updates: falling asleep on the job, the boss at the barbecue, and more

Here are four updates from past letter-writers — including one from a letter from 10 years ago!

1. I fell asleep on the job — on my first day

Can’t believe it’s been 10 years already?! Time flies!

As far as an update goes, professionally things have been going pretty well, albeit on a different path than anticipated!

I don’t work in the field I went to school for or where the aforementioned incident happened. But probably about a month after I wrote in, I got a job working in a large retail store and stayed there in various positions for about 2 years. I left that job and I started working at a local non-profit animal shelter and eventually became the assistant supervisor for the animal care department and stayed there for 6 years. I recently moved and started over at another non-profit animal shelter and am now the foster care coordinator for my location.

In rereading my letter to you so many years later, I can still feel the pain and embarrassment young me felt. Admittedly, it is still not a story I readily share with people, especially in the workplace! But this incident definitely did not derail me professionally as I thought it would. I will say it did discourage me, just a little, from continuing in my field. I figured I would get back into it at some point, and maybe I still will, but in all honesty, I found something much better and I’m actually pretty good at it!

I thank you again for your advice and counsel then.

2. My boss showed up at my friend-group barbecue (#2 at the link; first update here)

I thought I’d share an additional update. My senior manager and department head called me on the one year anniversary of my last promotion and asked me to apply to a soon-to-be-posted manager job. I was a little hesitant as typically most people on my title spend 3-5 years and at least 2 rotations into different commodities before being successfully promoted. I reached out to some peers and people in management roles that I trusted for candid feedback and ultimately decided to throw my hat in the ring. I updated my cover letter and used your fantastic interview advice and had the best interview experience of my career. I got the job(!!) and started a month ago. I love it and am getting great and constructive feedback. I was even able to promote within my commodity and have so much support within my management team.

Funnily enough, the manager from my original letter – well, they were promoted into a new position and their partner was promoted to backfill their role. A few comments have been made about my core friend group by said partner but since our management team had a strong camaraderie, I’ve been able to focus on building a management team and separate our work relationships from my personal life. It’s just so weird that two promotions later this one random night seems to stick in their heads.

Thanks again for the advice. The commentariat was also a breath of fresh air and really helped put things in perspective. I continue to lean on ask a manager as I learn my new role and try to be the best leader for the amazing team. I have the privilege to be a part of.

3. Can I opt out of my new job’s culture of constant availability? (#3 at the link)

I’ve taken the advice and I am opting out of needing to be available constantly, and it’s fine. But I realized that part of why I was feeling weird was that I wasn’t well-integrated into the larger team or being utilized very well, and it felt like not being always around highlighted that. Some things have since happened that have made me less sidelined, and I’ve also been developing my career outside of my client work, which my employer is very enthusiastic about.

4. Rejecting an offer because of the company culture (#5 at the link)

Back in May, you gave me some advice about how to turn down ostensibly good job offers that didn’t offer the right culture fit or balance of my family’s needs. I declined both of those offers then accepted one in July that didn’t quite meet my compensation targets but everything else was really positive. I mentioned this in a Friday Good News post.

I’ve been in the role since August and my five years of imposter syndrome (after leaving the industry I spent the first decade of my career in) are all but gone. My new teammates and boss value my input, encourage me to try out-of-the-box ideas and appear to be really happy with my work.

After spending a year working with a great team doing work I absolutely hated, I’m now back to the type of day-to-day responsibilities and duties that I’m a) really good at, b) enjoy and c) able to use as professional growth.

After 18 months of searching and near-constant interviewing, and the agony of rejection over and over again, this was a nice way to end 2022. Thanks again for all the advice!

{ 44 comments… read them below }

  1. sofar*

    LW1: I’m still a bit angry for you that your boss fired you for falling asleep. As a manager myself, my reaction would have been to ask if the brand-new, young employee was OK — and then given them another chance (and waited to see if this was a pattern) before firing them.

    Sounds like you’re in a field where you are making a difference, so the world is better off regardless.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I agree. Falling asleep at work is not normal, so I would take it as a sign of distress, not disrespect.

      That manager was apparently wearing his bananapants that day.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I had an adverse reaction to some *non-drowsy* cold medication I took before work one day. As a result, I fell asleep: on the bus to work, at my desk (4 times), at a meeting with my manager and a couple of other people, on the bus on the way home from work and then at home.

        Fortunately, I’d been at the job long enough that my manager just talked to me, and I agreed it was unacceptable and wouldn’t happen again. Even more fortunately, I didn’t drive to work that day.

