my employees don’t want to talk in meetings, old boss is using me as a business lead, and more

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

1. My employees don’t want to talk in meetings … but their jobs require it

I manage a team of budget analysts who are the bridge between departments and our central budget office. Two team members have never been comfortable with public speaking, and one has shared that she has extreme anxiety around having to speak in meetings. This seems to have gotten worse since the team went permanently remote in 2020. One team member shared that in a meeting with our DEI consultant she volunteered an answer and the facilitator said the answer was something else, and as a result she no longer feels comfortable sharing insights and opinions.

I am not sure what to do. I want to be sensitive to the trauma they feel around speaking at meetings (all on Teams, and they are not required to turn cameras on), but I also need them to participate so that information is provided at the moment it is needed (it’s not always possible to ask for it in writing in advance) and be willing to make recommendations/suggestions (not just report facts). Any suggestions?

The core question: how essential is it to their jobs? From what you’ve written, it sounds pretty essential. If that’s the case, you should be straightforward about that: “I hear you that you’re not comfortable with this. It’s an essential piece of your role because (insert reasons) and I do need you to answer questions and make recommendations in these meetings. What can I do to help you do that?” (For example, could you role-play the meetings with them? Start debriefing with them afterwards, so they’re getting immediate positive feedback? Suggest Toastmasters, or have the organization pay for a public speaking class?)

You should also look for opportunities to reinforce that they have good insights — make a point to praise their ideas in other settings, maybe ask them to train others when that makes sense — because building up their confidence might help.

On the other hand, if it’s something that only comes up a couple of times a year and it’s more of a nice-to-have rather than a must-have for their jobs, it could make sense to just work around it — finding someone else to fill in for them or even doing it yourself if that’s feasible. So the question is really how central it is to their work.

By the way, I’m wondering what happened in that meeting with the DEI consultant that led one of your employees to no longer feel comfortable sharing her opinions. Was there an issue with how the consultant handled it? Is the employee overreacting because of the subject matter? There’s probably something worth exploring there.

Read an update to this letter

2. Do I have to wear a bra, part 4: what about at a coworking space?

How professionally do I need to dress for a coworking space? No coworkers of mine are there but I do know the staff since I go every day. Most people who are there are generally put together and dress somewhere in between casual and business casual. Some outfits I’ve been iffy on: patterned workout leggings, crop tops with high-waisted pants (revealing about half an inch of midriff), sweaters that are a bit linty, and baseball caps — things that I’d wear to the coffee shop but not to an office. Most of all, I would like to skip wearing a bra sometimes. What do the unspoken laws of the hotdesking space permit?

Skip the bra if you want to!

I’d like to say skip the bra at the office too if you want to, but that’s often a more complicated calculus (it shouldn’t be, but it is). But in a coworking space where no one’s your coworker and people are dressing casually, go right ahead and skip the bra.

As for the other outfits … it depends on the vibe there (which I can’t quite assess from your description) and how much you care if you’re out of sync with that. Some coworking spaces really play up a polished vibe and others don’t at all. I don’t think you need to worry too much about linty sweaters, though.

3. My old boss is using me as a business lead

I am a former federal contractor who is now a federal employee. I have nothing to do with our contracting office; my job uses the same skill set for which I contracted (like graphic design or engineering). My former director at the contracting firm asked me to get coffee with her and catch up, so I said yes!

She said she would bring two other contracting people who are related to my organization: one who tries to get agencies to contract with the firm, and another who specializes in my professional area.

I was immediately grossed out and thankfully begged off due to a conference my team needed to attend. She’s reached out again this week (post-conference) to see if we could pick a new date to get coffee.

We didn’t work closely together (she’s a mover-and-shaker; I’m a happy cog-in-the-wheel) but got along well! I feel grossed out and sad to be used as a lead. I guess I’m realizing that it’s “just business” to her, but any recommendations you have as to redirect this kindly would be appreciated. I have nothing to do with contracts, and there are a lot of “no schmooze” guidelines for federal employees.

Grossed out is a strong reaction — business networking is pretty normal for people to do. But you can definitely make it clear that you’re not up for for the meeting she was envisioning.

One option is to lean on the federal guidelines — “I have nothing to do with contracts and as a federal employee I have to follow really strict guidelines about that kind of meeting, so I would need to keep it just the two of us. If that works for you, how about (date/time)?”

If you didn’t have that excuse, you could say, “I’d rather catch up one-on-one — can we keep it just the two of us? How’s (date/time)?”

(That assumes you want to catch up with her. If you don’t, you can plead a busy schedule and say you’ll let her know when things slow down. But in general, if you’re up for it, it’s helpful to stay in touch with old managers.)

4. Should I tell my new job about my husband’s out-of-state interview?

Do I tell my new job the real reason I need to miss a couple days — that I’m going with my husband on an in-person interview trip out of state?

My husband is in a soul-sucking job he’s been trying to get out of for a while. He’s the primary breadwinner in our family. I stayed at home with our baby for two years, and just started a new job two months ago. My pay is okay, but it’s a third of what my husband makes.

He’s been headhunted for a job that, professionally, is perfect. But it’s located across the country, and in a place that’s culturally vastly different than where we live now. We are both very unsure if it’s the right move, which is why we feel it’s important for me to accompany him to try and get a feel for the place. I am guessing we’re not going to be won over, but we’re willing to give the visit a sincere chance.

The dates he’s been offered are all in the next couple weeks and in the middle of the week, so no one would believe it’s a fun vacation. I could call in sick, but I hate being gone suddenly and unless I wanted to claim to be violently ill, there would be an expectation that I’d do at least some work from home. I may or may not have much time on the visit to do work.

But I’m worried that if I tell my boss the real reason we’re going, it will impact my work’s perception of me and my dedication. (I could not keep my current job if we moved.) And especially since we don’t feel sold on the move, I’d hate to risk my reputation for nothing.

Yeah, definitely don’t tell them that you’re going on a trip to decide whether you’ll be moving or not. That’s going to make them instantly concerned that you’re on the verge of leaving your still-very-new job.

That doesn’t leave you with many good choices, considering the constraints you mentioned (plus being so new makes it harder to take sudden vacation time anyway). Given that, your best bet is probably some version of illness or a family emergency (the latter is sort of accurate, actually). If you go with illness, you don’t need to claim to be violently ill to get out of working from home; you can simply say, “I’m sick enough that I don’t expect to be logging on.”

{ 459 comments… read them below }

  1. Not A Manager*

    @Alison, from the wording of LW2, I wonder if she’s asking about ALL of those outfits. She’s “iffy” on midriff-baring outfits, etc. but “most of all” wants to go braless. Does the answer change if the coworking space is not, in fact, one where people wear baseball caps and linty sweaters and workout gear? She does say that “most people who are there are generally put together and dress somewhere in between casual and business casual.”

    1. Well...*

      That’s so funny, I read it the way Allison did too, and upon her rewrite I wondered why she was worried about other people’s linty sweaters.

      1. MurpMaureep*

        Yes! The “linty sweater” comment struck me as weird at first too until I realized LW was likely looking for outliers from business casual that would justify a more relaxed approach to traditional foundation garments.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            If I had to wear lint-free and cat-hair-free clothes to work, I’d have to go naked. And possibly skinless, if my cat decides to rub up against my legs the minute I step out of the shower.

          2. MurpMaureep*

            I get it now! Mostly I started examining my own linty/cat hair besmirched garments and wondering what that might say about me. Also I’m 100% in favor of patterned leggings!

            1. Caffeinated in California*

              All of my sweaters are linty. My house has cats. Plus, they get that way when they’re washed.

  2. Blue Moon*

    OP #4: Can you blame the baby? Saying your child got sick and is in need of care is good cover for not being able to log on at all. Most sick babies are very clingy and require extra attention and cuddles.

    Or if you don’t want to lie, you can leave it at, “My child is unable to attend daycare today so I will need the day off to care for them.” It’s technically true!

    1. Bayta Darrell*

      I would be hesitant to blame it on the baby in case husband’s job opportunity doesn’t end up becoming a reality. She’s still pretty new, so you don’t want to introduce the possibility of someone interpreting her childcare situation as being unreliable. Unfortunately, there can be bias against working mothers, and so I don’t think it’s worth it to potentially affirm someone’s biases because she has to take unexpected time off for her baby. I think a generic “family emergency” is a much better option.

      1. Double A*

        But there’s no such thing as childcare for a sick baby. What would you suggest she say when the baby actually is sick and needs to stay home from daycare?

        A sick kid is a decent excuse. But “family emergency” covers all the bases.

          1. Myrin*

            Probably that people don’t generally bring their kids to daycare when they’re sick lest they infect all the other children there.

            1. Varthema*

              Yup, can confirm, it’s really hard to leave a sick baby with any kind of childcare unless you have a nanny – daycares will just send them home again. Even family is a big ask since you’re basically asking them to get sick for you.

          2. Blackcat*

            You can’t send a sick baby to daycare and getting a last minute sitter to care for a child is basically impossible. And if you’ve got a needy sick kid, it can be impossible to work at all

          3. bamcheeks*

            I’m curious why you asked this, Lunita! Not in a hostile way, just interested in what part of it didn’t make sense to you. Did you not read “childcare” as “paid-for childcare settings”, or had you not realised that children can’t go to childcare settings when they’re ill?

            1. JSPA*

              There ARE childcare places that have (or pre-covid, used to have) sick-kid rooms with a bed for each kid. There were a long list of what wasn’t OK, but sick kid childcare is a thing.

              1. Onward*

                Mom of a toddler here — where are these places because I’ve never heard of them? Every parent I’ve known (including myself) who has a sick kid has to either take the day with them or call an emergency grandparent in (if possible).

                1. Anonymouse*

                  The first year my kiddos were in day care 2021/2022. I cried some weeks because not only did I still have to pay for the days they were sick with ” preschool plague”but also had to be juggle my work to keep them home. Fortunately year 2 they seem to be getting sick less but yeah..very little childcare for sick kiddos

                2. Working mom*

                  There used to be sick care child care at hospital/ hospital like places near me but since covid I don’t think they do it. I don’t know what the rules were and it was very expensive

                3. JSPA*

                  Google finds brands “esme” and “the get well place” and some others, in several states. I’m remembering it from employer-provided day care back when I had officemates with small children; can’t speak to the modern versions (or the cost!)

                  I’m not at all claiming that it’s common. Only that if you happen to be one of the lucky people who does have access you can realistically not know how rare it is.

            2. Lunita*

              Well, sort of. Some people are getting childcare from their families and some have babysitters. I am lucky enough to use both, so even if my son is sick we usually have someone. I should have remembered that daycare is completely different but it was late when I read this!

              1. Helewise*

                I used to have some back-up childcare from my family, but my parents are older now and since COVID I’m not willing to risk their health. We have no sick childcare options, period, and I think that’s the norm at this point. Maybe a major metropolitan area would be different, but there’s definitely nothing structured in a smaller community.

                1. Birdie*

                  I’ve lived in 3 major metros and never ever had access to any sort of sick childcare, even before Covid.

                2. KatEnigma*

                  The last place I saw sick childcare was run by the hospital in my hometown in the Rust Belt- not a metro area. And that was 20 years ago. I’ve lived in 2 major and one minor metro areas since then, have a kid in one, and no, they haven’t existed.

              2. This Old House*

                Yes, and there’s also the fact that grandparents and other people vary in their ability and willingness to watch sick kids, too. My parents were always fine with a head cold, or maybe a fever, but drew the line at stomach viruses. Absolutely not, no way, never. Since COVID, I don’t even ask about anything upper respiratory anymore – I wouldn’t want that responsibility on my shoulders – and so now, while I imagine that there are theoretically illnesses where I’d have sick child care, I don’t actually know of any.

              3. Rainy*

                The standards for staying home from daycare around here are so strict that I have a colleague whose old daycare place would literally *knowingly give her son something he’s allergic to*, he would vomit, they would call her to come and get him, and then they’d refuse to have him back the next day because he’d vomited and they had a 24-hour holdout. Even when they caused it!

                1. constant_craving*

                  I hope she reported them to the state. Even accidentally giving a kid an allergen is the kind of thing that can get a daycare shut down if it keeps happening, much less knowingly doing it. IANAL, but that seems like child endangerment.

                2. Rainy*

                  @constant_craving (and thanks for the earworm lol) Yes, she did report them! She waited til she was able to remove him to a place that actually took allergies seriously, though.

                  Daycares really have parents over a barrel here. It’s so rough. My spouse and I are childfree, but in addition to not wanting kids, we honestly just wouldn’t be able to afford it if we did.

            3. Squeaky*

              Personally I read childcare to include babysitters, neighbors, or your mom/sister/friend coming over. Some of those might not be practical but to say “no such thing” is an overstatement.

              1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

                Sure, some people have access to a network of caregivers, but these days most do not. Many/most babysitters and nannies won’t care for a sick child, it is increasingly uncommon for people to know/trust their neighbors enough to have them watch their child (and that’s assuming the neighbors don’t work and are willing/capable of watching a sick baby), and most grandparents are either still working, not capable of caring for a child, don’t live close enough to come on short notice, or won’t care for a sick child. Also, most “moms/sisters/friends” are at work!

              2. Double A*

                I actually am someone who can generally find backup when my kids are sick, but most people have one childcare option at best and none for a sick kid. So yes, while such a thing exists, there really is so little paid care for sick kids as to render it essential non-existent and you can’t assume someone can find another option. Because as other people are mentioning, I can be easier to find back up childcare in a pinch but many of those options are not available if the child is sick.

                Basically, if someone has a sick kid, assume that kid will need to stay home with a parent.

              3. KatEnigma*

                My son is 5 1/2 and for the first 4 1/2 years, we didn’t live near any family at all. Everyone we knew worked, unless it was summer, but there’s no way I’d send a sick kid to someone’s house who also has 3 kids, soo…

                My inlaws now live roughly an hour away. But even if I wanted to transport a sick kid that far, there’s no way in heck I’d send a sick kid to my 70 year old inlaws, even if my MIL is still a part time practicing doctor!

                Practically speaking, for most people, sick childcare is nonexistent.

          4. Asenath*

            Often, there is no such thing as childcare for a sick baby. For the parents I know best, the day care sends sick children home, one parent is always working outside the home and the other is sometimes – and when at home is working online. Taking leave, sometimes for several days, each time a child is sick is not usually possible, given how frequently small children pick up infections. In their case, they have family who can take the sick child, but not every parent has local relatives who are retired or living at home, without their own responsibilities, and healthy enough to care for a sick baby on a moment’s notice.

          5. Knope Knope Knope*

            Yeah. It’s the bane of my existence and a real challenge for working parents (especially often moms). Daycare won’t let you bring in a sick baby (plus poor baby!) and back up care is nearly impossible to find for babies in the best circumstances. Most professional Nannies need regular full-time work hours like everyone else and increasingly they are advocating for additional benefits like PTO and healthcare stipends, so calling in someone for a day is extremely challenging to the point I’ve never done it successfully in 3 years. If you were lucky enough to find back up care (I get some options through my work, for instance), they also will not cover a sick child. If you’re extra lucky enough to have family help, people rightfully don’t want get to sick and often can’t/won’t watch a sick baby.

            All that said I wouldn’t use it as an excuse unnecessarily. My husband I have missed soooo much work due to genuinely sick babies (we have two) I wouldn’t add anything extra to that tally. Kids are always sick.

          6. Critical Rolls*

            I’ll add to the “can’t take a sick kid to daycare” and “hard to find a backup with no notice” the additional issue of “whether backup is willing to watch a sick kid and be exposed to an illness.” If the kid is running a fever or coughing a lot, most people are — not unreasonably — going to decline.

            1. bamcheeks*

              There’s also “sick kids want their own people”! OK if you’ve got a grandparent or a close family or friend who the baby knows very well, but for the most part a small child who is sick is not going to cope well with a caregiver who isn’t one of their Loved People.

          7. Gato Blanco*

            Sick babies are not welcome at daycare. And people who try to sneak in sick kids anyways are indescribably selfish.

        1. Bayta Darrell*

          Double A, when the kid is actually sick, then you say the kid is sick. Kids get sick! Especially this time of year. This is an out-of-state trip that the LW says is “across the country” which I took as meaning this would need a few days for the visit. If it was a one day thing, sure. But I wouldn’t want to blame a multi-day absence on a sick kid unless that kid really was sick.

    2. A person*

      Why not just say you’re going on a short trip with your husband… people are allowed to take vacation without explanation… you don’t have to say what’s it’s for. Just say you’re just going on a short getaway and leave it at that.

      1. NL*

        I just wrote this below…they’ve only been there 2 months. In all the jobs I’ve worked in you would not just announce that early on that you’re going to be taking 3+ personal days with less than a week’s notice.

      2. MK*

        Vacation are usually planned ahead of time, and in many role after checking with youe boss’ about when is a good time. There may well be required to ask for time off X weeks before, plus they might not even have vacation days so early in the job.

      3. Allonge*

        Taking leave in the first few months at a new job often falls under different rules than normal days off. I work where leave is usually not a problem, but we cannot take days off in the first six months unless it’s sick leave or things like bereavement leave.

        Even if their org is more flexible, OP is likely not at the stage yet where ‘no need to justify’ applies.

      4. amoeba*

        I mean, I’d feel iffy about blaming sickness (but that’s probably my European lens where sick days, child sick days and holidays are very separate and it would be illegal to call in sick for a trip! Would not risk that especially when travelling, would be much too afraid of being seen/ending up in an instagram post that a coworker then sees/etc…)

        But I feel like if “I need to accompany my husband to an interview” would be enough to get the day off (which it sounds like LW thinks), then other family engagements would as well? Couldn’t it just be something like “a big family event across the country that I’d really like to join” (think 80th birthday or something, but would not be specific because I wouldn’t want to lie outright…)
        Generally, not am emergency but “a family thing that came up, nothing bad, but I’d really like to attend – would it be possible…”?

        In general, it sounds like taking days in general would not be a problem, as the LW states that the only reason she doesn’t just say it’s a vacation is that people wouldn’t believe it because it’s the middle of the week – I guess a birthday or something would work for that?

        1. I should really pick a name*

          Sick days and vacation days are commonly separate in North America as well. It’s just a question of whether you think you’d get caught (and that would be subject to company policy, not a legal matter).

          Because the LW is so new to the job, I don’t know that vacation would go over so well.
          Theoretically they would have known about a big family event already.
          “A family thing came up that I need to deal with” would be honest (if evasive).

