I can’t stand my coworker’s voice, I feel guilty about taking maternity leave again, and more

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

1. I can’t stand my coworker’s voice

I know this is going to come off as petty or intolerant and you’ll probably tell me to just get over it, but I need some feedback. My company has been working remotely even before the pandemic, so we’re used to video calls. It’s typical to have 3-4 every day and there haven’t been any funny mishaps or unmuted moments.

I have a new coworker on my team who is bright, energetic, and very friendly. He chimes in on all the calls, sometimes maybe even a little too much, but he usually has decent insights and I have no reason to dislike him. However, I absolutely cannot stand his voice. I won’t try to describe it because that feels like I’m just attacking him, but his voice is grating in a way that makes me want to leave a call any time he speaks up, which I’m ashamed to admit I’ve actually done before (in my defense I’d been having a rough day and it was more of a social call with a lot of people on it so it wasn’t obvious).

I know that I need to just move past it and get along, but it’s gotten to the point where the hairs raise on the back of my neck when I hear him speaking. I’ll likely never meet him in person so this really is limited to the few times a week we’re in the same meeting. Any advice?

Does it help to consider that you’ve probably had the same effect on someone else at some point in your life — whether it’s your voice / a mannerism / your face / your laugh / who knows what? I don’t say that to be mean! We all sometimes grate on other people. When that happens, ideally we want them to try to give us some grace, especially if it’s something we have no control over like a voice.

I’m curious if you’re reading something specific into the sound of your coworker’s voice that’s driving your reaction. Does he speak in a way that makes you hear arrogance or obsequiousness or jerkishness? It might be interesting to dissect exactly what you’re reacting to, if it’s anything beyond the sound itself.

But yeah, ultimately you do just need to find a way to get past it, for your own quality of life if nothing else.

2. Should I feel guilty about taking maternity leave again?

I work at a nonprofit organization (75 employees). I’ve worked here for four years, and have taken maternity leave twice (two kids, about two years apart). My organization has a generous policy of 12 weeks of full pay and has been really flexible with me about taking additional unpaid time if I’d like. I’m really grateful for how well they treated me both times.

I’d like to have more kids (one, maybe two more). If I keep taking paid maternity leave, it feels really like I’m taking advantage of them! In my tenure here only one other coworker has used the parental leave policy (our company is very diverse age-wise, a lot of my other coworkers are in different stages of life), and I’ve already used it twice. (There are other folks who have used medical, but I’ve gotten much more paid time off than literally anyone else in the last four years.

I’m thinking of switching jobs before my next child (who is, at this point, purely a future plan and not actually on the way) because I don’t want to take advantage of the organization! (To be clear, I like the job and would otherwise probably like to stay). On the other hand, no one has said anything about this to me, the policy doesn’t limit how many times you can use it, and the point of the policy is probably retention so I’m not sure if this is all in my head. Should I feel guilty and/or switch jobs?

Don’t feel guilty or switch jobs over it! They offer paid maternity leave because of some combination of wanting to retain employees and believing it’s the right thing to do. If they wanted to put a limit on it (“three months of full pay up to three times a decade” or whatever), nothing’s stopping them from doing that.

I would be very upset if I lost a good employee solely because she felt guilty about using benefits the organization freely offered.

3. My boss wants me and my coworker to swap jobs

My coworker and I work in the same department but have almost no overlapping responsibilities. Our manager has decided that we should swap jobs for a period of time so that we both have a full understanding of both halves of the department.

I fully believe that our boss has our best interests and professional development in mind. He is the best boss I have worked for. But I am hesitant to make the switch. Rather than simple cross-training, he wants us to officially switch job descriptions. His reasoning is that we should have full ownership of the responsibilities, lest we have the mindset that our coworker can cover for us if we aren’t feeling up to it.

My concerns are that my job description (and therefore, the basis of my performance evaluations) will be something that I did not apply for. Also, although my boss has said that we can switch back later, what if only one person wants to revert jobs?

My coworker and I fully support the idea of cross-training. However we have discussed privately amongst ourselves and are hesitant to fully make the switch. I have confirmed that an official job switch will require both of our signatures. Should we sign?

No, this is really odd! This is not how cross-training normally works, and your concerns are well taken. Ideally both you and your coworker would say to your manager, “We’re both willing to cross-train in each other’s responsibilities, but neither of us feels comfortable formally switching jobs. We’d be happy to informally switch duties for a couple of weeks if that’s the best way to cross-train, but we’re not up for an official change.” If your boss continues to push it, please loop in HR and they should put a stop to this.

4. Should I tell my friend my concerns about the team he’s interviewing with?

In September, I referred a friend/old classmate, B, for an opening on one of our teams. The hiring team updated me a month ago that they loved B but were still looking into what role he might have on the team.

Today, I saw an HR notification that a person from that team quit suddenly. On top of that, a friend on that team has mentioned several times that they are completely overwhelmed with work. While I think B would be a great fit for our org and hope he’ll get an offer, I wonder if I should appraise him of the situation so he can make the right decision for himself.

On the other hand, doing so might take a great candidate out of the pipeline and my org is definitely in need. Thoughts?

Tell your friend what you know! Otherwise you could be securing a hire for your company at the expense of your friend’s quality of life … and it does your company no good to hire someone who’s unprepared for what he’s walking into and ends up unhappy or quitting. Give B the info you have and let him make an informed decision for himself.

That said … someone quitting suddenly doesn’t necessarily indicate anything; that can happen for all sorts of reasons. And having a high workload isn’t necessarily an indication that it’s a nightmare situation. So just report the facts as you know them (and offer to seek more info if you can).

5. Can nonprofit workers “volunteer” for part of their jobs?

After being out of the workforce for most of her adult life, my mom has started working for a tiny nonprofit that she’s volunteered with for probably the last 20 years. She works very part-time (10 hours a week) doing secretarial work. There are only a couple of full-time employees and everyone else is also very part-time or a volunteer. Most of the volunteers teach community classes, but some of them do other types of work like cleaning or even managing the finances.

Her boss has told her she can’t have more than 10 hours and that anything she does beyond that is her engaging in volunteer activity. She doesn’t expect to be paid for her normal volunteer activities (she teaches a class and leads a support group), but sometimes the secretarial work takes more like 15-20 hours a week.

I don’t think it’s legal for her boss to have her continue the secretarial stuff as a volunteer. My mom thinks that it’s legal because it’s a nonprofit and she does volunteer in other capacities, but she also needs the money and would like to be paid for that time.

I would like to provide my mom with something concrete so that she can go to her boss and say, “Actually, we can’t do this and any work over the 10 hours will just not get done” and they’ll see the need for her to have more paid hours. Is that info out there somewhere?

It is indeed illegal! The U.S. Department of Labor is clear that under the Fair Labor Standards Act, “Paid employees of a non-profit organization cannot volunteer to provide the same type of services to their non-profit organization that they are employed to provide.”

Employees of a nonprofit can legally volunteer for their employer if it’s work that’s different from their normal job. For example, a graphic designer could volunteer at the ticket booth at an event, but that same graphic designer can’t volunteer to design flyers for the organization.

Your mom can show her employer this handout from the Department of Labor that explains this. Be aware, though, that there’s no guarantee that her boss will see the need to give her more paid hours; they might just cut her off at the 10 hours she’s working currently.

{ 537 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Hey all. I’ve removed some comments about vocal fry below because it’s well documented that women get a ton of complaints about vocal fry while men get almost none, even though plenty of them use it. While individual commenters below may not have intended it that way, in the aggregate it’s one more way women, particularly young women, are judged more harshly than men. So let’s not fall into that trap here. Thank you.

    Here are some interesting pieces if you want to read more:

    Stop telling women how they should talk

    What’s the Big Deal About Vocal Fry? An NYU Linguist Weighs In

    Women’s voices are judged more harshly than men’s

    1. Willis*

      That’s what I was thinking. There’s been a couple people I’ve worked with whose voices immediately put on edge, but it was usually because they were really high maintenance clients who drew stuff out needlessly. There’s also been times in life when my feelings toward someone were influenced by them reminding me of someone else I either particularly liked or disliked. So…if OP’s coworker is not actually doing anything annoying, maybe he is subconsciously reminding them of someone they do dislike.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I worked with a high-maintenance client who complained about everything we ever did and. as a bonus, had a voice that sounded like she was whining and being accusatory no matter what she said. Which she usually was.

        Her voice drove me nuts. Not so nuts I bailed on calls but nuts enough that when I had to travel to visit that client I was concerned I’d pull a face every time she opened her mouth. Luckily I successfully controlled my face.

        I think most of the time someone’s voice bothers us it’s because we associate it with something aggravating — either they themselves annoy us or they remind us of someone who annoys us. The only voices that independently annoy me are loud, high-pitched children, because I have a sensory processing issue and loud high-pitched noises break my brain.

    2. staceyizme*

      LW1- I’m not sure that you can get a handle on such a visceral response without getting clear about why it bothers you. You might benefit from a few sessions with a therapist. I’m not saying that you have to do a lot of deep personal work. But this could tank your mojo, at least some of the time. It merits seeing why this particular voice at this particular time and in this particular context is messing with your sense of peace and balance. It’s a trigger. But what was the original thing that this reminds you of? Find that and you may resolve this.

    3. SAS*

      I had to do a lot of mental rearranging when I realised my (lovely) doctor sounded like a tv pundit I haaaate! So silly and random!

      To LW1, what worked for me was focusing on the content of what he was saying (you mentioned your co-worker has good insights) and positively reflecting on the content after the discussion rather than reflecting on the (irrational) thing that annoyed me. It still took a few months but I’m still seeing him years later so… success!

    4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yeah, I get the impression there could be a BEC phenomenon here. They dislike the voice because of something totally unrelated to the person, only it then impacts the relationship with that person.

      Or maybe the person annoyed OP on his first day, in some inconsequential way. She knows the annoyance is irrational, it wasn’t his fault and she’s pinned the annoyance on his voice.

      1. Bamcheeks*

        I am unreasonably annoyed by the accent from the city 20 miles from my city, which is about 90% exactly the same but has one thing that is very annoying to nearly everyone from my city. Completely unreasonable!

        1. quill*

          My cousins, growing up, could exaggerate their accent to one that sounds like a bad parody of the accent most commonly associated with my state. It drove me up the wall.

          It’s not pronounced melk, bayg, or pahstah.

          1. SweetFancyPancakes*

            How do you feel about “pellow” or “mou-ain” (or any word with a t in the middle that just gets treated as a glottal stop)? I had a coworker that did the melk and bayg thing and it was surprising how much it bugged me.

            1. Carol the happy elf*

              I fill your payun!
              I lived in a state where mou’in and cer’un and “oh, my heck!” ran rampant back in the ’70’s, along with big natural blond hair and roodj (rouge) was everywhere. And they did those ladder-hugs where you bumped cheeks gently so as not to get your roodj on someone else’s face or clothing. I was blond, very short, and had lived a United Nations childhood, so I also got my cheeks pinched so often I didn’t need any roodj.
              To our family, “fetching” was a compliment, or what your dog did to a stick, but there, it was their “F-word”
              “Sick” and “peach” are filthy in Turkish so I got it quickly, but hearing it used when a man in his thirties called his car “you fetching pile of junk!” changing spark plugs made me laugh so hard I needed to fake a coughing fit.

            1. Carol the happy elf*

              My bestie married a Canadian and he still calls it that sometimes. If you watch “Food Factory”, you hear it whenever they do wheat flour noodles. Many of their pronunciations are odd to USA Americans.

            2. Unaccountably*

              If you’re talking about noodles and whatnot, it’s pah-stah. I’ve never heard it pronounced any other way. Merriam Webster lists PAST-ah as an alternative pronounciation but I’ve never heard it either in person or in any recorded medium.

        2. Arachnia*

          Oh man, I have a coworker who has an accent (and general way of eating) that involves a lot of saliva-based Mouth Sounds (TM) and boy I wish he was not my direct office neighbour. (I also cannot listen to whispering ASMR videos for the same reason.) But I fully recognize this is a me problem!

    5. anonymous73*

      I wondered that too. As Alison mentioned, there are plenty of things that can annoy people when you’re put together with people not of your choosing. It’s not like this guy can get a voice box transfer.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        But could the OP do something with his speakers to change it on his end? I keep wondering if there is a tech solution to this somewhere if they never have to meet in person.

    6. Dust Bunny*

      I’ve discovered that my what I thought was a normal adult woman’s voice sounds, at least on recordings, like a kindergartner’s. I’m probably annoying the heck out of somebody.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I’ve always heard my voice on like voicemails and tape recorders and thought I sounded like a child but then recently saw a recording of a zoom meeting from a conference room and I actually have a much deeper voice than I thought I did (I have not changed how I speak). It occurred to me then that my “phone voice” or “customer service voice” is like two pitches higher than I normally speak. I also sound different depending on the speaker quality. I have no way of knowing how I sound in normal conversation.

        Some people’s voices just REALLY bug me over speakers but are fine in real life – and vice versa, honestly. There’s so many factors that go into how a voice sounds.

        1. SweetFancyPancakes*

          There’s a podcast I listen to and normally the two hosts’ voices are just fine, but a few weeks ago I took my phone with me into the shower and in that little echo chamber one of the voices was so shrill it actually hurt. Got out of the shower and it was back to being fine again.

      2. banoffee pie*

        haha me too, I sound about 12 apparently. And my accent is way str0nger than I thought. oh well

      3. MusicWithRocksIn*

        I have a friend like this – and she uses it to her full advantage by pretending to be her own daughter whenever she gets an unwanted call.

      4. Wry*

        True story: when I was probably about preteen-age—whatever age I started to be expected to pick up the house phone, I guess—people would sometimes mistake me for my mom when I picked up the phone. I doubt I actually sounded very much like her; it was probably a combination of my sounding enough like an adult and people expecting it to be her because that’s who they were calling. Anyway, this bothered me disproportionately, because I had social anxiety and hated talking on the phone anyway, and having to correct the momentary misunderstanding was too much for my little nerves to handle, so I started to consciously change the pitch of my voice to sound more like a kid. It worked, but the habit became so ingrained that I still find myself going higher than my natural pitch when I talk on the phone. I’m convinced I gave myself permanent Kid Phone Voice because I didn’t want to be mistaken for my mom when I was a kid.

        1. Jay Gobbo*

          Fun side note: I lived and worked in Japan for 2~3 years, and there is absolutely a higher-pitched “phone voice” in Japan as well. I think I’ve only talked about it with women /AFABs, but I have a feeling that men do it too. I have a pretty low drawl usually, but if asked to speak on the phone in Japanese my voice would probably jump up an entire octave lmao. So you’re not alone!

          There are actually a lot of phone etiquette things that are different in Japan, and I’m still (10 years later smh) trying to break the habit of saying “mhm, mhm” every 2 seconds when someone else is speaking… (It’s to indicate that you’re still there and still listening to the person on the other end!)

    7. Miss Chanadler Bong*

      That’s what I was thinking. This exact same thing happened to me. I had a manager who’s voice would absolutely grate on my nerves. What was worse is that she was Asian with a really thick accent, so I felt really, really bad about it.

      I eventually realized her voice reminded me of a girl in high school with a similar accent who just wasn’t a very nice person back then. Once I realized that was part of the problem, I was able to move past it a bit. It was always a me problem, not a problem with her.

    8. Butterfly Counter*

      This was my first thought. In the 7th grade, a girl in the neighborhood I just moved into FULLY rejected my friendship and got others in my neighborhood to do the same. She was also in my math class and would clear her throat all the dang time. To this day, anyone mindlessly clearing their throat bugs the crap out of me to the point I sometimes have to leave the area and take a break.

      I wonder if there is something about the cadence or tone or just some verbal or nonverbal tic that is triggering the HATE response. It might help to figure that out, but even in my case, it still fills me with rage (even when it’s a loved one doing it).

      1. Meep*

        I am petty. I start each day deciding to give my toxic, abusive (I have PTSD because of her) coworker grace and understanding. The second she saunters into a video call with a loud “HEEEELLLOOOO. YOOOO HOOOO. [Owner] ARE YOU THEREEEEE?” I lose it and just imagine her falling into a bottomless pit. It doesn’t help she can see exactly who is on the video call. I completely understand that feeling.

    9. Meep*

      In LW#1’s defense, I had a coworker’s voice who I absolutely abhorred for no reason whatsoever. It just rubbed me the wrong way. He turned out to be a massive creep.

      It could be it reminds her of someone she dislikes. It could be that it is actually is the tone that annoys her. It is also possible he just has really bad vocal fry over the phone (another one of my coworkers did lol). It could be that he is loud.

      I wonder if this feeling will go away when she ends up meeting him in person or if she will dislike him more.

      1. Momma Bear*

        If the guy isn’t a creep, maybe use some psychology on yourself, such as listen to music you like when he’s talking or have a treat/fresh cup of coffee. I saw a video last night where I liked the content but one of the hosts was just grating. I realized that it was in part her pronunciation of words was difficult to understand, and she had a weird tone to her voice that I can’t put my finger on but it was just annoying to listen to. I turned on the captions. I realize that it’s not likely that OP can use captions, but if there’s any auto caption option, can they turn the volume down and use that instead?

    10. Wordnerd*

      I once had an applicant for a student employment job whose voice sounded so much like TJ Miller’s that I had to stop and really shake that out of my head in order to make a decision based on his actual qualities. It turned out he was a great employee!

      1. banoffee pie*

        This can work with looks too. I met someone today who looks like someone else who hates me, and I had to work hard not to hold it against her. I probably overcompensated and she’ll think I’m too saccharine or obsequious lol.

    11. AJoftheInternet*

      I’m wondering if LW#1 is sensitive to bad sound and Bad Voice Coworker actually has a sucky mic that’s picking up all the wrong frequencies. Not that they can really do anything about that. (Buy him a new mic? Kinda weird and boundary-less.)

    12. Lenora Rose*

      I had this response to a coworker at my current location; she managed to hit several buttons for me that reminded me of my stepmother. Fixing it was a matter of realising that, and reminding myself firmly both that different people ca have similar traits without being the same, and even more so, reminding myself, and speaking aloud, of the ways this person was a benefit and an expert in certain areas of our job. (Which she is; the manager has been here only two years so this person, who had been here for 5, occasionally knew things the manager did not.)

    13. Hats Are Great*

      I worked with a guy who sounded exactly like Jimmy Stewart, whose movies I find unwatchable because of his incredibly grating voice that sends me into a rage. Every time my coworker talked I was having to consciously control my rage. Like, full on rage where I wanted to shout “shut up shut up shut up!”

      I tried to collaborate with him over email when I could, and scheduled meetings with him when I knew I could get lunch or go take a walk afterwards, so I’d have a chance to calm down.

      There was nothing wrong with him but my overwhelming rage response never lessened.

  2. Stitching Away*

    LW2: From a strictly financial perspective, your employer is actually benefiting if you use maternity leave, even with a “generous” (it’s not, really, by reasonable standards) policy of 12 weeks. The reason why is that the average cost of hiring a replacement is around the cost of whatever your annual salary is, and could well be more. This inlcudes the cost of the hiring process, the cost of whatever gap between you leaving and them hiring someone, the cost of training (including the people training them being less productive at their regular responsibilities) and the cost of the new person being less productive while they learn the position.

    It’s far cheaper for them to pay for parental leave and retain you. And the cost to hire a replacement only goes up the more senior a position we’re talking about, so given you are thinking about child number three at the same employer, it’s really to their benefit to pay for your leave.

    So you are not taking advantage of them. Granted, your company is better than the majority of US employers (I’m assuming that’s where you are), but they are taking advantage of you by not offering leave that actually on par with what is considered reasonable by many countries and health groups.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      Further, I’m so sad and mad that a woman is, essentially, asking how she can make growing her family more difficult and feel terrible in the process, because her job —which she even likes — is trying to make it easier and that doesn’t feel right.

      Notwithstanding that so many other countries mandate 12-18 months of paid leave (and subsidized care after mat leave is over), and thus this benefit is good but hardly great in the grand scheme of things … feeling guilty is unproductive and helps exactly no one. So you should take the leave but pout and cry during most of it? What does that accomplish? Who does that help?

      When you’re doing something the guidelines / rules expressly state that you are actively allowed and even encouraged to do, the answer to “should I feel guilty?” is no. You are doing a good thing for your family and yourself and women in the workplace, and, as noted above, ultimately your employer. It’s not supposed to come with an unspoken side of suffering and self-flagellation. Nothing must be wrong if you don’t feel terrible while doing a good thing for yourself.

      1. Eat My Squirrel*

        Yeah this bothered me too. Girl, LITERALLY NOONE is thinking “she’s taking advantage of our paid time off and she shouldn’t get this much.” All they will be thinking is “oh she’s having another kid. Cool.”
        I mean at some point you might get the judgy people who think she has too many kids and shouldn’t be having more, but even those people won’t be thinking about her time off.
        Maternity leave is not a long vacation. It’s time you need to heal your body, stabilize your infant, stabilize your life, and just… be a parent! How anyone could feel guilty about that is beyond me. LW, I hope all the comments help you feel better about it. Don’t shortchange yourself. Anywhere in life.

        1. Triplestep*

          Eh, don’t be so sure no one is thinking “that’s a lot of maternity leave!” One family having three or four children is larger than average and people have opinions about that which they’ll hopefully keep to themselves. How, other people’s opinions are not a reason not to avail oneself of a benefit.

          1. This Old House*

            Agreed. We’re eligible for up to 12 months at my office (all unpaid, obviously, we’re in the US) but we’re publicly funded and there’s definitely no hiring of replacements. My boss complained plenty the last time someone in our department was out on maternity leave (not “how dare she!” just “REALLY can’t wait until X gets back”) and it definitely does not have me looking forward to telling her if/when I will need to take maternity leave myself. Not that it would stop me. But my previous maternity leave was before she started here – I would definitely be feeling weirder if I anticipated having to take multiple leaves under her tenure.

            1. Amaranth*

              If LW2 is feeling judgment from other employees…well, they aren’t nurturing a little being for the next couple of decades. 12 weeks isn’t much prep! :) Seriously, though, if there do seem to be a lot of fires to put out each time when LW returns, then the best thing they can do now is use that experience to create support guides or do more cross training in advance, to have peace of mind.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          There’ll be plenty of people who know nothing of what it’s like to look after a new-born baby while simultaneously recovering from birth, who’ll gripe, especially if nobody is hired to cover OP while she’s away, leaving others to take up the slack. But OP mustn’t listen to such sour gripers.