      2. marvin*

        I had one job where I came close to falling asleep on a near-daily basis. In my defense, it was a seriously disorganized internship where I wasn’t given any of the work I was hired to do, and instead I was left to kill time watching instructional videos for eight hours a day. There’s only so much passive learning I can do before my brain rebels.

        I don’t think anyone noticed or cared. Maybe they would have preferred if I had just napped through each workday so they didn’t have to find things for me to do.

    2. Dovasary Balitang*

      I had a similar situation. On my first day at a job, I got a migraine (not atypical; adjusting to a new office with fluorescent lights and other sensory stimuli usually leads to a day one migraine) and my hiring manager, who was training me, gave me some of her anti-migraine painkillers. Turns out, they were super strong and stayed in your system for a super long time. I fell asleep while she was training me the next day because of the medication; although I stupidly pretended I wasn’t dozing off. I was let go at the end of that day.

      It ended up being for the best, but damn, it was embarrassing.

      1. FrogEngineer*

        Wait… she gave you drugs, then fired you after they put you to sleep?? What on earth?

        1. Dovasary Balitang*

          Shyup. To be fair, I didn’t say that the pills were what was still conking me out a whole day later, and I don’t think the possibility occurred to her either.

          1. Grandma*

            My MIL would sleep for close to two days after taking codeine. She never did it again after she figured that out. Antihistamines are notorious for putting some people to sleep while others have no issues. Hydrocodone puts me to sleep, but not my friend. Ya gotta be careful with new meds!

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, antihistamines are troublesome for me. The only time I have any trouble waking up in the morning is during the pollen season, and even then I take my medication after dinner to ensure that it disrupts my daily routine as little as possible.

              That said, some non-drowsy antihistamines, notably fexofenadine, spike my aggression like nothing else. The one time I tried it, my husband said something I’ve forgotten that would normally be a mild annoyance at best, and I almost threw a vase at him, and I’m normally not a violent person at all. I’m just glad that our son had gone to the playground with my MIL and wasn’t around to see it. And fexofenadine is available OTC…

              The only time I’ve fallen asleep at work was when I was about 7 or 8 weeks pregnant. I had to tell my boss much earlier than I’d planned because she found me asleep at my desk. I’m grateful that I’m not in an at-will environment so I didn’t even get a verbal warning.

    3. rusty*

      Yeah, I feel terrible for LW’s younger self – obviously you don’t want to fall asleep at work, but what a wild and nasty overreaction from the boss.

    4. Warrior Princess Xena*

      Oh many I had a miserable day a few weeks back where i was on a call with a client and two partners and abruptly could not keep my eyes open. I struggled through that whole miserably long call and then almost as soon as I was done put my head down on my arms and took a 10 minute nap. My coworkers were nothing but sympathetic but I was still mortified. I’m so glad OP has found a better place and I really feel for how bad awkward that must have been.

    5. Ellis Bell*

      I figured out that OP had probably had a sleepless night because of anxiety just by reading the title. People forget how nerve-wracking your first real job day is, especially people who didn’t have to look that long. Any manager who is beyond that kind of empathy, or who can’t be bothered considering different possibilities is going to suck at loads of necessary managerial instincts. It struck me that they didn’t give OP any chance to explain either. What if OP had been ill or struggling with a condition? I am not saying a manager should not bring the thunder, or make it unacceptable to sleep on the job, or issue a stern warning. Just, you know, show a smidge of curiosity and openness before reaching a conclusion.

    6. Jessen*

      Yeah I came very very close my first day on my current job.

      There wasn’t anything actually wrong per se, but I had to make a very quick turnaround where I spent saturday working a late second shift job and then show up at 8am on Monday for training. And my body was just not having the sudden schedule shift. I really just needed someone to give me a week or two to adjust though.

    7. Me*

      Falling asleep: Reading the comments here has been quite eye-opening for me. I’m in academic medicine, and many doctors go through this period during their training where they are working crazy long hours overnight in stressful situations trying to keep people alive, and for those doctors to fall asleep in some meeting the next day where they are just sitting listening and not actively participating is extremely common and completely acceptable.

      The interesting part is that, even after that training phase is over and people are NOT working overnight anymore, it’s still completely acceptable in my experience for doctors, or at least doctors who see patients, to be falling asleep. I can not tell you how many of my senior physician colleagues I’ve seen fall asleep at meetings where they are not actively participating, and I’ve thought absolutely nothing of it. I guess the assumption is that there was some work-related issue that was keeping them up last night, even if they were dealing with it from home.

