            1. government worker*

              “Hi Jane, I can’t carpool any longer starting next Friday.” (my suggestion)

              “Jane, you’re annoying and inconsiderate and that’s what I no longer want to carpool with you.” (the direct and honest suggestion)

              “Jane, it’s weird for a number of reasons when we carpool” (Alison’s suggestion)

              None of these options are “bizarre”. They’re just progressively more confrontational, which I suspect the OP wants to avoid entirely. Sadly, there’s no way to be non-confrontational in this scenario.

              1. Gotchagonch*

                Alison suggested several options the OP could choose from, not that she should use them all!

              2. JSPA*

                “It’s structurally problematic” or “more people = more distraction = more stress” are more confrontational than, “annoying and inconsiderate”???? And dumping without explanation is somehow ok, because it’s less weird for the person doing the dumping, and leaves all the doubts with the one being dumped? When you’re the person’s manager, no less? Hard disagree on all of that.

              3. WellRed*

                If you really think your boss’s non answer was appropriate and the best way to handle it, you might becoming used to dysfunction. “Because I said so” or variations thereof, is rude, unhelpful and assholery.

                1. CoolCumber*

                  My old boss was an “I said so” person. Quickly lead to me never suggesting improvements or questioning anything (even if I knew something was wrong and would cause issues–I could blame it on the boss having told me to do it) because I felt like I’d get in trouble or would just be dismissed. So definitely agree that no explanation and non-answers are bad.

                2. CaVanaMana*

                  “Because (I, corporate, head office, policy, etc.) said so” is not acceptable to me either. Personally, I would feel more respected and am more okay with “because I find you annoying” or whatever. Not everyone is like that. In fact, I’m not sure most people would prefer that.

                  I had a manager who repeatedly tried because I said so with me. It never stopped the conversation. After much frustration, I realized I am more of a “why” person and she is more of a “follow the rules because they are rules” type person who I don’t think it even occurs to her to ask why.

                  I disagree that “Because I said so” on its own is definitely dysfunctional. It depends on who it is coming from and the larger picture.

              4. MK*


                Your suggestion:

                “Hi Jane, I can’t carpool any longer starting next Friday.” “Oh, but why?” (Jane’s totally natural response, frankly I cannot think of any person who wouldn’t ask why in this situation) “Because that’s the decision I made!” (Jane being left to wonder what the heck is going on)

                This is indeed bizarre, because, for better or worse, that’s people usually give some explanation, even an insincere or superficial one, when they stop doing something with someone.

                Alison’s suggestion

                “Jane, it’s weird for a reason X when we carpool” (I am not confortable with you and Coworker’s tension/I feel weird when I have to give you feedback/you are often late, one, not all of those) “But the tension isn’t bad/it doesn’t matter if you give me feedback/I won’t be late in the future” “I am sorry, but I disagree and have decided to stop the carpooling. I hope you understand”

                Now, this may not stop Jane from pressing the issue or feeling hurt or thinking the OP is unreasonable, but she will have been given a reason, even if she doesn’t like it. When you are changing an arrangement, it’s actually less confrontational to give someone a reason they don’t find convincing that to give no reason at all. If the OP wanted scripts for refusing to carpool in the first place, not giving a reason might work better, but not in this situation.

              5. tamarack and fireweed*

                TBH I think I’d be conflict-averse in this situation, and resolve it by stopping all carpooling arrangements. It’s cutting my losses to lose a pleasant carpooling partner (and of course, carpooling is good for the environment and the wallet, etc.), but it’s easier to say “carpooling right now puts too many constraints on me” than “YOU are ok, but YOU are out”.

          2. Patty Mayonnaise*

            I don’t think it’s hurtful at all if LW cites the hierarchy issue, though it would help if the other person in the car is on the same level as LW.

            1. SarahKay*

              I would say they don’t have to be on the same level, so long as they’re not reporting to her.

              1. SarahKay*

                Sorry, just re-read that the OP isn’t the direct supervisor, so ignore my previous comment.

        3. Broomhilde*

          I do not like not giving a reason – it might let additional conflict fester. The co-worker in question is ‘annoying’, which to me in this context reads ‘self-absorbed’ or ‘rude’. If OP #2 can phrase it as an attempt to give annoying co-worker more time to ‘adjust’, ergo getting a more cordial relationship with the other co-worker, using the script provided that it is hard to unwind in the car when there is tension in the air. There is no way that being excluded out of carpooling will not come as a shock or be hurtful to the co-worker, so it’s only a question HOW hurtful it will be.

          It would require some serious diplomatic muscle not sounding paternalistic or inciting conflict, but citing the animosity between the co-workers as the reason might also be understood by annyoing coworker as a call to brush up the own social skills. Ugh, I feel manipulative just having typed that stray thought.

      3. Database Developer Dude*

        In this case, I’d have quit on the spot if the new location was inconvenient. If they told you that you’d be back to the initial location and then yanked that out from under you, that’s basically putting you out for their convenience.

      4. just trying to help*

        Tough situation. Unfortunately, it sounds a little like the breakup excuse “its not you, its me”, but it is still professional. There is no way to keep from hurting feelings here.
        How about: “something suddenly came up”, or “its beyond my control”? JK.

    3. Maria Lopez*

      I really think the chain of command thing works best here. The main reason is that it is the truth, and OP has already had a colleague discipline the employee because she felt she couldn’t do it because they car pooled together. Always go with the truth. That way you don’t have to remember the lie you made up.

    4. cryptid*

      Strongly agreed – as a first line. “Hey, I won’t be able to carpool with you anymore. I can keep doing it through (2 weeks from now/1 week from now/Friday/whatever) but after that you’ll need to find an alternative.” If she asks why, then potentially offer a reason (“I can’t effectively manage someone when I’m also carpooling with them, as it blurs that boundary too much.”), but she might not ask at all.

    5. Yorick*

      I think it would be way more hurtful and awkward for the employee to not give a reason. Then she’s left wondering if she did something, if she smells, if her supervisor hates her, etc.

    6. Emilia Bedelia*

      Agreed. This is a situation where any explanation is going to make it worse – keep it simple. In response to “Buy why not?” Miss Manners always advised “I’m sorry, but it’s just not going to be possible”. Repeat as necessary until the asker is bored.

    7. 2 years until retirement*

      I carpool with a colleague. Have to 8+ years. We had a third person ask to join. It was a disaster. Two people is easy to arrange. Three is exponentially more difficult unless one person always drives and the other pay. Coordination of three schedules, even when you work the same, is very tricky — one may have to stay a little late, one may have a dr appt., one may fall ill. With two is is workable, but three was not.

      Try that logic.

    8. Trout 'Waver*

      This is really obnoxious to me. The “It just isn’t possible” with no explanation is how you deal with unreasonable people. It has undertones of “there’s no point in trying to explain it to you” and “you’re not worthy of an explanation.” Don’t get me wrong, the “It just isn’t possible” is useful for dealing with unreasonable people. But treating people as unreasonable without evidence makes you the jerk.

      It’s also problematic when dealing with out-groups who haven’t learned all the norms yet, like foreigners, immigrants, or new graduates.

      1. Artemesia*

        the whole point is that some decisions don’t need reasons and no reason given will make the other people feel satisfied. Anything that boils down to ‘I don’t like you’ is one of those. You don’t have to give a reason to break up with someone. You don’t have to have a reason to not carpool with someone. Still it is easier if you have a fig leaf like the work hierarchy thing.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          You’re right in that you don’t owe anyone reasons. But if you never explain yourself, you’ll deservedly get a reputation for being arbitrary and rude.

  2. Not my name*

    OP 1– I was your coworker several years ago and believe me- she knows how you feel about her.

    Alison’s advice is excellent. Put everything out of your mind except for the staffing problem that your bosses have to fix.

    1. KoiFeeder*

      My brother has depression and has the /amazing/ capacity to get sick at the exact moment he has to do more work. I’ve reached BEC levels with him (the fact that he went off his medicine and won’t see a therapist is not helping that), but I know he’s not doing it on purpose. The cure for depression-induced psychosomatic illness is therapy and medicine, and you’re not your coworker’s doctor. There’s nothing constructive you could do with regards to her, but you can deal with the fact that your bosses aren’t fixing the staffing problem.

    2. cuddleshark*

      I’m a frequent migraine sufferer and things have been pretty bad this summer. As a result, I’ve been hugely anxious about how many sick days I’ve been taking. I’m always imagining my coworkers thinking “There she goes, taking a sick day again. Just for a headache. And does she REALLY even have one?” So Alison’s reply is a huge relief to me right now.

    3. Burned Ou Supervisor*

      Exactly, she’s not having depression AT you. She’s just depressed and for whatever reason, is unable to climb out of it for the time being.

    4. Aspie AF*

      I was also that person recently! I tried to be proactive with my employer, but my requests for accommodations were rebuffed (to an illegal extent), and I ended up needing two months of disability leave in the busiest time of the year. I returned with medically documented accommodations – more than I would informally have needed had they been proactive – and started job hunting when they struggled with the most basic of them (i.e. schedule meetings in advance). I’m much happier elsewhere now, while they’re down 50% of their normal complement and miserable. As I’ve said in the past, if they can’t work with me, they can work without me!

      OP1, I would encourage you to consider your coworker as if she were diabetic, had cancer, etc. If you would give a coworker with cancer a pass for needing lots of time off, your depressed coworker deserves the same.

  3. Auntie Social*

    OP5—Do you feel like a placeholder? Is the firm waiting to hear from a particular candidate? I’d definitely feel “faint praise”, not from your boss but from the company lawyer. Maybe it’s time for your boss to explain all the problems you’re solving, and what he’s free to concentrate on now that you’re on board.

    1. WellRed*

      Unfortunately, it sounds like the problem the OP is really solving is being willing to work with no benefits and no commitment from the employer.

      1. SarahKay*

        Yes, that struck me too. I was wondering if there was an option for OP to ask for benefits to be back-dated, but I’m in the UK so it’s a bit different for us (specifically, health care is less of an issue).

        1. Massmatt*

          You can ASK for anything you want to, but this would never happen, especially not with an employer like this one.

          The employer is not signaling that they really want and value her, they are stringing her along with short term contracts and false promises.

        2. TootsNYC*

          you can’t backdate insurance; that’s fraud.
          You can backdate the start date for figuring vacation eligibility and 401(k) eligibility, etc.

          1. Tom & Johnny*

            A quick note that it’s not fraud in the event of needing to use COBRA, because folks should know the option exists if it’s absolutely needed.

            In other words, if you lose your job and do not sign up for COBRA because it’s ridiculously expensive. But one month later your spouse has a heart attack, the cost of which would far exceed the cost of COBRA payments. You can still reach back and sign up for that COBRA eligibility to cover the heart attack, after the fact.

            The option doesn’t exist forever. I believe the window to do this is three months/twelve weeks. Someone else with more COBRA expertise than me can correct me or clarify.

            This definitely doesn’t apply in the event of a new job like OP5 is facing here. But it is a particular quirk to COBRA that people should know does exist.

      2. boo bot*

        Yes – my first guess was that the OP is going to keep getting three-month contract extensions… forever.

        In addition to Alison’s advice, I might ask around the office and try to find out if there’s a practice of keeping people long-term on short-term contracts – maybe in other departments, since your boss seems to think you’re being hired permanently.

      3. Rex*

        Yeah, sorry to say, but this employer sounds super shady. I would be looking *now*, not in three months.

      4. That Girl From Quinn's House*


        If you’re an actor, you’ll never be “discovered” randomly on the street.
        If you’re an academic, your adjunct gig will never turn into a tenure-track one.
        If you’re a contract worker, your contract will never convert into full-time employment with that company.


    2. TootsNYC*

      I now wouldn’t trust any promise my boss gave me–no shade to my boss, but they aren’t as powerful as they thought they were. They can not want to lose you all they want; once the corporate lawyer is in this, then the boss is effectively not driving this anymore.

      I would assume this is never going to be a full-time job, and start looking. Job hunts aren’t immediately successful (and you will have a little bit of a cushion to not feel you have to take just anything), but you need to read the writing on the wall and start looking.

  4. Link*

    OP 1– I was your coworker several years ago. Believe me- she knows how you feel about her.

    Alison’s advice is right on- try to put everything out of your mind except for the staffing issue that your bosses have to fix.

      1. Link*

        Thanks. I’m not really which is why letter 1 really resonated with me. Fortunately I qualified for disability insurance.

        1. Np*

          Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. I hope things pick up for you soon. It really sucks to be going through that :(

        2. Missy*

          I also felt a lot of myself in letter 1. Especially the part about judging someone staying up late or eating poorly. When I’m depressed twitter, facebook, video games etc. are sometimes the only way to stop the negative self-talk in my head through distraction. It isn’t like I’m having a great time, I’m just trying to do something to keep from having to listen to the negative words in my head. Binge eating is another symptom I have, and again it is often a form of distraction from negative feelings.

          It isn’t like I’m choosing between “go to bed at 9 and eat salads and exercise” and “stay up all night eating ice cream”. It’s “lay in bed for hours with suicidal thoughts or post dumb memes and eat candy.” That’s the choice I’m making when I am doing things that seem like self-sabotage to others, because the ability to even sleep or eat is all screwed up.

          1. Jadelyn*

            I saw it said once that you should always assume that people are doing the best they can in that moment – it’s just that there may be factors you can’t see from outside that influence what “best” means to that person at that time.

            If the choice is not eating at all for a couple days, or downing a box of cookies at 3am because that’s the only time you have any appetite and the cookies were the easiest thing to eat? Then eating cookies at 3am is actually the best choice, because at least you’re getting some food in you.

            If the choice is staying up late on Twitter, or laying in bed wide awake drowning in self-loathing, well, Twitter is at least not actively harmful.

            OP1, it’s clear you’re trying not to be insensitive here – but you are anyway. You’re being that person that mentally ill folks joke bitterly about: “Oh, just eat better and go to sleep earlier? Gosh, I’d never thought of that!” because we’re so tired of people essentially saying “just be better already.”

            If you’ve never had depression, you can’t understand just how impossible basic tasks can become. Your brain is so busy running in circles and chewing on itself that you literally can’t put together the executive functioning needed to eat a good dinner or get yourself to sleep at a decent hour. It’s not for lack of trying. It’s because your brain literally won’t let you.

            So to judge someone who you know has depression, for ““happily” [engaging] in self-destructive behavior”…you’re basically judging them for, y’know, having depression. Because when you have depression, you do stuff like that because you can’t seem to do anything else, even though (most of the time) you know perfectly well it’s not what’s good for you and you’d really prefer to be doing something else.

            1. Kendra*


              And add in that any time you think about doing better, getting help, exercising, whatever, your brain also convinces itself that none of that matters because you’ll just fail, anyway, so why even bother trying. It’s a very, very difficult cycle to break, and a lot of people never do, because the parts of you that are capable of doing that are usually the first parts the depression attacks/undermines.

              I think that’s the hardest part for people who’ve never experienced mental illness to grasp (at least on an emotional level, even if they get it intellectually): this person is fighting against their own brain. You CANNOT tell from the outside what that actually means for them, how much of what they do is consciously chosen and what just feels like an inevitability to them (because their brain is a lying liar who lies). I can just about guarantee, though, that assuming the worst, that they’re “happily” self-destructive, is not only wrong, it’s something they’ll pick up on, and it’ll push them even further down the hole.

          2. smoke tree*

            Yeah, I think for a lot of people, it’s hard to really internalize that mental health issues are health issues. You don’t typically judge people’s sick behaviour by the same standards as their healthy behaviour. When someone is horribly sick with the flu, most people wouldn’t judge them for watching movies all day, living off soup and crackers, or sleeping poorly. And yet apparently the cure for depression is salads and yoga. Who knew? (That being said, I’m not clear from the details of the letter whether the LW has any idea what the coworker’s health issue actually is. It seems like a lot of speculation to me.)

          3. ceiswyn*

            Food is a physical pleasure. When you’re depressed, sometimes it’s about the only pleasure you can feel. Binge-eating can also be a form of deliberate self-harm. Sometimes it can be both! At the same time!

            Binge eating is a problem I have had for years, both with and without depression. I can’t help but notice that people are a LOT more sympathetic about it now that I’m not also morbidly obese.

            Honestly, criticising the ill co-worker for a 3am box of cookies sounds a lot more like looking for excuses to be judgey about fat people than anything else.

    1. Devil Fish*

      I’ve been in a similar place too and I agree the coworker definitely knows. A lot of (shitty) employers like to run on minimal staffing (so much cost savings!) and pretend that can work long-term—all it takes is no one getting sick ever and putting so much pressure on employees to coordinate their vacation time that it’s less stressful to just not take vacation. My coworkers hated me too because I was “always” taking too much “vacation time” to manage my chronic illnesses.

      Tl;dr: Management intentionally set us against each other so they wouldn’t have to find a solution to the problems they’d created. This is not a normal and expected consequence of their plan, this is the whole plan.

      1. WS*

        +1. I had to take time out for cancer treatment and my co-workers were still unhappy and resentful that I did this, because management didn’t replace me and just expected them to cover my job on top of theirs. And then, when I did eventually quit due to my health, they didn’t replace me anyway! I’m in Australia with mandated minimum sick and holiday leave, and it was still easier and cheaper for them to make the existing staff suck it up.

        1. Anon for this, colleagues read here*

          Yep, btdt. Took time off to care for child undergoing chemo, worked as much as I could — and one of my colleagues was just like the OP. Trust me, I knew exactly how she felt. She *thought* she was being friendly and professional and appropriately sympathetic. That was years ago. I will *never* forget it. I make sure I interact with her as little as possible; I make sure I am not ever on a project team with her. I’m sure she knows I despise her and avoid her and you know what? Too fn bad for her.

          Petty? No, not at all. She showed me who she was, and she’s not the kind of person I want to work with.

      2. Inca*

        I’ve even encountered it unintentional, it’s so common.

        Me: “we’re shortstaffed”
        Boss: “X will work more”
        Me: “But you assigned them to project Y so they’re not actually working more on our projects”
        Boss: “……”
        It hadn’t even occured to boss.

        And then when I got sick:
        Boss: “We’re picking up a lot of your tasks”
        Me: “you’re getting a disability allowance so you could find a replacement”
        (Eventually I was replaced in a rather unelegant way, but at the moment of exasperation, it hadn’t occured to boss to do the math or fix the staffing and get the pressure of either our backs.)

      3. Dust Bunny*

        If they’re down several positions already, I would bet good money (ha!) that they’re pinched financially and they’re not going to hire more staff. Sorry. They’re going to insist that since work is getting done, then they have enough people, even if they don’t and it’s only getting done by stressing people out. Management isn’t the one feeling the stress here so they have very little incentive to find the funding to handle this.

        1. Nonny Maus*

          This comment–so much. And even more so in food-service and retail, where operating on as few people as possible needed to cover is part of the model. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature. Need to call out sick? You have to find someone to cover your shift, and if that can’t happen, it’s on everyone else to make due.

      4. Aggretsuko*

        Living this one.

        I’ll be fair, we have temps right now and they are trying to rehire. But we need more staff to deal with the people, NOT to hire a bunch of other managers that have nothing to do with the staffing side.

      5. oh wow*

        Holy crap — are you working at the same place as me? We have literally three people staffing the entire operation, and I have s**cidal depression and have had to raise my medication three times in the two years I’ve worked there because I cannot go to a hospital, take a vacation, or get a higher form of care than what I have now. And thank god I have the care that I have now, honestly!

      6. Gazebo Slayer*

        Divide and conquer. It’s pretty much integral to the business model of… most companies, really. Honestly, our whole society.

      1. Clewgarnet*

        100% agreed. It was possibly worse for me because it was my manager who clearly didn’t believe depression was a real illness, but the stress of his attitude towards me definitely made things worse. As soon as I managed to get a transfer to a different manager (because UK employment laws meant they couldn’t fire me for a disability without having tried all reasonable accommodations) my attendance shot up, my performance shot up, and I became the most productive and knowledgable member of the team.

    2. Utoh!*

      Yes, I have to agree that this is a management issue, not a coworker issue. My husband was always the one willing to do overtime up until he could not any longer. He applied for and got FMLA due to back issues so he could not be forced. Every time he is asked, he always pushes back that he’s on FMLA and cannot, and so lo and behold someone actually has to do their job and figure out staffing. Managers always seem to take the easy way out without any thought to the potential issues they are causing between coworkers. OP, I would recommend you and your coworkers only do what you can when you are there, and absolutely take your sick/vacation/PTO time. It’s not fair that the brunt of your frustration is falling squarely on someone who is having issues, regardless of what you think they are and how you think your coworker should be handling them. Trust me, once you stop focusing on her, and only focus on what you can control, this won’t bother you as much any longer.

    3. Snark*

      I’ll expand on your second point: how she manages her depression, whether she eats cookies, whether she’s attempting to guilt-trip her daughter? Nunya damn business. It is intensely rude, counterproductive, and invasive for you to be spending this much time and energy speculating about and policing her depression. Butt out, do some time pondering how you move through the world, and address this issue with the party actually responsible for managing human resources at your workplace: management.

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        A thousand times yes.

        Even the speculating “I think they’re using more than their allotted PTO…” Why are you keeping track of that? Knock. it. off. Each time there is an issue, communicate that you cannot cover X, Y and Z while she’s out and leave it to management to make up the difference.

        1. JustaTech*

          If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this site and the commentariate, it’s to not even *think* about tracking my coworker’s time unless it is seriously impacting my ability to do my work.

          (I’ve learned lots of other stuff, but that’s the one that I hadn’t even realized I was doing and was impacting my relationship with my coworker.)

          1. Autumnheart*

            Sounds like for the OP, it IS seriously impacting her ability to do her work, and to take her own time off.

            1. BananaPants*

              None of that is the fault of the concern-trolling coworker. Her management needs to handle this if there’s an issue.

    4. MissGirl*

      Let’s say the employee is the problem. She’s lazy, entitled, and sitting at home laughing at her sucker coworkers doing her work. The advice doesn’t change. You still have a company not managing the workload or its employees. Focus your energy on that side of it and not your coworker.

      1. MissGirl*

        Just want to clarify I’m saying the employee is any of these things. You don’t know. We don’t know. My only point is that it doesn’t matter to your situation where and why she’s gone. It’s up to management to handle it better.

    5. 4Sina*

      Also have been in the subject of OP1’s letter’s shoes. There are other extenuating health issues at play, and the depression doesn’t help. “Life can be hard for the overweight” is also classic concern trolling (in my case, is extra funny because I’m an avid hiker and backpacker, who is also fat and depressed. People are multitudes – trust that people know themselves better than you do, random co-worker!). Op1 would do well to mind their own business and kick it up to management if there’s an actual issue.

      1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

        Yes! “Life can be hard for the overweight”, like ‘the overweight’ are a distant, exotic tribe on a NatGeo documentary.

        I know it’s not what you intended, LW, but things like that are very othering.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Holy crap, how did I miss that line? I was already wary of the undertones of fat-shaming from feeling the need to mention that the coworker is fat in the context of her health issues, but damn if my eyes didn’t just skip right over that “life can be hard for the overweight” bit.

          OP1, you…really need to examine some biases here. Like, seriously.

      2. L.S. Cooper*

        Yes! All of this! I sleep well, I’m medicated, I exercise regularly, I eat relatively decently, I don’t drink soda, I don’t drink much alcohol….and I’m still fat. And I’m still depressed.
        Life is hard for me as a fat person specifically because of people like LW1, not because of my apparently horrible and grotesque body.

      3. Anon4Life*

        This seemed to be implying that she would not be depressed if she were not overweight. That bothered me because so many times depression is linked to eating disorders and body dysphoria. Binge eating, erratic sleeping schedules, etc are also symptoms of depression, not the other way around.

  5. Massmatt*

    #4 I wouldn’t expend time or energy helping or communicating with bad recruiters. It’s adjacent to helping spammers improve their pitch.

    #5 They are stringing you along. Perhaps they are not sure about their long-term needs or budget, or there is disagreement about whether you are the right fit, bu5 in any case I would start looking elsewhere. Telling them you are going to start looking if you don’t get an offer just hands them more power.

