can I leave an unproductive meeting?

A reader writes:

I work at an organization where we are very friendly and fairly informal. In our department, we have pairs of junior and senior staff working on the same portfolio, and everyone is supervised by the head of the department. I’m the junior in the pair, and my senior has known our boss for decades. I have no doubt that their close relationship has benefited me (more attention from the boss on our issues, etc.).

It is not unusual to have a meeting with just the three of us. Sometimes after we’ve dispensed with the topic of the meeting, we’ll get to talking about something else and the conversation will go on for a long time. Sometimes it’s completely not related to work. Usually I enjoy — and participate in — these conversations.

But I’ve been particularly busy lately and these long, dallying conversations have just been making me anxious — I can picture the emails piling up in my inbox — and I’m not enjoying them as much. What is a polite, professional way to extricate myself without alienating my colleagues? They know my schedule well, so I can’t fake another meeting — plus I don’t want to lie to people I genuinely like and respect.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Should I bring in baked goods on my first day at a new job?
  • Am I being too rigid by requiring advance notice for time off?
  • Did I over-share about my new salary?
  • My competition looked at my LinkedIn

{ 122 comments… read them below }

  1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I think the 24 hour notice for PTO is fair. It drives me crazy when others go on PTO unannounced and we’re caught flatfooted to try to cover for their absence. I get sicknesses happen and things come up, but we have people pull that stunt on vacations scheduled 6 months in advance…

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I kind of agree & disagree. I think that you should request the time off as soon as you have the appointment. But things do come up, & I’ve had appointments that were scheduled very quickly due to the nature of the medical problem. There should be flexibility for those, but they should be the exception.

      And calendars should always be as up to date as possible.

      1. JRR*

        The majority of my medical appointments are of the semi-urgent “come in tomorrow” variety.

        Maybe I’m unusually prone to injuries and illnesses that don’t require an ambulance, but can’t be ignored for several days.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          I’ve been there more than once! When you show back up to work with a medical boot on your foot, nobody questions if you really needed that appointment.

    2. Another Michael*

      Yes, but that’s Alison’s point exactly. It sounds like in your job notice really in important for coverage, but not all jobs are like that! With rare exceptions my coworkers could decide on the spot to take a month off and it wouldn’t impact me in a significant way, but that’s just the nature of the work.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        It sounds like in your job notice really in important for coverage, but not all jobs are like that!

        It’s more knowledge than notice per se. If you do a fantastic job preparing documentation, then I may not need to know you’ll be off, but if you blow it off like everyone here does, notice is the only period where I can gather the tribal knowledge to service your clientele without irritating everyone involved by needing to be brought up to speed.

    3. Data Bear*

      It’s reasonable to ask people to give advance notice when they choose to take time off. But I think the letter writer was foolish to even mention sick leave, and that it undermines their position. Who knows that they’re going to be sick 24 hours in advance?

      1. Paris Geller*

        In less it’s an emergency, though, you certainly know if you have a routine doctor’s/dentist’s/physical therapy/etc. appointment more than 24 hours in advance. I know not all workplaces allow it, but every place I’ve worked allowed those to be taken as sick time.

        1. Liz*

          Agreed. Mine lets you take it as sick time, but I also try and schedule my appts. for “routine” stuff either on a day where I might just take off the entire day (and use a combo of sick and PTO time) or later in the say where me having to leave 15-30 minutes early isn’t an issue. I also try, if I need to leave early for an appt, to be make sure everything that needs to be done, gets done.

          As far as emergencies, I’ve had them; in the last month I had 2 eye issue that couldn’t wait, so I took what I could get for an appt, which was very soon after I called. thankfully the dr. is literally across the street adn usually on time, so it wasn’t really an issue.

        2. Data Bear*

          Right, but this is exactly the digression that could be avoided if LW (and their policy) didn’t mention sick leave at all, but just focused on absence.

          The distinction that matters isn’t sick leave vs PTO, it’s absences that are planned vs things that come up. If you’ve got an appointment, it doesn’t matter whether you’re taking sick leave because it’s with your doctor or PTO because it’s with your favorite hairdresser who’s hard to schedule; you should give advance notice. If you can’t come in because something came up, it doesn’t matter if you’re taking sick leave because you’re unwell or taking PTO because your water heater is leaking; regardless, something unexpected happened that makes you unable to work today, and it’s unrealistic to expect advance notice.

      2. KHB*

        LW3 acknowledges that it’s obviously impossible to give advance notice of sick leave that’s due to actual illness – they’re clearly talking about sick leave that’s being used for scheduled doctor’s appointments (and maybe also things like scheduled surgical procedures).

      3. Esmeralda*

        I go in for a shingles vaccine on Sunday. Ordinarily i have no / mild side effects from vaccines (except that my arm feels like someone slugged it). I’m at work MOnday morning and start to feel reeeeaaallly tired and a headache starts. Not quite enough to go home, but probably I’m going to be done in by 5 pm and tomorrow is likely to be worse. I request sick leave for the next day.

        = I know roughly 24 hours in advance that I will be sick.

        So, that’s not going to happen a lot, but I’d say there are situations where you will know today that you’re going to be sick tomorrow or the next day.

      4. quill*

        People who can taste a cold coming on, know that they’re about to have a pain flare because they have migraine aura / pms symptoms / stomach trouble / the weather starting to turn, people whose children have JUST been sent home from school because they puked…

        1. BubbleTea*

          Pedantically, those wouldn’t necessarily give 24 hours notice though – and a boss who requires that might well be pedantic!

    4. Chris*

      So much depends on the job and the role. I don’t even have my team give me any notice for a few hours or even a single day. They just have to put it in their calendar, so I can see they are out if I’m looking for them. I trust them to let me know if their day off would interfere with an important meeting or deadline and they literally never have taken PTO on a critical day (other than real illness). My boss only “approves” if I take more than two weeks. Of course, we are all expected to make sure our work is covered when we are out. I guess the question makes me incredible glad that I work in a trusting culture where people take responsibility for making sure their priorities are covered. I realize that this may be super unique and related to our work/field.

