updates: family noise when working from home, the boring job, and more

Here are four updates from people who had their letters answered here in the past.

1. Family noise when working from home due to quarantine (#4 at the link)

I wrote in a few months ago about an upcoming vacation my family was planning and how to make it work if his employer insisted on us isolating after returning from our trip. I don’t know if an update so soon after the fact will interest anyone, but here goes.

We canceled our trip, but because of a federal rule requiring that my husband take off five consecutive days once per year and his manager’s concerns about scheduling, he still took a week off. We used most of that week and pulled a few hundred from savings to prepare an office in the back room. When he checked his email sunday night in preparation for returning to work, he had a message informing him that his team had been moved to WFH status.

The other day, he was on a late-night call and one of his coworkers apparently heard me shout, “Get your naked butt back here! It’s diaper time!” My husband apologized, and his coworker just laughed and told him that she’d spent an hour earlier persuading her teenage son to put on some clean pajama pants because he’d been wearing the same ones all week. You and the comment section were dead on when you said that the expectations are different right now.

2. I don’t have anything to do at work now (#2 at the link at the Cut)

Thank you all for your responses, I read through each one but was too late to comment. I especially liked the suggestion of working on SOPs and started doing that to fill in time. Then my workplace had telework evaluations in June and I used that opportunity to use the language Alison suggested and made it clear in my written evaluation how many of my tasks were gone. I also sprinkled versions of Alison’s words in e-mails but still got no response beyond “I’ll keep that in mind.” I was feeling lost but then three staff members in our office went on extended leave (for non-COVID reasons) and I was asked to fill in on some of their tasks. I was also asked to join a working group so I think my supervisor must have taken into account my words even if they didn’t tell me directly. The tasks I’m doing are pretty monotonous but there is a lot of work to be done and I feel less guilty listening to something in the background as I work. I really enjoy having a pile of tasks and getting them done and am very fortunate I get to do that from home–although I am doing every other day masked and in the empty office. Having to fill in for other’s jobs has really taught me the value of having SOPs and if I do end up in another dry spell I will go back to working on them.

A commenter noted I sounded like a younger millennial but I am a 29-year-old “middle-aged millennial” who got stuck in a job at a bureaucratic job that sounded better than it was and with very little opportunity to move up. While I agree with those who said work isn’t about being a “ninja rockstar’ but the day-to-day, I have decided to look for a new job because I want to move beyond support work. I had sort of given up on the job search once the pandemic hit but I have a feeling this will be the new normal for a while and employers will adjust in the coming months. Thanks to all who responded and stay safe!

3. Telling someone we’re reopening but not hiring them back (#4 at the link)

Thanks to everyone for their comments. A lot of commenters were split on which direction to take, which, when added to the facts that 1) it wasn’t my decision to hire them; and 2) I would be taking over many of this person’s responsibilities, led me to conclude that this was way above my pay grade. This was also pointed out by several commenters, Alison included. I guess I was just trying to work out guilty feelings, which is a sign that I’m way too close to the situation.

I ended up strongly encouraging my new boss to reach out sooner rather than later, as the more time passes, the more likely it will get emotionally tricky. Additionally, I still want this person to be informed and be able to make the best decisions for themselves, which they can’t do if they think they’re in jobless limbo.

On another note, while I struggled with informing my coworker, I will have no problem reaching out to MY former staff, most of whom will also not be rehired in the restructure.

4. Is it normal for a manager to want to be cc’d on all your emails?

I wrote about having a micromanaging boss – thanks to you and commenters for giving great advice and encouragement. After that, things slowly deteriorated. This manager ended up destroying the morale of the entire supervisory staff (we generally protected the rest of the staff from it). Her constant criticisms, snarky tone and unrealistic expectations really ended up beating everyone down. I have hundreds of examples- but at one point she asked us in a meeting if there was anything she needed to know about how the staff feels about initiative X. One of my colleagues gave her some feedback that she got from staff and she ended up berating him over every single piece of feedback he passed on in front of all of us. I defended him and she stopped, but justified her actions because she claimed that he was only telling her about problems, not recommending solutions (he had solutions, she just didn’t like them).

I stuck around for a while because I felt an obligation to stay in the trenches and fight with my colleagues, but it got to be really damaging to my mental health. A month ago I started a new (lateral) position. The learning curve is steep and it’s certainly not perfect, but I don’t waste entire evenings and weekends frantically checking email and worrying about her reactions to things – so this is definitely a good news story!

{ 76 comments… read them below }

  1. Kimmybear*

    #1…Glad everyone has relaxed expectations in this insanity. I’m surprised I haven’t seen any naked toddlers on my calls, but we have been serenaded by Pete the Cat on several meetings.

    1. Reed*

      My cat made the minutes of the first all-staff zoom meeting – she leapt across the keyboard and tried to murder my mouse and had to be forcibly removed from the room.