    1. Artemesia*

      Absolutely. When people treat you with such callous indifference it is time to up the job search. You don’t have to take another job if it doesn’t appeal to you, but it puts you in a better position when the three months ends in another contract or even no continuation. People who show this little regard for a new employee are not likely to come through. Words are cheap. Keep looking.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It sounds, though, like there may have been miscommunication between the lawyer and the boss. (I’m not clear on why the lawyer is involved to this extent, but it sounds like she exercised more power here than the boss did.) The OP may just need to make it clear to the boss that they may lose her over this, and that might light the fire needed under the boss to get this resolved with whoever needs to sign off.

        Or not, of course. But it’s worth having that explicit conversation and seeing what comes of it. If nothing, then she moves on.

          1. Canadian Attorney*

            Just wanted to chime in as an in-house lawyer – I am constantly the bearer of bad news that it is no way my decision. I have this conversation about ten times a year:
            Manager: We’re hiring X, but we are not sure about them so we’re making them a temp with no benefits, renewable indefinitely, but tell them a permanent position is in the works!
            Me (and HR): Um, that sounds not great and possibly illegal as per local law.
            Manager: Whatever, just do it!
            Me (and HR): We can only do this once. Next time we renew, we need to make them permanent.
            Manager: *GrumbleAboutLawyersAndHRBeingaPITA*
            I promise we aren’t all bad people! Sometimes it’s really hard because “lawyers will take the fall for whatever bad thing we’re doing” is motto #1 at a lot of companies.

            1. Aquawoman*

              Yeah, this. Lawyers generally implement decisions, they don’t make them. And assuming they ever hire people, “getting their ducks in a row” sounds like pure BS to me. It’s pretty boilerplate except for the kinds of decisions that are not the lawyer’s to make. The “we’ll make you permanent right around the corner” is sort of a classic of dishonest companies.

              1. Michaela Westen*

                It reminds me of something I saw a lot when I was young: “We’ll pay you a low salary the first x months, then a big raise!”
                The big raise usually didn’t happen and if it did, it was on the order of 0.25 or 0.50/hour.
                After I’d seen that once or twice, I just ignored such employers and moved on.

                1. Marissa Graham*

                  FYI for other commenters: the “start low and get raises and promotions quickly” is a real thing in government/military. My information on this is secondhand, but according to my retired air force dad, you’d have something like a 3-5-7 or a 5-7-9 (referring to GS pay grade) where you’d go from the low to the high pay grade in that sequence in a year or two.

            2. Jadelyn*

              As someone in HR, seconding this. We’ve got a couple managers that keep wanting to hire temps for positions that are just regular permanent positions, then convert them later if they work out. We’ve been pushing back and telling people that they need to get better at hiring, not take their poor decision-making out on innocent hires because the manager isn’t confident in their hiring decisions, but it’s mostly just resulted in the aforementioned grumbling about HR “not letting them” do things and we still wind up having to deliver the temp offer for a position that was advertised as FT regular.

          2. Tom & Johnny*

            Boss may not be in control of the lawyer. The boss may answer to the lawyer or be a peer of the lawyer. If the lawyer is the General Counsel of the company, the General Counsel answers only to the CEO or CFO.

            There are many situations where the GC or GC-equivalent informs other departments what is and isn’t possible, but it’s typically within a regulatory framework (this is what the law requires) and not within a power and decision making framework (do this because I tell you to).

            In situations where the lawyer is dictating to OPs boss from a position of power rather than a position of information, I expect OPs boss is actually in the lawyer’s chain of command, or is peer to the lawyer. Either way not someone the boss can control.

            Of course there’s always the possibility the boss is making the lawyer the bad cop so the boss can look like the good cop. Who knows. The point is, depending on the position of the lawyer, no one is controlling them except the CEO, CFO, and Board. Or at a smaller company the equivalent thereof – the founders/owners and the key investors.

            1. tamarack and fireweed*

              It may be this, or it may be that, but the bottom line is: If this is “stringing you along” they you should be looking with high priority. If this is “chronically dysfunctional hiring process, but once we’re over the hump, it should be fine” you should be looking, but with an opening for benefit of the doubt. If this is anything else, then you deserve transparency. Your manager should be able to give you a clear communication of what the hang-up is. “The whole HR department (all 2.5 FTW) happened to leave at the same time, and the lawyer is side-tracked into trying to stay on top of it with temp workers.” “We were just acquired and that means all our internal process have slowed to a crawl because the new owners are reviewing every single process, and all new permanent hires are on hold.” Something like these, and all should end with “I’m so very sorry about this, and will keep you posted of every development. I believe this WILL be sorted and have asked for an absolute deadline, which is X.” And you still should keep your eyes peeled for other jobs.

              (Also any explanation should include why the lawyer is so important in this. This is not normal. If it is the case that the lawyer is playing way outside their wheelhouse and has capricious ideas about how to hire/exploit people, this is fucked up, and you need to go through your boss, and maybe boss’s boss, for the lawyer to be reined in.)

        1. TootsNYC*

          you shouldn’t need to make it clear to a boss that you might leave because the company is not coming through on a promise to make you full-time with benefits.

          only an idiot would think that their employee wouldn’t be looking in this situation.

          Just as employees need to be reading the tea leaves in this situation, so too does the boss.

          If the OP wants to, she can certainly mention this to her boss, but it’s really not necessary. it’s only if she thinks there’s some strategic benefit (keeps her on extra-good terms with someone who thinks well of her, gives her boss a kick in the pants, and maybe some ammo, to advocate–though again, as the boss I’d be absolutely saying to everyone above me, “we will lose her, and she is good–don’t do this to my staffing”).

    2. Amethystmoon*

      Exactly. I used to temp when I was younger. I actually temped around for 10 years, due to being a very shy introvert who couldn’t win on interviews. Only one of those jobs ever went perm. I am still at the company.

      1. Quill*

        Any advice on how to escape the temp/contract cycle? I’m still in it 5 years after graduation, nothing else seems to be available in my field/area.

    3. Em*

      With regards to number 4, kind of similar. In our local food and beverage Facebook group, whenever a job is posted where the pay is way too low, you’ll get about 100 comments addressing it. I love it, because we live in a city with a very high cost of living, and we’ve effectively seen some restaurants realize they don’t offer enough for the area.

    4. Genny*

      For LW 5, it’s possible they’re intentionally stringing her along or it’s possible her boss is one of those big picture people who always promise the sun, moon, and stars without understanding how the sausage actually gets made. I have a boss like that. I’ve gotten to the point were I add about 2-3 weeks to any of his estimates since he always thinks things will happen faster they they actually will. If that’s the case, LW needs to figure out who the reliable source of information is and then tune out the other person. My guess is the lawyer is the realistic one, but that’s just a guess.

      1. Works in IT*

        Sounds like my boss. What he doesn’t quite seem to get is that, in another few months, I will have been here long enough that I will not be seen as a job hopper if I try to move elsewhere, so there is a built in limit to how long his “we’re trying to work on a position for you” can last. Especially since he’s hiring a less qualified, but extremely enthusiastic, new person for my coworker’s position, if he follows up by actually creating a new position and hiring me I will not be annoyed (helps that he’s talking about making the new position pay more than coworker’s position) but if, six months down the line, I’m still having to work for this contracting agency and not getting COL adjustments to my salary, I will be… displeased.

  6. Mookie*

    LW1, Alison’s got it right: figuring out how to manage your colleague’s absences and her personal life, including mental health, is her problem. If normal socializing with her is too much for you to handle, such that it leads you to highly-detailed speculation about her maybe empty nest syndrome, it honestly sound like you could do with some mental health days yourself. Give yourself permission to resent her if you want or ignore her if you prefer, but in any event, let go of the need to manage this or solve it like it’s a mystery in need of cracking. I’m assuming none of this entertains you—investing this kind of energy in a person you seem to loathe and pity in equal amounts sounds exhausting to me—so simply don’t take it on. Clock in, clock out, excuse yourself from conversations you don’t want, remove yourself from temptations to eavesdrop, and blithely take your own PTO when it suits you. If you’re really the only thing standing between your department and ruin, shift three inches to the left: it’s gotta happen sometime. Let them handle it.

    1. MicroManagered*

      Give yourself permission to resent her if you want or ignore her if you prefer

      This is along the lines of what I was thinking. OP1, you simply don’t like this coworker. It shows in your letter. That’s ok! You’re allowed not to like people for any reason you choose, so long as you are not treating her poorly, discriminating against her, harassing her, etc. because of it. (And, fwiw, others are allowed to not-like-you for judging someone for how many cookies they eat and when they eat them too…)

    2. HannahS*

      This is such a great point. Uninvest yourself if your workplace. Not your work, necessarily, but your workplace. Its easy to have compassion in a abstract and harder to have it when it’s someone in front of you, affecting you (and I’m not saying that judementally, that’s true for everyone–pop by the weekend thread to see how hard it is, and how much support people need, when dealing with unwell family and peers). Take the time you need. Accept the way things are right now, remember that none of this is yours to fix or handle. Let management worry.

    3. boo bot*

      ” If you’re really the only thing standing between your department and ruin, shift three inches to the left”

      I love this. Someone once put this kind of resentment into the framework of scarcity for me: when we have enough time, space, money, food, love, whatever, to go around, there’s no need to worry about what someone else is doing, because we know our own needs will be met. But when there’s a limited supply of time off, or raises, or free bagels, we watch each other’s consumption more closely, because we know if someone else takes too much, there’s a chance we won’t get to have any. So I think it’s really a basic human instinct, to react this way.

      What I love about the way Alison responds to this kind of question (and your response as well) is that she’s not addressing the smaller question of how to portion out the limited supply, she’s directing the letter writer back to the source of the scarcity: the employer, who’s creating a situation where not everyone can have time off.

      1. AnotherLibrarian*

        Yes, this. I know how hard it is when you feel like it is your job to “hold everything together” and I get it. But it is not your job. Take PTO if you need it. Feel however you want about your coworker, but treat her with the same politeness you would treat anyone else. Do not fall into the trap of believing you must hold your office together, because you don’t need too. That’s your employers problem.

      1. Former Employee*

        She’s not following her co- worker on Twitter:

        “she often talks about staying up late night on Twitter and downing entire boxes of cookies at 3 am …”

  7. Celeste*

    OP#2, tell her you’re sorry, but you need to change the arrangement and you want her to make other plans. Don’t offer a reason and if she does press, tell her that you were wrong about being able to add an extra passenger, that it needs to go back as it was. This way she has an answer, without really going into a definitive reason.

  8. Asta*

    #1 In addition to Alison’s excellent answer, I just wanted to note that you don’t know she has depression – you said you’re pretty sure which isn’t the same thing – so even noting that depression is an illness is quite far down the path of speculation.

    Whatever is going on for her, don’t fall into the trap of thinking people only deserve your compassion or empathy if they behave like the perfect patient. Sure, you don’t have to empathise with her at all, and I hear that you’re very irritated.

    But lots of people act in ways that produce or contribute to “self-inflicted” illness, and often there are reasons that just aren’t as simple as someone “happily” making themselves unwell, many of which have rock-solid psychological explanations. Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have, even if they are also annoying you.

      1. designbot*

        I got that impression too. As a thought exercise, try swapping the coworker out with an injury-prone marathoner. Would this speculation and judgement persist with someone who was still “doing it to themselves” but in a way that’s more socially acceptable?

        1. MicroManagered*

          This comes up from time to time and, interestingly enough, folks around here are pretty hard on marathon runners taking sick days as well…

          1. Michaela Westen*

            I’ve also noticed this. If I miss work because of severe allergies, I’m a slacker. If my colleague misses work because he didn’t do proper warm-ups and a realistic pace and got injured, he’s “cool”. :p

            One of the many things I love about the AAM commentariat is their awareness of such hypocrisy!

        2. TootsNYC*

          oh yes!

          I got into a Facebook conversation with a relative about tax-funded health care, and she said, “What about those people who are creating their own health problems, should we have to pay for them?”

          First: if you have insurance, you ARE paying for them, with your premiums.
          Second: Most of us create our own health problems–injure your ankle running? Your kid is doing wheelies on the street? you chip the tile off your kitchen floor in a DIY project and injure yourself?

          That’s actually my biggest fear with Medicaid for All–jerky people are going to be scolding all the fat people in McDonald’s. Especially all the fat women, and all the fat people of color.

          1. Jadelyn*

            I always love those. “Should we have to pay for them?” I mean…you do understand how insurance works, right?

          2. Former Employee*

            People always bring up the issue of those who have poor eating habits, don’t exercise, etc., but they tend to forget the horrific results of skiing accidents and the like.

            The whole point of covering a large group of people is that things even out because most people will not need to use the coverage at all or only minimally in any given year. That way, there’s money for those who get very sick or have major accidents.

      2. Violalin*

        Thank you! I also hope LW1 looks up “healthism”. It isn’t a morally failing for someone to not “be healthy”.

    1. Marion Q*

      don’t fall into the trap of thinking people only deserve your compassion or empathy if they behave like the perfect patient.

      Thank you for saying this.

      1. willow19*

        And people with depression can be a real mess in others’ eyes – definitely not the perfect patient. BTDT.

    2. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

      “Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have, even if they are also annoying you.”

      I might pinch this.

    3. Akcipitrokulo*

      All of this – and also some of the behaviours the OP mentions (3am, snacks, etc) are often a SYMPTOM.

      And if it is depression, knowing thissues at work will make it worse.

      So yeah. Putting the responsibility for (under)staffing where it belongs – with management and not your coworker – may help to reframe it for you.

      Because this problem isn’t “how can I fix…” it’s “how can I deal with it.”

      1. Flash Bristow*

        Because this problem isn’t “how can I fix…” it’s “how can I deal with it.”

        Bingo! Well said.

      2. JSPA*

        I do get that hearing people discuss symptoms at work can be problematic. And when they don’t identify those things as symptoms, there’s often no way to shut it down. But if it gets intolerable, OP can use “I” statements. “If I ate a bag of cookies and hung on the internet until 3 a.m., it would mean my mental health was in a fragile place or my insomnia was out of control or I was in pain. I get tense just thinking about it. Regardless of what it means for other people, I’d like to opt out of conversations on this topic.” I do this with a lot of “disordered eating presented as the norm” conversations. Whether I’m internally judge-y is my business; “It feels unhealthy for me / please can you not, around me” is my reasonable ask.

        1. Not Me*

          I assume you mean LW1 saying that internally to themselves? Not saying it to the co-worker who is talking about eating cookies at 3am, right?

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            It’s valid. It would be an awkward conversation , but JSPA has a valid point. I’d simplify it —
            “I am uncomfortable with this conversation because of my own issues with the topic. Please don’t chat with me about overnight binges. Thank you.”

            1. Observer*

              Only the simplified version is valid. “This is difficult for me, can we not discuss this here” is reasonable most of the time. The rest of the speech? TMI – and is as much making people responsible for your mental health as the original TMI person.

              1. Not Me*

                My thoughts exactly. The script from JSPA sounds very judgmental about the co-workers habits to me.

      3. Harper the Other One*

        That was my exact thought (assuming depression is an issue for this woman) – late nights/unhealthy snacking are a symptom.
        Episodes after her daughter leave likely are too; maybe having someone there really bolsters her spirits, and then she sinks when she’s alone, or maybe she builds up “this visit will be so wonderful and then I’ll feel better” in her mind and then her mood plummets when she realizes the visit hasn’t lived up to that hope.

        But again, that’s all assuming depression is the primary issue. OP, I’d especially encourage you to imagine how you might feel if you discovered her intermittent absences were due to cancer treatments, or lupus flare-ups, or any “physical” problem. Would you feel badly that you’d “been so hard on her” if that were the case? Because if so, you should try to start recognizing that mental health issues ARE physical issues – just because we don’t fully understand the brain chemistry that causes them doesn’t mean there’s no physical root cause. That may help you turn your thoughts towards solving the problem that’s yours to solve: the workload.

        1. pamela voorhees*

          Just want to second the first paragraph, because you’re describing my aunt to a tee — she psyches herself up when someone visits and pushes herself hard to be happy/good hostess/appear “normal”/etc. and then crashes hard mentally when they leave, both from the effort and because she misses them terribly. It seems pretty natural to me that your coworker is having a hard time after her daughter leaves, and again, it’s not her fault that your workplace can’t cover her shifts properly. That’s on the workplace, not her.

      4. Impy*

        “All of this – and also some of the behaviours the OP mentions (3am, snacks, etc) are often a SYMPTOM.”

        Yep. Plus medications has side effects, and an *extremely* common side effect of anti depressants is weight gain.

      5. CM*

        Yes, my exact thought as I was reading this — there’s a sense of judgment in this letter that the coworker shouldn’t be “happily” self-destructive, shouldn’t be contributing to their already excessive weight. It’s easy to observe someone else and say that they should be taking better care of themselves and it’s selfish of them not to, when it impacts the people around them. But we all make less-than-ideal decisions sometimes and all have different struggles, some of which are more visible than others. I think if OP#1 learns about people’s personal stories of mental illness and depression, or as others have suggested here reframes to think of the coworker’s behaviors as symptoms of a disease that’s easier to understand and sympathize with, like cancer, that would go a long way toward reducing the resentment. And I totally agree with Alison’s answer saying that the impact is a separate issue that could be solved by improving staffing, regardless of what the coworker does.

    4. Akcipitrokulo*

      All of this – and also some of the behaviours the OP mentions (3am, snacks, etc) are often a SYMPTOM.

      And if it is depression, knowing thissues at work will make it worse.

      So yeah. Putting the responsibility for (under)staffing where it belongs – with management) and not your coworker – may help to reframe it for you.

      Because this problem isn’t “how can I fix…” it’s “how can I deal with it.”

    5. Le Sigh*

      Yes, the biggest thing here is we don’t actually know why the co-worker is out, be it depression or something else entirely. And it isn’t the OP’s business in the slightest. The fact that OP is dwelling this hard on it suggests the stress of this office is causing her to fixate on something she feels she can control or blame (coworker) instead of where it makes sense (pushing management to help, taking her own vacation time, finding a new job, whatever).

      But also, when she talks about the things this coworker “happily” did? Maybe coworker is putting on a front. If she is depressed or has some other kind of chronic illness or other condition, well, people put a lot of energy into appearing “okay” in front of their coworkers, friends, family, strangers, whatever, because it’s not appropriate to share at work or because the people around them don’t always want to hear the ugly side of this stuff, even if they’re close friends. Sometimes you just need to appear “normal” to people for a minute, even if you’re dying inside. OP has no idea what’s really going on and it’s not her business. The speculation is damaging to her coworker and her own well-being.

      1. Rockin Takin*

        I’m a high functioning individual with severe depression and anxiety. When I tell people about it sometimes they seem genuinely surprised because at work I’m able to put on a good game face.

        I also have acid reflux and IBS and sometimes I eat stuff I know will upset my stomach, because sometimes I just want to feel “normal”.

        In general we need to stop judging other people and assuming we know the whole story. It doesn’t help anyone.

      2. L.S. Cooper*

        I find that forcing myself to be “normal” is one of the few things that really keeps me moving. I’ve struggled with a low-grade depression pretty much my entire life, and currently, things are really bad, because my mother passed away last Thursday. I feel like hell.
        But I showed up at work at 8am today, because playing the role of Normal Me, who is not constantly teetering at the edge of the abyss of despair, is vital to my survival.

        1. MOAS*

          Hey LS cooper. Not sure if you will read this, but so very much sorry for your loss. I lost my father too and I came right back to being in busy season at work. Working 70 hours a week was crucial to my not crying all day long. I cried at work and it’s been 18 months and I still get spurts of pain, but being at work was my way of beign normal again

    6. Jadelyn*

      “…don’t fall into the trap of thinking people only deserve your compassion or empathy if they behave like the perfect patient.”

      I almost cried seeing that. Thank you for reminding folks that people with illnesses and disabilities are still human, and we might not do everything right all the time, and we still deserve compassion and empathy anyway.

      1. MatKnifeNinja*

        I had the joy of an endocrinologist tell me (T2 diabetes, and BMI over weight), if he could gut his practice of T2 patients and just keep T1 and the others, it would make his life 1000% easier.

        “Because T2 patients never do what you ask them to do.”

        All this because I asked for a glucometer to check my morning fasting blood sugars, and he didn’t think I would really use it.

        I got the script.

        Can’t change the endo because of the insurance. Blech.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Ugh, sorry to hear that. It’s always worst coming from the doctors who are *supposed* to be helping you.

  9. jm*

    #1, You should know, at the height of my depression, my sleep schedule was completely out of whack so I’d be up all night on social media and I was living off of popsicles and roasted almonds. Even now with my symptoms on the down-swing, I still gravitate to foods that require no preparation and that I get some enjoyment out of eating. My brain isn’t good at producing the happy chemical so I often have to resort to chocolate.

    1. Lena Clare*

      You should know, at the height of my depression, my sleep schedule was completely out of whack so I’d be up all night on social media and I was living off of [junk food]

      Yes exactly this. I came on here to post about the Twitter thing. I have been on both sides of the fence. Yes it’s frustrating to have to cover for someone who is off a lot, but depression is horrible and I’m betting no one feels worse than the person suffering from it.

      The sick leave policy is something for your bosses to figure out; sort it with them and leave your coworker’s illnesses out of it. (Also why the mention of this person’s weight? What’s that got to do with it?)

      1. Devil Fish*

        As a fat person, I’m guessing LW1 mentioned the coworker’s weight to further damn the coworker for admitting to eating an entire box of cookies one night. Fat people aren’t allowed to eat unhealthy things, especially if we’re not willing to do the overly-performative self-flagellation drama surrounding that decision. It’s gross.

        Fwiw, I lost 8 lbs in a week because I stopped eating anything that wasn’t Oreos. Fun with depression. Love it.

        1. Parenthetically*

          “Fat people aren’t allowed to eat unhealthy things, especially if we’re not willing to do the overly-performative self-flagellation drama surrounding that decision. It’s gross.”

          Yup, for sure. Thin person: “OMG I was having the worst week and found myself up at 3 am eating a box of cookies, good grief.” Coworker: “Oof, yeah that’s rough, we’ve all been there, huh?” Fat person: “OMG I was having the worst week and found myself up at 3 am eating a box of cookies, good grief.” Coworker: *internally rages at how unfair it is that a Super Fatty dares to “do this to herself” and STILL gets time off*

      2. AlexandrinaVictoria*

        It’s the “good fattie” vs “bad fattie”. Good fatties don’t have physical problems, exercise, eat “right,” etc. Bad fatties eat “bad” foods, are sedentary, and often have chronic illnesses. Or so society says. (BTW, I’m definitely a bad fattie.)

    2. Tau*

      Yeah, I was also going to post about the Twitter thing. I have executive function problems, and regular meals + getting enough sleep are something I very consistently struggle with. Eating a box of cookies at 3AM could very well be a symptom of her problems.

      In general, OP, I’d try to refrain from speculating at all, but it sounds like you’ve gone pretty far down that rabbit hole so maybe reframing things about your coworker could help. As mentioned, the cookies thing could easily be a result of depression or a similar issue spiralling to the point where she’s struggling with going to bed and getting enough food, which is really not a fun place to be in. The thing with her daughter? Well, having a loved one leave seems like a pretty natural time for mental health issues to flare up, especially if the daughter also works as a support structure for her. Try to give your coworker the benefit of the doubt.

      I totally get that you’re frustrated by the constant absences, but as Alison says it affecting you is really management’s fault… and honestly, I think approaching her with more sympathy is best for you as well, not just her. Stewing in resentment is not a fun way to spend a working day, and it means you’ll be tempted to unprofessional behaviour which could affect your career.

    3. ArtsNerd*

      Yes, this. All of what people are saying about this.

      I also want to address this one:

      (b) these sick days often seem to coincide with her daughter’s return to college, and perhaps on some level are a ploy to guilt-trip her child into moving back to town

      I understand how frustrating this situation is… but that’s a big angry “yikes” from me, OP.