      1. Llama Llama*

        I don’t know if it’s super unique. I can’t imagine bothering my manger with “I need to take 1-2pm off for a dentist appointment”. I just put it in the shared calendar and she knows. I think it really depends on office culture. And of course, as Allison mentioned, if coverage of phones or a counter or something is essential. When I worked retail taking an hour off would have been much more of a problem.

        1. yala*

          I definitely have to let my manager know about any time off BEFORE putting in for the leave. Which…I mean, I don’t think that’s particularly unreasonable.

          But being super rigid about how far in advance is just…like. Sometimes things come up.

          1. yala*

            Also, Lord have mercy, I do not miss working at the public library, where even if you were sick as a dog, you still had to find out who was off that day and call all your coworkers hoping SOMEone could go in for your shift.

          2. Liz*

            I do as well, but mainly because either my boss or I have to be in the office daily. So while i don’t necessarily need his approval, I will check to make sure he isn’t planning on taking any time off at the same time. Although for us its really just putting it on the shared calendar, after checking.

    5. Toodie*

      When I’m on PTO, no one else covers for me: all the work I had to do is still there, waiting for me, when I return. I am very careful about when I schedule PTO–I work in tech and schedule my PTO around software releases, for example–but on some sunny Fridays in June, I look out the window and realize that an afternoon off is just what the doctor ordered. If my to-do list is in good shape and I don’t have scheduled meetings, I have no qualms about putting in my PTO request at 11:30 am to take the afternoon off. Jobs are different!

    6. Pickled Limes*

      I sort of agree if we’re talking about a coverage based job when the absence will affect other people. But even in coverage based jobs it’s possible to take this too far.

      For example, I had a coworker a while back who would use her morning break to walk across the street to buy a soda. She would check the schedule to make sure she didn’t have any responsibilities during that time period and wasn’t the emergency contact person, and then she would tell us she was taking her break and would be back in a few minutes. When our new manager started, she instituted a rule that if you were leaving the building for any reason, you couldn’t *tell* your supervisor you were leaving for a few minutes, you had to *ask* your supervisor if it was okay for you to leave for a few minutes. It was a solution for a problem we didn’t have, and all it did was build up some resentment against the manager because people felt infantilized by having to ask permission to go for a walk.

      I think OP3’s situation here sounds kind of similar. It’s a solution without a problem.

      1. MechE*

        I make a point of wording my emails in that way. “Hey, I’ll be out X to Y” vs. “Is it okay if I am out X to Y”.

        I know by job and my workload. I’ve taken a week of with less than 24 hrs notice because my job allows for it and I am a high performer. Blanket policies like this are silly.

        1. SarahKay*

          I have a manager who likes me just to tell him I’ll be out (because his team are adults and he trusts us to manage our time and workloads), and a workplace policy that says I have to seek permission, together with a personality that likes to follow rules. My emails are a fine balance between asking and telling!

          1. KHB*

            I’m in a similar situation to you. My standard script is “I’m planning a vacation that will have me out of the office between X and Y. Let me know if you have any objections.” So the boss has an opportunity to say no (he never does), but the implication is that unless he gets back to me really soon, I’m going to consider myself free to start making nonrefundable reservations.

      2. tamarack and fireweed*

        Well put. We don’t have full insight into what is going on, but this is not an unlikely scenario.

        I also like, and frequently refer to, the “solution without a problem” failure mode. In the workplace, management demands that don’t actually solve a problem are frequently scoffed at by employees, especially if they sound like capricious exercise of hierarchical power. The LW themself calls it a “pet peeve”. Pet peeves are fine, but they need to be kept leashed, and should never be allowed to bother other people.

    7. Unkempt Flatware*

      In my government job, if boss had a 24 hour policy for the principle of it, like it seems here, I’d lose a lot of respect for her management. If I decide to take the afternoon off because my I just found out my nephew has a recital I didn’t know about, I should be able to just tell boss I’m taking the afternoon off. Just doing so would tell her that I must have the flexibility to do so. But, I suppose, that is specific to my role and agency.

    8. Moniker*

      I work for a state agency and we have a two weeks notice for scheduled sick and vacation time. There are forms that need to be filled out, signed and kept on file. Unscheduled sick time does not require advance notice (for obvious reasons) and we have a certain number of hours of personal time that can be used at any time without advance notice for emergencies and the like. Most managers with approval authority are flexible about this. Sometimes the doctor’s office has an opening and can move up an appointment, and why not give approval? This is agency-wide if not statewide. I am surprised that this letter writer’s agency does not have policies she can point to. I have not run into an issue with staff suddenly needing time off so frequently that it disrupts work.

    9. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Our attendance policy distinguishes between scheduled absences and unscheduled absences, and a scheduled absence is communicated to your manager, and if possible submitted into the PTO system, at any point before the end of your shift the day before you want to be out. If it’s same-day, it’s considered unscheduled.

    10. Amethystmoon*

      My workplace has a 48-hour notice period. You can make exceptions, but if there is a pattern of too many times before the 48 hours, you get a chat with your boss and HR.

    11. Dave*

      I guess it depends on the team, but where I work we don’t even need managerial approval if we’re taking a couple hours off for an appointment or something. We just send out an email to our group saying that we’ll be away for a bit and when we’ll be back, and that’s that. It’s easier for us as employees, and I’m sure it saves my manager the headache of needing to respond to dozens of emails about minor things that he’s going to approve anyway.

  2. Charlotte Lucas*

    #1 – I know these are older letters, but I have found it easier to jump off of online meetings when I don’t have extra time to chat. But Alison’s answer is perfect.

    #2 – I also love to bake & cook in general, but I always wait to bring something in until a potluck or until I’ve felt out how it would be received. (And I’ve established myself professionally.) I would never bring baked goods in on my first day somewhere.

    1. Llama Llama*

      Same. I love to bake but uhhhh can’t eat it all myself (huge pandemic problem to have no one to share with…) but I absolutely wouldn’t do this until I knew the people I would be bringing it in for. You have dietary restrictions and allergies to deal with as well as how you will be perceived.

      Plus I love the feeling of being excellent at my job and then adding on top of that being a great baker. I contain multitudes and won’t be pigeon holed! But being excellent at the job comes first at work.

