is reading books at work ever OK?

A reader writes:

My husband works as a bank teller at a local bank. Even before COVID, he worked at a very slow branch. He was assured when he started that though they had very little lobby traffic, the bank made plenty of revenue from local businesses, so his job was secure (they need at least two tellers at all times to open the vault, etc.).

Since there is such low traffic (5-10 customers a day), my husband has spent his down time reading books, writing, or scrolling the news on the computer. He has literally done every internal training module available to him and keeps the lobby tidy as well. He tries to avoid using his phone and is very attentive to customers. (He receives only positive service surveys.)

Recently, he decided to begin pursuing his masters in a different field. He planned to study part-time online, and he kept his supervisor in the loop during the entire application process. She did not say anything negative. He started classes this month and has been enjoying it. He used his some of his hours of downtime at work to read from his textbook.

His supervisor (who has only been working as a manager for a year) called him into her office yesterday and said that he couldn’t do anything related to school at work, since it counted as a second job. He could read, but not textbooks. She said it was just a friendly warning, but this morning he had a letter from HR requiring him to sign a formal, verbal reprimand.

He had a call from HR, and was genuinely confused because this has all happened over the last few days and has been counter to what he had been told over the last year.

The HR rep was abrasive and said that no one was allowed to read during downtime. (She used hyperbole like “did you not put two and two together?”) He had said he read all year and his supervisor had never had a problem with it. (She literally works on the teller line with him.) The HR rep didn’t believe him and reiterated that no reading or anything aside from work was permitted.

He has been formally reprimanded and is upset. He’s extremely diligent at work and hates that he got penalized for something that he was led to believe was fine.

I know in most positions, reading on the job is obviously not appropriate. However, in situations like this, what do the employers expect him to do all day? There’s literally nothing else to clean, sort, or count. His desk is hidden from the public and no client has ever suffered because he was distracted. Is he supposed to sit and stare ahead for six hours at a time? Is this on his supervisor for not making expectations clearer? Or is it just a norm that if you have nothing to do, you are being paid to work and when you’re not, you just … sit?

This is very, very workplace-dependent.

There are jobs that are 100% fine with you reading, including textbooks, when you have downtime, as long as there’s nothing work-related you could be doing instead.

There are jobs where it’s fine as long as there are no customers around.

And there are jobs where it’s just not allowed, usually out of concern that it looks bad to … someone. Sometimes the worry is that it’ll look bad to customers, and sometimes the worry is that it’ll look bad to higher-ups or to other colleagues (who might not know that you have nothing left you could be doing, and who instead might think you’re just slacking off — and yes, ideally there should be a way to counter that, but not every manager is willing to invest capital in that).

What’s weird here is that your husband’s employer okay with him reading in general but not if it’s a textbook. And that’s because … studying for school is like doing a second job at your first one? That is bizarre reasoning and doesn’t make sense. He’s not earning money from another job while sitting at his desk. He’s just … reading.

And what’s up with his manager telling him she was just giving him a friendly warning but then he gets hit with a formal reprimand from HR the next day? I suppose it’s possible the manager didn’t know it was coming — maybe she contacted HR for guidance and didn’t realize they were going to contact him directly — but it’s not great.

Has your husband talked to his manager since his meeting with HR? If not, it could be worth him letting her know that HR came down very hard on him and said he’s not supposed to be reading anything at all, and ask if she can clarify. Depending on how that conversation goes and how strongly he feels about it, he could ask her to add a note to his file clarifying that the policy had never been communicated previously.

But I wouldn’t worry terribly much about the reprimand unless his employer has a rigid “X reprimands and you’re fired” policy. Mostly I’d worry about his relationship with his manager and how much he can trust her going forward.

As for the broader question of what he’s expected to do all day now that he’s been told he can’t read anything (which I agree is silly in a context like this one), he might get some insight by watching how colleagues spend their downtime, and especially his manager. He could even ask his manager directly what options are permissible. But if there’s really nothing he can do except stare straight ahead for potentially hours, and now reading has been 100% banned … well, there are some jobs like that. They’re crappy jobs though! And I’d take that as a big strike against this one.

Read an update to this letter

{ 390 comments… read them below }

  1. Sami*

    Many many years ago I was a daycare worker/preschool teacher and while the kids had their rest/nap time, after everything was cleaned up, I’d go into the bathroom. I’d hidden a book in there and I’d read just for a little while. I just needed a brain break.

    1. TiffIf*

      I once worked as the receptionist at a small photography studio there were a LOT of very slow days –they needed a warm body to schedule appointments, answer questions, take payments, process pickups etc. but often times it would be hours between when I was needed to do anything. I usually sat in the work room around the corner from the front counter–I would go out if someone came in or called, but as long as I did the things that were needed my boss didn’t know and didn’t care what I did in the down time. I would surf the internet, read books or do homework (I was getting my bachelor’s).

      It is a little different if you don’t have a spot out of sight from the public, but when there is down time, as long as someone immediately returns to work mode when there is a customer there should be no problem with reading for pleasure or homework.

      1. Rainy*

        I was the front office for a small business for a few years when I was in my early 20s, and because of the nature of the business, I had hours of downtime every afternoon most days. I kept my book under the lip of the counter my desk was built into, and frequently read 2 books a day (I read very quickly), every day, five days a week.

        I still periodically find books that I haven’t re-read in 20+ years that has a scribbled index card, plainly from that job, in it as a bookmark. :)

        1. Kali*

          I worked in a call centre. I’d turn my ebooks into pdfs, email them to myself, and read them while waiting for calls.

          1. WFH with Cat*

            What a great idea! A lot of libraries lend e-books that can be read in browsers … but, oh, that runs into the problem of using an employer’s computer for non-work-related activities. Considering how HR has acted in this case, I don’t suppose the LW’s husband would be able to get away with reading books on his computer. Darn.

            1. LunaLena*

              You can open and read PDFs on your phone. He wouldn’t necessarily have to read them on the employer’s computer.

              1. Environmental Compliance*

                At least in many of the workplaces I’ve been in, reading an actual book or even obviously reading a PDF would have been much, much preferred over someone looking at their phone.

            2. Kali*

              I’d split my screen. The main program we used took the majority of the screen and went top-left, the thing we used to check if the customer was eligible for upsells was in the lower-left, notepad was in the lower right, just to jot things down and not save them, and my emails or anything else I needed to access – payment window, etc – went in the top right. I’d just sub my PDF in for my ‘etc’ window or my notepad.

              While I was on the phones, there really wasn’t anything to do in between calls. We only answered customers emails if we were actually set to email and not on the phones. Similarly, any other task would also have us put a different code in our phones, to take us off the line and allocate that time to another task. I really didn’t have anything to be doing if there wasn’t a call coming through.

          2. Anonymity*

            Good idea. This is another example of no good deed goes unpunished. I leave my employer out of personal decisions. Unless it’s contracted. If I were allowed to read during down time I would have just brought in my textbook. If someone asks, I’m taking one o line class out of interest. I wouldn’t announce I was getting a degree as employer would assume I’m moving on. Keep employer on a need to know basis, while violating no procedural boundaries.

            1. TardyTardis*

              I knew someone who wrote short stories on (carefully numbered) post-it notes. See, if she was scribbling on a post-it note, it was *work* (and not the saga of a woman trapped in a secret installation in Antarctica).

      2. Tiny Soprano*

        I worked reception at a place where there were slow weeks and fast weeks a few years back, and on the slow weeks I got a fair way through writing a very terrible, very gay sci-fi novel. The upside was if people saw me typing they assumed I was busy. My colleague used to get pdfs of books and read them on her monitor (a little riskier because sometimes people thought she was surfing the net because she wasn’t typing.) In short, everything looks a little ‘workier’ if you’re doing it on the computer.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I used to have an official spreadsheet as one of my tabs and have whatever I was reading in a fairly small window. People normally noticed the spreadsheet and thought I was trying to split property tax up in itsy bitsy bits (as indeed one does when being an accountant for a resort).

        2. Rose*

          I remember reading the 50 shades of grey trilogy on the kindle website while working as a hotel receptionist…. as long as I was staring at the front desk computer, no one seemed to notice! But boy did I get good at switch tabs quickly if my boss walked behind the desk!!

    2. acmx*

      I had a temp job for a few days at an engineering place. I was to answer the phone. The phone never rang. There was a dictionary on the desk so I read that. This was late 1900s so no cell phone.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        One of my first jobs had slow periods and they were pretty laid back about how you spent your downtime. I used to knit sweaters. Full adult size sweaters, I kind of cringe now but they never objected.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I had a job where I had a lot of down time simply because I was still technically in “probation” and wasn’t allowed to be given more work, but I caught on very quickly and worked faster than expected.

          Boss told me I could do whatever as long as it wasn’t disruptive, I got my work done, and kept the quality I had. He was very entertained that this oscillated between homework (finishing my master’s at the time) and knitting. Especially when I was knitting and reading at the same time.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I’m an editor, and I legit used to read the dictionary while eating my lunch at my desk.

        (and how jarring to see “late 1900s,” accurate though it may be)

  2. Elizabeth West*

    That’s ridiculous. Studying for school is not a job, unless jobs have now started charging thousands of dollars for the privilege of working there. :P

    This is how crap workplaces lose good employees.

    1. LW*

      As you can imagine, there is a reason he is looking to go to a new field. If his boss or HR had been a little more understanding, even if they still came down on “no reading”, he would have kept working at the branch for the next 2-3 years. Now we’re working on a plan to get financially stable enough that he can quit ASAP…in the next 6 months.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        I wonder if his boss banned the text BECAUSE she has the vibe he will leave eventually and is punishing him?

        1. AKchic*

          This is my thought, too.
          The manager doesn’t want him to go anywhere, so they are limiting his options on the job and now attempting to walk back privileges after the fact.

          If manager wants to play that game, I’d stop being so helpful and be very by the book (pun not originally intended, but it fits). Make sure that everyone else has been given the same information, document everything, and then when the manager tries to say “oh no, you all can read”, get it in writing and forward to HR with a “I thought we weren’t allowed to do this” kind of thing and “why can we read X kinds of books, but not textbooks” questions.

          Or, just understand that it’s not going to get him anywhere and strive to get out of that branch/institution, period.

        2. Anonapots*

          Which is not smart simply because in general, bank teller is a high turn over job; he’s in a very low traffic branch, he would have stayed a much longer time if they hadn’t been so weird about it, and coming down on reading textbooks instead of maybe trying to figure out your employees goals and how to encourage them is bad management anyway.

          1. lailaaaaah*

            True, but then a lot of the places that get super nitpicky about optics/how an office ‘should’ be run are often also the places that don’t tend to factor the cost of employee dissatisfaction and turnover into their business model (and then do a shocked pikachu face when things aren’t working years down the line). My current workplace is maybe the first one that has genuinely actively encouraged employee development, even when it’s not in line with their immediate departmental goals. Unsurprisingly, it’s also the only place I’ve worked at where the average employee sticks around more than a year or so.

          2. Loser45*

            I had a boss who did this. It was very strange when they actively allowed other people to study and do homework, and for me, I got “a talking to” and a reprimand. Some one a guest at a hotel thought it looked unprofessional that I was studying human anatomy, and math.

        3. Anonymity*

          I’m sure the red flags were raised with the announcement. But if someone is going to leave, they are going to leave. Down time reading or not.

      2. Smithy*

        Completely understand your response – but depending on what his course work is, might there be any written school work that your husband could do with pen/paper during down time? Whether it’s writing a draft of a paper or equations?

        While if his manager seems to be hot under the collar in regards to penalizing school work – this may be a bad idea. However writing by hand can often appear less “not work” than reading.

        1. Anonapots*

          I was also thinking if “regular books” are okay, but textbooks aren’t, and so many of both are available on ereaders, maybe a downloaded copy of the textbook that can easily be switched to a not textbook is an option.

          1. Drago Cucina*

            At the public library there are crazy busy times and then extremely slow times. Football season, on a Saturday, in the South? Slow, slow, slow. There was only so much other work that the aides could do at the main desk.

            I told them, check out an eBook and read it in a browser. It doesn’t look like shopping and can easily be “set aside” to help someone. It also looks more work like than reading a physical book.

            1. Doc in a Box*

              I’m surprised that a public library, of all places, would frown on a librarian or aide reading a physical book!

              1. Nethwen*

                It comes down to being funded by taxes. If a client sees a front desk person reading a physical book, they might think that there isn’t any work for the person to do, so why are their taxes paying for someone to sit around and read? Then they complain to their local representative and when budget time comes, the library budget gets cut and someone loses their job or gets moved from full time to part time.

                It’s also political in that some people still think running a library can be done by a volunteer because “all you do is sit around a read.” Many people still do not understand that the person they see at the front desk is rarely a librarian in the professional sense and is not the person responsible for running the library. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve explained to people what library administration (the people who are rarely at the front desk) does and their response is “Oh. I never thought about it. I guess it is like running a business.”

                When people don’t think running a library requires professional experience, they don’t approve sufficient budgets and then you get library director positions managing three locations and requiring a masters degree (this degree requirement is sometimes a requirement to receive state aid, which can make up 15-20% of a library’s budget) plus 5+ years experience being advertised at $35,000 in localities where entry-level corporate positions start at $60,000.

                So, the library itself might not mind the front desk people reading when it’s slow, but it’s not good for funding when clients see that.

                1. yala*

                  We couldn’t even read in the back, tbh. We could sit/stand and talk, but not read.

                  also lol, our director position just opened up, and after attending the last board meeting, I honestly don’t know if they’re going to be able to fill it because NOBODY wants to deal with this nonsense

              2. yala*

                Oh maaaaan, we would get in SO much trouble if we read. Even just flipping a book open and reading a little bit to see if it was worth checking out could get a reprimand if the wrong manager walked in and saw it (or if the director happened to see it on her big brother cameras that primarily faced staff areas).

                You did NOT read on the clock. Didn’t matter if everything had been checked in and shelved and it was a down time.

                …it was kind of the start of me having trouble reading full books. There were just so many I wanted to read, and I never had the time, and by the time work was over I was just too tired to read, so I just kind of…stopped reading books.

                1. Drago Cucina*

                  One of the running jokes is that librarians don’t get to read. We cannot read on the clock. Then we’re always looking at reviews, recommendation sources, etc., that we get inundated.

                  When I was in the youth services game my director had fits that I would read children’s books to prep for storytime. When I became director I scheduled youth services and all the people who ran book clubs time to read their books (off desk). They were a bit twitchy because they weren’t used to being encouraged to read. Then I had to warn staff not to try and chat. It was work prep!

        2. OhNo*

          Speaking of pen-and-paper, my number one trick for getting school work done during the work day when I was in a fussy call center:

          Scan a chapter or two of your textbook, print it out in paper copy, and tuck a few pages into other work-related papers or notes. Then you can flip through them and read your textbook, under the guise of “reading through training notes” or something similar.

          Between that and pulling up PDFs on my phone in my lap under my desk, reading on it (while appearing to be staring at work documents on top of the desk), I got a surprising amount of homework done at that job, with my micromanaging boss none the wiser.

          1. Felis alwayshungryis*

            I was going to suggest something similar – find a Lee Child (or something they consider acceptable) dust jacket and slip it over the textbook.

            1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

              This is such a hilarious inversion of the trope of the kid hiding their comic book inside the textbook at school!

              1. yala*

                lol, that was actually something I did and got in trouble for! Only, it wasn’t a comic book, it was a chapter book for the grade above me, and the teacher noticed I was reading my spelling book a little too intently (I wanted to find out who stole the parakeet, dangit!)

