my employee is missing too much work, but always has reasons

A reader writes:

I have an employee who always has something happen that prevents him from coming to work on time or at all at least once per week. He will text me that morning and say, “My dog was sick all night and we need to take him to the vet” (both he and the wife are going, which to me is so odd) or “My wife is ill and I need to stay with her.” It’s always something. This has been incredibly frustrating and it happens so often that I don’t really believe him, but who can argue with someone that says those things? I don’t know how to handle this.

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My employee uses odd, repetitive jargon
  • Candidates get snippy when I won’t take their calls before they apply
  • Job candidates who claim to know Word and Excel but don’t

{ 380 comments… read them below }

  1. Antilles*

    For #1, I’m assuming these questions were pre-pandemic since neither the OP nor Alison mention anything about in-person versus remote versus hybrid.
    If the role allows for it and the employee is otherwise fine except for having minor stuff once a week, that could be a pretty simple solution for addressing his once-weekly thing that comes up.

    1. Sorry older mom*

      No, I think there is still an expectation at a lot of jobs to get to the office.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yup. As a receptionist (and as a Brit working in the public sector) with six months of sick leave at full pay it’s faintly absurd to think about working from home on a regular basis. I get this is a largely office-based site with a corresponding clientèle, but 70% of the workforce still works jobs that can’t be done remotely.

          Still, at least when I leave work or take a day off sick, I /can’t/ be contacted at home or be forced to check emails. I do now have a work phone with Teams to let people know I’ll be back tomorrow (we have to call in sick rather than just text), but I have that luxury.

    2. Fluffy Fish*

      It is a reasonable expectation that an employee will not need time off every single week (barring ada related things of course). There is zero reason to accommodate it.

      1. KayDeeAye*

        Yes, pre-pandemic or not, the point seems to be that the employee is asking for *time off*, not to work from home. It is unreasonable to make such requests this often. Presumably you could work from home while tending to your sick wife (though really, now often does a grown adult need someone to stay with them? Sometimes, maybe, but surely not very often), but you can’t work from home while taking your dog to the vet.

        1. Antilles*

          I guess the question is whether the working-from-home employee would actually *need* to take time off if you’re at home for it.
          You might not be able to work from home at the time the dog is at the vet, but it’s also something where there could be flexibility to take the dog in the morning and WFH in the afternoon or maybe you’re only needed for drop off/pick up so you can take a couple short breaks rather than the entire day or etc.
          Or taking care of a sick family member – if you’re WFH, you can be available to drive them to the pharmacy or cook some soup or whatever, then get right back to it.
          Of course it really depends on the situation, the role of the employee, how much you can trust him to work well effectively, etc – but I do think there’s value in at least thinking through whether this could be something solvable with simply giving a bit more flexibility.

          1. tessa*

            Perhaps, but it sounds to me that it’s more likely the job isn’t suited for someone who needs such extensive flexibility, especially if the job is full time.

          2. GythaOgden*

            There was a similar thread I was reading a while back about someone taking a sick day always on a Monday but always giving a different reason that could have happened at any other time in the week. I know my sick days for migraines, colds etc have fallen on the days I’m due to go back to work (e.g. Mondays, days after Bank Holidays and after AL) because when I let go for a few days my body often catches up on its issues. However, that’s not policed so strictly if it’s really not /every/ weekend or every BH. And because I am in a role that requires coverage and had extensive leaves over the past few years, I feel it is important for me not to take the mick. Crap happens but it shouldn’t be happening so often it becomes obvious.

            At some point you do have to move from ‘well, 20% of sick days happen on Mondays’ to ‘Janet is out sick every single Monday…what’s up?’

            More cynically, my husband’s office had a guy (a B2B aircon engineer, so someone on call to fix issues at client sites) whose sicknesses always coincided with a particular football team’s games. As you know we in the UK get generous annual leave, and so the guy who is always out sick on what becomes a predictable schedule is investigated. They’re double-dipping on leave and inconveniencing colleagues and clients for which they’re being paid, all for football games.

            I have had long tern sickness in the past — once for pandemic panic attacks and I broke my ankle this time last year. My husband died in 2019 and I took bereavement leave for a few weeks before I realised that I was just bored at home and going back to work actually helped lessened the feeling of emptiness. My organisation is generous with sick time because to be frank the pay itself is abysmal. But people shouldn’t be surprised that if their absences become predictable, the pattern gets looked into and measures taken to counsel them or discuss their issues directly. I was lucky to have a boss that understood anxiety firsthand, and two obvious situations that necessitated a short stay at home. The broken ankle happened on a Wednesday, so it wasn’t coincidentally part of getting a long weekend.

            In principle, yes, people shouldn’t get the side eye for absences. The US needs to get its act together in terms of working culture and adequate leave policies. But there are practical reasons why constant sick days are a problem for employers and other employees, so tbh I would say that OP needs help to deal with this situation.

            1. GythaOgden*

              Long TERM sickness. I know my husband was into birds, so I’m really intrigued as to what a ‘long tern’ looks like and how it gets sick.

              1. Pamela*

                When people can’t make a counter argument, they always go after typos and grammatical errors. Like you. Grow up.

                1. KayDeeAye*

                  Yes, Gytha is allowed to make fun of her own typo. Particularly when it’s a funny one! I hate making typos, but what I always say is, if I’m going to make one, I at least hope it’s funny.

        2. Cat Tree*

          Yes, I know Antilles means well, but that kind of suggestion reinforces the notion that working from is basically a lite version of taking time off. Wfh certainly can make sense for a lot of circumstances but it’s not a blanket method to address someone who requests time off every week.

          1. GythaOgden*

            And it’s also unfair to those of us who can’t work from home, reinforcing a certain class system that I’ve felt antsy about for a couple of years now based on those who can and those who can’t.

      2. This sounds familiar. . .*

        Exactly. This should go beyond any reasonable person’s expectations. Believe it or not, I have worked with two people in my career who were like this. On the one occasion (the more recent) I think this person simply didn’t want to work and was investing a lot of time and energy in excuses to not do so. My attitude is, I would rather just work-but it worked for this person. I could write a book of the excuses they were so bad, this person didn’t even care if the excuses were credible. On several occasions this person couldn’t work due to an extended power outage (think days, not hours) when we lived in a major metro area (and no one else had this problem) and you could check outages on a map with the provider right down to the household. On two or three occasions this person went to a bar and was “slipped something in her drink.” We also noticed that any time this persons counterpart was on vacation or had a day off, this person was “sick” or had some sort of emergency. In my opinion (I wasn’t the person’s supervisor) it went on for entirely too long. But I think there were several years where this person never worked a full week. The pandemic was a total gift horse for this person, I think they were out on extended quarantine four times. A new boss came in and this person was let go shortly after. But I think the OP should really consider what this does to their credibility as a supervisor. It can really create resentment among the staff.

        1. kmd*

          I worked with someone like this, and it definitely created resentment with the rest of the team. He came in late, left early, took long lunches, and sometimes just “disappeared” throughout the day. We thought he was in a meeting on another floor. Finally found out he was out drinking in his car. The “in late” mornings were the result of hangovers from the night before. Then one day he just didn’t show up at all. We were all worried that he was in a car accident, there was a massive one reported on the news. Turns out he was in jail for DUI.

          1. BossSkip*

            This was one of my employees too. We never saw her drinking on the job but did find out after she was let go that she struggled with alcoholism. When I read OPs post it made me think of this former employee so much. I hope this isn’t the case but there are a lot of red flags there.

            1. GythaOgden*

              I got let go for this kind of thing before I got diagnosed with Aspergers. It was like ‘you have issues and we understand them…but we have a job that needs done.’ You can be totally considerate as an employer but recognise that the person needs to take the issues elsewhere.

      3. JamminOnMyPlanner*

        I vented elsewhere on the thread about my coworkers who miss work all the time (they each miss at least once a week, usually more) and I have to pick up the slack, but everyone is telling me it’s my boss’s fault for not hiring more people.

        I really don’t think it’s fair to expect your employees to miss one day per week, though…. Not if they’re being paid full-time benefits.

        1. Lego Leia*

          You need to be staffed enough that the occassional emergency doesn’t derail the company. However, someone consistently only doing 3/4 of the job that they are paid for is a separate issue.

    3. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      They are absolutely pre-pandemic. The paragraph with the link includes “…I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago…”.

    4. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I’m curious how their PTO works. If i don’t come in for a day, I’d have to use leave. Seems like in most places, the person would run out of leave.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        My job lets me go into the negative, which people generally understand should only use for extraordinary circumstances but could absolutely be abused – we aren’t terribly strict about PTO. If there’s a similar culture here the employee could potentially not know he’s overdoing it, and the manager may have never had to correct for it before. Expectations definitely need to be set.

      2. Meow*

        My company has unlimited PTO and this is a common thing we see (I work in HR). Although “unlimited” our PTO does still require pre-approval when possible and we still do limit it if it’s starting to impact an individual’s ability to do their job. The nature of the work is very deadline focused so if you’re taking so much time off you’re not meeting deadlines then we have to address it but managers sometimes feel bad because technically there is no time limit. Not sure if that’s the case in this letter but just giving an example from my own experience.

      3. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        We have a LOT of leave and I know of people who run out of sick days and find themselves unpaid for a day or two.

        At my workplace, an appointment such as taking the dog to the vet could only be covered by vacation or banked overtime…or you make good on your promise to make up the time. We get three days for a household emergency but that’s for things like “my kitchen is flooded!” or” My septic tank has major issues!” The dog to the vet would not qualify.

          1. GythaOgden*

            My husband actually had the foresight to die on Saturday morning; I’d taken days as special leave for an urgent hospital appointment where he needed company, and (long after his death) a funeral for a great aunt after I’d used up all my annual leave. My colleague has gone for dental treatment even on days she’s been covering for me. It would probably be NBD if I had a pet that needed medical attention.

            But doing it to the point of exploiting a system may, yeah, end up with people not being as sympathetic as they should be to genuine emergencies. It’s a case of …if your dog might need life-saving treatment at some point (or your husband is ill and needs to go to A&E), don’t abuse those as reasons just to throw a sickie.

      4. A*

        Ya I wonder about that as well. At my employer we have a set amount of PTO, but unlimited sick time so the individuals we’ve run into this issue with (which is rare, but has happened) has always been in the form of them calling in ‘sick’ 1x/week etc. but were unable to produce any kind of documentation/justification requiring ADA accommodations.

    5. Sharon*

      Are the absences impacting the workplace, or just driving you crazy?

      If a job requires coverage at certain times, or a certain amount of attention/output per week, and your employee isn’t meeting those core job requirements, there are three options: (1) employee changes their life to make work more of a priority, (2) you change the job to be more accommodating of their life, or (3) they need to seek a different sort of job where frequent absences aren’t disruptive. Sometimes (2) just isn’t possible, and at the end of the day you need a person who can fulfill the core job requirements, including showing up.

    6. Julie*

      Demonstrated reliability is a criterion for remote work, which this employee has failed to meet.

  2. Garrett*

    For #3, maybe it’s good these people are snippy so you can weed them out. This says a lot about them. Part of me wishes you could respond with “Thank you for your last email. Due to the antagonistic nature of it, we have removed you from consideration for this position. Good luck!”

    1. mreasy*

      That is precisely what I do, as I get hit up on LinkedIn a LOT. Most of the time folks accept that they need to use the application process once I tell them that, but if they get aggravated and disrespectful, I alert the recruiter who removes them from consideration. Easy peasy. If they have one simple question? They can ask it in a message and I’ll answer if I can. By no means will I get on the phone with a candidate before the process.

      1. irene adler*

        Not disagreeing with your methods one bit.
        I do know, however, there is job hunting “advice” out there that encourages one to hit up anyone** they can find with questions about the position as ways to:
        – “stand out” from the rest of the applicants
        -learn more about the position itself so as to better tailor the cover letter/resume
        -get their name in front of the folks involved with the hiring a few more times

        I get this “advice” a lot from folks who claim they know how to get a job. I’m betting this practice is just plain annoying to those I might reach out to- the LAST thing I would ever want to be to anyone, let alone those involved with hiring.

        Gotta file this one under “gumption”.

        **anyone = the HR person who posted the job, or those on LI who might appear to be the hiring manager

    2. Stella70*

      I once dated a guy who loved the word “atypical”. Loved it so much, he used it when it was the correct word and he also used it when he meant “typical”. He didn’t use it every third sentence, but definitely every conversation. Like the humane human I am, I tried to ignore it, until one day I burst out, “TYPICAL. YOU MEAN TYPICAL!!”, and then sobbed tears of exhaustion and relief.
      We didn’t last long after that.

      1. Mr. Shark*

        Aha, I can imagine me doing the same thing. It sounds like a Seinfeld episode (maybe it was?)

      2. rosyglasses*

        I file that under the same type of folks that use “irregardless”… it’s not a THING! It’s just “regardless”!

          1. allathian*

            Language changes, and dictionaries are descriptive rather than prescriptive. English also lacks a central “correct language authority” that could issue prescriptive advice. When a word or phrase has been in circulation long enough, it gets into the dictionaries. “Irregardless” has been in use for at least 200 years, but it’s not considered standard usage. The first syllable is used for emphasis rather than as a negation, as in words like irrational/not rational, irreconcilable/not reconcilable. There are a few other words that are similar to irregardless, such as “irrelentless”, that is relentless, but they’re much less commonly used.

  3. What's in a name?*

    I know excel has some depth to it, but what is excellent skill with Word? I am guessing since I am asking, I don’t have it.

      1. nobadcats*

        Or get to another page without hitting “return” a thousand times. Make and edit tables, bulleted/numbered list, change margins, format paras, insert images, change fonts/sizes, know the diff between smart and straight quotes, when to use tabs or indents, oh and know how to use track changes (review)… That’s just a start. I’m thinking of all the things I’ve done this morning alone reviewing “edited” manuscripts in Word. My day, every day, along with PDF mark ups.

        Word has a skill level, and I know when someone doesn’t know what they’re doing. Just as someone else can tell I only have a rudimentary skill level in Excel. Also, I will immediately slate someone who has no knowledge of Acrobat. I don’t have time for to bring you up to par in one of the basic tools of our trade. Can’t do Acrobat markup? Okay, have a nice day!

        1. As per Elaine*

          Might also include using formatting to automatically populate tables of contents, experience using/managing templates, perhaps familiarity with envelope or other non-standard printing, maybe mail merge.

          1. Koalafied*

            Also pagination (including things like , 2, 3, 4… then i, ii, iii for index pages at the end), using header/footer (including making page 1 have different header/footer than the other pages), changing paper size and orientation, keyboard macros, special character map, custom autocorrect/autoformat patterns… there’s a whole mess of functionality that most people will never or rarely use but can be particularly useful in some particular jobs. For instance, on the odd occasion I need to print hard copies of a data table, I always use 11×17 or 8.5×14 in landscape orientation to ensure that all the columns can be visible on one sheet of paper without squishing it all into an 8.5″ maximum width including margins.

