part-time admin got a full-time job, what to say when your boss is laid off, and more

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

1. Our part-time admin got a full-time job and wants to do both

Recently I hired a part-time contractor to help with administrative work. The pay is respectable, but certainly not enough to live on. We’re flexible on schedule — most of the work is admin work done in an online system (think reporting expenses, processing invoices, etc.). My thinking was that whoever took this job was going to have to juggle it with SOMETHING (school, another part-time job, child care, etc.) and I’m not concerned about what hours they work to fit in with that (it can all be done fully remote, and we’re all working remotely for the foreseeable future). When I said that, I was envisioning something like “I’ll work mornings” or “I can’t work Monday or Friday.”

The person we hired just accepted a full-time position that sounds like a traditional office job. She’d like to continue with us, but work outside of business hours. My instinct is to not love this arrangement. She says that she can arrange her schedule around the periodic meetings (which admittedly will be few and far between, although she and I will need to check in regularly). I’m guessing that arranging her schedule will likely be harder than anticipated (it just seems odd to me to count on clocking out of a full-time job for an hour in the middle of the day to cover something for your part-time job?). I don’t want to say “no” to an arrangement that could be fine, just for the sake of being a traditionalist (and honestly don’t want to go back to the drawing board!).

I’m leaning towards something like, “I know I said the schedule is flexible. It is, but the expectation is that you attend these two meetings per week, and can fulfill a response time of X days. If that starts to be a problem, we’ll have to reconsider.” Does that sound fair? Am I crazy to even entertain this situation?

I’d be pretty skeptical of how it’s going to work out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try it and see. You’ll probably know pretty quickly if it’s going to work or not.

But it’s worth having a more direct conversation about your concerns: “You’ll need to call into two meetings a week, usually at 2 pm Monday and 11 am Thursday, and process X within Y days. Can we talk about how that will work if you have another full-time commitment during our business hours?” And maybe, “How will you handle it if that ends up being a conflict with your full-time job?” (I assume she’ll need to prioritize the full-time job, but having the conversation about it will probably be useful for both of you.)

However, make sure you’ve really thought through the impact of not having her available during  any of your work hours, outside of those two meetings a week. If you’ll ever need quick responses or same-day turnaround time, it’s probably not going to work well. But if her work is truly independent and not tied to specific hours — and, crucially, if the work you’ve seen from her so far is good enough to justify trying it — it’s not crazy to test it out and see.

There’s also a separate concern about whether her work for you will be impacted by the total number of hours she’s working — a lot of people aren’t at their best when they’re working that much — and she may burn out much more quickly than a person who wasn’t doing this. If your interest is driven by her skill set, the quality of her work, and/or the tight job market, you could wait and see how that plays out … … but if it’s more about “ugh, I don’t want to have to hire again,” I’d be less convinced.

Read an update to this letter here

2. Our meeting topics are vague and never have agendas

My office culture is one of those “invite everyone to everything and we’ll see what sticks with who” kind of places (usually in the name of knowledge transfer). Often I get meeting invites for standing or ad hoc meetings, usually for an hour, without an agenda. Just a meeting invite with a high level meeting description (e.g., Teapot Orders or Spout Repair or New Neon Teapots).

It feels like responding to the meeting organizer to ask, “Is there an agenda?” shouldn’t be out of line. However, part of me thinks it comes across as if I’m not willing to go into a meeting open-minded or that I have crowned myself with the privilege to be selective about which meetings I attend.

The reality is that I do have the time to attend most of these meeting, but I find it frustrating that we go into each one blind or without knowing if we’ll be involved in the effort or topic long-term. I am willing to learn about various topics but I would much prefer to be part of meetings where I know I have an active role. Knowing an agenda might help me decide if it’s worth asking if I need to be part of the meeting. How would you handle this?

Any chance you’re in a position to advocate that all meeting invites in your organization include an agenda, or at least more detail than something as broad and vague as “teapot orders”? From what you described, I’m guessing that lots of your coworkers spend a lot of time in hour-long meetings that they wouldn’t have attended if they’d known more about the agenda ahead of time. And with so little advance info, how are you supposed to prioritize any meeting relative to other things you might have already set aside that time for?

So if you’re in a position to suggest that including more information up-front would be helpful to everyone, do that. If you’re not, asking for an agenda for yourself is pretty reasonable in theory — but if you’re very junior or the invite comes from someone very senior, politically you risk looking out of touch with the culture. In that case, I’d actually ask your manager’s advice, since she knows the culture and should be able to tell you how asking for agendas will go over with various players.

3. Is it unprofessional to tell an interviewer you need a new job “yesterday”?

Can you settle a debate? My wife and I have a difference in opinion.

When interviewing, if a hiring manager says they “need to fill this role yesterday,” is it “desperate” or “unprofessional” to say something similar back to them that you yourself all need a new job “yesterday” … or somehow conveying that you as well are seeking mutual accommodation (they need an employee, I need a job)?

I wouldn’t say it’s unprofessional per se, but you shouldn’t say that to an interviewer because (a) you will destroy your ability to negotiate once you’ve conveyed how highly motivated you are to accept the job and (b) it’s just kind of … unappealing. It makes it sound like you’ll take any job and probably aren’t thinking critically about whether this is the right role for you, and implies you’re not exactly an in-demand candidate. (That last part is BS — it shouldn’t matter how in-demand you are if you’re right for the job they’re hiring for — but human nature is such that it can matter.)

4. What to say when your boss is being laid off

I started a new job almost seven months ago and was hired by a gem of a manager. I’m happy here. The job is fully remote so I’ve never seen the office or any coworkers in person.

Yesterday we found out the jobs of my manager and a team lead (both of whom are wonderful people) are being eliminated. They are both invited to apply to several new open positions in our department or any other position in the company. My boss had told me months ago that he suspected this may happen and that he’d take on an individual contributor role instead of a leadership role. I don’t know if he expected to be automatically shifted into a new role or if he was prepared for a layoff where he’d have to apply to, and maybe not get, another job here.

If I found out a good peer coworker was being let go, I would have an idea of what to say (condolences, confidence in their search, and offers to write a recommendation, serve as a reference, and/or keep an eye out for opportunities). But both these people are senior to me: one is my direct boss and the other is a leader who I informally report to. To further complicate matters, the team lead being let go just told us last week that his spouse received a serious diagnosis.

The separation date for both people is two months away so it’s not goodbye time … but I feel like I have to say something now. I’ve been reserved at work, but I do care very much about these people and I don’t want to be cold. I want to give some acknowledgement. Any ideas what to say? And is an email to each person appropriate, or would a Teams chat be better, or something else? Or should I follow their lead in real time at the next team meeting next week and say nothing in the meantime?

Something like: “I was so sorry to hear this news. I’ve really enjoyed working for you and think you’re fantastic at what you do. (Fill in specifics here if you want, like that you’ve learned a lot from them, they’re a great coach, you admire their skill at X, or whatever applies.) Please let me know if there’s anything I can do that would be helpful as you’re looking at new roles (or afterwards).”

If you speak regularly and/or are fairly close, I’d do this over the phone or video. But otherwise, email is fine too.

5. Teaching with a cancer diagnosis

I’m wondering if you and your readers might have advice about disclosing — or not — a cancer diagnosis when you’re a teacher. I work at a university, so my students are all adults (generally 18-24, though with some older students). I was just diagnosed with cancer and am trying to figure out what, if anything, to disclose to my students. My doctors are hopeful for treatment, but I am going to lose my hair, and might have to move classes online some days depending on how I’m feeling. The good news is that I have a great support system and a fantastic and supportive department, but I’m unsure what, if anything, I should tell my classes. They’ll obviously notice some things — I have a wig, but might not wear it all the time. Is it better to let them infer what they will, or should I be direct? A potential complication is that I am pre-tenure, so my end of semester course evaluations will matter. If students think I’m just lazy and unresponsive, rather than dealing with medical issues, they might have different responses on those evaluations.

I guess another factor to consider is that I am very young, with no cancer history in mfamily, so I kind of feel like I want to shout about the importance of mammograms from the rooftops! But I also don’t know if any of my students will have had traumatic past experiences with cancer, and I definitely don’t want them to feel like I am putting an emotional burden on them. I think I’m willing to be open about what I’m going through, but wondering if I should say anything or not.

Let’s throw this out to readers to weigh in on, especially those with teaching experience.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 503 comments… read them below }

    1. Wendy*

      OP5, I don’t have direct experience with this in a teaching scenario but a friend dealt with something similar. In her case, she chose to wait until the emotional hit wasn’t quite so raw and she wasn’t being blindsided by little “OMG I won’t get to do this anymore” details as often. She decided to let her group know (not students, but she was the one adult in a leadership role in a group of mostly older teens) in the month or so before the visible changes in her health started. They were all shocked, of course, but supportive. I get the impression that waiting those few months allowed her to address their questions in a more professional way without breaking down emotionally, but of course your own situation may be different.

      Good luck to you, whatever you end up doing. It’s a tough road.

      1. Science KK*

        I 100% agree, definitely wait until you’ve had a good amount of time to process, get a treatment plan so you have a loose idea of what to expect, and so on. A professor at my university announced his likely terminal, tough to beat cancer, (so slightly different to you OP5) by saying something to the effect of I’m probably dying so I may not be here next year or even next quarter.

        Everyone in that class, who knew the professor, and heard about the situation was very upset. Not at him, just about the situation and that he was so distraught he said that to 40 people on the first day of classes. Last I heard he was still teaching and doing well.

        I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts!

        1. Mimi*

          I had a similar situation with a generally-beloved prof. I wasn’t taking a class with him when the announcement was made, and don’t recall precisely how (probably department-wide email, though if it was during the semester there may have been another announcement to his classes).

          This was different from OP’s situation because we didn’t expect him to make it (he didn’t), but my sense was that the students generally appreciated the chance to say goodbye and appreciate him while he could still be around, and no one felt imposed-upon by knowing that he was going through a rough time. And I think that support was valuable to him, too.

        2. Engineer with Breast Cancer*

          In your comment, you imply that a cancer patient should know their anticipated outcome before announcing their cancer diagnosis. However, in my case and in a lot of case, you just can’t know what your anticipated remaining lifespan is. In my case, my anticipated range is 2-10 years, with the median at 3.x years. I just cannot wait until my range is narrowed, especially since I’m going for treatment now. Likely, until I have 6 months remaining, I won’t know how much of my life I have left to live.

          From your comment, I think that the professor is in the same place. In this case, he probably also could not wait to finalize on his expected life span before announcing. Or, he greatly outlived what his doctor told him. So, I would not be too hard on him for announcing before having a finalized treatment plan. When you have incurable cancer, treatment plans could take years to finalize, if they do at all.

          1. wittyrepartee*

            Sending warm thoughts of successful management of your condition, and a lot of really beautiful days ahead.

            1. Engineer with Breast Cancer*

              Thank you. I know someone with my type of cancer who has lived for 23 years, so I have my stretch goal :)

              1. school of hard knowcs*

                Yeah, great plan, keep updating on the week ends if it works for you. Struggling with stuff so this makes me think of good stretch goals. So thank you

      2. Percysowner*

        One of the teachers at my daughter’s preschool is undergoing chemo. When she began to lose her hair she wrote an email to all the kids’ parents telling them that she was sick, that she needed chemo, that she was going to lose her hair and that she might vomit sometimes. You are dealing with older people, so this may not apply, but in her case she wanted the 3-4 year olds to not be blindsided when her body started changing.

        Good luck and Hugs.

        1. ecnaseener*

          I was going to suggest an email, since LW is concerned with burdening their students. Let people have their reactions on their own time instead of during class.

          1. NotRealAnonForThis*

            This seems to be a very kind method of addressing. As the LW mentioned, she (assuming she but may not be the case as men do get BC, again assuming that but mammograms were mentioned) is sensitive to the fact that some of the students may have some past history with cancer and it may be somewhat traumatic. Giving everyone a chance to digest and react in peace is a good idea.

            1. Carl Dean Jolene*

              I see this. But I also think that cancer is such a part of life. At this moment for me personally: my next door neighbor, one of my important business clients, a law school friend, and a childhood friend are ALL undergoing chemo and have hair loss.
              Going about one’s life, and just accepting as a part of life, may be an important lesson.

              At least one student in this class will, undoubtably, need at some point to carry on with life despite a cancer diagnosis.

        2. Engineer with Breast Cancer*

          I’ve announced I’m had cancer twice at my job, and I agree it’s best through email and not live. It gives people time to process and a choice about whether to ask for more details or not.

      3. getaway_girl*

        Ten year survivor here and I was youngish when I was diagnosed. I do not teach, but I work in higher ed, and I have sons and nieces who were around the same age as your students at the time. The advice to wait until you’ve had a chance to process is spot on. My experience was that the whole situation was basically a moving target for a while. Treatment protocols changed as more information was learned. And every time it changed, good or bad, I had to regroup a bit.

        As for being open, you be as open as you are comfortable with. I was very open, because of those nieces in particular. I wanted to normalize the discussion as much as possible. And I did have a family history–from my dad who was diagnosed with the same type of breast cancer a few years prior. So, it was even more important to me to talk about it, since it can affect anyone. And frankly, the times when I kept things to myself were the times I was most afraid. I remember playing a mental game of Whack-A-Mole with various fears that popped up. Talking about it helped to ground me. But you need to do what’s best for YOU.

        I wish you all the best.

        1. a thought*

          Yes – do what is best for you.

          If it makes you feel better to share it, share it.

          If it makes you feel better to not talk about it, that’s fine too.

          You don’t owe your students your health info and you don’t owe them keeping a part of yourself a secret.

          Do what feels best to you.

          1. Mary C Read*

            Yes! My sister is a college professor and was diagnosed with breast cancer some years ago. She didn’t have the energy to keep telling the story, so she told 1 person in her department that she knew would spread the news. She taught her classes with a baseball hat on, never said a word to the students unless someone asked. It all worked out, fortunately. it really is what you are comfortable with.

            1. Chartruse*

              I agree – do what feels right to you. My mom went through chemo and double mastectomy while working at an elementary school. She did tell her coworkers (although not right away – more like when she started chemo). Since some of the teachers were friendly with parents, by the time the changes were obvious most of the students already knew.

              She usually wore a scarf on her head, but she’d show the students that she was bald under it if they asked – apparently that’s fascinating to 10 year olds. She usually remained positive with the kids and willing to answer questions (within reasonable boundaries!). Obviously it can be handled differently with adults, but I think letting your students know in advance is a good idea. It seems better to say “I am going through chemo and have a good prognosis” than leaving them to wonder.

              I agree with OP5 about the importance of mammograms! Happily, my mom’s breast cancer has been in remission for 8 years now.

          2. MigraineMonth*

            This is such important advice. Last week I got the news that my ovarian tumor is “probably cancer” and I’ve been trying to do what feels right for me. It’s harder than it seems; as a woman I’ve been heavily socialized to put others’ needs first. The truth is there is no perfect way to share or not share crappy news, and I cannot control others’ reactions.

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        Context: I was diagnosed with cancer just before the pandemic started.

        I like this distinction between “You don’t need to say anything tomorrow” and “Eventually, when you decide that it is going to start leaking over and be noticeable, it will make sense to let people know what’s going on so they have the context to understand.”

        Cancer and treatment is extremely variable–radiation for me was like being hit by a train; for a friend of mine it barely made her tired. So allow for a lot of variation beyond the average or typical case for your type of cancer, and how it works for you.

        Good luck with navigating this, and be kind to yourself. Allow other people to be kind to you.

        Two non-cancer examples: The hot tub at my pool is currently closed. When they thought it would be repaired in a day, it just said “Hot tub closed.” Then the repair team got exposed to covid and had to quarantine, so the sign said “Hot tub closed–heater broken.” And now it says “Hot tub closed–heater broken–parts delayed.” Giving out enough information for people to understand why this is happening. It reminded me of when you’re stuck on a plane, and the distinction between “Folks, there’s some weather and they’re holding flights” and “We’re just going to drive around the airport for a while and not tell you why.” Something that is really frustrating if you don’t know the context can be something you shrug and roll with (“Oh yeah, 2020 is still kicking”) if you do understand why things aren’t normal.

      5. Specks*

        I really like this advice. When my MIL got diagnosed with breast cancer, the first 3-4 months were such a roller coaster. Then, for a while, she settled into immunotherapy, which kept her cancer at bay (unfortunately already stage 4, terminal, which didn’t get caught on a mammogram 4 months earlier – here’s a plug not just for mammograms, but for getting them from doctors who know what they’re doing). She actually still had her energy, didn’t lose her hair, and generally was wonderfully ok for a couple of years. Sadly, because hers got caught so late, it did eventually spread to her brain and everything went quickly after that, so I’m so glad yours got caught early, OP! If you don’t yet know what your treatments will be though or how you’ll react, though, I’d second holding off on telling, unless you’re an open person who wouldn’t mind everyone knowing. She was very open about it and loved the support she got from her community, but not everyone is that way. I also want to add, everyone’s experiences with chemo and radiation are so different… I hope you react well to them since you’re young, but do put some plans in place in case you have to take time off and please don’t push yourself too hard. Your main goal is to recover and take care of yourself; your department will find ways to make things work if you can’t be there as much as you would have. Best wishes for a speedy return to full health!

      6. squeakrad*

        First of all I wish you healing and strength and hope that the situation resolves positively and quickly for you.
        I have experience with us both online and teaching live classes. I teach at the State University private college part time.
        About three years ago I was diagnosed with a virulent and very rare type of cancer, which turned out to be a false diagnosis after months and months of tests. Before I was given a clean bill of health, I had to deal with my classes not knowing if I would be even able to finish out the semester. I took a couple of senior staff and chairpersons into my confidence at each institution, letting them know the situation and that I would appreciate having a named back up in case I was not able to finish the semester. I then spoke with the back up letting them know a bit about the situation.

        With students, I let them know I was dealing with a serious health situation that might necessitate me taking occasional days off from teaching, but then I would have activities planned for them if I was not able to be in class. I am sure that I had everyone’s correct emails so I can alert them if I needed to miss class without much warning. I did not actually use the word cancer, as I found this is very triggering for people even friends and family who are dealing with me in the situation.

        I didn’t need to miss a couple of classes for testing but I had advance notice and was able to plan some good activities for the class. I finished out the semester and that summer I found out that indeed it was not cancer. My evaluations were not impacted and in fact I don’t think anyone of my four classes mentioned the fact that I had talked about being ill.

        However, this past semester, teaching online because of Covid, I had two very serious deaths in my family a week apart. I was much less in control of my emotions than I was in the earlier scenario, so I did email all of my classes to let them know I was dealing with a serious family situation, and that would miss a week of classes. I did this via email and received very touching emails in response. When I return to online classes a week later several students asked about my situation and I let them know that it was difficult but I was happy to be back.

        I would say that situation impacted my day-to-day teaching much more than waiting for a diagnosis. Because I wasn’t able to see students live, I didn’t have a good sense of whether they were OK with how I was acting or not. A few students did check in over the rest of the semester and I guess that time in class to let everyone know that it was a difficult situation but I had lots of support and appreciated their support as well. This semester was never close to my best, but I did my best being honest with students but not involving them with the actual events. Only a couple of students who I knew before knew that my situation was a death in the family. At the State University Batista adult students, more in their 20s, but it’s a private university they are quite young, some of them first or second semesters. I have found in my experience of teaching students of that age have a little bit more difficult when a teacher has personal problems. So I chose not to share with most of the students that the issue I was facing was sudden and unexpected family death.

        For this semester, my valuations were even better than before, although a few students did comment that I was distracted a little bit due to some personal issues. But overall students felt that I really went the extra mile for them, and I’m happy that the work that I did to process my own emotions helped me have a positive semester in their view.

    2. Turanga Leela*

      OP #5: It’s totally appropriate to disclose this sort of thing to your classes. You avoid putting an emotional burden on them by being matter-of-fact and explaining what the impact will be on the class: You might have to move some class sessions online, and if that happens, you’ll let them know X days beforehand by their class email (or whatever).

      As far as being open about what you’re going through and talking about mammograms, I would save it for office hours if any students want to talk. But others will have different approaches about this.

      Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

      1. Incoming Principal*

        OP5: Second the matter-of-fact approach and implications, after you digested the news.
        I went with a staged approach, by circles of people, with varying level of detail.
        Inner circle: I disclosed some of the diagnosis saga to the partner and the team member I work most with because I had several medical appointments for MRIs, tests, etc. and they would anyway pick on the changes in stamina and the fact that I couldn’t move much on some days.
        Direct team: Once I had a clearer view of the proposed treatment plan (a few months later), I told the wider team that I manage that I will be getting some medical procedures (planned) and might need to rearrange some meetings. I also set the expectation that the earliest meeting in the day will always have to be as of 10:00 AM.
        Bigger team: These do not know anything apart from my having had a couple surgeries some (vague) time ago, and that I only wear sneakers even in our business formal setting. I do not plan on saying anything more

        1. Anna C*

          Not a teacher, but I did the same thing. I told my manager (who is awesome in general) right away. We needed to prepare for me to be out on disability for a while. Once I better understood my treatment plan, I told my team and the larger organization. I had to transfer my work and knowledge so we needed some time to complete that task.

          FYI regarding disability – my company has generous benefits. It’s actually better financially to go on disability than continue working. I am very lucky in this regard.

      2. LW5*

        Thanks! I am having to move classes online so I already emailed the students about that shift, and I think I’ll try to matter-of-factly let them know about the diagnosis on the first day of class so that they know what to expect in terms of the course.

        1. KuklaRed*

          I think you are getting great advice here. I just wanted to add my best wishes for a speedy recovery!

            1. HS Gov teacher*

              I teach high school, freshmen at the time I was diagnosed. I had to be out 4 weeks after my surgery, so just told them I had to take time off for medical reasons. Once I came back, I knew they removed all the cancer during surgery, so I told them about my diagnosis and that I would be fine. I needed chemo so in the fall started bald (I wore scarfs, no wig.) I told them I had cancer, it was gone, and was finishing chemo so it shouldn’t affect their school year. Straightforward info, explaining how it will impact them, that’s the way to go.

        2. Hippo-nony-potomus*

          Had you not already emailed them about the online shift, I would have suggested letting them know about the diagnosis at the same time as describing how the semester will work. A lot of students have a really bad taste in their mouths about online instruction (short version: it was usually done very poorly, because good online instruction is an art that takes time to master), and some of them are probably already peeved at you. They will be un-peeved when they find out it’s because you have cancer and this is part of a very rational plan to continue providing them with an education while you undergo treatment.

          Best of luck with your treatment.

        3. SheLooksFamiliar*

          OP, I’m not able to answer your question, but agree with everyone saying you’re getting good advice. I’m also sending my best wishes for a healthy and swift recovery; you’ll be in my thoughts.

        4. Anonanon doo doo do do doo*

          Hi, LW 5, high school teacher here. One of my colleagues has cancer and they made the choice to be upfront and tell the students about the diagnosis and treatment and that they may be out a few days here and there or tired, etc. Overall, they handled the news well, some better than others. I think it was the right decision to be upfront and honest.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        Re mammograms: No family history of breast cancer; a routine mammogram found two tumors against my chest wall. The cancer would have progressed quite some way before it was evident on the outside.

        Knowing this, a couple of people my spouse works with got cancer scans they had been been putting off. A mammogram was negative; a colonoscopy caught some very early cancer before it could spread. But those people were middle-aged, at a time when these screenings are recommended–for my early 20s daughter, I explained that her breast tissue was quite dense because youth, and so mammograms wouldn’t be viable for at least a decade. And just to make sure to get them when she hit the young end of the starting range. Assuming your college students are mostly early 20s, I’d keep that part matter of fact. You can say it once–“I’m fortunate that I got a routine mammogram and caught this early”–and then let them apply that. Maybe it’s just that a decade from now they think “You know, there was my History of Pots professor–so I actually know someone who got breast cancer young and found on a screening–yeah, I won’t put that off.”

        1. PT*

          My mom had breast cancer also, and I’m not sure how accurate the “don’t get mammograms in your 20s” is as a blanket statement. I was directed to start screenings at ten years prior to the age of my mom’s diagnosis. I’m in my 30s so I always get flagged for additional tests due to dense young tissue, so it is a bit of a nuisance, but I think it is worth it in the end.

      4. Sparrow*

        I agree with this. OP doesn’t necessarily need to discuss the specific diagnosis, but I think it would be smart to at least say, “I’m going through a series of medical treatments this semester,” and lay out the logistical implications for students, though they will probably draw their own conclusions about the nature of the treatments. I work in higher ed administration and have spent a lot of time in student services/advising. I think the best way to minimize disgruntlement is to set expectations day one – the class format may be flexible, but you will aim to give them X amount of warning about whether the course will be held in person or online; there may be occasional delays on email responses but you’ll put up an out-of-office message if you expect to be away from email for more than a day; etc. That way, they know what to expect going in. And ideally this would be before the add/drop deadline so students have time to adjust their schedules if they anticipate issues with the unpredictable in-person/online meetings (it is a particular challenge for commuter students at my current institution, for example, since they usually don’t have a quiet space on campus where they can participate in a last-minute online course session).

      5. MapleHill*

        #5 Your letter actually made me think of the movie Still Alice (about a linguistics professor who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers). She doesn’t tell her students or peers and doesn’t realize she’s increasingly making mistakes that make her look disorganized and inept until her boss discusses negative student evaluations with her. Obviously that’s fiction, but since you expressed the same concern, I’d say it’s something to consider. When people know what’s up, they give you a lot more grace about things that would otherwise seem off.

        I agree with the matter of fact approach and doing it once you’re ready and you know more about your treatment. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in October (finished radiation yesterday!) and, even though it wasn’t my own cancer, I waited until we knew the stage and treatment plan before telling my colleagues that I’m close with. Being matter of fact about it helped it not feel awkward or emotional.

        I will say, if you let people know, be prepared for a lot of follow up throughout treatment about how you’re doing because people care. But, you may not always feel like getting into it, so it may help to have some canned answers prepared.

        I’m sorry you have to deal with this and I’m wishing you the smoothest possible treatment and full recovery!

      6. Shhh*

        I completely agree as a) the daughter of a breast cancer survivor; b) an academic librarian; and c) a former student of at least one teacher/professor that had a chronic illness and at least one teacher/professor with a spouse with a severe illness.

        Take some time to process your diagnosis for yourself, figure out as well as you can how and when your treatment will impact your classes, and develop and communicate as much of a plan as you can. I’ve been in a class where the professor did not disclose that his wife was undergoing treatment for a severe illness until he had already disappeared for weeks at a time, and that situation was more concerning (on every level) than the professor that had a chronic illness and explained matter-of-factly and upfront how it could impact the semester.

        (The second professor had had more practice by the time I was in his class. The first was going through a really emotionally difficult time and as a student, I tried to give him as much grace as I could. The concerning part was that there was a point where we literally didn’t know if something had happened to him because his TAs hadn’t even heard from him other than an email saying class was cancelled. As horribly as I felt and feel for him, I still think he could’ve handled things better).

    3. I miss Sami*

      Oh OP 5: I would tell them matter-of–factly not too much longer than when you feel/know your symptoms will become obvious. Share as much as you’re comfortable with; initially I’d stick to less information. You can always share more later.
      Sending good thoughts to you and best wishes that your treatments are successful.

      1. Grape*

        Definitely stick to less information. You can’t “unshare” something, and the first weeks, months after a cancer diagnosis are a highly emotional time which can cloud judgement. Save the advocacy for private spaces or for when you have a little more emotional distance.

      2. LW5*

        Thanks! This is one of the things I’m struggling with. My hair is gone at this point — and I’m using wigs and various hats — but other than that I feel fine. No obvious signs that something is wrong with me, and it’ll be even harder for them to tell since I had to move my classes online. So I’m trying to figure out telling them so that they know how class might be affected (might not respond to emails on chemo days, etc) and wanting to try to pretend that everything is normal. Thanks for the well wishes!

        1. CowWhisperer*

          Former teacher here – alt Ed with similar aged students + college teaching experience. I’d give them a heads-up about the hair loss and possible slow response sooner rather than later. Mostly because I’d rather they pay attention to the class rather than wonder if I have a wig or fume over taking 48 hours to respond to an email. :-)

          I explained to my HS classes a few times that I needed to wear tennis shoes instead of flats for a few weeks due to a cerebral palsy related muscle issue that I was in PT for. I also gave a crash course in ADAA workers rights for my students because many will need accommodations at some point in their life – and the rest can avoid being that group of interns who wrote a proposal for casual dress based on seeing one person wearing tennis shoes who was getting an ADAA accommodation for a prothesis.

          Telling students that you are getting treated for cancer can be beneficial for them, too.

        2. irritable vowel*

          I don’t think you need to pretend everything is normal, but I think it can help to keep work a cancer-free zone if you’re able to. If and when it becomes necessary to share specifics of what’s going on, you can, but in the meantime, it can feel good to have a space in your life in which you don’t ever have to talk about your cancer. Having worked in higher ed for decades, I also think it can help to maintain some distance from your students by not divulging personal health information. I would worry less about their evaluations of you being negatively affected by what they don’t know, because presumably your chair is going to know what was going on with you that semester and grade you on a curve, so to speak. All of this being said, though, go easy on yourself! You absolutely shouldn’t feel like you need to perform at the same level you did when you were well – cut down your work commitments whenever possible. Are you able to stop your tenure clock if needed?

        3. LemonLyman*

          You may want to consider announcing via an email. It allows you to consider your wording and be a bit more matter of fact in tone. Also, that way you don’t have to make a potentially awkward transition into the day’s lesson.

      3. Boof*

        I think that last bit is great – I can’t help but think some folks might start offering up well meaning but off-base/frustrating suggestions, or just be unsure how to respond. Giving them some guidance with the announcement makes sense!

    4. Chicanery*

      OP5, I haven’t encountered this as a teacher myself, but I was on the opposite side when I was a graduate student. My cohort received an email from one of my professors that informed us of her diagnosis (in broad terms), how her appearance and our class schedule might shift as a result of her treatment, and her specific requests from us (specifically, we were welcome to call/email/message with support but not medical advice, and she asked that we not bring her medical situation up during class time or office hours). It was helpful to know what was going on and have a playbook for how she preferred things be handled.

      1. LW5*

        This is really helpful – thanks! For my advisees I think I am going to copy you’re professor’s approach.

