my employee seemed really frustrated in a meeting where she didn’t realize she was on camera

A reader writes:

I’m writing after an unusual Zoom meeting last week. I’m a department director and the meeting was to work on a special project. Just me, my direct report, Jane, and one of her direct reports, Liz, were in the meeting.

We all started the meeting with our cameras on and were following an agenda (that we all were regularly referencing). About 10 minutes in, I noticed Jane’s body language change markedly. She typically appears to be actively engaged in remote meetings leaning in, nodding, displaying neutral or pleasant facial expressions. However, during this meeting she started frequently leaning back, crossing her arms, putting her head back, closing her eyes, and shaking her head at times when Liz or I were talking. Initially I thought Jane looked like she was annoyed or irritated, but it was so unlike her that I then wondered if she was ill or experiencing some pain or major discomfort. This went on for a couple minutes and before I had a chance to ask Jane about it, she had asked for my advice about how to proceed with a small piece of the project and when I gave my response, she did an exaggerated eye roll/head roll and I immediately realized that she had probably forgotten her camera was on. I then quickly asked, “Jane, are you aware that your camera is on?” and she replied that she wasn’t and from that moment forward her body language returned to her normal.

We didn’t talk anymore about it during that meeting but Jane and I had a pre-scheduled 1-1 right after that meeting where I brought it up first thing saying, “Before we get into our agenda I want to talk about something that came up in our meeting with Liz. I noticed a pretty big eye roll from you.” Jane acknowledged the eye roll and said she felt bad and didn’t realize her camera was on. She said she was just frustrated at herself for not delivering on a different piece of the project. I told her I would like her to openly share with me if she disagrees with my advice or feels frustrated by anything going on with the project. I shared that I respect her expertise in this area and want her to help guide the project. She replied that she knew that and was just having an off day. While I appreciate Jane’s professionalism in handling the conversation, this rings false to me. Her actions appeared to be those of someone finding the conversation so insufferable, she couldn’t help but react in a physical way. This wasn’t just a minor eye roll, it was a really big one (which Liz also clearly noticed) and came after other frustrated gestures.

Now for my questions: Jane and I often have meetings with our cameras off. I’m now wondering if these actions are typical of her during meetings when she is not on camera. While she says the right things and sounds engaged, the level of frustration she displayed during the call was shocking and did not appear to be a new slow simmer starting, but rather a full-on rolling boil of irritation, so I’m wondering if she secretly hates her job or the project we’re working or working with me or a combination of all three. Should I dig into this some more? If so, I’m afraid Jane will give me a smooth, professional answer but I don’t know if I would trust that she’s being honest. I also really want Jane to bring her ideas and suggestions to these projects; her experience and expertise in these areas is one of the reasons she’s in her position. I don’t want her to silently stew if she disagrees with something but instead I’d like her to actively engage and help shape our direction.

Jane also leads this project (and others) without me most of the time, so it’s important that she is really building buy-in with her team and isn’t speaking negatively about the project or our approach with others. I also feel like my overall trust in Jane has taken a big hit. Should I share my concerns and try to get more answers? Or just move on and count this as “an off day”?

Well, it’s entirely possible that Jane was just having a bad day. Or she could be someone who has big reactions when she thinks she’s in private, even if her frustration isn’t actually all that significant (those people exist). Or … yeah, it’s possible that she’s super frustrated with you/the job/that project.

There’s a limit to how much you can probe into what might be going on without overstepping. If she’s putting up clear signs that say “there’s nothing to discuss here” and you keep pushing past a certain point, that’ll be legitimately aggravating to her regardless of how well-founded your concern is.

So instead, use this as a flag to do your own reflection. What else do you know about Jane? You said she normally appears engaged and pleasant in meetings, so that’s one piece of data. What kind of feedback do you get about her work from others? Does she bring ideas and suggestions to projects, as you want? Have you seen her speak up when she disagrees with something — and if so, what happens when she does, and have you seen her do it recently? (If she used to do it but has stopped recently, that’s relevant — especially if her feedback in the past didn’t accomplish much.) Have you seen her be willing to have hard conversations? Is the work environment on your team one where speaking up about problems is rewarded and encouraged and one where that leads to positive change? Is she given opportunities to have meaningful input into issues that affect her job?

Other stuff that can cause the kind of frustration you saw: What’s her workload like? What are these meetings like — do they drag on and go off-topic, or do they run pretty efficiently? What kind of recognition has she received or not received for her work? Is she empowered to make real progress in her work or are there unaddressed roadblocks stymying her momentum? Has she made requests for things that have been denied (resources, training, equipment, staffing assistance, time off, money)? When was her last real vacation?

If you’re brutally honest with yourself about all those questions, you might come up with context that helps make sense of what you saw in that meeting, and it might give you a roadmap to address whatever frustration Jane might be feeling without needing her to actively guide you through it.

But if you come up dry … well, at that point if you want to keep digging into it, you could look at things like mechanisms to get honest, confidential feedback on your management from the whole team. But it wouldn’t be unreasonable to decide at that point to just take Jane at her word that there aren’t bigger issues.

It’s also worth noting that there’s a point where Jane’s internal feelings about her job are her own private feelings and not ones you’re entitled to force her to bare.

Ultimately, what matters most is how she’s showing up at work. If she’s doing good work and being generally pleasant and raising ideas/suggestions/problems in a way appropriate to her role … well, she’s doing her job effectively! If she’s silently fuming under the surface but won’t talk about it with you and it doesn’t show up other than in this one on-camera mistake … I get why you’re concerned and it’s also kind of her prerogative. If you do your due diligence as described above, it’s okay to just leave it there.

{ 413 comments… read them below }

  1. Antilles*

    I hope Jane learned the real lesson here: Physically cover up your camera if you’re not trying to be on it. It’s too easy to accidentally join with the camera on or forget it’s on.
    I personally have a stack of Post-Its right by my computer specifically for this. Makes it very simple: Any time I don’t see the yellow post-it physically over the camera, I assume I could be visible.

    1. Gingerbread Gnome*

      If it is a gun, it is loaded.
      If the camera isn’t covered, it is on.
      If you are in public, someone is filming.

      1. R*

        Crap, I didn’t realize that last one or I would have worn a cuter shirt.

        On the other hand, I’m worth less to the paparazzi now.

      1. CameraShy*

        I got a little slide on lens cover for my laptop camera. Adhesive back, 5 for under 8 dollars on amazon.
        Very discrete, you never even notice it on the laptop. I am not worried about facial expressions, I dislike the way I look on the camera – the angle is very unflattering.

        1. TinaTurner*

          There’s a reason people act the way they do in a job interview. They usually know you act profession, and not like a frustrated teenager. They know you don’t forget you’re on camera and make a rude gesture. There’s a reason it’s not OK to pick your nose in a meeting, live or on camera. How inappropriate do some think you get to be, just because you have the job now?

          Once we get the job, we tend to relax a bit. But if body language or presentation at work would look really negative in the job interview, why think it’s OK in front of other staff and your boss? And how disengaged does someone have to be to “forget” they’re being PAID to be on camera for a few minutes?

        2. Chilipepper Attitude*

          I have that too. And I have been guilty of assuming the slider is covering the camera when it is not!

        3. Poppyseeds*

          Make sure you get colored ones the black ones are easy to overlook to make sure the camera is covered.

          1. GlitsyGus*

            I put a panda sticker on mine to make it easier to see if it’s open or closed. black-on-black was too hard to tell.

        4. Certaintroublemaker*

          Re: the angle–when I set up my desk at home for remote work, I got a rectangular basket ~6 inches tall. Upside down, it forms a platform for my laptop so the angle of the camera is straight on. (I got a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, as well.)

        5. Oops*

          Since I have a desktop and not a laptop, I usually just unplug my camera from the back of the PC.

          I did forget to unplug it once. I was attending a national conference via Zoom (the kind where the participants are usually muted by the meeting organizer for the duration of the conference). As the conference started, my manager came in my office and was suggesting some comments that I should make in the conference chat room. I politely argued and said it wasn’t the appropriate venue for self-promotion. After a few minutes of back and forth, a co-worker ran into my office to say that they could hear the argument through Zoom, which meant that everyone else attending the conference heard it too.

      2. Lacey*

        Yup. I always make sure my camera is covered when I’m not using it. Mostly because if I’m not actively in a meeting I’m dressed like I plan to be in bed all day, but this is another good reason.

      3. Christina*

        If there’s a microphone it’s on, and being recorded or transmitted to the worst case scenario. ( from your friendly neighborhood commercial film producer whose dealt with this one waaay too many times)

        1. Owler*

          At a live show, it’s always the presenter who has a last minute bathroom trip who forgets.

    2. TinaTurner*

      The answer says “there’s a point where Jane’s internal feelings about her job are her own private feelings and not ones you’re entitled to force her to bare” —
      but she was negative in front of another staffer! As well as her boss.
      “Private” means “not public” and this comment misses that point.

      I’d tell her “You can feel any way you want, but when you go public — and apparently are so oblivious you don’t realize you are — you’re looking not only hostile but also unaware, if not clueless.”

      One of the top clues to couples divorcing is “showing contempt.” Contempt is worse than “communication problems” etc.

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

        I think what alison was getting at was that the OP doesn’t have a right to demand Jane tell her how she is feeling. If Jane doesn’t want to or doesn’t feel comfortable with giving feedback or explaining why she’s frustrated with something she doesn’t have to.

      2. Laney Boggs*

        This is a really hostile response to a one-time event.

        She forgot her camera was on. It happens. It isn’t a pattern of behavior and Jane is usually engaged and enthusiastic. All accusing her of being “oblivious” and “clueless” is going to do is put her on edge.

        1. VanLH*

          Well, her forgetting that the camera was on is likely a one-time event. But, the reactions she was having to the conversation may very well be a continuing thing. That is how I would guess, anyway.

          1. Koalafied*

            The camera being on is the entire problem, though. Of course it sucks to imagine people are secretly reacting that way to you when the camera’s off, but it also kind of doesn’t matter if you never see it and thus have no way of knowing. If the same frustration that’s causing that reaction is manifesting in other actually visible ways, that’s a problem, and you could argue that it’d be prudent for her to learn not to pull faces even off-camera, to avoid another unforced error exactly like this one. But ultimately what she does with her face off camera is her business.

          2. Midwest Teacher*

            Hence why Alison said “there’s a point where Jane’s internal feelings about her job are her own private feelings and not ones you’re entitled to force her to bare.” As long as the camera snafu only happens the one time and Jane otherwise continues to do her job as expected (without the eye rolling, attitude, etc), it is really not OP’s business if Jane secretly hates her job/the project/OP. As long as she doesn’t show that at work, it doesn’t matter, which was Alison’s point. There are loads of people who hate their job but don’t let it show at work, which is their prerogative.

          3. Kat*

            Human being has humans response to annoying thing an reacts innocuously. How do I manage the human out of them ASAP.

        2. Toby*

          This. I think if there is any change of salvaging this situation, coming at her really hard will destroy it. She apologized for it already, which indicates that she knows it was unprofessional, but it is a one time offense. I don’t think we can hold people accountable for what we think they are doing when we can’t see them, especially when we are basing our thoughts on a one-time occurrence.

        3. Momma Bear*

          I agree. That’s a lot of speculation about a one-time event after which Jane put on her professional hat. I used to do many conference calls and I guarantee you that sometimes the face off camera did not match the voice/response, but that didn’t mean the person was unprofessional. Jane can feel how she feels. As long as she’s otherwise professional and gets the work done, just move on. I bet she’ll be checking her camera from now on, though.

      3. Koalafied*

        The point is not to excuse the behavior, it’s that one accidental display of frustration does not obligate her to now have to disclose all of her feelings that she has otherwise been keeping to herself. As long as she continues to produce good work and doesn’t repeat the episode, it’s her prerogative to still be secretly frustrated if she wants – she hasn’t given up that right just by slipping up once.

        1. No I Mean REALLY What Did You Mean By That?*

          Hear, hear! People get frustrated, it happens. She could have just had one bad day. It’s best for the OP to let it go if the overall quality of her work is good.

      4. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        This seems unnecessarily hostile – LW is clear that Jane didn’t realize her camera was on and she behaves professionally in public. The LW’s worry seems to be more about the source of Jane’s frustration than the physical expression of it.

      5. EmKay*

        “and apparently are so oblivious you don’t realize you are”

        That is unnecessarily rude.

      6. A*

        “I’d tell her “You can feel any way you want, but when you go public — and apparently are so oblivious you don’t realize you are — you’re looking not only hostile but also unaware, if not clueless.” ”

        OP, please DO NOT SAY THIS. This is incredibly passive aggressive and unprofessional, and IMO is a greater offense than a one-off expression of frustration due to not realizing her camera was on. I’m sorry if you are having a rough day, or if you’ve found this topic triggering – but this advice is rude and irresponsible.

      7. Rocket*

        I hope you’re not a manager. All that response will do is make your employees lose respect for you. Jane’s rudeness was accidental. Yours would be on purpose.

        1. Holey Hobby*

          Ooh… I just got a mental image of Judith Martin (the original Miss Manners) dropping a microphone.

      8. fhqwhgads*

        Sure but the issue here is as soon as she realized she was visible, she stopped, acted completely professional from there forward, and when pressed gave a professional explanation (“bad day”).
        It sounds like from the letter OP wants to dig to find out if she always feels this way on the inside and usually just doesn’t show it. But the work aspect here is: apparently she’s generally very good at not showing it. At all other times than this slip up. So, there’s really nothing for OP to dig into.

      9. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is pretty over the top for a first-time “offense” – it seems pretty clear that this is not customary behavior for Jane and that she made a mistake. Calling Jane oblivious, hostile, and clueless in response would be a terrible approach for a manager to take under any circumstances (and is, itself, very contemptuous and hostile). This phrasing seems designed to make Jane feel bad about a past event she can no longer change, not help her. Managerial feedback should always be designed to help and improve, not shame.

        I am excellent at my job, and I have still made mistakes, sometimes stupid ones. Anyone who tells you they’ve never made a mistake is either lying or entirely lacks self-awareness. Jane had a human moment when she thought no one was looking.

      10. MCMonkeyBean*

        Well I think everyone is in agreement that visibly rolling your eyes on camera with your boss and your direct report is obviously bad, but that wasn’t ultimately the question. OP is trying to move forward after that, and struggling with knowing Jane may continue to feel things like that and how to get her to address that–that is the piece that Alison is referring to. Going forward, not on camera, if Jane still feel frustrated but doesn’t want to say anything about it *those* are her own private feelings.

    3. What She Said*

      Heads up, depending on the lighting in the room we can still see your movements with the post it cover so you are sorta still on camera. You’re just more of a shadow behind the paper. A coworker uses the post it often and a lot of times I still see her shadow moving around. It is so easy to turn off the camera and see what you are showing in the video that a post it shouldn’t be needed. But if you insist, double/triple up on those post-its.

    4. L*

      Right?! I hold my smiles in until my laptop is SHUT before I drop my expression. I can never trust the mute or the off-camera button to work so I never risk it.

    5. Medusa*

      I once was rolling my eyes and laughing at someone in a meeting without realizing my camera was on. As soon as I realized it was, my facial expression completely changed and I turned it off. This happened once in my entire professional life and it will never happen again.

      As far as the LW goes, I agree with Alison. It’s not really the manager’s concern whether or not Jane hates her job. If she’s performing it competently, providing and taking on board feedback, and pleasant to work with, let her internally hate her job if she does. I had a boss ask me twice if I was enjoying the work because that was the most important thing to her, which I frankly find inappropriate as hell. You’re not my parent, my friend, or my therapist, so it’s none of your concern how much I hate this job as long as I’m doing it as required.

  2. LolaBugg*

    When I was first reading this letter, I thought Jane was LW’s boss. Then on my second read through I realized she’s LW’s direct report. I would be mortified if my boss saw me having a reaction like that in a meeting, but maybe that’s just me?

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        I would as well – fortunately, I usually do meetings with cameras on, so by now I have a lot of practice with neutral facial expressions.

    1. generic_username*

      Same. I literally tensed up reading this… My camera is almost always on during meetings (having to perform interest and engagement actually makes me more engaged) and I don’t tend to have strong physical reactions anyway thankfully

    2. Emi*

      I would be too, but I would try to handle it pretty much the way Jane is, and I would want to avoid the kind of follow-up that LW is doing. If I’m cranky at work I like to keep that my business.

    3. LadyProg*

      I wonder if Alison got a message from Jane, can you imagine? “Help I rolled my eyes hard on my boss when I thought the camera was off”

    4. Van Wilder*

      I switched to my Teams chat last week at the end of a client meeting last week where I forgot I was screen sharing. Thanks be to god that both the message I read, and my response to it, were professional. If I had clicked on a different conversation, I might be hiding under my bed to this day.

    5. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

      I would be dying on the inside, but I would absolutely respond similarly to how Jane responded if asked about it. And I definitely had off days that really were just off days where I’ve done similar things. It doesn’t mean I hate my job; but when I’m in meetings where I’m expected to contribute but am in reality brushed off by the same people repeatedly, I didn’t get enough sleep, and a medication change made me more irritable than usual…uh, yeah, I have probably also rolled my eyes and made frustrated gestures (with my laptop lid closed, of course). One really grumpy day isn’t indicative of being unhappy at a job; it could seriously be a whole list of things that hit all at one time.

    6. allathian*

      Nah, I’d laugh it off and then I’d apologize sincerely and say that I didn’t notice that my camera was on. But then, my manager is a decent human being who realizes that all of us have off days. I also have tenure, I’ve been at my current job for nearly 15 years, and I have options, so it’s not like I’m a serf or something.