            1. Philosophia*

              Tables of contents (and tables of authorities) at the beginning take romanette page numbers; endnotes, bibliographies, and index pages continue the pagination from the text. But the principle is the same.

        2. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

          Styles! Can they use Styles? I was pretty good at formatting and very late to understand and use Styles. Can’t believe it took me so longer to figure that out.

          1. Lexi Lynn*

            I think the problem with both Excel and Word is that many people don’t know what they don’t know. I worked with a number of people who when the joined our group described themselves as “expert Excel users” fairly soon they joined me as “advanced beginners” because all of use were able to learn the ever popular “wait, you can do that????”. You may know index match, but have you ever noticed that subtotal can give you results on a filtered list or any of a billion different formulas? Excel and Word are the type of programs that the less you know the more confident you can be so listing skills needed would help.

            1. L.H. Puttgrass*

              “I’ve been using Word every day for five years—of course I’m an expert!”

              When what they really mean is, “I’ve been using [the parts of] Word [I know, as I know how to use them] every day for five years!”

              1. Splendid Colors*

                The Adobe Illustrator quiz on LinkedIn showed me there are parts of Illustrator I absolutely don’t need to know to create artwork for laser cutting (and I don’t even know if they existed in 2009 when I took graphic design).

            2. Metadata minion*

              Yeah, I think like a lot of people I have a very scattershot knowledge of Office products. There are some fairly advanced formatting things I can do in Word, but mail merge? I did it many years ago once and I’m sure I could look up how to do it again if I needed to, but it just never normally comes up in my job.

            3. linger*

              And it’s fairly easy to end up siloed in a limited range of skills (though the actual range of experience should be predictable from — indeed, should be made explicit in — the CV). I’ve done extensive thesis editing work over several decades, so can use styles, change columns and pagination by section, and build TOCs without a moment’s thought; but I’d have to look up a tutorial to do a merge or run a macro.

        3. L.H. Puttgrass*

          Not so much any more, but sometimes people who were used to typewriters would hit “Return” at the end of every line. Every now and then I’d come across a document written by such a person and…well, it’s a good thing that macros exist.

          We’ve about gotten to the point where most people in the work force have been using computers for their entire professional lives, so this doesn’t happen that much anymore. Thankfully.

      2. Triplestep*

        My husband gives a Word test to candidates and the first thing he checks is how they centered.

      3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        I consider my Word skills to be pretty meh, and even I know how to center.

        I miss my WordPerfect, I find Word annoying (like, why do they decide to change my font in footnotes? Who would do that?)

        1. Philosophia*

          Ditto. Word does that in bulleted/numbered lists too. Microsoft just cannot let go of ITS choice of default font.

        2. AnonPi*

          You and me both. I swore they’d pry my WordPerfect out of my cold dead hands. Then IT went and removed it from everyone’s computer to force everyone to switch to Office :p

            1. mego*

              Me too! I loved the “reveal codes” mode, which I guess explains why I’m now totally attached to LaTeX!

          1. Splendid Colors*

            Same here!

            And then we *ran out of space on the server* in about a week because MS Word’s file format contains so much junk compared to WordPerfect. (This was a large commercial real estate office with at least a dozen administrative assistants.)

        3. Jora Malli*

          Word has some built in auto-formatting that drives me up the wall on a regular basis.

      4. MCMonkeyBean*

        And similarly with page breaks as well. We have a bunch of documents that we roll forward every quarter and part of the process when everything is updated is to go through and make sure the page breaks are in reasonable places (like not in the middle of a table, or in between a header and its relevant paragraph).

        It’s very annoying when I take over a document from someone and see that everywhere they wanted a page break they just hit enter a million times. It means if something is added or removed to the document enough to shift the page breaks you now have crazy amounts of white space everywhere and it is annoying to clean up.

      5. BongoFury*

        I agree 100%, but I’m wondering if they wrote their resume. A lot of resume companies/recruiters “update” someone’s resume to make it more marketable and end up screwing it up. For example I worked with a recruiter that tried to correct my misspelling and changed PERL to PEARL software. Sigh.
        I’m not sure this situation is the same but I wouldn’t take how a resume is formatted to indicate their Word skills.
        Also, Word sucks. Just putting that out there.

    1. Yorick*

      They need people who know how to center text at a minimum! And some positions require knowing how to do slightly more advanced things like mail merge.

      1. soontoberetired*

        there are a lot of people who do embedded micros with word. I wonder if they are looking for people who can do that?

    2. Two Dog Night*

      Tables? Mail merge? Footnotes? Table of contents? I don’t use Word much, but I know it has a ton of features that most people don’t need.

      1. ambyr*

        Mail Merge for sure, and also properly setting styles instead of just formatting individual lines of text, especially if you need to be able to output it into a 508-compliant PDF or import it into InDesign. Understanding how to run find-and-replaces using regular expressions. On a higher level, coding and running macros.

        Word can do a lot of complex things. Mostly people just never learn them.

        1. nobadcats*

          I see you!

          Some might think some of these features are outdated, but they are actually necessary for some job functions. I can still do a mail merge if needed (might need a quick goog to refresh my memory).

          TOCs, tables, footnotes are still very much required in my niche of publishing. We have to prepare our mss for digital to convert to an online platform.

          1. introverted af*

            At my old job I managed sending receipts and acknowledgement letters to our donors. The process when I started was that I would receive a stack of printed receipts in my inbox and create the acknowledgement letters one by one for each receipt.

            Accounting later updated their procedures so that we would digitally look up the gifts processed in the previous week and then create a batch of letters to send and some of the admins for other teams just…kept creating letters one at a time. The report to list the donations automatically spit out a PDF but you could download the Excel file to run a mail merge from. Nobody else even considered mail merge. It drove me batty that some of the folks thought mail merge templates were too much work to maintain – don’t get me wrong, the process was still a bit tedious, and you had to check the final product, but it saved me hours every week.

            1. Birdie*

              As someone who works in fundraising, usually with some responsibility for gift entry and acknowledgement, I’m having a panic attack just thinking about looking up gifts one by one to tedious create each individual acknowledgement. Though, reminds me of my immediate past job, where I swear the goal was to work has hard and inefficiently as possible. When I came on, I was “absolutely not” and started pulling lists in excel and doing mail merges. Amazing how much quicker the acknowledgement process went with just that little change.

              1. Splendid Colors*

                I took a class on MS Access while I worked at the real estate place, and one of the brokers I supported was absolutely thrilled when I made a database of his clients instead of just copying and pasting addresses from old letters.

      2. Just J.*

        @TwoDogNight, Just because Word may have a ton of features you don’t need, doesn’t mean no one does. At my office, we write a lot of reports, and templates, styles, tables, headers, footers, TOC’s, footnotes, embedded images, etc., etc., are all common. I am one of our content /tech writers and I only know how to do half of these things confidently so I’m not messing up formatting of something else in Word. I know too that most of us our content writers know enough Word to be truly dangerous, like me, and make a mess of things that our admin and proofers have to clean up – much to their ultimate frustration.

        1. Two Dog Night*

          I didn’t mean to say no one needed those features, just that most people can get by without them, so it’s easy to think one’s skills are more advanced than they really are. I can handle TOCs and footnotes, but I’m nowhere near expert in Word… but at least I know that.

      3. Lexi Lynn*

        I’d want to check if people were aware of the Special option in Find/Replace. So many people don’t realize that you can replace paragraph or tabs.

        1. coffee*

          I recently discovered the Special option in Find/Replace because you can search for acronyms that way (well, search for strings of capital letters). Saves me a heap of time.

    3. Becky*

      I’m unsure as well about what skills in Word they are talking about–do they just mean NOT having the issues described (like not knowing how to properly center text or how to keep formats consistent?) or do they mean like, programming macros? The first is easy and common, the latter is much more specialized.

      1. mreasy*

        I always assume it’s a medium amount of familiarity. Like you can do sums & filtering in Excel but not necessarily pivot tables (which would be considered “advanced” & I’d assume specified). With Word I’d think, mail merge, header/footer, general formatting, page numbers, but maybe not macros or anything too customized. I’d think someone looking for something really out of the ordinary would specify, but maybe not.

        1. The Tin Man*

          And this is where people’s expectations can vary wildly, because I would put the basics of pivot tables on the lighter side of “Intermediate” Excel knowledge. The other day I taught someone basics of pivot tables in the same 1 hour discussion where I taught them about using any kind of function (SUM and SUMIFS, in particular).

          This ad hoc training session came about because I asked her for some data and she sent me a table in Word that had values added up manually because she knew Word but had never used Excel beyond arranging stuff in a grid.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            ” I asked her for some data and she sent me a table in Word that had values added up manually because she knew Word but had never used Excel beyond arranging stuff in a grid ”

            I can’t tell you then number of times I’ve seen people use Word in this way. I’ve started several admin jobs where, going through the predecessors’ files, I’ve found that *everything* is a Word document, including tables of salary bands, etc.

            1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

              I had a grad school instructor once send us out a template he wanted us to use for a 25 page paper … in PowerPoint. (I put my foot down and recreated it in Word. :P )

          2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            And here I am putting pivot tables as a basic skill similar to doing simple formulas (e.g. COUNTIF, COUNT, SUM, MEAN, MEDIAN). It really does depend on the nature of the work.

      2. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        There’s the skills portion of it – where to find what you want Word to do – and the proofreading and the visual aspects of it too.

        I hate widow/orphans in a document and ideally, there shouldn’t be any. So, if there’s a short tail of a paragraph hanging on the next page, how would you fix it? Did they fix it? If it’s a one page letter, is it nicely centred in the page? If you have numbers in a list (and didn’t use a table), are they nicely aligned along the decimal or dollar sign (using the right tab or margins set up to do so)? If they did create a table, and the table is longer than one page, did they use a header row so that you’re not guessing which column you’re in?

        It’s all about presentation and the little details too.

    4. FlyingAce*

      My advanced Word courses covered things like creating a table of contents and mail merge. On a more day-to-day basis, I’d say knowing how to format a document properly, perhaps? (set up line spacing, margins, indentation, starting new pages with Ctrl+Enter instead of pressing Enter all the way down…)

      1. Birdie*

        I once worked in an office where our head of [healthcare specialty] programming apparently never heard of the enter key. When she reached the end of a paragraph, rather than hit enter to start a new one, she’d just hit the space bar until the cursor appeared on a new line.

        As you can imagine, the first time I did edits (to conform to the style guide, as this was a document going to the Board) everything immediately went absolutely crazy. Turned on the formatting button and…….I wanted to weep.

        I was told not to bother trying to explain using the enter key. Many a person had attempted to enlighten her, and the response was “But this works for me!”

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Ha this reminds me when I was an entry-level admin helping a professor edit one of his documents. He wanted to center a section sub-heading, and he said, “Okay, now hit the spacebar seventeen times” — in all seriousness. I was like, “Don’t tell me to hit the spacebar seventeen times; you just tell me where you want the text to be and I’ll get it there.”

          1. Nanani*

            Hah, I had a similar experience being trained on how to format a specific person’s business correspondence

            I’m a translator and the process involved not only translating the content they want in the email but also like, adjusting it to fit target-language norms
            There is no room for Hit Space X times formatting in languages that don’t share an alphabet or letter conventions.

        2. Jackalope*

          At a job teaching computer basics to people who had never worked with computers before, we’d made it to lessons on basic HTML. My colleague spent forever trying to figure out why a student’s code wasn’t displaying properly, only to discover that instead of quotation marks the student had used two apostrophes. She explained to the student what the problem was, and everyone moved on. Only to have the EXACT SAME PROBLEM the next day with new HTML. The student just couldn’t grasp that the computer didn’t see the two things as the same, since they looked the same to her.

    5. Lyudie*

      Mail merge, templates, macros…I never knew how much I didn’t know about Word until I started working with a team that has some pretty advanced templates with styles that insert spaces above or below, icons, etc.

    6. Mephyle*

      A couple examples I’ve seen as a person who edits academic papers freelance. The scholars who are my clients have a wide range of Word skills.

      A three-column table made with two Table columns, and the second and third column of the table are created by putting spaces within a single Table column. I mean, there people who don’t know about Tables at all, and create whole tables just with spaces and line breaks, but this writer knew enough to make a table with two columns, yet didn’t extend the skill to its logical conclusion.

      A document where about half the paragraph indents are created with a tab, and the other half with margins. Randomly dispersed throughout the document. I see this a lot.

      1. NeedRain47*

        I wonder if that last bit is something that Word just does if you don’t watch out. I have a medium skill level with Word (in grad school I spent as much time formatting things as I did actually writing them) and it still just does not always do what I’m expecting with margins/indents.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          “I’ll bet you want to indent everything!!!!”
          “No, just that one line. That’s why I used a tab there and not on the next line.”
          “… Nope, you clearly want to shred these margins and indent everything everywhere!”

          (I picture Word using exclamation marks here as it gets overexcited and can’t believe I want one boring style when it could make the margins and font of every line different…)

          1. Emmy Noether*

            Hah! I know exactly what you mean! The auto-formatting Word sometimes does drives me batty, and then I have to choose between spending an inordinate amount of time getting it formatted perfectly or saying “screw it, I’m cheating, I don’t care if there’s an invisible mess if it prints right.”

            (I’m the type of occasional user who knows a lot of functions a little, because I google stuff I need, but I’m not routine enough to know the tricks and idiosyncrasies).

    7. BradC*

      This is a good question and underlines the point that “excellent skills with Word” can mean dramatically different things to different people, or for different kinds of positions.

      To some, it might mean simply the ability to produce nicely-formatted documents, regardless of technique. To others it might mean mastery of styles, outlines, tables, and the ability to maintain sanity while controlling text flow around embedded images.

      To still others it could mean knowing how to do a mail merge mailing from a database of customers, or creating and updating tables of contents, footnotes, headers, and footers for longer, more complex documents.

      That’s not even getting into linked/embedded documents across a shared network, tracking, reviewing, and approving changes by different users of a shared document, macros/VBA, or the dozens of different object types (charts, WordArt, flow chart diagrams, Excel or PowerPoint docs, etc.) that you can embed inside a Word doc.

      All that said, I’m not sure that I would judge someone too harshly for formatting issues in a Word resume; its possible (even likely) that their beautiful resume was horribly mangled by a recruiter before reaching my desk.

      1. What's in a name?*

        Thanks for the great answer!

        To be honest, I have never heard of mail merge before, but I know how to do most other things people have mentioned in this thread. Macros (I have made them in Excel) might take some head down time to figure out.

    8. Peridot*

      Styles, for sure. Working with styles in a way that doesn’t break the document and actually takes advantage of the feature.

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        A thousand times yes to this. So much of my work would be easier if everyone used styles properly.

        Along the same lines: internal cross-references. They’re so easy to use and they avoid so much trouble later on, but almost no one seems to use them. I’d definitely include them in any MS Word proficiency test I made.