      This June I set a literal calendar reminder on my phone for my annual mental health crisis after having it the same week three+ years in a row. Despite being horrible at dates and calendars myself, my subconscious is very punctual with the anniversary of a major trauma. It correlates with Pride but in fact has nothing to do with Pride! I’d be pretty pissed if someone assumed my PTSD reactions were Pride-related. Your coworker’s daughter leaving may or may not be something that triggers a crash, but you can’t know that. And for you to infer that it’s manipulative is wildly out of line. You cannot make that call.

      I think you’re at “BEC” stage with your coworker. It happens. I’ve spiraled into similarly unfair speculation when I was on your side of the equation. But fixating on my colleague’s absences didn’t do anything except drown me in resentment, when the real issue was generally terrible management that perfect attendance would never have fixed.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        Yeah, that speculation is at best very misguided.

        My partner has issues with his mental health like clockwork, starting shortly after Christmas and going partway through January. There is no trigger at all that he knows of in that time, and we live in an area where the darker winter weather starts earlier so it’s not related to the lack of light. Something about that time of year just tilts his brain chemistry. But he’s had to argue before with people that no, really, there’s not something that happened on Christmas that makes these episodes return every year.

        1. ellex42*

          Please note I’m not a psychiatrist, psychologist, or any kind of therapist, but I’ve done some reading on this, and have noticed my own tendency to get sick or feel the need for some “down-time” just after Christmas (holiday parties, of course, being a fantastic vector for viruses). Post-Christmas mental health issues are super common and yes, may have nothing to do with lack of light or some traumatic holiday event in someone’s past. But Christmas/New Year is a major transitional time, and lots of people have issues with transition. It’s entirely possible that this is the only transitional event your partner has problems with, too. And even if you keep “quiet” holidays or no holidays, it’s hard to avoid the hype and excitement leading up to them, which can also lead to a feeling of “let-down”.

          1. Harper the Other One*

            Oh, certainly! I just meant to get at the idea that there doesn’t have to be an obvious trigger/trauma for someone to have a cyclical issue with mood.

            1. ellex42*

              Absolutely! I’ve noticed that “you must have had a traumatic experience” is a common assumption when someone has mood issues or even just makes life choices outside the norm. I think we’re too conditioned by every tv character having some tragic backstory to explain “why they are the way they are”!

              1. ArtsNerd*

                Oh hell yes to this. My on-the-dot crisis is rooted in a specific trauma that happened to me in adulthood, but my depression precedes it by over a decade.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          I get EMDR therapy for post-traumatic stress and it’s been pretty good at identifying origin memories, if he ever wants to try it.

      2. Impy*

        “that’s a big angry “yikes” from me, OP.”

        Me too. My logical assumption would be that she holds it together while her daughter is there and crashes when the kid leaves. A lot of people do things like that.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I’ve absolutely saved up my breakdown do I could have it at a time when it was least likely to hurt or inconvenience a loved one. It’s a kind of defense mechanism, I think.

        2. Observer*

          Or maybe the leaving is just a trigger.

          Either of which is a LOT more likely that “manipulative mom.”

          Yikes, indeed.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Seriously – if her daughter leaving triggers an episode, why on earth would you assume it’s something she’s doing deliberately to manipulate her daughter? Good lord, what a wildly uncharitable read of the situation.

        3. Alienor*

          That’s what it seems like to me too. If she were trying to manipulate or guilt-trip the daughter, she’d be breaking down while daughter was there, not after she’s gone.

          Also, I’ve always thought it’s weird that people judge parents for having feelings about their kids going away to college, like the only emotion you’re supposed to have is “woohoo, the little nuisances are finally out of the house!” It’s totally normal to miss your child when they’re away, and you can be happy for them and their new life stage while still being sad for yourself.

      3. Aquawoman*

        +1. I tend to get depressed in the late summer and early fall, which now coincides with my son going off to school again. AND him starting college (moving out) also triggered depression for me (delayed reaction in my case). The LW is taking the unkindest interpretation possible of everything her co-worker does.

      4. Parenthetically*

        Yes to the big angry yikes. I actually had to take a deep breath to keep from writing a really sweary comment about this. It’s really inappropriate speculation, and LW1, not being her coworker’s therapist, needs to gtfo of her coworker’s personal life and stop analyzing her motivations.

      5. mcr-red*

        “Despite being horrible at dates and calendars myself, my subconscious is very punctual with the anniversary of a major trauma.”

        YES. I’m 10 years out, and it has gotten better, but I will completely forget about the date(s) and suddenly I’ll be having bad anxiety attacks, bad thoughts and be like “WTF self?” and then I’ll look at the date and it suddenly all makes sense.

        1. Tom & Johnny*

          Yep, confirming this as well. It’s remarkable how like clockwork I’ll be feeling absolutely atrocious, angry, depressed, resentful, and down. Then look at the calendar and go, “Ohhhhhhhh, riiiiiiggght. G-damn it.”

          I swear I need to calendar a reminder the week before Certain Anniversaries, just so that I remember they are Those Anniversaries!

          Even though that sounds kind of fatalistic it’s probably better than re-surprising myself every time!

          1. ArtsNerd*

            Yeah I’m hoping the calendar reminder will help me minimize the disruption, if not the symptoms. Plan my workload for sick time, get therapist appointment on the books for that week, etc.

      6. Jules Verne*

        Just piggy-backing in case anyone doesn’t know the reference — “BEC” is the “bitch eating crackers” stage. Once you dislike someone, *everything* they do annoys you.


        LW#1 I cringed when I read this because I knew that people would *not* respond well in the comments, and unfortunately that’s justified. Remember: when someone makes comments about another person’s appearance or behavior, it often reflects more poorly on the speaker than the person they are speaking about. You have to stop fixating on this coworker, because it is not a good look for you :(

        1. Jadelyn*

          I shared the phrase with my office and they all love it. It’s so useful to help remind yourself to put the crackers back in context instead of fixating on them.

      7. Observer*

        I was actually coming here to say much the same (minus the personal experience, which I’m very sorry to hear about.)

        The speculation about this being a guilt trip is WILDLY out of line. So much so, that I really have to doubt your judgement about your worker altogether. If you had been speculating that her daughter’s leaving triggers an episode, that would have been out if line but understandable, because it’s not a huge leap and linking correlation with cause is common in all sorts of situations where it’s not correct but not as loaded as this case. But, the idea that it’s a manipulative ploy? That’s a wild leap that you have absolutely no standing to make – and is actually highly unlikely in the absence of very specific information that you have no access to.

        It sounds to me like you are looking for any reason to dump on her. It’s not enough that she “happily does this to herself”, but you have to paint her as a REALLY horrible person. So it becomes “She’s making problems for me so she manipulate her daughter into dropping out of college. Of course I resent that, who wouldn’t.”

        If you are not looking for excuses, then you need to ask yourself why you would come up with such a wild piece of fiction to explain your coworker’s behavior? I’m not expecting an answer here – you don’t owe us any answers, and I don’t think defending yourself to us is going to be useful to you. But you DO need to think hard and honestly about this.

      8. Elitist Semicolon*

        Setting a calendar reminder is brilliant! I was lucky that a friend finally said to me one time I was spinning in midair, “Look, it’s mid-March; you always kind of come unglued in mid-March.” (Turns out it was also mid-October.) Knowing the timetable is part of the process of navigating brain issues, and it sounds like the co-worker who is taking time off when her daughter leaves has recognized that it’s a problem time may very well be taking care of herself in a reasonable and productive manner.

    4. Camellia*

      “…I was living off of popsicles and roasted almonds…”

      I hear you. For me it was popcorn and Pop Tarts.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Corn chips and OJ, whenever I feel bad. I’ve been able to add in beans / avocado sometimes and turn it into nachos, but it’s still really for the corn chips and OJ.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Otter pops and cheetos here. I know when I’m in a spiral because my consumption of otter pops skyrockets.

  10. Maria Lopez*

    OP#1, just be happy that you don’t have chronic depression, obesity and other health problems. Then learn how to stop spending mental energy on someone else’s life. Surely you have enough going on in your own life so that you can stop knowing the details of hers.
    Take your vacation or PTO when you need it, and like Allison said, it is management’s problem to figure out the staffing. Stop blaming this employee for your poorly managed team.

    1. JSPA*

      We… don’t know that. Having a front row seat on someone else’s overt struggles — while being burnt out and feeling obliged to suck it up so that others don’t suffer, and thus feeling trapped — can be a pretty solid trigger for a flare up of chronic problems (depression or otherwise). It’s not like only one person per workplace gets to call dibs on depression (or on needing a break).

      1. fposte*

        Yes, that’s a good point. Lots of people unhappy about taking on extra work have their own health problems, family obligations, etc. It’s not simply “to each according to their abilities”–it’s more “to each according to their availability.”

    2. Dust Bunny*

      We don’t know that the LW doesn’t, though. We only know that s/he didn’t mention it in the letter. Also, being chronically overworked (and having a management team that thinks this is fine because stuff is still getting done) is, um, not a good way to maintain mental health.

      I don’t like the LW’s attitude, either, but I don’t think it’s as simple as “take this to management and they’ll fix it”, because I’m not at all convinced that they will, and being overburdened and also powerless in a situation like this *sucks*.

      1. Nanani*

        It’s still management’s problem, whether or not they actually will.

        It definitely isn’t ill coworker’s fault for being ill.

        1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          I have a feeling management has been framing it that way, subtly encouraging the staff to take out their frustration at being understaffed on Ill Employee.

          “Well, we’re a little shorthanded with Jane out, so we’re all going to have to put in some extra hours.”
          “Well, Jane would normally handle that, but could you take it, Fergus, while she’s out?”
          “I’m sorry, I know you haven’t taken a sick day in months but with Jane out we really can’t spare you.”

          1. Observer*

            Which is why it’s so important to call this out as a management problem. And to encourage the OP to push back and insist that they get to take their time.

            And, if that doesn’t help – point your resentment where it belongs, ie management, and start figuring out a way out of employment with a lousy employer. That’s not a magic wand, but there is a mounting amount of evidence that when people find a way to get out of a bad situation their stress levels go down, even if it’s going to take time and effort to get there.

        1. Arya Snark*

          THIS. I’ve dealt with very similar situations in the past and you can only do what you can do without jeopardizing your own mental/physical health.

      1. Maria Lopez*

        “just be happy that you don’t have chronic depression, obesity and other health problems” is the actual sentence, and the real problematic issue is that all that was seen in that sentence is obesity, which is a clinical term. “Fat” is not.

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          That’s splitting hairs, given the prominence of fat-acceptance and health-at-any-weight movements that have reclaimed “fat” as an identity and not an insult. They are, in practical terms, synonyms, and the fact that any given medical professional may be more likely to say “you’re obese” than “you’re fat” does not negate the stigma you’re perpetuating here.

          And if you’d really like to be called out for suggesting that the author should be grateful for not (maybe) having any of those other characteristics, fine – I’ll call you out. “Just be happy you don’t have chronic depression” is also a terrible sentence.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Speaking as someone who’s actually dealt with chronic depression… no, that last one is really actually not a bad sentence. Depression is hell, and I don’t think anybody actually WANTS to be depressed.

          2. Maria Lopez*

            A health problem is not a stigma. Depression, diabetes, hypertension and yes, obesity or morbid obesity are medical conditions, but apparently some are more triggering than others.
            Ask a person with any of these conditions if they would rather not have them and they will say they would rather not have them.

        2. Dahlia*

          If “obesity” is a clinical term, then we don’t need to be armchair diagnosing it.

          And my fat body is not a clinical diagnosis.

  11. Agent J*

    OP #1: Alison is spot on. It’s hard to accept that a problem is solvable by management, who may seem like they’re allowing it to happen or dragging their feet on it. But recognizing this as a staffing issue allows you to draw better boundaries. Don’t be so helpful to pick up all the slack when someone’s out of the office. Let some things fall by the wayside and let management know why. It won’t feel great at first but hopefully it’ll decrease some stress for you and bring attention to the issue. Management can’t/won’t solve an issue they don’t know about or you and your colleagues continue to fix yourselves.

    1. Willis*

      Yes, I think OP has to leave any judgment about the validity of co-workers absences aside and focus on the workload issues as you and Alison suggest. Handle a reasonable workload, take PTO/vacation when you need to, and ask management how you should prioritize if you can’t get everything finished or all tasks covered. The institution is already down a few positions, so it sounds like not all of the short staffing is due to co-worker’s absence anyway.

      1. Agent Diane*

        +1 on this. If those vacancies were filled, the impact of any one of the team being out – your vexing colleague, your other colleagues or yourself – would be mitigated. Ask management when those roles will be filled. Flag to them that it’s creating potential burnout for the whole team. Ask the rest of the team – even your vexing colleague – to ask the same questions. If you have a regular team meeting, ask it then with your colleagues seconding the question.

        Your frustration at feeling overloaded is understandable: you just need to redirect it to the people really responsible for it (management).

    2. ArtsNerd*

      This is important. Letting projects fall through the cracks — even fail completely was the hardest, most important skill for me to learn in my career. It’s hard to convince management that there’s a problem if they’re not feeling any of the consequences of it.

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        This *heavily* depends on management being professional enough to feel the consequences, or if they have Teflon in their shoulder pads.

        I took a week’s leave in March, right when upper management decided to change the Budget timetable. As a result, several things in my regular day job were not done during that week (I’d spent the earlier part of the month scrambling to do Budget). When I got back, I was struggling to meet the month end targets, went to my boss who said (direct quote) “Well, you had a week off.” Hard to also put the tone here, but it was essentially “if you didnt want this fall out, you shouldn’t have taken the leave”.

        You need to have confidence that your management will solve the problem, but blaming your coworker is doing no one (least of all yourself) any favours.

        1. Observer*

          On a practical level it matters if management is reasonable. In the context of who to blame, though, it doesn’t matter at all. Because it is STILL 100% management’s fault.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          Even if management doesn’t solve the problem, you need to not go down with them.
          If you tell them about this and they do nothing, make excuses, etc. then do as much work as you reasonably can and CYA as much as possible, while you look for a better job.

      2. JSPA*

        Also depends on staffing being a matter of choice. If they’re constrained by being on grants, or being governmental / quasi – governmental / utilities / truly unable to hire, dropping projects may poison the atmosphere for years (and drive other coworkers into a health crisis). Seems like, given there is a union, there is precedent and structure for having an explicit discussion about staffing needs. Best to do that, concurrent with stating a need for, and taking, your leave.

        1. pope suburban*

          Yes, this. I am in the middle of a situation strikingly like OP1’s right now, and as much as I’d like to drop the rope, doing so would have significant negative effects on very many people, both my colleagues and our patrons. I’ve been trying to split the difference by keeping an eye on projects that aren’t technically mine (but that I will end up doing) so we don’t get crunched, and by making sure management is aware that the person responsible is shirking their duties and having a significant impact on me and another colleague, who have been picking up the slack for a year now. I don’t know how it will shake out, but I do know that once I’m able to take time off, I will, because I know I shouldn’t burn myself out just because one person does not want to do their job anymore. I wish it could be something more definitive or heroic, but sadly, sometimes letting someone fall- even if they ought to- will get you hurt as well.

          1. Observer*

            Here’s the thing. You may have to let those things fall and affect everyone, including your patrons. Because unless something changes, there will never come a time when you “can take time off”.

            1. ArtsNerd*

              Yeah I’ve worked in small, understaffed nonprofits my entire career. There’s a difference between “it’s hard to find coverage so we do what we can” (current job) and … whatever it was I had to do in my prior ones.

    3. Tim*

      I’m not sure there’s any easy solution for management here either, though. This place has eight employees – you really can’t have someone who doesn’t show up on a predictable basis when you have eight employees, even in jobs where being available during particular timeframes isn’t that important. I’d be surprised if management isn’t struggling with the practicalities and legalities of this already.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Yes, it’s one of the issus with smaller businesses – one person being off a lot has a much bigger knock on effect on the other members of the team than in a larger team, and similarly a much bigger impact on costs.

        Good management can only go so far in addressing that.

        That said, OP should be taking her own leave and speaking to her manager about what to prioritise and (as appropriate) if it is not possible to pick up on all of th extra work when her coworker is unavailable

        1. Harper the Other One*

          It is an issue for smaller businesses, but it’s also an issue that should be expected and prepared for, particular when an employee’s condition is chronic. Good management could probably still find ways to at least mitigate the effects of the absences, and could definitely do a lot to affect the attitude of the employees. Even just saying to each employee “look, we know this is incredibly tough and we realize that you are shouldering a lot – please don’t hesitate to take vacation as usual so that you don’t burn out” would make a world of difference.

          1. Anon for this one*

            +1 Don’t be like my (ex) boss who, when I was in a similar position to the OP, was fully aware and said something to me like “I’m sorry your job is so difficult and you don’t get the chance to take any time off but that’s just how it is and there isn’t anything I can do” !!

            1. TootsNYC*

              especially because managers can do a lot–they can streamline procedures, coordinate work more efficiently, etc.

            2. The New Wanderer*

              Glad it’s your ex boss, because the best response to that is “Hey, there is something *I* can do” which is leave for a more reasonable job ASAP.

          2. Auntie Social*

            Our courthouse was being shortstaffed by budget constraints—no new hires or replacements. Everyone tried harder and harder to stay caught up–working through lunch, coming in early, etc. Finally the judge said “I know what you’re doing and I appreciate it, and STOP! Let things get behind. Let things fall through the cracks. The county is depending on us to do what you’re doing now—I know how these b——s work. We have to let things get bad before it will get better. If we can’t have hearings til next month, public outrage will fix the problem.” And he was right—complaining led to suddenly finding money in another pocket.

            1. TootsNYC*

              I had a boss who wanted to do this, and those of us who worked for her really resisted; we felt that our own reputations were going to take a hit, and we were also a little worried about her.

              I still feel bad; with some hindsight, I’ve decided we betrayed her.

        2. Observer*

          Yeah, but if they were fully staffed, things would look a lot different. The knock on effect might still be there, but it would be dramatically lower.

      2. Nanani*

        There is a solution for management.
        Hire more people.
        Plan for the costs of running a business, which includes hiring enough people.

        If you can’t do that you don’t get to stay in business.

        It is not ok to pass management’s failures to plan adequately down to the staff.
        Just because it happens a lot, doesn’t mean it’s ok.

        1. TootsNYC*

          You may not even have to hire more people–can you streamline procedures? Can you spread the authority around so people can more more efficiently, without waiting for rubber-stamp approvals? Can you change the expectations of other people, so that they will wait for a turnaround that’s more in line with the staffing?

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Yes. Something as simple as setting up a departmental computer account with the authorization to trigger the monthly TiddleyWinks Report. Or standardizing file naming & folder organization on a server where you store work-in-progress — so that everyone can pitch in on each other’s accounts when they go on vacation.

      3. Classic Rando*

        My company has five employees, including the owner, but we still get to take vacations and sick days and parental leave when needed. The reason for that is that work-life balance is actually valued, and while it would be great to have a couple more people in certain roles, we’ll put things on hold if the only person who does something needs a break.

        It’s definitely possible for small businesses/offices to accommodate absences without burdening the rest of the team, but only if they actually want to.

      4. Observer*

        Except for one thing here – the place is down a number of positions. I don’t care how big or small an organization is, if you are not fully staffed, that’s going to really increase the effect of someone being out. And the fact that they are not fully staffed is 100% a management issues.

    4. BadWolf*

      Yes!! Let things “break” at work. If everyone is covering, there’s no problem to fix — things are working (badly, sure, but working). Sure, a really great manager will proactively do things (but maybe they can only do so much), but sometimes you can only get action when things actually stop working. It’s like household appliances…how much preventative maintenance/tuning do really you do versus only paying attention when things break and stop working?

      Also, it sounds like you’re at BEC level with this coworker so anything and everything becomes annoying. That’s a bad mental spot to be (for you and coworker). I urge you to redirect it towards the poor staffing.

    5. Genny*

      In addition to this, encourage your coworkers to take their leave. When people get back, don’t go on and on about all the work you had to cover for them (that should be directed to management). Basically, do what you can to create an environment where everyone taking their leave is normalized. It won’t fix the overall staffing problem, but it might help make the immediate work environment a little more positive.

      I might also recommend identifying one or two conversation topics your frequently-absent coworker brings up that are truly too much for you and then give yourself permission to opt out of those conversations. For me, it’s conversations about diets. I refuse to be a part of a system where women feel pressured to relate to each other (usually negatively) through food and comments about the insufficiency of their own bodies. Giving yourself that permission might make it easier to deal with all the other frustrating aspects of this situation.

  12. Asta*

    #2 So you supervise this person and they’re inconsiderate and have poor relations with coworkers?

    I’m all for being tactful about things, but it sounds like someone might need some direct feedback they perhaps aren’t getting (more than they they have their feelings protected). So I would be tempted to actually go with the truth.

    Explain to them that they need to get along with their coworkers, for example by being more considerate and not X or Y, and that the fact they do Z has put you in a difficult position so you aren’t able to carpool any more. Additionally to making other transport arrangements, there are presumably other changes you need to see from them too.

      1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

        But if LW had to have a different supervisor deliver a reprimand, then there still is a chain of command thing going on, right?

        1. Genny*

          It’s possible that LW would’ve been “in the room” hearing about a disciplinary action that needed to happen to co-worker without being the one to give her the feedback.
          For instance, LW is a team lead for another group and co-worker’s boss reached out to her for feedback about a mistake coworker made on a shared project. LW might know disciplinary action was coming in that situation. Once coworker met with the boss to discuss the problem, it might have been obvious that LW was at least partially involved in giving negative feedback. No chain of command problems, but one heck of an awkward car ride.

  13. Audrey Puffins*

    OP1: if you are friends with your co-worker on social media, it might be a good idea to mute her feed so that you can get a little separation between your work life and knowing what’s going on in her personal life. That might help you focus on how her absence affects your work (ie the understaffing) rather than what’s happening in her personal life.

    1. Marni*

      Seconding this. If you find yourself judging a colleague’s after-hours behavior, best to cut yourself off from the unneeded info.

      Plus, it couldn’t hurt to keep in mind that a person posting on Twitter that they ate a box of cookies may or may not have actually done so. Likewise a person posting their theoretical green juice. Social Media is performance art.

    2. Excel Slayer*

      I was going to say this. Hearing about her life clearly isn’t helping OP – maybe just not exposing herself to it and preventing any speculation will help?

    3. MsSolo*

      Yes! Sometimes you have to mute people for your and their own good, even if it’s just for a short period to break the cycle. It’s definitely saved some of my friendships when the BEC rage starts rising and the urge to hit reply is only going to start a fight.

    4. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I don’t think the OP is friends with her on social media – it sounds to me that the colleague said (in the workplace) that she had been up until 3am Tweeting etc.

    5. The Rat-Catcher*

      Yes, definitely mute her social media if you are seeing it. No one has to do anything wrong to be unfollowed. For me it’s been as simple as “I am getting too sad thinking that everyone but me is having wild career success/raising perfect kids/taking exotic vacations at all times.”

  14. I Cannot With This*

    OP #1, this is great exercise in minding your own business. Your coworker’s absences creating a larger workload is your manager’s issue to, well, manage. It’s not your concern. You and your coworkers should feel free to call out as and when you need to, without feeling guilty or like you’re leaving everyone up a creek, because your manager should be handling that with either reduced expectations or temporary staff.

    I encourage you to examine why you feel like it’s necessary to look askance at your coworker for eating Oreos and browsing Twitter at 3am, an activity you refer to as “self destructive” and I refer to as “being depressed”.

    If you can’t find it in your heart to have empathy for your coworker, perhaps you can find it in you to know, deeply and without reservation, that this is none of your business at all.

    May you find peace with yourself.

    1. Not Australian*

      Totally. The OP seems to want her work colleague to ‘snap out of it’, which just isn’t possible with depressive states – and is far from a helpful attitude to adopt. The colleague’s time management (including sick time) is a matter for her managers to deal with, not the OP. The most the OP can say is that she’s worried about the department’s ability to cope with her colleague’s continued absences, suggesting any straightforward solutions that may occur to her. (“If we had a temp for a week in September we could catch up”, etc.)

      I’d also be concerned that the OP’s lack of empathy may actually extend beyond this one colleague, who seems to have become a bit of a BEC for her.

