my new employee fell asleep in a meeting

A reader writes:

I have a new employee who started this week. So far she seems great. But we were just in a kind of boring but important meeting with internal colleagues and she kept nodding off to sleep. She was trying to fight it, but it happened multiple times.

Is this something I should address with her now? Keep an eye on? Something else?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • I’ve been asked to give a reference for two people for the same job
  • I’m fed up with an excessive interview process
  • Would this networking move be creepy or useful?

{ 192 comments… read them below }

  1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

    I feel like sometimes companies NEED to hear that their hiring process is too extensive. I am guessing that each person requesting something is not looking at what has been requested by another person. Also consider if this is what the interview is like when they are trying to convince you that they are a good employer imagine what it will be like to work there.

    1. Love to WFH*

      Many companies’ hiring processes have become ridiculously burdensome! There needs to be more push-back.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Yes, this! It seems like because they can require a thing, they think they must require a thing. But what does it add to their hiring process? Does it really help them make up their mind, or does it just cloud their thinking, which then in turn makes them think they need to ask for more stuff?

      2. My Brain is Exploding*

        I have come soooo close to this in Continuing Education meetings…in particular, the ones right after lunch when they turn down the lights for a power point presentation. It’s not from staying out late, etc. I have two suggestions (if this remains a problem). 1. Check out how your meetings are run (overly long, room too warm, etc.) as well as how much of any meeting is really relevant to your employee. I once had to sit thru an hour of how to code things for insurance (which is not what I do at all!). Zzzz. 2. Discuss what might be helpful for your employee (letting them try to come up with solutions). If they are like me and just can’t stand it, then there are still things to try – caffeine, a cold drink, small wrapped candies (I would let myself eat one every 10 minutes), sitting in the back so they could stand up once in a while, taking notes, etc.

    2. Heidi*

      If I’m hiring someone, I do not want to review 3 writing samples, a PowerPoint, a personality assessment, and all the other stuff for EVERY candidate. If I were on this hiring committee I’d want to quit.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Agreed. At some point you simply have too much information to make a decision. One candidate’s weakness in one exercise can be countered by another candidate’s weakness in a different exercise.

  2. Want an interview*

    I’ve definitely called one person to ask about two candidates before. As a hiring manager I find it quite helpful. The reference was honest about both of their strengths

  3. Love to WFH*

    There are so many reasons that someone might nod off in a meeting.

    A neighbor had a really loud party.
    They have a medical condition that interferes with sleep.
    A family member was sick the night before.
    They were out partying

    I have to avoid caffeine, and folks like me face a WAY BIGGER STRUGGLE with boring meetings in the afternoon.

    1. Anallamadingdong*

      I went from a night job to a day job in the past and the first few weeks were rough. Also, when my daughter was an infant, I was getting a dangerously low amount of sleep.
      Falling asleep during a meeting still is not good, but some reasons could be totally valid and worthy of grace.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        When my daughter was young and at her first daycare, the new early start times for our days was tiring. She had the option of an afternoon nap and I didn’t. There were actually a few instance of snapping myself awake from a nap when I was working on tedious tasks. Luckily for me, no one noticed.

    2. Unkempt Flatware*

      You forgot the never ending constant meetings. Meetings to plan meetings about meetings.

      1. zuzu*

        Gotta say, that was one of the lovely things about working in litigation. No meetings unless absolutely necessary, because they weren’t billable.

        Even now that I’ve switched to academia I’m fairly lucky. At my last library, the only one where I had a faculty vote, the dean had the good sense to hold faculty meetings at 4 pm on Wednesdays. Everyone was falling all over themselves to get out of there, so it really cut down on the bloviators. The one before that made the mistake of holding them at noon on Fridays and serving lunch. The old men on the faculty could talk for HOURS. I skipped those unless I absolutely had to go, and left after my business was done.

        1. Gato Blanco*

          Seriously. When I used to work at a large state government agency, my boss used to make me attend 3 hour long monthly meetings right after lunch in an incredibly crammed, stuffy room with no AC. There was usually about 2-5 minutes of tangentially relevant content for me to hear. It was awful and kept me from my long list of projects I needed to be working on.

    3. Reality Check*

      I was having serious allergies a few years back and only Benadryl would keep me from breaking out in hives/face swelling shut. Staying awake during meeting became quite a challenge.

      1. Ssssssssssssssssssssss*

        I had a recurring allergy issue and was taking Benadryl like nobody’s business and actually built up a tolerance for it.

        My boss had spring allergies and I recommended the dose I was taking. He accidentally took a 2-hour nap that day. I drugged my boss!

        1. La Triviata*

          I’ve taken medications (once daily vitamins!) that made me sleepy. But someone I worked with years ago had sleep apnea and once fell asleep in the middle of a phone call, with the phone clutched in his hand. He had it treated and could stay awake for the day (most of the time).

          1. Anon Again... Naturally*

            As someone with sleep apnea, even with treatment I still have bad nights where I struggle to remain awake the next day. It is so embarrassing but sometimes nothing works but taking a nap. The great part of working from home is that I can actually do that.

            1. BekaAnne*

              God yes, apnea was part of the reason I always used to bring hot tea in an uncovered mug to any town halls or corporate meetings. If I started to doze off, the tea would touch my hand and I’d wake right up. But, honestly, training, corporate or long boring meeting, my eyes would just start to close. Sit down for 5 minutes in the afternoon, I was asleep!

              I’m much better now that I am getting treatment but it still doesn’t help when it’s amazingly boring.

              Weirdly I had to have a conversation with another manager about this a while back. We hired a new project manager and he could not stay awake during the training. I raised that it could be medical and to raise it as an expectation that he should be alert and engaged during training, and there were reports that this was not the case. He claimed nothing medical. There were bigger issues with him though. He always managed to be gone by 3:59 (he only started at about 8:30 so super short day by comparison given the expectation was 8 hours with 30 mins for lunch – and he took lunch every day, so we got 7 hours out of him on a good day).

              He used to go to the gym in the morning before work and get in 90 minutes of weights, and then disappear off to the gym in the afternoon before it got busy for another 30 minutes weights and 60 minutes cardio. Unfortunately, he got let go because he really, really didn’t care for the job more than a paycheck and didn’t care that the customers knew it. Mgmt didn’t really get good client feedback on him, so when it was time for redundancies… Chop chop!

        2. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

          I had chronic hives for a while, and was taking 4x anti-histamines per day. The first day I almost fell asleep standing in line at the pharmacy (jolted myself awake). I still think that the fact that I got any work done in those 5 months is a miracle.

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        Ahhh, Benadryl, the enchantress of dozing.

        The worst part is that it doesn’t hit me right away–it’s always about twenty, thirty minutes later and BOOM, out like a light. I can fight through it, usually, and the drowsiness wears off, but man, it just grabs you by the ankle and yanks.

    4. Courageous cat*

      Yeah but… wouldn’t you be on your best behavior your first week?

      Reasons aren’t excuses here. There’s plenty of reasons to nod off at any point in life, but I’d say staying awake through work is kind of a bare minimum expectation.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Well yeah, you would, but of the four items “Love to WFH” mentioned, three are completely beyond your control. I don’t see anybody here offering excuses.

        And we are talking about a new employee. Have you never been a new employee before? That first week can be simply exhausting.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          Yes. It’s not unusual for a new job to have a new schedule which translates to a new wake-up time period. Plus, there’s the stress and sleeplessness of the night before a new job. Added with learning whole new routines and policies and cultures of the new working environment, there are really tired new employees.

          1. Daisy-dog*

            I also leave extra early in the first few days of as new job because I haven’t learned the traffic patterns yet. I usually give a buffer of at least 30+ minutes (to still be 15 minutes early).

        2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          The idea that humans should never be humans and can somehow overcome their biological processes….bleah.

          1. HR Friend*

            Asking someone – *paying* someone – to stay awake for an hour at work is not asking them to overcome any biological processes.

            1. Jessica*

              Asking someone who’s sleep-deprived not to start to nod off in a meeting is *literally asking them to overcome a biological process.*

              Did you miss the part where the LW said the employee was visibly fighting it?

              Our brains forcing us into “microsleeps” is the reason humans don’t straight-up die from lack of sleep the way rats do. Speaking as someone who struggles with insomnia, if you’re sleep-deprived enough, you can resist taking a nap at work, yes. You *can’t* always resist nodding off and catching yourself.

              This is like saying “we’re PAYING you not to cough for an hour.” That may literally not be possible, depending what condition someone’s in.