          1. Phryne*

            I don’t know enough about the precise US rules, but in Europe sick days are generally paid or partially paid, and if lomg time, there is government pay involved. Which could make lying about it a form of fraud, whereas vacation days are your property and you can do what you like with them.
            I would not lie about being sick if I was not actually sick, because the consequences of lying about being sick are much larger than some busybee being judgemental about me taking a vacation day in my first couple of months.

            1. I should really pick a name*

              There aren’t precise US rules, employment law varies from state to state.

              This is a few days for an interview, not long term disability.

              I’m not actually suggesting lying (see my comment above), but the concern isn’t a busy bee being judgmental, it’s whether they actually get the time off or not.

              1. amoeba*

                Yeah, well, in Germany it’s not easy getting fired, but taking sick leave and then travelling would certainly get close. It’s considered really, really serious and I would never feel anywhere near safe doing it.

                (Also because in practice you basically have unlimited sick leave. It’s not like a contingent you can save up. There’s also no such thing as “mental health days”. It’s a different system, which is why I said I’m seeing it through this lens.)

                1. I should really pick a name*

                  Mental health days aren’t really a formal thing in North America.

                  It’s just a colloquialism that people use for “I just need a day away from the office”. You would rarely actually describe it as a mental health day to your employer, you’d just take a sick day.

                2. amoeba*

                  I know, but it’s just something that’s commonly done and not really frowned upon (at least that’s what I gathered from reading the comments and Allison’s advice here?)
                  Whereas in (my part of) Europe, that would actually just be illegal and really bad advice. Like, it would get you into trouble if it came out. (Not talking about actual mental health issues! That’s of course a legitimate reason for sick leave!)
                  But then we have enough actual PTO, so it’s just expected to take some of that for these cases, as we don’t really need to save it up…

                3. Phryne*

                  Yes, in the Netherlands lying about being sick is a really big no. It wil destroy your professional reputation, if not get you fired. It would not be worth it unless you are willing to burn that bridge.

                4. Amy*

                  As an American, I’m definitely accustomed to taking 3-4 days a year where the “sickness” I feel is just being sick of work.

                  I’ll work (from home) through a cold. But sometimes I feel perfectly well and just want a day to myself. Whether I code it as sick day / occasional day / PTO day (all paid) doesn’t matter that much to my company.

        2. Smithy*

          I think the difference in the US context is that outside a few contexts, none of what the OP is asking for falls under the basket of protected workers rights. And most of our sick days aren’t really protected.

          Since employers don’t have to provide sick days, for those who do have them – using a sick day for a hangover, job interviews, or other last minute opportunities you don’t want to share with your employer is relatively common in the US. Amongst those who feel different levels of comfort with those kinds of white lies (i.e. I don’t feel well today….hungover) or outright lies (i.e. I don’t feel well today…..have a job interview).

          For the OP, a lot of this will come down to what they feel more or less comfortable with. But obviously don’t post anything about the trip on social media.

        3. MigraineMonth*

          At my job, we have different “buckets” for different types of PTO to a somewhat ridiculous extent: sick, vacation, floating holiday, “wellness”, sabbatical, etc. (I actually made a spreadsheet with all the bucket maximums, expirations dates, etc.) Yet they’re all PTO and therefore considered pretty much interchangeable when you actually use them.

      5. Totally Minnie*

        I would probably say something like “Husband and I need to travel out of state for a few days to deal with a family issue.” It sidesteps the “emergency” while still framing the trip as a need rather than a fun expedition.

      6. JSPA*

        It’s very possible to have exactly 0 days of vacation after working some place for only 2 months. Nor the right to take unpaid days.

        But it’s potentially worse to be fired for lying about being sick, than for announcing “there was a family issue, I’m now 2000 miles away to deal with it, and can only apologize abjectly.”

    3. Willis*

      If she wants to mention needing the time off in advance, they could go with the furthest out date that was offered and then say she’ll need a couple personal days in a couple weeks to assist her husband with an upcoming appointment (that’s true!), and apologize for the short notice / taking time off so soon after starting.

      Also, has husband tried to ask if the interview could be moved to a Friday so that it will be easier for his family to spend some time in the area? Maybe the dates offered are the only ones available, but maybe not. It doesn’t hurt to ask politely.

      1. Echo*

        Yep, “need to accompany my husband to an appointment” is both 100% true and the kind of thing people sometimes need to take PTO for! You could even say “an out-of-state appointment” if you need to. (Just let everyone assume the appointment is with a doctor/for surgery.)

        1. Six Degrees for Now*

          +1 I think appointment with my husband is 100% the best option to use. I also would feel superstitious citing sickness, but that’s just how I am.

    4. Pammers*

      I feel like every time I used my sick baby/child as an excuse, karma caught up with me and then she really did get sick and I missed even more time. I think I would say my husband surprised me with a spur of the moment trip/getaway. Costs were cheaper during the week versus a weekend.

      1. Willow Pillow*

        I agree with this. It’s more work for LW to keep up with and it has the potential to make her work life more difficult.

      2. Pounce de Lion*

        I think it would be best to offer an excuse that doesn’t sound so…optional. As a co-worker this would raise a red flag that OP is going to flit off on vacations whenever the mood strikes. She is still in the very important first-impressions period of a job she may need to keep for a long time.

      3. Velociraptor Attack*

        She’s going to invite a lot of judgment for saying her husband surprised her with a spur-of-the-moment trip in the middle of the week when she’s less than two months in at this job. Right or wrong, it’s going to raise questions.

    5. TrixM*

      I would keep it very simple and book a couple of days of leave to accompany your husband on some “personal business”. And by using such a term, it’s clearly none of theirs.
      Maybe the OP hasn’t accumulated a sufficient leave balance, but often managers are happy for you to carry a couple of days negative. Or, they may be fine with a flex arrangement where you work extra hours to make up the time.
      Either way, I’d lean heavily to implying husband needs to do something important and personal, and it’s best if you can be there too.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I think that’s a good way to phrase it.

        I also wondered if she would feel comfortable saying that her husband is going on a business trip and she wants to go with him. Whether that would work would depend on her office and the place to which she’s going–some places you could spin as “always wanted to go and this rare opportunity came up,” and some places you can’t. But in any case, if it’s possible to avoid saying it’s a family emergency, I would, because that just invites follow up questions from coworkers.

        1. Lyudie*

          It’s pretty unusual for spouses to go along on business trips, though. And that sounds like something that she would be able to not do, if she says she “wants to go”. Saying it’s a family thing that just came up and apologizing for the timing is probably the way to go.

    6. D*

      I would think about if it’s really critical to accompany your husband DURING the interview. It’s such bad timing for a new job you like. Why not go on a weekend either together or alone after his interview if he got a good feeling about it? It just seems like such a stretch at a new job and I’m not quite sure why you need to be there at the same time as the interview…

      1. Mom2ASD*

        I agree – I would suggest that unless the potential employer has suggested the spouse accompany the candidate, that the spouse should remain home. It would be very awkward to be a third wheel on hand if the company isn’t expecting it.

        For one thing, if there is reimbursement for travel, only the candidate’s travel will be covered.

        For another, it’s an interview – not a job offer. There may be several candidates under consideration. I would only do the trip if my spouse was at – at least – 2nd round interview, if not 3rd round.

        1. Bookmark*

          Yes, only the candidate’s travel is covered, but a hotel room costs the same whether there’s one or two people in it. So, the cost savings of a trip together vs separate could be substantial, especially when you consider the difference between weekday and weekend rates for flights and hotels. Also, I don’t think OP is planning on *accompanying* spouse to the interviews. It’s far, far more likely she’s busy doing things like looking at daycares and schools, talking to a real estate agent, exploring neighborhoods, etc. Again, things that may be difficult to do on weekends.

        2. OP4*

          LW here,
          And good lord no. I wouldn’t get anywhere near the actual interview process. As another commenter assumed, I’d be meeting with a real estate agent and visiting a daycare.
          They are reimbursing travel a flat amount, which would go toward flight, car rental, and hotel. FWIW. We would be using some flight points, so not a huge cost difference in me going on the interview trip, but it would be a significant cost to go back.
          I mention this in other comments, but this is his second interview and there isn’t typically a third in his field. It is just an interview, but strong signals that he’s the top candidate.

      2. Nocturna*

        LW4 and spouse may not be able to afford a separate trip out. The company is presumably paying for the spouse’s travel to and from the interview, so if they go at the same time, they only have to cover travel expenses for one of them.

      3. constant_craving*

        Because traveling cross country is not cheap and the company is covering (at least some of, if not all of) the travel costs this time.

      4. Blackcat*

        Often people won’t have time to make a trip once the offer is made.

        I’m in academia, so I don’t find this strange. It’s assumes the candidate’s partner will do their own thing. Sometimes the university sets them up with a real estate agent who shows them the area.

    7. Looper*

      Do not EVER lie about a child’s illness to get out of work. When people find out, any and all goodwill towards you will evaporate. Coworkers and managers are human beings and really don’t want their sympathies manipulated with concerns for children that are unwarranted.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I would feel that way if someone said their child had leukemia or something similarly serious. I wouldn’t feel manipulated if someone said their child couldn’t go to daycare because they had a runny nose, though.

        1. Boof*

          I… just really don’t think it’s a good idea to outright lie when there are other things that cover the truth even if they won’t make people think you’re touring another state you’re thinking about moving to “have to go on urgent family business” or similar is pretty solid. Doesn’t sound fun, isn’t stated as optional, implied to be a one time thing (which… it will be unless it ends up not being!).

    8. Jaydee*

      Possible reasons to need to take two days off in the middle of the week that are NOT traveling to a different state with your husband for a job interview:
      – No childcare because reasons (professional development days, deep cleaning the infant and toddler rooms, lack of staff, your nanny is taking two days off to go help her mom after a minor surgery)
      – Home repairs – you’re getting ducts cleaned, new carpet installed, walls added to the unfinished part of your basement, electrical work done, your furnace tuned up
      – Family situation – someone is having a medical procedure and you’re going to help them out afterward; your cousin is getting married on a Tuesday afternoon because she insisted that the wedding be on the 5 year anniversary of their first date

      I’m not suggesting LW tell her boss or co-workers a lie about why she’ll be gone. I’m not suggesting she tell them anything beyond maybe “Oh, it’s a family thing out of town. I’ll be back on Thursday ” in that tone of voice that says “I’m not looking forward to this, but what are you going to to do?” I just want to show that there are loads of reasons someone might take a couple of days off mid-week. While LW feels like she’s walking around with a neon sign over her head that says “my husband is interviewing for a job out-of-state!!!!” she really isn’t.

    9. NotAnotherManager!*

      Why lie or provide a reason at all? Can’t she just ask to use the PTO days and not go into detail about for what or why?

      I also don’t see think that a trip for a day or two is really going to tell OP much about what it would be like to live in the area. She should go if she wants to, but I think it’s unrealistic to give that much valuable information from such a short time and, presumably, a limited amount of places that are primarily designed for visitors (hotel, airport, maybe a little traffic in between). I live outside of DC, and it’s a very different place when you’re just visiting v. living here full time.

        1. Tio*

          Exactly – for a new person, they’re going to be VERY skeptical of her suddenly needing 2-3 days off in the middle of the work week without explanation. So she has to toe he line between “Saying too much and now they think she’s got one foot out the door so they let her go” and “Not explaining so they deny her any leave”.

  3. Properlike*

    I get stuck on the travel aspect of this that could raise questions if discovered later. “Family emergency on my husband’s side that requires us to fly out there immediately to check in.”

    All true. And could be anything, really, not necessarily someone ill or dying. Nothing you’d want to talk about, of course. Your husband’s very private.

    1. Blue*

      I wonder if this route could even work to offer advance notice. “I have to travel out of town X dates to assist a family member during a medical procedure.”

      1. Michelle Smith*

        If she’s that specific though, she’s lying and it might not be something she wants to do (whether for practical or ethical reasons).

      1. Allonge*

        This really depends on how close one is to the extreme on the spectrum of ‘truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – some words have meanings, I guess’.

        For me, an opportunity to get out of a “soul-sucking job” qualifies as an emergency in this case, certainly for the husband – it’s close enough. But again, there is a sliding scale of comfort here.

    2. Snow Globe*

      I like this, and definitely prefer the ‘family emergency’ to claiming sickness, since the OP will be traveling. It is an emergency, since she’s needing to travel with little advanced notice.

  4. zaracat*

    #4 I’d definitely go with “family emergency” or “a personal matter I have to deal with urgently” rather than call in sick and then have to explain if you were seen at the airport or something.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        They were separated at birth, and she took over OP’s life while OP was in an amnesiac state after being attacked by her sister-in-law’s ex-lover who is actually OP’s husband’s boss!

      1. Daisy-dog*

        zaracat could think it’s possible that LW works in a role where coworkers travel often, so there’s a high probability of seeing someone in the airport in the middle of the week. That is typically when most business travel happens. If LW does not have traveling coworkers, then it is less of a concern.

      2. Pudding*

        I used to live on THE main road in a small town, in a house without a garage, where the parking was unavoidably visible from the road. I hated the lack of privacy; any unexpected trip or unusual presence at home led to curiosity from coworkers and family.

    1. Opal*

      A simple, “I have to go out of town for an important family issue” might work. It’s not a lie, but doesn’t share what the issue is. If pressed OP could say “it’s sensitive.” People can speculate all the want. But, most will anyway.

      1. Van Wilder*

        I would go with this.

        Also, important tip! If you do end up calling in sick and might respond to a work email, manually set the time on your phone to your home timezone. Centuries ago, I almost got caught on a secret trip while “working from home” because the timestamps on my email replies didn’t make sense.

        I would rather not worry about it and just say you need to travel for a family issue.

      2. librarianmom*

        Yeah I would try this kind of truthful, but vague excuse. Lying is stressful, and you don’t want to get caught out in it since you may need to call in sick in the future. Don’t take the chance of blowing your employer’s trust when you don’t know if you will be leaving.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        If it has to be explained at all, this is the route I’d go. Vague truths are almost always better than full-out lies.

        I personally hate it when people overshare their reasons for asking for PTO – it makes me feel like they think I’m making a value judgment on their reason for taking off (I’m not, I care about coverage), but I’ve also had some people share it in a way that very much reads as thinking their reason outweighs anyone else’s.

  5. Coverage Associate*

    How much information do they need to give in these meetings? Would the chat function be an option?

    In my office, the chat function in Teams seems disfavored, but useful in Zoom. I don’t know why. Anyway, regardless of the platform, I try to drop information I would rather receive in writing into the chat- things like phone numbers I would have to write down if I were hearing them, sometimes just where a homonym has come up in the conversation. I couldn’t present a full analysis in the chat box, but if it were something like “what percentage will we have to cut the entertainment budget?” the chat might work.

    1. A person*

      I try not to do it all the time because I too hate talking in meetings but it’s something I need to work on, but I do use the chat thing in calls when I just need to say something quick or answer a question but the conversation moved too quickly for me to get my part in.

      1. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

        We have too many people who have trouble seeing the chat in my meetings- there are a couple I can do that in but in others it’s more disruptive as people start asking what just happened in the chat and reading it back over each other.

        1. Mockingjay*

          Yeah, I usually minimize chat so I can enlarge the presentation screen.

          Unfortunately, a lot of these suggestions are stop gap solutions; I think Alison is correct that speaking is a fundamental part of the role. There have been a lot of good ideas on how to coach the employees; hopefully these work. In the future, though, OP4 might want to screen for this characteristic in applicants.

          1. MassMatt*

            I came here to talk about that last point. If giving info in meetings is an essential part of this role, was this disclosed in the job listing? Were candidates asked about this during interviews? Did you look for people with a background in public speaking in the candidate search?

            The job title “budget analyst” does not suggest to me that making presentations etc is going to be part of the role, actually I would suspect it might attract a lot of people that shy away from that.

            1. sagc*

              Answering questions in meetings is not “public speaking”, and is so common it’s understandable it wasn’t called out specifically in the job description.

              1. Kapers*

                Participating in meetings, even regularly presenting on behalf of your area of responsibility in meetings, isn’t a separate line item in any job description or interview. The default assumption in any corporate job is that you’ll have to talk sometimes; that doesn’t rise to the level of “public speaking.”

                I’m sympathetic because I started my career as a person who could barely get my name out when going around a room doing introductions.

                But I looked around at who rose in the organization and realized had to overcome it to advance in my career.

                I think a manager’s role here is to empathetically support this as an area of development, give them training, and not put them on the spot deliberately. But unless someone has an accommodation, it’s reasonable (and beneficial!) to expect regular verbal participation.

                1. UKDancer*

                  Yes. I mean speaking up at meetings and discussing things has been a regular part of pretty much every white collar job I’ve done. The more senior you become, the more you are expected to have an opinion.

                  If I need someone to give presentations a lot I would usually mention it in the job spec. Otherwise I just assume people will expect to be able to talk in meetings. If they’re not confident I’m happy to coach / provide training but I do expect people to participate.

                2. Courageous cat*

                  Yeah. The fact that we’re looking to get out of ways to… speak in one’s company is odd to me. I can think of very, very few job positions in which you wouldn’t be required to speak to someone.

                  Unless someone has a formal accommodation, they need to work on it.

            2. Clisby*

              The letter in no way indicates these employees are being asked to make presentations. They’re just being asked to give some information about what they work on.

              I can’t imagine putting “public speaking” in a job posting when what you really mean is “talk to your team.”

              1. Don't Call Me Shirley*

                Even occasionally putting a couple slides together to explain something isn’t a separate item – just today I was asked to spend 20 minutes explaining plan for a project at a meeting on Monday. It’s not public speaking, it’s letting my coworkers know what’s going on.

    2. allathian*

      Yes, I was going to suggest the same thing. Many people are much more comfortable expressing their opinions in writing whenever possible.

      1. Green great dragon*

        Yes. And would they be more comfortable speaking if called upon or responding to questions? Because if they drop something in the chat, maybe others in the meeting (you if you’re there) can then call on them to give more detail if that’s needed.

        And if you’re not doing it already, using the ‘hands up’ function with a chair that calls on people can be easier on people than trying to break into the conversation.

    3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      In my office, the chat function in Teams seems disfavored, but useful in Zoom.

      I fall back to chat on Teams a lot. My voice doesn’t carry and I’m spoken over easily.