      This posting is also making me think about how many meetings we have where people are not actively participating during large portions. If no one cares if they are sleeping, why are we making them go?

      1. Rainy*

        Could this meeting have been an email? Could this training have been a flowchart? These are the questions I ask myself.

    8. Elle*

      I also can’t imagine letting someone go on their first day for this (with no other contributing factors). Interviewing is such a huge pain and firing someone just to make a point seems absurd.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Especially without even asking what happened! There is behavior that should cause one to be let go immediately, no excuses (the white guy who dropped the n-word five times in their first day comes to mind), but falling asleep doesn’t seem to be one of them (unless there was demonstrated intention to do so, or it caused a safety issue).

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Right? Can you imagine the company going through the hassle of interviewing all the candidates for the position, choosing one, making an offer, going through all the paperwork and paying for the BG check and drug test, telling all other candidates that the position is filled and having them move on, only to have the supervisor let this person go after one day, for this reason? Just because we’re allowed to fire people for no reason with no warning, doesn’t mean we should, smh.

      3. marvin*

        I was trying to get into the mind of a manager who would decide that this was enough of an offense to fire immediately without even asking for any context about what was going on. This obviously wasn’t a situation where the LW was getting out their work pillow shams, so my first assumption would have been some kind of medical thing. I’m guessing this boss was just the authoritarian type who was quick to classify anything they don’t like as disrespect, but it’s a crappy thing to do to someone who’s so early in their career.

    9. Chelle*

      I had a similar situation once — I was within my first year, though not my first day, and I was attending a presentation-heavy four hour long meeting with over a hundred attendees up through C-suite at our customer site, of which maybe 15min of the content was relevant to me. We weren’t allowed to have laptops out/be working on other things. I had been up late the night before working, it was a warm room and it started at 1pm…so yeah, I nodded off. My supervisor noticed and I still remember how well he handled it: he pointed it out and asked first if I had some kind of medical issue that caused it. When I said no, he said “Okay, then this cannot happen again.” I was incredibly embarrassed but I did pull it together for future meetings like this one (plenty of sleep the night before, caffeine/gum/snacks, notepad for doodling). That was seven years ago and I still work here so clearly the compassionate approach worked out!

      1. Reluctant Mezzo*

        In meetings like that, I ‘take notes’ though sometimes the ‘notes’ are choreographing a battle scene in a book I’m working on. I try not to draw the little maps, though.

    10. Lacey*

      Yeah, I’ve seen several young coworkers fall asleep at the office when they were new to the job.
      We all chuckled a little and someone gently woke up the sleeper.

      But I think we all remembered our first weeks in the office and how badly we wanted a nap. Heck, even when you’re used to office work, but you’re starting a new job – THAT makes me want a nap.

  2. Sam Obisanya*

    #4 – I also have mostly recovered from imposter syndrome while in a supportive environment where my value contribution is very clear. It has made me reflect deeply on the importance of finding a culture that aligns with our values and the ways in which supportive work-people/places can help us grow personally as well as professionally. I think it’s a really underestimated component of both success and satisfaction. Happy for you!

  3. MK*

    #2, it’s possible they aren’t specifically stuck on that night, just that it’s the main association they make with you, so it’s their go-to small talk subject.

    1. Artemesia*

      Sounds likely. If it occurs in meets and get togethers etfc, it is probably ‘oh Jess, BBQ, hi there, that was SOME BBQ.’

  4. Pikachu*

    I went back to read the original post for #4, and remembered reading post #2 there. I would love an update from him. I truly hope things improved.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      Yes, me too. If I remember, I’ll try to ask for an update during the end-of-the-year call for updates post.

  5. Kindred Spirit*

    To the person who fell asleep on the job— An empathetic manager would have asked if you were feeling all right. And it would have been reasonable to let you know that falling asleep during working hours was not acceptable and it couldn’t happen again. I can’t believe you were fired for that. You didn’t feel this way at that time, but you escaped what surely would have been a miserable first job.

    1. TriviaJunkie*

      Sadly I can believe it easily, especially for a first professional job. 2013 was a really rough time to try to try to get a career off the ground. Recession was only just starting to really improve, but the attitude that you had to grovel and be grateful and perfect in every way at your job was still very much the prevailing attitude, not just from employers. And then you were competing with everyone who had graduated the previous 4-5 years and were still trying to get out of service jobs.
      I’d be surprised at an employer giving a second chance, people failed probation for all kinds of minor mistakes back then. I heard of people getting sacked for being unavoidably 10 minutes late first day, falling asleep would probably have been considered a moral failing. A firing for that would surprise me now- but in 2013 I’d consider that par for the course.