              1. Chick (on laptop)*

                You can still work while coughing, though. Same can’t be said of sleeping.

              2. HR Friend*

                Nodding off in a meeting is unprofessional, sorry. If this employee knows there’s something medical going on that’s going to cause her to fall asleep at work, she should have talked to her manager about it before it happened or immediately after it happened.

                No one’s torturing the employee by denying her sleep, come on.

                1. KTC*

                  I’m with you. The idea that we should give someone grace for falling asleep AT WORK is insane. If someone is in bad enough shape that this is happening, they need to take a sick day.

                2. Jessica*

                  I didn’t say anyone was “denying her sleep.”

                  I said she may not be able to help nodding off.

                  I am a lifelong insomniac. I have been to three different sleep clinics. I manage it as well as I can, but there’s a good chance that regardless of what I do, I may, especially if I’m sitting, start falling asleep. I don’t *stay* asleep–I catch myself and usually drive one of my fingernails into my palm or do something unobtrusive that hurts to wake myself up, but if a coworker’s looking at me when it hits, they’re going to see it.

                  I don’t know when it’s going to happen, and I have yet to find any healthcare practitioner with any solution other than “try to get more sleep.” How? No idea. Do the things you’re already doing. Those aren’t helping? Well, we can try this medication again, which has the side effects of… oh yes, making you more likely to fall asleep during the daytime.

                  So tell me, what exactly am I supposed to do? Not work because it’s unprofessional for someone to see me starting to nod off?

                  1 in 3 adult Americans have insomnia, and 10% of us have it chronically enough to classify as a disorder. There are probably people fighting falling asleep in every meeting you’re in.

                  The employee didn’t come in and settle in for a nap. She was fighting falling asleep. You don’t fight things you’re doing voluntarily.

                3. HR Friend*

                  @Jessica “what exactly am I supposed to do? Not work because it’s unprofessional for someone to see me starting to nod off?”

                  I addressed that my very short reply to you: “If this employee knows there’s something medical going on that’s going to cause her to fall asleep at work, she should have talked to her manager about it before it happened or immediately after it happened.”

                  I’m never going to agree that we should all just ignore someone nodding off at work because there might be some unknown reason they’re tired.

          2. Reluctant Mezzo*

            Budget meetings are the worst. I practically have to hit myself to stay awake. If I am in back, though, I can ‘take notes’ and keep myself awake that way. If I am at the table and highly visible, I actually do take notes as if I had to take minutes and that also works. Sadly, it also gets you stuck taking minutes!

        3. Stampy*

          It’s bizarre to me that people are saying it’s fine to fall asleep during a meeting during your first week of work at a new job. I cannot imagine working anywhere that would not be considered unacceptable. At the very least, if you had any of these issues that made not falling asleep impossible, you would need to address it with your boss because it’s so far out of the norms of the working world that clearly it’s going to be an issue. And yes, I’ve been a new employee several times. I would have taken whatever steps necessary to not fall asleep during a meeting!

          1. Chick (on laptop)*

            Here is Allison’s pinned top comment on the last post where commenters were bending over backwards to say people should be allowed to sleep at work:

            Ask a Manager*May 18, 2022 at 12:31 pm
            Some of the comments about meetings below are so out of sync with typical workplace norms they’re actively harmful to people who are new to the workforce and trying to calibrate their understanding of acceptable behavior. I am not willing to have that here because it risks truly harming someone’s career. I need to think further about how to manage this, but for now at a minimum, if you are talking about how you think things should be rather than how things are, I request that you note that in your comment.

          2. Daisy-dog*

            I don’t think people think it’s completely fine, it’s just that scenario described isn’t that bad. We can understand it is a human moment. If it seems to be an indication that the new hire doesn’t care, that’s a different issue.

            Maybe this employee should have said something about having difficulty adjusting or having a disorder. But if it never happened again, it shouldn’t really be a judgment of their character.

          3. AvonLady Barksdale*

            I completely agree with this. I totally sympathize with the new employee– I always say the first week of work feels like jet lag– but that doesn’t mean that falling asleep is ok. I get really drowsy and I have to stand up or take a break, but I would be mortified if I actually fell asleep in a meeting (I’ve done it accidentally and it sucks).

            I don’t think the LW should say anything to the new hire and I do believe the LW should be understanding, but that doesn’t mean this is ok or appropriate. Sure, it happens to a lot of us and it’s not the end of the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable and we should just allow/expect it to happen.

            1. I am Emily's failing memory*

              Exactly this. I generally believe in establishing clear standards and holding people to them, and I also generally believe in giving people a little bit of grace.

              Things doesn’t have to be letter-of-the-law or no laws at all. Establish rules or standards that you can stand behind (because they serve a functional purpose and are reasonably fair), but when people mess up and it’s out of character or they’re too new to be able to tell, approach the situation with compassion, give benefit of doubt, and make sure that if they’re willing to put in the work to meet the standard, you’re willing to give them whatever reasonable support they need to get there.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yep. Falling asleep in a meeting isn’t okay! Yes, it can happen; people are human. But it’s not something you want to happen, it can reflect seriously poorly on you, and that discussion last year where some people were arguing it wasn’t a big deal (or was somehow the employer’s fault for holding a boring meeting) was bonkers.

              That doesn’t mean the manager should come down on her like a ton of bricks (as I wrote in the post, since she didn’t address it that day at this point I’d wait and see if it was a one-off, which hopefully it was; if it happens again, you need to address it forthrightly) but no one’s takeaway should be that it’s no big deal to sleep in a work meeting.

            3. londonedit*

              Yep. We can all completely understand that the first week at a new job can be tiring and overwhelming, and I think most people can relate to that feeling of nodding off during a long meeting, especially if it’s in the afternoon, it’s a warm room, etc. It’s understandable, but it’s still not ideal and it’s not professional. No one wants their boss to see them falling asleep in meetings. There’s no need to go off at the employee, and I don’t think a one-off deserves a mention, but if it becomes a pattern then I think it’s definitely worth speaking to the employee to ask whether there’s anything they can do to prevent themselves falling asleep.

          4. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

            No one is saying that it is fine to nod off in a meeting. But there are reasons why this might happen this one time.

            People are human and human things like nodding off, belching, etc happen. The employee is embarrassed. I’d say let it go but watch for a pattern.

          5. ClaireW*

            But are people actually saying “Yeah falling asleep during a meeting is totally fine and normal”? What I’m seeing is people saying that in the scheme of things, a women feeling very tired and trying to stop herself falling asleep is not an extremely egregious behavior that warrants a particular calling out. More than likely she already knows how bad it was, OP just wanted to know if they should do something after the fact and as Alison said, it was almost certainly unintentional but if it happens again then ask her what’s going on.

            You’re acting like the comments are all supporting someone pulling out a pillow and deciding to nap mid-meeting.

          6. DataSci*

            Nobody’s saying it’s fine. Some people are saying there could be numerous explanations for a one-time event that warrant being considerate. If it’s a pattern, obviously there needs to be a conversation. But once? Unless this is air traffic control or something similar where a moment of inattention could kill people, make a note if it and move on, or ask the employee if they’re okay. It can be “not okay” and also not rise to the level of immediate disciplinary action.

      2. Appletini*

        You can’t behave away allergies.

        That said if I were having an issue with one of these things I’d try to quietly let my boss know, emphasizing in my phrasing that this is a current temporary problem and not a way of life.

      3. Warrior Princess Xena*

        As one of the people with ‘medical condition sometimes keeps you from sleep’, I can tell you that there comes a point where you cannot hold off the nap. I recently had this happen when I was on-site at a client while in a meeting with both my grand-boss and the client’s big boss. Thank God it was a virtual meeting because I could barely keep my eyes open the whole time and the moment it was over I had to put my head down on my arms for a 10 minute nap.

        If it becomes a pattern, or if an employee starts falling asleep at unexpected times/places (while presenting, or standing in the middle of the hall), then it’s worth stepping in. But if it’s sleepy eyes at a meeting (that even OP admits was boring) and it only happens once, I’d leave it alone.

        1. Schnapps*

          Yup. I have a friend with a form of narcolepsy (she skips some sleep stages and goes straight into REM sleep). She will fall asleep in meetings if her meds are off. There are times where she literally can’t help falling asleep.

          Its worth a question of, “Hey, you looked really tired in that meeting and had your eyes closed for a bit – is everything ok?”