      I’m also not an extrovert or a natural speaker. Things that have helped calm my nerves and get me through presenting include: having hard numbers at the ready to back up my statements, practice, and knowing the stakes. Of those, maybe incorporating more round-robin or sharing in lower-stakes, mundane meetings (as much as I ridicule Agile, its Scrum does have that going for it) might help LW#1. Hard numbers/research the speaker can only do for themselves.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I find chat in Teams during meetings to be annoying – it often appears in the main “Teams” window as opposed to the meeting window so I end up toggling back and forth. With Zoom it’s more integrated.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I’m choosing between not being heard and an imperfect chat location, so it’s not a hard choice.

          1. ThatGirl*

            I don’t blame you – it was really more a response to the comment you were responding to than yours, didn’t mean to make it sound like I was arguing with you :)

    4. Antilles*

      I wonder how much of the issue is actually the verbal medium versus the overall situation of “in meetings, you’re expected to contribute your thoughts/opinions off the cuff”? OP says this:
      One team member shared that in a meeting with our DEI consultant she volunteered an answer and the facilitator said the answer was something else, and as a result she no longer feels comfortable sharing insights and opinions.
      If we’re in a meeting discussing something and you say something someone else disagrees with, it doesn’t matter if you typed in the chat or in text, the other person is still going to go “hm, I don’t know if X is really the right solution here” or “good thought but maybe Y would be better” or whatever. And even if it’s only via text chat, you’re still going to be expected to share your insights and opinions on topics as they come up during the meeting.
      Maybe putting it in chat rather than voice solves it…but it seems equally possible that it’s not really about the medium-of-communication as much as the bigger picture of “providing information on the spot”, “being publicly disagreed with”, or etc.

      1. Verthandi*

        OP says this:
        One team member shared that in a meeting with our DEI consultant she volunteered an answer and the facilitator said the answer was something else, and as a result she no longer feels comfortable sharing insights and opinions.

        I picked up on that, too. I’m wondering if the question was about something subjective as one of many types of “no wrong answer” kind of things. Having had the experience of frequently being told my answers to “no right or wrong answers” questions were wrong, I’d gotten to the point of never offering my opinion. That was back when I was much younger.

        I wonder how often the employee has been shut down, talked over, dismissed, or told they were wrong about something subjective.

        1. Goldenrod*

          “I wonder how often the employee has been shut down, talked over, dismissed, or told they were wrong about something subjective.”

          Yes, I very much wondered this as well! I’m communicative by nature, but there have been offices where I never spoke in meetings at all for this very reason.

    5. Yorick*

      Ultimately, people need to learn how to speak in meetings. It’s just a fundamental part of pretty much every job, unless the person in the role doesn’t attend meetings. More specifically to your point, sometimes the chat function just isn’t a great option. If we’re taking time in the meeting to brainstorm something, it may look really weird if Bob only types into the chat and doesn’t speak up. Especially if somebody asks him a question directly.

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        Right. And conflating “speaking in an internal meeting” with “public speaking” is also confusing.

        These are people you work with on a regular basis, ie colleagues. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to them in groups, then either there is something terribly dysfunctional about the company culture, or you have a broader issue with business norms, anxiety, confidence, etc. that needs to be addressed systemically.

        Can these employees handle one-on-one conversations with members of these departments?

        My money is actually on company culture (or maybe that at previous employers), given the comment about the DEI thing. If these employees have internalized a scenario of “say something wrong out loud and you are hounded forever; better to keep your mouth shut”, then OP needs to look at why that’s happening.

        1. Clisby*

          Agreed. What the LW is describing doesn’t at all fit my idea of “public speaking.” I would think being able to open your mouth and say a few sentences is a core requirement of almost any job. There’s no indication the employees are expected to come up with a polished presentation off-the-cuff. It sounds like they’re just being asked for updates on various budgetary issues.

      2. Courageous cat*

        Agreed. I would say that would be something that could harm your ability to move up pretty easily, especially depending on who your meetings are with.

    6. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I’m on a team set-up similar to the OP’s, and we have one team member who is very reluctant to speak up in meetings, another who will if she has to but feels some kind of way for a while afterward, and a couple of us who are comfortable speaking up anytime we feel we have something to add. The person who has the most anxiety about speaking up is probably our most knowledgeable member, so she PMs in our team-member only side chat and gets someone else to say it for her. Mostly it’s just informing our college departments of fiscal information pertaining to them, so it doesn’t matter who says it — just that it gets said.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        In my job, that would probably hurt someone’s chances for promotion. It can be important to be recognized as having expertise outside of your own team.

        My previous manager was the only one on our team who went to meetings with other departments. That both stifled the potential for his reports to gain a good reputation in the company and caused a lot of backups in the information flows.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Yes, the one in particular who simply refuses to speak in meetings has gone as far as she’s going to in our department. Our manager has tried to work with her on speaking up when she has something to contribute, and the employee just digs in about it and won’t. The other one who is nervous about it and does it anyway is better positioned. I really don’t know what to advise about nudging someone with a hardcore aversion into speaking up. The opportunities for promotion aren’t there, because anything even one step up from what we do requires a lot of meetings as speaking in front of people.

    7. Sun and clouds*

      Part of communication is reading cues and body language. If people have been entirely or mostly remote their reluctance to speak up may be because they don’t know their coworkers that well and don’t know how their input is being received. Would having shorter, one on one meetings with cameras on help?

  6. ZucchiniBikini*

    Another vote in favour of “family emergency” over illness as the reason for OP 4. It has three advantages – if someone becomes aware you left town, it won’t look weird (in fact, can reinforce the story); it’s an accepted reason for being uncontactable; and it’s closer to the truth (this is indeed a family need, although probably not quite an emergency).

  7. Lisa*

    #3 I used to run into something like this when I worked at Megacorp in a role that included vendor oversight but not vendor selection or budget authority. Vendors would overestimate my usefulness for business development. If I wanted the meeting for my own networking reasons, I’d take it but if they started to solicit business I would just straightforwardly say, “Oh, that’s entirely up to Ursula! I just manage the vendor she hires. You’d need to approach her directly about that.”

    And then plead innocence and confidentiality for any probing questions. “I’m not sure what the plans are for hiring contractors in 2023 but I wouldn’t be authorized to talk about it if I were, sorry.

    That exact approach might not work with your extra government regulations, but perhaps something similar.

    It also never hurts to insist on paying for your own coffee order. But as a side note, vendors who work with the same organization over years often get very astute and knowing exactly how far they can push the schmoozing, e.g. they can meet you for coffee but not lunch, or give you a pen but not a shirt.

    1. Naïve Leslie Knope*

      I’m OP3. Thank you so much for this! I will definitely pay for my own coffee and will not accept “oh it’s my treat.” :) Pleading ignorance about all contracting opportunities with the agency will probably not shut her down 100%, but I agree with your approach of “I don’t know, but if I did, I wouldn’t be authorized to talk about any of that, sorry.” Thank you for chiming in and sharing your story!

      1. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

        OP3, go to the ethics experts in your agency and ask for their advice, ASAP! You don’t want to risk the appearance of using your public office for private gain, which might result in disciplinary action.

        The ethics experts will guide you on what you can do and what you can’t. Do not rely on others who aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of ethics requirements.

      2. Mockingjay*

        It’s okay for contractors to discuss business opportunities with government officials (following conflict of interest rules and a plethora of other regs on both sides), but OP3, you are correct that your role is not one that will do your former company director much good. Likely they were only trying to get a name of or an introduction to a higher up who could discuss such things.

        You might mention it to your supervisor as a heads-up. What happened with you is very common. (I’m a contractor married to (now-retired) fed and we did the conflict of interest dance for years, even though we worked on entirely separate programs funded by different agencies.)

        Feel free to decline the next invite or if you do go, pay for your own coffee.

        1. Cmdrshprd*

          “you are correct that your role is not one that will do your former company director much good. Likely they were only trying to get a name of or an introduction to a higher up who could discuss such things.”

          Maybe what I think of as “much good” and what you/OP think of as “much good” is different. Even if OP isn’t a decision maker, the possibility of getting introduced/connected to the proper decision maker for x contracting is something that I would consider “good” outcome of a coffee meeting. To me that is the main purpose of networking.

          OP is free to not want to participate, but it really is understandable/reasonable for ex-boss to try and connect for business development.

  8. June Bee*

    Maybe I’m tired and missing something, but why can’t LW#4 just give notice now about the few personal days they’ll be taking off in the next few weeks? It seems they shouldn’t have to justify the reason, assuming they have time off available.

    1. NL*

      They’ve only been there 2 months and sounds like will need at least 3 days off, if not more. In all my jobs, it wouldn’t be done to announce that early on that you’re going to be taking 3+ personal days with less than a week’s notice.

      1. ferrina*

        Yeah, best case scenario this would look iffy; I’ve worked some places where this would be closely interrogated.

    2. Laure001*

      If I am taking personal days, my boss will ask why, not in a bad way, but in a curious, friendly way.

      And sure, I do not have to answer in theory, but the friendly relationship we have would get soured if I didn’t. It’s ok to be vague though, “family emergency” would be fine.

      1. amoeba*

        Wouldn’t even need to be an emergency in this case though, would it? I mean, if the boss is generally fully OK with me taking the days, I’d just go with “family event” or something. Or maybe (depending on how OK the boss really is with the holiday) “family/admin stuff I need to take care of in person. Maybe it’s just me, but claiming an emergency when it’s not necessary just seems… off (probably just being superstitious, haha – but also, if my employees told me that, I’d be worried for them, and I think my boss for me as well – so would try to avoid if possible…)

        1. Michelle Smith*

          If it were a family event, I’d question why she didn’t mention it before being hired as a part of the offer negotiations. That’s the time to bring something like that up. And any major event that’s going to require this much time off and air travel was probably planned way longer than 2 months ago, when she started.

          1. amoeba*

            But it sounds to me like the LW would in general be able to get the days of and is just worried about people not believing it’s for vacation?

            “The dates he’s been offered are all in the next couple weeks and in the middle of the week, so no one would believe it’s a fun vacation. “

        2. Lily Rowan*

          I have often tried to be vague about my reasons for taking time off on principle, which sometimes works and sometimes is just silly. One time I told my boss I was taking a Friday off for “a family thing” and she immediately said, “Oh, I’m sorry!” In this OP’s situation, I could have continued down the vague route and just said, “Thanks, it’s OK” or whatever, but in real life, I had to confess that it was my aunt’s birthday party and we didn’t want to make the drive during rush hour.

      2. Allonge*

        It depends on the relationship with the boss – one thing to consider here is also the impression you are giving with taking leave on relatively short notice.

        In some cases this may not be an issue at all! But if I went to my boss now with ‘can I take Wednesday off’ she would look at our (fairly busy) schedule and ask why and I would need to have a reasonable-ish answer, not that suddenly I discovered my husband’s birthday is next week or something plannable like that.

        She would not pry if I said some admin to handle! But yes, as you say, she would ask and it’s not that unreasonable on this timeline.

        1. Emma*

          Even then, though, you can just say “I’m sorry it’s such short notice, but I need to take Tuesday and Wednesday off next week”. The boss shouldn’t ask further unless you bring up a reason (although, of course, there are bad bosses who will interrogate you – but from the letter I got the impression that OP is just assuming they’ll be expected to explain, not that the boss has a history of prying)

    3. MK*

      Given that she just started the job, it’s more likely that she doesn’t have the time off. And maybe she shouldn’t have to give a reason in an ideal world, but the convention is to give at least a vague reason when you are scheduling time off outside a regular vacation, and also to not take unnecessary time off in your first few months on the job. It depends on the culture of the workplace.

    4. Mialana*

      And if they are asked about their ‘vacation’ afterwards they could either lie and claim it was a vacation (if they did one fun thing on that trip like a meal at a restaurant in the evening they could talk about that) or they could be super vague and just say that they had to take care of some personal stuff (there is lots of boring stuff that’s easiest to organize on a week day and if you chose to use your days off for that instead of something fun, why Not?).

    5. Cat Lover*

      It sounds like it’s very last minute, most jobs wouldn’t approve that, especially for someone so new.

    6. Be kind, rewind*

      Is it just me? If a new employee came to me and said, “something came up, and I need to take off 2-3 days in a couple weeks”, I wouldn’t bat an eye, because… life? Unexpected events don’t know it’s only your second month on the job.

      1. CheeryO*

        It wouldn’t be a problem at my office at all, but new employees start with five days of personal time, and it would be very rare for a new employee to have any time-sensitive work.

      2. MK*

        That works only if it an employee not being there on any given day is a non-issue. Not all jobs are like that. What if there are scheduled meetings or training on the days the OP needs to be gone, or her boss wants her in the office for some other reason?

        It can depend on your office culture, but also on your type of work, mainly whether coverage is necessary. In my role for example, there is a monthly schedule and if I want to not come in on one of my scheduled days, the colleague who is scheduled to be on-call that day will have to come in. I absolutely cannot take these days off without good reason.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yeah, I’ve been doing this long enough to know that the universe in general does not give a crap at all about my meetings, training, plans, etc. I’d much rather have a week or two to plan for an absence than have a call-out, too, especially if there is coverage or deadlines involved.

    7. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      When you are really new, you should in general not take time off unless you have a good reason. This mean you gotta explain yourself more, both so that your boss can judge whether the reason is good, and also so the boss knows that you know that this is unusual.

      1. EPLawyer*

        I don’t think it should get into the boss judging whether the reason is good. Then you get things like concert tickets you paid for is good but a couple hours for your college graduation is not. (yes I know that was not a new person).

        But yeah you really have to stress you know its unusual to take time off this soon and it is not something you would normally do. Because if LW doesn’t move, she still has to maintain her relationship with the company on good terms.

        1. Cmdrshprd*

          “I don’t think it should get into the boss judging whether the reason is good.”

          I don’t know if I fully agree with that. When someone is 2 months in they are still proving themselves, they should have had days off they needed already discussed and planned during hiring. I bought tix for x concert on x date 3 hours away, I will need a half/full day off. Or I have a family trip planned/bought for X dates, I will need 2/3 days off.

          But if a new hire buys tix after the fact and tries to take half/full day 2 months in, because they just bought tix, my question would be why didn’t they check first before buying them. Or if they just recently planned the trip and bought tix for a vacation.

          It is different needing one or two days because you got sick suddenly, people get sick even when you are new to the job, but things you can generally plan for should not be scheduled within the first few months of a new job. I would say 3 months minimum.

        2. MK*

          Realistically though, the boss might need to judge the reasons, and the fact that a particular manager exhibited tremendously bad judgement doesn’t change that. If it doesn’t particularly matter whether the OP is there those days, ok. But if it means rescheduling a meeting or her being absent on a day a big client is coming in, it is reasonable to have to explain why.

        3. doreen*

          I don’t really like the idea of the boss deciding whether the reason is good enough but I’ve seen situations where the answer would be “no, you can’t have that day off “ because of coverage or because of something going on that day or . . . And I do want the boss to be able to reconsider if I need to get my furnace fixed or it’s my graduation day.

    8. Lilas*

      She probably doesn’t have any vacation time available if she just started a couple months ago. So the details don’t need to be shared, but the flavor of the request would typically be “Sorry! Don’t get the impression I’m unreliable; this was unexpected!”

  9. Coffee meetings are sacred*

    I also work in government and with contractors and if I scheduled a coffee with someone and they told me they would be bringing two other people, I would also be very weirded out and cancel. Very much not the done thing. I’m on your side LW3!

    1. NotRealAnonforThis*

      Because of my work with government related contractors, same. Given my experience with a previous employer, I may even raise the comment to “grossed out”, believe it or not. Mostly because they had a C-level director who “should have known better but thought rules didn’t apply to him”.

      1. Khatul Madame*

        “should have known better but thought rules didn’t apply to him” – this is basically the definition of an old-school business development person, of any gender.

    2. Alan*

      Yep. I would feel much as the LW. People think I can help them, the only help I can give them is maybe some networking assistance, and honestly, I’m not willing to risk my own reputation and political capital to do that. It is indeed icky, like when an acquaintance wants coffee only to get me into their MLM.

    3. City Staffer*

      Echoing this – also a government worker (not federal, I work for a large city) and the regulations are incredibly strict around communication with any potential contractors. I would have a similar reaction to LW3 in this situation. I think it’s one of those things that’s just different in the public sector!

    4. Happy*

      Yes! I think that “grossed out” is a completely reasonable reaction here! The old boss is federal contractor and should know what the rules are and is putting LW in very uncomfortable situation.

    5. Person from the Resume*

      I wouldn’t feel grossed out, but frustrated.

      I can’t make decisions for the government on what to purchase. Vendors should understand that. LW’s old boss should understand that.

      It feels like a trap to trick me so not a pleasant meeting/lunch. Just really awkward like when you get trapped in a sales discussion for something you don’t plan to purchase.

  10. A. Tiskit & A. Taskit LLC*

    LW1: Since your team members’ contributions seem to be vital aspects of their jobs, could you suggest that they write out what they need to contribute (sounds less formal than “present”)? True, reading a prepared script isn’t ideal, but it’s better than sitting there in silence when you’re supposed to be speaking up!

    And pay close attention to the person who said that they were cowed into silence upon being told that they gave the wrong answer; this is a least a light red flag to me. Sometimes, in the course of any job, you’re going to be told “No!” or told that your suggestion or answer isn’t a usable one. This is NORMAL on ALL jobs! Someone who can’t handle being told that (assuming that the person doing the telling wasn’t jumping up and down, screaming or chasing them with an axe!) can’t handle a job. Intensive coaching COULD help, but that person had better have genius-level skills to make that kind of investment of company time and effort worth it.

    1. A person*

      As a person who hates talking in meetings and is easily cowed into not talking as you put it, I’d like to offer some insight.

      There’s a difference between being told that your idea isn’t workable or whatever in a normal routine work meeting than being told that you’re wrong or whatever when you share in a DEI type meeting where you may be having to make yourself more vulnerable due to the subject matter. I agree it’s good to see what happened there because the person may be over reacting or maybe the meeting lead needs to be talked to about creating a safe meeting environment for those types of discussions. But if it were me and I had that happen in a DEI meeting and told my boss I wasn’t going to talk in those meetings anymore I would’ve meant only meetings where my participation required me to be vulnerable not normal daily work meetings.