        3. Rayray*

          There actually was a letter here once where someone overheard a coworker joking about timing pregnancies so they wouldn’t have to work holidays and the LW was sure the person was serious. There really are people who think parents take advantage of the system. The US has terrible benefits for parental leave and some people really buy into the idea that you need to work work work and not take time off ever.

          1. Darsynia*

            I remember that letter and I remember thinking, as a mom of 3, LOL the chances that mom was joking because having a newborn around the holidays is so much harder work is soooooo high. One kid born on Easter, one smack in the middle of Summer, and another 3 weeks before Thanksgiving and TRUST ME it’s hard year-round. If anything, it’s nice of the employee (depending on their industry) to think of timing in case there’s more typical days off so they’re not depriving the office of their presence for as many days, but that’s probably it.

            Not to mention the fact that if their kids are born around the same time of year, it’s easier on clothing purchases, which not everyone is aware of. Baby clothes in the beginning are replaced at a pace of a few months, and those are temperature-specific, generally.

          2. Anonymous Today*

            People who are very “regular” have been known to do it for real. Between maternity leave, holiday time off, and their own saved PTO, they can really stretch out the amount of time they can afford to be gone.

            While annoying to co-workers who have to pick up the slack, it certainly makes sense for the person having the baby.

        4. EPLawyer*

          The maternity leave is part of your compensation package, just like wages and any other PTO.

          Would you think about leaving because they paid you regularly and you are taking advantage of them doing that?

          Would you leave because you took all your annual vacation two years in a row and you thought you were taking advantage of the vacation policy?

          Same thing with maternity leave. It’s there for you to use if you need it.

          1. Observer*

            This. 100%

            Some people will judge you for taking all of your vacation or sick time, too. But as Alison keeps on pointing out, it’s part of your compensation package. Make use of it.

          2. Miss attitude*

            1+ This summer I was hired in a temporary position with my start date one month before I was due with my baby. I asked to push my start date to after my “maternity leave” because I didn’t know if I’d have the energy to effectively train and I didn’t want to be seen as taking advantage of my company. Thankfully my supervisor encouraged me to onboard right away and I received a full 12 weeks paid maternity leave. Since then I’ve been offered a generous retention bonus, and an hourly raise. You are a value to your company, they want to keep you and they’ll gladly do that by supporting your decision to grow your family! One other thing to consider is that if no one else is using the parental leave, they may not even realize what the benefits actually consist of. That was the case for my department.

          3. old biddy*

            OP – please take it without any guilt or second thoughts. Even from the most cynical perspective, it’s still less disruptive than hiring a new person.
            My former boss was horrible about dumping all my super-productive colleague’s work on (mostly) me and another woman on the team when my colleague went on maternity leave, even though there were guys who could’ve helped cover it. Even then I did not have one shred of annoyance or resentment towards my colleague, just towards the boss

        5. Observer*

          . Girl, LITERALLY NOONE is thinking “she’s taking advantage of our paid time off and she shouldn’t get this much.” All they will be thinking is “oh she’s having another kid. Cool.”

          I don’t know what planet you are living on, but this is unfortunately not the case. The OP is not being some sort of paranoid nut – she’s reflecting some very real ideas. That’s the whole problem here.

          Maternity leave is not a long vacation. It’s time you need to heal your body, stabilize your infant, stabilize your life, and just… be a parent!

          And? What on earth makes you think that this is universally understood? People who talk about it and treat is as vacation ALL THE TIME.

          Someone else mentioned the letter from someone whose friend wanted to discipline someone for having their due data around Chrismas. The comment thread on that one was . . .interesting. Among other things, there was a surprising amount of judgement of women who timed their pregnancies to be the best for them without regard to the needs of their employers. Including one person who claimed that “this kind of crap” is a reason why firms legitimately don’t want to hire women.

          How anyone could feel guilty about that is beyond me.

          If you don’t get affected by negativity surrounding you, that’s great. (I’m not being snarky – I wish more people could withstand that kind of thing!) But understand that it’s hard for a lot of people. Especially around stuff like this, where women simply can’t catch a break.

          1. Mayor of Llamatown*

            This! There’s no need to be this snarky and “how you could feel this way is beyond me” towards someone who has been conditioned by our broken society to feel like being a mother is a bad thing. This is an indictment on the people who treat maternity leave as some fancy spa vacation package instead of time to heal after your body has basically exploded, and bond with your new baby.

            How anyone can’t understand that is actually beyond me.

            OP, have as many kids as you want and take all that maternity leave for those of us who can’t.

      2. kicking_k*

        Yes! GammaGirl1908, I’ve been wanting to say “This is NOT a lot of leave spread over multiple kids.” I took four times as much leave for my first child, because that’s standard where I come from (you don’t have to, but it would certainly be unusual to take as little as 12 weeks).

        That said, when I returned from mat leave pregnant again, I did wonder if co-workers would think this was inconvenient. The psychological effect is real; but it shouldn’t stop you doing what is best for your family. It IS more convenient and cost-effective for your company to retain you; hold to that if you need to.

      3. OP#2*

        OP#2 here – GammaGirl1908, I have re-read this line many times “Further, I’m so sad and mad that a woman is, essentially, asking how she can make growing her family more difficult and feel terrible in the process, because her job —which she even likes — is trying to make it easier and that doesn’t feel right.” This is well put. Very right. Thanks for your insight.

        1. I got the dirty twirls, Schmidty!*

          I hope you feel better going forward about growing your family if that is truly what you want! Our society has a way of making people feel terrible for obtaining the bare minimum of benefits or acting “entitled” or “selfish,” but at the end of the day, it’s your life and everyone does things out of self-interest. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that you should do what you want for your family because most companies will do what is right for them at workers’ expense if conditions changed, so you shouldn’t consider the company higher than you do your own needs.

          Look out for yourself and what is best for your career/family – I’m so glad you like your job and that they’re supporting you, but this is a benefit they should provide out of the interest of retaining happy, healthy employees. You’re not pulling one over on them for having had 3+ children during your tenure there. Especially if you’re a committed employee who has prepared well for previous leaves of absence, I doubt any of your coworkers see it that way either (though honestly, if they did, they can pound sand since that’s just internalized worker guilt for your having gotten what working humans should have).

      4. Little My*

        Also, if it helps, you can think about the thousands of years of discrimination pregnant women have faced in the workplace and otherwise (and are still facing!). In my opinion this is the LEAST you deserve.

        1. Anonym*

          And you’re setting a good example for others! Other parents will come after you, and you’ll have helped normalize the taking of parental leave. You’re making it easier for someone (possibly many someones) else!

    2. Juniper*

      I think this really depends on how long the leave is. The law of diminishing returns applies — the shorter the leave, the less it makes sense to higher a replacement. I predict that if the U.S. were to broadly implement some sort of parental leave policy, it would be around the 12-week mark — long enough that employers could point to how generous they were being, but not so long that they couldn’t get away with offloading duties onto other employees and avoid having to hire temps.

    3. Mockingjay*

      OP2, take the leave. Your company offers what most employees (U.S.) only dream of.

      Your company should be held up as the model to strive for. Don’t leave it!

      1. Anonym*

        Yes, reward your company for having good policies by not taking your talent elsewhere and forcing them to replace you.

        1. Just Jess*

          Ooo, I like the idea that the company is being rewarded for having good policies!

          OP2, it is your organization’s HR/Finance person’s (and/or Executive Director’s) call on whether or not your employer’s paid parental leave policy is working. Use what works for you and don’t worry about making the decision for them.

    4. Ganymede*

      It’s also better for businesses to have a diverse workforce. Google “why is a diverse workplace better” for more on this, but basically a company that has a staff drawn from different communities and types has a better chance of success, because they are not influenced by a single mindset.

      Retaining working parents by providing leave is part of that strategy for many firms. Obviously 12 weeks still isn’t much, but remember the company is benefitting by enabling you to work for them. They are lucky to have you.

    5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Exactly. LW2, I have a former coworker/friend who works for a similarly sized non-profit with similar leave (16 wks + able to bring baby in until they are 9 mos) who has had all 5 of her kids while working there. No one begrudged her the time off. If anything, it made people more confident about asking for time off themselves for medical or care-giving situations. Might one or 2 people get judgy? Sure. But those same people would be judgy about anything relating to motherhood/child birth/parenting so they are worth ignoring.

      1. bowl of petunias*

        This is honestly a good point. There are people who don’t understanding what having a baby entails and who have no interest in learning about it, but still hold a whole lot of opinions about people who do this thing they don’t understand. If you want kids, you cannot bend your choices around what those people think because you’ll never make them happy.

    6. Momma Bear*

      Firstly, having kids is for most of us a temporary endeavor for a few years. Secondly, I agree that keeping a valued employee is worth the leave. LW shouldn’t feel bad about using a perk – they offer that to keep people. At my old job, we had someone who was out on average every 18 months while she had 3 or 4 kids. I saw her LinkedIn recently and she’s a Director now, so they obviously saw value in her work.

      There was a discussion recently about how often men won’t take paternity leave and how not doing so kind of makes it harder for other fathers to feel comfortable doing so. We are offered so little leave in the US and IMO should not feel guilty for using the pittance so many of us are afforded.

      LW – Keep the job – sounds like they are great in many ways. Take the leave – you aren’t taking advantage. You’re using a perk that’s offered, like free parking or health insurance.

    7. ostentia*

      It made me so sad to see 12 paid weeks described as “generous.” How the US handles family leave is barbaric.

    8. iglwif*

      This!! Especially the part about calling 12 weeks of paid leave “generous”.
      I promise, LW, it would cost more in time, money, effort, and headaches to replace you if you left for good than to cover another minuscule 3-month mat leave.

    9. Lmdh84*

      I mean this with kindness, but LW2, you sound crazy to anyone outside the US. In Canada, we’re legally entitled to 18 months at reduced pay, and most professional-level jobs will top people up to full salary for 12 months. No one bats an eye when people take a year off and come back pregnant with their next kid: they just find a way to make it work, because it’s our right to use these benefits.

      You shouldn’t be worried about taking advantage; you should be angry that you live in a culture that fails to adequately recognize the huge physical and emotional adjustment of having a baby (who on earth could function well at work 3 months after having a baby???). You deserve so much more. Please don’t internalize the toxic US work culture that is an extreme outlier among Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic (WEIRD) countries.

  3. Cathie from Canada*

    LW1: There is a condition called “misophonia” that describes people who are upset by specific sounds — it usually applies to noises like lawnmowers and so forth. I myself am particularly affected by any rhythmic banging or rumbling noises, for example – they drive me around the bend! So I wonder if there may be a particular tone of your coworker’s voice that is triggering you in some way. I don’t know if there is any way to deal with it, but this might be worth exploring.

    1. John Smith*

      Another +1. The pitch at which kids scream drives me nuts. I don’t think anything can be done besides some kind of cognitive behaviour therapy. Or murder (not an option I’m advocating).

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Nah, John, that pitch is designed to drive everyone nuts. It’s why the human species has survived for so long, because when adults hear kids screaming they do everything they can to make it stop.

      2. Spotted Kitty*

        Kids LAUGHING drives me nuts. It’s a sound I absolutely hate. Screaming or crying doesn’t bother me as much as their laughter. I feel like Ebeneezer Scrooge.

        1. SnapCrackleStop*

          I hate the sound of children singing so, so much. Can’t help it: I’ll be Scrooge with you :)

          1. Le Sigh*

            Omg hi! Oh I’m so glad I found you, the other person aggravated by the sound of children singing, especially in commercials.

          2. NotJane*

            For me it’s that “little kid voice”, I guess I’d call it, that some young children speak with. Idk how to describe but it’s like they mush some of the letters together. So, instead of saying “four/for” they say “faaaw”, like “paw” but with a long A and almost a hard W, if that makes sense.

            A few years back, there was a frequently aired commercial (I wish I could remember what it was for) featuring a group of kids, and they *all* talked like that, in a super exaggerated way and obviously on purpose. I guess because some people must find it cute or charming? It just sends my blood pressure through the roof.

            (To be clear, I’m not talking about children who aren’t old enough to fully annunciate words, but rather those who are old enough and choose not to.)

            1. RagingADHD*

              I don’t mind it at all when it’s developmentally appropriate but I agree that it’s irritating as anything when it’s put on. Probably because children being coached into any kind of affectation irks me, and even more so when they are pretending to be developmentally delayed or have a speech impediment as if that were cute.

              Stuff you’d take your real child to the doctor for isn’t cute!

        2. SweetFancyPancakes*

          At a library I where I used to work we had a group of tweens who would come in nearly every day and giggle at the computers for an hour. My coworker and I would have to take turns going to the back room to work because it drove us both nuts. Most of them were boys, interestingly enough.

      3. Hobbit*

        I knew a girl who, I kid you not, had a Micky mouse voice & not in a cute cartoon mouse kind of way. She was a lovely person & I had no ill will towards her, but I could not be in the same room with someone whose voice was that high-pitched.

      4. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

        Agreed! My reaction to an infant/toddler/pre-pubescent voice screaming or shrieking or crying is not “fix it right away”, it’s “make it stop by any means necessary”. Something about the pitch just floods me with absolute homicidal rage, which is one of many reasons for choosing to be child-free.

        1. curiousLemur*

          I used to work in a daycare center, so my first instinct is to analyze the noise to try to determine if the kid is hurt or just upset.

        2. Mannequin*

          “ Agreed! My reaction to an infant/toddler/pre-pubescent voice screaming or shrieking or crying is not “fix it right away”, it’s “make it stop by any means necessary”. Something about the pitch just floods me with absolute homicidal rage, which is one of many reasons for choosing to be child-free.”

          I could have written this verbatim and it’s a relief to find people who understand what I mean

        3. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          I completely get you and was this way with every kid except mine, and for whatever reason he didn’t trigger my sound problems as an infant….but now as a loud preschooler there are definite days I want to stuff a sock in him.

    2. WaterFire*

      I’m the same! I can’t deal with the sound of people sniffing and hawking back snot, it genuinely makes me unreasonably furious. I wondered if it was misphonia when I read the letter.

        1. Elenna*

          Eh. The sound of sniffling definitely annoys me (and probably everyone), but it doesn’t make me “unreasonably furious”, just annoyed.

    3. Ashkela*

      In addition, certain neurodivergant conditions can cause certain pitches, tones, or other qualities of speaking or singing voices to be just utterly untenable.

    4. Nina Bee*

      Me too (sorry saw this comment after making the same one further down)

      Whistling and high pitched sounds drive me crazy!

    5. Lynn Marie*

      Yes! As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed I’ve become discomforted by certain people’s voices, even on the radio, which I don’t think ever particularly bothered me before. It’s not a single type of voice either, and I don’t think most of them sound like me. Sometimes it’s fry, but often “mellifluous” voices are just as irritating. I would have a hard time if I had to work in person with any of these people.

      1. Rebecca1*

        You can mess around with the treble and bass settings on the radio to see if it helps. Sometimes it does.

        1. Cautionary tail*

          Similar. I got bass-heavy earbuds for conference calls because I couldn’t stand the pitch of someone’s voice. It sounds fine and normal to me now.
          Sony MDRXB55AP/B earbuds.

      2. banoffee pie*

        Some radio DJs really overdo the ‘mellifluous’ thing. It can be as annoying as an unpleasant voice imo. Classic FM in the UK is a real offender. I have to turn the volume down between songs (pieces? lol)

    6. Rayray*

      Yep, it’s a struggle for me. Whistling is ambit of a trigger for me,!and I had a coworker who was constantly doing this breathy whistley thing. I could only manage the work day by having headphones on all day.

      1. BookMom*

        I agree a lot of us have sounds that drive us bonkers. Any kind of sandpaper scraping noise absolutely makes me jump out of my skin and has since childhood. For a few years, hearing anyone whistle more than about 2 measures made me nuts. That was while one of my teenage children was going through a difficult phase that, among other things, involved whistling A LOT. Recently I realized it didn’t bother me anymore, and I’m sure it’s because the kid has largely stopped too.

    7. Mim*

      I was thinking of this too. For me, when it comes to voices it’s more about “mouth sounds”. Luckily that is more often situational than tied to any specific person, though I think it happens more with some folks than others.

      Something that helps me with this and other situations in which I am feeling uncomfortable is stimming. It’s honestly thanks to the past couple of years, between having a neurodiverse kid and learning more about things like autism and ADHD, that I’ve recognized that I do this too. And learned that it’s not just a thing that autistic people do, but that it’s a coping mechanism almost everyone uses even if we don’t even think to call it that. Basically, doing something physical with your body to help cope with an emotion/feeling or experience that feels overwhelming. I definitely think that I have learned more about when and how I stim thanks to working from home for 1.5 years, and feeling freer to do so when needed. I am sure I am not alone in this. Anyway, if I’m at home on a call that is making me feel things I don’t like for any reason (the reason could just be that I don’t like talking on the phone…) I literally do things like “jazz hands” or pull weird faces and it absolutely helps dispel some of that negative emotion I’m feeling about the situation. If I’m on a zoom call or physically at work, I mask that stuff but do smaller “fidgets” that won’t draw attention or be distracting to others. Position myself like I’m taking notes, but doodle. (Or literally taking notes can sometimes be a fidget for me — I don’t necessarily need to in many situations, but the physical act of doing so helps me so much!) I wiggle my toes inside my shoes. Rubbing a rubber band between my fingers. Little things like that. And now that I recognize how much I have naturally always done stuff like this in these situations, and how much it helps me get through them, I am more mindful of doing them more often when I am feeling uncomfortable for any reason. Like, I try to always have a hair rubber band on my wrist in case I find myself “needing” it to fidget with. If I’m having a particularly sensitive/difficult day, I will make myself take a doodle break.

      It doesn’t fix things. But it makes them a lot easier. And means that I’m not spending all of my emotional energy for the day on a silly meeting that isn’t objectively emotional at all.

    8. Monte*

      I understood why people go ballistic on planes when I had to listen to a parent directly behind me entertain his toddler by going “chomp chomp chomp chomp” and drumming on the tray table attached to my seat for 40 minutes. Just repeating that word every other second and adding in the negative reinforcement of my seat shaking was enough conditioning that I wanted to jump out the window after 2 minutes.

    9. JB*

      As someone with misophonia, I think LW1 would already be aware if they have it, assuming they are an adult. It’s really unlikely that this coworker’s voice is doing something wildly different from every other human voice they’ve encountered.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This. If this is the only voice, or one of maybe two or three voices ever, that set the LW on edge I wouldn’t think it was misophonia because I suspect the LW would have encountered the problem more often in life. But everyone has a few sounds they can’t stand even if they don’t have it–I definitely don’t and I hate the sound of the microwave beeping.

        1. quill*

          It’s also possible that the computer audio settings make the difference. There are sooo many sounds that I don’t mind in natural air but coming out of a speaker? My teeth want to walk out!

    10. Rebecca1*

      OP1, since you are fully remote anyway, can you just turn down your volume partway whenever this person talks, and then turn it back up when he finishes? I mean you’d still have to leave it up enough to hear what he says, but at least it might be quieter nails on a quieter chalkboard.

      1. glebers*

        I wonder if there’s a technological solution to this. Since this is all entirely remote, is there some software you can use to distort the call audio? Like the way Dateline or 20/20 will distort the voices of anonymous interviewees, but not as strong? You’d of course have to distort everyone else talking, but maybe you can distort it just enough to take the edge off the voice that drives you nuts.

      2. Squarilybln*

        This is more possible if you are working with something like Teams that allows you to discretely turn on auto captions. Not transcription, as that creates a record of the meeting and you have to notify people they’re being recorded, but what is essentially subtitles. It helps a lot with audio fatigue.

        1. Viola The Viola The*

          Oh wow, I didn’t know this existed! How accurate is it? I may need to suggest this to my sister.

          1. TC*

            Google Meet’s captions are probably 90% accurate, unless it’s jargon / technical terms, in which case it drops significantly. I’m very sensitive to noise / cross-talk and will turn my sound way down when I’m struggling to follow the conversation due to sound issues, and the auto captions do work well enough to muddle through in most cases. I can’t speak to the quality on other services.

        2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          This is what I do in Google Meets. The world is Too Loud for me in general, so being able to run meetings at a lower volume and with autocaptions as support for anything I miss has been amazing. I have one particular co-worker with a voice that absolutely puts me on edge (in person as well as remote – we’ve worked together for years) and being able to lower the volume when we’re in the same meeting is amazing! (I wish these various video conference platforms let me adjust everyone’s audio individually, though, both because of That Coworker and just because different people are different amounts of loud in general. I also wish that presenters playing “hold music” during meeting breaks would stop, and would like to mute that in particular.)

      3. Agnes A*

        I didn’t like the sound of my colleague’s laugh and would take my headphones off when he laughed. Then I realized that I actually hate his jokes. He often made stupid and repetitive jokes and laughed at them, even when no one else found them funny. So I agree that this might be not just a sound issue.

    11. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I’m not qualified to say if OP suffers from misophonia; I’ve been diagnosed with it and agree that the disorder could explain a lot.

      On the other hand, sometimes a person’s voice just hits our ear the wrong way, like a long-ago college classmate’s voice. Now that I have a frame of reference, I can say it wasn’t in the ‘misophonia way.’ I didn’t feel rage, or the need to flee, or strike out, or other severe responses. She was a nice person, and I had no reason to dislike her. While I didn’t feel rage, I was glad when she stopped talking.

    12. AnonInCanada*

      I know that feeling. I get absolutely aggravated with the sound of someone rubbing two knives together in order to sharpen them. That high-pitched grating sound gets me all to the point of me having to leave wherever that sound’s coming from. That, and people slurping soup out of a spoon. ARRRRGH!

    13. Potatoes gonna potate*

      So maybe this is a weekend thread question but what is the difference between misophonia and just being aggravated by certain sounds? For me, it’s constant knocking sounds or being in a store and trying to talk to a cashier above loud talking/loud music/loudspeaker. I don’t take it out on people but I do end up looking (and feeling) very visibly agitated.

      1. Arabella Flynn*

        Pretty much the same as the difference between a quirk and a psychological disorder: How badly does it interfere in your life? If it creates substantial hardship, it’s a diagnosis. If it’s a mild occasional annoyance, it’s a pet peeve.

      2. RagingADHD*

        Aggravation by certain sounds + unreated or undertreated anxiety or other disorders = uncontrollable reactions.

        It isn’t generally acknowledged as its own disorder by professionals because you treat it by treating the main disorder adequately, and if this symptom is still a problem, the main disorder needs more or different treatment.

