how much can I coast before grad school, requiring employees to pay for a phone, and more

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

1. How much can I coast at my job while I’m in limbo before grad school?

I am in my mid-twenties and working in a fairly advanced role in my field, considering my few years of work experience; this is my second job out of college. I was accepted to grad school at the beginning of this year, but deferred due to COVID-19 fears and … not wanting to attend Zoom school! I had let my employer know I was leaving, to give my team plenty of time to replace me and reassign my duties, but asked in April to stay, since I like my job and coworkers and didn’t want to look for another role in a pandemic. They said yes, and I’m currently mid-“limbo year.”

That said, I feel a significant slowdown in my work, probably due to 1) my non-existent motivation to advance in my role here, since I’m already into school, and 2) the rocky transitions and (neurotypical/normative) mental health challenges of the last six months of isolation and upheaval. I’m still completing my duties, meeting deadlines, and responding within a reasonable time window to my boss and colleagues, but I’m no longer a “go-getter” like I used to be. In fact, during one of my check-ins with my direct supervisor, I was exhorted to more “aggressively” pursue new projects and opportunities with my team. I felt taken aback—not because it’s not true, but because I’ve never been below the bar before with regard to taking initiative. The pandemic and “senioritis” are a double whammy.

I don’t want to be “aggressive”! I’m fine coasting, and the content of my job is pretty far from life-and-death concerns. I feel that going above and beyond is just not in my bandwidth right now—staying mentally afloat is sapping so much energy. But I’m in a prestigious field full of overachievers, and go-getting is the assumption and the norm for most of my coworkers. How much leeway do I have here? How honest can I be with my supervisors about the next 7-8 months? (They do know I’m still planning on leaving next year.)

It depends on what their requirements for the role are. It makes sense on your side that you’re fine coasting for the next 7-8 months, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense on their side to have someone in the role just coasting that whole time. So you’ve got to figure out if their stance is more “if you want to perform at the highest level in this job, you need to take more initiative, but if things stay like they are now, that’s still okay” … or if their stance is more “if you want to stay in this job the amount of time you’re planning, you can’t coast like you’ve been doing.”

It’s definitely understandable that the pandemic has sapped a lot of your bandwidth — it has for a lot of people — but if your employer wants more than what you’re giving right now, that’s the reality you’ve got to work with. And they may be feeling like, “Hmmm, we took her back when she changed her mind about school, but we assumed she’d work as hard as always — and if we knew that was going to change, we might have chosen to just move forward with hiring a replacement” … and that can affect everything from future references to whether they happily let you stay the amount of time you’re planning on.

So I think you’ve got to have a pretty direct conversation with your manager about what she needs to see during the next 7-8 months. Explain that, like many people, your bandwidth is being affected by the pandemic and ask to talk about how to realistically plan for what you’ll achieve during your remaining time there. If she does have drastically different expectations than what you were planning on, it’s useful to know that.

One caveat: In some cases it would be more to your advantage not to poke at this bear. If you know you can’t increase what you’re doing regardless of what your boss says and she’s the type who takes a lot longer than eight months to address problems head-on, it’s possible you’re better off not raising the issue and just accept that she’ll be dissatisfied but probably won’t push you on it (or fire you). That’s not an ideal approach, and it comes with obvious risks, but in some cases it could be the most realistic option.

2. Should I require my employee to pay for a phone while working from home?

The majority of our office has been working from home for some time now, due to COVID. We’re fortunately all well set up using a VPN and have been able to seamlessly perform our duties remotely via email, phone, and Zoom.

One of my reports (I’ll call them Sam) works in a unique role, which seldom requires phone contact with customers, and does a great job of meeting their deadlines with minimal guidance. Overall, a very self-sufficient and effective employee. Where we do need to communicate, we typically (even when we were in the office) email and sometimes use Slack.

Recently, an exception occurred where a customer needed to reach Sam urgently. It came to my attention that Sam had not forwarded their office phone to themselves at home, because they don’t have a cell phone or a land line! (I was aware that Sam didn’t have a cell phone, but I had a number on file which turns out to be their grandparents’ land line.) The customer was frustrated and eventually I had to do some minor damage control on Sam’s behalf. While this struck me as unusual and I was a bit put off by the fact they hadn’t made an effort to be reachable by phone at home, this was minor given their overall track record and the infrequency of calls their role typically would entail.

What I’m struggling with now is, after exchanging a few emails asking Sam to look into a Reasonable Solution (such as a free VOIP service, or an affordable land line), I’m receiving what I consider unusually strong push-back/resistance (“I can’t get VOIP to work,” “I’ll just forward my calls to my partner’s cell,” “I don’t want to pay for a land line”).

I’ve explained that I consider a phone line to be one of the tools needed to work from home. Am I wrong to feel that (a) having a phone line is a reasonable expectation of an employee, especially if we’re transitioning to a long-term/permanent work-from-home position, and (b) if we arrive at an impasse and the only fair option is to pay for their phone service, doesn’t that create an inequality with my other employees who are working from home and using their personal phone lines without compensation?

Lots of employers require people who are working at home to provide their own phone line there. So if you go that route, you’ll be in line with a pretty common way of doing it. But lots of employers do reimburse all or part of employees’ phone expenses, since the business is benefiting from the use of the employee’s personal phone. That’s a pretty common approach too. Not a universal one, but common — and the route I’d recommend.

In Sam’s case, this is an expense that they’re only incurring because of their job. It’s the definition of a business expense — money Sam is spending to get their job done that they wouldn’t be spending otherwise. Your other employees sound like they already had phones and didn’t incur additional expenses when they started to work from home (although if they did, you should cover those too). I’d argue you should give everyone a phone stipend, because your business is using their phone services … but definitely Sam’s at a minimum.

This can get more complicated when employees ask to work from home and it’s a benefit to them; you’re more likely to see “you need to provide your own reliable phone and internet” when that’s the case. But it doesn’t sound like Sam requested this as a perk or an exception; Sam is working from home because that’s where the job is now, and that’s additional weight on the side of the business paying the cost of that.

3. Rejecting a candidate due to our past personal history

I am a hiring manager for a position and just received an application from someone with whom I have a prior personal/social connection. They have a strong resume and cover letter — if I were receiving it blind, I would move them to the interview stage. However, in my past experience with this person socially, they showed several traits I would run from if they popped up in the hiring process, namely a lack of integrity (multiple times being caught in untruths about situations), taking things very personally, and often serving as the root of division or gossip in the group.

I’m torn about what to do here. On one hand, it seems unfair to weigh this information when evaluating their candidacy. But I’m nervous that even if this person were to be hired, I would never be able to manage or evaluate them fairly due to my past negative experiences with them (i.e., assuming they were telling an untruth when they’re not, etc.). I’m not sure how much of this is something I need to get over (and just evaluate them the way I would anyone else) or whether this is valuable extra information that’s worth weighing and considering.

And is it okay and/or fair to have a personal policy that I don’t hire anyone whom I have an extensive social history with (think knowing someone for years from book club or church, not knowing them from a young professionals group or a former workplace)? It seems like a way to make things uneven between staff members (it’s got to be weird when one direct report has been to the boss’s house, knows about the boss’s family, has memories of that time they went to the lake together, etc. and one doesn’t) and it seems to blur the lines in a way I don’t love — i.e., I don’t want to be concerned that if I had to fire someone it would ruin book club, etc.

It’s perfectly reasonable to decline to hire people you know socially, for all the reasons you mention: It can cause favoritism or the appearance of favoritism, it can make it harder for you to evaluate them objectively (in either direction, good or bad), it can affect the way you manage them (especially if you have to give difficult feedback or if they have to be fired or laid off), and it can generally blur the boundaries in ways many people want to avoid. You have every right to make that call.

It’s also perfectly reasonable to decide on a case-by-case basis; maybe you know this person isn’t someone you’d want to manage, but your acquaintance’s daughter doesn’t come with the same baggage. You should be sure to interrogate those impulses to make sure they’re not based on, say, racial bias (or religion, disability, etc.) — like if everyone you know personally who you were willing to consider were mysteriously in your same demographic while the people you enforced the policy with weren’t — but otherwise it’s fine to factor in the outside relationship and whether you’d want to manage the person. You’re not required to ignore genuinely alarming info about someone’s character, for example, just because you know about it from outside of work.

4. How to resign from a volunteer role with a pushy coordinator

I had been volunteering for an organization for a little over a year when I left, ostensibly for health reasons. The actual reason for my leaving has much to do with the volunteer coordinator. Much of that is just a mismatch in personality and communication style, although I think they’re also objectively not a good coordinator. (For example, responding to a specific request for advice on how to handle a situation with “I’m sure you’re doing fine,” sending passive-aggressive emails, being very nosy and prying about my health and personal life, and pressing harder when I give a non-answer.) This did all cause stress, which did have an effect on my health, so “health reasons” wasn’t a total lie.

I’m currently an inactive volunteer — “indefinite medical leave” — and I would like to no longer be a volunteer so I can volunteer somewhere else. How do I resign gracefully, especially given the coordinator’s prying? I judge the chances of “I’m resigning permanently” being accepted without further prying very low. And I’d like to not burn bridges/get a reputation for several reasons, one of which being that this is a small town and meeting people again is inevitable.

You have lots of options! If you want, you can stick with health reasons (“For health reasons, I need to formally resign my position — thank you so much for the opportunity to work with OrganizationName”). If she pries about the reason, you can say, “I’d rather not get into the details, just something I need to deal with but nothing you should worry about.” If she still presses, simply repeat, “It’s not something I want to discuss.” That’s not burning a bridge — and frankly at that point her organization would probably appreciate a heads-up that she’s doing this to volunteers. (Actually, they’d probably appreciate that heads-up now, if you’re willing to give them one — she may be driving away other volunteers too, and it’s in their interests to know that.)

But you also don’t need to give a reason at all! You can go with a vague “doesn’t fit with my schedule anymore” or “other commitments I need to focus on.” The main thing is, it’s up to you how much you share, and if she pushes for more, you can be firm about remaining vague (“some personal things I need to focus on,” etc.).

5. Sending an email announcement of my marriage and name change

I’m planning to have a small ceremony with my long-term partner soon to officially tie the knot. My office is currently 90% working from home and I have barely gone to the office since March, so I rarely interact with coworkers who I’m friendly with but don’t work with on a daily basis. I’m planning to personally tell my boss and my closer coworkers right after the fact.

My question is whether it would be weird to send out a short announcement email to people at work who I’m friendly with but just don’t see or talk to during WFH. Part of my reasoning is for a general FYI about my life, since I would probably bring in a treat and send an email if we were in the office. The other reason is a genuine desire to notify people that my name is changing. I have a kind of unique first name so I think people will realize that it’s still me, but since we aren’t seeing each other every day I want to announce it more clearly so people aren’t left to wonder, even though we’ll auto-direct emails from my old name to my new name. My new last name will be a little strange. So I also want to send a humorous note on how to pronounce it.

Would it be self-aggrandizing to send out a quick email saying “Hey, I got married, and here’s my new name!” I usually see these emails for baby announcements but have never seen one for a marriage (although that’s likely due to the demographics of my workplace — it just doesn’t come up much).

Totally normal! Not strange in the least. Send away, and congratulations!

{ 371 comments… read them below }

  1. Rick Tq*

    LW #4, being a volunteer isn’t something you can only do for one organization at a time, and BadSupervisor doesn’t have an exclusive lock on your volunteer time even if you did come back. If you are formally inactive you probably don’t need to quit.

    Support what ever groups you want to support, and if your old organization tries to bring you back you can decline blaming schedule conflicts.

    1. Venus*

      Yes, I wouldn’t officially quit if it will be difficult. I help with charities and people come and go all the time. Most ask for a commitment of a year, and many people quietly leave sooner. If you have stayed for a year then you can step away without guilt.

      And people who help with charities often help with many of them. Your only concern might be a small community where someone could know that you stepped away from the first group and are starting with another. Yet there are plenty of excuses you can use. I recently switched from one to another due to toxic leadership yet gave a vague excuse about wanting to learn more about the other charity’s specialty. I have put myself in a similar situation to the LW as I explained to the first group that I need a year-long break for family reasons and I will just quietly disappear in that year. I volunteer for numerous groups and they all know about each other and don’t mind at all.

    2. LadyByTheLake*

      I was coming to say this too. And if for some weird reason the first organization insists that you can’t volunteer for another organization while still being on the rolls for organization one, then resign and use that as the reason.

    3. Esmeralda*

      Good advice, especially if you think you’d go back to volunteering for this org if the coordinator were not there.

    4. not neurotypical*

      Yes, and it’s also perfectly normal and acceptable for a volunteer to decide they’d like to stop volunteering in order to create time to volunteer with a different org. People have many different interests but finite time, and everyone understands this.

      But also, I run a nonprofit, and I would want to know if the person coordinating volunteers were acting in this way. It’s not good for the organization! So, since you obviously support their mission, one way to make one last “donation” would be to force yourself to have a possibly uncomfortable conversation with someone more senior in the organization, telling them candidly why they have lost you as a volunteer. Just a thought! You’re obviously not obliged to do this, but it would be a kindness.

    5. Legal Beagle the OG*

      I agree in theory, but LW said it’s a small town and she’ll cross paths with the people from her current volunteer organization again. So if she doesn’t officially resign, and then word gets out that she’s volunteering for a different organization, it might cause more drama and prying for her down the road. Better to make a clean break now and move on with full transparency.

    6. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      “How to resign from a volunteer role with a pushy coordinator”
      OP, I am genuinely confused about your concern. This isn’t a job for which you were hired. There is no contract.
      My understanding of volunteering for an organization is to show up for what I say I will and doing what I say I am going to do. If I don’t want to do something, I turn down the request. If I accept the request, I go.
      Who is this coordinator who thinks she is your boss?
      You don’t need to give any reason why you are taking a break. You are taking a break.
      Honestly, I’d talk to someone in the organization and let them know that this woman is treating volunteers like employees, first of all and secondly, is treating those presumed employees like children.

      1. jasmine*

        Well said! I think this “volunteer coordinator” might not clearly understand the definition of a “volunteer”!

  2. Black Horse Dancing*

    #2, I would reimburse Sam and all your employees a certain amount for a phone. And most landlines will cost more than $5, when all the fees are added in, not to mention installation. If you can, provide cell phones to your workers or give them an allowance.

    1. Np*

      Agreed. Our office reimburses up to a certain amount for our mobile phones, simply because we have to use them for work (this was implemented years before Covid-19). It creates goodwill and what is $5 dollars every month to your company, anyway?

    2. RB*

      I have never heard of a land line that is only $5 per month. Mine is over $50 and that’s if I don’t make any long distance calls. I also don’t pay for extra stuff like call waiting. I wonder if they were thinking of the kind of situation where you already have the land line set up but you’re adding a second phone number. I think that would be over $5/month as well.
      Also, I love my land line because the audio quality is so much better than my cell phone and I can hold my home phone on my shoulder while I talk, which doesn’t work with the cell phone. I’d have to put the cell phone on speaker and then the audio gets even worse.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        I had to get one a few years back because I couldn’t get reliable cell service in my house and even though I live in a city with lots of options, I couldn’t find an single provider that offered one for under $25, and that was the discounted rate because it was bundled with internet. Add on the numerous required fees for landlines and I was paying about $35 a month for it with no long distance, call waiting, or any other add-ons included. With so many people used to cell phones these days, many don’t think twice about having long distance numbers, so Sam may need a long distance plan as well to talk to clients. A landline is going to get expensive really quickly. The LW definitely needs to reimburse Sam for this.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m going to ask that we not derail on questioning how much it will cost, since the employer should be covering it either way. And if the OP does live somewhere — possibly not the U.S. — where it’s really that cheap, it’s going to be tremendously frustrating for her to come here and find dozens of comments telling her she’s wrong. In any case, it’s been flagged and the point made, so I’m closing this subthread.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I see people cannot resist continuing to comment on this, so I’m going to just remove the cost estimate from the letter since I don’t think it’s the point despite all the attention it’s getting and doesn’t change the answer.

    3. Beth Jacobs*

      Exactly, I’ve never heard of landlines this cheap. On the other hand, a cheap dumbphone is about a $ 50 one time expense and then it can be a pay-as-you-go plan that can very well be under $ 5 a month. My law firm had one meant exclusively for public defense calls from the court (no one else had the number) and whichever employee was on call took it home. I was surprised there are still phones like this – cheap and superlightweight, but it makes sense for the scenario described.

  3. MassMatt*

    #4 I was struck by this: “I judge the chances of “I’m resigning permanently” being accepted without further prying very low.“

    This is reminding me of employees wanting to leave bad workplaces and the employer not “accepting”, or arguing with, their saying they’re quitting. Unless you signed a contract, you can leave whenever you want, and don’t owe anyone an explanation. If it’s a small town, maybe no explanation is best so you don’t feel like you need to explain volunteering elsewhere.

    Lots of people volunteer at multiple organizations, by the way (for some, too many!), I’ve never heard of an organization demanding monogamous fealty.

    1. BRR*

      Yeah I’m not quite getting the LWs concerns. I’d probably go with something like “I’ve enjoyed my time at X but I’m not going to be able to continue as a volunteer. I wish you the best of luck doing Y!” If asked why I’d repeat “because I’m not going to be able to. Against best of luck going forward!” If you go vague and someone presses, you’re allowed to just repeat the initial answer.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        If the LW resigns via email (which seems likely in the days of COVID) and the coordinator continues to press for a reason after an initial vaguery, the LW doesn’t even have to respond. No need to keep repeating the same thing over and over, just stop replying.

        1. BRR*

          That’s a really good point. I hate not replying to emails but if resigning via email, this is the perfect situation for just not replying.

        2. Birdie*

          This is what I was going to say. I’m not sure that OP even needs to formerly “resign” at all but if they feel like they need to, just…don’t reply to requests for additional information. Pretty simple.

    2. allathian*

      Yeah, this. It’s a volunteer organization, not a paid job. It’s not as if the OP’s going to need references from them in the future, so if burning bridges is the only way to go, burn away! Even if it’s a small town. I get it that if you’ve been unemployed for a while, it can be helpful to get a reference from a volunteer organization, but I expect that normally references from former actual workplaces would carry more weight.

      I would also make it very clear to the org’s leadership that you’re leaving because you can’t deal with the coordinator anymore. Say the same thing to anyone who wonders why you left that org and are looking to volunteer somewhere else. The coordinator is objectively a horrible person, so there’s no reason to spare her feelings.

      I get it that people sometimes put up with toxic work environments because they literally don’t have any other option, but why anyone would do the same for a volunteer organization is totally beyond me.

    3. EPLawyer*

      I’m not even sure why LW needs to resign. Unless its a formal membership organization where they have to keep track of members, you are a volunteer. You just … don’t volunteer anymore. If you want to volunteer elsewhere, you just … go volunteer for the other organization.

      This isn’t a job where you need to resign before moving to your next employment. You are already on medical leave, they know to replace you or not. They aren’t required to hold your spot like with a job. You are a volunteer.

      I would give the Board a heads up though. They need to know that the volunteer coordinator is not someone people want to work with. Organizations rely on their volunteers. If the coordinator is driving people away, that hurts the organizations ability to function.