      Now, for regular meetings… I get that talking in meetings and being able to be told no or disagreed with in a meeting is an essential part of being an adult most of the time. However, as a soft spoken female in a male dominated industry, I absolutely relate to not wanting to talk in meetings and feeling like giving up because literally everything you do say is met with argument or just flagrant ignoring only to have your input stolen by another participant later in the meeting. It is exhausting. And there are weeks where I do mostly just sit quietly in meetings because I just don’t have it in me. Then the next week my fiesty side will resurface for a bit and I’ll try again, but man… it sucks to feel like you don’t have a voice and to feel unsafe speaking in meetings at work. It’s a red flag to me that there is more than one employee on this team that doesn’t want to talk in meetings. It sounds like it might not be the best environment.

      All that to say… yeah, it’s part of being an adult, but there are definitely times where being that adult is tougher and you shouldn’t necessarily just write people off over it.

      1. Skippy*

        Yes, to all of this.

        I generally don’t have issues talking in meetings, but over the years I’ve been in a few situations where I was continually shut down by my colleagues, so after a while I just stopped talking.

      2. Agoraphobic Ailurophile*

        You said this so well! I’m also a soft-spoken female in a male- dominated field, and it is just exhausting working to be heard.

        1. ScruffyInternHerder*

          Agree. And I can’t even say that the not-as-soft-spoken now version of me is “better”, because she’s freaking BITTER over spending so much energy in attempts to be seen as even competent amongst a bunch of average men.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          As a loud-spoken woman in a male-dominated field, I have never had a problem being heard. It’s just that I have a “tone” problem. It was mentioned in all my performance reviews at ex-job, even if my managers couldn’t provide an example or say how they’d prefer I address things.

          *rolls eyes*

          1. A person*

            Ah yes, the “tone”… even as a soft spoken person I’ve gotten this and I have certainly seen my more bold female colleagues have to fight that battle. It’s also exhausting!

    2. Allonge*

      To be honest it sounds to me like they need to be at the meeting to answer questions about their job/field/projects whatever, on the spot.

      Of course if it’s possible to prepare, do it. But it’s also not unreasonable to expect that depending on what the rest of the discussion is, they can contribute A, B or C about what they are working on.

    3. DJ Abbott*

      DEI is fraught. My experiences trying to be involved in activism were so bad I will never do it again. No one will respond well to sharing their feelings or experiences with DEI and being told they’re wrong.
      Definitely something for LW to explore. To me, it sounds like the leader was tactless and insensitive and maybe not so knowledgeable. Maybe even biased against whatever group LW’s report is in.
      I wouldn’t say anything in a meeting like that either, and wouldn’t go unless I absolutely have to.

      1. Parrot*

        That’s a lot to read into “the answer was something else.” To me, that doesn’t even sound like LW’s report was sharing their own experiences — it sounds like the facilitator asked a question that DID have a right answer.

        1. sb51*

          But even something that does have a “right answer” in a DEI context can be a more sensitive thing to get shut down on; for example, if someone grew up in a very monocultural location and the question is about a culture they’ve never encountered/a form of prejudice that they haven’t seen in action because there was no one of that culture around (which might be because of racism, like redlining/sundown towns etc), they might be ignorant without being ill-intentioned. (I’ve been in some interesting DEI trainings with coworkers with very different backgrounds, and while “what happens in the session stays there”, I think it’s OK to share that, for example, people who only moved to the US recently might not be aware of some of the nuances of anti-Black prejudice in the US, like specific dogwhistle-words or other stereotypes.)

          It might depend on whether they volunteered the answer or the moderator was going around and asked them — if they confidently volunteered something wrong, that’s a little different than being asked and not admitting to not knowing or not realizing they didn’t know. I definitely think a little more feedback should be gotten on the whole scenario; even if the employee WAS completely in the wrong somehow, it’s still relevant to figuring out how to help them grow now.

          1. Allonge*

            Well, it can be more sensitive, and the instructor does need to be aware of this.

            But even if the instuctor was totally off the charts in their reaction, the appropriate response is still not ‘I will never speak in any meeting again’, it’s ‘boss, for you to know, this DEI person reacted out of line to X’.

            1. constant_craving*

              Well, but that’s the thing with having anxiety. It’s a medical condition that can prevent that rational, appropriate response. We can’t be sure whether OP was using the term colloquially or regarding the actual condition, but the level of severity suggests a medical condition.

              1. Observer*

                If staff actually has a medical condition, then they need to request an accommodation AND they need to work with the OP (who sounds like they would do their best to find a reasonable accommodation) to figure out how to manage the important parts of their job.

              2. Courageous cat*

                Well, yeah, your last sentence is pretty much it. Anxiety disorder is a medical condition (ask me how I know). Anxiety just a feeling, and it’s a part of the human condition. We can’t necessarily say everyone with anxiety deserves to be accommodated at all times because it would be impossible and/or unreasonable. Just because they feel anxious and that’s valid, doesn’t mean it’s the right response in a workplace environment.

            2. Observer*

              But even if the instuctor was totally off the charts in their reaction, the appropriate response is still not ‘I will never speak in any meeting again’, it’s ‘boss, for you to know, this DEI person reacted out of line to X’.

              Exactly. This is why the reaction is a red flag for me. The idea that based on one interaction with ONE person, you are now “uncomfortable” with speaking out at any time makes no sense.

              So, yes, it’s worth finding out what actually happened. But that’s a separate issue – staff can’t refuse to offer insights and opinions when that is part of the job.

      2. Alpaca Bag*

        Yes, the leader’s skills make a huge difference. When I said something in a similar type of meeting that was based on an assumption I didn’t even know I was making, the facilitator asked a question that started with “Have you considered…” and, no, I had not considered that. I learned something about myself and made changes. It was a transformative moment, and I thanked the facilitator for taking the risk of pointing it out. @DJ Abbott, I’m sorry your experience was so bad.

      3. Hell in a Handbasket*

        Sure, and it would make sense if they were no longer willing to speak up in DEI meetings, or meetings with that particular facilitator, or whatever. But it seems bizarre to extend that to business meetings where they just have to answer factual questions about the budget.

      4. Goldenrod*

        “DEI is fraught. My experiences trying to be involved in activism were so bad I will never do it again. No one will respond well to sharing their feelings or experiences with DEI and being told they’re wrong.”

        YES, this!!!

    4. another poster*

      If it is something they can prepare ahead of time, then yes writing it out ahead of time is great. Also, I so relate, parts of this remind me of people I manage (specifically budget analysts and other finance staff who aren’t comfortable with speaking up – that’s pretty common where I work).
      It does sound like a lot of the interactions are answering ad hoc questions, all in the moment, so preparing ahead of time may not be possible.
      A few ideas and things we’ve done: is there someone else on the team in a similar role who had to get over it? And speaks up fairly well now? Ask them what helped them. Oftentimes it seems to come with confidence and tenure in the position. Positive feedback in the moment is good. Are there meetings where it is just the budget analysts or finance people and not all the other people? That can feel like a safer place, and you can try and make that more interactive (as much as I hate these – like a roundtable/roll call and have people talk about what they are working on for 2-3 minutes).
      Also, I’m an extreme extrovert and love presentations. I had to change my expectation of staff – the goal is to have them be able to participate in the meeting as required, not to become an excellent public speaker. We’ve given training on public speaking etc, and I’ve been really open that I get nervous about speaking up to, but you work through it. Positive interactions and being open about it have helped.
      The person being told they were wrong and now they dont’ want to speak up? I’d want to know more. If it was normal meeting, then I’d say yeah weird red flag, sometimes you are wrong in your job and it isn’t personal. DEI… that feels dicey and I’d want to know more.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        This may be cliché, but improv classes helped me get comfortable with being put on the spot to respond to something.

        Weirdly, it even helped my public performance anxiety dreams. (It’s opening night for a play where I’m the lead and I can’t remember any lines? That’s fine, I can just improv my way through.)

  11. Cheesesteak in Paradise*


    Just ugh on describing getting an answer wrong at a meeting previously as “trauma.” Seriously overdoing it with psychological terms. Lots of folks don’t like public speaking and have been embarrassed doing it before. That doesn’t make it trauma that needs to be accommodated.

      1. Phony Genius*

        And more flags are raised for me when I read that its two employees (although we don’t know out of how many). Did these two people have a similar experience? It could be a workplace culture problem if there’s a pattern.

    1. Bit o' Brit*

      And some people have sustained continued low-level trauma through social interactions, hence the existence of the social anxiety/phobia diagnosis. Which t is classified as a disability under the UK’s Equality Act (our version of the ADA) and would indeed be subject to official accommodations.

      1. Yes Anastasia*

        Not all anxiety disorders are caused by trauma or result in trauma, and shyness is not the same as an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder is certainly an angle to consider – maybe one or both of these people would benefit from a referral to the company EAP – but whether trauma plays a role is totally unknowable and is really not pertinent here.

      2. Decidedly Me*

        I have anxiety (both social and generalized) that has ranged in severity over time. I’ve also had several incidents in my life that people would agree are traumatic. I would not describe triggered anxiety as trauma (low level or otherwise) and personally don’t know anyone else with anxiety that would.

      3. Pierrot*

        Anxiety is not necessarily a result of trauma and we don’t know if the employees in question have been diagnosed with anything. The word trauma is a strong word to use and unless the reports have opened up about experiencing trauma, I don’t think it’s a manager’s job to necessarily assume that. To be clear, I’m not saying that one can’t be traumatized about how other people have treated them in social contexts, I just would hesitate to impose that lens on someone who might not see it that way.

    2. amoeba*

      I mean, I agree with not using the term lightly, but I understood the LW to mean whatever bad experiences the employees might have previously had to lead to this aversion – not the “meeting incident” by itself?

      1. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

        yeah I dont think the OP is saying the meeting with DEI was traumatic. I took it to mean that the employees may have past traumatic experiences around public speaking

    3. Eevee*

      This gets me too. It feels like an oxymoron. I’ve seen people describe everyday events that happen to distress some people more than you’d expect as “little t trauma” but it just confuses the meaning of the world trauma to the point that it’s useless- now when someone says they’re dealing with trauma, we’re not sure if they were almost killed or if they got stressed out by a call at work. I was hit by a car and almost killed, a “traditional” traumatic event, but I avoid using that word because it is so imprecise at this point. I wish there was another word for these daily life events that happen to distress some people, or a new word for “big T Trauma.”

      1. Bit o' Brit*

        This feels analogous to all those stories of bosses demanding a good enough reason to be out sick or take vacation. If someone is saying they’re struggling with trauma, the salient point is that they’re struggling, not whether the “T” is big enough to justify their struggle to you.

        1. Eevee*

          You’re making a very negative assumption here. My comment is not about whether or not someone’s personal struggles are justified, regardless of setting. It is only about the blurring of the definition of the specific word trauma and how it’s unhelpful for everyone. More nuance is needed when we talk about personal struggles, mental health, and recovery, because these are very specific experiences and it’s really important to be able to communicate precisely, especially during recovery or ongoing therapy. Using “trauma” to describe anything from a breakup to living in Bakhmut right now squishes everything into one same box- the horrific, the unpleasant, surviving a catastrophe. Lack of nuance when we talk about mental health and recovery can also prevent people from getting the right kind of care. I understand the impulse to expand the definition of the word trauma as an indicator that you take others’ personal difficulties seriously, but I strongly disagree that we need to define all unhappy/unpleasant/difficult life experiences as trauma in order for them to be taken seriously.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            What is traumatic to one person might not be traumatic to another. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way that trauma works. While a breakup might be a little painful for you, but you bounce back, for me it might take a decade to get over and it might impact the relationships I have for the rest of my life. In this case, these employees may have trauma. We don’t know, and I don’t understand why we can’t take OPs word for it that they might. Can you accept the possibility that these people were bullied in the past when they spoke or had strong adverse experiences that are coloring their experience today and try to move on from the specific word that was used in the post?

            Trauma, like oppression, is not supposed to be a competition. Just because a person is not living in Ukraine doesn’t mean they haven’t experienced trauma. We don’t know what’s going on in that employee’s life that may have caused them to experience that DEI conversation in that way. I know that I’ve been to enough DEI trainings where I absolutely can understand how a person *could* be traumatized from a bad interaction with a trainer, especially if it is layered on top of previous harmful experiences.

            Minimizing and dismissing this employee’s concerns about public speaking out of hand I think would be a mistake – even if you think the words being used to describe their experience are wrong. And I don’t think a debate about whether the word trauma was misused here is particularly productive or helpful to OP who is trying to figure out how to manage her employees and not really looking for a debate on word choice.

            1. Amy*

              There is a diagnostic DSM-5 definition of trauma and the example of a break up or divorce does not fit it.

            2. MigraineMonth*

              Interestingly, this goes for more extreme events as well. My understanding is that trauma is about the brain’s reaction to an event, rather than the event itself.

              Being threatened with a knife and robbed might result in trauma, but it doesn’t always. The same dangerous car accident might traumatize one passenger but not another.

            3. Georgy Girl*

              “I know that I’ve been to enough DEI trainings where I absolutely can understand how a person *could* be traumatized from a bad interaction with a trainer, especially if it is layered on top of previous harmful experiences.”

              By that rationale, are we genuinely supposed to feel bad for white people who cry at diversity trainings because someone calls them out on their bias/racism?

              1. Fushi*

                I think it’s more referring to how poor DEI trainings sometimes just barrel into subject matter that’s triggering to marginalized people with the erroneous assumption that no one present has actually experienced the issue in question and should be perfectly fine hearing people speak about it as if it’s purely theoretical.

          2. cabbagepants*


            My guess is that people feel the need to justify their negative experiences as “bad enough” to “deserve” whatever they need to get past it. American culture, at least, doesn’t make a lot of allowances for emotional needs, so people feel they have to hyperbolize their experiences to get any support as all.

            1. Aitch Arr*

              “My guess is that people feel the need to justify their negative experiences as “bad enough” to “deserve” whatever they need to get past it. American culture, at least, doesn’t make a lot of allowances for emotional needs, so people feel they have to hyperbolize their experiences to get any support as all.”

              Ain’t that the truth.

            2. Violet Hour*

              Yes. I’ve noticed it in a lot of spaces – you say what you need to say to get the result you want. If the only thing that will get people to warn you before they start doing X is to say “X is a trauma trigger”, even when it’s just something you find deeply annoying, a lot of people will choose to say “X is a trauma trigger” and get the warning rather than say “X annoys me” and not. I didn’t, because it was in no way a trauma trigger and I didn’t feel comfortable using that word, but it certainly would have gotten me much farther.

              I don’t think it’s just Americans, either. Australians do it just as well (I have personal experience of this).

        2. Asenath*

          But if “trauma” becomes meaningless due to the expansion of the situations to which it refers, the person who is struggling has one fewer accurate and therefore useful term to describe their experiences.

          1. Irish Teacher*

            Yeah, while I can’t judge whether the people the LW is writing about have actually experienced trauma or not (as it is different for everybody and I can see somebody who was say severely bullied as a child having trauma related to public speaking if they were mocked and bullied when speaking in front of their class, for example), I do also think there is a concern about trauma simply becoming a word for “something bad happened to me at some point.” I have seen comments online along the lines of “but sure, there is nobody who hasn’t experienced trauma,” at least sometimes with the implication of “so people who have triggers or mental health issues as a result shouldn’t need accommodation” or “if we accommodate people with trauma we’ll have to ban everything and that’s not possible.” When, no, giving a warning that a meeting is going to discuss something like suicide or sexual assault does not mean we will then also have to give warnings before mentioning bikes because some people fell off their bikes or before mentioning teachers since some people had teachers who treated them badly. The latter things could be traumatic for somebody but for most people falling off your bike or being told off is upsetting but not traumatic.

        3. Amy*

          When we start using “trauma” to describe an interaction as routine as someone disagreeing with someone else in a work context, we need to examine what we’re trying to convey by using that term.

      2. Courageous cat*

        “now when someone says they’re dealing with trauma, we’re not sure if they were almost killed or if they got stressed out by a call at work”

        Yes! I hate how we’re (society, the internet, etc) diluting the meaning of so many words that typically carry a lot of gravity as a result of trying (rightfully) to be more inclusive.

    4. PsychNurse*

      Yeah. I work in mental health and am absolutely 100% on board with trauma-informed interactions with people. So many people are walking around with significant trauma, and I am deeply empathetic to that. However, getting an answer wrong in a meeting is not trauma, by anyone’s definition.

      The letter written didn’t say “she was shamed and humiliated by the DEI coach.” She said “the answer was something else.” I call BS on this.

      1. Allonge*

        Yes, for the DEI expert part – based on what we know here this could have been something like:

        DEI expert: In this situation, you have choice A, B or C, which one would you pick?
        Team member: B, because [reasoning]
        DEI expert: True, nevertheless B has the risk that X or Y will happen. Unless there are special circumstances, C is the recommended option
        – while this might be off-putting, it’s something people need to be able to handle.

        Or it could have been something completely unreasonable from the DEI expert / meeting participants of course.

    5. sb51*

      I’m very tired of the overuse and misuse of psych terms in the common vernacular too, but they’ve become super common and I think a lot of people wouldn’t see the difference in these two:
      “I have trauma from speaking up and being told I was wrong in a vulnerable setting” (psych terms)
      “The one time I spoke up I got shot down so hard that I’m not gonna do that again” (no psych terms, but clearly shows the discomfort)

      The former makes me eyeroll if I’m not keeping ahold of my reactions, but a lot of the time they just mean the latter.

      1. Anon Today*

        It feels manipulative to me. Invoking trauma shuts down the discussion and makes it not just uncomfortable to push back, but inappropriate. It forces others to capitulate to what the speaker wants. There is a big difference here between “uncomfortable speaking up” and “PTSD around speaking up”.

        Your examples are great, because it highlights how different the two conversations are. The first version with the psych terms kinda makes the conversation screech to a halt. The second version is very relatable and a good opening spot – the manager could probably relate, empathize, make the employee feel heard, and actually have a productive conversation.

        It’s gotten to the point where I have trouble believing people when they bring up “trauma” or “abuse” because the terms have been so watered down. I have dealt with both, so there’s an extra layer of insult at someone using those terms to make their life problems sound more grand and sympathetic.

        1. sb51*

          Yeah, I bring it up because I’ve overheard people use them interchangeably and when everyone in the conversation uses psych terms casually-ish, it makes ME cringe but they just think it’s a normal conversation. Like someone above saying “little-t trauma” — I think some of it is that they’re seeing it as “this is a very mild form of this psych thing” vs “not related to psych thing at all” and I can understand that approach even if I don’t agree with it in this context.

