my coworker’s meetings run on and on … and he knows we’re all trapped in our houses

A reader writes:

I have a question about etiquette re: booking meetings and going past the set end of the meeting.

I have a coworker, Fergus, who is senior to me, although he and I report to the same boss, and with whom I have a good working relationship. Our mutual boss, Tabitha, is incredibly mindful of ensuring that the meetings she books end on time (or within a few minutes, if something is particularly pressing).

Fergus … not so much. It’s routine that he will book a meeting for our 10-person team for 30 minutes or an hour, and we’re still on the call 45 minutes to an hour after the scheduled end of the meeting. Tabitha is not on these calls. People who have meetings scheduled back to back are good with jumping off, but the rest of us often have time set aside to get things done, and the Excess Meeting is never structured, but a constant parade of “Oh! One more thing!” until I want to tear my headphones off, throw them across the room, and die.

This is particularly taxing when it’s a meeting booked at the end of the day, from 4-5 or thereabouts, and then we’re on until 6:30. We don’t have anywhere to *be*, since we’re all in our homes, but it does feel disrespectful to our lives, particularly because it happens more often than not. I would absolutely be fine staying on until 6:30 if the meeting was scheduled until then, but because the agenda devolves into “while I have you on…” it’s difficult to estimate, I suppose.

I don’t necessarily feel like it’s something I really have standing to bring up to Tabitha, since at the end of the day, we’re all stuck in our homes and *could* take these lengthy calls. I’ve thought about mentioning it to Fergus, but don’t know a productive way to do so that doesn’t make it sound like I’m lazy.

HELP. Part of what keeps me sane during quarantine is a pretty structured “wind-down” schedule after the work day concludes, especially since I live alone and this period has been pretty difficult for me.

The fact that you don’t have anywhere to be doesn’t mean you don’t have other plans for that time. You’re not obligated to cede all control over your day to a colleague just because you’re staying at home!

You’re allowed (at least in most offices, and certainly in all healthy/functional ones) to say, “I’ve got to jump off this call now because I’ve got something scheduled right after this.” That “something” can be a block of time you set aside to work on X or Y, or it can be dinner, or it can simply be the end of your work day. It doesn’t need to be another meeting.

It also helps to announce at the start of the call, “I’ve got a hard stop right at 5, so I’m going to need to jump off then.” Then when 5 rolls around, no one will be surprised when you excuse yourself to go.

You could also mention this to Tabitha if you want to. It sounds like she values good meeting management, and she might be interested to know that someone she manages is regularly letting his meetings go more than double the amount of time they were scheduled for. Again, it doesn’t matter that you could stay on the calls. It matters that you have other uses for that time, and running meetings this way is disrespectful and ineffective.

An easy way to bring it up to Tabitha would be to couch it as a heads-up that you’re going to start being more assertive about it yourself. For example: “I’ve been running into an issue with the team meetings that Fergus schedules. He regularly schedules them for 30 minutes or an hour, but they end up taking up to two hours, usually without an agenda or much structure. Sometimes they’re going as late as 6:30 when we were scheduled to end at 5. I’m going to start being more assertive about speaking up when I need that time for other things, but I wanted to give you a heads-up about it since I didn’t know if you knew it was happening so often.”

Or you can skip that and just start excusing yourself when the time you set aside is up.

{ 263 comments… read them below }

  1. WellRed*

    My goodness, free yourselves! You aren’t the only one who finds this annoying. You’re allowed to have time off from work.

    1. Shirley Keeldar*

      And you will be a hero among your colleagues. They will all rejoice and praise your name and start doing the same thing themselves.

      1. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

        This! Someone needs to be the first one. The rest will definitely follow.

        Sorry, have to go / need to start dinner / have to go to the supermarket (if it is allowed in your country/State) / have to walk my dog / whatever, you really don’t need a reason once the end time is past! (5 minutes over-time, no biggie. But after 10 minutes I’d be getting annoyed, and once the 20 minute mark is over I’d be very pissed)

        1. Zombeyonce*

          I highly recommend NOT giving a reason, just saying you have something else scheduled. That way, no one else feels the need to come up with a new excuse every meeting when they inevitably start following your lead and saying they also have to leave at the end of the scheduled time. And don’t balk at actually leaving at that time!

          Pretty soon, Fergus is going to be left alone at the time when his meetings were supposed to actually end and maybe he’ll start finishing them on time because he knows he can’t keep people late. But if he doesn’t, it doesn’t matter because you won’t be there to find out.

          1. Caroline Bowman*

            I’d go further, I’d say ”I’m going to leave the call now” very politely and courteously, say your goodbyes and then… leave. I wouldn’t even say I have something else scheduled. The only exception would be a proper, serious emergency.

            Agree that Fergus will soon be left alone within 10 mins of his estimated end time. This will be good!

            1. Rebelx*

              Agree. I would maybe also point out that the meeting is at or over the scheduled time, as that in itself is reason enough to have to go, and might help bring the issue to Fergus’s attention, for example: “It looks like [we’re about out of time/have run over a few minutes], I need to jump off now” + very quick summary of any action items I have as a result of the meeting (i.e. “I’ll send you the Llama File by COB tomorrow”) + some closing pleasantries.

              After that if he jumps in with “Just another thing while I have you here…”, I’d say “I have to go now but [can you send me an email about that/let’s schedule some time tomorrow to review that].” The 2nd option potentially opens the door to more meetings, but if it’s not something you can do over email, at least it would be scheduled, vs. the current situation of his meetings sucking up time you didn’t have budgeted for them.

              Since he doesn’t seem to take issue with people leaving for another meeting, I wonder if maybe he just assumes/expects people will speak up if they can’t stay on longer and if not, then he assumes they don’t mind staying on to work through additional stuff “while we’re all here anyway.” Not that that’s a good approach to managing meetings, just maybe could make it less annoying to think of it that way instead of “Fergus is disrespectful of our time and expects us to regularly stay on meetings way past the scheduled time.”

          2. Liz*

            This. the same as when i had a PR retail job, and someone would ask me to work for them. “Sorry, i can’t, i have plans” never mind my plans usually consisted of watching tv on the couch!

            i’m very lucky that my company, and my group are good about making sure you take time for yourself, whether it be stopping work at a reasonable hour or taking PTO. even though no one is going anywhere!

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’m that ‘rude’ one who will just get up at a long overrunning meeting and say ‘sorry, gotta go’. The person running the meeting will often call me rude, the others attending it…not so much. If the thankful emails I get after are any indication!

        (I used to give a reason: got to go to the bog, it’s time for my medications, my spinal injury is killing me. I learnt though that that just opens up MORE conservation for the person who’s making the meeting too long in the first place!)

        1. Liz*

          Exactly. I’m a firm believer in the more info you give, the more ammunition you give to get you to change your mind, agree to something you don’t want to, etc.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Husband unit just reminded me that I did, once, get out of a meeting by saying I was going outside to avoid farting in the meeting room.

            (I was 21 at the time and working for a sewage treatment firm though!)

  2. Mannheim Steamroller*

    “I’ve got a hard stop right at 5, so I’m going to need to jump off then.”

    Get everybody to say this, then all of you jump off at 5:00. If Fergus complains, remind him that it’s his own fault for not keeping the meeting on schedule.

    Problem (hopefully) solved.

    1. Colette*

      I totally agree with saying you have a hard stop and then leaving – but don’t do this: “If Fergus complains, remind him that it’s his own fault for not keeping the meeting on schedule.”

      If he complains, just say “Unfortunately, I had a conflict.” (But he probably won’t complain.)

      I also disagree that the OP should get everyone to claim a hard stop. That is not her business. She should take the right steps for herself and lead them to manage their own schedules. Ganging up on Fergus is bullying, not effective time management.

      1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

        I wouldn’t plan this as an “okay everyone do this” but I would feel free to tell your coworkers that it’s okay for them to not be held hostage either, and that if they have other important tasks, that they should jump off the LONG unstructured call and go about their day.

        1. Colette*

          Sure, but I think that’ll start happening naturally after the OP does it. If it comes up in conversation, feel free to suggest it; but don’t go and organize people leaving this guy’s meeting.

          1. theelephantintheroom*

            I was thinking that, as well. I’ve found that when one person does it, most will follow.

            And actually, not giving a head’s up is fairly typical at my company, because it’s understood that a meeting ends at its scheduled time and we all have job duties to get back to. (In fact, I’ve had people try adding an extra half hour or so to a meeting once I’ve accepted and I’ve then immediately changed my RSVP to “no” with an explanation that I am unable to go back X time.)

            Once a meeting reaches its scheduled endpoint, someone inevitably says, “Sorry, I have to hop off now, but I’ll take care of [action item]. Thanks for the meeting!” And then enough people follow that continuing the meeting is pointless.

          2. Glitsy Gus*

            Exactly. If you set the precedent, then others will probably feel OK following suit. If someone does happen to mention to you that they are tired of being stuck on these long calls you can bring it up, “yeah, that’s why I started letting Fergus know at the beginning I can’t stay on the call, it was just taking too much time away from other things I need to pay attention to.” Let them decide on their own if the time is worth it to them or not.

            1. Artemesia*

              Or as I have seen happen, others will feel that they ‘do all the work, while you just waltz off at 5.’ I know someone who is incredibly productive and always made a point of getting the work done in the work day. — She more than once has had to defend herself against less productive employees who whine to the boss that ‘we are here till all hours and she just waltzes off at 5’ in spite of the fact that she produced more by 5 than they did by midnight. Lots of bosses don’t measure productivity but butts in seats. Same principle might apply here — of course it is the right things to do, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t turn out easily as you hope.

              1. TootsNYC*

                I had to have a serious talk with my boss about this; she was the one who set raises, etc., but my department, and she mentioned that my No. 3 seemed to not be dedicated.

                Oh, no! When there was a REAL reason to stay late, or to give up a company holiday to do a project that hit the schedule badly, he was right there volunteering, assuming he’d be in the office, etc.

                He just didn’t diddle around for the look of it.
                Also, he was really productive during the day.
                I really stressed this to my boss. I couldn’t have her thinking that of him. Hours do not make the a good worker.

              2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Yes, this! My colleague was the golden girl because she would stay late to get stuff done. I was out of the door at 4pm sharp to pick my kids up from school.
                Funnily enough after he’d run the numbers and found that I was doing more of all the various tasks we had to do working part-time that she managed working full time, he didn’t change his attitude.
                When we were bought out, the new boss had a different attitude, and hated seeing people staying late. Suddenly our roles were reversed: I was the golden girl, and my colleague who was on maternity leave during the buyout, came back to find productivity targets had been introduced. I was consistently reaching the monthly target early in week 3, she had to take work home in order to nearly reach the target by the end of the month. She took it rather badly.

        2. allathian*

          Doesn’t matter if they have important tasks or not. The only thing that matters is that Fergus regularly runs over time and people are understandably sick of it and want to stop it.

          But yeah, take this up with Tabitha, too. It’s definitely a performance issue. Doesn’t matter if Fergus just likes to drone on, is bad at scheduling and making an agenda, or is just an officious jerk who likes to force people to listen to him. This behavior needs to stop and Tabitha needs to know about it so she can put a stop to it.

      2. Threeve*

        At the beginning of the call, say “I have an obligation–can we agree to keep this meeting to a hard stop at 5?” rather than “I have an obligation, I have to jump off at 5.” It’s perfectly fine to assume you’re relatively vital to a meeting you’re a part of and that ideally it wouldn’t continue without you.

        Everybody will probably be happy to agree, but it’s not like you’re having conversations about Fergus behind his back.