    14. Amaranth*

      I have severe tinnitus and certain voices give me a headache. For me, it helps to turn down treble and pump up mid tones and bass — I don’t make everyone sound like Barry White, but it prevents a lot of headaches. Changing settings might even have a placebo effect for LW.

    15. Cecil*

      I also suffer from misophonia especially in relation to people’s voices (or rather, the way the microphone picks up their voices), so what I’ve started doing is playing white noise YouTube videos in the background of all video meetings that those people are going to be at. It doesn’t completely get rid of the problem, but it really helps distract me from the worst parts.

    16. Marketing Queen*

      If this is the cause, then the only way to deal with it is to come up with some coping mechanisms. Sometimes I find background music, white noise, or reducing the volume. Sometimes you just have to suffer through it. If you can, turn off your camera if you have no poker face (like me, lol). If you’re able to listen through speakers rather than a headset (so it’s not directly in your ear), that may help, too. Good luck. Misophonia sucks.

  4. Mangofan*

    Some random ideas on how to get over your co-worker’s voice:
    – Practice loving kindness meditation (https://www.uclahealth.org/marc/mpeg/05_Loving_Kindness_Meditation.mp3) and during that, send loving kindness to your coworker. (I’ve tried this on planes with wailing babies and it softens how I feel towards them.)
    – Every time your coworker does something you like, is nice, is competent, etc., write it down. (This is a technique I read about in a relationship book once… I tried it with a coworker I found irritating and over time my view of him actually shifted for the better!)
    – Imagine your coworker having a lovely voice but [insert terrible characteristics here], and flip between the coworker you have and that one in your head.
    – Pretend your coworker is a character in a cartoon or movie and try to find it amusing.
    – Work with a therapist to see what suggestions they have (I don’t mean to suggest that your finding your coworker’s voice annoying is indicative of some big issue – just that we don’t have a lot of other great resources for helping change one’s mindset / attitude / feelings)

    1. I take tea*

      Oh, thank you! I have one co-worker whose voice is very irritating to me, but I try to focus on how very competent they are, and it helps a bit. I shall try these other suggestions as well, as we are in the same project and I have to be able to focus on what is said, not how it’s said.

    2. Kate Daniels*

      These tips are awesome! I’m going to use the second tip to help me lessen my annoyance with a particular coworker.

    3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I think my advice would fit into your list as well; I’d suggest getting to know the coworker and befriending them. Many things are far less annoying when they come from someone you care out.

      1. Certaintroublemaker*

        That’s what I’ve found when someone has a grating voice or terrible laugh—once I get to know them more as a person (valued coworker to good friend), those surface things disappear from my notice.

    4. BookMom*

      These are wonderful tips!! Thank you! I have used similar techniques with coworkers that get under my skin, and they truly are helpful!

    5. Cleo*

      These are great. I’ve also use the loving kindness meditation and it’s amazingly helpful.

      In a similar vein, I’ve also used the 3, 2, 1 shadow process. It’s more involved but it’s good for working with things that irrationally annoy us. It assumes that those irrational annoyances don’t really have to do with the annoying person but have to do with things we’ve repressed or dissociated from in some way – maybe it’s something we don’t like in ourselves or didn’t like in someone else.

      https://integrallife.com/the-3-2-1-shadow-process/ and https://www.mindfulmenstrualcycle.com/321-shadow-process

    6. LQ*

      Something I’ve done a few times now is there is an accent that sounds VERY similar to my own and other than a few words, the most important of which for me is the way my name is said, and normally, it doesn’t bother me but this one slight difference, especially if the accent difference is otherwise very unnoticeable makes me want to torture them by making them say my name until they get it right. This is especially true because the primary culprit is the smarmiest sales guy I have to work with, who, as sales guys often do, says my name a lot to try to endear me.

      I did 2 things. I knew someone who I really like (a favorite podcaster with a similar accent) and tried to tie it back to that. I also did something I do with people who frequently give my name the other super common spelling which is “someone they love in their life spells/pronounces the name like that and it brings that person joy and happiness that they get it right when others don’t.”

      These 2 things really help be less annoyed. I’m still kind of annoyed but it’s small enough that I can roll my eyes at myself and go “oh ffs lq this is seriously what you’re going to spend your energy on right now?” and move on.

    7. QueenoftheWorld*

      These are good tips. I’m in a Bible study where the leader has a really annoying voice and it changed pitch also. However I focus on how knowledgeable and interesting she is and that helps decrease the ‘sound’ of her voice.

    8. MCMonkeyBean*

      Those are some good ideas! I wonder also if you can condition yourself at all by like eating a small piece of chocolate every time they speak or something like that haha.

      We bought a house near the airport and I was worried that over time the airplane noises would bother me so much I’d start to hate our home. I am often very annoyed by sounds, much more than my husband (it’s actually one of the things that made me realize I have ADHD when I was looking over a diagnostic checklist but that’s a separate story lol). I decided every time I noticed an airplane we would blow kisses. It made me smile for a while and then eventually I just kind of stopped noticing the sounds for the most part.

    9. MBK*

      Also: If you use MS Teams for your remote meetings, you can turn on auto closed captions and turn off your speakers. :-)

  5. ZK*

    I used to have a coworker with a voice like she’d sucked down helium. And I had to hear her over my earpiece all.day.long. It was like nails on a chalkboard to me. But honestly, you just have to learn to deal, snd in this case, thank your lucky stars it’s only a few times a week.

    1. BethDH*

      Yeah, given that it sounds like OP could have described it but didn’t, I think this is probably something more than it just reminding them of someone.
      I think they can deal with this over time though since it sounds like they have a reasonable degree of respect for the person. I really hated the voice of someone when I met them but they were a good friend of my friend and I could see that they were someone I wanted to like too. I leaned into the ways I could interact with them without hearing their voice for a while (communicating more by email, for example) and gradually their voice was a smaller part of their personality and I scarcely notice it now.

      1. Ray Gillette*

        It could be that, or it could be that they couldn’t think of a way to describe the voice that didn’t feel unnecessarily mean. I’ve got an old friend from my school days whose voice has a quality that makes him sound like he’s whining all the time. He’s a nice person (and not especially whiny, either), but it’s grating to listen to him talk. I wouldn’t say a word if there was even a small chance of the description making its way back to him, though – he can’t help how he sounds and I don’t want to hurt his feelings.

        1. Anonym*

          Yeah, I thought it was gracious of the OP not to describe the annoying quality. It probably saved a good few readers from thinking “that sounds like me… am I annoying everyone?”

        2. The New Wanderer*

          Or in a way that people might comment about how that quality doesn’t annoy them. I also appreciated OP’s lack of specifics and the focus on the main issue, which is that it is grating *to OP*. I think everyone can relate to the annoyance factor – the specifics will vary.

    2. Gray Lady*

      This. It’s possible that it’s a kind of misophonia, or that the sound of the voice creates negative mental ideas for the LW. But I know in my life, there was one couple I knew briefly (as in friends of friends in a place where we used to live) BOTH of whose voices I found genuinely unpleasant to hear, even though no other voices have really bothered me and it didn’t create a negative idea, in fact I found them to be lovely people, they just had raspy, tinny voices that I found unpleasant to hear. It’s possible they both had some sort of vocal damage (I’m quite sure they weren’t hearing impaired) but regardless, I just didn’t like the sound of their voices at all, though I liked them well enough not to mind spending time with them. But I didn’t have to hear their voices for extended periods on a frequent basis, as in LW’s situation, so it didn’t really bother me. I think it’s just going to have to be a minor irritation that the LW is going to have to learn to live with as one does with any persistent, but minor and unavoidable irritation.

  6. Allonge*

    Hi, LW2 – don’t feel guilty! Or at least don’t quit just for this reason. You are working at a relatively small org still, so there will always be outliers in using any kind of benefit (I work at a place 4 times larger than yours and still know who ‘takes advantage’ of various policies more than not, but my main thought in these cases is to be thankful for the possibility to be there).
    Companies get to set up a system that they can afford. And mothers are under huge societal pressure anyway for a billion bad reasons. Don’t add to it yourself. You are doing just fine.

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      OP, think of if this way: in order to not temporarily deprive the organization of your services, you will permanently deprive them of your services. How is that better? You are leaving the organization far worse off.

      Take the family leave when you need it.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I agree. Don’t feel bad, and do take the leave.
      Among other things, it may be helpful to other (esp. younger / more junior staff) to see that it is OK, so while I hope that none of your coworkers would feel or say that you were taking advantage, by taking the leave you are helping to create an atmosphere where it’s expected and OK to use benefits you have as part of your job.

      It may be helpful to others who might be anxious about using other benefits like sick leave, not just maternity / parental benefits.

    3. Oakenfield*

      I would argue that the parental leave without a mirroring sabbatical leave for others IS taking advantage and GROSSLY unfair with benefits skewing towards traditional families and leaving childless or otherwise non-traditional employees holding the bag. They have to cover for you while you are out, yet are never offered the same opportunity to take off work for weeks or months to pursue something that is fulfilling to their lives, NOT to mention all of the additional time off for sick kids and leeway that parents are often given as they are held above the other employees.

      As an aside, overpopulation is a pressing emergent problem and there are kids who need homes.

      1. Allonge*

        Hey, at least at this company, if you want 12 weeks off, you can do it for the small price of having a kid! And you get extra holidays for when they are sick! Easy! Just do it! /s

      2. ADidgeridooForYou*

        First of all, I don’t think we should be shaming OP for wanting or having biological children here – the overpopulation problem is actually a bit of a myth and has a lot of roots in racism and eugenics (which itself is rooted in racism). The US and Western European birth rates are pretty steadily declining. But that’s a different topic.

        I personally am childfree so I understand how it can be difficult to cover for your colleagues when they’re on parental leave, but I think the important thing to remember is parental leave isn’t meant as a vacation or even a sabbatical; it’s a chance for the birth-giver to recover (often a long and exhausting process) and/or for the parents to bond with their new children and adjust to a major change in their life. Even if it doesn’t benefit us (aka childfree people) directly, paid parental leave and the types of benefits that go along with it benefit society as a whole. If employees find themselves scrambling to cover for the person taking leave, we should be blaming the companies who don’t have proper plans in place, not the people taking advantage of a benefit offered to them.

        1. erin*

          Thank you for this!! The overpopulation myth is something that really grinds my gears. Also, taking leave after adopting a child is also a very common practice — I’m not in America so I don’t know how it works there, but the framing of that as “why take a vacation like mat leave when you could pick up a low-effort kid somewhere else?” felt like a massive disservice to children of adoption.

          1. iglwif*

            Yeah that is SUPER gross.
            Idk how it works in the US either, but here in Canada only 15 weeks of the paid leave you can potentially take is limited to the person who gave birth; the rest of it (35 weeks standard, 61 weeks “extended” which means you get the same amount of money spread over a longer period–this is new since I gave birth in the early 2000s) can be taken by either parent and by adoptive parents, and of course people do!

      3. iglwif*

        So here’s an interesting fact: In countries with a reasonable amount of guaranteed maternity and parental leave–as in, measured in months rather than weeks–the co-workers of new parents *don’t* have to cover for their colleagues on leave, you know why? Because employers *hire replacements*. Pay while on leave comes from programs like, in Canada where I live, Employment Insurance, which workers pay into; some companies “top up” to a bigger % of the employee’s wage, but no employer is ever on the hook for the entire paycheque. And from a hiring perspective, it’s relatively easy to hire someone on an 8- or 12- or 18-month contract for the duration of the leave.

        That said, we do also need other kinds of guaranteed paid leave, because people who just had a baby are of course not the only people with family caregiving responsibilities! I’m not talking about paid leave for fun leisure travel or whatever, as you seem to be advocating, but for people taking care of a parent, sibling, other family member, or friend who needs your attention and focus to a similar level that a baby does? HELLS yeah.

      4. Foila*

        Others have covered some important points in response to this comment, but I want to specifically push back on the “there are kids who need homes” line.

        Adoption is great. Fostering is great. However, we do not live in a moment in history where there is a surplus of healthy infants whose parents cannot or do not want to care for them. And most people who want to become parents would like a healthy infant – this is not any knock on them! That’s what most bio-parents get (certainly not all, but the odds are decent)!

        But when people say “there are kids who need homes”, it makes it sound as if one can just pop down to the local orphanage and sweep up some unwanted moppet, and that is not the reality we live in. There are children who are not in the care of their bioparents for a variety of reasons, but healthy infants are essentially a commodity for which the demand greatly outstrips the supply, from an adoption perspective. Children always come from somewhere.

      5. Ccjr*

        You are really out of line and off-base. You sound like you’re projecting your own personal problems or dissatisfaction with your job onto thus LW and issue. Parental leave isn’t the same as a sabbatical where you can go follow your passion project or live abroad or write a book. It’s keeping the human race going and creating future workers and consumers.
        Most companies with parental leave also have family leave and extended sick leave policies to have surgery, medical treatment, or care for ailing family members, so everyone has some benefit available.
        You’re also basically saying that women shouldn’t be allowed in the workforce, since they NEED to take some type of leave if they have a child, for physical healing at a minimum. This is short-sighted and insulting.

      6. Lauren*

        This is a very strange take. I am a person who is childfree and intends to stay that way. I just accepted a position at a firm that offers six months of paid parental leave, and I am happy they do so! I am not going to use it, but I benefit from the firm being able to hire and retain talented people. I have chosen not to have children but that doesn’t mean I think no one should? And as a person who intends to one day be old, I benefit from the general existence of people who are a generation younger than I am, because I suspect society works better if there are, say, carers that are not as old as the people they’re caring for.

      7. Loosey Goosey*

        Maternity leave is not about personal fulfillment. It is time to physically recover from a medical event and care for a newborn. Google childbirth injuries, postpartum mental health disorders, or just talk to some new moms and see how their “fulfilling sabbatical” is going. Also, the idea that mothers often get *more leeway* in the workplace would be laughable if it weren’t so, so sadly wrong. Direct your ire at the US government and employers for not having humane policies to support the biological reality of new people being born.

  7. Willis*

    For OP#2, don’t feel guilty! Certainly the folks that designed this leave policy know some people have multiple children, often within 2-3 years of each other. So it’s not like you’re presenting them with an unusual or unforeseen situation…this is exactly what the policy is intended for. I think it just feels weird to you because you’re comparing with your coworkers, but if others haven’t had or adopted kids during your tenure, then of course they aren’t using the leave. Presumably they would have used or will use leave if they have a child, it’s just not something you’ve seen in the past four years.

    1. LW#2*

      I’m LW#2 – you are right. For some reason I had a 3rd kid in mind as some sort of crazy exception… but you are right, this is something that the people designing the policy would be able to forsee as a possibility. Good perspective.

      1. Helen J*

        I hope this means you are going to stay! I really don’t think anyone is thinking you are taking “advantage” of the policy.

      2. Oakenfield*

        But also keep in mind that others may not be ABLE to use the leave, for fertility reasons or monetary reasons, and those people will have to cover you while you’re out, and don’t receive a similar sabbatical benefit for pursuing something important to their lives. So, another option is to also not take advantage of the leave again.

        1. prismo*

          Please don’t use others’ infertility to guilt someone into not taking maternity leave. Signed, a woman going through fertility treatment

          1. Shira*

            Co-signed, prismo. I had three miscarriages and didn’t get a day off for any of them (maybe a couple days sick leave?) and I would never begrudge anyone else their parental leave.
            Also, what a terrible take. Way to pit workers against each other while guilting the LW for using a benefit that the company offers! If other people want sabbaticals (that’s an…interesting way of framing maternity leave but ok) why don’t they advocate for them to the company instead of begrudging other workers their benefits?? Oakenfield’s comment is what I’d write if I were secretly a corporate shill trying to maximize worker drone output. Ugh.
            LW#2, if you’re still reading- much support and good wishes to you. Post-miscarriages I went on to have 2 kids 19 months apart and took several months maternity leave for each. My company did just fine and professionally so did I.

          2. iglwif*

            Holy crap, yes!! That was a truly terrible take.

            From one to another, hugs and good vibes for your treatment.

          3. une autre Cassandra*

            Also “sabbatical” is such a weird word to use for parental leave, especially for someone who personally gave birth. Parental leave is…not a sabbatical.

            1. WantonSeedStitch*

              Oh hell no it isn’t. You need that time to figure out how to manage to keep your baby alive, keep the others in the house fed, keep on top of chores like cooking and dishes and laundry, maybe even do other chores like clean the bathroom or sweep the floor once in a while…all while your body is healing from childbirth and you’re getting so little sleep you’re practically hallucinating, and if you’re unlucky, possibly also dealing with postpartum depression. It is NOT. A. SABBATICAL.

        2. Massive Dynamic*

          Oakenfield, that’s not what a sabbatical is, yo. Maternity and paternity leave is for HEALTH reasons – recovery of the birthing parent, and intensive 24/7 health support of a very fragile new life. That we also bond with a cute new thing is the ONE PERK that keeps our species alive.

  8. Well...*

    The question isn’t whether you hate all women’s voices, it’s whether you detect and judge vocal fry more harshly in woman than in men. That’s still discrimination (in fact, most discrimination works this way. It’s why the “I have an X friend” is a lousy defense).

    And studies have shown most people do react more strongly to the same level of vocal fry in women over men.

    Also many qualities of the valley girl accent have entered mainstream speech, so the fad didn’t really go away. Young women tend to be harbingers of larger scale generational changes in speech patterns.

    1. Boof*

      I’m confused, lw referred to the coworker with the annoying voice as “him”, what’s with the focus on the perception of women’s voices?

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        Based on Alison’s comment at the top, I’m guessing this was a reply to a comment that got deleted.

      2. gracec*

        Looking at Alison’s pinned message, it seems like there was a debate (or at least a bunch of comments) on whether “disliking vocal fry” is a sexist concept etc? Looks like commenter Well… was in the middle of replying to one of them when they all got nuked by Alison, meaning that the message posted unthreaded and contextless

        1. Well...*

          Yes, that explains the nesting fail! Anyways, if this is too off topic, my apologies. I didn’t notice the moderation note (probably because it was simultaneous)

        2. Catgirl*

          Correct, I saw that last night. People started complaining about vocal fry, even though the LW didn’t mention it.

  9. DEJ*

    I actually have a spin-off situation from LW5. I got laid off about a year and a half ago from a non-profit organization. For example’s sake, I was paid to paint teapots. I plan on doing some volunteer work for this organization at an event next year. I have heard that there are some members who will want me to paint teapots at this event, while I had planned on doing something that did not involve teapot painting. I had planned to be open in saying ‘if you want me to paint teapots you will have to pay me’ but would this cover me and give me some extra ammunition?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I wouldn’t say it that way. I’d say, “I’m here to do X as a volunteer, but if you want me to paint teapots again, I’m definitely open to it — but I’d want to work out a rate first.” You could add “since that’s my livelihood” if you wanted to.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        … which doesn’t really answer what you’re asking. I’m pretty sure that the law wouldn’t cover you here since you haven’t worked for them in a year and a half. Even if it did though, I think just being straightforward that you’re volunteering for X but would do Y for pay is a better way to go.

        1. I'm just here for the cats!*

          Alison, I thought that the regulations stated that nonprofits couldn’t have people volunteer for duties that were typically done by paid employees. For example if you have someone who does payroll you can’t lay them off and replace them with volunteers.

          If this OP’s nonprofit is still doing teapot painting and had paid OP originally but now using volunteers isn’t that illegal?

          1. Observer*

            Nope, that’s not what the regulations say. Volunteers can do ANY job. They just can’t do the same job that THEY get paid for by the organization.

            1. StressedButOkay*

              Agreed. There are MANY nonprofits that are mostly ‘staffed’ by volunteers due to either the nature of the charity or the funds available. They just can’t let someone “volunteer” for the same job they’re getting paid for – if you’re being paid to be a secretary for 10 hours, you must be paid for whatever hours you work over that and it can’t just be “volunteered”.

          2. MCMonkeyBean*

            I thought that at first too but I think I’m conflating volunteer rules and intern rules. I believe one of the many frequently violated rules about what makes internships allowed to be unpaid is that they can’t be doing work that would usually be done by a paid employee.

          3. Spero*

            I think you’re thinking of internship rules. Unpaid interns aren’t supposed to replace the work of paid employees. Volunteers can do the work of paid employees, they just should be doing the same work they are also doing for pay concurrently. I stopped working for a local nonprofit but continued to volunteer to do their trainings a few times a year because none of the other employees had that certification or could get it for about a year, and I still pinch hit for them from time to time – not an issue at all.

  10. Liv*

    I find it wild (and sad) that 12 weeks paid maternity leave is considered generous in the US! I had ky first baby last year, and We’re entitled to a year leave in the UK, and my company offers that at 26 weeks full pay if you’ve been there a year, then 13 weeks stat pay and 13 weeks unpaid!

    Anyway, LW2 like Alison said, do not feel guilty about taking leave that you’re entitled to, for whatever reason! And definitely don’t leave a job you otherwise like to do it! The policy is there to be used when it’s needed, by whoever needs it, however often they need it!

    1. Boadicea*

      Oh wow. I’m in the UK too, and I read it as “12 months” and thought wow, I see what she’s saying but agree with Alison. Only realised at your comment it’s just 12 weeks! Girl, just take it!

      1. MT*

        Every time a post about parental, bereavement, or annual appears here my heart breaks a little for my American friends.

    2. UKgreen*

      Yep, my organisation offers a full year of paid leave in a similar way (and it can be split between parents) and so some long-serving colleagues have been off for two of the last five years, or three of the last eight or whatever.

      Don’t feel guilty, OP2.

    3. DaisyGJ*

      Also in the UK – just to add that you accrue annual leave while on maternity leave meaning that my colleagues who have had a baby were off for 58 weeks – the year’s leave they were entitled to followed by the 6 weeks’ leave they’d accrued as they weren’t allowed to carry it.

      LW2 please don’t feel guilty for taking this – in any other developed country you’d be off a lot more.

    4. Kim*

      We get 16 weeks paid and up to 26 weeks unpaid here in The Netherlands (hi from across the pond!) and I’m very jealous of your year.

      1. MT*

        The policy here in Sweden is around 18 months at 80% pay, generally shared with partner unless you are a single parent. From memory in the UK the full year is not paid – you are just entitled to have your company hold your job for that amount of time. SO is a Brit and we are currently family planning, and we’ve actively decided to remain in Sweden while implementing said plan for that reason.

        1. MT*

          Ah sorry – I just saw the comment you were replying to. Sounds like an amazing company to work for!