  6. grocerystore*

    I would be more concerned about employee falling asleep than upset. Someone who falls asleep on their first day maybe ill, really tired (like OP was) or something else. Most people are at the very best on their first day. I feel like OP dodged a bullet!

  7. BlueSwimmer*

    LW #1-
    I didn’t fall asleep on my first day at my first real job out of college, I was late because I had to get off the metro to find a public restroom where I puked my guts out. Turns out, I had never ridden the metro very far before and it made me thoroughly motion sick. My boss was very understanding and we became good friends. Reader, I married him (after I left that job for a career switch and he was no longer my boss).

    I switched careers to teaching. On my first day of student teaching, I fainted in the hallway before the first class. It turned out to be a blood sugar issue but was very humiliating. Since then, I’ve had a wonderful career as a teacher. It makes a great story, but I do have a recurring “teacher nightmare” that I faint in class and my students write on me with Sharpies.

    1. Appletini*

      See, bosses, this is why you should be understanding and kind to your employees — it could change your whole life for the better!

  8. Dennis Feinstein*

    Job I started in 1998:
    Day 1. Train was cancelled. Caught a cab but was unsure where to get dropped off as I’d only been to the building once from a different direction (and I have a terrible sense of direction). No mobile phone (as phone had been stolen from bag during farewell party from previous job) so couldn’t call new boss. Arrived late and stressed.
    Day 2. Woke up feeling nauseous (possibly brought on by stress of day 1). Called in sick.
    My boss was, fortunately, a reasonable and compassionate human being who understood that stuff happens sometimes which is probably why, 25 years later, she and I are still good friends.
    LW1 your boss sucked and you probably dodged a bullet.

  9. squeakrad*

    I love how in the original letter from LetterWriter number one, Alison commented “you’ll probably look at this and laugh 10 years later.” And then did she did and let us know!

  10. Loredena*

    Second day of first post college job. Was encouraged to donate at the blood drive happening that day. Agreed because usually I was denied for low iron so low risk. Donated. An hour later found myself on the bathroom floor staring up at my male manager. Coworker said I looked like I was having a seizure. Coworker insisted on wheeling me to the cafeteria to eat after which I called my mother to pick me up. Endlessly embarrassing but it ended up being a good fist job for me and I’m probably the only person who even remembers!

    LW1 dodged a bullet.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      As someone who’s also been denied for low iron until recently, big yikes! They were probably embarrassed and worried about having encouraged you to donate! probably more embarrassing for them than it was for you.

  11. MB*

    Be gentle with yourself. No one at any age can do well without good sound sleep. Also, as a young adult out of college, a sleepless night would have hit you even harder, because at that stage of life, you had a higher sleep need (9-10 hours ideally) and most likely was still in the very normal delayed phase sleep that occurs from adolescence through the mid twenties. The work you are doing now is so important and meaningful!

    1. allathian*

      Oh, I don’t know. Sure, the delayed circadian rhythm in your teens is a fact, but it affects some people more than others. I don’t remember ever protesting much at having to get up at 6:30 to get to school by 8 when I was in high school. Most 20-year-olds do fine with 7 or 8 hours of sleep, it’s when they get less than 6 that the trouble usually starts. Given the busy schedule of many people at that age, sleep is something many young people are unwilling to prioritize.

      I really miss the energy I had in my 20s. As a student, I’d routinely pull all-nighters, maybe averaging one every two months or so. I still managed to study full time and work 20-hour workweeks in retail, mostly by working a 12-hour shift on Saturdays. During my last year of college, I had a job where I sometimes worked through the night, then I’d hit the shower and go straight to class without being too tired to take notes and learn.

      Now that I’m 50, I have a month of jetlag every time we switch between standard time and DST, regardless of the direction of the switch. This is also the major reason why I no longer want to travel.

      Maybe I needed more sleep when I was a young adult, but I doubt it. At any rate, I slept better and could push through fatigue much more effectively then than I do now. YMMV, of course.

  12. Another Ashley*

    I’ve realized that when I’m stressed I get sleepy. I even googled stress and sleep and saw that there is a link between the two. Even if I have a full night of sleep if I’m anxious about something I have to fight against being physically exhausted. Getting up and walking around, doing a simple task, listening to music, anything to fight the urge to sleep.

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