        1. Jessica*

          Wow, thanks, LHP! I didn’t know about these, but I just googled it and it looks awesome. this is the next word thing I teach myself.

        2. penny dreadful analyzer*

          I’m a tech editor and I swear like 40% of my editing time goes to sorting out figure and table captions and their in-text cross-references. Our docs always have a bajillion tables and nobody knows how to insert either numbered captions or cross-references (I teach them, but sometimes they forget, since it’s my job to make that part work).

    9. Allonge*

      Styles, sections, templates, mail merge, using autocorrect for good instead of evil… inserting images so they stay where you want them, inserting objects, footnotes and bibliography, review.

      And yes, using tabs (centre and right tabs too!), spacing in general, fixing page numbering when it says you are on page 65 out of 63, and similar.

      1. Foila*

        Whoa now, “inserting images so they stay where you want them” is less of a skill and more of an arcane ritual. Best undertaken during a new moon by the pure of soul.

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          Along the same lines: the “expert” version of my Word skills assessment would be: “Here’s a document with completely messed up numbering. Fix it.”

          I’ve had documents where the only way I was able to get out of outline numbering gone bad was to copy the whole thing into a new document. In plaintext.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I’ve done the same thing — worked so hard to fix the document formatting that I just give up and copy it into a brand new document with no formatting.

            1. Allonge*

              Which brings to mind: pasting with and without formatting! Come on, removing all formatting and applying it from scratch is a perfectly reasonable Word technique, too.

          2. londonedit*

            On the other side of the coin, I edit manuscripts in Word, and the absolute worst thing is when an author wants to show off all their Word skills. Hyperlinks everywhere, internal cross-references, complicated tables, contents lists with links, etc etc. Our typesetters can’t work with any of that (or at the very least there’s the great potential for it to cause issues with the typeset manuscript) so the first thing I have to do is spend forever stripping out all their carefully designed whizzy bells and whistles from the document. Without messing up the footnotes/endnotes etc. I try to impress on them at the beginning the importance of keeping everything as plain and simple as possible, but it doesn’t always work!

    10. Underrated Pear*

      I hope OP is reading this thread – I know it’s not a direct answer to the question you asked, but maybe listing some of the specific functions you need people to perform would help weed out a few candidates. I know most people will probably just go ahead and apply, but… maybe? Or at least it will give you something concrete you can point to. There might be plenty of people who apply in good faith who think “I use Word all the time, I’m very proficient!” but have never used any of the features listed here.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        This is good advice. And if the person is good at self-training and knows how to do four of the five things, they might be able to teach themselves the fifth before a skills test.

    11. This is a name, I guess*

      Oh boy. You would assume Word is simple, and it generally is until people want to use intermediate or advanced functions.

      I deal with government RFPs, which usually have local government-made forms. THEY ARE ALL SO BROKEN. IT IS SO INFURIATING. No one knows how to use Word to make forms, but they sure do try to use advance features, which results in hours upon hours of work trying to unbreak their forms.

    12. rosyglasses*

      I have learned so much in this thread and am sad to say I can no longer say I have excellent skills in Word!

    13. Elysian*

      I think the person in this letter would be better served by giving some examples of the kinds of skills they’re looking for in the job posting. Saying “Advance” or “basic” skills in word means different things to different people! If they say “Intermediate skills in Word, including the use of features like mail merge, making a table of contents, …” then people will be able to gauge better. I use Word every day and am probably more skilled in it than a fair few people but I have no idea what “level” I would say my skills are at.

      1. IHireScienceWriters*

        In my experience, it doesn’t help.

        Candidates will still put their applications in, usually based on the ‘how hard can it be?’ theory.

        The only way to screen them is with a skills test IME.

        And as others have commented, formatting errors on resumes are very often caused by recruitment firms, not the candidates themselves.

    14. Very Social*

      I know enough about Word that I didn’t feel comfortable putting “Word expert” on my resume until I obtained an actual certification that said so.

      And I still don’t know how to do many things I’d like to be able to do.

    15. mego*

      Great question! Those of you who are actually proficient at Word, do you think I could teach myself in, say, a week? A month? A year?

    16. Fart Noise*

      Years ago in undergrad I had a class that required we submitted a disk with our paper (I told you it was years ago), and we were graded on how we used word to format the paper. Tabs, spacing, centering, page breaks, etc. Seemed so over the top then, but we really did learn how to use the program and not just get by.

    1. Chris*

      HAHAHA! I used to have a colleague that would say “relative to outcomes” at least once every 4 sentences. Our organization was big on outcomes, but it did not make sense at least 90% of the time.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        “Per se” is a harmless phrase that causes my eye to twitch thanks to its misuse and abuse by a former colleague. He used it in almost every sentence, but never in a context where it made sense

        1. Longtime listener, first time groomer*

          OMG! I knew someone who habitually used “per se” to mean “as it were”.

    2. what the flip heck*

      Yes, I was just thinking of that sketch! Thank you, Goldenrod.

      Relatedly (sorta), I wish I could take a drink every time Maddow says ‘granular.’

    3. Per se*

      I went to law school with a woman who said “per se” literally every other sentence. It rarely made any sense and just seemed like she was trying to pepper her sentences with Latin to sound smart. We called her “per se” behind her back. That was probably (definitely) mean, but it goes to show that others do notice and it does give the person a reputation! OP would be doing the employee a service to point it out again.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        OMG, if it wasn’t for the gender I would have assumed this was my old coworker. I can’t believe there are 2 per se abusers out there

    4. Sales Geek*

      Using “utilize” instead of “use.” Every middle manager we brought out in front of customers did this and I swear it would be in at least every third sentence (and the PowerPoints used).

      I’ve been out of the business for over five years and this still makes my teeth grind.

      1. allathian*

        Ugh, yes. Just using long words when a shorter one would do even better is one of my pet peeves. I’m a fan of plain language and concise writing. I’m still a bit sad that Lynn Gaertner-Johnston retired a few years ago, her blog Business Writing was one of my favorite corners of the internet.

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

      I ascertained this clip would get visibility in the comments.

      1. Work From Homer Simpson*

        Yes, leverage! I had a more senior guy I worked with who loved the word leverage. He’d drop it in conversations all the time, and he had a habit of editing anything I wrote (proposals or presentations for clients) to sprinkle in a couple leverages, along with some other meaningless jargon. As long as it didn’t change the ability to understand my point, I didn’t argue with him. But the last presentation I worked on with him, I went ahead and dropped in a leverage of my own, knowing by then that it was a spot he’d probably add it anyway. He edited it out! Apparently only he is allowed to leverage the word leverage. *eyeroll*

    6. Gerry Keay*

      “At scale” when there’s literally nothing being scaled is the one that makes my skin itchy.

  4. Aggresuko*

    I’m really curious (and it doesn’t say) if the guy is consistently out say, every Monday, or if his “day off” per week varies from day to day per week.

    We used to have someone who was “sick” every single Monday (or Tuesday if that was the first day of the week) without fail, and every time she went on vacation she’d be out sick for just as long as she’d been vacating. I don’t think anyone could do anything about it, but eventually she quit, presumably for medical retirement.

    1. RainAvoider*

      I used to work with someone who was sick or had car trouble or something every time it rained. Every. Time. We couldn’t necessarily prove it and we had revolving door supervisors so it took something else to finally bring the hammer down.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Ha. We had a person who would take the day off anytime she had any interpersonal conflict with somebody in the office. Sometimes she’d go home immediately after the conflict, but she would always call in sick the following day regardless. It took a little while for everyone to catch on, but she was in enough interpersonal conflicts with various teammates that we became able to predict that she’d call in the next day.

      2. Botanist*

        Hehe. This was before my time, but one of the supervisors here has a great story about an employee who tried to get work off on September 12, 2001, by telling people he had to go pick up his dad from the airport- the day after 9/11, when no planes were flying . . . mostly the supervisor found it hilarious that that was the day that the employee chose that particular excuse.

        1. GythaOgden*

          There’s a British sitcom about a news office targeted by a scammer feeding organisations fake news. The news team spotted the mistake — that an EU meeting in Strasbourg on 14 July is highly improbable. Because it’s Bastille Day and everyone would be on holiday…

      3. Ama*

        I had a boss once who was notorious for being sick any time it rained or snowed. At that employer you just accrued sick time forever and it never expired, so if you had been at the employer for about 5 years or so you had more than you could conceivably use up in a year (I had mono my sixth year there and didn’t even have to worry I’d run out of sick time) — and she’d been there for 25 years.

        Her direct boss was in another building and pretty hands off since she’d been there for so long. The rest of us actually enjoyed when she was out because she was terrible about micromanaging everything if she was in the office, but didn’t ever ask about decisions made when she was sick, so the two senior employees in the department would just wait until she was sick to make minor decisions that would be annoying to run by her (like, I am not kidding, the number of pens we should order for our office supplies).

    2. KHB*

      How were they unable to do anything about somebody taking 52+ sick days a year? That seems odd to me. Was this an unlimited-PTO employer?

      1. Aggresuko*

        I’m not sure, it was a manager so they are held to different well, everything than the likes of peons. I would reasonably assume she ran out of vacation and sick after some point, but she wasn’t in my direct line of work and I have no idea how upper management dealt with it.

    3. Chairman of the Bored*

      About 40% of sick days are taken either the day before or the day after the weekend.

      1. Texan In Exile*

        “What are the odds of getting sick on a Saturday? Like one in a thousand?”

        – Homer Simpson

        1. Clorinda*

          I think it’s a joke!
          Although I just did a quick and dirty Google search and it’s not necessarily true; one source said Wednesday was the sickest day of the week.

          1. GythaOgden*

            Not surprised. It’s called Hump Day in my office because it’s furthest in either direction from the weekend. I keep the evening free myself because I’m tiredest from Monday and Tuesday and Thursday and Friday are downhill all the way. I improved my participation in my D&D game with my geek friends who run two games a week simply by shifting from the Wednesday night group to the Friday night one.

      2. JM60*

        Beyond this math, I would argue that it makes sense that an employee would reasonably take more sick time off on a Monday or Friday. If someone occasionally feels a little under the weather for 3 days, but doesn’t feel that they can take 3 consecutive sick days whenever this happens, it makes sense to take off on whichever of those 3 days lands on a Monday or Friday (unless they happen to feel bad Tue-Thurs). Having consecutive days off probably helps with whatever the problem is.

        Additionally, if someone has scheduled periodical medical treatment that makes them “out of commission” for a few days, it makes sense to schedule the treatment on a Friday or Saturday, then take only Friday or Monday off, so that they minimize the time off of work they need.

        They may also have gotten a minor illness over the weekend that doesn’t make them contagious or unable to work, but they need to see their doctor (who was unavailable until Monday). I was just in this situation after developing TMJ problems over this past weekend, so I went to the dentist as soon as I could on Monday (will see primary care Dr when he returns from vacation next Monday).

        … or someone that takes more than 40% of their sick time on a Monday or Friday might be abusing their sick time. But that’s far from certain.

        1. GythaOgden*

          This is totally what happens to me. I’d imagine that no one really notices unless it’s every week or every return from a holiday.

          The worst instance was norovirus that started Friday night and lasted well into Monday. Not only did I not get a weekend, I also looked like I had a case of the Mondays. Normally the migraine or cold has the dignity to wait until Sunday night.

    4. CheshireGrin*

      Yup, I had a co-worker and a manager like that. Long weekends, “I have (insert issue) today” Fridays, and “Oh, I’m not feeling well” Mondays. But if I need to take time off, yeeesh.

    5. Spencer Hastings*

      It sounds like a big part of the problem was the short notice (that he’d be texting the LW the morning of), so my guess would be that it varied.

    6. Lucy P*

      We had someone a few years back who was repeatedly out almost every Monday, and occasionally some other random day of the week. Spouse got sick, baby got sick, father-in-law set their porch on fire while smoking (my favorite), kid needs to go to the doctor so employee has to take off the entire day, elderly mother needed to go to the doctor. This person had a very large extended family so someone was always getting sick or needed a regular doctor’s visit. Usually I would just get a text at 7:00 am saying, “I won’t be in today…”

      The weird thing was that this person was an hourly employee who had just had their hours restored to a regular 40 hour week (after being reduced to a 24 hour week). They seemed very pleased with getting to work a full week again. Then with every Monday off, they were still only working 32 hours at most.

    7. Falling Diphthong*

      When my son was in middle school his sick days were almost always Fridays, as his immune system reacted to increasing lack of sleep over the course of the week.

      I know he wasn’t faking because I would catch the illness, and so I would be knocked out on Monday.

      If it were just calling in sick for employee’s own illness, that always being on one day could have a boring epidemiological reason.

      1. Ayla*

        When I worked in elementary schools, nearly all sick days seemed to be Fridays. It was the easiest day for a sub to step in, and we often reasons that if we could just tough it out until Friday, we could have three straight days of recovery and be ready for Monday again.

    8. Cheesecake2.0*

      At one point I was the coworker that left early every Friday for feeling sick.
      What happened was that M-Th I worked in the office but on Fridays I worked at different sites. Because of this, I would just get lunch at a restaurant on Fridays since I was at a non-office site. And then I would always feel sick after eating out. Eventually got diagnosed with IBS and changed my eating habits and didn’t have to leave early on Fridays for explosive diarrhea anymore :)

    9. A*

      Agreed, although this has been an ongoing source of anxiety for me throughout my career. I certainly don’t call out EVERY Monday, or even the majority of them…. but I’d say 75% of the time I have to call out sick, it’s on a Monday or Tuesday. I had a manager once who would always respond with ‘does someone have the case of the MoNdAySSSSS’ and made it clear they assumed I was just hung over or something. I repeatedly had to explain that the majority of my socializations occur on the weekend, so that’s my greatest exposure window (especially since that’s when I’m able to meet up with my friends with kids, so I was usually sick with school yard illnesses). If you get sick over the weekend, or are exposed over the weekend…. you’ll most likely be sick Mon/Tues versus Wed/Thurs etc.

      She never did accept it, but luckily never escalated it beyond being obnoxious since on an annual basis I wasn’t out any more than the rest of the team. So frustrating!

  5. KHB*

    Q1: What’s your organization’s PTO policy? If you have a fixed number of PTO days (or a fixed amount of sick time for unscheduled days off), that’s an easy thing to point to for outlining how much missed work is appropriate: You get X days off per year for things like this, and it’s your responsibility to organize your life in such a way that you don’t exceed that.

    If there are extenuating circumstances that make sticking to the PTO limit impossible for him (e.g., if his wife has a medical condition and can’t be left alone when it flares up), then direct him to HR to make an arrangement for FMLA leave.

  6. Scout Finch*

    #1 reminds me of a guy I worked with at Huge Global Paper Company.