          Like I’ve had people GO OFF at me for saying I had a mild migraine. (I get bad ones, too, but I also get ones that, if I hit them with some advil right away, are still definitely migraines but I can continue doing stuff and would rather work to distract me from the discomfort (with my monitor brightness turned WAY down etc) than just lie around in pain.) Migraine doesn’t mean any headache over a certain pain level, it’s a specific phenomenon.

          Or for another example: there is a word in the English language that someone used repeatedly in an upsetting and unpleasant context when I was a child, and when I hear that word, I tense up, and I don’t use it. My reaction fits the mildest definition of a psychological trigger; but while my reaction in the moment is unpleasant, I can shrug it off and a few minutes later have forgotten it got brought up. Let’s say for example the word is “yummy” (it isn’t), something common in certain sentences/places (like overly-colloquial restaurant reviews) and if I’m looking at a lot of restaurant reviews I might use a browser plugin that changes the word to “delicious” so that I’m not put off of a fun dining destination just because a reviewer likes the word. Some people would say it’s only a trigger if it ruins your whole day; for me it’s doesn’t but it’s also a completely irrational/unrelated reaction to a normal word, even if a mild one, and the psych language helped me stop feeling bad about the reaction and just confidently install a browser plugin and rid my world of the real word in question.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            I also have mild migraines that last for a really long time (thus my username). My tension headaches are often more painful, though at least those don’t come with light sensitivity.

        2. constant_craving*

          I think it’s important to remember that the OP called it trauma and there’s no indication the employees did so. Per OP, the one who used a label called it anxiety, which is extremely plausible.

        3. Courageous cat*

          This is it. If you invoke trauma/neurodivergence/other similar things, then anyone who gives you any pushback or direction is automatically the problematic person in this dialogue. It derails and shuts down any back and forth whatsoever.

          And I feel the same way – this is what’s so troubling about people throwing around these psych words for the most banal of human emotions (“mild/even moderate anxiety”). The people with genuine anxiety disorders, for instance, are going to have a hard time getting taken seriously over time as a result.

      2. Allonge*

        But in a work setting – and especially as it’s a different meeting! – the reaction is very self-defeating even if it’s phrased in the second way.

        1. Allonge*

          Uh, there was meant to be a first sentence here, sorry. I very much agree the phrasing should be carefully considered, is the point.

      3. Em*

        The place this can become problematic is like the LW from yesterday who, after a medical emergency came back to work with a significantly different body size, which their colleague finds “triggering.” I’m wondering if the inclusion of these psyche terms makes managers or HR scared to act or set expectations. It’s way easier to say “welp I get it, but it’s part of your job so let’s work on it” when someone is just expressing discomfort about a thing, vs. when someone’s telling you they’ve been traumatized by that thing. Makes me glad not to be a manager, as usual!

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Unfortunately, the DARVO playbook can make problems really difficult to sort out. There’s definitely abuse happening, but who is the real offender?

      4. MigraineMonth*

        “Depression” is one I’ve just learned to accept as having multiple definitions, since that ship sailed long ago. “I’m feeling depressed today” is very different from “my clinical depression isn’t being controlled by this medication”. The former is being sad and mopey; the latter looks very different in my case (I just seem unengaged and tired).

    6. Totally Minnie*

      I wouldn’t classify the single incident that LW described as traumatic, but if the employee had pre-existing trauma around being humiliated or belittled by authority figures, for example, it’s possible that getting corrected in a meeting can trigger a trauma response.

      That doesn’t mean LW’s staff should never be required to contribute in meetings, though. It just means that LW and the employee and the HR team should sit down together and figure out a way for them to contribute that would minimize the trigger.

      1. Grammar Penguin*

        I think it means that people with hair-triggers (that is, they have inappropriate emotional reactions to ordinary events due to their own past trauma) have a responsibility to figure out what sort of thing triggers their response and develop appropriate methods of coping. Refusal to do a basic function of one’s job, or expecting others to never disagree with you, isn’t an appropriate coping method.

        FWIW, I’m saying this as someone who’s own mental health disorders have very much effected my ability to get and keep jobs. This is on me to deal with, nobody else.

  12. MP*

    For OP #4, how about “accompanying my partner on a business trip”? It’s the truth and doesn’t reveal anything about moving.

    1. amoeba*

      Yup, I like that one (in the case that the holidays are actually available and she just needs a reason for it not to look weird)

      1. Fulana del Tal*

        The issue that you and others are missing is that the OP probably doesn’t have any PTO accumulated yet and is probably still on probation. They can’t just say their taking days off especially with short notice.

        1. Ginty*

          But the OP doesn’t say that. In fact, they mention not wanting to take them as vacation because it wouldn’t be believable that it’s a fun vacation due to being midweek, which actually implies that they COULD take it as vacation but are concerned about not being believed.

        2. amoeba*

          But, as I said above: it sounds to me like the LW would in general be able to get the days of and is just worried about people not believing it’s for vacation?

          “The dates he’s been offered are all in the next couple weeks and in the middle of the week, so no one would believe it’s a fun vacation. “

          If she doesn’t have any time off to take, then unfortunately for me it would mean she just… cannot go? Or maybe ask for some unpaid leave.

        3. OP4*

          LW here!
          I added some comments below, but yeah it’s more about perception. Technically I don’t have time accrued yet, but my company and team specifically are very understanding. We have a 2 year old in daycare, so there have already been hiccups! And they have offered to be flexible about me taking time. I don’t think they’d hesitate to help me out in the case of either an actual last minute emergency or a future planned vacation. It’s the not-actually-either-of-those I’m worried about here. I feel a little badly abusing the “emergency” out, but if necessary it seems like the best option.

          1. constant_craving*

            I think you can just say a time-sensitive family issue came up. Then you’re not abusing the idea of an emergency but you’re giving enough detail that they know this isn’t a casual request where you don’t mind if they deny it.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      And see, my immediate thought on hearing that would be “Why on god’s green earth do you need to go on your partner’s business trip?” Not that I’d say it out loud, because I have some friends who are seriously codependent on their spouses by comparison to me and I recognize that as usual, I’m the outlier. But the very notion of tagging along on my husband’s work trip weirds me out like whoa, because his work is HIS WORK and nothing to do with me. (Yes, I get that in the LW’s actual scenario their husband’s work trip IS to do with them, but that’s the part they’re trying NOT to let on to their own boss.)

      The exception might be something like “Joe is going to a work conference at Disneyworld and they’ve offered discount airfare and tickets to take family members along for the down time, and I’d love to make a subsidized vacation out of it,” but that’s a pretty elaborate fib if it’s not actually the situation.

      1. MP*

        Yeah, fair! Upon reflection I think I’d go with “urgent family issue that requires me to go out of town midweek”.

      2. Lilas*

        Yeah the point is not to appear cavalier or unreliable when you’re new, and telling them you’re accompanying your spouse on a business trip a couple months into your job will probably give exactly that impression because it’s clearly unnecessary.

  13. Coffee Cup*

    I am so confused about #3; this is such a normal thing people do. Being “grossed out” about business networking or being used as a ‘lead’ (I would see it as being asked to help people who used to be in my situation?) seems so out of norm that I am surprised at how mild the answer is. I mean of course, if she were hitting you up every week for different requests and taking advantage of you that would be a different thing, but as things stand I really think the OP should look at why they are responding this way.

    1. Jessica*

      I would be mad about this bait-and-switch even without the networky aspect. LW made a social engagement with one person, then they tried to add other people to it. That’s a different thing now that LW did not agree to.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Sure, and that’s frustrating, but “grossed out”? This is, “Oh, I really just want to catch up, just the two of us” territory, not “scorch the earth and block you forever” territory.

        1. ecnaseener*

          “Grossed out” also doesn’t mean “scorch the earth and block you forever,” if you’re going to criticize LW can you at least not wildly exaggerate what they said?

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            Then what does it mean in this context? When something “grosses” me out, I avoid it forever if I can.

            This is a business situation. I think “grossed out” is an exaggerated reaction to a fairly innocuous business situation. I would say the same in a social setting. Sometimes you have to roll your eyes, be disappointed, respond coolly and move on.

            1. Naïve Leslie Knope*

              I’m OP3. Maybe we just have different connotations for that phrase. I meant it in a “oh, this is icky, she’s using me now that I have connections.” The conversation has been over LinkedIn messages, so thankfully I have had the time to roll my eyes and mutter “ugh, gross” before responding. I’ll use Alison’s language and ask that it just be the two of us so we can catch up without talking business. If she declines, then I have my answer about her motives.

              1. Riot Grrrl*

                I guess personally I’m somewhat confused by the word “using”. What would a business networking coffee look like that would not be considered “using”? In my industry it would be considered “working your contacts” and a totally normal way of doing business.

                1. MurpMaureep*

                  It wasn’t framed as a networking/business meeting to start. It was phrased as “let’s catch up” and then the former director invited her employees along after the fact. Plus, because of specific regulations with OP’s work it’s really not appropriate for her to take those meetings and it sounds like the director should know this.

                  Imagine if a former coworker invited you for coffee purely as a social engagement and then started pressing you for a job or pitching a business proposal. That could definitely feel “gross”.

                2. Somehow_I_Manage*

                  This is to *MurpMaureep*

                  While OP understandably didn’t see it as a networking/business meeting, if the conversation went through LinkedIn, I think it’s reasonable to assume that the Director intended for it to be related to professional networking and business. Presumably, the Director has OP’s personal phone number and could have called or texted. But they made a written request on a business networking platform.

                  Alarm bells would ring a little bit however if they used LinkedIn specifically to sidestep reaching out through OPs government email. But I’m assuming they did not have that contact information.

                3. Grammar Penguin*

                  If your contact would be putting their own career at risk just by having the meeting, is that a totally normal thing in your business?

            2. Office Lobster DJ*

              At minimum, it was a bait and switch,but I also assume there’s a chance the person understands OP has some sort of ethical obligations and was trying to tapdance around them.

              I get using the term “grossed out” in the way OP describes using it. I read it as “Ew, that behavior is kind of shady, especially from someone I like and respect” not necessarily “This person is totally disgusting and I will have nothing to do with them from this day forth.”

            3. Lilas*

              It means it feels smarmy. People can be disappointed by what someone does without dropping them from their lives.

    2. Henrietta Gondorf*

      I cannot overstate how different norms are for federal employees in this regard and how strict the rules regarding gifts from contractors are. For example, the gift rules allow you to accept $20 worth of stuff from a contractor per occasion, not to exceed $50 in a year. Yes, that means she could accept a coffee but likely not lunch.

      I think grossed out is a strong term, but the visceral “no, absolutely not” reaction doesn’t strike me as odd or unusual in context.

      1. Em*

        This is what I thought, too. This is exactly one of the scenarios we go over in our ethics training– when you can accept something from a contractor and how much you can accept, as well as the optics of accepting a favor like lunch, etc. And it’s made very clear to us that meals and coffees count! When i read this I too had a YIKES DANGER DANGER initial reaction.

        1. Emi (not a bear expert)*

          Yeah this does not feel like someone who’s going to expect OP’s need to avoid every appearance of impropriety.

          1. Naïve Leslie Knope*

            “Yeah this does not feel like someone who’s going to [respect] OP’s need to avoid every appearance of impropriety.” This is EXACTLY what my husband said, and added “Do you think she doesn’t know the rules on engaging with feds? She does and is hoping you don’t.”

            1. Happy*

              I agree with your husband! I would be really concerned and feel really disrespected if I were in your shoes.

              I’m sorry you’re in this position.

      2. Naïve Leslie Knope*

        I’m OP3. Thank you, Henrietta Gondorf! Yes, the ethics training was THOROUGH at my agency, can you tell? My husband (also a Fed) had a situation six months ago that set off his alarm bells hard. I think coming from contracting to the government, I have also seen how weaselly some things can be in terms of getting business leads, like contractor parties inviting recently retired Feds and just pouring alcohol down their throats to get them to share a budget or staffing levels. This is obviously not that, it’s just coffee, but contracting is cut-throat and it makes me nervous that I’m a mark.

      3. Alan*

        Yes! I have had vendors and others get offended when I tell them I’m bound by ethics rules. If you’re upset that you can’t give me a gift, that tells me that you expected to get something from that gift. I also would find this situation icky.

        1. Nina*

          Not a fed but hope to be someday – I’m so interested by this! If LW’s former boss and LW were actually friends (rather than business contacts or whatever – I’m still working on the distinction there) then does the fact that LW works for the government and Boss for a contractor mean that Boss can’t give their personal friend LW, say, a personal birthday gift? or is it just in their respective capacities as federal and private employees?

      4. L*

        I had the same reaction as the other person thinking, uh, this is totally normal why would this possibly feel “gross”? So I think you’re right, the different rules in government vs. the private sector probably skew our reactions to this kind of thing.

        1. Lilas*

          Well the gross part is framing it as personal and then switching to networking after she’d agreed. That’s a bit gross/smarmy feeling even outside of gov’t.

    3. Catherine*

      I think the “grossed out” may actually be the LW trying to deal with the surprise of thinking they were meeting their old boss on a friendly level as opposed to a “let’s make a deal” level. I’d be thrown by that too.

      1. MsM*

        Yeah, if I were OP, I’d be openly questioning why former boss is bringing two total strangers along to a “catch up.” Frame the purpose of the meeting honestly so people can accurately assess whether or not it’s something they want to do.

      2. Hanani*

        Agreed. The reaction may be overly strong, but OP3 is reacting to the fact that the other person appeared to be asking for a social meeting while secretly was asking for a business meeting. It can make you feel like a mark instead of a friend.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I don’t think OP can be sure boss is trying to get business leads– she might be trying to hire OP back.

      1. Naïve Leslie Knope*

        I’m OP3. This is almost certainly not what is happening here, and I wouldn’t give up a government job / pension to go back to contracting, but maybe that’s where Director’s head is.

    5. MurpMaureep*

      As someone who is very, very turned off by anything with the whiff of a sales pitch and who also doesn’t have a ton of close friends, I get the phrasing and the reaction. I’ve been in situations where I thought someone was genuinely interested in friendship only to find out they had an angle (MLM scheme, asking for a job, etc.). That moment of realization can feel really, really bad. A combination of upset and disappointment at being used and anger at oneself for feeling naive and excited about a human connection. I agree is sounds a bit strong to say “grossed out”, but when I read it, I definitely empathized.

      1. Naïve Leslie Knope*

        I’m OP3. Thank you, MurpMaureep and others below for validating. It just sucks and I will use Alison’s suggestion to push back and try to meet with her one-on-one to maintain the relationship.

    6. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

      Having a friendly social catch-up with an acquaintance is also a very normal thing people do. Thinking you’re going for that and having it sprung on you that they want to use you for business reasons would feel pretty gross to me.

    7. Samwise*

      OP 3 clearly thought it was a Let’s Be Friends! encounter, but instead it’s a You’re a Business Lead and I;m Going to Work You meeting.

      OP says they feel *sad* and gross. I would too, if I thought someone, you know, *liked* me and wanted to get together, and then it turns out that, well, maybe they like me ok but they really just care about using me/my connections.

      1. Naïve Leslie Knope*

        Exactly. She was a great director to me and I enjoyed working for her. I probably thought the relationship was more than it was, and I’m disappointed that I’m valuable now that I have connections.

        1. Somehow_I_Manage*

          I think it can be both. But, as far as we know your relationship with her has always been a business relationship first. As an outsider, maybe that’s why her request is less surprising. It’s part of her job to facilitate networking with the potential clients they serve, and it would be strange to exclude you from that process.

          To some extent, it would actually be a much more difficult situation if she invited you over to a Super Bowl party! This is black and white- no room for confusion, allowing you to properly handle it within the guidelines.

          1. Pierrot*

            The context of the federal government makes this really different. There are rules and laws governing government contracts. A director who works in that realm should be aware of that, I would think. It also is kind of crappy and tactless to arrange getting coffee under the pretense that it would be the two of them and then springing these other people, who are strangers, on the LW.

    8. Naïve Leslie Knope*

      Hi. I’m OP3. It feels bad for so many reasons. I thought we actually got along well and she would want to see me again. Plus, as someone said below, the initial framing was “let’s catch up,” and only when I agreed to a date/time, she said “great, I’m bringing business analysts.” Plus, I’m worried about getting in trouble with my agency; if I reveal anything about my agency and she uses it in a business proposal, that would be bad. Firms have capture managers who are supposed to do the legwork of figuring out what an agency is looking for. I’m sure back-channel conversations happen all the time, but it seems unethical to me. I liked Alison’s suggestion of just pushing back and reframing it 100% as former colleagues getting together.

      1. MurpMaureep*

        I just wanted to say 1) I love your user name and 2) I get exactly where you are coming from.

        For people who haven’t had these kinds of experiences, or are used to being approached as contacts first, feeling “gross” might not compute. But for those of us who have had that kind of bait and switch pulled, it’s not fun. And this clearly was a bait and switch!

        You’d be well within your rights to plead confusion and throw in a little bit of shaming, along the lines of “I must have misunderstood since you didn’t mention this was a business meeting. Of course it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to meet under those circumstances since I don’t speak for my agency and that’s a clear violation of our policy. Let me know if you ever just want to catch up one on one”.

        1. Naïve Leslie Knope*

          “I must have misunderstood since you didn’t mention this was a business meeting. Of course it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to meet under those circumstances since I don’t speak for my agency and that’s a clear violation of our policy. Let me know if you ever just want to catch up one on one.”

          Nailed it, nailed it, nailed it! I’m saving this in case I have to use it.

      2. hellohello*

        I think there are two sides to the issue here that might be helpful to separate out. On the one side, I’m not a government employee, but sounds like this sort of meeting falls much more in the “absolutely not allowed” side of things than it would for a non-government employee. On that end of things, your boss absolutely should know the norms of your industry and you’re right to be off-put by the meeting.

        On the other side of things, if someone you used to work with reaches out through LinkedIn and asks to meet up, I think you’ve got to accept that there’s a decent chance it will be more about networking than about socializing. That’s where the “grossed out” thing starts to feel a bit like an over-reaction to me. I know you like your boss and were hoping this would be a purely social meeting, but unless you already had a relationship outside work it just doesn’t seem that strange to me for former coworkers to reach out in the hopes of doing work-related networking.

    9. Just Another Fed*

      As many people have said, this is not a normal thing for government employees. Accepting this kind of meeting is the kind of thing that gets government employees fired, and there are not many things that can get government employees fired. If I had even an inkling that someone thought talking to me could be used to build a connection that might one day result in a contract with my agency, I would be horrified.

      1. Pierrot*

        Exactly, and it seems like the LW’s last manager would know this too if she works in the government contracting world.