        2. TechWorker*

          39 weeks is paid (which is still a decent chunk!) but it’s a lowish statutory rate or 90% of your salary, whichever is lower. So Swedens policy sounds much better as you say :p

        3. Liv*

          Yeah legally the employer only has to offer you a year off, at 29 weeks stat pay (which is rubbish) and 13 weeks unpaid, but a lot of big companies like mine have enhanced policies if you’ve been there a year. I ended up taking 6 months mat leave at full pay and then my 1 month holiday I’d accrued, cos I couldn’t afford to go down to stat pay. But I cannot imagine having to go back to work after 12 weeks! Absolutely insane.

    5. Boof*

      Just adding that i believe the government pays for the extended leave in the uk (as well as mandating it); in the usa i believe government mandates you can take up to 3 months fmla without losing your job but it’s all on the employers to cover it. Fortunately there still seems to be a movement of employers covering more family leave (maternity and parental/paternity)

      1. Doc in a Box*

        Unfortunately, FMLA is unpaid leave. They will hold your job for you, but you don’t have any income during that time, which makes it very hard for most working parents; there are also a lot of restrictions on eligibility (The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates less than half of the workforce is eligible). Larger companies sometimes offer a paid parental leave, generally something like 6 or 8 weeks for a birthing parent, 1-2 weeks for a non-birthing parent. Sometimes people go out on short-term disability if that’s an option.

        I’m not a parent and even I know the US parental leave policies are terrible.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Most places I’ve worked have a requirement that you use your accrued leave during FMLA, which means a lot of people come back to work after several weeks of illness and have no sick or vacation time left to use for other things. I had to skip a family vacation several years ago because I had surgery earlier that year which had used up all my paid leave.

    6. Nikki*

      I’m not sure why it is that every time there’s a letter about parental leave, a group of non-US readers feel the need to comment on how awful parental leave is in the US and how much better people in other countries have it. We know it’s bad and we wish it were different. I don’t think you all realize how your comments come across to people in the US who are affected by these policies.

      1. Batgirl*

        I agree with this sentiment usually, but in this case, don’t you think it’s helpful for the OP to feel less guilty by looking at these comparisons?

        1. Nikki*

          I would be more ok with the comments if that’s how they were phrased but the comment that started this thread talks about how “wild” and “sad” it is that parents in the US get so little time off and several replies agree with that sentiment. If you want to put things in perspective that’s one thing, but please don’t be condescending while doing it.

          1. pancakes*

            I think you’re reading condescension that isn’t there into it. It is wild and sad that we’re so far behind other wealthy countries on this.

            1. Cal bear*

              No, these kind of comments are full of condescension. It’s possible to talk about this topic without saying things like “my heart breaks” or that Americans are “meekly submitting to being exploited,” But a lot of the European commenters around here just can’t help themselves. It’s obnoxious and I wish Alison would do something about it.

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                As someone who is way past needing any parental leave, I definitely find this vein of comments exasperating. “You should move to–and become a citizen of–a totally different country!” is not helpful advice for the letter writer, or for anyone in a similar situation.

                1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  “You should move to–and become a citizen of–a totally different country!” is not helpful advice for the letter writer, or for anyone in a similar situation.

                  Not just useless, but often guano Pollyannaish as well. The realities of emigration aren’t simple, even if you can hand waive away the logistics of getting to the new land.

              2. Lady Glittersparkles*

                I don’t see condescension in these comments at all, I think it’s a good reminder for people like the LW who feel guilty about taking what little they are offered. Did I miss a comment where someone actually said Americans are meekly submitting to be exploited? Because I didn’t see anything like that.
                As an American my heart breaks for people here too, that seems to me to be a reasonable response to how parents are treated here. I’m remembering myself on the eve of the end of my six week maternity leave, crying hysterically (a loaded word but truly no other word really fits) because I Was Not ready to be separated from my baby but had no choice. It was and is heart-breaking.

                1. Anonym*

                  Yeah, I felt pretty seen and appreciated the “my heart breaks” comment. I feel better when there’s some acknowledgement of the mess we operate in. I don’t want it to ever seem normal or ok that this is what we have to deal with! I feel the same in discussions of our healthcare system. There can be less pleasant ways for a person to express it, but I think it’s usually coming from a good place. (However, “move somewhere else” is just unhelpful. That’s incredibly hard and therefore useless advice.)

              3. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

                I am an American and I don’t have a problem with it. It is wild and sad, and it should be said over and over until something changes.

              4. Tuesday*

                Alison usually does remove these kinds of comments – because the topic has been covered again and again, and we in the U.S. are all too aware of the differences.

                But I don’t understand why those comments read as condescending. People are surprised by it, and they’re sympathetic. I don’t see people being obnoxious or condescending at all.

      2. münchner kindl*

        Well for once it keeps flabbergasting people from first-world countries.

        And as this Letter shows, people so much absorb the capitalist propaganda of US culture that they feel guilty to even take the morsels given to them by half-way decent companies – instead of trying to fight to change anything fundamental about the system and the culture that allows companies to get away with it.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          “instead of trying to fight to change anything fundamental about the system and the culture that allows companies to get away with it.”

          Are you suggesting that the individual commenters here have legislative power? You can push and vote for paid family leave and still have feelings that you’ve gotten twice as much leave as your coworkers and under the current system that can have x y or z impacts. Yes, OP needs some reassurance here, and I agree she shouldn’t feel guilty, but her options aren’t between having an emotional reaction to something and storming congress.

        2. Spotted Kitty*

          I mean, what do you want us to do? I’m in no position to run for legislative office. I vote for progressive candidates. I try to convince people to do the same. I’m doing pretty much all that I can.

      3. Grump*

        I don’t think we do know it’s bad. At least not enough of us do, or we don’t think it’s bad enough to demand change. Too many people accept our weak labor and employment rights as normal, necessary, unchangeable, etc., and I think it’s good to hear reactions from others that remind us otherwise.

        1. kiki*

          Right! I think it may be a bit of situation where frequent/ long-term commenters know this info and do not need to hear it repeatedly, but SOOO many workers in the US don’t know that other countries have implemented much more humane leave policies. I have so many friends with babies who feel like there is something wrong with them for not being able to be back full capacity at work just three months after giving birth. If at least one person sees that a lot of the world has decided that this expectation is unreasonable and that nothing is wrong with them, I feel like it’s worth having a few comments about it under associated posts, though a pile-on likely isn’t necessary.

      4. Ashley*

        I also find this exasperating in the AAM comment section and elsewhere. Even when the question/discussion is clearly labeled/prefaced with a note that the OP is American and asking about U.S.-based parental leave, inevitably there will be several comments from Europeans saying, “Wow, that’s awful, we get a year off fully paid in [country],” or something to that effect. The same thing happens with questions about medical insurance or the cost of care; a bunch of people apparently read about someone’s terrible circumstances and then see it as an opportunity to say, “That sucks, all of my healthcare is free.”

        Those responses are not relevant to the question being asked, and (as an American who is often looking for information on how to navigate my country’s inhumane policies) often just feels like rubbing salt in a wound. Like, if I was reading a home decor blog and someone asked about how to navigate painting as a renter, I would not comment, “Wow, that sucks for you – I own my house so I can paint any wall I want.”

        I can see that there’s a case for educating Americans about leave and healthcare policies in other countries, but chances are, if you’re an American reading AAM or similar blogs/forums, you already know that the U.S. is an outlier. It’s an issue that’s received lots of national news coverage in recent years. There are deeply entrenched political, business, and ideological interests that are blocking change in this area, and many of us are still doing what we can to advocate for better policies. I hope commenters from other countries will rethink their need to chime in on those discussions in the meantime.

        1. banoffee pie*

          Ok I’ve ‘rethought’ whether I have the right the comment and have decided I do. And here’s why. Because sometimes people can get stuck in a trap of thinking things are normal, like our OP here who is feeling guilty. I think she and others might benefit from being told 12 weeks is pretty short and there’s no need to feel guilty about taking it. I’m happy enough for people to point things out about my country as well, by the way. Doesn’t bother me at all.

          1. Dot Warner*

            Please re-read the prior comment. Everybody here knows this isn’t normal. You are not helping. You are being rude. Please stop.

    7. Chickpes*

      The pile on about how TERRIBLE certain benefits are in the US on these types of posts are so unnecessary. We get it, you get more maternity leave and free honeymoons, along with whatever else deemed superior benefits-wise. Comments about this don’t help as I doubt most people reading are going to pick up their life and move countries for these benefits.

      1. münchner kindl*

        In what way is accepting the mindset/ cultural brainwashing of “people must meekly submit to be exploited by companies because that’s the only way of life possible” beneficial for people in US?

        How does pointing out that first-world countries offering actual benefits as required by law in every company, yet not collapsing, but thriving both economically and personal quality of life, not help people who actually want a change, by showing them “another way is possible, life doesn’t have to suck because of your system”?

        1. Cal bear*

          This type comment in particular is especially obnoxious. We don’t need people pointing out the problems in the US because WE ALREADY KNOW it’s a problem and a lot of us are trying to fix it. No one is meekly submitting to being exploited.

          1. Juniper*

            I think HOW it gets discussed really matters though, and what the terms of the debate are. I commented further down about comments left in a Slate column from people who were up in arms about a new mom not being mindful of the increased workload her 12-week absence had meant for her colleagues. That she shouldn’t used PTO she had accrued because her colleagues may have had to delay vacation, that she should put in the time to “deserve” more PTO, etc. The conversation quickly derailed into why we don’t have leave to care for elderly parents, other personal emergencies, etc. Which are all valid concerns! But this in-fighting, and failure to hold employers, rather than our colleagues, to account, is precisely what keeps us from unifying around sensible, universal policies.

            1. ecnaseener*

              Yeah, your comment below was useful and interesting, as an illustration of the problems with US work norms / culture. I don’t really see how it relates to “we don’t need to hear for the millionth time that other countries have it better and are appalled at us.”

              1. Juniper*

                I can see that — that original comment above didn’t do much to add to the discussion. I actually didn’t realize I was replying to a reply, but agree that it’s unnecessary and unhelpful to point out the obvious.

            2. doreen*

              I don’t exactly disagree with you – but I do think that perhaps the problem in the US is less a problem of holding employers accountable and more a problem of a society where plenty of people actively don’t want a safety net. I could be wrong- but generally my impression of countries with more generous paid sick/parental leave policies is that the pay comes from the government and is funded by taxes or payments from employers/employees so it’s not that an employer in Generous Leave Country has to pay 240 days parental leave for someone who has only been working there for three or six months. When NYS instituted paid family leave ( which is funded via a payroll deduction of approximately .5% of gross wages with a max of about $375/yr ) many, many people were against it. They didn’t want to pay for a benefit they didn’t believe they would use.

              1. Boof*

                That is why i stress it is not a problem with employers because UK /does not force employers to cover the extended parental leave/ – just to hold the job / find coverage. /the government not the employers pay for the leave/.

          2. pancakes*

            I don’t agree. People who choose to make personal guilt their primary framework for thinking about benefits like family leave are not merely submitting to the status quo, they’re doing a lot of heavy lifting with regard to continuing to normalize it. I think people who try to shut down discussion of this problem with the rationale that they’re aware there’s a problem are helping, too.

            1. banoffee pie*

              Very well put. Plus I doubt every single American is ‘aware’ there should be more parental leave, and that seems to be what some commenters are saying here. What about the ‘it’s not my problem to pay for your children with my taxes’ types ? I’m not boasting about being European btw (apparently our favourite hobby over here ;) We have plenty of people in the UK who think maternity leave is too generous as well, and there is plenty of grumbling if a woman has 4 kids in quick succession. I don’t think all of us Europoeans are trying to be so superior as some commenters think.

          3. HannahS*

            I wouldn’t speak for the OP, but she appears to be feeling really, really guilty about taking a benefit that is totally normal in other places. Putting that into perspective could be helpful. Saying, “People have been condescending and it hurts my feelings and is not productive” is a pretty far cry from and effectively saying that no one is allowed to point out the problems in the US and that foreigners shouldn’t be allowed to comment, which is what you’re doing.

            1. HGT*

              No one is saying that their feelings are hurt or that you aren’t allowed to talk about it. You are misrepresenting the comments. People are objecting to the way it’s being talked about. The tone of a lot of the comments does comes off as condescending. 

              The suggestion to ban foreigners is extreme, but part of me does agree with the sentiment. There are certain letters I don’t bother to read the comments because I know the same commenters are going to make the same comments they’ve been making for years about how shocked and horrified and sad they are about the US. You would think that after a while, the shock would wear off, but nope they are still shocked and feel the need to tell us about it every. single. time.

              1. HannahS*

                I was replying to Chickpea, but it was Cal Bear who very literally did say that foreigners shouldn’t be allowed to comment. So we’re both wrong! Someone did literally say that, but it wasn’t Chickpea.

          4. PT*

            It’s like someone coming along and being like “Hey do you know you have a zit on the tip of your nose?” when you KNOW you have a zit on the tip of your nose and you already put rubbing alcohol and acne creme on it last night to shrink it and you covered it with concealer as best as you could to go out, but you still have a zit on the tip of your nose and everyone else can see you have a zit on the tip of your nose, how could they miss it, and it sort of hurts so you can’t forget you have it even when you can’t see it, either.

            What good is it to call it out? You’re just being an ass if you do.

        2. Chickpea*

          That’s like telling someone that’s impoverished how great it is to be independently wealthy. They should “just work harder!” and pick themselves up by their bootstraps so they can actually be successful! Other people can, so why shouldn’t they! Life is so much better having money in your bank account! We should tell everyone how great it is to never think twice about how much they’re spending at the grocery store, so they can see how the other half lives. If I can not worry about money then I should absolutely tell everyone that does worry so they can work harder and be like me!

          1. EPLawyer*

            THANK YOU. Perfect example.

            Look, we ARE trying to change parental leave policies in this country. But we can’t just snap our fingers and go “Abracadabra – better benefits.” We are not just meekly submitting to the status quo.

            In fact, telling the OP she is meekly submitting to the status quo by thinking about leaving DOES NOT HELP. It only adds to her guilt. Now she is not doing enough to fight more time when she is already worried about using what time she is offered.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              Yes thank you. Now we’ve given OP something else to feel bad about. How about we let her plan her family without putting the weight of the American experience on her shoulders.

            2. alienor*

              Not to mention that for a lot of people, “meekly submitting to the status quo” means “trying to stay employed because they just had/are about to have a baby and need continued access to income/medical benefits.” Asking the ones who stand to lose the most to bear all the burden of fighting the status quo is a lot, whether it’s new parents or any other group in need of protection.

          2. Anononon*

            It’s that, and I also see these types of comments as the “thoughts and prayers” for American policies. Very, very helpful.

        3. Nancy*

          We know about policies in other countries. We know. We know. And people are trying to change things, but it takes time.

          Hearing it is tiresome, unnecessary, and doesn’t help people. Please stop.

      2. pancakes*

        The idea that Americans’ only options are to maintain the status quo or pack up and move is really silly, as is your crack about “free honeymoons.” What are you afraid would happen if you were to discuss this issue realistically instead of hyperbolically and dismissively?

        1. Chickpea*

          What am I afraid would happen? What does that even mean? I’m not “afraid” of anything happening, I just don’t find these types of comments helpful.

          1. pancakes*

            That’s exactly what I’m referring to when I ask that question, though – you’re basically saying, “I can’t stand to see people talk about this. I can’t or won’t say why but we’ve got to stop right now.”

            1. ecnaseener*

              Not “people” – specifically people who have it better than us and have nothing more useful to contribute than “wow your situation is so bad! ours is much better!” It’s not the zinger you seem to think it is that people don’t like that, regardless of what the bad situation is.

              1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                Yes. We know, we’re working on it. The commentary from the peanut gallery who is not involved in the process is, as others have said, condescending.

            2. Anononon*

              Because this is a comment section on a workplace advice column. We’re here for Alison’s advice and snarky commentary, not woeful statements about how awful some US policies are. I’m actually rather taken about that you think these comments are actually meaningful and important enough that they could change American policy! Because, once again for the people in the back, WE KNOW the policies suck.

              1. JB*

                If you’re here for Alison’s advice and commentary…then why are you reading the comments?

                I’m American as well. I also don’t like our policies. I’m mystified by how some of you are interpreting these comments. I haven’t seen anyone suggest that all Americans are ignorant of how much better things can be. I also don’t see any other commenters being held to the standard of ‘all comments must be explicitly helpful to every single person reading them’ – does this standard only apply to “foreigners”?

                Every post on this site is the first post that someone out there is reading. Many Americans still are NOT aware of worker’s rights in other Western nations. And it’s easy to tell from the comment section that there are a lot of young people reading this column now who aren’t old enough to have held a professional job yet; it’s ridiculous to assume that they have all been exposed to the same information that you have, that NOBODY is learning anything from these comments if YOU are not.

                This LW in particular definitely comes across like someone who could benefit from a broader perspective and maybe some therapy, because ‘I need to quit my job before I inconvenience them by having another child’ is not a normal thought process.

                1. Anononon*

                  I’m curious how you can tell that there are “a lot” of people in this comment section who are young and have never held a job before. I’ve been reading this website (and the comment section) on almost a daily basis for years, and I’ve never ever gotten that vibe. 90% of the time, I’ve found the commenters to be incredibly helpful and knowledgeable.

                  The issue with these types of comments here is that many of them absolutely reek of condescension. There’s a comment in this thread saying that “my heart breaks” for Americans. A couple comments mention “first-world countries”, implying that the USA isn’t one. (Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of using this classification for countries at all as it’s entirely problematic and issued-filled. However, if one is going to do it, it’s incredibly snarky to indicate that the US isn’t a first-world country, despite it being so by definition of the [genuinely crappy] definition of the term.)

        2. Nikki*

          You make it sound like it’s super easy for the average American to change this policy. How would we go about doing that? Even our president and elected representatives can’t make it happen. There was a bill recently that included a guaranteed 12 paid weeks of family leave. The family leave portion was removed from the bill then recently added back in as 4 paid weeks. There’s still no guarantee that even that will get through. People are trying to make a change but even people with actual power to do that are struggling to make it happen because there are so many people in opposition.

          1. Hlao-roo*

            Not directed just at you, Nikki, but for anyone who is curious:

            When a bill comes up in Congress that has paid family leave, email your representatives (both senators for your state and the representative in in the house for your district) to tell them you support the bill. You can also contact your representatives at the state level to tell them you support [State] mandating paid family leave.

            Will a handful of emails from one person be enough to push the bill through? No. But if enough people in enough districts tell their lawmakers directly that they support a bill, eventually the scales will tip in favor.

            (FWIW, I am in the US and I go through cycles where I email my reps to support bills I care about and cycles where I’m busy with the rest of my life and pay little attention to politics.)

          2. Lady Glittersparkles*

            I agree that is a difficult battle to change these policies. My understanding though is that the majority of the public actually does support this, but corporations have spent and continue to spend enormous amounts of money lobbying and contributing to lawmakers to stop it from happening. Our president and lawmakers can make it happen, they choose not to.

          3. Broadway Duchess*

            It’s not super easy, but that’s not the point. It wasn’t easy during the Montgomery Bus Boycots. The Suffragettes weren’t having a picnic. A lot of people who say they want family-friendly policies at the federal level are voting for people who are not likely to make that a reality.

      3. Aquawoman*

        No, but the LW might recalibrate her thinking about what is “too much” leave and that would help. Also, there’s a bill stuck in Congress right now about this, so maybe we should all remember how much the U.S. system sucks and call our reps. And I can’t blame people for being shocked by things that are shocking.

    8. Rayray*

      It really is. A friend of mine works for a company that offers 12 weeks and people’s jaws drop when they hear about it. I knew of someone who got five months and while that isn’t totally unheard of in the tech industry, it’s enough to make boomers absolutely speechless.

      My company offers about 4 weeks for mothers but you have to work a certain amount of time to “earn” it. I was super put off when I was still new to the company and saw a post on Workplace (basically a company Facebook) that was giving a shoutout to people who had donated PTO to a new mother. It seriously rubbed me the wrong way that they were celebrating that. The people who gave PTO were incredibly kind and generous, but it was the wrong takeaway in my opinion. My takeaway was that maternity benefits from the company are so abysmal, other workers had to step up.

      My company is pretty good otherwise. Our benefits are better than many companies especially in our industry but we need better parental leave benefits.

      1. londonedit*

        See all of that just blows my mind. I don’t have or plan to have children, and I’m honestly not coming at this from an ‘OMG things are so awful and backward in the US’ point of view. I just do not understand how someone is supposed to go back to work four weeks after having a baby, or even 12 weeks after. I don’t understand how ‘we offer so little leave that other people donate theirs’ is something bosses would see as worth celebrating. I don’t understand why things like a basic 20 days’ holiday and sick pay and maternity leave and other things like that mandated by law aren’t possible.

        1. Rayray*

          I honestly don’t get it either. It’s super frustrating.

          I do think many companies have gotten better over the past few years. I was job hunting in 2020 and looked at many companies benefits. The tech industry is pretty big where I live and I saw many companies that offered decent parental leave, even some companies that would help pay adoption fees which is incredible.

          Our government really needs to step it up, but we keep electing leaders that are elderly and don’t seem willing to change their mindsets.

        2. pancakes*

          I’m American and don’t understand it either, but I feel like the reflexive handwringing and feeling guilty we constantly hear from working class and middle class people about using even paltry benefits isn’t helping us move forward. There has been a narrative around benefits being shameful that multiple generations of Americans have picked up on and carried forward all my life, often with little to no willingness to even examine where these feelings come from, let alone the wisdom of perpetuating them. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that as a nation, we are quick to transform any and all talk of expanding benefits into a much more personal, much more narrowly-focused talk about how bad and shameful it feels to use even minimal benefits.

        3. EPLawyer*

          1. Puritan work ethic. Handouts just make you lazy and entitled. (said recently from someone’s yacht). Gumption, bootstraps, etc.

          2. The old “loyalty to the company” thing. You should be grateful you have a job. Asking for benefits is being ungrateful. See #1, also the Great Depression.

          3. As noted, we keep electing older politicians. They come from a time when you did your 25 years at one company and got a gold watch. Dads were in the waiting room of the hospital, saw the baby for 5 seconds and went to work to hand out cigars. Mom stayed home so there was no need to offer things like maternity leave. They haven’t adjusted to a) more women in the workplace or 2) the world is changing and benefits need to change too.