    He was always (like at LEAST weekly) late or absent due to being on the volunteer rescue squad in his (small) county. I swear, more people supposedly drowned in that county in one year than the entire rest of the state in 10 years. (His father was friends with the IT VIP director, so he got away with a lot – but was finally RIFed when no one could explain what he actually DID.)

    See also: M*A*S*H: Klinger – half the family dying, the other half pregnant.

      1. Zan Shin*

        That would have been my great-aunt in Albany NY, who most obligingly provided my sister (as a young office worker in NYC in the 1960s) with at least four separate three day bereavement leaves!!!!

      2. mli25*

        Well, between my husband and I, we started our marriage with 7 grandparents/step-grandparents. That is 7 actual deaths that could result in needing to be off work/take bereavement leave. My husband’s grandfather’s died 5 days apart and resulted in us missing work two weeks in a row. There is one step-grandmother left after 14 years of marriage

      3. Jam on Toast*

        Working in higher Ed, I came to the conclusion that the greatest mortality risk for anyone over 65 wasn’t cancer or car accidents or even a global pandemic. No, if you wanted to ensure your life was cut tragically short, just have a grandchild or extended family member enroll in college or university. Some of those poor souls died and were resurrected again and again all in the same term. #EssaysKill

      4. A Library Person*

        I lost two grandparents within a couple of months of each other, but thankfully my supervisor absolutely believed me and we were able to joke about it. She told me she would get suspicious after about five.

      5. Ace in the Hole*

        I have two grandmothers and my wife has three (mom, dad, and stepmom). So between the two of us we will eventually need to go to five grandmother’s funerals.

    1. WulfInTheForest*

      I mean, I literally have 6 grandparents out of 8 still alive (I’m 29). Both sets of my grandparents divorced and then remarried sometime in the 70s and 80s.

      1. ffs*

        Lost my last grandparent a few years ago, but I had some extras thanks to some of them remarrying and my mom remarrying too. I used to lord it over my younger siblings who only had the standard 4 grandparents.

  7. Safely Retired*

    Regarding the resume reflecting a lack of Word skills… while it would be a kindness to the applicant to clue them in, I would instead save my sympathy for all the other people who will get the resume and might get a truer picture from the mistakes than if the applicant got it corrected. Allow those at the hiring end to get a clearer picture of what they would be getting, and NOT getting.

  8. Umiel12*

    LW#2 reminds me of my favorite Kids In The Hall skit. I’m not sure about posting a link to the YouTube video, but if you search for Kids in the Hall – S03E08 – Freedom of Speech (“You use the word ‘ascertain’ too much.”), you’ll find the video. I promise it’s relevant to the letter. I almost wondered if the LW was making it up based on that skit, but I have unfortunately worked with someone just like that.

  9. Agnes A*

    #2 I had a colleague who was using the word “deeply” all the time. English is my second language, so maybe I don’t understand something but it just sounded creepy. I feel that this word is used when you have strong feelings about something. And he used it multiple times a day, saying something like: “I deeply hear you” on our Zoom calls when we discussed a regular agenda.

    1. Purple Cat*

      Nope, you’re not misunderstanding, but that’s creepy.
      Maybe English isn’t his first language either. But you can *feel* deeply, but you can’t *hear* deeply.

    2. Spencer Hastings*

      Funnily enough, my impression is that I most often hear “deeply” these days in the phrases “deeply weird”, “deeply unsettling”, and other negative contexts.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      I can understand that feeling off. I’d agree it’s a bit strong for work. I mean, once in a while sure. But yeah saying that all the time would just make someone come across as very *intense.*

    4. Dust Bunny*

      No, that’s creepy.

      I had one who learned the word “luscious” and would not let it go. I told myself it wasn’t one of the reasons I had to get out of that job but, honestly, it kinda was. For everyone who hates “moist”, “luscious” is So Much Worse.

    5. Little Pig*

      While being recruited for my current job, I was put in touch with a man who couldn’t say enough about the “deep, DEEP mentorship” at the company. While I have stayed on friendly terms with him, I have never taken him up on his offer to mentor me!

    6. Virginia Plain*

      Colleague of mine signs off all emails with “warm regards”. I am sure I am being unreasonable but “warm”…no.

  10. I should really pick a name*

    LW#4, I wouldn’t worry too much about applicants hating hearing “others were more qualified”.
    Being passed over for a job sucks. There’s no magic phrase that will stop people from being disappointed by it.

    1. Virginia Plain*

      Indeed. And to be honest, reinforcing the message that yes, sometimes you try your best but someone else is better, is useful, judging by this column. The less “but WHY didn’t they pick me, I must be the BEST, they’ll regret their HUGE mistake, there must be a secret evil unjust reason they said no”, that goes on, the calmer and happier we’ll all be – on both sides of the conversation.

  11. KHB*

    Q2: I have a coworker who’s in love with the phrase “hold in abeyance.” It’s such an unusual phrase that I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody else use in casual conversation (or even in work conversation), and he uses it ALL the damn time. But he’s not using it incorrectly, and it’s not obscuring his meaning, so I just chalk it up to one of those ways that people are weird.

    1. FisherCat*

      interesting. I use this word semi-regularly (once a month? once every two months?) but maybe its a field specific thing because I think I’m using it only when it makes sense. I work in essentially a regulatory field where “abeyance” has a specific connotation.

      1. KHB*

        We don’t have any field-specific connotations (that I know of). My coworker uses it to mean something like “put (something) aside and get back to it later.”

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I dunno. If “hold in abeyance” means I don’t hear, “Let’s take this offline,” that many times, I’d take it as a kindness.

    3. Anon Supervisor*

      I love “subrogation.” I can never use it outside of my work, and even then I have to explain it.

      I love a lot of legalese…it makes you sound like you know what you’re talking about.

  12. JamminOnMyPlanner*

    I have coworkers who miss work all the time, except their reasons are much better than in the letter. They’re single moms and their kids are sick, their kid’s school is closed, their mom is sick, etc.

    There’s always a good reason, but I’m really burnt out on doing their work for them when they miss! We don’t have the kind of job we can work from home, so whenever they’re out, I end up taking on their work. I know that it’s just something I have to deal with because they have kids and I don’t, but I don’t know how to deal with the frustration.

    1. FisherCat*

      no advice but +1 I am also frustrated by this. I work in a place where there are a LOT of parents of young children. As a result they need/take a lot more sick days and PTO days which I understand but also am irritated by when I have to take their portfolios over for an event with basically no prep time. I have no kids and therefore am expected to always cover everyone.

      1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

        It’s so hard! I just “grin and bear it” but the pressure is really building up and I get so stressed out! Our job is kind of a hybrid of work that has to be done in the office (meeting with clients) and report-writing, which can be done from home. Last week, I had two coworkers out in the same day (one because her mom was sick and one because she’d stayed up all night the night before with her kid).

        We were having bad weather later in the day, and normally I could’ve finished up my own work that had to be done in the office and do the writing from home. Well, I ended up having to do their appointments. By the time I managed to leave, we were in a tornado warning. Turns out there was literally a funnel cloud a few miles away from work. I was driving home in the pouring rain, the sirens blaring, and my phone alarms going off. The storms were only set to get worse, so I didn’t want to just wait it out, either.

        I ended up being fine, but I’m so resentful. I had to risk my health and safety because my coworkers can’t get themselves to work. I try to be understanding, I really do. I know it’s just the nature of being a person without kids, you have to pick up the slack, but it’s just… never-ending extra work for me.

        I am thankful because my boss at least put his foot down on people working from home during unscheduled absences because, in the past, they were getting paid to work on other reports at home with their kids while I did their work in the office. Now they have to take PTO. I feel like I shouldn’t be this vindictive, though… I should’ve been happy my struggling coworkers were making money at home, but I just couldn’t be knowing I was doing their work without extra pay…. (I mean, I still am, so why should it matter whether or not they get paid at the same time?) My boss had to put a stop to it because he actually can’t afford to pay someone to work from home when they’re not generating revenue.

        1. Pony Puff*

          I understand your frustration! Kids or no kids, “staying up all night” really isn’t a legit reason to miss work the next day unless on rare occasion. Adults drag themselves to work even when they’re tired, especially if it means putting a huge burden on other people if they don’t.

          1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

            That’s true! I try to be sympathetic, but it’s hard. My mom was a single mom, so I get it, but she also scheduled our doctors appointments on weekends, and came to work even if we’d kept her up all night. I know not every pediatrician is open on Saturday, but I just want to say, REALLY? You HAVE to schedule her appointment for the exact time you have an appointment at work?

            (Two of my coworkers have also brought their kids to work who were too sick to go to school, and the kids ended up having COVID… so I guess I’d rather them stay home and have me do their work than expose me to Covid/whatever other germs they might have).

            (Also, the coworker whose “mom was sick” often doesn’t come in on days with bad weather, so I can’t help but suspect she was lying and just didn’t want to come to work, but I can’t say for sure).

          2. Jackalope*

            That… REALLY depends. I’ve had times when I got little to no sleep at night when I was hanging out with friends, or was so stressed/whatever that I just couldn’t sleep, or whatever, and I caffeined it up and made it through the work day. And then I had one time that a family member was sick and I had to take them to the ER and be with them all night (we finally left at about 5:30 or 6 in the morning). I tried to go into work, and I made it halfway through, and just hit a wall. Caretaking is considered a tough job for a reason; staying up all night doing that was so much more exhausting than other all-nighters I’ve pulled.

            Alison has talked a lot about how workflow is the boss’s responsibility and if one person is getting dumped on because someone is out all the time (for kids, personal health issues, whatever) then there needs to be another way to deal with that. Hire a new person or whatever. I don’t know what the explanation would be here, and I’m sympathetic to the fact that that may be really challenging right now for JamminOnMyPlanner’s employer. But that doesn’t make it the parent’s fault for being human and exhausted after caring for a sick kid all night.

            1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

              I really don’t think it’s reasonable to expect your employees to miss once to twice a week, though. It’s very rare that either of them works a full work week. Not even sure it’s happened this year, to be honest….

              1. Emmy Noether*

                That does seem like a lot of absences. Most parents I know/work with are far, far from that many, and do their darndest to not put additional work on colleagues.

            2. GythaOgden*

              Yup. I had a week-long panic attack that began with a sleepless night on Monday, home on Tuesday recovering, in on Wednesday, back out on Thursday and Friday, back in on the Monday…then signed off for six weeks while I received counselling through the EAP. It was just as the UK went into lockdown; the ironic thing was that I wasn’t afraid of the virus, but the change in routine that the lockdown precipitated. Aspergers/GAD are not fun.

              I wouldn’t bat an eye at random occurrences or even at issues surrounding events like the pandemic or the current Ukrainian crisis for a Russian friend with friends in Kyiv; in fact I’d rather a colleague not come in when she’s had a bad night or a migraine than be here and visibly suffering. However, it’s not the reasons that are a problem; it’s the frequency on which people get fairly judged.

        2. Rosemary*

          “I know it’s just the nature of being a person without kids, you have to pick up the slack” — this is SO wrong, and I hate that the expectation is there. Is there any way you can push back on this with management? No, your co-workers cannot help if their kids get sick, but it should not be on YOU to cover THEIR work without extra compensation (or PTO days or whatever).

          1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

            My boss is aware… I don’t think either of us know what to do, to be honest. The business isn’t doing well financially, so we can’t afford to turn away client, which just means he and I do extra work. I personally think he should fire them, but he’s not going to do that.

            To be fair, I think I was the only one who got a bonus last year due to how much revenue I generated, so I guess it’s not fair to say it’s without extra compensation…. It’s just not direct compensation.

        3. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

          Yeah, that’s always the catch. You want to be empathetic, but the well runs so dry, so fast, especially when there’s never a return on the work you’re putting in. You don’t get the same flexibility for YOUR thing, because it’s “not as important” as raising children, but if I’m always so exhausted when I get home that I sleep for 12+ hours, only to work more, how is that balance for me?

          1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

            To be fair, I have left work early once this year to take my cat to the vet. But I made the appointment when I knew I didn’t have any work appointments that someone else would have to do.

        4. Dust Bunny*

          Naw, you don’t have to be happy about that.

          Your employer needs to handle this differently.

          1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

            Do you have any ideas? Haha, seriously, I don’t think either of us knows that to do. We aren’t in the financial position to turn people away when they have appointments. I think we both thought it would get better when he stopped letting people work from home for the same amount of pay, but it didn’t. He’s also the first one to have to take on the extra work, but there’s always so much that I end up doing a lot, too.

            BUT I am the only one (I think) who got a bonus last year, so I think that’s his attempt at making it fair for me.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              How clearly have you laid out to him how unfair this is?

              I mean, you can’t force him to manage better, but you can a) be crystal clear that this is not OK and he needs to find a way to handle it other than avoiding it by letting you handle it for him, or b) look elsewhere.

              1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

                Honestly, I probably haven’t made it crystal clear. I’ve definitely told him how overwhelmed I am, and how hard it is to get everything done, but I don’t think he realizes the extent of my frustrations.

                He’s a really great human, which is why I don’t want to tell him how frustrated I am, I guess? But he’s a pushover with my coworkers. And I know he’d be a pushover with me if I was a worse person who took advantage of him.

                Looking elsewhere probably isn’t the worst idea… Aside from this problem, I’m really happy here, but, like I said, we’re doing really poorly financially. And since he can’t/won’t discipline my coworkers (not sure discipline is the right word here, lol, but I’m not sure what other word to use), we’re not going to make it….

                1. Rosemary*

                  Him being a pushover with your colleagues sounds like a “him” problem, not a “you” problem. If you advocate for yourself and he makes needed adjustments, that is not him being a “pushover” with you. Honestly…not to sound harsh, but if anyone is being a pushover in this situation, it is you – allowing yourself to be pushed to the brink without advocating for yourself.

            2. Pony Puff*

              I get what you’re saying but it shouldn’t be completely on you to cover for all the parents and you shouldn’t shelter the working parents from their choices. What would everyone do if you got burnt out and left the company? They don’t want that to happen, right? I think it’s fair to say to your manager that you can only work so many hours, and get X amount of work done in those hours, so anything beyond that is something your manager needs to figure out.

              1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

                That’s a good point! If I got burnt out and left… I don’t think the business would survive. I’m not overstating my own importance here… I actually think that’s true.

                You’re right… this does need to be a conversation. He’s aware that I’ve been getting overwhelmed by having more work to do, but I haven’t been as firm as I could be. Probably because I *like* the idea of being reliable and all, but I’m frustrated and resentful at the same time….

              2. Pennyworth*

                If covering for parents with sick children is so frequent, your boss should be looking for someone who can come in like a substitute teacher and help out.