        3. lailaaaaah*

          Either that or do some notes on Google Docs. When I’ve had downtime in the past, I find that something that involves typing often looks like I’m still working on job stuff, even if I’m doing homework for an evening class or something.

      3. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        I once worked as a bank teller at a very slow branch. We were allowed to read at our stations as long as nothing needed doing and no customers were in the building. I could go thru a novel in 2 shifts it was so slow. And the other tellers were college aged and frequently did their homework on shifts. If it were me I’d push back with HR and the manager on why it was a Formal Write up when he had previously been told it was 1) ok and 2) a friendly warning about the textbooks. I’d also ask for detailed instructions on what he is supposed to do with the long down times and would probably continuously say “I’ve finished X. What shall I do now?” to the manager in a make you regret your rules kind of way. I’ve worked retail, daycare, hotel night shift, office work and every single place was fine with reading as long as no work was pending.

        1. I'm Not Phyllis*

          This. This SO did not need to be a formal write-up. To me if you’re going to do those which I don’t love anyway, they should be reserved for a) if you have been repeatedly reminded of something and have still chosen not to do it, or b) something so egregious that it warrants a final warning even though it’s a first-time offense. But there was no reason for HR to jump to a formal write up in this instance unless there is really something that I’m missing here.

        2. LCH*

          yes. always make people regret pointless rules.

          unless there is a point. then they need to tell him. but it sounds pointless!

          1. Zelda*

            I would be tempted to do some malicious compliance. Rearrange all the forms! Two days later, put them all back the way they were! Vacuum the branch twice a day, starting and ending in front of the supervisor’s desk! Take all the brochures and create a new marketing display each afternoon! Scrub the counter with vinegar & baking soda! And generally be a huge pest asking for stuff to do.

            I am easily bored and ‘no reading at all’ would be a deal-breaker for me.

        3. Brad Fitt*

          It wasn’t a formal write up, it was simply a notification of documenting the informal friendly verbal warning that had to be formally acknowledged and go in the employee’s file. *jerking off motion*

          Manager sucks for incompetent management. HR sucks for defending the incompetent manager instead of talking to the employee to get more information and then maybe escalating to the manager’s manager if it’s really such an issue that the manager isn’t enforcing rules HR believes are both obvious and necessary.

      4. mutinyonthebeagle*

        LW can he get PDF copies of textbooks on his computer? I read many books during nightshifts on the various kindle libraries

        1. Juneybug*

          My husband did his whole Bachelor’s degree with electronic books. He would download the books to a Google doc and then use this reader or PC to read anywhere.

      5. Sweet Christmas*

        Yeah, this was my thought as well. If my manager told me I couldn’t read (textbooks or anything) during my downtime when I have literally nothing else to do, I’d also be looking for a new role.

    2. Hey Nonnie*

      Honestly, if the results of his conversation with his supervisor are “you must stare into space for hours on end if you have nothing work-related to do,” I’d be inclined to immediately follow up with “I’d like a transfer to a busier branch, then.”

      Let the boss feel the consequences of her ridiculous rules-lawyering if she’s so inclined to rules-lawyer. Maybe she’ll change her tune once she realizes she can’t keep good workers there.

      1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        “X is done. Do you have anything for me to work on?” repeated several times an hour will drive manager to regret that rule very quickly.

        1. snoopythedog*

          Coming here to say this! It might tarnish your husband’s rapport with his boss, so it’s not his first line of attack.

    3. Lady Meyneth*

      I once had a job that allowed reading when we had down time. Then some coworkers who were still studying started having their textbooks out, which was ok. Then they started also having a notebook at hand and taking notes. Before any of us knew it, they had 3 different notebooks, the textbook and a lot of different colored pens out; their workstations looked like a disaster zone, and they got this really annoyed look if someone bothered them while they were studying, plus some serious snark in exam weeks. Eventually, studying was flat out banned, and honestly I was surprised regular reading was still allowed at all.

      All that to say, forbidding just textbooks isn’t necessarily the mark of a crap workplace. In OP’s case, the situation was certainly *very* poorly handled, especially by HR. And I do think such things should be decided on a case by case basis, and not as a blanket prohibition. But I can totally see a workplace having been bitten by studying employees and just not wanting to deal with it again.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        Ugh, that sucks. Totally a case of punishing the many for the actions of a few. I would be fine with “unobtrusive reading,” i.e., something you can put away quickly and with a smile should a customer approach. The text and notebook I could live with, but the next step was over the edge.

      2. Batgirl*

        Yes, that shows really poor sense! Just reading a book or proofreading a few printed pages gives you such a leg up; its hard to see why you’d risk that by taking the piss.

      3. BHB*

        This was my first thought. There’s a difference between between reading the latest Jasper Fforde novel you can quickly put down if a customer approaches, and being deep into the explanation of a complex mathematical concept that needs your full concentration to follow.

        Frankly, I think the boundary should be where reading clearly turns into studying – reading a textbook is OK, having several books and notepaper and highlighters strewn across the desk is clearly not. But I can also see a manager not wanting to go down that route and having arguments about what is and isn’t allowed, and instead effectively ban all studying/studying materials outright.

      4. Kiki*

        Yeah, I can definitely see this. I do still think the best way to handle it is to clearly identify the actual issues (workstation disaster, annoyed by work interruptions, prioritizing studying over work during work hours) and address those with the employees in question instead of just blanket banning textbooks. Because I’ve also encountered similar issues with people who weren’t studying, just really into the book they’re reading, the article they’re skimming, the sudoku they’re solving, etc. If you’re not able to quickly put down the activity and jump back into work, that’s the issue more than the activity itself.

      5. Adultiest Adult*

        This reminds me of supervising work study students working a front desk as a grad student years ago. I was working on a procedures manual, and one of my students characterized what I was looking to say as, “You can’t be mad scientists at the front desk!” A textbook and a notebook, sure, but taking over the entire front desk with study materials and looking put out when interrupted was a step too far.

    4. Batgirl*

      It’s sheer pettiness when workplaces do this. For about two years, my college job at a betting call centre was a haven for students who’d get hammered by calls just before events, but who usually had stretches of quiet for reading between races. Then I ended up on graveyard shifts that no one but a student would want to do. So much downtime! My grade average skyrocketed. We were all handpicked as good at looking after late night high rollers, because we had all gained some trust, and the atmosphere was relaxed and professional. Then they got a night manager who was only good at looking a gift horse in the mouth. He banned reading purely because he could think of no other way to manage.

    5. LemonLyman*

      I came here to say something similar. Many workplaces pay their employees to take classes. Why would this be considered a second “job”? It’s one thing to say “You can no longer read while at work” but another to use the excuse that his schooling is a second job. How odd!

    6. Magenta Sky*

      It’s not a job, but it’d be easy for an insecure boss to see it as competition for a job. “You’re only getting a degree so you can quit!” sort of nonsense.

      (A *good* boss will encourage you to better yourself, even if it means losing you.)

      1. Heffalump*

        Some years ago the CEO of my then employer (in the USA) sent an email announcing that one of the employees would be leaving to get a degree at a university in Germany. The CEO said, “I am happy to lose him in this way.” He had the right attitude!

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Right! I wanted to do a master while working, and would need to be able to flex my hours to do so. The boss said no, because I would then be able to find a better job. Then with the 2008 recession he sold the company rather than go bust. I had been in the process of enrolling for the master, thinking I’d need that qualification before freelancing which was my only viable option at my age once that job fell through. So suddenly it wasn’t falling through. I spoke to the new boss, who was adamant that he wanted me to stay on, and he agreed to pay for my course (not all that much money in France but still) and let me work around my classes, so long as I kept my productivity up and let everyone know where I was and when.
        Once I’d got my master I could easily have left but I stayed for several more years out of gratitude for letting me study and various other points that made my job much nicer.

    7. NerdPatrol*

      It sounds like his boss got reprimanded and had to save face by disciplining him. Maybe there was a visitor ir secret shopper who saw your husband reading and corporate came down in the boss. I would guess that if he had a conversation with her like “I’m really confused why I got reprimanded.” Clarify what he had understood it to be approved and ask if it had changed so he can be more careful in the future. This allows the boss some room to maybe explain what happened without feeling defensive.
      Good news it sounds like ge has an escape plan and just needs to bide his time while finishing his degree.

    8. HungryLawyer*

      Exactly! I suspect the boss/HR/other leadership are objecting to this employee reading homework assignments because they think he’ll be a flight risk after getting his degree. It’s super passive-aggressive and is obviously backfiring.

  3. AnonNurse*

    Wow, that doesn’t make any sense to me at all. If they’re allowed to read on your computer, why does it matter what they’re reading? It sounds like someone complained or something like that for it to come so out of the blue. I honestly can’t imagine why it would be okay to read but not if it’s textbooks. That’s bizarre and truly outside any norm I’ve heard of where it’s okay to read. Is he allowed to read on a tablet? I would be tempted to stay off the work network and read on that so no one could see what was being read. I don’t know. I don’t want to encourage anyone to break any rules but that really is ridiculous. Good luck to your husband!

    1. Researcher*

      Agreed. Allowing your employees to read the news, half of which is fiction these days, but not a textbook? I can’t find the logic here.

      I’m not sure this alone is something I’d leave a job over, but in a better job market, this might have been a final straw for me.

    2. J.E.*

      It might be that if it’s made known the staff has time to read at this branch because it’s so slow, corporate might think that this branch isn’t worth keeping open and close it.

      1. Antilles*

        In general perhaps, but that doesn’t make sense in this context though – If the manager is worried that corporate might think they’re slow if they happen to walk in and see people reading, then it doesn’t make sense to get your employee written up by HR for reading a book.
        There’s now a formal write-up of employees having enough time to read. HR and corporate have clear documentation that the place is slow. There was an interview between HR and the husband discussing this, where the husband apparently said he’d “done this all year” and “his supervisor was okay with it” and probably also a few phrases like “when we’re slow” or “we have a lot of downtime”.
        Just doesn’t make sense if that’s the concern.

      2. Banker in a Past Life*

        Based on what OP wrote, it sounds like they have enough revenue from local businesses that this is unlikely. Think the town closest to a handful of busy farms – it’s been more a matter of dollars than customers in my experience.

      3. Banker in a Past Life*

        Based on what OP wrote, this sounds less likely due to the amount of local business connected to that branch. It’s been more a matter of dollars than foot traffic in my experience – the branch in a small town with several profitable farms in the region wasn’t busy either, but made sense to keep open.

      4. Number person*

        Hopefully they are making huge decisions like closing branches based on whether an employee has time to read or not. I’ve never worked in banking, however, as an accountant, I can say there are much better metrics to use to determine whether they should close or not.

    3. MK*

      What I am reading matters for me, in terms of how fast I can respond to interruptions. I get hyper-focused when I am doing work of any kind, and I don’t snap my attention back immediately, while I’d I am just killing time on the internet, it’s not a problem. So, I understand banning doing homework during office hours, even if casual reading is ok.

      1. Metadata minion*

        I think that’s a valid factor to consider, but it’s going to vary so much by individual that I’m very wary of an employer deciding for everyone what activities are most interruptible. Plenty of people get just as hyperfocused when on social media.

      2. Paulina*

        That was my thinking too, even though that’s not quite what the manager used as an explanation. Reading could be ok if it’s casual and not something that he’s concentrating on, which would exclude textbooks. Though normally you’d want to determine if it’s really a problem (does he not notice something he’s supposed to be taking care of?) before cracking down.

      3. Ace in the Hole*

        It varies by individual though. I’m exactly the opposite of what you describe – I get super immersed in a novel, but can respond instantly if I’m reading a textbook.

    4. Krabby*

      I get the impression that the manager went to HR to ask if doing schoolwork was okay (while assuming that HR already knew about the general thumbs up for reading at their branch). Then, HR was like, “He’s reading at work!? Why would anyone think that would be okay?! What a dummy! etc.” because reading on the job would be a fire-able offense at any other branch.

      And then the boss, instead of admitting that she hadn’t realized it was a problem for corporate if employees read during the work day, was like, “Yeah, I definitely don’t also read at work. I’m definitely not learning this is not okay as I have this discussion. I’ve definitely spoken to Employee before about this.”

      As an HR person who has been in this exact situation and only learned the true story in the person’s exit interview… I could definitely see that being the case.

      1. Susan Calvin*

        I’m a little bit inclined to sympathy for the manager because it sounds like the employee here did try to point out the discrepancy immediately and fell on deaf ears, which seems telling wrt the HR person’s overall approach. But I’d say you’re probably on the right track with this!

        1. Krabby*

          That’s definitely true. On re-reading this, the HR person doesn’t come out of this looking good either.
          It seems that LW’s husband got caught in the perfect storm of bad management AND subpar HR.

    5. Caterpie*

      My thoughts too! If they’re allowed to browse the internet, can they read a PDF of a textbook on the computer?

      1. snoopythedog*

        Just be wary that what you do a computer at work is trackable…and so going directly again his written warning to read a PDF of a textbook on the computer could result in an escalation.

        1. Juneybug*

          But couldn’t he say that is was reading about physics cause he was curious? Or reading about business marketing has always been a hobby of his? Same with accounting, english, history, economics, etc.? (wink, wink)
          At this point, I would place my manager on personal news diet as she is either weak or untrustworthy.

        2. Partly Cloudy*

          And even if they use their own device for reading, like a tablet, it’s a bank. There are cameras everywhere. Trying to be sneaky in a place like that probably isn’t going to work out well.

          1. Brad Fitt*

            There are cameras everywhere in a bank and what, they’ll zoom and enhance on the employee’s screen like it’s a goddamn episode of CSI? Because security at a bank has nothing better to do (maybe they’re not allowed to read at work either)?

            Oh shit wait what if the bank got robbed and the employee was reading his textbook as a pdf when the robbers came in then during the robbery he didn’t close the pdf window so it was documented by the cops he’d been reading a textbook and then HR found out about? ayfkm

    6. H2*

      To be clear upfront: I’m a professor and I’m just happy when my students do their reading. I don’t think it’s an issue.

      I can see, though, that there could be a subtle but important mind shift between a book you have at work for when you don’t have anything else to do and a textbook reading that has to be done by a certain time. I’m having a hard time articulating it, but one is an absolute last-ditch activity for when everything else is exhausted, and the other could become “I have to read this by 9pm so I’m going to rush through straightening the lobby so I can get it done.” Not that it’s what would happen here! But I suspect it’s what the boss meant about another job, because I could see that there’s something that might not seem like a great precedent in an employee using work time for another commitment. Reading that has to be done by xxx time isn’t the same as reading for pleasure.

      I suspect that the boss knew that the policy was no reading period, felt uncomfortable with schoolwork during work hours, and maybe asked HR for advice or intervention and it went downhill from there.

    7. Emma*

      I was going to suggest this. If the manager is still ok with him reading fiction, I’d just put the textbooks and an assortment of fiction on an eReader. Noone will know what he’s reading unless he tells them.

  4. PT*

    HR has put two and two together and figured out that if Husband finishes his Master’s, he will leave for a better job. Therefore, they are going to a) make it as hard for him to do that as possible and b) fire him before he quits, as punishment.

      1. Tisiphone*

        I heard there’s a great medical drama called “Introduction to Human Anatomy”. I also recommend “The Stock Market And You” for fans of corporate thrillers.

        All books look alike on a Kindle. Since he can’t even read fiction after HR talked to him, HR must have figured that out, too. How ridiculous!