      Now everyone asks me if the cat will be joining us and are disappointed when she doesn’t.

      1. KRM*

        My cat likes to come in the room and scream at me when I’m in meetings, until I pick him up. He then sticks his butt into the camera. It’s a never ending cycle.

        1. InsufficientlySubordinate*

          One of our regular team members usually has a kid in the background, and now people ask if it’s his baby or my cat.

    2. Heidi*

      Get this: My coworker announced in one of our meetings that she got a new puppy…and then DIDN”T SHOW US THE PUPPY! Everyone was like WTF?

      1. Mel_05*

        lol! My team would be irate if someone got a puppy and didn’t spend at least 10 minutes letting us ooh and ah over it.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        We would have all staged a “cease work” until the puppy was presented! Demand your right to see any puppy that’s spoken about!

      3. They'll Know Who I Am*

        That is, like, so MEAN!!! We had a virtual cocktail party, which wasn’t too interesting to me since I don’t drink and everyone else had a camera on their computer so I got to watch everyone drinking in their backyard. Then somebody introduced their puppydog. THen another one did. and another. At last it was a party!

    3. OrigCassandra*

      One of my cats appears very interested in becoming the sort of professional I teach, judging from the number of times he’s put his (very loud) oar in while I’m trying to run a synchronous online class session.

      Students like to see him, but I have to shut him out of the office at least sometimes, because he’s deafening and he won’t stop once he’s gotten started.

      1. Shhhh*

        I have to shut my puppy out of the room when I teach because he likes to bark out the window at squirrels and it’s so high pitched it hurts my ears. I can usually keep him in during meetings when I’m muted most of the time, but teaching a full class session is just too long to risk it.

    4. Ali G*

      I was just on an external call and my dog came in the room, laid on the floor and groaned so loud the person on the phone stopped talking. I was like “oh that’s my dog, he has a really hard life.”

      1. Liz*

        That’s hilarious! I have a bi-monthly conference call I don’t participate in, but have to listen in on, and do a short summary for my group. Despite being asked nicely multiple times, there is always someone who can’t or won’t mute. The first one, after we switched to WFH, we all heard REALLY loud snoring. I don’t know if it was a person or a dog. My guess is dog, because when asked again to mute (but not mentioning the snoring specifically), it immediately stopped, and had it been a person, I don’t know that they would have been able to wake up and react that quickly. It was LOUD though. I had a vision of someone’s pug or other smooshy faced dog, sitting on their lap.

        1. allathian*

          Depends on the videoconferencing software, but at least on some you can mute others who won’t, or at least the person who’s hosting the meeting can do it. Refusing to mute is one of my pet peeves and I’m glad our company culture requires muting when you’re not speaking.

    5. PeteAndRepeat*

      I can’t tell if Pete the Cat is an actual cat, or the children’s book (and maybe TV show?) character who sings songs…

    6. AnonEMoose*

      I think everyone has to be a bit more understanding right now. I normally sit on our love seat to work (small house). I don’t have a lot of video meetings, though, but my coworkers have occasionally seen one or both cats lounging behind me.

      The “get your naked butt back here!” honestly would have made me laugh.

    7. Sheesh*

      I had a very important zoom meeting one evening. There were several important people in the meeting, and I knew I was going to have to respond on the fly to what was being presented. I wanted to make a good impression and was really trying to be on my A game. My husband assured me that he’d occupy our two toddlers by giving them a bath. That way they’d be contained and out of the way… No sooner do I finish my response, then two naked toddlers come streaking into the room. I’m still not sure if anyone in the meeting saw the kids. But it must have looked hilarious when I suddenly dove sideways off camera, and then reached my hand back into view to mute and turn the camera off.

    8. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      The surprise for my hubby’s coworkers has been “that you’ve managed to keep your kids off camera.” Hubby was already an experienced teleworker and we have an office (we have this only because we were already work from home pros before COVID, we don’t judge anybody who has a different set-up). The kids have popped up on social stuff (and dragged some less than thrilled Chickens along for one event), but they know closed door means dad/mom is working – go find the other parent please.

      Yes – it took work – but they are also elementary aged. I wouldn’t expect the same out of toddlers.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        My daughter forgets I’m in the house working until she hears my voice, which of course only happens when I’m speaking in a meeting. Then she starts knocking on door and asking if she can come in over and over even though she knows I’m working and she’s not allowed in, but it never stops her. Since this only happens when I’m speaking, she can often be heard and I have to stop what I’m saying to tell her she can’t come in. It’s frustrating but that’s life now.

    9. Toothless*

      I had someone come in to test my fire alarm during a call this morning, and then the alarm proceeded to go off every five minutes for the next half hour or so… I kept myself muted pretty well, but it did go off while I was talking at one point and my whole team got to hear it.