      1. LW4*

        (Let me start by saying THANK YOU Alison for answering!)

        The VC asked me to let them know if I was going to be quitting permanently and I agreed – so I do want to officially resign, as otherwise that will keep eating at me.

        I’m not sure about going to the Board. The VC certainly isn’t great, but it’s probably affecting me disproportionately because I’m young and inexperienced – 3/4 of the volunteer force is a retiree or an empty-nester.
        And we don’t work with the VC, really – we work independently. The VC organizes volunteer get-togethers, training, and matches volunteers to clients. Then the volunteers meet with the clients. If there are problems/questions/advice needed, the volunteer is expected to contact the VC.

        When I had a problem I was reluctant to contact the VC because they rarely give a clear answer, and when I did contact the VC to ask advice on how to best help a client, their answer was a variation of “I’m sure you’re doing fine!” So that is a problem – although if I had been more assertive, I might have gotten a better answer.

        A lot of the responses I get here seem to be variations of “You’re overthinking this – just quit!” which is fair – I do overthink this, and I think I am overthinking this resignation situation as well.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I quite volunteering for an organization that I loved, and cared deeply for their mission, because it became difficult and stressful to volunteer. I had been absent from the organization for about 6 months because of a crazy work schedule, but sent them a note as soon as I was more flexible that I wanted to come back and start volunteering regularly again. They had always been a little difficult to communicate with, but it was even more difficult to get anyone to acknowledge me when I requested to come back. Finally, someone asked me to come in for a training session to update me on a few policy changes that had happened in my absent. No problem! We scheduled a day and I showed up for the appointment…then waited and waited…and finally someone came and told me the person who I planned to meet had left for the day. When I tried to reschedule, the same horrible communication happened.

          It’s difficult to walk away from something that you once enjoyed, that you care about, and when gained satisfaction from giving your time. But if it’s difficult to volunteer for, or they make communication difficult, they’re going to start losing volunteers. You shouldn’t be made to feel guilty if it’s no longer a good fit for you. You’re under absolutely no obligation to give them explanation for leaving! Don’t overthink it!

          That said, if you’re able to give someone else higher up a brief explanation of the difficulties you faced with the VC, it would be a kindness to do so. You’re probably not the only volunteer they’ve lost, and it would serve them well to know that and why. I wish you all the luck!

        2. Observer*

          Please do give the Board a heads up on the issue. You should not need to be “assertive” to get help with client issues. It’s not just bad for the organization’s relationship with volunteers, it’s bad for the clients. And THAT is something the Board (Or ED) needs to know.

        3. Snickerdoodle*

          I’m so sorry this happened to you. I volunteer at two places and have NEVER had an experience like that. They wouldn’t dream of it. Please let that person’s supervisor know how you are being treated and that it is why you are leaving. Odds are you aren’t the only person who’s had a problem, and management needs to know why their volunteers are leaving. Please don’t let this experience tarnish your desire to volunteer!

        4. Chinook*

          I know I am late to this but I have been president of a local volunteer organization and I would definitely want to know if one of my coordinators or committee leads was treating people in a way that pyshes some away. If it affects younger people disparitly, then we run the risk of dying out because we haveno younger members!

          By you speaking up to the head of the organization, she has a hard fact to prove that “the way things have always been done” is actually harming the growth and future the organization. I had this conversation earlier this week and the mos vocal members were more concerned about how decisions affect older members over 80 rather than how we recruit members under 50 who could actively participate (while also ensuring the participation of those of all ages and tech about). The best I could do is convince the executive to call every ry member to ask the question, and most of thm think th answer is a forgone conclusion.

          Lw #4, please speak up.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        I’m not even sure why LW needs to resign. Unless its a formal membership organization where they have to keep track of members, you are a volunteer. You just … don’t volunteer anymore.

        Not all volunteer positions are this unstructured. My last volunteer position, for example, was at a storefront and I had a regular schedule. Simply failing to show up (which, yeah, some people do) would have put others in a bad position.

        1. Birdie*

          But OP hasn’t been an active volunteer in a year. After being off the roster for that long, I don’t see how “quitting” (or, more accurately, deciding not to go back) would really impact anyone.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Since the OP told others they were taking time off for medical reasons, rather than just fading away, it’s possible people could still expect them to be available for things they would have done in the past. Like, if I were in charge of the annual llama festival, I can see the coordinator saying “I’ll need a replacement for Rusty this year, but hopefully things will be back to normal next year.” Not saying this is definitely going on with the OP, just that it’s a possibility that needs to be considered.

      3. Metadata minion*

        If you’re an active volunteer, especially in any kind of leadership/coordinating capacity, it’s goodto let the organization know you’re leaving so they can reassign your responsibilities. But if you’re already inactive, or are part of a large pool of more or less interchangeable volunteers, formally resigning seems mostly like a mild courtesy and a way to hopefully get off any mailing lists.

    4. Threeve*

      I immediately think of an organization like Girl Scouts, where volunteers at the very top of the leadership structure for their region have a lot of responsibility and very specific expectations for positions that they do basically get promoted to.

      They are sometimes terrifyingly dedicated, and they also do become necessary, to the point that their territory (I can’t remember the term they use) may struggle if they don’t give notice and train a replacement when they leave.

    5. Quill*

      I have an answer to people who pry after you say you have to cancel: hang up the phone. (I know socially it’s not that easy, but technologically? There are plenty of ways to end a conversation, especially now when it won’t be in person.)

      Obviously it’s hard when it feels like you “owe” someone an answer but pre-emptively block the number or archive replies from the email address until you can get some distance.

  4. BRR*

    #2 it’s unreasonable to expect Sam, or the other employees really, to cover business expenses. Especially when working from home isn’t a perk right now and also because it doesn’t sound like they regularly receive calls. I’d push more on getting free voip. “It doesn’t work” is fixable and free.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      “It doesn’t work” is fixable and free.

      Google Voice has plenty of online troubleshooting information Sam can use if they’re having issues. If they’re able to work remotely, they can’t be completely hopeless with technology; they sound a bit obstinate about it.

      1. Filosofickle*

        Considering “voip doesn’t work” and how unusual it is not to have any phone of any kind, I wonder if Sam’s goal is simply to be unreachable by phone. Hoping if they resist enough suggestions maybe the employer will give up. (I get it. I had two 9-month contract gigs back to back, and never set up vm at either. I just…didn’t. Only one person ever said anything.)

        1. AGD*

          Sam sounds like my one friend who despises having a phone. I understand, but I also think it’s inadvisable, especially since it means poor access to emergency services.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            OP3 has a phone number on file; it’s just not Sam’s to share. (Many of us rent part of a home from parents or grandparents and everyone in the house would use the phone.)

              1. Just me*

                Honestly, same. Today I was woken up by a spam call saying I’m totally going to be arrested for some crime I committed in a city I’ve never been to unless I call this number…

                And that’s on top of 5+ political calls and texts I’m getting now that my state’s a battleground state. Sam might be onto something.

            1. ...*

              Sharing a landline with the people in your home and having no cell phone is pretty darn uncommon. Especially if the landline is for people who you don’t live with- its not clear if Sam lives with the grandparents on not, but the wording suggests no?

              1. jasmine*

                For those of us who grew up long before cell phones were invented, sharing a landline with people in your home was the usual thing (since extra phone lines were expensive) and doesn’t seem strange at all. I’m sure lots of people (especially older ones) still do it today.

                And even today, a cell phone is a significant expense that not everyone can easily afford, so if you don’t get lots of calls, sharing a landline might be the prudent thing to do.

          2. Threeve*

            Maybe too OT, but in the US any cell phone that’s charged and has a signal will go through to 911 even if nobody is paying for service. I do know people who own a cell phone that they can *literally* only use in an emergency.

            1. jasmine*

              Yes, I’ve even heard of organizations that accept donations of used cell phones for the purpose of giving them out as emergency phones.

        2. Mystery Bookworm*

          I am also struck by how unusual this is, and it makes me wonder if Sam has some personal beliefs (maybe around privacy or autonomy) that keep him from purchasing a phone. I think this is a silly hill for the company to die on if it is important to Sam – relatively inexpensive for them to set-up a phone for him!

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Right? Order a pre-paid cell phone, have it delivered to Sam’s address, and pay whatever fees need to be paid on it for however many months Sam is going to be working from home. It’s not worth the fight the OP is trying to have here.

            1. Amethystmoon*

              There are some really inexpensive ones now, as long as you’re ok with only having a basic phone and not the smartphone features.

        3. Nanani*

          I thought the same. Maybe they have a bad history with pervert callers or stalker exes and want to be absolutely certain no one can track them via phone, be it a cell’s GPS or a white page listing.

          The reason doesn’t actually matter, they don’t have a phone so the company should provide something equivalent if it’s really important, or drop it if its not and they can keep doing their job as they have been. Find another way to deal with one-offs like the situation that brought this to light.

        4. nonegiven*

          >I wonder if Sam’s goal is simply to be unreachable by phone

          That’s what I was thinking. If Sam cared about using a phone, they’d have one, but they don’t.

      2. Bagpuss*

        Yes, “VOIP doesn’t work” made me think that the solution to this issue is to speak to your IT people and get them to talk Sam through the set up and troubleshoot any issues.

        1. Researcher*

          If this is a business requirement, have IT set up the account and walk him through the setup. I realize we are all wearing many hats these days, but asking employees to do their jobs AND provide the necessary equipment AND be the person to troubleshoot any technical issues…is bordering on no longer looking like a business relationship.

        2. BigGlasses*

          yep, this is exactly what I would say. This particular objection (“VOIP doesn’t work”) is so simple that it seems best to just take Sam at their word and ask someone whose job it is to resolve it, to, well, resolve it!

    2. JKP*

      The pushback on free voip makes me wonder if Sam doesn’t like talking on the phone and wants to avoid doing so by conveniently not having a phone. Who doesn’t have some kind of phone service? How do their friends and family contact them or text them?

      The free voip is such an easy solution. One time the cleaning crew locked me out of my office while I was teaching in the conference room and then left for the day. I couldn’t access my phone or car keys, but I had my laptop and wifi. I was able to setup free voip on the spot and call the building manager to come back and let me back in my office.

      1. KateM*

        Eh, I do have a phone, but my family uses Skype for contacting – you can also call that texting. I do have a computer, after all. (And I do dislike using phone, as five minutes on cell makes my head ache already.)

      2. Rexish*

        Ed Sheeran doesn’t have a phone. He can be contacted through e-mail.
        There are a lot of apps that can be used on Computer/pads that you can use to contact friends and family.

        Deos sam have a phone on his desk at work that he uses? Cause the push back on voip is a bit odd and I’m thinking of the not liking talking on the phone aspect.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Ed Sheeran is famous and has assistants, managers etc who can talk on the phone for him. This is probably not the equivalent.

          I’ll be honest, I find “no phone at all” to be very odd and unusual. Even Amish people have phones now! (Landlines installed on the edge of their property with voicemail, but still – emergencies happen and phones are necessary sometimes.)

        2. er*

          Ed Sheeran also has a management team who can get ahold of him. And he has a kid now, pretty sure he has some sort of phone.

      3. MusicWithRocksIn*

        This is the sense I got as well. If someone these days doesn’t have any kind of phone, it’s because they violently don’t want one. The pushback isn’t due to costs, its because they really really don’t want a phone. I also think it’s probably a severe case of ‘hates talking on the phone’ which I know is becoming more and more of a common thing (I used to be the only person I knew who had it).

      4. Clever Obscure Literary Reference*

        “How do their friends and family contact them or text them?”

        From the letter – “I’ll just forward my calls to my partner’s cell.” People call their partner.

        I dated a dude who didn’t think he needed a phone. Very ‘sheeple are all addicted to phones’, ‘if people want to talk to me, they know where I live’ sort of dude. He did have a cheap flip phone that you can load with minutes, but he never set up voice mail and never had it charged or took it anywhere. And honestly he could only do that easily because I had a phone. So everyone just called me. And every time he had to give a phone number to someone, he gave them mine. We lived together and since I had a phone all of the sudden I was in charge of all of our bills, our logistics, our social lives. His BOSS would call me about schedule changes, his mom, his sister, his friends, his debt collectors all blowing up my phone all the time.

        Anyway, that throwaway comment made me a lot less sympathetic to Sam. If you don’t want to participate in a part of society? Fine, but don’t make other people pick up your slack. Like, this is your job, google voice, skype, ect. those are free and easily can be set up to just forward their office number and your boss is telling you that you need to do this. I agree that Sam shouldn’t have to incur any extra expenses, but I do get the vibe that they’re being a little bit difficult about being reachable.

    3. MK*

      I agree. OP’s company should be covering the cost of a phone, but if there is a free option that will cover their needs without extra cost to the employee, that should be tried first. I also got the impression Sam is not trying to resolve this.

      1. Charlie*

        Sam is definitely trying not to resolve the issue and clearly doesn’t want to talk on the phone.

        1. Nanani*

          Sounds like Sam talks on the phone fine when in the office in the pre-Covid days.
          They don’t want to -have- a phone, which to me pings more privacy issues than anxiety.

      2. SweetestCin*

        I need to go re-read the letter; my initial read was similar, but at the same time, if my boss had told me to go install a landline during state mandated SAH? Uh, not happening.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Many/most new landlines nowadays are VOIP via a cable/internet provider, so it’s not quite the same process it used to be.

        2. Yorick*

          That was one suggestion. The other was a VOIP. I set up a google voice number so I wouldn’t have to give my cell number to students. I didn’t even forward it to my phone – it rings if I’m on the google voice page or in gmail. It also shows me my texts and voice messages in both those places. There’s no reason Sam can’t set up a phone for work emergencies – except that they don’t want to (which isn’t good enough).

      3. EventPlannerGal*

        He absolutely is not trying to resolve the issue, and the “the VOIP doesn’t work!” thing sounds extremely dog-ate-my-homework to me. I think OP’s company really should be covering phone charges and providing phones, but it might be worth trying to figure out why Sam is so opposed to it. Is this going to be resolved with a company-provided phone, or is this actually about something else (not wanting to be reached at all while at home full stop? Some kind of background noise/signal situation that Sam doesn’t want to admit to for some reason? Sam believes that cellphones give you brain cancer?) that will result in the work phone also mysteriously not working and more angry client calls?

        1. Uranus Wars*

          Yes! Even if it is a relatively small expense, is it going to get Sam to engage more? This was a one-time occurrence where the client needed to get in touch with Sam. Sounds like this hasn’t come up in 6+ months! I would leave Sam alone about a phone until it becomes a pattern.

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            Well, to be clear, I don’t think that just passively waiting for something to become a problem (a client-facing problem, no less) is really okay, and neither would just ignoring/failing to engage with a work-issued phone. I don’t mean “he’ll ignore a work phone too so don’t bother”, I mean “figure out what the issue is so you can make sure he doesn’t just ignore a work phone”. It seems like he’s been kind of just hoping that this would never come up – they were expected to forward their calls and Sam just…. didn’t? And never mentioned it? – and that’s a bit weird to me.

          2. Yorick*

            Absolutely not. You can’t wait until you’ve angered or maybe lost multiple clients before you make Sam fix this problem. Sam can prefer not to talk on the phone and can handle most things without it, but they absolutely have to have a phone number to give clients who need to reach them that way.

            1. Uranus Wars*

              I see what you both are saying – that totally makes sense! And I agree after reading it. I re-read my comment and it doesn’t make sense even to me anymore. I wonder what perspective I was coming from.

        2. Mockingjay*

          From the letter, it sounds like the need to reach Sam after hours was a rare occurrence. If so, maybe it’s not so important that Sam have a phone “just in case” and that’s why they are pushing back. (In my experience, 9.5 times out of 10, the urgent call after hours is something that can absolutely wait until the next day.)

          Fifteen years ago, when cell phones were few and expensive, people conducted business during business hours. I miss those days when work and home life were clearly delineated. I think we were healthier.

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            But it doesn’t sound like this was out of hours, unless I’ve missed something? And I think it’s possible for something to be required only infrequently but still be important enough when it does happen that you need to have the ability to do it.

            1. OP2*

              It was not outside of normal business hours – and, to add more context, it was an infrequent occurrence/exception which really was best handled over the phone.

              1. EventPlannerGal*

                Thank you for clarifying!

                (Can I also ask, if Sam’s office phone was never forwarded, do you have any way of checking if there were any other calls to their number or voicemails that haven’t been picked up? The reason I ask is that if that phone has just been off or ringing in an empty room for six months, this may well not be the only such call that Sam has missed but just the first one you have heard about.)

                1. OP2*

                  It’s unfortunately been ringing in an empty room for 6 months!

                  I’m not aware, short of going into the office and checking at Sam’s desk, to see what other calls have been missed. It’s entirely possible that other customers haven’t been able to reach Sam and this is the first we’ve heard of it.

                  You nailed part of the reason why I was put off – Sam didn’t take initiative to ask for some sort of phone arrangement until this particular incident caused exposure. That plus the push-back, and some of the comments here, have me wondering if there’s something going on behind the scenes..

                2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

                  @OP2 – depending on the nature of the phone system at your work, you have a few options. First, you may be able to have your IT team remotely look at the phone line to see if there are any voicemails or missed calls. Going forward, there are a few ways around Sam not having a phone. Several of my workplaces have had a feature where if you got a voicemail, you would get an email with a recording of the message; might that be an option for Sam so they can either respond via email or borrow a phone to make an outgoing call? Finally, if Sam resolutely refuses to allow a phone (whether a physical phone or a VOIP/Google number) could they at least change their outgoing message to say that they will not be reachable by phone and what the alternative contact should be? None of these options would work for truly urgent situations but depending on how frequently those types of situations arise this might work for a temporary WFH setup.

          2. Yorick*

            I don’t think this is about being able to reach Sam whenever. I think it’s about the client having that option to reach Sam. The client might have needed to talk about something that was too much for email, or maybe didn’t have internet access and this was time-sensitive, or whatever. Sam needs to be reachable by phone, because otherwise there is a risk that clients won’t be able to reach them.

        3. The Starsong Princess*

          Yes, my response would be “if the voip doesn’t work, then you are going to have to contact the technical help desk and get this figured out because being reachable by phone is a job requirement.”

    4. Mystery Bookworm*

      It also is likely a relatively small expense for the company and will maintain goodwill with what sounds like is a good employee.

      It’s unusual for folks to not have a phone these days, so this personal choice is likely one that is important to Sam.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      What I can’t understand is why OP3 hasn’t set up a company phone number that rings on Sam’s work computer.
      Sam’s not using their own technology for that also, are they?

      1. anon73*

        I was wondering this as well. I have Skype, Teams and Fuze which can all be used to make calls. I guess it’s possible the company has nothing like this, but it seems odd that there’s not one option for making a call outside of using a land line in the office.

        1. Emmie*

          I agree. Zoom has a call in feature, and Sam can easily use his computer to have two way audio communications. There are two issues to resolve here – the phone calls, and Sam’s passive resistance. If it’s a condition of his employment, tell him, ask about his reluctance, and provide the tool. These other phone solutions are temporary business costs.