        1. Ashely*

          If he was allowed to read non textbooks I would definitely suggest a kindle.
          How big of a screen can you get on an apple watch? Not playing on your phone and not reading. I wouldn’t actually retain anything but I would be so bored in a job with nothing to do like that. I guess you take up doodling?

        2. Mockingjay*

          You can read from Prime and Kindle Unlimited on a web browser, without using or downloading the app. (That’s how I survived the last year at ExToxicJob.) Recommend online textbooks when possible. Online e-library services. etc.

          But first, OP’s husband needs to take the “temperature” at the office and figure out how others manage downtime without being called out by HR and management.

          1. Melanie Doormat*

            Yup, I installed the Kindle app on my work computer — but I checked with my bosses first and got their okay.

          2. Brad Fitt*

            Are there others who manage it? I think this is a much smaller bank branch than a lot of people here are assuming. OP said: 1) there have to be two tellers in the bank minimum, 2) the manager works the teller line with husband, 3) husband works six hour days. I wouldn’t be surprised if manager and husband are the only people working at the branch some (if not most) days.

    1. WellRed*

      That was such a rude and unprofessional comment from HR! I’d have been tempted to respond equally rudely.

    2. LilyP*

      That’s far-fetched! I think it’s much more likely that there *is* a corporate-level policy against reading on the job (which would be very normal) and HR is just unaware of the special circumstances at this specific branch and there was some miscommunication between the manager and the HR department + a weirdly rude and abusive HR rep.

      1. GothicBee*

        This. HR is probably just applying the “no reading” rule as an across the board thing. Most jobs wouldn’t allow for time to read, but since LW’s husband is at a slow branch, it’s probably more work for the manager to come up with stuff for him and other staff to do than it would to just let him and other staff read or whatever in their down time.

        However, I do bet the manager was thinking that he would leave if he completed a degree and that’s why the manager objected to doing schoolwork on the job (saying it counts as a second job is kind of absurd though).

        1. Myrin*

          If that really is what the manager is thinking, though, I can’t help but consider her naïve – surely the fact alone that he won’t be able to read his textbooks during his work time anymore won’t stop him from actually getting a degree?

    3. Person from the Resume*

      Nah! They don’t think he’s special and irreplaceable. The HR rep didn’t believe him and reiterated that no reading or anything aside from work was permitted. They don’t want any of their employees reading anything for school or pleasure. They’re enforcing corporate policy which clearly that local and super quiet branch has not been following at all.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Bingo. I have seen a lot of this in low paying jobs. You can’t trust your boss to tell you what the rules are. If they get it wrong, they just say, “Oh I never said that.” And you’re hosed.

      OP, for whatever reason your husband is now on the s-list. I’d do whatever it takes to get out of there within the next few weeks. This only gets worse. And it goes into all kinds of crazy stuff. Their shirt is the wrong color. They park their car in the wrong place. They were not cheerful enough/they were too cheerful when greeting a customer. OMG.
      Whenever you see that shift from reasonable to micromanaging, watch out.

      1. Brad Fitt*

        Except that didn’t happen? Telling him not to read a textbook isn’t a sign that he’s on the shitlist, it’s just how a really short-sighted and incompetent manager tries to retain an employee who’s signaled his exit. HR is the one who freaked out, incompetent manager has given no signs that they’re trying to force OP’s husband out (you get that HR and husband’s manager are different people, right?).

  5. APerson*

    Wow, just wow. This whole situation is so silly, I’m sorry your hubby is dealing with what sounds like a very uncommunicative workplace OP. I wouldn’t know what to do for hours a day if I didn’t have work or a book or anything.

    Is your husband just with his manager all day and they’re the only 2 in the branch most of the time? If not, maybe he could talk with coworkers and ask what they do all day? Before scrolling the web or doing other previously allowed activities I’d be meticulous about detailing every chore/task that he does each day moving forward. That way if HR gets in a tizzy again about him doing previously approved non-work related activities he can prove he’s completed all of the day’s tasks and what time they were done by.

  6. The Tin Man*

    My gut feeling is that pushing back at the boss to clarify to HR that he previously had permission to read isn’t going to go well. I feel like the official policy is probably “no reading anything” as HR said and the manager made a reasonable, but off-the-books, exception.

    The manager’s weirdness of not being okay with reading a textbook makes me feel like they aren’t going to want to own up to HR that they previously gave the husband permission to break policy and read.

    1. Malarkey01*

      This was 100% my read. The manager may not even know it’s against corporate policy if she’s somewhat new and was just continuing the previous down low acceptable to read a book/internet practice. She might have double checked with HR at corporate if textbooks were okay only to find that actually nothing is okay and HR intervened.

      I think there’s a big chance manager isn’t going to do anything to clarify the issue since it shows she was allowing corporate violations.

      1. Antilles*

        This is exactly what I think happened. OP says the supervisor only became a manager a year ago, so I’d bet that it was some combination of:
        (1) Manager never realized it was against corporate policy
        (2) Manager is too naive to realize that there’s no such thing as “just asking” when it comes to HR.
        This also explains why the manager treated it as a ‘friendly warning’ when HR was preparing a formal reprimand – she just didn’t know about the can of worms she was opening.
        But yeah, no way the manager clarifies the issue given it admits her part in this. At absolute most, you miiiiiight get an off-the-record verbal apology of “man, really wasn’t expecting HR to come down like that, sorry that happened”.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      I suspect the manager was fine with it but someone higher up than her was NOT.

      Oh god, I’d probably stab myself if “just stare into space for 8 hours” was a requirement. I had enough troubles with being forced to stare into space sitting still at staff meetings before Zoom.

      1. adk*

        I was a temp receptionist for one day before I broke down and started playing on facebook, pinterest, and various recipe websites to amuse myself. I will stare into space for One Day in between calls. After that, if you’re not using my skills sufficiently, I’m definitely planning my next home improvement project or air fryer recipe. Never asked permission, just did it. Then, when they wanted to interview me for the permanent job, I declined because if they can’t properly use my time for the 4 months they had me, they don’t deserve me.

        1. Yellow Rose*

          That sounds like a job I had as a payroll processor for a state agency. They had four on staff, and hired another person and me, to make six payrollers. The trainer would not come to work if the weather was bad (in reality, if the roads were wet), and the other four on staff were much too busy to train us.

          One thing I could do was draft a few letters each week to retirees on their COBRA payments, which had to go to the unionized word processing pool; when they were returned the following day, I got to correct the spelling mistakes, and send them back to the word processors, who eventually returned to me a product that could be mailed out.

          When the two of us complained there was nothing else for us to do, we were advised to look through past pay registers! Needless to say, I didn’t stick around, even though the money was good…I went to lunch one day after a month of employment, and never went back. That position only reinforced the image I had of inefficient, bloated public sector agencies.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            And then there’s the agencies I worked for (public sector) who could not get approval for near the amount of staff needed to perform the regulation-required projects/permits/actions… but also wouldn’t let me work past the “standard” workload, even though I was working at a very high quality and also incredibly bored.

        2. Glitsy Gus*

          I had a similar temp job, except the internet was heavily blocked so there wasn’t much I could do that way and the head honchos were very down on the idea of anyone having any kind of fun at work anyway. I started bringing a notebook and writing short stories and other silly things like that. Funny how writing in a notebook comes across as “doing something serious’ while looking at a screen does not. Fortunately that was only a three week stint while the regular person was on vacation. There was no way I could have kept that up long term.

      2. Melanie Doormat*

        I have written two and a half novels since I started a job as a receptionist/PA. There’s only so much internet one woman can read!

      3. lemon*

        Seriously. Even when I worked at a call center that made us clock out for bathroom breaks, we were allowed to doodle between calls. We could also bring in things like crossword puzzles/sudoku with the caveat being that we had to throw out any papers at the end of the day and couldn’t take anything home. We worked with private healthcare information, so that was just a HIPAA requirement.

  7. Aphrodite*

    I assume he has asked the manager for more work or if he can take on or develop some new projects? If he has, I have no other ideas.

    Sitting there for long stretches with no options would find me nodding off constantly–and that would not be a good thing since I’d be afraid of being accused of sleeping on the job.

    1. Miss Elsie*

      A lot of times there is no additional work to take on in this situation. I work part time at a slow branch of a bank, where business is slowly picking up, but we still often have large amounts of time between customers. We’re a brand new branch that opened in the midst of the pandemic and it has taken people a while to realize we are open. When this happens, we often have nothing to do, as all trainings are already complete, cleaning/tidying/stocking just doesn’t take that long, especially since there is a daily cleaning crew that comes in after hours. We’re not allowed to read, because we’re often out in the lobby, but we are allowed to use our phones, as long as we are discreet and don’t let it impact our customer service. My coworkers and I all get along too, so we often talk together when it’s slow too.

      I’m actually going back to school in the fall, I was accepted to law school, so will be leaving sometime this summer. I’ve been really fortunate in that my manager has been incredibly supportive of this, including writing me a letter of recommendation. I feel for the LW’s husband, this is such an unfortunate situation to be in. There was no reason for him to be formally reprimanded for this. I hope he’s able to get out of there soon.

    2. anonanna*

      Like Elsie said, this truly sounds like a situation where there is no other work. I’ve been in jobs like that and it’s hard to make people believe you’re not being lazy or lacking initiative, but sometimes there is no work, you can’t create more work, and you don’t get more work when you ask for it. (Like my current job!)
      to me it’s more draining than a job where you’re busy and stimulated.

      1. Ellen Ripley*

        “to me it’s more draining than a job where you’re busy and stimulated”

        Absolutely. I had a seasonal job at a fireworks store and there was a management policy that you should always be doing something, and phones were not allowed on the floor. Except when it was slow there was literally nothing to do. You swept the floor, you cleaned the counters, you rearranged the stock…it was tedious and agonizing, and after a while you ran out of ideas for useless activities to do. If you got talking too much to a coworker or writing a note to yourself for later or anything like that, you’d get reprimanded, because there were cameras all over the store and the owner, who lived in another state, might be watching. I’d rather do almost anything rather than have a job where there’s nothing to do and you’re forced to do makework all day.

  8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    My only input here is regarding the “verbal” warning and then getting hit with paperwork. That’s actually suggested by many strict HR department heads. It shouldn’t be so damn aggressive though. You’re just supposed to do the “Per our conversation earlier, reminder don’t read text books!”

    That’s only to keep a paper trail since verbal warnings are notoriously hard to “track” when you’re going through a disciplinary channel!

    This sounds like HR generalist on a power trip, yuck.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Hmmm could we have a Guacamole Bob on our hands? Manager looped in HR about the “verbal” warning and HR person wanting to “prove” they can enforce policy better than anyone else went rogue?

      I gotta admit, as I read through all I could think was the Twilight Zone Episode “Time Enough” Except in that one, no one supported the teller’s desire to read. Your husband might want to think about taking lunch in the vault and reading there. Or not ….

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I bet it’s because this HR person isn’t actually aware that they deal with like 15 customers a day, when most branches have much much more. So they’re like “NEVER READ EVER HDU” and completely miss the mark given the special circumstances.

        Sounds to me like someone reading a “rule book” and not understanding not all branches are created equal. So the branch manager is like “It’s cool to read the news and blogs.” but then is being weird about textbooks. Which then opens up the can of “WTF” when HR who is centralized is randomly looped in. Blah!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Not only do they not understand the differences in branches, they also have NO plan on figuring it out. Husband can expect this to continue.

    2. SomebodyElse*

      I once had to have HR write a verbal warning I was going to give an employee .. . I felt rather stupid handing my employee a written copy of their verbal warning

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yeah I think the issue is that we need to stop calling them “verbal warnings” when we’re now keeping written records. It should be a “written reminder”. And then after a reminder, you get warnings. Or some other word, I hate words, there’s too many of them ;)

        We used to seriously just do verbal warnings. Then you run into the issue with “No, you never said that to me!”

        Just like yes, verbal contracts are technically binding in ways. But good luck in court on that he said/she said. Get things in writing is drilled into our heads. So now it’s time to also change what we call things!

    3. whistle*

      If I feel I need to document a “verbal warning”, I tell the person when I give the verbal warning so that it doesn’t feel like two reprimands when it’s only one. “Hey, I’m gonna follow up with an email just so that both of us have documentation this conversation took place.”

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This is a good technique! Yes, it’s always best to not blindside people.

        The manager should have said something at the end of the discussion that they have to do a formal confirmation with HR and they may receive something in the mail. But it sounds like the manager didn’t know HR would be so extra. At least I hope it was a mistake on the managers part.

      2. Kaitydidd*

        This is what my boss did. It was clear and expected and honestly I like having the email trail, too.

  9. Person from the Resume*

    This is confusing mess of expectations. Sounds like his boss’s guidance doesn’t align with corporate/HR guidance of no reading at all. It feels like corporate found out somehow (maybe from the local manager who didn’t think it was out of line) and are now enforcing corporate guidance not understanding the hours of emptiness situation at that branch.

    When newspapers were a thing, people would bring in the newspaper into our office (no customers) and flip through it during the day. Working on a degree was during work hours was allowed if it didn’t interfere with work. However someone brought in fiction – I think it was a harry potter – and read it at her desk and she was told she needed to stop. I agreed with that. IDK there’s a difference between reading fiction and keeping aware of the news (even sports and comics). A newspaper isn’t going to be hours of reading that a novel is. And it had the look of if you had the time to read a novel at work maybe you should volunteer to assist your coworkers since they were fairly busy.

    1. MistOrMister*

      I still get the newspaper, and I can honestly say, it is more work than reading something like Harry Potter. For the Washington Post, I will generally read the News, Metro and Style sections…that is hours of reading right there. I do not agree that reading the paper is less time consuming. The optics of the newspaper versus a novel might be different, but when it comes down to it, you can really get bogged down by a newspaper.

      1. Malarkey01*

        True, but newspapers are made to consume in really small bites of a 2 minute article here, 3 minute story there. If I see someone glances at a newspaper I think they’re taking a 5 minute brain break or something. If I see someone with a novel I’m assuming 15 minutes minimum and more likely settling in. It might not be true but I think that’s a pretty common perception.

    2. Elliott*

      I really wouldn’t agree with that. I tend to read novels much like I read newspapers, magazines, and websites–in small chunks here and there. If anything, i find novels less time cinsuming–I’m bad at letting papers and magazines pile up unread.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Yeah, it feels like an arbitrary distinction that comes down more to optics more than anything. I rarely read a book all the way through–more like a chapter here and there on public transit.

        I get saying certain kinds of subjects aren’t work appropriate (say, obviously sexual or graphic material), but a blanket ban on fiction or novels seems weird. Some people read newspapers, some people read message boards, some read fiction, some read nonfiction…how absorbed or not absorbed you get in it depends on the person!

      2. MCMonkeybean*

        I agree, plus usually a novel is physically less distracting. Small and easy to immediately tuck away. Newspapers would be much less discreet in my opinion!

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      Some reading is socially acceptable, while other reading is just weird. The advent of Kindles and smart phones has stood me well in this regard. Back in the day, there were lots of contexts where me sitting a reading a book was solidly in the “weird” category. Nowadays I can read my Kindle, and people who don’t look closely assume I am reading texts or sports scores or some such on my phone. This is not merely socially acceptable, it is so socially acceptable that it can preempt all other social interactions.

      1. DataGirl*

        This is what I’m thinking. I could never get away with reading a physical book of any type in the office, but if I’m staring at my computer screen for 8 hours no one cares what is on the screen. It sounds like LW’s husband has a desk- if he has a computer could he read e-books instead? Or perhaps listen to an audiobook with just one earbud in? Not sure if text books are generally available in audio though.