    10. Witty Nickname*

      The very first time my husband ever got over his guilt about not being in the office and worked from home on a sick kid day (I usually was the one who took those because I had a very flexible job and loved working from home. That day I had something I HAD to be in the office for though), I warned him “if you are on a conference call, mute yourself unless you have to talk.” So I laughed when he told me that he did not heed my warning, and the entire call, including several higher ups, heard our 3 year old yell from the bathroom, “Daddy! I went POOP!”

      Thankfully everyone thought it was funny AND he learned 2 lessons. 1) Mute yourself if you aren’t talking and 2) his job was as flexible as mine about wfh (we worked for the same company, but different departments) and he could handle sick kid days more often.

    11. Admin Always*

      My toddler is notorious for deciding to strip down the minute I’m on a call so I keep a post it on hand to cover my camera. BUT his greatest performance was giving me a cuddle, pulling a face at my colleagues (cue the awwwww he’s so cute), and then standing on my leg and farting loudly into my mic while I was talking during a meeting. A part of me died that day. They all thought it was hilarious.

      1. Susan*

        This is honestly the best. My kitten climbed up on my lap once and proceeded to wrap her mouth around the mike and purr blast the person I was talking to, but the fart just beats it, hands down.

      2. Wendy Darling*

        omg, my biggest objection to that is that I can’t work when I’m laughing so hard I can’t breathe.

        1. Admin Always*

          It was so disruptive and we were all dying. A long, loud, and slightly musical sound that was unmistakably a fart with video of my WTF face as I try to figure out if I can recover my composure and pretend it never happened…and this was a recorded meeting (internal within my peer group, thankfully) so this moment was preserved forever. He was so pleased with himself.

  2. Bookworm*

    #1: Thank you for the update. The end gave me a smile.

    #4: Glad it worked out! I’m in a situation that is starting to feel a little bit more and more like yours (micromanagement) so it’s good to read you got out.

  3. Diahann Carroll*

    #2: good for you restarting your job search. My brother started a new job July 1st, and I just found out this week that a former coworker also started a new job (in a director-level role at a financial investment firm no less) this week. Companies are hiring! It is possible to find work during a pandemic. Good luck to you!

      1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

        Just so you know, technically you are a younger millenial at 29- the generation ends with those born in 94, so if you were born in 91 you’re only 3 years from the end of the generation. Just wanted to let you know in case it was a communication gap between you and the commenter!

  4. Observer*

    #4 – Were you able to tell someone higher up what drove out of the job? It’s not really your responsibility, but if you can and you think it might make an impression, it would be a kindness to any other victims.

    1. OP#4*

      Unfortunately I was not – I am still in the same organization and there is a very, very strong culture of not ‘going over anyone’s head’ – I’ve seen people be unfairly pegged as a complainer for doing this and if I heard about it, it means hundreds of others have as well. I feel awful about it, but am not sure what else to do. If you have any ideas, do let me know, please!

      1. Observer*

        That sounds incredibly frustrating.

        There is often strength in numbers. That would be something to consider.

  5. 2 Cents*

    #1 I, too, have shouted that (2.5 year old) though not on a call, and he’s made a few appearances on my calls (usually at the beginning or end). Things are definitely more relaxed now and expectations are different. My SO is a teacher and has kids who Zoom for class from their beds.

  6. Paris Geller*

    #4–I truly don’t understand managers who ask questions they don’t want to know the answers to. Glad you got out, though!

    1. Antilles*

      In my experience, it’s typically because the person asking the question wasn’t actually asking a real question, it was purely pro-forma. So they don’t want actual answers, they just want either:
      1.) Everything is great, all positive feedback, no changes needed, validation things are wonderful.
      2.) Here are a couple super minor and simple issues that are easily fixable. Not items like “morale is garbage because we need more people” but stuff like “the paper recycling bin should be moved from the hallway to the copy room”.

        1. Pennyworth*

          I’d be sorely tempted to say ‘I know you’d like to hear that everything is perfect, so today I have nothing to report’.

  7. mcfizzle*

    I just can’t stand the injustice of good people getting driven out of jobs they like/love by terrible management. Glad you have a new position, but I’m so sorry you had to go through so much and give up so much to do it.

    1. OP#4*

      Thanks! Honestly, with my first post and update, it’s just nice to have support from the lovely commentariat. You all are great.

  8. jake peralta*

    LW 2 I’m glad this was an opportunity for you! I also ran out of stuff to do a long time ago (the nature of my job is that it needs to be done in the office, but it’s not essential in the sense that things would collapse immediately without me — much of what I do needs to be done *eventually*, but any parts that might be normally urgent involve face-to-face interaction and international travel so that’s not on the table for the forseeable future) and ended up on a temporary transfer to another department that needed more help. It’s exhausting but you’re right that it’s so much more satisfying to just tackle a pile of stuff that needs to be done, including job applications :)

    1. LW #2*

      Love the username ! Noice! Yes, exactly I have a lot of tasks that “eventually need to be done” and someone could notice they weren’t done 10-15 years from now in an audit. I have been kind of lacks with job applications but I need to get on it. I don’t do it during “office hours” but I will look through job postings during my 45 minutes lunch.

