employee doesn’t want to leave her baby, I keep getting assigned work that’s not my job, and more

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

1. Employee doesn’t want to leave her baby

I work in higher education and manage a small staff. Recently, we have been able to get vaccinated, which is causing upper management to set dates for when we return to the office. One of the staff members I am managing had a baby during the pandemic and has been able to be home with her child since the baby was born. In a recent one-on-one meeting with her, I mentioned that we are expected to return to the office full-time in a few months. She expressed concern about this because her baby does not like to be watched by anyone other than her. She does have a toddler who attends daycare during the day but when she sends her baby, she has to go pick her up after a hour or so because she is crying the whole time.

I am not sure how to deal with this situation because I also have kids and if they don’t return to school, I will be home with them even though my staff will have to return to the office. She has spoken about this because she does not think it is fair that I would remain home when she would be expected to return to the office. I am not sure how to address this with her because I want to be understanding of her situation, but her baby will have to adjust and also will be one by the time we return full-time. I get that she doesn’t want to have her baby cry all day, but I feel like she needs to figure something out if her current kid care situation is not working. She is upset that we are not able to be flexible and allow staff to work from home all the time, but this decision is not mine to make and she is not the best at managing her time when she works from home. Can I force her to put her baby in daycare all day knowing that our relationship and her relationship with upper management will be tarnished? Also, as a side note, I would love to be back in the office instead of watching my kids, homeschooling, and working full-time every day of the week.

It’s not unreasonable to expect people to return to work when it’s safe to come back (really safe, not magical-thinking safe), assuming their jobs can’t be done just as effectively from home. And when that happens, presumably employers will expect people to arrange child care for their kids just like was expected in the Before Times (assuming child care opens back up and is accessible again, but it doesn’t sound like accessibility is the issue here).

That’s not you “forcing” your employee to put her baby in daycare; it’s that outside of a pandemic, having a full-time job usually does mean arranging for someone else to care for your kids.

However … the fact that you might continue to work from home to watch your own kids while everyone else goes back to the office is likely to cause some resentment unless you deliver very clear messaging about why that is. For example, if your job can be done fully from home while your team’s cannot, you’d want to be sure to explain that really clearly. (And even then it’s still likely to cause some resentment, but it’s not an inherently unreasonable policy.) If there isn’t a reason like that, I think you’ve got to rethink why it’s okay for you but not for them … or at least accept that it’s going to demoralize people.

2. I keep getting pulled into work that’s not my job

I work as a technical writer in an engineering industry. I love my career. It’s great fun to research and document new technology and software. But in the last 10 years, in every job I’ve had, I slowly get pulled off working with documents to do project management tasks. Currently I work on Project Coffeepot, the problem child of the department — always behind yet still brings in big bucks.

I’ve kind of figured out how this keeps happening, but I don’t know how to stop it. I’m very organized, I write well, and I understand how my industry works big picture. I get that these traits are also useful in managing projects. But I don’t want to do project management. It’s boring. (No offense to PMs.)

It starts as an urgent request from the project lead to quickly pull together some info — no one else is available, please help! I do a good job and the next day there’s another request — hey, let’s expand your doc tracking to cover all tasks … and it snowballs. I do cost projections, yearly schedules, and detailed status briefs. I develop and track work assignments for senior engineers and their teams. I brief the customer directly. And more. Did I mention that we have a PM team who can and should do much of this stuff? I’m so busy I’ve had to assign my docs to other tech writers to get them done.

I’ve tried using your suggestions with both the project lead and my supervisor: “I took this position because I thought I would be doing lots of teapot documents. Lately it’s all about coffeepot stats. How can I switch back to teapots?” They reply, “We really need you to do these tasks. You understand complex Project Coffeepot. You always do a great job.” “What about Wakeen? He’s the Coffeepot analyst.” “Well, Wakeen doesn’t quite have your depth.”

Any advice on how to grin and bear it while I’m stuck on this project? I’m not looking for a new company; overall I like it and want to stay.

It’s time for another conversation with your manager, this one more serious: “I was happy to help out in a pinch, but this is not the work I came on board to do. I like it here and don’t want to leave, but I need to be doing technical writing. I can’t overstate how important it is to me to have a plan to get me back to that in the near future. Is that something CompanyName is willing to do?”

Any decent manager is going to understand that the subtext there is “I will move on if this doesn’t change.” If that doesn’t change anything, I think you’d need to assume it’ll be like this for the foreseeable future and decide if you still want to stay under those conditions.

Depending on internal politics there, you could also try just saying no to the work outside your role. If someone begs for your help on something PM-ish, in some cases you could just say, “Sorry, can’t do that — I’m swamped with XYZ.” (That may or may not be doable on your team though.)

There’s another option too, although it has some risk: If you’re getting pulled into this work because you’re good at it … you could stop being good at it. Or at least stop being as good at it. (And since this keeps happening, make a point of keeping those particular strengths under wraps in future jobs.)

3. Screening out bigots in interviews

A member of our team was recently fired. There had been numerous problems with this teammate, including various remarks made to women and gay men that were not acceptable. So now the search is on to find a replacement, and HR has decided this time the rest of us on the team (instead of just the manager) will get to do our own group interview with candidates, so we can judge whether they are a good fit for the team.

Sounds like a great idea, but we haven’t been given any direction on what is and is not okay to ask. My concern personally is that we don’t hire another homophobe. But how do I make that judgement? I can’t flat out ask, “Are you comfortable working with gay men?” Can I? One thought I’ve had is to say, “I’m [name], and I live in the [part of town] of [city] with my husband and dog. [more basic personal info].” If they make a face or seem taken aback, red flag. Is this a reasonable approach or is there a better way?

HR is falling down on the job here! Asking your team to interview candidates without giving you any guidance about how to do it effectively and legally is … not the way to solve the legal problems they were trying to solve when they fired that guy.

In any case, sharing information about yourself is fine to do. But you’ll likely get a better sense if you ask about these issues more directly. For example, you could ask, “To what extent have you worked on teams with diversity of race, gender, and sexual orientation, and what have you learned from those experiences?” If this person will be managing anyone, you could ask, “Can you tell me about a time that you had particular success in building an equitable and inclusive team or when you faced an obstacle in doing that? What happened and how did you approach it?” That might be taking a broader approach than you want if you’re really just trying to find out if he’s going to make sexist or homophobic remarks, but I’ve asked questions like this in interviews quite a bit and you learn a lot about people from their answers. (The questions also signal something about your culture to your candidates, which is useful.)

4. How to ask vendors to leave me alone until after the pandemic ends

I have a wide variety of responsibilities in my role and am regularly asked to consult on things outside my primary functions. I love this variety in my work, but it often means that I can’t dedicate a lot of time to something or that things end up on the back burner. I’m struggling to find a way to communicate to people that some of the things they’re asking me for aren’t high enough on my priority list to get done any time soon.

I think I’m pretty good at setting expectations among coworkers because they’re familiar with the other work I’m doing, and I’m getting better at letting go of the guilt I feel when I say “no” or “not now.” But I’m struggling with how to communicate this with people outside the company like vendors and consultants who we’ve worked with in the past (and hope to work with again in the future). Most recently, I’ve been contacted several times by our representative at a training organization that, in non-COVID times, we use pretty regularly. But over the last year, it just hasn’t been anywhere near a priority for us as a company and certainly not for me as the point of contact.

In my head, I want to say, “Please leave me alone until this pandemic ends because I cannot fathom taking on one more responsibility right now and we are just trying to survive this madness,” but obviously that’s not the professional answer! My boss agrees on my priorities, but I can’t seem to shake the guilt when I know this rep is also trying to make sure their business survives. The times I’ve attempted to push back, the sales tactics kick in and make me feel worse. Any advice on how to phrase a professional “leave me alone, temporarily” or how to let go of my guilt?

It’s actually kinder to be straightforward with them! It saves them time and helps them plan if they know they’re not getting business from you any time soon. So be up-front and say something like, “We’ve really cut back because of Covid and won’t be able to do any work with you for at least the next two quarters. I hope we can in the future, but for now, I’d say check back with me in August” (or whatever timeline you think makes sense … and don’t make it shorter just to soften it). Or you could say, “I’d love to give you a timeline for when to check back, but realistically we won’t be able to do anything until the pandemic is over. I’ll contact you at whatever point we’re able to work on something again.”

5. What should I say in a cover letter for a job I’m already doing part-time?

I am currently employed on a part-time contract for a job that has just posted the role as a full-time position. I am trying to write a cover letter and I am unsure of how to approach this. I know I cannot just say “I am perfect for the job because I already do it really well.”

This is a “show, don’t tell” situation. Don’t just announce that you’re perfect for the job or that you do it well; show that by sharing specifics about what you’ve achieved in your time doing the work. For example, “By doing XYZ, I was able to clear out a backlog of three months of overdue invoices and we’re now consistently on time for all payments” or “My work spotting and fixing errors in the membership database caused our March mailing to have our lowest-ever return rate” or so forth.

Basically, imagine you’re writing to an employer who you don’t already work for and need to explain how you’ve excelled at your current job. Don’t assume they know the details; spell them out. (Often people in your shoes figure, “Well, they already know about the work I’m doing.” But they may not know with the same level of detail that you do, and some of the people involved in hiring may not know at all. Help them see!)

{ 763 comments… read them below }

  1. Fidget Spinner*

    LW1, your approach – or your employer’s – is going to burn your employees’ britches. Why is it OK for Person A but not Person B? If the org can’t articulate that well and clearly, then your employees have a right to be pissed. As written, it sure sounds like a double standard – one for managers, another for drones.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Or it’s possible that the OP’s job can be done effectively from home but her staff members’ jobs can’t. (The fact that they’ve been working from home during the pandemic doesn’t necessarily mean otherwise — some people who went remote overnight last year haven’t been able to do all the things they were doing while they were in the office, and it’s not unreasonable to want them back on-site so that they can, once it’s safe to do so.)

      I want to ask commenters to allow for that possibility rather than assuming it’s definitely not the case, since we don’t know.

      1. Anononon*

        Yes, at my job, my specific work can be done mostly remote, but most of my coworkers with the same title (but different departments) need to be in office. Right now, we’re kinda just…relaxing the things that are generally done in-person, but when things start to go back to normal, that’ll likely change. However, you bet I’m going to fight to stay remote, at least for 2-3 days a week, even though my colleagues can’t.

        1. Mary Anne Spier*

          Not sure if this has been mentioned in all of the replies, but LW1, I am wondering if your employee is suffering from postpartum depression, which can also manifest as anxiety.

          1. Justme, The OG*

            And post-partum anxiety is a thing separate from PPD.

            I could not imagine having a new child in the age of COVID. I have enough anxiety having a teenager in COVID.

          2. Arts Akimbo*

            This is what I wondered. I had PPD and freaked out at the thought of being physically separated from my baby.

        2. Joan Rivers*

          Also, LW presumably gets a higher salary than staffer! Wait till she finds THAT out!

          Sorry for the sarcasm, but I’m surprised that a staffer assumes there should be no difference between herself and her boss. Doesn’t there HAVE to be some differences? Or the boss would just be another staffer. Staffer sounds like she needs some help.

          1. skipping girl*

            I think this is a bit uncharitable. Managers are paid more because they take on higher level responsibilities. Working from home isn’t an aspect of those responsibilities.

            In the LW’s case, it’s an accomodation for her personal situation and it’s reasonable to request that that accomodation be extended to employees facing the same circumstances.

            At the very least, the optics of “for me, but not for thee” are not great for morale. If there are extenuating circumstances that make it reasonable for LW to WFH but not the employee, then LW/the company should explain that clearly to staff.

            And I just don’t think “because I’m the boss so too bad so sad” is a reasonable explanation (not saying this is LW’s opinion).

      2. Tamer of Dragonflies*

        There could be a perfectly reasonable explanation for why someone can work from home while others can’t, but the optics throw a horrible light on those that can WFH, especially if they’re managment.

        1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          I worked for five years (pre-pandemic) at a company where about half the employees worked from home, a third did WFH flexibly and a third had to be onsite, and I never knew it to cause an issues. Maybe the occasional remark, but nothing major.

          I think the key is transparency about expectations, and ensuring that being onsite isn’t some terrible burden and that those jobs are paid fairly and generally respected. I get that those are big caveats, but I think it’s important to consider. Largely because I chafe at the ‘explanation’ of some companies that they can’t offer flex time or WFH to some positions because then they would have to offer it to everyone and the jobs don’t all allow it.

          The terrible optics are often the result of the company encouraging unheathily hierarchies between departments, where WFH just becomes one more thing that the chosen few get.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            Wow! I’ve never seen a workplace that had 7/6 of the number of people it had before. Cool. :)

            (And no, I’m not really getting on your case for the math; I just thought it was funny.)

            1. Parenthesis Dude*

              That workplace took it very seriously when management said that everyone needed to give 110% to get the job done.

        2. Joan Rivers*

          It would be much better to work from home only to a limited extent. If you’re working on something and staff are elsewhere.

        3. Imaginary Number*

          Yeah, the optics aren’t great.

          Staff member may have daily responsibilities that require them to be in the office when the office is open: like working a reception desk. And that’s totally reasonable and I don’t think it would look that bad if that were the status quo.

          But this isn’t going to look great the first time OP really needs to come in because there’s an issue and they can’t because their kids are home.

      3. Lady Meyneth*

        I was actually assuming daycares have reopened, but not (all) schools. And that OP would only be WFH if their children’s school does NOT open and she needs to continue homeschooling, but would otherwise be at the office like everyone else.

        1. iceberry*

          This is the situation where I live. Schools are providing daily remote learning, instead of in class learning. Daycares are open and providing childcare.

          1. Just Another Zebra*

            This is true here, too. My daughter is young enough to be in daycare, but schools in the same district aren’t open. I don’t think of it as a double standard, just the new reality.

            1. Hiring Mgr*

              It is kind of a double standard if that’s the only reason – I mean why is it mandatory for the employee to have to put a kid in daycare but not for the LW to have to make childcare arrangements also ?

              If it’s instead because the OP can do their job remotely but the employee can’t (or at least not as well), then that’s a different story, and sometimes things just won’t always be 100% fair.

              1. Leah K*

                Maybe because the employee has childcare available to her at presumably pre-COVID cost. Whereas for OP finding “childcare” would mean paying someone by the hour to come homeschool her children? And there aren’t that many options for that readily available?

              2. Boof*

                Being remote and having childcare arrangements are two separate things. I think we’ve talked extensively on this blog that working from home does not mean you can both effectively supervise small children and also work effectively.
                The situation has been tolerated because it was a pandemic and daycares are closed and we will muddle through, but we are nearing the point where the pandemic is either going to be over (or chronic, if enough variants develop, but at least we will have some immunity due to the vaccines and/or prior exposures), so that tolerance will necessarily be phased out too.
                It’s possible to do some work and have a young baby, but at a certain point, they need close supervision and it is not realistic to work and watch a child, even if you are working from home, one or the other is getting compromised.

                1. sunny-dee*

                  Yeah, actually I’m raising my eyebrows a bit that the employee hasn’t had childcare. I have a 1yo and a 2.5yo. There is no way at all I could work and have the 2.5yo – it’s way too much energy and attention. It was possible when the kids were infants, but after about 6 months, it is borderline at the very best and that’s only if you have a calm baby who’s a good napper (which describes my daughter and not my son). Realistically, babies at that age just require too much attention and don’t have any ability to care for themselves (unlike an older child, who may require supervision but not hands-on care).

                2. agmat*

                  Yup. I’m part of some other mom-focused groups online and often the question pops up “I had a baby during the pandemic and won’t (or can’t) put them in daycare? How do you manage?”

                  And the actual answer is you muddle through now, because we have pandemic slack, but it is in no way a long-term solution. You cannot work a standard job from home without childcare for young children.

                  School-age children are different. Employers don’t generally expect you to get childcare for the couple hours late elementary or middle school age kids are home after school but before the workday ends, and especially not high schoolers. In the pandemic, monitoring remote schooling still doesn’t (or shouldn’t) take up the kind of time and attention that a 1 to 3 year old requires.

              3. Lady Meyneth*

                I disagree. The reason why OP doesn’t have to make childcare arrangements is because it’s not available. Daycare for school aged children is non existant in many many regions, and nannies that can double as tutors are prohibitively expensive (even if there are any available, which isn’t true where I live).

                In that case, being allowed to remain in pandamic mode is fair, because OP’s reality is still heavily influenced by the pandamic. The employee has safe and qualified options available, so requiring she makes use of them is also fair.

                1. PT*

                  I worked at a nonprofit with an afterschool and camp program, and our childcare license was specifically an “Out of School” license. Obviously different states have different licensing requirements and states issued waivers for pandemic pods, but there’s a very specific reason why that market doesn’t exist, and it’s because school is compulsory.

              4. iceberry*

                Also many kids who are doing remote learning do not need support with school and learning activities, they just can’t be left home alone. This is different than being fully engaged with childcare and support throughout the day vs. just being home while the kids are doing remote learning.

                1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

                  Also this. My boss has a preteen at home that is very self-directed and needs little to no support (like, maybe she makes her a sandwich at lunchtime, MAYBE), but is still too young to be left in the house alone on her remote days.

                2. Esmeralda*

                  Depends on the age of the child, of course. One of my students (college freshman) is supervising online schooling for her brothers, one in middle school (needs oversight and some assistance, but can function fairly independently) and one in kindergarten (cannot do school indendently).

                3. Ophelia*

                  Yes, this. My 7-yo is home 3 days/week, doing school online, and while I can’t leave the house while she’s there, she’s also fine to do her work, make a sandwich, etc., and unless there is an emergency (or, more likely, a tech support need), I don’t need to manage her time while I’m working–but there also aren’t really any other options to send her to during the day. If this is OP’s situation, and she is married, perhaps she also needs to talk with her spouse about whether there is a time-splitting situation so she can be in the office at least part time.

          2. Artemesia*

            Where we are daycares are open – our toddler grandson is one one and they have only had one COVID scare/quarantine in months. but school is still remote for our granddaughter. But the LW has school age kids. It is plausible for her to work at home and WORK as kids this age often need minimal supervision. to care for a baby while ‘working’ is not reasonable. No one can work a full time job while caring for a one year old. Even if the staffer works from home, she should be required to have child care. My daughter had a WFH job before COVID — her whole business works that way. But part of the deal is that there must be child care in place — when her youngest was a baby and toddler, she had a nanny come in while she was working. The staffer is kidding themself if she thinks she can put in a days work while caring for a toddler.

        2. Natalie*

          Yeah, this seems pretty explainable and not some kind of terrible double standard. If the LW has school age kids, and schools don’t open in person, the manager probably has to work from home with them – they can’t be left alone all day, and separate daycares for older children don’t really exist. It’s also more plausible (not definitely true, just more likely) that the LW can actually attend to work while her kids attend to their schoolwork, rather than needing to more actively engage with them. And the employee hasn’t expressed any need beyond their baby not liking other caregivers, which is a pretty normal stage for babies and not at all insurmountable.

          1. sofar*

            Was also thinking along these lines. LW did say if her kid “can’t” go back to school, which implies her kids’ school is still remote.

            Given the push to open schools, I imagine schools being in-person will be once again the norm very soon. If, at that point, LW decides, as some parents in my circles have, to keep the kids out of school indefinitely and homeschool them until COVID is “over,” then that’s another story. Because, when it’s a choice like that, then, yes, it’s unfair for LW to opt to stay home with her kids while everyone else has to go back. Whether her job “can” be done remotely better than others’, it’s bad optics and will destroy morale.

        3. New Mom*

          Where we are schools are only just starting to open up and daycares are open but most (ours included) operate at limited hours for deep cleaning. It’ll be difficult going into the office regardless but especially hard when daycare hours are shorter than my work day. We’re going to have to cross that bridge when we get there.

      4. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, my supervisor’s job can be done much more online than mine can. It’s not just “underlings need to be in seats”, it’s the nature of the work. She runs our website and has to deal with a lot of virtual meetings, and she can do that from home, but I have to handle actual materials (that I cannot bring home. Academic library). I’ve been working from home full- and then part-time but the things I can do remotely are starting to run out.

        I feel like this is two problems: One is that the LW needs to make sure that the WTF policy is fair and that people who are required to return to the office actually need to return to the office, and the second is that this employee doesn’t want to put her baby in daycare. The second is not the LW’s purview *beyond making sure that it’s actually necessary for the employee to be at the office that much*: It’s for the employee to figure out.

        My brother and SIL are university employees and so far they’ve been trading off time with their toddler while WTF, but my brother’s job in particular cannot be done completely WTF. Toddler has gone back to daycare part-time (their daycare is staggering classes to reduce the number of people in the building at once).

          1. College Career Counselor*

            I don’t think you were mistaken. I think there can be an awful lot of WTF in WFH!

          2. lizw*

            If it makes you feel better, I read it as WFH…then caught a fine case of giggles when I read your comment.

          3. NotAnotherManager!*

            This may be the best typo ever. Seriously. I would absolutely volunteer to write a WTF policy for my employer or anyone who needed one.

          4. Elsajeni*

            I mean, this past year especially… I don’t know about y’all, but my employer’s COVID WFH policy has definitely been more of a COVID WTF policy at times.

        1. Not playing your game anymore*

          This is exactly the case in our library. I manage the systems and give staff assistance when they run into trouble with something. Our staff handle the materials, and while there is some stuff that can be done from home much of it needs to be done at the library. From March to August last year everyone was mostly home and did what they could and went in on a staggered schedule to do what could be done… After in person classes started alongside of the remote in August the people who chose to go back more or less full time went with adjusted schedules and distancing. 3 of us had discovered that yes we could mostly be effective from home and had health or family issues that made that make sense. (I cover virtual reference evenings and weekends and no one really wants that job anyway… I offered to give it up!) Staff has a ton of flexibility right now. As long as someone comes in and opens the building and someone is there to back the opener up, we are still making due.

        2. Kelly*

          I also work in another academic library that also made a very rapid transition from reluctantly allowing WFH prior to most staff who could and had supervisors who were supportive about it last March going remote. Now, most staff have a mix of remote and on site work due to a gradual return of providing services since last summer. On the whole, it seems to be working out fine, and how productive a person is on their hybrid schedule is reflective of how they were 100% FT in the office prior to last March. The ones who were the more productive and collegial colleagues have adjusted just fine. The ones that did the bare minimum and found every excuse on why it was too difficult for them to do even that aren’t nearly as effective.

          I have one colleague who seems to be unable to accept that one of the new norms post pandemic will be that most meetings that require people from multiple buildings across campus to get together will be conducted via some form of web meeting software. That’s going to require everyone to have a work laptop with video capability, instead of being able to call in on his personal cell phone. That’s also going to require some awareness when scheduling staff to work the desk, both permanent and student, of their recurring committee meetings. I would not put it past him to play dumb and “forget” that other people besides him have meetings.

          We’re also facing budget cuts, which will be coming from a mix of staff salaries, supplies, and delaying much needed facility repairs and renovations. I’m more concerned about how we are going to balance people’s continued desires to work from home with the real need for having permanent staff present to supervise student workers. I have one project that I can easily do from home and that is looking increasingly urgent to get completed, due to the chance that campus may be get state funding for some renovations and building improvements in our general area. I’ve been working on this project for 15 months now and am only about 30% done. The remaining 70% is going to be the part that requires more work and focus to complete, especially because it’s older material with more cataloging issues. I need either to work from home on the cataloging part of it or if I cannot, make it clear that to my colleagues that the students are only to call me if I’m the only person available. I can’t be interrupted by constant phone calls like I was before the pandemic because they can’t be available for our student workers to get in touch with them when they were supposed to be present.

          Our boss is retiring this summer and due to the budget issues, she won’t be replaced for a while. Their retirement may be the reason we stay open by appointment only for the next academic year, because of staffing issues. One colleague has not been in the office in a year and probably will have to have a tough conversation with HR and our supervisor on why they will have to come back at least a couple days a week starting this summer. They will have some onsite duties once some in person instruction returns in the fall.

          Our HR person is a good one who has been awesome throughout the past year. I’m sure that they are going to have other difficult and awkward conversations with people about why they can’t continue to work remotely 100% FT anymore. They have been great about advocating for library staff to get priority in campus vaccination efforts, even somewhat overstating how much student contact we actually have.

      5. MassMatt*

        I REALLY wish the OP had given more detail on the reason for this difference, as it’s really crucial for understanding whether the policy may really damage morale.

        It might be the difference between whether day care centers are open or not as opposed to schools as others have suggested, or that the employee’s work is better done at work than at home.

        These are extraordinary times and lots of people are making do, but in general most work from home arrangements generally always required the employee not be a caregiver while WFH. It sounds as though this employee’s baby is not yet ready for day care even if it were available.

        In the long term employers hire people to work for them during working hours, not
        squeeze it in between responsibilities for caring for children.

        1. kt*

          I agree, in part because depending on the situation, various arrangements can be made. For instance, when my kid was about this age (let’s say 11-16 months) I taught evening classes (so dad was home then) and we had a nanny <20 hours a week (which made it affordable for us). She came to our house & for our kid that addressed some of the issues the employee in question might be worried about. I'm not sure it's the manager's place to suggest various caretaking arrangements, but if the manager is open to flexibility (four hours per day in the office, for instance) there might be solutions.

      6. Jill*

        LW1 also said that this employee specifically was bad at managing her time working remotely which makes sense if she’s watching a baby all day, I think that would factor in as well.

      7. L.H. Puttgrass*

        Alison, you have more information than we do about the OP’s situation. Is there anything in that letter to suggest that her staff’s job can’t be done from home? If not, it seems like that’s speculation.

        What’s in the letter we can see is:

        “I also have kids and if they don’t return to school, I will be home with them even though my staff will have to return to the office.”

        “I want to be understanding of her situation, but her baby will have to adjust and also will be one by the time we return full-time.”

        “I get that she doesn’t want to have her baby cry all day, but I feel like she needs to figure something out if her current kid care situation is not working.”

        “Also, as a side note, I would love to be back in the office instead of watching my kids, homeschooling, and working full-time every day of the week.”

        That’s not, “Sorry, it’s impossible to do your job remotely.” It’s “My home care situation is special, yours is just something you’ll have to get over.”

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          BTW, I know the letter says that staff aren’t allowed to work from home, but that’s different from “can’t”.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t have additional info. What I wrote to the commenter above was, “I want to ask commenters to allow for that possibility rather than assuming it’s definitely not the case, since we don’t know.”

          1. Happy*

            OP (cricket*) clarified below that the only reason for the difference in policies is childcare. It’s not related to the roles.

        3. Greg*

          The schools being closed and no child care option for LW1 is a much different situation than my kid has a spot in daycare but just doesn’t like it. Hardly hypocritical (doubly so if the mother isn’t performing).

          We are navigating this as our workforce gets vaccinated and many people want to continue working from home. Those with school-aged children who’s schools are closed are going to be allowed to continue working from home and those who don’t are coming back in. Some people aren’t thrilled about it, but different situations equals different management.

          1. Artemesia*

            School age kids require a different presence than infants/toddlers. Many to most school age kids need minimal supervision; all infants/toddlers need someone paying attention pretty much all the time. No one should be allowed to work from home regularly with an infant/toddler without some sort of child care.

            1. BethDH*

              This is so true. I started pandemic with a two month old and a 2.5 year old. At that point, it was possible to work with the baby and totally impossible to do with the toddler. A year later that has totally flipped and our almost-4-year old can do a puzzle or listen to an audio book by himself and his self-entertainment ability is increasing daily. He’s not self-sufficient, but I can usually get a meeting done without interruption.
              Our daycare has prioritized more days of care available for crawling & toddler age kids, less for infants and pre-k for similar reasons.

            2. Quill*

              6-10 year old kids need someone on hand for emergencies but can occupy themselves… they can’t all be trusted to make toast, and most cannot be trusted to choose or portion their own snacks. They can’t all be trusted to do boring things on their own initiative. Toddlers / preschoolers need a lot more supervision for basic safety, even if they’re good at playing quietly or entertaining themselves. 5 year olds are an edge case between the two.

              Tweens generally just need a task master and someone who can do actual risk assessment to figure out if it’s reasonable to ask THIS tween to boil their own mac and cheese without burning it to the bottom of the pan / fix their own remote schooling internet problems / finish all their homework on their own initiative.

              Teens (keeping in mind that this is mostly my experience with cousins) need someone to run their risk assessment (Wear your HELMET I don’t care if it’s not cool, Tony Hawk wears his helmet, what do you mean you don’t know who Tony Hawk is?) and help them work through algebray

        4. Courageous cat*

          Yeah, for real – she had more than enough opportunity to explain here why it was ok for her to work from home and not her employees, and instead only said this – which to me sounds like… there’s not much of a reason.

        5. Roci*

          This was my impression as well. If there is a real difference in need to WFH/be in the office, OP should take care that their wording and demeanor do not suggest this. The worker is already bitter and suspects unfairness, and “My situation and needs are real and YOURS are just something you have to deal with” would destroy morale.

          1. Fish*

            Especially if the employee is dealing with PPD/PPA, a high-needs child (we don’t know, and I assume the LW doesn’t know any more than we do necessarily), etc. Even outside of the situation, LW read as “for me but not for thee”.

            I 100% believe LW is not thinking or intending to communicate in that way, but if that’s what employees are hearing… bitterness is understandable.

      8. rkz*

        I guess it still seems like a double-standard in terms of who is expected to find childcare for their children. If the company is saying “okay, we’re going back to non-pandemic standards” that means the employee needs to come into the office. It seems like non-pandemic standards for work from home also involve having childcare and not homeschooling children at the same time as you’re supposed to be working.

        I saw some comments below about daycares being open and schools not being open in some areas. Then the question is, there must be employees whose jobs can’t be done from home who have school age children. Are those employees being expected to find childcare so they can come into the office?

        I agree that whatever the reasoning it needs to be communicated really clearly, and maybe there is good reasoning, but I don’t think that OP1’s job being do-able from home would be enough of a reason for me if I was their employee.

        1. Philly Redhead*

          There isn’t really “finding” childcare for school-age children. It doesn’t really exist, at least not in my area. Childcare (daycares, etc.) don’t take all ages.

          Maybe some are lucky enough to have family nearby, or their child has a friend with a stay-at-home parent who’s willing to let the child into their bubble, but that’s rare.

          1. Run mad; don't faint*

            Or if there is no family or available friend, they hire a sitter or nanny to be at the house every day so the parents can go into work.

        2. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

          Depending on the age and the abilities of school-aged children, working parents aren’t necessarily homeschooling children while working. My kids are in public elementary school, remotely, and I am almost never involved in their school day. Some of that is the luck of the draw in terms of your kids’ temperament and how good the school is at facilitating remote learning (and I am keenly aware of my luck and my privilege).

          Bottom line: I can do my job well from home, even with my kids home as well. I could not do my job well from home while caring for an infant or a toddler.

          1. Artemesia*

            my granddaughter is very self sufficient with her home schooling; some kids are not but many are. This is entirely different from pretending to work while caring for a baby or toddler which is impossible. No toddler needs minimal supervision.

            1. Clare*

              I’m not aware of any parents of young children who are “pretending to work” right now. We got thrown into a global pandemic with the option to take 12 weeks of leave at 2/3rds pay, very little social safety net, and the expectation that parents (mostly mothers) would simply figure it out.

            2. Fish*

              Parents of toddlers who are trying to balance pandemic, parenthood, and work aren’t “pretending to work”. They’re burning out trying to juggle three things at once.

        3. On Fire*

          On my team, my manager is the only person with a school age child. One coworker has adult children; the rest of us are childless/free. Schools are open here, but if they were closed, my manager would have to be (at least partially) remote. *shrug* Maybe it’s similar for OP — in which case yes, she would need to be at home, but everyone else would have to be in the office. Or maybe the situation is so clear to her that she didn’t realize readers would have a lot of questions.

      9. HigherEd Person*

        Look, as someone who works at a university, I get it. It’s BS that we’re being called back in when we’re basically in a germ-infested hot zone of 18-22 year olds who think that they are immune from this virus, and who violated campus COVID policy at every opportunity.

        I’m a director of a student-facing department, and if students are in-person, we need to be, too. I am also the only one on my team with a kid (school aged, still virtual). Staying home while making my team come in was never an option. Yes, we could all technically do our jobs remotely, but according to the powers that be, if our students are there, they “need to see our lights on.” If I’m asking my team to come in 1-2 days/week, then I need to, as well. I can’t even imagine the frustration and resentment that would build if I stayed home and didn’t even try to find ways to make it work.

        That said, yes, there are many on-campus jobs that need to be done in-person if students are in-person (for example, student events/activities or a student administrative office that handles payments, parking passes, ID photos, etc). And it’s hard as a supervisor, b/c it’s not that she can’t find childcare or that she doesn’t have access to safe childcare, it’s that her baby is having separation anxiety. That might make you feel like you can dismiss it more easily, now that your kids are older. I’m saying that I get it – I really do. However, you need to find middle ground here. The resentment will build, and you’re just perpetuating the toxic culture of Higher Ed that claims to support work/life balance, but in practice actually doesn’t (And yes, I get that you’re under the pressures of upper level administration. I am, too).

        I wish I had a magical answer to this, but I don’t. Could you sit down with her over zoom and just talk through some options? Maybe starting with 1/2 days once a week to let Baby get used to it? Talk about parenting, and how you understand. Show some empathy to what she’s dealing with as a parent to a pandemic baby who has never been separated for lengthy periods of time. (It also sounds like her daycare is pretty crappy if they can’t handle a baby crying for more than an hour).

        1. Yorick*

          I don’t think LW1 should try to help her employee with the parenting aspect of this. What she should do is 1) explain why they need the employee to start working in the office and 2) offer any information about benefits or EAPs or whatever that might help.

          Right now, LW doesn’t know if she will still be WFH when everybody starts working at the office again, but if that does happen, LW can explain why her job can be done remotely for now while their jobs need them to be physically present.

      10. anonforthis*

        If the sole reason the manager is remaining at home is because she needs to provide childcare, the employees should be permitted to continue WFH to provide childcare. Why are people with school-aged kids allowed to provide childcare and WFH, but people with younger kids not? OP can hire a nanny or a babysitter if schools aren’t re-opened, just like her employee can send her kids to daycare. I don’t think the backhanded remark about how her employee doesn’t manage her time at home well with a toddler and a newborn during a pandemic should be the basis for requiring her to come back. The work place should be consistent – everyone is back now that there is a vaccine, regardless of how old your kids are or if you continue WFH you need to have in-home childcare. Without that, the workplace comes off as being friendly to people with school-aged kids, but not to kids with younger children.

        1. Greg*

          I think if her performance remained at the same level while working from home I would agree with you. But…it is called out she isn’t and quite frankly, as someone who worked from home for 6 months with a 2 year old and a newborn, it just isn’t possible to maintain any level of regular performance. That’s not a judgement on the mother, just a statement of fact. If the world is entering a phase where it is safe to re-enter in-person work and her child has a slot in daycare then I’m not sure what case can be made for this mother not coming in. Why should an employer tolerate a drop in performance for the sole reason of, “My kid doesn’t like daycare.”?

          1. anonforthis*

            I completely agree drops in performance should not be tolerated. But employers should focus on the performance deficiencies, not the reasons for them that are caused by non-work forces (unless those reasons require accommodations under the law). OP is saying that employees need to be in office because that’s what the administration says, but if in reality people can work from home to provide childcare, but this employee can’t do that because of performance deficiencies, the OP should focus on that. Saying “you should work in the office because you can send your daughter to daycare, but I can work at home because I can’t send my kids to school” is different than “you should work in the office because you are not performing well working from home.” you remove childcare entirely from the debate by focusing on performance.

          2. Quill*

            Because employers are going to have to tolerate a lot of drops in performance for a variety of other reasons – catching covid, caring for people recovering from covid, long term impacts of covid, generalized pandemic fatigue, various countries being vaccinated at different rates – over the next year or two.

            And the daycare may be opening and closing at random as people are exposed to covid risk too, which isn’t doing much for either acclimating the child to daycare or for OP’s report’s work performance.

