my employee keeps falling asleep in meetings

A reader writes:

I have noticed that one employee tends to doze off at our weekly departmental meeting. I don’t believe she has any medical condition that would cause this, and I don’t see her dozing off at other times. But I’ve noticed the dozing off many times during these weekly meetings (usually held after lunch or around 3 p.m.).

We’re a laid-back office, but this feels disrespectful and unprofessional. Should I speak with her about it and ask if there’s a medical issue? Should I ask her to drink more coffee?

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:

  •  Our employee takes lots of leave without pay
  • Should I ask my interns to stop greeting everyone in the morning?
  • Does connecting with someone on LinkedIn indicate I endorse them?

{ 239 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Some of the comments about meetings below are so out of sync with typical workplace norms they’re actively harmful to people who are new to the workforce and trying to calibrate their understanding of acceptable behavior. I am not willing to have that here because it risks truly harming someone’s career. I need to think further about how to manage this, but for now at a minimum, if you are talking about how you think things should be rather than how things are, I request that you note that in your comment.

    1. Vinessa*

      Alison, would you be willing to do an entire post about this topic (should vs. are)? I think it can also be applied to comments related to social interactions with co-workers, jobs that can’t be done from home, etc.

  2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Only happens in meetings, eh? A few questions… Are the meetings relevant? Are the meetings necessary, or is this information that could be dispersed in written form? Is the tone dry? Do they drudge on endlessly? Does the employee have a long commute to get to the office and back?

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I’ve been this person pre-pandemic and I got yelled at for it all the time. I note our meetings were at 8 a.m, same meeting at least once or twice a week, and I had to sit Perfectly Still Staring at whoever was droning on for at least an hour. I was so bored and I was not allowed to do anything to keep myself awake except to drink a beverage.

      On Zoom, nobody can see me knitting or Internet surfing during the meetings and I am SO much more perky and awake now! So, HMMMMMMM.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

        Tshirt inspiration: “On Zoom, no one can see you knit.”
        (Patterned after the Alien movie poster)

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Hear, hear! Unlike the scrum team or project team meetings, every last one of the all-hands (department, company) meetings I’ve been to could’ve been an email, or no meeting at all. (There’s typically been a powerpoint presentation, that could’ve been emailed or posted on sharepoint.) Much easier on Zoom.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Two most common types of meetings are (1) to collectively come to a decision on some matter; and (2) to disseminate information to the attendees. The first kind is legit, though more than half a dozen people and it will fall apart unless you are willing to go the Robert’s Rules of Order route. The second kind virtually never has any reason to exist other than the person presenting the information lacks the literacy skills to write a coherent memo.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            “more than half a dozen people and it will fall apart unless you are willing to go the Robert’s Rules of Order route”

            I’ve seen a lot of productive daily team standups devolve into (also daily) hour-long rambling sessions and eventually die a natural death, because the group had grown, and one or two people had been added to it who loved the sound of their voice. It only takes one, and the person who runs the meeting not being able or willing to shut them up. (If the person running the meeting and the person loving the sound of their voice are the same person, the meetings are doomed.)

            1. Wintermute*

              that’s why in proper agile development they emphasize the STAND UP part of “stand up meetings”, they should, ideally be a situation where you’ll get physically uncomfortable if you’re there too long.

              Similar effects can be had by just booking a meeting room for only so long, or having the team take over responsibility for live monitoring/break-fix at a given time of day, so dawdling really isn’t an option.

      3. Daisy-dog*

        Cell phone games are so great to help me listen. I don’t fall asleep, but my mind just wanders and I usually end up mentally drafting an email or thinking through my grocery list.

        1. Old Cynic*

          Yes, this! I play solitaire on my phone and it makes me more attentive to the content of the meeting. People don’t get this.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Back in high school I lived across the street from the school and went home for lunch. Civics class immediately followed. It was stiflingly dull, so I would bring the paper from home and read it in class. I wasn’t flamboyant about it, but this isn’t something you can really hide. This disturbed the teacher for the obvious reasons, but if he called on me I would look up, give the correct answer, and go back to the paper. Also, he considered keeping up with the news a civic virtue. So he didn’t really have anything to complain about, other than appearances. He took the coward’s way out. On parent-teacher night he asked my parents to ask me to stop. I switched to paperbacks, which were more discreet. I’m sure he knew this, but he never said anything.

            Had I been forced to a performative pose of attentiveness, I my mind would have been a million miles away and I would have had a far harder time answering correctly when called upon.

            1. Aggresuko*

              Some people are really looks-ish, like my job :( I’m glad you were allowed to use paperbacks.

            2. BatManDan*

              Similar for me. Read “Punch” magazine in the back of the class, but always made As in that one. Best story is asleep at my desk, head down; woke up, but didn’t want to jerk to attention and make it noticeable (I was on the front row – who was I kidding?) – teacher asked a question I knew the answer to, I looked up and answered it. As I did, I judged by the look of astonishment on her face that the proper theatrical flourish would be to put my head down again when I finished; which I did. Became a legend in the school. LOL. Not bad for a nerd.

            3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

              “a performative pose of attentiveness”
              thank you for this descriptive phrase!

            4. Skytext*

              In college my secondary major was math. In senior year I just needed 3 more credit hours to complete my degree. I already had all my upper level requirements done, so I took a 100 level Statistics course. It was so easy I sat in the very back and did the old “book inside the textbook”. The professor was a dick and it pissed him off that I was reading, so he tried try to put me on the spot by calling on me. I’d look up, rattle off the correct answer, and go right back to reading. Seriously, I can do Advanced Calculus, you think I can’t figure out that if Jane has 5 records and 3 of them are Jazz the ratio is 3/5 Kevin?

            5. The OG Sleepless*

              My husband loves to tell this story: his senior year of high school, he had wrestling practice every single day and was absolutely exhausted. His solution was to take a study hall, and use it to take a nap. He explained this to the teacher of the history class he ended up in, who rolled his eyes but allowed it. So, he went in every day, sat at the back of the class, put his head down and went to sleep.

              For the final exam, Husband decided to take the final just for fun. He is a history buff (can be a bit insufferable, honestly), and he made an 86. A whole bunch of people failed the test and the teacher chewed them all out, pointing out that “MrSleepless SLEPT THROUGH this entire class and made a B!”

            6. K*

              It’s so hard to get through to students that something apparently harmless like reading the newspaper is rude, conveys very clearly that you think the class is dull, and lowers engagement for everyone. They just tend to think “Well, if I’m keeping up, it’s fine.” A, you’re not really keeping up – I have to explain everything twice for you because you didn’t hear it and don’t know I said it. And B, your teacher is pouring a lot of energy into the class, even if you can’t see it; it’s a bit like a stage show, and like all shows it depends a lot on what kind of audience you get. Someone performatively reading the newspaper is a big energy drain. A class that’s actively listening and responding creates a loop of energy that leads to a much better class. And of course classes have personalities, and they can be swayed by an influential student: a class with someone visibly performing inattention in the corner will be more inattentive and off-task overall, even if that one student is getting good grades.

          2. BatManDan*

            I don’t know how I’m wired that makes this true of me, too. If I’m in a long live meeting, I will play solitaire on my computer; it actually helps me stay “in the room” and engaged.

          3. Ashkela*

            I freak folx out when they ask me what I’m doing and I respond with:
            1. Watching X on YouTube on my laptop
            2. Playing Y game on my phone
            3. Having 3 DM/IM chats on my desktop (could do it on my phone, but my typing is much faster)
            4. Running a passive game on my FB on the laptop

            I can actually do all that AND pay attention at work, though I only do that when I don’t have something active to do because I’m a contractor and my job is to NOT have long meetings and do all the little things that come up while the big wigs are in said meetings. (Note that none of the distraction things are done on the work laptop, but my personal one sitting behind the work one – supervisor is aware and fine with it as long as the only part of this I’m doing during a meeting is playing on my phone)

            The joys of having ADHD and learning how to hack it.

      4. Budgie Buddy*

        I don’t have trouble staying awake but I may be outlining a novel at the same time I’m taking meeting notes…. Long stretches of time where I have to focus on one thing and one thing only are my nemesis!

        I blame my parents for letting me do any drawing or handcrafts I liked during church as long as it didn’t make any noise.

      5. Bexy Bexerson*

        Whenever an invite for one of those “Come listen to senior leadership drone on about corporate BS for an hour” meetings hits my inbox, I think “Hell yeah, an extra hour of knitting time!” and smash that “accept” button.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

      This is one where I would have loved an update. Getting excessively sleepy after meals and the mid-afternoon snack was the early warning for a friend who didn’t know he was developing diabetes.

      1. Moira Rose*

        YEP. I’ve said it in the comments a couple times but I really urge people to get a medical workup if they’re newly sleepy all the time and there’s no obvious proximate cause like a new baby.

      2. Artemesia*

        for me , falling asleep in meetings was a marker for low thyroid — I just thought I was getting old. Turns out I had almost no thyroid hormone and when I started taking synthroid, I stopped falling asleep.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Same here, though not in meetings—I was coming home from work way more exhausted than I should have been and would just crash.

          1. Chocolate Teapot*

            A stuffy, unventilated meeting room doesn’t help either. I had a full day of client meetings and had no time to go out at lunchtime, so I found myself nodding off.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      The answers to these questions doesn’t matter. Employees shouldn’t be alseep at the job even in boring, dry, long meetings.

      1. IDTS*

        that is not realistic. you have to engage your employees. also, all people absorb information differently. you have to be flexible.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            It’s not okay, but you can also look critically at the setup and determine if you’re setting your employees up to succeed or enticing failure.

            1. Allonge*

              Sure. As I don’t see a complaint from OP that anyone else is falling asleep in these meetings though, I am fairly convinced it’s not a universal problem but some issue of the employee – and then it’s on her to explain that she would be tremendously helped by having the meetings at a different time or being able to bring her knitting or having the temperature lower / higher or whatever.

              All these are pretty inappropriate for OP to suggest though.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I am sure this employee is not falling asleep AT the OP.

            It’s not like she walks into a weekly department meeting thinking “Ahh, finally, naptime!”