        1. JSPA*

          I like this version.

          After all, it’s uncomfortable for everyone and inefficient for the group if something important trickles up from Fergus’ subconscious at the end of a mammoth session, and then everyone has to remember who did or didn’t hear that particular pearl of wisdom.

          If there’s any push-back (as some people do think better when they’re thinking at another person, or at a group) try, “If you follow up with a list of topics or thoughts that have come up organically during the meeting, we could start from there next meeting.”

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think there’s probably a more polite way to phrase it, but it sounds like Fergus lacks structure in his meetings and that *is* his fault and it is negatively impacting his coworkers. He needs to go into these meetings with a better idea of what he is going to talk about and how long it should take. If he is regularly extending meetings significantly over the schedule time with “oh while I have you all here” then that is not very respectful of his colleagues and I think it would be reasonable for someone to tell him that he needs to make some changes and until he does they will be jumping off at the scheduled time.

        I think it’s totally normal for a meeting to occasionally go over–sometimes you really just can’t estimate how long something will take! But it should not be the norm.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            I don’t believe they were suggesting that as an exact quote. I think if Fergus were to complain that everyone was jumping off of his meetings there’s no need to politely deflect with “I had a conflict.” It would be more helpful to him if someone let him know that he would get more cooperation if he set an agenda and stuck primarily to the scheduled talking points.

            1. Coffee Bean*

              Agree with this. Having an agenda would lend structure to the calls. If Fergus still takes the “while you’re here. . .one more thing” approach, you can ask if he can send an email with the question which you can address during the next business day or ask to table it until the next call and add it to the agenda for that next call.

      4. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        All this.

        If a meeting typically ends on time, but for a really strong substantive reason it’s running longer, it’s good to stay on longer for that specific instance.

        But if they run long because of lack of an agenda or good meeting management, leave when it was schedule to end. Or a minute or two after. You can even chat it to everyone “I’ve got to go – thanks everyone” then exit.

        If you’re really in the mood to be a hardass, about ten minutes before the scheduled end you can actually say “We’re coming up on the scheduled end of the session and I’ll have to go then, as I imagine some others will too. How can we wrap up.”

      5. Zombeyonce*

        If he does complain or one of the “one more things” is a question for you, feel free to ask him to “parking lot” that question for the next meeting and add it to the agenda since you really have to go. Oh, there’s no agenda for these meetings, you say? (There definitely isn’t.) Start asking for one when he sends out the meeting request. If he starts including one, great! Then when you cover everything on it, you can end the meeting. Maybe early! If he doesn’t include one, you can ask for a quick list of agenda items at the beginning of the meeting and jot them down yourself. When you hit them all, you can pipe up and say, “Looks like we’ve covered all the agenda items, how about we break now and get back to our work?”

        I’m all for anything that gets people out of meetings and back to actual productive work, and agendas are a great tool to get there. I bet Tabitha would be on board with this approach, too.

        1. allathian*

          I think one problem is that Fergus schedules his meetings near the end of the working day. That way, it’s harder to use work as an excuse to get away from the meeting, if Fergus knows that people usually stop working by 6 pm.

          I still think this is a performance issue and Tabitha should know about it. She seems to care about efficient meetings because hers don’t run over.

    2. ArtK*

      Yup. You don’t need a “real” conflict like the folks with other meetings. You’ve got your personal schedule and you need to keep it. “Sorry, hard stop at 1:30” and don’t give a reason for the stop. Just leave the conversation. I would also give some feedback to the manager about this, since she’s not on these calls. That’s something that she should be coaching Fergus on.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        Or just say, “Well it’s 5:15 so I’ll jump off, but [some kind of wrapup phrase related to the meeting topic]”. Don’t make it about what you have to do at all, phrase it in terms of what time it is.

        1. Annony*

          Yep. When he says “While I have you..” cut him off and say “It’s 5:15 so I have to jump off now. I can pick this back up tomorrow if you need.” If he says it will only take a few minutes, repeat or say “I don’t have a few minutes right now but I would be happy to discuss it tomorrow.”

          1. Mama Bear*

            It is not uncommon for people to say, “We should take this offline. I’ll email you some available times for tomorrow.” And then leave.

            I had a manager who thought nothing of (example) reviewing a document in real time with me basically looking over their shoulder. They got very cranky when I pushed back on losing my lunch because they kept dragging meetings out, but that was really symptomatic of a larger problem. I think OP should start pushing for a hard stop at least for themselves and see who joins.

            Also, is this the kind of meeting where you can expect an agenda? If so, ask for one and then refer to it to keep the meeting moving. Going over by 15 mins is one thing, but an hour past COB? That’s a problem. Something tells me that if Tabitha knows, she doesn’t know the full extent.

            1. old curmudgeon*

              You must have worked for my manager. Her favorite way to draft a memo is to call in an audience of one to three people and narrate aloud as she types so that everyone can help her make sure everything is accurate and clearly described. Plus catching and pointing out her typos and grammatical errors so she can fix them before sending. She’ll yell-narrate out her office door if someone she wants to participate doesn’t drop everything to attend her command performance. Takes a minimum of 30 minutes out of the day of everyone in her audience, and that’s for a short memo. Longer docs eat up the better part of the day.

              I mean, yes, I appreciate a collaborative approach to things, but there’s collaboration, and then there’s facilitating someone being a princess.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                I was going to make a joke about buying your manager a rubber duck voice recorder… But one actually exists! The problem is that it’s a bath toy for babies, which may not go over well.

              2. Zombeyonce*

                I’m imagining how this works now when she’s working at home and enjoying a great mental image of her yelling at her pets or bored teenagers as she types a memo and they ignore her with the full disdain of cats and aloof youth.

              3. allathian*

                Oh dear, I almost fell out of my chair because of this: “…but there’s collaboration, and then there’s facilitating someone being a princess.” Thanks for the laugh!

                1. Mama Bear*

                  I don’t know what my manager’s problem was but they were always late, never respected anyone’s time, and made so many excuses not to come to anything in person (except for the client’s meetings, which were closer to their house).

                  Even half an hour is too long. Get a draft, review it offline, and move on. Holy cow.

      2. DyneinWalking*

        And you don’t even need any strict personal schedule! Just because you don’t have a specific item for a given time doesn’t mean that you don’t have general to-do list that you planned to wrap around the stuff that’s fixed in time.

        OP, don’t get hung up on the fact that you are free in regards to your fixed-time schedule. Knowing if there’s something fixed in time is important to know so you can prevent clashes… for things that are actually important. The wrap-around schedule doesn’t come up in that case because, by the time you assign a specific time to it, the question “is this necessary” has generally been ticked off already, so you have to squeeze it in somewhere and the wrap-around schedule will have to wrap around either way.

        But just because your wrap-around schedule CAN give way when it’s important doesn’t mean it HAS TO give way to any silly thing! The things on that loose list still need to get done some time, they can’t be delayed indefinitely!

        1. Mongrel*

          “And you don’t even need any strict personal schedule! Just because you don’t have a specific item for a given time doesn’t mean that you don’t have general to-do list that you planned to wrap around the stuff that’s fixed in time. ”

          And with everyone at home it’s more important than ever to have a defined work\life balance

    3. FormerFirstTimer*

      Thats what we do in my office. Even if the call happens to be a board member.

    4. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      A friend of mine used to block time on her calendar for walks and truthfully say, “I have to leave, I have a hard stop at ”

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        My team has started doing that as well. Our jobs have a bit of an internal “help desk” role, and during SIP we’ve been getting a lot more, “Help! How do I XYZ?” over IM or email with expectations of immediate reply. If we are in a “meeting,” though, folks understand and patiently wait for a reply. So we started booking our lunches and breaks, and sometimes even blocking out “unavailable time” to work on the tasks that really need focus. Something about that little red dot next to your name in Outlook is more legitimate than actually saying, “I can get back to you in 20 minutes.”

        1. allathian*

          Yes, this.
          My former boss would sometimes have days of back-to-back meetings, sometimes multiple ones scheduled at the same time. She needed to schedule time for lunches between meetings, and she’d even schedule time on her calendar for drop-in chats, because she was really that busy.

        2. snoopythedog*

          I used to work in a department that was basically an internal contractor for the organization, so we would work on many projects within the organization, while most of the people we worked with only worked on 1 project. I used to have to set my Skype for Business status to ‘busy’ to get chunks of work done so that Project Manager 1 wouldn’t randomly call me as soon as my status was ‘available’ even though I was actually furiously working away on a tight deadline for project 2. After a while ‘busy’ didn’t even work, people would still call, and then I used ‘away’ to discourage those external to my department from reaching out (those internal knew they could still reach me).

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      When he schedules a meeting, add another appointment to your calendar for shortly afterwards…sometimes with your mutual boss. At the end of the work day, schedule yourself a regular block of project-management time.
      And it’s totally valid to post your standard work schedule and stick to it. A personal after-work appointment can be Zoom, workout, or dealing with chores&errands complicated by CV19. I doubt he’ll question it but you might be more comfortable if you have a script in mind. Something like you said above, with no apologies. Your evening routine is important to your health–good luck reclaiming it!

    6. Boldly Go*

      That’s the way to do this. I’m grateful that my boss is very aware of time and apologizes when she has to run a few minutes over. But 45 minutes at the end of the day? Just no.

  3. Katrinka*

    I’d be curious to know if he ever schedules meetings that Tabitha is a part of, and if so, does he go over in those meetings as well?

    1. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

      I suspect he manages to run the meeting in a more professional manner when his boss is watching …

    2. LetterWriterWantsTimeBack*

      Great question – and he will, on occasion, but T will jump off at the end of the call because her schedule requires — then we just go on and on.

      1. Rainy*

        I’d imagine you can leave too if he’s just droning on. Does T know he expects everyone else to continue as his captive audience?

        1. hbc*

          I would guess she expects he’s wrapping up and going a couple of minutes over, and has no idea that there’s 45 minutes of blather after she gets off. I’ve never known anyone who was diligent about their own meetings be all “Whatever, sucks to be you” about others time being wasted.

          1. LetterWriterWantsTimeBack*

            lol, exactly this. She assumes we’re just wrapping up – and we are… until we aren’t.

            1. allathian*

              Sounds like you need to let Tabitha know how long the meetings really last. Although it would be a kindness to Fergus to try and solve it yourself first. Is Fergus senior to you in other respects or is he just responsible for running the meetings? If you’re peers otherwise, it shouldn’t be a problem to just let him know that the meetings need to be run more efficiently in future. Even if he is senior, there should be some room for pushback. What he’s doing is not OK and I would imagine that Tabitha would like to know, and that if she knew, she’d do something about it.

              1. Bomm*

                I agree that the OP should start with Fergus. Is there a reason not to ask him for an agenda in advance so that meetings can stay on track?

      2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Yeah, I’m sorry Fergus is lonely at home, but that is not your problem.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          This is exactly what I thought, he’s a sad extrovert that’s not getting enough attention and everyone else is suffering for it.

          1. tangerineRose*

            There should be some virtual meetups for extroverts. Maybe some virtual meetups in general.

        2. Jen*

          I have a coworker like that… and he was like that before the pandemic too, when he was working from the office. :(

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I see how it can be tempting to get people when they’re all there, especially if those people are typically hard to reach. Sometimes it is easier to just keep the person for a few minutes while you’ve got them.

      But 45 minutes? And keeping everyone on the line? Ugh!

  4. BethRA*

    All of this. I’d also bet my favorite WFH pj’s that the meetings are largely a waste of time because they’re not focused and just badly run.