        5. kitryan*

          That does sound stressful. I have had a coworker with very understandable personal issues that resulted in me being stuck with their work as well. And they weren’t super helpful at the best of times so it was very frustrating to then be without even the basic help they normally could provide when we’re understaffed to start with.
          I know this is probably not possible for your workplace (based on discussions we had earlier in the week), and it’s still not happening at mine either, but the solution, I feel, should be to staff up so that the workplace is slightly overstaffed when everyone’s working, so that when people are out sick or on vacation as they inevitably are (a staff of 5 with 2 weeks vacation 2 weeks sick each will have 20 weeks out all told, which would mean one team member or another will be out for over 1/3 of the year, just if everyone uses up their normal allotted time). That way, there’s some wiggle room to accommodate normal absences, emergencies, and maybe even process improvements and stretch goals.
          But I suppose this is living in a fantasy world :(

          1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

            Yes, we are looking for more staff. Hopefully we will find someone by summer. I still think they miss an unreasonable amount of work, though.

            1. kitryan*

              That’s fair. It’s just easier to be mentally generous with people experiencing suspiciously large amounts of issues when things aren’t already balanced on a (staffing and financial) knife’s edge.
              My coworker’s husband was diagnosed with a serious health condition and he’d moved further away from the office and his elderly parents needed his help… and it was all mostly legit stuff but partly issues of his own making (the long commute) and if it just meant I had to put in 100% to 110% when he was dealing with issues that would be easier to take than being already at that point and having to move to 125% or whatever.
              Anyway, it sounds like you’re having a hard time at work generally, and I hope it gets better for you. I’ve been there (and am still there to varying degrees, depending on the day).

              1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

                Thank you! I do really enjoy my job, and I can manage the work load well, for the most part. Part of the resentment is that they’re hurting my boss… he’s paying them full-time benefits, but rarely gets full time out of them. So many people are telling me I’m wrong for being annoyed at them for missing work, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to miss at least once a week of work, which they do.

          2. AcademiaNut*

            You’ve hit the nail on the head – so many businesses are understaffed because they don’t take into account leave. They’ve got enough staff to do the work without burning out *if* no-one takes sick leave, vacations, personal days or bereavement leave and no-one ever quits. The end result is that everyone is always somewhat overworked, feels guilty for taking the leave that is part of their benefits package, and works themselves extra hard before and after any leaves so they never get a proper break. And that’s for normal leave usage! Throw in an emergency, or a couple of employees with larger than usual need for leave (small children, chronic illness etc), and the system breaks.

            1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

              I don’t actually feel overworked, and leave isn’t a problem. It’s just excessive to be last-minute absent at least once a week.

        6. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          “I feel like I shouldn’t be this vindictive, though… I should’ve been happy my struggling coworkers were making money at home,”
          I agree.
          You should be angry that the company understaffs, over works and over promises.
          But instead of looking upstairs, we look across our desks.
          I do it, too. Because I can’t change it. I swear, some people use they “well, they have kids” as a way to keep the staff at odds with each other.

          1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

            It’s honestly not my boss’s fault, though. It’s a private psychology practice… mental health care pays so little. He doesn’t make a salary and put all his savings into saving the practice during Covid. I can’t be angry at him.

          2. JamminOnMyPlanner*

            Actually, no, I’m pushing back on this. It’s not reasonable to miss 1 to 2 days of work per week. It’s not on my boss to hire extra people with the expectation that two employees aren’t ever going to work a full work week (but still get paid full-time and given full-time benefits).

            1. Anon Supervisor*

              I think managers get hung up on the fact that they can’t afford to lose staff so they just limp along with someone who is unreliable. I think the people picking up the slack would be a lot more understanding if they had to pick up slack because the boss fired someone who couldn’t be dependable. At least, at that point, you can make plans that don’t depend on someone who doesn’t come in. It doesn’t matter if that person’s work is good if they can’t make it into the office reliably.

              1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

                Thank you! I would actually have no problem picking up the slack if they were fired. It’s not really a work load issue… it’s the fact that I show up and work and suddenly find my day’s work load doubled without warning, at least once a week.

                People are saying it’s my boss’s fault or I need to

                1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

                  Hit send too soon! Saying I need to be more sympathetic, and I am, to an extent. But when there’s something every week, it just runs out.

          3. GythaOgden*

            This is unfair. In many businesses, staffing depends on whether the company makes enough money to over-staff. In this case, I think that the company is in a downward spiral: manager can’t get two individuals to take appointments that he needs to run the company

            People get paid based on what they are able to bring in. Overstaffing might be a thing in large corporations with hugely flexible budgets (like mine, where someone once said he had never known a Teapot Repair Authority run by the national Department of Teapot Repairs to restructure and not increase the number of people employed), but in small businesses wholly dependent on client income, it’s not fair for employees to milk the system in this way and not actually put in the billable hours to pay for their own wages.

            Foisting responsibility onto management is great in theory but in this case, the responsibility lies with the employees that aren’t helping the employer bring in the money that would probably create a financial updraft that pays for more staff. Employees do sometimes have to take responsibility for their own situation.

            1. GythaOgden*

              …he needs to run the company properly and generate the income he needs to keep it open.

              Never work on two paragraphs at the same time.

        7. Software Dev (she/her)*

          Were these—scheduled appointments? Could they have been pushed to the next day? Would your coworkers have been in the same situation if they had been in office or were these appointments supposed to have been earlier?

          Also you seem to be blaming your coworkers for what sounds like understaffing or just maybe a feeling on your part that you’re responsible for the financial success of the business. I see a lot of comments about how you can’t turn away clients because the business isn’t doing that well financially but it isn’t your business. What would happen if you hadn’t been able to take those appointments?

          It has been my experience that people who say things like “I am the one who always picks up the slack” generally get themselves into that position by never saying no or setting boundaries, then feel that they ‘have’ to do it or the business will crumble/they will get fired/people will think less of them. I have been that person! It was miserable and at the time I felt like I had no other choice—it’s from the inside not to feel like/be pressured that you had to do it. But if your coworkers are taking what sound like completely reasonable absences and you’re having to do all their work, maybe the solution isn’t that they should be fired and replaced with people willing to put the job first, maybe the problem is that the business is sinking and you need to be looking for a way out.

          1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

            If I’m not there to take the appointments, we go under. That’s the bottom line. I guess I shouldn’t feel so responsible, though. It’s hard not to care when I see my boss not take a salary and put all his savings into saving the practice during Covid. I think we provide a valuable resource to the community.

            And I can’t help but blame my coworkers when they decide not to come in because they want to meet with their apartment manager so I have to do their work for them. It’s always something, every week.

            I guess I do need to talk to my boss about the sustainability of me taking on extra work…. I’m going to get burned out.

            1. Software Dev (she/her)*

              Yeah unfortunately it sounds like the business isn’t viable. That totally sucks—I saw your comments lower down about insurance and yeah, the system is just kind of broken (I assume America here). I’ve seen a lot of psychology practices move away from even taking insurance, which is—not good for the community.

              But you can’t fix it. Heroically martyring yourself and resenting your coworkers because they aren’t willing to do the same (for whatever reason!) is going to burn you out and unless there’s an actual workable plan to fix the revenue stream, the business will go under anyway. I suspect you’re also trying not to be a burden on your boss, because it sounds like he’s going through a tough time and you’re a star employee but the current situation isn’t fair to you and doesn’t sound like it will change.

              1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

                You’re right, I definitely can’t fix it. It sucks because if we go under, it does a huge disservice to the community. We’re one of the few mental health providers who take Medicaid–but yeah, Medicaid pays nothing.

                I don’t really feel like a martyr, honestly… I feel like I do what’s expected of employees, which is to come to work unless I’m sick or have to go to the doctor or have to take my pets to the vet, and I work the hours I’m paid for. If it was only every now and then with my coworkers, I wouldn’t mind, but it’s at least weekly for various reasons–and not really just because their kids are sick, but because they have to meet with their landlord so I have to cover their appointment (that one happened a few weeks ago). Or because it’s going to storm and they don’t like driving in storms, so I have to do their appointments. And, again, if it were just these times, that’s fine, but these are just some of many reasons.

                Is it really unreasonable to expect your employees to work a full work week without missing?

                1. Alternative Person*

                  Your expectations are reasonable.

                  It sucks that your boss won’t do anything about your co-workers. As you said upthread, he should fire them or at the very, very least move them to part time because they are not doing their jobs properly. People should not be calling out every week, especially for some of the reasons you describe.

                  I get it sucks, I’ve been in similar positions where I didn’t feel like a martyr at the time, but looking back, it was very much not healthy and I did feel loyalty to my clients at these places, but in the end, I had to put myself first. Even if you don’t feel quite ready to move on yet, I’d suggest preparing your exit plan and keeping an eye on what’s about just in case.

                2. GythaOgden*

                  No. Definitely not and I’m not altogether happy you’re the victim in this situation but being made to feel accountable for these people and their own issues surrounding their own employment.

        8. Really?*

          Jammin, you probably were on track for career advancement and those parents were not. Sick kids that daycare won’t take, and other kid issues are no fun I assure you. Parents would trade those for being able to work without compromise. I don’t see much sympathy here, but please try to develop some. the same need can arise when parents, spouses, or other loved ones have unanticipated needs. We’re all in this together.

          1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

            Well, there’s no career advancement in my position, unfortunately. I am sympathetic…within reason. Last minute doctor trip with your sick kid? Yes, I’ll do your appointment. I’ve done weeks’ worth of these because it’s happens so often. You scheduled a meeting with your landlord for the exact time you have an appointment after already being out two days this week? You don’t want to drive in the rain? Sorry, less sympathetic! I have a life, too. I have to schedule appointments during work time as well—but I choose a time I don’t also have a work appointment to do. I’ve also had to cancel doctors appointments because my coworker’s kid ended up having an appointment the same day…. Guess whose health matters less? It’s mine! So, no, I’m out of sympathy.

            1. Gyne*

              Ok – no more canceling your own appointments when your colleagues are sick or unavailable to keep theirs. This is a boundary you need to set and enforce. Same with not driving home in a tornado. You need to make this your boss’ problem a lot more than it is already. If you have a scheduled appointment or need to go home to not drive in a tornado, go home. Practice saying, “Gosh, it’s too bad Bob needs to get his hair done at the same time he’s meeting with Mr. X. I’ll be leaving at [2 hours before then] for my life-sustaining weekly dialysis, let me know what I can do to help until then!” I totally feel you with being one of the few practices that takes Medicare and medicaid and gets paid peanuts compared to the time and energy you invest in the patients. Change will never come to the system until the public demands it. We can’t do it from the inside. But the solution is not for you to contort yourself in every which way to do your colleagues’ work. My practice is really motivated to be able to accomodate for unplanned physician sick days but sometimes the patients just cannot be shifted around, they need to be rebooked. And we’re a group of 5 + 1 APP.

    2. coffee*

      “I know that it’s just something I have to deal with because they have kids”
      I don’t think this framing is helping you – even without kids, they would still be calling out to see their apartment manager etc. Bad weather caller-out will still be calling out due to bad weather with or without kids. Etc.

      If you shift your focus from “they can’t control the reasons why they’re out” to “how can they control the impact of being out”, you start looking at the ACTUAL problem that is impacting YOU. Which is the main thing! So things like – can they make sure their work is always easy for you to take over? When they hand over work, are they taking back some of your work in return so your workload is stable? Why are they making last-minute appointments over existing commitments, and why isn’t your boss managing that with them? Etc etc.

      The other thing I would look at is what boundaries you can put up for yourself. E.g. “If there is a tornado warning, I will cut an appointment short and leave.”

  13. Stella70*

    I once dated a guy who loved the word “atypical”. Loved it so much, he used it when it was the correct word and he also used it when he meant “typical”. He didn’t use it every third sentence, but definitely every conversation. Like the humane human I am, I tried to ignore it, until one day I burst out, “TYPICAL. YOU MEAN TYPICAL!!”, and then sobbed tears of exhaustion and relief.
    We didn’t last long after that.

    1. NeedRain47*

      I dated a guy who said stuff like this all the time- it wasn’t one word, it was lots of words, like he almost had a good vocabulary but missed the details. When I corrected him he’d say, “Now you’re just arguing semantics!!!”
      Yes, yes I am, ’cause that’s not what that means.

      1. Koalafied*

        Ha, the meta-irony too that the charge of “arguing semantics” is generally levied when one wants to express, “you’re critiquing the words I used to describe my position instead of my position itself.” Not just “you can’t tell me what words mean!” Perfect micro-encapsulation of having absorbed a lot of language but missed the nuance.

      2. Virginia Plain*

        Dismissing something as “just semantics” is my Achilles bugbear* – semantics is the study of what words mean. And if you are using a word that does not mean what you think it means, or you can’t express what you mean, or you don’t know what I mean – how the blazes do you think that wins you the argument?! Magic??

        *vintage Alan Partridge reference not linguistic solecism I promise

  14. WellRed*

    In college, lower level lit class, we had that one annoying student who, anytime she spoke up used the word “ ironic” to discuss whatever literary passage or trope was on tap. I still cheer the day when another student finally spoke up and said, “I think it’s ironic that you don’t know what ironic means.” Some people latch onto a word because it sounds good and they aren’t creative enough thinkers to see that.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      My college roommate used to make up words and see if he could get other people in the class using it via repetition. He was particularly successful with “inscegrevious” (no meaning, hence its flexibility) and it spread through at least 3 departments. Shoot, for all I know, people may still be using it

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      So what do we call the generation who learned about irony from an Alanis Morissette song that contained a thousand examples of things that are totally not ironic?

    3. Filosofickle*

      I’ve stricken ironic from my vocabulary because I’m never sure if I’m using it correctly!

  15. JamminOnMyPlanner*

    LW1 hits home for my job… except my coworkers’ excuses are much better than “my wife and I both have to take dog to the vet.” All three of my coworkers are single moms, so whenever their kids are sick, or the kids’ schools are closed, or the kids have to go to a doctor’s appointment, or their mom gets sick, they miss.

    I’m working on how to deal with my frustration because we don’t have a job that can be done from home, so I end up doing their work whenever they miss, which is typically at least once a week. I know they have good reasons for it, and I try not to get frustrated, but it’s a real struggle for me.

    As a single person without kids, I know it’s kind of my lot in life to pick up the slack, but it really does bother me.

    1. mli25*

      I have some sympathy on both people taking the animal to the vet, especially if end of life decisions need to be made. It can also be expensive, so it’s not totally fair to ask one spouse to commit a large sum of money without consulting the other spouse.

      The covering for people with kids: the absolute worst. It sounds like your employer needs more staff to ensure you don’t get dumped on like that.

      1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

        That’s true, I didn’t think about end-of-life decisions.

        The problem with my employment is, even if they hired ore staff, the same problem will occur if anyone misses work because we all have appointments with clients. So unless we had someone hired whose job it was to “substitute” when people missed work (which my employer couldn’t afford), I would still get dumped on.

        He actually does want to hire more staff, but he hasn’t been able to find anyone for this specific role. The benefits and pay are great, but I guess it’s hard to find the right person.

      2. Decidedly Me*

        End of life I get.

        Expense, though? A text or phone call can resolve that. You don’t need two people to go to the vet to make that decision together.