            Figuring out how to get the work done in a system that was previously under-staffed and is now overstressed isn’t all on OP, but OP is in a position to explain to the decisionmakers that things going fully back to normal is more complicated than they’ve considered. And focusing on getting the work done includes figuring out what actually gets the work done / increases performance instead of chasing the pipe dream of “back to normal.”

        2. HigherEd Person*

          What could also be happening here (and happens at a lot of universities) is that higher ups are given more leeway for certain things. Again, part of the toxic Higher Ed culture.

          1. Amy*

            I’m in England and it is pretty bog-standard we (lecturers) have some flexibility to work from home. But that isn’t an option for people in other roles. Just like any other cost/benefit you would calculate when choosing any job.

    2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Honestly, I’m curious about the throwaway remark of ‘she is not always the best at managing her time when working from home’. It makes me curious how the team dynamics may have changed since COVID and if that’s impacting the perspective a bit.

      And if this employee isn’t currently meeting the expectations that will exist post-COVID (re: metrics/outcomes, not working location) has that been clearly communicated to her? Or is she racking up an office debt without realizing it?

      On the other hand, if she’s truly not able to complete her work when WFH, that’s another reason why some staff may be able to WFH and others can’t.

      1. Emma*

        Yeah, this is the point that stuck out to me.

        If the main reason why this particular employee won’t be allowed to continue WFH is that she’s been less productive or hasn’t managed her time well – why not tell her that?

        Something like, “Although management expects everyone to go back to the office [if this is true], I understand why you want to continue working remotely. I’m willing to try to arrange that for you, but I would need to see [specific improvements] before I would feel confident recommending that you continue WFH”

        This would hopefully give her a push to improve her work, and would give her a fair explanation if she does end up having to go back to the office.

        1. New Mom*

          As someone who also had a pandemic baby, I’d really appreciate the opportunity to prove I could do better than it not being discussed with me and then decided without my input. But hopefully the OP has already flagged the issues with her employee.

      2. Forrest*

        ‘she is not always the best at managing her time when working from home [with her new baby]’ — well, no shit.

        OP, you need to be very clear whether this is a “the role” problem or a “the employee” problem. You can’t make it both. If another employee with better time management (or, you know, fewer babies) would be able to do the role WFH, you need to say that. If another employee who was great at time management would be able to do it from home, you need to be clear that it’s about her personal situation (and be sure that your work policies allow you that discretion.)

        Even if it’s something like, “Senior management would prefer that this role isn’t WFH, but if I was confident in this employee’s ability to do it from home, I would go to bat for her”– be clear on that distinction in your head and honest about it with your employee.

        But when you confuse the two, that’s confusing and frustrating for your employee, and it IS likely to lead to accusations of discrimination.

        1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          ‘she is not always the best at managing her time when working from home [with her new baby]’ — well, no shit.

          Good point. I realise I was assuming that employee struggled with WFH time-management even pre-baby, but if the only experience she’s had of WFH is while pregnant and with a newborn, then that’s not surprising.

          I agree that OP needs to be really clear about what the different issues are and what the team needs. It’s not unreasonable to require the mother of a one-year-old to be able to manage her full workload (especially if other team members have been picking up the slack) but the past year has been very weird and boundary-blurring, so it might be hard to see the source of the issue.

          If there was compromise available here – like maybe offering a part-WFH schedule, if her job allows it – that could be great. But I think key is first making sure the employee and employer both understand/agree on what is needed for the job.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            Under normal, non-pandemic policies, most workplaces won’t allow anyone to work from home while juggling childcare… if they have children, part of the deal if they’re allowed to work from home is that they’re expected to get other childcare even if the baby is in the same house with them, so that it’s someone *else’s* job to get up and go deal with the issue if the baby is hungry or bored or needs a new diaper. That’s not an unreasonable request except under, y’know, totally bizarre situations in which the childcare options are non-existent and wouldn’t be safe if they did exist. If we’re talking about what LW1 is going to do when neither of these special circumstances is true anymore, it’s going to be entirely possible that even if LW1 is able and willing to allow their employee to continue working from home, she would *still* be expected to have someone besides herself look after her baby, and that’s the part she doesn’t want to do. Yes, the baby could come in to see Mama for a minute or two sometimes. But if the reality is as described, where Baby cries all day, every day whenever cared for by someone other than Mama, those few visits to Mama’s desk during the daytime aren’t likely to be enough… even if Mama is able to afford individual, in-home childcare in the first place instead of having to send the baby to day care because it’s less expensive than hiring a nanny. And it’s entirely likely she’d need to do the latter — *most* people can’t afford full time in-home childcare, since human time is one of the most expensive resources on the planet, and should be).

            So I’m not convinced that even if it were possible, allowing Mama to continue working from home indefinitely is going to solve this problem. According to LW1, Mama doesn’t manage her time well when WFH; that could be true with or without the baby or could be a result of looking after the baby during work hours. But if it’s the former, they can’t let her keep WFH, and if it’s the latter, they can’t let her keep looking after her baby while she does… and looking after her baby is the whole purpose here.

            I don’t see a way to make this work for all parties, and I think LW1 needs to make very clear to Mama that even when WFH *is* possible, under non-pandemic conditions, it doesn’t come with the chance to be your child’s primary caregiver during working hours. Not for Mama, not for LW1, and not for anybody else; because the work doesn’t get done well enough that way.

            1. A tester, not a developer*

              I totally agree! If Mama had the baby a year earlier, she would have had to either quit work to be a full time caregiver, or made some sort of arrangement for childcare. Living in plague times has made that different – but only temporarily. I get Mama wanting to have the best of both worlds indefinitely (get paid AND be able to be with the baby full time!), but I think it’s fair to let all staff know that once things go back to normal, regular WFH home rules apply.

              1. Tuckerman*

                As someone who worked full time while watching a 1 year old at the beginning of the pandemic, I’d argue it’s the worst of both worlds. You can’t do either well, and it’s a constant struggle to meet the basic expectations for both roles.

                1. Artemesia*

                  I was writing my dissertation when my son was a baby and young toddler and he thought sitting there reading was ‘doing nothing’ — he would not bother me if I were cooking or doing laundry but if I was sitting there with a book or papers, I was ‘doing nothing’ and he would toddle over with a book and expect attention. I did most of my writing between midnight and 4 am when he was a baby and when he was a toddler I arranged morning day care so I could write then. You can’t be a good mother and an effective worker when you have a small toddler if you have to do both at the same time.

            2. Forrest*

              I think the danger here is to fixate on the two positions that the two sides are offering here — LW: “you must get your kid in daycare, and you must work in the office” and her employee, “I cannot get my child to settle in daycare, therefore I must work from home”. Get stuck on those two positions and the outcomes are: 1) Employee leaves child crying for hours at daycare and is miserable and resentful about work or (and) 2) Employee leaves the workforce. If LW wants to retain this employee, then they need to step back and think clearly about what is and isn’t possible, what is and isn’t relevant, and then go back to her employee with a will to find some solutions.

              I mean, yes, it’s true that lots of people just “figure out” how to settle their babies in daycare. It’s also true that lots of women leave the workplace when they have kids because they can’t settle their kids in daycare. If LW values this employee, then, “Can I force her back to work in the office?” isn’t a useful question, because yeah, sure you *can*, but it’s quite likely to lead to the employee quitting.

              Some useful questions for thinking about possible solutions :

              a) What’s your long-term plan? Are you thinking of this as a temporary arrangement, or hoping to work at home and look after your baby indefinitely as they turn 1, 2 and 3?
              b) Do you think being able to work from home on a part-time or limited term basis would make it easier to settle the baby at daycare?
              c) We’d be open to thinking about part-time working from home, but only if we saw improvement in X, Y and Z. Does that seem like something we could discuss?

              But like, take the employee’s concerns seriously: this isn’t simply about “can I force her to…” If she is getting calls from daycare saying, “Your baby is still crying after an hour, you need to come and get her”, then “I can’t, boss says no” is not a long term solution either. Approaching this in a spirit of “how do we figure out something that works for both of us” will get you a lot further than, “other mums deal, suck it up.”

              1. Roci*

                This is a great comment and pointing out something most others are missing. What is LW’s goal here? It’s not “which side is right” it’s “how do I act fairly without damaging this employee’s morale or forcing her out of the workforce?”

            3. Natalie*

              This is just my own pet peeve because of how many people I know engaging childcare, including myself, and how guilty some of them are feeling about it – childcare for the under 5 set is incredibly low risk. Millions of children have been going to daycare this whole time and largely getting the illnesses they normally get in daycare (colds, RSV, etc). A year in the data on this is solid.

              1. anonforthis*

                To be clear – childcare for children ages 1-5 is low-risk. Children under the age of 1 are at higher-risk. We also don’t know the risk profile for this employee’s children – there may be extenuating circumstances that aren’t articulated. If we were making decisions based on age-related risks, many people considered “low-risk” should have been back to work.

              2. Abe Froman*

                the risks might be low, but they are there. just a month ago some friends of ours contracted Covid from their 3 yo who attends daycare. It turns out there was an outbreak and multiple families ended up with it. And they are extremely conscientious and the daycare was taking all realistic precautions.
                it’s a very real risk

        2. Forrest*

          >> If another employee with better time management (or, you know, fewer babies) would NOT be able to do the role WFH, you need to say that.

          edited to add a missing word without which this didn’t make sense!

        3. Lady Meyneth*

          That’s all true. But with daycares open and people vaccinated, she wouldn’t be able to continue caring for her baby while WFH anyway. So regardless of wether the employee can WFH, the LW’s question “Can I force her to put her baby in daycare all day knowing that our relationship and her relationship with upper management will be tarnished?” is still the same.

          And IMO, yes, she does need to find a solution for her baby’s care (I’m assuming their area is safe enough, since the employee is sending the toddler to daycare). If the new baby won’t stay in daycare, maybe a nanny or sitter, but she can’t expect her employer to allow her to take care of an infant while working full time if her area is no longer an emergency zone.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            That’s where I went with it. Usual WFH rules in non-pandemic conditions oxide a requirement that any children in the house be somebody else’s responsibility during working hours, because otherwise the work doesn’t get done well enough. That’s been what has had to happen for pretty much every company during the pandemic — but because it was everybody at once, limping along with less productivity than normal due to everybody’s juggling work and childcare didn’t hurt most businesses competitively.

            So even if WFH were an option for this employee, there’s no reason to expect that being allowed to look after her baby all day, every day would be! I think there needs to be some resetting of expectations on LW1’s part, so the employee knows that nobody — including LW1 — gets to WFH without somebody else doing the childcare, except for when having somebody else do the childcare is simply not feasible, such as (for older children) until the schools reopen.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              Eep, please excuse my overly aggressive spell checker. Not sure how “oxide” got in there! :)

          2. Smithy*

            This was the big thing that was coming to mind to me as well.

            Right now many employers that are full remote are allowing assorted accommodations – particularly for childcare – as the understanding is that it’s less safe to bring additional people into the home. However, I think that perhaps the best way to respond to this equitability would be to review a larger WFH policy with an eye to being mindful that either all of 2021 or at least through the summer may still be in transition.

            Within that, WFH can begin to phase in how many hours a day staff are required to have alternative child care – either in or out of the home. And then it may also be worth articulating that for those with children attending remote elementary school, they either need to be able to do so independently or again, with alternative in-home care.

            Depending on the OP’s kid’s needs – that may also require the OP to consider whether they need to bring in some kind of in-home help, but it could really help with equity.

        4. MCMonkeybean*

          At first I was thinking “of course she’s not at max productivity if she’s got a baby at home!”

          But then on thinking about it more I guess that’s kind of the company’s point too–that’s why in normal times many companies have policies that you can only work from home if you can prove that your kids have a caretaker other than you during your work hours. If her main argument is that she wants to keep working from home so that she can devote some of her work time to taking care of her baby, well I certainly understand why she would want that but I can’t imagine that’s going to be the winning argument that convinces the company to let her stay home!

      3. Knope knope knope*

        Yeah this stuck out to me too! I feel like there are a lot of threads that need to be untangled in this letter.

        First the performance issues. Are those being communicated and dealt with directly and separate from the childcare question? It’s fair for the employer to have needs that must be met and if they’re communicating them, the employee can either prove she can meet her expectations or conclude she needs to enlist childcare for infant to meet the requirements of her full time job.

        Second is the issue of remote work as a pandemic related concession versus a permanent accommodation. If the OP explains it as either a tiered reopening “teachers return to in person work when X restrictions are lifted because of Y reasons, administration returns when A restrictions are lifted because of B restrictions.” that’s also a bit more equitable.

        If it’s “parents of school aged kids get to work from home while everyone else goes back” that’s not really so fair. The OP is framing it as if she has no choices while her employee does and is making the wrong one. She has choices. OP could hire a nanny or a tutor or au pair or join a learning pod but presumably these are not choices she’s willing to make because of cost, comfort etc and as long as she is permitted to work from home she doesn’t have to make them. But what about parents of school aged kids with her employees role. Where’s the line? From this letter it’s very unclear. It’s just my (OP) decision makes sense and my employee’s doesn’t.

        OP really needs to stop allowing this to be framed as her situation vs employees and just set clear guidelines and expectations.

        1. Sarah K*

          This is a great approach to framing the issues. At the end of the day, there needs to be clear guidelines to returning to work and the expectations of productivity in the role. The pandemic required flexibility and forgiveness for the challenges in getting the work done (for those with and without kids!), but once tools are available to address those productivity issues (e.g., childcare services available, vaccine availability, etc.), they need to be discussed and guidelines applied equitably.

          1. Clare*

            I do think it’s worth pointing out that even with decreasing rates and increasing vaccine availability, “childcare services available” looks pretty different than it did pre-pandemic, and no one I’ve talked to so far knows when childcare might go back to normal. The exclusion criteria for symptoms is a lot broader (including stuff like runny noses), known cases require a 10-14 day quarantine/entire daycare shut down for 2 weeks if too many cases, in some places kids have to be fever free for 48-72 hours instead of 24, etc. That might change in a few months! But it’s something I’ve noticed employers who are eager to “get back to normal” haven’t fully reckoned with and that leaves a lot of parents of young children in a tight spot.

            1. Lightning*

              Yeah, my kids’ daycare has been open since June. But between the reduced hours needed to support the smaller pod-style classrooms and the stricter rules regarding symptoms (all of which I fully support, it wouldn’t be safe otherwise) , we eventually found it so disruptive that I’ve just taken a leave of absence. (Which I’m well aware is a privilege not everyone has / an option everyone would want to do.)

            2. Zzzzzzz*

              I’m sure it depends on location but there does not seem to be a “no runny noses” policy at daycares near me. I was worried too- but daycares, of all places, know that kids get sick ALL THE TIME- and they don’t freak out. An adult coughing because of allergies at my office? World ending. Daycare? My toddler has boogers everywhere (hair, ear, OMG he is disgusting) and no one bats an eye. Again, it surely depends on place and daycare, but this is certainly not prohibitive and tons of people are handling it just fine.

              1. Clare*

                That must be nice! Here it’s no runny noses unless you have a note from doctor stating it’s seasonal allergies – but we also had a really high case rate that has just started to come down. I think there’s such variation across localities it’s really hard to know that what works in one place will work in another – which is why I think employers remaining flexible is key.

            3. FridayFriyay*

              Yes, plus shorter operating hours, smaller class sizes (so some people are losing spots) and places closing entirely or closing to new families. It’s a hot mess honestly.

            4. Knope Knope Knope*

              That’s fair, but also doesn’t seem to be the case here. OP isn’t saying, “my employee doesn’t want to return to in-person work because pandemic-related restrictions are preventing her from obtaining reliable childcare,” she’s saying my employee has a childcare option that she isn’t pleased with.” I think the problem is that the discussion should then focus on why the employee needs to return to work or is expected to return to work, what the employer needs to see from her performancewise and what–if any–accommodations can be made. Instead OP is turning it into a conversation about her own childcare needs and why it is ok for her to work from home. Honestly, maybe it’s a valid reason or maybe it is unfair, but ultimately it seems like the wrong lens through which to view her employee’s request.

      4. M*

        Even if you WFH in normal times you are expected to get child care for your kids. So if this employee wants to WFH and still watch her baby when things are better that’s not really appropriate. Before Covid most companies would have mandated child care even if you WFH. You can’t do your job fully and watch your kids.

        1. Marny*

          This. But also, that same thing applies to the LW. She too shouldn’t be working and homeschooling simultaneously. If the kids are old enough to be self-sufficient, it’s different, but not if she’s WFH because she’s also performing childcare.

          1. Clare*

            Except schools are closed, and short of widely expanded paid leave or the ability to hire a tutor, LW may not have a choice. If my manager told me I had to put my baby in daycare and come in person while she stayed remote with her kids, I agree that it would not look great, but at the same time it’s not LW’s fault that schools are closed.

            1. Nia*

              So? Its not the employee’s fault her child is crying all the time and can’t be left at daycare either but she’s expected to just figure it out. If figuring out child care is required then the LW needs to figure it out too.

              1. Clare*

                That’s not what the comment I was replying to said – it said “[LW] too shouldn’t be working and homeschooling simultaneously.” The problem is that LW seems to hold her employee’s pandemic childcare difficulties as less important than LW’s own – not that the appropriate response is that everyone just needs to “figure it out.”

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

                  LW seems to hold her employee’s pandemic childcare difficulties as less important than LW’s own

                  But the employee’s difficulties aren’t actually pandemic related at this point… The day care is open, she has a spot there and has been taking the baby there – the reason for the difficulties is “her baby does not like to be watched by anyone other than her […] when she sends her baby [to day care], she has to go pick her up after a hour or so because she is crying the whole time”. Enforced WFH seems to have ‘enabled’ it so far if anything, because what would she have done if the pandemic wasn’t A Thing so she was just in the normal situation of having had a baby, then taken her to day care etc.

                2. Zzzzzzz*

                  Sort of a side note but I’m skeptical the baby can’t handle daycare; I think it’s besides the point work wise but OP shouldn’t feel badly about it because it’s solvable. I have kids and all my friends have kids, and everyone has sent their kids to daycare for years. I have NEVER heard of a place calling because a kid is crying after one hour. Drop offs can be horrible, but this sounds like a major overreaction. Or, a solvable problem. I would bet the mother doesn’t want her kid at daycare and this is an excuse. Or an exaggeration. I totally get the emotional gut punch of leaving your crying kid. I see other people getting gut punched leaving before me! But their kid settles down in like 2 minutes, with just enough time for a teacher to deal with my crying kid when I leave. And the cycle repeats when my kid calms down and the next one arrives. It is fine! My point is, the employee is saying I CAN’T MY BABY IS CRYING and… that shouldn’t be enough reason. It’s not OP’s job to fix that (or even talk about it), but I think everyone is catering emotionally to a new-ish mom when it doesn’t need to be like that. (Maybe it’s a unicorn baby who truly can never ever be watched by another adult ever… or maybe it’s a mom who has understandable anxiety and a desire to be with kid all day long. But those are CHOICES and let’s not act like they’re not.)

                3. Mommy Shark*

                  It’s also worth noting that babies born during the pandemic (I know, I had one born the week of lockdowns) seem to be having more stranger danger if my bump groups are any indication. It makes sense considering these kids have met no one, seen no one, gone no where. So this is a uniquely pandemic baby related situation, and it is probably really stressful for that baby to suddenly be handed off to someone when baby only knows their parents.

                4. MsSolo*

                  I know a couple of mums who’ve been called to take kids home because they’re too upset. I think the pandemic contributes – these are kids who’ve never been babysat, never been held by anyone other than their parents, never played on a floor that’s not in their own home. Most of them have never met other babies before, which is massively overwhelming.

                  I think it’s worth adding that if the child is genuinely upset for multiple hours, most daycares will insist you come get them (even pre-pandemic). Miserable at pick up, drop off and nap time, sure, but howling for hours takes staff away from other kids, upsets other kids, and makes it much more likely that the child will associate daycare with being miserable and continue to get upset every time they’re left.

                  That said, most of the babies I know have settled eventually; it’s just taken more sessions that pre-pandemic babies, more very short sessions so the baby learns that the parent will always come back. Of course, not all nurseries are comfortable having parents crossing the threshold that often, so it’s going to vary depending on their internal policies.

              2. L.H. Puttgrass*


                Employee has no one else to take care of her child, so wants to work from home.
                LW has no one else to take care of her child, so wants to work from home.

                A manager who says, “You can’t, but I can” in a situation like that is…not going to be viewed kindly by her reports.

                1. Rachel in NYC*

                  But Employee has someone else to take care of her child. LW doesn’t.

                  And we don’t know what set up LW has for homeschooling her kids- or how her kids handle it.

              3. Amy*

                Nearly every single child cries when they are dropped off at daycare for the first time, maybe for days. The staff are used to it (because it happens with nearly every child). The problem is the OP broke the reinforcement rules: she would show up instead of letting the baby cry it out. That then teaches a baby that if they keep crying they will get mom back. Every single time she did it the reinforcement increased further. If she’d waited for a week it would have stopped or drastically reduced (like the ones who cry for a few minutes then settle down).

                1. MsSolo*

                  That’s assuming the kids is crying a normal amount. I’ve had several friends who’ve been asked to pick their babies back up after long periods of sustained crying, because it’s creating a bad association with the nursery and it’s upsetting the other kids (all pandemic babies with no older siblings, so babies who’ve never met other babies before, or adults, or rooms that aren’t in their own homes, which I think contributes). If mama is just turning up, that’s one thing, but if the nursery is calling her we have to assume they know their business and it was in the best interest of the child (or of the other children) to be removed and try again on another day when they’re calmer.

        2. Alissa*

          100% this. I had a baby during the pandemic and have a three old. My husband and I worked from home for the summer with no childcare and it was so difficult. My company was very understanding and I got my core job responsibilities done but I in no way expected that I could permanently WFH and not have childcare. I am very frustrated by the mentality in offices that everything must be “fair”. There are a million things in life that are unfair. If a coworker has school or childcare circumstances that prevent them from returning to the office that does not make a person entitled to continue to elect not to get childcare. Most of my coworkers who need to continue to WFH due to childcare concerns would greatly prefer to have schools fully open so they could return to work instead of trying to juggle both work and childcare.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            Well, a manager *should* be fair whenever possible, because otherwise they lose their best employees, who will not remain in a situation where they’re treated unfairly. It’s to no company’s advantage to have a workforce made up of only the people who couldn’t get a job anywhere else. And that’s what happens when your staff sees you as being unfair.

            But that doesn’t mean companies are helpless to stop employees from making their own choices on their own initiative about whether and for how long they’ll be double-loading themselves with full time childcare and full time work simultaneously. That’s a perfectly fair think to set boundaries around… so long as the boundaries aren’t based on “I’m the manager, so I get to do it how I want and everyone else just has to obey.” Assuming they have a better reason, they need to communicate it clearly; and if they’re consistent in how they approach the question, it won’t come across as unfair to a reasonable employee.

        1. Hilda Dyonne*

          Whoops. Tried to correct tacking to racking and posted instead.
          Racking up an office debt is a fantastic term.

      5. JayNay*

        i mean…. working from home while caring for a baby full-time would make it hard to “manage your time effectively”. I agree the manager should talk to her employee about that if it concerns her, but I hope she takes the angle of “what expectations can you realistically fulfill and how to we get aligned on priorities for your workload?”

        as for the daycare situation – it’s actually very common for babies to have some trouble adjusting to daycare! it’s a completely normal thing! many daycares where I live ease little kids into it by having them go for one hour a day for a certain amount of time, then two hours, and so on. It’s a whole thing and parents often plan for this in their return-to-work timeline. That’s something normal and expected, and it doesn’t mean it will be entirely impossible for the child to ever attend daycare.

    3. Terrysg*

      It sounds like daycare is open (her colleague has sent her infant to daycare) but that schools aren’t open yet (she mentions homeschooling. Surely that’s reason enough that she has to keep working from home until schools reopen? As well as that, it’s possible to get more work done around an infant than a one year old, children’s needs change fás in the first year.

      1. MK*

        Yes, I have to say I was surprised by that part of Alison’s response, because, well, … it’s obvious why the OP’s situation might be different, it’s because her children’s school might not open. There is a difference between “I don’t have anywhere to send my child” and “My child doesn’t do well in daycare”. It sounds to me as of the employer has very clear and not unreasonable rules for returning to office work.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          Yeah, this is what it sounds like to me. Not only is the employee’s daycare open, but the employee is sending her older child (meaning she feels safe sending a child there — I know there are some people who don’t feel safe having their child in person anywhere yet), whereas those with school aged children do not *have* a place to send their children.

          I’m in a similar situation: been WFH for a year, my kids’ daycare has been open for all but the first month of the pandemic, and my kids have been attending most of that time. We still have several months before we’ll be going back to the office, but I would not be surprised if I go back into the office while my colleagues with school aged kids stay home if schools are still closed. That is a completely reasonable approach.

      2. Amey*

        Yes, that was my assumption too. Here in the UK, pre-school age day care has been allowed to remain open throughout our most recent lockdown but schools have been closed to the majority of children. I assumed that that’s the sort of situation she’s talking about. Finding someone else to homeschool your children during the pandemic is certainly much harder (and very unusual) here than finding childcare for under 4s.

        1. nonegiven*

          I thought they weren’t homeschooling, the kids are remote learning. Meaning the teacher is either at school or at home teaching the kids over Zoom or whatever. We keep having a tv news crawls at the bottom of the screen saying this school or that is remote learning this week.

      3. Snow Globe*

        That was my take as well, but then I wondered why the OP couldn’t find a nanny to be at home with the kids? Which I know can be expensive, but if parents of kids younger than 5 are expected to find day care, then shouldn’t parents of school aged kids be expected to find child care? It still seems like a double-standard.

        1. Green great dragon*

          Clearly daycares are open where OP is, and the cost is something presumably employee had budgeted for, since it would be required in non-covid times. Suddenly finding a nanny, a more extensive and complicated process which OP has presumably not expected or budgeted for, and who are presumably very scarce, is very different.

          1. Fish*

            Although you could, of course, argue that LW has had exactly as much time to budget for the potential of continued remote learning requiring childcare options as the employee has had to budget for daycare – and LW, as management, most likely has more money to budget with (notwithstanding other cost of living differences).

        2. Lady Meyneth*

          There is a true shortage of nannies in many regions due to just this mindset. There are just no more qualified people available to take care of young children, even for those who can afford it. And since a nanny has to double as a tutor now, many parents who might have afforded one in the Before Times can’t do it now.

          It’s not a double standard. It’s “children 5 and under have available qualified places to look after them, school aged children don’t”. Requiring a parent to spend a significant amount of unplanned money becacuse the world is still in tatters is what puts companies in our worst-boss lists, so I don’t get this argument at all.

          1. Nia*

            It is absolutely a double standard. It’s not a matter of daycares being open. If daycare won’t take a baby that cries all the time it doesn’t matter whether they’re open or not because either way they won’t watch this baby. So the issue becomes there are two employees who don’t have access to childcare. Why is one of them expected to just figure it out while the other isn’t?

            1. GothicBee*

              This is a good point. I think the answer to this question could change if the issue is that the daycare won’t allow the baby to stay all day because of the crying or if it’s just that the employee is choosing to go pick up the baby because of the crying. Because if the daycare is calling the employee and saying she needs to come pick up her crying baby, that’s not suddenly going to stop just because the employee is back in the office full time.

              1. Yorick*

                I used to work at a daycare and we had specific rules about when the parents had to come get their kids (vomiting/diarrhea or fever above whatever the cutoff temp was). I cannot imagine calling a parent to get their crying baby. Indeed, we did have kids who cried almost all the time but we didn’t get to refuse to take care of them.

                Obviously, childcare places are different so I don’t know, but I’m pretty skeptical that the daycare wouldn’t keep her baby all day because he was crying for one hour.

            2. Nikki*

              It seems like the LW’s colleague hasn’t tried much to figure out a solution for her baby. The baby cried for a few days at daycare so she decided daycare was impossible. There are a lot of solutions she could try here! She could spend some time with her baby at the daycare until the baby feels more comfortable and no longer cries. She could try a different daycare that maybe provides some more one on one time, if that’s the problem. She could take her baby to the doctor to confirm there’s not a medical problem that’s causing her to cry all the time. As a parent of two small children who have been in various daycares, I feel confident this is a problem the LW’s colleague could solve by trying a few different things, but deciding she’ll just work from home forever while taking care of a soon to be toddler is not a great solution.

              1. Zzzzzzz*

                Nikki- yes I agree! I wrote the same but longer above. Kids can handle daycare. The employee needs to figure it out.

              2. Nia*

                I agree the employee should figure something out but so should the LW. I’m sure it’ll be hard for both of them but I’m more inclined to feel sympathetic to the employee than to the manager who has decided that rules are for other people.

                1. Yorick*

                  There’s not really anything for LW to figure out here, except whether any accommodations could be made (like a part-time WFH)

              3. Overeducated*

                But it may not be forever! The baby will get bigger and need more, for one thing. I tried starting my 11 month old in a new day care in the fall. He did cry constantly; the provider didn’t call me to pick him up, and it got better over a few weeks, but it was really pathetic and he never really settled in. I also didn’t trust that provider’s level of COVID precautions (turns out they were not meeting state requirements). So when the numbers started rising just before Thanksgiving and were predicted to get much worse, we pulled him out. We kept him home until late February, when a spot opened up at another facility with more stringent precautions. It’s been night and day – he adjusted much more quickly, seems calm and happy when we pick him up, and just needs to spend more time running around than we can provide while attempting to telework.

                So yes, maybe the employee needs a new child care situation, and there probably is a solution to this. But everyone is looking at it as very all or nothing, what works or doesn’t work now will have to be the permanent arrangement, at an age where kids change so much so fast, and even if the office reopens the pandemic isn’t over. I think it might help everyone if OP approached it in terms of “how can we plan out a successful transition,” rather than the abrupt “now or never, back to the office 100% when it opens because you can’t telework with a baby forever!” kind of binary thinking I am seeing in these comments.

            3. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

              But what happens when the schools reopen? Does OP’s employee still get to work from home full time because her baby cries?

              OP doesn’t have childcare *because of COVID* – there’s a big difference.

            4. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

              It’s not a double standard because you’re not comparing two identical situations. My elementary school kids are almost 100% self-sufficient during the workday. Even though they are are under my roof, their teachers are supervising them and engaging with them from 9 – 3 each day; they’re able to get their own snacks and meals and then entertain themselves after school until I stop work for the day. While it’s not an ideal situation, I’m basically working at 100% capacity.

              If the pandemic had hit seven years ago, I’d have had an infant and a toddler who would have required near-constant supervision. I would have been lucky to work at 50% capacity on a good day. Two totally different situations.

        3. Nikki*

          Finding a nanny is much harder now than usual because there’s a lot more demand. I have a first grader and a toddler. They’ve both been home with me for the past year. The toddler will be going to daycare starting this summer, assuming my husband and I have both been vaccinated and cases are down to a level we’re comfortable with. The first grader is much trickier. His school won’t reopen in person until September, there are very few camps open this summer and they have limited space, and it’s impossible to find a nanny or a sitter because everyone wants one right now. Thankfully, my mom is able to help a few hours a day so I can get some work done, but I won’t be able to go back to the office until September when he’s back at school.

        4. KAT*

          It’s not a double standard. There is a vast difference between working from home with a fairly self sufficient school aged child who just needs the occasional help logging into Zoom and an almost one year old or toddler who needs constant attention.

      4. Allie*

        My kid’s daycare is open now and I am expected to use it. But theybeetr super flexible with me when it was closed and I don’t have any problem with them being forgiving for parents whose schools are closed.

        The employee just needs to give it a week. The baby will adjust.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I got the impression that the employer hasn’t fully in-person opened yet, but is in the planning stages to do so, and is making all at home employees aware so that everyone can start working out childcare arrangements now. This gives the employee in letter one time to work out a plan and get the infant comfortable around the new arrangements. Yes, I’m sure this infant is going to go all extinction-burst on mom and daycare, but they need to work together to get that plan in motion now, so that when the being in office isn’t negotiable, they are able to go.

    4. Former Academic*

      Also, when I worked in academia, it was very clear that everything had to be equitable.

      LW1 says that it is not their decision to make, which I understand, but also that they do get to stay home if schools don’t open up. That does not seem equitable and the optics of that are pretty bad.

      Also, from most of my experience of working in academia, WFH is really discouraged (and not allowed), and it seems odd to me that higher ups in academia would allow a supervisor to WFH but not their staff.

      1. Overeducated*

        Yeah, I’m not in academia, but my employer literally had the opposite policy pre-pandemic: supervisors were not allowed to WFH regularly, period. Supervision itself was defined as a job duty that couldn’t be done remotely – though how they were supposed to supervise employees working remotely if that was the case was not discussed, probably because the purpose of the policy was to cut down telework.

        It’ll be interesting to see what happens to that policy after this year.

      2. Amy*

        Maybe it is different in England. Where I work we can work from home (obvious exceptions are all teaching is on campus, as well as one to one supervision unless there is a good reason). The higher up people go in the research profile (e.g., professor) the more they can work from home. This makes sense as they have very limited teaching.

        But it is not the same for admin staff. I’m a senior academic in England.

      3. Salt & Vinegar Chips*

        For whatever reason above them has decided they return to work. Since that is happening being equitable would be being allowed to work from home until your childcare opens? Daycare opened first so those people go back to work first, when schools open those people go back. Equitable isn’t Everyone goes back when every person wants to go back. I don’t think the optics are bad from this angle.

        1. Fish*

          I think the optics will be bad from within the office unless – as Alison noted – LW is INCREDIBLY clear, open, and forthcoming about the logic and reasoning. This isn’t something where “I say so/Admin says so” is going to cut it unless you want an office of resentment.

          This is something where it needs to be very laid out, and if possible discussed with the entire office as a policy specific. It needs to be clear that this is NOT LW declaring “my situation is more important than yours” – which is not at all what LW is trying to say, but which could be what the office hears when they see management staying home with older kids while forcing employees with infant children to come in.

          I want to talk to the employee, not at all because of LW, but as someone who had very very bad postpartum anxiety four years ago, because even without a pandemic I struggled, and I just… get the feeling there’s more to it than ‘baby cried at daycare’.

      4. Ace in the Hole*

        I don’t think it’s inequitable since there are two separate situations:

        1) Childcare is available, but the employee prefers not to use it
        2) Childcare is unavailable because of pandemic restrictions (schools not open)

        The institution may well have a policy for situation 2, accommodating employees who have to care for a family member whose ordinary caregiving arrangements are unavailable due to the pandemic. That is a key part of making things equitable! That doesn’t mean the same policy has to apply to situation 1, where the employee has an option and is choosing not to use it.

    5. cricket*

      I emailed this question and the reason that I might be working from home is because my children are school age and finding a place to watch school age children does not exist. My supervisor’s boss has said this is the only reason that we can continue to work from home since school age daycare does not exist. My staff member has 2 small children that attend an in home daycare which has been open this whole time. Her job can be done from home and so can mine but this is coming from above me so I feel more like the middle women in this situation. I hope this answers your question.

      1. Clare*

        Is there a pre-pandemic policy you can point to with regard to WFH + childcare? I know I had previous employers with WFH policies that stated employees could not be working and caring for a child at the same time. *However* I think while we are in pandemic/pandemic recovery mode, it will be a tough sell that you’re able to work remotely because of childcare issues but your employee can’t, even though her job can be done remotely. I would suggest to upper management that they issue a written policy about what the expectations are if there’s going to be differentiation between parents of school aged kids and non-school aged kids.

      2. HigherEd Person*

        Hi – higher ed person (director level) here.
        I get it. I really do. I also have a school aged child, but around me we have local places that have opened for “day care” type things. Have you checked into your YMCA, JCC, or local gyms? Many of them have adapted to drop in programs for as many days you need (8-3 or whatever).

        1. Yorick*

          Cricket didn’t write in for advice about her kids, she wrote in for advice about her employee. And the answer is basically that the company wants the employee to be in the office, so she’s going to have to figure out childcare for her baby.

          1. Fish*

            I think the commenter was noting the argument that it’s a requirement for Cricket to be home because Cricket can’t find childcare for older kids and offering a potential solution.

      3. Happy*

        You have my sympathy – it’s miserable when your hands are tied and you have been instructed to enforce an unreasonable policy.