          1. Rayray*

            To add to your last point, most families simply can’t afford for one parent to stay home anymore. Even as a kid in the 90s, my family and many of the families I went to school with were poor but we had what we needed off one parent’s income or maybe had the other working part time, but they at least could afford to stay home and take care of the kids even if they were scraping by. These days, a single income supporting a family isn’t easy.

      2. hbc*

        I don’t find it that crazy that you have to earn the leave. All these people talking about how great it is in their countries have some element of the government stepping in to cover if you happen to have 11 employees and 2 going out on leave (sick, maternity, whatever) or someone getting pregnant while out on leave and spending more time on leave than working.

        There are conflicting practicalities on both sides that are much easier to deal with if you spread the load amongst all taxpaying citizens.

    9. Silver*

      Question for the European commenters— as great as your policies sound, as an American, I’d be hesitant to take that much time off even if it were offered because so many women are penalized for having kids. It’s often seen as something that holds women back in their careers here and I think longer leave would exacerbate that. Not that the real problem is the longer leave! Just thinking about how that would be perceived by American colleagues and employers. So my question- how does taking long leave affect your career trajectory and do you get rude bitter comments from colleagues?

      It makes me think of that episode of the Office where Pam gets back from having her second child and everyone has been begrudging her (likely brief) absence and her coworker Stanley calls it a vacation.

      1. Xanadu*

        I live in a European country with generous maternity leave and yes, unfortunately some women are penalized for using all of their available leave or having multiple children in a few years. I’ve encountered several issues myself (passive aggressive comments, fewer opportunities available to me, harder to advance). 

        It’s interesting that so many Americans are annoyed at how Europeans talk about maternity leave. I am annoyed by it too because they make it sound like maternity leave works seamlessly in Europe and that giving everyone long leave doesn’t cause any problems and that is just not true! We still have a lot of issues that we need to sort out. 

      2. Colette*

        IME (in Canada), it’s not an issue. Yes, women miss out on opportunities while they’re out of the office, but it doesn’t seem to be an issue past that. They usually come back to the same role they were in (or an equivalent one). And because it’s a year, the group doesn’t just stumble through like they’re on vacation – either someone gets hired to replace them, or the work gets readjusted.

        And maternity leave jobs are a good way into some industries.

        1. EPLawyer*

          So her colleagues had training opportunities, face time with the boss, etc. She comes back to the same job, meanwhile her male colleagues are considered for promotion.

          I mean when it comes right down to it, a year maternity leaves means a year less actual experience. Surely that has to have some effect on one’s career?

          1. JB*

            I really don’t think most people are in a career or on a career path where a year of experience will make a big difference, ultimately. It sounds like you’re equivocating it to the kind of detrimental effect that a pattern of implicit sexism would have. One discrete year off does not have the same career-long effect as a pattern of excluding women from work-social gatherings would have.

            People, including men, take a year off for all sorts of reasons, if they have the opportunity to do so. It’s not really the standard for most people to be looking at it as ‘oh no, I’ve lost a year of career experience’.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              A year off is a big, big deal for people of any gender in a lot of industries and we’re probably not going to come to a consensus here on how big an impact it has if we’re coming from different industries and backgrounds.

            2. EPLawyer*

              Where do men take a year off? Other than academia, where sabbaticals are a thing, I am not aware of any place (US of course) that let’s you take a year off and still come back to your job as if you never left.

              1. doreen*

                My previous job (which I left in 1994) provided for up to 4 years of unpaid child care leave for the first child and up to 3 years for subsequent children . It wasn’t specifically for newborns- the leave could be taken as long as the child was under three or four years old when the leave began – and some of my male coworkers took it. And anyone with more than 10 years of service could apply for an unpaid personal leave of up to one year – both men and women took that , too. Although you didn’t come back “as if you never left” – you went back to the same job title, although you might have a different assignment or location and of course the time you were on leave wouldn’t be considered experience. Depending on how long you were out it might have affected your promotional opportunities. Or it might not have- it was the sort of job where there was one supervisor to every eight workers and one manager to every four supervisors, so most people wouldn’t get promoted even if they didn’t take a long leave.

            3. Yorick*

              Men don’t take year-long periods off from their careers, unless they have extreme health issues. That’s why their careers go so much better than women’s.

          2. HannahS*

            Also Canadian here. It certainly can affect your career, in the ways that you suggest. I do find that people are a lot more accepting of it, though, because parental leave is so commonly taken. Like, everyone assumes that you’ll take most of what you’re entitled to in time off, and while it absolutely can impact your career, there isn’t the same kind of…animosity? if that’s the right word? towards women that I see in spaces where people really have to claw for parental leave.

            Put it this way: protected leave protects reduces, but doesn’t solve sexism. I’m a resident doctor on leave right now. Everyone, from payroll to my program director to the hospital to the chief resident was delighted for me when I told them I was going on leave and no one gave me one single bit of trouble. Other female residents with children are the chief residents within our program; our program director and most of our top program staff are women. AND ALSO a week after the baby was born, my husband was offered a raise. I’m sure his company doesn’t offer that to women freshly back from leave. So I was spared the negative punishments of misogyny, but my husband still benefitted from patriarchal culture, you know?

            1. Colette*

              Oh yeah, there’s obviously a cost to a year out of the workforce – that’s projects you don’t get to work on, skills you don’t get to demonstrate, experiences you don’t get. But a year after they get back, I haven’t seen any issues with people not being considered for promotion because they took leave – although they might have less experience than someone who didn’t take the year out of the workforce. I don’t really think there’s a way to solve that.

              1. HannahS*

                Yeah, I tend to agree. Like, yes, there’s a natural consequence to being outside of the workforce, but leave really is just more accepted here, and there’s less punishment for having children.

          3. Colette*

            She might also be considered for a promotion, based on the work she did before she went on leave.

            But yes, she will miss out on stuff she’s not there for. It doesn’t seem to have a huge impact for most people.

          4. Juniper*

            It’s worth noting that most men take paternity leave — at least 3 months, sometimes up to half a year.

      3. Allonge*

        So: from Europe but with no kids: for me, the fact that having children holds women back in the US too is exactly why it’s not a (much worse) issue for mothers to take longer mat leave here.

        Does it impact your career (and finances)? Absolutely. But at least you get to spend some time recovering after birth and with your kid. It’s also more the ‘social expectation’.

        1. Allonge*

          Also: realistically, I have no idea how someone who gave birth 4-12 weeks ago and has an infant at home performs up to specifications in the following months. I would expect that has some impact on careers too. I know some people manage! But it’s really a tough one.

      4. MsSolo (UK)*

        I don’t think you get more penalised than you do in the US – a lot of the impact of having kids on your career is not the first year, but the cumulative effect of poor access to childcare forcing people to go part time, having to take unpaid days off when your kids are sick, being less able to travel for work, and so on. It’s being perceived as less reliable and available and less able to take advantage of opportunities over a decade+ that allows employers to discriminate against parents under the radar. So, you are penalised, but for being a parent for the rest of your life, rather than for taking a year out.

        I do think you get less individual negativity because being off for 6 months+ means someone is hired to cover your role, so it has significantly less impact on your colleagues than being off for a shorter period without cover, and covering parental leave is seen as a way to get a foot in the door at an organisation or a way of stepping into a more senior role without having to already have significant experience at it.

      5. GermanGirl*

        Yeah, this is a problem. The partner who stays at home (it doesn’t have to be mom after the first 8 weeks!) will likely delay their career by at least however much time they stayed at home.
        In some places there might be (conscious or unconscious) bias against promoting new parents who take the leave because they might get another child.

        So it’s a trade-off. My husband and I mostly circumvented the problem by splitting the leave in half – he worked three days a week and I worked the other two. That way our projects didn’t have to make do without our expertise for too long (I was completely away for a total of four months but made myself available for occasional questions during that time – I got just four, because my colleagues respected that I was on leave). We did the three/two day spilt for a year and then did another year of each working a 3/4 job.

        It worked for us in that we didn’t get rude, bitter comments at all and my husband even got promoted to team lead during this phase.

        Also, I think my employer assumes that if I were to get pregnant again I’d do a similar scheme, so I’m still getting head developer roles on important projects.

        But I don’t know if they’d think the same if I had taken one or two whole years off. I think your fears are very realistic.

        But I also think 12 weeks paid leave should be the bare minimum anywhere in the world and an employer who can’t cope with that and penalizes employees for taking it should seriously question their structure and mindset.

      6. Juniper*

        Good question. In Norway, they have tried to counter this with something called a “third sharing” of leave — the mom gets a third, the dad gets a third, and then then the last third can be split between mom and dad as you see fit. You can’t transfer between parents, and it’s use it or lose it, essentially forcing dads to take at least a third. It does seem to be working, to the extent that dads take the amount of leave allotted to them and generally not a day more. But an unintended consequence of this policy is the increase in women taking unpaid leave to extend the time they can be home with their babies. It turns out that many more women than men prefer to be at home during the first year, and are willing to take an economic and career hit in order to do so. It doesn’t help that daycare doesn’t start until kids turn one, so you have to cover that gap somehow anyway.
        I will say too that I have never, in my 15 years of working here, encountered any issues from bosses or colleagues about someone taking maternity leave. Working for senior management you are privy to some of the backroom conversations going on, and parental leave is so normalized that working around it is just a part of life.

    10. Falling Diphthong*

      One of the things I really value about Alison’s comment is that she focuses on actionable advice. “Just move to another country, become a citizen, and this won’t be a problem!!!!” is not helpful.

        1. Yorick*

          That’s basically what they’re saying when they say “it’s so sad you’re in the US where you don’t have a paid year of maternity leave!”

          1. Allonge*

            I know a lot of people read it like that, but may I say that it’s a fairly extreme take on it?

            When I emphatize with those starving in various less fortunate countries, I never mean ‘sucks to be them, why don’t they just move here where there is plenty of food?’.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        I looked into moving into another country. Unless I marry someone, they wouldn’t take me. Also, now we have covid.

  11. Kahunabob*

    @LW 3 your situation reminds me of a similar situation AaM featured on the site a couple of years ago. I don’t remember all the details, but iirc it turned out the person in that letter was either being sidelined or shoved out in favour of the other employee.

    I’d be careful of this situation. And because I’m a cynic at heart, if your boss doesn’t respond well, I’d take a long look at how your boss handled other situations in the past. Are they truly the best boss ever?

    Also, if Boss is being dodgy and you have an HR department, check in with them too.

    1. Myrin*

      #3 is giving me weird vibes, too, but at the moment I don’t see how this might be a plot for sidelining either OP or her coworker (they’re both in the same department, after all, so it’s not even like boss would be able to get rid of one of them with this change); I feel like if one job were more prestigious or desirable than the other OP would’ve mentioned it in some capacity.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I also think that making two people swap their jobs when neither knows a thing about what the other does is a recipe for a nosedive productivity wise. They’ll each be spending all day explaining stuff to each other. It’d be much better to swap a couple of tasks here and there – starting with stuff that can’t wait while someone is away on leave – so that you’re basically doing your own job but delegating one aspect, while also taking over one aspect of the colleague’s role. Or shadowing each other for a half-day each week… there are endless possibilities for learning about each other’s role that don’t involve a change of job title.
      The only good reason I can think of is that the boss doesn’t think you’ll take your colleague’s role seriously, or pay attention during cross-training, unless you’re formally in charge.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Oh and if the boss does think that, you’d need explore why. Either he needs to learn to trust you or you need to earn his trust, maybe a combination of both.

      2. Mockingjay*

        Going further, does changing job titles put OP3 in a different career track? Will it help or hinder promotions? Do either even qualify for each other’s roles?

        OP3, I hope you and your coworker delve into this together. Presenting a united front might help push back with Boss.

        This is such an odd plan.

      3. münchner kindl*

        To me it sounds like Boss is bad at managing to think that different roles don’t required different talents and personalities, or align with different personal goals: all employees are interchangeable drones to Boss, so once they’re trained in task of teapot painting, they can paint teapots, regardless of what they want to do, or that they’re better teapot designers.

        Which is not a good signal for future of LW.

      4. MCMonkeyBean*

        It seems like if they want to do extensive cross-training, that shouldn’t be done at the same time! If they are both fully immersed in trying to do a new job they aren’t very familiar with they neither will have much time to train the other!

        At my company, cross training usually involves Person A has Person B watch them work on the tasks and take notes. Then later Person B does the tasks with their notes while Person A watches so they can make sure Person B is doing it right/understands correctly. I think that going through that process with one person training the other for a while and then switching would have better outcomes then just having them completely switch jobs on the spot!

      5. Lynn Whitehat*

        I could see it if you really need cross-training, and you already tried gentler ways and they kept being de-prioritized.

    3. EvilQueenRegina*

      Link is in moderation but the letter I was thinking of is August 2016, “I said EEOC and things got weird”.

    4. doreen*

      I agree that the OP should check-in with HR – the whole description seems off to me. Either both parties have the same title and each is assigned different tasks appropriate to that title (for example , both have the title “clerk” but one works in the mailroom and the other in the stockroom) or they have completely different jobs and titles ( one person is an “accountant” and the other is an “administrative assistant”) If it’s same title, different assignment, I don’t see why any signatures would be needed – and if it’s completely different titles, I can’t see HR going along with it.

    5. ecnaseener*

      I agree, this is such a weird thing to do it doesn’t seem like it can be just about cross-training. My first thought was one of these jobs is better poised for promotion and the boss is putting his favorite in that job. Or maybe one of the employees is underperforming and he’s putting that person in what he sees as the easier job, or the job at risk of layoffs.

      LW3, it sounds like you really respect your boss, so hopefully if it really is a misguided crosstraining thing, or a vague sense that you two would be better swapped, he will listen to your concerns if HR doesn’t put a stop to it. And if something else is going on hopefully he will explain that.

    6. AutumnLover*

      I am looking at a similar situation. Similar, but different.
      I am getting close to retirement. My manager has suggested my swapping jobs with a coworker at the same level as they “may” be the one to take my position when I leave. The two jobs are the same pay grade, so it would allow a much longer training time than normally possible. This is needed as my job has many many small parts while his has fewer larger parts.
      I think, in my situation, it is a great idea.
      Your mileage may vary.

    7. The Starsong Princess*

      In my company, job swaps are very normal and common. It deepens the knowledge and strength of the tam. Often, they are given to good performers who need a diversity of experience to move to the next level. This doesn’t look like a bad thing to me but an opportunity.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Being “on detail” is common in some sectors, like federal government. I never understood it, especially since it was so often temporary, but people do short stints in other departments all the time. I think OP and coworker need to talk to the boss about their concerns and see what his thinking is, especially if this is not common in their role or office.

      2. Tali*

        Yes, it seems to me like the boss has confused “job rotation”, which is very normal in my company/region to encourage diversity of experience and career development, and “cross training”. Cross training is much more temporary, and job rotation is done in coordination with HR.

  12. Candi*

    #1, I can’t offer advice that doesn’t involve playing with your sound controls. All I can offer is insight and commiseration.

    Sometimes our brains just cringe at certain voices. My brain goes “Nails On Chalkboard!” when certain tones of high-pitched voices are encountered. It’s a narrow range, and it sucks; it’s impossible to change my wiring to not hear it that way, or the other person’s wiring so they sound different. I have to live with it.

    The worst case in my life was my son. He had a high-pitched voice right in the middle of my cringe range for his childhood. I wanted to ask him to whisper or something, but I shoved every idea to the back of my mind; he did not deserve that. Since no one else was bothered by his voice (and believe me, my dad and my mother would have said something), I knew it was me.

    1. WS*

      +1, I worked with someone who, through no fault of their own, had a voice in the very small range of OH GOD NO sounds. I started wearing very light earplugs on the days I was working with her (I had a long history of sinus and ear problems, so I just pretended it was related to that) and it softened things enough that I could cope.

    2. Myrin*

      advice that doesn’t involve playing with your sound controls.

      That’s actually the very first thing that came to my mind. OP asked for advice, after all, and I honestly don’t see any beyond “try to get used to/over it” BUT I’ve been thinking about the technical aspect of things. I don’t have a job where I have to use video/computerised calls so I’m not very well-versed in the options one has with such programmes, but is it possible to mechanically change the way voices come out? It could even be something slightly absurd like the strange gravelly voices blackmailers in movies always use so that you can’t recognise their voice – is that a function that exists?

      1. BethDH*

        I wonder whether using auto-captioning might help? They’d still want to use sound as there’s a lag and unless the company is paying for a really good service the real time version has a lot of mistakes, but it might help keep their focus on content over sound.

        1. Tiffany Aching's imaginary friend*

          Google Meet has peculiarly good auto-captioning. It’s a little eerie, honestly.

          1. Arabella Flynn*

            It probably uses the same tech as Google Assistant. I busted my wrist a few months ago and had to do everything via voice control. Of all the various voice to text options I tried, saying “Hey Google” at my phone and then yammering away had far and away the best results. It’s not perfect (see: YouTube auto captions), but it was the only one that could keep up with my motor mouth and spit out a readable text.

        2. sacados*

          This actually was going to be my practical advice and I think it could help quite a bit! It does of course depend on what kind of video software LW’s company uses — as you said, Google Meets transcription is quite good, whereas I’ve found skype’s to be less accurate; can’t weigh in on zoom, teams, etc.
          So that might be a good option in the meantime — turn on the auto-captions and then LW can just turn the volume way down whenever that particular coworker is speaking.

          1. Arabella Flynn*

            Zoom… tries. The words are technically English, but tend to device into word salad if there’s any delay, background noise, jargon, or interrupted or overlapping speech. I have a monthly meeting that involves a few Deaf participants and they wouldn’t be able to usefully follow anything if we didn’t have ASL interpreters.

      2. Pennyworth*

        My first thought was wouldn’t it be fun if there was a way of converting irritating voices into someone else’s – like your favorite comedian.

      3. Hlao-roo*

        Along those lines, in meeting where you’re on mute most of the time, can you (OP1) listen through the computer speakers instead of through headphones (assuming you aren’t doing this already). His voice may be less grating if it’s not being piped directly into your ear. You can also adjust the volume down a few notches whenever he speaks. The act of doing SOMETHING may make his voice feel less grating when you feel like you have some control over the situation, even if you can’t change the specific things about his voice that get to you.

        1. The New Wanderer*

          This helped me with multiple audio-based meetings where at least one person on the call had an annoyance factor to me. It wasn’t always the characteristics of the voice itself, sometimes it was definitely about my negative reactions to the speaker, but it helped create a little mental barrier between me and them. (If it were an in person meeting, I’d be sitting as far away as I could politely manage.)

        2. No earplugs*


          LW1 – if you are normally using earplugs, change it up. Don’t have his voice inside your head – use speakers instead, or very high quality headphones where you can mess with the sound settings, the kind of headphones that comes with an app, if you can.

          And maybe start a habit where you can – if that’s possible at your workplace – turn the camera off to have a “walking meeting” – so you’re there, but you can walk around and spend some energy and not sit and concentrate on his voice.

      4. LQ*

        If it’s all online I’d try out a few different headsets and speakers. I have a bunch around because it’s something I have but if I was annoyed to the point of dropping calls and dodging them I’d definitely try something technical. My first inclination would be to go for better headsets, but you may be better off going for cheaper since the audio distortion is more likely to come through there. If you can fuss with settings, do so. It may be worth it to make others sound slightly off to have this person sound slightly less painful.

    3. Tiffany Aching's imaginary friend*

      > My brain goes “Nails On Chalkboard!”

      fwiw, this is exactly what misophonia is. And there are some people who don’t have that reaction to actual nails on actual chalkboard, which I never believed could be true until I learned about misophonia. It’s something about our brain wiring (compounded in some cases by our experiences of people mocking us for it or torturing us with it) and as we know, brains are all wired differently.

  13. Boadicea*

    LW1, I am autistic and know how you feel! I also feel some level of shame to say I dialled out of a webinar earlier this year because I couldn’t deal with one woman’s voice. Every point she was making was solid, she seemed like a nice person, but… I couldn’t listen to it. It had been a panel discussion and until that point I’d been feeling I had to turn the volume down whenever she spoke. Which I felt awful doing! I don’t have any advice on how to fix it, but solidarity! Perhaps knowing it’s called misophonia will help you research solutions?

    1. Yet Another Alison*

      I am autistic and I was the person with the annoying voice, or so my peers told me when I was a child.

      I think it’s because I’m autistic that I have a slightly unusual tone, not that I can tell obviously but others can including the psychologist who did my diagnostic assessment a couple of years ago. As an adult I’ve had people ask where I’m from, based on my voice (and definitely not my name or skin colour) even though I’ve lived in the same place since I was a small baby so I think some people read it as slightly foreign.

      It’s possible that some voices others find annoying are for the same reason, that they’re autistic and their speech development has been different in some way resulting in an atypical tone or other aspect of speech. I don’t suppose an adult would comment on someone’s voice, I hope they wouldn’t, because it was pretty soul crushing when I was on the receiving end as a child.

  14. Myrin*

    #3, I’m a bit… concerned? weirded out? scratching my head?… about this part of your letter: “His reasoning is that we should have full ownership of the responsibilities, lest we have the mindset that our coworker can cover for us if we aren’t feeling up to it.”

    This doesn’t really work in either direction, does it? Meaning:
    1. Even if something is formally and officially your job, nothing is stopping you from consulting a coworker for help. Putting your signature under this weird scheme doesn’t magically force you to solve every problem on your own.
    and conversely
    2. Even if you just switch jobs informally/cross-train really heavily, both you and your coworker can make a point to only consult with the other if there’s a really complicated issue or dealing with an extremely important client or whatever.

    Your boss is making this into a weirdly strict and formal ordeal when it really doesn’t have to be. I’d maybe try to find out more about his thinking – although it sounds like you’ve already done that? – but yeah, definitely present a united front with your coworker and absolutely don’t sign anything regarding this matter.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Yeah, if anything it seems like swapping roles would make them MORE comfortable asking each other to cover for them…since each will be the expert in the other’s job…Super weird.

    2. I'm just here for the cats!*

      Yes, I found this part weird too “His reasoning is that we should have full ownership of the responsibilities, lest we have the mindset that our coworker can cover for us if we aren’t feeling up to it.”
      I read this like he’s afraid they won’t cross-train unless they make it formal. Or maybe he thinks that is the only way to really do it?
      I feel like Boss wants to force you to do this and thinks if you just cross-train it’s not going to be effective because it’s not in your job description so they could just say X isn’t my job. So if Op’s coworker has to be out for a week boss is afraid OP is going to say that it’s not their responsibility to do X Y Z and then that doesn’t get done.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yet also somehow not formal enough if “what if only one person wants to switch back” is even on the table! If they did do something like this there would need to be I would think a very defined end date at which point they are definitely switching back. If one of them learned they preferred the other job that could be something to discuss in the future but they shouldn’t be able to just say “no, I like this better, I’m going to stay here.”