      I’m astonished at how mortified most of you would be if you did this in front of your boss.

      That said, if I had a job where I’d have to be in contact with external customers, or if I’m in a meeting with external stakeholders, I would be mortified if I rolled my eyes on camera, too.

    7. MCMonkeyBean*

      This is genuinely one of my worst nightmares. Absolutely one of the best parts of WFH for me has been not having to worry about my face during stupid meetings because I am *very* bad at hiding my feelings. I am constantly rolling my eyes and then feeling paranoid and quadruple-checking my camera lens cover lol

  3. Salad Daisy*

    Yes this absolutely “there’s also a point where Jane’s internal feelings about her job are her own private feelings and not ones you’re entitled to force her to bare.”

    I do my job well, professionally, etc. It’s B2B and I get all sorts of positive feedback from our customers. Now I have to look happy, too?

    1. Rainy*

      I’m thinking about the comment from yesterday from someone who got mad at a university housing & dining employee for looking too happy during a presentation and “giving her voice a strained tone”. You just can’t win for losing.

      I in general love my job but there are definitely parts of it that I do not always love, and if my boss reacted like OP is I’d be pretty irritated that I was essentially being asked to perform a Stepford-esque happiness 24/7. I’m willing to bet even Robin Hood’s direct reports weren’t always merry!

    2. Grizzlebee*

      This is exactly how I feel about it. Whomst among us HASN’T rolled our eyes (externally or not) in a work meeting?

      1. CarrieT*

        Absolutely! I roll my eyes, sigh, or mutter (privately) while responding to emails all the time! But it doesn’t come through in my communication.

        1. SarahKay*

          This + 1000
          It’s the joy of emails or IM, especially when I’m working from home so there’s no-one to be disturbed by me. I can tell the monitor exactly what I think of the comment or email; speculate on what on earth the sender was thinking, or what they were taking… and then type up a polite, professional response.

        2. Lacey*

          Yes. This is the joy of working from home. I roll my eyes, I tell my dog how stupid Peter’s request is and then I email Peter and tell him I’d be glad to do that and I’ll have it to him by the end of the next day.

        3. AJoftheInternet*

          I absolutely go scream at trusted friends about the competence of clients, but that doesn’t actually change that I would go to the end of the world for them (with appropriate monetary compensation.) And I’ve also been in the place where I’m shaking from nerves and incredibly down on myself for not delivering to my standards, so I really strongly relate to what Jane said! That internal, “This wouldn’t have been a problem if I’d just-” disgust with myself is strong.

      2. ThisIsTheHill*

        Same! I am the heavy sigher, to the point in the BeforeTimes that people who shared cube walls with me knew a meeting was going south just by my reaction even when I was on mute.

        That said, about a month ago (so ~7 mos into my current job), I inadvertently eye-rolled on a video call & my boss & grandboss burst out laughing. GB said, “We got TITH’s” first eyeroll!”. *They* knew it was involuntary & out of character so it was treated like no big deal.

      3. Rock Prof*

        I was in a DEI workshop over the summer and apparently had some reactions to some things my colleagues said (along the lines of them arguing that they didn’t understand how to use ‘they’ as a gender neutral pronoun). The speaker of the day sent me a DM that she loved my facial expressions, and I took that to mean I should probably turn off my camera. I’m pretty sure she meant it as a actual positive comment, but I felt bad if I embarrassed some colleagues (though I could argue what they were saying was more embarrassing).

    3. ElizabethJane*

      This is my thought. I am good at my job. I meet my deadlines. In general I am professional on camera. I am not paid enough for my boss to now manage my emotions about my job, especially if those emotions don’t actually impact my work (as in, I do not need to be cheerful to produce good work).

      1. Rolly*

        People can have whatever emotions they want, but they also should be capable of hiding some of them or even faking some of them. This is basic in a job in which you work with other people. If you work alone, it’s different.

        “hose emotions don’t actually impact my work ”
        If the emotions are expressed, then they can impact *other people’s work.*

        In general, it’s inappropriate to roll your eyes at another person in meeting where they can see it. It might be OK in severe circumstances, but in general, no. Even if you disagree with them – in which case it may be appropriate to speak up.

        Back to Jane – if this is rare, it’s NBD. She thought she was off-camera and messed up. On the other hand, if it’s common (doesn’t sound like it is), it’s bad.

        1. Rolly*

          Someone else here wrote this, which is spot-on: “There’s a difference between being forced to look happy and conveying clearly exasperated and contemptuous body language. “

          1. Loulou*

            Yes, well-said. It would be absolutely exhausting to work with someone who frequently seems contemptuous or exasperated. I like that Alison just posted a letter about an employee who takes their stress out on others, which is a good counterpoint to some of the comments here.

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              But who is saying that any of that is okay? The incident in the letter was a one-off obviously not intended to be seen by anyone, which has since been explained and acknowledged; and ElizabethJane said that she is professional on camera. Nobody is suggesting that constantly acting contemptuous or taking out emotions on others or anything like that is okay, and I think it’s a bit silly to act as though they were.

              1. Loulou*

                The top comment in this thread is “now I have to look happy, too?” and that’s what we are all responding to. No, you don’t need to look happy all the time, but yes, you do have to avoid looking contemptuous.

                1. Rolly*


                  Also, @EventPlannerGal, I wrote above:

                  “if this is rare, it’s NBD. She thought she was off-camera and messed up. On the other hand, if it’s common (doesn’t sound like it is), it’s bad.”

        2. ElizabethJane*

          But we’re not talking about a person who regularly expresses disdain or frustration. We’re talking about Jane and people like Jane. Jane made a mistake. The LW says it’s out of character for Jane. She addressed it. Presumably in the future Jane will be professional on camera and do a better job of ensuring she’s not on camera before rolling her eyes or sighing or whatever else.

          The issue is the LW is “wondering if these actions are typical when she’s not on camera” and if she digs into this some more she’s afraid “Jane will give a dishonest answer” (paraphrased slightly).

          And that’s my point. It doesn’t actually matter if Jane is rolling her eyes off camera. It doesn’t matter if during every meeting Jane has herself muted and the camera off and she’s like “This is the stupidest idea ever” if she’s otherwise professional and does great work.

          By all means the LW was right to address it once and I think the follow up suggested by Alison is appropriate. But anything else is over stepping.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            hum, while I agree that Jane is entitled to keep her true thoughts for herself, OP does say: “I also really want Jane to bring her ideas and suggestions to these projects; her experience and expertise in these areas is one of the reasons she’s in her position. I don’t want her to silently stew if she disagrees with something but instead I’d like her to actively engage and help shape our direction.”
            So if Jane is rolling her eyes because people are making the stupidest of suggestions that won’t work because of something she experienced before and OP and her report haven’t… it would be better for her to speak up. If she’s not speaking up because she already has, and has had her opinions brushed away, or if she’s sick and tired of the project because she’s done it so many times before and is bored out of her mind, well, OP needs to know that. Maybe the eye-roll was specifically at crunch time, when OP announced that the problem Jane had warned OP about was in fact now a real problem, and Jane was fighting the urge to say “I told you so”. OP needs a certain amount of awareness to understand this of course.
            If it’s boredom, then maybe Jane will mess up out of boredom. I’d want to know if an employee of mine was bored, because I may be able to offer them some other tasks to relieve the boredom. Or they might not be a good fit for the role in which case perhaps she needs to be allocated other tasks and just have a consulting role for this project (my worst intern was always bored, wanting to gossip with other staff, and it wasn’t because she didn’t have enough to do. She had been looking for a job and was told that she could be a translator because she was studying languages, whereas she should have been in sales, she had the right outgoing personality and she wanted to earn a lot of money, which is not possible as a translator who can go for days without speaking to anyone for work).

        3. moonstone*

          I agree with you that people should modify their behavior to be pleasant and civil in social settings (which it seem Jane does typically do), but I also think it’s possible that the OP misinterpreted Jane’s expressions. I mentioned this in my own comment, but in my experience, most people I’ve met are not good at accurately reading non-verbal expressions and behaviors. More often than not, people tend to project their own feelings onto other people’s neutral expressions and behavior. I don’t want to gaslight the OP, but I usually use this observation to excuse one off situations where I feel like someone may have had a negative expressions and just assume that I misunderstood it.

          1. moonstone*

            I want to add that on the flip side, if I knew someone misinterpreted my behavior as negative, I would apologize to them and clarify things. This is a case where impact, not intent, matters in the end, but it would also be helpful if people didn’t constantly jump to the worst possible conclusions about things.

          2. Name, check*

            OP here. I can understand this response and did spend several minutes during the meeting trying to tease out whether I was reading her actions correctly, whether Jane was in pain, or what exactly was going on. When the eye-roll (and truly, it was so. much. more. than an eye-roll) occurred all become clear that it was an undeniable, over-the-top contemptuous response.

            1. tangerineRose*

              I’ve been wondering if she sometimes (when off camera) uses eye rolls, etc. as a sort of stress relief. Sort of like venting where maybe someone exaggerates how annoyed they are just as part of the venting.

              1. Tali*

                Eye rolling is not a socially acceptable form of stress relief anywhere I’ve worked. Especially towards your boss, or towards your direct report!

                1. allathian*

                  No, but one of the advantages of WFH is that you can indulge in that sort of stress relief all you like, as long as you’re off camera.

                  I know I’m going to have to be more careful about some of my spontaneous reactions when we return to the office. To be fair, though, most of them don’t indicate contempt or frustration.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      This. If Jane’s work is good and her behavior is otherwise appropriate, let this go. No, it wasn’t a great look, but we all have bad days and it sounds like Jane a) isn’t eager to go into this and b) isn’t letting whatever was bothering her affect her job.

      1. Lexi Lynn*

        So Jane has a bad day, aplogizes professionally and says it won’t happen again and boss thinks she’s a liar. I’m thinking there’s something else going on.

        1. Kdes29*

          Same. The unwillingness to take Jane’s reply at face value from our letter writter also makes me think that.

        2. Jax*

          It caused Boss to doubt the sincerity of any of Jane’s past interactions with her, and rightly so. Boss has been used to Jane being an ally and has to trust her to move projects forward on her behalf. Jane went from her public persona of eager/engaged to a private persona of annoyed/frustrated. That was shocking.

          If this were me, the “something else going on” would be my own middle-school insecurities that friends don’t really like me and will one day, out of the blue, decide not to talk to me and force me to sit alone in the lunchroom. (7th Grade Scars–anyone else have them? Just me?) I would have to firmly remind myself that Jane is my direct report, not a friend or someone I need to like me. Jane just needs to get the work done that I ask her to do, and treat everyone with dignity and respect. She is, so… I would need to accept her apology and move forward.

          1. HannahS*

            Yeah, I strongly agree with this. It sounds like the OP is having a, “But I thought you LIKED your job/the project/me” and is now questioning if that’s true, without realizing that “digging deeper” isn’t warranted or helpful. What exactly would put her at ease? If she can’t accept the possibility that Jane had a bad day, then what exactly is Jane supposed to do about it? Jane goofed and is handling her mistake professionally; the OP now has to behave professionally herself by accepting the apology and moving on.

            1. Name, check*

              LW here. Jane goofed, this is true! But in the end this did turn out to be an indicator of budding disengagement (Jane retired shortly after), and managers are always on the lookout for these things. No one has to be happy in their work but they typically enjoy their time more and do better work when they’re not stewing in unhappiness. I’m not the type of manager that needs to be loved by all. I used to be! So I appreciate that reasonable conclusion here. I need my employees to be professional and respectful and get results, and they typically do that a lot better when they aren’t so frustrated in meetings that their coworkers fear they’re experiencing a medical emergency as a result of their overt physical reactions to the comments of their colleagues.

          2. Lab Boss*

            I feel those insecurities! I overheard a trusted direct report make a comment about how annoyed they were by something I’d done that day, and I immediately felt crushed. Then I self-reflected and realized that yeah, it was fair to be annoyed. Furthermore I know that I absolutely love my own boss, but I’m also sometimes annoyed or frustrated by her and have said so (although usually not at work). Not only do your direct reports not have to “like you,” but they may overall like you and still be allowed to not like every single thing you do and say.

          3. jarofbluefire*

            Not just you. It was 8th grade, for me, but same otherwise. We are legion, apparently. I must have missed the day that particular handbook was distributed.

            And I agree with this line of thinking. LW asked, the response was given, Jane is not beholden to soothe LW’s insecurities, time to mark it a one-off, and move on. Keep an eye out, yes, but don’t monitor every little sigh through the lens of insecurity. Jane does good work, and forgot to monitor her reactions, it is most likely that simple.

          4. Dust Bunny*

            it . . . doesn’t matter?

            If Jane’s work is good it’s none of boss’ business how much Jane likes her job. Jane isn’t obligated to adore her job in addition to doing good work. If Jane doesn’t like her job it’s on her to either talk to her bosses about it or find something else, but she doesn’t owe it to her employer to love her job in addition to doing it well.

        3. Momma Bear*

          I think that since the reaction was aimed at the boss/LW that there’s a bit of taking it personally going on. Is LW trying to punish Jane for making LW look bad to *their* boss? Is LW just feeling stung that an employee has some negative feelings LW wasn’t aware of? Has this become more about LW’s personal feelings than Jane’s behavior?

          1. June*

            Yes. There appears to be an overreaction and over the top emotional response from LW over a one time known event. It doesn’t matter if Jane likes her job, as long as she is doing it proficiently.

    5. WellRed*

      Yes this is my reaction! Do I have to look like I love the mtg? Frankly I do sometimes probably look bored or eye rolls during useless parts of mtgs. As such I keep camera off and keep it to myself.

    6. Nanani*

      This so much.
      She wasn’t policing her facial expressions and body language because she thought she was alone. It’s fine, as logn as the work is fine you don’t need to dig in to make sure she’s performing professionalism when alone, too.
      Let people think in peace

        1. Gerry Kaey*

          People are allowed to be frustrated — it doesn’t require a full-blown investigation and multiple interrogations.

          1. Anonym*

            Yeah, but a manager *should* be concerned if they’re seeing atypical frustration and anger from an employee. Alison’s advice is good – look into it, make sure there aren’t any things within their control that may be upsetting the employee, but respect the employee’s right to their feelings.

          2. Just a Thought*

            Actually Alison recommends that the manager does their assessment without Jane. The manager is now feeling that their prior assessment about how Jane’s feels about her work is inaccurate. Alison specifically said – how Jane feels about her work is not the issue. Is Jane showing up and doing good work? Has anything changed? This is a coaching moment for the manager — not an interrogation of Jane.

          3. TinaTurner*

            Fine, “be frustrated.” But why does that mean acting like a teenager? In front of ANOTHER staffer?

            1. Lacey*

              It doesn’t and the person in question didn’t mean to be frustrated in front of someone else. They thought no one could see them.

              1. rudy*

                I really don’t understand the consensus here that displaying contempt for your coworkers is A-OK as long as you’re pretty sure they can’t see you do it.

                Like, if I was sitting in the back of a conference room and thought everyone was looking away from me, and I did a huge full-body eye-roll and scowled and shook my head and crossed my arms exasperatedly when a coworker said something silly, and everyone suddenly turned around and saw me do it, that would obviously be unacceptable. I would owe my coworker a major apology and probably expect to have A Serious Conversation with my boss.

                What is so different about this story that it makes Jane’s display of contempt in the workplace totally acceptable?

                1. WellRed*

                  The word display means to exhibit something where it can be easily seen. Which is what happened here. If no one had seen her she would not have been on display and no one would be the wiser. How does that hurt anyone? (I also am reading frustration rather than contempt). Certainly you don’t expect no one to ever have an occasional issue with work, meetings or co workers?

                2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                  For comparison – let’s say her camera being erroneously on in this meeting caught some different behavior. Maybe the meeting was right after her lunchtime workout and she inadvertently showed up in a sports bra instead of a shirt. A sports bra is definitely not appropriate office attire; we can all agree on that. But wearing a sports bra is a thing people do sometimes when they’ve got a reasonable expectation of privacy. If being underdressed with her camera on were a pattern, then there definitely needs to be action taken – a conversation about professional norms at minimum, maybe even a chat with HR about harassment. But for a first-time issue with an otherwise solid employee? Do your due diligence, sure, but chalk it up to human error and let it go.

            2. EventPlannerGal*

              The entire point of the letter is that she did not think she was doing it “in front of” anybody, because she thought her camera was off. Like, this is in the title of the letter. I don’t know how much clearer that can be. And when she has been on camera she has never done anything like this, ever.

          4. Lunita*

            There wasn’t anything in the response that suggested “a full-blown investigation and multiple interrogations.”

        2. thisgirlhere*

          As I’m re-reading, I see a lot more of the emphasis on private reflection, which is probably a good thing. However, I would have expected a bit more push back on the idea that it was even necessary. Jane said it was a bad day, and we have no other indication that it’s part of a bigger issue. I think the advice could have gone more along the lines of “Let this go but if you see something in this realm again, then it’s time to look into it more closely.”

    7. YetAnotherAnalyst*

      Amen! I’m not here because I *want* to be. I’m here because money is exchangeable for goods and services, and this was one of the least objectionable ways available to me to earn money. I’m very good at my job and I’m a reasonable mix of personable and professional while I’m doing it. But my feelings are my own, and are Not My Boss’ Business – as long as I keep the eye-rolling/crying/swearing out of the office.