      4. Jill*

        Do you know if she took actual maternity leave? If that could be offered so she could spend time in the childcare helping the baby get used to it, that might help.

      5. Not So NewReader*

        Eh, I’d bounce this one back into the laps of the people making the rules.

        To my boss/HR/the PTB, I’d say. “We made it so that people with school age kids stuck at home could WFH. That was an appropriate response for the time the rule was made as those were the parents with no plan b.
        Well things have changed and I would suggest that we change with the setting. Kids are back in school and parents may have some flexibility in returning to the workplace. Now we have a focus on the real young ones and how to get them settled into a daycare/ other care situation.
        In order to be consistent we could phase everyone back into the workplace if that is where we want to land when the pandemic is done. Here this would mean making accommodations for parents with really young kids.
        Alternatively, we could use a hybrid model where people WFH some days and come in other days.”

        To the employee, be VERY clear. “This does not come from me. I am not the one saying people have to return to the workplace. I have spoken to my boss/HR/anyone who will listen. I can’t do any more than that because it’s not my decision. In fairness to you, I have to say that unless a miracle happens, you and others will be required to return to the workplace. The most fair thing I can tell you is to prepare for this eventuality that you will have to return to the work space.”

        For yourself any time you have one set of rules and your employees have a lesser desirable set of rules, you will get backlash. I tend to be a fan of sitting with my group, so I would simply show up at the workplace. And that would resolve that. And I also tend to be a big mouth advocate for the people under my watch. Here’s a bit of a turn around. You don’t have to win every battle with TPTB, some employees are satisfied just to know that you even tried.

    6. Quinalla*

      I think it needs to be made crystal clear what the rules and expectations are so the optics are not bad. There are parents with school age kids at home who have zero options but WFH while their kids do school from home. Are there some distractions or interruptions – sure, but for my life for example there is very little I need to do with my 11 year old who is managing her school just fine, a lot more work on my part for the 7-year-olds, but NOTHING compared to looking after a 1-year-old.

      Some ages of kids could go to all-day daycare and do school there, but in the USA there is no daycare for kids 12+ and many daycares don’t have space for all day elementary school age kids outside of summer when there are tons of summer camps, etc.. So whatever the company is requiring – people with school age kids come back when school reopens or when it turns summer – or whatever it is. I assuming good faith in the OP as we are supposed to that they are not the only parent of school age kids who will continue to WFH.

    7. Mina*

      didn’t read all the comments, apologies if this is a repeat. writing to say that it’s very very likely that this will become a moot point in a few months – a baby that doesn’t like being left will very very quickly turn into a toddler that might not mind it and needs the socialization. just guessing from the letter but many babies go through separation anxiety around 6-8 months and then grow out of it. I know that doesn’t really change much about the is it fair question, just pointing out that most likely any accommodating will be very temporary.

    8. Amy*

      Because one is a manager and the other is not. The manager will have a completely different role. And she is not good at working from home so she’s already screwed up her chances.

  2. Working Mom*

    I don’t understand why LW 1 isn’t expected to put their children in day care if school is not open, but they expect other parents to do that. There is day care care older children so school not being open does not preclude childcare. That’s the double standard and yes that will upset those you manage.

    1. PumpkinSpice4Ever*

      One data point here: there’s literally no childcare available for my 12 year old child when her school is closed (like it’s been for the past year… sigh.) Daycares don’t pop into existence to watch middle schoolers. So no, there isn’t necessarily daycares available for all children if their schools are closed.

      1. YA Author*

        Exactly. It sounds like LW’s children are school-age while employee’s children are daycare-age (infant/toddler/preschooler). If schools are closed, there are few other options for school-age children.

        And the LW’s children are schooling from home, so they’re presumably not needing infant-level parent attention all day. This is not to say that parenting and working and overseeing distance-learning during a pandemic is easy. It’s hard! I’m doing it! But it’s a very different situation than parenting an infant. And the infant has a daycare that the employee doesn’t feel is unsafe. She and her baby *prefer* to be together, which is a very different scenario than having no other options.

        1. YA Author*

          (It’s also worth noting that LW says her employee is not as productive at home. Employee is “not managing her time well” as she’s simultaneously working and parenting. Which is understandable. But her childcare situation is not related to the pandemic.)

        2. TheseOldWings*

          I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that the employee and baby “prefer to be together” though. It sounds like daycare is probably calling her and telling her she needs to come and pick up the baby because it won’t stop crying. That essentially means that daycare is not always available to the employee either. OP mentioned above that it is an in-home daycare, and it would probably be less of an issue with a center that has resources and employees to work with the baby to acclimate moreso than likely one person who is watching several kids. I feel for both the employee and manager as I have a 2.5 year old in daycare and a 7 year old doing remote schooling, but at least we have a YMCA available to oversee remote learning for my older child.

      2. KateM*

        Where I live, suggesting that a 12yo child can’t be left home alone for a couple of hours but a 1yo baby must be put to daycare, cry or no cry, sounds… absolutely ridiculous. I teach remotely, my oldest students are 10-11yo, and those don’t need any visible parental help during that or indeed even much of handholding by me.

        1. Emma*

          A 12 year old not needing much supervision isn’t the same as it being safe to leave them home alone all day.

          1. KateM*

            They are left here home alone all day, believe me. They would attend maybe after school groups or go to library etc, but they would do that themselves, not hand in hand with a nanny. OK, my kids were a bit older (13yo) when they started going to a new school that was 40 minutes away by public transport, plus some half a mile of walk in the middle of a city. You seem to think that children aged 0-12 are all in the same development level.

            1. KateM*

              At the day our third child was born, my husband and I left home in the middle of night (temporarily waking one of children and telling what’s happening) and he returned around 5pm. Our 13yo and 11yo woke to alarm clock, made their own breakfast, biked themselves to school, biked themselves back after school (separately), and spent the rest of afternoon by themselves as well.

              1. SarahKay*

                I think this is something that would vary by location. Here in the UK, while it’s not specifically illegal, leaving a 12 year old child alone all day would probably result in Child Protection Services being called, even if the child themselves coped okay.

                1. Working Hypothesis*

                  I was told when I visited Dominica that even leaving a 15-year-old alone for a couple of hours would get CPS called if anybody knew of it! And by the time I was 15, I was the babysitter who looked after younger kids at their homes while their parents were at the office. Different countries have different customs.

                2. Lyra Silvertongue*

                  What? No it wouldn’t. I feel like everybody is forgetting about latchkey kids. There are many of us, and we turned out fine.

                3. SarahKay*

                  @ Lyra Silvertongue I think there’s a big difference between being a latchkey kid (I was one myself) and being left home alone all day every day.

                  Plus, from experience: when I was 12, 30+ years ago, my mum was away overnight staying with her parents because her mum was seriously ill. My sister and I stayed at home, as did my dad, but that meant we were on our own for the hour between dad leaving for work, and us joining other kids on the school bus. Mum left us a list of things to do which included such onerous tasks as ‘brush your hair, brush your teeth, don’t fight with your sister’. CPS was called by a ‘concerned’ neighbour who reported we’d been let totally alone overnight with a huge list of chores.

                  That was over 30 years ago when the laws in the UK were more relaxed about such things, and it still meant about four visits from CPS (or whatever they were called then), until it became obvious the neighbour had exaggerated wildly.

                4. DefinitelyEnoughDetailToBeIdentified*

                  It varies from child to child – if there is any chance the child could be at risk then the parent would be committing an offence of negligence. Generally speaking, leaving a 12-year-old alone for an hour while you pop to the shop is fine, leaving a 14-year-old overnight, or unsupervised for an 8-hour workday is not.

                  There are considerations based on the child’s individual maturity level, but it’s usually the risk factors that determine whether an offence is being committed. Although there is no lawful age to leave a child alone, the guidelines prescribed by the NSPCC are usually followed – basically, 12 is too young, and at 16 they can be left alone overnight and in charge of younger siblings.

                5. Happy*

                  This is so strange to me. Where and when I was growing up (in the US in the 90’s), most babysitters were 11-14.

            2. Beth Jacobs*

              There’s a huge difference between leaving a 12-yo alone for a day (I remember myself at 12 and yes, that was fine) and leaving them alone every day for months on end. Being alone all day is super hard for many adults who now have to WFH, let alone kids. We’re not talking about “a couple of hours”, OP is working fulltime, which is 40 h a week plus commute.

              1. Knope knope knope*

                I remember myself at 12 and I would have ditched school, smoked cigarettes, set fires inside, prank called people all day… Definitely not ok for all kids.

                1. animaniactoo*

                  This is mildly funny because that is EXACTLY what I did as a 12 year old… minus the prank calls. Along with my younger sister, who was 10. We were eventually busted, but we had a good couple of weeks there.

              2. pleaset cheap rolls*

                A couple of hours and a full workday are VERY different.

                A full day from time to time and a full day five days a week are VERY different.

                1. Guacamole Bob*

                  + a million

                  And it really, really depends on the specific kid how much time in that range is appropriate.

                2. Koalafied*

                  Yep, from the time I was about 9 or 10 years old until I was 13, my (single) mom wouldn’t get home from work until maybe 3 hours after I got home from school. I had the code to the garage door (and knew which neighbors had a spare copy of our key if the power were to go out) to let myself in, and this being the mid-90s my mom had a pager so we had a system where I’d page her a specific string of numbers (my two-digit birth year repeated 4 or 5 times) that meant, “koalafied is home safe.” My big sister had her own code to page when she got home safe, but she was 4 grades ahead of me and often stayed at the high school for extra curricular clubs, so I’d often get home from elementary well before her.

                  But if I ever felt too sick in the morning to go to school, my mom called in sick to her job it took me to my grandmother’s house on the way to work. Over the summers I went to her house some days, usually had a week or two of a fun day camp, and some days my mom had some arrangement worked out with a neighbor who had a full-time nanny where she covered the extra pay they would offer the nanny to watch an extra kid for a week at a time.

                  I was a pretty responsible little kid who didn’t get into trouble and my mom had no issue with me being home alone for 3 hours in the afternoon, but that’s not the same as her being willing to leave me home alone for an entire workday + roundtrip commute.

              3. Forrest*

                Yes, I was fine to stay at home by myself for a day when I was 11, but that’s not at all the same as being expected to work from home by myself five days a week at the same age!

              4. Dust Bunny*

                I used to work at a water park and parents would buy young-adolescent kids season passes and leave them there all day for the whole summer rather than sending them to camp or finding some kind of structured activity. There were literally gangs of nine-to-thirteen-year-olds. They would be dropped off early in the morning and would still be waiting to be picked up when I left in the evening. It was really sad.

              5. meyer lemon*

                Now I’m wondering if it was weird that when I was 12, I was left alone at home for most of the summer with my 7-year-old sister. I probably could have been trusted to do remote school as well, because I was a huge nerd. Maybe times have changed since then.

            3. Emma*

              “You seem to think that children aged 0-12 are all in the same development level.” is a bit of a leap.

              Children mature at different rates and there are a variety of factors to consider. Sure, most 12 year olds will probably be fine making a 40 minute commute to school, then being supervised by teachers while they’re at school. Some won’t.

              Most would probably be fine being left at home for a few hours at night – but some wouldn’t.

              There’s also a big difference between leaving two or three siblings at home versus an only child. A kid’s ability to focus and study all day depends on the kid, and if a child or teenager is doing remote learning then their parent(s) have to make sure they are actually… doing remote learning, which is difficult to monitor if you’re not there. What if they have a health condition that means they need you take medicine or eat at specific times? Some 12 year olds would handle that with no problems at all, some would not be able to.

              Ultimately, my point is: some 12 year olds would be ok at home while their parents are at work, some wouldn’t, and that judgment should belong to the parent, not the parent’s employer.

              1. Dust Bunny*

                Yeah, my brother and I would have been fine individually but if we had been homeschooling, the unspoken rule would have been that I was in charge, and there would have been issues. A day here or there would be OK but there is no way I could have supervised him and done my own work for an extended period of time. He would have pushed back.

                1. Super Anon For This One*

                  This – I could leave each of my children home alone for a full day.

                  I could even leave two of the three (any two) together.

                  But all three? I cannot imagine there wouldn’t be a fire, perhaps a missile launch, and most definitely Phone Calls From Home Stating Bad Things Were Happening.

                2. Forrest*

                  Haha, this is exactly what my mum used to say. I am STILL mad about the time she LITERALLY asked someone SIXTH MONTHS OLDER THAN ME to babysit because (she said!) she knew my brothers would do the exactly opposite of whatever I said. But can you imagine the humiliation of being 13 and being babysat by someone who is 14 and is on the same school bus as you?! The shame of it!

            4. Observer*

              They are left here home alone all day, believe me.

              In NYC, a parent could face losing their child / being arrested for leaving a 12 year old home alone a whole day, every day. I agree it’s ridiculous, but it’s true.

              It’s also not clear that the OP’s child is that old.

          2. Cat Tree*

            I agree. A few hours is usually fine while you’re running errands (depending on the child) or even after school on a regularbasis. But when it’s not reasonable to leave a 12 yo home all day every day, especially when they need to stay on track with school work, get all technology working on their own, and be responsible for their own meals. A few 12 yo can manage this but not most. I understand that some families don’t have a better choice right now so they muddle through. But it shouldn’t be suggested as a general solution without even acknowledging how problematic it is.

          3. Librarian1*

            Why not? 12 year olds are BABYSITTING. They are watching other people’s young children. Most of them can be left home alone all day.

        2. Harper the Other One*

          I suspect the OP’s children are younger than 12 but older than 5. Where I live, all-day care for these age ranges is basically non-existent except for during the summer break. And in many places, it’s actually illegal or leave children under age 10 or 12 alone at home – which I disagree with, but it can lead to big problems if you left a child home alone who does not meet the legal criteria in your area.

          I’d also like to point out that there are kids like my 10-year-old whose executive ages are significantly below their chronological ages. She could barely do remote work with supervision; she absolutely could not be left at home all day and expected to learn.

          I think we should trust OP when they say that at this point, it is not reasonably possible to find care for their school aged kids, while it is possible to find care for infants/toddlers/preschoolers. It sucks that the difference exists, but I agree that if OP is transparent about that, it will mitigate some of the resentment.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, this is absolutely true.

            My son’s reasonably independent for his age and for my location, but I doubt he’d be very happy if he had to do remote school at home while we were working elsewhere. The question just doesn’t come up because elementary schools (age 7-13) are open in our area and both my husband and I have been WFH for a year now.

            1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

              Shoot, our school district sent reminders that elementary school aged children doing virtual academy needed an adult present in the house.

        3. Rec*

          This is very location dependent. Some places it is illegal to have a child under the age of 12 be home alone, some places kid aged X it is not socially acceptable for them to walk outside by themselves and then in some places it is confusing why NT kids over the age of 8 don’t make their breakfast and get themselves to school. Where I am from it is a lot more socially acceptable for kids to be home alone and go out and about independently but then I moved abroad and quickly learned it was not the case there.

        4. Juniper*

          I guess this is very YMMV, but where I live too this would be perfectly acceptable and indeed normal.

        5. Cassidy*

          > I teach remotely, my oldest students are 10-11yo, and those don’t need any visible parental help during that or indeed even much of handholding by me.

          As go you, so goes everyone?

          Is that the logic we’re all to use?

          1. nonegiven*

            Some of those 10-11 yo kids have already substituted a video of them paying attention.

        6. Knope Knope Knope*

          Suggesting that all 12yos could do this (BTW, we have no idea how old OPs kids are) just because some can seems ridculous too. As formerly poorly behaved child, I would have NEVER done my schoolwork or have done anything close to behaving if left unattended at 12 years old. I would have sneaked out and ditched school. But regardless, the OP shouldn’t frame it as her childcare situation vs her employee’s but the expectations of the job. Why complicate it by comparisons that ultimately have no bearing on what is allowed?

        7. Observer*

          suggesting that a 12yo child can’t be left home alone for a couple of hours

          That’s not what’s at issue here, but leaving a child alone 40+ hours a week. That’s a VERY different thing. Even if the OP’s child is 12 years old (which is not clear) that’s truly unreasonable.

          I teach remotely, my oldest students are 10-11yo, and those don’t need any visible parental help during that or indeed even much of handholding by me.

          Plenty of teachers will tell you differently. More importantly, you seem to be unable to tell the difference between not seeing much of the parents on screen for a few of the hours that you are supposedly engaging with them, vs the ability to leave children TOTALLY unsupervised for a full day 5 days a week.

      3. Cat Tree*

        And even the programs that do exist might not support virtual schooling. I know one single parent who is an essential worker. Her 9 yo goes to a day program that was extended for older children but doesn’t have the technology to support remote schooling. So the mom and kid have to catch up on school work every night by watching lessons that have been recorded.

      4. rkz*

        I’m seeing a lot of people say this, and it makes sense, but then I guess my question is: what are people at OP1’s company whose jobs aren’t able to be done from home and who also have school age children doing?

        Either way, I think OP1 could be a lot more compassionate and understanding here, and has to recognize that this is going to feel like a real double-standard to their employees.

      5. Fish*

        A big part of the problem here is that we treat 12 year olds like they are six year olds where you can’t leave them home alone at all – but our society is still -structured-, as far as childcare, as though we live in television’s version of the 1960’s and 12 year olds roam free all day in Mayberry.

        Frankly, at 12 I could be left home alone all day while my mother worked, no problem. I often was, when sick, or during the summer! But would I leave my own child home alone all day at 12?

        I’ll know I COULD easily do that. But I will also understand the likelihood that people would consider her ‘in danger’ if I did. Our expectations of parents in modern American society are inherently lose-lose.

        1. Fish*

          (to elaborate – I don’t think a 12 year old should be expected to handle remote learning by themself at all – my point was meant to be that our society demands constant supervision 24/7 regardless of age/ability while also relentlessly refusing to make that easy or sometimes even possible for working parents)

    2. Jerry Larry Terry Gary*

      There isn’t much for day care for older children, there’s afterschool care. Maybe a nanny?

    3. Terrysg*

      Daycare for school age children is available for before or after school, but not during school hours.

    4. Forrest*

      Schools ARE daycare for school-age children. It would not make a lot of sense to shut schools to prevent children mixing and then open daycare for the same age-group.

    5. Boof*

      I think it depends on age – daycare is usually for little kids (maybe up to age 6 if that), schools start at age 5-7 – if daycare is open and schools are closed, that implies little kids can go but older kids cannot.
      In the long run, one cannot supervise children and work, even if one is working from home. At some point, LW1 needs to decide if they want to be a full time parent or continue working. If they think it’s just temporary until the baby reaches a certain age, then can discuss with their employer what kind of accommodations are reasonable – if they can continue to work enough, or if they should take some kind of extended parental leave, I think. But it’s not really a covid problem anymore it’s a pretty standard parental leave / work problem now.

      1. Boof*

        Sorry should have said LW1’s employee. Maybe LW1 too but it sounds like they will send their kids back to school once it opens!

    6. Generic Name*

      Childcare in my area is a bit of a weird situation. Daycares ARE open (with precautions) and schools are either all-online or “hybrid”. Right now, my son goes to school 2 days a week, and is “learning from home” the other 3 days a week. He’s 14 and he has executive functioning issues, so even though he’s fine at home alone during the day normally, I need to be around to make sure he doesn’t just play video games all day. So coworkers with babies and toddlers are able to have their kids in daycare, but parents with older children are having to work remotely to deal with remote school.

  3. Chc34*

    LW3: I hope the people making the hiring decisions actually listen to you and any women who might be in that interview. In one of my previous jobs, multiple women who sat in on the interview told the male hiring manager that the candidate came across as creepy and sexist, and the manager hired him anyway because “he seems like a good guy!” He was, shockingly, later fired for harassment.

    1. anon translator*

      Ouch! I’m sorry that happened to you. I would hate to have sat in on an interview only to have my views completely ignored.

      Luckily, the times I’ve sat in on interviews, we’ve hired a coworker with an identical job description, so I’ve been there to answer questions about my job. I do admit that I got some skeevy vibes from one candidate once, but they weren’t anywhere near the best on paper, either. So my preference definitely didn’t decide the matter that time. But my manager was very clear about wanting to hire somebody who’d work well with me and who I’d be happy working with, when there were several candidates who looked about equally good on paper. I work in a heavily female dominated field, as the vast majority of translators are women. So when we hired a man in his 40s, he ended up being a diversity hire! Because there’s only the two of us, we’re in the communication department, which is overwhelmingly female.

    2. Software Engineer*

      Yeah I’ve definitely had interviews where I got a very different vibe of the person than the other interviewers. We spent a few minutes trying to figure out why I thought he was combative and unwilling to take directions (on a coding problem I tried to steer him in a direction and he flat out said no!) and the others not… and then I’m like ‘I was the only female on the loop, so maybe the different behavior is a red flag…’ We didn’t hire him.

      I also pay attention to what pronouns people use in their stories. More than once, I’ve had the ONLY time I get stories about ‘she/her’ is when I ask about giving feedback to a peer and I get stories that amount to ‘she was so bad at her job so I had to tell her how everything she does is wrong.’ There are plenty of coworkers who need some real guidance because they’re struggling but when I hear these stories I try to dig deeper and see what’s up

      1. a sound engineer*

        I’m so glad that you pay attention to these things and are listened to! The attitudes in your example coming from the people interviewing me are part of what turned me off of finding a tech job when I graduated and made me decide to stay in events (ironically, one of the fields that manages to be even less diverse than STEM) – I was tired of the insinuations that I don’t know what I’m doing and the nitpicking of my qualifications that always left me under/overqualified. The interviewing experience of myself and the couple of female friends was definitely very different from those of our male counterparts, that’s for sure.

      2. Mimi*

        Hmm, yeah, the pronouns and what roles people with those pronouns take is a good call.

        You can play with pronouns in your own questions, too — “If a customer/colleague/student were having difficulties with xyz, how would you guide them?” (Something more relevant than that, but you get the idea.) Someone who turns your ‘they’ into a gendered pronoun isn’t screaming that they’re a terrible homophobe, but someone who can take your cue and answer comfortably in non-gendered terms is probably capable of working well with queer people.

        I would also suggest (for in-person interviews) that you coordinate with your colleagues to make sure that women and people of color take the lead for the first several questions, and then _pay attention to who the candidate talks to._ If a woman asks the question but the candidate responds to the white men in the room, the candidate is telling you how they will treat female colleagues. If you defer to a woman (even better if she’s a Black woman, and for the purposes of the exercise it doesn’t actually matter if she’s senior to you, just that you act like she is), does the candidate pick up that vibe from you, or do they still treat you and other white men in the room like the senior people on the team? Screening out sexist candidates won’t guarantee that you don’t still have homophobic candidates, but I imagine it will help.

        Depending on your self-presentation generally and what you feel like, you could also amp up stereotypically gay mannerisms and see if it makes the candidate appear uncomfortable, or treat you differently than other men in the group. I’m thinking a bit of what’s-his-name from Fresa y Chocolate, though without the personal space invasion and boundary pushing. But if you couldn’t pull it off comfortably and naturally I don’t think it’s worth it.

        1. Mimi*

          And if you’re asking, “Really, they wouldn’t answer to the woman?”

          I haven’t had this with interview candidates, but I have definitely had weird circular conversations with clients in which the client asks my junior colleague “Rob” a question, Rob answers it, client asks a clarifying question, Rob looks to me for confirmation, I explain, client asks Rob another question, Rob repeats my last answer pretty much word-for-word…
          Even in situations where I thought it was clear from our dynamic that Rob was a trainee and I was an expert, people were still looking to Rob for all the answers, even when Rob was getting his answers from me.

          1. TechWriter*

            Oh we had it with an intern once. In his interview, he addressed all his comments to the lone male interviewer, no matter who asked them, even though we were clear with who the actual manager was (a woman).

            There were a few other weird things in his interview, but overall fine, and it was an internship. When our first choice turned us down, we hired him.

            Throughout, he would go to my male colleague for help, guidance, mentoring, and ask him all questions first. Even things that were obviously the purview of our actual manager. Even after the male colleague said “I don’t know, you should ask Alice about this kind of thing.” He never quite got the message. And also thought he could use the internship to move up into a different, very unrelated field, where he’d be a senior manager in five years.

            We did not hire him on after his internship.

            1. Joan Rivers*

              I think it’s good to tell him in the interview that he’s only been addressing the male — put it out there, politely, and explain that if he got hired he’d be expected to accept that this is not a “male-run” operation.

              It would be nice if the man he’s addressing would set him straight about it.

              Just like you’d address it if he told an offensive joke or got political, you explain the power structure and what you expect.

              1. TechWriter*

                This is good advice! I think we were all just baffled by it at the time. And my male colleague didn’t really notice it in the interview.

                Throughout the internship, he did redirect to our manager as needed, but assumed we were all fielding these types of questions. Nope. Honestly, I don’t even know if a sit-down conversation addressing it head-on would have got through to him. His family/cultural background hugely contributed to/encouraged this attitude.

                1. jolene*

                  Yup. That’s why “but culture” should never be used to smooth over sexism, homophobia etc.

            2. TootsNYC*

              Since he was an intern, it would be good to point that out to him.

              My husband did that once–a woman I knew was considering a run for city council; her husband was her campaign manager. My DH has done a lot of reading of city politics, so they came to pick his brain. He directed all answers to the husband. Once I realized it, I sat there trying to figure out how to tell him in the moment, and couldn’t find something that didn’t feel awkward.
              When I told him afterward, he was MORTIFIED. He hadn’t realized. To this day, I wish I’d have said something.

          2. Environmental Compliance*


            I have had it multiple, multiple times where (as the only woman in the room) the vendor/candidates would talk only to the (generally white) men in the room. I’ve posted before about my “get me a coffee” story.

            I’m often included in interview panels or disciplinary hearing panels because I’m one of the few women in a managerial AND technical role (and for a long time, had very short hair, wore very little makeup, i.e. not the Pretty Feminine Stereotype). I’m generally the canary – luckily, I’ve been on teams where it is Noted if the person will not talk to me, or is otherwise dismissive/rude/etc. and the person will not do very well.

          3. BigTenProfessor*

            I had a candidate walk in and greet the interview panel with, “Hello Dr. [man’s name], hello Dr. [man’s name], hello Ms. [my name].” When I pointed it out after the fact, neither of my male colleagues had even noticed.

        2. Just no*

          “I would also suggest (for in-person interviews) that you coordinate with your colleagues to make sure that women and people of color take the lead for the first several questions, and then _pay attention to who the candidate talks to._ If a woman asks the question but the candidate responds to the white men in the room, the candidate is telling you how they will treat female colleagues.”

          This is a fantastic point.

        3. Hotdog not dog*

          In a former job we did panel interviews that included at least one white male, one woman, and one “other”(POC, LGBTQ, etc). It was absolutely INFURIATING how many candidates ignored everyone who wasn’t the white male! It was a great screening tool, though.

        4. Starbuck*

          I do something a little similar – we hire educators and I’ll give candidates an interview question describing a scenario with a child breaking some rules and ask how they would address it, not using he or she to describe the child. Sometimes the candidate picks up on this and says “Well, I would tell them to….” etc, other times they default to he/him. I don’t recall anyone assuming she/her though. On its own, this one feature of the question and how they respond doesn’t necessarily tell you anything definitive, but if I notice other things that maybe give me pause then it can add to that picture.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      We include a peer interview with strong performers in our processes – it’s helpful for the candidate because they can talk to someone doing the job already, and it’s helpful for the team to ask questions about experience with tasks they routinely do and workstyle. If the peer interviewers raise concerns, they’re taken seriously. We interviewed a candidate last year that management felt could do a good job, the the peer interviewers unanimously said NOPE to. Not going to hire someone my strongest team members – all very different people – universally did not feel they could work with.

      1. Hotdog not dog*

        I would love this as a job candidate. It shows a real commitment to finding someone who will fit with the rest of the team professionally. It’s always nice if “the boss” likes me, but it’s more important to get a feel for how the team works together.

    4. Happy*

      Yeah, I’ve been in more than interview where the interviewee basically ignored me and directed all responses to the men in the room. That’s not going to be someone I’m going to want to work with.

  4. Jenn Mercer*

    LW1’s situation is actually fairly easy. Give your employee time and flexibility and she’ll be there for you. Don’t and you’ll lose her and deserve it. Give her (and her baby) some transition time. Consider letting her do half days or part-time in the office, part-time at home. If her performance at home is worse, point it out. Both her and her baby will reach a point when day care is the better option. As you said, the baby won’t be a baby forever. I doubt she’s the only one who is going to have trouble adjusting. Half of your employees probably don’t even know where their pants are right now.

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      OP stated this is not her decision–staff workers will need to be back in the office. Want to get me pissy–let a parent have part days and require me, a child free person, to have a full day. the report is getting plenty of advance lead time. She needs to get the child accustomed to daycare or find different work.

      1. Juniper*

        But no one is saying that. I’d argue that anyone advocating thinks approach would have it apply to anyone needing some extra flexibility. Are you taking care of a sick parent? Flexibility. Have you had to move and have a much longer commute? Flexibility. Did you get a new puppy? Flexibility. In the long run, an employer that works with their employees on finding a solution to the stuff that life throws at you, whether it’s for a few days, weeks, or months, will get much more mileage out of them than an employer that sticks to hard and fast rules for everyone because of an unyielding adherence to a strict interpretation of “fair”.

      2. AnonForThis*

        I agree Black Horse, the new parent needs to at least try harder to find a solution. It may not be perfect, and both sides may need to work together on this, but “my baby cries nonstop so I can’t go to the office, but I also want full time employment at a job requires me to be in the office” isn’t a reasonable attempt.

        Maybe I’m missing something, but this doesn’t seem to be a pandemic-related issue either? Daycare is available to this parent. There are parents all over the world with children that cry but also have to work on-site to make a living. I want to be supportive of working moms and I don’t want to see any more women leave the workforce, but they’ve got to give a little too.

      3. RecoveringSWO*

        One of LW’s challenges is the inflexibility of her higher ups, which is likely related to higher education bureaucracy and politics. Which make me wonder, can LW use the bureaucracy and politics of her institution to her advantage here? If LW put every employee on some sort of unofficial flexible return schedule (days in, hours in, long lunches, etc) for a *limited* transition period, would higher ups notice? If she had to ask forgiveness instead of permission, would her career trajectory actually be put at risk? The answer could be “yes, and it’s not worth it to please one under achiever.” The answer could also be, “no, and the increased morale amongst all of my staff would pay me back in multitudes in the future.” Just something to think about that’s highly dependent on your employer.

    2. anon translator*

      Yeah, the baby definitely won’t be a baby forever, and while wrangling schoolkids at home is tough, it would be even harder to try to work and keep an eye on a toddler at the same time. Kudos to all parents who have managed it during the pandemic, I’m just glad I haven’t had to try it. By the time this baby is a toddler, I bet the employee will be much more willing to put them in daycare and come to the office. If not, she’s probably going to have to quit working until the kid goes to school.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        I went back to work with my first two when they were about 13-13.5 months. I saw a huge leap in their independence between 11 and 12.5 months! Hopefully by the time the worker needs to leave the little one, they’ll be that much more confident and happy away from their Mama. (My first – who was never and probably will never be a great sleeper – took it as a cue to drop all daytime naps, mind. And I did have the advantage of leaving them with my husband/their father, and with the second largely WFH in the summerhouse so out of sight and earshot…)

    3. MK*

      I wouldn’t be that unwilling to lose an employee who isn’t doing that well working from home, but still expects to have an exception made for her because her baby doesn’t like daycare, while making comparisons about what’s “fair”.

      Also, be good to your employee and they will be there for you is the same kind of b*!lsh!t as being loyal to your company and they will take care of you.

      1. lailaaaaah*

        Well no, because there’s a very different power dynamic at play. I’m not saying bosses should bend over backwards to be accommodating (and in this situation, the baby is eventually going to have to go to school anyway, so it’s not like mom can just keep them home forever), but it is generally a good idea to be as supportive as you reasonably can. Most employees work better when they feel supported and encouraged.

    4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      If her performance at home is worse, point it out.

      This one could be as simple as direct feedback and deadlines. It also could help if you can extend her a “tomorrow” deadline when possible.

      Also, I’d want to see hard numbers if you accused me of doing less work at home, specifically because I’ve been sent home from the office because I can’t match my productivity at home. Is this really about less output, or just less visibility?

      1. Pretty much over it*

        This, this, this. A million times over! Couldn’t agree with you more, Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est.

        A co-worker of mine was belly-aching to me that one of his direct reports was “useless” working from home. It took him several minutes of me asking basic questions like, “I’ve never known Jane to struggle with deadlines. Did you actually give her a list of priorities and deadlines to follow?” for him to realise that, yet again, he and his inability to manage effectively was the problem, not her. As soon as he gave Jane a priority list and a list of deadlines, the problem was solved.

    5. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Baby may also be in a particularly strong “stranger anxiety” phase, which is developmentally typical and waxes and wanes as other developmental things happen. This month baby might be only able to tolerate an hour of childcare, but next month it might go better especially if they stick with enough consistently provided childcare that the strangers become a lot less strange. Providing some flexibility now (while WFH is still in place) to build up the process and enough kindness and firmness to make it still work for that mix of work need and baby need, may go a long way in smoothing the process without treating this as all or nothing.

  5. justabot*

    LW 4: You have to be really direct with vendors/sales reps and don’t leave the door open at all, because a soft let down may just make them see an opening/room to push, check back, etc. Leave out the filler, softening language and just straight out tell them something like thanks for reaching out to us on x services, but we won’t be pursuing it at this time. We have always valued your services and the relationship with x company, and I will reach out should we have a need in the future.

    I think the biggest thing is letting go of your guilt. It’s not your job to keep another company in business. It’s great to support local or throw some business their way if you have a true need, but the reality is that your business goals, priorities, and objectives need to come first. The rest is out of your control. They are sales reps, this is what they do. Give them a hard no and let them move on to the next prospect. It actually doesn’t do them any favors to give them false hope.

    And don’t lie either – you don’t want to say something like we have a freeze on x training programs, then end up going with a competitor or something. Because word can get around fast in some industries. You can just say no or that it’s not a current need, but you’ll think of them in the future. You don’t need to divulge that it’s not in the budget or that you’re not in a position to do that right now. Your company or department’s budget really isn’t any of their business.

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      “It’s not your job to keep another company in business. ”

      And even if it was (it isn’t!) trying to be interested when you literally can’t use their services is wasting their time.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      These vendors aren’t cold calling. They have an existing relationship. Presumably the LW wants to maintain that relationship: just not during the pandemic. The callers also have calendars. Any given phone call was not made on a passing whim. It was diaried for that day. Were I in the LW’s shoes (and I am actually in a pretty similar situation) I would be polite, and explicitly ask them to diary the next call for X months out, the value of X being based on my best guess as to when the discussion will be timely. If the caller chooses not to respect that request and persists in calling before then, this would be a different matter.

      1. LW4*

        This is true — they’re not new relationships, they’re existing & in a normal year we would have done lots together! I have been doing the whole “call back in X months” thing but I need to start doubling that expectation. I obviously could not have predicted how this year was going to drag out so my usual “maybe next quarter” response really feels more like “maybe in 2022” at this point.

        1. Whataboutit*

          Tell them! I’m in customer relationship management, and I would loooove for a customer to tell me if they won’t be able to even consider our services for another 2 quarters, or whatever. It’s great insight for me, and allows my company to plan for our next steps with that customer, as well as not counting the revenue in our budget. Give them a realistic timeline for when you want to check in next, and put it out of your mind.

    3. LadyByTheLake*

      This — as a vendor I was counting on a major project from a long time client, held my time open for them and did financial planning based on that project. I sent several follow ups to which I received squishy “we’re working on it” responses. I finally called my good friend at the company to see what was up, only to discover they had put the project on the shelf two months previously and didn’t want to tell me because they liked me a lot and felt uncomfortable giving me bad news. For heaven’s sake! If you like me, tell me! If I had had accurate information two months earlier I could have taken other work and changed my plans accordingly.
      Be direct, provide accurate information, don’t soft pedal.

      1. MCL*

        Totally. I’m not really a vendor, but we provide professional development services to an agency and it’s SUPER helpful if we know whether we can plan on their business or not. Seriously, no hard feelings if the answer is no… there is a lot of struggle out there. But taking away some of the question marks is extremely helpful.