      2. Washi*

        I’m a little confused about this as well. Does the company want to be able to call Sam on anything, including a computer? Or do they want to be able to call Sam on something portable that they will be able to hear at all times? If it’s the former, that should be pretty easy to set up with a VOIP. If it’s the latter, that sounds like a change that Sam may not be willing to spend money to make, since not having a phone at all is a such an unusual lifestyle choice that probably requires some effort on Sam’s part to maintain.

        I think the company should offer a basic dumb phone to everyone in the company working remotely. My guess is that a lot of people wouldn’t want it anyway, and if it’s as cheap as OP says, why can’t the company take on that expense?

        1. Yorick*

          It sounds like the former. A client needed to make a phone call and wasn’t able to. It doesn’t sound like the problem was that Sam wasn’t reachable in that moment – Sam may have been able to work by email right then if that’s what the client had wanted to do/been able to do.

      3. Yorick*

        My company is working on having that instead of actual phones, but doesn’t have it now. We do already get voicemail messages emailed to us, though.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          Having voicemails emailed to me has been extremely helpful! I’m out and about quite a bit, but I don’t like forwarding the office phone to my cell. If I can hear the voicemail from wherever, then I can respond quickly if need be. Pretty handy!

    6. Lizard*

      If Sam can access email and Slack, it seems like they could use VOIP too. There are so many different apps for it now.

      Being able to use the phone is a reasonable work requirement. Sam had an office phone number, and “seldom requires phone contact with customers” still means occasional phone contact.

    7. Yorick*

      You can get a google number that isn’t forwarded to a phone. You can take calls on your computer. You can listen to voice messages and then email the person if that’s possible. But you can’t just never talk on the phone at work – if the job requires more phone use than you want, you can look for a new job. But it’s just not reasonable to push back this hard against talking on the phone on very rare occasions.

    8. Birdie*

      Yeah, the company needs to cover it especially because this is clearly only needed for “emergency” work situations and won’t help Sam accomplish the vast majority of their work. That said, I would really question whether phone service is even required. Clearly, it’s not a standard business need for Sam to do their job. I know I’ve had maybe two work phone calls since March, and they could’ve been done over Zoom if we’d taken 30 seconds to coordinate that. If my boss said I had to pay for a certain level of phone access when it’s clearly NOT necessary for my job, I would be annoyed, too. But if it is indeed necessary (if only in very rare occasions) then the company should pay or solve Sam’s VOIP issues.

    9. Annony*

      Yep. I think focusing on the VOIP option is best. It sounds more like Sam doesn’t want to do it than that it actually won’t work. So offer to help or have IT help walk them through how to set it up. I literally just helped my husband set his up so that his calls would be forwarded from the office. There were a couple of frustrating parts but in the end it worked.

      I think it is perfectly reasonable to tell him that having his calls forwarded from the office is mandatory if they are working from home. They can provide his own set up, allow you to help set up a free VOIP or work from the office.

    10. OP2*

      Hi there, OP2 here, thanks everyone for the great feedback and discussion. After reading Alison and everyone’s comments – I’ll be working on troubleshooting a VOIP service as Plan A, and offering a paid VOIP box as Plan B.

      To elaborate on why I was/am hesitant to offer to expense a phone line:
      1. The lines are a bit blurred between this being a permanent perk moving forward, and an immediate-term quarantine situation. Our leadership has offered employees such as Sam the option to work from home permanently, after COVID. While we’re currently in COVID-limbo, this option to work from home would normally be seen as a perk and could be reasonable to add the caveat “you need a phone and internet to work from home”.

      2. I would consider that the reasonable thing to do in Sam’s shoes, would be to figure out a free VOIP service. I feel like the response I’ve received is more about the push-back than it is the expense. Given Sam’s never shown any issue with using the phone in the office, part of me wonders if there’s a reason why they don’t want to be readily available at home.

      3. Lastly, and I’m not sure if this is a valid concern – we have a very strict policy regarding salary equity, including taxable benefits. While the $ amount is minor, couldn’t this be considered an inequality if one employee out of many is receiving a phone stipend and others are not?

      PS. To hopefully settle the debate for all those who addressed it – I quoted $5/month in reference to majicJack ($50/year).

      1. Arvolin*

        Right now, WFH is not a perk. It’s a requirement of the job. I don’t think you should be handing it based on how future policy might be set when it is a perk (and don’t forget that WFH saves the company money, also).

        As far as salary equity goes, this is not compensation. This is something Sam apparently doesn’t want for himself, but which you have decided he needs for work purposes. It’s like if he needed a Microsoft Software Developer’s Network subscription to run the software he needed – that’s not salary.

        1. Researcher*

          Right now, WFH is not a perk. It’s a requirement of the job. I don’t think you should be handing it based on how future policy might be set when it is a perk


      2. Observer*

        #1 – That’s not relevant here. If it turns out that you need pay for the line, you pay for it. At the point where you start bringing people back into the office and WFH becomes a perk, THEN you say to Sam “If you want the perk of WFH, you need to assume the costs involved, including the line.” But unless and until that happens, this is ABSOLUTELY your cost to bear.

        #2 – It’s worth exploring if there is something else going on. But, you should also find out what Sam means when they say that it won’t work. Do they mean “I don’t have a comfortable set of headphones for phone conversations” or “I can’t get the technology to work”?

        And, yes, it’s quite possible that they are just annoyed at the idea that “you need to get a phone line and it’s your problem”.

        #3 – Why would it be a pay equity issue? If anything, I would say it’s the reverse. If you required someone to travel, would say that it’s inequitable to pay for the travel expenses because you are not paying the travel expenses of people who are not traveling? If you had sites in two cities and you needed someone to travel from City A to City B, would you refuse to pay those travel and lodging costs because you are not paying rent for the people who live in City B?

        Paying for the line is NOT *pay*, and it should not be treated as such. It is a REIMBURSEMENT. By their nature, reimbursements are disbursed when someone incurs an expense. Why would you claim that equity requires you to “reimburse” people for expenses that they have not incurred? Why would you consider it equitable to force someone to incur an expense that you the refuse to reimburse because other people have not actually incurred that expense?

        1. OP2*

          To clarify –
          #2 – They mean “I can’t get the tech to work”. I definitely didn’t position this as “it’s your problem” – but more so, you’re a responsible and resourceful employee, please find an amenable solution so this doesn’t cause further exposure.

          #3 – A number of staff who were typically working in the office are all now working from home, and are using their own personal phone lines (cell, land, and VOIP) to communicate with their colleagues and customers, and otherwise carry out their duties.
          If Sam is the only employee being offered an allowance for a phone line – would that not at a minimum cause the optics of favoritism, or at worst case an inequality in what is being compensated?
          Regardless of whether it’s considered a reimbursement or a benefit – we’d be offering it to one staff member and not others – this is why I’m concerned about it being (or being perceived as) an inequality.

          1. Observer*

            If you are working with adults and not toddlers, a REIMBURSEMENT should never create the optics or perception of favoritism as long as it’s offered on a fair and open basis.

            If there is anyone else in your company who actually has had to incur expenses because of the WFH requirement, you should most definitely offer them the same reimbursement that you are offering Sam. For instance if you have someone who had to upgrade their internet access then you should reimburse them for the cost difference between what they were paying before and what they are paying for the upgrade.

            Only giving Sam the reimbursement because they are the only one who insisted is inequitable. Only giving Sam a reimbursement because they are the only one who actually incurred and expense is totally equitable – in fact to refuse it would be what is actually inequitable.

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

              But (hypothetically) — Sam is the only one who incurred this expense because they’re the only one who didn’t already have the “whatever technology is necessary” already set up.

              Why should the employer subsidise Sam being brought up to date with what’s nowadays considered normal technology (since everyone else had it already)? Isn’t that unfair/inequitable treatment in itself?

              For example… a few years ago, I unavoidably had to use my personal cell phone to call into the office while I was on the clock at another regional office doing training, because of a customer crisis. They left me a voicemail: “please call me back”. Due to the plan I had, because I hadn’t subscribed to a monthly plan at that point, my calling them back ended up costing me about £40 ($60) of “out of contract” calls and data (to download the file that was being questioned) on my bill to resolve it.

              Did I bill them for it? Well, no! I could have subscribed to a monthly plan, where it would have been included, but I wanted to cut costs even more at that point. So then it fell to me to cover it.

              I would have been laughed out the window if I’d requested them to reimburse my additional $60 in calls due to my own choices!!

              I was mostly just focused on “we are at a critical moment and this is what we need to keep functioning”. Not how much can I be reimbursed. Not what are the ethics, or “should-be”s. Just what keeps things running. We can argue about ethics in the future, but at the moment there’s a situation we need to resolve, and the future is moot, if we don’t resolve this now.

              I can’t see how Sam doesn’t see this!!

              Some things you just swallow as the cost of doing your job, in the same way that if they required you to wear white t-shirts and black jeans (or whatever) you couldn’t claim for that.

              1. NotAnotherManager!*

                If your employer’s response to a request for reimbursement your using your own personal device to resolve a critical client issue immediately would be to laugh, then your employer sucks. If they do not require you to provide a phone/level of service as part of your job requirements or provide you on themselves, then they should reimburse you (and say thank you!) when you use your own resources to their benefit. $60 is nothing to most companies, too.

              2. Observer*

                There are lots of companies that require their employees to subsidize the cost of doing business, but that doesn’t make it right. I don’t see how anyone fails to see that it is, in fact, the obligation of the EMPLOYER to pay the costs of doing business, NOT the obligation of the employee.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            #1 is a non-issue. You can have one policy for mandatory, safety-related WFH and have another for your permanent, optional WFH situation. Reasonable people will understand the difference, if clearly articulated by leadership.

            #2 needs to be addressed directly. Tell Sam that they must have a way to be reached by business phone during business hours, offer the options you see as viable, and tell them (don’t ask them) to pick one or pick one for them (freebie or at the company’s cost). This is a business need, it’s clear that they won’t solve it themselves, so management is going to be required. I would also have some sort of conversation with Sam about your expectations of availability and responsiveness – not checking your work VM or being able to answer your office line for six months doesn’t seem reasonable, and the vast majority of VM systems have some sort of remote message checking option.

            #3 is easy – you offer some sort of reimbursement or company phone option for all employees since they are using them for business purposes.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Hi OP. Whose is the computer? If it’s yours, tell IT to set up a company number for Sam on that PC. Tell Sam the hours it needs to be running. Done.
        If it’s Sam’s, get them a laptop & headset with a company number on it.

      4. Temperance*

        VOIP would absolutely cover this. That way, clients could connect with him in an emergency, during work hours, via his computer.

        He needs to be accessible via phone during work hours.

      5. Case of the Mondays*

        To OP 2 – I think a lot of this depends on your industry. I’m a dissenting opinion here. I’m in law and while I wish this weren’t the case, it is a job expectation that we all have our own cell phones, home computers with video capability, internet access, tablets and when we were going to depos/mediations/court in person, cars. I think you are perfectly fine to tell Sam they have to get themselves a phone.

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

        The cost is <$100 a year and Sam is arguing about it?!

        I realize it's a tiny amount in terms of the company's finances, to cover it.

        It speaks volumes about Sam that they are not willing to stump up $100 to be able to continue to do their job, from home, without any costs of commute etc.

        We hear many times of employers "nickel and diming" employees and how employees should keep that in mind in the future.
        Turns out, it also can work in reverse! Sam is nickel and diming you.

        Be careful about "free" VOIP services, if anything confidential is potentially being discussed.

      7. nonegiven*

        >part of me wonders if there’s a reason why they don’t want to be readily available at home.

        I’m thinking that usually a work phone isn’t in your house 24/7.

    11. Momma Bear*

      WFH can be an expensive endeavor, especially if the company isn’t one that has set the employees up with high-speed internet access, an appropriate computer, etc. It sounds like this was a one-off event for Sam, but could be quickly remedied with a pay as you go phone provided by the company. It would be easy to discontinue service when WFH isn’t being used anymore and a less expensive option than getting Sam to install a landline. If it wasn’t explicitly stated, now it should be, with clearly outlined responsibilities for both the employee and employer.

      Also, and I don’t know the costs involved, when I get a voice mail on my work phone, I also receive an email with a copy of the message. The company could look into a service like that and perhaps Sam could reply via video chat to the client.

    12. Observer*

      “It doesn’t work” is fixable and free.

      Not necessarily. Also, it may be fixable by someone with more IT expertise than Sam has. In which case, it would be the OP’s responsibility to make it happen.

      1. a clockwork lemon*

        Or, honestly, Sam might not have the administrative privileges necessary to make the VOIP work on an employer-provided machine. Most companies with any common sense restrict employees’ access to many core functions of the technology they provide.

        If it doesn’t work, and Sam’s telling you it’s not working, and Sam historically is not someone who has tons of tech issues or someone who uses tech issues as an excuse to get out of doing their job, it seems very unlikely that they’d refuse to use an employer-provided VOIP that pushes through to their company computer in the unlikely event of another emergency client call.

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

        But then surely Sam would approach it with “this is busted, how can we fix it?” rather than “this is busted so no can do”.

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

      Especially when working from home isn’t a perk right now

      I’d agree that we can’t present ‘having to work from home due to the pandemic’ as a perk, as such, but there’s the undeniable fact that people WFH are now incurring less costs than before (commuting, wear and tear on workplace appropriate clothing, lunches, etc) and are pocketing the extra money. There’s a difference between “cover business expenses” and “have a setup that an employer would reasonably expect you to be able to WFH”.

      They don’t regularly receive calls, it sounds like, but they do need to be able to receive them when they happen.

      It wasn’t clear how this situation would have been handled in the ‘before’ times, actually, though. Maybe WFH is a red herring here?

      I remember, for example, one call that was in a “customer critical” situation at 7.30 pm from a product manager in a hotel room ready to go to a client visit the next day, which came through to my office phone; they didn’t have a “personal cell” or whatever way to get hold of me. It just so happened that I was still in the office at 7.30pm on this one day, which was abnormal, due to having to hold down the fort with security (there was no procedure for “everyone leaving before cleaners turn up”; on this day everyone left except me and I had to stay with nothing particular to do except be present (and tackle intruders presumably?!) until the cleaning crew arrived late night. I missed my anniversary dinner due to that!).

      My boss’s admonition at 7pm to “go home!! don’t worry about it” rapidly evaporated into “thank goodness you stayed”.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Honestly, I am spending more on WfH than I was in the office. I walked to work, am eating the same lunches, wearing the same tops and the same amount of clothes, but I don’t have the free tea & coffee at work and am upping my electricity and heating bills, using my own stationery, paying more for drinks and bathroom products all day etc etc. If I were expected to put in a landline or go out and buy a mobile phone, I’d be really annoyed.

        1. Researcher*

          I also am one of those people spending more in utilities and groceries than I was spending commuting.

          I would not be pleased to incur an additional *recurring* cost for something that gets used once or twice in 6 months.

          I’d be more inclined to shell out my funds to for something that would truly improve my WFH life, but not for something that may come in handy once. Nope.

      2. Observer*

        as such, but there’s the undeniable fact that people WFH are now incurring less costs than before

        Not necessarily true. I’ve seen a lot of reporting around the kinds of issues the @One of The Sarahs mentioned.

        There’s a difference between “cover business expenses” and “have a setup that an employer would reasonably expect you to be able to WFH”.

        Not at all. Unless you are talking about very highly paid staff, it’s not reasonable to expect that anyone WILL have the wherewithal to WFH properly. Sure, there is a good chance that a lot of them will, but there are going to be holes, that the only ethical way forward is for the employer to pay for it.

  5. Dan*


    I think what this comes down to is whether grad school is going to lead to a real switch in career paths, or whether it’s climbing the ladder of the path that you’re already on. If the former, and that work has little bearing on what you’re expecting to do out of grad school, you can blow things off and it probably won’t matter.

    But I’m going to be honest… in professional circles, your reputation is *everything*. If your prior work has any relevance at all to what you’re hoping to do out of grad school, you’ll find out quickly how small the world is. You’ll also find out over time that jobs and rejections are both extended on the flimsiest of circumstance. You’ll get offers based on your reputation alone, and you *will* get rejected based on same. And you may never know the particulars. The later can be as simple as a hiring manager or HR person asking, “hey current employee X, do you know applicant Y?” Yup! “What do you think?” And “Ummm…” is a perfectly clear response in that context — a no hire.

    Which brings up the issue that when employers are checking up on you, they are not bound to the people listed on your application/resume. They can call whomever whenever.

    Side story: I did blue collar work (wore a uniform with my name on it and came home smelly) in a related area of my field before heading to grad school out of state, and relocating back 5 years later for a “professional” job at a very different company. One day, my VP taps me on the shoulder and used a nickname I had from my blue collar days, a name I hadn’t heard in years at that point. I just looked at him and said, WTF? He said to me, “Do you know Person X?” (GM from old job). Sure do! Turns out that Old GM and Current VP go to church together. Who would have guessed?

    That job laid me off a few years ago, and I got my current job without applying for it. My professional circle tends to be quite small, and when word got out to a top employer in my field that I was looking for a job, I got snapped up fast.

    Moral of all of those stories is that your reputation will save you or sink you. Take good care of it, and you really don’t want to toss it by the wayside if you have a choice.

    1. FieldSwitcher*

      I came to say essentially the same!

      LW, if you’re changing fields, there’s a solid chance you’ll never need this reference again, and it’s okay if you can’t get yourself motivated to be a star employee.

      But if you’re staying in an even vaguely related field, and don’t plan on going to academia, this reference will likely mean as much to your future employers as the ones you get in grad school.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        OP1, here is what I would be thinking if I were your manager:

        “Damn it. I need this work done but OP1 is not interested in doing it. Now I have to do it myself, or else assign it to Fergus and Jane who are already working at a far higher capacity than OP1. Normally I would start OP on a PIP for this, but I’d have to do a couple of months’ worth of documentation before HR will even let me initiate a PIP, it’ll take even more time to get everyone in HR to sign off, and by the time I can actually start the PIP, OP will almost be in grad school anyway.”

        And you’d better believe that any time I was asked for a reference, I’d tell the story from my perspective.

      2. Esmeralda*

        Even if you are changing fields, people in your new field may very well know people in your old field. Went to the same school, belong to the same book club, live down the street from, are related to each other…

        Even if you’re moving into academia, it still applies. Few people get academic jobs just for being super stars at their work. They need to be good at their work (research, publication, teaching, etc, depending on the field) AND just like any other workplace, they need to be seen as a good colleague to the rest of the faculty in that dept. Especially because with tenure that can be a very very long time to be colleagues.

        And people in academia do know people outside of academia….

    2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      Hi OP. I completely understand how you’re feeling and I’ve been through stages in my career where I’ve struggled to motivate myself. That said, you need to think about how this will impact your future career.

      Alison says ‘And they may be feeling like, “Hmmm, we took her back when she changed her mind about school, but we assumed she’d work as hard as always — and if we knew that was going to change, we might have chosen to just move forward with hiring a replacement”’. I don’t think this is even a question, they were almost certainly expecting you to maintain your previous standard of work.