            1. Raboot*

              No one suggested that? No one is saying it’s a moral failure on the employee’s part but it needs to stop.

          3. MCMonkeyBean*

            Yes, this is really wild to me. There is frequent discussion in here about looking distracted during meetings and how what some people see as distractions are things other people use to focus better. Those things make sense to keep in mind. But I’m sorry the number of people who seem to think *sleeping* during a meeting is fine is a little ridiculous.

            The several comments pointing out different medical things that might be happening that the employee doesn’t even know about are interesting! I’m not sure if there is a way for a boss to gently suggest their employee look into that while they bring up the fact that sleeping during meetings isn’t okay. But… sleeping during meetings is not okay. I would have thought this was an extremely obvious thing we would of course all agree on before I scrolled down here but what a world this is I guess.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              I find it wild that Management are paid their high wages to impact the performance of those they supervise (for the better) and yet so many are taking offense with the idea that this manager could inadvertently be impacting the performance of the supervised employee, but like you said… what a world this is.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        The human brain and human behind can tolerate extended, tedious meetings for only so long. Falling asleep is a fairly natural response to dry, long meetings.

        It is not realistic to expect people to give their full attention to a meeting for even a half-hour, unless they are actively participating in the meeting. Or they’re secretly robots.

        1. Allonge*

          Hm. Ok, look, I have nothing against making sure that meetings take place when there is a need, are functional and when appropriate, interactive. Nor am I against being able to bring a laptop, your knitting project or any quiet fidget tool along to help you concentrate.

          But what you are expecting is not realistic in a lot of places. Employers don’t exist to keep people entertained!

          If someone is not able to tolerate meetings longer than 30 minutes to the level that they fall asleep, then they are not compatible with a lot of jobs – just like my horrible eyesight and my lack of physical stamina excludes a lot of carreers for me. This is not on employers to fix.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            I said nothing about entertaining associates during meetings. Also:

            ‘If someone is not able to tolerate meetings longer than 30 minutes to the level that they fall asleep, then they are not compatible with a lot of jobs – just like my horrible eyesight and my lack of physical stamina excludes a lot of carreers for me. This is not on employers to fix.’

            Don’t conflate things, please. Your eyesight being so bad that you literally cannot perform a job-related task is not the same as getting sleepy during a long meeting. Your poor comparison notwithstanding, no, an employer cannot fix those things. But they are obligated to address and accommodate employee limitations *whenever possible* in order to do their jobs.

            If we wanna torture your example a bit longer, that means smart employers will manage meetings differently if they expect rapt attention – or at least, dutiful attention – for more than 30 minutes.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              If we wanna torture your example a bit longer, that means smart employers will manage meetings differently if they expect rapt attention – or at least, dutiful attention – for more than 30 minutes.


              I’ve had 3 jobs where I’ve had to rise by 4 am to make it to work “on time.” I am *not* a morning person. For one of them, I was literally the person opening the building up. If my boss were really petty enough to make a big deal out of me running out of steam at 3pm and callous to any contributing factors she had introduced, I’d probably comply by sleeping in an hour or two longer so I get the recommended amount of sleep, I’d probably become a hardliner about leaving on time, and I would certainly not respond to crises after hours. I might use sick days after nights of insomnia.

              Thankfully, even my worst supervisor–the one who wanted me on a three-foot leash mounted ten feet in the air–wasn’t even *that* petty.

              Here’s a radical idea–if you want me to remain engaged and conscious, let me work! The JD and interviews weren’t screening for my tolerance for being lectured at.

            2. Allonge*

              Hold on. ‘Sleepy’ and ‘actually falling asleep’ are very far from one another on the acceptable / not spectrum. We are talking about someone who actually falls asleep. Not ‘not paying rapt attention’, actually, visibly, regularly falls asleep.

              If there is a medical issue that needs accommodation, then she can bring it up. OP cannot preemptively decide that ‘short meetings only’ or ‘interactive meetings after lunch only’ will solve the issue!

            3. Loulou*

              It actually seems like you are conflating being sleepy and actively falling asleep at work — the latter of which is not at all “normal” and definitely suggests some sort of medical issue to me.

        2. I should really pick a name*

          It sounds like this is the only employee who’s falling asleep.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I mean, I’m pretty confident that, over my long career, I have by now developed a skill where I can be completely zoned out in a meeting while looking like I am staring at the speaker hanging on to their every word.

            Prior to that, yes, I used to be reprimanded for looking unfocused or dozing off in long, boring, unnecessary meetings.

            Maybe the rest of the department has already developed this skill too. It is not in any way useful or anything you can put on your resume, but is somehow an important skill in the corporate world. Frankly this is embarrassing and I want to apologize to anyone working in retail, healthcare, construction, landscaping, any other physically or mentally exhausting jobs. Here we are earnestly discussing the importance of appearing to be awake while sitting in a chair being droned at for an hour. Talk about non-value-add.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          “It is not realistic to expect people to give their full attention to a meeting for even a half-hour,”

          Sure, it is.

          But it’s only one person who’s having a problem, which suggests it’s her and not the meetings.

        4. Joielle*

          Idk, I think not falling asleep in a boring meeting is a pretty standard expectation in a lot of office-type jobs. I’ve been in a whole lot of boring meetings in my life (some MUCH longer than a half hour) and have never fallen asleep or seen anyone else fall asleep during a meeting. Sometimes you’re taking unnecessary notes, or discreetly doodling, or thinking about what you need from the grocery store, but you have to at least look like you’re paying attention. If this is not possible for someone, they may need to request formal accommodations or find a different type of job.

      3. Firm Believer*

        Came here to say the same. It’s part of the job. Sometimes we have to do boring things at work. It’s a job not an amusement park.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          We have to do this specific boring thing why? How does the business benefit from it?

          1. Allonge*

            You are supposed to listen to the information being shared, contribute as appropriate, react in the meeting when necessary, and process it so you can act on it later?

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              You are describing a working meeting that people don’t typically fall asleep in. I’m thinking of the hundreds of hour-long department meetings I have attended, where contribution or reacting was not expected, the information was not work-related or useful enough to be acted on later, everyone was expected just to sit there for an hour and listen to something not related to anything they were working on, while also missing an hour of their actual work.

          2. Loulou*

            There are so many types of meetings that I don’t see how anyone here could possibly answer this (rhetorical?) question, but obviously plenty of them have specific business purposes? I can’t believe how many people are blaming OP for having meetings at all. This is really not connected to reality.

              1. Loulou*

                That’s a big umbrella! I do not think we have the information to say if these are a good use of staff time or not, despite some commenters seeming very confident that they must not be.

    4. MEH Squared*

      Also, is it in a room that does not have good ventilation/is stuffy? Are participants able to get up and stretch if need be? If I’m in a warm environment with little ability to move, I’m going to snooze despite my best efforts.

        1. yala*

          oh same. I’m like a lizard–cold enough, and I’ll just huddle and go into hibernation

          1. Random Bystander*

            All this time, I thought I was the only one–but that’s exactly how I describe it for myself.

        2. Avril Ludgateau*

          SAME. I always hear the “hot rooms make you sleepy” claim, but I’ve always been the opposite (heat makes me agitated and uncomfortable, cold makes me drowsy), and I think there’s even published data that suggests people generally sleep better in colder indoor temperatures. I can’t help but think the “cold perks you up” is yet another example of how ambient office temperature is decided with very specific, narrowly defined bodies in mind.

          One thing I don’t miss about the office is that I had to fight constantly and in vain to keep my work space a bearable temperature for me. Forget falling asleep at my desk (which became a daily struggle); there were times my nail beds would turn blue. I know people will argue you can just put more layers on, but I was wearing sweaters and blankets in the summer, and I can’t type with gloves on. It made it so my body could never get accustomed to warm weather, either.

          1. SelinaKyle*

            Fingerless gloves! I used to work in an offices were I was in the basement and it was freezing. I wore fingerless gloves as I could still type

          2. MEH Squared*

            Hm. This may be a heat/cold thing in general as I keep my heater at 62 during the day and 60 at night (and, yes, cold perks me up). My BFF is the opposite and cold makes her want to sleep as well. Interesting.

            So in the case of the sleeping employee, it could be that the temperature of the room is more conducive to her falling asleep.

          3. Koalafied*

            Yeah, I think it’s clearly both – humans can sleep well within a particular range of comfort where there are no alarms being set off by the body. When the temperature rises or falls too far outside of that range, we wake up because neural signals are firing in the brain saying “too hot! must take action to get less hot!” or “too cold! must take action to get less cold!”

      1. Kendra*

        This! I had a summer class in college that was really interesting, taught by a grad assistant I adored, but it was held in an extremely stuffy classroom right after lunch. I felt horrible about it, but I fell asleep almost every day! No amount of caffeine helped; my brain just shut off & refused to function until I could get up & walk around.

    5. Clementine*

      As a supervisor, you have to say something. I had a staffer who really struggled to stay awake in long meetings in warm rooms. He knew it was a problem, and here’s one actionable solution that worked: I would always give him a task.

      It didn’t even need to be valuable, just something to engage him! I once had him count how many times a boss said, ‘Essentially’. (Note: It was something insane as, essentially, this was that Boss’s buzzword of the year.) He started doing this for himself – tallying how many times somebody said a particular word or phrase. He has been very successful professionally.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I do wonder whether the employee needs to be in the meeting.

        Tesla reportedly has a rule for meetings that if you feel you are neither contributing nor benefiting you can simply leave. I am breathless at the audacity but can’t help admiring the efficiency.

      2. Nameless in Customer Service*

        This is an excellent idea, both more pleasant and more successful than a punitive approach.

    6. Data Bear*

      Indeed. The question to ask is this: is the fact that someone is falling asleep in the meeting surprising and weird? Like, is it hard to understand how someone can possibly fall asleep when the atmosphere is so lively and discussion is free-flowing and everyone else is highly engaged? If so, that’s a case where you should talk to the employee and find out if there’s something wrong.