      2. Cassidy*

        In my case, though, because of budget decisions over which my department has absolutely no control, we often don’t know until the last minute (let alone “two months earlier”) whether we will be able to follow through with a purchase, and we do communictae that fact up front to the vendor. Also, if one of our vendors decides to crunch numbers regardless of whether he or she has explicit nowledge of our plans, that’s on them. We don’t ask for or expect that.

      3. learnedthehardway*

        This – I have my own business, and I appreciate getting direct responses from my clients about whether or not they are moving forward with projects. I need to plan my schedule over a series of weeks / months, and might hold time for them if they say they have a project coming. That might mean turning down another project.

    4. LW4*

      This is helpful, thank you! I’m definitely not interested in lying about budgets or anything, I am just hesitating about how honest to be when the answer comes down to “it’s me… *I* just can’t right now” because that feels bad! But it’s honest so I should probably get over the bad feelings ha.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Go vague: “This is a really bad time, with the pandemic. Call me again in [X] months.”

      2. Hillary*

        The answer isn’t you – the answer is that your department has other priorities because of the pandemic. One of my favorite phrases is we don’t have bandwidth. “We don’t have bandwidth for that right now, but I’ve got it penciled in for Q4. Let’s connect in September.” Sometimes it’s even true. ;-)

        All my vendors prefer it when I’m direct about their opportunities. If nothing else it’ll usually get me off their call list until the time I told them.

    5. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      Totally. In many cases it’ll also help your contact at the vendor company to be able to tell their boss that “Company X said no/check back in August/etc” so the boss doesn’t keep asking “where is the order from Company X? Call them again!”

  6. PspspspspspsKitty*

    LW 1 – Ugh. I’m not a parent but the tone of this letter is leaving me a bad taste. I use to watch babies at a resort camp. I definitely called the parent if a baby has been crying for an hour. We simply do not let babies cry all day.

    I don’t understand why it’s okay for you to work at home and not her. You said she hasn’t been good with her time. Have you spoke with her about that? She has a newborn. Did you let her take maternity leave or have you been expecting her to work like normal with a newborn? It seems understandable that her work load isn’t normal but if it’s causing issues, why haven’t you mentioned that is why she has to work in office? Was there any kind of discussion about this?

    Ideally, a manager would see a need and push back for their employee to work from home for a few months longer. It’s not like her baby will be a baby forever. The pandemic won’t be over in three months anyways.

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      Again, OP makes it clear “…we are not able to be flexible and allow staff to work from home all the time, but this decision is not mine to make”. OP’s job can be done from home. Staff can’t.

      1. Lady Meyneth*

        OP makes it even clearer: “I also have kids and if they don’t return to school, I will be home with them even though my staff will have to return to the office.”

        OP will only stay WFH if her kids’ school doesn’t open and they can’t return to it. Presumably, the rest of her staff doesn’t have school aged children, or have other arrangements. I honestly don’t get the confusion over this.

        Either way, the employee has childcare available that she clearly feels safe about, since the toddler goes, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable of the employer to expect her not to be caring for an infant during her work hours.

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          And even if the school doesn’t open straight away, that’s not going to be forever. There will come a time when the children can return to school and OP will return to the office.

        2. anonforthis*

          OP has options – she could hire a nanny, aupair, baby-sitter, join a pod, or lean on extended family. What all of these comments have taught me is that the employee should have said “daycare is not an option for my infant and therefore I need to continue to work from home,” as opposed to offering a further reason. As presented, the letter seems to imply that the OP can stay home to provide childcare, but her employee cannot stay home to provide childcare. OP needs to explain why this is the case, and “schools are closed” is not a sufficient reason because there are other options. Her reason for WFH should be related to her job capacity, not because of childcare availability (which undoubtedly is available, just as it is to her employee).

          1. Yorick*

            The question isn’t about OP, it’s about her employee. The fact is that management will allow OP to stay home with her kids while schools are closed due to COVID, but they won’t let the employee stay at home when she has access to daycare.

            OP, don’t get focused on trying to solve the employee’s childcare needs – that could easily become overstepping. Give what accommodations you can authorize, and let her know what’s expected of her. She can make her own choices after that.

            1. I'm just here for the cats*

              My point is if its unsafe for schools to be open, why would/should daycare be any different? I think the LW’s employe would have every right and would make an excellent point to say, well the school system is not open because its unsafe for everyone if it is, so I dont feel comfortable sending my child either.

              1. NotJane*

                Except that the employee’s older child attends the same daycare, which suggests this is less of a safety issue and more of a separation anxiety issue (for the baby, yes, but also for the employee/mother).

          2. Lady Meyneth*

            “Her reason for WFH should be related to her job capacity, not because of childcare availability”

            When things get back to normal, absolutely! And OP makes it clear she would prefer to be back in the office. But as things stand, her “options” mean she’s out a massive amount of money that wasn’t planned for in her budget and wouldn’t be necessary if things were normal. Such a massive amount that has meant many women left the job market because their family couldn’t afford it at all.

            At the same time, the employee would have always expected to put her child in daycare, because that has always been the standard, wether or not people WFH. She was granted a period where she could work and care for the baby because the world was in emergency mode, but it’s not reasonable to expect it to continue as daycares open up. For OP, with schools close, her reality is still in emergency mode.

            Honestly, I’ve been getting a very anti-manager vibe from this letter (in general, not your specific comment). If we got a letter from a worker saying she was being required to find an au pair while schools were closed, solely because her coworkers now could send their small children to daycare, we’d all be outraged. But because OP is a manager, some people are dismissing the fact she’s human too, and that being fair doesn’t mean being granted the exact same benefits.

            1. Roci*

              “If we got a letter from a worker saying she was being required to find an au pair while schools were closed, solely because her coworkers now could send their small children to daycare, we’d all be outraged. But because OP is a manager, some people are dismissing the fact she’s human too, and that being fair doesn’t mean being granted the exact same benefits.”

              People aren’t dismissing OP’s needs because she is a manager. It’s because flexibility to parents during a pandemic is being extended to some parents and not to others. Yes part of it is what options are available to what age groups of children, but it’s not the employer’s job to wade into that. There could be all kinds of reasons that a child can’t be cared for outside the home right now. OP is seeing her own needs as worthy and her employee’s as “something to figure it out.” Would she fight harder if her kid was younger and not doing well in daycare? Telling her employee “figure it out” will push her out of the workforce. This is literally the “women leaving the job market due to inflexible employers” you talked about.

              OP’s manager role is relevant because she has the power to explain this to her employee and higher ups/HR. She has the power to influence and change this situation and make this better or worse for her employee. If she wants the best possible outcome for everyone, she would do well to consider her employee’s needs as real and important.

              1. Anonforthis*

                All of this. Awesome comment.

                It’s really not an employers place to decide one employee should pay for childcare, but another shouldn’t have to. Whether or not it’s a planned expense is irrelevant. The employer should make calls about who needs to be on site and apply accommodations consistently. If performance is one reason an employee should be on site, that should be the focus of the RTW conversation, and the OP should avoid discussing childcare – hers or her employees. I appreciate many commenters feel that they know the employees circumstances and exactly what she should do – she has to get used to daycare eventually, daycares are open and safe, babies cry at daycare, she’s not working at home, etc – but all of that needs to be set aside. It’s irrelevant. And a lesson to all mothers on what you should and shouldn’t share with your employer. If this employee just would have said that daycare is not an option for her right now, just like school isn’t an option for the OP’s kids, she could likely continue WFH. Focusing on performance is the key.

              2. Librarian1*

                Except it’s not her decision and given that it’s higher ed, I doubt she has that much power to influence the upper level managers who are actually making the decision.

    2. Varthema*

      Yeah, this. Just as most daycares won’t permit a sick child to remain (even in the beforetimes), a lot of daycares won’t just let babies cry all day; she might be out of options. I realize that it’s not your decision necessarily, but do you have any wiggle room to extend her a bit of grace, or advocate that the company extend her a bit of grace, the way you would anyone who finds themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place? Maybe temporary half-days? I think a long honest conversation with her is in order in any case.

      Also, would like to throw in there that pandemic babies are at a unique disadvantage starting daycare – most of them haven’t been away from their parents (or even mother) for longer than a shower or a Zoom exercise class, and most of them aren’t used to being around other people at all. Mine kinda lost his s*** the first time he saw four people gathered together standing around him. They’ll get there, but the transition may be even rougher than usual.

      1. WS*

        +1, my baby niece is in London and has never met another person apart from her parents, one grandmother and medical personnel. I haven’t met her yet. Once both her parents are vaccinated she’ll see more people but that hasn’t happened yet.

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          My niece (not London, but south east England) has met all her family, but at an age when she would be too young to have any real memories of it – she was eight months old at the time of the first UK lockdown and when the country started opening up she still wasn’t really seeing people (at the time, her parents didn’t want to start seeing family while they still had to maintain the distance and couldn’t hug) – from what I was told, the presence of two uncles on Christmas Day was a shock to her system.

      2. cncx*

        +1 a coworker had a baby in July of last year and daycares are just now opening up here. I asked her how it was going and my coworker said “well since she was born during the pandemic she kinda hates people”

        me too baby, me too, and i’m a whole adult

        Also like you said, i think there needs to be a bit more grace shown to this coworker. i hear the part about her being not effective at home (but like, she has a newborn…at home…) and that it’s entirely possible her job is one of those best done in the office. Still f i were her manager i would give her a wide berth the first few weeks to see if her baby either gets used to daycare or she is able to figure out another option, or half days like you said.

        Finally, in companies that don’t handle maternity well, people watch that and it’s a morale thing. Being kind to this coworker and trying to give her a fair shot to find a workable solution can go a long way on the optics front

      3. Natalie*

        We’re talking about the return to office work in some months, the baby is going to be older and in a different developmental stage. I’m not sure why it should be taken as a given that baby will not be able to cope with daycare when they are 20% older than they are now.

        1. Mary Richards*

          It’s not so much that a baby of x developmental stage can’t handle separation. It’s that babies born during this pandemic/in the months leading up to it have led extraordinarily sheltered lives and going from only ever seeing one or two people (for quite some time) to full-time daycare is a lot.

      4. Mommy Shark*

        Yes this! My pandemic baby was born the week lockdowns started and she’s been in daycare since they opened back up in June or July but she was and still is absolutely struggling with separation anxiety. We are all she’s known.

    3. Beth Jacobs*

      Would you have considered basically every employer pre-pandemic to be in bad taste? Before the pandemic, remote work was much rarer than it is now. It wasn’t something the employee was entitled to, it was up to the employer’s discretion. And every WFH policy I ever saw had a clause that you cannot simultaneously be caring for children – they had to be in daycare or with a nanny. Since you worked in childcare, y0u probably know that caring for a baby is a fulltime job that doesn’t exactly allow for another fulltime job without sacrificing quality.
      Obviously, these norms changed during the pandemic. People were dying, outside childcare was an epidemiological risk. But once everyone has had a chance to get the vaccine (which the OP notes will be available to their employees), this isn’t going to apply anymore.
      Just because the employee doesn’t like their options doesn’t mean they don’t have a choice. Is it hard to work with young children in daycare? Yes, nobody’s denying that. Does being a stay-at-home parent lead to a huge loss in income, so much that it’s financially prohibitive for some? Definitely. Would it be hard, if not impossible, to find another job that would allow her to WFH while caring for a baby? Yup. But those are the options and it’s not the employer’s fault.

      1. Pretty much over it*

        Employers are not entitled to staff just because they own and/or manage a business. Nor are they entitled to make the lives of their workers as difficult as possible just to keep up a status quo that was already painfully outdated before this pandemic. All the pandemic has done is emphasise how ridiculous many of the workplace “requirements” we are forced to subscribe to are.

        Also, the vaccine is not a silver bullet that is going to solve the numerous problems the pandemic caused (and exacerbated), I’m afraid. But, even if it were, why should we all snap back to the old status quo which was harmful and damaging, just because those in power want it to happen?

        1. Beth Jacobs*

          I’m not saying they’re entitled to staff. But if the employer is paying for 40 hours of work a week, they are indeed legally entitled to that amount of work performed. In higher education, that work will generally have to be conducted on campus once students return.
          OP is saying the employee isn’t getting their work done. I don’t blame the employee – caring for a baby doesn’t exactly leave 8 hours of free time a day! But for the employer who is paying for 40 hours a week, that’s a very real issue. For the students, who are paying through the nose for college, that’s a very real issue. I’m not sure what solution you’re proposing.

          1. Pretty much over it*

            We have no information as to whether or not the irk is actually being done or not, just a vague comment that the employee’s time management while on wfh is not to LW1’s standards.

            We also don’t know as to whether the employee is being paid for 40 hours a week.

              1. Working Hypothesis*

                We are pretty sure that somebody (whether it’s Mama or just LW1 at Mama’s performance) is actually getting irked around here. :)

        2. WellRed*

          I don’t understand this comment. Employers are indeed entitled to get the work they pay for. Employees are not entitled to be paid for work not performed.

          1. Pretty much over it*

            I don’t understand your reply. I never said employers weren’t entitled to the work they pay for.

          2. AnonForThis*

            WellRed, my thoughts are the same. I am completely supportive of working moms (seriously, moms, I salute you) but the employer is allowed to decide at some point that they can’t keep loosening work requirements and expectations, especially for some people and not others, and still compensate them as if they’re producing at pre-pandemic levels.

            There are too. many. people. who are looking for work right now and would gladly take the position, with its on-site work requirements, and get the job done to the employer’s satisfaction.

            1. Pretty much over it*

              Based on the information provided, it doesn’t sound like very much flexibility has been provided at all, either to the employee in question or anyone else (apart from LW1, who can stay home with their kids).

              We have no idea as to if the employee has been provided with any sort of guidance or feedback on what her WFH results should look like, and we have no idea as to if she was provided with any parental leave, or with an adequate amount of it. On the facts available, it sounds like the employee was expected to keep working, full pelt, despite just having had a baby in the middle of a pandemic.

              The employer seems to think that the vaccine will fix everything (ha!), so now it’s back to the old status quo!

        3. Yorick*

          If an employer is paying for 40 hours of in-person work, they’re entitled to that. The employee can choose to leave, but if they’re still working for the company, they have to do the work that’s required.

          If daycares are open and things are safe enough for people to work at the office, it is not at all unreasonable for employers to expect people to come in. They can (and should, if possible) offer some flexibility, and could even offer some kind of childcare benefit. But other than that, they can definitely just not care where your kids are all day while you’re at work.

      2. PspspspspspsKitty*

        Actually, yes, I do consider it bad taste. Women who are parents, especially single parents are disproportionally hurt because of reasoning and policies like this. Saying “Get another job” is what women have been told their entire life. Companies need to change. Maybe in this case LW can’t be more accommodating, but it’s very concerning that she won’t push back to her managers and hasn’t even spoke to her employee about the issues she has.

        1. Beth Jacobs*

          But caring for a baby simply doesn’t leave 8 hours a day of time to work, that’s why the employee’s work is suffering. If by companies need to change you mean “companies need to pay a fulltime salary for parttime work”, well… that’s not going to work. If the university doubles their payroll expenses, that’s getting passed on to students and taxpayers in the form of tuition (or the aid that pays for it).

          1. Allie*

            I don’t see requiring childcare as a problem, pre pandemic. My employer is very parent friendly but they required child or elder care during telework (they waived this during the pandemic). It’s pretty standard.

          2. PspspspspspsKitty*

            Which is exactly why I asked if this worker was allowed maternity leave or if she was expected to work with a new born. Nothing in the letter suggested part time work for full pay. If her work is suffering, the manager needs to be a manager and address that of course. But that’s not what her employee is asking. She’s simply asking to continue to work from home.

            Everything else in your comment is fear mongering and beyond the point. We don’t need to make up scenarios in this situation.

            1. Lady Meyneth*

              “She’s simply asking to continue to work from home.”

              She’s not though. She’s asking to continue working for home *so she can continue caring for her baby*. Even if her work could continue being remote, her employer would be well within their rights to require her to get other childcare, that’s just standard (and fair!). She can’t adequately work while being the primary carer for an infant, it’s just not possible.

              1. PspspspspspsKitty*

                Nothing in the letter says that she is trying to care for her baby. Maybe her SO is living with her. We simply do not know and don’t need to read into it that much.

                1. PspspspspspsKitty*

                  I hit send too fast. To clarify, we don’t know if she is trying to do both at the same time.

            2. Librarian1*

              I don’t see why everyone is assuming she wasn’t allowed maternity leave? It doesn’t sound like she JUST had the baby, it sounds like the baby is several months old. The employee probably took mat leave right after the baby was born.

        2. Black Horse Dancing*

          This is a university. The report is a staff person, perhaps such as secretary or clerk. The university has stated the work can’t all be done at home. So, yes, the report needs to find another job if she can’t be on site.

        3. Lawyer*

          I am the parent of a 9 month old and I would never, ever expect my employer to pay me my full salary to not work fulltime. I pay an enormous amount for a nanny right now, because I wasn’t comfortable putting my child in daycare during the pandemic. I have a number of team members who are WFH with kids in remote school, and I have been amazed at how much they could get done. But WFH with an infant is not like that and asking an employer to pay someone a fulltime salary so she can WFH to care for an infant is not reasonable.

          1. PspspspspspsKitty*

            Nothing in the letter indicated that she was asking for full time pay for part time work. We don’t know the circumstances anyways and it would be highly inappropriate for am manager to get that involved in her employees life. The manager needs to be a manager and talk about her concerns with her employee’s work. Not if she has a nanny. There’s other issues going on here.

      3. Koalafied*

        Does being a stay-at-home parent lead to a huge loss in income, so much that it’s financially prohibitive for some? Definitely.

        Sadly, a lot of people I know are in this situation but it’s not the loss of income that’s an issue so much as the loss of employer-provided healthcare. My BIL owns his own business so my sister’s family relies on her employer-sponsored healthcare plan to cover all five members of the family. My sister’s income is barely enough to cover the cost of three kids in daycare. She is sending her kids to daycare and working just so they can have access to health insurance, because my BIL’s income would be enough to support the family but not if they had to pay for private insurance.

        Which is all I guess to say, the way we handle childcare and healthcare adds such a layer of difficulty to employment and I really wish we could separate those things out better so people didn’t have to make employment decisions based on access to benefits that can’t be obtained privately at a reasonable cost.

      4. anonforthis*

        Absolutely. But the employer should require all employees to have childcare while WFH then – including the OP.

      5. Overeducated*

        This seems like a bit of a red herring to me. The pandemic was like flipping a switch changing how we work. I don’t think getting back to normal has to look exactly the same, and it definitely shouldn’t be a switch flip for any employer who can afford a more gradual and humane transition for people who need it.

    4. CowWhisperer*

      I have a child who was medically complicated as an infant. IOW, we were social distancing long before it was a thing that other people needed to do.

      Because my son saw so few other humans, he was extremely fearful/distrustful of adults as an infant.

      Did it last forever? Nope. And he’d eventually warm up to new humans. But it was a long process (e.g., weeks to months) that lasted into toddlerhood and very, very different than the infancy that the manager’

      1. TootsNYC*

        this makes great sense. In which case, the LW’s employee has gotten a heads-up and can start a more gradual process of getting the baby used to other people, and to being away from mom. It won’t be easy, but it is important to do.

    5. rkz*

      I definitely agree about the tone. I am the mother of an 8 month old, so I imagine my son is a very similar age to OP1’s employee’s child. On one level, I do understand that the world is going to be changing soon and that employers are going to expect their employees to come into the office or to work from home without also taking care of a child all day. And I do think OP1 should be clear with their employee about expectations. But if the tone they used in this letter (i.e. “get over it”) is the one they are using with their employee I can understand why their employee is being so resistant.

      Everyone has been through the wringer during this pandemic, but those of us who gave birth and raised an infant have had a really unique and difficult experience. I don’t even know when I’ll be in a situation when I’ll have to send my son to daycare and I get nauseous just thinking about it. I’m sure many parents do when they go back to work after having a child in general, but we’ve just spent a year completely sequestered and focused on making it through this. Now that the time is actually approaching it is a BIG transition and I just think OP1 could be extending a little more grace and understanding. That’s NOT to say I think it’s completely unreasonable that their employee will have to come back to work and send their child to daycare. Just to say that the tone and attitude they seem to be taking about it is probably just making it more difficult for everyone.

      I’ve written some other comments about how I still think OP1’s being able to stay home and homeschool their kids is also a double-standard. While I accept there may be good reasons for it, they still need to recognize how absolutely shitty that is going to feel to some of their employees and communicate with them accordingly.

      1. Mary Richards*

        Agreed. And I think employers are going to realize relatively quickly that the pandemic-era babies aren’t going to be as easy to send to daycare as the average pre-COVID child.

    6. GothicBee*

      Yeah, I feel like a lot of people (including LW) are just skipping right over the fact that it seems like the employee *can’t* just leave her child at daycare all day when they’re crying. And sure, maybe that situation will be resolved by the time the office opens back up, but if it’s not, what is the employee supposed to do at that point? I can’t imagine daycare alternatives are going to be any more accessible for the employee than they will be for the LW.

      I do agree that pre-covid, it was standard to expect parents to just figure something out, but the childcare problems exacerbated by the pandemic aren’t going to magically disappear just because things are opening back up. I feel like there may need to be a transition period where a little extra grace is extended on all sides. (And that’s not even touching on the fact that in the US, childcare options pre-pandemic were never great.)

      And the workload issues need to be approached separately and specifically, rather than just hoping those issues get resolved when the employee is back in the office.

    7. MK1386*

      Is the expectation that when the schools resume in-person learning the supervisor would also return to the physical work site? In that case I think it’s less of an issue that their work “can” be done remotely and more of an issue of accommodations being made inconsistently. As the writer stated themselves childcare is something the worker needs to “figure out” and while that is absolutely true and something the workplace can enforce they need to be enforcing it consistently across all staff. As a director I also strongly believe (and follow in my own work) that supervisory staff should never be asking employees to do something they’re not also willing/able to do (obviously not referring to niche skills or if the organizational structure impacts). I’ve had to ask several of my staff to work on-site in a limited capacity to catch up on work that can’t be done remotely and while I’m not on site every day that they are (primarily to ensure we’re able to effectively distance and minimize risks) I do go in at least one day per week if we have staff on site that week to show solidarity and (attempt) to improve morale.

      If the supervisor’s role prior to this included the option to work remotely or if it will remain a remote position even when their own children return to school this is all a moot point, of course!

      1. Pretty much over it*

        Excellent comment!

        Thank goodness there are good managers out there with common sense.

  7. Kloe*

    @3: I’m going to self-select out after mentionings of spouse and dog and other personal information. I’m a prospective coworker not a prospective friend, so I’m taking your line of information as you and your team getting nosey about my private life (and potentially fishing for information on whether I’m pregnant or might become pregnant soon and you’d rather not employ someone who might become pregnant) instead of that info growing naturally as we work together.

    Well, what have I learned from working on a diverse team, hmm, that I’m doing it wrong for being single and without children and not going golfing and of course that one of my coworkers thinks we’ll be going to hell because we don’t cover our hair. Mostly I came out knowing what I knew before, people are people regardless of the box they are in and since you are coworkers you usually don’t get a choice who you work with so you can only hope that they focus on productively working with you and stay out of your private life and keep their opinions on how you are living your life wrong to themselves.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, but I get it. I don’t believe in hell so I don’t care if somebody thinks I’m going there for living my life as I see fit, but I don’t want to hear about it.

        1. meteorological spring*

          Maybe you wouldn’t mind, but what if your coworker doesn’t want to work with someone who is bigoted against their sexual orientation?

          I don’t believe in hell but I’d be really upset working with someone who thought I was going there, so this comment is bizarre to me.

          1. allathian*

            I’m a cishet female but I wouldn’t want to work with a person who thinks people on the LGBTQ+ spectrum should all either turn straight and accept the gender they were assigned at birth as their true gender, or else go to hell when they die, either.

            But I wouldn’t care if someone I work with thinks I’ll go to hell because I don’t cover my hair, as stated in the example.

            1. Joan Rivers*

              It’s not about what they THINK —
              it’s about what they TELL ME! If they didn’t tell me, I wouldn’t know.
              They can think anything but what they say and do are what matters.

              That’s the problem w/bias, people can’t just think it, they have to act it out.

              1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

                Let’s say someone doesn’t tell me that I ought to go to hell for my beliefs, but they think that I should and that leads them to be uncomfortable with me in a professional context because they disapprove of me. Is there no bias being acted out there?

    1. meteorological spring*

      I didn’t think about the trying-to-get-pregnancy-info angle, that’s a good point.

      You basically do get some choice of who you work with if you’re able to participate in the hiring process though.

      Not sure what you mean by diverse team here

    2. Sam*

      I don’t think you’re quite getting what the OP is looking for here? Bigotry is not, in fact, a private matter.

    3. Willis*

      If that’s your answer about working on a diverse team, I don’t think you’d have to worry about self-selecting out.

      1. Forrest*

        Yeah, this answer really seems to be demonstrating that it’s the perfect question to me!

      2. Smithy*

        Agreed….this seems like it would be a pass from both parties.

        I interviewed in the last year, and when receiving questions about working on a diverse team – I actually found it best to talk about taking the opportunities to continue to learn and grow. While I have worked on diverse teams in the past, to not assume because I’ve done that – I’m good, and know everything I need to. Worked well for me, and seemed to be well received.

      3. Anonymoose*

        That’s the thing, because you heard the context behind the question, you understand why they are asking the question. But try understanding the perspective of a candidate being asked this question without the context that we as AAM readers have – you’re in an interview and the people there start talking about marriage, kids, etc… it starts sounding like they are fishing for details about your life, your sexual preferences, your marriage, whether or not you’re thinking of having kids; all things that people are frequently discriminated about. Alarm bells would be ringing if you walked into an interview and they started asking questions like these without some very clear context.

    4. Sarah*

      Wow; I’m not sure how to respond to this. This is an intense and somewhat oppressive expectation you’ve set. You really expect people not to share anything about their personal lives? This is giving bigots a lot of power, honestly (don’t be your normal self at all to prevent unsolicited/bullying bigoted encounters with coworkers?). Also, even if this were actually a practical solution, bigotry would still be a risk because of visible (skin color, physical differences) and audible (accent, impediment, vernacular) diversity markers.
      Please examine your thoughts on this matter if you truly think you’re anti-bigotry.

      1. KateM*

        I think there’s a difference between not sharing anything at all and starting the very first conversation with your coworker by your family status. That would definitely sound like a culture where your family status is the most important thing for your coworkers.
        And I wouldn’t wonder if that answer was a bit too intense on purpose – it’s basically the same what AAM often suggest, being more firm and straightforward, to make (in this case AAM readers) better understand where you are coming from.

        1. SomebodyElse*

          Honestly, it’s weird too. I don’t actually want to know anything about a candidate’s personal life during an interview. I want to know if they can do the job and if I think they’d be a good fit for the team. Strangely, family life doesn’t fit into either of those categories.

          As a candidate I would really side eye any interview question that started with name, family status, and home neighborhood. None of that (ok, except for name) has anything to do with the job or company.

          I do think there are questions that you can ask that will give you the information without trying to get the ‘aha’ moment out of a candidate.
          “If you were able to choose your coworkers, what types of attributes would you look for”
          “Have you ever been in a work situation where you were outside of your comfort zone can you describe it and how you handled it?”
          “Do you have any ‘hot buttons’ when it comes to work environments and coworkers?”
          “Have you ever been in a work situation where you’ve been the ‘odd one out’, can you describe it and how you handled it”

          All of these questions can get you answers that will give you some insight to a person and how they interact with their coworkers. I’d argue it’s better to ask more general questions vs. a direct “What do you think about inclusivity and diversity” because everyone will ‘know’ the right answer to that question and you’ll get a lot of standard answers. Asking less direct questions will give you a better feel for the person as a whole.

          1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            “Have you ever been in a work situation where you’ve been the ‘odd one out’, can you describe it and how you handled it” is a really great question. It’s something that directs people to respond in ways that focus on the actual impacts and perceptions of dealing with people who are different from you rather than just spouting inclusion and diversity buzzwords.

        2. meyer lemon*

          If I was in an interview with a man who made a point of bringing up his husband in conversation, I would pick up on the hint that he’s trying to make sure I’m not going to have a problem with that. Anyone who bristles about this being “oversharing” (perhaps in a way that they might not if the interviewer brought up a wife?) is labelling themselves as a possible problem.

        3. SleepySheep*

          This is how I read it to. If somebody shared their family status with me in an interview I’d feel an implicit expectation to share my own in response and family status isn’t necessarily something I want to be talking about in an interview given very real concerns about it being used to fish for information to discriminate with. On the job? Sure totally fine, it’s the sort of thing that’s going to come up with normal small talk and I expect that. Asking in the interview about working with diverse teams also feels like a totally normal and prudent question to me, but if an interviewer were to start with “My name is Joe and my family members are whoever and we live wherever” I’d be a tad uncomfortable.

        4. Starbuck*

          Yes, family status and relationship status/orientation questions are extremely tricky to ask or bring up in an interview. I think I would probably pick up on someone mentioning their partner who has the same gender pronouns as they do as a hint that it’s an LGBT-friendly workplace, and that would be great. But depending on how you ask or talk about it, it can be read as an invitation to discuss your own status, which is not information that an interviewer should want to have! And it can feel rude not to respond in kind when someone makes a mention like that, so the pressure is definitely there.

      2. Snow Globe*

        I get the point about the personal lives. The OP’s original suggested way of finding out a candidate’s views on inclusivity was very roundabout and awkward, and people could end up interpreting that very differently from how it was intended.

        A direct question about their experience with diversity is better, and I’m not sure what the point is of that second paragraph though.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        +1 And conflating diversity and toxicity is not a great look.

        I’ve always worked in a very diverse environment, and no one’s told me I was going to hell (in a professional setting), well, ever. People share their personal lives to varying degrees, and that’s their choice. I work with people I get along with better than others, but even the ones I can’t stand are treated respectfully and professionally. Also, HR would not be okay with discriminatory statements of any stripe, particularly not those based on protected groups.

    5. Software Engineer*

      That seems a bit intense if a reaction to someone mentioning they have a spouse!

      That being said, I find that in interviews how I introduce myself gives the candidate a template for how to introduce themselves (If I mention that I moved here for a transfer within the company they’ll mention how long they’ve been in the city Etc). So since I DON’T want to know their marital or family status I would not introduce my family status into the conversation (If they ask questions like how do I like the city or what’s the work life balance etc I might mention my kids as that’s relevant but that’s different than offering it up out of nowhere)

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        That would be my concern – that the candidate would feel compelled to mention their own married-and-childed status.

    6. Disabled trans lesbian*

      I don’t really know what to say to this intense diatribe, but I do want to note that queer people are disproportionally punished for mentioning they’re queer; even the very notion of queerness is often enough to bring out the prejudice, while non-queer people are not punished in the same way.
      Your attitude of “do not share anything” is disproportionally weaponized against queer people, and I would feel very uncomfortable working with someone with this attitude.

    7. Dr. Rebecca*

      You sound pretty bitter, possibly with good reason, but holding on to that most likely won’t serve you very well in team work.

      Another Bitter Person (who had to move past it to succeed)

    8. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Oh wow, I would’ve read it as “we support a healthy work-life balance”.

      Your team sounds technically diverse, but not inclusive at all. I’m sorry that you are having that experience.

    9. really*

      I know! I worked with someone who told me at least four times over the course of eighteen months that Scripture was very clear that I would be going to hell because I was divorced.

    10. Original #3 Writer*

      Hello, I’m the one who sent in question #3. As Alison’s headline made clear, this is about screening out bigots, not finding friends. I agree, we’re looking for a prospective coworker, not a prospective friend. But to add some context: now that this problematic individual is gone, we are working like a machine, much more productive, much happier, and actually enjoying our day-to-day. All thanks to removing this one problematic individual. My concern is that we don’t lose this, and that we don’t make another hiring mistake.

      But as you say, you would self-select out, and that’s perfectly fine, as that’s the whole point. You say “you usually don’t get a choice who you work with so you can only hope that they focus on productively working with you and stay out of your private life”, but the point is, we DO have the chance to get a voice in who we add to our team. And I’m really unclear on what you mean by “private life”, as we want an environment where LGBT folks feel as comfortable talking about their spouses/partners as straight people do. Too often, straight people are unquestioned for having family pics at their desks or even as desktop backgrounds on their laptops, but then when an LGBT person talks about their families, suddenly it’s “private lives should be kept out of the workplace”. That double standard is the sort of thing we want to avoid on our team.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Thank you. For people with a spouse or cohabitating partner, sexual orientation isn’t exactly “private life” because it’s reflected in their family status which isn’t private. And your family status, even if you want to avoid water cooler talk for the rest of your life, is going to have some interaction with your work life – regardless of what your family status is. The kinds of leave or accommodation you may need often depend on family status – do you want to feel safe asking for what you need at work?

        I get that the original commenter wants to avoid being discriminated against based on their family status, but keeping “private lives” out of the workplace puts them at risk as a single/childfree person in ways that I don’t think they recognize.

        1. Original #3 Writer*

          Yes! Exactly! Psychological safety. Nobody should feel not safe asking for any flexibility/benefit/perk that is offered to anyone else.

  8. armchairexpert*

    LW 1 has been super clear that she would far rather go back to work and send her kids to school! She’s only saying that if schools stay closed while daycares open, she’ll have to keep working from home and homeschooling, while her employee will be expected to send her children to daycare.

    From the letter, it appears that daycares in their area are already open, while schools remain closed, so this isn’t an unreasonable ‘what if’. LW 1 is emphatically not preferring this outcome – just making contingency plans for it.

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      This. Also, so many commentors on AAM have clearly stated it’s perfectly fair for people to WFH while essential workers have to be on site. Well, LW1 has that–if her schools don’t open, she can WFH and not be required on site. Her staff has to be.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I am wondering if the situations is anyone who has no childcare/school options is being granted some extra grace in working from home, but that those whose childcare is open are being required to come back into the office. It sounds like this is an area where daycares for those below the normal school age are open but schools are not yet. It also sounds like this hasn’t happened yet, but will soon – and OP is trying to keep employees in the loop so they can plan and make arrangements.

      If employee was the one who wrote in I would be advising them to start working with their daycare and infant to get them used to the new situation now. Start the infant with half-days, and don’t come and get them early. Slowly work your way up to a full day. You have advance warning of what is going to be happening – use it to plan and execute a strategy.

      1. Allie*

        This was how we did it for my son both when he started as an infant and when he restarted as a toddler post COVID.

      2. EPLawyer*

        This is the solution. The baby is going to have to get used to being away from Mom at some point. Better to start now. Because it is not fair to the rest of the staff that Mom gets to stay WFH because her baby doesn’t like daycare but they HAVE to be in the office. I’m sure the ones with young kids, not all their kids are thrilled by being in daycare either. The ones without kids will not be happy that they have to be in the office just because they don’t have kids. And nobody will be happy about having to pick up this person’s work because she can’t do her full time work while caring for a kid.

        There are no easy choices here. But Mom has to put some effort into it not just throw up her hands and say “Well baby doesn’t like daycare, you have to keep letting me work from home.”

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I’ve seen kids at my sons’ kindergarten orientation that were terrified of going to kindergarten. The separation anxiety is not going to magically go away on its own when the baby becomes a toddler. And it really does look like OP’s employee does not have a real choice other than “get the baby acclimated to daycare” or “quit work”. You are all right that taking care of the baby and collecting a paycheck when everyone else has to put their kids into daycare and come into work (and pick up the employee’s slack) is not a real option that exists.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Came here looking for a good place to say that. My youngest cried ALL DAY in daycare. FWIW, he started daycare at 18 months, so not an infant. Sadly we had no choice but to send him there fulltime. I was the only income provider, my parents worked fulltime, my then husband was taking all-day ESL classes as he had come to the US with no English and needed to get a quick head start on it. We all thought it was because the youngest was overattached to me, not weaned yet and so on. But he later told us (like when he was in his 20s kind of later. Yes, he still remembers the daycare!) that he was crying because he wanted to play with the other kids, but could not understand a word anyone was saying. (Obviously not the case with OP’s employee’s baby.) After three nerve-racking months of him crying all day, he suddenly stopped, made friends, and became, maybe not happy, but at least content in daycare. Normally I hate playing the “we had that problem too and we toughed it out and so should you” card, but… that was what worked for us.