    8. KHB*

      This is where I come down too. Jane is allowed to dislike her job, and she’s allowed to feel frustrated with her boss. She’s even allowed to express those feelings in private. It’s awkward and a bit shocking when what one thinks is private turns out not to be, but you can’t make it into a Whole Big Thing, because only madness that way lies.

      This may be a time to pull out the Captain Awkward rule of Not Everyone Has To Like You.

    9. AES*

      I don’t think you have to look happy, but it’s not unreasonable to expect people not to look openly rude or contemptuous.

      1. ElizabethJane*

        True. But they addressed that. Jane made a mistake and presumably will go back to schooling her expression on camera and do a better job of verifying that she is off camera.

        The LW seems concerned about Jane’s inner emotions and worried about what is happening when they can’t see Jane. Which is, honestly, none of their business and also not something that really matters regardless.

        1. Just a Thought*

          LW is concerned that they have missed the boat in their managerial assessment because they have received contradictory information – Jane seeming to be exasperated when this has not happened before. Excellent advice from Alison that allows Jane to have her feelings and to direct the manager into their own assessment about whether this is an issue or just Jane having her feelings (totally allowed).

          1. Be kind, rewind*

            Yes. I think people are forgetting that the manager is a person who needs to do her job, too. And part of her job is ensuring her employees aren’t overworked and that they feel comfortable providing input on their projects and providing feedback on challenges.

            And she just got some unintended feedback from Jane that that may not be the case. It would be like if someone was screen sharing during a meeting, and OP saw an unkind message from Jane pop up: Yes, it was an accident and meant to be private, but OP has no way of knowing if it’s just blowing off steam or an indication of larger issues.

          1. alienor*

            Yes, but this incident is equivalent to Jane leaving the restroom with her skirt tucked into the back of her underwear. If Jane had done that, it wouldn’t mean that she thought it was appropriate to walk around with her butt cheeks on display or that she was planning to do it again, it would just mean that she’d accidentally let people see something they shouldn’t have. Just because they could see it wouldn’t mean that Jane had done it with intent for them to, much like this.

            1. rudy*

              If Jane was genuinely unaware and unconscious that she was accidentally expressing contempt through her gestures/facial expressions, then sure, I’ll buy that. That would really surprise me, though. The letter even seems to indicate that Jane knew what expressions she was making, but just didn’t think anyone else could see them.

              If we’re using this analogy, I’ll have to torture it a bit — what this is really equivalent to is Jane deliberately tucking her skirt into the back of her underwear and walking around the office after she thought everyone else had gone home for the day, but it turned out that OP and Liz had stayed late.

              1. Calliope*

                Ok. That is still not a big deal? I mean, nobody would do that because why would you but absolutely I’ve gone back up to the office in gym clothes to pick up something I’ve forgotten. I would not have done that during the day but it’s NBD at night and if someone saw me the reaction would be “whoops hahah” not “omg I made a HUGE mistake and should be disciplined.” Like, people make mistakes, welcome to life.

            2. Littorally*

              Having your skirt tucked into the back of your underwear is probably a lot less intimidating than making a big gigantic display of exasperation at your direct report!

      2. Megabeth*

        But if Jane truly did not realize that she was *showing others* an openly rude or contemptuous look, would you feel the same? Jane thought that she had enough privacy that she let her guard down. As one of those folks who has to make a conscious effort to keep my face from reflecting every emotion that rolls through my brain, I really do sympathize with Jane. It is exhausting to keep up that facade that lets us present a professional image (at least, it is for me). So I do think it is unreasonable to expect someone to police their facial expressions when they think they are not being watched.

        1. Zan Shin*

          THIS. I suck at meetings (retired for years, mine were all in person). As socially adept introvert, all my energy was needed to excel at patient/client care – which I did, with great performance reviews. My bosses learned that the price to pay for this nurse’s competence was somebody who absolutely couldn’t deal with (badly run) meetings without fidgeting and yep eye rolling

        2. Annie Oakley*

          Agree – my face is a glass house. I’m in a public-facing position in a small community with an extrovert partner, I feel like I always have to be “on” even when I’m not at work. It’s exhausting to have to maintain a pleasant face and demeanor at all times, and I have absolutely taken advantage of masks (to drop my jaw or grit my teeth) or turning off my camera to give myself a break.

          If Jane were behaving that way and knew she was on camera, that’s very disrespectful, but she thought her camera was off! It doesn’t seem like her manager had any concerns about her professionalism or attitude until this one off video call. I’m also not thrilled that when Jane responded that she was just having an off day, that her manager now feels like they can’t trust her and need to push further into it. Seems like making a problem out of nothing.

        3. JustaTech*

          I’m also one of those folks who is not good at keeping my emotions off my face. In meetings I take notes and look down so if I slip even when I’m making an effort to be pleasantly neutral it’s less obvious to the other people in the meeting.

          But if suddenly I’m not allowed to make any facial expression to things like an email from a vendor who’s gotten my order completely wrong, well, then I’m going to be a lot less productive because I’m going to have to spend half my mental energy policing my facial expressions and body language.

          Should you roll your eyes in a meeting? No.
          Should you try to remember to not roll your eyes when listening to a meeting when you’re not on camera? Yes, because this letter shows that sometimes that camera isn’t off.
          Should you never ever roll your eyes, even in a private space? I mean I guess that could be a goal, but part of the point of facial expressions and body language is to get those emotions out so you can move on.

          People make mistakes. Perfection is impossible. Expecting perfection is just setting yourself up for disappointment.

      3. STG*

        Yep. Off camera, sure…roll your eyes all you want.

        On camera/in person? I think it’s an issue.

    10. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, but if you look really frustrated during a meeting, a good manager needs to reflect on what’s going on, not just ignore it. That doesn’t mean hassling you to account for your facial expressions; it means reflecting on the sorts of questions about her own management and the team’s practices that I listed in the post. If she finds there’s nothing there, then great. But for a thoughtful manager, it should be a flag to do that reflection. We should *want* managers who would ask themselves those questions.

      1. Ivy*

        I really appreciate that the manager used that one on one to address the behaviour privately and without delay. I had my camera off during a large meeting, as did many others, a few days later I got an email stating there was a concern because I seemed distant and this belief was directly tied to my camera being off. I had to remind management that they specifically asked cameras to be off unless you are speaking in order to reduce bandwidth (several meetings ago). I told my manager I would have appreciated his viewpoint at the time the camera was off not days later after they stewed on it and made a mountain out of a mole hill. Just my two cents…

      2. Janeric*

        Would you consider expanding on the suggestions for reflection in another article? Reading through it was like a checklist of the environment fostered at my last job, and they could never figure out why they were losing so many employees. It’s really helpful as part of the bad job detox, and also a good tool for supervisors.

        (I note that I had an internal supervisor who was positive and supportive of her staff, streamlined internal meetings, and pushed for us to have ownership of meaningful projects with appropriate support, but that there’s only so much one supervisor can do to counteract a toxic department.)

      3. Nesprin*

        IMHO (colored by 36 yrs with resting B face and a miserable poker face)

        There’s a huge difference between wanting your employees to not BE frustrated versus not wanting to LOOK frustrated. I’ve worked places where managers would take action if something was frustrating me, and I’ve worked places where managers would insist that I not show frustration yet, take no proactive steps to address the sources of conflict.

        Remote work has been great for the ability to turn off a camera and not be required to both experience stressors and do the emotional labor of pretending not to be affected by them.

        1. Cheap Ass Rolex*

          Having resting b face or a naturally downturned mouth is different than actively sighing or eyerolling, though.

          1. Littorally*


            I’m so baffled by all the people acting like Jane was just not smiling or having RBF. It looks like they are all just champing at the bit to compare the LW with a guy who tells women to smile.

    11. Avril Ludgateau*

      I’m having flashbacks to my first professional post-graduation job when I was scolded for “looking too intense” not while talking to anybody but when sitting at my workstation, staring at my computer, focusing intently on my work. If somebody did approach me of course I immediately dropped the “working birch face”, if you will, but my supervisor complained that people saw me as unapproachable in the first place.

      I asked if she expected me to smile at my computer screen all day.

      She dropped the conversation, but she seemed peeved. I spent the day thinking to myself, was I hired to look pretty or to do my job? There were numerous other problems at that organization, but this was an early sign of dysfunction. It wasn’t even that I was making (debatably) disrespectful faces or gestures when interacting with people, either. The problem was how I looked when working alone. (This predates the pandemic by over a decade so I do not think I was on camera.)

      1. Camellia*

        Scolded for “looking to intense”…at your computer? Yeah, this is the workplace equivalent to being commanded to “Smile!” by random people when you are out in public. What cr@p.

    12. Trawna*

      Me: “Or she could be someone who has big reactions when she thinks she’s in private, even if her frustration isn’t actually all that significant (those people exist).”

      I am super careful about those postits over the camera. ; )

      1. JustaTech*

        Also me. I often look a lot more upset than I am. I’ve spent years trying to dial back the face/body response but it’s very hard (and the ADHD sure doesn’t help).

        Back when I used to have my data audited by a coworker I would tell her “hey, I’m going to look at all the things you found in your audit. The faces I am going to make are directed at myself for making mistakes, not at you for finding them. I really appreciate your auditing.” And when we started being allowed limited WFH I would do my audit review those days because I would get pretty frustrated with myself over the audit (even though I shouldn’t, an audit that finds nothing wasn’t really an audit), and I wouldn’t have the bandwidth to both police my expression *and* tell myself that I’m not terrible at my job for having a small rounding error.

        1. Turnip Soup*

          Ha I had to tell one of my bosses (who was just super super good at reading facial expressions & body language) that I’m usually feeling 10-20% less than whatever I’m emoting – I just have a dramatic face. And if it’s a big deal I’ll bring it up – sometimes I just need to feel my emotions and most people can’t read my expressions as easily as she could.

      2. Tara R.*

        Yep. And even when my frustration is significant… it’s not always justifiable! I have a good relationship with my boss. I communicate my concerns to him, when they’re reasonable and actionable and significant. But I don’t communicate every moment of agitation, or I would be a horrible employee who was constantly whining about nothing. I have a friendly, upbeat, positive persona that I put on for work that’s largely genuine, but also allows me to hide the moments of anger and petty annoyance and laziness and all the other things that you don’t want to bring with you to the workplace.

        If my manager asks me to write documentation about something that absolutely needs to be documented and I’m the best person to do it, if I have my camera off and covered I’m absolutely grimacing with distaste as I’m cheerily saying “For sure!”. Because I find writing documentation annoying, even though it’s 100% part of my job and something I agree has to be done. My boss doesn’t need to know that I have a moment of aggravation every time I’m asked to do it.

    13. Smithy*

      I think it’s also worth flagging that women far more often get dinged for having an “attitude” at work than men. So while it’s certainly worth reflecting on whether or not there are issues, if this truly is a one off or just a case of someone thinking they had a chance to let down their guard incorrectly – especially a woman – I think it’s important to keep that in mind. That woman are judged more harshly for showing that kind of emotion and less able to move past those moments.

    14. Anon all day*

      There’s a difference between being forced to look happy and conveying clearly exasperated and contemptuous body language. While maybe the OP went to hard on Jane following the meeting with criticism, it’s not wrong for OP to do some exploration, both external and internal, to see if she can 1) figure out why Jane feels that way and 2) if it ultimately matters. If I had an employee who I thought was a good employee, and I saw her expressing feelings of discontent at everyday work things, I would be concerned about why she was potentially so upset.

      Also, I think it’s important to stress that Alison ends her answer on telling OP that it’s ultimately fine to not do anything further, and that OP probably should do just that if Jane’s otherwise a good employee and there aren’t any other flags.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yeah, I think people are downplaying that a really obvious eye-roll (and this was apparently quite a notable one) is not at all acceptable in most circumstances; it can be really shocking and honestly quite rude. I say this as someone who has struggled to contain them. It’s not as if she just had Resting Grumpy Face.

        1. Esmeralda*

          Yes, *and* she did it in front of Liz (who is her direct report). OP notes that while the giant eyeroll was at OP, Jane made disparaging gestures when Liz was talking previously. Personally, I think Jane needs to apologize to Liz. Because if I were Liz, I would be really thrown knowing my boss thought so little of me or my work/words/ideas. Jane showed Liz who she is/what she really thinks about Liz’s work; Liz would be smart to believe it.

          1. KRM*

            But…Jane thought she wasn’t on camera. If Liz was talking and Jane was thinking to herself “man I wish I had gotten X done for that and I’m so annoyed at myself that I didn’t” that has NOTHING to do with Liz. If Jane’s work is good and she and Liz get along and Liz also does good work, I’d be chalking this up to exactly what Jane said it was, which was frustration *at herself* for not getting something done. She’s allowed to have Feelings about things, and it’s unfortunate that you saw them when she didn’t intend you to but…this all strikes me as overkill. OP saw the frustration, OP asked her about it, Jane gave explanation. Given that OP doesn’t seem to have any other issues with Jane, it’s time to Let It Go.

            1. biobotb*

              But how can Liz know that Jane’s annoyance/frustration/eye rolls were directed internally and not at Liz, unless Jane explains to her?

            2. ferrina*

              I don’t buy the “eye roll in frustration at yourself”. It doesn’t fit- if I ask a question and realize mid-way through the answer that my phrasing is wrong, I frown or look concerned or skeptical or maybe even defeated. Eye rolling is generally being done in reaction to what is currently being said. It’s generally intended as a sign of disrespect (hence why it’s the unofficial motto of rebellious teenagers)

              Maaaaaybe it’s true, and I have no way to prove it’s not, but I would still be looking closer.

              1. Not Today, Friends*

                I roll my eyes at myself all the time. If someone else is speaking, I may realize that I misunderstood something or a glaringly obvious solution to a problem comes to me in the moment. Of course I try to school my expressions when I’m visible, but when I’m by myself, I’m absolutely rolling my eyes at myself for making a bone headed mistake or even just for letting my mind wander.

              2. This is a name, I guess*

                I’m one of those weird expressive people and I have a lightning-fast often-unorganized ADHD brain. Sometimes my eyerolls are about a passing thought unrelated to the task at-hand. We have no idea what the eyeroll is actually about. She thought she was off camera.

                1. BubbleTea*

                  I definitely do overly dramatised, performative facial expressions as part of my private reactions to things when I’m alone or only with the dog and the baby. It’s part of how I manage frustration. If I’m mildly annoyed about something and I spend a few seconds acting like the world has ended, I use up all the frustration and get over it. If I have to minimise my reaction because someone else might see it, there’s a higher chance of resentment building.

                  Not everyone is like this. My ex never expressed a thought or opinion unless she was certain about it. We had a lot of miscommunication as a result. I discover how I feel by trying on different emotions and seeing what fits, or saying out loud what I hadn’t realised I thought until it came out of my mouth. Then I can process it and see whether I need to do anything more than just acknowledge the feeling. If I have to do all that internally, it takes longer and is harder.

                  Relatedly, I love working from home almost entirely by phone.

              3. Loulou*

                There was a letter awhile back where a lot of commenters say they verbally berate themselves when they feel they’ve messed up. I can imagine that those people might also roll their eyes at themselves.

              4. Turnip Soup*

                I roll my eyes at myself! I try not to in front of other people but I absolutely roll my eyes when I’ve really messed something up I shouldn’t have. I’m also quite sarcastic with myself at times.

            3. Tali*

              I disagree, Jane has an obligation to not act contemptuously and disrespectfully toward her colleagues especially her direct reports whom she has power over! It doesn’t matter that Jane thought she was off camera; she was, and the result is her disrespectful behavior was visible. She needs to repair trust with her direct report as this behavior would read to most people as disrespectful about others, not herself.

              Usually the commentariat is pretty unforgiving of bosses who roll their eyes and seem exasperated about their teams’ work. I’m not sure why this time it’s OK just because the boss didn’t think she could be seen, or because the boss is a woman.

      2. ferrina*

        Agree. LW isn’t trying to police Jane’s resting expression. This was a dramatic eye roll in response to something LW said. I have dramatic expressions, but at the point where I’m rolling my eyes, I’m clearly deeply annoyed. LW is right to want to look deeper, and Alison is right that Jane may stonewall (and there’s nothing that can be done about that)

    15. ChaosBiscuits*

      I don’t think you need to look happy. It’s just that when you’re talking to someone and you’re actively frustrated (rolling your eyes, etc) the person you’re speaking to may wonder if they’re the issue, if there’s something else going on, etc. If I was talking to someone and they rolled their eyes at me while I’m there, I would be upset (did I do something? What’s there problem? Is something else going on? Any number of things would cross my mind).

    16. LGC*

      Like, real talk – my boss called me a couple of months ago to tell me to not react strongly. Then she told me I was getting a significant raise. I was relatively muted in my reaction, and she asked why.

      …because you told me not to react? Like, look, I’m happy, but you told me specifically to not act too happy!

      Anyway, back to the letter, that jumped out here too. I do understand LW’s concerns, and as someone who has been in social skills groups for most of his adult life I’ve heard the adage that 95% of communication is nonverbal more times than I can count. But also, it feels like LW is reading way too into one data point here. 95% of communication being nonverbal doesn’t mean that 95% of communication is body language!

      (Disclaimer: I am also reading into one data point here, but if that’s the one red flag I’d lower the alarm level here.)

    17. Anonymous4*

      You don’t have to sit around with an ear-to-ear grin plastered on your face, but if you react with DEFCON 2 eye-rolls and crossed-arm, scowling headshakes every time your boss says something about a project, something bad is happening and it’s being mirrored in your actions.

      The something-bad may be in your head. It may be in the project team. It may be in the project plan. It may be in the execution. It may be in your relationship with your boss.