      4. Worldwalker*

        I wrote below about yesterday, when the neighbor was having a tree removed and the tree service started with the chain saws and the industrial-size wood chipper at 7 am. I normally stay up late and sleep late — that’s how I’m most productive, and I work from home. I survived yesterday on caffeine and willpower. I’m getting too old for this; it’s not like when I was in college and I could pull an all-nighter and be fine the next day! At least I wasn’t going to fall asleep at my desk, because wood chipper.

        It wasn’t a matter of behavior, best or other wise. It was a matter of *a tree service chopping up a tree with chainsaws and feeding it into a wood chipper at 7 in the morning*!

      5. ElizabethJane*

        I fell asleep my first day at my first office job. I’d previously been a bartender. I was 22 and hand basically nothing in the way of savings. I fell asleep because:

        I’d worked 17 days straight prior to my first day trying to save up as much money as I could in anticipation of moving from an immediate cash pay schedule to direct deposit with 3 weeks of no pay.
        I was used to working 7 pm to 3 am. Switching to 7:30 am to 4 pm was rough
        Because of the whole no savings thing I had no downtime to catch up on sleep or adjust my schedule. I closed the bar, got home and fell asleep by 3:30, and had to get up at 6 to get ready for my new first day at work.

        Was it great? No, not really. But do I think it was some giant moral failing on my part? Also no. I’m a human existing in a capitalist hellscape. I did the best I could.

        1. SweetestCin*

          Similar story. Wasn’t a bartender, was coming out of retail management. “Management” really just meant that the chain could put me on salary and have me work 80 hours a week in all honesty (did not know this at age 22).

          Since I was saving what little money I had (getting security deposit back from shady-sketch-arse landlord where I was leaving was going to be a battle), I continued working a 6-10 pm shift at the retail location AFTER my 7-4 shift at my new job for about six weeks, as well as open-5 on weekends, because again, money.

          My saving grace was that our office was….cold. That, and we had free legal assistance as a benefit, meaning that though dealing with the former landlord was unpleasant, it turned out very much in my favor and went very very quickly :)

      6. metadata minion*

        Sure, but if you’re, say, on a medication that’s strongly sedating there’s only so much that willpower can do to keep you awake. Same thing with switching sleep cycles. Some people can go back and forth and just be a bit fuzzybrained for a few days; other people can barely stay awake while their circadian cycle synchs back up and it has nothing to do with professionalism or being on your “best behavior”.

      7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Is that even a behavioral issue? Unless New Employee walked into that meeting thinking “ah, boring but important meeting, time to catch some Zs” I don’t see it as a best/worst behavior thing.

        1. Jessica*

          That’s what’s driving me nuts about so many of these comments.

          People are acting like the employee voluntarily took a nap, and like anyone saying anything but “it’s not acceptable to sleep at work” are saying she should have been allowed to nap or something.

          Literally all anyone’s saying is having to visibly fight involuntarily falling asleep in a meeting is not some sort of behavior issue. It’s a health thing.

          It happening in one meeting could be *anything.* New allergy meds, a sleepless night or two, the start of a cold, a hormone shift, change in sleep schedule due to new job, etc.

          If it happens again, the manager should ask her if there’s a health condition they should know about and offer some suggestions for what to do if you’re getting sleepy during a meeting, but *once* could be due to literally anything.

          1. Avril Ludgateaux*

            This this this! I find it weird that people, even Alison, are responding as if anybody is condoning dozing off at work. Nobody is condoning it! Some people, however, are being compassionate about it. Some people are taking the opportunity to gripe about useless, workflow-interrupting meetings (which may or may not be applicable here). Some people may have had it happen to them, even, and are speaking from experience and empathy. That doesn’t mean they are saying that you should go ahead and freely take naps during meetings – it does mean that some of us recognize people are, in fact, human and we should handle such slips-of-the-automaton-mask with sympathy, grace, and dignity for all parties involved.

            (Incidentally, this is also highly cultural. In Japan, “inemuri” is the practice of falling asleep at your desk, and it’s seen as a sign of dedication and high work ethic because you’re clearly working yourself to the bone and also attending all those mandatory nomikai after work, poor lad. It’s a toxic perspective in its own right, but the point is that work norms are NOT universal.)

            It’s also confusing because it’s a terribly common perspective here that meetings should only be held when absolutely necessary, and the participants should only be people who are immediately involved, but somehow on THIS topic, “consider whether this meeting and this audience is necessary/valuable” is a controversial, hostile stance.

      8. Seeking Second Childhood*

        An example where allergy medicine sleepiness zapped me — I had been taking Zyrtec regularly to visit friends with critters I’m allergic to. They moved, and it was a year before I needed to take it again– and this time it pretty much hit me with a 2×4. I was lucky I wasn’t driving.

        1. ScruffyInternHerder*

          That particular one is “take at night when I have 8 full hours to sleep it off”!!!

          The 2×4 is delayed – but man when it hits, its a mandatory nap. I have literally fallen asleep at the kitchen counter.

      9. Avril Ludgateaux*

        Yeah but… wouldn’t you be on your best behavior your first week?

        As somebody currently struggling with insomnia that leaves me extremely drowsy/fatigued during the day, thus vulnerable to falling asleep in any number of inappropriate situations, I resent the suggestion that I’m not on my “best behavior” because I can’t fall asleep (and the anxiety about the effects of not falling asleep, including perception by others, actually makes it harder to sleep).

    5. Lyngend (Canada)*

      I have issues with light causing me to feel extremely drowsy. So boring + too much light = me fighting sleep.

    6. Worldwalker*

      I was awakened way too early yesterday because my neighbor across the street was having a large tree cut down and fed into a wood chipper. I go to bed late (I work from home) so I had maybe 4 hours of sleep before they started chipping. And then I had a hard time getting any work done, because I kept having to be on the (landline) phone so I couldn’t use my noise-cancelling headphones. On the plus side, I didn’t fall asleep at my desk. Not that my body didn’t *try* but, y’know, they were feeding a tree into a wood chipper.

      For instance, that was just the one tree. A while back, one of our cats got into the bedroom and I was mostly asleep when I heard something purring in the dark. I was too tired to kick her out, which was in retrospect a bad decision. About 3 am she decided she was bored and wanted her humans to entertain her — and when she wants to make said humans wake up, she walks on our heads. I can tell you from personal experience that a 12-pound cat standing on your head in the middle of the night will wake you up very effectively.

      All sorts of things can cause someone to be really tired, and many of them are temporary. It was only the one tree. We are more diligent about keeping the cats out of the bedroom. (Cricket walks on heads, Mac attacks anything that moves, like toes, under the covers) If someone is one of those people who frequently has difficulty getting back to sleep after being awakened at night, something like a wrong number at some unholy hour of night can leave them zoned out the next day. Rampaging pets, colicky babies, loud neighbors (especially in apartment buildings with walls apparently made out of paper), some moron’s car alarm going off for literally hours, a squirrel in the attic, a couple of feral tomcats disputing rights to the back yard outside an open window, anything involving fire trucks, and innumerable other things that can happen in life (all of the above but the babies have happened to me) can cause someone to lose sleep. And many, many more.

      So if this continues to happen, look into it. But first you need to know if it’s a regular thing or one and done.

    7. Elizabeth West*

      I can’t wait until my first day in the new office after I move. After driving for three days, unloading, grocery shopping in a new city, getting used to an apartment building living again, and traveling to the office on unfamiliar public transport, I should be wide awake and perky.

      NOT. :’D

      Perhaps this new employee had a lot going on.

    8. Rara Avis*

      During the onboarding process for my current job, during which we were in meetings and trainings ALL DAY for almost two weeks, I fell asleep one afternoon. I was very embarrassed, but no one gave me a hard time about it, and I’m still there 20+ years later. I do better in meetings if I fidget or doodle.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        I do too. One thing that helps me in endless boring meetings is taking copious notes. It doesn’t matter if I actually need the information or care. I take notes the entire time about everything and that way I not only look engaged to the people presenting, but I also have a way to keep my brain awake just enough that I’m unlikely to fall on my face.

        1. Ellen D*

          Absolutely, the same for me. If I’m not taking notes, I’m doodling. I need to keep my brain engaged in meetings, especially where the topic under discussion is not relevant to me – or is an endless repetition of previous discussions.