        1. Beth Jacobs*

          Yes! And as someone who started in a US school aged 7 with zero English, I can tell you that waiting would not have helped one bit.

        2. Beth Jacobs*

          Yes! And as someone who started in a US school aged 7 with zero English, I can tell you that waiting would not have helped one bit.

    3. Cat Tree*

      Plus the other employee isn’t working as well at home. I get it, we’re all struggling. I’m certainly not performing as well from home, even without kids, and can’t wait until it’s genuinely safe to go back to work. And we all need to keep giving each other a huge amount of grace during this pandemic. But when it’s actually safe to get back to normal, the employee with a toddler will do better by being in the office. As long as childcare is available she’ll have to figure out a way to make it work just like millions of other parents.

      I’m not trying to be dismissive. It’s a hard adjustment for the parents and the child, and the company should give flexibility during the transition. Maybe it could start as only mornings in the office, or alternating days (although it sounds like this child is having a particularly rough time if she cries so much that the teachers need her to be picked up after an hour). But flexibility isn’t just letting her work from home indefinitely and not getting work done, when other options are available.

    4. Shirley Keeldar*

      Seems like one simple solution might be to require all employees to have childcare in place when schools are fully open, and to continue giving employees some grace until that happens. That might give the OP’s employee some time to work on getting her infant adjusted to new places and different caretakers.

      1. boo bot*

        This seems like a good solution. I think one of the things going on here is that the company is planning for a post-Covid time… but they’re still referring to a time when schools may be closed, meaning that it’s not exactly “post-Covid.” I feel like saying, “well schools aren’t open so she has to stay home, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay for others,” kind of skips past the *reason* schools aren’t open.

        It’s pretty legitimate to be frustrated if some people in a workplace are being asked to return to pre-pandemic norms, while others are still getting pandemic-era accommodations. The issue isn’t just what kind of childcare is available, it’s the broader declaration that Extraordinary Times are over now (for you but not for me).

        I think there is going to be some difficulty in a lot of areas with the idea that it’s time to be normal again. Partly that’s because “normal” has always had some terrible aspects that many people aren’t going to want to return to, and partly it’s just because this year has had a profound impact on most people, in one way or another. I suspect that the business expectation in many places is likely to be, “pretend this year didn’t happen, plus be twice as efficient to make up for it,” and I think that will be tough.

        1. Overeducated*

          YES! I am disturbed by all the “well, day cares are open and office is open, so back to normal!” comments. In the state I lived in for the first 6 months of the pandemic, day cares weren’t required to close at all, and did not only serve essential workers. This wasn’t because the pandemic was over or because day cares were safer than schools! It was because day care was considered an essential service that couldn’t be provided remotely, DESPITE the risk. The way people thought at that time was that if you COULD work remotely and keep your kids out, it would be a way to help protect the families of essential workers who had no other choice.

          I’m sending my kids to day care and school at this point, but I was very hesitant to send the younger one in until the local school system opened for hybrid learning, because day cares being open was NOT a measure of “end of pandemic,” and the local school system was driven in part by state and local health guidance. So I can see where the employee is coming from here – if not everybody has to be back and there is some flexibility for some people with childcare issues until schools are back to normal, why can’t that be extended to others? Not necessarily to the extent of full time WFH indefinitely, but at least it’s worth discussion.

    5. Sleepy*

      Right. And depending on the age and temperament of OP’s children, they could be doing schoolwork independently most to the time while they’re home, while still not being old enough to be home unsupervised for 8 hours. Probably needless to say, this is pretty different than an infant.

      Of course, we don’t exactly know what OP’s kids’ situation are. There are absolutely kids out there, even much older kids, who do need about as much supervision as an infant just to get them to do their school work. The way OP is able to show up while having their kids at home is likely to color how their team thinks about this.

  9. TWW*

    3: Making an out-of-left-field comment about your family and attempting to interpret the candidate’s facial expression would be, at best, an unreliable way of judging them.

    I wouldn’t necessary know the difference between an expression that means “I don’t like gay people” versus “I’m confused about why this person is talking about their spouse”

      1. Janet Pinkerton*

        Yup, this. Like I still don’t think it’s the best way of handling it, but trust me, we know the different ways people react to learning about our queerness.

        1. Cassidy*

          I’m sorry you experience that, Janet. Someday, society will evolve; until then, please know that more of us than not, including those of us who don’t happen to be queer, find queerness to be as beautiful as any other gender.

      2. Pantalaimon*

        Honestly, I’m queer and if anybody started a job interview with “i live in [neighborhood] with [whoever they live with]” i would absolutely make a WTF face. I’m sure I would follow it up with an appropriate pleasantry, but my first reaction would be to the bizarreness of it.

        In my interview for my current position, I did mention my partner – for the same general reason. It felt awkward to me that I was talking about him at all in a job interview, but I had a secure (toxic, homophobic) job at the time and moving to another one of those wouldn’t have been worth it.

        1. Forrest*

          Yeah, absolutely, I’m not saying that this a good strategy in an interview situation! But in less pressured situations, I definitely recognise a lot of micro expressions that mean, “you’re gay! I hadn’t realised that” “oh, you’re *gay*? Ew” “You’re gay! Oh god, frantic internal review, have I said anything that makes it sound like I thought you were straight” “fellow gay! I knew there had to be some around here!” etc.

    1. Lalla*

      Yes, I would be super taken aback if someone mentioned a spouse on an interview honestly. I have been asked before if I am married/have children during phone interviews, which is still unfortunately common in the country I live in. So I would be scared they are trying to get my status that way, as a woman.
      I think Allison’s way is much more direct and effective! I am always amazed at how she has the perfect answer for all these situations.

    2. TootsNYC*

      yeah, I have little patience for the argument that a facial expression conveys a lot of information.

    3. Original #3 Writer*

      Hello, I’m the one who sent in question #3. Agreed, it’s a really awkward and roundabout way to do it. That’s why I came to Alison, as I figured she’d have a much better way of going about it than my first thought (the bizarre comments around family/pets). And I’m glad some commenters have pointed out that this could come across as fishing about a candidate’s status as far as children/planning to have children. That is absolutely not the intent but I’m glad to have that awareness of how that questioning can come across so I can avoid that!

      I also have to agree with the other commenters re: “if you’re queer the difference is something you get pretty good at recognising”. Absolutely! We want a team where people who may be “othered” can feel like they can just do their job and excel, without feeling “othered”. I don’t buy the idea that there’s this stark, total split between work and life. Yeah, there’s plenty that’s part of personal/private life that shouldn’t be brought in to the office, BUT the nature of our team’s work requires constant interaction and coordination and we don’t want another person who alienates and others people on the team. If I’m going to spend 5 days a week working with people (and sometime after hours/weekends if there’s a crisis), I don’t want to despise their company. I know many people fall in the “I don’t need to be friends with coworkers” camp, which is fine, but there’s a big difference between not needing to be friends, and not wanting to work with someone who openly trashes transgender people, for example. Nope I don’t need to be friends, BUT I’m not going to work with a bigot. It’s about inclusion, not about “being friends”.

  10. meteorological spring*

    I had to think how I’d answer the interview question “To what extent have you worked on teams with diversity of race, gender, and sexual orientation, and what have you learned from those experiences?”

    Ultimately I came up with an answer that satisfied me, based on my field.

    Commenters, how would you answer this?

    1. Barbara Eyiuche*

      I worked abroad for many years, so I have a lot of experience working with people of other races. I’m not sure I would answer this question well, though. How does one answer in a way that shows you are happy to be on a diverse team, without sounding insincere?

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I’m honestly having a hard time coming up with anything I would say in response to such a question – I could say “Well, the coworker I work best with out of everyone is from X country, almost all of us are women, and one of my best work friends is a gay man” but, like, that just sounds like a list of my coworkers’ basic stats and feels kinda… iffy? I don’t know.

        Thing is, I was raised very open-mindedly already and I put a lot of effort and time into being fair and kind to everyone regardless of their “stats”, as I called them above, long before I started working, so I honestly don’t think I’ve actually learned a lot just from working with a relatively diverse team of people. Sure, my ideas about some stuff have become more nuanced as time has gone by but by and large, they’re still what they’ve always been.

        And sure, I’ve learned a bit more of the intricacies of country X’s cultural rites by talking about them with my fave coworker sometimes, and I know how badly my friend was bullied as a child for being gay and how he feels mostly-female environments are more accepting, stuff like that, but I don’t really know how that would be relevant in an interview as the answer to such a question. I could also bring up my own experience as a queer woman but again, that’s information about myself, not something I’ve learned through experience in the workplace.

        I reckon I’ll have to think about this some more.

      2. Smithy*

        I have a similar background, and when I was asked those questions this past year – I actually shared that just because that is my experience, it’s become clear to me as I gain more experience, that there always remain opportunities to learn and do better. Both in my personal interactions, but how I can be a more effective mentor and advocate in my workplace.

        That’s what worked for me while also feeling authentic to my experiences.

      3. Genny*

        I had a similar concern. The way the question is formulated, it sounds to me like it’s forcing the interviewee into a “my one Black friend” kind of response. The people on my team don’t exist so that I can tout my own D&I creds at an interview. It just feels very tokenizing to me.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Oh this is also a very good point. The thought of using my teammates, some of whom were close friends, some that I dated later when we weren’t working together, as proof to show a hiring manager that I’m open enough to D&I, frankly makes me very uncomfortable. I don’t want to use my friends and partners as currency to buy my way into a job.

          1. Anon for this*

            Yeah. I’m white with a black SO, and there is *zero* reason for me to bring that up in an interview. And the idea that I “need” to share that to “prove” my D&I bona fides? Yeah, no. My personal life has no bearing on my ability to do my job.

    2. Old and Don’t Care*

      I was wondering that because, being older, I was taught to treat everyone with respect and empathy and not focus on race, ethnicity, orientation, etc. I gather that’s no longer an acceptable answer.

      1. Allonge*

        It’s not a bad starting point, but it does not answer the question.

        I would not go with ‘I was taught’ as that says precisely nothing about how much you managed to do it, so the phrasing is not giving anything for the interviewer. I was taught Russian. I remember like 5 words. I was also taught English and, well, here I am.

        You would need to follow up with examples of actual diverse environments you worked in, if that is the case, or to say that you don’t have that experience.

        The problematic part is that sometimes if you expect to see no differences, you don’t see the very real issues that minorities face. So that is something to consider.

        1. Old and Don’t Care*

          That is a good point about “was taught”. I do find the question overall to be problematic and could easily lead into age discrimination if the interviewer has a limited expectation of what the “right” answer is.

          1. Sam*

            Sorry – being tolerant/not bigoted tends in the direction of age discrimination? I’m curious if you could expand on that a bit more.

            1. Old and Don’t Care*

              The ideas of what is tolerant/not bigoted have changed. I don’t like the word “colorblind” but that was the professional norm and to act otherwise would be intolerant.

              I should say that I’m an accountant, so that experience maybe different from other professions. Employers are not really looking for diversity of ideas from accountants. I think that diverse teams are better teams, and could talk about that a bit, but that has more meaning when talking about a marketing team, for example. I could talk about diversity as a value, but companies want their accounts payable processed the same way. This is not a profession for the creative.

              Anyway, so what did I learn from working on a diverse team. I worked with a gay woman for over a decade. I can’t imagine what I would say other than that. Of course I interacted with her the same way as I did with other team members. But saying that sounds gross. The same with multi-racial teams I’ve worked on. Picture starting at a public accounting firm with a class of 20 accountants. You work on various audits with different teams. Some would be multi-racial, some would not. The expectation would be that the teams functioned the same regardless of their composition. To ask what one learned from working on a multi-racial team would seem very strange. Prejudiced even.

              1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                That’s how I feel about programming, 101½%. Code is code; I don’t know how I would know another programmer’s “stats” (credit Myrin) by reading their code.

                1. Mimi*

                  You wouldn’t learn about someone’s demographics from reading their code, but a Black man might be able to look at an algorithm that decides whether someone is likely to be a shoplifter by looking at information about people caught shoplifting in the past and point out that it perpetuates discrimination. A woman may realize that the database of voices you’re testing Alexa on is 95% male, and thus that Alexa has less practice with female voices. Someone with an accent, or whose first language isn’t “Standard English” might look at that same dataset and realize that Alexa is only learning how middle- and upper-class white people talk.

                  The code itself might not look that different, but the questions people ask, and the use cases that people consider applying the code to, will absolutely change outcomes.

                2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  The code itself might not look that different, but the questions people ask, and the use cases that people consider applying the code to, will absolutely change outcomes.

                  You know, that’s a really good point–and especially ironic, since I’m often the one dragging “the world is more than just normal” to the planning. Voice recognition hates my accent, but I always chalked that up to (voice) assets, not algorithms.

                  Thank you, Mimi.

                3. Anon for this*

                  I generally feel the same as well. Mimi and Sona bring up issues in a related field (data science /machine learning) but that’s not synonymous with “writing code”. (Because setting up training data and V&V plan is mostly independent of the code writing…)

                  And… I work in a field where many things that are spoken are not English words, but are short words that are intended to be spoken by English speakers. (So you can read it, you can say it, but it’s not always a dictionary word.) We get people with regional dialects, different genders, and because English is the international language of my field, second language speakers. The variation in pronunciation can be big.

                  So it’s absolutely critical that our training data sets represent an appropriate cross section of what is spoken, or our deployed algorithms won’t work. But that’s more about the data and less about the people writing the code. When we hire people to write the code, we look for a diversity of technical background, education, and experience.

                4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  But that’s more about the data and less about the people writing the code. When we hire people to write the code, we look for a diversity of technical background, education, and experience.

                  Thank you, Anon; I was struggling how to explain the difference between code, assets, data, and inputs. Mimi effectively pointed out that consumers don’t care; it’s all one package.

              2. Joielle*

                Ok, so you would say “The teams I’ve worked on in the past have been very diverse and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know lots of different types of people. It doesn’t always have a big impact on my day-to-day work, but I do think having a diverse team is a huge benefit in general [for XYZ reasons].”

                If you answer the question by getting weird about how diversity really has no bearing on your professional life, that’s gonna be a red flag. You say that you know the standards for tolerance and bigotry have changed since you first entered the workplace – so hopefully you’ve kept with the times on that front. It’s not age discrimination to expect that everyone has a modern understanding of diversity/equity/inclusion. Just like it’s not age discrimination to expect that everyone knows how to use the software required for the job.

                1. Old and Don’t Care*

                  I would have no problem answering the question the first way you describe, and probably would. From the responses in this thread that would be an acceptable answer to some but not others.

              3. Smithy*

                I actually think that flagging that when you first started working ‘colorblind’ was a more traditional approach, but you’ve been open and willing to learn new ways of management, diversity and equity.

                To go back to points of “I was taught” – I think there’s a moment to take a more proactive, “I am open to learn how to change and evolve as a manager no different than using new technology/software”. I don’t think that you need to speak of your privilege/fragility, but rather that you are open and able to change with professional norms.

                1. Smithy*

                  Also to add – another point you could focus on what language around how coworkers/direct reports are often better able to perform if they are able to bring more of their “whole selves” to work. Being able to talk about their families, traditions, weekend activities without concern those topics are inherently “unprofessional”, helps with team building, morale, and overall productivity.

                  I do think that it’s relevant to think of this as a bit like learning a new language. And if there are some phrases or concepts that feel most relevant to you, learning a little more about them may help you better integrate your answers into your views and experiences.

          2. Forrest*

            But if you’ve been the working place for the last 30-40 years, the expectation is that you’ll have learned how the norms around racial justice and diversity have changed and adapted with them. I’m 42 and two of my closest colleagues are over 50: none of us would have problems answering this question. My parents both left the workforce in 2010 and neither of them would have had difficulty in answering it.

            If you’re still working on the assumptions you had when you entered the workforce in the 80s or 70s, that’s not a problem of “age discrimination”, it’s that you either don’t have experience of working in a culture where this is important, or you didn’t adapt to the culture which you were working in as it changed. I don’t think that’s a problem of age discrimination any more than it would be if someone asked you about using Microsoft Outlook and you answered that it didn’t exist when you entered the job market.

            1. Retail Not Retail*

              I have coworkers in their upper 60s – younger men bend over backward to excuse the guys’ sexism even though there are women their same age or older! Pretty sure they’ve been working just as long.

            2. R*

              Part of the issue here is that the “colorblind” professional norm as Old and Don’t Care puts it, isn’t really THAT outdated. That was the norm when I began my professional career less than a decade ago. It is only very very recently that the tone has done a complete 180, from we must ignore race/gender/orientation differences at all costs in order to ensure everyone is treated fairly, to, we must hyperfocus on everyone’s differences to ensure everyone is treated fairly.

              And I agree, I haven’t “learned” anything in particular from working with diverse teams. I realize this is absolutely not the norm in many, many places but in my mind as long as someone gets their work done and is generally pleasant to interact with, I don’t care about their “stats.”

              This line of questioning at the interview stage might also make me wonder whether this is a company that cares more about the *appearance* of diversity than actual diversity.

              1. Forrest*

                I graduated and got my first professional job in 2001 and “we should ignore difference” was absolutely being questioned then. It depends very much on what sector you’re in and whether there’s an active commitment to justice or just a vague sense that discrimination is bad.

              2. FridayFriyay*

                “Hyperfocus on everyone’s differences” is a very problematic way of stating the shift.

              3. Anon for this*

                My issue with pushing this line of questioning early on in an interview is the potential signaling of workplace dysfunction. Someone’s “stats” aren’t the primary indicator on whether they can write code/crunch numbers, so if an interview leads out with that early and strong, I’m going to seriously wonder how dysfunctional the place is. I’ll also have to wonder if these are primary considerations for raises and promotions. And I may not even ask — I’ll just select out.

                It’s analogous to an interviewee’s first question being one on pay, benefits or time off or something like that. It’s a valid question that needs to be asked, but when it’s the first question asked from the interviewee, it’s going to turn off a lot of interviewers.

          3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

            could easily lead into age discrimination if the interviewer has a limited expectation of what the “right” answer is.

            That’s true of many interview questions. I don’t want to dismiss age discrimination (and I agree that discrimination of all types can sometimes masquarade as ‘being progressive’) but it’s definitely not unique to this type of question….and it makes sense that the company wants to screen out people who behaved like their ex-employee.

            (In fact, if you’re worried about discrimination, you should want to be at companies that are screening out people like that.)

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        It’s not a great answer, because it is very close to “I don’t see color,” which in turn is often used as a cover for racism. A cop shot a black kid? The “I don’t see color” crowd will deny that the kid’s color had anything to do with it. The kid dis something–and they can always come up with something–to brought it on him. Since the kid’s color had nothing to do with it, the people complaining about cops shooting black kids are the real racists. This may sound ridiculous, but exactly this argument is made routinely. Stephen Colbert was making fun of the “I don’t see color” crowd a decade ago. I’m not suggesting that you mean anything like this, but it could very easily come across that way.

        1. AE*

          Yes, that would also be my initial response to an answer like that; pretty much everyone has implicit biases (often even towards our own identities/groups), and it can be counterproductive to pretend that we can just will these biases away or that they don’t have real effects in the world. (Not implying that the original commenter is prejudiced or ignorant, just explaining what my reaction would be.)

    3. nnn*

      It’s challenging for me to answer, because the things I have learned about diversity of race, gender and sexual orientation have not come from my work-related experience. (They’ve come primarily from books and social media by people whose background, demographics and life experiences are different from my own.)

      I have, of course, worked with people with a diversity of race, gender and sexual orientation, but I’ve been fortunate enough that information I need tends to reach me from outside sources before it becomes applicable in the workplace.

      I’m also not sure how to answer in a way that would provide the information the interviewer is actually looking for.

      1. Forrest*

        If your reading and your understanding of racial justice has been ahead of your workplace, can you talk about what have you done to try and make your workplace more equitable and diverse? How have you brought that insight into the workplace?

        1. R*

          Not to pile on to you as I think I responded to your comment above, but why are you assuming that nnn has any ability to try to make her workplace more equitable and diverse? First, its a work place. An employee’s job is to do their work. I am absolutely not saying that there is no room for an average worker to engage in a discussion about equality but at the end of the day, thats about all they can do. Not to mention, as others have pointed out, in many cases this is not a conversation that SHOULD be had in the workplace, outside specific contexts. If I sent out a firm-wide e-mail saying (and I realize I’m being snarky but,) “Lets all acknowledge that *minority coworker* is in fact a minority, and that she has had different experiences than others,” what point would that serve? If she is good at her job and feels comfortable in the work place, why, and more importantly how, would I do anything to try and make my workplace “more equitable and diverse?” If my theoretical coworker is facing a race discrimination issue, and ASKS me to help her with it, I’m on board. Otherwise, she doesn’t need me to be some kind of diversity cheerleader and would probably be extremely uncomfortable if I was.

          1. Forrest*

            There are tons of ways that colleagues can support diversity and inclusion in your workplace– if nnn has been engaging in those conversations and doing reading outside work, they’ve almost certainly come across them. :) Here’s a few, with some of the key terms so you can google them for more information:

            – Active bystander work– being the person who challenges racist, sexist, homophobic and ableist comments, regardless of whether you are directly targeted by them or not.
            – Join your union and become a shop steward / caseworker
            – Educate yourself about what kind of challenges people from minoritised groups might face in your industry — not by saying, “Hey, Minoritised Person, what kind of challenges do you face?” but by looking for staff networks, research, online conversations so that you’re aware of what kind of barriers they might face and know which ones you can do something about
            – Talk to people in your company or your industry about how diverse and equitable it is, using any feedback methods that are available to you– obviously unions and staff networks are one way, but there might be other direct feedback methods for you to raise this with senior teams
            – Look at who your service-users (customers, clients, patients, students etc) are, and who your immediate local communities are, and whether your staff looks like those groups. If not, try and find out why not.

            These are just off the top of my head, I’m sure there are others — some will fit with your work environment and some won’t. But unless you work in an incredibly rare environment where all of this is already perfect, there’s almost certainly something you can do!

      2. Allonge*

        I think there is nothing wrong with saying that you have worked with diverse teams and are interested in these issues so you read about them in your spare time.

        The question should really not be interpreted as ‘how many racist companies have you, personally, turned into a palace of equality and love’. Unless the job is in the social jsutice field, they are looking for an accountant / janitor / salesperson who can do a job in a reasonable environment and will not get surprised by someone who does not celebrate Christmas. Or if they are surprised, they can get over it in private.

    4. Sam*

      I think it’s a question that works a lot better when you’re interviewing someone who’s been in a management position. I can’t think of many ways to answer based on the individual-contributor parts of my job, where my works is pretty data-entry-oriented, but I could definitely talk about strategies I use to help myself encourage equity when I’m supervising people.

    5. a sound engineer*

      I’ve learned that I’m more likely to be taken seriously, treated as competent and feel supported (both as an employee and in my work).

      1. Mimi*

        YUP. And that I’ll be much happier on a team where I’m not the only person making it diverse.

    6. TWW*

      If that question were sprung on me and I had to answer it without much time to think, I’m afraid I would end up talking about my own gender, sexuality and mixed-race background.

      Then I’d spend the rest of the interview kicking myself for revealing information that the hiring manager shouldn’t know.

      1. AnonToday*

        This is exactly how I was thinking about it.

        I was a member of a previous job’s diversity affinity group due to a disability, and my mind would go straight to this as a discussion point.

        The disability isn’t visible and is well controlled, but if I didn’t get the job I’d be worried it was because they didn’t want me on their insurance policy or something.

      2. Zephy*

        Would your answer change if you were asked this question by a single interviewer, vs in a panel interview with a highly-homogeneous team, vs a panel interview with a highly-diverse team? I think the question comes off differently in each of those contexts – like if it’s just the one interviewer I might suspect (as others have noted, including you) that they’re fishing for information they shouldn’t have, and depending on the makeup of the homogeneous panel I might assume all sorts of intentions behind the question. If it’s a room full of people who don’t look like me, I might feel tokenized or wonder if they’re probing to see if I’m going to be “cool” or if I’m one of those buzzkill SJWs that will raise a stink over racist/sexist/other-ist “jokes.” A diverse team asking the question, I think, would come off differently, and I would probably assume the team has had a bigotry problem in the past and they’re trying to screen for that, which is in fact the case in the OP.

      3. Courageous cat*

        Yeah, I don’t love this question. I would feel uncomfortable talking spur of the moment about that kind of thing, and I’d be frantically scrambling for an answer mentally. I’d worry about how to phrase it so it doesn’t come off like, either back-patting or “I work so well with [race]!”, both of which are terrible. It’s just a question I would absolutely not be expecting in an interview and would feel very out of left field, so you wouldn’t get great insight from me on that.

    7. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      It’s a question I do have thoughts about, because my field is not very diverse at all. I’ve never had a non-White colleague (!!!) even when I’ve been working in diverse cities, and the gender balance is startlingly skewed. At the level I’d be interviewing for, I’d expect to have input on hiring, so I’d understand the question to cover ways of increasing diversity or at least reducing entrenched homogeneity in the team.

      But I guess that’s a good answer? Replying “ooh yes I once worked with this [person from X minority group] and we’re great friends now” wouldn’t, I think, reassure the LW!

      1. BubbleTea*

        In my case the lack of diversity is in gender – almost all my colleagues at every job since I turned 18 have been women. There were men at my teenage retail job. Current workplace is reasonably diverse on other counts, at least as much as is possible in this very white area, but also quite small. It would be tricky to answer in a way that expressed my genuine views on diversity, I think.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I honestly think that in LW’s position, the main thing she wants to know is whether the candidate is generally in favour of diversity and inclusion or not. I don’t think she needs a candidate’s full thesis on the subject.

          The candidate who shows an awareness of what discrimination actually is, how it might be relevant to the particular workplace and position, and how it might be prevented or addressed, will be a better prospect than the candidate who thinks “affirmative action has gone too far” or intimates that former colleagues “can’t take a joke”.

        2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          This is where I am – my team currently has more Black folks (of any gender), more non-white women, and more LGBT folks than white men. (That is, each of those individual categories outnumber the white dude.) We have one white dude on a team of 27, including management. On the other hand, 25 of the 27 are women, which has implications about pink-collaring, though we are all credentialed professionals, and our org chart line is women all the way up to the organization president. I can say that of the hires I’ve been involved with on my team, 80% of them have been in one of those three categories, but I’m not sure that’s any more useful to relay my views on diversity than “my best friend of 20 years is in an interracial same-sex marriage.”

    8. Whoa Nelly*

      When I first started my job, I learned from my manager that one of my new coworkers had just gotten married a couple weeks before. Said coworker and I were making small talk later, and I asked her, “So, what does your husband do?” She kind of winced, but answered the question in a gender-neutral manner (which I didn’t notice at the time).

      I didn’t understand her reaction until I found out MONTHS later that (you guessed it) she had a WIFE, not a husband! …I was absolutely mortified.

      So, I learned that even though I care deeply about issues of inclusion and diversity, and even though I think of myself as a thoughtful, kind person (and not to mention I’m queer myself!!)…I still need to continually, actively root out the unconscious biases and assumptions I hold, because our society is permeated by racist, heteronormative, and sexist ideas to which none of us are immune.

      FYI me and said coworker are good work friends now :)

      1. Niii-i*

        This is such a great example! I’m queer too and still make these assumptions. And whatever I feel and think, presenting that in an interview with a total stranger would be so difficult. And you don’t have second chances in them!

      2. Smithy*

        This is a really lovely example of how to approach this question in the sense of growing but also wanting to build positive relationships with your colleagues.

        Switching to phrases like spouse or partner, parental leave, they/them pronouns – those can take time. But ultimately invest in more positive interactions and relationships with our colleagues.

    9. Green great dragon*

      Yeh,as a hopefully supportive manager of diverse teams in a supportive environment, I think I’d really struggle to answer that if put on the spot (as others have said, most of my conscious/volutary learning about these issues is outside work or about our work rather than our colleagues). Beyond ‘yes, I have worked with diverse people and done the training and had the discussions, and it seems fine?’.

    10. Rez123*

      I’m actually really struggling to come up with an answer from my professional career. I also cannot think of the optimal “right” answer. I know that is subjective but I feel like these questions always have a collection of “correct” answers.

    11. Forrest*

      I work in education, and I’ve been asked this question or a variation of it in about half of the interviews I’ve been involved in. The first time, it was asked in quite a sceptical way which presumed I couldn’t answer — literally, it was something like, “Everything you’re describing sounds like white middle-class environments, can you tell me more about your experience with more diversity?” I totally fumbled that question and answered it very defensively, and I felt really rubbish about it for a long time.

      But like, I am fully in favour of this question being asked, because it forces you to think about how you do demonstrate those values in your work and in your relationships with others! It’s one of my strengths in interviews now: I am the person in meetings who says, “so how does this affect our Black service-users?” and “What’s the language we need to make sure trans and non-binary people are included?” and “Can we have some training on how we make sure this is accessible?”

      We SHOULD make this question part of our hiring practices, so that people are thinking about it when they’re thinking about achievements and activities at work. If you can’t answer it, do something–join your union, or start a staff group/network. Be the person who speaks up and asks awkward questions in a constructive way. If you are from a minoritised group and don’t want to be hypervisible, work on an axis of oppression where you’re an ally. But I think it’s good if people are put in a position where this is something you have to actively think about and act on!

    12. Niii-i*

      I was thinking this too! This would be SUCH a tricky question in an interview.
      Here’s what I gathered: I have been mostly working with white people, who present themselfs as female. In my companies, the only people of color have been lower level staff, and obviously that is problematic. And when you get higher, the percentage of men also grows rapidly…. As a colleague I’m treating everyone as equally as possible. There have been members on staff, that have been studying the language and there I have tried to go an extra mile to help people with that. For example, opening casual conversation in my language (and obviously quit the conversation, if the other person don’t engage) or helping people translate text and new words, when they have asked for help.

      So, In my answer I would bring out that I don’t have much experience in a very diverse team, and think that should be different. (I think my experience is pretty typical for a person in my role, country and area) but I have made observations about diversity and tell about some concrete examples on what I’ve seen important in making the social enviroment inclusive. But realising, that as a non-manager my options are pretty limited.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        “In my answer I would bring out that I don’t have much experience in a very diverse team, and think that should be different.”


        I don’t think the question is very tricky.

        1. Cat Tree*

          This is a good answer. It’s easy for me to say that I want to work in a place with more diversity after routinely being the only woman in a group for most of my jobs (and college). But I think if a white man answered that he wants to work on a team with more diversity (and maybe elaborate on why) even though it doesn’t seem to affect him as much, it would still be a good answer.

      2. Bluesboy*

        I have been thinking about how I would answer this, as someone who has, at the age of 41, worked with precisely two gay people (to my knowledge), zero trans people (to my knowledge) and two non-white people. Particularly given that probably 90% of people in my sector are men.

        Thank you for your answer. It’s clear, elegant and I like it very much. I think I’m unlikely to ever hear this question in an interview, but if I do I will be stealing your answer!

        1. Forrest*

          It may be clear, elegant and true, but I’d like to push back on the idea that it’s GOOD answer. It’s basically, “I have no experience of this but a willingness to learn”.

          As with any other skill, for some jobs that will be enough, but for others it’s functionally useless, because you’re basically saying, “I have no idea whether I’ll be the person who repeatedly asks my colleagues of colour where they’re REALLY from or my trans colleagues what’s in their pants.” You’re also telling me that you have made no effort to engage with experiences outside your own in a non-work context (volunteering or community work, or even just reading about other people’s experiences and engaging with the conversations about racial justice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.) You’ve noticed that your workplace ISN’T diverse, and you haven’t done anything to address that, or to think about how the lack of diversity in your workplace might affect your clients or patients or students or whoever else you work with.

          I mean, if this is a question that absolutely nobody in your industry is thinking about, then I guess there IS no self-interested reason to worry about it any more than you have to worry about whether you can plan a lesson for five-year-olds or whatever. But if you think it’s important or something that your industry should be thinking about it, you can take steps to address your lack of knowledge and experience.

          1. Bluesboy*

            Well, I do take your point and your summary of the answer as ‘no experience, but willing to learn’ is accurate. If you have better ideas for an answer, I’m all ears!

            The question is specifically “To what extent have you worked on teams with diversity of race, gender, and sexual orientation, and what have you learned from those experiences?”

            The question is about work, and frankly, I have learnt basically nothing from diversity in the office because I have never experienced it at work. There is a HUGE problem with a lack of diversity in my sector.

            I don’t quite follow how this answer means that I am saying that I have not engaged in conversations about racial justice, or don’t read about other experiences. I have done those things, but I can’t see how to work them into an answer to this question. I mean “I’ve never worked with non-white people, but I have read a lot about them”…is that really a better answer?

            In short, I take all your points, and I essentially agree that the answer can send that message. But do you have a better answer? I have experience with minorities outside the office, but I can’t for the life of me think how to make that relevant to work.

            Just to address two other points you brought up: if you have any ideas on what someone in my situation can do to address the lack of diversity in their workplace, I’m all ears. I’m not involved in the recruitment process at all but if there’s something I can do, I’m happy to hear it. In relation to diversity in the workplace affecting clients, I work with rich people. I’m sure it won’t surprise you to know that all our clients are white, middle-aged, straight, cisgender people, 90% of them being male…

            1. Mimi*

              It’s true that you have limited ability to change the demographics of your workplace (though I wouldn’t say zero — for example have you asked people who do have input on hiring what your company is doing about diversity issues in your workforce, or some relevant person for issues relating to your client base?) but you do have the ability to engage in work-adjacent activities in your personal life. Could you talk about engaging with people who are different from you in your band/arts organization/neighborhood group, and what you’ve learned from them? If none of the “activities” that you might put on your resume attract diverse groups of people, what could you do to change that (either by changing the existing groups or adding additional ones)?

              1. Bluesboy*

                Thanks for the reply. Some of it is more relevant to my workplace than other, but it’s food for thought.

                In relation to personal life…I DO mix in some diverse groups. But how do you work that into an answer to a question like this, specific to the workplace? “Some of my best friends are…” doesn’t change the fact that I haven’t learnt anything in the workplace from them.

                1. Mimi*

                  For your personal life, I’m not talking about the diverse buddies you have drinks with, I’m talking about volunteering or community organizations, or ones where you might have to accomplish business-like deliverables, situations that are more analogous to a workplace and are generally considered professional-adjacent and fodder for interview questions.

              2. boo bot*

                Adding to this, one you can do within your workplace is to make yourself a deliberately unreceptive audience for casual bigotry. I don’t mean, start big fights with your boss or your clients, but don’t laugh at racist, sexist, or transphobic “jokes,” for instance. Disagree with coworkers if they make ignorant statements. Don’t let people assume you agree with them when you don’t.

                A longer-term project might be to look into WHY diversity is such a big problem in your sector and what it would take to change that, because even if you can’t affect hiring or policies now, it would be a good thing to have explored seriously if you ever plan to be in a management position (or if you’re ever in a position just to speak up about it).

          2. Jennifer*


            That answer would be a huge red flag for me. Someone in 2021 that has made no effort to learn about the lived experiences of people outside of their community is not someone I want managing a diverse team. You can’t help that you were born in an all-white town and have worked with primarily white people, but you should have made the effort to learn, especially if you know you are going to be working in a diverse area. Of course, you will learn more from your coworkers after you are hired, but you shouldn’t go into a job expecting your more diverse colleagues to teach you everything.

            1. Bluesboy*

              Fair enough, but what would you actually answer if you were in that situation?

              I’m not saying that people shouldn’t educate themselves about working in diverse groups. I’m saying “what is a better answer for someone who genuinely hasn’t had that experience?”

              If you have never worked on a diverse workforce, how do you answer a question asking what you learnt from working on a diverse workforce?

              Genuine question, would be delighted to know a better answer

              1. Forrest*

                so my question would be, why do you want a better answer? If it’s “so I can sound better in an interview”, then, well, no– maybe this question is literally designed to filter you out, because you haven’t had that experience, you don’t have the knowledge and it’s not so important to you that you’ve done anything about it.

