do I have to go to my boss’s son’s wedding, I manage a habitual phone checker, and more

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

1. Do I have to go to my boss’s son’s wedding?

My boss’s son (who is my coworker) is getting married next year. I hate weddings, am not particularly fond of this coworker, and am a pretty shy person and a large wedding where I won’t know many people sounds terrible to me. Our office is very close knit (less than a dozen employees who have worked for our boss for, on average, several decades) so it WILL be noticed and commented on the weeks leading up to the wedding and post wedding if I don’t go. Should I suck it up and go anyway?

Nah. This isn’t like attending one lunch for someone — weddings often mean giving up an entire weekend day, or at least many hours. Come up with a conflict that allows you to say something like, “I wish I could, but my family reunion is that weekend and I’d never hear the end of it if I missed it.”

If you feel guilty about that, tell yourself that your boss’s son deserves to be surrounded by people who like him on his wedding day and who are genuinely happy to be there (rather than attending as a work obligation)! It’s more than okay for you to politely bow out with a date conflict and just send a nice card.

2. Should I include my photo in my email signature?

Is it unprofessional to include a photo in your email signature? I used to think it was, but now I’m feeling like it is needed. As my career has matured, I am now working with people all over country via email, and then meeting them in person at conventions and annual meetings. Often, I feel like people are surprised by my age (I’m younger than most at my level in my industry), and are not able too match my name with my face. Is this unprofessional? I see a small portion of my contacts doing this, but it is definitely not the majority. I would, of course, use my professional headshot. What is your take?

If you’re the only one in your company doing it, it’s probably going to come across a little strangely (assuming you’d be using it internally as well). If other people there do it, then sure, you’re fine.

I was apparently staunchly opposed to this when I answered a letter about it in 2011 and again in 2014. So either I have mellowed as I aged or it’s common enough now that it no longer raises my hackles. It’s a thing people do now! So be it, as long as you’re not the only one in your company doing it.

3. I manage a habitual phone checker

One of the people I supervise is a good, solid employee. He does his work on time and to deadline, juggles multiple projects, and supervises some temporary workers. I have no complaints! However, I have noticed multiple times that he has a terrible habit of being on his phone during larger presentations and trainings (say, more than 40-50 people, sometimes more like 80-100, not like a staff meeting). On both recent occasions I clocked him looking down at his phone, scrolling, or reading on his phone more than half of the time. The most recent time, I even checked my watch (it was bugging me a bit, and I recognize there’s a feeling of annoyance that might be clouding my judgment, which is partly why I’m so torn about saying something) and it was more than half the time. And this was in a fairly small room, about 30 people in total, in the front and center. (And just to note, he in no way has responsibilities that are vast or time-sensitive enough to not be able to take an hour or two to step away from their phone.)

Doing this in no way is impacting his work. But I personally think it’s rude and it’s not how I personally want to conduct myself at work. For people who might notice it, it looks bad and reflects badly on him. I’m not sure if it reflects badly on our team as a whole.

I am his supervisor but I don’t really take on much in way of “mentoring” for him. (I would consider this conversation to be more of a mentoring conversation than a work performance conversation, because it’s absolutely not.) But our office is pretty conservative, and I know that if one of my supervisors or the big boss noticed, they would not be pleased. Finally, I think this person is very interested in advancing in his career, so I think there might be a way to frame it as, this might make you look bad and is easy to avoid. So really, I don’t know if I should say something (and if so, what?) or keep my mouth shut and know that this adult human is making choices at work but outside of his work performance so it’s not anything I need to stick my nose into. What should I do?

Say something.

You’re making too much of the distinction between managing and mentoring. Managing well means you’ll need to have conversations with people beyond just their work product — you’ll need to talk to them at times about impressions they’re giving off or their relationships with others and so forth. While mentors might do that too, it’s also part of managing. So this is very much in your purview, and in fact I’d argue you have an obligation as his manager to let him know when he’s repeatedly doing something that will affect how he’s seen by others. (Frankly, even if that weren’t the concern, you’d also have standing to just tell him you want him paying attention in these meetings, since that’s why he’s there.)

4. My employee plans time off at the last minute, and I’m worried I’m taking all the good dates

I’m a reasonably new middle manager with three direct reports, one who is experienced and two who are new. We have very generous PTO at our company and I am responsible for approving vacation requests for our team. We’re not supposed to deny vacation requests unless there is an operational requirement that trumps the PTO. On our team, the way this works out is that, the experienced employee and myself need to avoid overlapping our time off, in order to provide support and mentorship to our new hires.

I make several trips to my home country each year. Because of this, I plan my vacation many months ahead to take advantage of flight deals and make plans with family and friends. My experienced employee is not a planner. She prefers to decide at the very last minute and requests vacation time accordingly. I have changed plans twice since July (fortunately prior to booking flights) to accommodate her requests. After one particularly last-minute request for time off, I told her directly that she needs to get better at planning ahead, but she just laughed and said that’s not how she rolls.

I feel like it is my responsibility to ensure my staff have the opportunity to use all of the vacation they are entitled to, and to pick up the slack when needed to support my team. However, since I plan so much further ahead, if I request my vacation ahead of this staff member, she will have to plan her vacation around my already approved time off. She also struggles to use up her vacation days more than I do, and I can see this becoming even more of an issue if I request first (vacation is use it or lose it and is not paid out at year end). If I don’t, I risk not being able to take the trips I want to take, or having to pay double the price I could be paying. Do you have any suggestions on how to make this work?

Ask her if she minds! Say something like, “I tend to book my vacation many months ahead, and I know you prefer to plan closer to when you’d like to be off. I’m concerned that ends up giving me first dibs on dates and you’re stuck working around my time off. Does that concern you too, or does it not bother you? Would you like me to give you a heads-up about the dates I’m planning before I book them so you have a chance to tell me if it conflicts with your own plans?” That way you’re at least giving her the opportunity to speak up. If she chooses not to after you’ve explicitly given her the chance, then I don’t think you need to worry about it. She’ll know the trade-off for planning last-minute is that you might have gotten there first, and she’ll know that you tried to mitigate that for her.

If you do this, you shouldn’t feel you need to change your plans to accommodate her last-minute requests (unless that’s very easy to do). And it should help if there’s a central place where your team can see each other’s scheduled time off, which you can ask her to consult when planning her own.

It’s also reasonable to sit down with her in, say, August and say, “You’ve got three weeks of vacation to use this year and nothing on the calendar, so let’s figure out good times for you to take it so you don’t lose it at the end of the year.”

5. Reviews are being delayed — which means so are raises

I’m in SAAS sales in the Silicon Valley. Year-end reviews are being pushed out as we just “don’t have time for them.” This is the third year in a row. There is no back pay for reviews being pushed out once they do happen. Am I wrong in being a bit annoyed at this, as I feel I am missing income potential as a high performer hoping to receive a raise?

You can still ask for a raise now, rather than waiting for your review to happen! And if your manager tells you to hold the request until review time, you can say, “Since reviews are getting so delayed and we haven’t done back pay with raises from delayed reviews in the past, I’d like to be able to make my case now.”

{ 363 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A note about comments on the habitual phone checker:

    * The letter writer says he doesn’t have the kind of job where he’d need to be checking email in the meeting, and that in her office it looks bad to people who notice. We should take her word for that.

    * It’s fine to point out that some people focus better in meetings when they have something to look at (other than the speaker). But it’s also true that some people play on their phones in meetings because they’re bored and just feel like it. Since we don’t know which is true here, I’d ask that responses not assume it’s definitely one or the other.

  2. in a fog*

    OP #3, is it at all possible that he’s checking work email or taking notes (at least some of the time)? That wouldn’t have flown at my last job, but it happens all the time in department meetings at my new job and totally caught me off guard when I started.

    OP #4, don’t change your vacation for this person!! Does she know that you changed your plans to accommodate hers?

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Hard agree re #4 – LW has given her ample opportunity to choose dates earlier if she wants to, but she wants to be spontaneous. Thing about being spontaneous is that you need to fit around fixed points, and LW’s bookings are fixed points.

      If LW booked all the plum dates (e.g. the whole of July AND all their shared religious holiday dates) before allowing anyone else to make requests, that would be different. But I think LW is doing whatever they can to be fair to their team, and if coworker misses out on dates she might have liked then that’s the natural consequence of leaving it until the last minute. It might be worthwhile LW spelling that out explicitly, though, so coworker understands that LW will not reschedule their own vacation for anything less than truly exceptional circumstances.

      1. Washi*

        I’m just coming out of wedding season, and the only thing I wonder is if the OP is booking even farther ahead than someone would know about a wedding of a close friend/relative. That’s the only thing that would annoy me, if OP booked vacations 10+ months out, when I couldn’t possibly know about conflicts. But if it’s just 3-6 months, the coworker probably knows about any big family events by that time. She can still be spontaneous, there will just be a few weeks where she’s known (for a while!) that she will need to be at work.

        1. Antilles*

          That’s the only thing that would annoy me, if OP booked vacations 10+ months out, when I couldn’t possibly know about conflicts.
          OP mentions using her vacation for international travel plans back to the home country, so booking many months out seems perfectly defensible given the hassles and expense involved with international travel.
          That said, the compromise is to be flexible for the rest of your vacations. Sure, your annual trip back to (County) gets scheduled well in advance and it’s understandable why…but then schedule your quick weekend trips or staycations or etc on much shorter notice so that co-worker can get the opportunity to snag those dates if she wants.

          1. Door Guy*

            Maybe it’s just me, but in a first come first served time off, if you put it in first, then you put it in first and shouldn’t need to change your plans because someone else is procrastinating/”spontaneous”. Maybe a few missed weekends or trips will get the coworker to plan ahead a bit more. Depending on what the leave is for on both ends, your manager might even approve both of you off depending on predicted work loads if there is only a small overlap.

            Obviously this is not a one size fits all policy, and you still have to work with them as colleagues when you’re not on PTO, so temper as you see fit, but this sounds like large plans being made and then modified at the whims of someone else. If they have a wedding or something large or emergency that they just got the date, work with them as best you can, but by rearranging in the past, you are teaching your coworker that they can dictate your plans.

            As long as OP#4 isn’t putting in a years worth of PTO on January 2nd (I’ve worked with coworkers like that. The nicest of them would wait 1 week before turning in a stack of requests.) and there is a chance for coworker to ask for the dates off, then the early bird got the worm.

            In the end, it is your leave, OP#4, and you state that you use it or lose it, so don’t risk losing out on YOUR benefits because of others. Even if you didn’t have international travel and were just taking time off to sit at home and stare at the ceiling fan, it is still your time and you earned that time off to use as you see fit when you see fit as long as there are no WORK schedule conflicts. Coworker’s desire to go out does not meet that criteria.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        While I am not a spontaneous person, the other person could be coordinating with one–e.g. a spouse or grown child whose work goes in somewhat unpredictable wildly busy and quieter spurts. Vacations are planned once it looks like the Vicuna Teapots thing is finally winding up, 6 weeks past the initial alleged drop-dead date. So LW’s other manager would appreciate her own job being flexible about time off and not needing to request unmoving vacation dates months out.

        Can she not see the LW’s scheduled vacation times when tentatively laying out her time off? The LW rearranging her plans to accommodate seems like more than a single “Hey, my niece’s wedding is the first week of June, can I have that off?” asked in April.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          As LW reports it, it’s all about co-worker wanting to be spontaneous and no external forces are mentioned.

          Given that in some jobs (e.g. aviation, healthcare) you can be obliged to request leave a year in advance, I don’t think LW is being unreasonable.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            If she’s in a job where she doesn’t have to request her timeoff a year in advance, the existence of jobs where that’s needed isn’t a reason that she should start.

            What’s odd to me is OP moving her own vacation time in response to the requests, when there’s no indication the other manager expects this.

        2. OP4*

          OP4 here.

          These are all fair questions, and part of my motivation of asking the question is to help me figure out what is a reasonable amount of time in advance to make my own requests to balance with a report who has a completely different way of planning vacation than I do. FWIW neither of our partners have unpredictable schedules that we’re coordinating with.

          One of the examples when I changed my schedule was we both need to travel internationally for work this month, which we found out early in the summer. And we both wanted PTO around the work trip, which is allowable under company policy. Two separate weeks were offered and we each had to pick one. I had an event in town during one of the weeks and asked Jane if she would mind traveling that week instead of me. For work related reasons, she said she was not comfortable with going that week, and I gave up my ticket to the event as the travel is mandatory and one of us needed to go that week.

          As the dates worked out we both wanted PTO at the same time. Jane initially couldn’t decide if she wanted 1 week or 2 weeks. We brainstormed that maybe she could split the PTO to before and after the work travel, but she wasn’t willing to because she thought she wanted to do a longer trip. Before we could resolve things, life threw a crisis at her and it looked like she wouldn’t be able to travel at all, for work or otherwise. My manager approved my PTO request for what had originally been our overlapping dates. Jane’s life calmed down and she requested PTO for the time I had already had approved. Since the crisis in her life had been resolved, I adjusted my plans so that she could have that time.

          I totally get that life happens and I have no issue with changing my plans after her crisis was resolved. The second part of the story was out of anyone’s control, and being flexible where I can is important to me. But it’s the first part that I’m not sure if I handled correctly. I won’t pretend it doesn’t stress me out to watch flight prices rising and not be able to book something 3-6 months out because Jane can’t decide what she wants. With Christmas approaching, and my second report Sarah having already booked non-refundable tickets for Christmas in August, I want to figure out a better way of doing this for both Christmas and for next year.

          1. IvyGirl*

            You are being way too flexible, especially for your direct report. You can be accommodating, but this is extreme.

            1. Washi*

              I agree. I think you’d be perfectly within your rights to ask Jane to make a decision by X date (where X is a time that will not stress you out or cost you money.)

              1. Antilles*

                In fact, many roles which require employee coverage have this as a formal policy – vacations longer than a couple days need to be requested 3 months or whatever in advance. With just a couple employees, you probably don’t need to go to that level of formality, but it’s absolutely fair to sit down with her and set this boundary.

              2. Quinalla*

                Agreed, give her the opportunity before booking since you need to coordinate, but you shouldn’t have to suck up way more expensive flights because she can’t make up her mind. And your flexibility for things outside of her control was just right, so that combined with giving her a heads up and deadline to make a decision should allay any further worries you have.

            2. Mama Bear*

              Agreed. If she knows that you plan family travel annually, then as you are booking give your team a head’s up in case they were thinking of the same dates. Then give them a deadline by which to respond and after that book your tickets and let them figure out their own travel around it. It sounds like it’s getting to the point where your life (and wallet) is being dictated by someone else’s lack of planning. If this employee simply doesn’t use the time offered, then that is their choice. It feels like you care more about Jane’s time than Jane does. The one where you gave up event tickets because she had a work-related conflict seems more reasonable. That was work, not leisure.

          2. Veronica*

            Jane needs to understand she can’t have both spontaneity and her pick of vacation dates.
            You are being very kind and accommodating to her, but you also deserve to plan your vacations as you wish.
            If she wants to put off planning and be spontaneous, she’ll have to take whatever dates are available. If she gets another job one day that’s how it will be. That’s how most employers would handle it.
            You shouldn’t have to be always changing your plans and losing money to accommodate her. Post your vacation dates and indicate when you’ve already bought tickets, and your staff should work around that to plan theirs, unless there’s an emergency or urgent situation.

            1. Door Guy*

              You don’t even need to give them the info about your tickets, or reservations, or what have you. Because honestly, you can use your personal leave for anything you want and no one SHOULD judge you (they will because that is how some people are, but you can’t control other people. I took a week off just to regroup and unwind before our busy season started and a few of my direct reports got upset that I was staying home instead of going on a trip).

              Obviously, it’s standoffish not to share your plans, but they don’t have any need to know exactly when you are buying the tickets, or when you are making the hotel reservation, or anything else. You can definitely let them know that you are going to your home country, or Mexico, or Vegas, or anywhere else, but it’s none of their business on the specifics of arranging that trip.

          3. Door Guy*

            Agreeing with the others, you are being way too flexible. You are losing money (the event ticket price, the airfare prices rising) because of them. 3-6 months, especially for international travel, is not extreme in the slightest. I’ve worked with plenty of coworkers who have put in their international travel right away in the new year (not their entire PTO allocation, but their big trip(s)) so they could get everything situated with the peace of mind that it was covered.

            I’ve always gone by the rule of thumb of “as soon as you know the actual dates” because that is a PLAN. “I’m thinking that maybe I want to take 1 or maybe 2 weeks in a few months” is not a plan, it’s an idea. Don’t let other peoples’ ideas dictate your plans. There is no shame in telling someone going “I think I want to take vacation in September” that you have already booked up September 9-17 because you have a vacation plan.

            If she can’t decide, then you get to make the decision for her. Those dates are no longer available as you are using them, and she can pick from what is left. As long as this coworker had the same opportunity to put in time off 3 months, or 6 months, or whatever, in advance, then you simply beat her to the punch.

            As for the life crisis, life happens and plans have to change or get modified as issues arise. You can’t put your own plans on hold because of someone else’s issues. What if she hadn’t gotten things calmed down enough to go on that trip?