      2. Anon Y Mouse*

        Yes this. I had a very hard time staying awake several hours into onboarding at a job I was very excited about in my twenties. Like the employee in the post, I was fighting it hard. It was partly that nerves had made it hard to sleep the night before, partly that it was warm, and partly that I had undiagnosed ADHD and was struggling to focus while listening for so long (no fidget toys back then). I knew that falling asleep was a fireable offence, and I literally had thumbtacks clenched in my hand to try to keep myself alert. And I still couldn’t stop my eyes drooping. It was awful.

        I didn’t get fired but the job was a prime example of “don’t call it your dream job till you’ve done it for a while”. Ended up stuck there for seven years and was very glad to leave, but I never dozed off again.

    9. cursed*

      Or you’re me: cursed by a witch to never be able to sleep past 4am but still remain tired as hell the next day

      (Ok so I wasn’t cursed but it frekin feels like it given how hard I work to maintain good sleep hygiene and still end up having nightly panic attacks)

    10. Saberise*

      It wasn’t work but back when I was in college I had a 3 hour night accounting class. I had literally been up all night the prior night while my sister was in labor and had an emergency C-section. Attendance was required so I went to class having had no sleep in 36 hours. I was really struggling to stay awake. It didn’t go unnoticed by the professor. He came down on me hard during mid-class break and when I told him why he was apologetic and told me to just go home and get some sleep. So there may be a very good reason for this.

      1. allathian*

        Oof, that’s tough. I hope your sister recovered well from the emergency C-section and that your nibling is doing great now.

        It’s also an interesting cultural difference, because even before Covid, hospitals here would allow only one support person, usually the non-birthing parent or a doula, in the birthing room. After the child’s born, other relatives were allowed to visit only during official visiting hours.

        I’m perimenopausal, and my most noticeable symptom is that I regularly wake up at 4 am or so and can’t get back to sleep again. So no more all-nighters for me, I go to bed by 10 pm at the latest so that I’m not completely sleep-deprived even if I wake up far too early.

        But when I was in college, I worked in a fast-food/sandwich place that was open 6 am to 1 am, with an overnight shift (11 pm to 7 am) to clean up and make the first set of sandwiches. I sometimes took that shift, clocked off at 7, hit the shower in the changing room, grabbed some breakfast and went to class when I had a morning class at 8. My work was within easy walking distance of my college. It was brutal, but I could do it at 22.

    11. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      If I had to guess, I might theorize that the new person was excited and nervous about the job and couldn’t sleep the night before! Which is a problem that will sort itself out as they adjust to the new routine.

      1. Adultier adult*

        Yes! A normal sane answer! I’ve had the same profession for 18 years (academics) and I still cannot sleep
        The night before a new semester- by Wednesday that first week, I’m wiped-

    12. Agent Coulson*

      I once worked with a man who had extremely dry eyes. It was a medical diagnosis and he was under a doctor’s care for it. He had a vial of specialized eye drops to put in. However he thought putting in eye drops in the middle of the meeting would be more distracting (and maybe nausea-inducing for some) than waiting until afterwards. So he would close his eyes but still be fully involved in the meeting, even taking notes with his eyes closed.

      Those of us the worked with him regularly thought he was fabulous but new people were always taken aback and reporting him to the highers-up for sleeping.

  4. Fishsticks*

    Oh god. I’ve had to fight off the nodding-offs before. Thank God for Zoom meetings where I can have my camera off. If it just happened once, it could be a one-off issue. If it keeps happening, then yes, maybe speak to her.

    In my case, I had a very young infant who did not sleep and therefore I was chronically sleep-deprived for almost four years straight, leading to a lot of afternoon slumps. Also being in too warm of a room can make it hard for me to stay awake. I was able to manage it. But definitely, if it happens again, maybe gently ask if there is something she could do to help maintain wakefulness.

    1. Artemesia*

      I was having this issue a few years before I retired and was just thinking I was old and tired. At my next ordinary physical it turned out I had almost no thyroid; took a few pills and no more problem. It is not always easy to know when something is physical.

      1. Fishsticks*

        Oh, solid point! The thyroid can cause all kinds of symptoms that don’t necessarily make you immediately THINK of a thyroid problem.

  5. SINE*

    My company actively encourages us to connect with our global counterparts via Teams and in-person when travelling as much as possible. It’s a great way to exchange ideas, align processes, sanity check things that look weird, and build relationships.

    1. SarahKay*

      Agreed. You absolutely can build relationships over Teams / Zoom etc only, but there’s something about meeting someone in person that (at least for me) jumps that relationship forward hugely.

  6. EMP*

    I was the person falling asleep for the first few weeks of my first real job out of grad school! I was staying up late to watch playoff hockey and getting up early to work out before work, and just hadn’t adjusted from the gradschool habits where I could plan on a nap during the day. No one mentioned anything to me but I know it was really obvious and it went on for a few weeks until I figured my shit out. It worked out in the end but I hope I would’ve gotten it together faster if someone had taken me aside and told me how unacceptable it was!

    1. A person*

      In our office culture (manufacturing based so a little on the gruff side)… we encourage people to stand up in a meeting if they’re struggling to stay awake. It usually helps and since it’s an accepted method by us no one finds it weird or disruptive.

  7. CommanderBanana*

    Transitioning to a new work schedule, especially if you’ve been remote or unemployed before is exhausting, as is having to be “on” all day. I would extend her some grace. In the moment you could have suggested a quick break or stretch.

    I think I’ve only fallen asleep once in a meeting, but I went through a medication change a few years ago that gave me insane sleepiness at the same time every day for about 2 weeks. It was beyond feeling sleepy, it was almost like my brain was trying to turn itself off.

    1. High Score!*

      Anytime you change jobs, the first week is rough. Least time I switched jobs, I’d been in my current job a long time and much of it become easy for me. Then New Job wasn’t easy. It was a challenge. I slept longer at night while getting acclimated and indulged in a lot more coffee during the day to survive the meetings.

      1. Lexi Lynn*

        I always thought that new jobs should start on a Wednesday which is enough time to get started, but then gives the new hire time to decompress.

        1. Miette*

          I received this advice early in my career and have used it ever since. It’s a great way to get acclimated and reduce some of the new job stress.

          I’d also add that perhaps the new employee’s commute could be adding to their tiredness–waking up earlier than someone is used to, to catch a train (vs. driving) has been my experience more than once, and contributed to some mid-afternoon sleepiness. Also, don’t discount that new employee is likely a bit lost in all the details that are not familiar or relevant to them yet. There’s only so much enthusiasm that can be shown for the Jane’s updates to the TPS reports when you have no idea who Jane is yet or what the reports are for.

    2. I am Emily's failing memory*

      I want to underscore your idea of suggesting a quick break. Anyone leading or with some ability to sway the agenda of a lengthy meeting (more than 45-60 minutes) – if you notice attendees starting to nod off, or people seem so flat energy they aren’t participating very energetically, give some serious consideration to whether you might be able to pause and announce a 5 minute break for folks to refill their beverage, use the restroom, etc.

      Even with a packed agenda you might find that sacrificing 5 minutes in the middle for a bio break would not only improve engagement with the content, but can potentially even energize people enough that it’ll “pay for itself” time-wise, since energized people can literally think and talk faster than people struggling to stay awake.

      I think sometimes people who aren’t using to leading longer meetings can inadvertently forget both that they really should be building breaks into the agenda for a longer meeting, and also that even if they forget to do that, they have the power to call an impromptu break. Five minutes can make a world of difference.

    3. Cyndi*

      The only time I’ve fallen asleep at my desk was at a job where for some reason it took IT a week and a half to set up logins for my little cohort of new hires. Without intranet access we couldn’t do anything at all. And even then, doing absolutely nothing all day, the schedule change alone wore me out!

      Plus, once I’d finished all my outstanding library books, napping was the next best way to kill time. No one ever said boo to me about it.

  8. DivergentStitches*

    I was the Sleepy New Employee at my first post-college job. I’d get very sleepy during the daily team standup meeting. I hope no one noticed! I was also undiagnosed with thyroid issues so there was that as well. But mostly it was from having to be at work at 8 am which was not something I was used to.

  9. Random Dice*

    I had a coworker who had narcolepsy. He was always nodding off in meetings. If we needed his input we got it individually.

    I’m guessing this isn’t that serious as narcolepsy, maybe more new-job sleeplessness from nerves.

  10. Ellen Ripley*

    Same here! Unfortunately it was happening on a pretty regular basis (I had almost daily meetings and/or classes), in the before-Covid times so this was all in person.