      If not… I think the smart thing to do is to regard it as a warning signal that the meeting is boring and terrible, and to ponder whether you can fix the meeting, rather than the dozer. Because it’s very often the case that the visible problem is not the only problem, and fixing a bad process will pay much larger dividends than hectoring the canary in the mineshaft into performative emotional labor for the sake of management ego.

      1. Loulou*

        It’s surprising and weird because it’s very unusual for people to fall asleep at work, period. Even in boring and terrible meetings. I can genuinely say I have never seen this and would be alarmed and concerned if I did!

    7. Anita Brake*

      Thank you, Sola Lingua! I love your points about the necessity, relevancy, and efficiency of meetings, and I agree that it is important that the presenter(s) can present in an engaging way, rather than filling a room with attendees and lecturing for two hours. I used to have this problem. I’ve tried sleeping more, eating healthier, more coffee, more exercise…it was still a problem. I need to have something to do, or be part of the meeting.

      I find that it helps if I am able to get up and get water or coffee at the back of the room, or if we stand up and stretch during the meeting, or get up and get into groups to solve problems. Being allowed (in meetings where this was possible) to bring yarn projects helped me, too, but I know that isn’t always possible and not everyone crochets. Would having some sort of fidget toy help?

      Maybe I was doing jobs that weren’t using my full potential? Maybe it’s a medical thing? I don’t know. But I did get a teaching degree at 53 years of age and am now teaching special ed students with emotional disabilities, and I am far too busy to fall asleep during the day, trust me!

      Thank you for reading my novel and coming to my Ted Talk!

    8. ostentia*

      Who cares? Employees are should be required to be engaged in meetings no matter how boring or unnecessary they think they are.

      1. anon for this*

        Yeah, I honestly can’t believe we apparently have gotten to the point where we’re engaging in apologetics for sleeping at work.

        1. ostentia*

          Right? I’m floored that anyone’s response to “my employee is falling asleep in meetings” could possibly be “well, is it an *fun* meeting? Also, how long is their commute?”

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            The intersection of exhaustion and boredom is often involuntary dozing, especially if the environment is oriented that way.

            What do you want, a solution or confirmation you can assign blame? I really couldn’t care less about the second one.

            1. Allonge*

              Except you are assuming both the exhaustion and the boredom. And in a dangerous manner.

              If there is a medical issue, the employee can be as well rested as humanly possible and the meeting can be fascinating and she will still fall asleep, because her diabetes or hormone condition or whatever will not care a bit.

      2. Anita Brake*

        Well, if you’re trying to solve the problem of why the employee is falling asleep in meetings, it’s good to discuss reasons why they might be falling asleep and try to improve the situation. Otherwise, someone (probably not you) might eventually fire them for sleeping. And it is expensive to replace employees. More expensive than it would be to ask meeting leaders/organizers to consider allowing others to access information in ways that are meaningful to (and more effective for) them.

        1. Allonge*

          More expensive than it would be to ask meeting leaders/organizers to consider allowing others to access information in ways that are meaningful to (and more effective for) them.

          Well, asking does not cost a thing but restructuring how an entire team works? That can cost a lot. And OP is not talking about replacing the employee at all.

    9. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      To add a question: is there a reason this meeting has to be just post- lunch or during the mid- afternoon doldrums? There’s never a great time for information- heavy, discussion-lite meetings, but those two times are added soporifics. Stuffy or gloomy conference rooms are terrible, too.

      (I have been the Meeting Napper. I have an elaborate set of tactics to avoid falling asleep, some times and locations are much worse than others. I might have been the one falling asleep but I can guarantee everyone else was zoning a bit, too.)

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Honestly, pre-pandemic, my current workplace cut down on meeting-napping by a lot when everyone started bringing their laptops into the meetings, explaining that they had to stay connected to their clients, end users, etc. Then continued to work throughout the meeting. This worked in the sense that everyone stayed awake. I don’t know any other way.

    10. doreen*

      When I was working, there was one type of meeting I had trouble staying awake for and thankfully, it only happened a couple of times a year. It started at 10am , 3 hours away from where I live and work . If I wanted to arrive the day before, I could, but the hotel would have been on me. It was not really a meeting where everyone was participating – it was more like a series of lectures. It didn’t end until at least 4 pm and after lunch , I was definitely nodding off. I’m not saying I was right to nod off – but I couldn’t help it and there were so many ways they could have avoided it. Bring us up the day before so no one had to wake up at 4 am to get there , break us into smaller groups that allowed for interaction and participation for at least part of the day rather than have one person at a time lecture to all 200 of us

    11. Lizzianna*

      The problem with meetings that could be emails is that people have to actually read their emails.

      I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent out emails outlining important information only to have a number of people miss an important deadline, etc. That happens a lot less when we cover it in a staff meeting, have a chance to answer questions, and then follow up with meeting notes.

      I know how annoying meetings that could be emails are, but not everyone absorbs info the same way. Figuring a way to not sleep through a meeting, even if you’d prefer not to be there, is a minimum level of professionalism.

      (I say this as someone who gets incredibly drowsy at about 3 in the afternoon. If I know I’m going in for a doozy of a meeting, I make sure I go for a walk beforehand and get some tea or a soda to keep me awake).

      1. Filosofickle*

        It is my experience that if I actually need people to pay attention, ask valuable questions, and respond / engage meaningfully, it probably has to be a meeting. There are a few people who are great at reading and responding asynchronously, but for the vast majority that is not the case. And even then there’s a tradeoff — a lot of assumptions have to be made and nuance is lost if we don’t go over it together. I’m sure this is fairly field-dependent but in mine that’s how it goes.

        And agree that staying awake is minimum. In 25 years I’ve seen someone fall asleep in a meeting maybe twice. It’s not that common IME.

        1. Lizzianna*

          Exactly, although I think the challenge is judging what topics need that engagement, and what topics people won’t engage in. Sometimes something I assume will involve a lot of questions is literally just me telling people the new policy and everyone shrugging their shoulders. Other times, something I think is fairly inconsequential will generate 10 min or more of spirited discussion.

          If I was clairvoyant, maybe I would have canceled the meeting for the former, but managers and meeting facilitators are people too, and we’re trying our best to accommodate a wide variety of people with different learning and work styles. Not every policy and process at work has to be tailored to every individual employee. Sometimes you have to sit through a meeting you’d rather not. Sometimes you have to engage in a reply all chain when you feel like a meeting would be more efficient.

          Also, sometimes your individual peak efficiency isn’t the goal when a manager is looking at what makes sense for the whole team. I don’t know, I just feel like sometimes comments get so focused on what works for us as individuals that we forget that being part of a team inevitably involves some give and take and compromise.

          (And honestly? A lot of the people multitasking while on Zoom aren’t hiding it as well as they think they are).

        2. Filosofickle*

          To soften what I said: I realize the situation could be medical or unavoidable — not super common but real. The OP should definitely start with asking, and make room for the movements/fidgets people need to listen if that helps. But there are limits on accommodations, and fewer/shorter meetings is not always a realistic solution. There are some jobs that need 1+ hour listening meetings regularly and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that either.

  3. FedVet*

    Seems like any typical meeting in the federal government, to be fair! Never have a point and the rank-and-file employees are just stuffed there to make someone feel important.

  4. former student*

    I used to fall asleep in class/seminars/group meetings all the time. I couldn’t stop myself; I would do the thing where I would desperately try to stay awake but my head would nod down and then I’d jerk it up out of surprise, and it was super embarrassing. I soon realized it was better to just nod off for about 10 minutes of the lecture and then wake up properly and pay attention. These days as an instructor I don’t hold it against my students when they’re sleeping in class, because solidarity.

    It doesn’t happen as often anymore though. I can’t say for sure but I think getting into the habit of getting enough sleep throughout the pandemic wfh time has conditioned me to get more sleep at night in general and I’m more rested for the day.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I fell asleep in a one-to-one at college once. That was awkward.

      In my defence, it was really warm and I wasn’t well.

  5. Oakwood*

    They may have sleep apnea, which prevents people from getting a good night’s sleep. It doesn’t present any symptoms, but it can cause serious problems. AFib–an irregular heartbeat–is one problem cause by sleep apnea.

    Meals that are heavy on carbs/sugar can also cause you to get sleepy. You get a quick rush from the carbs, it spikes your insulin, which leads to a sugar crash a few hours later making you sleepy. I usually recommend people watch the movie “Fat Head”, which has a good (and funny) explanation of how carbs and insulin affect you.

    BTW, telling them to drink more coffee is the last thing you want to do. Really, really dumb.

    1. Oakwood*

      And while I’m on a roll about this…

      1/3 of Americans get less than 6 hours of sleep.

      Women are much more likely than men to have a problem that causes chronic insomnia. The employee here is a women; I would bet the LW is male.

      You don’t know what the employee is dealing with outside the office. They may be caring for a sick spouse or child that is eating into their sleep time.

      Restless leg syndrome is another disease that disrupts sleep. It affect about 10% of people, and usually appears after people get older.

    2. Rose*

      This might interesting for someone reading who has a similar issue themselves,
      but all of this would be inappropriate to share with an employee, even more so than telling someone to drink coffee. There are hundreds of reasons an employee might not be sleeping well, or might be sleeping plenty but still tiered during the day. It’s not helpful or appropriate to speculate on the employees health.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Agreed, the manager could say “maybe you should see a doctor and find out if there’s a medical issue” but no more specific than that.

    3. CPAP Queen*

      I have sleep apnea. It absolutely does present symptoms (which may not be recognized; I never thought I was having symptoms). I also struggled to stay awake in meetings. That was the only symptom at work, but I also fell asleep anytime I went someplace in a car (I was not driving), I fell asleep while watching TV, I never woke up refreshed in the mornings (among other things). This employee should get tested for sleep apnea.

  6. B. cereus*

    Content of meeting aside: Of course the employee is tired in meetings occurring after a meal – the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in to aid digestion, which creates a calming/restful state. Pick a different time for the meetings.

    1. Rose*

      The level of un asked for coddling suggested in these comments is getting out of hand. These meetings are sometimes at 3:00 PM. Are you seriously suggesting businesses not have any meetings between 12-3:30 (or maybe later?) because there might be an employee who’s tiered? Should they block off 9-11 too, since a lot of people will eat breakfast around 8?