            In the end, you are responsible for you. Make your plans, and if she can’t make up her mind, or something comes up, or she has a life crisis, or she wants to be spontaneous, then that is her issue, not yours. What do you gain by giving up your own personal events, your own vacations, your own money by bending over backwards for this coworker?

          4. Mediamaven*

            There no such thing as planning time off to far in advance. Everyone benefits from advance notice.

              1. Wired Wolf*

                I put my holiday plans in sometime in July (my family likes to plan holidays early), and made sure to take a week that I knew was a slow period (between Christmas and New Years; I’ve done this for 3 years with no quibbles). My manager still has not made a decision, citing that he needs to see who else wants that week off…so far that delay is costing me (had I booked my tickets when I put in the request it would have cost me $80 RT, now the prices are only going up and I missed the decent sales). Per policy, PTO requests go by seniority then staffing needs. Yeah our team is small, but it shouldn’t take 3+ months to figure things out.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Just as there are coverage based jobs, like hospitals, where you are expected to put in your time off way in advance, there are surge and slump jobs where you are expected to be available when everything is hitting the fan. Where everyone knows the “everything in by April 2nd and then it’s done” in the initial schedule is mythical, so planning your vacation for the second week of April is going to be a mess.

              I think OP is fine to move her not-yet-booked time-off only very rarely, for the true one-off accommodation.

          5. Glitsy Gus*

            I think it was really kind of you to take her crisis into consideration and be flexible in that situation. That said, 6 months is totally acceptable notice, especially for international travel and double especially if you give her the heads up before you put in for the time.

            That said, I have one caveat. If you’re requesting the week of Fourth of July and the week of Thanksgiving AND the week in between Christmas and New Years 6 months in advance, that is a bit much. If we’re talking about a random week in August, or one or two holiday adjacent times (though I would say don’t claim both Thanksgiving and Christmas)? Well, then Direct Report can work around that if they want to be spontaneous, that’s the trade off of having a plan-free life.

            We have someone on our team right now that books all the holiday-adjacent time super early and it basically means the entire rest of our team needs to barter with each other for all the holidays since we can only have two people on PTO at the same time and still have coverage. Our manager does nothing to mitigate this so we’re just stuck. With you being the manager you need to be aware of that, not just in a ‘she makes plans later’ way but in a ‘don’t abuse your power’ way since you are the one who gets to approve and deny. It doesn’t sound like this is what you’re doing, but it couldn’t hurt to check your scheduling to make sure the holiday options are relatively equitable, even if Direct Report doesn’t put in for a holiday right away.

  3. JustAThought*

    1. I would make absolutely sure he’s not doing work in these meetings on his phone. So many meetings are merely timesucks. Perhaps raise it as a question to him first as you’ve noticed this going on and ask whether it’s a urgent as he makes it it seem.

    2. You seem to want to walk a high wire between being a supervisor and just standing on sideline for things you dont want to deal with. You are a supervisor and questions lead directly back to you. Act accordingly. How do you think it would look to those above you if your position was, “I could have addressed this, but it felt more like mentoring versus managing, so I didn’t confront a problem when I saw i?”

    1. Quill*

      Another thing I thought of: some people use doodling to actually allow them to pay attention in meetings / class where they otherwise aren’t required to participate often, and they’d otherwise space out. I wonder if phone tetris on silent serves the same visual stimulus = being able to concentrate purpose for this employee?

      1. Door Guy*

        I’m the same, especially back before I talked with my doctor about attention issues. My notes were always full of doodles and random marks because it did help me focus on what was actually going on around me.

        I got absolutely lam-blasted in a college group project by the member with super super tidy neat tight notes after we sat in an a council meeting because of how “disrespectful” it was to just sit and doodle the entire meeting, even though I still had decent notes. (I had other issues with that member and that group project in general, but that was definitely a point she brought up more than once.)

      2. Glitsy Gus*

        I’m that same way, though because I know I do this I do make a point of sitting off to the side and towards the back whenever possible. It is really distracting both to those in the room and to the person speaking to see someone front and center doing something that makes it look like they aren’t paying attention.

        Talk to him, if he says he needs to futz with things to pay attention, suggest he move out of the direct field of view and if possible doodle on a pad (which reads as note taking) or do something else other than scrolling his phone if possible, because the phone makes it look like he’s bored and not paying attention. Let him know it’s very noticeable and the optics on that aren’t great.

      1. Destiny*

        It’s the same rules for everyone in my meetings – unless the staff have prior permission from me to have their mobile on them, no one can have a mobile on them. By having this rule staff are forced to communicate with me why they need it and we all know where everyone is coming from. It even may open a line of comms you may not have thought about and can help them with – they are waiting for a call about their kid’s wellbeing – I can then work with them to minimise these stresses.
        As to play games on the mobile – this would not be allowed unless I had medical evidence they need this to concentrate or reduce stress or anxiety.

  4. Jeanne*

    # 3. I used to work with and then manage a person who checked his phone all the time, or played games on it, or whatever, but, if he was asked a question or had more information, he was always aware of what was being discussed and where the conversation was at. I asked him about it. He told me he is ADHD and that playing the games or scrolling through his phone allowed him to concentrate and pay attention better. At one Very Important Meeting he did not get his phone out (he knew how it looked) and he was all over the place. I much preferred his work when he played with his phone!!
    #4. I think it will be very important that you don’t move your holidays around to accommodate a staff member who won’t / can’t plan ahead. Until their actions have an impact on them, they will see no reason to change their behaviour.

    1. Sara M*

      ADHD here. I have this problem. If I play with my phone, I look rude. If I don’t, I check out mentally.

      I’ve partially solved this problem with a fidget bracelet.

          1. juliebulie*

            Oh wow, I didn’t realize I was the only one this happened to. I can read or I can listen, so don’t show me words if you want me to listen.

          2. what?*

            Mine too! I tell family they have to actively get my attention if I am reading something and they want to talk to me. Otherwise they start talking and think I’m being rude for not hearing them. But I literally do not hear that they are talking to me at all.

            1. Quill*

              I suspect in my case it’s related to hyperlexia – my brain prioritizes written words so much that according to my mom, I could read right through a tornado.

      1. Door Guy*

        I play with pens. Not clicking them, but like twisting them or unscrewing the cap, or what have you. I’ve gotten called out a few times on it being disrespectful but usually it’s not an issue as it’s just keeping my hands busy and not making any noise.

        1. juliebulie*

          You ever get one of those four-way pens, take out all the refills and then put them back in the wrong places? It’s minutes of fun, I tell you! (All this to say yeah, I do that too. I’m realizing now that I’m not as unique a fidgeter as I thought I was.)

    2. Sleve McDichael*

      #3 In my early working days I was once guilty of crocheting in a training session so that I could pay attention. For the first half of the day the trainer kept directing questions at me and was repeatedly bemused by my detailed and well thought-out answers (it was a boring session and nobody else was volunteering much in the way of responses). He confronted me at lunch and after I explained what was going on, he said it was fine. I think/hope he thought it was funny.

      I would never do that now of course. Something like a small fidget cube or pretending to take notes in a book or on a tablet might be a solution with better optics for this guy if he needs it. I’ve been known to resort to blue tack in a surprise meeting!

      1. Gaia*

        I’m always so envious of people who can use these tactics. I need conflicting stimulus to focus. So if I’m trying to absorb a training or a lecture, a fidget spinner or faux-notes won’t work for me. I need to be reading something or counting cars in the parking lot or mentally sorting out my budget.

        It used to drive one of my history professors crazy. He was never convinced I was actually taking in his (sincerely fascinating) lessons even after I could answer his questions on the spot.

        I couldn’t really explain it, it is just how my mind works.

        1. Sleve McDichael*

          Somewhat like you, I also do better with conflicting stimulus. Hence the crochet! When I pretend to take notes, I’m usually actually drawing something if the notes are hidden, or writing a story in code if people can see. Perhaps you and the phone checker could learn shorthand or invent your own style to secretly do your budgeting in meetings? Fidgeting isn’t great for me, but modelling things in blue tack worked pretty well.

          OP#3, please take note that different people need different stimuli and your phone checker might need to try a few different approaches before he finds a workable replacement.

          1. Just Play A Doctor On TV*

            Ah, I love these comments! I’ve always thought this was a personal failing I had. When I was very junior, I’d print crosswords and tape them into a work notebook, then hold it such a way that people couldn’t see.

          2. Green great dragon*

            One of the great advantages of home working is that I can do housework during work presentations. I concentrate So Much Better. (I can’t combine two things that both need thought, but housework’s the perfect level of distraction for me. And otherwise, I hate housework.)

          3. Quill*

            I made some of my best ciphers in the back of my history and english notebooks…

            Actually this is probably why I had trouble in advanced math, you have to both look at and listen to the teacher to get the content!

    3. snowglobe*

      I know this is horribly old-fashioned, but – pad of paper, pen, doodle away. Writing something on paper looks better than scrolling away on a phone.

      1. Marissa*

        I agree with this. There have also been studies that people retain information better with pen and paper than with laptops or phones if he is actually taking notes. For both optics and information retention, I think pen and paper are the way to go.

        1. boo bot*

          I’m curious how recent those studies are. I think it’s likely to be at least slightly distracting to take notes with an unfamiliar method, so I can see this being true when pen and paper were the most common way to do it, but at this point it’s way, way less distracting for me to type than to write by hand, partly just because it’s much faster. I can type fast enough to take notes while keeping up with a conversation, but if I’m using a pen, by the time I write one thing down, I’ve missed the next.

          This might just be me, though – I’ve never found a lot of benefit in taking handwritten notes anyway: either I need to take down something close to a transcript (which I can do typing and definitely not by hand) or I retain more not taking notes at all.

          1. Elitist Semicolon*

            Learning/retention is such an active area of research that studies examining handwritten vs. digital note-taking come out nearly yearly (I think the Chronicle of Higher Ed commented on one earlier this summer). The conclusions have been consistent even as mobile technologies become more common and better equipped for note-taking. That said, not everyone shares the same experience – and individuals’ experience can vary even within their own practices – but on average, handwritten notes produce better retentation than digital.

          2. Marissa*

            I don’t have all of them top of mind, but one in particular I remember is “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking” by Mueller and Oppenheimer from 2014. I don’t want to get too far afield from the initial question, but it is an interesting study. I just think for the suggestions that the employee may be taking notes, even if that were the case there are better options in terms of being engaged in the meeting, respectful to the speaker, and getting the information down that he needs.

      2. Jadelyn*

        Sure, but doodling isn’t always an effective fidget. I’ll use it as a fallback when I have no other option and I need to be doing *something* idle or else my brain is going to melt and dribble out of my ears, but it’s just not the right kind of stimulus for me. I need interactivity and/or tactile feedback of some form – whether it’s a fidget spinner where my movement causes movement in response (and there’s a tactile component to the vibrations caused by the spinning and shifting weight), or on my phone where touching something on screen causes something else to happen, or molding putty where it’s all tactile – and doodling really doesn’t provide much of either of those. Also I’m not very artistic so my doodling looks terrible and it just frustrates me.

        I just got a flippy-chain fidget the other day and I’m in love. I don’t usually take spinners/cubes/putty to meetings with me since they’re all more noticeable and potentially distracting, and I’m aware of the optics of phone usage so I try to avoid that, so this flippy-chain fidget is the first thing I’ve been able to actively use in a meeting environment and it’s so good.

    4. Mazzy*

      I had this conversation with an employee. We came to a sort of compromise. He wouldn’t go cold turkey because there is no reason to, but I wanted her to think up a few things she’s be interested in learning about in her job area, and also to watch some videos online for mastering skills or self motivation or how to brain learns. I’m paraphrasing, but I watched an interesting one that said the brain stores long term memories and learns better without constant interruptions, and I thought that was relevant to her. We also had a slightly personal conversation about how to handle friends and family annoying you all of the time for completely non essential things. And we did discuss optics, not to me, but to upper management. I told her how it took me six months to get her position approved because of the workload so it would make us all look more credible if she was wasn’t on her phone in front of people so much.

      I think this talk is worth having. I work in a young office and most of the people started working in corporate jobs in this decade and are used to the modern lax office atmosphere so I’m learning that some people never worked somewhere where they discussed phone use or coming in on time or having a sense of urgency on projects even if you don’t have a mean boss breathing down your neck. So part of coaching employees is getting them to instill that sense of urgency in themselves and to self monitor that behavior, because the business won’t survive long if everyone is talking full advantage of our flexibility and coming in late and reading articles on their phones all day and not worrying about beating the competition or serving our customers.

      Despite what people say on the internet about phone use etc. not being a big deal it can be. I’ve seen people come in from competitors without flexible environments and they absolutely knock it out of the park. We can’t be going to two hour lunches and reading entire subreddits at our desk when our competition works like that!

    5. Marie*

      Another fellow ADHD-er here! My boss and I solved this issue by giving me a job during meetings — I take the meeting minutes now. I also poke at my email and reorganize my desktop and mess with my to-do list and check the weather, etc., but since it’s been communicated that I have my laptop out because I’m Officially Doing Something, that solves the optics problem.

  5. IsbenTakesTea*

    OP #2: You might also consider that many email clients block incoming images, or translate inset images to attachments. I’ve found myself getting annoyed with correspondents who keep their logos in their signatures, as it makes filtering their emails to find actual attachments difficult.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Yes, it can seriously mess with formatting at the recipient’s end.

      If you do include a photo, for heaven’s sake make sure it’s a genuine thumbnail and not a full vector image (etc). I remember someone crashing an entire mail server for hours by sending out to the entire group an introductory email with their headshot embedded – annoying enough in one email, but when sent to a thousand addresses…

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Probably 2007? The email was HUGE and the mailing list very, very long. Not NHS long, but long enough to clog the mail server all afternoon.

          1. pleaset*

            The email being HUGE points out the problem of the email being huge (the sender not knowing how to downsize the image appropriately), and not all attachments or embedded images being bad.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              … which is why I was talking about using a true thumbnail (say 250KB) instead of a full image file (multiple MB). The email was HUGE because the image file was huge, though the sender had squeezed the frame of the displayed image to appear small on screen.

        2. Quill*

          Early 00’s? You probably couldn’t have *done* it pre ’00, but I remember that loading an image on a bad connection in even ’06 could be the sort of thing that you waited out by getting up and making yourself a sandwich and a cup of tea.

          … heck, downloading DLC for games I’d sit there and read a book, shaking the mouse every time I turned a page so the computer didn’t go to sleep and time out or cancel my download.

          1. Junior Assistant Peon*

            My college still used a really primitive VAX email system in the late 90s. If someone sent me an attached image, I would have to hit enter through about 100 pages of ASCII gibberish in order to get to the next email!

    2. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yup – keep your signatures frill-free. Also, if I want to know what you look like, I’ll check linkedin, or your company website. I don’t need it in an email.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        Exactly this. I’m more concerned with whether you pay your invoices on time than what you look like. The workplace isn’t a fashion show.

    3. Lora*

      Yes, this. I do not need your logo, your slogan, your personal inspiration of the day. It’s kinda reminiscent of the mid-late ’90s when HTML-formatted email was really starting to be everywhere, and you’d get people putting Blingees and crap in their email sigfiles, with huge paragraphs of personal statements and religious quotes and random midi files…and the email itself would say, “thanks”

      1. Half-Caf Latte*

        Oh. I have feelings about this one.

        We have brand standards. Clean, minimalist, unobtrusive email sigs.

        Many people choose not to follow. Grandboss has specifically instructed me to add no fewer than 4 logos into my sig. It’s atrocious.

      2. Door Guy*

        My last job had a standardized signature that we could not edit at all – we had to email into IT and open a ticket if you needed to update something (like when they put my PERSONAL cell number instead of work cell). It was all stored back end and automatically added, we couldn’t even see ours unless someone replied or we sent an email to ourselves.

        1. noahwynn*

          Same, we can change ours in Outlook, but as soon as you restart the computer it goes right back to the standard. I assume they do it somehow with Group Policy but I’m not sure.

      3. juliebulie*

        Gah, yes. I want to process my emails as fast as possible, and when there’s a long forwarded email chain and I need to scroll down to the start of the chain to find out what’s what, I hate when the sig crap is longer than the actual content I’m looking for.

    4. Chili*

      Yeah. It feels like this method could just end up causing a hassle for others and potentially feel a little unnatural. If your goal is just to make sure other people at work know what you look like, I would first check if there are less “clunky” ways to go about it than including an image in the footer of your emails. If your email client allows for profile photos, I’d add it there. If you use any instant messaging services, like Slack, include a profile picture there. If your office has anywhere to post fun photos of things happening outside of work, or a Slack channel for pet photos, occasionally post there with pics of you and your pet. To be honest, though, people probably don’t need to know what you look like, and especially do not need to get a reminder of how you look with every email.

      1. Collingswood*

        I like being able to look up what people look like as a reminder before in person meetings (i’m terrible at remembering faces and names). At my work, we can set up a profile picture that people can see in various ways (outlook, IM, Facebook for work). I hate posting pictures of myself, but I do it since I find it so helpful when others do. I definitely wouldn’t do this as an email attachment though.

      2. Veronica*

        As I posted below, my Outlook photos recently came back on after I turned them off a few years ago, and I’m enjoying them. I enjoy seeing photos of colleagues I don’t see often, and especially of those I’ve never met. Now I know what these great data people look like!
        I wish I could turn off the ones of boss and corp. manager though. I select an automated email for my inbox to sit with so I don’t have to see those.