    In my case, the cause was unknown. I tried a bunch of things to combat it: drinking lots of water, withholding caffeine, using caffeine before or during the meeting, morning exercise, afternoon exercise, no exercise, going to bed earlier, going to bed later, melatonin, excusing myself during the meeting to go walk around, etc. I even brought it up with my doctor multiple times, blood tests always came back normal and the Dr wouldn’t pursue it further.

    I knew it was a bad thing to do, I would miss parts of the class/meeting, and it was embarrassing! But I really couldn’t figure out a way to make it stop happening, my brain would just start to shut down.

    Finally after graduating and starting a job with a more flexible schedule, I figured out sleeping in later (past 8 am) made it so I no longer felt tired/fell asleep during the day. Go figure.

    Just wanted to share that, if it’s a reoccurring issue, the employee may already be aware of it, mortified, and trying to address it so don’t come down on them too hard!

    1. Ssssssssssssssssssssss*

      Interesting! I had the opposite solution in my 20s

      I was falling asleep in a 9 a.m. class and I tended to sit in the front row and it was definitely noticed by the professor. (And it was boring.)

      I learned back then that I had to make time to, well, wake up. For me, waking up earlier so that I had proper time to shake the cobwebs out, eat, savour that coffee ensured I was notetaking and not nodding off.

      Waking up at 8:30, gulping down some tiny amount of food and coffee (if at all) then of bolting out the door at 8:45 for a 9 a.m. class was not good for me at all!

      1. Ellen Ripley*

        Ohh it’s so rough when you know someone noticed -_-

        People’s unique internal clocks are so interesting. Glad you figured out a good strategy to manage yours!

    2. Ellen Ripley*

      Oops, nesting fail! Responding to a commenter about my experience being the person falling asleep at school/work.

    3. I am Emily's failing memory*

      I’m very similar. My alert/tired meter is rather sensitive to ambient light, both what part of the visible spectrum is present in the light and how intense it is. The reddish light of early morning and late evening tend to make my eyelids incredibly heavy, no matter how much sleep I’ve gotten or how recently I woke up. Even on a cloudy day, I don’t wake easily until the sun is high enough in the sky to be delivering more full-spectrum/blue-tinged light through my bedroom window. Getting up before sunrise or within the first 1-2 hours after it starts to come up is just incredibly difficult for me, even if I’ve gotten 9 hours of sleep.

      Conversely, I need total darkness to fall asleep, and I can be extremely fatigued/low energy but never get the “sleepy” feeling that makes falling asleep easy if I’m bathed in full-spectrum/blue-tinged light. In the evening I use red light filters on my devices and set the ambient lights in my den to be dimmer and redder, because otherwise the full-spectrum light bulbs that help me stay alert during the day and the blue-tinged light of the screens I’m staring at will prevent me from being able to wind down.

      1. Worldwalker*

        I recently got a Nanoleaf hexagon set to build a ceiling light over my desk. I also have a Nanoleaf (large and small triangles) on the wall in a dark corner. I’ve set time-based rules for them so that, for example, they turn on with blue/white lights when I’m due to be at my desk, and automatically switch over to red/orange patterns after dinnertime, and switch off when I should be going to bed now. The controllable colors are a very good thing. Switching to flashing disco patterns when I’m feeling really dragged out sometimes helps.

        Obviously this only works with a home office, but it’s a possible solution to light-related sleep issues.

        1. I am Emily's failing memory*

          Ooh, those look very….soothing :)

          Another light-based tip to add: if you’re a migraine sufferer, studies have found and I have personally experienced that green light can significantly reduce migraine symptoms. For me just changing my color-changing bulbs to green delivers about 80-90% of the relief that I would get from total darkness, except I can actually see by the green light, so I can still do things instead of just laying in a dark room praying for relief for however long it takes to come.

        2. MEH Squared*

          Oh hey! My brother recently got into this and I have sleep problems. I may see if he’ll make me a set!

    4. Aggretsuko*

      Ah, yes, the perennial night owl problem of not being allowed to sleep in past 8 a.m. :/

    5. stefanielaine*

      I had this problem too! It stopped happening and I thought it was just because I got older/got a more interesting job, then just a few months ago I learned that “intrusive sleep when understimulated” is an ADHD symptom and in retrospect I realized it stopped happening right around the time I got diagnosed/started taking medication for my ADHD. There are a million possibilities, almost none of which the colleague in question would have any control over!

  11. Ssssssssssssssssssssss*

    For the exercise where the LW had to handwrite something and then scan to send it in, I hope this was an older re-visited letter. That’s nuts in this day and age.

    And yet… Interestingly, very recently one of my project managers was going to get a group of possible trainees to do the same thing (write or type) and I said, whoa whoa whoa – why?! Instead I got my junior secretary to whip up a Microsoft Forms with all the questions and everything was neatly collected in Forms, no 80 emails from 80 candidates, no sorting thru and filing 80 samples, but instead all neatly downloaded into an Excel and no handwriting or scanning required.

    We’re not a tech company but use the tech you have!

    1. Hlao-roo*

      The excessive interview process is a re-visited letter, but it’s not as old as I would have guessed! The original was published in 2019 (no update, but in the comments the LW mentioned they had a job offer from a different company).

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      Yep, excellent suggestion.

      I am constantly amazed that I have lots of coworkers with very little experience (or confidence) with computers who can suddenly put together a survey in Microsoft Teams or something similar after a quick visit to the University of Google.

    3. Zephy*

      Handwrite and scan-send something she’d already completed and sent them electronically, no less!

    4. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      Agreed. Requiring someone to fill out anything by hand in this day and age is bizarre. Everything else aside, it would make me wonder how technologically backward the company is, and what else I might end up having to do manually if I went to work for them.

  12. Probably Paranoid*

    Am I paranoid, or is anyone else suspicious that the excessive interview process might be a content-harvesting scam?

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      You’re being paranoid.

      If you really want cheap content, there are ways to get it. And I mean it is dirt cheap. Having several well-paid HR people conduct endless interviews just to get content is an expensive way to get content.

      Something, something, underpants gnomes.

    2. PMnowSleepLater*

      I had the same feeling. I had a friend interview somewhere (a small startup), where they had her create a product. I would NOT be surprised if it was used in their products later.

    3. Elsajeni*

      I think that’s a bit paranoid, yeah. I might be more concerned about it if it sounded like they had asked for a lot of “project” type of stuff for free — they have asked for A LOT, but it seems like most of it was filling out applications and taking personality tests and that sort of thing, and of the two writing assignments, they paid for one of them. If they’re doing all this to get one free 600-word article out of each candidate, it’s a pretty inefficient scam!

  13. Peanut Hamper*

    I love the “boring but important” bit. That describes so many meetings! It’s almost like you need to grow an extra lobe on your brain to be able to deal with these things.

  14. Falling Diphthong*

    I thought surely #4 would follow “If the title is a question, then the answer is no” but then it was a totally normally networking suggestion! Go for it, #4!

  15. Chick (on laptop)*

    My apologies to whichever commenter wrote this, as I can’t remember and it’s the BEST thing I’ve ever seen on this site:

    Staying awake at work is not emotional labor.

    1. Builder Bob*

      Even if it is, it’s emotional labor that you get paid for.

      Was someone genuinely trying to make the case that people shouldn’t be expected to stay awake at work bc it’s too much emotional labor? It’s an essential job duty, even if it isn’t spelled out. Plus, I feel like adding “Stays awake for 8 continuous hours” to job descriptions is akin to adding a note to a convenience store microwave that says “Do not heat up urine”.

      1. Allonge*

        Yes, the last time we did this here, the meeting organiser was told by a bunch of commenters to check if the meeting is interesting enough, schedule it for a time when nobody is sleepy (so not in the morning, not in the afternoon, definitely not after lunch) and in general to stop having meetings at all, as that is obviously the issue and not that someone keeps falling asleep.

        1. Builder Bob*

          Well, it’s not unreasonable to review your meetings content for relevance to avoid boring people to death and to avoid having meetings right after lunch in a warm room.

          I was wondering specifically whether anyone referred to staying awake as “emotional labor,” and what I’m reading from your response is that no one did.

          1. Allonge*

            Well, actually they did. Link to follow, but the you can find the post if you search for “my employee keeps falling asleep in meetings” and then Ctrl + F emotional.

            And a meeting relevance check is not a bad idea. But as the employees are paid to be at the meeting, boring is irrelevant – work is boring.