      1. FearNot*

        I am in this same boat. I have nothing to do due to Covid due to the nature of my job, and my normally chill supervisor is getting weird about it. Today she seemed upset that I didn’t have anything on my to-do list, but she is the one that assigns everything so I asked her and she was just like “haha, yeah, it’s slow” Ok, so why are you mad?? I’ve just been watching a lot of lynda.com videos.

        1. LW #2*

          I’ll have to check that out, glad I’m not alone. My supervisor is too busy with their own work to really notice and are okay as long as I get what needs to be done done.

  9. Loosey Goosey*

    I would laugh if I overheard “Get your naked butt back here! It’s diaper time!” on a call. I have a 3-year old so this feels so relatable.

    1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

      What is it about diaper change that they take to mean “run around squealing like mad”?

    1. LW1*

      Hahaha I’ll admit that dress standards have slipped at our house since this all started, but not quite that far (yet).

  10. Jen (with one N, thanks!)*

    LW1: Sorry, but if I heard “Get your naked butt back here! It’s diaper time!”, that would crack me up for long enough I might have to pause a meeting, especially if I was leading it.

    My branch has been working from home full-time since mid-March, and I think all of us who go on camera have been bombed by kids and/or pets – it’s something we generally laugh about and then carry on. My grandboss’ dog gets excited when she gets animated, and does his best to shove his way in to her conversations. It’s just part of how things are right now.

    A few of us (myself included) have been teased about our partners going past a camera wearing no clothes (mine was wearing bottoms, they just weren’t visible the way he crossed behind me), and no one thinks less of anyone for it as near as I can tell.

    That said, the two times I’ve had really important, DO NOT INTERRUPT MOM UPON PAIN OF NO TOYS FOREVER type meetings, I made sure to let my kids know over and over, and fortunately they listened. I have full sympathies for anyone with under-five-year-olds in this time, since they’re the toughest age group to keep independently occupied.

  11. Casper Lives*

    My cat made several appearances in the first couple of months. He thought that people speaking = talking to him. He wandered over to say hello. Everyone loves him.

    He’s relaxed since I’ve been WFH for 6 months now! Occasional young kids or pets on camera is fine during our work meetings. We all know how to mute ;)

  12. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m glad you’re back on the job search, #2.

    Unless you get extremely anxious or other other nasty mental side effects to job searching that I’ve heard of happening to folks, you do yourself a great disservice from stopping the search just because the jobs aren’t as high quantity these days. You are still working, so it should be viewed as casually yet aggressively looking on your end. You will miss out on things that do open up if you aren’t looking for them!

    Good luck! Being stuck in a job you’re under utilized in and feel like you’re not working to your full potential can have damaging mental effects. It’s good to keep looking.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Being stuck in a job you’re under utilized in and feel like you’re not working to your full potential can have damaging mental effects.

      So much this. I left my last job because of this and the resulting anxiety/depression.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’ve been there! But in my case it went from a really high functioning and exciting job…to a dying company :( So it was really just the work dried up and I was twiddling fingers more often than not. It was really pulling my mental and physical health down.

        I ended up going hard on the extra jobs and was working 3 jobs to keep myself fulfilled. Which was my alternative to finding a whole new full time position [the other job needed me after all but not as much as I was working previously.]

  13. Hobbit*

    I was in a department meeting the other day, and right as my boss starts the meeting by going over the agenda. My diva cat, jumps up on my desk and walks past the camera. I said in a very firm voice, “Excuse you,” and put her on the floor. Then I said “Sorry not you, Boss.” Thankfully my boss and coworkers are pet people.

    1. Wendy Darling*

      This morning my coworker was halfway through a sentence and then suddenly snapped “GET AWAY FROM THAT sorry hang on a sec” and went on mute. He has a dog so I assume his dog tried to eat something.

      My dog just walks up behind me and vomits when I’m in a meeting. Mostly my coworkers just hear me sigh and then bang around getting the carpet cleaner if I forget to mute.

      1. MayLou*

        My dog starts barking furiously if he hears a noise outside. I take phone calls on a helpline and often have people quite distressed and telling me very personal things, and I am dreading the day that he starts barking when someone is feeling really vulnerable and it makes things worse. So far he has managed to only make noise when it can be jokingly apologised for (“sorry, my dog wanted to share his views on that”) or when I’m not on the phone, but it is only a matter of time.

  14. dan*

    The only way the diaper remark would be upsetting or awkward for her husband’s co-workers would be if his wife was yelling it at him.

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