    5. Former Help Desk Peon*

      Yeah, I get the desire to put faces to names when working remotely, but the email sig isn’t where I’d do it. We use Gmail at work, so many of us have added a profile picture there that shows up in the email client, which I think is a better way to do it. We also use Slack to stay connected, and Jira to manage our work load, so I use the same profile picture there too.

    6. EddieSherbert*

      If you’re using Outlook or Gmail, you have the option to add an account photo that should show to your email recipients.

    7. Mr. Shark*

      Yes, I’m anti-logo, anti-picture in your e-mail sig. My work has us, for external e-mails, include the logo along with logos of social media with links to our websites. Luckily that’s only external. I don’t even have my sig activated 99% of the time, since I’m usually dealing with people I work with everyday, and they already know my e-mail address, phone number, and can IM me if they really want to.

      I don’t know why you would need to include a photo, or would want to include a photo. For the most part, dealing with someone without knowing what they look like I think improves how you deal with them. If they look young, people may not treat them the same way, or any other number of unconscious biases. Without the visual, it forces people to deal with them based only on how they perform the job.

  6. Rich*

    OP #5. I’m also in technology sales for a Silicon Valley company and have spent most of my career working for technology companies of assorted size.

    You’re perfectly reasonable in being annoyed. It’s also one of those things that happens pretty frequently, particularly in smaller, more startup-phase companies. Even at larger companies, some delay past the “standard” schedule has been the norm, in my experience. Back pay to the expected review/raise date has also been hit or miss.

    There’s also nothing wrong with asking for the raise and making your case now, but it’s very likely your manager’s hands are tied. In general, there’s something like a pool of compensation dollars available (in salary, equity, etc.) that gets divvied up among employees of a particular type. The size of that pool is affected by things like investor expectations, and is generally more of a board-to-executive type of discussion. By the time it makes it down to your management, she’s allocating what’s available among members of her team based on performance (or whatever criteria she’s using). It’s often not of the form “employees in position X get this percent”, but “employees at this performance level (or stack-rank position) in position X get this”.

    It’s really hard for that calculus to exist in a vacuum for your review/raise apart from your peers.

    Is it bad they’re late? Yes.
    Should they provide back-pay to the proper review date? Probably.
    But it’s not at all uncommon in the industry, and there’s not a lot you can do to change it.

  7. min*

    # 2. For some reason, my work email regularly removes images from signatures and they come through as attachments to the messages instead. It’s generally just a jpeg of the company’s logo, but it would probably creep me out to get an email with an attached picture of the sender.

    Just something to keep in mind!

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          See, there’s the ticket. Sketch yourself the old-fashioned way in your signature. Someone surely has written a program to translate your photograph into a string of stacked symbols.
          \o o/

    1. LizB*

      For some reason this comment is reminding me of the person who attempted to attach her resume to an email and accidentally sent the hiring manager a picture of Nicolas Cage instead. It makes an impression, certainly…

      (My work email also turns signature images into attachments, so agreed, please skip it!)

    2. Quill*

      Some poorly formatted emails I’ve gotten from recruiters send me .key files of their company logo.

      Why? apparently they’re doing something to this email that makes gmail not like it.

  8. Heidi*

    For OP3, I find that my feelings on this are going to depend a lot on the quality of these meetings you’re having. I’ve been to many pointless but somehow mandatory meetings that would be a complete waste of time if I wasn’t doing something else. In such cases, I bring a laptop and pretend that I’m taking copious notes. Obviously, your employee is not senior enough to make choices like that without being judged, but I would bring it up in the context of, “The boss doesn’t like it when people do that” rather than implying that it is making him a bad employee, since it doesn’t seem to be affecting his work quality.

    1. Smithy*

      I once had a boss tell me that she had noticed me on my phone during a meeting where I happened to be sitting where I was highly visible to senior management. She told me directly that it was poor optics for senior management to be observing me on my phone.

      I really appreciated how directly she shared that feedback with me – because it directly highlighted her concern and had there been an focus or attention dynamic it opened to the door to talk about that broadly as well as to talk more about how to engage with our senior leadership.

      If the issue is optics – call that out and give the employee the opportunity to work with that reality. Letting employees be aware of management optics is truly a kindness.

      1. Sunflower*

        Exactly!! There is no need to pretend that optics are not a thing and that at work, sometimes we have to do things ‘just because’. Yes, I also get bored in meetings so I sit in the back, usually next to people who I am friendly with, and pretend to take notes but I’m making to-do lists.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        My senior year in high school I had government class immediately after lunch. I lived just across the street from the school, so I went home for lunch each day. I brought the newspaper back with me and read it in class. I wasn’t blatantly holding it up in front of me or anything, but there was no mistaking that I was reading it. If the teacher asked me a question, I would look up and correctly answer it. The class, after all, was a requirement for all seniors, which meant that the pace was agonizingly slow. Keeping up took perhaps a quarter of my attention. This put the teacher in a dilemma. He pushed the idea of reading newspapers as being part of good citizenship, and he couldn’t complain about my academic performance, and I wasn’t creating a disturbance. But still, the optics! His rather weaselly solution was to wait to parent-teacher conferences, and ask my parents to tell me to stop bringing the paper. So I switched to more discreet reading material.

        I suspect these training sessions are similar: a bunch of material being presented that may or may not be relevant, but which even to the extent that it does, could be far more efficiently conveyed in written form, presuming that the individuals involved are literate.

        I understand the issue with optics. But at the same time, the reality is that if I am required to look attentive, the result is the opposite of actually being attentive. I screw an attentive expression on my face and my mind goes somewhere else entirely. When it is over, I ask a buddy if there was anything in it I need to know.

    2. Feline*

      This seems to be heavily dependent on the culture of your organization. I went from a very uptight industry to a very relaxed one, and one of the things I noticed immediately was the use of personal electronics in the office and in meetings in the relaxed industry organization. They were smart people working hard, but they weren’t shy about whipping out their phones in front of VPs in meetings. I wouldn’t do that in my current organization. They’re much more conservative.

    3. Allison*

      Same, I’ve been there too, where I have to sit in on a meeting because I’m part of the team and need to be in the loop, but very little of the actual content pertains to my job and there aren’t any action items for me specifically, so I get really, really bored, and sometimes I wish I could be doing something – anything – while the meeting is happening to occupy my hands, or get some work done discretely.

      But I also understand optics issues.

    4. been there, done that, wanted to fall asleep*

      Ditto this.

      If this is only happening during larger presentations and trainings of 30-80 people, I would suggest perhaps the problem is in the training. Is it possible he is finding the presentation of the material to be mind-numbingly boring? Maybe the pace should be increased to the point where he is no longer on his phone? At that point, you’ll have a different problem: some people won’t be able to keep up. That’s a much better problem to manage than forcing someone to go at the pace of the slowest learner.

    5. LilyP*

      Yeah, if it truly has 0 impact on his work if he’s not paying any attention in these meetings….why is he there? Could you push back on the attendance requirements for these if they’re really so unproductive?

    6. WouldRatherBeElsewhere*

      We have this problem a lot–pretty much everyone in meetings is on their laptops the entire time. Management got frustrated a few months ago and stopped a meeting mid-agenda to ask, “Who here is doing something more important than this meeting right now?”

      Everyone raised their hand … which was probably not the answer they were expecting.

      1. Heidi*

        LOL. I guess there are people who think that meetings are important work and people who think the meetings are keeping them from doing their important work.

  9. Gaia*

    OP 3: I am this person that is looking at my phone, or re-reading a piece of paper, or staring at the window, or reading a whiteboard on a side wall, etc during every meeting where I’m not actively speaking.


    Because that is how I focus. If I am watching a presenter and trying to listen to them I cannot absorb anything they are saying. I do the same thing with shows I stream – I have to have something else to do in order for me to actually take the information in.

    Luckily, I am in a position in my career where this is a “quirk” that is well tolerated. But, I also make it a point to explain what is happening. Although I’ve never been officially diagnosed, I’ve been told (by non-professionals and para-professionals) that this may be a form of ADD.

    None of this means you shouldn’t talk to your employee – you should! People will judge him for this. But talk to him in an attempt to understand what is happening and then, if you learn that this is how he focuses best, work with him to mitigate any issues that may raise because of this.

    1. Princesa Zelda*

      I’m the same way! No diagnosis, must have something else happening to absorb information. Personally, I bring a notebook and pencil, and draw during the meeting. It looks better to be seen to be taking notes and drawing between them than to be seen on your phone. I also feel like more people understand that people who are doodling aren’t “playing,” although that’s definitely not universal.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      It’s also worth noting that someone flicking through their phone feed can be quite distracting to people sitting near them. I find phone scrolling next to me way more distracting than other things (like using a laptop, or doodling, or even crocheting) – it’s something about the persistent flick of motion and light at the edge of my vision.

      So if it is an ADHD coping mechanism, sitting near the back or edge of the room could let him do it without distracting other people.

      1. BethDH*

        Seconding this. Also make sure it’s not distracting to the person presenting. Even if I can’t see the phone, the head/eye motions of someone scanning things on their phone is noticeable and distracting. If I were OP, I’d bring it up to the employee and if they say it helps them concentrate, ask them to find another tool. Right now phones are just too closely associated with prioritizing something else over where you are.

      2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Yes, I once massively ticked off someone sitting next to me on a plane, because I was trying to watch a movie and she kept jumping between windows on her laptop, which were catching the corner of my eye and making me reflexively glance over.

        She got angry and changed seats.

        Rude behavior with technology abounds on flights in and out of SFO. It’s amusing.

      3. Sarah N.*

        This. The phone use could be 100% innocent on the employee’s part and purely a way for him to focus. However, they don’t get to make that decision in a vacuum. It is REALLY distracting to try and give a lecture/presentation and have people in the audience very obviously looking at their phones for extended periods, and it also can be distracting as an audience member. If the employee does need something to focus on other than the speaker, there are plenty of choices other than phone use, which has a particular air of disrespect to the speaker and can be especially distracting for others.

    3. Rebecca*

      I use an old school method – I keep a notepad and pen for meetings, and tape a Sudoku puzzle to one of the pages, and yes, it looks like I’m taking notes, but when I absolutely need something to concentrate on so I can “pay attention” to the endless meeting, I use the puzzle. I’d play solitaire on my phone, but that would look bad, so I use the puzzle instead. And I sit in the back, against a wall, so no one behind me is staring over my shoulder.

      1. anon*

        I had to do a number of slightly dull, but necessary, presentations last month. It was the first time I’ve ever had to do something like this.

        There were a few secret phone checkers (come on folks, the part between the table and the seat of your chair can’t be that fascinating) and a few blatant scrollers. My speech was only 30 mins and held new info and I apparently made it as fun and interesting as I could.
        I’ve never realized before the impact of having see people flick through their phone when you’re presenting. It felt so…alienating to me. Perhaps these were important emails to be sent, perhaps they had a medical condition that they need to control with their phone (I get this! I am deaf and operate my hearing aid volume through my phone), but it kept throwing me again and again that I was wasting my time speaking to them. Perhaps it’s my age, but it felt unintentionally rude on their part. I didn’t feel like that about the doodlers, I guess because I could see what they were doodling. Weird.

        1. Yorick*

          This is important. Sure, it may help you focus, but it’s disrespectful to the speaker. Many other solutions (like doodling) won’t seem that way since they look like taking notes.

          1. anon*

            It’s exactly that – it felt disrespectful and no amount of me telling myself ‘well that’s the way people do things nowadays’ or ‘I’ll just assume they have a medical condition’ stopped me feeling like I was wasting my time.

            I felt like their need to focus on their phone was disrupting my ability to do my job. And not one of the scrollers asked questions or engaged with me. The non-scrollers had plenty of feedback, as did the doodlers. I guess I need to become hardened to it. However, I’ve recently been in a couple of meetings where people have been called out to participate, probably because they are scrolling. It’s always kind of clear that they are deep into their phone and have no idea what the question is.

            And I say this, incidentally, as a mother of a son with ADHD, so I totally get how attention deficits can cause problems.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Thanks for saying this. It’s fair for others to point that the might need things to help them focus beyond “sit there and stare at the speaker,” but commenters here tend to give that so much weight that points like yours get lost — what you’ve said about the impact on the speaker and also the reality that plenty of times people on their phones really aren’t paying as much attention.

              1. anon*

                Thanks Alison. I’m glad it was an okay comment. I definitely don’t want to marginalize anyone who has ADHD, having run up against challenges with my son.

                I wonder if there is some deep-seated psychological reason for some people to react badly to people scrolling on phones? I know that hearing a ‘halfalogue’ (hearing half of the conversation of someone on a cell phone) is way more distracting than hearing both sides, because the brain is trying to fill in the gaps. I think this might be the case here for me. My rational brain is saying: “Just ignore it, I’m sure they’re listening. They’re a good colleague so just accept that this is how they work.” My subconscious is spinning out: “Nope, I reckon they’re on Facebook now, now they’re looking at the cost of boots, now they’re doing a text entirely in emojis… etc’

                Perhaps that’s why I get distracted by it.

                1. Sarah N.*

                  I think it’s also the reality that we all know MANY people doing it are NOT in fact using it as a trick to pay attention, check medical information, etc. Sure, there are some people who in fact are doing that (although often that does not require many minutes of continuous scrolling — for example, my husband monitors his glucose levels with his phone, which takes approximately 15 seconds to do). But obviously many people are doing it because they are choosing not to pay attention — I know because I have been there as the offending party! When we know that your average person scrolling through their phone in a meeting is simply being rude and in fact isn’t as engaged as they could be…it can be hard to simply assume the best of all 5 people who are doing it at the same time or whatever.

                2. Elitist Semicolon*

                  This isn’t necessarily a deep-seated reason, but our brains are (more or less) programmed to recognize eye contact as a sign of engagement and acknowledgement, so speaking to a room of people looking at other things that aren’t you is going to prompt some level of belief that they’re not paying any attention. Whether we (by which I mean “I”), as rational beings, can then take the next step and think, “okay, they’re still listening” depends on our (by which I mean “my”) general mood, frustration level, state of exhaustion, and/or appreciation for the audience in general. As a result, I get very frustrated with phone-scrollers, knitters, and the like very quickly; other folks may find it easier to ignore.

                  Weird thing about this is, back when I was still teaching, I’d get students who would tell me after their presentations, “I didn’t think anyone was listening because they were all looking their phones,” yet invariably be on their phones while classmates were speaking.

                3. Avasarala*

                  There’s no deep seated reason. It’s because they’re displaying distracted behaviors that suggest they’re not listening to you, which is rude when someone is speaking or presenting. Maybe there’s a good reason to display that behavior, but maybe there isn’t and they’re just rude.

            2. Filosofickle*

              Your notes really hit home with me. I semi-frequently give presentations, and talking to a non-responsive, inattentive room feels horrible. When I’m an audience member (or even just on video calls), I bend over backwards to be an active listener and maintain eye contact because I know how important it is that they look out and see someone who’s engaged. It bothers me that more people don’t think to do this. It’s a kindness.

        2. Anne Elliot*

          This. I do a fair amount of presentations as part of my work and it’s really demoralizing to look out and see the bent heads of the audience members who appear to be ignoring me. I’ve reached the point where I will put up with it if it’s one guy (though I don’t appreciate it), but if it’s more than one then without calling people out individually I will interrupt my own presentation to say “I need people to put their phones away. This is information that both I and your managers think you need to have and I need to believe you’re paying attention. If you have an important call, text, or email that can’t wait until the break, please step out of the session to take it.” If it’s a younger audience (more phone dependent and I think less aware of how divided attention comes across to many older people), I will say that before I even start.

          1. pleaset*

            ““I need people to put their phones away. ”
            But people here say they have conditions where they need to look at their phones to concentrate.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              No one here has said they need their phone, and only their phone, to concentrate. There are all kinds of other methods that work for people with ADHD, etc. — fidget cubes, taking notes, etc. Lots have been mentioned here.

              1. Sarah N.*

                And I think the key thing here is that all of those other methods DON’T send a message of disrespect and inattention to the presenter. So, if you can choose between multiple methods, you should choose the one that has less of an impact on your coworkers. Like, a person who can’t sit at their desk all day for medical reasons can and should have a standing desk, more frequent breaks to walk around, etc. They don’t get to choose playing a loud workout video over the company sound system doing jumping jacks next to people attempting to work.

            2. Name Required*

              No, they say that they need to have another stimulus to concentrate and they are choosing to use their phones. They choose to use another way that is less distracting to their coworkers and presenters.

        3. Sunflower*

          Thanks for saying this because I totally agree and I think it’s not something people in the audience think about. As an audience member, in your head, you are one in a sea of many but if you’re the only one with your head down then you stick out like a sore thumb. Maybe it’s because our phones are so limitless in what they can do and that they in themselves are distracting. How many times I’ve went to google ONE thing and ended up being on my phone for 30 minutes ‘wiki jumping’. At least with doodling, you are resigned to your pen, paper- There’s only so much focus a doodle can take.

        4. PB*

          This is a really excellent point. My job involves regular presentations, both locally and at conferences. Right now, I’m preparing to deliver a short presentation at a department meeting and will lead a significant (8 hour) training session next month. I’m putting a ton of time and effort into these. I completely understand incidental phone use/doodling/whatever, but it’s not fun to look out at your audience and see only the tops of heads.