      Given that you’ll be looking for your next job (after grad school) with two workplace references, you probably want those references to be really good. People will always evaluate you on whether you maintained or improved your standard – they won’t average out your performance over time. So do as much as you can to manage your reputation and protect your reference for the time you have left in this job.

      Good luck!

    3. Daffy Duck*

      Yes! There are so many connections within industries and areas you have no control over it is amazing. Also, if your costing has been noticeable to your boss to the extent she says something I would consider it a serious warning. You are now head of the list for likely to leave for two reasons, they have no obligation to keep you on for 7 months just because that is your timeline.

    4. SomehowIManage*

      100% agree on reputation.

      Plus, your (LW1’s) current boss is likely to be a professional reference for your first job out of grad school. It’s worth working hard to keep that reference positive and enthusiastic.

      Also, is grad school really going to happen in 7 months? What if it’s zoom? What is the school has financial problems? You might end up needing to stay in the current job and have half a year of average/declined performance on the books….

      1. EPLawyer*

        That’s where I was going. What if school is Zoom next year, you ask to defer again and the school says they can’t hold your spot any longer? You want your company to cut you another break? Why would they if you checked out mentally once already when they did.

        As long as you are employed there, collecting a paycheck, you owe your company your best work you are capable of. What that entails may be different. But its not just meeting all deadlines. Maybe you can”t take on longer term projects because you will be gone, but there might be short term projects. or something.

        1. Southern Academic*

          Yes, as someone currently in a doctoral program, I want to stress this pretty strongly: depending on what part of the country you’re in, there’s a fairly good chance that we will be in “Zoom school” next year as well, and it’s important to factor that into your decision-making about this job.

    5. Anon for this*

      LW, please listen to Dan’s wise words. Years ago I sabotaged myself and my professional career by making a stupid mistake. My reputation suffered tremendously. Although I have been employed in my field continually since then, I have never fully recovered professionally. You’re relatively young in your field; coasting for 7-8 months will most likely come back to haunt you in ways you can never envision now. Your reputation means the world; protect it!

      1. RecentAAMfan*

        And if you’ve been a real high achiever for a long time, it seems such a waste to tank that reputation for a year of coasting

        1. Arvolin*

          It’s not just reputation; it’s your own self-image and habits. At one job, I coasted for a while because it was poorly managed and I could fulfill all my duties easily while reading the paper thoroughly at my desk and taking long lunches and breaks. That meant that, when the workload picked up to a more reasonable level, I had difficulty adjusting to it.

    6. un-pleased*

      Agreed! One of the wildest lessons I have learned is just how small the world is, and that you never know when people will reappear in your life or how far your reputation can travel. And now is just a really bad time to be doing things that might make others’ work lives harder.

      The other thing is, I would not want to get into a pattern of coasting before grad school. That would make for a heck of a wake-up call. Every field may be different, but in my field, grad school is legitimately tough and being able to not slack (or to slack very judiciously) is an important skill that you’d have in place beforehand.

    7. Dust Bunny*

      Second all of this: If you’re not going to do the job, quit and let them hire somebody who will. If you want the paycheck, do the work. Pick one.

      1. merp*

        To be fair, their letter says they are meeting deadlines and completing their work, they just aren’t aggressively pursuing new projects the same way they used to. I don’t think that’s really the same as not doing the work.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          Plus I think a significant number of usually-go-getters simply don’t have the energy right now due to the pandemic. So while we know OP is partially coasting due to having a known end date and going to school, it’s entirely possible this would’ve happened anyway. I know it’s happening with a ton of my colleagues, and leadership doesn’t mind and isn’t questioning it because everyone’s reasonably exhausted. Going from Amazing At This Job to Exactly What This Job Requires No More No Less might be concerning without all the other circumstances. I might worry about a sudden shift like that. But it rubs me the wrong way that the notion of a downgrade from overperforming to regular performing might be PIP-worthy.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yeah, this sounds like maybe an “exceeds expectations” person turned into a “meets expectations” person. And there’s a lot of that going around.

    8. Smithy*

      First here to say that Dan is taking a very responsible and realistic view to this scenario. His advice is the best advice.

      However….depending on what your graduate school course is, what your current/desired field/sector is, where you want to work – this doesn’t have to mean everything. Pre-graduate school, I had a research assistant job where my HR reviews came back great but it was a job where there were supposed to be like 60 study subjects and there ended up being 20. For reasons that truly had nothing to do with me. After I completed graduate school and reached out to my former boss to serve as a reference, he completely ghosted me and I could not tell you what he thought of my performance after the fact.

      During graduate school, I made good connections with professors and had a volunteer/internship with an advisor who spoke well of me. I got hired a month after graduation with no challenges about references. So this really does not have to be the end of the world. One thing I would recommend is that if there are “low lift” go getter activities, I would be the absolute first to volunteer for those. For some people things like planning a holiday party, helping onboarding a new colleague, doing extra data entry – whatever – are easy enough ways to distract your brain with something else.

    9. Mary*

      Everyone is answering this thread like OP is completely checked out and not bothering and in imminent danger of being kicked out if it wasn’t so much work. All she’s said is that she’s not being as competitive and as much of a “go-getter” as usual, and also that this is partly a reaction to the huge stress and upheaval of the past six months. If this is, “you are not doing the job, you are in danger of seriously ruining your reputation and it may never recover” territory, this is a very dysfunctional industry.

      1. Dan*

        Some of this is fair.

        One problem with American culture these days is that we aren’t very direct, and most things are a “read between the lines” kind of messaging. OP says they are doing enough to not get fired, and I didn’t imply they were.

        OP drops a couple of nuggets, though. “I feel a significant slowdown in my work” is one. That’s not the same as not being a go-getter.

        And we also don’t know *exactly* what the boss said, or how literally to take it. These kinds of conversations on the boss’s side are the subject of AAM letters along the lines of, “I’ve dropped hints to my report that their work isn’t up to par and nothing’s changing. What should I do?” AAM: How direct were you? Boss: “I let them know their initiative is slipping. They should have gotten then hint that I’m keeping an eye on their performance.” AAM: Be direct.

        I think most of us were really answering the question “What’s the cost of a bad reference” because that’s most likely what’s at stake here. Answer to that is “possibly a lot, depending on the circumstances.”

    10. OP1*

      I’m OP1 and this was really helpful in that I now understand the preservation of the reputation/reference to be the major deciding factor as to how to proceed. I realize my language was probably vague, and that a lot of people took “coasting” to mean leaving work for others and making it harder to execute necessary projects (rather than just less voracious and engaged chiefly because of the pandemic). That wasn’t my intention, but perhaps I needed to hear it anyway.

    11. serenity*

      +100 to all this and I just wanted to add that OP’s use of the word “senioritis” troubled me. You’re not in college or high school and blowing off coursework. You’re in a professional context, and you’re being employed (*paid*) to do work. Whether your career aspirations are going to be in the same field and your professional reputation is on the line, as Dan said, or not, you are absolutely not a “senior” in this situation. You are an employee who is confusing your next academic steps with your current professional responsibilities.

  6. Artemesia*

    This. The only reason you need to resign as a volunteer is ‘I have decided to go in another direction’ or variations thereof. And when Pushy pries, you just restate the original bland response and then get off the phone. You don’t need ‘reasons’ to break up with a guy (or gal); you dn’t need ‘reasons’ to decide to direct your volunteer efforts elsewhere.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      Agreed. If it isn’t up for debate don’t give them a handle to argue with you about leaving or not. Be clear you won’t be volunteering any more, you don’t have to get into why.

  7. 867-5309*

    OP1, When you asked to stay, was it clear that you only deferred grad school for 7-8 months or did you simply say ask to stay?

    For example, if you simply said you changed your mind and wanted to stay, that frames things very differently for your manager than, “I’ve deferred grad school and would instead like to leave in 7-8 months.”

    1. Claire*

      I’m not sure that would make much difference, 7 months is still a long time for someone to be coasting. I get the impact the pandemic has had but most people are feeling that way, including at least some of OPs coworkers most likely- so if OP coasts for 7 months then someone else has to pick up the slack.
      Plus as a manager it can be an added difficulty figuring out what to do with an employee you know isn’t staying. It puts the whole department in limbo; anytime the manager thinks about long term plans or assigning projects they now need to account for the additional factor that OP will only be here for X amount longer.

      1. 867-5309*

        That’s a good point, Claire. I suppose I was curious but either way, 7 months is a long time to coast.

  8. Venus*

    OP3: I feel like a point was missed in the response. If you know someone in any context who has bad personal traits that would make them a bad employee then that is a very valid reason to not hire them. Even if there wasn’t a direct connection, yet maybe a friend knew them socially and had experiences with lying and a severe lack of interpersonal skills, then you have every reason to not hire them.

    If they don’t read an entire book for book club, or a friend complains that they suck at trivia night, then leave that sort of thing at the work door. It doesn’t impact their work performance. But please save your employees and yourself the pain of managing a jerk.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      Agreed. You are not obligated to interview or hire someone just because you know them socially. Rejecting them before the interview will be the easiest time to do this. My company laid off a new hire recently due to a mismatch in personality – it was very hard to say she does great work most of the time but was so adversarial her trainers cringed whenever they had to correct her work. There was a huge sigh of relief when she was gone, we didn’t realize the whole impact until weeks later. I think so many of us are so conditioned to accept poor behavior to be seen as “nice “ we voluntarily martyr ourselves, this is not healthy behavior.

    2. anon73*

      Exactly. If you know a person’s reputation to be dishonest and lack integrity in their personal life, it’s reasonable to assume they will be the same way at work and not unfair to eliminate them from the interview pool.

    3. Thankful for AAM*

      Also agree it felt like a point might have been missed in #3.
      I was not sure the applicant was fully in your social circle or on the edges – like you know them but not in a way that would ruin book club if you had to fire them. I wondered if Alison’s answer would include something like, check references to be sure the traits you saw in this person exist at previous workplaces and are not rumors. But I think it is fine to just pass right now. I just wondered if checking references would make you feel more confident in passing on them.

    4. Anononon*

      We once interviewed someone who everyone found weird and a bit creepy. After it was clear what the consensus was, one of my coworkers told some of us that she knew him socially, and he was basically exactly what we thought he was. She just didn’t want to influence us… I was like, “no, that is something we should be influenced by.”

    5. Heidi*

      It might be helpful for OP to consider the opposite scenario. If you knew something about a candidate that really strengthened their application, it would totally be reasonable to factor that into your decision. Having more useful information outside of their application package isn’t cheating the system; it’s just…lucky, I guess.

    6. Person from the Resume*

      YES! Alison dropped the ball on digging in deeper to the “actual” question. LW has legitimate knowledge of traits like dishonesty, lack of integrity, and dramatically divisive that would be terrible within an office team. It is perfectly fair not to interview this person. Don’t pretend to not know about these negative traits and then have to suffer through their effects in the office.

      Instead of asking is it fair not to hire ANYONE you know, the LW needs to be told it is fair to use knowledge gained in personal situations to determine who you choose to interview. It’s okay to hire people you know casually and may have seen the inside of your home and know your family. If you are close and have a bias, it’s probably best not to be involved in the hiring. And if it is for someone you manage, you should think long and hard if you are too close to manage.

      But you do not need a blanket rule especially to not consider someone who you know lacks integrity.

    7. Archaeopteryx*

      Yes, it doesn’t matter how you know and there’s no reason to pretend you don’t know things just because they have her outside of work. You know this person would be a bad addition to your workplace, so I don’t waste anymore time on them.

    8. Joielle*

      Yep. I once decided not to interview someone I only knew from Twitter – where he was constantly complaining about his job, talking about the hours-long lunches and fake sick days he was taking, and being kind of a jerk to people (in our small professional community!) who he thought were “better off” than him. There were plenty of other good candidates so it was no real loss to put him in the “no” pile. Why invite drama when you have the chance to avoid it?

  9. Job Carousel*

    #2 – wanted to share another perspective on phones and employers.

    I’m an MD who recently finished residency. During residency we were required to respond to pages at all hours of the day and night (weekends too) using a paging app we had to install on our smartphones. I didn’t actually have a smartphone until before starting residency — just a series of cheap flip phones — and in my entire adult life I’ve never paid for a landline anywhere I’ve lived. One would think that we’d be issued work phones for this purpose, or at least be given a substantial discount on a phone plan to cover the internet service and phone calls we’d need to make as part of our jobs, but no. The hospital system did offer a discounted rate with one of the major cell carriers, but it was like a 10% discount.

    So basically, as part of my (grossly underpaid for the hours worked) job, I then had to shell out:
    – ~$600 for smartphones (I usually bought cheaper models, and replaced them when they bricked or seemed close to dying)
    – $50/month for the cheapest unlimited talk/text/data plan I could find * 12 months * 3 years = $1800 (I am the only one in my family with a smartphone, so there was no family plan I could join)
    – ~$50 for screen protectors, cases, etc.
    = $2450 of my post-tax money on something I was required to have for my job, but otherwise wouldn’t have bought

    I did end up using the smartphone for personal calls/text/internet use too, so it’s not like I could write it off as a pure business expense, but still. Makes me mad to this day.

    1. Editor*

      There’s an additional problem. When I first used a cellphone, it was supplied by my employer. This was good for work, but there was some issue about employees using company-provided benefits for personal advantage, so tax law required monthly parsing the calls on the bill so we could pay for personal use. It was a front-office nightmare.

      So, next we got cell phones on a discounted plan, but there was a reimbursement that amounted to about 90 percent of the cost of the monthly plan, and that worked fairly well. Eventually they folded the reimbursement into the paychecks, so we didn’t even have to deposit a separate check.

      Then profits slipped. We were still required to have cell phones, but the reimbursements kept being chipped away. Eventually, the reimbursements ended, cell phones were still required, but it was a bring-your-own-device situation.

      For the OP, telling Sam to get a landline for $5 per month is unrealistic. If Sam doesn’t want VOIP, then compromising on a cheap pay-as-you-go cell phone sounds best, and I think the employer ought to offer a reimbursement, particularly if the job pays below a living wage.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        More generally, there is the assumption that of course everyone has a smart phone. This assumption was made prematurely, when only a fraction of the population had one, but once the assumption is in place it is self-fulfilling, because it becomes increasingly difficult to function without one. I broke down about a year and a half ago when I was planning an a cross-country trip with my tween daughter. I realized that just confirming my airplane reservation would be a major production without a smart phone. There are all sorts of things that back in the day would have been easily done in other ways, but nowadays are fiendishly difficult without a smart phone.

        That being said, there is no need for the newest and shiniest. I bought a “budget” phone, serenely accepting that any videos I should happen to shoot with it might not be as spiffy as they would be with a more expensive model. And I have it on a pay-as-you-go plan that would be a disaster if I were using it to watch movies, but just fine since I am not. One’s phone as conspicuous consumption is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of of a life that has witness much that is ridiculous.

        1. MK*

          Eh, I doubt these things were easily done back in the day; more like, you were used to the hassle of having to go to a specific physical place and wait in line to pay your electricity bill and it didn’t register as an inconvenience, while doing it online seemed a huge imposition at first. Also, the reality is that many people will continue to do the thing they were used to, no matter how inconvenient or wasteful, unless “forced” to change by the old way becoming impractical.

          1. Thankful for AAM*

            This. I did a 2 month bike trip on the other coast back in the day and there was a lot to arrange and confirm with flying bikes and more. I have no real memory of how we did it but I am sure we had to bike miles to find a phone, borrow landlines from nice park rangers, etc. It would not have been convenient, it just was what I had to do.

          2. Jackalope*

            Some of them were harder but some were genuinely easier or had other options. I had two reasons I finally had to break down and get a smart phone. One was that an activity that I used to do would regularly provide directions for our off-site events. We’d get a printout with a shiny picture related to the event and then instructions on how to get there. Then someone in the office decided they’d just give the address. They still said (out of habit I assume) that they were directions, but it wasn’t. I usually carpooled with a friend and neither of us had a smart phone so we got halfway there (the bit we already knew) and discovered…. no directions. (Yes we should have looked more closely but there had always been directions before so we didn’t even think to question it.) For the next year or so they would put out a sheet with the “directions”, we’d ask for ACTUAL directions, the person who made us the flier would give us an incredulous look and say, “What, you mean like you want me to print something from Google or something?”, we would explain AGAIN that we didn’t have smart phones, and they would print it. The thing that got me is that they were still using the same amount of paper and lots of colored ink for the shiny flier, it was just much less useful. This was echoed in many situations but this was the one I remember most clearly. (And I will add for the record that I appreciate the ease of GPS but esp when I’m in a town I more or less know, I find directions more helpful since I can go the route I want and avoid the one intersection with horrid traffic or whatever.)

            The second was more serious. I was flying somewhere to see a dying family member and had to change my flight last-minute, at the airport. The airline had set up the tickets so you could ONLY change them online. The airport had also taken away all of the rent-a-computer sites under the assumption that everyone had a smart phone, but… my dad and I didn’t, and there wasn’t time to make the hour and a half trek back home, change it there, and come back to the airport for the flight. We tried talking to flight agents at the gate, calling, everything. Finally a nice stranger let me spend a half hour using HIS smart phone to make the update (it took a long time since I, not unreasonably, didn’t know how to use it).

            Moral of the story: making things accessible by smart phone is great, but when it’s assumed that that’s the ONLY option it means that other perfectly good and serviceable ways of handling things are taken away (which are more convenient than going to the electric company in the middle of the day, although done that too!) and is a severe disadvantage for those who don’t want a phone but want to still be able to access the world.

            1. Job Carousel*

              I can totally relate to those examples…I remember not too long ago having to physically write down or print out directions for every car trip I was taking to an unfamiliar place. I also had this very awkward experience of trying to get an Uber ride without a smartphone. I was able to install the Uber app on my iPad, and request the Uber from inside the airport terminal with free wifi and wait there until my ride was supposedly almost there, but when I stepped outside to look for my ride, I had no more wifi and didn’t realize I was standing in the wrong place. I eventually found my ride, but my driver had almost canceled on me because I hadn’t shown up in the right pickup spot.

              My parents (both in their mid-60s) are adamant they will never get a smartphone. They’ve taken several cross-country trips in recent years with only their flip phones in tow (which with 2G or 3G basically have no signal in many more rural parts of the country), through dangerous weather where they couldn’t call for help if they needed to (not even sure 911 would work).

            2. Richard Hershberger*

              Also, there is the simple matter that before cell phones of any sort, pay phones were commonplace. They started to disappear in the flip phone era, but there never was the assumption that of course everyone had a flip phone. The smart phone era is when pay phones finally disappeared.

              1. Nanani*

                On top of that, even someone who has a smartphone might be out of data, out of battery, on a carrier that has bad/no service where they are, in a foreign country with no roaming, etc., etc., etc.,.

          3. doreen*

            Some things were done easily – I never had to go anywhere to pay bills. I simply put a check in the mail which is at most slightly more inconvenient than paying online. But other things just didn’t happen – I don’t remember needing to check in within 24 hours of a flight back in the 80s. I just bought my ticket and showed up at the airport at the appropriate time with nothing in between.

