sharing a hotel room with a coworker when I snore, should I lie about how many cats I have, and more

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

1. I’m sharing a hotel room with a coworker but I snore

I started a new job a week ago, working remotely. A week from now, everyone in my organization is attending the big annual conference in our state for our industry.

I live about an hour away from the conference site (compared to 4-5 hours for everyone else), but I’ve just learned that my organization has booked hotel rooms for all of us, and that we’ll be sharing rooms.

I don’t love sharing a hotel room with a virtual stranger on any level, but I feel especially anxious because I’ve been snoring like a MONSTER lately. I’m going to see a doctor soon—a large part of why I switched jobs was to have better health insurance—but I definitely won’t have this taken care of by next week.

I’m not sure what to do! We’re a nonprofit with thin margins, so I don’t want to insist on my own room. Can I make my excuses and just stay at my house? (And if so, what’s a good excuse?!) And even if I didn’t have this snoring issue, which I worry will make my teammate hate me, I wouldn’t feel comfortable sleeping, showering, and changing with someone I’ve never met in person. Any recommendations for how to move forward?

Room-sharing has always had the potential to be deeply problematic under the best of circumstances (even though it’s not uncommon in a few cash-strapped fields, like nonprofits and academia) but it’s especially indefensible during Covid.

But you have a very easy way to get out of it: you can just say to whoever’s arranging the rooms, “I live nearby so I’m going to drive back and forth each day, so you don’t need to get me a room.” It’s pretty unlikely that you’ll get pushback on that, but if you do, you can say, “I’ve got stuff I need to be at home for at night so this is much easier.” Feel free to reference kids, pets, or anything else that might help to cite.

If you didn’t have this easy out, you could follow the advice here.

2. Should I lie about how many cats I have?

I have just begun a new job and am not sure if I should be honest about how many pets I have. I know that, inevitably, office small talk will lead to the topic of pets. I love talking about my pets! The problem is that I have an unusually high number of cats due to a wild series of events.

When my partner and I moved into our new home, there was a very pregnant stray cat living in our backyard. I knew nothing about cats so a friend coached me through the steps to catch her. Once we did, though, nothing went to plan. None of the local rescues would take her. “That’s fine,” we thought, “once she has the kittens we can adopt them out. People love kittens!” According to our research, four seemed like the likely number of kittens she would have.

Boy, were we wrong about everything! She had SEVEN kittens. And we were only able to find suitable homes for three. So the mother and four litter mates are with us permanently. It’s been a fun and challenging foray into the world of cat ownership! We have plenty of space for all of them. They’re happy and taken care of. I wouldn’t change anything.

While it’s worked out for us, people often find it weird that we have so many cats. I don’t want to gain the reputation of “cat hoarder” at my new job. So I should probably just lie and say I have a more socially acceptable amount of cats, like two, right? But I worry I’ll slip up sometime and be discovered as the woman who lied about how many cats she has. That seems even worse. What should I do?

Well, you’re writing to someone who has six cats and you only have five. You still have room for one more.

Like you, we didn’t set out to have this many cats! Four of them were foster fails who we didn’t mean to keep. (It turns out we are very bad at fostering cats and end up keeping them; we are no longer fostering cats.) And yes, people are surprised when they hear how many we have. I always just laugh and say “we’re terrible at fostering” and that is that. As far as I know, no one thinks we’re hoarders. (When she heard we were keeping the last two, my mom did tell me she was sure the air would be thick with cat fur and no one would be able to breathe, but since then I have overheard her telling people that you would never know there were six cats living here.)

I think you should approach this similarly — meaning own it, but also feel free to add a bit of “yeah, wasn’t the intent.” Plus you have a better story than I do. I would be delighted to hear, “We rescued a pregnant cat and didn’t expect her to have seven kittens but here we are” from a coworker.

(Update: the letter-writer has provided photos of her cats here and here.)

3. Is my new employee really working?

I am a new manager and hired two new employees at about the same time a few months ago. One is clearly out-performing the other — she is proactive, works at a quick pace, is detailed and organized, on and on. The other is not performing at the same level, which is fine, he is still new! I do want to make sure I am setting him up for success. For example, there are a couple of administrative things I had to ask him multiple times to complete, such as saving files or recording work in the proper system. He did eventually do these things, but it took a few follow-ups and very direct reminders. He also hasn’t been recording action items during meetings very well and then misses completing those tasks. I’ve started sending my own notes, hoping to show by example.

His actual work has been okay — I see potential, presentations need editing, but like I said, he is new. He doesn’t have a ton on his plate right now, usually working on one project at a time, but hopefully filling in with some training our company provides around the edges. What is really bothering me is that he will send me work to review, I respond to him quickly with edits and next steps, and sometimes these edits/next steps should really only take an hour, being generous 2-3, but he often doesn’t respond with the edits until the end of the day or next morning. I don’t always follow up asking for an update because sometimes the timing doesn’t really matter, it is more that I know what is on his plate and this shouldn’t take that long if he is actively working. We do work from home often and I’ve noticed his Skype activity dot is “inactive” a lot, like more often than cooking lunch or taking a break. When we are in the office, I notice that he is on his phone a lot.

I do not want to micromanage this. I believe people should be able to check personal emails, take breaks, take walks, etc. However. my perception is that he just isn’t working. Am I being overly critical? I don’t want to be a manager that tracks what people are doing all day, but I also want to make sure he does his job in a timely manner. Should I say something? If so, what? I do worry he is a little bored with one project at a time. Maybe giving him more to do would help him become more engaged? This time of year tends to be a little slow, but if this seems like a good approach I can give it a try.

Have you clearly laid out how much time you expect tasks to take and how quickly you want him to get back to you? If not, that’s where to start: “I’ve noticed I’ll often send you edits that should take an hour or two at most to complete, but it’s coming back to me much later. I want to make sure you know to keep this stuff moving — with something like X from yesterday, I’d normally expect that back that same morning because it’s so quick and we don’t want the process to slow down. Can you aim for that, or is there anything you’re finding that’s slowing it down?” It’s possible he doesn’t realize he should be moving at a faster pace and spelling it out may change what he’s doing. If it doesn’t, then you’d dig deeper — maybe at that point seeing if he can walk you through his process so that you can see where he’s running into snags. But keep the focus on what you want to see (in terms of turnaround, follow-through, and tracking his own work) and don’t get sidetracked by whether he’s just slacking off — at least at this point.

Ultimately, if he’s not working at the pace you need and he’s losing track of assignments, and doesn’t respond to coaching, that’s a problem whether it’s because he’s on his phone too much or not. It’s a lot simpler for you if you keep your focus on the former and not the latter. That’s not to say there’s never a place to say, “I see you on your phone a lot when I’m waiting on work from you” but the other stuff deserves your focus more.

(Also, giving him more to do could help. You can ask if he’d prefer that in case you’re right that he’s bored … and regardless of that, if he should be juggling more than he is, at some point you’re going to have to see if he can handle that workload or whether it exacerbates the problems you’re already seeing.)

4. My boss sends me gift cards … am I expected to reciprocate?

My boss sends me what I consider to be generous gifts on a fairly regular basis (holidays, my birthday, work anniversaries, etc.) and I always feel some pressure to reciprocate. Am I expected to send them gifts in return? If so, should they match in cost?

This is my direct supervisor, not someone on the executive team. I’m sure they make more money than I do, but I’m not sure how much more. The gifts are often $50-$100 gift cards to local businesses that are clients of our organization, but my supervisor lives outside the area we serve, so it is hard to give them gifts that also support our clients. It also feels like doing the same thing for my boss that they do for me would be somewhat awkward.

I always appreciate the gesture and I know my boss means well, I just feel uncomfortable not knowing whether to reciprocate! What should I do?

Don’t reciprocate. The power dynamics at work mean that it’s fine for gifts to flow downward (from your boss to you) but they shouldn’t flow upward (from you to your boss). It would actually be a bit unseemly for your boss to accept gifts from you in most situations, especially gift cards. Think of this as similar to the way your boss would pay if she took you out to lunch — it’s a reflection of the power dynamics, and it’s fine to simply accept graciously without feeling pressure to reciprocate.

5. Virtual meetings: is it rude to call someone out by name when their mic is on?

I’ve noticed in virtual meetings in a variety of contexts that most people seem to agree that it’s rude or inappropriate to call someone out by name when their mic is on and causing a disruption. Instead of saying “Jack, we’re getting some background noise, could you please mute?” or announcing “Diane, I’m putting you on mute since you seem to be on another phone call,” they’ll say, “Someone seems to have an open mic, could everyone who’s not speaking please check that they’re on mute?”

I find this pretty annoying — every platform shows who’s “talking” and who’s muted, so the problem person isn’t a mystery, and often this results in Jack and Diane carrying on disrupting the meeting, either assuming they aren’t the problem or not paying enough attention to the meeting to hear the pleas for “everyone” to check their mute button. I’d much prefer to be direct and either let the disruptive person know or use host-powers to mute others by fiat and end the disruption quickly, but in the past I’ve gotten negative reactions for naming the disruptor (I’m usually not the meeting host). What am I missing here?

In my experience, it’s pretty common to name the offender — for exactly the reasons you say — so we must be in very different meeting environments! I’m wondering if you’re in settings that are more on the “soften the message”/touchy-feely end of the culture spectrum.

Anyway, the reason you’re getting negative reactions when you step in and name the person might be because you’re not the host and people feel you’re usurping the host’s authority (and doing that in a culture where the hosts generally choose not to do it). But yes, the hosts should be doing it.

{ 492 comments… read them below }

  1. BG*

    Yeah, if I found out a new coworker had so many little furry buddies, I’d be delighted and would want to see all the photos. And if I found out that they had come to adopt their furry friends out of such loveliness and kindness, they’d have an instant workplace friend in me!

    1. OwnedByCats*

      Yeah, I have 5 cats and just explain that it was a semi-wild mama cat who decided in the farmhouse was a MUCH nicer place to have kittens than outside, and so now we have the whole family. It’s an excellent story, really, and also allows for some venting about people who drop cats off in the country near farms. Please don’t!!

      1. BG*

        So awful that they were just left, and I’m so glad they’re part of your family now!

        My dear friend has like four or five rescue cats plus two foster kittens, and I just love visiting with all of them, honestly <3

        1. Rebecca*

          I can’t handle the idea of animals just being left.

          We got one of our cats when I was a kid because the car driving ahead of my parents’ car pulled over, put a kitten on the side of the rural countryside road, and drove away. My parents pulled over behind them and picked her up. They were on their way to a restaurant, but cancelled their reservation to come home and bathe the cat, because she was so covered with fleas that they were dropping off her onto my mum’s lap. They had to wash her to realize she was a white cat, so she was obviously neglected for a long time before being dropped.

          She lived with us until she was 18. She became a lovely, affectionate, if delightfully dumb, family pet who, when we moved into town, would sit on the sidewalk accosting strangers for scritches.

          1. nobadcats*

            I’ve done this too. I cannot handle it when people abandon cats. Good on your parents for adopting that little snip of a kitty.

            1. LW 2*

              Another option if you ever encounter a stray but can’t take them in, some organizations do Trap and Release programs. If you catch a stray/feral cat, you can bring it to them for a free spay and neuter, shots, etc., and then release them back out. It at least keeps the stray cat population from increasing.

              1. nobadcats*

                In my last apartment, we were part of the TNR program. Since we had already set up cat beds on the deck, back yard, and front porch for winter, it was easy to lure them in with food and have our local rescue do the surgeries. We had a huge colony of cats in the back alley, by the time moved out two years ago, it was holding steady at a set of about 10 cats.

                1. nobadcats*

                  Also, the local possum found our front porch cat bed irresistible. We were cool with that. And yes, this was in the middle of Chicago.

                  Cooper’s Hawks were common in our area too!

                  You never know what wildlife you might encounter.

                2. Lizzo*

                  Hi fellow Chicagoan! We’ve got several feral colonies in our immediate area and a lot of neighbors who are active with TNR activities. Thanks for your efforts on behalf of the little furballs. :-)

                3. nobadcats*

                  Hey, @Lizzo! I moved to my hometown of Milwaukee two years ago (our nice four flat in Lincoln Square was sold, grrrr), but I still keep an eye on the local cats in my current neighborhood. I live on the third floor of an apartment building now, so I don’t have as many means to keep tabs on the local kitties. Since I live near the river and a big park though, I venture over there with food/treats sometimes, just in case someone needs me. I can always tell ferals that have been TNR, because they have the tip of their left ear clipped.

              2. Random Bystander*

                With an agreement with your vet, you can even do TNR on an individual basis. (I have a small feral colony living between my house and next door neighbor’s house. It has remained tiny because I managed to get the females spayed, but they were far too feral to bring indoors. The surviving two kittens from my year of the Kittenpocalypse — 9 born to a total of 3 mothers, only 2 survived — ended up as foster fails and are now my cats # 6 and # 7). I would like to neuter the permanent males of the colony but financially I can’t swing it, and at least by getting the females I made the biggest impact I could. The two boys (the surviving kittens) came from different mothers but were born very close to the same time and had become a bonded pair before I caught them. One of them is still so shy I am the only human he reliably allows to touch him (he’s getting braver after two years indoors), which is why they became foster fails–I was afraid he wouldn’t adapt to another person and didn’t want to separate the pair.

                Fortunately for me, my vet was willing to have me call “I caught one” and bring her in and spay her same day while I was actively working on the project.

                Yeah, find a cat person, and they start telling you cat stories. (Dog people are probably similar with that respect.)

                1. nobadcats*

                  Yeah, we all have a metric ton of cat stories. My ex-husband and I said to each other, “My gawd, we don’t talk about anything other than our cats!” LOL

            2. Ollie*

              I hate people who dump cats. I have 5 cats inside which my husband has told me is the absolute limit but I also feed three outside. One was abandoned when his owner died but is in good health. One is semi-feral and I had her spayed after we took in her two kittens. One just showed up recently and he is limping, and skinny, and probably pretty old. I’m thinking he is a dump. I think the limping is arthritis because he seems better on warmer days. He is so sweet and I just know that when I get him to the vet it is not going to be good new. And I had to put down one sweet ginger cat because he was going blind and had FIV.

              Beware LW though. Nobody had a problem with me having 5 cats but once they found out I did, I became the person they thought of every time a cat needed a home. If you’re not careful you will end up with 6 or 7.

          2. Lizzie*

            Awwww. We had neighbors growing up, who had two cats. They had previously lived in England, out in the country, so little to no traffic. So one of their cats developed a habit of lying right smack in the middle of their road. He tried to do that when they moved to the US, but quickly realized it was not the same thing!

          3. paxfelis*

            My mother has three furry little overlords because someone decided to abandon them in the rain (!!!! RAGE!!!).

            OP2, please don’t lie about how many cats you have. I’d be willing to bet that you’re not the only one with more than the “socially acceptable number” of cats. And I would like to add to the call for pictures, if Alison allows.

            1. LW 2*

              The reason we even ended up with the pregnant mama is because a neighbor had an indoor/outdoor cat who wasn’t spayed. Once she had kittens, they tossed all of them outside for good. Awful. I have no idea what happened to the litter mates.

              I did email some pictures to Alison!

              1. A Poster Has No Name*

                I’m thinking some very, very bad thoughts about your neighbor, but as a coworker I wouldn’t think you have too many cats even if the story wasn’t so adorable!

                1. LW 2*

                  They were weirdly bragging about how they had done it. There were a lot of other issues with them, but they’ve since moved.

                2. nobadcats*

                  Me too.

                  I adopted a stray kitty that my neighbors who lived downstairs just… abandoned when they moved out. He was mewing at their door and I was on my way to the bus to go to work and it was a very cold winter day. I turned back and grabbed him, locked him in my bathroom, went to work, then took him to the vet after work.

                  He grew to be a big floofy grey kitty. My favorite story about him was that he got into the cabinet under my bathroom sink and completely ripped through my box of tampons. I came home to my bathroom, kitchen, and living room scattered with the shredded remains of an entire box of Tampax. He had fun, I couldn’t be mad at him.

              2. Aitch Arr*

                This is a very similar story to how my first kitty adopted my parents and me when I was 11.

                Her name was Spring and she was a brown tabby. She was with us for almost 15 years and I still miss her.

              3. nm*

                Oh how awful! My little Madame was found abandoned as a kitten…they didn’t find any family with her though

                1. Le Sigh*

                  Same for my little one! Far too young to be alone and I’m still not sure what happened that this little kitten ended up in my bushes needing help. No one recognized ’em, no chip, and did not seems acclimated to humans (though very quickly adapted to us after being fed treats). Ours is great with people, but I’m thinking about adopting a second cat since I think ours would benefit from having a kitty friend (assuming the introduction works out, of course).

              4. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

                I had a neighborhood cat bring me her entire litter of 4 kittens during a rainstorm. Her owners had done the same thing to her LW2. We rehomed 2 and kept 2 and that bumped our cat count up to 5 at the time. 6 was the most I’ve ever had, and it didn’t seem like to many at the time. Visitors told me that they would have never had guessed I had that many. (the trick is to be on top of the multiple litter boxes and vacuuming) Currently I am holding steady at 3 and that seems to be a perfect #. Used to work in animal rescue and I don’t think anyone considers you being in typical Crazy Cat Lady territory until you hit an even dozen.

                1. LW 2*

                  Oh yes, I have 5 litter boxes that I clean twice daily and usually do daily vacuuming. And we’re lucky to have enough space that all the pets can spread out

              5. Jayem Griffin*

                Oh good, because I SPECIFICALLY came down here to say that the only thing I would think upon learning a coworker had five cats would be I NEED PICTURES

              6. MeepMeep123*

                People like that deserve the same fate as the cats.

                By the way, if you talk to your coworkers, you may find that others have similar stories. We ended up with Cat #3 this way – the neighbors moved away and just left him behind. He was starving and sickly when we found him, and now he’s huge, fluffy, and the sweetest kitty ever.

                Oh, and your kitties are adorable!

          4. Rainy*

            I grew up on a farm, and we had a rotating slate of dozens of cats and dogs that people had dumped on our road. The cats generally would hang out in the barn and other outbuildings until a bunch of mamas all had kittens at once, and then 8 weeks later we’d put an ad in the paper and a giant cardboard box of kittens in the back of the station wagon and drive around for an afternoon letting delighted little kids whose parents had called us pick out kittens from the giant box.