          On a personal note, your user name gave me a smile.

        5. EventPlannerGal*

          I’m really glad you’ve said this. I appreciate that for some people it might be helpful, but I’m never going to be able to get past that gut-feeling when you’re trying to present (which for me is really stressful and nervewracking) and you realise that half your audience has just checked out to scroll on their phones. It’s so offputting and disheartening, I think especially for people like me who are really nervous about public speaking, and I wish as much consideration was being shown to speakers who have to deal with that as it is to the people who choose to play on their phones.

      2. ChachkisGalore*

        Oh – I like the taped soduku – I might steal that one! My super old school technique – I’d take very detailed notes, but I’d change up my handwriting. EG: doing two lines in cursive and then two lines in regular. Some times I’d try imitate certain fonts or change how I did my a’s (like writing out this type of a rather than circular ones). I’ve never heard the term conflicting stimuli, but it sounds like exactly what I need to be able to absorb info being given orally and the little goals/or patterns I’d give myself about my handwriting was enough of an external stimulus.

    4. Quill*

      For me, TV only gets watched if I can knit or fold laundry, or sometimes wash the dishes. This is probably because most shows that go past about 30 min per episode end up with me turning my brain to something else (so I can watch cartoons and most anime just fine, with the bonus that subbed anime means I have to read and watch at the same time…)

      Large group meetings anywhere where there isn’t natural light put me half asleep within minutes – every class I ever took in the basement at college was a constant struggle to stay awake unless it was fairly early in the morning. And I fell asleep in high school chemistry at least once a month…

  10. Funemployed*

    OP 1: I don’t necessarily agree with Alison on this one! It sounds like office politics (ie the office is a family) are much much more interpersonal on this one to be so bluntly honest. I would either get a long term commitment that “accidentally” coincides with the weekend of the wedding, pretend to be ill on the day, or mentally prepare yourself for a taxing day of wedding shenanigans for the sake of keeping the peace in a place you spend a not-insignificant amount of time at!

      1. Clementine*

        I can’t endorse a fake family reunion, because these close-knit coworkers will ask for photos.
        So either it has to be something that there will be creditable photos to show, or go to the wedding, is my advice.

        1. Tallulah in the Sky*

          That’s so rude ! Never had colleagues asking for those. Also, not everyone takes pictures (I know I wouldn’t). I truly hope coworkers won’t be asking for “receipts” if OP decides to fake a commitment.

          1. Clementine*

            I can’t be sure, but it sounds likely these coworkers are on Facebook and/or Instagram together. It would definitely be noticed if there are no pictures, at least from my experience. But more to the point, that type of lie is just really hard for many people to carry off successfully.

            1. doreen*

              It would only be noticed if OP1 was the sort of person who posts photos of almost everything they do – which lots of people aren’t. But if simply claiming to have a non-specific conflict won’t work, then go with a lower profile conflict – even if the coworkers will expect photos from a family reunion, they probably won’t expect photos if your college roommate/cousin is in town for the weekend.

              1. MsM*

                I’d go with “family member has relatively standard but unpleasant medical procedure and needs help with recovery.” If the office is this nosy and judgy, might as well give them a reminder that sometimes people don’t want to talk about it.

          2. Miss Astoria Platenclear*

            I don’t think the coworkers would want photos as proof that OP1 actually attended a family reunion. But they might ask out of politeness, or genuine interest if it’s a small, friendly office. Or, as a break from wedding talk/photos.
            I suggest inventing a less specific event as the schedule conflict – maybe an out of town friend needs help with some project – or just sucking it up and attending the wedding.

          3. Clisby*

            I’m having a hard time imagining any co-workers I’ve had asking to see photos of a family reunion. An Antarctic cruise, sure – but family reunions are boring to everybody but the family involved.

            1. Quill*

              “We played cornhole in a cornfield while I talked only to my actual first cousins unless I had to warn someone about aunt sue’s alleged casserole.”

              – summary of every family reunion I’ve ever been to before pokemon go. Since installing Pokemon go I usually lead the children on a pokemon catching walk, instantly becoming the coolest cousin (to them) and 100% not mature enough to bother with political conversation or questions about my nonexistent love life to their parents. Total win.

        2. Parenthetically*

          “something that there will be creditable photos to show, or go to the wedding,”

          No way. Be able to show photographic evidence of an actual even or get pressganged into going to the wedding of someone you don’t like? Nah.

          “Oh, I’m so sorry, I have an appointment that day that I just can’t reschedule, but I wish you all the best and I can’t wait to see photos!” Repeat ad nauseam every time a coworker asks you about it. “Isn’t it exciting! I’m sorry to be missing out, but I have an appointment that day that I’ve had on the calendar for months and can’t reschedule.” If they press for details, “Oh, it’s boring, but tell me — where are you/they going on your honeymoon?” Nobody needs to know your un-reschedulable appointment is rewatching a full season of Parks and Rec in your pajamas.

        3. OP1*

          OP1 here, actually can’t fake a family reunion because one coworker and my mom are friends! :( i’m leaning towards a wedding for a friend of my SO is the same day, darn!

          1. PeteyKat*

            Then you need to be careful of what lie you tell. Are you going to lie to your mom and tell her you did the non existent activity? Just in case your co worker mentions it to her? I think it may be less taxing mentally to just go to the wedding rather than trying to come up with and keep straight a lie.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            “My regrets…I have a previous commitment and can’t come.”
            A follower of Miss Manners will let that go. A sourpuss of a co-worker might push.
            If I were up against cranky cow-orkers, I’d find something else happening that weekend and buy advanced tickets. Bonus if it’s something your Mom has been talking about wanting to do with you — a distant cousin’s community theater production, a local fundraiser, etc. Because then you not only “have tickets”, it’s a “surprise for Mom so please $CoWorker, don’t mention it to her.”

        4. KoiFeeder*

          Asking coworkers that are not even related to you for pictures of their family reunion is the most allistic thing I’ve heard today and it fills me with horror.

        5. Mediamaven*

          Agreed. Wedding sounds miserable of course, but it won’t kill you. And what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. :)

          1. Parenthetically*

            Come on, this is silly. You are obligated to go to this social event unless you can come up with a genuine excuse? No. Invitations are not subpoenas!

        6. I think it'd be fine?*

          I disagree; “Sorry, we didn’t take many photos as we were all having fun” or “I didn’t take any, my phone died.”

      2. Rachel in Non Profits*

        Some people are just irrational about wanting everyone to come to their wedding. I have a college friend who invited us to a wedding months in advance. I thought it sounded fun so I rsvp’d yes for me but my husband didn’t want to go so he declined. The couple followed up to ask where my husband would be on the day of the wedding and why he didn’t want to come. I tried to be vague puppy got really haunted and are still holding The grudge 6 years later.

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          puppy got really haunted

          They put a curse on your puppy because your husband didn’t go to their wedding? Outrageous! ;)

    1. KinderTeacher*

      I would go for either manufacturing an alternative commitment or just sucking it up (I’d pick the former). Don’t pick day of illness, then they’ve paid for a dinner for you and put you in the seating plan all while you know you have no intention of going! If you don’t want to go be honest that you aren’t going by being dishonest about why (family reunion, trip to visit college friends, etc).

      1. Alternative Person*

        Yeah, manufacturing an alternative is probably the kindest way to go. I once invented a wedding to get out of a series of onerous work socializing events (long story, crappy short term job). Say you have friend/family thing, actually go out of town for a day or two and do something nice if you can.

        Or if not attending the wedding will really bring that much onerous gossip, you could go out of town and arrive back late so you can only attend part of the party. That way you can make an appearance, won’t need to shell out too much for wedding things, you can drop off your present in person (should you choose to do that) and you can beg off after an hour or so because you’re tired.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          If OP isn’t very close with the coworker it’s honestly possible that the coworker will be a little relieved to receive a “no” RSVP. Wedding guest lists are hard! Most of the time you pick a budget of people but then you invite more expecting some will not be able to make it. My parents insisted I add some of their friends who according to them definitely wouldn’t come but had to be invited anyway… and then many of them ended up accepting the invitation which meant my list of yes-es was higher than anticipated and after a while the “nos” that came in were sometimes a bit of a relief.

          Not to say that the coworker doesn’t want OP at the wedding, but I so often see people online agonizing over a wedding that they “have” to go to, and I think more people should realize that much of the time it’s really okay to decline a wedding invitation if you don’t want to go! If you do want to go I’m sure they would be happy to have you, but if you don’t think you’d enjoy it they would probably also be happy to have one less plate to pay for.

          As for how noticeable OP feels their absence would be–presumably people will be talking about the wedding in advance so you can probably mention casually in conversation with other coworkers just once ahead of time that you unfortunately won’t be able to make it but hope everyone has a fun time. Then no one will be surprised you’re not there.

          1. Anon for this*

            This is a very good point. Am currently planning my wedding and know that I Must! invite my whole office and their spouses and kids for political reasons, but that group actually makes up about a third of the planned size of the wedding and I kinda secretly hope they don’t all say yes.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              Ouch. I’m sorry you’ve got that kind of office. We invited no one from work who we didn’t already socialize with outside of work. It was easy for me because our wedding location was 100 miles from my office and my then-fiance worked at a very small company with people who *did* socialize outside of work regularly.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yup. Making the other person plan and pay for your presence and then backing out last minute is a pretty crap thing to do. Find a way to RSVP ‘no’ like a regular decent person.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        Agreed–don’t RSVP yes planning to stick them with your catered seat at the last minute.

        I would either plan a weekend away which happens to conflict due to your traveling companion’s time commitments, or suck it up and go because you don’t have many coworkers so this really is a one-off.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Meant to add–it’s not like the marrying couple can opt to invite half the office and ignore the other half. As with inviting all the cousins or all the knitting club, this is less about the marrying couple passionately wanting OP specifically there, and more about not excluding OP even though the marrying person is closer to other coworkers.

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            Definitely invited my entire office of 10 to my wedding just so no one would feel excluded. I didn’t expect everyone to come, but some surprised me with a yes RSVP when I thought for sure they’d be a no.

          2. Veronica*

            Yes, I feel left out if I’m not invited even when the host or main person and I don’t like each other. It’s not rational, but that’s how it is.

          3. Elitist Semicolon*

            Yeah, but there are co-workers you’re not close to and then there are coworkers who are actively antagonistic, some species of jerk, generally odious to be around, or some combination thereof. Why choose to have them at your joyous life event if they’ve consistently made your work life hell? They likely won’t appreciate that you’re trying to be be inclusive and will be just as unpleasant to Aunt Muriel (or to you) over hors d’oeuvres as they are to you in the copy room. It’s a wedding, not a 2nd-grade Valentine’s exchange; include the folks you enjoy being with and don’t take emotional responsibility for the rest.

    2. Orange You Glad*

      Can you pretend you have another wedding that same day that you’re part of the wedding party and can’t miss it?

      (That would be too much work to pull off but the idea of skipping this wedding because you have another wedding to attend hopefully amuses you!)

    3. Llellayena*

      Actually, I wouldn’t invent a specific event to conflict. It causes too much trouble when they ask how the event went. Instead be vague (a la Miss Manners), “I’m sorry, I already have plans for that weekend.” This covers ‘family reunion’ and ‘sitting on the couch’ equally.

      1. Yorick*

        You don’t have to build an elaborate lie. If someone asks how the family reunion was, you can just say it was fine. And no one is going to expect to see photos of your great-aunt Mildred.

      2. Asenath*

        I agree entirely. I just responded to an invitation with a polite “I’m so sorry, but I have another commitment and won’t be able to make it”. No need to say what the commitment is – I’ve used the same wording for everything from a low-key get-together that I could probably cancel to a nice evening with Netflix.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        Totally agree, I think people really overthink these things because they feel like declining a wedding invitation is really rude or something. It’s totally not! (The only rude thing is to not RSVP at all.)

      4. Junior Assistant Peon*

        Better yet, you told different fibs to different people and lose track of who heard what!

    4. Richard Hershberger*

      I, an introvert, normally am the first person to try to get out of social stuff like this wedding. But given the fact set, I would go. I wouldn’t close down the reception hall, but I wouldn’t be the first person out the door, either. I too work in a small office, and have been there ten years. Perhaps I am influenced by that I actually like my boss, who is a total mensch. I would go, if invited (which I wouldn’t actually expect to be, for his kid’s wedding, but you never know) not due to fear of repercussions, but because I like and respect him. In related news, I recently suited up for his mother’s funeral.

  11. KayDay*

    I’m surprised at myself for having strong opinions on this, but, I think it’s totally fine to add your photo to Outlook or Gmail, but I wouldn’t add it to your signature alone (like some people do with logos). That way it will come up neatly when it is supported by whatever you are using for your email client and not come up at all when not supported (rather than showing up as an annoying attachment). It can be nice to have a face for the person you are talking to. While it’s a little weird if you add your photo here when few people you work with do, I wouldn’t say it’s crazy-outside-of-the-culture weird (my organization doesn’t use photos but a few people have added them).

    Caveat, if most people you work with put their photo in their signature, then it makes sense for you to as well.

    1. Green great dragon*

      Agreed! If you want people to see your photo, better to use the facility in the email programme if possible. That’s what it’s designed for, so much less likely to cause problems or inconvenience or seem odd to people.

    2. Sparrow*

      I am also surprised at how strongly I feel on this subject, ha. I am very anti-photo in general and would find a photo in an email signature particularly off-putting (it’s also Not A Thing in my industry, which may be part of my reaction). If a photo must be included, I’d go with your suggestion.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      I was surprised I didn’t see more people saying this! I wonder what email client they use at her office. Not everyone at my office has their picture in outlook but a lot of people do. Definitely not in the signature which would look pretty odd IMO and would in many instances probably not go through in the way it was supposed to and end up looking odder.

    4. BTDT*

      I came here to say this! Add it to your PROFILE not your signature. :) Hopefully you’re using an email client with this feature. It’s so much better than attached signature photos.

    5. six*

      Another vote for adding a photo to your profile, definitely not as a signature, since it’s fairly unobtrusive but still solves the name with face problem.

      For data points, I’m at a very large company with multiple offices and a fair amount of remote workers, roughly 20% of folks have a photo added to their Outlook. At my previous large company 3-4 years ago, with not a lot of remote workers, we still had probably 5% or so using a photo. Given that #2 is working with international folks I think it makes sense to go this route.

    6. Veronica*

      I’m also recommending adding the photo – in your profile, I suppose, like they say here.
      My company took photos of all of us several years ago and put them in Outlook. I got annoyed and turned the photos off in mine. Didn’t want to be always seeing my boss or the crazy director.
      After a recent computer shake-up the photos came back on, and I like them. Now I know what the wonderful people who send me data look like. The photos are handy for recognizing people I haven’t met, and that could be useful in OP’s situation.

    7. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

      Cane to suggest this. My org uses gmail and most people out their photos in the profile picture spot (I have a stock image of a flower because I don’t have a professional photo).

  12. Wintermute*

    #2 — some companies do this, others don’t. On the plus side is that if you do a lot of business with remote people, you may not KNOW what they look like, the photo gives you an idea of who you’re talking to. This has mattered for me in my current role (my team is spread across Chicago, Alabama and St. Louis, and we deal heavily with teams in Florida and Arizona as well), because someone I dealt with fairly constantly was in for meetings and I was able to recognize them and say hello– it helped me build bridges to those remote teams by knowing who I had dealt with before on projects and support issues and have something to talk about with them.

    Other places, it’s not done, there are downsides as well as upsides, including the fact that it makes things apparent, race- and ethnicity-wise that might not otherwise be. I don’t think that’s a big concern if your company is diverse and well-managed, I’m proud of my workplace in that we have people of all races and backgrounds across all levels of the org chart, including executive level, but other places it would matter more.

    I’d follow your workplace’s lead on this, because leadership has usually considered the up- and downsides, made a determination and set an example. In our case, uploading a photo was part of your new-hire tasks.

    #4– I was that employee, for a long time, partially trained by being low on the seniority list for many years and working in a place with a tight shift that required any time off to require us to find coverage, there’s a nasty catch-22 there because having to find coverage opens a specific window for you, you can’t ask the week before, but at the same time asking someone “can you cover two days for me in October” when it’s may would be likely to get mostly noncommittal answers. I would have appreciated more cognizence of the fact that just because by the seniority rules they COULD, it wasn’t RIGHT to take off every year all the “good” days (christmas eve, new years eve, black friday, weeks around holidays, fridays before a monday holiday, etc). But if they have the opportunity to do so and elect not to you can hardly be blamed. I would have a conversation about making sure all their time can be used. Nothing is as demoralizing as having time, wanting to use it, and being unable to, it’s leaving part of your compensation package on the table.

  13. Anon, and on, and on...*

    #4, as someone who has taken more than one vacation based on a last minute fare sale email (Frontier especially will sell tickets ridiculously cheap sometimes, like $20, but the sale only lasts 24 hours and you have to fly out at 7am next Tuesday), I totally understand if I can’t go somewhere on a whim because my co-workers have planned ahead and our small team has to have at least two people available at all times. At the same time, our newest guy announced in August that he was taking the full weeks off around both Thanksgiving and Christmas and had already booked nonrefundable flights without checking with anybody else first, which seriously restricts the holidays for the rest of us and pissed me off. As long as you’re not hogging all the dates that Jane may foreseeably want to take off, I think you’re fine. (Thinking here about the woman who went to the group vacation calendar in January and wrote herself in for the day before and after every single holiday weekend for the entire year. Don’t be her.)