    4. Moonbeam*

      I had a similar thought in reading LW#3. It feels like there is something the Boss isn’t saying, and he’s come up with this job-switching thing to address something he doesn’t want to say outright. Perhaps a performance issue, an interpersonal issue, etc. Whatever the reason, it’s odd enough that I really wouldn’t want to agree without knowing more, and even then the whole “sign on the dotted line” shouldn’t even be a factor. Maybe he’s making it weird when it isn’t, but speaking with him, and then HR if his script doesn’t change seems like the best course.

  15. Perplexed interviewer*

    Does anyone know if the scenario described in LW4 is also illegal in the UK? I’ve been working for nonprofits for a while and this seems to happen rather frequently.

    1. John Smith*

      Do you mean #5? If so, it will depend on the nature of the work and the contract of employment. It would be possible to be a paid employee and a volunteer for the same organisation, but I’d imagine both roles would have to be very dissimilar (think, e.g, paid secretary and going out carol singing to raise money), otherwise the Duck Test would probably apply. Ultimately, you’d need a lawyer and it’d be for a court to decide whether the volunteer bit is in fact employment that should be paid.

      But if you are referring to #4, it’s not illegal to warn someone in the way the OP has in the UK. There might be laws on defamation, slander etc that may cover some aspect of it, but that’s civil in nature.

    2. bamcheeks*

      It probably would be illegal, but it’s a frequently broken law which is hard to enforce. Charities aren’t supposed to use volunteers for work which looks like work that would attract the minimum wage, and that’s usually broken down with things like, “fixed shifts, you are the person who has to do that role and can’t ask someone else to do it, you can’t be late or leave early, there’s training, there are particular obligations” etc.

      In practice, that would make an absolute ton of jobs which clear ARE true volunteering roles illegal– running Scouts/Guides/Brownies etc; volunteering in a museum or for a national trust; volunteering on a counselling / listening phone line; working in a charity shop and so on. So there is a lot of fudging.

      However, if it’s work that the charity is paying for for ten hours a week, it would be very hard for them to make the case that the other 5-10 hours were voluntary work and not subject to minimum wage! So that particular situation is less likely to arise.

      1. bamcheeks*

        (forgot to say, if it is arising, as you say, it might be worth a chat to HMRC, because they probably are breaking NMW law.)

    3. Bagpuss*

      It wouldn’t be illegal per se, but there are a lot of pitfalls – the most likely id that because the expectations and obligation would be the same whether they were doing the typing as an employee or a volunteer, it would probably all be classed as employment, and that would mean that they were entitled to at least Minimum Wage and also covered by all the normal employment rights regarding things like discrimination protection, holiday and redundancy rights etc based on the higher number of hours.

      Also, I think it would be quite difficult for an employer to successfully argue that the extra work was genuinely voluntary, given the power dynamics in play.

      So not illegal, but a really bad idea.

      It’s also not illegal for charities to use volunteers in positions which could be paid, although there is guidance form the bigger unions that volunteers shouldn’t be used to replace paid workers to cut costs (esp. in public service situations such as libraries )

      things like running a guide or scout group is normally voluntary and even if you were employed by the organisation, the difference between (say) working as an administrator for the organisation and actually running a group are sufficiently different that it wouldn’t be a problem. Also , while meetings have fixed times etc they are not employment as the volunteer can simply not show up – courtesy means they should alert someone to let them know or that the meeting is cancelled, but it doesn’t turn it into a work-like situation.

      It might e different if you were (say) employed as a caretaker at a permanent camp site but also then asked to get involved on a voluntary basis in running activities for the campers that might be more of an issue.

  16. GermanGirl*

    #2 I recently talked to a colleague in HR about this and she basically said not to feel guilty because it would cost the company more than 3 months of your salary to replace you.

    That might depend on the position and the job market of course, but in general you’d need to post adds, maybe hire a recruiter, then spend time looking through resumes and interviewing candidates, then if you find a good one you still have to train them and convey all the project specific and institutional knowledge …

    So they’d much rather give you those 3 months paid leave and hope for your loyalty in return. That doesn’t mean you can never leave if something better for you comes up, but from their perspective they’re doing this because they want you to stay! Leaving now would be the exact opposite of their goals.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      So, from what you’re saying, we can infer that women who have been fired for getting pregnant were basically the victims of a guy having a tantrum, rather than because they’re putting the firm in a difficult position…

      1. Monte*

        That’s exactly how it was going down at the last small business I worked for. An assistant/receptionist got pregnant and had morning sickness. This was handled with the other employees in the same manner of letting the pregnant person have desk only duty. This was apparently not acceptable to the owner when this particular lady became pregnant and he threatened to put her on unpaid leave.
        I would describe his management style as “tantrums and threats” with the Sick Systems essay as a guide book.

      2. pancakes*

        Take a step back and look at the nature of the “difficulty” – having children is something extremely basic and common. It is an inescapable fact of life that humans reproduce. An employer that regards it as something out of the ordinary or problematic for workers to do is an employer that’s unrealistic to the point of delusion.

      3. WellRed*

        If a company is put in “a difficult situation” because a woman takes maternity leave (or someone gets hit by a bus) than that’s on the company. Please don’t blame already feeling guilty moms (I’m not a parent, FYI).

      4. BethDH*

        Some jobs are harder or impossible to replace on a temporary level. Money isn’t the only factor.
        That said, yes, the people who get *openly* mad about it seem to be the same ones who also get mad if someone actually leaves. Often it’s sexist, sometimes it’s just that version of awful where they think you owe the company for having been kind enough to pay you for working.

      5. Bagpuss*

        It may be both. Someone who is out on maternity or other long term leave may make life more difficult fo the company BUT (i) actually firing and replacing them is in most cases going to involve at least as much difficulty and higher expenses and (ii) it’s part of the cost of doing business so anyone who treats it differently is, if not having a tantrum, at least showing that they are not well suited to running a business.

        I am the joint owner of a smallish business (we have around 40 employees) . We had a run of people taking maternity leave a couple of years ago – and it was inconvenient and awkward, not least because we had 3 people in the same small department all go off in quick succession, which was a lot more difficult than if they had been off at larger intervals. and of course the cost and difficulty of getting maternity cover was annoying – from a business point of view, having 1 person a year for five years would have been much easier to manage than 5 people in one year but – sometimes that’s how it is, and it would be short sighted, as well as illegal, to start dismissing people because of it. Long term, the knowledge and experience they have and bring back after their leave is valuable.

      6. Observer*

        we can infer that women who have been fired for getting pregnant were basically the victims of a guy having a tantrum, rather than because they’re putting the firm in a difficult position…

        That’s not a surprising conclusion.

      7. GermanGirl*

        Hey, I didn’t say that!

        And I know the “It costs more to replace you”-rule of thumb doesn’t hold water for some types of jobs.

        But in general, yes, firing women for getting pregnant is just dumb (and it’s illegal in my country). A better way for most employers would be to sit down with the pregnant person and create a plan that works for both sides.

        How you deal with pregnancies and similar life events (adoptions, elderly parent suddenly needing care, …) has an effect on all of your workforce, not just the person that is affected in the moment. The others will see how you deal with it and protect themselves – either by staying with you if you handle it well, or by looking for a better job if you don’t – and high turnover is never a benefit to the employer.

        My point wasn’t that pregnancy leave doesn’t ever make life difficult for the employer, just that employers that have chosen to offer 12 weeks paid parental leave have made a conscious decision that they’d rather organize the coverage and cough up the money and retain their employees, so unless you’re already planning to leave, you shouldn’t feel bad about using it.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          you didn’t say that, I did ;-) I totally own my opinion. When I told my boss I was pregnant, she flipped totally “this is the first time anyone has done that to us”.
          They had signed an illegal contract stating that the teachers they sent to a company would be half female half male, so they had to hire a woman to replace me. They hired a 41yo woman and the boss’s husband actually told me, with a gleeful smile that “she’s much too old to have children”. I’m pretty sure my smile must have been every bit as gleeful when I learned that she was in fact pregnant.
          When she went on maternity leave, they hired a guy to replace us both. I could just imagine them rubbing their hands “at least he can’t get pregnant”.
          Commenters, he didn’t get pregnant, but the stress of working for such jerks unfortunately sent him spiralling back down into alcoholism and he ended up on prolonged sick leave.

          1. Boof*

            I shouldn’t laugh, because the whole situation is terrible, but oh boy that is a bit of grade A schadenfreude at the employers (and what a weird contract)

  17. Factory Dozer*

    #3, I would be cautious. I was forced to undergo a “job switch” because of nepotism. Of course it was supposed to be temporary, but in the end that didn’t happen that way. The other colleague wanted the more glamourous and fun job. I suspect something these lines is what is going on.

  18. John Smith*

    #4. Please do tell. After a few months of switching teams and realising how bloody awful the new team was, a colleague confessed that he wanted and should have warned me about the team. It took me a while to not want to slap him every time I saw him. If I’d have known what it was like – the micromanaging incompetent boss, constantly overrun projects and unbelievable sickness absences, I wouldn’t have switched. Thankfully I got the opportunity to reverse the switch and jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. This time it was after many people warned me that I’d be miserable in the other team, and whilst I was initially due to an even worse boss than I imagined possible, I got on OK with the rest of the team and love the work.

    It may be that one person’s opinion of a team could be different from the reality, but at least there’d be information available to make a choice.

    1. Meep*

      I had a former classmate who is interviewing for a job in our company on Tuesday. He got my number from another classmate and asked me a bunch of questions about the company culture (e.g. diversity, remote, number of employees, etc.)

      My boss has a bit of a reputation at the local university where he is also a professor as being a flake. He also kind of freaked out at the beginning of the semester due to a key employee leaving and left some of his grad students hanging and, well, people talk. He is otherwise a very nice man, even if he automatically assumes people are workaholics like him and I love working under him. You just have to know HOW to handle him and when to put your foot down (which is difficult when he is also your professor/advisor) to get what you need.

      With that said, I tried not to lie when my former classmate asked me a bunch of questions, but dang was it hard to avoid the actual elephant in the room (my toxic coworker). The best I could do was gently let him know that the person he was interviewing with was full of baloney and a bigger flake than my boss by telling him that while we were set up for remote and she would say it is encouraged, it was actually frowned upon and that we had a lot going on he may have to prod us for a response (which he probably is already aware of because Toxic Coworker/Hiring Manager has a multi-year-long history of going to career fairs and then ghosting everyone there).

      Unfortunately, sometimes you have to weigh tipping off someone you like to the shitty situation vs. saving your own professionalism.

  19. Mia*

    OP#1: one thing that might help is having your volume control open on your computer and slide it down when the person who annoys you is talking—don’t mute, just get it down to a point where it sounds like they’re softly talking, but you can still make out what they’re saying. I do this sometimes when I have migraines, and it helps me process the sound more easily. Not sure if this is transferable to your situation, but maybe worth a try?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I was thinking the same thing, there might be something to tweak on your computer, OP. I dunno if you can access base/treble- those types of settings. I do know that a lot of people are smarter than me on this topic. I am sure some folks here might have ideas for you. I know my husband would say to see if higher quality speakers help mitigate some of that unpleasantness.

      I do know that for myself focusing on the content of their words would help me. If I am forcing myself to absorb the message they are delivering then that can be a distraction from the sound of their voice.

      Usually for stuff like this it takes me more than one activity to help myself through it. No magic bullets just a bunch of effort on my part. Think of it this way though, if you can mitigate your annoyance by say 30% that would be a relief of some sort for you compared to where you are at now.

      One idea that I have used is kind of hard. I force myself to think about what “being fair” looks like and means for me in the situation. The answer is NOT “suck it down”. A good chunk of being fair means I do things to help myself along and I look for the parts I *can* change.

      It would be interesting to know how they sound in person.

    2. bamcheeks*

      You could switch it right down and see whether you can get by on automatic closed captions! Bonus points for hilarity.

      1. Velawciraptor*

        Let me tell you, occasionally muting certain people and turning on closed captions has saved my sanity more than once. Cannot recommend the option enough.

    3. How2focus*

      We also turn in the closed captioning—I find a “listen” more closely in video when I have them on. It also allows me to turn off the volume so I’m reading the whole interchange rather than hearing it.

  20. Ellena*

    LW1 Try to see it like this – you only have to hear him during individual calls and when he chimes in. I used to visit an open-plan office (ca 25 people) with a woman with the same issue who was talking all the time and deliberately loudly and emotionally. I felt so relieved to leave every time and so bad for her colleagues who had to live with it day in and day out.

  21. Ellena*

    LW 2: please do NOT feel guilty or – heaven forbid – leave a job you like because you want to have more children. This is exactly the type of discrimination we need to remove from all the other workplaces which foster it, not passively encourage it from those who don’t (like yours). Don’t forget that the good children you are bringing into the world will contribute to it, especially to the current generations (aka your coworkers).

  22. Kim*

    I am very saddened for you to read how the general work culture in the US has warped your idea about what is fair/right/good so much that you are being kept emotionally hostage by the idea of being a burden/too expensive just for taking a measly 12 weeks of maternity leave. And by no means am I saying you are at fault for that or that I don’t understand!
    Please do not switch jobs over this, even if you want to have 10 or more children. Assume that your employer, when they implemented this policy, had the foresight to imagine that one person could go on to have multiple children while employed there.
    It is hard enough to be a mom in the workplace, where you have to work like you don’t have a family and meanwhile at home you have to take care of your family like you don’t also have a job. Frankly, it’s hard enough to be a parent, period. Extend yourself all the grace while taking maternity leave if you are blessed with another child. Your employer will get over this and I’m sure that, being this stellar about leave, will get a very motivated employee in return.

  23. I'm Done*

    LW1, I completely understand. I had the same issue with the voice of a former colleague of mine. It was something about the pitch and timbre of his voice that made my hairs stand on end. It was the equivalent of someone grating their fingernails on a chalk board. I had never had that reaction to anyone’s voice before nor since. I have no advice. I just sucked it up until I was able to move to another cubicle out of earshot.

    1. Gracely*

      Same. I had a coworker who had the loudest, most irritating voice (he also had an extremely irritating way of saying “Okay” without uttering the letters O or K, and it was his reply to almost everything) and the loudest keyboard typing I have ever heard. I was not the only person who noticed the typing, either. No one else’s voice (or typing) has ever bothered me like that.

      I just had to suck it up until he left for a different job.

      1. Goldenrod*

        “Same. I had a coworker who had the loudest, most irritating voice (he also had an extremely irritating way of saying “Okay” without uttering the letters O or K, and it was his reply to almost everything”

        Hahahahha, omg, that sounds AWFUL.

        My last boss had a way of interjecting “Mmmm-kay?” into every other sentence that just made my skin crawl.

  24. Martin Blackwood*

    I find that having people’s voices piped directly into my ear makes me more likely to have them get on my nerves. No ones voice irl has ever bugged me more than some of my classmates online (I’ve met some irl with no problem). I’ll take my headphones off for a minute or two to give my ears a break until that persons done talking, though I’m not sure if that would be well received in a video call.

    1. TechWorker*

      This doesn’t sound like a great solution – OP acknowledges the fault is with them. Choosing to ignore someone/not listen to them because you don’t like their voice is pretty rude and could become noticeable too.

    2. Intent to FLOUNCE*

      Are you advocating for blocking/muting/not listening to them at all (probably not a good look if on a video call, and may miss something critical if voice only) or taking the headphones off and switching to speaker sound while they are talking? If the latter, and it helps, then worth a try – as long as OP does not make the switch too obvious at the start and end (i.e. let a few more people talk before re-donning headphones)! Even better if there is an opportunity for an informal “my ears are overheating/giving my neck a break” type throwaway comment.

      1. Jennifer*

        They could leave the headphones in their ears and just unplug them from the computer, if they have the wired kind. That way it isn’t noticeable to anyone watching.

      2. AnonInCanada*

        …and as long as you’re not taking off those headphones because “my ears are overheating” every time the person who’s voice annoys you, that would be fine. After all, people will find it rather co-incidental the “ears are overheating” every time this guy’s about to speak.

    3. ClaireW*

      This might be do-able with classmates, but OP is talking about work meetings so even if the video was turned off, it doesn’t seem likely that they could just never listen to anything that person says in any meetings. Even outside of being rude, it would absolutely get in the way of working effectively. And with video on this would be explicitly insulting.

  25. Lilo*

    LW2, I work in government. A guy I started with was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer six months after he started the job. He hadn’t accrued a lot of PTO so people donated their PTO to him and he able to take a significant amount of time for his treatment and subsequent recovery. I think it was over a year before he was back at full time.

    And you know what? No one was upset with him. He’s actually a supervisor now. My own supervisor has had two kids while my boss and it’s fine. Don’t quit.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I think the difference is that OP is choosing to have a baby whereas this guy hadn’t chosen to have cancer.
      Not that I think OP should feel guilty about having maternity leave of course. I think she ought to get 12 months rather than 12 weeks. But there are plenty of people who know nothing of maternity and what it does to your body, and how exhausting a new-born baby is and how hard it is to establish breastfeeding. These people tend to think that the new mother gets a holiday for free, and they will bitch and whine any time a woman takes time off to have a baby.

    2. Juniper*

      I agree with the general sentiment, but it’s wild to me that in order to undergo life-saving cancer treatment and subsequent recovery, you have to rely on your coworkers donating their PTO. Working for the government, no less.

        1. Lilo*

          I mean good luck getting congress to give us anything. We didn’t get actual maternity/paternity leave until last year.

      1. anonymous73*

        Yes, time off is severely lacking most places, but I wouldn’t expect someone in a job for only 6 months to have accrued enough time off for a life threatening illness.

        1. Juniper*

          I think the issue is that you’re expected to have to “accrue” time in the first place. If you have a life-threatening illness, you take off as much time as you need, regardless of when you started, how much you’ve banked, seniority, helpful colleagues, etc. And it shouldn’t fall on employers to bear the burden of a long-term illness either. Many countries have a standard “employer period”, after which the government picks up the tab paying for sick leave.

        2. Lilo*

          I should note enough people chipped in that his entire leave was paid. Our bosses are bound by law as to what they can offer so it was the only mechanism available to give him paid leave. Outside of the government (in the US) who knows what would have happened to him.

          1. anonymous73*

            Yup. Same thing happened to my husband when he had his foot surgery. He had it done in December, and only had a few days of time off left. He was able to have government co-workers donate time so he wouldn’t have to take any of it unpaid.

  26. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    LW2 – one feature of the internationally not that great 12-week maternity leave is that even if you were to have successive children very close together, you would be back at work for a substantial period between those leaves. That’s the benefit to the employer because many people feel firmly committed to their job (is there also good family medical insurance? have you secured flexible or part-time working?) or, more brutally, trapped in it.

    In the UK it’s not uncommon to make the protected 12-month maternity leave last 14 months by using PTO at each end (you accrue PTO at usual rates while you’re away). *Overlapping* two lots of maternity leave is a rare but not unknown phenomenon which is complicated financially and I must admit causes grumbles among colleagues – though perhaps not from the maternity cover whose contract gets extended!

    My further thought is that maternity employment provisions are so hard fought that we should absolutely grasp them with both hands so they stay protected. Our ancestresses would be appalled by the idea that we might not make full use of offerings they would consider astonishingly generous.

  27. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP1: there’s a way a coworker pronounces certain words that really drives me up the wall. They’re not wrong, just different to how I say them but every time it’s chalkboard on nails for me. I think, maybe, it’s because I really dislike the ‘eee’ or ‘izzzz’ sounds in the words how he says them.

    Likening the brain to a computer, I just envisage his words entering my mind as text *only* thereby removing the bit that’s annoying the frell out of me.

    1. UKDancer*

      This is a great idea. I have one former co-worker whose voice was like this and really annoyed me by the tone, intonation and use of certain words. Absolutely nails on a chalkboard. Not their fault and not something it’s possible to do anything about. I think all we can do is try and tune it out. I like your idea of visualising it as text only. I must try that.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I have to do it when talking to my dad about migraines (a very prominent issue in our family). The way he pronounces the word is ‘me grain’ and it grates on my nerves every single time (I say ‘my grain’). Obviously one cannot tell one’s beloved father to change his entire way of speaking so…it goes into my brain as text.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          it goes into my brain as text.

          If you could teach that skill to others, I would imagine there would be demand for your gift to the world than Zuckerberg’s.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            I…can try? Open post maybe?

            Will warn in advance: I work IT, I relate to computers a LOT. Therefore any explanation is going to involve ‘imagine you’re a data import routine’. Additionally, when I read, I don’t hear the words in my head.

            1. BethDH*

              I think this is similar to what I’ve just recommended above for turning down volume and turning on captions so that you start relying more on words as text, but I hadn’t put it in that context before.
              Thinking of it that way, this is a rather extreme option, but I wonder if practicing speed reading techniques would help? A big part of that, IIRC, is learning not to subvocalize as you read.
              That stuck in my head because I’m a medievalist and part of the point of medieval reading was going the opposite direction and trying to “taste” each word even while reading silently.

              1. MsSolo (UK)*

                I wonder if turning on subtitles (if that’s an option on the videoconferecing software) would help LW – sure, they’re often not great, but if you’re reading as well as listening it can allow you to filter out some of the irritating aspects and focus on the meaning instead.

              2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

                Actually, that’s brilliant. I’ve always been a speed reader (hello hyperlexia) and never read the words out loud in my brain. If there’s methods for learning this then that might work.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      If imagining the words entering your mind as text doesn’t work for OP1, maybe they can try actually converting their coworker’s words to text by writing them down. Try taking notes whenever he talks (even on social calls) and see if splitting your focus between listening to him and writing at the same time takes an edge off of how annoying his voice is.

  28. Green great dragon*

    #3 – if you believe your boss is coming from a good place I think it would be helpful to be clearer with him about your worries. “It’s not what I applied for” comes over as pretty inflexible, whereas “I really like painting things red, and while I’m willing to paint things green in an emergency I don’t want to be doing that consistently’ seems more like you’re willing to work with him.

    I’m not clear how long he has in mind before you swap back – could you agree a short time frame up front and make that part of the agreement you sign? And would that make you feel any better about it?