    1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Yeah, I can only focus for about an hour. Any more than that and I drift like a boat. I’ve even fell asleep once (luckily nobody noticed).

    2. BRR*

      I have a coworker who would run long (if he ran virtual meetings, which thankfully he doesn’t) because he uses work to get his social needs fulfilled and is “suffering” at home. The meeting would still end up poorly run only because there wouldn’t be a plan to run long.

    3. Massmatt*

      I was going to say this. This guy doesn’t seem to know how to run meetings at all. He probably doesn’t have enough work to do so figures this stream of consciousness “Oh and one more thing…” is effective when it is probably killing productivity as well as morale. Meetings should have an agenda and there is rarely a good reason to run over by 50-100% of the time allotted, especially regularly. In a more functional org this guy would lose the ability to call or run meetings. Having a meeting run over at the end of the day until 6 or 6:30 especially is a jerk move, he might as well be giving you all the finger.

      You need to get out of the “well, technically we don’t have someplace else to go, so we COULD sit through more hours of this blather” mindset and set boundaries. Just because people are working from home doesn’t mean this guy gets to hold you all hostage.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        If Fergus and/or Tabitha push back and say you’re being insubordinate, not a good team player, or (insert garbage here), you can always claim your internet/Zoom software/whatever is having technical trouble whenever you get sick of the meeting.

        1. allathian*

          I doubt Tabitha would cause a problem in this case, because she runs her own meetings efficiently and wraps them up on time. I don’t think Fergus is some hothouse flower who can’t be told the truth that his long meetings are wasting everyone’s time.

  5. The Original K.*

    I used to be on a board for a professional organization (which I regretted almost immediately – I actually wrote in here about it, either on an open thread or a letter, and overwhelmingly the advice was to quit, which I did) and the president of the board tended to drone on and on and ON, and everything took twice as long as it should have. I got very comfortable with using “hard stop” language. I would say up top that I had a hard stop at whatever time, and then enforce it – if that meant interrupting him when the time came, I would do it.

    Try saying you have a hard stop at whatever time, don’t offer any further explanation (none is needed), and when that time comes, follow through and get off the call. Holding y’all hostage for an hour after the scheduled end of the meeting is bonkers and if your team is anything like the board I was on, everybody hates that Fergus does this and will have your back.

    1. Pommette!*

      I’ve started soliciting hard-stop information when we do our meeting-start housekeeping rounds. It’s so helpful, both because it reminds everyone that we have a time limit, and because it gives me (or anyone else) a tool/excuse to keep things moving. (I’ll also aim to stop at whatever stop time we set when planning the agenda!)

      I chair a lot of meetings for work. At first, I had no formal training and very little relevant experience (and even less natural talent!), and had to contend with a genuinely chatty group of people. I would let people ramble and allow things to run on, and on. The first time someone started off by announcing a hard-stop, it was a relief: I finally felt like I had permission to interject to keep things on-point.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I had a manager like this at at Uni who would call me into his office and just drone about all the wonderful things the department was going to do (none of which happened because there was no budget).

    3. Time_TravelR*

      What is it about boards that can be so horrible? I don’t recall your post or letter on the subject, but I served on two boards and the meetings would go on so very long! Unfortunately, I had not yet figured out I was free to leave whenever I wanted! LOL
      Now, at work, if I have to leave a meeting, I just say so! It’s quite freeing, isn’t it?!

  6. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Next time it happens, I’d give it a couple minutes and then say something like “Are we close to wrapping up? I only had this scheduled until 5pm on my calendar.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh, I like this, because it emphasizes the point that you’re now over the scheduled time. I would use a combo of this and the “hard stop” language in the post (sometimes one, sometimes the other).

    2. Mockingjay*

      And when Fergus protests or says, “I’ve got just one more thing,” respond with “Let’s hold off on the Widget discussion until the next meeting, so we can give it the time it deserves.”

      1. Baked beans for breakfast*

        We often say “Let’s follow up offline” if we can’t get to everything. We clarify who will send the followup message (the facilitator or meeting attendee) and then end the meeting.

    3. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Or like a stage manager: “this is a 30 min notice”, “this is a 15 min notice”, and so on.

      1. Other Duties as Assigned*

        I was part of a team at a previous job that was so dysfunctional that upper management HIRED a team facilitator from outside the organization. One of the things she implemented was a person to be timekeeper. This required the team leader to develop an agenda with specific times allotted for each topic (which we all knew was the root cause of the problem). It was the timekeeper’s job to say when time was up on each topic and to provide a countdown to the end of the meeting (“ten minutes left,” “five minutes left”).

        People took turns as timekeeper.

        It helped this group a lot.

        1. Not a cat*

          I seriously thought you were going to end that with, “and the timekeeper was fired….” ;)

    4. SomebodyElse*

      There are certain people I will do a ‘time check’ with.

      Other person: blah blah blah
      me: Ok, so quick time check we have about 5 min left do we want to review next steps and decisions before we run out of time?

      1. Zombeyonce*

        I love time checks! I tend to forget to look at the clock when I’m excited about something and explaining it (doesn’t happen often at work but it does occasionally), so I often start meetings I lead with, “If we’re getting close to time and I’m still talking, please interrupt me.” I hate going over time so I really appreciate someone that notices when I get distracted (thanks, ADHD).

      2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        I do this as well, and it’s very effective. I observed one of my colleagues doing it – watch and learn!

    5. LetterWriterWantsTimeBack*

      I love this, thank you! It feels like a lie to say “hard stop” when really, my “hard stop” involves doing non-work related items so I don’t lose my mind, but this is simple and accurate.

      1. MayLou*

        Would you feel the same the other way round? Say you were doing something non-work-related (like chatting to a neighbour, or helping a family member with something) and it was time to start work. You don’t have a specific appointment or anything else that means you can’t spare a few minutes, but it’s your usual time to start work. Do you feel like you’re lying to say that you have to stop and start work?

        1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

          I think it’s perfectly acceptable to say it’s time to start work even without a specific appointment. Most of us have a typical routine for when we are working, so it is also a courtesy to colleagues to try to stick to it in case we need to collaborate on something.

      2. Pommette!*

        Would scheduling a life-related “appointment” (walk with spouse or children, call to friend, whatever!) make it easier for you to feel confident giving a hard-stop?

        I’m bad at breaking work and non-work up times apart, and my spouse and I have started scheduling post-work walks. It helps me turn off the “just 10 more minutes, we’re almost done” drone in my brain.

      3. Massmatt*

        I encourage you to change your mindset. Employers hire employees to work specific hours or get certain amounts of work done. Virtually no one takes a job where the expectation is “You will work, and listen to me blather on in meetings, indefinitely, unless you have a specific appointment you must go to”. People have lives, WFH and the pandemic don’t change that.

        Frankly if I said I had to stop at 5 or whenever and was asked “why, what are you doing?” I would tell them none of their business. Not working! Not reporting to you!

      4. Hillary*

        My boss has a hard stop at 5 most days because his dog gets upset if their walk isn’t on time. I sometimes have a hard stop because it’s time to go start pizza dough.

        1. LetterWriterWantsTimeBack*

          Dogs are so good at schedules. And pizza dough is important. All excellent reasons.

          1. Pommette!*

            Dogs are great at schedules. And pathos! No one can be mad at a dog, which is a good bonus.

      5. Alice's Rabbit*

        Just because you aren’t physically going anywhere doesn’t mean you don’t have important things to do. Dinner needs to be prepared. Laundry needs washing. The house needs cleaning. You need to exercise, and have time to relax and decompress.
        These things are just as important – more so, really – as work. You don’t exist for the sole purpose of going to work every day. You work to pay the bills so you can live. Life is the important part.
        And with working from home, it’s actually more important to keep your schedule firm, not less.

      6. Easily Amused*

        Technically, if you were in the office, you would still just be going home and doing… home stuff. Does that mean you shouldn’t have a hard stop to leave the office? Of course not! Just because your desk is now at home, doesn’t mean you can’t keep to a regular work schedule. Boundaries are healthy! :)

    6. Nita*

      And if Fergus tries to say “sure, we’re running late, but it’s not like you’ve got to go?” you can say something about having another commitment… I’m sure he will try to push back, because he has to be very clueless to not realize that his meeting is not the only thing in your life (or even your workday).

  7. Dust Bunny*

    Oh my god, no–take back your time! Not literally having anywhere to go =/= not having other uses for your time! You and your coworkers presumably have meals to prepare, families to attend to, 1980s sitcoms to binge-watch, whatever. It’s your time; Fergus is not entitled to that much of it.

    1. Mama Bear*

      Agreed. Time to walk the dog, take a bathroom break, get dinner…doesn’t matter if you are leaving the house. Salaried doesn’t mean on the clock forever.

  8. Lena Clare*

    Uhhhhh Fergus, man, don’t be that guy.

    The warning ahead of time at the beginning of the meeting is a great tool – use it! And then stick to you. If you all do it then you can train Fergus to not be so disrespectful of your time.
    You’re allowed to set boundaries for your personal life after work even if you are working from home.

  9. Jester*

    I bet a lot of people are feeling the same way as you, OP. By being the one to bite the bullet and speak up, you might free everyone! Next time, others might feel more confident and speak up themselves. Good luck!

  10. Roscoe*

    This would drive me crazy. Its bad enough when managers do that, but just a colleague? No. I’d be off that call 5 minutes after the deadline.

  11. 2QS*

    Oh good heavens, I had a sixth-month period of this. My boss was extremely chatty/gossipy, and two of the other team members were as well. We’d sit down for the weekly meeting at 3 PM on a Friday, scheduled for an hour. After 60-70 minutes, we’d start getting up to leave and NOPE, the boss would think of something important, and then it would devolve into gossip again, and no WAIT this was something we actually had to write down, and so on. Sometimes I wouldn’t get out of work until after 5. I should have said something, because it was completely unreasonable, especially since I was supposed to have been being paid for the extra time, but wasn’t; no one higher up knew how needlessly long and vacuous these meetings got. Instead I just requested a transfer to another team. I know better now!

        1. allathian*

          My employer doesn’t have an explicit rule, but people know that if they schedule anything past 3 pm on a Friday, attendance is likely to be very low.
          We do have an explicit rule about agendas, though. We basically aren’t allowed to schedule a meeting without an agenda. Or we are, but the lack of an agenda is the perfect excuse to turn down a meeting invite. When I started here 13 years ago, many meetings were badly run. Things are much better now, even when we’re all WFH.

    1. lazuli*

      Oh, my goodness, I had blocked it from memory, but I worked for about six months for a manager (I was still hourly, and not allowed overtime) who would come into my office at 4:57 or wait until I popped my head into her office at 5pm to wave goodbye and start to initiate in-depth conversations about work. I had, thankfully, been mentored up by my previous manager who used to chase us all out the door at 4:59, so I would just look at new manager like, “Ummm, what?” and make noises about talking about it tomorrow until I could physically sneak past her and leave.

      We’re social-service-y workers so there’s a LOT of unspoken expectation that we’ll just donate our time. I’m a manager now, which means I might need to donate some time but my reports should not, so I chase them out the door like my mentor did for me. My current manager is also really great at saying, “Closing time! We’re done!” It’s so important, especially in a job when the work could easily fill 24 hours a day and you’ll never get it all “done.”

    2. The New Wanderer*

      Oh man, on a previous team long ago, we got a new senior manager who really liked holding the team hostage on Friday afternoons. After it became obvious that it was basically him holding forth on his many and varied work and non-work accomplishments rather than information gathering about what the team was up to, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I was probably the least senior person on the team at the time and I would just make an excuse and an exit as soon as I could after the official ending time. It was probably not a great long-term strategy (bailing routinely on a senior leader’s monologues) but then almost everyone was laid off within a few months so I don’t know if it would have been career limiting or not.