          2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

            well people tend to sort of compete who can be more hard business when a few simple reframes could be more helpful to LWs. Work is boring but even recognizing medical issues exist can turn the temperature way down…

              1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

                Eh tbh I’m not saying you can’t have an attitude that everyone is out to get you while sipping their bad person juice, but it may be less effective than saying ‘ hey, you seemed sort of sleepy in the meeting. Is everything ok?’

        2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          Those threads were a trip! Staying awake in meetings is part of work. If this group generally agrees that crying is something you should manage/control then falling asleep at work should be too.

          1. I am Emily's failing memory*

            Yeah, if you’re the meeting organizer, it’s part of your job to try to make the meeting as engaging as you can. And if you’re the meeting participant, it’s part of your job to stay awake in the meeting, even if the organizer didn’t do their part very well.

            Like most situations in a workplace, if everyone is doing their own job well, it generally makes all their coworkers’ jobs easier. And if someone is doing their own job poorly, it often makes their coworkers’ jobs harder. But very rarely is it the case that a coworker’s poor work making your job harder gives you an excuse not to do your (harder) job anyway.

            1. Nobby Nobbs*

              The letter writer isn’t dealing with someone who’s regularly blowing off an aspect of their work. They’re dealing with someone who visibly struggled with that aspect of their work, once. Calling for some understanding isn’t an absurd reaction.

      2. Dan Draper*

        Even if it is, it’s emotional labor that you get paid for.

        You took the words right out of my mouth.

      3. Jessica*

        I don’t know how to explain to people here that for people who are sleep-deprived, on various medications, under stress, etc. nodding off in a meeting is. not. voluntary.

        The LW didn’t say the employee came to the meeting and put a pillow on the table and took a nap. They said she was visibly fighting it.

        This is like saying “don’t sneeze for 8 hours” is a reasonable thing to demand of people. Sometimes human bodies do things involuntarily that aren’t convenient for a workplace.

        1. Chick (on laptop)*

          That’s a bad comparison — you can still do the work you are contracted and paid to do while sneezing. You cannot do that when you are sleeping.

          And yes, it is absolutely reasonable for workplaces to expect you to be awake for a continuous 8 hours — especially if that’s a job you *agreed to accept*

        2. Good gravy*

          I don’t know how to explain to you that it doesn’t matter. You need to find a way to stay awake at work. Come on.

          1. Courageous cat*

            Lol yeah I honestly give up with these commenters. They want the right to fall asleep at work and get paid for it as often as needed, so I’m gonna stop trying to convince them why that might not be a sane idea.

        3. Katydidn't*

          Someone left a great comment on yesterday’s letter about the employee who constantly cried at her desk and in meetings, and I think the analogy applies here too. Vomiting is an involuntary physical response that you can sometimes control, and sometimes not. If someone gets food poisoning and vomits at their desk, they should be treated with grace and not punished–it was an involuntary reaction, they couldn’t control it or predict it. If they have a frequent urge to vomit due to a known factor like morning sickness, they should ask for accommodations like wfh, or permission to leave meetings to run to the bathroom. What they can’t do is vomit on the table in every meeting. If their involuntary bodily urge is that severe, they need medical help or an accommodation, and it’s on them to figure out a solution because vomiting in meetings is so beyond the pale of normal office behavior.

          1. Adultier adult*

            Yes!!! I feel like that person should have the open spot to comment on all future postings .

  16. lilsheba*

    I used to fight nodding off at my desk and at meetings years ago and it turned out I had sleep apnea. It only happens now when I’m sitting on the couch, I can manage to stay awake during work.

  17. Cyndi*

    As a general rule I feel that if a meeting is “boring but important” it would be more effective as, say, written documentation than a meeting.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yes, this. It may be out of LW’s control, but I have always found it better to give the written information first, and then have a meeting after to discuss it and give people a chance to ask questions. At least that way, people have more of an incentive to stay alert, because they probably have input they want to give or a question they need answered.

      1. Allonge*

        Well, it works for a lot of people, me included, and it really does not work for a lot of other people, my boss included. Some humans would rather talk first.

        1. BL73*

          And really, it’s not the point anyway. Many things could be done a different way or more efficiently, but attending meetings and staying alert is something many professionals have to do. I see no benefit to finding excuses for the employee or waiting to suggest ways to avoid it. It can and will hurt many people’s professional reputation, regardless of the reason why it’s happening.

    2. Katherine Boag*

      I did the maths, and it surprised me how many people you need to be presenting to before switching to written materials is a better use of time (using average typing, reading, and speaking speeds and assuming a one-way flow of information, no need for questions etc). But in my experience, a lot of people just don’t read emails. If you want everyone to be aware of important details, you sometimes NEED to force them to attend a meeting and tell them the information in person. (this might be coloured by one particular workplace with poor management tho)

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        I’m a consultant who works with lots of companies, and I can tell you it’s not one particular workplace! It’s a very rare team that reads much of anything in advance, even the agendas (that everyone insists are so important). If I want to be sure the material is seen, understood, and agreed to then we have to have a live conversation. Maybe two.

        1. Katherine Boag*

          It’s reassuring that my understanding of the situation was correct, but disturbing that so many people just don’t read. I understand there can be mitigating factors but still.

          1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

            I think it’s more about today’s work culture than whether or not they are conscientious and considerate. When there is always so much to do, their mind is on what’s NOW and it’s hard make room for what’s tomorrow. When I get them in the room I have their attention but before that their attention was with whoever they were in the room with then.

            Great workplaces focus more on what’s important versus just fighting fires, but it’s really common.

        1. Adultier adult*

          This may be the thing that makes me the craziest- Just read it!!! Aughhhhhh lol

        2. Turquoisecow*

          Or they do read it but they don’t absorb the information effectively that way and you’re better off speaking to them. And if there’s a lot of people like that, it’s better to just get them in a room together.

      2. Turquoisecow*

        I can’t tell you how many replies I’ve gotten to emails that indicated to me they hadn’t read the email at all.

      3. DataSci*

        Are you assuming 100% retention, or perfect note-taking by all participants, at the meeting? Because for me being able to go back later and refer to something is a big reason to prefer written documentation vs. a meeting.

  18. My Brain is Exploding*

    I have come soooo close to this in Continuing Education meetings…in particular, the ones right after lunch when they turn down the lights for a power point presentation. It’s not from staying out late, etc. I have two suggestions (if this remains a problem). 1. Check out how your meetings are run (overly long, room too warm, etc.) as well as how much of any meeting is really relevant to your employee. (The worst time I can remember was when I had to sit through an hour-long lecture on insurance coding. Which I never had to do.) 2. Discuss with your employee what might help them stay awake. They may volunteer some information that would be useful, if not…caffeine, small wrapped candies (I used to eat one every ten minutes), taking notes, sitting in the back (so they could stand up at times), a cold drink…I’m sure the commenters have lots of other ideas!

  19. Marigold*

    I worked with someone who would fall asleep on a daily basis. He would be asleep for 10 mins+. The executive team knew. There were pictures of him sleeping. No one ever said anything to him. Shockingly, he left on his own accord a few months ago. I am looking for a new job.

    1. constant_craving*

      Any chance he had a documented medical condition you weren’t privy to? That is the only explanation I can think of for an exec just ignoring it, besides utter incompetence.

  20. BL73*

    As a manager I would address falling asleep now, versus seeing if it happens again. While there are a host of good reasons it happens, it can still make the person look unprofessional and sometimes first impressions follow us throughout our careers, rightly or wrongly.

    A kind word to suggest if she feels it happening again to step out for a drink of water should be fine.

  21. Allonge*

    Are we doing this again? Sleeping at work, outside of a very few examples, is not ok, no matter how boring the meeting or how good a reason. It’s best to address this now.

    1. Anon Y Mouse*

      She was visibly fighting it, as mentioned in the post, so she definitely did not think it was OK. I agree with Alison, I would wait and see if it’s a repeated problem (even once).

  22. Post Script*

    Regarding the sleepy employee – can you have the CO2 levels checked while a meeting is in progress? I’ve been in meeting- and classrooms where there was no air circulation and had a very hard time concentrating and staying awake.
    Here’s a Popular Science article about it:
    If you can improve the circulation and air exchanges, the problem very well might go away on its own.

      1. Post Script*

        Individual responses to high CO2 levels probably vary a lot, so I would not necessarily expect everyone to be affected exactly the same way. But if you see multiple people fighting to stay awake, that’s a good sign there needs to be more air circulation!

  23. LadyAmalthea*

    My first pregnancy symptom was extreme tiredness and I was super lucky I was working from home most of my first trimester because my body would just tell me to crash. Add that to limits on caffeine intake and oof.