        1. Shad*

          Textbooks may not be, but I’ve definitely found YouTube series or university podcasts on multiple subjects, at a college level.

    4. Quoth the Raven*

      So what happens when your degree is in (English) Literature, like mine was? Working on it involved reading fiction a lot of the time.

  10. Spearmint*

    I don’t see anything wrong with reading, studying, listening to podcasts, etc. as long as you’re getting all your work done at an acceptable quality and are consistently available for more work during regular hours as needed. You’re hired to produce value for your employer, not to be busy per se. This is especially true for jobs like the LW’s, which have built-in downtime.

    Many companies, managers, and even ordinary workers seem to get moralistic about this, and say it’s somehow dishonest or unprofessional to not be a little robot dutifully working nonstop from 9-5, but I think it’s misguided at best. This idea you need to be (or even can be) focused and busy for eight hours straight every day doesn’t really make sense in most modern workplaces.

    1. barnacle boy*

      Yes, this.

      I am very glad that I work from home because there are often days when I just don’t have enough work to do, but I know that sitting around wouldn’t fly in the office. Days where I legitimately might ask for work, but there isn’t anything to give me, and nothing background I could be working on. So with that time I’ve taken classes (on topics that ultimately benefit my job). But my office culture is very worker-bee and that would be hard to get approval for in the office. No need for them to know. They’re online, self-paced classes so I’m always available if work comes up, but the alternative (and what I did back when I worked in the office) was literally just clicking through random files and company websites just to look busy. It sucked.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        I actually ran out of stuff to do (happens once in a while) with 2 hours left of work to go yesterday. I was all “thank goodness I’m home and nobody can see that I am out of everything!”

    2. Rayray*


      I had a boss that would get mad if she caught me responding to a text message or just taking a couple minutes to read the news.

      Wasn’t an issue at all though when she wanted to chit chat with people about non-work things though.

  11. ShwaMan*

    I’m picturing now the reversed version of a cliched TV comedy scene – he now has to surreptitiously read his textbook wrapped in a comic book or entertainment magazine covering the outside of it.

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      I thought that too!

      I’m reminded of the scene in Mad Men where Megan, still a receptionist, is told she can read magazines at her desk but not books (because clients seeing her in the middle of a thick novel will think SCDP never gets any business).

      The “this is the first you’re being told this but we’re acting like it’s something you already know” element is always infuriating. He should definitely explain this to his manager so that she can document (and correct HR) that she had been explicitly allowing him to study before now.

      (Manager probably got reprimanded for allowing it. Hopefully she doesn’t gaslight him to cover her own butt.)

        1. Aerin*

          Same. Find a hardcover that’s about the same size and that has a jacket. Put the jacket on the textbook. Problem solved! (You could also find an even bigger hardcover novel at a thrift store or something and remove enough pages from it that the textbook will fit inside. Not sure what sort of dimensions we’re talking, here.) If he can read on screens, digital versions of future textbooks will also be handy.

          1. Self Employed*

            Hopefully it’s not something like Alberts’ Molecular Biology of the Cell or my typical STEM texts. It was about 12″ high, 9″ wide, and almost 2.5″ thick. (For non-Americans, that’s A4 paper size x 6 cm thick.)

  12. More Coffee Please*

    Just an idea: if it’s okay to read for pleasure but not for school, he could get an e-reader (e.g. Kindle) and get his textbooks as e-books. One of my favorite things about e-readers is you never have to worry about being judged by the cover of your book.

  13. Nia*

    My mom’s been a bank teller/branch manager for a couple of different banks the past 20 years. She’s always read during down times at work. Even before she was in charge no one had a problem with it. Its just the nature of the job that sometimes there’s no more work to do. If someone had told her she couldn’t do anything during down times she’d have found a new bank to work at.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I worked at a very small costume jewelry shop one summer when I was in college. Once all the stock was refilled & everything was cleaned & straightened, there was literally nothing to do when we didn’t have customers. I was allowed to read as long as no customers saw & got through some pretty hefty books. (This was pre-Internet.) I can’t imagine just sitting there for hours. (It was tucked away in a quieter part of the mall, so people watching wasn’t even an option, like at the other mall stores I’ve worked at.)

    2. Managing to Get By*

      I think the manager was okay with this and then either someone higher up didn’t like it or someone saw and mentioned to a higher up, and then the manager got in trouble for allowing it.

  14. One door closes, a better one opens*

    One of the more miserable jobs I’ve had was a customer service one where they took all my duties away from me, filing, front desk covering…and all I could do was answer the customer calls…no book, no internet time, no personal calls allowed…just very rigid, stare at computer screen during downtime drugery. Then incessantly complain about my not being “busy enough”. We were between managers and finally a prior one came back to straighten us back out…but the most miserable several months ever. It happens sometimes for one reason or another. I’d suggest he start looking elsewhere as his current job doesn’t seem very focused on employee engagement or development.

    1. Cat Tree*

      Ugh, being bored but having to look busy is the worst. I’d much rather be truly busy than pretend to be busy. I once had an internship with a boss who was both a micromanager and old-fashioned about technology. There was one task that taking averages of a bunch of hand-written data. He did it by punching everything in a calculator, then redoing to check his work. This typically took him half a day. I did it by typing into Excel, using simple formulas, and then checking my work by comparing what I had typed to the written data. When I tried to explain to him that I was done and wanted more work, he could not comprehend that someone could do it faster than him. He assumed I was sloppy and rushed through it, and just told me to check my work (which I had already done). So I checked it again, which was super fast because I didn’t have to re-enter everything.

      We also had cubes with low walls, and naturally he watched everything I did. So on days I had that particular work, I had to spend three hours checking the weather, re-reading emails, staring into space, and going slowly insane.

      1. Who Am I*

        I had a boss that just could not comprehend that it was possible to find helpful, work-related things on the internet. I was once, when I had some downtime, reading a site that was directly related to my job and very helpful to me. He saw me on the internet and kept grilling me about what I was reading. I showed it to him, told him how it helped me with my own job, and all he could do was keep repeating “but why is it on the internet?” So frustrating!

    2. Anonymous Coward*

      This was a temp job I had once — the company didn’t really NEED a receptionist, but apparently their office manager who handled all of that wanted to have an office instead of sitting at the front desk. They told me I was mostly there to answer the phone… which rang about twice a day. They didn’t have any storefront, so no door traffic from the public, and those people who had meetings just met their visitors at the door and brought them in. I answered two phone calls a day, ran out to pick up milk for coffee and the catering order for internal meetings, and I think I made a cappucino twice for a visiting client. I picked up a large print job around the corner once, and organized the supply closet, and (when asked) volunteered some brand names for a project they were working on. I was utterly bored. They said from the first day that I could browse the net during downtime, so I read a lot about their industry.

      They kept me as a temp for a month and then they let me go because I wasn’t “self-starting” enough. I’m really not sure, almost 15 years further into my career, what they expected me to do differently!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        My first job I was told to stay with my cash register. So I did. Then I got scolded for not cleaning the shelves. (Skip the part about how they had been wiped down by other people at least five times that day.) So I started wiping down the shelves. Then I got scolded for leaving my register. Each time I was told, “Do you want this job or no?” Naively, I hung in there and tried to make it work out okay. They fired me. When they tried to hire me back the following year, it was so very satisfying to say no thanks.
        On my scale of mind-dulling, soul sucking jobs, that one was #2 for me.

    3. BluntBunny*

      I had a job where there were down times and I would get up an excel spreadsheet or PDF, and listen to music and just stare at the screen and move the mouse occasionally. Sometimes I would listen to comedy specials on YouTube which was good because they were 20-40 mins long so didn’t have to look down on my phone also didn’t get bored of listening to the same songs. Also it maybe worth seeing if they could have an office radio on low volume which they can turn down if they get a customer. Some stations have radio games, news, call ins and sport of course.

  15. AthenaC*

    So …. I’d be tempted to tell the boss that the book I’m reading is NOT for a class (in fact, I just dropped the class!) but this textbook is just oh-so-fascinating that I am freely choosing to read it. Who would know any different?

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Yeah, I am the type who would actually do this – I used to read my sisters’ text books for fun (they were older, so it was more advanced material. I am such a nerd!

      1. allathian*

        Me too! I read our huge Caxton’s encyclopedia in 22 volumes around that age. It took me about a month to read a volume, and I read plenty of other stuff as well.

  16. MistOrMister*

    I wonder how they feel about sleeping on the job. Because I can guarantee if I had nothing to do all day besides stare at the wall I would be asleep constantly!!

    I had a job yeard back where they knew there wasn’t enough work and they tokd us, you can do whatever you want in your downtime. I’d read or do puzzles and my coworker would read. No one cared at all because there was literally nothing to do.

  17. LW*

    Thank you for responding! I was genuinely unsure if I was way out in left field for thinking the situation was weird/illogical.

    Husband found out later from a colleague that the HR rep has a history of “my way or the highway” attitudes. His manager has only been in a management position for about a year. Looking at it now, he thinks she had no idea that HR would follow up so strictly.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Honestly it sounds like branch management (maybe even the previous manager) has allowed reading on the job when the HR policy prohibits it. Somehow HR found out your husband was reading (for school) on the job and got reprimanded because of HR’s strict interpretation of the rules.

      1. LW*

        That’s the thing…HR found out about it from his manager. I still have no idea why she went from “reading is fine” to “BUT NOT TEXTBOOKS”.

        1. JB*

          Here would be my guess at what happened, having worked in several banks in front-line positions:

          There was probably a secret shopper involved. Not a real, hired, external secret shopper, but a manager from another branch. Maybe your husband recalls someone who came in and asked about interest rates or products? (This was usually their focus at all the larger banks I’ve worked for – very funny at one particulr bank when I got the secret shopper because I was a float teller for most of my career, knew all the managers in the district quite well, and we’d both just pretend like I didn’t know them.)

          Secret shopper saw your husband reading/putting away a book and reported it back to the meetings where they review these sorts of things.

          The head of the district or management team or whatever speaks to your husband’s manager. ‘It’s slow so he reads during downtime’ sounds bad, so the manager says, ‘he’s reading for homework’ because for very stupid reasons that can sometimes go better with upper management and she’s trying to save him a reprimand.

          She’s told ‘absolutely no reading’ in response. She doesn’t want to tell your husband ‘absolutely no reading’ because she knows she’s going to start hemorraging front-line staff if they have to just sit and stare at the wall all day. So instead she comes up with ‘no reading textbooks’ because she can justify to herself that that’s what the conversation was about, right? She said he was specifically reading textbooks, they’re talking about him reading textbooks. So if it comes back later, she might be able to claim she misunderstood and thought that it was the textbook part that was the problem.

          Meanwhile, she is unaware or does not understand that HR has also been looped in and is going to deliver their own reprimand.

          Honestly, most of this is business as usual, especially if the bank he works at is pretty large. The place where things went off the rails was where he told HR he had been allowed to read before. I’m not sure if this is his first customer service type position but that’s never going to go over well. The HR rep was entirely unprofessional but not exactly wrong in saying he should have been able to ‘put 2 and 2 together’ and realize this was an unofficial policy that he shouldn’t be using to defend himself, especially if he’s an adult who’s worked in customer service positions in the USA before.

          1. GrumpyGnome*

            I agree with much of your interpretation of what may have happened, but I feel it’s unfair to say that he should have put 2 and 2 together. His supervisor expressly told him that he was allowed to read, why would he doubt that was accurate? No job I’ve worked at in insurance have I ever seen an official written policy that states we could not read during down time (not saying it isn’t there for others, but I’ve worked for two huge insurers so far and that’s always something that has been at the discretion of the supervisor). I think it was reasonable to point out that he’d been given permission to do so and HR was unnecessarily condescending to say what they did.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Hard agree about the secret shoppers in banks.

            When my husband and I were looking for a mortgage, we stopped at our bank. The woman there literally laughed at us. “You think with that level income you can get a loan? hahahaha. No one wants you! hahaha.” And she went on and on like this.

            We got a loan somewhere else.

            About a year later my father passed and I had a life insurance check. I went looking for a new bank for us. We stopped at a bank near my workplace and we spoke with the lady there. I asked a bunch of questions about how they handle things based on my lousy experience with the previous bank. Throughout the conversation, this woman kept asking us if we were a shop.

            It felt like I had to convince her we were not a shop before I could get REAL customer service. These shops do companies NO favors. What they see is a snapshot and not the surrounding context. And the employees become so focused on “passing” a shop that customer service becomes secondary.

            Way too many words there, OP. My punchline is that IF the bank is so reliant on these shops to manage their employees then this only raises the need to get out of there sooner.

            In an odd turnaround, the woman at the second bank KNEW the woman who was so nasty about the mortgage loan at our previous bank. Apparently Ms. Nasty had been behaving this way for YEARS and it was well known in the banking community of the surrounding area what this woman was doing to people.

            1. Regular Human Accountant*

              I do mystery shopping, and even if I’d been there on a shop I’d have had to convince the employee it wasn’t a shop or I wouldn’t have been paid for it. I would have also written on my report that she asked. I’m a pretty generous report-writer and try to give best marks when possible, but the way to give good customer service is not by making it seem like you’re only doing it because you’ll get in trouble otherwise!

          3. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            I was going to say that it sounded like someone from upper management saw the book and said something, and that’s what started the whole thing.

            Really, the manager needs to say, “Look, I get that the book may not look great on the surface, but our branch is so slow that my staff are going to climb the walls without something else to do.” Because maybe they could have some cross-training on other assignments. If this branch is so slow, maybe they should have jacks of all trades who do more than just work as tellers.

            Regardless, the formal reprimand is totally overkill for a first time offense.

    2. Kes*

      Yeah I was going to say, it seems like his manager just wanted to give some level of warning that it might not be okay and mentioned it to HR and the rep just decided to come down hard on him.
      What I think is more important is ensuring he and his manager are on the same page about what is and isn’t okay during downtimes, and have that conversation, and if he and his manager are good then hopefully HR won’t get involved in the first place

    3. Working with professionals*

      It might be a case where the manager feels that he is getting the degree at her. I’ve had some aggressive reactions when I mentioned advanced degrees. It always seemed that the person had the same desire but life went a different way and being reminded of that caused them to take their feelings out on me.

    4. Little Fox*

      Hi LW,
      Back in the day I was in a very similar situation to your husband. I worked as a bank teller at an extremely slow branch. We were open extended hours and only actually got busy in the 5-8pm timeframe. We also experienced similar issues with what we were and weren’t allowed to do during the day when we could go 3 or 4 hours and never see a customer.

      If we were reading, we were distracted. If we did college classwork = distracted. If we were quietly chitchatting = distracted. If we were doing corporate training classes = distracted….you get the picture. What finally worked for us was getting a new manager who understood the situation. People aren’t robots. I don’t think we are meant to just sit and stare into space and only come to life when a customer walks up.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It sounds like the manager was trying to do things right [alerting HR that there was a formal discussion in place]. To put it into place, in the event your husband decided to just say “LOL no” and keep reading textbooks and it had to esculate. I’m sure the bank has strict procedures about how they deal with releasing an employee if they were to become truly insubordinate.

      And the manager didn’t know or remember they’re bending rules in the first place letting him read in the first place. So the HR watchdog took that bait and ran with it all over your husband.