      1. allathian*

        Maybe it would have been career limiting, but I bet it was sanity saving to bail out.

  12. Lance*

    To the OP, on the point of feeling like you might be disrespectful in signing off before the meeting is eventually ‘over’: you’re not being disrespectful. You’re not obligated to burn your time on meetings that go way over for no good reason.

    On a different note: is there someone else that can run these meetings, or even help run them? Someone that can actually put together an agenda and stick the meeting to that, and if something else comes up, direct people to save it for a different time. Someone that, just as well, can put a stop to Fergus’s derailing. Because if Fergus can’t properly run meetings (as it’s seeming they can’t), then someone else should.

    1. C in the Hood*

      I was wondering if, upon receiving the invite, the OP could request an agenda from Fergus in advance. That way they could at least have an idea of what they really need to be on for & maybe even help move the meeting onto the next agenda item. Not saying it would work, but at least it’s a good try.

      1. Lynn*

        I had the same thought! Lots of way to do this:

        “Hey, what’s the agenda for this meeting?”
        “Hey, what are we discussing? Do you need anything from me?”
        “I may have a conflict I am trying to figure out — do you know what we will be discussing at if you will need me?”
        “Were you planning to discuss X at this time?”

        etc. And cycle through as needed.

        1. Mama Bear*

          Agreed. Fergus (or whoever) could request agenda items by COB x date and distribute before the meeting. On some contracts it’s required that you provide an agenda 3 business days ahead of a meeting for all to review/prepare. Your team may not want to go that formal, but agendas have their place, especially when someone seems to need a cue card.

      2. InfoSec SemiPro*

        I tell my staff that any invite without an agenda/purpose/prep documentation they can just decline and refer complaints to me.

        Their time is precious, waste it at your own peril. If a meeting runner can’t spend 10 minutes to lay out in writing why they need an hour of 10 people’s time… Well, they don’t get my staff.

        1. allathian*

          The world needs more bosses like you! Thank you for having your subordinates’ backs.

      3. Rachel in NYC*

        I think that’s a great idea. I’m someone who without an agenda- my mind wonders in circles and finds strange connections b/t things but w/ an agenda I can just go down the list. It’s especially valuable right now since I am living by myself and video calls are basically my only form of socialization.

    2. KimberlyR*

      I agree. If these are meetings that other people can co-chair or take turns running, that could be another solution. (If he is the only one that can run them, this means nothing, of course.)

    3. Matilda Jefferies*

      Agreed. You’re not being disrespectful – Fergus is the one being disrespectful, by regularly allowing (?) his meetings to run over like this.

      Also, he doesn’t do this when Tabitha is on the call – that is not a coincidence. If he really were that bad at meeting management, he would be that bad all the time, regardless of whether or not his boss was there. He’s doing this deliberately. You should absolutely mention this to Tabitha using the script that Alison suggested, and also get yourself off the call at the scheduled end time no matter what. Hopefully others will follow your lead as well. Good luck!

  13. blepkitty*

    I’m just here to say dear lord, 45 minutes to an hour over???? Regularly? That is torture.

    LW, I hope Tabitha steps up and gets Fergus to learn some meeting management skills after you follow Alison’s advice.

    1. blepkitty*

      Okay, but also, I come from a talkative family. Certain members miss all social cues that someone is ready to be done with a conversation (up to and including, “I’m leaving now”), unless you actually leave the room. Perhaps Fergus is one of those people? My own family members don’t seem to take any umbrage to people just up and leaving.

      1. Nanani*

        In my experience, my family members who similarly “miss cues” are entirely capable of wrapping up when it’s not their daughter whose time is being disrespected.
        Same dynamic – Fergus doesn’t do this when the boss is around. It’s not “can’t” its “won’t,” and even if it was a “can’t” – learning how is part of his job if he’s in charge of meetings.

        1. blepkitty*

          Well, I’m definitely not my brother’s daughter! Nor is our father, who also complains about my brother’s ability to talk, nonstop, for several hours straight.

      2. Mama Bear*

        Even if Fergus doesn’t take a hint, it doesn’t mean everyone else should be stuck. OP should leave and likely if they do, others will follow suit. The meeting will end for lack of participants.

        1. blepkitty*

          I’m definitely not saying people should stay! Just that Fergus might be really, really oblivious and therefore the direct methods of handling this Alison gave are probably the only way, and also that he might not even be upset by people leaving.

    2. Heidi*

      It’s worse than that. If the meeting ended at 5pm and you’re still in it at 6:30pm, the meeting has gone 90 minutes over. By then, you are in the third hour of a one hour meeting! Not okay. I feel like it’s perfectly okay to abandon ship after a meeting goes 15 minutes over.

      1. cncx*

        this is where i am at, like if it runs over five or ten…even fifteen…i don’t know if i would waste political capital on it BUT 45 minutes to an hour is disrespectfully wrong and disorganized. if people get blamed for bailing after 90 minutes then like, there are other culture issues

    3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*


      There can be exceptional reasons a meeting runs long – a misunderstanding about something that results in a need for more time. Or some creative breakthrough. But if a meeting runs long regularly it’s bad management/behavior within the meeting or an unrealistic agenda. Both should be addressed.

    4. Librarian1*

      Seriously…. Honestly, I would just silently log off zoom if I realized the meeting was going to go more than 15 minutes over time, but I’m in a weird position in my division where I’m both lower level than most of the other people and work in a small department that is pretty unrelated to the work everyone else does so I can get away with that.

  14. voluptuousfire*

    Ugh. Fergus sounds like a guy I had a class with in college. It was a night class that ended around 9:30 and this one guy would wait until the very last minute during the Q&A session and right as my professor was about to dismiss us, he’d raise his hand and ask a question that would take 15 minutes to answer so the class ended up running over. Every class he did this, with a little conspiring smirk on his face.

    1. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

      Ugh- some people seem to get their jollies doing stuff like that. Do they not realize everyone hates them?

      1. tangerineRose*

        I think some people enjoy it when people hate them for this kind of thing.

      2. Tisiphone*

        And if this guy ever becomes a manager, you know you’re going to be assigned something due first thing in the morning just as you’re about to leave. And then you’ll find out that what you stayed late for wasn’t really that urgent.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      Ugh. And also, every class the professor would allow it! There would have been nothing wrong with the prof saying “that’s an interesting question, let’s discuss it next week” (or during their office hours, or by email, or whatever.) Boo, to people who take advantage of other people’s time like this!

    3. sacados*

      Haha I was just thinking this sounds like a professor I had in college!
      It was a seminar style class, so once a week for 2 hours. But he would regularly keep us ~30 minutes over time. And the few occasions that he did end the class as scheduled, he would joke about how he was going to go extra long next time cause he let us go “early” *smh*

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Did he not realize that some or all of you had another class right after this one? Would he have penalized you if you had not stayed over? Talk about a double bind!

        1. sacados*

          Yeah it was a grad seminar (that I was taking as an undergrad) and there were only like 5 people in it. So I assume he knew that nobody at least had a schedule conflict right afterward.
          But also…. his class was one of the reasons I knew I never ever wanted to go to grad school. Because he was THE stereotypical arrogant professor who loved the sound of his own voice and treated the grad students like shit.
          As an undergrad I was not held to the same standard, but he would randomly quiz them in the middle of class like “And where would I look if I wanted to find a discussion of X?” To which he expected them to be able to spit out author, article title, journal volume number…

    4. Captain Raymond Holt*

      I teach public speaking part time at a local college. When I talk about the importance of time limits I ask the students if they’ve ever had a professor/teacher that can’t finish on time. They say yes and then someone inevitably has a story about a professor/teacher which leads to a rant or two.

      After I let them finish, we talk about why you need to respect the time limit for this speech.

      And yes, I’m VERY particular about ending class at the appointed hour.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      I worked in the dining hall in college and there was this guy who always came in near the end of dinner, usually with a friend, and then TOOK FOREVER to finish up and bus his tray. I have no idea what he was doing–the food was long gone and everyone else was gone and it was just him and his buddy, but when we’d ask them to put their trays in the rack they’d say they weren’t finished and wouldn’t move. He was the self-proclaimed campus communist so I don’t know if he thought he was helping student workers milk the clock or what, but we all just wanted to break a tray over his head, toss him out in the snow, and go do our homework.

      1. tangerineRose*

        I worked at a coffee place where people would stay late. We’d collect their cups, etc., get everything washed up, and they were still there, talking and talking and talking. Frustrating, but at least they seemed more oblivious than obnoxious.

      2. Tisiphone*

        I hate it when people do things like that! It’s not even an effective form of protest. Several years ago, I was in a protest group and I quit it when someone suggested that they load up a bunch of carts at and leave them around the stores to protest crappy business practices. I called them out on how the managers wouldn’t be restocking, but the workers they were supposedly trying to help would have to stay late.

        The answer I got was a smug assumption that the workers should be happy to get some overtime. Um, no. That retailer didn’t pay overtime past store close (that was what the protest was about) and that the workers might have plans of their own and staying late for some asshole non-customer wasn’t one of them. I said as much and as far as I know (I unsubscribed after I sent my response) the protest never actually happened.

  15. Kimmybear*

    Just because I’m stuck at home doesn’t mean I don’t have things scheduled after hours…online yoga classes, virtual school board meetings, scheduled grocery pick up time slots, a date with a bottle of wine… Any one of those is justification to put an end to a meeting.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      And while I assume OP is still in a highly locked down area (or was when they wrote this), I’m not. Not all my coworkers are in the same metro area, and even within our metro area, rules are different for counties on the outskirts vs. those in the most urban/suburban areas.

      Otherwise, I feel for you, OP. I have an after-hours call that has to start at that time due to overseas folks participating but the person running it is not experienced at running calls like this and just lets the meeting wander wherever people take it. Some [rare] days we finish 20 minutes early, and other days we’re 20 minutes over. You never know what it’s going to be because one particular person introduces whole new technical issues on the call and expects to discuss in detail (not the purpose of a 20 person call, when 5 people need to be involved in that.

    2. Third or Nothing!*

      For real! I happen to be a parent taking care of a feisty little 3 year old while also trying to put in my 40 hours virtually during all this mess. Come quitting time you’d better believe I log off ASAP (unless I’m in the middle of something that simply can’t wait until tomorrow, of course) and go have some quality time with Little Miss Feistypants who has been begging for attention all day long. Just because we’re all stuck in this house together under self-imposed lockdown doesn’t mean I can now be available at all hours.

    3. Jady*

      This! There are millions of reasons you need to get off a meeting despite not having to physically be somewhere else.

      Got another phone call/meeting scheduled (personal or not). Lots of doctors and vets (and I’m sure others) have virtual meetings/consults now. I’ve had 3 of these myself for routine things. Kids need help with the homework. Pets need to be walked/fed. Dinner needs to be started. Have an online class starting soon. Gotta finish this report before 6. And so on.

      Don’t offer an excuse unless asked, but there’s plenty of legit reasons you could use to escape.

  16. Cafe au Lait*

    Another way to circumvent Fergus is emailing (using reply all!) and requesting an agenda ahead of time. When things start to drift, you can ask that you finish up topic A and move onto topic B.

    One of the best practices for how my job handles meetings is setting approximate time quotas for topics. The agendas look like this:

    Llama Grooming Procedures Update
    * Sign-on and mic check (3 minutes).
    * Agenda review and additions (2 minutes).
    * Topic A — Bob (5 minutes).
    * Topic B — Jane (5 minutes).
    * Llama Liaison update & questions — Kathy (10 minutes).