      Alison’s advice is spot on. Treat your employees like adults. Have faith in them to fix problems. Give them leeway and support if they tell you the need it.

      1. Fed Employee*

        Welcome to the Ask A Manager comments section, where it is never, ever, ever on the employee to change.

          1. Lulu*

            Reasonable discussion based on common sense and not wild and bizarre hypotheticals, yes.

            1. Anita Brake*

              Well, I didn’t think my comments were wild and bizarre, but luckily, like I said below, I am fortunate to work with people with a teamwork mentality who are willing to discuss ideas to solve problems. Best wishes, Lulu.

              1. Allonge*

                Teamwork to problem-solve how to make sure a specific person stays awake while on the job? In an office environment?

                It sounds like it could be a pretty inappropriate discussion, to be honest.

        1. Heather*

          Ain’t that the truth. See also “noone can be expected to think on their feet in a job interview”, “making occasional pleasant chit chat with your coworkers is too much to ask” and “not everyone can eat sandwiches”.

          1. Green Post-Its*

            “Getting showered and dressed for a video call is a HUGE imposition” and “My interviewer asked me [virtually anything], is this a huge red flag?”

          2. Lorine*

            “You have to LOOK at clocks to keep track of time, so clocks won’t work for everyone!” I wish I was kidding.

      2. Meow*

        I would be curious if there is a trend in this employee falling asleep more in the after lunch meetings than the 3 pm ones. Of course you can’t just ban afternoon meetings. But I’m someone who struggles with getting sleepy after lunch, it’s not a medical condition, it’s just normal digestion. I’ve definitely had 1’oclock meetings that I struggled to stay awake during. Just moving it to 2 fixes the problem. And no, I’m not dozing off while I work everyday, there’s something about the combination of sitting in a meeting room full of people droning on that makes it impossible for my eyelids not to fall a bit.

      3. Avril Ludgateau*

        re you seriously suggesting businesses not have any meetings between 12-3:30 (or maybe later?) because there might be an employee who’s tiered? Should they block off 9-11 too, since a lot of people will eat breakfast around 8?

        Ideally? Yes. Also block of 11:00-12:00 so people can have lunch.

        If you’re not picking up in it: stop having general meetings, period. If they can be summed up in an e-mail, with no or insufficient collaborative aspect, they are not even meetings, they are lectures. Meetings should be limited to occasions where interaction is a key feature.

        1. Joielle*

          Eh, idk. I am no huge fan of meetings and am certainly not dying to schedule more, but I think there’s value in being able to present information to a group and receive any comments and questions in real time, with everyone hearing the back and forth. Yes, technically the information could have been sent in an email and everyone could respond with their questions/comments. But would reading through a bunch of overlapping reply-alls really be better?? For me, definitely not.

        2. Allonge*

          Meetings should be limited to occasions where interaction is a key feature.

          Except: there are a billion people who read emails reluctantly if at all and prefer to hear things live because otherwise they don’t digest them; there are a billion issues where you cannot predict if there will be questions / interaction needed or not; having regular team meetings can be a useful routine for the team to know when and how to bring things up and so on and so forth.

          Sure, some meetings are boring and should have been an email. If someone cannot handle meetings, it’s on them to find a job that is light on meetings.

        3. Loulou*

          Everyone at your office eats lunch at 11? That sounds really early to me, which just goes to show that you can’t find a time that works for everyone. The reality of meetings is sometimes they’re not exactly when each attendee would personally have chosen.

      4. Lulu*

        Thank God someone is saying it! I feel like I’m losing my mind here. 8am is apparently too early and an unreasonable time for a meeting, but so is 8:30am, and also right after lunch, oh and at 3pm they’ll be fatigued as well.

        Someone in a comment above said it is not realistic to expect people to give their full attention to a meeting for a half-hour. Seriously?

        1. bluephone*

          Apparently, all employees everywhere are misbehaving toddlers and the onus is on the bosses (who are always evil, you know) to never ever expect said toddlers to do anything they don’t want to do, ever

          (Yes I am being sarcastic. That I have to point that out is also sad).

    2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Right? Why in the world are you scheduling regular meetings for after lunch?!? I could see if it was the only time for a one-off due to schedules, but purposely after lunch is no bueno.

      1. ferrina*

        My company often schedules meetings for around lunchtime (including slightly before or after). This is because 1) We work flexible hours, and these are the hours when the most people are online 2) We also span multiple timezones, so there’s no avoiding lunchtime and 3) some roles have a ton of meetings and we need to take what we can get (and they prefer doing their casual meetings during lunch, rather than client meetings where they really shouldn’t be eating)

        1. Aggresuko*

          We have similar logic for all of our meetings being 8-9 a.m., as that’s the only time everyone is working and not on the phone lines.

        2. Calliope*

          Yeah I spent years scheduling east coast/west coast meetings and 11/2 and 10/1 are by far the times least likely to have conflicts from people on one coast or the other.

          This is an example of one of those things where they pay you because it’s work. Nobody’s ideal world preference is to sit in a meeting after lunch but it’s hardly an egregious ask. Pour a cup of coffee and figure it out. Or see a doctor if that doesn’t work.

    3. anonymous73*

      Seriously? So no meetings can be held after lunch because ONE person can’t keep their eyes open?

  7. Lilac*

    It’s rough that the only solution presented here is “ask her to do better in staying awake,” because she probably can’t control it. I’ve struggled my entire life to stay awake during school, meetings, work conferences – basically any time where I’m not ACTIVELY engaged. Listening harder and drinking coffee won’t solve this.

    I’m absolutely sure the employee hates this about herself. She probably could use some kind of alternate distraction to help keep her engaged. I try to bring my work laptop to meetings so I can keep my brain active while I listen, but in my office that’s fine to do. During long zoom meetings, especially when we worked from home in the pandemic, I cross stitched, which kept my brain active but not too busy to receive the information.

    1. Employed Minion*

      My brother has the same problem and had trouble staying awake during an early morning meeting some many years ago. He drove to work with the windows down, drank redbull, and basically did anything he could think of to make himself super awake before the meeting. Then he would eat redhot candies during the meeting. I believe he still struggled to stay awake because his brain was not actively engage.

      1. Lilac*

        Yeah, snacking on stuff or tapping my feet never has helped me once the sleepiness sets in. It’s definitely an engagement problem.

    2. ferrina*

      This isn’t really something that her boss should or can solve. The employee is the person that is best positioned to know what the root cause is (whether it’s something she can control or not) and address it (including asking for accommodations as necessary).

      I’m ADHD and when I get bored, I find ways to entertain myself. In elementary school this included disturbing the class or asking questions that completely derailed the lesson, and as an adult I needed to figure out better strategies. The one that worked for me the most was doodling- I’d bring two or three colored pens and make very intricate doodles. I’d also regularly take notes, so my notepad was a fascinating hodgepodge of badly drawn dragons and detailed notes on the big event that my company was hosting.

      1. Lilac*

        Yeah, much of this falls on the employee, but what the boss can do is be open to creative solutions. If the meeting rarely needs the employee’s input, let her zoom in so she can continue working and being engaged. This is my preferred solution to the issue and it serves everyone pretty well.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        There is a performative aspect to what activities are permissible. Doodling is usually acceptable, because we can pretend it is note-taking. This will usually get me through the tedium, but isn’t great for keeping my mind engaged. Playing a game on my phone that doesn’t require much concentration would be perfect for me. I can give the meeting as much of my brain as it requires, while having something to occupy the rest. But it generally is not socially acceptable due to appearances. This has nothing to do with actual effectiveness, of course.

        1. Dasein9*

          I find that writing my own thoughts out during the meeting can help, whether those thoughts are related to the meeting or not. But, years ago, I worked out a code of my own so I could keep a journal nobody else can read. I use that code to this day. Bonus: the process of creating such a code might be great fodder for boring meetings!

          1. NeedRain47*

            Mental note to create a code during next boring meeting!
            I take lots and lots of notes even when I definitely don’t need to, b/c if I’m taking notes I’m not falling over from boredom.

          2. Hapless Bureaucrat*

            I’ve also found that extensive, possibly excessive, note-taking helps me stay engaged. Also, my employer encourages people standing up in meetings– just getting up and going over to lean on the wall or listen from the back. They do it because we have lots of field staff who aren’t used to sitting for hours, but it’s also a blessing for me. Of course, now that we have virtual meetings my knitting is always just out of the frame.

            The way I figure, if I’m having a hard time staying awake, there are likely other members of the meeting who are also struggling to stay engaged, just less obviously. If it’s my meeting to control, I’m going to change the parameters.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Hah, not a work meeting, but I once joined a meetup group where we were supposed to have philosophical discussions, read books on philosophy and discuss etc., led by a philosophy professor from a local school. At the second ever meeting of the group, he stopped mid-sentence to berate the only person in the group that was paying close attention to what he was saying, and was taking notes – because she was using a note-taking phone app for that. “I said no phones!” Don’t know what ended up happening to that group, I never went back.

    3. Tinkerbell*

      Very, very few people who don’t have medical issues like narcolepsy literally “can’t control it” – it’s a question of priorities, and how much effort they’re willing to put into staying awake. Some of this effort is preparation – getting enough sleep the night before, not eating a large meal right beforehand, staying hydrated, etc. Some of it is sheer willpower to stay awake. Some is finding coping mechanisms that help yourself not drift off. Alison asks that we don’t armchair diagnose people’s problems (even though that seems to come up in nearly every comment section anyway in situations like this), so we can’t know whether this person has a medical issue or not, but it’s entirely possible that “let her know this Is A Serious Issue I Mean It” might make a difference.

      1. Avril Ludgateau*

        Very, very few people who don’t have medical issues like narcolepsy literally “can’t control it”

        No. Narcolepsy doesn’t function like this, first of all, and PLENTY OF MEDICAL ISSUES interfere with both sleep and wakefulness. Try a little compassion, today.

        Also, stop having boring meetings.