      It’s messy and uncool of both manager and HR for not being on the same track! But that’s my best bengin reasoning I can think of that I could absolutely see happening in all the things I’ve seen in my time. I’ve had managers tell me about one incident and include some other information that was also an issue that should have also been taken care of in that meeting. But as HR, I correct it with the manager and tell the manager they need to go back and do their job again and fix the issues. In this case, it would have been “Wait he can read but not textbooks? No, he can’t read at all. You need to stop allowing that, I’m not writing someone up for just textbooks when the rule is no reading.” [You don’t take that bone and go to the person who is being reprimanded though, that’s over stepping and overkill…and literally the reason we have managers, they can go back and deliver the bad news they just found out and also get retrained if necessary.]

      I’m really sorry your husband got caught in their crosshairs on this one. Yikes. Sounds like it’s a small slow branch with “tweaked” rules for their own circumstances to me. Then they wanted to go to HR about this to “do the right thing” and didn’t remember, gurl you tweaked the rules!!! You can’t do that and also bring in the HR pose who never signed off on it!!!

    6. Ellie*

      It is weird and illogical, but I had a job at a checkout at one point with a similar rule. Even when the shop was completely empty, you could not read because it ‘looked unprofessional’. You were expected to clean, or tidy your workstation instead. Even if you’d just cleaned it 5 minutes ago, and it sparkled in the sun. It was hell.

      Your husband’s manager sucks for making this into a formal process. If I was him I’d mention the formal reprimand to her, and that since HR has told him he cannot read anything now, is there something else that he can do to fill the time? Push the problem back onto her. It might be useful information for her on how to handle things in the future, because this sucks for everyone.

      And work to get out as fast as you can.

    7. I'm just here for the cats*

      I think the whole thi g with the textbooks is that the manager feels jealous or inadequate and maybe that your husband is after her job.
      I’m thinking the HR thing was maybe she asked for guidence and they came down hard because there is some corporate policy with reading. And the HR person was just a jerk. If they have a handbook I would have your husband read THAT! See if he can find anything that says no reading. If he can’t I would go back to HR and say there’s no written policy so he wants the reprimand gone.

  18. Elenia*

    We as a society are so disgusting when it comes to this kind of job.
    Don’t read, it might look bad.
    Don’t sit, it might look bad.
    Don’t do other work that is not work-related, it might look bad.

    The sitting one really pisses me off. Why can’t cashiers have a little stool? It is EXHAUSTING to stand all day. We literally don’t respect people.

    1. Rayray*

      I agree. It’s ridiculous that appearances matter so much. So long as someone puts down the book and is ready to help customers when they come to the desk, what’s the big deal? And I agree on the seats too. My credit union actually does give the tellers seats and it must be so much better than standing all day.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      I got in trouble once for sitting on a high stool to ring up purchases.

      The store floor was CONCRETE.

      Terrible workplace.

    3. AngelicGamer, the Visually Impared Peep*

      I got so much flack for needing a stool when I had a honest-to-Deity broken bone that was caused on the job by slipping going up to the registers.

    4. CopyCat*

      In Europe, the check-out workers at grocery stores are seated. Actually, they are at Aldi’s too, right?

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        Yep, it’s one of the reasons I really like supporting Aldi’s (plus, they’re really reasonably priced!)

      2. allathian*

        Yeah, I was always seated when I worked as a cashier in a grocery store as a student. That said, I’m in Finland and here customers are expected to pack their own shopping, so there’s no need for the cashier to be able to reach very far.

    5. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      The Aldi grocery chain did a study and found that seated cashiers rang thinks up faster. All their stores got chairs. Not stools. Nice comfy ergo chairs. I had an injured knee complete with brace on and had to fight management to have a stool to lean on at the end of a 2nd shift. I left it as “I can’t stand up on it any more. Would you like me to leave now or lean against the stool until my shift ends in 30 minutes?”

      1. Elenia*

        And Aldi’s cashiers are FAST! I saw this funny meme:
        Aldi’s cashier
        Meat: Scan, YEET!
        Fruit: Scan, YEET!
        Bread: gently place bread on basket
        Veggies: Scan, YEET!

    6. Ann Perkins*

      My partner works in manufacturing. He was talking about designing the line, and said something and I was like, “Why not design it so they can sit?” He said, “I asked, my boss said no, they aren’t being paid to sit”

      I was reduced to sputtering and swearing, of all the illogical, callous bullshit – it’s so insulting.

    7. mayfly*

      When I worked at a movie theater in high school, my manager told me to pretend to clean during downtimes even if everything was clean, rather than read a book, because it looked better to customers.

        1. Who Am I*

          That’s the first thing that went through my mind when I read the post! I hated that phrase so much.

    8. mf*

      Yeah, this attitude is gross and rampant in hourly service and retail jobs. So many businesses care more about appearances than their employees’ comfort, safety, and productivity.

    9. Ellen Ripley*

      I posted upthread about my seasonal job at a fireworks store where we had to ‘look busy’ when there wasn’t anything to do. On the very busy days, like around the fourth of July, they were open 12+ hours a day and restocked at night after closing. I worked a few 10+-hour shifts as a cashier and asked at some point about using a stool for part of my shift. Nope, it would ‘look bad’! My coworker, who had just had knee surgery, and was one of their most trusted and long-time employees, had to get special permission to bring a little stool in, and even that was given begrudgingly. I can deal with being on my feet walking and moving around for that long, but standing in one place for that long is really hard on you, even if you wear supportive shoes, compression socks, etc.

    10. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I honestly cannot stand all day long. I have orthostatic intolerance. I can walk around and be on my feet that way for extended periods of time, but if I stand still for a long time, I pass out. Not planning on trying it for the sake of “optics.”

  19. anonlurkerappa*

    to address the ‘what is he supposed to do all day, stare at the wall’ concern. Podcasts and audio books? Get a nice set of wireless BT headphones that look somewhat subtle/discreet, and listen though one ear bud?

    Some BT headphones out there have some fancy features these days which allow you to switch between ‘listen to the music’ and ‘listen to the ambient sound/someone talking to you’ with just a tap, without taking the earbuds out.

    1. Kittymcmiaowface*

      There are bone conduction headphones that sit outside your ears which would be useful in this situation. Unless you are an endlessly fidgeting person who can’t even listen to a fascinating podcast or watch TV without your hands doing a thing.

  20. PeanutButter*

    Ugh. I’ve had so many jobs where I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t allowed to read during downtime. Reminds me of when I was getting my Paramedic AAS – I was working Night Audit at a small hotel, so I was the only employee on the property for 8 hours, and most guests were checked in by the time I got there. My manager specifically said she liked to hire students for NA because we wouldn’t go to sleep, we’d be up studying. Once a guest who didn’t like that I wouldn’t rent him the jacuzzi suite (since, you know, another guest had ALREADY BOOKED IT) called back to complain to her that I was reading when he walked in. She thanked him for letting her know that I was awake and available to assist guests even at 0300 hours, and that she “always loved hearing compliments about her employees!” We had a good laugh about it when our work hours next overlapped, apparently he got pretty angry.

    1. Batgirl*

      These are the customers who cause these problems; dealing with them only requires a little spirit!

    2. Not So NewReader*

      This is excellent. Hopefully, it will inspire others to have the same big picture thinking.

  21. Anonymeece*

    OP, not the question you asked, but your husband might look into digital textbooks. If they don’t have a problem with him reading the news on his computer, then … well, then.

    (Obviously don’t do this if you’re not willing to take a chance that husband’s manager will notice, but just a suggestion.)

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I was going to say this too. He could read them on a tablet. Customers do not know it is not work related, since many people use tablets in their work. I think it would be better to try this than reading them on the work computer, since that can be monitored and will make it really obvious that he is flouting the policy. And if his manager asks what he is doing, he can say he is just checking the news or something. Or, if he is worried about her, he could just read non school related ebooks on the tablet (though I would still recommend he conceal from her that that is what he is doing – with HR on the warpath).

  22. Governmint Condition*

    Is anybody else reminded of the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last” with Burgess Meredith? In it, he works in a bank, and is always sneaking off to read books and getting yelled at by his boss for it. Until the day an A-bomb goes off while he’s hiding in the underground vault, giving him all the time in the world to read since he’s the only person alive.

    I always thought neither he nor the boss were 100% right, since he was reading on company time, and the boss despised the employee’s reading, even during lunch time. For the scenario in the letter, I can understand this policy if the employee is customer-facing, especially if the setup allows customers a clear view of the reading material.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      A classic episode, though you omitted the tragic ending. Not the nuclear holocaust. The tragedy after that.

        1. meyer lemon*

          I wonder if this one has made it into “Rosebud” territory by now. I haven’t even seen the episode and I know what the ending is.

      1. Ey-not-Cy*

        This is my favorite episode but also the most heartbreaking for me–I’m a librarian who loves to read. And no, I don’t get to read at my desk all day, sigh.

        1. Temperance*

          That one kills me, too. Just like, the poor man FINALLY can read, and no one can fix his damn glasses.

        2. Librolover*

          If it’s the one I’m thinking of, yeah, Simpsons made jokes about it two or three times, so I think yeah it would be up there

      2. KoiFeeder*

        Filed under twilight zone episodes my dad showed me to convince me of things (in this case, to not sit so close to the TV, because then I would need glasses).

    2. Nana*

      In my youth, I met Burgess Meredith (a lovely man, BTW) and he said that was the acting job most people commented on when they met him.

    3. BenAdminGeek*

      Love that episode! I often think about the end of the world in the context of that poor man.

  23. shuu_iam*

    I wonder if the boss thought studying on the job was equivalent to applying to other jobs during work? Since what the LW’s doing is something that’s meant to lead to a different career eventually, I could understand a boss feeling supportive of it in the abstract but thinking that it shouldn’t be happening during work hours. While reading novels or other similar things without career implications felt more neutral.

    (To be clear, I’m not saying this was the right choice from the boss – if LW’s going to study either way, making sure it can’t happen during work hours is just inconveniencing them for no real gain. But I can understand where the impulse to feel weird about it came from.)

    1. LW*

      That’s a fair point! It felt very out of left field, but I can see how going from abstract to a physcial textbook could have felt “different” to his manager.

      1. not owen wilson*

        OP, I hate to advise your husband to be sneaky, but also…. if the issue is the optics of the physical textbook there are definitely ways around it. A lot of textbooks are available as loose leaf copies, which can then be kept in a three ring binder and they won’t read as a textbook in the same way a physical book will. I think he could also make photocopies of a chapter at a time (especially if he gets a print fund allowance from his university — this may not be applicable if it’s fully online though). While the copies may get expensive, this would allow him to annotate and highlight sections without risking additional charges on rented books. Finally, if they’re okay with him spending time on his computer, can he look into PDF copies of his textbooks? I graduated last May, and I definitely downloaded copies of my textbook to read on my computer. They may be available from the manufacturer, or he may be able to find them…. elsewhere online, if you know what I mean. Good luck! I hope your husband is able to complete his masters and find a new job soon.

        1. bubbleon*

          unless your job involves lots of work in three ring binders, a loose leaf book held together that way would signal school more than a regularly bound version. PDFs online are probably the best way to go

          1. Batgirl*

            Yeah you have to be mindful of anything that looks too scholarly. I’ve definitely printed off pages and stapled them into work booklets though. Copying and pasting someway down into the text of an approved topic also works.

  24. Rayray*

    As a customer, I wouldn’t think much of it if a teller or receptionist or anyone really had a textbook. Better they study during downtime than stare at the wall.

    I remember talking with the salesman when I bought my mattress about it. He was in school and worked there because there was so much downtime he could get all of his homework and studying done in between customers and I actually was kinda impressed by that. I got to thinking that if I ever did decide to go to grad school, I’d definitely want to try finding a job at the mattress firm too.

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      I’d be more creeped out to enter an empty bank and find both tellers staring vacantly ahead like they were those head-and-torso carnival fortune telling machines! It takes a lot of entitlement to be mad that someone was reading for 0.05 seconds before greeting as helping you.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, the whole thing reminded me of the AI programs in Tron: Legacy that were only activated when there was someone there.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      The trick is for the teller to immediately look up from the book as the customer approaches, and to be cheerful about it. The customer ought not be made to feel that their presence is an imposition. Not everyone can pull this off, and the easy way to manage this badly is to avoid the actual problem with a blanket ban.

      1. PeanutButter*

        Yeah, when I was NA at a hotel, I sat so I was facing the doors. I could look up as soon as I heard the outer doors open and kept the desk clear to my right so I could immediately slide my texts/notes/flashcards/the whole kit ‘n kaboodle to the side while standing up and greeting the person who just came in.

    3. katertot*

      Yep I was thinking the same thing- I would never be upset if someone was studying especially somewhere with sporadic busy/quiet times.
      I worked as a receptionist at a real estate office in grad school and at times it could be super quiet but they needed phone coverage- so I had my textbooks out when it was quiet and no one ever said anything to me, but they also hired me knowing I was going to grad school so I think it was expected. Saying “no textbooks” seems like they’re trying to block advancement or stop him from learning which when you say it out loud sounds absurd.

    4. mf*

      If anything, I’d be impressed to find a teller or salesperson or receptionist studying and doing homework. Good for them for accomplishing something in their downtime. As a society, we ought to value education enough to encourage this kind of thing.

    5. Shad*

      If I noticed at all, I’d definitely think positively of a company that lets service workers read/study/have flexibility between customers.

    6. Nana*

      Worked with a man who was working on his law degree, little by little. He was the parking attendant at my office (small lot, self-parking, keep away outsiders, help with packages). Sat at the entrance with a bridge table and book. Said it was the best job he ever had in school!

  25. Tracy*

    This can be a big challenge based on circumstances. There has to be a solution that can be collectively decided upon.

    I once had a coworker that had enough free time to read romance novels at her desk. This was a busy office environment but the people she was supporting at the time were pretty independent and were also in the process of retiring, so projects were winding down for her.

    I had a very difficult time with that as we were going through the initial phases of an ISO certification at the time and I felt like I was literally drowning with that work and also my routine office work. I eventually discussed with my boss and we worked together with my coworker and her boss to more equitably share the administrative duties. It did end up working out well.

  26. Ann O'Nemity*

    I wonder if the manager previously okayed occasional light reading (perhaps even against bank policy) to deal with particularly long stretches of downtime, but then realized it needed to be walked back when the OP’s husband started spending too much time studying. Why did the manager change their mind? Maybe the OP’s husband gets too engrossed in studying, and/or doesn’t transition to customer-serving quickly enough. Maybe the manager is worried that the studying violates bank policies too flagrantly and wants to CYA. Heck, maybe the manager just misses talking to him as a way to pass the time!

    The whole verbal warning and HR paperwork sounds like it was clumsily handled, but that may be just another instance of CYA. Or an over zealous HR.

  27. Quickbeam*

    I just think it it the optics. As a night nurse I was not allowed to knit on my meal break because “someone might see”. There is a lot of that around in this world.

    1. anonymous just in case*


      Sorry. My boss is sympathetic but constrained by the martinets in the dean’s office who don’t have any idea about what we actually do.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        The nicest thing about working from home is I don’t have to pretend to be busy for optics reasons when I have literally nothing to do. However, I temped for a number of years before finally getting a permanent job, so I have learned how to look very busy even while having literally nothing to do. I think it saved me from a few layoffs.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      *on your meal break* *at night*! I’m now curious what that person thought would happen if someone had seen you on your break, at night, knitting.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Managers who have a spinal column can say, “She is on her break.”
      Simple, yet for some so very hard.