    Usually there’s five minutes at the end in the event we run over.

    If you get a chance to help write the agenda adding time estimates may help.

    1. Grim*

      Also use a “Parking Lot” for items that come up during the meeting. We used a white board to list them and the meeting coordinator would assign Parking Lot action items to the team post meeting.

      Worked like a charm. Kept the meeting on track to end to time.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Speculating on methods to do this virtually: files on Teams pages, shared Google Docs, a spreadsheet that the meeting organizer leaves open in a corner of her screen, even the call’s chat window.

  17. MicroManagered*

    I have a coworker who does this. In fact, I half-think she schedules meetings that until noon on purpose, so she can go over because very few would have any conflicts beginning at noon.

    I have started saying “I have to drop! Thanks everyone!” either out loud or in the chat at more than 5 minutes over. I don’t explain myself beyond that. The fact that the meeting is over its scheduled end-time is explanation in itself.

    If something important is happening, the meeting-organizer can send an email to recap or schedule another time to talk about it.

    1. allathian*

      My lunch hour is literally the most important thing on my schedule. Sure, it won’t hurt to postpone lunch for half an hour if necessary, but if I have another meeting scheduled after lunch, I won’t skip it just so someone can drone on and on and on.

  18. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

    I completely agree. A cheery, polite “I have a hard stop at 5” at the start of the call is all you need to say. You don’t have to provide any more information than that. If Fergus (or anyone else) asks what you have to do, just say you have another call or another commitment at that time. (I doubt anyone will ask, though, unless they are really pushy and intrusive.)

  19. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    This reminds me of a place I worked! They decided they were going to do happy hour meetings on Friday (ugh) at 5. Then they got pushed back to 5:30. Then they got pushed back to 6. Then they started running over!

    The problem was, the last express commuter train out of our city left at 6:50. The express train took 30-35 minutes to get to the southern suburbs. If you missed that train, you were stuck taking the 7:30 local, which took an hour or more to get to the suburban cities where everyone lived. If you made the 6:50 train, you’d get home around 7:30, but if you took the 7:30 train, you’d get home around 8:45 or 9.

    People who lived on that train line, just started walking out of the middle of the meeting so they wouldn’t miss their train. And frankly it was ridiculous to ask them to.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      Friday night meetings? Even with some sort of “happy hour” aspect (what, were you holding the meeting at a bar?), what were these people thinking?

    2. Lily Rowan*


      I had a “9-5” job once where everyone generally worked til 6, but my boss would show up at my desk at 6 with a pile of stuff she wanted done. It was never urgent! But that was when she got to it, so that’s when she wanted me to get to it.

      I started leaving at 5:45 every day.

      1. allathian*

        Did your boss ever give you any grief for doing this? Good for you for not putting up with this nonsense.

  20. Ginger*

    OP – I, an anonymous person online, hereby give you permission to jump off those calls.

    In all seriousness, if other people are jumping off, then it is ok to jump too. I would bet a million internet dollars they see Fergus’ behavior and are doing exactly what Alison is suggesting you do too.

    Your time is valuable. What you do at home or wherever you are, is valuable and is yours to reclaim.

    1. Ginger*

      and btw, if team members are jumping off and he keeps going, he is wasting time. He will have to repeat items eventually.

      Another option would be at the 5 min mark, “Hey Fergus, we’re running up to the end of this meeting and I have to jump. Will there be an email or follow up meeting to review the items we didn’t get to today?”

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      Yes, and I would bet that most of the people jumping off, don’t always have other meetings to go to – they’re just using that as an excuse, and you should feel free to do the same.

  21. Erin*

    Sometimes when this happens in meetings I’m in, and it’s actually for something that needs to continue, someone might ask something like: “This meeting is going over. Anyway we can schedule some time later (or at X time) to wrap up what we haven’t gone over yet?”

    Honestly though, if it’s not something that you think would warrant being continued later, you’re probably better just dropping off because you have “something” scheduled as Alison suggested.

  22. Jane*

    I had a peer who did this and it just made me want to scream. Worst one was when he was 10 minutes late for a conference call he’d set up, breezed in with a vague apology saying he’d run into a colleague and been talking (everyone on the call had been chatting and planning to jump off just when he joined), and then expected us to run over the end time yet again. Myself and my senior colleague were taking the call together in her office, had lunch scheduled immediately after to talk about career goals, and I had just.had.enough – I interrupted him at 2 minutes past the scheduled end time, said that we had another meeting and had to leave, and then did. He sounded completely astonished that we couldn’t just wait around all day for him and it is honestly a treasured memory. (There were other issues with this guy too. And my senior colleague – who was also senior to him – was also relived to escape the call).

    Anyway, the point of this is that just saying I can’t stay on past the scheduled end time felt so good and instantly transformed my irritation at him into feeling proud of myself for not putting up with it. It’s hard when you feel that he knows you have no choice but to stay on the call, but you could have a class or childcare commitments or a zoom quiz and those are all valid reasons. Your evening wind down routine to keep your well-being is a valid reason. And you’ll be a hero if you’re the person to start saying enough on the overruns.

    1. Calanthea*

      It does feel really good when you assert boundaries! Well done you, and you’re right about everyone else being grateful that someone actually said something.

    2. LetterWriterWantsTimeBack*

      Oh I *bet* that felt good. I’m just so obsessed with “being a team player” that I haven’t felt that I’ve had the permission to take control of my schedule like this. You’re an inspiration, lol.

      1. Mama Bear*

        I had a director that would apologize if they were 5 minutes late and try to wrap up 5 minutes early to give that time back. I appreciated that much more than the guy who could never seem to dial in sooner than 5 minutes late. Eventually we stopped 1. starting the meeting on time b/c we’d have to backtrack when he arrived and 2. making excuses for him.

        1. Massmatt*

          Catering to the chronically tardy like that just feeds the problem, IMO. Some people are late because they are disorganized/have a bad sense of time, others are late because making people wait for them is a power trip. Someone coming in chronically late will need to get caught up on their own, not have the meeting revolve around them.

          I knew a late guy like this who was often VERY late to a regular meeting, he kept wanting to drag an agenda item out to death, when I put a stop he whined about how we’ve only been talking about it a few minutes. No, WE have been talking about it for an hour, YOU have been talking for 15 minutes, because you’re 45 minutes late. The meeting doesn’t suddenly begin because Late Guy shows up.

      2. Jane*

        I wouldn’t recommend getting to the BEC stage I was at with my Fergus before saying anything! Seriously though, I’ve been doing a lot of work recently on creating boundaries at work by doing things like logging off on time when I have (non-urgent) work outstanding, even when someone would like the work that day and there’s no ‘good’ reason for me to push it back to the next day (other than my wellbeing and health, which somehow I never felt counted).

        It was anxiety-wracking to start with and I constantly felt I was going to get pulled up and questioned on it but none of that has happened. I’m getting my life back and it has been a non-issue really.

      3. gbca*

        If it helps to think of it this way, you’re really only “being a team player” with this one guy. It would be a great team player move for everyone else on your team to put boundaries on this guy infringing on your time.

        Also, setting boundaries on your work/life balance even when you don’t *have* to is helpful to both your team members and yourself in the long run. You may come to a point when you really do have a hard stop due to outside obligations, and it’s better to have already set that precedent before that time comes rather than having it forced upon you and suddenly having to shift your mode of working. And again, your coworkers who are in such circumstances will appreciate it too!

      4. allathian*

        Fergus is not being a team player when he lets meetings run over by 90 minutes at the end of the working day. I hope you’re getting confirmation on this blog that you have every right to stop tolerating that sort of behavior.

      5. Paulina*

        Being a team player needs to be mutual, or you’re just setting yourself up to be exploited. This coworker isn’t being a team player, in that he isn’t showing basic respect for the other team members and their time. It’s possible that he’s oblivious and is doing it because people don’t leave; in that case, he may learn when you stop tolerating it.

      1. Bob*

        I imagine you have one or more of the following: family, kids, pets, need for dinner, extended family, friends, other appointments, fatigue from the day of work, other obligations, need to get groceries before they close, or something else that is time dependent?
        You will have to tell them that once the work day is over your no longer going to work. Just because you are at home does not make the rest of your life no longer exist.

  23. ShwaMan*

    I don’t even make excuses. “Oh, look… it’s 5:05 now. I’m gonna drop off. Have a good evening. Bye!”

  24. Batty Twerp*

    at the end of the day, we’re all stuck in our homes and *could* take these lengthy calls
    But if the meeting overruns the end of the day that’s your time he’s then stealing. I am making a huge leap in assumption here that you are salaried, not hourly, so you’re not getting paid for this encroachment. Just being stuck in your home doesn’t mean you have to be stuck working after the workday has finished.
    This has been the subject of many, many articles on the phenomenon of WFH since the start of the pandemic – employers are finding that their employees are more productive, but employees are finding the work/life line has become even more blurry. Log off at 5pm if that’s the end of your core working day – flex to 5:30 if that’s your norm, but don’t don’t let him steal your personal time. His seniority makes no difference, he has no claim to your time.

    1. LetterWriterWantsTimeBack*

      Yep, I’m salaried. And the thing is, I don’t mind working late when the situation calls for it, but this is just poor meeting management.

      “His seniority makes no difference, he has no claim to your time.”
      [insert clapping emoji here]

      1. Jackalope*

        Many people have been addressing the issue of you getting off late at the end of the day, and that’s just as important as everyone is saying (enough time off is necessary to avoid burnout, especially at a time like now when life is a mess all over the place). I’d also like to add that your time is valuable even if you’re “just” losing time to work on other projects. I know that I’ll tell myself if something unexpected comes up that, “Hey, they’re paying me the same amount to do this or to do my original plan, this is fine,” and that’s a useful attitude to have in general, but if someone is regularly wasting your productive time because they can’t get a meeting together, that’s also inappropriate. It’s one thing to go a few minutes over now and then, but if he’s regularly eating up an extra hour of your time then that can really affect how much work you get done that day (especially if you get to the end of the meeting and want to throw your headphones across the room and die; that probably means you need some time to get your brain back into the work groove).

  25. Kettricken Farseer*

    One thing you could do is ask at the beginning of the meeting if there is an agenda. When he says no, ask if he can start creating them going forward because you want to be prepared for the meeting topics. My bet is that he’ll change his habits

    1. OrigCassandra*

      This would be my suggestion as well. I’d add “Could you put time estimates next to each agenda item so that I can prepare better?”

  26. Calanthea*

    Who DOES this? Surely everyone hates meetings and wants them to be over on time?

    Is Fergus lonely maybe? If this is just a during lockdown thing then maybe he’s looking for social interaction? I cannot imagine how miserable you must be if you want to have an aimless work call to fill your time. Would genuinely rather stare at the ceiling. If you have a good relationship with Fergus maybe you could check in on him and see if he’s ok?

    1. ALM2019*

      I had the same thought! I have a coworker who used to schedule 4:00-5:00 meetings on Friday that would go until 5:30 or later. Very uncommon at my company, most people leave by 4:30. I realized quickly that the only thing he had going on in his life was work and he dreaded weekends with no social interaction. I eventually drew a hard line of no meetings past 4:30 but it was tough.

    2. Nanani*

      Maybe he’s lonely, maybe he’s power tripping, maybe he’s a workaholic who genuinely loses track of time when engrossed in the topic.
      Doesn’t matter though. LW is entitled to their off hours.