        1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

          I agree, I don’t understand why both people would need to go to the vet. Granted, I’m a “single mom” myself of two pets (I know I’m not actually a mom, just making a joke!), so all the decision-making is on me when it comes to them, and I’ve definitely never felt the need to have someone there with me….

      3. Dust Bunny*

        Your employer needs more staff, or needs to manage the staff they have very differently. It shouldn’t be your lot in life to pick up the slack all the time because you didn’t procreate.

        The vet thing . . . it’s very rare that you’re going to have a pet that needs weekly vet visits indefinitely. That’s far more likely to be a once-in-awhile or “a whole lot but for a brief period” thing, and that’s from somebody who a) used to work for a vet and b) has a cat with several manageable but chronic ailments.

        1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

          Yes, I agree. We both need more staff and he needs to handle his staff differently. He is looking to hire, but hasn’t found anyone.

          He’s really a pushover, and they take advantage of that. (Well… one takes advantage, and the others really just have a lot going on.) I was really glad when he put his foot down and no longer allowed them to get paid to write reports from home while I was doing their appointments in the office, though. I was hoping that would help, and it may have helped some? Our previous office manager gave herself and one of them, who was her “work bestie” unlimited time off, so she got used to just missing a lot and getting paid for it. Now that she’s not getting paid for it, I’d hoped it might get better, but it… hasn’t, really….

    2. Just stoppin' by to chat*

      Not sure if you’re venting, or looking for advice, but I disagree this is your lot in life. Without even knowing what you do, if all absences increase only your workload, it sounds like a staffing issue. I hope you feel confident enough to raise with your management, and not take on everyone else’s work all the time. That is not your job, and if your organization needs to staff better/differently, the quicker they realize that, the better for everyone, including you! yes it sucks for working parents right now with so many childcare issues, however, you doing all the work cannot be the only solution.

      1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

        Thank you! The problem with staffing is that we all have appointments with clients each day, so even if my boss hired more people, we’d still get dumped on. He does take on a lot of the extra work himself, but I still get so resentful of what I have to take on.

        He is in trying to hire more people, but hasn’t been able to find anyone for this specific role. The pay and benefits are great, but it’s kind of a weird, specific job that’s hard to find people for. (Also he’s being a lot more careful with who he hires because, in addition to the excessive absences, some of my coworkers are really bad at their jobs….)

        1. Dust Bunny*

          . . . then your employer needs to have someone who does that. It’s obviously a need so it would be entirely reasonable for them to have a stay-in-the-office position.

          1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

            I agree, but the business would go under, and I’d be out of a job, unfortunately.

              1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

                Yes, that’s definitely a good point! I have turned down two jobs since I started working here, so I do have it in mind like “what will I do if we go under.” Unfortunately, my boss kind of made up my position for this job, so it’s not the kind of job you can really… apply for.

                I’m an English major and got an MFA in creative writing, soooooo there’s not really an obvious career path for me, but I’m definitely thinking about it and trying to figure out my next steps, either “just in case” or just as my natural next move.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              If that is about to put the business under it is already doomed in its current form

          2. JamminOnMyPlanner*

            Is it actually reasonable to expect your employees to miss once a week, though? Ideally, we’d have more staff to help me when they miss, and we are looking right now, but 1 to 2 absences every week just seems like a lot to me.

        2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Sounds like your office needs more staff to soak up absences, needs to cancel appointments if staff aren’t available, schedule fewer appointments, or possibly all of the above. There should probably be 20%ish more staff than appointments because someone could have to go on FMLA, jury duty, military service, or quit at any time leaving you guys in a lurch. You are frustrated by a few days here and there. Imagine a couple weeks or months. This isn’t a single parent problem, this is a management problem, which, if your boss can’t afford to fix it then his business model might not be viable.

          1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

            Honestly… someone quitting would be the best possible outcome because I could just take on their responsibilities and my boss wouldn’t have to pay them anymore.

            He is trying to higher more staff, but hasn’t been able to find anyone. If we could afford to cancel appointments, that would be an option. It would be hell for our poor receptionist to have to deal with, lol, because people get really mad and screamy when they’ve waited for months.

            The business model probably isn’t viable, to be honest. It’s a private psychology practice… Psychology pays so little. Insurance reimbursement rates are just so incredibly low for hours and hours of work.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              Yeah, you guys don’t have enough staff to handle the volume of appointments you are scheduling. A basic staffing assumption should be to have a workload that is manageable if someone is unexpectedly away. Sounds like you guys are all fully scheduled, so when one of you is off you are all swamped. For example, what would your work do if you had jury duty for a week? Or if a coworker had 2 months of recovery after surgery? If the answer is “go under” then there is no fixing this problem if you keep having the client load you do.

              1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

                I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect my coworkers to be away as much as they are, though, to be honest. The workload would be manageable for a short time, if it wasn’t every week. (I have extra work this week because my coworker forgot to put it on her calendar that she’s going on vacation. I had extra work two days last week because one coworker’s mom was sick and the other’s kid was sick. The week before that, I had extra work one day because my coworker had to go meet with her apartment manager).

                The other thing is, we get a lot of no-shows because it’s a psychology practice, and mentally ill people often don’t show up for their appointments. And insurance pays so little… That doesn’t have much to do with it, lol, just throwing it out there.

                1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

                  Those are all absolutely legitimate reasons to be off of work, especially if given permission. No one WANTS to lose a vacation day to meet with an apartment manager (ask me how I know) and no one wants a sick kid or parent. And, remember, they are independent people who are not coordinating their absences. They are just happening because life happens. Your boss probably shouldn’t have their own practice since it isn’t profitable enough to run without normal, boring, brief staff absences, much less normal, longer staff absences (e.g. jury duty, military service, post-operative recovery). You need to tell him that you can’t take all the extra work when folks are out and he needs to come up with a solution.

                2. JamminOnMyPlanner*

                  @Danger: Gumption Ahead

                  Yeah, I guess I just disagree. Of course there are valid reasons to miss work. I have a life, too. I’ve had to leave work early to take my cat to the vet, or go to the doctor. Hell, I usually take off more than my allotted days a year because I like traveling.

                  But I don’t leave my coworkers in a lurch. If I have to meet with a landlord during my work day, I choose a time when I don’t already have an appointment scheduled, not wait until the appointment time and then make my coworker do it.

                  I just disagree that missing one to two days per week should be normal or expected. I don’t think my boss needs to hire extra people to cover for someone who misses work that much. It’s not financially viable….

                3. GythaOgden*

                  DGA – I get your points but the fact is these people are taking a lot of time off. And in my case, it’s well-established that you take any appointments/home issues etc out of leave, although we do have 30 days. I took 3rd May off for a personal organiser appointment and am getting a guy in that same day to start painting my garage door. Neither would be seen as appropriate use of ‘special leave’ or a sick day.

                  I think a lot of people here are making Jammin feel bad about her situation when the real culprits are getting away with letting an important practice go down the tubes. I don’t think it’s fair the way you guys are interrogating her in this way because of her colleagues’ lack of responsiblity to their own jobs. I know we like to give employees the benefit of the doubt, but I think this is just taking her pretty crappy situation and making it ten times worse rather than actually helping her deal with it constructively.

      2. Nanani*

        It’s a staffing issue, and allocating extra work on the basis of parental status is a load of garbage even if it happens to be legal in a given jurisdiction.

        1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

          I disagree that it’s a staffing issue. I don’t think employers should have to expect their employees to miss at least once a week, and often 2 to 3 times per week, as is the case with my coworkers. Really, I just don’t think it’s too much to ask to expect your full-time employees to work full-time sometimes!

          1. MsSolo UK*

            I think it’s telling that you’re in a really pinched sector; you’re there because you all believe in the work you do. Would I be right in thinking you’re not particularly well paid compared with other roles that would use the same skills, but your boss is generous and flexible in a way other employers wouldn’t be? Ultimately, your coworkers may be very limited in what other jobs they can get, and your employer will continue to attract staff in similar positions. It’s the whole “paying in time vs money” thing (something that comes up a lot in household management) – if you have the money, you can save a lot of time on all sorts of parts of life, including paying for a vet that keeps longer hours, living in the sort of apartment where the owner is willing to be flexible about when you meet, and, most obviously, being able to afford flexible and reliable childcare rather than depending on relatives, but if you don’t have the money, then you need the time instead.

            It feels like you’re looking for a solution where neither you nor your boss have to make any changes, but your coworkers do, because they’re the root of your problem. But at the same time, their ability to make changes depends on the same issues that you cite as preventing your boss making changes – either more money to allow them to access more childcare options, or more staff to allow them to work fewer hours. I can’t say if this is a viable business overall, but as someone who has more options open to them than their colleagues, it’s probably going to be on you to do the changing, and that’s probably going to mean changing employer.

    3. Pomegranate*

      I presume the single parents aren’t all out at the same time. Are they also covering for each other or is it always you covering for every single one of them?

      1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

        They are both out so much that it often happens at the same time, to be honest. I said this somewhere else on here, but last week, there was bad weather. One coworker was out because she was up all night with her kid, and the other was out because her mom was sick.

        Normally, I could finish my face-to-face appointments in time to leave early and write my reports from home, before the storm got bad. But I had to do their appointments as well, so I ended up having to drive home during a tornado warning because the storms were continuing all night and it was basically that or stay there for hours. I was particularly resentful that day because I have extreme anxiety driving in bad weather due to having a really awful wreck. Driving home while the tornado sirens were going off and my phone alarm was blaring and the rain was pouring was NOT FUN. I later found out there was a funnel cloud 10 minutes away from work, too….

        They do sometimes cover for each other, but one of them is unable to do a certain type of appointment that takes longer and is really involved, so if there are certain appointments on the schedule, I always have to do those.

    4. Science KK*

      I work a job in a similar vein, not psychology but low paying, low staffed, and I’m generally more invested than the other folks on my team. You need to just say no, and if things start going sideways, it’s not on you.

      I had an intern walk up to me Tuesday and say “You have to help me with xyz task” I responded I can Monday Tuesday next week, intern responded “well it needs to be this week I want to start next week”. He was mildly annoyed when I said I can maybe help Friday but other than that text me and I’ll try to respond.

      He’s going to be REALLY in a pickle when he realizes I won’t be that available. I’ll still try to help, but when there’s another person on the team that is almost never at work and hasn’t produced anything concrete in months, who also had all the information the intern needs…..he can talk to my boss and they can sort it out.

      I was told to prioritize another project and have several emails confirming I would not be available for any other projects until at least June. I feel bad because the intern didn’t know he was being sucked into a bad situation but it’s 100% on my boss to figure it out, not me. Boss knew this would be an issue. Can’t mentally make it my problem anymore.

    5. Science KK*

      I work a job in a similar vein, not psychology but low paying, low staffed, and I’m generally more invested than the other folks on my team. You need to just say no, and if things start going sideways, it’s not on you.

      I had an intern walk up to me Tuesday and say “You have to help me with xyz task” I responded I can Monday Tuesday next week, intern responded “well it needs to be this week I want to start next week”. He was mildly annoyed when I said I can maybe help Friday but other than that text me and I’ll try to respond.

      He’s going to be REALLY in a pickle when he realizes I won’t be that available. I’ll still try to help, but when there’s another person on the team that is almost never at work and hasn’t produced anything concrete in months, who also had all the information the intern needs…..he can talk to my boss and they can sort it out.

      I was told to prioritize another project and have several emails confirming I would not be available for any other projects until at least June. I feel bad because the intern didn’t know he was being sucked into a bad situation but it’s 100% on my boss to figure it out, not me. Boss knew this would be an issue. Can’t mentally make it my problem anymore.

    6. Koala dreams*

      No, it’s not your lot in life or inevitable, it’s your employer having really weird policies. If your employer offer paid time off, they should have the staffing so that people can take the paid time off without the business going under. Even if it’s unpaid time off, the employer should factor in common things like getting sick, going to a funeral and so on.

      And while it’s generous to offer extra leave to parents taking care of sick children, it’s stingy to only offer leave to parents. You don’t need to have children to have care-taking duties for family or friends, have a pet that needs to be taken to the vet, or a car that won’t start in bad weather.

      It depends on the job if it makes sense to have part-time employees or not. Many businesses could easily offer part-time jobs where you can work 4 days a week, or leave earlier every day to pick up children from school, to make the job more attractive to parents. Maybe your employer wants to be a business like this, but they are too disorganized to actually make it work. (Or perhaps it doesn’t work in your industry?)

      1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

        We do have paid time off, but they’ve both used it all and they still have unplanned absences at least once a week, and often more. I just don’t think it’s reasonable to expect your employees to miss that much.

      2. JamminOnMyPlanner*

        My boss is also super flexible, so like one employee works 8 to 4 to pick up her daughter, and the other works 10 to 4 because she has a longer commute (though still gets paid full-time hours). I’m not complaining about that, and I’m not complaining about people taking scheduled leave. Nor am I complaining about someone taking off a couple times a month unexpectedly. I just think missing at least once a week, often more, last-minute, is unreasonable.

  16. lost academic*

    I get SO much pushback even internally when I insist on a certain level of Excel/Word and other program experience – mostly with the Office suite. People are very confident that what they think is proficient must be, and they are generally just as confident that if they don’t know something they can Google it and use it quickly. That’s not what we’re looking for when we ask for someone who already has that experience – we don’t want a job that should take 15 minutes to take 30, a 60 minute job to take 2 hours. Some things you need to be prepared to already do for a job. People are just so prepared to argue on the basic office suite programs!

  17. Work From Homer Simpson*

    Re: Word and Excel skills

    While it is a very nice sentiment to want to help these people, Alison is likely correct that it will just lead to more work and frustration for you if you try to respond to all of them.

    However, what might help is being as detailed as you reasonably can be in your job posting. For example, does the posting say that you will require a skills test as part of the interview process? That might weed out an initial chunk of people who were hoping to “fake it until they make it” since they’ll know upfront they won’t have any faking it time. Also, as some of the previous comments indicate, there is no accepted or understood definition of “advanced skils” when it comes to Microsoft products. Almost everyone has had some exposure to them so you get a lot of people thinking that because they once made a household budget in Excel, they’re an advanced user. Be as clear as you can in listing examples of what you need them to do – pivot tables, macros, charts, etc. That may also weed out some people, or at least if people apply when they don’t have those skills, it shouldn’t be a great mystery to them why they were rejected.