    10. Happy*

      It is really not a normal thing that people do in government contracts. The ethics rules are very stringent and everyone involved has training in them, so it’s pretty crappy for a former boss to put LW in that position.

    11. fhqwhgads*

      I think the reason it’s not normal is the gov aspect of it, and the person doing the asking being experienced enough to know there are tons of regs against what she’s asking. The context matters.

  14. highelec*

    I’m entertained by the thought of an emboldened LR#2 showing up to her coworkering space in high-waisted patterned leggings paired with a linty crop top sweater and baseball cap.

    1. amoeba*

      I mean, the coworking spaces around here really tend to be more on the hipster side, so I can totally see that looking normal there…

      1. BatManDan*

        I wouldn’t give it a second look at the co-working space that I’m in. (I show up every day in a suit and tie. But, I’ve seen it all there. I also keep jeans and a polo-style shirt in my space, in case I want to go for a walk in the park next door.)

    2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      For what it’s worth I used to work (as staff) at a high-end coworking space of the sort that prided itself on connecting its members with their next venture capital funders, etc etc, where it was not at all unusual to see someone in a suit, and I don’t think any of the outfits the LW described would raise significant eyebrows.

      If she starts getting glared at randomly when she’s wearing one of the “iffy” outfits, then maybe reevaluate, but my experience is that even pretty ritzy coworking spaces don’t really police dress code at all. You’re just there doing your work; unless what you’re wearing is outright risque, it’s not seen as really affecting what anyone else does. And if someone DID have an issue with what she was wearing, I would hope that the staff would quietly pull her aside for an “FYI, the crop top is fine, but those leggings are a bit see-through and it’s not really setting the tone we aim for in the space” or whatever.

      1. LW #2*

        THANK YOU! This is the exact answer I was looking for — I wasn’t sure if it was a faux pas. I wasn’t clear that people there sometimes look quite nice (although other days it’s more engineery) and I would like to dress in my “no one will see me” clothes every now and then

        1. lilsheba*

          Where what you want. What clothes you have one DOES NOT MATTER. It doesn’t affect the work. Be comfortable.

          1. Temperance*

            That’s super not true. Showing up to work in a crop top and leggings with no bra when others are bringing in clients might actually be a violation of the coworking space agreement.

            1. hellohello*

              If the coworking space has a specific dress code then yes, the LW should follow it. But beyond that, anyone bringing clients into a shared coworking space has to know that they don’t have complete control over what those clients see, so I’m not sure why that should be LW’s concern.

        2. hellohello*

          The coworking spaces I’ve been at in the past were in cities pretty well known for a more relaxed approach to work wear, so take this with that grain of salt, but I think barring a dress code for the space and as long as you’re not actively flashing anyone, there’s not a lot you outright shouldn’t wear to a coworking space. The only question is if you care about how people there view you, and what sort of vibe you want to give off to them. I have friends who freelance and work in coworking spaces, and so there’s always a chance someone else in the space could be their next client, and they dress pretty professionally because of that. If you’re not interested in using the space for networking purposes, or if you do the kind of work where a more casual appearance is the norm, then that matters way less.

  15. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP4 (flying out for interview) Can your husband go alone for the interview and you both go again a bit later if it seems to be still a possibility (the job isn’t guaranteed from the interview, I suppose!). Perhaps over a weekend so it can be phrased as a weekend trip out of town and then it will be true. Surely to move cross country it will end up needing more than one trip anyway.

    1. Seashell*

      Yeah, I don’t understand why the husband can’t check it out first and see how he feels, and then LW can go on their own on a weekend if the husband likes it. Unless the interviewing company is covering the LW’s airfare only on that day, it’s not going to make a huge difference.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      Because if they move they are going to live there as a couple and want to examine the area as a couple? I think it would be weird just to go alone for a weekend to a new area just to look around.

      1. Loulou*

        Why would that be weird? The whole reason OP wrote in is that there are some obstacles to them traveling as a couple, so OP going alone seems like an obvious solution…

      2. Jenna Webster*

        I agree that the husband should go by himself this time, and then, if things move ahead, they should plan a weekend trip for the two of them to go together.

    3. Shandra*

      Agree. Either OP 4’s husband or the company, might decide after the first interview that the job isn’t right for him.

    4. Grith*

      Yeah, this seemed like an obvious solution to me when reading the question too. Perhaps even tie it in to the interview – I know you said midweek only, but if it’s possible to have the interview on a Thursday, let him fly out initially, do the interview and then stick around for a day and then fly out to join him Friday night and spend the weekend there.

      Or just generally go again a week or two later, or if there’s a second interview, at which point you’ll also have a bit more credibility in terms of taking time off. This is a lot of fuss and worry about something that a) might not go anywhere, b) might be a long drawn-out process and c) wouldn’t need to happen RIGHT NOW even if both a and b weren’t true.

      1. turquoisecow*

        That was my thought. Husband goes on Wednesday, has the interview, hangs out on Thursday. Friday, OP joins him and they spend the weekend there.

        I’m not clear if OP is concerned about taking time off because she’s new or just because it’s in the middle of the week and she doesn’t know how to take time in the middle of a week. I used to take random Wednesdays as days off (great time to get various errands accomplished, visit the DMV, etc) and no one cared, so I don’t think that would be an issue unless she’s at a place where the reasons for time off are scrutinized closely. But if that is the concern then making it a long weekend seems to be the answer (unless maybe the husband can’t get the extra time?)

        If it’s about being new and not having time accumulated/not wanting to use time this soon, then I agree maybe skip it. It doesn’t sound like either of them is really psyched about this new city and it doesn’t sound like the husband is a shoe-in for the job, so is it worth it for her to spend capital on this so early into her employment and then he doesn’t get the job? I would say no.

      2. SpaceySteph*

        I agree. Husband is being head-hunted. Doesn’t he have standing to say “that won’t work for my spouse’s schedule, can we do the interview on Thursday and she can join me for the weekend?”

    5. amoeba*

      Yup, that would be my option in case it’s not possible to go without a lot of hassle/lying. I mean, if the LW actually has the time off, I see no problem phrasing the request as “accompanying my husband on a business trip”, “some stuff I need to take care of across the country”, “family event” or whatever.
      If she’d actually need to lie and frame it as an emergency, just – don’t go, go over a weekend instead. (And yes, would probably take husband again in that case!)

      If both of these aren’t feasible (financial reasons or whatever…) – well, in case the husband is actually interested, maybe there will be a second interview/another trip over before he needs to decide? She could join then once she has more PTO…

  16. Jessica*

    LW4, the “what if you see someone you know at the airport” people have a good point, but otherwise, how about a scheduled medical procedure? That’s totally a thing.
    Also, if you can’t be sick and take a sick day without being expected to work through it, your job sucks and I hope you get to leave it soon. Are you sure about this expectation, though? And what happens if you push back? I know you’re new and probably don’t feel like you have much capital, but this can also be a good time to just go in projecting an “of course it goes without saying that I won’t be doing this completely unreasonable thing” vibe. In all fairness, I know there ARE times when you’re sick enough to stay home but plenty well enough to work, but that shouldn’t be a default that you have to justify your way out of.

    1. ecnaseener*

      The expectation to work from home might be because they have no PTO yet. That’s not uncommon, for PTO access to start at 3 months.

    2. OP4*

      LW here!
      I do think there’s a larger cultural issue (in the US anyway) that the dark side of a greater use of WFH is that people take fewer true sick/vacation days.
      But what I meant here is more that if I was so sick I couldn’t work at all, my team would be genuinely concerned. We are hybrid, 2 scheduled days WFH. So if someone is mildly ill, they usually say something like “I have the sniffles so I’m just going to make today a WFH day”.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Oh in that case, I agree with Jessica that that’s not great, culturally. You should be able to say “I’m sick enough that I’m going to take the day off to rest” without people being worried it’s something serious.

  17. Pocket Mouse*

    LW #4- I’ll share the same wording I gave to someone who needed to travel for a much more personal (non-emergency) purpose during a key busy time at work: “There’s a family situation and I need to travel to provide support in-person.” If pressed about the reason, “Oh, it’s my family member’s situation so it’s not mine to share details about, but everything’s going to be fine- it’s just something I really need to be there in person for.” (Commenter ‘Uncle’, if you’re out there, I’d love an update in Friday’s open thread!)

    I agree with a commenter above that if you can take an extra day out of town and be in the prospective location over the weekend, that would benefit your family. In that case, your husband would request the furthest days out and you would talk to your boss about the possibility of remote work for part of the stretch (like if the travel and interview activities were Tuesday through Thursday and you’re staying into the weekend, you might be able to work part of Thursday, depending on the time difference, and on Friday).

    1. Pocket Mouse*

      Forgot to include that with this script, you’d also acknowledge the bad timing! And in your case, you can say (if true) that you don’t expect to have to travel again for the same purpose.

    2. Another freelancer*

      Love this reply! It conveys the urgency without going into the details. It’s also true. Ops spouse possibly getting out of a bad job is a family situation and op does need to travel for support to see if this is the right move literally for the family.

    3. Nocturna*

      This is similar to what I was going to suggest: “I had an unexpected family obligation come up, and I’ll need [time off] to handle it.”

      Truthful, explains why it’s last minute, but doesn’t get into details the employer doesn’t know.

  18. Turingtested*

    LW 1, I’ve worked places with absolutely terrible meeting culture. For example, anyone who’s not director level gets completely picked apart any time they speak; one person has to respond to everything everyone says whether they’re adding value or not; etc.

    Is there a chance they don’t want to speak up because it’s demoralizing to do so?

    1. PsychNurse*

      the OP didn’t indicate anything of the sort. And the “trauma” of the DEI meeting was that “the answer was something else.” OP didn’t say the employee was shamed, belittled, laughed at when she got the answer wrong. Participating like a grown-up in meetings is a totally reasonable expectation. We can’t just invent a situation where the meetings are the problem!

      1. I should really pick a name*

        I believe that “the trauma they feel around speaking at meetings” and the DEI meeting were two separate thoughts. It doesn’t seem like the DEI meeting incident is being described as trauma.

  19. Seahorse*

    #1 – I literally started therapy over speaking in meetings because I hate it. I have a hard time gauging when I should or shouldn’t talk, how honest to be, or if my ideas are just terrible. It’s a necessary part of my job though, so I had to get better at it. No accomodation would have fixed it; I had to do that work. I think it’s okay to express that they need to contribute more, one way or another.

    However, sometimes I stay quiet for reasons outside of shyness or social anxiety. It’s worth seeing if some other factor is potentially causing their silence. Here are some real examples I’d probably never admit to a boss:

    – The meeting is dragging on forever without achieving anything, and I don’t want to make it worse by talking just to talk.

    – A higher up has a pattern of attacking any idea that isn’t theirs.

    – I genuinely have no opinion or insight, either due to a lack of knowledge / experience, or because someone else already said what I was thinking. All I add is, “Yes, I agree.”

    – I know a pair of dramatic coworkers will disagree just to be contrary, see a delightful opportunity to practice their high school debate skills, and that my half-formed idea is not worth the time and energy to defend.

    – This is the latest in a long string of Next Big Things and will almost certainly be forgotten in a month. Why bother investing?

    – The potential consequence for saying the wrong thing is far higher than the one for irritating a manager by staying quiet.

    1. PsychNurse*

      This is helpful info! Also, good for you for working on your issue. (I used to have claustrophobia that kept me off planes but I have successfully worked through that, so I understand how hard it can be.). Would be great if the employee would also view this as a problem to be solved, rather than deciding she will just never open her mouth again.

    2. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      I feel much like you Seahorse, but I’ve learn to present over the years. Teams makes this way easier that the old way of having to actually stand up with the clicker!

      But that said some investigation into the WHY might be helpful. I once had a boss who elicited brainstorming ideas only to call them idiotic if you spoke up to contribute. Traumatizing to say the least!

      I also get extremely flustered by “derailers” who jump ahead and interrupt before you’ve cover the thing they’re interrupting over. But there are strategies to cope with this that can be learned and practiced.

      1. Seahorse*

        At this point, I consider myself an adequate public speaker, and I’m quite proud of that. It took a lot of work to get there, but I did that work. In another ten years of practice, maybe I’ll reach the level of pretty good public speaker.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      I’ve gotten shamed enough after meetings with people outside of my office (example: being too enthusiastic in a meeting with the new boss of the office, nitpicked as to how to introduce myself) that I don’t speak in meetings either.

      “The potential consequence for saying the wrong thing is far higher than the one for irritating a manager by staying quiet.”

      Yes, THIS. They complain when I don’t speak either, but they complain SO MUCH MORE if I say the “wrong” thing, which I somehow always do.

      I can’t speak for OP’s employee, but I would bet that whatever happened in the DEI meeting (and that’s a fraught topic anyway) triggered some other previous issues they had and sent them down the shame spiral in their heads.

      1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

        It’s hard when you’re naturally shy, introverted or have social anxiety and people do that. It makes you inclined not to share. But I’ve learned to give care a whole lot less what people think!
        Unfortunately the workplace is full of trivial people making trivial issues in their own mind – usually spurred by their own insecurities or jealousy.

    4. GreenDoor*

      Here are some things OP can do to help reluctant speakers:
      – Tell team members in advance specific items you want them to speak on. Drill it down if you can. Sometimes having time to write down notes or rehearse one’s lines can help!
      – Proactively draw out the reluctant speakers. “We haven’t heard from Jane on this…what are your thoughts?” “Well, the analysts have shared their ideas. I’m curious what the accountants are seeing on their end. Jane, could you start us out?”
      – Make sure the steamrollers aren’t taking over. “Last week, the analysts shared their ideas. This week, I’d like the specialists to speak from their perspective.” (i.e. Do what you can to establish a culture where all perspectives are heard).
      – And on that, any chance your reluctant speakers are afraid to speak because they are in a minority group? Not just racial. But even being the one or two men on a team of mostly women or the lone secretary who doesn’t think a work group of specialists would care what she thinks can cause reluctance.
      – Do a post mortem after the meeting. Praise the aspects went well and give coaching on the aspects that didn’t.

  20. bamcheeks*

    LW4, I think I would tell your boss a family member needs some help out of town in the next couple of weeks, and ask whether you should take that as paid or unpaid time. I’d hope that they were more likely to resolve that as, “relative having a scheduled operation and needing some help” or “grandparent moving into a retirement home” rather than “job interview”, but it’s close enough to the truth not to feel like a lie or to worry about getting “found out” at a later stage. But also, present it as a confirmed and unchangeable thing and ask how they want you to deal with it rather than ask permission.

      1. Pocket Mouse*

        I like this, but there’s almost certainly lying involved if there are any follow-up questions. “A family member needs help” doesn’t imply the reasons are or could be very private the way “there’s a family situation” (as I suggested above) does. The examples you gave are case in point: the boss would think something’s strangely off if you obscure the exact reason after implying it’s on the level of ‘my grandfather is moving’—the reason the grandfather is moving might be private but the fact that he’s moving is not, and it would be a lie to say you’re helping your grandfather move.

    1. Be kind, rewind*

      Agree with this approach. It’s honest enough and addresses the fact that there may not be enough PTO available.

    2. londonedit*

      I agree, I also think this is probably the most elegant solution. Of course the boss could still say no, but at least there’s no lying or fudging involved.

    3. H3llifIknow*

      Ugh why tie themselves up in knots when they can just… not go? There is no truly compelling reason to accompany a spouse to a JOB interview. It comes across to me as weirdly needy or codependent … or something.

      1. Dahlia*

        To a cross-country job interview, to decide if they want to uproot their entire family and live there. It’s not needy or codependent.

  21. BatManDan*

    #1: sounds like the OP and the DEI expert could both use some help in creating psychological safety in their team and team meetings. (Very surprised that the DEI expert isn’t a pro at this.) I’ve learned a lot from an org that has figured out how to take the collected wisdom of bringing people together well (which, until recently, had pretty much been “trapped” in textbooks) in the world of business and non-profits. They are called the Xchange Approach.

    1. Emi (not a bear expert)*

      I am not surprised, or at least, I’m not surprised that a non-expert is out there running DEI programs. I’ve been involved in DEI activities where people were asked to disclose childhood trauma on the first day, and where we were asked to go around with a literal bingo card checking off the identities and experiences of other people in the room.

    2. Olivia*

      I’ve seen a lot of people get defensive when it comes to DEI-related conversations, so I’m more inclined to think that the employee and the OP are overreacting on that one. When I brought up an instance of racial profiling at my work, I ended up getting a big Talk about it from my grandboss because apparently some people were scandalized by the notion that racism could happen at our organization.

      Even the details we were given about this part of it sound suspect: they were once told their answer was wrong, so now they’re like, “Fine, then I just won’t say anything”. To me that sounds way more like a defensive privileged person than an issue with the DEI person.

      Either way, labeling that as trauma is just a big nope.

      1. neeko*

        Exactly. As someone who has coordinated and participated in a lot of DEI programming, I’m more inclined to believe that the employee overreacted to the uncomfortable pushing back that happens in those kinds of conversations.

    3. Lady_Lessa*

      I see the situation as the LW’s employee as sharing something personally emotional and because of differences between the DEI facilitator and them being told, “Your interpretation of what happened to you is WRONG”.

      Example, someone who moved from the Southern US to another part of the country explaining about there is prejudice against Southerners, because they experienced it. And someone from a different part of the country, saying, “It doesn’t happen.”

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Example, someone who moved from the Southern US to another part of the country explaining about there is prejudice against Southerners, because they experienced it. And someone from a different part of the country, saying, “It doesn’t happen.”

        I’ve experienced that on another axis (I’m not from the American South) in similar settings. I personally wouldn’t use the word trauma, but if you never wanted to hear me speak again, there are few more effective ways to achieve that goal.

      2. Observer*

        I see the situation as the LW’s employee as sharing something personally emotional and because of differences between the DEI facilitator and them being told, “Your interpretation of what happened to you is WRONG”.

        So? Maybe the DEI consultant is a total idiot and they actually told someone that their description of their experience is wrong and what happened to them was actually something else. It’s not likely, but sure it’s possible. But that still doesn’t come close to explaining why the staff person thinks that this is a good reason to now refuse to share their expertise in other situations.

    4. CTT*

      I read the part about the DEI incident and immediately “oh, wonder if it was the same awful instructor we had last year.” We were talking through hypotheticals in small groups, and when we came back to the main group, someone shared their answer, and the leader borderline chewed her out because the answer was incorrect. The annoying part about it was that the apparently correct way to handle the situation was not a method that was previously discussed with us and contradicted a lot of the de-escalation strategies they had taught us.