      It may be ANYTHING. But those actions demonstrate that there’s a problem. And a good boss would want to know what the issue is so it can be addressed.

    18. Tirving*

      I don’t think this is a case of having to ” look happy”, but not actively looking unhappy. If the meeting was in person, it wouldn’t be OK to pointedly roll your eyes, lean back with your arms crossed, shake your head while making faces.

    19. Anonymous Koala*

      Right? I love my job, but the best thing about being remote is that I never have to look “on”, and if I’m having a bad day I can get those feelings out without worrying about looking professional.

      OP, acting professional takes some people way more energy than others, and Jane’s annoyance could have been attributable to all kinds of non-work things (medication, personal problems, etc.) If Jane’s work and behaviour are otherwise impeccable, I wouldn’t worry about this.

      1. allathian*

        I hear you. AFAIK I’m NT, but I have no poker face and I have to actively work at it to prevent my immediate feelings from showing on my face. WFH has been such a relief, because for most of the day I don’t have to wear that professional mask on my face.

    20. anon teacher*

      I was coming here to say exactly the same thing! My field (K-12 education) is unfortunately quite prone to this, usually in the form of an administrator saying “we want to hear what you think!” while being extremely unreceptive to any opinions that don’t affirm the administrator’s existing viewpoint.

      Ultimately, the boss is the boss; they’re allowed to make choices about how things will be done, even if that means disregarding the feedback they get from their team. They’re fully within their rights to expect employees to comply with administrative decisions…but expecting us to agree with & be actively excited about every decision is ridiculous and invasive.

    21. Koala dreams*

      It’s not about looking happy, it’s about dealing with work frustration in a professional way instead of taking it out on co-workers. You can express disagreement without rolling your eyes or making snippy comments.

    22. Cheap Ass Rolex*

      Yes, you do need to look neutral, pleasant maybe, not “happy”. These are different things.

  4. LaFramboise*

    Everyone deserves their own thoughts. Jane may well have had frustrations. Maybe OP, you could practice some compassion and let Jane’s responses be her truth. If she were acting this way elsewhere and with her team, then it would be an issue. If she’s not, then the better part of your valor is discretion, the ability to accept what she says, and let her work and other behavior speak for itself.

    My bet is that she’ll police her own behavior so that you don’t see her having an off day again. If you continue to pick at her because of this one episode, she’ll stop trusting you and your work relationship will proceed along those lines. I don’t think one bad day should warrant a change in behavior in either of you. But you can only control your own response.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I think the LW is putting way too much weight on one moment in time. They make it clear that this behavior is out of character for Jane, so it’s not like she’s going around doing full-body eye rolls in all her interactions with her coworkers. The speculation of whether or not she’s doing this in every off camera meeting feels like way too big a leap given the information LW has.

      I’d suggest moving on from here. If something like this happens again, then you’ve got a history and a pattern to look into. But everyone’s entitled to have an off day once in a while and to not have that off day held against them in perpetuity.

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      “Everyone deserves their own thoughts.”

      Exactly. And a video call is this weird context where, if you think your camera is off, you think you can make facial expressions you’d never allow yourself to make in an in-person meeting. There just aren’t the same “people are looking at me” cues.

      I’d treat this the same as if Jane had walked into a meeting with her zipper undone (or something similarly embarrassing but not her fault): say something tactful to draw her attention to the problem, then never speak of it again. Maybe it’s okay to take Jane’s facial expressions as an opening to get feedback, but if Jane’s reaction is that she really didn’t want to make her private thoughts public? Please respect that.

    3. Clorinda*

      I would bet Jane does this ALL THE TIME (it’s how she copes), and it obviously doesn’t affect her work; she simply needs to check, double-check, and duct-tape her camera so nobody ever sees it again.

      1. ferrina*

        Jane needs to be very careful if she’s doing this all the time. Studies show that body language can also impact thought process- hence the “power pose” affect. Constantly projecting contempt toward coworkers will affect how you approach your job. This isn’t a passive muscle group (like RBF), this is active eye-rolling.

  5. Just J.*

    “Jane’s internal feelings about her job are her own private feelings and not ones you’re entitled to force her to bare.” This. If Jane is doing fine in her job, then leave it alone. Jan could have had a bad day. She could hate the project. As long as all other aspects of her work are fine, then let it go. Haven’t you had bad days? Or gotten frustrated in meetings or eye-rolled someone? All hopefully of camera of course??

    My career began well before Zoom. There were so, so many in-person meetings where you schooled your expressions and remained professional throughout only to vent extensively in the car ride home. Life is not sunshine and roses. Meetings and the people in them can be pains. We all know this. So I stress, let it go.

    1. Blisskrieg*

      I agree. I also can totally see that this was just an off day for Jane, and I’d give her the benefit of the doubt. I like my job, I’m a high achiever with high yearly evals, I am considered especially flexible and diplomatic. However, I have been on conference calls on off days where I have done exactly what Jane was doing and more. It could be as simple as a frustration at a very hectic day. Unless you see other major flags, I’d completely let this go.

    2. NotBatman*

      My concern isn’t with Jane, but with Liz. Can you imagine how awful it must have been to be trying to present, only to see her manager reacting like that? I would shrivel up with shame if I was on a work meeting where my boss (apparently) felt comfortable rolling her eyes and showing obvious contempt for me in front of the grandboss. If nothing else, Jane should take care never to show this reaction to a direct report again.

      1. Dasein9*

        Yes! Jane should apologize to Liz. Doesn’t need to be a big to-do, simple reassurance that Jane values her work and what she has to say should do the trick.

      2. allathian*

        LW is the manager, Jane is her report. Many, if not most, people would be mortified if their manager caught them in a similar situation. Certainly a report has even less standing than a manager to ask what’s going on, and a manager visibly expressing frustration at a report would not be a sign of good leadership skills.

    3. Ally McBeal*

      I’ve dug my fingernails into my palm to stop myself from a more overt physical reaction during in-person meetings. I have absolutely no poker face, and it’s gotten even worse after masks/vaccines became a matter of debate when planning large in-person events.

  6. AbsolutelyYesOfCourse*

    I would be MORTIFIED but I will be totally honest – I do not like my job, at all, and no one at my work would ever guess it. In meetings and in-person I am cheerful, easygoing and engaged. I don’t miss deadlines or hand in shoddy work. When cameras are off or I’m working at home … I am a snarky miserable person. But it’s not my job’s fault … I just don’t like having an office job. I am always going to be unhappy working from a desk. I would be very upset if I screwed up like this and work found out my private feelings. Hopefully for Jane it was just a bad day!

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I DO like my job and our higher-ups are all reasonable people and I still know for a fact I’ve made faces and gestures during Zoom meetings that didn’t come off the way I meant them. Fortunately, nobody seems to have noticed, but if they had they might have had questions for me.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Same – I love my job and my coworkers and my management, and they are all well aware that sometimes my eyebrows do eyebrow things.

      2. AbsolutelyYesOfCourse*

        I’ve definitely known people who just have that kind of face and expressions! I think people get used to it.

    2. Fleezy*

      My job requires cameras on for our (infrequent) corporate Zoom meetings, but I work in-person in a healthcare-related office and masks are still required. So I keep myself muted as long as I’m not speaking (triple-checked), keep my mask on, keep a pleasant above-the-nose facial expression, and talk all the smack I want to behind the mask. This method works best if you keep your elbows on the desk and hands clasped in front of your mouth area to make it look like more intense concentration. It helps me deal with the 3+ hour long meetings that can only happen after closing. BTW, I like my office and I’m great at my job, I’m just not a fan of corporate! XD

  7. MonkeyPrincess*

    IMO, this is prime “let’s pretend this never happened” territory.

    If LW has never rolled her eyes, flipped off the speaker, or yelled at the screen during a Zoom call while the camera was off, she’s a waaaay better person than me…

    1. Amber Rose*

      Same. I have been secretly sticking my tongue out at people behind my mask sometimes even.

      1. PB Bunny Watson*

        I thought I was safe with half of my face covered… but my eyes must do something to expose my displeasure when dealing with some people. Maybe I should just add sunglasses to my outfit.

      2. Ev*

        I’ve developed the worst habit of silently mouthing “shut up, that’s dumb” or other similar phrases during meetings while wearing my mask. I don’t do it when I’m not wearing a mask but when it’s on, hoo boy. I’m going to miss wearing a mask at work for that reason alone once we stop.

      3. mreasy*

        The amount of under-mask faces I make is such that I have to remind myself sometimes when I’m NOT wearing one.

    2. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex*

      I said, very loudly and exasperatedly, in a meeting with external partners, “FERGUS, COULD YOU PLEASE STOP WHISPERING?” He wasn’t having a side conversation, he was presenting in the QUIETEST VOICE EVER. I definitely thought I was muted.

      He was a very polite European man and I definitely felt like a Loud Rude American. He did speak up after that though lol and a couple of my coworkers afterwards thanked me. Still would have been SO much better if i’d just intentionally and politely asked him to speak up because I was having issues making out what he was saying!

      1. Dragon*

        I had a high school classmate who was so soft -spoken, when she was called in in class everyone said, “Ssshh!” All of us being quiet was the only way we could hear her.

      2. Rolly*

        In a healthy workplace, you would have put in the chat or interrupted to say “Fergus, you’re very quiet. Can you speak up or move your microphone so we can hear better.”

        In a healthy workplace, instead of an eyeroll the roller would speak up and say “Actually I think there’s big problem with that….”

        1. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex*

          I acknowledged my response wasn’t good and I should have just politely interjected, I don’t know why I didn’t other than I was quite new to this job at the time and wasn’t comfortable speaking up in meetings (now I definitely intentionally speak my mind!). Jane acknowledged her behavior in the meeting wasn’t good. OP tried to probe if there were any other issues, and Jane denied it. Sometimes you have frustrations/annoyances that warrant a private eyeroll but are either not significant enough to warrant a conversation or you don’t think they would be easily solved by a conversation about them. Jane is not interested in pursuing conversation about whatever led her to roll her eyes. She apologized (hopefully to Liz too!) and changed her behavior. If Jane exhibits further behavior in the future that raise concerns about her performance or morale, of course OP should address that. But as of right now, it’s a one-off that has already been addressed. I don’t think we have enough information here to call OP’s workplace unhealthy.

        2. Calliope*

          That’s too broad a dichotomy. Sometimes something is legitimately frustrating but it doesn’t make sense to tell them for one of a million reasons.

          1. Rolly*

            If there are a million reasons to hold back someone doing something that is legitimately frustrating, it’s not a healthy workplace.

    3. Dasein9*

      Pre-Zoom, even!
      My sister did this to Dad’s back when she was a tween: flipping the bird with both hands waving in arcs.
      There was a mirror.
      Dad had to leave the room so she wouldn’t see him laughing.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        LOL at your Dad’s major parenting chops. Keep the sense of humor, don’t reward the misbehavior.

    4. Absurda*

      Oooh yes. I’ve had some managers who tend to ramble on, often about stuff everyone (but them) on the call already understands well. Sort of like they’re working it out, out loud, while the rest of us are forced to listen. Doing this occasionally would have been okay, but they would do this on every single call. There was definitely eye rolling, frustrated sighs, hurry up signs and even head banging on desk going on in my office. Even side comments to the dog.

      Times like those make me really glad I work from home and my company does not have a “camera on” culture.

    5. Office Lobster DJ*

      There’s something to be said for being mildly irritated and being able to immediately “get it out” by privately making a big, showy, over-the-top gesture or expression.

    6. Not your typical admin*

      I agree! We all have moments of frustration where we don’t want people to hear/see our internal dialogue. And being frustrated doesn’t always mean that something is wrong or needs to change. It can simply mean the situation isn’t ideal. For instance, a person manage emailed me today that a major project was going to be delayed because of supply chain issues. Did I sigh and did my face express frustration? Of course! Would I have expressed that to them, considering it wasn’t their fault and there was nothing they could do? Absolutely not!

  8. WavyGravy*

    This is very tricky but I would echo advice to tread lightly. My old boss monitored my facial expressions intensely, every time I yawned he would accuse me of being bored (I was tired! I didn’t yawn that often and covered my mouth). He thought I rolled my eyes at him and it was a *discussion* (I had contacts and was readjusting them- honestly). I worked with him for nearly 10 years and it was demoralizing that all my work was just boiled down to how happy I looked at any given moment. And yeah sometimes I had feelings about my work or colleagues, but I was always professional and polite. But his constant monitoring made me even more self conscious and frankly aggravated with him.

    1. I was told there would be llamas*

      LOL, why didn’t I ever think of this…next time my boss asks me if I rolled my eyes at him I’m going to say I was just readjusting my contacts, haha!

    2. Avril Ludgateau*

      Something I learned when I was diagnosed with a migraine disorder is that yawning can actually be a migraine pro-drome symptom. Sure enough, on days when I’m especially yawn-y, (if it’s not because I slept poorly) it’s almost always a warning of an oncoming migraine.

      It makes me hate the “yawning is disrespectful” crowd all the more. But even in the absence of a medical condition, people are chronically overtired/underslept as it is. And I can say this much: I’ve yawned through my favorite movie, I’ve yawned through energetic live concerts, I’ve yawned mid-sentence on a date, I’ve yawned during funerals and weddings alike. I am a yawn-y person, and yet I’ve never yawned out of boredom.

      1. Have you tried sparkling at it?*

        This! I hate it when people comment on me yawning because it’s a migraine prodrome symptom. I can’t help it, and it either puts me in a position where I have to announce that I’m getting a migraine (which is none of their business) or endure people thinking I’m rude.

      2. JustaTech*

        I yawn in the middle of yoga classes, and not the bit where we’re sitting quietly listening to our breath, but in the middle of a flow or something.

        Yawning is about getting extra oxygen and responding to group social cues to build group cohesion.

      3. Budgie Buddy*

        Yeah – to me it’s always a sign that someone isn’t feeling well or alert so when someone’s mouth just can’t seem to stay closed during a conversation I start to feel uncomfortable on their behalf because they must be feeling awful – and I quickly wind things down so they can take a break.

        But otherwise if someone keeps their mouth shut while yawning and doesn’t try to keep talking through it or anything it’s not that distracting.

        (I have pretty severe fatigue but the impulse doesn’t kick in around other people for some reason. Maybe because I’m pretty vigilant about possibly coming off strange or rude, so there’s an underlying level of tension that never lets me relax enough to indulge in that body function….)

    3. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex*

      One of my peers has a “concentrating face” that looks kind of upset and my boss – who is lovely! – ALWAYS asks her something along the lines of “what’s going on?” or “what’s wrong?” and I KNOW it makes my coworker super self-conscious. My coworker also has a tendency towards insecurity because she has less formal education than most of us at this level, but it really just is Imposter Syndrome, she does a great job. But she is prone to paranoia that our boss and the rest of us think badly of her, and I know my boss commenting on her facial expressions makes it worse! The last time my boss asked in a meeting “Jane, what’s going on?” I jumped in quickly with “I think that’s just Jane’s ‘thinking’ face!” and Jane agreed.

      OP should definitely not continue to push on this – it will only lead to more frustration.

    4. Absurda*

      OMG, I’m a yawner. I yawn all day everyday, it’s nothing to do with how engaged I am. It’s just how I’ve been since I was a kid. I try soooo hard to stifle yawns during in person meetings sometimes without success. I sometimes worry that by trying not to yawn I’m just making really odd faces.

  9. Amber Rose*

    Did she need to be in that meeting? It sounds like she wasn’t really talking or contributing much, if she had time to make faces while others were doing the talking, and your description of her involvement in meetings seems to imply she mostly just listens. Were you pulling her away from work she needed to do to be in a meeting she didn’t need?

    Because an off day combined with yet another superfluous meeting is a formula for slipped professionalism in many of us.

    1. PB Bunny Watson*

      Oooh, good point. An eye roll is NOT uncommon when I’m in a meeting (off camera) where the same information is being rehashed for the millionth time.

  10. PB Bunny Watson*

    It might be a mixture of feeling slightly frustrated AND having an off day. If I’m sick or having my period or haven’t slept, I have to be more aware of my reactions to things. I won’t go screaming, but something that might bring on an internal sigh could, instead, trigger an eye roll or furrowed brow. It’s also why I try to limit interactions (especially unplanned ones) when that happens. Also, if Jane is anything like me, things will pop into my head at the most inopportune times. So a boss telling me how to handle a part of the project may actually trigger an internal conversation of “you dolt, why did you do it this way.” Embarrassingly, those inner discussions are often accompanied by a physical reaction… though I’m grateful those usually only happen when I’m alone or at home with just my cats as a witness.

  11. River Otter*

    If you are really being brutally honest, OP, you will consider that Jane might not have trust in you. What can you do to build enough trust with Jane that she will be as honest as you would like about her frustrations?

    1. ---*

      Thank you for saying this. There’s some flack for Jane in the comments, but I feel her so hard.

      I have a manager who is just terrible at managing, who gave me no direction when I began the job nor asked me how things were going — ever. As a result, I have never been able to fully develop trust in him because he’s never signaled that he’s interested in anything much more than me producing outputs, nor does he have anywhere near the self-awareness to reflect on his managing style.

      What that means for me is a huge amount of frustration at not feeling valued, having my work recognized, being integrated into the team, having space to speak in meetings before he does (he just takes up the space and I have to push in every time), or even, not receiving the clear information and guidelines to be able to do my job.