    2. Behindbj*

      I have a pay-as-you-go smartphone that works perfectly fine. There are really inexpensive phones ($20 and up) with either “purchase minutes/airtime/texts/data as you go or monthly plans with unlimited voice and text plus some data starting at $10 per month. Also does the WiFi thing. Works just fine.

      There is no need to get a $600 phone to run apps (app-dependent, of course). If all they need is service, the company can get one of those for them.

      But – I agree with others that it sounds like they don’t want a phone. However, since they have one at the office they can be required to answer one at home, while working, during business hours (if that is their normal parameter). That needs addressing, along with getting the free VOIP working.

      1. Washi*

        I think Job Carousel is saying they would buy several cheap smartphones that kept dying and the cost totaled $600 in a year. Which is still a bit weird to me, my first smartphone cost $50 and lasted two years, my current one cost $100 and has lasted for three.

        But yeah, I think the company should offer to pay for cheap phone if they want Sam to have one. That will be the real test – if Sam is still coming up with reasons why that won’t work, then there’s a problem.

        1. Job Carousel*

          Yes, what I meant is that over the course of 3 years I went through 3 or 4 different low-end smartphones and used them until they broke or otherwise became unusable. The first was free with my (cheap) carrier but was so cheap that I couldn’t really use it for what I needed, so I kept it as an emergency backup; after that I would buy smartphones in the ~$200 range (a few rungs above the cheapest ones on the market) that would be fine for a little bit but would inevitably fall apart. One phone came with a one-year warranty and bricked literally the day after the one-year warranty was up (which of course happened to be a day I was on call). Another one worked mostly fine for about a year and a half, except it would shut down randomly and with increasing frequency, and the screen began to detach from the back such that the phone would no longer fit in any case. These phones went through a lot of wear and tear through my work as a resident — it’s not like they were something I could slip into a bag and forget about all day.

          My impression of smartphones is that they are not very durable. Before getting my first smartphone, I had a very basic flip phone that lasted a solid 10 years (2007-2017), but then again I didn’t use it very much. Eventually the battery stopped holding charge, and the phone wouldn’t turn on anymore. I had a pay-as-you-go plan there (for phone/text, no data since it wasn’t internet-capable and had no apps), and maybe spent $50/year on minutes. When I needed internet, I got crafty — for instance, I had an iPad mini that fit in my bag and used free wifi connections to access the internet while out.

          I wish I could have done a pay-as-you-go plan with the smartphone I had to use in residency, but unfortunately that wasn’t possible. I had something similar, Google Fi’s “inexpensive” (~$35/mo) plan with unlimited talk and text but only a paltry amount of data, at first. Unfortunately one of my primary worksites in residency had no wifi access for employees, so the first month I was unpleasantly surprised with a ~$80+ phone bill because I went over my allotted data plan with all the data I used for work purposes. So after that I found a $50/month plan for unlimited talk/text/data with a different carrier.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Smartphones are not as durable as flip phones (I miss the indestructibility of those old Nokias!) but they’re definitely not as bad as your experience would indicate. It might be an example of you get what you pay for. The iPhones in my family have all lasted many years – we definitely don’t go through three or four in the course of three years.

          2. Lizzie*

            Your point about work related wear and tear is key here I think.

            I used to work for a grocery delivery company. The delivery drivers had a specially made device for navigating to drops and recording delivery times etc. At some point, Head Office suggested replacing these devices with a smart phone app. The drivers basically refused point blank. They were having to get the devices out at awkward moments, carry them with heavy boxes, basically use them all day long in situations where there was a big risk of dropping and damaging them. They didn’t want to take that risk with their personal devices (especially because they were on a low wage and smart phones are expensive, high-end devices).

            It sounds like your phone was getting similar treatment – in use all the time and having to get it out whilst rushing around, frequently dropped or exposed to unpleasant fluids?

            Smart phones aren’t designed for that. They are basically leisure devices. Not really waterproof and they break if you drop them. I’m not surprised they didn’t work well as pagers!

            1. Job Carousel*

              Indeed, lots of wear in tear, lots of drops, lots of touching after I’d been handling gross fluids, lots of santiziations, etc. I went through so many screen protectors and cases.

        2. Quill*

          It really depends a lot on how fast they get bricked by updates or there’s technical problems with the battery, etc.

    3. anon73*

      Just because that was your experience doesn’t make it right. If you’re required to be available all the time, you need to be provided with a phone, even if you already have a phone. I’ve worked in IT my entire career, and anyone who was expected to be “on call” frequently was either issued a work phone or received money towards their current phone’s bill.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        The key here is “required to be on call”
        It sounds like being on call was not the case with the OPs employee previously, but now it is.

        However, there are plenty of free or low cost VoiP services that do include a regular phone number that people can call like a normal phone as long as the computer in on. So I’m not clear why that isn’t working/didn’t work during normal work hours. Google and Skype offer this inexpensively.

        1. anon73*

          I wasn’t making the case for the LW, I was responding to the comment above. I don’t disagree with you.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yikes. At the only job where part of my job requirements was being able to answer the phone 24/7, my employer provided the phone(s) and paid all the phone bills. It was my only phone at the time (I started at that job 20 years ago), but more recently, I’ve seen many of my sysadmin, database admin, etc friends carrying two phones: their personal one, and another one issued to them by their work.

    5. Observer*

      Just one thing for anyone who is reading this.

      The costs for some of this stuff could be significantly lower in most areas of the US.

      Usable smart phones have gone really low. These don’t have all the bells and whistles, in fact they have very few nice features. But for one or two apps + talk and text, they work just fine.

      Cell phone plans can also be substantially less than $50 per month, even not on a family plan. You do need to shop carefully and they won’t work well if you need a lot of data so that’s not universal.

      Which is not to say that even at a significantly lower cost, it’s ok to have this requirement. It is NOT. But if your employer DOES pull this garbage (and it really is – you don’t make your lowest paid employees shell out money to do their job), you may be able to reduce the cost a bit.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      These turkeys…so they went from having to supply a pager for someone to carry to an app that they could shift to the residents. Classic medical industry shenanigans at play here! Anything they can do to shift the burden to the residents who are also tasked with saving lives for pennies on the dollar *screams into the void*

      1. Job Carousel*

        Indeed. :( I don’t know if that’s how most/all residency programs are these days — I certainly hope not.

  10. GradStudent*

    Op2, where are you getting $5/month? That’s really unrealistic. The cheapest plan I could find in my area is $30/month which doesn’t include installation fees or long distance calls. If I wanted to add long distance and nothing else it jumps up to $50/month.

    Plus, this isn’t exactly like the other employees because you are requiring Sam to take on an expense they otherwise wouldn’t have to. So it would make sense to pay for all of Sam’s bill while you should pay for a portion of the other employees’ bills because you’re requiring them to use a personal device they already had for work purposes.

    Another solution could be to get a company phone that Sam would keep on during work hours. But at the end of the day, you are the employer and should be providing the means to do the work whether that’s providing a phone or giving a cell phone/landline stipend.

    1. curly sue*

      We had an Ooma for a while which was $5 / month on basic plan, but it’s a VOIP box. We eventually ditched it because the only calls we got on that line were spam robots. I’m not sure if they’re Canada-only, but they were that cheap.

      1. comityoferrors*

        +1. My mom has an Ooma and loves it, and I think she pays maybe $10-$15/month because she wants multiple phones throughout the house (on the same line). It works well for her and we’ve had relatively few issues. We’re in the US, so not Canada-only!

        That said, I resent employers requiring employees to use personal devices for required work. I know these are unprecedented times so I’m putting up with it, but I’ve had to use my personal computer (and even bought a new one to make up for performance issues in the old one) for 6 months now, and it’s hard not to feel frustrated about it. I imagine Sam could feel similarly put-upon, and though they do need to work with you to find some solution, I would caution OP2 to be patient with them if you can. There are free and cheap solutions, and I think it would behoove your company to cover Sam’s expenses as long as mandatory WFH continues. After that, it’s a choice for them to take on the expense or stop working from home. But as long as they have no choice about working from home, I think it’s on the employer to provide the necessary means to do their job effectively.

    2. Nanani*

      I’ve only ever seen 5$/mo in the context of “Get internet/TV/Llama-walking with us, and we’ll throw in land line service for only 5$!” type bundles. Getting just a landline would definitely be more, if it’s offered at all.

  11. WoodswomanWrites*

    #2, after everyone started working from home due to the pandemic, my employer initiated giving every employee a monthly stipend to contribute to the cost of our personal phones and personal internet connection. It was a widely appreciated gesture. It’s the right thing to do and will make your staff feel valued, which is important for morale during these isolated times.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      After two months of WFH, every employee in my department that didn’t already have a company cell phone was provided one (previously it was only employees at a certain level who were issued phones). We are constantly on the phone, and my coworkers who didn’t already have a phone were really grateful to the company for just fixing the issue themselves instead of pushing it to the employees.

      1. AnonForThis*

        I think this is key.

        Under normal circumstances, we issued phones to some employees, but not all, based on certain criteria. Did you have 24/7 accountability? You got a phone. Did you need to be reachable when away from your desk landline, and were you likely to be away from your desk at least X% of time? You got a phone.

        The situation has changed and we now have many more employees away from their desk landline more than X% of the time. If they need to be reachable immediately, they now meet the criteria for being issued a phone. Yes, there is increased expense to the company, but it is the right thing to do by my employees to ensure that these criteria be applied fairly.

        I can’t, in good faith, carry on pretending that the situation hasn’t changed. Resentment would build.

        If providing the actual phone or paying the cellular/data is prohibitive, it is time that companies look into a lower-cost solution like VOIP, Skype, etc, that also gets offered to all employees who are away from their desks. It shouldn’t be incumbent upon the employee to provide their own technology.

        In the case of Sam, they were provided VOIP as an alternative to their office landline, and if there is trouble getting it to work, then IT or another manager needs to work with Sam to get it resolved.

    2. The Rural Juror*

      When I was hired at my current company, they did this for us right off the bat. We get a stipend for both our phone and vehicle expenses. It’s kind of a given we’ll use our phones for work, but I can see why the company doesn’t want to issue work phones. That portion of the stipend actually covers my full cell phone bill, plus some, but only because I’m on a family plan and save costs that way. The vehicle stipend pays more than what mileage reimbursement would most moths, but sometimes it’s a little skimpy other months when I have a lot of driving to do. Either way, it all kinds of evens out. There’s been a couple of long trips where they’ve insisted I turn in mileage on top of the stipend, so I appreciate that they’ve not stingy about it.

      Having a company that absolutely does not want you to spend any of your own money, in any way shape or form, goes a long way towards positive morale. In my view, it’s worth the expense to the company!

  12. cncx*

    RE OP3, i have seen in past jobs where i worked in a small field that even if you aren’t the hiring manager, hiring managers didn’t like hiring people who have baggage or beef with current employees- it’s not about the skill set but rather managing a cohesive team without drama.

    For example, i know of a situation where A and B had an affair while A was married to C. C changed jobs and B applied for a position at C’s new job. B met the requirements on paper, but the hiring manage, D, found out from C they had a history and didn’t interview B. The rationale had nothing to do with the morality of affairs or whether or not work relationships are ok or whatever, but more rather it wasn’t worth causing drama for a current employee who was already a good part of the team.

    I agree with alison and the other commentariat- as long as it isn’t something like “has bad taste in books” or discriminatory based on protected class stuff, it’s perfectly fine and in fact preferable to balance your needs as a current employee, not just hiring manager, with what you know about this person.

  13. Beth*

    LW4, I think you’re still a bit trapped in the dysfunction of this organization. Resigning isn’t something they can push on; once you’ve resigned, they have no more leverage to push with! Here’s how this will actually go:

    You: I’m reaching out to let you know that I won’t be able to resume volunteering for your organization, so my status should shift from “inactive volunteer” to “no longer a volunteer with you.” Can you put me in touch with the right person to get the documentation updated? Thanks for your help!
    Them: What? Why? What happened? Is it your health? We can keep you as an inactive volunteer, will you come back later if we keep you as inactive for now? You don’t secretly hate us, do you? You’re not leaving us so you can secretly volunteer for someone else, right? What happened????? [insert every single awkward, pushy question you’re envisioning here]
    You: Nope, I’m definitely resigning! It’s the right choice for me right now. I’ll leave it in your hands to pass that information to the correct person then, thanks so much for your help. Good luck with [organization mission]! Bye!

    That’s it. If they pester you further, you can block their emails/phone number/etc. in good conscience. You already told them you resigned, so there’s no further reason for them to be contacting you! You’re done.

    1. AnNina*

      Haha, this reminds me of my first resignation, from fast food:
      ME: Hi. I’m afraid I need to resign, since I have been accepted for university in a different town. I’d like my last day to be DATE.
      BOSS: Ok, too bad to hear, but I understand.
      ME: Could you also write me a letter of recommendation? (Typical in my country when you leave job)
      BOSS: Yes, sure!

      And I go on, doing my work thinking everything is fine. Then comes my last day, I bring in some snacks and thank everyone etc. The thing is, eves as clear as I thought I was, and even as clear of an answer I got from my boss, when it was my last day, Boss was surprised that I had ACTUALLY resigned. They thought I was going to take a break for school. (Like, three years…? I don’t know)

      I ended up “staying in” for a couple of months without any shifts, until I called back at them and said I really needed my contract to end and I will be handing in my uniform etc. It was so bizarre! :D

      1. Bear Shark*

        Oh gosh, resigning from fast food. I gave 2 weeks written notice for my resignation from fast food and I don’t know why I bothered since my boss kept me on the schedule after my 2 weeks. It’s like they were so used to people quitting by just not showing up any more that as long as you were still there you hadn’t really quit yet.

        ME (after last day, turning in my uniform): You have me on the schedule for next week
        BOSS: Yeah I need you to work tomorrow.
        ME: I don’t work here anymore.
        BOSS: But I have you on the schedule.
        ME: On the schedule or not, I’m not coming in. I told you that 2 weeks ago.

      2. doreen*

        I’m going to assume you aren’t in the US because you mention a contract- but this “They thought I was going to take a break for school. (Like, three years…? I don’t know)” doesn’t surprise me at all. I knew many people who went away for college but would return to their old jobs over vacations.

    2. LW4*

      That made me smile.
      “You don’t secretly hate us, do you?”
      Cackles evilly. “Yes, I do, and leaving you is final stage of my evil master plan that started with me joining you and faithfully working for you for a year!”

      On a more serious note, your scenario did remind me that it’s my goal to resign, not my goal to be liked – and that if they are pushy or rude, I can (do the email equivalent of) smile politely and walk away, and then laugh at the ridiculousness of a near-retirement age professional still not having learned any manners.

      Thank you. That was insightful.

  14. AnNina*

    I’m from a different country, so different perspective etc. But please, pay for your employees’ expenses. It’s YOUR benefit, that they are able to work efficiently.

    1. Tuckerman*

      I agree. And depending on one’s credit or payment history (I’m in the US) it may be difficult to open up any type of utility account with a significant deposit. Sure, they could use a free service, but when you’re really stressed out financially, the idea of opening any type of account or the possibility of added expense or impact to credit can be overwhelming.

  15. Prague*

    #3 – Working from home for how long without needing a phone until now? Does he really need a phone, or is this more about him having the norms of others?

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Clearly it is about norms, if it has only come up now. This is hand-wringing about what seems to have been a unique situation. Should the employer buy Sam a phone, it will sit in a drawer. It won’t make Sam immediately available, because they won’t carry it around obsessively like most people do. The best it will serve is to make it possible to arrange a phone call ahead of time.

      1. MK*

        Very rare does not equal unique. If the client who is upset by not being able to reach Sam is the firm’s biggest or his being unreachable causes the firm or the client to lose money, it won’t matter that it only comes up once every six months.

      2. Green great dragon*

        The original post explained that there have already been business consequences of them not having a phone (annoyed client, OP having to spend time mitigating the damage) so it seems very bizarre to suggest that this is only about norms. And there’s nothing to suggest Sam will object to having the phone in earshot during working hours, which it appears is all that is required.

      3. EventPlannerGal*

        I think that’s a little unfair to OP2 – they say that the client was unhappy and they had to do damage control on Sam’s behalf. It’s possible for something to be necessary only on occasion, but important to have available when it IS necessary. And if he truly cannot or will not be reachable for whatever reason, why not communicate that so the company can figure out an alternative (forwarding calls to his number to somebody else, adding a footer to his emails to clarify that he is not available by phone, something like that) instead of just waiting for it to become a problem for someone else to deal with?

        1. Amtelope*

          Honestly, in my field, this would be a deal-breaker — if you don’t have access to a phone, you can’t work remotely. If someone really didn’t have a phone at home and needed us to provide one while we’re all remote, we could probably make that happen. But saying “I don’t want to be reachable by phone” would not fly. It’s a job requirement that people participate in calls, and I don’t think that’s particularly rare.

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            Yeah, that’s very true – the “will not” part of my comment definitely wouldn’t be acceptable in my job either.

          2. GothicBee*

            I mean to be fair, LW2 does say that Sam’s role only deals with calls infrequently. So it does seem to be rare for their position.

            I agree the LW needs to tell Sam that having some sort of phone is a requirement. And I do think it would be good to provide a stipend for it since Sam would not otherwise have a phone. LW needs to have a conversation with Sam about it and explain that it’s necessary and figure out what will work. Especially since LW2 said elsewhere that they’re offering WFH to continue after COVID as a perk. I’d probably point out that if Sam wants to permanently WFH, they need to come to some kind of solution that doesn’t rely on someone else’s phone.

            1. Observer*

              It’s only “fair” to require a phone if the company is willing to pay for it.

              If they are willing to pay for it, and Sam still refuses, that’s a different issue. And I do agree that in that case, the OP has complete standing to insist.

    2. Colette*

      It sounds like he really needed it this time, so yes, he needs one. There are some things the business should accommodate – if he is unable to talk on the phone, they should find an alternative – but “I don’t want to have a phone” isn’t one of them.

      1. Nanani*

        But Sam is not unable to talk on the phone. OP states they had no problem using the office phone before pandemic-provoked WFH.

        They are allowed not to want a phone, and work should look into any of the majillion other options if phone-like service is really that essential.

  16. Richard Hershberger*

    LW3: This is about what information you have. Ordinarily at this stage all you have is the resume and cover letter, so that is what you are used to acting on when choosing who to interview, the whole point of the interview being to get more information. But in this case you already have more. There is no reason why you can’t use it. This is especially true in this case, where one piece of information you have is that this person lacks integrity. It would be insane to act as if you didn’t know this. What are you going to do? Ask questions in the interview to bring out this lack of integrity, so that you can then not hire this person, but if they are really good at BS’ing through the interview and hiding their lack if integrity, you have to hire them after all? Or if at that point you decline to hire them because you know they lack integrity, then what was the point of the interview?

    There are legitimate concerns about hiring someone based on personal connections. These concerns are both abstract, about personal networks maintaining systems of privilege, and concrete, it being potentially awkward to fire a fellow church member. Were the question about should you hire someone you have a personal history with, that would be a different matter. But should you decline to hire someone based on your inside knowledge of why they would be a bad employee? Of course!