    1. Grand Mouse*

      Whoa can someone do that tho? I can’t imagine being the newest person, taking the primo holiday dates, and making others work around me. It might be because I’ve only been in a job that has PTO for 2 years, only taken vacation twice, and was VERY tentative about even asking.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Yeah, at that point if coverage is needed the manager can tell new guy what times he can take off, and that he can come to work the rest of the time or be fired. You can’t hold the rest of the office hostage because you’ve bought non-refundable tickets without checking first.

        What I would do with Jane is sit down before I booked tickets, and sort out the high demand vacations, like Christmas and holiday weekends. Even if Jane doesn’t book vacation then, she then has the option to do last minute stuff at good times. And the OP could also talk to Jane right before booking tickets, give her the dates, and check if she has any conflicts. That way the OP isn’t taking all the best dates, and Jane has a chance to speak up about particular dates, and knows what days are blocked out in advance.

        After that, I’d figure I’d done my best, and wouldn’t be willing to change my own plans without extenuating circumstances (family wedding, for example).

        I’m a bit curious about the time scales, however. If Jane is regularly asking for vacation time at a week’s notice, it’s unreasonable to expect other people to work around her spontaneity. But expecting her to have her holidays planned out six months in advance to work around the OP’s plans is also unreasonable.

      2. Anon, and on, and on...*

        He’s new to our group but actually senior as far as total time on, he transferred in from a larger group that doesn’t have our coverage requirements, so he has the hours and it didn’t occur to him that taking those weeks would be a problem. 99% of the time we happily sort out things like work assignments and shift swaps among ourselves, our manager isn’t there in the office with us and it’s much more efficient, so I think the boss received and approved the vacation requests under the assumption that everybody knew and was okay with it. It’s been addressed for the future.

        1. Sparrow*

          I’m glad it’s been addressed, but was he at least apologetic when he realized the implications of what he’d done? To be honest, I’d be pretty pissed about this if it wasn’t clear that he recognized he’d messed up.

          1. A*

            It isn’t clear if he was even made aware ahead of time of the difference between the departments coverage-wise. If he wasn’t spoken to about it ahead of time, why should he apologize? I could easily see making this same mistake if it wasn’t brought to my attention ahead of time.

            1. Sparrow*

              Even if the mistake is more understandable in context, it’s still one he should still apologize for, given the impact on his coworkers. To me, a standard part of starting a new job is finding out how these kinds of procedural things function in your new office. If they don’t mention it first, you ask instead of making assumptions.

            2. Avasarala*

              Still good to repair relationships with an apology. “Oh I’m so sorry to have caused you trouble, I never would have done that if I had known.”

              Apologies aren’t only for intentional harm.

      3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        The only time I can see it being ok is where the flights (etc) were booked before he started, and that the vacation time was agreed as part of the hiring process. I’ve certainly started new jobs with time off already agreed – in some cases unpaid because I wouldn’t have accrued enough PTO in time. Mind you, I’m European so we feel more entitled to our vacation time and therefore safer requesting it.

        Perhaps it was the first time in years he had had an opportunity to take time off for the holidays and he didn’t expect to be able to pull it again. I certainly think that blocking out TWO major holidays within a month or so is a big ask and requires exceptional circumstances.

        I’m glad that Anon says below yours that “it has been addressed for the future”.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yeah, I just started a new job and am taking the week of Thanksgiving off which is apparently not great timing for my team but I told them it was already booked when they extended the offer and was told it was not an issue. I think the HR person I was talking with then didn’t actually communicate that to my new boss though who seemed surprised when I brought it up…

    2. OP4*

      OP4 here. Thank you for this, and that’s appalling. I totally understand the need to balance coverage and certainly don’t ever want to be that person!!

      1. Carhenge*

        OP#4: I don’t tend to plan ahead and work with many people that do. I know that a last minute request is just that, a request. Not a demand. You’re being too generous. Touch base about the holiday schedule before you make your travel arrangements, because taking all of the good weeks around then is unkind. Otherwise, make your arrangements for what works best for you. If coworker later asks you to change, simply say ‘I’m sorry, that won’t be possible’ or ‘That won’t work for me’ or ‘My travel plans cannot be changed at this time’ or whatever. And enjoy your trip with a clear conscience. If she gets to the end of the year and cannot use all her time off, maybe next year she will plan better. If you don’t have a shared calendar this would be a good time to tell her what dates are taken so she can know what is still available for time off. Enjoy your trip!

      2. SomebodyElse*

        I’m in your shoes as well. Here’s how I manage it. I have myself and 2 other managers that I manage.

        I have a ‘Manager on Duty’ policy that works rather well. Mostly vacations for the 3 of us are on a first come first serve basis * and it’s logged in a team calendar. Then set up your expectations for what you expect from your team and coverage. So in my case if I’m already on the calendar for PTO and one of my reports also wants off then they run it past me and the other manager. It’s a heads up that the 3rd person will be MOD, and as long as I know there’s coverage I’m fine with it. It sounds like you need to work on crosstraining a bit, so that might not work in your case. If that’s true, then the expectation is simple. “One of us needs to be here. So if someone has the time already booked, then the other will have to find another time” Since you book yours in advance it should be fairly easy for the other manager to work around.

        So thing I would suggest… Focus on making sure all of the managers in your group are capable of being that MOD. That gives you all flexibility. So a little bit of cross training… a ‘In case I’m hit by a bus’ document that gives important reference contacts and job duties.

        * I’ve described it before., but here’s how I do holidays. Around October I have the entire team including the direct reports of the managers I manage and we sit down to see where any holes might be. I generally go to a skeleton crew around the holidays and have a no more than 2 people out for the bigger groups, and no more than 1 out for the 2 person teams. I’m able to and willing to go to an ‘on call/wfh’ to satisfy that rule which I don’t expect the employee to use PTO (so it’s usually a bit of a win/win’.

        With 2 exceptions I’m usually willing to cover time off in a pinch. I’ve somewhat purposely scheduled my ‘big’ vacations outside the usual high traffic PTO times, so there’s usually not a conflict.

    3. TimeTravelR*

      I had a co-worker do that… booked non-refundable tickets for Thanksgiving without talking to the rest of us. Then she did it at Christmas.

  14. FairPayFullBenefits*

    Re OP4: Since OP is the other employee’s boss, they might not feel obligated to say it’s not a problem. Instead of asking if bothers her or if she wants you to start giving her a heads up, I would just give her one next time you’re planning a trip.

    Also, how “last-minute” has the employee been? Employees shouldn’t expect to be able to take unplanned vacations at a week’s notice, but I also don’t think they should be in a position of having to plan many months in advance.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I disagree with Alison on this one. I do think they need a central location so they can see the other’s time off when making plans (my team has a shared calendar in Outlook), but OP’s employee has made it clear that planning ahead “is not how she rolls”. OP doesn’t need to check with her, and she certainly shouldn’t be changing her vacation plans to accommodate employee is she’s made them ahead of time. If employee is a last minute planner, then it’s up to them to check with OP what time is available when she wants to take off.

  15. PurpleMonster*

    If #1 has a ‘prior commitment’ for the wedding, the son will probably be relieved. Who wants a bunch of their dad’s employees at their wedding? If you make your apologies, they’ll probably be able to invite another friend (or at least, one more third cousin twice removed, or something).

    1. Tallulah in the Sky*

      It’s not just his dad’s employees, it’s his coworkers, the son works there :-) I agree the letter was awkwardly worded though, I was confused too at first.

      1. MsM*

        Even so, if he and LW aren’t close, it’s probably a case of “I don’t really want to invite everyone, but it’ll create more drama if I don’t.”

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Exactly–the limit here (with this double obligation, coworker and dad-boss) really is invite 1 person from the office, or invite all 12. You can’t pick out the 11 people you like the most.

        2. Chili*

          I feel like a lot of people really wrestle with worry that people will be offended/mad/sad that they can’t go to a wedding when really there are probably only 20 people whose presence the marrying couple care about. Generally, those 20 people are: close friends, family, and celebrities the couple invited on a whim. If you send your regrets on time and have some pseudo-plausible reason, I would be surprised if anyone truly cared beyond one quick remark about an incomplete photo of everyone from the office with the newly-married couple.

      2. Clisby*

        I still find it hard to believe the son would care whether co-workers come to the wedding (unless they’re co-workers who happen to be close personal friends, which is not the case with the OP.) It seems likely to me that since this is a small company, he’s inviting everyone so nobody feels slighted – not because he’s heavily invested in having them all show up.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Ding! I invited all my coworkers and was relieved when the ones I wasn’t close to RSVPed no.

  16. Aggretsuko*

    My office gets stalkers. I do NOT want to have my picture on my email and I hope to god the powers that be don’t force me to add it in someday.

    Also, what others said about showing your gender/ethnicity, etc. We deal with photos of others in our office and there have been complaints about allowing photo rosters that permit clientele to be able to see folks and then easily discriminate against them. So far those complaints have been ignored due to “convenience,” sigh.

    1. Alternative Person*

      Yeah, the recent trend for photos of employees on websites and in offices really bugs me. I’ve left pictures off the file sharing service we use with clients and avoided having my picture taken for over a year now.

  17. Asperger Hare*

    Whatever the reason, the optics of having your phone out in meetings is Not Good. (This is why I used a fidget toy and take notes.)

    It’s like I’ve had to suck it up and buy a wristwatch, because:
    – I work with teens
    – They’re not allowed phones on them
    – I need to check the time
    It would be very convenient for me to have my phone on me, but it’s just not ok in that particular work context.

  18. Erin*

    #4 I am the same. I can give you my dates today for the next three years, literally. My colleagues are rarely like that. So I try to make sure I discuss it, see how much they even care, and then leave enough of the good days to give them options. If kids have two weeks off from school and my colleague doesn’t care, I’ll take one week, so the other one is waiting for her if she wants it. And the agreement is we always give others heads-up when we have specific dates, before putting in the request.

  19. Rexish*

    #4 I plan my holidays and days off the last minute. We get assigned a deadline for PTO requests (there are 3 deadlines per year). Then the manager sees if there are conflicts. People (like me) who don’t know when they want to use their PTO just work around others. I think it’s fair since we all had an option to make a request.

    1. OP4*

      OP4 here. I like the idea of setting internal deadlines for my team and evaluating accordingly. Then there’s the expectation that any requests that come after the deadline would need to plan around what’s already in the calendar. Thanks for this!

    2. Bagpuss*

      Another option is to have a calendar which is available to everyone and shows who is in or out on any given day, that way, eveyone can check for clashes before making a request. That way, your reporrt can see when you are out, and avoid those dates.
      You could also have a onbe-off conversation with her to say that you reciognise that you have difering styales in terms of forward planning, and that you won’t usually be able to change your palns to accommodate hers once your time off is approved, so ask if she has any particualr times when she s likely to want time 0ff she may want to book it into the office diary in advance even if her plans are not compeltely certain at that tim.

      That way, you have given her the opportunity to pre-book and warned her that you won’t always be able to accommodate her, and I think at tht point it is up to her.

      I would nto move your own dates unless you can genuinely do so without any inconvenience or expense – it’s Ok to say ‘no’ sometimes.

      For popular times like around holidays you could have a deadline system (e.g. no one can book the days round Thanksgiving until [date] and then everyone’s request is looked at at the dealine and any conflicts resolved (perhaps taking into accoutn who has taken that period off in previous years, etc) but I’d suggest that this is only necessary if you are finding that there are frequent issues with people fighting over dates, or badfeeling that the same person aways #hogs’ populr dates but booking them before anyone else is een thonking of the holidays.

    3. Jennifer*

      Same here. I see what’s available and work around it because I prefer to be spontaneous too, but I’d never ask someone to move their already scheduled trip because I waited until the last minute. That’s super rude.

  20. Cape Daisy*

    #3 we were a company of tech checkers, which made for meetings where people weren’t engaged, or even worse, messaging each other about how bored they were.
    So we changed it up. Only the note taker is allowed to be on a laptop and phones are allowed, but face down on the table for intermittent checking. So it’s obvious when it’s being checked and stops habitual use. The meeting chair will call out anyone on their phone too much and we have a good habit of if anything urgent comes up, you step out of the room to deal with it quickly.
    As one of the EA’s with 3 directors, I’ve put in place a maximum of 90 minute meetings for my 3. People tend to get bored after an hour and I’m a fan of getting to the point and not being a time hog.
    For project workshops, we go to 2 hours, but with a clear agenda and attendees who need the most input or have the most to get through go first to present in the meeting, so others are paying attention.
    We try to keep meetings to the point and respectful of everyones time

    1. No Tribble At All*

      All your meetings have a designated note-taker? How does that work if people from different teams are there, who might have different priorities?

      1. Antilles*

        Having one person (usually the admin, sometimes the PM/deputy or a different junior employee) responsible for preparing the meeting minutes and sending them around is a very common practice. I’m on multiple (read: too many) meetings and conference calls per week, each of which has various teams from various companies there and this happens in most of them.
        The only trick is that you need to teach the note-takers how to take notes properly – pay attention to everything no matter whether it’s your team or not, get all the action items, jump in to clarify things if it’s not clear what the end consensus was, err on the side of writing down too much detail rather than not enough, and so forth. It’s definitely a skill, but one that can be developed relatively easily.

    2. SomebodyElse*

      It must be working for you, but personally I’d hate that. I exclusively take notes on my ipad (so am one of the dreaded tech users) and I will often not only take a note about the topics covered in the meeting.. but will often jot down a reminder for something that may be tangentially related.

      Paper clip sorting will be down for maintenance on 11/1
      …. check how this will affect the binder clip output goal
      Paper clip sales are up this quarter
      Titanium paperclips due to release on 12/1

    3. WellRed*

      If people get bored after an hour, why are you subjecting them to 90 minutes? ( yes I am one of those who hate mtgs that pass the hour mark).

  21. Rexish*

    Based on the letter I understood that the son is also a coworker? I wouldn’t tell the boss that “boss’s son deserves to be surrounded by people who like him on his wedding day and who are genuinely happy to be there” cause OP does have a relationship with the son and I feel like this would come across wrongly.

    Is op invited as dad’s employee or as a colleague? I think that might make a difference. I think sending a card and a bottle of bubbly and coming up with an excuse is totally fine.

    1. Turnip-face*

      Alison did say to tell yourself that the son should be surrounded by people who like him, not tell the boss that!

      1. Rexish*

        Hah. I thought I read the full thing carefully. I misread and it makes more sense now so my message can be ignored :D

  22. Bananaboat*

    1. Send a nice card and then do what you want instead of attend the wedding.
    Only thing to be careful of is don’t post a load of photos of your new plans on social media if you have said you are at a family event!

  23. Clementine*

    I don’t know if either the manager or the employee in the PTO scenario celebrate Christmas, or if time off at the end of the year is meaningful. But since this time period is a big deal for a lot of people, as even if one doesn’t celebrate Christmas, children are often out of school, workplaces often slow, and so on, consider suggesting to the employee that if she doesn’t come up with a plan for her PTO, you will arbitrarily give her the necessary number of days in December, counting back from December 31. This may mean you miss out on a family holiday, but it will ensure she gets her PTO. If you are able to work out other days, then chip away from that.
    What would happen if both of you were unable to be there (one is on vacation, and the other sick, for example)?

    1. OP4*

      Oh this is interesting. I definitely need to look at what Jane has left for this FY and see what we can do.

      We actually had a 2 week period recently where this happened. I was off and Jane was on sick leave. The team was only 3 at the time, so our newest member was left by herself. ‘Sarah’ did a spectacular job given the circumstances, and I had arranged some external support for her. However, there was a major backlog afterwards that took weeks to clear (she did what she could), our clients were frustrated despite being warned in advance that it was going to
      happen, and a number of mistakes occurred that could have been avoided if Sarah had been better supported by someone more experienced. It was unavoidable, but we are trying to avoid a repeat.

      1. OhBehave*

        “I’m concerned that ends up giving me first dibs on dates and you’re stuck working around my time off. ” Obviously the employee is not working around OP’s days off because OP is changing to accommodate this person. Unless it’s a major life event, please don’t change your plans! It’s kind of you to do so though. Assigning days off is not a solution. These are not children. They must be aware of the rule. Maybe a reminder email in August ?

    2. Yorick*

      I don’t think arbitrarily assigning vacation days to the employee is an appropriate solution here. Just ask her if she wants late-December days off before you finalize your plans.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Agreed. It doesn’t make sense for the OP to have to work on days she really wants off just so she can arbitrarily assign those days to the employee.

        1. Clementine*

          The gist of my idea is that “Jane” will never be left with unused PTO days. Start with enough of December blocked out and chip away. Otherwise, it seems Jane will not end up using her PTO. If Jane comes up with a better schedule for herself in time to use it, then no need to have this arbitrary assignment.