      Oh, and as someone who has dealt with depression on and off for many years I deeply resent the OP’s suggestion that the colleague is trying to guilt her daughter into anything. That just isn’t how depression works.

    2. Temperance*

      How is it not her business when she and her teammates are expected to cover the frequent absences?

      1. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool*

        The coworkers health and well being are NOT LW’s business – the impact the absences have ARE LW’s business and LW should address that with management.

      2. Oxford Comma*

        What’s going on with her coworker is not her business. If the coworker’s solutions or actions are helpful/harmful to the coworker is not her business. Also not her business is what’s going on with the coworker’s PTO.

        The part that is her business is how the absences are impacting the OP. For that, she needs to go to management and ask them to provide solutions (hire a temp, reassign duties, etc.).

      3. Constance Lloyd*

        I am living this situation right now. Despite having a doctor’s note, my coworkers will often insist this other coworker is faking it. When I tell them her health is non of my business I am met with exactly this response.

        Getting the work done and looping in a manager if necessary is absolutely our business. Ensuring absences are in line with company policy is the business of management and HR, and frankly if disciplinary action is being taken I should not know about it.

    3. Genny*

      I disagree with this: “your coworker’s absences creating a larger workload is your manager’s issue to, well, manage. It’s not your concern.” It is her concern because she’s one of the people who has to pick up the slack when that situation isn’t being managed. Why coworker is absent isn’t her concern, but she’s well within her rights to be frustrated by the pieces of the situation that affect her. That’s what she needs to focus on when she talks to management about the problem.

  15. ErinFromAccounting*

    #4: I totally feel you. I’m a recent grad in a staff accountant-type role, and I swear, LinkedIn recruiters are just out there casting ridiculously wide nets. I’ve had them invite me to apply for everything from A/P clerk to controller. I think it’s fine to reply with feedback if you have the time/energy, but don’t get too wrapped up in it. If the recruiter isn’t doing their research, that’s their own business.

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      I can do you one better, Erin. I’m a software and database engineer, and because one of the organizations I’ve worked for has ‘Financial Management’ in the name of the organization, I keep getting invitations to apply for financial analyst type jobs, even though there’s absolutely NOTHING on my resume that indicates any competence in that area whatsoever. I even had it out on the phone with one recruiter who was offended that I wouldn’t apply…

      1. Auntie Social*

        My SIL is a hospital coder–LinkedIn is forever sending her invites about writing code. When she corrected them, they then sent every job possible in a hospital, from CFO to dietitian.

      2. Donkey Hotey*

        Seconded. I served in the Navy from 1991-1995. I continue to get job offers where the only connection between me and the job is that they are wanting to hire veterans (which seems to have become shorthand for “we wan hardworking people who will do scut jobs for cheap” but that’s another rant)

        My favorite was the minimum wage warehouse job that was 50 miles from my house. To that one, I replied to the recruiter pointing out that he might want to refine his search criteria a little more.

      3. TooTiredToThink*

        That’s somewhat better than some of the ones I’ve gotten – including some “fantastic” jobs for $10/hr (!!!!!) where I’d supposedly be a perfect fit; even though the job & industry matches absolutely *nothing* with my previous experience. And some of these are internal recruiters too. I understand the external recruiters – they are playing a numbers game. But the internal ones? Why are they wasting their time?

      4. Michaela Westen*

        I’ve always been a staff person and never been close to being an executive.
        When I was looking, I got a lot of LinkedIn jobs for C-suite positions.

    2. OP #4*

      It definitely does seem like they’re casting ridiculously wide nets! I know it was a rather low stakes question, so I won’t get wrapped up in it. Just wanted to see what Alison’s take was!

      1. fhqwhgads*

        It’s also probable they’re using a template message. So all they change when they send them is the name of the position, the # in the PTO and the # in the salary. IE they will literally always say every job is “competitive” and “generous”. There is zero thought behind it. The words have no meaning in this context.

    3. MOAS*

      Erin, I was a tax accountant. from the day I started as an entry level tax accountant, I was getting emails to apply for CFO, tax manager etc. Not impressed.

  16. Beth*

    OP1: Alison is spot on that this is a boss problem, not a coworker problem. I know it’s frustrating to see someone taking a lot of time off when you feel pressured to never use yours–that’s human nature. But the problem there isn’t your coworker taking time off! It’s that you feel like you can’t take a day when you need it.

    Your boss is the one creating this situation, not your coworker. Depending on your coworker’s situation, whether they’ve used their PTO and whether any legal protections apply to them, your boss may be able to deny further time off. No matter what, they could hire sufficiently to keep things running even when one or two people are out. They could fill one or more of those positions that you’re already down. They could shift one or more of the current part-time positions to full-time. They’re choosing not to do any of these things. That’s the true root cause here–your boss’ decisions are leading to chronic short-staffing to the point where there is not sufficient coverage, and they aren’t taking any visible action to change that.

    Stop worrying about your coworker’s health. Stop remembering what she eats. Stop noting her body or her weight. Stop thinking about her relationship with her daughter. Stop wondering if she has depression. None of these things are actually your problem! And most of them frankly aren’t your business. Instead, take all that energy and thought and put it into figuring out whether this is a place you want to keep working. Does your manager know you’re short-staffed? If they do, does it seem like they’re trying to address it? What’s the current status on those vacant positions–is hiring in process, or are they being eliminated? What would actually happen if you took a day or two off (let’s assume this coworker is out too, for good measure) and things didn’t get done as a result–would it be a real disaster, or a hassle but totally fixable once you’re back? Is there anything you can do (via changing processes, talking to your manager about the problems you’re experiencing and asking for support, etc.) to mitigate the current situation? Is this something you can live with long-term?

    1. Stitch*

      I have been in the position of having to have conversations with people who called out too much. Including potentially needing doctor’s notes for future absences (sick leave where I work is typically generous but after a certain amount requires documentation).

      My experience was that, for someone who was malingering, the conversation was enough of a wake up call to snap them out of it. Occasionally it’s part of larger pattern where someone ends up being let go anyway.

      These kinds of conversations are awkward and difficult but it doesn’t excuse management from doing its job.

      1. Danish*

        I don’t direct this criticism at you Stitch, and I understand that work-policies are at play, but I always find asking a person who is abnormal-levels of unwell, injured, or stressed out to then go through the incredible hassle and morale-draining exercise of phone tag required to get a doctor’s appointment on a short timeline, go through whatever testing and eval required by the doctor, and then find a way to get that note to the employer verifying that they need time off to be unkind at worst and naively optimistic at best.

  17. Axel*

    Op 1 – Alison’s advice is spot on, and I think it’s also worth considering how much of your impression of your coworker is being colored by her weight. The way you speak about it in your letter is, in the kindest terms possible, thinly veiled pity/disgust and that’s not helping anybody. How much she eats and what of is not your concern. How life is “hard for the overweight” is not something you’re going to help by judging her over it. We are taught constantly that fat people do it to themselves, that they’re in a trap of their own setting, that they’re happily making themselves sick, when in reality, while it MAY be related, her weight could have no bearing on the issue, especially the absences you mention. Try and evaluate how you would feel about this if it were another coworker – a thin coworker with the same issues. Would you feel the same things to the same degree? I get the feeling you mean well but it’s not coming off very kindly to people who aren’t shaped in a way that’s deemed acceptable.

    1. ursula*

      This. As a moderately fat depressed person, this letter was chilling and honestly hurtful. I’m sure other people will say I’m wrong, but I heard so much “I’m just CONCERNED about OBESITY, and what a coincidence that I think this person might be mentally ill, lazy, annoying, a bad parent, and kind of a screw-up? How do I help this person be better” which is………………………………… bad. I guarantee she is aware that being up at 3am eating a box of oreos is unhealthy and she probably also would love to not be doing it. The kindest thing you can do is mind your business and not project a whole bunch of stuff onto her.

      You do deserve better coverage for your workflow though, and you absolutely should feel free to take PTO when you need it and let the organization figure out how to deal with the consequences, as this is a completely normal thing and something all human beings need to be able to do.

    2. Brihanne LeMarre*

      Thank you, Axel. The OP’s letter was thinly veiled fat shaming and I’m glad someone said so.

    1. Straight talk local*

      Exactly. OP1, YOU need to knock it off. Your co-worker’s weight, bedtime, or snack preferences are none of your business. (YOU are a body- Hamer.) Her relationship with her daughter is none of your business. Her use of HER sick days is none of your business.

      Take your own sick days, which are none of your other coworkers’ business.

    2. Anony*

      But it’s also bizarre that the coworker feels it’s appropriate to share about her eating and sleep habits the way she is.

  18. Lobsterp0t*

    In LW1, it comes across like the coworker’s weight is not only irrelevant to the situation, and is actually a key reason or rationale given for the intense frustration. The intensity of this disdain almost definitely comes out in person somehow or other. Even if it isn’t clearly direct. I haven’t met anyone who can keep their health and body policing attitude entirely to themselves – I think it would be really wise to consider why her size and weight has been written about as a kind of excuse for this frustration. The word sympathy was used but the behaviour of empathy was not apparent in the letter. The advice about the bosses being responsible is really good, but I think LW1 has some internal work to do that isn’t just about her colleague. Nobody is entitled to make judgements like that about someone’s health situation, but people often feel entitled to do so when fatness is involved. That’s not OK.

    1. Mookie*

      Yes. Having been on the receiving end of this entirely unsolicited Fascinated Disgust with Fat, we know exactly the measure of other people’s seemingly polite disdain. They are fooling exactly no one, but I expect in many cases the attempts to disguise are not always whole-hearted. I think I preferred the overt to the benevolent species, often because the overt doesn’t hurt as much nor is it necessarily designed to. Maybe if they get it out of their systems, they’re less apt to created complicated, convincing backstories about why they need to continue fixating on another person’s size, shape, and habits, and then extrapolating about how deeply unhappy/unhealthy their subjects must be.

    2. JSPA*

      Agreed. But performative sharing of one’s binges is also problematic. If OP were GUESSING that coworker was eating 20 servings of cookies at a sitting, that would only be gross of OP.

      But let’s ask: why share the information you did so? Normalizing? Looking for intervention / cry for help? Daring people to judge? Looking outside yourself for control? If you’re going to your “team me” willing support network with that, or your paid medical professional help, great. If you’re forcing unwilling coworkers into that position — in a situation where they are particularly hampered from opting out or having a reaction of any sort — that’s a problem. We ought not to conflate “no shame in having a medical condition / every right to eat what we feel we need / theimportance of breaking the veil of secrecy” with “work- appropriate conversation.”

      If OP is getting this all from Facebook, OP needs to back off. If coworker is bringing this level of “everything about me is for sharing” into the workplace, coworker needs to filter.

      1. Mookie*

        Do you think when a thin, conventionally good-looking woman tells people about “working on her night cheese” that doing so is a cry for help or a perfidious attempt to brainwash people into “normalizing” snacks? Or do you recognize that sometimes these remarks are facetious (while also being true), partially because they subvert the cultural conditioning that tells us women ought not to enjoy eating, a behavior all living things do and are primed to do, because it might make them less pretty and feminine, less like women? And that saying Sucks to That and asking another woman for a verbal high-five is not unhealthy?

        What you think we ought not to conflate doesn’t actually matter, but, yeah: food discussions are often not appropriate for the workplace because, among other things, they can make people feel uncomfortable, triggered, or unsafe. That didn’t appear to happen here. The LW doesn’t like hearing about it because she thinks her colleague is fat enough and apparently thinks the colleague must want to lose weight. Neither of those are her call to make and her desire that sad, fat people don’t speak about food in her presence is an unrealistic expectation. Sure, she can ask her colleague not to mention food around her going forward, but that’s not going to stop all the other sad, fat people.

        As for this being a cry for help: no. No matter how much the LW wants her to, this woman is not asking for the LW’s advice or assistance.

        1. JSPA*

          Working on night cheese? If this is a pop culture reference, it’s lost on me, I’m afraid.

          A serving of oreos is 3 cookies. (Just googled.) A package of oreos is either 36 or 48 cookies (ditto). That’s either 12 or 16 servings.

          A serving of cabot cheddar is one oz (again, google). There are 8 oz in their standard size package.

          If someone, thin or fat, tells me they ate a brick and a half or two bricks of cheese in a sitting (12 or 16 servings), I’d equally think about disordered eating. Equally, if someone talked about eating 3 or 4 tubs of Ben and Jerry’s in a sitting. (Again, 12-16 servings.) Or three pies. (Etc.)

          I’m not saying that only people with eating disorders can ever binge on anything. Nor does having a eating disorder (nor having binged) make you a bad person, any more than cutting on yourself or any other of the “It may not be great, but it’s what I’ve got” coping mechanisms people use.

          But, as with cutting, if the topic kept coming up–then yes, I’d be uncomfortable about being opted into someone else’s fraught psychological landscape to that degree, AT WORK. I have friends with various issues around body image, food, gender issue-related dysmorphia. I opt into being their support to the level that I can bear it, it doesn’t damage me, and it’s helpful for them. I resent having coworkers (or other not-close-friends) opt themselves into my limited emotional resources around those things.

          1. Parenthetically*

            “working on my night cheese” is a quote from Liz Lemon, the main character on 30 Rock. She’s a thin, pretty woman (played by Tina Fey) and there’s a running gag through the entire show about how she eats — a lot, and lots of processed “junk” food.

            I don’t think ANYONE is saying OP1 can’t opt out of these conversations if they’re distressing or just annoying to her. But the path she’s currently taking — loading all her frustration at a work situation onto a colleague rather than on management where it belongs, armchair diagnosing, speculating about Coworker’s internal motivations, mentally accusing Coworker of being manipulative or playing up her illness, using Coworker’s personal choices as reason to resent her work absences more — is counterproductive as well as being pretty unkind behavior.

            1. Parenthetically*

              In fact, I think the major point here is that OP1 is taking too much of Coworker’s business on herself, and then interpreting it in the worst, least-flattering, most-accusatory way possible. A lot of the focus in the comments is on the second half, but the conclusion is the same: OP1 needs to mind her beeswax (opting out of these conversations if they’re happening at work) and focus on communicating to management the work problems caused by Coworker’s absences, not on speculation or diagnoses, because those are not OP1’s problem.

              1. fposte*

                I think also OP focuses a lot on the term “sympathy,” and we’ve been getting a little caught on that in the comments. I think that’s still making this more personal than it needs to be, in that for most of my co-workers I don’t particularly sympathize with or condemn–they’re just there, and that’s fine. It’s okay not to sympathize with your co-worker. It’s okay to be frustrated by having too much work. Just don’t let the second tempt you into going to the personal place by condemning her instead.

          2. The Original K.*

            “Working on my night cheese” is from the show 30 Rock. Tina Fey’s character says it.

          3. Mookie*

            I literally don’t care about how many calories this woman I don’t know is rating. That is not the point.

      2. The Bean*

        Yeah the performative sharing of binges would definitely color my impression of this woman. That’s 2400 calories! As a short woman with an office job, my maintenance number is 1500 per day. I would probably unfollow her but that is destructive behavior. We know this lady is eating at a calorie surplus and we also know instead of addressing her obesity which will shorten her life by years if not decades, she’s posting for affirmation that it’s somehow cute. If her followers “like” it, it’s ok!

        No different than people who binge drink finding other people to binge drink with to normalize their unhealthy behaviors.

        1. fposte*

          Wow, no. This is a really skewed lens on what’s happening, it’s misleading about obesity, and it’s missing the point of what people are saying.

          People talk about eating a pile o’ food all the time. It’s not, in its own right, a sign of much of anything except for being American. The point is that “I murdered a couple of plates of tacos” doesn’t change from a statement about a Friday out to a cry for help based on the body (or the gender, to throw in another factor) of the person saying it.

          1. The Bean*

            “Murdering a plate of tacos” which are usually actually food at least and could be more like 600-1000 calories isn’t the same as eating 2400 calories of basically candy.

            And context matters with respect to social media. And what people choose to share is going to impact how people think about them (although I agree OP should unfollow her, that sort of content would bring me down). If you post about having a hangover I’m going to question your judgment (I mean, i’ve Been there but it’s not something I would brag about or think was appropriate for SM). If you post a about a hangover and I have seen the bigger picture of a long-standing alcohol problem? I’m going to feel really uncomfortable that you’re rationalizing destructive behavior and hurting the people who care about you.

            And of course a lot of this seems “normal” to some but 2/3 of adults in the US are overweight or obese when that didn’t use to be the case. And normalizing a 2400 calorie binge is part of the problem.

              1. The Bean*

                acknowledging reality isn’t mental illness. It’s unfortunate that your reaction to that reality is to start calling me mentally ill.

                HAE is a harmful delusional crab in the bucket mentality and it’s sad to see it popping up in places like this.

                1. fposte*

                  You’re not “acknowledging reality,” you’re clinging to the topic of the co-worker’s weight as if that was the key to the problem, and the whole point of this post is that it’s not. It’s got nothing to do with HAES.

                  The OP has more work than she can do. The way to fix that is not by describing what the OP’s co-worker is doing wrong with her body.

                2. Observer*

                  No one is calling you mentally ill. Orthorexia is sometimes a mental illness, and sometimes it’s simply bad behavior.

                  You are making up stuff, making a lot of statements that are either not something we know or that we know are actually untrue, and you are being incredibly judgemental about a person you know nothing about.

              2. Anon2day*

                throwing around armchair diagnoses of other commentators seems over the line?

                I also think eating an entire package of Oreos (the calories are right there on the package) and sharing that on twitter is concerning, but I guess I am in the minority here?

                1. Observer*

                  No, the point is that the neither the OP nor any other commenter has any business making judgements about how the coworker is a terrible person because they are “happily” eating a package of Oreos.

            1. Parenthetically*

              This is so off topic. OP1 is already way too entrenched in her coworker’s eating habits and needs to be encouraged to focus on the work aspects and not to continue to sit in judgment. I have a lot to say about this topic and which disordered behaviors are actually normalized and praised in our culture (hint: it’s not a fat woman binge eating), but I’ll just sum up: your comments? Hard pass on the orthorexia, armchair diagnosing, and condescension.

              1. The Bean*

                What’s speculation?

                I mean, we don’t know the exact wording of her twitter posts but I don’t see how it’s not fair game to discuss how seeing someone post about eating a whole box of Oreos is going to influence how OP sees this woman. There’s no more connecting the dots here than any other post.

                I guess I did speculate that they were regular Oreos and not double stuffed.

                1. Hei Hei the Chicken from Moana*

                  Because it’s literally NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. See also: no one asked you. You don’t get to police food consumption, not even passively on an advice blog!

                2. Parenthetically*

                  You’re literally trying to figure out how many calories are in a letter-writer’s coworker’s binges in order to… what, help that letter writer justify her disdain and contempt for her coworker? Agree with her that Fatties are Gross and her disdain and contempt are understandable? Coworker’s binges are none of LW’s business and they are most definitely none of yours. And the entire line of argument is 100% irrelevant because this is a workplace advice blog, and Alison’s advice already addressed what LW needs to do, which is to focus on the work impact of her coworker’s absences rather than focusing on Coworker’s “problems” which are, as far as I can tell, mainly in LW’s head.

                3. Observer*

                  Actually, we don’t know what the coworker is posting. And we know NOTHING about why the coworker is posting anything, nor why they are doing any of the other things they are doing. You are making all of this up.

        2. Oxford Comma*

          Still not the OP’s business.

          The only part of this that is the OP’s business is how the coworker’s absences are impacting her own workload.

          OP might want to unfollow, snooze, mute on social media and to minimize her encounters with the coworker, but it is no one’s business but the coworker’s what she’s eating.

        3. Observer*

          So, we actually do not know either of these things.

          We have no information whatsoever on what the coworker is doing about her health. The fact that she may be binging does not mean that she’s not trying to improve hear health to the extent that she’s able to. It just means that there is a fair way for her to go before she’s at a reasonably good point.

          We also don’t know that she’s “posting for affirmation that it’s somehow cute”. That is something that you have totally pulled out of thin air.

        4. Impy*

          It’s no more your business than it is OP’s – and the idea that being obese ‘shortens your life by decades’ is inaccurate and ridiculous. Malicious falsehoods like that are extremely damaging and dangerous and you need to stop.

      3. Observer*

        You’re doing an enormous amount of uncalled for speculating. There is absolutely nothing in the OP’s letter to indicate that the CW is engaging in “performative sharing of one’s binges”.

        Besides that possibility of following the CW on social media, there are SO many ways that this kind of information could have come up in normal conversation that it is simply unreasonable to assume otherwise absent specific information to counter that. The fact that she’s fat does not change that at all.

        1. The Bean*

          It says it in the letter that she posts it on Twitter.

          And maybe the context was “I just ate a whole package of Oreos but this is just a setback and I am recommitting to health tomorrow” but I think that’s a stretch based on how OP listed that information.

          1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

            My read on the letter is that the colleague has talked in the office (or wherever they work) about: eating cookies at 3am, staying up late posting on Twitter, among other similar things.

          2. Observer*

            No it doesn’t say that. It says that she eats this AND that she’s posting on Twitter at an hour that the OP doesn’t approve of.

            All that the OP’s framing tells us is that they will NOT report anything about the coworker in a factual manner – no one who jumps to “she’s having breakdowns after her daughter leaves because she’s a manipulator who’s trying to sabotage her daughter” is reporting facts in a factual and reasonable manner.

            Not that it matters – even if she didn’t officially post it as a cry for help, it’s still a huge stretch to use is an excuse to blame her for her health problems and the fact that management is falling down on their job.

    3. RUKiddingMe*

      “…people often feel entitled to do so when fatness is involved. That’s not OK.”

      Bingo. I am not one of “the overweight,” but about 11 years ago I became one of them, almost entirely from fluid retention that nevertheless gave an outside appearance of bring borderline “morbidly obese.”

      I was ill…very, very, very ill. I spent two months in the hospital in a coma. My life expectancy was six months…max.

      If not for excellent medical care and a determination to not leave my then 21 year old son with no parent at all (his dad died when he was 15), and a LOT of hard work on my part…I wouldn’t be here annoying people now.

      But OP would likely judge me for eating a cookie.

  19. Currently Bill*

    OP1: I think it’s safe to say that despite how difficult it may seem your coworker is making your work life, you wouldn’t want to trade places with her.

  20. Introvert girl*

    OP 4,I’m experiencing the same problem, so are some of my friends. I have the feeling more and more companies have completely no clue how much a certain position is worth, even really famous ones. I keep getting propositions for half the market value of my position.

    1. Allypopx*

      It might be more malicious than that, ESPECIALLY at bigger companies (which I’m inferring is what you mean by more famous). These recruiters are trying to upsell positions to people who might be less educated on market averages, or otherwise vulnerable to predatory recruiting.

      As someone said upthread, don’t help them hone their pitches, OP. They know what they’re doing. The more obviously ridiculous the pitch the less likely people are to fall for it.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yep. Calling grossly underpaid positions “FANTASTIC opportunity!!” and the like is insulting to candidates’ intelligence at best, and predatory at worst. So yes, malicious.

        I actually once had someone tell me how a contract job that might eventually pay $5 an hour (yes, $5) IF I eventually got good at it was “a great opportunity.” Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

    2. Socratic Method*

      I have read elsewhere that this is a way for companies to get more H1B visa hires. Advertise the job at a ridiculously low rate that no rational person would apply for, then hire cheaper overseas labor with a statement that you got “no qualified local applicants.”

  21. Morning Flowers*

    OP1, I’ll just point out as an overweight person myself, one of the bigger problems the overweight have is people assuming it’s our fault. (In my case, we can blame several congenital diseases that went outrageously too long without proper diagnoses, and now it’s basically too late for my figure.) Your coworker may have any number of metabolic or hormonal conditions outside her control affecting both her weight and her mental state — you don’t know! And reminding yourself you don’t know can be a useful mental trick for generating both the sympathy you want and the detachment you need: As a mental exercise, imagine every part of her situation you think she can control (ex. weight, diet, sleep patterns) is actually a symptom of a major underlying problem she may not have even successfully gotten diagnosed yet, and as such is entirely outside her control. You’re not trying to pretend this is true (it may not be and isn’t your business), but if you need to build a mental narrative around your coworker to shape your feelings about her, it’s better to build a narrative that gives her the benefit of the doubt at every turn.