        1. Moira Rose*

          I mentioned it in my own top-level comment, but this was an issue with an old colleague and it turned out to be late-onset insulin-dependent diabetes. I urge people to get a medical workup if you’re newly sleepy a ton. (If it’s been like this since you were a kid, I’m not sure there’s the same urgency to get a workup.)

        2. Tinkerbell*

          I worded that badly – please read it as “very few people who don’t have medical issues, narcolepsy being one example, “can’t control it.” There are others, obviously, but my point was we’re not here to speculate on the medical side and if there isn’t a medical issue, simply telling the employee this is a big deal may help.

            1. Wintermute*

              I agree, I found it perfectly clear. If you don’t have a serious medical condition this is something you can control and in any reasonable workplace will be expected to. I don’t know of many places this employee wouldn’t already be fired or on the road to it, certainly no employer I’ve had. We have it right in our employee handbook that it’s summary termination.

      2. Engineer*

        It is not sheer will power for this person to stay awake. I was in New Zealand touring the country, and COULD NOT KEEP MY EYES OPEN, even though I desperately wanted to see everything. Same thing in meetings, classrooms, while driving, etc. I want to be awake for all those things, but literally CANNOT keep my eyes open.

        I used to say I could win the “Sleeping Olympics,” but no, I have a medical disorder.

      3. ferrina*

        it’s a question of priorities, and how much effort they’re willing to put into staying awake.

        It’s not this binary. Many of us with “controllable” conditions can’t control it all the time. Finding an effective treatment can be a long process, and what works one day may not work the next. Conditions can be affected by seemingly random things- everything from diet to sleep habits to activity level to type of activity to any combination thereof….you can get some really odd combos like “If I got 8 hours of sleep and either 1.5 cups of tea or 1/2-3/4 cup of coffee, I’m fine; at less than 6 hours of sleep, 2 cups of coffee is required unless I’ve had 3 hours or more of meetings, in which case only 1 cup of coffee is allowed.” That equation works 90% of the time, but there’s always weird exceptions.

        Words like “sheer willpower” are often used in an ablist context and is almost an armchair diagnosis of a character flaw. (Not saying that there aren’t lazy people, but we can’t diagnose that from here.) Many of us with invisible conditions have experienced some form of shaming for it, especially around being “lazy” or not having “willpower”. I really, truly wish it was that simple- at least then I’d be able to predict and control it! But sometimes my brain/body just won’t do what I want it to do, no matter how badly I want it and how hard I work for it.

      4. MeepMeep02*

        It depends on whether you are able to “get enough sleep the night before”. When I was being kept awake all night by a cranky baby and maybe functioning on 3 hours of sleep in broken 30-minute chunks, I would totally have fallen asleep in a boring meeting. No amount of “let her know this is a Serious Issue” would have made a difference.

        This person is either seriously sleep deprived or having a medical issue. Neither one of them will go away if you lecture her.

    4. ecnaseener*

      Well, the advice is to ask the employee what’s up and go from there. I’m not sure what’s so rough about that. If the employee says “I actually think it would help if I could have a distraction,” great! A solution is imminent! But she has to be the one to explain what’s going on, the LW can’t read her mind.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        This. What stands out to me in the letter is that the OP says they “don’t believe” the employee has medical issues. You never know. Even the fact that it’s only during this meeting that the employee falls asleep doesn’t mean it’s not due to a medical condition. It may just be that at other times, it’s easier to FIGHT that medical condition, whereas in a boring meeting during the afternoon, they just can’t win that fight.

        And if the issue is less of the fatigue or hypersomnia kind, and more of the “I can’t stay engaged and that makes me sleepy” kind, it could still be due to a variety of neurodivergencies. I have recently been doing some professional education on supporting neurodivergent people in the workplace, and one recommendation is that at the start of meetings, it makes sense to encourage people to do whatever they need to do to stay comfortable and engaged in the meeting, whether that’s moving around, doodling, taking a bathroom break, etc., without feeling like they need to speak up and get permission to do so. It might be that an announcement like that would be welcomed with relief by this employee!

    5. SleepyBear*

      I have a hypersomnia condition and this happens to me often. The good news is that a sleep disorder diagnosis will get you wonderful drugs like modafinil that will help you to stay awake. But, I had a real slog convincing anyone that it was real, because my condition primarily affects teenage boys. I would still ask your doctor and be tenacious!

      1. LittleDoctor*

        Primarily affects teenage boys…you don’t happen to be one of my Kleine-Levin Syndrome brethren, do you? One case per million people!

    6. TechWriter*

      Yep, I used to fall asleep in team meetings ALL. THE. TIME. They were small meetings to, just 5-6 of my immediately team members, talking about things that were relevant to my work! Thinking back, I would also fall asleep during lectures or student presentations at school (though that was likely from actual lack of sleep.)

      It didn’t matter how much sleep/coffee I’d had. I tried taking notes (they would fade into a squiggly line), I tried taking sips of water, I tried more coffee or tea, I tried “just being really engaged”, I tried fidgeting my foot… Nothing seemed to work. I don’t have any medical conditions that would make it happen, it just… happened. I definitely hated it and knew how bad it looked. These were usually midmorning meetings, but the time didn’t raelly seem to matter.

      Meetings I took (and still take) at home, I never had this problem! Why? Simple: I knit pretty much constantly during remote meetings. This was also my go-to strategy for keeping awake during student presentations when I did my college certificate. I wish it had occurred to me to check with my boss about knitting during in-person meetings, because I’m pretty sure she would have been fine with it, but at the time I was just a lowly intern/new hire, and I didn’t think it would look ‘professional’.

    7. morethanbeingtired*

      Have you ever considered getting tested for narcolepsy? I have it, I got diagnosed at 35 after struggling my whole life with sleep issues. It was my boss saying “You need to fix this- could it be a medical issue?” that made me finally go to a doctor. When the neurologist suggested narcolepsy, I argued with him. That’s how sure I didn’t have it- but I very much did. Now, if I have to be in a long meeting, I ask to stand or say I may need to get up and stand at some point. I also have a great sleep medication that makes it so that I rarely get that sleepy in meetings, even when really bored.

  8. Essentially Cheesy*

    It’s like these issues keep on coming up and reminding me of my retired boss. He was a hot mess but found a way to fall asleep at his desk. It was witnessed by other people – so it’s not just me. I used to cough at my desk to rouse him a bit.

    (I hope he’s enjoying retirement.)

  9. corporate counsel*

    Be very careful with the sleeping issue. We had an employee with the same issue and she was counseled about it once. When she was terminated for poor performance (unrelated to the sleeping) she filed an EEOC complaint, insisted that she informed the company about a “medical condition” and claimed that we were discriminating against her on the basis of an unspecified disability. While her charge was dismissed, I still spent several hours of my time gathering all the relevant information and writing a statement of position and she technically still has the option to sue my company.

  10. TG*

    So I will say a couple of things that may slightly defend the “meeting sleeper” but I’d ask as
    Openly as possible.

    1. I’ve had two eye surgeries and my eyes are light sensitive so when I am in a bright room I sometimes have to close my eyes or west sunglasses – no joke. I’ve explained it and people seem fine BUT I do be sure to stay engaged. However if this person has an eye issue I could see getting heavy eyes which could lead to nodding off.
    2. I am in early menopause and I am now an official insomniac and it is horrible. I nodded off at home listening to a long exec meeting – I felt badly and listened to the recording of the meeting. But honestly there are days I struggle to stay alert. If it’s a woman and she is older OR has insomnia, this could be why…at 3PM I want to curl up and snooze!

    1. Lizzie*

      Same here! I was always a good sleeper. Fell asleep quickly and slept through the night, unless i was sick, etc. Then menopause came calling and I wake up numerous times during the night, and went through a period where some days I HAD to take a nap during the work day.
      I also started taking a medication that sleepiness is a side effect of, so that could be it as well.

    2. Random Internet Stranger*

      I used to have severe light sensitivity due to a rare, degenerative corneal disease I am lucky enough to have (I manage it better now and am no longer especially light sensitive), but I really struggled with bright rooms and PowerPoint presentations. It was sometimes impossible to look up at someone’s presentation and sometimes my eyes desperately wanted to close, which of course leads you to nod off!

  11. Not Today Josephine*

    Is this person having a “liquid lunch”? I recall a co-worker and whenever our team went out to lunch they would always have at least a few glasses of wine, then back in the office would be napping at their desk during the afternoon.

      1. Not Today Josephine*

        Not sure why you think this is unkind. There are plenty of people who go out to lunch at work and have a drink or two. For some people, alcohol makes them sleepy. Nothing illegal about having a drink at lunch. It’s not like I suggested this person was shooting up heroin at lunch and then nodding off.

        1. Wintermute*

          I don’t think it’s especially unkind or totally off-limits to bring up but “liquid lunch” to me says they’re not eating and drinking instead, or consuming a fair bit. A glass of wine with with your lunch is not a ‘liquid lunch’ to most people.

  12. MK*

    I am not sure I agree with Alison about the unpaid time off. If the role is full time, it’s almost always because there is full time work to be done. I don’t care how phenomenal a person’s work is when they are there, if I am left covering for them on top of my own work, which the OP specifically states the rest of the admins have to do. Sounds to me as if the company might be ok with these absences but her coworkers are burdened. In jobs that require coverage, unpaid time off (for recreation) should be limited, unless the workers who are covering volunteer and are compensated.

    The only caveat I would have is if the unpaid time off is minimal. If the coworkers are complaining about 5 extra days a year, maybe they are being unreasonable. Though I think people who proudly proclaim they don’t need the job or the money are bound to cause discontent.

    1. Tinkerbell*

      I wonder whether – assuming this employee really is good enough they want to keep her despite her not really wanting this to be a full-time job – this would be a good situation in which to hire a temp to cover the extra work.

    2. Water Everywhere*

      And who is approving all the extra unpaid time off? This sounds to me like proper management is lacking for this group of secretaries, or the company in general. An employee who doesn’t need the job and can come & go as she pleases must have some influence in the company that makes management unwilling to tell her ‘no’.