            The dogs we never kept long term–most of them we were easily able to rehome after we got them healthy again, with the glaring exception of Bear the lab mix, whose owners’ angry neighbours had dognapped him and dumped him on our road. He was in such good shape and so confused we put a special ad in the lost pets section, and his owners called us the same day the paper came out, and picked him up that night after we confirmed he answered to Bear.

      2. Sopranohannah*

        I have my two kitties. I’m taking care of my brother’s two while he’s in grad school. And then there’s the surly cat that wandered in one winter morning, will not let anyone touch her, but gets along great with all the other kitties.

      3. badger*

        That’s part of how we ended up with 12 when I was in high school. Semi-rural, already had four, a pregnant mama showed up at the front door, 5 kittens, we only managed to adopt out one, so that was 9 right there, and then two barn cats from around the neighborhood started hanging around and eventually decided they liked regular meals and living indoors, and then my mom found a 6-month-old kitten in the window well and none of the neighbors were missing a cat…

        My parents are down to 3 now. Phwew.

      4. Reluctant Mezzo*

        My family, when I was a child, once had thirteen cats. One father, two mothers, five kittens each. One batch was moved to Nana’s house because one mother was confused about which batch was hers, so one batch was extra nursed and the other was neglected.

      5. Autumnheart*

        I took in a litter of three stray kittens with the mind to keep one to be a companion to my 2-year-old cat, and yeaaahhh I have four cats. I like to joke that “one was planned and three were an accident”.

        The older cat will be 14 this year and “the kittens” will be 12. It’s been mostly wonderful but also a handful, but people do like to hear the story.

    2. Warrior Princess Xena*

      My mom and have five cats between us! For… reasons. It gives me a great conversation starter. We are no longer cohabitating as closely but I still bring my meows over to her place for kitty day care.

    3. TechWorker*

      +1 I have a colleague who has I think 6 cats (he lived abroad for a bit, took in a bunch of strays and then flew them home!). I’ve only ever thought of it in a positive light.

    4. Jolene*

      Right? Also, LW is so delightfully charming. I want to be friends with someone who accidentally has too many cats, and is a tad self-conscious about it.

      1. LW 2*

        Thank you! I have found the story really interests people, and all the animal lovers in my life enjoy hearing about them. Many of my friends have a favorite of the cats.

      2. LW 2*

        And if you think that story was charming, you would have loved our cat maternity photo shoot and virtual kitten shower!

          1. LW 2*

            People got REALLY into it! We made a registry on Amazon for the kitten shower, and we received gifts from people I hadn’t even seen in years.

              1. Le Sigh*

                these melted my heart. LW, they’re adorable and i’m so glad you were able to make a little family with them.

        1. Lyudie*

          OMG if it wouldn’t be too identifying (or derailing) I would desperately love to see kitten shower pics <3

          1. LW 2*

            I just sent Alison a whole batch of pregnancy and kitten pics. I don’t have any shower pictures because I held the event as an Instagram Live lol

    5. Sc@rlettNZ*

      As someone who helps run a cat rescue, I would be so delighted to hear this story from a coworker.

      1. LW 2*

        Thanks for all you do! I’ve become pretty active with a rescue that does a lot of Trap and Release work. It’s amazing!

    6. MK*

      As someone who cannot tolerate any animal (except maybe goldfish) within 2 meters of me without flinching, I wouldn’t even think twice about it. So, you have 5 cats in what sounds like a fairly large house? Obviously you like cats, good for you. Why would anyone judge? Judge for what, even?

      1. Yoyoyo*

        For whatever reason, there is somewhat of a stigma around having a lot of cats. I think people picture the cat hoarding situations we’ve all heard about where there is pee and poop on every surface and the owner doesn’t even know how many cats they have at any given time. There’s the trope of the “crazy cat lady” to contend with. We have three and when we were considering adopting the third I found myself googling “how many cats is too many” even though I knew we had the space and resources to care for him because people in my life had hinted at me approaching crazy cat lady status. Yes, I am really really into cats. No, my house does not smell like cat piss (I periodically check with people who visit our house because nose-blindness is a thing). The litter genie is a wonderful invention.

        1. Lizzo*

          The answer to “how many cats is too many” is the same as the answer to “how many bicycles is too many”: always N + 1.
          (So long as you keep the litterboxes tidy!)

        2. ceiswyn*

          I did once end up having three indoor cats in a veery small house, which seemed a bit like cat hoarding… but they were very elderly cats (16+) with limited mobility, and I scooped the litter a lot.

          You can’t tell circumstance just by numbers.

    7. JSPA*

      Many cities and even countries cap maximum dogs (sometimes with a carve out for puppies) While others cap maximum pets which includes dogs and cats, and in some cases also birds (or larger birds, e.g. chickens and parrots) or other mid-to-larger quadrupeds. (I’m not aware of a Guinea pig hamster or mouse maximum, but who knows.) To be clear they don’t tend to come knocking unless all of the animals are out and about and visible, and generating complaints from someone… but it’s worth making sure that you’re not in violation of any such laws before you go talking about a “higher than the limit” pet number. (Especially if you didn’t realize that, e.g., adding 3 chickens to your 3 cat household was going to cause problems in a 5-pet-limit municipality.)

      But other than that? If you come in covered in cat hair and smelling faintly like cat pee while owning one cat, it’s way more problematic than if you come in de-furred, smelling like nothing at all, and mention having six.

      1. MK*

        Those laws are usually to prevent someone having, say, 5 large dogs in a small flat, or keeping cows in a residential area, etc.

        1. JSPA*

          Are you in the UK?

          Spain: andalucia, limit 5 pets

          France, limit 9 dogs (by code rurale) unless you’re willing to be inspected and conform to the same regulations as a breeder.

          Sausalito CA: max 3 dogs over the age of 4 months

          From a single registration form:
          San Jose Maximum 5 pets (dogs/cats). No more than 3 dogs.
          Milpitas Maximum 4 pets (dogs/cats). No more than 1 unaltered pet.
          Cupertino and Los Gatos: Maximum 2 pets (dogs/cats). No more than 1 unaltered. [yes, a town named “the cats” limits cats.]

          Pittsburgh PA: 5 pets

          Philadelphia PA: 12 pets, only up to 2 of them unspayed / un-neutered

          Leonia NJ has or had a 3 dog limit, leading to a court case that went to the state supreme court.

          links, as well as more examples and court case references from animallaw to follow.

          1. mreasy*

            I wouldn’t take Silicon Valley as a representation in California (otherwise very pet and livestock friendly!), but it does make sense that more densely packed places have limits. I can’t imagine how they track or enforce them, though.

            1. JSPA*

              They are required to be licensed, and rabies vaccinated, and there’s a database.

              The bay area California examples were easy because all of the stuff is more online, But when the additional links post you will see that there are patchy laws throughout the US, including a number not-dense boroughs, towns and counties.

          2. Ferret*

            I’m not sure if anywhere in the UK has actual laws limiting the number of pets, though for many people this is effectively enforced by their landlords. Although a weird side note is that, due to the 1950 Allotment Act, they can’t prevent you from keeping chickens or rabbits outside

      2. LW 2*

        Good point! Our city doesn’t have any laws regarding the number of pets allowed. You just have to make sure they’re all clean and cared for. I used to volunteer at a pet food pantry, and there were people with far, far more cats than I.

    8. nobadcats*

      One of my co-irkers needed someone to cat/house sit for her. She came to me because she knew I was a cat lover. At first, I was hesitant. Then she told me she had six cats, I was like, “Oh, how wonderful!” They all came to live with her through a series of random happenstances. She set me up with gift cards for local restaurants and paid me a handsome sum for hanging out in a swanky condo with six different big personalities.

      The cats and I got along wonderfully and four of the six slept with me at night (I was basically pinned to the bed by the furry beasts, couldn’t roll over at all–co-irker was surprised, she said she usually only gets two). The two most elder cats would watch teevee with me or sit in front of the fire as I read. I took lots of pictures and sent them to her whilst she was away, giving updates on their antics. An extra benefit, through living at her house several times over a few years, I started using the same cat litter as she did, and my kitty loves it.

      Co-irker’s since retired and I moved to a different city, so I haven’t been able to hang with the them again. The two eldest cats sadly passed away during the pandemic and I had their best photos I took of them printed and professionally framed for her.

      1. turquoisecow*

        I only had one cat at the time but a coworker who cat sit for me took photos and gave me a collage of my cat. The cat has since passed away and the photo is up on the wall. It was an awesome gift.

    9. IHaveACatOnMyDeskRightNow*

      Between my sister and I, there are 6 furry overlords running around this house. Jazzy is almost always with me in my home office and I refer to her as my manager. I have colleagues who ask about her when we get on calls and I often show her off on video. As others have said, I’d be thrilled to talk to another coworker who is owned by these furry beasts! Rock on with your bad self. Cat hair is nothing but an accessory :-)

    10. BrightLights*

      Came here to say that my first response to “I have 5 cats” would be “what are their names? Do you have pictures?”

      I might say “that’s a couple of cats! What are their names?…” if you told me you had, like, 10 cats. 5 seems like a reasonable number of cats to accrue either by accident or on purpose.

    11. LW 2*

      Thank you for the kind words! I think I’ve probably just overthought some jokes friends have made about being a “crazy cat lady.”

      We also have one dog who has been much more patient with the cats than I thought she would be!

      1. smeep248*

        I am a crazy cat lady and I embrace it. However, not many of my cats were surprises – though at one point we took in a Trojan Horse cat who surprised us with 5 kittens. At the time we had 5 adult cats and 5 kittens and I was solely responsible for them (my ex wasn’t great and his kids were too little and we didn’t have much money) and that was WAY TOO MUCH. Once I had more stability and was a single lady living my best life, at one point my roommates and I had 10 cats, 3 humans, 2 goats and a dog. People are usually either delighted or horrified. The folks that are horrified just aren’t my people *shrug*

        1. Trina*

          I love “Trojan Horse” as a synonym for pregnant! “You thought I was but one cat – foolish human, I contain multitudes!”

      2. PennylaneTX*

        I am not a cat person (I don’t dislike them, and have warmed up to a few, but am very much a dog lady) and I wouldn’t find this weird at all, especially based on the story. As the owner of ONE dog who sheds enough for a dozen, I would want to hear how you keep cat fur at bay and also learn their names and antics.

      3. Parakeet*

        Being allergic myself (not to mention a bird owner), I can only experience cats vicariously with occasional visits where I take an allergy pill ahead of time and do a little bit of scritching, so my reaction would be wanting to see all of your videos and photos! And maybe curiosity about how much sibling bickering there is among the kittens haha

    12. Greengirl*

      This is a delightful story! Also everyone loves a good accidental kittens and foster fail story. It’s fine to say you have five cats. Honestly you might make friends at work that way. My first interaction with my grandboss at work, she rushed over to the framed photos of my three cats to admire them as she is also a cat person. ( She at one point had four cats as her spouse had two and she had two and they had a “blended” family.)

    13. Newly minted*

      A good friend of mine at one point had 17 through similar circumstances and coworkers asking since she seemed to be a one-woman rescue would she mind taking just this one kitten? She’s in a small suburban-like town. Her neighbors tend to adopt animals and then lose interest so her neighborhood had a massive stray problem. None were neutered or spayed.

      One of those neighbors eventually complained to the city and the city said she was in violation of the animal livestock code that limited the total number of animals any one household could have, but that did spur her to finally partner with a shelter to get some of them adopted out (tho occasionally one will come back). The number is more manageable now, but the reaction is generally in awe of her kind heart (she really is one of the kindest sweetest people I know), curiosity about how she manages so many plus two dachshunds, (who are fiercely protective of all the babies), and an occasional plea to rescue one more.

      So. I think you’re in fine shape with 5! Such a delightful, kind story!

    14. TheMeg*

      3 Great Danes here and I use it as an ice breaker – if you see a stray dog hair, don’t bother to let me know I have 450 pounds of dog vying to leave glitter. Then pay the dog tax by showing photos.

      Oh and 3 cats — all strays that were sick that “we were just going to take to the vet for some meds …”

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        I would never leave your side–three Great Danes? Pictures pictures pictures all day long!

    15. LW 2*

      I’m commenting up here so people see it. Just another twist and turn of the story. We had to euthanize one of the kittens at 10 weeks because she had an incredibly large and rare type of hole in her heart. So rare, in fact, that the vet office said there were no documented cases of a cat living with it. They asked if we would be comfortable donating her heart to be studied, and we said yes. We even have some vet students call us later to say thank you and give their condolences. We were heartbroken, everyone was because she was the fan favorite, but we felt better knowing she may help veterinary science.

      1. Expelliarmus*

        Oh no, sorry to hear about your loss! And yeah, it’s nice that at least she is at least able to help veterinary science so that hopefully this type of defect can be more treatable for other cats.

        1. LW 2*

          Thank you! The vets said that she likely would not have lived if she had been born in the wild. She was much smaller than the rest. Her name was Baby Carrot, and she got to live her 10 weeks as everyone’s absolute favorite.

    16. RIP Pillow Fort*

      I grew up around farms and having 5 cats is really not going to ping my radar as anything out of the ordinary.

      We had a stray dog show up and have puppies when I was a kid and we had 7 dogs for a while. Eventually found them all homes and we were back to our normal 3 dogs. I know people a lot of people with 5+ pets through a combination of reptiles, cats, birds, dogs, rabbits and even a tarantula. All well cared for and loved.

    17. WiscoKate*

      I too have been tempted to lie about how many cats I have. Currently, it’s four but before my eldest cat passed away a year ago, I had five and felt like people would think I’m a “crazy cat lady”. However, I’ve recently decided that’s misogynistic BS and caters to people that hate cats for whatever reason.

      I didn’t intend on having this many, two was a good number I thought, but I ended up with 3 foster fails. (I too no longer foster cats). I call them my whoopsie cats.

      1. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

        Those of us living upstairs used to have 5 – one of mine, two for my spouse, two for our roomie (she came with them.) Mine died last December. Now we have four, and there are five litterboxes.

    18. cat socks*

      I also have five cats – all strays. I would love to hear more about your furry family and stories of having multiple cats. Thank you for taking care of mama kitty and her babies!

      1. LW 2*

        We had a lot of fun in the lead up to the birth. I did a cat maternity photo shoot. I made an Amazon wish list of cat toys and supplies then had a virtual kitten shower (COVID times) where we opened all the gifts. It was really fun and a lot of people got into it!

    19. Stitch*

      My one cat is such an agent of chaos and destruction that I’d be a bit surprised. Like the little butt peed on my yarn probably as a protest over the new baby (I was making my son a blanket). Hopefully LW2’s five cats are better behaved than my cuddly but very much a jerk cat.

      1. LW 2*

        We’ve been really fortunate in that they all use the litter box with no accidents! For mama, since she had been a stray, she had a couple accidents at the beginning but hasn’t had an issues since.

        1. Stitch*

          Yeah, been ten years now and jerkcat still pees on things (I should note he was already old when we got him). I have waterproof sheets on all my beds because he peed on a mattress.

          To be clear, I love the little jerk. But jerk he definitely is.

        2. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

          General rule of thumb is 1 litter box per cat plus 1 extra. Some cats are very forgiving of dirty litter boxes and sharing. Others aren’t. I’ve always had multiple cats. #’s have ranged from just 2 to 6. As long as I scooped daily and whenever I smelt something particularly smelly, I’ve had no troubles. Which meant if someone developed a UTI or something it was instantly recognized as a cry for “Please take me to the vet”.

    20. lilsheba*

      Yup, I don’t believe in lying about something like that, I would proudly say how many cats I have and if others have a problem with it, that’s on THEM.

    21. AnonInCanada*

      This exactly. OP #2 will definitely be paying the cat tax if she told me about her furry friends. Meow!

    22. Siege*

      I had 2 cats, a guinea pig, and a chinchilla for a few years (the guinea pig has since passed). The number of pets you “can” have goes down as the exoticity goes up, but it was always very easy to say “I wound up the go-to for rescues!” When you get three of them from friends and friends-of-friends and the fourth from a shelter to keep your other cat company, it’s pretty accurate! And then people move on and want to see them and pet them and learn more about them. A couple of our social zooms have turned into pet show and tell because everyone wants to see the cat/dog/chinchilla/rabbit/whatever. It becomes a minor quirk pretty fast.

    23. NervousHoolelya*

      For a while when I was a teenager, we had nine cats and four dogs (and a hamster and some hermit crabs and fish). My mom has a history of finding baby animals in perilous conditions (one kitten on the trolley tracks, one kitten in the pouring rain, one kitten under a bus, one extremely tiny newborn kitten on the side of the road). Dogs used to just randomly show up on our porch, like the Bark Network told them “A nice lady lives there. She will find your people for you.” She also worked as a vet tech back then, so several of our pets were medical foster fails, and in one case, a hospice…success? (It seems wrong to call keeping a kitten from dying a “fail”!)

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        I had a coworker who was Rescue Cat Central. I used to tease her that her house had a giant WARM HEARTED SUCKER LIVES HERE sign over the roof that only cats could see.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Oh, you must have known my dad! He had hobo sign on his fence that told kittens that they had found their home (alas as he got older, the carpet became…troublesome and ultimately had to be replaced).

    24. David*

      Years ago I worked for a company that had us share rooms. We had a female employee, Samantha, who went by Sam. They put her in a room with me. I’m David! Boy were they surprised, and we both ended up with a single room!

    25. Aerin*

      One of my coworkers just got back from leave. He told us about how they have rescued 30 cats from an actual hoarding situation and are working on getting them all adopted. We all just love hearing about them and seeing the pictures!

    26. Mystik Spiral*

      ME TOO!!!! But I am a crazy cat lady. The most we have had is 5… I was worried then that people would think I hoard cats, but their vet said we weren’t hoarders, we were just collectors. Loved that. I have 4 now and everybody at work knows about them. I get asked often how they are doing, and some of my coworkers know my cats’ personalities enough that they have gotten them little gifts here and there. <3

    27. Just Another Zebra*

      When I started my current job I was asked about furry housemates. When I told them I have 2 cats, they laughed and told me that was just the starter pack for the office. A couple coworkers work with cat rescues and have anywhere from 10 – 20 cats at any given time. Another had 3, and then life happened and he now has 8. I still have my 2, though I’ve adopted some other critters along the way.

      I think your story is sweet and would not judge you for it in the slightest.

    28. Labrat*

      My curent two are from a pregnant cat that wandered into the lives one of the chemists at work. She had five kittens, escaped during a severe rainstorm, came back, and by the time I went over to select my guys, it was, “yeah, we think she’s pregant again”. She had nine.