      I’ve tried talking to him, and he still doesn’t really get it. So yes, I feel frustrated. I try not to show it, but it’s hard. Because no, I don’t trust my manager enough to listen to me and care enough to reflect on himself to address those frustrations. In fairness, OP, you ARE doing that work, so you are light years ahead of my manager. But River Otter’s point is key.

  12. Maybe not*

    This could so easily be me. I am someone who – in private – has exaggerated responses to things. I roll my eyes, flip off my computer, mouth words, etc. I am on a legitimately frustrating project, but I also love my job and the work. I just need an outlet. And this is mine.

    I wouldn’t make a big deal of it. It was a mistake. But I would consider it more akin to if you saw her pick her nose on camera. It was an unfortunate error of the video call era. I’m sure she won’t let it happen again!

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Same. I’m all RBF at the office but I also have sort of, for lack of a better description, exaggerated cartoon features so when I finally deploy facial expressions you can see them in the next county. I should have been a silent film comedian.

      1. Not Today, Friends*

        This is me. I call it Silly Putty Face. Even when I think my reaction is barely perceptible, it’s (apparently) really huge. This is why I love working from home and why I hate the increase in video calls.

        1. JustaTech*

          Yup, this is me too. Back when we did more group eating a work my coworkers loved to watch me try new/unusual foods and drink because “you have the best reactions!”
          This is also something my friends say, that I make the best faces at tastes (good and bad), which is why I put on the very best polite face when eating things my friends have made, so I don’t hurt their feelings if I don’t like it.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Same. I am generally happy in my job but I’m also just an external processer and when something ticks me off it’s easier for me to do an exaggerated reaction to vent my frustration so I can stay calm in tone and thinking. In private, of course, and I try to do it more to emails and teams messages so that nothing like this happens!

      But as embarrassed as I would be if I was caught like this, I would be ten times more mortified if my manager then used it to extrapolate all these different conclusions about me. She said it was an off day, I’d let it go. Keep it in the back of your mind if you see other indications of unrest, of course, but I think in this case it’ll be better for all parties to grant someone a rough meeting without catastrophizing.

    3. KTM*

      This is where I fall as well. I love my job and my work but it doesn’t mean I’ve never disagreed with people or gotten frustrated. I’ve just discovered over time from people’s reactions or interpretations of my facial expressions that it often comes across as significantly more animated/intense than I’m feeling. It’s a hard thing to change…

    4. PotsPansTeapots*

      Oh yeah. My face is *extremely good* at showing emotion. I’ve been able to reign it in somewhat when I need to, but when I’m in the privacy of my home office, I’m Jane at that meeting! Often, it isn’t being super-frustrated or anything, just blowing off some steam so I can work well and without emotion clouding my work.

      Cut Jane some slack unless you see this kind of behavior from her again.

    5. Anon all day*

      Nah, it’s not necessarily the same. While I think there can be some grace allowed, OP and, perhaps most importantly, Jane’s direct report can’t just unsee OP making pretty disrespectful gestures with regards to both of them. That’s going to be pretty upsetting. (And I say this as someone who also often flips off my computer/rolls my eyes/gets super exasperated when no one can see me. However, if someone did, I’d be mortified and super apologetic because my reactions are likely to affect others.)

  13. k*

    ooh as a neurodivergent person I’m having such a visceral reaction to this. My professional body language when I’m observed and unobserved are completely different. Unless this tracks with concerns you already have, I would really do your best to never mention or think of it again

  14. Dixie*

    Jane messed up here, for sure. But come on, haven’t we all secretly rolled our eyes or internally felt frustration during a meeting or with a co-worker or supervisor? As long as Jane is doing good work and generally pleasant, I’d let this go. And yes to checking in to see if Jane needs a vacation or some other support. In talking to my coworkers and friends, the burnout for people right now is real. I love my job but am currently feeling frustration at small inconveniences at a lot. It’s both that time of year, the winter doldrums, and also, well, the past 2 years.

  15. Wigged out*

    I’m never on camera for work (and it’s covered up just in case!) But I’ve probably been Jane before during meetings for reasons that are almost never about the meeting itself or anyone present. If I’m overstimulated or at my frustration limit everything, even if it’s totally innocuous, annoys me. (Someone could hand me a check for $1M and I’d huff and puff about having to go the bank!) I definitely have done my fair share of eye rolls and frustrated faces, and good lord I’d be mortified to have someone else see them. My reactions aren’t really about the other person at all, so it’s not fair to them, but that can be difficult to explain! I’m not really rolling my eyes at *you* I’m just annoyed because my cat knocked over detergent and it spilled all over the floor and then I broke a vase cleaning it up and I forgot to buy breakfast supplies so I had to munch on a stale tortilla for breakfast, etc

    I try my best to keep this from being known to other people with my words and actions, and also the feelings aren’t permanent. If I roll my eyes at Sansa because she said the TPS reports are supposed to be blue instead of red, I’ve already forgotten that probably by the end of the call!

    It very well could have been external stresses that were causing this reaction, and if it doesn’t happen again and everything seems fine/normal otherwise I’d let it go.

  16. Audrey Puffins*

    How many of us have ever had a perfectly professional phone call and, immediately after hanging up, told the handset to “go f*ck yourself”? Our job is to manage our feelings, not to have no feelings. Write it off, move on. I’m sure Jane is feeling more mortified than anything else, give her the gift of letting it go, as long as it does prove to be a one-off.

    1. Veryanon*

      Exactly. As long as we are professional (to all appearances), our reactions are ours to manage.

    2. Panda (she/her)*

      And how many of us have done exactly that…then realized we didn’t ACTUALLY hang up?? >_<

    3. Zephy*

      Even if it’s not a one-off, a person doesn’t have to love a job with all their heart and being and feel only happy positive things about every aspect of it at all times in order to be an effective employee. Jane’s feelings about her work, the project, and her boss are private and personal. What other people think about you (hypothetical) is none of your business.

    4. Murphy*

      Agreed! I actually had someone leave me a voicemail and then do this (not telling me to F myself, but immediately complaining about me to someone else in the room while forgetting to hang up the phone). I laughed it off and moved on.

    5. PotsPansTeapots*

      A former co-worker was fantastic at her job, had an incredible phone demeanor, *and* was known in the office for hanging up a call and audibly saying things like, “And I’m so glad you’re not my problem until tomorrow!”

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I had a coworker like this. He was in the cubicle next to mine, and he was so calm and sympathetic on phone calls with customers, but as soon as the phone was hung up, the venting would start. He also baked amazing cookies for the office on the regular, so I never held it against him.

        1. JustaTech*

          I had a coworker who, when on calls with one specific other coworker, would just gently pound her head on her desk (to the point I made her a cushion from bubble wrap). Her tone stayed polite, interested and her questions were specific and professional, but there was no question to everyone else that she was beyond frustrated with this other coworker (we all were, he was just a fire hydrant of words).

          The other coworker never knew, and thanked my coworker several times for all her help and hard work and for being so available to him.

    6. AdequateArchaeologist*

      At my last job, I have audibly said “what does this nutsack want” upon receiving yet another email from my least favorite salesman regarding yet another issue he caused himself and refuses to fix. I’m not as ashamed I should be.

    7. LGC*

      Me with my old customer (to be fair, one time she yelled at her staff in the middle of a call with my coworker, so I knew she was awful), after she accused us of messing up documents. We had presented the documents in the precise order they were received, down to the page.

      I sent her a politely worded email expressing my confusion and then immediately went somewhere private to call her AAM-inappropriate names.

      When she moved on, my reaction was, “Good riddance.”

  17. Smithy*

    Goodness have I been Jane a handful of times during the pandemic…..honestly, it’s why I prefer having my camera on at all times. Just to hold myself to some kind of accountability and not to get sloppy.

    In addition to all of AAM’s questions to ask yourself, another set that might be worth asking yourself is how much as COVID/remote work/Great Resignation might be impacting Jane’s work. Because personally, a combination of all three give me days that really want to set my work life on fire and have increasingly diminished patience and compassion. I know we have gaps in senior leadership that are in process to be filled. I know we have working parents who are struggling. And I know that work travel is still wildly in flux. But at this point, the combination of all three has my empathy bandwidth thin for how that has impacted my work and satisfaction with my job.

    And my boss can’t really fix it so much. So the day I become Jane, let me apologize profusely and professionally and make sure it never happens again. And I’ll go back to the EAP for more COVID burnout therapy.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yes. Humans aren’t as good at compartmentalizing as we sometimes wish to be. All the general stress of everything is definitely hurting temperaments and patience levels for folks.

    2. XF1013*

      Same about always keeping the camera on. It really does help you remember to stay “on” when in any meeting. I’d rather feel slightly weird being the only attendee on camera than ever feel like Jane did in that letter.

      1. Smithy*

        Absolutely – I work in a context where internet connection can vary. So I always plan on starting with my camera on, and if no one else has theirs on – I’ll ask if my camera is impacting their connection and can turn it off then. Addressing the issue, I’ve never found it overly awkward and personally I find it keeps me far more accountable. I do have a reasonable good “work face”, but it’s also certainly a bit of a performance to counteract any RBF and previous feedback in old jobs about attitude.

    3. TP*

      +1000000 to the second paragraph. So many of us are at the ends of our leashes. We try to hide it and press on but sometimes we accidentally leave our cameras on.

  18. Veryanon*

    This is exactly why I almost never appear on camera during meetings, so I can eye roll and otherwise react in peace. :) I physically cover my camera and only uncover it if I know I absolutely have to be on camera.

  19. 867-5309*

    “Or she could be someone who has big reactions when she thinks she’s in private, even if her frustration isn’t actually all that significant (those people exist).”

    I need to get whatever big reaction out of my system and then move on quickly. Most of the time, I’m not as bothered as I would seem if someone were to see or hear me.

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      +1. I’m ND and so many times people have thought my feelings are bigger than they actually are, because I basically have 2 settings, 0 and 100.

      1. Nn*

        Oh goodness. I had a crash course in modulating facial expressions with one senior colleague when I first started my current job because of the 0/100 factor and because I’d very much been in “job = ‘serious face’; personal details = social talk = ‘social face’” environments before. She was giving me project details as we walked around and I had my “serious” face on (which may have been a 0 for her). Then she said “so I’ll be out visiting my sister for a couple weeks” and, thinking about how I would love to visit my own faraway sibling, I said “oh, that’s great!” with a big smile that must have been 100… and she thought I meant it was great she wasn’t going to be there! (And as the following brief kerfuffle was being sorted out, did say it was at least in part because she thought I wasn’t engaged until that moment – I dial myself up a bit more in “work mode” in general now.)

    2. Snark No More!*

      I’m like that as well. I can do a very entertaining rant about something that has absolutely no effect on my personal well being. But people often tell me to calm down because they don’t understand that the rant is me blowing off steam.

  20. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    I’m not clear as to why the LW doesn’t want to take Jane at her word? There doesn’t appear to be a pattern of Jane lying or not being fully honest.

    That’s why I’m with Alison on the personal reflection idea. LW needs to figure out why it’s This Thing that has them questioning Jane and not able to take her at her word if they are able to take her at her word in other areas/in the past. I suspect it’s because the behavior was seemingly directed or as a reaction to the LW.

    1. Pippa K*

      Maybe it’s because this seemed to be a case of Jane communicating two contradictory things through the radical difference in her words and her body language. It’s like having someone standing behind you saying “sure, I can finish that by Thursday and we’ll probably have the report to you by Monday” but seeing their reflection in a window and they’re making broad rude gestures at you. You’d definitely question which communicated thing was the accurate one, and whether you’d misjudged this in the past too.

      Sure, we’ve all rolled our eyes when we think no one can see us, but the person who does accidentally see is going to second guess what they’d previously thought.

    2. Delphine*

      Because it sounds like something you’d say to cover up that you were rolling your eyes at your boss.

      And the OP isn’t saying she won’t take Jane at her word. She’s saying, “If so, I’m afraid Jane will give me a smooth, professional answer but I don’t know if I would trust that she’s being honest.” That’s reasonable. She wants to know if Jane is experiencing problems that can be fixed.

  21. No Tribble At All*

    Unhelpful take: I’m impressed with Jane’s ability to go from casual to professional so quickly. If I was rolling my eyes that dramatically and got busted for it, I don’t think I could get to a neutral expression any time soon.

    Helpful take: LW, you say “I also really want Jane to bring her ideas and suggestions to these projects; her experience and expertise in these areas is one of the reasons she’s in her position. I don’t want her to silently stew if she disagrees with something” — does Jane know this? Does she have the freedom to direct the team as needed, or, since she’s new, is she only implementing without evaluating?

    Has she brought up problems/suggested other options before? Are her suggestions unworkable because of technical problems (you can’t paint something green with only yellow paint) or unworkable because of organizational problems (the blue paint is owned by a different department, and they won’t share, so she can’t make green paint)? Organizational blocks to technical problems are super frustrating, and that might cause her to act so …. teenager-y… if she sees a solution but feels like she isn’t allowed to do it.

    It’s perfectly possible that Jane has been simmering in resentment for no reason. It’s also possible she’s validly frustrated because of something — she mentioned a project that took her longer than she wanted. She may be having trouble adjusting to her new role? Or she was being honest, is having a crap day because of something personal, and just couldn’t deal with the meeting that day. All of these scenarios could be true.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “If I was rolling my eyes that dramatically and got busted for it, I don’t think I could get to a neutral expression any time soon”

      Oh big same. I’d be at least sheepish and flustered the rest of the meeting. Best case scenario. Worst case I develop a sudden connection problem and spend the rest of the day with a blanket over my head. (I wouldn’t actually do that)(Probably…)

  22. Turtle Duck*

    In my humble opinion, people do have private reactions to events that are even mildly annoying that they would never have in front of others, and this is a normal, human thing. Of course then she will say something to you like ‘sorry, I was having an off day’. Making a bigger deal out of it, thinking how it sounds false etc is a bit unnecessary and maybe somewhat of a violation of the social contract. I would just give the person grace and leave it be to be honest…

    1. mreasy*

      This absolutely – I think many of us can relate in terms of the way we “talk” to other drivers!

  23. Communi-Tea*

    I am also on team let it go.

    I have had bad days where things that normally would be nothing just seemed extra annoying. Meetings I just didnt have the energy for. I live off camera but I would be mortified if this happened.

    You brought it up in the moment and the meeting after. You gave her an opportunity to air any grievances. She didnt. If it comes up again and you see a pattern then address it. But it sounds like your concerns about her getting staff buy-in is new concerns based solely off this one meeting. And while important if yiu havent seen any other reasons to doubt her. I would chalk it up to a bad day.

  24. Monkey Fracas Jr.*

    “Now I have to look happy, too?”

    This is the bane of my professional life. I am a woman and I have a lot of physical attributes that really work against me. I’m very short. I have an extreme case of Resting Bitch Face. And I’m brown. I always do my work exceptionally well, and yet I’ve had bosses at several different workplaces penalize me for not looking “enthusiastic” or “happy” enough while doing it. And I’ve never been in a customer-facing role, I do desk work and never talk to clients or customers, ever.

    I always know when this conversation is coming, and I dread it. It makes me we want to quit on the spot. I have NEVER seen or heard of my male coworkers getting this spiel. And yes, this chastisement always comes from female managers.

    1. Don*

      If it makes you feel any better, as a male, introverted, I’m-just-here-to-work RBF-haver I can attest that we do hear about it sometimes. Just, you know, roughly about 2% as much as women hear about it. But there are still the rare “hey could you please put a little more effort into helping me be happier with your feelings?” requests even if we’re not expected to be people pleasers the way women are.

    2. What She Said*

      Same. I just want to come to work and work. I don’t want to put on a fake smile so it looks like I’m having a great time. I’m here to work not socialize. I specifically moved out of a customer facing role for this exact reason. I couldn’t handle being that “on” all the time.

      1. Rolly*

        I can’t help but think of another AAM discussion, in which someone wrote (in 2018):

        “There are lots of soft skills that the AAM commentariat tends to bristle at being told to develop — the ability to engage in minor watercooler chit-chat instead of being 100% task-focused-and-not-a-word-otherwise, the ability to take the occasional business dinner or holiday party in stride and not get worked up over How Exhausting It All Is To Interact With People[….]Some things are professional norms and some things aren’t. Some ways of engaging with fellow humans work better than some other ways….”

        1. ComplicatedIsAlright*

          This is good! I need to remember it as we begin to come out of our cocoons….

    3. BookishMiss*

      My favorite piece of annual review feedback i ever got was that i have a bitchy aura, that i needed to watch my face (sure whatever) BUT that it was OK for other women in the office to have RBF because… reasons.

      But really. A bitchy aura? lol

    4. Nn*

      Oh wow. I commented above about how my “serious job face” and “social talk”‘ face may be seen as 0/100, but am also, well, short and brown in the US (and not in a public-facing position, either). I’ve had misunderstandings at work but have been fortunate enough to not have to sit through any spiels nor noticed any direct work penalizations. But I have heard other anecdotes from family and friends, including out-of-ordinary “lighten up!” comments and other oddness based around it at work (eg, nose booping). And sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what aspect of me or them is causing this, but other times, I’m like “I know what’s not always helping…”

      1. mreasy*

        [record-scratch sound] Nose…booping? As in, your coworkers are like “you’re grouchy” and they…boop you… on the nose? They are touching your face. Or am I misreading something that is normal? I do not think I am.