    4. PersephoneUnderground*

      And this is why I hate “optics” as a concept. It gets used for lazy management and to regularly abuse staff in jobs where the employees have limited other options.
      Personal story, when I worked as a hostess with a sprained ankle:
      Management: Oh no, you can’t perch on a stool behind the host stand because the customers can’t see your walking cast! It will look bad to them! It’s fair because the last person in this situation got the same answer!
      Me: (So just treat us all better instead?…And expect customers to not make negative assumptions with no evidence? And if they do we just tell them I’m injured? Sheesh.)

  28. MissMs*

    I had a part time job waiting tables at a very slow restaurant. We would all sit at a table and read the paper together, but as soon as I pulled my chemistry notes out they’d tell me to go wipe the window sills or clean the A/C vents. I had a part time job at a university where I had a lot of down time. I got a note on my review that there was “too much focus on homework”. I was a cashier at a grocery store and left my chemistry notes on the break table and had to go back and knock on the door to get them when the stockers were mopping – they weren’t happy. It seems that, for some reason, some ppl don’t like to see others studying at work.

  29. Mojo021*

    Definitely look for a digital copy of his text book, that way he can read on the computer and not have the physical text book.

  30. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean. Is he supposed to use his downtime to clean???

    This is so bizarre. I would not last long in a job that required me to stare at a blank screen for hours at a time. Especially if I then had to come home and work on my schoolwork until late at night. They are afraid that he will get his degree and leave? well, they just went and pretty much ensured that it will happen.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Yes! And that saying is for jobs where there’s always something to do/clean. I don’t expect a bank teller to do the level of cleaning I did in retail or food service. And lobbies don’t get as messy as a good-sized boutique store that sells toys (I hope!).

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I was being sarcastic… Should’ve added an /s because these days, you never know.
          I’ve never seen a bank teller cleaning, and would not expect one to.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            Oh, I know! But I could see people who might not get the difference between retail vs. bank customer-facing roles.

    1. Batgirl*

      I’m wondering if there are customers who pick up on that vibe and think: “this is the place for me!
      “Joyless, inflexible and pettily bureaucratic!”

  31. Always Late to the Party*

    I am getting “Accountant who hassled LW about paying extra for guacamole” vibes from this HR person.

  32. Cascadia*

    One of my favorite jobs was for 3 years in college – I worked at the front desk of one of the dorms on campus. We sorted mail, got people packages, rented out sports equipment and movies, and served as general customer service. There were some busy shifts, but during the evenings or early mornings (we were open 24/7!) you were definitely allowed to do homework or read or whatever. We could even watch movies on the computer for our overnight shifts, as long as we kept the volume low. Granted we were all college students, serving college students, but it was still pretty great. I did a LOT of my college homework at work, and would specifically sign up for the evening shifts just so I could get paid to do my homework.

    1. Esmeralda*

      My brother had a job in college working in the stacks in the library, overnight shift. He started at midnight, finished his work by 2 am, and then either did homework or slept.

      He still says it was his best job ever.

    2. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

      Many, many years ago, I worked as a lab monitor in the journalism school computer lab in college. Unlike most of the labs on campus, this one was restricted to J-school students and faculty only. We were definitely allowed to read, study, work on our own assignments, and do stuff on the Internet during our shifts. It was great!!

    3. Squidhead*

      My college (20 years ago) used this criteria to determine the pay scale of work-study jobs: how much skill was required (like playing the college bells) and how much downtime there was. So bell-ringing did pay the best because of skills but working in the dining hall paid better than working at the library desk because you definitely couldn’t do homework on the serving line but you might get a chance at the desk.

    4. yala*

      lol, my buddy had that job too. He watched SO many movies and read a ton of books.

      For me, I got a temp job once at a company that did oil rig inspection. For about 90% of the time, I was the only person in the office, and my only duties were answering the phone and collecting/sorting the mail.

      I had a professor who once said there was no such thing as a dream job unless it’s a job where you wake up and there’s a bag of gold at the foot of your bed every day. I kind of called that one my “bag of gold” job. Granted, it paid barely above minimum wage, and the owners were nice good ol’ boys with…not great boundaries (wanting hugs, making comments about my relationship with my housemate). But man, I got a lot read/drawn/watched. Was glad to leave it behind tho.

    5. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I worked the main library circulation desk when I was in grad school. At first it was most definitely the kind of job where you could study and check your email during your downtime but at some point in the second year the library head decided she didn’t like that and invented menial tasks for us to do while at our posts. (Isn’t the point of a library job in college/grad school that you can study while doing it?) We were pretty annoyed about it. At one point I got reprimanded for checking my email. It was during the week after Sept 11 and I hadn’t checked my email all day (because in the early 2000s I didn’t have internet at home and no one had smartphones, of course) and I was trying to, you know, communicate with friends and family about how the world had just fallen apart. NGL, I was so furious about not being allowed two minutes to check my email that I cried and had to skip the seminar I had after my shift. (It being closely following Sept 11 may also have played into this, of course.)

  33. Jennifer Strange*

    I worked for eight weeks in the box office of an opera company where at least 90% of the seats had already been booked by annual subscribers. There were five of us in there at any given time, and only one computer had internet (it also had a fairly addictive game called Peggle). I even remember one Saturday where we didn’t have a single walk-up sale or phone call. I’m not exaggerating when I say that in those eight weeks I read at least ten books. Most of us did, and the vast majority of customers who did come by were pretty understanding (I even remember having a conversation with one of them about In Cold Blood).

  34. Deschain*

    Banks can be really ridiculous. I worked at the main branch of a large bank in MS years ago and they were very rigid about everything (specific break times, dress code, no decorations in our teller windows, and once they wouldn’t allow an employee the morning off to be with her military husband as he was shipping out (she quit, of course)). When I started working as a floating teller and went to much smaller branches, all those rules were broken constantly and most of the branches didn’t even know that they existed! My favorite branch had lavish decorations for every holiday, including at the teller windows, and daily runs for meals and snacks whenever we wanted, and most of the staff wore capris.

  35. Seal*

    How ridiculous. If the manager didn’t already know the OP’s husband was taking classes, how would they have known he was reading something for class? While I was working on an English major for my BA, I regularly brought whatever I was reading for class – mostly novels and anthologies – to work to read on my breaks and at lunch. If my boss didn’t know I was taking classes (work paid for them, so he had to sign the paperwork), he would have had no idea I was doing schoolwork. For that matter, when I was pursuing one of my masters degrees, I took a course in project management. The textbook for the course creatively titled “Project Management”, but due to the nature of my job at the time it could easily have been something I was reading for work. Sorry for the cliche, but you really can’t judge a book by its cover.

  36. Seashells*

    Sure you can read a book at work as long as it’s not educational. Perhaps The National Enquirer would be ok?

    Our HR person is equally as abrasive as they one in the OP and I wonder why they want to work in a field that works directly with “humans” when it’s obvious they don’t even like humans. If they really needed to document the verbal warning, it would have been much easier to do as someone suggested above and used language such as “per our conversation”.

    1. Self Employed*

      It’s weird that most of the HR departments I’ve had at jobs have been like that–but I know at least three HR people through business (they went back to work in HR after the rent went up on the boutique, etc.) are perfectly lovely.

      And I know some social workers (as neighbors and staff at my apartments) who hate either all people or people who remind them of their clients.

  37. whistle*

    Geez, I used to be a line cook, which is an “If you have time to lean you have time to clean” environment, and even then we were allowed to read or do homework or whatever on really slow days. I just can’t wrap my mind around the HR/company position here.

  38. MsMaryMary*

    I had a couple temp jobs as a receptionist where I was not allowed to do anything except answer the phone and greet guests. One desk didn’t even have a computer and one had a computer but it wasn’t connected to the internet (I did play a lot of solitaire and create some pretty pictures in MS Paint on that one). I think it is optics, like Quickbeam says above. They wanted clients and visitors to have someone immediately available to them. I was working two jobs: the receptionist one from 7:30 to 4:00 and then retail for a baseball team from 5:00 or 5:30 until whenever. I’m not sure the receptionist dozing off from a combination of sleep deprivation and boredom is better optics, but that wasn’t my call.

  39. Camellia*

    This is stupid, but I sympathize. It’s work, they can make any rules they want. How to survive? One wireless ear bud in one ear. “Oh, that’s my new hearing aid.” Now listen to audio books or music or anything else you like.

  40. Maltypass*

    As a long time retail worker unfortunately it’s true employers really do be like this. I have spent so, so many hours with nothing, (and I mean nothing), to do, and the higher ups legit do not care as long as you ‘look’ available. At one point I had an assistant manager who was so vigilant about this that when I came in on a morning she would walk over, tell me all the tasks were done, there was nothing to do, so stay in my area, and she would refuse to make conversation, (we were the only 2 there and the shop was tiny), so we would just stand in silence all day staring ahead and naturally if any tasks came up she’d take them without a word. I have never come so close to just walking out of a job on the spot as I did with her

    I wish your husband luck in his studies!

      1. Maltypass*

        Our manager did tell her she needed to engage more with staff, try asking how our weekends were for example, and she reportedly replied, ‘but I don’t care how their weekends were’, so I’m not entirely convinced she wasn’t a robot

  41. Mary Smith*

    One of my early retirement goals in 7 years is to find a part-time “reading job” where they need someone to just be there and do things sometimes, but the rest of the time I could read.

    1. PeanutButter*

      Look up night audit positions in hotels. I had a good gig during school at a mid-level chain. (think $90-$120/night) That meant it was too expensive for the really wild characters, but not ritzy enough for super demanding customers. Just a lot of businesspeople and families making a pit stop on their way to someplace else. All they wanted was a clean, quiet place to rest and a continental breakfast in the morning. The vast, vast majority of nights I had <1hr of steady work, and then maaaaybe 1 more hour of work spread out over the rest of the night (checking in late arrivals, closing the books for the night, doing a few circuits of the halls and stairs to make sure everything was in order, etc.) Other than the abysmal pay, it was perfect. The other night auditor was a freelance programmer and did his projects while working.

  42. cheeky*

    I think it’s silly to allow reading for pleasure but forbid textbooks. The optics of either seem the same to me, except for the concern that he looks like he’s trying to leave his job. Personally, if I walked into a bank and saw a teller casually reading a book, I’d have some questions. Sure doesn’t give the impression one is actually working.

    1. Batgirl*

      Inteeresting point about it reflecting that he’s trying to leave. That is one insecure manager. Maybe he should replace the textbooks with one of those “You don’t have to be crazy to work here..” signs

    2. allathian*

      Well, there’s nothing to do, that’s the point. They’re essentially there to serve customers when they come in.

    3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I do not think it would prompt any questions from me, unless customers were being neglected or there was something obvious that needed to be done, like tidying up. Most customer based roles will have ebb and flow of activity. I would just assume they had no work to do until I walked in.

  43. fhqwhgads*

    As for this He could even ask his manager directly what options are permissible. I’m not sure I’d put much stock in that given the manager has already said contradictory things. Seems like there’s no winning, not even in the asking and then acting based on the response.

  44. dobradziewczynka*

    it’s stupid but there is an art to looking “busy” when you’re not. The mistake here was sadly that OP’s husband was open about it. You see what the company’s culture is – I would not suggest talking to his supervisor or coworkers about… not going to go well.

  45. agnes*

    I think this was a “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation unfortunately. I suspect HR is not OK with any reading while at work and once they found out about it, it became an “issue.” I’m sorry. This bank branch sounds like a prime candidate for the “virtual teller” option.

    I wonder if there is any chance of doing any online reading for your class?

  46. HBJ*

    I had a job like this once. People came in at the beginning and you tallied the books at the end, and the rest of the four-hour shift you had nothing except a few people who came in the middle.

    There’s only so clean a tiny office can get. So people browsed the internet. Too much bandwidth/gigs were being used (they didn’t have unlimited internet, and this was before the days of widespread smartphone ownership) so they locked down the internet so the only websites you could access was theirs and your email (they only allowed email so you could receive the schedule). So people brought books, crossword puzzles, etc. So then all of that was banned, but you could still do homework/study. And then homework was banned, too, for some reason. And then the boss complained because people were looking bored out of their skulls during the shift. … You expected?

    Homework was allowed again after that.

    1. allathian*

      Well, at least this boss recognized that employees are humans and not robots who can sit and stare into space indefinitely without looking bored.

  47. irene adler*

    Ridiculous! The work is getting done and customers are happy! Management is not pleased with that?

    Even so, the supervisor should step up and create some tasks for the OP’s husband to do during the down time if he is not supposed to kill that time doing anything else but stare into space.

    It would be amusing if the customer feedback from this point forward expressed concern for OP’s husband. As in, “[OP’s husband’s name] still provides great customer service, but needs to be treated better by management.” Yeah, I know, it’ll never happen.

  48. C'est Moi*

    I was the C Suite receptionist at a large bank. I was not allowed to read, write, drink (even coffee) or speak unless someone spoke to me first. All I was allowed to do was sit and stare at the wall in front of me all day.

    1. thatoneoverthere*

      I knew someone that worked in big banking as a receptionist and it was the same. She couldn’t even speak above a whisper in common areas to co-workers.

  49. thatoneoverthere*

    I wonder if a district manager or someone higher up saw him reading and came down on the manager for it. I know banking is not retail but it falls in line bc of the customer service angle. I saw stuff like this happen tons of times in retail. The worker would do something that the manager allowed and then the district manager saw, and suddenly the worker was thrown under the bus.

    If it were me, I might be sneaky and photo copy my pages and bring them to work to read. But hey I am petty like that.

    1. A lawyer*

      I had the same idea, make the textbook look like a work packet of papers. Or take pictures of every page, convert it to a PDF, and read it that way. Malicious compliance, kind of.

  50. Bob*

    Is this their way of trying to keep him from leaving someday?
    Is the HR person on a power trip?
    Do they have policies that are poorly communicated?
    Do they think that they can ban away anything inconvenient and reality will bend to make your husband magically busy?

  51. blink14*

    In normal times, when I was in the office every day (higher ed), I read during my lunch break. I very occasionally would read outside of that if it was a slow day and no one else was around, ready to respond to a phone call or email.

    In a previous job that was a long term temp assignment, I started out as a receptionist in a secondary building that was used mostly for meetings, but also was an office space. Anyone who had their office there had a security badge to get in. I sat at the front desk for 8 hours – with a lunch break – and my sole job was to let people in who were setting up meetings or attending. I was told to bring a book or some other quiet activity as there would be a lot of down time. And there was! I read a ton in the time I was in that position.

  52. Fancy Owl*

    Reminds me when I was in college I worked for a solar company and worked the tables in different stores. Some of the stores we had deals with had very low foot traffic during certain times of day so when you worked alone it was incredibly boring. We had a tablet for work, that I knew better than to use the internet on so instead I opened up the notes application and just wrote things. It was very stream of consciousness. Sometime I transcribed the lyrics of the songs playing in the store. Sometimes I copied down the names of the products around me. Sometimes I wrote poems about those products. There were also rants about an emotionally abusive housemate. And grocery lists. When I finally was able to quit that job I emailed it to myself before wiping the tablet. A few years ago I came across it and read it again. You can feel the misery in every line. I hope they let OPs husband keep reading!

  53. Kenilf*

    Something is up! The supervisor is not being honest – it couldn’t have gone worse if she’d told him straight up that she’s coming up with a rationale to let him go, IMO. After (if!) he does have that follow up convo with her about permitted activities, he should recap the convo via an email he sends to her and then he should print it out and take that copy home.

    I hope for the best for him and hope he is prepping himself for the next role. I believe that she sees his continued education as a sign that he has decided that he won’t be working there after that course/degree….