      1. Water Everywhere*

        Also, I once had a new coworker who early on would proclaim they don’t need the job and were only doing it for extra ‘fun’ money. Went over like a lead balloon in our high cost-of-living area. Nice person & good worker but it still coloured people’s opinion of them.

    3. Bertha*

      My other thought is that perhaps they are complaining because they think it’s all paid, and aren’t aware that it’s unpaid. Based on the comments, it seems like they are more resentful that she gets so much time off, rather than how it affects their workload.

  13. SeaTurtleJamboree*

    The interns greeting everyone could also be a cultural thing- on a lot of teams I’ve worked in, especially on the smaller side with between 5-10 people, we do go around in the morning and greet everyone. It’s actually seen as rude not to. So maybe just a reminder to your interns to pay attention to team culture and just tell them what your culture is?

    1. Your genderqueer dad*

      I was interested in this letter as well because even I am rushing in at the beginning of the day I at least wave or say good morning to everyone I encounter on my way in. Maybe it’s overboard because it’s more of, “stopping at every office and asking “how are you” to every person”? Or maybe I am off-base by greeting everyone everyday, lol.

      1. Random Internet Stranger*

        Same! I always wave or smile and say hello or good morning. I assumed it must be more than that. Or we’re both way off-base.

    2. I Want to Break Free*

      Yeah, I’ve seen this in Europe, particularly. I was teaching a training once in France, and *EVERY TIME* someone came in the room, they went around and shook everyone else’s hand. It was a class of 20 or so people. It was a little mind boggling to me on my first business trip to France. I’ve seen the same thing in Germany, though never with a group quite as big as that first time in France.

    3. Jdjdue d*

      This question gave me a chuckle. I had a job a few years back as an established professional where I was explicitly told I had to say good morning to every.single.person I walked by on the way to my office (at the back of the space). She said she didn’t like it when people skulked in.

  14. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    When students had trouble staying awake in class, I encouraged them to get up and move—whether it was grabbing a tissue, walking to the trash can, or just standing in the back of the room for awhile. You might be surprised how many appreciated the standing up option.

    I knew to offer it as an option because it’s what I do myself in meetings. I always tell people up front that I may need to stand for a bit (without a specified reason) and I try to sit near the back if I can. No one has ever seemed to mind as long as they have the heads up.

    1. Random Internet Stranger*

      I quietly stand at boring conferences. I am not a great listener unless I am doing something. Driving, cross stitching, doodling, whatever. I need to be doing something. Standing only kind of works, but it’s better than sitting.

    2. Sedna*

      Absolutely seconding this – I used to struggle with sleepiness in long meetings (especially afternoon ones) and being able to get up (even briefly) helps me stay awake and alert. My office also tries to build in a short break for anything longer than two hours.

  15. Nea*

    LW1: I feel so, so deeply for the sleepy employee. I used to work with someone whose voice knocked me right out – and they tended to make long off-topic speeches.

    Yes, the employee needs to stay awake, but it’s also up to LW to help her do so. Is this a meeting she absolutely has to be in? Does she need to be in person or can she phone/zoom/skype in so she can do something to keep herself awake off camera? If she is in the room in person, is she allowed to doodle, drink cold water, quietly stand?

    LW2: She has told you very plainly that she doesn’t need this job, and she’s shown you very plainly that she has zero intention to work full time at it. Either bump her officially down to part time or have a parting of the ways, but don’t make everyone else pick up the slack for a supposed full-time employee working part-time hours.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Making her part time seems like the obvious solution. The LW gets to keep a good employee on terms the employee is willing to take, and the semi-vacancy can be filled.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Well, but this isn’t part-time hours. It’s full-time hours when she’s there, with unpaid vacations. Bumping her down to fewer hours per pay period wouldn’t let her keep taking those trips — there’s no benefit on either side.

    3. Cj*

      If you’re working half time, you’re usually working 20 hours a week. That’s not what this employee is doing. She’s taking weeks off at a time, unpaid. Even if they cut her hours in half, people would still need to cover for her when she was gone.

      1. Nea*

        Logically, LW cannot order the sleepy employee to “just stay awake” and then not permit the employee to do anything that will help her stay awake, such as attend standing.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Where do you get the idea that LW wouldn’t permit the employee to do things that might help?

    4. Raboot*

      > the employee needs to stay awake, but it’s also up to LW to help her do so

      Totally disagree. It’s absolutely not up to LW to help her stay awake. These are adults at an adult workplace. Maybe if the employee asks for ideas the OP can provide some (even that is a little iffy but idk), but it’s 100% not OP’s responsibility.

      1. Nea*

        By “help her do so” I meant that if employee’s mitigation includes things like bringing a cold drink or standing, then LW should permit her to do that. LW can say “stay awake” but not then permitting employee to try something new isn’t going to solve the problem.

    5. WellRed*

      Is it also up to OP to ensure sleeping employee eats her lunch? The meetings may indeed be irrelevant time sucks but staying awake at work is a pretty basic expectation.

  16. Retired (but not really)*

    Ever since I was in college eons ago, if I was still and quiet – not part of an interactive situation, I am likely to doze off. In college I discovered that additional caffeine (I tried no-doze pills) actually sped up the process. Later on I discovered that certain antihistamines also made it worse.

    I wasn’t trying to go to sleep in class nor in church. Telling me you noticed it just made me embarrassed.

    Now I have insomnia and can’t make myself go to sleep! Can’t win sometimes. But I’m still likely to have a “I need a nap now” feeling mid afternoon.

    So the 3pm meeting time might be a significant part of the issue.
    Also making the meeting more interactive would likely help as well.

  17. Falling Diphthong*

    OP2, I would caution you about the mindset “Should we call her bluff?” with your employees. They may not be bluffing. She might view the unlimited unpaid time off as the factor that makes the job worthwhile; other employees might be absolutely wedded to other benefits that to you don’t seem worth quitting over.

    I suspect this evolved over time–it was a few extra days one year, and that unpaid vacation was so helpful to her that she decided to do it again, and then to expand it. On your side it felt like a one-time accommodation; on her side it felt like everyone at work acknowledging that more time off was fine so long as she was fine with it being unpaid, which she is. It sounds like she has every reason to think “So I’ll be out for all of September” is holding up her end, so I would give lots of lead time to alert her to the new policy, if you decide that you want unpaid time off to be a rare accommodation going forward.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I also think this is something that the number of extra unpaid days crept up over time. It sounds as if everybody gets at least 20 vacation days a year (which if in the US is really good), and a day or two extra probably wouldn’t bug everyone else in the group. But now it’s lots more days, and the group that is covering for her is grumbling about the extra work that causes them. I think you have to have a chat with the traveler and let he know that due to coverage and workload constraints you can’t approve the extra unpaid days this year. And at least personally for me I would add something about not being able to in order to make sure her co-workers are also able to use their vacation time (because I wonder if some of the grumbling is because others aren’t able to travel or take off more than a day at a time because she’s always taking extra time off?).

  18. Fluffy Fish*

    If shes an otherwise good employee, I get it feels disrespectful, but she’s not doing it on purpose. She will probably be mortified when you bring it up.

    But again if shes a good employee, I would try to do so from a problem solving standpoint. I don’t think you need to offer suggestions but indicating you are open to hearing if she needs something from you to resolve it. I don’t think its ever a bad thing to remind employees you are there to support them as able and appropriate.

    “Hey, I know it not intentional but it is an issue and it also it reflects poorly on your professional reputation. I need you to take action so this stops occurring. If there is there something you need from me to resolve this I’m open to hearing it.”

  19. Meow*

    Regarding the overly friendly interns – Reading the letter, I was under the impression that the issue is they’re greeting each person individually and taking too long… but Allison’s response makes it sound like you should ever greet your coworkers when you come in/leave, because it’s distracting?

    I’m asking because every place I’ve ever worked, people do this. Not a long greeting, just a, “good morning” or “see ya” as they pass by each cube. I’ve always been the weird one who is uncomfortable with doing this, but I’m told not doing so makes me seem unfriendly. Could this be a culture thing? I live in the Midwest, and I think we tend to exchange greetings more than people on the coasts.

    1. NeedRain47*

      I’m also in the midwest, and the tendency in my office is to say hi/bye to whoever is near you and not so much the other cubes you pass unless that person looks up when you go by. I tend to just stand up from my desk and go “See y’all tomorrow” to whoever’s around. The two coworkers nearest me usually say bye back and it’s the same kind of process in the morning.

      I did notice the phrase “stop to greet” in the OP and if the interns are literally stopping at each cube, that’s too much.

    2. Purple Cat*

      I would say this very much depends on big your company/department is, and how the desks are setup. I have ~200 people in my company. I walk past ~75 of them to get to my area, it would be ridiculous to greet all or even most of them, especially since they’re not in my department. On the flip side, I absolutely say “hi” to my row when I settle in, but even then it’s “Morning everyone!” and not “Morning Sally, Sue, Caterina, Wakeen”. YMMV but I don’t think Bob in Accounting thinks a morning greeting is the highlight of his day (unless Bob is OP from yesterday).

  20. Lizzy Lou*

    I have a hard time not yawning and getting droopy eyelids when I have to sit still for more than about 15 minutes. It may just be you need a 7th inning stretch.

  21. Ness*

    I used to work next to a guy who fell asleep at his desk on a daily basis. Our cubicles were on a main hallway, so it’s not like this was hidden. It amused me to watch what people did when they came to his cubicle to talk to him. They’d usually stand there awkwardly for a few moments, then either knock loudly on the cubicle wall or just walk away and come back later.

    1. Filosofickle*

      I worked with a guy that did it with great intention. We had an open office, and his desk faced the far corner. He’d angle himself slightly to make sure his face wasn’t visible, prop his face up in his hand, and just…go to sleep. Did it almost daily! I don’t think he was ever called on it. Slept in his car at lunch too. Always wondered if he was okay!

  22. Moira Rose*

    Just want to share something that happened to me about a decade ago. I had a colleague who was constantly nodding off, and I gave him crap for it. I would throw little paper balls at him to wake him (which he was totally fine with; we were buddies). It turned out he’d developed late in life insulin-dependent diabetes and was nodding off because his blood glucose was constantly sky high. I would urge anyone who honestly can’t control when they doze off to get a checkup, please.