    2. kittymommy*

      In almost every situation I am 100% Team Cake, but yeah, first day of work probably isn’t the best time to start. (Second day though? BRING TO ME ALL THE CUPCAKES!!!) ;)

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        At a bare minimum, wait until you’ve been at a job long enough that you know the spot where free food goes, whether people walk it around or send out an email, what list or group the email goes to, whether there are always donuts on Fridays, etc. I really can’t picture walking in with a tray of cupcakes my first day and being like “so I can’t go straight to training/HR to fill out paperwork/the ID office to get my badge/IT to get my laptop/the Monday morning staff meeting where you were planning to introduce me until I figure out where I can park this tray of baked goods.”

        Much better to wait until your work reputation is established. But definitely avoid the first day!

    3. twocents*

      Agreed. Even taking out the potential of coming across like The One That Keeps Us Fed, you have no idea what the food culture is in the office. Someone could have a deadly allergy that, as a small team, they all accommodate by simply not bringing in food that contains the thing. Maybe someone’s trying to get their health condition under control and has asked the office-mates to not bring in sweets while they adjust (something that actually happened at my office when someone was diagnosed with diabetes). Maybe there’s a boss that just really thinks food hanging out is gross (also experienced this) so people keep their food to themselves. Who knows. Certainly not someone who is new to the job.

    4. MCMonkeybean*

      I think I’ve also found that online meetings tend to veer off more often than in person one’s did–like when the purpose of the meeting seems to be met someone will be like “well, while I’ve got you here Bob, do you want to go ahead and talk about the Other Topic Report?” I generally just say something like “well if you guys don’t need me anymore I’m going to hop off,” and then give a second for the possibility of someone saying they are still planning to talk about something relevant before hanging up.

      I had thought at first from the headline the person was just fed up with worthless meetings and wanted to leave in the middle and I was like dang I don’t think you can do that without looking rude. But if they just mean the part at the end of the meeting that devolves into small talk, then I think it’s fine to excuse yourself to get back to work with a similar “if you don’t need me anymore I’m going to go jump right on the XYZ task.”

  3. Kassie*

    Regarding baked goods: another reason to not bring in anything right now is COVID. My office currently explicitly prohibits any sharing of food. Its a startup, so maybe they won’t be as serious as the government agency I work for about these things, but it would be best to find out before bringing something in.

    1. JRR*

      Even pre- and post-COVID, I would hesitate to eat food from a stranger’s kitchen. A lot of home bakers don’t have the type of kitchen or food-handling training that would be required for preparing food for the public.

      1. LE38*

        Really, you require food-handling training to eat a chocolate-chip cookie someone baked and brought into work? I get being squeamish around potlucks and certain kinds of food items, but baked goods like that seem pretty low-risk in non-COVID times (unless of course food allergies or the like are an issue).

        1. JRR*

          In general “someone at work” is someone I’ve known for a while and I have a pretty good idea of their general level of cleanliness.

          I specified “stranger” because OP was contemplating bringing baked goods on her first day of work. I would probably not eat food prepared by a new coworker who was a stranger to me.

          Maybe I’m unusually squeamish, but if I walked into a bakery and saw the baker handling ready-to-eat food with ungloved hands, unrestrained hair, and a dog or cat wandering around (all common conditions in home kitchens), I would walk out. The only possible exception would be if was personal friends with the baker.

        2. twocents*

          Eh, I get JRR’s point. I’m not eating homemade food someone brought into the office until they’re a known quantity. I need to know if they’re the sort that leaves the bathroom without washing their hands.

        3. HS Teacher*

          I feel the same way. If I haven’t seen your kitchen, I’m not eating anything you bring in. People can be really gross.

      2. Amtelope*

        We don’t expect commercial kitchen training for people to make food for friends, though. People normally eat at one another’s houses and eat baked goods that their friends and family prepared. I understand being especially careful if you have allergies or medical issues, but otherwise, I think it’s a little odd to require food-handling training before you’ll eat your co-worker’s cookies.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          After a week or so of observation, you can usually tell who probably does & doesn’t have good home food-handling practices.

          I assure people that Lady Macbeth has nothing on me in terms of hand-washing.

          1. MCMonkeybean*

            …how can you tell something like that about your coworkers? I’m genuinely curious.

        2. Mental Lentil*

          But they’re not friends (yet). It’s their first day on the job, which is why JRR said “stranger”.

        3. doreen*

          I don’t think anyone is requiring food-handling training – but I’ve had plenty of coworkers who shouldn’t have wasted their time and money bringing food to potlucks because nobody would touch their food. I will never say I can tell who has good food-handling practices based on their behavior in the office – but if someone doesn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom or eats food that was dropped on the ground in a parking lot ( true story) , I’m pretty sure they have bad food-handling practices. Sure enough to skip eating any food they brought in ,anyway

        4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          For me it’s totally OTT! Hygiene and safety rules are pretty strict for restaurants and factories, because such establishments have been known to produce and sell food that isn’t fit for consumption.
          Everyone knows that these rules are well in excess of what is actually necessary, based on the fact that they know full well that corners will be cut.
          With Covid, people started saying that new rules should be introduced, but everything they could think of was already in the handbook. Maybe some needed a refresher course, with more insistance on aspects where Covid posed a threat, but the rules already catered fully to avoiding the disease.

          If you’ve never killed anyone with your cooking, or even given them food poisoning, it’s OK, you can relax.

          While I do wash my hands after going to the loo, I’m often horrified at OTT hygiene that people claim to practise here. We have to remember that we do need to come into contact with germs now and then, in order for our immune system to build up resistance to those germs. A child that’s never allowed to touch anything that hasn’t been disinfected (like my niece and nephew) will get sick much more often than those allowed to play in the sand and get dirty (mine). A dirty child is a child that’s been allowed to have fun, it’s also a child that’s building up a robust immune system.

  4. Circe*

    #1 – The one thing that might be helpful to keep in mind for letterwriter is whether or not you risk losing out on that relationship-building/networking piece by leaving early. You probably won’t be penalized for dropping off, ESPECIALLY when it’s to get work done. But you might miss out on opportunities or insight that comes with more facetime with the boss.

    1. JRR*

      20 years ago when I was starting out in my career, the idea of “networking” was everywhere, which filled me with anxiety because I didn’t know what it was or how to do it. I thought it meant walking up to strangers with your business card or scheduling lunch meetings with random people.