                If it’s that you think it’s important and you want to know what you can do to *have* a better answer, then I think you need to take action to demonstrate that you think it’s important. Take the knowledge you’ve got from those your friendships with minoritised groups about how hostile white spaces can be to people of colour and look for places to have an impact in your workspace. See if there are bodies in your industry which are working to make the space more equitable. Get involved in mentoring junior colleagues from minoritised groups. Ask questions about your own hiring processes and what implicit (or explicit) biases are part of your hiring process.

                The thing is, it’s *very* unlikely that your workplace just ~happens~ to be white, straight, abled and male. If that’s the case, it’s because it’s not a safe place for people to be open our their disabilities or queerness, or where members of minoritised groups self-select out or are pushed out. There simply isn’t a good answer that demonstrates your commitment to equity and diversity without doing anything about that because not doing anything about it shows that you’re not committed to equity and diversity.

                1. Bluesboy*

                  To answer your question, it’s because I would LIKE to work in a diverse workplace, and I wouldn’t want to be filtered out because I haven’t so far.

                  I don’t quite understand why people are answering that I should be reading about the issue, engaging in conversation, changing my friend circle etc. I do all of these things and I have spent a lot of time in racially diverse communities. Just not at work.

                  So I believe your point is ‘do more, that way you will have more to talk about in your answer’. It’s a fair concept, but in a company of 15,000 people, I can’t just call the HR manager and ask him what he’s doing about minorities. I can make it clear within my team and on my floor that I welcome all, and I do. I can’t mentor junior colleagues of different groups because there aren’t any. There are no groups in my industry working towards equity except one for women, which I can’t join because I’m a man…

                  Honestly, I’m glad to have participated in this thread, and I thank you for your comments. It’s made me think a lot. The reality is that to do my job you need certain qualifications, and ethnic minorities don’t have them for socio-economic reasons. Where I might be able to do something is getting involved earlier in the process, try and encourage younger people of minorities to enter this sector and study for it. I’m going to give a lot of thought to this and how I might make a difference.

                  Take care

              2. Jennifer*

                Hi Bluesboy – I think it would be a good idea to be honest about the fact that you haven’t worked for very diverse companies in the past, but maybe cite some of the work or research you have done to learn more.

    13. allathian*

      Ugh, this would be tough for me. I’ve worked on teams that were diverse when it comes to age and gender. I’ve never worked closely with a non-white coworker. The vast majority of my coworkers have been at least outwardly more or less secular with a Christian cultural background, as am I. A few have been practicing Christians, but not in a way that would be noticeable at work in their food or drink choices or in the way they dress.

      In my career, I’m sure some of my coworkers have been on the LBTQ+ spectrum, but if that’s the case, they’ve been firmly in the closet. It probably helps that my main working language has always been Finnish, which doesn’t have gendered pronouns.

    14. Jay*

      “I’ve worked on teams with a wide range of gender balance as well as teams with people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, and people who use wheelchairs. I’ve learned that as a white woman, I have some significant blind spots about other people’s experiences. As a leader or a member of the team, I try to learn more about the impact of our work environment on everyone on the team. I pay attention to the language and actions of our leadership and speak up when I see or hear bias.”

      1. Mimi*

        I like this answer, but will flag that some interviewers would note “blind spots” as ableist language.

        1. Jay*

          That’s a good point! Hmm. “I’ve learned that as a white woman, I have significant gaps in my understanding of the lived experience of people of color.”

    15. Allie*

      I work in a diverse workplace but it simply hasn’t come up in day to day work, except it’s common to track down a coworker who speaks a foreign language (any foreign language, I’ve chatted with coworkers on anything from French to Korean to Hebrew) because our translation service is notoriously difficult.

    16. White lady engineer*

      Agree! And I’ve worked on teams where it’s 90% men, the majority of whom are white, (yay engineering) which is a known problem for the field. So, what, I say I was the “diversity hire”? I guess I could talk about my experience with the diversity & inclusion working group… which was taken over by a dude who insisted it was unfair to men to have special opportunities for women.

      I eventually left that job, and being on a team that was 10% women was a contributing factor. So is saying “know when to fold em” a helpful answer? I honestly think I’d be more likely to ask the employer what they’re doing about diversity because of how frustrating it was for me.

    17. Workerbee*

      I’d have to watch myself so I don’t gush that yes, please, I would love to be in a diverse workplace again!

    18. SoloKid*

      I advocated for non-binary people at my workplace who wanted gender neutral bathrooms and used my decades long influence to work with our building maintenance to change signage on many bathrooms. I learned that some of my management rolled their eyes at this “diverse initiative” (while still approving the time to spend on this), but that was on my privilege to shoulder and finish the work anyway.

    19. Name Required*

      I would likely talk about how, for much of my professional career, I haved worked on homogenous and not diverse teams, and how I think that impacted our ability to innovate and serve a more diverse group of customers. I’d probably also return a direct question asking about diversity, saying something like … “What work is this company doing to ensure diversity and inclusion?” And then we’d all know we were on the same page, or if I wasn’t a good fit.

      1. Batgirl*

        Talking about customers and clientele is such a good one because homogeneous workplaces tend to create products/services for “folks like us” even if they are doing it unconsciously Even if the work would be identical whoever did it, it can also be a pretty poor perception issue for the people you’re serving. I’ve worked in plenty of schools where every teacher was white and I’ve often wondered what idea this is giving the student.

    20. Laney Boggs*

      I really hate this question because… I come from a predominately white, straight area. I dont have any experience working with anyone but conservatives.

      I’m still bi, I’m still nonbinary, and a host of other things completely opposed to what the LW is afraid of. I just come from a small town.

      1. Jennifer*

        I think it’s a good question because we all are capable of having biases, even if we’re part of marginalized groups ourselves. So if you moved to an area that was super diverse and were going to be managing a racially diverse team for the first time, I’d be interested in learning how you planned to meet that challenge. Living in a small town doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability to educate yourself. There are tons of resources out there.

      2. Forrest*

        But the question doesn’t presuppose your *have* worked on diverse teams— it’s asking *whether* you’ve worked on diverse teams and what you’ve learned from that. “The teams I’ve worked on have been extremely homogenous, and what I’ve learned from that is that we have a problem with diversity in this industry. Personally, I’ve tried to address that by [seeking out volunteering experiences with more diverse populations / contacting my professional organisation or a local college to offer mentoring / educating myself by reading about the experiences of minorities groups in my industry]. In my role, I haven’t had the opportunity to directly address hiring and promotion, but I have been able to [make sure sexism and racism aren’t acceptable on the shop floor / suggest that we support a local Black charity for our next fundraising event / get Mx added to our standard dropdown menu.”

        I mean, if the answer is that you haven’t worked in diverse teams AND you haven’t tried to educate yourself about diversity AND you haven’t tried to address why your team/industry isn’t diverse, maybe you can’t answer this question! But if you’ve done none of those things, maybe that’s important information for your interviewer.

        I’m genuinely fascinated by how many people think this is a bad question because they personally aren’t confident that they can answer it well. Like — that’s the point of interview questions! Questions that everyone can answer easily are bad questions because they don’t enable you to differentiate between candidates.

        1. Jennifer*

          I’m surprised by the number of people who think it’s an unfair question because they basically haven’t worked with anyone that isn’t white. That doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of learning.

      3. Banana Pancakes*

        It wouldn’t be inappropriate as an answer to consider the implications that a lack of diversity and inclusion in the workplace could have for you as a bi, nonbinary person.

        I’ve experienced significant harassment for being a disabled queer person who doesn’t look like others believe women “should” look. In the workplace, I don’t worry about people shouting slurs or approaching me aggressively, but I do worry about being passed over for raises and promotions in a workplace where I’m discouraged from any non-traditional gender performance. Your experience may be completely different, but it’s something to think about.

        An inclusive environment makes me feel safer, period. At my current workplace, it’s commonplace for people to have their preferred pronouns in their email signature for example. Little things like that make a big difference to me.

    21. Lora*

      It’s tricky, I mean…most of my career, I AM the diversity on the team. I’m the token woman and the token queer – though usually not out so I don’t know if that counts. There are so few women in engineering at my level that it’s pretty rare for me NOT to be the only woman in the room. Sometimes, in the US, we’ll have a guy from Puerto Rico, but more often not, and they don’t send him to the European or Asian projects. And we are definitely treated like tokens – ignored, blown off, not taken seriously, paid significantly less, not promoted but expected to do work far beyond the scope of our level, routinely insulted and berated, and catch a lot of harassment (the lone Puerto Rican engineer gets the “go back to your own country” and “speak English, you’re in America” crap; I get the sexual / gender crap).

      And to be clear: my *entire field* is like this. There is no magical workplace in my whole entire field that doesn’t have these problems. After decades of doing this, changing careers isn’t really an option and I’m just waiting it out to retire at this point. There’s this whole thing about STEM paying well and let’s get more people into the STEM careers of the future – but they pay well BECAUSE they are staffed by white men. The companies that hire more women and people of color? They pay well below market rate. Much, much below. And they’re still pretty racist and sexist in their own way. I’m convinced at this point that companies who hire more women and people of color do so for the same reason they switch to open offices – for all the pretty talk, the real reason is to save money.

      So, like…not a good interview answer. I don’t know what to say for an interview type answer.

      1. Mimi*

        I think it’s fair to say that you’ve historically found it frustrating to be the only visible minority on a team, and treated as such. You could also find a politic way of saying that you’ve noticed that STEM positions at more inclusive institutions often don’t come with the same money and prestige as roles at companies dominated by white men, and that this really concerns you as a trend in the industry.

        1. Lora*

          I think this is a very good answer in some ways…but I have also been asked/told directly, “you will be the only woman on this team. If you’re not comfortable with that, this isn’t the job for you.” And giving any hint that I am not 100% okay with being the token does tend to make guys say, literally to my face, “you aren’t tough enough for this job, go home and make babies for your husband.” I’ve heard that from multiple male managers, in the 21st century – though they’re shutting up a bit now as I’m obviously too old for that. I don’t doubt they still say it to younger women.

          So when I am asked such a question by a white man who is often one of several other white male interviewers, it’s a bit…what are they getting at here? Are they asking this because HR put it on a list of required questions? Are they asking because they genuinely want to know? Do they want to hear that I am a Cool Girl who won’t mind them being bigots at me? If they’re genuinely asking, why do they think I should trust them enough to be honest – they must know how risky it is for me to speak openly?

          Realistically I would probably say, “Okay, let’s talk about diversity and equity and inclusion – tell me about how YOUR company is approaching these issues, because obviously this field is NOT diverse.”

          1. Kt*

            Thank you! This is close to the reality I too have seen in my part of STEM. However well-intentioned a question like this may be at some places, it becomes weaponized against underrepresented folks at other places. That’s why I simply don’t like to talk about diversity in many of the workplaces I’ve been in. I don’t think others understand that.

    22. the jukebox failed me today*

      I don’t think I can answer it, because it assumes I have worked on teams that WEREN’T diverse on those axes and… I haven’t. What have I learned from the experience? That I work in a field without a lot of white men (but the white men we do have are all in management).

    23. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      I have no idea how I’d answer that. There were a lot of black people and some gay people at my last job, but it was just never very exciting. It once got kinda exciting in this job, but that’s not a story I’d want to tell since it sounds kinda fishy.

      1. Anon for this*

        Yeah. I’d have a hard time with this too. My prior office mate was a black guy, but what made him valuable to the org was that he retired from the field with 20 years of experience and serves as a subject matter expert (and a damn good one, too.) My most recent office mate was Taiwanese, and what makes him valuable is he has a strong technical background, and does a really good job applying the theory learned in classrooms to the real world problems we have. What makes *me* valuable is that I have both field experience *and* technical degrees, which is a combination that’s hard to come by. As for sexual orientation? I don’t know, because I have no reason to know.

        But I don’t talk about these things this way. We’re people with diverse backgrounds, which are *required* to do our jobs well.

        1. Pantalaimon*

          It’s shocking to me that you would not know your office mate’s sexual orientation. Do you literally only talk about work, with no pleasantries, small talk, or photos in the office?

          1. Rez123*

            I small talk with a few people in my office. I rarely speak about my partner specifically. I often talk what we did over the weekend or what are our holiday plans. Sometimes it is about my partner and sometimes it is about my friend. However, nobody has ever asked who is the other part of “we”. Some people in my office talk very openly about their spouse or use their name but I’m unaware of the marital status or sexual orientation of quite a few people in my office. Very few people have photos in their office and those I’ve noticed are just their kids without a spouse. We have tons of discussions in our office that does not bring up this type of information unless you want to. Some say “Me and my husband went to see this film” and someone else says “I went to see a film this weekend”.

          2. Mimi*

            I’ve never told an officemate my sexual orientation. They have enough information to make assumptions (and generally do, often wrong), but the only person on my immediate team who knows my orientation was a friend from way back. For some people that’s because it doesn’t come up naturally, and for some people it’s because I just don’t want to deal with it.

          3. Metadata minion*

            If someone is single, there’s not necessarily any cues as to their sexual orientation, and as someone who’s bi and in a monogamous relationship that reads as opposite-sex, people tend to assume I’m straight unless I go out of my way to tell them otherwise, which always feels weird and overshare-y since I never seem to find ways for it to come up organically. My coworkers know I’m nonbinary because I’ve asked them to use they/them pronouns, but if we were speaking a language that didn’t inflect for gender I probably wouldn’t mention it to coworkers I wasn’t otherwise close friends with because it’s just kind of private.

    24. Jennifer*

      I’m honestly having a hard time coming up with an answer to that question, and I am a minority, lol. But it’s important for all of us to think about because you can be a minority and still be bigoted toward another group. It’s not a question I’ve ever been asked on an interview.

      I guess you should be a good listener, be flexible and open to feedback, and be committed to staying well-informed on issues that affect marginalized communities instead of expecting the minority to do the heavy lifting.

    25. Good Vibes Steve*

      Answer based on my experience: “I’ve been lucky enough to work in many international environments, where I’ve encountered colleagues of different origins, cultures and religions. I found that it enriched my experience. Listening to perspectives different from mine helped find a solution to [problem] that I had previously been stuck on.”

      I think for someone who hasn’t had the chance to work in very diverse environments, it’s ok to acknowledge that. “In [region of origin] we tend to be quite culturally uniform. However, I think there is something to be learned from different perspectives even when we look similar at first sight. For example, we created a program to better support staff with invisible disabilities, and I contributed to that by doing [XYZ]”

      Or if someone is coming from a non-diverse workplace where that is done deliberately/is an active act of non-inclusion and they don’t like it:
      “At [Company X] the culture was quite uniform. I’m very excited to join a company where diversity is valued. I think we all have much to learn from different perspectives and life experiences, and I look forward to seeing how it’s done here.”

      Obviously these are slightly caricatural answers/ need to be tailored to the situation, but by focusing on the benefits to a workplace, you can take the personal out of it and show what kind of person they’d be hiring.

    26. OkapiFeels*

      Really, I found the most effective way to answer this is to actually know what diverse people in your industry are saying needs to be done to make the industry more diverse–and then take that to heart, and think about how you can help with those efforts, from your place in the industry. Regardless of whether you have experience with diverse teams, showing that you’ve actually taken time to consider the needs of diverse people can go a long way.

      And, you know, it also can’t hurt to assess whether there’s small things you can do in your job to enhance diversity, regardless of how diverse your workplace is! I’ve pushed for very, very small things in my job, like adding a “preferred name” line to a volunteer registration form. I’ve seen this very, very small adjustment have a big impact; it allowed a trans volunteer to feel comfortable giving me his real name and pronouns, and when we implemented a new digital system that ruthlessly enforced legal names, I was able to advocate for fixing it before my volunteer had to deal with it. Even if your workplace isn’t very diverse now, making sure it is welcoming to diverse people can make a big difference.

      And even if those efforts never reached anybody who they could help, then I could still point to them as evidence of how willing and capable I was to work with diverse teams.

    27. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Any answer I gave would probably disqualify me.

      IT departments in the Midwest are not exactly hotbeds of diversity. And as a job candidate, I have no control over it. As a woman and an immigrant, many times, I *was* my team’s claim to diversity.

      I’ve worked at exactly one place where the IT department had a nickname in the rest of the division of “The United Nations”. It was a pretty great experience, I’ll be honest. Always good not to be the one sticking out like a sore thumb in a sea of white Anglo male faces! But again, not something I had any control over. I just lucked into being on that team. And I never knew any of my teammates’ sexual orientation. It was the early 00s and people did not talk about it.

      1. armchairexpert*

        I feel like a lot of people (and I’m just replying to this comment as one example of this) feel like this question is asking ‘prove your experience working with diverse teams’. But it isn’t. It’s just trying to screen out things like “I don’t see colour, what a ridiculous question, are you saying I’m bigoted, why, my best friend’s neighbour is gay!” or “Well, my experience has taught me that these days we all have to look out for the PC police, personally I think if you come to this country you should just have a sense of humour and try and fit in”.

        You’re screening for bigots, not asking people to prove that they’ve been deeply embedded in progressive and diverse companies.

        A perfectly acceptable answer would be “Because I’ve worked mainly in male-dominated industries, which also tend to skew heavily white and heteronormative, I can’t point to specifics. But what I’ve learned from that experience is that a lack of diversity can cause some real issues – for example, it’s harder to get a true range of viewpoints, or you might not spot why something is a problem because it’s not a problem that would ever affect you or your peers. So I’m excited to work with a more diverse team and help amplify those different voices.” Or, honestly, something a lot simpler! You’re literally just trying to be like, I’m not a bigot and I totally get that soft bigotry is still also a thing.

    28. anon here*

      Honestly, this can also be tough in some fields simply by luck of the draw. You could ask a Black woman in the US in software engineering and it might be that her last two teams were all white men — are you going to penalize her for that? I know Black and Latina women on the STEM academic job market right now who are struggling to write their diversity statements for job applications, because what they *want* to say is, “I’d *be* the diversity, honey, in your department of three white people all of the same age” but what they’re instead pushed to talk about is all the diversity activities they did or had to do in their postdocs, which are held to a higher standard than the nice white lady or white guy who can talk about giving grant money to a tutoring program and then are lauded as paragons of allyship. It’s a paradox, because these women are judged more stringently on their “diversity activities” than white applicants but then if they bring to the job what they advertised they’re seen as problematic, undiplomatic, and uncooperative. (I can’t speak for guys or non-binary folks on this job market right now because my current connections to academia have narrowed significantly, but I could imagine some similar effects.)

      This is a hard question. I know the impetus. I can also see the ways it plays out with unintended consequences — as with mentioning the spouse early in the interview and women wondering if there’s an attempt to find out if they’ll get pregnant, or asking someone from an under-represented background the question above and having them feel uncomfortable with the question….

      And I myself had to deal with this sort of question recently, as someone asked to speak on a topic related to diversity. I’m a white woman with an immigrant background, but as a white person in the US who is assumed to just be “default white” on first glance I find it somewhat uncomfortable at this time to stack up my diversity points (I successfully manage people of different races and genders) especially when the number of people I’ve managed is so small that you could go through their names and then figure out who exactly is who, which means I’m thinking really hard about how not to be brandishing someone’s gender as a diversity point for *me*. Which brings me back to the beginning of my comment: I understand the desire, but making the demographics of my coworkers part of the interview process is a bit disturbing to me.

      1. No Tribble At All*

        +1 on mentioning that if you *are* the diversity hire, you get dinged either way. Either you have nothing to say re: diversity because you feel like just existing, at your level, in your field, is significant enough; or you mention how involved you are with affinity groups and you get pigeonholed as “does outreach, not real work” or one of ~those~ un-chill, always in your face about pay gap, aggressive women. Can’t win.

    29. LimeJello*

      I also had to think about this. I’ve always worked in places with not-insignificant LGBTQ+ and minority representation, and I think this question would throw me in the moment because… What have I “learned”? To be honest, I’ve really never thought about it and it’s never come up in the workplace (and I’m a minority woman in a stereotypically white cis male profession). It’s an office, not an anthropological study. I don’t know if I would want to work somewhere full of white people hoping to learn something from the experience of working with me as LimeJello the Minority.

    30. Hotdog not dog*

      I’ve worked in a white male dominated industry for decades, and it’s only in the last few years that I’ve had the opportunity to work with a diverse team. It’s been a great experience to learn appreciate other viewpoints, and working with people who can provide a fresh perspective has helped me to grow both personally and professionally.

  11. Anono-me*

    OP3. It might be helpful in the interview to talk about all of the things your company is doing right with regard to treating everyone with respect. Many people will self select out if they aren’t comfortable with a workplace where everyone is held to a high standard.

    1. Skittles*

      I’m doing a lot of recruiting right now and I signal the company’s inclusive culture by talking about some of different initiatives we have and the things employees can get involved in (LGBTQ+ networks, cultural events, etc.). Oh and I also use a company-provided background for my interviews (they’re all done remotely) which has a big rainbow flag in it. I do this partly as a way to sort of sell how great the company is (which I genuinely believe) but also because it lets them know what we strongly believe in being inclusive and that racism, homophobia, sexism, etc would not be tolerated. If that’s not in line with their beliefs I hope they would either self select out or would at least keep their intolerance to themselves at work.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        Yes, this. Include it in your spiel on the company and environment:

        “We’re committed to being an inclusive company, and creating a positive environment where a diverse range of people can successfully thrive and collaborate. Some of our recent initiatives include []. Our social and discussion groups include [] as well as crafting and sporting groups, and employees are welcome to join as many or as few of these as they would like, or attend events without joining.
        “Within [team/department], we tend to mainly work with [each other/other teams/groups or external clients]. If you’re familiar with [work persona classification system], the majority of people tend to have a [type of communication style]. The core focus of this particular role is []….”

        (With the classification thing, most people in my department tend to be Analytical Amiables or Amiable Analytics, using the Merrill-Reid system. They tend to struggle to work with Drivers and find Expressives frustrating (e.g. people in our Marketing/Conferences teams tend to be Expressives, and across various seating changes, the people seated closer to them are routinely irritated by the volume and level of chit-chat). Other departments may have a wider mix of styles, but depending on the needs of a role, it can tend to primarily attract people who prefer certain styles. I don’t *think* there is a gender/class/race/other component to this – a large proportion of our job involves helping people when problems arise, explaining processes, and process improvement, so the role attracts people who are comfortable with analysis, and work collaboratively to get buy-in from others – but it could be useful information to people who are very flexible in their communication styles.)

      2. anon here*

        I think that this sort of signaling is more effective and allows people to select out if they’re uncomfortable.

  12. Rich*

    LW4, I work in technology sales. Telling someone in sales “I’m not working on anything involving that now, but I will be starting in XXX weeks/months” is fantastic. We love to hear that, because we don’t want to waste your time or our own.

    If you say “We’re in pandemic maintenance mode and not training anyone for at least 6 months”, I’d probably suggest I check in with you in 2-3 months. Maybe that’s OK, maybe that’s too early. It is 100% OK to set that expectation rather than let the sales person do it. “Yeah, 3 months is too early. It really needs to be 6.”

    If the sales mode kicks in, it’s OK to shut it down. “Rich, you need to listen to me on this. I need to work with someone who respects our priorities. Right now that’s not training, and I can’t change that. Give me 6 months. Is that clear?” Because if you have to do that, you’re dealing with a BAD SALES PERSON. They’re already rude. Push back against rude. You deserve better.

    By being up-front and setting a timeline, you’re helping both of us. You don’t want to be bothered. I am very busy, and I need to spend my time productively. Your being clear about that gives both of us what we need.

    I promise it is entirely professional, and I promise you won’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      All this. I can think of at least two vendors who listen and check in later. That’s cool – I welcome it.

      And some who don’t listen – and some of those I’ve just hung up on. I don’t want to work with companies that don’t listen.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      I’ve found putting off vendors during the pandemic to be way easier than ever before. Most, if not all, of them have completely understood when I’ve said, “Sorry, but training is just not a priority right now. I’ll get back to you when we’re ready to resume (or get back to me in X months).” And honestly, the calls/emails have substantially decreased over the last year anyway.

      Same in my personal life. And really, the only vendor that still reaches out is Renewal by Anderson and I keep telling them, “Sorry, but we’re not looking to replace our windows right now. I’ll let you know if that changes.”

    3. LW4*

      That script is very helpful, thank you! Most recently I got hung up because the sales person was like “I totally understand, and I can help take some of the burden off of you if we reconfigure this thing over here” and it was SO TEMPTING because it genuinely would be easier for me! But that reconfiguration also takes time and it’s not something we’d use in this moment anyway so I am not even doing that right now.

      Kind of feels like a parallel to the adage of “you don’t save money buying something on sale if you weren’t going to buy it in the first place” or whatever, ha.

      1. TootsNYC*

        so there, you can use “It’s really good to know you have that capability, and I’ll keep that in mind when we are able to tackle this again. But right now, even that is more than we can handle. Please believe me–we’re not going to do that until after the pandemic. Gotta go! bye”

  13. Canadian Girl*

    LW1 – realistically she seems to be wanting to work from home permanently. The business does not want that for whatever reason. You having to, and I say having to because you don’t want to have to home school your kids is very different from someone who just wants to WFH. I would absolutely make sure that everyone knows that working from home is not a choice you want to make but that you don’t have a choice based on the schools being closed. If schools were open you would be in the office with everyone else. Make sure she knows that if daycares were closed it would potentially be a different conversation but since they are not she will be expected to return to the office with the rest of the department. Also if she’s not performing up to par while working from home you need to deal with that as well since when she returns she might just keep doing what she has been. Good luck she is not going to be happy either way but unless the company changes their stance on WFH there’s not much you can do.

    1. Janet's Planet*

      I think the employee wants to be at home, and wants to retain her job. I don’t think she necessarily wants to be Working From Home, because apparently the Working part is not getting done to the needs of the job.

    2. mcfizzle*

      Agreed – I get the sense LW1’s employee doesn’t want to try to “transition” in the least, but just make this permanent.

    3. SweetTooth*

      Yeah, that should for sure be part of the conversation. Be kind and understanding, of course! But the employee needs to know that while we are all struggling to get similar levels of work done during the pandemic for a multitude of reasons, at some point, the pandemic levels of productivity will need to be improved upon. In normal times, people need childcare, whether in the form of school or daycare or a nanny. And that is the crux of the matter – even if policies were changed to allow for WFH, the employee would need to improve work performance, which is basically as impossible with a toddler as a baby in my experience.

      I have a toddler, and she is blessedly in daycare so I can actually work! But when daycare has had to close down for Covid exposure, it is basically impossible. I have used some PTO and accepted some grace from my manager that it was going to be a 2-hour workday and the bare minimum would be accomplished. I hope that will continue for the occasional child sick day or whatever, but I sure couldn’t thrive in a career while constantly with a tiny person who needs me all of the time.

  14. Sammie*

    I also had a baby during the pandemic so I can sympathise with the employees feelings in #1. As well as the practical side there’s a lot of emotions involved as well. I’d been working from home for a while but when I had to go into the office for the first time after my daughter was born I cried my eyes out on the train.

    That being said. I’d be surprised if her work is up to usual standard if she’s both wfh and doing childcare. There’s no way I could effectively do my job and simultaneously do childcare and honestly I wouldn’t want to try and do both unless absolutely necessary (such as during a pandemic).

  15. Manana*

    LW1- I think you’re gonna lose a lot of staff regardless, because they too will have children who can’t go to school and will have no choice but to leave their jobs to take care of them. That’s out of your hands. It’s unprecedented times and I think the best you can do is advocate for as much flexibility as you can for all your staff. Your employee is not out of line for being unhappy with the situation, it would be unfair of you to expect her to feel a certain way. But it’s not one you created and you also have needs to prioritize as a parent.

    1. On a pale mouse*

      Yeah, it sounds like it’s not LW’s decision, but it seems to me that if schools are still closed, it’s not time to force everyone back to the office. If they’re still closed for good reason, like the level of community spread, then that should probably apply to LW’s work too. But even if not, then just for the practical reason that people still won’t have options for kids. LW, maybe you can push back a little by pointing this out?

      1. Charley*

        Good point! If schools are closed surely it’s not safe to force all employees back to the office full-time?

        1. H2*

          In my state, K-12 schools were remote while universities were open at least partly in person. I don’t necessarily love that decision but there are financial and political components to it. And the OP mentions everyone having the opportunity to be vaccinated. And the employee has her toddler in daycare, so obviously that’s a reasonable option for her.

        2. Metadata minion*

          I think this really depends on the organization. Schools tend to be *very* crowded and have a lot of movement and mixing, even aside from the fact that it’s difficult to enforce safety standards with 10-year-olds. A business where most people have their own office or are in a spread-out open space, with good modern air circulation, is much less risky. Ideally it’s better to keep everyone at home until they’re vaccinated, but I don’t think schools and offices are necessarily analogous situations.

      2. Nikki*

        In my area, schools are hybrid right now, so kids are in class two days a week and at home the rest of the time. However, daycare for kids 5 and under have been open this whole time. So if the LW’s kids are school age, she likely has no options for her kids, but her coworkers with younger kids might.

        In regards to safety: LW says everyone in her office has been vaccinated, so that makes it much safer for them to be in person. Things that are still considered unsafe for most people are safe for fully vaccinated people.

      3. NotJane*

        Except that OP said the transition back to working in the office won’t happen for “a few months”. It’s not like OP is demanding that this employee return to the office next week or risk losing her job, so I think it’s premature to surmise that employees will be “forced” to go back to the office before it’s safe to do so.

        Who knows what the pandemic landscape will look like several months from now? It’s possible that the situation will have improved considerably by then, but it’s also possible that it will look much the same as it does today. If it’s closer to the latter, presumably/hopefully OP’s employer will be able/willing to postpone or adapt their plans accordingly. If it’s closer to the former, then they’ve given employees ~3 months to prepare for the back-to-office transition, which seems pretty reasonable to me.

        And even then, it’s possible that they’d give employees who were struggling with the transition additional flexibility. In other words, it’s not like, “We expect you to be in back in the office, bright and early, June 14th and pick up right where you left off a year ago.” At least, there’s nothing in the letter that suggests OP works for that type of employer.

        The problem – which I think has been one of the biggest (mental) stressors of living through the pandemic – is that there’s no timeline or end date. No one can predict what the world will look like a few months from now. But I think the university is doing the right thing by letting employees know ASAP that this is the plan, should current trends continue (and the timing could be related to getting ready for the fall semester, when I would assume more students will be back on campus).

        I do think they need to have a contingency plan, and share it with their employees, and be understanding that this will likely be a bumpy transition for everyone. I think that would calm employees’ anxieties and help them to feel seen and heard.

        1. TootsNYC*

          So many companies that I know of have been saying “We will give you X months’ notice” in order to ease the transition.
          I think if I were LW#1, that’s what I’d be saying:
          “The purpose of this notice is to enable you to do whatever you need to make it work for your family. In your case, it sounds like you’ll need to find ways to make your baby feel content and safe without you around. There is time for you to come up with strategies and maybe even “training exercises” for the baby. And of course, he’ll get older. But the idea is for you to start now on whatever transition you need.”

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I think you’re gonna lose a lot of staff regardless, because they too will have children who can’t go to school and will have no choice but to leave their jobs to take care of them.

      I’m thinking there will also be losses of employees who aren’t excited about going back to adult daycare (née the office).

      1. Powercycle*

        “adult daycare” lol, sure feels like that sometimes.

        I expect a lot of push back in many workplaces when staff will be ‘forced’ back to the office after over a year of telework in which staff have proven that most or, in some cases, all of the work can successfully be done remotely. My large government employer is being very quiet and hasn’t said if, when, or how many, will be going back to the office after the vaccines are rolled out in the coming months.

      2. Mary Richards*

        Agreed. I really think that this is a case where employers need to acknowledge that too much has happened in the last year to expect people to just come back exactly the same way as before.

  16. Chocolate Teapot*

    2. I don’t think anyone has commented on this yet, but there seems to be another case of “How your employer sees you” going on. This is related to the stories we have had on here in the past about Receptionists being unable to move into other (often related) roles within a company and other examples. The excuse is usually “Oh but you are so fantastic at Teapot making/Llama wrangling/Penguin analysis that we don’t want to lose you”.

    I would be interested to have an update on this one.

    1. Finland*

      I caught this one too. I was also thinking that they might be over relying on the OP in order to avoid having to deal with a possible Bob on the PM team.

      1. lailaaaaah*

        Or that they’re aware that the PM team has issues, but they’re also disinclined to deal with them when they’ve found a nice easy solution in LW2.

        1. OP2 Today*

          That would be it. Wakeen is a Bob. Wakeen is very good at 2 or 3 very specific things, but cannot handle change, doesn’t want to grow his skills, and oddly, for an analyst, can’t see outside a very small box. (Deviations from the schedule flummox him.) Project Lead is very happy with the few things Wakeen does for him, but doesn’t want to take the time to train him or motivate him to do the rest of the job. Wakeen also belongs to another support pool and his manager is not nearly as proactive as mine.

          Tech Writers work on multiple projects over our careers (I’m nearing 20 years), so we pick up stuff from all over, which makes us more flexible in our outlook. I guess I’m a victim of my own success?

          1. TechWriter*

            Is PM paid more? Do you think they’d call your bluff if you asked about making the switch to PM permanently or being paid a comparable amount?

            Doesn’t solve the problem if they agree, since uh you don’t want to be a PM. But if you know them to be budget-conscious, it could be a strategy.

            (As a fellow tech writer, I would *also* hate being a PM, but luckily my skills don’t lie in that direction.)

      2. Saffie_girl*

        I am often surprised when I hear “well Bob is not as good at this as you are” and that is the end of the conversation. Bob will never improve if the work is taken off his plate. I wonder if it is worth asking “how can we get bob up to speed so he can take this back over?”

        1. the jukebox failed me today*

          Depending on the environment, “I’d be happy to have a training call with Bob”, with the supervisor also on the training call for “awareness”.

    2. Miss Betty*

      “You’re valuable right where you are.” Not a compliment. Kiss of death when it comes to promotions or opportunities to move to different work within the company. If I ever hear that again, I’ll know it’s time to start looking!

    3. Malika*

      Keeping all the plates spinning in the air is indeed a valuable skill that not many people possess, and you have managed to scratch their itch by taking these tasks on. I have seen many times that people who take these types of roles on for work have a hard time getting out of them again. From my experience, only a hardcore approach works. Leaving if they refuse to take someone on who will do these tasks (and be intensely frustrated about the fact that afterwards they hired someone to do these specific tasks and a person to do your official duties), having a grandboss intervene who insists that you are put back to your job description, handing back the duties and effectively go ons strike until you are put back into your old role… These are the tactics i have seen that actually worked. Accepting vague promises that in the next quarter someone will be hired for the tasks, a gradual rewriting of your job description that is akin to the frogs boiling in the slowly heating cauldron, a series of unrealistically cheap hires who turn out to be too junior to take over the tasks, etc… The latter situations just keep you endlessly in limbo.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        My mother was a lawyer in the 1970s, and she very consciously, deliberately refrained from learning how to type. In that era, any woman with a JD degree — even Ruth Bader Ginsburg! — was likely to be pushed into a secretarial role if they had the basic skills for it, even if they also had the skills of a brilliant lawyer. Mom wanted to practice law, not take stenography; so she made sure she didn’t own the skills to do the secretarial work they wanted from her. Alison is right to suggest that the LW2 make it apparent early in future jobs that they Just Don’t Have the project management skills (even if it isn’t true).

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I have seen this advice – don’t learn to type if you don’t want to become a typist. Obviously it’s not as effective today, when we’re all expected to do our own keyboarding, but it did make sense back in the day.

          1. Slipping The Leash*

            Soooo right! Even to this day. I can use any microsoft product with virtually zero training right out of the box — they all follow the same logic, after all. But I’ve always been very careful to never “learn” powerpoint. Hell no.

        2. Hotdog not dog*

          This is exactly why I have no idea how to change toner in the copier, work the coffee maker, or use the switchboard, and never will.

          1. Malika*

            At my new job, whenever anyone needs to calendar a meeting, plan a party or do anything else that my old career used to be central, i lean way the f out. My boss knows about my admin past, but for some reason doesn’t pressure me into these activities. It’s an absolute relief to focus on lucrative skills development and not to be pushed into thankless grunt work.