      They manged to find homes for about half the second litter. Momma and the rest got fixed without more incident and joined the one they kept from the first litter, and their existing cats. Fortunately, they live in an area where it is safe for cats to be indoor/outdoors. They also built an outdoor shelter/food area with webcam for the cats. Every so often, he’ll show pictures. It’s quite cute.

      I do not want image the food bills, though.

    29. Allura Vysoren*

      Saaaaame. I have four cats now, but growing up we had as many as eight. (We started with two. Three was a barn kitten that we brought home. Barn kitten got pregnant before we could get an appointment for a spay. Her kittens were four, five, and six. My mom met someone at the gym who had found an abandoned kitten and didn’t know how to care for it. Seven. Then we had a stray male show up at the house and refuse to leave. Eight.) Five cats is a perfectly normal number of cats to me.

    30. That One Person*

      Yeah I feel like I’d become friends in maybe future hopes of actually meeting the cats someday (though I’m sure I’d still get along with OP as well lol), especially when I couldn’t have any myself. I only have one currently, but I also have two dogs and I can probably gush about the trio enough to sound like I have more!

    31. Carly*

      Like, some people are going to think it’s odd but almost certainly not “affects your credibility at work” odd. At most you’re going to have one or two grumps who say to their friends, “This lady I work with has FIVE cats, isn’t that wild?” But that’s really all.

  2. A Teacher*

    i’ve been in rescue for 14 years. I just cofounded a rescue with one of my friends. I currently own five dogs and two cats. I also have four foster dogs in my home right now.

    Most people think it’s cool and ask how you juggle having so many dogs. Or in your case cats. I would just go with it and tell lots of fun stories about your feline friends.

    1. LW 2*

      Thank you for all you do! One of the rescues in our area was incredibly helpful in getting all the cats spayed, neutered, and vaccinated at an incredibly low cost. They do amazing work!

    2. Contracts Killer*

      I am in rescue, too. I must have mentioned my animals in my cover letter or something because at the end of my first Zoom interview, the two people interviewing me kind of whispered, “Should we ask her? Let’s ask her!” and then asked to see the baby rats I was fostering. I immediately knew these were my people because they weren’t freaked out and actually WANTED to see them. For a million other reasons the job has been a great fit, but this was my first green flag that it was probably going to work out.

      1. LW 2*

        I have a friend who rescues and fosters rats. I think they’re so cool! I’ve heard they’re very intelligent and have pretty distinct personalities. Is that true?

      2. paxfelis*

        Contracts, I would like to see pictures too! But I don’t want to bother anyone else by asking you to post them in person :(

        Thank you for fostering animals that can be very intelligent, loving, and amazingly fun to have around.

      3. A Simple Narwhal*

        Rats are such wonderful pets! My college roommate had a rat and she was so sweet and cuddly. People were at first weirded out at the idea of a rat but everyone who met her fell in love almost instantly. Her favorite thing to do was curl up in your hoodie sleeve and stick her little snoot out, it was adorable. She was also crazy smart, we trained her with almost zero effort to stay on the living room rug so we could let her free roam for a bit without worrying that she would disappear.

        1. Jack Russell Terrier*

          When I was a kid we had a pet English Hooded Rat. He was lovely – so cuddly and affectionate and more intelligent than the dog … . Your experience echos mine .

  3. Tinkerbell*

    I freely admit I’m not a cat person, but I’d feel very differently about a coworker who rescued cats for their own good and was trying to do the right thing but happened to end up with several permanent pets than I would about someone who collected them like beanie babies. As long as you practice good personal hygiene (i.e. you don’t smell like a litterbox and I shouldn’t have an allergic attack just for standing near you) and you are socially aware enough to recognize when people want to hear pet stories and when they want to change the subject, you should be fine.

    1. BethDH*

      That last bit about social awareness in talking about it is key, I think. I’ve had coworkers who became the cat person or the bird person, but it was always because of their focus on pets at the expense of any other topics, not because of the number of animals.

    2. LW 2*

      Yes I am very conscious/sensitive to smells in general so I probably go a little overboard in making sure I don’t stink. No cats are allowed in my bedroom or clothes closet. I clean the litter boxes twice daily, they don’t have accidents, and we’re fortunate enough to be able to have cleaners come twice a month (on top of my daily vacuuming).

      1. MicroManagered*

        This kind of comment (the one you’re replying to) is the reason I don’t discuss my cats with coworkers–and for the record, I only have 2 lol. It’s not really anyone’s business how someone ended up with the number or the kind of pets they have!!

        A LOT of people have these really ingrained judgy opinions about cat people, but will add qualifiers that start with “as long as.” Like, if someone at work smells like a litterbox, then the problem is that they’re a stinky person, not that they’re a cat person. Not all cat people are stinky people, just like not all stinky people are cat people…

        Personally I find that there’s one of these people in every bunch and THEY usually lack the social awareness to keep their opinions (and qualifiers about how you aren’t one of “those people”) to themselves. It sucks when people are telling stories about their dog or their kid or their knitting hobby or whatever, and you mention something about your cat and get met with this. I will talk about my cats if someone specifically asks me but generally don’t volunteer info.

        1. to varying degrees*

          100%. At one time I had 7 cats, not counting fosters, and oohh boy did people have comments (doesn’t help that I’m female and single). I have no need to justify my cats to anyone and while I don’t start out with showing pictures of my cats to people (no shoving a phone at anyone) if I’m getting inundated by 20+ pictures of your kid at her recital (with accompanying videos) y’all are looking at a few kitty pics.

      2. Smithy*

        While I’m not a cat person, life and experienced has also shared that there is zero way to correlate the number of cats or the size of the home to how someone’s home will smell. That said, because of those inevitable biases – I do think there’s a way of soft launching the exact number of cats you own at work.

        If you’re having any general “get to know you” chat, where you mention living with your partner and cats – those who are not cat people (at least like me) typically won’t ask how many cats. Those who are, will ask how many and you can use the lines that AAM recommends.

        As an adult who enjoys dolls to a degree – while it comes up less in a work setting, on the occasions where it has – the only people who ask follow up questions are people who are kindly amused or genuinely interested. For rude people, it’s an easy enough “I inherited some from my grandmother and kept them”. For those who find dolls creepy or weird, it never has to be a topic of conversation. But when you work with people who are generally thoughtful, once they realize you’re a normal person who has any specific interest you’re far more likely to enjoy some amusing “water cooler” chat on the subject every now and then. And if you work with less reasonable people, you’ll know to be more guarded.

    3. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Thank you for saying it that way. I find people who can just outright say, “I hate [animal]” to be kind of callous. Why hate an animal?

      1. Gracely*

        When people just outright say they hate X animal (as opposed to being scared of or uninterested in or creeped out by them), especially if they know they’re talking to someone who owns/enjoys that animal, I consider it a pretty big red flag.

    4. 2 Cents*

      Also not a cat person, but our neighbor who shares the backyard line (I’m explaining poorly) has at least 4 outdoor cats who have never bothered us, who humor my young son when he calls out to them and wants to play, and who have definitely kept the mouse population to zero. Also, yay to rescue! I think it would be different if you purchased 5 cats, but that’s just me.

  4. Cat Mom of 4*

    I had 2 cats when I started my current job. I now have 4. I am known as the crazy cat lady and I just embrace it. I would love to get a new coworker who has 5 kitties!

    1. Bunny Girl*

      I have five animals, technically six if you count the feral cat that adopted us, and I had done wildlife rehab in the past so sometimes we had “sleep overs” with animals I was transporting. So we have a small petting zoo in the house. No one’s really batted an eye over it and most people think it’s charming. I just joke that if anyone comes over they have to pay a quarter.

  5. Jess*

    LW #2, this is the opposite of a problem. As long as you’re not coming to work covered in cat hair and smelling of cat pee, you’ve got nothing but a cute story. I think if someone asks about pets and you don’t want to get into it, you can just say “I’ve got a few cats”. But saying five isn’t going to make me think hoarding – it’s on the higher side, but not excessive.

    Just have *one* cute photo of your furry buddies you can whip out if the conversation leans that way, don’t start going through an entire photo roll of every cute pose EVER, and I think you’ve only got a nice icebreaker for conversations with your new coworkers.

    1. LW 2*

      I’ve been really lucky in terms of them always using the litter boxes. And I’m pretty fastidious about cleaning and odors. I clean their litter boxes twice daily, always lint roll on my way out the door, and we’re lucky enough to be able to have cleaners come every other week.

      I would love to have a photo with them all, but it’s hard to get them all in one place! That saying about herding cats and all….it’s true

      1. Observer*

        That saying about herding cats and all….it’s true

        If you deploy this much humor when you talk about your cats, you will NOT sound like the “crazy cat person”.

    2. MissCoco*

      I love the advice to have one or at most two pictures that are in your favorites or another album where you can quickly pull them up to show people who are interested. Maybe a kitten and adult version.

      1. anne of mean gables*

        This is what I do with my human child. That way I am prepared if it comes up at work, and have readily accessible evidence to back up my claim that “he’s pretty cute.” No one wants to watch me scroll through the 3000 pictures I’ve taken this month but having one handy is usually a good addition to the conversation (especially as I have recently learned that I come across as a robot who does not want to talk about her personal life at work).

    3. Office Gumby*

      I’ve fostered many a cat (and failed a couple). If anyone asks, “Oh, do you have pets?” Your answer could be, “I have a momma cat and her litter of kittens.” No need to confess that these “kittens” might be GOSH (Grown Offspring Still Home).

      No one would look askew at such an answer, especially if you whip out a picture of them when they were kittens.

  6. Part-time Poet*

    For cats – letter #2. I follow a woman on Instagram who has seven. She also feeds outside strays that hang around at the front of her house. She has six “matched” pairs that look alike; (she did this on purpose), two orange tabbies, Hank and Jesse, two white cats with small black markings, Gary and Gus, and Alice and Margo who also have similar markings. white with black and grayish, brownish parts. Her posts were hilarious during the four year of the previous POTUS. She talks about the feral cats in her neighborhood leaving packs of kittens in the kitten bush near her house. So she has the six cats and then adopted Stan from the kitten bush and then a year or so later, she fostered another litter and some died, some found homes and she “accidentally” kept two more, Kendall and Gregory. So now she has SEVEN cats. She takes great photos and videos. Find her on Instagram at omgdeedee.

      1. Part-Time Poet*

        It NINE cats. Work brain cannot count. Six matched pairs, then added Stanley, Greg and Kendall.

  7. Emily*

    LW # 2 you are an angel for rescuing mama cat and her kittens! Like Alison, I would also be delighted by this story if I was your co-worker and I like Alison’s suggestion for explaining it. If people have a weird reaction to it I feel like that’s their problem (I have a weird internal reaction whenever someone mentions they have more than 3 kids, but I would still never suggest that they lie about how many kids they have, as long as they are able to care for them that is what matters).

    1. LW 2*

      Thank you! If you look at one of my comments above, I talk about how one of the kittens only made it to 10 weeks because of a very rare heart defect and we donated her heart to veterinary science so they could study it.

    2. All Het Up About It*

      We at one point in time had 5 cats. We only purposefully adopted 2 of them. Reactions varied, but even people who said “That’s a lot of cats” never were particularly horrified. Okay – I take that back, I think there was one former co-worker who had the audacity to say it was “Too many,” but she didn’t really like animals at all and so obviously was evil and her opinion means nothing. Truthfully – it’s an excellent way to weed out such monsters.

      And I’ll say when I started reading “unusually high number” I expected way more than 5. I’d say 5 is a USUAL high number.

      1. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

        Yeah, you don’t get into hoarding territory until you have double digit numbers with one person. Five is not that.

        We have participated in TNR as well, and my roomies feed some ferals, one of which we’re pretty sure was a housecat that someone dumped.

      2. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

        Right? When you said an unusually high number of cats, I was thinking you were going to say something like 50-100. Five doesn’t seem excessive at all.

  8. Tinkerbell*

    LW3, does your employee have enough to do? Is it possible he’s stretching out his tasks – purposely or not – because he’s worried he’s going to be penalized for running off the end of the to-do list? It’s ridiculous, but I know several people who have outdone themselves with efficiency and were rewarded by having their hours or positions cut.

    If there *is* more to do and it’s just not assigned to him, it might be worth showing him the scope of what you expect him to accomplish when he’s up to speed. “By this time next month I expect you to be able to turn over 5 of item A a month, 2-3 of item B, and do item C weekly as needed. Item D is a lower priority but still does need to get done so please work on that if A, B, and C are all under control already.”

    I’m afraid if you let him think this job only takes a third of his concentration, you’ll never really get his full commitment later because he’s just not willing to put in the work. If you show him it can be a challenge from the get-go, you’re more likely to get his best effort (or to know right away that he’s not the right candidate for the job).

    1. agreed*

      this is what i was wondering. in the past if i didn’t have a lot to do, i’d stretch out a task or project so that i have something to work on. and to give the perception that i’m being thoughtful and careful, and not rush through something. maybe this is what this guy is doing.

      1. Melissa*

        Yes— I can relate to this too. I’m a fast worker, and in the past I have thought “I better not return this assignment in 15 minutes or she’ll think I’m being sloppy.” So I kill time before doing it. Who knows if that’s what’s happening, but it is definitely one possibility.

    2. Spearmint*

      Also, as someone who is not super organized and is prone to procrastination (probably have ADHD tbh), I’ve found that having more to do helps me stay on top of things better. If I have all afternoon to complete one hour of work, it’s so easy to just take a few internet surfing breaks here or there and then, oops, it’s already 5pm. Whereas when I have a lot to do the pressure forces me to be thinking about how much time I have left in the day and what things I need to get done when.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        Yeah, I would greatly appreciate it if my boss were to say, “can you get that back to me in an hour or so” and to also know that there’s more work beyond it, otherwise Dreamland will come and claim me. This is why I’ve always worked jobs were the demands are constant!

        1. Green great dragon*

          Yeh, and ‘maybe do some training when you’ve no work’ is quite vague. Definitely set a time you expect things back or ask for an eta. Are you having regular 1-1s? Can you set out a plan for the week and what you would like to see when, including training? But separately the forgetfulness is not great and needs to be dealt with.

          1. Not My Monkeys*

            He needs to write down his tasks at meetings, not have you send them to him. Instead of reminding him of the tasks, ask him: what were you tasked with at the meeting? If he doesn’t remember, remind him that it’s his job to write it down during the meeting and complete the tasks.

            1. ferrina*

              This is a really good point. It’s probably worth it to explicitly tell him that this is part of his job, and that LW expects him to be tracking his own action items.

              1. Spearmint*

                Agreed. It is not always the norm to write down your own action items. At my office’s staff meetings, the admin will write all the action items and send them out after the meeting.

        2. Lacey*

          Yup. I don’t work jobs with constant demands, but I’ve always had clear deadlines and that helps me know how long to take with things.

          I do get a lot more done on a deadline day than any other day, but it all gets done.

        3. Gracely*

          Yes! If you have a timeline you want things in, and you’re not getting it in that timeline, don’t just assume he magically knows what that timeline is/what’s reasonable. You have to tell people, especially new people, what you expect!

          I mean, for all you know, LW, he’s sending things at the end of the day/beginning of the next day because he doesn’t want to swamp you with his stuff in the afternoon.

      2. Eyes Kiwami*

        Yes, I also find that I get more done the more stuff I have to do. Seven urgent tasks due today? They will get done today. Two non urgent tasks? They will be done next week.

        Knowing there’s a deadline and something coming down the pipe once this task is done helps!

      3. BubbleTea*

        This is me exactly. It’s why I quit my previous job (which I absolutely loved in almost every way) and started my own business. It’s why working from home is so much better for me too – if there’s no work I can do right then, I can have a productive break doing housework or laundry or washing the dishes, and I don’t lose my momentum.

        (I also probably have ADHD.)

      4. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        +1 I was going to say to LW3 that she’d probably be doing them both a favor if she gave him more work to do. Either it will actually help him flourish or she’ll learn that he can’t handle the job.

      5. Office Lobster DJ*

        Also me. For me, a task that takes less than an hour with no apparent deadline is my kryptonite, especially if there’s nothing waiting on the other side of it.

    3. Well...*

      Also I’m a notoriously bad procrastinator and I always do 90% of what I’m supposed to before the wall of “just can’t” kicks in. My solution has been to take on much more work, so that my 90% is still productive.

      I wish I could stop but I’m in academia and honestly it’s been a blessing in disguise. There’s more work than time to do for everyone, and cutting 10% helps me prioritize (the self-hatred for not doing that 10%, however, is something I struggle with).

      1. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

        I hear that. Some days there’s stuff that I know needs to be done, that has been on my plate forever, and I just… can’t. It’s ADHD with TBI hell. This always bit me when it came to doing homework in school. If it’s boring or seems like makework I just can’t seem to do it. I can stare at it for days, and just not be able to do it.

        If the little switch trips, and I can do it, I usually crank it out in an hour or less. But until I can get that switch to flip, I just hate myself for not being able to do simple little stuff.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      In addition, I was wondering if because his workload is extremely manageable right now, he’s building in a lot of review time. So he’ll make the edits, and then come back after doing something else to look at it with fresh eyes.

      This could also get into what Alison said earlier this week about development from being in the office observing people who are more experienced–someone who’s unusually slow may not have many indications of that. So it’s on the manager to spell it out in a way that might not be needed if everyone were sitting together in cubicles and the newby could observe other people.

    5. Contracts Killer*

      I was going to write a nearly identical comment. I’m a very fast worker and I’ve been “rewarded” time after time by getting way more than my fair share of work. I found out that after I left my last position, it took 2.5 people to replace me. (Of course when I was there, I did constantly complain that I had too much work to do. In hindsight, I would have simply stopped killing myself to get it all done.)

    6. Totally Minnie*

      Yeah, I’m in my second month in a new job and all the people who should be assigning me projects are in their busy period, so when I finish one project there’s no telling when they’ll have time to assign me something else. There are only so many webinars a person can watch in their downtime without going mad with boredom, so sometimes I stretch things out. I take a few extra minutes at each step, I check over the finished project more times than I probably need to, and anything else I can think of to make the project last a little longer so I won’t have to watch another mind numbing LinkedIn Learning video about Excel. I can handle more work, but nobody has time to give it to me.

    7. Daisy-dog*

      Exactly my thought as well. Assign more work – even though he isn’t “finished” with the first assignment. See if he can balance the additional tasks with that work and turn things around quicker.