      I eventually realized the best way to network was to occasionally hang out and shoot the breeze with bosses, coworkers, vendors, clients, etc.

      OP is lucky to have those opportunities, even if they sometimes have to duck out.

  5. Lucious*

    One of the techniques I apply is when a meeting covers the agenda items (your meeting had an agenda to follow …right?) and the relevant topics are resolved as best possible, I end it right away. When teams wrap up the business items early and don’t end the meeting , it leads to tangents and conversations about cat videos to “fill the time”. Or it leaves an opening for “Phil Bigmouth” to take over the meeting with long off topic speeches.

    After reading a blog about a company spending 400,000 man hours to prepare for one annual meeting by 12 people, I’ve become a militant PM on meeting time & ensuring we adjourn when we’re done. Tangents and unproductive talk during meeting time literally costs money and drains attendees’ morale.

    1. Neilbert*

      We have a meeting that is notorious for going off topic at the end. Once the official business is done, we announce that the meeting is over and anyone who wants to can drop (we were spread out across 4 corp sites before covid, so all meetings were Zoom/Skype/flavor-of-the-month). Those who wanted to dropped, then the rest of chatted for a few mins. Worked out quite well.

    2. Sea Anemone*

      “drains attendees’ morale”

      Except for those attendees who consider the networking essential to their morale, and eroding morale costs more money down the road. Don’t let meetings run over, for sure, and let people who don’t care for chit chat take off when the meeting-talk is over, but if some time is left at the end of the meeting, there are benefits to leaving some networking time.

      1. A Person*

        The problem is the people who feel trapped in the room, wanting to leave but “unable” to do so. Their morale is also worth preserving.

        I like the meetings that end early and the meeting leader says “Well, I’ll give you all back 10 minutes of your day”.

        1. Sea Anemone*

          That’s where a policy of letting people who don’t care for chit chat take off when the meeting-talk is over, as I suggested, comes in.

        2. restingbutchface*

          What’s that joke from John Mulany about the sheer bliss of cancelled plans? I immediately adore any meeting organiser who wraps up early and gives me back the time.

    3. Mango Is Not For You*

      Ehhhhh…I’ve had talks with our PMs about their cat-herding tendency to curb any and all chit chat, anecdotes, and side conversations. I get the impression that in their minds, the ideal meeting involves a quick run around the table for deliverable updates and then ends early. We had a lot of people who would leave these meetings with unresolved questions or issues, and I had to convey to these guys that for a lot of our team members, the back-and-forth is literally part of the process of understanding and adjusting expectations, and that it was important for team relationships.

      Our agreement now is that we will hit all the major points and then the floor opens for questions, comments, and concerns. It’s also considered acceptable to let the rest of the team know that you have a hard stop, or that you need to drop to work on another project, or whatever. But if you consistently do that, you do miss some of the ad hoc problem-solving or other key tidbits that may impact your work.

      1. sdfasdfasdf*

        ” I had to convey to these guys that for a lot of our team members, the back-and-forth is literally part of the process of understanding and adjusting expectations, and that it was important for team relationships.”


    4. Foxgloves*

      I’m the exact same. While WFH, I sit opposite my boyfriend- he finds it hilarious how often I’ll say “Okay, I think that covers everything, so I’ll give everyone back [20/ 14/ 35] minutes of their time- thanks everyone!” on calls. I do enjoy a little casual chit-chat at the start of calls, but also try really hard to keep this to 2-3 minutes max and then “Right, first thing to discuss is…”. It saves my (and everyone else’s!) sanity!

  6. JM in DC*

    LW1 – I agree with Alison’s response, and the others that suggest to consider relationships and networking. But also re-consider saying “I’m so busy”. I have a colleague that says this. All. The. Time. As if I am not (especially during the pandemic working 40 hours a week plus 2 kids at home helping them with virtual school was not fun) and hearing that was irritating. Can you think of an alternative? “I have to get back to my X project”, or something specific?

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      Yeah I didn’t love that wording either. My thought was to stay for about 5 minutes of the small talk and then interject with a “I want to get these updates into the X project while everything is still fresh in my mind” (assuming that X project was discussed in the earlier part of the meeting).

    2. Happy*

      These are meetings with LW’s supervisor and the senior member of the team. It’s good for them to know if OP is very busy or feeling overwhelmed with work.

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying “I’m so busy” in this context.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        ‘It’s good for them to know if OP is very busy or feeling overwhelmed with work.’

        If the OP is overwhelmed, her supervisor should know, but not in this context. That’s what 1:1 meetings are for. The senior team member doesn’t need to hear it in this context, either. Being busy is not news, and saying you’re so busy it’s overwhelming is not a good thing for OP to share in this context, either.

        1. Happy*

          I disagree.

          If LW is feeling super busy and overwhelmed, then of course it’s good for them to mention it to their supervisor in a 1-on-1. But there’s nothing wrong with also mentioning it informally in a meeting like this.

          I always want to know if junior people on my team are overworked or anxious. If it’s just a matter of “I need to get back to work” then that’s great, but it also enables me to make sure they have all the support they need and we don’t need to shuffle work around or push back on deadlines, etc.

        2. James*

          Depends on the situation and the company culture. The company I work for (or at least the part of it I work for) doesn’t have 1:1 meetings, outside a few mandatory discussions of raises and the like. Most of the stuff that others do in 1:1s we do via such informal discussions as the LW describes. The nature of the work means we all get to know each other pretty well, and some holdover policies from a matrix management experiment mean that often you act as boss, peer, and subordinate to the same person. Takes a while to get used to, but once you figure out how to navigate it works pretty well. (And that’s when my boss is involved; I spent three years with a boss that literally didn’t know what I did for a living, since I was embedded in a few major projects and didn’t have to worry about workload.)

          It could be that the LW’s boss views these informal discussions the same way–as an opportunity for the LW to discuss things like workload, or need for assistance, or the like. It’s not wrong to work this way; it’s just a different style, suitable to some people and not to others.

      2. MCMonkeybean*

        If OP is feeling overwhelmed in a way that their supervisor needs to address, that should be a separate specific conversation. I don’t think it’s something that should be dropped casually as a way of excusing yourself from a meeting.