    3. Jaybeetee*

      I’ve definitely worked with some meeting-loving managers in the past, rumour was they were just looking for excuses to get away from their desks/work/didn’t have enough to do. That said, those guys weren’t holding end-of-day meetings either. They were peacing out by 4pm.

    4. Mediamaven*

      Peacocks enjoy being the center of attention and frequently host meetings with no agenda, structure or end because they just enjoy pontificating in front of a crowd. I can’t stand those people.

    5. Lynn Whitehat*

      Yeah, I think we have some of this going around at my work. People who aren’t getting enough social interaction, and are using work meetings to meet their social needs. Personally, I am an introvert and I live with my whole family, so my modest social needs are being more than met. I am not into it.

    6. MissDisplaced*

      Can be any number of things. As a person who can blab too much on calls:

      >It can be tempting to get typically hard-to-reach people for other things when you’ve got them on the meeting call
      >You just get wrapped up in the discussion and or mistake it for a brainstorming session
      >You repeat things and/or try to understand something instead of taking it offline
      >Venting (hopefully not, but it happens)
      >General pleasantries and socialization
      >Enjoyment of speaking / seeming important in front of an audience
      >Not running the meeting well, keeping others short and to the point, or allowing tangents
      >Truly having too much to cover in too short of a time
      >Too many people on the call to focus the topics

  27. sepriyis*

    Personally, I detest meetings since the vast majority of the time they consist of someone relaying info that could have been in an e-mail. OP, are these meetings even necessary? How frequently are they occurring? Is there value in all, some, none of them? I’d consider this when speaking to your boss. If the issue is simply that they run over and they don’t have a set agenda or is it also that ten people spent an hour or more listening to Fergus’ thoughts on something that could have been an e-mail. If so & I were the manager, that would be really concerning.

  28. TechWorker*

    ‘Hard stop’ is THE BEST phrasing (it’s literally my favourite meeting phrase). It could mean ‘I have a super important meeting’, it could mean ‘I need to finish or I won’t get time for lunch’ or it could mean ‘if I don’t leave at 5.30 sharp I will miss the train to my evening class’… but the beauty is you don’t have to say (and feel like you’re implicitly admitting you value food/your hobbies/your social life over the meeting).

  29. FormerFirstTimer*

    I don’t know if everyone on these calls is on salary or hourly, but if you have at least a few hourly workers involved, you should point out that they’re going to need to claim overtime if the meeting runs over. Even if it doesn’t stop Fergus right away, I bet the overtime requests to higher-ups will clue the right people in and they’ll put a stop to it.

    1. LetterWriterWantsTimeBack*

      Generally speaking, the hourly folks are not on these end-of-day meandering meetings. Which is both good (for them) but bad (because that would be an easy pressing factor to tighten these meetings up).

  30. Koala dreams*

    I don’t think there are any special rules about meetings going on for double the time just because you are working from home. It’s almost always good to be on time, and bad to spend a lot of time in meetings when you should be doing something else. If you were working from the office, you’d be stuck in the office, or you would have to go home to cook dinner/do laundry/watch tv so the situation isn’t that different. The average worker doesn’t have tickets to the Met or whatever every day, it’s just the usual stuff, and that’s important enough. It can be awkward to leave during a meeting, but it’s important to learn this skill. In many professional jobs it’s expected that you keep track of your own schedule, it’s not someone else’s job to remind you that you need to work on X or Y or take a lunch break or log off.

  31. GreenDoor*

    It’s also possible to take over control of a meeting in a respectful, professional way.
    “Hey Team, we’ve been going at this for an hour now. Why don’t we end it for today, think about X and Y, and resume this conversation at our 2:00 on Tuesday”
    “Sorry for interupting, but it’s 4:00 on a Friday. The questions on the Smith and Brown accounts are great but let’s table them for our check-in on Monday.”
    “Since we’re all working on our month-end deadlines, I’d like to suggest focusing on the agenda items and saving the non-essential questions for the first of the month.”
    I bet you find a lot of other poeple breathing a sigh of relief or quickly jumping in to agree with you.

  32. Veryanon*

    Yep, advocate for yourself. I often have back to back meetings, and I’ve gotten much better at saying”I have a hard stop at X time” even if “X time” is just that I booked myself to take a quick walk outside, get a snack, or what have you. Most people will be respectful of your time, but some won’t, so you have to learn boundaries in this (as in so much else in life).

  33. Amy*

    No one on the team has kids? I’m on a team where almost everyone has young kids. At 4:50, people start to get a “let’s wrap thing up” tone and everyone has clicked off by 4:59.

    Not that people without kids don’t have plenty to do while in quarantine but the idea of parents sitting around having their time wasted at 6:30 is almost comical to me. At 5:01pm, I’m living in a permanent state of BBC dad. Heck if one of you wants to borrow my kids, I’m happy to lend them out as a conference call-ender. A few shouts of “Mommy! The baby is chasing me and and she’s naked and her hands are covered in poop!” should do the trick nicely.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      My kids are past the needy stage, but when everyone else starts filtering back into the house now (sometimes it’s 5:00, sometimes it’s 2:00), everyone still likes to plop down in the office with me and talk about whatever. 4 months into this and I still can’t get the family to understand my day isn’t done when theirs is done. Long days at the office + jumping back on at home is a lot easier than working a 12 hour day at home for me, but a lot of people don’t agree.

    2. Third or Nothing!*

      HAHAHAHA! That’s awesome. My 3 year old loves to run up to me and yell “Mommy I have to go potty!” “Mommy, what are you doing?” “Mommy, can I sit in your lap?” “Mommy, I want a snack!” “Mommy, my door is locked!” (Narrator: It is, in fact, not locked.) Thankfully I rarely have calls or meetings, so she’s only interrupting my own mental flow.

    3. Dagny*

      Yeah, this. Even if the World’s Best Baby is being the World’s Best Baby, I would much rather spend time dancing around stuffed animals than listening to someone listen to himself talk long after the work day has ended.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Wouldn’t be surprised if Fergus does and a late meeting means someone else handles the witching hour.

  34. Reed*

    Honestly, the fact you’re all ‘trapped at home’ and not in the office is in your favour, not Fergus-the-Overrunner’s. What’s he going to do when you say ‘oh, it’s 5pm! As I said at the beginning of this meeting, I have to go now, bye!’ and switch the computer off?

  35. Sara without an H*

    I don’t necessarily feel like it’s something I really have standing to bring up to Tabitha, since at the end of the day, we’re all stuck in our homes and *could* take these lengthy calls. I’ve thought about mentioning it to Fergus, but don’t know a productive way to do so that doesn’t make it sound like I’m lazy.

    Please, OP — meek submission to having your time wasted isn’t a good way to demonstrate your hard work and dedication. Over the years, I’ve noticed that people who are genuinely productive don’t waste a lot of time on low-value activities. Fergus’s meetings sound as though they fall into that category. Commenters upstream have given you several good scripts for bailing out of these interminable meetings and setting appropriate boundaries. Pick what you think is appropriate for your situation and use it.

    One thing that hasn’t come up so far — have you talked with Fergus about this? You say he’s senior, but not your direct supervisor and that you have a good relationship. So what would happen if you said: “Hey, Fergus, sometimes I have another commitment scheduled after one of your meetings. I know it’s hard to cut off a lively discussion, but I’ll make a point of letting you know when I have to bail out early.” Fergus may not actually mind all that much — if his meetings routinely run over, he’s probably had people jump off before. If he gets huffy about it, then you really need to talk with Tabitha.

    1. LetterWriterWantsTimeBack*

      Thanks for this comment. I have to admit, I bristled at “meek submission” since that’s not how I see myself (and I use the ‘camera off’ switch to do some work while these meetings are going on… and on…), but yeah, you’re right. I’m normally very good at boundaries in my personal life, but have a hard time asserting them professionally.

      I’ll get a chance to try it out tomorrow afternoon… there’s a meeting on with Meandering Potential.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Thanks for the follow up. Setting good work boundaries can be challenging, especially with people who are senior to you. But it can be done! Just keep your tone pleasant and matter of fact and don’t volunteer any details. Fergus is unlikely to ask for any.

        Let us know how it goes.

  36. Dagny*

    I’m not sure why you’re so focused on the idea that you “could” continue these calls. That has nothing to do with anything; your company doesn’t own your time, and your own manager doesn’t think that your time should be spent this way.

    Completely valid reasons to end an after-hours phone call that has gone on too long:
    Your friend is calling
    You want to eat dinner at a decent hour
    The dog needs a walk
    Your favourite TV show is on
    You have a yoga class
    Your family has dinner on the table and is making motions involving tapping their wristwatches
    You want to pour yourself a glass of wine

    Don’t overcomplicate this. The wording used above is great. Just OWN that you have every right to end the call about 5-10 minutes after the scheduled end time, provided that it’s the end of the workday and it’s not a specific urgent issue. Maybe I’m weird, but I would have zero shame with responding to “Just one more thing while you’re all here” with “Fergus, it’s the end of the work day and this call was supposed to end 15 minutes ago. We’re all going to log off now.”

  37. Curmudgeon in California*

    I would say “Sorry, I have another commitment at 5 pm”. If he asked what, I would say personal appointment. The actual commitment is your commitment to yourself to stop work at 5 pm without guilt, or it could be a scheduled daily walk.

    But yeah, I would nope out of that stuff.

  38. Student*

    One of my co-workers fought back (successfully!) against a culture of meetings like this at a former job.

    He simply stated he would only attend meetings that have an agenda attached to the invitation. He stated it neutrally to everyone he worked with, and explained he needs to hold to that policy to manage his time effectively across different projects. No agenda? He wouldn’t show up to the meeting. Get through all the agenda items? He’s out the door of the meeting. Go off-agenda? He’s out the door of the meeting (with professional discretion applied, based on the specifics of the situation).

    It helped him considerably in pulling this off that he was well-liked and very effective at his job. Which helped some of the rest of us follow in his footsteps afterward. He wasn’t in any special place on the business hierarchy (normal working-level employee of average job tenure). It also motivated some people to adopt meeting agendas as a normal business practice, which helped curtail a bit of the meeting run-on.

    1. it_guy*

      I had the same problem with the same solution.

      I had a ton of meetings that I had to run and invariably somebody would go off the reservation talking about another project. The first couple of times that I had to drag people back to the agenda, but then it got easier.

      My favorite line was “That’s great, and we’ll come back to it if we have time, but the next item on the agenda is……”

      It mad a huge difference now, that it is second nature.

    2. hbc*

      Yeah, OP, I think you need to look at this comment right here. It is the most professional, team-player-ish thing you could do to just set your own boundary. Maybe it’s insisting on an agenda if you think that’ll fly, maybe it’s saying at the end of every meeting “Whoops, looks like we’re 5 minutes past the meeting block, time for me to go.” In this situation, I likely go with letting people know, “Maybe it’s just me, but being at home has made me lose too much time to meetings. I’m going to be more diligent about not staying in meetings past the scheduled end.” (Who can argue with diligence, right?)

      Seriously, you will be a hero to everyone if you get this to catch on.

  39. Workfromhome*

    I like the advice. Some things depend on if you are really committed to and willing to expend the energy on changing the behaviour or if you just want to free yourself. That’s no judgment on which you choose. If it were me I’d just worry about myself but be willing to join in if the group wanted to change the behaviour.

    If its just me I might just do this. Speak with Charles probably via email. “Hey Charles with our work from home schedules now I have a lot of back to back meetings, projects so I almost always have to end meetings on time. Just giving you a heads up that I’ll be treating meetings as if I have a hard stop at the end so you can expect me to just jump off at the end time. ”
    Then the next meeting when end time comes just interrupt and say hey Charles as we discussed I have a hard stip I’m jumping off now” DO this only ONCE.