      2. Boof*

        I think that last bit is great – I can’t help but think some folks might start offering up well meaning but off-base/frustrating suggestions, or just be unsure how to respond. Giving them some guidance with the announcement makes sense!

      3. Librar**

        This is a great suggestion! I have also been on the other side of this when I was a student and while I absolutely hate to malign anyone dealing with such a difficult time, my professor really did not handle things well. He did not tell any of the students that anything out of the ordinary was happening in his personal life at all and as a result we were very confused throughout the semester. He would miss class unexpectedly, show up 30+ minutes late, fail to provide instructions for assignments, leave important emails unanswered, etc. It made for a really difficult and frustrating semester and when he did come to class there were definitely some less than kind questions and comments about his teaching. From what I heard, I think he got criticized pretty harshly in his course evals as well. I didn’t find out until the following semester when I was talking to another professor in that department and they mentioned how glad they were that the other prof was in remission now. At that point, everything clicked and made sense, and I really felt bad about how poorly the semester had gone. I truly think that had students known the reason for the chaos, there would’ve been more grace given to the professor and it would’ve been a better experience for both us and him.
        I think that setting expectations is incredibly important and that this, coupled with the idea to tell students how you would like them to/not to bring up medical things is excellent. I also think it’s a good model for preparing students for the working world in which you may regularly be asked to interact with colleagues professionally without bringing up personal details you may know about them.

      4. Hlao-roo*

        Also chiming in from the student side. I had a teacher in middle school who had cancer. When I had their class, they were in remission/recovery so the announcement was a bit different. They let us know that they were wearing a hat while their hair grew back, and that we would have a substitute every Friday because they were only working four days a week. Presenting the information matter-of-factly with a focus on “these are the changes in my appearance you will notice” and “this is how the class schedule will be/may change” worked well.

        1. DesertRose*

          That’s close to what I was going to say.

          My twelfth-grade English teacher had cancer and was undergoing treatment for it the year I was her student. (For the non-US folks, twelfth grade is the last year of high school, so students are in the 16-19 age range)

          She told us at the beginning of term that she’d been diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer (a lot of us knew she’d had cancer before; her younger son was in my year, and she’d been teaching in the area for decades–one of my classmates was the daughter of one of her students from her first or second year of teaching, in fact), and that she’d likely lose her hair and we might have substitute teachers from time to time throughout the school year.

          She was very matter-of-fact about it, telling us what we, as her students, would probably notice on our own, and I think she felt (correctly) that telling us what was up was preferable to waiting for questions to arise, especially given that we were older kids and that class was basically where the school placed the Honors track kids who didn’t take Advanced Placement (college/university credit) English.

          But I think even if we’d been younger/less academically advanced students, it would have been a good idea to tell us what was going on with her, at least the bits we’d likely notice on our own and the ways in which it would affect our time as her students.

          Best wishes to OP #5 for successful treatment and a one-way ticket to the Land of NED. :)

      5. bookworm*

        OP, sending you healing vibes! I think this is a good approach, and love the requests on how to handle the information. When I was in grad school my thesis advisor who I also TAed for and was taking a class from was a very private person and the first time anyone told us she was sick was a week or two before she passed away when she was unable to come in to give final sign-off on our theses. I totally understand that it was her right to keep her diagnosis private and focus on work at work (and that it’s basically impossible to selectively share info– once you tell one student, everybody will find out), but as a student it was extremely distressing to be blindsided. Another thing which I’m having trouble articulating (so apologies if this comes across as unfeeling), but I think particularly if you are teaching graduate students where there’s an expectation of a longer-term mentorship relationship, this is info that prospective students may need to make informed decisions about which program to attend (the same way it’s helpful to know that a professor you’re hoping to work with is going to be on sabbatical for most of your time in the program).

      6. Flare*

        Right. Besides that you are framing expectations for them, it’s also a great place to set some boundaries.

        In fact, my feeling is that in your shoes that would be my framing of the entire conversation. So like,

        Everyone, I recently received a diagnosis which means that there are a few things that I normally would do but this term will not be able to do. Here are the changes I know we will need to make, and here is how and when I will let you know about additional changes. In the worst case scenario, which would be that my situation makes me unable to teach regularly, the department and I have discussed how we will make sure your degree progress isn’t messed up and we’ll explain that if it comes to it, but we don’t expect that to be how this goes. Now. I’m willing to talk about this, but not on our shared time, so not during class or office hours. Thanks. Now, let’s turn to make 238 in your text…

    5. HurgusBurgus*

      #5 – As a former teacher who dealt with something similar (though not as serious), I would definitely bring it up on the first day of class but I would leave out the details. Like you said, some students might have previous trauma involving the topic that you don’t necessarily want to trigger, and some other students might react poorly in different ways. If your goal is just to inform them, maybe try something like:

      “Just to prepare everyone, I’m dealing with a health issue this quarter/semester that will sometimes mean that my responses and feedback might be delayed, and sometimes I may have to move our meetings online depending on how I’m feeling. Rest assured that I’m doing okay even when these things happen! If it starts to affect the pacing of the course, I will adjust your deadlines accordingly.”

      It might even make students feel less awkward about potentially needing to reach out to you regarding absences or extensions for their own health problems, which are bound to come up given covid, so I wouldn’t stress over it too badly.

      1. Jillian*

        This is really excellent advice! I’m not a teacher, but I’ve had cancer and OP may need all the kindness, support, and patience she can get. People need to know, but they don’t need all the details all the time.

      2. bamcheeks*

        I really like this wording. However, I’m also wondering whether you can include a “what do to” if a student needs something, but doesn’t want to upset you by complaining or pressuring you when you’re well. As you say you’ve got a supportive department, LW, can you include something about the back-up plan if they have got questions or concerns that need to be answered in a timely fashion when you’re unavailable? Is there another colleague or a TA who will pick that up for you?

        (Ideally, I really think you shouldn’t have to worry about this kind of thing, and that it should be on your department chair to manage. But I know how much responsibility for individual courses and students academics bear, and how students can get anxious and NEED ANSWERS RIGHT NOW, so I think if you can head that off by having a colleague or TA who is able to answer questions at particularly brutal points in your treatment, that will probably resolve a lot of stress for you and them.)

        1. Former Grad Student*

          When I was a grad student I had a professor who was upfront about her cancer diagnosis. She was an adjunct professor, retired from her career and only taught one class a semester. This was before online classes were a thing, and toward the end of the semester she needed to cancel several classes. Notification was last minute and I drove into campus on more than one occasion to find a note on the classroom door canceling class. We were told to work on our major project and that was that. I never blamed her because we knew what she was going through, but I felt like the university should have stepped up. Was there a TA who could have helped her that semester and led classes when she was unable to? Was another professor able to cover? Could she have at least informed us sooner so we didn’t have to come to campus. Could she have gotten help designing the class so it was more independent study for the students? I know we missed material because she wasn’t well enough to teach it. It wasn’t her fault, but our learning was affected. So, LW talk with your university about what they can do to support you, but also support your students.

      3. CCC*

        My mom got cancer when I was a freshman, and for the next few years and then for a few years after her death I kind of fell apart whenever someone mentioned cancer and couldn’t focus on anything. This approach would have been perfect if I was a student in this class.

      4. Engineer with Breast Cancer*

        This is great wording. It covers most of the important things.

        1)You have a chronic health issue
        2)You told people what to expect from you
        3)You reassured peopled so they don’t feel like they must check in with you.
        4)You showed you have a plan to revisit the plan if things go badly.

        I think you should have some backup when you aren’t available, as things during cancer treatment can and will go badly on occasion.

    6. My Dear Wormwood*

      As a student (albeit a grad student), I would prefer to hear something from the teacher – maybe not the whole diagnosis, just, “I’m having medical treatment this term that might be a bit disruptive to my schedule, so we’re doing x, y and z to make sure this doesn’t disadvantage my students.” That might depend on how much your employers have your back though.

      Also…student evaluations suck. There’s always some jerk who makes personal remarks or criticises something totally irrelevant or out of your control. Ugh. I wish universities would drop them.

      Good luck with your treatment, OP!

      1. Artemesia*

        I have seen a single ugly quote pulled out of a single student evaluation and be plunked down in a review and it really makes an impact. So you can get a difficult student, perhaps one who resents being held to standards, or even who rarely turned up and then is denied extra credit to pull out a grade having a chance to slag the professor. The comments in particular can do major damage even to people with generally very good evaluations.

      2. Blomma*

        Yes this! The professor for one of my capstone (senior thesis) classes cancelled class 4 or 5 times in a semester and was super late handing back drafts of our papers and all other assignments. He was dealing with a child with a health issue, which I eventually found out from a student in another class of his, but he never really addressed the situation with us or had solutions for minimizing disruption. Also he didn’t email us to cancel class, he had someone from administration put a sign on the door. I’m physically disabled, so making the effort (in pain) to go all the way across campus only to find out class was cancelled…I was not thrilled. If he had communicated with us more clearly and had given a lot more notice when canceling class, I know I would have had more patience and understanding for his need for flexibility.

      3. BethDH*

        I’ve never had cancer, but I did have a major health issue and was undecided about whether to disclose. I was adjuncting at two different schools, and for a variety of reasons, I disclosed at one school ahead of time and not at the other. I strongly recommend telling them something ahead of time. I ended up needing to tell them partway through the semester anyway, and it was a lot more disjointed and confusing for the students both because I told them when they already knew something was wrong and were a mix of anxious and annoyed, and because I was more anxious and too busy dealing with my issue to be able to answer the (very reasonable, not intrusive) questions students have.

      4. Rock Prof*

        I had to deal with my dad having a huge health emergency this fall semester. I turned my classes remote for two weeks because it. I’m known for how flexible I am, so I was hoping it would go there other way too. I gave the students as much notice as I could in the lead up, let me know through email, the LMS, and a more on the door. I didn’t have any negative reactions (though I’m not excited to read evaluations), and lots of students asked how my dad was doing when I got back. A lot of students were able to connect how flexible I have been with covid and everything to what I was asking for, which helped a lot.

        1. bleh*

          Are you me? Same situation – same two week online, while I traveled to help. Except I first calmly stated family emergency. I had to announce a second time, and a student asked an unexpected question. I couldn’t filter and said “because my Dad has cancer.” They were very kind and my evals were high. I think it made me human to them.

          1. Rock Prof*

            I’m sorry you had to go through this too. Aging parents are just a really tough reality. In reality, I think my evaluations will be fine. My students were also really caring, sometimes to a fault where they wouldn’t tell me they needed help because they didn’t want to bother me more.

          2. Nupalie*

            Wow. That seems like a terribly low number. I’ve had a second part time job for over 30 of my 40 career years. That includes 18 years when my primary job included quick-response oncall duties on a weekly rotation. I can’t imagine being single and settling/getting by on the income from my full time management jobs in banking , manufacturing, and government.

    7. Not A Manager*

      OP5, I don’t have teaching experience, but I do have experience with cancer diagnoses and treatments. My advice is to address this before you start to show any effects of your treatment, but not to go into detail. If you want to be clear that you’re available to discuss this further, you can but that’s up to you.

      My script would be something like, “I want you all to know that I am facing a health challenge this semester. Luckily this issue was detected early and I have every hope of a good outcome. You might notice some changes in my physical appearance while I address this, and it’s possible that I will occasionally need to teach some classes remotely. I will make every attempt to be available to you both in class and out of class, but my turnaround time might be longer than it otherwise would. On a personal note, I’m young for this diagnosis and the issue was detected early due to regular checkups and recommended testing. I encourage all of you to follow medical recommendations about health screenings and scheduled checkups.”

      I hope that your treatment goes very well.

      1. TodoList*

        I’m a former professor, a woman, and a cancer survivor. I agree that telling your students is a good idea and this is a good script. Student evaluations are an important consideration for tenure-track (and non-tenure-track) positions, so I think it’s smart that you’re planning around that. It might be worth talking with other professors in your department to see if they’d be willing to step in to support class activities / discussions / etc. as an emergency back up. You might not ever need it, but having one or two people who can facilitate if you have something come up at the last minute could be helpful.

        Wishing you the best in your treatment!

    8. Artemesia*

      Because this will be visible and because you are in the tenure run — women already have enough problems with student assessments especially if they are rigorous — I think you should matter of factly tell your students at the start of the semester. It an be in the context of need to occasionally adapt the class to go on line due to treatment needs and your commitment to be responsive to their needs but needing to meet via zoom for office hours etc.

      It is better to be open with the students rather than having rumors fly. There is less drama and fuss when people just matter of factly are open in this type of situation. Hope all goes well.

    9. AnotherSarah*

      LW5–I can’t say what will land well with every student (and undoubtedly some might think you’re oversharing if you talk about your dx, whereas others will think it’s weird if you don’t), but students will talk amongst themselves and they will worry. Many will want to ask you if you’re okay, I’d wager.

      I think it’s perfectly okay to share, especially as it will impact their experience as students. I wonder if framing it around the treatment, rather than the diagnosis, would help. Something like, “I wanted to let you all know that over the next few months I might need to do x and y. I’m getting treated for cancer, and because of the treatment I might also wear a wig or scarf some days, or you might see that I’m losing my hair. I wanted to say something because I don’t want anyone to feel awkward about noticing. Get screened early and often!” I think if you lead with the impact, it’ll be helpful, and be as specific as you can. Like if you are having chemo on Fridays, you might want to give students a heads-up that you won’t be grading on weekends and will likely not respond to emails until Mondays. My own experience with students (not about cancer diagnoses but other serious life things) is that it only feels like overloading when professors kind of just leave something there and the students don’t have a sense of what it means for them.

      I hope your treatment goes speedily and well!

      1. AnotherSarah*

        I see that comments above recommend saying “health issue,” but I do think with hair loss, people will know or assume it’s cancer, and if you’re comfortable saying it, I’d be specific.

        1. HelloHello*

          I agree. If this were a health issue that was less visible/had less widely known symptoms it would make sense to just say “health issue” but I think avoiding saying “cancer” when your symptoms are going to strongly imply your actual diagnosis will just cause more curiosity/invite speculation. OP: As much as you’re able keep things short and to the point, and I suspect your students will follow your lead and also know to give you grace throughout the semester. And best of luck with your treatment.

          1. Julie*

            OP5, I wasn’t a teacher but a truck driver and a customer service representative and I had a cancer diagnosis last August. I suggest just coming out with it when you are comfortable. Most of my co-workers knew immediately but my customers didn’t figure it out until a month after my surgery and I answered the phone at work when I was released to light duty. Then I had to go over the whole diagnosis again. Even to this day I’m asked what happened or why were you off yesterday when I’ve had an appointment. And then not even being recognized when they came to work to pick something up. To this day sometime’s they don’t know who I am until I speak. Then I have to go through the speech all over again. I wish it was just told to everyone in the beginning so I don’t have to introduce the situation again and again after I’ve moved on and accepted how different things are now.

            1. LW5*

              Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m also trying to avoid having to share multiple times. I’m able now to talk about everything without getting emotional, but I think having to repeat multiple times that I’m dealing with cancer might send me over the edge.

              1. Engineer with Breast Cancer*

                I really hate to say this, but you’re probably going to have to keep coming out with your diagnosis multiple times. Please feel free to push back though and say “I really don’t want to go into the specifics at this time” or “I have a chronic health problem so I had to be off, but I’m doing fine.”

              2. Breast Cancer Survivor*

                First of all, all my best wishes for your treatment and results!

                Not a teacher, but I deal both with coworkers and customers (the latter who I only see occasionally). Early on, I decided that being upfront and matter-of-fact by telling everyone at work, all at once, was going to be easier FOR ME to deal with rather than having to hide symptoms or remember who I told and didn’t. I also decided I didn’t want it to derail customer engagements or have it come up over and over with people I didn’t see all the time.

                I told my bosses and talked with HR about logistics just as soon as I had some initial sense of things. I also told some of my teams who I was close to. Then I sent an email to my coworkers outlining the situation. Email was better because everyone – including myself – could have their emotions in private. I mentioned that customers wouldn’t need to know (so setting my boundaries for communication). Practically speaking, I wore many knitted hats and a terrible wig for client meetings.

                One thing I said in my email was that “I gratefully accept all well-wishes, prayers, and good thoughts.” This cut way down on the “is it OK if I pray for you?” awkward emails that I’d have to respond to multiple times.

                Everyone’s situation is different, and you should do what feels right for you. Again my good wishes for your healing.

        2. Not A Manager*

          I think with hair loss people will assume it’s cancer, but I’m not sure that’s a reason that OP needs to say it. I feel like it’s important to tread that line between communicating openly, and inviting people into your business.

          In my experience, when you say “cancer” (and maybe when you name any diagnosis, really), people feel permitted to ask you a lot of questions and to give you a lot of advice. “Health issue,” to me, sets a boundary around what kind of responses you’ll tolerate.

          1. Grape*

            Yes, exactly. Set reasonable expectations but also reasonable boundaries. Being honest and open is a nice idea until you’re three chemo cycles in, exhausted and can’t stand one single more person “just checking in” or telling you how “brave” you are. Also, a high quality and well-chosen wig along with makeup can hide hair loss surprisingly well. Completely a personal choice though and everyone does it differently.

          2. WS*

            +1, having had cancer, it’s a word that freaks out a lot of people and, because so many people know someone who has had some kind of cancer, feel free to give tons of unwanted and irrelevant advice about it. Keep the information minimal and practical.

            1. LW5*

              This is a good point that I haven’t considered… I’m leaning toward wanting to let them know it’s cancer just because with the hair loss and the wigs and hats I’ll be wearing I think it might be obvious. But I really don’t want any unsolicited medical advice. I’m hoping that the power dynamics in the classroom might work in my favor there.

              1. kms1025*

                you absolutely have to do whats most comfortable for you…cancer sucks, cancer is scary, and it gives your soul such a pounding that you need to go out of your way to protect and pamper yourself…been there done that (sorry for being captain obvious here)…sending you prayers and well wishes

        3. Jackalope*

          Yeah, I’m team “use the word ‘cancer’” here, largely because hair loss is such a common side effect that everyone will guess. If I had been a student with a professor who made vague comments about “a health issue” and then lost her hair, I would not only guess cancer as the cause, but would probably also assume that it was terminal and get super stressed out about my prof’s probable impending death. So in order to help it be less of an issue, I’d go for saying it’s a treatable cancer with a good prognosis and you don’t want to discuss it more than that, then move on to how this will affect class.

          1. Jackalope*

            I’m tired and looking back I’m not sure if what I said was clear. The reason that vagueness would make me think it was terminal is that in my experience, the worse things are the more people try to cover them up. So an easily treatable cancer with a good prognosis would seem to me like something someone would be up front about, and being secretive about calling it cancer instead of a health issue would make me think they were hiding something really awful.

            1. Not A Manager*

              You can’t control what everyone will think. My experience with a cancer diagnosis (not mine, my partner’s), is that everyone has an opinion and it’s both intrusive and depressing.

            2. LW5*

              Thanks for sharing this. It’s helpful to hear the multiple types of reactions that people have! I know that cancer can be a scary word, but I do agree with you that sometimes secrecy (or perceived secrecy) can make things seem even scarier or worse. As of now I’m leaning toward matter-of-factly disclosing that it’s cancer but focusing on how the treatment schedule will affect class and what they can expect from me.

              1. TheLinguistManager*

                Cancer survivor but not professor here. My experience was that the phrasing that helped most was to say I was undergoing chemo. While that definitely implies cancer, it (usually) skips people asking what kind (and in my case, it wasn’t something I wanted to share, necessarily – although I got freer with that as time went on) and giving weird advice and all that.

                I think that saying “I have a medical condition and here are the effects it’ll have on the schedule” is totally defensible, but since you seem willing to specify that it’s cancer, saying “I’m undergoing chemo” shortcuts a lot of questions by giving a detail you can be relatively detached about answering questions about. (“How long?” “What’s the schedule like?” etc.)

                Good luck, LW5! It’s going to be tough, but if you rely on your support system and allow yourself some grace, you’ll have an easier time.

            3. The Rafters*

              Recent survivor here. I still can barely bring myself to use the “C” word. My type has a specific name which I use. I was able to WFH full time during the entire process, so most people at my job didn’t know until I returned to work. OP obviously will have to say something to her students. At first, all people at my job knew was that I was ill and fully remote. I did allow a work friend to tell my coworkers that my prognosis was excellent (true) and on specific days, I would not be available at all. Otherwise, I expected to keep that journey private. Whether or not OP chooses to share her exact diagnosis is her decision and hers alone. This is her journey. She has to do what is right for her.

          2. bamcheeks*

            I’m the opposite– if you say “health issue” and your hair comes out, people will be 90% sure that it’s cancer but you’ve set the boundary that you don’t want to share any more information. They might talk about it amongst themselves, but they’re unlikely to bring up the C-word with you. If you say “cancer”, people often feel entitled to ask questions / talk about their own experience of cancer / share the carrot juice diet that cured their aunt and all sorts of other intrusive shit that you just don’t need.

            From the point of view of students worrying about whether or not that means it’s terminal– that is outside the professor’s control and not their wheelhouse. It’s literally not possible or desirable to disclose enough information about your health to stop other people you know in your professional role being anxious! I know that students get anxious about all sorts of stuff, but that particular one is very definitely their own responsibility to manage through whatever means they have access to, not the professor’s to head off.

      2. LW5*

        Thank you so much for this. Your script feels exactly like something that would come naturally from me, and I like the way you’ve framed it around the treatment rather than centering the diagnosis. Thank you so much!

    10. desdemona*

      OP5 – my college mentor had cancer. During her first course of treatment, it was an open secret – I don’t remember how the word was spread among her students, but it was clear to us that she did not wish to discuss it, and so we did not. (I think she informed the students she was independent-study-leading, and they spread the word? She knew we knew but we never spoke about it.)

      I would recommend addressing it yourself, perhaps via email if you’d prefer, and outlining whether you are alright with them discussing it with you or not.

    11. Doctor B the Younger*

      OP #5: Currently an adjunct dealing with a similar situation, and I totally get living and dying on those evals. I’ve had major surgery on each of my knees the last 2 summers. I teach entirely online (since 2019), almost always asynchronously, so I at least didn’t have to worry about class meetings. In both fall terms I chose to share the basics that would affect them the most – I spent the first weeks of the term teaching from the couch, and I has physical therapy twice a week. (Still do, I’m doing my 6th straight start of term in physical therapy.) I share that I had major surgery, I’m in PT, I’m less available on certain days, and then provide a schedule for when they can expect things back, along with the priority list – which assignments get bumped to the front of the line, and what’s getting delayed. I also said that I would fall behind – it’s just going to happen because I don’t know when I’m going to have a bad day. I don’t share the details of the surgeries, because they’re rather gruesome – the sanitized version is that I got my legs professionally broken and then rebuilt. (6 million dollar man jokes go here.)
      What I don’t tell students is that I have other chronic illnesses. I’ve had those illnesses since before moving to online only, and I made sure to have an alternate assignment in reserve that they could do themselves while I disappeared for 15 minutes to deal with the flare. To make a long comment short- only tell them what immediately affects their time in the class. Share other details only when you and the student are comfortable. For me, the nursing students are FASCINATED and love learning about the procedure, since it’s a fairly rare one. The other group who wants to know are other knee-issue people who want to compare notes. Most other students are ok with the vague description.

    12. Lurker*

      OP #5 disclose it especially disclose how you expect it to effect your classes. I had a professor in college who did not disclose that they were dealing with a medical issue, and then mid semester evaluations came out and they were absolute torn apart for not responding to emails in the syllabus promised time frame, for canceling office hours at the last minute and not rescheduling, for not retiring graded work on time, for not doing what was promised in the syllabus, basically there ratings tanked and then they came to class and yelled at us about everything going on in there lives and how we were all entitled brats. We felt bad, but the thing was we had no way of knowing that they were dealing with a major health issue and not just being a crappy teacher. That was my really long was of saying tell your students, tell them how you expect it to effect there classes and tell them this all in the first class so they can decide if they need to be in a different section. If my teacher had been up front with us I would have transferred to a different teacher not because they were sick but because I was juggling a lot and needed to be able to count on office hours happening and work coming back on time so I could manage school and work.

    13. Who the eff is Hank?*

      OP #5- I’m so sorry to hear about your diagnosis and I hope your treatment goes well. If you are willing to tell your students then I think you should. You mentioned that the students will start to notice signs of illness, and when that happens I can imagine that many of them will be concerned or curious but probably too polite to address it. If you put it out in the open then they won’t have to question. They’ll also be able to give you some leeway on the days when you’re not feeling 100%.

    14. bookworm*

      OP #5: as someone who had a professor who was undergoing chemo and serious cancer treatments while I was in her course, and now has college students of my own…. Tell your students. This is not inappropriate or putting too much on them. They can determine how they want to respond, but this is 100% within the normal boundaries for “things you share with students.”

      At minimum, they’ll have context for if you seem more tired than normal or need to move class online (and with covid, it may be a good idea for you to move online more to keep yourself safe!) But they may also surprise you with their thoughtfulness and kindness. They’re adults, so if having a professor with cancer was genuinely distressing for some reason, they could opt to drop your class, or seek campus counseling. But based on my own experience, I suspect they’re far more likely to appreciate you being open with them.

      1. LW5*

        Thank you for this! I am having to start the semester online, so I’m sure some of them already suspect something is going on. We start next week.
        The students have surprised me with their thoughtfulness and kindness in the past, so I hope they’re able to do the same now. And thanks for the reassurance that a student can always drop the class if they find this particularly distressing.

        1. Autumn*

          I am glad to see you will be online and don’t have the stress of worrying about covid in the classroom! I am not a teacher but I also was diagnosed with breast cancer very young (at 33 – 20 years ago, no family history) and as a result several of my friends bugged their mothers about getting mammograms and two of them ended up getting treated as well, so you never know what may come of sharing just a little, as much as you’re comfortable with. I think the teachers in this thread have given great advice on how to structure a message. I was open at work and everyone was fantastic. I wish you all the best.

          1. LW5*

            Wow! I’m also very young (early 30s) and also no family history. I’m so glad to hear you’re 20 years out from all of this, and it is reassuring to know that people did get mammograms. Now that I’m a couple months removed from the initial diagnosis and shock of it all, I think I’m better able to focus on telling my students that I do have cancer (breast cancer) and here’s how it might affect them this term. Thanks for the well wishes

    15. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

      When I knew I would lose my hair because of chemo, I bought a wig of similar style and colour to my own hair. As I recall, I had a week off work and then returned wearing the wig, so that my clients did not know I was unwell or losing my hair. Taking that wig off when I got home was about one hundred times more of a relief than taking a bra off is! However, it would not have been helpful for my clients to know that I was seriously unwell, given their own issues.
      The wig had a line of pretend scalp along the parting, which always amused me, and I think it greatly increased the credibility of it when seen up close.
      One of my friends acted as the information hub for my other friends to keep up to date with my treatments, which meant I did not have to keep repeating the same stuff over and over. That was a big help.
      However – and your mileage may vary – I found it very helpful to keep the number of people who knew what was happening as low as possible. I developed a strong dislike for the pitying expression, accompanied by the sensitive hand on the forearm, that some colleagues and acquaintances indulged in. You will know that look if you ever experience it! You might prefer to be just YOU with your students, rather than their ‘teacher with cancer’. Because I did not look sick (just tired really) people who did not know just treated me normally and that was a big psychological help. And it meant they didn’t inundate me with anti-science treatment advice.
      On the funny side, several people complimented me on my lovely smooth skin, which indeed it was when all of the hair fell off!
      I wish you all the best, treatment is a slog but like the rest of life it is just minute by minute and eventually you will will look back and think Well! I’m glad that’s over!

      1. LW5*

        Oh man I totally hear you on the putting looks. And so far physically I feel similarly to you – just tired some days but otherwise I feel fine. It’s frustrating for sure. And I think would drive me absolutely insane if everyone started treating me as fragile (which, like, yes, I happen to be more fragile and sick right now, but I am still a mostly competent human!). Thanks for the well wishes!

      2. The Rafters*

        Love your comment about the smooth skin. Mine was like a baby’s behind! I do think OP needs to say something to her students about her treatment. I would add that she has a good prognosis. I think too much info too soon is sort of an invitation to being asked intrusive questions. After OP has gone through a couple of rounds of treatment, she may need to update her students about her availability or the need for more remote learning. C treatments affect everyone differently. In my case, the worst of it was sheer exhaustion. Every other possible side effect from itchy skin to nausea were mostly manageable or non-existent.

      3. Autumn*

        Oh, I did the same thing, bought a wig in the same color and style! Fooled my brother-in-law, an internist, who was surprised I hadn’t lost my hair. Mostly I didn’t wear it though, it was super hot and itchy and I wasn’t in a job where people cared, so I stuck to light, soft scarves. And my skin was never better.

    16. Natnic*

      My mum was a high school teacher and moved to a new school, became head of department and got a terminal cancer diagnosis within the month. The school and students knew she was sick but not terminal. I’m 98% sure she told her previous students during her first round of cancer 5 years prior. I’m a big believer in sharing to avoid shock. And given the pandemic if you’re face to face learning you should definitely say something. Be broad when describing your diagnosis and open to support too. You’ll never know where you’ll find the unicorn in your corner. Good luck with your treatment. Rest when you can. Ease back into things. It’s a b*tch of a thing.

        1. Maggie*

          Was looking for the right entry point and this is it. Not only should you tell your students, but please tell your peers as well. I am a high school teacher and my coworker and friend recently died of breast cancer in her 30s. She said zilch, nada, nothing to her students. Several weeks before she died, a mutual student asked me for help regarding Mrs. Math teacher. He was not understanding the material, not receiving feedback on his work, and well, not learning math. He wanted help but also noted that he thought something was wrong with Mrs. Math but wasn’t sure and didn’t want to be rude. So I had to deliberately ask him questions and was stunned she’d told them nothing. I knew of her cancer diagnosis but ultimately didn’t disclose and directed him back to her with a script. She died not too long after and her students were shocked and blindsided, and so was I! I had no idea things had gotten so serious. I hope all the best for you, respect your privacy, and hope you are never in the situation, but with all that said: do not allow your students to think you are just a jerk who happens to have alopecia. Allow them to grant you grace, especially if tenure reviews really on it! And be direct about what you want your colleagues to know and share or not share. Best wishes!