    1. Hei Hei the Chicken from Moana*

      You are very kind, Morning Flowers. For anyone: think about whatever it is *you* think is your absolute worst physical quality. To you, it’s like a beacon – how can anyone not notice it or think you’re weird or something b/c of it? Now imagine someone has written a letter to someone asking about work advice and has brought this up as a seemingly-relevant piece of information for said advice.

  22. Dan*


    I think you’re wasting your time engaging with them. Beyond the typical headhunter/contract/third-party recruiting thing… I’m a data analyst with software development skills. A naive recruiter looks at my programming languages and wants to hire me for software development completing ignoring the data analytics bit.

    A couple of years ago, I applied for a data analytics role at Household Name Company. Several months later, I get an email from recruiter for [software development.] The natural inclination is to think “Hey Great! Big Company wants to talk to *me*!” But the thing is, I’m not a software engineer, and if that’s all you want from me, it’s not going to be a good fit. There’s no ifs and or buts about it, I even though I “write code”, I am not a production software engineer.

    I get *three* emails from a recruiter for [software dev, not data analytics], and the third even says, “This is our *third* attempt at contacting you…” I finally wrote back to her and told her that I applied for Job X, and that was my interest. I’d also be interested in Y and Z, but Job A (what she was emailing me about specifically) was totally out of the question. This isn’t a case of taking A and getting my foot in the door. First, I’d actually have to get an interview for A and pass it, and I may not. So I didn’t want to waste my time.

    I was a bit surprised that jobs X, Y, or Z were things she didn’t want to discuss with me, whereas Job A, which was a bit tangential to what I do, was worth emailing three times about.

    1. Antilles*

      “I was a bit surprised that jobs X, Y, or Z were things she didn’t want to discuss with me, whereas Job A, which was a bit tangential to what I do, was worth emailing three times about.”
      Recruiters are often hired to fill a specific role and that’s what they’re focused on because that’s what they’re getting paid for. Maybe it’s because the company views software development as more valuable than data analytics, maybe it’s because they’ve had tons of trouble finding qualified developers, maybe it’s just because the head of Development is busier than the head of Analytics.
      But whatever the reason, the result is that they often won’t be super interested in filling other roles because that takes time away from their primary intended focus.

  23. Sun Tzu*

    OP #4: These are spam job ads. Feel free to ignore them. There’s no point in replying back.

    Now and then I receive “fantastic job opportunities” for 3-months jobs in as an expert administrator in . Salary isn’t advertised but is probably .

    If the recruiter has done his job and the offer matches your profile, it’s recommended to reply (even to say you aren’t interested) as you want to keep in touch with him/her. But for these job ads, feel free to treat them as spam.

    1. OP #4*

      Will do – thanks! I’m not even interested in switching jobs whatsoever right now, so I believe these recruiters are probably just reaching out to massive amounts of individuals.

      1. ArtK*

        Good recruiters will approach you with offers like that, so them not knowing about your life plans isn’t a reason to blow them off. As above, if the posting matches on qualifications, then you should respond. That goes even if you’re not looking at all.

        My favorite mismatch so far is someone who approached me about a facilities engineering job (that is, maintaining a building’s infrastructure) when I’m a software engineer. They had clearly done a keyword search and spammed me without even bothering to look at my profile. That one I ignored.

        1. ArtK*

          Argh! That was supposed to be a response to your comment about the postings that were out of your physical area.

  24. Sun Tzu*

    Huh, it appears the forum interpreted the text between less-than and greater-than chars as HTML tags and removed them. Here’s my full post:

    OP #4: These are spam job ads. Feel free to ignore them. There’s no point in replying back.

    Now and then I receive “fantastic job opportunities” for 3-months jobs in $city_1000_miles_away_and_in_another_country as an expert administrator in $technology_I_barely_touched_10_years_ago. Salary isn’t advertised but is probably $50%_of_what_I_make_now.

    If the recruiter has done his job and the offer matches your profile, it’s recommended to reply (even to say you aren’t interested) as you want to keep in touch with him/her. But for these job ads, feel free to treat them as spam.

    1. Yvette*

      And if they actually call you about it they are shocked and amazed that you won’t consider re-locating from the East Coast to Ohio for a six month contract.

      1. Yv*

        Oh, and don’t get me started about receiving emails about the same ridiculously ill-matched job from 3-4 different people from the same recruiting firm.

    2. OP #4*

      Oh yes. I didn’t mention in my post that many of these job opportunities are located somewhere random and/or not near where I live. I have no interest in moving, either!

  25. Gleeze*

    OP #1,

    Your co-worker’s body and food intake is none of your business, please separate that from her absences.
    I imagine if she were not “borderline morbidly obese” you wouldn’t mention her body or food intake.
    Eating a box of cookies is not self-destructive and doesn’t make her any less deserving of taking time off she is entitled to. You have no knowledge of her health (and have no right to that information) and it’s very dangerous to simply assume people have poor health because of their size or other assumptions you are making.
    I encourage you to explore your own bias and research weight stigma. There is a good Huff Post article called Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        Agreed, and I am a fat person who was a bit bothered by the OP’s choice of words. Attacking someone who wrote in for advice is pretty unkind.

    1. Joielle*

      Yeah, even to use the phrase “borderline morbidly obese” is pretty fatphobic. It’s a medical term based on body mass index – does OP 1 know the coworkers exact weight and height and has she calculated the coworker’s BMI? If so, she’s paying WAY too much attention to the coworker’s weight. If not, she has no idea what she’s talking about, she’s just using a phrase that to her sounds scary and horrible. (Not to mention that BMI is a ridiculous way to assess individual health anyways.)

      1. KayEss*

        I don’t know, I’ve definitely been in conversational situations where someone referred to 250 pounds as if a grown man that weight would be so massively fat as to be unable to stand or walk. Most people are not good at estimating distance, much less volume or weight, simply by sight.

        1. Sharul*

          On the other hand, lots of overweight and obese people claim that their the exception to BMI on account of muscle but do not in fact have the body composition of The Rock or a professional althete.

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

            *shrug* I’m pretty much 100% over the line of morbidly obese, gigantic BMI, etc. It doesn’t stop me being able to do physical things like hiking and digging holes. Being fat does not necessarily mean you are significantly physically impaired.

    2. JSPA*

      It’s not like OP is policing the coworker in the cafeteria, though–which would be entirely gross. Coworker is over-sharing awkward food and functional information with OP. Boundaries work both ways. Fences and neighbors, and all that jazz.

      Ignore what coworker does? Signing on.

      Ignore all of the information coworker brings to your attention and makes you deal with, that you would otherwise have no reason to know? Nah, how about coworker doesn’t use work to spread her personal information around. Why does OP even know exactly when the daughter leaves for college? Why does OP even know what co-worker ate, overnight, or how late co-worker was on twitter? None of this is stuff that OP needs to know–and we have no reason to think that OP knows it for any reason other than coworker is oversharing at work.

      “Eyes on your own paper and concentrate” only works insofar as someone’s not talking in your ear while you’re trying to do exactly that.

      1. Anony*

        I think it’s normal to know basic facts about coworkers families. I definitely knew when my boss’s daughter was leaving for college.

        But I agree that the rest of the stuff seems like very strange oversharing.

      2. Observer*

        That’s not really reasonable. You don’t know how much the coworker is sharing to start with. It’s also possible that the OP is doing things like listening to conversations with other people, following the CW on social media, etc.

        The thing is that the *information* that the OP is sharing is stuff that comes up in normal office chit-chat.

        Honestly, I would never want to work in a place where mentioning that my kid left back to >far place< is so outlandish that people would be shocked that anyone even knows that this happened. Acting as though people are automatons that don't have a life outside the office is just not healthy, even though most people don't look to their workplaces for their main friendships. Most of us still need some human connection.

    3. Hei Hei the Chicken from Moana*

      OP #1 decided being “borderline morbidly obese” was relevant to the conversation which just goes to show how common it is to police people’s bodies. Which makes this absolutely relevant to all replies here. Gleeze said it right in asking OP – and I encourage everyone to do this – research/explore weight stigma and bias. It. Matters.

  26. ValancyJane*

    Op 1, as someone who suffered from depression for years, sometimes what look to others like self-destructive behaviours are really us coping the very best we can. I used to be up all hours on the internet because anxiety wouldn’t let me sleep and I’d be on the computer because it was the only way I could distract myself from the suicidal thoughts that often arose at night. I ate terribly, because it was more important to make sure I ate *something* every few hours since hypoglycaemia could also trigger suicidal thoughts, and I had no energy to prepare food and was nauseated most of the time anyway. I know it looked to those around me like I was being self-destructive for no reason, or even “happily”, because they said/hinted as much, but in fact I was dealing with symptoms far beyond my ability to cope with—just staying alive was a huge win at that point. Your coworker may well be making light of her condition, while spending too much energy trying to keep her job to also be able to eat and sleep in a way that seems healthy to you. Just something to think about.

    1. 8DaysAWeek*

      Exactly this.
      The co-worker may be in survival mode. It sucks. Trying to put on a font at work while everything in the background is falling apart. It is exhausting and may be leading to these days off.
      Providing support and kindness when she vents to you may be what she is looking for. Phrases like “That must be really hard” or “I’m sorry you are going through this” will make her feel like someone is on her side for once.

      1. JSPA*

        I’m for universal healthcare with equal coverage for physical and psychological maladies. I’m for enlightened leave policies. I’m for a strong social safety net. Additionally, I’ll go to great lengths to support the few people I’ve committed to supporting, through their travails. Time to time, I’ll talk someone down, who seems to be looking with an odd longing towards the railing of one of our many bridges.

        None of this makes me a free, on-demand care worker for anyone, no matter how badly they may need it, just because we work together.

        1. I’m not qualified. It’s not in your interests to have me act in place of someone who is.

        2. Just because we work in the same place and are work-polite, even if I wish you well in the abstract, I may not actually, y’know, like you much as a person. It’s not in your interests to have me play pseudo-friend, out of obligation, when you could be finding an actual friend to lean on.

        3. You’re not the only person who’s close to the breaking point. Your needs don’t count for more than the needs of the others I’m willingly supporting.

        Work is where I go to work. It’s where I don’t have to deal with interpersonal drama and soap operas (I have all the rest of my life for that).

        1. atalanta0jess*

          Are you saying that saying things to her like “that sounds really hard” would make you her “on demand care worker”? Or a pseudo friend?

          It seems to me it would just make you a sympathetic human.

          1. 8DaysAWeek*

            That was my point.
            I also acknowledge you can work with chronic complainers and in those cases you may need to distance yourself to not fuel the fire.
            But sometimes saying things like “that sounds really hard” stops the chronic complaining.

          2. Genny*

            Saying those things once or twice is being sympathetic. Falling into a pattern where coworker dumps the symptoms of her depression/anxiety/general life problems on you because you happen to be eating lunch at the same table is emotionally exhausting and not the role LW signed up for. It’s not unsympathetic not to want to listen to someone constantly discuss their problems with you, especially when you don’t have the tools or desire to support them long-term or when they aren’t interested in making (or are unable to make) any changes.

            1. Observer*

              Sure. But there is not the slightest bit of evidence that this is what is happening here. The OP makes it pretty clear that they are resentful because the CW is being absent and, in their view it’s pretty much their fault and anyway she’s probably a manipulative piece of work. Nothing about needing to be supportive or an ersatz care giver.

              1. Genny*

                OP is getting this info (daughter leaving, staying up late on social media, binge eating, etc.) from somewhere. If it’s through social media, she needs to unfollow the coworker. If it’s through gossip, she needs to excuse herself from the conversation (and ideally tell the gossiper to knock it off). If it’s through the coworker herself, she’s allowed to opt out of it (either by changing the conversation or leaving it) without feeling like she’s being unsympathetic. That was the point. If you’ve gotten to the point where you’re being asked to give too much emotionally, it’s time to make a change. It’s not being unkind to do so.

  27. Flash Bristow*

    OP#4 – the recruiter said to contact them IF you’re interested. You’re not. So hit delete and move on.

    If you think this is a recruiter who *may* one day have a job you want, you can always filter to a spamcruiters folder – but given the evidence, and the fact that when I was job hunting, lower level recruiters came and went rapidly so their names were no use a few months down the line – I’d just mark them down as auto-delete and move on.

    Er – TL:DR; don’t spend any time on them, bin & move on!

    1. OP #4*

      I will do that, thanks! Alison didn’t include it in her post, but I did say in my original letter that “I know this is a low stakes question.” I haven’t invested any time in these recruiters, I just wanted to hear her take on it!

  28. Cherry Sours*

    Letter Writer #1 could well be on FMLA, for self or to care for a family member. They should let manager know that additional staffing is needed, and then MYOB.

  29. Chocolate Teapot*

    1. My co-worker (who is doing the same job as me) phoned in sick last Monday, said she hoped to be back on Tuesday, then informed my deputy boss (big boss is on holiday) that she would be off the whole week.

    Last week coincided with a major part of her role needing to be done, which wasn’t as far advanced as it could have been, and which I had to pull in on top of my own work, which included another major part of our role.

    I kept making sure deputy boss was informed of what was and was not getting done and at least I am getting paid overtime!

      1. College Career Counselor*

        I might have said, “because co-worker is out, I’m being asked to cover her duties in her absence. This is A, B, C. I can do two, but not all three. Which do you suggest?”

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          Yes. I would have said something like: My priorities for this week are A, B and C. Co-Worker has X, Y and Z. Which of X, Y and Z are urgent, and which can wait until she gets back?

          Then it turned out that Y, which I had put to one side for co-worker to do when she returned had to be immediately or the client would get upset.

  30. Lexi Kate*

    #3 With future job offers ask about benefits and PTO when the offer is made, or when you discuss salary(the salary they are offering you not what salary you expect from the job). Also never tell them you are waiting on another offer as an inexperienced employee, they are likely not going to compete for you at this stage in your life. Your a new graduate so likely there are many others like you applying to the same jobs with about the same experience, so your employer has a few options in picking someone. A good company will still wait out the time they give you to decide, so I am side eyeing this company but I’m not sure how much you told them about other offers you might have.

    I hire new grads and I am hiring based on personality to fit in and willingness to learn, because most new grads have about the same experience that is relevant. I wouldn’t throw your name out of the running if you told me you had other offers you were waiting on, but as a new grad I would move you to the 2nd rounds for when a first round dropped out. In my experience a new grad that is excited to get the offer and doesn’t want a few days to decide is a better new employee, they are so excited to start their new experience and this part of their life, for a new grad more than 24 hours is a sign that they may not want the job.

    1. Alice*

      Wow – people who don’t need any time to research formularies/in-network providers, who make decisions based on excitement (or maybe desperation) instead of logic – these are better new employees?

      1. Lexi Kate*

        As a new grad yes, its about excitement for the new job. Keep in mind most new grads are between 21 and 28 and don’t have a family, a mortgage, and most have not had health issues. The above doesn’t apply to anyone but people new to the workforce. People who are new to the full time workforce (most new grads are) are so excited for the job that they do their research the same day, or have already done it by the time an offer is extended. Its not odd to have our new grad candidates call and ask HR provider questions within a few hours of the offer.

        1. Mary*

          There’s a lot of “most” here. Some new graduates do have families, caring responsibilities and disabilities. I understand using motivation and excitement as criteria for your recruitment, but if you’re basing that on “levels of excitement when offered the job and how quickly you accept”, that’s a very subjective and potentially discriminatory way to measure it.

          1. Lexi Kate*

            When I extend an offer I have no idea if they are going to ask for a day to think about it or 2 weeks, if we extend an offer they have the offer, accepting or declining the job is up to them. I’m not taking the offer back because they ask for time to look it over.

            Measuring the level of excitement and how quickly they accept is an observation, Its not a measure on anything. And I say most because its been the majority, its not all.

            1. Hiring Mgr*

              Out of curiosity have you found anything noteworthy from observing a candidate’s level of enthusiasm and time of acceptance? Does it correlate to anything?

            2. Tom & Johnny*

              Lexi Kate, there’s a lot of reaction but I don’t think you’re being unrealistic, unfair, or damning anyone. I think the hiring you do may be pretty specific to an industry such as finance or law where graduates actually are realistically grouped as being almost-all-something. If you know your industry, you know your employer, you know what your people are looking for, you know how to evaluate for fit, and you deliver great employees, there’s nothing wrong with understanding how to do that and stating what is expected and called for.

            3. Mary*

              I’m a bit confused by “I would move you to the second round for when the first round dropped out” and “I’m not taking the offer back because they ask for time to look it over”. If you’re not treating candidates less favourably because they don’t accept a role immediately, great! If you are, that doesn’t sound great.

        2. hbc*

          But given that they have very little experience, I would argue that excitement over another potential job is pretty likely. When I was a new grad in chemical engineering, I was genuinely excited about the possible jobs in consulting, petroleum, and pharmaceuticals. So you’re kind of screening for people who only have one offer or just taking the first one that’s made. At best, you’re getting people who make snap decisions, which may or may not be a useful attribute in the position.

        3. Arielle*

          Wow. “Most,” sure, but it sounds like you’re treating a new grad who “isn’t excited” about the job offer the same as a new grad who needs a couple of days to figure out if your formulary covers their insulin. How exactly are you distinguishing between those two?

        4. Observer*

          Even people who are new to the workforce often need time to think about an offer. Maybe they want to run it by someone with more experience to make sure that they are not missing anything. Maybe they do have another offer. Maybe they have issues that you know nothing about – and which are NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS even if they are new to the workforce. etc.

          Please rethink your stance, because either you are actually knocking out good candidates (and confirmation bias is masking this) or you are conflating people who don’t know how to push back on unreasonable expectations with people who are excited for a genuinely good opportunity. (I’m assuming that you are not LOOKING for people like that, just mis-reading what you are seeing.)

    2. Nanani*

      Everyone – don’t work for Lexi Kate.

      People getting so excited they don’t wait for basic information like salary and benefits is a bad thing.
      Deliberately hiring -for- that is a massive red flag.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        I interviewed with a company called RGS Associates (since bought out by US Falcon)…. as I was walking back to the Metro stop, they called to give me a verbal offer. I asked for 24 hours to consider it, and got pushback. I asked then if I could get back to them by 5pm that day (it was just after 1), and still got pushback. I asked for an hour to consider it and still got pushback. I then declined, because if I couldn’t have ANY time at all, that was a red flag for me, and I said as much. I was then told “we’re rescinding our offer, because of your outrageous demands” and hung up. I dodged a bullet there. Lexi Kate, don’t be That Guy ™.

        1. EH*

          I once turned down an offer for the same reason and was also berated for it! Definite bullet dodged.

      2. JSPA*

        Lexi Kate actually said to ask about the salary and benefits at the moment the offer is made–that is, ask ASAP. This accords well with the advice often given here to know what numbers you’re looking for, and have a response / counter-offer ready, when the offer is made.

    3. Willis*

      I agree that PTO, health insurance, and any other benefits should be brought up during the initial offer, rather than a series of follow up questions over several days. But (a) I don’t think that’s what the OP did – she called the next day to ask about that stuff and got no response and (b) I’d argue the employer should be proactively providing that info when they make an offer. We usually include all that info in an offer email, and would certainly give folks (including new grads) time to consider it and ask follow up questions. Being thoughtful about taking
      a job doesn’t mean you’re not excited about it, and its definitely weird to pull an offer when someone requests 3 days to respond. If you need a decision sooner, let them know that, but don’t just offer the job to someone else.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        I had my verbal offer pulled AFTER I declined the offer because they pushed back on me even taking ONE HOUR to consider the verbal offer.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            That’s true and logical, and yet the potential employer mentioned still manager to not realize that if their response to “I decline” was “We rescind”, thus showing they were even red flaggier than they’d already indicated.

  31. LGC*

    I like when I can tell what the answer will be before I’ve even read the letter.

    Anyway – LW1, aside from Alison’s advice…I feel like part of the issue is that she’s talking about smashing an entire package of Oreos while thirst-tweeting celebrities at 3 AM in the morning with you, and maybe you can politely disengage from that? (At least, that’s how I read your description. Am I off-base here?) Like, I’m all for MYOB (and hell, I have to do that myself sometimes – with varying degrees of success) – but also, it seems like it’s a bit in your face right now.

    1. LGC*

      I’m exaggerating the coworker’s talk, just to clarify. But it might actually feel like that to LW1!

    2. fhqwhgads*

      I couldn’t tell from the letter but I wondered if part of the situation is that the coworker mentioned staying up til 3AM and eating a whole box of Oreos and then calls out the next day? If that’s the sequence then I think it’s pretty reasonable OP1 would get resentful in that type of situation. I think it’s pretty reasonable a lot of people might hear that and think “well yeah not surprising you aren’t feeling well”. Heck just the 3AM part might cause that. But a lot of the rest of the observations and mentions are things OP1 should probably put out of mind.
      It’s a shitty thing bad managers sometimes do that they fail to manage a situation, put extra work/pressure/unpleasantness on the people in the office by trying to have them pick up the slack of people understaffed, and then morale all around goes to hell because the overworked start resenting the person whose absence is contributing to that overwork instead of resenting the managers who basically say “meh, deal with it”. The ire ends up on the wrong target. Like Alison said, the problem here isn’t that someone needs to be out a lot. It’s that management is not replacing them in the meantime or otherwise staffing enough for coverage.

      1. LGC*

        I couldn’t tell from the letter but I wondered if part of the situation is that the coworker mentioned staying up til 3AM and eating a whole box of Oreos and then calls out the next day?

        Exactly! (I said it in a more “slangy” manner, but that’s pretty much what I picked up from it.) So I think that if the coworker talks about staying up late at night on Twitter with LW1, LW1 should probably try to divert from the topic at least – because it sounds like they are through with it. (And if they overhear the coworker discussing her 1 AM exploits slaying trolls in passing, LW1 should just tune it out.)

        And I mean – I definitely agree that the real problem is that they have a persistent lack of coverage, and LW1 is taking it out on their coworker. Having experienced that myself, it sucks, and it’s pretty easy to turn yours ire towards whoever is convenient. However, I think that LW1 can at least fix it so they’re less attentive to the details of their coworker’s nightly Twitter habits – and that small fix might do quite a bit for LW1’s feelings of resentment in the short term. (I’m a fan of making small fixes until you can get to the bigger ones – and hiring more people is a big fix.)

  32. Batgirl*

    I’m really puzzled as to why, OP1, you think your co-worker needs any sympathy or why that is even an appropriate role for you? When a co-worker has a long term condition you really don’t need to give it much brain space at all, unless you’re especially close. Possibly you’re hearing too much and doing too much emotional labour when she is in (you know when her daughter is in town and what she eats when she can’t sleep). It might help to back off from those conversations because a) you really don’t know too much about depression (even just going through a slightly hard time life-wise can lead to some upset in what foods you can stomach and how much you sleep), b) you don’t like her, as you think she would guilt trip someone as opposed to just feeling sad when they go away and c) it’s making you feel too inappropriately involved.
    If anything is feeding her depression (and it’s not necessarily the situational type) it’s the fact that her employer sucks and unfairly pressures staff. Save your sympathy and instead lean on your employer to step up for both your sakes.

  33. Elfie*

    Yes, this. I self-harmed for years, which is obviously very self-destructive behaviour (in the most literal sense), but it was the only way I could deal with the emotional pain I was feeling – by feeling physical pain to take away from the emotional pain. Comfort eating (if that’s what it is) – is just that – we eat because we feel like we need something, and often we don’t recognise that it’s not food, it’s something else. So we feel comforted by that tub or ice cream or box of cookies.

    And something else to everyone out there who feels like judging us fatties for our food choices – we know it’s unhealthy. We know we’re fat. We do look in the mirror every day and notice our bodies. We don’t need you to tell us, look out for us, remind us (unless we’ve explicitly asked you to do so – which I have never done with anyone). For example, I’ve lost over 30lbs this year dieting (I still have loads to go) – surely I’m allowed some time off my diet to eat foods that are just plain naughty? If not, that’s like saying that people with low/no incomes have to spend all their available money on their debts/bills/etc and are never allowed small indulgences – it’s not sustainable, and it’s certainly not empathetic. So back off my peanut butter cup ice cream, you’ll prise it from my cold dead hands!