          1. Veronica*

            Isn’t this Jane’s responsibility though? She needs to plan her own PTO.
            OP doesn’t have to hold her hand on this. If Jane doesn’t use up her PTO, that’s her choice.
            I really don’t think OP should give up her own PTO to accommodate Jane’s lack of planning.

            1. Clementine*

              Part of the manager’s role is to make sure Jane feels free and entitled to take the PTO she has earned, and insist that she do. Many people do not feel entitled and safe to take all their PTO.

              1. Avasarala*

                “Jane, you need to take X days of PTO by date. Please submit those days to me by date.”

                My office has this system and it works fine.

  24. WS*

    OP #1 – I had a similar issue with Big Boss’s daughter’s wedding (she was not a co-worker) to which we were all invited, and the office was definitely small enough that absences would be noticed, not to mention a small town! It was being held close by, so I said that I could attend the ceremony but would have to leave afterwards due to another commitment and wouldn’t attend the reception. I got to do minimal smalltalk, they all entirely believed in my other commitment (because who would want to attend the boring part and not the party?) and there was no social issue afterwards.

    1. Not a Blossom*

      I think this is a great idea of the OP works in an office where it would be A THING if she didn’t go!

    2. GingerNinge11*

      I think this is a great compromise. It’s also really normal at a lot of weddings so it wouldn’t even raise eyebrows.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      Yes! The wedding is about an hour: in and out. Furthermore, the number constraints usually are much softer for the wedding than the reception. So this gets you credit for attending, while the bride and groom will appreciate you freeing up a spot at the reception.

      And as an introvert, this is perfect. Show up, make a bit of small talk, make sure to greet the boss, then take a seat. Read a Kindle until things start. (In the old days it would be a paper book, which people would think weird. Nowadays they will assume I am checking email or football scores, which is not weird. They don’t need to know that I am actually reading a book.) Put the Kindle away during the actual ceremony, which is about twenty minutes. Then make a bit of small talk on your way out the door. Pro tip: a seat in the back gets you through the receiving line quicker. The reception is the real time-killer, and exhausting for us introverts. Dodge that and it really isn’t that bad.

    4. LGC*

      Ooh, I like this idea myself.

      I actually kind of disagreed with the advice from Alison that OP1 could skip it wholesale – it seems like it’s pretty intertwined with the company’s politics – but this threads the needle nicely. And since they say it’s an evening wedding…heck, they could even have an engagement Saturday!

  25. CouldntPickAUsername*

    I’m of two minds on the phone checker. you say it has no impact on his work and he’s a good employee and that gives me an urge to start singing a certain song from frozen.

    However you raise the point of appearances to those higher up the chain and that is valid. I’d bring it up with him considering that.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Especially when it’s sitting “front and center”. If you’re going to spend time not-looking at whoever is presenting, do it from the back corner of the room, or at least sit way over on the side.

  26. Mathilde*

    If you have one, check with your Communications department. There are generally guidelines on email signatures, and the idea is that everyone has the same template.
    So unless you don’t have such guidelines, don’t take any initiatives : it is not good for the company’s brand (and your Communications team blood pressure :p ).

    1. JSPA*

      OP #2:
      You can ignore this entire comment if people treat you as a kick-ass, reliable winner in person, and as a kick-ass reliable winner on email, but just can’t get their heads around you-on-email and you-in-person being the same person. (Substitute a different string of positive adjectives, if you like, so long as they’re identical in both cases.)


      If you’re getting more respect over email than in person, making sure people see your picture before they read your email is possibly counterproductive.

      Let’s all agree that it’s horrible, that this is so.

      In theory, over time, exposing people to the idea that their super-competent coworker may not look like their stereotype of a super-competent coworker, will broaden the perception of what a super competent coworker looks like.

      But that only works if they are indeed sold on your super-competence. And there’s plenty of good evidence that people’s judgement in the believability, reliability, competence etc of work / documents / information are hugely shaded by their preconceptions.

      I can think of some work-arounds that might make it easier for people to make the connection, “this human in front of me is OP2 whom I know and respect through email,” without new people judging you on your photo. All have draw-backs (considerations / drawbacks in parentheses).

      1. use an artistic filter on the shot, to the point where it’s art that’s suggestive of you, rather than a picture of you. (Choose the filter wisely–lest it look precious, soft porn-y, cutesy, or like you’re trying to create a personal brand in opposition to your company branding).

      2. add a signature color / color palette / pattern in some way, as a swatch in your signature and as a distinctive clothing item, in person. (Same issue about branding, though.)

      3. very, very, very tiny and low-resolution, for the same effect, in some ways, as #1, but minus the controversy potential. (Drawback: “heck, OP does not even know how to choose a decent picture size.”)

      To complete the logic by dealing with the final case (we’ve done A=B and A>B, so let’s do A<B): if at some point in one's career one is getting more respect in person than by email (and let's assume it's not due to an inappropriate focus on "you-the-body-having-person") then the right response is to look at how you can best communicate your intensity, quickness, magnetism etc. in your writing.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        This is an excellent comment.

        I’m fat. And there are a lot of people who still believe that fat = lazy or inept or whatever. I will never put my photo in my work email because I don’t need people making those kind of judgments about me. All they need to know is that I do my job well. It doesn’t matter what I look like.

      2. Yorick*

        Definitely don’t use a filter or a low-res image. It will make people think you’re weird and/or don’t know how to use technology. Just use a professional headshot, if you decide that the benefits outweigh any potential costs.

      3. Washi*

        I’m very confused by this. Why would choosing a filter or low res photo be better? Those both sound MORE unprofessional to me.

        1. Jedi Squirrel*

          Agreed. Now that people are shooting entire feature-length movies on an iPhone, the ubiquity of good technology is a thing, and people who don’t know how to use it seem terribly out of touch with how-things-get-done-now.

          If you’re going to do this, you might as well use Comic Sans as your default font.

        1. Jedi Squirrel*

          Indeed. We get some of these on a regular basis from our customers, and it seems weird and unprofessional.

          People should judge your work by the quality of your writing and the timeliness of your response. People reading my emails know that I’m a real human being because I take their concerns seriously and give them the information they need in a timely and accurate way. A bare-bones appearance works just fine, because I am taking care of their needs.

        2. A*

          Ya… I’m confused, and don’t know how we’ve landed here. We started with an annoying-but-tolerable ‘picture in signature’ situation, and now we’ve landed on colored fonts and picture filters.

          We’re moving in the wrong direction people!!!

      4. Kate R*

        The first half of your comment is a good argument for not including a photo at all, which is where I’m leaning on this question. Particularly because the OP mentioned people being sort of taken aback by her youthful appearance when they meet her in person, I feel like including a picture is just allowing people to cloud their view of her with their preconceived notions off the bat. So unless OP is in the minority in not including it, I would leave one out. However, if the company culture is such that most people do include one, then I would pick a very professional head shot in business attire, not using some artistic filter or colored fonts. That would be pretty out of sync with the professional norms at most of the places I’ve worked, making OP look young and inexperienced, which I think is her concern in the first place.

        I work mostly remotely and often have the same problem about putting names with faces, so when I end up having in person meetings, I just try to make a point to introduce myself to the people I’ve been talking to on the phone or via email (meaning one-on-one intros even if we are part of a larger meeting) so that their first in-person interaction with me is one of the same togetherness I’ve been conveying remotely. We all sort of recognize that one of the weird things about working mostly remotely is that the real life face is usually different than the one you envisioned, but it’s not really something to give more thought to than “huh”.

  27. Beth*

    #4: You’ve given her a heads up that planning further ahead would be better. Have one more conversation where you say “I need to plan my time off well in advance, since it often involves international travel. I’m concerned about ending up in a situation where you never get the times you want because I always book first, though. Is that a concern for you?” At that point, she’ll be as aware of the situation at hand as you are; if she decides that sticking to her last-minute method is more important to her than getting dibs on any particular day or week, that’s her prerogative and isn’t something you should stress over.

    1. Ms. Ann Thropy*

      Her unwillingness to plan shouldn’t cause OP to change his plans. She has as much opportunity to arrange her vacations in advance as anyone else, but refuses to do so, despite being reminded. The consequences should be on her.

  28. Beth*

    #3: Since this is something that will be perceived badly at your company, I would argue that it does actually impact his work performance. Regardless of the quality of his actual work, if he develops a reputation as a slacker or a distracted and rude team member, that’s going to impact his ability to get things done, get raises, potentially advance someday, etc. As his manager, I think it is your job to let him know that his phone use 1) isn’t all that subtle (he might be thinking it goes unnoticed in a large group like this, that’s a common enough assumption in my experience), and 2) is frowned on in your company culture. Treat it like a “You may not have realized this, so no harm no foul yet, but please change it going forward” conversation; try not to let your personal annoyance (which sounds a little outsized to me; yeah, this isn’t ideal behavior, but it’s not all that uncommon either and would be unremarkable in some companies) make it into a bigger deal than it is.

    1. LGC*

      Agreed…and if LW3 has already said this clearly and he’s still carried on, it’s a question of following orders and insubordination (which makes me want to hurl just by typing this out because it feels power-trippy, but it’s kind of the truth).

      I’m working on this (…well, as much as I’m allowed) with one of my employees – exact same thing, actually! She does good work. It’s just that she flicks at her phone every five minutes because she listens to music on Youtube and I’ve actually gotten complaints from upper management about it.

      1. Veronica*

        I tried listening to YouTube music at my desk and felt like it interfered with my work too much. I had to stop every few minutes to change or forward it. At that time there was also a lot of hanging in the videos, which was also distracting.
        I would try telling her to listen only to pre-programmed playlists. Whether she makes them, or gets them from a service shouldn’t matter. There are playlists on YouTube that are two hours or more, she can just search the genre she likes and look at the video lengths.
        I got a boombox for my office and brought in some CDs, which is preferable because I sometimes work with large amounts of data and don’t need videos taking up processing space. I’m on a desktop though.

        1. LGC*

          So, for my issue – the only problem is that YT on mobile stops if it’s in the background (if you don’t have YT Red/YT Music/whatever branding Google is using now). I might suggest that she use Spotify instead because of that!

          (We did suggest the playlist idea. It didn’t work, or at least it didn’t appear to work. Have I also mentioned this employee sits directly in front of me?)

          Back to LW3…I actually projected a bit! (Or misread and then projected.) LW3 said that they thought upper management would disapprove – not that management had seen this and disapproved already. It doesn’t really change the grand contours of what I was going to suggest, but it does radically affect the approach.

          First – LW3, I say this lovingly, but I think Fergus’s cell phone has taken up space in your head rent-free. (Admittedly, my situation has taken up way more space than it should.) I’d consider sitting a bit further away from Fergus in meetings to start so you don’t “clock” him any longer – mostly for your own mental health.

          Second, since it sounds like your concern is that management might see this and get annoyed, you might have to suggest that explicitly. Not in a “if you use your cell phone in meetings, you’ll never be promoted” sense, but in a, “Management is very intolerant of cell usage during meetings” sense. (Basically, I wouldn’t specify any specific consequences, because you don’t really know if there would be.) I would also do this with a bit of remove from any meetings – I’m not sure how often you and Fergus are in meetings, but I would try to choose a time not just before or just after any meetings.

          1. Veronica*

            Well, I would think Spotify or Pandora would work. Is Pandora still around?
            I’ve had Uber drivers who were playing Spotify and it seemed to work fine.

  29. Delta Delta*

    #3 – there’s also plain rudeness. Yes, some people concentrate better if they have something to do with their hands, and yes, sometimes people want to check the time, but it boils down to the fact the phone checker’s body language says, “everything in my phone is more important than you,” and people notice this. If OP has concerns about how this will be perceived, OP really ought to mention it to the colleague. For the colleague it is probably just a habit to check the phone all the time (unless he means to appear rude and dismissive, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in the letter).

  30. TechWorker*

    On #3 – a senior colleague who used to be my manager does this… in basically all meetings? I’ve seen him do it in a meeting of 3 people where he was meant to be an active participant, and I’ve seen him do it in a managers meeting of ~15 people while he was sat next to the CEO. He is definitely bored scrolling vs working… I find it *so* rude. But he’s senior to me and the people in his management line don’t say anything (Though I’m sure some senior folk not in his management line would like to, having worked with them and knowing their attitude to paying attention in meetings).

    1. JSPA*

      #3 (and others who have excellent but rude coworkers who visibly don’t pay attention in meetings):

      If excellent people are regularly bored to the point of expressing rudeness, it’s (ahem) also possible that

      a. there are too many meetings, done out of habit
      b. required training which could take place, self-paced, is being done at the pace-of-meeting (waste of everyone’s time)
      c. you don’t have a structure and culture that allows people to opt out of meetings where their presence is not really necessary
      d. you don’t have a structure and culture that allows people to ask that more tasks be done in some way other than a meeting
      e. You have meetings with a lot of intro, filler, motivational words, or general pep-speak that your self-motivated people have zero use for and are allergic to.
      f. that if more meetings were done by video conference (or a video link option for people who should be present but would not expect to contribute), people can listen for essential keywords and tune out “the pep talk at the start, the project that’s never relevant to me, and that thing about the catering that Abelard always brings up.”

      Unless you are calling the meetings, change is probably above OP’s pay grade, but OP can and should be aware that “having a meeting with everyone present and paying attention” is not an end in itself. It requires considerable purpose and justification.

      1. Monican*

        There is nothing in the letter to indicated that these meetings are pointless or poorly facilitated. Sometimes meetings really are the best way to share information and it’s important that people pay attention. Also, OP doesn’t describe him as “excellent”; she describes him as a good, solid employee. It’s weird that you’re assuming that this is some rockstar employee who is the only person at the company who realizes that these meetings are unnecessary. It’s far more likely that this is just an average employee who should stop playing with his phone so much during meetings.

      2. TechWorker*

        In this guys case – literally none of that applies. They’re good points, I’m not saying I never have meetings where I’m doing something else in the background, I do and it’s pretty normal in that case. These are meetings where everyone is meant to be engaged (and others are!) – it doesn’t bother me in larger meetings as much.

      3. op3*

        I wanted to clarify because I saw a lot of comments in this vein – actually, the meetings to which I’m referring are optional if you have something else going on taking precedent (too much work, primarily; conflicting meetings) and sometimes, completely optional (optional training). They are long and can be dry, but opting out is okay – and attending is sometimes more of an “optics” thing as well.

        1. Sunflower*

          I’m curious what ‘optional’ means and the clarity around this. I have meetings that are in the first category you describe and I wouldn’t call them optional. I’d say they are OK to occasionally opt out of- but there’s a limit to that and you or your manager will definitely be spoken to if start to miss more than you attend. The second category, Completely optional trainings, are closer to the first category description- it’s totally ok to miss if you have too much work but you should make an effort to join when and if you can. You won’t get called out for not attending but if you don’t attend any, you may be gently encouraged to participate more.

          1. op3*

            Some are definitely the first thing, but others are truly optional – nobody would notice if you didn’t attend and in fact, space is often limited so many people are unable to attend.

            1. Academic Addie*

              That might be the way to push back, then. Especially for folks early in the career, there can be a real drive to take all the training they can, or go to every meeting they can. He could be doing this thinking more meetings == more facetime == good. Then he gets there and it’s boring, and he spends all his time surfing. But really someone else might appreciate the seat! Does this employee have a hard time prioritizing other choices?

      4. Don’t get salty*

        I attended a two-week long conference with a bevy of speakers. One of them obviously had very little experience or training on how to present in front of large groups. I was full of energy, and paid full attention, until that speaker started.

        Beside me, one of my colleagues was very obviously (and obnoxiously) texting and refused to stop. The loud, constant vibration of his phone kept me irritated, yet alert, during this very bone-dry presentation.

        However, it was not enough to prevent me from eventually falling asleep, and then falling out of my chair into the aisle. After that, no one cared about this guys texting anymore.

      5. Sarah N.*

        Have you really never met people are are thoughtless and/or rude about phone use? Yeah, I get it, meetings could be better designed to be FULLY! ENGAGING! AND! NECESSARY! AT! ALL! TIMES! However, sometimes work just…isn’t like that? And also, there are people who will do thoughtless/rude stuff in meetings regardless. I once had a professor who would sigh loudly and roll his eyes while scrolling through his phone during STUDENT PRESENTATIONS. Yeah, I get it, maybe every student isn’t yet the world’s most amazing presenter, yet, THIS BEHAVIOR WAS STILL NOT OK. Regardless of if the meeting is or isn’t the most necessary in the world, it is still flat out rude to your colleages to be visibly engaged with your phone while they are trying to present/communicate with you.

  31. Washi*

    For #3, optics do matter though, both to other senior people in the room and for someone who is trying to present. I’m very sympathetic to the need to have a secondary task in order to pay attention, but (and I know this is a surprisingly unpopular opinion here) I think people also need to give occasional signs they are listening – looking up every once in a while, or nodding appropriately, or asking a relevant question. Not constantly and not everything I’ve just listed, but just…something so the presenter feels like they’re being listened to.

    I think the OP should go into this conversation framing it as a discussion in her mind, rather than some kind of disciplinary meeting. Does he realize he’s on his phone so much? Why is that? Is he aware of how it looks? Are there any alternatives? If not, can he be a little more subtle about it? I would just make sure that whatever he decides to do going forward, he’s making an informed choice with the potential consequences in mind.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      I agree. Make some eye contact, nod, whatever, once in awhile. If he must be doing something, maybe doodle on a notepad. At least it’s not as obvious as constantly checking his phone.