    17. anonforanevening*

      I’m self-employed and had cancer a several years ago. I was very worried that my ability to land engagements with my clients depended on me being seen as fully available, so I did not disclose my diagnosis or treatment plan to anyone who I did not absolutely trust. I told only 2 work contacts – one who had previously had cancer and would understand, and the other who is also a personal friend and trustworthy to not gossip. Somewhat ironically, I ended up getting work with one client who gave me the contract specifically because they were under the impression that their usual consultant was “experiencing health issues”. That completely confirmed my suspicion that my illness would have had a serious impact on my income, if I had been public about it. I managed my illness by not accepting work I couldn’t do, and just told people I was too busy with other commitments – which worked out quite well.

      Since the OP is pre-tenure, I think that she should be careful about how she (I assume this is a she) discloses the information. Before telling anyone, I would make sure that you can access disability / illness protections and I would talk with HR at your university to learn about what supports are offered. I would also talk with your faculty management about how and what to communicate to your classes. Also, give yourself time to absorb the news, and get your ducks in a row to prepare for treatment, etc. etc. Eg. perhaps your best course of action will be to take a leave of absence or maybe it will be to do a half-course load. Better to find out what the plan needs to be, and communicate it after that, than to have to change plans after you’ve made the announcement.

      1. The Rafters*

        I commented earlier. I think OPs plan will change as she goes along. She may have to teach fully remote because of the pandemic. She’ll very likely be at an extremely high risk for contracting COVID. She doesn’t know how treatment will affect her and will have a better idea after she’s been through a couple of rounds of treatment.

    18. CatMintCat*

      I went through this in 2019, although my students are a lot younger – 7 and 8 year olds. I was open with my principal and he, with my full permission, told the parent body. The children were only told that I wasn’t well, and would be missing a lot of school, and to be kind when I was there. However, kids aren’t dumb and when I lost my hair they worked it out, especially the older ones (our school goes up to 12 year olds). And they were amazingly supportive.

      So my recommendation is to be open – staff parents and students were amazing, and their support made the whole mess a bit easier.

      Three years on, I’m doing fine and cancer free. I wish the same for you.

      1. LW5*

        Thanks for sharing your experiences! So glad that you are cancer free now, and that everyone at your school was supportive. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to hear from people who have made it through this.

    19. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      For #5, I’d recommend joining and look in the forums (under “Community”) to ask advice on this issue, and for the many questions (and venting!) you’ll have in the coming months. It’s a huge community of breast cancer patients, active and past, who discuss a wide range of topics. Best of luck to you!

    20. an academic*

      You know your students best. At my university, the majority of my students are nice and would be neutral to supportive. I also teach a lot of premeds, many of whom chose that path because they’ve supported people in their lives who have cancer or other illnesses. On top of that, I already talk about cancer a lot to illustrate the relevant concepts in my courses. So I, personally, would disclose. (Actually, on top of that I see if I could figure out exactly what was happening inside my cancer and make an exam question about it.) But you know what kind of students you get and how they would react to an instructor who shows weakness.

      1. After 33 years ...*

        +1 My students would also be supportive. As many others have noted, disclose to the degree that you are comfortable with. I would suggest that some disclosure is a good procedure. You may get a few non-supportive evaluations from individual students, but anyone with experience in reading evals would recognize the outliers (that would certainly happen here, but I know that some reviewers could be less astute, and students will write their evals regardless).

        Take care and best wishes!

    21. Anima*

      Student here with a teacher that had a life-changing emergency: I’d lean on “disclose it’s you are I’ll and go into detail if comfortable”. That said, saying it’s cancer could help also, because your students will be less wondering what exactly your illness is. Students gossip, sadly.
      The story I have went as this: one of my teachers (not yet a professor) fell off the earth around the time we needed our assignments graded. He is never punctual or organized, so we all assumed he just forgot to grade our assignments, or worse, graded them and then didn’t put the grades in the online-system. Our teachers are required to grade assignments at a certain date. Two weeks after the date, one of us students shot him an email, which wasn’t totally friendly, sadly, and got the reply that the teacher has family in an area which had devastating flooding. Whole villages lost, people died. We all went “oh sh*t” and the emails got a lot friendlier. Some of us with the resources even asked if they could help. Compassion all around. Since the students knew what was up, we patiently waited for our grades.
      I believe that could work for you, too. Little bit of disclosure so students know what’s up.

    22. Stitch*

      When I was in high school, my English teacher had breast cancer. She just told us that upfront but other than that didn’t give updates. She wore a scarf when her hair fell out. Her students organized breast cancer fundraisers for her.

      In the other hand, I worked for a boss who was extremely secretive about her cancer. I knew what was going on (my job was to cover when she was out) but was under strict instructions not to tell. She told some people she had a serious illness but no details. I understand she liked her privacy, but it created awkward situations where people asked me where she was or what was going on (she was absent a lot, the treatments made her feel very sick) and I didn’t know how to answer. It also resulted in it coming completely out of left field for the majority of my coworkers when she died (which was sudden, she literally was at work, went to a treatment and died two days later). This was incredibly stressful and again, I know it was her choice, but I think the situation would have been better had she been open about having terminal cancer.

      So based in those two experiences, I’d recommend being open about it. I don’t think minute details are required.

      1. LW5*

        Thanks for sharing these two experiences – definitely pushing me toward general disclosure that it’s cancer and a focus on how the course might be affected this term.

    23. happybat*

      It’s completely appropriate to share your diagnosis with colleagues, GTAs and so forth. I would think long and hard about raising it with students. I’ve found students can be radically unsympathetic, to the point of being outraged that our teachers’ lives are affecting their tuition. Knowing there is a problem can also worry us, so we are more sensitive to issues we would normally disregard.

      However, if an individual student approached to ask if you are ok, that would be a good moment to share a bit (if you feel comfortable doing so). At that point the student have expressed caring and so will be more receptive to the news.

      This is in no way meant to be student-bashing, just a pattern I have noticed amongst my peers.

      1. bookworm*

        I would argue that selective sharing has all the drawbacks of not sharing and being open about it with few of the advantages of either strategy. Colleges and universities are rife with gossip– there is zero chance that telling an individual student won’t result in the information traveling to others, but possibly morphing through a game of telephone/speculation rather than the OP being in control of the information and what people should do about it. Result= a bunch of uncertainty, rumors, and anxiety all around.

    24. Bagpuss*

      I would go with telling them that you are dealing with health issues and outlining how this will affect them, and what measures you are putting in place –
      e.g. :
      – That you may be less available / have slower response times
      – That in the event of any delays caused by your health, you will ensure that your university is aware so the students are not penalised (if this is relevant)
      – back up plans – who /how do they speak to if there is something which is genuinely urgent and you are not available, and whether this is always the same person or if it would depend on the nature of their urgent enquiry.

      I think it would also be helpful if you give them a bit of a steer on what you are comfortable with them discussing with you – e.g . if you would prefer that they not offer sympathy or advice, say so, or if you are ok with them mentioning it but don’t want any medical / quasi medical suggestions again then clarifying this can help void any awkwardness.

      If it is practical, can you arrange with a colleague to have them be a point of contact – someone who can field and filter questions or comments – both to give you a bit of a buffer against any inappropriate or intrusive questions / comments but also so that the students have someone they can contact if they aren’t sure about contacting you (even if that person mostly says to them ‘that’s a course related query that it’s totally appropriate to ask LW5, go ahead and and e-mail / speak to her) I can imagine some students feeling they shouldn’t ‘bother’ you and having someone who can reinforce for them that actually it’s fine to continue to ask you about their studies may be helpful for them, and avoid a situation where they don’t ask anyone and then resent it!

      Best wishes for your treatment and recovery.

      I’d be inclined not to tell them full details of your diagnosis and treatment immediately – you can always share further information but you can’t un-share, so maybe start with fairly general information and then you can provide more info later on f it’s relevant or if you feel comfortable doing so

      1. The Rafters*

        Good response about the students being concerned about “bothering” her. OP should tell her students as much as she’s comfortable sharing and let them know that she may not respond right away but she will respond as soon as she can. That way the kids aren’t left in the dark, wondering if they should contact her or not. People in my office teased me a bit b/c I became known for my 3 AM emails. They knew they weren’t expected to respond at 3 AM, but it was when I would be awake and alert enough to work!

    25. graduatestudent*

      Just my experience as a student who has been taught by faculty going through serious health stuff during our term. Like many other comments have said, I think it would be helpful to give your students a heads up about any possible disruptions to teaching or flexibility you may need from them. It helps us plan better, and makes your students far more likely to be patient and understanding. Students are anxious about disruption to their academics (year three of a pandemic isn’t helping) but in my experience will respond well to a clear explanation that this disruption isn’t coming from you being checked out or apathetic about their learning. Disclosing specifics of your diagnosis is entirely personal. I would maybe also consider mentioning (in more general terms) the importance of your evaluations later on in the term as many students may not think anyone actually reads them! I hope your treatment goes as smoothly as possible.

    26. SophiaS*

      This was grad school, so closer interactions, but we had a professor with terminal cancer and a weakened immune system. The speed at which the culture changed from “you can get out of bed, you’re fine to be in at work” to “I have a slight sniffle, better stay home so I don’t kill the boss who’s a single dad with a small kid” was… instantaneous (He made it longer than expected, plenty of time to plan and a few more years with the kids)
      I would, especially these days, want to know as a student, so I could not endanger you further.

    27. agnes*

      I don’t think there is any harm in waiting a bit to see how things go. You can address things like hair loss and your energy level if and when it becomes necessary. A big pronouncement up front right now–before you know how your treatment is actually going to affect you– might bring a lot of unwanted questions etc.

      I had cancer myself several years ago and this approach worked for me. I was pretty far along in my treatment before I felt it necessary to discuss my medical condition, and then I was just matter of fact—“I’ve been having some treatment for cancer, and it’s gone pretty well–until now. I’m letting you know now because I am having some side effects that are affecting my work” and then I explained how. People were great about it.

    28. Asenath*

      My initial response was “no way”, but that’s based on my experience teaching high school, and if I had gotten cancer then, I don’t think I could have handled the teaching, much less mentioned it to my students. When I did have cancer, I was working in an office, and decided to tell the basics to my co-workers, after the initial diagnosis, my initial impulse to privacy, and at a point when my medical team had pretty well laid out my treatment options, so I knew a lot of what to expect, and I had decided I wanted to keep things as normal as possible. I realized people were going to notice when I suddenly started taking time off daily for radiation treatments! That turned out to be a great decision and my co-workers were supportive without being intrusive. If you’re having treatments that affect your immune system, I think your students need to know. I know a teacher who was a caregiver for someone who was severely immunocompromised, and told the students that was the case, and asked them not to come to class if they had a cold (this was pre-COVID), and told them they didn’t need an excuse for such absences and would not be penalized for them. That worked, too.

      And I remembered when I was in elementary school, many years ago, and one of our teachers had cancer. We knew vaguely that he was off sick for a long time, and went away somewhere for treatment. He recovered enough to return to work for a while, and when he came back his appearance had changed noticeably, of course. We were gathered together as a class for him to explain that he had brain cancer, which explained his appearance, and that he might have some symptoms (I think sleepiness or dizziness? I don’t remember that detail), which shouldn’t worry us. We accepted it, and he continued to teach us while he could. It might have helped that he was a very popular teacher and active in youth activities in the community, but I hope that we’d have reacted like that to any teacher.

    29. Drtheliz*

      I’d tell them. I’ve been on the other side of something very similar twice – my class teacher when I was 8 spent the school year dying of brain cancer, and they told us what was wrong (and the next year they told us when she’d finally passed). If it’s appropriate to tell 8-year-olds then it’s appropriate to tell young adults.

      The other one is thee midwife who handled my after-birth care this year. She lives just up the road from me, and a few weeks ago I saw when walking the baby that they took her name off the mailbox. Since we’re currently on a “visits as needed” basis I’d have to assume she’d tell me if she’d moved so I’m stuck wondering if she’s died (far from impossible these days) or just moved but not far enough that it’ll affect her patient service area.

    30. Blaise*

      I teach K-8, so very different from college lol, but I always believe in being open and honest with my students whenever possible- it’s so important to humanize yourself! When my sister died three years ago, I was out for a week, and it was really important for me that my students knew that my sister died, and none of that vague “family emergency” terminology.

      In your case, I do think I would wait a little while and disclose it when it becomes relevant to the students, such as when your hair does start to thin or when you know you’re going to need to cancel a class. Otherwise, you risk some students forgetting if it’s been months in between the announcement and its impact. But never be afraid to be human with students!

      1. LW5*

        I like the impulse to be human with the students. That’s a great way to put into words what I hope has been my teaching philosophy so far! Our semester starts next week and I’m far enough into treatment now that I’ve lost all my hair, so they’ll notice something is up because I rotate between two different wigs (same cut, different colors) and various hats.

    31. Healthcare Worker*

      I’m also a professor, and when my mother was quite ill I briefly explained this to my students and the impact it might have on timing for the course. I was so impressed with how compassionate and understanding they were. (I teach in a medical adjacent field, so that might have some bearing on their response, as compassion is something we emphasize. ) When my colleague in a different department had breast cancer she was open, but brief and upbeat with sharing with her students, and also found them to be understanding. Students supported her and cancer research by participating in the breast cancer walk and other activities. I hope your experience is similar.
      Sending good vibes to you for a speedy recovery!

    32. LW5*

      Thanks, Alison, for running my question and thank you all for the experiences you’ve shared and the sample scripts.
      I’m far enough into treatment now that I’ve lost my hair and am using different wigs and hats, but other than that I feel mostly ok. Which of course adds to the difficulties because I don’t really look sick! I’ve mostly settled into a treatment routine, so I’m going to take the advice many of you shared to focus on what the students should expect from me this term. Hopefully they’ll have a fairly regular semester (though starting online), but should not expect emails from me on Friday or over the weekends, and should anticipate slightly longer grading periods. (hey, maybe a silver lining is that this will help me draw better work-life boundaries!).

      I also really appreciate the discussion about whether to disclose cancer versus “health/medical issues.” As of now I’m leaning toward disclosing cancer because I want to avoid any gossip, and because the wigs/hats will probably give it away. I’m hoping that saying this matter-of-factly, as many of you advised, will do the trick.

      Thanks again for all of the advice! I’m prepping for the start of the semester but will try to check back in on the comments throughout the day. Everyone always says that this is an amazing comments community, and I really agree. You guys brought actual tears to my eyes — thank you.

    33. KayStar*

      I work in a residential substance abuse treatment center where teaching is a big component of my responsibilities. I am working with adults of all ages. I agree, keep it matter of fact. I didn’t tell them much prior to going out for mastectomy surgery, other that “it is serious, but screening works and we caught it early, so chances are very good that it will be chronic rather than terminal.” I was diagnosed four years ago, treated with lumpectomy and radiation, and it recurred just before Thanksgiving, which is when we did the mastectomy. I have some long term challenges, including fatigue, so there are days I need to sit down during lecture or otherwise adjust the “regular” routines; my students respond well to factual updates. It often leads to beneficial group discussions very appropriate to our context about adjusting to life as it happens and learning to cope in healthy ways.

    34. Emmie*

      I’m undergrad, one of my professors told us she had cancer. I understood that she would answer our questions, but may be delayed sometimes. I know some students can get groucy about prof response times. She also told us we may have a sun sometimes, though this was before mainstream online education. You’re making a good decision by sharing the impacts of this with them. I recommend the boundaries an earlier poster gave around inquiring about your health. It gives you space to live outside of your diagnosis. FWIW, I wish you a speedy recovery.

      1. Emmie*

        I am typing this on my phone. The typos are hurting my eyes.
        – In undergrad
        – A sun / substitute

    35. KeinName*

      CW: Terminal illness

      I have read an amazing text by a university teacher about dealing with her colleagues’ diagnosis, which talks about difficulties in the institutional response. Can be found online I think:
      Johanna Hefel (2014). Chapter 8. Will You Be with Me to the End?: Personal Experiences of Cancer and Death. In Narrating Social Work Through Autoethnography (pp. 197-230).

    36. Jack Be Nimble*

      LW, I think you can approach the diagnosis with your students the same way you’d approach it with colleagues. You can share whatever level of detail you’re comfortable with, but 18-25 is the age when we expect young adults to start managing their own emotional responses, even if they have a strong or overwhelming emotional reaction. Personally, I would be up front, explain how it might affect the class schedule, potentially point to your university’s mental health/medical services, and trust that anyone who’d be affected by hearing about your diagnosis is either going to process their feelings with a friend/therapist or drop the class, if their feelings would be truly overpowering.

      I teach at the K-12 level, where there’s a different emotional dynamic and different expectations. A college professor typically isn’t in the care-taking role that K-12 classroom teachers are, since their students are older and see less of them.

      My caveat is that I attended big, state schools for grad and undergrad, where most classes were minimum 20 students and the size of the institution fostered an expectation that all students would be largely autonomous, even as first-year undergrads. If you’re at a smaller school with, my advice might not be in line with your university’s culture! I’d talk to other people in your department/uni and see what they’d advise based on your school’s culture.

    37. alienor*

      One of my daughter’s AP history teachers in high school had stage 4 cancer. The teacher was pretty straightforward about it and told all the kids at the beginning of the year, as well as the parents at back-to-school night–just “hey, this is my situation, I might be in and out for treatments or if I’m not feeling well, here are the plans for coverage if I am.” She was at the point where she’d been living with it for several years and could make jokes about it to diffuse any tension, but since this is a new diagnosis I know the LW may not be there yet. She did miss some time here and there, but everyone rolled with it, so I think college students will handle the situation just fine.

    38. Sporty Yoda*

      If you have a teaching assistant, I would also communicate with them how their responsibilities would change; for example, suggesting students contact them first for non-urgent issues or having them take on more lecture responsibilities. In “normal” semesters (where no one was dealing with any health issues to the best of my knowledge), I’ve had no communication from teaching supervisors outside of normal business hours, and it sucks when students have 24hours to take an exam, they’re taking it at 5:15, need to be added to something, and I have no idea what’s happening because it’s quitting time and no longer the professor’s problem. If you’re allowed to give TAs additional permissions and/or training, please do; even if it’s “the day the University assigned the final overlaps my chemo, so you’ll need to handle more on your own,” the heads up is nice.
      I’m glad to hear your treatments are going well, and wish you grace and further recovery.

      1. LW5*

        I have a graduate assistant who doesn’t have teaching responsibilities (weird set up here), but this is a fantastic idea and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it! I’ll definitely be reaching out to my GA to see if they are able to pick up some of the slack at least on the administrative side of things!

    39. WantonSeedStitch*

      When I was in graduate school, I had a class with a professor who disclosed during the first class of the semester that he was living with AIDS, and that as a result, he was more prone than most people to serious illness. He said that this meant he might be out of class unexpectedly for a long stretch of time, and that it might affect his appearance as he’d already dealt with skin cancer associated with the illness before. He reassured us that he had put plans into place to ensure that no matter what happened to him, we would be able to complete the course and learn what we needed to learn from it. He didn’t go into a huge amount of personal detail, but was frank and up-front, and let us know how his illness might impact us. It certainly made me feel grateful to him that he was so transparent, and that he had thought ahead about making sure his students didn’t have to deal with the administrative nightmare of being unable to complete a class if anything happened to him to take him out of the classroom. It also made me feel much more understanding when he was a couple days late with grading our work or responding to a question sent by e-mail.

    40. NotALawyer*


      It depends a lot on the general culture of the school you teach at, but if reasonable, I would HIGHLY encourage you to share as much with your students as you are comfortable with them knowing. My fondest memories of college and law school are the times my professors stopped class and said “Look, this has nothing to do with [political science, math, whatever you teach], but there are bigger things than [political science, math, whatever you teach] and I want to create an environment where we acknowledge that” [which led into a discussion about the fact that they were sick and we would see some visible changes, that their FiL was terminally ill and they would need to miss class sometimes to go help the family, etc.].

      I was able to bond with my professors on a more personal level (I went to a small college that encouraged this) and simultaneously got me the information I needed to understand why emails weren’t responded to as promptly, grades were a little slower to come in, etc.. I think you’ll be surprised (or maybe not!) at how much the young adults you’re teaching step up to the plate to help each other and appreciate your openness. In my opinion, the most important things you learn from school aren’t the academic things, but the intangible skills; empathy, interpersonal relationships, how to respond to less than pleasant news, etc.. As long as you are comfortable sharing information about what’s going on, this is an excellent opportunity for you to model those soft skills.

      As far as not wanting to potentially upset someone with past trauma related to illness, you might in telling them the first time say to email you or come tell you in your office sometime if hearing ongoing updates would be upsetting; that way they are not forced to “out” themselves in front of the class. I’d also encourage you to wait until you have a solid treatment plan in place before telling students, because that’ll go a long way toward not making them worry excessively and that way they (and you) will know generally what to expect as far as how treatment will affect you.

      Regardless of what you choose to do, good luck, and I hope you will keep us all updated!!

      1. NotALawyer*

        Mentioned this in my main comment, but want to highlight it separately as well; this is all very dependent on the school you work at/the culture of the school/the type of relationship you have or want to have with students. I was at a very small liberal arts college that specifically intended for students and professors to have close personal relationships and see each other as peers. What’s appropriate in that environment might be very different from what’s appropriate at a giant university with massive classes (in which case “JSYK, I was recently diagnosed with cancer and will be starting treatments shortly. I wanted to let you know ahead of time so you aren’t shocked by changes in my appearance and in hopes you will be understanding if I’m slow to respond to emails. This is the plan if I need to miss a class session. This is something I’m very open about, so feel free to let me know if you have any questions.” before moving on from the topic might be more appropriate).

    41. CrazyCatLady*

      OP #5 – As a tenured professor at a two- year school, I would suggest that you tell your students but keep it very general. It’s definitely OK to support early mammograms and tell them you have cancer. It’s OK to say you have to move class online for a few days. No details though. It will be hard to not over-share because they will definitely ask. Keep it very professional. This is particularly important because student evaluations matter for tenure at your school. Take advantage of technology and have a many assignments autograded as possible. If you have a TA, lean on then for grading. You might even have them write some test questions – it’s good practice and they do a really good job!

      Consider a leave of absence as well. I’m not sure what options are available at your school but at mine, faculty can donate leave to others as needed. If you don’t have enough to take an entire semester off, consider asking about that. It is much easier for another faculty member to teach an additional class all semester than to try to pick up in the middle of a class should that become necessary. It’s probably also better for you to have the time completely off to take care of yourself.

      We had a professor go through this. She didn’t want to take a quarter off (we are on quarters at my school rather than semesters) but ended up needing to take two full quarters off to finish treatment. She was able to focus on her health and admitted afterwards that it would have been hard to stay working while doing chemo, surgery, radiation, etc. She over 5 years cancer- free now and doing well.

      As teachers, we tend to put our students before ourselves, working more hours than is reasonable oftentimes. Remember that you matter as well. Especially when going through something like this, it’s okay to take time off. I understand that continuing your insurance and income through something like this is important so talk to your HR department about what options may be available to you. Don’t worry about the tenure process. That could be pushed back a semester or a year, as needed. There are almost always procedures in place for things like this and if not, this is an opportunity for those procedures to be put into place! Best of luck!

    42. Miss Dove*

      I can answer this one from experience. I am a high school teacher, and I’ve dealt with this twice. Both times I had chemotherapy and very noticeably lost my hair. I was (and still am) very open about what was happening. I think it’s very important to be frank with the students, rather than leave them wondering what’s going on. Also, I felt it was reassuring to see someone going through it and carrying on normally as much as possible. I felt like I was being a good role model, especially if they or their families were going through something similar. I’ve had students tell me my matter-of-factness helped them.

    43. Res Admin*

      LW#5. First of all, I am very sorry to hear about your diagnosis and am sending you best wishes for recovery.

      My high school history teacher went through this. He just let us know that he had been diagnosed with x cancer, would be getting radiation and chemo treatments, that we would be seeing a, b, c side effects but not to worry. So when his skin got red, blotchy, and peeling, we knew what was going on. Same when he was obviously tired or not feeling well. He handled it briefly and very matter of factly, with a touch of humor. He left clear lesson plans for days he could not be in (this was long before Zoom classes were more than science fiction).

      No one gave him a hard time about it (that I was ever aware of–he was a very well liked teacher and went on to become principal many years later). No one seemed to suffer for it. He was an excellent teacher and his AP classes tested very well. I still consider him one of the best teachers I ever had.

    44. TotesMaGoats*

      I work in academia and I have one faculty member going out for round 2 of breast cancer this Spring. It’s been a hellish year for my faculty from a health perspective and not just COVID. I always encourage setting expectations with students. For example, response times during the week vs the weekend. Not responding to emails after a certain time at night.

      As I finish up my syllabus for a class that starts next week, I’m trying to think what I would do. My students know me from my administrative role and I’m typically very warm with them. Many of my students who average age is 30, call me mom. So, it’s a different perspective. All that said, I would lean towards telling them something and I’d probably go full disclosure. Something along the lines of I’ve got X diagnosis and while I don’t know how this will effect the class, I do plan to teach it with as little issue as possible. This may mean we meet virtually from time to time. Or I may need to have a colleague guest lecture. Just know that I’ll tell you ahead of time and ask that you be flexible with me.

      Just make sure you give that flexibility back. Most people know at least someone who has had cancer so the hair loss shouldn’t be a shock.

      1. LW5*

        Totally agree on giving that flexibility back. I think you’ve captured my feeling on flexibility — I’m known around campus as pretty loose with deadlines, and I’m hoping the students will return the sentiment this semester.

    45. Lizzy May*

      I can speak to this from the point of view of a student. I had a professor in university who was suddenly late, missing classes, cancelling classes and missing officer hours. She never said anything to us, rarely apologized and it was a hard seminar class where support would have been helpful. We were a small program and we all complained and joked about it. And then professor evaluation day came and we all went in. People were reading their evaluations out to the class, giving brutally low scores and giving harsh (but honestly fair) comments. We were just fed up.

      And then we found out she had cancer. I have never felt like such a piece of garbage in my life. Had I known she was dealing with something, I would have been far more compassionate and understanding. I felt like an idiot for not realizing what was going on. Ultimately it wasn’t our business and she didn’t have to say anything if that was what made her comfortable but I wish she had. I know my former classmates and I would have done anything to make her life easier. The OP should do whatever makes them comfortable but from a student who was in the dark in a very similar scenario, I would have written a completely different evaluation had I understood what was going on.

      1. LW5*

        Oh wow. Thank you for sharing this. I am comfortable disclosing the diagnosis, and your experience is a nice reminder of the grace that people will give when they know what is going on in someone else’s life.

        1. KPH*

          Having worked in student affairs, I’d add that giving them the opportunity to extend you that grace is good for their development as adults and human beings, too. The older we get and the more difficult life experiences we endure, the more natural it becomes to think, “Oh, maybe this person is going through something.” A lot of undergrads aren’t there yet; they have the compassion but not the experience. It would be a kindness on your part to give them a chance to rise to the occasion.

          1. Lizzy May*

            This is the experience that changed me in that way. Whenever I’m frustrated with someone, I remember this moment and how I felt when I found out my prof had cancer and try to extend compassion and grace to this new person. I would have written a completely different evaluation. This haunts me to this day. I don’t want that to happen again.

    46. Average Robot*

      One of my high school teachers had cancer diagnosis, and I like the way she handled disclosing it. Very matter of fact, and limited to what we needed to know – no information about the type of cancer or treatment, just practical ways it might affect class or become noticeable to us. It kept us from speculating about what was happening, and made it not scary or sad because she used the same tone she would have used to say “I’ll be out of town next week so there will be a sub.” No emotional burden for the students because you’re not asking them to engage with it emotionally.

    47. HigherEdAdminista*

      I think it would be best to tell the students if you are comfortable with it. They are likely to notice the changes you mention, and they may worry if you aren’t bringing it up directly. They may end up asking or assuming things you don’t want them to.

      A simple direct statement letting them know the situation and letting them know the impact it might have can help. I don’t know if you are experiencing this in your university setting, but the pandemic has changed the kind of expectations we can meet and sometimes students are upset about this; though many of them want flexibility for themselves, they can forget we are people too and might need flexibility or be hamstrung by things beyond our control. I think a little reminder that we are all human and dealing with big things can’t hurt in terms of increasing understanding!

    48. Lexie*

      I’m coming at this from the point of view of someone who just lost her mom to cancer a few weeks ago.
      Tell them. It’s very kind of you to consider any past trauma they’ve had regarding cancer but honestly not telling them isn’t going to protect them from anything. Those would probably be the students who figure it out first because they know the signs. It may upset some of them but they aren’t going to be able to live a life where they avoid all mentions of cancer (trust me it’s freaking everywhere).
      Also, you have no idea how you are going to react to the treatments. It might not be that bad, it could be really rough and you’re going to want to some understanding if there are days that you can’t even bring yourself to do a zoom lecture or are late grading papers.
      Go ahead and get up on that roof top (or stand at your lectern) and shout the need for mammograms.
      I wish you luck and full remission.

      PSA for everyone reading, get a colonoscopy. The one I had at 42 (three years before the recommended age) probably saved my life.

    49. Jigglypuff*

      I taught 7-12th grade, and had I needed to announce something like that, I’d likely have announced it in all my classes on the same day and also sent a message home. You’re working with adults, so there’s no need to contact their parents/guardians, but I think a message via email or however you can post announcements in your class’s website or whatnot is not a bad idea.

      Since they are your students, not your friends, I’d word it something like, “I am dealing with some medical issues and we may have to move classes online occasionally. I may be slower to respond to messages or get your papers back to you later. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.” They don’t need any of the down and dirty details, but it’s not a bad idea to keep them apprised so they are not surprised when classes go online, etc.

    50. Midwest Teacher*

      I’m a teacher as well, but I wanted to share my experience as a student. This may or may not be helpful for you as this situation happened when I was in elementary school, but my third grade teacher received a cancer diagnosis when I was in her class. Because we were so young, she decided to be very matter of fact about it with us, as she was the first person many of us knew with cancer, and we had a lot of questions about what it meant, mortality, etc. She explained about the side effects, losing her hair, wigs, and we ended up with a long term sub for part of the year as well. I think it was really helpful for us to know, at least in general terms, what was going on with our teacher. We would have been whispering privately our guesses and worries about what was going on if we hadn’t been told. I think even your older students would appreciate knowing, even if you choose to keep it vague to protect your privacy. As you said, your end of semester evaluations are important factors for your job, and I think it would absolutely help the students look at your teaching and the course with a different lens if they were aware what you’re going through. You are human after all, and with the current state of the world, it helps for students to be aware of the need for compassion.