  17. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #3

    “…a lack of integrity (multiple times being caught in untruths about situations), taking things very personally, and often serving as the root of division or gossip in the group.”

    I’ve managed someone like this (inherited employee) and it was awful and exhausting. She had all three of these issues and then some. If I had prior knowledge like this about a candidate, I absolutely would not hire them. Sure, much of the job is having the skills and knowledge, but part of the job is also being honest, not being a jerk, not spreading gossip, and being able to not take everything personally.

  18. momofpeanut*

    Phone LW – what about requiring Sam to change their VM on the work phone to say they are reachable only via email at (blank)? Lowering customer expectations of immediate response would go a long way in reducing reactions. Sam’s error lies in leaving People thinking phone is a viable option for contact.

  19. MK*

    A reference is usually about the last impression you left, few people would think to say “they were good employees the first year, but their performance dropped the second” instead of “they weren’t very good”.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        For some reason the AAM web page has been forgetting our user names all week. Then when get a submit rejection because name is required and return to main page our comment is still remembered (when we click on Reply) but we don’t always select the original location we were replying to.

    1. LW4*

      There was a very interesting study that showed that, with unpleasant experiences, how unpleasant people think of it in retrospect is the average of the worst moment and the last moment.

      I imagine it works like that with more nuanced experiences as well. (I think the research subjects of this study were colonoscopy patients.)

      1. LW4*

        *how unpleasant people think of it in retrospect = how unpleasant it is judged to be by people in retrospect.

        “Memories of colonoscopy: a randomized trial” is available as a pdf online – no paywall or log-in required – and it’s a very interesting read if you like psychology.
        Essentially, discomfort is mainly caused by the scope moving or blowing air – and if a doctor leaves the scope in without moving for a few minutes at the end of the scopy, patients judge the entire procedure as less awful and are more likely to have another screening-colonoscopy done in five years.

        1. AAM Canadian fan*

          Hey I know the guy who did that study. He did lots of crazy fascinating studies.
          Like oscar winners live longer than nominees.
          More patients die if admitted to hospital on weekends.
          Something about deaths during marathons – Something like increased deaths related to running outweighed by fewer traffic accidents due to closed roads.

  20. Leslie Knope*

    OP #1: You and your work do not exist in a vacuum. Your coworkers are likely picking up the slack for you and resenting you for it. Consider that you may not be the only one for whom the pandemic is hard and ask yourself if you’re making it harder on your peers than it needs to be. If you’re staying with this organization, you need to do your fair share. Coasting is not OK.

    1. foolofgrace*

      >Consider that you may not be the only one for whom the pandemic is hard

      If this is an inappropriate post I apologize and please delete it, but OP1 sounds a bit entitled to me. The pandemic is hard on you? How about how hard it is on all the people who are out of work and would be very grateful to have your job, where they would do their best to excel? When you were hired you apparently intended to perform at your best level, it seems disingenuous to slack off now. What would it hurt you to keep doing your previous good work; what positive things do you gain?

        1. Web Crawler*

          This. Also, it might, in fact, hurt them to keep doing their previous good work. That’s how you get burned out. And sometimes if you keep pushing after you’re burned out, you get stuff like stomach problems, insomnia, depression, migraines, and other fun ailments that may or may not go away once you feel better.

      1. Web Crawler*

        Something can be hard for you, and also be hard for people in worse situations. There is no pain olympics, and other people’s suffering doesn’t diminish your own.

        I’m sorry, but I’m just so tired of hearing the “other people have it worse” line. It never helps anything, and it only serves to make the listener feel bad for speaking up.

        Sincerely, a marginalized person with chronic pain and mental illness, but at least I’m employed

      2. OP1*

        I’m OP1. I’m sorry you feel that way. Lots of people have pandemic issues outside of unemployment—sickness and death in the family, isolation, physical manifestations of stress—and those things can, indeed, make it hard to be at your best all the time. I hope you never experience them.

      3. Librarian1*

        oh come on, the pandemic is hard on everyone, even those of us with jobs. A lot of people are having trouble performing at the high level they used to because of all the stressrelated to it. This is really unfair.

    2. OP1*

      I’m OP1. There’s an assumption here, I think, about the definition of “coasting” that has spread through the comments to increasingly negative effect. Someone in here put it better than I could have – I meant something closer to the difference between “overachieving” and “not overachieving.” No one is suffering because I’m not leaving “slack” to pick up. Some of the advice, particularly around being careful about the future reference, is super helpful! The rest sounds resentful for reasons that perhaps originate outside of this letter.

      1. PersephoneUnderground*

        Also agreed- I think you’re not doing anything wrong, and honestly if you’re able to still perform normally during this crisis that’s something you should be proud of! Sorry you had to deal with this sort of judgement.

    3. PersephoneUnderground*

      Seriously? The LW makes it pretty clear that they’re still getting all their work done, they’re just not being as much of an aggressive go-getter trying to expand their work the way they used to. How dare they maintain solid performance instead of being a complete rock star during a pandemic? Really?

      I think it’s possible you just misread the letter or saw it through the lens of “coasting” which isn’t the best choice of words, but honestly, this doesn’t seem like they’re doing anything that bad. Definitely not to the point where co-workers are picking up slack.

      Also, the pandemic isn’t a competition, please try to be kind. Just because others are having problems doesn’t make the OP’s less legitimate.

  21. voyager1*

    LW2: I am sorry but there is no way that a grown adult doesn’t have a cell phone. I don’t doubt that they gave their grandparents phone number. IMHO Sam probably has some weird issue about giving their number out. I think it is reasonable not to want to use a personal cell for work, that is subsidizing the business however. Whatever accommodations you make for Sam you need to make for everyone, or it is going to look like favoritism.

    1. anon73*

      I find it odd that Sam has no phone at all, but I do know people without a cell phone. Not everyone is obsessed with being connected to everyone and everything 24/7. You assuming Sam is lying is unwarranted.

      1. LadyByTheLake*

        Agreed — I know several people in my family who do not have a cell phone but instead share a landline with someone else. The assertion that there is “no way” that this is true not warranted, since I know from direct experience plenty of people for whom this is true.

        1. Amtelope*

          I do know people who don’t have cell phones, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a phone at all, cell phone or landline. That seems very odd to me, to the point where “employee doesn’t want to answer the phone” seems more likely to me than “employee really has no phone number at which people can contact him.”

          1. Nanani*

            Since OP explained that Sam did use the office phone when they worked in the office, you are wrong. Sam really doesn’t want to have a phone, and there may be a very good reason for that. Work can find another option that works for them.

            Please people, stop projecting your hatred of phone anxiety onto a situation where it is evidently not in play.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            When I moved back across the country for a new job in my city of origin, I moved in with Mom. My phone number was her landline. I would not have used it for an office but it was good for an emergency contact.

    2. allathian*

      Sam wouldn’t need to give their number out, just to forward calls from their desk phone to their home phone, either cell or landline. They’ve chosen not to have a phone, and I’ll grant you that it seems odd in this day and age, although it doesn’t seem to have been a problem for Sam until now. They’re clearly not so afraid of the phone that they couldn’t answer their work phone, or this issue would have come up before now.

      If the employer needs Sam to be available by phone during working hours, even if the need only arises once every 6 months when a client calls, then they need to make this expectation clear.

    3. OtherSide*

      Are you actually serious?

      I didn’t have a phone for the longest time. When I did it was a non-smart Pay as you go phone that NO ONE had because it was only for emergencies. My husband had the same.

      When they wanted him to take work calls MORE than his VOIP he said they were going to pay for it. So they did. Not everyone feels the need to have a cell phone. If they do they are well within the right to never use it for work and protect that fact.

      Sam’s hang up over the VOIP is unwarranted and obtuse but not having a cell phone is a thing

    4. Observer*

      You apparently live a very sheltered life. Yes, there actually ARE “grown adults” who don’t have cell phones – a fact that the OP was aware of before this issue came up.

        1. Observer*

          Cell phones are ubiquitous – but that is NOT the same thing as “every adult has one.” Your own link proves otherwise – 4% of the population does NOT have a cell phone.

          Insisting that it’s not possible that Sam is part of that 4% because “I’ve never met someone” in that group is not a useful or credible response, to say the least.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            I am not insisting that it’s not possible that Sam is part of the 4%, but was rather trying to point out that you were being a bit harsh with the “sheltered” comment. You’re still being rather harsh right now.

            Sam has many options for phone-call receiving that are not an actual phone, and his employer should provide either that or an actual phone to him if it’s required for his job. But a lot of what you’re saying is coming across as though you think it’s ridiculous and/or naive for people to find his phonelessness unusual. But it is indeed unusual.

            1. Observer*

              The harsh tone is a response to calling Sam a liar because it just can’t be possible that someone really doesn’t have a cell phone.

              There is a difference between say that’s weird / surprising / unusual and that is NOT TRUE. It most definitely IS surprising and unusual and I think a lot of people would find it weird. But it’s not OK to go from that to “that’s a lie”.

          2. EventPlannerGal*

            I agree with fhqwhgads* that you are taking a very harsh tone about this. And I am not sure where you are getting that anyone is saying that it’s impossible because “I’ve never met someone” etc etc – you seem to have pulled that quote out of thin air.

    5. Nanani*

      Nope. I know adults who choose not to have a cell phone. Work phone is plenty, and in COVID times they use other options.

      Blanket generalizations are unhelpful and not even correct.

    6. iiii*

      I do not have a cell phone. I have a full-time job and a mortgage, but no cell phone.

      It *is* possible.

    7. Seeking Second Childhood*

      My husband does not have a cell phone. His tablet has VoIP with his office number on it.

    8. LifeBeforeCorona*

      I personally know 3 grown adults who don’t have cell phones. A best friend, an ex (who finally bought one but refuses to use it) and a sibling. All of them prefer to use a landline as their main communication line.

    9. nonegiven*

      My mom got a cell phone and kept both cell and landline for years. Then they moved into an apartment in another county. She dropped the landline and my dad never got a cell phone. If she wasn’t home with him, there was no way to talk to him without going over there and he couldn’t call her without going to a neighbor and asking them to use the phone.

      Sam mentioned forwarding the work phone to their partner’s cell, so there is a phone. It just doesn’t reach Sam if the partner isn’t home.

  22. B Wayne*

    #5: Well, I’ve heard COVID has increased the divorce rate now that people are spending way too much time alone with their spouse combined with the general craziness of the situation, and I have heard of pregnancy rates going up with the same reasons but in reverse I suppose. So it is nice to read about someone getting married during all this, even with a hard to pronounce last new last name!! Until COVID “retired” me I saw a few emails announcing email/names changes so of course it is perfectly correct and the right thing to do so folks can update the contact sheet.

  23. kol*

    #5: yes, please send out that e-mail! They’re very helpful for me. Just this week, I got an e-mail from someone who was I like “who is this????” because I didn’t recognize the name in the sender and then I glanced at the sig and it was, like, Sharon (Jones) Smith. Ahhh, Sharon Jones, I remember you. Your name is Smith now. Got it.

    Having a notification in advance would avoid me potentially putting that email low on my priority list to read and respond to.

    1. Roeslein*

      This – I come from a country where changing your name after marriage is not a thing (with some exceptions, like I know one woman who married into a very old aristocratic family and now uses her husband’s name socially, as in Countess So-and-So, not legally though!) and I always get confused when it’s not spelled out – I used to work with a (white, red-haired, English) woman with an Indian last name, and for the longest time I assume she was adopted into an Indian family – it just never crossed my mind that she might in fact be using her husband’s name.

  24. I Herd the Cats*

    For the phone issue, the tangential question to be addressed is: “Can I require my employees to be REACHABLE by phone as part of their employment when working from home (due to COVID)?” If you decide the answer to that is yes, then set it up so their work phone number forwards to their computer; the employee apparently has a work phone number and a computer already. It costs nothing, there are various setups, you’ll need a headset if the computer doesn’t have a mic built in. We’re still teleworking due to COVID and my workphone rings on both my computers at home (work PC and personal MAC). It’s pretty simple to set up and use, and I rarely take work calls on my mobile these days, since I’m already on my laptop. If the employee pushes back on that (it’s too complicated etc.) then the issue is your employee is refusing to be reachable by phone, period, and you can decide how to address that. You don’t need a phone to take your work calls on your computer, and most people can. Whether or not the employee will agree to do this is a separate issue.

  25. LadyByTheLake*

    #3 It is perfectly acceptable to use reliable non-discriminatory information you have about someone in making a hiring decision, even if you have that information through past history. If you know that someone is untrustworthy or doesn’t actually have the skill set you need or tends to be difficult interpersonally, you are allowed to use that information in making a hiring decision. You are NOT allowed to turn them down because you don’t like the church they go to or because you know they’ve been trying for a baby — but non-discriminatory personal knowledge is fine to consider!

  26. Uranus Wars*

    To me, #3 isn’t any different than if you’d ask someone who worked with the applicant what their experience was and they said the same things about the person. You just happen to have the direct knowledge – this made me think of the person who worked with the toxic leader and left her company because of it. We all encouraged her to be truthful with her new employer on the personality and conflict issues.

    Lying and stirring the pot are two pretty hard stops for most people, whether its done socially or professionally.

  27. Ashley*

    LW 1 – A thought to maybe help re-frame your perspective:
    What is grad school doesn’t happen next year as planned? Any number of things could happen from your financial aid package falls through or the college can’t get everyone vaccinated in time so it is still remote. I truly understand the countdown mentality but I think you need to re-frame this in your head and remove that from the equation to try and get your head back in the game. The COVID fatigue is a separate issue that will become easier to deal with and discuss with your boss if you can stop thinking about the job as a short term deal. I am not saying it will be easy to eliminate the countdown when you are ready to check out, but it is worth trying.

    1. Thistle Whistle*

      I had something similar at a fixed term contract role when I realised after busting a gut for months that there would be no perm job at the end and (more importantly) I didn’t enjoy working there and was happy to go. But I had several months left (and I needed to finish the contract to get my bonus). It sucked but I had to grit my teeth and ignore the wee voice in my head saying just coast the final few months.

      I hated it and felt like I’d learned as much as I could there. But I knew that if i started slacking, it would be really hard to get out that mindset and I needed to stay focused for my next job.

      Plus, at least here, employers like to get references from the last couple of employers even if its not a relevant job. They just want 3/5 years references.

  28. Amethystmoon*

    How does one live without a phone of any kind? Yeah, I know e-mail, but what if you have a medical emergency? How are you going to call 911 if something happens? Yeah it isn’t a 109% chance, but you need a way to contact them just in case. I had a carbon monoxude scare earlier this year and I am very glad I had a phone.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Their partner has a phone. I can’t guess why they listed their grandparent’s phone number instead of their partner’s as their phone number with work (who knows how long ago that was or how Sam’s living situation changed since that number was provided).

      It’s so unusual that I think it is safe for company policy to assume everyone has a phone at/near their work from home location and base their policy around that fact. I consider a phone/phone number a utility that everyone has some access to although not necessarily a smart phone.

          1. ...*

            And this is a US based website where the vast, vast majority of LW’s and commenters are from the US.

    2. Observer*

      Their partner has a cell phone, and apparently, they are close enough to their grandparents to have access to that phone in an emergency.

      Also, it doesn’t matter if this is an objectively good or bad idea. That’s not the OP’s business. What *IS* the OP’s business is to insure that Sam is reachable by phone in the rare occasions that it’s needed.

  29. OkapiFeels*

    LW #4, like others have said, you can simply vanish quietly into that good night–the only situation where that would be an issue is if you were currently committed to showing up for/helping with X event or Y task, and, as you’ve said, you’re not. I manage 60+ teenaged volunteers, so maybe I’m slightly more used to volunteers simply not showing up than those who manage adults, but–no one minds. You’re giving your time voluntarily and people understand implicitly, if not explicitly, that volunteering is often the first thing to go on hold or need to change in response to life changes. ESPECIALLY this year. A good volunteer program understands that they’re lucky to have you, and that if you move on to another, that’s not a reflection on them (for the most part–sounds like your volunteer coordinator could do with wondering whether it’s them!).

  30. Person from the Resume*

    Regarding Sam’s phone … I do wonder what Sam thought when all employees were instructed to forward their work phone to their “home office” phone.

    A proactive employee would have addressed this in advance instead of waiting for it to cause a problem with a customer.

    I don’t know. I know the pandemic makes it not Sam’s decision to work from home, but Sam’s choice to have no phone is such an outlier. And you can argue both sides. “A phone” (not a smart phone or a mobile phone, could be the cheapest, could be a landline … just a phone) has become a basic utility. I do think it is generally fair for company policy to be that employees working from home provide their own phone which they answer while working. If person’s personal phone rings with a work call every 6 months, I see no need for the company to subsidize it. 99% of the use for an average person is personal.

    1. OtherSide*

      I totally disagree. My husband has a non-smart little trac phone for his personal life. He forwards any calls to it.

      He hates getting on the phone. I make all of his calls or he emails/chats. He uses almost no minutes annually….maybe 10-20. He dosn’t text much a year…maybe a couple dozen.

      His work got him a phone, and except for when we’ve used it as a GPS he rarely, if ever, uses it for something other than work.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        So you agree with me. Sam is extremely unusual. Even your husband who hates using the phone actually owns a personal phone.

        1. OtherSide*

          He owns it but he doesn’t use it at all. His work never had the number and he only used it when he went hiking. Why should work have any access to a device that has nothing to do with them?

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        So even your husband has a personal phone which he forwards calls to and also a work phone which he is willing to use when necessary. So Sam is actually considerably more of an outlier than your husband is.

        1. OtherSide*

          Sam has a landline that he can use as well as his partner’s phone. That’s essentially the personal set up my husband has.

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            It literally says in the question that he does not want to *get* a landline because he doesn’t want to pay for it, which means that he does not currently have a landline. At some point he provided his grandparents’ landline number, but we don’t know if he actually lives with them/has access to that landline or if he just put their number down to complete a form. He has access to his partners’ cellphone, but that means he is not reachable when his partner is out or using the phone themselves. That is a very different situation than what you have described, which is that your husband has two cellphones of his own (a “a non-smart little trac phone for his personal life” and a work cell) that he just doesn’t use much, plus access to your phone.

            1. OtherSide*

              Well my phones is also a tracphone, but it’s a BYOP Iphone 5.

              His little non smart trac phone isn’t on and he doesn’t use it except for hiking. He literally doesn’t use the phone. AT ALL.

              The OP’s employee needs to get on board with a VOIP but you do not need a cell phone to live or have a job. I WFH and I exclusively use VOIP services. My company does not have my cell.

    2. Observer*

      I do think it is generally fair for company policy to be that employees working from home provide their own phone which they answer while working.

      Nope. It is not – it doesn’t matter if it’s a “basic utility” or not. If this is something that the company is requiring and the person is getting it only because of the company, it’s on the company to pay for it.

      1. doreen*

        How far does that go, though? Suppose Sam doesn’t have electricity ( another basic utility). Is the employer required to pay his electric bill if he needs electricity to run his laptop? Suppose he doesn’t have internet access- is the employer required to pay for that as well? How does the employer pay Sam’s phone and electric and internet bills because he’s “only getting it because of the company” and not pay everyone else’s? At some point, the employer is going to get fed up and just tell everyone to return to the office ( which is apparently open since only most people are WFH)

        I agree that if a company wants employees to be reachable outside of standard business hours , the company should pay for a cell phone – but that’s very different than expecting the company to pay for basic utilities during WFH because the employee chooses not to have them.