    5. Veryanon*

      Oh my goodness. I am also a woman and I have gotten the “tone” discussion from my manager when my only crime was to exhale during a meeting. So now I need to monitor how loudly I’m breathing? Ok. I’ve also been told (by the same, female manager, incidentally) that sometimes I am perceived as too direct. Well, yes, I am direct! I am in a role where being direct is a good thing! I’m never unprofessional, but sometimes I have to deliver information that my audience doesn’t want to hear (I work in HR and I often have to tell people things they don’t want to deal with). I do excellent work and all the stakeholders I interact with routinely give me good feedback, so I have to wonder when my manager tells me I need to “soften” my approach. I flat out asked her one day if she would be having this same conversation with a male employee, and she really couldn’t answer me on that one. :/

      1. ComplicatedIsAlright*

        I’ve also been criticized for the frustrated sighs., it’s a trait I get from my mother and her sisters. We call it the heaving bosum syndrome…

  25. Susie Q*

    Can you chill out and leave poor Jane alone? In the words of the Ancient One “Not everything is about you”. You addressed it once with Jane, leave it alone. I find people who try to read more into people’s actions, words, and facial expressions are awful at it. Jane’s feelings about her job and her co-workers including you are NONE of your business. As long as she does her job well and is normally polite, leave it be. Stop making a moutain of a mole hill.

    1. LutherstadtWittenberg*

      Jane’s explanation is perfectly rational. Why not believe it, rather than force a more negative meaning from it? I get angry at myself all the time; I’m much less forgiving of a mistake or oversight on my part than on someone else’s. You work with Jane. Is she the same?

    2. Threeve*

      “I shouldn’t notice or care if my direct report is feeling burnt-out or frustrated” is…not a good attitude for a boss to have.

      I don’t think LW should address it directly again, but paying more attention and making sure Jane has the opportunity to express her frustration if she wants to is hardly overstepping.

      And doing her job well is absolutely not all her manager should care about, because all that means is doing her job well right now. Is she doing her job well but it’s making her miserable? Doing her job well at the expense of the people she’s snapping at when her boss isn’t around? Is she going to be doing her job well in three months if she’s super burnt-out?

      1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        I think, for me at least, the line about trusting Jane less because of this takes LW’s meaning from “I’m concerned Jane may be burning out”/”I’m concerned that Jane’s work is frustrating” (which are valid things for a good manager to be concerned about!) to “I’m concerned that Jane isn’t forthright with her emotions at work” or even “I’m concerned that Jane has emotions”. LW should check in to make sure Jane’s not snapping at folks and that her work isn’t unnecessarily frustrating – in fact, LW should probably be doing that regardless of any visible frustration on Jane’s part! But (again, to me) this letter feels less like supporting Jane and more like trying to force Jane into some sort of confession.

        1. Wisteria*

          Yeah, and even “I’m concerned that Jane isn’t forthright with her emotions at work” doesn’t mean dictating a change to Jane. It should mean OP does some reflection to ask whether *they* can do something to provide an atmosphere where Jane *does* feel that she can be forthright about her feelings at work.

      2. Daisy Gamgee*

        Yes, but does LW want to care if Jane is burnt out/frustrated or want to punish Jane for being so?

  26. cmdrspacebabe*

    I have unfortunately gotten into this habit after 2 years of remote work and this prospect haunts me – I keep my camera covered almost all the time now! For me it doesn’t mean I hate my job or my coworkers, even when it is them annoying me (lately I mostly do it when someone is Yet Again extending an already-overtime meeting with a 3rd or 4th irrelevant personal anecdote). It’s just a way to blow off physical tension when I’m getting antsy, and makes it waaaay more comfortable to get through a frustrating meeting than it ever was in person – I never realized how much of my concentration was just going to controlling body language/expression for extended periods. I’ve been trying to channel it into doing something physical instead – getting up, walking around, doing some wall push-ups…

  27. Lady Danbury*

    Professionalism/office politics requires all of us to mask our feelings sometimes. Our natural reaction to the ups and downs of work isn’t always the professional reaction. AAM’s archives are full of questions about people who didn’t mask those reactions. As a manager, you should be focusing on people’s external behaviors, not their internal feelings (unless they choose to share them).

  28. Don*

    I don’t know that there’s anything left to say since I agree with pretty much everything above, other than to say I think this fits well into a larger context: if we are professionals and want to engage with others as professionals there are always going to be points where we need to just take people at their word. This incident absolutely should be one that prompts some thought about Jane’s overall behavior and performance and if things don’t add up then it warrants more digging and discussion.

    But at the same time, we have to accept that anomalies occur or else we run the risk of alienating folks and/or turning our lives into some sort of British sex comedy of errors. Sometimes a sigh in the middle of a conversation IS just your partner taking a deep breath, not them indicating their deep and abiding exhaustion with your work stories. Repeatedly poking at this issue with Jane in the absence of other red flags would reasonably drive her to question why you don’t look at her hundreds to thousands of other indicators that everything is just peachy.

    The alternative is to live life bouncing from one Three’s Company plot to another and nobody needs that.

  29. Lizzianna*

    It can be exhausting to police your expression all day. Who hasn’t made a face or said a snarky aside when their camera is off and they’re muted? Thank goodness my “thought I was on mute” moment was on a conference call when there were enough attendees it wasn’t immediately obvious it was me who said, “Ugh, this is the meeting that will never end” to my husband without realizing I was not on mute. (On the plus side, they did wrap up the meeting shortly after that…)

    Unless it’s a pattern or it’s truly outrageous (like, racist, sexist comments or obscene gestures), I think it’s a kindness to assume she’s having a bad day and let it go.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      Hahaha, my all-time favorite story like this was when someone was in an office with one other person and telling them about who was on the call and said, “Oh, and that’s dickhead Dan!” And no, they were not muted.

  30. Sparkles McFadden*

    People are human. They have reactions. Assume a bad day and move along. There’s no point to keep revisiting this one incident. It’s not as if your direct report is suddenly going to say “You’re right. I really find you frustrating and hate this job. Thanks for letting me get that off of my chest!” The best indicator of whether or not this is a problem is her job performance and how she deals with people on team projects – and that’s something you should be looking at no matter how enthusiastic an employee seems one on one.

    One of my favorite managers would, from time to time, quietly hiss “Control your face!” at me during a meeting. I was never an eye roller but I would look far too amused when someone would say something ridiculous. Ironically, my solution was to imagine I was on camera during meetings. Who knew I was in training for Zoom meetings in the future?

  31. TotesMaGoats*

    I had a boss that terrorized me for the first 6-9 months on the job. It was a clash of personalities but a larger example of poor management. I was the new person and got to be the recipient of her wrath. Until I got really sick and it was because of her treatment. Then it got to be someone else’s turn.

    I remember one time she called and I heaved a sigh as I picked up the phone because I knew she was calling and couldn’t wait to hear what I had done wrong that day. She heard the sigh and immediately questioned me on it. I bald faced lied and said I had a cold and breathing was heavy. I was sniffly but not that bad. Not sure how well I sold it but she let it go and then reamed me on something.

    What’s the point? Unless her work product is lacking or something related to that, let it go. She was frustrated by something and maybe it was you but I don’t think any of us feel comfortable saying that to a boss.

  32. Nora*

    Poor Jane!!! It’s embarrassing enough to be caught having a human emotion in what you thought was a private moment, but to then have your boss imply that they have less trust in you because of it? Horrible.

  33. Heidi*

    I get the impression that the OP is feeling insecure or anxious about some aspect of their work, and is reading Jane’s eyeroll as a confirmation of those fears. Forcing Jane to admit that she hates working for you is going to be counterproductive, though. The professional thing to do is to let her be professional. Sure, she might hate working for you, and knowing that is not comforting, but if she’s doing her job well, her feelings are hers to manage.

  34. HR Exec Popping In*

    In addition to AAM’s sound advice I would recommend doing skip level meetings with her direct reports if you don’t already do this. My concern would be how does she show up with her team. You don’t want a leader who nods and agrees with you pleasantly but expresses frustration or disgruntlement with her team.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      I agree with this. Honestly, my main concern was how Liz (Jane’s direct report) would have viewed the interaction.

    2. Tali*

      Totally agree with this. SO many people are missing that Jane was openly contemptuous about her direct report! This isn’t just an issue of a manager wanting to know their team member’s attitude, this is a boss displaying open disrespect and contempt for her own team. I would be concerned how she manages her team when she’s not being watched.

  35. MicroManagered*

    OP let it go. People get privately annoyed or fed up with even the very best of bosses. (I’m sure you’ve internally and/or physically rolled your eyes at your boss before. That’s what she was doing–she thought nobody could see her.)

    She clearly understands what kind of conduct is and isn’t ok in front of others and immediately rectified the mistake when you pointed out the camera was on. She apologized and said she was having a bad day.

    That’s it. There’s nothing else to do or say here.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I’ve actually done that in a meeting with my boss, I really wasn’t aware of the eye rolling, and it may have been when she was criticizing me for the umpteenth time. That got her mad.
      I don’t recall the subject, but it may have been that the chemistry where she was the expert (and I deferred to her without problem) is more like stew or soup cooking where the levels of ingredients are easy to be whole numbers, whereas mine is more like baking where the ingredients frequently have very odd values. But too much or too little spoil things.

  36. Pam Poovey*

    As someone who often can’t get my facial expressions under control quickly, I feel for Jane.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      I feel you. I knew before Covid that I had no poker face, but two years of Zoom have taught me that I REALLY have no poker face.

  37. CW*

    I had a similar blunder back in early 2020 (before COVID), but not on camera. It was through audio. We had a Zoom meeting because my boss was in another part of the country, and yes, I was in the office. I had forgot I was muted and my computer kept misbehaving, and I started whispering things like “oh my goodness”, “ugh”, “oh, come on”. Luckily, I didn’t cuss. My boss politely told me if I could mute my phone. I was mortified, and later apologized and explained briefly that it was my computer acting up, and nothing to do with the . Thankfully, my boss was understanding and didn’t make a big deal about it, but I learned my lesson there.

    A couple months later when COVID hit and Zoom (or any other equivalent) meetings became the norm, I took that as a lesson to always make sure if I needed to be muted or my camera off.

  38. Danish*

    I’m fascinated that so many people are interpreting this as a general “I must look happy” concern and not “my direct report did a big eye roll in response to me answering her question”. That’s not “she didn’t perform happiness” to me, it’s “does she not respect me”, “is she secretly contemptuous of her coworkers” or, at minimum “did I completely misunderstand her question and instead of seeking clarity she decided it wasn’t worth it”, all of which seem like things worth digging into.

    1. Kali*

      Except the boss addressed it with her, and Jane gave a perfectly fine answer. OP is reading far too much into this and ascribing nefarious intent where there’s no evidence of it. Also, I don’t think it matters if Jane respects OP or likes/dislikes her coworkers – as long as she can do her job (which by OP’s account, she does and well too), Jane’s internal feelings are irrelevant. (Her external expression of them could be relevant to her performance, sure.) OP now having lack of trust because of one single meeting in which Jane seemed frustrated (again, with a perfectly fine and reasonable explanation) is over the top when it has been addressed.

      I would be very annoyed with a boss that continued questioning me about a brief show of emotion, because it *would* feel like an insistence that I must look happy all the time if I was going to get harangued if I didn’t.

      1. Danish*

        Interesting. I suppose I feel like you can’t actually be a good coworker if you don’t respect the people you work with? Especially in a collaborative project environment where you presumably need their opinions. Which yeah I agree – one bad day doesn’t mean she doesn’t respect OP or Liz, but I’m mainly responding to the comments who think it’s outrageous for the OP to be concerned at all and interpreting it as Always Appear Cheerful. You don’t have to appear cheerful but if you roll your eyes when someone talks to you, it’s not unreasonable for them to be like, “um”.

        1. Kali*

          I have several coworkers who I strongly dislike and who I do not respect personally. Professionally, some of them have more expertise in certain areas, which I do respect. Regardless, they do not and will never know how I feel – I’m very cheerful and helpful in my interactions with them.

          I agree that anyone saying that it’s outrageous that OP is concerned is going too far. If OP had written in before addressing it with Jane, I think most of us would say, “well, ask her!” – it’s the continued concern and now weird lack of trust that has gotten people’s backs up about it. People want to be taken at their word and not have their boss second-guess and make assumptions. For sure, if someone was rolling their eyes at me in a conversation, I would pause and say “hey, what’s up? is something wrong?” but if they said, “oh, you just reminded me I forgot to file my TPS report!”, I would accept that. I really think it’s the repeated poking at the issue that’s irking people.

          1. Danish*

            Oh for sure, everyone has coworkers they don’t like/respect personally, but not respecting them PROFESSIONALLY, as rolling your eyes in response to a work related convo might imply, seems like could be an issue. At very least does warrant a conversation.

            I think probably the desire to continue digging is specifically because of the “she thought I couldn’t see her” aspect. If you learn someone is talking about you behind your back, it does make it hard to take their word when they then say OH, NO, IT WASN’T YOU I WAS ANNOYED AT…because you already have evidence that they act differently when they think you won’t find out.

            Again, not saying I don’t believe she was just having a bad day, just that I can understand why OP asked for extra ways to make sure. I think Alison’s suggestions cover it pretty well!

        2. mreasy*

          I respect the people I work with a lot, and yet sometimes they still do things worthy of a secret eye-roll! You can respect someone and still be having a bad day and respond with annoyance at something they say or do. I know that I have my foibles and I’m sure that I have been eye rolled at plenty of times by people who support and respect me and my work.

    2. Threeve*

      This seems to be hitting a real nerve with a lot of people, like it’s completely unacceptable and invasive to go from seeing an expression of contempt to wondering if somebody is feeling contemptuous.

      And a lot of people are acting as if there are only two possible responses, which are “directly grill Jane about it forever” (which seems to cover such heinous behaviors as silently paying more attention to how she interacts with coworkers) or “ignore it completely.”

      1. Danish*

        Yeah, I think that’s it for me– someone rolling their eyes in direct response to something you say to them comes off as contemptuous. It’s perfectly plausible to me that it was just general frustration/a bad day, but it’s not unreasonable for the OP to see that and have had concerns and want to follow up.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          It’s not unreasonable to have had concerns and want to follow up. But having already done so, there’s very little to gain by continuing to dig. Either the explanation OP already got was really all there is to it or it isn’t, but Jane’s – outside of the camera-oops – professional enough to never admit it’s anything else. There’s no reading Jane’s mind. So if she’s going to be all business as usual after the fact, there’s no point in taking the explanation given as anything but true. Jane’s already made clear she’s going to proceed as though that’s the case.

    3. Littorally*

      Right, yeah.

      OP has information, which is that Jane reacted in a contemptuous way to the discussion. She’d be remiss in her job if she didn’t act on that information by inquiring with Jane about it and being alert going forward to any other signs that would reinforce the notion that Jane is having bad feelings about her work. It isn’t an invasion of privacy to notice that, even if it was unintentional on Jane’s part, and good bosses don’t just shrug off the possibility that their reports are having issues.

    4. moonstone*

      I don’t think the OP was wrong to address the issue, but she should take Jane’s response at her word and continue as normal without worrying unless it comes up again or becomes a pattern. I agree that just because Jane unintentionally behaved a certain way doesn’t mean that OP has to pretend she didn’t see it, but the situation has been addressed.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        Yep. I think OP did exactly what she should’ve, in the moment and in the 1:1 after. If OP’s question now is “what else do I do?” the answer is “nothing, you already did it”.

    5. Neptune*

      I will preface this with the fact that I KNOW this is not a rational reaction. The reason that this annoys me so much and my immediate response was very “leave Jane alone, damn!” is that both the letter itself and Alison’s long list of questions reminded me so strongly of a particular anxious personality type that I find very, very aggravating. The type of anxious where nothing can just have a normal explanation like “I was having a bad day” but there MUST be some secret awful thing going on and every possibility must be investigated to get to the bottom of it, because if there wasn’t something Terribly Wrong then you would NEVER have sighed/rolled your eyes/whatever, right? You wouldn’t do that unless something was wrong, right? Why won’t you tell me what’s wrong? Are you mad? Are you sure you’re not mad?

      Yes, this is not a rational response and managers do have to care about this stuff, and the reflection is supposed to be internal and not an interrogation of Jane. But honestly, I read the list of questions in Alison’s answer and even the concept of someone sitting there analysing your behaviour to that level over an eyeroll… my immediate response was just, like, oh Goddddddd, leave it alone already.

  39. LettuceHead*

    I think honestly in a climate where people are taking online meetings all the time and are able to have their cameras off and act unobserved while they’re happening, a lot of people are used to acting out their feelings as a way to stress relief – even in an exaggerated way. It’s just a matter of shaking feelings loose as they come to you, because you can and you aren’t used to being observed anymore.
    When I’m working at home and go through things I’ll often exclaim things, swear, talk myself through a process, etc. Totally different when I’m in office and know I have to act professionally and courteously. Working from home just really provides you the option of off-gassing all the minor irritations of work. I wouldn’t personally read into this – if she says it’s just a minor irritation, her work doesn’t seem affected, and her interactions with anyone aren’t negative then there’s no reason not to take her at her word.

    1. Xaraja*

      Agreed, i was really worried that when i came back to the office i was going to have trouble with yelling swear words at my computer when things didn’t work (I’m in IT). Turns out my habits of how be in an office returned, thankfully.

  40. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I’d treat it the same way my team treated my slip up on a zoom call a few months back when I thought I was on mute and off camera and swore at a piece of software that had just crashed on my desktop.

    Basically a ‘hey, we’re all human and we’ve all done this’ response and a note to myself to err, watch the swearing.

    If there’s no ongoing problem with this person just let it go.

    1. Just a Thought*

      Cursing when software crashes is par for the course. Rolling eyes at your direct report is not.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Eh, like I said if there were no other concerns with this employee I’d shrug it off. The issue was raised, they appeared to correct it.