      Best of luck to you with your treatment and recovery.

    51. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

      As others have said I think disclosing in advance of any visible/logistical changes is a good idea, both for you and your students. For your sake, they’ll be more likely to forgive changes to schedule or format if they understand. For their sake, stability is important and offering them some warning of what might change and the fact that there is a good reason behind it will help them cope if you do suddenly have to take time off, or switch to remote, or whatever. If you leave them guessing there’s no way to know what they’re going to guess, and if they’re already frustrated by unexpected happenings they’re less likely to be empathetic.

      Also, I imagine you’re not working in a vacuum- I know you said pre-tenure but assuming this isn’t your first class, your students now might know students you’ve taught before. So just, keep in mind that however you handle it it’s probably going to have a broader spread than you might expect, whether that’s current students telling former students what they know or current students asking former students about what they *don’t* know.

      I went to a small, fairly close high school, and a few years after I graduated one of my former teachers was diagnosed with cancer. They were very matter-of-fact about it, shared the basic news and general prognosis and some likely effects with their current students and colleagues, and of course the news spread to the alumni network. (They fortunately also had a good prognosis which I am sure made it much easier to be so public about it.) I think it made it easier on everyone that what got spread around were facts rather than rumors, and at least in this person’s case I think it was better than trying to keep a secret. But also, they could rely on a certain amount of understanding and support from everyone around them; the environment was one where everyone knew each other pretty well.

      If you’re not already close with your students it might feel like more of a gamble to be honest, but I do think most people will react with kindness and concern and be worthy of the trust you put in them by being vulnerable. Maybe it will be hard, maybe some of them will be reminded of traumatic experiences, but this is a fact of life- a fact of *your* life!- and you don’t need to make this harder on yourself to keep them from that discomfort. You’re not being treated for cancer *at* them.

      I hope everything goes well for you LW. Wishing you minimal side effects and an easy recovery.

    52. uni prof*

      Hi OP5: I am a social sciences professor at a mid-size comprehensive university, and recently had a colleague in my dept with a cancer diagnosis who was facing similar issues. Definitely agree with the many good scripts here (esp: be matter-of-fact; fine to say ‘cancer’ or ‘health issue’ depending on your comfort level, but don’t over-share details; set boundaries – e.g. not answering emails over the weekend – things you’d likely have in place even without your diagnosis; and focus mainly on clearly, briefly explaining how your illness & treatment might impact the course, and what measures are in place to deal with these).

      If you haven’t already, some things that were also helpful for my colleague & that I would recommend — with caveat that YMMV depending on your dept and university culture — are the following. These can help you be specific when communicating to students about the measures in place to ensure they can complete the course without disruption; they can also make these supports *structural* and more institutionalized, rather than just relying on you as an individual having flexible due dates, modified office hours/course delivery, etc.
      -If you’re in a union, talk with your rep about what supports you have in terms of paid leave, stopping the tenure clock, accommodations now, and possibility of pre-tenure sabbatical post-treatment to regain research momentum (or pedagogical stuff like course development if you’re in a teaching-intensive institution). Or if you have trusted HR, ask them. Stopping the tenure clock can esp help take pressure off, particularly if you’re not able to do much/any research or crank out publications in addition to teaching right now.
      -Talk with your Chair (or Dean, Head of School, or whoever is the most appropriate senior person with access to resources) about getting additional TA and/or RA support to help with office hours, grading, lab/seminar facilitation, or other teaching tasks that can be reassigned to a grad student.
      -If you have good relations with your colleagues, explore whether they would be willing to fill in with occasional guest lectures, exam proctoring, fielding student queries, grading exams, or whatever would make sense in your discipline.
      -At our university, students were really compassionate and understanding, and wanted to help my colleague. They were very generous but sometimes this manifested in them asking overly personal questions about how my colleague was feeling (i.e., trying to offer support that would be appropriate from a friend or therapist but not a student), and offering to help with housecleaning, rides to appointments, and other tasks that over-step appropriate prof-student relations. So you might also want to be clear in your own mind about how to set boundaries with your students if their expressions of well-meaning support verge into too-personal territory. Something like “I appreciate your concern/that’s a thoughtful, generous offer, but I’ve got the personal supports I need; as your professor, my role is to help you succeed in this class, so let’s focus on that.”

      Finally, be gentle and generous with yourself. The pressures of academia are intense, and it’s easy to conflate research or teaching accomplishments with self-worth. But this is just a job; it is totally OK to put yourself and your health first!! (And any reasonable tenure review committee will take your situation into account when interpreting your course evals for this semester — we have all been on the receiving end of unreasonable evals, and know to take them with a grain of salt. We also look for patterns and general trends over time; by the time you go up for tenure you’ll have many more evals than just this one semester. So try not to let ‘but what about my evals?!’ supplant self care.)

      Wishing you all the best for your treatment!

    53. n.m.*

      My dad is currently in this situation, and I would describe his approach as straight-forward but minimal. He told his students that he’s getting cancer treatment (he didn’t specify type of cancer or type of treatment afaik) and that he will try to notify them by the morning of (like with a snow day) if the class needs to switch online, have a substitute fill in, etc. It’s too early in the semester to have any feedback on how his students feel about it tho.

    54. frosty*

      A lot of folks here with experience with cancer have given some great advice.

      The only thing I’d add is a gentle caution not to encourage mammograms for everyone, or in general any health advice. Diagnostic procedures and tests, especially without an indication for them, can be a huge financial burden as well as a psychological one (the “worried well”). I completely understand the impulse, but my advice would be to abstain from that particular aspect.

      I wish you all the best in your recovery, and I hope you’ll have a great update to share.

    55. evadmailj*

      I’ve taught for over 20 years in a variety of contexts (public high school, informal science institutions, higher education as faculty, etc.). I currently teach graduate classes, so I also work with just adults. My thought on it is: do what you are comfortable with. You don’t owe your students any explanation about your personal life and health. But if you want to share, that would be absolutely appropriate as well. If you do share, I think it would be important to frame it around why they should need to know. “I wanted you to know so that you might understand why you aren’t getting responses to your emails as quickly at times or if you don’t get immediate feedback on assignments.” I could see why you are concerned about course evaluations — it’s an ugly and unfortunate artifact in the university system. But I would hope that your employer would give you a little leeway given your health concerns this semester. Although, I recognize that this might be optimistic on my end.

      Regardless, rest up. Practice self-care. And get better! Your students need a caring teacher like you! :)

    56. employment lawyah*

      5. Teaching with a cancer diagnosis
      Sorry about that. TO answer the question:

      You should tell them right away, especially since most places are still in add/drop period.

      1) They’re adults, and they can handle the knowledge that you’re sick. If not, that isn’t your issue. You don’t need to baby them.

      2) You shouldn’t focus on YOU in the announcement (both because it isn’t their business and they may not care; that would be unpleasant to learn.) You should focus on the CLASS, and discuss the possibility for mixing up classes, or missing them; being late on grading papers/exams if you’re ill; finding substitute teachers, or going online if you’re ill.

      3) You should not expect them to be especially concerned about you personally, and you should be OK with that. They don’t owe you any loyalty here, and there will be some inevitable fallout from your illness. They may not want to take a course from someone who is predicted to be less available or less focused on them (for understandable reasons on your part!) Don’t rely on strangers to override their self-interest on your behalf: if you want to avoid them giving you bad references then the #1 way to do it is to make sure they have the chance to leave your class NOW.

      4) Other than announcing the “here’s how this will affect the class” stuff up front, you should not share any more personal information about your condition in class. You should make that “no future info” clear when you make your announcement. It isn’t their business and it isn’t part of the teacher/student relationship. Anyone who cares enough will talk to you privately.

    57. Kay*

      You’ve received great advice about whether and how to tell your students, but I did want to chime in as a professor who faced a serious health challenge (not cancer) early in my appointment – see if you can stop your tenure clock during treatment. I work at a not-supportive place but this was still a standard option for people who were facing months-long treatment that would affect quality of life and thus might spill over into teaching (and research!).

    58. Missy*

      An up front disclosure is definitely preferable, if only to prevent gossip or speculation if you have to rearrange schedules or a change in appearance. Also, academia is incredibly small and even if you don’t tell your students you may find out through the grapevine. When I was in law school the Dean and a professor both were diagnosed with cancer. The professor was very open with it while the Dean kept it private. And yet, we all knew about both diagnoses. (IIRC, another student was friends with someone who babysat the Dean’s kids and the news spread that way. College towns are small towns).

      I don’t think the options are “tell your students or they will never know.” It is “tell them directly or have them speculate wildly about why you look different or have them hear about it from some third hand source and not know how to handle it because they now also have to keep it secret”.

      (Obviously if this was a situation where you didn’t want to tell them then I would say you shouldn’t tell. But since your concern seems more that you are worried about the impact on the student, as a former student in that situation, direct was better).

    59. NYwriter*

      Best of luck with your treatment, OP5. I’m not a teacher but I had breast cancer at 38 (7 years ago). So many other people have weighed in with their own experiences and excellent advice so I won’t say too much except, please don’t feel you *need* to be an advocate for your students to get mammograms, etc. You may even want to be cautious about leaning too heavily into that role because it may invite them to talk to you about their own fears, family experiences, etc, and that may be a heavy load for you to handle while you need to focus on your own physical and mental well-being. Of course, you may also feel great about being able to help them, in which case feel free to ignore my advice! But it’s just a word of caution. I told a lot of people right away about my diagnosis and eventually felt burned out by all their reactions (even the compassionate ones), so I pulled way back on disclosure. (My particular treatment left my hair intact so it wasn’t obvious that I had cancer). I had a great therapist at my cancer center and she told me that I needed to be careful about trying too hard to help others (I had a friend diagnosed about a year and a half after I was, and she had way more complications and issues so it was an emotional situation.) She said there was a reason why the cancer center’s program that matched newer patients with “mentors” who’d been through it only accepted mentors who were at least 3 years out of treatment. (Mentors isn’t the right word but the way they phrased it escapes me now). I know you feel a responsibility to your students, but I’d advise you to take it slow and easy when it comes to disclosure and do what is right for YOU. Best of luck and I’ll be thinking of you.

    60. JT*

      Solely from a student perspective, I would want to know. I was recently an adult student and was still surprised by how all-encompassing self-absorbed I would become without keeping myself in check. Even to early-adult students, teachers are less “people” and more “obstacles/helpers” to their lives and absolutely likely to judge you harshly for things that they don’t know are a result of your health/treatments.

      As a student, I would appreciate a fairly straightforward “Hey, I just wanted to let you all know about a change that may impact our classes. I’ve been diagnosed with ____ and have begun treatments. You may see effects such as x, y, and z. I want to let you know that I’ve prepped for our class extensively and put a,b,c measures in place so as to keep disruptions to a minimum, and will do everything possible to make sure that your education is not impacted in any way by what I’m going through. That said, I would appreciate a little extra patience during the tougher times in my treatments, just as I have and will continue to afford grace to you who need it due to your own “real life” matters.”

    61. Esmeralda*

      LW 5, wishing you recovery!

      Lots of great advice about interacting with students already, so I’ll offer this advice (which you did not ask for) — keep your dept head in the loop and ask for help if you need it. If you haven’t already requested FML leave, do that paperwork now — you can set it up as intermittent and to be used as needed. And be willing to go on leave if you need to.

      Experience from caring for a family member who is a professor…

    62. Wait, what?*

      I’m a high school teacher and one of my colleagues was being treated for breast cancer several years ago. She told her students and the rest of the teaching department in a very matter-of-fact way that she’s undergoing treatment and will miss some classes occasionally as a result. Everyone took it in stride.

    63. Sara without an H*

      Hi, OP#5 — I went through something very similar at my own university, although I was in academic support (library), rather than teaching. The problem with not telling your students at least some of what you’re going through is that they will be left to draw their own conclusions. Those may be much, much worse than the truth. You will find it to your advantage to control your own messaging, rather than leave anything to the campus rumor-mill.

      Once my diagnosis was confirmed and I had a treatment plan, I briefed my staff as part of our regular meeting. (They already suspected something was up, given the number of medical appointments I’d been taking.) I explained the situation and assured them that my oncology team was optimistic. I also told them that, if anybody on campus asked about me, they were free to answer truthfully, but to please push back on any suggestions that I had one foot in the grave.

      You say your department is supportive. I assume you’ve reviewed your syllabus and class plans to allow for days when you’re not feeling well. (Chemo takes a lot out of you. Trust me on this.) Can you talk with your department chair and/or dean about pausing your tenure clock? You don’t want to end up in a couple of years with a committee that says, “Yes, we know she was being treated for cancer that year, but that’s no excuse for not publishing!”

      Good luck, and I hope everything goes smoothly for you. I’m almost four years out from my own treatment and so far, everything looks good.

    64. Stephanie*

      LW5: I used to teach college courses. During one of those years, I got very sick with an unknown disease in the spring semester. I was late returning class work and sometimes students emails. I was also working a 40-hour a week job, as I was an adjunct. The school I taught at (two night courses a week) was two hours each way from my city! Later that year I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Hashimoto’s Disease. I explained to those spring semester courses that I was sick, something was going on with me, and my doctors were trying to figure out what it was. As I had those students by that point two a couple of years in classes and all liked my courses, they immediately were kind about it and gave me flexibility. Talk to them. They are adults and will understand.

    65. Jane*

      Something to be prepared for is that students lack the life experience of W knowing what’s an appropriate response here, and aren’t going to be tactful like your friends would be. Their main focus is going to be “how will this affect me”. They’ll want to know what will happen when you are off – will someone cover your class? Will they get their marks on time? What happens if they need help when you are unwell? Etc.

      If you are sending an email to the cohort, steel yourself for these replies. You might want to discuss who will cover your work before sending the emails out?

      This sounds jaded, but I’ve worked in universities for decades, and I know what students are like …

    66. Edie W*

      Along with all the other great advice, I think it might be helpful to think about how you can share other aspects of your life with your students so your health problems don’t feel like the only thing they know about you. Talking about your pets, hobbies, etc. could help them to see you in a more holistic way and think of you as a real person rather than just someone who maybe isn’t answering their emails as quickly as they would like. Some class activities like reciprocal interviewing might be useful. (I use that in my class on the first day and find students often really like it and it helps them to feel more comfortable talking throughout the class.) Best wishes to you!

    67. L*

      Tell them in the next class, but assume lots of people are missing classes with covid / life / etc. and email (MUST USE BCC or your will get REPLY ALL HELL) all students about your diagnosis, under going treatment, may lose hair. Then detail that how you feel per class this semester will be unpredictable and that if the class will end up being remote, you will email / post on whatever system you use – at a minimum 1 hr before the class start time. This will prevent anyone from going to the campus if they don’t have to, but it is on them to check their emails before class each day. In your email in BIG LETTERS, ask them to refrain from responding back as that is not necessary. You know they care, and you don’t need the extra emails.

    68. Bald and Beautiful*

      As someone with no hair (alopecia) but also no cancer, I’m just going to weigh in on the hair aspect from a teaching standpoint. (I can’t weight in on any emotional aspects of cancer, but losing my hair over the course of 2 weeks in my 30s was . . . interesting.)

      Here’s my take: I don’t hide it. I love different wigs. I don’t want to worry about “what if I take my winter hat off and the wig dislodges slightly”. I don’t want to worry about being “outed” for wearing a wig when a student goes in for a celebratory hug and their watch catches on my hair. I want to be able to go to work with my head held high the morning I lock myself out of the house without a wig. I want to be able to run things out to people during a pandemic in high summer without wearing a sweaty wig.

      So I tend to be both very forthright as well as not shout it from the rooftops. If my hair is changing daily, or somebody new compliments a funky hairstyle or asks how much the dye job costs, I just say “thanks, it’s a wig!” and sometimes I add something that puts them at ease like “I have alopecia, but hey, I get to have any hairstyle I want!”

      If I had cancer, and knew the hair was coming back someday, I might absolutely try to get one good wig for the duration. But I’ve seen a lot of people embrace the beautiful bald, and many others have fun with different wigs like I do. But a matter of fact answer to “hey, your hair is different today” or kind word of “I’m a survivor too” or even just “bald is beautiful” can be answered with “Thanks, I’m doing ok, fun hair isn’t it” or “Thanks, the breeze on the head is so freeing” or what have you. (If it’s not going so well, you get to choose if that’s part of your response, but we hope that isn’t the case).

      So I know your question was how much do you or don’t you tell. My response is about an aspect of, depending on how you approach it, sometimes you won’t have a choice without extra care. And do you really want to be caring about the wig being perfect all the time? Maybe, maybe not, but it can also be the easy way to say to let it be known without saying it. Let it lead to discussions. When someone says “love your new wig” you can say “thanks, it’s fun to try new styles, but thank goodness for regular mammograms and I’m looking forward to going back to natural”.

    69. K-roll*

      I am happy to see this question printed and discussed. When I received my cancer diagnosis, I was a high school teacher (also young-ish). I knew I did not want students to have a sub for my extended surgery and recovery periods and wonder/worry about what was going on, believe/perpetuate rumors, and later notice physical changes (including wig). So I opted for transparency and told them what was going on. I also invited them to write down any questions they had and we would dedicate some class time to Q&A. I gave as much (high school-appropriate) information as I was able.
      In the end, I was thankful I took this approach from the outset. It was an opportunity for students to learn about the technical side of cancer, and, most importantly, that it’s possible to get some really bad news and see your way through it one step at a time, since many of my students were dealing with life difficulties they were unable to share. We got through it together, I worked closely with the substitute, and the kids all did their best with the sub knowing that it would make my life easier. The sub gave the kids direct updates on my health and progress, quelling inevitable rumors.
      As for me, it made my experience easier. I could have my guard down with the kids since they all knew what was going on. I had hundreds of young people rooting for me, which was encouraging on hard days.
      Side note – I was careful to avoid my pet peeve: oh-so-pervasive cancer fighting metaphors. I could be certain that some students had lost people they loved very much to cancer, and I didn’t want them to feel that, while I was “fighting,” their loved ones had just not been tough enough, and lost the “battle.” In truth, I just followed my doctor’s instructions in a scary and dangerous situation, and in the end was lucky enough to make it through.

    70. Prof_Murph*

      #5: I’m a full professor who’s mentored junior colleagues through the tenure process. A lot of these decision are yours to make – it’s your classroom and you have academic freedom. My general recommendation is to not reveal the full diagnosis or overshare to maintain boundaries in the classroom. There’s a tendency for junior faculty to overshare in efforts to connect with students (especially if the faculty member identifies and/or female-presenting) but I believe it’s important to maintain a professional relationship. You could indicate that you are undergoing treatment but keep it brief – it’s up to you if you want to say it’s a cancer diagnosis. You also could say something to the effect that you’re receiving excellent/competent/satisfactory health care and recommend regular mammograms, but I wouldn’t go beyond that. And I definitely wouldn’t make it something you are continually updating them or even regularly mentioning in the classroom. Try to flip your thinking so that you’re putting your own well-being first and what you feel comfortable with in classroom, instead of thinking you should be driven out of concern about how students feel/react to your diagnosis. And try to remember that the classroom is an educational and professional space and keeping the focus on course material is actually what’s in the students’ best interest. I hope your treatment goes well and your path to recovery is speedy! (If you don’t already have a faculty mentor, you might try to seek one out – maybe even outside your department. If you see someone who seems to have a career trajectory you want, ask if you could meet with them just to discuss general advice/tenure process. Also, try to remember that your male colleagues, if they were in a similar position, wouldn’t even go through the mental/emotional gymnastics that you’re experiencing in service to their students. I often remind myself this when I spend a lot of energy worrying about my students – it’s my job to educate, not be a caretaker. As you noted, though your students are adults and now is the time that they should learn about professional relationships and boundaries.)

    71. Phillip*

      I’m a high school teacher who was diagnosed with testicular cancer 2 1/2 years ago. Luckily, I was diagnosed over the summer and was just about fully recovered from surgery as the school year began. About a week into the year, the decision was made to go through chemo, starting in 1o days. At first, I only told my students that I would be out for a couple of weeks for a medical procedure, as I didn’t want them to worry or go crazy with the rumor mill. The day I came back is when my hair started falling out. I went ahead and told them about the cancer and that I would be fine (which was true, I only needed one round of chemo). (I never told them about the type of cancer because freshmen are waaaay too immature to talk about sex organs without giggling.). The kids took the news very well, and we all made fun of my newly shaved head. A few former students were concerned when they heard about me, but they were relieved I would be fine after talking to me.

      So, my advice is to be matter of fact about it. You do not need to reveal any more than you are comfortable with. You can say medical issue, cancer, or breast cancer. The students will probably assume cancer once your hair starts falling out, but you don’t have to say whether they are right. Let them know your appearance will change and classes may be online some days. Some may express concern, but as they are students and not friends or colleagues, don’t go into detail. Just say everything is fine or you’re taking it one day a at a time or whatever you feel most comfortable with.

      And I hope that your department head (or whoever reads the evals) would not hold a few negative comments against you when they would be tied directly with fighting cancer.

    72. Engineer with Breast Cancer*

      I’m not in education at all, but there is an organization that helps navigate workplace circumstances and cancer: Cancer and Careers.

      I have incurable cancer, so my circumstance is quite different than yours. But before I was found metastatic, I had stage 2 breast cancer. I found the website to be helpful in navigating in that circumstance.

    73. Lady Architect*

      I don’t teach, but I went through breast cancer treatment while working. I shared my diagnosis with my very small office, but not with clients or consultants–some of them ended up hearing about it, I wasn’t trying to keep it a secret, but it wasn’t necessarily a conversation I wanted to have.

      My advice would be to start out by informing your students in a nonspecific way–“I’m going through some health issues and may have to miss class occasionally” (I liked FallingDipthong’s hot tub analogy). The reason I say this is that dealing with other peoples’ reactions to your news can very quickly become A Lot, and that may not be where you want to be putting your time and energy. Also, your feelings about how much you want to share may change over the course of your treatment, and once it’s out there, you can’t un-share.

      Short answer, do what feels comfortable to you. If you want to shout from the rooftops, other peoples’ reactions are theirs to manage, not yours.

    74. Workin Remote*

      As someone who’s had a teacher in a similar situation, I thought the way they handled it was fantastic. The teacher was very up front about their situation and outlook. What really helped me as a student was having the frank conversation about what to expect for class (what would happen if class was moved online, approximately how often to expect that, what assignment expectations would be, etc.) and teacher being up front about how they wanted us to act in regards to the situation.

    75. Tricksie*

      I found out that I had thyroid cancer from a phone call I took while walking across campus to teach. I hadn’t PLANNED to tell anyone–and certainly not right away–but I was kind of reeling and then blurted it out to the class and then started crying.

      The students were so kind and understanding. No one held any of it against me in real time or on evaluations. I wasn’t having surgery until after the semester ended, so there wasn’t much disruption for them, BUT I still ended up glad that I told them. I believe students need to see us as whole people, balancing work and life, and I talk a lot about that kind of thing with students. I have a friend and colleague who has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer this year, and she was open with her students about it (but she is tenured).

      Good luck, OP. Strength and healing to you, wisdom to your doctors.

    76. moona*

      Not quite the same, but when I was a MSc student I was TA-ing for my supervisor when his infant daughter was diagnosed with brain cancer with a terrifying prognosis (she’s now a happy healthy tween). He was teaching the huge intro class at the time, and at the start of one class he told the students what was happening, and explained that he would be out of the office quite a bit and often at short notice, but that he’d arrange other people to fill in for his office hours and classes, where possible, and please be patient. He didn’t pull his punches on the medical details, so the students understood it was very serious, but he kept it short and straight to the point, then moved on with the lecture. I thought he handled it really well. He was mentally MIA for most the semester, but the students were very understanding / flexible (and these were usually a pretty difficult bunch, as it was an intro class many were forced to take and had little interest in) . I don’t know what his evals were like, but you’d have to be a monster to have given him a hard time.

      Also, good luck!

    77. My cat is the employee of the month*

      I’d recommend sharing your diagnosis with your students, whenever and however you’re comfortable. One of my college professors shared on the first day of class that his wife had died in a car accident from not wearing a seatbelt. His story has stayed with me, and I’m vigilant about making sure that my passengers wear seatbelts. The importance of mammograms might not have been communicated to your students at this time of their lives, and it might make a difference to them.

      Sending you healing vibes for your treatment!!

    78. bopper*

      I would tell the students…one time my kids had a band teacher. It was my daughter’s first year of band and she wasn’t liking it much…there may have been cancelled classes and I remember their definitely was not an end of year concert. What’s the point she was thinking. Well it turns out her band teacher had cancer. I didn’t know.
      I think you will get some slack if you let your students know…what they should expect from you and how things might be differnet.

    79. Rara Avis*

      I would probably lean towards telling students earlier. If there are any issues about mask-wearing/being careful about Covid exposure, knowing that you have a major health issue might encourage them to make more compassionate choices to protect your health.

    80. LikesToSwear*

      If I were a student of OP5, I would prefer to know. I don’t need all the details, just the basics of “I have cancer and will be going through treatments that may cause me to have to make these changes (online classes, etc)” would be enough. It would also help students make the decision if they are not comfortable with those possibilities to consider dropping and enrolling with a different instructor.

      I’m terrible at online classes, so much so that I won’t even take a hybrid class. For something like this, I would seriously consider my options or if I was willing to deal with the occasional online class.

    81. Italian Student*

      Not a teacher and no close cancer experiences.

      When I was studying abroad, I took an advanced Italian class required by my program. There were two many international students for one class, so we were split up into two groups, each with its own teacher.

      A little over halfway through the semester, my teacher was out sick here and there, and about 2/3 into the semester he stopped showing up to class. The other teacher covered his class for him. We all found out a couple weeks later that he had died of cancer. It was a shock, as while it was clear he wasn’t well when he was in class, none of us knew it was that serious. Now, your situation does not sound nearly as dire, but I would encourage you to share with your students when you feel ready. You might not realize the support you would get, and it’s best to get everyone on the same page.

    82. Dawn*

      I teach middle school (ages 11-14), which I want to put right up front in recognition that teaching adults–even young adults–may require different considerations.

      I take the “share-but-don’t-overshare” approach. Last June, I lost my home in a fire, so I did (unfortunately!) get firsthand experience with how to balance the need to share basic information with my students with not wanting to overshare and place an emotional burden on them. So I kept it pretty factual. They knew it happened, and I gave them the first class after I was back to ask questions. (This might be less appropriate for a medical diagnosis.) If something related to the fire impacted my teaching (e.g., I was out of school for a day to handle logistics), I shared it with them and why. If it was related to my own coping and emotions related to it, they were not the correct audience. So there were days when I was struggling with exhaustion and pain (which goes hand-in-hand with exhaustion for me) because of being displaced and the stress of that, but my classes were none the wiser.

      The result was that they did extend me grace when I needed it, but this tragic fact about me was not centralized in their perception of me and certainly not in my teaching.

      I would avoid any commentary on what diagnostic tests you think people should receive; that’s the job of their health care provider and is an overstep.

      I shared similar worries about how foregrounding my own experience (using the power differential of a teacher vs. a student) might create an emotional burden or even privilege my comparatively minor challenges over the more significant struggles of my students. (I teach in a high-poverty rural community.) And I can’t guarantee that even sharing the facts about the fire and my subsequent displacement didn’t create discomfort for students who had also experienced tragedies or experienced homelessness. What I tried to do to hopefully make up for this was to use my experience to become more cognizant and reflective about similar challenges faced by my students. Living in a too-small space that couldn’t meet our needs, the day-to-day uncertainty of being displaced (especially when our new home was delayed and delayed and delayed again), the financial strain, watching winter approach and knowing that where we were staying didn’t have reliable heat, the small burdens of having a long commute and the small challenges/stresses of not having a home of our own … these are daily, long-term realities for many of my students. I hope that I am in a better place to appreciate the impact of those realities on my students and better meet their needs. If you’re in the headspace where you can do it, being similarly reflective over the challenges and anxieties faced by students living with chronic medical conditions or coping with serious diagnoses may bring you out the other side as a better teacher.

      I wish you the best with your treatment.

    83. evens*

      I teach middle school. When I started at my current school I was bald but wig-wearing and was done with the tough part of treatment (Adriamycin and Cytoxan) but still had Taxol, radiation, and Herceptin. Because I didn’t have to miss class for anything, my students (bless their clueless little souls) asked why I cut my hair when I came back from Christmas break.

      However, if I were teaching during the rough chemo, I would have told them as unemotionally as possible. For college, I think you do the same. Over email, I’d tell them, “As you’ll probably be able to tell, I’m going through chemo for cancer treatment this semester. I anticipate that I may occasionally need to miss class or hold it online. I’ll do my best to give you a heads-up in advance. Thanks for your understanding!” I wouldn’t address being unavailable. I think most college students can handle a two- or three-day response time from a professor.

      I think you’ll soon figure out when your bad days are and can plan accordingly. For me, the day after chemo was weird, days 2-3 were bad, and then the anti-nausea drugs wore off on day 6. If you can plan for that in advance, I think you’ll be doing all you need to do.

      I bet the college kids will be incredibly patient and gracious when they know what’s going on, especially if you show you are trying to ameliorate the impact to them.

      Good luck with everything.

    84. Beth*

      OP5, this is absolutely reasonable to disclose to your students! Telling them what’s up isn’t putting an emotional burden on them. You’re expecting some visible changes in your appearance, as well as some logistical changes in how you manage your schedule and your workload. It’s entirely okay to explain why these changes are happening to the people you work with on a daily basis. It’s probably even necessary, eventually–even though it’s pretty cruel to make you worry about course evaluations while dealing with this, realistically it is important that your students have a decent impression of you, and you’re right that you have a better chance of that if they understand what you’re dealing with.