    1. Self Employed*

      And a responsible manager would have a conversation about “how long is the degree going to take?” to know if they need to start recruiting for the end of the semester or 2-3 years down the road. Because of course pushing him out so she has to hire during the pandemic is the best idea for the business, right?

  54. Bookworm*

    Agree. I was in a somewhat similar situation where it was a bookstore (ironically) and I had been left alone on that particular floor. I had not been given any assignment and it was a slow period–no customers. So I sat down and thumbed through a book to be caught by a manger. He was horrified and promptly left, leaving me to be very confused as to what had provoked his reaction. But I had been given no assignment and we might not have had any customers at all that day, all day.

    As you can imagine, this being retail, this was a sign that this was a toxic workplace. I was wrong, to be clear. But I don’t think the manager handled it well, either. I think Alison’s answer, especially that last paragraph, nail it. Sorry that happened. :/

  55. KittyKai*

    Ugh, this is like when I worked as a teller. Lobby tellers couldn’t do anything to occupy themselves when it was slow as management thought that it looked bad for customers to see tellers do anything but help other customers. Drive up tellers like me were originally allowed to read as we weren’t in plain sight. That ended when a customer complained that they saw us reading when there were no customers. They also complained that we were sitting down. I ended up falling asleep several times out of boredom.

    1. Self Employed*

      What is the matter with people wanting tellers and clerks to stand up when they obviously have to be in one place? It’s not like they’re in an antique store full of knick-knacks that need to be carefully dusted or a plant boutique full of plants that need watering and trimming to look good.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        Formal business attire, standing up, and scarcely above minimum wage. You need to look good, but don’t forget you’re still servant class! *massive eye roll*

  56. Morning Glory*

    I had an internship like this a decade ago, it was an optics thing even though it was not customer-facing. I had a small window with project Gutenberg books up at all times. It didn’t jump out as non-work.

  57. JSPA*

    Is there new snooping technology? Any chance the supervisor was called on the carpet for allowing reading, tried to excuse the reading as “studying,” and was told studying was not OK, was told to tell your husband that? Could be the supervisor didn’t understand that the higher-ups were all “no reading ever,” or thought it better not to ask for clarification (at least, not from that specific HR person).

    It’s remotely possible that they’re taking Covid funding in some way, and that the funding specifies that the work hours must be spent “on work.” If it turns out to be situation-specific, I suppose husband could ask them for additional work duties, so he doesn’t go stir crazy.

    Alternatively, they’re trying to close the branch (those businesses that keep the branch afloat may not be afloat themselves!) and they may have a landing spot for the supervisor, but not for husband. At which point, making the job so miserable that he’ll quit–without any sort of harassment, of course!–may be exactly the plan.

  58. Everdene*

    This reminds me a little of exBoss. As we were both studying when I started, he said it was fine to do studying in quiet periods. Turns out he was not ok with me study At All. Even got upset that I studied during my lunch break that he insisted must last a while hour and was unpaid. If I’d finished eating I should use the time to docwork. Or proof read his most recent essay. I didn’t stick in that job long.

    In other jobs I have read ‘on the clock’. Quiet shops, call centres in off peak hours, nannying during afternoon nap time (never got very far in that job), while travelling for professional jobs. That reading has been a mix of study, reading for pleasure and proper gossip. The book shop encouraged us to test the stock when quiet so we could talk about them with customers.

  59. starsaphire*

    The author Mercedes Lackey started her writing career because she had a long-hours night-time job where the employees were all basically sitting around waiting for something to break… but they had a VERY strict no-reading rule.

    So she eventually brought in a notepad and a pencil, and, well…

    Me, I would go insane if I were not allowed to read in a situation like that. I’ve had quite a few jobs where study-between-customers was the expectation, and I loved those jobs. The customers never minded, either, but then it was a college town, so…

    1. LadySmalls*

      I had no idea that’s how she started, and she’s one of my all time favourite authors! Thanks for the fun fact!

    2. librarymouse*

      That’s exactly what I did! In college, I worked at a children’s museum during the breaks and after I graduated, I went back for over a year. I was used to the museum being swamped with tourists, locals, and summer camps but I found out quickly that a children’s museum isn’t exactly a hopping place when school’s in session. (3-4 thousand people a day in the summer vs 1-2 hundred a day in the fall)
      The way my job was though, i was scheduled to monitor and clean a specific exhibit for hours, often no where near any coworkers, and sometimes on slower days without seeing a guest the entire shift. For a while it was bearable because it was a museum and I could read, reread, watch, and rewatch everything in that exhibit (I’m now an expert on the history of Sesame Street lol) but that got old quick and then I would try a bunch of silly things to keep my mind occupied like trying to memorize song lyrics and stuff.
      Then one day management introduced little notebooks and pens into each exhibit so we could report things that we noticed needed fixing (re: a light is out, an artifact tipped over in its case etc) so one particularly slow afternoon, I went around my entire exhibit space while cleaning and noted these things and turned in the sheet to my manager.
      (Nothing I noted was ever fixed by the time I left btw)
      Then I realized that no one stopped me writing down those things, so I just kept standing in my exhibits alone and spending my long lonely shifts writing and tearing out the pages at the end of the day, stuffing them in my pockets, and typing them up when I got home. Anyway that year was the only year I ever reached my NaNoWriMo goal.

  60. employment lawyah*

    Ignoring the bizarre HR response, this is not entirely surprising.

    Modern society is coded not to interrupt someone reading a book, and it’s such an obvious thing that it can make you much less approachable even if you continuously say you “don’t mind.” As bank teller I would probably not want you doing it either. It’s better to do it on a computer screen or phone because there is less “don’t interrupt” coding going on.

    1. Batgirl*

      Even when the person is seated behind a desk with a cocked ear waiting to serve you? And you will be the first chance they’ve had to be useful at their job in an hour? I agree with you that it shouldn’t get to the point where you’re actually having to interrupt. No. The server should be more alert than that, though I doubt I’d care so long as they served me. But if even having someone stop promptly feels like interrupting… I don’t think you’re seeing the coding of the entire context. You sound like a lovely person, but I’m rather glad I’m not as polite as that!

      1. RagingADHD*

        I don’t think Employment Lawyah was saying they’d personally hesitate to interrupt a teller who was reading, but a lot of people would.

        Stick around and read more of the old comments — you’ll be shocked at how many people are uncomfortable asking for completely reasonable and innocuous things, like a teller’s attention.

        And, as you mentioned – if they are so engroseed that the customers have to interrupt, it’s a problem.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      This is the first I’m hearing of this modern-society rule. To me a computer screen means “I’m working”, and also, frankly, I don’t see a lot of people reading paper books anymore. And with a teller at a bank, I assume they are not ready to serve me unless they look at me and say “I can help who’s next”. The reverse is also true – if they said they can help who’s next, I’m taking them at their word, even if there’s a book on their desk somewhere.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Adding to the above, a *lot* of jobs have “no phone at your workstation” policies for privacy reasons.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Right?!?! +100000

        One of my worst experiences as a late teen (dude got the sheltered, inexperienced with alcohol, 17yo me drunk and convinced the drunk me somehow that spending the night at his place, in his bed was the most logical thing to do… I sobered up at the last moment and thankfully nothing too physical happened) started with him sitting down next to me as I was sitting on a bench in a park next to my home reading, and nonchalantly asking “what are you reading?” and at 17, I thought I had to answer when asked a question by an older adult.

      2. Tinker*

        But how is knowing what the book is about, and whether she likes it, and whether she likes the author, and what sort of books she is into going to tell someone about whether a person reading a book seems like they don’t want to be interrupted? :S

  61. Another bank employee*

    Another bank employee here.
    Are you asked to call customers when you have down time? We aren’t to read at my work because we are supposed to be checking in on customers in our free time ( and the other things you mentioned like cleaning and online training).

    1. Self Employed*

      I would be so freaked out if my business bank just called me out of the blue! My first thought would be that someone hacked my account and I was overdrawn. Then again, I’m not big enough the bank wants to loan me money.

      1. londonedit*

        I can’t imagine what my bank would need or want to call me about, unless it was to attempt to sell me something. No thanks. Otherwise, what are they going to do? Call me and tell me off for spending too much money on takeaway?

    2. Banker chick*

      Exactly. I am a “career” teller and have come to the realization that the position is totally different in different companies. Much of my duties are uncovering clients financial needs. That could be while they are in front of me or could be by phone, scheduling appointments for other employees . If by chance I DID have down time, I would receive a list of clients to contact.

      My employer actively encourages education and has a tuition reimbursement program, even for part time employees. Actually, I estimate probably half our tellers already have degrees when they join. Managers(well,most) aren’t intimidated by a teller looking to improve themselves. Banking can definitely be a career and my bank has plenty of opportunities.

      As far as who “tattled” on LW’s Dh for reading, I wouldn’t doubt that possibly an employee from another branch got wind of it and was envious.

      And if the branch is that slow, I would look to be transferred or for another position. It is extremely expensive to operate a branch and it is a business- it needs to try to grow. I have seen extremely busy branches for various banks close. Or get taken over by other banks and who knows what their policies will be. JMHO, but if I were the manager I would be actively looking for new business and to get more from the existing clients.

  62. I'm Not Phyllis*

    Assuming he is just reading a textbook and hasn’t actually set up shop for full study sessions, I personally don’t see what the big deal is if they are really slow, and if there is truly no other work to do. As I mentioned somewhere above, I really feel like there was no need for this to become a formal letter. As for what to do, he could try asking his manager to speak to HR and have it removed from his file – the manager would have to tell them that they said it was ok, but that he will not be reading at his station moving forward.

    As for what he can do during downtime now – I agree with the others. Ask the manager what else there is to work on and if there is nothing, I guess just sit there. What a demoralizing thing to do to an otherwise great employee!

  63. Eye roll*

    I hope he complies. Very visibly. Hourly emails to his supervisor asking for work since XYZQABC are all finished as usual. Standing bored gazing off into space constantly. Taking a minute to respond because it’s so hard to stay focused with absolutely nothing going on. Joking to customers that they should stay and walk because he’s not allowed to do anything after they leave. Also, be prepared to leave, because his manager is useless and should not be trusted.

  64. Serious Bookworm*

    Many years ago (pre-smartphone) I worked at a place like this. It SUCKED. I am an avid reader, and staring off into space was killing me. Working the front desk at a government office that had VERY little foot traffic. I saw people when they arrived, went to lunch, and left. Otherwise I could be alone an hour or two at a time (which I LOVED! The job in general also sucked). There was absolutely nothing to do besides sit.

    The job was shared between 4-5 people and we did several other things as well. I always volunteered to work the desk because the options were worse. One day the boss came into our teensy office on the warpath, and started digging through drawers, and found a couple lurid romances and some crossword books. Demanded to know why I had them there. They weren’t mine and I said so. She was rude about it and absolutely furious anyone dared to do anything but sit there.

    I had surgery and was placed on light duty for a month or two, so the desk was the only job I was physically allowed to do; wonderful, except I was going stir-crazy alone without a book.

    I’d recently become the proud owner of an MP3 player with a 2” square screen. After playing around with it, I discovered it had the option to play text files :)

    I downloaded a bunch of (free) classics in text format, and played with the formatting until it played nice with the tiny screen. Thereafter, I read classics, 6 or so lines at a time, on a 2 inch screen, and was grateful for them!! I perfected the read, click to next page, read, click, until I could do it without thinking about it.

    Anytime I heard footsteps on the tile floor, or the outer door open, I dropped it into my boot. I went through many many books like that and never got caught.

  65. Campfire Raccoon*

    Vacuum during your downtime. Vacuum. Vacuum. All day long. Get the vacuum out. Put it away. Get it out. Put it away. More vacuuming.

    Maybe get one of those little noisy pop-corn sweepy up thingies. Stick a playing card in there. Make it more annoying.

  66. Richard*

    It reminds me of a scene in Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End, where employees at a failing are trying to look busy while waiting to be laid off. One character photocopies a book and then reads the copies as though they’re work documents.

  67. Anja*

    The only reason I was able to work while doing school was because my job let me read at work. While taking seven or eight courses a semester I still worked at a big arcade Friday (6pm-2am), Saturday (6pm-2am), Sunday (6pm to midnight) as a cashier.

    The rules were that books had to stay below the top counter (there was a taller service counter and then the table height counter behind it for our cash registers) and your peripheral vision had to be good enough that if someone approached you’d notice – and that someone had to be the priority. I was usually able to read almost uninterrupted after about 10pm – so either two or four hours of textbook reading a night.

    I still appreciate it.

  68. James*

    I rarely go anywhere without a book. This includes work. I often find myself in situations where I’m waiting an indeterminate amount of time (between 5 minutes and 3 hours, and no way to know how long), and not having a book just….doesn’t work. It’s also something to do during lunch. I spend 10-12 hours a day with my coworkers, and sometimes you just want to get away.

    It sounds like there’s some sort of power-play going on that your husband is caught in the middle of. It sucks, but I’m not sure there’s much he can do about it as a teller. He can try hiding his reading, but that’s only going to get him into more trouble if he gets caught.

  69. RagingADHD*

    I think the line manager was trying to exercise their discretion on policy when corporate really does not give them that authority.

    The manager may not care, but somebody does — somebody with more clout. The employee here is bearing the brunt of a power struggle higher up the food chain. It’s not fair, but not uncommon either.

    Jobs where it is perfectly fine to openly read a book in the clock are the exception. Jobs where you can get away with it if you’re discreet are a lot more prevalent.

    Most likely, if the employee had stuck to reading stuff in the computer so he looked busy, it never would have been flagged, because the manager didn’t mind. Pulling out a physical textbook was just too obvious, and the manager had to dial it back.

    It may not even have been the manager who got HR involved. There may be one of those busybody coworkers who was mad because the employee was “stealing time,” or something.

  70. Harper the Other One*

    OP, if you see this, can your husband get a digital (preferably web-based) version of the textbook? It might be okay to read something like that off the computer screen – the optics are different than if he has to put aside a visible physical book.

    If not, maybe he can find out if there are certain finance-adjacent classes, like statistics, that would not be considered unrelated to his work.

    If your husband is considered a desirable employee to retain, he could mention to his supervisor that being bored makes him much less interested in staying. Maybe he could investigate bursaries etc. and see if it’s possible to go full-time student.

  71. staceyizme*

    This is too bad. If there’s industry related coursework that he could take, maybe that would be acceptable? Otherwise, it might be time to polish up his resume. Or disguise his textbooks to look like an average paperback. The creativity necessary to pull that off might be at least moderately entertaining. It’s the equivalent of sneaking in a silver flask to a dry event. (Okay, that metaphor kind of breaks down in this instance…)

  72. chewingle*

    Ah, yeah, I had a job like this that I couldn’t STAND because I can’t just sit and do nothing for hours at a time (I wouldn’t have taken the job had they been upfront about the position). I begged them to let me help with literally anything to stay occupied. They refused and were even snarky when I took bathroom breaks.

    Shouldn’t have been any surprise when I left after a couple months.

    Not that staying would have done me any good, since they went bankrupt and shut down 6 months later.

  73. Amethystmoon*

    I would say it’s ok on lunch breaks, but probably shouldn’t be done at other times.

    Do the managers really have no busy work they can give out?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      During a slow period I had a crew of 14 people that I had to keep busy. I knew layoffs were looming and every day was a gift. Fortunately, I was pretty busy keeping them busy so I did not really have to find something for me to do. They were all decent workers and they burned right through anything I thought of for them to do. Finally, I said, “I am taking suggestions if you guys have an idea for a project.” It was so Not Good.