        1. Observer*

          Suppose he doesn’t have internet access- is the employer required to pay for that as well?


          I work for a non-profit with a lot of government funders that have really strict policies around reimbursements. The default for all of them is no paying for people’s home internet or cell phone. with two exceptions, they have allowed us to pay for cell service and home internet where the staff person needs it for work and would not otherwise get it. In once case, the policy has changed. In the other case, we no longer have a contract with that agency – and also, their fiscal policies made no sense, and this one was a textbook case of a policy that went DIRECTLY against their stated goals and mission, and indirectly against their official high level policies around things like equity and cost effectiveness.

        2. Jackalope*

          I’ve actually seen it be fairly common for companies to provide internet if it’s needed for work and the employee either doesn’t have it or has an overly slow connection, etc. As far as electricity I’m having a hard time imagining someone in the US who a) has no electricity and b) can afford to wire their house (about $8000, the internet tells me). It’s true that the company might not choose to pay for wiring someone’s house but they might give them an alternative work spot.

  31. AvonLady Barksdale*

    LW #1, don’t look at this as an opportunity or even a reason to “coast”. Yes, you have senioritis and yes, the pandemic sucks. But you asked for something big (recanting your resignation) and they gave it to you. Now, you don’t owe your employer loyalty or nice feelings, but this is a business transaction and you owe them your attention at work. You owe them a capable job. That’s your part of the bargain. If you deliberately fail to hold up that end of the bargain, you will end up looking very bad– it’s like you bid them a job building a high-quality fence, they agreed and paid you a deposit upfront, then you decided to do a half-ass job on the fence. Don’t do a half-ass job on the fence.

    They are perfectly within their rights to let you go and then you will be in a bind. If you need to, take a few days off to relax and re-group, then go back to doing a good job and leave on decent terms.

  32. CM*

    I can see I’m an outlier on OP#1, but I have a different take: if your version of “coasting” is getting all your work done but not aggressively pursuing new opportunities, that seems fine to me and I wouldn’t bring it up with the boss. Instead, I’d look for some way to show that your time is being appropriately occupied, like some project that would be low-stress or interesting for you, but is of value to your employer.

    1. merp*

      This is where I am at too. A lot of folks talking to OP1 like they aren’t doing their job at all anymore and are leaving all their work for their coworkers but that doesn’t sound like the case at all! Maybe part of my feelings is that I’ve been in exactly the same position in the past, but honestly, pursuing new opportunities only makes sense if they are relatively small and can fit in the time you have left anyway. I know it’s hard to stay checked in, but as long as you stay reasonably focused and keep meeting deadlines, maybe find a few smaller projects to make your boss happy like CM says, I don’t see why you need to change anything drastically.

    2. DrSalty*

      This is my read too and I think it’s perfectly fine. As long as you’re getting your work done, I don’t see a problem. People are acting like OP is completely slacking and I don’t think they are. I think they’re just overachieving anymore. You don’t owe that to your employer. Absolutely do not discuss this with your boss. Make adjustments if it becomes a real performance problem (ie, you’re no longer getting your work done), but I don’t see a problem as it stands currently.

    3. GothicBee*

      I agree. I feel like people are being a little harsh when from the letter the LW is still doing their work and getting everything done. That said, I think looking for a project or something that wouldn’t be too intense but shows improvement would be helpful. But honestly, if you’re getting your work done, it shouldn’t be a huge issue. Though I can understand that some jobs do want extreme over-achievers, so if that’s the case here, it could become an issue.

      But it could also just be that the LW’s previous behavior is hurting them here because they’re comparing the previous work to current work whereas if the LW had always worked the way they are now, there may not have been an issue.

    4. anon this time*

      I agree–my workplace sounds pretty similar to OP’s, where the difference between a good employee and a great one is how much you’re willing to hustle, and where folks tend to have been high achievers in an educational setting. Shockingly, burnout isn’t uncommon, and neither is choosing to leave the field for grad school. So I’ve had a lot of colleagues act the way OP’s acting–getting all their work done but not aggressively seeking out new projects/clients/accounts/etc.–and while it’s not a recipe for that individual getting ahead (as OP clearly understands) it’s also not really harming anyone or leaving others to cover. When the “slackers” ultimately leave, people are pretty understanding: “Yeah, so and so was great but they were pretty burned out in the end, wishing them well in grad school.” It’s not the kind of thing that would tank a reference. Plus, grad school itself is pretty intense–it’s probably a better choice for OP to take care of themselves now so they feel refreshed and ready when they do attend. I’m team “don’t poke the bear and keep coasting” on this one.

    5. AAM Canadian fan*

      This thing is it would be reasonable for the employer to assume that in keeping OP on, OP would be continuing at their previous level. So even if they are still doing a perfectly adequate job, if it’s significantly lower than before, it’s not gonna look great

    6. Paris Geller*

      Yeah, I’ve been kind of surprised at the some of the hostility towards OP 1. It sounds like before they were an above-average employee, and now they’re. . . average! They’re getting their work done, meeting deadlines. . . they’re just not performing at “rockstar” status anymore. Even without the fact they’re hoping to go to grad school in 7-8 months, this is where a lot of people are at with the pandemic! I know I am. I’m still getting all my work done, but I’m not performing at nearly the same level as I was previously. We’re all under such a huge amount of stress and it’s taken such a mental toll on so many of us. It sounds like OP 1 has gone from performing A+ work to B work, which is perfectly acceptable!

      1. Annony*

        They say “go-getting is the assumption and the norm for most of my coworkers” so it sounds more like they were an average employee for their workplace who is now below average. Not performing at the same level as before is perfectly understandable, but it sounds like their performance has taken much more of a dip than their coworkers’ performance has. If their boss felt the need to talk to them about it, it sounds like they have dropped from A work to C work. This is can be a precarious position to be in when your employer already knows you are not staying long term.

    7. Employee #24601*

      But presumably if she had left they would have replaced her with another high output person since she said that’s the environment in which they work. So the company (and the rest of her team) is still hurt by having this coasting person in the team.

    8. Annony*

      I think it depends on the type of job and work culture the OP is working in. If the expectation is that everyone manages their own workload and take on more projects if they are able, then just doing projects that have been directly assigned would not actually be doing the job as expected. Considering their boss has told them that they have to do more, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that they are not meeting expectations.

      The company agreed to keep them on after they had originally resigned with the assumption that they would keep working at a similar level as before. It is safe to say that if they aren’t producing the company may decide that they are better off hiring someone else now rather than wait the 7 months.

      I think that there is a middle ground between where they are now and what they were doing before. Take on a few more assignments as a show of good faith. Pick ones that you think you can handle. But coasting could quickly turn into sinking if they decide that it isn’t enough to justify keeping you on short term.

  33. bananab*

    #2, if it’s as rare as that, the company could probably get him a tracphone and top it off with X minutes every few months.

    1. Clisby*

      I was thinking the same. I have a $69 smartphone from tracfone (a real splurge for me) and spend between $100 and $200 a year for calls/texts/whatever. If all this person needs is a way to talk on the phone, it’s dirt cheap to supply a flip phone with some minutes thrown in.

  34. SomebodyElse*

    On the Phone Letter: this really does sound like a ‘once in a blue moon’ situation. So with that in mind my advice for the OP, go and expense the cheapest prepaid phone and send it to Sam. State the expectation that it is for work calls only and it is expected that the phone be charged and ready for use during business hours.

    If all of this is over 1 phone call in, what, 6 months? Honestly, this seems like a bit of a storm in a teacup. This is an easy solution.

    1. More Coffee Please*

      Prepaid phone came to my mind, too! My personal phone was stolen about a month before the release of a new iPhone, and I didn’t want to buy an expensive new phone in the meantime. I got a prepaid SIM card and a $10 phone that had no features other than calls and text, and it was a perfect solution. None of Sam’s colleagues would be jealous of an arrangement like that.

  35. RoseTyler*

    Seeing lots of comments about expensive phone plans – check out! We use it for the phone my middle schooler needs just to keep in touch with us when home alone or going back and forth to school. You can selectively activate calls, text or internet (and set numerical limits on all). We have calls and texts activated and our bill is $13/month. The phone itself is a cheapie I bought at Walmart and Ting sends you the SIM card to insert, so we’re not committed beyond month-to-month.

  36. HailRobonia*

    I’m working from home and originally had my office phone forwarded to my cell phone. Unfortunately when someone calls me it doesn’t indicate that this call is forwarded from my office, it shows the caller’s number, and I have gotten so many spam calls over the years I am in the habit of not answering if I don’t recognize the caller. Also people tend to call at all hours (our customers are all over the world), so I would end up getting calls late at night.

    My solution was to stop forwarding my calls and have my voicemail message direct people to our team email address. If my boss complains, well then they can buy me a dedicated phone line

    1. PersephoneUnderground*

      Visual voicemail helps a lot with this for me- I have my message instruct callers that if they’re calling from an unknown number I may not pick up, but if they leave a message I’ll get back to them immediately if I’m available. The message shows up on my phone as text, so it’s so much faster than actually listening to messages. I use a service through my phone provider for it, but I think there are multiple ways a service like that can be set up, like voicemails generating an email automatically with some VOIPs.

  37. lilsheba*

    For #2, my work provides a voip phone, which runs on the internet. You need a network cable to plug into a router, and bam you have dialtone and it works just like a land line, and it’s easy and works really well. End of problem.

  38. Researcher*

    OP#2 – Provide a phone to Sam if it really is important that you be able to reach him via this method, even infrequently. Don’t get hung up on it being a perk that isn’t offered to other employees (though I think you should offer it to everyone, but I realize sometimes that is not always an option). There are many instances of having to accommodate one employee in ways that we don’t for all.

    We don’t reimburse employees for home internet across the board. But in instances where employees may not have internet at home, the company pays for a hotspot. Right now, this is just the cost of doing business.
    If you need to minimize costs, re-evaluate whether or not Sam really needs to be reached by phone or if you can help your customers adjust their expectations about being able to reach them immediately.

  39. PersephoneUnderground*

    #2- textbook example of the difference between equality and equity! Paying for Sam’s phone isn’t strictly equal because you’re not covering the exact same expense for your other employees. But it is *equitable* because you’re covering business expenses for all your employees as needed so they’re not paying extra out of pocket for the privilege of working for you.

    1. PersephoneUnderground*

      Generally equity is superior to strict equality because it’s more flexible and individualized. Other employees might not need phone stipends but need you to cover a webcam for remote meetings- if you’re not wedded to strict equality but cover what is actually needed then everyone will end up happier. (End lecture, but this was so perfect an example of a relatively recently popularized concept that I love, I had to jump on it.)

      1. voyager1*

        100% disagree about this being equity vs equality. Sam has access to phones Sam has just decided they don’t want to use them. I would be so POed if I found out my coworker got a phone and I did not. I would be the squeaky wheel till I got some compensation or a phone.


        The best solution here is to get the VOIP thing working and just take the phone out of the equation.

        1. PersephoneUnderground*

          Huh? It said they don’t have a phone at all. Nothing about just not wanting one. And I mean equity generally, not in a social justice way (which I think you might have been indicating when you mentioned access)- the term is broader than that, and so I think this is a good illustration of the broader meaning.

        2. PersephoneUnderground*

          Agreed on the VOIP solution though. I wouldn’t be particularly upset if my employer paid for a cheap flip phone for a coworker when I already have a smartphone.

  40. ProdMgr*

    OP5 – Send an announcement and a cute photo. Your coworkers will be happy for you and it will brighten their day a little.

    I had an unplanned elopement in the midst of my small startup laying everyone off and then rehiring me as a contractor to try and make a comeback. (It was a unique confluence of events, my state legalized same-sex marriage right after I got laid off, so my partner and I decided to elope in order to get me on her health insurance.) I was super stealth about it and didn’t change my name, and my colleagues (who knew her as the person who sometimes brought them baked goods) were all like “hey, you should’ve told us you got married!”

  41. Spicy Tuna*

    LW#1, if I understand the situation correctly, you let your employer know you would be resigning to go to grad school; then when you deferred for a year, they agreed to keep you on. You owe them your best efforts! They did not have to keep you on knowing it would only be for a short time. They would have been within their rights to say no for this exact reason. Please… if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. And as other commenters have mentioned, your reputation will follow you throughout your career. Even if you move into a different industry!

  42. Observer*

    I’m kind of gobsmacked at #5. Announcing your marriage and name change is SOOOO normal that I’m a bit sad that you are even worrying about it. Really, you do not need to explain why you are making this announcement – it is what people do!

    No one is going to think twice about it, you can be sure. The most that might happen is someone thinking “Oh, I didn’t know that OP was planning to make it official / was engaged.” And I think that most people are going to be “Nice! Congratulations! So happy for you!”

    Oh, and Congratulations! I’m happy for you!

  43. Observer*

    #1 – Coasting because you know you’re not going to be there long term is a problem. They did you a favor that they didn’t need to. Don’t repay it by slacking off too much. Also, on a pragmatic note, don’t make them regret doing you the favor. Even if you are moving to a different industry and part of the country (it’s not clear from your letter), you don’t know who knows who, so this could come back to bite you.

    The pandemic related stuff is a whole other issues, and I agree that it’s worth having that conversation with your boss.

  44. RussianInTexas*

    LW2: presumably Sam is working from home on a computer. He/you get him a Google Voice number, and a headset.
    This is what I did – my office phone doesn’t forward and I did not want for any of my customers to have my cell number.

  45. Observer*

    #3- You have solid information about this candidate’s fitness for the job. Why would you consider it “unfair” to use that information? Why is it more unfair to use that information that to use information that you got through work contacts?

    I could see an argument about moral hazard if you had gotten the information through unethical means. But knowing someone socially is hardly unethical!

    Also, if what you know is something that could make it extremely hard for you to manager her, that’s something to take into consideration. Of course, if the “problem” turned out to be a real “you” problem, especially if it were also ethically problematic (eg Allison’s example of somehow having a “problem” with people of a certain ethnicity) that would be a different story. But if what you know create a genuine problem that would be an issue for anyone, that’s fair game. And, in your case, I think it really IS a legitimate problem – How do you manage someone whose word you cannot trust?

  46. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    #1: Don’t coast. You may not be that interested in being the amazing go-getter you used to be in your position, but coasting is habit forming. If you spend the next 7-9 months coasting at work, you’re going to want to coast when you start grad school. Momentum is everything. Spending the better part of a year coasting at work is going to become a problem when you start your new work (i.e. grad school) and find that you’ve gotten so used to putting in less effort at work that you’re not motivated to put in the amount of work needed to be successful in your grad program. I’m not saying that you need to be the over-achiever you used to be, but you do need to step up your game and keep your management’s high opinion of you. The world is much smaller than you think and it’s highly likely that you’ll run into these people again sometime in your career.

  47. Anonymous For This*

    I agree on principle with telling Sam’s company to pay for everyone’s phones, but I just think now is not the right time for this message. I work in banking and it is predicted that this quarter, the large banks with have a 30-60% decrease in revenue. Mass layoffs are beginning for this industry, and of course have happened in others. If Sam’s company is already struggling (as many, many are) as a result of the recession we are in, asking to pay for Sam’s phone because he’s being petulant about being reached while the company may be laying off employees or cutting salaries is not a good look. I would ask the OP to evaluate their company’s situation and then have a heart to heart with Sam – as in, people may lose their jobs, you need to be reachable by phone and we cannot give you money for that, so we need to find a solution. If Sam doesn’t want to work something out (getting VOIP to work or going back to their office), then he may be put on a short list for redundancies. I just don’t think it’s the best time to be the squeaky wheel.

    1. Nanani*

      Hows that capitalist kool-aid taste in a bootleather cup?


      The company’s financial situation is not an excuse to push business costs onto employees.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’ll never cry for the losses that the banks feel. They immediately removed interest and most refused to help out any of their customers without fighting tooth and nail. Oh no, 60% decreased revenue DUH because everyone else is out of WORK and banks only make money off OTHER PEOPLE’S ABILITY TO WORK. It’s a parasite industry.

      Now is not the time to put burden on the every day workers. Now is not the time to burden people still living pay check to paycheck. Stop it.

      Poor business. Poor richies. Boo hoo, they have to sell off a vacation home or two while their low paid workers can’t even pay rent on their bug infested rentals.

    3. comityoferrors*

      Yeahhhhh, no…industries are struggling in large part because individuals have been struggling for months now. It is unfortunate for everyone that our leadership has allowed people to languish on the verge of eviction and starvation for so long, but the logical consequence to that is that people won’t spend their limited income as much as they used to and businesses will suffer. That does not somehow mean that employees are on the hook to subsidize business expenses for their employers.

      It is interesting that you assume OP2’s company can’t afford this, but Sam can and is being petulant to refuse. Unless OP2’s company is like, one dude + Sam, it seems that their company has more power and money than Sam the individual does. Would you describe the company as petulant if they refuse to cover Sam’s bill? Why not?

      Also, this isn’t targeted at you directly, but I’m so tired of the “it’s not the right time for change” rhetoric. I feel like I’ve heard that for my entire adult life. It’s not the right time to insure everyone; it’s not the right time to address poverty in any way except criminalization; it’s not the right time for workers to advocate for their own rights. When will it be the right time, then? When does the working class finally get some dignity and recognition?

    4. Observer*

      This is EXACTLY the time for this message. If the company is on the verge of bankruptcy, pushing people to take on new expenses is utterly immoral. If the company is doing ok, then they should be doing the decent thing.

      And it’s clear from the OP that the issue is not that the business is on the brink anyway.

  48. Employee #24601*

    LW1 – Think of this from your manager’s perspective. You were a high performer and go getter with high output, you asked to stay another year. She said yes on the understanding that she can’t replace you immediately with another high performing, go getting, high output employee. Instead she now has someone who openly says they want to coast for 7-8 months and still collect the same paycheck they got when they had high output. No one would accept that scenario if you had said that was going to be the deal upfront.

    I fired someone on my team just last month under very similar circumstances. If your coronavirus anxiety and mental health issues are truly affecting your performance (versus just not feeling like trying hard for the remainder of your time there), you need to reach out to EAP programs, talk to your manager, talk to your HR person to make sure that those things are taken care of. Otherwise, I don’t see your current attitude to work ending well.

  49. Observer*

    #2 – There are employers who require employees to pay for the cost of the equipment the company REQUIRES them to have. So you COULD do that. But it IS an unethical thing to do. THE COMPANY should bear the costs of the equipment it requires.

    The argument that others are paying for their own access is a red herring. If someone already has internet access that is either uncapped, or has a high enough cap that they won’t hit it, then they are don’t need to be paid (in most states) because they are not incurring a cost to have this access. Same of someone is using a phone line with unlimited talk. Subsidizing would be a good thing as you are benefiting, but it’s not an ethical imperative.