  34. Starfire117*

    Regarding letter #1: I’m relatively new to my professional career, and thus things like benefits and sick days and what not.

    Back when I worked retail, since you were only paid what you worked, it was easy for my place to hire a million people. Reliable people got the hours they wanted, other people didn’t. If you wanted more hours but weren’t getting them, it was up to you to either quit or work two jobs. So we were always adequately staffed (yay!) but being an actual employee and trying to budget/life manage/be sick sucked. My employers would use lack of hours to push out people they couldn’t rely on (for whatever reason).

    How does this work in a salary, professional workplace? Obviously having benefits and sick days are great. Obviously minimum wage retail is the worst (generally speaking) and no one should have to live by their horrible practices. But if someone is consistently absent (for whatever reason), have used up all their PTO, and can’t be relied on to do their work consistently… What recourse do managers have? Can the person be fired? Does it fall under discrimination? The absent person (no matter how legit) is NOT DOING THEIR WORK, but are still being paid, which I’m guessing prevents the hiring of more people?

    Sorry if this is off-topic, as it does not relate to letter #1’s situation specifically. I’m just curious as to what standard practices are.

    1. Exhausted grad student*

      Not in any way an expert or even particularily experienced but I think the situation would be:

      Once all sick leave is used up (some may be paid some may be unpaid) and they have used all their paid vacation time if they continued to miss work they would not be paid for the time they are off. If the person has a medical reason for the absence and qualifies for FMLA then they can’t be fired during the period they have FMLA but could be fired if they use it all up and still can’t come back to work. If they don’t qualify for FMLA (or if the company is too small) then the employer could fire them at any point.

    2. LavaLamp*

      It depends on a lot of things. How much sick time is offered, if the person is salary or hourly (not all offices are salaried) and if the employee in question is covered under an FMLA or ADA accommodation. Since I’ve used those accommodations in the past; my default is to assume that there are accommodations in play I’m unaware of. Not everyone wants to share that they have two intermittent FMLA’s like I did – One for PTSD and one for a chronic physical illness. I chose to share because then people knew the score (not my illnesses just that I would be out and here’s where to go to get what you need). I tend to default on the side of assuming accommodations are in play because for me, it’s more charitable than just being mad someone isn’t around when I know there are a TON of valid reasons why someone might need to be out.

    3. fposte*

      Roughly speaking: in the at-will states, which is all except Montana, your protections will depend on 1) your earned sick days 2) the federal and state laws for leave (FMLA and state-relevant laws, including state-relevant laws for pregnancy and parental leave) and 3) the ADA.

      But basically, the drill is this: if you are sick more than your PTO affords, you may qualify for FMLA, and if you do, that will protect your time off (though it doesn’t pay you); there are also cases where the ADA means that absence would be considered a reasonable accommodation. Mostly, though, those have applied to a leave of absence, not unpredictable absences. So what not infrequently happens is somebody uses their PTO, uses their FMLA, and still is unable to return to work. In that case it is legal to terminate that person’s job (assuming that’s a non-discriminatory result in other ways, like, you can’t do that for your heart patients but refuse that to pregnant women). If you don’t qualify for FMLA, the employer can terminate the job once PTO is used up (with again the discrimination caveat).

    4. Kimmybear*

      There are all the legalities that people have talked about but there is also some dependence on the compassion of the organization. I’ve seen several situations where newer employees ran out of leave due to ongoing medical issues before their FMLA eligibility kicked in. Some organizations bend over backwards to make it work even though they don’t legally have to and others don’t. No judgment on those that can’t afford that flexibility but appreciate the ones that can.

  35. LGC*

    Because I’m afraid that everyone is going to fight with LW1:

    LW2 – …Honestly, why are you even giving your new coworker rides? It sounds like you don’t even like her all that much yourself! (To keep it 100, your line about her not being a bad person sounded a bit like when someone starts a letter with, “My husband is a good man, but…”)

    I think that if other coworker is the same level as you, you can get away with enforcing management boundaries. But also, I don’t know if you CAN keep everyone happy! Maybe if you offered to help set her up with someone else that’s local to her so she could carpool with them, if that’s an option.

    LW3 – and nothing of value was lost.

    Okay, that might sound a little callous, but it seems like…if they offered you a position, only to go “whoops, we MIGHT have given it to someone else” and then never confirmed that with you, it just speaks poorly of their organization. I’d consider it a dodged bullet. Good luck and hopefully you got that other offer!

    LW4 – everyone else has already said it’s probably spam. Feel free to ignore it, since you’re not the real target.

    LW5 – I’m not sure how high up your direct boss is, but this actually might be above her pay grade. Do you have HR or access to whoever would be able to make those decisions? It sounds like they would be able to help more than your boss would.

  36. Blue*

    Elfie, that is such a good analogy. It’s a perfect explanation of how unfair we are to people in certain situations – the harder someone has to work to manage their finances, the less forgiving we are of the occasional, totally normal and necessary spending for pleasure or comfort. The harder someone has to work to manage their weight, the less forgiving we are of them ocassionally *just eating something nice* for pleasure or comfort. The harder they have to struggle, the more we judge them if they aren’t always seen to behave “perfectly” by whatever metric we’re using.

  37. Deb*

    OP#1 – Allison’s answer was right on target. I’d like to add that some people have very serious illnesses but don’t show it at work. I recently discovered that a coworker who died had been battling pancreatic cancer for two years, and I had no idea. You really do not know what is going on with other people.

    1. Auntie Social*

      That’s why you make your argument about hours instead of people, and you make your argument as a group. “Felicia was out 12 hours last week, and 12 hours the pay period before that–that’s 3 workdays. That’s a lot to cover and we are behind on A, B, and C as a result. Would a temp be the answer while we get caught up? It’s hard to wonder every day what we’re facing. We can scramble once in a while but you can’t scramble as a way of life, that’s just being short staffed. So, a temp to help with the basics? Permanent part-time? Another full time Teapot Modeler? I guess a temp would be the least expensive but I don’t know if that’s the best solution.” I’ve worked with a Felicia and the scrambling meant it gets done, but we were all worn out as a result. We lost two good staffers by the time they put our Felicia on half time and let her keep her benefits.

  38. Elizabeth K*

    “Contract worker”- this is not a company you really want to work for. Unless you are setting your own hours, not being directed in how to do your functions, using your own materials, etc- in other words being independent- you are an employee under federal law- entitled to employer payment of payroll taxes and benefits in the same manner as someone receiving a regular paycheck. This assumes you are in the US. This company is cheating you and breaking the law. One cannot classify an actual employee as a contractor at will. Having said that- being an “employee” certainly does not guarantee permanence.

    1. Colette*

      Are benefits really required by US federal law?

      I read “contractor” as a temporary employee – so paid by the business with proper taxes taken out, but for a specific period of time with no guarantee of employment after that.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Benefits are not required, what Elizabeth K is saying is “entitled to benefits in the same matter” as a FTE.

        I was a contractor/permatemp for about 5 years at my last company; the staffing company covered my payroll taxes and offered health insurance (though it was stupidly expensive) but it wasn’t until I was hired on “for real” that I got the same benefits as others I’d been working with for years.

      2. Shad*

        It could also be “contractor” in a sense similar to a temp agency, where she’s technically hired and paid by the temp agency, but doing work for another company on a contract between the agency and the company.

      3. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        I read it the same way as Colette. Since LW5 is most likely an employee of the contracting company, she’d be covered by whatever benefits plan they have. And those plans are often terrible, and require a long waiting period (say, 1 year) before you’re even eligible.

        Yes, the way we use “contractor” to mean two entirely different things is confusing and annoying.

  39. Mimosa Jones*

    OP1, your co-worker could also be putting a positive and work appropriate spin on her stories. Or she might think her late night TV and cookie session was a choice, but it’s really a symptom of whatever she’s struggling with. You just don’t know what’s really going on and your speculation only feeds your resentment. Your management’s inaction on the staffing shortage is the true problem.

    1. Marthooh*

      Yep, late-night Twitter sessions and cookie binging don’t add up to jolly happy party time.

    2. L.S. Cooper*

      Yep. Binge-eating is not a fun happy snack time. It is, in my experience, a form of self-harm, which is a weird way of trying to cope with other pain.
      And a skinny person staying up late watching Netflix and eating cookies is still annoying, sure, but it’s seen as just kind of quirky, instead of the supposed INSTANT DEATH SENTENCE FOR BEING DISGUSTING that it gets treated as when fat people do it.

  40. MeganTea*

    LW 1, are you burning out? Please take some time off and put it squarely in you manager’s lap to figure out.
    Also, this situation might warrant you and your coworkers banding together to get your manager to address the issue with understaffing.

  41. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    LW4 might be amused by how my spouse rates reacted to such ridiculous recruitment.

    He replied outlining precisely why the pitched position was completely unsuitable for his skill level, and that the position was also significantly underpaid, and that he knew these things because he had hiring responsibility at his $ThenJob – where that recruitment agency was now blacklisted.

    It’s a bit like choosing a real estate agency to sell your house: approach them as a “buyer” first and see if they make suggestions that prove they understand the “products” they are offering and the market in which they are offering them. Don’t choose the agency that tries to push top-floor apartments on keen gardeners but neglects to show them small houses on large plots.

    If they’re sending you unsuitable “opportunities” they’re probably also failing to put you forward when your Dream Job (TM) comes up.

  42. Samwise*

    OP #1. You say you’re not giving your co-worker any attitude, but it’s a safe bet that she knows exactly how you feel. Even if you’re trying hard not to show it.

    Let me also point out that getting sad and depressed when your child returns to college is much more likely to be FEELING SAD THAT YOUR CHILD IS LEAVING, and not some nasty manipulation to make the child feel guilty. I have to say, while I’m sympathetic to the amount of extra work you’re having to take on, this statement alone makes me feel really really unsympathetic to you personally. Give it some thought, OP.

    1. Clisby*

      +1. I’ve always felt sad even when summer ended and regular school restarted – let alone college, in a different place.

  43. SongbirdT*

    Adjacent to the staffing issue in #1: my husband manages a 24/7 team tech personnel. Earlier this year he FINALLY got staffing levels to a point where he could cover sick & vacation time – something that he’d been trying to do for ages. And then senior leadership slashed his personnel budget and he’s back to barely shoestring where most shifts are covered all the time, but there is absolutely no wiggle room. He hates having to put his team in that position and does whatever he can to mitigate it. So all that to say this… Sometimes even the managers understand the burden of no-margin staffing but their hands are simply tied. You do the best with what you have and keep going.

    Also, just a PSA about fatness – fat does not equal unhappy. The single most difficult thing about being fat is learning to cope with people who judge you for it and make assumptions about you. If this describes you, please find a way to adjust your thinking. Consider it a thought diet of sorts. It’s really unhealthy and I’m just concerned for your mental and emotional well-being.

    1. GlassShark*

      Your PSA… is… amazing. Especially the last two lines.

      OP1, I know that you’ve gotten a lot of (perhaps harsh but rightfully so) feedback on your letter so far, and I certainly don’t want to “pile-on”, but it’s important that you consider how your (thinly-veiled?) disdain/criticisms for your coworker’s weight might be contributing to her absences. If all your speculations were correct (which they probably aren’t, just to be clear) then your side-eyeing and judgemental comments are likely to make it that much harder for her to make it in to work when she’s feeling depressed (as in “why should I get out of bed today when they’re just gonna judge me for being fat AND depressed?” or something like that). And, if you think that you are “perfectly friendly and professional” towards her at work, my question is– did you find your letter here “perfectly friendly and professional”? Because, honestly, it wasn’t… it’s clear to a lot of us that you actually hate this woman (likely due to her weight because you unnecessarily mentioned it multiple times in your letter) and there’s no doubt she is picking up on that too. I would speculate that you feel like you have no control in this situation, and you’re coping with that by trying to control someone you feel superior to. But you DO have control, as Alison suggested! Put this problem on your boss, which is where it belongs!!!

    2. Observer*

      So your husband is not to blame, but upper management IS. Clearly at some level management DOES NOT CARE.

      This is what the OP needs to keep in mind – whether their direct manager is the one making the decisions or someone higher, the problem is MANAGEMENT problem, not a coworker problem.

  44. MuseumChick*

    OP 1, I get it. It can be so frustrating when a co-worker is taking a lot of time off and by extension effecting everyone else workload. As Alison points out, the problem here is not your co-worker (she isn’t doing anything wrong), it’s management. Director your frustration at them.

  45. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #4 – Recruiters have a quota to fill. I’ve found it best to just delete the message and let it go. It’s not worth replying because they won’t pay attention to it. I started my career as a developer. I got an email from a recruiter once for a specific type of developer, because the name of one of the companies I worked for in the past was the same as the programming language. I hadn’t done any development work in YEARS. They use automated search engines to scan resumes, and the bad ones aren’t actually reading it to make sure you’re a match.
    #5 – I was hired as a temp to perm once. They explained to me that after 6 months if they liked my work, they would hire me as an FTE. After 9 months I started looking for a new job. It wasn’t intended to be any type of threat, but I needed a job with benefits. Once my boss got wind that I was looking for a new job, they hired me. I would start looking for a new job if I were you. You’re the only one that’s going to look out for your best interests in this situation. Your boss may like the work you’re doing, but there’s some BS politics getting in the way here.

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      Not to mention, that some firms and some bosses will be faux-offended if you say something or do something about looking for a new job. Do it anyway.

    2. Kiki*

      #5 Yeah, sometimes people with FTE benefits just kind of forget about temp-to-hire timeframes or are blissfully unaware that temp-to-hire people want/need those FTE benefits ASAP. A reminder that you have other options sometimes helps to get the ball rolling on that FTE status.

  46. voyager1*

    I think what you are feeling is perfectly normal. I would be having trouble feeling empathy, and frankly most people would. Your coworker uses Sick to pad her Vacation days. She manipulates her lunch to cover these paddings as well. I definitely would go to management, and if your coworkers feel the same go as a group. AAM is right this is a management problem, but you shouldn’t feel shamed for feeling the way you do. You frankly to be blunt, have an unreliable coworker in the end.

    1. Colette*

      That’s a stretch. It sounds likely that the coworker is dealing with health issues that affect her ability to work. She’s probably sick, not on vacation.

      1. voyager1*

        Then she should have used her vacation time. She is using sick because she doesn’t have it or is banking it.

        1. Colette*

          So people are only allowed to be sick if they have vacation or sick time left?

          I’m really not sure what you’re trying to say here. If she’s sick, it doesn’t matter what kind of time she is using, she’s not there. And we have no reason to believe she’s not sick.

          1. voyager1*

            Yes if she is calling out sick right before/after when she has scheduled vacation to push her vacation longer. Using sick leave and calling out like that is a crappy thing to do.

            1. Colette*

              Sometimes people get sick around vacations, but there is no mention of vacation in the letter, so I’m not sure where you’ve conjured this from.

        2. Willis*

          Huh? Why should she use vacation time for when she’s sick if she has sick leave? Also, the OP mentions PTO so it may not even be delineated between vacation and sick leave. And the co-workers planned days off may not be “vacations” either as you seem to be guessing. OP should go to her manager about issues related to her own workload or using her own time off, not about this co-worker and her use of sick time.

        3. Kate R*

          I’m not sure where you are getting this from. It says she is calling in sick and has likely used up all of her PTO. At my company, sick and vacation days are pooled into one PTO pot. If you have to be out over your allotted number of PTO days, my company will usually work with you which likely means taking unpaid days off. But I don’t understand why you think she’s using sick days instead of vacation, when we don’t even know if the company distinguishes between the two or why you think she should be using vacation days for an illness.

          1. voyager1*

            “Recently she has been calling in sick, at times staying out for a week at a time, at others just two or three days before or after a previously scheduled day off.”

            Straight from the letter. Calling out like that is a crappy thing to do. Make that a pattern and yes people are going to get frustrated.

            1. AnonoDoc*

              And what if her scheduled days off are for doctor’s appointments? Or medication infusions that sometimes she is sick from afterwards, and sometimes she manages to make it in?

              And “manipulating her lunch hours”? Trying to catch up on work by working through lunch is now manipulative?

              And as for all the fat-shaming, I have actually never been overweight in my life, but I have certainly been known to finish off an entire box of ThinMints in a sitting. More than once. May even have done it with oreos in my past (if so, the resulting food coma left me with amnesia of the event. That is my story and I am sticking with it). Such event didn’t even correspond with depression, though depression rarely leads to healthy eating — when we are depressed we do whatever we can to get through the day, and sometimes that means eating whatever is convenient.

              Lots of chronic illnesses lead to both depression AND/or weight gain. Speculation on a co-worker’s health is never helpful. I am a health care professional and it is out of bounds for me to speculate on anyone’s health who is not my patient.

        4. Singed, A Fat Person Who Deals with Chronic Illness*

          What kind of time the coworker is or isn’t using is not LW#1 business. The LW stated they are already down several positions and when the coworker is out it’s even harder. That is a management problem. The contempt LW#1 is showing for her coworker and the assumptions she making about her health and possibly guilt-tripping her daughter is what have people bristling. I get it- LW#1 is feeling overworked and feels like she can’t take time off because of the coworker. Again, that is a management problem. Management has not filled the empty positions. As others have pointed out, the coworker could be on FMLA, could be dealing with a chronic illness, could be anything.

        5. Oxford Comma*

          How can we possibly know this? We don’t know the policies of the OP’s employer. We don’t know what kind of sick time the coworker has. We don’t know if the coworker is on FMLA or something else. We don’t know if arrangements have been made with management.

          There are people who should be concerned with the coworker’s leave practices, but that’s not the OP and it’s not us.

    2. Allypopx*

      Absolutely. But my empathy for OP goes right up to the point where they start armchair diagnosing and extrapolating information they could absolutely not know, like the accusation about the coworker manipulating her child. OP has work related issues, full stop, and needs to keep the focus on the workplace.

    3. Nanani*

      Wow, that’s mean spirited.

      As amply stated above, this staffing problem is not the ill person’s fault.

    4. Database Developer Dude*

      Manipulating lunch to cover these paddings as well? You’re seriously going there? If someone cuts their lunch short, that means they’re at work. How about MYOB?

  47. Marthooh*

    #1 – “Depression is a serious disease and life can be hard for the overweight.”

    Please keep telling yourself that until you actually believe it.

    1. Alice*

      Hey, OP recognizes this is true — that’s why she is writing in asking for advice. Is “Believe harder” useful advice?

      1. Observer*

        Actually, it’s not at all clear that the OP really does believe it. Considering the rest of the letter it sounds like a mix of concern trolling and the belief that depression is really “depression” as a manipulative tactic. I mean they even explicitly state that they think it’s likely that the depressive episodes are simply a way to manipulate the daughter – even though that’s a totally unlikely scenario with actual depression.

        Not that I think that telling the OP to actually believe what they wrote is going to help.

  48. Tobias Funke*

    OP1, this is about the least charitable take on your coworker possible. Your management has convinced you that this woman’s plethora of struggles are a thing to resent.

    My mom is a fat older woman who has severe mental health problems and kicks ass at her job as often as she’s able to. This letter admittedly hit me really close to home. It hurts me when we, as a society, see suffering and our response is WELL I WOULD NEVER SUFFER IN SUCH AN INCONVENIENT WAY SO NEITHER SHOULD SHE.

    Please ignore this woman. And truly, OP, when I have minded others’ business to this degree, I was most certainly not minding my own to the fullest. Minding my business is one of the most empowering things I’ve ever learned.

  49. Not Alison*

    OP#1 – Sorry OP that so many commenters are giving you grief. As someone who has cut out the sweets I enjoy eating (my body type needs to work hard to keep the extra pounds off) and trying to live a healthy livestyle, it is definitely difficult to listen to a co-worker with health issues whose extra days off increase your workload talk about doing things that negatively impact their health. Which creates extra stress for me just listening to it.

    The situation is similar to co-workers who go on benders on the weekend and don’t show up for work on Monday. Even though their absence is a management issue, I’d prefer that the co-worker not talk about what they did that creates more of a problem for me.

    1. CMart*

      I’m wondering if there’s any room to ask the coworker stop… complaining? Sharing?

      I know Alison has given scripts in the past to ask colleagues to curb what they share with you. I’m uncertain if OP1’s coworker is complaining about being tired (“ugh I was up until 3am fighting with people on Twitter and mowing down a box of cookies, I’m soooooooo tired”) or if they’re simply just sharing (“My weekend was uneventful – meant to save the box of Thin Mints for a rainy day but enjoyed them all at 3am on Saturday while fighting the good fight on Twitter, haha. How was your weekend?”). Perhaps if the coworker is genuinely oversharing, then OP1 may have some recourse to try asking to not be an audience for the complaining/oversharing.

      But if this is all in the course of the coworker just, you know, chatting about their life then I think our OP is out of luck there.

    2. merp*

      This… gets to me a bit. Sure, the OP is frustrated but Alison is right that they need to focus on other things like how management handles staffing levels. As other commenters have noted, the coworker is not doing these things “at” the letter writer. If they are having a hard time with their mental health, sleep might be difficult to come by and we have absolutely no standing to judge their weight or food choices (and neither does the OP). These things are not similar to going on benders on calling in on Monday.

    3. GlassShark*

      I guess I’m one of the commenters “giving her grief”, and so I will add– OP, if there are specific things that she talks about that annoy you, you should handle those the way Alison suggests we handle annoying coworkers generally (e.g. “oh, I really want to keep work a ___-free zone, so I don’t really feel like talking about ___” or whatever). But if you only get annoyed by your fat coworkers talking about eating cookies at 3am, but you are fine with it when your thin coworkers do it… that’s a problem (I’m not saying you do!! I’m just saying you should be self-aware).

  50. thatoneoverthere*

    OP1- I think many of the commenters have made it clear, that its none of OP’s business why her co-worker is depressed/overweight and calls off. However I think if many of us were in her shoes, we would also be annoyed. OP I do think you need to try to put judgment aside for this and shift blame to your management. THEY are the ones who are not properly staffing. Put this on them, not her.

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

      Hmmm…you’re on to something. Make the carpool inconvenient for the annoying coworker and they may opt out on their own, but this may backfire and the OP will lose their original carpool buddy instead or in addition. But rather than a permanent car change — presumably that would be more expensive and disruptive to the OP’s lifestyle — the OP can come up with something to break up the routine for a bit: have the regular car go into the “shop” and rent a light pickup truck or Smart car; or take up a scheduled activity on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and you only have time to drop off one passenger (or they’re the closest to the gym/school/studio/child care…whatever). The original carpool companion has priority for whatever reason the OP can come up with (they’re closer, the traffic pattern favors their location, they were just first in the carpool…). Once the routine is disrupted then it’ll be easier to ease it out permanently.

      (by the way this is a bit of sarcasm and elaborate fantasy because I don’t really know how the OP can drop this coworker from the carpool without hurt feelings)

  51. cheese please*

    OP #1: I have been in a position that was under-staffed and every job was critical, meaning that when people were sick or took time off, it was on other to cover for them, and more often than not it was stressful. I understand the guilt that can come with taking time off in such environments, and the resentment that can build when other take time off differently from you (ex: the 2nd shift equivalent of my position would often take Fridays and Mondays off most weeks in the summer, as opposed to week-long vacations like I prefer myself. As a result, I would have to work different shifts and change my schedule just for one or two days but SO MANY TIMES A YEAR. I really hated it, and found it inconsiderate of him, even though he was well within his rights to use vacation days that way.)

    Please, please bring up your individual concerns with your management.I think it’s most important for you to feel like you can indeed use all your PTO and take sick days. Those are necessary for your well-being and a benefit that you should use because management has given it to you. Let your manager / HR know that it would be helpful to have a more structured plan for mitigating stress when coworkers take time off , and ask if they would consider adding another individual to the team if the burden is too much for everyone. Or, ask to develop a new system where you can streamline your tasks so they are easier to cover etc. Focus on getting management to help address the factors that impact your stress, and focus less on your coworker’s personal life and health issues.