    2. Dahlia*

      What busy work does a bank have? I don’t think you’re exactly encouraged to go organize the safety deposit boxes so they look tidier.

  74. CaVanaMana*

    Sounds like official rules “no reading” which is from HR and his manager’s discretion “I’ll let it slide.” But then got weird about him going to school and she messed up by getting HR involved and soon no one will be reading on the job.

    He could probably get away with taking the cover of a finance related course, call it upskilling for his banking career and putting it over other reading material until someone snoops.

  75. CouldntPickAUsername*

    “Is he supposed to sit and stare ahead for six hours at a time?”

    some jobs just do literally seem to expect that. It’s infuriating. This is related to a fight I’ve been having at my retail job about having things to do in between customers. It’s probably gonna lead to a ragequit one day.

    1. Nacho*

      My current CS job expects me to look back through my old tickets to make sure I didn’t forget to process a shipment if I’ve got downtime. It’s common knowledge that exactly 0 people do this. I’m lucky that I work from home right now though, so nobody catches me reading fanfiction when I’m not on calls.

  76. verruecktsax*

    Throughout high school and college, I worked in a library. After completing the usual tasks (re-shelving books, notifying patrons about holds, etc) there was frequently extra time in my shifts where I sat at the front desk with nothing really to do. I was encouraged to bring my textbooks so I could do my homework. There were a few rules–for example my manager didn’t like me typing papers on my laptop while sitting at the desk–but as long as I dropped what I was doing when patrons came to the desk, I was usually left alone. Having both the job and the study time really made a difference for me.

    To me, it really sounds like HR is going on a power trip in this story and I would encourage OP to find creative ways to keep reading. As others have suggested, perhaps bringing materials for business or finance classes to work and passing them off as a “skills course” or something job-related.

  77. Heffalump*

    40-odd years ago I worked for a company that was an answering service, among other things. For those of you who grew up with cell phones and voicemail. this was how answering services worked: If you signed up with an answering service, you gave people their number (in addition to your land line) as your message number. If someone called you at that number, a live operator would take the message (with pen and paper). You could then call in and have the operator read your messages to you. At this particular company the person on the front desk had some other duties besides being an operator

    One day we hired a new front desk person for swing shift. On his first evening of work he brought a book and put it on the desk. One of the employees said next day that he thought the newbie had gotten off on the wrong foot by doing this—it showed that he went in with an expectation of having time to read. I’m not sure I agree.If he had started reading when he should have been doing something else, that would be another matter. But I think that in his place, I wouldn’t have brought the book, or at least I would have left it in my pack unless/until things got slow.

    1. Self Employed*

      Back around 40 years ago, I moved to San Diego and was surprised by how many “message services” there were. My then-boyfriend, who was from a Navy family, let me know that these were not “answering services.” The City of San Diego had an ordinance that you could not use the word “mAssage” in signage because they were NOT one of those Navy towns full of brothels, no sirree! So they all called themselves “mEssage services” to get around the signage ban.

  78. anonanna*

    My first job in high school was like this. I did all my work and took all the initiative I could and still had sooo much downtime. Reading and using your phone wasn’t allowed. Even if I was working a shift during traditional school hours (I was homeschooled so I could make up the work later), I couldn’t study. Truly feel like the jobs with tons of downtime are more mentally and emotionally draining than busy ones! (May or may not be stuck in one of those jobs right now…)

  79. Bobby Joe*

    I may be the only one who disagrees that reading non-work related content is ok during work time. You are on the clock and someone is paying for you to do a job. Seems like management is slack in supporting periods of no customers. Maybe if it’s so boring and long it may be a good idea to ask for more work. Seems like there is a bit of attitude and self-entitlement.

    1. CatHerder*

      There is literally no more work. I’ve been a bank teller. After you do all the work, there is nothing more to do. Management can’t give you more work. There is no more work for the teller to do after a certain point when customers are not coming in. You say “it seems like there is a bit of attitude and self-entitlement” but you seem to be deliberately not understanding what is clearly in the letter (there is no more work after a certain point).

    2. Shad*

      Sometimes the job is “be available when customers show up”. No customers means your job is to be able to shift focus when one shows up, which is on you to regulate.

    3. Nacho*

      A good CS job will hire 10 people to prep for busy periods when 11 are needed, which means they end up with plenty of non-busy periods where only 6 people need to be on calls. The only other option is to hire only 6 people, which means there’s never any down time where nobody’s working, but there are times when the wait to talk to a CS agent is ridiculously long.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I suspect repeatedly asking one’s supervisor for more work when everyone knows there isn’t any, would not be a way to get into supervisor’s good graces.

      It says a lot about what our corporate workplace norms have come to, that I’ve seen several comments on here to the effect that sitting still while staring at a blank screen is work, that a person should not be doing anything else instead of, because that’s slacking off work. One, I as a customer don’t gain anything from this work(?) being done. Two, it does not add to the employer’s bottom line. Finally, this is a job that no qualifications at all are required for. Anyone can sit and stare. My cat could do it. Hire my cat. It’s just mindboggling to me that people call it work and take it seriously. I’m very fortunate that in my line of work, when there is really and truly nothing to do, we are encouraged to do self-training and work on our skillset. (Which I spent most of last summer doing, when work was ridiculously slow and people were fighting each other over job assignments.)

    5. nikkole82*

      I have to agree with you, the company doesn’t have to allow studying on the clock. I can’t say I blame them for the attitude of there being a difference between pleasure reading and using company time to finish your degree. I have worked many places where this was not okay.

  80. I'm just here for the cats*

    If he’s allowed to do general web browsing I would suggest getting the kindle version of the textbook, and open the kindle on the web.

  81. Nacho*

    My very first non-temp job was customer service for the google play store. Not only was it ok to read between calls, they gave us free access to every book in the google book store (including all the comics and manga). Second job didn’t officially allow it, but it was still done.

  82. MeepMeep*

    This is what e-books on your phone are for. I had a job that had quite a lot of downtime, and that’s what I did with it. Phone on my desk, ready to be turned off when necessary, novel on my phone, computer in front of me in work mode. Most people have their phone at least nearby, so it’s a lot more acceptable-looking than whipping out a textbook.

  83. Phil*

    I used to cut master phonograph discs. You know the space between songs? It’s called the spiral and it’s put in manually. Since the disc is cut in real time that meant for most of the time I had 3 to 5 or 6 minutes to do whatever I wanted before I had to do something. We read! A lot!

  84. Petunia*

    I wonder if someone complained, perhaps a customer or someone from higher up in management saw it. Textbooks take up a lot more space on your desk and are more noticable than a novel. It is still really petty that they gave him a formal write up when he has a good record. A warning should have sufficed.

    It sounds like the branch has the official rules (no reading at all) and unspoken rules (manager knows it is slow so doesn’t enforce no reading but you need to be discrete). If that is the case, he will probably have to take this one on the chin and he has my complete sympathy.

    He should have a chat with his manager about the situation. It is unlikely to overturn the write up but she should clue him in on the “rules”.

  85. Janet's Planet*

    With that tiny amount of customers, he had an issue even before the reading thing came up. Time for him to start looking – that branch probably won’t last much longer.

  86. BHB*

    Thsi reminds me when I worked in a call centre. Usually it would be busy enough that I was occupied, but if I was on a late shift finishing at 11pm, the last 2 or 3 hours would be incredibly slow.

    However, the rules in the call centre were that you were not allowed any pens, paper or reading material at all on your desk. No puzzle books, no novels, no textbooks, no phones – your belongings had to be locked away in a separate room, you weren’t allowed your handbag or anything with you in the main call centre. It was all (supposedly) to do with data security so you couldn’t copy down customer’s card details and commit fraud, however I think much of it was also to discourage employees from being distracted by anything other than work. (this was a horrible policy especially for those who had periods and needed to keep sanitary products to hand.. but that’s a different conversation).

    Additionally, the computers were locked so the only things you could access were the timesheet software, the 2 programmes needed to do the job, a couple of websites needed to do the job and the intranet. Nothing else – there was no way to browse the internet, no word processor or even access to notepad, we didn’t even have email accounts. There was literally nothing to do in slow periods except trawl through the outdated intranet. It was so incredibly boring and a big reason why I left – there’s nothing quite so soul destroying as spending 3 hours sat at a computer with nothing at all to do.

  87. Bella*

    I actually do understand the no studying rule. There’s a not insignificant chance that the bank has been stung by past students prioritising their studying over their job even during paid work hours.

    They get into the habit of having that time to complete tasks, work on assignments etc. and then when there’s work to be done they can be tempted (even unconsciously) to maximise their study output rather than their work output. This is especially the case when their job is not a career but just a way to earn while they study as it is seems to be for your husband.

    If the bank has received complaints from customers, even at other branches, then it makes sense to have only work while on the clock rules.

    I wouldn’t recommend finding ways around the no reading rule unless your husband is willing to be fired. It might be silly, but your employer can say that while at work you work – and only work. He’s been warned by HR, the next step may be a termination. While he might be fine to be fired, he should also consider how that could affect him finding the next job of the reason for firing is that even after a written warning he kept doing school work at his desk when he was meant to be working.

  88. Jennifer Juniper*

    Maybe the OP can ask if coworkers need help?

    That will make him seem like a good team player, loyal to the company, and helpful.

  89. LW Husband*

    Hey there all,

    Thanks for all the support and helpful comments! I didn’t expect this would blow up like it did when my wife said she was posting it but I checked this morning (2/5) and there are over 300 comments so that’s pretty crazy. I’m going to try and respond to as many as I can but in case I don’t get to you here’s my take on the whole thing.

    So, first of all it’s not like there haven’t ever been things to do in my downtime…I just finished all of them. In the last year alone I did over 200 hours of optional training courses until I had finished literally every one we have. As far as how other people use their downtime, my manager is usually really chill. Especially in the past year she hasn’t cared if we use our phones or read as long as we’re helping people when they come in, so that’s pretty much what people do (mostly the phone thing, I started bringing a book because I wanted to spend less time on my phone). I honestly don’t think my manager meant to get me in trouble, she hasn’t been managing long, but when she was working at a different location someone got in trouble for reading a textbook and she wanted to save me, then she went and told HR that we talked about it and hence the rest of the story.

    Obviously I’ve been warned now so I’ve stopped, I’m not trying to find ways around it. I’m transferring to another branch to work under another manager for the next few months until we have enough money for me to quit. I just feel like if I don’t something innocent is going to happen again and it will end up going south as a result of inexperience or lack of forethought.

    As a brief response to some of the people who think I just need to look harder, I understand where you’re coming from. I like working. I would rather do my job while I’m at work than do anything else, it gives me a lot of peace of mind. However, much like corporate, you’re interpreting “there isn’t anything to do” in the metaphorical sense rather than the literal one. I know our products. My coworkers are self-sufficient and trying to find enough work to fill the day themselves so they don’t take offers for help, they ask you if they need it. Unless there is someone in front of me, there’s only so many times I can clean the workstations. There are only tellers in this branch because they figured it would be helpful in the place where all the loan officers are based. The branch isn’t going anywhere, but neither is our lack of traffic.

    Anyway, like I said, I’ve been talked to about it so I’m not reading anymore, that’s the right thing to do objectively in the situation. Nothing someone as far down the ladder as me can do about it. I need a job, I have a job, time to just do it until I’m in a place where I can pursue my passions.

    -LW Husband

    1. New Mom*

      I’m sorry you are going through this, that is super frustrating. This jogged my memory about my sister working in the ticket office of a movie theater and the same thing happened to her. The guys that worked in the ticket office were allowed to read books and newspapers so my sister brought a textbook in and she got reprimanded. It was very odd because similar to you, there is a lot of downtime in the ticket office (only two screens at the theater) so she wasn’t clear why other types of reading was okay but studying wasn’t. It’s weird, you can only pass time in a non-productive way?

    2. Batgirl*

      “It will end up going south as a result of inexperience or lack of forethought”
      Yes I believe you are right; its always very sobering to realise you work for someone who’s not a leader.

    3. jcarnall*


      Okay, yes, if you’ve been officially reprimanded, there is not a lot you can do about it.

      Idiot manager.

    4. Database Developer Dude*

      Find a new job, quickly. Seriously, if the manager can throw you under the bus like this, she can’t be trusted.

  90. lilsheba*

    This is why I hate working for a bank. I worked for one for 5 years and I will never go back. I was in a call center and of course couldn’t look at my phone. I could read a physical book but they balked at a tablet as an e reader…what the hell is the difference? Now I read during downtime whenever I want, and whatever I want.

  91. Smile Time*

    I have nothing substantive to add, just wanted to point out that all I could think of when reading this situation was the Twilight Zone episode that centered on this exact problem of a bank teller being reprimanded for reading on the job.

  92. RB*

    So if they go back to allowing him to read, but just not the textbooks, I recommend he take a book jacket from a serious novel (War and Peace?) or a non-fiction book and put it over his textbook. A lot of books don’t come with book jackets these days but you can find older books in second-hand stores that still have their original book jackets.

  93. twocents*

    Not totally related to LW’s case, but this thing can be *situation* dependent too. I used to work next to a team that was, like, emergency responders to tech issues. If there was a tech issue, then they were obviously frantically trying to solve it. But most days, everything ran just fine. So they spent the days talking, reading, browsing the internet, one of them even rigged up some game setup.

    Which was fine (though kind of annoying to teams like mine, which actually have work to do all day). Then the company announced layoffs, and some of them thought that was still a totally appropriate time to play WoW at work all day, not even thinking about how completely and utterly useless that made them look. So yeah, keep an eye on company politics too. What you could get away with last week, you might not want to try this week.

  94. jcarnall*

    I’ve worked in two call centres. Neither was customer-facing – we literally never saw the clients, and the people we were calling couldn’t see us.

    I quit one call centre job after less than six months, and one reason was that they didn’t permit you to do anything at your desk except work. You were supposed to be on the phone, listening to answering machines (mostly) or running through an intro to be cut off halfway through (most of the rest of the time) and, maybe four or five times an hour, actually getting to run through the scripted interview. You were not permitted to read a book or a magazine or a newspaper, or do sudoku, or a crossword. You were meant, in fact, to be insanely bored. And I was. (There were other reasons – they had a dress code, and they underpaid you because you were supposed to be able to get a weekly bonus which they fairly openly admitted was actually set up so that only a couple of people a week would actually get, and their rules about talking to people while driving were outright dangerous.)

    I stayed at the other call centre job for years, off and on, because most of the time, providing you were getting the interviews at an acceptable rate, they didn’t care what what you did – in fact, they’d hand out copies of paper puzzles on slow nights and announce contests about who could finish fastest, prize some cheap candy bar out of the machine. I could sit and read at my desk all night, so long as I could stop on the dot when someone finally agreed to talk to me. I played a long-running campaign of Battleships with someone I sat near regularly. We’d swop tips for the crossword in the local free newspaper. But occasionally senior management would come through the call centre – not that they WORKED there, but they occaisionally had meetings there – and then it was suddenly “all books and papers off your desk”…

    As one of my colleagues pointed out to me succinctly, they didn’t pay us enough to be THAT bored all the time.

  95. Wind on Grass*

    I work at a library. Shockingly enough, we don’t read all day. Something about all that “work”.

  96. Ember*

    When I was working in Singapore, the guy that sat behind me complained to my big boss that I was on my phone at work (bc i had nothing to do bc the person that hired me went on 1 year maternity after i joined and nobody else want to accept the responsibility of giving me work), who then ask me do i even want this job or not. My big boss and everyone else in the dept is doing sales, while I’m the back office admin/technical support. They have no idea why they hired me.

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