    8. learnedthehardway*

      Good point. Personally, no matter how much or little work I have to do, I will take up the same amount of time. Partly it’s because the work I do could fill your entire 24/7, if you let it, but partly it’s because I just HAVE to be working.

  9. MyTwoCents*

    I think being upfront about how many cats is definitely the way to go. We are very dog- and cat- oriented people at my work, and get about as excited about people getting new pets as we do pregnancy announcements! My snarky side also says if someone thinks you’re a weirdo for having so many pets, than it says more about them then you!

    1. Jackalope*

      I agree. People will take their cue from you. If you act like it’s perfectly normal to have all of your cats, they may say something about how that could be a lot but otherwise they’ll likely just accept it. After all, it’s YOUR normal, right? So just act like it is what it is, and they should be fine.

    2. LW 2*

      You’re right. I think I’ve been overly self-deprecating about all the cats I have, and people have taken their cues from me. But when they make good-natured jokes about the cats (which is understandable because I make jokes about having so many cats), I end up reading too much into it. I’m a little neurotic that way!

      1. Boots and Cats*

        “I think I’ve been overly self-deprecating about all the cats I have”

        If you still want to home the kittens, you might find takers at your job! Work it into the self deprecating origin story the right way, and you might just charm someone into adopting!

  10. Inkognyto*

    Alison, six cats? Rookie numbers. My spouse and I have multiples higher. She’s worked in animal rescue and a lot cost vet clinic, some of the foster kittens, were never adopted and she couldn’t give them to bad homes.

    They are the ‘perma’ fosters. but really us.

    I never tell someone how many cats we have, I say “enough”. There are ones we choose to keep. This is on top of the dogs, and horses. Yes we are rural.

      1. AlwhoisThatAl*

        Mentally, you never do, sadly physically sometimes we can’t :-(
        One of these days I’ll run that cat cafe, stuffed with Bengals, British Blues, Ragdolls and lots of scraggy moggies

  11. Talley*

    I don’t even ask. If I can see whose mic is on I just mute them. Frequently even tho I’m not running these meetings, I did schedule them & send the invites out, so that probably makes a difference, but I would probably do it anyway. If you don’t want to be muted by fiat, pay better attention!

    1. Michelle*

      Do the various video meeting platforms (I use Zoom and Google Meet) show who did it when someone muted someone else? Someone on a recent meeting I was in (not my meeting though) was making a bunch of racket last week and I alllllmost hit the button but was worried it’d come off a little aggro if they or everyone saw me muting her.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        It’s been a while since I’ve done it so my info may be out of date, but afaik in Teams it’s not visible who did it, and it would surprise me if it was visible on other platforms.

        The time I did it, it wasn’t even my meeting, it was “Bob’s”. One of Bob’s teammembers was presenting, and Bob wasn’t paying attention, he was talking with someone off-screen and making a racket, clacking on his keyboard, unmuted. So I hit mute on him. Thing is, it’s not possible to *un*mute other people, as I realized then. I couldn’t undo what I had done!
        So when Bob did turn back towards the meeting, it took a while to make him understand he was muted (he’s a pretty oblivious person in general). We all pretended it was so mysterious how that happened. I have no regrets.

        1. Onward*

          Blows my mind that that dude realized he was previously unmuted and still made a ton of racket (including talking to someone offscreen!!!) then was confused that someone muted him. Bobs are the worst.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            Oh, he never realized someone muted him. He thought it was a software glitch. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know one can mute other people, and he has a fairly tenuous grasp of the concept of muting oneself.

        2. Hlao-roo*

          I can confirm that on Teams you can mute someone else and there is no indication of who did the muting (that person or another meeting participant).

        3. Ally McBeal*

          Yup, this has happened to me a few times – muted folks who took a while to realize they were muted – and I’ve never once felt guilty about it. If you’re not self-aware enough to know you’re being loud while you’re in a meeting, then I’m shifting all the awkwardness onto you.

        4. Observer*

          Thing is, it’s not possible to *un*mute other people, as I realized then.

          That was mostly an update that the platforms pushed out at the start of the pandemic as more people (and kids) were coming into meetings from home. The privacy implications of unmuting people without their consent (and sometimes without their knowledge) are pretty bad.

      2. Splendid Colors*

        I am on Zoom a lot, and haven’t seen any indicators when someone else mutes a participant vs. they mute themselves. I don’t see anything different when someone mutes me. Usually that’s because it’s the kind of format where everyone’s muted by default and you only get un-muted by the host when it’s your turn. I don’t get a notification that it was the City Clerk or Tech Person 1 or whoever.

      3. Properlike*

        As a meeting attendee who is comfortable being direct with naming unmuted offenders, I’d like to ask how all of you are able to mute if you’re not running the meeting? (I don’t think the mutee can see who does it.)

        I have been known to ask the event leader if they might be able to mute because I can’t hear. “I think it might be Wakeen.” I will initially send a chat message to the person in charge, or I will put in the general chat “can everyone please mute?” OR I will send a direct message to the offender. “Hey, I bet you don’t realize…”

        But I have raised my virtual hand and apologetically said I’m unable to follow because “I think Wakeen’s mute is off.” If you don’t want to get called out, make sure you check your status!

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Some programs (maybe it also depends on company-specific settings?) let anyone mute anyone. Teams is set up that way for us. Other programs only let the organizer mute people.

        2. Insert Clever Name Here*

          We use Teams and it’s set up where anyone can mute anyone (with no indication who did it). Find a tested coworker and try it out :D

        3. Blue wall*

          It sounds like the person who brought it up scheduled the meeting, even if they weren’t running it, so they likely had hosting capabilities.

          1. Aerin*

            I have definitely been able to mute people in Teams meetings I had no involvement in setting up. Most people in our org are pretty good about it, but every so often there will be someone whose setup is creating weird feedback. So I just look for whoever’s got the speaking indicator when they’re not actually talking and hit the magic happy button.

      4. Insert Clever Name Here*

        My company uses Teams and as of yesterday it just says “a participant muted you” or something like that — there is no indication of who did it.

        If I was in a meeting room with the door open and people outside the room were being distracting, I’d get up and close the door whether I called the meeting or not; I consider this the virtual equivalent.

    2. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I split the difference and message them if it’s a coworker. If it’s a client, I let my manager deal with it.

      1. Erik*

        Direct message of some type is absolutely the best first step. It doesn’t interrupt the main flow, no one else knows, and you can be MUCH more blunt one-on-one than in the group.

        Failing that, muting them sounds good if your platform supports it. But if you’re not the host, there’s only so far you can go before you step on their privilege to run their meeting how they want.

    3. Everdene*

      During the peak of Teams/Zoom meetings mid pandemic my patience was so thinly pulled that I made almost a hobby of muting oblivious people. I know I annoyed and/or confused a couple of people but also I think I helped preserve the sanity of many, many others. Like a masked hero, no one ever knew the muter was me.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        I’m the same! If you’re taking a second call during this meeting and you can’t be bothered to check if you’re on mute, I can’t be bothered to care what you feel if I mute you!

      2. nobadcats*

        Back in the Before Times, I had a co-irker who was generally annoying. We were all in a conference call, and he was murmuring “mmm hmmm” at the end of each sentence the presenter said.

        I got up from my desk, walked the six yards to his cubicle and hit the “mute” button on his phone. Then walked back to my desk and was finally able to pay attention to the meeting.

        Also, he was eating oatmeal at the same time.

    4. Willis*

      Same, unless it’s someone who’s actively involved in the conversation. Then I’d probably mention that they have some loud background nosie, if it was making it hard to hear them. But most of the time it’s someone who’s not paying attention to the meeting and isn’t going to notice you muted them anyway.

    5. cat socks*

      I love the feature on Teams that allows you to mute participants. I don’t mute someone who is actively engaged in the conversation, but it’s easy to tell when someone is unmuted by accident. I figure I am saving them from saying something embarrassing when they don’t know they are unmuted.

      Pre-Teams, we would have to specifically call someone out to mute their line. In one conferencing app, I think the moderator only had access to mute/un-mute lines.

    6. Mbarr*

      I actively mute people when I see they’re contributing to background noise.

      As a presenter though, sometimes when I’m sharing my screen, my setup makes it difficult to see who’s mic is making the noise – that might be why they’re calling out instead of just muting the person.

      Take the initiative to mute the person.

    7. goddessoftransitory*

      This letter made me chuckle because it reminded me of a poster singing to her cat and a JUDGE finally saying “will whoever is singing about bird murder please mute?”

    8. Good Enough For Government Work*

      Does Google Meet show when you mute someone/show who does the muting? A couple of times I have been DYING to mute a completely oblivious but extremely senior colleague, but didn’t want to risk Causing A Thing.

  12. Ronia*

    To number 4: there’s a 97% chance your boss has received these gift cards themselves and can’t use them because they aren’t local, and are regifting to you.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I agree with Alison that it’s fine not to reciprocate but I think it you want to, you could give your boss a (greetings) card – I think giving them a holiday or birthday card is different from an actual gift and doesn’t contravene the ‘gifts should flow downwards’ rule.

      (To be clear, I think you are absolutely fine not giving them anything at all, but if you would like to, I don’t think that it creates any precedent or expectation regarding gifts!)

      I aghree also that it may be that at least some of the gift cards etc are thigs that she has received that she’s sharing with you / others in the department.

    2. Looper*

      LW4 stated they tend to be from client businesses, so to me it seems likely they are being received from the clients and/or being purchased on the conpany dime to sweeten the relationship. I’d say it’s pretty rare that a supervisor is buying things like this for staff out of their own pocket especially if the whole team is receiving them or their being given as thanks for work-related accomplishments. Most likely this is coming out of a department budget for such things. HOWEVER, if LW4 is the ONLY employee receiving these gifts, the problem is not about reciprocating, but instead about a supervisor acting shady!

  13. MBK*

    Top-level comments so far: 9 about cats, 1 each about two other topics.

    This is Peak Internet, right here.

        1. nobadcats*

          It’s the internet pet tax. If you mention your pet, it’s a moral imperative to post a pic.

          1. AnonInCanada*

            Please send a link to an imgur page with them. We’d all love to see your purr-fect companions (okay, I’ll see myself out with the puns.)

        2. Lizzo*

          GORGEOUS! I feel like the one thing missing from this document is brief descriptions of their personalities…like little bios you might see next to senior portraits in the yearbook. :-)

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      One of my favorite letters was from someone who had “care for company ducks” as one item of many on her docket, and only got asked about that. Consensus was “Well… yeah, ducks.” You need to have a ready duck anecdote, and then you can try to pivot after hitting on the ducks.

      1. Sal*

        I think it’s fine to say “Jack, we’re getting some background noise, could you please mute?” but seems rude to say “Diane, I’m putting you on mute since you seem to be on another phone call.” Just say you’re muting her and don’t point out that she’s on another call. I get that Diane is already being rude (although probably not intentionally), but it’s still rude to point out someone’s rudeness in that way. Everyone can hear she’s on another call, no need to say it. Just say there’s noise and mute her.

  14. Melody Pond*

    For #5 – I wonder if this could possibly be, for example, an east coast/west coast thing? I’m on the west coast, and my company is similarly based here, and it’s MUCH more common in my company to do the indirect dance of, “could everyone please ensure their mic is muted?”

    In fact, I admit I’ve often been skeptical of Alison’s advice to call out the person directly, because I’ve always felt that it wouldn’t fly at my (very large, recognizable) company. I’d love to know what part of the country OP5 and their company is based out of (assuming they’re in the US).

    1. Mid*

      If you’re in a culture where it would feel rude to call someone by name, you could try a direct message to that person. Or pinging the organizer to see if they can mute all. But I think tone matters a lot! Sometimes people truly don’t know they have background noise. Things get picked up on a microphone differently than in human ears. The other day, I thought my parent was actually dying and had fallen down the stairs because of the horrible noises that suddenly happened on our call. Turns out, he was opening a plastic trash bag.

      1. Properlike*

        Midwest, and it’s terribly ineffective at our organization. It was mostly a symptom of those running Zoom meetings being unfamiliar with Zoom settings and not checking “mute all participants.” So most information would be lost under the disruption of conversations/screaming/toilets as the presenter talked louder AND FASTER. Or, we’d wait ten minutes for “everyone” to turn off their sound, which never happened.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          We run some really large Zoom meetings. Sometimes the host or co-host mutes individuals (they start out muted). Sometimes you have to scroll through a few hundred names to find the culprit.

          The webinar function is great. Only hosts & presenters can unmute themselves. Everyone else has to ask.

    2. Roland*

      Am on the west coast – one time I typed in the chat something extremely neutral like “hey wakeen I think you might be unmuted” and my manager like, gently chided me for it later. Bonkers, but now I just don’t say anything even though it’s annoying af.

    3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I don’t think it’s an east coast / west coast divide (also a West Coast native, although currently in the UK). Or at least, calling someone out by name, polietly, would have been acceptable at the West Coast companies I worked at.

      I think it’s more likely to be an industry or company culture thing?

    4. mreasy*

      Sometimes a meeting host will hear the sound before they can ID who isn’t muted, so the “can everyone check” makes sense. In my experience working with teams crossing the coasts, everyone is fine with the individual call-out, so I don’t think it’s a WC thing.

      1. English Rose*

        Yes, especially in meetings where the number of participants spills over more than one screen, it can be difficult for the host to see quickly who the offending person is. Especially true if the host is engaged in an additional activity such as screen-sharing.
        If I’m running a large Zoom meeting I make someone else co-host and arrange with them in advance that they will keep an eye/ear out for the noisy ones and mute them.

    5. OP #5*

      Interesting! I’m physically located on the East coast, but my last position was spread across coasts and collaborative across sites (I guess technically the HQ was East coast). My current position is a government agency where I’m not currently meeting with anyone at other sites, and I’m also in a weeklong training now led by someone on the East coast that also engages in this indirect behavior.

      I was also *fascinated* to see Alison’s answer – I don’t think of either my former or current workplaces as touchy-feely! I went from a law firm to a workplace full of scientists.

    6. Person from the Resume*

      I agree with Alison that I’d not skip calling someone out.

      … but if I can figure out who it is (it’s is not always as obvious on my meetings as it seems to be on the LW’s) I’ll mute them myself if I can.

      I did that yesterday while running a meeting. A person was unmuted and typing loudly while I was talking. It distracted me from speaking but I found them, muted them, and got back on track.

    7. BethDH*

      I have been the person presenting who can’t quite get my brain shifted fast enough to ask a specific person individually, AND been the person who accidentally bumped the mute button without noticing.

      I really appreciated the meeting where the leader said they’d appointed someone as “meeting logistics” point person for the meeting. The point person was both the one who muted people and also was empowered to do things like tell the presenter when the screen share wasn’t working or we couldn’t hear or whatever. I wish every meeting of more than six people or so had that kind of facilitator!

      1. Ins mom*

        This is great. My non-tech husband has to take zoom continuing ed for his volunteer EMT certification (or travel quite a way) and if you regular zoomers are bad at this, just imagine a large group of once a year rural volunteers! I sit close by as ‘tech support.’

    8. Falling Diphthong*

      Spouse says that he settled on “just hit mute” (out of general announcement, specific announcement, or just mute) after realizing that the person who is making noise thinks they are muted, and thus the noise. So he’s just flicking the software setting that they think is already on.

    9. Angelinha*

      I think a lot of people just don’t realize they can see who’s unmuted/who’s causing the noise. I’m always confused by this too but I think some people just aren’t perceptive. They’re the same people who are like “I don’t know if Sam is on the call, Sam are you with us??” because Sam’s video is off, but you can clearly see their initials. Or people who say “I have no idea who’s screen sharing, but whoever it is can you advance to the next slide?” even though we can all see the name of the screen sharer at the bottom of the window.

    10. Mockingjay*

      I think it depends on who is in the meeting, not your location.

      Meetings with the bigwigs: generic “could everyone please ensure their mic is muted; we’re hearing feedback.”

      Meetings with my team: We have one guy whose setup squelches A LOT (IT is baffled but working on it) and who forever forgets to mute his mic. We either a) call him out by name “hey buddy, can you mute for us? Thanks!” or b) hit the mute button on Teams for him. (I emphasize that we are a small, tight team and it’s perfectly okay to mute each other. We don’t do it in any other meeting.)

      Responses in this situation are very dependent on company culture, so OP5 needs to “read the room” – chat room or meeting space. Just keep the tone matter of fact, whether generic reminder or call out by name. At this point, people are pretty used to it.

    11. Loch Lomond*

      I’m on the West coast, and I’ve never seen anyone be shy about, or take offense to, something like, “Oh, Sean, can you mute?” It’s always said cheerfully, or like it’s the first time it’s happened even if it’s a chronic problem with someone. It seems pretty normal to be able to say that and not have it be fraught.

  15. Sabrina*

    Regarding not being on mute; my boss once heard my dogs in a group zoom call and decided to take in upon herself to always remind me to mute myself as meetings she was running started. It was sort of annoying but low stakes so I just politely let her know I was. Then one day she texted me on my personal phone during a department meeting that I needed to mute myself because she could hear my dogs and our department head was trying to talk.

    I wasn’t in that meeting. I told her such. She hasn’t reminded me to mute myself in about a year now.

    1. Daisy-dog*

      So I initially misread this as if your dogs were in a group zoom call…like with other dogs…while you were talking to your boss. A majorly cute image.

  16. Jessica Fletcher*

    I was thinking it would be 10+ cats! You’re fine! More cats means more opportunities for pictures.

    As long as they seem well cared for, it’s nbd. Someone at my office had 10 and doesn’t take them to the vet because they can’t afford medical care for so many. A couple have passed away over the last few years, I think related to the lack of vet care. I do silently judge her.

    1. Not Australian*

      Yes, I had a very dear colleague who ended up with 23 cats due to a combination of ‘benign neglect’ (he himself was seriously depressed at the time) and bad luck: he loved them dearly, but it was a situation that couldn’t continue, and fortunately in the end he was able to rehome them all and move on. The sad thing is that a lot of the time people adopt cats with the very best of intentions but no forethought, and sometimes life turns against them. Our most recent adoption came from just such a situation, but we’re quite convinced that the person we got him from will probably just turn round and do the same thing again in a year or two…

    2. LW 2*

      When the kittens were first born, we were very lucky to have a local rescue that worked with us to get them all spayed, neutered, and vaccinated at an affordable price. We do end up spending a good amount of money on food and care, but we’re DINKS (dual income no kids) so we have the funds to do so.