    1. allathian*

      Oof yes. I ended up telling my boss about my pregnancy much earlier than I’d planned when I was 7 or 8 weeks pregnant because she found me asleep at my desk one day.

      In those early days I went to work and to my scheduled medical appointments and that was it. I sometimes think I had some form of temporary pregnancy-induced narcolepsy, because while I didn’t fall asleep on the job again, I regularly fell asleep on the commuter train to and from work. After-work naps saved my evenings.

  24. psychoktty*

    Regarding snoozing….
    I’ve been with the same employer since 2000. We had a month-long new-hire training class. (I was originally hired into call-center). One of the only things I remember about the training class, is that everyone at one point or another fell asleep. Sometimes it was impossible to keep my eyes open. This was certainly due to people having a new schedule to adapt to, but it was also because there wasn’t a whole lot of participation. Once we were given something to do, it was like the coffee kicked in and people were awake and alert. Subsequent classroom refresher trainings were just as sleep inducing. I’ve been a remote employee in a national workgroup since before the pandemic, so since we started having all of our training’s delivered online via whatever preferred platform is in place at the time, and training managers have become more adept at keeping people involved (like asking direct questions, having people read out loud etc.), the rate of snoozing has diminished considerably!

  25. Aggretsuko*

    The sleeping in meetings thing is why I was begging my work to let me knit and they insisted that I sit perfectly still and stare at them for an hour in every 8 a.m. meeting. The meetings were boring every time, in the “icebox” meeting room, and we just sat there at 8 a.m. listening to people drone.

    Now we have Zoom meetings, I knit under the table, I’m wide awake and everything’s cool. Too bad this isn’t an option for more people. There was an NYT article on it last week, even.

  26. Fresh air requirer*

    Long shot- any chance she came to you from a job where she was on her feet for more of the day, or outdoors?

    I used to sit through all the usual work meetings attentively, no problem. A few years ago I switched to an outdoors trade (eight hours of fresh air and a fair bit of exercise). Now the quarterly all-day trainings indoors are brutal. They’re interesting and well-presented, I’m taking notes and contributing etc. Still, it is *so hard* to stay awake. I’m doublefisting coffees. It’s a very extreme reaction after I had no sleepiness in years of working in offices. Maybe my body and brain no longer think indoors is for work?

    If that were the case I’d hope a supervisor would be gracious about a one-time lapse early on in such a big transition. Of course it can’t become a regular event.

  27. Katherine Boag*

    Thanks for the wording on ‘your hiring process is too long’, I’ve had one that dragged on too long and where I just gave up on contacting the recruiter (it was a bad fit really but I was still trying to get a job with them)

  28. Ex consultant*

    People with ADHD can sometimes experience a symptom known as ‘intrusive sleep’. I do; for years I couldn’t figure out why I kept nodding off during lectures and meetings even when I knew they were important, even when I’d slept okay the night before, even with caffeine. If I was tasked with writing meeting minutes, you could see where my pen trailed off on the paper. It can lead to some ADHD people getting misdiagnosed with narcolepsy.

    It’s not even sleep, really; it’s more like a brief passing out, which is why giving in makes me feel like garbage. It happens due to certain brain activity related to a lack of stimulation, and it almost always lets up as soon as I remove myself from the meeting or lecture. It’s embarrassing, and since my diagnosis I have been lucky enough to have bosses that understand. Nobody asks me to take minutes anymore.

    1. (not) travelling abroad*

      My ADD brain makes me inclined to nod off in boring, powerpoint meetings where I can’t doodle or stimulate myself in some way.

      Also did it in one of my induction sessions at a new job! It was embarrassing and I had to try a few things before I figured out what could keep me focused.

    2. Blue*

      Wow, that actually sounds a lot like me. I don’t have ADHD but sometimes I just nod off during lectures or meetings, even after a good night’s sleep and I haven’t been able to figure out the problem. My notes have these weird squiggly lines where I nodded off and then jerked back to attention.

  29. Susannah*

    Oh, Fed Up – run! As fast as you can! Any employer that makes you go through all that is an employer that’s going to second-guess itself (and you) on an hourly basis. A personality test? What exactly was that supposed to show? And doing a project -then writing up something on how you handled the project? If this was an individual, I’d suggest they get therapy for OCD. But that sounds like an awful place to work.

  30. Jessica*

    I feel a lot of “uhh, why do we even have to remind people it’s not okay to sleep at work” people are ignoring the part of the letter where the LW describes the employee as visibly fighting not to fall asleep, which is a pretty clear indicator that it wasn’t voluntary. It would be a different story if she’d come in, put her head down on the table and taken a nap, but that isn’t what the LW is describing.

    Congrats on your absolutely perfect physical, emotional, and mental health where you don’t need any sort of medications and your body never does anything involuntary during work hours, I guess?

  31. This Old House*

    I feel nothing but sympathy for the new hire right now. Any other day I could buy “of course it’s your job to stay awake on the job,” but today, I am barely keeping my eyes open. Maybe she’s just really, really tired, guys. Let the poor girl sleep!

  32. Dover*

    I once fell asleep in a meeting. Later, the boss privately and casually suggested standing up in the future if I felt tired. At first I thought it’d be weird to be the only person standing in a meeting, but it turns out one person standing gives everyone who needs freedom to stand in order to give their bottom a break or shake off the after-lunch slump.

  33. Good gravy*

    I used to have a huge issue with staying awake, first in boring classes, and then in boring meetings. Virtual meetings are actually fine since I can move around and get other stimulation. I agree it’s not within professional norms. I would ask, though, what was the purpose of the employee attending the meeting? If they weren’t participating, did they even need to be there? I do think people in general should be better about only including people who are actual stakeholders.

  34. El l*

    Ask them about it – it’s an obvious question you’re entitled to ask.

    Listen to their stated reason, and gauge their reaction.

    Then see if falling asleep becomes a pattern, and if so how they react when you sleep.

    Why is this a matter of debate?

  35. Brain the Brian*

    I have always had trouble staying awake during stationary seated activities: classes from elementary school through college (I honestly don’t think there was a single class in which I did not sleep at some point), in-office meetings of all sizes now that I’m an adult, sitting at my desk at work… even riding the chairlift while skiing! In the post-pandemic world where I work from home four days per week, I can at least stand and move around when I need, which helps keep me awake.

    But I agree that it’s part of any employee’s job to remain awake during a meeting. I suggest that the manager kindly and discreetly ask the employee if she’s alright and then offer a few of the tips in this comment thread as friendly suggestions to remain awake. If the problem continues, you can escalate it — but as it’s the employee’s first day, you really have no other data on how she performs, and I don’t think this is a firing-level offense on day one.

    1. Kara*

      Out of curiosity, have you been evaluated for either sleep apnea or for ADHD? Apnea can cause inappropriate sleeping because you’re exhausted, and ADHD can manifest in some cases as an inability to stay tuned into activities that don’t involve any input from you.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Sleep apnea is an obvious “no” in my case; I’ve undergone general psychological evaluations, which turned up things that often co-occur with ADHD but not ADHD specifically. Regardless, my circadian rhythm is a lot like the letter-writer from last week (or the week before?) who had diagnosed Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, meaning that my “ideal” sleeping hours are 2am-1oam. Being forced out of bed at 8am (or 6am, as was the case in high school) every day is deeply unpleasant, and I suspect that decades of sleep debt contributes to my problems staying awake during normal hours. These days, my doctors just blame it all on my other medications, ignoring that I had these problems long before starting them.

        All of that aside, I’m not in a position to diagnose the employee in today’s reprinted letter. I just hope that the letter-writer can be kind since it was her first day and grant her the benefit of the doubt — and that the employee herself can solve it, since it’s obviously not workable in a professional situation.

  36. Kara*

    As someone who’s been on the othert end of Question 1, does anyone have any suggestions on staying awake in those types of meetings? I have ADHD and for various medical reasons medication is not currently an option. I fidget with my pen, i doodle, i pinch myself, i take every break given to wake back up, but once we’re back to death by PowerPoint, my brain just tunes out and switches off. If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them, thanks!

    1. Another Ashley*

      Taking notes helps me. Even if it’s unnecessary giving myself an activity that requires paying attention has helped. I just started a new job and I was horrified when I became sleepy during a meeting. Taking notes saved me.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Seconded! Taking notes saved me many times when we worked in the office every day (although in some cases when I was the *only* one taking notes, it also meant that I accidentally and unwillingly volunteered myself to lead projects “because you have notes”).