  52. RD*

    OP 5- I’d recommend starting to look for another option now just in case. This happened to a friend of mine recently and when time to renew the contact came up, they didn’t renew and didn’t give him a clear explanation of why. My guess is that they’re going to just hire someone else on contract to avoid paying taxes and benefits. You have to look out for you, and looking for other job opportunities can’t hurt!

  53. Nanani*

    LW3: I think you dodged a bullet.

    A company that not only doesn’t provide the basic information you need about compensation, but then goes “oops we hired someone else” when you ask?
    Giant red flag.

    You’re not wrong to ask about benefits or to ask about salary.
    I would bet cash the benefits were shit. Nobody with a good compensation package hides it -after- giving an offer and pulls the offer when asked for details.

    1. CM*

      It’s definitely a giant waving red flag when a company doesn’t allow you any time to think it over.

      This situation was weird though — OP#3 asked for a few days to think it over and the company agreed. That part is fine. The company then stopped responding at all until they said that they “may have” (?) given the job to someone else instead and then never followed up again. That part is not normal.

      OP#3, I don’t think you did anything wrong here, even though ideally you wouldn’t have said that you were waiting on another offer. It’s reasonable to assume that if a company gives you until Thursday, the offer is still open until Thursday, and if something changes, they will communicate with you and not just stop responding to your messages.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, this is a huge burning red flag of doom. You do not want to work for these people, #3. You do not.

  54. ThatGirl*

    I really can sympathize with LW1, I had a coworker who was regularly out with migraines and other ailments and even though I didn’t doubt that her migraines were real, her unexpected absences made things difficult. She definitely seemed to be taking a lot more sick days and PTO then she should’ve had. She also wasn’t a great worker when she was there and frequently got on my nerves. (She still works here, I just changed departments.)

    I did my best to focus on how the team workload was affected, and the work-related parts – it wasn’t my call as to whether her absences were paid or excused, the part that was my business was how I was affected, workwise. Realize you might be at BEC mode with her and try to let the non-work parts go. Good luck.

    1. Approval is optional*

      ‘She definitely seemed to be taking a lot more sick days and PTO then she should’ve had.’
      Based on what criteria? Your assessment of how many days are needed to recover from a migraine/other ailment after googling WebMD?

      1. ThatGirl*

        What I mean is more sick days than she had *available* through the company. Because I know we all get 5 sick days and she had two weeks’ PTO.

        As I sort of implied, I realize I may have judged her unfairly, and maybe she had something worked out with our manager about FMLA that I wasn’t privy to. I just knew what I saw.

          1. ThatGirl*

            No worries, I can see how that might’ve been misread, and I should have added “available” to the end of that sentence.

        1. DataGirl*

          Is it possible she was working outside of regular office hours to make up for it? I have chronic illnesses including migraines and there are probably people who think I am off way more than PTO policies would allow, but I work nights and weekends from home when I am well enough to make up the hours.

          1. ThatGirl*

            No, she would sometimes work through lunch or come in a little early (like, 30 minutes) but it is a customer-facing job so there wasn’t a ton to do in off-hours or weekends.

          2. Goya de la Mancha*

            I’ve been in OP’s shoes and in customer facing jobs, that is the one thing that REALLY got me.

            “Here, come in after hours when it’s quiet and there are no interruptions to get your work done. Meanwhile your co-workers are dealing with their own work and some of yours will do it all during the regular hours with all the daily interruptions with no overtime allowed because we don’t have customers to warrant that.”

    2. Observer*

      This is so useful – Focusing on the parts that affect you and taking them to management is exactly what you should be doing OP. Because you really shouldn’t be overloaded like this.

  55. mcr-red*

    #1 – Your letter really resonated with me. I had a friend whom I worked with who had a chronic illness that manifested itself in severe pain. She would call out alot or ask to work from home alot because of the pain. We worked in different parts of teapot assembly, so she made the teapots, I painted them. The other teapot assemblers would get mad because she called off so much and really so did the bosses. I knew how bad she hurt (she was sometimes up all night too because she couldn’t sleep due to the pain) and honestly, I never saw her teapots lag. There were other assemblers whom I was supposed to get their teapots to paint for the day, and oops, they were busy making cups, and didn’t get time to do it. So I’d be short teapots for orders. Even if she was off, I could call her and say, “Hey I’m short a teapot” and I’d get a teapot by the end of the day from her. And still the other teapot assemblers resented she was out so much and acted like she wasn’t really sick.

    And then she died.

    And suddenly, it was like everyone realized, oh hey, she really WAS sick. And I’m over here like, I hate you all.

    You don’t have to like her, OP, but do not make your resentment plain. You don’t know what other co-workers might be giving YOU the side-eye.

  56. c56*

    How does LW 1 go from “it’s frustrating my co-worker is frequently out,” which is understandable, to “I bet she’s faking sick days to guilt her daughter into moving home”? It’s such a leap to get to that point, and it says a lot about what she thinks of this person.

    1. Parenthetically*

      I read it as “I bet she’s overdramatizing her illness/malingering/playing it up” rather than “I bet she’s faking it,” but yeah, same diff. LW1 has crossed from resentment to contempt, IMO, and that’s an LW1 problem, not a coworker problem.

      1. Anon for this*

        I’d say it probably has to do with things that the coworker is saying. I can very much see LW1’s point of view, because I have one of those coworkers. Not only does my coworker take what feels like a lot of time off, there’s generally little to no notice when she won’t be in and even when time off is planned in advance, her plans change multiple times. She’s also not great about letting people know about her time off. It’s stressful and chaotic for those of us who have to cover her position.

        1. Observer*

          Nothing that the OP reports gives ANY credence whatsoever to this kind of speculation.

          I have no idea what’s actually going on in your workplace, but I hop you are not making the same kinds of groundless and really nasty assumptions about your coworker.

          1. Anon for this*

            I am making observations based on what she says to me and the fact that we have to shuffle and shuffle coverage for scheduled days, and scramble to figure out coverage at the last minute frequently. Theoretically we can do our own jobs while covering for her, realistically, not so much.

      2. DataGirl*

        “LW1 has crossed from resentment to contempt, IMO, and that’s an LW1 problem, not a coworker problem.” Very well said.

      3. Kiki*

        Yeah, I think it’s really important to monitor your negative feelings towards people so you can avoid crossing into contempt for someone. In coworker situations, friendships, and marriages, it always leads to bad things. Maybe the target of contempt started off being in the wrong and genuinely misbehaving, but contempt has the ability to transform otherwise nice people into into really mean ones without them realizing it. Sometimes you need a reality check that your responses are now outsize to the action.

  57. AnonForThis*

    LW1: As someone struggling with depression and eating disorder (yes, obesity can be the result of an eating disorder) you letter is hard to read. While you might not intend to be judgemental, your letter is full of speculation and judgement. Reading this hurt quite a bit.

    AAM, for future consideration: I don’t know what your policy on content notes is, but I would have appreciated a small one here, so as to be able to decide if I’m ok enough to read this right now, before actually reading it.

    1. nêhiyaw ayahkwêw*

      Was just going to say this. I did not need this dose of fatphobia and ableism today.

  58. Mannheim Steamroller*


    I’m suddenly reminded of the letter a few years back from someone whose coworker “Alex” was always out sick, for actual medical/disability reasons, and the company’s ADA accommodation for him was to ban HER (that letter’s OP) from ever using her PTO.

    1. Observer*

      And, as everyone pointed out, was totally a management problem. I don’t recall if there was ever a follow-up to that one, but I do recall that Alison was very emphatic that the employer was waaaay out of bounds in doing this.

  59. Urdnot Bakara*

    OP1, unfollow your coworker on social media. It seems like you can’t view anything she posts without judgment, so it will probably make you feel better.

    Also, we probably all need a reminder that our colleagues’ weight is none of our business and probably never matters to the context of the letter, so we should just leave it out.

  60. bluephone*

    For OP 1, I can understand where you’re coming from even though you know, rationally, that your coworker isn’t being depressed *at* you. I think a great place to start is to stop checking her twitter. From personal experience, this can go a long way to resetting those BEC feelings that are sometimes just a part of human nature. Good luck and I hope your employer comes to their senses about the need for additional staffing!

  61. Anon today*

    OP#1’s coworker could be me, if she had a toddler-aged daughter instead of a college-aged one. I have to admit I was a bit shaken to hear about it from someone else.

    Re: “happy” self-destructive behavior, I wanted to chime in and maybe give some insight as to what is in my mind, at least, since I sound so similar to your coworker. I have chronic depression and also binge-eating disorder, which was only recently recognized as a disorder on the same level as anorexia and bulimia. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people scoffing that fat people should “just stop eating so much” all the while not realizing how much I’m suffering right next to them.

    The best way I can put it is this, and I’m sorry if it’s a bit graphic: I KNOW I am killing myself when I eat. There is a very, very small part of me that gets extreme satisfaction from the feeling I get when I am overfull or have made myself sick. It’s a kind of wanting to die – suicide by food. It’s not gluttony… it’s so much different than that. This is deliberately and adamantly intentional.

    If alarm bells are going off in your head right now, well, they should be! Your coworker’s eating and depression sound like she needs serious help, but there are very, very few therapists in the US currently trained to deal with eating disorders, and even fewer who take binge-eating disorder seriously. My therapists have tried to address the depression element without also addressing the eating, much to my great frustration… I’m beyond food journaling or talking about my feelings.

    Ultimately, try to see your coworker’s “jokey” language about late-night Twitter and cookie binges as what it really is: a cry for help. You may not be able to do anything major for you, but you can at least try to see her as the very sick individual she is… maybe that will help you reframe your anger into empathy.

    1. Anon today*

      Rereading what I wrote, I see that I was projecting quite a bit… I’ve never had a letter feel quite so personally directed at me, and that definitely skewed the way I responded. AAM rules ask us to refrain from armchair diagnosis, and obviously I have no way to tell (nor should I speculate) if this person has depression, BED, or any other issues. My apologies, and Alison, please remove if inappropriate. Thanks!

      1. Also Anon2day*

        I agree reframing into empathy makes sense and I think your post provided context/perspective.

        I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect LW1 to be blind to signs that the coworker isn’t in a good place, even if there’s nothing she can directly do to help.

  62. Late Learner on This One*

    For OP #1, Been there. Done that. My best advice is to stop focusing on it, because in the end it’s only making you angry and not good for your overall health (mental and physical).
    Several years ago our company got really busy. At the time, I was the only admin, covering admin, office management, and basic accounting duties. We added 2 more admin positions to help take the load off of me. I was given the title of manager, but was more like a team lead.
    The problem was that we always hired people who seem to have what I like to call “life problems”. Kids were having trouble adjusting to new schools. Kids got sick frequently and ex-husband would never do his share and take a day off. Unexpected pregnancies with complications. Chronic allergies and sinus problems. Stomach illnesses almost every Monday morning. Mother/Father/Wife needed someone to take them to the doctor and it was an all-day affair. I could go on and on.
    Often both people were out at the same time. The kicker was when one person posted photos online of a night out at a bar, and then called in sick the next day.
    What had been designed to relieve me of too much work was putting the work right back on me. Most of these were all legitimate excuses for taking off from work so my management took the attitude of “sorry about your work load, but just deal with it”.
    I went from taking time off as I wanted or needed it, to only taking time off when it was absolutely necessary. I always ended up pushing the upper limits of the amount of vacation stored up because I always felt the responsibility of having to be in the office.
    This has gone on for almost 15 years now. I’ve stuck myself into this pattern that I’m working to get out of. I also realized that part of this is just my rule-follower personality. I’m a stickler for making sure that most things are followed to the letter of the law and don’t understand when others don’t do the same. I’m working on fixing this too.
    My advice…focus on “your” work. Do what you can do and stop trying to be superhuman. When you need time off, take it. Encourage your co-workers to do the same. It will make for a much better working environment.

  63. Donkey Hotey*

    One extra note for LW#4:

    I did once receive a recruiting email from someone looking for a QA/compliance position. It was worded in a way that made me think it was a real contact rather than a spam note, so I replied and declined. Dude wrote me back asking if I knew “anyone else of my caliper.” And I just -relish- that. It’s like Schrodinger’s Email. It could either be a really terrible typo or a really great pun and I’ll never know unless I write him back again.

  64. CM*

    OP#5: You are worried about being perceived as manipulative, but meanwhile your employer is manipulating you. First they promised a one-month trial period before permanent employment. Then at the one-month period, they said they needed more time. Then without prior discussion, they gave you a three-month contract.

    Assuming you have other options, I think you are being too nice here — you’re worried about being reasonable and considerate when they are not giving you the same courtesy.

    I would start job searching now, and then tell your boss, “I love working here, but before I started I was told that after a one-month trial I’d be offered permanent employment. I’m not interested in being a contractor, so I want you to know that I’ve started applying for other jobs, but I’d really prefer to stay here. Is it possible for me to get a written offer for full-time employment, and could you give me a timeline for that? I’m concerned that I’m already going to be a contractor for three months longer than I planned, and I don’t want it to go on longer than that.”

  65. DataGirl*

    LW1, as a parent with clinical depression and multiple chronic illnesses who is about to send their first child off to college, I really, Really resent your assumption that your coworker is out sick more when their child leaves as ‘an attempt to guilt them into coming home’. It’s far more likely that they are just, in fact, depressed/sad because their child is gone and need a mental health day to deal with their feelings. Or that all the activities/responsibilities they take on when the child is home cause a physical flair up that they need time to recover from. I move my kid next week and am taking 2 days off after because I know I’ll be an emotional wreck, as well as likely have serious pain flair ups from driving/lifting/packing/unpacking. You’re making this person out to be a villain for no reason other than your resentment of them using their PTO and that’s not fair, or kind.

    1. Allypopx*

      Hahaha I couldn’t figure out which letter this was in response to and I love the idea of buying a miata somehow being a solution to pushy recruiters.


    2. Commercial Property Manager*

      Oh my gosh, I ROLLED. My dad is about to turn 50 and has considered and chickened out of buying a Miata three times in the last few years.

      Thanks for the laugh!

  66. ACDC*

    Just wanted to come here in support of OP #1 because a lot of the comments about that letter are pretty harsh against him/her. I’m going through this exact situation with my manager right now. She hasn’t worked more than 3 days a week since December because of a chronic illness. Not saying I agree with everything that was written, but I understand the frustration 100%, sorry if that doesn’t make me popular with the general population on this.

    1. M*

      Your manager has a chronic illness! Instead of being annoyed with your manager maybe be grateful you don’t have that chronic illness. Your manager worked for their sick days off and be grateful your employer offers them because if you were in your managers boat you’d be happy to have them.

      I have seen people with minimal sick days work through chronic or terminal illness to save money for their families. It is horrible. Give your manager a break and have some empathy.

      1. Temperance*

        This is a really unfair comment. Why can’t both things suck? It sucks that her manager has a chronic illness, and it sucks that she needs to cover.

        1. M*

          It’s called life and to try and have empathy and compassion for those who have it more difficult than you.

          1. anazak*

            “try and have empathy and compassion” says person demonstrating zero compassion.

            Come on M. Let’s see you use a little bit of that empathy you seem to demand in others.

    2. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I don’t think commenters take issue with OP’s frustration; in fact, re-read the comments and you’ll see that people really do empathize with the OP’s frustration. Workload imbalances are challenging, even when management handles coverage better than OP’s seems to.

      However, people ARE taking issue with the OP making some pretty unkind assumptions about the co-worker’s reasons for taking time off – and about the co-worker herself. It’s not just the co-worker’s absence that bothers OP, it’s what she thinks is behind the absences. The OP comes across as quite judgmental about the person, and that’s not okay.

      1. voyager1*

        “Recently she has been calling in sick, at times staying out for a week at a time, at others just two or three days before or after a previously scheduled day off.”

        Pretty hard to not to be ticked at that, especially the last part with regards to vacations.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          You’re arguing against a point I didn’t make – I came right out and said posters empathize with the OP’s frustration. Of course you can be ticked at those things. I know I have been, and would be.

    3. GlassShark*

      Well, if your work is severely affected by a co-worker’s chronic illness, as appears to be the case, then yes! You absolutely have a right to be frustrated and annoyed and whatever else you feel. But it’s important to understand that chronic illness SUCKS for EVERYONE. That’s what makes it such an a-hole– it affects more than just the people who have the illness… and so people who have chronic illness sometimes feel like an a-hole just for having said illness (which is not their fault). And so when people actually say “my coworker is an a-hole because they have (chronic issue here)” then that can really hurt, whereas if people say “it really sucks that my work cannot handle my coworker’s absences effectively and it’s making my life hell” then that expresses your annoyance/anger but without blaming the wrong people.

      Important note! I don’t think your comment was “blaming” your manager here… I just wanted to explain why being frustrated at the situation isn’t really why people are upset about this letter.

    4. Observer*

      Are you really saying that blaming someone for being sick is an appropriate response to that person being out sick?

      If your manager is effectively working only part time, and that’s affecting your work, that doesn’t make it ok to blame her for being sick and even accusing her of making up her illness. What you SHOULD do is to raise the work impacts with your manager / her manager and ask for some solutions to be put in to place.

      The only legitimate target of resentment is the management team that knows about this and is not giving you the supports you need.

  67. Matilda Jefferies*

    OP1, as someone who is overweight, and has mental health issues, and has kids with special needs that require me to take frequent days off work, I’m going to ask you to have a bit more empathy for your co-worker. I get that it’s hard for you when she takes time off work, and I agree with Alison that you should talk to your manager about that part. But the rest of what you’ve said about her is incredibly unkind.

    It was the word “happily,” in quotes, that really got my back up here. There is nothing in your letter that indicates this woman is happy – it sounds to me like she’s probably very sad, for lots of reasons. To me, the use of the quotation marks are a way of distancing yourself from this comment. If someone were to call you on it, you would say “No, no, of course I don’t assume she’s happy! I used the quotes to show that I know she’s not!” But if that’s true, then why use the word at all? It would be the same as if you had pointed out your great restraint in not making a fat joke – you’re still making the joke, but with just enough plausible deniability that you can avoid responsibility for it.

    Please try to reframe your thinking from “a fat person who eats too much junk food and probably has depression but it’s okay I guess” to “a person who has a lot going on in her life right now, and is probably doing the best she can under the circumstances.” Partly because she’s a human being who deserves respect, and partly because you would want the same for yourself, if you were in her shoes. It costs you nothing to be kind.

    1. M*

      Thank you for this! As someone who was very overweight and depressed in college no one outright said anything to me, but I was treated differently from people including my professors. I knew they had the same feelings as the LW. I was not happy and couldn’t get out of it as much as I tried. Luckily I worked on it and I am not longer depressed but I have days. We all don’t know what’s going on in someone’s life and everyone has stuff— health issues, family issues, job issues, financial issues, so giving someone the benefit of the doubt and being kind never hurt anyone.

      LW1 take all your negative feelings toward your coworker and use it to get more staff from your employer. They should have enough employees so when people call out it doesn’t cause such a problem.

  68. Cerealforbreakfast*

    I just felt like I needed to jump in here against the negative comments about OP#1. Y’all are on here acting like you have never judged anyone and that is absolutely not true because it is human nature, we all do this! It’s what you do with the internal judgement that pops up that matters. For example, when I get annoyed by someone sloooooooowly crossing the street when I want to turn, my initial response is annoyance. Then instead of showing my annoyance I remind myself that maybe this person just had back surgery or something and then I calmly wait for them to cross. OP#1 is being honest about internal feelings and how best to handle that, and I commend OP#1 for reaching out for help on how to handle an unpleasant situation. I have a friend whose husband is depressed and he has been out of work for a year, plays video games all day, doesn’t lift a finger around the house , drinks at least a bottle of wine every night… yet is always well groomed and can laugh and socialize with his friends. My initial reactions are absolutely judgement of these behaviors, but instead I ask my friend how he is doing and what I can do to help her out.
    I was reading through these comments and just taken aback at the volume of people being horrible to OP#1, and unless you have NEVER passed judgement on another human being yourself, you may want to go delete those.
    The poster actually does describe behaviors detrimental to mental health (social media, irregular sleep, obesity & junk food have all been scientifically shown to cause mental health issues). OP#1 is in an unpleasant situation and asked for help and I think it is a bit absurd the high horse that y’all are on judging this person while admonishing them for judging their co-worker.

    1. Allypopx*

      Having the thoughts is one thing. Taking the time to write them out in a letter to a neutral third party as justification for your disdain for your coworker is entirely something else.

      1. fposte*

        I think the OP is in a scarcity situation and she’s frustrated. I don’t think she wrote in to get her disdain justified.

      2. Cerealforbreakfast*

        The irony here is that you are now judging OP and attributing meaning to OP’s actions. You are passing judgment that the OP wants justification…. how is that different from OP passing judgement about her co-workers actions? I don’t think it is, which is my point. Y’all are just fine judging OP but how dare OP judge the co-worker…

        1. Oxford Comma*

          Being frustrated is fine. We have all been there. I’ve worked with people whose kids have gotten sick and I’ve been dumped with their work. I worked with the coworker who took 2 hour lunches 3-4 times a week. I work right now with several people who have chronic and/or severe illness. It can be frustrated when you’re suddenly given more work and nothing else is taken away.

          I think most of us get all of that.

          From what glean from the OP’s letters there are two big issues:
          1. She’s dealing with increased workload.
          That’s a management problem. It’s not for the OP to solve. She needs to have a discussion with her manager about how the workload should be shifted.

          2. She’s not sure how to muster sympathy for the coworker.
          My suggestions:
          *Try to reframe this in her head as a management problem.
          *Try to distance herself from the coworker. Muting the coworker on Twitter is a start. Snoozing or unfollowing on FB would probably help. Not having lengthy social interactions at work would help.
          *Give the coworker the benefit of the doubt.

        2. Hi-Viz*

          I’m judging the OP hard for assuming the coworkers sickness that coincides with her daughter’s return to college is the coworker trying to guilt-trip the daughter to move back home. She has absolutely no basis for this assumption and frankly, it’s none of her business why the OP is out. Since the coworkers absences is causing difficulty in her work, then she should talk to her manager. The OP stated they are already down several positions so maybe the management could fill those positions to ease the OP’s workload.

        3. Impy*

          It’s not about her judging her coworker. It’s about her being cruel about her coworker and making completely over the top, paranoid comments about how she’s trying to manipulate her child.

          1. Anon for this one*

            I may be projecting based on my own experience but it seems to me that OP has lost sight of “the wood for the trees” and that’s why the speculation etc. I can identify having been in a similar (work wise) position. I feel like OP may be not quite aware of their own level of burnout (although they are obviously aware of the frustration in general).

            1. Impy*

              Yes I agree. When you’re at that stage it’s easy to be like “if Jane didn’t eat cookies then she wouldn’t get sick and I wouldn’t have all this work to do!” Which is… inaccurate. It’s likely OP’s coworker is just as stressed as OP. It could be the stress that’s making her sick and keeping her up at night.

    2. GlassShark*

      I think I disagree that OP is “being honest about her internal feelings” though. I think she’s expressing her internal feelings but is saying that she’s trying to find “appropriate sympathy”, and not attributing it to some of her own internal biases. Like, you specifically give multiple examples of how you take the extra step after getting annoyed or judgmental about someone’s behavior and how that helps you to respond from a place of empathy– that’s great and, hopefully, very very useful for the OP to hear and try out in her interactions with her co-worker! But OP must also understand that she does, in fact, hold some deeply held assumptions (which we all do, as a function of living in a society) which are preventing her from appropriately questioning those assumptions and treating her co-worker with any level of sympathy.

    3. Jules Verne*

      “The poster actually does describe behaviors detrimental to mental health (social media, irregular sleep, obesity & junk food have all been scientifically shown to cause mental health issues).”

      Incorrect, these are often *symptoms* of mental health issues (and possibly other issues).

      NONE of us know what LW#1’s coworker is going through. We are getting it second hand through the letter writers’ observations.

      AND, as other people have said — think about how you would react if the coworker had cancer or lupus, or any other kind of obvious physical ailment that people have understanding and sympathy for.