      It’s also okay if you’re not ready yet, though. You’ve just been diagnosed. I’m sure you’re dealing with a lot of your own emotions in this moment. If you want to take time to process by yourself before sharing that information with them, that would be very understandable. Whenever you do decide to disclose to your students, I’d probably try to keep it straightforward and to-the-point: this is what’s up, this is how I expect it to affect the class, please feel free to come talk to me if you have concerns. It’ll be a shocking conversation, because this kind of news is unexpected, but it doesn’t have to be a really emotional one.

      1. Beth*

        For what it’s worth, I think college students right now are exceptionally well attuned to the reality that health issues might impact their classroom experience. In the last couple years, a lot of the students I’ve taught have needed accommodations themselves–they’ve caught covid, or needed extra time on assignments as they helped care for a family member who had covid, or needed extra time when they got a vaccine or booster, or had to go remote suddenly because their professor was quarantining, or had office hours rescheduled because their professor’s kid’s daycare closed for the week, or whatever. We’re in the third academic year of a pandemic; for all but the seniors, this is the entirety of their experience of college. This is normal for them, as much as that sucks. I’m betting you’ll find that your students are very understanding and supportive, especially if you’re willing to give them accommodations and leeway when they need them as well.

    85. non_trad_student*

      I saw you mentioned switching classes to zoom sometimes. From the student side, any effort you can make to make this more predictable will be deeply appreciated! Depending on what is going on in a student’s own life coming into class has real costs: babysitting, travel and parking, time for commuting, not making that trip to help out our own sick relative. I often plan an entire day around whether a class will require me on campus and it can be very disenheartening to make that effort only to Zoom from the library. If there are any parts of the class that could move to Zoom consistently this will help the students plan for themselves (and maybe be a little easier on you too!)

      I realize this is shaped by my perspective as a non-traditional student who balanced school with substantial family and work responsibilities. It does sound like you have a at least a few such students and who knows how many more who are shouldering big responsibilities while very young. Last minute switching can be so hard to juggle on top of everything else.

      Thank you for taking time to think about how to continue to educate your students while facing such a big thing yourself!

    86. Mad Harry Crewe*

      One of my professors was in remission for breast cancer and it came back during my senior year of college. I obviously don’t know the timeline on her side, but I remember her letting us know that she was going into treatment, and how it would affect her availability. One of her treatments caused immune compromise, so she couldn’t be around us towards the end of the year for fear of getting sick – the only one I remember for sure was that another prof handled her finals, but she might have had to cancel a few classes too.

      I obviously can’t speak to LW5’s students, but I appreciated knowing what was up with a professor that I liked very much, and having the opportunity to wish her well.

    87. DJ*

      OP5 Sorry to hear of your diagnosis and hoping that treatment goes smoothly for you and is successful.
      You mention you work in a very supportive department. I’d have a chat to your managers/supervisors within your department about the situation and see what they suggest. If HR is just as supportive speaking with them. There may be protocols on how to handle such a situation that you can use as a guide. Best of luck!

    88. Woah*

      I’m having a serious health issue that will impact the following parts of the class: X Y Z. I will give as much notice as possible in advance of unexpected changes. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding these areas. Thank you in advance for your understanding.

    89. MM*

      When my father was in chemo and, eventually, home hospice, I was teaching online (university level) from my parents’ place. (This was fall 2020.) I also struggled a bit with what to tell students, though of course it’s a different situation, as I wasn’t the one in treatment. I do think some of my experience is applicable, though.

      What guided my decisions was prioritizing continuity of experience for the students within the limits of my own situation. Rather than, say, try to just power through anything and everything, I wanted to have a plan in place for if I couldn’t teach on a given day, and I wanted to give them some heads-up that that might happen and some explanation of what my plan for it was. This meant I could prepare them for the ways that my situation might affect them while also making it clear to them that they would not be left hanging and their needs were already accounted for. I felt this was especially important given all the pandemic chaos.

      The plan was for a colleague to sub for me (I had called her to ask for advice about what my contingency plan should be, and she wonderfully volunteered to do it–she used to teach the same class, so she was very well positioned to do so). I had prepared a document with everything she’d need to know and sent it to her in advance. When I explained my plan to the students, I didn’t go into detail about why it was necessary: I just said I was dealing with a difficult personal situation at home, and that I wanted them to know I might not be able to be there at some point and I’d made sure they’d still get their material taught by someone very competent to teach it to them. When the day came, after telling my sub it was time for her to tap in, I sent my class an email saying that the plan we’d discussed would happen this week, to minimize any surprise and confusion; I reiterated my sub’s qualifications and told them I expected them to treat her with the same courtesy and engagement they always did me; and I did at that point explain that my father had just died of cancer. I never said anything more than that about what was going on with me, and no one asked. (One student did send a very lovely condolence note, but to be clear I wasn’t bothered that the rest of them didn’t engage with it. And recognition of my situation did show up in my evaluations! Somebody gave me a break on the turnaround time for grading because of it, haha. My evaluations that semester were really positive overall.)

      I think, in your situation, I would probably explain about the cancer on day 1 of class, essentially as part of the syllabus/ground rules conversation. (This can certainly be an email sent before the first meeting, if you want to let students react with privacy and on their own time; then in the course’s first meeting you can go into more detail about what you expect this might mean for them, e.g. sometimes holding class online.) I’m sure you’re familiar with the pedagogical school of thought that treats the syllabus as a social contract mutually agreed to on day 1. Regardless of how you write your syllabi, I think that approach has value for your question. Especially because it can be hard to predict how treatment will go, how it will affect you and therefore the students, and exactly when these effects will show up, I think it’s best to make it clear from the start. This is when everyone’s expectations of one another will be set–yours for them and theirs for you–and in this case, accommodating your health is part of what they’re signing up for by taking the class. As you noted re: evaluations, if you make it clear to them what you’re dealing with, then the need to give you some grace and flexibility will also be clear from the start and will affect their perceptions of you, as it should. If someone absolutely can’t deal with this (e.g. for emotional reasons), they have the opportunity to drop the class, which won’t be the case later. I think this is fairest to all involved–not just to you in getting the understanding and accommodations you’ll need, but also to them in that it allows them the agency to treat you fairly, and to remove themselves if they don’t think they can do that. (I would be horrified, as a student, if I’d been frustrated with a seemingly disorganized instructor only to find out she’d had cancer the whole time!) It also sets you up as best as possible for creating a stable and continuous experience for them, as I tried to do. I really wouldn’t think of it as putting a burden on them. It is rather treating them with respect, as the adults they are, in allowing them knowledge of the situation in which they’re acting and the opportunity to respond to it well.

      Doing this would NOT mean you have to talk about it in detail day to day, or accept probing questions, etc. It can be handled openly as a practical issue without erasing your need for boundaries. It might be a kindness to say something explicit about those boundaries at the same time that you tell them what’s up, because a lot of them probably will be unsure what to do or how to respond. But if you aren’t sure yourself, I think it’s ok to let things play out and see how it goes.

      I’m sorry you’re dealing with this, OP5, and I wish you the absolute best in your recovery. It seems like you’re thinking about this clearly, and I bet you’re a very good teacher. I hope both aspects go as smoothly as they possibly can.

    90. Jiminy_Cricket*

      My professor let us know that he was in cancer treatment. That was 20 ish years ago and I still remember his grace, kindness, and empathy. Our class was related to health, bioethics, and ideas about the universe and god, and I was young, and it was an incredibly powerful experience for me. I hope it was at least a tolerable experience for him! You don’t HAVE to do anything, but I wanted to share my memories of my professor for your consideration. Wishing you the very best of luck with your treatment.

    91. PlantProf*

      I have an approach that seems to work ok for me. I’ve been at my TT job for about a year and a half, and so far every semester has included at least one thing (aside from covid) that was a major disruption in my life. When it was my own health, I told the students who were somewhat affected by it too that I was having a health thing going on, and some of the effects (in my case we were doing field research and I was dealing with fatigue). When it’s been other things, I’ve usually explained more about what it is. And I’ve turned it into a discussion with them, because I feel like so many of my students are so anxious and so worked up about work that they’ll apologize if they have to miss class because they’re having surgery (true story). So I use it as an opportunity to tell them that I know they’re not thinking I’m a slacker if I’m a little bit behind for a day after X thing happened. And if something like that happens to them, reasonable people will also understand. That there will be times in their life when other life stuff is more important than work/school, and that’s ok. I think some of them really take it in, although some definitely keep thinking that being late on an assignment for anything short of a death would be a tragedy. It’s just one way to think about handling it. Personally I wouldn’t say what health issue specifically, just that you’re dealt g with something, but If you want to tell them more I don’t think anything’s wrong with that.

    92. Nicole*

      I had a prof. in grad school who was going through chemo and radiation. He was very open with us and said lectures may have to end early, be cancelled last minute, or sometimes he might run out of the room to vomit. I think that scared a few people off because they dropped the class (but maybe they just didn’t think it would be as technical as it was), but for those of use who stayed, we appreciated that he was up front with us. I have no idea what he would have told a massive undergrad lecture had he taught those, but I would have hoped it would be something similar.

    93. CancerExperienced*

      Someone may have already said this, but my advice is to wait before telling your classes. You may wind up having minimal side effects from the chemo and find there’s no need to tell anyone. You may decide that you don’t want everyone in your life knowing because you don’t want to deal with questions or pity. Being treated like a normal person rather than ‘someone who has cancer’ may take priority over evaluations (and I don’t think telling/not telling will influence those that much). Good luck with this decision and fingers crossed for smooth sailing during treatment!

    94. SpeechTeach*

      LW5.: I’ve been there, literally. Got a phone call my cancer had returned while in between classes. Cried for my fifteen minute break, and went back into class to teach. I talked with my family and job and made a plan. I was comfortable talking to my students and told them the truth. The first time this happened my job gave me a sub and I was out for the rest of the semester. The second time, I was well enough to teach online and did. When I went back to class in the fall, I explained that I was recovering from my ordeal. You will find most of our students can be incredibly compassionate. Those who aren’t; pass them onto the chair. Conserve your energy and realize there are days you just can’t. And even though it will be a tough journey, know you can do it. One of my favorite moments: I had been bald the beginning of the semester and my hair had grown back enough for me to stop wearing my hat. One of my older students gasped when he saw me with my new pixie locks left uncovered for the first time and called out, “Oh my God! You are naked!” It was a great laugh and really broke the tension. You can do this. First make a plan and contact HR to find out about short term and long term disability and FMLA. See what your department can do for you. And take it one day at a time. Don’t kill yourself for the job, you are replaceable. But the job might be the thing that keeps you going. My students were definitely that for me. Good luck!

    95. Cremedelagremlin*

      I teach high school kids. I have never had to disclose a serious diagnosis, but I do have a chronic illness that means I have bad days sometimes. I’ve found that being matter of fact about the kind of day I’m having and how it will impact that class goes over well – kids are pretty understanding. For example, I might say, “I’m going to sit rather than stand for today’s lesson because I’m not feeling 100% today.” I typically get next to no reaction.

      Of course, cancer is different, and tends to have more emotion/fear attached to it. But I think generally if you set the tone, students will follow.

      If you’re at a place where you feel you can be fairly matter-of-fact, it would make sense, I think, to send an email informing students of the diagnosis and what it will mean for them. For example, “I’ve recently been diagnosed with [name of cancer], which means that some classes might be held virtually this year and some of my office hours might be reduced. If you need additional support during those times, please contact [TA, or whoever].”

  1. Kate*

    I actually disagree with the advice given on Question One, but am not sure if it’s because of recent personal employer-based frustrations. To my mind, if you say the role has flexibility in hours, and didn’t initially set out hours where the person had to be available every week, you have to stick with that. If OP was envisioning “I’ll work mornings” I think you should also have been open to the possibility of someone deciding to work evenings. I would be clear about when she needs to be available during business hours, but I also feel a little suspicious of the way we’re going from meetings being “few and far between” to “you need to attend two meetings a week”. If it is sincerely the latter, and the former wasn’t true, then you might have an issue (though I would certainly have no problem with juggling it with my current role, which has no mandated time I have to take my lunch). But if it’s the former and you’re setting up to test someone who sounds like she hadn’t raised any red flags before this, I think it’s within the scope of reason to proceed with a good faith assumption about her abilities. And unless OP specified in the job posting/description a number of hours that had to be done during working hours and this employee doesn’t meet them, I don’t see why we’re so easily talking about letting her go.

    1. Artemesia*

      There is a big difference between ‘we are flexible about your hours’ and ‘we are fine with you never being available during our normal work hours’. I think her job changes the deal and the OP will want to do a re-start and evaluate if it continues to work for them. I suspect it is not sustainable indefinitely, but at least it is a period of re-evaluation.

      1. Lady Danbury*

        This. Plus it’s completely reasonable to be concerned about decreased productivity, increased mistakes and burnout if someone is working a full work day before they even start working for you. There’s plenty of evidence to support decreased capacity after a certain number of hours. I would also be concerned about future conflicts, whether it’s not being able to make certain meetings, having to work overtime on the full time job, not being able to juggle 2 jobs and a personal life, etc. Obviously there are plenty of people who work both a full time and part time job because they can’t afford not to, but that doesn’t make it ideal for anyone.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I wish I knew if the admin work was around 10 hrs/wk vs. 20-30. The first is a pretty normal work-study job while a full-time student, or running a side gig with a band or Etsy shop–so long as your normal job has predictable hours and no overtime, you can handle this, especially if young. Taking a 40 hr/wk job and a 20 hr/wk job and they both have surges that can overlap seems like it’s going to crash fast.

        Though I think the thing to do is see how it goes, given the trouble of hiring a replacement–give it a chance to be surprisingly fine.

        1. LetterWriter1*

          We messaged it as 20 hours/week – so far it’s been less than that (mostly due to workload, not due to the contractor not being available). It may tick up a bit at parts, but I imagine it will likely settle in around 15 hours per week.

          1. Cmdrshpard*

            I don’t think burnout is as big a concern as the scheduling/availability issue. Tons of people work a full time job and part time on the side.

            A 20 he a week part-time job seems doable with a full-time job.
            Personally for years I worked a full-time job and a part-time 15-25 hrs per week with out burnout issues. 20 hours a week is two 8 hr shifts on the weekend and one 4 hr shift during the week. Or four 5 he shifts for the week.

          2. Cj*

            If you are still checking this post for replies, could you clarify why you said the meetings are “few and far between”, but now say you want your employee to be at two meetings a week?

    2. AcademiaNut*

      Going forward, the OP should be more specific about what flexible hours really means, but I wouldn’t fault her for not thinking to specify that flexible hours still requires occasionally scheduled meetings, and the need for some availability during working hours – that, for example, working 20 hours on Friday and only then, or working from 1 am – 5 am every day, doesn’t work with the needs of the business. When a job offers flexible hours, I don’t assume it means I’m entirely free to work whenever i want, but rather that the hours aren’t completely fixed (like a straight 9-5 weekday job with a noon lunch break).

      The job might be part time, and involve regular hours, but allow the employee to schedules them around the rest of her life – mornings or afternoons only, or 10 am – 2 pm for someone with school age kids, or full days a couple days a week. Or it might be flexible as to when, but as long as they overlap with regular business hours at several points during the week.

      1. meagain*

        The requirements of this job are unclear to me. If it is tasks that exist in a portal, does it matter what hours of the day or night they are completed as long as it done within a certain time frame. Or does the job require being active and responsive, replying to people, following up on a request, or a customer inquiry, etc during at least some traditional business hours? Or is it strictly tasks like data entry or completing a spreadsheet or processing an expense report where the actual time of day doesn’t impact the ability to do the job.

        1. LetterWriter1*

          It doesn’t typically mean being responsive within a period of time (like, ‘respond to emails within 4 hours’) or anything like that. The contractor does need to be responsive, but a 24 hour response time (in some cases, 48 hours) is definitely acceptable. But most of the work is the latter – things that really don’t matter if they’re done at 9 am or 9 pm (as long as they’re done by every Friday, or done by the 15th of the month, etc.)

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            In this case (and the 15 hrs/week you provide upthread), I think this has the potential to work out fine.

            If not with this person, with someone else who wants an extra job so they can build up savings.

            (I freelance, and it’s normal to just be given a deadline and left up to me how that fits with other things in my life. Some people do this part-time around other life things; some people it’s full-time and they keep M-F normal hours; some people do it evenings and weekends on top of a regular job.)

      2. Anne of Green Gables*

        I recently had an opening for a part time position. We used the term “flexible hours” in the posting, and then in the interview stage I was very clear about what that meant: 4 hours per day, 5 days a week (I preferred Mon-Fri but could accommodate Mon-Thurs plus Sat). The employee could determine which 4 hours in the day, but it needed to be established, consistent, and within our open hours (which cover 13 hours per day). That worked pretty well, in terms of being clear with expectations when we could have a conversation about what would and wouldn’t work.

        1. LetterWriter1*

          That’s helpful! I don’t feel the need to be that prescriptive for this role, but I should have/could have been more descriptive – I just really didn’t consider that this situation would come up! I always feel bad prying too much (I had an old boss who had no problem asking things like ‘what else is going on that means you only want to work part-time?’ or ‘are you also looking for a full-time job?’ and I found it a little over-the-top).
          I guess I just need to find a way to not pry into personal lives but also make sure I go into these situations with eyes wide open! I did talk through potential schedule during the interview process, but that situation changed once the contractor found a full-time job.

          1. A Cita*

            But isn’t this a contractor position? By definition, they determine their own day to day schedule. So she is not your employee. You are her client. Things like deadlines being met at certain intervals are expected, not not the day to day schedule. Unless you’re using “contractor” but mean something else?

            1. LetterWriter1*

              I’m not quite sure what you mean – she supports my team with tasks, and sometimes has to meet with other people to accomplish those. The rest of the team work ‘normal’ business hours, so it would be hard for her to, say, choose to only work weekends and also fulfill her role.

            2. eastcoastkate*

              I’m confused by this- just because someone is a contractor doesn’t mean always they make their own schedule. I work with plenty of contractors- whether they’re freelance or on contract from another company and plenty are expected to work alongside us during normal business hours.

              1. Freelancer*

                An independent contractor, by definition sets their own hours. If management provides instructions about when and where to do the work they are heading into employee territory. the IRS has pretty extensive guidelines on it and take a dim view of companies who try to use people as 1099 contractors who should be employees. It entirely depends on what the letter writer meant by contractor.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Again, this is not correct. Contractors can be required to be available at certain hours. Setting your own schedule is one element they look at, but it’s not a black and white can/can’t do it. The IRS is very clear that they look at the entirety of the relationship; they say “no one factor stands alone in making this determination.”

        2. stillanon*

          My partner worked for an HVAC company that used ‘flexible hours’ to mean they wouldn’t fire you for taking time off to pick up kids at school or for coming in late after a doctor appt etc. They were gobsmacked that my partner took it to mean that she could work…flexible hours…that suited our busy farm schedule. Once she left they reverted right back to inflexible flexible hours.

      3. Rosalind Franklin*

        And, see, I’m the opposite – if a job posts “flexible hours”, I’m assuming the hours are…well…flexible. I’ve worked in a lot of 24/7 fields, so I don’t have a pre-existing assumption of business hours as the end-all be-all. If the letter writer wanted hours during business hours, that’s something she should have put in the posting. I work best getting up at 4am and working in the early morning silence. I would have read this posting and assumed I could work from 4-8am, and a “late day” would still have me logged out by the time 9-5 rolled around.

        We have a big emphasis in my current role in not making expectations, and not holding others up to non-explicit expectations, because not everyone assumes the same things. If LW wanted the work done at certain times, there are certainly ways to make that explicit, but not having done so, she needs to give her employee the flexibility that she implied at the start of their relationship.

    3. MK*

      Flexible doesn’t equate “you get to do whatever you want with your schedule”, and most reasonable people wouldn’t take it that way.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Doesn’t it generally mean that for contractors though? I always thought contractors typically set their own hours. If the admin assistant was an actual employee that would be different.

        1. anonymous73*

          Contractor vs FTE is irrelevant. It’s about the duties of a job. If someone has to interact with others to get their job done, then those flexible hours are going to need to occur at least in some part during regular business hours. Unless otherwise specified, most people understand this.

        2. anonymous73*

          No contractors don’t set their own hours. Just because they aren’t working directly for a company doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want. They still have to fulfill their job requirements, which usually include certain hours.

          1. On Fire*

            That completely depends on the contract, though. I have a part-time side gig. I’ve done the work at 5:30 a.m. or 10 p.m. The work gets done, but I do it when it best fits my schedule. Of course it’s different for others — again, it completely depends on the individual work situation.

          2. Oakenfield*

            I’m a contractor, and completely set my own hours. I choose to work during the day but if I didn’t, it wouldn’t change anything with my clients.

        3. Person from the Resume*

          It depends. Contract employees are not only of the freelancer type of deliver product whenever.

          Examples lawn maintenance must be done during daylight and during times that the noise won’t annoy your neighbors. Cleaners that clean at night when the office empty or at your house during school hours when your kids aren’t there.

          Some contractors have a turn-around time which allows them to set their own hours per se but another full time 9-5 probably won’t support anything submitted by 10 am must be completed by 5pm of the same day.

          Many have to be available during some times during the normal work day to have some meetings about requirements of the product they will deliver.

          1. ecnaseener*

            Makes sense, thank you! Since LW didn’t mention any range of hours stipulated in the contract, I wonder if they’re out of luck. (I assume lawn maintenance contracts stipulate acceptable hours, and that many white-collar contracts will stipulate some amount of availability in business hours.)

        4. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          We’ve got a contractor we regularly work with. He has other clients, so he only works with us a set number of hours each week. I believe he was allowed to pick which hours, but they have to overlap with our working day. He also notifies our team when he’s going to be out in much the same way regular employees do (via message in the team Slack channel).

        5. Rolly*

          ” contractors typically set their own hours”

          If the work involves meetings or working with other people, they can’t just work whenever they want – they have to work it out with client.

        6. ThatGirl*

          I was a long-time contractor with the same company, and what flexibility meant for us was that we could choose our hours but they generally had to fall between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., and we had to be available for meetings. We could work from home part of the time, and if we needed to start a little later or end a little early occasionally, that was fine too. But it was understood that we had to communicate our availability, be as consistent as possible, and get our work done.

        7. Clisby*

          No, contractors don’t set their own hours. I mean, if the company they’re contracting with is OK with that, then it’s OK – but it’s not a universal principle. Contractors might be required to show up 8-5 with no exceptions.

      2. Curious*

        I think the point is that.the word “flexible” has a range of meanings. Here, I understand OP to be saying that the contractor needs to be available one or two specific hours during OP’s Workday every week or two, but can set their own hours for the rest of their 15 hours/week. That reads as pretty flexible to me, even though not *completely* flexible.

        1. LetterWriter1*

          I think this is the learning here – I should have been more explicit about HOW flexible our ‘flexible’ was!

    4. Jackalope*

      I too was wondering about the meetings. Are they few and far between, or are they twice a week? This would significantly impact my answer. If it’s twice a week that’s probably going to nudge things into “no-go” territory. If it’s once a month or something it’s more likely they can make it work. (Although I too am skeptical, unless the new full-time job is less than 40 hours [say, 32 or something].)

      1. Allonge*

        I have 5-6 meetings per day (on good days). Two per week would be few and far between for me!

        My point is: this totally depends. And changes! For someone rarely available, we might need more fixed meetings than for someone who always works 9-13:00

        1. Clisby*

          But this is a part-time admin position. I’m curious why they could even possibly be needed for 2 meetings a week. (Granted, most of my professional experience was in places where admins were generally needed for 0 meetings.)

        2. Jackalope*

          A few people have schedules like yours and I can see how you might consider two meetings a week very little. My job calls for 2-3 meetings/month (also an office job, but obviously structured differently!), so 2 per week seems like an awful lot to me.

      2. MistOrMister*

        Yes, the meetings thing was weird to me. 2 meetings a week seems like a lot for a part time admin position. Who knows, maybe that is what they’ve been doing up until now, but I wish OP had noted how the meetings are being handled now. I am wondering, is the admin even usually in 2 meetings a week now? Or is this requirement a knee jerk reaction to the admin now having another job? It doesn’t make sense to mandate the person be available for meetings that they never needed to attend before.

        1. Antilles*

          It’s possible the meetings are new simply as a way of keeping in touch, assigning work, etc.
          Previously, when the admin was there from 9 to noon (or whatever), you could handle it informally. No formal ‘meeting’ needed because you can just sort of make it up on the fly.
          But now that the admin is much more tied up, you can no longer do it so casually and need to actually schedule ‘meetings’ to handle that.

        2. Name Goes Here*

          It almost reads as though the meetings were added when the admin got a new job –– so specifically as a way to keep in touch? Which for me is not great; it contributes to the feeling that OP is setting up to test the employee, as the top line comment here indicates. Either the admin can do the job or not, adding extra meetings on top of the work to check in will not illustrate whether she can or contribute to supporting her in doing so.

          1. KRM*

            But if the admin has a second job, you will have to schedule time with her to catch up and set tasks. You can’t just do a quick sit down during the hours she’s working, because now they’ll be outside your regular hours. Like it or not, meetings are an integral part of being able to set tasks and expectations, and with the admin getting a full time job and saying she can do the work for both, you need a way to check in and make sure things are going well on both sides. To me it’s akin to saying “oh, you’re now WFH full time instead of one day a week, so we need to schedule a formal 1:1 time for us to talk things over”. Maybe you didn’t have that before, but with a schedule change, now it makes sense to have it formally set, because you can no longer make the quick informal chats suffice.

            1. Aerin*

              Meh, there are ways to do things other than meetings. I work core hours now (as opposed to weekends as I mentioned below) but I haven’t been to one of our team meetings in over a year because they keep scheduling them either on the one day a week where I’m not there (since I still work 4×10), when I happen to be on vacation, or when I’ve got something else that’s a higher priority that I can’t miss. My manager makes sure the info gets communicated to me in other ways.

              1:1 check-ins are certainly important, so for someone on a non-standard schedule it might take a little finagling to make them work. (Our overnight shifts are staggered so each person overlaps with either the very beginning or very end of the business day, so that’s when they’re available for meetings.) But I’d encourage OP to keep an open mind and prepare to look for creative solutions as to how often those meetings need to happen, and whether other meetings can be replaced by something asynchronous like email, a knowledge base, or a shared file repository. Think like a global or 24/7 business, even if you aren’t one. There are plenty of ways to make this work.

              1. Allonge*

                There are plenty of ways to make it work – at the same time, if the normal working methods suit the company otherwise, it’s perfectly reasonable for a manager not to want to revamp them or add extra tasks for themselves to accommodate a part-time admin.

                There are multiple versions of this story where everyone makes the choices that make sense to them, nobody is the bad guy, but the admin cannot work for LW any more if they (very reasonably) prioritise their full-time job.

          2. doreen*

            Maybe not – I rarely have scheduled meetings with my direct reports because we usually work roughly the same schedule, so it’s easy enough to keep touch by just calling or going down the hallway without having pre-scheduled it. On the other hand, they have scheduled meetings with the people who report to them a couple of times a month because those people 1) Have very flexible schedules and 2) spend a lot of work time out of the office. They might go a week or more without both being “at work” at the same time.

      3. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        I’m guessing that they were few and far between, but now that OP needs the “check in regularly” part to be scheduled in advance, it’s going to take more meetings. Sounds reasonable to me, if OP doesn’t want to work evenings.

      4. LetterWriter1*

        It’s a very standard ‘office’ job, so 2 meetings per week is pretty few & far between (in my world, 4 – 5 meetings per day is not at all rare, similar to Allonge below). So no difference or change between those descriptions.
        – One is a standing meeting with an external partner – that has always existed & was listed specifically as part of the role during the interview process (it’s a big part of the job, actually, and not being able to attend would likely be a deal-breaker). I would have been OK finding another schedule (e.g. if I hired a student, and they had a class every Wednesday at 3 – 5 pm, or picked up their kids at school in the afternoon, we could have certainly moved the meeting to Thursday morning). The good news is that so far this hasn’t been an issue!
        – One of those is a general supervisor/contractor check-in. Antilles below is right – it’s a little bit more necessary now that we really don’t overlap much (e.g. with a more traditional schedule, perhaps we could have done things like check in on quick questions on Slack, or have quick calls as things come up, but now our work time doesn’t really overlap, so all of our communication outside of this meeting is emails – just tends to be inefficient when there are 12 or 24 hours between messages). So the check-ins are just the two of us, and a ‘look ahead, look back’ kind of meeting. Since it’s just the two of us, I’m flexible on time (within reason – say 8 am – 7 pm) so am much less concerned about finding a schedule.

        Neither of these meetings are responses to a change in work situation, although it’s possible that eventually we could have stopped or changed the cadence of our check-in if we had another way of checking in (that wasn’t email). Hope that makes sense.

        Each meeting is 30 minutes, so it’s 1 hour of meetings total per week – I may have a different reference point than others, but that’s pretty light in my book, and definitely does qualify as a meeting-driven role.

    5. TuttiFrutti*

      I think the unspoken assumption is that flexible hours implies “flexible within standard office hours” unless there’s a specific discussion about this. In most roles, even part-time + flexible roles, there is still a need to engage with your colleagues, which reasonably should be happening within office office hours.

    6. Acceptance*

      I think that OP #1 is going to have to accept that if she’s hiring a part-timer without a specific schedule, it’s not going to be up to her how this employee spends the rest of their time. If she alters the conditions of the original offer, the employee is going to pick the FT job over the PT job.

      1. tamarack & fireweed*

        I’m not sure this is the actual conversation that transpired. I read it more like:

        Step 1: “We need you for 16 h / week and can be flexible about your hours”
        Step 2: Employee selects to come in 8-12 Mon and Tue, 16-18 Thu and Fr, and adding 4h/week WFH. Occasionally she switches days, or works from home, but when there is a business need she’s available for a meeting, which happens about 2x/week.
        Step 3: OP is happy with how this works out and they settle into a rhythm.
        Step 4: Employee gets her full-time job, and moves to coming in 18-20 Tue and Thu, after the OP has left the office, and otherwise WFH never within business hours.
        Step 5: OP gets stressed out because of unavailability, missed meetings, longer turn-around times and ends up writing to AAM

        Step 3 is key – after the employee has filled “flexible” with concrete meaning, the OP sent back the message “I’m OK with how we are interpreting flexible”. The change was initiated by the employee. This doesn’t mean it’s her fault or anything, just that it is normal to circle back to a previous decision once the way it turns out stops working.