    From then on when the meeting end time comes just jump off. You have given him a heads up. You’ve remined him once. You have set the expectation you will jump off and no need to make a big deal of it going forward. Plus you have backup should this ever get raised to your boss. If it does you can simply tell Charles if he feels he needs more time to send you the agenda and schedule more time and you’ll adjust your calendar as needed.

  40. Michelle*

    Why not bring it up to Fergus himself? I would do that before going above him to Tabitha. Sometimes it just takes one time of calling out the problem. “Can we be mindful of ending the meeting when it’s scheduled to be over?” Doesn’t have to be a big-deal thing, you can start with straight-up asking for what you want.

  41. Atalanta0jess*

    I am bristling so hard at the sort of implied value of busyness that underlies some of the assumptions in this letter. There is a lot here right? Like, only scheduled commitments are valuable. My time doesn’t matter if it’s “only” sitting around at home. Relaxation is something I should readily give up if a meeting runs 1.5 HOURS past the end of the work day. My time belongs to my employer unless I have sort of other explicit commitment.

    None of those things are true. The idea that you must be engaged in an Official Activity involving Going Somewhere in order to stop working, or for your time to be more important than work is nonsense. Reclaim your time!

  42. Anononon*

    OP, please work on practicing standing up for yourself. I hope you take this in the helpful manner that it is intended, but life will get so much better if you learn how to be more assertive in these types of situations. There is no reason why you should allow a peer to continually hold you hostage so long over your standard end time. It’s perfectly fine to push back or get off the call in a pleasant manner.

  43. Mx*

    Having nowhere to be isn’t the same as not having other commitments. You could have an online class or online group exercise at a set time a few times a week (conveniently scheduled shortly after the planned end of meeting).

  44. Still Here*

    One helpful think to remember, that applies here:

    When someone asks you for some of your time, they are asking you for a piece of your life.

  45. Betsy S*

    I would definitely push for an agenda!

    In many organizations, even if the person is senior to you, it is reasonable to ask “is there anything on the agenda that requires my input?”

    Ten people is a lot of people for a meeting. I’d also watch for any pattern of things that could be broken down into smaller meetings with just a subset. Are there any times when it might be reasonable to suggest “let’s take this offline and three of us discuss this” ?

    And on the tactical side, in most organizations it is ok to block out time for yourself. Book yourself a 5pm meeting! Or suggest if you can that the meeting be moved to before lunch, or if you can see Fergus’s schedule, propose moving the meeting to an hour before HIS next meeting!

    1. MissDisplaced*

      We have a weekly team meeting that is about 10 people. We rarely have an agenda for it, because mostly it is updates from sales, though sometimes a special topic or person will be scheduled or featured. We rarely go over, because we all know our parts in the call. And believe me, we have a LOT of talkers on this team! LOL! Including myself! Sometimes 2-3 people agree to a offline discussion or stay on the line if need be. It sounds like the Fergus meetings are more of this type (weekly updates) rather than project specific, so an agenda can be hard if that’s the case.

      But the team can still end Fergus running over sans agenda At about 10 minutes prior to end time, some brave soul needs to break in with a “We’re nearing time and need to wrap up this call.” And no one should feel shame to do so as it’s good meeting order to give the reminder. It’s on Fergus to ask and/or arrange a new meeting with more specific people offline.

  46. Sana*

    I’ve had success with, “Sorry to interrupt but we’re almost out of the time scheduled for this meeting. Shall we quickly confirm the action points before we all head off?”
    And if you get push back from the chatterbox, something like, “I’ve got something I need to head on to right after this so I’m going to jump off, but if we’ve got other issues we need to tackle shall we book some time in later for this? Flick me a meeting invite with the details” (which, depending on the subject matter, sometimes can be resolved via email or phone, and sometimes never eventuates because it was never actually needed)
    The latter might be a bit more dismissive but sometimes it needs to be. I, too, have struggled with someone who just seems to want company and doesn’t seem to care who they take down with them!

  47. Trout 'Waver*

    My life improved immensely when I stopped going to meetings without agendas. “Can you please provide an agenda so I can prepare the relevant information ahead of time?” works wonders. Sometime the meeting leader will realize that my contribution can be mailed in ahead of time obviating the need for me to attend the meeting. That’s an added bonus feature.

  48. NW Mossy*

    In another context, I remember Alison saying something to the effect of “you can’t care about someone else’s problems than they themselves do.” The meeting corollary to that rule is “you can’t expect someone else to care more about your schedule than you yourself do.”

    I had my own issue with meetings scheduled over the mid-day time I reserve for working out. It drove me nuts to have to keep cancelling my workouts to accommodate someone else’s desire for a meeting, even when the time was clearly blocked out on my calendar. WFH has only reinforced how necessary that time is for my health and sanity, so I’ve gotten to be ruthless about declining any request to meet then.

    My new response is “I have a conflict I can’t move.” That’s it, because it is – it’s a conflict between their agenda and my own time. If I’m essential to the meeting, reschedule. If it can’t be rescheduled, it’ll either happen with my delegate or with my input provided via email separately. There are options, but no one will know to use them if I don’t ask that they be used.

  49. Name Required*

    There are so many good suggestions here. Asking for an agenda, asking for the organizer to define what role you’ll have and what questions you’ll be expected to speak to, calling out when you’re nearing a meeting or when you’ve run over, time boxing agenda items, asking the organizer to schedule a follow up meeting or send a follow up email regarding off-agenda items …

    Another one that I find effective for overly long internal meetings is to call for a “brain break.” i.e. “Fergus, can we stop here for today? You’ve given a lot for us to think about, let’s revisit Topic X & Y after we’re refreshed. Can you send a follow up meeting invite with an updated agenda?” I wouldn’t do this for a client-facing meeting (but have called for intermissions when I know we’re going to be in a working session for two hours or longer to stretch legs and refill waters).

    Or, asking if a meeting is needed, or if you can contribute your expertise via email. “Fergus, trying to get some heads-down work today. I won’t be able to attend this meeting, but can answer questions via email.”

    Or even, after 10 minutes over, “Hey Fergus, we’re at 10 after End of Meeting Time. Is everyone good to continue on, or should we stop here for today?”

  50. MissDisplaced*

    “45 minutes to an hour after the scheduled end of the meeting”

    Yikes! I’ve been on some weekly updates that went 10-15 minutes over, but never 45 minutes. Oh my! Usually if that happens, people agree to create a new “offline” meeting or stay on the line longer with only a few people that may not include all parties.

    People need to simply be leaving the meeting when it drags over that long, either by announcing they have a hard stop, or simply hanging up, or being “rude” and breaking in to announce the end of the meeting and agree on action items to follow up on.

    1. Batgirl*

      I have really outspoken people on my team who would probably only let him get to fifteen mins over before having to say something like “Fergus, it’s now half past, are you having a laugh?”
      Or “I agree the X report is important but not 20 extra minutes important. I’m losing the will to live over here.”
      The culture permits that, thankfully.

  51. Jennifer Juniper*

    Once again, Alison, you have demonstrated the wisdom of asserting yourself!

    I’m surprised nobody has strangled Fergus before now, to be honest.

  52. Josie's Grandma*

    I feel your pain. Our management and executive teams went through a 2-day facilitation training and one of the outcomes was to restructure standing meetings. Rather than going around one by one for an update, an agenda was completed with notes ahead of time so everyone could read it and be up to speed. Emergency topics could be added, but the round-robin approach was shelved. Until COVID-19 and WFH. While the meeting structure is still in place and the agenda available for anyone to update, it’s slowly reverted back to the round-robin update.

    Recently I brought this up and reminded everyone that the agenda needs to be completed prior to the meeting. Topics not on the agenda are to be added to the next meeting’s agenda. Nearly everyone cooperates with this, but we do have our own ‘Fergus’ who brings up extraneous tidbits to share with everyone. He’s been told to share them in an email and mostly complies. But it’s hard to stop him in a WebEx. The approach to complete the agenda and notes prior to the meeting has gone a long way to shortening the meetings. They used to be booked for 2 hours and now routinely last 30-40 minutes.

  53. Employment Lawyer*

    If your shared boss like you, this might also be a time where you might want to suggest that you occasionally get to try (for training purposes!!) to run them yourself.

  54. pcake*

    Unless you’ve had previous issues with Tabitha, I can’t imagine not telling her about this. Her entire crew is trapped into spending paid time doing nothing useful. If I were Tabitha, I’d want to know, and if possible, I’d anonymously sit in on one of his meetings to see how it was organized and if it went over.

  55. Colorado*

    Excellent advice here from the commentors. I will not have a meeting without an agenda, even if it is one line in the invite stating the topic. Also, state I have a hard stop at XX. It will empower others to do the same. My company’s culture is very strict around meetings and at first thought it was a bit heavy handed but with all of us working from home, which means even more meetings, I respect it so much. We start on time, must end 5 minutes before the half hour or hour and must end on time. How we enforce it? We call each other out in a nice way and it works! Another funny thing is our calendars are randomly audited to ensure our meetings end on the 25 or 55. I thought it was funny at first but I’m tellin ya, this stuff has worked for everyone up to and including the leadership team and CEO.

  56. Michael*

    A very common way to excuse yourself in this situation is to use the chat function in the meeting program to say “Thanks everyone, I’m late for my next thing, talk to you later!” and then just close the program altogether. It’s very, very common in work environments that have been virtual prior to the pandemic to do this once the meeting goes past the scheduled end time. You will get past the awkwardness very quickly!

    1. TPS reporter*

      so true. Some things about being trapped at home are a blessing. It’s easier to make an exit by clicking a button and typing a line. Exiting from an in person meeting is so much more awkward.

      Also, another fabulous use of technology is to block off your calendar after 5. Just make it Out of Office.

  57. Baked beans for breakfast*

    At my company, if you were regularly holding meetings that go off agenda (or don’t have one) and last too long, you’d get written feedback sent to you and your manager. 5 minutes over is fine, or a pressing client need might mean more, but everyone is expected to ask permission to go over time, and even the lowest ranking staff member can leave the meeting if extending doesn’t work. Email is a great follow-up tool.

    It would be considered dramatic to not address the extra-long meetings. I’m thankful to work at a place that encourages us to speak up, even all the way up to leadership.

  58. Batgirl*

    If he’s saying “Oh while I’ve got you I just want to talk about x…” then he’s actually giving out an opportunity to speak up. I would say just log off without explanation when its the type of wittering on that has ceased having a point, but when someone’s acknowledging they’re going on to a completely different point it’s pretty easy to say “Oh sorry I can’t stay past the end of the meeting or “Oh I dont think I can stay on long enough for a whole new agenda item . Even if he doesnt stop for a response: “Can I stop you there; I can’t stay for that extra item, so I’ll catch up with you all later kthxbye”.
    Dont let anyone categorise it as ‘while you’re here in this endless minute’ or ‘one more minute’. Time the meeting and let it be known you’re timing it out of consideration for all.
    If you do want to occasionally give an inch when something of interest is raised, decide on what extra time you’re willing to offer and claim you’re only willing to offer half that.
    “Oh I can give you five minutes but only five” and then at seven minutes butt in and say “Well that five minutes is turning into ten, so maybe we should think about it and regroup”.
    Or sometimes just saying “this is taking too long” is effective with phrasing like “Its a great idea of something to discuss at another time but since we are already one minute to ending/fifteen minutes past ending, then it’s too long an agenda item for today I think.”