    And finally, story time about the lack of understanding some people have about their skills with Microsoft Office products. At my last job I got a reputation for being a bit of an Excel wiz. This wasn’t really true – I was certainly a capable user but not doing anything elaborate. I think mainly I was just patient and willing to help when people had problems with Excel, so I became the go-to person. This one guy came to me wanting help on a spreadsheet. He had a table listing out parts and prices. All he initially wanted from me was how to format the table to look nice for presenting to management. No problem, I walked him through some different formatting options until he was happy with how it looked. But while doing that, I noticed that he had summed up the cost of all the parts at the bottom, but the total cell wasn’t a function. He’d just manually entered the total. I asked him about it and he said he added up the total on his calculator (a tiny cheap one like banks used to give out for free) and typed it in. I explained that Excel would do that math for him and added the sum function to his table. His mind was absolutely blown. He had no idea Excel did things like that. In his mind, it was just a big table for typing stuff into. He’d been adding up hundreds of parts prices by hand for years. He was so excited. It was practically life-changing for this poor guy to now have a total calculated in seconds. But I bet if I’d asked him beforehand about his Excel experience, he’d have said he was a regular user and was pretty good with it. Hence the need to specify what you really need people to do.

    1. As per Elaine*

      At a previous job, I discovered that the people who made the Excel sheets that calculated salary bands didn’t know that it was possible to specify absolute position, so they were going through and manually updating the location modifier, or whatever it was, for _every single formula._ For sheets that were needed for _every single role at the company._

      I was happy to be able to make their lives easier, but it did provide some clarity on why I’d been waiting for over a year for their boss to provide me with the calculation for my own salary band. (I got that I wasn’t his highest priority and all, but he was supposedly spending a big chunk of his time updating these sheets, and does it really take 15 months to update a worksheet? Presumably you needed it to figure out the raise I got during that time?)

      1. Work From Homer Simpson*

        *facepalm* I mean, I see stuff like that a lot, but it always amazes me how much time people spend on painfully tedious things without ever thinking, “Surely there must be a faster way! Maybe I should ask for help or Google it or whathaveyou.” How incredibly frustrating to learn that something that directly affects you was being done so inefficiently.

        1. kitryan*

          I’ve learned most of my excel and word skills because I thought ‘there must be a faster way’ and then looked it up.

        2. ceiswyn*

          So many of the things that make me an ‘expert’ in various bits of software, I learned by thinking “there must be an easier way”. I cannot comprehend how people can go through doing things slowly and cumbersomely without ever… wondering.

      2. irene adler*

        A manager friend was emailed an Excel sheet with the salary increases for her crew. They insisted that for confidentiality reasons, only those salaries relevant to her crew were to be provided to her. Only, when friend employed the unhide feature, the entire company’s salaries appeared.

    2. KCMC*

      It’s funny how in so many workplaces being relatively competent at Excel can get you a reputation as an absolute wizard! I have learned everything I can do pretty much from googling “how do i ___ in Excel” and I have been the go-to Excel guru at multiple jobs. At my current company I am pretty sure that is how my supervisor got to where he is today, promoted over and over based on his ability to impress with Excel.

      1. Work From Homer Simpson*

        Right?! Google is your friend. When I get into more complicated things, I’ve even gone as far as joining Excel forums. Real experts (waaay more knowledgeable and experienced than me) seem to hang out there and will often answer your question with no strings attached. I think they just like the challenge of solving new and different problems. Has really come in handy when I’ve gotten stuck on some more complex things I needed to do in Excel. But even the not-so-complex stuff really impresses a lot of people. I wowed a client recently with some pivot tables and charts. It was all data they already had access to, but since I was able to organize it in a digestible way, it was like I’d magically given them the answer key to their problems. *shrug* I’ll take the credit!

    3. Birdie*

      I worked with someone who thought Excel was a very useful program for presenting pretty tables. She spent HOURS picking just the right fonts, colors, border weights, etc. But, like your co-worker, would do things like add up all the number by hand and then manually enter it.

      Making all those tables *so pretty* gave me fits, because the ability to filter, sort, and do other functional work in excel. The table would start at, say, cell C3, or there would be blank cells interspersed (because of course she had no idea how to change cell sizes) all for the sake of looking visually appealing. When she left I ripped most of the spreadsheets I inherited apart so they were actually functional.

      1. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

        “It’s funny how in so many workplaces being relatively competent at Excel can get you a reputation as an absolute wizard”

        Or anything in the Office suite! My most impressive skills (if you asked my current employer) are how I answer emails so quickly and I always personalize it and I never send a mass email- it’s always just so personalized!

        Gentle reader, this is mail merge. It is not hard. I’ve even TOLD people this and offered to show it to them, but no, I am a computer genius and since my merges involve Excel, I must be an Excel magician.

    4. Pivot!*

      I may be able to one-up you on this (not that that would be a good thing in this case!)….
      I had a co-worker that did the same thing….added up the numbers on a calculator and then manually entered the totals for a sheet that probably had 50+ totals. Here is where it gets good…..prior to this role, they were in IT for over 10 years managing spreadsheets!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      After some further investigation, it appeared as though they did things like this on purpose to get out of doing certain tasks. o_O Sadly still employed in this function.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        o_O But wouldn’t it seem that doing something like this would be so much more painful than just doing the actual task?!

      2. Work From Homer Simpson*

        Just….wow. I guess feigned incompetence is a thing for a reason but like Mallory said, isn’t that more painful? How do you do something soooo tedious for years and not lose your mind, even if it is getting you out of other work you don’t want to do? I couldn’t handle it.

    5. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree, if you don’t already say in the postings that there will be skills tests definitely add that some some people may self-select out of the process.

      And I really love that story! That does honestly sound pretty life-changing for him, freeing up seriously hours and hours of work!

      I thought I was pretty excel savvy and was even the TA of an excel class in grad school. But I was so impressed with how quickly this one guy at work kept mentally adding up numbers in our spreadsheets, because I didn’t know that if you highlight a bunch of cells it shows you the sum (and count, and average) in the bottom corner. I had just never noticed and it wasn’t something that had come up in the class I took in school! Not quite as life-changing, but still something I use all the time now and am very glad to have learned lol.

    6. Translator*

      As a translator, my pet peeve is people who think Excel is just a big table for typing stuff into, because they keep sending us spreadsheets to translate that don’t even have any numbers in them – they’re just tables full of words!

      This is a bother because Excel doesn’t integrate with translation tools nearly as well as Word, the spellcheck is less user-friendly, the search-and-replace has fewer nuanced options – basically, it’s not a tool for producing high-quality text.

      I keep trying to get my employer to charge clients extra for spreadsheets that don’t need to be spreadsheets, but haven’t managed to convince them yet.

  18. IWishIHadAFancyUserName*

    RE Q4, we use a standardized 3rd party pre-employment assessment system. Only applicants who pass the simulation standardized tests (ex. Word/Excel Basic/Advanced/Expert) with a certain percentile score are passed through to the interview phase. Candidates can get a copy of their score report showing the questions they missed, so it’s very clear to them what they need to master in order to be considered at some point in the future. Man, oh, man, does it save a lot of time and clarity up front.

  19. Sandy*

    For #1, I’m wondering how much is “so often that I don’t believe him.” In one year alone, I personally had gallbladder attacks, surgery to get my gallbladder removed, I had to take my hamster to the vet, my car broke down, a flood prevented me from getting into the office, my car was totally blocked by a neighbor’s moving van, I got so sick from allergies that I couldn’t come in, and that’s just the stuff I can think of off the top of my head. I got about 120 hours of PTO per year and always ended up using most to all of it. Unless this guy is going into arrears on his PTO or taking an excessive amount of unpaid leave, then I’d be questioning if the issue is more that you don’t believe him or that your organization actually can’t function without him.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I think there’s one other caveat I’d add – if he’s calling in sick on days where he asked for vacation and was denied, or if he’s calling off on days when he knows he’d be doing tasks he doesn’t like and that causes others to have to stay late or work harder because he’s “out sick” again – in that case he probable needs talked to as well.

    2. Fluffy Fish*

      To put it in perspective, 120 hours @ 8 hours a day =15 days. I would never think that was excessive – even up to a good many hours beyond that.

      This person is out every single week. If it’s only 1 day a week thats still 52 days or 416! If some of those absences are several days of the week its’ even more. Barring a serious illness it’s really inexcusaeble.

      1. Sandy*

        That’s a very good point! I hadn’t thought of it like that in terms of the sheer number of hours.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Working 80% of their expected time (or less) is another way to frame it. It’s a lot!

    3. JamminOnMyPlanner*

      If he’s truly missing a day per week, that ends up being a lot more than 120 hours, though. I could be wrong, but I’d assume he’s going over his allotment of PTO unless their policy is incredibly generous.

    4. Siege*

      I mean, I am a drama magnet (I just found out yesterday that the cats that infested my mother’s best friend’s house are actually a mostly-feral colony she’s been feeding, not her beloved pets, so I can retract my offer to go to the house 20 miles away twice a day to feed her cats while she recovers in the hospital from sepsis and my mother is unable to go because she has COVID, and my sister re-fractured her wrist, and I have to be the information nexus for the family, and basically I’m the oldest girl) so I feel you, because I’ve had time off for a lot of similar things, including dropping dead in a staff meeting, but a) it’s not a day a week that I need off to deal with things, and b) a few of the things on your list and mine are partial day at best. It’s not the things that are happening, it’s that at least as presented in the letter it sure sounds like someone who wants an extra day off every week and is just clever enough they’re not calling in and saying “Yeah, I’ll be out sick today, bad clams last night.”

    5. Emmy Noether*

      I’ve observed that there’s a sort of “when it rains it pours” phenomenon with sick leave. People tend to either have more than 15 days a year, or less than 5, very little middle ground.

      Some reasons for being in the first group are very plausible: serious health issues that take a bunch of time at once, chronic issues that flare up regularly, compromised immune system, solo caretaker for multiple people, etc. All that combined with a normal quota of shit happens. I’d classify your gallbladder stuff as serious, the allergies as chronic, and the rest as shit happens, so all totally understandable.

  20. KCMC*

    The jargon user reminds me of one of the oddest things I’ve noticed at my company.
    My whole department tends to get stuck on a buzzword or phrase that they will use over and over and over again – it is hilarious but also sooo annoying. At the beginning of the pandemic the phrase was “stand up” – meaning to put in place or create. Starting with, “we have stood up a call center to respond to covid concerns” – which is fine, a little much but its higher ed so we’re used to that. But then like everyone started using that particular phrase ALL the time – in place of simpler words like “create”, “make”, “schedule” or even just “do”! I counted during one 45 minute meeting variations on “stand up” were used 18 times – by multiple speakers!
    “Please stand up a weekly check in call with the operations team”
    “Dave has stood up a spreadsheet for your office supply requests”
    “We need revisions on this document – how quickly can you stand that up?”
    It went on for months before slowly fading away. I still cringe any time I hear that phrase, though its thankfully rare now.

    1. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

      THIS. IS. SO. WEIRD!! I have to wonder if any of these people are using the workplace-specific jargon in their outside lives? Like, I wouldn’t know what to say if my wife was like, “I stood up dinner already, so you won’t have to deal with it when you get home.”

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Ha and if someone told me they “stood up” dinner, I’d be wondering which one of them wasn’t there: them, or the dinner, because to me “stood up” means you were expected somewhere, but you didn’t show up.

    2. Filosofickle*

      I’d never even heard “stand up” in this way before joining my current company and it’s used constantly here. At least they use it correctly!

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      Ugh, I feel similarly about “pivot.” It was overused pre-pandemic and now it’s doubly annoying.

    4. KCMC*

      Ok another story from a different organization. People started using the phrase “out of pocket” frequently – but there was no consistency on what it meant. (I ended up urban dictionarying it and the phrase apparently has several common meanings!) For some it meant incorrect or inappropriate (“I hope its not out of pocket to mention the political implications of this policy”. For others it meant completely unavailable. For people who ascribed to the first meaning, the second statement sounded pretty funny! But there was a third group that thought it meant working remotely and having limited availability. (Remote work was uncommon in our industry at this time – around 2010. ) They essentially used it to mean working only from their phone – literally *out of their pocket*. Some confusion ensued: “I told you I’d be out of pocket why did you leave me all these voice mails!?” “You said you were going to be out of pocket, I just needed an answer to a quick question!” I am pretty sure the last meaning was unique to our organization and I find the literalness of it somewhat charming!

  21. BA*

    Regarding #3, I was once hiring for a role within my company and received more than 100 applications. One reached out after submitting their information. They were going to be in town to attend a funeral, and wondered if they could schedule a few minutes with me while they were around to just put a name with a face and ask a couple of questions. I hadn’t gotten through all of the applications/resumes, but pulled theirs out and it turns out that I’d have wanted to have a conversation anyway, so I agreed and we turned the short visit into a formal interview. I appreciated that person having the initiative … it was a sales role that they’d applied for. So on the one hand, I’m in favor of someone taking initiative, but that was after they’d submitted their application. If the LW is getting multiple calls per day and is hiring for multiple roles and spending HOURS answering questions and getting pitched by potential applicants, that goes quickly from initiative to intrusive and annoying. You might add to Alison’s script a statement that you’ve been directed that you’re unable to have conversation prior to the application being submitted. Get your boss to tell you that… whether its out of fairness to all applicants or recognizing that you’re getting nothing else done.

  22. Wondercootie*

    Regarding #1, as the person’s supervisor, you may want to investigate whether there is a deeper reason for the absences. I say this as a person who did this in a previous job. I was fairly young (mid-20’s). It became a habit over time, and I got fired for it. The firing was a wake-up call (I didn’t get any warnings or a PIP or anything). I was diagnosed with depression, and my counselor helped me figure out that and burnout helped me fall into that habit. I’m not saying you can heal him if he’s depressed, nor should he get a pass, but if there is an underlying issue like depression or burnout, he may be able to recover.

    1. Mr. Shark*

      Similar, but my own doing, I was in my mid-20s and would go out after work and drink a fair amount, and find myself coming in late, or even worse, calling in sick so often that I got warned and did get basically PIPd (although it wasn’t called that back then).
      Basically, I exceeded my sick leave balance because of that, and was late most days. Thankfully I straightened myself out on the absences, and they accepted my lateness because I would work late most days, and my co-worker who I shared the position with was always there for the early work, but would leave on time no matter what. So we were an effective team to get more coverage out of the day.
      But I agree, there may be more of an underlying reason.
      Regardless of the reason, I think it’s absolutely necessary to establish reasonable requirements for being both on-time and not having too many absences.

    2. A Moldy Rug*

      Yes, same for me!! I was notoriously unreliable and was fired from numerous jobs for tardiness/calling out too much. Some things were objectively not my fault: I lived in city with a notoriously unreliable underground bus system and I got stuck 3 stories underground, between stations, with no cell service behind a broken down bus numerous times – sometimes even multiple times a week. The tiniest bit of snow would cripple the city but I was still expected to come in. I got migraines with aura regularly making it hard to be in the office.

      Other things were absolutely seen as things I could control: I overslept a lot, sometimes my boyfriend would start fights to make me late for work, I could never remember to bring my lunch and was often late coming back from grabbing take-out because we were so far from most lunch spots.

      However, for me, getting fired was never a wake up call, it just put me further away from stability.