  17. coyote5*

    I’m in a similar position to LW2 except I’m intentionally hired into project management with the vocal goal during interviews of wanting to move out and into a specific other department. I find myself also pushed into “but you’re so good at it!” despite finding the work tedious and uninteresting. It’s also difficult because training others on how to be intuitive and organized isn’t possible so when you stand out as being good at those skills, you can get pigeonholed fast.

    I’d definitely recommend talking to your boss and being very clear you do not like the work and it isn’t your job and you need it taken away. And even though you love the company, reconsider if you’d want to stay there in the event this becomes a permanent part of your job.

    I feel you and hope you’re able to get out of it!

  18. rudster*

    LW1 needs to be ready for (probably justified) pushback over the disparate treatment and logic of the whole thing. If there is to be any benefit to this pandemic, hopefully it will be employers having to face the overwhelming reality that there is simply no good reason that the vast majority of office jobs that don’t involve physical labor or require physical interaction (think anything where you are on a computer or phone most of the day, and most of your interaction, if any, is with people in similar working conditions) cannot be done remotely. And that most people don’t need Bill Lundbergh stopping by their cube every five minutes to ask about the TPS reports. And that a system where you have to pay strangers to take care of your newborn infant so that you can go back to work in order to have money to pay said strangers is positively bonkers! (something the civilized world has long since figured out).

    1. Sue*

      She says she works in higher education and when students are back on campus I would suppose many jobs will need to be in person. Not all, but many.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Very important and buried comment. WFH so you can frequently nurse your infant is a good short-term (~6-9 months) solution, but only if you also have in-home care such as a co-parent or nanny involved. You can’t WFH *instead of* arranging long-term childcare for young children.

        2. Nia*

          People keep bringing this up but its not relavent in this case. The LW is going to be allowed to continue working from home without childcare so its clearly not a requirement.

            1. Nia*

              Of course it is. The LW could hire a nanny or work something else out. Since she isn’t being required to do so why should anyone else be required to do so.

              1. Philly Redhead*

                No, it’s not. My third-grader does not need anywhere near the amount of interaction and care as he did when he was a baby. He logs onto school at the same time I log onto work, and I don’t have to do anything for him until lunchtime, so there is no impact on my availability for work. Not the case with an infant/toddler.

                1. Jennifer*

                  But the point is the LW is still saying she can’t come to work due to childcare issues, which isn’t really fair. Why can’t she hire a nanny or get some other resource for childcare since that’s essentially what she’s asking her employee to do? The age of the kid doesn’t really make a difference here. They both have childcare issues that are conflicting with their ability to go into the office. One has the option to work from home and the other does not.

                  Plus not all third graders are the same. Some kids require more attention than others. Her kids may be a huge demand on her time that affect her ability to work.

                2. Nia*

                  Thats great that its working for you. This has not been my experience with my colleagues with school age children this past year.

                3. Rusty Shackelford*

                  But the point is the LW is still saying she can’t come to work due to childcare issues, which isn’t really fair.

                  The LW isn’t *required* to come to work if schools aren’t open. It’s not her decision. No, it’s not EQUAL, but equal is not the same as fair. In trying to make things easier on parents, many employers have decided that parents can WFH when schools and daycares are closed. But when daycares are open, parents who use daycare are expected to go back into “normal” (or “new normal”) mode. And when schools are open, those parents are also expected to go back into “normal” mode. Saying “but my child doesn’t like in-person school” isn’t going to make anyone say “oh, cool, you should continue to stay home.”

                4. Jennifer*

                  @Rusty I saw someone else mention this and I think we need to look at this with a more empathetic point of view. They both are mothers who have childcare issues, regardless of how old the kids are, if the schools are open, if the daycares are open, or any other issue you can come up with. If the daycare is calling her to pick up her baby, then she doesn’t really have childcare. She may need another month or two of working from home before the baby is ready to be left at daycare full-time. If the LW’s situation is being accommodated, why not this employee’s?

    2. Pretty much over it*

      I completely agree with all your points, rudster. Even with LW1 and their team working in higher education, unless they are either teaching/library or truly frontline admin/support staff that need to 100% be there to deal with people and tasks in person (that absolutely cannot be done remotely at all), I really do call BS on upper management’s approach here.

      (And yes, I have worked in higher education before. And a large majority of the staff do not actually need to be there in person: even the vast majority of frontline admin stuff can be done remotely, unless physical documents, such as passports, etc need to be sighted, and/or physical books that are not available on digital platforms need to be utilised etc.)

      1. IEanon*

        Yeah, I’m in higher ed and we’re still working from home most days. I go in a few times per week to do any tasks that can’t be done from home.

        That being said, it doesn’t surprise me that other institutions are calling their staff back. It’s a fairly dysfunctional field, and it’s built around a self-sacrificing mindset (“gotta be there for the students! they’re paying for the eXpeRiEncE”) at a lot of universities.

    3. 30ish*

      But how can someone work from home with a one-year-old to look after, too? That’s not really possible.

      1. Name Required*

        The same way OP can work from home and homeschool multiple small children, whatever way she thinks she’s getting that done with no impact to her work (aka, also impossible but somehow still an option for her but no one else).

        1. iliketoknit*

          There are material differences between caring for a newborn/toddler and caring for school-age children attending remote school, not to mention differences between jobs that can be done remotely and jobs that can’t.

          1. Name Required*

            LW1 job isn’t suitable to be done from her home, because her home is a school and daycare for her school-aged children.

            1. sunny-dee*

              I literally cannot express how wrong you are.

              Babies and toddlers are incredibly time intensive because they cannot care for themselves or even be left alone in a room for more than a couple of minutes. It is an entirely different beast trying to care for young children and caring for schoolage children. I ahve very young kids; I have coworkers with older children (7 – 12yo). It’s just not even comparable. They can homeschool their kids with a little bit of oversight; I have to have a full-time nanny. That’s just the nature of life. They are not slacking because they are not in the same situation that I am.

              1. Jennifer*

                I think it depends on the kid, the school they go to, the number of kids, so many different factors. I know parents of school age kids who are constantly interrupted because of technical issues with their computers, not understanding how to do their homework and not getting any help from their teachers, the kids fighting over laptops and tablets, etc. I think most people know taking care of a newborn is not the same as caring for a schoolage kid, but both situations can be extremely challenging. If the LW can’t work in the office because of childcare issues, the other employees should be given the same opportunity.

                1. sunny-dee*

                  I would agree with other school-aged children. However, it is entirely reasonable to expect children which require a higher degree of care to have a higher degree of care.

                  I’ve worked from home for always with my company. We have a long-standing policy that you are required to have childcare for young children during work hours. That can be a SAH parent, that can be a nanny, that can be a daycare. Whatever. It just can’t be you.

              2. Name Required*

                It’s not comparable, you’re right. But it isn’t compared to having kids in school while you are in the office. Those are also not comparable.

                1. Name Required*

                  Not every school-aged child is self-sufficient. How are you suggesting that the employer determine the differences in degrees, and how they should yield differences in kind?

                2. sunny-dee*

                  School aged children are much more self-sufficient than toddlers or babies because they can 1) use the bathroom on their own, 2) feed themselves, and 3) sit in a room for more than 5 minutes without injuring themselves. There are differences between a kindergartner and a highschooler, of course, but the degree of interruption between a school aged child and a young toddler are simply not comparable. That is a pretty easy cutoff. (And is, in fact, the distinction that my company makes for WFH requirements.)

        2. Just Another Zebra*

          I think that’s a little unfair. My daughter is 3. The level of care she requires now vs the level of care she required 6 months ago is quite different (yay potty training!). School-age children can reasonably be expected to manage their own bathroom schedule, can be expected to get snacks and lunches – even if OP1 put sandwiches in the fridge for them to just grab. Having an adult at home in a supervisory role to make sure no one sets the house on fire vs caring for a 1yo and a toddler are very different animals.

          1. Name Required*

            LW’s employee is being asked to give 100% in a few months, whereas she might only be able to give 50% with an infant at home right now. LW1 is being asked to give 75% or 80% from her home right now, and will continue to be allowed to only give 75% or 80% after her employees return to the office. LW1’s employee can’t give 100% from home, but neither can LW1. That’s not unfair to point out. LW1 has positioned the options for her employee as 1. Return to office, Kid in Daycare, Give 100%, or 2. Quit. Her own options are 1. Return to the office, School aged children in Co-Op/Private School or with Nanny, Give 100%, 2. Stay at Home, Divide her Time between Work and Children during Business Hours, Give 80%, or 3. Quit.

            They both have childcare options limited by the pandemic (because social anxiety in pandemic babies is REAL), but they are being treated differently.

            1. Just Another Zebra*

              Because of the ages of the children. Even a kindergartener doesn’t need the level of attention and care that an infant does. The rules SHOULD be different, because the situations are different.

              I’m saying this employee shouldn’t have some grace in working out her situation. But she’s been given months to find a solution – like putting her infant in the daycare her older child already attends.

    4. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Totally not related, but when I took a MOOC in database management at the beginning of the pandemic (you know, when we all thought it was going to be over in a month or two), I found out that TPS reports could have been a variety of actual things, and pretty important ones at that. It kind of changed the whole feel of Lundbergh as a boss for me.

      Like, if those were actual reports on a transaction processing system for the banks that were the software company’s clients (totally believable, given how Peter’s eventual virus is stealing parts of the transactions those banks are processing), Lundbergh’s insistence on having them by a given day probably meant that he needed to make a sales pitch or give a presentation to those clients. And sure, he wasn’t communicating well, but he was probably trying to tell Peter that priorities had shifted, and he needed this to be focused on.

      I know that the extras say TPS was supposed to mean Totally Pointless Stuff, so that’s not the take we’re supposed to see in Lundbergh (especially given his behavior towards Milton).

    5. Cat Tree*

      It’s really hard to do a full time job and be a full-time parent at the same time. The pandemic should make us all more supportive of good accessible childcare, not less.

      I haaaate the phrasing “strangers care for your kid”. It has been used against working mothers (yes, nearly always mothers are the ones expected to do full-time childcare) by implying that we’re just dumping our one day old infants in an alley with some rando or something, rather than thoroughly vetting places with trained, educated, and licensed professionals. You leave your kids with strangers when they go to school, but nobody ever frames it that way.

      Expecting mothers (again, yes, usually mothers) to work a full-time job while raising their kids is unstainable. It really trivializes the amount of work required to care for a child and leaves women with a huge invisible burden that we’re just expected to suck it up and go along with. There are absolutely huge issues issues with affordability of childcare in the US, but the answer is not to just make women do two jobs at the same time.

  19. Roeslein*

    LW #4 – really feeling this is a consultant and I wish people would just reply and be clear! If you just say “we’re not planning to start any XYZ projects this year” I know I can spend my precious time and energy on other prospects. Most consultants do business development on top of their other work (running projects, managing teams etc.). Because of all the clients not responding at the moment, I have to do a lot more business development just trying to get a reply to my emails and am basically working 14 hours days trying to get business and barely seeing my 2-year-old. Please, please reply to these poor people and tell them the truth.

    1. Roeslein*

      Also – I’m really sorry you’ve come across some folks who are using dodgy sales tactics. Good consulting is about listening and helping, not pushing services on people. Please remember we’re just regular people working long hours trying to keep our business afloat and our team employed. Getting ghosted by clients we thought we had a good relationship with and worked hard for in the past can really get to us after a while.

      1. LW4*

        That sounds like a tough position, I’m sorry! I do always get back to people (at least the ones I’ve worked with previously) but the answers I give are so vague and I KNOW they’re just trying to do their jobs which is why it feels bad! Like… “Check in next quarter” used to be a reasonable timeline but this past year it was not because each quarter bled into the next one and time was at a standstill but simultaneously racing by?

        I guess I just feel like I should give them a more accurate answer but I don’t have one other than “I’m just a human trying to survive a pandemic & I know nothing anymore!” which is dramatic! But I did give a version of that to someone recently & he took it well, so hopefully can keep doing that moving forward.

  20. Kristina*

    LW5, make sure to follow Allison’s advice! Imagine your current supervisor quit and the new person looking at you knows nothing of your work. I interviewed internally in October. I came in second. I asked the grandboss what more I could have done, and he started the interview team was worried about my X, Y, and Z experience. X, Y, and Z are my greatest strengths!! I couldn’t stop kicking myself. I thought for sure they knew from my DAILY WORK so I am and what I do well, but they didn’t! Spell it out. Better redundant than miss out on a good thing!

  21. Kristina*

    LW5, make sure to follow Allison’s advice! Imagine your current supervisor quit and the new person looking at you knows nothing of your work. I interviewed internally in October. I came in second. I asked the grandboss what more I could have done, and he started the interview team was worried about my X, Y, and Z experience. X, Y, and Z are my greatest strengths!! I couldn’t stop kicking myself. I thought for sure they knew from my DAILY WORK so I am and what I do well, but they didn’t! Spell it out. Better redundant than miss out on a good thing!

  22. Pretty much over it*

    LW1, it sounds like you are not necessarily in love with the idea of working remotely, but have you attempted to advocate with upper management on behalf of your staff who wish to stay remote? (In other words, does your team actually have to work in the office, or is that just upper management being difficult and/or old-school?)

    You also say that your employee is apparently “ineffective” working from home, but is this actually the case in an objective sense? Have you provided her with KPIs and/or a duties list etc to meet? Have you actually spoken with her about this issue and provided her with a right of reply and/or an opportunity to improve, or at least to meet whatever expectations you are wanting/needing her to reach?

    I would strongly advise you stepping up as a manager and advocating to upper management on behalf of this employee, and anyone else on your team who is desiring and/or needing flexible working conditions.

  23. On a pale mouse*

    #2 – what if you suggest that Wakeen never will develop your depth without being given some of this work? What if Wakeen is sitting around thinking, I could do that, why do they keep giving it to LW?

    1. Maxie's Mommy*

      And, Wakeen is going to really resent someone doing all or part of his job, or hell just start coasting because he knows that now you’re the Rescuer. The one-time fix isn’t worth the very destructive personal dynamics that just keep on giving.

    2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*


      Shift from providing the solution to training your “successor.” They won’t need to pull you from your regular job if they’ve got someone else. Be meticulous about using language that supports the successor strategy. Keep bringing up how Wakeen can do steps 1-4 and you’ll show him how to do 5 & 6 when he gets to it.

  24. Jam kitten*

    LW3 just ensure that your questions are balanced and don’t focus on coping with bad work teams. You need to also be asking questions that are relevant to the core focus of the job.

    When I get an interview that is heavy on the how do you cope in poor work environment I assume that the work environment isn’t great and I’m being hammered on that topic for a reason.

    You definitely don’t want to have another horrible person on the team, but your applicants aren’t that person and don’t know about your past.

    I would also find it odd in an interview to have people talk about their personal lives, and would be worried that they were trying to get me to disclose things I shouldn’t be asked and should not have to share. I’m picturing a team of 4-6 or so people all giving me a spiel about their personal life as they introduce themselves (and even if they never planned to, once one does others may follow the format) I just can’t understand why you would be telling me about your personal life instead of your professional life. I think you would need to be very careful that you don’t give the wrong impression (that you want to make sure the applicant has the right personal life), and that you don’t judge discomfort in discussing personnel stuff in an interview with being uncomfortable with people’s gender or sexuality. If any of your applicants have experienced discrimination, they may be very sensitive to people trying to figure things out that they know they are not permitted to ask.

    You could however choose to wear a rainbow tie/scarf/badge/pin/lanyard (dress code permitting) , to convey the message that your workplace does not accept homophobia and tie that in with selection from AAM’s questions. I would also suggest coordinating with your colleagues about what type of questions you each ask, and if you can, sharing questions related to diversity and inclusion. You don’t want one person focusing on team work/diversity/inclusion type stuff while others are asking about specific job skills unless that stuff IS your role. If I’m applying for a job to paint tea pots – I want the other tea pot painters on the team to be talking to me about tea pots and paint. Because right now I’m trying to work out whether this is a team of tea pot painters I want my name attached to.

    1. HannahS*

      Yeah, I’d be pretty concerned that they were trying to suss out my marital status, or religion.

      1. irene adler*

        Or gaging the candidate’s age. If the kids are pretty much grown or out of the house, or not at the age where the parents are seeing to their every need, then you are probably close to 35 or 40. If mention of a grandkid is made, well, that solidifies the age thing even more. No one wants to hire or work with ‘granny’.

  25. Sun Tzu*

    If I were asked “To what extent have you worked on teams with diversity of race?” my gut answer would be “none, all my coworkers were human”…

    1. SarahKay*

      If I were OP3 that answer would certainly make me think twice about your suitability, since to me it’s the answer of someone who doesn’t take racism seriously.

    2. Cat Tree*

      Pretending that race (and therefore racism) doesn’t exist would make me hard pass on a candidate. But thanks for being upfront about it.

      1. Littorally*

        Agreed. That is the answer of someone who “doesn’t see race” and therefore refuses to acknowledge the experiences of their coworkers of color.

        Willful blindness is not a good look.

          1. Cat Tree*

            Oh how I wish we were misunderstanding you, but your view is unfortunately very common, and never among allies.

          2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            Then we’ll need you to provide a clearer explanation. Your words, without further context, are ones associated with the willful blindness dog whistle of people who aren’t at all tolerant of diversity.

          3. FridayFriyay*

            Spirit of your post notwithstanding, please look into the problems with the concept of “colorblindness” when it comes to equity and inclusion. There are myriad resources out there about why this is an outdated and even offensive way to operate.

    3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      The absolute last thing I want to deal with on my team is someone who’s likely to be threatened or disgusted by the idea that one’s race sometimes impacts their experiences. Chances are you assume that anyone impacted by their race must be a racist themselves? No way am I opening up myself or my team to that kind of threat.

  26. Forrest*


    1 Is the pressure to get a resolution coming from upper management, you or your report? Because if it’s anything you have control over, I suggest parking it for a few weeks at least. Babies change SO much in a few months that it just doesn’t seem worth worrying yet over something that’s going to happen in August or September. The baby might be much happier to be left by then, or might be much more mobile and harder to mind at home whilst working– this whole conversation might resolve itself. If you don’t need to resolve it now, I would give it a couple of months and see where you are.

    2. If you do need to resolve it now, you need to work through and deal with your irritation with this co-worker, because that is really clouding your ability to find a good solution. She has been at home with the baby for months, without any of the normal “leave them for a few hours with grandparents/friends/early daycare” that would usually happen. It’s genuinely tough for her to work out how on earth she’s going to leave them. You sound really irritated that she’s not been great at time management AND that she wants something different to what you want, and you want her to just get over it and SOLVE it and not be a problem for you. That is completely understandable– the pandemic has also been hard on you, I’m sure! – but isn’t a practical mindset for the problem that’s in front of you.

    You need to clarify whether the problem is that THIS role can’t be done from home, or the problem is that THIS employee can’t work from home, or that noone can work from home AND mind their child at the same time. Depersonalise the problem. Believe that this employee’s worry and concern about being separated from her baby are real problems. Believe that your need to ensure the work is done in a timely and effective way is a real problem. At the moment you are both focussing on your own needs and dismissing the other person’s, and that makes problems completely intractable. If you both believe that the other person’s needs are real and important, and depersonalise them, you have a much better chance of coming up with a solution that works for both of you.

    Good luck!

    1. Clare*

      I really second point #2, especially with regard to productivity – are most people back to 100% productivity, especially with kids? I guess I have some coworkers who have really gotten into the groove with WFH, but off days/weeks still seem pretty normal. I get that it’s been a year and that this is probably really frustrating for management but…there’s still a pandemic! I’m grateful my employer still has a pretty accommodating view of what productivity looks like.

    2. iliketoknit*

      Your point about babies changing was what was going through my head reading this – the employee’s baby cries at day care *now*, but kids change so quickly! There’s no reason to believe the baby will never be able to go to daycare, ever. And I’m a little concerned about the employee suggesting that’s the case. But then, while I absolutely get concerns about fairness and WFH and who gets to do it and how to handle childcare, I don’t think it’s the employer’s responsibility to drill down on individual employee’s individual kid’s preferences and condition flexibility on those preferences (obviously if there’s some kind of documented medical condition that requires different levels of care, that’s different).

      1. Boof*

        The problem is, the less exposure kids have to others, the more they are going to be attached to their main caregiver. it could be years before a kid will be minimally unhappy with going away from the caregiver for 8+ hours. So, the employee really DOES have to come up with a plan for how they are going to get childcare. It’s one thing to ask for a few more months to get the kid adjusted, it’s another thing entirely to just expect to work from home and care for the child indefinitely. The later situation is not acceptable once schools and daycares reopen. And it’s not on the person’s employer to figure out how to allow them to care for their child and work at the same time – the employee has to propose things because they know their childcare situation best and then the employer can figure out if/how to work with that.

  27. Janet's Planet*

    Babies cry in daycare centers, and daycare centers don’t call parents to let them know about this because it’s an everyday occurrence. So I find the story suspicious.

    And even if LW#1’s employee did somehow let the daycare center know “call me if my baby cries” – which is quite unusual – in a non-pandemic/quarantine situation, they likely wouldn’t be able to leave work (at least not daily) to pick them up and take them home to care for them.

    So something is skewed here and you have to look beyond the employee’s report of “I need to be home to take care of my baby” to see that the situation isn’t really what they’re making it out to be.

    1. Mommy Shark*

      I have gotten calls from my daycare “your son has been crying for an hour, how would you like us to address it?” before. A good daycare absolutely will not let a baby cry for an hour without calling the parent. That is an extreme amount of crying.

    2. Sarah*

      There is a big difference between my daughter crying for 3 minutes when I leave and her crying for an hour. If she was crying for an hour, I would absolutely expect the center to call me to come pick her up.

    3. James*

      Except that “crying” and “crying for an hour” are two different things. I have been called because my daughter was crying for an hour. After this happened a few times we figured out that she had a minor medical issue that needed addressed. (That’s a few times spread over a few months, while we were actively working with the doctors–we didn’t just send her to daycare screaming each day!) This sort of thing can happen. And as you say, daycares are equipped to handle screaming babies–so when it’s bad enough that they call, it’s serious.

  28. 30ish*

    I don’t really get the negative responses to LW1. They don’t want to WFH, they have to in case schools are not open. I also have a baby of a similar age and it’s true that you have to figure out a way to get them used to daycare if you have a job. What else can you do? WFH is nobsolution, you can’t care for a child that you and work. Often there’s a system for leaving the baby for longer and longer periods. I would think this will resolve itself fairly soon.

    1. Forrest*

      I don’t think it warrants negative reactions, but I do think LW1 is focussed on the idea that there is an objective Right and Wrong here, and is also quite irritated by her employee, and that’s inhibiting her from really engaging with the employee’s situation. If she’s actually tried multiple time to put the baby in daycare and the baby is so upset that it’s not working out, then “Your baby will just have to get used to it” isn’t a practical or an empathetic response to this employee. It’s turning into an antagonistic situation because both LW and her employee are personalising it (“she’s not good at time management ANYWAY” “How come you get to stay at home!”) and so commenters are taking sides.

      But the way to solve something like this is to depersonalise it and recognise it as a situation of conflicting needs, and to look for solutions that recognise both needs. LW needs to take the lead on that because she’s the boss and it’s what she’s paid for.

      1. 30ish*

        True. However, if the baby can’t adjust to daycare then probably wfh won’t solve this either. It puts the employee on an impossible situation. A transition period would definitely be good though. Maybe wfh part of the time until the baby is more used to staying at the daycare?

        1. Forrest*

          I agree, and I don’t think the employee’s solution (“I’ll work from home whilst minding a 1yo!”) is workable either. But I think she’s digging in because it’s becoming adversarial, and they’re both getting stuck on, “but I’m right and you’re unreasonable!” rather than looking for workable solutions.

      2. twocents*

        I got more of a “upper management made the decision, I’m just the messenger, how do I implement” vibe rather than LW thinking she is Right and employee is Wrong.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreed – I got a “stuck in the middle” vibe as well. In the before times care for non-Independent dependents (of any age range) was a requirement for all people. It got relaxed during the pandemic, but now some places are starting to move back to in-person and asking/giving lead time for employees to get those arrangements figured out.

        2. Forrest*

          That’s how LW1 is framing it, but there are a few contradictions here like the extra information about “she’s not the best at managing her time”. If LW1 has no discretion at all, why include that? I think the framing of “I have no power here” is partly because she’s irritated by the situation and the employee, which is preventing her looking for flexibility and alternative solutions. If you can depersonalise it, look at the facts and at the things you can and can’t control, you’ve got a much clearer idea of where there is room for flexibility and you can come up with third-way solutions that work for both of you.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I suggested the shift slowly into sending the infant to daycare up above as well. It sounds like (reading between the lines) that daycares are open, schools aren’t yet. It also sounds like they aren’t pulling everyone back into the office yet – but are in the planning our office reopening stages.

      I will agree that some things in higher education can be done from home – but there’s a lot of things that just work better in an in-person set-up. Sounds like whether or not this is the case, where OP works wants to bring everybody back in when schools fully reopen.

  29. Teapotsallthewaydown*

    LW1 I was in your employee’s shoes about 6 months ago. It’s horrible. My little boy had nuclear separation anxiety. He SCREAMED when anyone but me held him (he was almost a year before his own father could pick him up).

    Daycare refused to take him for more than 4 hours a day and not every day – and with two weeks before I returned to work I had to find a way to make it work. Our solution was to find a Nanny that he would accept. We had to take our daughter out of daycare (which is terrible because she loved it) but financially we could afford either or. In the UK we’re still in lockdown and our Nanny has had to isolate for the past three months so now I’m stuck at home with a toddler and a 4yr old and trying to work (none of it is working well).

    I wish that my work had been a bit more supportive. Because Daycare did come up with a plan for how to get him settled in. And if he’d been at daycare (which has stayed open) I’d be able to work properly and stay sane, instead of which everyone is getting a poor deal. (I asked to work two half days a week for two weeks to try to get it to work).

    My question to you would be is this person generally a poor performer? Does she have confidence that she’d get the chance to get this to work or would she be penalised for it? Could you ask her if Daycare have offered a plan for getting the child settled? Or are they refusing to take them?

    That being said I do sympathise with the difficulty you’re experiencing with an employee who ‘s not where she needs to be.

    1. Forrest*

      So much of this is not just about finding a solution, but being empathetic. I didn’t go back to a job I loved after my maternity leave because they’d just made everything so difficult. I was commuting over an hour to work– they turned down a request to start a bit later and end a bit earlier and work for an hour in the evenings when I was really struggling with morning sickness. I asked if I could work from home one day a week for the last three months of pregnancy, and my manager said not at all: I burst into tears in front of HR, who spoke to my manager and she agreed we could try it. (And it was fine!) But that really set the tone for other conversations about maternity: during my maternity leave I asked if I could go down to 0.6 or 0.8 FTE (you have a legally protected right to ask to go part-time in the UK, and it’s just super normal, especially when life circumstances change– my previous employer didn’t bat an eyelash when I asked the same question in my first pregnancy.) After two weeks of silence, my manager got back to me to say that they weren’t able to discuss this yet. I said the paperwork suggested that it needed to be agreed now if I was going to come back to work in eight weeks, and she invited me in to a face-to-face meeting (again, an hour away, and bringing the baby with me.) It wasn’t the *wrong* answers but it just felt like their whole attitude was, “ugh, do you HAVE to” and that I was being a giant pain for asking.

      It just made everything feel like such a ballache and when a 3-day a week job came up nearer to home I took it straight away. I still really miss that workplace and the work I was doing there, but every flexible working request I made felt *so* adversarial and I hated working in that atmosphere. I don’t know what they gained from being Like That when we could still have had the same conversations and come up with the same solutions but in a kinder and more constructive way, but I know what they lost.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I could have written an almost identical comment. In my exit interview I brought it up, and the very senior person conducting the interview seemed surprised – my requests had all been refused far lower down the chain without her even being notified of them.

        There is still a large gap between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law, definitely. I’m sorry you experienced that gap!

      2. Pretty much over it*

        I’m really sorry that you went through that, Forrest. Managers, and management, like that make no sense to me: even if you just want to look at cold, economic terms, miserable employees are not productive. As both a worker and a manager, I was really hoping that the pandemic would weed these sort of useless, damaging managers out, but we may have to wait a while yet, it seems.

        It’s not brain surgery: can the job be done remotely, in all or in part? Do they actually need to be in the office full time? Or do they just need to drop in once a week, fortnight, or month? Can the job duties be adjusted to render the worker able to work remotely? If the person has worked remotely before, has it worked well before? (If you think the answer is “no”, did you actually provide the person with feedback and guidance?)

        The reality is, unless the person needs to handle physical items (that cannot be dealt with via an electronic version of that item), and/or unless they need to be customer-facing (and that contact 100% needs to be in person), at least part of the work can be done remotely, if not all of it.

        Yes, it’s good to see your co-workers in-person to build those relationships, and working in-person can sometimes be more dynamic than working together virtually (depending upon the people involved, and sometimes the connectivity tech involved), but none of that is worth public health and safety during a global pandemic.

    2. iliketoknit*

      This is a really helpful comment. I know I’d be much more receptive to an employee saying, “Here is my plan for getting my child adjusted to daycare, it requires [whatever flexibility] for this period of time, can we work this out?” From the letter it sounds more like the employee is saying “I can’t send my child to daycare,” full stop (and TBF it may be that she’s so frazzled right now that’s where her mind is). If that is the case, it’s a harder thing to respond to. (I also recognize that we’re getting this from the LW and not the employee and it’s possible the LW thinks one thing is getting said and the employee thinks they’re saying another.)

  30. Sarah*

    LW4 I deal with the same thing! A vendor from my city, operating in my city, and dealing with all the same regulations called in July. I told them we were closed until at least the end of the year. January 2 they call back, knowing literally nothing in the city had changed. I get they need the business, but they really need common sense!

    1. LW4*

      YES! And I am grateful that they have safe, virtual options but like… we’re an essential business & my teams are slammed right now trying to live & work through a pandemic — giving them *more* virtual stuff to do is not a perk this year! The reopening process is going to be interesting with this too I think.

  31. Retail Not Retail*

    LW3 – ha! This is the other side of the question I asked a couple weeks ago (how does the interviewee suss this out). I guess if they ask you similar questions, you can assume you’re close to the same page.

    In 2015, I interviewed for a county clerk office position (and got it and turned it down alas) and they really danced around a topic by asking me if i would perform ALL tasks required and “you know we do things by appointment now”. I’d applied back in May and heard from them in July so my assumption was that someone quit in a homophobic huff in, say, June.

    1. NotBatman*

      Another out-and-proud colleague and I both have small rainbow flags in our offices. (It’s primarily to signal to the students we work with that it’s okay to talk about LGBTQ+ issues with us.) It also invites the occasional pointed question from interview candidates for our program. People who try to hide behind religion as a way of “disagreeing” with the human rights of their coworkers do not get callbacks.
      If and only if you are comfortable with this degree of “outness” at work, that kind of signal can be a good way to get some of the garbage to float to the surface.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        What kind of pointed questions do they ask? Are they really obtuse enough to see a rainbow flag in your office, understand what it represents, and then indicate their displeasure about it? To the person interviewing them? Who has that flag?

        1. DJ Abbott*

          Oh, yes. I’ve seen worse in other areas.
          – Religious types think/have been taught their way is the only way and G*d is on their side, etc., and they charge in like a bull with their attempts to force their ways on people because they think they’re doing the right thing.
          – An amazing number of people state the obvious as if we’d never heard it before – they really seem to think they’re the first person who noticed…

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            I mean, I know there are people who think this. I’m just surprised that they’d be “conscious” enough to notice a flag in Jane’s office and know what it means, and yet be stupid enough IN A JOB INTERVIEW to tell Jane they don’t approve.

            1. DJ Abbott*

              They think they’re being subtle, or polite. Their “politeness” is relative to what they’re thinking.
              Some probably don’t know what the rainbow flag means. I didn’t until 2014, when I wandered into a LGBTQ store while waiting for an appointment and the owner told me. I thought the rainbow-decorated items were for little girls.
              Depending on where they live and what circles they move in, they easily might not know.

  32. Cthulhu's Librarian*

    So, this has been a recurring question for me about situations like LW1’s for me: How is it does it work to be an active and engaged manager for your team and facility, if you’re working from home full time while requiring your employees to be there in person?

    I get that there’s no reason to require people to work on site if their job can be done as work from home, and that most management jobs have an administrative component that can be done from home – but if you’re never there, how would you know what the day to day operations look like? Provide your staff with oversight and support? Be aware of problems that are festering like harassment? Or even just deal with complaints about your staff?

  33. HLK1219HLK*

    Yeah…about LW#1. Sorry, but as a manager, I’m not going to flaunt privileges in front of my team that can’t just as easily or reasonably be expected to be provided to them. Based on the brief description, unless the employee is working at an intake window where she absolutely has to be on-site, then I think LW#1 is being pretty unreasonable and honestly hypocritical. And if the employee IS working in a position where she has to be on-site to directly interact with others, then sorry, LW#1 needs to have her butt in that office overseeing her work as well because that isn’t something you can manage from home. Don’t know why, but LW#1 really REALLY bugs me and if I were her employees, I would be looking for an exit as soon as humanly possible.

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      LW made it clear the this is a decision from up above. Also, this is a university where, most likely, staff have to be on site to be there fore students. And I haven’t had a manager yet who didn’t ‘flaunt privileges’–they get to rearrange hours, choose schedules, etc. It’s their job.)

    2. Name Required*

      I had to sit with why LW 1’s letter really bothered me … and I think this is the reason why: Women, especially BIPOC women, have ALREADY been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic. Women have been set back in wealth growth by DECADES. Employees at the staff level aren’t working at the university for their incredible innovation, growth opportunities, and amazing salaries. Many staff at university work there because of the stability, benefits, and FLEXIBILITY. Especially with respect to work-life balance.

      The university is complicit in sexism if they are unwilling to be more accomodating of the unprecedented issues some women are facing when it comes to transitioning back to work in person, especially when that means that a disproportionate amount of their female employees will *drop out of the workforce* because they have no other options. What no other options looks like is OP saying: Just Figure it Out, because in Before Times, you’d have to send kids to daycare. OP is being complicit in sexism if she thinks her employee should just Figure it Out, while she has a different set of rules available to her that allow her to keep her job. Especially when it seems like she has made no effort to solve it as a business problem (i.e. her throwaway comment on productivity) or advocated for flexibility with upper management (i.e. treating herself as “just a messenger” when she has a responsibility to both manage her employees and advocate for them).

      I think negativity, anger, irritation are all warranted and appropriate reaction to inequality.

      1. i'm new here*

        I agree wholeheartedly. Not only have we seen so many women drop out of the workforce during this pandemic, LW1’s approach (or her upper management’s, but she doesn’t seem to have much problem with it) makes me think we will see a second wave of drop-outs as offices start requiring people (but mostly women) to return before acceptable options are available.

        Also, I have to reiterate what others have said: LW1 could also find a childcare solution and get into the office even if schools remain closed. Millions of essential workers have done it and continue to do so. This employer is applying different rules to different groups insofar as who is required to find childcare, and it’s extra galling that the presumably lower-paid positions are being required to (1) fork out for coverage and (2) increase their family’s virus exposure when the higher-ups aren’t.

        Finally, I don’t believe for one second that LW1’s own performance hasn’t suffered if they truly are homeschooling while working full time, so the double standard and lack of self-awareness in that regard and also really grates!

      2. Llama face!*

        I also had a strong negative reaction to the LW 1’s letter. In my case I know exactly why: it’s because my own employers have been awful around the issue of WFH during COVID. They refused to allow us to work from home this past fall/winter when cases were exponentially increasing even though we did it in the spring quite successfully, claiming that they’d “done everything necessary to keep us safe” at work. But at the same time they- who had private offices behind multiple levels of doors unlike us workers stuck in close quarters open plan rooms- were working from home half the time! (Apparently safe enough for us was not safe enough for them). So I had a hard time seeing past my own frustrations.