    3. Llama Llama*

      Yeah I think it’s as easy as after 5 minutes of chit chat “It’s been great catching up but I have to get to x project.” I don’t think anyone will take that badly.

      One caveat though – if the OP leaving is going to truncate the conversation as a whole there could be some resentment. That’s obviously something the OP can feel out but if people are just spending a few minutes chatting with each other and enjoying it having one person buzzkill it every time could lead to some ill feelings.

    4. Le Sigh*

      I don’t feel strongly on this one, but you could easily just say “I need to duck out. I’m on deadline for a few things.”

  7. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP5, you wrote, ‘Should I have let someone know?…I figured he got the position so there was nothing to gain, but how wrong was this?’ And the answers are no, right, and not at all.

    Checking you out on LinkedIn means the new hire was curious, which is pretty typical. Also, HR and the hiring manager knew about your interest, right? If the hiring manager wanted to hire you, the temp couldn’t have derailed things by deleting an email. It’s more likely that they chose the temp because they were already on site and had organic company knowledge.

    1. Esmeralda*

      If the new hire looked after being hired, that’s ok, but I get why OP thought it was off. If the new hire looked BEFORE being hired, that’s not appropriate = the now new hire had an unfair advantage over the OP by being able to see the OP’s experience, etc and perhaps adjust their materials/interview responses accordingly.

      1. Sea Anemone*

        I agree. There is nothing wrong with looking at LinkedIn profile, but there is something wrong with using privileged information for your benefit, like using the name of other candidates that you only know due to your position to check out the competition.

        The advise at this point is the same, though: Let it go.

  8. hamsterpants*

    About leaving the chatty meetings, it’s quite possible that your senior colleague and boss are even more busy than you are, and yet they are still making time to chat. Maybe they consider the networking really important! I’d raise this directly with your senior colleague in your next 1:1.

  9. e271828*

    LW1–In general, if there are particular types of meetings that always go over time, you can budget the overrun into your schedule. In the case described, if the networking/bonding time with these two people is valuable, it’s probably worth sticking around for a few minutes of it and then excusing yourself.

    I wouldn’t say “I’m so busy” because it implies that the superiors in the meeting are not, however.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I’d say it goes without saying that the superiors are busy. Only OP might have kids to pick up, or her salary doesn’t justify staying every night until 8pm. The superiors can more easily afford a child minder to pick their kids up, and their salary certainly should justify them staying late any time it might be necessary.
      OP might be better off saying “I need to finish those TPS reports before I go home tonight” rather than a vague “too busy”, in which case the boss might just say “oh it doesn’t matter if they’re late for once”. OP could then say that she doesn’t have time to do them tomorrow because she’ll be reviewing the llama grooming reports, and there’s a hard deadline for them, or she could learn to relax a little.
      But telling her boss that she’s busy is a good thing, it shows that she wants to get her work done, and doesn’t have time for chit-chat: all in all, a conscientious employee.

  10. Bookworm*

    LW1: I wonder if it’s also worth talking to one or both of them about this? That you’re concerned about the workload and all that and maybe they simply don’t realize that this is a burden on your time? Sometimes they may not genuinely know and/or forget that you may be dealing with a heavier workload and it can be useful as a way to keep boundaries and all that.

    Good luck! I hate it, HATE IT when meetings sort of drift off like that.

  11. yala*

    …thinking again about how my request for leave got denied last week. I guess I should’ve been more specific with “my grandmother is in the hospital” but I was asking for leave as a catch-all–I didn’t know if I would be needed to sit with her, to watch my mom’s dog, or to run other errands, or possibly nothing at all–and I’ve been burned before by being too specific about a thing that Might Happen that didn’t play out that way, and getting in trouble for the miscommunication.

    Honestly, if folks have the leave and aren’t at the sort of job where their absence effects other people, then sometimes Things Come Up, y’know?

    1. yala*

      And we did talk about it this week, and I get that the issue was that it was last minute, but like…that was a whole extra layer of stress to the other stuff I was already dealing with. The hospital had a MUCH better reason for not letting my mom up (though I’m glad they did) than my work had for not letting me take the day off, but they’re the ones who bent.

      A little compassion, y’know?

        1. yala*

          Thanks! She’s a trooper. She went in with pneumonia, which is pretty scary when you’re 92, and she was released just a couple days later, and her lungs were completely clear by the next week, so I’m very thankful. Now it’s just getting back her strength…and hopefully her hearing, since the pneumonia messed with that and it’s driving her up a wall.

  12. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

    The 24 hour notice should be for big leave/holiday scheduling where you need to ensure coverage. The other stuff is incidental, and probably isn’t worth it, since it likely is only a few, up to 8 hours. Since there is not an impact to schedule and/or projects, it seems like there is no would be major issues with the ad hoc leave days.

  13. James*

    LW #1: I have two thoughts here.

    First, if you really are busy, a simple “Excuse me, I’ve got some things I need to take care of; is there anything else you need from me?” works fine. Yes, there are networking and career building opportunities and the like, but ultimately you’re there to work. I’ve done this….more times that I care to count, and it hasn’t damaged my standing with my coworkers.

    Second, it’s worth taking a hard look at your commitments. Are you over-committed? Is there anything you can delegate? Anyone you can delegate to? I know that when I have to leave the informal chit-chat parts of meetings it’s almost always because I’m doing the workload of two if not three people. That’s not sustainable. Use this as an opportunity to broach the topic of delegation with your boss. “I’m sorry I skipped out early in yesterday’s meeting, I was just swamped. I’ve been considering handing off some of the work to Sally and David; what do you think?” Something like that can start the conversation. It’s not that you are dodging work; delegation and developing junior staff are almost always important skills to develop, and it sounds like you need the help.

    1. Cj*

      “It’s not that you are dodging work; delegation and developing junior staff are almost always important skills to develop”

      OP *is* junior staff, and they need “developing” themselves. And if anybody if going to be delegating OP’s work, it should be the senior person she works with. That’s not to say her workload might not need redistributing, but she should be having that specific discussion with her boss, and asking her boss if it is possible to get some things off of her plate.