        Even with children, where it is usually discouraged to renege on a promise, if you say “yes, you can have a slice of chocolate cake every Saturday after dinner” you will renege on it if chocolate cake becomes too expensive or the kid develops an allergy to chocolate, or simply there’s another reason to ban chocolate from the house.

        1. Cj*

          The OP says they are all working remotely now because of COVID, and in fact the job can be done fully remotely, so the conversation would not have happened the way like this. You mention numerous times the employee coming into the office often, but now being there much less often, and after the OP has left the office, but *nobody* is coming into the office.

          They haven’t even gotten to Step 5 yet, because OP has no idea at this point if anything of these issues will arise. She said the employee just accepted the full-time job, and is proposing the schedule change. It hasn’t happened yet, so the OP has no data to base this one, other than what she *fears* may happen.

          1. tamarack & fireweed*

            Remotely doesn’t mean fully asynchronously with no overlap to standard core business hours.

            And fine, I was a bit loose with the actual ramifications of this particular case, but still I think step 3 is key. And the OP said “but the expectation is that you attend these two meetings per week, and can fulfill a response time of X days” – which is impossible if the employee works a normal business hours full-time job, so step 5 will ultimately ensue.

      2. anonymous73*

        Unless OP specifically told admin that she can work at any time of the day or night, then no she doesn’t have to accept that. Most reasonable people understand that flexible hours doesn’t mean “anytime you’re available”.
        OP needs to clearly provide her expectations and admin can choose to accept them or leave.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          The OP specifically says they expected the person in this job would need to fit it in around something else, though. When you say “your hours can be flexible so you can fit them in around your other responsibilities,” and then don’t give any other instructions like what the office’s core hours are, or “ideally at least half of your work hours should take place during standard business hours” or whatever, people are going to make assumptions.

          If OP’s company are going to continue offering a job that they know doesn’t pay well enough to live on, they should expect that their employees will probably seek out additional employment to make ends meet. This means that from here on out, when hiring for this position, they have to be honest and upfront with applicants about their expectations regarding the “flexible” working hours.

          1. Kate in Colorado*

            This absolutely makes sense to me. OP clearly said that this position was not enough to live on and knew the person in the role would have to balance this with something else. If it’s communicated that the hours are flexible and will allow for the person to assume additional responsibilities, yet no additional parameters or expectations are stated, it makes it really ambiguous. Either be very clear about what you envision/want from this position in terms of schedule or understand that a part-time, flexible employee will do what they need to to do survive.

            1. Aerin*

              100% agree. I think the employer in this case had a sort of nebulous idea of what those “other responsibilities” would entail but didn’t really think through the specifics, and was assuming that of course the work they’re offering would be the first priority and everything else would slot in around that. And that’s not what “flexible” means. If you’re asking someone to turn down better work (like getting any sort of standard full-time job) so they can work for you, you really have to make it worth their while.

          2. LetterWriter1*

            I think this is my main learning here – to be honest, I didn’t think ‘during business hours’ needed to be called out, so should have been much more explicit. I think it’s tough because I am/we are flexible – I’m totally ok with some work outside of business hours, but I’m a little nervous about ALL of my contractor’s hours being outside of business hours (and, as some people have pointed out, after a long work day). I’m also realizing that although we are flexible, I should have messaged that hours do need to be spread a bit during the week (if someone said they want to just work Thursday & Friday, I don’t know if that would have worked with some of the responding they need to do). It was a bit of a moot point because I talked through schedule in interviews, and this contractor described wanting to work a few hours each morning to stay on top of these kind of tasks. I didn’t ask specifically if she was also looking for a FT job (to me, that reads like a bad interview question, but I’m sure there’s a way to ask more about someone’s situation that would get me better information). That situation changed after she started.

            I hope it’s clear from my letter to Alison that we are trying to make it work – I’m afraid that a few commenters think that I’m trying to find a way to fire this person, and that’s not it at all. I do recognize that people can’t live on what we pay (not specifically because we don’t pay well; the job actually pays pretty well for the work, but it’s <20 hours per week and we live in an expensive area. Pretty hard to make that math work for an adult to live on).

            1. Myrin*

              Regarding your last paragraph, OP, your letter was totally fine and your came across like a reasonable person and a fair and empathetic boss; I’ve found there’s been an increase recently in people reading letters in the worst possible light which is probably what you’re seeing here.

            2. KateM*

              I’d say that “especially after a long work day” also depends on what kind of work that other job is. A very different type of job may actually be considered resting from the other type!

            3. Librarian of SHIELD*

              I didn’t get a poor impression of you from your letter at all! I think you’re trying to find the right balance between what your employee needs and what your business needs, and I apologize if I worded my comment in a way that implied I was judging you.

              I think this is more a communication problem than anything else, and now that you’ve had a chance to look at it from some different angles, I hope you and your employee can come to an arrangement that works for you both.

      3. WellRed*

        She’s not really altering the terms if the original offer, though. The employee is by no longer being available within standard working hours.

    7. tamarack & fireweed*

      I’m very much supportive of the idea that letting someone go should be a last resort after other things have been tried, and here, they clearly haven’t yet. However, I am disagreeing with the idea that you have an obligation to stick with an arrangement that doesn’t work any longer. Especially here, where the pattern of flexibility has changed once the employee got another job.

      It is quite reasonable for the OP to expect, at least initially, that whatever the employee would have to “juggle” the job would also take place during business hours, maybe with an early start or late end to the workday, and that part time job also would mean at least *some* part-time availability during business hours. Now of course this would vary with the degree to which the job can be adequately done autonomously and asynchronously. But clearly this isn’t a job where this is completely possible, otherwise the OP wouldn’t have felt that in some perceivable way the employees performance – even if it was just availability, predictability, turn-around times etc – has slipped since taking on the full-time work.

      Something *should* happen – and this something is not to fire the employee but to go back to them (after first thinking hard, and very fairly and generously, what the business needs are in terms of availability during business hours), and then communicate those needs clearly. Yes, the OP may have to start with an apology that they didn’t initially think too much about the limits of “flexible” when there was no practical issue. But with hindsight, and because the situation changed, this point needs to be clarified.

      And the outcome may well be that the employee will only have one full-time job. But most likely it would be the employee who feels that 5 days a week, 8 am to 8 pm, is just not enough time to get *both* job obligations taken care of adequately.

      1. Artemesia*

        And it isn’t the ‘fault’ of the part timer or a punishment for her new schedule — it is just business. If it works e.g. if she is doing book keeping it might work, then great. If it isn’t working then the OP needs to find someone else, maybe a person who has other home responsibilities and wants to work part time, or someone who has another part time job and wants to add another. It isn’t about fault or what was promised. Good for the employee that she got a full time job with benefits; if it doesn’t work well for the OP’s business then fine, they move on.

    8. anonymous73*

      It sounds like clear expectations weren’t set from the beginning, but it was never a problem before because this was the admin’s only job. Although flexibility in working hours (unless otherwise specified) generally includes at least some regular business hours.

      OP needs to clearly define her expectations. If she needs admin for specific meetings, or certain days of the week at certain times, she needs to lay all of that out and let admin decide if she can swing it. If I were OP I would also decide on a probation period, and let the admin know that if it isn’t working out within that period, she will need to let her go. Things have changed, so no OP doesn’t have to stick with the original plan.

    9. Nausicaa*

      I totally agree and am alarmed by some of the responses to you.

      A lot of people I know can’t afford to just work one full-time job so combine a full-time and part-time role. I think it employers are concerned about burnout, they should pay more! Also, people with caring duties or even intensive hobbies can burn out faster than the folk with two jobs.

      Right now, I’m working 6 part-time flexible jobs. Because I am a night owl, I’m often working in the middle of the night, but it’s never been an issue. Each job has its standards and its deadlines and I always get higher-than-required-quality work in before the deadlines. The sort of work I do requires concentration so I don’t check emails while I’m working but I check and reply to everyone once a day. It sounds to me that OP just wants to make work harder for her employee.

      1. LetterWriter1*

        Hi – I’m not trying to make work harder for my employee (in fact, I’m trying really hard to make this situation work). I’m trying to get clear on what is a reasonable expectation and where flexibility is warranted. Unfortunately there are aspects of this role that need to be done during business hours – and so far that’s working out okay, which is a great sign!

    10. Flexibly Stiff*

      I agree with you. It sounds like OP1 is backtracking. OP1 said flexible hours and fully remote, and the employee is producing solid work.

      This is why I don’t tell my managers anything about my personal life, what else is going on, or anything where they get to decide that they wouldn’t make that choice for themselves, therefore their employees can’t make that decision.

      There are 24 hours in a day. You don’t get to dictate all of them because you want to pay me for a few of them.

      If the employee’s work starts slipping, then you can talk about how that impacts the work they are doing for you and take it from there. Don’t punish her for making a different choice from you.

      AND, blessed be those who never had to work several jobs at once. Lucky you.

      1. LetterWriter1*

        Hi – I don’t know that it’s ‘backtracking.’ I think the point of my letter to Alison is more my checking my assumption that work needs to be done during business hours (aka ‘how do I reasonably define what IS required for this job, while also giving as much flexibility as possible so that people can make it work for their situation?’). Unfortunately there are (a few) requirements of the job that do have to take place during the ‘business day’ – we reviewed that in our interview process. Then the contractor’s situation changed. We’re trying to make it work (and so far, it’s working okay!). If the expectation from the start had been ‘I also have a FT job, so this will be outside of working hours’ we could have spent a lot more time talking this situation through during the interview process, but it wasn’t.

        I do think, though, that I have a learning that ‘flexible schedule’ needs to be more descriptive that we don’t really mean ‘any of the 24 hours in a day.’ Honestly if that’s what I was looking for in a job, I would probably clarify that in an interview (‘I’m going to be balancing this with other work, and I do some of my best thinking at night! Just want to make sure that working outside of typical business hours is OK’) but I also recognize that as the manager the responsibility to bring that up is mine, not the interviewee.

    11. LetterWriter1*

      OP here – I’ll try to address a few of the questions here, especially since some of them have come up in other comments:
      – It’s a very standard ‘office’ job, so 2 meetings per week is pretty few & far between (in my world, 4 – 5 meetings per day is not at all rare). One of those is a general supervisor/contractor check-in, so it’s definitely not a meeting-driven job. No duplicity here, and I definitely messaged it both ways during the interview process.
      – To my mind, saying ‘I’ll work mornings’ is likely someone who wants to work 8 – 12 or 9 – 12 or something like that; not 1 am – 5 am. So this does feel different, as it is likely going to be outside of working hours.

    12. Beth*

      I would not have interpreted ‘flexible hours’ as ‘it’s okay to never be available during standard work hours’. It’s true that being more specific in the job description would be helpful in reducing misunderstandings, as a rule. But that seems like a pretty egregious reading of ‘flexible’ to me–not very in line with what flexible scheduling generally means. I would’ve assumed it meant ‘if you want to finish work in time to pick your kid up from school each day, we can work with that’ or ‘we don’t care if you have a personal appointment in the middle of the work day, as long as you’re scheduling around meetings and getting your work done’. Assuming that ‘flexible’ means ‘it’s fine to have zero overlap with the business’s main work hours’, without checking that assumption with anyone, doesn’t seem like an in-good-faith move to me on the part of the employee.

    13. Llama*

      I agree. I have a full time (and often plus some) job, and I work a second job on Sundays because I am still working on saying “no.” In general, my job takes place on Sunday and only on Sunday, but I also have semi-regular meetings, especially since moving virtual, during the week. My boss at my second job knows that she has to schedule it during a time that “could be considered a lunch,” and that sometimes I might be a few minutes late – that’s the trade-off for going outside the agreed-upon hours. My boss and colleagues at my primary job (true, it’s a very small office, but) know that I’m going to spend an hour sometimes behind a closed door on a video call instead of lunch.

  2. Blue*

    I also wish question 1 referenced how part time the job is. 12-15 hours on top of a 40 hr job is very different than 20-30.

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      Plus if it is regularly inputting information into a system, that’s very different to being interrupted and having to drop everything to work on something time critical and unpredictable.

    2. Delta Delta*

      I was also wondering exactly this. If it’s 12-15 hours, it seems pretty possible to do, albeit at times outside regular business hours. 20 hours is probably more than someone ought to try to do on top of a full time job.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Also OP needs to think about whether any candidate is going to prioritize a 10-12 hour a week job. If that’s what you are offering, you probably need to accept that you’ll be pretty low on the priority pole of any candidate, IMO, so it’s possible this admin will be just as reliable. Or maybe not! I agree with Alison’s take though; be clear about what you really need, give it a try, and be willing to walk away if it’s not working.

        1. LetterWriter1*

          Totally agree – it’s pretty low-stakes work (and straight-forward; for the most part it’s either done or not), so as long as it gets done, I’m less concerned about being a priority. Fingers crossed!

        2. fhqwhgads*

          It sounded like she expected candidates who only wanted PT, not who would be doing this on top of a FT job.

    3. Aerin*

      It also makes a difference how “full time” the full-time job is. There are a lot of jobs that are “full time” where you don’t actually have 40 hours of work to do, and a lot of jobs that offer full-time hours where those hours are outside of the 9-5 anyway. Like, I had a role where my regular shift was weekend coverage, so I was off three days midweek. And further, weekends tended to be pretty quiet with a lot of downtime. Fitting in even 20-25 hours of admin work between calls or on my days off would have been very doable, especially if it was work that didn’t require deep focus and could be easily dropped and picked back up as things ebb and flow.

      1. LetterWriter1*

        That’s true! Unfortunately I don’t know (honestly she might not know that about her new job yet), so am feeling out how productive this specific situation is, so we’ll see.

        1. hmmm*

          One thing I haven’t seen you consider is that her other fulltime job may find out she’s working part time at the same time and put their foot down that she needs to choose one or the other, especially if, say, you are in competitive industries. My company doesn’t say employees or contractors can’t work other jobs at all but they *do* say that you may not work for anyone in the same industry, any companies that we work with as direct vendors or vice versa, and so on (because conflict of interest).

    4. LetterWriter1*

      Totally agree – we messaged it as 20 hours per week, because that’s what was expected. I will say that one benefit of the current situation is that I stress a lot less about hitting those 20 hours – I’m not as concerned about being someone’s sole source of income. I suspect that once the dust settles & we’ve all hit our stride, it will be more like 12 – 15.

  3. Heather*

    OP2, I have the same issue at my work, out of the blue meeting requests with no agenda or clue as to the objective for the meeting. I have had periods when I am slammed with meetings and I don’t have bandwidth to get caught in meetings where I’m not truly needed. Also, often it becomes clear that they actually need to be talking to colleagues A and B on my team who handle X and Y, and not me; an agenda would have cleared that up. So I’ve learned to write the organizer to ask what topic the meeting will cover – just a straightforward question as if I were asking for clarification, it doesn’t have to come across as self-important.

    1. Green great dragon*

      Yeh, I would love every meeting to have timed agendas, but a slightly lower-key might be to ask what the aim of the meeting is. Or in some cases ask the organiser whether they think you need to attend – that might get an unhelpful ‘if you want’, but it might get a ‘yes, because we want to…’

      1. Antilles*

        Personally, I wouldn’t bother asking the organizer whether they think you need to attend. I tried that earlier in my career and just stopped because the answer was always useless – practically nobody will ever say “no, you can skip my meeting” so it’s not really doing much.
        And by the way, since you asked the question and were directly told you are expected to attend, you’ve now lost your option to regretfully decline / claim urgent deadlines / etc.

      2. TheLinguistManager*

        This is great advice for LW2’s situation, so I want to highlight it: ask about the aim/outcome of the meeting instead of requesting an agenda.

        While agendas are nice (though even if I include them, I don’t time them), the most important info about a meeting is what the deliverable of the meeting is. Is it a specific decision that has to be made? Determination of next steps? Knowledge transfer (as is the case with trainings)?

        Very often even just asking for this can make people realize that they don’t know the answer, and it’ll focus the meeting when they figure out what it is. The technique is best used ahead of time but can also be used during a meandering meeting. And since it asks for a single sentence response rather than a list or document (which an agenda is), it sounds to the organizer like a simpler request.

        1. turquoisecow*

          Yeah I’ve never been to a meeting with an agenda aside from trainings where we clearly wanted to get through specific topics and it worked more like a syllabus. But most formal meetings I’ve attended I’ve known what we were going to talk about and if I’d be expected to share specific information.

          Is OP getting meeting requests with a subject like “meet with Bob,” or “Team Meeting,” or more like “discuss rice sculpture deadlines,” because the latter would tell me that I need to be prepared to discuss the rice sculpture deadlines, but the former two might be more confusing, unless I knew Bob was the VP of rice sculptures. Either way, I think it would be appropriate to message the person who sent the meeting invite to ask a clarifying question or two, like “does Bob want to talk about the rice sculptures for the Smith account?” or “is this a general team meeting or something more specific?” or even “do you need me to talk about something at the team meeting?”

      3. MsM*

        My last workplace asked for 2-3 high level goals the meeting organizer wanted to achieve by the end of the meeting. I thought that struck a nice balance in terms of making sure things stayed on task without needing to hammer out a full agenda.

        1. Birdie*

          This is great, so much so that I just wrote “what are the 2-3 high level goals to be achieved by the end of this meeting?” on a sticky note and put it on my monitor to help me focus the meetings I run. Thank you!

        2. Artemesia*

          I am always stunned that people create meetings without these goals in mind. Reminds me of an evaluation project my grad evaluation class was going to do for one of a local hospital’s training programs. The first part of evaluation is a clear statement of how you expect the people being trained to be different on the job i.e. behavioral outcomes. When the students did this step, the organizers realized that they didn’t have a clear goal and that the planned training (lots of lecture with little application) was not likely to be useful and so they cancelled the training. The contractor was not happy. It was a great learning experience for the students.

      4. NotARacoonKeeper*

        Agreed! I like thinking about meetings in terms of the three Ps: Purpose, Process, & Payoff.
        If you can’t get the agenda (process), then understanding the purpose will help you decide if there’s payoff (for you or others) from your attendance.

        And a really helpful way to ensure the meetings you create are useful and clear :)

    2. münchner kindl*

      I wonder how meetings can be useful if people can’t prepare ahead- whether collecting data on how often there were problems with teapot spouts in the past quarter; or whether to think about possible solutions.

      Not everybody thinks best when put on the spot now; it’s reasonable to take time and consider solutions before proposing them.

      1. Nynaeve*

        YES. I am autistic and if I had to attend constant meetings with no agenda and/or time to think about the topic beforehand I’d be completely useless during the meeting itself. Knowing what will be discussed and the goal of the meeting allows me to prepare and actually contribute. And I know this is something that would benefit all attendees – not just my fellow NDs.

      2. Shiba Dad*


        I used to have these types of meetings at an old job all the time. It seemed that sometimes the goal of these meetings was to present something and limit critical feedback.

      3. Environmental Compliance*

        Yes – I get pulled very last minute into a lot of meetings where the questions ends up being “EC, how do we stay in compliance with regulation if we want to do XYZ?” to which my answer ends up being…. well, I will need to review that particular regulation and get back to you. Plus I will need spec sheets on the equipment – oh, you haven’t looked at sizing yet? So what are we actually attempting to do here – is this an efficiency project or production? We don’t know yet? Hmm. So, as a general statement you’ll need to likely have A, B, C…. no, I can’t get into more detail without knowing sizing & expected change to production.

        So the meeting ends up being 30+ minutes of detailed “but what if” which is, to be honest, a complete waste of my time. Thankfully, most of the offending people have learned after walking them through a bit of the processes I need to go through that it would be better for both of us if they have more specifics on what they actually want to do instead of some vague concept of “improvements”.

    3. Greenfordanger*

      I’m invited to meetings like this a lot. I’m not a control freak and I quite enjoy meetings but I agree that if there is no structure, we waste time. WHen I agree to attend, I like to “edit my response” and say something like, “This sounds great. I have some questions/concerns about teapot volumetrics I’d like to get people’s views on. And if there is time, I’d also like to talk about glaze shades for 2022-23. I find that that’s a way to give the meeting some structure without coming across as wanting to chair the meeting yourself. And presumably you do have some questions or comments about some aspect of your job that could benefit from the views of others.

    4. hamsterpants*

      If you have the standing, I would strongly urge you to request a meeting agenda and, if you don’t get one, send a note that since it seems like you aren’t needed, that you will not be attending the meeting.

  4. Expiring Cat Memes*

    For OP 3: “I need a new job yesterday” would raise a flag if I heard it. Sounding that desperate to leave your current job would make me wonder what problems there are there, and how much or how little you might have to do with them.

    1. Undine*

      Actually, if I were looking for a job and the hiring manager said, “We needed to hire yesterday,” that would be a pink flag for me. That’s just about a guarantee that you’ll be slammed with work the minute you walk through the door and may never catch up. So it’s not attractive from either side.

      1. Expiring Cat Memes*

        Getting slammed with work: 100% true, IME. That, or there’s a festering problem that they’ve kept putting off getting resourced to fix until it gets so bad they can no longer ignore it. Whether it’s attractive or not on the employer’s side though I think depends on the individual candidate’s perspective. Call me a weirdo – I personally enjoy that kind of challenge.

      2. Rebecca*

        Came here to say this. I don’t like the phrasing on either side. One of the things I look for in jobs is turnover in staff. Desperation to hire someone could be nothing, or it could signal a workplace people want to leave, or bad organisation.

      3. Anononon*

        Just for another viewpoint, my org is currently hiring, and while I hope they’re savvy enough not to use that particular phrasing, due to these concerns, it is true for us, but I don’t think it’s a red flag. Our industry was severely impacted by the pandemic, meaning a lot of furloughs and layoffs, literally just survival mode. But, we’re also expecting business to pick up quickly and swiftly, so it’s a balancing act of getting people before it gets too hectic but once we have the resources to hire again.

        1. Smithy*

          I think your point about being savvy is relevant for both hiring and interviewing.

          An industry hard hit by the pandemic who had to furlough and layoff a lot of people and now is expecting business to pick up….genuinely fingers crossed that does in fact happen. However, the pandemic economic impacts also remain enough in flux where someone might be concerned that steadiness and certainty isn’t back. So to hear from an employer that hiring was desired “yesterday” might make someone cautious about whether or not funding and projections were reliable.

          Ultimately, it adds a level of urgency to the employer and job seeker that I don’t think makes either party look amazing and can be addressed better in other ways.

      4. Hiring Mgr*

        It wouldn’t be a flag for me these days – it can be incredibly difficult to hire right now depending on industry, role, etc..

    2. PollyQ*

      And of course, the employer isn’t looking for the candidate who most needs the job, they’re looking for the one that will do it best. Announcing your neediness in no way shows that you’d be any better in the role.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Desperation is never attractive. Unless the other party is predatory, or messed up some other way.

      1. Everything Bagel*

        Yes, this goes along with what Alison said about losing room to negotiate. They’ll probably think they can lowball you because you’re desperate. Don’t put yourself in that position.

  5. FG*

    For #1, TONS of people work 2 jobs & have no problem juggling. I have had 40 hrs office + 20 hrs retail or office, and more than 1 single job that was easily 50 to 60 hrs. I have known people who worked more than one job out of boredom or they “like to keep busy.” And what about people who have 1 job but significant volunteer commitments? Don’t deny this employee on the basis of what you think they can handle. They have a proven track record So there’s no reason not to at least give it a try. Determine if those meetings are really necessary for them to attend and *make sure they have cleared everything with the FT employer.* If all is clear, let them have this opportunity.

    1. londonedit*

      Maybe it’s just my industry/location, but I can’t imagine any employer agreeing to an employee having a second job that required them to work during their full-time work day. It sounds like this person would have to log in to meetings/do other work for the OP during the day, and I just can’t see how that would work. OK, if the employee had a second job in the evenings, or if they did some freelance work on the side outside of their FT hours, fine, but I just can’t imagine any company letting its employees work for someone else during their FT working hours.

      1. münchner kindl*

        In my country, workers protection law forbids working more than 40 hours / week, so juggling more than 1 full-time job is illegal.

        Part of the reason is that humans aren’t machines that can run without break, they need to rest and recharge; another part is that the employer expects best, at least good work, which employee can’t give if they’re overtired, exhausted etc. from already working many hours before starting 2nd or 3rd job.

        Extensive volunteer engagement or sports or hobby that impact employees’ strength at work are thus frowned upon (just like binge-drinking late at night before work). Moderate hobbies, volunteer etc. is very good and part of “refreshing the spirit” but not exhausting yourself.

        1. londonedit*

          Yeah we have the Working Time Directive where you can’t work more than 48 hours a week on average, but most companies ask you to sign a waiver to opt out of it (in my industry overtime is very unusual, but theoretically I could work more than 48 hours if it was deemed necessary).

          1. Lirael*

            I don’t think most UK companies ask you to opt out. I’ve never been asked too. Suspect it’s very industry dependant.

            1. londonedit*

              Oh that’s interesting – I’ve always been asked to opt out, and as we don’t even really do overtime I assumed it was a standard thing. I’ve no idea why publishers would want people to be able to work more than 48 hours when that’s never been a requirement in any of the companies I’ve worked for!

        2. Anima*

          Pretty sure it’s not outright illegal, I assume from your username that it’s Germany. I worked several jobs with up to 70h/week for stretches. It can’t be absolutely illegal if needed (I’m talking art and events here).
          But your point about rest and relaxation still stands.

          1. Myrin*

            It is illegal, but much more flexible than münchner kindl implies. You are only allowed to work a maximum of 48 (not 40) hours a week for 48 weeks a year. If your work time averages to more in a year, that’s illegal.
            You also aren’t allowed to work more than eight hours a day. There are exceptions where you’re allowed to work ten hours a day – a maximum of 60 hours a week (so your 70 hours were almost certainly illegal but I’ll admit I’m not too knowledgeable around these exceptions so who knows) – for a certain amount of time but again, it has to average out – in half a year/24 weeks, the average must, again, land on eight hours a day.

        3. Name Goes Here*

          Okay, we Americans get people in other countries writing in a lot to tell us that our working conditions are Not Great, and for the most part I agree w/ them –– but not with this one.

          For one, some of my most productive and exciting periods at work have also been my busiest, or have been when I have been working 2-3 jobs; I like being able to work 60 hours/week in pursuit of a particular goal, whether it’s adding to my savings or securing a new opportunity.

          For another, I would resent people “frowning on” my decision about how to spend my outside-of-work hours, whether my sports/hobbies/volunteer work are “moderate” or “extensive” in a way that impacts my ability to contribute at work. As a single person without children, periods of “rest” without a particular aim or activity in mind are boring and also not good for me. I enjoy the way that my “extensive” sports or whatever channel my energy, much the way that I’ve enjoyed working an overage in the past.

          All this to say, I think it’s difficult for one person to judge for another what will cause “burnout.” OP may think about taking a full-time and part-time job together and feel that they will be burned out, reasonably so; but that doesn’t mean the employee, who may have a different personality / family obligations / interests / etc, will be burned out. There are good reasons to say, no you can’t do the full time and part time job together, such as availability or impact on OP’s business, but preemptive concern about burnout shouldn’t be one of them.

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            On the other hand, perhaps it is also illegal in this part of Europe for jobs to pay as little as some US jobs pay – even at full time? I literally don’t know. But plenty of people that work a second job aren’t doing it because they love to work, they’re doing it because a minimum wage job doesn’t pay the bills.

            1. Name Goes Here*

              Yep, not saying that some people wind up working (way) more than they want to because of low paying jobs. Extremely low paying jobs is one of the many, many things that I think other countries do better than the US.

              I merely dislike the assumption that well, it’s better for everyone to work 40 hours a week and maybe don’t even take on any “extensive” hobbies, lest you miss out on ~rest~

              1. LetterWriter1*

                I also don’t know what this employee’s financial situation is. Maybe she lives on her FT salary, but uses this PT salary to pay her student loans. Maybe she uses this PT salary to pay for medical care for a sick family member. I don’t know! I don’t feel comfortable assuming someone won’t be able to handle something, so am trying to find a way to make sure that we both get what we need out of the situation.

          2. londonedit*

            Might be a cultural thing but I sure as heck want to work in a country where workers have some protection against exploitation/back-breaking working conditions. I think the proportion of people who would actively thrive working 60+ hours in a week is very low.

        4. WellRed*

          So if you wanted to pick up some extra money for something, there’s no such thing as getting a part time retail job at Christmas?

          1. Myrin*

            It’s not so much that “there’s no such thing” from a legal standpoint – münchner kindl isn’t completely correct, which I explained above in a bit more depth (although still simplified) -, it’s more that it’s not really something people do? I know literally one single person who works a full-time job who also did some waitressing on the weekend for some time because she wanted to save up for a certain big purchase; other than that, I’d say it’s… well, not unheard of, exactly, but almost so?
            Part-time retail jobs at Christmas are usually done by students, people who have another part-time job who want to get some extra cash, university students, and very occasionally stay-at-home-mums, but yeah, mostly students (I know you just used that as an example but I’m quite confident this can be extended to other jobs as well).

            1. UKDancer*

              Same. When I was in Germany I picked up some part time retail work in Edeka as a student in the run up to Christmas and all the other people doing that work were students or full time parents who wanted a bit of extra money. I don’t know anyone who’d pick up that sort of work on top of a full time job.

              In my current work I’ve had one colleague at a previous job who worked on Saturdays in a clothes shop but I think that was mainly for the staff concession on clothes to be honest. She was a bit unusual. People have smaller side hustles (I’ve one colleague who makes and ices cakes and another who teaches salsa) and I’ve one friend who sits as a JP on a voluntary basis but I don’t know anyone in a full time job in my company who would take on another formal job.

        5. Rolly*

          “In my country, workers protection law forbids working more than 40 hours / week, so juggling more than 1 full-time job is illegal.”

          What country is this?

          1. londonedit*

            The EU has the Working Time Directive that prevents people working more than 48 hours in a week, and the UK still has the same rules post-Brexit (though as I said above, employees can be asked to sign a waiver to formally opt out).

          2. Tara*

            I would assume, as others have, this is in reference to the Working Time Directive, which covers all EU countries. However, it isn’t illegal for someone to pick up another job, it would be against the directive for an employer to force them work more than that time (unless an exemption applied). And each company I’ve worked in (ranging from customer service at tourist attractions to corporate roles) has had opting out of it as part of the contract (not all will). So unless this is a different country and applying a very different standard, I don’t think the comment you’re querying is completely accurate.