      Why is there less sympathy for fat people with depression? Did they choose to be born with bad brain chemistry that makes them depressed? Neither you nor I nor anyone else here knows what that person is going through. But we could try to have some compassion, eh?

      1. fposte*

        They’re both symptoms and causal behaviors, to be fair. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s not the OP’s co-worker’s obligation to try to be as healthy as possible for the OP’s sake anyway.

      2. Cerealforbreakfast*

        I actually work in healthcare and all of the things I listed have been shown to worsen/cause depression. It IS a viscious cycle/chicken and the egg situation such as social media makes you depressed and since you are depressed you go on social media more. Same with junk food, the chemicals/sugar make you depressed but since you are depressed, you want more junk food. Poor sleep makes you depressed but when you are depressed you sleep more poorly, etc. There is actually some interesting research right now that “brain chemistry” may not be responsible for depression, because if it was then all the drugs that treat the chemistry would work but depression is unfortunately not always well treated with medication.
        I think you are making an assumption that there is less sympathy for overweight people with depression…. Mental illness is terrible no matter who it impacts!
        I don’t think OP has no compassion, I think they are trying their best in an unfortunate situation and trying to get help. Again the irony here is that everyone has compassion for the co-worker but not OP. I have compassion for the co-worker and OP. I just chimed in because as I was reading the comments I thought wow I would feel really terrible reading all of this if I was OP and I was showing compassion for OP. That doesn’t negate compassion for the co-worker. We can feel compassion for both people in this situation and find a solution that is great for everyone.

        1. Observer*

          Firstly, in this context, it doesn’t matter if these behavior make depression worse – they can still be symptoms as well, and it’s not a matter of “just don’t to them” – which is someone who is in health care should know.

          Also, regardless of what the coworker is, or is not, doing to improve their health, it doesn’t really matter because the fundamental problem is not that she’s out sick, but that the place is understaffed to start with, and the management is doing nothing about that nor making any attempt to manage the current situation. That’s not on the coworker. And even if they had perfect attendance the OP would still be under water.

          Also, most people actually HAVE expressed compassion for the OP. What people are saying is that 1. the OP is looking at the wrong address for a fix and 2. being in a bad spot yourself doesn’t entitle you to be nasty about other people.

          And, yes, there is good reason to say that three is less compassion for fat people with depression. There is lots of evidence for this in general. In this context, it is pretty clearly the case that the OP has less sympathy for their coworker because of her weight.

    4. Impy*

      One of the main reasons obesity affects mental health is *because* of people like LW1, who judge, shame and make assumptions about large people purely and entirely because they are fat.

    5. Observer*

      The issue is not that the OP has SOME judgement and is looking how to deal with it.

      The problem is that they are blaming the coworker for something that is NOT their fault (under-staffing) and making EXTREME judgements, some of which are just wildly out of line.

      The OP is probably not a monster – but what they have written here is pretty bad.

      It’s all well and good to say that some of the things that the coworker is doing is bad for them. In a vacuum, I would agree with you. But the OP uses that as a reason to claim that this means that all her problems are her own fault. Considering how often these are SYMPTOMS, it’s just not appropriate or right to jump to that judgement. If the OP didn’t realize, I hope they take a lesson. But there is no reason for you to ignore that in your response to what people are saying.

    6. Cherries on top*

      “yet is always well groomed”
      This is such a common statement. “You’ve showered and have clean clothes on, it can’t possibly be that bad.” It’s really hard to get help when you don’t act like depressed people are “supposed” to act. I do kind of wish that it was possible to try being severly depressed for a month, because it’s not being low, your brain doesn’t function like a non-depressed persons. And you can laugh while being suicidal. And it’s very common to feel like you are worthless, so others judgement REALLY doesn’t help.

  69. M*

    LW 1–. As Allison says talk with your manager. See if they can hire at least another team member or more so that the work load is better for everyone.

    I was depressed in college and ate my way through it. I became very overweight/ borderline obese. I knew I was but thankfully no one asked me about it. When I got my depression in order (which took years) the weight came off. After it came off people started telling me how gross I was when I was overweight. It caused a litany of other issues.
    Just let it alone on this person, it’s your employers issues. I have another family member who is depressed and she isn’t eating and is over exercising. Depression can come in a variety of ways and I think it says something good about your employer that they offer so many sick days. Be grateful if something happened to you you’d be able to take the time off paid. Everyone has something and it’s not for us to judge. Get on your employer about hiring new team members preferably as a group. Or yknow work normal hours and at a normal pace.

    I had an employer who wouldn’t let me hire a team member even though we were two down because my team got the work done. well we got the work done with I was working insane hours and others we were working more than 40. Once I said we are working a normal work load and stuff needed to get done my employer let me hire another team member (after I asked multiple times).

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      People told you how gross you were when you were fat after you lost the weight?!

      WTF. I am so sorry people are jackasses.

  70. Database Developer Dude*

    OP#3, you dodged a bullet.

    Also, those saying “don’t tell a company you’re considering other offers” really need to think about what they’re saying. Why the hell should you not? That’s arrogance on the part of the employer and sends the message “If you’ve applied to us, you should only be thinking about us.”. No. If I need a job, I’m going to go for what I think I can get.

    1. Colette*

      It’s not the company’s business – whether you decline because they won’t give you the salary you want, you decide to go back to school, or you take another offer, all that matters to them is that you’re not going to be working there.

      And if it’s a job you really want, you will take it without waiting to see whether another company will make an offer you’d prefer.

      It’s like having someone ask you on a date and replying “maybe, I want to see whether someone better asks before I commit to spending time with you”.

    2. SusanIvanova*

      I told a recruiter once that I was “considering other offers”. They bounced back with “I think you mean you’re *not* considering other offers. When you are, call us!”

      If they hadn’t already been in the negative interest zone, that would’ve pushed them in.

  71. Dahlia*

    Wow, OP, it is really invasive that you’ve measured your coworker’s height and weight for this diagnosis of morbid obesity you’ve given them. Maybe don’t do that.

    1. Dahlia*

      Also, thin people? You don’t ever need to use the word “obese”. Erase the word from your vocabulary. It’s rude, it’s not actually a description – it’s a medical diagnosis – and most of you don’t actually know what “obese” people look like, because BMI is a load of BS https://kateharding.net/bmi-illustrated/

      I will never trust a thin person who uses the word obese. It is one of the reddest of flags.

      1. Jules Verne*

        Even as a medical diagnosis I find the term “morbidly obese” very offensive. My friend was telling me recently how hurtful it is to constantly see the words “morbidly obese” on her medical charts. I wish the medical community could change this term to something not so loaded with “YOU WILL DIE AN EARLY DEATH” judgement.

        1. Dahlia*

          Yeah, honestly, I agree with this, but I was trying to not derail tooooooo much XD

          I honestly kind of hope it eventually goes the way of the R word.

      2. solar flare*

        thank you!!! as a “morbidly obese” person, i would /not/ be pleased with anyone who chose to use that phrase to describe me, doctors included.

    2. FormerProducer*

      Thank you for pointing this out! The word “obesity” is used as an excuse for mistreating fat people constantly. It’s not actually a useful word, unless you hate fat people and want to announce it.

  72. DaniCalifornia*

    OP #2 – “I realized that since I sometimes manage your work and need to give you feedback, we should have good outside-of-work boundaries and not keep carpooling.” Alison’s wording here is great! The minute I read that you supervised her I thought, there’s your excuse to get our of carpooling. Because even if she was a great employee and got along with carpooler #1 – what happens one day when you have to give her harsh feedback and then have to ride home with her?

    1. GlassShark*

      Yes! Or if she really is a great employee and she gets a raise or a promotion or whatever, you wouldn’t want anyone thinking you were giving her special treatment.

  73. CatCat*

    OP #5, start looking for a job that meets your needs now.

    to me, they are stringing you along. At best, they don’t know what they’re doing (red flag) and at worst, they are intentionally dragging this out (red flag). The “possibility for permanence at the end of three months” does not sound great to me. This job was *advertised* as a permanent position. Yet after the whole application process, they don’t offer you that? Bait and switch! And it keeps happening. Their story keeps changing. You cannot rely on them. You cannot rely on them even if they now they cross their hearts and pinkie swear, oh yeah, we’re really confident about permanency at the end of three months. Because there is a pattern of behavior here and the pattern is a more reliable sign of what they’re going to do than the words that come out of their mouths, imo.

    I would just start looking for a permanent position elsewhere right now. As for the script, if you’re going to say anything at all, I’d pare it down, “It’s important to me to be in a long-term position with benefits, so I want to make sure there won’t be another short-term extension after this.” And then be quiet and see what they say. I don’t think you need to say you’re looking for another job. They’d have to be dense as bricks to not understand that. If it ends up all working out at the end of three months, great. If you get a job offer with benefits somewhere else that is appealing before that, great. If they drag this out another several months or just let you go after three months, at least you’ve got your irons in the fire already in terms of finding a position elsewhere.

  74. Alianora*

    #2 – I would definitely go with the chain of command explanation. It’s a little more awkward since you already have been driving her, but I think that’s probably the easiest explanation for her to swallow with no hard feelings. Plus it’s true!

    #3 – When I was searching for a job after college, I had a similar situation. I got an offer via phone call, so I asked them to send me a written offer summarizing the benefits that I could look over. They said sure. I followed up a week later and they said they’d already hired someone else. I think it might have had something to do with the fact that my direct manager wasn’t actually the one to interview me, but I look back now and I think I dodged a bullet.

  75. Fed Up*

    #1 – I hope you are able to put more time and energy into unlearning your rampant fatphobia and less into judging your coworker for being a human being.

    Size discrimination in the workplace is totally legal and makes the lives of fat employees incredibly difficult. Her weight, her coping mechanisms for her possible mental illness, and her time management are none of your concern. Focus on yourself.

    1. Jennifer*

      If she is overworked because of this employee’s frequent absensces, it is her concern. It’s just a management problem, not this employee’s problem.

      1. Fed Up*

        Indeed, OP being overworked is a management problem.

        However, the majority of the issues she writes about in her letter have nothing to with her being overworked and have everything to do with her own biases. She should focus more on the impact she is experiencing and less on the fact that her coworker is fat, isn’t coping with her mental illness in ways that are pleasing to the OP, and (god forbid!) isn’t eating celery 24/7.

  76. Jennifer*

    LW1 reminds me of a similar letter from someone who was burned out because they were having to pick up the slack from someone who had to take time off to take care of their dying mother. Of course, they understood why the employee needed the time off, but that didn’t change the fact that they and other employees were burned out and management needed to bring in a temp or take on more of the workload themselves.

    The LW is stressed and overworked and that’s why she is resentful of her coworker. I think she’d be stressed and overworked no matter the reason for this employee’s absences. She needs to talk to management about her workload, but not about this coworker’s personal issues.

    1. Observer*

      I think she’d be stressed and overworked no matter the reason for this employee’s absences. She needs to talk to management about her workload, but not about this coworker’s personal issues.

      Exactly this. The OP needs better staffing in their workplace, no doubt. That would still be the case if the coworker were the “perfect” ill person. So, OP, disengage with your coworker’s health issues and talk to your management – and union- about the staffing issue.

      And, really, where IS your union? This is the kind of thing they were founded for.

  77. Leela*

    OP #4, former recruiter here, who was both blessed with an amazing company to recruit for and later a terrible one. You can let them know that the jobs are terrible but I guarantee you that they already know. What’s most likely happening here in my experience is that these recruiters are under extreme pressure from management to very cheaply fill a roll with a very good candidate and will get majorly chewed out if they’re not even trying the tactics you’re seeing here. We know it’s dumb, we hate it, but we have to do it if we want to keep those jobs and if the job market is terrible, we stay while looking for something better.

    I was constantly forced, with my manager sitting next to me to make sure I was doing it, to blast “GREAT developer job in YOUR AREA! Message me to learn more!” type of e-mails/LI messages to literally anyone who might even slightly fit, despite the fact that we’d be turning off any quality candidates not only for this job but for any future one either.

    If you reach out to them the most likely outcome will be misery on the part of the already miserable recruiter but it won’t actually change what they’re doing. Now if you can find out who their manager is and message *THEM* you might get somewhere but a lot of those people are people who recruited like crazy in the tech boom and think that their high numbers were due to terrible tactics and not extremely high paying job with little competition at the time, and they absolutely double down on these terrible methods. I got in trouble for refusing to message a candidate’s wife whose private website about her family I found to be like “DOES YOUR HUSBAND WANT A GREAT DEV JOB? CONTACT ME”, so I was forced to do it and obviously it crashed and burned. He told me how terrible the tactic (and the job was) and all I could do was sit there silently and internally go “jesus christ, I know”

  78. Jennifer*

    Re: Carpooling

    “It’s a bit awkward carpooling with you since I’m also your superior. I’ll have to ask you to make other arrangements going forward.”

  79. Manager In Name Only*

    OP#1: You wrote to Allison for help because your coworker’s absences are negatively impacting your work life. IMHO, the best thing you can do for your own benefit is to actively disengage from any source of information about what your coworker does during non-working hours, and instead direct your energies toward improving your own work life. Address the staffing issues with management, and take your PTO days when you need them. Spending your mental energy on resentful feelings toward your coworker is increasing your stress. There is nothing you can do to ‘fix’ any of her issues (whether real or perceived). But you can adjust your response. It’s not easy, but maybe you could work on developing a benign indifference toward her. That may seem to be uncaring, but I would argue that it is not.

    I see 3 main options here. 1) I care about her a lot and really want to help. 2) I resent her absences. And 3) Her problems aren’t my concern. Option 1 – I think that ship has sailed. Option 2 – this is where you are now, and it’s not making work life easier for her or for you. Option 3 – healthier for you than carrying the stress and resentment, more likely to result in workload changes that will help you.

    Just my two cents, I hope things get better for you soon.

  80. NorthwestRainGirl*

    OP #1 – My mother was on the receiving end of the kind of behavior that you describe. For a brief, very stressful period, she had a co-worker tracking her comings and goings. In fact, it was later discovered that her coworker had actually developed an Excel spreadsheet to track my mom. This coworker’s desk was positioned in front of the elevator, so as when my mom entered or exited the elevator, it was noted. If she went to the bathroom, it was noted. If she went down to the cafeteria for a cup of water or coffee, it was noted. My mom was a very seasoned, well respected employee who had put in years of service and had accumulated lots of PTO, but was also a flex employee. The coworker was also at the same level, but relatively new.

    What the coworker didn’t know (and frankly it was none of her business) was the my mom had FMLA and was caring for my grandmother who was in hospice at home for the final three months of her life. If you know anything about these final stages, you know that my mom was getting daily calls from home to address minor and major emergencies. Fortunately, she lived close to work, so was able to pop home for a bit to fix things and then pop back to work. She had worked out a flex plan with her supervisor who was very sympathetic and accommodating. All of which was none of coworker’s business.

    Finally, my mom went to her supervisor to see if she could address what amounted to harassment from coworker. That’s when the elaborate Excel file was discovered and the coworker got it into some trouble. The policing of my mom’s behavior was not in coworkers job description, it was explained, someone was wasting time at work and it wasn’t my mom.

  81. It ain't morning without my tea*

    OP#5: I had a similar situation years ago: Was told by the agency, this is a temp to perm position. Kept getting renewed month after month. Recruiter (who was staff of the place I was temping at) was also under the impression it was temp to perm. Higher up HR person bluntly me told me there was no future permanent position for me when I finally chased him down.

    I was rather upset.

    Now, there was a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that I didn’t know about. So much so that a year later they laid off 50% of staff due to serious financial issues and I dodged a bullet there. But at the time, I didn’t appreciate that the recruiter and her boss were not on the same page at all.

    1. JM in England*

      My experience to date has taught me to be sceptical about these so-called “temp-to-perm” roles. Unless the employer can guarantee it in writing, then I’ll pass!

  82. Richard*

    “You do not want colleagues doing that to you, and people can find a way to do it with an awful lot of illnesses. There’s a lot of speculation in your letter, and I’ve got to think it’s feeding your frustration. The issue here is that your employer isn’t managing its staffing levels appropriately.”

    This is a great breakdown, and I have to wonder how often you have to give it, Alison. I wouldn’t be able to count how many work issues like this I’ve seen, where there’s a legitimate workplace challenge that people have, often through gossip and resentment and speculation, built into an elaborate condemnation of someone’s character and motivations.

  83. pope suburban*

    OP1, I am going through a situation much like yours. There are some different particulars in my case, one of which is that this person has not done the bulk of their job duties for years, to the point where people have quit my job in frustration over it. So I get how bad it can feel, and how the pressure can mount up until you’re just miserable; I’m sorry that you’re dealing with that. The thing that helps me to deal with it is a two-pronged approach. One prong is remembering how many jobs I had that didn’t have decent PTO, or that micromanaged/resented any time you’d take off, and how that impacted my mental and physical health. I don’t want to foster that kind of environment and I put effort into unlearning those toxic patterns so that I stop imposing so much pressure/stress/feelings of worthlessness on myself. I know that’s hard but it’s valuable work, so I try. The other prong is creating the kind of workplace I would like to be in. I would like to be met with understanding and tolerance when I have health issues or a loss in the family. I would like not to have to worry about everything. While I know that there is only so much of that I can control as someone in a non-management position, I have found that this helps set the tone of a department, and makes it easier for colleagues to communicate with me if they need time off. Has it fixed my workload problem wrt that one colleague? No, all I can do there is communicate to management and let them do what they do. But has it taken some self-imposed stress and bitterness off me, and has it helped other colleagues feel better about asking for my help? Yes. And sometimes that’s all one can do.

  84. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    OP #1: I’ve been in your shoes. And for your own sake, let it go.

    It is truly a management issue. And I bet you, management is aware of the workload issue and have other issues to tackle first…or, just don’t want to deal with it.

    I was also frustrated and struggled with empathy and sympathy and the dwindling of both (sick person was also a sympathy junkie) and had to remind myself that it was never about me, it was never my place to track her sick days or hours that were not made up (I almost started to do it and caught myself and gave myself a mental slap) and the situation reflected poorly on the director. (And unfortunately, on the employee as she was started to be seen as unreliable.)

    (I happily changed departments later where the manager kept a closer eye on workload).

  85. Goya de la Mancha*

    OP 1: Been there, I get it. Unfortunately as others have said, this is a management issue not your co-worker. I’m thinking you know this, it’s just easier to place blame on the co-worker if management can’t/won’t do anything about it.

    Since you state that you are unionized. I would check with your local rep on some things. I’ve seen it negotiated where if you are filling in for someone more then X number of days, you may be eligible for their pay rate. Now obviously this is only a perk if you are on a lower pay rate then your co-worker, but you didn’t state your level in the hierarchy. There may be some other things in your contract that are negotiated though, so it’s worth shooting your rep an email.

  86. Happy Pineapple*

    LW #4, definitely don’t reply to those recruiters. I used to use a LinkedIn Recruiter profile for a previous job, and learned that recruiters have to pay for every message sent to potential candidates, BUT they are reimbursed if their message is answered. It’s supposed to encourage more targeted messages rather than mass mailing. By not replying at all/declining their message, you are making a statement not only to them but to their bottom line. Don’t give their money back for bombarding you with crappy jobs!

    1. x*

      Especially when you consider the fact that fat stigma has people believing that fatness is a physical marker of stupidity, lack of control and discipline, laziness, etc. OP is using her coworker’s weight (whether intentionally or not) to try to *prove* how greedy/lazy/morally bankrupt she is as a coworker instead of focusing on the issues that are actually impacting her life. It’s very gross.

  87. anon here*

    OP 1 – I worked with someone whose life fell apart once. Like, things were normal and fine and then all of a sudden they weren’t (there was an Amber Alert involved at one point; things don’t go much lower than that). Everyone cut her a LOT of slack because when she was in she was great, but when things started to slide she would leave and be gone for hours at a time. she couldn’t hold it all together. At first people were ok with covering. And then people became resentful. Not because we weren’t empathetic, because we were. But at some point there’s a tipping point where someone has to say, “listen, something’s gotta give here. we can’t keep working like this.” And luckily this coworker recognized this and found another job that could give her different flexibility to deal with everything. Everyone knew that she wasn’t falling apart AT us, but it was hard to show up day after day and wonder where she was or if she’d be there and if she was, if she would be functional (often she wasn’t).

    All this to say – OP, do your best to shelf your judgment. Go to management and explain clearly and without bias that there are problems and that they need to be fixed. Make a list so you can explain it without resorting to name-calling or bashing or anything like that.

  88. Professional Straphanger*

    OP #4: Don’t waste your time, everyone gets these spam blasts. Example: I recently got one for a midnight-shift entry-level lab tech job that, “based on [my] qualifications, [I’d] be perfect for!”
    I have a physical science doctorate, 20 years of experience, patents, publications, and a salary that recognizes all of those and other achievements. Laugh, delete, move on.

  89. Anon But Probably Known*

    OP1, if you make it this far:

    No judgement on the judgement (you’ve got a lot of that above). You sound fed-up and frustrated, and I think it’s at the whole situation. Your coworker is not being sick AT you, and she’s exposing a severe problem at the job–that your management isn’t doing a darn thing about overworking you guys. Prioritize duties and then push back as a group and ask them what balls would they like dropped, as this is not a sustainable situation.

    If it’s like this now, I guarantee you someone else is looking for a job. When they leave you’ll be down 1 person and still have the same situation with less help.

    I’m going to say you don’t have to have compassion–as long as you keep your mouth shut about your judgemental thoughts and are polite and professional that’s the main goal.

    Curious–do you think your management knows how your team is compensating for this employee? Maybe they haven’t handled it because they haven’t seen the problem. No one cares about the workload until things stop getting done.

  90. Going Anon*

    Wow – the first letter sounds very jerk-ish to me. This is definitely a management issue. My company has sort of a similar issue – we get an allocated amount of paid days off we are allowed to use, but we as a team are expected to meet the same deadlines. It’s managable if
    The time off we take is vacation, because we can plan for that. I don’t want to know what will happen when someone needs an actual sick day.

  91. Former Employee*

    A couple of things that seem to be missed in the comments in terms of OP #1.

    1. “she often talks about staying up late night on Twitter and downing entire boxes of cookies at 3 am…” The OP isn’t following her co-worker on Twitter. The co-worker is talking about herself doing this on a regular basis.

    2. This doesn’t appear to be a business since the OP refers to it as an “institution”. I don’t know anyone who uses “institution” when referring to their employer if it is a business, company or corporation. As some have speculated, they may rely on grants or other types of funding that makes it impossible for management to hire other people.

    While the OP does speculate when she probably shouldn’t, it also appears as if the co-worker is dropping breadcrumbs that have led OP to do so. I, too, would be quite annoyed if I had a co-worker who would talk about being up at 3 am on social media on a regular basis and then couldn’t manage to make it into the office.

    It would be completely different if the co-worker indicated that they had a medical problem and had trouble sleeping so they ended up on Twitter, saying that there wasn’t anything else they could think of to do at 3 am.

    The co-worker may or may not have a medical problem or she may be part of a protected class or because the institution is government related or relies on public funding/grants and the powers that be think that it would look bad if they let her go for whatever reason.

  92. FormerProducer*

    LW #1, your fatphobia is ugly and not well-hidden. I bet that if a thin coworker was causing the same issues — calling out and putting more work on you — you wouldn’t think to mention their weight.

    You can be frustrated about how your work life is affected without resorting to “AND she’s fat!” as an excuse.

  93. OhBehave*

    OP 1
    Frustration on top of frustration here.
    You can bet your coworker feels the non-verbal vibes you are projecting. I can feel all the ugliness (depression, obesity, etc.) Kids going off to college can be hard on parents. Add the fact that mom is prone to depression makes it much worse. I personally miss my kids and deal with depression. Depression can lead to insomnia or intense fatigue. Overeating too. I truly hope she is under a doctor’s care. Thank God you don’t have these health issues and coworkers to manage.
    If you and your coworkers talk badly about her when she’s gone, STOP IT! This is fueling your derision towards her.
    If your managers aren’t helping in the managing of workloads, you need to ask about prioritization.
    A little empathy goes a long way. Try it.

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