      2. Calliope*

        It may well not have been at the direct report though. And honestly, sometimes direct reports say dumb things that are fine in the big picture but still annoying AF. Rolling your eyes when you think your camera is off is pretty normal.

  41. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana*

    My partner is a weird overreact-er. We have been together for over a decade and this is still a thing – like he would lie down in traffic for me but can’t hold back his dumb reactions to minor things. Like he doesn’t throw things or yell at me, but he’s loud and visibly annoyed when he knows it drives me crazy. We’ve figured this out – I don’t mean for this to be marriage counseling, my point is don’t take it too seriously.

    I also feel overly emotionally managed sometimes by my boss so I just assent b/c it’s easier and I don’t want to get into it with my boss when I’m doing a good job for what I’m paid to do. And that makes me roll my eyes harder – don’t be that boss.

  42. Polecat*

    Leave Jane alone. She copped to her mistake and handled it well when she was confronted about it.

  43. CASH ASH*

    My question is, WHY does it matter?
    If she shows up, does her job well, and is actively engaged/isn’t hostile with cameras rolling, why are you worried?
    She might not like her job. She might not like you. She might have just had a bad day. It doesn’t matter.
    My point is even if she is privately negative… if it doesn’t affect her job or performance, why are you in her personal business? All you can do is make it known you are open if she wants to come to you with any issues. If she doesn’t come to you, don’t worry about it.
    We don’t have to love our jobs. They can be just a paycheck/means to an end.

    1. Littorally*

      Okay, but to a good manager, it does matter if their employee is having this kind of a reaction. People aren’t required to love their jobs but if a manager learns that there is a potential morale issue, it is absolutely within their purview to address it and to keep an eye on things going forward.

    2. Rolly*

      “My question is, WHY does it matter?”

      It matters if she feels like this a lot. If she actually feels like this a lot, she may have ideas that could improve the organization that she’s not sharing, or although she’s a good worker she might be about to quit, which would be a loss to the organization.

      Mangers should know if their reports are privately negative – if it is a common feeling. This can affect future work/staffing.

      Now, if it’s really just a rare feeling, it’s no big deal. But it’s worth investigating in some ways AAM suggests.

  44. Anonymous Pygmy Possum*

    Ugh, I sympathize with OP here – I have a habit of reading WAY TOO HARD into people’s reactions and have to remind myself all the time that it’s almost certainly not about them being annoyed with me personally, and even if it is, there probably isn’t a whole lot I can do about it if they won’t actually tell me what’s going on. I agree with Alison’s advice here, for sure.

  45. Esmeralda*

    As I noted upthread… there’s still the issue of Jane looking exasperated and pulling faces when her direct report (Liz) is talking. (OP lists behaviors preceding the giant eyeroll at OP)

    That is really a problem. Yes, I say, OP should cut Jane some slack — everyone makes mistakes. But this is a mistake that must have affected Liz, as well. If I were Liz, I would have a hard time trusting that Jane approves of me/my work going forward. An apology is in order. (And even so, Liz would be smart to keep Jane’s behavior in mind. For sure I would.)

    1. Littorally*

      Seriously. Imagine being Liz in this meeting — I’d be freaking out about my boss being pissed or exasperated at me.

      OP may not know if this happened or not, but in Jane’s shoes I’d be making an apology directly to Liz and making sure she didn’t feel like she’d been the target of that behavior.

  46. MuseumChick*

    I see this kind of like an employee being out with friends at a bar and venting about their job. There could be so many reasons she was having strong reactions that day. One thing to consider is this, does she have justifiable reasons to be frustrated? For example, at an old job, I was higher as the first Llama Documentation Expert they had ever had on staff. I was told I was being hired because they wanted to professionalize their Llama documentation. Well, any time I told them “X is industry standard/best practice. So we need to do A, B, and C to get there.” I was ignored/dismissed. Always politely but nonetheless, my expertise that I was hired for was totally sidelined. Think really carefully about things like, “I’ve told Jane to be honest with me if she disagrees with something but how have I reacted in the past to that? Have I heard her? Have I dismissed her? Have I reacted with my own frustration?”, “Do we have a lot of repeat discussion? Has Jane already answered the questions I was asking in that meeting?” etc.

  47. Lizzle*

    Do managers NOT realize this is how many/most employees feel about many aspects of their job? The only issue here is that she did it on camera, which you can absolutely speak to her about– you should not have a loss of trust or any other nonsense like that.

    She is professional and does a great job at work, which is all that matters. The vast majority of us work to live, not live to work. Literally every meeting I attend could be an email or, at worst, a very brief email chain. I attend and play nice, but they’re always a waste of time, morale killer, and delay actual work from getting done.

    1. Just a Thought*

      Jane is also a manager and Liz her direct report.

      And do staff not realize that managers should be concerned if it seems like someone’s reaction to work has changed? What if Jane is experiencing burn out? What if Jane is feeling that she cannot have opposing views from her boss? What if …. her manager needs to think this through. The manager does not know what these expression meant — this is not to police Jane’s emotions, but because emotions are information and her manager should be concerned when it seems emotions have abruptly shifted.

      1. Name, check*

        LW here. You’re spot on here with what I was concerned about and what was so tricky about this! I had no idea what to make of the abrupt change and trying to figure out how to further investigate concerns Jane might have about the job/project/team/environment without belaboring an issue we’d already discussed.

  48. The Lexus Lawyer*

    This feels like a non-issue to me unless you notice it becoming a pattern. People are allowed to have emotions and/or bad days in my book.

  49. Joanna*

    ” Or she could be someone who has big reactions when she thinks she’s in private” OMG. I’m one of these people. We haven’t used video through the pandemic, and I’m afraid of going back into the office next week because I think I have forgotten my poker face. My eyes have been allowed to roll for 2 years, and now I have to retrain them. I love my job and enjoy working with most of my coworkers but yes, if no one is watching, I make faces, roll my eyes, and make hand gestures. It’s not very mature or professional, but it’s a me problem, not a job problem.

    1. tangerineRose*

      Yeah. Lately I’ve been on camera some of the time (with a bunch of others on Zoom), and after a few days of it, I’ve started turning off my camera every so often. I know no one’s likely to be staring at me particularly, but when I’m on camera, I’m constantly trying to be the smiling or empathetic one, and it is *such* a relief to be able to not worry about what my face is showing.

      I also might roll my eyes at something that is really not a big deal, just because I’m off camera and no one will know.

  50. ecnaseener*

    She said she was just frustrated at herself for not delivering on a different piece of the project. […] this rings false to me. Her actions appeared to be those of someone finding the conversation so insufferable, she couldn’t help but react in a physical way.

    This is the part I don’t get. Why is it so hard to believe she was really frustrated with herself? Who on earth hasn’t had a physical reaction upon realizing we messed something up? Tossing your head back is very very common body language for being frustrated with yourself.

    1. Delphine*

      I think we can assume that the LW, who saw the way Jane reacted and had seen her expressing frustration throughout the meeting, reasonably read that reaction as an eye roll directed at whatever the LW was saying. It’s easy to be outside of that interaction and decide that the LW misread things, but between us and the LW, the LW has more information on which to base her conclusion.

      It’s also pretty unlikely that anyone would cop to rolling their eyes at their boss, especially if they were caught unawares or didn’t realize they were being watched.

      1. ecnaseener*

        I’m not talking about the initial read, I’m talking about taking Jane at her word when she gave her answer contradicting that initial read. I would actually say one should default to believing what people say about their own thoughts & emotions.

        1. Tali*

          I doubt Jane or anyone could answer “actually I find this ridiculous and think you’re all morons” so it is unlikely she would be truly honest about her thoughts and emotions. She is more likely to make a face-saving excuse than share her true feelings if they are negative. Especially if Jane thinks she can’t be honest with OP. I wouldn’t take someone at their word on this either.

          1. ecnaseener*

            Why are you jumping straight to “you’re all morons?” She could say “I was a little frustrated at how long the meeting was going” or “at having to deal with an unexpected issue” or any number of professionally-worded things that wouldn’t be lies.

            If I were Jane and my boss had no reason to think I was dishonest, I’d be so annoyed at how many people refuse to believe I could be telling the truth!

  51. Batgirl*

    I’m actually rolling my eyes at the battering the OP is getting in the comments. It is not “policing expressions” to notice expressions. The OP has a duty of care to their employee and simply being aware of signs an employee might be unhappy, and asking for more candour is not some outrageous overstep. If they were a colleague, then sure it’s none of your beeswax. If your direct report doesn’t feel able to verbalise the frustrations you want them to, that’s a problem! I have been a woman in retail, I have had my expression policed on many occasions. This is not that. I was never asked to be more forthcoming!

    1. Delphine*

      I agree. This is a letter from a manager who clearly cares. She’s thoughtful, she’s asking good questions. She wants to create a good environment for her employee.

    2. Dr. Rebecca*

      I think it’s the whole “I don’t know if I can trust her” vibe from the OP…

      1. Batgirl*

        Whereas the commentariat don’t trust the OP’s take that what they saw and what they heard said don’t match up well enough to put all qualms at bay. I don’t see any reason to disbelieve the OP on that score. Conversely, should the OP have just taken an employee’s word that everything is fine, don’t worry about little old me? Of course not! It would be terribly negligent management.

        1. Dr. Rebecca*

          …should the OP take another adult at her word about her own internal state? Yes. Yes, they should.

    3. TreeFrogEditor*

      I agree! OP doesn’t say how long they’ve been working with Jane (unless I missed it), but I think people are underestimating how jarring it might be to see someone’s demeanor change so abruptly and noticeably. It makes sense that the OP is wondering how much weight to give this incident.

      And it’s not like OP stormed into Alison’s inbox asking if they should fire Jane. They’re asking if the issue is still worth pursuing or if it should be dropped. This is very reasonable! I don’t get the backlash.

      1. Batgirl*

        Your last paragraph is exactly the thing I don’t get. Of course it could be nothing more than a bad day, and the employee can’t be pressed if they wave it off as that, because it definitely could be true! However in a bad workplace, a lazy manager is never troubled with frustrating truths about their management blind spots; even if they ask. The OP wants to be responsible and can verify through other sources if there is anything is genuinely frustrating to this employee or to the staff in general. There’s nothing wrong with due diligence.

  52. Dr. Rebecca*

    As an autistic person, I sometimes have difficulty maintaining the proper facial expression for the occasion. Yes, it’s an indicator of my inner feelings, but those feelings may not have to do with the person I’m talking to, even if I’m 100% following the conversation and participating in it. I’ve been known to laugh/smile when people are relaying tragedies, have completely flat affect when people are happy, or eyeroll when whatever’s flitting across my brain at the time deserves an eyeroll. I also eyeroll at myself frequently. I have to consciously make my face do the right thing, or other people find it insulting.

    Please leave her alone about this. Policing one’s own facial expression can be exhausting.

  53. wobbly*

    If I’m reading this right, Jane was not only rolling her eyes at her boss but was also rolling her eyes at her own direct report. I wonder why Allison did not suggest strongly telling Jane that she must both refrain from such signs of disrespect to her reports and do whatever she can to fix the relationship. LW should also be checking in with Liz about her experience of being treated that way — however inadventantly — by her manager.

  54. Lacey*

    This could so easily go either way.

    Jane could have just been having a horrible day. A while back I had a coworker who got super short with me and I pretty annoyed with her attitude. Later someone pulled me aside and told me not to take it personally, she’d just gotten terrible news and was having a hard time keep it together at work.

    On the other hand, I have coworkers who are really frustrated by another department and complain about them all the time. But, in our meetings and work interactions they are sweet as pie to them. You would think they were besties. Because that’s how they’re going to keep things running smoothly at work.

    Now – the thing the OP needs to think about it whether there are any issue’s Jane has mentioned that really haven’t been addressed. Because if one of my coworkers ever did slip and complain about that other department people would be shocked, but also, I have been a part of the many meetings where they’ve requested help with this problem department and management has just brushed it aside.

  55. I'm just here for the cats.*

    An employee is allowed to have their own feelings about work and not have to explain. Who hasn’t internally rolled their eyes or whatnot during a meeting? Maybe it was something specific that day, maybe Jane was just thinking that she wants this meeting to get over already so she can use the bathroom, Or maybe she was thinking that this all could have been done in an email. I’m sure everyone has done this before, the only problem is she was caught.

    I think if Jane is a good employee, is otherwise respectable and does good work that the OP needs to give her a break.

    I also want to point out to OP that Jane truly knows that she can bring feedback to you. Think back has there ever been a time where maybe you or Liz reacted poorly to one of her suggestions or to feedback?

  56. LMB*

    I’m having a strong reaction to this one. First of all, some people have to put in a lot of extra work to lean in, sit still, and look pleasant for an entire meeting. Some people also have to work hard to not have visible facial reactions like eye rolls (I’m ADHD and have to think about all these constantly. Everything I’m thinking shows on my face whether I realize it or not. When I’m on camera I have to make this huge effort to just sit still, put on some little half smile, and stare straight at myself in the camera to make sure my face doesn’t do anything—this is exhausting and for me it’s even worse in in person meetings because I can’t see myself AND you can see my whole body). And some people, particularly women, suffer from “zoom fatigue.” It’s embarrassing for Jane that her camera was on, but she’s entitled to lean back, slouch, fidget, cross her arms, and even roll her eyes if she thinks no one is looking. I think this manager is making a big mountain out of a mole hill. Jane made an innocent mistake. And yes maybe she is rolling her eyes at you when her camera is off, but people are also probably rolling their eyes at any of us at any given time. I think this manager was offended and is now turning it on Jane and making this big thing out of it. There also may be some gender and even age discrimination in play here (women are more likely to be judged on their “executive presence” and held to higher standards than men). If her work is the same, if she hasn’t caused any problems, let her be.

    1. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex*

      YMMV but in meetings when I feel annoyed or frustrated or totally incredulous with other participants, I find defaulting to a “concentration” expression is easier to maintain than the neutral or half-smile you’re aiming for. I try to project “wow, what a fascinating and unusual take. I am listening very carefully and trying to absorb all the nuances of your thought process” when in fact I’m thinking “what in the actual **** are you talking about? And could you stop?”

    2. AD*

      Technically this is all true but Jane also rolled her eyes pretty demonstrably at *her own direct report*, from the letter. That is not cool and not explained by zoom fatigue.

      I think we can spare some sympathy for Liz, who may be feeling that her boss doesn’t like her.

    3. Data Bear*

      Co-signed! Another thing to consider is that some (often neurodivergent) people find meetings absolutely excruciating when there’s a significant mismatch in communication styles.

      It’s entirely possible that Jane is happy with her job and likes and respects OP and Lucinda and enjoys working with them, but also finds meetings with them agonizingly boring because of such a mismatch. Some people absorb information quickly and are ready to move on after the first statement. Others need to go over things a few times and repeat them back and forth to be assured of clarity. And for the former group, meetings that involve a lot of reiteration in service of the latter can be highly eye-roll- and sigh-inducing.

      Which are reactions they normally suppress, because they know it’s rude and unprofessional! But for those folks, turning off the camera frees them from needing to expend a lot of energy pretending to be fully engaged in meetings that don’t require more than 20% of their attention to keep up with because the other participants keep rehashing points that the high-input-bandwidth folks felt were clear two minutes in.

      I’m not saying that’s what’s going on here; it sounds like Jane is more usually in happy-seeming camera-on mode, which would involve an awful lot of masking on her part if that were the case. But such a possibility is not inconsistent with the information provided.

    4. Name, check*

      LW here. I get Zoom fatigue a lot. I’m sensitive to the reality that a zoom meeting takes more energy for some people than an in-person meeting and I’m one of them myself. I’m always okay with teams or individuals going camera off for their meetings. Jane ran this meeting and voluntarily had her camera on and I followed suit, so I don’t think Zoom fatigue comes into play in this particular situation. This is also such a new and strange place because I agree that Jane is “entitled to lean back, slouch, fidget, cross her arms, and even roll her eyes” if no one is actually looking, but the tricky part here is that she thought no one was looking, but we actually were.

      This is a bit about me being embarrassed by Jane’s reaction to my comments, for sure, but that part I feel I dealt with when I spoke with Jane after the meeting and I wasn’t looking for advice about whether or not I should further belabor the point that eye-rolls aren’t appropriate in meetings. The bigger piece was me trying to figure out what they eye-roll (and it really was so very much more than an eyeroll) meant as far as her job satisfaction and if there was anything going on she was unhappy with that I could control. Jane doesn’t have to be happy in her work, but as a manager, I’m always going to try to ensure people aren’t stewing in frustration because they will typically do better work when they’re satisfied with their job. In the end this did turn out to be an early indicator of disengagement, so I’m glad I didn’t completely brush it off. But I didn’t end up revisiting it directly with Jane again.

    1. Annie Oakley*

      A former manager was upset with a parent (who was handling child care for four high needs children, whose partner was working in a COVID unit, and who had other physical issues working from home with non-standard equipment) for not seeming “engaged” enough in our weekly two hour long staff meetings when we were all working from home (cameras on, we were “lucky” that she would let us mute ourselves). I’ve since left but the manager is still making things difficult for that employee.

  57. Koala dreams*

    It sounds like you dealt with this well in the moment, and there’s no need to do anymore unless it becomes a pattern or if you suspect that she behaves unprofessionally in other meetings. Everyone can have a bad day, everyone makes mistakes. It seems unnecessary harsh to keep bringing up this incident again.