      She shouldn’t be outright saying she is going to hand off some of her work, and it should be left to the boss to decide who to hand it off to, if the boss decides OP’s current workload is to high. Even adding “what do you think” smack way too much of the OP thinking it is her decision to make, because that isn’t “starting a conversation”, it is pretty much entire conversation.

      1. James*

        “OP *is* junior staff…”

        The junior in the team. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re new. I’m the junior staff member on a jobsite, despite having more than ten years experience and routinely managing multiple field crews. Nothing in the letter says that the OP is new, they just discuss relative status.

        I’ve also known people–junior staff–who were delegating work 6 months into the job. It was the nature of the position and the workload.

        “…and they need “developing” themselves.”

        Well, who doesn’t? The question is, what skills need developed? What does their career path look like? If they’re going management learning to delegate and develop junior staff is an important skillset to work on. And seriously, how much career development is being done if the worker is constantly too busy to chat with folks with more experience? In every field there are a thousand little tricks and tips that experienced people know and can pass along, IF the junior person isn’t a jerk and the older person feels like it. That’s what “experience” means, ultimately. In my experience these informal discussions are a good shortcut to obtaining that experience.

        “Even adding “what do you think” smack way too much of the OP thinking it is her decision to make, because that isn’t “starting a conversation”, it is pretty much entire conversation.”

        Our experiences are different here. In my experience, going to the boss with a problem and no solution is unprofessional, basically telling them “You deal with this, I’m too good to do this sort of thing.” I would NEVER come to a boss with a problem and expect them to have the solution; I ALWAYS say “Here’s the problem, here’s how I plan to deal with it, what do you think?” When I was fresh out of college I forgot to do this once, and was told quite bluntly to go away until I’d taken the problem seriously and was ready to actually discuss it. Once the boss calmed down he explained his reasoning to me: It’s a lighter cognitive load to amend a plan than to make a plan, so it’s easier on the boss (who’s overworked himself) if you come with a solution. It also shows that you’ve put some thought into it, you’re not just coming with every little problem. Further, it shows independent thinking and that you’re taking responsibility for the job, things that are critical for success in my field. This is part of how they develop junior staff: let the person closest to the problem come up with the solution.

        Maybe the OP’s office, company, or field views things differently. I don’t know, as I don’t know what field it is or much about the office. I assume that such an informal situation as the OP described indicates the boss would be amenable to their underlings offering solutions. I can only offer my experience, in the hopes that it helps.

        1. Cj*

          “There is a bug in this piece of code. This is how I intend to fix it” is presenting the problem along with the solution.

          “There is a bug in this piece of code, and I’m to busy to fix it, so I’m going to give it to Sally and David to do” is not.

          1. James*

            I agree about your examples, but you have misidentified the problem. The problem isn’t that the OP is unwilling to fix bugs in code, the problem (as far as this example goes, anyway) is that the OP is overworked.

            “I’ve got too much on my plate just now, and Sally and Dave have both expressed interest in this sort of work. I’d like to offload projects X and Y to them; these projects have sufficient budget to cover a few rounds of revision” is presenting a problem (overwork) with a solution (offload carefully selected parts of that work) and reasoning (how you’re going to keep this from costing the company money). This also has the benefit of giving the boss specific places to object/make revisions–maybe Dave isn’t getting this work because he’s no good at it, but Georgia is good at, only no one knows. Maybe project X doesn’t actually have the budget for reasons you’re not privy to, but project Z does. Point is, a script like that gives the boss the opportunity to make changes, while letting them know you’ve put some real thought into it.

            The idea that delegation is merely a way to avoid work you don’t like is something that holds some people back. I know I’ve had to overcome it. I never wanted to delegate work because I thought it would make me look lazy. I’ll grant that delegation can be used to do so, but the reality is that delegation is an important skill to learn for work and hostility towards delegation leads to burnout and bottlenecks, neither of which is good for anyone.

            Though to be honest, I’ve heard people do #2. “This site survey needs done and I’m too busy; James, you go do it” and stuff like that isn’t an uncommon thing for me to hear. It’s partially a cultural thing (curt orders are the norm, especially when things go sideways), and partially it’s a personal thing (my current role is to be the solution to the problems).

  14. Lifelong student*

    If an employee has a valid medical appointment, they should have been aware more than several hours prior to the time and made the appropriate notification to the supervisor. I think a failure to do so is rude at a minimum and if it in fact had been forgotten until the last minute shows a lack of planning and organization by the employee. It does not take into account that the supervisor may have had other plans for the employee that day. If the standard is notice, I personally would question the validity of the “medical appointment” excuse at the last minute- but then I am a cynic about some things! Maybe because I have had employees misuse “sick time” in excessive manners. I think of sick time like I think of insurance- there to be used if needed for the purpose- but be grateful if you don’t have to use it- don’t think of it as “free time”- it is not free to your employer.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      A lot of medical appointments are made days or weeks in advance. I don’t think that a 24 hour notice is too onerous for non-emergency stuff.

    2. calonkat*

      OK, but I’ve had dr’s offices call me and ask if they can move my appointment up, because of weather (get everyone in they can, and reschedule the others for a later date), because of a cancellation (I usually ask for a late afternoon app’t because I work downtown but live near my dr’s offices), or because the dr now has a priority at the time I was scheduled (a patient needing emergency care and they will cancel me if I can’t reschedule).

      While it’s certainly within my rights (and my employers rights) to say “nope, I had 3:30 today and if not then, then 3 months from now is fine”, I’m usually the favorite patient because I have to option to say “sure, let me notify people I’m out for the day”. If I had urgent work/meetings that couldn’t be rescheduled, I know my own calendar, but I’m at this job for 14 years because I’ve had the flexibility to feel like an adult.

      1. Pickled Limes*

        Probably about three times in the last few years, I’ve received a call from a medical office to say “the provider you usually see isn’t with our practice anymore, so we’ve reassigned you to someone else for your next appointment. The new provider’s available times are (XYZ)” and I’ve had to change some stuff around at work to cover it. Things happen, and there are some appointments I can’t wait six weeks for. But even though my job is coverage based, I’ve never had a problem going to my coworkers and saying “the dentist’s office just changed my appointment, can you trade customer service hours with me so I can go at the new time?” You can almost always find somebody who’ll swap with you for something unexpected.