  59. mf*

    I work with a Fergus who is EXACTLY like this. I have several scripts and ideas:

    *For meetings that are not at the end of the day: I purposefully schedule another meeting right after Fergus’s meeting. Then I can say, “Sorry, Fergus, I’ve got another meeting starting now. Got to hop off.”

    *”Fergus, thanks so much for bringing this issue to my attention. I need to do some digging/brainstorming on this topic. Let me put some time on your calendar to discuss this tomorrow.” (Bonus: this lets you broach the topic with Fergus at a time when you’re prepared and can steer the conversation as needed.”

    *For meetings at 5 PM: “I have a task I need to finish up by end of business, so I need to hang up now. Let’s connect tomorrow about anything else I need to know.”

    *If I’m scheduling a meeting with my Fergus, I try to schedule it for a time when *he* has a hard stop–another meeting he has to go to directly after mine. Also, I never schedule anything with him after 4 PM.

    *”We’re getting into the weeds here. It sounds like we need another meeting to do a deep dive on this topic. Why don’t I schedule some time for later this week?”

    *As a general note, my Fergus’s poor meeting management skills are a result of his poor time management and communcations skills. He’s terrible about responding to emails and remembering to follow up or schedule meetings. So whenever he’s got you in a meeting, he tries to cover every possible topic at once. I’ve found it very effective if I voluntarily take the lead instead. I don’t wait for him to schedule a meeting–I do it myself. So he knows if I need to drop off a meeting, I’ll ensure that any conversations we need to have will still happen at a later time.

    1. Batgirl*

      Yeah his manager really needs to know because it all flags up concerning stuff about his performance.

  60. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

    LW, I didn’t see anyone explicitly say this yet, but: in this situation, just because you live alone doesn’t mean that you have less of a right to a hard stop than anyone else on your team. I don’t know if that factor’s at play in your feeling uncomfortable setting boundaries.

  61. MRskier*

    I agree 100% with the response. For me to get something out of a meeting they have to be informative and focused on a subject. Sharing random thoughts in neither useful or productive. Sign off at your designated time. I think when you do it others will follow suit and soon Fergus will learn to compress his meetings.

  62. Lena Clare*

    I remember a while back Alison dating there are relationship-oriented people and there are task-oriented people.
    I wonder if that’s what’s happening here?
    Sounds like OP might be the latter and Fergus could be the former, although I still don’t think that means you need to compromise by letting him go over by so much.

  63. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

    My grand boss is like this…much harder to escape. If it was a peer or not a supervisor, I would definitely have “a hard stop.”

  64. Courageous cat*

    I think you’re overthinking it a little. You’re not beholden to someone for hours just because you’re sitting at home. There’s still a thousand reasons why you might need to get off at a reasonable time: family Zoom meeting, someone called you, you have to call someone, you have to go to the store before it closes… literally anything. Just pick it and don’t let him hold you hostage!

  65. Barbara Eyiuche*

    I often feel things like this are related to sexism. At the one job I had where this would happen, one man would ramble on and on, sometimes for more than an hour. He would often be talking about nothing. But he would not even listen to the women in the meeting. We were limited to one or two sentences, which he either did not acknowledge or just dismissed. There is no way he would have allowed a female colleague to ramble on for an hour.

    1. cncx*

      yup, i have a coworker who does this. if i say anything, it’s “off topic” and “needs to be taken offline” .and i get shut down HARD…if he brings up the most tangential, reachy, barely related to the topic comment, we’re just supposed to listen to it. Annoying.

  66. willow for now*

    Can you add something to your calendar, if others can see that to use for planning things, that starts at 5 pm, right after the “end” of this meeting? Every time you accept a meeting from Fergus, just put that other meeting into your calendar. That way, when you say you have to jump off, the others can see that clearly you have another appointment at 5 pm. (TL;DR , game the system.)

  67. Six Feet Under Par: A Chip Driver Mystery*

    Also, can you pre-empt it slightly by asking for an agenda when you respond? If he supplies one you can start to redirect the topic back to the agenda and use the “because I’ve only scheduled time until 5pm” line

  68. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

    Noisy oven alarm that goes off at 5 minutes past when the meeting is supposed to be over? Then you have to get up and turn it off whether you feel guilty leaving the meeting or not. No need to actually put something in the oven, but you could if you wanted to.

  69. Sara(h)*

    Although there’s no harm in setting boundaries directly with Fergus, in real time, I think it’s also important to let Tabitha know about this issue. It sounds like he could use some coaching around effective meeting facilitation *in general* — not just ending on time, but having an agenda and sticking to it! Adding “One More Thing” is only acceptable if there is time on the agenda for miscellaneous/other items. Otherwise, it should be a follow-up email!! Or on the next agenda.

  70. Workerbee*

    This is my entire team even before COVID-19. They continually run over time because they’re either repeating their own statements or having a wonderful new idea just then—and then another, and another. And, because they think a meeting is the solution to everything, they book back to back slots, come late to the next meeting, think that this next meeting should run its full time, are late to the next…it’s bad enough with just internal staff, but this happens with external people all the time. Most of those calls are video conferences, so external people have to wait for the host to join, etc.

    And yes, we have meetings to prep for meetings.

    I’ve tried instituting open collaboration tools, setting my own meetings to end five minutes before the hour or half hour, being good about time checks, setting agendas; they either really think having a meeting is the best thing to do, or this is a great excuse not to do actual work. A “Time’s up!” just makes them add five or ten more minutes of closing thoughts.

    After a year of working to mitigate this, I’ve given up on trying to understand why they think it’s okay to disrespect other people’s time, and given up on trying to alter this structure.

    My recommendation is as others have said: Manage your own time. Peace out when the time is officially up. It’s harder to do here with the boss, who is one of the top offenders, but I keep chipping away. When we were all at home and using Zoom, it was actually easier to drop off. You can post a friendly Zoom chat message that you have to drop, if you feel weird about just leaving the call. Verbally or in person can take a little extra internal oomph, but “I have a hard stop” and “I have to drop now” do work. You just have to follow through. You may have to pretend to be oblivious to any surprise/hurt feelings/comments. They’ll pass.

    Anecdote: My org was one of the ones that returned to the office in mid-May (no masks required!). I’m one of possibly two people still at home due to high risk. Despite my team being used to video calls with external people, and having done it successfully so recently with internal people, suddenly they started struggling with Zoom for internal meetings as if they hadn’t ever encountered it. They prefer to dial in via cell phone, sit or stand in a circle, and pass it around for each person to speak into. I know this because they described it to me like it was normal.

  71. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I’d suggest you re-frame your thinking on this. Just because you’re stuck at home doesn’t mean your time is less important, both personal and work related (similar to those who feel bad for taking time off when there’s nowhere to go – I was one of them, I’ve gotten over it). He doesn’t get to monopolize your entire day if he schedules an hour long meeting. I would address it outside of a meeting with Fergus, and then drop off a call when needed without feeling guilty. Unless it’s something critical, there’s no reason to stay on a call for an hour past the scheduled time – that’s insane.

  72. Mimmy*

    At a job years ago, one of my biggest peeves was our weekly staff meetings. After we’d get through the agenda, the manager would go around the table to see if anyone had any questions or issues. Sometimes this would get a little long-winded and cause the meeting to run long. I remember one meeting where someone brought up a ton of issues. At one point she laughed, probably because she saw the look on my face lol.

  73. OhBehave*

    Ahhh! Death by meeting.
    Definitely everyone else in the meeting is feeling the same. Your time matters whether you have commitments or not. You need to let Tabitha know this is happening.
    The next time you get a meeting notification from Fergus, ask if there’s an agenda? You also need to state that you will need to leave the meeting at 5. No need to explain why. Just do it.
    If you do this, your coworkers may just hoist you on their shoulders for a virtual victory lap!

  74. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    Oh goodness. I feel you! I have a co-worker similar to this, although it isn’t exclusive to enforced WFH (he had this trait before, but it does seem to have been exacerbated by WFH).

    In his case it isn’t really irrelevant musings and “while I’ve got you here” as such, in that it is sort-of related to the task at hand but not directly relevant if that makes sense.

    Rather it seems to be an extension of his own thought process where he will be trying to do something like de-bug a particular problem in a piece of code, and is at the point of “I’ll try this, I think it still won’t work, but it will give additional information as to why it isn’t working” etc.

    In general I don’t have an issue speaking up, so if I actually had a “hard stop”, or even if I just needed to be done for the day, I was quite happy to say something like “okay, I’m conscious of time as it’s now 5.50” (or whatever) “and I need to go” and generally I’ve found the other people who have been similarly “captured” immediately all had their own things they need to go and do! But on occasion I’ve tried this, said “yeah it’s not urgent, let’s revisit this tomorrow when we have a fresh pair of eyes on it” etc and got pushback from this guy like “no, I want to finish it tonight”… I have tried pushing back again but typically got passive-aggressive responses subsequently about “this would have been finished yesterday if….”

    He’s the only one I have had trouble with in this aspect. I’ve found with most other people that something like “oh gosh I’ve just had a thing pop up in Outlook and it’s already 5.50! I won’t keep you much longer!” is a face-saving “cue” that the meeting needs to end PDQ.

  75. Wren*

    I promise you, every other colleague who feels held hostage will hail you a hero when you announce, “gotta go now!” and leave the meeting, because they’ll all feel like some kind of seal has been broken and now they can leave too! Seriously, my husband once got nominated for a peer award at work for “assisting colleagues in improving productivity,” by a cheeky colleague who was delighted when my husband up and left a meeting, which triggered and exodus and the conclusion of an over long meeting.

  76. Emily*

    I sort of got a rule made about this at my job, accidentally.

    One time, when we weren’t talking about meetings at all, I told my boss a story from my time in college, in which a group I was part of invited a middle-aged man to talk about how his midlife crisis gave him a new zest for life, or something. The problem was that the event was in a language I don’t speak too well. And he talked for three hours. So I didn’t understand much of it, and what I did understand was absolute tripe, and I couldn’t leave.

    My boss thought this was hilarious, and now we have the Emily Rule: if a meeting goes over too long or gets too irrelevant, we can leave.

  77. RB*

    I know I’ve said it before but I’m a big fan of having pre-scheduled “commitments.” The commitment could be anything from taking care of a child or parent to having a hobby that you like to do at a certain time each day, or even just eating dinner on schedule. If gyms have opened up in your area, you could say, “sorry but I’ve got to make it to my exercise class.”
    If bars/restaurants have opened up in your area, you could say, “sorry but I’ve got to meet a friend in a few minutes.” The trick is to have a number of different ones up your sleeve so you’re not always using the same excuse. You can also master the skill of vagueness: “sorry, I’ve got to run take care of something” or something to that effect.

  78. Sun Tzu*

    And also, who the hell does two-hour meetings? The acceptable length of a meeting is 30 to 50 minutes, tops. At 1 hour everyone’s attention has already started to drift away.

  79. Luna*

    It’s silly to believe that, since you’re ‘at home, anyway’ and ‘have nowhere to be’, it’s okay to prolong meetings. Aside from hoping that you are being paid for this overtime… the idea is silly. It’s like people assuming that being unemployed somehow means you have all the time in the world to follow your hobbies or do everything that needs to be done in terms of house chores. Some of your time likely is spent on that, but you do need breaks and downtime, and that isn’t going into the time you spend job-searching and applying.

    Even if it’s white lies, go ahead and mention your hard stop time, as Allison suggested. Just because you are stuck at home does not mean he has any right to take up more of your time there than necessary.

  80. John*

    People still say “jump” as the verb for calls? Why? Where are you jumping to? Or from? Haven’t heard that in years.

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