  17. Observer*

    #5 – Virtual meetings being interrupted by unmuted mikes

    You’re almost certainly getting pushback because you are acting as the host / organizer though it’s not your role in a workplace culture that seems to value not getting too far out of your role. But I also wonder if you are sounding a bit annoyed or brusque.

    Instead of calling it out out loud, send that person a chat message. Most of the platforms allow you to message a single individual. If the organizer has disable the private chat feature, you can drop it in the main chat. And use a bit of softening language. Something like “Jane, you might want to mute your mike. The background is coming through louder than you probably realize.” And, yes it’s wordy. But at the moment you’re trying not to annoy people even more.

    1. allathian*

      Or just mute them without saying anything. On Teams at least, any participant in a meeting can mute anyone else, and Teams won’t tell who did the muting.

      1. SarahKay*

        Yes, I find Teams annoying for a number of reasons but the ability for anyone to secretly mute people who are making (unwanted) noise is definitely one of its good features.
        It also has the more nuclear option to actually kick someone off a call without saying who did it….

        1. kiki*

          Yes! I also love that anyone can mute anyone at teams. It’s solved the problem of the unmuted person who also isn’t paying attention to the meeting or their chat notifications who couldn’t be silenced before. There’s a guy on my team who is really bad about this– he’ll jump on a meeting just to listen and then decide to call his bank in the middle of the meeting unmuted.

      2. Observer*

        Yes. But the organizer can disable the capacity. So, if you have the capability, definitely use it.

    2. OP #5*

      I think you may have nailed it. The one thing these contexts have in common is clear hierarchy. And while I’ve improved in my ability to tell when my input is appropriate over time, I’ve never had “afraid to speak up” as a problem.

  18. Free Meerkats*

    A couple of weeks ago I told the Director that he needed to mute while I was doing a presentation. He’s a busy guy and was trying to do other things, like talking to someone else who probably came to his door – during a presentation for him that he asked for…

    Later, another manager a level above my position said something to me about not calling out who the problem is, but doing the “Please everyone check that you’re muted” BS. I told her it was BS, we all knew who was making the noise and he had no problem with being called out. I’m a fairly direct person at work and besides, I retire in 65 days. So I really don’t care if I ruffle some feathers anymore.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I’m kind of astounded that anyone would consider this rude, or consider their feathers ruffled. Are people barking this instruction out sharply in an annoyed tone of voice? That’s the only way I can see this being at all awkward or tense. My boss would just say “Oh, Ellis love, you need to mute, ta very much”. In fact it would come across a lot more annoyed and snarkier if everyone knew who it was, and you were saying “Er, SOMEONE needs to mute”. It makes it sound like it’s such a horrible faux pas, rather than a simple mistake.

      1. WS*

        Yeah, “Someone needs to mute” sounds a lot snarkier than addressing them by name, to me, as does more than one “everyone remember to mute, please”.

        1. Roland*

          Plus the person having a conversation with their spouse or whatever is clearly not paying attention to the meeting, so what’s the point of a generic message to everyone, especially when people send it in the zoom chat… I’m not gonna rock that boat at work over this but it’s very silly imo.

          1. MsSolo UK*

            It’s also quite hard to tell if you’re the one making noise, because while for everyone else you become front and centre, or highlighted, or whatever the settings on your particular video chat are, for yo everything looks the same. If it’s background noise you’re not massively aware of because you’ve got headphones on to listen to the meeting, you may be completely oblivious to how it sounds to everyone else.

            1. Generic Name*

              Ooh, it would be great if the platforms showed a visual when you are making noise in a meeting. I’m normally on mute, and Teams loves to tell me I’m muted if I cough or sneeze. Would be nice if it did the opposite.

        2. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

          Yeah, “XXXX, please mute yourself” is short, sweet, to the point and polite. No snark, no “Someone needs to mute themselves!” passive-aggressive BS.

      2. allathian*

        Your boss sounds condescending to me, but then I don’t appreciate terms of endearment from my coworkers, never mind a manager.

        That said, in this case it was the higher-up who was unmuted. Depending on the platform and the setup, the person making the presentation may or may not be able to see the audience and who’s unmuted. Depending on your relationship with the higher-up, sometimes it’s okay to call them out on it by name, sometimes it isn’t. But yeah, I’d be somewhat annoyed if the person who’d asked me to make a presentation was not only not listening but making it harder for others to follow, too.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          I’m in a region of the UK were everyone is ‘love’ including the stranger on the street so it isn’t at all specific to the boss!

      3. kiki*

        I think the idea that it’s rude to specifically tell somebody to mute comes from the idea that it’s rude to criticize somebody or draw attention to something embarrassing about somebody in public. And I do agree with that! But with muting, everyone can tell who is not on mute, so it’s not really drawing extra attention to the unmuted person. I personally think it’s kinder to tell somebody to mute themselves before they potentially do something more embarrassing. If possible, DM the offender, but sometimes that just delays the resolution.

        1. wendelenn*

          I think the idea is “it’s rude to call out something that can’t be immediately fixed”. This can be immediately fixed.

        2. Filosofickle*

          I favor naming, but the one glitch I run into is that the person who is oblivious to their own background noise is sometimes not even paying attention — they are off having their side convo or eating or whatever — so they don’t hear when they are called out. Then it does draw a ton of attention: “Fergus, I think you have some background noise. Um…Fergus? Fergus can you mute?”

    2. Looper*

      Not being direct also means the “offender” is just going to embarrass themselves for longer. Oftentimes they will keep talking/making noise until the whole meeting comes to a grinding halt until it is just silent except for the offender and then they scramble to mute because they finally realize what’s happening. Naming the problem helps everyone!

    3. Loch Lomond*

      The middle ground is probably informing that person that they’re unmuted, in the same town as you would tell them their shirt is unbuttoned. You’re not instructing them to mute themselves, although that’s the implication, just helpfully informing them that a privacy they thought they had is actually missed.

  19. John Smith*

    #3, re the Skype activity (thisnis a slight aside). We use a different platform, but quite often I show as inactive when I’m actually using the PC. I’d also say that working doesn’t necessarily mean doing something on your PC and it shouldn’t be used as a clocking-in system (at least with my employer who abandoned clocking in times but some managers have decided to use sign in times as a replacement). Obviously this all depends on the nature of the organisation and work set up but unless the vast majority of the job involves PC use, not on PC doesn’t mean not working.

    1. WellRed*

      I noticed that, too! I’d be irritated to be tracked that way (tracked at all, really) especially for all the reasons here.

    2. Mockingjay*

      Teams is the same. If I am reading onscreen or talking on the phone, Teams inevitably shows me as inactive. Which I loathe. I’m not inactive, I’m busy!

      Fortunately my supervisor and my company understand this. We do have to be accessible (chat, phone, or email), but responding within 1/2 hour is sufficient.

  20. Data/Lore*

    LW 2, I am one fainting goat away from a petting zoo, and that is exactly what I tell people. We have (currently) two dogs, two cats, two Guinea pigs, two rats, and a gecko. We’re animal people. I find if I phrase it as “yeah, it’s a lot, and we know it, and it’s pretty funny” people don’t act like it’s too weird, they get a laugh out of the petting zoo comment, and they *always* want to see the animal pictures.

      1. Data/Lore*

        For the record, the only reason we don’t have a fainting goat is neighbors that allow dogs to roam freely. Otherwise we’d probably have goats and/or chickens :D

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I can see now that I did, in fact, grow up in a petting zoo! It was amazing!
      -20+ cats who lived in their own small house complete with heat and outdoor runs. All spayed/neutered. This was the 70s and fairly rural so they were let out during the day and often came back with cats who had been dumped.
      -pony, we built him a barn
      -rabbit
      -turtles
      -Guinea pigs, supposed to be both female but … I think we had 10 at some point
      -4 dogs, until the winter we found a box of 8 puppies half submerged in the pond that someone dumped.

      1. Data/Lore*

        Ahhh, the Guinea pigs. We were told ours was a bonded pair of males that had been surrendered to the pet store because the third male the family had was aggressive toward the smaller piggy. Yeah, it was a male and female. That was fun.

      2. Observer*

        -4 dogs, until the winter we found a box of 8 puppies half submerged in the pond that someone dumped.

        I was laughing till I read that line. I’m not a pet or animal person, but this is just. . . terrible.

    2. Greengirl*

      My dad fondly remembers a corporate meeting with an ice breaker where everyone had to draw their families and he drew himself, my mom, my grandma who lived with us, two kids, two cats, one dog, two fish, two hamsters and two birds.

    3. LW 2*

      My mom has a fainting goat! No one knew it was she she got her, but then one day she fainted!

      My mom actually a few years back did a life 180 and moved to an off-grid farm. She has 30-some chickens, ducks, 2 goats, and 2 dogs. It’s a lot of work, but she loves her life.

    4. Here for the Insurance*

      I have a colleague who recently retired to his rural property where he has both fainting goats and screaming goats. That place is hysterical. The screamers scream and the fainters fall over in response. I think one of the screamers does it on purpose. They’ll sneak up behind a fainter and let loose, and I swear they laugh as they walk away.

  21. Boof*

    LW2 – 5 cats is cute qwerk / funny surprise number of cats territory, not horrific number / “uhhh, can you really be keeping up with them all properly” number of cats* territory.
    *since LW2 mentioned cat hoarder
    This is a totally objective, universal accepted business norm. Allison tots agrees
    (srsly I’m sure opinions will vary slightly but really doesn’t seem that outlandish)

  22. Mialana*

    LW 3: Have you told him he should be taking notes during meetings? Maybe he thinks you do the note taking because you always send them to him. Ask him to take notes and send them to you.

  23. SE*

    The video call program we use at my work let’s anyone mute someone else (but crucially not unmute them obviously because privacy)… So you can just mute the person who is making noise and I’ll maybe ping them directly to mention it over chat (instead of out loud). It’s so amazing and all meeting programs should come with this. Nobody needs to hear me breathing or my kids asking me questions in the background while I’m not trying to talk

  24. Rosa Rosa Rosa Diaz Diaz Diaz*

    In our culture people always say “can someone mute their mic?” “Somebody needs to go on mute, can everybody check, thank you!” so I’ve picked that up as standard. That’s in external and internal meetings. However, my previous job, in a similar sector, people did name the person sometimes.

    It probably would feel jarring to a lot of people here if the individual was named. But it’s probably more about the tone, and whether you’re speaking over others to do it/elevating yourself/acting like you’re in charge rather than the directness.

    We have a general culture in our organisation of curiosity and considering whether we’re wrong (which, as the comments show, people are sometimes!). Is it even possible you’ve been somehow mistaken about who was causing the noise? And/or addressed it in a way that sounded overly brusque?

    You could say “someone needs to mute their mic – it might be you, Diana?” Especially if Diana doesn’t immediately mute her mic at the first part.

    But “um Diana, we can all hear you, please mute, sigh” in an unintentionally irritated voice, especially if Diana is senior/a VIP/very sensitive/you’re not leading the meeting might land badly. And then even more so if there’s a chance you’re wrong/there’s some sort of complicated mitigating circumstances (I don’t know what but you never know).

    1. Rosa Rosa Rosa Diaz Diaz Diaz*

      PS I don’t mean to suggest that the LW sounds anything like as rude in my example here. I’m exaggerating in writing to make it clear what I mean. There’s nothing in the letter to suggest you’re doing that. But just wondering if it’s possible it somehow lands closer to the second example than the first one, even without you realising it.

    2. Lexi Vipond*

      In teams the list of participants shows muted against the names, so it’s usually a case of finding the person who doesn’t have a crossed out mic beside their name rather than recognising a voice (assuming you all started muted).

      1. ecnaseener*

        If only one person is unmuted, sure, but that’s not always the case if this is an active meeting where people are frequently talking. Granted, it will highlight whoever it thinks is speaking at the moment, but if there’s just intermittent bits of background noise you can’t always see that highlighted.

    3. kiki*

      I think this is a fair point, especially if what you’re hearing is just random background noise and you could be mistaken. But I’ve definitely been in a lot of situations where the person who is unmuted genuinely does not think they could be unmuted (or isn’t paying attention to the meeting), so saying the name from the jump resolves the issue a lot faster and can prevent further embarrassment! Especially if it’s not just random background noise, but a personal call, argument, or someone absent-mindedly singing.

  25. Colorado*

    I love the cats!! I’m “down” to 3 dogs (from 6) and 3 cats (from 4) not to mention the 30 chickens, ducks, goose, donkey and horse. And various reptiles. I think it is my main identity at work. Crazy animal lover/rescuer engineer :P

  26. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP5 – I’ve never heard that! Everywhere I’ve been, it’s been fine to mention by name. And been directed at me on occasion and it is not an issue. It’s alerting me to situation, not a comment on a moral failing.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, especially your last sentence.

      Thankfully at my org, any town hall meetings start with everyone muted and cameras off for everyone except the presenters, and we have to raise a virtual hand to speak before doing so. Makes for orderly meetings.

      For our team and project meetings people are generally muted unless speaking, although unmuted is okay as long as there’s no background noise. If there is, it’s perfectly okay to point that out. Although if it’s something like a dog barking, we’re likely to ask them to show the dog on camera…

    2. JSPA*

      Absolutely! Has to be said with no hint of irritation, and ideally before 2 or 3 appeals to “everyone.” Ideally when several people are “on.”

      Something like,

      “Marge, Jan and Ahmed, your mics are set to ‘on,’ so you will have to mute any time you’re not speaking; everyone else, you’re starting mics ‘off’ position so toggle yourself on to speak.”

      Noting here as well:

      for those of us who visual depth of field is shrinking with age (and I assume this may be even more true for people with other visual field problems / retinal degeneration), the little symbols showing who’s on / off are not big enough / not as obvious as they would have been to our 10-years-ago eyes. (And if the symbols are coded red/green, there’s the whole color blindness is genetic, not something people do to be difficult issue.)

      People should not have to disclose effects of aging (or other medical conditions) to get a gentle reminder, as opposed to side-eye, silent shaming, irritation.

      Or at least, people who do their best and occasionally don’t notice (as opposed to those who clearly DGAF) should not be treated as incompetent.

      1. Observer*

        (And if the symbols are coded red/green, there’s the whole color blindness is genetic, not something people do to be difficult issue.)

        The platforms I am familiar with don’t depend on color for this particular signal. But, yes, that little mic is quite small in most cases.

    3. Lolli*

      Same where I work. It is the same as letting someone know they are still on mute when you see they are talking. No shame. Just moving the meeting along. I also will mute someone without thinking twice about it. Everyone is so busy juggling multiple projects that it is seen as a courtesy to help someone out.

  27. RescueCat*

    Good to see the thoughtfulness from OP1, and glad for you that there is an alternative that is obvious.
    I am a disruptive sleeper too – I live very well with my own night terrors, which often include some sleepwalking and shouting or speaking before I wake, but they are not a neutral experience for coworkers and covolunteers. I have a tendency to be rescuing people from danger, responding to a disaster, or trying not to be assassinated. It is a LOT for another person to take, albeit that I will shake the experience off and happily go back to sleep as though it was no big deal. I have to take responsibility to talk about why I am not good to share a room with to people who organise travel, especially the volunteer organisation, however unlikely I may sound when explaining the issue.

    1. Knitting Cat Lady*

      I have sleep apnoea and have a cpap machine for that, so snoring isn’t an issue anymore.

      I am, however, a very combative sleeper. I punch, kick, bite, fall out of bed to the point I have padded the wall next to my bed and have a mattress on the floor for a softer landing. I also have a tendency to only sleep in two hour chunks if I sleep at all. So I tend to sit up and read for a few hours most nights.

      If my employer asked me to share a room with a colleague? I’m okay(ish) with my sleep routine. For anyone else it would be a punishment!

      1. Bagpuss*

        I would imagine that for someone who isn’t used to it, haring a room with someone using a CPAP machine might also be a bit disruptive – I assume they are not totally silent and dark?

        1. Blue wall*

          They’re nearly silent and they are dark (any minor lights go out within ten seconds of being turned on for use).

          CPAPs are a medical device, not an optional item, and they can often get an incorrect rap in the comments section here.

          1. AngryOctopus*

            Nobody is bashing a CPAP, and certainly not saying they’re optional. It’s just another data point in the “people should really not be asked to share rooms with colleagues because they don’t want to share their medical devices/disordered sleep/2AM reading habit” discussion.

          2. Jackalope*

            Being a nonoptional medical device doesn’t mean that they won’t be disturbing the sleep of coworkers who have never slept in the same room as one before, and having a medical device that could keep your coworkers awake seems like the very definition of a good reason for having your own room. The argument isn’t that someone shouldn’t be using them; the argument is that some people will be better off having their own rooms in a hotel for a business trip and that may include someone using a CPAP.

          3. Annika Hansen*

            They aren’t nearly silent to a light sleeper. I wouldn’t say it is loud, but I definitely notice it. My husband is on his second one. I will 100% take the CPAP machine noise over his snoring. If he has a cold, he can even snore through it (and he has a full face mask, not just the thing you put in your nose). However, the snoring volume is much lower with the CPAP on than with it off. I wear earplugs if I have to sleep with my husband. I know not everyone can sleep with earplugs, but I am such a light sleeper that learned how.

            I don’t share a room with my husband except on vacation. We can’t afford two rooms. I couldn’t imagine sharing a room with a colleague.

          4. Observer*

            You are conflating two different issues. One is whether CPAP is a medical device or something that people use “just because”. The other is whether they are disruptive. The answer to that has nothing to do with the first question.

            No one is implying that CPAP machines are just frivolity. But that has nothing to do with whether they are disruptive.

            Some CPAP machines are not so silent, although I think that the newer ones tend to quieter.

            1. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

              The newer ones are quieter, but it is still a noticeable sound, but so is an air conditioner. It sounds like a fan that oscillates. I would not want to force someone who isn’t family to share a room with me, though, because of it and other issues (insomnia, IBS, etc.)

          5. Don't Forget to Mute The Zoom*

            Listen, I have a CPAP and sometimes it wakes ME up in the middle of night from air leaks that sound like a series of serious farts. I cannot imagine sharing a hotel room with a colleague and subjecting them to that. I also would feel incredibly uncomfortable wearing the whole get up in front of anyone that I wasn’t close to. CPAP machines are great, but they can be disruptive in a number of ways.

        2. Knitting Cat Lady*

          It’s completely dark and fairly silent.

          Then again I have partial hearing loss on my right ear and often fall asleep on my left side.

        3. Pharmgirl*

          They’re actually pretty quiet! I’m a light sleeper, and recently had to share a room with my parents on a family trip. I was worried because my dad’s been a snorer for years – but he (and the machine) were silent. Turns out my mom’s the snorer now!