    3. Sea Anemone*

      ” it is not free to your employer”

      My salary is not free to my employer, either, but it is part of my compensation package and I have a reasonable expectation to receive it.

    4. Damn it, Hardison!thing*

      I just came back from a medically necessary appointment that was only scheduled this morning. There may be another last minute appointment tomorrow depending on my lab work and if I can get one of the priority spots at the specialist – but I won’t know until tomorrow. I’m glad my manager’s first response was “I hope everything is okay.” My issue isn’t life threatening, but it’s painful and needs to be addressed as soon as possible as it could be a range of

      1. Damn it, Hardison!*

        Whoops, that went sideways! Anyway, it’s very possible to have a legit medical issue requiring an appointment with less than 24 hours notice that doesn’t involve an emergency room.

    5. MissB*

      I have a job where I set my work priorities for each day, and they aren’t overridden that often (like maybe two-three times a year).

      And my sick leave (or any leave) is part of my compensation package. I earn a certain number of hours a month in sick and vacation leave.

      I use it as I see fit, thank you very much. My office culture is such that if it’s a very nice day out and it’s a Friday, pretty much all staff is going to take off early and certainly without 24 hours notice, lol.

      Mental health days are a thing too. Glad that I have a boss that understands the demand of my job and doesn’t bat an eye at a last minute request. I can send an email off letting them know I’m taking a few hours or a day, and not wait for a reply.

      It’s just be so odd to work for a place that felt stingy with sick leave. If I get my work done, well, I see no reason for the excessive control.

    6. Pickled Limes*

      I don’t know what you’re getting at with “it is not free to your employer.” My annual salary isn’t just my take-home pay. It also includes my health insurance and a certain number of days off per year. If my employer didn’t budget for me to actually use the time off that they promised me in my compensation package, that’s not a me problem.

    7. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      The LW did not specify if ‘sick leave’ was a separate bank than regular leave, just that they understand that you cannot plan 24 hour advance notice for being sick. My job all of my leave/vacation/sick hours are combined into one charge code and one set of hours. So for all aspects you’re just using your vacation time. And for those that have the separate banks, you still earn it through normal working, so if you are allowed to take ‘sick leave’ for an appointment, it is what is owed to the employee, not a free thing from the employer, because the amount of sick leave you get is a set number, not an unlimited benefit from the employer, at least in the US.

      If it doesn’t have work impacts, why is LW holding so tightly to this? It seems to be an odd hill to die on.

      1. doreen*

        There is a point in some jobs where it doesn’t impact the work right now, but causes problems down the road. Every job I’ve had requires coverage in the form of minimum staffing – I don’t necessarily have to ask a specific person to cover for me, but if there are X people doing a particular job, generally only Y will be approved off for any given day. I was once assigned to a new office where the staff had been accustomed to taking time off with no notice. The problem was, they were so accustomed to it that they became irate when I couldn’t approve their last minute request because I had already approved as much leave as I could for the day. They didn’t understand that the longer they waited to request leave, the more likely I would have to say no. And it wasn’t for things like ” it’s such a beautiful day, I want to spend the afternoon in the park”. It wasn’t even “I had a doctor’s appt at 5 and they just called and asked if I could come at 1pm.” . It was “Today’s my mother’s birthday and I want to take her out” or “My second grader has a play today” , neither of which came as a surprise that morning. I suspect my predecessors just gave them the time off last minute regardless of any workflow problems it caused.

    8. Scribe*

      I think of sick time like I think of insurance- there to be used if needed for the purpose- but be grateful if you don’t have to use it- don’t think of it as “free time”- it is not free to your employer.

      I’m sorry, what? Sick leave is a requirement that employers have to provide to employees, just like those pesky wages and PTO and rest breaks and health and safety measures. Sure, laws around sick leave vary in different places, and different employees are owed different entitlements, but employers do not own employees, including for the time in the day for which the employees are being paid.

      Employers are entitled to request their employees do certain tasks, but there are legal protections in place for limits on those powers. And thank goodness for that, because plenty of business owners and bosses love to push the envelope.

  15. Smithy*

    LW #4 I think that whether or not sharing the information was oversarhing has more to do with how much you wanted the job.

    Knowing they were already struggling to match your current salary, so having your current salary raised even higher was always a risk of putting you entire out of contention. If it’s a situation where you were looking to move to that city in the next few years, and this just postpones it – then so be it. But if the desire was more urgent, then it likely wasn’t a great move.

    I also think that when moving from a higher to lower COLA city, it’s good to be very certain about what you want for your career and the new city somewhat independent of COLA. If at the day, you never wanted to take a cut – then that’s the line you hold. But if the discrepancy is more significant, it’s helpful to have numbers in mind for that city.

    1. calonkat*

      This. I looked up the original letter, and this was brought up in the comments, but only once. There’s a HUGE price difference in houses in parts of the country ($150,000 will buy you a 3 bedroom house here, houses of a similar size and age are $600k in Los Angeles ( I can’t speak to neighborhoods, I was just looking at the houses), so while all other costs could be similar, just the mortgage alone will justify a lesser salary in a lower cost of living city.

      1. Smithy*


        I also think that while COLA calculators are good for big picture thinking (I make $X in home town, if they offer me $Y, that’s how it broadly compares), but may not factor into what personally makes us tick and makes the move seem ok. It may be having the income for private schools, or pool access, or a certain kind of car, or living in the city center, or whatever.

        I’ve known a few friends (and myself) who left higher priced cities for slightly cheaper cities, and often end up paying similar for housing because part of desire to leave was to be able to get “more” in their new place. It’s very reasonable, but also not exactly a personal equation a hiring manager is going to be able to truly guess. So making a salary negotiation super tied to what you’re currently making in your current city – as opposed to “I’m interested in this job if it pays between $X-Y” – leaves a lot of ambiguity.

  16. Cj*

    It’s not entirely clear, but it sounded to me like the OP with the “did I share to much regarding my salary” question is planning to relocate to their new city no matter what, and that they are expecting to make less because it is a lower cost of living area.

    Of course they didn’t mention they’d take less when they were told the position they are interviewing for might be able to come close to his current salary. But if they will be quitting their current job to move eventually, the promotion and raise don’t really come in to play.

