updates: the muting, the pregnancy announcement, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. Shouldn’t we mute ourselves during group calls?

I no longer mute myself in calls with my boss and our small team unless I’m sneezing, coughing, etc. and, as predicted, my boss stopped commenting on it. As I said in my letter, I knew what to do but really needed a gut check to make sure I wasn’t off base on virtual meeting norms. For that purpose alone, it was lovely and reassuring to read your response and hear from the AAM commentariat. I also really hadn’t thought about my boss thinking I was muting because of problematic reasons like you pointed out in your response, because, although I do have times throughout the day where I might be off-task, it’s never in a meeting (especially with my boss!).

A few people suggested a headset as a potential solution, which I have and use nearly 100% of the time. The problem with that suggestion is our meetings are in Teams, and using the mute button on my headset also mutes me in Teams. We do have another platform that allows for the headset-muted-but-not-showing-muted-in-the-meeting, and it is glorious. So if anyone has suggestions for a specific make/model of a headset that works like that in Teams or a way to change my Teams settings to allow it, share that knowledge!

One bit I left out is that my boss very much likes things done their way and generally believes that what they do should work for everyone else (and if you read the original letter, they don’t mute pretty much ever). My boss is also new to managing high-level individual contributors (my team) vs. entry-level employees (their previous team) which was likely a control/trust issue that was manifesting itself in being fixated on my muting behaviors (among other things). I’m happy to say that they’ve chilled out and just today, left for a week of vacation with me as the team’s point person for upper leadership in their absence. Should I find myself in any meetings on their behalf, I’ll be sure to mute myself when not speaking.

2. Announcing a pregnancy when I’m remote (#5 at the link)

I told my boss about the pregnancy during a 1:1 meeting, then told my 3 coworkers who do very similar work to me during a standing group meeting later in the week. I guess the news network was still partly intact during remote work because I got a few congratulations from others. But I completely missed out on these news networks because I found out only a few weeks before my due date that another person in my department was expecting with his fiance and his leave would partly overlap with mine (we have gender neutral paid leave at my company). His baby was due within 3 days of mine but ended up being born a couple of weeks early.

I had my baby in late May and received the standard card from work that a bunch of people signed (though mostly they were email messages that my boss printed out and put in the card due to remote work). I was surprised at how many former coworkers signed who are now in other departments, so I guess the news spread more than I realized.

I came back from leave in late September just as we were returning to work in person in a hybrid schedule. It turns out that two other people in my department had babies in September, and another is having a baby in December. We had our own little pandemic baby boom.

3. When I turn down a job, can I recommend someone else? (#5 at the link)

Thanks so much for your original advice! I did forward on candidates to the other places, most of whom got interviewed and a couple got accepted.

I took my top pick of the jobs in 2020 but it was not the job I expected it to be—not very much upward momentum, a tiny team in charge of way too much, and my (good) manager left, leaving a weird void where nobody took responsibility. We were doubly crushed by changes brought on by COVID. One of my former work-friends started at the place I recommended her for (call it company 2), and she thrived there. We chatted often, and I shared that I was kinda frustrated at the new place (not even looking for anything) and she immediately messaged her boss telling him to pounce and offer me a job. I was wary, but having a friend already working at company 2 meant I could really ask her questions and find out everything—strengths and weaknesses—and it made the application process more of a conversation than “we’re desperate for help so we’ll gloss over the problems on both sides.” I started a job there last month, and it’s already a much better fit, with better pay, better benefits, and it’ll be better for my career. Also they take personal time very seriously and have great structure for career improvement. I don’t think you should do good deeds because they might come back to help you, but in this case it really did.

So that’s my update! It was a little question, but I think (karmically) it’s pretty neat.

{ 57 comments… read them below }

  1. STG*

    There are a number of gaming headsets that include mute buttons on the headsets themselves. May be an option.

  2. Eric*

    The Logitech H390 has a mute button that doesn’t trigger Teams (or Zoom) as showing you as muted. It isn’t the world’s best headset, but it is ok and relatively cheap.

    1. annabanana*

      Nesting to keep the recommendations together. :)

      Similarly, the Mpow 071 USB Headset also has a mute button that doesn’t trigger teams’ mute. Also not the best headset (~$20), and it’s wired, but the sound is clear and coworkers tell me they can hear me very clearly.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      The boss clearly doesn’t care about noise from unmuted people, so why bother?