  58. Delphine*

    LW, I think it’s reasonable for you to wonder if there are underlying issues that need to be addressed here. If I saw an employee using an expression that could be seen as contemptuous, I would worry too. But I also think you’ve already taken the best possible action. You spoke with her immediately and reaffirmed that you respect her and would like her to tell you if she’s frustrated with you or with her work. It’s a fantastic response. Beyond that, Jane’s contempt is a “her” problem. As shitty as it feels to be on the end of that kind of behavior–and it does feel shitty because it can hurt your feelings and make you question/mistrust the (positive professional) relationship you thought you had with an employee–don’t let it get to you.

    1. Name, check*

      LW here. Thanks, Delphine! I appreciate your comment and encouragement. It was really jarring in the moment and did hurt my feelings. In the end, I didn’t bring it up with Jane again and I think that was the right choice.

  59. e271828*

    But *was* the meeting time-wasting garbage? Is it possible that Jane, in her unguarded, accidental candor, is right?

    1. MuseumChick*

      That’s what I’m wondering too. There are just so many possibilities here ranging from Jane is actually having a bad attitude behind the scenes, to she was just having a one-off bad day, to she is actually right. I mean how many times has everyone held it together during a meeting and then job and vented to a coworker about that meeting, “It totally could have been an email.”, “Jon asked for the 1,000th time where on the drive we keep the Llama grooming instructions. I have sent it the file path like six-time!”, “You will not believe what Sansa suggested.” etc. I think it’s worth the OP to reflect on if Jane has a legitimate reason to be frustrated with what was being said in that meeting. That answer could be no, but it could also be yes.

    2. Name, check*

      LW here. If Jane was feeling this way, she shouldn’t have called the meeting! This was a meeting Jane requested, scheduled, and led. In the end, Jane retired and shared she just didn’t have the same excitement about work.

  60. Who the eff is Hank?*

    This reminds me of the time my manager yelled, “For fuck’s sake!” on a conference call when she didn’t realize she wasn’t muted. She promptly muted her phone and then chewed me out for not telling her she wasn’t muted (I couldn’t see her phone from where I was sitting so I didn’t realize).

  61. This is a name, I guess*

    Sometimes people are just expressive!

    I’m Italian American. I’m outgoing and talkative. I’m fidgety. I have ADHD. For these reasons and others, I’m just very expressive and use a lot of body language. I also have incredibly expressive eyes and they move around a lot. Apparently, my eyes move around a lot and people think it’s an eyeroll. It really isn’t. I’ve been pulled aside by faculty in my grad program for rolling my eyes in class. I was flabbergasted because I never felt eyerolly in class.

    As an expressive person who has ADHD, it takes so much energy to control my body language and face at work and in public. I probably get more eyerolly and expressive after I’ve had to hold it in for so long. As you can imagine, dating was horrible because I always had to control my behavior aggressively.

  62. hbc*

    This is only useful if you have a time machine, but I think it would have been better to address the feedback she gave (no matter that it was non-ideally delivered) rather than indirectly scold her for how she unintentionally delivered it. I’ve used something like “You’re saying yes, but I’m getting from your body language that there’s something you don’t like about this.”

    It serves the same notice that they [are on camera/dropped their poker face/sent a mixed message] but also shows you care more about getting their true opinion than getting them to act nice. With most people, they’ll feel more confidant in voicing their opinion and not need to vent through eye rolls. Some will work better at hiding it, and you just need to trust that you can address any business impact of hidden negativity when you see a business impact. And digging further after one bad meeting is a great way to get people to clam up and roll their eyes.

    1. Name, check*

      LW here. I wish I would’ve done this in the meeting! I had like two seconds to think about what in the world I was going to do. I knew I didn’t want Jane to embarrass herself any further so quickly went with the first thing I could think of. This would’ve been better though! Thanks for the advice.

  63. moonstone*

    I would be SO embarrassed if I were Jane.

    But as for the OP, there isn’t much to do other than just make sure you are leaving channels for communication open with Jane, and having a frank discussion about how she is feeling about her work, and take her word for it going forward. If there are other performance-related issues, address them as needed.

    However, while I normally like to respect letter writers’ interpretation of things, I just want to put out there that in my experience, most people are VERY bad at reading nonverbal facial expressions and body language, and sometimes there is a lot of bias that goes into the interpretations. A lot of people read negativity into neutral expressions and mannerisms, especially for POC. Also, what people perceive as eye rolling is a common tic for some people with ADHD, autism, or Tourette’s. Not armchair diagnosing, just putting out there that eye rolling or not making eye contact aren’t always as negative as people make them out to be.

    It does seem like Jane is someone who is usually self aware and behaves civilly, so I would just continue as normal. I suspect that she won’t forget this and learned her lesson about double checking her video camera going forward.

  64. LormundFL*

    I was once talking during a meeting and I caught a coworker, who I thought was a good friend, looking at someone else, heavily rolling his eyes at me cause he thought I was saying something dumb. As it turned out he was misinterpreting what I was saying. I never confronted him, but I never trusted him again. Maybe I am overly sensitive, but I was so deeply hurt we never had the same relationship after that. I just wanted to bring this up to many people here who seems to think the OP is making too big of a deal about it and that people are entitled to their facial expressions.

    1. Amber Rose*

      How very passive aggressive of you. It’s one thing to feel hurt, and another one completely to hold onto your hurt like it’s a life raft and let it completely destroy a relationship without even addressing the issue.

      1. LormundFL*

        It wasn’t passive aggressive at all, it merely opened to my eyes and I learned about of a lot of shit talking he was doing behind my back. He really wasn’t my friend at all. Really, if anyone was passive here, it was the eye roller who wanted to make faces behind my back instead of speaking up and talking to me directly. I only worked there for a couple of months after the incident.

        1. Amber Rose*

          I’m not saying he was in the right, but that doesn’t excuse you from just doing nothing and seething quietly.

          1. Tali*

            What a weird and rude response. Body language is a completely valid form of communication and here it communicated the truth and opposite of verbal communication.

            Why is Lormund obligated to confront someone who was openly disrespectful of them? Why must Lormund trust and maintain a relationship with someone who hurts and betrays them?

            What a weird commenter story to pick on.

            1. moonstone*

              Yep. And people aren’t morally obligated to maintain friendships for any reason, especially if they actually receive concrete information that their friend doesn’t respect them.

          2. bowl of petunias*

            Confrontation isn’t always the right way to go. Especially at work. People are entitled to change how they feel about someone based on new evidence, and withdrawing personally while maintaining a functional working relationship sounds totally appropriate to me.

  65. Pumpkin215*

    This seems like making a mountain out of a molehill. The LW talked to Jane, she apologized, it is a non-issue.

    I love my job, my company and my boss. I am very happy in this role. That being said, you wouldn’t believe the things I do off camera.

    Eye rolling? Check. Pet the cat? Check. Look at the weather? Check. Give the cat kisses? Check. Read AAM? Check. More kitty kisses? Check. If I am not the presenter or trainer, then I’m probably multitasking. It doesn’t mean I am not listening or frustrated. It means I’m human.

  66. Name, check*

    This is the LW. I noticed a few “this could’ve been an email” comments and I wanted to quick share that Jane was leading the project (we follow the MOCHA framework from Managing to Change the World – she was the O, I was the M and an A, Liz was an H) and the meeting – she scheduled it, led it, and created the agenda we were following.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Now that’s just funny. Sorry.

      She probably really was just having a bad day! Lord knows that was me yesterday. I invited like 8 people, wrote an agenda, created flow charts… and I was still being a little shit with my camera and mic off, making faces and waving my middle finger around. It was an important meeting and ultimately a productive one, I was just having a dreadful morning by the time we met and everything was setting me off.

      As a side note, your MOCHA sounds like our RACI with one more step. It’s amazing to me how many different acronyms there can be for the same general thing. I’m also a little envious since mocha flavor is way less awkward than calling everything racy. :D

    2. Vax’ildan is my disaster bicon*

      I feel for you trying to figure this out! It can be really unsettling to get the impression that someone is secretly frustrated with you. At the same time, I wonder if there’s really anything that someone in Jane’s position *can* say to assuage those worries! At this point, it seems reasonable to pay attention to her engagement and make sure there are avenues for everyone to give direct feedback; I doubt further conversation with Jane about this specific instance will be helpful to either of you. Hopefully Jane really was just having a moment of frustration and things will otherwise continue to function smoothly!

    3. MuseumChick*

      Thank you for supplying more details. There are still so many things this could be from Jane simply having a bad day to her having frustrations with her job that for whatever reason she doesn’t feel comfortable sharing with you. I had wonderful coworkers and managers at my old job, I valued and respected all of them, loved working with them. But, there were still days where I got frustrated with each of them and I am sure there were days when they were frustrated with me. It’s a very normal part of working with people. I think it’s still useful for you to carefully reflect on 1) Are there reasons Jane might be frustrated with this project/her job? (this is normal to a degree, we all get frustrated with our jobs!) 2) How have you responded if/when Jane has expressed disagreement with you/how the organization is handling something? The answer could be 1) No 2) Perfectly. But you might also find yourself considering something you hadn’t noticed or thought of before.

  67. Sassafras*

    to all the comments blaming the employee…… clearly there are issues that Jane is dealing with in the workplace. Alyson hit the nail on the head. oP needs to look at the culture and instead of interrogating Jane, look to see what the issues there may be going on. For too long employers want to blame the employees and that is the reason no one gives honest feedback.

  68. Angie*

    LW: what’s your end game here? Obviously what Jane did was unprofessional….as she’s acknowledged. And you’re right, something was/is probably wrong.

    But I think it matters what you intend to do with that information. If she’s frustrated at you/a coworker/both, if she’s burnt out, if she’s unhappy…what does that mean? Will she get in trouble with you, or do you genuinely care about her mental health and happiness at her job? You could mean well – and I hope you do – but plenty of times this could end poorly for the employee. It sounds like she’s trying to bury it because she doesn’t want you to know she’s unhappy. Would things end well for her if she was honest?

  69. Mack*

    My boyfriend is actually hilariously dramatic when he thinks nobody can see him, I’ve walked in on him making all sorts of gestures and faces between meetings or on meetings with his camera off. Full body shrugs, waving his arms around, etc. He’s never really that upset, he’s just very very expressive! So I would be inclined to give this employee the benefit of the doubt.

  70. I Fought the Law*

    I had a toxic boss who would berate me into admitting things that I “hated” about my job, when in fact I loved my job and the only thing I actually hated was her behavior. It wasn’t enough for me to come to work and have a good attitude, she literally thought I owed her my happiness about the job, the city we lived in, etc. and somehow convinced herself that I just wasn’t happy enough to meet her standards and she was determined to find out why. She also was not a person who actually CARED about my happiness; she just believed it was owed to her in return for giving me a job. It was so messed up.

    OP please do not put pressure in Jane because of this. Most likely, she’s telling you the truth and had an off day, or the meeting just ran on too long and she was frustrated. I would follow Alison’s advice re: self examination and then be done with it.

  71. Name, check*

    LW here with more updates! Thank you all for the comments and suggestions! I contemplated so many different actions and approaches for how to move forward and had many of the conflicting ideas outlined in the comments about the best course of action. In the end, I decided not to bring it up directly with Jane again. We have a really great culture, Jane had many ideas we’d implemented in the past, we’re always respectful (and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to address the situation swiftly and directly during our 1:1 to make sure to uphold our respectful culture), and I tend to lean too far in the direction of “how can I make your job better despite my own peril” as a manager, so I’m confident Jane was not fearful that her feedback or ideas would be ignored.

    A few responses to common inquiries: I agree that a one-off “forgot my camera was on” eye-roll would not be cause for concern, however, I can’t express enough how obvious and over-the-top this was. A serious medical emergency did cross my mind! I was really thrown off by the situation and Liz seemed to be frozen in discomfort for a few minutes after. It was very overt. Prior to this experience, I was a former secret, zoom meeting eye-roller myself and get how natural and harmless is it when done privately. However, this experience illuminated for me not only the risks of the eye-roll to myself but also the embarrassment it can cause others. I was really embarrassed when Jane rolled her eyes at me and, of course Jane doesn’t have to make me feel warm and fuzzy in meetings, but treating each other with mutual respect in professional meetings is a reasonable expectation and prevents us from inadvertently hurting others, including our managers.

    I do not expect people to constantly look like they love their jobs, but this was disrespectful meeting behavior and it was in fact part of the meeting, even though Jane didn’t intend for it to be. By writing in to AAM, I was trying to figure out the following: 1) Is this a cause for concern? It was really jarring to see such a negative reaction from Jane who had previously shared, unprompted, how much she loved the job, the team, and even the project we were working on; and 2) If Jane isn’t loving this job/project, like I’d thought, what else might I be misreading and need to investigate further, and how should I go about that now?

    The meeting in question was regarding a project Jane was leading so she requested and scheduled the meeting in addition to creating the agenda and leading it. So this was not a case of her being annoyed that the meeting should’ve been an email.

    This happened several weeks ago and now… Jane has retired. She joined us mid-pandemic after being mostly forced to retire (her description) from a job where she spent most of her career. She was excellent for awhile! But after the eye-roll I started following up more closely with her team and the business partnerships she oversaw and found that her work was slipping a little. Her team reported that she was occasionally cancelling meetings on short-notice with little explanation and progress on some of the business partnerships she oversaw was lagging. When I explored these observations with her, she indicated that she’d really lost all of her motivation to work. She said she was so bored during the main part of pandemic being couped up at home she needed to work and loved the job for awhile, but now that things were opening up, she wanted to travel more and enjoy the freedom of retirement. She said she just couldn’t muster the same excitement about work. She left very quickly after that on great terms.

    I do think the eye-roll was an indicator of budding disengagement. I’m glad I addressed it with her directly once and investigated my concerns without bringing it up with Jane directly again.

    1. Littorally*

      Interesting — thank you for the update! I appreciate your willingness to continue sharing here, LW. You sound like a great, engaged boss :)

    2. TreeFrogEditor*

      Thank you for this update! All’s well that ends well, I guess!

      I think this is one of those letters that became a bit of a Rorschach test/jumping off point for the comment section to talk about related issues re: body language, privacy, reasonable expectations regarding lapses in tech use, etc.

      It’s interesting that, in the end, both you and Jane were kind of “right”! Jane was “right” in that, during your 1:1, it was her prerogative to keep her inner feelings to herself and reassert her professionalism. You were “right” to flag this situation, follow up on it, and use it as an opportunity to reflect and reassess — and, in the end, you were right in interpreting this incident as a potential signal of Jane’s waning interest.

      To echo others: You seem like a truly wonderful colleague and manager.

  72. Leila*

    I have seen people roll their eyes, grimace and audibly groan before in in-person meetings and it’s never an issue because you just don’t laser focus on individual people IRL the way you do over zoom. That’s why the “CAMERAS ON, EVERYBODY!” approach to meetings drives me crazy. It doesn’t replicate the experience of an in person meeting, it just puts you in a tiny, extreme close-up box that lights up whenever you speak, sneeze, clear your throat, or breathe. Carrying yourself appropriately in this scenario feels like putting on a super over the top performance without knowing for sure who is or isn’t looking right at you. It isn’t awful in small doses but plop a couple of these back-to-back (like most micro-managed, meeting addicted workplaces do) and you feel drained real quick. Sometimes I’m so drained just from holding a perky and polished facial expression for a full hour that I have to audibly yelp or cry as soon as I’m certain I’ve left the meeting.

    Anyway, in response to the OP, the employee isn’t the problem here. Expecting people to broadcast their faces 24-7 like daytime TV during “work” and expecting them to look happy about it is.

    1. Leila*

      I read through more comments and see that the OP provided some updates to suggest that the eye roll was more than just zoom fatigue. But I’m leaving my comment so the world can know how I REALLY feel about zoom meetings

      Also, I’m not in the same season of life as Jane, but I feel like a lot of us are beginning to feel disengaged at work (myself included!) and really don’t know what the answer is :(

  73. ThisIshRightHere*

    Seems the LW has already decided what must have motivated Jane’s one-off reaction, such that any explanation from Jane besides “you’re right. I hate you/this job/this project/everything about this place,” will be deemed false. But even if she does admit LW’s hunch is true, so what? People who hate their jobs function perfectly well on a daily basis. I just feel like pursuing this further is not actually going to lead to any kind of solution. Aside from doing all you can create a good working environment, it’s best to trust Jane to manage her own feelings (and facial expressions) and let this go.

  74. LPUK*

    I headdesked in front of a difficult client once. Not my finest hour. They didn’t
    Say anything, but the next time a project came up, I passed it to one of my colleagues

  75. Workfromhome*

    I often make excuses (which are not unreasonable as others do the same) that I have turned my camera off due to people in that background (my home office is by my laundry room) just to avoid this. If I know the conversation is one that will make it impossible to keep a straight face (like when we rehash the same topic for the 4th time in the same day over 4 different meetings) .
    Its really not reasonable to expect someone to supress every possible twitch especially when you are on your 5th hour of zoom meetings in a day. The last two years have created more reasons to be irritated than ever before.

    If she explained herself and has a good track record then let it go. Digging more will only make someone whos visibly irritated more irritated. Virtual meetings should not be held to the same standard as in person ones.

  76. Mamabear*

    TL;DR the comments. Just want to say, cut her some slack! After 2 years of COVID, we’re all sick of EVERYTHING! She didn’t realize her camera was on. You were essentially invading her personal space, her home. She’s perfectly entitled to roll her eyes in her own freaking home! Move on, and forget this ever happened. It’s no different than a fart. These things happen, we say excuse me, and forgot it.

Comments are closed.