    1. Gracely*

      Yeah, even if you’re not developing diabetes, post-lunch sleepiness from higher blood sugar is definitely a thing. It’s the real reason people want a nap after Thanksgiving dinner, not excess tryptophan from the turkey.

  23. Engineer*

    For the sleepy coworker:
    Is the person new into the workforce? Coming out of college where I could take an afternoon nap, it was extremely difficult to stay awake for 8+ hours straight, ESPECIALLY if someone is droning on about something I had little knowledge in or could have been an email.

    I also have sleep apnea, and probably a daytime sleepiness disorder. Both are expensive to diagnose and treat.
    It’s very likely the sleepy coworker is MORTIFIED by falling asleep in meetings, but literally cannot keep it from happening. If the person is otherwise performing their job functions, cut them some slack. Maybe re-evaluate if you need to even have the meeting.

    1. PookieLou*

      Yes, sleep disorders are such a pain to diagnose! So many tests, bouncing around different physicians (who may or may not be well-versed in sleep medicine), the expense of it all, it’s an ordeal and a half! Even then, it can take time and enduring some negative side effects to find treatment that works. Nodding off in work meetings is what gave me the push to start seeing doctors and eventually find out I’m narcoleptic. I’m glad my coworkers and higher ups were supportive and understanding. They knew I was doing all I could to find a solution.

  24. Bertha*

    (Caveat that all of this excludes FMLA leave!)

    I am really curious if OP2’s company has any sort of actual policy on this. At my last company, we were only allowed to take a couple of weeks of unpaid time off.. maybe it was just a week, but I know it wasn’t more than two weeks.

    My current company only allows 5 days of unpaid time off, and calls any time after that personal leave, which has to be approved by a manager. If someone goes on personal leave, they don’t accrue PTO during that time, their bonus is pro-rated, they don’t get paid holidays..

    1. BA*

      I was wondering the same. It might be time to dust off the policy handbook and make some changes.

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

      My employee handbook says that if you take unpaid time off, not only will it lower your bonus because your salary for the year will be lower, but also because you will basically get dinged on your annual review for lowering morale by taking the excessive time off.

  25. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    “I don’t believe she has a medical condition”- well I didn’t believe it either of myself and was constantly embarrassed and furious and resorted to all kinds of risky tactics to stay awake during meetings. Turns out I had a serious medical issue all along. Cut your employee some slack and for the love of rest, afternoon meetings are wretched for many people.

  26. Happily “Retired” from shift work*

    I fell asleep in the most boring training I ever attended. My boss asked me what my plan was if someone had pictures. I said I’d autograph the pictures for them. Worst part? We never implemented the program! As it turned out, I am a diabetic and probably have been for years. If someone falls asleep during a standing meeting that’s always at the same time it really can be a symptom of a medical problem.

  27. NeedRain47*

    If people are falling asleep, they’re not having a meeting, they’re attending a lecture. Meetings are where you’re expected to participate/have input so you can’t really fall asleep. Lectures are not an engaging or particularly effective way to disseminate information. (My grad school program used a “flipped classroom” model and it made me very aware of just how unengaging most supposed learning experiences are.)

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect employees to stay awake during boring stuff, but if you’re having a lot of meetings where she’s not participating, its also worth considering whether it needs to be a meeting and who needs to attend. Informational meetings should be few and far between.

    1. Loulou*

      That’s not necessarily the case — even in meetings where there is a lot of discussion and participation there will always be people who mostly just listen. I don’t think the commenters here would look kindly on a policy where everyone had to speak at every meeting!

  28. Anastasia (They/Them)*

    With the first letter, there’s this very interesting (read: frustrating) pattern I’ve noticed in the letters as a disabled person. People are always so certain that there’s absolutely no way their coworkers could be dealing with a medical issue or disability, because obviously the LW would know if that was the case, right?

    But that is just plain not true. I have a medical condition that requires lots of sudden time off, which my supervisor is fine with because he knows the full situation. However, very few of my coworkers know the full story, because I don’t talk publicly about having this condition for a lot of reasons (none of which I want to debate, thank you). When I see letters here by people frustrated that their coworker is taking extra time off or coming into work late or falling asleep mid-day and they *know* that it *can’t possibly* be a medical thing, all I can think is, “Huh, I wonder if my coworkers secretly think this about me?”

    As another example that’s come up here I think at least once or twice: if someone’s coworker regularly calls out sick on Mondays, people here (and in general) tend to assume “oh, they’re not really sick, either they wore themself out partying or they just wanted a three day weekend”. Hi, I am a disabled person who often has to call out on Mondays. This isn’t because I spend my weekends doing wild parties, but because the nature of my disability is that I have limited amounts of energy and ability to do things without causing pain later… but I often don’t know that I’ve pushed past my limit until I wake up the next day feeling like garbage. So I have had *so many times* where I spend Sunday just doing regular normal things like running errands, hanging out with my friends, going to the park, etc, and I feel completely fine while I’m doing it, and then on Monday morning I wake up in so much pain that I literally cannot leave my bed.

    I dunno, I just really really wish that people would stop thinking that they can know if someone has a disability without asking. Lots of disabilities are invisible and lots of disabled people don’t talk publicly about being disabled because there’s such a stigma against it and it could negatively impact our careers. No matter what abled people think, unless somebody has explicitly said the words “I am not in any way disabled” to you, you cannot know for sure if they are disabled or not.

    1. Bexy Bexerson*

      Right on! I have an invisible disability, and I know the pain of “I dared to try doing some light house cleaning or having a tiny little bit of fun over the weekend…now it’s Monday morning and I feel like shit”.

      I co-authored and presented a department-wide learning session on invisible disabilities last year. I got REALLY into it.

    2. MeepMeep02*

      Unfortunately, I think a lot of people are going to get serious wake-up calls on what that means, considering how high the COVID numbers are and how common long COVID appears to be.

  29. BA*

    Re: LW2 – How difficult does the unpaid time this individual is taking make it for others to complete their own tasks plus hers? And perhaps equally as importantly, how challenging is it for others to schedule their own time away, especially knowing that she’s going to be gone multiple weeks at a time this coming year?
    It is pretty normal to have to step up and cover a few extra things when someone takes PTO. But if the workload is challenged even more when the 22 days they get becomes 40 days, and multiple weeks at a time, you have a problem. And if the person taking unlimited time is doing so in a way that causes others’ requests to not be prioritized, that’s a much more significant problem, as you’re going to lose others on your team, and not just this person. Given that she’s already telling people that she’s going to zip through her four-plus weeks of PTO and then be gone multiple weeks at a time, it feels like the train is so far from the station that you can’t call it back, but you also can’t have a full-time employee working a part-time schedule.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      That’s a good point. It’s like the person who in January puts in a leave request for every Friday or Monday before every major holiday leaving everyone else without the chance for a long weekend. Technically, they have the right to do so, but at the expense of other people.

  30. Kesnit*


    How is the employee taking this extra time? Is it large blocks (i.e. a month at a time), or is it 4-day weekends once a month and week long vacation 1 or 2 times a year? I can see where long blocks would be an issue, but short vacations can be planned for and things can be handled upon return.

    As someone said above, it sounds more like the others assume all her time off is PTO. Maybe making sure they know the employee is using unpaid leave would quiet a lot of the complaints.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      The reason behind the long absences is irrelevant, its the fact that they are creating extra work for other staff to cover. That is the issue that should be addressed, how should her workload is dealt with during her absences.

  31. Koalafied*

    I don’t understand why so many people want to skip over better understanding the causes of a problem before they start generating possible solutions. This manager has an employee who is exhibiting problem behavior, and instead of gathering more information about why this is happening and basing their solutions on that knowledge, they seem to have decided they already know all possible reasons it could be happened and on that basis immediately narrowed the field of possible actions they could take to “Should I ask prying questions about their medical status?” and “should I suggest performance enhancing drugs?”

  32. LifeBeforeCorona*

    For the employee who takes lots of unpaid leave. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. The terms of her employment are that she is expected to be in the office for her regular hours unless she is on approved PTO/sick leave etc. Leaving her job for weeks at a time shows a lack of commitment and respect. Her job doesn’t stop just because she is not there and it is very unfair to expect her co-workers to pick up the slack during her long absences.

  33. Lara Cruz*

    I have sympathy for the sleeping employee. I developed a sleep disorder in the last few years and fell asleep at my desk. But after the second incident (both times were unfortunately witnessed by the supervisor), I notified them that I was contacting our company health plan right away to diagnose it, that of course I take my job seriously enough not to sleep through it.

    In the case of the sleeper here, Allison’s advice to gently approach it at first and feel this out is good, but it should be brought up ASAP. If it is medical and they’ve not been getting help for it, sometimes the wake up call that the problem is escalating can be the motivation they need to seek help. And of course, if it’s not medical, the sooner you nip this in the bud the better.

  34. gromp*

    OP1, I hope you’ll consider giving your sleepy employee options if she needs to get up and move around for a minute or something. It sounds like she’s probably not doing it on purpose, and as a lifelong sleepy person I can tell you that sometimes after lunch no amount of willpower (or even caffeine) will keep my eyes open if my body wants to doze off for a few minutes. I have to have something that gets my brain and body actively engaged, even if only briefly.

    Since I’m remote, I’ve discovered what does work for me is playing a musical instrument — five minutes of guitar will wake me up sufficiently for the rest of the day. Obviously, that probably won’t work in an office, but please work with her to help her find something she can do. Not everyone can just power through, even without a medical condition (and yes, I’ve been tested for diabetes recently).

  35. Lucy P*

    #3, Are they actively interrupting people who are working in order to say good morning? If so, then I get it. Otherwise, I’m not sure what the issue is.
    My office, small as it is, is generally like the Waltons. Everyone yelling, “Good night, John Boy. Good night, Mary Ellen,” as they head out the door. Then again, we’re from the Deep South and everyone knows everyone else and their personal business (sigh).