    But here, he DOES NOT HAVE A LINE. Which means that if he gets one, he is getting a line SPECIFICALLY AND ONLY for your benefit. How is it “fair” to require him to take on an expense purely for your benefit because you are able to benefit without from something that other staff already have for personal use?

    To be honest, it sounds like you are looking for an excuse to force Sam to get a line in general, aside from the work need. I realize that that’s not what you are after, but you’re stretching a bit too hard and that’s the impression it gives.

    PS As an employer, the expectation is that YOU provide the necessary tools to do their job, not the EMPLOYEE. (That’s one of the things the IRS looks at when determining whether someone is a contractor vs employee – who provides the tools.)

  50. JC*

    #1 I was in a similar situation and honestly it’s hard to carry on once you have mentally checked out. I was still completing work and meeting deadlines, but wasn’t pushing ahead on new projects and was trying to involve colleagues more who I knew would be taking on the work in future (cross training). My boss complained that I dropped down from 12 to 9 hour days (still completing my base contract 40 hours), but this was also linked to issues in my personal life and technology issues with WFH. People can’t expect 150% from high achievers when they have made future plans and we are in a pandemic!! My mental health took a major hit by the time I finally left the job due to the continuing pressure from my boss to perform.
    #sam. I had a stalker in my early 20s and do not under any circumstances share my cell or address except with HR for emergencies. Skype or zoom should be acceptable for work related purposes.

  51. learnedthehardway*

    LW#1 – while it’s difficult to be engaged when you know you’re leaving and due to the COVID situation, keep in mind that you may want to use this employer in future as a reference. Perhaps if you think of things in those terms – ie. that you do have a personal interest in performing well, whether you are there or not – it will help you find some motivation.

    I totally understand the lack of it, mind you – and I think a lot of people are really struggling with motivation right now.

    LW#3 – the only challenge I see here is the potential awkwardness of rejecting a candidate with whom you have a personal connection. ie. what do you say to them at parties? Not considering them should be a no-brainer. They’ve already shown themselves to be a “poor cultural fit” for your organization and team, and you definitely SHOULDN’T allow them to be inflicted on your company or your people. If you’re worried about how to go about rejecting them, you can come up with something – eg. that other candidates were more qualified, or that other stakeholders wanted to go in a different direction, or that there had to be an internal transfer. Or, you could tell them that their behaviour shows they simply aren’t a fit, if you’re brave enough to show them the consequences of their actions. Don’t feel obligated to do that, mind you. You’re not their manager, and hopefully never will be, lol.

    LW#4 – I would not focus on the health reasons why you are resigning from the volunteer role. Not unless they are so serious that you’re also taking a leave of absence from work, at any rate. A) it’s nobody’s business what your health situation is, and clearly this coordinator doesn’t respect that, and B) what you say in one context may bleed over into other areas of your life – eg. your job or your parents might freak out. I’d just say something about going in other directions and wishing the org the best in their future endeavours.

  52. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    LW1 – Coasting can become a habit, and that habit will destroy you in grad school. It’s not like undergrad, and it’s not like the work world. Nobody is going to hold your feet to the fire. You won’t get fired. You won’t get put on academic probation. They will just take your money for another term. And another. You need a massive degree of self-motivation to succeed in grad school. Massive.

    I generally counsel people not to go to grad school unless:
    A) they have a big trust fund and can live the rest of their life in the style they prefer without having to work
    B) they are ready to move up in their career, they exactly know where they want to go, and the lack of degree is very specifically holding them back

    I hate to be harsh – I’m cringing as I write this – but I wish someone had been harsh with me. If you are coasting at a job for the best part of a year just because you know you will be leaving in 12+ months, you should not head back to school.

    1. Not for academics*

      I’d add C) they’re fully funding you and D) as long as you know there are NO academic jobs. NONE. Not now, not six-seven years from now. All the sparkle ponies who think they’re exception NEED to hear it, no matter how harshly.

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        No. Not even if you are fully funded.

        First off – “fully funded” does not necessarily mean “funded to where you can pay the rent on your stipend.” Most people find out that, oops – you need to take out those pesky grad loans to live under a room in even the most marginal and scary roommate housing. (My first year monthly stipend, pre-tax, was $50 less than my rent in a place where I was working as a live-in super for a rent discount, sharing a one-bedroom with a roommate, and living a waterbug issue from a hoarder two doors down.) Loans and/or you need to get a PT job, on top of your research assistantship or teaching assistantship. Hmm… now let’s have a look at how that second job affects your time to a degree. Oh, and is that stipend paid in May/June/July/August? No? What’s your plan for the rent then? The kids with trust funds will be taking the summer to work on their degree. Will you? Well, it’s okay – at least with your teaching assistant wage so low, you qualify for EBT and Section 8, right? Oh, not as a full-time student?

        Second, “fully funded” for how many years? Four years? Amazing! Now find out how many people in that program finish in that time. How about students of your particular advisor? If they are out in 4-5 years, is that with a PhD, or do they all just somehow decide to leave before they ding the professor’s stats?

        You’re sure you’ll be one of the ones who completes a dissertation in 5 years, right? Because you’ve always been tops in your program before, right? Oh, my sweet summer child…

        Now ask a few people about how many funding opportunities there are for the back half of your grad career, when you’re not shiny and new. When you are fully invested and the grad program has you by the jewels. How many tuition waivers does the university hand out then?

        Oh – and realizing that you wont’ get a job in academia? Oh, you ABSOLUTELY will not. But don’t go imagining that non-academic employers are jumping at the chance to snap up somebody with a five-year gap in their work history either, which is what your grad school stint will look like to them. You can easily find yourself at 30, 35 shut out of the career tracks that were begging you to join when you were 20.


        Sorry. Trauma talking.

    2. Elle by the sea*

      Although this can be true in general, it’s not always the case. The funding package I was offered when I got admitted to grad school made me happy to resign from the two jobs I was working. It was financially more beneficial for me to go to grad school. Plus, in my industry, grad school often counts towards work experience. Many job ads say “PhD or master’s/bachelor’s with 5 years of work experience”. Even though I started grad school with the desire to stay in academia but was pretty sure by my final year that I wanted to move to the industry, it was a win-win situation for me.

      Many PhD programmes offer competitive packages. It’s a miscommunication that you have to be independently wealthy or else you will graduate in astronomical debt. It’s another misconception that it doesn’t count as work experience: the kind of work I’m doing in a tech firm today is not vastly different from what I was required to do in grad school, minus the teaching.

    3. Avid reader infrequent commenter*

      Oh, we’ll put you academic probation. Then suspension. Then permanent dismissal. And with the lower number of hours and higher GPA requirement, it’s even easier to find yourself in one of those categories if you start to let your guard down during grad.

      Source: I work for a large, public university which is part of a larger statewide system. That and I’m the person who actually applies those academic standings to student accounts.

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        You will do that if my grad advisor gives me a D, sure. But they won’t, because it hurts them professionally.

    4. OP1*

      Many of these comments pertain to those entering PhD programs and/or seeking to enter academia. I am not. Also, dang! Are all of you excelling just as much as you were before the pandemic, level of situational self-motivation unchanged? I must be living in a bubble.

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        Am I excelling as much as I did pre-pandemic? No. But the fact that I am not insanely productive and driven while working from home for long stretches with a fuzzy schedule, little human contact, lax supervision, and vague working hours is LITERALLY WHY I WAS BAD AT GRAD SCHOOL.

        If the pandemic is hard for a person, grad school’s gonna be a real bear.

        But hey, there was a time when I thought people who struggled in grad programs were weak and stupid and all the warnings were for them not me. I probably couldn’t have convinced past me either.

      2. Olive Hornby*

        You’re not living in a bubble—your response sounds normal and understandable to me! I’m honestly surprised to see the commenters reacting so harshly here and suspect this is one of those times where the AAM commentariat differs in its views from the mainstream (I mean, we’re all invested enough in work to read and comment on Alison’s column, which suggests an unusual degree of investment in the topic/perhaps an unusual degree of personal identification with a job or career.)

  53. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #1 You need to learn that you have to finish something as well as you started it. It’s really not acceptable to backslide and coast on a job just because you’re now going back to school. This sort of behavior can indeed tarnish your reputation and cause issues moving forward. People’s memories are built to remind us of the bad more than the good, as a defense mechanism. They’re going to remember having to tell you to stop slacking after you gave notice, not that you gave them two, three, five years whatever of stellar work performance.

    You can stop climbing! You just cannot stop doing well and giving your best just because you’ve tapped out early. Quit while you’re at your height of performance, not your lowest if at all possible. That’s what work ethic is all about, you’re showing you lack work ethic when you have moments where you just decide that it’s not worth it anymore, that the people who invested in you and would have went to bat for you all this time are no longer suddenly “worth it” to you.

    I’m going to be harsher than most here and I just think you need to hear it. Don’t flame out like this, you are better than that.

    What happens if you don’t like grad school? What happens if you need those references and those people again? Don’t do them dirty when they did nothing but work well with you. If they were toxic jackholes, I’d have a lot more sympathy and encouragement for you to just do your best. But it sounds like this is just something you’ve decided is not what you want, not something that actively harmed, pushed you out or otherwise treated you poorly along the way.

    1. OP1*

      Yes, perhaps I threw myself under the bus writing to this audience of (clearly very driven) professionals while in the throes of anxiety that has affected my work product.

      1. Observer*

        You’re being a bit disingenuous here. While I agree that this comment was a bit harsh, you DID say that one of the major reasons you are coasting is because you know you’re going to be out of there in a few months. That’s what people are reacting to.

        I get the the pandemic is also getting to you. But it’s NOT ok to take the attitude that that’s ok because “I’m outta here anyway.”

  54. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    If you deem a tool essential for a job to be done from home, and that job is only done from home because we’re cobbling things together in this pandemic, you need to step up and accept responsibility to pay for the equipment required. This isn’t just for Sam, it’s for all the employees.

    You lucked out that the other employees didn’t push back using their personal equipment for your work requirements. You successfully took advantage of them in that way as an employer. You need to rectify it and start giving everyone a chance to be reimbursed. Create a fair policy for everyone that will allow Sam to get a burner cell just for your one call every so often, instead of deciding someone needs to take a huge leap and get some outdated technology installed [landlines?! Really?! Most new construction doesn’t include jacks to just plug in a landline and switch on the service.] Come on now, treat your employees better than what is accepted under the limited laws and regulations. Be an employer that someone wants to work for because they understand their duties to give staff the equipment and tools they need to do their job to the best of their ability!

    1. AnonforThis*


      “Tools they need to do their jobs” shouldn’t be limited to technology either.
      Issues can be escalated to me, the manager, if there is difficulty with employees meeting expectations right now. That is a tool in the toolbox.

      Having to step in and resolve an occasional issue because my employee was unreachable is just part of doing business in 2020. Employees can be unreachable for all kinds of technology reasons, childcare needs, illness, etc. Maybe the procedure doesn’t need to be distributing phones to everyone for truly infrequent calls, but simply, please call the manager instead.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        100 this!

        I’d explain to the customer that Sam is working from home, has no access to a company cell phone and therefore I needed to step in to assist them for their need over the phone.

        When we were WFH, we didn’t have our customer support team setup with phones originally. We literally told customers they simply had to email their issues until we were able to get our phones setup to forward to the support team on burner phones we purchased and paid for. They all have their own phones, none of them are like Sam in that way!

        I forwarded calls to my phone because of my position, my unlimited plan and because I simply don’t care. If I didn’t want to, the company would have gotten me a burner phone too but I’m like “No, that’s annoying to me personally and it’s not a security issue, so we’re cool!”

  55. QuinleyThorne*

    OP#2: I think you’re getting caught up in a problem that already has a solution, which is causing you to lose sight of the problem that should be addressed: you have an employee who is refusing a job duty that you have explicitly laid out as a requirement of working from home. So at this point, I think it’s worth telling Sam this: “If expenses are an issue, I have put forth VOIP as a free option, and if the only thing keeping you from using it is that you can’t get it to work, we can contact IT to provide assistance with setup and troubleshooting. Forwarding your phone calls to your partner’s phone is not an acceptable solution. I need you to understand that being available for calls is a requirement of working from home for all employees, regardless of the frequency of use. Does that make sense?”

    (Also, if it applies, you may want to throw in any legal liabilities the company may be exposed to by having calls forwarded to a non-employee.)

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This wasn’t part of their question. Like yeah, they could go heavy handed here and just say “I said what I said, do it or get a new job.” But given the person needs a phone once in what sounds like months, given how long we’ve all been WFH during the pandemic…it’s pretty gross to dig your heels in here and just scorch an otherwise good employee who doesn’t want to do something that’s actually NOT part of their main duties.

    2. asgard*

      I agree with this. Like how hard is it to set up a google voice account? You don’t even need a phone or any special equipment. Just search for “google voice”, click on the website link, follow the prompts and there you go. That number can receive texts, phone calls, records VMs, etc. You can even make calls from them and you can do it all from your computer. Sam is being an ass insisting he can’t get anything like this to work. Call him on it.

  56. zebra*

    OP2, I think you need to think a little more clearly about what the actual issue is. Is your issue that you think Sam needs a phone specifically, or is the issue that Sam needs to be on-call for emergencies outside business hours? Because the solutions to each of those issues is different. If it’s the first, a Google voice number that just emails them a voicemail whenever someone calls them will easily solve the “having a phone number” issue, but if Sam isn’t checking their email outside business hours it won’t solve the second issue.

    If it’s really the second issue, try making Sam come up with a solution. Say “This position requires you to be available to solve emergencies outside of business hours. What’s *your* suggestion for how we make that work?” If Sam is truly unwilling to work with you to find a solution, then you’ll need to rethink Sam’s duties.

  57. Laura May*

    LW#2 – sorry if this has been noted already – but zoom does have a phone feature. My entire unit is working from home and four of the eight of us have zoom phone numbers for the times we do need to call out to a client or if they need to reach us. This was set up via our telephone services office (I work at a university). I know zoom has different plans at different price points – so not sure this is feasible for you.

  58. Sharon*

    #2 is not about whether Sam needs to pay for a phone. It’s about whether using his office phone and checking his office voicemail is a job requirement, and whether being reachable during non-work hours is a requirement. If it is, Sam needs to figure out how to accomplish that, or the boss needs to decide it’s really not a requirement (and maybe disable the phone if it won’t be used!)

    It’s also not clear to me from the original letter whether the boss needed to contact Sam after hours. If wasn’t during Sam’s scheduled work time, a VOIP phone wouldn’t have helped if Sam had their computer turned off (this is the case with me as my work phone is a VOIP line through my work computer). If it WAS during scheduled work time, wasn’t Sam available by email?

  59. staceyizme*

    Your boss exhorting you should be a wake-up call, OP #1! You might be headed out but it’s unethical to ask to remain and then become less valuable simply because you can. You’re likely to need a reference from them (maybe?) in the future and the fact that you’re in an advanced role should give you pause about “phoning it in”. The bottom line is that you stayed for your own reasons and they make sense to you. They kept you based on your record to date and it’s on YOU to cross the finish line at this job without moving from “excellent” to average. It’s true that a case can be made for “I’m only here for awhile” or “I’m not motivated to move ahead, so why should I engage fully?”. But only in the strictest terms of self-interest, or the immediate and short term view of things. A more reasoned view of your self-interest should factor in what you might need in the future from contacts here, what your self-evaluation of competency in your role might warrant and what the implied “bargain” was on the company’s side when it agreed to retain you. (Not something that you’d want to violate, in my view. Your mileage may vary, obviously.)
    One other good reason not to coast is that you could use this time to gain new skills or expertise or contacts that will serve you well in the future. What would a stellar performance in these last months gain you? What would coasting gain you? Maybe a comparison of the two would be clarifying…

  60. AllerDerm*

    I just did the same thing as OP #5 this week since I got married over the weekend. Most people in office already knew but I’m changing my last name and didn’t want anyone to be confused when that started happening so I sent out a department wide email to announce that I got married and what my new last name would be once the paperwork goes through. Totally normal and got a few congrats emails back!

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

    OP2 (requiring Sam to pay for a phone) … I have a probably minority opinion here, in that I think it’s reasonable to ask Sam to pay for a phone, especially since they have been working from home for “some time now”, so presumably they worked in an office (or other workplace) before this, and thus incurred costs in commuting which they aren’t any more, and because it’s just an expectation in this day and age (even pre-covid, of course) that people have access to a phone of some kind.

    I feel almost like Sam is making excuses so as to not have to take phone calls…

    (If it’s in the States) I know it’s possible to get a cheap “non-smart” phone for about $50 or less and a basic “pay as you go” phone plan. If they primarily need to receive (rather than make) calls it’s likely that this could be set up very cheaply.

    If I were in Sam’s position I’d swallow the expense for the sake of keeping my job running smoothly, especially if I wasn’t spending money to commute any more, but then Sam didn’t write in: their boss did!

    I’d have the conversation with Sam like “okay, so you’ve said a lot about what you don’t do. How about what you do do?”

  62. OP1*

    I’m OP1. I appreciate a lot of the advice here, especially Alison’s, and feel prepared to be mindful about the potential reference I’ll need when I’m searching for my first internship in grad school.

    There’s a bit of context I feel I left out, which is that my job had a heavy COVID-19 response component in March/April that had me working 70+ hour weeks (not patient-centered work, mostly research). Some of the burnout and stress is from that. Some of the “coasting” is a direct response to it. I think I further confused people by using the word “coasting,” which, for a highly anxious and usually motivated person like me, is more accurately a synonym for “failing to be at the front of the pack.” I hope that clarifies comments about slacking and leaving more work for others on my team (a prospect that would make me feel too guilty to even consider).

    Nonetheless, I appreciate the advice, even the harsh words, when they came from a place of concern. Hoping to take a few days off and come back ready to coast a little less. Some of you made me feel less alone in my productivity struggles for the last six months, so thank you.

    1. JC*

      I took your comment to mean this, and have been in a similar situation. Dropping from 70hours per week to a “regular” 40 hours is not coasting or slacking. It’s taking care of yourself and mental health in a tough time. A lot of companies are trying to give the impression as “thriving” in tough times and are working staff to the bone. High achievers are often too hard on themselves. Take care and good luck in school

      1. seeotter*

        I think it’s 100% normal and even healthy to have ebbs and flows of achieving and not. How We Work These Days just makes it seem unacceptable. And measuring work in terms of hours vs output doesn’t help. I had a manager tell me I was below the average hours worked per person in the department, but there was nothing in that conversation about me not getting things done.

    2. Uranus Wars*

      I think my concern when reading yours wasn’t the word “coasting” but that your employer has noticed you aren’t where you were pre-COVID and has noted it to you. I am NOT saying that you should be working more than a 40 hour week, but I do think when the boss notices there might be some concern on their end, even if not legitimate. Do you have PTO available? Would a week or two off give you time to rest, recharge and the come back to the 40 hour week with some of your prior work stamina?

    3. Observer*

      If you are recovering from a stretch of 70 hour weeks, you should tell your boss that. And perhaps take a vacation. I’m not being snarky – sometimes the best way to recover from a really intense stint is not to just go back to normal or slightly below normal, but to take a real break. Even a few days can make a real difference.

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