      1. Caffeinated in California*

        That facilitator/leader was bad at their job. Even if they are objectively wrong, which doesn’t sound like the case, the facilitator/leader should start by asking them why they gave that answer, then lead in to an alternative or “better” way to handle it.

        I’m sorry you had that bad experience.

    5. Observer*

      sounds like the OP and the DEI expert could both use some help in creating psychological safety in their team and team meetings.

      Maybe. On the other hand, refusing to speak up in meetings because you are “not comfortable sharing insight or opinions” because someone told you that the answer to a question was different than the one you gave sounds like someone may be seriously over-reacting. Which would be an issue no matter how good the DEI person is.

  22. I should really pick a name*

    Separate from dealing with these two employees, I think it would be worth it to take a look at your hiring process.

    How did you end up with two employees who aren’t comfortable with public speaking in a role that involves public speaking?
    Ensure that this is part of the description in job postings, and talk about it in interviews.

    1. Rosacoletti*

      I was going to comment the exact same thing. Presumably they were able to speak for themselves in the interview process.

    2. Clisby*

      It doesn’t sound like these employees’ jobs entail public speaking. Talking to the people you work with is not public speaking.

  23. Llama Llama*

    4 -A good migraine really puts me out and when my extremely hard working coworkers say they have one, they log off.

  24. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    #1 I don’t LIKE presenting in meetings either. But it’s one of those skills most professionals simply have to learn to do. And you’re not asking for public presentations to the entire company here, but more like team meetings that directly pertain to their work—something they ought to be more comfortable conveying verbally. IDK – if this is the entire team, some sort of workplace communication training seems needed.
    Also, it helps tremendously to get them comfortable in smaller team calls initially, where they’ll feel they have a supportive environment sans interruptors and derailers.

  25. Christmas Cookies*

    I may be the minority here, but I would say for LW #4 it’s an irresponsible decision to go on this 3 day midweek trip.

    Have your husband go, do the other review, and scope the area out. FaceTime as needed. Make a return trip if/as needed when you can give your employer a bit more notice or have it over a long weekend.

    There is no real reason that you have to go with him on the interview trip to get a sense of the location.

    My calculus changes a bit if you are in a “job” vs “career” type role, but what you are planning to do is unprofessional and can be avoided. If it were your own cross country interview, obviously it couldn’t be avoided.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Gee, I would hardly describe a trip where they are trying to improve their lives as “irresponsible” or “unprofessional”. This is an incredibly ungenerous take.

      1. Dinwar*

        Agreed. Life happens, even to new hires. A company that can’t understand that is likely not a good one to work for.

        1. Tuesday*

          Well, in this case OP is taking an unnecessary trip that will potentially lead to her leaving the job! Not that her employer knows that, but this is different than having a family emergency or something. The company doesn’t have to be thrilled about this. I tend to agree that taking this much time off so soon for a non-essential reason (OP can check the place out another time, it doesn’t HAVE to be with her husband on this trip) is unprofessional.

          1. Dinwar*

            Whether it’s unnecessary or not is unclear. We know nothing of the LW’s domestic situation–it could be that they are a primary caregiver, or that their spouse is THEIR primary caregiver. I mean, I assume they’d say so in the letter but them not saying it isn’t proof that its not true (there are many, many reasons someone may be reluctant to discuss such a situation). There’s also the fact that moving doesn’t just involve the partner that’s getting the job. It can be worth turning down a good job offer if the situation isn’t tolerable to one’s spouse. Life is all about trade-offs, and it’s worth knowing whether this is one you’re willing to make or not.

            Again, I feel that if a company is going to view “Life outside work happens” as unprofessional I would take that as a sign to leave the company regardless. I would hate to work for a company that had such views, and I think that if you thought this through you would as well. Most people in this commentariat take the view that workers should work to live, not live to work, and this is part of that.

            I also think you’re not fully considering the information available to the company. You’re saying, in essence, “If the company knew as many details as are in this letter they should consider it unprofessional.” That’s wrong, but ignoring that, the company DOESN’T have that information, and SHOULDN’T have that information. The only information the company needs is that the worker needs time off for a thing with their family. THAT is what you’re saying is unprofessional. Having a family event. Sorry, but no.

            To be clear, I’m not saying the LW needs to do this. It’s up to them; all anyone else can do is provide pros and cons. “My boss thinks having a family outside of work” sounds like a pretty freaking big con to staying put!

            1. Tuesday*

              I’m not saying that the company would think LW is unprofessional for having a family emergency. I’m saying that the actual situation is not very professional, the situation being taking time off in the middle of the week at a new job for something that is not actually an emergency going off the details in the letter and not speculation about whether LW is a primary caregiver for her husband.

            2. Bella*

              I mean if you’re going to make up scenarios where she HAS to go on the trip have at it but it sounds pretty far fetched.

              1. Dinwar*

                I have an autistic child, another with severe anxiety issues (and and a brain issue), multiple family members with autoimmune diseases that render them nonfunctional for long periods of time, and relatives with a host of other medical issues that make “travel alone” a bad idea. Maybe in your life such conditions are far-fetched; in mine they’re standard procedure.

                But you’re doing the typical internet-rules-lawyer thing, arguing against specific examples rather than addressing the issue. The issue isn’t any specific example give; the issue is that there may in fact be a valid reason for the spouses to travel together, they may not be comfortable discussing these with their employer (seriously, how many comments do we see DAILY that say, in essence, “Don’t tell your job more than the absolute bare minimum”?).

                And remember context. This is as a counter to the argument “You should never go on a trip mid-week early in your job because it’s unprofessional.” This isn’t some random comment; it’s specifically addressing an argument being made.

                Looking at the rhetoric, I made a serious error–Generic Name avoided. I tried to provide counter-arguments when in fact the person I was arguing against gave no arguments. Declaring something unprofessional isn’t an argument, it’s a classification (a conclusion). The reasons for that classification are vague in the extreme, to the point where they honestly could be dismissed as wholly unsupported and therefore epistemically null. They are, technically speaking, mere assertion, relying on the power dynamic between boss and employee to cause the employee to fill in their own reasons. That’s bad critical thinking; the person making the argument always is obliged to defend it.

                1. Bella*

                  Well the OP has now clarified that she doesn’t have to go so. Anyway yes, I do think a situation in which one adult can’t travel without another and one asks for advice about travel anonymously without mentioning that very key detail is not something we should be speculating about in providing that advice.

      2. Adultier adult*

        I disagree- An initial interview, he can scope it out— if he is interested, go back and spend a long weekend and absolutely feel it out. But save the days for when he definitely need to go!

      3. Grith*

        But it’s also not LW who is *required* to fly cross-country, it’s them *wanting* to go with their husband to mooch around and get a sense of a different city while the husband is interviewing.

        That’s not an invalid thing to want to do at some point before they potentially agree to take the job and move – but seeing it as something that MUST happen alongside this interview is premature. The odds here are massively in favour of nothing changing: husband might not like job, job might not like husband, couple might not like city etc etc……

        Overall, it’s more likely than not that LW will still be with her current company in a years time. So don’t irritate them and portray yourself as irresponsible unnecessarily.

    2. Long Time Fed*

      I agree – it’s an interview and there will be others if the company wants him. I’d have husband go by himself and you can follow up with a visit later if it seems like that city might be a real option.

      1. OP4*

        LW here!
        There was already a Zoom interview, this is the second round. In his field, it is not common to go beyond that before extending an offer. I totally get that it’s still just an interview, and I explain further below, but they are giving signs of being VERY interested in him. They’ve expressed to him they’re even interested in me applying for a job there.
        But yeah, it may end up that he goes by himself.

    3. Generic Name*

      Can you explain why you think it’s unprofessional? Is it because OP is new at her job? Or nobody should ever take a midweek trip that isn’t a vacation or funeral? I’m more of a work to live person, and I will never put my job ahead of my family, so this reaction is striking to me.

      1. Bella*

        I wouldn’t have used the word unprofessional but I think it might be strategically unwise because she’s new. If you could just take vacation time that’s obviously fine. And a family emergency or similar is fine at any time. But in this instance, she’d have to make up a story and if they end up moving that’s totally fine. Otherwise though you’ve ended up using an “important family matter I had to deal with immediately” chit and then are going to figure out what to do when a real one comes up or another interview. Personally I try to save that stuff for when there’s no other option.

    4. H3llifIknow*

      I completely agree. There’s ZERO reason for her to tag along for HIS interview. What will be the purpose other than “Oh no, if we’re apart for 3 days he might forget me”? I don’t understand couple who MUST DO EVERYTHING TOGETHER. IF he decides he likes the job, then you and he can take a weekend to check out the city/housing/ etc… but to go along for the interview? Nah. Unnecessary especially when you’re new.

      1. Rosacoletti*

        I’m guessing you didn’t read the actual post – the reason for her to go was very clear – to get a feel of the area as they have major reservations about it. Presumably he doesn’t want to waste more time on this potential new role if they can tell after this trip that the area isn’t for them.

  26. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP1: I have had a number of staff who absolutely detest talking in meetings, and I myself get extremely anxious about using the phone. Working in IT seems to attract more of the ‘don’t wanna talk to people’ crowd.

    But, like with you, it is necessary. Best way I’ve found to encourage this is low stakes, casual and *short* meetings like a daily/weekly status update where we go round the table and say what we’ve done and any challenges we face. I go first, make it as light as possible, even throw in some humour (the plugging the wrong cable into the docking station because the cat chewed it is a good one) and with people they know and work with it feels less stressful.

    With practice you can ramp it up into more formal settings. There also exists a framework where staff can complain to me about any bad behaviour from another meeting attendee – whether internal or external – and I’ll assure them it won’t happen again. I will tolerate swearing, but not being rude to my staff.

  27. SimpleAutie*

    Speaking in meetings:

    I work the kind of job that attracts people who are, by nature, reserved and quiet. We have weekly meetings with a team that is, at least in my company, a shouty team.

    The shouty team is encouraged to be so by my direct boss (also their manager’s boss, who is the same person and doesn’t spend a lot of time with my team) and those meetings are agonizing for almost everyone in my position.

    What I do to help newer or quieter team members prepare:

    1) Before the first meeting, I give them a pass on speaking and encourage them to gchat me if they have something to contribute but don’t feel comfortable.

    2) Before the 2nd-4th meetings, we talk about what they are likely to need to contribute and role-play getting those contributions in even when someone else is being, um, forceful.

    3) By the 5th meeting I’m interrupting (I promise this is appropriate given the setting) and direct attention to what a newer team member has to contribute

    4) By the 8th meeting I’ve established an expectation that they now need to be speaking up and contributing

    5) My team has a weekly post-meeting debrief session where we hold space for what was uncomfortable and also work around to being positive by the end of it.

    This is working for me! I hope it helps you.

    1. Generic Name*

      This is really awesome. I’m glad you provide so much support for your team. My son is on the spectrum, and while he is very outspoken at home, I can see the mask go over his face when he’s at school or in social situations. His teachers all say he is very quiet in class. I hope he is able to find a supervisor like you who can help support his needs when he gets a job.

    2. Madame X*

      You sound like a very thoughtful and supportive manager. The process he described seems to strike the right balance between providing support and also guiding your team members to eventually become more confident speaking up at meetings.

  28. Dinwar*

    OP #3: Welcome to management. I’ve had people that used to work for my company contact me a number of times, despite never working with them before. Either they saw the company name, or a colleague they had worked for directed them to me. And I’ve had the same thing happen–I’ll chat about some potential upcoming work and the contractor will tell me “I’m swamped right now, but I know a guy who has some availability, I’ll have him call you.” It’s a normal thing. Being federal makes it more complicated–buying you a meal for this purpose is a violation of federal rules–but drumming up business by reaching out to old colleagues is perfectly normal.

    As for how to handle it, I’ve used “I’m sorry, but I have no say in that at all” and “I’m sorry, but I have to follow federal guidelines” a number of times. Folks may push a little, but remember: In this you are not an individual. You are representing the United States government. And this isn’t your decision to make. If you stand firm, they will respect you. They may get irked, but they’ll respect you.

    1. Naïve Leslie Knope*

      I’m OP3. Thank you! Repeating “I’m sorry, but…” might work. She also might just decline the meeting when I say it needs to be just us, which would give me my answer about what she was looking for.

  29. Long Time Fed*

    I don’t love presenting in meetings but because of telework I’ve gotten used to it. I’d approach a reluctant team by holding very frequent team meetings and encouraging open discussion. The more you get used to banter, the better equipped you are to speak off the cuff.

    Then I’d tell them that not participating is not an option.

  30. Caroline*

    OP4/ I understand why it’s important for you to go to this prospective new town / part of the country of course, but does it need to be on this occasion? If your husband likes what he sees of the place, feels like the job is an excellent fit and one he’d be open to taking further, then you could go over a weekend or at a convenient time thereafter, to see if it would work.

    That’s what I’d do. Let him go see first. The job is the main thing, and if he goes and really doesn’t feel it’s a good fit, then you haven’t wasted any type of leave.

  31. Cordyceps*

    It is generally kind of assumed that anyone working in a professional office environment would have at least some capacity for speaking up at least in small meetings. That is probably a fairly reasonable assumption for most offices.

    That said, if presenting information in these meetings is a critical part of the job, was that included in the job description and discussed at the interview stage? If not, it definitly should be in the future.

    I have dealt with this myself. I’ve never been a great public speaker, but I used to be a lot worse. As such, I sought out jobs that did not require me to do much, if any, public speaking. One job I had was described to me at the interview stage as “sitting at a desk compiling research”. In fact, they went out of their way to make sure I understood that’s all I would be doing. Great, sign me up.

    Fast forward to a few months into the job and it has magically morphed into “presenting research results in large meetings”. Not at ALL what I was told at the interview stage.

    I struggled with this at the time, and received no help or support from my management chain, but fortunately found a ToastMasters group in my office that helped me tremendously. I will never be a motivational speaker or give a TED talk, but I now feel far more comfortable leading meetings, presenting to a group, and speaking up with my own thoughts in team meetings.

    It might also be worth considering the overall tone of these meetings. Are senior leaders or more experienced staff, snarky or condescending in these meetings? Is everything a “gotcha”? I think the overall tone and culture surrounding these meetings matters a lot. Of course, there are people that thrive on these pressure cooker type work environments, but I’d be willing to bet that the overwhelming majority of people do not and would rather avoid them.

    Seems like there is a great deal to unpack about what is really going on here and it is probably a combination of multiple issues. But, if this is a critical job function, that should be spelled out clearly at the interview stage. For the employees already on deck that are struggling, supporting them in a group like Toastmasters is a great way to help them. ToastMasters was an absolute life saver for me and has really made a difference in my career.

  32. Knope Knope Knope*

    OP4 – I can’t tell how far he is in the interview process, but you may be putting the cart in front of the horse. I have moved states/countries for jobs many time, and have flown cross-country for interviews that never materialize into an offer. If it just sounds like the perfect fit, it may be worth letting him go through the process before you visit. Interview processes can take months, so why not wait a little to see if the job is a good fit for sure and request time in advance? Maybe you could go out for a three day weekend and he can stay on a few days.

  33. JustMyImagination*

    For LW1: What if your husband takes an interview on a Tuesday? You fly out Friday night, spend the weekend and just take 1 day off, Monday, to fly back. You get the weekend to explore with your husband and he gets Monday night to prep and Tuesday for the interview with full focus.

  34. OP4*

    Thanks so much to Alison for answering my question, and to all of you who weighed in!
    I am grateful the general consensus is some version of family emergency, if for no other reason than that gives me/us a few days to sort through our own thoughts. Honestly, at this point we’re leaning toward my husband going alone or not going at all, since it seems unlikely we’re going to want to make the move. But I’m glad to have a script to use if that changes, or if this comes up again.
    I’ll try to address some of the comments, for clarity/context, if anyone is still interested haha:
    -I agree that this is an interview and not an offer, but he was asked to interview without having applied after the first round of interviews apparently failed. They were interviewing other people the week he Zoomed and said they’d be in touch within a week or two about next steps – then called him at 4pm Friday the week of his Zoom. So they seem VERY interested.

    -PTO is somewhat of a concern, but my team is friendly and understanding so they would make it work if I needed to be gone (I thought I was going to be out with a sick kid a couple weeks ago and they were fine, but husband covered it). My main issue is what others have mentioned – the culture is one in which people usually offer specific explanations for an absence as a way of being open or ask about absences in genuine concern.

    -My husband did request the dates furthest out, but it’s still not far enough to seem like a vacation. And they’re mid-week. Folks were right that he should’ve asked for different, more weekend-adjacent days. Honestly we just didn’t think to make the request.

    -It’s the short notice, mid-week thing that makes it hard to sell a fun reason for being out of town.

    -I probably mis-characterized my job with the expectation to do work when sick comment. We are hybrid (2 days a week from home, pre-assigned days). So what usually happens if someone is mildly sick is, “I’ve got this annoying cough, I’m going to move my WFH days to today and tomorrow”, or whatever. I feel like if I wasn’t able to work at all, my team would be genuinely concerned about how sick I was.

    Anywho…Alison and the commentariat here is the best, so thank you!

    1. T.N.H.*

      Thanks for the update! Sounds like you guys are thinking about this clearly and making a good choice for your family.

    2. Coco*

      Thanks for the update! I agree the short notice + being new does complicate things. But plenty of people take mid week vacations! It’s probably less common, but it’s not unusual or weird to take a vacation mid week. Maybe with the other things combined, it might make a difference. But on its own, that’s not weird.

    3. MigraineMonth*

      My only suggestion would be that, if you do decide to go, I’d change the wording from “emergency” to “urgent”. I think that makes it easier to fend off worried colleagues by saying everything is going to be fine, this personal thing just came up.

  35. Edward Williams*

    #1: I blame the facilitator — seems the facilitator told the employee “wrong answer” in a meeting and other people could hear that. If that happened to me, I would certainly offer no more “answers.”

    1. sagc*

      So… You never accept that you might have been incorrect? Being able to be told “no, [statement] is wrong because X, Y, and Z” seems like a skill that employees should have.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        Seems like there are two main types of wrong answers. One, the easier to handle is strictly work, like me telling our salesman “I cannot make a cheap high performance material and have it ready to sell tomorrow.”

        And the other which relates to our personal/emotional experiences. Like, outside of the US South, frequently Southerners have experienced prejudice in being hired.