  29. Nina Bee*

    LW1: Have you considered it may be misophonia (a reaction to certain sounds like chewing etc, or in this case, your colleague’s voice)? Perhaps looking at resources that help people with that may be useful in your situation. I was in your situation once too but it seemed to go away after a while and me and the colleague became great friends!

    1. Broadway Duchess*

      The way misophinia was explained to me by doctor(s), it’s not generally one person’s voice but rather a type of sound or group of sounds. For me, it’s mostly mouth sounds (chewing sounds fill me with a hot rage — I almost cried in the car when two relatives were chewing gum at what they told me was a “regular” decibel level). Meditation and white noise has been somewhat helpful wirh this for me.

  30. DrunkAtAWedding*

    For letter 3,woildn’t that only work if the boss is under the impression that both jobs can be done well by completely inexperienced, unqualified, and uninterested people? That flies in the face of every hiring practice I’ve ever heard of.

  31. Juniper*

    The question about maternity leave reminded me of a recent Slate parenting column where the letter writer was worried about her boss being upset that she put in for a week vacation “too soon” (how soon was never specified) after returning from a 12-week maternity leave. I was astonished by the comments admonishing her for being selfish and not a team player and pulling the “exhausted new mom” card. Essentially, her maternity leave was being treated as coming from the same PTO pool that a vacation would come from, without acknowledging some the inherent difference between the two.

    From the perspective of someone living in a country with a year of maternity leave, giving someone a hard time for wanting a week’s vacation after a measly 12 weeks of parental leave just goes to show how far the U.S. still has to go in adopting any sort of sane parental leave policy. However, one glaring difference that I grant matters is the fact that when you’re gone for a year, it’s long enough to justify hiring a replacement. That means tasks don’t get offloaded onto co-workers while you’re gone, who can understandably be miffed at having their workload increased for 3 months without some offset or return on the other end. 12 weeks is just long enough to make it your colleagues’ problem, rather than your employer’s problem, which is where the burden should lie.

    All this to say — LW, absolutely use the leave at your disposal, and don’t feel guilty about it. But I am curious, more as a wider discussion, how we should hold organizations to account to cover for employees when they’re gone for this in-between period of 12 weeks. More to the point, unless the U.S. jumps in whole hog with at least 6 months of leave, triggering the wider organizational changes that that would require, how do we avoid merely shifting the responsibility onto the shoulders of other employees?

    1. Batgirl*

      I have to say that one of the thing that impresses me a great deal is when American companies step up to the plate when they don’t legally have to. I presume they do that to retain good employees, so if more people have this guilty I-shouldn’t-really feeling, and consider leaving a good firm to go have children elsewhere, then there is no hope!

      1. Anononon*

        I think that’s something that gets missed if a non-American is reading about American workplaces solely through this website. A LOT of companies offer benefits well above and beyond what they’re legally required (according to a quick google search, 55% of companies offer some form of paid maternity leave). So, yes, we need to continue the legislative and activist work to make that 100%, but it’s not like it’s a complete cesspool here where companies like the OP’s are one in a million.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yes, and it is to retain good employees, but most companies want that. It’s not a legal requirement but it’s a competitive advantage.

    2. This Old House*

      I mentioned this briefly above, but where I work we’re eligible for up to a year’s maternity leave (all unpaid, obviously many people can’t afford it and FMLA only ensures you will have health insurance for 12 weeks), but when people do take more than the bare minimum, they still don’t hire maternity coverage. When I was out for 9 months, I was in a 2-person department and my boss just had to handle it all, like she’d done before I’d been hired. When my colleague was out for 6 months, her work was spread around between her boss and her reports, and while that was probably a slightly more equitable situation, it still was not easy on those people. It’s completely unfair.

  32. LondonLady*

    #LW1 – this may sound counter-intuitive but maybe focusing even more intently on ‘what’ the colleague is saying may distract you from focusing on ‘how’ they speak. Try transcribing their words, this may help. And if it’s a social context and you don’t need to hear them you can always turn the laptop volume off/down discreetly while they are speaking.

    1. TechWorker*

      Someone suggested similar higher up and honestly I am baffled by the suggestion that (even in a social context) it’s ok to just mute someone because you don’t like their voice..?LW knows this is on them to get over. It feels like the high school equivalent of deciding to blank someone and I find it difficult to imagine the person with the ‘annoying’ voice wouldn’t notice that you ignore everything they say.

      1. TechWorker*

        Obviously in a purely social situation things are different – you are an adult and get to choose who you hang out with. But that’s not the case here.

      2. WellRed*

        It’s a larger meeting with other people, though and this would probably go unnoticed. And with this many mtgs in a regular basis, I doubt OP will miss anything substantive.

      3. Jennifer*

        I think it’s pretty likely they’d never be aware of it if it’s a large meeting with lots of other coworkers and this particular person isn’t sharing anything of substance. A lot of people zone out during these meetings anyway if they have a tendency to go on and on and one without any information that’s relevant to their jobs.

  33. Cjturtle*

    #1, if you’re doing virtual calls could you mute and turn on closed captioning when you get really overwhelmed by the voice? Then once the edge is off turn sound back on. That way you might be able to sort of ease your way back in to listening.

  34. agnes*

    re: maternity leave. Your employer offers this benefit. You are not taking advantage of anyone by using it.

    to everyone else: I hope you will show the same level of support for your colleagues who have to take FMLA regularly due to chronic health conditions of themselves or a loved one. In my organization, I see a lot of support for parental leave–one guy is on his 4th employer paid parental leave in about as many years— but still a lot of snarky attitudes towards people who take frequent FMLA (which is not employer paid) for other reasons. It’s unfortunate because it has wound up creating an unnecessary tension in our workplace. Job protection is important and supporting people who need leave is in everyone’s best interests.

    1. anonymous73*

      I think the main issue of colleagues not being supported in certain ways stems from the way the company treats the employees. We hear a lot of stories of managers who are willing to work with parents when things come up during the work day/they need last minute days off/etc., but don’t offer the same leeway to non-parents. If employees see EVERYONE being provided with the same benefits (not just the ones written in the handbook) regardless of need, then they’re going to be more supportive.

    2. Boof*

      My sense from prior letters is that when people get grumpy about FMLA, it’s usually because the employer is handling the coverage badly. “hey you can just do two people’s work whenever’s needed, right?” – tends to breed resentment, albeit misdirected if aimed at the person who needs coverage.

      1. Camelid coordinator*

        That is what I am feeling these days. The work is too specialized for a temp, and we all know I can do it because I have had the role before. But I can’t do their work and my work well, even with some part-time help, and I am worn out from the previous two times. The other thing is that an FMLA leave might be very sudden whereas a maternity leave has more planning time.

  35. Elizabeth*

    From my experience other people taking maternity leave has opened opportunities to for me and friends to cross-train and try out new responsibilities. As a relatively young employee, it’s helpful so I can figure out if I like aspects of other people’s jobs and I can better judge how ready I am for promotions/changing jobs/asking for a raise. It can also make people more understanding of what your position is and how you can better collaborate in the future. Obviously some organizations may take advantage of other employees when one person takes a leave, but that’s on the organization, not the new parent. Hopefully reframing the leave as an opportunity for a current employee or a temp could hopefully reduce your guilt.

  36. Anon For This*

    LW3 – I saw a situation like this where I worked – one of the jobs handled money, the other didn’t. The boss had some concerns about how the money was being handled, but liked the person who had that job. He arranged the switch to see if the questionable issues went away. They did. He had to do the switch, rather than just cross train, or he wouldn’t have the answer he needed.

    He decided the money issues were incompetence, not theft, kept the person (I don’t know the details that led to that decision, but note the person was very close to retirement and was supporting a handicapped relative), and made the switch permanent. The person retired two years later, but the other half of the job switch actually liked the new job better and decided not to switch back.

    TL:DR – this might not be about cross-training.

  37. Greige*

    OP#4: Sure, tell your friend what you’re seeing, but I don’t see any immediate red flags. A high workload is a natural result of being understaffed, which is what happens when someone quits. There are only a couple ways to deal with it: reduce output, (which, depending on your line of work, might not be feasible,) or hire more people, which is exactly what they’re trying to do.
    If your contact from the other team made it clear the department had always been understaffed with no intent to hire enough, or that expectations were always unreasonable, that would be a bigger problem. But it’s not clear from what you shared that the team is just poorly run.

    1. Mockingjay*

      In a similar vein, perceptions of what constitutes a high workload can also vary. Both the amount of work and the skill level of staff affect that perception. Some people relish a high workload because it makes them focus and they are most productive in that situation. I’ve been on teams in which the predecessors were only average employees and thought that their workload was very high. With a new manager making good hires, we ended up with an experienced team executing what we considered an average load quickly and consistently, freeing us up for other projects and training.

      TL;DR: give your friend the info and let them decide. Your perceptions are not theirs.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yes! I’ve been in many situations where people think my jobs sounds stressful/demanding/terrible and I’m fine with it, or vice versa. I would definitely try to be as neutral as possible when describing this opportunity to a friend lest you talk them out of a job they’d actually enjoy!

    2. LW4*

      Thanks for your comment, Greige! Mostly from what I’ve heard, it’s due to turn-over, transitions, and strong sales for that team’s specific product. In any case, I will share what I know with B but keep speculation about why’s ot myself. Appreciate it!

  38. MissDisplaced*

    I have had this happen on occasion. You are not the only one it’s happened to. There may be nothing wrong with the person overall, but I simply Could Not Stand their Voice or the way they talked (sometimes it was certain phrases they kept saying) that were just Cringe/Eyeroll to me.

    You just have to get past it. As you said, focus on what they are saying and try to tune out the voice. If you can, take notes if they’re talking or presenting for a longer time. I also think that phone/zoom calls exacerbate the issue, so if you’re in person, make good eye contact with them. If you’re the person’s supervisor, you could go so far as to offer coaching… provided the person had something they could truly work on (too many um’s, speaking too fast, etc.).

    Note: I did once go to the person, who was above me, and non-confrontationally ask why they tended to use “Phrase X” when talking about “Thing A.” I phrased this as me not really understanding the term and analogy (even though I did). Turns out they didn’t realize they were saying cringe term so often at all, and just bringing it up led to it almost disappearing.

    1. Lime green Pacer*

      I “um” and “uh” a lot. I know that I do it. But I literally don’t hear it when I am doing it. I’m pretty sure it would take specialized speech training to help me to stop. My boss trying to coach me on this would be a recipe for disaster for both of us.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Everyone does! It really comes out when you get a Teams meeting transcript.

        I say “like” all the time. It’s like, you know, the result of living in Calli for 16 years. Lol!

  39. Anon for this*

    LW 1 – my boss’s voice bothers me purely because over voice calls, his voice is LOUD. So much louder than anyone else that it hurts my ears to listen to him. I invested in a headset with a volume adjuster over one ear, and turn the volume down whenever he talks (since our voice communication software doesn’t allow for individual tuning of each user’s voice) and that helps a lot.

  40. twocents*

    Re #1: I once met a girl who spoke like Janice from Friends. (Legit. Janice might have even been a smidge more subtle.) I met her in the context of joining a conversation where she was telling a joke, so I thought she was trying to be funny, and after a few minutes, I asked her if she could cut it out.

    Turns out that was her voice. I was super embarrassed, but nothing ever came of it since I never saw her again. I felt really bad for her too, because man, going through life with a voice that grates on others like that…

  41. Serenity*

    Re LW5: My first job out of graduate school was in a teeny tiny non profit (a literal handful of staff but dozens and dozens and dozens of volunteers). Every single month, the director would report to the board that “the staff were our biggest volunteers again this month.” I lasted two years, learned more than I could ever have imagined, and it took a solid six months to begin to recover emotionally after I left. Good for you for asking the question. I wish I had known to.

    1. LW5*

      Yuck, yes, I’ve heard that from more than one charitable organization. When I was younger I used to think, “Wow they’re so dedicated” and now I just think how awful it is that they feel that pressure :/

      1. Serenity*

        Yep. It wasn’t framed as an option. It was just “dedication to the cause.” OTOH, I met Noam Chomsky (like, as part of a small group discussion in my boss’s living room) and had breakfast with a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. There were trade-offs to working there. It just needed to be done in a healthier way (and, like, legal).

  42. anonymous73*

    #3 – this is not okay. Cross training makes sense. But completely switching jobs? That’s ridiculous! You’re going to spend twice as much time getting your work done because one of you will always have to help the other until it sticks. Push back on this, and push back together. And if boss won’t budge, go over their head, whether that’s to your grand boss or HR.

    A few jobs ago I was nudged into a second tier app support role. I only agreed to it because I didn’t have to be glued to my phone and answer calls. I worked from a ticket queue. A year or so later the company outsourced our help desk. They also changed the process of triaging calls coming in and caused a lot of problems. They then informed all of the second tier support folks that we were going to have to start answering help desk calls. That was not what I had agreed to, my knowledge was application specific so it’s not like I’d be able to help people anyway, I wouldn’t have been able to do my actual job, and more people on the phones was not going to resolve the problem. I pushed back hard and never had to answer a single call.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Right, the inefficiency is what kills me. Cross training can be done within the allowances of workflow with support. Competely taking over someone’s job is starting from scratch and both positions now basically have a completely green employee. Has boss considered the productivity sink there?

  43. Kelly*

    I find that people who are described as “bright” actually are not in fact bright, and are usually obnoxious with no filter.

  44. Female tenor*

    To OP #1, while I don’t have any advice, I can tell you that I feel your pain. It happens sometimes. Occasionally, you meet a person whose speaking voices just drives you up a wall. I empathize and I don’t think you’re a bad person for feeling this way. I wish I had advice for how to handle it, but I don’t. Good luck!

  45. Lacey*

    LW 1 – I totally get hating certain voices. I met a guy online back when it was sort of a weird thing to do and when we started talking on the phone his voice was so annoying that I thought, “Oh no, this is the shallowest deal breaker, but I can’t date him!”

  46. Siv*

    #2 reads like a joke to me as a Canadian
    We get a year (75% paid and my employer , a college, tops up to 97%) or even an extra half year unpaid – mandated by the government.
    Please do not feel guilty about 2 paid weeks! It sounds ridiculous to me tbh. And with regards to unpaid weeks of there is hardship maybe they should hire someone. In fact I think the 2 weeks paid is the least they could do. You should never feel guilty about growing the population- these are future taxpayers and beneficial to the economy.

    1. Observer*

      Did you actually read the letter? It’s 12 weeks, not 2.

      I’m not saying that 12 weeks is spectacular or anything like that. But it’s a significant enough error that I’m wondering . . .

  47. Jay*

    So, about the Voice issue:
    I did not have time to read through all the comments here, but I do have something I think may be relevant to the issue.
    I’ve had a large number of ear issues in my life, from injuries to ear infections, to weird genetics, ear-wise.
    This has left me, in addition to a bit hard of hearing, very, very sensitive to high pitched sounds. It makes listening to some voices, more often women than men, genuinely, physically, painful, at the volume I need to understand what they are saying.
    Something about Voice Chats makes this worse. Maybe the speakers, I don’t know.
    It was miserable until I discovered that most of the meeting software that my company and our contractors use has both text chat and real time subtitles.
    That changed my life.
    There are even third party subtitle programs available.
    Now, I can mute any voice that I know is going to send my head into an agony spiral and follow along with the subs.
    Develop chronic “speaker issues” if you need to, or better yet, get a Dr.’s note if you are actually medically sensitive to some sounds.
    Hope this helps.

  48. LW5*

    LW5 here, thanks for answering my question!

    I found out yesterday that my mom has actually been offered 15 hours a week (that happened before I wrote in, but I hadn’t heard about it yet) but her boss is asking that she come in for 3 hours 5 days a week instead of 5 hours 3 days a week. Not sure that actually helps her financially once you consider gas & wear and tear on the vehicle, but there’s nothing illegal about that request, it’s just kinda a jerk move.

    1. Jenny Bee*

      Nonprofit Manager/Leader of Volunteers here – I’d encourage your mom to really consider whether or not she’ll be able to enforce those hours with the organization. I don’t want to assume sneaky behavior, but will she be able to walk away at the end of three hours, especially if there’s still work to be done, and if the organization deploys some passive-aggressive or guilt inducing language. “I know you have to leave, but I just don’t know how we’ll get everything done today if you go…” She’s already there, and unless she takes a no-nonsense approach it could be really easy for her to just continue working. I wish I could say I haven’t seen an organization do something like this before – but I’ve seen organizations do this kind of thing in the past. And this organization has already shown they can be pretty shady!

      1. Starbuck*

        My position got converted to hourly after being salaried and OT-exempt for years, so I had to do this a lot because my position wasn’t changed to only have 40 hours worth of tasks each week.

        My go to was ‘sorry, I’m out of hours for the week so I have to leave!’ Or ‘sorry, I only have X hours for today! Boss is the one who would have to approve a change, it’s not up to me.” Etc.

        But I find I am a very heartless person when it comes to guilt trips anyway. I hope OP’s mom is able to walk out the door with a smile when her shift is up.

      2. LW5*

        From what she’s said I think they wouldn’t push it, but might instead deem part of her job to now be something a volunteer does.

  49. Dust Bunny*

    LW5: Your mom’s employer sucks.

    I work for a nonprofit and we do use volunteers but they’re on a very limited and very clearly defined basis, and usually short-term (we do occasionally have retirees who volunteer longer-term for specific projects, but they are definitely not doing the work of regular employees). I am almost never asked to work outside of normal hours but when I am, I’m paid for it and allowed to take other time off to compensate.

    Anyway, this is completely bogus.

    1. LW5*

      It’s a tiny community organization. It consists mostly of volunteers, so while I do kinda agree that her employer sucks, it’s not like working for The United Way or The Boys & Girls Club or something

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        My last job was for a tiny community organization that had three staff to 200 volunteers. It’s not an excuse.

        1. LW5*

          Yeah, not an excuse. I just think it is the way it is because it’s not a very professional organization and people don’t know what the heck they’re doing. Including my mom. I’m going to send the pamphlet to her so she has that information.

  50. We are all people*

    OP and LW #2, the points made thus far in the comments and by Alison are the better points to be made but I also want to note that in your letter (that I haven’t seen brought up) that people at your company are at all different life stages….for all you know 1) older coworkers could have taken multiple parental leaves before you started working there, and 2) from a more societal standpoint, younger coworkers who know you, the company, and your good work may feel supported in staying while starting a family k knowing how well the company handles it.

  51. Jennifer*

    OP1 – There is a certain tone in some people’s voices that grates on my nerves too. It’s hard to explain, just when it has a note of insincerity. It reminds me of my dad when I was a kid when he was trying too hard to sound sympathetic when he really wasn’t. If it’s connected to a bad memory for you as well, maybe therapy can help? Also, if he’s not really talking about anything you need to know, you can kind of check out of the call by doing some other work or turning down the volume. Subtitles are also a good option as someone else suggested if they are available. I don’t think you’re a bad person. It’s just one of those things. Sometimes we don’t even know why a certain sound, smell, color, etc. rubs us the wrong way.

  52. Cat Tree*

    LW2, “generous” has nothing to do with it, just like your company isn’t generous for paying your paycheck. Parental leave is part of your compensation and you have earned it through your labor.

    It doesn’t matter that some people use it more than others. People also have different salaries, amount of vacation, and use of health insurance. However, one thing I like about gender neutral paid leave at my current company is that I feel like I don’t stand out as different for using mine when many men also use it.

  53. twocents*

    Re #3: This is very annoying, but if you’re in the States, I don’t think there’s actually much you can do. If the boss changes your job description, and HR doesn’t back you* then you’re probably stuck with: at least you’re still currently employed and you can start a job search.

    *This is assuming HR doesn’t already know; generally speaking, job description changes would occur with HR, not just on some random manager’s whims.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      it sounds like both the OP and her coworker have to ok this. It’s not really just job description changes like adding another task or something. It sounds to me like they do different jobs entirely. I wonder, if they each even have the right skill sets for the other job?

  54. Salad Daisy*

    #1 I have a coworker who, when she is speaking in a casual conversation, outside of work, sounds “normal” whatever that is. However, when speaking in the office, and especially in a meeting, she puts on a posh accent and it drives me crazy!

    1. UKDancer*

      I think a lot of people modulate their voices when they are in formal meetings. My mother has a particular regional accent which is, I think, not unattractive but has connotations of being a bit backwards / country bumpkin. When she rings up the local council with complaint about the potholes she always takes conscious pains to sound as middle class and polished as possible. She thinks it will ensure people take her more seriously.

      It’s not uncommon for people to code switch especially if they consider their instinctive accent and pronunciation may put them at a disadvantage.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        A lot of the time it’s also not even deliberate. I very much have a phone voice and from a childhood of moving internationally, it takes me maybe…1.5-2 weeks of being around a different accent consistently to start picking up aspects of it, I’ve had to work VERY hard on not mirroring someone when they have a distinctive accent and a whole other set of minor issues.

        (these include using zed and zee interchangeably, or whenever there’s a how do you pronounce x word meme 99% of the time I can’t actually tell you)

    2. Broadway Duchess*

      It’s code-switching and it’s very common. One reason it happens is because there is a huge and immediate judgment for or against particular accents. A lot of Black Americans do this, often unconsciously, because there is a negative judgment on “ghetto” or AAVE usage (even though most popular slang comes from this dialect). You should cut this person some slack, here.

  55. SlimeKnight*

    LW#5: I work in the public sector, but this experience should apply. We have a program we administer that is largely staffed with volunteers (we just pay the bills, handle the paperwork, manager volunteers). When COVID fist hit a large number of our volunteers went away (for various reasons, including death!). Our staff members had to start filling those duties. Upper management was under the impression the staff members should clock out and work unpaid, since this is “volunteer” work. This is apparently a pretty common (but bad!) idea in our field, so there are lots of resources to answer these questions:

    1) If the “volunteer” work is mandatory (you’re going to get fired/written up for not doing it), then it’s part of your job.
    2) If the job duties of your “volunteer” work are similar to your regular job, then it’s part of your job.

    Basically what they were trying to do was wage theft. When this was pointed out to them upper management dropped the whole idea and never broached it again.

  56. Elm*

    This may seem like an odd suggestion, but depending on the work environment, maybe LW1 should reach out to the voice guy individually to get to know him. This can be via a video, audio, or text system. I’ve known people who initially bugged me because of a voice or something else out of their control, but once we were friendly, it stopped bothering me. In fact, I even became good friends with some of them.