  36. Purple Cat*

    OP1 is so tough. I’ve been “called out” in the past for yawning a lot and coming across as “bored in meetings”. I was just back from maternity leave… so there was literally nothing to be done. I ignored that feedback, and frankly was angry it was even passed down to me.

    More recently, I fell asleep in several different meetings due to undiagnosed/untreated sleep apnea. No one ever commented on it. I apologized to my manager, but my work was great, so nobody *could* really complain about it.

    So, to the manager, definitely let your employee know that it’s not a good look, and that it will negatively impact people’s impressions of her, but otherwise — focus on the work. Is she getting everything she needs out of the meeting (then most of it is a waste of time and probably could have been an email)? Give her “permission” to stand up, walk around, keep herself physically engaged and see if that helps her stay mentally engaged.

  37. Isarine*

    I actually keep meaning to write in about what to do if you have a chronic fatigue disorder that results in daytime sleepiness, so this hits home for me. In my case, I definitely understand the bad optics of falling asleep at work or at my desk but I literally cannot stop it. Sometimes caffeine helps, sometimes it exacerbates the drowsiness. Either way, I strive to get my work done so that even if I am called out on it there isn’t a work related issue. It took me 2.5 years of tests and every type of specialist to be diagnosed, and my treatment only helps, it will never cure me. Being engaged also doesn’t help; I’ll fall asleep in the middle of something I love doing if I’m getting a “sleep attack” to the point where I’ll pull over if I’m driving or close up chemicals if I’m cleaning or crafting.

    All this to say, from the perspective of a medically-confirmed sleepy person, if their work is getting done, be gentle and kind and allow options if it’s truly just an optics issue. If work isn’t getting done, talk to them about ways to make it happen. If I need a full on nap during the day (hidden away where customers and clients can’t see me), I stay after an equivalent amount of time (or until the tasks are done). Is that possible? They may be trying to figure it out and still be years away from an answer and thus official accomodations, even if it’s medical. When I was at my worst pre-diagnosis, I just kept being told how lazy I was and that I just needed to try harder. That, honestly, was worse than the fatigue itself and almost broke me. As long as she’s trying to respond to suggestions and getting work done, assume best intentions on her end, too. Even if she doesn’t yet have a doctor’s note.

    PS, if anyone is curious, mine ended up being a severe vitamin deficiency. My body doesn’t process vitamin D, no matter how much we give it, so we can only overload on supplements and sometimes it works, sometimes it won’t, and if we overload much more the treatment itself will become toxic.

  38. Margaret*

    The person falling asleep in meetings could have sleep apnea. She should get a sleep study. I once kept falling asleep at work and luckily my boss had sleep apnea so recognized the signs. I had a sleep study and had impressive central apnea due to a medication I was on. I got off the med and problem was solved

      1. Gracely*

        The manager can bring up the sleeping issue, note that it’s a problem, and suggest that the person needs to look into finding a solution. And it wouldn’t be out of line to say something innocuous like “you might want to check with a doctor in case it’s a medical issue”.

    1. morethanbeingtired*

      I was having issues at work due to sleepiness and my boss also had sleep apnea and suggested I get checked out by a doctor to see if it was medical. It was. I have narcolepsy. I had been living 35 years with an undiagnosed sleep disorder. My life is so much better now that I’m diagnosed. I never fall asleep in meetings anymore. At the very least, I can let my boss know I will have to stand if I feel a particular meeting may lead to a sleep attack. And having ADA protections for my condition have been a game-changer.

  39. AnonyNurse*

    I was that woman. For my whole life. I was lucky, I guess, to be a) white and b) smart enough to make it work through college and jobs despite sleeping through classes, literally falling asleep during exams, etc. I was treated for depression for years. I was on a mood stabilizer. I slept ALL THE TIME. Had whole terminology (“non-consensual napping”) and routines (“hibernation day” – the one day a week where I gave myself permission to not get out of bed). My baseline was 10 – 12 hours of sleep per day. My labs were normal. Everything was normal. I was just sleepy.

    When I was 36, a new psychiatrist looked at me and said, “what if you’re not sleepy because you’re depressed, but you’re depressed because you’re sleepy?”

    I have a completely different life now. I was diagnosed with idiopathic hypersomnia, a disorder similar to narcolepsy. I’m now treated with medications that help me stay awake and alert. And … the whole world is different. It’s staggering. I’m off the anti depressants and mood stabilizer; off the anti-anxiety meds (turned out, when I feel anxious I am … sleepy). It’s been five years and I’m less angry now than I was for a while. That not only had I been misdiagnosed for literal decades, but the treatment had been exacerbating the problem. Now it’s happier, though I still have a hard time with what is “normal” and what I should expect of myself/what “regular” people are capable of.

    I sought medical care. For years. And it didn’t help. It got worse. And I had no idea. It never occurred to me that it was something other than, basically, me being defective. That I wasn’t as good at being a human as others were. I squeaked through each day and that was the best I could do. I was perpetually embarrassed and ashamed. I left one entire career path cause I thought I just wasn’t that interested since I couldn’t stay awake.

    I’m a nurse. Surrounded by other health care providers. NO ONE EVER suggested that it was anything other than depression.

    Sleep disorders are hard. They are underdiagnosed, undertreated, and the stigma of being the person who falls asleep is very, very strong. I don’t know if this person has a sleep disorder. But it never occurred to me that I did til that one sentence revolutionized my life.

    1. morethanbeingtired*

      Everything you say here is so important. I have narcolepsy and wasn’t diagnosed until I was 35. I was extremely lucky that when I went to my PCP about my sleepiness after my boss suggested I may have sleep apnea, she listened to me when I said “no, I’m not depressed. I *want* to go do things. I love my life. But I am just way too tired for someone who sleeps 10+ hours a night!” I got tested for hypothyroid, diabetes and then finally when they tested me for sleep apnea, they found out I has narcolepsy. Medication, diagnosis and knowing my ADA protections changed my life.

  40. Hiring Mgr*

    I’m all for employees doing pretty much whatever, and I’ve worked in a couple of startups that had a “nap room” but come on, falling asleep in meetings is not ok and should absolutely be brought up by the LW. It might be a medical issue, might be something else but the answer isn’t make the meetings more fun – the employee needs to know what’s up

  41. Sleepyintern*

    This used to be me. When I was an intern, I worked another job that went late into the night (think midnight), then I had to do any homework after that. I had to get up at 5:30 AM to get ready for work and catch the 6:00 AM bus in order to get to work for 7:30 AM. I finished around 1 pm, then took a series of busses back to campus to attend evening classes, then start my late job, and repeat the cycle. I tried timed naps on the city bus, but it became a safety issue and I risked missing my stops and connecting busses.
    I got called into the boss’s office and talked to about nodding off during meetings, and it was mortifying. I felt TERRIBLE, but I was too afraid to explain my situation to my boss, and I think they chalked it up to college student partying, which was unfortunate. Many of the people at that job made a lot of money, and many grew up in more privileged backgrounds than I did, so I didn’t want to out myself as needing to work as a janitor at night. They were already so snarky there about my clothing and mannerisms. This person may have extenuating circumstances like I did. I was able to stop nodding off once I graduated and went to full-time work there. But you never know what someone’s story is, or what they are struggling with.

  42. X*

    Does the sleepy employee need to be there?

    I usually have trouble staying awake/alert during meetings and it’s because 9 times out of 10, the meeting us not relevant to my work. When there are wrap up questions at the end, I ask, “How will this affect (my department)?” And the answer is “it won’t”.

    I don’t have trouble staying alert in meetings that are actually about my department.

    If the part that’s relevant to sleepy employee can be sent in a two-line email, consider doing that instead.

  43. Meeting Sleeper*

    When I started my first full-time job, I had a hard time staying awake in team meetings! I definitely dozed off a few times.

    Those meetings were incredibly boring, plus I understood none of the context, plus I wasn’t sleeping well at night (new job jitters!)

    It got better after a few weeks as I learned more context. In fact, sometimes I even enjoyed the subtle drama!

    Best of luck to everyone else stuck in mind-numbing meetings! Solidarity.

  44. Delta Delta*

    #3 – This question is weird to me. It isn’t clear if the interns are bothering people when they say hello and goodbye at the end of the day. It sounds like they’re being polite? I suppose it’s an office culture thing, but I wouldn’t discourage people new to the working world to not acknowledge coworkers. Maybe in some offices (like the no humor ever office) people don’t exchange greetings but that certainly isn’t true everywhere, and may be out of sync to never exchange greetings.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      The problem isn’t giving a general greeting to the office as they walk by, it’s stopping at each person individually to say it that’s the issue. Also, it sounds like some of these folks are in private offices and the intern is poking their head in to greet them. That is pretty odd for any office I’ve worked at, and I’ve worked at very cordial and fun offices.

  45. Higher Ed Expat because ugh*

    I have the same problem. The only way I’ve found to combat it is to take walks at lunch and be the assigned notetaker so I’m forced to pay attention. Morning meetings are way more productive. Between 2 and 4 I’m half asleep.

  46. A Pound of Obscure*

    Falling asleep in afternoon meetings: That doesn’t even have to be a medical issue or a lack-of-sleep issue; it’s unfortunately just a dietary issue for most people. The Standard American Diet (or SAD, aptly named) includes 50, 60, 70% carbohydrate, which spikes your blood sugar. Insulin spikes to bring it down, and you get sleepy. Ever get drowsy while driving? Yep; same thing. This is very, very common and most people don’t even realize it’s not normal or desirable to live that way, and most people don’t realize they can improve and control it by just not eating sugary, starchy foods that put you on the blood-glucose roller coaster.

  47. CM*

    As someone who has involuntarily fallen asleep in many a meeting, I get the feeling that sleeping elicits a similar reaction to crying. If you do it involuntarily, you understand that it’s not ideal but it happens, and you try to use strategies to avoid it. If you don’t, it’s difficult to imagine that it *could* be involuntary, and so you assume the person is doing it on purpose and being unprofessional.

    1. morethanbeingtired*

      I have narcolepsy. Involuntarily falling asleep can be a symptom of a sleep disorder. Please, if you can, go see a sleep specialist. Diagnosis and treatment have been life-changing.

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