    Alison didn’t think they’d take the job for much less that what they are making with their raise, but, again, I think they do plan on moving. And even if it isn’t for sure, OP might still come out ahead depending on how much higher the cost of living is where they are at now.

  17. L.H. Puttgrass*

    Hee hee. Alison said “curry favor through food.”

    Sorry. I’ll just show myself out.

  18. restingbutchface*

    My approach-

    1. Notice meeting is off topic and is now just chat. Get bored in 3 seconds.
    2. Smile and say alright then, looks like we’re done, I better get back to it.
    3. Gather my stuff or pause in a virtual meeting to allow people to raise anything else
    4. Leave and get on with my day.

    I’m now completely paranoid because I do this maybe 2 out of 5 meetings and I thought it was standard but apparently not.

    *sweats in a neurodivergence*

    1. twocents*

      What you’re doing is fine. It’s different from the LW who has an established set up with these two coworkers that meeting = chit-chat time.

      1. restingbutchface*

        Well, just because they chatted and enjoyed it previously doesn’t meet that they’ve agreed that meetings from now on will always be the same. Be the change you want to see in the world, right? It’s only fun when everyone has time and OP doesn’t have time.

  19. Ginny*

    OP#3 needs to chill out. Alison gives them some excellent advice.

    If someone needs to take last minute leave, especially for a day or less, when them taking that leave impacts absolutely nothing time-sensitive nor anyone else’s workflow, why are you bothered? If it’s just your personal preference that people give you 24 hours notice, you need to build a bridge and get over it. Unless you enjoy having low morale and productivity from a team who resent you for being needlessly controlling.

    People are offered last-minute medical and other appointments all the time (eg: such as when someone else has had to cancel their appointment), and people get busy and do forget to file for leave or whatever. However, OP#3 probably also needs to consider as to if her team need to actually apply for formal leave just so that they can attend an appointment. Depending on the appointment, and how far away it is, the employee may only be gone for an hour or two, maybe three at most? Can it not just be seen as either formal or informal TIL, as all workers do overtime anyway?

  20. Nadia*

    I’m sorry, but OP3 is being ridiculous. Alison has written a very sensible, measured reply.

    Stuff happens. Most of the time, people will not know they will be sick 24 hours ahead of time. People also often get into an appointment at late notice.

    And why is OP3 making people take their actual leave when they might only be gone for two hours for an appointment? Especially if, by OP3’s own admission, their brief absence doesn’t actually impact any urgent deadlines or other people’s workflows.

    1. restingbutchface*

      Ridiculous? Bit mean. I assumed the OP had turned up and started arguing but that doesn’t appear to be the case. OP had a question about their own policy and sought advice. Judging by the comments above, there are differing opinions so they were right to do so, I hope they take it on board.

      I know I wasn’t a perfect manager when I started but I at least had the awareness to do what OP did and ask advice and take feedback.

      1. Nadia*

        To be honest, people who have the type of rigid policies that OP3 has here (especially about something that is not actually an issue at all), really should not be managers of people in the first place. That said, I’m sure that OP3 is great at whatever their non-management job is.

        I hope that OP3 has the same rigid approach to ensuring that her team are paid every cent of overtime they are legally owed, and are provided with every single second of break time they are owed, too. But the fact that she makes people take formal leave in order to attend an appointment that probably only sees them away from the office for two hours at most indicates that OP3 is likely the type of manager that is all take, and no give.

        I’m sorry, but I’ve managed people for a long time, and this sort of nonsense makes me really impatient. I’m really pleased that OP3 is seeking feedback on this policy (even if only for the sake of her team!), but why was this not a natural realisation?

        And, most importantly, if something isn’t actually a problem, why are you making it into one?

  21. Tomalak*

    I bet the first time letter writer 1 says “I am swamped so I had better get back to work” another of her colleagues breaths a sigh of relief and says “So am I this week! Shall we all wrap it up now?”.

    Maybe her office needs more of a ‘pub after work’ or a ‘head out for lunch every so often’ culture? Nothing wrong with catching up socially, but I think outside the office is a much better environment for it, anyway, and it’s less likely to conflict with normal working hours.

  22. LW #1*

    Oh hey, LW#1 is me! Allison truly does pull these out from her archives. Not only was this question from a pre-COVID world, it feels like a lifetime ago. I work adjacent to politics, and the main reason we were all so busy at that time was because the previous occupant of the White House had just moved in. We were so busy trying to stop a lot of bad things from happening.

    Sadly…many of the bad things did happen, but at least we’re not still dealing with him! And I agree that this is totally different on Zoom meetings.

    Now that I’ve been in this job a lot longer and am more comfortable with all the people involved, I will definitely just say “I have to get back…” and leave. At this point, we are fully ‘networked’, so I’m not missing out on anything.

  23. FemalePresentingAtWork*

    #2 – I would also recommend trying not to do the cleaning up and party organizing. I know I personally kind of automatically start doing those things, but its been useful for me to catch and modify my behavior. I’ve found it helps prevent people from – consciously or unconsciously – putting me in the ‘women’s work’ box. In fact, when appropriate I even proactively assign the tasks to other people – especially when I notice its falling to other women instead.
    Unfortunately, the world is still not perfect, and if you are female-presenting at work there are things we still have to look out for.
    Best of luck with your new role :)

  24. latticedfence*

    LW 3, when I was a new manager, I was a lot like you. I had policies that were in place based on what I thought the big bosses wanted, or what I thought the company wanted, or what I thought was “professional”, or my own personal preference. A lot of these policies embarrass me now when I think about them, because they were too inflexible to actually work in reality.

    But even when I was experiencing a high employee turnover, I didn’t actually wake up until I ended up losing my best employee. She was kind enough to let me know what the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, was. It was my complete inflexibility regarding leave and remote work.

    I have to say that, basically as soon as I relaxed and took a more human-centered approach to these policies, my team stabilized and productivity went through the roof. I also went from having the highest staff turnover, to the least.

    Take it from me, LW 3. Relax! You’ve taken the first step of asking the question. Now, please take the advice, and implement it.

    1. restingbutchface*

      This is a wonderful, compassionate response and one I wish I’d read as a baby manager years ago. Thank you.

Comments are closed.