            1. münchner kindl*

              Actually, in Germany the first employer can forbid an employee from taking a second job if this would make the total working time go over 40 hours.

              Which is different from working overtime in one job because of unusual circumstances, hence why I didn’t mention it.

      2. A Feast of Fools*

        I co-own a small business in addition to having a M-F, 8-5, full-time job. I’m salaried and it’s not unusual for me to work 50+ hours in a week. My employer doesn’t care if I take 15 minutes to an hour a few times a week to take care of some of the small business things.

        My FT work quality and quantity has never suffered, which is all they really care about. Thank goodness.

    2. MK*

      Tons of people work two jobs, one of them full-time, usually because they have to, to stay afloat financially. Some of them have no problem juggling, usually through a combination of being young and having lots of energy and endurance and at least one of the jobs being not very demanding, at least not mentally. Most of them are exhausted and performing subpar at one or both jobs.

      Working 60 hours at one job isn’t really the same thing as working the same hours at two jobs. And volunteer work isn’t comparat all.

    3. anonymous73*

      Sure, but your full time job isn’t going to let you work in the middle of the night so you can leave and go to work at your part time retail job. I’m not saying this can’t work, but just because “TONS” of people do it, doesn’t mean they’re doing it well, or that EVERYONE can do it.

      OP needs to clearly define her expectations for the role (which is seems like she hasn’t yet), and set a time period to try it out, with admin knowing she will be let go if it’s not working.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Some do. I’ve worked with people who chose to work at the library every Saturday and Sunday or every evening closing shift to free up their mornings or a couple of weekdays for their part time job or their volunteer work. Not all full time jobs are M-F, 8-5.

    4. CCC*

      Yeah some of these comments are just kind of oblivious to how many people work multiple jobs. I did a quick Google and found a Census article that put the number at 7.8%. Of those about 40% have a full time job and a part time job, a more common schedule than multiple part-time jobs. And 23% of men and 15% of women with multiple jobs held multiple full time jobs.
      Like this really sucks, and I’m sure that the work suffers, but many people aren’t able to access both benefits and a high enough pay without piecing together multiple jobs.

      1. KRM*

        But many people with a FT/PT job are not overlapping hours. If I work FT at an office job and then want to pick up retail shifts on Friday night and Saturday/Sunday, that’s not the same as “I’m taking this FT job so I can’t necessarily get you what you need during working hours the way I could before the FT job”. It’s about setting expectations for jobs and being able to fulfill them both in a mutually beneficial way. If OP needs the admin to be able to turn certain things around by EOB on a Tuesday and the admin can no longer meet that due to the FT job, that’s an issue.

        1. CCC*

          I completely understand that– I just saw several comments where people seemed like the were having a hard time wrapping their heads around it as if it is uncommon, but millions of people do this.

          However, I do think the LW was unrealistic in the expectation that she would not have to “compete” with a full-time job for her employee’s attention, given how common that is. There’s a lot of information missing on what types of expectations (if any) they set up front, but in any case they seem taken aback that their PT role that was designed as a side gig is indeed being treated as a side gig. (And honestly, I am suspicious that this role meets the IRS standards on who is a contractor vs. employee, but that’s besides the point.)

          1. LetterWriter1*

            I agree – I think that my assumption that someone would balance this PT job with another PT job, or with school, etc. was obviously either not realistic or a very limited view. To be fair, this pays a lot better than, say, picking up a few hours in retail, but I don’t know what the contractor’s situation is.

            I think part of my issue is that this IS a change in schedule – we had talked about spreading 20 hours across the 5 days in the mornings, but (another learning for me) hadn’t put that in writing or anything formal like that. The contractor then asked to change so that she was working nearly all her hours (but not all) nights & weekends. To meet during the day (about 1 hour per week), contractor has to ‘log out’ of her FT job & jump on a call with us – to me, that just feels awkward, but I guess as long as she can make it work!

            The good news is that in general, seems to be going okay so far.

            1. CCC*

              Hi, I’m glad that it’s going well! It would feel awkward to me, too, but I’d bet it feels completely natural to people who are used to juggling multiple roles and often have to switch between them.

              I think your assumption was faulty in that “balance” word, as if your PT role would be equal in priority to whatever else the person is doing. But I think it’s fair to say that PT roles come second nearly always. When you hire someone full time you don’t just pay for more hours/time, but you pay for a higher level of priority. Glad to hear that you’ve rethought it!

      2. EPLawyer*

        7.8% is a really LOW percentage of people doing this. that means 92.2% of people do NOT have multiple jobs. Yes in a country of 300 million, that is still a large NUMBER of people. But tht does not translate to lots of people do this so it is just fine. MOST people do not do it.

        1. Ginger Dynamo*

          I don’t think anyone was suggesting that most people juggle a FT and PR job, though. 7.8% is small on a 1-100 scale, of course, but its significance is based on comparing that figure to how many people someone would think are currently managing that commitment. In a randomly sorted room of 20 people, at least one of them would be likely to have two jobs, and that is a significant consideration is you would otherwise assume the number of people who manage that commitment is so small that it must be negligible. You’re more likely to have 2 jobs than be a redhead. What this percentage doesn’t account for is how many of those people manage the commitment well.

        2. Tara*

          But that’s of the whole population, if you looked at all the people with a part time job, I’m sure a lot of them would have a full time job alongside. So if you’re hiring for a ‘flexible’ part time role, I think it’s prudent to think about the likelihood of someone having a full time job alongside being the best candidate and how you can work with that.

        3. CCC*

          Sure, 92.2% of workers work multiple jobs. And 83% of workers work full-time. The slice of the pie that LW is attract is already kind of skinny: people who work PT and want a PT gig job in addition to or instead of what they have, people who don’t work and want to work a PT gig, and people who work full-time and want a PT gig. If she is ruling out the third category, that slice of labor pie gets even smaller. And keep in mind we’re not talking about a part time job, we’re talking about a part time contractor job, which is unattractive to many. I don’t really think she will get what she wants unless she makes the job very attractive somehow.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      1) What are the hours per week?
      2) Do these hours have to overlap significantly with 9-5 M-F? Or is it more like entering data, where so long as every task gets crossed off within a week of submission it’s fine?

      1. LetterWriter1*

        I think you’ve likely seen this elsewhere, but it’s about 15 – 2 hours per week. One of those hours (really, two half-hours) should overlap with 9 – 5 M-F. The rest is flexible in terms of when during the day it happens (but with a lead time of less than 1 week, typically – like, respond to that email within 48 hours but you can do it at 10 pm if you want).

    6. River Otter*

      Yes, both the question and the answer are a little precious. Tons of people regularly juggle two full-time jobs or multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet. Yes, it is hard as hell, and it is also so very sheltered to start clutching pearls about burn out over this very common situation.

    7. MapleHill*

      #1 I don’t think it’s outrageous as long as the work they are doing is truly independent and her work won’t require her to constantly ask others questions in order to be completed (even in that case, could she email questions, get a response the following business day & then complet the work or is it more urgent than that?). My mom is a medical records coder and for years during my childhood she worked both a FT and PT coder job at different hospitals. She’d work one from 6 am- 3 pm, drive across town to another hospital and work several more hours and was obviously able to do so successfully because they track the number of charts and accuracy. This on top of being a fantastic single mom of 3. It’s not ideal, but many people do what they have to do to make ends meet financially.

      Your letter mentions you figured anyone you’d hire would have had other obligations outside of the work hours. So what was your plan if those other obligations coincided with the meetings? If she just had another PT job or childcare obligations during those times and couldn’t attend the meetings, would that be a problem?

      1. LetterWriter1*

        If she couldn’t attend the meetings, we’d set a schedule that works for her (Monday mornings versus Wednesday afternoon, for example) – that wouldn’t have been a problem at all. My concern with a FT office job, it’s less a matter of what’s the right time to meet, and more a matter of ‘no matter what the time, you’re logging out of a FT job to log into a PT job.’ I’m sure plenty of people can do that no problem.

    8. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Yes to all of this! I work a 40+ hour a week full time job and do administrative tasks for another company as a contractor in the evenings, weekends, etc. It’s actually part of the full time job I was furloughed from during lockdown. When they asked me to come back but couldn’t come close to the salary I have at the new full time job, I offered to continue to do some of the more specialized tasks and they jumped at that arrangement.

      I call it my “work in my PJs” job. A few weeks out of the year I need to attend meetings for the side hustle admin job, but it’s really not a huge deal. I *also* volunteer more than 100 hours a year. I get all my work done and done well.

    9. Sunshine*

      Yes! While in grad school I waitressed. Half the servers had other full time jobs. Especially in education fields. It’s just reality that more often one job can’t pay the bills. I stayed at the job after I was “gainfully employed” because it kept me from living paycheck to paycheck.

  6. Oldskool*

    For OP2: when I get a meeting invite without an agenda, I usually email the organiser and ask for the purpose of the meeting and sometimes what they see my role as in attending.

    The culture of my workplace is that internal meetings often don’t have agendas. It’s probably worth noting that whenever I issue a meeting invite, I always include the purpose of the meeting which is often a single sentence eg. Decide x, gather information for options for y, plan z.

    1. OP #2*

      Thanks! Usually I don’t get a reply. Yet I’m the one worried about being unprofessional … sigh.

      Yes I do try to model what I want to see by including at least a bullet point.

      1. hamsterpants*

        If you have the standing, I would strongly urge you to request an agenda, wait a polite period of time like one day, and then, if you don’t get one, tell the organizer that since you don’t have any items to report on [topic] and it seems you are not needed, that you will not be attending.

        1. LittleMarshmallow*

          Also if you have the ability, maybe recommend some meeting trainings. I’ve found a lot of people just plain don’t know how to lead a meeting and have never been taught. There are techniques that can be taught and instituted to help streamline meetings. If you don’t have standing to suggest it for everyone, maybe get a couple of colleagues that are at equal level to you and see if you can convince your managers to let a small set of you take some meeting management training. Then you can have at least a few people setting the example for others. Culture changes take time and effort.

  7. Scotlibrarian*

    For OP3, you could say something like – ‘I’m open to starting soon’. That doesn’t sound desperate, let’s the employer know you are able to start quickly, and encourages negotiation.

  8. Yarp*

    ah.. Pointless meetings. What fun.
    I have been in meetings where they discuss what the problem is, and an hour later everybody leaves looking very proud of themselves for having had a meeting. And when I ask “OK, but what did we actually decide?” they realise they need to have another meeting to discuss how to come up with a solution. And another meeting to actually discuss solutions.

    My ex boss decided we have to have daily stand-up meetings, because one the other teams were doing it. I didn’t like the guy, or the team, so I said “So, a normal meeting, but without chairs.” Of course it didn’t endear me to anybody.

    1. Expiring Cat Memes*

      Oh hey, I think we’re going to be future coworkers! Not immediately, but when I die and inevitably get sent to the fiery pits of hell, I believe that means getting transferred to your department.

      1. A Feast of Fools*

        I’ve worked at two places where stand-up meetings were A Thing.

        I can tell you that they are the literal embodiment of “A Meeting That Should Have Been an Email”.

  9. Tara*

    I think “The pay is respectable, but certainly not enough to live on. We’re flexible on schedule — most of the work is admin work done in an online system [but we need you available at set times on multiple days]” is somewhat contradictory. If you know this job doesn’t pay well enough that someone would need another role, I think it’s on you to support the employee doing it around their full time job. If that means instead of them having to come in for an 11am meeting, you hang around until 6pm one day so you can catch up when works for them, it seems like the choice you’ve made. If the job if truly flexible, I think you should consider it. Otherwise, you should’ve advertised it as a Monday-Wednesday (or whatever is relevant) job, so people could get Thursday-Friday roles, and pay based on what would make that appealing.

    1. EPLawyer*

      They know they would need something else, not necessarily a full time job. The OP is thinking another part time job. Not a full time job PLUS this job.

      I think the employee is headed for burnout. of course they think they can handle both jobs. But when things actually get going, they might find out that they get home from the full time job and all they want to do is stare at the wall because work was so bad. But they can’t because its the end of the month and the expense reports have to be processed. Or whatever.

      1. CCC*

        The most common schedule among people with multiple jobs is a full time job and a part time job– there’s an easy to read Census article on the topic if you give it a Google. People need benefits. If OP expected 2 part-time jobs, that was an unrealistic expectation.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          I mean, I want to be honest, it is possible. There are plenty of people of my acquaintance who have benefits through a partner and who want part-time work to pair with something like child care or senior care, schooling, or some other commitment. But I do think OP is not unlikely to run into this again if they try to hire someone else.

          1. CCC*

            Oh, agreed, of course it’s possible. If you’re someone seeking a part-time gig job with a schedule that won’t work around a full-time schedule, you kind of have your pick in many areas. LW’s position needs to either be so appealing that folks like those in your circle choose her job instead of others, OR she needs to come to terms with playing second fiddle to someone’s full time obligations. Like you said, it’s likely she’ll run up against this again.

    2. MissBaudelaire*

      This was my sense, too.

      If you know the pay won’t support a life and the work was flexible… then I don’t know what else could be expected. Even if it was a student or someone with a part time job, there were probably still going to be conflicts.

      1. Ginger Dynamo*

        This is something I had wondered about. If OP thinks a student would be fine in the role, how would OP have approached this employee enrolling in a time-consuming grad program that restricts their availability in normal work hours? Obviously this is different than a full-time job in clear ways, but nowadays several degree programs essentially expect to fill your time like a 40hr work week if you’re taking a full course load.

        1. CCC*

          I work in a community college career services office, and get phone calls that sound like this about once a week:
          “We’d love a student who can work, oh, you know, maybe 10-3 on weekdays, cover our lunch hour and busy times.”
          “I’m happy to help you advertise your opening, but I want to let you know up front that those are our busiest and most popular class times, so you might not get the candidate pool you’re looking for.”
          “Don’t you have evening classes? You’re a community college!”
          “Yes, however our evening classes are most popular among those who already work full time or have other daytime commitments.”
          “…oh… well I had a job in college!!”
          “Oh me too! I usually worked evenings and weekends, close to campus! How about you?”
          “… um I’ll have to talk to the owner and get back to you about this.”

          1. MissBaudelaire*

            I’m really interested in the fact that people hear ‘college student’ and think that means ‘scads of free time to devote to this part time position’.

            When I was in college, a community college, I still went to classes four days a week, and didn’t get out until four. Granted, that was my own choice, but full time in college is much like a full time job!

            1. CCC*

              Yeah I also have no idea how/why people think this way. There are a few types of requests we get that fall in the category of “if you’d thought this through step by step, a reasonable person would have done things differently.” Usually they just haven’t though it through.

        2. LetterWriter1*

          I think if someone took the job and then said ‘oh, I just enrolled in this grad program that requires me to be logged in to that 9 – 5 M – F’ I’d be in a similar place.
          Our issue is more that although most of this work can be done whenever, there are some requirements around working with other people & attending minimal meetings. The schedule can be finagled, but it does need to be within working hours. That requirement isn’t onerous – two separate half-hour meetings per week, but it requires contractor to log out of a ‘higher-priority’ role to log IN to this PT role. In my experience, that’s the kind of thing that sounds a lot easier to do in theory than it is in practice.

          1. Jeni*

            That depends on the person. Last year, I worked at my full-time college teaching job and had a 25-hour-per-week part-time job doing related non-teaching work 40 minutes from my full-time site. I taught my classes on-site, did my office hours on-site, graded and prepped, met with students as needed outside of office hours, drove to my part-time on-site client-driven job for the afternoon which often included meetings, and returned to campus to teach my evening classes. If I had afternoon campus meetings that would have interfered with my afternoon PT job, I logged in on Zoom, like all my other coworkers did because COVID has changed the way we know how to work, or I adjusted my PT work schedule a bit. The only day I didn’t go to my PT job was on the day I taught and had an afternoon campus meeting. It wasn’t hard, honestly. As long as your employee can handle the workload, time management, and clear communication with both sites, and as long as the FT management team is supportive (that would be my biggest concern), then it won’t necessarily be a problem.

    3. KRM*

      I don’t expect a PT job to be enough to live on, though. I expect someone who is taking a PT job wants to work to have something to do/keep up their skills and is perfectly aware that working 20 hours a week or less isn’t going to provide full financial stability. My SIL works part time, 15hr/week. She’s not doing it to live on, she’s doing it so she can work a schedule around the kids and their activities. That’s why she found a PT position and didn’t look for FT.

      1. Meow*

        This comment, and many others, are reading as extremely privileged. Many, many families need to have 2 parents working at least FT to meet ends meet and in some cases, unfortunately more than FT. Many, many FT jobs also require over 40 hrs/week, especially if you work in a professional, exempt role that actually pays enough to live on. I think everyone would prefer to work exactly 40 hours a week and have enough money to survive and even enjoy some small luxuries but it doesn’t always work that way.

        1. KRM*

          Read it as you like. Many of us are addressing the actual question, which is boils down to this PT job haver will likely not be able to keep the PT job along with the FT job, as she will not be able to meet the requirements in the PT job. Not an unusual situation where both jobs have needs that should be met during standard working hours.

    4. Rayray*

      I agree. It’s more difficult than ever to get by on even regular full time jobs anymore. I can’t imagine many people would be able to do a part time job unless they were supported by a partner or parents also. Expectations should have been more clear from the beginning so the admin employee would have known before accepting another job.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        It’s even difficult to find full time work. Everyone wants a part timer so they don’t have to pay benefits, but wants that 40 hours of availability.

    5. LetterWriter1*

      If it helps, that is a factor of the number of hours, not the hourly rate. The hourly rate is quite good, but we’re talking about 15 – 20 hours per week.

  10. TuttiFrutti*

    OP2, I had a job years ago where 7-8 hours of my 8 hour day was filled with meetings, usually long, rambling, and directionless (and people routinely showed up 10-15 minutes late, delaying the start of the meeting).

    Even though I was quite junior, I started emailing the organiser to ask if there was an agenda, and depending on the response, I’d let them I could only attend the first 30 minutes, or would need to catch up with them afterwards. Or I would let them know I had a diary conflict and could only stay for 30 minutes, and ask for my stuff to be covered first. I was polite and professional, nobody seemed to mind, and I spent a lot less time listening to my colleagues talking about their weekends.

      1. OP #2*

        This is good. I think it takes a little courage and a little “anti-gaslight spray” … I think I start to convince myself with out any hard data that I’m going to create a bad reputation but if I’m just professional and polite about it, it probably won’t be a problem.

  11. Kay*

    Plenty of people work 60-70 hour work weeks without a problem so having a full time 40 hour a week plus a part time job is not going to automatically mean burn out plenty of people do those hours with one job or 2 jobs (farmers, and doctors easily come to mind). The job was said to be flexible and remote why wouldn’t she grab another good job? But where did the meetings are far and few between go to need to 2x a week meetings. Contradictory statements in the same letter.

    1. MsM*

      Y’know, people keep saying “lots of people work ridiculous hours; it’ll be fine!” as a counter to LW1, but citing examples like health workers really doesn’t do a whole lot to convince me OP’s wrong to be worried about burnout.

      1. Dr. Rebecca*

        Yeahhhhh. Like, what things are considered “without a problem”? 70 hour weeks leave not much time for errands. Cooking. Doctor’s appointments. Down time. Family time. Can it be done? Sure. But I wouldn’t call it problem free, even if people aren’t complaining about it.

      2. londonedit*

        Yeah…I work 37.5 hours a week (which is a standard full-time work week in the UK, unless you’re in certain sectors like medicine or banking or whatever) and I’d absolutely have a major problem with working nearly double that. I don’t think there is an amount of money that would entice me to work 70 hours a week.

    2. Cat Tree*

      Doctors often work long hours, but in an ideal world they wouldn’t have to because it absolutely *does* affect their performance. Just like any other humans, they are more likely to make mistakes after working very long hours. So you aren’t making the point you think you’re making.

    3. KRM*

      Flexible =/= everything can be done outside of standard working hours.
      Also, if you have 10-15 meetings a week, then maybe to you, 2x a week for the admin IS few and far between, but you still have to go to them!

    4. Rolly*

      “Plenty of people work 60-70 hour work weeks without a problem”


      Plenty do it for big money and have no family life or regrets or use the big money to make the rest of their life tolerable by paying for support/easy commute/etc.

      Another plenty do it because they have no choice and are trying to survive.

      With a few exceptions, it’s not healthy to work that much regularly. It’s unwise. A week or two from time to time is not big deal, but 60 plus consistently is not good.

    5. alienor*

      I think if you’re going to do that many hours, it’s actually easier (“easier” being relative) if they’re two different jobs, since at least it lets your brain switch gears. I’ve worked full-time and freelanced, worked full-time and gone to school, and worked full-time with 60-hour weeks, and the third option was the only one that regularly made me think “I can’t take this.”

      1. kiki*

        Right out of college, I worked a 9-5 office job and then a retail job 8-20 during the holidays hours a week on top of that (20 hours was generally just for holiday season or special exceptions covering for coworkers). I think the reason it didn’t burn me out was because the type of work was sooo different. At the office, I was sitting 100% of the time at a computer, hardly talking to anyone. At my retail job, I was standing, walking, talking, folding, socializing with my coworkers and customers. When I’ve had to pull more than 40 hours a week at one job of either type, I tend to start feeling burnt out right away, but doing both was sustainable for a couple years.

    6. LetterWriter1*

      I don’t want to get to a place where I’m telling someone what they can or cannot handle. Would I want to work a FT job & then also a PT job if I didn’t have to? No, and so I don’t. But maybe this person can and/or needs to. I don’t know what her situation is – maybe she had debt, maybe she has medical bills (her own or someone else’s). certainly don’t want to say ‘oh, you’re going to burn out, you can’t handle this, we’re going to let you go.’

      I think what my letter is trying to get at is how to be AS flexible as possible, while also making sure that work gets done (this person takes work off my plate, so whatever isn’t done by the contractor is done by me).

  12. ecnaseener*

    Since the assistant in letter #1 is a contractor, how much control is LW1 allowed to have over her hours? Where do you cross the line into “treating her like an employee instead of a contractor?”

    1. anonymous73*

      In what scenario do contractors set their own hours? Just because she doesn’t work directly for OP’s company doesn’t mean she doesn’t have control over the hours she works.

      1. Won't Get Fooled Again. Maybe.*

        In a lot of scenarios, actually. The guidelines are very specific relative to contractors, and IMO, this employer is playing with fire, assuming this is in the US. To me it sounds like OP has control issues and has decided to change the rules.

        1. anonymous73*

          I’ve been a contractor many times and have never set my own hours. Regardless, you’re making assumptions about the OP that are unkind. She hasn’t “decided to change the rules”, the admin has changed the situation. Flexibility doesn’t automatically mean “work whenever you want”.

          1. LetterWriter1*

            Thanks – yes, we’re in an awkward position where I wasn’t as clear as I should have been (e.g. ‘we’re flexible but at least 4 of the hours should be within business hours’) and the contractor changing after starting the role (during training, we had no problems finding time to train during the day – then after a month or so she had to start changing her schedule due to the FT job). Learnings all around I think, but am trying to make sure I’m not putting unreasonable expectations on this role while also making sure the work gets done in the way/time it needs to get done.

        2. KRM*

          I’ve been a contractor, and worked many places with contractors. Being a contractor means you’re not paid by the company you’re working for, or getting benefits direct, and often have a set project or timeframe you’re working for. But it doesn’t mean “work whenever you want”. Of course you can have contractors who have set deliverables and don’t need to work a standard schedule, but probably the majority of people on a contract are going to have to work standard hours (or something resembling them) to sync with teams, deadlines, and meetings.

          1. Rolly*

            “Being a contractor means you’re not paid by the company you’re working for”

            That’s typical of contract employees from staffing agencies, but it’s not what being a contractor is about. There are contractors who are paid by the company or multiple companies they work for.

            “probably the majority of people on a contract are going to have to work standard hours”
            This is true in contractors working for staffing agencies, and fits with the OP’s case.

        3. LetterWriter1*

          To be fair, if the contractor wanted our standing meeting to be Friday afternoon because that’s what works for her, that’s 100% fine. If we needed to move the existing meeting that she joins because it doesn’t work with her schedule, that’s 100% fine. What I (OP) am concerned about is getting to a place where the only time contractor can meet is Tuesday at 7 pm (or Monday at 7 am, or Saturday at 11 am, etc.).
          It’s less about having specific hours, and more about having (some) hours within the broader ‘business day.’ But I think that it’s clear that it’s not a great move to ASSUME that saying you’re flexible also implies that some have to be within the business day!

      2. meagain*

        I think it really depends on the job and structure. I have done contract work that was about the scope of work. I had deadline dates for different tasks or projects needed and billed the client for my hours. They did not control or care what hours I worked nor was I expected to have open wide availability. If we needed to touch base, we scheduled a call at a time we were both free. Something like a contracted virtual assistant would not be structured that way.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          I certainly think it’s possible to require a contractor to make certain check-in times or standing meetings without running afoul of this rule. If it became the majority of their time you were dictating I agree you’d have an issue.

      3. alienor*

        Depends on the arrangement. I’ve been a contractor where the client gave me a project to do and I could work on it whenever I wanted as long as I finished it by the deadline. I’ve also been a contractor where I was employed on paper by a consulting firm and farmed out to a client. In that case, most of the actual work could be done whenever as long as I met deadlines, but I also needed to be available during the client’s business hours for meetings, emails and instant messages. The first scenario fit around a full-time job, but the second one didn’t (though it might be easier now while a lot of people still work remote).

      4. RagingADHD*

        *raises hand*

        I am a freelancer/independent contractor. I get most of my work through a single agency. As long as I meet deliverable deadlines, it is completely irrelevant what hours I work.

        I think that’s more normal than not, because project-based work is easier to outsource to contractors.

      5. ecnaseener*

        I think you’re replying to my other comment above, not this comment! I didn’t say in this comment that the admin can set her own hours, but I do know that “stipulating exactly when the contractor can do their work” is one of the classic flags for “careful, that sounds like an employee.” I’m just wondering where the cutoff is – obviously somewhere between zero and complete control.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s definitely not a bright line at all. There are multiple factors they look at and that is one of them, but you can absolutely require a contractor to be available during certain hours without legal risk (particularly when you’re not saying “do all of your independent work during these hours,” but rather just “you will need to be available for meetings with other people at these times”).

          It’s the totality of the situation that will matter.

  13. Venus*

    I think you can offer to give a reference. I have offered this to really good bosses and senior people I have worked with, and specifically talk about examples of their skills. None have taken me up on it, as really good bosses tend to have their choice of references and employee references aren’t often helpful, yet they all really appreciated it.

    1. Sabina (OP4)*

      Thank you! I will do this. I had wondered if it would be presumptuous so it’s reassuring to know that even if they don’t take me up on it they will appreciate it.

  14. anonymous73*

    #1 OP, first you need to figure out what you need her to do and exactly when you need her available (there are contradictions in your letter). Then, have a conversation with the admin and provide her with clear and definitive expectations. If she accepts them, provide her with a period of time in which to prove to you that she can meet those expectations and let her know that if it doesn’t work out, you may need to let her go. Know that her full time job will most likely always come first, but if you set clear expectations for her role with your company, there will be no confusion about how to move forward.
    #3 I wouldn’t call it unprofessional, but it raises concerns. I was out of work recently for 9 months. When they would ask my availability, I was honest and told them I was available immediately, but I never said “I need a job yesterday”.

  15. Mandy*

    Your answer to #1 was really surprising to me, given that I normally agree with and appreciate your advice. I think your answer was outdated, and unfair.

    OP did say that they are not paying enough to live on, and that their expectation was the person they hired would not be available 100% of the time. I think the idea of adding extra meetings just to force this person to show they’re able to make them is petty. If the job was understood to by both parties to be flexible it’s spiteful just to reduce that flexibility because your employee needs more income to live on.

    If you’re not planning to pay someone a full time wage, you can’t expect them to give you full time availability. And there’s no reason to assume this person isn’t dedicated and would have problems meeting the expectations of both roles.

    Some day jobs are 7-3, leaving two hours of office time, and other jobs especially in the tech sector are going 4 days per week. Some companies use averaging permits and employees make their own schedule as long as the work gets done.
    Then there’s also roles where lunches are flexible and this person could schedule their lunch hour to line up with meetings with OP.

    The better advice for OP would be to consider the needs of their business. If what OP truly wants is someone available full time, they may need to consider making that position a full time role.

    1. MissBaudelaire*

      I totally agree.

      I get the feeling that OP was hoping to get someone who would make this job a priority, while still going to school or having a second job. But just as you said, if you’d like full time availability, you’re going to have to pay for that.

      1. LetterWriter1*

        Sorry that the letter wasn’t clear – I/we don’t need 100% availability at all. What I’m concerned about is going down to 0% business-hour availability (as her other role is a FT office job). I think my question to Alison is how to find (and set expectations for) the sweet spot – so that the needs of the position are met, but contractor has the flexibility she needs.

    2. Sloan Kittering*

      If OP likes this employee’s work and wants to keep them on, one option could be to consider bundling only the parts of the role that are truly flexible – so lets say, all invoices need to be processed in a week, but it could be 9PM or the the weekend or whatever – and having that be the contract for this employee, freeing them of some of the tasks that require shorter turnaround. That may be a more sustainable model than having a very PT low-paid contract but still hoping they will retain prime working hours for you.

      1. LetterWriter1*

        This is basically how we’re handling now – there are some things that do need to do in a general time period (before Thursday EOD, for example), and some that are much looser (respond to emails within 48 hours, or whatever).

    3. whistle*

      This is in line with my take as well. Throw in the fact that this is a contractor and not an employee, and I think the LW has unrealistic expectations. LW is certainly within her rights to term the contract and find a more available contractor, but I’m skeptical that she’ll find what she’s looking for long term.

      I just hired a contractor for up to 5 hours a week of overflow work. I specifically targeted candidates with a full-time job, and I am paying rates over what they would make in overtime (taking into consideration the tax burden as independent contractor), because I feel this is the only way to get a qualified person interested in working a few hours a week. If I was hiring full-time, my approach would be different.