      It wasn’t until I got to a place where all of my basic needs were met that I became a reliable employee. I was diagnosed with depression and then ADHD, and developed the tools to manage them. Consistent paychecks, not being in an abusive relationship, healthcare, being able to buy a car… that is what made me a great employee. It also put me in a position where I could find a job that didn’t care if I was 10 minutes late to work sometimes, or allowed me to work from home when I was depressed, or just cut me some slack when I was really struggling.

      So, yes, some people really do need a wake up call. But if you’re in a position where that wake up call could put them in a place of dangerous instability, try to find another path.

      1. Wondercootie*

        Just to clarify, I didn’t mean that getting fired was a wake-up call to my behavior. It was a wake-up call that my mental health needed some serious attention. I was lucky that I was in a supportive relationship and relatively financially stable when I got fired. Moldy Rug, you are so right that we need our basic needs met before we can be reliable.

  23. Maybe I'm Weird?*

    My husband has a condition that makes it challenging for him to process auditory information. Therefore, we jointly attend all vet appointment and our doctor’s appointments together. I was a little taken back to see that was considered odd! I imagine we will both attend appointments for our children down the road. It works for us.
    Since the LW mentioned the wife being sick, it made me more empathetic to the individual. Maybe they have a similar situation.
    However, we are privileged to have jobs that allow for this and would not take advantage if it caused our employers issues.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This is a genuine question, I’m not judging – why don’t you go to the vet appointments alone and tell your husband later? Is he taking time off work to go to appointments where he’s not adding value/his presence isn’t necessary?

      If it works for you that’s great! But it’s not terribly typical and would be a confusing reason to miss work regularly without more context.

      1. Maybe I'm Weird?*

        Excellent Question! The short answer is he wants to be there and feels a responsibility to be there. We each brought a dog into our marriage and so when his “original” puppy needs the vet, he wants to be there. I also do some real time translation for him so he can better understand what is being said since he is the major decision maker for his original puppy.
        For the human doctor visits, I have a major health concern and I like him being able to ask questions to my doctor directly with me there. I hate being the middle man for certain questions about my health (i.e. he can ask about my hair coming back when I just prefer not the think about it). That’s the best balance we’ve struck.
        I know we are incredibly privileged to be in this position.

        1. Courageous cat*

          Ok, but so, in this vet scenario, that isn’t the right way to do things in OP’s situation. If my employee was missing that much work to go to the vet for the same reason as your husband (which essentially boils down to “principle” and not “need”), I’d be pretty pissed.

          And regarding your first comment, I’m not sure why you are taken aback by people finding this odd – not being able to go alone due to an auditory processing disorder has to be incredibly uncommon, or highly unlikely to be the cause, in this situation. Statistically speaking I would imagine it’s more likely that they’re just trying to get out of work for whatever reason.

          If you hear hoof beats, think horses not zebras, etc etc.

    2. Moira Rose's Closet*

      I don’t find it strange that both of you go to the vet! I just file that under “every family functions differently.” We’d probably both attend all of our kids’ pediatrician appointments if we could, but it doesn’t work with our schedules.

      We avoid work travel at all costs because our daughter is autistic, and when one of us travels, it’s very, very difficult for her. I know our coworkers think that’s strange, but that’s their problem. I also couldn’t be away from either of my kids for more than 8-9 hours when I was breastfeeding because I had chronic mastitis. I didn’t tell anyone I had chronic mastitis, I just made up excuses. Every family has to do what works for them.

      1. Maybe I'm Weird?*

        Thank you! I completely feel you on needing structure. I avoid travel too because it causes such disruptions.

        I also think that us sharing instead of delegating appointments makes all the family labor feel more equitable. I agree “every family functions differently,” and since we both share these responsibilities instead splitting them up, it doesn’t make one of us resentful or one career constantly taking a backseat.

      2. Mallory Janis Ian*

        My husband and I usually swapped off routine vet visits depending on whose schedule would most easily permit it. But for visits where there’s an urgent issue or if it’s a follow-up for our chronically-ill dog’s serious condition, we would both go. Now that he’s retired and I’m still working, he handles all the routine vet visits by himself, but when it’s something urgent or where crucial health updates are going to be given, I’m too anxious to participate so I take off and go. But if I’d been in a period of spotty work attendance, I’d be aware of that and let him go by himself and report back to me.

    3. Fluffy Fish*

      I don’t think odd is fair. It is perhaps not typical but I don’t think in most cases anyone would bat an eye.

      I think OP mentions it because they are trying to decide if the requests are actually good reasons which is obscuring the point. I also don’t think they are saying he has a sick wife as in the wife is dealing with a serious illness, just that he called out one time because she was sick. 52+ days off a year unless there’s a major or chronic illness is extreme.

    4. JamminOnMyPlanner*

      I don’t think that going to the vet with your spouse, in and of itself, is weird, I think it’s more in the context of, this guy is missing work at least once a week.

      I also didn’t take it to mean that his wife was chronically ill, but that if she is sick, he stays home with her. I could be wrong on that, though.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Exactly; I don’t think going to the vet with your spouse is weird, but if the guy has already missed enough work that it’s an issue, and he has a spouse who is going to the vet anyway, maybe let the spouse handle that one?

    5. ffs*

      Both my dogs have orthopedic issues and I’m not spending thousands on surgeries just to have it all wrecked when puppers goes apesht in the car, when having an extra person to ride herd means we all get there intact.

    6. Siege*

      My parents go to the vet together because my mother’s spinal issues mean she can’t lift or walk the dog, but my dad’s inattentiveness means he doesn’t retain information. My partner and I go to the vet together when we can because we like each other. I see lots of obvious couples at the vet. But we’re not taking time off, as a pattern of taking at least one day a week off, to do that. If I have to take time off to get the cat to the vet, fine – my partner does not also need to take time off to get the cat to the vet or vice versa. The issue is taking too much time off and either using a made-up excuse as the reason (do you really have full-day vet visits?) or not giving the clarification (“our dog has a chronic issue and we find it easier to both be at vet appointments to get the information we need to manage his care”) that makes it all make sense. But taking a full day off for a vet appointment sounds on the face of it like it’s a made-up issue. Even when my partner has to take his rats to the exotic vet across the city by bus, with the transit reroutes we’re dealing with due to bridge construction, it’s only a half day. So yeah, I don’t buy the excuse. It’s part of a pattern of getting an extra day off every week.

    7. Dust Bunny*

      My parents are retired and willing to take my cats but I always take them because my parents are, frankly, useless. They don’t listen, they don’t ask questions, they don’t remember anything they were told. Cat comes home with new meds and I ask about them and they don’t know. Why didn’t they ask? They don’t know that, either.

      They’re fine cognitively, it’s not that, they just aren’t good at it.

      Bu the cats only go in once or maybe twice a year, not all the time.

    8. Botanist*

      Dang, I actually wish now that we lived in a culture where it was assumed that both partners might want/need to be present for a child or pet’s medical appointments. My son needed to be hospitalized five times in eight months for respiratory issues in the year before COVID (so grateful that the last time was weeks before the lockdown!). As the one with the more flexible job, I was the one who got to sleep in the chair in the PICU or share a hospital bed with my toddler and handle all interactions with medical staff. The last time my husband was transitioning jobs and was able to spend the night with us in the hospital. Just having him there made such a huge difference in how much stress I felt taking care of a one-year-old who didn’t want to keep his nasal cannula in.

    9. Karia*

      I’m lucky enough that our vet does evening appointments. I have been able to get my cat into a carrier and to the vet solo precisely *once*. Our previous, far more nervous cat required at least two people. To me, that made far more sense than staying home with a sick adult spouse.

  24. Alexis Rosay*

    I used to hire for positions that require the ability to speak a foreign language, which I also speak. I did get some people with pretty bad skills in the language make it to the interview stage. Often these were college students or recent grads who apparently did not know their own level, so I felt it was the right thing to inform them about why they were rejected. Yeah, people don’t appreciate it, but since I was working at a nonprofit that specifically worked with youth and these were basically youth, it still seemed like the right thing to do.

    1. Nanani*

      “Does not know their own level” is probably most of these.
      Getting a good grade in an X level class doesn’t mean fluency, it means you have reached X level, but you won’t realize the difference until you reach -at least- X+1 level.

  25. Sleepless KJ*

    I have a different take on #1. It sounds to me like he might be a controlling type that insists on keeping his wife under his thumb. She can’t be home sick alone? She can’t go to the vet alone? My first thought was possessive/distrustful/ controlling.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Hm, maybe but I’m not sure how that fundamentally changes the advice. That’s not something the employer can or should interfere with.

    2. SoloKid*

      Eldritch is correct that it doesn’t impact the advice.

      Furthermore, we could suggest with the same certainty that perhaps the wife is the controlling one who forces her husband to stay home to do menial tasks at the risk of his employment. Either way, it doesn’t matter to the advice.

    3. Ace in the Hole*

      Eh, seems just as likely there’s a benign explanation. My partner has mental health issues that sometimes make it very difficult, distressing, and/or unsafe for her to do things on her own. I’ve known other people with chronic health conditions that need intermittent caregiving when they have a flare up. Without knowing what the wife being “sick” means, it could mean anything from the common cold, to bedridden with crippling back pain, to a manic episode where she might hurt herself.

      Either way this is still a problem, since LW needs their employee at work and the employee isn’t even communicating well about what’s going on or what accommodations/leave they might need.

  26. No Stale Processes*

    Had a CEO who used the phrase “green shoots” every few minutes. At a virtual town hall, the only thing that kept us from falling a sleep was playing take a (virtual) shot with “green shoots” as the word.

  27. nnn*

    One thing I find useful for clarifying jargon is saying “by which I mean…”, and then articulating what you actually mean.

    The advantage of this is you don’t have to actually break your habit or think of a new word on the fly!

    The disadvantage is now I seem to be saying “by which I mean…” every few sentences.

  28. Fabulous*

    #4 about the resume formatting – So… I am very experienced in Word and Excel, and my resume is formatted to a T.


    I went on an interview once that I worked through an agency to get. They had requested a Word version of my resume, which I sent without a second thought. Well, they absolutely butchered my formatting before sending it on to the client in the manner that this person is talking about – the centering using spaces or tabs, random words appearing where they shouldn’t, etc.

    I was appalled when the hiring manager pulled out my resume!! Thankfully I had brought my own copy, and they were relieved as well, because it was seriously BAD.

    So, all this to say – sometimes you can’t judge a resume by it’s format? Lesson learned, though. I will never provide Word versions to recruiters, ever again. I’ll ask what they want to amend and make the change myself.

    1. Karia*

      I send them PDFs, so they can’t fiddle. Same with applications in general, because if the hiring manager / recruiter has a slightly different version of Word, the formatting will be mangled.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        I’d never send out anything other than a pdf!

        I’m also currently hiring and reviewing a lot of applications, and I much prefer the pdf attachments from that side as well. They open in the preview-thingy of our software without issues, I can open on all devices, and I know that what I see is what the candidate sent, not some mangled version.

  29. Hence, jargon*

    The second letter reminds me of one of my college professors. Every other word during lectures was “hence”. We all kept a running tally of how many times he said it. You could hear people flipping back and forth in their notebooks to add to it. I think the highest one was over 100 times in a 2 hour lecture. One day we were having an exam and we had all been studying like crazy. The prof was running late and ran into the classroom all flustered. The first thing he said was “Hence”. It took us at least 15 minutes to get ourselves under control

  30. Karia*

    LW3: Does your ad say “Call X for an informal chat about the role”? I’ve seen this as boilerplate on a few (particularly public sector) roles. This might be resolved by a copy-edit.

  31. Lexi Lynn*

    Word is nightmare with health savings accounts. It either insists on changing HSA to HAS or if you add it to the dictionary, random instaces of “has” become “hsa.” For a while I had a macro but I have to reimage my computer frequently enough that resetting the macro gets old and my IT refuses to copy over anything saved on the computer.

    1. Rainy Cumbria*

      I used to work with someone whose surname was Teh, which autocorrect always changed to The.

  32. simples*

    OP1, permit the person to work remotely as much as possible, and/or on flexible hours as much as possible.

    Op3, it’s really unusual for people to get snippy like this. Something in your delivery might be coming across as dismissive, disprespectful, etc. They might be left thinking you’re awful to work for. Be patient with people who want to apply for jobs you are advertising.

  33. Alyssa*

    For #1, is he using sick/personal/vacation time for all of these days? If so, I’d say let it go until he uses all of his days off. Then if he still wants time off, you can say it will be unpaid or he’ll have to be at work.
    If he hasn’t been using his PTO for these days, he definitely should be!

  34. Rosacolleti*

    #3 Heck, I recruit regularly and rarely get a call like this. I wonder if the job ad doesn’t give clear enough info about the role, skills, how to apply etc?

  35. Contracts Killer*

    I would encourage LW #2 to join Toastmasters. They do a great job of helping people with a “filler word” habit. When people get nervous, have a brain fart, or for any number of reasons, they sometimes use filler words. People are used to hearing “um” or “like”, but I wonder if “visibility” is that person’s filler word and it’s an ingrained habit that Toastmasters can help break.

  36. This is She*

    Re #2 — forgive me for dropping a link to a great Kids in the Hall sketch that may be relevant to the discussion:

  37. I'm a manager too*

    #1. I read the letter and was worried it was my boss talking about me (switching she and husband to he and wife though). I don’t think it is about me but I am often late or have to leave early due to my husband’s erratic chronic illnesses. He no longer works, that’s how bad things are. We also have pets, some who need a lot of care, and when the husband is having a bad day, he can’t do all of the typical duties. So yes I have to pick up the slack around the house which can be exhausting, or if he is up all night, needing my help, I get no sleep. I try to be on time but I’m not a machine. I’m not loaded so I can’t just hire people to help us only when we need it. Reading some of these comments make me feel pretty crappy. I didn’t ask for this life; I hate having so little control over things and I don’t enjoy constantly running out or rushing in. Yes, there have been weeks where there was something nearly every day, between my health, hubs’ health, my parents, car issues, the pets…and it all fell to me. I really hope none of y’all ever have these types of things go on in your lives or at least not until you’re retired. Reading so many negative comments makes it clear that we humans have a lack of empathy. Shame on so many of you for being so mean spirited. Maybe your coworkers are telling half truths because they are trying to just get by and keep their jobs. You don’t know what people are facing at home. If I could afford to, I would quit, because I see how hard it is on me and how it affects my work but I can’t. Give people a bit of a break.

  38. Evvie*

    Re: The repetitive jargon.

    I do this. I can tell you, no one is more annoyed by it than me. In my case, it’s related to OCD and is kind of like having a word stuck in my head like others get songs stuck in their heads. I inwardly scream at myself every time I say whatever the current word is!

    I’m not diagnosing the person, obviously. This could be simply a case of unconscious Buzzword Fever. But I’d maybe come from a place of “are you aware of this?” and “how can we work together to find clearer words?” rather than “stop.”

Comments are closed.