        Otherwise, I’ve always liked what Hillary Clinton recommended from her time as Secretary of State, when she would fly into a country and have days of meetings on very few hours of sleep: making a fist under the table and digging your nails into the palm of your hand. It’s just enough stimulation — and mild pain, frankly — to keep awake, but not enough to leave a lasting, concerning scar.

    2. Sedna*

      Oof, I feel you – I had real trouble when we went to Zoom meetings during the pandemic. Taking notes was my go-to for in person meetings. For Zoom meetings, I find it useful to play Tetris, weirdly; it occupies enough of my brain to keep it busy, but I can still listen to what’s being said.

    3. Nina*

      Very cold water. In a glass, or metal bottle. With ice. Hydration helps alertness, and in extremis it’s fairly subtle and effective to press the cold glass against the inside of your elbow (assuming a thin shirt and no sweater).

    4. icedcoffee*

      My partner has narcolepsy. Whenever possible, he stands up for meetings and is up front with his boss about his sleepiness being a chronic medical issue rather than, idk, a hangover. Now that he can work from home at his discretion, he has a lot more success simply turning off his webcam and actively multitasking. Wfh also lets him take the brief naps that narcolepsy demands, without awkward explanations.

      When I worked in the office, my ADHD was unmedicated, and I had a terrible commute so I was sleepy. I don’t think I had the intermittent sleep thing others have described. In any case, besides fidgeting and pinching, I want to also recommend the multitasking that my partner does. I agree that disengaging part of my brain does help me pay attention to the boring thing (I finished two sewing projects during a listening-only meeting the other day). Give your doodles some sort of requirement or pattern to complete, rather than meandering swirls like I usually do. Fidget in a complex pattern, or even get a puzzle ring to remove and reassemble under the table. I will even halfway meditate by counting breaths and focusing on body sensations. If engaging your body isn’t sufficient, try engaging your brain on something other than the boring thing.

      …And caffeine. Green tea seems to give me a better afternoon kick than coffee or black tea does. Hopefully your medical reasons don’t preclude limited caffeine. (I haven’t been able to handle stimulant medication post-covid, but caffeine is ok.)

  37. TheTallestOneEver*

    Wow, LW1 took me back. I graduated from college with a lot of store credit card debt and decided that the only way to solve the problem was two full time jobs. My work week started with my night job at 10 PM on Sunday night and ended at 5 PM on Friday. One morning I was meeting with my boss in his office fighting to stay awake and the next thing I hear is “Are you literally snoring right now?!” LOL! He gave me money to get coffee and told me to take a walk around the block. I’m pretty sure he thought I was tired from partying too hard.

  38. Sedna*

    Lol, oops – I was definitely the person who fell asleep at work once or twice when I was fresh out of college. (also driving two hours round-trip to work, figuring out an apartment, etc. etc). As I recall, my boss at the time didn’t beat me up over it, but she made it clear that (a) she had noticed it and (b) I needed to not have that happen again. It was a great gentle correction about what was going to be different in the workplace vs. college!

  39. elle kaye*

    Cold. Rooms.

    When a room is very, very cold, i.e. below 62 degrees for me, and probably below 58 for many, it is very, very hard for me to not yawn even if I’m not actually otherwise tired. It’s my body trying to manage itself. I would definitely also consider environmental factors, like are the lights really low, is the room freezing (or too hot), in terms of making sure people are in general able to focus. (This is not specific to the LW here but about sleepiness in meetings– it’s just worth making sure that there aren’t extreme environmental concerns)

  40. Nelly*

    I fall asleep in every meeting, unless I’m presenting. I only have 2 speeds – working or asleep. I have to watch TV on a treadmill or I’ll go straight to sleep. Staff think it’s funny and know they have full authority to jab me with a pencil if the meeting gets important or I snore too loud. I can’t stop it unless I stand up and walk around during the meeting, which is also kind of disruptive.

    I guess, why make a meeting if this can be an email is my answer. Or zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  41. BabaYaga*

    I have been the person who falls asleep in meetings. I doesn’t happen often, but it’s happened more often than I would like and it’s mortifying every time.

    In my case, it’s often one of three things:

    -I suffer from insomnia and sometimes no matter how hard I fight it, if I’ve not been sleeping well my body will auto micro-nap when I’m not moving around enough

    -I have sensory issues and when my brain is overwhelmed for too long, I literally can not stay awake. For example: I was in a loud bar with friends once and because of the noise and the sheer amount of visible stimuli, I fell asleep within 5 minutes.

    -I have depression and it can manifest through chronic exhaustion. My medical professionals and I think that it’s probably also the cause of my insomnia.

    Any time this has happened, I try to take a moment to address it with my boss but sometimes it seems better to just let it go and show through my work that it’s not reflective of my work ethic or quality of work.

    It doesn’t happen often but when it does it’s completely out of my control and I’ve tried literally everything to prevent it when I can feel it coming on. Drinking cold water, jamming a pen into my leg, moving a little, nothing helps. It’s physically painful to try to stay awake when this comes on (though I do try my damndest) and if I stand- I fall asleep standing up.

    I’ve been lucky in that any employer I’ve had who has seen me do this has been really gracious and accepting when I explain the situation – usually a little good natured teasing is involved too.

    I wish people in general would remember that employees are people first and that using your words is just as important as an adult as it is as a child.

    Ask the employee what’s up in a compassionate way, let them know that if it happens again they are welcome to quietly leave the meeting (if that’s what works for your situation) or attend the meeting virtually with no camera so that they can move around to keep themselves awake without distracting other people.

    1. Avril Ludgateaux*

      Your second bullet re: sensory issues sounds a little like narcolepsy, which I only mention because it’s one of numerous sleep disorders I’m investigating with a pulmonologist right now. I don’t think I have narcolepsy, but the way the doctor described it, occasions of high excitement/stress can lead to sudden onset of sleep or a sleeplike state, almost like a seizure but instead of seizing, you fall asleep (but it’s NOT the same as fainting, either).

      I am working from home due to an accommodation for a different (but potentially related?) chronic condition, and it’s not only made my sleep symptoms more manageable – including saving me embarrassing myself by nodding off during a meeting – it’s also made it safer for me. I used to have a very long commute where I had to drive, and I was vulnerable to “highway hypnosis” or microsleeps that hit when I’m at the wheel. Imagine driving 60-80 mph with the flow of traffic and blinking up to realize you’ve traveled some distance far more than you could’ve done in the span of said blink. It’s terrifying, and for years pre-pandemic I had no choice but to deal. I tried everything including loud music, blasting cold air or rolling windows down, even slapping myself to jolt me awake, and none of it ever worked. WFH was never presented as an option back then.

      But according to some people in this thread, I have a behavioral problem. And, to be sure, for years I thought I did. I thought I wasn’t sleeping because I had “poor sleep hygiene,” that it was my fault for avoiding caffeine because I don’t tolerate coffee well nor do I care for soda and only occasionally have a taste for tea (fun fact: caffeine does nothing to keep me awake during the day, but it DOES interfere with my sleep at night, even if I’d drank it in the morning). I found all these ways to blame myself for not being a good worker drone when it turns out I was sick. I’ve only recently been referred to a sleep specialist by the neurologist managing my other condition, and thankfully I have insurance that, e.g., authorized the overnight on-site sleep test that is part of diagnosing what’s happening. I’m going to go ahead and suspect a person who is on her first week of the job isn’t even enrolled in benefits, yet, and probably does not have the banked sick time or social capital to ask for grace when she is getting drowsy in a meeting that obviously is not making an effort to engage her.

  42. RobareOwl*

    Regarding #1 — I have been the sleepy employee (a medical issue that has since been resolved, fortunately). My manager at the time was understandably irate, but she also offered suggestions that were useful to me at the time. I’m sharing this useful information for other sleepy people and their managers:
    1) Stand up during the meeting. I felt awkward about this at first but no one ever cared. If anyone asked, I just said that I needed to stand up for a few minutes. End of story.
    2) Get a cup of cold water, and dab it on your face with your fingertips to help keep alert. This is especially helpful in warm meeting rooms where the likelihood of drowsiness increases.
    3) Pinch your earlobe with your fingernail.

  43. A small houseplant*

    I have a sleep disorder, I might be half asleep sitting in a meeting. It took me 3 years to get a diagnosis. Don’t assume the worst of your new employee.

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