    4. Purple Cat*

      Yeah, I agree.
      It highlights that employers still have much more power than employees and how people in more scrutinized roles – administrative, hourly really aren’t given the same flexibility as workers in higher paying, salary roles (yes, BROAD strokes here).
      LW1 admits that they’re not offering a full-time role with a living wage and the employee needs “something else” but as soon as employee does come up with something else, all of a sudden its’ “whoa, well not like THAT!” It’s frustrating that employers routinely expect well over 40 hours/wk from their own employees, but as soon as an employee is willing to put in more hours across 2 companies, it’s a problem.

    5. LetterWriter1*

      I’m sorry, maybe my letter was unclear or badly written – meetings weren’t added after the fact. One was messaged very clearly during the interview process, and one is a general ‘check-in’ with just the two of us. Both schedules are flexible (but obviously there are other people in the meetings – they should be within business hours). So far, this schedule is working okay.

    6. Be kind, rewind*

      But they’re not expecting full time availability, and it’s a part time job, so, no, it wouldn’t be a full time salary. Why are people making things up to get upset at the OP about?

      1. LetterWriter1*

        Yeah I think I worded the question of pay badly – it is a GOOD paying PART-TIME job. Even with the good rate that we pay, it’s only 15 – 20 hours per week. Obviously that’s an ideal situation for a lot of people, but not if you’re relying on this paycheck as your only source of income.

  16. Lifelong student*

    Working multiple jobs- I did it for years! One full time, refereeing during one sports season, teaching at post secondary level at multiple schools, and per diem work during busy season. So sometimes- four at one time- sometimes only 2 or three.

    1. Lifelong student*

      Oh and I also- prior to this period- worked full time and took as many as 12 credits per semester for undergrad and finished an MBA in 18 months- all in night and weekend classes. I only had one full time and one part time seasonal job then.

  17. I'd Prefer Not To*


    I had this issue at a previous job with meetings being kind of pointless/fruitless. It got really bad in the first 6-8 months of the pandemic when we were remote and they were trying to maintain the face-to-face culture over Zoom. This eventually turned into meetings with the same 15 minutes of small-talk over, and over, and over. You could tell everyone was getting really tired of it, but nobody said anything.

    I started asking at the end of the meeting for my Action Items – aka, “as a result of this meeting, what would you like me to do?” Others began following suit and discussing action items at the end of meetings. This lead to better agendas and fewer meetings with better structure.

    There is nothing unprofessional about asking for an agenda or even asking if you are needed in the meeting. Sometimes YOU need to be the catalyst for the cultural shift in your company.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yes, sadly I’m in a culture where “let’s set up a recurring a meeting about this” is the first go-to option, and it comes from the top – our senior leadership is absentminded and doesn’t really do things until it’s crunch time, so they want to have meetings to give themselves more accountability. It’s weird that they drag us all into this though. We have a few times managed to get out of agreeing to recurring meetings, but it can be tough. Increasingly our external partners are doing it for us by saying “I think we can just check in by email” because everyone is so sick of back to back zooms all day.

      1. I'd Prefer Not To*

        Ugh, yes. I work in higher ed, so there are about 5 layers of management at any time. VPs and up are never prepared for meetings (with the exception of like, one of them) and they end up derailing the parts that we, the peasants, had actually prepared, to talk about vague strategy and “revenue.” We try to exclude them from our meetings as much as we can for these reasons.

    2. OP #2*

      This hits on the Junior think Alison brought up. I am three years in an have proven I’m capable but, ugh, finding the courage to ask this is tough.

      I think in my office when you ask “What do I need to do?” people like to think you’re not a self starter and that you don’t “get it” if you can’t find something to so. For me it’s not that, it just makes sense that if we all go off and do something we aren’t doing the same thing or we’re doing things that work to whether.

      1. Salsa Verde*

        I usually say, “Let me just confirm my action items” or something similar at the end of the meeting, so I can show that I have been listening but also give people a chance to tell me if they have other expectations of me from the meeting.
        My work is also in the no agenda for meetings category, and it drives me batty. Good luck!!

  18. Generic Name*

    1) OP, you mention they are a contractor. Are they through an agency, or an independent (1099) contractor? If they are through an agency, you can talk to them and ask if they have anything about what hours they work in their contract. If not, you can ask for specific hours outlined in the next contract, either with a different person or with your current admin’s contract. If they are not contracted through an agency, I suggest you look up the rules surrounding 1099 contractors. If you are requiring certain hours, that may put you out of compliance with those regulations in that you’d be treating a contractor like an employee, which is not allowed. Also consider that most people who work are also looking for benefits. If you are offering part time work with no benefits, then yeah, a lot of people are going to need to work a full time job to get benefits.

    1. LetterWriter1*

      Thanks! Yes, I think I need to find a way to say ‘I’m flexible on schedule, but X number of hours need to be SOMETIME within working hours.’ We don’t require specific hours – but never being online at the same time will be challenging. So trying to find that balance of being more clear/explicit than I was, but still not designating what days/times they work (which isn’t necessary).

  19. Dwight Schrute*

    I work a full time job and an admin job on the side and have been for over a year with no issues. I work my full time job from 830-5 everyday and then do my admin stuff in the evenings usually a few hours a night and some on the weekends. I’d give it a shot before you conclude they can’t do it. If it does indeed become a problem then of course have a discussion that it’s not working but working a full time job doesn’t exclude you from working a part time admin job

    1. LetterWriter1*

      Thanks! Honestly, this is about where we landed – so far it’s working okay! I think a bit slower to move things onto the contractor’s plate, but overall good.

  20. M*

    I disagree with #1 answer. I freelance on the side of a FT role and always have — it’s doable and sounds pretty similar to the situation here. Just need to have a FT role that is remote, flexible hours, and caps at something reasonable like 30-40 hours. If you want your employee to be exclusive, pay them better (sorry).

  21. Koala dreams*

    #1 A contractor isn’t the same as an employee. It should be normal that contractors set their own hours. Unfortunately, a lot of employers treat contractors as employees. The solution is to actually hire someone as an employee if you want an employee, not hire an contractor and complain about their availability.

    As for the full time job, I only half disagree with your concerns. Yes, the side business for you is probably second place after the full time job. On the other hand, if your contractor was a full time free lancer with many different customers, they might be even less available. You definitely couldn’t count on being their top priority. In the middle, it’s often more difficult to schedule jobs the more there are of them, so a person with three or four part time gigs might have less availability than a person with just a full time job to schedule around.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      It depends on the contractor role on whether they set their own hours or not. This isn’t a case where there’s a blanket rule.

      1. adelaide*

        Exactly. If the contractor’s role requires them to interact with employees on company projects on company time, they would not be allowed carte blanche to set their own hours.

        Our company specifies that contractors must be available within a set of core hours (we work across multiple time zones, but there are several hours per day that overlap and so contractors are expected to be accessible to employees during that core time).

        1. Koala dreams*

          Neither the contractor* (the seller) nor the buyer (the company) has a carte blanche, as you put it. That’s true for any business relationship. I admit my comment about contractors setting their own hours is more about how it should be, and less about the current reality. There are too many industries where it’s the buyer’s market, which is bad for workers.

          But the needs of the role has very little to do with it. There is no need to do office cleaning at night, yet it’s often done at night because that’s what the buyer’s want. On the other hand, you might need an electrician ASAP, but the electrician is booked four weeks out so you’re out of luck.

          *Or agency, if applicable

    2. OyHiOh*

      I think the critical part, for this remote working admin contractor, is clearly communicating what the deadlines are. If expense reports need to be processed by the 1 pm on 10th of the month, than say so, and let your contract employee figure out how to get those deadlines met. If she can’t meet the deadlines for routine weekly/monthly tasks, it will become obvious within a few weeks.

      1. LetterWriter1*

        This is about where we are! We have one or two tasks that are timebound in the way you describe, and so far she’s making it work, which is a great sign.

        To be honest, I don’t worry about not being a ‘priority’ and it’s VERY rare that a fire drill will come up for this role. Having someone who just clocks their hours to get a paycheck is totally, totally fine – just want to make sure we find a way for things to actually get done right with someone whose online time doesn’t overlap with everyone else’s very much.

        1. OyHiOh*

          As an office admin/”girl Friday” person, I’m glad to hear it’s working out so far.

          I was originally hired into my org for 16 hours a week and my boss gave me pretty much complete discretion to set my hours as I wanted. His primary concern was consistency with whatever hours I settled on. The office, and my role, have grown considerably over the past 18 months – I’m at 3/4 time now and we’re expecting I’ll jump to full time/salary/benefits in the next 6 months or so. If this admin works out and is willing, I urge you to consider bringing her on for more hours and duties if and when you’re able.

        2. Koala dreams*

          On a more positive note, I think your idea of a standing meeting once or twice a week is a good one. Too many part time gigs have random schedules, and a standing meeting is usually easier to schedule. You can block out the time on your calendar well in advance.

          As for flexibility, this is a thing that has changed with the pandemic. Before, a flexible office job done from home would have been extra attractive, but now this is the new normal.

          Good luck!

  22. Purple Cat*

    LW3 – context is everything and this question highlights the double-standards that are applied to employers vs employees.

    For me, as an interviewer, if I asked the question “why are you interested in this position” and the candidate responds “well I needed a new job yesterday”. Then yes, it’s a problematic answer because it doesn’t speak to actual interest in the role, what the candidate brings, etc…
    But in the scenario you laid out, the interviewer brought up that timeline first, and now we’re going to “penalize” the candidate for responding similarly? I could easily see it as a joke.
    Interviewer: We needed to fill this position yesterday.
    Candidate: Well great because I NEEDED a new job yesterday. Hahaha

    1. MapleHill*

      #3, Gotta agree with your wife & Alison. I’ve gotten variations of this response before and it definitely gives you the sense that this person will take any job offered to them. Hey, I get that (and I’ve been there), you need money to survive. But as an employer, you want to hire someone who is really motivated to be there beyond just the money and shares your company’s values. Also, it makes you wonder if they’ll just take the first job offered so they have a paycheck, but then keep on looking and be out the door in less than a year.

      I do agree with Purple Cat that it’s a double standard. Although as an employer who has often needed to fill a role yesterday, I would never say that to a candidate. And for some of the same reasons, it would decrease our negotiating power, and make us seem desperate to just hire anyone (I don’t want a new hire to feel like they’re just a butt in a seat hired out of desperation). It also might give the wrong impression that the candidate is gonna get the job b/c we desperately need to hire someone.

      So, no it’s not unprofessional per se, but it doesn’t put your best foot forward (as a candidate or employer).

  23. Kate in Colorado*

    For #4, I just want to recommend that you say SOMETHING. The words don’t have to be perfect but the intent to show care and concern will be appreciated. I was unexpectedly eliminated from my position after my location changed parent companies and my position was centralized. I got an 8 day notice and I was 10 weeks pregnant. It was absolutely devastating, and I had people pretended they didn’t know and act like everything was fine when everything was absolutely not fine in my world. The few people who reached out to give support were appreciated more than I can say. It was such a hard time and to have to put on a brave face to finish the required time was awful. Support and kindness will be welcomed.

  24. Van Wilder*

    #1 – this isn’t the most dramatic question we’ve seen but please send an update later and let us know how it works out. I’m curious.

    1. LetterWriter1*

      If it helps, so far so good! Definitely a bit awkward with timing and responses and stuff, but more just getting used to it, less being concerned about it.

  25. OneTwoThree*

    LW#1 – Would it make since talk to your admin’s manager at their full-time role? I’d be clear on what you are looking for from your admin during their full-time hours. I think that would give you a good idea of it’s possible/ realistic to expect your weekly meetings, turnaround times, etc.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      That sounds like a very, very good way to get the person fired. I am making the assumption that both jobs are at different companies. Depending upon the people involved, they could come up without any jobs.

      1. Ginger Dynamo*

        Not to mention a very good way to lose the employee you’ve now jumped through hurdles to keep. If this happened to me as an employee, I’d immediately tender my resignation to the PT job and apologize to the FT manager for my former manager’s conduct. I would hope the FT manager might not hold it against the employee for their PT manager making this kind of overstep, though.

    2. Anonymous Hippo*

      I’m shocked this is being suggested. It is not the OPs business AT ALL how the admin makes things work with their full-time employer.

    3. River Otter*

      Holy smokes, no. LW1 is just some rando schmuck as far as their contractor’s other job is concerned. They have zero standing to contact the other manager.

    4. Ginger Dynamo*

      I think OP1 would be crossing a lot of boundaries to do that. From the side of the FT manager, the PT manager would look like pretty presumptuous, like they were meddling in arrangements the FT manager should be making with the employee directly. It comes across in bad faith as well, like you don’t trust your employee to communicate their commitments to you. Be clear with the employee what you expect from them in 8-5 working hours, by all means, but reaching out to the FT manager to say “but can she *really* be available at 2pm on Friday for our check-in?” would be an overstep.

      1. Ginger Dynamo*

        Not to mention, if I were the employee in this scenario, I would want to immediately leave any controlling PT manager who would do this.

    5. OneTwoThree*

      When I wrote my idea, I assumed that the employee would know about the interaction between the two managers. I wasn’t intending for it to be sneaky. I thought of it as more of a way for everyone (managers and employee) to outline their needs and to work together to ensure sure it really is doable.

      I’m suggesting this only because there is potentially some overlap of business hours when the employee would be responsible to both parties.

      However, can see the points of my fellow commenters.

    6. Dwight Schrute*

      Oh this would be supremely awkward and weird if my two bosses met to discuss expectations. The admin is the one who should be speaking and managing Expectations with their supervisors, not the two managers

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        Yeah, I’ve had employees with other jobs before. Juggling the schedule can be a challenge, but the managers don’t need to negotiate directly with each other. That’s a little too close to treating the employee like a chattel instead of a person.

        Sometimes scheduling around another job works and sometimes it doesn’t, but the employee needs to be free to manage both employment relationships without the managers trying to treat them like a shared widget.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          “treating the employee like a chattel instead of a person” yes exactly.
          Rather like when project manager threw a wobbly after I told her I couldn’t work on her project, being up to my eyeballs over the next few weeks, so the project managers had a meeting to discuss my work, without me and without my knowledge, and came up with a plan that basically meant I no longer got the big meaty projects, which in turn led to me having more down time and being less productive. Then the boss comes to see me complaining that my productivity is down, and I told him that I could get far more done if I’m put on one big project rather than juggling five small ones, and that in fact once I’d hit a sweet spot on the big project I could often start fitting small ones in, and in fact this was great because I’d go and work on a small project any time I got fed up with the biggie, rather than take a break, leading to phenomenal productivity.

  26. RagingADHD*

    LW 1, if you want to dictate an employee’s core hours, then hire an employee and pay your share of withholding taxes, SS, Medicare, etc.

    If you want to use a contractor, then as long as the work gets done, when they do it isn’t your concern. If they don’t get the work done, let them go.

    That’s how being a contractor works.

    1. LetterWriter1*

      I think what makes this particularly difficult is the grey area – I don’t want to or need to dictate the employee’s core hours. However, it’s a bit awkward (and not the original agreement) for all of the hours to be outside of ‘normal business hours.’ Just trying to get clarity on how to make this new arrangement work for all!

      And if it helps (maybe should have mentioned this in the letter), we work through a staffing agency – I believe benefits are provided, taxes are paid, etc. although I’m unsure of the details of this specific agency (e.g. I know that our bill rate is higher than take home, and I believe these make up a part of that).

      1. RagingADHD*

        Your bill rate is higher than take home because the agency takes a cut, often up to 50%.

        It’s incredibly rare for PT temps/contractors through an agency to have any kind of benefits, though staffing agencies do withhold taxes.

        It sounds like you are focusing on the wrong part of the situation. You simply need to define what the job function/deliverables are. What does the business actually need this role to accomplish? If you are really clear about the results you’re looking for, it will be immediately obvious whether the contractor’s proposed schedule will work or not.

        The reason you are having trouble is because you are trying to allow for vague stuff that isn’t actually your problem to deal with.

      2. Koala dreams*

        Oh, I didn’t realize that it was through an agency.

        There are often clauses in the contract to discourage customers to hire contractors as employees, as the agency don’t want to lose their cut.

    2. Rana*

      Your comment would make sense if the LW wanted all their hours during the business day. But if they are talking about 2 meetings a week that are flexible but should occur during business hours because other employees need to attend, that is super super normal for contractors and not at all unreasonable. If I hire a contractor to do a project, I don’t care when they do the actual work of the project. But I do care that they are available for meetings with stakeholders without requiring myself or my other employees to work nights and weekends. I have worked with many contractors and none of them have blinked an eye at this kind of arrangement (as long as meetings don’t become a large portion of the hours needed). This is not dictating an employee’s core hours, this is requiring 2 hours per week to be within the 40 hours of a normal workweek. It is not an unreasonable request for a contractor. This is indeed how being a contractor works for many if not most contractors.

      That doesn’t mean that it will work for this particular contractor, depending on how strict the hours of her other job is. But if that is what the LW needs, they just have to spell it out for their contractor and be prepared to hear no and have to hire a different one. In terms of work quality, they definitely shouldn’t assume it will suffer with the addition of the FT job, but they should monitor it just as they always should regardless of what else the contractor is doing.

  27. I don't play games*

    Re LW2: More of a question for everyone here. With very few exceptions, no one in my organizations writes agendas or sends out notes afterwards. Would it be seen as odd if I started doing it? I think it would help give me more clarity on next steps. What are others thoughts?

    1. CCC*

      I love agendas and minutes. I don’t lead meetings often but when I do, they have an agenda and I at least try to send a summary afterwards. I also asked my boss for agendas for our meetings and she agreed without any weirdness that it would probably be helpful. I don’t think it’ll be odd at all.

    2. Purple Cat*

      I am sure it would be a WELCOME change if you started doing it. Be the change you want to see in the world and all that ;)
      Personally, I’m intimidated by the use of the word “agenda” because I think it has to include not only topics, but length of time assigned to each and that last part feels like way too much for me.
      But if a topic isn’t clear by the meeting invite alone, then I always include a few bullet points as to what specifically will be discussed. A follow-up email recapping the discussion along with key next steps is a great practice.

      1. OP #2*

        Yes. That’s all I’m really asking for: a few bullet points.

        I think many, including myself, are reluctant to take meeting minutes or summaries because then you are looked on to do it every time. You don’t end up changing the culture you just show everyone you’re a sucker, lol.

        Plus, it’s frustrating when you start to document and baby-project-manage by listing action items for others when it’s not even something you end up being involved in.

    3. Koala dreams*

      I like the suggestion above of giving “goals” for the meeting. Perhaps you don’t need a formal agenda, but a goal or topic should improve meetings without requiring too much of the organizer.

  28. HannahS*

    For OP5, the reality is that a lot of people work more than full-time hours and do their jobs well. I don’t know what exactly “full time” and “part-time” constitute in your work, but if it’s something like 37.5 hours and 18 hours, or even 40 and 20, then combining the two makes a 60-hour workweek. That sucks, but a lot of industries (Big Law, Big Finance, startups, some healthcare) require that of their workers. I’m not saying that this is fantastic and that no one gets burnt out, but a lot of people spend many years of their career that way. And as you say, this person probably cannot afford to live on a part-time admin job salary. Even if you got a student, you’d could easily be getting someone who is busy equivalent to a full-time job. If the hours of availability are the issue, that’s one thing, and if you’re worried that this specific person doesn’t have a track record of being able to work that much, that’s fair, but I wouldn’t let the mere fact that it’s two jobs throw you off.

  29. Meow*

    I’m surprised by the answer to #1 and the comments around it. Most people looking for FT, flexible work are looking for something they can do to make money outside of whatever their first priority is – taking care of children, working another job, going to school, etc. Frankly, twice a week meetings during the middle of the day are going to interrupt most of those, even in a work from home setting. Most stay at home parents watch their children during the day while their spouse is gone, most students attend classes during the day, most folks with full time jobs work during the day. I’m not saying it’s not possible to find someone taking night classes or working overnights who wants additional day time work, but it’s going to limit your candidate pool. Also, pretty surprised by the conversation around burnout. I’m sure there are some people who enjoy being busy or just want to temporarily earn a little extra income for something specific but the vast majority of folks who work second jobs are doing it because they financially need to. Let’s not shame individuals for having to earn extra money when we live in a country that has a very limited safety net and often pay people wages that are not livable.

    1. Be kind, rewind*

      I don’t… see any shaming? Sure, there are people who enjoy being busy or who need that second job, but there are also plenty of people who bite off more than they can chew with multiple jobs. We don’t know OP’s employee, so I think raising it as a potential concern is completely valid.

    2. Rana*

      Two half hour meetings per week are definitely doable for many many people in the situations you describe, especially as the LW is flexible about when they occur as long as they are during business hours. A stay at home parent could schedule the meetings for nap time, I doubt a student is taking classes all 40 hours per week, many full time jobs would be flexible enough to fit in a half hour meeting at lunch or some other flex time (just as some FT jobs are fine with someone leaving half an hour early on Thursday to pick up their kid or for a medical appointment or even a personal one). There are some people for whom this would not work – maybe your kid never naps at the same schedule, or your classes are on a campus where you can’t find a private place for a half hour meeting, or your FT job is super strict about hours. But I’ve been all three (SAHM, student, FT worker) and I could have found time in each situation to do two half hour meetings during the work week, easily. So yes, it will limit your candidate pool, but not as significantly as you suppose here.

      On burnout I agree that a wait-and-see method (with the same kind of oversight/management as should always have been there) is sufficient, as many people will be able to do both without a problem.

  30. hmbalison*

    Comment for #1
    I’m glad you gave the advice to give the P/T person a try. I can testify that it is possible to have a F/T and a P/T job and thrive. For five years I had a full-time, flexible, remote job and did freelance writing on the side. The key that made my situation work is that both jobs didn’t require strict 9-5 hours. I could work at night. I could work on the weekends. I could start early. I could start late. My F/T job never complained that I was not available or behind on my work–I was always a high-performing employee.

  31. MediumEd*

    OP#5 – Fellow prof here. Once you have had a chance to process this on your own, yes, do tell your students what is happening but on a “this is how it will impact class” level. They are adults, and illness happens. Odds are they will eventually notice that something is up and will appreciate knowing about it rather than being surprised with their classes suddenly going online or being cancelled. You are right to think that this could impact your teaching evals. It is great that your department is so supportive! Have you tried talking this decision through with your chair or other colleagues?

  32. OP #2*

    OP #2 here. Thanks for the comments thus far! I haven’t read them all but wanted to start by addressing some of Alison’s initial questions.

    I’m junior relative to this job (three years), but it’s not like I’m just out of college and not used to business norms. I also have established some “clout” in my three years and am trusted with some projects on my own.

    The challenge of going to my manager for advice is that they are often the one calling meetings for a high level purpose and just happy to let the team discuss topics on the fly. They see it as organic and healthy, and maybe in some cases it is, but for the most part 3 out of 16 people drive the conversations about “Whatever” while everyone else remains silent.

    I try to model what I see as useful by adding agendas to my meetings and ending them early if we get through them. I have emailed my boss and others who schedule open ended meetings to ask for an agenda and I’m usually ignored. I also have asked about action items at the end of the meeting and while we tend to have “themes” at the end (e.g. “we have to determine x so we can do y”) we don’t walk out with clear actions (“Josh talks to Barb and reports back while Joey analyzes the Teapot Systems capability to do this and comes up with a recommendation.”) When I offer more solid actions I’m usually looked at like I’m crazy because most are happy with the ethereal direction we’ve determined.

    I think I know the answer. It’s not the right culture fit for me. For the record I do try to be open minded about the way we work and allow myself to experience different ways to meet, but (to drive the point) last week we had a three hour meeting to plan the year and my senior coworker turned to me and said that he isn’t sure he knows what we are supposed to do after that meeting. It just might not change.

  33. B. Wayne*

    LW #1: As a person who, for the entire 90s did not have the luxury of a 40 hour a week day job as I worked several part time jobs or one or two part time jobs and a full time job. Forty hours, fully rested, fully giving 100% is not in the financial cards for some people. I am curious if (as with me for years and years) you would object as much as you are if the part timer worked late afternoon, evenings or nights full time elsewhere and gave you unhindered part time access during the day? And as to your picture of a part time employee dedicating the 20 hours or so to you without a time suck hindrance elsewhere is not taking into account life. They might be part time because family and personal situations take up 40, 50, 60 plus hours elsewhere.

    1. LetterWriter1*

      Honestly, I think my concern is less ‘can she handle the workload?’ and more ‘can we have an admin who is never online during business hours?’ I imagine that if the change to her situation was ‘I lost childcare and now I have an infant at home with me at all times,’ I would probably have similar concerns – can this person fulfill all requirements of the role if they are never able to work during the work day? How can I set fair expectations so that we’re trying to do all we can to make this work (but also realize if it doesn’t)?

  34. Nupalie*

    You are handling this with Grace and concern for your students. You sound like a wonderful teacher. I would suggest….that you make this a teachable moment.
    50 years ago, people were not even saying the word “cancer” because it was so scary/taboo. Too many young people have never had any interaction with anyone who needs any type of medical accommodation. These are often wonderful caring youngsters….but no one has ever taught them how to understand or react to some of the harder parts of life.
    As much as you can comfortably do it…your openness and the behavior you model will be a gift of knowledge to your students. You’ll be educating them about facing trials with courage…about how small daily tasks and obligations can be much more difficult for people who are ill or disabled…and giving them a chance to practice kindness and understanding.
    I am not faced with your challenge…I don’t know if I could handle it as well as you seem to be doing. My minor issue is a limp, a cane, and an electronic microcurrent wrap on my ankle for pain ( which I did have to explain to my students was NOT a home incarceration tracking device).
    I’ve taught middle, high, college and adults for 25 years with my visible medical issue. I would much rather have the youngest students ask me out loud “are they going to cut your leg off because it doesn’t work right?” And the adults ask me “why doesn’t social security just pay you to retire?” Out loud so that I can answer them and give them useful information about how things work. I matter of factly remind students at times that I only have one free hand when I’m using a cane and ask for help carrying something when I need to.
    You don’t need to educate the whole world about everything related to your diagnosis. It would be intrusive and exhausting. But anything you choose to share will be a gift and a learning experience for your students

  35. JKG*

    I haven’t been in your shoes, but I did have a professor in college who was battling cancer. He was very upfront, and he fortunately had a TA who was able to step in on many things. The students were all very understanding and kind. I see no downsize to honesty here, although I do think there’s a line before oversharing. Your classes don’t need details about what you’re going through, but upfront communication and updates any time your circumstances change should buy you all kinds of good will. I hope you’re well soon!

  36. Smilingswan*

    OP #4. Please be wary in this situation, and look to your own job. A previous company that I worked for laid of some of the management. A few months later, we were all laid off and they closed the location. You may want to put feelers out there for other jobs if you suspect this may come up for you. Best of luck!

  37. PlainJane*

    #2… if you’re not in a position to make a suggestion, you can go with the tried and true “totally innocent” approach… respond with something like, “What’s on the agenda?” You could be using it colloquially as “What are we going to talk about?” but it gets that whole “agenda” thing on the map.

    Another option would be to respond with things you hope to talk about. “Oh, yeah, Bob… I’ve been wanting to talk about orders from Tea, Limited that have been coming in late… will there be time to talk about that?”

  38. Herder of Teenaged Cats*

    To LW#5, from a fellow university teacher:

    You have a few options on what to do, and when/how to disclose (should you choose to):

    I’d start with your department chair (or the vice chair if that is someone you’re more comfortable with), if you haven’t already. You said your department is supportive, so I’m assuming you’re working with them on this. Your department chair (or vice chair) would be an excellent resource on how/when to disclose your diagnosis with your students. They have probably helped faculty with similar issues in the past.

    The new semester has just started for you, I presume, and both you and your students are just starting to get to know each other. Your could tell them now, in these first couple of weeks, so that when medical appointments interfere with your teaching, they’ll have the context to understand why. At the same time, opening up with such personal news to new students can be quite intimidating, so it’d be understandable to put it off until you’re more comfortable with them. With omicron being what it is, you could pretty easily be vague about any issues for awhile, too, if you wanted to go that route.

    You’re right to be worried about course evaluations, which can already skew unfairly against women instructors. Honestly, it’s hard to say what will happen with those even in the best of times, let alone into the third year of a pandemic.

    In general, I’ve found being open and honest with my students helps foster a better classroom atmosphere, and encourages students to come to me when they’re dealing with things in their life too. It’s up to you how much you want to disclose, and when, and how much of a “teaching moment” you want to make of it.

    I wish you all the best!

  39. Olivia Oil*

    I’m surprised that LW1 is even writing in. I did a FT job and a 1099 offsite PT contract job at the same for 2 years and the org I was contracting with didn’t care or so anything. I don’t think they would have really had a right to. They can’t tell me not to take other jobs.

  40. NoHairDontCare*


    Although I was a K-12 teacher, I have been in your shoes! That being said, I think whatever you decide to do (when it comes to talking to your students) is a completely personal choice.

    For me, between chosing to wear a headscarf (instead of a wig), and needing to be absent due to Dr. appointments, I decided to be honest with students (telling them my diagnosis, and inviting students to ask questions privately if they had them). This has quite the bonding effect, and allowed me to not feel like I needed to fake the tougher days. I didn’t dwell on it much, and often used humor to help students view it as a topic I was comfortable discussing.

    Again- you do you, but if you’re comfortable sharing, I think it will only enhance your relationships with your students.

  41. Elle*

    OP1: My first thought on reading your letter was of all the people I know who would *love* an opportunity like the one you’re offering: part-time, flexible, remote work, which could help students who need to earn a bit extra to pay the rent, or mothers who aren’t able to go back to full-time work after maternity leave or have been out of the workforce for a few years, or parents/carers who need work to fit around their family responsibilities…the list goes on. If your candidate already has a full-time job, I know that they may still need to pick up other hours to make ends meet – the wage/cost of living disparity is real – but usually those end up being evening or weekend hours, like retail or service jobs (or truly flexible contract work that doesn’t require attendance at meetings etc, like proof-reading or tutoring or whatever). I know you’re looking for the best candidate to fill the role, not using it as a social project to help people with specific needs for flexible remote p/t work, but it just feels a shame to me that such an ideal role wouldn’t go to someone who actually cannot look for a f/t job whatsoever.

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