      1. JSPA*

        stomach rumbles, burping, farting, sniffing, throat clearing, upstairs neighbor playing loud music or worse, toilet noises in the background if not living alone–one can prefer not to share these things, even if the boss doesn’t care.

    3. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

      I have both a Corsair HS35 and Razer Kraken X, and both have hardware mute buttons that don’t show up in Teams. (Slightly annoyingly, the buttons work in an opposite manner: one mutes when the button is out and the other mutes when the button is pushed in)

    4. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      I have a Corsair Void Elite gaming headset that I picked up on sale a few years ago. If I mute from the headset itself, Teams doesn’t show it. Though it does mean that sometimes I’m double muted – once in Teams and the headset as well.

    5. KoiFeeder*

      Sadly there doesn’t seem to be an option for a headset that doesn’t trigger the mute toggle that is both comfortable and doesn’t require you to download extra software just so your headphones work.

    6. Five after Midnight*

      Logitech G433 here – it has a sliding mute button on the cord that doesn’t show up in Teams. What’s nice is that it can be used as both a USB headset (rectangular port) and a headphone jack headset (3.5mm round port) so it works with all manner of computers and phones. The mic has very good background noise suppression, and I was told that the listeners on the other end couldn’t hear the landscaping guys (lawnmowers, leaf blowers, etc.) right outside my window. About 80 bucks.
      I also have Logitech H390 but find it uncomfortably tight and digging into the top of my head after about 1.5-2hrs of use, hence the upgrade to the gaming headset and H390 is now my spare.

  3. Healthcare Nerd*

    Headsets for muting…I picked up a Sony PULSE 3D headset to use for my evening gaming but it has instead found a great niche as a work headset. It connects to my work laptops via a USB adapter, which is super useful when I have to switch between the two separate work laptops I have to use. It has a handy headset-mute button that works independently of MS Teams’ mute. This is handy for me because I’m a ‘pacer’ during calls. If I’m thinking, I’m moving!

    It is an over-ear headset so maybe it looks a bit dorky when on video. But the earpads are comfy enough where I’m not aching on days with 6 or 7 hours of calls.

    1. OP #1*

      The one I have now is a wired, over the head one, so pretty much anything will be better. Thank you for the rec!

  4. LongtimeLurker*

    For #1, I do have a headset recommendation that might work. Its a bit on what I consider the pricy side though depending on if you get wireless or not, but I use the Astro A20 or A50 gaming headsets which are both wireless. The mic mutes when you flip it up.

    1. A CAD Monkey*

      The A10 (wired) also has this feature. while i don’t know if it will show muted on Teams, it works very nicely for Zoom.

  5. El*

    LW#1–if I use the option to Join with Phone Audio in Teams, I do not appear muted but can mute myself on my phone.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      This is what I came in to say, aye. I do it all the time, though the down side to that is that if I start talking while phone-muted and don’t have my camera on, I don’t get the chorus of “Red, you’re muted” :)

  6. I should really pick a name*

    I’m not clear if LW1 ever said to their boss “I’m on mute so I don’t cause any interruptions when I’m not talking”

    1. OP #1*

      I’m not sure if it’s specifically mentioned, but yes, I definitely have. Variations on “I didn’t want dog/cat/washer-dryer/doorbell/coughing/nose blowing/teenager to distract/interrupt.”

      1. I should really pick a name*

        I’m curious how your boss responded to that.
        (I don’t doubt you, I’m just honestly curious how they think muting in that situation isn’t a reasonable thing to do)

        1. OP #1*

          One of two things: “Huh. [whatever they wanted to say next].” or “Pshaw, Jack. No one cares about that.”

  7. Wulfie*

    I would get around this by having coffee at the meeting and simply saying, “You don’t want to hear me drinking.”

    We have trouble getting people off mute.

    1. Xenia*

      Just today I got to be on a client call. Client was not tech savvy. Constant feedback loop. No headphones, no ability to switch from one speaker to another, and bad at taking herself on and off of mute. My poor manager had to try and hold a conversation with her while hearing her own voice echoing back through the speaker. More people should be mute-aware

  8. Marketing Queen*

    Logitech. Not sure which one it is, but it has a mute button that doesn’t trigger mute in Teams, etc. It’s also really good at blocking outside noise.