    2. Chili*

      Yes! It is really hard to present to a room of seemingly unengaged people. I completely understand that having a secondary task often helps people process information, but I encourage everyone to go out of their way to make sure the speaker knows they are listening– when they make an important point, look up and nod, make eye contact, say something when the speaker asks for participation, etc. I used to be 100% on team “let the audience do what they want” because I am someone who listens better while doodling, but ever since I started giving talks and speaking, I have shifted to team “people listen best in different ways, but make sure you seem like you are listening and be respectful to the speaker”

    3. Senor Montoya*

      Agreed. If Fergus needs something to keep himself occupied, then get a notebook and a pen and draw doodles in it. Looks like you are taking notes to everyone except the people sitting next to you.

      I’m a doodler. It helps me focus and think — just need that pen in my hand, moving around. If it’s a situation where my drawing might be distracting (seminar table where everyone can see my clever sketches), I’ll pick a word to write and then write it over and over. Or if it’s a pointless meeting I have to attend, I’ll work on to do lists, outline a report I need to do, and so on.

  32. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #4

    Honestly, I wouldn’t bother talking to her. She said that’s how she rolls, so it’s on her if she wanted a specific week or wanted a better price, but waited too long and now she can’t take it. Don’t change plans to accommodate her. But also, don’t hog all the good days/weeks every single year without some thought that someone else might want one of those days/weeks for a change. A former coworker too Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks every single year and it created a lot of resentment since it was a small department and only so many people could be out at one time.

    1. Clisby*

      The real culprits in your scenario are management. They shouldn’t allow someone to sign up for both Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks every year unless literally no one else wants those weeks. It would be simple enough to start with the guideline that employees can have either Thanksgiving week or Christmas week off in a given year, and can’t take either holiday 2 years in a row. I’ve worked at several places like that.

      1. A*

        Agreed, as mush as I hate to say it cause I’d be out of there SO fast. Unfortunately I think this is the best approach.

        I left an employer that instituted a similar rule, but that was a bigger issue because I was the only employee in my dept (only dept with coverage issues) that wasn’t born and raised locally. All of my co-workers would put in for both weeks off even though their family was local and they would be taking a ‘staycation’. Total fine, expect that I actually had to travel out of state to see family – or I’d be 100% alone on those holidays (single/childless/in my early 20s at the time). Unfortunately my co-workers weren’t willing to compromise with me, so we ended up with a blanket rule banning us from taking both holiday weeks off. This is why we can’t have nice things!

      2. Parfait*

        I used to have a coworker like that, now retired. She would take the week before Christmas off one year, then the week after Christmas the next year. Same at Thanksgiving. So she never had the same week off 2 years in a row, but always managed to get a week off at the big holidays. Sneaky.

      3. Dancing Otter*

        That makes me think less resentfully about the accounting departments that simply prohibited PTO from mid-December through mid-January. (Probably still do, but I no longer work for them.) No arguments about who can or can’t have their first choice.

  33. Mike C.*

    It’s been my experience that the folks most concerned about optics in a meeting are least concerned about getting actual work done. They tend to be preoccupied with petty issues over things that actually matter in the real world.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That sounds like a very satisfying thing to say but I don’t find it to be true. I care more about work getting done than most other things, and I’m damn well going to let someone I manage know if they’re doing something that will harm the way they’re perceived (and which could impact things like their raises, what projects they’re offered, etc. if people other than me have influence on those things). Most/all of the good managers I’ve known would say the same.

    2. A*

      Even if this was true – which I don’t necessarily agree with- how does that change anything? If I was spoken to by management for seemingly not paying attention in meetings, am I supposed to respond with informing them that they need to focus on the big picture and their being petty? I think not.

    3. Anom-a-long-a-ding-dong*

      Ultimately, though, even if it’s “petty” that some people are concerned with optics, it doesn’t change the reality that optics matter to many people and in most workplaces, and people will judge accordingly.

      I do a lot of presentations/workshops at work, and to be honest, I don’t care at all if someone needs to check their phone once in a while. We have plenty of people who have to be available and responsive at all times, and it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect them to ignore an emergency.

      That said, if I see someone spending an ENTIRE meeting or training on their phone, I’d think differently of them, and I know that most people at my company would see that as rude. At the very least, people would be asking why they bothered to show up in the first place!

    4. JustaTech*

      I’m going to disagree. It bothers *me* when my boss used to fall asleep in meetings (group meetings, not giant ra-ra meetings), because if he’s asleep then he’s not paying attention, and I need him to know how some of this stuff will impact the group.
      But I’m also upset because it does look bad; it looks like this doesn’t matter, that no one cares about the presentation I spent a bunch of time and effort on. And if everyone’s reading their phones while I give my presentation, well, why bother putting so much effort into my next presentation? And you can watch the quality of presentations fall off to the point that they’re not conveying information.

      Maybe that’s not what you mean by “optics”.

      1. TechWorker*

        +1 – management looking like they don’t give a shit is a brilliant way to alienate your employees – and I think that does come under ‘optics’.

        If you ‘just want to get the work done’ the solution is to have meetings/presentations with the right invite list, stick to the agenda and have people engage in the content, and if they don’t need to be there – to not come at all. Bob at the back scrolling through Facebook or football scores is not ‘getting the work done’

    5. Beth*

      Optics do matter in the real world though! They’re a huge part of human relations, which play a very real role in the workplace. If your coworker who’s presenting thinks you’re actively ignoring them in favor of your phone, for instance, they may rightly feel offended or think you don’t value their work/what they have to say, and that will likely impact your relationship with them going forward. Work isn’t some weird zone where treating others with respect is suddenly optional.

    1. MissBliss*

      I have two questions…

      1. Do people apply to jobs using their work email address?
      2. By that logic, wouldn’t you also have to remove your photo from LinkedIn?

      1. Veronica*

        There have been discussions here about young-looking women getting stalked on LinkedIn, and about whether a photo showing race or disability impacts getting interviews – so that’s another topic.

  34. ejodee*

    #3- I wonder if reframing this issue would help to clarify why you should discuss this performance with the employee.

    It does not seem valid to rate this employee’s work exclusive of these meetings. The meetings are part his work and his performance is not meeting standards in this particular area.

    Maybe you share some ambivalence about the meetings’ value and this is clouding your assessment of his performance. Both of you are required to attend (and attend to) these events.
    The performance of a member of your team at meetings reflects on both of you.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I am honestly curious about what those meetings and trainings are. A training session with 50-100 people in it sounds like it would have to be very hands-off and not really delving into actual training. Best case scenario, I am seeing it as one or more people giving presentations that are an overview of some very generic, corporate process. A meeting with 50-100 people in it does not sound very productive, either. What issues can you discuss, or propose solutions for, with 50-100 people in a room? Every large meeting like it that I’ve been to in my 20 years working at three different large corporations, has basically been a summary of updates of how the company had been doing in the last quarter etc; the updates, of course, being sugarcoated to the max, so the employees don’t panic and try to leave the company. Mind you, I would probably be capable of sitting through a meeting like that, staring intently at the speaker, dozing off with my eyes open. But I’d be really wondering about the priorities of my workplace, and its ability to stay in business long-term, if I were told that this is part of my work and that my performance(?) in those meetings is being evaluated on the same level as my actual work that contributes to the company’s bottom line (including meetings with work teams to discuss actual work items).

        1. op3*

          I mentioned this earlier, but the meetings I’m talking about vary – and most are “optional” (if you have a conflict, too much work, etc.); some are even completely optional (you have to sign up, and it’s totally based on your interest level in the topic). They are long and can be dry, but none of them are 100% mandatory – though sometimes attending is more of an “optics” thing as well.

          1. Crop Tiger*

            So they are mandatory, then. If you’re not “required” to be there but management “expects” to see you there, these meetings are mandatory. That probably explains your employee’s attitude.

            1. op3*

              Some are more mandatory than others. The most recent example was truly 100% optional. In fact, space was limited so many people were unable to attend.

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                So in that most recent example, he was interested enough that he signed up on his own, ahead of time to make sure he’d get a spot, and then spent the meeting/training on his phone? I agree that it looks odd. Could he possibly have been taking notes? If so, would he look more professional if he were taking the notes on his work laptop or a notepad?

                I was once at a meetup event (I know, not the same thing) of a just-created group that was supposed to be geared towards philosophy discussions. Five minutes into the event, the organizer stopped the discussion to reprimand one person for being on her phone. She had a note-taking app open and was taking notes. Apparently, these things exist and people use them. (I don’t. My preferred method of note-taking is to write them on a notepad and then lose the notepad, heh heh.) (He made her put the phone away anyway, because the rule said no phones. Don’t know what she used to take notes at the following events – I never went back.) But I agree that out of all possible note-taking devices, a phone probably looks the least professional and work-related.

    1. Becky*

      Just about the only rebuke I’ve had at my current job was when my manager called me into his office after a meeting and basically said “if you don’t have a work reason to have your phone out, you should not have it out” during meetings. I changed immediately but I was a bit embarrassed that I had to be called out on it, I should have realized how bad it looked. (And no, I didn’t have a legitimate work reason to have it during meetings.)

  35. AvonLady Barksdale*

    OP4, I think you’re overthinking this and being way too accommodating. If you have PTO scheduled and she rolls up with a last-minute request that would put your department in a bind, then too bad for her. Really. That sounds a bit glib, I suppose, but that’s exactly what I would expect if I wanted to take a last-minute trip and it turned out the time was already taken. You don’t need to keep changing your plans. Honestly, the more you keep doing that, the more she’ll keep booking her PTO the way she’s been doing.

  36. Amethystmoon*

    #1 The only issue I have with telling a minor lie to a boss is that he/she may ask you about how the event was later. So plan to do something actually on that weekend, if you can. Grab a friend and go to a concert or movie, visit relatives, find a meetup group with your interest…whatever, just actually do something you like so that you have a reason to answer the question “how was x” without having to be dishonest again.

    1. Arts Akimbo*

      Agree! I told a minor lie to a boss once, and it became like a sitcom farce of my lie falling apart over the course of a workday. I’m lucky a taxidermized moose didn’t fall on my head like in Fawlty Towers. Ugh, Younger Me, just ask for one more day off!

  37. StaceyIzMe*

    For the LW who is facing a wedding with the boss, his son and the rest of the office- I think you should go. Normally, that would be a hard “no” because your personal life and your personal time are your own. Here, though, you say that people have worked together for decades, are close-knit and add that your absence would be noted. This seems like a case of “sure, you COULD skip this event with a clear conscience… but you SHOULD go, not for the sake of any obligation on your part, but for the sake of the particular place where you are employed and its culture and the possible long-term ramifications if you don’t go”. You won’t get a “do-over” if this turns out to be a big deal. It sucks, it shouldn’t be a big deal. But it’s more prudent in this particular instance to attend (and you can cut out early on any reasonable pretext, thus giving you a little of your missing personal time back).

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I respectfully disagree. If my company’s culture requires that I give up my free time for a day and spend money on a gift just so that I can stay in their good graces, this is a company that I definitely don’t want to work for much longer. I’m there to work, not get adopted by these people.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I am thinking something along the same lines. I have gone to coworker weddings in the past and enjoyed them greatly, but those were work friends. The gift part especially is tripping me up with this one. Having to spend $$$ on a gift for a boss’s son, because otherwise there will be long-term ramifications for your career, sounds several layers of dicey to me. What kind of a career is it that I have to pay cash to my boss’s family in order to have it? do I even want this kind of a career or am I better off working someplace more professional?

    2. Rugby*

      I agree. Sometimes it’s best to just suck it up and go. If the office is as small and close-knit as OP describes, most coworkers will attend the wedding and it’s going to be noticeable that OP isn’t there, regardless of the excuse. If OP plans to stay at this company for a long time and grow their career there, attending this wedding could be a good way to build rapport with boss, boss’s son, and other colleagues.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I agree. Sometimes we attend functions out of obligation, and it’s not the most fun thing in the world, but it’s usually worth the aggravation. And you definitely don’t have to stay for the whole thing.

      There’s also the issue of not knowing many people there– neither will your co-workers! You’ll all just know each other. You will likely be seated together and there is no need to mingle if you don’t feel like it. I am a great one for mingling, but the last co-worker wedding I went to, I stayed at our table and chatted with my colleagues.

    4. Jennifer*

      Hard disagree. She shouldn’t say “No, I can’t stand you so I’m not going,” but saying she has another event that day shouldn’t be a big deal.

  38. Jedi Squirrel*

    They don’t have time for year-end reviews? That’s BS. They know when they are, and they should plan accordingly. If the end of the year is a busy time for them, they should move them to a slow portion of the year. This is just a delaying tactic to avoid giving people raises.

    This reminds me of people who always do last-minute shopping for the holidays. C’mon, that’s been on the calendar all year. It’s not like they announced Christmas at the last minute.

    1. WellRed*

      Yes, the end of the year arrives like clockwork at the same time every year. That’s the beauty of the calendar. Either your company has found a way to save a few bucks on the back of its employees, or whether they just don’t think it’s important enough to make time for, you now know employees aren’t a priority for them.

    2. PersephoneUnderground*

      In defense of last-minute shoppers, not everyone is organized in their personal life! (And to grab a theme from the other comments, some types of non-neurotypical people like those with ADHD often have extra difficulty with planning.) That said, at work you’re literally being paid to keep your stuff together, management in particular, so there’s a higher standard for this sort of thing. Not to mention if they recognized it as a planning problem on their part they’d be inclined to mitigate the impact with things like back pay if asked. The fact that they don’t says they likely just don’t think this is that important.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        Well…everybody does a little last-minute shopping, and with neuroatypical folks aside, I’m thinking of mostly of my fellow men, some of whom are capable of planning a two-week fishing trip months in advance, but somehow trip up every year on Christmas. Which backs up your point—if they thought this were important, they would manage to get it done.

    3. Blue Horizon*

      This is often a symptom of tokenism regarding the reviews themselves (i.e., the company skimps on them, doesn’t do them well, or otherwise generally believes they are of no value). If so then it generally means that raises will be done based on some factor(s) other than reviews, usually some kind of explicit or unspoken agreement among managers. What goes into that decision depends on the workplace in question, but “who demands one the loudest” is very often a significant factor. Bluntly, if you make it clear that it will be more work for them to deny you a raise than it will be for them to give you what you ask, you will very often succeed.

      No, it’s not great, and yes, it’s a symptom of a workplace that doesn’t really care much about employee development, but there are ways to make it work to your advantage in the near term.

  39. StaceyIzMe*

    On the issue of phone use in meetings or in other contexts at work- we’ve reached the point as a society where apps are integrated into everything we do and we just slip into checking our phones even when we shouldn’t, whether for good reasons or self-indulgent ones. The sticky part of this is that it’s so much the norm and there is so much potential excuse-making that can occur that there’s a reasonable likelihood that an employee with any value to the company and no other performance issues may resist being told, in so many words, to put his phone away. I think the LW supervisor needs a little more information and could find out if his direct report is distracted simply by requesting information/ options for action items/ specific evaluation of some of the finer points of any given meeting. That should let you know whether he’s been listening and THEN you can tell him to “put the blankety-blank phone away” if he’s spacing out when he should be paying attention . It’s always best to verify the details, especially when it’s a debatable point.

  40. Jules the 3rd*

    OP4: What’s your timeline for bringing the other two employees up to the level where they can cover critical needs while you and your experienced employee are out?

    The strategies here are fine for the rest of this year, but you might be able to get rid of this problem entirely with some training.

    1. OP4*

      Agreed. My second direct report Sarah is well on her way to being up to speed with Jane by early next year, which will make things better. The third has just started, but having 3 is better than 2.

  41. WellRed*

    For the vacay OP. Alison is spot on. I have the same situation, only I am the mployee. I can’t easily afford vacations so, aside from one week I visit family, I find it hard to plan in advance. Though I have gotten better at this. I am happy to work around boss’s dates (married, small child, while I am single) because I know she will always make it work for me when necessary. And yeah, back when, she’d haul all the calendar to make sure everyone took at least one week in summer(also use it or lose policy, which I think is BS).

  42. A Poster Has No Name*

    OP #3, has your company thought through the need for these meetings? It sounds like they’re long and not necessary for this employee, at least, so so that may be true for others. If he’s spending half of them on his phone, maybe it would be better to have him not sitting in meetings he doesn’t seem to need (as not paying attention doesn’t hurt him any) when he could be doing his job.

    Seriously, companies that have meetings just to have meetings drive me up a wall.

    1. Shadowbelle*

      I was about to post the same thing. The meetings where the employee is surfing his phone might well be (to put it politely) not well-designed or well-delivered. The employee is clearly not engaged. I deliver a fair amount of training — a couple of weeks a year — and I always tell the attendees they have a choice. They can turn their phones off and put them away, or they can put them on the desk/table in front of them so that they can quickly identify a critical notification and leave the room to respond to it. I make it clear that if they feel the need to surf while in the class, either they shouldn’t be in the class, or I’m not doing my job properly. I also make it a point to talk for no more than 10 minutes before giving the students something to do.

      Companies: stop throwing large groups of people in rooms and babbling at us and calling it “training”. This only works for auditory learners, and only for them when done well.