    Obviously, don’t start with “your voice is annoying and I’m trying to get over it.” But, “hey, I haven’t gotten a chance to personally welcome you to the team!” or, if they mentioned something non work related that you can talk with them about, “I heard you mention Book in our meeting. I love Book! What else do you like? Trying to find a new read.”

    They certainly could have a voice that just hits the wrong way, like most of us have a sound that bothers us. But, it could also be they subconsciously remind LW1 of a negative person from the past, and getting to know them could help. Even if they turn out to not like this person for other reasons, they at least won’t associate them with the other one as much.

    Also, don’t leave meetings. Think of it as exposure therapy. Maybe find something to fiddle with or doodle on when they talk so you can have something to distract you without being distracted entirely.

    P.S. Kind of unrelated, but if you (meaning anyone reading) listen to podcasts and don’t like someone’s voice, please don’t leave a negative review. It’s not their fault. Just don’t listen. It makes me super sad to see those reviews (along with ones about stuttering, etc.).

  57. Purple Cat*

    I’m surprised by Alison’s response to LW3.
    Employees rotate positions all the time. I was part of a 3-way job switch in my finance department.
    Actually switching jobs gains a far greater understanding than simply “cross-training” which is typically surface-level. If you don’t WANT to switch jobs, then of course, push back, but it’s not unreasonable for it to be something the company wants to implement.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      Did you’re job description formally change for those 3 days? That’s what the boss wants to be done. A formal change where they both agree and sign papers agreeing to the switch. It s sounds like your job was more like take over and see how you like it. Where this is more of a take over for an undisclosed amount of time.

        1. Metadata minion*

          I suspect this is very industry-dependent; in my profession that would be incredibly weird.

  58. E*

    I have a thing about midwestern accents. I have no idea why, they just set my teeth on edge. I have a friend from Minnesota and a colleague from Wisconsin and I feel irrationally annoyed immediately after talking to them. I feel so bad because there’s obviously nothing they can do about it and it’s a me problem but I have no idea how to fix it. Weird how our brains are wired.

  59. jess*

    LW#1 for me it is upspeak. Being in a meeting with 4 or 5 grown professionals who sound like valley girls drives me up an auditory wall.

    Women, be confident and assertive when you speak. Not everything is a question, please don’t be afraid to make a declarative sentence. Speak from the chest, not the nose. Please, for all of our sakes.

    1. Lifelong student*

      Upspeak drives me up walls. When I was teaching at the university level- every time a student responded to a question I asked with an upspeak answer, I would reply “Are you asking me or telling me?” It was a little effort to eliminate the tendency.

      1. River Otter*

        It would probably be less effort for you to learn to accept different speech patterns without judging the speaker.

      2. Lunch Ghost*

        In a classroom a lot of times I was asking. Getting that answer from a professor would make me stop answering in their class unless I was 100% sure of my answer (and I usually wasn’t). Or always phrasing my reponse as “This is only a guess, but–” but that probably wouldn’t work because I just tried it and I still vocalize that as a question.

      3. judyjudyjudy*

        That’s really condescending and discouraging. I would never do something like that to my university students. Please stop.

    2. Me*

      This is similar to the issue with vocal fry. What we need to do is stop policing how women, especially young women, talk.

      1. Cat Lover*

        Ehhhh, upspeak is a gray area imo (as a 26 year old woman). I think its a habit that can definitely be broken (women aren’t the only people that upspeak either, it’s more of a younger person thing, imo).

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          upspeak is a gray area imo

          There are also times where it’s useful (at least to me; I’m not 100% confident 100% of the time). It’s overuse of and abuse of upspeak that might be considered a problem.

        2. Me*

          There’s some thoughts on it being a generational thing over gender and men 100% also do it. But the comment specifically addresses women. As with vocal fry we as a society really like to go after how women talk and that needs to stop.

          In fact there’s zero reason for this to be a discussion at all here as the LW was talking about a male coworker. So why are so many turning it into a how women talk is annoying conversation?

          1. raida7*

            They aren’t telling all women how to speak, they are saying “Please stop being annoying to me specifically, any woman that does this one specific thing that annoys me.”

    3. Observer*

      Women, be confident and assertive when you speak.

      Why are you scolding women in response to a letter about the voice of a MAN?

      Especially since it doesn’t seem like the problem is upspeak. I don’t want to nitpick language, but the OP doesn’t say that “the way he talks makes me crazy” but “I can’t stand the sound of his voice”.

      1. raida7*

        they aren’t?

        They are relating their own personal experience of irritation/annoyance in regards to voices specifically in the context of professional meetings.

        1. Observer*

          No, they are explicitly telling women that they are speaking wrong. What I quoted was not couched as a persona peeve but an explicit instruction to women. And it came as the end of a comment about how WOMEN speak.

    4. River Otter*

      Can you try the techniques given to get past the annoyance? Maybe Alison also has techniques to stop policing women’s speech.

    5. judyjudyjudy*

      I would be more interested in what they were saying rather than judging the way they speak. Also, stop telling women how to speak.

  60. quill*

    LW 1: Not to internet diagnose, but do you know what Misophonia is? It’s a disproportional rage response to specific noises: most commonly chewing, sniffling, or repetitive clicking. If you find yourself just steamed at your coworker’s voice being out there in the world, it’s possible that (especially over audio, which can amplify sounds you could other wise tune out) you’re experiencing misophonia.

    Knowing it might help you put your irritation away.

  61. awesome3*

    OP#2, if you switch jobs (if you’re in the US) you’d likely end up somewhere where there is no paid maternity leave at all. In fact, since you’re in the non-profit space, you might end up somewhere that doesn’t even qualify for FMLA.

    Not saying you need to stay at this job forever, but definitely don’t let this be the reason you leave.

    I really like this quote from Alison’s answer: “I would be very upset if I lost a good employee solely because she felt guilty about using benefits the organization freely offered.”

  62. Lizy*

    #2 – echoing Alison’s sentiments – I would be very upset if I knew a coworker left a job solely because she felt guilty about using benefits the organization freely offered. I’m not a manager, but the idea that one of my coworkers would feel guilty about expanding their family and/or using the company’s benefits just… makes me very, very sad.

  63. Red*

    Op1: could be other factors and this dudes voice is the last straw? I generally love my mom’s voice, but every once in a while I’ll be too stressed or too tired and her voice just grates. It gets into my head and resonates and makes me feel either angry or sick, but she isn’t doing anything different. She hasn’t changed her voice and the topics are usually innocuous. But because my own personal physical state is out of wack I perceive her voice as The Worst. Look at the pattern of when you’re most annoyed by his voice. Is it worse at the end of day? Is it consistently awful to you. Are some days more grating then others? Maybe you’re experiencing experiencing overall sense of burnout and this is the last straw?

  64. idwtpaun*

    OP2, using your organization’s leave and benefits is your right as an employee. You are taking advantage of no one. Your job and benefits are not some generous favour your employer is granting you out of the goodness of their heart. You are not subservient to them and do not owe it to them to conserve their money by harming yourself.

    I’m not sure if it’s just an American thing or can happen in other places, but it always worries me when I see letters to Alison from people who have been convinced to buy into the “your employer is great and good and generous, and you’re a greedy peasant” mentality. It’s really troubling considering the power imbalance between employers and employees.

  65. AnonInCanada*

    OP1: seeing as your only interaction with this person who’s voice annoys you is over video teleconferencing meetings, is there any way you can adjust your audio equalizer settings on your computer before the meeting starts? If his voice is too tinny, for instance, lower the treble and boost the bass? It may help you better manage it. After all, it’s not his fault his voice annoys you.

  66. Uranus Wars*

    #4 please please tell your friend if you know anything and let them make a decision. I have a friend I who I provided a referral to internally and at the same time this managers team started complaining about her…and it all turned out to be true. He is miserable and she is horrible and I feel AWFUL.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I gave a bunch of advice based on personal experience to someone who had an offer to join a group with a notoriously problematic management chain. I wasn’t trying to talk her out of it, just give her what I thought would be useful context. She took the offer with a clear idea of what to look out for and I hope it will serve her well.

  67. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    LW #2: IMWO, the best use for any feelings of guilt you might have about your maternity leave is to channel them into motivation to cross-train those who will be covering for you and to generate documentation for them to consult in your absence.

    I agree with Alison and everyone above that you shouldn’t give a moment’s credence to any feelings of guilt that you’re “taking advantage of the organization.”

  68. E.G.*

    Hi LW1! I have misophonia. Certain sounds and voices really enrage me. While I do my best to just ignore it, it’s gotten a lot worse while WFH and I’ve recently discovered why. Headphones! When my misophonia is triggered it’s like the inside of my ear is itching and it makes my heart pound. Headsets and headphones were piping that sound or voice right into my ear and making my reactions so much worse. Since I’m WFH I have started to unplug and use my laptop’s normal speakers when talking to particular people. It kind of helps diffuse the sound and they aren’t as high-def and right in my ear.

    If I must use headphones I will sometimes hold them slightly away from my ear or otherwise dampen the sound.

    Guys, I know this sounds bonkers, but think of it as any other environmental stimuli that bothers you. Too sunny = sunglasses. You need sunglasses for your ears. Unless you secretely detest this person, in which case I got nothing!

    1. Rectilinear Propagation*

      Diffuse the sound! It doesn’t sounds bonkers, this makes sense.

      I hope the LW sees this comment; I’d love to know if this works for her.

    2. raida7*

      absolutely! I have one loud coworker and they go on laptop speakers, everyone else the meetings are via headphones

  69. Not your typical admin*

    Opposite thing, but I had a professor in college whose voice I found very attractive. Deep with an Eastern European accent. It’s interesting how our ears and minds work.

    1. quill*

      People were very confused when I became a fan of a new band and described the main singer’s voice as “I want to roll in it.”

  70. Potatoes gonna potate*

    Re: #1. ugh. As if I didn’t have enough to worry about at excelling at a job, now I have to worry about pissing someone off* with my voice. I have always hated my voice, and not in a “everyone hates their voice” way but really hate it. No matter how hard I try to modulate it, it always comes off as whiny or b*tchy. I always say I have hte voice equivalent of RBF (which is also something I have, joy!)

    *I appreciate that OP realizes this isn’t fair to that person and can recognize the good things. Unfortunately I’ve come across too many who wouldn’t think that deeply and just say “I hate [that person]” or “[person] sucks” for no real tangible reason.

  71. Boof*

    LW2 – I imagine your employer is offering the leave because they want to keep you / others like you, and keep you happy and not burnt out! You point out that your org goes beyond what is strictly required and maybe that helps reassure you that it’s there because they want it to be that way. Take it if/when needed, and continue to enjoy your work, your kiddos, and your maybe-someday-baby(s)!

  72. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    I want to say I love hearing from people in other countries! Also, taking maternity leaves doesn’t necessarily have a permanent negative effect on your career. Consider that most women do not have more than three children and most women do not give birth after the age of 45. You have many more work years after that!

    1. Boof*

      I knew a doc on her 8th kiddo – seemed to be going strong. There are ways and there are ways if it’s what you want to do, although I won’t pretend it’s probably going to not going to look like “person works 80 hrs a week, takes 3 weeks vacation a year, for 40+ years” 1980s madmen culture :P

  73. Anony374*

    Re: I can’t stand my coworker’s voice
    I had a coworker whose voice I couldn’t stand. She sounded preppy and I realized what bothered me so much about her voice is that she said “um” and the end of almost every sentence!!

  74. Katie*

    Re #5: How does this apply to organizations that don’t fall under either the Enterprise or Individual category for FMLA coverage? For instance, my local animal shelter has staff that clean kennels, empty litter boxes, do laundry, etc., but they don’t do anything related to “interstate commerce” (such as coordinating out-of-state adoptions — although the organization as a whole does that, this staff member is not involved). Would the “can’t volunteer to do your job” piece still apply?

    1. Fitz*

      I’m not an expert, but I thought that FLSA often didn’t apply to nonprofits. The Enterprise/Individual category seems very specific. I’m curious if anyone else knows for sure.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Nonprofits wouldn’t be covered under the FLSA as enterprises if they don’t do business of more than $500,000 per year. But individual employees of nonprofits are almost all covered under the FLSA as individuals if they engage in interstate commerce, which can include making/receiving interstate telephone calls, using interstate mails, or sending/receiving interstate emails. It’s really unusual to find a nonprofit employee who doesn’t meet that test (although the example of someone cleaning cages at a shelter might).

        1. Katie*

          Thank you! I haven’t seen that situation addressed anywhere, probably because it’s so rare. I’d be curious to know if there are any court cases that address the minimum amount of interstate commerce that would make someone eligible (opening some mail from another state every so often, etc.?). Got some research ahead of me!

  75. El l*

    LW1, I don’t have any solutions except:
    Remember that he can’t change his voice. Small tweaks are possible, but it sounds like that’s not going to be enough here. Add that as Alison says, that it’s very possible you annoyed someone just by being yourself.

    You wouldn’t want your thoughts rejected because of something you couldn’t change, right?

  76. knitcrazybooknut*

    #1, you may not see this, but here’s my story anyway.

    We had a new coworker join my team, and I took an instant dislike. I was nice and professional, and he was always the nicest person in the group. Everyone thought he was great, and he performed well, never complained, and was really easy-going. I could not STAND his presence.

    It took me a few month, but I finally figured out why: He was really determined to have people like him. And I really don’t like being told how to feel. (I’m not as bad these days, but in the past, telling me I had to do something was a guarantee that it wouldn’t happen.)

    It may just be the actual sound of the voice, but it’s still worth thinking about.

    (Of course the person I’m thinking of ended up getting arrested for a weird anger management problem involving an HOA election, so who knows!!)

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      We have a colleague with a loud, brash voice that rings out with the nasal assuredness of the most self-promoting type. So not only is his voice loud AND a bit too eager, but he makes no attempt to adjust (“gee, your volume is a bit much in our our open office” “OH THAT’S BECAUSE I’M A COACH” — despite the fact that we are not actually on a playing field). He knows All of The Things, and loudly volunteers for everything.

      So glad when he transferred to another department.

      And yes, I think sometimes it’s a combination of the annoying voice AND the vibe underneath it.

    2. raida7*

      oh my god yes, I wanted to tell a new guy with “really positive reviews!” to shut. the. fck. up. and sit. down.
      Why? well because he’d clearly gotten these great reviews (job agency) by being ‘nice and helpful’
      So that’s offering to get people coffees, teas, run and grab lunch, clean up, constantly offerin offering offering. GOD did we dislike him after a couple of weeks.
      Apparently he’d ‘implemented an excellent new filing system’ in a previous job – this dude FAILED TO ALPHABETISE A STACK OF PAPER. After three attempts and being told how to deal with outliers I still found two sheets wrong.
      brown noser. none of us were so up ourselves that we thought we deserved an assistant to run errands and the constant readiness to spring into helpful action grates on the nerves.

    3. judyjudyjudy*

      I don’t think I understand. I want my coworkers to like me too. I feel like that is a normal thing to want. Does that mean you would automatically hate me too?

  77. I'm just here for the cats!*

    For #3 I wonder if the boss is going to try to eliminate one of the positions. If 2 people are trained with both jobs he could easily fire/lay off one and just hand the other all the others work.

  78. WorkInProgress*

    LW #4. This was done to me!!! New director came in and he wanted me and manager from other dept to switch jobs/titles for a year. (Something I had NO desire to do but decided maybe it would be a positive thing after being assured it was for my professional benefit). However, I then found out that the other manager was told about the impending switch 5mo before me.

    From the moment he came on board the new director seemed to have it “out for me” for reasons I never knew (maybe simply bc I was a woman?) – secret conversations with my team without my knowledge or involvement, extreme micromanaging, dismissive of ideas to improve morale/support my team. But I thought maybe I was being too sensitive and misreading things. Learning this switch was in the works with the other (male) manager long before telling me was kind of the final red flag. I ended up resigning 2wks prior to the switch taking place – let them run both departments during height of busy season. No regrets.

    Not saying something “sketchy” like that is happening… but it can feel extremely insulting when that’s not the job or role you signed up for and your sense of agency is taken away on some weird managerial “whim” (at its least harmless interpretation at least). By all means, cross train. There’s definitely value there. But I never understood the value in the job swap… and if there is value, it’s not going to be to your benefit but the company’s bottom line and/or your coworkers development.

  79. Rectilinear Propagation*

    LW #1 – This reminded me of a Captain Awkward letter from someone who was irritated by a certain word. She suggested they use a “swear jar” and put in a quarter every time they’re annoyed by it.

    Maybe you can do a mental “compliment jar”? For example, if it’s the pitch of his voice that’s bugging you, maybe you can tell yourself, “The volume of his voice is pleasant”, or, “He has a nice accent”. Make yourself focus on the things about his voice that don’t bother you until the part that does seems insignificant.

  80. GarlicMicrowaver*

    TL; DR. Can we just not with the, “America sucks” comments for number 2? We are well aware that our paid parental leave “policy” has much to be desired. We live and breathe this every day. Many of us are already advocating for change. It hurts and it is exhausting for those from other countries to constantly remind us of how amazing they have it when it comes to maternity leave. Thanks, we know.

    1. Kitry*

      +1. After a dozen shocked and appalled comments all saying the same things, it starts to sound less like sympathy and more like schadenfreude.

  81. Rectilinear Propagation*

    LW #2 – It’s not like they’re losing a lot of money on maternity leave if you’re the only person using it.

    Alternate universe LW #2 – It’s not like they’re unused to this if everybody’s taking maternity leave.

    You shouldn’t ever feel bad about using a benefit offered by an employer. It’s business. Also, imagine the conversation with your manager where you try to explain that you’re quitting altogether just so they don’t have to give you 3 months of leave. Do you think they would honestly rather lose you permanently than give you maternity leave?

  82. Kayem*

    #2 – I agree wholeheartedly with what Alison said. If they want to change it, then they’ll do that. Until then, use it without guilt. My husband’s former employer (a private university) offered free tuition at the university to the spouses and children of all employees regardless of level, no restrictions. Go to college as a full time student and get a diploma, regardless of major, with only the cost of fees and textbooks? A fantastic benefit!

    I had to drop out of school for financial reasons a decade prior, so I took advantage of this and finished my undergraduate degree two years after he started working there. The courses in that degree led to me being interested in a different field that needed more undergrad work if I was going to work in the field. So another two years later, I graduated with a second undergraduate degree. Then I applied for their graduate school in that field.

    Before I ever heard back about my grad school application, the university changed their employee benefits so that the free tuition only applied to one undergraduate degree per person. I don’t know if this change was already in the works or if my attempting a third diploma had anything to do with it, but I have no regrets about using it to its full advantage while I could. Even trimmed down, it’s still a fantastic benefit, though since their tuition was out of our budget, I ended up going to a much less expensive public university for grad school.

  83. Don't Forget To Mute The Zoom*

    LW#2- As a childless person who has no intention of ever needing maternity leave, I hope you will continue to utilize your maternity leave as you grow your family. That time away will be an important part of welcoming a new baby and giving you the time to adjust to more responsibility at home.

    I will say, I can understand your reluctance and to be brutally honest, I have felt frustrated before when filling in for a coworker on maternity leave knowing full well I won’t ever be able to access that benefit. But it doesn’t mean I want that benefit to go away. I do wish employers tried to offer time off across the board for major life events that require time away so that those with and without kids would feel supported. Not only would this allow childless employees to feel seen and considered, but it gives the same opportunity to fill in and cross train to women who have previously relied on co-workers to cover for them during maternity leave.

  84. Maddie*

    I also have a coworker where I can’t stand his voice and the way he talks and reacts to things – and I sit next to him all day, every day! He has a very affected accent, but I think I could get past it if he also didn’t have a very affected attitude. He is the opposite personality to me and is always bignoting himself and dominating meetings and being a total know it all. He inserts himself into every conversation and so I think the sound of his voice makes me a shudder because I know he’s about to be a total ass.

  85. IntoTheFryer*

    I think it’s hilarious that people complain about vocal fry when, like, so many famous people speak with a ton of vocal fry — Bill Clinton almost exclusively talks in fry. I feel like people kind of make fun of his speak patterns sometimes, but I’ve never heard anyone complain about how his vocal fry is so annoying.

    1. anon4eva*

      A vocal fry often involves a deepening of the voice, so it’s probably less jarring to hear a man speaking in vocal fry than a woman. So Bill would get away with it, while Hilary would be skewered if she spoke in vocal fry.

  86. LW4*

    LW#4 here! Thanks so much for the thoughts, Alison and commenters! Quick update: my friend, B, in the time since I wrote in this letter has been continuing to interview elsewhere. I do plan to share what I know with them in a fairly unvarnished way, but to make no assumptions beyond that.

  87. raida7*

    1. I can’t stand my coworker’s voice
    That sounds like misophonia, and it sucks. Sometimes the sounds are easy to avoid or minmise, and other times you just can’t. Look into coping mechanisms like white noise generators, muting yourself and humming quietly so you can hear still, and just breathing through it.
    If this newbie is genuinely a little loud, you can also just chat with him about tweaking his microphone’s levels to even him out a bit – just a teeny bit louder than everyone else makes it so much worse.

    For me it’s scratching/scraping sounds. like anything draggin on concrete just, urhg, and instant anger.
    For a couple of my mates it’s the sound of chewing – especially bad for online when there’s a microphone *right there*
    For my older sister it’s the sound of a knife skidding on a plate.

  88. Liza*

    LW#1: I once had a colleague whose loud and grating voice drove me up the wall. It was more than a month of fuming and irrational dislike before I finally noticed her hearing aids. As soon as I knew she was hard of hearing I could tell that what I had been reacting to in her voice was just a mild Deaf accent, and once it made sense it stopped bothering me. She turned out to be one of my favorite colleagues, though I still feel guilty about times I was unfriendly to her in that first month.

  89. childfree*

    Op 2: Take the maternity leave, but please remember that the rest of your coworkers are NOT getting 12 weeks 3-4 times in a few years to stay home and bond with their family (because families don’t have to include children). Be sure you’re supporting them when they do take time off and that you’re advocating for leave time for all employees. Too many parents take theirs and don’t care about the rest of us.

  90. Matt*

    OP #1 : So sorry you’re going through that. I don’t know what else you can do besides just be grateful you don’t talk to them very often and get through it. I’ve also run into co-workers who’ve had voices that had that same “nails on a chalkboard” reaction for me, and I just was greatful for email and texting lol.

    I used to have a co-worker who sounded exactly like the voice of Krang from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon back in the 90s, and everytime she talked to me it took all my focus and energy not to picture that little brain and keep myself from laughing.

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