  9. Tuesday*

    I kinda get there the boss is coming from, even though I think their comments were annoying. With such a small group (4 people), I think the conversation feels more natural when people are off mute. The timing of people’s comments is always a little off when they have to unmute them selves to say um-hmm or laugh at a comment someone made or whatever. Yeah, you can hear background and other noise, but you can hear that when you’re in a two-person phone call too. I think that most of the time, muting isn’t necessary unless it’s a larger group.

    1. RJ*

      It depends how much background noise there is. I hate hearing other people’s background noise when someone is speaking, and don’t want to inflict mine on others.

      1. Tuesday*

        Yeah, I’m with you there. I was thinking about just minor, occasional noises. I would rather hear someone drop their pen once in a while than have the mute-unmute-mute kind of conversation. It also depends on how formal the meeting is.

      2. ArtK*

        I have attention issues that are triggered by audio. Someone typing heavily can make me lose the entire thread of the conversation.

        1. Tuesday*

          Yes, if people are going to do other things, I definitely prefer that they’d mute. I was thinking about this letter writer who is actively engaged, listening, not doing something else.

        2. allathian*

          Yeah, and this is the reason why some control freaky bosses hate muting. They want everyone’s full attention in all meetings, and I simply think this is an unreasonable request in large meetings (more than 10 people).

      3. anonymous73*

        It’s less dependent on the number of people on the call (unless it’s just 2 of you), and more dependent on the situation each person is dealing with while remote. I’m often the one taking notes and typing which is very distracting and noisy. I also live on a busy road, and while I’m used to the traffic noise now and don’t even register it as noise anymore, it may be annoying to others. Either way, the manager is passive aggressive, and my first go to would be to ask her 1 on 1 why she’s so fixated on my muting, framing it as “have I given you any reason to think I’m not engaged while in our meetings” and forcing her to explain her issue.

    2. Le Petit Prince*

      I came to say this. I was having one on ones earlier this year with someone who would mute whenever they weren’t actively talking, despite no obvious background noise when they were talking, and it drove me bonkers. It made me feel like they weren’t engaged and didn’t expect to need to speak, and instead were just listening to me lecture. I hated it.
      In a big call (5 or 6 people) or if there is loud background noise then the rules are very different!

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I agree. I don’t mute in 1:1s, or in meetings with my coworker who has exactly the same job description as I do, and our manager.

        Our team has 20 employees, and during our team meetings we mute unless we’re speaking.

        We have monthly town hall meetings on Teams (200+ people), and there the host mutes everyone. You’re not allowed to touch the unmute button, but if you have something to say, you ask the host to unmute you by raising your hand. If you unmute and speak without asking for permission, the host will warn you once. If you do it more than once in the same meeting, the host will kick you out and you aren’t allowed to rejoin that meeting. Our town hall meetings are all recorded, though.

        It has to be said, though, that I’m in a very low-context culture that values direct communication, and where interrupting others shows you’re incapable of listening to others rather than listening attentively, and where being blunt is acceptable as long as you are communicating directly and not intentionally insulting anyone, and where hierarchies are typically low (I’m in an organization of about 1,600 employees, and I’m a senior individual contributor, so the levels below me would be junior IC and intern; my great grandboss is the president of our organization).

    3. BubbleTea*

      I was just in a hybrid meeting (four people in person, three of us on teams) and we stayed muted unless it was our turn to talk, but you could see people laughing or nodding or whatever. It worked pretty well with that number of people but more might be trickier as everyone gets smaller on screen.

  10. Cleo*

    LW #2 – congratulations!

    LW #3 – I love this. What a great update. Hope you enjoy your new new job.

  11. I'm Just Here for the Cats*

    In my old position i had a wired headset that was specifically for Microsoft Teams and the mute button did not trigger anything on Teams.
    Microsoft LifeChat LX-3000 Stereo Headset

    1. Momma Bear*

      I also have this headset but haven’t tried to see if the button on the cord mutes me on Teams. I’m going to take your word that it works as OP wants.

  12. alynn*

    LW #2 Congratulations! A coworker and I also had babies at the same time! I think the due dates were 2-3 weeks apart but they were late and mine came a week early so the kids were born withing days of each other.

  13. Zona the Great*

    It bothers me that I’m never satisfied with updates unless the actual problem has been solved. Why do I have to always be like, “there is no win unless the offender admits his error and totally recalibrates 100%”.

    1. JB*

      I think your issue might be more in expecting a win in the first place. This is real life – not everything will be concluded in a satisfying way.