      2. lilsheba*

        I tend to sleep in chunks too, and have a CPAP. I also can’t sleep in a dark and silent room. I have low level lights going all the time, and sounds running on a bluetooth speaker all night, and that helps me sleep. Plus when I’m awake I’m watching tiktok videos and stuff until I reset enough to go back to sleep. There is no way I would share a room with someone because they would hate that and I’m not giving any of it up.

  28. Cathie from Canada*

    I worked with a woman who had 40 cats (that’s right, forty!)
    She had adopted them over several years, and she kept finding new ones in the neighbourhood who needed her help.
    They were not neglected – a veterinarian came to her house to give them shots and exams, etc., and she made sure all of them were spayed as she adopted them – but needless to say, she didn’t want the office to gossip about how many she had.
    The only reason I knew is that I took some stuff over to her house one day and I saw many of them sunbathing in her backyard so I asked her if they were all hers and she admitted they were.
    Unsurprisingly, her coat closet at work DID smell of cat litter…

    1. irene adler*

      Good for her!
      I think this is very cool. She’s taking good care of all 40. That’s what counts.
      I’m sorry she felt the need to keep part of this secret for fear of office gossip.
      (how does she keep all the names straight?)

      My dream one day is to do similar with say, four to six dogs.
      But I lack the funds, time and energy.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        If she’s anything like my uncle who had about that amount of guinea pigs once (he had 2, the obvious happened, I’m not sure even he knew how many he had at the height of it all) I’d be wondering how she came up with so many at all – he claimed to have “Woolly” and “woolly 2”, and “Creamy”, “Little Creamy” and “Creamy White Face” at one point.

    2. Velawciraptor*

      I know a judge who supports at least this many cats on her property, though quite possibly more. She once made a comment about spending about $300/month on cat food. She also had a “crazy cat lady” action figure in her chambers. I imagine if she ever retires, they’ll be an even bigger focus of her time. But even now, she make sure they’re well taken care of.

    3. Mimmy*

      Wow, and I thought my friend from college with her 20-something cats (plus other animals) was a lot!

      This woman is doing a wonderful thing.

  29. Mameshiba*

    The best ESL tutoring class I ever taught was with a kid whose family was really rich, rural, and had a ton of animals. Another teacher suggested I ask him how many animals he had. Then the list began… “I have 3 dogs, my grandfather has 2 dogs, I have 4 cats…” It was like Old Macdonald. We had to start Google translating to get the names of all the animals. The kid had 3 peacocks!

  30. Green great dragon*

    I’d expected an unusually high number of cats to mean well into double figures. You could try ‘right now we have’ to emphasise it’s temporary, but I think you’re fine. You only rescued one cat after all.

    1. ecnaseener*

      I don’t think it is temporary though? The letter says “So the mother and four litter mates are with us permanently.”

      1. Green great dragon*

        I meant that LW wouldn’t be intending to keep having 5 cats beyond the lifetime of these ones.

        1. Snell*

          Given the extremely personal nature of keeping companion animals, even people who intend to keep 5 cats won’t always keep 5 cats. When a beloved cat dies, it’s not a given that another cat will be brought into the home. The human caretaker might need a period of time (maybe a very long one) before they’re ready to take in another companion, or they may never be ready. Generally, it’s not “I have 5 cats (emphasis on 5)” but rather, “I have /these/ 5 cats.” For the most part, companion animals are chosen on a case-by-case basis, not “Oh, one died, we’ll need to get a replacement.” I agree with ecnaseener, and for my part, see “keeping these 5 cats for their lifetime” as a permanent arrangement, not temporary.

  31. Rainbow*

    I only have two kitties and I have worried about the above! Although I am a bit of a cat obsessive and self-professed cat lady. I was so happy to see the pictures of Alison’s fluff babies!

    1. Tuesday*

      Cats have a bit of an unfair reputation as being stinky animals when that’s not at all the case, as long as their litter box is being properly maintained and they don’t have any incontinence issues. I’ve had people make rude comments about my ONE cat and how my house must smell! Whereas dogs are way more likely to be stinky (in my experience) and I doubt people with one or two dogs get the same snark.

      Although if someone is not an animal person at all, they’d probably think that too many cats OR dogs would be a problem.

  32. Madame Arcati*

    #5 – I think it’s fine to say directly because either the meeting pauses while the other people in the meeting waste time checking, or everyone, including Noisy Neil, thinks it’s not them and it carries on.
    Ngl this reminds me of a clip I saw last night on a YouTube collection of “what got you fired” including a recording on Zoom. It featured someone who thought their camera was off…he fetched a handful of tissues and a bottle of lotion, he undid his trousers…even before the screen had to be partly blurred, every other one of the half dozen people in that meeting was yelling FERGUS OH MY GOD FERGUS TURN YOUR CAMERA OFF!!!

      1. IDIC believer*

        In my work years, this guy would have been the professor who everyone (staff, colleagues, students) quickly learned to never just knock and enter his office (common practice). Instead, one knocked and knocked loudly and then waited a few minutes and repeated. To do otherwise meant risking seeing way more than was desirable.

        If lucky, one just saw untucked & unzipped pants and no shirt. On some days, there would be a partner (usually a grad assistant) hiding behind the finally opened office door.

        Professor was a star so of course there were no repercussions although it was a widely known and spoken about non-secret.

    1. Mimmy*

      Oooh I’m interested in this clip – do you have a link or some key words I can search on?

      Back to the topic at hand: YIKES!!

  33. bamcheeks*

    “socially acceptable number of cats” is definitely the most delightful phrase I will encounter today.

  34. slashgirl*

    Re: LW1 and why sharing hotel rooms can end up being an issue–our union, back when I first started in my job (25 years ago) used to have people share hotel rooms, though you could pay the difference if you wanted to be alone/bring a spouse with you.

    I’m a woman but have a gender neutral first name (though it trends slightly more female than male) and when we filled out our forms for overnight events, they didn’t ask for your gender. My first overnight union event, I checked in and asked who my roomie was–the clerk said “Allison” and that they’d already checked in. The union group were all waiting in the same area for everyone to arrive. I walked over and said, “Hi, I’m looking for Allison?” HE said, “I’m over here.”

    Yeah, when the facilitator got there, they arranged for another room for one of us and neither of us were made to pay the extra fee–since it wasn’t OUR fault and we didn’t request the single rooms. I think it was around 2000 when the union stopped having folks share rooms and everyone gets their own now. And yes, his name really was Allison….I didn’t change it for this site!

    1. NotRealAnonforThis*

      The first of two events that changed former job’s policy on work related travel and room sharing policy (which was “rooms will be double occupancy with separate queen beds”) did involve me. The second that led to an immediate change did not involve me directly but sure showed me a few things about how to not to.

      1. I was the only woman in a role that was not lumped under “office administrative”. Sending me to training with my entirely male cohort brought the policy, and its issues, into very clear view. There was an immediate addendum stating that rooms would be double occupancy with coworkers of the same gender. (And if you’re thinking “that’s still fraught, WTAF?” I’m getting there….)

      2. A pair of coworkers had to attend the same training about a year later – and it was apparently a little weird. About a year AFTER that, it became known that one of the folks involved was a pre-transition, male-to-female transgender person who was now beginnering her transition journey. In an industry where we’re still grasping that women aren’t just typists and secretaries. Textbook “here’s how you DON’T handle this” handling of this. If there was one silver lining though – the policy was near immediately changed to “single occupancy only for work travel”. I don’t like the why, though.

      Also – I don’t work there anymore. It was a little problematic in very small ways that added up to “nope.”.

      1. lilsheba*

        You know in this day and age when people are on a sexuality spectrum more than ever, even same gender occupancy would be or could be problematic. IT’s better to just be single.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Fun fact: Madison was through most of the 20th century an uncommon but undoubtedly masculine name. Then the move Splash came along…

      1. JustAnotherKate*

        As were Ashley, Leslie and Lindsey. I remember being surprised when a job candidate named Leslie turned out to be male, but thankfully no one blurted out “you’re a dude!” He wound up doing a great job. (This was years before people identified their pronouns, but I bet he does it now, or just goes by his nickname, Les.)

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          There used to be, at least in theory, a spelling distinction between Leslie (male) and Lesley (female). Compare the actress Lesley Caron with the actor Leslie Nelson. I’m not sure how consistently true this ever was, at least in American English. It certainly isn’t now. More generally, once a given name is female, regardless of its history, people stop using it for boys, because cooties. Jean is still in the mix for girls, while Gene is not for boys.

    3. My Cabbages!*

      When I was in grad school I went to a conference where we were bunking in 2-person dorm rooms…so not only sharing but a pretty small room at that.

      I had gotten to my assigned room and was unpacking when a man who was wearing the clothes of an observant Muslim walked in and looked very confused. Apparently the organizers had accidentally assigned us together.

      I am female and was about six months pregnant at the time. I was willing to give it a shot, but my erstwhile roomie booked it to the organizers and got a different room.
      And that’s how I got my own room at a conference where even my PI had to share.

  35. sswj*

    No such thing as too many cats if they are wanted, loved, cared for.

    I lost 3 elderly cats in 2022 – I’m now down to 10 in the house and 3 in the barn. The barn cats came with the property when we bought it 3+ years ago. I have a suspicion that when kitten season rolls around again this spring I may have new addition (or two) …

  36. Invisible fish*

    Ahhh… here bon this blog, I find my people …. We have *many* indoor cats (we beat Alison), two garage cats (semi feral) and then my husband manages a community cat colony (formerly known as a feral cat colony) … we’re all about zero population growth through spaying and neutering …

    I go through a lot of lint rollers … :)

  37. Melissa*

    I did look a little askance at someone who told me they have five cats— not, like, enough to affect our relationship. But I did think, Wow…

    But you have a totally reasonable, one-sentence explanation: “We took in a pregnant cat, she had more kittens than expected, and here we are!” That changes it to a funny, relatable situation.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      But why? What is wrong with having 5 cats and why would you care enough to judge them for it? I don’t understand

      1. Tiptoe*

        Me, having never owned cats, would wonder at how the person would have enough time (and money) to care for all equally. But I realise this is from ignorance.

    2. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

      We had five cats – my one, my spouse’s two, my roomie’s two. Mine died. We still have four. How many do I have now? None. How many are in the house where I live? Four.

  38. English Rose*

    #3 [wades through delightful sea of cat comments] Is there a direct correlation between the jobs your two new employees do? You say one of them is productive and proactive – any chance you are giving them more/more interesting work than the slower person? And could you use the ‘better’ person as a yardstick for roughly how long the work should take?
    I can also see the more productive employee getting a bit disgruntled if they notice they are doing the lion’s [got cat reference in there] share of the work.

  39. Macaroni Penguin*

    OP2. Nah, you’re fine! Having five cats isn’t an unusually high number if cats. Through a series of unusual circumstances, one of my coworkers has eight cats. (Cats just keep showing up in her yard. She spays/neuters them and they stick around). Five cats is more cats than average. But seriously, nowhere near wow- alarming-cat hoarder-level. Also, please share pictures of your cats.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Apparently animals put invisible sigils over the houses of people who proved good for a meal and bed.

    2. Tuesday*

      I do think cats lend themselves well to multiples, since they sort of amuse themselves and don’t require a ton of maintenance time. Caring for two or three cats (or five!) isn’t much different than caring for one, it just means more litter boxes and a higher food budget (and maybe more frequent vacuuming!)

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        I’d love a second and third cat, but my proud Mister TinyLittleBoyCat is so happy being my only cat…

  40. LadyPhotographer*

    OP – 2: if I found this out about a new co-worker they would automatically be skyrocketed to potential work bff material. In fact, while I was recently new to my job (maybe 4 months in) I was taking a video training class for work where we had to do a specific kind of video project and I did it about one of my 3 cats. While at work I asked my new cubicle neighbor – who was in her FIRST – week of the job if she wanted to watch my video about my cat. She said yes. We chatted and discovered she had 4 cats to my 3 and now we are work bffs. I still can’t quite believe that I 1) made a video about my cat for a worm project and 2) showed it to my brand new coworker not at all thinking it might cement my reputation to someone new as crazy cat lady.

  41. SMH*

    At one point my partner and I had two dogs, four cats, two chinchillas, a gecko, and 10+ free range chickens. Five cats isn’t weird.

    1. lilsheba*

      Right now I just have 1 cat, but I have had up to 5 before. And at one point in time I had a snake, two rabbits, two ferrets, and rats I think.

  42. Greenhouse Gremlin*

    I have 2 dogs, 2 cats, 1 betta fish, and anywhere from 2-3 foster cats. All my resident pets have accidentally come into my life. You’re in good company OP! As long as you give them the proper care, I think you’re doing fine.

  43. You Can't Pronounce It*

    OP 2 – we had 17 cats at one point because two momma cats had litters at the same time! Luckily, I grew up on a farm, so we had the space. It happens, it’s a good story. The only problem I would have is if someone had 17 cats in an apartment. Make it a fun story about your life and one of the many adventures you have/are going through.

  44. Dragoon*

    My boss generally has 8 at a time because there’s always a stray that needs a home.
    TBH, her cats have the BEST care and her home is spotless.
    Yes, people think she’s a cat lady, but that is more because of her whole personality and no one thinks on it anymore.

    1. I have 9 cats*

      My username says it all about how many I have. Own it, and enjoy the reactions of “you have HOW many?!” All of mine cuddle with us and with each other and I obsessively take too many pictures of them so everyone can see they’re very loved. Just own it and don’t worry! Kitties are wonderful.

  45. Dinwar*

    #2: Why do people care how many animals you have? As long as you’re properly caring for them and don’t smell like a litter box, I don’t get why anyone considers it their business how many pets you have. (That’s the problem with cat hoarders–failure to properly care for them.)

    I’ve known a few people who bred dogs. They’d have anywhere from two to twelve dogs at a time, depending on whether they could sell the puppies. And they were good people, properly caring for the animals and making sure the puppies had good homes. My wife still talks to her pandemic-puppy breeder, a year and a half later, for example. And if the breeder can’t find good homes, she keeps the puppies.

    I mean, I’d be a little put off by someone with that many cats. I’m not a cat person (though my wife very much is, and the kids each have a cat). But that’s my hangup, not anyone else’s. And I certainly wouldn’t let that affect how I work with someone. It’d be the equivalent of “Huh, they have a lifestyle totally incompatible with mine”, and then move on.

    #3: One of the things I was told when I started managing people is to give a firm timeframe to tasks I assign. Work expands to fill the time available, and if you don’t tell someone the timeframe they’ll make it last all day. Give them an hour and it’ll get done in an hour. Plus, it lets them know how to pace themselves. If it’s been 30 minutes and they’re only 10% of the wy through, they know there’s a problem.

    1. doreen*

      I think sometimes it’s a matter of knowing too much — I wouldn’t know if a coworker had 12 pets if they didn’t tell me and I wouldn’t care at all if they did. Not until I found out they were keeping 12 cats in a two bedroom apartment ( or 15 in a studio apartment, as Curtis Sliwa has) – until/unless you tell me you are keeping so many animals in such a small space, I’m going to assume you have enough space.

  46. Blue wall*

    OP 1, I’d keep the room to use as a rest place during the day but tell your roomie you sleep better on your own bed, so you’ll spend the night at your home.

    Good luck getting the snoring addressed!

  47. more of a dog person myself*

    I like to think that Allison made cats-chart.jpg for her own reference.

    “What’s your name again..? Ah yes you must be Wallace. Nice to see you.”

  48. I should really pick a name*

    #4
    Also consider that it’s quite possible that the company is paying for these gift cards, not your boss. Or maybe your clients have been giving them to the company to distribute.

    #5
    Clearly this varies by offer culture and there isn’t a blanket rule.
    I’ve always worked at places where it’s fine to address someone directly which I prefer.
    Inevitably, if someone tries “would everyone please mute their mikes” the person who isn’t muted isn’t listening.

  49. Nuke*

    LW2 – I have 21 pets. A dog, 2 cats, 2 crested geckos, a leopard gecko, an AFT gecko, a hedgehog, 6 mice, 2 dumpy frogs, 2 red eyed tree frogs, a chubby frog, and 2 horses. I think that’s everybody! Lots of people seem to think it’s fascinating rather than thinking I’m a hoarder. 20+ is a big sticker shock number, but they understand when they realize the number is boosted by the 6 mice, 5 of whom share an enclosure, lol. 5 is definitely not a usual number of cats, but it’s still definitely within the realm of “normal”, especially if you explain the story (most people will actually find it very sweet that you kept the babies you couldn’t find homes for!).

  50. Alea*

    For LW2 (if you actually make it down this far) — one of my coworkers fosters kittens in addition to the many cats she has (or who have her). She regularly brings kittens in for socialization at work (we’re an academic library, so far this hasn’t been an issue) — but when she’s asked how many cats she has, she might admit to how many she’s fostering but she “pleads the fifth” as to how many cats she actually has!

  51. ABCYaBYE*

    There is a potential challenge to the answer Alison provided to LW1… what does the full event schedule look like? While I get that staying at home might be the preference, and is probably a suitable thing to do, I’d only caution that saying that you have things (kids, pets, etc.) that need to be tended to in the evenings may cause a challenge if there are events that continue into the early evening. Duck out of a late-night hospitality suite to be sure, but I’d be concerned that the reaction to “I have (obligation) at home” might be met with some push back depending on the schedule. And you’re new enough that it might look different than if you were part of the team for years. You can’t assume (or be perceived to be assuming) that you know everything that happens at the conference.

    Perhaps just suggesting that you’d be happy to drive back and forth would be enough. Or if it isn’t and they want you on site, name the issue. “I snore terribly, and am uncomfortable sharing a room with anyone, let alone a near-stranger who I’ve just met. I don’t want to ruin their experience by keeping them up all night. Is there an option for a single room, please?”

    1. ecnaseener*

      I think I’d drop the “near stranger” part, true as it may be – it might come across weirdly to refer to a coworker that way. And you don’t need it – if LW’s willing to admit to snoring (which I hope they are!) then it doesn’t matter how long you’ve known your coworkers, it makes perfect sense to say “I snore loudly enough to keep a roommate awake so I’ll sleep at home”

      1. ABCYaBYE*

        You’re absolutely right. I included that for emphasis to address how ridiculous it is to share a room in general, though it absolutely is unnecessary.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      This is a good point. If LW1 has access to the event schedule, they could expand “I’ve got stuff I need to be at home for at night so this is much easier” with an “of course, I will stay for the hospitality suite on Tuesday and the team dinner on Wednesday” to make it clear that staying at home won’t impact their ability to be present for the events.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          This relies on the employer being rational. The LW just started, so probably does not yet know if this is the case. Perhaps make a “spur of the moment” decision to sleep in your own bed, tell the roommate so they don’t worry about you, and just leave, coming back early the next morning? The advantage of this is that the roommate will likely be more than happy about this, and management likely will never hear about it. The disadvantage is that if management does learn of it, and if said management is irrational, they might go ballistic.