        I do think the LW has a few conflicting issues happening in this letter. They need to clarify whether their problem is the employee’s performance or whether it’s just impossible to do the job from home. Because it seems like the LW is just not a fan of this employee and that attitude may be affecting what possibilities or responsibility to advocate for their employee they are willing to acknowledge. It really seems that at the very least, this attitude is preventing them from communicating with their employee in an understanding and fair manner. Even if the LW has no power to change the situation, they are approaching it badly and they do need to do some self-reflection on why they are reacting that way.

      3. Forrest*

        I agree with this analysis, although I’m also more sympathetic to LW1 simply because she is *also* dealing with the fallout of the pandemic, presumably working from home whilst homeschooling her kids, and I can certainly empathise with the fact that her first approach to this problem is exhaustion, frustration and, “oh god not ANOTHER thing, can you just NOT”. But as a manager, she needs to get over that first response and find ways of negotiating productively with her employee.

        1. Name Required*

          Yeah, I’m sympathic to LW1’s personal stress too even if I get BIG MAD at how this past year has hobbled progress towards equity. Really, their institution is TERRIBLE if this is what they think equity looks like.

      4. Bernadette*

        Thank you for this. This letter really bothered me, too.

        Regardless of the specifics of each situation, it seems clear that both the LW and her employee feel that it’s not feasible for them, personally, to return to working full time in the office right now. Yet the LW is treating it as a given that the solution for herself is that she continues to receive an accommodation and the solution for the employee is that she not receive the same accommodation and also to stop being so difficult about it.

        It just feels like a really, really bad look (not just for the affected employee, but for anyone else observing the situation) and not the way a manager should approach such a difficult set of circumstances.

        1. Rebekah*

          Exactly – we should take LW at her word that she can’t get other childcare for her kids, but while we’re still operating under the aegis of a pandemic, I don’t think it makes sense to decide that one person’s/group’s childcare issues can just be “gotten over” or whatever. I’ve seen suggestions that employee can just leave the baby to cry or find another daycare or switch childcare arrangements and with all the changes to childcare we just don’t know if that’s true. When pandemic policies have ended for everybody, it makes sense to say that nobody can WFH due to childcare issues – but deciding that some people’s childcare issues are valid and others are not is a terrible look, especially when it comes to the manager/report divide.

          1. Name Required*

            I haven’t seen this emphasized enough … we registered at a daycare 5 months before we needed it. Other providers we toured didn’t even have openings until almost year after. If her current childare provider won’t keep her child while they are working through their severe separation anxiety, LW1’s employee may be in a tough position to find another available childcare provider with only a few months notice.

            1. FridayFriyay*

              And the pandemic just makes this a million times worse. The assumption that LW1’s situation is related to the pandemic but her employee’s situation *isn’t* related to the pandemic seems a bit sheltered from the reality of how the pandemic has affected childcare options even for traditional daycare aged kids.

              1. Librarian1*

                Yeah, this is what’s bothering me. LW1 thinks that the employee’s situation is unrelated to the pandemic and that’ just not true. At the very least, all the stress of the pandemic is contributing to it, but as others said above, babies born during the pandemic are having more issues with separation anxiety than kids born during normal times did.

      5. Roci*

        Yes, great point. This is Sexism under COVID 101 right here and LW1 seems like she is saying “sorry you have to deal with it while I get to opt out, based on factors out of our control, and this just happens to benefit higher ups and punish people lower down”.

        I know that LW1 has her own problems and probably wants to genuinely help her employee but I completely understand her employee’s frustration. If I was the employee this would torpedo my trust in my manager and might force me out of the workforce.

        And from a pandemic perspective, since this hasn’t been emphasized enough on this post, WHY ARE ALL WORKERS REQUIRED ON SITE IF SCHOOLS AREN’T EVEN OPEN YET. Great everyone at that place is vaccinated but clearly there are still community spread concerns if schools are not open! How can you require people to be working in-person if in-person learning is not considered safe?!

  34. twocents*

    LW5: When you interview, talk like they have no idea what you do all day. I know people who have lost out on jobs basically made for them because they assumed they got it, and gave cryptic answers that only made sense if you had in depth knowledge of all the background. “As you know on Project Teapot, I was perfect.” That doesn’t put the hiring manager in a position where they can document, from your interview, a justified reason to HR why you should be hired vs someone who gave complete answers about what the hell Project Teapot was, what they did on it, and what outcome was reached.

    1. Ganymede*

      An exercise to help you might be to think about what you would need to ask someone working in a different department from you – in theory you know what the end result of their labour is, but could you ennumerate everything they do to make that successful?

      For example, I worked in theatre, and as a producer I knew what a good lighting scheme looked like, I watched the designer working with the technicians to put the rig up – but what is their specialist knowledge and experience that enables them to do that? what are the adaptations they have to make for working in different theatres? do they use the cutting-edge technology to achieve their results, but do they still have to work with older systems and maintain a good knowledge of those practical tasks?

  35. Noncompliance Officer*

    LW2: This is the problem with being competent and reliable. If you aren’t careful, and your boss doesn’t protect you, you will inevitably get sucked into the black hole that is whatever is the current problem child at your organization. Years ago this happened to me (three times!) and I finally put my foot down and said I wasn’t happy with the direction I was going and couldn’t see myself committing long term. My boss at the time pulled me away from all those other projects. But if your boss won’t help you, it’s probably time to make a difficult decision.

    1. Malika*

      A good tip my last manager gave me to prevent being the constant babysitter for problem projects is to pre- emptively fill my schedule with the projects that pertained to my actual job description. Things can’t be dumped on your plate if there is no plate to dump it on. In the end, i was able to stop being the go-to girl for emergencies and get on with the tasks i was actually hired to do. In my new job, i sussed out immediately what the core duties were and went about filling my schedule to the brim with them. Yes, you are right. In order for this to succeed you need a supportive boss who isn’t constantly leaning on you to do the extra work. If you have this, it makes all the difference in the world and once you have proven your efficacy at your core tasks, people stop trying to lean you into doing the problem or thankless projects.

      1. OP2 Today*

        Hi, I’m OP2. Part of the problem is that I’m in a pool of tech writers, assigned specifically to Project Coffeepot. I asked to be reassigned, but there aren’t other openings on other projects. My supervisor manages the pool, while I get direct assignments from Project Lead.

        Project Lead is a dynamic guy who continuously reinvents the coffee machine, although the task is just to fix the carafe. He’s had complete turnover on the team except for me, leaving me as the only person who knows its history, A to Z.

        My supervisor has promised that I will get reassigned when something is available, but that’s probably not until the pandemic subsides and business picks up. Hence, I am looking for advice on how to push back on the worst of the stuff while maintaining my job for the interim.

        1. Chilipepper*

          Is there any way to talk to Project Lead about this and his tendency to reinvent the coffee pot, which is very cool and interesting, but not the task at hand? And it is leading to pulling you away from tech writing so can he help you with your problem?

          I feel like if I were in your spot, I’d feel I did not have many fs left to give and it could be worth a shot. Like he is such a missing step that if he got his feathers ruffled by this convo that no one would worry that much about it?

          Also, who is assigning you the PM stuff? Other teams, your supervisor??

        2. the jukebox failed me today*

          OP2, if you haven’t utilized it yet, your key phrase and weapon is “scope creep”.

  36. Richard Hershberger*

    LW3: “I can’t flat out ask, “Are you comfortable working with gay men?” Can I?” Why not? Bigots are not a protected class, however much some people might like them to be.

    1. Forrest*

      Firstly, because you won’t necessarily get an answer that tells you what you want to know. A few people will out themselves as bigots with an answer like, “Sure, as long as they don’t shove it down my throat”. A few people will excel with answers about how they’ve promoted diversity and made a tangible difference to their workplace; a lot more will answer that of course they’re comfortable but you’ve no idea whether *their* idea of being comfortable is one which will actually work for you.

      But secondly, because the questioner should be thinking about more than how a hostile environment impacts him personally and looking for someone who will promote equity and diversity across other axes of oppression, such as race and disability. If I got asked that question, it would be a red flag for me because it seems like this organisation is extremely naive about how it deals with equity and diversity because why are you only asking me about gay men and not about gay women, trans folk, disabled people, and people of colour?

    2. Diane*

      As a black woman, I would be really taken aback by this question. What’s the right answer here? Why the specific focus on gay men? If you’re a white man asking, that’s two positions of power over me. Unless you followed up with some *really* clear examples of how you’re promoting other forms diversity, it would make me feel like this is someone’s pet cause, and I don’t fall into either category. Then I’d have to be worried about if I had a conflict with a coworker, and their “minority card” got somehow played against my “minority card”.

      It’s a common trap for people to fall into the habit of trying to screen for very specific problems based on past experiences. One employee spends hours talking on the phone, you try to ban phones. An employee abuses a flex schedule, you insist on buts-in-seats from 9-5. In this case, the issue is that the employee was homophobic. What if they screen for that and the next employee is Islamophobic? Don’t try to play whack-a-mole with problem employees. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

      1. H1*

        I agree with this, and with Forrest. I think it’s likely that you wouldn’t get an answer that would tell you anything, and it’s likely that you will turn a lot of people off.

        I mean, you ask me if I can work with a gay man, and I’m going to say, “Of course!” I’ll probably leave it there, because it would feel like a loaded question. But then I’m going to ask you why you would ask me that. Am I giving off weird vibes, or is this related to something in your company? And it’s going to be tough to have a response that, combined with the blunt, specific question, doesn’t wave a red flag. In this case, that wouldn’t be a justified problem, but as an interviewee I don’t know that.

    3. Cat Tree*

      I think this is a case of “show, don’t tell”. I’ve known of places that are heavily male-dominated but a supervisor is a woman, so they have asked directly hire the candidate would feel reporting to a woman. But very few people will directly admit that it bothers them. Behavioral interviews about specific experiences will demonstrate how they actually acted in the past.

    4. Jennifer*

      Because no one in their right mind, even an actual bigot, is going to say no. Most discrimination is more subtle now because most workplaces won’t put up with overt bigotry.

    5. Nanani*

      You can ask it, but you won’t get a useful answer.
      We don’t live in a cartoon universe where all the bigots are twirling mustaches in every scene.

  37. Bookworm*

    LW3: Do you have a diversity, equity and inclusion initiative or program or similar? I would guess not based on your letter but if that is not something that is currently available or in the works you could look up organizations that do and have similar programs for language or ideas.

    I think Alison’s answer is fine and useful but you may find other ideas or tips from other orgs that do have DEI initiatives or consultants, etc.

    Thank you for asking and thinking about this. I’m on the other side of that table and it is extremely important to me to be in an organization that is making the effort to keep bigots out. Good luck! Sorry you had to deal with that person. :/

  38. Lacey*

    LW2: That’s such a weird phenomena. I have found that this sort of thing often happens to the graphic designers or writers in my department. Even when it’s not quite as aggressive as what you’re experiencing (though I’ve seen that too) there often is this expectation that the graphic designers or writers will be keeping the project on track, know all the project info, and just generally do a lot of management of parts of the project that aren’t ours!

    At one company, a task that was clearly another departments was handed over to graphic design, not because it was related to our work in any way, but because, “We just need this done right and on time” What is that?!

    Another company would exclude me from meetings but then expect me to come up with solutions for the information they discussed but didn’t give me – even though that should have been done before the project ever came to me.

    Even at my current company, which is much better than the two previous, we’re expected to hold the hands of another department and help them do the work they do for us correctly. When we complain, we’re basically told that you just can’t expect more out of the kind of people who work in X department. I hope that they tell them that they can’t expect graphic designers to not slap them across the face!

    And a friend of mine who is a writer, eventually just got promoted in to managing all the projects, because she was doing it anyway! She got a nice pay bump, so there’s that, but it’s not really the work she meant to do and she’d much rather have a competent manager above her!

    1. Lovecraft Beauty*

      Oh my god this, only I’m in development, not design. We keep freaking ending up as de facto project managers because we are the only people who demand concrete answers about requirements, deadlines, process….I could scream.

  39. Cat Tree*

    LW2, I can relate. I keep getting pulled into things because people know I will do a good job of it. I just had a glowing performance review last week, and my boss emphasized a project that was new to me but I picked it up fast and did it correctly. Well yeah, this was high-stakes and high-visibility so I’m not gonna do it wrong or even mediocre. I’m gonna figure out how to do it right. But apparently plenty of wouldn’t have? It’s just not in my nature to intentionally do less than I can.

    And the thing is, I wouldn’t even mind doing these things. My company is actually good about recognizing achievements. I got a good bonus and raise, and will have an easy path to promotion when I’m ready for that. In top of all that, I like having variety in my work and I especially like learning how to do new things or learning about different aspects of the business. But I’m still in survival mode during the pandemic and my plate is too full. I finally managed to offload some existing projects by suggesting a certain person take over as a learning opportunity, but still with my help.

    But since I’ve been on this side of it, I try not to ask for the from the person I know will just get it done if they’re not one who is responsible for it.

  40. CM*

    For #3, I really don’t like the framing of “what have you learned” from working on diverse teams because it feels very white-centric to me, like the purpose of BIPOC people being there is for white people to learn.

    1. CM*

      I should expand this comment to being about more than just race. It’s the same for, e.g., disabled and queer people (or especially if you check multiple boxes). It often feels like you’re being trotted out as an example or a good learning experience, even though you’re not equally valued in terms of salary and work. It’s icky, like those movies where the only purpose of the “diverse” person is to make the “normal” person learn life lessons.

      1. Tehanu*

        @CM I was thinking the same thing! I am a brown, female analyst working with engineers. My answer to that question would be “look at me! I am the diversity hire, and I have to figure out how to answer the “no, where are you REALLY from?” question without offending the asker.”
        I don’t know how to suss out the bigots in the interview but this is difficult.

    2. No Tribble At All*

      Ooh, good point. It definitely seems like a question you’d ask a white [or otherwise majority] person.

    3. Chilipepper*

      It is an interesting point CM.
      Do you have different framing for the question? Maybe “what are your thoughts” about working on diverse teams?

    4. Rusty Shackelford*

      Also, I’ve learned more about racism from working on teams full of white guys…

    5. Jinni*

      THIS. I usually agree with AAM but for goodness sake this is an awful interview question. I’m a black woman. Every interview situation I have experienced, the interviewer(s) are white. Mostly men. I’ve had the experience of being a sing black person sitting across from a group of white men (one of who may be gay). For them to ask me about how I’ve handled diversity would send me walking.

      This answer is so white focused that I just got out of bed to write this comment.

      **Please do not inflict the burden of explaining how I can help with diversity – when I am the ‘diversity.’ **

      (And don’t get me started on all the ways in which my body is othered by that word).

      1. meyer lemon*

        Yes, I can’t really think of a way to ask this question that’s not somehow problematic. If you ask it of marginalized people, then it seems like you’re expecting them to do all the heavy lifting of “diversifying” the company. If you try to ask it only of non-marginalized people, then you’re in the business of judging which of your interview candidates may or may not fit into those categories, which is problematic and impossible.

      2. CM*

        I was thinking the same thing — how would I react if asked this question? I’d think, “Wow, your organization fails so hard at being diverse that you think all your candidates will ‘learn’ something from diversity. What I’ve learned is how to navigate a room full of white guys named Dave and Bob with a believable smile on my face. And what I just learned is that your organization will give me more of the same.”

    6. MEH*

      Same, CM. My immediate thought as a three-fer (Asian, bi womav) would be to reply, “I’m the diversity, bay-beeeeeeeee!” In addition to being a three-fer, I have a bunch of other things that make me far from the norm so when I worked in more traditional offices, I was always having to adjust. I’ve also been the token hire more than once, which isn’t a pleasant realization to have. I do know that there are many meanings to ‘diverse’, but the question still is aimed at people who are in the majority for the most part.

    7. Llama face!*

      Agreed. It seems to assume that the person being questioned is part of the majority group which is also problematic for people like me who are invisible minorities. They wouldn’t know by looking at me that I’m of mixed ancestry (my appearance is generally “assumed white”) or that I’m asexual.

  41. employment lawyah*

    1. Employee doesn’t want to leave her baby
    So be it. I mean, it sucks for her to be sure but, as they say, that is why people get paid to go to work.

    She can take FMLA, or she can take a job which is fully remote (making whatever tradeoffs she wishes.) But if you need her at work, she’ll have to come to work. It is what it is.

    I would try very hard not to get involved in comparing your situation with hers. Most obviously, you both feel differently about the same thing–you want to be at work and she does not!–so pointing that out is likely to cause further upset.

    2. I keep getting pulled into work that’s not my job
    AAM is right.

    There’s also a third option here: Good PMs are often paid a lot more than technical writers because they can leverage other resources well. Ans as you have seen, it’s very hard to find good PMs.

    So, boring or not, would you want to do PM work if you were paid a lot more? If so this can also be a focus, or perhaps a way to get the PM stuff to stop. Roughly speaking, it’s “I’m being paid $70k to write and I’m doing $110k worth of PM. I either need to stop doing the PM work, or start getting paid $110k.”

    (Also speaking from experience, there are a lot of things to be said for money! The best job of my 20s was high paid, boring as hell, great hours. Job was a slog, sure, but boring and not abusive–and due to the $$ and good hours, my overall week was better than any other time.)

    3. Screening out bigots in interviews
    I’m not so much of a fan of AAM’s questions because it tends to select for “people who speak the woke language” which is different from not-bigoted. I know a lot of people who are not-bigoted in the “couldn’t care less” category, who work happily and are friendly and cordial to gay folks, trans folks, POC, and everyone else. They would not necessarily give “good” answers, they don’t speak the lingo, but they’d be (and are) fine employees at a place like yours.

    Honestly, I prefer the softer approach. Hang a bunch of rainbow flags in the interview room; say clearly that the last person was fired for bigotry and that the company requires tolerance and cordiality from and to everyone; feel free to name-drop “Bob and his partner Larry put together a lot of the company trips!”; say things like “you’ll be working with a lot of ____ people and clients and if this is a problem, that isn’t a good fit” if you feel the need; and trust a combination of your gut and self selection.

    But if you want to be stricter, that’s your call, it’s your company.

    4. How to ask vendors to leave me alone until after the pandemic ends
    Just tell them. If you say “Call in June,” they’ll call in June.

    1. Morticia*

      Thank you. I was coming here to say something similar to LW2. Naturally it’s cheaper for the company to pay someone a tech writer salary and get project manager work out of them. So, yeah, this is above the LW’s pay grade. She might find that worth calling out.

      1. OP2 Today*

        I’m OP2. I get paid very well, probably on par with Project Lead, as I’m senior in my career. I just stayed in tech writing instead of branching into management. I was assigned to Project Coffeepot because it requires writing high-level industry program documents and I’m the only one in my company with that kind of experience. I am teaching several junior writers from the pool about these kind of documents – two have extraordinary promise and are the ones who pick up my backlog.

        Hmmm. Upon reflection, maybe I’ve done myself out of a tech writing job? I might be stuck with what I’ve been doing. I mean, it’s not the worst thing in the world to be trusted with difficult assignments, although analyzing spreadsheets is not nearly as fun as crafting good words (for me). But as I said in my letter, this kind of work just creeps up and I never notice until too late.

        1. employment lawyah*


          Yes, you may be stuck–you have an interesting setup!

          I would tend to at least consider whether you might be better off switching, officially, to management. Do they get better perks/respect/hours? Would you like it better there, work with different people, etc? Would a switch provide you with enough other ancillary responsibilities (or promotion opportunities!) that you would not, then, find it as boring?

          Otherwise you sound well on top of it, so good luck :)

    2. Chilipepper*

      Re your comments on #1, I don’t think the OP needs to worry about comparing situations, her employee is already comparing them and wondering why the OP gets to stay home and the employee does not. So is everyone else at work. Some will conclude there are reasons, some will conclude the workplace is giving some employees benefits that others do not get.

      Re #3 – I don’t think the answers have to use “woke language” to be “good” answers. For every interview question, you have to think “what are they really asking?” And in this case, interviewers using Alison’s language are asking, do you get along with people, will you have a problem working in a culture that is diverse and values diversity? If the answer reflects a neutral, I generally get along with people at work, vibe, that’s enough I would think.

    3. Littorally*

      Re: #3 — as a trans person, I find that there’s some pretty significant overlap in “people who speak the woke language” as you put it, and people who won’t ask me weird and intrusive questions about my medical history. Understanding the issues and behaving appropriately are pretty closely linked, despite what you seem to think. And alternatively, people might think they can be perfectly cordial, but their definition of cordiality is being very weird toward me but using a nice tone of voice while they do it.

      1. FridayFriyay*

        Yes and then all of the people who coddle those cordial-but-weird people and persist in letting them be weird because “not everyone can be as woke as you!” Just trying to be me, and exist in the workplace, not trying to be a wokeness object lesson but here we are.

        1. Original #3 Writer*

          Yes! I struggle with that all the time – I don’t WANT to be “an inclusion lesson” and make everything a “teachable moment”, BUT I also won’t tolerate being made to feel less than or othered. So I’m going to stand up for myself, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to try and “educate” or “make woke” somebody. Yep, I just want to do my job and not be a wokeness lesson, but then again, I’m going to stand up for myself too. Some people will take standing up for myself as trying to be an “activist” somehow, but that says more about them than me….

    4. Tinker*

      Virtually the entire process of job interviewing selects for knowledge of business norms around the use of language. Although using the term “woke language” somewhat obscures it with the implication that such language is “activist” rather than “corporate”, norms about how to discuss diversity issues at work are just another component of those business norms.

      Obviously, how much knowledge to select for and in what set of norms is something to think about, but why come up concerned about the concept only at this point?

    5. DJ Abbott*

      IMHO that’s a good point about woke language. I haven’t seen it so much with individuals, but companies do it to the point of making me roll my eyes.
      I’m currently job searching and every post or career site has something about being inclusive… whether they actually are or not, they know it’s correct to say so.
      It’s similar to big corporations sponsoring Pride activities – it’s not about supporting diversity, it’s about making sales.
      I would watch for people who talk in woke or diversity cliches, who seem distracted while they’re saying it, and/or who are way too confident, to the point of arrogance.

      1. Original #3 Writer*

        Actually, that is part of what is giving me the push to ask AMA about this. Our company talks a lot about inclusion/diversity, so my feeling is OK, then put your money where your mouth is, and make that part of the hiring process. If you’re going to put out a lot of shiny PR about this, then also take real action. That’s what I’m trying to do, since I have the opportunity to do it. Yeah, I roll my eyes too at a lot of the PR/marketing put out around these issues, and find it a turn off when a job listing has an obviously cut-and-pasted boilerplate about how “we’re inclusive!”. It does not seem genuine, at all.

        By the same token, if these issues arising in an interview come across as “arrogant”, then you would self-select out and rightly so.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          Yes! The boilerplate is so obvious.
          I meant if the candidate is way too confident, to the point of arrogance. Think they already know everything and of course they’re right, etc. Maybe it’s just me, but I would take that as a red flag.

    6. LW4*

      Oh yes, of course, why didn’t I think of that.

      I did think of that, and they did call in June, and we were still struggling through a pandemic so I said “Call in the fall” and then they did! And still pandemic! Now we’re a year into this and if I had a crystal ball, I would have said the first time “Don’t call until the pandemic is over because I’m going to be a shell of a human just trying to survive” but I didn’t.

      And so my actual question was how do deal with the feeling of letting someone down — over and over again! — amidst a situation I have zero control over & was unable to predict.

      But yes thank you very much for your wisdom. I’ll take it under advisement.

      1. Name Required*

        They say you can’t read tone in text … but I read the tone. Lol. Where is an applause emoji when you need one?

  42. AngryOwl*

    A thought on #1—the OP says the employee has been “not great at managing time while WFH.”

    Well, while WFH she’s had a newborn and there’s been a pandemic. I WFH 100% and have for over a decade and I have had trouble managing my time in the last year because *pandemic*. I get it’s not LW’s decision, but I am feeling frustrated at the lack of acknowledgement here.

    If the employee’s work isn’t great in general, even in the office pre-pandemic, then that’s a different issue. But we’re not in normal times yet and we shouldn’t talk as if we are.

    1. FridayFriyay*

      Right! I had a baby in September. Was I the best employee in the world pregnant during a pandemic with a baby who was all but a medical miracle that I never expected to actually deliver? Nope! Was I the best employee in the world when the pregnancy had complications toward the end that resulted in preterm labor and a surprise delivery with less than 5 hours notice that took me out of work more than a month earlier than planned? Not really! Was I the best employee in the world when my maternity leave ended and we had no daycare options because the ones we were waitlisted for when I first got pregnant pre-pandemic either closed or reduced their enrollment to the point where they didn’t have a spot for us? Or when my spouse had to take unpaid parental leave to close the gap in childcare and I was working from home upstairs hearing every single sound and cry the whole day while trying to re-orient myself in a job that changed almost 100% after the results of the 2020 elections? NO, I wasnt. Do I worry that my child who has met literally only a handful of people besides my spouse and I (his pediatrician and dermatologist and my mother) in his 6 months of life will have a hard transition to daycare? Of course. It’s a very weird and different and scary situation than most infants are exposed to in their lives. It’s impossible and none of it is normal or what I’d hoped for or imagined. Extending just one iota of understanding that unless you also had a baby during the pandemic you do not in fact know what this is like would be helpful.

    2. Allonge*

      Ideally, yes, we all give each other slack. But when the question is specifically about continuing to work at home or going to the office as the job demands, the ‘she did not manage it very well from home’ is a significant data point, just as ‘she did an excellent job WFH’ would be.

      There are good reasons for not managing, sure. Baby, pandemic, toddler…

      But a workplace is not obliged to wait until the employee’s kids are out of school to insist on work quality standards. And if there were no issues with her work before start of WFH, it’s not unreasonable to expect she will be back to that level without the at-home distractions.

  43. the jukebox failed me today*

    Endless empathy for #2. I work at a place that feels that everyone should become a project manager. It’s a real struggle against that; I had one supervisor who dismissed my skill set as unimportant (I’m one of the three people in our office who can do anything technical) and told me that they only wanted project managers. My current supervisor is better but there is still a culture that project management is the only important thing. I was hired as a technical person! I can run technical projects and have. But I’m not gonna be a full-time project manager and it’s an ongoing problem and it’s one reason I want to leave this job. Because they don’t value the work I do and they want me to take extensive trainings and spend a lot of time to become someone I’m not, doing a job I hate.

    Hope it goes well for you, LW 2.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      It sounds like OP really doesn’t want to do the PM work, but if that’s more valuable in the industry it’s not surprising that the company is always trying to get it on the cheap; pay a technical writer’s salary but get them to do management (I have no idea if PM is actually higher paid, but I’ve seen something comparable happen in my field often). if that is the case, OP may be able to be clear that they’re not willing to work at a lower salary. If the company pays Wakeen more, it may jolt them out of it. A risk is they’ll be happy to promote you to PM at that salary, which actually isn’t what you want (but might be better than doing it de facto anyway without the money).

  44. Malika*

    A good tip my last manager gave me to prevent being the constant babysitter for problem projects is to pre- emptively fill my schedule with the projects that pertained to my actual job description. Things can’t be dumped on your plate if there is no plate to dump it on. In the end, i was able to stop being the go-to girl for emergencies and get on with the tasks i was actually hired to do. In my new job, i sussed out immediately what the core duties were and went about filling my schedule to the brim with them. Yes, you are right. In order for this to succeed you need a supportive boss who isn’t constantly leaning on you to do the extra work. If you have this, it makes all the difference in the world and once you have proven your efficacy at your core tasks, people stop trying to lean you into doing the problem or thankless projects.

    1. Chilipepper*

      But how do you “fill your schedule” with the tasks you were hired to do? Do you mean fill your calendar? Because at my workplace, no one is looking at your calendar. You would have to speak up constantly, which I think the OP is already doing, and if they constantly push back and ask you, it can be hard.

      1. Malika*

        I was often in meetings with internal or external stakeholders or working in a group of colleagues on a project. If i was alone i was working on a deadline. They only got a one minute talk because i was too busy. Whether they wanted to check my calendar or not, i was still unavailable. After a while they got the gist and left me alone. It is tough to keep saying no. Two friends of mine are on sick leave as they had to fight against a high workload with no’s and constant discussions. It’s easier to demonstrate that there is no plate left to dump a project on than to constantly push back. I know it’s easier said than done, but this strategy has helped keep my workload doable in my past two jobs.

  45. HailRobonia*

    If I had an interviewer ask “To what extent have you worked on teams with diversity of race, gender, and sexual orientation, and what have you learned from those experiences?” that would raise my estimation of that organization by a zillion percent. I think that’s a fantastic question to ask regardless of whether or not your concern was primarily about screening out bigots.

    1. Jinni*

      But what if you haven’t? What if you’ve consistently been the POC on all white teams. Then what is the answer the POC interviewee would give?

      1. TootsNYC*

        “Unfortunately, I haven’t had that opportunity. I’ve worked with diverse personalities, of course, which has taught me to just let people be themselves. But I have read that diverse teams produce the best work. I’ve seen myself that people with different backgrounds from mine bring information and points of view that I hadn’t even considered. If you have a diverse team, that’s actually something I’d look forward to.”

      2. mf*

        My recommendation: tell them why you want to work at a diverse place and then challenge them to tell you how their culture meets that standard.

        “Unfortunately I haven’t worked on teams with a great deal of diversity. I’d really like to work with people from different backgrounds because I do believe that diversity breeds innovation, creativity, and excellence. Diversity is an important value of mine, and in my next job, I’m making it a priority to find a workplace with a very diverse and inclusive culture. As a people manager, what steps do you take here to ensure that you’re hiring a diverse team and creating an inclusive environment?”

      3. Forrest*

        I don’t agree that the question presumes that you have worked on diverse teams, and “learned” from it. I think an answer about having worked on extremely homogenous teams and any business or culture problems you’ve seen because of that would be a more than adequate answer, and doesn’t require you to refer to your own status as a member of a minority.

  46. GarlicMicrowaver*

    At the risk of sounding callous and maybe like a sanctimommy… Both employee and OP are making me cringe here:

    1. Employee: A few months’ notice is very reasonable in my opinion. Also, the reason the employee gave for not wanting to return, because she doesn’t want her baby to cry, is NOT reasonable. Actually, it is ridiculous. I am a parent, myself, for what it’s worth. My child has been in daycare since 7 months old and she is now 2. If the employee seriously has concerns around adjustment and separation anxiety, it is on her to shift her perspective and realize she is neither entitled nor alone in this sentiment among the rest us of working parents who drop their children off each day, kicking and screaming.

    Caveat- if her concern is COVID safety in her area (which did not come across at all in this letter) then MAYBE employee has a case for being able to stay at home until positivity rates or whatever go down.

    All that said, I do agree that it would put the OP in a positive light to allow for some flexibility in transition back ot the office, regardless.

    2. OP- I know we have been asked to operate under the assumption that the OP cannot return to the office for some reason, while her staff has to. If that is the case, it sounded like they were not forthright with OP with ANY such information. Figure that part out or prepare to be resented, and rightfully so if there is no real reason except, “I’m the boss.”

    1. Firecat*

      It sounded to me like the daycare has requested her baby be picked up since the child was not consolable. That’s what I got “I had to pick her up after an hour each time because all she did was cry”

      Your situation, where a kid is really upset to go to daycare and fights you on it but then is perfectly content and happy once their friends show up is pretty common yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same for OPs employee and that her “excuse” is ridiculous. The daycare may not put it up with OPs child.

      1. hbc*

        But “my child gets kicked out of daycare” is not generally a reason why you can just stay home for a job that normally requires you to be on-site. It sounds like the employee is shrugging and saying, “Whelp, no day care, the only possible solution is that I stay home and continue to be the sole caregiver for my child while pulling in a full-time salary.”

        She’s got a couple of months to work on getting her kid more adapted to other caregivers, and that’s what she should be talking about, not “It’s not fair that your totally different job can be done from home.”

        1. Forrest*

          “my child gets kicked out of daycare” leads to “mother drops out of employment” as often as it leads to “mother just somehow figures it out”. Like, that maybe what happens here, but some of the time that’s not the NECESSARY outcome, it’s just what happens because workplaces won’t give parents (especially mothers) enough time and flexibility to find a solution.

    2. Firecat*

      There is also a difference between your child, who was a baby in normal times and thus probably more socialized then OPs staff members, and a baby whose only contact for the first year of their life was mom and dad.

      Heck I’ve noticed a difference with my cats!
      One cat we adopted in December of 2019 and we threw a backyard socially distant BBQ in August. He ran around the house screaming the entire time and was so upset he was drooling all night. And these were people he had met in December and was fine then! I can’t imagine trying to adjust a baby to daycare right now! It must be 10,000 times harder.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        Yes, this was my thought. It’s a good thing to socialize your baby as early as possible, but that just hasn’t been possible. I feel for this parent.

      2. GarlicMicrowaver*

        yes, but it has to be done if she wants to stay in this role. if she cannot stay home per her employer’s regulation, then unfortunately she needs to look for a permanent wfh job.

    3. Just Another Zebra*

      You don’t sound callous. You sound pragmatic and reasonable.

      I don’t think COVID is a concern, since OP states the employee has another child in daycare. She just doesn’t want her baby to cry. As a parent, I don’t think that’s a reasonable ask. And she IS getting a few months notice. The office isn’t reopening immediately, but it is making plans to do so as the vaccine becomes available. The employee has plenty of time to acclimate her child to a daycare setting while she’s still at home. 2 hours one day, 2.5 the next, and so forth until both kids are in school for a full work day. “I don’t want to” just isn’t reasonable.

      And I think that’s the difference between OP’s situation and her employee’s – “I don’t want to” and “I cannot” are two different problems, with different solutions.

    4. Salt & Vinegar Chips*

      I agree both are cringe worthy. The employee needs to make accommodations or changes, a few months notice is plenty of time (if she can’t do it within that time frame she likely will not be able to). The OP needs to let the employee know her job needs to be done at the job site, and the pandemic options for that position are not an option now that the college/university is open.

  47. Zenon*

    OP2 – I also frequently get (or used to get) sucked into project management and other organizational/housekeeping duties not related to my core work. Some of this was even pitched to me as a path to promotions/team leadership. I never enjoyed the work (also find it boring, not to mention my core technical skills get rusty when I’m not using them).

    I started pushing back hard when another project management task reared its head, and I suggested that another (male, junior) coworker take it on instead of me since I’d been doing a ton of it lately. My manager refused because it “wouldn’t be professionally valuable” for junior male coworker. He realized his gaffe after he said it, but… yeah. Keep an eye on how your company actually treats project managers (I think it’s hugely important, I just don’t like it personally; my company always has a project management gap because they fired almost all the project managers because they didn’t consider them important), and whether there are certain demographics who are always getting volunteered for it. Being told you’re great at what the company considers a low value task isn’t really a compliment.

    1. Coco*


      He realized his gaffe after he said it, but… yeah.

      Did he explain himself or reassign the work to someone else? Or are you stuck with it?

      1. Zenon*

        We’re currently hiring people who will do the work, and identified other people in the company who can handle it in the interim. He did apologize to me and say that it shouldn’t have been dumped on me, either…but it’s hard for me to unsee that no one was concerned about me doing it until there was risk it would be transferred to a dude… I’m still angry.

  48. Firecat*

    #1 OK do you are all vaccinated… Are their children vaccinated? Spouse’s? The daycares? Pretending that because you are vaccinated that there is no risk to those you teach or your staffs family is ridiculous. (vaccinated people absolutely can carry Covid germs and pass them on to unvaccinated people!)

    OP your companies approach to this seems really selfish and magical thinking to me. We checked a box so it’s go time! Is not a good post pandemic policy. We aren’t even post pandemic yet!

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      It’s not the OP’s decision. And there’s a lot of pressure for universities to open fully. You are laying this at the feet of someone who has little if any power to do anything about it.

    2. animaniactoo*

      “vaccinated people absolutely can carry Covid germs and pass them on to unvaccinated people”

      As far as I’m aware at this point, this is a possibility, not a known fact. We’re in the wait-and-see on that.

    3. H2*

      Universities are opening because we are seeing a huge problem with students’ learning and with their mental health. When we all went online in the spring last year, we found that many students rely on their schools for stable food, housing and technology. I’m a professor, and don’t get me wrong, I think we have have go