    2. Lynn Whitehat*

      YESSSSSSSS. I used to work at a defense contractor, and every person-hour in a meeting got billed to “overhead”. Which meant they literally had a to put a dollar value on our time and write checks for it. We had extremely few meetings.

    3. Sunflower*

      I think lots of companies have too many meetings BUT it’s highly unlikely the OP has any control over these meetings if senior leadership is included in them as well. I’m reminded of a monthly department meeting we used to have. In a meeting of 80 people, only 1 person could make the call on cancelling it and 3 people had the standing to potentially raise the thought of cancelling it. I’d say 95% of people in the meeting didn’t think they had to be there.

    4. op3*

      Mentioned earlier, but repeating: the meetings to which I’m referring are optional if you have something else going on taking precedent (too much work, primarily; conflicting meetings) and sometimes, completely optional (optional training). There are mandatory meetings but this person tends to be fine putting down his phone in smaller groups.

      1. Shadowbelle*

        “but this person tends to be fine putting down his phone in smaller groups”
        In that case, I’ll bet you anything that he isn’t an auditory learner, and he simply is not physically capable of focusing in the large meetings. This is a form of diversity that is largely ignored in corporations (along with the widespread prejudice against people who aren’t morning people). He’s probably also an introvert, and consciously or not, may have trouble dealing with groups larger than 6 – 10. The brain just shuts off.

        1. It's that Little Extra*

          Not capable of focusing in large meetings is a huge deal and there’s no reason for companies to treat this as not a problem! There are lots of reasons for the need of meeting to be of a certain size and if someone isn’t able to focus, they are probably in the wrong industry or company.

          My guess is in the smaller meetings, he’s probably more involved and has a greater stake in what’s being discussed so he’s more engaged. For example, I was always much more engaged in my meetings of my team of 10 as opposed to my department meetings of 80. This isn’t a personality thing.

          I am not a morning person. At my last job, this wasn’t a problem because my culture and industry wasn’t focused around calls and we started a little later in the day so people worked later. My new job, I’ve got lots of morning meetings because my job works with London and I’m US. I’ve had to train myself to be more alert in the morning. This isn’t a prejudice against not morning people- it’s a the office hours are 9-6 and you’ve gotta work with other people so this is what’s required of the job. If I couldn’t adjust, I’d look for a job that is better suited to my needs. A smaller company would probably be better suited for someone like this.

          1. Shadowbelle*

            “Not capable of focusing in large meetings is a huge deal and there’s no reason for companies to treat this as not a problem! There are lots of reasons for the need of meeting to be of a certain size and if someone isn’t able to focus, they are probably in the wrong industry or company.”

            I completely agree with you. At the same time, I completely disagree. It’s like saying that not being able to manuever one’s wheelchair over the curbs in the office complex is a huge problem. Yes, it is a problem, especially if the employee in the wheelchair is penalized for not being able to get over the curb. The employer creates a situation in which the employee is going to fail, because the employer is following a tradition that disregards diversity. In the case of the wheelchair example, it’s diversity of physical ability. In the argument I’m making on behalf of the OP’s employee (and millions of others), it’s neuro-diversity. It’s not something the employee can “get over”.

            Saying the employee is in the wrong company or wrong industry is misguided, because it’s pretty much impossible to find a good job at a decent company where they don’t have these convocations. I am in my sixties. I have worked for over a dozen companies of all sizes and in multiple industries. Pretty much all of them call people together to listen to presentations, and call these convocations “meetings”. They aren’t meetings, they’re lectures. Even in college, where it really matters, some students are physically incapable of learning anything from a lecture. This is not a lack of interest in the subject or willingness to study. It’s a physical incapacity.

            “I was always much more engaged in my meetings of my team of 10 as opposed to my department meetings of 80. This isn’t a personality thing.”
            Possibly not for you, but your experience does not represent everyone’s experience. People’s brains work differently.

            The problem I’m trying to point out here is that companies large and small have certain traditions that they are completely unwilling to adapt, regardless of the effect of those traditions on employee engagement, productivity, or retention.

            1. Shadowbelle*

              BTW, just for clarity: I’m not suggesting OP 3’s employee should be encouraged to phone surf rather than appear to be paying attention. I’m throwing out the possibility that having the appearance of paying attention, and actually absorbing information, are two completely different things, and the latter is not necessarily under the control of the employee.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          I know that people on this site like to diagnose everyone and everything with introversion like it’s some incurable medical condition, but really?

          How about this: he is on his phone during meetings because he is uninterested in the topic under discussion, decides to quickly check the sports results and ends up scrolling for fifteen minutes straight. He assumes that because he’s in a huge meeting, nobody is paying attention to him and no-one will notice. In a small group, he knows that people will notice and conclude that he is being rude, so he doesn’t do that.

          1. TechWorker*

            +1 – the conclusion that he can’t focus seems like only one possible option – the other is this!

          2. Academic Addie*

            Maybe he’s an introvert. Maybe not having his phone out means he has to be bored in a few minutes of a training session. I don’t get this attitude that adults need to be entertained for 100% of their day at work. Everyone gets bored or frustrated or just isn’t into it some days. Up above, someone commented that the presentations should go at a faster pace because it would be better to lose people who can’t keep up than have this one guy be a little bored. I’m baffled by that.

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              I agree. There’s a lot of things that I think would make my work day more interesting or enjoyable which I don’t get to do for various reasons, and it’s like… yeah, that’s work. And most of those things don’t involve being actively disrespectful to my colleagues.

        3. Lilysparrow*

          Being an introvert has nothing to do with your ability to focus your attention. Introvert is a personality type, not a neurological condition. Introvert does not equal ADHD.

          I am an introvert who has ADHD. They are different. And if I am not capable of being – or at least appearing – politely attentive in a work meeting, then that is a work problem that indicates I need to adjust my treatment regimen, or pursue accommodations. It does not mean my manager should make assumptions about what I need, or make exceptions from normal work expectations.

          In a meeting of 100 people drawn from the general adult population, it’s safe to assume there are 4-8 people with ADHD present, and probably 50 introverts (not accounting for self-selection by industry).

          If Phone Guy is spending more than half the meeting scrolling, and all his introverted and focus-challenged colleagues are not, then it’s not the meeting. It’s him.

        4. Senor Montoya*

          But he doesn’t have to use a *phone* to help himself. People with such issues didn’t suddenly appear when cell phones became common. They’ve been around for a long time (raises hand, I’m old and have been working forever, and I have these issues and have had them forever). Fergus needs to find another way to keep himself focused, occupied, amused, whatever — because the phone is coming across as rude.

  43. A*

    OP4: I encourage you to also consider if finances or life stage is coming into play. It doesn’t sound like it, but worth considering. I ran into similar issues early on in my career when I was in a department where only two people could be out at the same time, and vacation was booked first come first serve starting on January 2nd of each year. It was an awful setup. All of my coworkers were 20+ years older than me, and my boss was incapable of understanding that so long as I was living paycheck to paycheck, I was extremely limited in my ability to plan ahead. My ability to take vacation was based on circumstances that I couldn’t predict, because one minor unexpected expense could mean I’d be unable to go. My coworkers would get upset when I’d remove my name from the calendar, because they had already worked around my dates. Somehow they were all unable to understand that at the age of 22, it’s unrealistic to expect someone to plan 10+ months out. Not to mention literally none of my friends could speak to their schedule that far out, so it was literally just me grabbing dates to get it on the calendar. It was so obnoxious! I was happy for my coworkers that they had the flexibility to schedule ahead, but I wasn’t in the same boat.

    It was one of many reasons I ended up moving on. They knew how much they paid me, they should have foreseen the scheduling issue lol.

    1. Quill*

      Yeah, my “can drive” traveling tends to be planned 2-3 weeks ahead based on friends’ schedules, my “have to fly” is at least a month ahead.

      … speaking of which, I have to figure out christmas flights.

    2. Jennifer*

      I’m in the same boat somewhat. Planning overseas travel a year in advance just isn’t realistic for my life. I vacation when savings, good travel deals, and free time for myself and my husband align. There’s no way to predict that a year ahead.

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      Yes! I used to have this with managers significantly older than me; they knew exactly when they were going on holiday because they were mostly working off the school holidays and they would know 12 months ahead that they would be going to Disneyland in August or whatever. They would act as though I was somehow scatty or disorganised for not being able to tell them in June exactly which long weekend I wanted next October.

  44. CupcakeCounter*

    I doubt the OP would be writing in if the groom was only a coworker – that’s an easy “nope!” The fact that in addition to being a coworker, the groom is the boss’ son puts more pressure on the OP and why they feel conflicted.
    No offense at all to the OP, but based on your description of the relationship I would bet you are a courtesy invite because they invited all employees/coworkers because of that close-knit, long-term, small office thing.

    Since you really don’t want to go, simply decline the RSVP and send a reasonable gift from the registry. I would go with the $30-$50 range if that works in your budget and consider it the cost of maintaining peace and good will. If anyone asks, say you have tentative plans for that weekend with family/friend and don’t want to risk them paying for you since they is a change you would not be able to go.

  45. Quill*

    For #2, I’d like to push back on the idea that we should normalize having photos of people in a company available to the average client / internet dweller / remote office. Doing it is essentially the reverse of a blind audition – it’s providing additional demographic information about the employee (gender, race, visible disabilities, age) that can subconsciously factor into how competent people view them as. See the many internet stories about how men switched email sigs with female colleagues and suddenly experienced sexist doubts about their work ethic and competence.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      Wow…I knew that it was an issue because of my last workplace but wow.
      I have a very old-fashioned, feminine name and I told me husband that if we have a girl I like the more gender neutral names like Morgan, Madison, Taylor, etc…specifically because of the lack of unconscious bias looking at a resume. I always get shocked looks when people meet me because my name makes people think of their great aunt (and it isn’t one that has come back into popularity recently like Hazel or Olive so my parents weren’t just ahead of the curve – they actually named me after a great aunt).

  46. fromscratch*

    OP#4 Could you create a team vacation calendar so that everyone can see when time off is happening? We did this on my team and it has been great.

    1. rayray*

      Yeah, there’s a program called BambooHR that my last company used, and it was fantastic. You would submit your time off approval, and then see when it got approved. No longer did emails requesting time off get lost and unanswered. Having the calendar to see who would be out was great, it helped you figure out if a certain Friday might not be a good time to ask off, or you could see if there was a week where no one else would be out. I’m sure there’s similar programs out there, and I think it’s super helpful.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      This is what we do, too. I started it at my last job, because the timekeeping application was awful for keeping track of the team’s scheduled time off. I carried it over to the new job, because it’s awful here, too. It works great. Everyone can see the time blocked off.

    3. Agent Diane*

      When I was running a team that had critical cover, we would agree peak holidays (Xmas, Easter etc) at least six weeks out. And the rest of time we’d discuss before booking travel.

      Also, you can set up a simple spreadsheet that shows you how far into the year you are as a percentage, and how much PTO each of your team has used. Then if you look in April (33% through the year) and see Jane has only taken 10% of her PTO you can flag that to her. As her manager you do have some responsibility to ensure she is taking proper breaks from work for her own wellbeing and isn’t leaving your team short by using it all up in a panic in November.

      She does not have a right to make you change your plans. Flag it to her before you book, put it in a diary and let her feel the awkward of not taking a short notice break whenever she wants.

  47. Jennifer*

    #4 Define last minute. As in the day before or a couple weeks before? I typically put in requests a few weeks before or sometimes a week before because I don’t take extended vacations. I understand that you need to book travel months in advance but that may not be her situation. I think you might be judging her a bit too harshly. That being said, I understand the frustrations and I hope Alison’s suggestions help.

    1. A*

      Ya, I’d be curious to hear this as well. Last minute by a few days is understandably frustrating and the employee should be well aware that it might not be doable. A few weeks is a different story. There are many reasons one might not be able to plan farther ahead than that (finances, unpredictable schedules, change in air fare etc.)

  48. Rainbow Roses*

    #4 We have people blocking vacation time a year or even over a year in advance. It’s on a calendar for all to see. I also suggest a vacation calendar so the employee who likes to plan last minute can see what dates she can and can’t take.

  49. Mop.*

    For phone guy, I totally get it. I process much better when I’m doing scrolling or doodling, but I know how this looks to others. Instead, I try to “take notes” which is largely not necessary but it helps with my fidgeting.

    Our company is really pushing meeting presenters to have their materials ready and distributed 3 days prior so that meetings are more about discussing and taking action, instead of just listening to Info dumps and it makes a world of difference.

    Also, I was annoyed when my company “strongly recommended/gently required” that we add pictures to Outlook a few years back, buuuuut I have to say that I really like it now that more of the teams work remotely. It helps me feel slightly more connected with them as a person.

    But don’t add a pic in the subject line—it gets stripped off for security on many people’s external emails and just comes through as weird attachments.

  50. rayray*

    #3, maybe suggest he bring in a notepad and pen to doodle or write. I’m someone that can be listening, but I like having something to do other than just sit and stare at someone. I was always getting in trouble at school for it even though I performed well and had great grades. I find it helpful if I can doodle or work on something. If he has a notepad and pen, he might appear to just be taking notes. Just an idea.

  51. Glacier*

    Alison, can you share some sample language regarding the third question (habitual phone checker)? I’ve got the same problem, and can’t for the life of me figure out how to say it.


    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “I’ve noticed you’re often on your phone in meetings. Is there a reason you need to be?” … and then assuming you don’t hear a reason that changes things for you, “It’s fine to check in an emergency, of course, but as a general rule, please resist the temptation while we’re meeting since it can be distracting to others and make people think you’re not paying attention.”

  52. K.K.*

    OP4: do you have any idea what she tends to use her PTO for?

    I live in a place with beautiful outdoor areas and unpredictable weather. Plenty of people take PTO on short notice based on weather conditions to go hiking/biking/paddling.

    My best friend works in entertainment with a very, very unpredictable schedule. She may not know until a few days before whether she is working 40 hours this weekend or 0. This means we can’t make plans more than a day or two ahead.

    What I’m saying is that it may not be the employee’s personality that leads to last minute PTO requests, but her circumstances or what she is using the PTO for. She may truly not care about the “good” dates. Or she may understand that she will need to plan around her schedule. Or it may mean the world to her to get, say, 3 PTO days a year that she doesn’t have to coordinate and can take on very short notice. Maybe your work can survive without either of you for 3 days?

    Check to see what her true pain points are before going out of your way to accommodate what you perceive them to be.

  53. BottleBlonde*

    OP4, I’m not sure if this will be helpful, but just to offer some perspective – I am very much a plan-ahead person (I will plan travel literally as far ahead as I can get it approved and can get bookings!) and I used to coordinate coverage with someone who was very last-minute regarding travel. She would use a website that sent her last-minute flight deals and plan vacations around those. She always said she loved how far ahead I planned things because she could just put those into the website as black-out dates and then was free to jump on anything else that came up.

    By this point your coworker surely realizes that last-minute planning means she won’t get free selection of any dates she wants. For lots of people the trade-off of last-minute deals makes up for that. I would take Alison’s advice to talk to her but in most cases I’m sure she is not expecting you to change plans to accommodate!

  54. Donkey Hotey*

    LW #1 – I was particularly lucky in my personal experience – I got married before my boss’ son got married.
    When I got hitched, my co-workers took a collection and bought us a nice present.
    Ergo, when son got hitched, I politely passed the hat and took a collection.
    To that end, in this case I’d simply say I had prior commitments (NOS) and immediately ask who’s collecting for a team gift. If they say no one, offer to start one.

  55. F Sharp*

    OP #2 – Why not just link your LinkedIn instead? If someone actually cares, they can click on it. The novelty of seeing your face would wear off literally right after reading your e-mail.

    Also, personally I just hate signatures that have too much in them

    1. MidWestProfesh*

      I agree with linking to your LinkedIn profile. It’s much more subtle, and allows you to build your network!

  56. Andream*

    #2 about adding the picture in the signature.

    Does your work email have a photo icon? In my last job, we used Google Suite and in my current we use outlook. In the upper right corner, there is always an icon that you can change to a picture. I know when you send internal email it shows the picture next to your name in the inbox, instead of just a blank bubble or your initials. I’m not sure if it works for external email, but it may be something to consider doing if adding your picture is too odd.

  57. Luna*

    OP#4 – I was always told vacation time is first-come-first-serve. This does give planners an advantage, but I think it makes sense. If someone is the type to just go with the flow for vacation, that’s totally fine, but they do have to know that this means if the time off cannot be given, well, tough for them. If there’s a chance of giving it, without interfering with other employees’ time or schedules too much (especially their own vacation time!), then that can be done. But if not, then they’ll just have to live with the fact that it isn’t going to work. Plain and simple.

    1. Andream*

      I agree, usually PTO is first come first serve. It sounds like the letter writer is in charge of the other person, so I can see making sure there isn’t going to be any conflicts, such as if the other person is going to a wedding or special event at the same time the writer is going to be out. Be and I like the suggestion of checking with the other person to make sure she doesn’t loose her PTO. But really the writer is overthinking this a bit too much.

  58. awesome*

    OP 1, no one wants people at their wedding who don’t want to be there. It costs a lot for each additional person in attendance. Please don’t go if you don’t want to! A card and well wishes are more than enough.

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