  14. easily distracted*

    Regarding muting in Teams. Many orgs have different audio options for connecting. For me, one option is to have the audio via phone. If you choose that option you can mute/unmute on the phone and it doesn’t register on Teams.

  15. anonymous73*

    #1 Is there a reason you haven’t talked to your boss 1 on 1 and ASKED why she’s fixated on you muting when you’re not talking? “Is there a reason why you mention the fact that I’m muted in our meetings? Have I given you any reason to think I’m not engaged in the conversation?” That would have been my first go to, instead of just doing it her way because she’s the boss. If she’s unreceptive to any thoughts you have on the subject (which it sounds like she might be) that’s one thing, but you should at least try and bring it up.

    1. OP #1*

      I completely get where you’re coming from, and for other things I am and have been pretty direct with Boss. For me, not doing the same for the muting/not muting is a case of not wanting to spend the capital. Pick your battles and such.

  16. Pepperbar*

    Re Update # 1: I use a Sennheiser GSP 500 – It’s a gaming headset with a boom mic. We use Teams at work, and flipping the mic up (so it’s parallel with the headband instead of near my mouth) cuts the mic without showing up as muted in Teams.

    Also the sound quality is amazing. It’s not sound cancelling though – this model is open acoustic ( so I could watch movies and play games during mat leave but still hear the baby monitor).

    1. Pepperbar*

      It looks like Sennheiser may have stopped producing the GSPs, but other electronics retailers still have original stock and for much cheaper than the original $250 price tag!

  17. Katherine Vigneras*

    Re: on mute but not appearing on mute…

    1) Have the video meeting software connect to your phone (often an option instead of using the computer speakers)
    2) Use speakerphone, or earphones connected to your phone, for sound (I use AirPods)
    3) Mute through your phone’s call interface

    For what it’s worth, I stay on mute because my home office has some weird feedback issues (and my dog has a USPS vendetta), not because I’m not engaged!

  18. It's Growing!*

    Pandemic baby boom: For the last decade + I’ve sent my son a Christmas ornament each year that celebrates something in his life – the year of the new truck (a photo on a plaque with date), a cute Christmas mailbox with his city of residence overseas and date, an airplane with name of country and date he left to finally fly home, etc. This year it was Mr. and Mrs. Snow People announcing “Mom and Dad to Be 2022.” He called and said, “Do you realize that the last 3 years’ ornaments are 2019: the new house, 2020: ‘the year we stayed home’ (Mr. and Mrs. Santa in masks), and 2021: ‘Mom and Dad to Be’?” :-) not intentional, but true! Unexpected, but happy, pandemic surprise.

  19. A Wall*

    OP 1, another mute option that wouldn’t necessitate you buying a new expensive gaming headset is to use your phone for the audio rather than the desktop app. If you’re calling in, you can mute yourself in the call on your phone and I don’t believe any of the typical apps people use for this (including Teams) will show it in the meeting.

    I like taking calls on my wireless bluetooth headphones and my laptop doesn’t have bluetooth, so I always have whatever program people are using for the call either call my phone or I dial into the conference call line. I know it doesn’t display as me being muted when I mute myself in the phone call itself because I *want* it to show me muted, and I always have to do it in the desktop meeting rather than on my phone even though the phone is easier. Unless Teams changed this recently– I don’t think I’ve had any Teams conference calls in minute.

    Of course if you don’t already own a good headset for the phone then this won’t save you any money, but hey. Lil bluetooth earbuds are a lot more comfortable than a big ole headset.

  20. Emma*

    Any headset that has a jack connector (aka a 3.5mm) rather than a USB one will mute “invisibly”. Most have a volume wheel rather than buttons though, which may take some adjustment depending on what you’re used to.

  21. Timothy (TRiG)*

    At a guess, cheaper headphones which don’t require any kind of software are more likely to not show up as muted in the program. And if the headphones merely work as an audio input over a standard 3.5mm jack, they have no way to tell the computer whether or not they’re muted.

  22. Len F*

    LW1: I use MicSwitch for this kind of thing. I don’t know if it will play nice with Teams though. It works by muting the mic in Windows’ sound control. But maybe Teams is actually looking there to determine whether you’re muted….

    Well, on the chance that it isn’t:


  23. PeanutButter*

    No suggestions on Teams, one of the departments we collaborate with often insists on using it and our IT department hasn’t figured out how to turn off the Teams setting that automatically UNMUTES someone if it detects a loud noise (I guess thinking they want to talk???) So no advice, just commiseration about it.

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