        The first, I will agree and accept; the second is more bothersome.

      2. Gumby*

        There are many ways to give feedback. It is possible that the facilitator was harsh in her response. Or even just curt – if the whole response was “wrong answer” then that would convince me to opt out of further participation too (though just in that training, not the rest of work). A whole lot of people find it quite difficult to be wrong in public and have that called out in front of peers. It is incumbent on instructors to be able to tell someone that they are incorrect in a way that is tactful and in a tone of voice that is not harsh or mocking.

        It could be that these employees are abnormally sensitive to criticism. It could be that the instructor was off-putting in how she responded to participant input.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        That’s what I’ve been trying to parse out. There’s a huge difference between “the DEI coordinator called me out for defending my privilege” and “the DEI coordinator invalidated my lived experience as a minority”. Without more info, both are very possible.

        1. Happy*

          That was what struck me, as well. Either case could be described as in that letter but they are two very, very different situations.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      I think there’s very little information about what happened there to have a good sense of who (if anyone) was at fault.

    3. Observer*

      I feel like a broken record. Even if you are correct and that’s what happened, that’s not a reasonable reason to now refuse to offer your expertise (ie their insights and opinions on matters in their purview) in any and all groups.

  36. Bra Less*

    I am a progressive person but I still struggle with the idea of not wearing a bra outside of your home. My instinct is to recoil unless I also have a huge sweatshirt on. I don’t wear a bra on zoom because I just have the camera tilted up. Hopefully I’ll get used to the idea of being without one outside before I’m in a coworking space with other people :)

    1. LW #2*

      I got big ol bazingas and when I go braless I very occasionally get some side eye/leers bud I live in NYC so there is always almost someone who looks wackier

  37. LW #2*

    I’m LW #2 (coworking attire) might get buried but for clarification, people there are somewhat spiffy, and I want to wear my crop tops and baggy work pants. I think I am going to keep up being one step nicer than a coffee shop but probably not as put together as my fellow hot deskers :)

    1. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

      Honestly I wouldn’t care. It’s not like they can really complain, as you aren’t hurting anyone. And since you’re not all coworkers they can’t complain to HR or say you have to abide by some handbook,

      1. metadata minion*

        They can certainly complain to whoever runs the coworking space, just like they could if she were doing something truly inappropriate. I agree that the LW is probably just fine being comfortably frumpy, but this is an odd take.

    2. catsamillion*

      LW 2, I am a cancer survivor with one boob. I also rent a coworking space. I NEVER wear a bra if I don’t want to. I’m paying to be there! Everyone can suck it!

  38. Dances with Flax*

    Being able to accept disagreement and correction is a vital skill for any employee in any position in any job!

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Definitely agree. But being able to disagree and give correction without disrespecting other people is also a vital skill for managers to have.

      1. sagc*

        Where on earth is the evidence that this is relevant? Especially to behaviour in normal, non-DEI, job-related meetings?

          1. Observer*

            That’s true. But not relevant. Now, if the OP had written in that “The DEI consultant was disrespectful and mishandled corrections to my staff. Is this something I should try to bring up with ~~whoever hires DEI consultants~~” the answer would almost certainly be some variation of “Yes, assuming there is someone to talk to”. But that’s not the question the OP asked.

  39. Minhag*

    It made me laugh to see question 2 be titled “Do I have to wear a bra, part 4” because the rate at which Alison is addressing this seems to be accelerating. It’s as if the women of the world are finally rising up and demanding to be free from their bras and we keep asking Alison, “Is it time?! Is the world ready?!” And Alison has to reply, “Patience, patience. Work from home, no bra. At coworking space, no bra. In office… sigh, it will take time.” One day, I imagine Alison will be ready to reply “The war is over! No more bras!” and balloons will fall from the ceiling as we rejoice.

    1. Generic Name*

      And to think it’s “only” been about 60 years since our mothers and grandmothers burned their bras in protest.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      Loving this! I was so happy when I was able to stop wearing bras during the pandemic. Unfortunately, it turned out that my posture is so terrible when I’m not wearing a bra that I developed a repetitive stress injury.

      I may have been sent home wounded from the front lines, but I fully support the war effort!

  40. Temperance*

    LW4: maybe ask your husband to take a Thursday interview, and then you and the toddler fly in on Friday, and you stay for a long weekend/fly back Sunday?

  41. BellyButton*

    OP1- I think it also important to coach this employee that challenging ideas and being challenged is a good thing. It allows people to flesh out ideas and to see things from multiple areas. Her input is of value and she has to see that. Having your idea challenged and discussed isn’t a personal attack, it is way to build on and gain understanding.

    I also wonder what the DEI person said to her and if it was really as bad as she has interpreted it. It really seems like she is taking any sort of disagreement to her answer/ideas as personal- and it isn’t. Even if speaking in meetings or presenting aren’t part of her routine, she has to get past thinking that challenging ideas is a bad thing.

  42. Here for the Insurance*

    For OP#4, I’d recommend keeping it vague and absolutely don’t lie. There’s nothing wrong with simply saying you need to be out of town for X days for a personal or family matter and will be unavailable. I wouldn’t use the word “emergency”, because it’s not and saying it is waving the Nosy Flag for a lot of people. Go in with the attitude that *of course* this is reasonable and you’re entitled to do it. Most people will follow a lead: if you act like you’re asking a huge favor, they’ll treat it as one, but if you’re matter-of-fact, they probably will be, too.

    For all time off, I’d like to see more people internalize the idea that 1) you’re entitled to have a life outside work; 2) you’re an adult who doesn’t need a “good enough” reason to take time off; and 3) you’re under no obligation to share private information with your boss.

  43. BellyButton*

    I always find it odd when people have to give a reason to be out. It is your time, book the days off, and leave it at that. If someone asks “I needed a few days to take care of some personal things” I find typically if you are vague and use the word “personal” most people don’t ask more questions.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      LW has only been on the job for two months. This a relevant point. They may not have enough PTO accumulated.

      If they had been there for a much longer period, yeah, just take the time off.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      I think it’s a bit more understandable in this case where the LW has only been on the job for 2 months, and may not even have any accrued time off to book.

  44. Clefairy*

    For OP4- it’s not really the question you’re asking, but you mentioned being iffy on the move because the new area is so culturally different. I’d ask yourself how you’d feel about your move if for whatever reason your husband lost that job. I moved from an area I loved with lots of friends and things to do aligned with my hobbies, to a very conservative place with a big emphasis on the outdoors (and I am not outdoorsy) for a dream job at the beginning of covid- I figured the job was cool enough that I would be happy, and I do think if things had panned out differently, that could have been true. Sadly, a little more than a month after I moved, the company folded and I was forced to find something new and not nearly exciting. It’s been a miserable almost 2.5 years in a place where I am lonely and bored out of my skull, and I am officially moving back to my old state later this year.

  45. Momma Bear*

    OP 1, I’d investigate how the DEI thing went down. Mitigating that may help in general.

    For meetings, try things like having a written agenda, soliciting basic information upfront (maybe a quick quad chart with tasks, progress, etc. for people to fill out/reference), and going around the room at the end. Sometimes you need to make it clear that 1. everyone’s input is valuable and 2. everyone has their own space to talk. One of our PMs goes down the list in alphabetical order so you know who will be next. If anyone tends to railroad others or dismiss ideas, call them out on it. I will forever be grateful for the PM who said, “So as Momma Bear was saying…” and “Momma Bear already said…” in a meeting with someone who was very dismissive of anything a woman said. The PM made it clear that was not how their meetings would be run and there hasn’t been a problem since.

    It sounds to me like you need to create a space where they truly feel free to discuss their ideas vs just pushing them to speak up. Maybe have some of your more talkative team members demonstrate this give/take with you during a meeting, and then pull in whoever is the right SME for the discussion to continue.

  46. I think I should leave*

    #3 – I am a federal consultant turned fed turned back into consultant & this type of thing definitely happened to me, too. In some ways I think I was probably overthinking it – I’m a naturally cautious person and throwing in ethics and FAR violations feels so high stakes, but I know it is not unusual for that kind of networking to happen, particularly at higher levels when there’s no specific requirement/sensitive information involved and no one is on a selection committee. My boss took a few meetings and it actually sounded helpful to throw out some of the issues you’re having and hear what potential solutions could be. Sometimes those conversations turn into requirements, but very often the company the gov met with loses that bid when they do!

    BUT 1. Just because it happens doesn’t mean you need to do it and 2. the transparent networking vibe that comes with inviting random people takes away the necessary song and dance of pretending you’re old friends catching up. It IS a little icky. And contractors have to take those ethics trainings, too – it would be insane for them to try to pay for something! I definitely canceled at least one “catch up” that struck me that way. I think I said I was still getting caught up and wasn’t sure I understood the dynamic yet (I’m such a nerd). No one was upset and I actually think they thought it was cute. Embarrassing, but I regret nothing. It’s good to be cautious. Still – stay in touch if you can. Fed life isn’t for everyone :)

  47. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    I usually swap “emergency” for “situation” because it’s more accurate and somewhat ambiguous.

    A “family situation” is my son needing me to drive up to college and visit him because his mental health during his first year wasn’t great. It can also be my SIL needing me to go pick her up an hour away because her car won’t start. It can also be my dog needing to go to the emergency vet. Or it can be me accompanying my partner to another city.

    The less you outright lie, the better.

  48. L*

    #4 In my opinion, it isn’t necessary to lie unless they ask about it. Just say, apologies for the short notice but I need to take a few days PTO. I always take the approach of never saying what I’m using PTO for unless it otherwise comes up in conversation or someone asks, just so that there isn’t this expectation that I need a “reason.” That said, if you’re new, I get that this can be tricky. Even if asked, I’d probably just go with, it is a personal reason I’d rather not share, because I don’t love lying, but I know that might feel awkward for others.

  49. FD*

    #1 Since these are finance folks, it might be helpful if you could give them some clues about questions that are likely to come up. I’m guessing a lot of these questions are things like “What percent of our revenue came from Widget A vs. Widget B” or other quantitative questions. From the outside, it can be kind of non-intuitive what numbers are and aren’t important, so it may help if you can say, “You probably want to have X, Y, and Z numbers on hand for reference in case you’re asked about it.”

    The other thing is that in some cases, the most appropriate answer might be, “I’m not sure offhand, but I can run a report and send it out after our meeting?” Make sure they know that’s an okay answer some of the time, provided they actually do send out the info they were asked for. I wonder if a lot of the anxiety is coming from a sense that they MUST know the answer to any question they’re asked right away or they’re a bad employee.

  50. All Het Up About It*

    Am I missing the reason that the OP4 can’t just put in the request and say, “Sorry these are odd days, but we’ve got some family items that have to be taken care of these days.”

    I mean yes, some of it might depend on the office culture and how many vacation days she has, but I’m not sure why telling lies/half truths and calling in sick has to be the go to option.

    Other option would be for your husband to go early or stay after the interview and you join him then over the weekend, so you could both take time to really explore the area. How much time is he going to have if he’s being wined and dined and interviewed? Then it comes across more as a vacation and you wouldn’t have to take any time or take less.

  51. Mark Baron*

    I am typically an advocate for complete honesty, but #4’s situation is one in which I would not give the actual reason for being gone. Since you are a new employee, it sends the signal to the company that you do not necessarily consider yourself a long-term employee. Since most states are at-will states, which allow someone to be fired without cause (unless it’s an illegal reason), your employer might be tempted to let you go now and replace you with someone who does want to make the commitment to stay long term.

    1. H3llifIknow*

      I think, as a new employee, she should .. just not go with her husband. I find that weird. Like, can he not go by himself for some reason?

      1. Dahlia*

        Again, because HE cannot decide for HER and their entire family if they want to uproot their entire lives to move across the country. She would be going to explore the area and to decide if she even likes it there.

  52. my cat is the employee of the month*

    LW3: I’m a fed, and I have some responsibilities in contracting. I also would have been grossed out by this. I was warned my very first week at my agency about being very cautious interacting with contractors, because you can get in a lot of trouble. The good news is that my ethics and FAR training were apparently sufficiently thorough that I was shaking my head and saying “nooooo!!!” while reading your letter! I guess that’s why they cover this stuff in training: so you don’t go for a cup of coffee with a former manager and end up having to talk to your ethics officer.

  53. H3llifIknow*

    For the LW going out of town with hubby… Ummm why? It’s HIS interview; you won’t be with him (that’d be super weird) so why not just stay home, go to work and let him do HIS interview. I know I wouldn’t go with my spouse and I wouldn’t ask him to go with me. We’re both adults, independently capable of going somewhere alone for a day or so. Just, to me, a weird thing.

    1. Happy*

      Did you miss the part where LW explicitly explained that they would be moving across the country and so they want to visit to get a feel for the area to see if they like it?

      1. Alanna*

        Right. My husband and I are in a similar situation right now — if you’re interviewing for a job that’s in another part of the country (and isn’t remote), at some point in the interview process, you need to be sure that you’re at least open to the idea of relocating (of course you could still turn down the job for other reasons). And it’s totally reasonable to want to see the place you’d be living in order to make that decision.

        Personally, I’d want to go separate from the job interview because it’s important to me that we explore the city together. But cross-country flights aren’t cheap so I totally understand the impulse to do it all at once.

        1. Happy*

          Absolutely! I also took up a new job within they last year which involved me and my husband relocating, and OF COURSE he wanted to come visit and see the area before we decided to move! And OF COURSE it was easier for him to join me on a pre-planned visit rather than coming on a different trip separate from my interviews, etc.

          The idea that someone would want to visit an area before they commit to living there is codependent or something is frankly very bizarre and oddly antagonistic!

    2. OP4*

      I’m the LW #4.
      You obviously feel super strongly about this, so I’m glad you got it out of your system. All-caps words and all.
      Sure, I’d miss my husband for the 3 days he’d be gone. I’d also be absolutely worn out managing work, house, dog, and toddler all on my own. But yes, as I am also a fully capable adult, I’d be fine.
      As pretty much every other commenter seemed to understand, I wouldn’t have anything to do with HIS (haha) interview. I’d be exploring houses, daycares, and town amenities.

  54. RB*

    #4 It’s not important but I’m really curious about how the new place could be so extremely culturally different that it would cause them to turn down a really good opportunity. Even in pure red states there are blue hubs in the urban areas, and in blue states you can find more conservative suburbs. Unless it’s something like you’re worried about the laws in the new state, (abortion, anti-transgender), then I wonder what it would be.

    1. Alanna*

      Cultural differences are about more than just politics. A few off the top of my head:
      * The East Coast and West Coast might vote similarly but are super different culturally. I know lots of people who have moved from Seattle/SF to DC (and vice versa) and have been shocked by the formality, lack of access to outdoor sports and hobbies, general career-oriented vibe, etc. Presumably people going west would have the same transition in reverse.
      * Moving from a walkable, transit-oriented city to a car-dependent one is a big big big shift. (And yes lots of cities have walkable areas etc, and lots of people in walkable cities own cars, but there is a big difference between human- and car-scaled places)
      * I’ve lived in cities where most people are transplants and in places where most people are from there. The difference socially is really big, especially if you’re considering moving.
      * Weather, outdoor opportunities, traffic, etc.
      * Demographics and diversity – if you’re from a cultural group that tends to be more represented in one part of the country, moving somewhere without that representation could mean it’s more difficult to find a community, practice your religion, find foods you want to eat

      It’s totally reasonable to consider what you want your life to look like, not just your job, especially if you’re considering uprooting yourself and having to form a new community.

    2. Dahlia*

      You don’t like the schools in the area, there’s not enough housing for the area you’d have to live in, you’d be moving from a place with a lot of public transport to none.

      Maybe you step off the plane and this new place has so much pollen that you’re ridiculously allergic to that your face immediately melts.

      Is the idea of not wanting to live in some places that wild? You couldn’t pay me enough to live in the suburbs.

      1. UKDancer*

        I mean we all have personal needs and preferences. I went for a job in what wS, on pape, a lovely European city with great quality of life. I discovered that I was irresistible to the local mosquito population. In my 2 day visit I was miserable. I could not have put up with that long term.

        So I went to a much less pretty, wetter place and was happy. We all have different needs abd issues.

  55. Goldenrod*

    Regarding LW #1, I very much agree with this:
    “By the way, I’m wondering what happened in that meeting with the DEI consultant that led one of your employees to no longer feel comfortable sharing her opinions…There’s probably something worth exploring there.”

    DEI conversations at work are VERY fraught, and although facilitators are fond of saying “this is a safe space,” in my opinion, work is truly anything BUT a safe space to have those kinds of conversations.

    The one time I got the courage to share a comment in a DEI conversation at work, I was immediately sidelined and dismissed in a way that made me swear off ever participating again.

  56. Sara M*

    Hey #4, please consider joining the “non-work chat” on Sat & Sun. Ask about the cultural differences between state A and state B. I bet the commentariat can give you tons of useful insight, including weather, raising kids, or whatever else you want to know.

    There will be at least one person (probably more) who knows both locations.

    I’ve lived in a few different parts of the US and have all sorts of thoughts about it.

    (I think you’re US-based. If not, this may not work.)

  57. Dawn*

    LW1, I’d respectfully suggest that you get out of your head that a colleague being corrected in a meeting constitutes “trauma” or that people preferring not to speak publicly is due to “trauma.” The National Social Anxiety Center reports that “[t]he fear of public speaking is the most common phobia ahead of death, spiders, or heights,” impacting about 40% of the population.

    Now there could be legitimate trauma at its core! But I highly doubt that.

    I don’t know if this language originates with the people trying to avoid speaking or if you are assigning it to them, but I work with young adults, many of whom have actual trauma of a sort that Alison would probably delete my comment if I gave examples (including fostering one of them for seven months), and I really, really wish we could get the casual use of the word “trauma” to describe things we find unpleasant or uncomfortable out of our vocabulary. You and your colleagues might find that doing so makes this a solvable problem once you ratchet it down to the level of “something most people deal with in some form or another” versus serious psychological harm that requires special care and accommodation.

  58. Lola*

    LW2, you’re being a bit judgemental of other’s outfits, while wishing not to be judged for yours.
    If the environment at the coworking space you use is informal enough that you can choose not to wear a bra, it’s probably informal enough that one may show an inch of midriff or wear leggings. Extend your “coworkers” some grace.

    1. Happy*

      I think you misunderstood the letter. LW wanted to wear leggings and crop tops, and was not judging others harshly for doing so.

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