          1. ABCYaBYE*

            You’re absolutely right. I think the LW is in a much better position to name the problem, highlight that they can and will be available for all events and indicate that they’re happy to stay at home… or request a single room that the company pays for. Not telling anyone and staying home may show poorly, even for the most rational of workplaces. They’re directly “disobeying” an assignment.

  52. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    OP2- Honestly, I think it’s wonderful and shows good character. Like, if this somehow came up in an interview, I’d be able to skip my “does this person have ethics” question.

    Like others, I would want to see pictures. You would also be subjected to my own cat pictures

    1. Observer*

      Like, if this somehow came up in an interview, I’d be able to skip my “does this person have ethics” question.

      Not at all. Rescuing animals is a good thing, to be sure. But don’t mistake that for generally having good ethics.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Agreed, especially since you’re not going to delve into the details of how well they care for their animals.

      2. But Not the Hippopotamus*

        I shouldn’t comment until I’m caffeinated!

        I only do phone screens, and I should have said “phone screen” in my original comment. Obviously, this isn’t enough for hiring, but enough to pass the first round (where we’re looking for obvious disqualifiers and the ethics part is a whopping one question max).

  53. The Eye of Argon*

    This is one of those threads where I feel a little sorry for the other OPs because how can their boring old work problems compare to cats?

    I’m owned by four cats, aka The Thundering Herd. At the beginning of 2020 I had to put my beloved orange fluffer down and the house was so darn empty, as I live alone. I decided to get a pair so they could entertain each other during the day and I’d get twice the feline joy at night.

    I adopted from a local rescue that does good work. The nice lady told me they had two pairs of siblings – I’m giving them pawseudonyms to protect my own identity – Feisty (F) and Whiny (M), and Chonky and Slinky (both males) and I arranged to meet them. Even took the day off work to do it.

    Feisty didn’t want to snuggle. She wanted to explore and play and I’ve got a big old house with lots of nooks and crannies. Whiny cuddled up in my arms and how do you say no to that? Chonky had huge paws and a huge personality and tried to crawl into my (tiny) purse. Slinky had more of a sly, saturnine purrsonality. How the heck do you choose??

    But choose I did, and Feisty and Whiny went home with me (amid much protesting from Chonky, who was doing everything he could to make me feel like crap for leaving him XD). Basically, he had decided that he and Slinky had been at the rescue for too long and I was going to be the one to spring them from the joint.

    When the nice lady called a little later to find out how they were settling in (they had taken over the house with a nanosecond of being let out of the carrier, in proper cat fashion) she started carrying on about how Chonky and Slinky were crying for me and looking for me and couldn’t I possibly…?

    I decided I could possibly, and picked them up the next day. And I’m glad I did, because as I said this was February of 2020 and it would have been a long, boring, lonely year without The Thundering Herd. It’s never been a problem. The house is mostly tidy and doesn’t smell, and the same can be said for me. They get regular vet checkups, nutritious food, and are never at a loss for a playmate or some quality petting.

    Thankfully my coworkers and friends enjoy hearing about their shenanigans, making plenty of jokes about me being the crazy cat lady and owning a cathouse ;)

  54. Person from the Resume*

    LW3, you do not need to discover the underlying problem and solve it … ie Is he diligently working all day long or slacking off this causing his underperformance?

    He needs to do things promptly and correctly the first time you ask (the admin tasks). He needs to write down his own action items from meetings a do them promptly without you telling him to do so. Based on what you know about his workload, he should return corrections with a few hours. (This is a bit trickier since there’s no reason to rush, but since he’s got nothing else on his plate it’s certainly better to make the corrections when it’s fresh in his mind.)

    If he’s unable to fix these concrete problems (no matter the cause) you may need to consider firing him.

  55. Name (Required)*

    OP#3 and the Skype button – are you SURE that the Skype button showing inactive means he is not using the computer at all? The messaging platform my work uses shows us as inactive if we are not actively using that program regardless of whether we are using the computer.

    It will show a “last seen” time that does not reflect AT ALL whether we are working or not.

    I can even be using this platform for a meeting and if I am not actively typing in it or the one presenting, it will show me as away.

  56. Kel*

    ” (It turns out we are very bad at fostering cats and end up keeping them; we are no longer fostering cats.) ”

    This made me laugh out loud, thank you Alison.

  57. Analyst*

    Alison, thanks for paying the cat tax and sharing pictures of your adorable floofs! Wish we could see everyone’s kitties

  58. Long Time Fed*

    I have 4 cats (down from 6) and a dog. I own it, “I’m a bit of a crazy cat lady but don’t worry, I’m generally harmless!”

    No one cares, but I take very good care to use my lint roller before going to the office.

    1. the cat's pajamas*

      As a person who loves cats, but sadly became allergic later in life, I appreciate the lint rolling. :) I don’t care if someone has cat hair on them aesthetically, but I don’t want it to end up on me unexpectedly. I’m very grateful to be able to live vicariously through internet cats these days and very careful short visits with reasonably well behaved cats. (Thankfully my allergies are mild and generally manageable.)

  59. Rachel*

    I just wanted to say that Allison, I’m loving your response to number two. “You still have room for one more.” Hahahaha. (This is also coming from a cat lover.)

  60. TheFrogsAreOkay*

    LW #2: I’m in a similar boat! At one point people would ask “do you have pets?”

    “Yes, haha, I have two cats, two frogs, two dogs, a fish, and three rats.” Since being at my current job, one of the dogs, one of the cats, the fish, and two rats have passed away (lots of senior citizens in my crew). My coworkers and boss have always been so kind. I came in late after my fish passed and I had a little funeral for him, any day I wanted off to grieve I was given, and when I suspected it was one of my sweet rat’s last day I was given the day off so I could be at home and spoil her.

    I hope your new job is as nice as mine!

    1. Generic Name*

      I don’t know if I’m known as “the pet lady” at work or what, but I have had at least one coworker ask me how many pets I had, knowing the number is a lot. At one point my family had 2 cats, 2 dogs, a snake, and 2 fish tanks (with several fish each).

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      I don’t think I have ever been asked if I have pets. Pet stories such as emergency visits to the vet get told as part of office chit chat, but the absence of my telling such stories has never provoked comment or questions.

      1. TheFrogsAreOkay*

        Interesting, maybe because my coworkers have pets and love to exchange stories and toys their pets won’t use. My old office had a lot of pet people too, it’s just that this office is more accommodating.

        Talks of emergency visits are regularly shared, along with worse-thing-your-pet-has-eaten and time-your-pet-acted-like-a-fool-and-hurt-themself stories.

  61. No Crying in Baseball*

    OP 2 – Along the lines of what Alison said, are you being clear with him and setting expectations? I’m not sure what sort of work you do that would require edits back to you so quickly. I often have to write things for my boss to review, he’ll give me edits that in his estimate should only take an hour, but really there is no pressure as I see it to do those quickly. Once I send to him, he’ll take another week to review again. As someone else mentioned, I like to move on to another task and then come back with fresh eyes.

    Also, remote people work all hours. Maybe he is working 6-11p when you aren’t there to see his active light. Or maybe it’s broken. My Teams was stuck on inactive for a week and nothing I could do changed it. Now it’s stuck on active even if I’m not there. (And I’m pretty good at tech!)

    1. I should really pick a name*

      If the only thing the LW has given them to do is edits, it seems pretty reasonable to expect them to be done in a few hours.

    2. The Person from the Resume*

      Please note: “remote people work all hours” is not universally true.

      In my organization people work remotely, but have a set “tour of duty” during which is when they need to be working, on their 30 min lunch break or on leave. It’s certainly not acceptable to just shift your hours without approval from your manager. This guy’s manager is the one writing in so they’d know.

      I will note the MS Team’s can be occassionally flaky with not noticing I actually working on a window and goes “yellow” or I am watching a video or meeting and not moving my mouse at all, but I’ll be honest it’s mostly accurate when it goes yellow that I am not on my computer and I’m not working for a little while.

  62. LobeliaSB*

    LW3 – Have clear expectations been set for this employee? It would probably be helpful to give him guidelines for how long you expect each task to take. I had a terrible manager who would never give a deadline or timeline for a piece of work, but invariably however long it took me was wrong. If I focused on something and got it to them quickly, I should have prioritised something else over it. Just be careful that you aren’t looking for fault for the sake of it.

    As an example, I dip in and out of different tasks throughout the day, so while it might only take me two hours to complete a task all told, it may not be sent to my manager until the end of the working day. And I’d be cautious about relying on Skype to track his activity. This same manager (who generally did not seem to like me very much and seemed to be eager to find fault with me) decided to check the “total editing time” in a Word doc and came to the conclusion it took me 12 hours to write a two page article (that didn’t actually have a deadline). The “total editing time” in Word only tracks how long the document is open, not how long you’ve actually spent typing in it! I had the doc minimised on my computer for a few days while I worked on more pressing things and was confronted with wildly inaccurate accusations that I was taking days to complete a task that should take a few hours. This manager would also create extremely detailed training/process documents for me when I really didn’t need them and had already learned the task, and then complained that they had to spend too much time writing process documentation that no one asked for.

    I was also somehow expected to know how much an article cost the client/how much my time was billed for, but this information was quite literally never shared with me before being told off. Just make sure you are communicating your expectations clearly before drawing conclusions.

  63. Thatoneoverthere*

    1- I would def just go home if I were you, hopefully they will not see this as a problem!

    I once had a friend that traveled and did not want to share a room. She’s a private person, with stomach issues and it just would not have gone well for her. The company wouldn’t let her. She was in an area with several hotels within walking distance. So she booked a room at a nearby hotel and simply went there after the activities of the day were done. No one said a word.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      And I can’t imagine the colleague who suddenly ended up in their own room complaining about it!

  64. HailRobonia*

    #2: If I were your coworker the only issue would be me asking you to show off your cats on Zoom meetings. Due to my husband’s severe fur allergies we can’t have pets but I wuuuuuv cats so much!

  65. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    LW2, when you said you have a lot of cats, I expected the number to hit the double digits! Five is probably more than the average (I have 2), but it isn’t that wild. Especially if you mention it’s a mama cat and four of her babies. Heck, there was a dude a couple years ago who discovered that a stray had had 6 kittens under his bed, he kept all of them, and the internet was delighted.

  66. For The Love Of Cats*

    I have a close friend who has seven indoor cats, cares for several more feral cats who mostly live in her backyard, and does a lot of TNR/rescue work. She’s very open about this and, while she sometimes gets mild joshing over being a crazy cat lady, embraces it and uses her experiences to educate people about the work she does and the overall care of both feral and non-feral kitties.

    LW 2, you are totally fine talking about your pets – and thank you for giving them a safe and loving home!

  67. Hiring Mgr*

    #1, you should easily be able to just commute the hour for the conference. Plus you will make a good friend in whoever your potential roommate is – she’ll think she won the lottery w/a single

  68. Happy New Year*

    RE: muting. Most of the in-person continuing education I’ve gone to starts with some version of “please mute your phones.” Some of the zoom meetings I’ve attended start with some version of “please make sure you are muted.” Every meeting should start with that!

  69. Happy New Year*

    Snoring. THANK YOU for your consideration of others. I went to a two-week long class at a university where it was costlier to get a single room (and I was much younger, so I didn’t think it would be an issue). I got a roommate who snored. Kept me up all night. In the morning we discussed this, she knew she snored. Not her fault. I went to the program admin and was able to get a single room at no extra cost.

  70. I Fought the Law*

    I have 5 cats in my house and a colony of ferals outside. I tell people about it all the time, and make no apologies. People love it! Who’s to say what a “socially acceptable number” of cats is?

  71. Disgruntled Librarian*

    OP #1 – No advice but funny story about this. My husband was recently required to share a hotel room for one night with his direct report (!!!!!). He came home and told me that he got a taste of his own medicine because his employee had the loudest snore that kept him awake all night and set his alarm hours before he needed to get up. He would let the alarm ring for way too long and snooze about 10 times. I had to laugh because those are the exact reasons why my husband and I do not share a bed and he always told me that I was over exaggerating.

  72. RagingADHD*

    LW2, if you want to be known as an animal rescuer or make the unexpected cats into a funny story, that’s fine. It’s not necessarily a negative thing. But if not, there is no need to itemize your cats at all. I say this as a person who has more pets (including more cats) than I ever intended to have in the first place. You can say you have a couple of cats, or some cats, without being specific.

    The reason people get a “cat lady” reputation is because they go on about their pets beyond what their audience is interested in hearing, and make it a core feature of their personality. It’s entirely possible to be a person who has pets without making your pets the first thing people think of.

    1. CA Cupid*

      This reminds me of an ancient Dear Abby (I think) letter wherein the writer was exasperated because people kept giving her cutesy cat-themed gifts just because she owned a cat, but she didn’t actually have any interest in cat-themed fridge magnets and the like. So I agree, unless you want to bore your co-workers to tears and also receive mugs with cats tangled in yarn for the rest of your working life, don’t go nuts talking about them!

      1. RagingADHD*

        Yeah, there’s also a certain personality type (or stage of life) where people talk about some fairly common interest, or circumstance, as if nobody in the world has ever had/done/experienced it before.

        You know what I mean. The healthy-living evangelist. The new parent who acts like nobody ever had a baby before. The pet owner who acts like nobody on earth ever had cats. The person recently diagnosed with a (pretty common) condition that makes it sound as if nobody else has ever dealt with it.

        It’s a form of self-involvement. It’s understandable when something is new and exciting (or upsetting). But it gets old very quickly.

  73. rayray*

    If I had a new co-worker who talked about their five cats, they would immediately be my favorite coworker and best work friend.

  74. I like hound dogs*

    Five cats is fine! Definitely don’t lie about the number of cats you have and then worry about maintaining your lie. Lol. Own it!

    My aunt, who is one of the most wonderful people I know, used to be a mail carrier. She couldn’t stand to see stray animals on her route, so at one point she had nine dogs and sixteen cats (!!!). She had a large house and a pool that some of the dogs loved to swim in, and all of the animals were well cared for. I think my parents thought she was a little nuts, but she was so lovable and social that no one seemed to harbor any notions of her as a shut-in who only talked to her cats.

    That was twenty or so years ago, and all of those animals have since crossed the rainbow bridge. She lives in a smaller house now and keeps it to a reasonable three cats. :)

  75. NeedRain47*

    Oh my gosh, five cats isn’t that many. I was expecting at least twelve hahaha. (a good friend of mine did have 10 or 11 cats at one point, some were fosters, some were hers, she kept adopting the cats with terminal illnesses so they could live their best life for a few months….)

    1. Dust Bunny*

      We have a friend who had, at one point, 14, I think? Two of them lived in the smaller part of her duplex house. She offered to let us stay in the duplex while we were in her city for an event. That meant that we also shared it with the two cats, who lived there specifically because they were mostly feral and refused to be integrated into the wider “herd” of cats. They spent most of the time under the bed when we were there (which wasn’t much, really just at night).

      It was cold, though, and when I woke up in the middle of the night they were both curled up on me for warmth. If I tried to look at them or move at all, they would growl at me, but, sure, steal my body heat, I guess?

      It did not occur to us until much later that this might be a little weird.

  76. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

    For the “is he working?” question, I wouldn’t bother tracking things like the Skype button (not accurate anyway). I would definitely stop taking notes for him in meetings/giving him those notes. You could tell him before the next meeting that action items will come up and he should a) take note of them, and b) do them. You could mention you’ve been doing this for him as he’s new but now that he’s been in a few meetings, he’s on his own. Then let him sink or swim. It sounds like he’s a procrastinator and is using your nudges and notes to stay on track. So unless you want that to be your job forever, stop. He will figure out how to get on task or he won’t.

    1. alienor*

      I honestly never thought about my Teams status until recently, and then in the last couple of weeks I’ve seen more than one letter here mentioning it. Are people really out there monitoring their coworkers’ Skype and Teams dots and noting how often they’re available/using that as a gauge of whether they’re working? I honestly just message when I need something and figure they’ll respond when they can.

  77. SpecialSpecialist*

    Letter writer #1: Most people don’t think hoarding until you get in the double digits. Single digits is fine. :D

    Letter writer #5: I shamelessly mute people all the time without calling them out even in meetings where I’m not the host. Nobody knows who did it, but everybody is thankful. If the person doens’t know they’re muted, then just blame it on the system. :D

  78. Lumos*

    LW2 I have 7 cats. Every single one of them is a cat I or my mother found somewhere and picked up. The latest two were dumped in my neighborhood and required medical attention which meant they had to move in with me. I’ve found people are more outraged about the people who dumped their cats than they are scandalized by the number I have. (Though I am obviously not planning on increasing this number any higher lol)

  79. blood orange*

    OP #1 – I shared a hotel room with a coworker a few years ago. She and I are actually good friends, and we both still found it awkward. It wasn’t a horrible experience purely because we’re friends, but I’ve decided I simply can’t share a hotel with a coworker. If my employer insists, I’m going to offer to pay the difference or see if I can opt out of going at all. Maybe that’s too hard a stance, but I really dread the idea.

    I’m going on a work trip (I travel for work 1-2 times/per year) in a few months, and am so grateful that my employer is putting us in separate rooms. I’m not shy, but I am introverted, and the thought of being around colleagues for a whole week without even time to myself when I’m going to bed and getting ready in the morning would have been dreadful. Plus I would have been a huge grump by the end of it!

    1. Thatoneoverthere*

      I am at the point in life, where I don’t particularly want to share a room with anyone but my husband and kids. I went on a girls trip pre-pandemic and while we had a blast, the hotel part was awful. I shared a bed, 3/4 of my friends snored, some were up late, while other were up early and I barely slept. As someone with little kids I was really looking forward to a few nights away with good sleep. Spoiler…it didn’t happen.

      Next girls trip I will being paying extra for my own room.

  80. sometimes my mouth!*

    Many years ago I had a medical condition that required surgery and I had to wear an ileostomy bag for over a year while things healed up (for those that don’t know, an ileostomy diverts your poop into a bag rather than eliminating it the usual way).

    At that time I worked for a small nonprofit. The Director treated it like it was a business he owned, even though there was a (weak) board of directors.

    We were all planning to attend a conference. My boss was insistent that I share a hotel room with someone. I had not shared the information about the ostomy and I did not want to. My boss was such a jerk when I told him that I would need my own room due to some medical issues that he told me he would not let me go to the conference if I needed my own room unless I explained exactly why.

    At that point I got really pissed off and explained EXACTLY why (using some ‘alternative’ names for poop in the process) and offered to show him the evidence if he didn’t believe me. He turned pale, turned around and walked off. I got my room, he never mentioned it again. I worked there a little longer, but that incident made me look for another job and I found a great one!

    I am still glad I handled it this way, even though it probably wasn’t very cool to do that. Sometimes jerks need to be checked.

  81. TootsNYC*

    re: cats

    This reminded me of someone who worked for me who had cats. I asked how many, simply as a conversational gambit, and she said, “Oh, I never tell, because people get judgy about how many cats people have.”

    I thought it was hysterical, so then when cats came up in conversation, I’d just throw in some random number.
    e.g.: she mentions she’s having a workman in to fix the dishwasher, so I say: “Will you have to shut all 12 cats in the bedroom so they don’t get out?”
    Someone got a new sofa; she says she’d like to get one but won’t because of the cats. I say: “You only have six, how much damage can they do to a sofa?”
    Sometimes it would be 23 cats; sometimes 9, sometimes 4.

    So I guess the OP could try that–and just throw out weird numbers of cats on her own.

  82. DeeDee*

    If I heard this cat origin story from a new co-worker, I’d find it charming. I’d also consider them a kind and compassionate human, and someone I’d be happy to work with.

  83. Dust Bunny*

    TBH, if you pretend you have fewer cats than you actually have, I’m going to feel cheated that I didn’t know about all the cats.

  84. Delphine*

    Now I just want an entire post where people share stories about their pets and how many they have and what types. The only reason anyone should ever be judged for the number of animal roommates they have is if they are neglecting them.

    1. Just a different redhead*

      Special topic open thread? ^_^ Feel like in the distant past there was something similar…

  85. Avery*

    The kitten story reminds me of how we got one of our dogs…
    A college friend’s mother took in a female dog, thought the dog was spayed, never saw her go into heat… you can guess the upshot of the story, but how many puppies are you imagining?
    Because the answer is eleven. ELEVEN puppies.
    She has a lot of land for them to roam as outdoor dogs, but even still, that’s a lot… she found various homes for most of them, including our boy, but still has four of the “puppies” plus the mother.
    I love telling that story!

  86. Blisskrieg*

    7 cats, 2 dogs and 2 parakeets here! None of them were official rescues (from a shelter) but all of them came to us in need as unofficial rescues. Wouldn’t change a thing! Sometimes I do shield the number from some folks but often I just announce it proudly :) To me hoarding is the number that you either don’t enjoy or can’t take care of–if you are providing food, shelter and basic veterinary care across all animals, it is not hoarding.

    6 was our hard limit on cats, and we just had one come from a family member in need that brought us to 7. SO that’s our new hard limit!

  87. 1-800-BrownCow*

    LW #2: Do people really think 5 is a lot? I tell people “we ONLY have 3 cats”. I’d likely have 1 or 2 more if my husband didn’t hate cats so much and if it were up to my kids, we’d have 20. On my team at work, out of those that have cats, I have the least. One guy has 4 (and 1 that just passed away) and another has 6. A guy that just left from my team has 11. If you worked with us, we’d tell you that it sounds like you need more, 5 is not enough. Honestly, cats are such self-sufficient animals, I don’t think most people think multiple cats is a lot. Now if you said you had 5 dogs, which take a lot more work to care for, I’d think that was a lot. Although I do know a few people without kids who do have a lot of dogs. But yes, cats in large quantities aren’t much harder than just a couple cats. Just more litter boxes and cost for litter, cat food and vet visits.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      I imagine it depends a lot on what number requires one to get a kennel license in one’s local jurisdiction. Where I live, it’s four.

    2. Sparkly Librarian*

      We have a family limit of “one cat per adult human plus one for all kids”, because more than that would be too many *for us*. However, I grew up with more than that, at times, and wouldn’t think a single person with 2-3 cats was out of their depth. 5 is not a shocking number.

  88. Wocka Wocka*

    Hi Allison, based on the comments from today, there is clearly an audience for an entire cat themed day. All cat questions, enough of us have pics we can send, cat work related stories, non work related stories (?) etc . CAT DAY at AAM!

    1. Blythe*

      I add my vote to this, but I would also like to request we broaden to Pets In General. I have two cats I am devoted to (like, to the point of HAVING TATTOOS OF THEM), but I also have a dog I would like to share pictures and stories of. And a CHARMING bearded dragon who is much beloved by my classes (and yes, I have a tattoo of him too).

  89. windsofwinter*

    For LW3, please don’t hold your employee to deadlines and timelines that exist solely in your head. He can’t read your mind. Be clear on what you want and when you want it. Otherwise how is he to know? I also think adding more projects will help. He’s probably making the little work he does have stretch because he’s not sure what else to do.

    1. Not Your Trauma Bucket*

      Absolutely this. I prioritize my work by when it’s due, not by when it’s assigned/received. If there is no clear deadline, I’ll make my own assumption about what’s “reasonable”.

  90. Otter L*

    LW4 – Allison’s right about not reciprocating with comparable gifts, but if you want to acknowledge your boss’s generosity, how about thank you cards? They’re generally a well-received gesture, and it won’t upset your wallet or any power dynamics. You certainly don’t have to, but if it would make you feel better to show your appreciation with something more tangible than a verbal thank-you, a card with a nice note could be the way to go.

  91. Relentlessly Socratic*

    #3, I am getting a weird mixed message in your letter. You mention that some of the deliverables aren’t particularly time sensitive, hopefully he’s filling in time with training, acknowledging that he’s new, etc. But then you express frustration that he’s not, I dunno, pelting through non-urgent edits? That he’s idle on Skype when he honestly doesn’t have much to do?

    Currently, I’m in a new role, but in “hurry up and wait” mode for some contract work to come in. My days are slow, so I pace out what I have so that I have something to do throughout the day. It’s PAINFUL. I have asked for more to do, but we’re genuinely in a slow phase, and since we are contractors, it’s difficult to slot me into someone else’s project when I wasn’t built into the proposal. I am a very high performer, a self-starter, and autodidact. I and prefer to have multiple things to work on, and will absolutely crank it out rapidly when needed. But right now, I am, frankly, bored to tears. And since I’m currently not billable, I feel like dead weight. I have about 30 minutes of billable, but non-challenging, work to do before Friday, so here I am. And, if I’m honest, it’s hard to even rally myself to do my best work on it, since it’s so low-stakes. I sit here in front of the computer hoping someone will send me an e-mail. Now, if my manager said “hey, can you get that to me by noon today so I can take a look?”, she’d have it no later than 11:55 AM. But then I’d effectively have nothing meaningful to do for the rest of the day. I can read relevant articles and keep current on technical stuff, although I feel a bit guilty about spending too much time reading. But given how close I came to burnout in my last position, I probably should just enjoy the temporary relaxed pace. –> If your employee were to read this last paragraph, would it resonate with him, I wonder? Dunno, but it’s worth noting that being under-challenged for 40 hours a week is pretty demoralizing.

    I wonder if he’s just not sure what you want? There’s a big difference between laying out expectations and mentoring vs. micromanaging. When you say that you hope he’s doing some training, have you given him the resources? Is there a list of resources from which he can choose? Are you expecting him to go out and figure out what he needs to learn? Are you “guess culture” and he’s “ask culture”? If you are giving him guidance and he’s falling down, have you checked in with what’s going on? He may do better with some more to do, or he may not, but you won’t know until you put some more responsibility on him.

    Also, please don’t rely on the “active” button for productivity. Especially if you know that he’s not got much on his plate, and what you’ve given him isn’t enough to fill his time. That’s penalizing him for not sitting there moving the mouse when there’s no need for him to be doing so. He could be reading an article or manual. He could be watching a training webinar. He could also be sitting there counting his hair and watching reruns of Star Trek, but you won’t know unless you actually talk with him.

  92. Boots and Cats*

    LW3-
    I have a coworker who takes forever to do certain things. Anything requiring him to adequately use a computer (like posting and editing documents on a SharePoint site rather than his hard drive or using some of the advanced features of word) takes him like four times longer than it should. He is definitely working, he is just really bad at it. I wonder if your employee is just very bad at certain things and whether you need to monitor how he does them for a while so you can coach him into more efficiency. I don’t mean to ignore your observation about the Skype status and his phone use. You just might have two problems to coach him on rather than just one.

  93. Alex*

    Re: cats

    I think responding “I have five cats: a rescue mama and four babies” would pretty succinctly explain the situation and frame it as positive to rescue a mother and house her and her babies, not just collecting cats like Pokemon because hey cat.

  94. Kat*

    I would not share a hotel room under any circumstance. I would either drive back and forth or make up the price difference.

  95. knitcrazybooknut*

    #2, not that my husband and I are in ANY way a good model, but we have had eight cats cycle into our household at various times. At one point, we had six at one time. I love all the suggestions above, and you can treat it like any other uncommon hobby. “Oh we love going to ComicCon. *shrug* This is like a lot of other things: If you make it a big deal, it’ll be one. If you treat it like something normal, other people will (and if they don’t, you have more information about them).

  96. Jessica*

    Oh man, I have 3 cats, but I also have a house with a number of empty bedrooms, and my 3 cats are other-animal-friendly, so I often provide a cat hotel for my friends’ kitties when they travel (the max number I’ve had here has been 6).

    And sometimes I worry on video meetings that it *sounds* like I have like 100 cats and I need to explain myself.

    1. Belle of the Midwest*

      You sound like a wonderful person. How awesome for those kitties that they get to be in a regular house while their humans need to travel!

  97. Goldenrod*

    “I would be delighted to hear, “We rescued a pregnant cat and didn’t expect her to have seven kittens but here we are” from a coworker.”

    AGREE with this! I LOVE cats and I love hearing about people’s cats. I’m not sure what number would be “too many” in my perception, but definitely not five or six! :D

  98. Mimmy*

    #5: It is so interesting to see the different perspectives on this issue. My work involves a daily 10-15 minute meeting and two bigger meetings on Fridays, all of which are held over Zoom (Friday is our only virtual day). I am hard of hearing, so I have a habit of asking people to mute if I hear background noise or feedback because the meeting host does not always say anything, though when she does, she does not call people out by name. I personally don’t like to call people out by name either. Yet, I can see how being direct may be better.

    If calling it out or messaging them directly in the chat doesn’t work (that can be easy to miss because it’s small and there is no auditory alert for new chats in Zoom; Teams does), another option might be to text the person since they’ll likely be looking at their phone while listening to the meeting.

  99. Here for the Insurance*

    I have a coworker who has between 8 and 17 dogs at any given time. Some are his family’s and some are just visiting, since he has a lovely wife who never says to dogsitting. I think his record was 24. We wouldn’t bat an eye at you, OP.

  100. LemonLime*

    For LW1 – I imagine the coworker they would have been bunking with will be thrilled to have a room to themselves! (Hopefully the company won’t make that person bunk with 2 others and share a bed!!)

    Regarding the last letter – this is so frustrating! I am often on meetings related to volunteer activities and there is one person (I’ll call them Bob) who apparently doesn’t know or care how to mute themselves, and they get REALLY pissy if they get muted and then want to talk and we have to say “you’re muted.”

    At one meeting Bob actually started doing loud household tasks while on a call, and someone asked the host to mute Bob…Bob dropped off the call completely without saying anything! I mean starting noisy tasks during a meeting is rude to begin with, and then to just disappear…ugh anyway. I just wanted to say I feel you LW.

  101. Michelle Smith*

    LW2: Thank you for the cat pictures!! They are super cute and you seem awesome. I’d worry a bit less about negative reactions. You’re pretty clearly normal and not harming them.

    LW3: Getting assignments with no deadline is incredibly uncomfortable for me. Sometimes I don’t know how long something should take! I really appreciate when my boss says things like “don’t spend too long on the formatting for this. Shouldn’t take more than an hour” or “please get this back to me by X time.” She will sometimes give nebulous deadlines like “it’s not a priority” or “no rush!” and then I find out she actually does want it done sooner than later, but I’ve pushed it to the bottom of my plate to prioritize other things. It’s frustrating! I have only worked for her for a few months and I’m starting to learn to push back on those non-deadlines and get her to set an arbitrary one in collaboration with me so I know what her general expectations are. Universally, it’s always sooner than I would have otherwise gotten it done. Be direct with him until he gets the hang of the expectations. There is a possibility he just doesn’t know that you’re expecting things back immediately and is getting distracted (by work or by whatever is happening in his life).

    LW5: You are great for doing this and I’m sorry that your work culture doesn’t support you on this. It doesn’t matter IMO that you’re not the host. Particularly if they are speaking, looking at notes, or sharing a presentation or other document on screen, you can’t always see all participants all the time as the host. It can be disruptive to me to have even minor background noises (coughs, clicks, rings, email notification sounds, etc.) during meetings. I have to focus really hard to be able to hear the speaker and I have to turn my headphones up uncomfortably loud if there are no captions (99% of meetings I attend don’t use them). I am easily distracted by random noises and I stop understanding what’s being said by the speaker because of the confusion. It is really not hard in the year 2023 to just check your microphone to make sure you’re muted if your phone starts ringing or your kid walks in to ask you a question. There’s really nothing wrong with asking someone to mute who forgets to do that so that other people in the meeting can hear and understand what’s being said!! Maybe a tactic to try that might go over better would be to private message the “offender” and let them know they are unmuted if it’s something super, super disruptive like taking another call. I know on Zoom you can chat to just one specific person and maybe say something like “Hey Janet, not sure if you realized but you’re unmuted and we can hear your call.” I can’t see why that would be offensive, but your office seems a bit strange.

  102. Mark*

    I was expecting a dozen or two cats by how #2 started their letter. When the total was finally revealed to be five, I actually said out loud, “That’s all?” Until some deaths in the last two years, I had six pets (and my roommate has one) for many years. Non-pet people are going to think you’re nuts for more than two, but I think you’ll find that many pet lovers won’t think five is excessive at all. Plus, pet people love talking about their animals and hearing about others. This could be your conversation starter to get to know people very well at your new employer.

  103. MEH Squared*

    I’m glad I checked in later in the day because I was pretty sure Alison would add the pics of the adorable kittens once she had the time. Was I ever not disappointed!

    OP#2, they are adorable and five is a perfect number of cats. I hope you’re feeling reassured that you can mention it with confidence to your new coworkers (especially if you include a pic of ten in the convo).

  104. Leslie*

    I have 22 cats. I started a cat sanctuary and now run it full-time. I nasty comments and nasty assumptions all the time. People expect me to smell like cats, whatever that means. I have been called a Hoarder, I’ve had the police called on me over cats. I have found that there are stereotypes that are playing a big role in people’s assumptions. Cats are great and each one deserves love. They make me smile everyday.

  105. Blythe*

    I’m a teacher and have a small menagerie– one bearded dragon (class pet), one standard poodle (school therapy dog, works in my classroom), two cats (home), one rabbit (home). For a while there, though, I also had chickens… and two “female” rabbits that rapidly turned into 15 rabbits.

    At one point, a student asked, “How many pets do you have, Miz Blythe?”
    Me: “Well, I’m not sure a NUMBER is fair… after all, there’s a flock of chickens and they live outside… and the rabbits were an accident…”
    The kid waited patiently for me to finish. “Yes, I get that, but… how many?”
    I counted up in my head, “Um… 23.”

  106. Lowecat*

    Those fur babies are so sweet! I have five myself. Just call yourself the crazy cat lady and love those kitties!

  107. cattttttt*

    LW#2 never lie about something that would make your colleagues jealous of you and easily make you the coolest person in the room! I hope you and your cats are doing well :)

  108. noname12345678*

    LW #1, if you wait to tell your office that you’ll be going home for long enough, your company won’t have a chance to reshuffle the hotel rooms and put your roommate with someone else–thus, your roommate will be left to stay in their own room and will be grateful to you you forever. Just a suggestion.

  109. BiblioNicole*

    I’m a librarian, so this is probably playing into a stereotype, but I would be delighted to hear someone had five cats (or dogs for that matter) and the space for them. And then I would ask for pictures. We very frequently share pet pictures at work (though with a staff change we’re down to a maximum of two furry friends per person).

  110. Anonymous For Now*

    OP#2: I love this story and the pictures of the adorable cat family and I don’t even have cats! Thank you for rescuing this furry little family.

    I also never had kids, but liked seeing coworkers’ kid pictures.

    That way, I get to enjoy the cuteness and avoid all of the work.

  111. Verde*

    Pets are the best! When I was moving a couple of years ago, we had to drive cross-country from west coast to northeast, and we did it with two dogs, three cats, and two rabbits in tow. My new co-workers constantly asked after everyone, and many photos of pets in hotel rooms were shared. [We will not discuss how some of them arrived in said hotel room, as we were over the limit even if we got two rooms, and rabbits are not even a thing hotels have a policy for. Which is ironic, as they were the most relaxed of all the travelers.] Tell them about all your wonderful cats!

  112. sara*

    The worst unmuting situation I ever experienced was in a largely in-person training where a few of us had been given permission to Zoom in due to some conflicts. One of the people on Zoom managed to unmute himself and reveal he was watchign a SUPER explicit movie, which ended up being broadcast over loud speaker to the entire training. (Think like someone yelling a stream of bad words at top volume…no idea what the movie was, just something with a huge amount of profanity.) He did not respond to the first couple of requests to mute himself and eventually the host muted him (I don’t think anyone was sitting at that computer originally since only a few people had Zoomed in, and it was pointed so we could see the presentations.)

    People! This is why supervisors don’t want to let people join things remotely! Stop ruining it for the rest of us who were actually doing the training as expected and not using the time to watch movies (and who actually needed the remote access for real reasons, not an exuse)!

  113. Mia*

    #2 is my favorite question and response ever. I would want pictures. (Alison, thanks for linking to yours!) One of my coworkers has two cats and I have one and we talk to each other about our cats and send pictures back and forth. It’s bonded us. I think cat lovers would completely understand – it seems like a lot of people get cats because the showed up and said “I live here now”.

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